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Nearly two-and-a-half years since the Covid-19 pandemic began, the most infectious and transmissible variant yet has arrived. The latest version of the shape-shifting BA.5 variant, an offshoot of Omicron, is fueling a global surge in cases-illustrating how the virus has evolved and can evade immunity provided by previous Covid-19 vaccines. In the US, BA.5 accounted for 65% of new infections last week, according to the CDC. The variant is also on the march in China, raising the fear that major cities there may soon reinstate strict lockdown measures that were recently lifted. As for how to manage the new wave, Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House’s Covid-19 response coordinator, urged Americans aged 50 and older to get second booster shots. US health officials are urgently working on a plan to allow second Covid-19 boosters for all adults, a senior White House official confirmed to CNN on Monday.
2. Biden in Israel
President Joe Biden arrived in Israel on Wednesday for the start of his four-day visit to the Middle East. It is his first visit to the region since being elected president. Biden was met at the airport by Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Israeli President Isaac Herzog, whom he will hold meetings with today. In the lead-up to the trip, US officials have been working to deepen Israeli-Arab security coordination and broker agreements that will inch Israel and Saudi Arabia-which do not have diplomatic relations-closer to normalization. Meanwhile, many Palestinians are pessimistic about the President’s visit because of the perceived unwillingness to pressure Israel over the continued expansion of West Bank settlements and other key issues.
3. January 6
Former President Donald Trump tried to call a witness who was talking to the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, two sources familiar with the matter tell CNN. The witness, a White House support staffer, was not someone who routinely communicated with the former President and “declined to answer or respond” to his call and instead alerted their lawyer. “We will take any effort to influence witness testimony very seriously,” Vice Chair Liz Cheney said during the committee’s hearing on Tuesday, adding that the information has been supplied to the Department of Justice. This is not the first time the committee has raised concerns about a pattern of potential witness tampering and witness intimidation from Trump and other allies in his camp.
Search efforts will continue today for more than 40 people who remain unaccounted after severe flooding inundated a rural Virginia county, tearing homes from their foundations and damaging roads and bridges across the region. Buchanan County in the western part of Virginia was soaked with more than 6 inches of water in just a matter of hours Wednesday, causing widespread flooding and road closures. To aid in the response, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin declared a state of emergency to help with recovery efforts. The storm was part of several that lingered over the county as well as the surrounding region – including Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia – on Tuesday night.
5. Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has plunged into chaos and its President has fled to Singapore as anger grows in his home country over his refusal to formally resign. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had been in Maldives after fleeing Sri Lanka Wednesday – the same day he had said he would resign. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was appointed acting President during his absence. But by today, no formal resignation letter had been received by the Sri Lankan parliament’s speaker, raising questions about the intentions of the apparently self-exiled leader. Last weekend’s protests were among the most dramatic seen so far, with people setting fire to Wickremesinghe’s residence, and swimming in Rajapaksa’s private pool. Many protesters have vowed to continue to demonstrate until both men step down.
NASA released more images of stars, galaxies and an exoplanet
After decades of waiting, the world is finally able to see the deepest and sharpest images of our universe taken by the James Webb Space Telescope.
Netflix with ads is coming
No one likes the “A” word … but if you can tolerate a few ads, a lower-priced Netflix tier is currently in the works.
Chris Hemsworth stopped eating meat before filming a kiss with his vegan costar
This kind gesture helped vegan actress Natalie Portman romaine calm while shooting a kiss scene for “Thor: Love and Thunder.”
Ryan Gosling is bringing major ‘Ken-ergy’ to the upcoming ‘Barbie’ film
The highly anticipated “Barbie” movie won’t be released until next year, but fans are already swooning over Gosling’s “Ken doll” character.
World’s best airlines for 2022, ranked by AirlineRatings.com
We may be in the midst of a chaotic travel season, but some airlines are flying above the industry’s challenges. Check out the new list here.
$ 114 billion
That’s Bill Gates’ estimated net worth, making him the world’s fourth-richest person-but he doesn’t intend to rank that high forever. On Wednesday, the Microsoft co-founder said he wants to “move down and eventually off of the list of the world’s richest people” because he feels “obligated to return his resources to society.” On the same day, Gates moved $ 20 billion of his wealth into the endowment of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the largest philanthropies in the world. The foundation plans to increase its payouts from nearly $ 6 billion to $ 9 billion each year by 2026.
“Today, (Joshua) Schulte has been convicted for one of the most brazen and damaging acts of espionage in American history.“
– US Attorney Damian Williams, after former CIA employee Joshua Schulte was convicted on Wednesday of carrying out the largest leak of classified data in the agency’s history. Schulte, who had worked as a computer engineer within the CIA, stole cyber tools in 2016 and transferred the classified data to WikiLeaks, according to court records. Schulte had access to “some of the country’s most valuable intelligence-gathering cyber tools used to battle terrorist organizations,” Willams said, adding that those tools are now essentially useless.
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Did someone say free fries?
National French Fry Day (which is apparently real) was Wednesday, but some of America’s largest fast-food chains are giving away free fries for the rest of the week! In celebration, here’s a video of the many different ways fries are enjoyed around the world. (Click here to view)