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It’s mud, mud throughout the UK’s 3rd lockdown

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It’s mud, mud throughout the UK’s 3rd lockdown

 

It’s obviously not enough for Britons to suffer almost 120,000 COVID-19 deaths and face a new strain of the virus that scientists believe is more infectious and more lethal. Not enough to suffer through a third lockdown in less than a year, a shutdown now in its ninth week in London with no end in sight.

No, all of this has to come smack in the middle of Britain’s mud season, the period officially known as winter.

While anyone in the U.K. is still losing Vitamin D, the sun prefers to take a months-long work stoppage and called winter storms kept sweeping eastward through the Atlantic. Storm Bella marched in right after Christmas, bringing gusts up to 106 mph (92 kph) and rains that dumped 3.2 inches (80.2 mm) on a village in Scotland. A sodden, frozen version of a hurricane. Storm Darcy swept in last week from the other direction, bringing an icy Arctic blast and the U.K.’s coldest weather in 25 years.

British meteorologists have as many ways to explain rain as the Inuit do snow, since the daily forecast is only an estimation of how much rain will fall when and with what intensity. Even my husband, who grew up in sun-soaked Southern California, knows that one either runs or walks or shops in the rain here; it’s hard to dodge it.

Unlike the southeastern U.S., which floods during the summer-fall hurricane season, Britain floods in the middle of winter, carrying hypothermia amid germ-laden waters. Rivers across England and Scotland are bursting: 73 flood warnings were in place on Friday alone. And this year, few gyms or schools are eligible for emergency housing for fear they will transform into COVID-19 factories. It’s a Dickensian moment.

The lockdown in London started Dec. 20, literally the day before the darkest day of the year. Forget about fun: pubs, nightclubs, museums, gyms, theatres and cinemas are closed, save for a few restaurant takeouts. Even outdoor venues like London’s Hampstead Heath swimming ponds, a bracing 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius) when I last took a dip in October, are locked.

You’re allowed out once a day for exercise, more for food shopping. And British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had to defend himself over a cycling trip to a park seven miles away, though it was considered not to have broken lockdown laws.

So the only thing left for most to do is walk or run. And seeing millions trudging in the freezing winter rain has done just what one would expect: produce acres and acres of squishy mud.

Farmers across the country are upset over trekkers who, in their attempts to avoid sodden right-of-way routes, trample around them. Only they are not marching over grass but corn, barley and wheat crops, producing mud highways 25 feet wide.
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Dogs in the parks have black mud-line stripes around their bellies. Knee-high wellies — plastic-molded boots that are often caked in mud — are worn by anyone from children to grannies with hiking poles.

Though safe against the weather, too many in London’s parks still forget the main pandemic-era weapon: a mask. In an hour-long walk through Regent’s Park, Primrose Hill Park or Hampstead Heath you can pass hundreds of maskless people and outsized social “bubbles.” It takes all the composure I can muster not to lecture every one of them.

My husband and I now avoid the grand parks on the weekends, but walking on broken cobblestones and pavement in London’s grittier areas brings sore knees and foot ailments. It’s a small price to pay, though, compared with the waves of sorrow wrought by the virus on families and medical staff.

Years from now, when my grandchildren inquire, “What did you do during the pandemic, Mimi? ” I will tell them: I spent 10 hours a day hip-deep in emotionally wrenching pandemic news. The rest of the time I was out in the rain, trying to stay dry.

 

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Conservatives eagerly await Supreme Court abortion arguments

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Conservatives eagerly await Supreme Court abortion arguments

By JILL COLVIN

It’s the moment conservatives have been waiting for.

Oral arguments at the Supreme Court on Wednesday represent the best opportunity leaders on the right have had in decades to gut the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which codified a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion before a fetus can survive outside the womb.

If they are successful, it could validate years of often painstakingly granular work that ultimately remade the Republican Party from an alliance of business-friendly leaders into a coalition of cultural conservatives and evangelicals who turned the issue of abortion into a national flashpoint. Even if the justices don’t explicitly overturn Roe, they could open the door to a flurry of new restrictions that would please the right.

Buoyed by a court that is now dominated by a 6-3 conservative majority, some leading Republicans were already expressing confidence on Tuesday.

“We are asking the court in no uncertain terms to make history,” former Vice President Mike Pence, who has been laying the groundwork for a presidential run in 2024, said during a speech in Washington. “We are asking the Supreme Court of the United States to overturn Roe v. Wade and restore the sanctity of life at the center of American law.”

The justices will weigh whether to uphold a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks, with limited exceptions — well before the current established point of “viability,” at around 24 weeks. The court is also weighing challenges to a Texas law that bans abortions after six weeks — before many women even know they’re pregnant.

The court could decide to uphold current precedent, could let the law stand, effectively doing away with the current viability standard, or could overturn Roe entirely.

“This is the first time that they have clearly had a majority of pro-life-leaning justices,” said Columbia Law School’s Carol Sanger, an expert in reproductive rights. ”So they have the votes if they choose to use them.”

The court’s decision, which is expected by late June, could dramatically shift the contours of next year’s midterm elections, providing a new animating force for Democrats, who largely support abortion rights and have struggled to rally around a unifying issue this year.

Scuttling Roe “will surely embolden efforts of conservatives in many states to craft laws they think might not have held up under Roe,” William Martin, a professor of religion and public policy at Rice University who has studied the rise of the anti-abortion movement, said in an email. “Conservatives will regard this as achieving a long-sought goal, but it may come at a significant cost, since Republicans probably already have most of the voters for whom opposition to abortion is the ultimate litmus test.”

Still, for conservative activists, the case is a culmination of decades of work electing Republican state legislatures, enacting new barriers to abortion access, and supporting anti-abortion judges, including the new conservative super majority on the Supreme Court.

“Tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear the biggest case for the pro-life movement in two generations,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group which sponsored Pence’s speech and plans to spend $10 million on TV and digital ads in Washington, D.C., and battleground states to promote the case.

“I think this is that moment of time we’ve all been waiting for,” said Heather Weininger, executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life, an anti-abortion nonprofit in the battleground state. “This is really the pinnacle moment where we can go back to those days where we protect life at the moment of conception.”

Weininger said the issue is likely to be “crucial” in her state in the midterms, especially given that it has a GOP-controlled legislature and a Democratic governor, Tony Evers, who is up for reelection. U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, has not yet made a decision on whether he will seek another term, but he has suggested this may be his last, and Rep. Ron Kind, a Wisconsin Democrat, is seen as particularly vulnerable.

“If this decision comes out next summer, this is going to be a key issue in all those races,” Weininger said.

If Roe were to be overturned or severely curtailed, it would be thanks to former President Donald Trump, a most unlikely person to have helped social conservatives achieve their long-awaited goal. Trump ran in 2016 promising to nominate justices who would overturn Roe — a pledge that helped the thrice-married former reality TV star win the support of prominent evangelical leaders as well as other conservatives.

Trump followed through, appointing three conservative justices who transformed the court and making it easier to offer new challenges to abortion rights: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

Roe’s demise would likely prompt at least 20 Republican-governed states to impose sweeping bans; perhaps 15 Democratic-governed states would reaffirm support for abortion access.

It remains to be seen how motivating the issue will be politically. In the Virginia governor’s race — the biggest election of the year — only 6% of voters called abortion the most important issue facing the state, according to AP VoteCast.

The issue seems to be more salient for Republicans. Nationally in 2020, VoteCast found that the 3% of voters who said abortion was the most important issue facing the country voted for Trump over Democrat Joe Biden, 89% to 9%. In the race for governor in Virginia, the margin was much tighter, with Republican Glenn Youngkin winning 56% of those who said abortion was the most important issue facing the state, versus 44% who voted for Democrat Terry McAuliffe.

Still, Republicans have been eager to seize on the issue, especially as they jockey for support heading into 2024.

On Monday, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, another potential presidential candidate, promised that if the state loses an appeal in a legal fight over a law that would require women seeking abortions to first consult with crisis pregnancy centers, which generally advise women not to get abortions, she would try to get the Supreme Court to consider the case.

“We have a couple of opportunities here to make a case to undermine and remove Roe v. Wade,” said Noem, who also signed onto a legal argument in the Mississippi case.

___

Associated Press writer Emily Swanson in Washington contributed to this report.

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Authorities: Student kills 3, wounds 8 at Michigan school

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Authorities: Student kills 3, wounds 8 at Michigan school

By MIKE HOUSEHOLDER and RYAN KRYSKA

OXFORD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — A 15-year-old sophomore opened fire at his Michigan high school on Tuesday, killing three students, including a 16-year-old boy who died in a deputy’s patrol car on the way to a hospital, authorities said. Eight other people were wounded, some critically.

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said late Tuesday that investigators were still trying to determine a motive for the shooting at Oxford High School in Oxford Township, a community of about 22,000 people roughly 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Detroit.

“The person that’s got the most insight and the motive is not talking,” Bouchard said at a news conference.

The suspect’s father had bought the 9mm Sig Sauer used in the shooting on Friday, Bouchard said, adding that he did not know why the man bought the gun. Bouchard said the suspect had practiced shooting with the gun and “posted pictures of the target and the weapon.”

The three students who were killed were 16-year-old Tate Myre, 14-year-old Hana St. Juliana, and 17-year-old Madisyn Baldwin. Bouchard said Myre died in a patrol car as a deputy tried to get him to a hospital.

Bouchard said a teacher who received a graze wound to the shoulder was discharged from the hospital, but seven students ranging in age from 14 to 17 remained hospitalized with gunshot wounds, including 14-year-old girl who was on a ventilator after surgery.

Undersheriff Mike McCabe said earlier that authorities were aware of allegations circulating on social media that there had been threats of a shooting at the roughly 1,700-student school before Tuesday’s attack, but he cautioned against believing that narrative until investigators can look into it.

He also downplayed the significance of an incident in early November when a deer head was thrown off the school roof, which he said was “absolutely unrelated” to the shooting. The vandalism prompted school administrators to post two letters to parents on the school’s website earlier in November, saying they were responding to rumors of a threat against the school but had found none.

Authorities didn’t immediately release the shooting suspect’s name, but Bouchard said deputies arrested him within minutes of arriving at the school in response to a flood of 911 calls about the attack, which happened shortly before 1 p.m. He said the deputies arrested him after he emerged from a bathroom with the gun, which he said had seven rounds of ammunition still in it.

“I believe they literally saved lives having taken down the suspect with a loaded firearm while still in the building,” Bouchard said.

McCabe said the suspect’s parents visited their son where he’s being held and advised him not to talk to investigators, as is his right. Police must seek permission from a juvenile suspect’s parents or guardian to speak with them, he added.

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald issued a statement Tuesday evening saying her office expects to issue charges quickly and that an update would be given Wednesday.

Bouchard said the suspect had no prior run-ins with his department and he wasn’t aware of any disciplinary history at school.

“That’s part of our investigation to determine what happened prior to this event and if some signs were missed how were they missed and why,” he said.

President Joe Biden, before delivering remarks at a community college in Rosemount, Minnesota, said: “As we learn the full details, my heart goes out to the families enduring the unimaginable grief of losing a loved one.”

The school was placed on lockdown after the attack, with some children sheltering in locked classrooms while officers searched the premises. They were later taken to a nearby Meijer grocery store to be picked up by their parents.

The district said in a statement that all of its schools would be closed for the rest of the week.

Isabel Flores, a 15-year-old ninth grader, told WJBK-TV that she and other students heard gunshots and saw another student bleeding from the face. They then ran from the area through the rear of the school, she said.

Authorities said they were searching the suspect’s cellphone, school video footage and social media posts for any evidence of a possible motive.

School administrators had posted two letters to parents on the school’s website in November, saying they were responding to rumors of a threat against the school following a bizarre vandalism incident.

According to a Nov. 4 letter written by Principal Steve Wolf, someone threw a deer head into a courtyard from the school’s roof, painted several windows on the roof with red acrylic paint and used the same paint on concrete near the school building during the early morning hours. Without specifically referencing that incident, a second post on Nov. 12 assured “there has been no threat to our building nor our students.”

Both the sheriff and undersheriff emphasized that Tuesday’s shooting was unrelated to the deer head or any earlier investigation by their office.

“That was a different incident, different student,” McCabe said.

A concerned parent, Robin Redding, said her son, Treshan Bryant, is a 12th grader at the school but stayed home Tuesday. Redding said her son had heard threats that there could be a shooting.

“This couldn’t be just random,” she said.

Bryant said he texted several younger cousins in the morning and they said they didn’t want to go to school, and he got a bad feeling. He asked his mom if he could do his assignments online.

Bryant said he had heard vague threats “for a long time now” about plans for a shooting.

At a vigil at Lakepoint Community Church on Tuesday night, Leeann Dersa choked back tears as she hugged friends and neighbors. Dersa has lived nearly all of her 73 years in Oxford and her grandchildren attended the high school.

“Scared us all something terrible. It’s awful,” Dersa said of the shooting.

Pastor Jesse Holt said news of the shooting flooded in to him and his wife, including texts from some of the 20 to 25 students who are among the 400-member congregation.

“Some were very scared, hiding under their desks and texting us, ‘We’re safe, we’re OK. We heard gunshots, but we’re OK.’ They were trying to calm us, at least that’s how it felt,” he said.

___

Associated Press writers Corey Williams in West Bloomfield, Michigan, Kathleen Foody in Chicago, Josh Boak in Rosemount, Minnesota, and David Aguilar in Oxford Township contributed to this report.

___

The spelling of one of the victim’s names has been corrected to Hana St. Juliana, instead of Hanna St. Julian.

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US moving to toughen testing requirement for travelers

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US moving to toughen testing requirement for travelers

By ZEKE MILLER

Washington (AP) — The Biden administration is moving to toughen testing requirements for international travelers to the U.S., including both vaccinated and unvaccinated people, amid the spread of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a Tuesday statement that it was working toward requiring that all air travelers to the U.S. be tested for COVID-19 within a day before boarding their flight. Currently those who are fully vaccinated may present a test taken within three days of boarding.

“CDC is working to modify the current Global Testing Order for travel as we learn more about the Omicron variant; a revised order would shorten the timeline for required testing for all international air travelers to one day before departure to the United States,” the agency said.

The precise testing protocols were still being finalized ahead of a speech by President Joe Biden planned for Thursday on the nation’s plans to control the COVID-19 pandemic during the winter season, according to a senior administration official who said some details could still change.

“CDC is evaluating how to make international travel as safe as possible, including pre-departure testing closer to the time of flight and considerations around additional post-arrival testing and self-quarantines,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said earlier Tuesday.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the administration’s plans before the announcement, said options under consideration also include post-arrival testing requirements or or even self-quarantines.

CDC currently recommends post-arrival testing 3-5 days after landing in the U.S. from overseas and self-quarantine for unvaccinated travelers, though compliance is voluntary and is believed to be low.

The move comes just weeks after the U.S. largely reopened its borders to fully vaccinated foreign travelers on Nov. 8 and instituted a two-tiered testing system that allowed fully vaccinated travelers more time to seek a pre-arrival test, while requiring a test within a day of boarding for the unvaccinated.

Much remains unknown about the new variant, which has been identified in more than 20 countries but not yet in the U.S., including whether it is more contagious, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can thwart the vaccine. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said more would be known about the omicron strain in two to four weeks as scientists grow and test lab samples of the virus.

As he sought to quell public concern about the new variant, Biden said that in his Thursday remarks, “I’ll be putting forward a detailed strategy outlining how we’re going to fight COVID this winter — not with shutdowns or lockdowns but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing, and more.”

Asked by reporters if he would consult with allies about any changes in travel rules, given that former President Donald Trump had caught world leaders by surprise, Biden said, “Unlike Trump I don’t shock our allies.”

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