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Twitter Bans Suspect Iran Account After Post Threatens Trump

Twitter said Friday it has permanently banned an account that some in Iran believe is linked to the office of the country’s supreme leader after a posting that seemed to threaten former President Donald Trump.In the image posted by the suspect account late Thursday, Trump is shown playing golf in the shadow of a giant drone, with the caption “Revenge is certain” written in Farsi.In response to a request for comment from The Associated Press, a Twitter spokesperson said the account was fake and violated the company’s “manipulation and spam policy,” without elaborating how it came to that conclusion.The tweet of the photo violated the company’s “abusive behavior policy,” Twitter’s spokesperson added.In Iran, the suspect account — @khamenei_site — is believed to be linked to the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei because its behavior mirrored that of other accounts identified in state-run media as tied to his office. It frequently posted excerpts from his speeches and other official content.In this case, the account carried the link to Khamenei’s website.Other accounts tied to Khamenei’s office that did not tweet the photo, including his main English language account, remained active. The photo had also been featured prominently on the supreme leader’s website and was retweeted by Khamenei’s main Farsi language account, @Khamenei-fa, which apparently deleted it after posting.Earlier this month, Facebook and Twitter banned Trump from their platforms for allegedly inciting the assault on the U.S. Capitol, an unprecedented step that underscored the immense power of tech giants in regulating speech on their platforms. Activists soon urged the companies to apply their policies equally to other political figures worldwide, in order to combat hate speech and content that encourages violence.The warning in the caption referenced Khamenei’s remarks last month ahead of the first anniversary of the U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad. In his speech, Khamenei did not call out Trump by name, but reiterated a vow for vengeance against those who ordered and executed the attack on Soleimani.”Revenge will certainly happen at the right time,” Khamenei had declared.Iran blocks social media websites like Facebook and Twitter, and censors others. While top officials have unfettered access to social media, Iran’s youth and tech-savvy citizens use proxy servers or other workarounds to bypass the controls.Soon after Trump’s ban from Twitter ignited calls to target tweets from other political leaders, the company took down a post by a different Khamenei-linked account that pushed a COVID-19 vaccine conspiracy theory.Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters in Iran, had claimed that virus vaccines imported from the U.S. or Britain were “completely untrustworthy.”  

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Dry January Not That Dry for Some at Rocky Start of 2021

A raging pandemic, tumultuous presidential election and deadly Capitol insurrection have combined to make the annual tradition of Dry January less than air-tight for some.Not Sarah Arvizo. She considers it her easiest yet.As much as the 32-year-old Manhattanite would love to partake in a little “vinopeutics,” she said the abstinence from alcohol period she’s participated in for several years has been made smoother this time around by her at-home pandemic life and the closing of bars and restaurants.”Longing for those days, for sure,” said the social drinker who lives alone. “But unless I want to freeze outside, that’s largely off the table this year.”Eight-year-old Dry January, which comes at the height of resolution season after the holidays, has brought on the desired benefits for many among the millions participating around the world. They’re losing quarantine weight, experiencing more clarity and sleeping easier.Others with lockdown time on their hands and round-the-clock access to TV news and the home liquor cabinet are struggling to meet the challenge. Some who have already cheated hoisted a glass on Inauguration Day.Sue Cornick, 52, in Los Angeles, wanted to experience Dry January after her consumption of alcohol rose from three or four days a week to five or six. But she knew pulling the plug wouldn’t work before a celebratory Inauguration Day, so it’s Dry February for her.”Full disclosure, my Dry February will be more like almost dry. I’ll definitely have a cheat day here and there. Just no daily habit,” she said.Others are holding steadfast but said the horrid year that was and the chaotic events of January have made it far more difficult. The odds aren’t in their favor. Studies over the years have shown that a small percentage of New Year’s resolutions overall are actually achieved.Peta Grafham, a 61-year-old retired IT specialist in Tryon, North Carolina, signed on to Dry January after watching her alcohol intake creep up during the pandemic and months of political and racial turmoil.”I’m a social creature and isolating has been difficult. I found that I would open a bottle of wine and watch TV, usually CNN, and could knock back a bottle in less than two hours. Then I would move on to the Grand Marnier,” said Grafham, who lives with her husband. “I announced to my friends and family that I was doing a Dry January, so my pride is what’s keeping me sober.”She hasn’t had a drop since December 31. Her spouse didn’t join, but she said he’s an efficient nurser of bourbon or vodka and has supported her effort.”I seemed incapable of limiting myself to just one glass,” Grafham said.According to a recent survey from the American Psychological Association, 78% of adults report the COVID-19 pandemic has been a significant source of stress, and 65% said the amount of uncertainty in the world is causing strain.At 27, Emily Roethle in Encinitas, California, nearly broke on Jan. 6, when a riotous mob descended on the Capitol.”This is my second Dry January,” she said. “It’s difficult this year. I’ve looked to my glass of wine to separate work from home as I work remote, but in ways it’s easier as there’s no happy hour or dinner invitations.”While addiction treatment experts note that a month of forced sobriety may not have a lasting impact and may lead to binge drinking in February, others believe the show of sobriety can’t hurt.Dry January began after a woman training for her first half-marathon, Emily Robinson in Britain, decided to quit drinking for the month. She later went to work for an alcohol awareness organization that launched a national campaign. The event slowly went global.Well before that, in 1942, Finland began a program called Raitis Tammikuu, meaning sober January, to assist the war effort against the Soviet Union, said Hilary Sheinbaum, who wrote a new book about Dry January, “The Dry Challenge.” She said she wrote from personal experience.”On Dec. 31, 2016, moments before the ball dropped, I made a Dry January bet with a friend,” Sheinbaum said. “In the end, I ended up going the full 31 days. My friend did not. He ended up buying me a very fancy meal, but I had the opportunity to see how alcohol was affecting my day-to-day life. With Dry January, I had clearer skin. I was sleeping better. I had so much more financial savings at the end of the month. This is my fifth Dry January.”When she took on her first dry challenge, she was working regularly at booze-infused events as a red-carpet reporter, and a food and beverage writer. She was also single and going on a lot of dates. Now in a two-year relationship, she and her live-in boyfriend do Dry January together.She and others note that the ritual isn’t meant as a substitute for addiction treatment and recovery.Dr. Joseph DeSanto, a medical doctor and addiction specialist for the recovery program BioCorRx, agreed but said Dry January may give those in trouble “something to rally around, especially if they’re not in a 12-step group, and provide a sense of community.”He added: “Any kind of harm reduction is advantageous. If someone is a heavy drinker, they could benefit greatly from switching to moderate to light drinking, even if they can’t stop altogether. I’ve never met an alcoholic that felt worse from drinking less or not drinking.”

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Germany Passes 50,000 COVID-19 Deaths 

Germany surpassed 50,000 deaths from COVID-19 Friday, while Europe’s vaccination effort was dealt another setback when drugmaker AstraZeneca announced a slower rollout than planned because of production issues.German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Friday that he would begin leaving a light in a window at his official residence, Bellevue Palace, to remember those killed by the COVID-19 pandemic.Steinmeier called on Germans to do the same as a remembrance that “the dead in the corona pandemic are not just statistics for us.” He added, “Even if we don’t know their names and families, we know that every figure stands for a loved one whom we miss infinitely.”With more than 850 deaths from the coronavirus in the previous 24 hours, German officials said Friday that the country’s death toll stood at 50,642.Less than two weeks ago, according to an Associated Press report, Germany’s death toll was 40,000.’Slightly positive trend’ in infectionsGerman health officials noted Friday that although the country had surpassed 50,000 deaths, its infection rate was slowing.At a news conference in Berlin, the head of the Robert Koch Institute, Lothar Wieler, said he saw a “slightly positive trend” in the numbers and credited the drop to a partial lockdown introduced in November and since tightened.A person receives the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine at an NHS vaccination center in York, England, Jan. 22, 2021.Also Friday, European countries were dealt another blow when AstraZeneca announced that initial deliveries of its vaccine to the region would not meet its projected targets.A company statement said, “Initial volumes will be lower than originally anticipated due to reduced yields at a manufacturing site within our European supply chain.” The statement did not give further details.Europe is already struggling to roll out vaccines to its citizens after vaccine developers Pfizer and BioNTech announced a temporary shortfall in the supply of their vaccine in order to improve a manufacturing site in Belgium to boost output.Actions by BidenIn the United States, President Joe Biden signed executive orders aimed at providing financial and food security to families affected by the coronavirus pandemic.The orders boost food assistance, protect unemployment benefits for job seekers and lay the groundwork for federal employees and contractors to get a $15 minimum wage.“We have to act now,” Biden said Friday in remarks at the White House before he signed the orders.FILE – President Joe Biden pauses as he speaks about the coronavirus, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris, in the State Dining Room of the White House, Jan. 21, 2021, in Washington.Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion relief plan to Congress to help Americans suffering from the effects of the coronavirus, but it is not clear if the bill has enough support from lawmakers to pass. Congress passed a $900 billion relief bill in December and some Republican lawmakers have questioned whether there is a need for another large relief bill.Also Friday, U.S. retailer Walmart said it was preparing to expand its vaccination program to seven more states, using its network of pharmacies.The world’s largest retailer said it would start providing inoculations in Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, South Carolina and Texas as well as in Chicago and Puerto Rico. The company was already providing vaccines to health care workers in New Mexico and Arkansas.Vaccination efforts in the United States have run into numerous difficulties, including logistical hurdles, bureaucratic failures and a shortage of vaccines, which led to residents across the U.S. seeing their vaccine appointments canceled.In Geneva, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday formally welcomed back the United States, after Biden signed an executive order this week to retain U.S. membership.FILE – Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, speaks during the 148th session of the Executive Board on the coronavirus disease outbreak in Geneva, Switzerland, Jan. 21, 2021.Speaking at the agency’s regular briefing, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he welcomed Biden’s commitment, “not just to remaining part of the WHO family, but to working constructively with the WHO, its member states and the multilateral system to end the COVID-19 pandemic and address the many health challenges we face globally.” The director-general also noted that the U.S. committed to joining the WHO-organized international vaccine cooperative COVAX, which seeks to provide COVID-19 vaccines to the world’s poorest countries.Former President Donald Trump announced in May that he was withdrawing the United States from the WHO, accusing the agency of helping China cover up the extent of the coronavirus, which was first detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019. 

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WHO Welcomes US Back After Biden Moves to Retain Membership

The World Health Organization (WHO) Friday formally welcomed back the United States, after President Joe Biden signed an executive order this week to retain U.S. membership.
Speaking at the agency’s regular briefing in Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted the United States was a founding member of the organization in 1948 and has long played a vital role in global health.  
Tedros said he welcomes Biden’s commitment, “not just to remaining part of the WHO family, but to working constructively with the WHO, its Member States and the multilateral system to end the COVID-19 pandemic and address the many health challenges we face globally.”
The director-general also noted that the U.S. committed to joining the WHO-organized international vaccine cooperative, COVAX. Tedros said the cooperative has signed an agreement with Pfizer/BioNTech for up to 40 million doses of its vaccine.  
He said they also expect 150 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine, pending its approval for emergency use by the WHO. Tedros said if all goes as planned, COVAX is on schedule to begin delivering vaccines by February and meeting its goal of delivering 2 billion doses by the end of year.
The WHO director-general also thanked U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, whom he said he spoke with Thursday on her first full day in office. He said he told the vice president he was grateful for the new administration’s commitment to advancing women’s health as well as action on climate change.

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Baseball Legend Henry ‘Hank’ Aaron Dies at 86

The Atlanta Braves Major League baseball team announced Friday Hall of Famer Hank Aaron has died at the age of 86.
 
The team says Aaron died peacefully in his sleep Thursday.  
 
Aaron spent all but two years of his 23-year major league baseball career with the Braves organization.  
 
In a statement on the Braves web site, Chairman Terry McGuirk said the team was “devasted” at news of Aaron’s death. “Henry Louis Aaron wasn’t just our icon, but one across Major League Baseball and around the world.”
 
Aaron was known as the all-time greatest hitter, but he is best known for breaking Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record in 1974. By the time he retired two years later, he had 755 home runs, a record that stood until 2007 when it was broken by Barry Bonds. Aaron remains in second place.
 
Aaron joined the then-Milwaukee Braves in 1954 and moved with the team in 1965 to Atlanta, where he played until 1974. He played his final two seasons back in Milwaukee, with the Brewers before retiring in 1976.  
 
In his career, Aaron was always among baseball’s best. He was the National League (NL) Most Valuable Player in 1957 — the same year the Braves won the World Series — and he was a two-time NL batting champion, a three-time Gold Glove winner for his defensive play as a right fielder and a record 25-time All-Star.
 
He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, and in 1999, MLB created the Hank Aaron Award, given annually to the best hitter in both leagues.
 
Off the field, Aaron was an activist for civil rights, having been a victim of racial inequalities. He was born in Mobile, Alabama, and didn’t play organized high school baseball because only white students had teams.  
 
During the buildup to passing Ruth’s home run mark, threats were made on his life by people who did not want to see a Black man break the record.
 
After his retirement, as an executive with the Braves, Aaron worked to help find Black players meaningful employment after their playing days were over.
“On the field, Blacks have been able to be super giants,” he once said. “But once our playing days are over, this is the end of it, and we go back to the back of the bus again.”

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Germany Reports 850 COVID-19 Deaths in 24 Hours

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier says he will begin leaving a light in a window at his official residence, Bellevue Palace, to remember those killed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Steinmeier has called on Germans to do the same as a remembrance that “the dead in the corona pandemic are not just statistics for us.”  He added, “Even if we don’t know their names and families, we know that every figure stands for a loved one whom we miss infinitely.”With more than 850 deaths from the coronavirus in the previous 24-hour period, Germany said Friday its death toll has surpassed the 50,000 mark. Less than two weeks ago, according to an Associated Press report, Germany’s death toll was 40,000.  U.S. President Joe Biden spent his first full day in office Thursday signing executive orders addressing the handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has affected more people in the United States than anyplace else in the world. The U.S. has 24.6 million of the world’s more than 97 million infections. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases speaks via video link during the 148th session of the Executive Board on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Geneva, Switzerland, Jan. 21, 2021.In a related story, the Reuters news agency says the COVAX initiative announced Thursday that it is aiming to deliver 1.8 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine to poor countries in 2021, and hopes to fulfill supply deals for wealthier ones in the second half of the year.  The world is racing against time to produce and deliver billions of doses of new coronavirus vaccines to blunt the pandemic, which has killed over 2 million people out of a total of over 97 million confirmed COVID-19 infections, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.Vaccination efforts have run into numerous difficulties, however, including logistical hurdles,  bureaucratic failures and a basic shortage of vaccines, which has led to residents across the U.S. having had their vaccine appointments canceled. In Peru, a group of doctors launched a hunger strike this week to protest the government’s lack of preparation for a second wave of COVID-19 cases.Dr. Teodoro Quiñones, the secretary-general of Peru’s physician’s union, and at least a half-dozen doctors are staging a strike in a makeshift tent outside the headquarters of the health ministry in the capital, Lima.  He told The New York Times the state-run EsSalud network dismissed COVID-19 specialists after the first wave receded and failed to hire them back when more and more new cases began filling up hospital intensive care units.  The South American country has more than a million confirmed coronavirus infections, including over 39,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins. 

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Vaccination Uncertainty in Japan Casts Doubt Over Olympics

Japan is publicly adamant that it will stage its postponed Olympics this summer. But to pull it off, many believe the vaccination of its 127 million citizens for the coronavirus is key.  
    
It’s an immense undertaking in the best of circumstances and complicated now by an overly cautious decision-making process, bureaucratic roadblocks and a public that has long been deeply wary of vaccines.  
    
Japan hopes to start COVID-19 vaccinations in late February, but uncertainty is growing that a nation ranked among the world’s lowest in vaccine confidence can pull off the massive, $14 billion project in time for the games in July, casting doubt on whether the Tokyo Olympics can happen.
    
Japan has secured vaccines for all its citizens, and then some, after striking deals with three foreign pharmaceutical makers – Pfizer Inc., AstraZeneca and Moderna Inc. Its swift action was seen as proof of its resolve to stage the games after a one-year postponement because of the pandemic.  
    
The country needs foreign-made vaccines because local development is only in its early stages.
    
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, in a speech this week, said vaccines are “the clincher” in the fight against the pandemic and vowed to start vaccinations as soon as late February, when health ministry approval of the Pfizer vaccine, the first applicant, is expected.
    
Suga pledged to provide “accurate information based on scientific findings, including side effects and efficacy,” an attempt to address the worries of vaccine skeptics.  
    
Under the current plan, inoculations will start with 10,000 front-line medical workers. Then about 3 million other medical workers will be added ahead of high-risk groups such as the elderly, those with underlying health conditions and caregivers. The rest of the population is expected to get access around May or later, though officials refuse to give an exact timeline.
    
Japan is under a partial state of emergency and struggling with an upsurge of infections. There have been about 351,000 cases, with 4,800 deaths, according to the health ministry.  
    
Many people are skeptical of the vaccination effort, partly because side effects of vaccines have often been played up here. A recent survey on TBS television found only 48% of respondents said they wanted a COVID-19 vaccination. In a Lancet study of 149 countries published in September, Japan ranked among the lowest in vaccine confidence, with less than 25% of people agreeing on vaccine safety, importance and effectiveness.  
    
Many Japanese have a vague unease about vaccines, said Dr. Takashi Nakano, a Kawasaki Medical School professor and vaccine expert. “If something (negative) happens after inoculation, people tend to think it’s because of the vaccine, and that’s the image stuck in their mind for a long time.”  
    
The history of vaccine mistrust in Japan dates to 1948, when dozens of babies died after getting a faulty diphtheria vaccine. In 1989, cases of aseptic meningitis in children who received a combined vaccination for measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, prompted lawsuits against the government, forcing it to scrap the mix four years later.  
    
A 1992 court ruling held the government liable for adverse reactions linked to several vaccines, while defining suspected side effects as adverse events, but without sufficient scientific evidence, experts say. In a major change to its policy, Japan in 1994 revised its vaccination law to scrap mandatory inoculation.  
    
While several Japanese companies and research organizations are currently developing their own coronavirus vaccines, Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. will distribute the Moderna vaccine and produce the Novavax vaccine in Japan.
    
Masayuki Imagawa, head of Takeda’s Japan vaccine business unit, said his company last year considered developing its own vaccine. But instead, it decided to prioritize speed and chose to import Moderna’s product and make the Novavax vaccine at Takeda’s factory in Japan. He said the decision was not influenced by the Olympics.
    
Experts also worry about running into logistical challenges and bureaucratic roadblocks in staging a massive inoculation project that involves five government ministries along with local towns and cities. The government has budgeted more than $14 billion for the vaccine project.
    
Thousands of medical workers would have to be mobilized to give the shots, monitor and respond in case of any problems. Securing their help is difficult when hospitals are already burdened with treatment of COVID-19 patients, said Hitoshi Iwase, an official in Tokyo’s Sumida district tasked with preparing vaccinations for 275,000 residents.  
    
While vaccines are considered key to achieving the games, Prime Minister Suga said they won’t be required.
    
“We will prepare for a safe and secure Olympics without making vaccination a precondition,” Suga said Thursday, responding to a call by opposition lawmakers for a further postponement or cancellation of the games to concentrate on virus measures.
    
Uncertainty over vaccine safety and efficacy make it difficult to predict when Japan can obtain wide enough immunity to the coronavirus to control the pandemic.
    
“It is inappropriate to push vaccinations to hold the Olympics,” said Dr. Tetsuo Nakayama, a professor at Kitasato Institute for Life Sciences. “Vaccines should be used to protect the people’s health, not to achieve the Olympics.” 

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New COVID-19 Variants Are Different – What that Means for Us

New coronavirus variants appearing in Britain, South Africa, Brazil and elsewhere have experts concerned. Not only do they spread faster than existing strains, it’s possible that vaccines against them might not work as well, though that hasn’t been a problem so far. Here’s how these variants are different and why scientists think vaccines will still work.

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