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White House Says COVID-19 Tests Being Shipped 

The White House says some of the at-home, free COVID-19 tests it is offering to Americans have begun shipping via the U.S. Postal Service. 

During a Friday press briefing, Jeff Zients, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said shipping started Thursday. 

He said demand has been high and added that there had already been millions of orders through the government website that was launched earlier this week. 

He would not provide specific numbers when asked, saying the White House was waiting on data. 

Americans are allowed to order four of the tests per household.

The Biden administration has faced criticism for a lack of tests during the omicron surge. 

During the briefing, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said the average number of omicron cases was down nationally by about 5%, mostly in areas where it began to surge. She said there were about 744,600 cases per day on average in the past seven days. 

She warned that some parts of the country could still see an increase in infections. 

“In some parts of the country we are seeing the number of daily cases caused by the omicron variant beginning to decline,” she said. “The surge in cases started at different times in different regions and (we) may continue to see high case counts in some areas of the country in the days and weeks ahead.” 

Some information in this report came from Reuters.

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Louie Anderson, Comic, Emmy Winner for ‘Baskets,’ Dies at 68

Louie Anderson, whose four-decade career as a comedian and actor included his unlikely, Emmy-winning performance as mom to twin adult sons in the TV series “Baskets,” died Friday. He was 68.

Anderson died at a hospital in Las Vegas of complications from cancer, said Glenn Schwartz, his longtime publicist. Anderson had a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Schwartz said previously.

“‘Baskets’ was such a phenomenal ‘second act’ for Louie Anderson. I wish he’d gotten a third,” Michael McKean said on Twitter. George Wallace wrote: “You’ll be missed, Louie. What an awesome friend. One in a million.” Gilbert Gottfried posted a photo of himself, Anderson and Bob Saget, who died Jan. 9, with the caption: “Both good friends that will be missed.”

“You were as gracious and kind as you were funny. Rest well!! Keep ’em laughing in Heaven,” Viola Davis said on Twitter.

The portly, round-faced Anderson used his girth and a checkered childhood in Saint Paul, Minnesota, as fodder for his early stand-up routines.

In a 1987 interview with The Associated Press, Anderson compared himself to another comedian who mined his childhood for comedy.

“Bill Cosby and I had similar goals,” Anderson told AP. “I wanted parents to be able to bring their children and children to be able to bring their parents to my concerts. I feel a family that can laugh about family problems is better off. The difference between Cosby and myself is that he sees it from an adult perspective and I tell it from a child’s viewpoint.”

He had a life-long battle with weight, but said in 1987 that he’d put a stop to using his size as stage material.

“I’ve always been big,” he said. “But I don’t do fat jokes anymore.”

In later years, his life as one of 11 children in a family headed by a troubled father and devoted mother was a deeper source of reflection and inspiration for Anderson, both in his screen work and in his best-selling books.

His latest book, 2018’s “Hey Mom,” was a tribute in letters to the lessons he learned from her and how-to tips on facing life’s challenges. He also gave the late Ora Zella Anderson a shout-out for the “Baskets” role.

“I just started writing with one letter, saying, ‘Hey Mom, I’m playing you on TV. I hope you see it. I hope you’re a part of it…” Anderson told AP that year.

He won the best supporting actor Emmy in 2016 for his portrayal of Christine Baskets, mother to twins played by Zach Galifianakis, in FX’s “Baskets.” Anderson, who received three consecutive Emmy nods for the role, played it with restraint and with specific touches he credits to his mom.

“Nuance is what I go for, tiny rather than bigger things. Mom did things with her eyes or her grimace or her disappointed lips — or her passive-aggressiveness,” he told the AP in 2015, laughing. “Rolling eyes were big in our family.”

Anderson, born March 24, 1953, was the 10th of 11 children for Ora and William Anderson. His father played trumpet with musical great Hoagy Carmichael and, Anderson has said, was an alcoholic.

After his father’s death, Anderson learned of how difficult his childhood had been and forgave him, he told People magazine in 2018.

Louie Anderson’s early jobs included counseling troubled children. He changed course after winning a 1981 Midwest comedy competition, where he was spotted by veteran comic Henny Youngman, who hosted contest, according to Schwartz.

Anderson worked as a writer for Youngman and then gained onstage experience while crisscrossing the United States. His big break came in 1984 when Johnny Carson, known for showcasing promising comedians on “The Tonight Show,” brought him on to perform.

He was a familiar face elsewhere on TV, including as host of a revival of the game show “Family Feud” from 1999 to 2002, and on comedy specials and in frequent late-night talk show appearances.

Anderson voiced an animated version of himself as a kid in “Life With Louie.” He created the Humanitas Prize-winning cartoon series, which first aired in prime time in late 1994 before moving to Saturday morning for its 1995-98 run. Anderson won two Daytime Emmy Awards for the role.

He made guest appearances in several TV series, including “Scrubs” and “Touched by an Angel,” and was on the big screen in 1988′s “Coming to America” and in last year’s sequel to the Eddie Murphy comedy.

In a magazine interview, Anderson recounted getting the role after he spotted Murphy, who he knew from working in comedy clubs, at a Los Angeles restaurant. Anderson said hello, then made a costly decision that paid off.

″Take Eddie Murphy’s check and put it on my credit card, but don’t tell him until after I leave,″ Anderson recalled telling a waiter. He ended up with a $600 charge, but Murphy called to thank him and offered to write a part for him in “Coming to America,” Anderson said.

His books included “Dear Dad – Letters From An Adult Child, ” a collection of letters from Anderson to his late father; “Good-bye Jumbo… Hello Cruel World,” a self-help book, and “The F Word, How To Survive Your Family.”

His survivors include sisters Lisa and Shanna Anderson.

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Judge Blocks Vaccine Mandate for US Federal Workers 

A federal judge on Friday issued a nationwide injunction prohibiting the enforcement of U.S. President Joe Biden’s requirement that federal workers be vaccinated. 

Biden announced the mandate, which required 3.5 million federal workers to be vaccinated or ask for a medical or religious exemption, in September. There was no option to be regularly tested instead. 

When the mandate went into effect in November, the White House said 95% of federal workers had either been vaccinated or applied for medical or religious exemptions. 

Those not conforming to the mandate could lose their jobs. 

Judge Jeffrey Brown of Texas, writing in the injunction, questioned if a president “can, with the stroke of a pen and without the input of Congress, require millions of federal employees to undergo a medical procedure as a condition of their employment.”

He called the mandate a “bridge too far,” citing a recent Supreme Court ruling striking down a mandate on private employers. 

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court struck down the Biden vaccine mandate requiring companies with more than 100 workers to be fully vaccinated. The court allowed a mandate requiring certain healthcare workers to be vaccinated. 

Brown said public health could be adequately protected using masks and social distancing. 

The plaintiff in the suit is a group called Feds for Medical Freedom.

The U.S. Department of Justice said it will appeal the injunction. 

COVID-19 has killed more than 861,000 Americans. 

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters. 

 

 

 

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Israel Probes Allegations Police Cyber-Spied on Citizens

Israel on Thursday launched an investigation into allegations police used the controversial Pegasus spyware on the country’s citizens.

In a letter sent to police commander Koby Shabtai, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit asked to receive all wiretapping and computer spying orders from 2020 and 2021 in order to “verify allegations made in the media.”

The Israeli business daily Calcalist reported Thursday that Israeli police used Pegasus software to spy on an Israeli they considered a potential threat and attempt to gather evidence that could be used as leverage in future investigations.

According to the newspaper, which did not cite any sources, the police action represents a “danger to democracy.”

Police commissioner Yaakov Shabtai, reacting to the story, said that “the police have not found any evidence to support this information.”

“The Israeli police are fighting crime with all the legal means at their disposal,” Shabtai added in a statement.

Israeli security forces have wide leeway to conduct surveillance within Israel with judicial approval.

On Wednesday, Israel’s justice ministry pledged a full investigation into allegations that Pegasus spyware was used on Israeli citizens, including people who led protests of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Pegasus, a surveillance product made by the Israeli firm NSO that can turn a mobile phone into a pocket spying device, has remained a source of global controversy following revelations last year it was used to spy on journalists and dissidents worldwide.

Once installed in a mobile phone, Pegasus allows access to the user’s messaging and data, as well as remote activation of the device for sound and image capture.

NSO would neither confirm nor deny it sold technologies to Israeli police, stressing that it does “not operate the system once sold to its governmental customers and it is not involved in any way in the system’s operation.”

“NSO sells its products under license and regulation to intelligence and law enforcement agencies to prevent terror and crime under court orders and the local laws of their countries,” it said in a statement sent to AFP.

Israel’s defense ministry, which must approve all exports of Israeli-made defense industry products, has also opened an investigation into sales of Pegasus overseas. 

 

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‘Bat Out of Hell’ Singer Meat Loaf Dies at 74

Meat Loaf, the heavyweight rock superstar loved by millions for his “Bat Out of Hell” album and for such theatrical, dark-hearted anthems as “Paradise By the Dashboard Light,” “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad,” and “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That),” has died. He was 74.

The singer born Marvin Lee Aday died Thursday, according to a family statement provided by his longtime agent Michael Greene.

“Our hearts are broken to announce that the incomparable Meat Loaf passed away tonight,” the statement said. “We know how much he meant to so many of you and we truly appreciate all of the love and support as we move through this time of grief in losing such an inspiring artist and beautiful man… From his heart to your souls…don’t ever stop rocking!”

No cause or other details were given, but Aday had numerous health scares over the years.

“Bat Out of Hell,” his mega-selling collaboration with songwriter Jim Steinman and producer Todd Rundgren, came out in 1977 and made him one of the most recognizable performers in rock. Fans fell hard for the roaring vocals of the long-haired, 250-plus pound singer and for the comic non-romance of the title track, “You Took The Words Right Out of My Mouth,” “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” and “Paradise By the Dashboard Light,” an operatic cautionary tale about going all the way. “Paradise” was a duet with Ellen Foley that featured play by play from New York Yankees broadcaster Phil Rizzuto, who alleged — to much skepticism — that he was unaware of any alternate meanings to reaching third base and heading for home.

After a slow start and mixed reviews, “Bat Out of Hell” became one of the top-selling albums in history, with worldwide sales of more than 40 million copies. Meat Loaf wasn’t a consistent hit maker, especially after falling out for years with Steinman. But he maintained close ties with his fans through his manic live shows, social media and his many television, radio and film appearances, including “Fight Club” and cameos on “Glee” and “South Park.”

Friends and fans reacted to the death on social media.

“I hope paradise is as you remember it from the dashboard light, Meat Loaf,” actor Stephen Fry said on Twitter.

Meat Loaf’s biggest musical success after “Bat Out of Hell” was “Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell,” a 1993 reunion with Steinman that sold more than 15 million copies and featured the Grammy-winning single “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).”

Steinman died in April.

Aday’s other albums included “Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster is Loose,” “Hell in a Handbasket” and “Braver Than We Are.”

A native of Dallas, Aday was the son of a school teacher who raised him on her own after divorcing his alcoholic father, a police officer. Aday was singing and acting in high school (Mick Jagger was an early favorite, so was Ethel Merman) and attended Lubbock Christian College and what is now the University of North Texas. Among his more notable childhood memories: Seeing John F. Kennedy arrive at Love Field in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, then learning the president had been assassinated and driving to Parkland Hospital and watching a bloodied Jackie Kennedy step out of a car.

He was still a teenager when his mother died and when he acquired the nickname Meat Loaf, the alleged origins of which range from his weight to a favorite recipe of his mother’s. He left for Los Angeles after college and was soon fronting the band Meat Loaf Soul. For years, he alternated between music and the stage, recording briefly for Motown, opening for such acts as the Who and the Grateful Dead and appearing in the Broadway production of “Hair.”

By the mid-1970s, he was playing the lobotomized biker Eddie in the theater and film versions of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” had served as an understudy for his friend John Belushi for the stage production of National Lampoon and had begun working with Steinman on “Bat Out of Hell.” The dense, pounding production was openly influenced by Wagner, Phil Spector and Bruce Springsteen, whose bandmates Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg played on the record. Rundgren initially thought of the album as a parody of Springsteen’s grandiose style.

Steinman had known Meat Loaf since the singer appeared in his 1973 musical “More Than You Deserve” and some of the songs on “Bat Out of Hell,” including “All Revved Up With No Place to Go,” were initially written for a planned stage show based on the story of Peter Pan. “Bat Out of Hell” took more than two years to find a taker as numerous record executives turned it down, including RCA’s Clive Davis, who disparaged Steinman’s songs and acknowledged that he had misjudged the singer: “The songs were coming over as very theatrical, and Meat Loaf, despite a powerful voice, just didn’t look like a star,” Davis wrote in his memoir, “The Soundtrack of My Life.”

With the help of another Springsteen sideman, Steve Van Zandt, “Bat Out of Hell” was acquired by Cleveland International, a subsidiary of Epic Records. The album made little impact until months after its release, when a concert video of the title track was aired on the British program the Old Grey Whistle Test. In the U.S., his connection to “Rocky Horror” helped when he convinced producer Lou Adler to use a video for “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” as a trailer for the cult movie. But Meat Loaf was so little known at first that he began his “Bat Out of Hell” tour in Chicago as the opening act for Cheap Trick, then one of the world’s hottest groups.

“I remember pulling up at the theater and it says, ‘TONIGHT: CHEAP TRICK, WITH MEAT LOAF.’ And I said to myself, ‘These people think we’re serving dinner,'” Meat Loaf explained in 2013 on the syndicated radio show “In the Studio.”

“And we walk out on stage and these people were such Cheap Trick fans they booed us from the start. They were getting up and giving us the finger. The first six rows stood up and screamed. … When we finished, most of the boos had stopped and we were almost getting applause.”

He is survived by Deborah Gillespie, his wife since 2007, and by daughters Pearl and Amanda Aday.

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China Exports Its Traditional Medicine to Africa

Hing Pal Singh is among dozens of patients with daily appointments at the Oriental Chinese Herbal Clinic in Nairobi.

Singh, 85, has been suffering from spinal problems for five years and is now trying herbal remedies.

“There is a slight difference,” Singh said. ” … It’s only a week now. It will take at least another 12 to 15 sessions. Then we see how it goes.”

Traditional Chinese medicine is becoming more popular in Africa, according to a 2020 study by Development Reimagined, a Beijing international consulting firm.

A February 2020 op-ed written by a Beijing think tank researcher and published in the state-run China Daily said such traditional medicine would “boost the Chinese economy, contribute to global health and prove to be a shot in the arm for China’s soft power.”

Potential harm

Conventional medical doctors such as Sultan Mantendechere, though, say patients are overlooking the potential harm that some herbal remedies can cause, especially if used too frequently or at too high a dosage.

“They do work in quite a number of circumstances,” Mantendechere said. “Having said that, our main worry as practitioners, the medical practitioners, is that the use of herbal medicine is not as regulated as we would want it to

Although the safety and effectiveness of traditional Chinese medicine is still debated worldwide, herbal practitioners such as Li Chuan continue to gain popularity among those seeking alternative medication.

Li said some of his patients were benefiting from purported COVID-19 remedies, although there is scant scientific evidence that they can help against the disease.

“Many people buy our herbal tea to counter COVID-19,” Li said. “The results are good.” 

Environmentalists fear the growth of traditional Chinese medicine will encourage poachers to go after endangered wildlife such as rhinos and some types of snakes used in making the potions.

Daniel Wanjuki, an environmentalist and the lead expert at Kenya’s National Environment Management Authority, said that “with people saying that the rhino horn may actually be used as an aphrodisiac, this has led to almost the complete eradication of the rhino species in Kenya and in Africa in general.” 

Economical — if effective 

Kenya spends an estimated $2.7 billion each year on health care, according to national statistics.

Kenyan economist Ken Gichinga said herbal medicine could significantly lower African medical expenses if proven effective.

“Africans spend quite a lot of money traveling to countries such as India and the UAE to get treatment” and would benefit if herbal medicine “can provide more natural, cost-effective health care,” he said.

In 2021, Kenya’s national drug regulator, the Pharmacy and Poisons Board, approved the sale of Chinese herbal health products in the country. Practitioners such as Li hope that more nations will give approval to Chinese herbal medicine in the future.

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Brazilian Samba Singer Elza Soares Dies at 91

Elza Soares, one of the most revered singers in Brazilian samba music, died at her home in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday, aged 91.

She died of natural causes, her press representative said in a statement. “An icon of Brazilian music, considered one of the best artists in the world, the singer chosen as Voice of the Millennium [by the BBC] had a tremendous, intense life, who moved the world with her voice, her strength and her determination,” said the statement.

Born in a favela slum in Rio de Janeiro to a washerwoman and a factory worker in 1930, Soares rose from poverty to record 36 albums and perform at the 2016 Olympic opening ceremony in Rio.

The mayor of Rio has declared three days of mourning for the legendary singer.

Her raspy voice struck a chord with audiences around the world in concert hall performances of songs that touched on the hardship of life in Rio, justice for women and racism in Brazilian society.

She became a fierce champion of Black feminism and an outspoken voice against violence against women.

“Racism still continues, but we are going to fight it and we will make progress. Racism is a sickness,” Soares told Reuters in an interview last year.

In 1966, Soares married soccer star Mane Garrincha, a striker who helped Brazil win the 1958 and 1962 World Cups along with the legendary Pele.

Their tumultuous 17-year relationship ended when Soares left Garrincha after he struck her during an argument. He died of cirrhosis in 1983. She died on the same day 39 years later. 

 

 

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Austria Set to Make COVID Shots Compulsory After Bill Clears Parliament

Austria’s lower house of parliament passed a bill Thursday making COVID-19 vaccinations compulsory for adults as of Feb. 1, bringing Austria closer to introducing the first such sweeping coronavirus vaccine mandate in the European Union.

Faced with a stubbornly high number of vaccine holdouts and a surge in infections, the government said in November it was planning the mandate. Since then it has raised the age as of which the mandate will apply, to 18 from 14.

The bill must now pass the upper house and be signed by President Alexander Van der Bellen, steps which will be largely formalities.

Roughly 72% of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, one of the lowest rates in Western Europe.

After a fourth national lockdown ended last month, the extremely contagious omicron variant has pushed infections to record levels, but the government wants to avoid another lockdown.

“Making COVID-19 vaccination compulsory is an emergency exit … out of the constant restrictions on our personal and fundamental rights like the ones we have had to endure in the past two years,” the leader of the opposition Social Democrats, Pamela Rendi-Wagner, who is also a doctor, told parliament.

Many lawmakers from her party and the liberal Neos backed the bill, joining the government coalition of conservatives and Greens, meaning it cleared its main hurdle easily with 137 votes for to 33 against.

The bill imposes fines of up to $680 on holdouts once checks begin on March 15. Those who challenge that initial fine unsuccessfully face a maximum fine of $4,080.

Italy has made COVID-19 vaccinations compulsory for those 50 and older, while Greece has done the same for over-60s, and various European countries have done so for some professions like medical staff.

“This vaccine mandate strips people of their rights. In one move, millions of Austrians will be downgraded,” said Herbert Kickl, leader of the far-right and anti-vaccine Freedom Party.

He added that the mandate would make holdouts “second-class citizens” and his party would challenge it in the courts.

 

 

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