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UK Honors COVID Scientists and Medics, Bond Actor Daniel Craig 

Britain recognized the scientists and medical chiefs at the forefront of the battle against COVID-19 in Queen Elizabeth’s annual New Year’s honors list, while James Bond actor Daniel Craig was given the same award as his famous onscreen character. 

Craig, who bowed out from playing the fictional British spy after five outings following the release of “No Time to Die” this year, was made a Companion in The Order of St. Michael and St. George (CMG) in recognition of his outstanding contribution to film. 

Bond was also a CMG, so the honor means Craig has now matched all his titles, having been made an honorary Commander in the Royal Navy in September. 

There were also major honors for the high-profile officials and others involved in tackling the coronavirus pandemic. 

The chief medical officers for England, Scotland and Wales – Chris Whitty, Gregor Smith and Frank Atherton – were given knighthoods. There were also honors for the deputy medical officers for England, with Jonathan Van-Tam knighted and Jenny Harries made a dame. 

The government’s chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance, who had previously been knighted, was made a Knight Commander of The Order of The Bath. 

There were also awards for those involved in producing vaccines including Pfizer Chief Development Officer Rod MacKenzie, Sean Marett, the chief business and commercial officer at BioNTech, and Melanie Ivarsson, the chief development officer at Moderna. 

Cyclist Jason Kenny, who achieved his seventh gold medal at the Tokyo Olympic Games, more than any other Briton has won, was also knighted. His wife, Laura, who is the nation’s most successful female Olympic athlete and became the first to win gold at three successive Games, received a damehood. 

Among the 78 Olympian and Paralympians to be included in the list were gold medal winners swimmer Adam Peaty and diver Tom Daley, who received OBEs. 

Emma Raducanu, who stunned the tennis world by becoming the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam title with victory in the U.S. Open, was another sporting figure to be honored with an MBE. 

Songwriter Bernie Taupin, best known for his collaborations with Elton John including his 1997 reworking of “Candle in the Wind” that John sang at the funeral of Princess Diana, was awarded a CBE. 

There were also damehoods for veteran actresses Joanna Lumley and Vanessa Redgrave for their services to drama, entertainment and charity. 

The New Year’s honors have been awarded since Queen Victoria’s reign in the 19th century and aim to recognize not just well-known figures but people who have contributed to national life through often unsung work over many years. 

“These recipients have inspired and entertained us and given so much to their communities in the UK or in many cases around the world,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

 

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Hall of Famer Sam Jones, Winner of 10 NBA Titles, Dies at 88

Basketball Hall of Famer Sam Jones, the Boston Celtics’ “Mr. Clutch” whose sharp shooting fueled the league’s longest dynasty and earned him 10 NBA titles — second only to teammate Bill Russell — has died, the team said. He was 88. 

Jones died Thursday night in Florida, where he had been hospitalized in failing health, Celtics spokesman Jeff Twiss said.

“Sam Jones was one of the most talented, versatile and clutch shooters for the most successful and dominant teams in NBA history,” the team said in a statement.

“His scoring ability was so prolific, and his form so pure, that he earned the simple nickname, ‘The Shooter,’ ” the Celtics said. “The Jones family is in our thoughts as we mourn his loss and fondly remember the life and career of one of the greatest champions in American sports.” 

The Celtics paused for a moment of silence before Friday afternoon’s game against the Phoenix Suns, showing a video tribute on the screen hanging among the championship banners above the parquet floor at the TD Garden. His No. 24, which was retired by the Celtics in 1969 while he was a still an active player, also was displayed on the monitor in the hushed arena before a still photo of him in a suit and the words “Sam Jones 1933-2021.” 

“Another one of my dear friends lost,” Celtics broadcaster Cedric Maxwell wrote on Twitter. “Well, the banks are open in heaven this #NYE.”

Reliable scorer 

Often providing the offense while Russell locked things down at the other end, Jones averaged 17.7 points per game over 12 seasons. The number went up in the postseason, when he averaged 18.9 points and was usually the No. 1 option for the game’s final shot for the teams that won 10 titles from 1959 to 1969. 

“We never flew first class in my 12 years of playing basketball,” Jones told The Associated Press this fall in an interview for the league’s 75th anniversary. “But we always won NBA championships.” 

In 1964, Jones was a member of the NBA’s first starting lineup to include five Black players, joining Russell, Tom “Satch” Sanders, K.C. Jones and Willie Naulls. Although coach Red Auerbach maintained he was thinking only of his best chance to win, the lineup broke with an unwritten rule that pressured teams to have at least one white player on the floor.

Jones, a North Carolina native who served two years in the Army before returning to college, told the AP that the NBA of the 1960s was little different than the segregated South where he grew up and went to school. 

“I’m fighting for the freedom of everybody here in the United States. And when I come back, I still got to fight for my freedom,” Jones said. “Something is wrong with that and has always been and is happening even today.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Jones will be remembered as “one of the most prolific champions in all of professional sports.” 

“His selfless style, clutch performances and signature bank shot were hallmarks of an incredible career,” Silver said. “Sam was a beloved teammate and respected competitor who played the game with dignity and class. We mourn the passing of a basketball giant and send our deepest condolences to Sam’s family and the Celtics organization.” 

Born in Wilmington, Jones attended North Carolina Central, a Division II, historically Black university in Durham. Auerbach first heard of Jones when he went to North Carolina to scout the national champion Tar Heels and was told that the best player in the state was at Central playing for Hall of Fame coach John McLendon.

Selected sight unseen

Auerbach selected Jones in the first round of the 1957 draft, eighth overall, despite never seeing him play. 

“Russell and I are the most successful players in winning championships in the NBA. Yet he never saw us play a game because they had no scouts,” Jones told the AP. “The coaches called other coaches to see how other players were playing. They took their word for it.”

Jones led the Celtics in scoring five times — including the 1963 champions, when he was one of eight future Hall of Famers on the roster. When he retired in 1969 at age 36, Jones held 11 Celtics records and was the only player in franchise history to score more than 50 points in a game. 

“You look at the championships and what he did, it’s obviously a big loss for the community here,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said before Friday’s game. 

Using a bank shot that was unconventional even then, Jones came to be known as “Mr. Clutch” after a series of game-winners, including a buzzer-beater to clinch the 1962 Eastern Conference finals. He hit an off-balance, wrong-footed jumper to win Game 4 of the ’69 finals; instead of heading to Los Angeles trailing 3-1, the Celtics tied the series against the Lakers at two games apiece and went on to win in seven. 

Jones retired after that title, having won his 10 championships in 12 seasons. A five-time All-Star, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984. 

Jones was named to the NBA’s 25th, 50th and 75th anniversary teams. His death comes a year after teammate Tommy Heinsohn died and 13 months after the death of K.C. Jones. 

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Omicron Surge Prompts CES to Trim a Day from Schedule

This year’s Consumer Electronics Show will end a day earlier than planned, the organizer of the global technology and gadget show said, after companies including Amazon and General Motors dropped out of attending the Las Vegas event in person because of omicron concerns. 

“The step was taken as an additional safety measure to the current health protocols that have been put in place for CES,” event organizer Consumer Technology Association said on Friday, announcing the event will now end on January 7. 

The spread of the omicron variant has led to a sharp jump in COVID-19 infections across the world, making many reconsider their travel plans and leading to thousands of flight cancellations. 

The number of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. has doubled in eight days to a record of 587,143 new cases on Thursday, according to a Reuters tally. 

As worries over the new variant loom, many companies have withdrawn from presenting in-person at the event, planned both virtually and in-person, that begins on January 5 with more than 2,200 exhibitors. 

Over the last few days, a host of firms including Advanced Micro Devices, Proctor & Gamble, Google, and Facebook parent Meta Platforms have also dropped their in-person plans. 

Sony Group’s Sony Electronics has said it will have limited staffing and attendees at the event. 

All attendees in Las Vegas will be required to be fully vaccinated and masked. COVID-19 test kits will also be provided at the venue, according to CTA’s statement. 

 

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Actress Betty White Dies Just Shy of 100th Birthday

Comedic actress Betty White, who capped a career of more than 80 years by becoming America’s geriatric sweetheart after Emmy-winning roles on television sitcoms The Golden Girls and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, has died, less than three weeks shy of her 100th birthday, People magazine reported Friday, quoting her agent. 

Her agent and close friend Jeff Witjas told the magazine, “Even though Betty was about to be 100, I thought she would live forever.” 

In a youth-driven entertainment industry where an actress over 40 is facing career twilight, White was an elderly anomaly who was a star in her 60s and a pop culture phenomenon in her 80s and 90s. 

Playing on her imminent likability, White was still starring in a TV sitcom, Hot in Cleveland, at age 92 until it was canceled in late 2014. 

White said her longevity was a result of good health, good fortune and loving her work. 

“It’s incredible that I’m still in this business and that you are still putting up with me,” White said in an appearance at the 2018 Emmy Awards ceremony, where she was honored for her long career. “It’s incredible that you can stay in a career this long and still have people put up with you. I wish they did that at home.” 

White was not afraid to mock herself and throw out a joke about her sex life or a snarky crack that one would not expect from a sweet-smiling white-haired woman. She was frequently asked if, after such a long career, there was anything she still wanted to do, and the standard response was “Robert Redford.” 

“Old age hasn’t diminished her,” The New York Times wrote in 2013. “It has given her a second wind.” 

Betty Marion White was born on January 17, 1922, in Oak Park, Illinois, and her family moved to Los Angeles during the Great Depression, where she attended Beverly Hills High School. 

Start of career 

White started her entertainment career in radio in the late 1930s and by 1939 had made her TV debut singing on an experimental channel in Los Angeles. After serving in the American Women’s Voluntary Service, which helped the U.S. effort during World War II, she was a regular on Hollywood on Television, a daily five-hour live variety show, in 1949. 

A few years later she became a pioneering woman in television by co-founding a production company and serving as a co-creator, producer and star of the 1950s sitcom Life With Elizabeth. 

Through the 1960s and early ’70s, White was seen regularly on television, hosting coverage of the annual Tournament of Rose Parade and appearing on game shows such as Match Game and Password. She married Password host Allen Ludden, her third and final husband, in 1963. 

White reached a new level of success on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, playing the host of a homemaking television show, the snide, lusty Sue Ann Nivens, whose credo was “a woman who does a good job in the kitchen is sure to reap her rewards in other parts of the house.” White won best supporting actress Emmys for the role in 1975 and 1976. 

She won another Emmy in 1986 for The Golden Girls, a sitcom about four older women living together in Miami that featured an age demographic rarely highlighted on American television. White also was nominated for an Emmy six other times for her portrayal of the widowed Rose Nylund, a sweet, naive and ditzy Midwesterner, on the show, which ran from 1985 to 1992 and was one of the top-rated series of its time. 

Guest appearances 

After a less successful sequel to The Golden Girls came a series of small movie parts, talk-show appearances and one-off television roles, including one on The John Larroquette Show that won her an Emmy for a guest appearance. 

By 2009 she was becoming ubiquitous with more frequent television appearances and a role in the Sandra Bullock film The Proposal. She starred in a popular Snickers candy commercial that aired during the Super Bowl, taking a brutal hit in a mud puddle in a football game. 

A young fan started a Facebook campaign to have White host Saturday Night Live, and she ended up appearing in every sketch on the show and winning still another Emmy for it. 

The Associated Press voted her entertainer of the year in 2010, and a 2011 Reuters/Ipsos poll found that White, then 89, was the most popular and trusted celebrity in America, with an 86% favorability rating. 

White’s witty and brassy demeanor came in handy as host of Betty White’s Off Their Rockers, a hidden-camera show in which elderly actors pulled pranks on younger people. 

“Who would ever dream that I would not only be this healthy, but still be invited to work?” White said in a 2015 interview with Oprah Winfrey. “That’s the privilege … to still have jobs to do is such a privilege.” 

White, who had no children, worked for animal causes. She once turned down a role in the movie As Good as It Gets because of a scene in which a dog was thrown in a garbage chute. 

 

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2022 Oscar Contenders Reflect Turbulence, Needs of the Times

The new year signals the beginning of the Oscars race. Oscar nominees distinguish themselves in categories such as film direction, cinematography and acting. The message of these films is also significant, especially in relation to the times we live in. VOA’s Penelope Poulou looks at some of these promising contenders.

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New Year’s Eve Muted by Omicron; Many Hoping for Better 2022

Good riddance to 2021. Let 2022 bring fresh hope.

That was a common sentiment Friday as people around the world got ready to welcome in the new year.

In many places, plans for New Year’s Eve celebrations were muted or canceled for the second straight year due to a surge of coronavirus infections, this time driven by the highly contagious omicron variant.

Even before omicron hit, many people were happy to say goodbye to a second grinding year of the pandemic. 

But so far, at least, the omicron surge hasn’t resulted in the same levels of hospitalizations and deaths as previous outbreaks — especially among vaccinated people — offering a glimmer of hope for 2022. 

In Japan, writer Naoki Matsuzawa said he would spend the next few days cooking and delivering food to the elderly because some stores would be closed. He said vaccinations had made people less anxious about the pandemic, despite the new variant.

“A numbness has set in, and we are no longer overly afraid,” said Matsuzawa, who lives in Yokohama, southwest of Tokyo. “Some of us are starting to take for granted that it won’t happen to me.”

Like many other people, Matsuzawa hopes that life will improve in 2022. 

“I hope the restrictions can disappear,” he said.

Across Japan, many people planned to take new year trips to spend time with their families. On New Year’s Eve, people thronged temples and shrines, most of them wearing masks.

Some appeared to be shrugging off virus fears, however, by dining and drinking raucously in downtown Tokyo and flocking to shops, celebrating not only the holidays but a sense of exhilaration over being freed from recent virus restrictions.

Because of where the international date line sits, countries in Asia and the Pacific region are among the first to usher in each new year.

 

Australia was planning to go ahead with its celebrations despite an explosion in virus cases. The centerpiece of festivities is the renowned fireworks display from the Sydney Harbor Bridge and Sydney Opera House.

Hours before the celebrations were due to begin, Australian health authorities reported a record 32,000 new virus cases, many of them in Sydney. Because of the surge, authorities were expecting far smaller crowds than in pre-pandemic years, when as many as 1 million revelers would crowd inner Sydney. 

In neighboring New Zealand, where there hasn’t been any community spread of omicron, authorities took a precautionary approach by canceling several fireworks displays, including a popular one from atop Auckland’s Sky Tower. Auckland instead will mark the new year with a light display projected onto the tower and other city landmarks.

In South Korea’s capital, Seoul, the annual New Year’s Eve bell-ringing ceremony was canceled for the second straight year due to a surge in cases.

Officials said a pre-recorded video of this year’s bell-ringing ceremony would instead be broadcast online and on television. The ceremony had previously drawn tens of thousands of people. Last year’s cancellation was the first since the ceremony began in 1953.

 

South Korean authorities also planned to close many beaches and other tourist attractions along the east coast, which usually swarm with people hoping to catch the year’s first sunrise. On Friday, South Korea said it will extend tough distancing rules for another two weeks.

In India, millions of people were planning to ring in the new year from their homes, with nighttime curfews and other restrictions taking the fizz out of celebrations in large cities including New Delhi and Mumbai. 

Authorities have imposed restrictions to keep revelers away from restaurants, hotels, beaches and bars amid a surge in cases fueled by omicron. 

But some places, including Goa, a tourist paradise, and Hyderabad, an information technology hub, have been spared from night curfews thanks to smaller numbers of infections, although other restrictions still apply.

Many Indonesians were also forgoing their usual festivities for a quieter evening at home, after the government banned many New Year’s Eve celebrations. In Jakarta, fireworks displays, parades and other large gatherings were prohibited, while restaurants and malls were allowed to remain open but with curfews imposed.

Vietnam also canceled fireworks shows and celebrations. In Hanoi, authorities closed off central streets, while in Ho Chi Minh City, audiences were banned from watching live countdown performances, which instead were to be shown on social media.

In Hong Kong, about 3,000 people planned to attend a New Year’s Eve concert featuring local celebrities including boy band Mirror. The concert will be the first big New Year’s Eve event held since 2018, after events were canceled in 2019 due to political strife and last year because of the pandemic.

In mainland China, the Shanghai government canceled events including an annual light show along the Huangpu River in the city center that usually draws hundreds of thousands of spectators.

There were no plans for public festivities in Beijing, where popular temples have been closed or had limited access since mid-December. The government has called on people to avoid leaving the Chinese capital if possible and requires tests for travelers arriving from areas where there are infections.

 

Popular temples in the eastern Chinese cities of Nanjing, Hangzhou and other major cities canceled traditional New Year’s Eve “lucky bell-ringing” ceremonies and asked the public to stay away.

But in Thailand, authorities were allowing New Year’s Eve parties and fireworks displays to continue, albeit with strict safety measures. They were hoping to slow the spread of the omicron variant while also softening the blow to the country’s battered tourism sector. New Year’s Eve prayers, which are usually held in Buddhist temples around Thailand, will be held online instead.

In the Philippines, a powerful typhoon two weeks ago wiped out basic necessities for tens of thousands of people ahead of New Year’s Eve. More than 400 were killed by Typhoon Rai and at least 82 remain missing. Half a million homes were damaged or destroyed.

Leahmer Singson, a 17-year-old mother, lost her home to a fire last month, and then the typhoon blew away her temporary wooden shack in Cebu city. She will welcome the new year with her husband, who works in a glass and aluminum factory, and her 1-year-old baby in a ramshackle tent in a coastal clearing where hundreds of other families erected small tents from debris, rice sacks and tarpaulins to shield themselves from the rain and sun. 

Asked what she wants for the new year, Singson had a simple wish: “I hope we won’t get sick.”

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Pakistan: 70 Million Fully Vaccinated Against COVID-19

Pakistan says it has administered 155 million COVID-19 vaccine doses as of Friday, fully vaccinating 70 million people, or 30% of the country’s total population, since launching the inoculation drive in February.

The South Asian nation of about 220 million reported its first case in early 2020 and since then the pandemic has infected about 1.3 million people and killed nearly 29,000 people, keeping the situation largely under control.

“Of the total eligible population [age 12 and above], 46% is fully vaccinated and 63% has received at least one dose,” Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar who heads the National Command and Operation Center that oversees Pakistan’s pandemic response, tweeted.

 

The government had set the target in May and achieved it “with the help of countless workers, citizens and leadership across the country,” tweeted Faisal Sultan, the special assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan on national health services.

 

Faisal advised Pakistanis to continue to use masks, avoid crowded places and ensure social distancing in the wake of rising cases of infection from the omicron variant.

Officials said Pakistan has received a total of 247 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to date. The government has purchased 157 million while 78 million arrived through the COVAX dose-sharing program, including 32.6 million donated by the United States, and nearly 9 million donated from China.

 

The United Nations and other global partners have acknowledged Pakistan’s effective response to the pandemic, citing the country’s success in vaccinating children against polio and other transmittable diseases through mass immunization campaigns.

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the federal health ministry adapted its facilities to vaccinate adults, who make up about half of Pakistan’s population, according to a recent UNICEF statement. 

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Wet December Raises Some Hope for Drought-Stricken California

Record snowfalls in the western United States that closed roads and caused flight delays also brought some good news for drought-hit California on Thursday, with officials saying the state’s snowpack is now well above normal. 

After a string of mountain blizzards, snowpack measured at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada stands at more than 200% of its average for this date, according to the first measurement of the season by California’s Department of Water Resources (DWR). The Sierra Nevada supplies almost a third of the state’s water needs, once the snow runs off to reservoirs and aqueducts. 

Statewide, snowpack is 160% of its average, the DWR said. 

“We could not have asked for a better December in terms of Sierra snow and rain,” said Karla Nemeth, the director of the DWR. 

Droughts in California are growing more frequent and intense with climate change, according to scientists, threatening the state’s already tenuous water supply and creating conditions for dangerous wildfires. 

Despite the precipitation-heavy end to 2021, the DWR warned against complacency. 

The state would still have to see “significant” precipitation in January and February to make up for the two previous winters, the state’s fifth- and second-driest water years on record, the DWR said. 

“California continues to experience evidence of climate change with bigger swings between wet and dry years and even extreme variability within a season,” said Sean de Guzman, manager of DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Unit. 

He added that a wet start to the winter season did not necessarily mean precipitation in 2022 would end above average. 

 

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