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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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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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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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Australia Demands Foreign Travelers Take COVID-19 Test

Beginning Friday, foreign nationals granted special permission to fly to Australia take a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of their departure. Masks will also be compulsory on all international flights.Australia has had a fortress-like approach to COVID-19. It closed its borders to most foreign travelers in March to try to curb the spread of the coronavirus.But 25,000 overseas passengers have been granted travel exemptions since the pandemic began, while a similar number have been rejected. People allowed into Australia include those wishing to attend a funeral of a close relative, those needing urgent medical care or key workers with critical skills.Arrivals, including foreign diplomats and transit passengers, now need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test at check-in prior to departure.There are some exemptions. They include international air crew, children under the age of 4, and travelers flying from New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu.All passengers face 14 days’ mandatory hotel quarantine on arrival in Australia. Masks will also be compulsory on international flights into the country.“These are difficult and will be challenging for many people, and I am apologetic that we need to put in place these restrictions,” said Greg Hunt, Australia’s federal health minister. “The fact that we have new, more virulent strains that are emerging around the world – these remind us of precisely why we have been able to keep Australians safe, but we have to be ever-vigilant and responding to international events as they occur.”Australian citizens and permanent residents have been allowed to return to Australia. They, too, must go into quarantine in a hotel at their own expense, but they do not need to take a COVID-19 test before their flight home.Along with border closures, mass screenings for the coronavirus have been a key part in Australia’s strategy to contain the virus. More than 12.5 million tests – an average of one for every two people – have been carried out.Strict lockdowns have also been important, and there are signs the economic harm inflicted by the pandemic is beginning to ease.Official government figures show that nine out of 10 of the jobs lost during the coronavirus crisis were recovered before Christmas, with the Australian economy rebounding as outbreaks were brought under control.The health department estimates there are 170 active COVID-19 infections in Australia.Nearly 29,000 coronavirus cases have been reported in Australia since the pandemic began, and 909 people have died, according to the department of health.

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Public Face of South Africa’s COVID-19 Fight Dies of Virus Complications

South Africa is mourning the sudden death of Jackson Mthembu, a cabinet minister and presidential adviser who was the public face of South Africa’s fight against COVID-19.President Cyril Ramaphosa offered condolences in a statement Thursday, saying he was shocked and saddened that 62-year-old Mthembu had died from COVID-related complications.He is the first of six South African cabinet members infected with COVID-19 to succumb to the disease.Mthembu revealed last week that he tested positive for the virus during a checkup for abdominal pain.His death comes as South Africa battles a second wave of COVID-19 propelled by a virus variant believed to be more easily spread.So far, South Africa has confirmed more than 1.3 million infections and 39,501 deaths, according to John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. 

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Biden Signs Executive Orders on Coronavirus Pandemic

U.S. President Joe Biden spent his first full day in office Thursday signing a number of 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.One of Biden’s orders would increase production of a syringe that pharmacists have discovered allows them to extract an extra dose of the vaccine from vials.The establishment of the Pandemic Testing Board is the result of another executive order. The aim of the new board is to increase COVID testing. Many Americans are still scrambling to secure testing appointments.Another of Biden’s executive orders mandates the wearing of masks on intercity buses and trains, as well as in airports and on airplanes. Mask-wearing has been identified as a simple, but effective means of slowing the spread of the virus.In other news on Biden’s first full day in office, the country’s leading infectious disease expert said the United States will participate in the global initiative to provide COVID-19 vaccines to poor countries.Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Biden’s chief medical adviser, told the executive board of the World Health Organization Thursday during a videoconference that the United States will join the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, or COVAX, an international alliance led by WHO that seeks to provide COVID vaccines to the world’s poorest countries.Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
download this video to view it offline.Download File360p | 8 MB480p | 12 MB540p | 15 MB720p | 28 MB1080p | 60 MBOriginal | 74 MB Embed” />Copy Download AudioFauci also said the U.S. would fulfill its financial obligations to the United Nations health agency and maintain its previous staffing commitments. His remarks came one day after Biden issued an order on his first day in office pledging to restore Washington’s ties with WHO. 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.“This is a good day for WHO and a good day for global health,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in response to Fauci’s announcement.In a related story, 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 who is taking part in the strike, and at least a half-dozen striking doctors are staging the strike in a makeshift tent outside the headquarters of the health ministry in the capital, Lima.Quiñones said the government has not fulfilled its commitments to improve conditions in the country’s public hospital system, leaving doctors without adequate supplies of oxygen, medicines and ventilators. 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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