Newly inaugurated US President Joe Biden will sign 10 key executive orders to combat the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday, as cases surge and troubling new variants appear around the world. Initiating the national COVID-19 strategy rollout on Biden’s first day in office, the US announced plans to rejoin the World Health Organization after the former Trump administration had admonished it. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to the president, also said the US would join the COVAX Facility, a global project to ensure equitable vaccine distribution around the world. A new COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force in the US will ensure that all minority and underserved communities are not neglected.
Biden is asking all Americans to mask up during travel as a federal mandate, radically shifting the culture of mask-wearing in the US after Trump often discouraged it. And Biden plans to amp up vaccine distribution in the US, shooting for 100 million jobs during the first 100 days in office. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is charged with setting up 100 vaccine centers within the month and reimbursing states to use their National Guard troops to help with vaccine distribution. After many schools shut down due to the virus, states can now turn to FEMA for disaster relief funding to reopen, depending on increased testing.
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Twin suicide bombings shook the Bab al-Sharqi commercial area of Baghdad on Thursday, killing at least 32 people and wounding more than 100 others, according to Iraq’s Health Minister Hassan Mohammed al-Tamimi. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. However, Iraqi Maj. Gen. Tahsin al-Khafaji said: “This is a terrorist act perpetrated by a sleeper cell of the Islamic State.” ISIS may want to “prove its existence” after several military operations in Iraq to root them out. ISIS has been largely defeated in Iraq since 2017, but ISIS militants continue to assert power. While the US has reduced its troops in Iraq in the last few years, Biden’s pick for defense secretary, Gen. Lloyd Austin, said in his confirmation hearing that he remains concerned about the threat ISIS poses inside Iraq and beyond.
A boat bound for Europe carrying 43 migrants capsized on Tuesday in the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Libya, drowning all 43 passengers. The International Organization for Migration said the tragic shipwreck was the first boat disaster of this kind in 2021. It follows the trend of migrants from North and West Africa and the Middle East who flee poverty and political instability in their home countries and make dangerous sea crossings in search of better lives in Europe. The EU has partnered with Libya’s coast guard to manage migrant traffic, but rights groups say these policies place migrants in further peril by holding them in squalid detention centers and jails.