10 things you need to know today: December 27, 2020
Biden calls on Trump to sign relief bill as enhanced jobless benefits lapse, EU launches coordinated vaccine rollout, and more
Biden calls on Trump to sign relief bill as enhanced jobless benefits lapse
Congress' $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill remained unsigned Saturday after President Trump refused to budge. Subsequently, two federal jobless programs from the CARES Act that expanded and extended benefits for millions of unemployed workers in the United States expired. Trump, who has voiced opposition to the package because he wants higher stimulus checks for individuals, could still approve the bill before 12:01 a.m. ET on Tuesday, but even if the enhanced unemployment benefits are restored, states now won't be able to restart payments until the first week in January. Economists say that even a brief delay could be dire amid the financial struggles caused by the pandemic. President-elect Joe Biden on Saturday called on Trump to sign off on the bill, describing his refusal to do so as an "abdication of responsibility." Democratic lawmakers seem to be on board with Trump's call to increase direct payments to $2,000, but their GOP counterparts appear hesitant.
EU launches coordinated vaccine rollout
A coordinated COVID-19 vaccination program among the European Union's 27 member states launched into full swing Sunday, providing a sense of hope for a continent that has dealt with numerous surges throughout the pandemic. Hungary, Germany, and Slovakia actually received their shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine Saturday and quickly began inoculating frontline health care workers and the elderly, with the rest of the bloc — including Italy, the first EU nation to get hit hard by the virus early this year — joining a day later. The EU is set to receive 12.5 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot by the end of the year, and its health regulatory agency will consider approving Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine, which is already in use in the United States, on Jan. 6.
Investigators reportedly search home of person of interest in Nashville bombing
FBI investigators have reportedly received hundreds of tips about an allegedly intentional explosion that occurred in downtown Nashville on Christmas Day. The agency isn't "working on any assumptions," and no motive has been identified, but CBS News and NBC News report that Anthony Quinn Warner, a 63-year-old Nashville area resident, has emerged as a person of interest in the case. Warner reportedly had an RV that was a similar make and model to one that police said was used in the bombing. Federal and local agents searched Warner's home Saturday. At least three people were injured in the explosion, and 41 buildings were damaged, but there have been no confirmed fatalities.
3 killed, 3 wounded in Illinois bowling alley shooting
A gunman killed three people and injured three others in a shooting at a bowling alley in Rockford, Illinois, on Saturday night. Police believe the shooting was a random attack, and a 37-year-old male suspect was reportedly in custody. Rockford Police Chief Daniel O'Shea said the crime scene is contained and it does not appear any officers fired their weapons while apprehending the suspect. Details about the victims were mostly kept under wraps — it's not clear whether they were employees or patrons of Don Carter Lanes. Two of the victims were teenagers, but it is not known if they survived. The three wounded victims were taken to a local hospital for treatment.
Japan to bar entry to foreign visitors over new coronavirus variant
Japan will ban foreign visitors beginning Monday, the Japanese foreign ministry said in a statement Saturday. The decision comes after several cases of a new COVID-19 variant first identified in the United Kingdom were discovered in the country. Between Friday and Saturday seven people who recently traveled to Japan from the U.K. were found to have the variant. The ban does not apply to Japanese citizens for foreign residents returning from abroad, but they will reportedly be required to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. There will also be an exception for some business travelers from other countries, mostly in Asia. There is a lack of clarity over the new variant. Scientists believe it is more transmissible, but there is no evidence it causes more severe COVID-19 infections.
Holiday retail sales increase 3 percent
Total retail sales grew 3 percent in the United States over the extended 75-day holiday period this year, Bloomberg reports. That figure beat the 2.4 percent increase predicted by Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracks online and in-store retail sales across all payment methods. The boost comes amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused significant financial hardship across the country. But consumers were still spending, especially online, where sales rose by 49 percent from a year ago, per the Mastercard report. Department stores still struggled, however, with people remaining reluctant to shop indoors because of the pandemic. But, overall, Steve Sadove, a senior adviser for Mastercard and former Saks executive, said the 3 percent increase is "a very healthy number." In 2008, during the last U.S. recession, holiday sales dropped 3.5 percent.
Central African Republican holds presidential, parliamentary elections
Voters are heading to the polls Sunday in the Central African Republic to choose a new president and parliament while the government simultaneously attempts to hold off a rebel advance on the capital, Bangui. Armed groups that oppose President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, who is favored to win a second term, have escalated attacks since the constitutional court rejected several candidates seeking to challenge him, including former President Francois Bozizé, Al Jazeera reports. Touadéra has accused Bozizé of plotting a coup. Still, voting has reportedly been going smoothly. There are 17 candidates in contention, and if no one receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the election will go to a second round.
China's financial regulators order Ant Group to alter business plan
China's financial regulators on Sunday instructed Ant Group, the world's largest financial technology company, to quickly present a concrete plan to meet regulatory demands and rectify what they consider a series of business failings. Pan Gongsheng, a deputy governor at the central bank, said Ant's corporate governance was "not sound," the company was "indifferent" to the law, and it "looked down" on compliance requirements. The move comes a month after Beijing abruptly halted Ant's initial public offering, which was on track to be the largest IPO ever. China has sought to rein in large internet companies of late, The New York Times notes, and the country's market regulator recently launched an antimonopoly investigation into e-commerce giant Alibaba, Ant's sister company which is also run by China's richest man, Jack Ma.
Author Barry Lopez dies at 75
Barry Lopez, the prolific author of nearly 20 books on natural history studies, died Friday in Eugene, Oregon, his family announced Saturday. He was 75. Lopez had been suffering from prostate cancer for several years. Lopez was known for his travel and environmental writings, which NPR notes "were reminders of how precious life on earth is, and of our responsibility to care for it." In 1986, he won the National Book Award for Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape, which was the result of almost five years of traveling in the Arctic. His final book, Horizon, was published in 2019. He spent more than 30 years on it, detailing a lifetime of travel in more than 70 countries. Lopez is survived by his wife, four stepdaughters, and an older brother.
Utah running back Ty Jordan dies at 19
University of Utah running back Ty Jordan has died, the school announced Saturday. He was 19. Jordan was reportedly the victim of an accidental shooting in Denton, Texas, on Friday night. "Following a preliminary investigation, we do believe that this was an accidental shooting, where the victim accidentally shot himself," Denton Police Department public information officer Allison Beckworth told ESPN. Though the department did not identify the victim, both the university and head football coach Kyle Whittingham addressed Jordan's death. Whittingham said the team is devastated. "Ty's personality and smile were infectious," Whittingham said in a statement, adding that Jordan "leaves an indelible mark on each of us and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends." Jordan was a rising star on the gridirion and was named the Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year while earning second team All-Pac-12 honors.