Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: April 4, 2021

Pope Francis focuses on vaccine distribution in Easter message, Johnson & Johnson will take control of plant that spoiled doses, and more


Pope Francis focuses on vaccine distribution in Easter message

After presiding over an Easter Mass attended by fewer than 200 people in St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City because of coronavirus restrictions on Sunday, Pope Francis delivered his latest "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world). In the message, Francis said, "I urge the entire international community, in a spirit of global responsibility, to commit to overcoming delays in the distribution of [COVID-19] vaccines and to facilitate their distribution, especially in the poorest countries." He also called for more public assistance for those struggling financially during the pandemic, and lamented the fact that many people, especially youths, have missed out on "experiencing real human relationships" over the last year. Aside from the pandemic, Francis also drew attention to conflicts in Ethiopia and Mozambique, anti-coup protests in Myanmar, and the civil war in Syria, calling for peace in each situation.


Johnson & Johnson will take control of plant that spoiled doses

At the direction of the Department of Health and Human Services, Johnson & Johnson will take charge of the Baltimore contract plant that ruined 15 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine, senior federal health officials told The New York Times. Johnson & Johnson confirmed the news Saturday night. The doses were spoiled because of a mistake at a facility run by Emergent BioSolutions, a manufacturing partner to both Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, which has also developed a COVID-19 vaccine, albeit one that has yet to be authorized by the Food and Drug Administration. Workers at the plant accidentally mixed up the ingredients of the two shots, delaying future shipments of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The error was caught and none of the contaminated vaccines made it out of the plant, but the Biden administration isn't taking any more chances. Production of the AstraZeneca vaccine will move to an alternative site.


Gonzaga, Baylor punch tickets to men's title game

The NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament's No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga kept their undefeated season going Saturday night, but just barely. The Bulldogs survived a stellar Final Four performance from No. 11 UCLA, the field's de facto Cinderella story. The Bruins forced overtime, and in the waning seconds of the extra period, UCLA's Johnny Juzang rebounded his own miss and tied the game at 90 on a putback. But Gonzaga pushed the ball up the court, and freshman point guard Jalen Suggs hit a buzzer beater from just inside halfcourt as time expired to win 93-90. In the other semifinal, No. 1 Baylor cruised past No. 2 Houston. The Bears used a balanced attack to dispatch the Cougars, 78-59. Gonzaga and Baylor are both seeking their first national championship. If Gonzaga pulls out a victory Monday night, they'll cap the first unbeaten season in the sport since 1976.


Georgia's Kemp vows to defend voting bill after MLB pulls All-Star Game

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) on Saturday vowed to defend the new voting measures he recently signed into law, saying he "will not be backing down from this fight." On Friday, the already-intense debate about the state law, which critics say will suppress voting rights, picked up steam after Major League Baseball announced it is pulling the 2021 All-Star Game from Truist Park, home to the Atlanta Braves. Kemp joined other prominent GOP politicians, including former President Donald Trump, in pushing back against the decision. Kemp said MLB "caved to fear and lies from liberal activists." In contrast, he said, "we will not be intimidated, and we will also not be silenced." Trump, meanwhile, released another statement on the matter Saturday night, again calling for a boycott of MLB. This time, though, he urged Republicans to target several other companies, as well.


Jordan's former crown prince at center of apparent crackdown

Jordanian authorities on Saturday arrested as many as 20 people after officials said they discovered an unspecified plot that threatened the "security and stability" of the country, a senior Middle Eastern intelligence official briefed on the events told The Washington Post. The Jordanian Armed Forces confirmed there were multiple arrests and that former Crown Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, King Abdullah II's half-brother, has been "asked to cease all movements or activities that could be employed to target Jordan's security and stability." The military maintained the prince was not under arrest, but said "comprehensive investigations are underway." In a video message sent to BBC by his lawyer, Hamzah, who claimed he has been confined to his home, denied being involved in any anti-government conspiracy, but he did not refrain from criticizing the government, calling it corrupt and inept. The U.S. said it supports Abdullah, a key ally.


Capitol Police union chair calls for staffing increase

Gus Papathanasiou, the chair of the union for U.S. Capitol Police officers, said in a statement Saturday that the department is "struggling to meet existing mission requirements," and he's calling on Congress to hire hundreds of new officers. He explained that the department is staffed below its authorized level of 233 officers, noting that more officers will likely retire in the coming years, raising the risk of even more shortages. Additionally, Papathanasiou said he's had "multiple younger officers confide in me that they're actively looking at other agencies and departments right now." It's been a devastating year for the Capitol Police. Officer Brian Sicknick died from injuries he sustained defending the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot, while another officer died by suicide following the event. On Friday, Officer William Evans was killed as a result of a separate attack at the Capitol.


Myanmar protesters carry painted Easter eggs in latest anti-coup demonstration

In the latest iteration of anti-coup protests in Myanmar, demonstrators across the country took to the streets carrying pained Easter eggs inscribed with messages of defiance against the Feb. 1 military takeover and the subsequent state-sponsored violence against protesters. "Easter is all about the future and the people of Myanmar have a great future in a federal democracy," Dr. Sasa, the international envoy for the ousted civilian government, said, per Reuters. The protest movement began in February and has shown no signs of slowing down despite the violent response from security forces. The civilian death toll since the coup began now stands at 557, including dozens of children.


DeSantis declares state of emergency in Florida county over wastewater leak

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Saturday declared a state of emergency in Manatee County over fears that a wastewater pond located at a former phosphate processing plant could collapse imminently. Some residents have been evacuated from their homes. The pond has a "significant leak," county officials said. The pond sits in a stack of phosphogypsum, a waste product from manufacturing fertilizer that is radioactive. It contains small amounts of naturally occurring radium and uranium, and the Center for Biological Diversity warned it could also contain "carcinogens and heavy toxic metals." Officials are on site conducting a controlled release of water, a process that could reportedly take several days.


Report: Ghani will present 3-phase Afghan peace plan at proposed Turkey meeting

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will share a three-phase plan to secure peace with the Taliban during a proposed meeting in Turkey, Reuters reports, citing a document. Ghani's plan will reportedly be presented at the meeting, which would happen later this month ahead of the May 1 foreign troop withdrawal deadline, as a counter to proposals drawn up by Washington. The first phase of Ghani's plan reportedly includes a consensus on a political settlement and an internationally monitored ceasefire, Reuters reports. The next step would reportedly be a presidential election and "implementation arrangements" for moving toward the new political system. Finally, per Reuters, the third phase involves constructing a "constitutional framework, reintegration of refugees, and development" for Afghanistan.


DMX reportedly on life support following heart attack

The rapper and actor DMX, born Earl Simmons, is on life support at New York's White Plains Hospital after suffering a heart attack, the 50-year-old's lawyer Murray Richman said Saturday evening. Richman did not confirm earlier reports DMX had overdosed on drugs, and he did not say what may have caused the heart attack. TMZ reported it received a statement from a representative of DMX on Saturday that said the rapper was "rushed to the hospital after collapsing at home" and he remains in critical condition in the intensive care unit. DMX burst onto the music scene in 1998 with his debut studio album It's Dark and Hell is Hot, which debuted No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. Since then, he's released several more albums and earned three Grammy nominations.


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