Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: September 21, 2021

The U.S. lifts its travel ban on fully vaccinated foreigners, Pfizer and BioNTech say their vaccine is safe for children, and more

1

U.S. to lift travel ban for vaccinated foreigners

The White House said Monday said it would lift its travel ban on fully vaccinated people from 33 countries. The ban was imposed 18 months ago to help curb the spread of COVID-19. Vaccinated travelers will have to show a negative coronavirus test conducted within three days of their departure. Unvaccinated Americans will be allowed to travel, but will have to test negative within a day of departure, then get another test after arrival, White House pandemic coordinator Jeffrey Zients said. "International travel is critical to connecting families and friends, to fueling small and large businesses, to promoting the open exchange of ideas and culture," Zients said. In New York City alone, the loss of tourists resulted in the loss of an estimated 89,000 jobs.

2

Pfizer, BioNTech say their vaccine is safe, effective for children

Pfizer and BioNTech said Monday that a low dose of their coronavirus vaccine proved safe and effective in children aged 5 to 11 years. Children account for more than 20 percent of new infections, and more of them have wound up in hospitals and intensive care units in recent weeks due to the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant. The Pfizer-BioNTech trial results raised hopes among many parents, teachers, and doctors that younger children soon will be able to get vaccinated, reducing the chances of infections in schools. "We've been waiting for these kids to be protected," said Dr. Kristin Oliver, a pediatrician and vaccine expert at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

3

United Nations General Assembly starts amid deep divisions

World leaders return to the United Nations on Tuesday for the first time in two years for the General Assembly as tensions rise between the U.S. and China, and concerns mount over Afghanistan's future following the U.S. withdrawal and the Taliban's return to power. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres "will pull no punches in expressing his concern about the state of the world, and he will lay out a vision to bridge the numerous divides," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. President Biden is scheduled to address the assembly on Tuesday. Biden will "drive home the message that ending the war in Afghanistan closed a chapter focused on war and opened a chapter focused on purposeful, effective, intensive American diplomacy," a senior U.S. official said Monday.

4

U.S. coronavirus death toll equals that of 1918 Spanish flu

The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus pandemic has now reached more than 675,000 people, surpassing that of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic to become the deadliest disease event in American history, based on raw numbers. Proportionally, the Spanish flu death toll remains considerably greater because the U.S. population is now more than three times what it was in 1918. The grim milestone comes as the country struggles to contain a new surge of infections driven by the highly infectious Delta variant, with the daily death toll now back to about 2,000 per day. Some hospitals are having to ration care because they have been overwhelmed with coronavirus cases.

5

DHS investigates use of agents on horseback to drive out migrants

The Department of Homeland Security on Monday announced an investigation after video surfaced showing Border Patrol agents on horseback using what appeared to be whips to drive away Haitian migrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki called the images "horrific." She said she didn't know the full context of the videos, but couldn't "imagine what context would make that appropriate." In one video, mounted agents charged migrants shouting, "Let's go! Get out now! Back to Mexico!" About 14,000 migrants, most of them from Haiti, have crossed the border and waited under the international bridge in Del Rio, Texas, to apply for asylum. The U.S. already has sent several planeloads of migrants to Haiti.

6

U.S. stocks dive in S&P 500's biggest drop since May

U.S. stocks fell sharply on Monday in Wall Street's worst day in months. The S&P 500 fell by 1.7 percent, its biggest drop since May. At one point the benchmark index was down by 2.9 percent. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down by 1.8 percent. The tech-heavy Nasdaq fell 2.2 percent. The losses came after Hong Kong's main index plunged on concerns about weakness among property stocks. U.S. investors also are increasingly worried about signs of economic damage from the Delta-variant-fueled surge in coronavirus infections and hospitalizations. "What's happened here is that the list of risks has finally become too big to ignore," said Michael Arone, chief investment strategist at State Street Global Advisors. Futures for the three major indexes rose by about 0.7 percent early Tuesday.

7

Trudeau holds onto power as Liberals win snap election

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held onto power on Monday as his Liberal Party won a snap election. Trudeau, his popularity up due to his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, called the vote, hoping his party would take back the majority in Parliament. The Liberals appeared to have won only a few more seats than before, signaling a status quo Parliament and leaving Trudeau open to renewed criticism from Canadians who opposed making people vote as the highly infectious Delta variant spread. As of early Tuesday, the Liberals led in or had won 155 seats, the Conservatives had 121, the Bloc Québécois had 33, and the NDP had 27. Trudeau said the vote provided "a clear mandate" as the government leads the country through the pandemic.

8

2 GOP operatives charged with funneling Russian's money to Trump campaign

Federal prosecutors have charged two longtime Republican operatives with helping a Russian national illegally contribute $25,000 to former President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign, keeping another $75,000 for themselves, according to a grand jury indictment unsealed Monday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. The two men, Jesse Benton, 43, and Doug Wead, 75, pleaded not guilty to six felony counts in a remote hearing. The indictment "alleges that Benton and Wead worked together to accept $100,000 from an unidentified Russian national in order to get the foreigner a meeting with then-candidate Trump at a fundraiser in Philadelphia on Sept. 22, 2016," Politico reported. There was no indication that Trump or his campaign aides knew the money came from the Russian donor. 

9

Biden hikes refugee cap to 125,000

President Biden intends to raise the number of refugees the United States will accept to 125,000 in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, the State Department announced Monday. Biden promised during his 2020 campaign to increase the refugee cap from the historically low level of 15,000 set by former President Donald Trump. In May, Biden raised the number for the current fiscal year to 62,500, vowing to double it in his first full fiscal year as president. Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, said Biden had sent Congress a report detailing his plan to raise the cap to "address needs generated by humanitarian crises around the globe." The increase is not expected to affect people fleeing the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, or the thousands of Haitians seeking asylum in a makeshift camp on the U.S.-Mexico border.

10

FBI searches Brian Laundrie's home in Gabby Petito investigation 

The FBI on Monday searched the Florida home of the parents of Brian Laundrie, a day after search crews in Wyoming found human remains believed to be those of his fiancée, Gabby Petito. The remains were found at a campsite in Bridger-Teton National Forest on the eastern edge of Grand Teton National Park. Laundrie's parents were escorted away from their North Port, Florida, home during the search, then brought back in for questioning. Laundrie had returned home alone from a cross-country trip he and Petito made in her small van, then disappeared after declining to talk to police. Petito went missing days after a witness reported seeing Laundrie slapping her outside a Wyoming restaurant.

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