Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: December 13, 2021

Rescuers continue to search for people who went missing in Friday tornadoes, the U.S. coronavirus death toll reaches 800,000, and more

1

Tornado deaths climb as rescuers search for missing workers

Rescue workers on Sunday continued to sift through the debris left by a string of tornadoes that hit Kentucky and seven other states on Friday, searching for survivors as the feared death toll climbed to more than 90. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) said more than 80 people had been killed in his state, and the death toll from what he described as "the most devastating tornado event in our state's history" could exceed 100. The total could fall, however, as the number killed at the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory appeared to be fewer than 20, far lower than the 70 initially feared. "If so, it may be a better situation and the miracle we were hoping for," Beshear said in a Sunday evening news conference.

2

Reuters: U.S. coronavirus death toll reaches 800,000

The United States coronavirus-related death toll reached 800,000 on Sunday, according to Reuters' count. The nation hit the grim milestone as public health officials brace for a potential surge of new cases as winter hits and people spend more time indoors, increasing the risk of infection at the same time that the highly infectious Omicron variant continues to spread. More than 450,000 people have died after contracting COVID-19 this year, more than did in all of 2020, despite the widespread availability of vaccines and new treatments. The highly transmissible Delta variant drove a summertime surge and continues to account for nearly all COVID deaths. Most of those dying now are unvaccinated. The U.S. has the highest COVID death rate in the Group of Seven wealthiest nations.

3

House panel release report ahead of Meadows contempt vote

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack released a report Sunday detailing former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows' efforts to help former President Donald Trump overturn his election loss to President Biden. The panel, which will vote Monday on recommending contempt charges against Meadows for halting his cooperation with the inquiry, described some of the thousands of emails and texts Meadows handed over to the committee, including an email to an unidentified person saying the National Guard would be on hand that day to "protect pro Trump people." The committee already has recommended criminal contempt charges against two Trump allies, including former White House strategist Steve Bannon, who was later indicted.

4

Boris Johnson expands booster access as coronavirus 'tidal wave' looms

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Sunday that his government would offer everyone 18 and older a coronavirus booster shot by the end of December to confront a potential "tidal wave" of infections due to the fast-spreading new Omicron variant. The government previously had planned the booster expansion by the end of January, but accelerated it as Omicron cases doubled every two to three days in the United Kingdom. "I'm afraid it is now clear that two doses of vaccine are simply not enough to give the level of protection we all need," Johnson said. "But the good news is that our scientists are confident that with a third dose – a booster dose – we can all bring our level of protection back up."

5

Poll: Biden approval on economy, pandemic hit new lows

Public approval of President Biden's handling of the economy and the coronavirus pandemic has fallen to the lowest of his presidency, according to an ABC News/Ipsos poll released Sunday. Fifty-three percent of Americans still approve of Biden's pandemic response, but 45 percent now disapprove. In March, 72 percent approved of Biden's COVID-19 response. The decline came as the Biden administration tightens mask requirements and travel restrictions, and pushes vaccine booster shots to fight the new Omicron variant. As inflation rose to the highest rate in decades, approval of Biden's approach to combating rising consumer prices came in at just 28 percent. In October, 53 percent approved of his handling of the economy, compared to 41 percent in the new poll.

6

NYT: Haitian president was preparing to unmask drug traffickers when killed

Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was compiling a list of political and business leaders linked to drug traffickers when he was assassinated in July, The New York Times reported Sunday. Moïse had planned to hand over the information to the United States, the Times said, citing four senior Haitian advisers and officials assigned to work on the dossier. Moïse's wife, Martine, was wounded in the attack, and survived by pretending to be dead. She told the Times in her first interview after the assassination that the gunmen who killed her husband searched their bedroom, going through his files until someone said, "That's it." Some members of the hit squad who were captured confessed that one of their tasks was to retrieve the list of drug suspects, one of several issues the late president had been clashing over with powerful rivals.

7

Austria ends coronavirus lockdown for vaccinated people

Austria on Sunday lifted coronavirus lockdown restrictions for vaccinated people, clearing the way for theaters, museums, and other cultural sites to resume operations. Some regions also gave restaurants and hotels the green light to open their doors. Stores will be able to reopen starting Monday. The Austrian government imposed the strict rules three weeks ago as the country faced a new wave of coronavirus infections, as did some other European nations. Restaurants still face an 11 p.m. curfew, and people still must wear masks on public transportation, in stores, and in other public places. Chancellor Karl Nehammer last week called the decision to let the country's nine regions relax restrictions depending on local infections "opening with a seatbelt."

8

Chris Wallace leaves Fox News to join CNN streaming service

Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace announced on his show this weekend that he is resigning after 18 years at the conservative cable network. "After 18 years — this is my final Fox News Sunday," Wallace said on his final airing. "It is the last time — and I say this with real sadness — we will meet like this." Wallace said he was leaving to start a "new adventure." CNN said he would be joining CNN+, a streaming service launching early in 2022. Wallace will have a weekday show in which he will interview newsmakers in business, sports, and culture, as well as politics, which was his bread and butter at Fox. "I look forward to the new freedom and flexibility streaming affords in interviewing major figures across the news landscape — and finding new ways to tell stories," Wallace said.

9

North and South Korea, U.S., China agree 'in principle' to officially end Korean War

North and South Korea, the U.S., and China have agreed "in principle" to formally end the Korean War, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Monday during a visit to Australia. The fighting stopped with an armistice in 1953, but never officially was declared over. For now, Moon said, "we are not able to sit down for a discussion or negotiation on the declarations" due to demands made by North Korea, which wants the U.S. to drop what it calls its "hostile policy" toward the North. North Korea has long objected to the presence of U.S. forces in South Korea, joint U.S.-South Korean training exercises, and U.S. sanctions imposed over North Korea's nuclear weapons buildup. The U.S. State Department told Axios that U.S. officials are "prepared to meet without preconditions."

10

Mexican musical icon Vicente Fernández dies at 81

Mexican mariachi legend Vicente Fernández died Sunday, four months after a fall at his ranch in Guadalajara in his home state of Jalisco. He was 81. His Guillain-Barré syndrome had prevented his recovery, and he had been placed on a ventilator in a hospital. The Grammy winner, who was known as the king of the rancheras, started his career as a street performer and went on to sell more than 65 million albums and make more than 35 movies. His hits included "El rey," "Volver, volver," "Por tu maldito amor," and "Para siempre." He won three Grammys and eight Latin Grammys, and, in 1998, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This year, singer Lupita Castro accused him of sexual abuse, which he denied.

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