Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 22, 2022

Putin sends troops into breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, Trump's Truth Social platform launches, and more

1

Putin sends troops into breakaway Ukraine regions

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered Russian troops into two territories in eastern Ukraine that are controlled by Russian-backed separatists, hours after recognizing their independence. President Biden responded by signing an executive order Monday blocking trade and investment by Americans in the two separatist enclaves. The U.S. is expected to announce new sanctions against Russia on Tuesday. The White House said Putin's action "refutes Russia's claimed commitment to diplomacy, and undermines Ukraine's sovereignty." The U.S. and its allies expressed concerns that Russia might use skirmishes in the Donetsk and Luhansk separatist regions as a pretext for a broader invasion. The U.S. says Putin's moves violate a 2015 peace agreement aiming to return the two regions to Ukrainian control.

2

Trump's Truth Social platform launches

Former President Donald Trump's long-rumored social media platform, Truth Social, made its debut in Apple's App Store on Monday and promptly became its top social-media networking app. But the launch was marred by widespread glitches and a thousands-long waiting list to join. Many hopeful users received error messages upon signing up, or never received a verification email to approve their accounts. Trump developed plans to launch the service after Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms banned him following the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack, accusing the then-president of violating policies against inciting violence by urging supporters to fight to overturn his election loss.

3

Boris Johnson announces lifting of coronavirus restrictions in England

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed on Monday that England will end its coronavirus restrictions, making it the first major Western economy to take the step as the surge driven by the Omicron variant eases. Starting Thursday, infected people will no longer be legally required to self-isolate, although the government still urges them to stay home, Johnson said in the House of Commons as he unveiled his "Living with COVID" plan. The country also will stop free and universal coronavirus testing on April 1. "Restrictions pose a heavy toll on our economy, our society, our mental well-being," Johnson said. "We do not need to pay that cost any longer."

4

Arbery hate-crime trial goes to jury

The federal hate-crime trial of the three white men convicted of murdering Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia went to the jury on Monday after prosecutors and defense lawyers delivered their closing arguments. Justice Department civil rights division counsel Christopher Perras told jurors the only thing defendants Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan knew when they chased down Arbery in February 2020 was that he "was a Black man running down a public street." Perras said racial slurs the defendants used in texts and social media posts showed they were motivated by racism. Defense lawyers said race wasn't a factor and the men thought Arbery had been behind recent thefts in their neighborhood. 

5

Colombian court decriminalizes abortion for up to 24 weeks

Colombia's Constitutional Court on Monday decriminalized abortion up to 24 weeks into a pregnancy in a ruling that marked a major shift for the majority-Catholic South American nation. Colombia followed Mexico and Argentina to become the third big country in Latin America to decriminalize the procedure, all in the past 14 months. Abortion rights advocates are seeking to capitalize on the momentum to push for loosening abortion laws elsewhere in the region. Crowds of abortion rights supporters celebrated outside the court in Bogota, Colombia's capital, shouting, "Abortion in Colombia is legal!" Since 2006, Colombia has permitted abortion in cases of rape, nonviable pregnancies, and when the mother's health is in danger.

6

Trudeau calls for healing and continued emergency powers after trucker protest 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday that it is time for healing after police cleared out Freedom Convoy anti–vaccine mandate protesters who had paralyzed downtown Ottawa for more than three weeks. "More than ever, now is the time to work together. It's also the time to reflect on the kind of future we want for our country," Trudeau said. Police arrested 191 people and towed 79 trucks and other vehicles over the weekend before the protest was declared over on Sunday. Trudeau cleared the way for the crackdown by invoking emergency powers, and his government won a vote in the House of Commons on Monday to extend the emergency authority for up to three more weeks. "This state of emergency is not over," Trudeau said.

7

Studies indicate COVID-19 booster could provide years of protection

A range of new studies suggest that a COVID-19 booster shot may provide protection against future variants for many months, even years, The New York Times reports. A recent study posted on bioRxiv, for instance, suggests that a third Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna shot helps to produce antibodies that could be effective against yet-unseen mutations — even though the vaccines were "not specifically designed to protect against variants." "If people are exposed to another variant like Omicron, they now got some extra ammunition to fight it," Dr. Julie McElrath, a Seattle infectious disease physician, told the Times.

8

Study: Stand-your-ground laws tied to 11 percent homicide increase

"Stand your ground" laws are linked to an 11 percent increase in monthly firearm homicide rates, according to a study published Monday in JAMA Network Open, a peer-reviewed medical journal. The data suggest that these laws, which allow people to respond with deadly force instead of retreating from an attacker, might have resulted in hundreds of additional homicides nationally every year. The controversial laws have become a focus of debate over addressing gun violence in the wake of the fatal shooting of Black teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012. Proponents say these laws deter violence, but the evidence shows "the opposite effect," said University of Oxford associate professor David Humphreys, one of the paper's authors.

9

Medina Spirit stripped of 2021 Kentucky Derby title

The Kentucky Derby on Monday invalidated Medina Spirit's 2021 victory after months of litigation and laboratory tests due to the horse's race-day drug test, which showed the presence of the banned drug betamethasone. Lawyers for Medina Spirit's Hall of Fame trainer, Bob Baffert, argued that Medina Spirit had absorbed the corticosteroid through an ointment, and that the ban only applied to injectable betamethasone. But many horseracing experts had considered the disqualification inevitable, because Kentucky racing regulations don't allow any detectable trace of the drug on race day. The officials made the decision after a Feb. 14 hearing. In addition to disqualifying the colt, now deceased, the authorities suspended Baffert for 90 days and fined him $7,500. Barring further developments in the case, runner-up Mandaloun will be declared the race's winner.

10

Global health pioneer Dr. Paul Farmer dies at 62

Renowned infectious disease specialist Dr. Paul Farmer, who devoted his life to making health care accessible to millions of people on four continents, died unexpectedly Monday in Rwanda, his nonprofit organization, Partners in Health, confirmed. He was 62. Farmer died of a sudden cardiac event while sleeping in his apartment at a hospital he helped establish, said Sheila Davis, Partners in Health's chief executive officer. Farmer taught at Harvard University and traveled extensively for his work with Partners in Health and its sister organization, Zanmi Lasante, in Haiti. "There are so many people that are alive because of that man," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The New York Times.

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