The next step in NASCAR's COVID-19 detection protocols comes with four paws and a tail. Two highly trained dogs will greet roughly 1,000 crew members, officials, and essential racing personnel at Atlanta Motor Speedway ahead of this Sunday's Cup race to determine whether they have the virus prior to entering the track's garage area. It's a method of virus detection NASCAR is testing out just after the sport passes the one-year mark of its pandemic shutdown. "It is a matter primarily of speed," NASCAR managing director of racing operations Tom Bryant told The Charlotte Observer. "When you combi...
A US Supreme Court shifted to the right by Donald Trump is to hear a case this week that may roll back 50 years of abortion rights.
On Wednesday, the nation's highest court is to examine a Mississippi law that prohibits most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
In a landmark 1973 decision, Roe v. Wade, the court held that access to abortion is a woman's constitutional right, striking down state laws that restricted the procedure.
In a 1992 ruling, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the court guaranteed a woman's right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, which is typically around 22 to 24 weeks.
The Supreme Court's rulings did not put an end, however, to conservative and religious opposition to abortion, and anti-abortion activists believe their moment may have finally arrived after years of political and legal battles.
"Roe's Waterloo is, finally, at hand," conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt wrote in The Washington Post.
The anti-abortion group March for Life said the importance of the Mississippi case "cannot be underestimated."
"We hope and pray this Supreme Court decision could be a historic turning point for the protection of the most vulnerable," it said.
The 2018 Mississippi law bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy and makes no exception for rape or incest.
It was blocked as unconstitutional by lower courts before ending up in the Supreme Court.
Just by agreeing to hear the case, the court indicated that it was prepared to revisit its previous rulings, at least when it comes to the question of "viability."
Mississippi, a conservative Bible Belt state, is asking the top court to go even further and strike down Roe v. Wade.
"Nothing in constitutional text, structure, history, or tradition supports a right to abortion," the state argued in a brief submitted to the court.
Mississippi has received the backing of 18 other Republican-led states, hundreds of lawmakers, the Catholic Church and anti-abortion groups, some of which have spent millions of dollars on publicity campaigns.
They have been galvanized by Trump's nomination to the court of three justices, giving conservatives a 6-3 majority.
Two of the justices who were nominated by Trump replaced justices who were defenders of women's abortion rights -- Anthony Kennedy, whose seat went to Brett Kavanaugh, and feminist icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose successor, Amy Coney Barrett, is a devout Catholic.
The impact of the new justices on the panel was apparent on September 1 when the court declined a request to block a Texas law that bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.
The court later held an emergency hearing on the Texas law but has yet to render a decision.
Shannon Brewer, director of the only clinic providing abortions in Mississippi, said she is the most worried she has even been.
"I am still at the point where I'm in disbelief that the Supreme Court would even take this case," Brewer said. "That tells me a lot about the direction that we're going in."
Her Jackson Women's Health Clinic had previously stopped providing abortions to women who are more than 16 weeks pregnant due to increasing restrictions.
Julie Rikelman, a lawyer for the Center for Reproductive Rights who will argue the case before the court, said that if the justices uphold the Mississippi law "it would be possible for states to ban abortion at virtually any point in pregnancy."
"If the court upholds the ban, which everyone agrees is two months before viability, it is overruling Roe and Casey even if the decision doesn't use those words," Rikelman said.
Anti-abortion activists are not the only ones mobilizing.
Medical associations, women's rights and civil rights groups and others have submitted briefs to the court along with hundreds of Democratic lawmakers and some 500 top athletes including soccer star Megan Rapinoe.
"Forcing a woman to continue a pregnancy against her will is a profound intrusion on her autonomy, her bodily integrity, and her equal standing in society," the Department of Justice said in a brief to the court.
The justices will have until June to render a decision.
The world could see the Covid pandemic begin fading next year into an endemic disease like others humanity lives with, unless glaring inequality in vaccine access drags it out and worse variants emerge.
Even as countries scramble to address a new worrying virus variant and Europe battles a winter resurgence, health experts say that taming the pandemic over the next year is possible.
All the know-how and tools needed to bring the virus under control exist, with ballooning stocks of safe and effective vaccines and new treatments becoming available.
But it remains unclear if we will make the hard choices needed, or allow the pandemic to continue to rage, potentially opening the way to a far worse situation.
"The trajectory of this pandemic is in our hands," Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization's top expert on the Covid crisis, told reporters recently.
Can we "reach a state where we have gained control over transmission in 2022? Absolutely," she said. "We could have done that already, but we haven't."
A year after the first vaccines came to market, more than 7.5 billion doses have been administered globally.
And the world is on track to produce some 24 billion doses by next June -- more than enough for everyone on the planet.
But a dire lack of vaccines in poorer countries and resistance among some to get jabs where they are available have left nations vulnerable as new, more transmissible variants like Delta have sparked wave after wave of infection.
And so the scenes of intubated patients in overcrowded hospitals and long lines of people scrambling to find oxygen for loved ones have continued.
Images of improvised funeral pyres burning across a Delta-hit India have epitomized the human cost of the pandemic.
Officially, more than 5.1 million people have died worldwide, although the WHO says that the actual toll is likely two to three times that figure.
"Amanda, a 36-year-old math teacher in Kentucky. Chris, a 34-year-old high school football coach in Kansas. Cherie, a 40-year-old 7th-grade reading teacher in Illinois. All had an impact in their communities. All deeply loved. All unvaccinated," read a recent post.
In the United States, which remains the worst-affected country with close to 800,000 deaths, the constant flow of short obituaries on the FacesOfCovid Twitter account include many who did not have the jab.
'Part of the furniture'
Two years after the virus first surfaced in China, countries are still bouncing between opening up and reimposing restrictions.
Anti-vax protests are rocking a number of countries in Europe, once again the pandemic epicenter, amid fresh lockdowns and looming mandatory vaccination.
Despite such scenes, many experts suggest the pandemic phase will soon be over.
Covid will not fully disappear, but will become a largely controlled endemic disease that we will learn to live with, like the flu, they say.
It will basically "become part of the furniture", Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist at the University of California in Irvine, told AFP.
Top US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci has also said increased vaccination should soon get us to a point where Covid "might occasionally be up and down in the background but it won't dominate us the way it's doing right now".
But glaring inequity in vaccine access remains a towering challenge.
About 65 percent of people in high-income countries have had at least one vaccine dose, but just over seven percent in low-income countries, UN numbers show.
Branding the imbalance a moral outrage, the WHO has urged wealthy countries to refrain from providing booster shots to the fully vaccinated until the most vulnerable everywhere have received their first jabs -- but to no avail.
Health experts stress that allowing Covid to spread unabated in some places dramatically increases the chances that new, more dangerous variants could emerge, placing the entire world at risk.
Putting such fears even more in focus was the emergence last week of Omicron, a new concerning Covid variant first detected in southern Africa.
The WHO has warned it poses a "very high" risk globally, although it remains unclear if it is more contagious, dangerous or better at dodging vaccine protections than previous variants.
"No one is safe until everyone is safe," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has repeated since the start of the pandemic.
Gautam Menon, a physics and biology professor at Ashoka University in India, agreed it was in the best interests of wealthy countries to ensure poorer nations also get jabs.
"It would be myopic to assume that just by vaccinating themselves they have gotten rid of the problem," he said.
If the world fails to address the imbalance, experts warn the worst could still lie ahead.
One nightmare scenario depicted by the WHO envisions the Covid pandemic left to rage out of control amid a steady barrage of new, more dangerous variants, even as a separate Zika-like mosquito-borne virus sparks a parallel pandemic.
Confusion, disinformation and migration crises sparked by people fleeing mosquito-prone areas would shrink trust in authorities and science, as health systems collapse and political turmoil ensues.
This is one of several "plausible" scenarios, according to WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan.
"The double-pandemic one is of particular concern, because we have one virus causing a pandemic now, and many others lined up."
The WHO is urging countries to commit to a pandemic treaty to help prepare for and prevent future crises.
"This is certainly not the last dangerous pathogenic virus that we are going to experience," said Jamie Metzl, a technology and healthcare futurist.
Regardless of how the Covid situation evolves, "it's clear that we can't ever have a complete demobilization".
New information is being reported on Donald Trump's roll in the hours leading up to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
"Sources have told the Guardian that just hours before the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol this year, Donald Trump made several calls from the White House to top lieutenants at the Willard Hotel in Washington to discuss ways to stop or delay the certification of Joe Biden’s election win from taking place on 6 January," The Guardian reported Tuesday.
Even though Republicans lost the 2020 election, Trump said on Jan. 6 that it was important for the GOP to hold the White House despite losing.
"THE REPUBLICAN PARTY AND, MORE IMPORTANTLY, OUR COUNTRY, NEEDS THE PRESIDENCY MORE THAN EVER BEFORE - THE POWER OF THE VETO. STAY STRONG!" Trump tweeted in all capital letters on the morning of Jan. 6.
The Guardian explained why their new reporting is significant.
"Trump’s remarks reveal a direct line from the White House and the command center at the Willard," the newspaper reported. "The conversations also show Trump’s thoughts appear to be in line with the motivations of the pro-Trump mob that carried out the Capitol attack. He phoned his lieutenants at the Willard sometime between the late evening on 5 January and the early hours of 6 January after becoming furious at Pence for refusing to do him a final favor."
Read the full report.