Monday morning news – December 21, 2020

Lawmakers agree on $900 billion in coronavirus relief » Lawmakers struck a deal last night on a $900 billion coronavirus relief package. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the agreement on the Senate floor. 

MCCONNELL: We can finally report what our nation has needed to hear for a very long time: More help is on the way. 

Republican and Democratic leaders hashed out a massive, year-end catchall bill that combines $900 billion COVID-19 aid with a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill and other unfinished legislation. 

Both chambers are expected to vote on the legislation today, likely sending it to President Trump’s desk for a signature.

It will include another round of direct stimulus payments, though not quite as much as last time. Uncle Sam will send $600 checks to most Americans and another $600 per child. 

The legislation also provides substantial funds for state and local governments and more relief for airlines, small businesses, and more. 

And as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer noted last night…

SCHUMER: For the 20 million people who would lose unemployment benefits the day after Christmas, help is on the way. 

The measure revives a federal boost to unemployment benefits, providing jobless workers $300 per week through the middle of March.

Some EU nations ban travel from UK, fearing virus variant » Officials in Europe are concerned about a new strain of the coronavirus that is spreading quickly in southern England. 

Several countries in the European Union banned flights from the U.K. on Sunday in a bid to stop the new strain from sweeping across the continent. 

And just hours earlier, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that Christmas shopping and gatherings must be cancelled in southern England.

He said there’s no evidence that the new strain “causes more severe illness or higher mortality.” 

JOHNSON: But it does appear to be passed on significantly more easily.

The new strain may be up to 70 percent more infectious. 

But health experts say there is good news. U.S. Assistant Health and Human Services Secretary, Admiral Brett Giroir told ABC News…

GIROIR: Very importantly, we have not seen a single mutation yet that would make it evade the vaccine. We can’t say that won’t happen in the future, but right now, it looks like the vaccine should cover everything we see. 

Roughly 8 million vaccine doses to roll out today in U.S. » And another 8 million doses of coronavirus vaccines are rolling out in dry ice or refrigerated trucks today across the United States.   

Dr. Moncef Slaoui is chief science adviser for the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed program. He told CNN…

SLAOUI: We now are clear that we will be shipping 5.9 doses of the Moderna vaccine and 2 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday. 

Healthcare workers will likely administer the very first shots of the Moderna vaccine today. That after the FDA on Friday gave the shot its stamp of approval for emergency use.

At least a dozen states reported last week that they would receive a smaller second shipment of the Pfizer vaccine than expected. 

Slaoui said officials wrongly assumed vaccines were ready to ship as soon as they’re produced, but there is actually a two-day delay. 

He also said the surge in COVID-19 deaths will likely get worse before it gets better. The number of deaths spiked after Thanksgiving gatherings.

SLAOUI: And unfortunately, there may be more over the Christmas holiday. So there will be a continuing surge.

 Right now, nearly 3,000 Americans are dying each day from the illness. 

U.S. airport traffic rising despite holiday travel warnings » With that in mind, the CDC has issued an advisory declaring—quote—“postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.”

But government warnings are having little impact on traffic at U.S. airports. 

More than 1 million people per day passed through airport security checkpoints over the weekend. 

It marks the first time U.S. airports have screened more than a million passengers since Nov. 29th—at the end of Thanksgiving weekend.

President Trump contradicts U.S. inel, cybersecurity officials on Russian role in hacking » President Trump is contradicting U.S. intelligence and his own secretary of state on Russia’s role in a recently uncovered cyberhacking incident. 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Mark Levin radio show…

POMPEO: This was a very significant effort, and I think it’s the case that now we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity. 

U.S. intelligence and cybersecurity agencies are pointing to Moscow after what some officials are calling the biggest cyber-spying incident in U.S. history. The cyberhackers broke into the systems of multiple U.S. agencies. 

In his first public comments on the matter over the weekend, the president said the media chants “Russia, Russia Russia” when anything happens, because it “is, for mostly financial reasons, petrified of discussing the possibility that it may be China.” 

Republican Senator Mitt Romney responded to the president’s remarks on NBC’s Meet the Press. 

ROMNEY: The experts, the people who really understand how our systems work and how computers work and software and so forth, the thousands upon thousands at the CIA and the NSA and the Department of Defense have determined that this came from Russia.

Romney said—quote—“I think we’ve come to recognize that the president has a blind spot when it comes to Russia.”

(Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, speaks to the media after the Republican’s weekly Senate luncheon, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020 at the Capitol in Washington. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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