Thursday morning news – March 25, 2021

CDC concerned about pandemic trends, hails vaccine progress » CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said she’s encouraged that the U.S. vaccination effort is now largely firing on all cylinders. But she’s concerned that progress in halting new COVID-19 cases has stalled out. 

WALLENSKY: We’re still hanging out at 55,000 cases a day, and we’re watching what’s happening with people who are vacationing right now, and that concerns me a lot. 

A rolling 7-day average showed new U.S. infections peaking in mid-January at about a quarter-of-a-million per day. After that, new cases plummeted more than 70 percent. But over the past four weeks, very little has changed as new infections have plateaued. 

What has not stalled are the rates of new hospitalizations and deaths. The latest data show those numbers falling just as rapidly as they were a month ago. 

And that could speak to the early vaccinations of high-risk Americans. 

And Wallensky said all Americans will soon have access to vaccines. 

WALLENSKY: We are now vaccinating between 16 and 20 million people a week. 

She said that puts the United States on pace to make vaccines available to everyone no later than May.  

Biden extends window for Obamacare signups » President Biden has extended the signup window for Obamacare, pushing the enrollment deadline back to August 15th. 

He made the announcement this week as he pitched his healthcare agenda while marking the 11th anniversary of Obamacare. 

BIDEN: We have a duty not just to protect it but to make it better and to keep becoming a nation where healthcare is a right for all, not a privilege for a few. 

Biden pledged that his $1.9 trillion rescue spending package would build on the promise of the Affordable Care Act. The relief law pumps up “Obamacare” premium subsidies, particularly for people with middle-class incomes. 

The Biden administration is continuing a nationwide blitz to sell the benefits of the relief package to the American public. 

Biden shrugs off North Korean missile tests » President Biden on Wednesday shrugged off recent North Korean missile launches. WORLD’s Anna Johansen Brown reports. 

ANNA JOHANSEN BROWN, REPORTER: North Korea fired short-range missiles this past weekend, just days after Kim Jong Un’s sister threatened the United States and South Korea for holding joint military exercises.

But President Biden said he did not see the missile tests as a provocation, adding—quote—“There’s no new wrinkle in what they did.”

Biden administration officials noted that the missile tests were not covered by U.N. Security Council resolutions meant to deter the country’s nuclear program. 

North Korea has ignored offers from the new administration to resume diplomatic talks. Secretary of State Tony Blinken last week pressed China to use its influence to convince Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Anna Johansen Brown. 

Virginia bans death penalty » Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation into law on Wednesday abolishing capital punishment. 

NORTHAM: There is no place today for the death penalty in this commonwealth, in the South, or in this nation. 

That makes Virginia the 23rd state to do away with the death penalty.

The bills were the culmination of a yearslong battle among state lawmakers. Democrats argued that over the years, courts had disproportionately given death sentences to people of color, the mentally ill, and the poor. 

Republicans argued that the death penalty should remain a sentencing option for especially heinous crimes and to bring justice to victims and their families.

Gov. Northam, a Democrat, signed the House and Senate bills in a ceremony under a tent Wednesday after touring an execution chamber south of Richmond. 

Myanmar junta frees hundreds of protesters » Myanmar’s ruling military junta has released hundreds of jailed pro-democracy demonstrators. WORLD’s Kristen Flavin has that story. 

KRISTEN FLAVIN, REPORTER: Witnesses outside a prison in Yangon saw buses carrying mostly young people away from the prison grounds. State-run TV said a total of more than 600 were freed. 

Wednesday’s prisoner release was an unusual overture by the military, likely aimed at placating the protest movement.

Myanmar’s security forces have cracked down violently on protests against the Feb. 1st coup. An independent watchdog group said those crackdowns have killed at least 275 people. Security forces have also arrested thousands. More than 2,000 remain in custody or have charges against them outstanding.

Demonstrators tried a new tactic Wednesday that they dubbed a silence strike, calling on people to stay home and businesses to close for the day.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kristen Flavin.

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool) Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on the federal coronavirus response on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 18, 2021. 

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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