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Big changes underway as Biden takes office

Coronavirus-related executive orders round out the president’s first day in office

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff join President-elect Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden at a COVID-19 memorial event at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool on Tuesday. Associated Press/Photo by Evan Vucci

Big changes underway as Biden takes office

UNITED STATES: One year ago, medical officers reported the first known case of SARS-CoV-2 in America in Snohomish County north of Seattle. And as the official death toll topped 400,000 yesterday, President-elect Joe Biden held a memorial service in Washington for victims of the novel coronavirus amid tight security for his inauguration. As he took office, Biden planned to sign executive orders rolling back President Donald Trump’s travel bans from predominantly Muslim countries, rejoining the Paris climate accord, and rescinding Trump’s expanded Mexico City policy, which prohibited U.S. aid to groups tied to abortions.

The United States and other Western nations are pressing China to allow greater access for World Health Organization investigators to caregivers, patients, and lab workers in Wuhan as part of the first on-the-ground investigation just underway. Here’s what they are looking for.

CHINA: The State Department declared that the Chinese government is committing genocide and crimes against humanity through its large-scale repression of Uighurs, a mostly Muslim minority, in Xinjiang province. Antony Blinken agreed with the declaration, telling a U.S. Senate panel on his nomination as secretary of state: “That would be my judgment, as well.”

Blinken seemed to carry the day with members of both parties on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a hearing marked by conciliatory remarks over foreign crises. (Blinken is the fourth member of his family—after his wife, father, and uncle—to sit for confirmation before the panel.) He said Trump “was right” in taking a tougher approach to China: “I disagree very much with the way that he went about it in a number of areas, but the basic principle was the right one, and I think that’s actually helpful to our foreign policy.” In Britain, Parliament defeated by a slim majority a bill to restrict trade with countries committing genocide. The measure passed in the House of Lords but was opposed by Conservative Party leadership under Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Worth your time: This story of Uighur Gulbahar Haitiwaji.

BANGLADESH: UN officials say arson destroyed four UNICEF schools in a camp housing Rohingya refugees from Myanmar—the second fire in a week to rip through the camp, leaving thousands without shelter or belongings, but no loss of life.

Nayapara Camp, also known as Camp 16, is one of dozens housing nearly 1 million Rohingya forced out of their country in 2017. Volunteers with U.K.-based CARE helped to put out the latest fire, and U.S.-based Partners Relief delivered food packs and clothing to some of nearly 700 families, including two of its own health workers, made homeless again by the blazes.

SOUTH SUDAN will change to a new time zone by setting the clock back one hour starting Feb. 1. “The cabinet came to realize that our current time zone is not our actual zone,” said government spokesman Michael Makuei Lueth, just by doing the math. “We are in longitude 30 and the difference between Greenwich Mean Time of the UTC and the longitude is every 15 minutes is one hour. So, we are in the 30th longitude and as such we are supposed to be two hours ahead of the Greenwich Mean Time.”

INDONESIA is struggling with a string of disasters this month, after an earthquake, floods and landslides, and the crash of a Sriwijaya Air jet with 62 onboard all test its emergency response.

RUSSIA: A growing number of European lawmakers are calling for a halt to Germany’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline with Russia and sanctions over Moscow’s latest arrest of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. With international journalists in tow, Navalny was taken into custody on Sunday upon his return to Russia, five months after being poisoned and flown to Germany for treatment. From jail, he has directed a sprawling investigation published yesterday that details a secret $1 billion compound built by President Vladimir Putin on the Black Sea.

GUATEMALA: Thousands of migrants from Honduras who formed a caravan for the U.S. border have been turned away by a show of force from Guatemala. Central American authorities have cracked down under pressure from the Trump administration—even as the incoming Biden administration has announced plans to introduce sweeping immigration legislation.

HONG KONG: Climber Lai Chi-wai became the first in Hong Kong to scale more than 250 meters of a skyscraper while strapped into a wheelchair as he pulled himself up for more than 10 hours on Saturday to raise money for spinal cord patients.

I’M WATCHING the new All Creatures Great and Small … what a reprieve, and a minor miracle.

Mindy Belz

Mindy wrote WORLD Magazine’s first cover story in 1986 and went on to serve as international editor, editor, and senior editor. She has covered wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Africa, and the Balkans, and she recounts some of her experiences in They Say We Are Infidels: On the Run From ISIS With Persecuted Christians in the Middle East. Mindy resides with her husband, Nat, in Asheville, N.C.



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