5 things to know for March 5: Coronavirus, stimulus, immigration, Hong Kong, Ethiopia

It’s not your imagination. Robocalls really are ramping up again after a pandemic lull.

Here’s what you need to know to Get Up to Speed and On with Your Day.

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1. Coronavirus

Trouble is brewing over vaccine supplies in Europe. Italy has blocked the export of 250,000 AstraZeneca vaccine doses to Australia, citing European Union measures put in place after the company warned of delays in supply shipment to the bloc. Now, France may follow suit and block more vaccine exports in order to meet domestic demand. In Tanzania, Turkmenistan and North Korea, a different threat grows. These countries have shared little or no Covid-19 data with the World Health Organization, which WHO says prevents experts from assessing public need and could cause a problem when it comes to international spread. In the US, leaders and businesses are pushing back against a wave of eased Covid-19 restrictions, saying protection like masks is still essential.

2. Stimulus

The Senate debate on the Covid-19 relief bill, termed the American Recovery Plan, will start in earnest today after some theatrics yesterday on the Senate floor. GOP Sen. Ron Johnson forced Senate clerks to read the 628-page bill aloud, a pit stop that took hours, and now Republicans will set about trying to peel off Democratic votes in a process known as “vote-a-rama.” Basically, each amendment to the bill gets introduced and debated for a few minutes, then members get 10 minutes to vote. It’s part of Democrats’ plan to get the bill passed quickly, but Republicans are hoping to divide Dems on parts of the bill along the way. Regardless, Democrats are looking to pass it this weekend with their narrow Senate majority. Want to know what you stand to gain from the bill? Here’s a rundown of offerings for various situations.

3. Immigration

The Biden administration is urging the Supreme Court to dismiss pending cases concerning “sanctuary cities,” which limit cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. The filing is yet another push to change positions held by the Trump administration, which fought a long battle against sanctuary cities. Lower courts had been divided over a Trump-era policy that directed the Justice Department to withhold federal money from jurisdictions over cooperation with immigration enforcement. An appeals court eventually ruled the administration could indeed withhold such funds from seven states, as well as New York City. There are three cases like this on the Supreme Court’s docket, and the Justice Department says it’s come to an agreement with all parties involved.

4. Hong Kong 

China’s political elite are gathered for a summit this week in Beijing, and Hong Kong’s future is in the balance. During the opening of twin meetings of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee and the National People’s Congress, the NPC spokesperson said recent unrest in Hong Kong “showed that the electoral system needs to be improved” to ensure “patriots govern.” Proposed changes include expanding the Election Committee, a Beijing-dominated body that chooses Hong Kong’s leader. That will likely dilute the influence of any pro-democracy members and hand over almost all nomination and election power to Beijing. The imposition of a national security law and loyalty oaths for Hong Kong officials has caused widespread turmoil in the self-governing city. Last weekend, 47 pro-democracy activists were charged under that new law.

5. Ethiopia

The UN’s high commissioner for human rights says war crimes may have been committed in Ethiopia’s Tigray region after details were revealed about a massacre last year in the town of Dengelat. Witnesses told CNN that Eritrean soldiers opened fire during a religious festival, claiming the lives of priests, women, entire families and more than 20 Sunday school children. (Eritrea is a neighboring country and an ally of the Ethiopian government.) Amnesty International has also claimed that Eritrean forces killed hundreds of unarmed civilians in the city of Axum in November through indiscriminate shelling and extrajudicial killings in what the organization said could amount to a crime against humanity. Eritrea’s government has denied involvement in the atrocities reported by Amnesty but hasn’t responded to CNN’s request for comment on the Dengelat massacre. Thousands of civilians are believed to have been killed since Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military operation against leaders in the Tigray region.


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Good vibes only

Let this golden-tongued bird sing you into the weekend. (Click here to view.)