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UK travel ban

Passengers wearing face mask wait next to the Eurostar Terminal at Gare du Nord train station in Paris, Monday Dec. 21, 2020. France is banning all travel from the U.K. for 48 hours in an attempt to make sure that a new strain of the coronavirus in Britain doesn’t reach its shores.

Lewis Joly

WBEZ’s Rundown Of Today’s Top News: New Coronavirus Strain Raises Alarms

Good afternoon! It’s Monday and the winter solstice, which means we’re in for the longest night of the year since Nov. 3. Here’s what you need to know today.

1. Nations move to isolate the U.K. after reports of a new coronavirus strain

A growing number of countries are placing travel restrictions on Britain over concerns of a new coronavirus strain that is reportedly more contagious.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday said early indications suggest the new strain is 70% more transmissible and is fueling infections in the London area, which is now on lockdown. But the evidence so far does not show that infections are more severe, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy and the Netherlands all quickly revived travel restrictions after Johnson’s announcement. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is urging the U.S. government to take action. [AP]

What does this mean for vaccines that are just beginning to be rolled out? Several scientists and researchers told The New York Times that it would take years for the virus to mutate enough to render vaccines ineffective. [NYT]

In Illinois, COVID-19 deaths and cases are decreasing. Officials today reported 98 deaths and 4,699 new confirmed cases. [WBEZ]

2. Barr says there’s no reason to appoint special counsels to investigate voting fraud or Hunter Biden

Outgoing Attorney General William Barr today said there is no need to appoint special counsel to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of President-elect Joe Biden, or baseless allegations of widespread voting fraud pushed by President Donald Trump.

Barr said the investigation into Hunter Biden is “being handled responsibly and professionally” by Justice Department prosecutors, and he hopes that will continue to be the case under the next administration. That investigation is reportedly focused on the younger Biden’s taxes.

Barr also said he sees “no basis” for the federal government to seize voting machines. [NPR]

Trump on Friday considered naming Sidney Powell as a special counsel overseeing investigations into voting fraud, reports The New York Times, adding that most of the president’s advisers opposed the idea. Powell, an attorney for Trump’s campaign team, has raised conspiracy theories that Venezuela rigged voting machines.

The newspaper also reports that Rudy Giuliani pressed the Department of Homeland Security to seize voting machines. [New York Times]

3. Congress is poised to approve coronavirus relief plan today

The House and the Senate are planning to approve a stimulus package and a government spending bill before midnight in order to avoid a shutdown. After tense negotiations over the weekend, Democratic and Republican leaders say they have enough votes to deliver more economic relief as concerns grow that the U.S. could slide into another recession.

The relief plan includes a $600 stimulus payment for every adult and child earning up to $75,000. People making $75,000 to $99,000 would receive a smaller payment, and the benefit is cut out for anyone making more than $99,000.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said today that millions of Americans could receive their payments next week.

Unemployment benefits for millions of Americans will be enhanced by $300 per week until mid-March. The eviction moratorium will be extended to Jan. 31, and $25 billion will be set aside for rental assistance.

The plan also provides $284 billion for loans to small businesses under the Paycheck Protection Program. About $15 billion will be set aside for live venues, independent movie theaters and cultural institutions. [NPR]

4. Chicago police officers are on desk duty for the Anjanette Young raid

All of the officers involved in a botched raid on an innocent woman’s home in 2019 have been put on desk duty, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced today as her administration confronts the growing fallout from one of its biggest scandals.

Social worker Anjanette Young was getting ready for bed when officers stormed her home and handcuffed her while she was naked. [Chicago Tribune]

Lightfoot over the weekend asked and received the resignation of the city’s top lawyer, Corporate Counsel Mark Flessner, who came under fire after the city’s Law Department unsuccessfully tried to prevent CBS-Ch. 2 from airing police body camera footage of the raid. [NPR]

The City Council tomorrow will hold a hearing on the raid. It comes as the council’s Black Caucus wants to create a new committee to examine lawsuits and settlements tied to the Chicago Police Department. [Chicago Sun-Times]

5. Kim Foxx says she’s open to expunging cocaine and heroin arrests

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said she would advocate for expunging convictions for possession of heroin or cocaine as part of a broad plan addressing addiction, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.

Foxx also said she wants to automatically expunge the records of convicted marijuana dealers. Her office is currently wiping the records clean for thousands of people convicted of low-level possession charges for cannabis, as mandated by the state law legalizing recreational marijuana.

According to the Sun-Times, Foxx wants to reform drug laws to address the disproportionate and systemic effects they have on minority communities.

“I think this is the gateway conversation to deeper conversations around treating addiction as a public health issue and looking at the drug economy that has flourished in these neighborhoods while every other bit of economy has abandoned [them],” Foxx said. [Sun-Times]

Here’s what else is happening

  • More than 2 million people have recently passed through security checkpoints at U.S. airports despite the pandemic. [NPR]
  • The Illinois Gaming Board wants to levy a $5 million fine on one of the largest video gambling companies in the U.S. [WBEZ]
  • Chicago high school teachers say they’ve seen an increase in the number of students taking jobs, sometimes at the cost of their education. [WBEZ]
  • Nerdette’s Greta Johnsen looks at the best books of this year. [WBEZ]

Oh, and one more thing …

You might want to look up at the sky tonight because you might see what people are dubbing the “Christmas Star.” Jupiter and Saturn will merge and appear closer than they have in more than 800 years.

The merging, also called a conjunction by astronomers, can be seen in the southwestern sky after sunset, which is 4:24 p.m. in Chicago.

If you miss out, you’ll have to wait until March 15, 2080 for the next super-close conjunction. [AP]

Tell me something good ...

This year is finally almost over. So what’s your New Year’s resolution for 2021?

I’m still trying to figure out mine. But lately I keep remembering that I dropped a hamburger on my lap when I first met my mother-in-law.

Feel free to email or tweet me, and your responses might be shared here this week.

Thanks for reading and have a nice night! I’ll see you tomorrow.

— Hunter Clauss

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