bbc– Flight cancellations in the US have hit a new peak in a Christmas season hit hard by the Covid pandemic and bad weather.
Nearly 4,400 flights around the world were cancelled on Saturday, more than 2,500 of them in the US, air traffic site FlightAware reported.
Airlines have been struggling with staffing problems with crew quarantining after contracting Covid.
Adding to travellers’ woes, heavy snow has hit the central US.
From the US cancellations, more than 1,000 are from Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports.
“Today’s cancellations are driven by Omicron staffing and weather-related issues. We did pre-cancel flights in anticipation of inclement weather. We’ve been contacting passengers early if their flights are cancelled to give them time to rebook or make other plans,” United Airlines said in a statement.
Sunday, when many people often return home from their Christmas holidays, is likely to bring further disruption, with more snow and heavy winds forecast.
“It’s too long and there’s no space to spend the time, get something to eat, it’s a long time here,” one traveller stuck at O’Hara airport told ABC news in Chicago.
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Since 24 December, more than 12,000 flights have been cancelled in the US.
Airlines have being trying to woo crew with extra pay to tackle the staff shortages. But unions say workers fear contracting Covid or having to deal with angry passengers.
The US is facing a surge in Covid cases powered by the Omicron variant.
New York City has seen record cases despite high vaccination rates. The virus has hit everything from the police force to Broadway shows, although there has not yet been a significant hike in hospitalisations.
The city’s new mayor, Eric Adams, took office on Saturday after low key New Year celebrations.
In his first speech, he said the city would not be “controlled by crises”.
“This pandemic has not only impacted us physically, but emotionally, and I’m going to really encourage people in this city to just find that inner peace, no matter what we’re going through,” he said.
“We have been through tragedies before. This is a resilient city and a resilient country and I want to bring that energy,”
Dr Anthony Fauci to step down from government in December
Anthony Fauci will step down as head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden.
Dr Fauci, who served as director of the NIAID for 38 years, said he would leave both positions in December to “pursue the next chapter” of his career.
“It has been the honour of a lifetime to have led the NIAID,” Dr Fauci, 81, said in a statement.
He became the face of the nation’s Covid-19 response during the pandemic.
On Monday, Mr Biden thanked him for his “spirit, energy, and scientific integrity”.
“The United States of America is stronger, more resilient, and healthier because of him,” the president wrote in a statement.
In July, Dr Fauci said he would retire before the end of Mr Biden’s current term.
Dr Fauci first joined the National Institutes of Health in 1968, when Lyndon Johnson was president.
He was appointed to director of the NIAID, the infectious national disease branch, in 1984, while the AIDS epidemic raged. He has served under seven presidents since – from Republican Ronald Reagan to Democrat Joe Biden.
It wasn’t until 2020, with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, that he became the most famous doctor in America.
Dr Fauci became a frequent media presence in the US and abroad as he emerged as the face of America’s fight against coronavirus. He also became polarising figure during that time.
While he gained fans – a petition to name him People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” in 2020 gathered more than 28,000 signatures – he also angered some on the right who saw him as the public face of lockdowns and mask mandates.
And he occasionally clashed with former president Donald Trump over the pandemic response.
Though Dr Fauci is leaving government, he made clear on Monday that he was not retiring from medicine altogether.
“I plan to pursue the next phase of my career while I still have so much energy and passion for my field,” he said.
Dr Fauci, who will turn 82 on 24 December, did not set an exact date for his departure.
White House officials growing anxious over anticipated surge of migrants next month
White House officials are increasingly anxious about an expected migrant surge at the end of May coinciding with the repeal of a restrictive Trump-era border policy that has let them turn people away.
A political minefield
Tens of thousands of migrants could surge to the border once restrictions lift
LA jail guards routinely punch incarcerated people in the head, monitors find
Los Angeles jail guards have frequently punched incarcerated people in the head and subjected them to a “humiliating” group strip-search where they were forced to wait undressed for hours, according to a new report from court-appointed monitors documenting a range of abuses.
The Los Angeles sheriff’s department (LASD), which oversees the largest local jail system in the country, appears to be routinely violating use-of-force policies, with supervisors failing to hold guards accountable and declining to provide information to the monitors tasked with reviewing the treatment of incarcerated people.
The report, filed in federal court on Thursday, adds to a long string of scandals for the department. The monitors – first put in place in 2014 to settle a case involving beatings – suggested that some problems in the jails appeared to be getting worse after they visited the facilities in December 2021.
The monitors, Robert Houston, a former corrections official, and Jeffrey Schwartz, a consultant, alleged that the use of “head shots”, meaning punches to the head, had been “relatively unchanged in the last two years or more, and may be increasing”. They also wrote that deputies who used force in violation of policy were at times sent to “remedial training” but that “actual discipline is seldom imposed”. And supervisors who failed to document violations were also “not held accountable” .
The authors cited one incident in which a deputy approached a resident who had “walked away from him” while he was being escorted. “With no hesitation, Deputy Y grabbed [his] chest and slammed him into the wall. Deputy Y punched [him] 5‐9 times in the head, and Deputy Z punched [him] 6‐8 times in the head as they took [him] to the floor because they ‘feared’ that the Inmate might become assaultive”.
The report also documented an incident on 7 September 2021, when there were reports that a firearm “might have been smuggled” into Men’s Central jail. Guards responded by instituting a “shakedown” and strip-search of residents.
“They said they were taken out of their cells in the morning, given no explanation (except for one inmate who said he was told the reason for the search by a deputy), strip-searched, then walked naked en masse through the jail and down to the room with the X‐ray machine,” the report said, citing complaints from jail residents. “Passing large numbers of male and female staff members, some of whom … mocked them or made other humiliating comments”.
Those interviewed said they eventually got underwear, but still no shoes, and were taken to a yard where they were forced to wait for hours until they returned to their cells later that night.
LASD did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the report on Friday.
The monitors said they had written officials in January to ask if this was standard procedure, and whether the residents were given food, water and access to bathrooms while waiting. According to the monitors, the department responded that it had completed a “report” about the incident with “corrective action plans”, but in the three months since, it had not sent documents or further information.
The report raised further concerns about the department’s use of the “Wrap” device, which functions like a full-body restraining jacket and is used to “immobilize” people. The Wrap procedures pose a serious risk of asphyxiation, and “the continuing practice … cannot be justified”, the monitors said.
The department had failed to fulfill its requirement to write a Wrap policy that the monitors had approved, and it had further misled the monitors about how the jail was using the device, the report alleged: “The practices used with Wrap appear to be almost diametrically opposed to the way in which the Department explained that Wrap was being used.”
In 2018, a man in jail in northern California died of asphyxiation after being subjected to the Wrap device, sparking widespread scrutiny of the practice.
The LA jails have for years been plagued by corruption and obstruction of justice scandals, with the former sheriff Lee Baca and his second in command both convicted in cases stemming from misconduct investigations. Guards in the Men’s Central jail have also long been accused of being part of a “deputy gang”, known for allegedly using excessive force. The department has also faced mounting questions this year about the death of a 27-year-old in solitary confinement.
“These are not one-time incidents – this is the culture and history of the department,” said Mark-Anthony Clayton-Johnson, executive director of Dignity and Power Now, a group that has long been fighting to shut down the Men’s Central jail. He said the report reminded him of the misconduct allegations and obfuscation from department leaders in a 2012 case. “After 10 years of exposure, 10 years of scandal, 10 years of reform, this department has had a lot of opportunities to get this right … but has continued to revert back to some of the most vicious attacks on Black and brown people.
“It is clear our loved ones are not safe in the custody of the sheriff’s department,” he added.
Peter Eliasberg, chief counsel at the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, said it was especially disturbing that the problems seemed to be escalating under sheriff Alex Villanueva, who was elected in 2018: “They are treating incarcerated people in the jails in a sub-human manner … There’s just an utter lack of accountability, which ultimately goes to the top.”
Helen Jones, an organizer whose 22-year-old son died in LA sheriff’s custody in 2009, said she wasn’t surprised by the report: “It’s been this way for so long, it’s just the norm. It’s out of control, and there are no consequences.”
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