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The COVID-19 vaccine mandate for members of the U.S. military would be rescinded under the annual defense bill heading for a vote this week in Congress. If the measure passes, it will end a policy that helped ensure the vast majority of troops were vaccinated but also raised concerns that it harmed recruitment and retention. Republicans emboldened by their new House majority next year have pushed the effort in negotiations. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre says President Joe Biden told House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy he would consider lifting the mandate, but Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recommended it be kept.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping is attending a pair of regional summits in Saudi Arabia amid efforts to kick-start economic growth weighed down by strict anti-COVID-19 measures. The Foreign Ministry said Wednesday Xi will attend the inaugural China-Arab States Summit and a meeting with leaders of the six nations that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. His state visit to Saudi Arabia will end on Saturday. China is the world’s second largest economy, a leading consumer of oil and source of foreign investment. China imports half of its oil, and half of those imports come from Saudi Arabia. Chinese economic growth rebounded to 3.9% over a year earlier in the three months ending in September.

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Continuing state investigations have found at least 35 instances where Connecticut Department of Correction employees potentially misused a COVID-19 program that provided workers with hotel rooms during the height of the pandemic. The cases include a staffer booking a room to attend a wedding. The agency confirmed Tuesday that so far, 14 of the 35 investigations have been closed and $40,787 has been returned to the state. DOC said approximately $104,000 is still owed. All employees under investigation were allowed to reimburse the state. Some of them have faced additional discipline, including a five-day suspension for several individuals.

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The deadline for obtaining the Real ID needed to board a domestic flight has been pushed back again, with the Department of Homeland Security citing the lingering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic for the slower-than-expected rollout. The deadline to have a Real ID had been May 3, 2023, but DHS announced Monday that it was pushed back to May 7, 2025. People are getting compliant IDs as they renew driver’s licenses, but DHS said the pandemic resulted in backlogs at state driver’s license offices. Because of the backlogs, many state agencies that issue driver’s licenses automatically extended expiration dates on licenses and ID cards, rather than issuing compliant licenses and cards.

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David Tennant remembers seeing in the news the image of Alexander Litvinenko lying in a hospital bed. It’s a photograph the actor has re-created, with support from make-up artists, prosthetic professionals and the art department, for his title role in “Litvinenko.” The four-episode miniseries written by George Kay follows the investigation into what happened after the former KGB agent and Russia critic was killed by poisoning in 2006. Tennant says those involved with the series were motivated to get it right and felt the “weight of responsibility” of recent history. Tennant will also soon be returning to his role in “Doctor Who.” “Litvinenko” debuts on Sundance Now and AMC+ on Dec. 16.

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A Conservative member of Britain's House of Lords says she is taking a leave of absence from Parliament to “clear her name” over allegations that she profited from links to a company awarded government contracts for personal protective equipment during the coronavirus pandemic. Michelle Mone has denied reports that she used her political connections to recommend a company called PPE Medpro to senior government officials and won contracts worth more than 200 million pounds ($244 million) to supply protective equipment to the government in 2020. The Guardian newspaper has reported that Mone and her children received 29 million pounds originating from profits of PPE Medpro. Mone’s lawyers have said she is not connected to the company in any capacity.

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As more nurses leave their jobs in hospitals and health-care centers, foundations are pouring millions of dollars into efforts to ensure that more stay in the profession and get more out of the job than just the applause and pats on the back they got during the bleakest days of the pandemic. Philanthropic pledges announced this year to help nurses and the nursing profession include a $125 million donation in February from Leonard Lauder, heir to the Estee Lauder cosmetics fortune, to the University of Pennsylvania to create a tuition-free program that eventually will train 40 nurses a year.

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Schools contending with soaring student mental health needs and other challenges have been struggling to determine just how much the pandemic is to blame. Are emotional struggles the sign of a disability that will impair their learning, or something more temporary? For students who don’t qualify for special education, where should they go for help? It all adds to desperation for parents trying to figure out how best to help their children. To qualify for special education services, a child’s school performance must be suffering because of a disability in one of 13 categories, according to federal law.

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Stocks are mostly lower in Asia after Wall Street pulled back as surprisingly strong economic reports highlighted the difficulty of the Federal Reserve’s fight against inflation. Tokyo rose while other regional markets declined. U.S. futures gained and oil prices also advanced. The S&P 500 fell 1.8% Monday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 1.4% and the tech-heavy Nasdaq gave back 1.9%. Small-company stocks fell even more. The services sector, which makes up the biggest part of the U.S. economy, showed surprising growth in November. At the same time, markets have been lifted by expectations China will press ahead with easing its stringent pandemic restrictions, relieving pressures on trade, manufacturing and consumer spending.

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Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has filed for reelection next year. The Democratic governor is touting his work to increase jobs, expand health care and support teachers. He filed the paperwork Monday after attending an event trumpeting the state's largest-ever economic development project. Polling has consistently showed the governor receiving high job-performance ratings from Kentuckians. But Beshear faces a tough reelection fight in a state trending heavily in favor of Republicans. GOP candidates are lining up for the chance to challenge him next year. Beshear's term has been marred by the COVID-19 pandemic and horrific tornadoes and flooding.

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The World Cup stadium was designed to leave a minimal footprint in the Qatari sand. It’s now due to be dismantled. Stadium 974 played host to seven matches. The one one was Brazil’s 4-1 win over South Korea in the last 16 on Monday. Qatar says the stadium will disappear. But it isn’t clear when that will happen. The country will soon stage an Asian Cup, the multi-sport Asian Games and maybe even a Summer Olympics. The big question is what happens next for Qatar's venues after the World Cup ends.

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George Balanchine's “Nutcracker” is back in full swing at New York City Ballet, a year after a number of performances were canceled due to COVID-19, and two years after being sidelined entirely due to the pandemic. Associated Press critic Jocelyn Noveck writes that at Sunday night's performance, the audience was in for an extra treat as they witnessed the farewell performance of one of the company's most admired ballerinas, Sterling Hyltin. Hyltin is retiring at 37 while still at the top of her game. At curtain calls, in a ballet farewell tradition, current and former colleagues — and young students in pink leotards — feted Hyltin with bouquets and hugs. The show runs through Dec. 31.

Pfizer has announced a $750 million project toward expanding capacity at the western Michigan pharmaceutical plant where the company first mass produced its COVID-19 vaccine. Company officials said Monday the project will boost the plant’s manufacturing of sterile injectable medications and could lead to 300 new jobs at the Portage plant near Kalamazoo that now has about 3,000 workers. Pfizer executive David Breen said the project will help ensure uninterrupted supply for medicines and vaccines, including those based on mRNA technology used in its COVID-19 vaccine. The plant first started shipping the COVID-19 vaccines in December 2020.

One would have to go back hundreds of years to find a monarch who reigned longer than Queen Elizabeth II. In her 70 years on the throne, she helped modernize the monarchy across decades of enormous social change, royal marriages and births, and family scandals. Her death in September was arguably the most high-profile death this year. Other world leaders who died in 2022 include former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who died in August. Among the entertainers who died this year was groundbreaking actor Sidney Poitier, who played roles with such dignity that it helped change the way Black people are portrayed on screen.

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Pfizer is asking U.S. regulators to authorize its updated COVID-19 vaccine for children under age 5. The youngest tots already are supposed to get three extra-small doses of the original vaccine as their primary series. Pfizer and its partner BioNTech said Monday that if the Food and Drug Administration agrees, the updated vaccine would be used for the third shot. The FDA already has cleared COVID-19 vaccines tweaked to better target omicron as boosters for everyone 5 and older.

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China is easing some of the world’s most stringent anti-COVID controls and authorities say new variants are weaker. But they have yet to say when they might end a "zero-COVID“ strategy that confines millions of people to their homes and set off protests and demands for President Xi Jinping to resign. Commuters in Beijing and at least 16 other cities are allowed to board buses and subways without a virus test in the previous 48 hours for the first time in months. The government announced plans to vaccinate millions of elderly people. That spurred hopes for quick reopening of the country. But health experts and economists warn it will be mid-2023 and possibly 2024 before “zero COVID” ends.

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New Zealand is launching a wide-ranging inquiry into whether it made the right decisions in battling COVID-19 and how it can better prepare for future pandemics. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday the coronavirus had posed the greatest threat to the nation’s health and economy since World War II. She said now was an appropriate time to examine the government’s response with the highest level of independent inquiry. Among the questions will be whether or not New Zealand took the right approach initially by imposing strict lockdowns and border quarantine restrictions in order to try and wipe out the virus entirely.

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As Elon Musk is finding out, running a global social media platform requires more than a few good algorithms. It also presents tough decisions about what kind of content to allow, and how to handle users who break the rules. Since Musk purchased Twitter, however, the rules have become unclear and enforcement inconsistent. The platform announced it was ending its COVID-19 misinformation policy, only to say no policies had changed. Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, was banished from Twitter for posting antisemitic content, even as the platform reinstated the account belonging to a neo-Nazi leader. Social media experts say the lack of clear and enforceable content rules could hurt Twitter if users start to lose trust.

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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is making clear he wants to keep the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate in place to protect the health of the troops, as Republican governors and lawmakers press to rescind it. This past week more than 20 Republican governors wrote to President Joe Biden asking that the administration remove the mandate. They say it has hurt the U.S. National Guard’s ability to recruit troops. Congress may consider legislation this coming week to end the mandate as a requirement to gather enough support to pass this years’ defense budget, which is already two months late. Austin says the mandate has kept the forces healthy.

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It's now a lot easier and cheaper for Americans to get hearing aids. The government recently began allowing the sale of hearing aids without a prescription. These over-the-counter hearing aids began hitting the market in October at prices that can be thousands of dollars lower than prescription hearing aids. They are for people with mild-to-moderate hearing problems — not those with more severe hearing loss. The Food and Drug Administration estimates that around 30 million people in the United States deal with hearing loss. Only about 20% of the people who could use a hearing aid seek help.

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Noodle, a senior pug who went viral on TikTok for deciding whether it would be a bones day or a no bones day, has died. His owner, Jonathan Graziano, posted on Instagram that the 14-year-old dog died Friday. The little dog became famous in 2021 when Graziano began posting morning videos of Noodle deciding whether he was going to stand up or flop down in his soft dog bed. This coined the phrase “a no bones day” if Noodle decided to sleep in. Graziano would encourage his fans to follow his lead and treat themselves to soft pants and self care. Graziano said Noodle lived 14 and a half years and made millions of people happy.

New York’s state health commissioner will resign Jan. 1 after 13 months in the job to return to Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Mary Bassett said in a statement Friday that she was leaving so the next commissioner can lead the department for a full four-year term under Gov. Kathy Hochul, who won election to her first full term last month. Hochul says in a statement that Bassett led the Health Department during a challenging time, battling the coronavirus, mpox and polio outbreaks. Bassett is a former New York City health commissioner and became the state commissioner in December 2021 after leaving Harvard.

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What started as an unplanned vigil last weekend in Shanghai by fewer than a dozen people grew hours later into a rowdy crowd of hundreds. The protesters expressed anger over China's harsh COVID-19 policies that they believed played a role in a deadly fire on Nov. 24 in a city in the far west. Then, a woman defiantly shouted for Chinese leader Xi Jinping to resign, emboldening others. Before dawn, police moved in to break up the gathering. The Nov. 26 protest in Shanghai wasn’t the first or the largest. But it was notable for the bold calls for the leadership change — the most open defiance of the ruling Communist Party in decades.

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The Group of Seven nations and Australia have joined the European Union in agreeing to a $60-per-barrel price cap on Russian oil. It's a key step as Western sanctions aim to reorder the global oil market to prevent price spikes and starve President Vladimir Putin of funding for his war in Ukraine. The nations needed to set the discounted price that other nations will pay by Monday, when an EU embargo on Russian oil shipped by sea and a ban on insurance for those supplies take effect. The price cap aims to prevent a sudden loss of Russian oil to the world that could lead to a new surge in energy prices.

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