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U.S. Vice President Harris tests positive for COVID-19

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(Last Updated On: April 27, 2022)

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday but is not exhibiting symptoms, a spokesperson said, at a time when there has been an increase in cases among White House staffers.

Harris has not been in close contact with President Joe Biden or first lady Jill Biden due to their travel schedules, her press secretary, Kirsten Allen, said. Harris will isolate and return to the White House when she tests negative, Allen added.

After consultation with her physicians, Harris was prescribed and has taken antiviral drug Paxlovid, Allen said.

Harris came in to the White House on Tuesday but tested positive and left before meeting Biden, a senior administration official said.

Infections have risen in some parts of the United States due to the highly transmissible Omicron BA.2 subvariant, even as cases are falling overall, according to public health officials.

In recent weeks, second gentleman Doug Emhoff, Harris’ communications director Jamal Simmons, White House press secretary Jen Psaki and deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre disclosed positive tests.

Other high-ranking officials to test positive this month have included U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, next in the line of succession to the presidency after Harris, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

Democratic Senators Ron Wyden and Chris Murphy on Tuesday announced that they tested positive for COVID. A senior Senate Democratic aide said because of senators’ absences, votes might be delayed on some Biden nominees who face strong opposition from Republicans.

The Senate is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. Ties can be broken by Harris, who also is currently unable to come to the Senate to cast such votes.

Administration officials have said recently that President Biden’s regular contact with advisers and supporters could expose him to COVID-19.

However, the administration is keen to project a sense of normalcy as many Americans are returning to work and socializing with friends and family, they said.

Both Biden and Harris are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and have received two booster shots. They have in recent weeks mingled with unmasked guests at the White House, including an event attended by 200 guests with former President Barack Obama to talk about Democrats’ signature healthcare law.

With midterm elections scheduled for November, 51% of Americans disapprove of Biden’s job performance, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, as the country struggles with high inflation and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, pushing Biden, Harris and high-ranking administration officials to travel more and spend more time in large groups without a protective mask.

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Israel appears to have been behind drone strike on Iran factory: US official

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(Last Updated On: January 30, 2023)

Israel appears to have been behind an overnight drone attack on a military factory in Iran, Reuters quoted a US official said on Sunday.

Iran claimed to have intercepted drones that struck a military industry target near the central city of Isfahan, and said there were no casualties or serious damage.

The extent of damage could not be independently ascertained. Iranian state media released footage showing a flash in the sky and emergency vehicles at the scene, read the report.

A spokesperson for the Israeli military declined to comment. Arch-foe Israel has long said it is willing to strike Iranian targets if diplomacy fails to curb Tehran’s nuclear or missile programmes, but it has a policy of withholding comment on specific incidents.

Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said no US military forces were involved in strikes in Iran, but declined to comment further, Reuters reported.

That US officials were pointing to an Israeli role in the attack was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, citing several unidentified sources. One US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters it did appear that Israel was involved. Several other US officials declined to comment, beyond saying that Washington played no role.

Tehran did not formally ascribe blame for what Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian called a “cowardly” attack aimed at creating “insecurity” in Iran. But state TV broadcast comments by a lawmaker, Hossein Mirzaie, saying there was “strong speculation” Israel was behind it.

The attack came amid tension between Iran and the West over Tehran’s nuclear activity and its supply of arms – including long-range “suicide drones” – for Russia’s war in Ukraine, as well as months of anti-government demonstrations at home.

The extent of the damage could not be independently confirmed. Iran’s Defence Ministry said the explosion caused only minor damage and no casualties.

“Such actions will not impact our experts’ determination to progress in our peaceful nuclear work,” Amirabdollahian told reporters in televised remarks.

An Israeli strike on Iran would be the first under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since he returned to office last month at the helm of the most right-wing government in Israeli history, Reuters reported.

In Ukraine, which accuses Iran of supplying hundreds of drones to Russia to attack civilian targets in Ukrainian cities far from the front, a senior aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy linked the incident directly to the war there.

“Explosive night in Iran,” Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted. “Did warn you.”

Iran has acknowledged sending drones to Russia but says they were sent before Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine last year. Moscow denies its forces use Iranian drones in Ukraine, although many have been shot down and recovered there.

“Around 23:30 (2000 GMT) on Saturday night, an unsuccessful attack was carried out using micro Aerial Vehicles (MAVs) on one of the ministry’s workshop sites,” the Defence Ministry said in a statement carried by state TV.

It said one drone was shot down “and the other two were caught in defence traps and blew up. It caused only minor damage to the roof of a workshop building. There were no casualties.”

A military official in the region said given the location of the strike in central Iran and the size of the drones, it was likely that the attack was staged from within Iran’s borders.

Separately, IRNA reported early on Sunday a massive fire at a motor oil factory in an industrial zone near the northwestern city of Tabriz. It later said oil leakage caused that blaze, citing a local official.

Iran has accused Israel in the past of planning attacks using agents inside Iranian territory. In July, Tehran said it had arrested a sabotage team made up of Kurdish militants working for Israel who planned to blow up a “sensitive” defence industry centre in Isfahan.

Several Iranian nuclear sites are located in Isfahan province, including Natanz, centrepiece of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme, which Iran accuses Israel of sabotaging in 2021. There have been a number of explosions and fires around Iranian military, nuclear and industrial sites in recent years, Reuters reported.

Talks between Iran and world powers to revive a 2015 nuclear deal have stalled since September. Under the pact, abandoned by Washington in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump, Tehran agreed to limit nuclear work in return for easing of sanctions.

Iran’s clerical rulers have also faced internal turmoil in recent months, with a crackdown on widespread anti-establishment demonstrations spurred by the death in custody of a woman held for allegedly violating its strict Islamic dress code.

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Bus crash in southern Pakistan kills at least 41

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(Last Updated On: January 29, 2023)

More than 40 people were killed after a bus fell into a ravine and caught fire in the southern Pakistani province of Balochistan on Sunday, officials said.

Forty-one bodies had been recovered from the wreckage, some burned beyond recognition, district police officer Israr Umrani told Reuters.

The bus carrying around 48 people crashed on the way from Balochistan’s capital of Quetta to the southern city of Karachi, officials said.

Dozens of people were combing through the wreckage, footage shared by the Edhi Foundation aid and emergency response organisation showed, and ambulance workers were carrying a dead body out of the debris, read the report.

Assistant Commissioner Hamza Anjum for Lasbela, a district in Balochistan, told Dawn newspaper the vehicle had crashed into a bridge, causing it to fall into a ravine and catch fire.

Fatal road accidents are common in Pakistan, where traffic rules are rarely followed and roads in many rural areas are in poor condition, Reuters reported.

At least 22 people were killed in June, including nine members of one family when a passenger van fell into deep ravine in Balochistan.

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Peru bus plunges off cliff, killing at least 24

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(Last Updated On: January 29, 2023)

At least 24 people died in northern Peru after a bus carrying 60 passengers plunged off a cliff in early on Saturday, Reuters quoted police told local media.

Peru’s transportation supervisory agency (SUTRAN) confirmed the crash in a statement, without providing a number of fatalities or injuries.

The tragedy, involving a bus for the company Q’Orianka Tours Aguila Dorada, occurred in the district of El Alto in the far north of Peru, SUTRAN said.

SUTRAN said early investigations showed the bus appeared to have an up-to-date safety inspection and accident insurance.

Road accidents are relatively common in Peru, with many drivers operating vehicles on precarious roads and without proper training. In 2021, 29 people died when a bus plunged off a highway in the Andes mountains, read the report.

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