Australia to kill US pigeon that crossed Pacific

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A pigeon that travelled across the Pacific Ocean is to be put down after running afoul of Australia's strict quarantine rules.

The bird reportedly went missing during a race in the US state of Oregon in late October, before turning up in Melbourne almost two months later. But officials say the pigeon, which has been named Joe, poses a "direct biosecurity risk" to Australia's bird population and poultry industry.

The bird will be caught and euthanised.

Melbourne resident Kevin Celli-Bird says he found the pigeon in his back garden on 26 December.

"He was pretty emaciated so I crushed up a dry biscuit and left it out there for him," he told the AP news agency.

Some internet research led Mr Celli-Bird to discover that the bird, which is registered to an owner in Alabama, was last seen during a pigeon race in the western US state of Oregon. But after news of Joe's appearance made headlines in Australia, Mr Celli-Bird was contacted by officials concerned about the threat of infection.

The pigeon has not yet been caught, but the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment says it will have to be put down because of the danger of infection to local birds.

"Regardless of its origin, any domesticated bird that has not met import health status and testing requirements is not permitted to remain in Australia," a department spokesperson said in a statement.

"The only possible outcome to manage the biosecurity risk is humane destruction of the bird."

It is not clear how the bird managed to make the 8,000-mile journey from the west coast of the US to southern Australia, but officials believe he is likely to have hitchhiked on board a cargo vessel.

While it is possible to legally bring pigeons into Australia, the process is difficult and can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and none have been legally imported from the US in over a decade.

Joe the pigeon is not the first animal to face trouble from Australia's strict animal import laws.

Actors Johnny Depp and his then-wife Amber Heard had to issue a video apology after illegally bringing their dogs Pistol and Boo into the country on their private jet in 2015.

- Source: BBC
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U.S. surpasses 10 million COVID-19 vaccinations nationwide

More than 10 million Americans have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Wednesday, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as the year-old pandemic roared on unchecked.

The United States reached 10.2 million inoculations one day after the CDC and Trump administration gave new guidance to U.S. states on who should receive the shots first. Strict rules putting healthcare workers first in line had slowed the rollout. Now states are urged to vaccinate anyone over 65 as well.

The milestone came as the United States set a new record for coronavirus deaths in one day, with 4,336 fatalities on Tuesday, according to a Reuters tally.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Tuesday said the administration was releasing its full stockpile of two vaccines approved for emergency use, including some that had been held in reserve to make sure that second doses could be given on schedule.

Nearly 30 million doses of the vaccines, manufactured by Moderna and Pfizer with its German partner BioNTech, have been released to U.S. states, which have used only about one-third of them.

Johnson & Johnson said on Wednesday that the pharmaceutical company was on track to roll out its single-shot vaccine in March

In an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, Dr. Paul Stoffels also said J&J expected to meet its stated target of delivering 1 billion doses of its vaccine by the end of this year as the company ramps up production.

Political leaders and health officials nationwide have scrambled in recent days to push out more vaccines to their residents, many lowering the age requirement to 65. California and New York have both pledged to inoculate one million residents this month.


NEW YORK SEEKS MORE VACCINE

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, said on Wednesday that short supplies of the vaccine could hamper efforts to reach the city’s inoculation goals.

“We need the federal government, the state government and the manufacturers to step up and get us more supply immediately,” de Blasio told a news conference.

The nation’s most populous city is adding vaccination sites across its five boroughs, including its two Major League Baseball stadiums.

“I confirmed with our healthcare team yesterday that even with normal supplies that we expect to have delivered next week, we will run out of vaccine at some point next week, unless we get a major new resupply,” de Blasio said.

Public health officials say so far no U.S. state has used up its supply of the vaccines.

At the Javits Center in Manhattan, which was pressed into service as a temporary hospital in April, health officials said they were prepared to vaccinate 10,000 people in 12 hours, with the ability to ramp up to 25,000 in a 24-hour period.

New York has recorded nearly 40,000 coronavirus fatalities since the pandemic broke out there in March, more than any other U.S. state.

Nationwide more than 380,000 people have died of COVID-19. A total of 22.7 million have been infected during that time.

The number of COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization may have leveled off at least temporarily, according to a Reuters tally, although public health officials warned that further spread may still be seen from holiday gatherings.

California, the nation’s most populous state, has seen new hospitalizations drop this week, according to health officials. More than 30,000 Californians have so far died of COVID-19 related illness.

The recent emergence of a more infectious variant of the virus first seen in the United Kingdom has made efforts to accelerate vaccinations all the more important. The so-called UK variant has so far been confirmed in at least 10 U.S. states.

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