Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organization, announced on Wednesday it had broken up a global criminal network smuggling vials of fake COVID-19 vaccines around the world.
Around 2,400 doses of counterfeit coronavirus vaccine were seized from a warehouse outside of Johannesburg, South Africa, along with counterfeit 3M masks. Three Chinese nationals and a Zambian national were arrested.
Around the same time in China, law enforcement agents arrested 80 people they say are connected to the counterfeit products, and uncovered an additional 3,000 vials of fake vaccine.
Authorities said the counterfeit vaccine was made from saline solution.
Interpol had been tracking the counterfeit smugglers for some time. In December of last year, it issued what it calls an "orange alert," notifying its 194 member countries that counterfeiting of both vaccine and coronavirus tests could be on the rise. The agency warned that counterfeiters are especially likely to try to sell fake medical products online.
Jürgen Stock, Interpol's secretary general, urged consumers to avoid purchasing anything advertised as a coronavirus vaccine on the internet.
"Any vaccine being advertised on websites or the dark web will not be legitimate, will not have been tested, and may be dangerous," he said in a statement. "Anyone who buys these drugs is putting themselves at risk and giving their money to organized criminals."
Stock added that the recent bust of counterfeit vaccines is "only the tip of the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Covid-19 vaccine-related crime."
He said the agency was also looking into fake vaccine scams targeting nursing homes and other healthcare facilities.
President Joe Biden heads to Texas on Friday to tour some of the hardest hit areas of the state, but while he's there, he won't be meeting with Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.
That's because Cruz has a speaking engagement that day at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida. He'll be giving a speech entitled "Bill of Rights, Liberty, and Cancel Culture." Cancel culture appears to be a major theme of the conference; former President Donald Trump will give a speech on Sunday entitled "America Uncancelled."
Though it's typical for senators to travel with the president when visiting their states, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that there were "limitations on space" on Air Force One, making it impossible for Cruz or his fellow GOP Sen. John Cornyn to join. Instead, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott will accompany the president.
"There are some limitations on space available, so there are not members, I don't believe, of any party traveling with the president to Texas," Psaki told reporters, noting that First Lady Dr. Jill Biden would be joining the president on his trip. "But again, he's going to be spending the day traveling with Gov. Abbott and surveying the damage on the ground."
According to Psaki, Biden will "meet with local leaders to discuss the winter storm, relief efforts, progress toward recovery, and the incredible resilience shown by the people of Houston and Texas."
The White House has not directly commented on Cruz's behavior, though Psaki did say last week that "Many people across the state are without power [and] without the resources they need, and we expect that would be the focus of anyone in the state who was elected to represent them."
Insider has reached out to both Cruz and Cornyn's offices for comment.
US District Judge John Barker in the Eastern District of Texas said that the creation of such a moratorium "criminalizes the use of state legal proceedings to vindicate property rights."
In a 21-page summary judgment, Barker, a Trump appointee, said that the eviction moratorium left open the possibility that federal agencies could extend further control over eviction practices in the future.
"The government's argument would thus allow a nationwide eviction moratorium long after the COVID-19 pandemic ends," he wrote. "The eviction remedy could be suspended at any time based on fairness as perceived by Congress or perhaps an agency official delegated that judgment. Such broad authority over state remedies begins to resemble, in operation, a prohibited federal police power."
"Although the COVID-19 pandemic persists, so does the Constitution," Barker wrote.
The CDC's moratorium was put into place last September and aimed to curb the spread of COVID-19 due to housing insecurity. In February, President Joe Biden extended the moratorium through March.
A census survey completed in the first two weeks of February found that nearly half of the 9,231,745 people surveyed said it was "somewhat likely" or "very likely" they would be evicted in the next two months.
The ruling is a victory for property owners who had argued that the moratorium interfered with their ability to run their businesses and was an abuse of government power.
"The CDC attempted to use COVID-19 as an opportunity to grab power, and the court rightfully corrected this egregious overreach," Robert Henneke, general counsel for the Texas Public Policy Foundation and a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told CNN in a statement.
The case will likely be appealed in the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, The Hill reported.
Meghan McCain complained about her lack of access to the coronavirus vaccine and called for Dr. Anthony Fauci's ouster on "The View" on Monday.
McCain showed a clip of Fauci, President Biden's chief medical adviser for Covid-19, speaking with CNN's Dana Bash in which Bash asked if it would be safe for her vaccinated parents to spend time with her children. Fauci said he wasn't ready to make recommendations yet.
Noting that it had been a year since Americans had gone into quarantine, McCain went on to complain about the lack of clear messaging around coronavirus. "I want to be responsible and obviously wait my turn," she said, "but this rollout has been a disaster."
"The fact that I, Meghan McCain, co-host of 'The View,' don't know when or how I will be able to get a vaccine because the rollout for my age range and my health is so nebulous, I have no idea when and how I get it," she said, seemingly implying that her status as a television host should grant her special access to information about the vaccine.
Speaking directly to the camera, McCain went on to say that President Trump was to blame for much of the way the virus spread over the past year, but "now we're in the Biden administration and I, for one, would like something to look forward to and to hope for because if getting the vaccine means that just nothing changes and we have to wait another few years until everyone gets it, there's already a lot of people not getting it."
She went on to say that she believed the Biden administration should remove Fauci, apparently angered because "he can't tell me that if I get the vaccine if I'll be able to have dinner with my family."
"So I'm over Dr. Fauci. I think we need to have more people giving more opinions and honestly quite frankly, I think the Biden administration should remove him and put someone in place that does understand science or can talk like these other countries about how we can be more like these other places that are doing this successfully."
Several hours after the show aired, McCain appeared to double down on her sentiments in a tweet.
When asked by Bash on Sunday when he thought things would be getting "back to normal," Fauci said that he could imagine Americans wearing masks into next year.
"You know, I think it is possible that that's the case and, again, it really depends on what you mean by normality. I don't want to be making a recommendation now on public TV," he said. "I would want to sit down with the team and take a look at that."
Experts say that people should remain cautious and vigilant, even after receiving the vaccine.
"Immunity is not an on/off switch; it's a dial," Eric Lofgren, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Washington State University, told The New York Times. "If you're below herd immunity, the virus is still happily circulating in the population and there's always a chance the vaccine isn't working for you."
The CDC recommends that people continue to wear masks and practice social distancing even after receiving the vaccine because we "don't yet know whether getting a COVID-19 vaccine will prevent you from spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 to other people, even if you don't get sick yourself."
Chinese seniors are lining up at banks across the country after rumors swirled online that reclusive billionaire Jack Ma was giving away pieces of his fortune, UPI reported,
Many began lining up at banks across Fuzhou, in the Jiangxi Province, after a WeChat group claimed that Ma was giving away 200 Chinese yuan - the equivalent of $30 - to anyone 60 or older who could show proof of age.
The gift was said to be in honor of Lunar New Year, which began on February 11 and is observed until February 17. During that time, the country generally shuts down, and gifts of money are exchanged in special red envelopes meant to bring prosperity in the new year.
But authorities warned seniors not to trust rumors about a potential gift, and the Fuzhou Municipal Public Security Bureau issued an emergency notice warning citizens of a possible scam.
Ma has in the past offered special deals and promotions during Lunar New Year, largely through Alibaba and its subsidiary companies. In 2014, Ma's Alibaba issued 99,999 online coupons to users via WeChat, worth around 990,000 yuan, or $153,000. In 2016, Alipay, the mobile payment branch of Alibaba, gave away US$120 million in a TV promotion. And in 2018, Alibaba offered a "digital red envelope" AR game, paying out around US$820 million to customers.
ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, has walked away from a deal to sell its US operations of video platform TikTok to Oracle and Walmart, according to a report from Zhou Xin at the South China Morning Post.
The deal had been forced by threats from the Trump administration to ban TikTok in the US, a threat that has receded since President Joe Biden took office.
A source who declined to be named told SCMP that the deal was brokered to "entertain demands from the Trump administration," but now that Trump is gone, "the raison d'être of the deal is gone with him."
According to the source, ByteDance believed selling its US holdings of TikTok to Oracle would offer the company an inside track on the Trump administration because Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison publicly supported the former president.
Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that the TikTok deal had been temporarily shelved while the Biden administration reviewed its position on Chinese security.
Trump took a hard stance against TikTok, claiming that the Chinese-owned app was a threat to national security because of its access to US users' data.
In August 2020, Trump signed two executive orders, one of which prohibited US companies from doing business with ByteDance, and another threatening to ban TikTok in the US unless Bytedance divested of its US operations.
ByteDance challenged the orders. In December, a federal judge blocked the ban, saying Trump had overstepped his authority. US District Judge Carl Nichols called Trump's executive orders "arbitrary and capricious."
ByteDance is now said to be working on what TikTok's US operations might look like without a deal with Oracle.
TikTok has more than 100 million users in the US, and is among one of the most downloaded apps in iOS and Google Play stores.
Insider has reached out to both ByteDance and Oracle for comment.
A Sandy Lake, Pennsylvania, woman dubbed "bullhorn lady" during the January 6 Capitol riots was released under house arrest but told she must wear a mask at all times in public.
Judge Beryl Howell offered the mask mandate after it was made clear that Powell had repeatedly refused to wear masks in the past, and had actually been fired from a job for refusing to wear one. In late December she posted "I'm unashamedly a 'super spreader'" on Facebook, according to The New Yorker.
Speaking to Powell during her release hearing, Howell said that her actions were "so unpatriotic it makes my straight hair curl," according to The Daily Beast.
The mother of eight was filmed at the Capitol shouting instructions into a bullhorn and directing rioters around the Capitol. She has been charged with depredation of government property, entering restricted buildings or grounds with a dangerous weapon, entering restricted buildings or grounds, and violent entry or disorderly conduct.
According to prosecutors, Powell "picked up a large pipe and used it as a battering ram to break into the United States Capitol. Then, amplified by a large bullhorn, she corralled her fellow rioters and gave instructions on how to 'take' the Capitol, including instructions that revealed operative knowledge of the inner-Capitol layout."
Prosecutors said she ordered rioters to "coordinate together if you are going to take this building," and alerted them they had "another window to break."
Alluding to her "bullhorn lady" moniker, she told Farrow: "Listen, if somebody doesn't help and direct people, then do more people die? That's all I'm going to say about that. I can't say anymore. I need to talk to an attorney."
At the time of the interview, Powell was considered a fugitive and was arrested two days later, on February 4, after local authorities received a tip about her whereabouts.
Prosecutors said her decision to given an interview to The New Yorker rather than turn herself in showed a "disregard for the aims of law enforcement."
In her interview with The New Yorker, Powell admitted that she didn't vote for Trump in 2016, and had a hard time deciding whether to vote for Trump in the 2020 election.
She also noted that Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, had been one of her primary sources of information, despite his repeated baseless claims about election fraud.
Dolly Parton revealed to The Today Show that she was offered the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former President Donald Trump on two separate occasions but had to beg off both times.
"I couldn't accept it because my husband was ill and then they asked me again about it and I wouldn't travel because of the COVID," she told host Hoda Kotb.
Parton is much beloved for both her musical career and the many charity projects she's undertaken in recent years. In November, she donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University to support coronavirus vaccine research. She previously gave $1 million to Vanderbilt to help fund its Monroe Carell Jr. Vanderbilt Children's Hospital.
Perhaps her best-known charity project is her Imagination Library, a charity she founded in 1990 that provides one free book a month to children from birth until adulthood. In the early months of the pandemic, she used the Imagination Library platform to read bedtime stories to kids who were out of school.
Trump isn't the only president hoping to offer Parton a Medal of Freedom. The eight-time Grammy winner told Today that the new administration has reached out to her, but that she was worried about how receiving the award from Biden might be perceived.
"Now I feel like if I take it, I'll be doing politics, so I'm not sure," she said.
In a 2020 Stephen Colbert interview with former President Barack Obama, Obama said it was a "mistake" that his office hadn't offered Parton the honor.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom was established in 1945 and is the country's highest civilian honor. It is awarded for "especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, or cultural or other significant public or private endeavors," according to the National Archives.
Trump handed out 24 Presidential Medals of Freedom during his term, though the late Elvis Presley was the only other musician to receive one. Rush Limbaugh, Tiger Woods, and Rep. Jim Jordan were among those honored by the former president.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was also offered the award but turned it down following the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
Steve Hilton, host of the Fox News show "The Next Revolution," told Fox News host Maria Bartiromo that he believed Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor to the president, is responsible for the origins of the coronavirus, a conspiracy theory that has been widely debunked.
The pundit appeared on Fox News "Primetime" on Tuesday evening and put forth an unfounded theory that research commissioned by Fauci led to the virus outbreak.
Hilton said the virus most likely came out of a lab in Wuhan, China, and added, "the question is who commissioned the work, who started the work that they were doing in that lab, and the answer...comes back right to here, to our country, to Dr. Fauci."
"Dr. Fauci is the leading proponent of a type of virus research called gain of function," he continued. "The idea is to manipulate genetic information in the lab to make viruses as contagious as possible so we can learn how to fight them. It's a noble intention but accidents happen."
"In 2014 Dr. Fauci commissioned work that led to that kind of manipulation in the lab that is so close to what we saw with this pandemic," Hilton added. "That's what needs to be investigated, and yet there is no one who wants to ask 'why did Dr. Fauci commission that work and continue to fund it, despite a ban in 2014?' And then the second big question is are we still funding this kind of research and risking another pandemic?"
The idea that the virus was somehow man-made has been repeatedly debunked. And there is also no evidence to suggest that Fauci was involved at any time with research on the coronavirus prior to the Wuhan outbreak.
Baseless conspiracy theories blaming the virus on work overseen by Fauci have been floated throughout the last year, and have been heavily tied to Chinese disinformation campaigns that claim the coronavirus was actually developed at the Fort Detrick Army medical base in Maryland. Both Chinese social media and Russian outlets have pushed the theories.
Fox seems to be pushing this new theory via Hilton and by highlighting an editorial from New York Post writer Miranda Devine, which baselessly claimed Fauci had "deceived us on everything from masks to herd immunity."
Fox News and the National Institutes of Health did not immediately respond to Insider's requests for comment.
Mike Lindell, CEO of MyPillow and fervent supporter of former President Donald Trump, has been permanently suspended by Twitter.
Lindell was cited by Twitter for violating its Civic Integrity Policy by making repeated false claims about the election and violating the platform's policy on misinformation.
In the aftermath of the presidential election, Lindell took to Twitter to defend his close friend and suggest that the president impose "martial law" in the seven states where Trump was contesting the results of the election. He also tweeted that some Georgia voters should "go to prison" as a punishment for Biden's win there.
Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump often turned to Lindell for guidance, and at one point, Lindell claimed he'd been tasked by the White House to find "good sanitizers or cures" for the coronavirus. Last year, Lindell was criticized for his promotion of the supplement oleandrin as an unproven treatment for COVID-19, a product both he and former HUD Secretary Ben Carson were personal investors in.
Lindell visited Trump at the White House on January 16 to offer last-minute suggestions on how Trump could subvert the election of Joe Biden and remain in power. A Washington Post photographer captured a segment of Lindell's notes, which appear to suggest that Trump invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act, among other things.
On Monday, Lindell announced he was suing the Daily Mail after they published an article claiming he had had a relationship with "30 Rock" actress Jane Krakowski. Both he and Krakowski deny the relationship and in the lawsuit, Lindell alleges the story caused "personal harm and emotional distress."