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10 things you need to know today: December 26, 2020

1.

Expanded unemployment benefits for around 14 million Americans were set to expire Saturday, as President Trump continues to hold off on signing Congress’ $900 billion COVID-19 pandemic relief bill. The enhanced jobless benefits from the previous relief package end Saturday, so even if Trump changes course and puts pen to paper later in the day a temporary lapse in payments is inevitable since states will need time to reprogram their computer systems to account for the new law, which includes an extra $300 per week on top of the usual state unemployment benefit. In that scenario, The New York Times reports, unemployed workers would still be able to claim the benefits. But a further delay would prove more costly, since states cannot pay out benefits for weeks that begin before the bill is signed. The payments would then restart in January, but the end date would remain the same, trimming the extension from 11 weeks to 10. [Reuters, The New York Times]

2.

A large blast that shook downtown Nashville early Christmas morning wasn’t an accident, Nashville police say. “The explosion was significant, as you can see,” and “the police department, its federal partners — the FBI and ATF — are conducting a large-scale investigation to this point,” said Metro Nashville Police Department spokesman Don Aaron. “We do believe that the explosion was an intentional act.” Three people were injured in the explosion, but none critically. The blast damaged an AT&T-owned building, causing widespread communications outages that took down police emergency systems and grounded air travel. Investigators have not made any announcements about suspects or motives, but the bomb was reportedly detonated inside an RV parked on Nashville’s historic Second Avenue. Police officers and witnesses said they heard a broadcast coming from the vehicle issuing a warning about a bomb. [The Tennessean, The Associated Press]

3.

The United Kingdom and the European Commission both published the full text of their trade agreement Saturday morning. The text includes a 1,246-page trade document, as well as accords on nuclear energy, classified information exchanges, and a series of joint declarations. The sides reached the agreement Thursday, four years after Brexit was voted upon and just a few days before the U.K. is set to leave the bloc for good after a transitional period. The parties are avoiding a “potentially disastrous no-deal scenario,” and lawmakers are optimistic about trading conditions heading into the new year. Thanks to the agreement, exporters will likely face lower tariffs and costs. The pact still has to be approved by the 27 EU member states and the U.K. and EU parliaments. The British parliament will be recalled on Dec. 30, while the EU parliament will reportedly vote retroactively in January. [Reuters, Politico]

4.

Scientists are homing in on the potential cause of allergic reactions to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recorded six severe allergic reactions out of the 272,001 doses administered through Dec. 19. The compound polyethylene glycol, known as PEG, is the leading suspect in the cases. While still speculative at this point, PEG is found in other drugs and is known to trigger anaphylaxis on rare occasions. PEG is also found in the Moderna vaccine. A health care worker became the first known person to experience an allergic reaction to that shot on Thursday. Dr. Hossein Sadrzadeh, who said he has a history of allergies, reported tingling sensations, an elevated heart rate, and low blood pressure shortly after his inoculation. The symptoms, he said, were akin to a reaction he had previously had to shellfish. He was discharged a few hours later. [The Wall Street Journal, CNN]

5.

China is on course to overtake the United States as the world’s biggest economy by 2028, the Center for Economics and Business Research predicted in a report released Saturday. The two countries have long been expected to swap places. A year ago, the CEBR pegged 2033 as the transition year, but China’s quicker recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the pace. China’s economy is expected to grow by 2 percent in 2020, the lone major global economy to expand. The U.S. economy, on the other hand, is expected to contract by 5 percent. The report also anticipates China will become a “high-income economy” by 2023, and that India will be the no. 3 economy by the end of the decade. [The Guardian, Bloomberg]

6.

U.S. District Court Judge Randolph Moss this week delayed the execution date for Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row. Montgomery, who was convicted of murder in 2007, was originally scheduled to be put to death this month, but Moss delayed the execution after Montgomery’s attorneys contracted the coronavirus visiting their client and asked for an extension to file a clemency petition. The Justice Department then moved the execution date to Jan. 12, but Moss ruled this week that rescheduling the date while a stay was in place was illegal. It is now possible the execution won’t be scheduled until after President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, and he has voiced his opposition to the death penalty. [The Associated Press, The Hill]

7.

Cases of a new coronavirus variant recently identified in the United Kingdom continue to be found in European countries. Spain and France confirmed their first infections of the variant Saturday, while Italy, Denmark, and the Netherlands have reported cases in recent days. It has also been found in Australia, Singapore, and Japan. The Spanish cases are reportedly connected to U.K. travel. There is a lot that remains unknown about the variant, but many scientists believe it is more transmissible, though not necessarily more dangerous, than previous mutations. Others have cautioned that more research is needed before confirming the theory about its infectiousness. Still, several countries are taking precautions and halting flights from the U.K. The U.S. is not banning flights, but starting Monday passengers from Britain are required to test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of their departure. [BBC, The New York Times]

8.

An Air Canada Boeing 737-8 MAX carrying three crew members en route from Arizona to Montreal diverted and landed safely in Tucson earlier this week, the airline said Friday. The pilots received a left engine hydraulic low pressure indication not long after takeoff and decided to shut that engine down, an Air Canada spokesman said. Per Reuters, safety experts say such glitches are common and usually go unnoticed, and Air Canada noted in its statement that modern aircraft are “designed to operate with one engine.” But the MAX is under significant scrutiny after it was grounded worldwide in 2019 following two fatal crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. The engines were not implicated in either incident, which were both linked to malfunctioning cockpit software. The U.S. lifted a 20-month ban on the model last month. [Reuters]

9.

At least four people, including two police officers, were killed Saturday morning in a series of explosions in Kabul, Afghanistan. The deaths were caused by a sticky bomb attached to a police vehicle, while two other police officers were wounded by a separate bomb attached to their car. A third bomb went off, but resulted in no casualties. There are also reports of two other explosions across the Afghan capital, but no immediate details were provided. No one has claimed responsibility for the bombings, though the Islamic State has claimed a number of attacks in the city in recent months. [The Associated Press]

10.

K.C. Jones, who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1989, has died, the Boston Celtics announced Friday. He was 88. Jones wasn’t much of a scoring threat during his playing career, but he was an integral piece of the Bill Russell-led Celtics dynasty between 1958 and 1967. In eight of his nine seasons, the Celtics won the NBA championship. Jones was particularly known for his defense. He and Russell also starred together at the University of San Francisco, where they won back-to-back NCAA titles, and he won an Olympic gold medal, as well. After retiring, Jones entered the coaching ranks. He spent several years on the sidelines at the college level, in the American Basketball Association, and as an NBA assistant before becoming the Celtics head coach in 1983. In five seasons, he led the team to two NBA titles, and four Finals appearances. [ESPN]

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