In Brief: July 18, 2021

GOP governor’s vaccination tour reveals depths of distrust

TEXARKANA, Ark. — Free lottery tickets for those who get vaccinated had few takers. Free hunting and fishing licenses didn’t change many minds either. And this being red-state Arkansas, mandatory vaccinations are off the table.

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So Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has hit the road, meeting face-to-face with residents to try to overcome vaccine hesitancy — in many cases, hostility — in Arkansas, which has the highest rate of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. but is near the very bottom in dispensing shots.

He is meeting with residents like Harvey Woods, who was among five dozen people who gathered at a convention center ballroom in Texarkana on Thursday night. Most of the audience wasn’t masked, and neither was Hutchinson, who has been vaccinated.

Woods, 67, introduced himself to Hutchinson as “anti-vax” and said that he thinks there are too many questions about the effects of the vaccine and that he doesn’t believe the information from the federal government about them is reliable.

Hutchinson and his top health official tried to reassure Woods about the Food and Drug Administration’s review process.

At the forums, Hutchinson tries to empathize with the vaccine skeptics’ anti-government, anti-media sentiment. His message: Listen to your own doctors and medical professionals, not conspiracy theories.

“Let me make sure it’s clear: I’m not asking you to trust government,” he told the Texarkana audience. “I’m asking you to look at, do your own research, talk to people that you trust, and that to me is the right approach.”

France: Thousands protest against vaccination, COVID passes

PARIS — Over 100,000 people protested across France on Saturday against the government’s latest measures to push people to get vaccinated and curb rising infections by the delta variant of the coronavirus.

In Paris, separate protest marches by the far-right and the far-left wound through different parts of the city. Demonstrations were also held in Strasbourg in the east, Lille in the north, Montpellier in the south and elsewhere.

Thousands of people answered calls to take to the streets by Florian Philippot, a fringe far-right politician and former right hand of Marine Le Pen who announced earlier this month that he would run in the 2022 presidential election. Gathered a stone’s throw away from the Louvre Museum, protesters chanted “Macron, clear off!”, “Freedom,” and banged metal spoons on saucepans.

While Philippot has organized small but regular protests against the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, Saturday’s demonstration drew a larger and more diverse crowd of people broadly disaffected with politics: yellow vest activists angry over perceived economic injustice, far-right supporters, medical staff and royalists.

They denounced the government’s decision on Monday to make vaccines compulsory for all health care workers, and to require a “health pass” proving people are fully vaccinated, have recently tested negative or recovered from the virus in order to access restaurants and other public venues. President Emmanuel Macron’s government is presenting a draft law Monday to enshrine the measures.

California fire prompts evacuations; Oregon blaze balloons

SAN FRANCISCO — A rapidly growing wildfire south of Lake Tahoe jumped a highway, prompting more evacuation orders and the cancellation of an extreme bike ride through the Sierra Nevada on Saturday as critically dangerous wildfire weather loomed in the coming days.

The Tamarack Fire, which was sparked by lightning on July 4, exploded overnight and was over 32 square miles (82 square kilometers) as of Saturday evening, according to the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. The blaze was threatening Markleeville, a small town close to the California-Nevada state line. It has destroyed at least three structures, authorities said, and was burning toward the Alpine County Airport after jumping a highway.

A notice posted on the 103-mile (165-kilometer) Death Ride’s website said several communities in the area had been evacuated and ordered all riders to clear the area. The fire left thousands of bikers and spectators stranded in the small town and racing to get out.

Kelli Pennington and her family were camping near the town Friday so her husband could participate in his ninth ride when they were told to leave. They had been watching smoke develop over the course of the day, but were caught off guard by the fire’s quick spread.

“It happened so fast,” Pennington said. “We left our tents, hammock and some foods, but we got most of our things, shoved our two kids in the car and left.”

Dozens treated after chemical leak at Texas water park

A chemical leak at a Houston-area water park left dozens suffering from minor skin irritation and respiratory issues Saturday, authorities said.

Twenty-nine people were taken to local hospitals following the incident at Six Flags Hurricane Harbor Splashtown in Spring, the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office tweeted. Thirty-nine others declined to be taken to a hospital after undergoing decontamination procedures.

KPRC-TV reports that some of those who became sick were children, including a 3-year-old who was hospitalized in stable condition.

The chemicals involved included hypochlorite solution and 35% sulfuric acid, officials said.

“The safety of our guests and team member is always our highest priority and the park was immediately cleared as we try to determine a cause,” Hurricane Harbor Splashtown spokesperson Rosie Shepard said in a statement, according to news outlets. “Out of an abundance of caution, the park has been closed for the day.”

Martine Moïse, wife of slain president, returns to Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Martine Moïse, the wife of Haiti’s assassinated president who was injured in the July 7 attack at their private home, returned to the Caribbean nation on Saturday following her release from a Miami hospital.

Her arrival was unannounced and surprised many in the country of more than 11 million people still reeling from the killing of Jovenel Moïse in a raid authorities say involved Haitians, Haitian-Americans and former Colombian soldiers.

Martine Moïse disembarked the flight at the Port-au-Prince airport wearing a black dress, a black bulletproof jacket, a black face mask, and her right arm in a black sling as she slowly walked down the steps of what appeared to be a private plan one by one. She was greeted by Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph and other officials.

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Earlier this week, she tweeted from the Miami hospital that she could not believe her husband, Jovenel Moïse, was gone “without saying a last word,” she wrote. “This pain will never pass.”

On Friday, government officials announced Jovenel Moïse’s funeral would be held on July 23 in the northern Haitian city of Cap-Haitien and that his wife is expected to attend.

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