In our news wrap Thursday, a more contagious version of COVID-19 from South Africa arrived in the U.S with cases confirmed in South Carolina, the pandemic shrank the U.S. economy by 3.5 percent last year, at least six people died at Georgia poultry plant after liquid nitrogen leaked into the facility, and a man in Pakistan accused of beheading American journalist Daniel Pearl may be set free.
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In the day's other news: A more contagious version of COVID-19 from South Africa has arrived in the U.S., with two cases confirmed in South Carolina.
The news came as the nation's COVID death toll passed 432,000. And the attorney general in New York state reported that nursing home deaths were undercounted by up to 50 percent. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio demanded answers.
Mayor Bill de Blasio:
We have to make sense of this. We have to get the full truth and we have to make sure it never, ever happens again, nothing like this happens again. And we have to be honest about the numbers.
Other COVID variants from Britain and Brazil have already reached the United States.
The U.S. Commerce Department says that the economy shrank 3.5 percent last year as the pandemic raged. That's the most since the nation demobilized after World War II. Growth resumed in the third quarter, but it has slowed since then. Last week, another 847,000 Americans filed for unemployment benefits.
At least six people were killed today when liquid nitrogen leaked at a Georgia poultry plant. It happened at a Foundation Food Group site in Gainesville. A number of other people were injured, three of them critically. Liquid nitrogen is used in refrigeration, but it can vaporize and force the breathable air out of enclosed spaces.
In Pakistan, a man convicted and then acquitted in the beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002 may be going free. The country's Supreme Court today ordered Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and three other men released.
In Washington, the White House condemned the move.
This decision to exonerate and release Sheikh and the other suspects is an affront to terrorism victims everywhere, including in Pakistan.
But we call on the Pakistani government to expeditiously review its legal options, including allowing the United States to prosecute Sheikh for the brutal murder of an American citizen and journalist.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the U.S. will try to extradite Sheikh if his acquittal stands.
General Motors plans to make most of its new vehicles electric by 2035. The automaker also announced today that it entire operation aims to go carbon-neutral by 2040. GM sold more than 2.5 million vehicles in the United States last year. Only 20,000 were electric.
On Wall Street, stocks made back some of Wednesday's big losses. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 300 points to close at 30603. The Nasdaq rose 66 points, and the S&P 500 added 36 points.
And the nation's very first second gentleman, Doug Emhoff, stepped out today. The husband of Vice President Kamala Harris had his first solo event, touring a Washington nonprofit that advocates for food security. His appearance came as Merriam-Webster added "second gentleman" to its dictionary.