In our news wrap Thursday, New Year's Eve arrives as COVID-19 claimed more than 1.8 million lives worldwide, Sen. Ben Sasse pushes back against Republican colleagues trying to reverse the 2020 election results, the U.S. Senate continues a stalemate over increasing COVID-19 relief checks, and the Labor Department reports another 787,000 Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week.
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The pandemic year of 2020 is winding down tonight in somber fashion.
As the new year arrives, COVID-19 has claimed more than 1.8 million lives worldwide. The total includes almost 345,000 in this country.
Jeffrey Brown has our report.
It's a New Year's Eve like never before, how it feels, how it looks, and definitely how the world is celebrating.
In Australia, fireworks lit up the sky above Sydney Harbor, but this time without a crowd that in years past reached one million people. Fireworks in Melbourne were canceled. Bells rang in the new year in Tokyo, Japan where a small number of people were in attendance.
Gatherings were discouraged, as the COVID outbreak is expected to explode in the coming days. And beaches in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, will close tonight. COVID deaths in Brazil are the second highest in the world, after the U.S.
In Europe, where COVID cases are also rampant, a much quieter New Year's Eve is expected, with most fireworks displays canceled. Trafalgar Square in London has been closed off to the public. And parts of England entered the strictest stage of lockdown today in an effort to curb the spread of virus.
If that is what the government want to do, then we have got to follow it. And, to be honest, we have been in lockdown for so long, I think we are all used to it now.
In Berlin, Germany, police enforced a ban on celebrations and fireworks sales. Angela Merkel reflected on the pandemic in what was most likely her last New Year's Eve speech.
Angela Merkel (through translator):
What a year is behind us. The virus made normal behavior risky and unusual protective behavior normal. The year of the pandemic, 2020, was a year of learning.
In France, some 100,000 police officers patrolled streets to enforce an 8:00 p.m. curfew and prevent people from gathering.
But some countries with few, if any COVID cases carried on as usual. Crowds gathered in Auckland, New Zealand, to watch the annual New Year's Eve fireworks display, and in Taiwan, where fireworks shot out from Taipei's largest skyscraper.
State TV in North Korea also showed large crowds watching performances and fireworks. The tightly controlled country has given no indication of how widespread COVID-19 is there.
Meanwhile, here at home, the iconic ball will drop in Times Square in New York, but, for the first time in decades, the site will be closed off to the public. The countdown will be televised, but only the production crew and selected front-line workers and their families will be in attendance.
Fireworks displays in Las Vegas and San Francisco are also canceled this year.
For most then, a New Year's Eve like no other to end a year like no other.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jeffrey Brown.
President Trump is spending New Year's Eve in Washington, after returning early from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
He arrived at the White House this afternoon, but took no questions and gave no reason for coming back a day before he had planned.
President-elect Biden spent New Year's Eve privately, in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse pushed back today against fellow Republicans who are trying to delay counting the electoral votes for president. On Facebook, Sasse called it a dangerous ploy driven by those he branded institutional arsonists.
Missouri Senator Josh Hawley and several House Republicans plan to object when Congress counts the votes on Wednesday. The House and Senate are expected to dismiss the objections.
There was no movement today in the Senate stalemate over increasing COVID relief checks from $600 to $2,000. Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell again blocked a vote on the issue. He argued too much aid would go to well-off families, and he called it socialism for rich people.
Sen. Mitch McConnell:
Our colleagues who purport to be the champions of vulnerable Americans now say that what struggling people really need is for Congress to stop focusing on targeted relief for them specifically, and to instead send thousands of dollars to people who don't need the help.
Democrats and their allies rejected those claims.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders noted that no one making more than $75,000 will get a check.
Sen. Bernie Sanders:
Virtually nothing goes to the very, very rich. Overwhelming majority of those funds go to the middle class, the working class, low income people, who, in the midst of this pandemic, are in desperate economic condition.
There now appears to be little chance of Senate action before the current Congress ends on Sunday.
Amid the Senate debate, the U.S. Labor Department reported another 787,000 Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week. That was down 19,000 from the previous week, but it was still nearly four times higher than a year ago.
Wall Street has closed out a year that saw deep losses, and then spectacular gains. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 197 points today to another record high, 30606. The Nasdaq was up 18 points, and the S&P 500 added 24, also reaching a new high. For the year, the Nasdaq shot up 43 percent, the S&P surged 16 percent, and the Dow added 7 percent.
China's president is lauding his country's economic progress, despite the pandemic. Xi Jinping said today that China was the first major economy to resume growing this year, and he touted efforts to fight rural poverty.
Xi Jinping (through translator):
Facing the sudden coronavirus epidemic, we wrote the epic of our fight against the epidemic with concerted efforts and perseverance. After a year of hardship, we can understand more than ever the significance of a community with a shared future for mankind.
The International Monetary Fund estimates that China's economic growth is at 1.9 percent this year, but projects that it will hit 8 percent next year.
Back in this country, a major winter storm moved out of Texas and Oklahoma and headed east. Forecasters warned that it could dump 18 inches of snow in places and spawn tornadoes as it collides with warmer air. Another storm system dropped heavy snow across the Upper Midwest.
For the first time, a woman will serve as chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives. Retired Rear Admiral Margaret Kibben was named to the position today by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She is former chaplain of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.
And former U.S. Attorney General and Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburgh died today. As governor, he was praised for his handling of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979. He also worked to pass the Americans With Disabilities Act and advocated for those with disabilities, after his son suffered severe brain damage in an auto accident.
Dick Thornburgh was 88 years old.