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In our news wrap Friday, U.S. COVID-19 deaths top 330,000 as hospitalizations hit another record high. Firefighters in Southern California continue to battle the "Creek Fire,” which forced more than 7,000 residents to evacuate on Christmas Eve. And the U.S. will require travelers flying from the UK to get a COVID test beginning Monday, as a new variant of the virus continues to spread there.
In the day's other news: Beginning on Monday, travelers from the United Kingdom must present a negative COVID-19 test within three days of flying to the United States.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made the announcement last night to help prevent the spread of new highly contagious COVID variants in Britain. That comes as the U.S. death toll surpassed 330,000. And hospitalizations nationwide hit a new record high yesterday, more than 120,000.
We are going to take a closer look at the devastating toll the pandemic has taken on Los Angeles County later in the program.
About 1,000 British soldiers worked to clear a huge backlog of trucks in Southeast England today, amid efforts to contain the new COVID variants. Some 4,000 drivers are still stranded near the English Channel, awaiting coronavirus tests to be able to cross into France.
Meanwhile, in South Africa, at least 15 people have died in recent weeks waiting in long lines for virus screenings at crossing points, sometimes for days. Local media said they passed away due to exhaustion, poor health, and a lack of facilities as they were trying to reach Zimbabwe.
This year's Christmas celebrations around the world were unlike any other, against the backdrop of the pandemic. From Bethlehem to the Philippines, worshipers attended scaled-down services, seated sparsely and wearing masks.
In Rome, lockdown measures left the normally-crowded streets of Saint Peter's Square eerily quiet. Inside the near-empty Basilica, Pope Francis delivered his annual message virtually and appealed for unity.
Pope Francis (through translator):
I beg everyone, heads of state, companies and international organizations to promote cooperation and not competition, to find a solution for everyone, vaccines for all, especially for the most vulnerable and needy in all areas of the planet. The most vulnerable and needy must be first.
President Trump spent the holiday at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. He spoke with American service members stationed around the world in a private teleconference.
More than 250,000 people across Northeastern U.S. woke up without electricity today. A massive winter storm downed power lines throughout Pennsylvania. Heavy rainfall triggered flooding in some communities. Snow fell from New York to the mountains of North Carolina, while parts of New England had wind gusts up to 65 miles per hour.
Crews in Southern California, meanwhile, battled to contain a wildfire today amid dry and windy conditions. They worked through the night, after more than 7,000 residents in and around the Camp Pendleton U.S. Marine Corps base were forced to evacuate. The so-called Creek Fire has burned more than 3,500 acres so far and is only 35 percent contained.
In Ethiopia, the Red Cross reported the death toll from Wednesday's massacre in the western part of the country has now risen to 222. More than 40,000 people have fled the area due to the violence. Meanwhile, Ethiopia's electoral board has scheduled the country's national election for next June, as political and ethnic conflict rages in several regions.
And a passing to note tonight. Legendary Boston Celtics player K.C. Jones has died in Connecticut, after battling Alzheimer's. The often overshadowed point guard won eight NBA championships in the 1960s. After transitioning to the sidelines, he won four more NBA titles coaching for the Los Angeles Lakers and the Celtics.
Jones is one of only seven players in history to win championships in college, along with the pro league, and an Olympic gold medal. K.C. Jones was 88 years old.
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