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'We're prepared' to tackle Omicron variant: Biden******
US President Joe Biden speaks about the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in the State Dining Room of the White House on December 21 in Washington, DC.。
President Joe Biden on Tuesday sought to reassure Americans about the country's ability to battle the rapidly spreading Omicron variant, saying it was "prepared" to fight what is now the dominant coronavirus strain in the United States.。
In a televised address, Biden formally announced a raft of new measures to combat the winter surge – including shipping half a billion at-home tests – but denied his administration had failed to adequately prepare for the fresh wave of cases.。
"We should all be concerned about Omicron but not panicked," he said from the White House.。
"This is not March of 2020," he continued. "Two hundred million people are fully vaccinated. We're prepared, we know more. We just have to stay focused."
Biden stressed the country's immunization campaign would help prevent severe cases among the 62 percent of the population now fully vaccinated – while scolding the unvaccinated for failing to uphold their "patriotic duty."
He also urged everyone to get a booster shot in order to increase their level of protection against the highly mutated Omicron strain.。
"Just the other day, former President Trump announced he had gotten his booster shot," said Biden, calling the gesture "maybe one of the few things he and I agree on."
Beyond vaccines, the country's stockpile of medical equipment – including personal protective gear and ventilators – together with greater knowledge about how to tackle the virus without shutting down schools means America was in a far better position as compared with last year, he added.。
Biden announced his administration's plan to combat the surge, including deploying military personnel to hospitals, shipping supplies to hard-hit states and getting new free testing sites up and running.。
The federal government will mobilize 1,000 doctors, nurses and military medical personnel to be deployed across the country as needed in January and February.。
Washington is already sending additional emergency teams to the states of Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire and Vermont.。
One of the most eye-catching steps was the announcement that the government will ship 500 million at-home tests to Americans who seek them.。
This would bring the United States more in line with fellow rich countries where the tests are widely available for free or at low cost – but the measure would only begin sometime in January.。
'More rapidly than thought'
Biden's administration has come under fire for its failure to be ready for the winter surge, America's fifth wave.。
But getting the virus under control has proved difficult in a country where vaccination and mask-wearing have become divisive political issues, and federal mandates end up in protracted legal battles.。
Biden has attempted to impose vaccine mandates on private businesses and federal employees but has resorted in recent weeks to little more than publicly beseeching people to get their shots.。
At-home tests are currently in scarce supply across the nation while there are long lines at free testing sites in major cities – reminiscent of the pandemic's early days.。
Biden, however, said it was impossible to anticipate the rate of Omicron's spread.。
"What happened was the Omicron virus spread even more rapidly than anybody thought," he told a reporter.。
Asked about the travel ban that was imposed on several southern African nations soon after the existence of the Omicron variant was first reported, he said: "I'm considering reversing it, and I'm going to talk with my team in the next couple of days."
ExxonMobil launches 10******
GUANGZHOU, Nov. 16 (Xinhua) -- International energy company ExxonMobil Tuesday started a project in Huizhou City, south China's Guangdong Province, to produce performance polymers used in packaging, automotive and agricultural products.。
The launching ceremony was held simultaneously in the city, Beijing and Houston.。
With a total investment of about 10 billion U.S. dollars, the project will be constructed in two phases. The annual revenue is expected to reach 39 billion yuan (about 6.1 billion U.S. dollars) after the first phase is completed and put into production.。
"Demand for performance polymers will continue to increase in China, and we are in a good position to meet the needs of that growing market," said Karen McKee, president of ExxonMobil Chemical Company. Enditem。
Economic Watch: China's housing prices ease amid speculation curbs******
BEIJING, Oct. 20 (Xinhua) -- China's property market continued to ease in September amid strict government regulations to curb housing speculation, official data showed Wednesday.
New home prices in four first-tier cities stood unchanged in September from a month earlier, compared with month-on-month growth of 0.3 percent in August, data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed.
Prices of second-hand homes in the four cities edged down 0.4 percent last month from that in August, reversing the mild month-on-month increase seen in August.
A total of 31 second-tier cities also saw no month-on-month change in new home prices, while 35 third-tier cities saw a month-on-month decline of 0.2 percent in new home prices.
The latest data came amid the country's strict housing sector regulations, which follow the principle -- "housing is for living in, not for speculation."
Since the beginning of this year, China has implemented a "long-term mechanism" governing the property sector, curbing housing acquisitions by speculators while supporting purchases by families with pressing needs, said NBS spokesperson Fu Linghui.
Under this mechanism, local governments introduced city-specific measures to keep land and home prices stable. Regulators closely monitored loans to home buyers and real estate companies amid the regulations.
Wednesday's data showed that China's over-five-year loan prime rate, a market-based benchmark lending rate on which many lenders base their mortgage rates, remained unchanged from the previous reading of 4.65 percent, said the National Interbank Funding Center.
The latest NBS data showed that the country's property investment rose 8.8 percent, year on year, in the first nine months, slower than the 10.9-percent growth seen in the first eight months.
"The housing market has remained generally stable, with steady investment, sales, and prices," Fu said.
While some worry that tight property market regulations could weigh on the overall economic growth, Fu said that the impact is "limited", as the average growth rate of real estate sector output for the past two years dipped only mildly in the first three quarters.
In a September meeting on real estate sector finance, the country's central bank and the top banking regulator reiterated that "housing should never be used as a short-term stimulus for economic growth."
As China further diversifies housing supply through various channels and facilitates the property rental market, market behavior would become more rational, contributing to the stable development of the housing market, Fu said. Enditem
At least 19 people killed in New York City major fire******
Photo taken on January 9, 2022 shows emergency personnel from the New York City Fire Department monitoring the scene of a major fire in the Bronx borough of New York City, the United States.。
At least 19 people, including nine children, lost their lives in a major fire in a Bronx apartment in New York City on Sunday, Mayor Eric Adams confirmed.。
"We've lost 19 of our neighbors today. It's a tragedy beyond measure. Join me in praying for those we lost, especially the 9 innocent young lives that were cut short," Adams tweeted.。
The mayor said earlier on Sunday that the fire was horrific.。
"This is a horrific, horrific, painful moment for the city of New York, and the impact of this fire is going to really bring a level of just pain and despair in our city," he told reporters. "This is going to be one of the worst fires we have witnessed during modern times."
Thirty-two people were sent to the hospital in life-threatening conditions. Nine people were also seriously injured, and 22 others sustained non-life-threatening injuries. One member of service was also removed to the hospital, said Adams.。
People are seen in front of the apartment building in Bronx, New York, the United States, on January 9, 2022.。
The fire started from a space heater in an apartment that spanned the second and third floors of the building and only made it to the hall, city officials said.。
But smoke still spread to every floor of the building, likely because the door to the apartment was left open, the city's fire department commissioner Daniel Nigro told reporters at a news briefing.。
"Members found victims on every floor in stairwells and were taking them out in cardiac and respiratory arrest," Nigro said.。
Fire marshals determined through physical evidence and accounts from residents that the fire started from a portable electric heater in the apartment's bedroom, Nigro said.。
He added the heat had been on in the apartment building, and the portable heater had been supplementing that heating.。
Workers clean up at the scene of a major fire in the Bronx borough of New York, United States, on January 9, 2022.。
The catastrophe was likely to stir questions on safety standards in low-income city housing. This was the second major deadly fire in a residential complex in the US this week after twelve people, including eight children, were killed early on Wednesday when flames swept through a public housing apartment building in Philadelphia.。
US Representative Ritchie Torres, a Democrat whose district includes the New York building, told MSNBC that affordable housing developments such as the Bronx one pose safety risks to residents.。
"When we allow our affordable housing developments to be plagued by decades of disinvestment, we are putting lives at risk," he said.。
Adams said many of the residents were from the small West African country of Gambia. The Gambian consulate in New York did not immediately respond to a request for information.。
An investigator of the New York City Fire Department looks out of an apartment at the scene of a major fire in the Bronx borough of New York City, the United States, on January 9, 2022.。