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 - Sputnik International, 1920
Omicron COVID Strain
The new COVID variant was initially detected in South Africa and Botswana and sparked major concerns due to its high number of mutations (32). The WHO dubbed the strain Omicron and warned it may prove to be more transmissible and dangerous than other coronavirus variants.

Biden Admin Threatens to Rescind Arizona's COVID-19 Relief Funds Due to Anti-Mask Programmes

© AP Photo / Carolyn KasterFirst lady Jill Biden comforts a person as they get a COVID-19 vaccination during a tour of the site at Isaac Middle School in Phoenix, Wednesday, June 30, 2021.
First lady Jill Biden comforts a person as they get a COVID-19 vaccination during a tour of the site at Isaac Middle School in Phoenix, Wednesday, June 30, 2021. - Sputnik International, 1920, 14.01.2022
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Arizona's Education Plus-Up Grant Programme is a state-run effort providing some $163 million in funding to school districts without face mask mandates. Jurisdictions with face mask requirements are ineligible. The state's COVID-19 Educational Recovery Benefit Programme also grants parents up to $7,000 if their child's school requires masks.
The office of Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (R) must redirect federal COVID-19 relief funds, or revamp two state-run programmes, within 60 days, to avoid further action from the US Department of the Treasury, according to a Friday memo issued to the Republican governor.
Kathleen Victorino, the Treasury's deputy chief compliance officer, detailed that Ducey's Education Plus-Up Grant and COVID-19 Educational Recovery Benefit Programmes are contrary to stipulations laid out in the American Rescue Plan, a $350 billion federal programme that prohibits the use of funds for a service or programme that undermines COVID-19 mitigation measures.

"Treasury may also withhold funds from the state of Arizona's second tranche installment of [American Rescue Plan] funds until Treasury receives information that confirms that the issues described above have been adequately addressed", Victorino added.

As of this article's publication, Arizona's government has received about half of the estimated $4.2 billion awarded to the state via the COVID relief bill.
Daniel Ruiz, chief of staff for Ducey's office, said the state government intends to continue supporting the programmes at a financial level, and "we will challenge at every level in terms of court proceedings any attempt by them to retroactively change policies or rules".
Ruiz also blasted the Biden administration's communication, alleging that Ducey's office had to find out about the 60-day deadline through the press, rather than direct correspondence.
The Treasury's warning to the Arizona state government comes several months after Rep. Greg Stanton (D-AZ) called on the federal agency to look into Ducey's policies, citing concerns that the programmes "undercut scientific research to pursue purely partisan ideological priorities".
© AP Photo / Ross D. FranklinIn this April 15, 2021, file photo, Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey speaks during a bill signing in Phoenix. Ducey on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021, upped the pressure on the growing number of public school districts defying a state ban on face mask mandates as they try to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
In this April 15, 2021, file photo, Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey speaks during a bill signing in Phoenix. Ducey on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021, upped the pressure on the growing number of public school districts defying a state ban on face mask mandates as they try to slow the spread of the coronavirus.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 14.01.2022
In this April 15, 2021, file photo, Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey speaks during a bill signing in Phoenix. Ducey on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021, upped the pressure on the growing number of public school districts defying a state ban on face mask mandates as they try to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
In September, Ducey pledged to counter the Biden administration's OSHA vaccine mandate, asserting that the move hammers down on "private businesses and individual freedoms in an unprecedented and dangerous way".
Weeks later, attorney generals in several US states, including Arizona, filed lawsuits against the nationwide vaccine mandate for companies with 100 or more employees. According to the mandate, those who do not receive the COVID-19 vaccine must be regularly tested for the novel disease.
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the December 2021 jobs report during a speech in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 7, 2022. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque - Sputnik International, 1920, 14.01.2022
Omicron COVID Strain
Biden 'Disappointed' US Supreme Court Blocked OSHA Vaccine Mandate
On Thursday, just three days after the OSHA vaccine mandate took effect, the Supreme Court of the US (SCOTUS) ruled to block the administration's sweeping mandate for large companies, arguing that while the US Congress has tasked the regulatory agency with managing occupational dangers, "it has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly".
"Requiring the vaccination of 84 million Americans, selected simply because they work for employers with more than 100 employees, certainly falls in the latter category", the Supreme Court wrote in an unsigned opinion filed on 13 January.
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