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Merrit Kennedy

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.

Kennedy joined NPR in Washington, D.C., in December 2015, after seven years living and working in Egypt. She started her journalism career at the beginning of the Egyptian uprising in 2011 and chronicled the ousting of two presidents, eight rounds of elections, and numerous major outbreaks of violence for NPR and other news outlets. She has also worked as a reporter and television producer in Cairo for The Associated Press, covering Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Sudan.

She grew up in Los Angeles, the Middle East, and places in between, and holds a bachelor's degree in international relations from Stanford University and a master's degree in international human rights law from The American University in Cairo.

The White House push to vaccinate against the coronavirus will have a new name and new leadership under the Biden administration.

The "Operation Warp Speed" name will be retired, incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted on Friday. She said there was an "urgent need to address the failures of the Trump team approach to vaccine distribution." Psaki did not say what the new name will be.

The New York State Bar Association is considering expelling Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani as a member because of his comments ahead of the Wednesday attack on the U.S. Capitol, and his efforts for months to cast doubt on the results on the presidential election.

The bar association said it received "hundreds of complaints in recent months" about Giuliani, ultimately deciding Monday to launch a "historic" inquiry.

As coronavirus cases soar in London, Mayor Sadiq Khan has declared a "major incident" and says hospitals are at risk of being overwhelmed.

"The threat this virus poses to our city is at crisis point," Khan said in a statement on Friday.

Updated at 9:30 a.m. ET

The Trump administration says it has reached a deal with Pfizer to buy an additional 100 million doses of the company's COVID-19 vaccine, effectively doubling the federal government's supply from Pfizer.

The pharmaceutical giant is to deliver 70 million doses by June 30, 2021, and complete the rest of the order by the end of the following month, according to a statement released Wednesday morning by the Department of Health and Human Services.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has tested positive for the coronavirus and is experiencing "mild symptoms," according to a statement from his office.

The Republican governor, 73, was tested after he was exposed to the virus, and learned late Monday that he was positive. His office said he is "experiencing mild symptoms with a cough and slight fatigue."

Peggy McMaster, the governor's wife, earlier contracted the virus but is asymptomatic, his office said.

Stargazers around the world didn't pass up an opportunity to see a rare event in the night sky.

On Monday evening, Jupiter and Saturn appeared closer to each other than they have for hundreds of years, in what has become known as the Great Conjunction. Their proximity is the view from Earth. In space, the planets are hundreds of millions of miles apart.

Jupiter and Saturn's positions in the sky align "about once every 20 years," according to NASA, though almost never this closely.

Updated at 12:45 p.m. ET

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, has approved use of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, just hours after the EU's drug agency gave its authorization. Inoculations are expected to begin across Europe next week.

For more than 100 years, two statues representing Virginia have stood at the U.S. Capitol: one of George Washington and another of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

But early Monday, the Lee statue was removed from the National Statuary Hall's collection. It's expected to be replaced by a statue honoring civil rights activist Barbara Johns.

Updated at 1 p.m. ET

Russia has been banned from fielding a national team in the next two Olympics and any world championship sporting event for the next two years, a decision that reduces the length of Russia's suspension issued by the World Anti-Doping Agency last year. Individual Russian athletes who compete will not be allowed to use their nation's flag and anthem.

Updated at 9:40 a.m. ET

Lebanon's caretaker prime minister and three former ministers have been charged with negligence in connection with the deadly blast at Beirut's port last summer, according to Lebanese state media.

Facebook and Twitter took measures to screen against misinformation after President Trump put posts on both sites that falsely claimed COVID-19 is less deadly than the flu in "most populations."

Facebook took down Trump's post, saying that users are not allowed to make false claims about the severity of the pandemic. The social network says the post broke its rules against harmful misinformation.

At least 24 people have died as a result of fires consuming large swaths of the West Coast, with hundreds of thousands under evacuation orders to get to safety.

One hundred large fires are burning in 12 states across the West — but just five of them have been contained, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Mining giant Rio Tinto is parting ways with its chief executive as it tries to quell public anger over the company's destruction of a 46,000-year-old sacred Aboriginal site in Australia.

In May, the company blasted through two rock shelters in Juukan Gorge in Western Australia in order to mine iron ore. Evidence of human habitation there dates back tens of millennia.

The Justice Department's Criminal Division says it has charged 57 people to date over allegedly defrauding a federal program meant to provide relief to small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Criminal Division's acting assistant attorney general, Brian Rabbitt, told reporters that those charged attempted to steal more than $175 million. They actually obtained more than $70 million, he said, and the Justice Department has been to recover or freeze over $30 million.

In Lebanon, a huge fire at Beirut's port has blackened skies and sent waves of panic through the devastated city, which is still reeling from last month's massive explosion in the same area that killed nearly 200 people and injured thousands more.

By early evening local time Thursday, the fire was said to be "under control" by caretaker Public Works Minister Michel Najjar, who is in charge of overseeing the port, according to local media.

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