Victorious return: US women’s soccer team beats Aussies 3-0

SYDNEY (AP) — After 21 years since last playing in Australia, the United States women’s soccer team needed only 24 seconds to score against the Matildas on Saturday.

Turns out that was all the new-look American side needed in a 3-0 win at Sydney’s Olympic stadium before a Matildas-record crowd of 36,109.

Ashley Hatch scored her first international goal when Australia’s defense failed to clear the ball from the opening kickoff. Hatch found herself one-on-one with goalkeeper Teagen Micah, and Hatch calmly slotted a low shot to the right of Micah.

Hatch, the 2021 Golden Boot winner as top scorer in the National Women’s Soccer League for the champion Washington Spirit — 10 goals in 20 matches — was making just her third appearance for the U.S. and first since 2018.

Rose Lavelle scored the second American goal in the 49th minute and captain Lindsey Horan finished the scoring from a penalty in the 68th.

Australia dominated much of the first half after Hatch’s first-minute goal. U.S. goalkeeper Casey Murphy — in her international debut — was the player of the opening 45 minutes as she saved a half-dozen chances, including two from Australia veteran Sam Kerr.

The best Australian chance came from Kyah Simon, who missed from inside the six-yard box when the goal was open.

“As a striker, you pride yourself on scoring goals and I take full responsibility that I should have finished that,” Simon said. “The game (would have been) 1-1 at that point, so that could definitely change the momentum of the game.”

It was the first time since April 9, 2013, that the U.S. had a starting XI with every player under the age of 30. The average age of the starting side Saturday was 26 years, making it youngest starting lineup to take the field for the USWNT since April 5, 2018.

Horan and Tierna Davidson were the only players in this starting side who started in the most recent match with the Matildas in the Olympic bronze medal game on Aug. 5 in Tokyo, a match won 4-3 by the Americans. Lavelle and Emily Sonnett also saw action in that match as second-half substitutes.

The U.S. women have won the World Cup four times, including the last time in France in 2019. Australia and New Zealand will co-host the next World Cup in 2023, with the tournament’s first match scheduled for 600 days from Saturday.

The last time the Americans played in Australia was while winning the silver medal at the 2000 Olympics.

The win was the 28th for the U.S. over Australia, with one loss and four draws. After six straight matches between the teams were decided by two or fewer goals, Saturday’s match marked the USWNT’s biggest win against Australia since a 4-0 victory in October 2013.

The teams will meet again Tuesday in Newcastle, north of Sydney.

At least 1 injured in shooting at mall in Tacoma, Washington

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — Gunshots rang out at a Washington state mall packed with Black Friday shoppers, seriously wounding one person and panicking hundreds of others who hid inside stores as the mall went into lockdown.

Authorities said the shooting in Tacoma, south of Seattle, was reported just after 7 p.m. at an area near the mall’s food court. The person shot was taken to hospital with serious injuries, Tacoma Police said.

No suspects have been arrested, police said.

After the shots rang out at Tacoma Mall, shoppers sheltered in place or hid inside stores, which immediately went into lockdown.

More than 60 law enforcement officers from Tacoma, Pierce County, Lakewood, Puyallup, and the Washington State Patrol responded.

Pierce County Sheriff’s Sgt. Darren Moss said police went in to conduct a “coordinated search” of the mall.

Fredrick Hoskins was shopping with his daughter inside the mall when he heard gunfire.

“There was a boom, boom, boom … boom, boom, boom. Maybe like six shots,” Hoskins, who previously served in the military, told The News Tribune. “It sounded like a revolver, and it sounded like one shooter.”

The Tacoma Mall is the city’s largest shopping mall, with more than 100 stores.

Police chief: 3 shot in fight at North Carolina mall

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Three people were shot and wounded Friday during an apparent fight between two groups at a North Carolina mall crowded with shoppers on the day after Thanksgiving, the police chief said.

Authorities said in the late afternoon that one person was detained and there was no further threat to the public. A bystander described “mass hysteria” on one of the busiest shopping days of the year as shoppers ducked into stores for cover or ran for the exits.

Durham Police Chief Patrice Andrews told reporters the shooting happened around 3:20 p.m. inside The Streets at Southpoint mall during a fight between two groups who knew each other. She said one of the victims was a 10-year-old child hit when a bullet ricocheted. Police said the child’s wound did not appear life-threatening. Police did not immediately release further information on the conditions of the other two who were shot.

Andrews said another three people were injured as shoppers rushed for exits following the shooting. In a news release, police said their injuries were not life-threatening.

She said those involved in the fight that led to the shooting fled, but she vowed more arrests. She said there was no further threat to the public.

“This is not a situation where someone came into the mall and indiscriminately began firing,” Andrews said.

WRAL-TV showed traffic snarled around the mall for more than an hour after the shooting, with lines of cars trying to exit the parking lot, and numerous police cars with lights flashing outside a department store.

Shoppers described a chaotic scene after the shots echoed through the mall, with some people taking cover in stores and others rushing for the exits.

Angela Lloyd had gone to Southpoint with family members to start her Christmas shopping. She said she was walking out of a store when the chaos erupted.

“I just hear shots firing, and as soon as that happened, everybody just kind of turned around and started running and screaming,” she said in a phone interview. “Some people were running into stores, some people were almost crawling into stores. Just like mass hysteria.”

She took cover in a store herself, and she and others were directed to the dressing rooms in the back. One customer played a police scanner on his cellphone and kept people updated on what he heard, she said.

Her husband, Craig Lloyd, had just left the mall and was heading home to the town of Efland about 20 miles (33 kilometers) away when his wife called him from the dressing room.

“She said ‘There’s gunshots. They’ve got us locked in the store,’” Craig Lloyd said in a phone interview. “I turned around and went back to the mall.”

When he got back to the shopping center, Craig Lloyd said he observed a chaotic scene with some exiting the mall with their hands up and others like him trying to find loved ones. His wife was allowed to leave the mall more than an hour later.

Foreman reported from Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Spurs best Celtics 96-88 after blowing 24-point advantage

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — San Antonio blew another big lead, but this time it led to a celebration for the Spurs.

Dejounte Murray had 29 points and 11 rebounds and the Spurs rallied in the final minute after blowing a 24-point lead to beat the Boston Celtics 96-88 on Friday night, snapping a six-game skid.

“They took a big hit,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Boston did a great job coming back, taking a lead. We got a little discombobulated, but we hung tough, and they kept playing the whole 48 (minutes). Really, really proud (and) happy for them.”

San Antonio closed the game on a 15-0 run to hand Boston its second straight loss.

Keldon Johnson and Derrick White added 17 points each and Tre Jones had a career-high 12 points for San Antonio.

Jayson Tatum had 24 points and 12 rebounds for Boston, and Jaylen Brown added 16 points as Boston. The Celtics have lost four of five on the road.

Murray had 13 points in the final quarter, including eight in final 2:58 to prevent another disastrous finish for San Antonio against Boston.

“Defensively, nobody could stop Dejounte Murray,” Boston coach Ime Udoka said. “He got some 1-on-1s and made some tough shots over pretty much everybody. So, he kind of picked his spots.”

It marked the second straight season Boston overcame a substantial deficit against San Antonio. The Celtics stormed back from a 32-point deficit to beat the Spurs 143-140 in overtime on April 30. Boston couldn’t finish the rally this time.

Consecutive short jumpers in the lane by White and Murray staked the Spurs to a 91-88 lead with 47.4 seconds remaining and they closed the game out with free throws.

“He was special,” White said about Murray. “He made all the big plays to ice the game.”

Boston took its first lead at 74-72 on Grant Williams’ 3-pointer with 8:17 remaining in the fourth quarter. The lead would stretch to 81-76 on Tatum’s second 3-pointer and his own follow of a missed 3-pointer.

The Celtics had to rally after its worst first half this season.

Boston opened the game going 1 for 12 from the field, including missing all three of its 3-point attempts. It prompted a timeout 5 minutes into the game with San Antonio leading 10-3.

The break didn’t thaw the Celtics.

Boston finished 5 for 26 from the field, scoring a season-low 14 points in the opening quarter.

The lead would swell to 24 points before the fortunes changed for both teams in the second half.

“Obviously, the second half was a different story there,” Udoka said. “We scored the ball extremely well, just can’t dig ourselves that hole. Come out flat for no reason. We know what they’re going to do defensively. Just have to continue to play together.”


Celtics: Boston’s Josh Richardson and Robert Williams III both missed the game as they recover from the flu. Celtics coach Ime Udoka said Richardson is expected to join the Celtics tomorrow in San Antonio before they fly out to Toronto. … Dennis Schroder remained in the game after landing on Jakob Poeltl’s foot on a 14-foot jumper with 7:26 remaining in the first half. Schroder initially fell to the court clutching his right ankle on the play, which was upgraded to a flagrant foul 1 on Poeltl. Shroder finished with eight points in 38 minutes… The Celtics previous low in the opening quarter was 15 points at Dallas on Nov. 6. Boston also matched its season low of 37 points in the first half, which they against Cleveland on Nov. 15.

Spurs: Murray joined Alvin Robertson as the only players in franchise history with 2,500 points, 1,500 rebounds and 1,000 assists in their first 300 career games. … Murray received a technical foul with 8:22 remaining in the first half after complaining about a non-call to official Lauren Holtkamp. Murray was bent over rubbing his eye after being hit in the face by Marcus Smart on a breakaway layup. … San Antonio has led by double digits in nine games this season.


Celtics: At Toronto on Sunday.

Spurs: Host Washington on Monday.

From slavery to Jim Crow to George Floyd: Virginia universities face a long racial reckoning

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — The latest racial reckoning here began in earnest 13 years before the murder of George Floyd, when student leaders in 2007 demanded that the nation’s second-oldest university examine its role in slavery and establish a memorial to the enslaved.

Now that memorial, shaped as a giant hearth, is rising on a corner of the William & Mary campus near Jamestown Road. Granite markers embedded in brick will commemorate at least 194 people of African descent enslaved at the school through the Civil War, including three who came with Thomas Jefferson during his time here as a student and member of the Board of Visitors.

Yet by all accounts, this reckoning will not end when the memorial is dedicated next year. If anything, scrutiny of William & Mary’s record on race has intensified on matters ranging from the names of campus landmarks to the chronic underrepresentation of students and faculty of color.

That is true for colleges and universities across America, but in Virginia, a state central to the stories of American slavery, the Confederacy, and Jim Crow, the reckoning is felt almost everywhere. Debates over history and racial inequity have boiled, simmered, and boiled anew in recent years at Washington and Lee University, the University of Richmond, the University of Virginia, Virginia Military Institute, and others. They have even reached into community colleges. This year, a Virginia state board voted to rename five public two-year colleges in an effort to sever symbolic ties to enslavers and other white supremacists.

The killing of Floyd, a Black man, during a May 2020 arrest in Minneapolis outraged the nation, leading to many promises in higher education for concrete action to fight racism and make campuses more inclusive. The point is not only to swap signage, reshape landscapes, and come clean on the trauma and injustices of campus, state, and national history. It is also to make these schools feel like home, in the fullest sense, for all who work and study there.

“We’ve taken significant steps,” said Michaela R. Hill, 21, president of the Black Student Organization at William & Mary. She cited the recent renaming of some buildings that previously honored figures linked to the Confederacy. “You have to understand how harmful it is for Black students to go to a school and study in a building named for somebody who wouldn’t have wanted them in that space,” she said.

Hill said more can be done to promote diversity and inclusion at a public university where the Black share of enrollment — about 7 percent — does not reflect the state. With that in mind, the senior from Chesapeake, Virginia, who is majoring in government, works as a campus tour guide. “I wanted students of color to see a face that looks like them,” she said.

The latest census found that about 12 percent of Americans and 18 percent of Virginians identify as Black or African American.

At many schools in Virginia, federal data shows the Black share of enrollment in 2020 trailed those benchmarks: George Mason University (11 percent), Richmond (7 percent), the University of Virginia and VMI (both 6 percent), James Madison University and Virginia Tech (both 5 percent). The share at Washington and Lee was 4 percent.

A range of factors — social, geographic, economic, academic — influence whether and where students go to college. So do the feel and reputation of a campus. Many African Americans are drawn to historically Black colleges and universities, a sector that has gained wider attention in recent years. Other schools sometimes struggle to recruit Black students.

At Virginia Commonwealth University, in Richmond, the Black share of enrollment, 18 percent, mirrors the share in the state population. The public university has witnessed close-up the intensity of the racial justice movement in the past year and a half that swept Confederate monuments, including a gigantic statue of General Robert E. Lee, from the streetscape of a city that was once capital of the Confederacy.

The fervor touched the campus too. VCU’s governing board voted in September 2020 to rename several buildings that had honored Confederate leaders, including the Jefferson Davis Memorial Chapel.

“George Floyd’s death had a catalytic effect in terms of a sense of urgency to do it now, to create an environment where everyone can feel welcome,” said Aashir Nasim, VCU’s vice president of institutional equity, effectiveness, and success.

Nasim, who is Black, said the racial justice movement has confronted universities with fundamental questions about how knowledge is generated and who is considered an intellectual authority. People are challenging institutions, he said: “Do they actually care and support their students?”

Universities are also considering what and how they teach. VCU is encouraging more discussion about the history of medicine and health equity and ethics, part of an effort to make the curriculum more inclusive and relevant to the lives of students. Longwood University, in Farmville, Virginia, launched a minor in race and ethnic studies.

And there is a fresh spotlight on who is teaching. At Old Dominion University in Norfolk, the Black share of enrollment is 29 percent. But the Black share of tenured faculty is 5 percent. Scarcity of tenured African American professors is common among schools that are not historically Black institutions.

Some people assume “our student body is diverse, so we’re ‘good,’ ” said Narketta Sparkman-Key, director of faculty diversity and retention at Old Dominion. “That doesn’t always mean we’re inclusive — and doesn’t mean we have faculty and staff of color.”

After Floyd’s death, she said, both white and Black colleagues bombarded her with ideas and questions: “What does faculty need to do, what does the institution need to do, what does higher education need to do?” Suddenly she felt like she wasn’t the only one working for change.

“These are conversations that never, ever happened my whole time at ODU,” said Sparkman-Key, who is Black and has been at the school since 2012. “It felt really, really good.” The conversations planted seeds, she said, that are still growing. It will take time. She worries about the possibility of losing momentum as the discussion about Floyd recedes. “We’re not OK,” she said. “It’s not over.”

James Madison University, in the Shenandoah Valley, this year renamed three buildings that had honored Confederates. One of the three, now Gabbin Hall, honors a married African American couple who are longtime professors. But JMU faces major diversity challenges. About 2 percent of its tenured faculty is African American. The university last year formed a task force on racial equity. With more than 180 members, it is believed to be the largest task force in JMU history.

“It’s messy, it’s complicated, it takes time,” the university’s president, Jonathan R. Alger, said of the reckoning process. “People need to collectively take ownership of this work and take responsibility for it.”

One thing JMU has ruled out, Alger said, is changing its name.

Founded in 1908, the school took on the name of the fourth U.S. president in 1938. Madison was an enslaver. Alger, who is white, said the university is committed to telling his full story, and he noted that a JMU dormitory in 2019 was named for an enslaved man, Paul Jennings, who was a Madison family servant. For all of Madison’s faults and shortcomings, Alger said, “he was the ‘father of the U.S. Constitution,’ and frankly we wouldn’t be having a lot of these conversations if it were not for the work he did.”

At George Mason, Gregory Washington pointed out last year that he is the first Black president of a public university in Northern Virginia named for another American founder who articulated principles of liberty and justice even as he enslaved people. “[By] keeping Mason in our name, we keep both lessons of his life active in our own quests to form a more perfect union — and certainly a better university,” Washington wrote in an August 2020 essay for NBC News.

Washington has made anti-racism and inclusivity a top priority, with a goal of making the university a national model. He pledged $5 million to universitywide efforts to change the culture. Black student leaders met with him recently to discuss concerns.

“We all went into it really tense: Are we going to have to put up a fight?” said Natalia Kanos, 21, a senior from Nigeria who is student body president. But the meeting went better than expected, she said, as Washington pledged as much transparency as possible. “What’s different this year is students’ voices being heard, and steps being taken,” Kanos said.

For some schools, scrutiny over race has been searing. U-Va. has learned that repeatedly over the years in wrestling with its legacy as a public university founded by Jefferson and built and maintained in its first decades with slave labor. A memorial to thousands enslaved on the Charlottesville campus was dedicated in April.

At the University of Richmond, faculty and students mobilized last spring to protest a governing board decision to leave the surnames of an enslaver and a proponent of racial segregation and eugenics on two campus buildings. To quell the outcry, the board subsequently voted to suspend its decision, and the university is now weighing its naming policies.

VMI confronted allegations that Black cadets have long endured stark racism. Under pressure for rapid progress in its culture, the public military college in December removed its iconic statue of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson.

Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat and a VMI graduate, pushed to investigate racism at his alma mater and is widely seen as a backer of racial reckoning at colleges and universities. Whether Republican Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin, who takes office in January, will take a different view remains to be seen. His transition team said Youngkin wants to “restore excellence in education,” among other broad goals.

As a candidate, Youngkin denounced “political agendas” in the classroom that he linked to “critical race theory.” His rhetoric focused more on K-12 public schools than higher education. As governor, though, he will wield major influence at public colleges and universities through budget policy and appointments to governing boards.

Washington and Lee, VMI’s neighbor in Lexington, has faced a series of intense debates over its association with Robert E. Lee. The school is named for the first U.S. president, George Washington, who gave it a crucial endowment gift, and for Lee, who after the Civil War was president of what was then known as Washington College. Both men were enslavers.

The Washington and Lee governing board opted in June to keep the university’s name, rejecting arguments that it should drop Lee to give its brand a clean break from the Confederacy. The university decided instead to strip Lee’s name from a campus chapel, and it is launching a center for the study of Southern race relations, culture, and politics. In August, the university hired its first associate provost for diversity, equity, and inclusion, and the board’s rector pledged to push for a “more diverse community.”

Brandon Hasbrouck, an assistant professor of law at Washington and Lee, said the name debate is not settled. “Many people on our campus would say, yes, it’s very much a live issue,” he said. Hasbrouck, who is Black, wants the university to cut ties to both namesakes, arguing that Washington is tainted, too. The name, he said, is “going to continue to be a barrier to recruit and retain Black and Brown students and faculty.”

Beyond Virginia, such debates over history, names, and belonging are often an explosive subject in the nation’s culture wars. On Monday the University System of Georgia’s governing board rejected the recommendation of an advisory board to rename 75 buildings and colleges on campuses statewide that had honored people with ties to slavery, segregation, or other forms of oppression.

Here in Williamsburg, the school founded under a royal charter in 1693 as the College of William & Mary is accustomed to questions about entanglement with slavery and white supremacy.

In 2009, William & Mary’s governing board acknowledged in a resolution that the school had “owned and exploited slave labor” from its founding until the Civil War. The resolution also launched the Lemon Project, named for a man the school enslaved, known only as Lemon. Its mission was to research the history of Black people in the campus community and promote understanding of the debt William & Mary owes to “the work and support of its diverse neighbors.”

Twelve years later, the project continues. Its scholarship underlies the memorial to the enslaved called the Hearth. Lemon will be commemorated, with a marker linking him to the year 1780, the earliest date his name appears in records. So will 193 others, including many whose names are unknown.

“They won’t be covered up again,” said project director Jody Lynn Allen, an assistant professor of history, who is African American. “They were here, and they were important, and we are bringing them back to light.”

The university’s governing board apologized in 2018 for William & Mary’s role in slavery and racial discrimination and pledged efforts to “remedy the lingering effects of past injustices.”

Some say the university is not moving fast enough to minimize or eliminate symbolism on campus associated with white supremacy. “It’s not a small problem that Black people don’t feel comfortable at William & Mary,” said Brian P. Woolfolk, a member of the governing board, who is African American. “But we kind of treat it that way.”

William & Mary President Katherine A. Rowe, who took office in 2018, said the university is committed to equitable and inclusive learning environments — “so that everyone who comes here is really going to flourish.” The university has embraced self-scrutiny, she said, as a moral imperative and a tool for transformation.

“The more discovery we make of the stories that we haven’t told, the more we have the opportunity to unite around a sense of shared understanding of our history,” she said.

Rowe, who is white, said the university is striving to diversify its students and faculty. Four percent of its tenured faculty in 2020 was African American, slightly more than the shares at both Harvard and Princeton universities (3.7 percent) but lower than the shares at U-Va. (4.6 percent) and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (5.4 percent.)

Last year, William & Mary hired its first Black law dean, A. Benjamin Spencer. He is also the first African American dean to lead any William & Mary school. Spencer said the law school plans to offer a new full-tuition scholarship, named for the enslaved man Lemon, to as many as five incoming students a year with undergraduate degrees from historically Black colleges.

In April, the university renamed a residence hall for its first African American student, Hulon L. Willis Sr., who earned a master’s degree in education in 1956. Previously, the building was named for Confederate Army officer William Booth Taliaferro.

Hulon L. Willis Jr., 67, of Chesterfield, Virginia, said he was shocked to get a call from Rowe telling him of the honor for his late father. The barrier he broke was not a frequent topic in the family. “He was a humble individual,” Willis recalled. “It wasn’t something he bragged about.”

The younger Willis earned a bachelor’s degree in 1977. When he left, Willis did not feel warmth toward his alma mater. Those were, he said, tough years to be a Black student at William & Mary. But he said the school has evolved — his daughter Mica graduated from there in 2013. “We’re invested now,” he said.

Questions about landmarks remain on a campus dotted with statuary and portraits of various figures from centuries of history dominated by white men. A statue of James Monroe, the fifth U.S. president, and an alumnus, was installed in 2015. It celebrates his life at college and in war, diplomacy, and politics without any mention that he enslaved people. The university plans to add markers to such sites with context about slavery and other matters, as well as QR codes to access more information via smartphones.

One tranquil spot outside a building that is home to the history and philosophy departments illuminates the tensions behind the issue: the Tyler Family Garden.

Dedicated in 2004, it features busts of John Tyler, the 10th U.S. president, who attended the university; his father, also John Tyler, a Virginia governor and graduate of William & Mary; and Lyon G. Tyler Sr., a son of the U.S. president, who led William & Mary in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

President John Tyler was an enslaver who late in life supported the Confederacy. Lyon Tyler promoted racist and pro-Confederate mythology in a document known as the “Confederate Catechism.” Until this year, Lyon Tyler’s name was also attached to the history department as the result of a $5 million gift one of his sons, Harrison Ruffin Tyler, pledged to the university in 2001 to support history scholarship. Harrison Tyler also funded the family garden.

The governing board in April found the legacy of President John Tyler and Lyon Tyler so problematic that it stripped their surname from an academic building now known as Chancellors Hall. It also approved stripping Lyon Tyler’s name from the history department and naming it instead after Harrison Tyler — a step that William Tyler, his son, requested, according to a statement issued through the university. Tuska Benes, chair of the history department, who is white, said the department is “very comfortable” recognizing Harrison Tyler’s generosity.

But the garden and the Tyler busts remain.

University Rector John E. Littel, who leads the governing board and is white, defended the decisions on the Tyler matters. The history department endowment has funded important scholarship on subjects including race and slavery, he said, adding that Harrison Tyler is an alumnus who loves the university. “I think that we found a good middle ground,” Littel said.

Michaela Hill, the tour guide and Black student leader, said she avoids sitting in the garden. The university’s stance on the Tylers puzzles her. “What is the educational goal here?” she asked. “To keep the statues and rename the building?”

High alert: World scurries to contain new COVID variant

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — With each passing hour, new restrictions were being slapped on travel from countries in southern Africa as the world scurried Saturday to contain a new variant of the coronavirus that has the potential to be more resistant to the protection offered by vaccines.

A host of countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada Iran, Japan, Thailand, and the United States, joined others, including the European Union and the U.K. in imposing restrictions on southern African countries in response to warnings over the transmissibility of the new variant — against the advice of the World Health Organization.

Despite the shutdown of flights, there was increasing evidence that the variant is already spreading. Cases have been reported in travelers in Belgium, Israel, and Hong Kong, and Germany also has a probable case. Dutch authorities are checking for the new variant after 61 passengers on two flights from South Africa tested positive for COVID-19.

The global health body has named the new variant omicron, labeling it a variant of concern because of its high number of mutations and some early evidence that it carries a higher degree of infection than other variants. That means people who contracted COVID-19 and recovered could be subject to catching it again. It could take weeks to know if current vaccines are less effective against it.

With so much uncertainty about the omicron variant and scientists unlikely to flesh out their findings for a few weeks, countries around the world have been taking a safety-first approach, in the knowledge that previous outbreaks of the pandemic have been partly fueled by lax border policies.

“It seems to spread rapidly,” President Joe Biden said Friday of the new variant, only a day after celebrating the resumption of Thanksgiving gatherings for millions of American families and the sense that normal life was coming back at least for the vaccinated. In announcing new travel restrictions, he told reporters, “I’ve decided that we’re going to be cautious.”

Nearly two years on since the start of the pandemic that has claimed more than 5 million lives around the world, countries are on high alert.

Dutch authorities have isolated 61 people who tested positive for COVID-19 on arrival in the Netherlands on two flights from South Africa on Friday. They are carrying out further investigations to see if any of the travelers have the omicron variant.

The planes arrived in the Netherlands from Johannesburg and Cape Town shortly after the Dutch government imposed a ban on flights from southern African nations.

The 539 travelers who tested negative were allowed to return home or continue their journeys to other countries. Under government regulations, those who live in the Netherlands and are allowed to return home must self-isolate for at least five days.

A German official also said Saturday that there’s a “very high probability” that the omicron variant has already arrived in the country.

Kai Klose, the health minister for Hesse state, which includes Frankfurt, said in a tweet that “several mutations typical of omicron” were found Friday night in a traveler returning from South Africa, who was isolated at home. Sequencing of the test had yet to be completed.

The variant’s swift spread among young people in South Africa has alarmed health professionals even though there was no immediate indication whether the variant causes more severe disease. In just two weeks, omicron has turned a period of low transmission in the country into one of rapid growth.

A number of pharmaceutical firms, including AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax, and Pfizer, said they have plans in place to adapt their vaccines in light of the emergence of omicron.

Professor Andrew Pollard, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group which developed the AstraZeneca vaccine, expressed cautious optimism that existing vaccines could be effective at preventing serious disease from the omicron variant.

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He said most of the mutations appear to be in similar regions as those in other variants.

“That tells you that despite those mutations existing in other variants the vaccines have continued to prevent serious disease as we’ve moved through alpha, beta, gamma, and delta,” he told BBC radio. “At least from a speculative point of view we have some optimism that the vaccine should still work against a new variant for serious disease but really we need to wait several weeks to have that confirmed.”

He added that it is “extremely unlikely that a reboot of a pandemic in a vaccinated population like we saw last year is going to happen.”

Some experts said the variant’s emergence illustrated how rich countries’ hoarding of vaccines threatens to prolong the pandemic.

Fewer than 6% of people in Africa have been fully immunized against COVID-19, and millions of health workers and vulnerable populations have yet to receive a single dose. Those conditions can speed up the spread of the virus, offering more opportunities for it to evolve into a dangerous variant.

Pylas contributed from London. Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

3 takeaways as Celtics collapse twice in one game, fall to Spurs

Here are the takeaways as the Celtics dropped their second game in a row, falling 96-88 to the Spurs on Friday.

1. The Celtics managed the rare feat of collapsing twice in one game. The first collapse was 15 minutes of free fall to start, when the Spurs jumped out to a 30-14 lead after one quarter and then expanded the advantage to 40-14 with a 10-0 run to start the second quarter. The second collapse happened late, when the Celtics — having battled all the way back to take a seven-point lead — stopped scoring entirely, allowing San Antonio to end the game on a shocking 15-0 run. That stretch turned an 88-81 Celtics lead into the final score.

We’ve said it before, but Friday’s game hammered the point home once again: Few teams are as capable of giving fans reasons to buy in and give up completely as the Celtics.

2. The late-blown lead was a reminder that the Celtics aren’t good enough to get away with falling behind early against the Spurs, let alone against the competition looming on their schedule. The Spurs have some nice players (most notably Dejounte Murray, who dominated the last few minutes of the fourth quarter), but they don’t really have any potential superstars. A regression to the mean from the Celtics’ almost-comical start was inevitable, and it was always going to hit harder against the Spurs than it would against a team with more talent.

But if the Celtics could have cut out either collapse, the remaining one wouldn’t have done quite as much damage.

Now, after Sunday’s game against the Raptors, the Celtics face the Sixers at home, then hit the road against the Jazz, Blazers, Lakers, Clippers, and Suns. The Celtics missed a chance to reclaim some positivity ahead of a tough stretch.

3. One small positive for the Celtics: Once again, Grant Williams showcased the significant strides he has made on both ends. Defensively, he tends to be in the right spots and he has mastered verticality. He never shies away from contact, and he is quickly refining his offensive game. On Friday, he finished with seven points, five rebounds, and three blocks.

Williams was +18 in a game the Celtics lost by seven. Enes Kanter led the Celtics in plus/minus at +28. The Celtics looked significantly better with Kanter on the floor in his 18 minutes.

Friday’s loss was an odd, less-than-inspiring game.

We will have more takeaways later this evening.

Police: Multiple homes vandalized on Kennedy compound in Hyannisport

Barnstable police responded on Wednesday morning to reports of vandalism on three homes on Marchant Avenue and two cars on Island Avenue in Hyannisport, according to the Boston Globe.

Two of the homes on Marchant Avenue belong to the Kennedy family. The two vehicles were parked at a residence down the street and are not believed to be associated with the Kennedys, according to media reports.

The 28 Marchant Ave. home belonged to former U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and the 50 Marchant Ave. home belonged to Joseph P. Kennedy, according to the Globe.

Police responded to the call reporting vandalism around 9 a.m. on Wednesday morning.

Chris Kennedy, son of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who lives about a mile from the compound, also had several windows of his home broken.

“Nobody likes to be attacked like that. The threat is real for us,” Chris Kennedy told WDHD. “But the police have done a really good job investigating and we’re pretty confident that whoever did that will come to justice.”

The Kennedy compound, consisting of three homes on about 6 acres in Hyannisport, has been in the family for about 100 years, according to media reports.

Police say the vandalism is under investigation. No arrests have been made, and the motive remains unclear, according to WHDH.

Bidens shop, attend tree lighting on Nantucket

NANTUCKET — President Joe Biden spent the day after Thanksgiving walking through downtown Nantucket, talking with shopkeepers, and attending the tree lighting festivities.

Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, and other relatives strolled around the cobblestone streets of the island, going to lunch and visiting shops on Friday, according to the Associated Press. 

Supporters yelled words of support at Biden while he walked through downtown.

The first family is spending the Thanksgiving holiday at the compound of family friend and billionaire philanthropist David Rubenstein.

Before returning to the compound, Biden and some of his relatives attended the downtown tree lighting where they participated in the singing of Christmas carols, including “Jingle Bells” and “O, Christmas Tree,” and chatted with the town crier, according to members of the media traveling with Biden.

The crowd chanted “Joe,” “Joe,” “Joe,” according to pool reports. The president didn’t address the audience but did pose for pictures with the choir that performed during the ceremony.

The president on Nantucket

Police find woman dead at her home in Lowell

LOWELL — Authorities are investigating an apparent homicide in Lowell, according to a statement released Friday evening from Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan and Lowell Police Superintendent Kelly Richardson.

At approximately 10:45 a.m., Lowell police were called to a home on Llewelyn Street for a well-being check, according to the statement.

Upon arrival, police said they located the body of the victim, a woman in her 20s, with signs of apparent trauma.

EMS responded to the scene and pronounced her dead, according to the statement.

The investigation into what happened is being conducted by the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, Massachusetts State Police detectives assigned to that office, and Lowell police.

No arrests have been made at this time.