US NEWS, World

Biden mulls new protections for sage grouse in effort to reverse Trump rules

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Biden mulls new protections for sage grouse in effort to reverse Trump rules” was written by Edward Helmore, for theguardian.com on Saturday 20th November 2021 17.05 UTC

The Biden administration is considering new protections for the greater sage grouse, a bird known for the strutting and puffed-up courtship displays of males, that is losing grassland habitat across the western US to climate change and pressure from industrial development.

The sage grouse, known also a bubbling sound during courtship, is fast-becoming emblematic of Biden’s efforts to reverse Trump-era relaxations of environmental protections across vast swaths of public federal lands across the region.

The sage grouse has become a symbol, especially, of the clash between conservationists and energy companies eager to exploit resources lying below its range.

The proposed tightening of regulations comes after decades of loosening protections as successive administrations have imposed and then reversed directives on permits relating to oil and gas drilling and grazing rights.

According to Audubon’s Guide to North American Birds, the greater sage-grouse has disappeared from much of its former range. Habitat loss through clearing for farmland and overgrazing, as well as climate change, has let to population declines across a wide expanse across Utah, Wyoming and Montana where as much as 90% of its natural environment has been lost.

In 2017, the Trump administration tried to scale back conservation efforts adopted when Biden was vice-president two years earlier that affected 10m acres of open land across the west of the US. But a federal court blocked Trump’s changes.

But environmentalists argue that Biden’s 2015 conservation plans were in themselves insufficient to close loopholes allowing for grazing and drilling on public land.

Resurgent disagreements over greater sage grouse protections are now likely to grow more intense, with Republican-run states clashing with wildlife advocates over how much space the birds need to survive.

Greater sage grouse populations have dropped 65% since 1986, government scientists have concluded.

The Montana Democratic senator, Jon Tester, has said he believes Biden’s new Bureau of Land Management director Tracy Stone-Manning, a former aide, would pursue a collaborative, balanced approach that would protect the grouse from becoming an endangered species.

But western-state Republicans – including Montana’s governor Greg Gianforte and Wyoming’s governor Mark Gordon, along with aligned senators, have said states should be given deference to wildlife management and federal lands kept open for energy exploration and grazing.

According to the BLM, the agency will examine how climate change is adding to pressures on the grouse population. Culver pointed to data showing wildfires burned almost 10,700sq miles of the bird’s habitat since 2016.

Earlier this year, federal officials said that they would consider bans on new mining to help the birds. But even reimposing Obama-Biden era protections may be insufficient to prevent disturbance of sage grouse habitat, environmentalists have warned.

“The Obama administration did their best to please all the different ends of the political spectrum. But in the end they didn’t please anybody and they didn’t give the sage grouse the habitat they needed,” Erik Molvar of the Western Watersheds Project told the Associated Press.

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World

Fresh prospect of criminal inquiry for Boris Johnson after Jennifer Arcuri agrees to assist ethics watchdog

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Fresh prospect of criminal inquiry for Boris Johnson after Jennifer Arcuri agrees to assist ethics watchdog” was written by Mark Townsend & Vanessa Thorpe, for The Observer on Saturday 20th November 2021 17.57 UTC

A fresh inquiry has opened into Boris Johnson’s relationship with Jennifer Arcuri after the US businesswoman dramatically agreed to assist officials, paving the way for the prime minister to face possible criminal investigation.

Arcuri has formally offered to help the Greater London Authority (GLA) ethics watchdog by allowing it to inspect extracts of her diary entries chronicling her affair with Johnson and agreeing to be questioned for the first time by investigators over the relationship.

The contemporaneous diary excerpts, disclosed in the Observer last week by the journalist John Ware, reveal how Johnson allegedly overruled the advice of staff to promote the business interests of Arcuri and win her affections.

Arcuri’s decision to cooperate with the GLA monitoring officer reopens the prospect of Johnson facing an investigation for a potential criminal offence of misconduct in public office.

In a previous investigation into Johnson’s business relationship with the then 27-year-old Arcuri, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) did not have access to Arcuri’s handwritten diary entries in which she made “verbatim” notes of the highlights of his telephone calls and their conversations.

The police watchdog eventually concluded it would not be launching a criminal inquiry into whether Johnson abused his position as London mayor to “benefit and reward” Arcuri.Investigators also never interviewed Arcuri or received testimony from the tech entrepreneur.

Her evidence is potentially even more critical because the original IOPC inquiry was also hampered by the deletion of key email and phone records at City Hall that prevented the watchdog from “reviewing relevant evidence”.

The latest developments into allegations that Johnson offered to help Arcuri launch her tech business while simultaneously pursuing her for sex will pile more pressure on the prime minister, raising fresh questions over his integrity and lax approach to probity in public life after weeks of sleaze allegations have engulfed his party.

After the Observer last week revealed some of the explosive entries in Arcuri’s diaries, Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, wrote to the GLA’s monitoring officer, Emma Strain, asking that she urgently refer the new evidence to the IOPC to “look again” at its decision to rule out a criminal investigation.

Strain, in turn, contacted the Observer for assistance in obtaining Arcuri’s diaries so she could assess whether the issue was a “serious complaint” that appeared to constitute or involve a criminal offence being committed.

If Strain judges that the issue is serious, she will formally refer the matter back to the IOPC to decide if it will investigate Johnson over the criminal offence of misconduct in public office.

After several days of weighing up whether she wanted to assist the GLA, Arcuri finally agreed and at 7pm on Friday sent an email to Strain, head of its ethics watchdog.

“I am prepared to show you or your investigators copies of the relevant pages,” Arcuri wrote. “However, I currently reside in the United States, so it would mean you or they [the IOPC] travelling here for that purpose. In that event, I would also be prepared to be interviewed, if that assists.”

If that is not possible, Arcuri has authorised veteran journalist Ware, with whom she has “entrusted” her diaries, to show investigators relevant pages detailing her business dealings with Johnson.

Arcuri handed the first tranche of her diaries to Ware after the 2019 general election and following his ITV documentary in which he accused the prime minister of having a “tenuous relationship to the truth” after Johnson’s repeated insistence that “absolutely everything was done with full propriety” regarding his relationship with Arcuri. Ware was sent a second tranche of material from Arcuri in May 2020.Ware approached Arcuri after recent comments by Johnson about public probity and she consented to allow publication of some of her diary extracts. One Arcuri diary entry reveals how Johnson offered to be her “throttle” in an attempt to accelerate her business career, claims that may reopen the possibility of Johnson facing a potential criminal investigation into misconduct allegations.

It recalled how Johnson told her: “How can I be the thrust – the throttle – your mere footstep as you make your career? Tell me: how I can help you?”

The diary entries also suggest that Johnson broke the rules governing ethical conduct in public office in his dealings with Arcuri.

Responding to the Arcuri revelations last week, a government spokesperson said: “As mayor, Boris Johnson followed all the legal requirements in the Greater London Assembly’s [sic] code of conduct at the time.”

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Corona Virus, Health

Coronavirus live: thousands gather in Vienna for Covid protest; UK cannot afford to be complacent, expert says

 

This article titled “Coronavirus live: thousands gather in Vienna for Covid protest; UK cannot afford to be complacent, expert says” was written by Nadeem Badshah (now); Lucy Campbell and Jedidajah Otte (earlier), for theguardian.com on Saturday 20th November 2021 17.44 UTC

Police and demonstrators during a rally organised to protest against the Covid green pass in Milan, Italy. The pass is compulsory to enter all public and private workplaces.
Police and demonstrators during a rally organised to protest against the Covid green pass in Milan, Italy. The pass is compulsory to enter all public and private workplaces.
Photograph: Matteo Corner/EPA

Here is more on Prof John Edmunds of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who has said the surge in coronavirus infections across Europe shows the “critical” need for people in the UK to get vaccinated
He pointed out that “many millions” across the UK were still not fully vaccinated, some of whom had not had a jab at all.

Updated

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said during a visit to Dakar’s Institute Pasteur biomedical research centre that Washington was working with partners to generate more financing for vaccine manufacture in Senegal, Reuters reports.

Updated

More data from Italy. The number of patients in hospital with Covid, not including those in intensive care, rose to 4,250 on Saturday from 4,145 on Friday.

There were 50 new admissions to intensive care units, up from 39 on Fridayqnd bringing the total to 512 patients, Reuters reports.

The health ministry said 574,812 tests for Covid-19 had been carried out in the past day, compared with a previous 534,690.

Updated

Hundreds of people gathered in Belfast city centre on Saturday to oppose the planned introduction of Covid-19 certification.

A large crowd formed outside City Hall, with many carrying placards and banners, according to PA Media.

There were cheers and applause as speakers promised to resist certification in Northern Ireland.

Traffic was temporarily disrupted in the city centre as shoppers crowded into the Christmas markets in City Hall while the protest took place on the street outside.

Updated

Italy reported 11,555 coronavirus cases on Saturday, compared with 10,544 on Friday, and a further 49 deaths, Reuters reports.

Italy has registered 133,131 deaths linked to Covid-19 in total since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe.

The country has reported 4.9 million cases to date.

Updated

Here is more on the protests in Vienna against coronavirus restrictions a day after Austria’s government announced a new lockdown and said vaccines would be made compulsory next year.

WHO: Another 500,000 people in Europe could die of Covid by March

The World Health Organization has said another 500,000 people in Europe could die of Covid by March next year unless urgent action is taken.

The WHO’s Europe director, Dr Hans Kluge, said he was very worried about a fresh wave of infections that had spread across the continent and led countries to announce new restrictions.

Kluge said factors such as the winter season, when there is normally an increase in viral infections, and low vaccine coverage were responsible for the increase in cases. He called for more people to get vaccinated, basic public health measures to be implemented and new treatments to be developed, but said mandatory vaccination should be the last resort.

He told the BBC:

Covid-19 has become once again the number one cause of mortality in our region. We know what needs to be done [to fight the disease].

More here:

Summary

Here’s a quick recap of some of the main developments from today so far:

  • Two people were being treated in hospital in Rotterdam after they were seriously injured when police fired shots during violent riots against Covid measures. Crowds of several hundred rioters torched cars, set off fireworks and threw rocks at police during the protests in the Dutch city on Friday evening. Police responded with warning shots and water cannon. 51 people were arrested, half of whom were under 18. Rotterdam’s mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb, condemned the protests which had turned into “an orgy of violence”. The Dutch justice minister, Ferd Grapperhaus, added in a statement that the “extreme violence” against police and fire fighters in Rotterdam was “repulsive”. Protesters had gathered to voice opposition to government plans to restrict access to indoor venues to people who have a “corona pass”, showing they have been vaccinated or have already recovered from an infection. The Netherlands re-imposed some lockdown measures last weekend for an initial three weeks in an effort to slow a resurgence of coronavirus, but daily infections have remained at their highest levels since the start of the pandemic. Story here.
  • The UK cannot afford to be complacent and must be prepared to introduce tougher measures to control the spread of Covid this winter if necessary, a government adviser and leading epidemiologist warned. With Austria planning to introduce mandatory vaccinations from February as well as a new lockdown starting on Monday, and German ministers having declared a national emergency, Prof Andrew Hayward, co-director of the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, was asked whether the UK could be forced to take similar action in the coming weeks or months. He said the UK was “on a knife edge” and that much depended on the booster jab campaign and the speed of uptake. Story here.
  • Surging coronavirus infections across Europe show the “critical” need for people in the UK get vaccinated, a government scientific adviser has said. Prof John Edmunds, a member of Sage, said soaring cases on the continent underlined “how quickly things can go wrong”, and pointed out that there were still “many millions” across the UK who were still not fully vaccinated while some had not had any Covid shots at all.
  • Several thousand demonstrators have already gathered in central Vienna to protest against the new tough pandemic measures in Austria, with up to 15,000 people expected to demonstrate in the capital on Saturday. The country faces its fourth general lockdown from Monday, which will also be in place for those who have been vaccinated, and is set to become the first European country to mandate Covid vaccination. The nationwide lockdown will last for a maximum of 20 days, the government has said, and will be followed by a lockdown for unvaccinated people.
  • Thousands of people in Australia marched in “freedom” rallies in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide, with the largest crowds in the Victorian capital as protests against the state government’s pandemic legislation ramped up again. Story here.
  • World No 1 Novak Djokovic and all other players will have to be vaccinated against Covid to compete in the Australia Open next January, the tournament’s chief, Craig Tiley, said on Saturday. Victoria’s premier, Daniel Andrews, quickly made it clear that no exemptions would be sought for unvaccinated players. Story here.
  • Hong Kong approved lowering the age limit for the Covid vaccine from China’s Sinovac Biotech to three years old, down from 18, as it pursues a broader campaign to incentivise its 7.5 million residents to get vaccinated. Story here.

Updated

Covid surge in Europe shows ‘critical’ need to vaccinate in UK, Sage expert warns

Surging coronavirus infections across Europe show the “critical” need for people in the UK get vaccinated, a government scientific adviser has said.

Speaking to Sky News, Prof John Edmunds said soaring cases on the continent underlined “how quickly things can go wrong”. He pointed out that there were still “many millions” across the UK, who were still not fully vaccinated while some had not had any Covid shots at all.

Whitehall sources this weekend played down the immediate need for so-called “Plan B” restrictions, pointing to data published this week showing the protection offered by a booster shot.

Alongside maximising the uptake of third doses, officials hope the lifting of restrictions earlier in the year will mean Britain avoids the winter surges currently being experienced on the continent.

But Edmunds, who is a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said:

There are still many millions of people here in the UK who have not been fully vaccinated – it’s essential now.

What you see now particularly in central Europe with this very rapid increase in cases, you see the importance of vaccination, how critical it is that people who need their boosters should come forward as rapidly as possible and get vaccinated.

Those who are still unvaccinated – and there are many unfortunately out there – should come forward and be vaccinated as rapidly as possible.

He added:

[The current surge in Europe] shows how quickly things can go wrong.

I am concerned about waning immunity. The booster doses, it is pretty clear, do give a clear boost to your immune system, which may last some considerable time so I think it’s really essential that the booster doses are rolled out as fast as possible.

Sky News has the story.

Two people were being treated in hospital in Rotterdam on Saturday after they were seriously injured when police fired shots during riots against Covid measures, authorities said.

Crowds of several hundred rioters torched cars, set off fireworks and threw rocks at police during the protests in the Dutch city on Friday evening. Police responded with warning shots and water canons.

Rotterdam police said on Twitter on Saturday that 51 people had been arrested, half of whom were under 18. “Two rioters where wounded when they were hit by bullets, they remain in hospital,” the force added.

The city’s mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb, said protest had turned into “an orgy of violence”.
“Police were forced to draw their weapons and even fire direct shots,” he told a press conference early on Saturday.

The Dutch justice minister Ferd Grapperhaus said in a statement that the “extreme violence” against police and fire fighters in Rotterdam was “repulsive”.

“The right to protest is very important in our society but what we saw last night was simply criminal behaviour,” Grapperhaus said.

Read more: Rotterdam police open fire as Covid protest turns into ‘orgy of violence’

Protesters had gathered to voice opposition to government plans to restrict access to indoor venues to people who have a “corona pass”, showing they have been vaccinated or have already recovered from an infection.

The pass is also available to people who have not been vaccinated, but have proof of a negative test.

Organisers of a planned protest on Saturday in Amsterdam against the coronavirus measures said they had cancelled the event after Friday’s violence.

Even so, several hundred protesters showed up in the city’s central Dam square, monitored by a heavy police presence.

In the southern city of Breda, a musical protest called by local DJs against current Covid measures, which include the 8pm closure of bars, restaurants and clubs, attracted a few hundred people.

The Netherlands re-imposed some lockdown measures last weekend for an initial three weeks in an effort to slow a resurgence of coronavirus, but daily infections have remained at their highest levels since the start of the pandemic.

Ski resorts in northern Italy are reopening for the winter season after prolonged shutdowns due to the pandemic, although a recent rise in infections is spreading worries over possible new restrictions.

Fabio Sacco, the president of the Skirama consortium that brings together several resorts in the Trentino-Alto Adige region, said he had been waiting to restart since March last year, when Italy imposed a lockdown. “It is really an exciting moment,” he told Reuters.

Europe is being swept by a fourth wave of the pandemic that has already forced Austria, one of Italy’s neighbours, to announce a full national lockdown. Germany has not ruled out similar measures.

Italy has also seen a rise in daily cases in recent weeks, especially in some northern areas where many ski slopes are located. Hospitalisations remain under control nationwide but operators are aware of the risks rising infections may pose.

“There is some uncertainty and fear due to the worsening of the pandemic trend, but the resorts in our consortium and across Trentino are prepared to handle different scenarios,” Sacco said.

A Covid health pass – which shows if someone has completed the vaccination cycle, has recently tested negative or recovered from the disease – is required to access ski lifts along with face masks and social distancing rules.

Skiers, enjoying clear blue skies and perfect skiing conditions, were feeling upbeat about the forthcoming winter season.

“Finally, after a year of closure we are happy. There is a desire to ski. The snow and the day are beautiful. I expect many positive things from this season,” said skier Filippo Laureti.

Skiers use a chairlift as resorts reopen for winter despite fears over a rise in coronavirus infections, in Madonna di Campiglio, northern Italy.
Skiers use a chairlift as resorts reopen for winter despite fears over a rise in coronavirus infections, in Madonna di Campiglio, northern Italy.
Photograph: Flavio Lo Scalzo/Reuters

Updated

UK must be ready to impose Covid restrictions this winter, expert warns

The UK cannot afford to be complacent and must be prepared to introduce tougher measures to control the spread of Covid this winter if necessary, a government adviser and leading epidemiologist has warned.

As mainland Europe is gripped by a new Covid wave, some countries have imposed strict measures to control the spread of Covid.

With Austria planning to introduce mandatory vaccinations from February as well as a new lockdown starting on Monday, and German ministers having declared a national emergency, Prof Andrew Hayward, co-director of the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, was asked whether the UK could be forced to take similar action in the coming weeks or months.

Hayward said the UK was “on a knife edge” and that much depended on the booster jab campaign and the speed of uptake.

Read the full story here:

Updated

Slovakia has joined other European countries in reporting new records for daily infections.

Covid-19 infections in Slovakia are at their peak now, with a daily average of 6,598 new infections being reported each day now, the highest so far.

The ministry of health on Saturday logged 9,171 new infections in a 24-hour period, the highest daily tally of confirmed cases since the pandemic began.

The country of 5.5 million introduced what the prime minister, Eduard Heger, called a “lockdown for the unvaccinated” earlier this week.

Covid-19 testing at workplaces is also among the new measures.

According to the Reuters Covid-19 tracker, Slovakia has administered at least 4,895,694 doses of Covid vaccines so far, which, assuming every person needs two doses, is enough to have vaccinated about 44.9% of the country’s population.

Slovakia has reported 13 818 coronavirus-related deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Updated

Several thousand demonstrators have already gathered in central Vienna to protest against the new tough pandemic measures in Austria, with up to 15,000 people expected to demonstrate in the capital on Saturday.

On Saturday, 15,297 new infections were registered in the country. Austria faces its fourth general lockdown from Monday, which will also be in place for those who have been vaccinated.

The nationwide lockdown will last for a maxium of 20 days, the government has said, and will be followed by a lockdown for unvaccinated people.

Symbols such as a yellow star with the word “not vaccinated” are just as ubiquitous as the terms “fascism” and “dictatorship” in the crowd in Vienna, while protesters shout slogans such as “We are the people” and “resistance”, Austrian daily Der Standard reports.

At just under 66 percent, the vaccination rate in Austria is one of the lowest in Western Europe.

People take part in a demonstration against the measures of the Austrian government to slow down the ongoing Covid pandemic at the Heldenplatz square in Vienna.
People take part in a demonstration against the measures of the Austrian government to slow down the ongoing Covid pandemic at Heldenplatz square in Vienna.
Photograph: Christian Bruna/EPA

Updated

Hello, I’m taking over for the next hour while my colleague Lucy Campbell has a break. As always, feel free to get in touch with tips and updates, I’m on Twitter @JedySays or you can drop me an email.

A demonstration planned for Saturday in Amsterdam against coronavirus curbs was cancelled after riots in Rotterdam injured seven people, and police fired warning shots last night, AFP reports.

More than 20 people were arrested in the protests against government moves to restrict access to certain sites for unvaccinated people and impose other restrictions. A police car and several electric scooters were torched and fires set off.

“Last night, all hell broke loose in Rotterdam,” United We Stand Europe, which had called Saturday’s protest, said on Facebook.

Chaos broke out in the centre of the port city on Friday night. Rotterdam’s mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb, denounced an “orgy of violence”, adding: “The police have felt the need to draw a police weapon in the end to defend themselves.” [see 8.50am.].

 

Keeping the demonstration in Amsterdam “didn’t feel right”, United We Stand Europe said, lamenting the injuries to two protesters, which had also been reported in Dutch media.

“The riots and extreme violence against police, riot police and firefighters last night in Rotterdam are horrifying,” the Dutch security and justice minister, Ferd Grapperhaus, said on Saturday, deploring the “considerable” destruction.

“The men and women who take to the streets every day for our safety have been pelted with stones and fireworks,” he said, referring to the police. “The police and the public prosecutor’s office are doing their utmost to track down, prosecute and punish these rioters.”

“After major disruptions yesterday… order is now being restored. There is a lot of damage, people have been injured and people have been detained,” the local police said on Twitter on Saturday.

“At the moment the full picture is being drawn up. The investigation into the rioters is starting,” it added.

A planned protest in the southern city of Breda on Saturday is still on, according to local media.

Rotterdam police quashed rumours on social media that someone died during the violence. “Both from our side and from the National Criminal Investigation Department, this has not been reported,” police stressed.

Updated

The number of deaths of people being treated under the Mental Health Act in England rose during the coronavirus pandemic, estimates suggest.

The Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) findings come amid concerns over staff shortages in psychiatric units.

Some 490 people died while detained under the act between the start of March 2020 to the end of March 2021. The regulator said 166 of those deaths were due to Covid-19, while 324 of them for “non-Covid” reasons.

BBC analysis found that between 2012 and 2019, an average of 273 people died per year either while detained in hospital or being supervised in the community in England while subject to the act.

The Tory former health secretary Jeremy Hunt warned that staff shortages were now compromising patient safety in “every part of the NHS”.

He called the figures on deaths in psychiatric detention “very concerning”, adding: “It’s not just mental health, but every specialty now has shortages of doctors and nurses.”

Hunt argued a “radical overhaul” of the training system was needed to ensure there were enough doctors and nurses in the coming decades.

The BBC has the story.

The Coronavirus infections rate in the Czech Republic hit a new record for the second time this week, the health ministry said on Saturday.

It announced that the daily tally rose to 22,936 on Friday, almost 500 more than the previous record set on Tuesday.

The country’s infection rate has risen to 929 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days.

A further 110 people died on Thursday, the ministry said, with the daily death toll surpassing 100 for the first time since April.

The government has approved new restrictions to tackle the surge in infections, targeting the unvaccinated in an effort to increase a vaccination rate that is below the European Union average.

Starting on Monday, most unvaccinated people will no longer be allowed to show negative coronavirus tests in order to attend public events, go to bars and restaurants, visit hairdressers, museums and similar facilities or use hotels.

Only people who are vaccinated or have recovered from Covid in the last six months will remain eligible. Testing at workplaces will also be required.

On Thursday, the Czech president, Andrej Babiš, warned that the country was facing a “serious” situation as cases surge.

“I am glad that after many negotiations in the last two days, there has been an agreement between experts and the government,” Babiš wrote on Twitter, adding that they were inspired to announce the restrictions based on the measures planned for the state of Bavaria in Germany.

He added: “And please: Limit contacts and get vaccinated. It’s the only way you can protect your health.”

Thread here:

Overall, the country of 10.7 million has registered over 1.94 million cases and 31,769 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Updated

Medical workers wearing cartoon head decorations work at a vaccination site in Xuhui district of Shanghai, east China. Shanghai started Covid vaccinations for children aged 3-5 from Saturday.
Medical workers wearing cartoon head decorations work at a vaccination site in Xuhui district of Shanghai, east China. Shanghai started Covid vaccinations for children aged 3-5 from Saturday.
Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock
A four-year-old girl receives a Covid vaccine.
A four-year-old girl receives her Covid vaccine.
Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

Updated

Thousands of people have marched in “freedom” rallies in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide, with the largest crowds in the Victorian capital as protests against the state government’s pandemic legislation ramped up again.

Protesters marched from Victoria’s state parliament, down Bourke Street and up to Flagstaff Gardens, carrying Australian flags and placards bearing anti-vaccination, anti-lockdown and anti-government slogans, while chanting “kill the bill”, “sack Dan Andrews” and “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi”.

The rally drew a significant increase in numbers following weeks of protests against the Victorian premier’s public health and wellbeing (pandemic management) bill 2021, which previously came to a head last weekend, when thousands of people marched through central Melbourne in a demonstration that included a prop gallows, protesters posing with nooses, and chants of “hang Dan Andrews”.

Crowds in Sydney protest against mandatory vaccinations and lockdown measures on Saturday.
Crowds in Sydney protest against mandatory vaccinations and lockdown measures on Saturday.
Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

The bill as introduced by the Victorian government would allow the premier to make an indefinite declaration of a pandemic and state of emergency, give the health minister power to make broad public health orders, and grant authorised officers the power to detain people under quarantine.

The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, has been racing to pass the pandemic legislation before the state of emergency is due to lapse on 15 December.

If the bill fails to pass, the Victorian government may not have the legal framework to enforce and create Covid-19 orders to manage the pandemic. The bill has been criticised by the Law Institute of Victoria, the Victorian Bar Association, and the Human Rights Law Centre, who say it lacks oversight and transparency.

In Sydney on Saturday, several thousand protesters also marched through the CBD.

The sound of bagpipes echoed through York Street as a man dressed in white screamed “destroy the new world order” and others chanted “walk with us”.

A Sydney demonstrator carried a “kill the bill” sign, despite there being no such bill in NSW, while others waved Australian flags.

The full story is here:

Updated

Some 200 vaccinated foreign tourists arrived in Vietnam’s beach-fringed island of Phu Quoc on Saturday, the first wave of visitors to the country in nearly two years as it seeks to resurrect its pandemic-ravaged tourism economy, Reuters reports.

Vietnam imposed tight border controls at the start of the pandemic in an effort to keep Covid out, with some initial success, but that harmed its burgeoning tourism sector, which typically accounts for about 10% of gross domestic product.

Vaccinated tourists now do not have to undergo mandatory two-week quarantine, according to the authorities, but are required to enjoy their holiday only inside the mega complex resort Vinpearl and will be tested twice during their trip.

“This is the first and vital step to revive our tourism sector and to prepare for the full resumption next year,” Nguyen Trung Khanh, chairman of the country’s tourism administration said in statement.

“We want to offer tourists a new experience amid new normalcy which they can live fully in Phu Quoc and then live fully in Vietnam,” Khanh added.

The island’s authorities expect to welcome 400,000 domestic and international tourists to the end of this year.

A staff member sweeps the grounds of the Vinpearl resort on Phu Quoc island on Friday as the island prepared for its first international tourists to arrive in almost two years.
A staff member sweeps the grounds of the Vinpearl resort on Phu Quoc island on Friday as the island prepared for its first international tourists to arrive in almost two years.
Photograph: Nhac Nguyen/AFP/Getty Images

Other Vietnamese destinations such as the Unesco world heritage site Hoi An and Danang beach are also welcoming international tourists back.

The move follows similar steps taken by neighbouring Thailand, which hosted vaccinated foreign tourists for quarantine-free holiday earlier this month.

Foreign arrivals to Vietnam slumped from 18 million in 2019, when tourism revenue was $31bn, or nearly 12% of its gross domestic product, to 3.8 million last year.

Vietnam, which has inoculated more than half of its 98 million people, is seeking to resume international commercial flights from January next year and eyeing a full tourism reopening from June.

Updated

World No 1 Novak Djokovic and all other players will have to be vaccinated against Covid to compete in the Australia Open next January, the tournament’s chief, Craig Tiley, said on Saturday.

Djokovic has declined to disclose whether he is vaccinated and said that he would wait until Tennis Australia revealed the health protocols before he made a decision about playing at Melbourne Park.

“There’s a lot of speculation about vaccination and just to be really clear, when the [state] premier announced that everyone on site … will need to be vaccinated … we made that clear to the playing group,” Tiley told reporters.

“[Novak] has said that he views this as a private matter for him. We would love to see Novak here, he knows that he’ll have to be vaccinated to play here.”

Djokovic shares the record of 20 men’s grand slam singles titles with Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer and will be looking to break that tie by winning a 10th Australian Open title if he decides to play in January.
Djokovic shares the record of 20 men’s grand slam singles titles with Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer and will be looking to break that tie by winning a 10th Australian Open title if he decides to play in January.
Photograph: Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/Reuters

The announcement brings to a definitive conclusion months of negotiations between Tennis Australia and the Victoria state government, which had insisted throughout that everybody at Melbourne Park would need to be vaccinated.

Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, had opened a window for unvaccinated players when he said that they would be allowed into the country if they served 14 days quarantine and Victoria applied for an exemption.

Victoria’s premier, Daniel Andrews, quickly made it clear that no exemptions would be sought for unvaccinated players.

Get the full story here:

Updated

Iraq said it has received 1.2 million doses of Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid vaccine through the Covax sharing scheme, amid fears of a fourth wave in the country, AFP reports.

Nearly 7 million Iraqis have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, amounting to just 17.5% of the country’s 40 million population, based on government figures.

Plagued by years of conflict, corruption and neglect, the country’s health system has struggled to cope with the pandemic.

The health ministry announced on Saturday the arrival of a shipment of more than 1.2 million doses of “Pfizer’s anti-Covid vaccine through the Covax programme and Unicef”, the UN Children’s Fund.

“Iraq is still facing danger from the coronavirus pandemic,” ministry spokesman Saif al-Badr said on Thursday.

“We expect to enter a fourth wave, [and] it could be a new variant,” he told state television.

More than 2 million Iraqis have contracted coronavirus and 23,628 have died in Iraq since the outbreak of the pandemic, according to official figures.

Despite an increase in the number of people getting jabbed, the government has been unable to overcome general scepticism about vaccines and measures aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.

There is a high level of public mistrust of institutions in Iraq amid the circulation of misleading information about the pandemic.

Covax was set up to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines, particularly to low-income countries, and has already delivered more than 80 million doses to 129 territories.

Updated

Visitors will need to show proof of their Covid status to gain entry to Belfast Christmas market, which opens on Saturday.

All visitors will need to show proof of either their Covid vaccination, a negative test or lateral flow test taken in the last 48 hours, or evidence of a positive PCR test taken in the previous 30 to 180 days, in order to attend the market, which takes place in the grounds of Belfast city hall.

Organisers had previously said the rule would only apply on busier days and weekends. But they announced on Friday that it would apply at all times.

The decision was taken ahead of Northern Ireland’s Covid passport scheme, which is likely to come in on 29 November.

Organisers said safety of staff and customers was of “paramount importance”, and are also recommending that visitors wear face masks and pay by card where possible.

Updated

Rotterdam mayor condemns ‘orgy of violence’ at Covid protests

The mayor of Rotterdam has condemned “an orgy of violence” at protests against Covid measures in the Dutch port city, in which seven people were wounded and more than 20 arrested.

Reuters reports that crowds of several hundred rioters torched cars, set off fireworks and threw rocks at police during the protests on Friday evening. Police responded with warning shots and water cannon.

Read more: Rotterdam police open fire as Covid protest turns violent

A protest against Covid measures turned into riots, with protesters setting fires in the street and destroying police cars and street furniture.
A protest against Covid measures turned into riots, with protesters setting fires in the street and destroying police cars and street furniture.
Photograph: Vln Nieuws/EPA

“Police were forced to draw their weapons and even fire direct shots,” the mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb, told a press conference early on Saturday.

Asked to characterise the event, Aboutaleb said it was “an orgy of violence, I can’t think of another way to describe it.”

Authorities said they had arrested more than 20 people and expected to detain others, as the city centre where the riots took place is extensively monitored by security cameras.

Police detain a protestor as the demonstrations turned violent.
Police detain a protestor as the demonstrations turned violent.
Photograph: Hollandse Hoogte/Rex/Shutterstock

Protesters had gathered to oppose government plans to restrict access to indoor venues to people who have a “corona pass”, showing they have been vaccinated or have recently recovered from an infection.

The pass is also available to people who have not been vaccinated, but have proof of a negative test.

The Netherlands re-imposed some lockdown measures last weekend for an initial three weeks in an effort to slow a resurgence of coronavirus, but daily infections have remained at their highest levels since the start of the pandemic.

Authorities reported a record of more than 23,000 new cases on Thursday, well above the previous daily high of 13,000 reached in December 2020.

Related: Netherlands imposes lockdown measures as Covid cases hit new high

Updated

Hong Kong authorises Sinovac vaccine for children aged 3-17

Hong Kong has approved lowering the age limit for the Covid vaccine from China’s Sinovac Biotech to three years old, down from 18, as it pursues a broader campaign to incentivise its 7.5 million residents to get vaccinated, Reuters reports.

“Adolescents aged 12 to 17 will be accorded priority to receive the CoronaVac vaccine, with a view to extending to children of a younger age group at a later stage,” Hong Kong’s secretary for food and health (SFH) Sophia Chan said in a statement published on Saturday.

According to the statement, the SFH considered that the benefits of approving the extension of the age eligibility to cover those aged three to 17 “outweigh the risks”.

A Hong Kong government advisory panel on Covid vaccines had earlier recommended the SFH to approve the new age limit, the statement added.

The extension of the age eligibility comes as the vaccination campaign in the Asian financial hub which started in February has lagged many other developed economies, with about 67% of the population vaccinated with two shots from either Sinovac or Germany’s BioNTech.

In a separate statement on Friday, the city’s government said it purchased 1 million extra doses of BioNTech vaccine for the implementation of third dose Covid vaccination.

Hong Kong has followed Beijing’s lead in retaining strict travel restrictions to curb new outbreaks, in contrast to a global trend of opening up and living with the coronavirus.

International business lobby groups have warned Hong Kong could lose talent and investment, as well as competitive ground to rival finance hubs such as Singapore, unless it relaxes its restrictions on travel.

Despite barely any recent local cases and an environment virtually free of Covid, Hong Kong has imposed mandatory hotel quarantine of up to 21 days for arrivals from most countries at the travellers’ cost.

Good morning from London. I’m Lucy Campbell, I’ll be bringing you all the latest global developments on the coronavirus pandemic for the next eight hours. Please feel free to get in touch with me as I work if you have a story or tips to share! Your thoughts are always welcome.

Email: lucy.campbell@theguardian.com
Twitter: @lucy_campbell_

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Merck wants Americans to pay $712 for a Covid drug that taxpayers helped develop

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Merck wants Americans to pay $712 for a Covid drug that taxpayers helped develop” was written by David Sirota, for theguardian.com on Thursday 14th October 2021 10.31 UTC

Last week, we learned that Merck is planning to charge Americans 40 times its cost for a Covid drug whose development was subsidized by the American government. The situation spotlights two sets of facts that have gone largely unmentioned in the legislative debate over whether to let Medicare negotiate for lower drug prices.

Fact one: Americans are facing not merely expensive drugs but prices that are examples of outright profiteering.

Fact two: in many cases, the medicines we are being gouged on are those that we the public already paid for.

These facts show us that pharma-bankrolled Democrats trying to kill drug pricing measures aren’t just bought and paid for in this particular skirmish – they are foot soldiers in the pharmaceutical industry’s larger multi-decade campaign to seal off and rig America’s alleged “free market”.

First, there’s the price point of drugs. It’s not merely that Americans are paying the world’s highest prices for pharmaceuticals, it’s that in many cases, we are paying prices that aren’t even close to what consumers in other countries pay.

A new Public Citizen analysis shows that the 20 top-selling medicines generated almost twice as much pharmaceutical industry revenue in the United States as in every other country combined. Sure, compared with others, Americans may buy a lot of prescription drugs, but this study reflects something much bigger at play: pharma-sculpted public policies that allow drug price levels to go beyond profits and into profiteering.

That term “profiteering” is important here because drugmakers aren’t losing lots of money in other countries where they sell medicines at lower prices.

Let’s remember: pharmaceutical companies aren’t altruistic charities that offer their products abroad at a loss. On the contrary, they are still making healthy profits at lower world-market prices – and as the Intercept’s Lee Fang notes, they are making those healthy profits while boasting of innovation and job growth in countries that have allowed their governments to use bulk purchasing power to negotiate lower prices.

The same arrangement could happen in the United States. We could significantly reduce medicine prices, which would save Medicare and individual consumers hundreds of billions of dollars, and in the process we would do little to significantly reduce pharmaceutical innovation. Indeed, a recent Congressional Budget Office study projected that even if profits on top drugs decreased by a whopping 25%, it would only result in a 0.5% average annual reduction in the number of new drugs entering the market over the next decade.

The reason that reduction in new drugs would be so small gets to the other inconvenient fact being left out of the conversation in Congress right now: for all the pharmaceutical industry’s self-congratulatory rhetoric about its own innovations, the federal government uses your tax dollars to fund a lot of that innovation, research and development.

A study from the National Academy of Sciences tells that story: the federal government spent $100bn to subsidize the research on every single one of the 200-plus drugs approved for sale in the United States between 2010 and 2016.

Because we the public invested early in these medicines, we reduced the R&D costs for pharmaceutical companies. Therefore, on the back end, the public should have received some sort of return in the form of affordable prices. After all, we took the initial risk, and we lowered the overhead costs that the drug companies might need to recoup through higher prices. In business terms, the public is the early venture investor in these products, and we deserve a share of the returns when the product proves valuable.

However, in the mid-1990s, that business axiom was tossed out when drug lobbyists persuaded the Clinton administration to repeal rules that allowed federal officials to require government-subsidized drugs to be offered to Americans at a “reasonable price”.

A few years later, Congress – with then-Senator Joe Biden’s help – voted down legislation to reinstate these rules, and later the Obama administration rejected House Democrats’ request that federal officials at least provide guidelines to government agencies about how they can exercise their remaining powers to combat drug price gouging.

The result: we now routinely face immoral situations like last week’s news that pharmaceutical giant Merck is planning to charge Americans $712 for a Covid drug that cost only $17.74 to produce and whose development was subsidized by the American government.

That’s just the latest example of the absurd paradigm: we take the risk of investing early in the product, but instead of that investment reaping us something valuable like affordable prices, we are rewarded with price gouging by the drugmakers that bankroll the lawmakers who’ve rigged the rules – and aim to keep them rigged.

All of this underscores how corrupt and insane the current conversation in Congress really is – and in truth, it’s way more corrupt than it even seems on the surface.

We aren’t merely watching pharma-bankrolled lawmakers try to stop Medicare from negotiating lower prices for drugs – they are trying to stop the government from negotiating lower prices for medicines that the government already paid for, and that we are being charged the world’s highest prices for.

This opposition is just the latest crusade to keep the American market walled off for maximum manipulation. Laws written by drug lobbyists prohibit wholesalers from importing lower-priced medicines from other countries, give drug companies 20-year patents on government-subsidized medicine, prevent the government from requiring reasonable prices for drugs the government pays for and block Medicare from using its bulk purchasing power to negotiate lower prices.

That’s not a “free market”. It is a top-down command economy perfectly calibrated for price gouging, and the pharmaceutical industry and its puppet politicians want to keep it that way.

  • David Sirota is a Guardian US columnist and an award-winning investigative journalist. He is an editor-at-large at Jacobin, and the founder of the Daily Poster. He served as Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign speechwriter
  • This article was originally published in the Daily Poster, a grassroots-funded investigative news outlet

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Covid live: UK reports 45,066 new cases, highest since mid-July; Russia daily cases pass 30,000 for first time

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Covid live: UK reports 45,066 new cases, highest since mid-July; Russia daily cases pass 30,000 for first time” was written by Tom Ambrose (now); Martin Belam and Samantha Lock (earlier), for theguardian.com on Thursday 14th October 2021 15.48 UTC

Italy is bracing itself for further unrest and labour market mayhem as the strictest vaccine mandate in Europe takes effect on Friday.

All workers will be obliged to present a coronavirus health pass before entering their workplaces, a move that is expected to leave some industries struggling with staff shortages.

The measure, an expansion of the “green pass” introduced in August, will require public and private sector workers to have been double vaccinated, to show proof of a negative test taken within the previous 48 hours or of having recently recovered from Covid-19.

Those who flout the rules face being suspended without pay or fined up to €1,500 (£1,270). Employers face fines for failing to check if staff are complying.

More than 80% of the population over the age of 12 has been double-vaccinated and the majority of Italians have taken the green pass – also required for dining inside restaurants, entering museums, theatres and cinemas, and for use on planes and long-distance trains – in their stride.

However, protests over the workplace rule have gathered pace in recent weeks, with a demonstration in Rome last weekend turning violent as neofascist groups exploited the discontent. The motive behind Italy’s green pass is to boost inoculations and contain infections in the hope of avoiding another lockdown.

UK confirms 45,066 new Covid cases, 157 deaths today

In the UK, the government confirmed today that there had been a further 45,066 lab-confirmed Covid cases.

It is the highest daily figure since mid-July.

The official data also confirmed a further 157 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid as of Thursday, bringing the UK total to 138,237.

Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have been 163,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid was mentioned on the death certificate.

In the US, health advisers are debating if millions of Americans who received Moderna vaccinations should get a booster shot – this time using half the original dose.

Already millions who got their initial Pfizer shots at least six months ago are getting a booster of that brand.

On Thursday, advisers to the Food and Drug Administration evaluated the evidence that Moderna boosters should be offered too.

US officials stressed that the priority is to get shots to the 66 million unvaccinated Americans who are eligible for immunisation – those most at risk as the extra-contagious delta variant of the coronavirus has burned across the country.

US health advisers are debating if millions of Americans who received Moderna vaccinations should get a booster shot.
US health advisers are debating if millions of Americans who received Moderna vaccinations should get a booster shot.
Photograph: David Zalubowski/AP

“It’s important to remember that the vaccines still provide strong protection against serious outcomes” such as hospitalization and death from Covid, said FDA vaccine chief Dr Peter Marks.

Updated

Only one in seven Covid cases in Africa are being detected, meaning the continent’s estimated infection level may be 59 million people, according to a new study by the World Health Organization (WHO)

“With limited testing, we’re still flying blind in far too many communities in Africa,” said Matshidiso Moeti, regional director for the WHO in Africa in a press briefing Thursday.

To get more accurate numbers of infections and to better curb transmission, the UN plans to increase rapid diagnostic testing in eight African countries with the goal of testing 7 million people in the next year. The Associated Press reported:

The initiative is a “radically” new approach that shifts from passive to active surveillance by working with communities, said Moeti. The rapid tests are affordable, reliable and easy to use and will provide results within 15 minutes, she said. An additional 360,000 cases are expected to be detected by using the tests, with approximately 75% of them being asymptomatic or mild, she said.

The initiative will be based on what is called a ring strategy that has been used to eradicate smallpox and was implemented during Ebola outbreaks. It is called a ring method because it will target people living within a 100-meter (110-yard) radius around new confirmed cases.

Health professionals welcomed the approach and said it will help the continent to get ahead of the pandemic rather than playing catch up. Since the start of the outbreak, Africa has recorded more than eight million Covid-19 cases and 214,000 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The rapid testing will also provide officials with data to help avoid overwhelming health systems and implementing restrictions that can be “disastrous as far as economic consequences,” said Ngozi Erondu, senior scholar at Georgetown University’s O’Neill Institute.

Poland has confirmed it is set to donate a million AstraZeneca Covid shots to Iran.

Poland had fully vaccinated 19.6 million people as of Wednesday, but a slowing rate of uptake has left it with spare doses which it has sent to Egypt, Vietnam, Taiwan, Kenya, Ukraine, Australia and Norway among other countries.

Iran’s economy has been hit hard by sanctions reimposed by former US President Donald Trump as well as the Covid pandemic, making it difficult for the country to pay for food and medicine.

While the vaccines sent to Iran were donated free of charge, in some other cases Poland has sold shots on a non-profit basis, deputy foreign minister Paweł Jabłoński said, adding that more than 30 countries had approached Poland concerning vaccine supplies.

“We are doing this to support the Iranian people. It is not a sign of any change in our international policy vis-a-vis Iran,” he said.

Updated

Czech prime minister Andrej Babiš has received a third dose of a coronavirus vaccine and used the opportunity to appeal to his country’s people to get vaccinated.

The 67-year-old Babiš is among more than 30,000 Czechs who have had booster shots.

The Czech Republic has offered vaccine boosters since 20 September to individuals over age 60, health care workers and other vulnerable groups.

Yet more than 340,000 people over the age of 65 have not received a single shot, a reason for concern, Babiš said. He added:

I’m calling on everyone to get vaccinated. The vaccination is the only solution to save lives.

Czech PM Andrej Babis in Prague.
Czech PM Andrej Babiš in Prague.
Photograph: Bernadett Szabó/Reuters

The Czech Republic has reported about 1,500 new coronavirus cases for three straight days, numbers unseen since early May.

Updated

Indonesia’s holiday island of Bali reopened to foreign tourists after 18 months of pandemic hiatus today.

The government recently announced Bali’s reopening after a sharp fall in coronavirus cases since July, when Indonesia was Asia’s Covid epicentre. But new visitors from overseas were nowhere to be seen on Thursday due to a lack of international flights arriving on the island.

Though the island’s Ngurah Rai international airport has carried out exercises to prepare for tourists to return, it is not expecting much to happen soon, according to Reuters.

Bali governor I Wayan Koster told reporters:

The regulation has just been issued. These things take time. These countries and the visitors need time

We hope that by end of October at the latest there will be incoming flights, whether it’s a charter or commercial flight as signs of the start of tourism recovery in Bali.

He added that he had received reports that hotels in Bali have started to receive bookings by foreign visitors, mainly from Europe, for November visits.

Surfers carry their boards as they watch a sunset at Kuta beach, Bali, Indonesia.
Surfers carry their boards as they watch a sunset at Kuta beach, Bali, Indonesia.
Photograph: Firdia Lisnawati/AP

Experts fear women in Africa may be the least vaccinated population globally, partly because of widespread misinformation and vaccine scepticism across the continent.

But vaccine access issues and gender inequality reach far beyond Africa, with women in impoverished communities worldwide facing obstacles including cultural prejudices, lack of technology, and vaccine prioritisation lists that didn’t include them, Reuters reported.

While global data by gender in vaccine distribution is lacking in many places, officials agree that women are clearly being left behind men in some places, and that the issue must be addressed for the world to move past the pandemic.

Sarah Hawkes, who runs a global tracker of coronavirus information by sex at University College London, noted that Pakistan and other countries gave initial vaccine priority to groups such as military personnel and migrant workers, likely contributing to continued gender gaps.

Updated

China’s foreign ministry has warned against what it calls possible “political manipulation” of a renewed probe by the World Health Organization (WHO) into the origins of the coronavirus.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said China would “continue to support and participate in global scientific tracing and firmly oppose any forms of political manipulation”.

The WHO released a proposed list of 25 experts yesterday to advise it on next steps in the search for the virus’ origins after its earlier efforts were attacked for going easy on China, Reuters reported.

The first human cases of coronavirus infections were detected in central China in late 2019. Beijing was accused of withholding raw data on early cases during a visit by a WHO team in February.

A worker in protective coverings directs members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team on their arrival at the airport in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province.
A worker in protective coverings directs members of a WHO team on their arrival in Wuhan earlier this year.
Photograph: Ng Han Guan/AP

The findings of the original WHO team were inconclusive, and the experts released a report saying it was “extremely unlikely” the coronavirus leaked from a Wuhan lab. That prompted criticism from outside scientists that the theory had not been properly vetted.

Updated

This winter is going to be “exceptionally difficult” for the NHS, England’s chief medical officer has warned.

Prof Chris Whitty told delegates at the annual conference of the Royal College of GPs in Liverpool that while some things had gone wrong, it was a mistake to think lessons from one pandemic would automatically apply to the next one.

It came as he admitted “there are certainly some quite significant things we got wrong at the beginning of Covid”.

He warned of tough months ahead for the health service as it battles Covid-19, flu, other viruses and the usual winter problems such as trips and falls, PA Media reported.

But he praised GPs – who are currently under fire over face-to-face appointments – for all their “outstanding” hard work and professionalism over the last two years. He said:

In terms of where Covid will go over the winter, well I think the winter as a whole, I regret to say, is going to be exceptionally difficult for the NHS. That is, irrespective of whether we have a relatively low but non trivial amount of Covid, or whether we actually have a further surge in the winter.

I think if you asked 100 modellers you’re going to get over 100 answers, exactly as to how this is going to go out. I think what we’re confident of is the very top end, [what] we would have faced potentially had things gone wrong last winter is not going to happen, barring an extraordinary escape mutant variant, but let’s assume we don’t get something which actually can basically evade our defences completely, I think the top end risks are much lower.

But we could certainly go up, we’re only two to three doubling times away from a really quite serious pressure on the NHS and it’s already serious, but one that actually will be very difficult to deal with. So the margin of error is quite small.

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty.
England’s chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty.
Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

Updated

EMA to review AstraZeneca’s antibody-based Covid therapy

The European Union’s medicines regulator has announced that it has started a “real-time review” of AstraZeneca’s antibody-based Covid therapy.

It comes after the combination medicine showed success in treating and preventing severe illness.

In August, the British drugmaker said its new antibody therapy reduced the risk of people developing any coronavirus symptoms by 77% in a late-stage trial. The Reuters news agency reported at the time:

While vaccines rely on an intact immune system to develop an arsenal of targeted antibodies and infection-fighting cells, AstraZeneca’s AZD7442 therapy consists of lab-made antibodies that are designed to linger in the body for months to stifle the coronavirus in case of an infection.

The company said that 75% of the participants in the trial for the therapy – which comprises two types of antibodies discovered by Vanderbilt University Medical Center in the United States – had chronic conditions including some with a lower immune response to vaccinations.

Similar therapies made with a drug class called monoclonal antibodies are being developed by Regeneron (REGN.O), Eli Lilly (LLY.N) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L) with partner Vir (VIR.O), competing for a role in COVID treatment and prevention. But AstraZeneca is first to publish positive prevention trial data in the field and is now targeting conditional approval in major markets well before the end of the year, aiming to produce roughly 1 to 2 million doses by then.

The logo for AstraZeneca is seen outside its North America headquarters.
The logo for AstraZeneca is seen outside its North America headquarters.
Photograph: Rachel Wisniewski/Reuters

Penny Ward, visiting professor in pharmaceutical medicine at Kings College in London, said:

It could potentially be game changing for these individuals, who are currently being advised to continue to shield despite being fully vaccinated.

Covid infections in children in England rose in September after schools returned from summer holidays, helping to keep cases high even as there was a fall among adults, a large prevalence study showed on Thursday.

Infection numbers in Britain are currently much higher than in other western European countries, but have not risen above summer levels following the return of schools in September in England despite higher infection rates in children.

The React-1 study, led by Imperial College London, found that prevalence in 13- to 17-year-olds was 2.55% between 9 and 27 September, with prevalence in those aged five to 12 at 2.32%.

Prevalence for every adult age group was estimated below 1%, PA Media reported.

“Prevalence was high and increasing in school aged children during September,” Paul Elliott, director of the study, told reporters, adding that increased vaccination uptake in school-aged children and adults would help limit transmission.

A pupil wears a face mask in a classroom.
A pupil wears a face mask in a classroom.
Photograph: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

The study, which analysed 100,527 valid swabs, found that the epidemic was growing among those 17 and under, with an estimated reproduction number of 1.18.

Updated

Just returning to Russia for some news, a government taskforce has said it will lift its Covid ban on flights to countries including Tunisia, Thailand, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Iran, Slovenia, and Oman.

The ban will end on 9 November, the Russian government coronavirus task force said on Thursday.

The government stopped normal commercial flights abroad when the pandemic struck last year, but it has since been gradually relaxing the restrictions.

The flight bans dealt a heavy blow to Russia’s airlines, according to Reuters.

Aeroflot Russian Airlines and Rossiya Airlines jet aircrafts at Moscow-Sheremetyevo International Airport.
The flight ban will end on 9 November.
Photograph: Leonid Faerberg/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

Updated

Areas of Syria outside Bashar al-Assad’s control are facing their most deadly wave of Covid yet, pushing already depleted healthcare systems to the limit.

In the Islamist-controlled northwest – home to around 4 million people, the majority of whom have been displaced by fighting in other parts of the country – the number of cases doubled in September compared to August, reaching 73,000, according to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

Cases are also increasing at a worrying pace in the northeast, where western-backed Kurdish forces are in charge. In the last week of September, an average of 342 people in northeast Syria tested positive each day – the highest daily number since the pandemic began.

The area only has one testing laboratory, leading healthcare workers to fear the true caseload is much higher.

Both the northeast and northwest are running out of oxygen supplies, hospital beds and testing kits, the charity warned on Thursday, in a call for urgent assistance from international donors.

Medical staff assist patients suffering from the coronavirus disease inside the COVID-19 ward of a hospital in the opposition-held Idlib, Syria.
Medical staff assist patients suffering from the coronavirus disease inside the COVID-19 ward of a hospital in the opposition-held Idlib, Syria.
Photograph: Mahmoud Hassano/Reuters

“We are directly witnessing the extent of this outbreak in the facilities we manage and support,” said Francisco Otero y Villar, MSF’s head of mission for Syria. “People in desperate need of oxygen or intensive care are stuck in queues because no beds or ventilators are available. [This] is leading to a higher mortality rate compared with previous waves.”

According to World Health Organisation data, only 355,000 doses of vaccine had been administered in the whole country by the end of August, or less than 1% of the total population, making Syria one of the countries with the lowest vaccine coverage globally.

Good morning, I’m Tom Ambrose and I will be bringing you the latest Covid news from around the world today.

We start with the news that the Republic of Ireland has raised doubts over its plans to drop almost all Covid restrictions next week due to a rise in cases.

Finance minister Paschal Donohoe has admitted a full return of office workers was now unlikely, according to the Reuters news agency.

With hospitalisations ticking up, though still far below peaks this year and last, ministers will discuss at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday whether this will push up critical care needs ahead of the busy winter period.

After one of Europe’s toughest lockdowns, the government had planned to let nightclubs open for the first time in 20 months from 22 October, with other venues back at full capacity, and a requirement for vaccine certificates in bars and restaurants dropped.

Foreign minister Simon Coveney told the Newstalk radio station:

It is possible that some of the restrictions that are due to be lifted may not be, of course that’s possible.

We expected the figures would increase, the question is whether they are increasing to a level that means we have to reevaluate.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney arriving at Government Buildings, Dublin, for a Cabinet meeting.
Simon Coveney arriving at Government Buildings, Dublin, for a Cabinet meeting.
Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Asked if there would be a major return of workers next week following last month’s gradual reopening of offices, Donohoe said that was “a little less likely”.

Updated

Today so far

  • Russia’s latest daily Covid case and death numbers have both set new records for the country, with more than 30,000 cases being officially reported in a single day for the first time. There were 986 deaths.
  • Hungary reported 1,141 new infections, with the number rising above 1,000 for the first time during the fourth wave of the pandemic. Foreign minister Peter Szijjarto says Hungary will receive technology this year to produce Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine at a Hungarian plant currently under construction.
  • The high case numbers in Hungary and Russia coincide with similar peaks in Ukraine and Romania, as health systems in the continent’s east continue to struggle. Romanian doctors have issued an open letter begging the population to get vaccinated.
default

 

  • In the UK health secretary Sajid Javid has apologised for the losses and suffering of families over Covid, while stressing that many of the government’s pandemic decisions were made when he was a “humble backbencher”, and revealing that he is yet to read the devastating report into the handling of the pandemic released earlier this week.
  • Of the UK’s current Covid situation, Javid said: “Overall things feel quite stable at this point. The numbers are a bit up, a bit down over the last few weeks, but our primary defences against this virus are working.”
  • In stark contrast to those comments, First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford has said the ambulance service in Wales is operating under “enormous pressure” as a result of the growing number of people needing the service, as well as the necessity for paramedics to work under Covid-compliant restrictions.
  • A study by University College London researchers claims that Lateral flow tests are very good at detecting people most likely to spread Covid-19 and positive results should be trusted. It comes after a flurry of reports of positive lateral flow tests being followed by negative PCR tests.
  • Scientists have urged eligible people to have Covid booster shots after a major survey in England found evidence of so-called “breakthrough infections” more than three months after full vaccination.
  • A group of 26 experts will be tasked with examining new pathogens and how to prevent future pandemics after the World Health Organization unveiled a team to revive the inquiry into Covid-19’s origins.
  • Religious festivals in India have been taken place against a backdrop of far fewer Covid cases than earlier in the year. Nevertheless the government is still urging caution, launching a campaign asking states to be extra vigilant during the next 100 days, and ensuring that “Covid-appropriate behaviour” is observed.
  • Fiji says it is already experiencing a boom in demand after announcing this week that it would open up quarantine-free travel to visitors from select countries, almost two years after closing its borders due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Covid vaccines for children aged five to 11 are inching closer to authorization in the US, with possible availability as soon as early November, and experts are already looking to the next hurdle: actually getting the shots in those young arms.
  • The US government says it will ship 2.4m doses of Covid-19 vaccine to Pakistan today, bringing the total number of doses sent to the country to about 18.3m.

That is it from me, Martin Belam, today. I will be back tomorrow. Andrew Sparrow is covering Covid in the UK in his live blog today, as it is somewhat bound up with Sajid Javid’s comments and push for access to GPs. You can find that here. It is currently leading with a warning from chief medical officer Chris Whitty that the NHS faces ‘exceptionally difficult’ winter even without Covid spikes.

Tom Ambrose will be here shortly to take you through the rest of the day’s global Covid news. I am off to host the comments in this week’s edition of the Thursday quiz.

Russia again sets new daily records for Covid cases and deaths

Russia’s latest daily Covid case and death numbers have both set new records for the country, with more than 30,000 cases being officially reported in a single day for the first time.

31,299 new cases is the country’s highest one-day infection tally since the pandemic began, and a jump of around 2,500 higher than the day before. Reuters report the country also recorded 986 deaths, a slight increment on the record set yesterday.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has called for the nation to accelerate its vaccination programme. Currently around a third of Russians are vaccinated, and the health minister revealed this week that over one million people are currently being treated in Russia for Covid symptoms.

Updated

Covid vaccines for children aged five to 11 are inching closer to authorization in the US, with possible availability as soon as early November, and experts are already looking to the next hurdle: actually getting the shots in those young arms.

Only one-third of parents plan to vaccinate their children as soon as the vaccines are ready, the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation has found. Another third of those surveyed want to wait and see how the rollout goes.

“What’s going to be actually more challenging, beyond having the infrastructure to be able to administer the Covid-19 vaccines, is ensuring that parents feel comfortable vaccinating their children,” Syra Madad, an infectious disease physician and senior director of the System-wide Special Pathogens Program at NYC Health + Hospitals, told the Guardian.

About half of children 12 and older have been vaccinated in the months since the vaccines were given the green light for those ages.

Vaccinating people of all ages is a crucial part of ending the pandemic, said Dr Saad Omer, an infectious disease epidemiologist and director of the Yale Institute for Global Health.

“We will not be able to get out of this pandemic without vaccinating children – both for their own sake and for the sake of having overall protection,” he added.

Read more of Melody Schreiber’s report here: Covid vaccines for children are coming but challenge will be persuading parents

Andrew Sparrow has launched our UK politics live blog today, and given the government’s push around access to GPs he will be carrying the main UK covid lines for now. You can find that here.

I’ll be continuing with the latest coronavirus news from around the world.

Agence France-Presse have a report today in from India, where religious festivals are this year able to go ahead with a background of far fewer Covid cases than last year.

The coronavirus is still claiming over 200 lives daily in the nation of 1.3 billion people, but that is down sharply from the 4,000 fatalities in April and May. Most activities are back to normal and India has administered almost a billion vaccine doses, with around 75 percent of people receiving at least one shot.

India’s peak holiday season includes Durga Puja, Dussehra and Diwali – major Hindu festivals celebrated with noise, colour and exuberance across the country.

In Kolkata on Thursday, crowds flocked to colourful “pandals”, temporary structures where idols of the Hindu goddess Durga are installed during the festivities.

A Durga idol as seen during Durga puja festival in Kolkata, India.
A Durga idol as seen during Durga puja festival in Kolkata, India.
Photograph: Debarchan Chatterjee/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock

Traffic police in the West Bengal state’s capital used loudspeakers to remind people about physical distancing, but in vain, although many people wore masks.

“It’s festival time so people will come and people will enjoy. Now there are no restrictions, the government has allowed us (to celebrate) so we are enjoying out here,” Aradhana Gupta told AFP.

Hindu devotees light Diyas (clay lamps) in front of the idol of Lord Durga during the Sandhi Puja Ritual of Durga Ashtami.
Hindu devotees light Diyas (clay lamps) in front of the idol of Lord Durga during the Sandhi Puja Ritual of Durga Ashtami.
Photograph: Avishek Das/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

Another reveller Riya Tai rued how she could not celebrate the festival last year when strict virus restrictions were in place.

“I am feeling happy (this time) although the crowd is excessive. I am sweating like hell but still I am enjoying it,” she said.

Women wearing pink dresses perform Garba dance on Juhu beach in Mumbai.
Women wearing pink dresses perform Garba dance on Juhu beach in Mumbai.
Photograph: Ashish Vaishnav/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

On Monday, prime minister Narendra Modi’s government kicked off a campaign dubbed “Mission 100 Days”, with fears that the long festive season could see a resurgence of Covid-19.

“We are asking states to be extra vigilant during the next 100 days, and ensure that Covid-appropriate behaviour is observed,” a government official was quoted as saying by the Hindustan Times newspaper. “Only then we will be able to save the country from an expected surge in cases.”

UK health minister Sajid Javid appears to have deployed the Homer Simpson “It’s my first day!” defence on the Today this morning.

PA Media report he told the BBC radio show, when asked about mistakes the government might have made in handling Covid: “I have been in this job for 100 days and was out of government when a lot of those crucial decisions were made. I was a humble backbencher.”

He did offer an apology of sorts, saying: “What I am saying sorry for is the loss that people have suffered and how they have been affected. I don’t think I am in a position yet to go back and look at every decision that was made and how we can learn from that.”

The health secretary then revealed that he has not read the report on the coronavirus pandemic, which he is in charge of dealing with. He told listeners “It is one report and I welcome the report. I haven’t had the opportunity to study every word of the report. I will study it properly this weekend,” he said.

New cases in Hungary rise above 1,000 for first time during fourth wave to hit nation

A quick one from Reuters here – foreign minister Peter Szijjarto says Hungary will receive technology this year to produce Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine at a Hungarian plant currently under construction.

Besides Russia’s Sputnik, Hungary plans to produce China’s Sinopharm’s vaccine in the planned $193m (£140m) vaccine plant.

Earlier Hungary reported 1,141 new infections, with the number rising above 1,000 for the first time during the fourth wave of the pandemic.

There’s been a concerted drive by some in the Conservative party to stop people working from home. At the weekend MP Iain Duncan Smith even unfavourably compared those still working flexibly using the internet in 2021 with people he, not entirely accurately, claimed had kept going into the office during the London Blitz in the Second World War.

It is the subject of our Today in Focus podcast today. While the daily commute has returned for many, it is not everyone and not every day. Instead a new form of hybrid working has emerged as a popular alternative: half a week in the office and half at home. But it is not working for everyone. Last week the prime minister suggested in his party conference speech that Britain needs a further push to get back to the office full-time.

In Today in Focus, Guardian business reporter Joanna Partridge tells Rachel Humphreys that there could be other unintended consequences of retaining remote working permanently. In many cases, it will be those who have childcare or other caring responsibilities who decide to work more from home and in many cases this still means women. And as the gender pay gap continues to grow, this could set women back further. On the other hand, a workforce less concentrated in big cities could help the government’s highest-profile policy initiative of “levelling up” living standards and wages across the country.

You can listen to it here: Today in Focus – Has England gone back to the office?

The UK health minister Sajid Javid has become the latest government figure to say “sorry” about the coronavirus pandemic. Appearing on the BBC this morning, Javid, who became health secretary just short of four months ago following the resignation of Matt Hancock, said:

Yes, of course I’m sorry. Obviously I am new in the role but on behalf of the government I am sorry for, during the pandemic, anyone that suffered, especially anyone that lost a loved one, a mother, a dad, a brother, a sister, a friend. Of course I am sorry for that.

Also all those people that may not have lost someone but they are still suffering – there are many people sadly suffering from long Covid, we still don’t know the impact of that. Of course I am.

There will be lessons to learn from this pandemic for this Government, for governments across the world, there will be lessons. It is important that is done. There is going to be a public inquiry and I think that is the best place to learn these lessons.

But if you are asking me if I am sorry, then of course I am.

The media ritual of getting ministers to explicitly say sorry for issues identified in this week’s damning report into the Conservatives’ handling of the early days of the pandemic was sparked after Minister for the Cabinet Office Stephen Barclay refused eleven times to apologise on Sky News on Tuesday morning.

Geraldine Panapasa in Suva reports for us on Fiji’s reopening:

Fiji says it is already experiencing a boom in demand after announcing this week that it would open up quarantine-free travel to visitors from select countries, almost two years after closing its borders due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Our website data is well up – we are seeing a real lift in interest. It is exciting, and we want to encourage people to come and spend Christmas and new year in Fiji,” Tourism Fiji chief executive Brent Hill said.

“Our tourism industry has been waiting a long time for this. While not everyone will be able to open on 1 December, the overwhelming majority of our industry and those employing significant numbers are very much behind the announcement, and ready to safely open our borders once again to the world.

“We have seven more weeks to really fine tune our preparations, but we have all been working overtime since the start of the year, to reopen our industry again to the world. We’re ready.”

Fiji will reopen its borders to fully vaccinated travellers from countries including the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and most Pacific Islands countries from 11 November, though the official reopening will be on 1 December, when the country’s first scheduled tourism flight on national carrier, Fiji Airways, will arrive.

Read more of Geraldine Panapasa’s report from Suva: ‘We’re ready’: Fiji prepares to welcome tourists almost two years after closing borders

Ambulance service in Wales operating under ‘enormous pressure’ – First Minister

First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford has said the ambulance service in Wales is operating under “enormous pressure” as a result of the growing number of people needing the service, as well as the necessity for paramedics to work under Covid-compliant restrictions.

In an appearance on Sky News he said : “We’ve been able to secure some assistance from the armed forces and we’re really grateful for that.”

PA Media quote him saying: “We’ve had it throughout the pandemic. They (service personnel) won’t be responding to emergency calls but they will be helping with some of the more routine work that the ambulance service does, freeing up trained ambulance personnel to deal with the most urgent work that the service has to provide.”

The message somewhat contrasts with that earlier quote today from UK health minister Sajid Javid that “overall things feel quite stable at this point.”

UCL study backs accuracy of lateral flow tests

A study by University College London researchers claims that Lateral flow tests (LFTs) are very good at detecting people most likely to spread Covid-19 and positive results should be trusted.

LFTs have long been criticised for being less accurate that PCR tests, where the results come after the material is analysed in a lab, rather than being generated at home.

Prof Irene Petersen, lead study author, said people who get a positive LFT result should continue to “trust them and stay at home”. Government guidelines say that following a positive LFT test, people should confirm the result with a PCR test.

In recent weeks there have been a growing number of cases where a positive LFT result has been followed by a negative PCR test result, which has undermined some confidence in the tests.

Yesterday, Dr Louise Smith, director of public health in Norfolk, told local media that she was aware of “sporadic cases” of this nationally, and heard about it anecdotally locally. She told the Eastern Daily Press:

While we are aware of sporadic cases nationally in which some batches of lateral flow test kits may deliver false positives, these are very rare and when used properly lateral flow tests remain reliable. A PCR test can be arranged to confirm any positive from a lateral flow test.

The UCL study found that LFTs were more than 80% effective at detecting any level of Covid infection, and that they are more than 90% effective at detecting who is most infectious. These figures are higher than previous studies.

Another member of the study team, Prof Michael Mina, from Harvard School of Public Health, said that LFTs will catch nearly everyone who is posing a risk to public health.

“It is most likely that if someone’s LFT is negative but their PCR is positive, then this is because they are not at peak transmissible stage,” he said.

UK health secretary: ‘things feel quite stable at this point’

Doctors have also dominated the discussions that UK health secretary Sajid Javid has been having across the media this morning. He is pushing the government’s plan to increase face-to-face consultations with GPs. Before the pandemic about 80% of appointments were face-to-face. Since Covid hit, that number has dropped and now stands at around 58%.

The package he is announcing, he says, will give patients the choice to see GPs in they way they choose to see them.

It is tangentially Covid-related clearly, as a lot of changes to the way GP practices in the UK worked were driven by Covid measures. What he did specifically say about coronavirus in his appearance on Times Radio was that he seemed to be happy with the way the virus was progressing. He told listeners:

Overall things feel quite stable at this point. The numbers are a bit up, a bit down over the last few weeks, but our primary defences against this virus are working.

The latest data by the way is that there were 42,776 new cases recorded yesterday. The height of the last peak in the UK was 60,764 daily cases on 15 July. The highest ever recorded number was 81,483 on 29 December 2020.

Romanian doctors in ‘cry of despair’ asking people to get vaccinated

Romanian doctors sent an open letter yesterday titled “a cry of despair” as the country’s overwhelmed and deteriorated health care system struggles to cope with a record-setting surge of coronavirus infections and deaths.

The College of Physicians of Bucharest, a nongovernmental organization representing doctors in Romania’s capital, said in a letter addressed to Romanians that the medical system has “reached the limit” and that low vaccination rates reveal a “failure of trust” between doctors and the population.

“We are desperate because every day we lose hundreds of patients who die in Romanian hospitals,” the letter reads. “We are desperate, because, unfortunately, we have heard too many times: I can’t breathe. I’m not vaccinated.”

On Tuesday, Romania reported daily pandemic records of nearly 17,000 new confirmed cases and 442 deaths. Data from health authorities indicate that more than 90% of coronavirus patients who died last week were unvaccinated.

“Every day we witness tragedies: dying patients, suffering families, doctors who have reached the end of their powers,” the letter from Bucharest’s doctors reads.

Associated Press report that the pressure on hospitals prompted Romanian officials last week to suspend nonemergency medical procedures for 30 days.

Covid booster shots important to stop infection, finds English study

Scientists have urged eligible people to have Covid booster shots after a major survey in England found evidence of “breakthrough infections” more than three months after full vaccination.

Researchers at Imperial College London analysed more than 100,000 swabs from a random sample of the population and found that Covid infection rates were three to four times higher among unvaccinated people than those who had received two shots.

But while full vaccination drove infection rates down substantially, from 1.76% in the unvaccinated to 0.35% in the three months after the second dose, infection rates rose again to 0.55% three to six months after the second shot.

The finding suggests that protection against infection, with or without symptoms, starts to wane several months after full vaccination, though other studies show that vaccine protection against hospitalisation and death is far more robust.

“The possible increase of breakthrough infections over time reinforces the need for a booster programme,” said Paul Elliott, head of the React study and professor in epidemiology and public health medicine at Imperial. “It’s an incentive for people to get their booster dose when it becomes available to them,” added Prof Christl Donnelly, a statistical epidemiologist on the study. The results came as new Covid cases in the UK rose to 42,776, the highest recorded since late July.

Read more of science editor Ian Sample’s report here: Covid booster shots important to stop infection, finds English study

US says it will ship 2.4m vaccine doses

The US government says it will ship 2.4m doses of Covid-19 vaccine to Pakistan today, bringing the total number of doses sent to the country to about 18.3m, more than any other country.

The latest shipments of the vaccine made by Pfizer/BioNTech are due to arrive on Saturday via the Covax distribution program, an official told Reuters.

Their data suggests that Pakistan has administered at least 93.6m doses of vaccine so far, out of a population of 220m.

Good morning from London, it is Martin Belam here taking over from my colleague Samantha Lock. The UK government minister facing the media this morning is health secretary Sajid Javid – I’ll have any key Covid lines from his first appearances shortly, he’s pushing government plans for an “access package” to GPs.

Hi, I’m Samantha Lock and I’ll be giving you a rundown of the latest coronavirus updates as they happen.

Here’s a rundown of any highlights you might have missed.

In good news for those seeking a sea-side break, Fiji says it is already experiencing a boom in demand after announcing this week that it would open up quarantine-free travel to visitors from select countries, almost two years after closing its borders due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, a group of 26 experts will be tasked with examining new pathogens and how to prevent future pandemics after the World Health Organization unveiled a team to revive the inquiry into Covid-19’s origins.

Michael Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies director, said it may be the “last chance to understand the origins of this virus” in a collegiate manner.

  • Malfunctioning NHS app for Covid vaccine status causes travel delays. Travellers have been blocked from boarding flights and ferries for trips abroad after a four-hour outage of England’s NHS app left people unable to access a Covid pass to prove their vaccine status.
  • Scientists abused and threatened for discussing Covid, global survey finds. Scientists around the world have received threats of death and sexual assault after speaking to the media about Covid-19, a survey by Nature magazine revealed.
  • The UK records 136 deaths and 42,776 new Covid-19 cases.
  • Oliver Dowden, the chair of the Conservative party, said he was “very sorry” and admitted “we didn’t get everything right” regarding the handling of the Coronavirus pandemic.
  • Russia has set a record for the number of Covid deaths in a 24-hour period for the second day running. Wednesday’s official toll of 984 is slightly higher than yesterday’s then-record 973 deaths.
  • A landmark report found the UK government’s management of the outbreak was one of the worst public health failures in British history.
  • After a 19-month travel ban, the US announced it will reopen its land borders with Canada and Mexico for non-essential travel. It’s a huge relief for families who have been separated since the beginning of the pandemic and comes after multiple countries pressed the US for months to ease restrictions.

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US NEWS, World

Most extreme abortion law in US takes effect in Texas

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Most extreme abortion law in US takes effect in Texas” was written by Mary Tuma, for The Guardian on Wednesday 1st September 2021 11.25 UTC

The most radical abortion law in the US has gone into effect, despite legal efforts to block it.

A near-total abortion ban in Texas empowers any private citizen to sue an abortion provider who violates the law, opening the floodgates to harassing and frivolous lawsuits from anti-abortion vigilantes that could eventually shutter most clinics in the state.

“Abortion access will be thrown into absolute chaos,” says Amanda Williams, executive director of the abortion support group the Lilith Fund, a plaintiff in the suit that challenged the law. “Unfortunately, many people who need access the most will slip through the cracks, as we have seen over the years with the relentless attacks here in our state.

“It is unbelievable that Texas politicians have gotten away with this devastating and cruel law that will harm so many.”

Senate Bill 8, ushered through the Republican-dominated Texas legislature and signed into law by the Republican governor, Greg Abbott, in May, bars abortion once embryonic cardiac activity is detected, which is around six weeks, and offers no exceptions for rape or incest. Texas is the first state to ban abortion this early in pregnancy since Roe v Wade, and last-minute efforts to halt it through an appeal to the US supreme court by Tuesday did not succeed.

While a dozen other states have passed similar so-called “heartbeat” bills, they have all been blocked by the courts. The Texas version is novel in that it is intentionally designed to shield government officials from enforcement, and thus make legal challenges more difficult to secure. It instead incentivizes any private citizen in the US to bring civil suit against an abortion provider or anyone who “aids or abets” the procedure.

The law “immediately and catastrophically reduces abortion access in Texas”, say state abortion providers, and will probably force many abortion clinics to ultimately close. It will prevent the majority of Texas women (85%) from accessing abortion care, as most aren’t aware they are pregnant as early as six weeks.

Planned Parenthood, which operates 11 clinics in the state, and Whole Woman’s Health clinics told the Guardian they would comply with the extreme law despite the fact that it is contrary to their best medical practices. In the days leading up to the law’s enactment, Texas clinics say they have been forced to turn away patients who need abortion care at the law’s cutoff point this week and into the near future.

Some abortion physicians in Texas have opted to discontinue offering services, choosing to forgo the potential risk of frivolous and costly lawsuits. For instance, most of the physicians across the four Whole Woman’s Health clinics in Texas will not continue care to prevent jeopardizing their livelihoods, said the clinic founder, Amy Hagstrom Miller.

“We are all going to comply with the law even though it is unethical, inhumane, and unjust,” Dr Ghazaleh Moayedi, a Texas abortion provider and OB-GYN, said. “It threatens my livelihood and I fully expect to be sued. But my biggest fear is making sure the most vulnerable in my community, the Black and Latinx patients I see, who are already most at risk from logistical and financial barriers, get the care they need.”

The law will force most patients to travel out of state for care, increasing the driving distance to an abortion clinic twentyfold – from an average of 12 miles to 248 miles one-way, nearly 500 miles round-trip, the Guttmacher Institute found. And that is only if patients have the resources to do so, including time off work, ability to pay for the procedure, and in some cases childcare.

Providers and abortion fund support groups – who help finance travel, lodging, and direct service for low-income women through donations – have spent months scrambling to coordinate with out-of-state clinics, including in New Mexico and Colorado, to ensure patients receive timely care when SB8 goes into effect. Last year, the state was offered a glimpse of what would happen if abortion care ceased: when the state barred most abortion procedures amid the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, the number of patients who traveled out of state for care jumped nearly 400%.

Many abortion-seeking women are expected to be delayed until later in pregnancy and others will be forced to carry pregnancy to term or try to end their pregnancies without medical oversight, abortion providers caution. As with most abortion restrictions, low-income women and women of color will bear the greatest burden under SB8.

Physicians are not the only ones that could be targeted under SB8: a breathtakingly wide range of people and groups, including clinic nurses, abortion fund workers, domestic violence and rape crisis counselors, or even a family member who offers a car ride to the clinic could now face suit from strangers. Those who sue can collect a minimum of $10,000 if they win, but if providers are legally successful they cannot recoup any legal payment. The law, say providers, will spur abortion “bounty hunters”.

The law’s radical legal provision is the first of its kind in the country.

The state’s major anti-abortion lobby group, Texas Right to Life, have already helped empower anti-abortion activists to enforce the law by creating a website that invites “whistleblowers” to report violations of SB8. (In response, pro-choice advocates have flooded the digital entry forms with satirical information.)

Abortion providers, funds, and clergy members, represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the American Civil Liberties Union, filed suit against SB8 in July, writing that the law would “create absolute chaos in Texas and irreparably harm Texans in need of abortion services.”

A preliminary injunction hearing was originally set for Monday 30 August in federal court. However, the largely conservative fifth circuit court of appeals cancelled the hearing on Sunday afternoon and denied the plaintiffs’ request to allow the district court to block the law. Providers then appealed to the US supreme court for emergency relief.

But the court failed to act before the law took effect on Wednesday, allowing it to proceed. While the nation’s high court, which now holds a strong anti-choice contingent, plans to consider a Mississippi 15-week ban that could test Roe v Wade during the next term, its lack of action in the Texas case signals the possible early unraveling of Roe.

Texas is already one of the most difficult states in the US in which to access abortion due to a slew of state laws pushed by the Republican-dominated legislature over the past decade, including a 24-hour waiting period, a 20-week abortion ban, restrictions on telemedicine, and a prohibition on private and public insurance. It is home to the highest number of abortion deserts – cities in which an abortion-seeking patient must travel at least 100 miles for care – in the country.

Following the passage of a 2013 multi-part law known as House Bill 2, roughly half of the state’s abortion clinics shuttered – dropping from 40 to less than 20. While the law was eventually struck down by the US supreme court in 2016, many clinics were unable to reopen. Large swaths of the state – including the Panhandle and west Texas – are without an abortion clinic, forcing women to travel great distances for care.

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Corona Virus, Health

Coronavirus live news: WHO monitoring new Mu variant; France rolls out booster jabs for over-65s and vulnerable

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Coronavirus live news: WHO monitoring new Mu variant; France rolls out booster jabs for over-65s and vulnerable” was written by Clea Skopeliti (now) Tom Ambrose and Helen Sullivan (earlier), for theguardian.com on Wednesday 1st September 2021 12.00 UTC

Reddit has been hit by a user rebellion over the online discussion forum’s failure to tackle misinformation related to Covid and vaccines.

More than 135 Reddit communities, or subreddits, have “gone dark”, which blocks non-members from reading or joining the page, in protest at the site’s refusal to limit discussions that propagate misleading theories about the pandemic. The protest covers many of the site’s largest subreddits, including r/Futurology and r/TIFU, which have more than 10 million subscribers each.

More than half of the world’s people have no social protections, the United Nations has warned, even after the pandemic pushed many governments to offer services to their populations.

According to the AFP news agency, a report on the state of social protection globally by the UN’s International Labour Organization found that 4.1 billion people have no social safety net.

As well as access to health care, social protection includes income security measures related to:

  • Old age.
  • Unemployment.
  • Sickness.
  • Disability.
  • Work injury.
  • Maternity.
  • The loss of a family’s main earner.
  • Support for families with children.

In 2020, only 46.9% of the global population benefited from at least one such protection, according to the report. This figure would have been even lower had it not been for the rapid expansion of protections during the pandemic, which the ILO chief, Guy Ryder, said “revealed the absolutely crucial role that social protection has played in national responses”.

Updated

Merck & Co Inc and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics have announced that they have begun enrolling patients in a late-stage trial of their experimental Covid-19 drug molnupiravir, Reuters reports.

The effect of the oral antiviral drug will be observed in more than 1,300 participants to see if it can prevent coronavirus transmission. The study is examining volunteers, who are all 18 or above and live in the same household as someone infected with symptomatic Covid-19.

Merck said in June the US government had agreed to pay about $1.2bn for 1.7 million courses of molnupiravir, if it is proven to work in a separate, ongoing large trial and authorised by US regulators.

Updated

Italy has widened the scope of its “green pass”, making it mandatory for people to show the health document when travelling on high-speed trains, planes, ferries and inter-regional coaches.

The green pass is a digital or paper certificate that shows whether someone has received at least one vaccine dose, has tested negative or has recently recovered from coronavirus.

The pass, which was introduced earlier in the summer to try and encourage vaccine take-up, was initially only required to enter cultural and leisure venues, but its purview has gradually been broadened, Reuters writes.

A green pass document is inspected
Green pass certificate becomes obligatory for trains, planes and schools.

Photograph: Ciro Fusco/EPA

The government has already said teachers will need a green pass when schools reopen in September. Last week, officials said they were considering extending the scheme to anyone working in a public office or a supermarket.

Some Italians have opposed the scheme, claiming it infringes on their freedoms, and opponents plan to block railway traffic at demonstrations later on Wednesday. Regardless, with 70.1% of all Italians over the age of 12 fully vaccinated, the vast majority of people seem to support vaccination and the use of the green pass.

Updated

France rolls out booster doses to over-65s and vulnerable people

France began administering vaccine booster shots to over-65s and people with underlying health conditions on Wednesday as the country tries to increase protection levels to fight the effects of Delta.

The AP news agency reports that a nationwide booster campaign will begin on 12 September in France’s nursing homes.

Overall, 18 million people are believed to be eligible for the booster shot, according to the health ministry. People who had their second Pfizer or Moderna jab at least six months ago can get a booster, while those who had the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine can get a booster shot of Pfizer or Moderna at least four weeks after they got vaccinated.

The extended rollout comes after France’s health authority, the HAS, said last month that “recent studies suggest a fall in the vaccine’s effectiveness, especially with the Delta variant”. Elderly people and those with underlying health conditions are most impacted by the drop over time.

The government has not yet decided whether to extend the campaign to the whole population, 65.6% of whom are fully vaccinated.

Updated

As students in Israel return to school on Wednesday, new measures, including mask-wearing and testing requirements, are being enforced in an attempt to stem the country’s rising cases.

Reuters has a bit more information on what the government’s “living with Covid” policy looks like for pupils and parents. As well as requiring face coverings and ramping up the rollout of booster shots, Israel is requiring testing for students and unvaccinated instructors. The prime minister, Naftali Bennett, said:

After a year of Zooming, a difficult year of fading and staring in front of the screens, I want to wish you, the students of Israel, this one thing: May the year of screens be done away, and a year of experiences begin.”

However, parents criticised the government – which announced the new measures just days before classes began – for allowing them little time to prepare.

Gal Altberg, 41, told the news agency that while she was excited to send her children, in Year One and Three, back to school, she was concerned there could be another lockdown. She said:

The policy is still up in the air, the government changes things around but we are hoping for (the best), and we are hoping that the vaccinations will help.

Updated

Hello, this is Clea Skopeliti picking up the blog for the next few hours. Please send over any tips or ideas for coronavirus coverage via Twitter DM, where I’m @cleaskopeliti. Thanks in advance.

Summary

Here is a brief round-up of the main Covid headlines from around the world so far today:

  • In Italy, the government has said it will crack down on anti-green pass demonstrators who have threatened to block railway tracks throughout the country. It comes as a rule requiring Covid tests or vaccines takes effect for long-distance domestic public transport.
  • North Korea has requested almost 3m doses of the Chinese-made Sinovac jab it was due through a United Nations programme be sent elsewhere.
  • Another vial of the Moderna vaccine suspected of containing a “foreign substance” has been found in Japan’s Kanagawa prefecture. Authorities said a pharmacist found “several black particles” in one vial after checking it before the vaccine’s use.
  • In Australia, the premier for Victoria has named 23 September as the date he believes 70% of eligible adults will have received their first vaccination dose and when restrictions can begin to lift.
  • Many healthcare workers protested in the Philippines today to demand an end to what they described as “government neglect” and “unpaid benefits”.
  • New Zealand has recorded 75 new cases of Covid, a bounce upward after two days of falling case numbers.

That’s all from me, Tom Ambrose, as I hand the blog over to my colleague Clea Skopeliti, who will be bringing you the latest Covid news throughout the afternoon. Goodbye.

Updated

Health experts have warned coronavirus cases could rise again as Indonesia and Thailand relax restrictions but vaccination rates remain low.

Cases in South-east Asia have risen sharply in recent months with the arrival of the highly transmissible Delta variant.

Although case numbers are still rising fast in most of the region, Indonesia and Thailand, which have its largest economies, have started to lift curbs on restaurants and shopping malls to ease the economic effects of lockdown.

Indonesia reported 10,534 new cases on Tuesday, five times fewer than its peak in mid-July, while Thailand reported 14,802 new cases on Wednesday, down 37% from its mid-August peak.

However, experts said relaxations carried dangers with a low level of vaccination and a shortage of testing, with rates of positive tests often above the 5% recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Staff members prepare to open a restaurant on the first day of coronavirus restrictions lift on retail and dining in Bangkok.
Staff members prepare to open a restaurant on the first day of coronavirus restrictions lift on retail and dining in Bangkok.
Photograph: Chalinee Thirasupa/Reuters

Abhishek Rimal, Asia Pacific emergency health coordinator at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told Reuters:

We are definitely concerned around the reopening without meeting all the criteria proposed by the WHO.

Now with the Delta variant, which is highly transmissible, and the low vaccination rate, we could very well see a surge of Covid-19 in days to come.

Indonesia has recently had a positive test rate of 12% and Thailand 34%.

Updated

In Italy, the government has said it will crack down on anti-green pass demonstrators who have threatened to block railway tracks throughout the country.

It comes as a rule requiring Covid tests or vaccines takes effect for long-distance domestic public transport.

Travellers in Italy must now show a “green pass”, which certifies that they have received at least one dose of the vaccine more than 15 days ago, have tested negative in the past 48 hours or have recovered from coronavirus in the past six months.

The Associated Press reports:

The rule applies to domestic flights, train travel between regions and most sea travel.

Local buses, trams and metros are exempt from the rule, which was announced by Mario Draghi’s government when daily case loads started steadily rising as the Delta variant of the virus became prevalent in Italy.

Earlier this summer, a “green pass” requirement began for those wanting to dine indoors, access gyms or attend crowded venues like concerts.

Demonstrators rally during a protest against the ‘Green Pass’ vaccine passport in the centre of Milan.
Demonstrators rally during a protest against the ‘green pass’ vaccine passport in the centre of Milan.
Photograph: Matteo Bazzi/EPA

The interior minister, Luciana Lamorgese, vowed zero tolerance against any rail track protests or other violence.

Several recent protests against the green pass requirement, including in Rome and Milan, turned violent, with police having to rescue a state TV journalist after a protester started yanking her by her hair and a newspaper reporter was punched repeatedly in the face. Ministers and doctors have received threats.

Updated

North Korea has requested almost 3m doses of the Chinese-made Sinovac jab it was due through a United Nations programme is sent elsewhere.

The immunisation programme procures and delivers shots on behalf of the Covax programme but North Korea has continued to claim that it has no coronavirus cases.

Unicef said the country’s ministry of public health has asked that the 2.97 million Sinovac shots Covax planned to deliver be sent to countries with severe Covid outbreaks.

The North Korean ministry also said it will “will continue to communicate with Covax facility to receive Covid vaccines in the coming months,” Unicef said in an email to the Associated Press.

Covax had also allocated 1.9 million AstraZeneca shots to North Korea but delivery has been delayed.

Experts say North Korea remains focused on tough quarantines and border controls to keep out the virus, and vaccines appear to be a secondary priority.

Updated

India has significantly increased Covid vaccination rates in its vast rural areas but supply issues mean it is unlikely to hit its target of vaccinating all adults by the end of the year.

Around 65% of the country’s nearly 1.4 billion people live in rural areas and while India began offering jabs for all adults in May, the campaign stalled in villages due to vaccine hesitancy and misinformation.

However, from mid-July there appeared to be a shift in attitudes and of the nearly 120 million shots administered in the past three weeks, around 70% were in India’s villages – up from around half in the initial weeks of May.

The Associated Press reports:

Although the increased vaccine acceptance in rural areas is promising, the pandemic is far from done in India: After weeks of steady decline, the 46,000 new infections reported on Saturday was its highest in almost two months.

Only about 11% of India’s vast population is fully vaccinated, while half of all adults and about 35% of the total population have received at least one shot. This has left large swathes of people still susceptible to the virus.

A health worker administers a vaccine to a villager in Nizampur.
A health worker administers a vaccine to a villager in Nizampur.
Photograph: Manish Swarup/AP

Schools in Taiwan have reopened today as the island’s largest coronavirus outbreak appeared to subside.

Schools on the island shut down in May and many switched online in the face of the island’s largest outbreak, which has since passed 15,000 cases. Taiwan is now reporting new Covid cases in the single digits.

The Associated Press reported this morning:

Students will eat lunch at their own desks, which now have plastic dividers separating students. Masks are required, and classrooms will have exhaust fans to circulate air.

Two giant balloons and music created a festive air greeting the students arriving for classes at Tienmu Elementary School on Wednesday.

Parents are relived that their kids are back in school, saying online learning wasn’t necessarily good in the long term.

Parents and kids pose at school’s garden on the first day of school amid coronavirus measures in Taipei, Taiwan.
Parents and kids pose at school’s garden on the first day of school amid coronavirus measures in Taipei, Taiwan.
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Liao Cher-hao, president of the parents’ association of the school in the capital, Taipei, said:

You can see that parents are really happy today. They all want to send their kids back to school ASAP. Basically, we made a survey. The results of online classes are not super good.

Another vial of the Moderna Covid vaccine suspected of containing a “foreign substance” has been found in Japan’s Kanagawa prefecture.

Authorities said a pharmacist found “several black particles” in one vial after checking it before the vaccine’s use.

Japan suspended the use of 1.63m doses of Moderna shots last week after becoming aware of contamination in some of the supply, according to the Reuters news agency.

Moderna and Spanish pharma company Rovi, which bottles Moderna vaccines, have said the cause could be a manufacturing issue, and European safety regulators have launched an investigation. Moderna has said no safety or efficacy issues had been identified from the issue.

Medical staff prepares Moderna coronavirus vaccine to be administered at a mass vaccination centre in Tokyo, Japan.
Medical staff prepares Moderna coronavirus vaccine to be administered at a mass vaccination centre in Tokyo, Japan.
Photograph: Reuters

Kanagawa prefecture said the vaccine’s domestic distributor, Takeda Pharmaceutical Co Ltd, had collected the vial with the suspected contaminant and that about 3,790 people had already received shots from the same lot.

Updated

More schools in India were given the go-ahead to reopen for the first time in nearly 18 months on Wednesday, despite apprehension from some parents and signs that infections are on the rise once again.

At least six more states in the country will gradually reopen schools and colleges with health measures in place throughout September.

In New Delhi, all staff must be vaccinated and class sizes will be capped at 50% with staggered seating and sanitised desks, the Associated Press reported.

Students attend a class at a government school in Hyderabad on 1 September
Students attend a class at a government school in Hyderabad on 1 September.
Photograph: Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images

In the capital only students in grades nine to 12 will be allowed to attend at first, though it is not compulsory.

Jacob John, a professor of community medicine at Christian Medical College, Vellore, said:

The simple answer is there is never a right time to do anything during a pandemic. There is a risk, but life has to go on – and you can’t go on without schools.

Updated

Meanwhile, in the Australian state of New South Wales, pubs, restaurants, stadiums and services such as hairdressing could open to fully vaccinated people by mid-October, while vaccinated international travellers could be welcomed for Christmas under a system of home quarantine.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said life will feel “very much more normal” by mid-October when the state is expected to achieve the 70% double-dose vaccination milestone, which would allow freedoms for vaccinated residents.

The state recorded 1,116 new Covid cases in the 24 hours to 8pm on Tuesday. Four women – one in her 50s, one in her 60s, one in her 70s and one in her 80s – died. They were all in hospital at the time.

Berejiklian said on Wednesday:

Whether it is attending a public event or having a drink, if you are fully vaccinated and the state has hit its 70% double dose target, please expect to do all of those things we have been missing for too long

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian addresses media during a press conference in Sydney, New South Wales.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian addresses media during a press conference in Sydney, New South Wales.
Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/EPA

It follows Berejiklian’s earlier predication that October will be the most challenging period for the state’s hospital system.

Updated

In Australia, the premier for Victoria has named September 23 as the date he believes 70% of eligible adults will have received their first vaccination dose and when restrictions can begin to lift.

But Daniel Andrews on Wednesday warned “we are in for a difficult time” and that case number’s wont’t come down despite the state having “thrown everything at this”.

He also announced that playgrounds would reopen from midnight on Thursday, but that was the only restriction that could ease as “things have changed very rapidly” with 120 new cases announced on Wednesday.

Of the new cases, only 20 were in isolation during their entire infectious period, Andrews said. He added:

These last few days have seen a dramatic shift in the nature and the number of cases coming forward.

 

From September 23, a number of restrictions will be eased in Victoria. The 5km travel limit in greater Melbourne will be extended to 10km for shopping and exercise; outdoor exercise will increase from two to three hours per day; outdoor communal gym equipment and skate parks will reopen; outdoor personal training will be allowed with up to two people plus a trainer; child-minding for school-aged children will be permitted; real estate private inspections of unoccupied premises for a new purchase or end of a lease will be permitted.

Construction sites will also be able to increase to 50% of their capacity if 90% of their workforce have received at least one vaccine dose. Term three of school will still be at home and the 9pm-5am curfew will remain in greater Melbourne.

Updated

Many healthcare workers protested in the Philippines today to demand an end to what they described as “government neglect” and “unpaid benefits”.

It comes as pressure builds at hospitals fighting one of Asia’s longest-running coronavirus epidemics.

Protesters wearing protective medical gear gathered around the Department of Health (DOH) in Manilla and held placards demanding their risk allowances and hazard pay, and the resignation of health secretary Francisco Duque.

Healthcare workers protest outside the Department of Health in Manilla.
Healthcare workers protest outside the Department of Health in Manilla.
Photograph: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters

Medical staff have been overwhelmed during the pandemic and 103 have died from Covid, among 33,400 coronavirus deaths in the Philippines.

Robert Mendoza, the president of the Alliance of Health Workers, told Reuters from the back of a pickup truck:

It is sad that many of us have died, many of us became sick, and many have resigned or opted to retire early, yet we are still kneeling before the DOH to give us our benefits.

Updated

China is expected to deliver the first batch of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to Taiwan on Thursday, with 932,000 shots set to arrive on the island.

The official state news agency Xinhua, in a brief report, said the vaccines were being provided by Shanghai Fosun Pharamceutical.

It has the right to sell the shots on BioNTech’s behalf in China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, according to the Reuters news agency.

The arrival of the first batch of vaccines has proved a controversial issue, with ministers blaming China for blocking an order earlier this year.

However, Beijing – which claims Taiwan as its own territory – has always vehemently denied these claims.

Taiwan’s government subsequently allowed major Apple Inc supplier Foxconn – formally Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd – as well as its billionaire founder, Terry Gou, along with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd, to negotiate on its behalf for the jab.

A $350m deal for 10m shots was agreed last month, which will be donated to the government for distribution

New Zealand records 75 cases after two days of falls

New Zealand has recorded 75 new cases of Covid-19, a bounce upward after two days of seeing cases decline.

The director general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, said on Tuesday the increase was “not unexpected” and noted that during New Zealand’s previous outbreak, case numbers did move up and down somewhat day-to-day, while still tracking down overall.

Bloomfield said that the government’s modelling gave 90% certainty that the reproductive rate – or average number of new people that each case infected – was still below one, “indicating that the number of cases will continue to decline, and we are successfully breaking the chains of transmission”.

The total number of cases in the current outbreak is now at 687. Of these, one was in Wellington and the remainder in Auckland. Thirty-two people are hospitalised in Auckland, eight of whom are in intensive care, and three of whom are on ventilators. Contact tracers have identified 34,832 contacts in the outbreak so far:

Updated

WHO monitoring new Mu variant

A new coronavirus variant named Mu has been designated a variant of interest by the World Health Organization (WHO), PA Media reports. Mu, or B.1.621, was first identified in Colombia and cases have been recorded in South America and Europe.

The WHO’s weekly bulletin on the pandemic said the variant has mutations suggesting it could be more resistant to vaccines, as was the case with Beta, but that more studies would be needed to examine this further.

It said: “Since its first identification in Colombia in January 2021, there have been a few sporadic reports of cases of the Mu variant and some larger outbreaks have been reported from other countries in South America and in Europe.

“Although the global prevalence of the Mu variant among sequenced cases has declined and is currently below 0.1%, the prevalence in Colombia (39%) and Ecuador (13%) has consistently increased.

“The epidemiology of the Mu variant in South America, particularly with the co-circulation of the Delta variant, will be monitored for changes.”

There are four coronavirus variants of concern, as deemed by the WHO, with the Alpha variant – first recorded in Kent – seen in 193 countries, Beta in 141, Gamma in 91 and Delta in 170 countries, while Mu is the fifth variant of interest.

Updated

Summary

Hello and welcome to our live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

A new coronavirus variant named Mu has been designated a variant of interest by the World Health Organization. Mu, or B.1.621, was first identified in Colombia and cases have been recorded in South America and Europe.

The WHO’s weekly bulletin on the pandemic said the variant has mutations suggesting it could be more resistant to vaccines, as was the case with Beta, but that more studies would be needed to examine this further.

Here are the other key recent developments:

  • The UK government will press ahead with plans to introduce vaccine passports for nightclubs and other crowded indoor venues in England from the end of next month, the Guardian reports. Officials also restated their intention to roll out a Covid-19 booster programme from September.
  • About 14 million people in the US received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in August, about 4 million more than in July, officials said on Tuesday as the government pushes inoculation as infections rise.
  • The US state department has raised its travel advisory alert for Canada to a “level 3: reconsider travel” status amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, it said.
  • The Irish government has announced plans to remove all Covid-19 restrictions by 31 October.
  • Seven in 10 (70%) of the European Union’s adult population has been fully vaccinated against Covid, hitting a target it had set at the beginning of the year. The figure masks the contrast among EU countries, with some nations being well above the 70% goal while others in the poorer eastern region of the bloc are far behind.
  • Italy reported 75 coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday, up from 53 the previous day, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 5,498 from 4,257, the health ministry said.
  • Israel has recorded its highest daily coronavirus case tally of nearly 11,000 new infections, amid a surge caused by the highly transmissible Delta variant as schools prepare to reopen.

Updated

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Judiciary, World

UK judge orders rightwing extremist to read classic literature or face prison

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “UK judge orders rightwing extremist to read classic literature or face prison” was written by Caroline Davies, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 1st September 2021 10.03 UTC

A former student who downloaded almost 70,000 white supremacist documents and bomb-making instructions has escaped jail “by the skin of his teeth” after being told to read classic literature by Dickens, Austen, Shakespeare and Hardy.

Ben John, 21, from Lincoln, a former student at De Montfort University in Leicester, has to return to court every four months to be tested on his reading, Judge Timothy Spencer QC said, also sentencing him to a suspended two years’ imprisonment plus a further two years on licence.

John was identified as a terror risk days after his 18th birthday and was referred to the Prevent programme but continued to download “repellent” rightwing documents, the Leicester Mercury reported. He also wrote a letter raging against gay people, immigrants and liberals.

On 11 August, he was convicted by a jury of possessing information likely to be useful for preparing an act of terror, which carries a maximum jail sentence of 15 years.

But sentencing him at Leicester crown court, the judge concluded his crime as likely to be “an act of teenage folly” and an isolated incident.

He told John: “You are a lonely individual with few if any true friends.” He said John was “highly susceptible” to recruitment by others, but he was “not of the view that harm was likely to have been caused”.

After making John promise not to research any more rightwing material, the judge continued: “Have you read Dickens? Austen? Start with Pride and Prejudice and Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Think about Hardy. Think about Trollope.

“On January 4 you will tell me what you have read and I will test you on it. I will test you and if I think you are [lying to] me you will suffer.”

He then told John’s barrister, Harry Bentley: “He has by the skin of his teeth avoided imprisonment.”

In addition to the suspended prison sentence, John was given a five-year serious crime prevention order.

The court heard John came to the attention of counter-terrorism officers in 2018 after he wrote a letter entitled Eternal Front – claiming to be part of the Lincolnshire Fascist Underground – with a tirade against gay people and immigrants, which led to more intensive intervention by Prevent and psychiatric evaluation.

But in April 2019 he copied more than 9,000 rightwing and terror-related documents on to the hard drive of his computer, adding another 2,600 a few months later in August 2019.

He was arrested in January 2020 and later charged with offences under the Terrorism Act, including possessing documents on combat, homemade weapons and explosives.

Lincolnshire police said John had become part of the extreme right wing (XRW) online – a term for activists who commit criminal activity motivated by a political or cultural view, such as racism or extreme nationalism.

He amassed 67,788 documents in bulk downloads onto hard drives, which contained a wealth of white supremacist and antisemitic material.

Spencer said: “It is repellent, this content, to any right-thinking person. This material is largely relating to Nazi, fascist and Adolf Hitler-inspired ideology. But there was also a substantial quantity of more contemporary material espousing extreme rightwing, white-supremacist material.”

Bentley told the judge: “It is not the prosecution case he was planning a terrorist attack.”

He added: “He was a young man who struggled with emotions; however, he is plainly an intelligent young man and now has a greater insight.

“He is by no means a lost cause and is capable of living a normal, pro-social life.”

 

 

 

 

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Sport

US Open 2021: Novak Djokovic defeats Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune – as it happened!

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “US Open 2021: Novak Djokovic defeats Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune – as it happened!” was written by Bryan Armen Graham at Flushing Meadows, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 1st September 2021 01.50 UTC

That’s all for our minute-by-minute coverage today. Do check back shortly for a full report of day two’s action and thanks as always for following along with us.

Djokovic: ‘It wasn’t the best of my performances’

“It’s never nice to finish the match the way we finished today,” Djokovic says. “[Rune] is a great guy and one of the up-and-coming stars. … He’s going to come back stronger and I’m sure we’re going to see a lot of him in the future.”

Asked what he was thinking after Rune tied the match at one set apiece, he says: “I was trying to feel the ball out there. It wasn’t the best of my performances. At the same time he played well in the second set when it mattered and I didn’t serve well in the decisive moments.”

Djokovic wins 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1!

Fourth set: Djokovic 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 Rune

Djokovic wastes no time: forehand winner, ace, backhand winner, ace. He’s through to the second round and six wins from a record-setting 21st major title and the calendar-year grand slam.

Fourth set: *Djokovic 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 5-1 Rune (*denotes next server)

Rune is able to get on the board in the fourth, holding at love with perhaps a bit of help from a passive Djokovic. Now the top seed will serve for a spot in the second round.

Fourth set: Djokovic 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 5-0 Rune* (*denotes next server)

Djokovic holds at love, closing it out with an ace, a service winner and another ace. He’s one game from the finish line.

Djokovic breaks in fourth game of fourth set!

Fourth set: *Djokovic 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 4-0 Rune (*denotes next server)

Rune falls behind love-15, 15-30 then 30-40 on his serve. He saves a break point, then double-faults to give Djokovic a third. This time he converts with a forehand winner from the baseline and the match is but a handshake away.

Updated

Fourth set: Djokovic 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 3-0 Rune* (*denotes next server)

Djokovic holds easily, punctuating the game with back-to-back aces of 108mph and 101mph.

Djokovic breaks in second game of fourth set!

Fourth set: *Djokovic 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 2-0 Rune (*denotes next server)

Rune is persisting on heart alone but the body is not complying as he falls behind 15-40 on his serve, pausing in between points in what appears to be agonizing pain. He’s able to save both break-point chances to push it to deuce, but Djokovic rattles off two quick points from there for the early break of serve.

Updated

Fourth set: Djokovic 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 1-0 Rune* (*denotes next server)

Rune is back on the baseline and it appears he’s going to give it a go. But he’s not able to offer a whole lot of resistance as Djokovic breezes through his opening service game of the fourth.

Djokovic wins third set, 6-2!

Third set: Djokovic 6-1, 5-7, 6-2 Rune

Rune falls behind 15-40 on his serve and appears to be in immense pain. Two break-point chances. He saves the first with a forehand winner, but double-faults on the next to gift Djokovic the break and the set. Not sure he will be able to continue.

Meanwhile on the outer courts, Canada’s Vasek Pospisil has rallied for a 2-6, 3-6, 6-1, 6-3, 7-6 (4) win over Fabio Fognini. That’s the fourth fifth-set tiebreaker of the day.

Third set: Djokovic 6-1, 5-7, 5-2 Rune* (*denotes next server)

Djokovic double-faults to fall behind 15-30 on his serve, but answers with his fifth, sixth and seventh aces of the night – all down the center – to hold his serve. A suddenly hobbled Rune will serve to stay in the third set after the change of ends.

Third set: *Djokovic 6-1, 5-7, 4-2 Rune (*denotes next server)

Rune wins the first point on his serve, but he visibly appears to be struggling. The Dane rips a forehand winner on the next point for 30-love, then gets to 40-love when Djokovic nets a return. Djokovic gets a point back but Rune escapes with the hold thanks to a netcord winner from the baseline.

Rune has called for a trainer during the changeover. He’s grabbing at his left leg and it appears he’s cramping up. A replay shows him wincing on a net approach during a point in the previous game. No medical timeout, only a brief consultation. Meanwhile, Djokovic has practically sprinted to his position on the baseline.

Third set: Djokovic 6-1, 5-7, 4-1 Rune* (*denotes next server)

Djokovic goes down love-15 on his serve but rattles off four quick points, including a 113mph ace down the middle, to back up the break.

Djokovic breaks in fourth game of third set!

Third set: *Djokovic 6-1, 5-7, 3-1 Rune (*denotes next server)

Rune quickly falls behind love-40 on his serve. Three break chances for Djokovic. Rune saves the first with a crafty second serve that Djokovic can’t return in play, but Djokovic converts the second and he’s up an early break in the third.

Updated

Third set: Djokovic 6-1, 5-7, 2-1 Rune* (*denotes next server)

A clinical hold at love for Djokovic, including a sizzling 122mph ace. He’s won eight of nine points on his serve to open the third.

Third set: *Djokovic 6-1, 5-7, 1-1 Rune (*denotes next server)

If you thought this youngster was going to shrink from the moment, it’s not happened yet. He answers with a straightforward hold that saw him outmuscle Djokovic over a 15-shot rally and crack his second ace of the night: a 126mph corker down the middle.

Third set: Djokovic 6-1, 5-7, 1-0 Rune* (*denotes next server)

They’re not saying “boo”, they’re saying Ruuune! The typically rollicking New York crowd is squarely in the young Dane’s corner, even cheering Djokovic’s double faults during critical moments of the second set. The world No 1 very much needs a drama-free service game to open this third set and that’s what he produces, racing out to 40-love then capping it with a 123mph ace down Broadway.

Rune wins second set, 7-6 (5)!

Second-set tiebreaker: Djokovic 5-7 Rune

Djokovic saves the first with a 124mph service winner out wide, then the second with a 123mph thunderbolt down the middle that Rune can’t return in play. One more set point, this one on Rune’s serve … and Rune’s second serve to the body catches Djokovic in an awkward position. The return sails long past the baseline and we’re level at one set apiece!

Updated

Second-set tiebreaker: *Djokovic 3-6 Rune (*denotes next server)

Another exhausting baseline rally is settled when Djokovic pounds a forehand winner from the baseline that Rune can’t reach. Rune to serve at 4-3. And he wins the first point with the cheekiest of drop-show winners from the back of the court. Wow. A well-placed 113mph serve that Djokovic can’t return into play gives Rune triple set point …

Second-set tiebreaker: *Djokovic 2-4 Rune (*denotes next server)

Rune inches ahead 4-0, then misfires on a forehand to give Djokovic back a minibreak. A gruelling 17-shot rally ensues and it’s Rune who blinks, netting a forehand from the baseline. Rune still up a minibreak with the next serve on Djokovic’s racket as the players switch ends.

Second-set tiebreaker: Djokovic 0-3 Rune* (*denotes next server)

Rune cracks an overhand winner on his serve to open the proceedings. Then he gets the better of Djokovic over a 10-stroke baseline rally to go up a minibreak. Now Djokovic double-faults again – shocking! – and Rune is ahead three points to none with the next two serves on his racket.

Second set: Djokovic 6-1, 6-6 Rune

Djokovic opens his service game with an overhand winner, then follows with an unforced forehand error from the baseline for 15-all. A sharp backhand handcuffs Rune, then Djokovic smashes another overhand for 40-15. An inside-out forehand by Djokovic that Rune can’t return nails down the hold and we’re headed to a second-set tiebreak.

Second set: *Djokovic 6-1, 5-6 Rune (*denotes next server)

Easy hold for Rune, who caps it with an overhand winner into the corner followed by another running fist pump to the gassed-up Ashe masses. Djokovic will serve to force a second-set tiebreak.

Second set: Djokovic 6-1, 5-5 Rune* (*denotes next server)

Good golly! Another Djokovic double fault, his third in two service games, and he’s behind love-15 on his serve. He answers with back-to-back service winners – 118mph down the middle and 106mph out wide – but follows with a unforced error off the backhand for 30-all. He’s able to right the ship from there, getting the best of Rune in a 17-shot exchange then pounding a 126mph service winner. But it’s been anything but smooth sailing in this stanza for the Serb.

Second set: *Djokovic 6-1, 4-5 Rune (*denotes next server)

Rune breezes through his service game to back up the break, punctuating the hold with a fist pump to an Ashe crowd that’s very much in the underdog’s corner, and now Djokovic will serve to stay in the second set following the change of ends.

Rune breaks in eighth game of second set!

Second set: Djokovic 6-1, 4-4 Rune* (*denotes next server)

A gorgeous forehand winner from the back of the court for Djokovic, but he follows it with his second double fault of the night for 15-all. Suddenly, a couple of loose points by Djokovic find him 15-40 down. Two break-point chances forthcoming. Djokovic saves the first when Rune badly misses a backhand. But Djokovic then double-faults again, gifting Rune the break. Back on serve in the second.

Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune
Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune returns a shot against Novak Djokovic during their first-round match. Photograph: John G Mabanglo/EPA

Updated

Djokovic breaks in seventh game of second set!

Second set: *Djokovic 6-1, 4-3 Rune (*denotes next server)

Rune’s backhand continues to betray him as he quickly goes down 15-40 on his serve, giving Djokovic two more break-point chances. And he converts the first, catching his teenage foe in no-man’s land with a lob shot winner.

Second set: Djokovic 6-1, 3-3 Rune* (*denotes next server)

Djokovic opens with a 125mph ace down the T, then a forehand winner at the end of an 11-shot rally for 30-love. Another booming 122mph serve that Rune can’t handle makes it 40-love before Djokovic closes out the love hold to consolidate the break with a backhand volley winner.

Djokovic breaks in fifth game of second set!

Second set: *Djokovic 6-1, 2-3 Rune (*denotes next server)

Rune falls behind love-30 on his serve, then makes his first double fault of the night for 15-40 and double break point. Djokovic wastes no time, cracking a forehand return winner to break and get back on serve in the second.

Second set: Djokovic 6-1, 1-3 Rune* (*denotes next server)

Djokovic’s scratchy start to this second set continues as he’s pushed to 30-all on his serve but he bites town with an unreturnable serve followed by a forehand winner from the baseline to get on the board.

Second set: *Djokovic 6-1, 0-3 Rune (*denotes next server)

Rune races out to 40-love on his serve, then closes out the love hold when Djokovic makes unforced error off the forehand. That’s 10 straight points for Rune and 12 of 14 in the second set overall.

Rune breaks in second game of second set!

Second set: Djokovic 6-1, 0-2 Rune* (*denotes next server)

Djokovic falls behind 0-15 on his serve thanks to an unforced error off the backhand. Rune then hits a forehand passing winner for love-30 and gesticulates to the Ashe crowd, who respond with resounding cheers. What a time for Djokovic’s first double fault! Now he’s down love-40, giving Rune three break-point chances … and he needs only one! Rune rips a forehand passing winner as his opponent rushes the net early in the rally and Djokovic is broken at love!

Second set: *Djokovic 6-1, 0-1 Rune (*denotes next server)

Rune is pushed to 30-all on his serve once again but this time serves his way out of trouble. Meanwhile on Grandstand, Petra Kvitova has made quick work of Polona Hercog, winning 6-1, 6-2 in 61 minutes.

Djokovic wins first set, 6-1!

First set: Djokovic 6-1 Rune

Well, that was quick. Djokovic crushes his second, third and fourth aces in serving out the opening set in a stress-free 26 minutes.

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic returns a shot during the first set. Photograph: Frank Franklin II/AP

Djokovic breaks in sixth game of first set!

First set: *Djokovic 5-1 Rune (*denotes next server)

Rune is pushed to 30-all on his serve, then falls behind 30-40 after coming to net and watching Djokovic deliver a goregeous lob winner. A break-point chance and Djokovic calmly converts. Now the world No 1 will serve for the opening set.

First set: Djokovic 4-1 Rune* (*denotes next server)

Djokovic races out to 40-love, only for Rune to push it to 40-30 with a forehand winner and backhand passing shot the Serb can’t return in play. But before it can get uncomfortable, Djokovic rips a 119mph ace down the middle to secure the hold.

First set: *Djokovic 3-1 Rune (*denotes next server)

Rune is on the board after holding at love, helped along by three backhand unforced errors by Djokovic. Meanwhile on the outer courts, the 2011 US Open champion Sam Stosur is out following a 6-3, 6-0 defeat at the hands of Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit.

Updated

First set: Djokovic 3-0 Rune* (*denotes next server)

Djokovic falls behind love-15 on his serve but wins four quick points capped by a backhand volley winner for the elementary hold.

Djokovic breaks in second game of first set!

First set: *Djokovic 2-0 Rune (*denotes next server)

Djokovic comes to net a couple of shots into a rally and hits a fully extended volley into the open court for love-15. The world No 1 comes to net again on the next point, but this time Rune passes him with a forehand for 15-all. Two quick points for Djokovic and very quickly he’s staked two early break-point chances. A lengthy 13-shot rally ensues and Djokovic blinks, sending a backhand astray for 30-40. Second break-point chance and Rune sends a forehand into the net to give Djokovic the early break.

First set: Djokovic 1-0 Rune* (*denotes next server)

Djokovic makes an unforced error off his backhand to fall behind on his serve, but rattles off three quick points for 40-15. Rune then pounces on a second serve, gets his teeth into the rally and rips a backhand winner for 40-30, but Djokovic nails down the hold on the next point with a big serve that Rune can’t return into the court.

This time last year, the 18-year-old qualifier Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune was No 732 in the world. Now he’s ranked 145th, the first Danish qualifier in the US Open main draw since Kristian Pless in 2006 and facing Novak Djokovic under the lights of the world’s biggest tennis stadium. Life comes at you fast. They’re moments away from starting on Ashe.

The night-session crowd is filing into Arthur Ashe Stadium as we speak ahead of tonight’s first prime-time match between top-seeded Novak Djokovic and Danish teenager Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune. The players should be taking the court for their warm-ups shortly after the top of the hour.

American wild card Jack Sock has won 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 over Japan’s Yoshi Nishioka to book a second-round date with 31st-seeded Alexander Bubblik of Kazakhstan.

A few more results trickling in: Seventh-seeded Iga Swiatek has secured passage to round two with a 6-3, 6-4 win over American qualifier Jamie Loeb, Spain’s Roberto Carballes Baena knocks out the Tommy Paul of the United States in four sets, while American riser and 23rd seed Jessie Pegula has just seen off Russia’s Anastasia Potapova in straights.

Germany’s Oscar Otte, who saved match points during his run through last week’s US Open qualifying tournament, is into the second round after scoring a 6-7 (8), 7-5, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (1) upset of 20th-seeded Lorenzo Sonego of Italy on Court 7.

Tomorrow’s order of play is hot off the presses. Here’s what’s on tap for the biggest courts on Wednesday:

Arthur Ashe Stadium

Day session (12pm local time)

• O Danilovic (SRB) v N Osaka (JPN) [3]
• D Koepfer (GER) v D Medvedev (RUS) [2]

Night session (7pm local time)

• S Stephens (USA) v C Gauff (USA) [21]
• A Mannarino (FRA) v S Tsitsipas (GRE) [3]

Louis Armstrong Stadium

Day session (11am local time)

• A Petkovic (GER) v G Muguruza (ESP) [9]
• V Azarenka (BLR) [18] v J Paolini (ITA)
• F Tiafoe (USA) v G Pella (ARG)

Night session (7pm local time)

• K Anderson (RSA) v D Schwartzman (ARG) [11]
• A Kerber (GER) [16] v A Kalinina (UKR)

No 9 seed Pablo Carreno Busta crashes out!

An unbelievable finish on Court 4 where an overflow crowd has just watched American qualifier Maxime Cressy save four match points in a final-set tiebreaker before rallying to close a 5-7, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (7) win over ninth-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta, who becomes the first top-10 seed to fall in Queens. Carreno Busta led 5-2 and a double-minibreak at the end only to make his third and fourth double faults of the afternoon.

Updated

One final-set tiebreaker ends, another begins. Ninth-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta and American qualifier Maxime Cressy are at 6-all in the decider. The 24-year-old Cressy has crushed 46 aces on the day and has the Court 4 crowd squarely behind him.

… and Andreas Seppi has finally converted on his sixth match point to win 2-6, 7-5, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (13) over Marton Fucsovics, who frittered away five match points of his own during a final-set tiebreak that lasted more than 26 minutes. What a battle!

Andreas Seppi
Andreas Seppi, victorious. Photograph: US Open World Feed

Updated

The clubhouse leader for most dramatic finish of the day (tournament?) is playing out on Court 8, where Italy’s Andreas Seppi and Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics are at 12-all in a fifth-set tiebreaker that’s into its 20th minute …

No 13 seed Jannik Sinner has won 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 over Australian wild card Max Purcell to notch his first career main-draw win at the US Open. A potential all-Italian second-rounder could await against Marco Cecchinato, who faces the American wild card Zachary Svajda in today’s final match on Court 8.

A standing room only crowd has engulfed tiny Court 4 for what’s turned out to be a cracker of a five-setter between American qualifier Maxime Cressy and ninth-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta, a US Open semi-finalists last year and recently minted Olympic bronze medalist. They’re on serve early in the fifth and deciding set at 2-all. Elsewhere, Slovakian qualifier Anna Karolina Schmiedlova has survived a second-set hiccup to prevail 7-5, 6-7 (3), 6-3 over USTA 18s champion Ashlyn Krueger.

Shelby Rodgers, a US Open quarter-finalist last year who reached a career-high world ranking of No 40 this summer, cruises to a 6-4, 6-0 win in an all-American tangle with Madison Brengle on Court 5.

The endlessly entertaining Gael Monfils, who became the 11th active player to amass 500 tour-level victories at this month’s Cincinnati Masters, has just notched his 501st career win in straight sets over Argentina’s Federico Coria on Court 17.

Gael Monfils celebrates a point during his win over Federico Coria.
Gael Monfils celebrates a point during his win over Federico Coria. Photograph: Elsa/Getty Images

Updated

Sixth-seeded Matteo Berrettini, the 2019 US Open semi-finalist and one of the big seeds in Djokovic’s half of the draw, is through to the second round after a tight 7-6 (5), 7-6 (7), 6-3 win over France’s Jeremy Chardy.

Novak Djokovic is on the grounds ahead of tonight’s first-round match against Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune and is taking advantage of the early finish on Ashe to get a quick hit in. According to the ATP’s match notes, Rune is the first Danish opponent that Djokovic has faced in his 18-year professional career.

Updated

Denis Shapovalov, the No 7 seed in the men’s draw, is into the second round after a stress-free 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 win over fellow left-hander Federico Delbonis. Elsewhere, No 13 seed Jannik Sinner has dropped the third set but still has a clear path to round two with a 6-4, 6-2, 4-6 lead over the Australian wild card Max Purcell.

Denis Shapovalov serves during his straight sets win over Federico Delbonis.
Denis Shapovalov serves during his straight sets win over Federico Delbonis. Photograph: John Minchillo/AP

Updated

The American Reilly Opelka, shortly after finishing off a 7-6 (3), 6-4, 6-4 win over South Korea’s Soonwoo Kwon earlier today on Court 17, delivered a spicy defense of Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Potty-gate imbroglio that’s dominated the day-two discourse.

Yeah, I think it’s a ridiculous – like, I understand it’s getting press because tennis is lame and tennis media sucks and they’re terrible.

But I think Stefanos Tsitsipas, whatever, it’s hot and humid, and for the media, the press that have never stepped foot on a tennis court in their life, have never been in the environment, couldn’t last 30 minutes out in this humidity, in this heat. It’s physical, our sport is. My shoes are dripping, they’re leaking sweat.

To change or to go after, you know, two sets we’re drinking, we’re hydrating a lot, we have to use the bathroom. To change my socks, shoes, my inserts in my shoes, shorts, shirt, everything, the whole nine yards, hat, it takes five, six minutes. Then by the time I walk to and from the court.

You know, I don’t know Tsitsipas, I don’t know his situation. I doubt he’s getting coached. I highly doubt it. Today, you know, I couldn’t even take my bag in to change. I’m like, Guys, my clothes and shoes are in here. You can come stand in here with me if you want. I don’t like being coached on court, that stance, I don’t think we should have on-court coaching at all, but I strictly go to change because it’s hot and it’s humid.

If people don’t understand that, then clearly they’ve never spent a day in the life of a professional athlete or come close to it.

The action in the two big stadiums is absolutely flying today. Barty’s win over Zvonareva means Ashe will go dark until Djokovic kicks off the night session a little more than three hours from now. And Shapovalov has just broken early in the third set against Delbonis for a 6-2, 6-2, 2-1 edge in the final scheduled match on Armstrong until Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova-Alison Riske under the lights tonight.

Updated

The American up-and-comer Sebastian Korda, who skipped the Tokyo Olympics to zero in on his US Open prep, has retired down a set and a break to Nikoloz Basilashvili over on Court 5. Elsewhere, France’s Fiona Ferro has cruised to a straightforward 6-1, 6-4 win over Japan’s Nao Hibino.

And on Ashe, the top seed Ashleigh Barty has survived a stiff challenge from Zvonareva in a second-set tiebreak to win 6-1, 7-6 (9), while saving a set point along the way. She advances to face the Danish teenager Clara Tauson, who won 7-5, 6-0 over France’s Clara Burel earlier on Court 6.

Ashleigh Barty looks pleased after her win over Vera Zvonareva.
Ashleigh Barty looks pleased after her win over Vera Zvonareva. Photograph: Robert Deutsch/USA Today Sports
Clara Tauson eturns a shot during her victory over Clara Burel.
Clara Tauson eturns a shot during her victory over Clara Burel. Photograph: Seth Wenig/AP

Updated

Ashleigh Barty has taken a commanding 6-1, 6-4 advantage in her first-round match against Vera Zvonareva, the US Open runner-up of 11 years ago. Over on Armstrong, the seventh-seeded Denis Shapovalov is off to a flying start against Argentina’s Federico Delbonis, up a set and a double break at 6-2, 4-0.

Ashleigh Barty readies a backhand return to Vera Zvonareva.
Ashleigh Barty readies a backhand return to Vera Zvonareva. Photograph: Robert Deutsch/USA Today Sports

Updated

Alexander Zverev added fuel to Potty-gate moments ago, co-signing Andy Murray’s criticism of Stefanos Tsitsipas’s controversial use of bathroom breaks. The fourth-seeded German went on to repeat a previous accusation: that Tsitsipas used his phone to text his father during a lengthy bathroom break during their Cincinnati Masters semi-final meeting last week:

Q. A two-part question. Do you know anything about the toilets on the moon, is number one? What was your reaction about …

ALEXANDER ZVEREV: It was just again. It’s happening every match. It’s not normal. It happened to me in the French Open, to Novak at the finals the French Open. You know, I think in Hamburg against Krajinovic he was complaining, against me in Cincinnati was ridiculous, and now here again. I think players are catching up on that.

To be honest, he’s the No. 3 player in the world. He’s a top three player in the world. He’s one of the best in the world at what he does. I do not believe that he needs to do that, because if you’re top three in the world, you’re one of the best in the sport. These kind of things happen at junior events, at futures, at challengers maybe, but not when you’re top three in the world.

You are allowed to do that, but it’s like a unwritten rule between players. That’s something that I said it before, I mean, yes, I have been breaking racquets, I go insane sometimes and all that, but one thing I’m very proud of, and I will keep it for the rest of my career, is I win and lose by playing tennis on the tennis court.

Q. Do you think he had his phone in the bag in Cincinnati? Are you convinced of that? Were you surprised …

ALEXANDER ZVEREV: At the end of the day, I didn’t ask that question, I didn’t get asked that question in Cincinnati, which I was very surprised at, because I was going to answer that very truthfully and honestly. He’s gone for 10-plus minutes. His dad is texting on the phone. He comes out, and all of a sudden his tactic completely changed. It’s not just me but everybody saw it. The whole game plan changes.

I’m like either it’s a very magical place he goes to or there is communication there. But I also don’t want to disrespect him. He is a great player. He is No. 3 in the world for a reason. He’s winning tournaments and playing incredible tennis this year for a reason, so it’s not only that.

But I do believe, and Andy said it, as well, there is some level of respect that everybody needs to have between players. I feel like, yeah, sometimes — or he might just go to the toilet. We don’t know that. That’s also possible. But it just happens too often, I would say.

Updated

Emma Raducanu wins 6-2, 6-3!

It took no fewer than seven match points but Emma Raducanu is finally through to the second round after a 6-2, 6-3 win over Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland. The rising British star took control with a break of serve in the eighth game of the second set, followed by a marathon 18-point hold to nail down her first main-draw win at an overseas grand slam.

Emma Raducanu celebrates her win with a selfie.
Emma Raducanu celebrates her win with a selfie. Photograph: Shutterstock

The 18-year-old Raducanu, who was born in Toronto and resides in London, becomes the first British teenager to win a main-draw US Open match since Laura Robson. Next up: a second-round meeting with China’s Zhang Shuai.

Updated

Amanda Anisimova, the American up-and-comer who is ringing in her 20th birthday today, has reached the second round with a 7-6, 6-2 win over Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan. The surprise 2019 French Open semi-finalist, who hails from the nearby New Jersey town of Freehold (where Bruce Springsteen grew up), moves through to a second-round meeting with fourth-seeded Karolina Pliskova, who dispensed of the American wild card Catherine McNally earlier today in straight sets.

A couple of notable results trickling in from the outer courts. Wimbledon semi-finalist and No 10 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland is through to the second round after pounding 14 aces in a drama-free 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 win over the Belarusian Egor Gerasimov on Court 11. Then there’s the South African Lloyd Harris – who took out Rafael Nadal earlier this month in Washington – who’s come from behind for a 6-4, 1-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over No 25 seed Karen Khachanov on Court 6.

An easy hold in the opening game of the second set made it 24 points out of 29 for Emma Raducanu. Then a bit of turbulence as Voegele held for 1-all and broke the British teen at love in the next game, but Raducanu breaks right back for 2-all amid a mounting crowd on Court 17. Elsewhere, Ashleigh Barty is off to a flying start against Vera Zvonareva on Ashe with an early break for 2-0 in the opener.

Emma Raducanu fires a forehand to Stefanie Vögele.
Emma Raducanu fires a forehand to Stefanie Vögele. Photograph: Elsa/Getty Images

Updated

Japan’s Kei Nishikori, the 2014 US Open runner-up, is through to the second round after a straightforward 6-1, 6-1, 5-7, 6-3 win over Italy’s Salvatore Caruso on Grandstand. He advances to a second-round date with Washington finalist Mackenzie McDonald, the 26-year-old American who scored a tidy straight-sets win over No 27 seed David Goffin earlier today on Court 5.

Kei Nishikori returns a shot during his first round victory over Salvatore Caruso.
Kei Nishikori returns a shot during his first round victory over Salvatore Caruso. Photograph: Seth Wenig/AP

Updated

Emma Raducanu has answered her first patch of adversity with verve. After getting broken in the third game, the British teenager won the next eight points – and 20 of the next 24 – to storm from behind and take the opening set, 6-2, over Switzerland’s Stefanie Voegele.

Emma Raducanu celebrates during the first set of her match against Stefanie Voegele.
Emma Raducanu celebrates during the first set of her match against Stefanie Voegele. Photograph: Elsa/Getty Images

Updated

The embattled Alexander Zverev came into this year’s US Open as the hottest player on the men’s tour, having won 11 straight matches following runs to the Olympic gold medal and a fifth career Masters title in Cincinnati. And he’s shown no sign of slowing down today, seeing off Sam Querrey by a 6-4, 7-5, 6-1 scoreline in a brisk 1hr 40min that comes in eight minutes shorter than Kanye’s latest.

Italy’s Lorenzo Musetti has picked up his first win since Roland Garros with a 6-7, 6-4, 6-1, 6-3 triumph over American wild card Emilio Nava on Court 7. A second-round date with another American, Reilly Opelka, is next.

The rising British star Emma Raducanu, who swept through last week’s US Open qualifying tournament without dropping a set to reach the main draw in her first overseas grand slam appearance, is on court for her first-round match against Switzerland’s Stefanie Voegele. One of 11 teenagers in the women’s singles draw, Raducanu is looking to build on her sensational run to the fourth round of Wimbledon in July in her only other appearance in the main draw of a major.

Preamble

Greetings and welcome to a mostly sunny Tuesday afternoon at Flushing Meadows. A jam-packed schedule is already under way all over the grounds with both the men’s and women’s world No 1s and a pair of Tokyo Olympic gold medalists due to launch their US Open campaigns. The toplines:

  • Novak Djokovic’s bid for a record-setting 21st major championship and the first calendar-year grand slam by a men’s player in more than five decades begins at the top of tonight’s night session when he meets Danish teenager Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune. The top-ranked Serb, who’s won eight of the last 12 major titles, is a perfect 15-0 in first-round matches at the US Open.
  • Ashleigh Barty, the top-ranked women’s player, is on Ashe in the final match of the day session against 2010 US Open finalist Vera Zvonareva of Russia. The Aussie star, who’s never made it past the fourth round in Queens, appears poised to make a run at her first hard-court major title after previous wins on clay and grass, having won her second career WTA 1000 title on the surface this year and 25 of 28 matches on American pavement since the start of 2019.
  • It’s been nearly two full decades since an American man won a major title – Andy Roddick at the 2003 US Open, lest we forget – and it doesn’t seem as if that drought will be ending anytime soon. But the closest thing to a proper homegrown contender at this year’s Open is Reilly Opelka, the 6ft 11in firebomber who reached the Toronto final last month. The No 22 seed and former Wimbledon boys’ champion has already taken care of South Korea’s Soonwoo Kwon in straight sets over on Court 17 to gain passage to the second round.

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Taliban advances in Afghanistan ‘deeply concerning’, says Pentagon – as it happened

 

TPowered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Taliban advances in Afghanistan ‘deeply concerning’, says Pentagon – as it happened” was written by Sam Levin (now) and Joan E Greve (earlier), for theguardian.com on Saturday 14th August 2021 00.19 UTC

Summary

That’s all for today, thanks for following along. Some key links and developments:

The US education secretary has sent letters to the governors of Texas and Florida criticizing their threats to take funds away from school districts that adopt mask mandates:

The letters made clear that the US education department supports the local governments adopting mask policies in line with CDC recommendations:

“The Department stands with these dedicated educators who are working to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction,” US education secretary, Miguel Cardona, wrote to Texas governor Greg Abbott.

To Florida governor Ron DeSantis, Cardona said, “It appears that Florida has prioritized threatening to withhold State funds from school districts that are working to reopen schools safely rather than protecting students and educators and getting school districts the Federal pandemic recovery funds to which they are entitled.” Cardona also said that despite the governor’s threats, school districts will be able to access to the federal funds they are owed.

Oregon is sending up to 1,500 National Guard troops to hospitals to help respond to the worsening Delta surge, the governor has just announced:

David Zonies, an emergency room doctor at Oregon Health and Science University, said earlier today that the hospital had only about three out of 80 intensive care beds available, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting: “Historically we’ve never had to have a waitlist for people to come in for a critical care bed and that’s what we’re now experiencing.”

The White House says the US has seen the strongest 24 hours of vaccinations since before the 4 July holiday:

More than 918,000 doses were administered over the last day, with 576,000 newly vaccinated people, according to the White House’s Covid-19 data director.

Some health officials are hoping that there will be an increase in vaccinations as the Delta surge continues to prompt devastating outbreaks, particularly in Texas and Florida.

Judge partially blocks Texas governor’s ban on mask mandates

A judge has partially blocked Texas governor Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates after Harris county sued so it could adopt local mask rules to protect residents as Delta spreads.

The Harris county attorney said he was fighting to the “Governor’s overreach”:

The judge’s restraining order, while temporary, would allow local officials to adopt their own mask mandates without fear of facing retribution from the state government, Houston Public Media reported, citing a statement from county attorney, Christian Menefee:

While this decision is temporary, it’s a victory for residents in Harris County who are concerned about this public health crisis. We need every tool at our disposal to stop the spread of Covid-19, including masks and other measures that are proven to slow the spread.”

School districts are already responding with mask mandates:

In light of the rapidly spreading Delta variant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that all school staff and children age two and up wear masks indoors. But the Republican governors in Florida and Texas have fought to block local school districts from adopting such policies, creating a showdown between state and local government agencies and leading to chaos and conflict as students return to the classroom.

Canada to accept 20,000 vulnerable Afghans

Canada plans to resettle more than 20,000 vulnerable Afghans including women leaders, human rights workers and reporters to protect them from Taliban reprisals, Reuters is reporting, citing immigration minister Marco Mendicino.

This adds to an earlier initiative welcoming thousands of Afghans who worked for the Canadian government, including interpreters and embassy workers.

“As the Taliban continues to take over more of Afghanistan, many more Afghans’ lives are under increasing threat,” said Mendicino, who didn’t offer details about timing, Reuters reported.

Earlier, the Pentagon said it was “deeply concerned” about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan as the Taliban completed their sweep of Afghanistan’s south weeks before the US is set to officially end its war of two decades.

Washington state and Oregon are enduring scorching temperatures as the region faces its second intense heatwave of the summer. From The Guardian’s Hallie Golden in Seattle and Dani Anguiano in Portland:

Temperatures were expected to soar to triple digits again on Friday in Portland and Seattle. Forecasters said hot weather and wildfire smoke would pose a problem through the weekend.

Temperatures in Portland reached 103F (39C) by late afternoon on Thursday – 20 degrees above average – and Seattle reached highs in the 90s. In Bellingham, Washington, the high hit 100F for the first time on record. Although the temperatures were not due to be as severe as during the heatwave in late June, when some areas exceeded 115F (46C), several cities declared excessive heat warnings.

Much of the north-west was under such a warning through Saturday. The National Weather Service said heat advisories and warnings were also in effect from the midwest to the north-east and mid-Atlantic through at least Friday.

In July, officials reported that the record-breaking heatwave in the region had killed nearly 200 people.

Lawmakers to suspend Cuomo impeachment case after resignation

New York lawmakers will suspend its investigation into governor Andrew Cuomo once he steps down, a top Democratic leader said today:

Cuomo resigned on Tuesday, saying he would depart after two weeks. Some legislators wanted the Assembly to continue its impeachment proceeding, possibly to block the governor from holding state office in the future, the AP reported.

But Carl Heastie, the speaker of the Assembly, said in a statement that lawyers had advised the legislature’s judiciary committee that doing so would be unconstitutional. He added:

Let me be clear — the committee’s work over the last several months, although not complete, did uncover credible evidence in relation to allegations that have been made in reference to the governor. This evidence — we believe — could likely have resulted in articles of impeachment had he not resigned.”

Updated

Hi all – Sam Levin here, taking over our live coverage for the next few hours.

The Oxford vaccine group has warned that many more people around the world will die of Covid if western political leaders “reject their responsibility to the rest of humanity” by prioritising booster shots for their own populations instead of sharing doses, the Guardian’s Haroon Siddique reports.

Prof Sir Andrew Pollard, and Seth Berkley, the chief executive of Gavi, the vaccine alliance, said the scientific and public health case for large-scale boosting has not been made:

This is a key moment for decision-makers. Large-scale boosting in one rich country would send a signal around the world that boosters are needed everywhere. This will suck many vaccine doses out of the system, and many more people will die because they never even had a chance to get a single dose. If millions are boosted in the absence of a strong scientific case, history will remember the moment at which political leaders decided to reject their responsibility to the rest of humanity in the greatest crisis of our lifetimes.”

In the US, the CDC has announced that it recommends booster shots for immunocompromised people. The CDC director said today that the recommendation would apply to about 3% of the US population, and she noted the agency “does not recommend additional doses or booster shots for any other population at this time”.

Updated

Today so far

That’s it from me today. My west coast colleague, Sam Levin, will take over the blog for the next few hours.

Here’s where the day stands so far:

  • Taliban forces made more advances in Afghanistan, taking control of the country’s second and third largest cities, Kandahar and Herat. The Taliban now controls more than two-thirds of Afghanistan, as the group continues its march toward Kabul.
  • The Pentagon said the Taliban’s territorial gains were “deeply concerning”, while the US military prepares to deploy thousands of troops to assist evacuation efforts at the American embassy in Kabul. Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Kabul is “not right now in an imminent threat environment,” but he added, “If you just look at what the Taliban’s been doing, you can see that they are trying to isolate Kabul.”
  • Joe Biden’s pandemic-related eviction moratorium survived its first legal test, with a federal judge ruling the policy can remain in effect for now. The White House celebrated the judge’s decision, but press secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged that the ruling would likely be appealed, potentially putting renters at risk of eviction.
  • July was the world’s hottest month ever recorded, according to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa). “In this case, first place is the worst place to be,” said Rick Spinrad, the administrator of Noaa. “This new record adds to the disturbing and disruptive path that climate change has set for the globe.”
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially recommended coronavirus vaccine booster shots for immunocompromised people. The announcement from CDC director Rochelle Walensky came hours after the agency’s vaccine advisory panel unanimously endorsed Pfizer and Moderna booster shots for immunocompromised people.

Sam will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

Updated

CDC officially recommends vaccine boosters for immunocompromised people

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr Rochelle Walensky, has officially signed off on recommending coronavirus vaccine booster shots for immunocompromised people.

The announcement from Walensky comes just hours after a CDC vaccine advisory panel unanimously endorsed administering an extra dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine to immunocompromised people. (The recommendation did not apply to those who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.)

“This official CDC recommendation — which follows FDA’s decision to amend the emergency use authorizations of the vaccines — is an important step in ensuring everyone, including those most vulnerable to COVID-19, can get as much protection as possible from COVID-19 vaccination,” Walensky said in a statement.

The CDC director said the recommendation would apply to about 3% of the US population, and she noted the agency “does not recommend additional doses or booster shots for any other population at this time”.

“At a time when the Delta variant is surging, an additional vaccine dose for some people with weakened immune systems could help prevent serious and possibly life-threatening COVID-19 cases within this population,” Walensky said.

CDC panel votes to recommend vaccine booster shot for immunocompromised people

A vaccine advisory panel at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has unanimously voted to recommend a coronavirus vaccine booster shot for immunocompromised people.

The vote came one day after the Food and Drug Administration issued guidance saying transplant recipients and certain people with weakened immune systems could receive an extra dose of the Pfizer or Moderna coronavirus vaccine. (The recommendation did not apply to those who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.)

“Today’s action allows doctors to boost immunity in certain immunocompromised individuals who need extra protection from Covid-19,” Dr Janet Woodcock, the FDA’s acting commissioner, said in a statement yesterday.

Dr Rochelle Walensky and Dr. Anthony Fauci testify before the Senate health, education, labor and pensions committee.
Dr Rochelle Walensky and Dr. Anthony Fauci testify before the Senate health, education, labor and pensions committee. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/EPA

Now that the panel has voted, it will be up to the CDC director, Dr Rochelle Walensky, to make a final decision on recommending the booster shots.

Walensky noted yesterday that the recommendation would apply to less than 3% of the US population, but that still means millions of Americans would be eligible to receive a third shot.

“As we’ve been saying for weeks, emerging data show that certain people who are immunocompromised, such as people who have had organ transplant and some cancer patients, may not have had an adequate immune response to just two doses of the Covid vaccine,” Walensky said.

“An additional dose could help increase protections for these individuals, which is especially important as the Delta variant spreads.”

July was world’s hottest month ever recorded, US scientists confirm

July was the world’s hottest month ever recorded, US government scientists have confirmed, a further indication of the unfolding climate crisis that is now affecting almost every part of the planet.

The global land and ocean surface temperature last month was one degree Celsius, 0.9C (1.6F), hotter than the 20th-century average of 15.8C (60.4F), making it the hottest month since modern record keeping began 142 years ago.

It has beaten the previous record set in July 2016, according to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa).

“In this case, first place is the worst place to be,” said Rick Spinrad, the administrator of Noaa. “July is typically the world’s warmest month of the year, but July 2021 outdid itself as the hottest July and month ever recorded. This new record adds to the disturbing and disruptive path that climate change has set for the globe.”

Read the full report:

The secretary-general of the United Nations, António Guterres, specifically expressed concern about “the hard-won rights of Afghan girls and women being ripped away from them” as the Taliban advances toward Kabul.

For Afghan women who have had opportunities to get educated and start careers over the past 20 years, the Taliban’s territorial gains are terrifying.

The AP reports on one woman, Zahra of Herat, who had to watch as the Taliban rolled into her city:

Zahra grew up in a mostly Taliban-free Afghanistan, where women dared to dream of careers and girls got an education. For the past five years, she has been working with local nonprofit organizations to raise awareness for women and press for gender equality.

Her dreams and ambitions came crashing down Thursday evening as the Taliban swept into the city, planting their white flags emblazoned with an Islamic proclamation of faith in a central square as people on motorcycles and in cars rushed to their homes.

Like most other residents, Zahra, her parents and five siblings are now hunkering indoors, too scared to go out and worried about the future. The Associated Press chose not to identify her by her full name to avoid making her a target.

‘I am in big shock,’ said Zahra, a round-faced, soft-spoken young woman. How can it be possible for me as a woman who has worked so hard and tried to learn and advance, to now have to hide myself and stay at home?’

UN calls on Taliban to ‘immediately halt the offensive’ in Afghanistan, citing humanitarian concerns

The secretary-general of the United Nations, António Guterres, is calling on Taliban forces to “immediately halt the offensive” in Afghanistan, as the group takes control of more provincial capitals.

“Afghanistan is spinning out of control,” Guterres said in a prepared statement to reporters. “The fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces in urban environments is causing tremendous harm.”

The UN leader noted that more than 1,000 people have been killed or injured as the Taliban has made its territorial gains. Another 241,000 people have been forced to flee from their homes.

“It is particularly horrifying and heartbreaking to see reports of the hard-won rights of Afghan girls and women being ripped away from them,” Guterres said.

“I call on the Taliban to immediately halt the offensive and to negotiate in good faith in the interest of Afghanistan and its people.”

One reporter asked Guterres to respond to criticism that the international community has abandoned the Afghan people as the Taliban continues its march toward Kabul.

“This is the moment to halt the offensive,” Guterres replied. “This is the moment to start serious negotiation. This is the moment to avoid a prolonged civil war or the isolation of Afghanistan.”

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby was asked for his thoughts on comparisons that have been made between US embassy staffers evacuating Kabul and Americans departing Vietnam in 1975.

“We’re not focused on the history of the Vietnam war,” Kirby said. “We are focused on meeting the requirements that we have today.”

The Pentagon spokesperson acknowledged that he had seen “the punditry and the commentary” making that analogy, but Kirby said he would “leave that to historians”.

Some critics of Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan, including Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, have indeed compared the embassy evacuation efforts to “the humiliating fall of Saigon in 1975”.

“Afghanistan is careening toward a massive, predictable, and preventable disaster,” McConnell said in a statement released last night.

Updated

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Kabul is “not right now in an imminent threat environment,” even as Taliban forces continue to take control of more provincial capitals in Afghanistan.

But Kirby added, “If you just look at what the Taliban’s been doing, you can see that they are trying to isolate Kabul. Now what they want to do if they achieve that isolation I think only they can speak to.”

Asked if Kabul is isolated now, Kirby deflected, saying, “I don’t want to get into a special intelligence assessment on the battlefield.”

Taliban advances in Afghanistan are ‘deeply concerning,’ Pentagon says

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby held a press conference to provide an update on the military mission to assist evacuation efforts at the US embassy in Kabul.

One reporter asked Kirby whether Pentagon leaders were surprised by the rate at which Taliban forces have been taking control of provincial capitals in Afghanistan.

“We are certainly concerned by the speed with which the Taliban has been moving,” Kirby said.

But Kirby added that “no outcome has to be inevitable here,” and the spokesperson argued this moment represents an opportunity “for the Afghans to unite”.

“I’m not going to speculate about ‘surprise,’” Kirby said of the most recent developments in Afghanistan. “We’re obviously watching this just like you’re watching this and seeing it happen in real time, and it’s deeply concerning.”

Kirby noted that the “deteriorating conditions” in Afghanistan were a major factor in Joe Biden’s decision to approve the military mission to assist embassy staffers’ departure, which was announced yesterday.

Biden receives briefing on Afghanistan as Taliban advances

Joe Biden received a briefing from his national security advisers today about the security situation in Afghanistan, the White House said.

“Earlier today, the President was briefed by members of his national security team on the ongoing efforts to safely drawdown the civilian footprint in Afghanistan,” the White House said in a statement provided to the press pool.

“He will get further briefings later today. Additionally, the President received an update from the COVID-19 team on today’s increase in vaccinations, and the roll out of third-shot boosters for the immunocompromised. Finally, he consulted with his legislative affairs team on next steps on his economic agenda in the House of Representatives.”

Joe Biden has now departed Wilmington, Delaware, for Camp David, where he will be spending the weekend.

The president did not take any questions from reporters (about the situation in Afghanistan or anything else) as he and first lady Jill Biden boarded Marine One for the short trip to Camp David.

The first lady was spotted with a medical boot on her left foot, after undergoing a successful procedure to remove debris from a puncture wound that she sustained while visiting Hawaii late last month.

The Biden administration applauded a federal judge’s decision to leave the pandemic-related eviction moratorium in place, although the White House acknowledged that the ruling will likely be appealed.

“The Administration believes that CDC’s new moratorium is a proper use of its lawful authority to protect the public health,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a new statement.

“We are pleased that the district court left the moratorium in place, though we are aware that further proceedings in this case are likely.”

Psaki added that Joe Biden is once again calling on states to “move aggressively to distribute the $46.5 billion in emergency rental assistance funds” and thus prevent future evictions if the moratorium is later blocked by higher courts.

“And, the President calls on landlords to seek out rental assistance and not evict tenants from their homes, and echoes Attorney General Garland’s calls for state and local courts to implement policies to discourage eviction filings until landlords and tenants have sought emergency rental assistance funds,” Psaki said.

The Guardian’s “politics weekly extra” podcast has an intriguing title today: Are the Democrats doomed in 2022?

An intriguing question for US data analyst and Bernie-voter and Obama-campaign aide David Shor, who scotches any idea that as the shrinking white US population is overtaken the new majority automatically translates into a reliable majority vote for Democrats.

Here, Shor talks to the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland.

The supreme court previously ruled that the pandemic-related eviction moratorium could not be extended past July 31 without congressional authorization.

In response, the Biden administration issued a new, slightly more limited moratorium to continue to protect renters from eviction as states try to distribute more rent assistance funds from the American Rescue Plan.

However, even Joe Biden has acknowledged the new moratorium is unlikely to withstand legal scrutiny, given the supreme court’s previous ruling.

“The bulk of the constitutional scholarship says that it’s not likely to pass constitutional muster,” the president said last week, just before the new moratorium was unveiled. “But there are several key scholars who think that it may and it’s worth the effort.”

Biden added, “At a minimum, by the time it gets litigated, it will probably give some additional time while we’re getting that $45 billion out to people who are, in fact, behind in the rent and don’t have the money.”

Missouri Congresswoman Cori Bush speaks to demonstrators, who joined her in protest against residential evictions, following the news that the CDC issued a new 60-day moratorium on residential evictions, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on August 3.
Missouri Congresswoman Cori Bush speaks to demonstrators, who joined her in protest against residential evictions, following the news that the CDC issued a new 60-day moratorium on residential evictions, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on August 3. Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

Missouri Democrat Cori Bush had camped out on the steps of the US Capitol for four days to protest the end of the eviction moratorium, before the last-minute move by the Biden administration to keep it going in a more limited form, especially in coronavirus hotspots.

Updated

Biden’s eviction moratorium survives first legal test

A federal judge has decided to leave Joe Biden’s pandemic-related eviction moratorium in place – for now at least.

The AP reports:

U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich on Friday said her ‘hands are tied’ by an appellate ruling the last time courts considered the evictions moratorium in the spring.

Alabama landlords who are challenging the moratorium are likely to appeal.

Friedrich wrote that the new temporary ban on evictions the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention imposed last week is substantially similar to the version she ruled was illegal in May. At the time, Freidrich put her ruling on hold to allow the administration to appeal.

This time, she said, she is bound to follow a ruling from the appeals court that sits above her, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The Biden administration issued the new moratorium last week, after a days-long protest on the Capitol steps, which was led by progressive congresswoman Cori Bush.

Updated

The demands from the nine centrist Democrats could put House speaker Nancy Pelosi in a very difficult position, as she attempts to pass both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a $3.5tn spending package in the coming weeks.

While the centrists are demanding an immediate vote on the infrastructure bill, some House progressives have indicated they will not support that proposal without assurances about the passage of the reconciliation package.

Pelosi is struggling to keep her caucus together, and she can only afford three Democratic defections because of the party’s very narrow House majority.

The House is scheduled to return early from its August recess in about a week and a half, so time will tell how Pelosi handles the situation.

Centrist Democrats demand immediate House vote on infrastructure bill

In case you missed it this morning: a group of nine centrist Democrats in the House are threatening to block the $3.5tn reconciliation package until the chamber takes up the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

In a letter sent to House speaker Nancy Pelosi and obtained by the Wall Street Journal, the nine members argue the chamber should “immediately pass the legislation” that was approved by the Senate earlier this week.

Pelosi has previously indicated that she will not allow a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill until the Senate passes the reconciliation bill, which the upper chamber is currently crafting. The Senate approved a blueprint for the spending package earlier this week.

“We urge our House colleagues to follow the same path as the Senate: vote first on the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and then consider the budget resolution,” the nine members said.

“We will not consider voting for a budget resolution until the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passes the House and is signed into law.”

The letter is signed by Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Carolyn Bourdeaux of Georgia, Jim Costa of California, Jared Golden of Maine, Ed Case of Hawaii, Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Filemon Vela, Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez, all three of whom are from Texas.

Updated

Molly Montgomery, the deputy assistant secretary of state in the bureau of European and Eurasian affairs, expressed serious concerns for Afghan women and girls as Taliban forces continue their march to Kabul.

“Woke up with a heavy heart, thinking about all the Afghan women and girls I worked with during my time in Kabul,” Montgomery said in a now-deleted tweet.

“They were the beneficiaries of many of the gains we made, and now they stand to lose everything. We empowered them to lead, and now we are powerless to protect them.”

The New Yorker’s Susan Glasser is out with a new column about the potential ramifications of the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Glasser writes:

When I spoke on Thursday with experts who have decades of Afghan experience between them about the week’s events, they were contemplating even more apocalyptic scenarios for what may come. ‘Is this going to be Biden’s Rwanda?’ asked one longtime acquaintance, whom I met in Kabul in the spring of 2002, full of determination to build a modern, functioning state out of the post-Taliban, post-9/11 rubble. Or, perhaps, ‘Al Qaeda/isis 3.0’? The possibilities, from large-scale human-rights atrocities to a new center for international jihadist terrorism, are bloodcurdling.

Journalist Peter Bergen, the author of “The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden,” described the situation in Kabul this way: “It’s a fucking mess.”

House minority leader Kevin McCarthy fiercely criticized Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan, accusing the president of failing to “execute a responsible exit”.

“But in a matter of months, the Biden admin has led a botched withdrawal process that has now handed an entire country over to terrorists,” the Republican leader said on Twitter.

The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, has similarly condemned the US withdrawal from Afghanistan as Taliban forces advance, comparing the military’s departure to “the humiliating fall of Saigon in 1975”.

“Afghanistan is careening toward a massive, predictable, and preventable disaster,” McConnell said in a statement.

Updated

Taliban seize four more provincial capitals in Afghanistan

The Guardian’s Luke Harding and agencies report:

The Taliban’s seemingly unstoppable advance across Afghanistan continued on Friday, as insurgents took control of four more provincial capitals after their seizure on Thursday of Kandahar and Herat, the country’s second and third biggest cities.

With Afghan forces in disarray, and amid reports that the country’s vice-president has fled, the Taliban are heading inexorably towards Kabul. They control more than two-thirds of the country, just as the US plan to pull out its last remaining troops.

The latest US military intelligence assessment suggests Kabul could come under insurgent pressure within 30 days. If current trends continue, the Taliban are likely to gain full control of the country in a matter of months, it says.

The situation on the ground is changing at a dizzying pace. After a remorseless offensive in the north in which Herat fell, the Taliban have effortlessly consolidated ground in the south, the group’s traditional ethnic Pashtun base.

As the US military deploys thousands of troops to Kabul to assist embassy evacuation efforts, most embassy employees are getting ready to leave Afghanistan, with only a small number expected to go to another location.

According to NPR’s Pentagon correspondent, embassy staffers are preparing for their departure by packing their things and beginning to destroy sensitive documents and devices.

The UK defence secretary has criticised the US decision to leave Afghanistan as a “mistake” that has handed the Taliban “momentum”.

Speaking to Sky News, Ben Wallace warned that “the international community will probably pay the consequences” and said he was worried al-Qaida would regain a base in Afghanistan.

He confirmed UK plans to deploy 600 troops to Afghanistan to help 3,000 people including interpreters and British passport holders to leave, as officials said on Friday the Taliban had captured Afghanistan’s second biggest city, Kandahar, as well as Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province in the south.

Wallace said the withdrawal agreement negotiated in Doha, Qatar, by the Trump administration was a “rotten deal” which the UK tried to resist.

Joe Biden is currently in Wilmington, Delaware, after leaving Washington yesterday, and he will soon travel to Camp David for the weekend.

It’s unclear whether the president will offer any kind of comment on the situation in Afghanistan as he makes his way to Camp David.

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, is not scheduled to hold a briefing today, and neither is state department spokesperson Ned Price, who just yesterday announced the start of military-assisted evacuation efforts at the US embassy in Kabul.

As one provincial capital after another has fallen to the Taliban, the message from Washington to the Afghans facing the onslaught has been that their survival is in their own hands.

“They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation,” Joe Biden said. Jen Psaki, the White House spokeswoman, added: “They have what they need. What they need to determine is whether they have the political will to fight back.”

But despite more than $80bn in US security assistance since 2002 and an annual military budget far in excess of other developing nations, Afghan military resistance to the Taliban is collapsing with greater speed than even most pessimists had predicted. There is talk among US officials of Kabul falling in months – if not weeks.

Interviews with former officials who have been intimately involved in US policy in Afghanistan point to an interconnected webs of factors behind the implosion, some of them long in the making, some a result of decisions taken in the past few months.

While there is consensus that a failure of leadership and unity in Kabul has played an important part in the domino-fall of defeats, there is also agreement that the attempt to put all the blame on the Afghans obscures the share of responsibility of the US and its allies for the military disaster.

Pressure builds for Biden as Taliban secure more territorial gains

Greetings from Washington, live blog readers.

Criticism of Joe Biden is mounting as Taliban forces continue their territorial advances in Afghanistan, now capturing the country’s second biggest city, Kandahar.

As fears intensify over the Taliban taking Kabul, the US military is deploying thousands of troops to the capital city to assist evacuation efforts at the American embassy.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has condemned the White House for sticking to Biden’s plan of withdrawing all US troops from Afghanistan by the end of the month.

“Afghanistan is careening toward a massive, predictable, and preventable disaster,” McConnell said in a statement.

“The latest news of a further drawdown at our Embassy and a hasty deployment of military forces seem like preparations for the fall of Kabul. President Biden’s decisions have us hurtling toward an even worse sequel to the humiliating fall of Saigon in 1975.”

But Biden has continued to defend his policy, saying earlier this week, “They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation. … We’re going to continue to keep our commitment. But I do not regret my decision.”

The blog will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

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