US NEWS, World

Republican leader Steve Scalise refuses to admit Trump lost election to Biden

 

This article titled “Republican leader Steve Scalise refuses to admit Trump lost election to Biden” was written by Martin Pengelly in New York, for theguardian.com on Sunday 21st February 2021 16.56 UTC

A senior Republican House leader has refused to admit Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election against Donald Trump.

Congressman Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the House minority whip, appeared on ABC’s This Week more than three months after Biden won the electoral college 306-232 and the popular vote by more than 7m ballots and just over a month after the Democrat was sworn into office.

Trump now lives in Florida but he has refused to accept reality and concede, even after having the vast majority of cases mounted to pursue baseless claims of voter fraud laughed and thrown out of court.

He was impeached a second time for inciting the attack on the US Capitol on 6 January, having told supporters to “fight like hell” to overturn the election. Thanks to Republicans in the Senate, he was acquitted.

“Clear this up for me,” ABC host Jonathan Karl said to Scalise on Sunday. “Joe Biden won the election. He is the legitimate president of the United States. The election was not stolen, correct?”

“Look,” Scalise said, “Joe Biden’s the president. There were a few states that did not follow their state laws. That’s really the dispute that you’ve seen continue on.

“And, look, if you’re Joe Biden, you probably want to keep talking about impeachment and anything other than the fact that he’s killed millions of American energy jobs, that … they just signed the Paris [climate] accord. It’s going to kill manufacturing jobs in America.

“But at the end of the day, when you look at where we are in this country, either we’re going to address the problems that happened with the election that … millions of people are still concerned about, the constitution says state legislatures set the rules for elections, that didn’t happen in a few states, and so, going forward – look, Joe Biden’s the president. But does he…”

Karl interjected.

“But, congressman, I know Joe Biden’s the president. He lives at the White House. I asked you, is he the legitimate president of the United States, and do you concede that this election was not stolen? Very simple question. Please just answer it.”

“Look,” said Scalise, not answering the question. “Once the electors are counted, yes, he’s the legitimate president. But if you’re going to ignore the fact that there were states that did not follow their own … laws, that’s the issue at heart, that millions of people still are not happy with and don’t want to see happen again.

“You know, look … you can rehash the election from 2020 all day long, but there are people concerned about what the next election is going to look like. Are we going to finally get back to the way the rule of law works?”

Scalise’s comment about the rule of law echoed statements from Trump, his supporters and his lawyers, who have insisted he represents the forces of law and order despite having incited an assault on Congress in which a police officer was one of five people killed and scores of others were injured.

Scalise told Karl he had recently visited Trump.

“I was doing some fundraising throughout a number of parts of Florida,” he said, “ended up at Mar-a-Lago, and the president reached out, and we visited. I hadn’t seen him since he had left the White House. And it was actually good to catch up with him. I noticed he was a lot more relaxed than in his four years in the White House.

“He still cares a lot about this country and the direction of our country. But, you know, it was a conversation more about how he’s doing now and what he’s … planning on doing and how his family is doing.”

In the long term, Trump’s plans may include another run for office – or other ways of keeping congressional Republicans firmly under his thumb. In the short term, the former president will next week address the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, in Florida.

His subject: the state of the Republican party.

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Culture

Listen to the world: Radio Garden app brings stations to millions in lockdown

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Listen to the world: Radio Garden app brings stations to millions in lockdown” was written by Sarah Marsh, for The Guardian on Sunday 21st February 2021 15.25 UTC

Ever fancied listening to some pop music from Prague? Rock from Russia, or talk from Taiwan? With the pandemic limiting travel abroad, an online app has ignited the imagination of millions, allowing them to experience new sounds and travel the globe by radio.

The free app, Radio Garden, which carries tens of thousands of radio stations broadcasting live 24 hours a day, has seen a huge spike in popularity during the Covid crisis. Its founders say in the past 30 days they had 15 million users, a 750% increase on the visitors they normally get in a month.

One of the app’s founders, Jonathan Puckey, said he was confused as to where the sudden interest has come from. “To be honest, I don’t know … We do go viral every now and again, but this is the largest spike we have had to date,” he said. The popularity appears to have come from people sharing the platform with friends on social media websites.

The app launched in 2016 as the brainchild of the Amsterdam-based studios Puckey and Moniker. It was originally commissioned as a temporary project by the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision as part of a research that looked at how radio has fostered “transnational encounters”. It started out as a a web-only offering, but has been available as an app since 2018.

The concept is simple: you look around a global map and select an area that interests you. When you click on that region and select a green dot signifying a radio station, the feed will automatically start playing, telling you the name of the station you are listening and where it is. You can listen to stations from all over, as far and wide as Italy’s Sicily to Texas in the US.

The platform gets hundreds of submissions every week and has grown its collection of live radio stations from 7,000 to more than 30,000.

Puckey said: “We had the idea to make a modern version of the old world receiver radio sets … We hoped to recreate this magical feeling of travelling across the globe blindly, relying on the sense of hearing and the knowledge of location to bring these live radio stations to life.

“The globe should act a kind of derivé device: people should be able to get lost and use their ears to paint the picture of the location. Hopefully we can also remind people that those borders that divide us are just in our minds. Radio knows no borders.”

He added that the “beauty of radio is that while radio signals themselves cross borders, radio studios have very fixed locations and are therefore always regional in nature”.

“Radio is at its best when it represents local tastes and cultures,” Puckey said.

The app has seen millions of people tune in each month. “Our hope is to provide an alternative to the fibreless fare currently provided to us by technology giants. I see young people questioning the ease and emptiness of algorithmic playlists and taking back control over their listening,” Puckey said.

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Corona Virus, Health, World

Coronavirus live news: Fauci says Americans may still be wearing masks in 2022; variant cases falling in UK

 

This article titled “Coronavirus live news: Fauci says Americans may still be wearing masks in 2022; variant cases falling in UK” was written by Jessica Murray (now); Jedidajah Otte and Helen Davidson (earlier), for theguardian.com on Sunday 21st February 2021 15.29 UTC

A free app allowing access to 30,000 radio stations has proven a hit for audiences stuck at home during coronavirus restrictions.

Radio Garden, which carries tens of thousands of radio stations broadcasting live 24 hours a day, has seen a huge spike in popularity during the Covid crisis. Its founders say in the past 30 days they had 15 million users, a 750% increase on the visitors they normally get in a month.

One of the app’s founders, Jonathan Puckey, said he was confused as to where the sudden interest has come from. “To be honest, I don’t know … We do go viral every now and again, but this is the largest spike we have had to date,” he said. The popularity appears to have come from people sharing the platform with friends on social media websites.

The app launched in 2016 as the brainchild of the Amsterdam-based studios Puckey and Moniker. It was originally commissioned as a temporary project by the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision as part of a research that looked at how radio has fostered “transnational encounters”. It started out as a a web-only offering, but has been available as an app since 2018.

The concept is simple: you look around a global map and select an area that interests you. When you click on that region and select a green dot signifying a radio station, the feed will automatically start playing, telling you the name of the station you are listening and where it is. You can listen to stations from all over, as far and wide as Italy’s Sicily to Texas in the US.

The platform gets hundreds of submissions every week and has grown its collection of live radio stations from 7,000 to more than 30,000.

Nurses prepare doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at a mobile vaccination centre in a modified bus in Großhartmannsdorf, Germany, in an effort to better reach rural communities
Nurses prepare doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at a mobile vaccination centre in a modified bus in Großhartmannsdorf, Germany, in an effort to better reach rural communities Photograph: Matthias Rietschel/Getty Images

In the UK, the former neighbour of the health secretary Matt Hancock is under investigation by the UK’s medical regulator, the Guardian can reveal.

Alex Bourne, a former publican, secured lucrative work producing millions of vials for NHS Covid tests. Now the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) confirmed it has launched an investigation into Bourne’s company.

“We take all reports of non-compliance very seriously,” said Graeme Tunbridge, director of devices at the MHRA. “We are currently investigating allegations about Hinpack and will take appropriate action as necessary. Patient safety is our top priority.”

Read the full story here:

Updated

Gaza received 20,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine from the United Arab Emirates on Sunday, a move secured by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s rival, Mohammad Dahlan, who is based in the Gulf state.

Reuters reports:

Gaza health officials said they would begin vaccination on Monday, with priority for medical workers and those with chronic diseases. Many patients were contacted in advance and asked to give their consent.

The step by Dahlan, whom Abbas had dismissed from his Fatah party a decade ago and forced into exile, was seen by analysts as an attempt to score points ahead of a planned Palestinian election later this year.

“The shipment is a generous offer from the brotherly UAE,” Dahlan, long considered a potential Abbas successor, said on Facebook. “We promise our people that we will exert every possible effort to secure more.”

Gaza received its first 2,000 doses of Sputnik V on Wednesday, sent by Abbas’s government after Israel approved the transfer through its border with the territory, which is controlled by the Palestinian leader’s Islamist Hamas rivals.

Gaza, an impoverished enclave of two million people, has registered more than 54,000 cases with 543 deaths.

US: Fauci says Americans may still be wearing masks in 2022

US infectious diseases official Anthony Fauci said on Sunday that it is possible Americans will still be wearing masks in 2022, but that measures to stop the spread of Covid-19 would be increasingly relaxed as more vaccines are administered.

Roughly one year since the first known death caused by Covid-19 was recorded in the US, the country is approaching 500,000 deaths from the virus.

The US has recorded 497,670 deaths from coronavirus to date, accordin to Johns Hopkins University.

On Saturday, the country recorded 1,831 further deaths, and 1,080 a week ago.

Updated

A further 258 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died in hospital in England, bringing the total number of confirmed deaths reported in hospitals to 81,304, NHS England said on Sunday.

Patients were aged between 29 and 101. All except 17, aged between 52 and 100, had known underlying health conditions.

The deaths occurred between 10 December and 20 February.

There were 31 other deaths reported with no positive Covid-19 test result.

Lorry drivers will no longer need tests to go from UK to France if they stayed less than 48 hours

Lorry drivers returning to France from the UK will not now need to have a coronavirus test if they have spent less than 48 hours in the country, UK transport secretary Grant Shapps said on Sunday.

Reuters reports:

France demanded in December that lorry drivers travelling from Britain to France must carry a negative Covid test result to reduce the spread of a more infectious coronavirus variant that had been found in Kent in southeast England.

“I’ve agreed more flexibility in testing for hauliers travelling from the UK to France,” Shapps said on Twitter.
“From 11 p.m. (2300 GMT) tonight, lorries returning to France from UK having spent less than 48 hours in the UK will no longer require a coronavirus test.”

Updated

Decisions over coronavirus restrictions are political ones and should not just be based on data, the British statistician professor Sir David Spiegelhalter said.

He told Times Radio:

These are political decisions. Data does not tell you what to do at all.

It guides you, it helps you, of course you look at this, but you have to balance and weigh it up in among everything else, about what the effect of your interventions might be, and so on.

These are political judgements and, as a statistician, I would never say that there should be some algorithm if this is the case, then do that, the computer says no, the computer says yes, because we know how that can lead to … a rigidity of behaviour, lack of flexibility to local circumstances, and so on.

A further 336 coronavirus cases have been recorded in Wales, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 201,688.

Public Health Wales reported another 16 deaths, taking the total in the country since the start of the pandemic to 5,237.

The agency said a total of 860,083 first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine had now been given, an increase of 6,179 from the previous day.

Public Health Wales said 37,773 second doses have also been given, an increase of 5,771.

Partygoers hid under mattresses and in a cupboard at a packed house in Madrid in an attempt to avoid police at one of 227 illegal parties raided in the city over the weekend for breaches of Covid-19 restrictions.

Reuters reports:

Police video showed the hiding revellers, who were arrested. Another raid took place a bar which was not complying with restrictions to try and contain the spread of the virus.

“Two hundred and twenty seven illegal parties have been detected in Madrid on Friday and Saturday. People were not complying with the curfew, not using masks or were in premises without any security measures,” Madrid’s Municipal Police force in a statement issued on Saturday.

“We keep asking you for collaboration and responsibilty.”

Madrid has the second highest two-week infection rate in Spain at 427 cases per 100,000 people on Friday, while the national rate is 294, a marked decline from 900 at the end of January.

Statistician professor Sir David Spiegelhalter said the UK government may still need to use “highly local” measures when it approaches the easing of lockdown.

Speaking to Times Radio, Spiegelhalter, of the statistical laboratory at Cambridge University, said recent coronavirus data indicating drops in hospital admissions, death rates and cases across the country were “very encouraging”, but there were pockets around the country with still “quite a lot of cases” and “really quite substantial numbers”.

Spiegelhalter, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said some “scattered” areas were seeing above 200 new cases per 100,000 per week, which was “of concern”.

He warned that unless there was greater take-up of coronavirus vaccine in some communities, in particular some ethnic communities, where it has been slower, it could become an “increasing issue”.

Commenting on what prime minister Boris Johnson might announce on Monday about his plans to ease lockdown restrictions, he added:

What I understand is that they’re going to try to have national measures rather than regional tiered systems since that caused such a lot of problems.

It seems to me that there’s still going to be a need for highly local measures that might have to take place.

The Czech Republic on Saturday recorded 6755 confirmed cases of coronavirus, about 1,600 more than a week ago.

  • The share of newly infected in the number of tests performed was also higher, reaching almost 38%, which is the highest share since 9 January. It was 30% last Saturday, the news website Aktuálně reported.
  • The number of hospitalised people with Covid-19 fell to 6,000 on Saturday, but the number of patients in serious condition remains at a record number of around 1,300.
  • Currently, almost 119,000 people in the country are infected, the highest number since last October.
  • In the Karlovy Vary region, 394 new cases were recorded on Saturday, 25 percent more than on Friday. 35,200 people have already become infected in the region, and 1,029 have died.

Surge testing is being rolled out in an area of Essex, England after a case of the South African coronavirus variant was found.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said:

Working in partnership with the local authority, additional testing and genomic sequencing is being deployed to the CM13 postcode in Brentwood, Essex, where a single case of the Covid-19 variant first identified in South Africa has been found.

People living in the postcode area are “strongly encouraged” to take a test when offered, whether or not they have any symptoms of the virus.

Eighteen new cases of the UK Covid-19 variant first discovered in Kent, England have been detected in the Philippines.

According to the country’s department of health, 13 of these cases are returning overseas Filipinos who entered the country between 3 and 27 January.

“All of these cases are now tagged as recovered and the DOH is currently investigating compliance to isolation protocols and the contact tracing done for these ROFs,” the ministry said.

The Philippines’ Covid-19 infections tally rose past 561,000 on Sunday after the Department of Health announced 1,888 new patients.

A week ago, the country registered 1,921 new daily infections.

CNN Philippines reports:

The case count now stands at 561,169, of which 26,238 or 4.7% are active cases, the latest report showed. This update does not yet include data from two testing laboratories which failed to submit on time.

The DOH said 9,737 patients were also cleared of the infection, raising the number of recoveries to 522,843.

Meanwhile, the death toll climbed to 12,088 with 20 more fatalities, including 12 which were previously tagged as recoveries.

The British health secretary Matt Hancock has refused to apologise after the High Court ruled he unlawfully failed to publish details of billions of pounds’ worth of coronavirus-related contracts.

Asked if he had anything to apologise for despite losing the case, he told the BBC:

People can make up their own view about whether I should have told my team to stop buying PPE and spend the time bringing forward those transparency returns by just over a fortnight.

Or whether I was right to buy the PPE and get it to the front line. You tell me that that is wrong. You can’t. And the reason you can’t is because it was the right thing to do.

Legal cases about timings of transparency returns are completely second order compared to saving lives.

There is no health secretary in history who would have taken the view that they needed to take people off the project of buying PPE in order to ensure that nine months later the Health Secretary didn’t have a slightly bumpy interview on the Marr programme.

It is not what it is about, Andrew [Marr], it is about doing the right thing.

The opposition leader Keir Starmer told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday:

I don’t want to call for him to resign. I do think he is wrong about the contracts – there have been problems with the contracts, on transparency, on who the contracts have gone to.

There’s been a lot of wasted money and I think that is a real cause for concern.

But, at the moment, at this stage of the pandemic, I want all government ministers working really hard to get us through.

New York City has fewer than 1,000 Covid-19 doses for first jabs left because of shipment delays caused by snowstorms across the country, the city reported on Saturday.

The delays brought the city’s “entire vaccination effort” to a “standstill,” Avery Cohen, a spokeswoman for mayor Bill de Blasio, wrote on Twitter.

The New York Times reports:

Vicious winter weather has snarled vaccine deliveries nationwide. The White House estimated that the weather had created a backlog of six million doses, and pleaded with local officials to extend hours at vaccination sites and schedule additional appointments.

The bad weather has slowed two vaccine shipping hubs — a FedEx center in Memphis and a UPS site in Louisville, Ky. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency said this week that more than 2,000 vaccine sites were in areas with power outages.

In Texas, where millions of residents lost power during this week’s powerful storm, state health officials said that more than 100,000 first doses and 300,000 second doses that were supposed to be delivered this week were still waiting to be shipped to Texas from out-of-state warehouses, citing data from the federal vaccine tracking system. The missed doses are expected to be delivered during the first half of next week.

In the Houston area, some vaccination sites began reopening at the end of this week. […]

Mr. de Blasio said on Friday that New York City had delayed scheduling up to 35,000 first dose appointments because of the shortage.

A man rides an electric scooter on the Brooklyn Bridge during a snow storm in New York City, US, on 19 February, 2021.
A man rides an electric scooter on the Brooklyn Bridge during a snow storm in New York City, US, on 19 February, 2021. Photograph: Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Coronavirus restrictions in England will be eased with “weeks between the steps”, in a sign that the government might be too cautious in their easing of restrictions to win the support of a group of Conservative MPs lobbying for all legal restrictions to fall away by the end of April.

The health secretary Matt Hancock told Times Radio it would take a few weeks for the impact of lifting measures to be seen, and that hence there will be weeks between the steps so the effects of eased restrictions could be carefully studied.

Hancock added that social distancing measures and the wearing of face coverings were likely to remain for a while.

“I want to see it more about personal responsibility over time as we have vaccinated more and more of the population,” he said.

The former chief whip and Conservative MP Mark Harper said he hoped the prime minister’s road map would be one the Covid Recovery Group of Tories can support.

Harper told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show:

We think by the end of April the case for domestic legal restrictions, limiting what people can do, falls away. We think at that point people should be able to get on with their lives.

The government may still give them health advice and there may be things people do voluntarily, but the legal restrictions should fall away at the end of April.

Asked if there could be a Commons revolt over the continuation of the current restrictions if the road map fails to meet their demands, Harper said:

I’m hoping what the prime minister announces tomorrow will be something that I and my colleagues can support.

One in three UK adults has had vaccine

One in three adults in the UK has had a coronavirus vaccine, the health secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday.

He told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show:

As of this morning, one in three adults of all adults in the whole country have been vaccinated – it’s great news.

We are confident that the vaccine works effectively against both the old strain that has been here for some time and the so-called Kent variant, which is now the main source of infection in this country.

We do not yet have the confidence that the vaccine is as effective against the South Africa variant and the variant first seen in Brazil, but we do think that the measures that we have taken – both the enhanced contact tracing and the measures at the border – are reducing those new variants here.

Hancock said the latest data showed “around a dozen” new cases of the South African variant had been found in the country. In total, there have been around 300 cases, he said.

UK teachers won’t be prioritised in getting vaccine

The British health secretary Matt Hancock again rejected calls for teachers to be given priority in the vaccine queue before schools return.

He told Sophy Ridge on Sunday:

We’ve asked the expert group, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, what order we should vaccinate in, broadly in order to reduce the number of deaths as fast as possible.

I think everybody can understand why we asked that as the question.

They set out the priority groups one to nine, which includes those who are clinically most vulnerable and their carers, and includes the over-50s, going down the age range.

They are currently considering, after that, what might be the best order in terms of clinical priority.

There isn’t strong evidence that teachers are more likely to catch Covid than any other group, but I’ll leave it for the JCVI to set out what they think is the best order in which to do this that minimises the number of deaths.

Hancock said there was evidence the vaccines could reduce transmission by two-thirds, which could be a factor in deciding whether to vaccinate children against Covid-19.

He said:

There’s clinical trials under way as to whether children should be vaccinated.

There are two points here. One is that it absolutely must be safe, specifically for children, so that is being currently investigated.

The second is – because children very, very rarely get symptoms or serious illness from the disease – the value, the importance, of vaccinating children is to try to stop the spread of the disease.

[…] It looks like the first jab reduces your impact of transmitting the disease by about two-thirds, but we need more evidence on that as well.

Professor Adam Finn, from the University of Bristol and a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said cases in the UK are going down “impressively fast” but that that is “primarily the lockdown and not the vaccine programme”.

He told BBC Breakfast:

The vaccine programme is beginning to have an impact now, I think, on the rates of hospitalisation, according to the studies we’re doing here in Bristol, but it’s only just starting.

The reason we’re seeing this impact at the moment is not the vaccine programme.

But, conversely, getting the vaccine programme done and rolling it out across the population will be really important, as we go forward, in continuing to bring the virus circulation down and reducing the chance of emergence of new variants that might escape that immunity.

Finn said he expected an announcement to be made around vaccine priorities in the UK some time in the next week.

Asked about a new priority list for people under 50, he said:

The strategy from JCVI that’s being provided as advice to the government is just being finalised at the moment, and then government will make their decision as to how to do this during the coming days, so I think there’ll be some kind of public announcement around that in the next week or so.

He said he could not say what he expected the priorities would be because that is something to be announced by the government.

Professor John Edmunds, a member of the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said any easing of the lockdown must be gradual to prevent a surge in hospital admissions and deaths.

He said vaccinating all adults by the end of July will make a “huge difference” but cautioned the vaccine will not give 100% protection.

Edmunds told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show:

If we eased off very rapidly now, we would get another surge in hospitalisations, so we have to ease very gradually.

Otherwise we will put the health service under pressure again and we’ll get a surge in hospitalisations, and indeed deaths.

He said the South African variant is being “held in place now, as everything else is being held in place by the lockdown”.
He added: “The risk comes really when we release the lockdown.”

UK number of infections with South African and Brazilian virus variants is falling

The number of cases of South African and Brazilian variants of Covid-19 in the UK appears to be falling, the British health secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday.

Hancock said there was evidence that enhanced contact-tracing and stricter border measures were helping to control the number of people being infected by those new variants first discovered abroad.

He told Sky News’ Sophie Ridge show:

We’ve now got a much stronger vigilance in place, because everybody coming into the country has to be tested and we sequence the results of those tests.

And we’ve also got a very strong set of actions working with the local authorities very specifically in the areas where a new variant is found.

We hit it hard and send in enhanced contact-tracing and go door-to-door.

We’ve now got this programme in place to be able to really, really try to stamp out a new variant where we see it.

There is evidence that is working.

But Hancock added the UK needed to be “vigilant” against the spread of new variants.

If one of these new variants doesn’t respond to the vaccine as well as the others – as well as the standard variant in the UK, which is the Kent variant – then, if that’s the case, then that’s obviously a very serious risk for the vaccination programme.

We’re doing a lot of work to find out the impact of the vaccine on these new variants – especially the ones discovered in Brazil and South Africa – because, clearly, the answer to that question is critical to understanding how much of a risk the new variants pose.

But the good news is the actions we’re taking right now do appear to be working.

Hancock reiterated that the easing of lockdown restrictions must be “cautious”, and said there were still almost 20,000 people in hospital with Covid-19 and that – despite the jabs rollout going “very well” – time must be taken to “get this right”.

Matt Hancock speaking on SkyNews on 21 February, 2021.
Matt Hancock speaking on SkyNews on 21 February, 2021. Photograph: SkyNews

Updated

The leader of the UK Labour party Sir Keir Starmer said he wanted all pupils in England back in school on 8 March, despite calls from education unions for a phased return.

He told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday that more coronavirus testing and “Nightingale classrooms” could address some of the issues.

Starmer said:

Ideally, I would like to see all schools back open on March 8 and all children back into schools on March 8. I have been worried through the pandemic – a number of people have – about the impact that being out of school has on, particularly, vulnerable children and the attainment gap is getting bigger.

He said the government would have to follow the data and the scientific advice on the issue, “but that’s what we should be working towards”.

If that means more testing, if that means Nightingale classrooms, if it means other measures, let’s do that because I want to get our kids back into school.

The leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer, during a statement on the UK economy on 18 February, 2021 in London, England.
The leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer, during a statement on the UK economy on 18 February, 2021 in London, England. Photograph: WPA/Getty Images

Updated

Outbreaks in schools and nurseries in the Danish city of Kolding do not bode well for the country’s planned partial reopening of schools and childcare facilities in March, experts have warned.

There are currently 214 infections per 100,000 people in Kolding, making it the second most infected municipality in the country after Ishøj.

The Copenhagen Post reports:

Two schools and eight daycare institutions Kolding will remain closed until Friday 26 [February] following coronavirus outbreaks that experts claim underline the devastating potential of the British variant of Covid-19.

At the last count the two schools had a total of 69 infections among staff and students, while up to 20 have been infected at the daycare institutions.

Speaking to DR, Viggo Andreasen, an associate professor at Roskilde University who is swiftly becoming the nation’s favourite mathematical epidemiologist, questions whether there is “something going on with the infection of [the British variant] B117 among children that we have not seen with the old coronavirus”.

“If we see more examples like this, then we must ask ourselves whether it is too risky to open the schools to the little ones,” he continued.

[…]

Professor Allan Randrup Thomsen, a virologist connected to the University of Copenhagen who advises the government, questions whether there can be a partial reopening of society on March 1.

“Based on what has happened in Kolding, we can see that there is a great potential for infection with the British variant – even under the restrictions we have now.

“When the British variant takes over, there will be a marked increase in the number of infected and hospitalised in April.”

Denmark has recorded 2,333 deaths to date, and over 207,000 infections.

In Lubuskie, the relatively sparsely populated west-central Polish province, about a thousand coronavirus tests are performed daily, and every third of them is positive.

The Wyborcza newspaper reports:

There have been exactly 7,038 new and confirmed cases of coronavirus infections across Poland. Most of them in the following [provinces]: Mazowieckie (1,339), Pomorskie (727), Wielkopolskie (673), Śląskie (662), Kujawsko-Pomorskie (459). Lubuskie, with 294 [cases], is in the middle of the table. The Opole region of a similar size has half as many infections.

The return to school of year eight and A-level exam students may be possible in March, though not at the beginning of the month, Poland’s health minister said on Saturday.

Speaking on radio, Adam Niedzielski said:

At the beginning of the month for sure it won’t happen, however in March it may happen, because we’re asking ourselves the question where the peak of the third wave will be.

We can plot black scenarios, but there are also more optimistic scenarios, which say that the peak of this third wave will be at the level of average weekly infections in the order of 10,000, which seems […] not to be a problem for the capacity of the health care system,” Niedzielski added.

Teachers and school staff in Malta will start being vaccinated next week, after they were pushed up the vaccine list back in January following a two-day strike.

The country’s over 70s are however still waiting for their jabs, the Times of Malta reports:

People aged between 70 and 79 will be vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine once all those in 80 to 85 age group have been vaccinated, Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci told Times of Malta.

She said that since the AstraZeneca vaccine is not being given to the elderly, the health department does not want to keep any vaccine doses aside or on hold.

“There are two processes ongoing: elderly groups are being given the Pfizer vaccine and essential workers such as teachers are to be vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

She said this should be considered as “two parallel streams” so that all the vaccines in hand are used.

On Friday, during her weekly update on the COVID-19 situation, she explained that at present the second and third groups of people are being vaccinated. These groups include people aged 80 to 85 and clinical setting workers, and non-medical frontliners, such as police.

Germany could face third wave as experts say variants to blame for infections plateauing

Shortly before schools will reopen in ten of Germany’s federal states on Monday, there are increasing indications that a third coronavirus wave could be imminent in the country.

Despite the strict lockdown, the number of new infections every day has hardly or not decreased at all recently. Experts attribute this to the spread of much more contagious virus variants.

This development has fuelled a debate about teachers and educators being prioritised for vaccinations.

The German Press Agency reports that daycare and primary school employees are in group three and would therefore probably not be getting jabs until the summer.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and the heads of government of the federal states had asked the Ministry of Health at their latest meeting to check whether these employees could be brought forward on the priority list.

Picture shows a stuffed toy wearing a face mask in an improvised classroom prepared for a primary school class in a recreation hall on 20 February, 2021 in Wessling, Germany.
Picture shows a stuffed toy wearing a face mask in an improvised classroom prepared for a primary school class in a recreation hall on 20 February, 2021 in Wessling, Germany. Photograph: Alexandra Beier/Getty Images

Updated

A shipment of 150,000 Covid-19 vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University arrived at Belgrade airport on Sunday, making Serbia the first country in the Western Balkan region to receive supplies of the shot.

Reuters reports:

The vaccines, which arrived on a Turkish Airlines plane from Istanbul, were produced in India, said president Aleksandar Vucic, who came to the airport to meet the shipment.

Vucic said the price of the vaccine was “very good as both AstraZeneca and Oxford gave up their profits”. He added that another shipment of 150,000 vaccines is expected in 12 weeks time.

“This vaccine was developed by a young team at the Oxford University which also included young people from Serbia,” British ambassador Sian MacLeod told reporters at the airport.

More than 730,000 people, or a little over 10% of the population, have been vaccinated against Covid-19 since December with one or two doses of the vaccines available in Serbia.

Under the state vaccination programme, Serbians have been able to choose between shots from Pfizer-BioNTech , China’s Sinopharm or Russia’s Sputnik V.

Despite the inoculcations, case numbers in Serbia are rising again, with more than 2,000 daily new infections currently being reported. However, epidemiologists expect the numbers to come down in a month or two.

People arrive to receive a dose of Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine at Belgrade Fair makeshift vaccination center in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, on 17 February, 2021. Serbia, a country of 7 million, has so far vaccinated some 1 million people, mainly with the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine and Russian Sputnik V, and to a lesser extent with the Pfizer jab.
People arrive to receive a dose of Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine at Belgrade Fair makeshift vaccination center in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, on 17 February, 2021. Serbia, a country of 7 million, has so far vaccinated some 1 million people, mainly with the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine and Russian Sputnik V, and to a lesser extent with the Pfizer jab. Photograph: Darko Vojinović/AP

Covid-19 hospitalisations in the US are at the lowest level since early November, when a fall surge in cases and deaths was picking up steam, data showed Saturday.

CNN reports:

This comes as federal officials say they’re pushing large shipments of vaccines to states this weekend, in part to make up for a backlog from winter storms — and as public health experts push for faster inoculations before more-transmissible coronavirus variants get a better foothold.

About 59,800 Covid-19 patients were in US hospitals on Friday — down about 55% from a pandemic peak of more than 132,470 on January 6, according to The COVID Tracking Project.

Friday’s number is the first below 60,000 since November 9, when daily cases, hospitalizations and deaths were on a several-month incline through the holidays.

Averages for daily new cases and deaths also have been declining for weeks after hitting all-time peaks around mid-January.

Public health experts have been pressing for faster vaccinations, before more transmissible variants have a chance to spread, fearing they could reverse recent progress.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said an apparently more-transmissible variant first identified in the United Kingdom could be the dominant strain in the US by next month.

According to the CDC, over 61 million doses of coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the US to date, with over 17 million people having received two jabs already.

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Sunday appealed to Tanzania to take “robust action” to combat Covid-19 in the country, where the president has long played down the virus.

AFP reports:

President John Magufuli has claimed coronavirus has been has fended off by prayer in Tanzania, and refused to take measures to curb its spread.

But a recent spate of deaths attributed to pneumonia has struck both members of the public and government officials.

And Magufuli on Friday appeared to admit the coronavirus was circulating in his country after months of denial.

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a number of Tanzanians travelling to neighbouring countries and beyond have tested positive for the coronavirus.

“This underscores the need for Tanzania to take robust action both to safeguard their own people and protect populations in these countries and beyond,” he said in a statement.

Tedros said he had urged Tanzania in late January to take measures against the pandemic and to prepare for vaccinations.

South Korea to begin vaccine rollout within days

South Korea will begin administering the first of 117,000 doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine on 27 February, a day after the country begins its first vaccinations with the AstraZeneca jab, the prime minister announced on Sunday.

Reuters reports:

Plans call for about 10 million high-risk people, including health care workers and staffers and some residents of assisted care facilities and nursing homes, to be inoculated by July.

The first AstraZeneca vaccines are scheduled to be administered on Friday, with Pfizer’s shots being deployed the next day, prime minister Chung Sye-kyun said in remarks reported by Yonhap news agency.

[…]
The authorities have said they will not use AstraZeneca vaccine on people aged 65 and older until more efficacy data becomes available, reversing an earlier decision.

Aside from AstraZeneca and Pfizer, South Korea has also reached agreements with Moderna, Novavax Inc, Johnson & Johnson, and global vaccine-sharing scheme COVAX, for the supply of their vaccines.

Chung announced last week that South Korea had struck additional deals with Novavax Inc for enough vaccines to cover 20 million people and with Pfizer to cover a further 3 million, making the total supply enough to cover 79 million people, though South Korea has a population of 52 million.

The government says its goal is to reach herd immunity by November, though leading South Korean medical experts have said that timetable will be practically impossible to achieve.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported 416 more Covid-19 cases as of midnight Saturday, raising the total to 86,992.

A truck carrying Covid-19 vaccines is loaded onto an Air Force airplane at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam, south of Seoul, on 19 February 2021, before it flies to Jeju airport on South Korea’s largest island of the same name.
A truck carrying Covid-19 vaccines is loaded onto an Air Force airplane at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam, south of Seoul, on 19 February 2021, before it flies to Jeju airport on South Korea’s largest island of the same name. Photograph: YONHAP/EPA

Updated

Russia on Sunday reported 12,742 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, including 1,602 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 4,164,726.

Authorities also reported another 417 deaths, raising the official toll to 83,293.

On Saturday, the country reported 12,953 new infections, and 13,968 a week ago.

Updated

The mayor of the French Mediterranean city of Nice called on Sunday for a weekend lockdown in the area to stop the flow of visitors and curb a sharp spike in coronavirus infections.

“We need a strong measures that go beyond the nationwide 6 p.m. curfew, either a tighter curfew, or a partial and time-specific lockdown. A weekend lockdown would make sense …that would stop the inflow of visitors,” mayor Christian Estrosi said on franceinfo radio.

I’m Jedidajah Otte and will be taking over for the next few hours. As always, do feel free to get in touch with updates, tips or comments, you can reach me on Twitter @JedySays or via email.

Summary

That’s it from me for now, I’ll leave you with colleagues in London to keep the coverage going. Take care.

  • Among Saturday’s reported figures, Mexico recorded 7,785 new cases and 832 more fatalities, while in Germany there were 7,676 new cases and 145 deaths.
  • Malaysia moved up its Covid-19 inoculation drive by two days as the first batch of vaccines arrived in the Southeast Asian nation on Sunday.
  • Australia also began its vaccine rollout a day early, with the country’s prime minister among the first people to receive a dose on Sunday. “It’s safe, it’s important, join us on this Australian path that sees us come out of the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
  • All adults in the UK will be offered a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by the end of July, Boris Johnson has said ahead of an announcement on how England will begin to ease its third lockdown.
  • Israel has reported a 95.8% drop in Covid-19 infection among those who have received two doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, its health ministry announced on Saturday.
  • A further 21 cases of the virus variant first discovered in the UK have been detected in Morocco, its health ministry has said, taking the number of reported cases with the mutation to 24.
  • Coronavirus cases are rising in a number of Indian states, including Punjab, Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh. The rise in infections comes amid the detection of new virus variants in Maharashtra, the Times of India reports.
  • France’s number of new coronavirus cases compared with a week earlier increased for the third day in a row, with the health ministry reporting 22,371 new cases on Saturday.
  • Micheál Martin, the taoiseach, has ruled out reopening Ireland’s hospitality sector until mid-summer due to the high level of Covid-19 cases in the country.
  • Mexico’s deputy health minister has announced that he has tested positive for Covid-19, adding that his symptoms are mild.
  • Iran has closed several crossing points at its border with Iraq in an effort to curb the spread of the Covid variant first detected in the UK after it was found in the country.
  • The UK health secretary, Matt Hancock, acted unlawfully by failing to publish multibillion-pound Covid-19 government contracts within the 30-day period required by law, a high court judge has ruled.
  • More than 17 million people in the UK have now had a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to government figures.

This is a very moving read from Tobias Jones in Italy, on the impact of Europe’s first lockdown on the country. Here’s an excerpt but I recommend reading the whole piece.

In those frightening early weeks, there was an exuberant defiance as suburbs began singing together, each household joining in from its own windows and balconies. Virtuoso violinists and guitarists turned their balconies into stages and, most memorably, two young girls played tennis between their respective rooftops in Genoa.

Despite the grief, something extraordinary was happening: there were shoals of fish in clean Venetian canals and bottlenose dolphins leaping around inactive ports. Hares and deer strolled through public parks and golf courses and mallards appeared in Rome’s Piazza di Spagna. As the notoriously polluted air of the Po valley cleared, we often sang Rino Gaetano’s The Sky is Evermore Blue.

It was a period that altered not only how outsiders perceived Italy, but also how Italians saw each other. They’re often stereotyped (by themselves as much as by foreigners) as a nation of rule-benders, eager to bypass the public good for private gain. But throughout that spring the country was orderly and obedient. “We’ve learnt to queue,” joked my Italian wife. There was no hoarding of loo roll. While other countries were being lackadaisical in applying or following guidelines, Italy had, on the whole, legislative clarity and societal adherence.

Top vaccine maker told to prioritise India inoculation programme

The Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s biggest vaccine maker by volume, on Sunday asked for patience from foreign governments awaiting their supply of Covid-19 shots, saying it had been directed to prioritise India’s requirements.

“…I humbly request you to please be patient,” SII’s chief executive, Adar Poonawalla, said in a tweet.

“[The SII] has been directed to prioritise the huge needs of India and along with that balance the needs of the rest of the world.”

“We are trying our best.”

Based in the western Indian city of Pune, the company is manufacturing the Oxford University/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, one of the two shots that India is using to initially vaccinate some 300 million people as part of a national inoculation drive.

Many low-and middle-income countries, ranging from Bangladesh to Brazil, are depending on SII’s AstraZeneca vaccine, branded COVISHIELD by the Indian company.

But demand is growing, including from Western countries like Canada, where Poonawalla has promised to deliver the COVISHIELD vaccine next month.
Britain’s drug regulator is also auditing manufacturing processes at SII, potentially paving the way for the COVISHIELD vaccine to be shipped from there to the UK and other countries. .

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has come under criticism for the slow take-off of its vaccination drive but health authorities are preparing to expand the number of inoculation substantially in coming weeks.

India has vaccinated around 11 million people since mid-January.

Updated

Reuters: Fujifilm Holdings Corp will restart a clinical trial in Japan of its antiviral drug Avigan for the treatment of Covid-19, the Nikkei newspaper reported on Sunday.

Domestic approval of the drug was delayed after a health ministry panel said in December that trial data was inconclusive. The new study will involve about 270 patients and Fujifilm will aim to seek approval again in October, Nikkei said.
Representatives from Fujifilm did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Japan has approved Avigan, known generically as favipiravir, as an emergency flu medicine. But concerns remain, as the drug has been shown to cause birth defects in animal studies and its effectiveness against Covid-19 has proven difficult to demonstrate.

Japan’s government has called on Fujifilm to triple national stockpiles of the drug, which has been approved for Covid-19 treatment in Russia, India and Indonesia.

Taiwan’s government said on Sunday that it had confirmed three cases of the Covid-19 variant first discovered in Brazil, and that all arrivals from that country would undergo centralised quarantine from this week.

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said the three people, whose initial infections officials announced last month and are being treated in the hospital, had been confirmed on Saturday to have what is known as the P1 Brazil variant.

Chen added that starting at midnight on Wednesday, anyone arriving in Taiwan from Brazil or who had been in Brazil the previous 14 days must quarantine at a centralised facility for two weeks, as arrivals from Britain and South Africa also must to prevent the spread of separate variants found there.

Everyone else arriving in Taiwan must quarantine at home for 14 days, and those people are closely tracked by authorities to make sure they don’t go out.

The pandemic has killed 245,977 people in Brazil, the worst death toll outside the United States.

Brazil has more than 10 million confirmed coronavirus cases, as a new variant discovered in the Amazon threatens to further ravage a country where inoculations have been halted in many cities because of a lack of vaccines.
Taiwan has kept the pandemic well under control thanks to early and effective prevention, including largely closing its borders. There are only 40 active cases being treated in hospitals.

The most read article on the Jakarta Post today is this in-depth look at how the Indonesian government has responded to scientific advice during the pandemic.

The Jakarta Post writes: “the Indonesian government has made headlines for rejecting scientific studies aimed at forecasting Covid-19 situations in the country. Even before the pandemic, the country was not regarded as friendly toward scientists, especially those from abroad. The Jakarta Post has looked into the government’s policies and compared them with several of the latest relevant studies.”

Read the full story here.

Indonesia has recorded more than 1.26m cases, including more than 34,000 deaths. It is now aiming to vaccinate more than 181 million of its 270 million residents within 15 months, and last week announced fines of $450 for those who refuse.

Malaysia starts vaccine program early

Malaysia moved up its Covid-19 inoculation drive by two days as the first batch of vaccines arrived in the Southeast Asian nation on Sunday.

Malaysia aims to vaccinate at least 80% of its 32 million people within a year as it pushes to revive an economy that, slammed by coronavirus-related curbs, recorded its worst slump in over two decades in 2020.

It has imposed more lockdowns this year amid a fresh wave of coronavirus infections. The country has recorded 280,272 cases and 1,051 deaths.

A total of 312,390 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were delivered to Malaysia on Sunday morning, with more expected in coming weeks.

“The second delivery will be made on 26 February, and we will continue to receive (Pfizer) deliveries every two weeks until it is completed,” Science Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said in a virtual news conference.

Malaysia has secured 32 million doses from Pfizer and BioNTech.

Vaccine doses from China’s Sinovac Biotech are scheduled to be delivered in bulk on 27 February, pending approval from local regulators, Khairy said.

The national vaccine rollout will begin Wednesday, earlier than initially scheduled, with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and health ministry director General Noor Hisham Abdullah set to receive the first doses, Khairy said.

Hong Kong and Singapore might be discussing a reopening of the failed travel bubble, the South China Morning Post is reporting.

The quarantine-free travel arrangement was supposed to begin on 22 November, but just before its launch it was indefinitely postpone due to an outbreak of the virus in Hong Kong.

An unnamed Hong Kong government source told the Post authorities on both sides were in talks over restarting the arrangement, but it was still too early to say when it would begin.

Germany records more than 7,600 new cases

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 7,676 to 2,386,559, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Sunday.

The reported death toll rose by 145 to 67,841, the tally showed.

A pub that closed its doors during lockdown is now serving a menagerie of very different clientele after transforming into Ireland’s first wildlife hospital, Reuters reports.

The bar of the Tara Na Ri pub in County Meath to the northwest of Dublin is now deserted, the blinds pulled down, the Guinness taps dry and the till empty.

But the pub’s outbuildings are a hive of activity.

Since Ireland’s first coronavirus lockdown pub the Tara Na Ri has been closed to regulars, but now it hosts a menagerie of new clientèle as the nation’s first wildlife hospital.
Since Ireland’s first coronavirus lockdown pub the Tara Na Ri has been closed to regulars, but now it hosts a menagerie of new clientèle as the nation’s first wildlife hospital. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

In one, a member of staff bottle-feeds Liam, a two-week-old wild Irish goat who was found on a mountainside.

Three swans nest on straw in former stables, a skittish fox settles in a new enclosure, and a wide-eyed buzzard is being nursed back to health.

“We were very much accustomed to just one singular way of living,” said James McCarthy, whose family have owned the pub for more than a decade.

“When that’s taken away you’re just kind of left with a void. It takes some time before it starts getting replaced with other things that you never would have thought were possible before.”

McCarthy has turned the outbuildings over to the government-backed agency Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland (WRI) and instead of pulling pints, now serves drive-through customers with takeaway coffees at the front of the pub.

A member of staff feeds a two week-old native wild Irish goat which was found on a mountainside and named Liam, at Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland’s new premises situated behind the Tara na Ri Pub, which is shuttered due to the Covid-19 pandemic, at Garlow Cross outside Navan in County Meath, Ireland on February 18, 2021.
A member of staff feeds a two week-old native wild Irish goat which was found on a mountainside and named Liam, at Wildlife Rehabilitation Ireland’s new premises situated behind the Tara na Ri Pub, which is shuttered due to the Covid-19 pandemic, at Garlow Cross outside Navan in County Meath, Ireland on February 18, 2021. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

Israel reopened swathes of its economy on Sunday in what it called the start of a return to routine enabled by a Covid-19 vaccination drive that has reached almost half the population, Reuters reports.

While shops were open to all, access to leisure sites like gyms and theatres was limited to vaccines or those who have recovered from the disease with presumed immunity, a so-called “Green Pass” status displayed on a special health ministry app.

Social distancing measures were still in force. Dancing was barred at banquet halls, and synagogues, mosques or churches were required to halve their normal number of worshippers.

Coming exactly a year after Israel’s first documented coronavirus case, Sunday’s easing of curbs is part of a government plan to open the economy more widely next month, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is up for reelection.
Israel has administered at least one dose of the Pfizer Inc vaccine to more than 45% of its 9 million population, the health ministry says. The two-shot regimen has reduced Covid-19 infections by 95.8%, ministry data showed.

The country has logged more than 740,000 cases and 5,500 deaths from the illness, prompting criticism of the Netanyahu government’s sometimes patchy enforcement of three national lockdowns. It has pledged that there will not be a fourth.

Elementary schoolers and pupils in the last two years of high school attended classes on Sunday in Israeli towns found to have contagion rates under control. Middle schoolers are due back by next month, after almost a year of remote learning.

Updated

In Australia the state of Victoria has recorded no new locally-acquired cases as the government commits $143m of support for businesses unable to operate on Valentine’s Day due to the state’s five-day lockdown.

Vaccinations will start for eligible high-risk recipients on Monday in Victoria, where there were no local or overseas-acquired coronavirus diagnoses in the latest 24-hour period, with more than 10,300 tests conducted.

It was the state’s second consecutive day without a local virus case in Victoria.

Jobs Minister Martin Pakula on Sunday told reporters the state government will distribute $143m to businesses affected by the state’s third lockdown, which ended on Thursday.

Payments of $2,000 to 50,000 businesses aims to compensate for the inability to trade over the five-day period, which coincided with Valentine’s Day, Lunar New Year and the Australian Open tennis.

Businesses such as restaurants, florists, live entertainers and accommodation providers would be high on the list, he noted.

The support will be available for firms with an annual payroll of up to $3m.

Additional payments of $3,000 would be made available to licensed hospitality venues which have previously received support via the state’s assistance fund, while $16m in total would be handed to accommodation providers.

An additional 50,000 travel vouchers of $200 would be made available for venues in both regional Victoria and Greater Melbourne.

Chinese state media reports the government has approved another 16 domestically-produced vaccines for clinical trials.

According to government organ, China Daily, six of the 16 have entered phase three trials.

China has two locally produced vaccines – both of which rely on inactivated Covid-19 – which are now being administered to people in multiple countries. At home, more than 40 million Chinese people have received the vaccine, but China has also supplied more than 440m doses to at least 27 countries, in what’s been termed a campaign of ‘vaccine diplomacy’, alongside Russia.

China specialists are pointing to the way it has rolled vaccines into its belt and road initiative framework, using summits with Middle East and African countries to offer preferential access to jabs alongside investments in highways, ports, 5G grids and renewable energy. Last year, while Washington was trumpeting an “America first” response to the pandemic, Beijing was making high-profile deals to trial, produce and sell vaccines in Latin America, deep inside the US’s traditional sphere of influence.

You can read more about that in this report from Friday by Michael Safi and Milivoje Pantovic.

Data on the number of Covid-19 cases in the UK is now so encouraging that outdoor sports for children and small numbers of adults should be allowed immediately as part of an accelerated easing of the lockdown, a leading scientist and adviser to government has told the Observer.

With the prime minister expected to take a cautious approach to lifting restrictions in a statement to the House of Commons on Monday, Prof Mark Woolhouse of Edinburgh University, whose work feeds into the Sage committee’s sub-group Spi-M, said the data showed there was no need for the government to be “ultra-cautious”.

Read more here:

Mexico records 7,785 new cases, 832 deaths

Mexico’s health ministry on Saturday reported 7,785 new confirmed coronavirus cases in the country and 832 more fatalities, bringing its total to 2,038,276 infections and 179,797 deaths.

The real number of infected people and deaths is likely significantly higher than the official count, the health ministry has said.

Updated

In northern China, there are some concerns and complaints among residents who have been in lockdown for more than 40 days.

China recently experienced its worst outbreaks since the early months of the pandemic. Gaocheng, a district of Shijiazhuang city home to 800,000 people, was one of the worst affected, with more than 880 cases.

The South China Morning Post reports there have been no new cases since Monday, and authorities have adjusted the risk level designations of most of the district. But some locals in Jiumen town said they hadn’t been told of restrictions lifting and had been prevented from leaving. They’ve been in lockdown since mid January, and residents are saying they’re running out of food, and have been ordered to take tests multiple times.

“I have done the test 16 times. I have not stepped out of the house for over a month.” He Pengfei, a 30-year-old restaurant owner in Lianzhou town, told the Post. He said he has been forced to shut his business and was going into debt.

China has reported seven new cases in the mainland for Saturday, compared with eight cases a day earlier, the National Health Commission said.

All the new infections were imported cases, it said in a statement. There were no new deaths.

China also reported six new asymptomatic patients, compared with 13 a day earlier. China does not classify asymptomatic cases as confirmed Covid-19 cases.

As of Saturday, mainland China had 89,831 confirmed coronavirus infections, while the death toll remained at 4,636, it said.

Hello and welcome to our continuing coverage of the pandemic. You can catch up on earlier updates here.

Here’s the latest.

  • Australia has begun its vaccine rollout a day early, with the country’s prime minister among the first people to receive a dose on Sunday. “It’s safe, it’s important, join us on this Australian path that sees us come out of the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
  • All adults in the UK will be offered a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by the end of July, Boris Johnson has said ahead of an announcement on how England will begin to ease its third lockdown.
  • Israel has reported a 95.8% drop in Covid-19 infection among those who have received two doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, its health ministry announced on Saturday.
  • A further 21 cases of the virus variant first discovered in the UK have been detected in Morocco, its health ministry has said, taking the number of reported cases with the mutation to 24.
  • Coronavirus cases are rising in a number of Indian states, including Punjab, Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh. The rise in infections comes amid the detection of new virus variants in Maharashtra, the Times of India reports.
  • France’s number of new coronavirus cases compared with a week earlier increased for the third day in a row, with the health ministry reporting 22,371 new cases on Saturday.
  • Micheál Martin, the taoiseach, has ruled out reopening Ireland’s hospitality sector until mid-summer due to the high level of Covid-19 cases in the country.
  • Mexico’s deputy health minister has announced that he has tested positive for Covid-19, adding that his symptoms are mild.
  • Iran has closed several crossing points at its border with Iraq in an effort to curb the spread of the Covid variant first detected in the UK after it was found in the country.
  • The UK health secretary, Matt Hancock, acted unlawfully by failing to publish multibillion-pound Covid-19 government contracts within the 30-day period required by law, a high court judge has ruled.
  • More than 17 million people in the UK have now had a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to government figures.

Updated

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Myanmar: more than 100,000 protest in streets against coup

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Myanmar: more than 100,000 protest in streets against coup” was written by A reporter in Yangon and Rebecca Ratcliffe South-east Asia correspondent, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 17th February 2021 13.46 UTC

More than a hundred thousand people have poured on to the streets in Myanmar to voice their anger against the coup and reject an army claim that it has majority support.

At a demonstration in Myanmar’s main city, Yangon – the largest there since the deployment of troops on Sunday – protesters marched with red flags signalling their loyalty to the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi and carried signs denouncing the military.

Major junctions were blocked by a “broken down” rally, where drivers left their cars parked across the roads, with bonnets open, and by sit-down protests.

Mass demonstrations were also held in the second-largest city of Mandalay, where students, engineers and farmers were among thousands who took to the streets, and in the capital, Naypyidaw.

The demonstrations followed claims from a military spokesperson on Tuesday that protests would dwindle and that 40 million of the country’s 53 million population backed its power grab.

The military, which once ruled the country for half a century, reiterated its promise to hold fair polls during the press conference, but protesters are unconvinced and have gathered daily to demand the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other politicians from her party, the National League for Democracy. She is now in house arrest.

“I want Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, my president U Win Myint and other leaders freed immediately,” said a retired teacher, who was among those protesting in Yangon. “We want our democracy back.”

About 1,000 university staff and students gathered outside the Secretariat, a sprawling colonial-era building that once served as the administrative centre for British Burma, to demand the release of their leaders.

The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Thomas Andrews, said that before the rallies he had received reports of soldiers being transported into Yangon from other regions, adding that he feared “we could be on the precipice of the military committing even greater crimes against the people of Myanmar”.

“In the past, such troop movements preceded killings, disappearances, and detentions on a mass scale,” he said. By early evening, protests appeared to have been mostly peaceful.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who has not been seen in public since she was deposed on 1 February, appeared in court by video link on Tuesday. She was previously accused of illegally importing walkie-talkies and now faces a second charge for apparently violating Covid regulations in the run-up to November’s election. If convicted, this could prevent her from running in future polls.

Her lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, said he was not informed in advance of the court hearing and so missed the proceedings. “As soon as we heard about it, we [lawyer and the National League for Democracy’s central executive committee] joined the video conference, but it was already over. The judge then explained what had happened,” he said.

He was not given notice, he added, because he has not yet been officially recognised as Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyer and has not been granted permission to speak to her. It is unclear how long a future trial might take, he said, but it could last for more than one year.

More than 450 people are confirmed to have been arrested since the coup on 1 February, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma, while the military has repeatedly blocked communications. On Tuesday, an internet blackout was imposed for the third night running, according to the monitoring group NetBlocks. The junta has prepared a draft law that would criminalise many online activities and tighten internet surveillance.

It has also attempted to halt protests by imposing a curfew, a ban on gatherings of five or more people, and by using increased force. On Monday in Mandalay, police were joined by troops who used rubber bullets and slingshots to disperse protesters.

Demonstrators light candles during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, on Tuesday.
Demonstrators light candles during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, on Tuesday. Photograph: Reuters

The military has justified seizing power by alleging widespread voter fraud in November elections won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, a claim dismissed by observers.

The spokesman for the military, Zaw Min Tun, said on Tuesday that both Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, who is also accused of breaking Covid regulations during election campaigning last year, were in a “safer place” and “in good health”. “It’s not like they were arrested – they are staying at their houses,” the general, who became the country’s vice-minister of information after the coup, told a press conference. Their next court hearing is scheduled for 1 March.

The US, which has announced targeted sanctions against the generals, condemned the new charge against Aung San Suu Kyi, and renewed calls for her release.

China did not initially criticise the coup, however the country’s ambassador to Myanmar, Chen Hai, said on Tuesday that “the current development in Myanmar is absolutely not what China wants to see”. He added that China had not been informed in advance that the military was planning to seize power, and denied suggestions it was providing military support or technical assistance to create a firewall to limit online access. Protesters have gathered outside China’s embassy over recent days, accusing it of propping up the military.

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The martyrdom of Mike Pence

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “The martyrdom of Mike Pence” was written by Sidney Blumenthal, for theguardian.com on Sunday 7th February 2021 06.00 UTC

After Donald Trump had exhausted all of his claims of voter fraud and could contrive no more conspiracy theories that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him, and after his revolving menagerie of legal mouthpieces had all of their motions tossed out of every venue up to the supreme court, and after his reliable enabler, Attorney General William Barr, informed him his accusations were false and he had reached the end of the line, and resigned, Trump came as a last resort to rest his slipping hold on power on his most unwavering defender and ceaseless flatterer, who had never let him down: his vice-president, Mike Pence.

Nobody was more responsible for fostering the cult of Trump. The evangelical Pence had been Trump’s rescuer, starting with his forgiveness for the miscreant in the crisis during the 2016 campaign over Trump’s Access Hollywood “grab them by the pussy” tape and then over the disclosure of the “Individual One” hush money payoff to a porn star about a one-night stand to shut her up before election day – AKA “the latest baseless allegations”. Pence was the indispensable retainer who delivered the evangelical base, transforming it through the alchemy of his faith into Trump’s rock of ages. After every malignant episode, from Charlottesville (“I stand with the president”) to coronavirus (“The president took another historic step”), the pious Pence could be counted on to bless Trump for his purity of heart and to shepherd the flock of true believers.

“Trump’s got the populist nationalists,” Stephen Bannon, Trump’s pardoned former senior adviser, remarked. “But Pence is the base. Without Pence, you don’t win.”

Withstanding the howling winds of narcissism, the unshakably self-abasing Pence upheld the cross over Trump. On the evening of 3 May 2017, Trump welcomed his evangelical advisory board for dinner in the Blue Room of the White House.

“I’ve been with [Trump] alone in the room when the decisions are made,” Pence testified to the assembled pastors. “He and I have prayed together. This is somebody who shares our views, shares our values, shares our beliefs.”

Nobody more than Pence had modeled adulation of Trump to become the standard for sycophantic imitation. At the first meeting of members of Trump’s cabinet, on 12 June 2017, the president called on each to offer praise.

“I’m going to start with our vice-president. Where is our vice-president?” Trump asked. “We’ll start with Mike and then we’ll just go around, your name, your position.”

“This is just the greatest privilege of my life,” Pence said, setting the tone for the others.

Righthand man: Donald Trump speaks in the Cabinet Room of the White House, in June 2018.
Right-hand man: Donald Trump speaks in the Cabinet Room of the White House, in June 2018. Photograph: Susan Walsh/AP

By August, Pence had mentioned Trump’s “broad shoulders” 17 times, to proclaim his manly strength. At the cabinet meeting of 20 December 2017, Pence praised Trump 14 times in just under three minutes, a commendation every 12.5 seconds, concluding in his last breathless, fawning words: “And we are making America great again.” On 6 June 2018, at a meeting of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Trump suddenly and inexplicably put his water bottle on the floor. Without missing a beat, Pence, seated beside him, put his bottle on the floor too.

Finally, after 61 failed lawsuits challenging the presidential election, Trump’s lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis told him there was a magic solution. Pence, presiding over the counting of the ballots of the electoral college before a joint session of Congress on 6 January, could overturn results in the key states that had gone against Trump, by deciding himself which votes to certify and which to reject. Rightwing social media was awash with rumors about “the Pence card”.

Pence sought the opinions of an array of conservative legal experts, who uniformly stated that he had no such authority. For days, Trump badgered him. On 4 January, campaigning in Georgia for Republican senatorial candidates, Trump said: “If the liberal Democrats take the Senate and the White House, and they’re not going to take the White House, we’re going to fight like hell, I hope Mike Pence comes through for us, I have to tell you … He’s a great guy. Of course, if he doesn’t come through I won’t like him quite as much … He’s a wonderful man, a smart man and a man I like a lot.”

On the day before the electoral college votes were to be certified, 5 January, Trump tweeted, “The Vice-President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors.” Hours later, Trump cornered Pence in the Oval Office. He had brought along a rightwing law professor, John Eastman, from Chapman University, who argued that Pence had the power to overturn the electoral college. Eastman had written an op-ed asserting that Kamala Harris was ineligible to run for vice-president because she was not a proper US citizen – a new birtherism. Trump told Pence Eastman was “very highly qualified”. For once, Pence stood his ground. His reverence turned into recalcitrance. He rebuffed Trump. There was a line he would not cross.

That night, after the New York Times reported that Pence felt “he would need to balance the president’s misguided beliefs about government with his own years of preaching deference to the constitution”, Trump issued a statement: “The New York Times report regarding comments Vice-President Pence supposedly made to me today is fake news. He never said that. The Vice-President and I are in total agreement that the Vice-President has the power to act.”

Before dawn on 6 January, after it was clear the Republicans had lost both seats in Georgia and with them control of the Senate, Trump frantically engaged in a tweet storm.

“States want to correct their votes, which they now know were based on irregularities and fraud, plus corrupt process never received legislative approval. All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”

Then Trump called Pence at the vice-presidential residence, the Naval Observatory, to deliver an ultimatum. “You can either go down in history as a patriot, or you can go down in history as a pussy,” Trump said. But Pence spurned him again. He hung up and got into his motorcade. As he drove to the Capitol, Trump mounted the platform at his “Stop the Steal” rally outside the White House, to address thousands of followers.

Trump knew Pence intended to perform his constitutionally prescribed duty to preside over the process that would seal Joe Biden’s election. Pence had repeatedly told Trump that was what he would do. Trump had tried every means to dislodge him from his position, but Pence proved immovable. Trump’s call that morning, threatening him as a “pussy”, was the last desperate gambit. Trump knew the string was played out.

People listen to Trump speak near the White House on 6 January.
People listen to Trump speak near the White House on 6 January. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

But when he addressed the crowd he had assembled, Trump pretended he did not know what Pence was going to do. Stung by Pence’s emphatic refusal, he knew he was retailing a false narrative. He feigned that Pence had not yet made up his mind – and that the entire decision now depended upon him. Trump built up the dramatic suspense, stoked the crowd’s anger and directed its fixation. Trump turned the entire crisis on to Pence.

Trump referred to Pence 13 times in his speech:

I hope Mike is going to do the right thing. I hope so. I hope so. Because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election … All Vice-President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to re-certify and we become president and you are the happiest people. And I actually, I just spoke to Mike. I said: ‘Mike, that doesn’t take courage. What takes courage is to do nothing. That takes courage’ … And Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us, and if he doesn’t, that will be a sad day for our country because you’re sworn to uphold our constitution … And Mike Pence, I hope you’re going to stand up for the good of our constitution and for the good of our country. And if you’re not, I’m going to be very disappointed in you. I will tell you right now. I’m not hearing good stories … They want to re-certify. But the only way that can happen is if Mike Pence agrees to send it back. Mike Pence has to agree to send it back. So I hope Mike has the courage to do what he has to do. And I hope he doesn’t listen to the Rinos [Republicans In Name Only] and the stupid people that he’s listening to …

Targeting Pence, Trump urged his followers forward. “And we fight. We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country any more … So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue”– to the Capitol.

Trump was well aware that the crowd contained violent elements. He knew it was not like one of the festive crowds that attended his campaign rallies, warmed up with singing and dancing. In his 1 October debate with Biden, Trump had given a shoutout to the white supremacist Proud Boys, calling out their name and giving them a slogan: “Stand back and stand by.” On 12 December, Proud Boys led thousands of paramilitary demonstrators to protest against the election result in Washington.

“WE HAVE JUST BEGUN TO FIGHT!!!” Trump tweeted that morning to greet them. That night, the Proud Boys roamed the streets, provoking fights. Four people were stabbed, one shot, a police officer assaulted and 33 people arrested. The Proud Boys’ leader, Enrique Tarrio, was later arrested for burning a “Black Lives Matter” banner at a historic Black church and charged with two counts of felony for illegal possession of high-capacity guns.

“We won the Presidential Election, by a lot. FIGHT FOR IT. Don’t let them take it away!” Trump tweeted on 18 December. The next day he tweeted: “Big protest on 6 January. Be there, will be wild!”

Arriving at the Capitol that day, taking his place in the Senate chamber at 1pm, Pence issued a statement: “It is my considered judgment that my oath to support and defend the constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not.”

Trump was just finishing speaking. The spearhead of the mob had already broken through the police perimeter on the west side of the Capitol. Just after 2pm, led by the Proud Boys and other paramilitary groups, the mob poured through smashed windows and doors and rushed into the corridors, chanting: “Hang Mike Pence!”

A protester carries a noose while standing outside the Capitol.
A protester carries a noose while standing outside the Capitol. Photograph: Mukul Ranjan/Reuters

“Once we found out Pence turned on us and that they had stolen the election, like, officially, the crowd went crazy. I mean, it became a mob,” said one rioter, later arrested, in a video posted on YouTube. Another of those arrested texted: “When we found out Pence fucked us, we all stormed the Capitol building and everyone forced entry and started breaking shit. It was a like a scene out of a movie.”

But many of those assaulting the Capitol had already received Trump’s tinfoil cue to focus on Pence. The FBI charging paper for one arrested rioter, an alleged QAnon militant, quoted a text message two weeks before the attack: “I’m there for the greatest celebration of all time after Pence leads the Senate flip!! OR IM THERE IF TRUMP TELLS US TO STORM THE FUKIN CAPITAL IMA DO THAT THEN! We don’t want any trouble but they are not going to steal this election that I guarantee bro!!”

Secret service agents hustled Pence out of the chamber. “Where’s Mike Pence?” chanted the mob, racing to locate him. They carried a noose, marked with his name. Pence was in an office only about 100ft away. A quick-thinking Capitol police officer steered the rampaging throng to chase him in the opposite direction. At 2.24pm, amid the mayhem, Trump tweeted: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our country and our constitution, giving states a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”

Dozens of messages immediately appeared on Gab, a social media networking site favored by neo-Nazis and white supremacists, encouraging those inside the Capitol to capture Pence.

“I heard at least three different rioters at the Capitol say that they hoped to find Vice-President Mike Pence and execute him by hanging him from a Capitol Hill tree as a traitor,” reported Jim Bourg, the Reuters picture editor in Washington. “It was a common line being repeated. Many more were just talking about how the VP should be executed.”

At 3.55pm, Pence tweeted: “The violence and destruction taking place at the US Capitol Must Stop and it Must Stop Now.” Nearly five hours later, the Capitol had been cleared, the Senate reconvened and Pence stood at the dais. On the desk, a note had been left for him by the shirtless, horned fur-hatted, face-painted, self-proclaimed “QAnon shaman”, one Jacob Chansley.

“It’s only a matter of time, justice is coming,” it read.

Trump supporters stand by the door to the Senate.
Trump supporters stand by the door to the Senate. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

At 3.34am, in the early hours of 7 January, Pence affirmed that Joe Biden had won the election. Five people, including a Capitol police officer, would die as a result of the riot; 140 police were injured.

Throughout the pandemonium in the Capitol, Trump did not seek to discover whether Pence was safe. He did not call him. He was watching the insurrection on TV at the White House, “excited” and “delighted”, according to the Republican senator Ben Sasse, who told of accounts heard from aides who were with the president. Trump never did call Pence.

“I’ve known Mike Pence for ever,” said a friend, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma. “I’ve never seen Pence as angry … He said, ‘After all the things I’ve done for [Trump].’”

On 8 January, Trump announced he would not attend the inauguration. Pence stated that he would be there, to see Biden take the oath of office.

On the mantle above the fireplace in his library at the vice-president’s residence, Pence placed a framed passage from the Bible’s Book of Jeremiah.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

For Pence, the quotation from scripture was a complacent blessing from the gospel of prosperity. (He conveniently did not frame other passages from Jeremiah preceding and following his favorite citation: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord … “You should put any maniac who acts like a prophet into the stocks and neck-irons.”)

Pence did not know God’s plan for him. He was just certain that God had one in mind. Pence did not voice the prophesy. He was no prophet. He was not the oracle. But he knew that he had a divinely ordained destiny. He believed it would unfold with his heavenly ascent to the highest position, becoming president as reward for his faithful humility. He adhered to the evangelical notion of “servant leadership”, Marc Short, his chief of staff and a fellow evangelical, explained to the Atlantic. Pence modeled himself on Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, a model for evangelicals to follow in his example toward Trump: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.”

“Servant leadership is biblical,” Short said. “That’s at the heart of it for Mike, and it comes across in his relationship with the president.”

The political marriage of Pence and Trump was an alliance of opposites, a calibrated balancing act of the pious and the pitiless, the sacred and the profane, the bland Hoosier and the brash New Yorker, the lockstep partisan and the egotist. It was also a team of media celebrities, minor and major, the trusted voice from the heartland leading his true believers to the TV reality show confidence man.

Pence had risen to prominence as a conservative talkshow host in Indiana, “His Mikeness”, self-described as “Rush Limbaugh on decaf”, opening every show: “Greetings across the amber waves of grain.” When local Republicans urged him to run for Congress, his intimate adviser, his wife, Karen, whom he calls “Mother”, interpreted two hawks flying overhead as God’s sign. Pence served six undistinguished terms, ingratiated himself with the Koch brothers’ donor network as its servant, and the party elevated him to the Indiana governor’s chair. His principal accomplishment was to enact a bill discriminating against gay people, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which under widespread criticism and threats of boycott he essentially rescinded. He was uncertain of re-election; then Trump plucked him from obscurity. Another sign.

The relationship was set in stone at the beginning. The Access Hollywood tape was the formative event. Everything followed from Trump’s risky business and Pence’s avid devotion. When the scandal broke, the Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, organized pressure on Trump to quit and Pence to assume his place, according to Pence’s biographer Tom LoBianco.

“Donald Trump should withdraw and Mike Pence should be our nominee effective immediately,” tweeted Senator John Thune, of South Dakota. Karen Pence was “livid”. But Pence refused to drink from the chalice he was offered, believing it to be poisoned. If he replaced Trump, he would be blamed for destroying him and the inevitable election defeat. Instead, he believed Trump would lose and he, Pence, would be ideally positioned to be the Republican nominee in 2020, to take on President Hillary Clinton. And when Trump survived and went on to win, Pence was the next in line.

Pence was not blind about Trump. Karen Pence confided to one of his aides: “We knew we were signing up for something unique. We knew there would be times he’d say and do things we’d never do. We understood that … Obviously, it’s disappointing, but it doesn’t change the mission.”

Trump was Pence’s cross to bear. Whether Pence respected him was beside the point. Trump only wanted to be worshipped. He obviously thought he had endless use of the simplistic Pence as his tool. But Pence knew that both he and Trump were tools of the Lord, though for different purposes. He wanted to create a worshipful presence for Trump, toward greater ends about which Trump was completely unknowing. Pence had been put into his position for the Lord’s purposes, in an unfolding divine story. He was right with the Lord. He was not only elected; he was among the elect. The Lord blessed his servant. The blessing was a promise of his ever-rising advancement so long as he was steadfast. He stayed the course no matter the tribulations and privations. His destiny had been written. He proved himself worthy by his steadfastness in bearing the desecrations of the unworthy Trump. Every further revelation of Trump’s character confirmed that Pence was being tested for the time beyond Trump. Pence carried his cross for a glorious consummation for the most faithful of the Lord’s chosen, Mike Pence.

Trump and Pence, at prayer in the Oval Office.
Trump and Pence, at prayer in the Oval Office. Photograph: Yuri Gripas/Reuters

If Pence maintained his equanimity, he could keep moving forward. His voice was steady, his manner was steady and when a fly landed on his head in his debate with Kamala Harris, he was steady. He had practice with far greater distractions. This fly didn’t do anything embarrassing, except land on his head. It was not the fly’s fault. Pence could bear everything.

But the more Pence succeeded in achieving his perfection of humility and show of gratitude, the more he persuaded the evangelicals it was Trump who was divinely anointed. Regardless of how Pence saw himself in his inner vision, through his ministrations the evangelicals came to see Trump as the one who made America right with the Lord. Pence made sure the credit went to his lord. He rendered unto Caesar.

Pence did not know that staying the course would be his undoing. His role as president of the Senate in presiding over the counting of the electoral college votes was largely ceremonial and passive. Pence believed he was true to the constitution –under God. He had taken his oath on his Bible. His presence naturally lent the process legitimacy. For Trump, that was the problem. Pence’s faith created a schism not only with Trump, but also with his ambition.

Trump by his lights had not lost the election; it was stolen. Trump could never be a loser. He had won. He was being deprived of his victory. Pence alone could change it. If he did not, he explained Trump’s failure. The fault was displaced on to Pence.

Pence bestowed on Trump the fatal kiss. Pence was the Judas. He did not ever imagine he was Judas, but always God’s servant. Judas knew he was betraying Jesus, but Pence never thought he was betraying Trump. Pence never knew that all along, this was part of God’s plan.

Upholding his oath, Pence’s hopes turned to ashes. He became something he never anticipated: the fall guy. He never expected he would be Trump’s patsy. It was one thing to be his flunky, but Pence never thought, even after all the other adults in the room had departed in obloquy, he’d be the last patsy standing.

Pence may consider himself one of the most unselfish Christians. The extreme case of humility is when a person gives his all to someone who is completely selfish and has no other purpose. Now loathed by evangelicals, Pence must console himself with the holy paradox invested in martyrs, in which the martyr scorned by his own people suffers for the greater good of the Lord. Only later is the martyr beatified as a saint. Becoming such a martyr might get Pence a stained-glass window in some future crystal cathedral, but it will not get him anywhere in the Republican party.

Pence is reportedly isolated, in a borrowed cabin in Indiana, having arranged to be a “visiting fellow” at the Heritage Foundation.

No evangelical leader has stepped forward to defend his honor. No Republican leader has vouched for his virtue, obligations and higher loyalty. Abandoned and alone, the object of hatred, the target of threats. Pence had taught his flock to worship its lord and cast out heretics. He delivered everything to Trump, and Trump delivered Pence to the mob as a scapegoat. Pence had shown them the way to follow Trump as a true servant. And they did.

“Hang Mike Pence!”

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Trump to outline impeachment defense as Biden seeks to undo border family separations – live

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Trump to outline impeachment defense as Biden seeks to undo border family separations – live” was written by Martin Belam, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 2nd February 2021 11.48 UTC

Stephen Collinson at CNN writes this morning that the pandemic is still dwarfing the size of Washington’s efforts to fight it:

A race against time to vaccinate sufficient Americans before mutant versions of the virus cause a new wave of sickness and death is turning into a critical stress test for a mass immunization effort off to a difficult start.

And there is a disconnect in Washington over the scale of the crisis, with Democrats demanding a “go big” economic rescue plan and the few Republicans who back action envisaging a much more modest approach.

It remains unclear whether vaccine and testing efforts, attempts to alleviate harrowing economic suffering and the level of buy-in from the American people themselves are sufficient for the challenges that lie ahead.

“We have got to prepare ourselves for a long battle,” William Haseltine, a groundbreaking medical researcher and author, told CNN’s Erin Burnett on Monday, warning of the potential of variant viral strains to prolong the pandemic. “We can do it. We have to muster the popular will to do it. It can’t be done only by leadership, it has to be done by each and every citizen,” he said.

Collinson also identifies a risk to the Biden administration’s future plans:

Biden’s White House has injected perceptible urgency to the fight, overhauling the faltering vaccine rollout of a previous President who most often ignored the worst domestic crisis in decades. Americans are now deluged with briefings and data from scientists, free to speak without fear of political repercussions. The most important priority will be scaling up the vaccine effort – an operation that depends on the swift approval of a large Covid-19 rescue from Congress.

But the President is leading a country beaten down by months of social distancing, family isolation and economic pain. As new coronavirus infections decline and eventually hospitalizations and death rates fall, state governors are likely to face intense political pressure to restore a semblance of normal life.

Read more here: CNN – The pandemic is still dwarfing the size of Washington’s efforts to fight it

Nearly 8% of US population have now received at least one dose of Covid vaccine

Yesterday there were 134,339 new coronavirus cases in the US, and the death toll increased by 2,031. According to the Johns Hopkins University figures the total caseload is now 26,298,768 and the death toll has reached 443,022.

Hospitalizations dropped again – to 93,536. That’s the lowest figure since 30 November. It’s the twentieth day in a row that the figure collected by the Covid Tracking Project has fallen.

On the vaccinations front, at least 26.2 million people have now received a first dose of a Covid vaccine – that’s approaching 8% of the US population. 6.1 million people have been fully vaccinated. 49.9 million doses have been distributed. Alaska, West Virginia, New Mexico and Connecticut are the first US states to vaccinate 10% or more of their populations.

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Republican Kevin Faulconer says he will run for California governor

Former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer has entered the race for California governor, the first major Republican to formally step into the contest.

Faulconer’s announcement came as supporters of a possible recall that could oust current Gov. Gavin Newsom from office continue gathering the nearly 1.5 million petition signatures needed to qualify the proposal for the ballot.

They have until mid-March to hit the required threshold, and organizers say they have over 1.3 million so far.

In an online video, the 54-year-old Republican depicted California as a failed state freighted with scandal and witnessing an eroding quality of life. He said he is running “to make a difference, not to make promises.”

“He’s failed us,” Faulconer said of Newsom. “I know we can clean up California.”

Newsom’s campaign said the governor would remain focused on distributing Covid-19 vaccine and providing relief for families and small businesses while Republicans jockey for political advantage.

“Trying to exploit a global pandemic to advance a political career exposes his craven ambition,” Newsom’s chief strategist, Dan Newman, said about Faulconer in a statement.

Last spring, Newsom received wide praise for his aggressive approach to the coronavirus outbreak, when he issued the nation’s first statewide stay-at-home order. But there has been growing public unrest over subsequent health orders that closed schools and businesses, and investigations continue into a massive unemployment benefits fraud scandal.

The deadline today for Donald Trump to respond to the House of Representatives’ charging him with inciting insurrection comes just days after he parted ways with his initial legal team. Trump is still contending, contrary to the evidence – and the outcome of nearly 60 court cases – that his election loss to president Joe Biden was the result of widespread fraud.

The 6 January rampage at the Capitol by Trump followers was intended to stop the Senate from certifying Biden’s win, reports Richard Cowan for Reuters.

Republican Senator John Cornyn – one of the 100 members of the Senate who will serve as jurors in Trump’s second impeachment trial – said that the election result argument would be “really not material” to the charge that Trump’s remarks urging supporters to “fight” on 6 January, directly leading to the attack on the Capitol.

“I think it would be a disservice to the president’s own defense to get bogged down in things that really aren’t before the Senate,” Cornyn, a former Texas supreme court judge, told reporters on Monday.

One of Trump’s recently hired lawyers, David Schoen, called the process “completely unconstitutional” in an interview with Fox News on Monday, but did not outline the former president’s legal strategy.

“I think it’s also the most ill-advised legislative action that I’ve seen in my lifetime,” Schoen said. “It is tearing the country apart at a time when we don’t need anything like that.”

The attack on the Capitol ultimately left five dead, including police officer Brian Sicknick.

In addition to Trump’s deadline, the nine House Democrats serving as impeachment managers – essentially the prosecutors of the case – need to file their initial briefs, ahead of the trial getting started next week.

Overnight Axios have labelled as a scoop their account of why former president Donald Trump fell out with the first legal team for his second impeachment trial, if you follow my meaning. Alayna Treene writes:

The notoriously stingy former president and his lead lawyer, Butch Bowers, wrangled over compensation during a series of tense phone calls, sources familiar with their conversations said. The argument came even though Trump has raised over $170 million from the public that could be used on his legal defenses.

The two initially agreed Bowers would be paid $250,000 for his individual services, a figure that “delighted” Trump, one of the sources said.

However, Trump didn’t realize Bowers hadn’t included additional expenses — including more lawyers, researchers and other legal fees that would be accrued on the job. He was said to be livid when Bowers came back to him with a total budget of $3 million. Trump called the South Carolina attorney and eventually negotiated him down to $1 million.

All of this infuriated Trump and his political team, who think the case will be straightforward, given 45 Republican senators already voted to dismiss the trial on the basis it is unconstitutional to convict a former president on impeachment charges.

Read more here: Axios – Fees, not just strategy, blew up Trump’s legal team

Pakistan’s supreme court has ordered that the Pakistani-British man acquitted of the 2002 beheading of the American journalist Daniel Pearl be moved off death row and to a government “safe house”.

Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who has been on death row for 18 years, will be under guard and not allowed to leave the safe house, but his wife and children will be able to visit him.

Sheikh’s father, Ahmad Saeed Sheikh, who attended the hearing on Tuesday, said: “It is not complete freedom. It is a step toward freedom.”

The Pakistan government has been scrambling to keep Sheikh in jail since a supreme court order last Thursday upheld his acquittal over the death of Pearl, a decision that outraged Pearl’s family and the US administration.

In a final effort to overturn the acquittal, Pakistan’s government and the Pearl family have filed an appeal to the supreme court, asking it to review the decision to exonerate Sheikh over Pearl’s murder.

The Pearl family lawyer, Faisal Sheikh, however, has said that such a review has a slim chance of success because the same supreme court judges who ordered Sheikh’s acquittal sit on the review panel.

Read more here: Pakistan court sends man acquitted of Daniel Pearl murder to ‘safe house’

Biden looks to Rahm Emanuel for significant ambassadorship appointment – reports

Overnight NBC News have had what they are claiming as an exclusive – the news that Rahm Emanuel is being considered for an ambassadorship. Josh Lederman and Carol E. Lee report:

President Joe Biden is considering former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for a high-profile ambassadorship, potentially to China, three people with knowledge of the discussions said.

Becoming the US ambassador to Japan is another option that Biden administration officials have discussed with Emanuel, one of the people with knowledge of the discussions said.

Emanuel, who became White House chief of staff when Barack Obama took office as president, has a reputation as a sharp-tongued political street fighter. He has clashed at times with progressive Democrats.

He is also a well-known figure in Democratic politics who would bring notoriety to an ambassadorship. Biden is considering him for a key diplomatic position as administration officials look to fill dozens of vacancies in capitals across the world, with decisions expected in coming weeks.

Read more here: NBC News – Biden administration eyes Rahm Emanuel for ambassadorship

Why does the Biden administration feel it needs a task force to reunite families? Miriam Jordan of the New York Times lays it out here:

More than 1,000 migrant children still in the United States likely remain separated from their parents, and another 500 or more were taken from their parents who have yet to be located, according to the latest estimates from lawyers working on the issue.

One of the continuing obstacles to reunification is that hundreds of parents have been deported to their home countries — places they had fled because of the danger there — and are fearful of having their children sent home to them. And some children are being deported even though their parents are still in the United States trying to obtain legal residence.

Even Trump officially rescinded the policy, border authorities removed more than 1,000 children from their families, sometimes for reasons as minor as committing a traffic infraction or failing to change a baby’s diaper, according to court documents.

There’s also some detail of how the task force is going to work – Alejandro Mayorkas will lead it, and it will have representatives from the Departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services and State.

Read more here: New York Times – Biden faces pressure to make amends on family separation

Biden to create task force to reunite migrant families separated by Trump administration

Here’s what we can expect from president Joe Biden today on immigration. He will order a major review of asylum processing at the US-Mexico border and the legal immigration system as he seeks to undo Donald Trump’s hard-line policies.

Biden will also create a task force to reunite migrant families who were separated at the southern US border by Trump’s 2018 “zero tolerance” border strategy, officials said.

Reuters report that overall, Biden will issue three executive orders dealing with regional migration, legal immigration and reunifying families.

As part of the actions, he will call for a review of a Trump-era rule that made it harder for poorer immigrants to obtain permanent residency in the United States. He will also mandate a review of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), a controversial program that pushed 65,000 asylum seekers back to Mexico to wait for US court hearings. Most returned to their home countries but some remained in a makeshift camp near the Mexican border.

The Biden administration has already stopped adding people to the program but crucially it has not yet outlined how it will process the claims of those already enrolled.

Biden’s actions will follow six immigration orders he issued on his first day in office, but will face logistical challenges and opposition from Republicans.

Lawsuits by conservative groups could also potentially slow down Biden’s agenda. A federal judge last week temporarily blocked one of his first immigration moves – a 100-day pause on many deportations – after the Republican-led state of Texas sought an injunction.

‘It was a very good exchange of views’ – Sen Collins after Covid relief meeting with Biden

“It was a very good exchange of views. I wouldn’t say we came together on a package tonight. No one expected that in a two-hour meeting. But what we did agree to do is follow up and talk further.”

Those were the words overnight of Maine’s Republican Senator Susan Collins who lead a group of 10 Republican lawmakers to meet president Joe Biden. They were presenting their ideas for a stripped-down Covid support package that might command bipartisan support. The Washington Post reports:

The path ahead is uncertain, given that Democratic leaders in Congress started the process Monday of advancing a budget bill that can unlock special Senate rules allowing Biden’s package to pass with a simple majority vote in the Senate, instead of the 60 votes usually needed — meaning no Republican votes would be necessary.

But for Biden, the meeting with the GOP senators posed a test for a new president who campaigned on his ability to make bipartisan deals — but also faces strong pressure from the left to deliver a big new relief package now that Democrats control both chambers of Congress and the White House.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said: Biden “seemed really happy to be in the game of negotiating.”

If he does leave Republicans behind on his first major piece of legislation, that could further harden the partisan divides Biden promised he would try to bridge, and sour chances for bipartisan legislation for the remainder of his first term in office. But negotiating with Republicans could drag out indefinitely with no guarantee of success, even as Democrats are demanding quick action at a precarious moment for the economy and the pandemic.

Read more here: Washington Post – Biden, Senate Republicans hold lengthy meeting on coronavirus relief bill

Hi, welcome to our live coverage of US politics for Tuesday. Here’s a catch-up on where we are, and what we might expect today…

  • Former president Donald Trump faces a noon deadline (5pm GMT) to file his defense against his second impeachment. It should give us a clue as to whether he is going to attempt to use the Senate floor for his legal team to continue to dispute the election result.
  • President Joe Biden and 10 Republican lawmakers agreed to further Covid relief talks, but deep divisions remain – the GOP proposal is less than a third of Biden’s proposed $1.9tn package.
  • Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer and House speaker Nancy Pelosi filed their joint budget resolution. The move paves the way for congressional Democrats to pass the coronavirus relief package without Republican support.
  • There were 134,339 new coronavirus cases, and 2,031 further deaths in the US yesterday. Hospitalizations fell to 93,536, their lowest since 30 November.
  • Biden will sign new executive orders at 5pm EST (10pm GMT) related to immigration and is expected announce a task force to address family separations at the border under the Trump administration.
  • Investigators have made a preliminary determination that the Capitol police officer who fatally shot Ashli Babbitt during the 6 January Capitol riot shouldn’t be charged.
  • Brian Sicknick, the Capitol Police officer who died of his injuries from the attack on the Capitol, will lie in honor today.
  • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez revealed she is a sexual assault survivor as the Democratic congresswoman gave a candid account of the Capitol attack.
  • Rep. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell called out the embrace of “loony lies and conspiracy theories” as a “cancer for the Republican party” – he probably meant Marjorie Taylor Greene and QAnon. He also threw his support behind embattled Liz Cheney.
  • Ice is preparing to resume deportations of asylum seekers after a Trump-appointed Texas judge ruled against a 100-day suspension ordered by Biden.
  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki will give a briefing at 1.30pm EST.
  • The Senate agriculture committee will hold a confirmation hearing for agriculture secretary nominees Tom Vilsack at 10.30am EST.

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Corona Virus, Health, World

Coronavirus live news: Germany may use Russian and Chinese vaccines; Pfizer pledge for 75m extra doses to EU

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Coronavirus live news: Germany may use Russian and Chinese vaccines; Pfizer pledge for 75m extra doses to EU” was written by Clea Skopeliti (now) Archie Bland and Helen Sullivan (earlier), for theguardian.com on Monday 1st February 2021 12.30 UTC

Palestinians will receive an initial batch of 50,000 coronavirus vaccines by mid-February, when inoculations will begin in the West Bank and Gaza, their prime minister announced on Monday.

Mohammed Shtayyeh said the procurement had been secured through various sources, according to AFP, such as the UN-backed Covax programme, established to provide vaccines to less wealthy states.

“Vaccination will start in the middle of this month,” Shtayyeh said.

A Palestinian sells sweets after the authorities eased restrictions put in place to stop the spread of the COVID-19, amid a coronavirus lockdown in Gaza City, 29 January 2021.
A Palestinian sells sweets after the authorities eased restrictions put in place to stop the spread of the COVID-19, amid a coronavirus lockdown in Gaza City, 29 January 2021. Photograph: Mohammed Saber/EPA

He said the vaccines would be given to the 2.8 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the two million people in the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the Hamas Islamist movement.

Israel, which is carrying out the world’s fastest per capita vaccination rollout according to most estimates, has faced rising international pressure to ensure Palestinians are inoculated.

The Palestinian Authority has not publicly asked for Israel’s aid in organising its vaccination campaign – however, the UN and human rights groups have said Israel has an obligation to do so under international law as an occupying military power.

Israel’s defence ministry said on Sunday that it would send 5,000 doses to the Palestinian Authority to vaccinate medical workers. An unnamed Palestinian health ministry official told AFP 2,000 of those doses had been delivered on Monday.

In the UK, residents in parts of Surrey will be offered Covid tests after two people with no travel links were found to have caught the variant discovered in South Africa, Sky News’s Aubrey Allegretti reports.

Read more on our UK-focused blog.

Updated

The easing of coronavirus restrictions in Italy from Monday has raised concern, with one expert forecasting a spike in infections within the next few weeks.

Sixteen out of 20 Italian regions are now in the lower-risk ‘yellow zone’, meaning bars and restaurants can serve until 6pm and people can travel more freely within their regions. The remaining four, including Umbria, Sicily, Puglia and Sardinia, are in the slightly more restrictive ‘orange zone’, along with the autonomous province of Bolzano.

A 10pm-5am curfew remains in place across the country, as does a ban on inter-regional travel unless for work or emergency reasons.

Italy registered 237 more coronavirus-related deaths on Sunday, bringing the total to 88,516 – the second-highest in Europe after the UK. There were 11,252 new infections, down from highs of over 40,000 in mid-November. The pressure on hospitals has been gradually easing, with 20,397 people currently in hospital with Covid-19, of whom 2,270 are in intensive care (down from over 3,600 in mid-November).

Daily life in Turin, as COVID-19 restrictions came down in many parts of Italy, with most of the country now a yellow zone, meaning the risk of contagion is considered moderate, 01 February 2021. EPA/Tino Romano
Daily life in Turin, as COVID-19 restrictions came down in many parts of Italy, with most of the country now a yellow zone, meaning the risk of contagion is considered moderate, 01 February 2021. EPA/Tino Romano Photograph: Tino Romano/EPA

Infant and primary schools in Italy reopened in early January, while from Monday 50% of high school pupils across all regions, apart from Sicily, will return to the classroom.

Walter Ricciardi, a scientist advising the health ministry, said that while a lockdown akin to the one in place last spring is not needed, he would prefer the whole country to be under tougher ‘red zone’ restrictions.

Experts were concerned after seeing images of crowds of people in the shopping thoroughfares of major cities over the weekend.

Ricciardi predicts that the relaxation of restrictions will lead to a rise in infections “in two to three weeks”.

“The trend of this epidemic is now predictable,” he added. “It’s important to avoid gatherings but it seems to me that simple suggestions have no effect. If we add to this the reopening of schools, we will see an increase in cases.”

The government has been under pressure to ease restrictions from businesses, while teachers and pupils have been protesting against online learning.

Agostino Miozzo, the coordinator of the scientific panel advising the government, said: “The return to being a yellow area does not mean a return to normality.”

Updated

The coronavirus crisis has caused rental prices to plunge in Madrid and Barcelona, property portal Idealista said on Monday, a marked shift from markets in which landlords could expect endlessly growing returns.

In Barcelona, rents dropped by 17% while the capital, Madrid, has seen prices fall by 12% in January compared with May of last year as the cities felt the impacts of reduced international travel, limited mobility and a shift to home working, Reuters reported.

People jogging are reflected on the window of a closed reastaurant early in the morning in Barcelona’s maritime promenade. Due coronavirus restrictions bars and restaurants can only open during concrete time slots. Pandemic Daily Life Barcelona Spain - 01 Feb 2021
People jogging reflected on the window of a closed restaurant on Barcelona’s maritime promenade. Photograph: Jordi Boixareu/ZUMA Wire/REX/Shutterstock

Professionals and students have left Spain’s two major cities as their work and studies transferred online, while the shuttering of the country’s hospitality industry have dimmed their appeal as employment hubs.

Across Spain, rents fell by 1% in January compared with December, Idealista said. Tourist-dependent regions, such as Seville and the Balearic Islands, have reported the biggest decreases, as well as areas badly affected by Covid-19, such as Lleida in Catalonia.

Updated

Vietnam reported 32 further coronavirus cases on Monday, all in the capital city of Hanoi.

The country shut schools in at least 22 cities and provinces in order to tackle a fresh outbreak beginning on Thursday, the ministry of health said.

Gilrs walks in an overpass as they wear protective masks in the street in Hanoi, Vietnam
Gilrs walks in an overpass as they wear protective masks in the street in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Friday. Photograph: Thanh Hue/Reuters

Pupils across Hanoi’s schools – including public and private kindergarten, primary, secondary high, high, and vocational schools – will stay home to contain the outbreak, English-language daily Vietnam News reported. If it is contained, children will return to school on 16 February.

Hanoi’s outbreak has been connected to an outbreak in the northern province of Hai Duong, which has been the country’s epicentre of community transmission throughout the pandemic. The outbreak has also been linked to the presence of the more transmissible variant first found in the UK.

Updated

Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister has entered self-isolation.

Michelle O’Neill said she is taking the measure following a positive coronavirus test result at her home in Co Tyrone. “I will work from home to continue to protect families, workers and to take us through this pandemic,” she tweeted on Monday morning.

This is O’Neill’s second time self-isolating, as she stayed at home in October after a family member tested positive for Covid-19.

Stormont agriculture minister Edwin Poots tested positive in December, after being hospitalised with a burst appendix. Finance minister Conor Murphy, health minister Robin Swann and communities minister Caral Ni Chuilin have also previously self-isolated.

Some Americans are struggling to get their required second doses of coronavirus vaccines, with many vulnerable people unable to navigate labyrinthine provider and appointment systems.

Older people in particular are having trouble getting their second jab, Reuters reports, many of whom depend on family or friends to navigate complex sign-up systems and inconvenient locations.

There is regional variation between practices in different states and counties, according to the news agency. It writes:

Houston’s health department on Friday told those seeking a second dose to be patient, saying the volume of calls was creating long wait times at its call centre.

Practices vary. Seminole County in Florida schedules follow-ups during the 15-minute observation period after people get their first shots. New York’s Onondaga County holds off on scheduling second appointments until days before the shot.

After an online system showed no appointments, Stacey Champion secured a second appointment for her 78-year-old friend Dan Pochoda at Cardinal Stadium in Phoenix, Arizona – at 1:51am on 9 February. It took several calls to get even that, Champion said.

“If they had been saving appointments for second doses, would they really need to send people way out to the edges of the city in the middle of the night?” Champion asked.

Meanwhile, in California, people have turning up to University of Southern California hospitals asking for their second dose, saying their original vaccine provider could not confirm an appointment, a senior official at the university said.

As of Friday, nearly 23 million people in the US had had their first vaccine shot, and almost 5 million had the second, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has said an interval of up to six weeks is acceptable for both the Pfizer Inc/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

Updated

The Guardian’s Paris correspondent has more on the situation in France, where a minister has cautioned restaurateurs about reopening in protest against coronavirus measures.

Kim Willsher writes:

French finance minister Bruno Le Maire has responded to threats that certain restaurants will open illegally today to protest against coronavirus closures.

Bars, restaurants, cafés, and brasseries have been closed since the second nationwide lockdown at the end of October. The lockdown was lifted in December, but the restaurants and other establishments offering food and drink were ordered to remain closed.

Some had said they would open on Monday in a coordinated protest, however Le Maire warned that any restaurant that defies he ban will be deprived of state aid for a month. Those who continue to defy the Covid-19 rules and open will get no state aid at all, he said.

“France doesn’t need a Social Spring in 2021,” Le Maire said in a reference to the Arab spring.

The warning came after a Facebook appeal by a group called “Mon restaurant ouvre le 1er février (My restaurant opens the 1 February), which has 26,000 members, urging restaurateurs to stage an act of civil disobedience.

Customers enjoy lunch at Le Poppies in Nice, which owner Christophe Wilson has opened as an act of civil disobedience in protest against the government-ordered closure of bars and restaurants in France.
Customers enjoy lunch last week at Le Poppies in Nice, which owner Christophe Wilson has opened as an act of civil disobedience in protest against the government-ordered closure of bars and restaurants in France. Photograph: Eric Gaillard/Reuters

Updated

Portugal reports nearly half its total death toll in January

Portugal reported nearly half of its total coronavirus death toll during January, underlining the rapid worsening of the pandemic as officials blamed the UK variant and relaxation of restrictions over Christmas for the surge.

The country had largely been spared by the first waves of the virus.

In January, a total of 5,576 people died from the coronavirus, representing 44.7% of all 12,482 fatalities since the virus began spreading in the Iberian country in March 2020, data from health authority DGS reported by Reuters showed. Portugal has the world’s biggest seven-day rolling average of new daily cases per capita, according to ourworldindata.org.

Officials have blamed the huge rise in the case and fatality rates on the more virulent variant of the virus first detected in southeast England. They have also said an easing of restrictions on social contact over the Christmas holidays played a role.

Hospitals across the nation of just over 10 million are close to being overwhelmed, with ambulances sometimes waiting for hours due to a shortage of beds. Some health units are unable to find enough refrigerated space to preserve bodies, with Portugal’s largest hospital Santa Maria, installing extra cold containers to ease pressure on its morgue.

France’s finance minister has warned restaurant owners that they risk losing their coronavirus financial aid if they open and serve customers despite the shutdown.

Bruno Le Maire’s caution follows a call to protest by Stephane Turillon, a chef in eastern France, who urged restaurateurs to open their doors for “protest meals” on Monday, according to AFP. Several chefs and thousands of people have since followed through with the move.

Restaurants were ordered to shut on 30 October, with little hope of returning to business soon. “It’s extremely hard for restaurants, economically and in terms of morale,” Le Maire told RTL radio. “But in no way does that justify not respecting the rules,” he said.

On Saturday, police in Paris said they found 24 restaurants operating unlawfully on Thursday and Friday, and warned they would step up enforcement.

The minister said owners caught serving customers would have their coronavirus support funds suspended for a month, “and if they do it again, they won’t get any more at all”.

Under France’s Covid solidarity scheme for its hospitality industry, restaurants and other businesses that have been forced to shut can receive up to €10,000 a month, or compensation equal to 20% of their revenues from 2019, capped at €200,000 per month. But many restaurateurs say the funds are not enough to cover lost sales as they have to keep paying rent.

This is Clea Skopeliti in London taking over the blog from Archie Bland now. I’ll be bringing you the latest in coronavirus developments for the next few hours.

Updated

Hong Kong to extend social distancing for two weeks

Hong Kong will extend social distancing measures for a further two weeks until after the lunar new year holiday and will impose stricter testing rules when cases of Covid-19 are detected.

The measures, which include a ban on more than two people gathering and dining in restaurants after 6pm local time, will remain in place until 17 February, Reuters reported.

“More time is going to be needed before we see a substantial improvement,” the chief secretary, Matthew Cheun, told a news briefing on Monday.

The government has in the past week set up testing zones for residents of some areas with little warning. It will also now require all residents of a building to get tested if a single untraceable infection is found in their building.

Schools will remain closed. Cheung said he hoped they could reopen after the holiday period.

Hong Kong has been logging double-digit daily case numbers for several weeks with 34 infections recorded on Monday, down from Sunday’s 53. It has had around 10,500 Covid-19 cases since January last year and 181 deaths.

That’s it from me. Clea Skopeliti will take over the blog shortly.

Updated

BioNTech and Pfizer pledge 75m extra doses to EU

BioNTech and Pfizer said on Monday they will increase their coronavirus vaccine deliveries to the European Union, pledging to send up to 75m extra doses to the bloc in the spring.

“Pfizer and BioNTech continue to work toward increased deliveries beginning the week of February 15, ensuring we will supply the full quantity of vaccine doses in the first quarter we contractually committed to and up to an additional 75m doses to the European Union in the second quarter,” they said in a statement reported by AFP.

The EU has ordered a total of 600m doses.

The statement came hours ahead of a national conference called by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, with vaccine manufacturers amid growing anger over the bloc’s sluggish inoculation campaign.

BioNTech and Pfizer, which will take part in the meeting, said that improvements in their production capabilities would allow them to speed up supplies.

These included the completion of modifications at Pfizer’s plant in Puurs, Belgium. “Now, we are back to the original schedule of vaccine dose deliveries,” they said.

In the face of a political firestorm – and after the EU reversed its decision to use an emergency Brexit provision to control vaccine exports via Northern Ireland – the European commission chief, Ursula von der Leyen, said on Sunday that AstraZeneca had agreed to increase its coronavirus vaccine deliveries to the EU by 30 percent.

An EU source said the first deliveries would start in the second week of February.

Updated

Israel extends lockdown

Israel’s nationwide lockdown was extended Monday to contain coronavirus, which has continued to spread rapidly as the country presses ahead with an aggressive vaccination campaign.

The current lockdown, declared on 27 December, is the third since the pandemic began last year.

The cabinet prolonged the closure until Friday morning, but scheduled a fresh meeting for Wednesday to assess whether a further extension was required, a statement from prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the health ministry reported by AFP said.

With Israel, a country of about 9 million people, still regularly registering more than 5,000 new cases per day, Netanyahu had pushed for the lockdown’s extension. His political opponents said they would only agree if fines were increased for rule violators.

Netanyahu’s critics have particularly highlighted persistent violations among Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jews, the premier’s key political allies who have repeatedly disregarded public safety measures throughout the pandemic.

Thousands of Ultra-Orthodox Jews attend a funeral procession for the Head of the Brisk Yeshiva, Rabbi Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik, in Jerusalem on January 31.
Thousands of Ultra-Orthodox Jews attend a funeral procession for the head of the Brisk Yeshiva, Rabbi Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik, in Jerusalem on January 31. Defence Minister Benny Gantz, Benjamin Netanyahu’s rival in Israel’s caretaker government, said “this is what unequal enforcement looks like”. Photograph: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images

Israel’s lockdown also includes an unprecedented airport and border closure, which Netanyahu has described as a necessary weapon in the “arms race” against coronavirus variants.

The cabinet has extended the ban on commercial flights imposed last month until 7 February. Road crossings to Egypt and Jordan will also remain closed.

Israel hopes to vaccinate its entire over-16 population by the end of March.

Updated

Germany may use Russian and Chinese vaccines, politicians suggest

Germany may consider using Russian and Chinese vaccines in an effort to boost levels of vaccination in the country, regional leaders have suggested.

Bavaria’s state premier Markus Söder.
Bavaria’s state premier Markus Söder. Photograph: Lukas Barth-Tuttas/EPA

In a sign of how much pressure the country’s political leaders are under amid a stalling vaccine rollout, Bavaria’s state premier Markus Söder said Germany should look at approving Sputnik V and Chinese jabs.

German health minister Jens Spahn also signalled he was open to using Russian and Chinese vaccines if they are approved by EU regulators. In an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeiting, he said those vaccines could help with ending the pandemic.

And on Monday morning, as heads of Germany’s 16 states prepared for a national vaccine summit, Brandenburg’s state premier Dietmar Woidke agreed leaders could look at vaccines from other countries.

He told German state broadcaster ARD that those vaccines would have to pass regulatory assessments first ‘and maybe that can be done as quickly as it was for BioNTech and other vaccines’. “I think it is necessary and possible to assess these vaccines if they are available. And if they are safe and work then they should be used.”

Updated

COVAX to deliver AstraZeneca doses to 36 states in the Americas

The Covax global vaccine sharing scheme expects to deliver 35.3m doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine to 36 Caribbean and Latin American states from mid-February to the end of June, the World Health Organization’s regional office said.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said the Americas region needed to immunise about 500 million people to control the pandemic.

According to a Reuters report, PAHO said WHO would complete its review in a few days of the AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use listing (EUL).

“The number of doses and delivery schedule are still subject to EUL and manufacturing production capacity,” PAHO said, adding that supply deals also had to be agreed with producers.

Of the 36 nations receiving AstraZeneca’s shot, it said four countries, namely Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador and Peru, would also receive a total of 377,910 doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine from mid-February.

The GAVI alliance, the group that co-leads Covax with WHO, said last week it aimed to deliver 2.3bnn vaccines worldwide by the end of 2021, including 1.8bn free doses to lower-income countries.

Geneva-based GAVI was expected to publish details of its allocations by country on Monday.

The 36 Caribbean and Latin American nations to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine ranged from regional giants Brazil and Mexico to small islands such as Dominica and Montserrat.

Updated

In the UK, the government has ordered an extra 40m doses of the Valneva Covid-19 vaccine.

The move means 100m doses of Valneva have been put on order, enough for every adult in the UK, with the latest batch earmarked for delivery in 2022. The government has also retained options over a further 90m doses for supply between 2023 and 2025.

Valneva said the total value of the entire order was up to €1.4bn (£1.24bn). The vaccine is still in clinical trials, with the early-stage phase 1/2 study expected to read out within the next three months.

With the UK having secured more than 400m vaccine doses, the international trade secretary, Liz Truss, said on Sunday it is “too early” to determine when the government will send vaccines abroad.

She said “we first need to make sure that our population is vaccinated” but added that it would be damaging to become a “vaccinated island” while other countries go without.

“It’s a bit too early to say about how we would deploy ‘XX’ vaccine, but we certainly want to work with friends and neighbours, we want to work with developing countries because we’re only going to solve this issue once everybody in the world is vaccinated,” Truss told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday.

Updated

Russia reported 17,648 new Covid-19 cases on Monday, including 2,037 in Moscow, taking its official national tally to 3,868,087. That figure was down from 18,359 the day before.

Authorities also confirmed 437 deaths in the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 73,619. There had been 485 deaths reported on Sunday.

Updated

Manchester’s Northern Quarter during the third national coronavirus lockdown.
Manchester’s Northern Quarter during the third national coronavirus lockdown. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

The Guardian’s Christopher Thomond has been photographing Manchester’s northern quarter during the third UK lockdown. You can see the rest of his pictures here:

Updated

A World Health Organization-led team investigating the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic on Monday visited the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in China’s central region of Hubei, where the outbreak emerged in late 2019.

Reuters reported that the group of independent experts (see earlier post) spent about four-and-a-half hours on its longest site visit since completing two weeks of quarantine on Thursday, and did not speak to waiting journalists.

A World Health Organization team member leaves in a car past a row of security personnel at the Hubei Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
A World Health Organization team member leaves in a car past a row of security personnel at the Hubei Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Photograph: Ng Han Guan/AP

The WHO, which has sought to manage expectations for the mission, has said its members would be limited to visits organised by their Chinese hosts and have no contact with community members, because of health curbs.

The group has so far also visited hospitals where early cases were detected, markets, and an exhibition on the battle with the outbreak in the provincial capital of Wuhan.

No full itinerary for the group’s field work has been announced, and journalists covering the tightly controlled visit have been kept at a distance from team members.

Beijing has sought to cast doubt on the notion that the coronavirus originated in China, pointing to imported frozen food as a conduit.

On Sunday, the experts visited the Huanan seafood market linked to initial infections, and the Baishazhou wholesale food market, where a loudspeaker repeatedly announced that the sale of imported cold chain products was banned at the market

Updated

Good morning from London. This is Archie Bland taking over our coronavirus global coverage for the next few hours, and beginning in France, where finance minister Bruno Le Maire has indicated that a new lockdown to curb the spread of the virus will only be considered as a last resort.

In comments reported by Reuters, Le Maire told RTL Radio that the country’s current curfew measures were delivering results in terms of trying to contain the virus.

He said that the 6pm to 6am curfew cost the economy about €6bn (£5.3bn) a month whereas a full lockdown would cost it around €15bn a month. France decided against imposing a third nationwide coronavirus lockdown on Friday.

Updated

That’s it from me, Helen Sullivan, for today. Thanks for following along – and stay tuned for the latest from around the world with my colleagues in London.

Until then – I’m out of here like a giant panda in the snow:

Summary

Here are the key pandemic developments from the last few hours:

  • China’s daily new cases fell to a three-week low. China reported the lowest daily increase in new Covid cases in more than three weeks, official data showed on Monday, reversing a sharp uptick a day earlier, amid efforts to contain the disease ahead of a major holiday break. New confirmed reported cases more than halved to 42, the National Health Commission said in a statement, down from 92 a day earlier and marking the lowest one-day increase since 33 reported on 8 January.
  • An expert warned the US to brace for virulent Covid strain. A leading infectious disease expert predicted on Sunday that the deadlier British variant of Covid-19 will become the dominant strain of the virus in the US and could hit the country like a hurricane.
  • Chicago schools postponed in-person classes over Covid safety plan. Chicago Public Schools on Sunday delayed the resumption of in-person classes for thousands of elementary and middle school students by at least a day as the district and teachers failed to reach an agreement on a Covid safety plan.
  • Japan is expected to extend a state of emergency this week for Tokyo and other areas as hospitals remain under pressure despite a decline in cases from their peaks, local media reported on Monday.
  • Taiwan health authorities are still battling an outbreak centred around a Taoyuan hospital, which claimed the first Covid-related death almost nine months on Friday. The woman in her eighties was a relative of another confirmed case. Authorities said she presented with Covid-like symptoms on Thursday and was taken to hospital. A test returned a negative result for Covid, but she passed away on Friday night. She had chronic kidney disease and other underlying health issues.
  • Hong Kong is continuing its “ambush lockdowns” on housing blocks. As Hong Kong continues to fight its widespread outbreak, authorities have employed a new tactic in response to clusters of infection in residential housing blocks. Since last week, police have launched four ambush-style lockdowns, arriving unannounced at buildings to immediately prevent anyone leaving and to run mandatory testing.
  • The NHS has offered Covid jab to all older residents in care homes in England. The NHS has said official figures are expected to confirm on Monday that it has offered a coronavirus vaccine to every older care home resident across England.In another milestone for the vaccine programme, coming after it set a new daily record of almost 600,000 people being inoculated against Covid-19 on Saturday, nurses, GPs and other NHS staff have offered the jab to people living at more than 10,000 care homes with older residents.
  • Pakistan received its first batch of Covid vaccine doses, 500,000 from China’s Sinopharm, on Monday, Health Adviser Faisal Sultan said in a statement released on Twitter. “Thank God, the first batch of Sinopharm vaccine has arrived! Grateful to China and everyone who made this happen,” he said. “I salute our frontline healthcare workers for their efforts and they’ll be first to get vaccinated.”
  • Ghana tightened restrictions as virus cases climb. Ghana has reimposed a ban on social gatherings as the number of Covid-19 cases spiral in the West African nation, the president announced Sunday. Schools reopened in January after a 10-month closure, but President Nana Akufo-Addo said a return to stricter measures was needed. “Our hospitals have become full, and we have had to reactivate our isolation centres,” he said.
  • Israel extended lockdown as Covid variants offset vaccination drive. Israel extended a national lockdown on Sunday as Covid variants offset its vaccination drive and officials predicted a delay in a turnaround from the ongoing crisis.
  • EU wants 70% of adults vaccinated by end of summer. AstraZeneca will increase its coronavirus vaccine deliveries to the EU by 30%, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Sunday as the bloc sought to claw back time lost rolling out the jabs. The aim was still to vaccinate 70% of adults in the EU by the end of summer, she added.
  • WHO team to visit Hubei CDC on Monday. A World Health Organization-led team investigating the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic was due on Monday to visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention of Hubei province, the central Chinese region where the outbreak emerged in late 2019. The team has already visited the Huanan food market in Wuhan.
  • Two million Australians in lockdown over one case. About 2 million Australians begun their first full day of a strict coronavirus lockdown on Monday following the discovery of one case in the community in Perth, capital of Western Australia state, but no new cases have since been found.

More people are sleeping on the streets in Rome after being turned away from shelters due to coronavirus restrictions, while the number of homeless people dying from the cold has surged this winter.

There are about 8,000 homeless people in the Italian capital, of whom 3,000 have no shelter for the night, according to figures provided by the Catholic charity Community of Sant’Egidio.

“The number is higher than a year ago,” said Massimiliano Signifredi, coordinator for homeless outreach at Sant’Egidio. “One of the main reasons being that shelters which could previously host 100 or 200 people have had to reduce numbers or completely close.”

The consequences of Covid-19 on the homeless have become increasingly visible in Rome in recent months. Makeshift beds have appeared on the plush shopping streets in the centre, or on the steps of churches or outside supermarkets:

In more Australia news: universities across Australia are offering discounts of up to 20% to international students who are studying completely online while they are barred from entering Australia due to border restrictions.

At least three major universities are offering discounts to students who are still in their “home” countries while enrolled and paying fees to Australian universities:

Two million Australians in lockdown over one case

About 2 million Australians begun their first full day of a strict coronavirus lockdown on Monday following the discovery of one case in the community in Perth, capital of Western Australia state, but no new cases have since been found, Reuters reports.

Authorities ordered a five-day lockdown after a security guard at a hotel used to quarantine people returning from overseas was found to have contracted the virus.

The state government said 66 people have been deemed close contacts of the unidentified guard and none of those already tested were infected. Tests on the rest of the close contacts were expected to be completed on Monday, state Premier Mark McGowan said.

Pakistan receives 500,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine

Pakistan received its first batch of Covid vaccine doses, 500,000 from China’s Sinopharm, on Monday, Health Adviser Faisal Sultan said in a statement released on Twitter.

“Thank God, the first batch of Sinopharm vaccine has arrived! Grateful to China and everyone who made this happen,” he said. “I salute our frontline healthcare workers for their efforts and they’ll be first to get vaccinated.”

Pakistan is starting its vaccine drive this week.

Updated

Ten years after the rage and hope of the Arab spring filled the public spaces of Sana’a, Yemen’s capital has become a curiously quiet place.

Traders and customers alike shuffle through the streets of the old city, ground down by the repression of the Houthi rebel occupation and the economic hardship caused by the Saudi- and Emirati-led coalition blockade.

The songs and poems of revolution that once echoed beneath the charming medieval architecture have faded away, replaced by the Houthi sarkha, or scream, daubed in red and green on almost every surface: “God is great, death to America, death to Israel, curses on the Jews, victory to Islam.”

On occasion, and always without warning, the tension is pierced by coalition airstrikes.

A decade since Yemenis dared to dream during the 2011 uprisings that swept across the Arab world, and six years after foreign actors piled in, unleashing a war of devastating proportions, Yemen resembles a jigsaw puzzle for which there is no simple solution.

Malnutrition, cholera, dengue fever, and now coronavirus stalk the young and the frail in what the UN has called the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world”:

Hong Kong “ambush lockdowns” on housing blocks continue

As Hong Kong continues to fight its widespread outbreak, authorities have employed a new tactic in response to clusters of infection in residential housing blocks. Since last week, police have launched four ambush-style lockdowns, arriving unannounced at buildings to immediately prevent anyone leaving and to run mandatory testing.

Residents are fined HK$5,000 if they refuse:

The lockdowns last for one or two nights, but have reportedly created anxiety in the community. The South China Morning Post said many residents at the recently ambushed block in North Point, only realised what was happening when they got home and found police ushering neighbours into a cordoned off area for registration and testing.The effectiveness of the operation is being debated.

Some of the 400 residents of two buildings locked down last night in Lam Tin said the ambush was unnecessary and “a mess”, while others said it gave them peace of mind to know no new cases had been found.Local politician Lee Yue-shun told RTHK residents were anxious and there were concerns about hygiene issues like garbage collection during the lockdowns. The areas targeted are home to older buildings, often overcrowded with numerous subdivided units, and lacking centralised management.

Infectious diseases expert Leung Chi-chiu told the outlet many residents had moved out of buildings once cases among their neighbours were reported, and the lockdowns should have started earlier. The lockdowns and testing programs are finding very few cases, prompting questions of cost effectiveness. The first operation, in the densely populated Kowloon neighbourhood of Jordan, found 13 infections amid 7,000 tests last weekend.

Secretary for food and health, Sophie Chan, said the rate matched that in the broader community, and the snap lockdowns allowed authorities to quickly identify and isolate cases and close contacts.

“We don’t think this put a heavy burden on people or was a waste of public money,” she said. Hong Kong has recorded 10,453 confirmed or probable cases, and 181 deaths.

Taiwan bans recent arrivals from banquets for seven days after quarantine finishes

Taiwan health authorities are still battling an outbreak centred around a Taoyuan hospital, which claimed the first Covid-related death almost nine months on Friday.

The woman in her eighties was a relative of another confirmed case. Authorities said she presented with Covid-like symptoms on Thursday and was taken to hospital. A test returned a negative result for Covid, but she passed away on Friday night. She had chronic kidney disease and other underlying health issues.

In response to the outbreak social distancing and quarantine rules have been further tightened. Hospitals in Taipei City, New Taipei City, and Taoyuan City have banned visitors until 9 February, and enacted screenings and sign-ins for all entrants.

The Central Epidemic Command Centre has now said any recent arrival who is in what’s called the self-monitoring phase of quarantine must not attend banquets, meetings, or large gatherings. The self-monitoring phase refers to the seven days after a person leaves their two-week quarantine (either at home or in a hotel), and while largely free to move around are required to maintain social distancing and extra hygiene measures.

The total number of cases linked to the hospital is now 19, clearly a very low number compared to other countries, but one that has sparked alarm in Taiwan. The island has kept the virus largely at bay since the beginning of the pandemic, recording 911 cases, the vast majority of which were overseas arrivals diagnosed while in quarantine.

Chicago schools postpone in-person classes over Covid safety plan

Chicago Public Schools on Sunday delayed the resumption of in-person classes for thousands of elementary and middle school students by at least a day as the district and teachers failed to reach an agreement on a Covid safety plan, Reuters reports.

The third-largest school district in the United States told the parents of 62,000 elementary and middle school students who opted to begin taking some of their classes in their schools on Monday to stay home, saying it hopes to resume in-person classes for those students on Tuesday.

The parents of 5,200 pre-kindergarten and special education students who began taking in-person classes on Jan. 11 were also told to keep their children home on Monday.

The decision to postpone in-person classes comes after the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and the Chicago Teachers Union, representing 28,000 public school educators, failed to reach an agreement despite months of negotiations. The two sides have been at odds on teachers demands for stronger safety protocols to prevent the spread of the virus inside the classroom.

Captain Sir Tom Moore has tested positive for Covid-19 and has been admitted to hospital where he is being treated for pneumonia, his daughter Hannah Ingram-Moore has said in a statement.

The 100-year-old, who raised millions of pounds for the NHS, was taken to Bedford hospital on Sunday, after being treated for pneumonia for some time and testing positive for Covid-19 last week.

In a statement posted on his Twitter page, Moore’s family said he had been treated at home until Sunday when he needed additional help with his breathing. The statement said he was being treated in a ward, not on the intensive care unit of the hospital:

Podcast: Conversations with kids about coronavirus

Anushka Asthana talks to children across the country about what life has been like under lockdown. Eight-year-old Aryan remembers starting to feel worried about the virus when he learned it was spreading to other countries. School was full of rumours, he tells Anushka, that Covid made you sick and gave you warts. Whenever you went to the toilet, you would hear Happy Birthday being sung at the sinks. Aryan is at home again, which means “loads of sheets of papers to print off” for home schooling, and he says he can’t wait to see his friends again.

For 14-year old Becca in Glasgow, the first wave led to her mum being laid off from her job. It meant things were “a little bit harder but we found a way”. She says that if her Mum found it tough looking after her and her three brothers, she didn’t show it.

Rory, 18, has just completed his first term at Durham University. He got Covid while he was there and said the experience was very isolating. He says he found returning to Northern Ireland a huge relief. He worries the pandemic has had a big impact on the mental health of people his age.

Anushka also talks to Dr Polly Waite, a clinical psychologist, who discusses the Co-Space study, which has followed 12,000 families during the pandemic to look at how they are coping and what parents can do to help support their children’s mental health.

Do read Guardian reporter Amelia Hill’s ongoing series on the impact of Covid on young people here.

Ghana tightens restrictions as virus cases climb

Ghana has reimposed a ban on social gatherings as the number of Covid-19 cases spiral in the West African nation, the president announced Sunday.

AFP: Schools reopened in January after a 10-month closure, but President Nana Akufo-Addo said a return to stricter measures was needed.

“Until further notice, funerals, weddings, concerts, theatrical performances, and parties are banned,” he said in a televised speech.

Justifying the restrictions, Akufo-Addo said: “Our hospitals have become full, and we have had to reactivate our isolation centres.”

Ghana has reimposed a ban on social gatherings as the number of Covid-19 cases spiral in the West African nation, the president announced Sunday.
Ghana has reimposed a ban on social gatherings as the number of Covid-19 cases spiral in the West African nation, the president announced Sunday. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The new measures on social gatherings come as the average daily rates of infection is at 700, compared to 200 two weeks ago.

Land and sea borders are closed since March, while beaches, night clubs, cinemas, and pubs continue to be shut.

Economic growth is expected to plummet this year to its lowest in three decades, to 0.9 percent according to the International Monetary Fund, from 6.5 percent in 2019.

As of January 31, Ghana had recorded 67,010 confirmed cases and 416 deaths.

NHS has offered Covid jab to all older residents in care homes in England

The NHS has said official figures are expected to confirm on Monday that it has offered a coronavirus vaccine to every older care home resident across England.

In another milestone for the vaccine programme, coming after it set a new daily record of almost 600,000 people being inoculated against Covid-19 on Saturday, nurses, GPs and other NHS staff have offered the jab to people living at more than 10,000 care homes with older residents.

The small remainder have had their visits deferred by local directors of public health for safety reasons during a local outbreak. Those homes will be visited and jabbed as soon as NHS staff are allowed to do so:

Japan expected to extend state of emergency – reports

Japan is expected to extend a state of emergency to fight the spread of Covid-19 this week for Tokyo and other areas as hospitals remain under pressure despite a decline in cases from their peaks, local media reported on Monday.

Via Reuters: The government will decide on the extension after a meeting of its experts panel this week, public broadcaster NHK said.

The government last month declared a one-month state of emergency, due to end on Sunday, for 11 areas, including Tokyo and its neighbouring prefectures, as part of measures to rein in the pandemic.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has launched a raft of measures to contain a third wave of infections as his government remains determined that the Olympics go ahead as planned on 23 July.

A shopping street near Jiyugaoka, Japan.
A shopping street near Jiyugaoka, Japan. Photograph: Stanislav Kogiku/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

But support for his administration has weakened over unhappiness with its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which critics have called too slow and inconsistent.

The government may also consider lifting the state of emergency in some less-populated areas such as Tochigi Prefecture, which has seen a decline in cases, local media said.

A Nikkei newspaper poll showed 90% of respondents favoured extending the emergency period in areas where it is implemented.

Japan has had a total of 390,687 coronavirus cases and 5,766 deaths, NHK said. In Tokyo, new cases totalled 633 on Sunday, below 1,000 for the third consecutive day.

Separately, the lower house is expected to pass on Monday a revision to the coronavirus special measures law, followed by upper house approval on Wednesday, NHK said. The revision would toughen regulations and allow authorities to levy fines on those who break the law.

Updated

China’s daily new cases fall to three-week low

China reported the lowest daily increase in new Covid cases in more than three weeks, official data showed on Monday, reversing a sharp uptick a day earlier, amid efforts to contain the disease ahead of a major holiday break, Reuters reports.

New confirmed reported cases more than halved to 42, the National Health Commission said in a statement, down from 92 a day earlier and marking the lowest one-day increase since 33 reported on 8 January.

Of the 33 new locally transmitted infections, northeastern Heilongjiang reported 22 new cases while new patients reported in neighbouring Jilin province fell to 10 from 63 a day earlier. The remaining nine cases were imported infections involving travellers arriving from overseas.

National and local authorities continue to discourage travel even as the number of new cases fell, underscoring their concerns about another flare-up as the country approaches the Lunar New Year holiday period next month when hundreds of millions typically travel.

Official forecasts are for the total number of trips taken during the holiday break to fall 60% from 2019, the last time when Chinese travellers did not face any major restrictions in movement during the period.

The number of asymptomatic infections, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, also fell to 16 from 19 a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed mainland Covid infections to date now stands at 89,564, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,636.

WHO team to visit Hubei CDC on Monday

A World Health Organization-led team investigating the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic was due on Monday to visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention of Hubei province, the central Chinese region where the outbreak emerged in late 2019, Reuters reports.

The group of independent experts left two weeks of quarantine on Thursday in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, and is conducting two weeks of field work. So far, it has included visits to hospitals, markets, and an exhibition commemorating Wuhan’s battle with the outbreak.

The WHO, which has sought to manage expectations for the mission, has said that team members would be limited to visits organised by their Chinese hosts and would not have any contact with community members, because of health restrictions.

No full itinerary for the group’s field work has been announced, and journalists covering the tightly controlled visit have been kept at a distance from team members.

The UK’s children face losing £350bn in lifetime earnings unless the UK’s governments invest in radical catch-up efforts when the pandemic is over, according to a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

The IFS is urging policymakers to consider options including nearly nine million children repeating a year of schooling, the use of large-scale tuition in summer holidays and extended hours to make up for the classroom time lost during the Covid-19 lockdowns.

The Guardian’s Richard Adams and Heather Stewart report:

In case you missed this earlier: Almost 600,000 people in the UK were vaccinated against Covid-19 on Saturday, a daily record for the vaccine programme.

Uptake was particularly strong in England, with almost 540,000 people receiving their first vaccination. In Wales, just over 25,000 people got their initial jab, along with almost 23,000 in Scotland and just over 10,500 in Northern Ireland.

In total, 598,389 vaccinations were administered across the UK on Saturday. Of the 9,468,382 jabs given in the UK so far, 8,977,329 were first doses and 491,053 were second doses.

The seven-day rolling average of first doses given in the UK is now 374,858. Based on the latest figures, an average of 401,512 first doses of vaccine would be needed each day in order to meet the government’s target of 15m first doses by 15 February:

Expert warns US to brace for virulent Covid strain

A leading infectious disease expert predicted on Sunday that the deadlier British variant of Covid-19 will become the dominant strain of the virus in the US and could hit the country like a hurricane.

The worrying forecast came as the total of confirmed infections in the US passed the 26m mark, with the death toll advancing steadily towards the grim milestone of half a million after on Sunday surpassing the total of 440,000, by far the highest in the world according to data gathered by the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus research center.

Epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, who served on Joe Biden’s transition coronavirus advisory board after the Democratic victory in the 2020 election, and is director of the center for infectious disease research and policy at the University of Minnesota, warned America to brace for the spread of the virulent strain this spring.

“The surge that is likely to occur with this new variant from England is going to happen in the next six to 14 weeks, Osterholm told NBC’s Meet the Press show on Sunday morning.

He urged the new administration to move faster with plans to get as many people as possible in the US vaccinated, at least with their first dose, especially those aged over 65, in order to try and stave off the worst exacerbation by variants of the ongoing crisis.

“That hurricane is coming,” Osterholm told NBC:

Updated

WHO mission at ground-zero Wuhan market

A World Health Organization team has visited the Huanan food market in Wuhan as part of its fieldwork in a politically sensitive mission to investigate the origins of the pandemic, AFP reports.

Their visit is being tightly controlled, and the WHO has already lowered expectations of pinpointing the source of the virus, which is known to have infected more than 102 million people so far with over 2.2 million deaths.

Investigative team members from the World Health Organization visit Huanan seafood market on 31 January 2021 in Wuhan, China.
Investigative team members from the World Health Organization visit Huanan seafood market on 31 January 2021 in Wuhan, China. Photograph: Getty Images

The experts did not take any questions from journalists as they visited the market.

In recent days, Chinese authorities have relentlessly pushed a positive narrative of heroism and decisive, swift action against the virus.

But it has faced criticism at home and abroad for its handling of the initial Wuhan outbreak and its lack of transparency.

EU wants 70% of adults vaccinated by end of summer

AstraZeneca will increase its coronavirus vaccine deliveries to the EU by 30%, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Sunday as the bloc sought to claw back time lost rolling out the jabs, AFP reports.

The British-Swedish company had announced last week that it could deliver only a quarter of the doses originally promised to the bloc for the first quarter of the year because of problems at one of its European factories.

But AstraZeneca, whose vaccine was authorised for use in the EU on Friday, has now agreed to send 9 million additional doses and “will start deliveries one week earlier than scheduled”, Von der Leyen said in a tweet.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen attends a video conference in Brussels, Belgium, 31 January, 2021.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen attends a video conference in Brussels, Belgium, 31 January, 2021. Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

An EU source said the first deliveries would start in the second week of February.

“They are bringing forward the delivery now by another week … and they will increase the vaccine doses for February and March by about 30 percent, that is 9 million doses,” von der Leyen said.

But she also acknowledged that February and March would remain “a difficult phase” for vaccine supply.

In the second quarter, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be on the market “and the manufacturers will have resolved their initial difficulties, so we can expect more vaccine”, she said.

The aim was still to vaccinate 70% of adults in the EU by the end of summer, she added.

Updated

Israel extends lockdown as Covid variants offset vaccination drive

Israel extended a national lockdown on Sunday as Covid variants offset its vaccination drive and officials predicted a delay in a turnaround from the ongoing crisis.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet voted to extend the five-week-old national lockdown until Friday, pending parliamentary approval, Israeli media reported.Highlighting the country’s challenges in enforcing restrictions, thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews attended the Jerusalem funerals of two prominent rabbis on Sunday, drawing criticism from Netanyahu’s coalition partners, Reuters reports.

The prime minister has promoted a speedy vaccination of around 24% of 9 million citizens and the lockdown as dual pathways to a possible reopening of the economy in February.

But a projected mid-January turnaround in curbing the pandemic did not transpire, as serious cases have surged among Israelis who have not yet been vaccinated.

Summary

Hello and welcome to today’s live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

My name is Helen Sullivan and I’ll be bringing you the latest news from around the world for the next few hours.

Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the European Commission, has said that the EU wants 70% of all adults in the blog to be vaccinated by the end of summer, Reuters reports.

Meanwhile Israel extended a national lockdown on Sunday as Covid variants offset its vaccination drive and officials predicted a delay in a turnaround from the ongoing crisis.

Here are the other key recent developments:

  • Primary schools in the Netherlands will reopen from 8 February, the Dutch government announced on Sunday, in the first easing of lockdown restrictions in months.
  • The number of Covid patients in French hospitals hit a near nine-week high on Sunday, with 27,613 Covid sufferers being treated in hospitals, up 331 on Saturday and reaching a level last seen on 1 December.
  • The UK has carried out the highest number of Covid vaccinations in one day, with figures showing 598,389 received their first dose on Saturday. The Government said a further 587 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Sunday, bringing the UK total to 106,158.
  • On Sunday, police in Brussels said they have detained scores of people in an attempt to prevent two banned demonstrations against measures to curb the spread of Covid-19. A police spokesperson said more than 200 had been arrested by around midday.
  • The UK’s priority is vaccinating its own population before it can think about supplying doses to help the EU or developing countries, the international trade secretary has said. Earlier, the World Health Organization called on the UK to halt its vaccination programme after vulnerable people and healthcare workers have been inoculated to ensure a “fair rollout”.
  • Both France and Germany have threatened legal action against the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca in the row over a shortage of coronavirus vaccine in the EU. Brussels raising concerns that doses may have been diverted from plants in Belgium and Germany to the UK.
  • A World Health Organization team looking into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic today visited a market in the Chineses city of Wuhan where the virus was initially located. The team arrived at Huanan market amid heavy security, with additional barricades set up outside a high blue fence surrounding the market, and left in a convoy after about one hour. The experts did not take questions from journalists.
  • Germany said today that it will support Portugal with medical staff and equipment after an appeal for help from the Iberian country, which said on Saturday that only seven of 850 ICU beds set up for Covid-19 cases on its mainland were vacant. Austria said it would assist by taking in some intensive-care patients from Portugal.

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US NEWS, World

US health secretary Alex Azar tells Trump Capitol attack threatens legacy

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “US health secretary Alex Azar tells Trump Capitol attack threatens legacy” was written by Guardian staff and agency, for theguardian.com on Saturday 16th January 2021 03.28 UTC

The US health secretary, Alex Azar, warned Donald Trump in a letter that last week’s attack on the Capitol threatened the administration’s legacy, and he urged the president to support a peaceful transfer of power.

In the two-page, formal resignation letter, dated 12 January, Azar recited what he saw as the administration’s key accomplishments but voiced concern that last week’s siege in Washington and Trump’s false claims of widespread voter fraud “threaten to tarnish these and other historic legacies of this administration”.

“The attacks on the Capitol were an assault on our democracy and on the tradition of peaceful transitions of power,” Azar wrote.

“I implore you to continue to condemn unequivocally any form of violence, to demand that no one attempt to disrupt the inaugural activities in Washington or elsewhere, and to continue to support unreservedly the peaceful and orderly transition of power on January 20, 2021,” he added.

Azar says he will resign at noon on 20 January, when Joe Biden is sworn in.

Azar is not the first member of Trump’s cabinet to issue strong words in the wake of the attack, in which five people died and which led to the president’s second impeachment.

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education secretary, resigned after of the attack, saying in a letter to the president that she blamed his “rhetoric” for “the mess caused by violent protestors overrunning the US Capitol in an attempt to undermine the people’s business”.

Elaine Chao, Trump’s transportation secretary, also resigned, calling the attacks “traumatic and entirely avoidable”.

Azar took up the role of health secretary in 2018, overseeing the department during the unprecedented coronavirus crisis, which has so far claimed the lives of nearly 400,000 Americans. Some experts are estimating half a million deaths could be possible by the end of February.

Earlier on Friday, Azar told NBC News the US did not have a reserve stockpile of Covid-19 vaccines, but it was confident that there would be enough produced for second doses.

“We now have enough confidence that our ongoing production will be quality and available to provide the second dose for people. So we’re not sitting on a reserve any more. We’ve made that available to the states to order,” Azar said.

The news on Friday came as Joe Biden called for a vast expansion of federal aid in order to vaccinate 100 million Americans in his first 100 days in office. Biden has tapped Xavier Becerra, the attorney general of California, to lead the health department.

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Andrew Yang launches New York mayoral run and calls for universal basic income

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Andrew Yang launches New York mayoral run and calls for universal basic income” was written by Lauren Aratani, for theguardian.com on Thursday 14th January 2021 17.20 UTC

The former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang formally announced his run as New York City mayor on Thursday morning, promising to rebuild a city that has been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The formal announcement came after Yang released his first campaign video, directed by the film director and producer Darren Aronofsky, on Wednesday night. The video showed Yang, sporting a mask that read “Forward New York”, going around the city talking to and elbow-bumping residents.

“The fears for our future that caused me to run for president have accelerated since this pandemic started,” Yang told a small crowd of supporters in Manhattan on Thursday morning. “We need to make New York City the Covid comeback city, but also the anti-poverty city.”

Yang is entering a crowded field of about a dozen mayoral candidates that includes current and former city officials, a member of Barack Obama’s White House cabinet and an ex-Wall Street executive. The bulk of the action in the race will be around the Democratic primary, which is set to take place on 22 June before the general election in November.

Before his presidential campaign, Yang, who has not held office before, had a low profile as the founder of Venture for America, a not-for-profit group that aimed to help create jobs in cities hurt by the Great Recession. The launch of his internet-friendly presidential campaign helped him gain something of a cult following, with supporters nicknaming themselves the “Yang Gang”.

On Thursday, Yang dived into the specifics of his platform, at the top of which is a plan to implement universal basic income – what was the hallmark of his presidential campaign before it ended in February of last year. Yang promised to institute “the largest basic income program in the history of the country”.

“Two years ago, no one would have fathomed Congress would ever send tens of millions of Americans around the country money with no strings attached,” Yang said, referring to the stimulus checks that were included in Congress’s two coronavirus relief bills.

Though he has not yet publicly outlined what the program would look like, sources have said the plan could entail 500,000 of the city’s residents receiving between $2,000 and $5,000 and will cost an estimated $1bn a year, according to Gothamist.

Yang said he also aims to fix the city’s “mass transmit mess”, saying that he would push for municipal control of the city’s subways and buses – which are currently under state-level control – and promised to have a fully electric bus system by 2030.

“As mayor, I will get around the city by subway, bus or bike because that’s how most New Yorkers get around,” Yang said, a subtle dig at the current mayor, Bill de Blasio, who has notoriously taken a black car around the city instead of using public transportation.

De Blasio’s popularity has significantly declined during his two terms, after winning on a progressive agenda promising economic and social change in 2013.

The new mayor faces long-existing issues of inequality, particularly around housing and policing, that have been exacerbated by the pandemic and new ones Covid-19 created.

After shutdown orders and travel restrictions decimated the number of tourists and commuters coming into the city, New York now faces an unemployment rate that is almost double the national rate and a potential $13bn budget shortfall. The pandemic has shuttered thousands of small businesses in the city.

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Twitter removes China US embassy post saying Uighur women no longer ‘baby-making machines’

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Twitter removes China US embassy post saying Uighur women no longer ‘baby-making machines'” was written by Helen Davidson in Taipei, for theguardian.com on Sunday 10th January 2021 05.31 UTC

Twitter has removed a post by China’s US embassy claiming that Uighur women have been “emancipated” from extremism and were no longer “baby-making machines”. The post linked to an article denying allegations of forced sterilisation in Xinjiang.

Twitter said the post had “violated the Twitter rules” but did not provide further details.

The post linked to an article by state mouthpiece China Daily, and said: “Study shows that in the process of eradicating extremism, the minds of Uygur women in Xinjiang were emancipated and gender equality and reproductive health were promoted, making them no longer baby-making machines. They are more confident and independent.”

The phrase was taken directly from the attached article, which said an unpublished study by the Xinjiang Development Research Center had found that decreases in the birthrate and population growth rate of the region in 2018 was due to the eradication of religious extremism.

“The changes were not caused by “forced sterilization” of the Uygur population, as repeatedly claimed by some western scholars and politicians,” it said, noting by name German researcher Adrian Zenz, who specialises in Xinjiang and Tibet by examining Chinese government documents. His research is a primary source of information about labour programmes in both regions, and has attracted the ire of Chinese state media.

The Chinese embassy’s Twitter account later reposted the story with a different caption: “Study shows the population change in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region involves the overall improvement in population quality. An increasing number of youths chose to spend more time and energy on personal development.”

Other Chinese state media reports said women were “spontaneously” taking up free IUDs and tubal ligations (a form of permanent surgical contraception), and the changes in birthrate were due to government limits of three children per family, poverty alleviation and education improvements, and changes to cultural marriage practices and religious opposition to contraception.

In recent years, China has escalated its crackdown on ethnic Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region, including the mass internment of an estimated one million people, intense human and digital surveillance, re-education programs, suppression of religious activity and destruction of religious sites, forced labour, and enforced sterilisation of women. Experts have said the policies amount to cultural genocide. China rejects the accusations, and says the camps are vocational training centres necessary to combat religious extremism and terrorism.

An extensive investigation by Associated Press found authorities subjected hundreds of thousands of Uighur women to pregnancy checks, and forced intrauterine devices, sterilisation and abortion. The AP found birthrates collapsed by more than 60% between 2015 and 2018 in the mostly Uighur regions of Hotan and Kashgar, compared with a fall of 4.2% nationwide. The AP said its findings were on based on government statistics, state documents and interviews with 30 ex-detainees, family members and a former detention camp instructor.

The statistics on declining birthrate and population growth among Uighurs in Xinjiang have been known for months, however Chinese authorities have not previously attributed it to its programs of “eradicating extremism”.

In response to a CNN article on similar findings, the Chinese government said the drop in birthrate was due to “comprehensive implementation of the family planning policy”. It did not dispute the numbers in the report.

In September one Uighur woman, Sidik, told the Guardian she was coerced into having an IUD at the age of 47, and being sterilised three years later. She said a text message – seen by the Guardian – came from authorities and told her: “Do not gamble with your life, don’t even try.”

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