First Thing: Biden slams ‘Neanderthal’ easing of state Covid restrictions


Powered by article titled “First Thing: Biden slams ‘Neanderthal’ easing of state Covid restrictions ” was written by Molly Blackall, for on Thursday 4th March 2021 11.08 UTC

Good morning.

Joe Biden sharply criticised the Republican governors of Texas and Mississippi over their decision to end their state mask-wearing mandates, describing the move as a “big mistake” and accusing them of “Neanderthal thinking”. Speaking at the White House yesterday, Biden said the US was on the “cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease” due to the vaccine rollout, but warned that “the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, everything’s fine”.

Biden’s criticisms were echoed by public health experts. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said her organisation had been “very clear that now is not the time to release all restrictions”, adding that the “next month or two is really pivotal”. She has previously warned that a fourth surge of the virus is possible if adherence to public health restrictions slips.

So which states are easing up? Alongside Texas and Mississippi dropping their mask-wearing rules, Michigan has eased limits on restaurants and gatherings, as coronavirus infection, death and hospitalisation rates fall across the US. In California, San Francisco will begin reopening more of its economy today, with movie theatres, gyms and museums reopening at restricted capacity and restaurants beginning limited indoor dining. From 15 March, New York will allow weddings of up to 150, subject to restrictions including testing for guests, and designated socially distanced “dance zones”.

  • Brazil’s coronavirus outbreak has become a global threat which risks producing new, more lethal variants of the virus, one of the country’s top scientists warned yesterday. Miguel Nicolelis urged the international community to take the Brazilian government to task over their handling of the pandemic, saying: “What’s the point in sorting the pandemic out in Europe or the United States, if Brazil continues to be a breeding ground for this virus?”

Authorities are preparing for possible violence at the Capitol today

A view of a security fence at the base of Capitol Hill during heightened security concerns over possible protests or violence on 4 March, 2021. Washington’s security posture has been bolstered after threats of a possible “breach” of the US Capitol.
A view of a security fence at the base of Capitol Hill during heightened security concerns over possible protests or violence on Thursday.
Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Federal authorities warned yesterday that they had identified possible plans for another attack on the Capitol, which aims to remove Democratic politicians, on roughly 4 March. The FBI, Department of Homeland Security and the US Capitol police department have intelligence suggesting a possible plan to “breach the Capitol by an identified militia group”, but Capitol police said they were working with other agencies to head off any threats. However, the warnings were serious enough to lead lawmakers to change the voting schedule in the house – moving a debate on the police reform bill to Wednesday evening instead of Thursday.

Why today? 4 March marks the date when some far-right conspiracy theorists believe Donald Trump will be sworn in for a second term, despite him losing the election and leaving the White House more than a month ago.

  • Nearly 90% of those charged over the Capitol riot aren’t connected to militias or other organised extremist groups, according to new analysis. George Washington University’s Center on Extremism found that more than half of people facing federal charges over the 6 January attack appear to have planned their involvement alone.

The House passed a landmark police reform act, but it has dim future at the Senate

The House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act for a second time yesterday, the most significant and ambitious attempt to reform law enforcement in decades. Under the legislation, chokeholds would be banned, as would “qualified immunity” for police officers, a special measure that protects officers from certain lawsuits. It would also establish a national standard for policing, in the hope that this would provide greater accountability for officers. The measure, named after George Floyd who was killed by Minneapolis police in 2020, was passed 220-212, falling firmly along party lines.

However, the act’s future doesn’t look bright. The House passed a version of the bill last year, but it was never taken up by the Republican-controlled Senate. Now, Democrats have the White House and a slight edge in the Senate but will still have to win over at least 10 Republican senators to pass the measure, which is considered unlikely.

  • A landmark election law bill passed the House yesterday, touching on almost every aspect of the electoral process to restrict gerrymandering of congressional district, eliminate hurdles to voting and bring greater transparency to campaign financing. However, it also appears to have little chance of passing the Senate.

Dozens of anti-coup protesters have been killed in Myanmar

Bystanders flash a three-fingered sign of resistance as the body of Kyal Sin, also known by her Chinese name Deng Jia Xi, is driven in Mandalay, Myanmar, Thursday, 4 March 2021. Kyal Sin was shot in the head by Myanmar security forces during an anti-coup protest rally she was attending Wednesday.
Bystanders flash a three-fingered sign of resistance as the body of Kyal Sin, also known by her Chinese name Deng Jia Xi, is driven by in Mandalay, Myanmar, on Thursday. Kyal Sin was shot in the head by security forces during an anti-coup protest rally she was attending on Wednesday.
Photograph: AP

At least 38 people have been killed after security forces in Myanmar opened fire on demonstrators peacefully protesting last month’s government coup, in the bloodiest day of protests yet. Authorities have become increasingly violent against demonstrators, killing more than 50 people since the 1 February coup, according to the UN.

Despite this, crowds have continued to demonstrate, wearing hard hats and homemade shields to protect themselves. They are demanding that the military concede control of the country and reinstate Aung San Suu Kyi, the democratic leader who was captured in the coup.

  • The US decision not to punish the Saudi crown prince puts exiles in danger, they have warned, following the Biden administration’s move not to put direct sanctions on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman despite US intelligence finding he was complicit in the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The exiled dissidents said the move would embolden the prince and some said they had already been warned they were in danger.

In other news …

  • Tensions between Meghan and Harry and the royal family are ramping up, with a clip of the much-anticipated interview between the couple and Oprah Winfrey showing Meghan accuse the palace of “perpetuating falsehoods” against herself and her husband. The clip was released just hours after Buckingham Palace made a rare intervention, announcing it would launch an investigation into allegations of bullying made against Meghan.

  • Andrew Cuomo has said he won’t resign over sexual harassment allegations made against him by three women. Speaking at his first public appearance since the claims, the New York governor apologised and said he had “learned an important lesson” on his behaviour around women, but that he wouldn’t be leaving office.

Stat of the day: coronavirus death rates are 10 times higher in countries with high rates of overweight people

About 2.2 million of the 2.5 million global deaths from coronavirus occurred in countries with high proportions of overweight people, a landmark study has revealed. According to the World Obesity Federation, death rates are 10 times higher in countries where more than half of the adults have a BMI of more than 25kg/m2 – the point at which normal weight tips into overweight – such as the US, UK and Italy.

Don’t miss this: thousands of people in Mississippi still don’t have water

Thousands of residents in Mississippi are entering their third week without running water, after the state’s capital was battered by back-to-back storms in mid-February. The state’s water infrastructure was badly damaged, with at least 96 pipe breakages and power outages causing extremely low water pressure. Oliver Laughland meets those affected.

Last thing: Space X’s starship exploded just after performing a perfect test

It was a day of mixed emotions for Elon Musk’s Space X, when its Starship rocket performed a perfect test, only to explode minutes later. The rocketship Musk’s firm one day hopes to send to Mars looked like it had perfected touchdown, after two previous failed attempts, leading the commentator John Insprucker to declare that “third time’s a charm as the saying goes” and Space X to end its live webcast of the test with success. But the Starship suddenly exploded on the landing pad with such force that it was catapulted into the air.

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