11-30-20 Covid-19 news: Infections in England fell 30 per cent during lockdown
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Coronavirus cases in England have fallen during nationwide lockdown. Coronavirus infections in England dropped by about 30 per cent after three weeks of the country’s second nationwide lockdown, according to preliminary results from a random swab testing survey by researchers at Imperial College London. The study found that the prevalence of infection fell from about 1320 infections per 100,000 people between 16 October and 2 November, to approximately 960 per 100,000 people between 13 and 24 November. It estimated England’s R number to be 0.88, adding to UK government data last week, which estimated the UK’s R number at between 0.9 and 1.0. An R number below 1.0 indicates the epidemic is shrinking. The fall in the number of infections is not uniform. “There is a mixed picture across the country,” said Simon Clarke at the University of Reading in a statement. “Infections are falling more quickly in the North, but not so quickly in the Midlands, South or London. This probably reflects the fact that large parts of the North were under more severe restrictions before going into lockdown and should be a warning to MPs and councils lobbying for their local areas to be placed in lower tiers,” said Clarke. A coronavirus vaccine candidate developed by US pharmaceutical company Moderna was found to have an efficacy of 94 per cent in complete results from the company’s phase III trial. The result is based on a total of 196 symptomatic coronavirus cases among the 30,000 trial participants. Half of the participants received a placebo rather than the vaccine, and just 11 of the symptomatic coronavirus cases occurred in the vaccinated group. One of the trial participants in the placebo group died of covid-19. The vaccine is based on a novel, mRNA technology, as is the vaccine being developed by US pharmaceutical company Pfizer in partnership with German biotechnology company BioNTech. Pfizer and BioNTech released promising complete results from their phase III coronavirus vaccine trial on 18 November, showing 95 per cent efficacy, and requested emergency use authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration shortly afterwards. Moderna is also filing for emergency regulatory approval, in the US and Europe.
11-30-20 Covid: Fauci warns of 'surge in cases' post Thanksgiving
The US could see "surge upon surge" of coronavirus cases as people return home from the Thanksgiving holiday, a top US disease expert has warned. Speaking on Sunday, Dr Anthony Fauci said it was "not too late" for those yet to travel to help curb the virus by wearing masks and socially distancing. Thanksgiving typically heralds the busiest week for travel in the US. The US has recorded more than 13 million coronavirus cases and more than 266,000 people have died. As of Sunday, the number of Covid-19 cases recorded in November has surpassed four million, double the figure recorded in October. Last year, an estimated 26 million people passed through US airports in the week surrounding the holiday. Health experts had called for people to spend Thanksgiving at home, but this week US airports marked their busiest period since mid-March. Anywhere from 800,000 to more than one million travellers passed through US airport checkpoints on any day during the past week, according to Transport Security Administration statistics. "There is almost certainly going to be an uptick because of what has happened with the travel," Dr Fauci told CNN's State of the Union. In another television appearance, he recommended Thanksgiving travellers to quarantine for a period of time "if it's possible". Dr Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, echoed Dr Fauci's concerns, telling CBS News that people who had travelled for the holiday should avoid seeing relatives over the age of 65. "Now we're entering this post-Thanksgiving surge with three, four and 10 times as much disease across the country," she said. "We are deeply worried". Meanwhile, in New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says schools can reopen in December, weeks after they were shut for a second time. Parents had complained that bars and restaurants were able to operate, but not schools. And in California, Los Angeles county is imposing a new three-week lockdown from Monday, which will ban most public gatherings and limit the number of people allowed in shops at any one time.
11-30-20 Americans are choosing death over deprivation
COVID-19 showed us that our country is full of selfish jerks. This past week, millions of Americans joined together in total defiance of all public health advice for another round of infecting and killing their loved ones, while ensuring that the nation's medical professionals will face several more months of risky, grueling, emotionally draining labor trying to keep a country full of heedless jerks and credulous conspiracy-mongers alive. Many doctors, nurses, and hospital staff are increasingly hopeless and disillusioned. Gone are the 7'oclock cheers and "Thank you essential workers" signs in every window. That fleeting solidarity has been replaced by a cold, selfish indifference to the staggering and seemingly pointless sacrifices these heroic workers continue to make on our behalf. And many of them are wondering how much longer they can keep it up. Never has this been more clear than it was over the long Thanksgiving weekend. While many Americans did the sensible — if heart-wrenching — thing and stayed home or limited their gatherings to small, pre-existing "pods," more than a million people traveled through airports the day before Thanksgiving. In one poll, 40 percent of respondents told researchers they were planning on attending a large, in-person gathering. All of this while a record 90,000 people were already hospitalized with COVID-19, and public health professionals begged people to stay home so as not to exacerbate the problem. How can people do this, knowing that their actions risk their own lives and the lives of others? It would be one thing if the incredible, worldwide scientific effort to create a vaccine for this terrible virus was failing and there was no hope on the bleak horizon. But it looks like multiple vaccines will be deployed beginning next month, with the possibility of a return to some kind of normalcy by May. The end of this thing is now tantalizingly in sight. This is not to minimize what people have been through, or the misery that awaits those who hunker down for the winter, still cruelly shorn of nearly all social contact and ordinary joys. It is not to dismiss the agony of those who have lost jobs and businesses, with no help whatsoever from their government since the summer. It's all been a nightmare, and I'm one of those extraordinarily fortunate professionals who has been able to stay employed and work from home with my family. But the reality is that many Americans are now consciously choosing to spread death and suffering over finding the strength to endure for a few more months. And they aren't just harming themselves: They are putting unimaginable strain on the country's health-care system, as burned out doctors, nurses, and staff ask themselves why they are martyring themselves on behalf of such a venal society. Don't believe me? If you have friends or loved ones who work in health care, ask them how they're doing. I reached out to some of the medical professionals in my network, and the responses were sobering. "Many of my colleagues (the including me)," said one pediatrician friend, "have had their faith in humanity irreparably damaged by our countrymen's response to this challenge." One viral immunologist told me that, "I feel upset with these folks because this is inevitably going to cause more death and harm and not just to them but others who did stay home and followed guidelines." He added that much of the blame rests with national and state political leaders determined to play down the gravity of the problem so they could rush economic re-openings. A palliative medical counselor said that the staff at her facility "is wonderful but furious when it is the patients' reckless behavior that puts them in the ICU for COVID." Fury gives way to exhaustion and resignation. "They still provide superhuman care," she says, "but it's only human to be frustrated."
11-30-20 Black Lives Matter founders: We fought to change history and we won
The year 2020 will be remembered for a lot of things - not least the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement around the world. The organisation has led huge street rallies and high-profile campaigns against racism and police brutality. Now the three women who founded the movement have told the BBC they believe it has transformed politics. "Black people alongside our allies stood up to change the course of history and we won," said Alicia Garza. Garza and her BLM co-founders, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, spoke as part of the BBC 100 Women Masterclass 2020, a digital live event of masterclasses, big interviews and guests on 30 November. The trio started the Black Lives Matter movement in the US in 2013 after the not guilty verdict against George Zimmerman, who shot dead unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin. Protests erupted again this year after the killing of George Floyd, who died in May after a police officer knelt on his neck during his arrest in Minneapolis. "Black Lives Matter, after seven years, is now really in the DNA and the muscle memory of this country," said Garza. "We all have watched how our community members, our family members, are being murdered on camera. "There are so many ways in which, even as this movement was exploding for the second time, major news outlets continue to focus on the wrong thing. "Over and over again, the burden and responsibility for violence gets placed at our feet, but nobody talks about the violence that our communities are experiencing both at the hands of government neglect, but also at the hands of police officers. "Now we have a new element which is vigilante and white supremacist violence." Despite the ongoing struggle, the founders of BLM struck a cautiously optimistic note, especially when speaking about the defeat of Donald Trump in the US election. Black women in particular have been credited for playing a major role in President-elect Joe Biden's victory.
11-30-20 Laverne Cox says 'it's not safe if you're a trans person' after attack
Orange is the New Black star Laverne Cox has said "it's not safe if you're a trans person" after being caught up in a transphobic attack in Los Angeles. Cox posted a 10-minute Instagram video explaining she had been walking with a friend in a park on Sunday when a man "aggressively" asked for the time. He then proceeded to ask the friend if Cox was a "guy or girl?" The man then physically attacked her friend, according to the star, who said she was "still in shock". "The guy is like hitting my friend, and then my friend is going toward him," said Cox. "I pull out my phone and I call to dial 911, and all of a sudden it's over and the guy is gone." She added: "The guy really wanted me to answer so that he could spook whether I'm trans or not. I don't know why it matters. At the end of the day, it's like who cares? "I'm in a hoodie and yoga pants, I'm completely covered up, I've got my mask on. Who cares if I'm trans? How does this affect your life?" Cox played Sophia Burset in Orange is the New Black, the Netflix comedy drama series about inmates at a US women's prison. She became the first transgender person to be nominated for an Emmy Award. She said she had dealt with similarly transphobic incidents a lot in New York, but that "it never fails to be shocking". The 48-year-old said she had "been harassed and bullied my whole life" and felt "lucky and grateful" that her friend was there this weekend. The attack, she said, was a reminder that "it's not safe in the world". "It's not safe if you're a trans person. Obviously, I know this well. It's just really sad," she sighed. "It doesn't matter who you are. You can be Laverne Cox, you know, or whatever that means. If you're trans, you're going to experience stuff like this." Last month, UK crime statistics obtained by the BBC showed there had been a 25% increase in reports of transphobic hate crimes in the UK.
11-30-20 The case for shortening the presidential transition
A disgruntled lame duck can do a lot of damage in two-and-a-half months. He may have been a Founding Father, but John Adams could be every bit as petty as President Trump. Like Trump, Adams was turned out of the presidency after serving a single term; voters in the 1800 election instead selected his archrival, Thomas Jefferson. Adams skipped Jefferson's inauguration, and his Federalist Party allies rammed a series of last-minute judicial appointments through the Senate. Jefferson was understandably unhappy with the situation, and upon taking office ordered Secretary of State James Madison not to deliver the commissions that would allow some of the new "midnight judges" to take office. One of those appointees, William Marbury, brought a lawsuit. He ultimately lost. But the case, Marbuy vs. Madison, is remembered today as a key milestone in American history — the moment when the Supreme Court asserted its power to declare a law unconstitutional. There are two takeaways from this story. Despite the pride Americans have in the country's unbroken streak of peaceful presidential transitions, the handover of power from one chief executive to another has been a fraught affair from the earliest days of constitutional government. And messy transitions can sometimes alter the country's path in fateful ways. Those lessons may be more relevant than ever in 2020. After all, we don't really expect Trump to conduct himself with more decorum than John Adams, do we? Sure enough, Trump administration officials are doing everything they can to make life difficult for their successors when President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated in January. While Trump himself refuses to concede that Biden won the election, his allies are pushing through new environmental regulations to hobble Biden's anti-pollution agenda, moving pandemic stimulus money out of Biden's reach, and racing to strip civil service protections from almost 90 percent of the federal workforce. That last item could be the most serious, as it potentially would give Trump the power to fire thousands of federal workers in the next few weeks — effectively sabotaging the new administration before it takes over. Trump "should not be making these changes, period, and certainly not changes this dramatic on [his] way out," Max Stier, president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service, told The Washington Post. These problems were inevitable. As I wrote a few weeks ago, now that networks have declared Biden the winner of the election, Trump has little to lose by behaving badly. The country is at the mercy of an outgoing president who knows how to make trouble. Logistics are partly to blame. The machinery of American government is huge, a multi-trillion dollar operation with millions of employees. Shifting power from one administration to the next is almost always a logistical nightmare. There are two-and-a-half months between Election Day and Inauguration Day, and new administrations typically need every minute of that time to get up-and-running. A same-day transition, as happens in the United Kingdom, may not be possible here. In the meantime, the outgoing president remains in power until January — even if, like Trump, he has been repudiated by voters.
11-30-20 The Electoral College is only getting worse
The Electoral College is a political abomination. As I have written before, rather than protecting the influence of small states, it grants overwhelming power to a handful of states that randomly happen to have a close partisan balance, which are mostly fairly large. Worse, it allows popular vote losers to win — which has happened twice in the last 20 years. Indeed, theoretically a candidate could lose the popular vote four to one and still win the electoral vote. Moreover, since 2012 the divergence between the Electoral College and the popular vote has been steadily growing. As I'll show below, while Joe Biden won a clear victory in the popular vote, he just barely squeaked through in the Electoral College. This idiotic anachronism must be destroyed. Let's take a look at this over the last two decades. One way to examine this question is to look at the most "efficient" way that losing candidates could have won the Electoral College. In other words, if we add up the state totals for previous elections going back to 2000, how might the losers have won by flipping the least number of votes? Using data from U.S. Elections Atlas, and 2020 data from the The New York Times (including a rough extrapolation assuming Biden wins 80 percent of the mail-in votes that haven't been counted yet in New York state), I calculated how the popular vote losers could have won the Electoral College — or lost, in the case of George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016. In 2000, of course, Bush officially "won" Florida by 537 votes, and therefore the presidency with 271 electoral votes, while Al Gore won the popular vote by about 550,000. (In reality, Gore probably would have won a fair recount in Florida if it hadn't been stopped by a conservative Supreme Court on nakedly partisan grounds, but I'm going to ignore that for the time being since it doesn't matter for this particular argument.) That means a flip of just 269 votes in one state from one candidate to the other would have changed the result. In 2004, Bush won re-election with a margin of about three million votes, and 286 electoral votes. John Kerry famously could have won if he had just flipped Ohio, where the margin was just 118,601 votes. However, it would have been slightly more efficient in vote terms to flip New Mexico, Iowa, Nevada, and Alaska, with a cumulative margin of 117,411. That means a flip of just 58,706 votes would have given Kerry the presidency. In 2008, Barack Obama steamrolled John McCain with a popular vote margin of over 9.5 million, and 365 electoral votes. But it would have taken relatively few vote changes to overturn even that landslide result. Obama won Florida, Colorado, Iowa, Rhode Island, Maine, New Mexico, Nevada, Vermont, Delaware, New Hampshire, Indiana, and North Carolina by a cumulative margin of just 1.436 million votes — therefore flipping just 718,138 would have given McCain an additional 97 electoral votes and victory. Similarly in 2012, Mitt Romney could have won by taking the nine closest states in terms of total votes, requiring only 384,188 flips. Then in 2016, Trump of course squeaked out an Electoral College victory with tiny margins in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — just 38,868 flips would have given Clinton the win. That finally brings me to 2020. Biden won the popular vote easily, with a margin maybe in the neighborhood of 6.9 million or so (depending on what happens in New York.) But it would have taken just 33,139 flips in Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin to deliver a Trump second term. Bringing this all together: If we plot these minimum vote flips to change the Electoral College result as a percentage of the popular vote margin, we can get a sense of how badly it diverges from the principle of one person, one vote.
11-29-20 The vaccine breakthrough
Pfizer and Moderna may soon begin emergency distribution of coronavirus vaccines created with genetic technology. Pfizer and Moderna may soon begin emergency distribution of coronavirus vaccines created with genetic technology. Here's everything you need to know:
- How do these vaccines work? Up to now, vaccines have introduced the immune system to a benign version of a virus or bacteria, priming it to recognize and fight the real pathogen if and when it strikes. Vaccines for measles, polio, the flu, and other infectious diseases use parts of or entire viruses that have been weakened or inactivated. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are based on a novel approach. They rely on a snippet of genetic material called messenger RNA, or mRNA, that is encased in a tiny, protective bubble of fat.
- What does messenger RNA do? When the coronavirus attacks, it hijacks the machinery of our body's cells and instructs them to crank out more virus, generating a cascading assault. The vaccines take advantage of this process by injecting mRNA into muscle cells in the upper arm, which are instructed to manufacture just a piece of the coronavirus — the outside spike proteins, which the virus uses to latch onto cells.
- How well do these vaccines work? Phenomenally well, so far. The benchmark for FDA approval is an efficacy rate of 50 percent, roughly the average of what flu vaccines achieve. Early results for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines show about 95 percent efficacy, including for those over 65 — a game-changing result.
- Are there any drawbacks?: The downside of messenger RNA is its fragility, which leads to significant practical hurdles. To keep from degrading, Pfizer's vaccine must be stored at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit, roughly the winter temperature of the South Pole.
- What about safety? So far, the only side effects that have been reported by some recipients are fatigue, fever, joint pain, headaches, and soreness in the injection site lasting a day or two. Close monitoring of the study subjects will continue, but adverse vaccine effects typically surface early.
- When can I get one? Both companies have manufactured tens of millions of doses and are ready to hit the ground running when approval is granted. Still, mass inoculation will take at least four to six months.
- The enormous promise of mRNA: The excitement over mRNA vaccines' early success extends well beyond what it means for the coronavirus pandemic. The trial data offer the first solid evidence for a technology whose potential has excited researchers for years, and hold out great promise for the fight against other diseases.
11-29-20 Canada bans mass exports of prescription drugs
Canada has banned the export of some prescription medicines in order to prevent a shortage in the country. The decision is in response to a US plan that would allow for drugs to be imported from Canada to make them cheaper for Americans. Although prescription drug prices in Canada are higher than some nations, they are cheaper than the US. A number of Canada's drug suppliers had warned that the plan, implemented by President Trump, would cause shortages. The pandemic has already increased demands for some medicines, according to the AFP news agency. A statement from Canada's health ministry said the country sources 68% of its drugs from overseas and therefore it was important to avoid any disruptions to supplies. "Companies will now also be required to provide information to assess existing or potential shortages when requested, and within 24 hours if there is a serious or imminent health risk," the statement said. Mr Trump signed an executive order in July to allow for the legal importation of cheaper drugs from Canada. A month later, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was happy to help other nations with their supplies if possible but his priority was protecting the needs of Canadians. Drugmakers have faced intense criticism from US politicians - including Mr Trump - as well as insurance companies and patients' groups over the high cost of new medicines and price hikes in some older generic drugs. President-elect Joe Biden has previously spoken of potentially importing drugs to bring down costs.
11-28-20 US election: Appeal court dismisses Trump camp's lawsuit in Pennsylvania
A US federal appeals court has firmly rejected the Trump campaign's attempt to block President-elect Joe Biden from being declared winner in Pennsylvania. The panel of three judges deemed the case was without merit, saying the Trump campaign had not made specific allegations or provided proof. The ruling is another major setback for President Trump in his attempts to overturn the 3 November election. On Thursday he said he would give way if Mr Biden was declared the winner. But on Friday he again made unfounded allegations of "massive voter fraud", tweeting: "Biden can only enter the White House as President if he can prove that his ridiculous '80,000,000 votes' were not fraudulently or illegally obtained." The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals had been asked to consider a lower court's decision to dismiss the Trump campaign's attempts to invalidate millions of mail-in votes in Pennsylvania. The lower court ruling had paved the way for the battleground state to certify Joe Biden's win, giving him 20 vital electoral college votes and effectively the presidency. In giving the appeal court's opinion, Judge Stephanos Bibas wrote: "Free, fair elections are the lifeblood of our democracy. Charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so." "Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here," wrote Judge Bibas, who was nominated by Trump. Following the ruling, Trump campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis wrote: "On to SCOTUS!" referring to the Supreme Court. The Trump campaign has filed a slew of lawsuits alleging voter fraud in several states, but with little success. Mr Biden is projected to defeat President Trump 306 to 232 in the US electoral college, which determines who becomes president - far above the 270 he needs to win.
11-28-20 Swiss vote on making firms liable for rights abuse
Swiss voters decide on Sunday on a law that would make Swiss businesses financially and legally liable for human rights violations or environmental damage. The law would affect their supply chains anywhere in the world. Switzerland may be a small country, but its business reach is long. Companies such as Nestlé, Syngenta, Glencore or Novartis source products all over the world and Switzerland is a world centre for commodity trading. A third of all commodities consumed worldwide are traded by companies based in Switzerland. Corporate responsibility is a priority for multinationals and companies such as Nestlé say they scrutinise their supply chains from start to finish to ensure fair working practices, and to prevent child labour or environmental damage. The new law seeks to enforce these standards, allowing victims of alleged human rights violations or environmental damage to sue Swiss companies in Swiss courts. The companies would have to prove they had taken all necessary measures to prevent any harm. "Many companies do the right thing already," says campaigner Andreas Missbach, "but in cases where they don't then [under this new law] victims of a subsidiary of a Swiss company abroad could sue the Swiss parent company for damages." He points specifically to the extractive industry as an area of concern. Mines in Latin America that supply Swiss companies are, he claims, causing serious harm. "Communities are mistreated, people are put off their land, water poisoned, and we have this with companies that are headquartered in Switzerland." Global trading hub for oil and petroleum, metals, minerals, agricultural products, sugar, cotton, cereals and oilseed. Employs 35,000 people and generated annual revenue of 25bn Swiss Francs (£21bn; €23bn) in 2017. There are 550 commodities trading companies in Switzerland.
11-27-20 Covid-19 news: UK R number below 1.0 for the first time since August
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. The UK’s R number is between 0.9 and 1.0 according to the most recent estimate. The latest estimate of the UK’s R number – the average number of people each person with coronavirus infects – has fallen to between 0.9 and 1.0 for the first time since mid-August. “It is increasingly clear that the stricter measures implemented in recent weeks are having an impact,” said Liam Smeeth at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in a statement. “A period of tiered measures in December is warranted now to help allow some social mixing at Christmas that is so important to many. I suspect a further circuit breaker in January or possibly February may well be needed because Christmas will place such upward pressure on transmission rates,” said Smeeth. In Denmark, there are concerns that farmed mink infected with the coronavirus may have escaped and could spread the virus to wild animals. Sten Mortensen, veterinary research manager at the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration, told the Guardian that a few thousand mink escape from farms every year and that there is a risk 5 per cent of those that escaped this year were infected with covid-19. Coronavirus cases and hospitalisations in the US continued to surge over the Thanksgiving holiday. There were 110,611 new cases recorded in the US on Thursday and 1232 new deaths. On the same day 90,481 people were hospitalised with covid-19, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
11-27-20 What will Biden do about the Department of Homeland Security?
Joe Biden needs to do something about the Department of Homeland Security. There will be no shortage of items competing for attention on the president-elect's agenda when he takes office in January. Dealing with the pandemic and the economy are the top items, obviously, because they constitute an emergency, but there is also the question of trying to undo the considerable damage President Trump has done to the government itself during his four years in office. The problems of DHS fall in the latter category. Even before Trump was inaugurated, the department all-too-often proved indifferent (at best) to human rights and civil liberties, but over the last year it has shown itself ripe for abuse by an authoritarian-minded president. Biden probably won't be that kind of president — certainly, not to the degree that Trump has been. But DHS needs reform, not just a nicer person at the top of the organizational chart. This was most clearly demonstrated during the summer of "Black Lives Matter" protests nationwide, following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Stymied by opposition to using the military to put down the demonstrations, Trump instead sent DHS agents into the streets of Portland, Oregon, to snatch up protesters — driving around in unmarked cars and camouflage uniforms, grabbing people without explaining why they were being arrested — and used aircraft to surveil BLM protests nationwide in places like Buffalo, Philadelphia, and Dayton, Ohio. "The deployment of drones and officers to surveil protests is a gross abuse of authority and is particularly chilling when used against Americans who are protesting law enforcement brutality," House Democrats said in a June letter to Chad Wolf, the DHS's acting secretary. Even before this summer's demonstrations, though, the Trump administration was using agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a DHS agency, to keep tabs on protesters opposed to the president's immigration policies. Under Wolf, the department withheld a report on a Russian disinformation effort against Biden's campaign, and sidelined attempts to address white nationalist threats to the country. As I wrote in July, U.S. Customs and Border Protection — also a DHS agency — has a yearslong history of corruption, racism, and a casual toleration for the deaths of undocumented migrants. There is also reason to believe DHS is just not that good at its job. The Brennan Center for Justice has pointed out that legislative criticism of the department's effectiveness go back at least to 2012, when a Senate subcommittee found DHS "often produced irrelevant, useless, or inappropriate intelligence" about threats to national security. And we haven't even mentioned the kids in cages, yet. Or the hundreds of migrant children who have been separated from their parents, who cannot be located. The department is a mess, in other words, a stain on the American conscience. It will be useful not to have people like Stephen Miller in government, no longer influencing the president to govern with cruelty. And Biden's nominee to lead DHS, Alejandro Mayorkas, has been welcomed by immigration advocates. That's the good news. But DHS' problems are too widespread and enduring — and presidential terms are so short — that it isn't enough to rely on a personnel change. Structural reform is needed. (Webmaster's comment: The DHS is an enemy of the people. It should be abolished!)
11-27-20 US election: Trump signals he is prepared to leave White House
Donald Trump has said he will leave the White House if Joe Biden is formally confirmed as the next US president. Answering reporters' questions for the first time since losing the 3 November vote, Mr Trump insisted, however, that "this race is far from over". He has refused to concede, citing unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud. Individual states are currently certifying their results, after Mr Biden was projected as the winner with an unassailable lead. The Democrat leads Mr Trump 306 votes to 232 under the electoral college system that is used to pick US presidents. The tally is far more than the 270 needed to win, and Mr Biden also leads the popular vote by more than six million. Electors will meet to formalise the result on 14 December, with Mr Biden due to be sworn in as president on 20 January. The president and his supporters have lodged a number of legal challenges over the election, but most have been dismissed. Earlier this week, Mr Trump finally agreed to allow the formal transition to President-elect Biden's team to begin, following several weeks of uncertainty. The decision means Mr Biden is able to receive top security briefings and access key government officials and millions of dollars in funds as he prepares to take over. Following a video call with military personnel on the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday, Mr Trump faced questions from reporters at the White House. He was asked whether he would agree to leave the White House if he lost the electoral college vote. "Certainly I will, certainly I will and you know that," he said. However, the president went on to say that "if they do [elect Joe Biden], they made a mistake", and suggested he may never accept defeat. "It's going to be a very hard thing to concede because we know there was massive fraud," he said, an allegation he has stood by without offering proof. It is not a requirement for Mr Trump to concede in order for Mr Biden to be sworn in as the 46th US president.
11-27-20 Trump and pardons: How many people could be granted clemency?
After Donald Trump on Wednesday pardoned his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, lobbyists are now hoping for a blitz of similar moves before the 45th US president leaves the White House on 20 January. "This is one unfettered presidential power the president enjoys using," one former administration official was quoted as saying by Reuters, amid media reports that lists of people are being finalised. He might enjoy using such powers but actually Mr Trump has granted clemency sparingly - doing so just 44 times over nearly four years in office. By contrast ex-President Obama pardoned offenders or commuted sentences nearly 2,000 times in eight years, according to the Pew Research Center. Although Mr Trump has not publicly indicated how far he plans to go in his final days in the White House, some experts predict his clemency orders will extend beyond those associates, like Michael Flynn, who were ensnared by the Special Counsel inquiry into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Pardons wipe out convictions for federal crimes. They represent legal forgiveness, end any further punishment and restore rights such as being able to vote or run for public office. Commutations lessen the punishment. Both are clemency rights granted to the president by the US Constitution. Two less-common forms are remissions, which reduce financial penalties, and respites - temporary reprieves usually granted to inmates on medical grounds. The constitution allows the sitting president the "power to grant reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States, except in cases of impeachment". A president can offer clemency even if an individual has not been charged or convicted with a federal crime. It is common for outgoing presidents to issue pardons before they leave the White House. (Webmaster's comment: Trump has a lot of his hired thugs to pardon!)
11-27-20 Macron 'shocked' at beating of black man by Paris police officers
President Emmanuel Macron is "very shocked" at footage of three police officers beating up a black music producer in Paris, French media report. Mr Macron has not publicly commented about the incident, but has discussed the issue - and those involved - with Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin. The three officers identified in the video beating Michel Zecler have been suspended and are under investigation. The incident on Saturday has led to fresh scrutiny of the security forces. Stars of the French World Cup football team are among a number of public figures who have spoken of their anger after the footage captured in the French capital was made public. On Friday, French media reported that a presidential official had described Mr Macron as being visibly upset by the incident ahead of talks with Mr Darmanin. Mr Darmanin earlier told French television that he would press for the officers' dismissal, saying they had "soiled the uniform of the republic". The three officers are under investigation. On Thursday, French football star Kylian Mbappé, who is black, joined national teammates and fellow athletes in condemning the latest incident. "Unbearable video, unacceptable violence. Say no to racism," he wrote on Twitter next to a picture of the bloodied face of the injured producer. The security camera video was published on Thursday by the online news site Loopsider. It shows three officers kicking, punching and using their truncheons on the man after he entered his studio. Loopsider said he had initially been stopped for not wearing a mask. Mr Zecler said he was also subjected to racist abuse during the five minute beating. He was detained and charged with violence and resisting arrest, but prosecutors threw the charges out and instead opened an investigation against the officers. As he arrived at police headquarters on Thursday with his lawyer to file a complaint, Mr Zecler told reporters: "People who should have been protecting me attacked me. I did nothing to deserve this. I just want these three people to be punished according to the law."
11-27-20 Coronavirus: Calls in Denmark to dig up millions of dead mink
Opposition MPs in Denmark have urged the government to dig up millions of mink that were buried in mass graves amid Covid-19 fears. The two burial sites in Jutland are highly controversial - one is near a bathing lake and the other not far from a source of drinking water. The discovery of a mutated form of the virus prompted a cull of nearly 17 million mink, devastating the Danish fur industry - the largest in the EU. The burial decision was judged illegal. The government has admitted that the cull was mishandled - but now politicians are arguing about how best to dispose of more than 10,000 tonnes of dead mink. The grisly mass burial got even more macabre when there were reports of buried mink resurfacing because of the nitrogen and phosphorus gases produced by their decay. The two mass graves are near Karup and Holstebro. Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen wept on Danish TV while visiting a mink farm on Thursday. "We have two generations of really skilled mink farmers, father and son, who in a very, very short time have had their life's work shattered, and that… It's been emotional for them. Sorry. For me as well," she said, wiping away tears. Law experts quoted by Danish TV2 say the government went ahead with mass burial without getting an environmental impact assessment. The opposition Liberal Party (Venstre) says the mink should be dug up and loaded into containers of manure, which would allegedly be a safer disposal method. Environment Minister Lea Wermelin spoke to parliament - the Folketing - on Friday, in a crisis session called to deal with the mink problem. She admitted that mass burial had not been the best method - incineration would have been preferable - but the spread of Covid-19 on mink farms had made the disposal urgent and there had been no other quick way to handle such a quantity of dead animals.
11-26-20 Covid-19 news: New tiers announced for England after lockdown ends
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Most of England to be put under the two strictest levels of restrictions next week. The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, an African Union agency, said that mass vaccination against the coronavirus is unlikely to start in countries in Africa until halfway through next year. “We are very concerned as a continent that we will not have access to vaccines in a timely fashion,” said the agency’s director John Nkengasong at a news conference. “It will not be, in my view, up to [the] middle of next year before we truly start to get vaccination into Africa,” he said. The US, Germany and the UK have plans to start rolling out vaccines as early as next month. Nkengasong said there will also be key logistical problems to overcome in many African countries, particularly those with hot climates and challenges with supplying electricity, since most vaccines need to be kept cool. The covid-19 pandemic could set back gains in gender equality, according to a report by UN Women. With more people around the world staying at home due to lockdowns and other restrictions, the need for household chores has increased, says the report. But analysis of data from 38 countries suggests that, while all people have increased their unpaid workloads, “women are still doing the lion’s share”. The report also found that women are taking on a greater intensity of care-related tasks compared to men. “Everything we worked for, that has taken 25 years, could be lost in a year,” UN Women deputy executive director Anita Bhatia told the BBC. Germany will extend its partial lockdown until at least 20 December and will limit private gatherings to a maximum of five people from up to two different households. German chancellor Angela Merkel said the goal is to push the number of new coronavirus cases in each region of the country below 50 per 100,000 people per week. As of today, only two of the country’s 16 federal states have case rates below this level. “We have to continue to pursue this goal,” Merkel told journalists in Berlin today.
11-26-20 Michael Flynn: Trump pardons ex-national security adviser
US President Donald Trump has pardoned his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. The president said the widely expected act of clemency was his "Great Honor". Mr Flynn was convicted during a justice department inquiry into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election. Leading Democrats condemned the pardon. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it "an act of grave corruption and a brazen abuse of power". The White House said that the pardon would finally end "the relentless, partisan pursuit of an innocent man". Mr Flynn, who admitted in 2017 to lying to the FBI about contacts with Russia's ambassador but then tried to withdraw his plea, responded by posting a tweet containing a US flag emoji and a Biblical verse, Jeremiah 1:19. The verse says: "'They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,' declares the Lord." The retired US Army three-star lieutenant general was an early and ardent supporter of Mr Trump during the 2016 campaign, though he had been a life-long Democrat before. Mr Flynn was among the new president's first appointments - Mr Trump brought him on just days after winning the election. The two saw eye-to-eye on many issues, including the advantages of closer ties with Russia, renegotiating the Iran nuclear deal and combating the threat from Islamic State militants. But he lasted just 23 days as national security adviser, the president's chief counsellor on international affairs and defence. Mr Trump fired him after it emerged that he had discussed lifting sanctions on Russia with Moscow's ambassador to Washington before Mr Trump took office, and misled the vice-president about that conversation. (Webmaster's comment: Trump begins the pardoning of all the thugs he had working for him.)
11-26-20 Covid-19: US Supreme Court backs religious groups over New York caps
The US Supreme Court has temporarily blocked New York from enforcing attendance limits at places of worship in areas hit hard by coronavirus. In a 5-4 vote, the court ruled that the state's congregational cap violated rights to religious freedom. In an unsigned order, it said the rules "single[d] out houses of worship for especially harsh treatment." This was one of the first consequential rulings since conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett was appointed. President Donald Trump appointed her to replace liberal predecessor Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in September. Justice Barrett voted in the majority, along with other Trump appointees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. The three liberal justices dissented, as did conservative Chief Justice John Roberts. Earlier this year, before Justice Ginsburg's death, the court voted to leave similar restrictions in place in California and Nevada. The US is continuing to battle the world's largest outbreak of coronavirus. Over 12.7 million cases have been recorded nationally, and more than 262,000 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The Supreme Court's decision was a major victory for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Agudath Israel, an Orthodox Jewish congregation, which had challenged the restrictions imposed by New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo. On 6 October, Governor Cuomo shut down non-essential businesses in targeted areas where coronavirus infections had spiked, as part of efforts to control infection rates. Places of worship were also limited to gatherings of 10 in "red" zones, and 25 in "orange" ones. In court, the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn said the restrictions unfairly singled out places of worship. Agudath Israel of America also argued that its members were subject to "discriminatory targeting." New York argued in response that it had been the epicentre of the US coronavirus outbreak in the spring. It also said religious gatherings were being treated less stringently than secular gatherings like concerts, which were banned entirely.
11-26-20 Biden Thanksgiving speech: We're at war with the virus, not each other
US President-elect Joe Biden has called for an end to the "grim season of division", as the country faces a long, hard winter with Covid-19. In a speech for the Thanksgiving holiday, he said Americans were at war with coronavirus, not each other. The US saw more than 1.2 million cases last week, with 2,200 deaths on Tuesday - the highest number since late May. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump urged supporters to work to overturn the results of the 3 November election. Speaking via phone from the White House to an event organised by Republican state legislators in Pennsylvania, Mr Trump repeated unsubstantiated claims about widespread electoral fraud. "We have to turn the election over," he said, adding that it was "rigged". Mr Trump had been expected to attend the event in person but the trip was cancelled after two associates of his lawyer Rudy Giuliani tested positive for the virus. Mr Giuliani attended in person. Mr Biden won the election with a comfortable victory in electoral college votes, and the transition to his presidency is already well under way. Mr Trump's efforts to challenge the results in key states in courts have so far failed. On Wednesday, China's President Xi Jinping sent a message congratulating Mr Biden, more than two weeks after his victory was projected by US media. However, a number of world leaders have still not reached out to the president-elect, including Russia's Vladimir Putin and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who said on Wednesday that he would not offer congratulations until "the electoral process in the US ends". In his speech on Wednesday, Mr Biden told the nation: "I believe you always deserve to hear the truth from your president. We have to slow the growth of this virus. We owe it to the doctors and the nurses and the frontline workers... We owe it to our fellow citizens." He said Covid-19 had "brought us pain and loss and frustration" and cost many lives.
11-25-20 America forgot the seasonality of COVID-19 — until it was too late
Winter is here. Early in the pandemic, we talked a lot about the potential seasonality of COVID-19. Other, more familiar coronaviruses (like those that cause the common cold) and respiratory infections (like the flu) have a seasonal cycle. That this virus could fluctuate seasonally as well has always been a strong possibility. I wrote about it myself, noting that perhaps summer was giving us a respite more than anything we were doing or neglecting between May and October. Now it's late November, well into the cold season with which seasonality is concerned. But it's as if we've forgotten about the seasonality hypothesis. I can't recall the last time I organically encountered a mention of seasonality in anything I read about COVID-19. The caseload in the United States is reaching staggering new heights as cold weather arrives, and of course, public behavior and policy play a role in that surge. But why aren't we acknowledging (and talking about how to measure) the role seasonality may well be playing, too? And how is that attention gap affecting our choices for the worse? Seasonality is the way it becomes easier to get some illnesses in the winter in places with temperate climates because of weather conditions and the dehumidifying effects of heating systems, especially blown air. "Dry and cold conditions during winter are the major drivers for increased respiratory tract infections as they increase virus stability and transmission and weaken the host immune system," explained a September study published by the journal Frontiers in Public Health. Exhaled airborne water droplets full of viruses take longer to fall when suspended in cold, dry air instead of warm, humid air, and that prolongs opportunities for inhalation and infection. (Viruses may also survive longer in colder temperatures, and winter has us spending more time indoors with a shared air supply.) That Frontiers study concluded COVID-19 probably will be "prone to seasonal fluctuations" after the initial outbreak is over and herd immunity is obtained via infection and vaccine. But if COVID-19 is seasonal, the physics of water droplets in the air are the same now as they will be post-pandemic. It's not like seasonality is somehow "waiting" to take effect. Looking at the state or local level instead of the national scale, seasonality alone isn't enough to explain differing caseloads, but it's probably one relevant factor — a multiplier, not a creator. If you have no infections, cold temperatures can't create them ex nihilo. If you have a substantial rate of community transmission, however, that gives seasonality a very fertile substrate on which to work. It's still too soon to say with complete certainty whether COVID-19 is a seasonal illness. Still, plenty of infectious disease experts think that's more likely than not, and seasonality does help make sense of what we're seeing right now. The states with the top per capita case rates are overwhelmingly in the northern half of the country. There are northern states with much lower numbers by this measure, especially in New England, but the trend on the map is unmistakable. Here in the upper Midwest, we've got an unbroken run of the worst numbers in the country along the Canadian border, where it's been chilly for weeks. The air is icy; the heat is cranked. The same will be true of all but the southernmost states within a month. Yet as new lockdowns are introduced, seasonality seems to be largely ignored, and I can't help but wonder if this is another instance of pandemic paternalism, like the "noble lie" about masks or the FDA's only recently lifted prohibition of in-home testing. Perhaps the thinking is that if people believe seasonality makes a surge inevitable, they'll decided their vigilance (or lack thereof) is irrelevant and go about coughing in each other's faces.
11-25-20 Covid-19 news: Third wave is likely after UK Christmas covid-19 plan
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Government science advisers warn UK Christmas plan likely to lead to rise in cases. Scientists advising the UK government warned that its plan to relax restrictions during Christmas is likely to result in a rise in coronavirus cases, hospitalisations and deaths. “It is likely to lead to a third wave of infection, with hospitals being overrun, and more unnecessary deaths,” Andrew Hayward at University College London, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), told the BBC’s Newsnight programme. Graham Medley at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, also a member of SAGE, told the Guardian that the relaxation of rules could lead to further lockdown measures being needed in the new year. “I think it is inevitable that if a lot of people do take that risk, even if it is a small risk, then we end up with a lot of people in hospital and potentially having to take measures in January to lock down again,” said Medley. Senior US health adviser Anthony Fauci urged people in the country to avoid gathering for Thanksgiving, in line with US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advice. “Keep the gatherings, the indoor gatherings, as small as you possibly can. We all know how difficult that is, because this is such a beautiful, traditional holiday. But by making that sacrifice, you are going to prevent people from getting infected,” he told ABC’s Good Morning America programme today. “A sacrifice now could save lives and illness and make the future much brighter as we get through this,” said Fauci. “We’re going to get through this. Vaccines are on the horizon,” he added.
11-25-20 US election 2020: Biden says White House co-operation 'sincere'
US President-elect Joe Biden says the White House has so far been "sincere" in helping his transition to power. "It has not been begrudging so far, and I don't expect it to be," he told NBC News in an interview. He spoke as he unveiled his choice of top officials for when he takes over from Donald Trump in January. Mr Trump finally agreed to allow the formal transition process to begin on Monday, nearly three weeks after the presidential election. Yet he still refuses to admit defeat, repeating unsubstantiated claims that the 3 November vote was "rigged". President Trump's efforts to challenge the results in key states in courts have so far failed. On Tuesday, Pennsylvania and Nevada officially certified Mr Biden's victory, a day after the same outcome was announced in Michigan. Mr Trump is expected later on Wednesday to join his lawyer Rudy Giuliani in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where what is being described as a "hearing" of the state senate's Republican majority on allegations of voter fraud is taking place. State officials have denied the allegations, and on Monday Pennsylvania's supreme court dismissed a Trump campaign lawsuit aimed at invalidating millions of mail-in votes. Speaking to NBC's Nightly News, he confirmed he had not yet spoken to the president but added that he did not expect the beginning of his term to be affected by the delay in beginning the transition. "It's a slow start but it's starting and there's two months left to go, so I'm feeling good about the ability to be able to get up to speed," he said. There were, he said, plans for him to meet the Covid-19 task force in the White House about vaccine distribution and access. As well as getting the Presidential Daily Brief - an update on international threats and developments - Mr Biden can now access key government officials and millions of dollars in funds as he prepares to take over on 20 January. Mr Biden, who previously served as Barack Obama's vice-president, said that his time in office would not be a "third Obama term" because "we face a totally different world than we faced in the Obama-Biden administration".
11-24-20 Covid-19 news: Russia says Sputnik V vaccine is 95 per cent effective
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine candidate is 95 per cent effective, says Russia. The Russian government says preliminary results from trials of its coronavirus vaccine candidate Sputnik V have shown it to be more than 95 per cent effective after two doses. This is an increase from the 92 per cent effectiveness reported for the Sputnik V vaccine earlier this month. The latest results are based on a trial in about 19,000 volunteers. Sputnik V is based on similar viral vector technology to that used in the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine candidate, which early results indicate may be up to 90 per cent effective. But a full comparison between the two vaccines will only be possible when all the data is released, said Ian Jones at the University of Reading, UK, in a statement. Each dose of the vaccine would cost less than $10, according to the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF). “It’s more than twice as cheap as other vaccines that have the same efficacy levels,” the head of RDIF, Kirill Dmitriev, told a briefing. A Microsoft Excel error that resulted in 15,841 cases not being immediately referred to the contact tracing system in England between 25 September and 2 October may have been linked to 125,000 subsequent cases and 1500 deaths, according to modelling by researchers at the University of Warwick, UK. There were 2466 deaths involving covid-19 in England and Wales in the week up to 13 November, accounting for 20.1 per cent of all deaths that week in England and Wales, according to the most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics. This is an increase from the previous week, during which 1937 people died from covid-19.
11-24-20 Coronavirus: Millions travel for Thanksgiving despite warnings
Millions of Americans are already travelling home to celebrate Thanksgiving, despite warnings from health officials amid a significant wave of coronavirus cases and deaths. Thanksgiving, traditionally a large family get-together that rivals Christmas in size, is on Thursday. Three million people are reported to have already travelled through US airports from Friday to Sunday. But the number is around half the usual figure for Thanksgiving travel. Dr Anthony Fauci, the country's top infectious diseases expert, told CBS News that people in airports "are going to get us into even more trouble than we're in right now". The number of people flying in the US is the highest since mid-March, when the virus started to spread rapidly in the country. Cleavon Gilman, an emergency doctor in Arizona, tweeted: "Our pleas for help have fallen on selfish deaf ears." On Monday, the US - the worst-hit country in the world - recorded a further 150,000 cases of coronavirus, according to the Covid Tracking Project. The number of people admitted to hospital with the virus has increased by nearly 50% in the past two weeks, while more than 257,000 have now died of Covid-19 nationwide. Elsewhere in the US: There are concerns in Los Angeles that some hospitals could run out of beds as the pressure of patients infected with Covid-19 becomes too much. Texas Senator Ted Cruz has caused controversy by tweeting an illustration of a turkey with the words "come and take it", with the Republican adding: "Wait till they find out we won't give up Christmas either". This comes as huge queues have formed at food banks, and morgues in the state become overwhelmed with bodies. A large Pentecostal church in California ignored public health orders on Sunday by staging packed indoor services with conservative activist Charlie Kirk. Very few wore masks at the event. (Webmaster's comment: US citizens are going pay for their stupidity with 1/2 million deaths!)
11-24-20 Coronavirus: The agonising Thanksgiving dilemma facing millions of Americans
With over a million new Covid-19 cases nationwide in the past week, according to Johns Hopkins University, public health officials are cautioning people not to gather in large groups this holiday season. Next week's Thanksgiving weekend poses a particular concern. Americans traditionally travel home to be with loved ones, taking part in meals, parades and shopping sprees. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly recommended that this year, Americans stay home and celebrate only with those they live with. The nation's top infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci urged Americans to "think twice" about holiday travel plans, adding that even "innocent home gatherings" with family and friends could result in several outbreaks. As hard-hit regions have reimposed pandemic restrictions, even the Bidens and Trumps have made changes this year. President-elect Joe Biden revealed he and his wife, Dr Jill Biden, will have just one guest at their Thanksgiving dinner, while outgoing President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump will remain at the White House for the weekend. We asked people from around the country what changes they had made to their Thanksgiving plans and how they felt about 2020's pared-down holiday season.
11-24-20 Oxford and AstraZeneca say their COVID-19 vaccine works too
The vaccine may be easier to distribute than those from Pfizer and Moderna. A COVID-19 vaccine made by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford appears to prevent illness and may cut down on transmission of the coronavirus. In studies of more than 22,000 people in the United Kingdom and Brazil, the vaccine was 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 when people got a half dose of the vaccine followed by a full dose one month later, AstraZeneca said November 23 in a news release. When participants got two full doses of the vaccine one month apart, its effectiveness dropped to about 62 percent, the company reported. It’s not clear why the half dose followed by a full dose worked better than two full doses. Overall, the combined results showed that the vaccine had an average effectiveness of 70 percent among those who got the vaccine, compared with people in a control group who got a meningococcal vaccine or a placebo. The vaccine is the third one in recent weeks to show safety and effectiveness in clinical trials. AstraZeneca’s vaccine may be easier to distribute than those from Pfizer and its German collaborator BioNTech and from Moderna because the vaccine doesn’t need to be frozen as the other two do (SN: 11/16/20; SN: 11/18/20; SN: 11/20/20). It can be stored at temperatures found in regular refrigerators, unlike the special freezers needed for the Pfizer vaccine. AstraZeneca says it has the capacity to produce 3 billion doses of its vaccine in 2021. In the new AstraZeneca/Oxford analysis, there were 131 cases of the disease. No hospitalizations or severe cases of the disease were reported among people who got the vaccine, AstraZeneca said. The results were reported in a news release and have not been reviewed yet by independent scient
11-24-20 US election 2020: Biden to present team as Trump allows transition
US President-elect Joe Biden will formally introduce the first people he has chosen for his cabinet later, as the transition of power gathers pace. Many of the choices, already announced, are Mr Biden's colleagues from his years in the Obama administration. John Kerry will be climate envoy, while foreign policy veteran Antony Blinken is nominated for secretary of state. President Donald Trump has finally agreed that the transition process should start, after weeks of wrangling. The General Services Administration (GSA), the federal agency overseeing the handover, said it was now acknowledging Mr Biden as the "apparent winner" of the 3 November election. The move grants the Democrat access to millions of dollars in funds, as well as access to national security briefings and government officials, so he can properly prepare to take over the presidency on 20 January. Mr Trump said the GSA must "do what needs to be done", but still refuses to concede the election, repeating unsubstantiated claims of a "rigged election". A statement from the transition team said those being nominated "are experienced, crisis-tested leaders who are ready to hit the ground running on day one". It said: "These officials will start working immediately to rebuild our institutions, renew and re-imagine American leadership to keep Americans safe at home and abroad, and address the defining challenges of our time - from infectious disease, to terrorism, nuclear proliferation, cyber threats, and climate change." The transition website has now switched to a .gov domain. It is not yet clear when Mr Biden will be given his first classified national security briefing as incoming president. The so-called Presidential Daily Brief gives Mr Trump details of the latest international threats and developments. Mr Biden revealed his key picks for his national security and foreign policy teams on Monday. Almost all of the top posts will require Senate approval.
11-24-20 What Biden's new foreign policy team tells us
The three people chosen by US President-elect Joe Biden to lead his foreign policy team will bring decades of diplomatic experience to the White House, but they also face criticism from those who object to the baggage that comes along with years of serving the US government. Here's a little on who they are and then what the experts say about the message Mr Biden is sending with his choice of top US diplomats. The three people who will be advising Mr Biden on issues beyond America's borders are not well known beyond Washington. Antony Blinken, Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Jake Sullivan are all alumni of the Barack Obama White House, and are considered Biden loyalists and foreign policy centrists. Mr Blinken, 58 - whose work with Mr Biden goes back nearly 20 years - has been picked to serve as secretary of state, the nation's top diplomat. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, one of the most high-profile black female US diplomats who worked for years on African affairs, has been nominated to serve as US Ambassador to the United Nations. Jake Sullivan is a former state department official and Hillary Clinton aide who played a key role in negotiating the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal. He served as Mr Biden's national security adviser when he was vice-president. Mr Blinken's work with Mr Biden dates back to his tenure on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as a Delaware lawmaker. Some critics have blamed him for Mr Biden's vote to invade Iraq in 2003. That personal connection will serve the team well, say several former US diplomats, but it could also mean a lack of diversity in opinion. And their wealth of Washington experience as foreign policy veterans will not endear them to all. It does, however, mark a break with Trump's war on the so-called "deep state" - individuals in government he regarded as working against his own agenda.
11-24-20 Biden cabinet: John Kerry named climate envoy as inner circle get key posts
US President-elect Joe Biden is to nominate one of the leading architects of the Paris climate agreement as his climate envoy. Ex-US Secretary of State John Kerry was one of several named for top positions by the Biden transition team on Monday. It marks a big break with the climate policy under the Trump administration as Mr Biden makes good on his campaign pledge to tackle climate change. Other key picks include long-time aide Antony Blinken as secretary of state. Reports say former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen will be the choice for treasury secretary. The nomination comes as calls are growing for President Donald Trump to concede the election. He has made unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud and is continuing to pursue legal challenges over the result. While Mr Trump has not conceded, he has however agreed to allow the formal transition process to begin, to allow Mr Biden to prepare to take office. Mr Biden is projected to beat President Trump by 306 votes to 232 when the US electoral college meets to formally confirm the winner on 14 December. This is far above the 270 votes he needs. In a statement following the cabinet announcement on Monday, Mr Biden said: "I need a team ready on day one to help me reclaim America's seat at the head of the table, rally the world to meet the biggest challenges we face, and advance our security, prosperity, and values. This is the crux of that team." Some of the positions require confirmation in the US Senate. Mr Kerry was chosen for the role of special presidential envoy for climate. The Biden transition team said the position would see him "fight climate change full-time". He is also set to be the first official dedicated to climate change to sit on the National Security Council. Mr Kerry signed the Paris climate agreement on behalf of the US in 2016. The deal committed countries to working to limit the global temperature rise. Under Mr Trump, the US recently became the first country to formally withdraw from the agreement. But Mr Biden has said he plans to rejoin the accord as soon as possible.
11-23-20 Covid-19 news: UK on track to start vaccine roll-out in December
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Oxford vaccine researcher says UK is on track to vaccinate high-risk groups in December. People in high-risk groups in the UK may be able to get a coronavirus vaccine by December, with doses for the wider public being made available by next spring, said Adrian Hill at the University of Oxford today. Hill is the head of the institute behind the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine candidate, which may be up to 90 per cent effective according to preliminary results published today. “I think we are on track for the timeline […] to start getting this vaccine rolled out from December,” said Hill. “Hopefully there will be a vaccine available for all adults, but that’s likely to be springtime rather than in January.” In addition to the UK, governments in the US and Germany are also preparing to start vaccinating some people in December. The UK has pre-ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine candidate, as well as 40 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine candidate and 5 million doses of Moderna’s candidate. “The bulk of the vaccine rollout programme will be in January, February, March. And we hope sometime after Easter things will be able to start to get back to normal,” UK health minister Matt Hancock said today. It isn’t yet clear how long any immunity generated by coronavirus vaccines might last. Covid-19 hospitalisations continue to surge in the US, with a new record of 83,870 people hospitalised with the disease in the country on Sunday. There have been reports of crowding in US airports ahead of Thanksgiving this week, despite the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently warning against travel for the national holiday. Senior US health adviser Anthony Fauci warned yesterday that spikes in cases would not become evident until weeks after Thanksgiving. He told CBS this could create a “very difficult” situation as winter approaches.
11-23-20 Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine may be up to 90 per cent effective
A covid-19 vaccine that doesn’t need to be kept at very low temperatures has been found to be 70 per cent effective on average, with potential for that to rise to 90 per cent depending on how the doses are given. In large-scale trials of more than 20,000 people in the UK and Brazil, 131 people became infected by the disease, according to preliminary results published today by the vaccine’s developers, AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford. “We have a vaccine for the world. We’ve got a vaccine that’s highly effective: it prevents severe disease and hospitalisation,” Andrew Pollard at the University of Oxford told an online press conference. The vaccine’s 70 per cent effectiveness is much lower than the 90-plus per cent reported by Pfizer and BioNTech and Moderna in recent weeks. However, in a subgroup of more than 3000 people given a half dose followed by a full dose a month later, the figure jumped to 90 per cent. Two full doses a month apart gave an efficacy of 62 per cent. Sarah Gilbert, also at the University of Oxford, said at the press conference that more research was needed to work out why the half dose seems to prime the body to respond better. “It could be that by giving a small amount of the vaccine to start with and following up with a big amount, that’s a better way of kicking the biggest and most effective immune system response,” she said. Pollard said the finding was intriguing because all the team had expected two high doses would give the best immune response. The trial results show that the vaccine prevents mild and severe disease. There is some evidence that it curbs transmission too, said Pollard and Gilbert, although a full analysis is still being carried out on that aspect. The results are “hugely encouraging”, said research charity Wellcome in a statement.c
11-23-20 Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine may be up to 90 per cent effective
A covid-19 vaccine that doesn’t need to be kept at very low temperatures has been found to be 70 per cent effective on average, with potential for that to rise to 90 per cent depending on how the doses are given. In large-scale trials of more than 20,000 people in the UK and Brazil, 131 people became infected by the disease, according to preliminary results published today by the vaccine’s developers, AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford. “We have a vaccine for the world. We’ve got a vaccine that’s highly effective: it prevents severe disease and hospitalisation,” Andrew Pollard at the University of Oxford told an online press conference. The vaccine’s 70 per cent effectiveness is much lower than the 90-plus per cent reported by Pfizer and BioNTech and Moderna in recent weeks. However, in a subgroup of more than 3000 people given a half dose followed by a full dose a month later, the figure jumped to 90 per cent. Two full doses a month apart gave an efficacy of 62 per cent. Sarah Gilbert, also at the University of Oxford, said at the press conference that more research was needed to work out why the half dose seems to prime the body to respond better. “It could be that by giving a small amount of the vaccine to start with and following up with a big amount, that’s a better way of kicking the biggest and most effective immune system response,” she said. Pollard said the finding was intriguing because all the team had expected two high doses would give the best immune response. The trial results show that the vaccine prevents mild and severe disease. There is some evidence that it curbs transmission too, said Pollard and Gilbert, although a full analysis is still being carried out on that aspect. The results are “hugely encouraging”, said research charity Wellcome in a statement. Crucially, the vaccine can be stored in a fridge rather than at the -70° required by Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine, simplifying supply chain logistics. A half-dosing regimen also offers the prospect of far more initial doses being made available.
11-23-20 Covid-19: Oxford University vaccine is highly effective
The coronavirus vaccine developed by the University of Oxford is highly effective at stopping people developing Covid-19 symptoms, a large trial shows. Interim data suggests 70% protection, but the researchers say the figure may be as high as 90% by tweaking the dose. The results will be seen as a triumph, but come after Pfizer and Moderna vaccines showed 95% protection. However, the Oxford jab is far cheaper, and is easier to store and get to every corner of the world than the other two. So the vaccine will play a significant role in tackling the pandemic, if it is approved for use by regulators. "The announcement today takes us another step closer to the time when we can use vaccines to bring an end to the devastation caused by [the virus]," said the vaccine's architect, Prof Sarah Gilbert. The UK government has pre-ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine, and AstraZeneca says it will make three billion doses for the world next year. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was "incredibly exciting news" and that while there were still safety checks to come, "these are fantastic results". The vaccine has been developed in around 10 months, a process that normally takes a decade. There are two results from the trial of more than 20,000 volunteers in the UK and Brazil. Overall, there were 30 cases of Covid in people who had two doses of the vaccine and 101 cases in people who received a dummy injection. The researchers said it worked out at 70% protection, which is better than the seasonal flu jab. Nobody getting the actual vaccine developed severe-Covid or needed hospital treatment. Prof Andrew Pollard, the trial's lead investigator, said he was "really pleased" with the results as "it means we have a vaccine for the world". However, protection was 90% in an analysis of around 3,000 people on the trial who were given a half-sized first dose and a full-sized second dose. Prof Pollard said the finding was "intriguing" and would mean "we would have a lot more doses to distribute." The analysis also suggested there was a reduction in the number of people being infected without developing symptoms, who are still thought to be able to spread the virus.
11-23-20 Covid: First Americans 'could get vaccine in December'
The first Americans to receive a Covid-19 vaccine could get it as soon as 11 December, according to the head of the US coronavirus vaccine programme. Dr Moncef Slaoui told US network CNN the plan was to "ship vaccines to the immunisation sites within 24 hours" of a vaccine being approved. The comments come amid a surge in coronavirus cases across the country. The US has recorded more than 12m cases and 255,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. These are the highest tolls registered anywhere in the world. American pharmaceutical company Pfizer and its partner BioNTech submitted an application on Friday for emergency authorisation in the US of their Covid-19 vaccine. The vaccine, which requires two doses, has been shown by tests to be 95% effective. Pfizer hopes to produce up to 50 million doses by the end of the year. A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) vaccine advisory committee is set to meet on 10 December to discuss whether to authorise the vaccine. Dr Slaoui told CNN it could be rolled out "maybe on day two after approval". The vaccine is set to be distributed based on each state's population. Dr Slaoui said individual states will be responsible for deciding who gets the vaccine first, with the recommendation that priority be given to those most at risk, like healthcare workers and the elderly. Pharmaceutical company Moderna has also reported that its vaccine is nearly 95% effective, according to test data. The company is expected to seek approval for the vaccine in the coming weeks. Dr Slaoui said that with the level of efficacy shown in the vaccines, the US could achieve "true herd immunity" in May, with 70% of the population vaccinated. But he added: "I really hope and look forward to seeing that the level of negative perception of the vaccine decreases and people's acceptance increases. That is going to be critical to help us. Most people need to be immunised before we can go back to a normal life." Dr Anthony Fauci, the US's top infectious disease expert, told BBC partner CBS News that the US could reach herd immunity against Covid-19 "reasonably quickly" next year if enough Americans are vaccinated. Although the full trial data has yet to be published, the companies involved say there have been no serious safety concerns. It's still unclear how long protection from the vaccine lasts and if it stops people transmitting the virus.
11-23-20 Covid in North Dakota: One day inside a rural US hospital’s fight
Health workers at a 14-bed hospital in North Dakota are struggling to keep friends' family members alive, as rates of new Covid-19 infections soar in the US heartland's tight-knit communities. Small towns like Grafton - with a population of around 4,000 - are especially vulnerable to a surge in critically ill patients, as local hospitals have limited space and staff. Watch a day in the life of Unity Medical Center - told by the very people who work there.
11-23-20 Shanghai airport Covid scare sparks 'chaotic' mass testing
A string of positive Covid tests at Shanghai's Pudong airport has sparked mass testing of thousands of people amid reportedly chaotic scenes. Authorities requested all cargo staff come for testing on Sunday. Official pictures released of the testing appear to show an orderly, calm process. However, other videos believed to be of the mass testing show officials in hazmat suits corralling large, yelling crowds into a restricted space. Many of the videos have since disappeared, and state media have not reported on any chaos, saying only that more than 16,000 people were tested overnight. According to China's Global Times newspaper, mass testing began on Sunday afternoon after several cargo workers and close contacts tested positive. Shanghai has reported at least seven local cases since 9 November, mainly involving this group, following five months with no new infections. Pictures accompanying the newspaper's report show neat and orderly queues, with lines winding inside the airport's multi-storey carpark. But posts on Chinese social media platform Weibo paint a different picture, saying the testing turned into chaos when too many workers flooded into the site, pushing it beyond capacity. One video shows workers with face masks being channelled through a carpark by staff in full hazmat suits, with people shouting and pushing. The videos were all taken down by Monday morning. According to Chinese news agency Xinhua, the cargo workers will now be given regular tests and those in high-risk jobs will also be given vaccines. While no Chinese vaccine is fully approved yet, some frontline workers like medical staff have already received a dose. The coronavirus pandemic first started in China in late 2019, but through rigorous lockdowns the country managed to bring infections down. Over the past months it has had only small, sporadic local outbreaks. Mass testing has been one of the tools the Chinese government has used to track any outbreaks, including in May testing the 11 million-strong population of Wuhan, the city where the novel coronavirus was first identified. The total number of confirmed cases in China stands at just over 92,000 since the beginning of the pandemic, with a death toll of just over 4,700, according to Johns Hopkins University research.
11-23-20 The deep roots of Trump’s 'voter fraud' strategy
President Trump alleged "fraud" even while votes were still being counted - the culmination of a strategy at least months in the making. In the early hours of a frosty November morning in Connecticut, 49-year-old Candy snuggled into her bed after a long night shift. She immediately unlocked her phone - and began scrolling through her social media feed, as she does most nights. But this was different - it was election night. The result was still hanging in the balance. Candy scrolled, catching up on the night's news while waiting for her favoured candidate to speak out. And just after 1 a.m., he did. Candy agreed. She was frustrated and she wanted to do something - so when one of her best friends invited her to join a Facebook group called Stop the Steal, she jumped at the opportunity. "The Democrats have said since the beginning of all this Covid stuff that they're going to do whatever it takes to get Trump out - and I think that they have succeeded," she later said. Candy was expecting this. For months allegations of "rigged elections" and "voter fraud" have been punctuating her Facebook feed. And she's not the only American who had been exposed to voting disinformation for months before polling day.Research by the BBC's Anti-disinformation unit reveals that disinformation about voter fraud has been plugged by influential accounts on social media repeatedly, for months. And it came from the very top. President Trump first started tweeting allegations of fraud as far back as April. Between then and the election, he mentioned rigged elections or voter fraud more than 70 times. It's not a new theme. Mr Trump made claims of voter fraud back in 2016 - after an election he won. But this time around, the evidence suggests many more people have been seeing unsubstantiated claims all over their social media feeds for weeks. Candy is just one of them. Hundreds of thousands joined big Facebook groups under the "Stop the Steal" banner. Our research found that influential right-wing accounts were instrumental in amplifying these claims - and were frequently retweeted by President Trump. That includes a number of figures with big followings who have gone on to be involved in a protest movement centred around the unsubstantiated idea of a "rigged" election.
11-22-20 Covid: First Americans 'could get vaccine in December'
The first Americans to receive a Covid-19 vaccine could get it as soon as 11 December, according to the head of the US coronavirus vaccine programme. Dr Moncef Slaoui told US network CNN the plan was to "ship vaccines to the immunisation sites within 24 hours" of a vaccine being approved. The comments come amid a surge in coronavirus cases across the country. The US has recorded more than 12m cases and 255,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. These are the highest tolls registered anywhere in the world. American pharmaceutical company Pfizer and its partner BioNTech submitted an application on Friday for emergency authorisation in the US of their Covid-19 vaccine. Data from an advanced trial showed the vaccine protects 94% of adults over 65. A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) vaccine advisory committee is expected to meet on 10 December. Dr Slaoui told CNN that the vaccine could be rolled out "maybe on day two after approval, on the 11th or the 12th of December". The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned that coronavirus cases are "rapidly rising" across the country. The daily death toll has reached its highest level since May. Several states have imposed new mask mandates and restrictions to try to combat the rise, and in Texas the National Guard has been deployed in the city of El Paso to help with morgue operations amid a surge in coronavirus deaths. California has begun a night-time curfew, in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus. It reported a total of one million cases last week, making it the second state to do so after Texas. The new daily curfew, from 22:00 local time on Saturday (06:00 GMT Sunday) until 05:00, will carry on until 21 December, with a possible extension if needed, according to authorities. Restaurants are able to offer takeout and delivery outside these hours.
11-22-20 California's Covid curfew to begin, as US cases hit 12-million mark
California has begun a night-time curfew, in an attempt to curb a surge in coronavirus cases. The western state's latest figures are now worse than the previous peak in August, the Los Angeles Times reports. Across the US, the daily death toll linked to Covid-19 has passed 2,000 for the first time since May. The country has now more than 12 million confirmed infections, with more than 255,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. This is by far the highest death toll in the world. About 187,000 new infections were recorded nationwide in the latest figures - released on Friday for the previous day - which is an all-time high. Several states have imposed new mask mandates and restrictions to try to combat the rise, and in Texas the National Guard is being deployed to the city of El Paso to help with morgue operations there. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also urged Americans to avoid travelling for the Thanksgiving holiday on 26 November to prevent increased transmissions. Thanksgiving typically heralds the busiest week for travel in the US. Last year, an estimated 26 million people passed through the country's airports in the week surrounding the holiday. On Friday, it was revealed that President Donald Trump's oldest son, Donald Trump Jr, had tested positive for coronavirus. "Apparently I got the 'rona," he said in a video on social media, adding that he was asymptomatic so far and quarantining. California reported a total of one million cases last week, making it the second state to do so after Texas. The new daily curfew, from 22:00 local time on Saturday (06:00 GMT Sunday) until 05:00, will carry on until 21 December, with a possible extension if needed, according to authorities. Restaurants will be able to offer takeout and delivery outside these hours.
11-22-20 Covid: Gaza health system 'days from being overwhelmed'
Rising numbers of coronavirus cases in the Gaza Strip threaten to overwhelm the Palestinian territory's healthcare system within days, experts warn. Of Gaza's 100 ventilators, 79 are already taken up by Covid-19 patients, said Abdelraouf Elmanama, of the enclave's pandemic task force. Densely populated Gaza, with two million residents and high levels of poverty, is vulnerable to contagion. On Sunday the health ministry reported 684 new cases and three more deaths. It has recorded more than 14,000 coronavirus cases and 65 deaths in total. "In 10 days the health system will become unable to absorb such a hike in cases and there might be cases that will not find a place at intensive care units," said Mr Elmanama. Abdelnaser Soboh, emergency health co-ordinator in the World Health Organization's Gaza office, warned that "within a week, we will become unable to care for critical cases". Gaza is subject to a longstanding land, sea and air blockade by Israel and Egypt that has devastated its economy and impaired its public health system. Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade in 2007 when the Palestinian group Hamas reinforced its control over the territory. The two countries say the blockade is for self-defence. Hamas has so far imposed one lockdown on the territory, when infections started to rise suddenly in August. Businesses, schools and mosques were closed. Israeli Minister of Science and Technology Izhar Shay said international humanitarian aid would be allowed to reach Gaza but warned that his government was "not giving Hamas any 'coronavirus discounts'". "We will continue responding as [we see] appropriate," he told Israel's Army Radio. "This is the level that we can preserve in the coronavirus context." In another development, Israel has pledged to provide up to four million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine for the West Bank and Gaza Strip when it becomes available, a senior official from the Palestinian Authority told Israel Hayom newspaper. The official said that in every agreement signed by Israel with vaccine companies, a percentage of the vaccines would be set aside for the Palestinian territories.
11-22-20 US election: Trump camp's lawsuit struck down in Pennsylvania
A judge in Pennsylvania has dismissed a lawsuit from the Trump campaign that sought to invalidate millions of mail-in votes in the battleground state. Judge Matthew Brann said the suit, which rested on allegations of irregularities, was "without merit". The move paves the way for Pennsylvania to next week certify Joe Biden's win - he leads by more than 80,000 votes. It is the latest blow to Donald Trump, who is trying to overturn his loss in the 3 November presidential election. He has refused to concede and made allegations of widespread electoral fraud, without providing any evidence. The lack of a concession has upended the process that normally follows a US election. Mr Biden is projected to defeat President Trump 306 to 232 in the US electoral college, which determines who becomes president - far above the 270 he needs to win. The Trump campaign has lost a slew of lawsuits contesting results from the election, and its latest efforts focus on stopping the swing states that handed Mr Biden his win certifying the results - an essential step for the Democrat to be formally declared victor. In the ruling Judge Brann wrote that the Trump campaign had tried to "disenfranchise almost seven million voters". He said his "court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations". "In the United States of America, this cannot justify the disenfranchisement of a single voter, let alone all the voters of its sixth most populated state," the judge wrote. The Trump campaign argued that the state had violated the US Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law as some Democratic-run counties allowed voters to fix errors on their ballots while Republican-run counties did not. But in his ruling Judge Brann dismissed the claim, saying "like Frankenstein's Monster" it had been "haphazardly stitched together". He said even if it was the basis for a case then the Trump campaign's solution went too far.
11-22-20 Human rights groups weigh boycott of 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing
International calls to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing are growing. nternational calls to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing are growing, as people around the world question whether China should still host the Games amid widespread human rights abuses across the country. Among those considering a boycott is British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who said in October: "The concern over what's happening with the Uighurs is not something we can turn away from. Let's consider, in the rounds, what further action we can take." U.S. Senator Rick Scott, a Florida Republican, has also spoken out against China's hosting gig. In October 2019, he told CNBC that "the 2022 Olympics shouldn't be in China. We gotta say: 'China, until you become a legitimate country that is going to respect human rights, we're not going to do business with you.'" (Webmaster's comment: This is the pot calling the kettle black! The United states does not respect the rights of blacks, the police murder them, it does not respect the rights of LGBTQs, nor does respect the rights of women and children, they are virtually raped with impunity!) Recently, Australian Senator Rex Patrick told ABC Australia that he supported a boycott of the Games due to security concerns for athletes who attend. "It's unsafe for Australians to go to China," Senator Patrick said. "I can't see a change occurring any time soon and indeed people need to consider that in the context of a decision to send athletes to China for the Beijing Olympics." International human rights organizations are making similar demands to relocate the series of high-profile sporting events. In September, more than 160 of them wrote a letter to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) asking for the Games to be moved out of China. "The IOC must recognize that the Olympic spirit and the reputation of the Olympic Games will suffer further damage if the worsening human rights crisis, across all areas under China's control, is simply ignored," the letter reads. It also says that stripping Beijing of the Games would fulfill the Committee's duty to "abide by the Olympic Charter's core principles about 'human dignity.'"
11-21-20 The damage Trump would do
The terrible consequences of the president's quest to overturn the election. On Thursday afternoon, when lawyers for the president of the United States were alleging (wholly without evidence) that Democrats stole the presidential election for Joe Biden with a combination of fraudulent mail-in ballots and voting machines rigged by Venezuela's deceased left-wing populist autocrat Hugo Chavez, a new YouGov poll of 1,500 registered voters revealed that 88 percent of Republicans think Donald Trump was the rightful winner of the 2020 election. There is no sign whatsoever that Trump will ever concede the election or cease trying to discredit it. How likely is it that this will “work,” in the sense that he will succeed in preventing Biden from taking the oath of office just past noon on Jan. 20, 2021? Almost none, as several informative articles have explained in detail. Yet for me the past couple of days have begun to feel a little bit like those weeks in the winter of 2016 when a range of pundits insisted, in the face of an avalanche of polls showing Trump solidly leading the pack of candidates in the GOP primary field, that he couldn't possibly win the Republican Party's presidential nomination. Back then, my stock response to these denialists was to ask naively, “Why not?” The answers, pointing to mysterious inner workings of party institutions, never succeeded in persuading me that it couldn't happen. As long as Trump had the voters behind him, he would win — because in reality there was no institutional or legal mechanism to prevent it from happening. Thankfully, there is such an institutional and legal mechanism standing in Trump's way this time. So he won't be able to ride a wave of outrage among his supporters to a second term. But that doesn't mean that Trump isn't doing enormous, potentially long-lasting damage to American democracy. He is, and precisely through the same means by which he seized his party's nomination nearly five years ago. Then as now he won over the voters through a potent mix of demagoguery, flagrant lies, and anti-establishment fury. Then as now he used his popular support to force the capitulation of most of his party's elected officials and bureaucratic functionaries, leaving only a handful of dissenting politicians and conservative opinion journalists to stand (impotently) against him. (Most would eventually come around to accepting him as the party's nominee and then president.) The main difference today is that to stay in power, Trump needs to win the capitulation not just of his own party but of the American electoral system as a whole. That's why, although he will almost certainly fail at reversing the results of the 2020 election, he could well succeed at sending American democracy into a tailspin from which it could not easily recover. There are two possible paths forward from the present perilous moment, both of which have potentially terrible consequences for the future of the country.
11-21-20 Trump options narrow as Michigan backs Biden win
Donald Trump has had a fresh setback in his bid to overturn his loss in the US election as Michigan lawmakers indicated they would not seek to undo Joe Biden's projected win in the state. Two Republican legislators pledged to follow "normal process" in validating the vote after a White House meeting. Earlier on Friday, Georgia dealt the US president another blow by certifying Mr Biden's razor-thin margin of victory. The Democrat is set to take office on 20 January as the 46th US president. Mr Biden's victory in the Electoral College system, which determines who becomes president, is projected to be 306 to 232 - far above the 270 he needs to win. His lead in the public vote overall stands at more than 5.9 million. Mr Trump, who has had few public appearances since the 3 November vote, on Friday again falsely claimed victory. "I won, by the way," he said, while making an announcement on drug pricing. He has made allegations of widespread electoral fraud, without providing any evidence. His Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany accused the media and Democrats of hypocrisy. "While in 2016 President Trump became the duly elected president, many sought to undermine him, discredit him, de-legitimise him and deny his victory. There were no calls for unity, there were no calls for healing," she said. "So while every legal vote is counted let us not forget the inexcusable transition, or lack thereof, that President Trump had to endure in 2016 and for years into his presidency." After a string of court defeats in his efforts to challenge the election results, Mr Trump's team is hoping to convince legislatures controlled by his fellow Republicans in key states to ignore the outcome and declare Mr Trump the victor, according to multiple US media outlets. Mr Trump has also expressed interest in inviting legislators from Pennsylvania, another battleground won by Mr Biden, to the White House, a senior campaign official confirmed to the BBC's US partner, CBS News. But he has no such meetings currently listed on his public schedule for this weekend, and counties in the Rust Belt state, along with Michigan, are due to certify their vote totals on Monday. It is seen as highly unlikely that the president's team would be able to flip Michigan and Pennsylvania.
11-21-20 Attention-loving Trump disappears in final days of term
Why has the president been so quiet? He loves the spotlight. Yet this month he has been holed up for 14 days in the White House. Here is how he has been spending the final weeks of his term in office. After a hectic campaign schedule, Mr. Trump is now holed up in his office watching TV and firing people. A US Marine, wearing white gloves and a dark mask, guarded an entrance to the West Wing earlier this week - the president was in his workspace. Yet Donald Trump was not involved in the kind of work that usually occupies presidents at this point in their term. Four years ago, he was in the Oval Office getting advice from Barack Obama, the man he was soon to succeed as president. He was instead stewing about the election and watching TV, as his tweets have shown. His days of relative seclusion after the election stand in stark contrast to what he was doing before the votes were cast. Back then, he travelled constantly. In one day, he went to four states. He spoke at rallies and was seen on TV practically round the clock. He often joked about the reclusiveness of his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, or "Basement Joe", as Trump called him. Since the day that the election was called for Biden, however, Trump has holed himself up in the White House. He has appeared on camera only on two occasions - at Arlington National Cemetery and at a White House press event about Covid. He did not take questions. Another appearance looms on Friday afternoon when he will make an announcement about drug prices. And he is expected to take part virtually in an Asia-Pacific political summit on Friday. He also could not resist a drive-by wave to his followers who were gathered in Washington on Saturday to protest about the election loss. And he takes weekend trips to Virginia to play golf - a place where he feels comfortable and loved. Still, within this cloistered existence, he has been busy. He closely follows the One America News Network, a conservative cable channel that is known for its conspiracy theories. He has also been firing people. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who baulked at the president's suggestion to deploy troops to quell protests in US cities, and Christopher Krebs, a cyber security official who contradicted the president's claims about election fraud, have both been sacked. "The campaign, which I won by the way": Trump falsely claims election win. (Webmaster's comment: Trump, You're fired!)
11-21-20 Donald Trump Jr tests positive for coronavirus
US President Donald Trump's oldest son has tested positive for coronavirus, according to his spokesman. Donald Trump Jr, 42, was diagnosed at the start of this week and has been quarantining at his hunting cabin since the result, the spokesman said. "He's been completely asymptomatic so far and is following all medically recommended Covid-19 guidelines," according to the statement. Don Jr is the second of the president's children to test positive. Barron Trump, 14, was also diagnosed last month, but made a swift recovery. A firebrand speaker, Don Jr played a major role in his father's presidential campaign. There has also been speculation that Don Jr is interested in running for the White House, conjecture he hasn't tried to tamp down. Don Jr's partner, Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former Fox News host, tested positive for the disease in July, and also recovered. He apparently did not contract the infection at the time. Earlier on Friday, Andrew Giuliani, a special assistant to President Trump, announced he had tested positive for coronavirus. Mr Giuliani, the son of the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, tweeted that he was experiencing mild symptoms after receiving his positive test on Friday morning. CBS News, the BBC's US partner, confirmed that at least four other White House aides have tested positive for Covid-19 in a new outbreak there. Earlier this month, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows was among several aides who tested positive for the infection. The president himself spent three nights in hospital at the beginning of October after being hit by Covid-19. First Lady Melania Trump also had a bout of the infection. Last month, Don Jr was criticised for downplaying the US coronavirus death toll. In an interview with Fox News, he argued that the media was focusing on the caseload, while ignoring the mortality rate. The virus has infected 11.8 million Americans and killed more than 253,000. On Friday alone, 192,000 people in the US tested positive for coronavirus, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
11-21-20 Covid-19: Canada's largest city moves back into lockdown
Toronto is moving back into lockdown after grim projections show Canada is on the brink of being overwhelmed by Covid-19. Canada's largest city will close most non-essential businesses and services, beginning Monday. Cases are rising across the country, and several other regions have had to increase restrictions. There are currently about 5,000 new cases of coronavirus a day across the country. The country's chief public health official, Dr Theresa Tam, said the second wave has "far surpassed" peak levels from the first in the spring. If things remain the same, Dr Tam said the country is on the trajectory to see 20,000 cases a day in five to six weeks. But if people increase their social contacts over the holidays, she says that number could rise to 60,000 by the end of December. Dr Tam noted that the second wave has hit harder, and has the potential to get much worse, as Canadians head inside during colder temperatures. While the first wave mostly affected large cities, rural parts of Manitoba and Nunuvut have been hit this time around. Hospitalisations and deaths are also increasing. Speaking on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to reduce their interactions. "I don't want to be here this morning, you don't want me to be here this morning, but here we are again. The cases across the country are spiking massively," he said from outside his home, which is where he conducted his daily coronavirus updates during the first wave. Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the lockdown measures on Friday afternoon, after two weeks of cases topping 1,000 a day, and loud calls from public health officials and frontline workers for tighter restrictions. The lockdown will affect Toronto and neighbouring Peel regions, which are the hardest hit parts of the province. In-person shopping will be limited to non-essential services, and restaurants will only be allowed to serve for pick-up or take-out. Gyms and salons will be closed, and indoor meetings will be prohibited. Indoor gatherings are forbidden, and outdoor gatherings, funerals and weddings are limited to 10 people.
11-21-20 Covid vaccine: Pfizer applies for first approval in US
Pfizer and its partner BioNTech are on Friday filing for emergency authorisation in the US of their Covid-19 vaccine. It will be the job of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to decide if the vaccine is safe to roll out. It is not clear how long the FDA will take to study the data. However, the US government expects to approve the vaccine in the first half of December. Data from an advanced trial showed the vaccine protects 94% of adults over 65. The UK has pre-ordered 40 million doses and should get 10 million by the end of the year. The need for a vaccine in the US was highlighted by the number of coronavirus deaths recorded for Thursday. For the first time since June, the figure for deaths in a single day rose above 2,000. If FDA authorisation does come in the first half of next month, Pfizer and BioNTech will "be ready to distribute the vaccine candidate within hours", the two companies said. This would be remarkably quick for vaccine development - within 10 months of detailing the genetic code. The average wait for approval in the US is nearer eight years. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said on Thursday that the filing for emergency use was a "milestone in our journey to deliver a Covid-19 vaccine to the world". Initial doses would be scarce, though, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) will decide who is first in line. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the EU could move quickly too - by the end of the year. But there are caveats. Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said both the FDA and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) would "conduct a very careful evaluation". And BBC health correspondent Naomi Grimley says this vaccine is still a long way off widespread use, not least because it adopts an experimental technology that has never been approved before.
11-21-20 Coronavirus vaccines: Will any countries get left out?
Health experts say the only solution to the coronavirus pandemic is a global one. There have been more than 55 million cases of the virus confirmed around the world and more than 1.3 million deaths. Many hopes are pinned on a vaccine as a solution. But there are concerns that poorer nations could get left behind. We have spoken to the experts about the main concerns that lie ahead and whether efforts to come up with a fair system will actually work. Early results indicate that at least two vaccines are highly effective, several others have reached late-stage trials, and many more are at some stage of development. None of these vaccines has been approved yet, but that hasn't stopped countries purchasing doses in advance. A key research centre in the US - Duke University in North Carolina - is trying to keep tabs on all the deals being done. It estimates that 6.4 billion doses of potential vaccines have already been bought, and another 3.2 billion are either under negotiation or reserved as "optional expansions of existing deals". The process of advance purchasing is well established in the pharmaceutical industry, as it can help to incentivise the development of products and fund trials, according to Clare Wenham, assistant professor of global health policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science. But it also means that whoever can pay the most at the earliest stage of production gets to the front of the queue, she says. And Duke's research found that the "vast majority" of vaccine doses that have been bought so far are going to high-income countries. Some middle-income countries with manufacturing capacity have also been able to negotiate large purchase agreements as part of manufacturing deals. While other countries with the infrastructure to host clinical trials - such as Brazil and Mexico - have been able to use that as leverage in procuring future vaccines. India's Serum Institute, for example, has committed to keeping half of all doses it produces for in-country distribution. Meanwhile, Indonesia is partnering with Chinese vaccine developers and Brazil is partnering with the trials run by the University of Oxford and pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.
11-20-20 The Caribbean islands poisoned by a carcinogenic pesticide
"First we were enslaved. Then we were poisoned." That's how many on Martinique see the history of their French Caribbean island that, to tourists, means sun, rum, and palm-fringed beaches. Slavery was abolished in 1848. But today the islanders are victims again - of a toxic pesticide called chlordecone that's poisoned the soil and water and been linked to unusually high rates of prostate cancer. "They never told us it was dangerous," Ambroise Bertin says. "So people were working, because they wanted the money. We didn't have any instructions about what was, and wasn't, good. That's why a lot of people are poisoned." He's talking about chlordecone, a chemical in the form of a white powder that plantation workers were told to put under banana trees, to protect them from insects. Ambroise did that job for many years. Later, he got prostate cancer, a disease that is commoner on Martinique and its sister French island of Guadeloupe than anywhere else in the world. And scientists blame chlordecone, a persistent organic pollutant related to DDT. It was authorised for use in the French West Indies long after its harmful effects became widely known. "They used to tell us: don't eat or drink anything while you're putting it down," Ambroise, now 70, remembers. But that's the only clue he and other workers in Martinique's banana plantations in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s had about the possible danger. Few if any were told to wear gloves or masks. Now, many have suffered cancer and other illnesses. Chlordecone is an endocrine disrupter, meaning it can affect hormonal systems. One of the world's leading experts on the chemical, Prof Luc Multigner, of Rennes University in France, says epidemiological studies have shown increased risk of premature births and increased risk of adverse brain development in children at the exposure levels people in Martinique and Guadeloupe face through contaminated food consumption. He also says: "There is enough toxicological and experimental data to conclude that chlordecone is carcinogenic." Following a detailed study Prof Multigner and colleagues conducted on Guadeloupe in 2010, he estimates chlordecone is responsible for about 5-10% of prostate cancer cases in the French West Indies, amounting to between 50 to 100 new cases per year, out of a population of 800,000.
11-20-20 What are the odds of dying if you're infected by the coronavirus?
The proportion of people who die after being infected by the coronavirus has become highly controversial. Some have claimed that death rates aren’t as high as thought and that governments are overreacting by imposing measures such as lockdowns. But a recent meta-analysis confirms earlier estimates, finding that the death rate can be as high as 16 per cent for people over 90 but 0 per cent for children under 4. This study concludes that in high-income countries, more than 1 in 100 people infected by the coronavirus died in the first wave. “The death rate is at least 10 or 20 times higher than flu,” says Nicholas Brazeau at Imperial College London. More of the people admitted to hospital with covid-19 are surviving now, suggesting that the death rate has fallen slightly. However, if hospitals in some countries are overwhelmed during the surge of infections now hitting Europe and the US, that might not continue to be the case. Estimating the real death rate is hard for two reasons. First, the odds of dying from covid-19 vary greatly depending on a person’s age, sex, health and the standard of care received. This means death rates will vary from place to place and at different times. For instance, the death rate is highest in care homes: as high as 73 per cent in nursing homes in Belgium, one study estimated. In countries such as South Korea that have managed to largely prevent outbreaks in care homes, the overall death rate is lower. Similarly, vaccines that prevent severe disease in older people should reduce death rates. The second reason it is hard to estimate the real death rate is that there is great uncertainty about the numbers used to calculate it. What we want to know is how many people who get infected with the virus actually die: the infection fatality rate. The best way we have of working out how many people have been infected is to test the blood of thousands of people to see how many have antibodies to the coronavirus, and then extrapolate those results to entire countries. But antibody surveys can produce misleading results.
11-20-20 Covid-19 news: NHS drafts plan to vaccinate adults in England by April
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. NHS England’s draft plan aims for widespread vaccination of adults by start of April. A draft of NHS England’s plan for the roll-out of a coronavirus vaccine aims for widespread vaccination of all willing adults in England by early April, if sufficient doses and other crucial supplies are available. Under NHS England’s draft covid-19 vaccine deployment programme, which was outlined in a leaked document dated 13 November seen by HSJ, most doses of the potential vaccine would be administered between early January and mid-March, at a rate of between 4 and 5 million each week. The vaccinations would take place at thousands of “community mass vaccination sites” arranged by local GPs, with additional “large scale mass vaccination centres” in stadiums and conference centres. Priority will be given to healthcare workers and care home residents who would start to be vaccinated in early December, followed by people aged 80 and above, those in their seventies and those in their late sixties. Adults under 50 could start getting vaccines late January, with the majority vaccinated in March. The draft plan relies on more than 7 million doses of a vaccine being available in December. The document does not mention which vaccine will be used, and it is not known how many doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will be available by then. The document also includes very little detail about how the NHS will surmount the significant logistical problems with delivering vaccines that require strict temperature-controlled supply chains. US pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German company BioNTech said they applied to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today for emergency use authorisation for their coronavirus vaccine candidate in the US. This week, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was found to be 95 per cent effective in phase III clinical trials. The UK government has pre-ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccines, and recently secured an initial agreement with US pharmaceutical company Moderna for 5 million doses of their vaccine candidate, which preliminary results indicate is almost 95 per cent effective. The World Health Organization has advised that Ebola treatment remdesivir should not be used in people hospitalised with covid-19. The FDA approved remdesivir for use in people over 12 who are hospitalised with covid-19 last month. “The trials reported to date have shown no impact of remdesivir on survival,” said Martin Landray at the University of Oxford in a statement. “This is a drug that has to be given by intravenous infusion for 5 to 10 days and costs around £2000 per course. So remdesivir is not cheap, it is not convenient, and it has no impact on the mortality among the people at highest risk.” The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised people in the US not to travel for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.
11-20-20 US election 2020: Biden wins Georgia recount as Trump setbacks mount
US President-elect Joe Biden's victory in Georgia has been confirmed by a recount, as legal efforts by Donald Trump's allies to challenge his defeat were dismissed in three states. The Democrat beat his Republican rival in Georgia by 12,284 votes, according to the audit required by state law. Georgia's top election official said he was disappointed that his party lost but that "numbers don't lie". Mr Biden is set to take office in January as the 46th US president. Mr Biden had said Mr Trump knew he was not going to win and had shown "incredible irresponsibility" by not conceding. Mr Biden's victory margin in the public vote overall stands at more than 5.9 million. His victory in the US Electoral College system, which determines who becomes president, is projected to be 306 to 232 - far above the 270 he needs to win. Mr Trump has so far refused to concede and has made allegations of widespread electoral fraud, without providing any evidence. On Thursday, Georgia Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger - who oversees the election process - said the hand audit of ballots had not altered Mr Biden's victory in the state. "Georgia's historic first statewide audit reaffirmed that the state's new secure paper ballot voting system accurately counted and reported results," Mr Raffensberger, a Republican, said in a statement. "This is a credit to the hard work of our county and local elections officials who moved quickly to undertake and complete such a momentous task in a short period of time." On Friday, the self-proclaimed Trump supporter went on to say: "Like other Republicans. I'm disappointed, our candidate didn't win Georgia's electoral votes. "I live by the motto that numbers don't lie. As secretary of state, I believe that the numbers that we have presented today are correct." The Democrats' victory is their first in a presidential race in Georgia since Bill Clinton was elected in 1992. The recount found the error rate was no greater than 0.73% in any county and Mr Biden's margin of victory over Mr Trump remained at under 0.5%. The results will be certified on Friday. Trump campaign senior legal adviser Jenna Ellis said the audit had gone "exactly as we expected" because, she said without evidence, the state had recounted illegal ballots. But Gabriel Sterling, a Republican who serves as Georgia's voting system implementation manager, told CNN on Thursday: "One of the big complaints is these machines somehow flipped votes or changed votes or did stuff. They didn't, at least not in Georgia. We proved it." During the audit this week, nearly 6,000 untallied votes were found - paring back Mr Biden's lead slightly - but they were the result of human error and not fraud, Mr Sterling has said.
11-20-20 Coronavirus: CDC urges Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has told Americans to avoid travel for the Thanksgiving holiday amid soaring Covid-19 cases. "In the last week, we've seen over a million new cases," said the CDC's Erin Sauber-Schatz to reporters on Thursday. "Thanksgiving is a week away." But the agency stopped short of issuing a travel ban for Americans. The US has so far recorded more than 11.6 million coronavirus infections and more than 250,000 deaths. Thanksgiving typically heralds the busiest week for travel in the US. Last year, an estimated 26 million travellers passed through the country's airports in the week surrounding the holiday. "It's not a requirement. It's a recommendation for the American public to consider," Dr Henry Walke, the CDC's Covid-19 incident manager, said during Thursday's press briefing. "Right now, especially as we're seeing this sort of exponential growth in cases, and the opportunity to translocate disease or infection from one part of the country to another, it leads to our recommendation to avoid travel at this time." Also on Thursday, the White House coronavirus task force had its first public briefing in months. Members of the task force, including Vice-President Mike Pence, noted the rise in coronavirus cases and positivity rates - meaning the percentage of coronavirus tests that come back positive - across the country. "This is really a call to action for every American to increase their vigilance," said task force coordinator Dr Deborah Birx. "This is more cases, more rapidly, than what we had seen before." Though Dr Birx urged Americans to limit indoor interactions - like the type of group gatherings characteristic of Thanksgiving - the task force did not comment specifically on holiday travel. And Mr Pence in particular maintained an upbeat tone, emphasising the recent progress in vaccine development and touting the country's improved preparedness. "American has never been more prepared to combat this virus than we have been today," the vice-president said. The White House has so far declined to engage with President-elect Joe Biden and his incoming administration on coronavirus policy, as President Donald Trump refuses to concede the presidential contest. Mr Biden on Thursday called Mr Trump's failure to concede an "incredibly damaging message" for the rest of the world. The Democrat has said that co-ordination is necessary to combat the coronavirus outbreak. Asked on Thursday if he would close down the economy in an effort to curb the outbreak, Mr Biden dismissed the notion of a nationwide shutdown. "I'm going to shut down the virus. That's what I'm going to shut down," he said. "There's no circumstance which I can see that would require total national shutdown."
11-20-20 Covid vaccine: Pfizer applies for authorisation in US
Pfizer and its partner BioNTech will apply on Friday for emergency authorisation in the US for their Covid-19 vaccine. It will be the job of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to decide if the vaccine is safe to roll out. It is not clear how long the FDA will take to study the data. However, the US government expects to approve the vaccine in the first half of December. Data from an advanced trial showed the vaccine protects 94% of adults over 65. The trial involved 41,000 people worldwide. Half were given the vaccine, and half a placebo. The UK has pre-ordered 40 million doses and should get 10 million by the end of the year. If FDA authorisation does come in the first half of next month, Pfizer and BioNTech will "be ready to distribute the vaccine candidate within hours", the two companies said. This would be remarkably quick for vaccine development - within 10 months of detailing the genetic code. The average wait for approval in the US is nearer eight years. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said on Thursday that the filing for emergency use was a "critical milestone in our journey to deliver a Covid-19 vaccine to the world". European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the EU could move quickly too - by the end of the year. But there are caveats. Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said both the FDA and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) would "conduct a very careful evaluation". And BBC health correspondent Naomi Grimley says this vaccine is still a long way off widespread use, not least because it adopts an experimental technology that has never been approved before. Last week, Pfizer and BioNTech published preliminary data suggesting the vaccine offered 90% protection against Covid-19 and said there were no safety concerns. Subsequent data released on Wednesday suggested 95% effectiveness. This effectiveness was also consistent across age groups - essential given the vulnerability of the elderly - as well as ethnicities and gender. The vaccine also had only mild-to-moderate and short-lived side-effects. It uses an experimental approach, called mRNA, which involves injecting part of the virus's genetic code into the body to train the immune system. Antibodies and T-cells are then made by the body to fight the coronavirus.
11-20-20 Covid: Mexico passes 100,000 coronavirus deaths
Mexico has recorded more than 100,000 deaths from Covid-19 - the fourth country to pass the sombre milestone. According to Johns Hopkins University, the country has suffered 100,104 deaths since the pandemic began. The news comes just days after the world's largest Spanish-speaking country reported more than one million infections. Government officials have acknowledged that the true toll from the pandemic is likely higher. Only the US, Brazil and India have recorded more deaths than Mexico, which has a population of roughly 125 million. Its mortality rate of 9.8% is one of the highest in the world, according to Johns Hopkins data. Critics accuse President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of being too slow to bring in measures to tackle the outbreak when the pandemic began, and of rolling back those restrictions too quickly. In March the government ran adverts declaring that the virus "is not an emergency situation", and President Obrador told the media that amulets and prayer were his "protective shield" against infection. After telling Mexicans to stay at home at the end of March as Covid-19 cases started to rise, Mr Obrador eased regulations in May in a bid to restart the suffering economy. According to John Hopkins University in the US, Mexico now becomes fourth in the ranking of countries with the highest death figures in the world. With a chronically underfunded public health system it was always going to be difficult for Mexico to deal with the pandemic. The country also has a large informal economy which means millions are forced to leave home each day to earn a living and can't isolate at home. The government of President Obrador has also been reluctant to increase the country's debt so has not provided help to businesses or provided cash payments to workers to help them stay at home. A number of other Latin American nations have been hit hard by the pandemic. Like US President Donald Trump, Brazilian far-right populist President Jair Bolsonaro downplayed the virus - even after catching it himself. His country has reported close to 170,000 deaths, second only to the US.
11-19-20 Covid-19 news: Socialising at Christmas poses ‘substantial risks’
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. ‘Substantial risks’ with socialising over Christmas, warns UK science adviser. People mixing from different households during the Christmas period poses “substantial risks”, particularly for older people who are more vulnerable to severe covid-19, a scientist advising the UK government has warned. Socialising during the holidays is likely to result in increased contact between younger generations “with high incidence of infection”, and older people, said Andrew Hayward at University College London, who is a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. “My personal view is we’re putting far too much emphasis on having a near-normal Christmas,” Hayward told BBC Radio 4. “We know respiratory infections peak in January so throwing fuel on the fire over Christmas can only contribute to this.” England entered a four-week nationwide lockdown on 8 November, which is due to end on 2 December. Next week, the UK government is expected to set out proposals for easing restrictions in December. Preliminary results suggest an arthritis drug may improve outcomes in severe covid-19. The findings, which have not yet been published or peer-reviewed, indicate that critically ill covid-19 patients treated with Roche’s anti-inflammation drug Actemra are more likely to survive after being admitted to hospital for covid-19. The drug, also called tocilizumab, is one of several being evaluated as part of the REMAP-CAP trial, led in the UK by researchers at Imperial College London and the Intensive Care National Audit & Research Centre. Other studies have shown mixed results on the effectiveness of tocilizumab in covid-19 patients, said Athimalaipet Ramanan at the University of Bristol in a statement. The Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine candidate is safe and induces an immune response in people in their 60s and 70s, according to results from a phase II trial published in the Lancet. The results are based on a study in 560 volunteers. The findings are significant, because the risk of severe covid-19 increases with age. Data from on-going phase III trials will reveal whether the vaccine candidate can prevent people from becoming ill with covid-19. The number of covid-19 patients in US hospitals has doubled in the past month, with new record daily numbers of hospitalisations reported every day this week. Almost 77,000 people were hospitalised with the covid-19 in the US as of Tuesday and more than 250,000 people have died from the disease in the country since the start of its epidemic.
11-19-20 Trump is wrecking the government on his way out
onald Trump lost the election, but he is going down swinging. Aside from him and his party flagrantly attempting to overturn the election through ridiculous lawsuits or conspiracies to throw the votes out entirely, his administration is scrambling to entrench right-wing regulations and install Trump lickspittles throughout the various government departments. When he takes office, Joe Biden is going to face a government in smoking ruins. He will essentially have to rebuild the federal bureaucracy from scratch if he wants to achieve anything, no matter its political inflection. One hopes he's ready for the task. One of the more prophetic books about the Trump era is The Fifth Risk, written by journalist Michael Lewis. Part of the inspiration came when Lewis was laid up in bed recovering from a surgery after Trump won, where "I started thinking about all the different ways he might kill me," as he told Chris Hayes. Sure enough, when the worst disease pandemic in a century hit, Trump completely botched it, and at least a quarter-million Americans and counting are dead. That mountain of corpses is due not only to Trump's unprecedented level of incompetence, but his damage to the government. The federal government does all sorts of things virtually no one knows about to protect the American citizenry — or at least it used to before Trump got there. In 2018, he disbanded a pandemic response team that had been in place since 2015. In 2019, he ended a $200 million pandemic advance warning system. As The Los Angeles Times reports, this latter system had "identified 1,200 different viruses that had the potential to erupt into pandemics, including more than 160 novel coronaviruses." It also "trained and supported staff in 60 foreign laboratories — including the Wuhan lab that identified SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19." Despite his occasional heterodox leanings, Trump is incredibly lazy and has staffed his administration mostly with orthodox conservative ideologues. As I and others have previously written, this crew is dedicated to a conception of liberty that is tantamount to believing that the United States should not exist. Thus, as Mark Schmitt writes at The New York Times, these reactionary zealots have been busily tearing up the American state or selling it to interested parties. The USPS, the Department of State, and the EPA are some of many agencies in an especially parlous state. And as his administration draws to a close, Trump is now furiously firing anyone who fights or denies his attempt to steal the election, and his goons have been installing deranged loyalists throughout the government, particularly (and alarmingly) in the Department of Defense. It's beyond the scope of this article to explore in detail what Biden might do to clean up this mess, as the federal government is a massive entity with a budget of about $5 trillion and 3 million employees. However, I can suggest two broad principles: First, root out the Trump stooges. Every one of his political appointees should be fired as soon as replacements can be found, and there should be a wide-ranging audit of other employees hired during the last four years. Consistent with civil service rules, Trump loyalists should be removed from the lower ranks where possible. That raises the issue of the Senate. If Democrats sweep both upcoming runoff elections in Georgia, they will be able to confirm Biden's nominees and use the Congressional Review Act to invalidate many of Trump's regulations. But if they don't, Republicans will remain in control of that body for the next two years and likely longer than that. Mitch McConnell likely will not allow Biden to confirm his preferred nominees to positions that require Senate confirmation if he can help it, and perhaps not any at all. A Supreme Court case from Obama's term also holds that so long as Congress does not formally recess by holding pro forma sessions, a president cannot do any recess appointments.
11-19-20 US election: Trump campaign seeks partial recount in Wisconsin
President Donald Trump is to seek a partial recount of votes in the state of Wisconsin, which his rival Joe Biden is projected to win by 20,000 votes. Hours before a Wednesday deadline, the Trump campaign said it wanted a recount in the counties of Milwaukee and Dane, alleging irregularities. Mr Trump has been making unsubstantiated claims of fraud and refusing to initiate a handover. Mr Biden says delaying the transition will damage the US pandemic response. The Trump campaign has filed a flurry of lawsuits contesting the results in key states, although election officials say there is no evidence of widespread irregularities. Despite the lack of proof, up to half of Republican voters believe the president's claim that the election was rigged against him, a Reuters/Ipsos poll suggests. President-elect Biden, a Democrat, is projected to have won the popular vote by more than 5.6 million ballots - 3.6 percentage points. In the US electoral college system that decides the presidency, he has 306 votes to Mr Trump's 232. The president would have to overturn results in at least three states to win the election, which analysts say would be unprecedented. A manual recount has been taking place in Georgia, where Mr Biden is 14,000 votes ahead. Results are expected to be released later on Thursday. Under Wisconsin law, Mr Trump has the right to request a recount because the margin of Mr Biden's win was less than 1% but greater than 0.25%. However, his campaign must first cover the expenses of the operation. State officials said on Wednesday they had received $3m (£2.2m) from the Trump campaign to cover the costs of the recount, which is expected to take about two weeks. The Wisconsin Elections Commission said on Monday that a full recount would have cost an estimated $7.9m. In its request for a partial recount, the Trump re-election campaign alleged that absentee ballots - those made by post - had been altered and improperly issued, and voter identity laws had been circumvented. It did not provide any evidence. (Webmaster's comment: This will only end when the Authoritarian Thugs like Bill Barr, Mike Pompeo, Mitch McConnell, Rudy Giuliani, Amy Barrett, Pence and Trump are put in prison!)
11-19-20 Covid: US records quarter of a million deaths from coronavirus
The US has recorded more than 250,000 deaths from Covid-19, a bleak marker as cases soar once again across the country. According to Johns Hopkins University, the country has now reported 250,029 deaths and nearly 11.5 million cases. It has more reported infections and a higher death toll than any other country worldwide. And cases have once again started to soar throughout the US, hitting new daily highs in the last week. Speaking to the BBC on Wednesday, top US infectious diseases Dr Anthony Fauci said the country was "going in the wrong direction at a very precarious time", with people more likely to gather inside as the weather gets colder. New York City - the epicentre of the US outbreak in the spring - has ordered the closure of its schools from Thursday, amid a spike in cases. The decision to close the US's largest public school system came as positive test rates for the virus surpassed the 3% threshold, officials say. It will affect some 300,000 children. In an interview on the BBC News channel, Dr Fauci warned about the new surge in cases leading to more deaths. "It's a very serious situation because there are lagging indicators," he said. "So when you see the massive increase in cases as we're seeing now particularly as more and more people are doing things inside, we're in a very difficult situation." He repeated his call for people to "double down" on public health measures, such as wearing face coverings, physical distancing and avoiding crowds. "They sound so simple and we know they can work. But there's a degree of Covid fatigue - people just are worn out with these restrictions," Dr Fauci said. He urged people to "hold out for just a little longer because help is on the way" in the form of vaccines. At the end of March - when the US had recorded 2,200 deaths - Dr Fauci predicted the pandemic could kill up to 200,000 Americans and infect millions more. On Wednesday data released by Pfizer and BioNTech said the vaccine they had developed to tackle the virus appeared to protect 94% of adults over 65 years old. Last week, Pfizer and BioNTech published preliminary data suggesting the vaccine offered 90% protection against Covid-19 and said there were no safety concerns. This was followed by data on a vaccine made by US company Moderna suggesting nearly 95% protection and similarly promising results from trials of another developed in Russia called Sputnik.
11-18-20 Coronavirus: Five signs that show how bad El Paso's outbreak is
The US had just over nine million Covid-19 cases when November began - now, just weeks later, the country is topping 11 million. And one west Texas county has emerged as the latest American epicentre. Right on the border with Mexico, El Paso in Texas is known for its desert landscape, military complexes and plentiful sunshine. Now, it's making a name as one of the worst hit regions in the nation. Covid-19 patients account for more than half of all hospital admissions in the county of El Paso, and the case count continues to trend upwards. Here are five symptoms of the unfolding crisis. With cases going up by more than a thousand every day in El Paso, some 76,000 people have now been infected. That's about the same number of confirmed cases as in the whole of Greece or Libya. Data shows 1,120 El Paso residents are currently in hospital with the virus, and this number is expected to rise. That means that of all the Covid patients in hospital across the state of Texas, one in six is in El Paso, according to the latest figures. A total of 782 people are known to have died. Both hospitals and staff are struggling to cope. An El Paso University Medical Center spokesman said the hospital recognised the "physical and emotional" toll the pandemic was taking on healthcare workers. As officials race to keep up with the rapidly increasing number of sick people, El Paso city's convention centre was recently converted into a makeshift hospital to provide extra beds. Some facilities are so overrun that patients are being airlifted to other cities in the state. On Monday, El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said the county had opened 500 extra hospital beds so far, but at the rate the virus was spreading, those beds would be full by next week. As hospitals grapple with too many patients, El Paso's morgue has been unable to keep up with the county's rising death toll. As a result, officials are turning to refrigerated trailers. Ten of these mobile morgues have been requested in recent weeks. The mobile facilities are set up outside the county's medical examiner's office, which has been handling more than 150 bodies in the last week.
11-19-20 Covid: Will there be more than one coronavirus vaccine?
Successful trials of Covid-19 vaccines by Moderna and a partnership between Pfizer and BioNtech have been announced. And the Oxford coronavirus vaccine has shown an "encouraging" immune response in adults in their 60s and 70s. Others are in development, while a third major trial - from Belgian company Janssen - is under way in the UK. If you want your life to get back to normal, then we need a vaccine. Even now, the vast majority of people are still vulnerable to coronavirus infection. It's only the restrictions on our lives that are preventing more people from dying. But a vaccine would safely teach our bodies to fight the infection. It would either stop us catching coronavirus in the first place or at least make Covid less deadly. Having a vaccine, alongside better treatments, is "the" exit strategy. Pfizer/BioNtech is the first pharmaceutical company to share information from the final stages of vaccine testing. The data suggests the jab could prevent more than 90% of people from getting Covid-19. About 43,000 people have been given the vaccine, and no safety concerns have been raised. Moderna ran a trial of its vaccine on 30,000 people in the US, in which half were given dummy injections. It says its vaccine protects 94.5% of people, after only five of the first 95 trial participants who developed Covid symptoms had received the real vaccine. Trial results from the vaccine being developed by British drug manufacturer AstraZeneca and scientists at the University of Oxford have been called "encouraging". A strong immune response was seen in adults in their 60s and 70s. The team is now staging bigger trials to see if the vaccine stops people developing Covid. Meanwhile promising data on a Russian vaccine called Sputnik V has also been released. Based on interim results from a phase 3 trial, the same stage reached by the Pfizer jab, Russian researchers report that it is 92% efficient. More results from other teams working on advanced trials are also expected in the coming weeks and months. The Janssen trial has started the job of recruiting 6,000 people across the UK. Other countries will join the effort to bring the total up to 30,000. The company already has one large-scale trial of its vaccine, in which volunteers receive one dose. This work will see if two jabs give stronger and longer-lasting immunity. Several other vaccines are in the final testing stage, including Wuhan Institute of Biological Products and Sinopharm in China, and Russia's Gamaleya Research Institute. However, a trial in Brazil for a drug developed by the Chinese firm Sinovac has been suspended after what was described as a "severe adverse incident" - believed to be a volunteer's death.
11-19-20 Covid: Dr Fauci asks families to weigh up risks over US Thanksgiving
Top US infectious diseases expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, is asking people to weigh up the risks of their Thanksgiving plans. Millions of Americans usually travel to see their families for the holiday, which falls on 26 November this year. Dr Fauci spoke to BBC World News, as the US recorded more than 250,000 deaths from Covid-19.
11-19-20 France's Macron issues 'Republican values' ultimatum to Muslim leaders
French President Emmanuel Macron has asked Muslim leaders to accept a "charter of Republican values" as part of a broad clampdown on radical Islam. On Wednesday he gave the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) a 15-day ultimatum to accept the charter. It will state that Islam is a religion and not a political movement, while also prohibiting "foreign interference" in Muslim groups. It follows three suspected Islamist attacks in little more than a month. Mr Macron has strongly defended French secularism in the wake of the attacks, which included the beheading of a teacher who showed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad during a class discussion last month. Late on Wednesday, the president and his interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, met eight CFCM leaders at the Élysée palace. "Two principles will be inscribed in black and white [in the charter]: the rejection of political Islam and any foreign interference," one source told the Le Parisien newspaper after the meeting. The CFCM representatives also agreed to create a National Council of Imams, The body would reportedly issue imams with official accreditation which could be withdrawn if an ethical code is breached. President Macron has also announced new measures to tackle what he called "Islamist separatism" in France. The measures include a wide-ranging bill that seeks to prevent radicalisation. It was unveiled on Wednesday, and includes measures such as restrictions on home-schooling and harsher punishments for those who intimidate public officials on religious grounds. Each child would be given an identification number under the law that would be used to ensure they are attending school. Parents who break the law could face up to six months in jail as well as large fines. The bill, which was first seen by the AFP news agency, also makes it an offence to share the personal information of a person in a way that allows them to be located by people who want to harm them.
11-18-20 Covid-19 news: Pfizer coronavirus vaccine is 95 per cent effective
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic.Pfizer vaccine is 95 per cent effective overall and protects 94 per cent of people over 65. Further data about the coronavirus vaccine being developed by US pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech shows that it is 95 per cent effective for all age groups, and protects 94 per cent of adults over 65. The new data, from the first set of complete results from the phase III trial, also showed that the vaccine produced no serious side effects. Pfizer and BioNTech said they will submit a request for emergency use authorisation to the US Food and Drug Administration within days, which will allow the vaccine to be used with people outside the trial. About 40,000 people participated in the trial, with half receiving two doses of the vaccine and the other half a placebo. Out of 170 covid-19 cases among trial participants, only eight were in the vaccinated group, the companies said in a statement. They said the vaccine worked similarly well “across age, gender, race and ethnicity demographics”. The results are encouraging because older individuals are at an increased risk of becoming severely ill and dying from covid-19, in part because the immune system weakens with age. A preliminary study suggests the majority of people who have recovered from covid-19 may still have coronavirus-specific immune cells in their bodies more than six months after infection. The study, which has not been published or peer-reviewed, included 41 people who had tested positive for the coronavirus at least six months prior. It found that levels of coronavirus-specific T-cells had only decayed slightly at six months, while other antibody-producing immune cells called B-cells actually increased between one and six months after infection. Doctors in Switzerland said intensive care beds are at full capacity in the country. All of the 876 certified intensive care unit beds in Switzerland are occupied, the Swiss Society for Intensive Medicine said in a statement yesterday. It also advised vulnerable people to write down in a will whether they would like to receive life support in the event that they become severely ill. Switzerland recorded a daily average of 5262 coronavirus cases in the week leading up to 17 November.
11-18-20 We can't be certain the coronavirus vaccines will stop the pandemic
IT IS the ultimate exit strategy from covid-19. A safe and effective vaccine is of “critical importance to world health”, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said. Vaccine developers are working flat out to make good on that. Last week, the US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech announced positive-looking results from their ongoing phase III trial, the last stage of testing whether a potential vaccine is safe and effective. The interim results showed a headline success rate of 90 per cent, meaning that nine out of 10 trial participants who caught the new coronavirus had received a placebo rather than the vaccine. The news got some people very excited indeed. Asked on BBC radio whether these results meant a probable return to normal by early next year, John Bell at the University of Oxford and a member of the UK government’s coronavirus vaccine task force channelled Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally and said: “Yes, yes, yes!” Many listeners no doubt thought: “I’ll have what he’s having.” A few days later, another phase III trial – this one being run by the Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Russia – reported even better interim results: a success rate of 92 per cent. And earlier this week, US company Moderna announced 95 per cent efficacy from its ongoing phase III trial (Moderna coronavirus vaccine trial produces best results yet). So things look good. But we are still a long, long way from a vaccine that will get us back to life as normal. That is in no small part due to the huge challenge of manufacturing, distributing and administering one (see What will it take to get a covid-19 vaccine to the world?), plus the reluctance of a significant minority of people to get vaccinated (see Heidi Larson interview: How to stop covid-19 vaccine hesitancy). However, it is also down to trial constraints, which leave a number of questions around safety and effectiveness. If you thought those were the things the trials could give us all the answers to, think again.
11-18-20 Vaccine results show we can end the pandemic, but hurdles lie ahead
Promising early results from vaccine trials offer hope of defeating covid-19, but vaccines may be less effective in the real world and people's safety concerns could hamper take-up. WHAT a difference a week makes. In about that time, we have gone from having little more than hope that a coronavirus vaccine would work, to having promising results from not one but three trials. As last week’s issue went to press, we had just heard the news that a vaccine candidate in late-stage human trials seems to be safe and effective – at least according to interim findings. That was the vaccine from US firm Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech. Then came the results – albeit in a smaller sample – from Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. And on Monday, US firm Moderna chimed in with interim findings for its vaccine (see Moderna coronavirus vaccine trial produces best results yet), the most promising of all, which encouragingly seems to have an effect even for older people. These results are a tremendous scientific achievement. This is especially true given that the two vaccines with the most promising outcomes so far – those made by Pfizer and Moderna – use messenger RNA technology, which has never been approved for a vaccine before. This technology has incredible potential not only for helping us now with the covid-19 pandemic, but also in the future for tackling many other diseases, from flu to cancer, as Michael Le Page reports (see What are mRNA vaccines and how useful will they be?). The fact that all three vaccines seem to work is particularly heartening given the gargantuan task of manufacturing, distributing and administering doses to the entire planet – preparations for which have been going on for months, as Carrie Arnold sets out (see What will it take to get a covid-19 vaccine to the world?) It suggests that we will have a choice of vaccines at our disposal. This will help production at scale and will hopefully mean that any shortfalls in efficacy of one vaccine will be covered by another.
11-18-20 Systemic racism: What research reveals about the extent of its impact
We spoke to five researchers working to demonstrate the various ways that racial discrimination is embedded in the structures and procedures that underpin US society. THE explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement into mainstream awareness has brought the prevalence of systemic racism and anti-Black bias into sharp focus. This isn’t confined to individual acts and attitudes. It is racism deeply embedded as normal practice in the systems, structures and institutions that underpin society. And although it remains invisible to some, a growing body of research shows that systemic racism has a hugely detrimental impact on people across the world. In the US, where the most recent wave of anti-racism protests began, Black people are far more likely to be arrested and incarcerated than white people for the same crimes. But the issues faced in the US and other countries go far beyond law enforcement. We know that racism is also baked into housing, education, employment and healthcare systems. In the US, UK and elsewhere, for example, the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic on people from Black and ethnic minority (BAME) backgrounds has put a powerful spotlight on the way societal inequalities affect health and vulnerability to disease. And yet researchers are still working to understand how societies hold back and harm BAME communities, running experiments and analysing existing data with fresh eyes to uncover all the manifestations of systemic racism. We spoke to five US-focused scientists who investigate concealed discrimination in various aspects of everyday life, from children’s academic development to health and disease in adulthood and interactions with technology. In the US, Black children tend to get lower scores in reading and mathematics tests compared with white children. But I noticed that in a lot of studies of academic achievement, the majority of the participants from lower-income families were also from ethnic minority groups and the majority who were middle-income or above were white. This risks conflating the effects of socio-economic status with those of race and ethnicity. I wanted to figure out whether the benefits of higher family income led to similar levels of academic achievement for Black children as for their white peers.
11-18-20 California's latest erosion of gig worker rights could be going global
A measure passed in California removes many employment rights for gig workers. Similar rules could soon come to a place near you, writes Annalee Newitz. PEOPLE in the US have been so busy freaking out about the recent presidential election that it was easy to miss a vote in California for a ballot measure called Proposition 22. Gig work giants Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart and Postmates sponsored the measure, to the tune of $205 million. Some even converted their apps into propaganda machines, exhorting users to vote “Yes on Prop 22”. The measure passed, and now California has a new class of worker: “independent contractors”. The result is that there is a special exemption for gig work companies from certain labour laws and benefits, such as those related to sick days and retirement. Now gig companies want to export this idea of work across the globe. As Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi sai d in an earnings conference call, he and his colleagues will “work with governments across the US and the world to make this a reality”. So, what will that reality be like? We have to start with some crucial backstory, which is that the state of California recently passed a law called Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5) that reclassified gig workers like Uber drivers as employees rather than contractors. When the law came into effect, gig companies would have to start paying for their drivers’ health insurance among other benefits. Uber and Lyft flatly refused to abide by AB 5, and put Prop 22 on the ballot to override it. (Note for non-Californians: we have an unusual system in this state by which anyone with enough signatures can put propositions on the ballot, and as a result we vote on a wide range of public policies.)
11-18-20 Trump fires election security official who contradicted him
Donald Trump says he has fired a top election official who contradicted the US president's claims of voter fraud. President Trump said he "terminated" Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (Cisa) chief Chris Krebs for his "highly inaccurate" remarks on vote integrity. Mr Trump has refused to concede the US election, and has made unsubstantiated claims of "massive" voter fraud. Election officials said the vote was the "most secure" in US history. Mr Krebs is the latest official to be dismissed by the US president following his defeat, with Defense Secretary Mark Esper also shown the door amid reports Mr Trump doubted the Pentagon chief's loyalty. There is speculation in Washington DC that before Mr Trump leaves office in January, CIA director Gina Haspel and FBI director Christopher Wray could also be for the chopping block. Like many others fired by Mr Trump, Mr Krebs reportedly only learned he was out of a job when he saw the president's tweet on Tuesday. But following his dismissal, the former Microsoft executive appeared to have no regrets. He had run the agency from its inception two years ago in the aftermath of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election. To guard against potential cyber-threats, Cisa works with state and local election officials and the private companies that supply voting systems, while monitoring ballot tabulation and the power grid. He had reportedly incurred the White House's displeasure over a Cisa website called Rumor Control, which debunked election misinformation, much of it amplified by the president himself. Hours before he was fired, he posted a tweet that appeared to take aim at Mr Trump's allegation that voting machines in various states had switched ballots to Mr Biden. Mr Krebs tweeted: "On allegations that election systems were manipulated, 59 election security experts all agree, 'in every case of which we are aware, these claims either have been unsubstantiated or are technically incoherent.' #Protect2020". This post, and others by Mr Krebs dating back to the end of July this year, appear to have been deleted from his Twitter account. He was among senior officials from the Department of Homeland Security who last week declared the 3 November US general election the "most secure in American history", while rejecting "unfounded claims". (Webmaster's comment: Trump, the dictator wannabe, in action!)
11-18-20 Chris Krebs is gone but his firing may not be the last
Chris Krebs knew his mission this year was to protect the integrity of the US election - but he might not have predicted the way that would cost him his job. For well over a year, Mr Krebs and his cyber-security team had been gaming scenarios about what could go wrong. At one point, he said his greatest fear was that voter registration databases might be interfered with to stop people voting. He also talked about the concern that on election night, media organisations might be hacked to prevent people knowing the results and create confusion. The experience of Russian hacking and interference in 2016 had led the whole US national security community to prepare for a re-run in 2020. But in the end that was a threat that never materialised. Perhaps that was because of the defensive work by Mr Krebs and colleagues or perhaps because of the way the National Security Agency went on the offensive against hackers in Russia and elsewhere to deter and stop them. But it was also perhaps because foreign actors decided they did not need to do very much to stir up divisions - since they were so deeply entrenched inside America already. The fear of misinformation led to the establishment of the Rumour Control website under Mr Krebs and this brought him into conflict with his own president. Votes had been cast by dead people and were being counted. False, the site said. A bad actor could change results without detection. Again, false, it said, providing details of why that could not be the case. If results change in the days after the initial count, they cannot be trusted and have been compromised. Again, a big red cross on the website indicated this was not true. This all directly contradicted assertions that Donald Trump and some of his allies were relying on to challenge the integrity of the result.
11-18-20 Covid vaccine: Pfizer says it's '94% effective in over-65s'
The coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech appears to protect 94% of adults over 65 years old. More data released from their ongoing phase three trial suggests it works equally well in people of all ages and ethnicities. The companies say they will now apply for authorisation for emergency use of the jab in the US. The findings are based on two doses given to more than 41,000 people around the world. Last week, Pfizer and BioNTech published preliminary data showing the vaccine offered 90% protection against Covid-19 and there were no safety concerns. This was followed by impressive data on another vaccine, made by US company Moderna, suggesting nearly 95% protection. Wednesday's data from Pfizer and BioNTech, which builds on last week's data, suggests the vaccine is 95% effective based on 170 cases Covid-19 developing in volunteers. Just eight were in the group given the vaccine, suggesting it offers good protection. The rest of the cases were in the placebo group given a dummy jab. In older adults, who are most at risk from the virus and have weaker immune systems, the vaccine worked as well as it did in younger people. Scientists said the data was further encouraging news, with Prof Trudie Lang from the University of Oxford, saying we are in "a remarkable and very reassuring situation". "To go from identifying a new virus to having several vaccines at the point of applying for regulatory approval is an incredible milestone for science," she said. Although the full trial data has yet to be published, the companies say there have been no serious safety concerns. But they did notice headaches and fatigue in about 2% of volunteers given the vaccine, although older people seemed to experience minimal side effects. There is also evidence that the vaccine protects against severe Covid - but this is based on only 10 cases. It's still unclear how long protection from the vaccine lasts and if it stops people transmitting the virus. In the trial, 42% of all participants are from diverse ethnic backgrounds and 41% are aged between 56 and 85 years old
11-18-20 Let's appreciate how extraordinary the vaccines are
Science to the rescue. It's not hard to paint a bleak picture of America's battle with COVID-19. Cases are surging around the country, including in areas that suffered badly during the first wave. Nor is it a mere artifact of better testing; sewage data from Massachusetts, for example, indicates that the actual prevalence of the virus is comparable to where it was in the worst days of April, and still rising. Nationally, deaths have surpassed a quarter of a million, which is likely a significant underestimate. Hospitals are being stressed to the breaking point, and since the current wave is truly national in scope, there's no way for volunteers to bolster hard-hit areas as so many health care workers from across America did for New York back in the spring. But since the beginning of the pandemic, I've never been more optimistic. The reason is the steady tide of substantial good news on the vaccine front. First Pfizer's vaccine proved 90 percent effective — vastly exceeding the minimum level of 50 percent to be worth deploying. Then Moderna announced a vaccine of their own that was even more effective and that didn't require ultra-refrigeration to store. Moreover, these are not the only vaccines in the pipeline; though many won't pan out, the odds are extremely good that we will have at least a few workable options in early 2021. And the latest evidence suggests that immunity will generally be lasting. That's the first true sign of a light at the end since we entered this viral tunnel, and it is far brighter and closer than we had any reason to expect. We should stop for a moment to recognize how extraordinary an achievement this truly is. The normal timeline for vaccine development, after all, is measured in years, not months. Nor is this just a consequence of bureaucratic red tape or an abundance of caution about safety; the initial research phase for vaccines often leads down blind alleys. There were numerous reasons to worry that we might never get a vaccine for COVID-19: it was novel virus, in a class known for rapid mutation and rapidly-declining immunity in the infected, and for which vaccines had never been developed before. So we should be ecstatic that we've beaten the odds. Through a combination of hard work, brilliant science, sensible policymaking, and plain old good luck, we're in a position to be debating when, not whether, the pandemic is going to end. We should be re-evaluating sharply upward our overall sense of the capabilities and potential of our pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. Frankly, if people want to make comparisons to the Manhattan Project and the Moon Landing, they shouldn't be deterred. But they might be. Indeed, there's been a distinct tone of pushback from some quarters — an almost peevish unwillingness to celebrate the good news. Part of that pushback involves legitimate warnings that we mustn't let down our guard. A vaccine isn't a cure, and plenty of people could die or suffer long-term harm from the virus before a vaccine is ever distributed. Moreover, the better we have the pandemic under control when the vaccine becomes widely available, the more effective it will be at obliterating the virus as the few infected people fall to find new hosts.
11-18-20 What will it take to get a covid-19 vaccine to the world?
Once a vaccine is approved, the race is on to overcome the biggest logistics challenge in history to distribute it around the globe - and end the pandemic. IN KALAMAZOO, Michigan, millions of vials of a covid-19 vaccine may soon be rolling off production lines. There are still many hurdles to leap before that vaccine – the candidate from US drug company Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech – or any other is approved and distributed, but governments, manufacturers and shipping firms around the world have already spent months preparing for what happens next. That comes down to a simple but easily overlooked fact: a vaccine by itself is useless. “Vaccines don’t save lives,” says Kelly Moore at the Immunization Action Coalition in the US. “Vaccination does.” When a covid-19 vaccine is approved, it will trigger a staggeringly complex chain of events. These events must occur in perfect lockstep using a global supply chain that needs to reach even the planet’s most remote areas – the same supply chain that left parts of the world in desperate need of things like disposable gloves and protective equipment just months ago. “The scale and magnitude of what we’re talking about doing is just unparalleled,” says Orin Levine, director of vaccine delivery at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The list of potential catastrophes has been keeping Levine up at night for months. But overcoming these logistical challenges is what it will take to end the pandemic. And “the key to overcoming complexity is planning and planning early”, says Levine. Exactly how many people need to be vaccinated to end the pandemic depends on how effective the vaccine is, and how long the immunity it provides lasts (see “Vaccine front runners” ). Seth Berkley, head of Gavi, an international group that promotes vaccine use around the world, puts that figure at 60 per cent. Given we now number 7.7 billion, and most of the vaccine candidates in late-stage trials require at least one booster, that is a staggering 9 billion or so doses. Ramping up production of a newly approved vaccine can take up to a year in normal circumstances, says Julie Swann, a health systems expert at North Carolina State University. This time, pharmaceutical companies began readying mass production lines well in advance of any results from late-stage clinical trials. Pfizer and BioNTech plan to make enough doses to vaccinate 25 million people by the end of 2020, and 630 million people in 2021. The University of Oxford and AstraZeneca had planned to deliver 30 million doses of their vaccine to the UK government by the end of September, but a delay to their trial forced them to revise that to 4 million by the end of the year.
11-17-20 Covid-19 in the US: Is this coronavirus wave the worst yet?
Americans may have tuned out of coronavirus news as they focused on the outcome of the presidential election, but the pandemic has quietly been getting worse in the country. The number of infections in the US has reached new heights in recent days, surpassing 160,000 cases in one day for the first time since the outbreak began. Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious diseases expert, has warned that the country faces "a very challenging and ominous situation" as it approaches winter. So how bad is the situation and how much does it vary across the country? With more than 11 million confirmed cases, the US has the highest number of infections in the world and the spread of the virus shows no sign of slowing down. The chart below shows that the current wave is growing at a faster rate than the previous two - although some of that is down to increased levels of testing. During the spring wave, testing was mostly limited to confirming cases in people who were already in hospital, meaning the true scale of that outbreak wasn't fully captured. But the latest data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project shows the current surge is not just down to increased testing - the number of tests carried out in the US was up by 12.5% week on week, while the number of cases increased by more than 40%. One likely cause is the change of season and colder weather driving people indoors to socialise, where the risk of spread is heightened due to less social distancing and poor ventilation. Because of the change in the level of testing, a better way to compare waves is to look at the number of people being admitted to hospital because of Covid-19. This data shows that roughly the same number of people across the US were in hospital during the first and second waves of the outbreak. But there are already more people in hospital during the current wave - more than 70,000 at the moment. One encouraging observation is that fewer coronavirus patients are being put on ventilators - for now at least - which shows the progress that has been made with other treatments since the spring outbreak. In a recent study in New York, researchers found that the probability of death among coronavirus patients was down 18 percentage points from the spring, in part due to new treatments and better knowledge of the virus among medical staff. But these improvements are dependent on the quality of care being received, which is put at risk when hospitals reach capacity and staffing levels are put under pressure.
11-17-20 Covid-19 news: Coronavirus deaths keep rising in England and Wales
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Nearly 2000 people died from covid-19 in England and Wales within a week. (Webmaster's comment: Compare, this to the nearly 10,000 deaths in the last week in the United States.)There were 1937 deaths from coronavirus in England and Wales in the week ending 6 November, according to the latest numbers from the Office for National Statistics. The number of people who died was 558 more than the previous week, which saw 1379 deaths. It is the second consecutive week with more than 1000 deaths involving the coronavirus across the two nations. Pfizer is piloting a delivery program for its coronavirus vaccine candidate in four US states – Rhode Island, Texas, New Mexico and Tennessee. There have been some concerns about how the vaccine would be stored and distributed, given its ultra-low temperature formulation. “We are hopeful that results from this vaccine delivery pilot will serve as the model for other US states and international governments, as they prepare to implement effective covid-19 vaccine programs,” Pfizer said in a statement yesterday.
11-17-20 US election 2020: Is Trump right about Dominion machines?
President Trump has criticised the use of an electronic voting system widely used by election authorities across the United States, saying it's lost him millions of votes. The machines targeted by Mr Trump were provided by Dominion Voting Systems, and the accusations range from the deletion of votes to inappropriate influence over the company by his political opponents. So what were his claims, and do they stand up? Verdict: There is no evidence to support this claim. The president is referring to a news item on the pro-Trump, conservative news outlet One American News Network (OANN). "Elections systems across the country are found to have deleted millions of votes cast for President Trump," it said. The OANN report referred to an "unaudited analysis of data" obtained from an election monitoring group called Edison Research. However, the company's president, Larry Rosin, said: "Edison Research has produced no such report and we have no evidence of any voter fraud." OANN did not provide any evidence to back up its claim. President Trump and his supporters have also been sharing a report from Fox News anchor Sean Hannity claiming Dominion voting machines flipped votes in key states from Trump to Biden. The report highlights problems in Antrim County, Michigan, where Dominion machines were used - suggesting there could be widespread software issues in other counties as well. There was an issue in Antrim County, but it wasn't the Dominion software that failed - it was down to a human error, as pointed out by Michigan's Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. The Antrim County clerk at first failed to correctly configure the reporting function in the machine, so the initial results were incorrect, with Mr Biden winning by around 3,000 votes. Election officials noticed this unusual result in a typically Republican area, so they corrected the reporting function and re-ran the count - which showed President Trump winning by around 2,500 votes. Secretary of State Benson said the initial incorrect tally was quickly identified and corrected - and even if it wasn't, it would have been detected at a later stage in the checking process designed to identify such mistakes. She added: "There is no evidence this user error occurred elsewhere in the state." (Webmaster's comment: Trump was fired by the American people. Live with it!)
11-17-20 Covid-19 in the US: Is this coronavirus wave the worst yet?
Americans may have tuned out of coronavirus news as they focused on the outcome of the presidential election, but the pandemic has quietly been getting worse in the country. The number of infections in the US has reached new heights in recent days, surpassing 160,000 cases in one day for the first time since the outbreak began. Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious diseases expert, has warned that the country faces "a very challenging and ominous situation" as it approaches winter. So how bad is the situation and how much does it vary across the country? With more than 11 million confirmed cases, the US has the highest number of infections in the world and the spread of the virus shows no sign of slowing down. The chart below shows that the current wave is growing at a faster rate than the previous two - although some of that is down to increased levels of testing. During the spring wave, testing was mostly limited to confirming cases in people who were already in hospital, meaning the true scale of that outbreak wasn't fully captured. But the latest data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project shows the current surge is not just down to increased testing - the number of tests carried out in the US was up by 12.5% week on week, while the number of cases increased by more than 40%. One likely cause is the change of season and colder weather driving people indoors to socialise, where the risk of spread is heightened due to less social distancing and poor ventilation. Because of the change in the level of testing, a better way to compare waves is to look at the number of people being admitted to hospital because of Covid-19. This data shows that roughly the same number of people across the US were in hospital during the first and second waves of the outbreak. But there are already more people in hospital during the current wave - more than 70,000 at the moment.
11-17-20 Moderna: Covid vaccine shows nearly 95% protection
A new vaccine that protects against Covid-19 is nearly 95% effective, early data from US company Moderna shows. The results come hot on the heels of similar results from Pfizer, and add to growing confidence that vaccines can help end the pandemic. Both companies used a highly innovative and experimental approach to designing their vaccines. Moderna says it is a "great day" and they plan to apply for approval to use the vaccine in the next few weeks. However, this is still early data and key questions remain unanswered. The trial involved 30,000 people in the US with half being given two doses of the vaccine, four weeks apart. The rest had dummy injections. The analysis was based on the first 95 to develop Covid-19 symptoms. Only five of the Covid cases were in people given the vaccine, 90 were in those given the dummy treatment. The company says the vaccine is protecting 94.5% of people. The data also shows there were 11 cases of severe Covid in the trial, but none happened in people who were immunised. "The overall effectiveness has been remarkable... it's a great day," Tal Zaks, the chief medical officer at Moderna, told BBC News. Dr Stephen Hoge, the company's president, said he "grinned ear to ear for a minute" when the results came in. He told BBC News: "I don't think any of us really hoped that the vaccine would be 94% effective at preventing Covid-19 disease, that was really a stunning realisation." That depends on where you are in the world and how old you are. Moderna says it will apply to regulators in the US in the coming weeks. It expects to have 20 million doses available in the country. The company hopes to have up to one billion doses available for use around the world next year and is planning to seek approval in other countries too. The UK has today announced that, from spring, it will have five million doses of the Moderna vaccine, enough to vaccinate 2.5 million people. It has already outlined plans that prioritise the oldest people for immunisation.
11-17-20 Moderna says its COVID-19 vaccine is nearly 95 percent effective
Two leading candidates have now reported preliminary data showing success in preventing illness. On the heels of the preliminary success of one COVID-19 vaccine in the United States, another leading vaccine candidate is showing promise. Preliminary results indicate that Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine is nearly 95 percent effective in preventing sickness, including severe cases of the disease, the biotechnology company announced November 16. “This is a pivotal moment in the development of our COVID-19 vaccine candidate,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a news release. The results are the “first clinical validation that our vaccine can prevent COVID-19 disease.” Only last week, global pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German biotech company BioNTech announced that their coronavirus vaccine is more than 90 percent effective in preventing people from getting sick from the virus (SN: 11/9/20). If both vaccines continue to do well in clinical trials, the United States could soon have two coronavirus vaccines available for those most at risk. Both Moderna and Pfizer plan to submit applications to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the coming weeks to allow emergency use of their vaccines. The new Moderna results are based on an analysis of 95 coronavirus cases that have occurred so far during the company’s Phase III clinical trial of the vaccine. Researchers began counting who fell ill at least two weeks after participants received a second vaccine dose. Of the cases, 90 were in people who received a placebo and five were in the vaccinated group, making the vaccine 94.5 percent effective. The data are preliminary and have yet to be peer reviewed by other scientists. The FDA recommends that COVID-19 vaccines have at least 50 percent efficacy, meaning a vaccine should reduce COVID-19 cases in vaccinated people compared with a placebo by half (SN: 10/4/20). Both Moderna and Pfizer’s clinical trials are ongoing so the final efficacy of the vaccines could change.
11-17-20 Biden: 'More people may die' as Trump transition stalls
US President-elect Joe Biden has warned that "people may die" if his incoming administration continues to be impeded by incumbent Donald Trump. Mr Biden said co-ordination was needed to tackle the coronavirus outbreak. He called President Trump's refusal to acknowledge he lost the election, despite calls to do so from both sides, "totally irresponsible". The Trump campaign launched a flurry of legal challenges in the wake of the 3 November vote to contest ballot counts. The president's team is trying to have courts overturn votes in key states on the grounds that many ballots were invalid or improperly counted. So far those efforts have failed and no evidence of significant fraud has emerged. President-elect Biden, a Democrat, has 306 votes in the electoral college, surpassing the 270 threshold needed to win. Yet Mr Trump, a Republican, tweeted on Monday: "I won the Election!" The government agency that launches transition process - the General Services Administration (GSA), headed by a Trump appointee - has yet to recognise Mr Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris as winners. This leaves them without access to sensitive government briefings that are normally provided to an incoming administration. Aides to the president-elect have said that Mr Trump's refusal to engage in a transition also means Mr Biden's team has been excluded from planning around a vaccination distribution strategy. Speaking in his home state of Delaware on Monday, Mr Biden said of the stalled transition: "Does anyone understand this? It's about saving lives, for real, this is not hyperbole." "More people may die if we don't co-ordinate," he added. Calling nationwide vaccine distribution a "huge undertaking", Mr Biden said that if his team had to wait until 20 January - his presidential inauguration - until they could begin work on the distribution programme, they would be behind by "over a month, month and a half". Asked if he would encourage state leaders to reinstate stay-at-home orders, the president-elect sidestepped, and instead called on officials to encourage mask-wearing.
11-17-20 Amazon rainforest: 'Paying the price for disrespecting nature'
Coronavirus is ripping through indigenous communities in the Amazon rainforest. Now, some are starting to fight back.
11-17-20 Trump 'asked for options on strike on Iran nuclear site'
President Donald Trump asked senior advisers last Thursday about potential options for attacking Iran's main nuclear site, US media report. The advisers warned him that military action could spark a broader conflict, officials were cited as saying. The White House has not commented on the accounts of the meeting. It took place a day after the global nuclear watchdog said Iran's enriched uranium stockpile was 12 times what was permitted under a 2015 nuclear deal. The landmark accord saw the US and five other world powers give Iran relief from crippling economic sanctions in return for limits on sensitive activities to show it was not developing nuclear weapons. President Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, saying it was "defective at its core", and reinstated US sanctions in an attempt to force Iran's leaders to negotiate a replacement. They have refused to do so and retaliated by rolling back a number of key commitments, including those on the production of enriched uranium. US President-elect Joe Biden, who will take office on 20 January, has said he will consider rejoining the nuclear deal so long as Iran returns to full compliance and commits to further negotiations. Last Wednesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) published a report saying that Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium had reached 2,442.9kg (5,385.6lb) - far above the 202.8kg limit set under the nuclear deal and theoretically enough to produce two nuclear weapons. Low-enriched uranium - which typically has a 3-5% concentration of uranium-235, the most suitable isotope for nuclear fission - can be used to produce fuel for power plants. Weapons-grade uranium is 90% enriched or more. The IAEA also said Iran had finished moving a first cascade of advanced centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium, from an above-ground plant at its Natanz enrichment facility to an underground plant. The nuclear deal says the underground plant cannot be used for advanced centrifuges.
11-17-20 US hate crime highest in more than a decade - FBI
Hate crimes in the US rose to the highest level in more than a decade last year, according to an FBI report. Hate-motivated murders also rose to a record high in 2019, with 51 deaths - more than double the 2018 total. Last August, 22 people were killed in a shooting targeting Mexicans at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. Hate crimes have been increasing in the US almost every year since 2014. Campaign groups warn this comes amid rising bigotry and racist rhetoric. "The latest rise in hate crime signals a new brutal landscape, where targeted attacks against rotating victim groups not only result in spikes, but increases are also being driven by a more widely dispersed rise in the most violent offenses," said Brian Levin, executive director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University. The FBI's annual Hate Crime Statistics Act (HCSA) report says there were 7,314 hate crimes last year, up from 7,120 the year before - and the highest number since 7,783 were recorded in 2008. A hate crime is defined in the report as offences "motivated by bias toward race, ethnicity, ancestry, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender, and gender identity". The data showed a nearly 7% rise in religion-based hate crime, with a 14% increase in crimes targeting Jews or Jewish institutions. It also found anti-Latino hate crime rose 8.7% from 485 in 2018 to 527 in 2019 to the highest total since 2010. The killing of 22 people at the El Paso Walmart last year is the worst hate crime attack ever recorded by the FBI, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. Black people were targeted in hate crimes more than any other group in the US. However, the FBI said the number of hate crimes against African Americans dropped slightly to 1,930, from 1,943. Of all 4,930 victims of reported hate crimes motivated by race or ethnicity, 48.5% were "victims of crimes motivated by offenders' anti-Black or African American bias", compared with 15.7% as "victims of anti-White bias", 14.1% as "victims of anti-Hispanic or Latino bias" and 4.4% of "anti-Asian bias".
11-16-20 America's political crisis is far from over
In the two weeks since Election Day, a paradox has come into focus. Preserving democracy — as Americans have practiced and understood it — required defeating Donald Trump in the presidential election. But Trump's defeat has only heightened the crisis of democracy. There was a brief moment of hope on Sunday that the president had at least acknowledged, if begrudgingly, that he had lost the election to President-elect Joe Biden. "He won the vote because the Election was Rigged," Trump wrote on Twitter. It wasn't exactly a gracious concession — it was couched in a lie — but it appeared to be the most we could hope for. But Trump reversed himself quickly, making apparent that his "concession" was merely a mistweet. "He only won in the eyes of the FAKE NEWS MEDIA. I concede NOTHING!" Trump wrote about 90 minutes later. "We have a long way to go." And then, late Sunday, another lie for good measure: "I WON THE ELECTION!" This president rarely says true things. He didn't win the election. But he is right about one thing: America has a long way to go before this crisis ends. We're not out of the woods yet. The problem isn't just the president, of course. Yes, he has made false claims that the voting software was manipulated in Biden's favor, brought frivolous lawsuits that stand little chance of overturning the vote, and generally worked to rile up his supporters into never accepting the election's outcome. All of that is a problem. "Trump is tweeting absolutely bonkers lies about the election," CNN's Daniel Dale said Sunday. "It is bad." More alarming, though, is that some of Trump's fellow Republicans are advocating for GOP-held legislatures to overturn the will of the voters in states — like Michigan and Pennsylvania — where Biden won, and send a Trump set of electors to the Electoral College. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) is perhaps the highest-profile elected official to support this effort. That probably won't happen this election; Republican officials in those swing states have already rejected the idea. But if the Trump Era has proven anything, it's that when the Overton Window shifts in one direction, it doesn't always shift back the other way. Until this election, the idea of legislatures ignoring their state's popular vote results was mostly theoretical — not taken seriously by anybody in the political mainstream. Now that it's out there, the notion feels a bit like Chekov's gun, unused for the moment but certain to be fired eventually. And why not? Trump's contempt for democracy is hardly novel among Republicans. It was Republican appointees on the Supreme Court who disemboweled the Voting Rights Act, Republican legislatures that passed Voter ID laws intended to hamper Democratic voting constituencies, Republicans who have spent recent years nattering about almost non-existent voter fraud, and Republicans who have responded to election losses by disempowering Democratic governors and neutering voter referenda. Aside from cutting taxes, the GOP policy project over the last decade has largely been aimed at reducing the size of an increasingly diverse electorate. That seems unlikely to change even if Trump goes away. A key part of the conservative intellectual justification for Trumpism, after all, was to reduce the power wielded by an electorate that "grows more left, more Democratic, less Republican, less republican, and less traditionally American with every cycle." Elected officials, like Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), increasingly argue against the very idea of democracy. And Trumpist media outlets are floating ideas like requiring a civics test from citizens before they are allowed to vote.
11-16-20 America's narrow idea of freedom is literally killing us
Which country is more free during the pandemic: the United States or Vietnam? Here's a question for all red-blooded liberty-loving American patriots: Who has a greater lived experience of freedom at the moment, citizens of Vietnam or the United States? Vietnam, of course, is a one-party Communist state, with fairly strict limitations on freedom of speech, the press, and so on, while the U.S. has (at least for now) a somewhat democratic constitution and (at least formally) some protections for civil liberties. But in Vietnam, there is no raging coronavirus pandemic. Thanks to swift action from the government, that nation squelched its initial outbreak, and has so far successfully contained all subsequent infection clusters before they got out of hand. Its figures at time of writing (which have been confirmed as reliable by outside sources) show a mere 1,283 cases and 35 deaths, and no community transmission for the last 75 days. Life for Vietnamese people has returned to normal, with a few sensible precautions. If their success holds for a few more months until a vaccine can be deployed, Vietnam will have dodged the pandemic nearly perfectly. Given Vietnam's high population and very high density — it has over 96 million people crammed into an area about the size of New Mexico — numerous long borders, including one with the country where the pandemic started, and relatively impoverished economy, it has turned in arguably the most impressive performance of any country in the world. Most of the other star performers, like Taiwan or New Zealand, are rich islands and hence much easier to isolate from the world (though nearby Thailand has done nearly as well). Meanwhile in the self-appointed "land of the free," on Sunday the seven-day average of daily COVID-19 deaths was 1,148. The same seven-day average of new cases has increased from about 82,000 on November 1 to over 150,000 on Sunday — numbers that are certainly a large underestimate, because, with very high test positivity rates across much of the country, many cases are being missed. Total recorded deaths in the U.S. are over 250,000, which again is a large under-count. There are many more future deaths already baked in, and infections are mounting exponentially in almost every state. Unless something changes, and fast, the coronavirus pandemic will surpass the Second World War to become the greatest American mass casualty event since the influenza pandemic of 1918. The bleak irony of American life is our boastful and hyperbolic national conception of liberty has left us as one of the most unfree peoples on the globe. There can be no freedom without government, a lesson currently being inscribed in blood, and stacked up in the mobile morgues that are overflowing with corpses in more cities around the country every day. As an American, the months since March have felt like living in Airstrip One, the miserable police state formerly known as Britain in George Orwell's 1984. In that time I have seldom left my house for fear of catching the virus, or worse, spreading it to someone who is at risk and killing (or permanently disabling) them. I have not seen my family since October 2019 for the same reason. In a best-case scenario, I will not see them until the middle of next year — something like 2 percent of my entire lifespan, optimistically speaking. It looks like even the occasional outdoor dining I savored as a small bright spot over the summer will be shut down soon, with cases spiking badly in my home city of Philadelphia. All the political freedoms I supposedly enjoy as an American citizen are useless in the face of this unending tsunami of death and misery. The plain fact is that the average resident of Vietnam — under a repressive dictatorship, let me emphasize — has more freedoms in the places where, for most people, it really counts: the freedom to leave the house, the freedom to see and touch one's family and friends, the freedom to go to a restaurant or a bar or a movie or a concert, and simply the freedom from constant grasping fear of invisible death. (Webmaster's comment: People with no masks and not socially distancing are no different than drunk drivers. They are a threat to everyone and should be treated as such!)
11-16-20 Moderna coronavirus vaccine trial produces best results yet
Early results from another coronavirus vaccine trial are even more promising than those Pfizer announced earlier this month. The Moderna mRNA-1273 vaccine seems to be 95 per cent effective and to work in those who need protecting the most – people aged over 65 – the US-based company announced today. The vaccine can also be stored in a normal freezer or fridge. If the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines really do work this well, the prospects look good for other coronavirus vaccines that work in the same way, several of which are already in human trials. Such vaccines are desperately needed: nearly 55 million covid-19 cases have now been reported globally, with cases rising especially fast in the US, which has been reporting more than 150,000 cases per day. More than 30,000 people in the US aged 18 and over are taking part in the phase III trial of the Moderna vaccine. Half of the participants were given a placebo rather than the actual vaccine. The interim analysis is based on the first 95 cases of covid-19 detected. Ninety of those people – including 15 who had severe cases – were among those given the placebo and just five – none with severe symptoms – were among those given the vaccine. The company says the 95 people who got covid-19 included people aged 65 or over, and 20 people “identifying as being from diverse communities (including 12 Hispanic or LatinX, 4 Black or African Americans, 3 Asian Americans and 1 multiracial)”. This is especially promising because the results of the trial by Pfizer and BioNTech don’t include details of the age profiles of participants, so it isn’t clear whether the vaccine has been tested – and works – in those over 65. However, Anna Blakney at Imperial College London says we will need to see more data to confirm that vaccination is effective in older individuals. “There’s not really a difference in efficacy between the two vaccines,” she says.
11-16-20 Covid-19 news: Moderna coronavirus vaccine is 95 per cent effective
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. UK enters talks to access Moderna vaccine candidate following promising early results. A coronavirus vaccine candidate being developed by the pharmaceutical company Moderna appears to be nearly 95 per cent effective, according to early trial results released by the company today. The vaccine candidate is in phase III trials involving more than 30,000 people in the US, half of whom received a placebo. The interim analysis found 95 cases of covid-19 among trial participants, only five of which were among the vaccinated group. None of the cases among vaccinated individuals were classed as severe, compared to 11 in the placebo group. The vaccine is based on similar mRNA technology to that used in the vaccine being developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, which was found to be more than 90 per cent effective based on a preliminary analysis. It still isn’t clear if either vaccine candidate can stop infected people from passing on the virus or how long any immunity might last. Moderna said it intends to submit for an emergency use authorisation with the US Food and Drug Administration and global regulatory agencies in the coming weeks. The company expects to have approximately 20 million doses of the vaccine ready to ship in the US by the end of this year, and said it remains on track to manufacture between 500 million and 1 billion doses globally in 2021. Moderna has agreed to provide the US with 100 million doses of the vaccine, with an option to buy a further 400 million. The European commission has a potential purchase agreement with the company for between 80 million and 160 million doses, as part of the EU covid-19 vaccine scheme. Coronavirus case numbers in the US have jumped by a million in only a week. The country has now reached a total of more than 11 million cases since the start of the pandemic, just six days after reaching the grim milestone of 10 million. As of yesterday, more than 69,000 people across the US were in hospital with covid-19 – the highest number yet. A growing number of states, including Washington and Michigan, have reimposed stay-at-home orders and other restrictions. Meanwhile, US president Donald Trump has reportedly blocked the White House coronavirus taskforce from communicating with a separate team assembled by president-elect Joe Biden. “It’s almost like passing a baton in a race […] it would be better if we could start working with them,” said senior US health adviser Anthony Fauci yesterday on CNN’s State of the Union show.
11-16-20 Covid: Will there be more than one coronavirus vaccine?
In the past two weeks, both Pfizer and BioNtech and Moderna have announced hugely successful trials of their Covid-19 vaccines. Others are in development, while a third major trial - from Belgian company Janssen - is under way in the UK. If you want your life to get back to normal, then we need a vaccine. Even now, the vast majority of people are still vulnerable to coronavirus infection. It's only the restrictions on our lives that are preventing more people from dying. But a vaccine would safely teach our bodies to fight the infection. It would either stop us catching coronavirus in the first place or at least make Covid less deadly. Having a vaccine, alongside better treatments, is "the" exit strategy. Pfizer/BioNtech is the first pharmaceutical company to share information from the final stages of vaccine testing. The data suggests the jab could prevent more than 90% of people from getting Covid-19. About 43,000 people have been given the vaccine, and no safety concerns have been raised. Moderna ran a trial of its vaccine on 30,000 people in the US, in which half were given dummy injections. It says its vaccine protects 94.5% of people, after only five of the first 95 trial participants who developed Covid symptoms had received the real vaccine. Trial results are also due in the next few weeks on a vaccine being developed by British drug manufacturer AstraZeneca and scientists at the University of Oxford. Meanwhile encouraging data on a Russian vaccine called Sputnik V has also been released. Based on interim results from a phase 3 trial, the same stage reached by the Pfizer jab, Russian researchers report that it is 92% efficient. More results from other teams working on advanced trials are also expected in the coming weeks and months. The Janssen trial has started the job of recruiting 6,000 people across the UK. Other countries will join the effort to bring the total up to 30,000. The company already has one large-scale trial of its vaccine, in which volunteers receive one dose. This work will see if two jabs give stronger and longer-lasting immunity. Several other vaccines are in the final testing stage, including Wuhan Institute of Biological Products and Sinopharm in China, and Russia's Gamaleya Research Institute.
11-16-20 Covid: Michigan and Washington State clamp down as US cases pass 11 million mark
Michigan and Washington are the latest US states to bring in strict measures to try to curb the spread of Covid-19. High schools and colleges are to halt on-site teaching while restaurants are prohibited from offering indoor dining in Michigan from Wednesday. Indoor restaurant dining is also banned in Washington State, and gyms, cinemas, theatres and museums will close. Covid cases have now topped 11 million in the US, with hospital admissions at record levels. On average, more than 1,000 people a day are dying with the virus, and the overall death toll is close to 250,000. The Trump administration struck an optimistic note on Friday, saying it hoped to distribute 20 million doses of an approved vaccine in December, and for each month after that - although vaccines have yet to get official approval. But aides to President-elect Joe Biden say the White House's refusal to facilitate a presidential transition means his team is being excluded from planning around a vaccination campaign that will be a priority for Mr Biden when he takes office in January. "Our experts need to talk to those people as soon as possible so nothing drops in this change of power we're going to have on January 20th," the president-elect's chief of staff Ron Klain was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency. Mr Klain said the Biden team would nonetheless start talking to vaccine manufacturers. On Monday, in a major new development, US drug company Moderna said its Covid-19 vaccine was nearly 95% effective according to early results. A similar announcement earlier this month about another vaccine - from the companies Pfizer and BioNTech - sent stock markets soaring amid hopes that life could return to normal next year. President Donald Trump has continued to claim he won the 3 November election, tweeting late on Sunday night: "I WON THE ELECTION!" Twitter affixed a warning label to the tweet reading: "Official sources called this election differently." Mr Trump has ruled out putting the nation into lockdown, but many states are introducing their own restrictions as fast rising cases threaten to overwhelm their healthcare systems.
11-16-20 Moderna: Covid vaccine shows nearly 95% protection
A new vaccine that protects against Covid-19 is nearly 95% effective, early data from US company Moderna shows. The results come hot on the heels of similar results from Pfizer, and add to growing confidence that vaccines can help end the pandemic. Both companies used a highly innovative and experimental approach to designing their vaccines. Moderna says it is a "great day" and they plan to apply for approval to use the vaccine in the next few weeks. However, this is still early data and key questions remain unanswered. The trial involved 30,000 people in the US with half being given two doses of the vaccine, four weeks apart. The rest had dummy injections. The analysis was based on the first 95 to develop Covid-19 symptoms. Only five of the Covid cases were in people given the vaccine, 90 were in those given the dummy treatment. The company says the vaccine is protecting 94.5% of people. The data also shows there were 11 cases of severe Covid in the trial, but none happened in people who were immunised. "The overall effectiveness has been remarkable... it's a great day," Tal Zaks, the chief medical officer at Moderna, told BBC News. Dr Stephen Hoge, the company's president, said he "grinned ear to ear for a minute" when the results came in. He told BBC News: "I don't think any of us really hoped that the vaccine would be 94% effective at preventing Covid-19 disease, that was really a stunning realisation." That depends on where you are in the world and how old you are. Moderna says it will apply to regulators in the US in the coming weeks. It expects to have 20 million doses available in the country. The company hopes to have up to one billion doses available for use around the world next year and is planning to seek approval in other countries too. The UK government is still negotiating with Moderna as their vaccine is not one of the six already ordered. It says Moderna's will not be available before spring next year. The UK has outlined plans that prioritise the oldest people for immunisation.
11-16-20 Heidi Larson interview: How to stop covid-19 vaccine hesitancy
Heidi Larson is the founder of the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and author of Stuck, a book about how vaccine rumours start. New Scientist spoke to her about people’s hesitancy around the first covid-19 vaccines. We’ve been doing a lot of global surveys on willingness if a vaccine is approved as safe and effective. In the UK, the US and other countries, in May only 5 per cent said they would definitely not take a vaccine. Now, that’s up to more like 15 per cent. In April there wasn’t much discussion of vaccines, it was about lockdowns and “do I wear a mask or not”? Since then, there’s been more discussion of vaccines, people have seen not everyone is dropping dead, and there’s a perception it’s only older people dying. One of the reasons rumours and misinformation are getting more traction now is because we have a lot of uncertainty. Things are changing every day, and people are anxious and want an answer. We have a perfect storm for rumour spread. What we see across the UK and US is if you are lower income, your education is below post-graduate and you are non-white and female, you are more likely to refuse a covid vaccine. They need it the most. We don’t have a misinformation problem as much as we have a relationship problem [between the public and health systems]. These communities could benefit the most but they are the least trusting of government. They’re not crazy. The top one is safety. Another one is just that it’s “too new”. I understand people’s anxieties around a brand new vaccine, especially when it’s a brand new virus and we are still trying to understand the nature of the virus. One of the concerns coming up is “could we get long covid from the vaccine”. It’s not going to give you long covid. The trials have been going probably long enough to pick up anything that would be a common serious side effect – we’d know by now, by giving it to tens of thousands of people. [However] there may be, and you’d only know this with hundreds of thousands of people, there may be a rare thing that comes up with genetic propensity, certain situations and certain groups. That’s true with any new vaccine, that’s why you have post-marketing surveillance [in which any side effects are monitored after the vaccine is rolled out]. Down the line there might be some rare thing we haven’t seen yet, that’s true, but it would be extremely rare – and are we going to wait for that?
11-16-20 Barack Obama: One election won't stop US 'truth decay'
The US faces a huge task in reversing a culture of "crazy conspiracy theories" that have exacerbated divides in the country, Barack Obama says. In a BBC interview, the former president says the US is more sharply split than even four years ago, when Donald Trump won the presidency. And Mr Obama suggests Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 US election is just the start of repairing those divisions. "It'll take more than one election to reverse those trends," he says. Tackling a polarised nation, he argues, cannot be left only to the decisions of politicians, but also requires both structural change and people listening to one another - agreeing on a "common set of facts" before arguing what to do about them. However he says he sees "great hope" in the "sophisticated" attitudes of the next generation, urging young people to "cultivate that cautious optimism that the world can change" and "to be a part of that change". Anger and resentment between rural and urban America, immigration, injustices like inequality and "the kinds of crazy conspiracy theories - what some have called truth decay" have been amplified by some US media outlets and "turbocharged by social media", Mr Obama tells historian David Olusoga, in an interview for BBC Arts to promote his new memoir. "We are very divided right now, certainly more than we were when I first ran for office in 2007 and won the presidency in 2008," the former president says. He suggests that this is, in part, attributable to Mr Trump's willingness to "fan division because it was good for his politics". Something else that has contributed hugely to the issue, Mr Obama says, is the spread of misinformation online, where "facts don't matter". "There are millions of people who subscribed to the notion that Joe Biden is a socialist, who subscribed to the notion that Hillary Clinton was part of an evil cabal that was involved in paedophile rings," he says.
11-16-20 America's political crisis is far from over
In the two weeks since Election Day, a paradox has come into focus. Preserving democracy — as Americans have practiced and understood it — required defeating Donald Trump in the presidential election. But Trump's defeat has only heightened the crisis of democracy. There was a brief moment of hope on Sunday that the president had at least acknowledged, if begrudgingly, that he had lost the election to President-elect Joe Biden. "He won the vote because the Election was Rigged," Trump wrote on Twitter. It wasn't exactly a gracious concession — it was couched in a lie — but it appeared to be the most we could hope for. But Trump reversed himself quickly, making apparent that his "concession" was merely a mistweet. "He only won in the eyes of the FAKE NEWS MEDIA. I concede NOTHING!" Trump wrote about 90 minutes later. "We have a long way to go." And then, late Sunday, another lie for good measure: "I WON THE ELECTION!" This president rarely says true things. He didn't win the election. But he is right about one thing: America has a long way to go before this crisis ends. We're not out of the woods yet. The problem isn't just the president, of course. Yes, he has made false claims that the voting software was manipulated in Biden's favor, brought frivolous lawsuits that stand little chance of overturning the vote, and generally worked to rile up his supporters into never accepting the election's outcome. All of that is a problem. "Trump is tweeting absolutely bonkers lies about the election," CNN's Daniel Dale said Sunday. "It is bad." More alarming, though, is that some of Trump's fellow Republicans are advocating for GOP-held legislatures to overturn the will of the voters in states — like Michigan and Pennsylvania — where Biden won, and send a Trump set of electors to the Electoral College. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) is perhaps the highest-profile elected official to support this effort. That probably won't happen this election; Republican officials in those swing states have already rejected the idea. But if the Trump Era has proven anything, it's that when the Overton Window shifts in one direction, it doesn't always shift back the other way. Until this election, the idea of legislatures ignoring their state's popular vote results was mostly theoretical — not taken seriously by anybody in the political mainstream. Now that it's out there, the the notion feels a bit like Chekov's gun, unused for the moment but certain to be fired eventually. And why not? Trump's contempt for democracy is hardly novel among Republicans. It was Republican appointees on the Supreme Court who disemboweled the Voting Rights Act, Republican legislatures that passed Voter ID laws intended to hamper Democratic voting constituencies, Republicans who have spent recent years nattering about almost non-existent voter fraud, and Republicans who have responded to election losses by disempowering Democratic governors and neutering voter referenda. Aside from cutting taxes, the GOP policy project over the last decade has largely been aimed at reducing the size of an increasingly diverse electorate. That seems unlikely to change even if Trump goes away. A key part of the conservative intellectual justification for Trumpism, after all, was to reduce the power wielded by an electorate that "grows more left, more Democratic, less Republican, less republican, and less traditionally American with every cycle." Elected officials, like Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), increasingly argue against the very idea of democracy. And Trumpist media outlets are floating ideas like requiring a civics test from citizens before they are allowed to vote.
11-16-20 FTSE 100 and Dow Jones jump on second Covid vaccine hopes
Global share prices have surged on news of a second breakthrough coronavirus vaccine, following last week's positive results from Pfizer. Interim data from the US firm Moderna suggests its vaccine is highly effective in preventing people getting ill and works across all age groups. The news pushed shares in Moderna 7% higher in opening trade. It also lifted firms hit by the virus, such as British Airways owner IAG and Cineworld, which both rose about 11%. The UK's FTSE 100 share index stood about 1.9% higher in mid-afternoon trade, while the main US indexes also climbed. In morning trade in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped about 1.1% and the wider S&P 500 increased 0.7% from last week's record high. The main market in Paris rose 2.1% and in Germany shares gained 1%. Last week, stock markets enjoyed one of their best ever days when a vaccine by Pfizer/BioNTech raised hopes that the business world might return to normal next year. A number of other vaccines are also being developed. The gains spurred by Moderna's news on Monday were more muted butstill helped the MSCI World Index of global shares to rise further, climbing by 0.6% to just shy of a record high hit briefly this month. Firms that have been hit most badly in the pandemic have seen the biggest rises. In the travel sector, cruise line Carnival jumped more than 9%, while Intercontinental Hotels was up more than 5%. "The markets get the new trading week off to a solid start, which is encouraging given all the excitement generated in the last seven days by news of vaccine breakthroughs," said AJ Bell investment director Russ Mould. The prospect of an end to lockdowns also helped oil prices strengthen. Brent and West Texas Intermediate crude prices were up about 3%, and shares in energy companies also gained.
11-16-20 EU budget blocked by Hungary and Poland over rule of law issue
Hungary and Poland have blocked approval of the EU's budget over a clause that ties EU funding with adherence to the rule of law. The financial package includes 750bn euros for a coronavirus recovery fund. Ambassadors of the 27 member states meeting in Brussels were unable to endorse the budget because the two countries vetoed it. Hungary and Poland have been criticised for violating democratic standards outlined in the EU's founding treaty. The EU is currently investigating both countries for undermining the independence of courts, media and non-governmental organisations. EU states had already agreed on the 1.1tn euro budget for 2021-2027, and the coronavirus recovery package. Ambassadors voted through the clause that linked EU funds with respect for the rule of law, because it only required a qualified majority, the German EU presidency said. But the budget and the rescue package needed unanimous support and were then blocked by Poland and Hungary.
11-16-20 Coronavirus: Germany hails couch potatoes in new videos
Videos released by the German government have humorously praised the nation's couch potatoes as the country battles a second wave of coronavirus. The first advert, entitled "#specialheroes - Together against corona", depicts an elderly man looking back on the winter of 2020. "The fate of this country lay in our hands," he says. "So, we mustered all our courage and did what was expected of us, the only right thing. "We did nothing. Absolutely nothing." The federal government has said the comical videos are a clear message to the public that reducing contact with others is vital in preventing the further spread of the virus. "Our couch was the frontline and our patience was our weapon," the first ad says. A second video features his girlfriend, while a third depicts a man looking back at his days gaming during lockdown. "Before the pandemic, I was without doubt the laziest person to tiptoe through this country, I almost never left my flat, played computer games without any kind of ambition and ate cold ravioli straight from the tin because I was too lazy to heat it up," the man says. "My friends called me Lazy Toby but I was too lazy to get annoyed about that," he says. "And when the virus spread, I remained the same lazy sack of potatoes that I was before. But unlike me, the world had changed: to contain the virus, people were urged to stay at home, doing nothing suddenly became a public service, laziness could save lives and I was a champion in that." The videos have caused a stir on social media, with many praising them. Sawsan Chebli, a politician from the Social Democratic party, tweeted: "So strong. So heart-warming. And so damn important."
11-15-20 The disastrous coronavirus leadership void
resident Trump's refusal to concede the election is starting to take on a very "Nero fiddles while Rome burns" feel. While Trump sits in the White House, tweeting rage and lies about his loss to President-elect Joe Biden, the COVID-19 pandemic has reached its most dangerous point yet. The United States on Thursday broke its daily record for new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The country is experiencing more than 1,000 deaths per day. Yes, there was good news on the vaccine front this week — but that will be distributed too late for the countless Americans who will get sick and die in the coming days and weeks. This is a disaster. And it was foreseen. For months now, public health experts have been warning that the winter of 2020 would produce a particularly dangerous and deadly phase of the coronavirus pandemic — that indoor gathering and holiday celebrations could give birth to a new wave of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. "We're in a precarious position over the next several weeks to months," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious diseases expert, said last month. He was right. The deadly winter he warned about is upon us. Can anything be done? All the same advice you've been hearing for the last eight months still applies — wear a mask when you leave the house and avoid large gatherings, especially indoors. If you're thinking of having a big Thanksgiving get-together with family and friends, don't. Please, just don't. More than individual initiative is needed, though. Leadership is required. But it doesn't appear Americans are going to get much of that. The president has made no public mention of the pandemic this week, preferring to plot improbable scenarios for remaining in office. His vice president — the ostensible head of the White House coronavirus task force — planned to take a vacation this week, but called it off. By now, though, the country has mostly learned to stop expecting much guidance from a president whose Election Night party turned into yet another one of his superspreader events. Biden has vowed to be more proactive, but until he actually takes office the only power he has is to plead with Americans to wear masks. State leadership is hit-or-miss, too. Some states are led by Republicans like Gov. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) who proudly refuses to issue a mask mandate or mass-gathering restrictions, even as her state sets new records for confirmed cases. In other states, like Michigan and Texas, state and local officials have been undermined by courts that have knocked down emergency quarantine orders. And scientific illiteracy is not exclusively a Republican problem. In New York City, Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio has frustrated parents by shutting down schools in COVID-19 hot spots while allowing restaurants and gyms to remain open in those same neighborhoods. Similarly, in Chicago, some observers have been perplexed and angered by Mayor Lori Lightfoot's policies that have kept the city's beaches closed while allowing bars to open. While some state and local officials are rising to the occasion by issuing new lockdown orders, it seems dubious a national crisis will be solved with such a patchwork approach. This leaves Congress as perhaps the only short-term option. In the absence of a lockdown or mask mandate, one thing that could help slow the spread of COVID-19 this winter is money. Give money to workers to let them stay home again, if they can, so they don't risk spreading or contracting the coronavirus. Money to owners of restaurants, bars, and retail businesses so they can afford to shut down instead of staying open as potential spreading points for both workers and customers.
11-15-20 Coronavirus: Oregon and New Mexico impose restrictions
The US states of Oregon and New Mexico have announced strict measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 as the country faces growing outbreaks of the disease. Officials have ordered most non-essential businesses to close and urged people to limit their social interactions. On Friday, California became the second state to hit one million Covid cases, after Texas. On average, more than 900 people a day are dying with the disease in the US. Daily cases have topped 100,000 for the last 11 days and more than 67,000 people are currently in hospital. The US has seen over 10.7 million cases and 244,000 deaths thus far, according to Johns Hopkins University. The Trump administration struck an optimistic tone on Friday, saying they hope to have two vaccines and two therapeutic treatments for Covid-19 approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the coming weeks. Dr Moncef Slaoui, head of the administration's vaccine initiative, said 20 million doses could be ready to be distributed in December, and then at least 20 million doses each month after that. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump said he would not put the US into lockdown. "Lockdowns cost lives and they cost a lot of problems. The cure cannot be.... worse than the problem itself and I've said it many times," he said. Data shows that the majority of the country has rising "community spread" of the virus - situations where people get the virus without any known contact with a sick person. In recent weeks, the Midwestern US has been the centre of the outbreaks, with cases rising in states like Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois. Oregon Governor Kate Brown announced a two-week "freeze", limiting restaurants to take-out and shuttering gyms and recreational facilities from 18 November to 2 December. "I'm not asking you, I am telling you, to stop your social gatherings ... and your house parties and to limit your social interactions to six and under, not more than one household," she said. Meanwhile, New Mexico Governor Lujan Grisham ordered a two-week shutdown of non-essential businesses such as grocery stores, farms, childcare centres, banks, factories and healthcare facilities.
11-15-20 RCEP: Asia-Pacific countries form world's largest trading bloc
Fifteen countries have formed the world's largest trading bloc, covering nearly a third of the global economy. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is made up of 10 Southeast Asian countries, as well as South Korea, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The pact is seen as an extension of China's influence in the region. The deal excludes the US, which withdrew from a rival Asia-Pacific trade pact in 2017. President Donald Trump pulled his country out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) shortly after taking office. The deal was to involve 12 countries and was supported by Mr Trump's predecessor Barack Obama as a way to counter China's surging power in the region. Negotiations over the RCEP lasted for eight years. The deal was finally signed on Sunday on the sidelines of a virtual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, hosted by Vietnam. Leaders hope that the agreement will help to spur recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. "Under the current global circumstances, the fact the RCEP has been signed after eight years of negotiations brings a ray of light and hope amid the clouds," said Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. India was also part of the negotiations, but pulled out last year over concerns that lower tariffs could hurt local producers. Signatories of the deal said the door remained open for India to join in the future. The RCEP is expected to eliminate a range of tariffs on imports within 20 years. It also includes provisions on intellectual property, telecommunications, financial services, e-commerce and professional services. Members of the RCEP make up nearly a third of the world's population and account for 29% of global gross domestic product.
11-15-20 How the pandemic could globalize the economy even more
Closed borders, trade conflicts, and supply-chain problems raise the specter of nations turning inward and disconnecting from one another. But Princeton’s Harold James thinks COVID-19 may well push us all closer. Harold James has been writing about globalization, and its oft-expected demise, for the better part of 40 years. The economic historian at Princeton University has examined the effects of financial crises old and new, from the Great Depression of the 1930s to the collapse of financial markets in 2008. His 2002 book, The End of Globalization, examined how the Great Depression upended globalism: Faced with an acute financial crisis, nations backed away from cultural and economic ties abroad. Ominously, James suggested then that the forces that turned societies against globalism in the 1930s were likely to emerge again as the 21st century progressed — even though nations have forged ever-closer connections through trade, migration, and technology in the intervening decades. "One of the lessons of the Depression is that globalization is inherently vulnerable, and can be disrupted by pandemics, terrorist attacks, and different crises," he says today. Indeed, as the aughts wore on, "different crises" emerged to prove James right. When real estate and financial markets collapsed in 2008, for instance, many politicians began disparaging global markets and erecting trade barriers, James wrote in the 2018 Annual Review of Financial Economics, part of a special issue and conference about the Great Recession and its consequences. These globalization foes were only partially successful, he noted: The pace of trade fell behind the pace of production for the first time in decades, but money and people continued moving freely between nations. Careful observers of politics and business in 2020 couldn't be blamed for wondering if COVID-19 — a dark side of interdependence, transported in a tiny bit of viral RNA — will usher in a new deglobalizing backlash. With needed swabs and syringes in short supply, wouldn't nations turn inward to take care of their own people first, mobilizing to manufacture the medical supplies that they once purchased from China or India? With so many citizens out of work, wouldn't governments start "reshoring" manufacturing jobs closer to home? On the contrary, says James; the opposite could happen. The pandemic will almost certainly revolutionize how the world interacts, but not in the dire way some prognosticators think. James spoke with Knowable about why COVID may end up expanding globalization, rather than destroying it. I think of globalization as the mobility of goods, people, and capital — and involved in all of that is the globalization of ideas, linking the world together. It has gone on throughout history — in the last decade archaeologists were stunned to discover that skeletons of people who had been buried in southern Italy during the Roman Empire had Asian DNA. At various stages there have been new intensities in the process. The development of sailing ships in the early modern period enabled longer distance voyages, and in the 19th century railroads opened up the interiors of continents. The airplane and later the internet in the 20th century also really opened up globalization to new areas. Globalization is driven in part by material needs, and by efficiency: It doesn't make sense, and isn't even possible, for every place to produce every kind of good. But I don't think it's just a matter of obtaining a desired item that you can only get somewhere else. It's also a question of curiosity. We find our environment constraining, and we want to restart our lives. Migration and interaction with others are often fueled by people fleeing adversity, but sometimes also by adventurousness.
11-15-20 US election: Trump appears to admit Biden victory in tweet
Donald Trump has insisted he is not conceding the US election, despite seemingly acknowledging for the first time that Democrat Joe Biden had won. "He won because the Election was Rigged," he wrote on Twitter but minutes later said he was not conceding that he lost the 3 November election. Mr Trump also repeated unsubstantiated claims of widespread election fraud. He has launched a slew of lawsuits in key states but has not provided any evidence to back his claims of fraud. All the lawsuits have so far been unsuccessful. On Friday, election officials said the vote was the "most secure in American history" and there was "no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes or was in any way compromised". Nevertheless, Mr Trump has refused to acknowledge Mr Biden's victory until - apparently - now. On Friday, White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News: "President Trump believes he will be President Trump, have a second term." In a news conference on the same day, Mr Trump said "who knows" which administration would be in power in the future. Despite acknowledging Mr Biden's victory in one tweet on Sunday, the president went on to say "I concede NOTHING!". Twitter added a warning to Mr Trump's latest allegations of wrongdoing, saying "This claim of election fraud is disputed". Thousands of Mr Trump's supporters protested in Washington DC on Saturday to back his unsubstantiated claims. Flag-carrying demonstrators were joined by members of far-right groups including the Proud Boys, some wearing helmets and bullet-proof vests. The largely peaceful demonstration saw some violence later in the evening, as Trump supporters and counter-protesters clashed in several skirmishes. Officials said 20 people had been arrested on a variety of charges, including assault and weapons possession. One stabbing was reported. Two police officers were also injured. Meanwhile, pressure is growing on Mr Trump to officially concede and help prepare the transition from one administration to another.
11-15-20 How the sanctuary movement in the US is advocating for immigration reform
Across the US, a number of Lutheran churches have formed a sanctuary movement to support undocumented migrants - and their work has doubled due to Covid. In California, Pastor Nelson Rabel Gonzalez has been visiting his city's mainly Mexican migrant population that work in the grape and cherry fields. He says that lots of them have not been provided with masks and hand sanitiser, but need to continue to work as they are essential workers - and that those who have been let go because of the pandemic are struggling to pay rent. And in Ohio, Pastor Sally Padgett has been looking after Miriam, a mother from Honduras who is at risk of deportation. When they both caught Covid, they were terrified that if Miriam's health deteriorated that they may have to go to hospital - meaning Miriam would have to leave the safety of the church and risk being captured by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Officers.
11-14-20 US election 2020: Biden takes Georgia to solidify victory
US President-elect Joe Biden has won the state of Georgia, the BBC projects, the first Democratic candidate to do so since 1992. The win solidifies Mr Biden's victory, giving him a total of 306 votes in the electoral college, the system the US uses to choose its president. President Donald Trump is projected to win North Carolina, reaching 232 votes. Mr Trump, who has not yet conceded, alluded for the first time to a possible new administration in January. Looking subdued, the president stopped short of acknowledging his defeat during a briefing of his coronavirus task force at the White House. These were his first public comments on the election since his defeat was projected by US media. As the country faces growing outbreaks of Covid-19, Mr Trump said he would not impose a lockdown to fight the virus, adding: "Whatever happens in the future, who knows which administration it will be. I guess time will tell." The president, who did not mention Mr Biden by name, did not take questions from reporters. Pressure is growing on Mr Trump, a Republican, to acknowledge Mr Biden's victory and help prepare the transition from one administration to another. The results in Georgia and North Carolina were the last to be projected in the race for the White House. Mr Biden's electoral votes equal the tally Mr Trump achieved in his victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016. At the time Mr Trump referred to it as "a landslide". President Trump has launched a flurry of legal challenges in key states and levelled unsubstantiated allegations of widespread electoral fraud. But his efforts suffered three setbacks on Friday. A manual recount is to be carried out in Georgia because of the narrow margin between the two candidates, but the Biden team said they did not expect it to change the results there.
11-14-20 US election security officials reject Trump's fraud claims
US election officials have said the 2020 White House vote was the "most secure in American history", rejecting President Donald Trump's fraud claims. "There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised," a committee announced. They spoke out after Mr Trump claimed without proof that 2.7 million votes for him had been "deleted". He has yet to concede to the president-elect, Democrat Joe Biden. The result of the 3 November election was projected by all the major US TV networks last weekend. On Friday, the BBC projected Mr Biden to have won Georgia and Mr Trump to have won North Carolina. Mr Biden was earlier projected to have won Arizona. His total is now 306 electoral college votes, with Mr Trump at 232. It is the first time Arizona and Georgia have voted Democrat since 1996 and 1992 respectively. Mr Trump has launched a flurry of legal challenges in key states and levelled unsubstantiated allegations of widespread electoral fraud. In another development, a group of more than 150 former national security officials has warned that delaying the transition posed "a serious risk to national security". In a letter, they urged the General Services Administration - the government agency tasked with beginning the transition process - to officially recognise Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris so that they could access "pressing national security issues". Meanwhile, China has finally extended its congratulations to Mr Biden and Ms Harris after days of silence. "We respect the choice of the American people," a foreign ministry spokesman said. Russia has said it wants to wait for an "official result". The announcement from US election officials marks the most direct rebuttal from federal and state officials of President Trump's unsubstantiated claims of election fraud. Thursday's joint statement was released by the Election Infrastructure Government Co-ordinating Council - which is made up of senior officials from the Department of Homeland Security and the US Election Assistance Commission as well as state-level officials who oversee elections and representatives of the voting machine industry.
11-14-20 President Trump: 'Who knows which administration it will be'
US President Donald Trump has spoken publicly for the first time since the election was projected for his rival Joe Biden. In a White House news conference on the US coronavirus response, he insisted that he would not put the country into lockdown "under any circumstances". But in a reference to the election result, he said: "Whatever happens in the future - who knows which administration it will be, I guess time will tell." Mr Trump has yet to concede the election to his Democratic rival.
11-14-20 Coronavirus: Oregon and New Mexico impose restrictions
The US states of Oregon and New Mexico have announced strict measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 as the country faces growing outbreaks of the disease. Officials have ordered most non-essential businesses to close and urged people to limit their social interactions. On Friday, California became the second state to hit one million Covid cases, after Texas. On average, more than 900 people a day are dying with the disease in the US. Daily cases have topped 100,000 for the last 11 days and more than 67,000 people are currently in hospital. The US has seen over 10.7 million cases and 244,000 deaths thus far, according to Johns Hopkins University. The Trump administration struck an optimistic tone on Friday, saying they hope to have two vaccines and two therapeutic treatments for Covid-19 approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the coming weeks. Dr Moncef Slaoui, head of the administration's vaccine initiative, said 20 million doses could be ready to be distributed in December, and then at least 20 million doses each month after that. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump said he would not put the US into lockdown. "Lockdowns cost lives and they cost a lot of problems. The cure cannot be.... worse than the problem itself and I've said it many times," he said. Data shows that the majority of the country has rising "community spread" of the virus - situations where people get the virus without any known contact with a sick person. In recent weeks, the Midwestern US has been the centre of the outbreaks, with cases rising in states like Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois. Oregon Governor Kate Brown announced a two-week "freeze", limiting restaurants to take-out and shuttering gyms and recreational facilities from 18 November to 2 December. "I'm not asking you, I am telling you, to stop your social gatherings ... and your house parties and to limit your social interactions to six and under, not more than one household," she said. Meanwhile, New Mexico Governor Lujan Grisham ordered a two-week shutdown of non-essential businesses such as grocery stores, farms, childcare centres, banks, factories and healthcare facilities.
11-14-20 Georgia judge denies bond for father and son in Ahmaud Arbery case
A Georgia judge has denied bond for a father and son charged in the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man, after two days of hearings. Gregory McMichael, 64, and Travis McMichael, 34, are accused of murder and aggravated assault. Prosecutors presented evidence of racially charged text messages by the younger McMichael, as friends and family were questioned about the pair. Mr Arbery, 25, was jogging in February when he was confronted and killed. For more than two months afterward, police did not charge the McMichaels, who are white, until the shooting attracted widespread media attention and provoked outrage. In court, prosecutors said that Travis McMichael had used racial slurs in a text message and on social media. Zachary Langford, a childhood friend of the younger McMichael, testified that his friend was respectful and "got along with everybody". Asked by prosecutors about a text exchange with Mr McMichael, in which he wrote about a "crackhead... with gold teeth", Mr Langford said he thought his friend was "referring to a raccoon". Mr Langford also said his friend had expressed remorse for Mr Arbery's death. "He was having trouble sleeping, lost his appetite." The McMichaels had asked for the two counts against them to be rejected, claiming they were charged in a legally flawed indictment. Outside the courtroom on Thursday, the victim's mother Wanda Cooper Jones said she believed the McMichaels were "dangerous" and should remain in jail before their trial. "Ahmaud wasn't allowed to go home, them going home would be totally unfair." Mr Arbery was jogging in the Satilla Shores neighbourhood in the coastal city of Brunswick, Georgia on 23 February. Gregory McMichael, a resident, spotted the black man, and told police he believed Mr Arbery resembled the suspect in a series of local break-ins. Police have said no reports were filed regarding these alleged break-ins. The McMichaels armed themselves with a pistol and a shotgun and pursued Mr Arbery. Video footage of the incident appears to show Travis McMichael firing the shotgun at point blank range at Mr Arbery, who fell to the street.
11-13-20 Covid-19 news: One in four patients not getting life-saving treatment
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. One in four coronavirus patients in the UK are missing out on life-saving dexamethasone treatment. Around 25 per cent of people who should receive dexamethasone as a treatment for covid-19 are not being given the medicine, according to newly released papers from the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. Researchers calculated that failure to give the treatment had led to 55 deaths. Dexamethasone is a steroid and the only known drug that reduces deaths from the coronavirus. It works by suppressing an overreaction of the immune system that can cause damaging inflammation of the lungs and other organs. The other main treatment for the coronavirus, the antiviral agent remdesivir, has had a vote of no confidence from the head of the European Society of Intensive Care Medicine. In an interview with Reuters, Jozef Kesecioglu said “remdesivir is now classified as a drug you should not use routinely in covid-19 patients”. The move comes after the largest trial of the drug found it has little or no impact on death rates. However other smaller studies suggest remdesivir does speed up recovery from the infection. People with learning disabilities have died from covid-19 at higher rates than the rest of the population, according to a report from Public Health England. In the 18-34 age group, people with learning disabilities had a death rate thirty times higher. The authors of the report say this could be because people in this group are more likely to be overweight and have diabetes than people outside this group. The charity Mencap told the BBC the government has failed to protect a vulnerable group. Researchers who work with the coronavirus are testing positive for the virus even though they do not seem to be infected. The scientists work with sections of the virus’s genes that are also the target of commonly used PCR or swab tests, they have told the New York Times. Older teenagers should not be lumped in with younger children in terms of their likelihood of catching the coronavirus, says a UK paediatrician. The latest case figures from Scotland show that 15-19-year-olds have a similar infection rate as middle-aged adults, while figures for everyone under 15 are much lower.
11-13-20 US election security officials reject Trump's fraud claims
US election officials have said the 2020 White House vote was the "most secure in American history", rejecting President Donald Trump's fraud claims. "There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised," a committee announced. They spoke out after Mr Trump claimed without proof that 2.7 million votes for him had been "deleted". He has yet to concede to the president-elect, Democrat Joe Biden. The result of the 3 November election was projected by all the major US TV networks last weekend. Mr Biden is now projected to have won Arizona, extending his lead by 11 electoral college votes to a total of 290, with Mr Trump on 217. It is the first time the state has voted Democrat since 1996. (Webmaster's comment: Trump, YOU'RE FIRED!) Mr Trump has launched a flurry of legal challenges in key states and levelled unsubstantiated allegations of widespread electoral fraud. In another development, a group of more than 150 former national security officials has warned that delaying the transition posed "a serious risk to national security". In a letter, they urged the General Services Administration - the government agency tasked with beginning the transition process - to officially recognise Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris so that they could access "pressing national security issues". Meanwhile, China has finally extended its congratulations to Mr Biden and Ms Harris after days of silence. "We respect the choice of the American people," a foreign ministry spokesman said. Russia has said it wants to wait for an "official result". The announcement from US election officials marks the most direct rebuttal from federal and state officials of President Trump's unsubstantiated claims of election fraud.
11-13-20 US election: Obama says fraud claims undermining democracy
Former President Barack Obama has said senior US Republicans are undermining democracy by going along with President Donald Trump's unsubstantiated claims of election fraud. (Webmaster's comment: Republicans want a dictatorship, not a democracy!) In an interview with CBS News, due to air on Sunday, Mr Obama said President-elect Joe Biden had "clearly won" this year's race for the White House. The result was projected by US media on Saturday but some counting continues. Claiming ballot tampering, Mr Trump has launched a flurry of legal challenges. The president's team has yet to provide any evidence to support their claims. Mr Obama - Mr Trump's Democratic predecessor - said the allegations were motivated by the fact that "the president doesn't like to lose". "I'm more troubled by the fact that other Republican officials, who clearly know better, are going along with this," he added. "It's one more step in delegitimising not just the incoming Biden administration, but democracy generally, and that's a dangerous path." Mr Obama was speaking ahead of the release of his new memoir, A Promised Land, which charts his rise to the US Senate and first term as president. Due for release on 17 November, it is the first of two books covering his time in the White House. In his memoir Mr Obama said President Trump ascended to power by stoking fears about a Black man leading the country, according to excerpts quoted by CNN. "It was as if my very presence in the White House had triggered a deep-seated panic, a sense that the natural order had been disrupted," he reportedly wrote. "For millions of Americans spooked by a Black man in the White House, [Trump] promised an elixir for their racial anxiety." On Thursday, the two top congressional Democrats - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer - called on Republicans to "accept reality" with Joe Biden's victory. (Webmaster's comment: This will only end when the Authoritarian Thugs like Bill Barr, Mike Pompeo, Mitch McConnell, Rudy Giuliani, Pence and Trump are put in prison!)
11-13-20 US election: China congratulates Biden after long silence
China has finally congratulated Joe Biden on his projected win in the US presidential election, breaking a frosty period of silence. "We respect the choice of the American people. We extend congratulations to Mr Biden and Ms Harris," a foreign ministry spokesman said on Friday. The China-US relationship is crucial to both sides, and the wider world. Tensions have soared in recent times, over trade, espionage and the pandemic. Russia is yet to offer well wishes. Four years ago, the Russian leader Vladimir Putin was among the first to congratulate Donald Trump on his election victory, but there has been no tweet, telegram or phone call to Mr Biden this time. "We believe the correct thing to do would be to wait for the official election result," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. Mr Biden has taken calls from a string of global leaders in recent days. Congratulations began to pour in from Saturday, when US networks projected the result and he declared victory. President Trump has continued to make unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud without providing clear evidence. On Thursday, a group of federal and state election officials directly rebutted such claims, saying the vote was "the most secure in American history". To put it bluntly, it shows China's leaders - and specifically Xi Jinping, the country's powerful president - have accepted the result and expect Joe Biden to be inaugurated as president in January despite legal challenges from the Trump campaign. Until this point, the Chinese government had been holding out, saying only that it had "noticed that Mr Biden had been declared winner". After offering the congratulations on Thursday, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin added: "We understand the results of the US election will be determined according to US laws and procedures."
11-13-20 3 ways Biden's COVID-19 task force can control the pandemic
It's not too late to save thousands of lives. This fall, some critics accused scientists, public health experts, and physicians (like myself) of having become too political during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was cynically predicted that after November 3rd, both frontline health-care providers and academic researchers would suddenly change their tune, and act as though the coronavirus had vanished. The implication was that the experts were weaponizing the greatest health crisis of the century against the sitting president, rather than advocating for the safety of our fellow humans. Far from it. Once it became clear that Joe Biden would be the next president of the United States, many of my colleagues who care deeply about controlling the pandemic began clamoring to get involved, myself included. We all sensed that with this incoming administration, there exists an opportunity to do a ton of work, and that the work would be meaningful and impactful. While I knew I had a vanishingly low likelihood of being named to Biden's new "Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board," I was pleased to see so many names of colleagues whose work I already respect and, in a few cases, those who I know directly. My sense from communicating with three of the appointed members this week is that they anticipate a robust conversation with experts in the medical and scientific community, and that the board is seeking ideas from the best and brightest in all of the relevant fields. But what can this new advisory board — which we assume will seamlessly replace the existing White House Coronavirus Taskforce — achieve now and in the future? Can a committee really accomplish anything in the face of this deadly and rampant illness? There is reason for optimism. While it may seem that the pandemic is out of control in America — and indeed, it is — it's not too late to save tens if not hundreds of thousands of lives. Currently, we are averaging over 100,000 new coronavirus cases per day in the United States. But even if the number of new cases were 500,000 per day, it would take nearly two years for every American to become infected. Yes, President Trump's feckless inaction, and also incompetence of officials at the state and local level, is costing many lives today. But there will still be hundreds of millions of people left to protect, even if nothing changes between now and Biden's inauguration. The first thing the advisory board will undoubtedly achieve is to adhere to rule numero uno of medicine and science: Do no harm. This may seem like a low bar, but Trump's current task force has done a lot of damage — from the debacle around its failed attempt to acquire a large number of coronavirus tests to its more recent embracing of a nonsensical herd immunity strategy — which experts have spent countless hours trying to undo. Its now-retired briefings — ostensibly led by Vice President Mike Pence, but actually led by the whims of whichever sycophant Trump last texted — were a constant source of misinformation and confusion for the nation. Fortunately, the first stated principle on the Biden-Harris transition website is to "listen to science." Refreshing! From there, the new advisory board's stated mandate is: "to determine the public health and economic steps necessary to get the virus under control, to deliver immediate relief to working families, to address ongoing racial and ethnic disparities, and to reopen our schools and businesses safely and effectively." Broadly speaking, the board will influence policy by influencing the president. In turn, the president can guide the federal government's response options relying chiefly on three levers of power.
11-13-20 Anthony Fauci: 'We have got to double down' to fight Covid
Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious diseases expert, says the country needs to "double down" on public health measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing. Speaking to Chatham House on Thursday, he warned that the cold weather makes for a "challenging and ominous situation". His comments come as the US is seeing a surge in coronavirus cases, with more than 100,000 new cases per day for the past week.
11-12-20 Covid-19 news: Infections were ramping up before England lockdown
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Infections were ramping up before England lockdown. The prevalence of coronavirus infections in England surged to one in 77 people shortly before the nation’s second lockdown began, according to a large study that tested randomly selected people regardless of symptoms. The latest round of the REACT-1 survey, which spanned the two weeks up to 2 November, found a prevalence of 1.3 per cent, up from 0.6 per cent in the previous round, done one month previously. The rise in infections support a strategy of “stringent interventions designed to get prevalence down,” says Steven Riley at Imperial College London, who took part in the research. Hospital workers in England will soon start being screened for the coronavirus, whether or not they have symptoms of infection, according to Health Service Journal. Staff who interact with patients will be asked to test themselves twice a week before coming into work. Antigen-based test kits will be sent out to the first 34 trusts this week, but the scheme will switch to more sensitive rapid generic tests later this year, as it is rolled out more widely. The number of people in England waiting more than a year for surgery or hospital treatment has shot up due to the pandemic. By September this year the number of those who had waited that long stood at nearly 140,000 people compared with around 1300 in September 2019, according to NHS England. When the UK first went into lockdown in March, nearly all routine appointments and operations were deferred, and hospitals have been trying to catch up ever since. The explanation for why children are less likely to catch covid-19 may be a recent brush with a related coronavirus that causes colds. According to a UK study, 43 per cent of children had antibodies to such a virus, compared with 5 per cent of adults. About one in five colds among children are caused by a coronavirus.
11-12-20 Coronavirus: New York imposes measures in 'last chance' against new wave
New York has introduced new restrictions aimed at curbing coronavirus, with Mayor Bill de Blasio warning it was the city's "last chance" to stop a second wave. Bars, restaurants and gyms must close by 22:00 and people can only meet in groups of 10 or less. The US is seeing a surge in coronavirus - a record 65,368 Americans were in hospital on Wednesday. The Covid Tracking Project also reported a record 144,270 new cases. An average of over 900 people a day are now dying with the disease. More than a million new cases in November pushed the total confirmed cases to over 10 million nationally, with 233,080 deaths so far. The US has been seeing more than 100,000 new cases per day over the last eight days in what experts say may be a worse outbreak than those seen in the spring and summer. Experts warn hospitals across the country could soon be overwhelmed. On Wednesday a member of President-elect Joe Biden's Covid-19 advisory panel said a four to six week lockdown could bring the pandemic under control. Dr Michael Osterholm said that the government could borrow enough money to cover lost income for businesses during a shutdown. "We're seeing a national and global Covid surge, and New York is a ship on the Covid tide," state Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Wednesday. New measures come into effect on Friday affecting hospitality after Mr Cuomo said contact tracing identified late-night gatherings as key virus spreaders in the state. If the rate of spread of infection continued to rise, Mayor Blasio said the New York City's public school system would close and children would begin online classes. "This is our last chance to stop a second wave. We can do it, but we have to act now," Mr de Blasio tweeted. New York City was badly hit by the virus earlier this year when nearly 18,000 people died with Covid-19 in March, April and May, according to the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. (Webmaster's comment: 150,000 new cases a day is nothing like it's going to be with most Americans refusing to lockdown! Americans are nothing but spoilt children.)
11-12-20 Trump's willing accomplices
For the first time in American history, a president is refusing to concede an election that he has very obviously lost. Donald Trump has angrily insisted that Joe Biden only won because of massive election rigging, and has filed multiple lawsuits to overturn the result. Trump also recently fired the entire top civilian staff of the Pentagon, and replaced them with his signature brand of deranged loyalist. He is refusing to grant Biden money and access to start the presidential transition, as required by law. And there are still more than two months to go before Biden officially takes power. It's exactly what I would have expected Trump to do. But even more troubling than what amounts to a straight-up coup attempt is the behavior of the rest of the Republican Party, which (aside from a handful of exceptions) is backing him to the hilt. Trump's plot seems unlikely to work, but he is establishing a dire precedent. A democratic system does not work if one party refuses to admit when it is beaten. Let me first say that there is no doubt whatsoever that Trump lost this election fair and square. All his hysterical accusations, and the various lawsuits his campaign has filed, have presented no evidence whatsoever of a single act of illegal voting, much less the tens of thousands of votes that would be needed to actually change the state results. Indeed, as Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman points out, the only actual instance of unlawful voting in his state uncovered thus far was a Republican man who tried to vote for Trump using an absentee ballot for his dead mother. At time of writing (as the count is not quite done) this fellow was a mere 50,214 votes away from stealing the state for Trump. Jokes aside, that illustrates an important point — if one digs hard enough, there are usually a couple instances of improper voting in every election, simply because so many tens of millions of people vote, and the rules are ridiculously strict in many states. But multiple studies are clear: in-person voter fraud virtually does not happen, and the most significant recent example of actual attempted election rigging came from a crooked Republican operative in North Carolina, who illegally filled out hundreds of absentee ballots for the GOP in several elections in years past. Still, The New York Times went to the trouble of contacting the top election authorities in every state. Forty-five state officials responded directly, while reporters confirmed comments from four more states either through sub-officials or public comments. Every single one said the election was clean and there was no evidence of fraud. Only Texas Republicans refused to say anything at the state level, though the Times still got confirmation from the state's largest county that their election was clean. In short, Trump is making up a lot of inflammatory nonsense. He said the election that he won in 2016 was full of fraudulent votes — of course he is saying he didn't really lose this time. Squalling like a spoiled toddler and making a lot of unhinged legal threats whenever he faces a negative consequence is how he has wriggled out of failure and bankruptcy time and time again. His most recent communications have not even bothered to hide his intent: "Democrat-run cities, like Detroit and Philadelphia … cannot be responsible for deciding the outcome of this race," said a recent campaign email.
It's been days since the White House race was called for Democrat Joe Biden, but Donald Trump has yet to concede - or show any signs of acknowledging his defeat. Instead, he is making unproven allegations of widespread voter fraud, which he says tipped the race to Biden. The maths, however, are daunting - he trails by tens of thousands of votes in several states he would have to overturn in order to succeed. Most see it as a lost cause. Trump's position, in defiance of political norms and traditions, is sending tremors throughout the nation, as public officials and American voters react to a situation that, while telegraphed for months in advance, is still travelling uncharted terrain. Here's a look at how some key groups are handling these days of uncertainty. And how it might all play out. (Webmaster's comment: It will only end when the Authoritarian Thugs like Bill Barr, Mike Pompeo, Mitch McConnell, Rudy Giuliani, Pence and Trump are put in prison!)
11-12-20 Delhi's Covid cases spike as temperatures drop and pollution rises
India's capital, Delhi, is battling a winter surge in Covid-19 cases as temperatures plummet and air pollution rises to dangerous levels. The city confirmed more than 8,500 cases on Wednesday alone, its highest daily record yet. It also added 85 deaths in a day, putting the total beyond 7,000. The sharp spike in cases after a months-long lull has also put pressure on hospitals - more than half the available beds are already occupied. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has written to the federal government asking for more beds at government hospitals as public pressure mounts. At 8.6m and counting, India currently has the world's second-highest caseload. But it had been on the decline from the middle of September: daily case counts dropped from nearly 100,000 to as low as 37,000 in the weeks that followed, even as testing remained consistent. The daily national tally continues to hover between 40,000-50,000 - India recorded some 48,200 cases on Wednesday. But Delhi has seen an alarming spike in recent weeks, recording more new cases than any other state. The capital has confirmed just over 450,000 cases so far, some 42,000 of which are active. It comes as large swathes of northern India confront a winter season and dangerously high levels of air pollution - two factors that could significantly worsen efforts to control the virus, according to experts. The rising numbers also coincide with a busy festival season in India, with Hindus celebrating Diwali this weekend. Delhi has banned the sale and use of fireworks and officials have reinforced the need for social distancing, but visuals of crowds thronging markets in the city have caused alarm. Authorities found a high positivity rate among shopkeepers in some of the oldest markets, which are at risk of becoming hotspots. "Two elderly patients of mine had to wait for more than 20 hours to get a bed," said Dr Joyeeta Basu, a physician in Delhi.
11-12-20 Coronavirus: The Russian provinces buckling under Covid-19
Covid-19 infection rates are now surging again in Russia and this time the poorer provinces are being hit the hardest. In northern regions like Arkhangelsk patients have been forced to sleep on benches and in corridors and ambulance crews are overwhelmed. Health workers in Russia are usually wary of sounding critical, but now they are reaching breaking point and are speaking out about their challenges. BBC Moscow correspondent Sarah Rainsford headed north to meet them.
11-11-20 Covid-19 news: EU to buy up to 300 million doses of Pfizer vaccine
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. EU confirms deal to buy up to 300 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine candidate. The European Union has made a deal to buy up to 300 million doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech coronavirus vaccine candidate. On Monday, Pfizer announced that the RNA vaccine is more than 90 per cent effective according to early results from its phase III trial. The bloc will be able to purchase 200 million doses initially, with an option to buy another 100 million. The US has already agreed a deal for 100 million doses at $19.50 per dose, but the EU is expected to pay a lower rate to reflect the financial support the EU and Germany gave to the vaccine’s development, an anonymous source told Reuters. The EU has already signed separate vaccine supply deals with other vaccine candidates in trials from AstraZeneca, Sanofi and Johnson & Johnson. “This is the most promising vaccine so far,” said European commission president Ursula von der Leyen in a statement. “Once this vaccine becomes available, our plan is to deploy it quickly, everywhere in Europe.” Russian authorities said their Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine candidate is 92 per cent effective at protecting people from covid-19. The results are derived from a much smaller number of coronavirus infections compared to those from the Pfizer vaccine trial. The early analysis of Sputnik V was based on 20 trial participants out of 16,000 being diagnosed with covid-19, significantly fewer than the 94 cases in the Pfizer and BioNTech trial. Pfizer said it would continue its phase III trial until there were at least 164 coronavirus cases, to confirm how well it works. The US recorded more than a million new coronavirus cases in the first 10 days of November. Several states reported record daily increases in new cases yesterday, including about 12,600 in Illinois, 10,800 in Texas and 7000 in Wisconsin. The US as a whole also reached a record number of hospitalisations yesterday, with more than 61,964 people currently in hospital with covid-19, according to the COVID Tracking Project.>
11-11-20 Culture Warlords review: An undercover examination of white supremacy
Talia Lavin went undercover to join white supremacy groups that were abusing her online. Her book, Culture Warlords, makes for difficult reading. TALIA LAVIN awoke one day to discover a group of white supremacists using encrypted messaging app Telegram to discuss if she was “too ugly to rape”. A few weeks earlier, unknown to its members, she had joined the group. The writer and former New Yorker magazine fact checker didn’t feel prominent enough to warrant such vile comments. “I was mostly just a loudmouth on Twitter. Why was I taking up real estate in their heads?” The ugly incident is recounted in Lavin’s book Culture Warlords, about her attempts to get into the heads of white supremacists to understand the mechanics of online racism and how it overlaps with misogyny. Her book is a well-researched overview of the ecosystem of online hate. Lavin walks readers through the histories of racial segregation, anti-Semitism and white supremacy in the US. She also covers more recent history, such as 2014’s Gamergate, in which harassment of a female game developer metastasised into broader online trolling against people who criticised sexism in the games industry. Most striking is how far Lavin will go. She lurks in anonymous forums, even posing on a white supremacist dating site as “blonde, gun-toting” Ashlynn. Such commitment is beyond mere anthropological curiosity. Lavin takes self-professed “glee” in enticing men to reveal personal details so she can out them as white supremacists. Her intent is not without justification, but there is a problematic irony here. Lavin has had personal details shared online by harassers, yet she readily exposes the identity of a neo-Nazi in Ukraine. “It was sweet… and a bit perverse,” she writes.
11-11-20 The covid-19 pandemic has reignited questions about population size
A pandemic assisted by our incursions into nature has given questions about human population size a renewed focus, but advocates for limiting population also have questions to answer. LETTERS to New Scientist in response to coverage of environmental issues often raise a glaring omission: why aren’t we mentioning the elephant in the room, namely the number of humans on the planet? A pandemic assisted by our incursions into nature has now given questions about human population size a renewed focus. Such questions have been hugely contentious since at least 1798, when Thomas Malthus issued the dire warnings that still set the tenor of the debate in An Essay on the Principle of Population. See The great Population debate: Are there to many people on the planet? where you will find our analysis of where that debate stands today. While longer-term reductions in human numbers can only be good for the planet, those who advocate limiting population as an environmental panacea must answer two outstanding questions. The first is what they propose we do to reduce our impact as we grapple with the climate emergency in the crucial coming years, given that efforts to reduce population necessarily play out over decades. The second is what tools they propose we use to reduce our headcount. We know what works to limit population growth without resorting to brutal and disastrous coercion. It is broadly what the world has been doing for the past half century, albeit often in the face of significant opposition: assisting the economic development of those, mainly poorer, countries with high population growth, broadening access to education, especially for girls and women, and ensuring access to contraception and abortion. There are worrying signs that the pandemic, by limiting access to family planning, has increased birth rates in some lower-income countries, reversing a decades-long downwards trend. Access to education has also been hit.
11-11-20 Paul Ehrlich: There are too many super-consumers on the planet
Conservation biologist Paul Ehrlich raised fears about our rapidly growing population in his 1968 book The Population Bomb. Fifty years later, he reflects on what has changed. IN THE late 1960s, the nascent environmental movement began to worry about humanity’s impact on the planet, and the idea that population growth needed to be limited became a mainstream talking point. Paul Ehrlich was at the centre of that movement from the beginning. In 1968, together with his wife Anne, he wrote an influential book, The Population Bomb, which crystallised fears about the planet’s burgeoning population. It predicted widespread famine, societal upheaval and a deterioration in environmental conditions in the 1970s if steps were not taken – and fast – to both stop population growing and reduce it. Ehrlich was wrong. The “green revolution” that vastly increased agricultural production starting in the 1960s meant his dire predictions largely didn’t come to pass. His work has since been accused of alarmism, and of helping to spread fears of rising birth rates in lower-income countries that provided justification for compulsory population control measures. In fact, as he now acknowledges, consumption in higher-income countries is an indispensable factor in the equation. In light of our worsening climate crisis, in the past two years debate over population size has started re-entering the mainstream. Now 88, Ehrlich is still active at Stanford in the field of population studies. New Scientist caught up with him to ask: does he recant any of his earlier views? Paul Ehrlich: The main problem we have with all our environmental dilemmas is too much consumption. Humans are just using too much of what there is and using more all the time. To say that the aggregate consumption is just a problem of overconsumption is like saying that the area of a rectangle is it’s too wide; it has nothing to do with length. The number of people and how much each one consumes multiply together to give you your aggregate consumption.
11-11-20 The population debate: Are there too many people on the planet?
The world population is 7.7 billion. What do our growing numbers mean for economic security, climate change, environmental destruction and the likelihood of pandemics? IN THE once-seedy district of Soho, about 10 minutes’ walk from New Scientist‘s London offices, a pump, a plaque and a pub commemorate one of the greatest ever breakthroughs in human history: a decisive step made almost 200 years ago towards conquering infectious disease. Our current global health crisis is a reminder of how little we want to return to the days when deadly infections carried away most of us. Yet also in some way, advances back then were a first step on a path towards planetary perdition. The success against infectious disease, alongside other major developments, dramatically improved our survival and set humanity’s numbers soaring, from little more than 1.25 billion people back then to 7.7 billion now. Now, climate change, biodiversity loss, the degradation of the biosphere and, yes, coronavirus are forcing us to consider the legacy of that success. The pandemic is becoming the latest focus for an old, uniquely contentious question: are there just too many of us on the planet? The basic argument is hard to deny. With fewer of us around, there would be fewer greenhouse gas emissions, less pollution and waste, more space for both us and the rest of the natural world to survive and thrive. So let’s bite the bullet. Let’s talk about population – where it is heading globally, what that means for the planet, and what, if anything, we should be doing to limit its growth. Be warned, however: finding answers isn’t nearly as easy as posing questions. And with scenes of sexism, racism, nationalism, misogyny and eugenics, what follows at times makes for uncomfortable viewing.o
11-11-20 The population debate: Are there too many people on the planet?
The world population is 7.7 billion. What do our growing numbers mean for economic security, climate change, environmental destruction and the likelihood of pandemics? IN THE once-seedy district of Soho, about 10 minutes’ walk from New Scientist‘s London offices, a pump, a plaque and a pub commemorate one of the greatest ever breakthroughs in human history: a decisive step made almost 200 years ago towards conquering infectious disease. Our current global health crisis is a reminder of how little we want to return to the days when deadly infections carried away most of us. Yet also in some way, advances back then were a first step on a path towards planetary perdition. The success against infectious disease, alongside other major developments, dramatically improved our survival and set humanity’s numbers soaring, from little more than 1.25 billion people back then to 7.7 billion now. Now, climate change, biodiversity loss, the degradation of the biosphere and, yes, coronavirus are forcing us to consider the legacy of that success. The pandemic is becoming the latest focus for an old, uniquely contentious question: are there just too many of us on the planet? The basic argument is hard to deny. With fewer of us around, there would be fewer greenhouse gas emissions, less pollution and waste, more space for both us and the rest of the natural world to survive and thrive. So let’s bite the bullet. Let’s talk about population – where it is heading globally, what that means for the planet, and what, if anything, we should be doing to limit its growth. Be warned, however: finding answers isn’t nearly as easy as posing questions. And with scenes of sexism, racism, nationalism, misogyny and eugenics, what follows at times makes for uncomfortable viewing.
11-11-20 Coronavirus cases are skyrocketing. Here’s what it will take to gain control
Experts continue to emphasize the importance of masks, social distancing and other public health measures. November is beginning to feel a lot like last March. In Europe, where the coronavirus was largely under control for much of the summer and fall, cases are skyrocketing nearly everywhere. Twenty countries, including the United Kingdom and France, have shuttered restaurants, introduced curfews or generally urged people to stay at home, though most schools and universities are staying open for now. Cases are surging across the United States, too, where more than 100,000 new infections are being reported each day. Already in November, more than half of states have set records for the most cases in a week, and in places such as Minnesota, Utah and Wisconsin, some hospitals are nearing capacity. In North Dakota, nearly 1 in every 14 people has already contracted the coronavirus, with 2,254 cases reported November 8 alone in a state of 762,000 people. To make matters worse, “the virus is going into its sweet spot at a time that we’re exhausted by it,” says Jeffrey Shaman, an infectious diseases epidemiologist at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York City. That sweet spot is indoors, where people are spending more time as the weather in the Northern Hemisphere turns colder — and where the virus can spread more easily. Despite such a grave outlook, experts say it’s still not too late to turn the tide. Shutting down borders, businesses and schools are among the most drastic measures to do that. Worries over economic consequences may hold governments back from issuing widespread stay-at-home orders this time around, though. U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who unveiled a COVID-19 advisory board November 9, has proposed a multipronged plan for controlling the pandemic, including nationwide mask mandates and expanded testing. But Biden won’t take office until January 20, and President Donald Trump has repeatedly downplayed the surge in cases.
11-11-20 Biden defends Obamacare as top court hears case
President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to defend the Affordable Care Act, the public health insurance scheme passed when he was vice-president, as the US Supreme Court considers a case attempting to strike down the law. The Democrat said the court effort was an attempt by "far-right ideologues" to undermine access to healthcare. The comments come as the US faces an unrelenting coronavirus pandemic. Democrats made protecting the law a key election issue. "This case represents the latest attempt by the far-right ideologues to do what they have repeatedly failed to do for a long time," Mr Biden said in a speech where he addressed the Supreme Court case that opened with oral arguments on Tuesday. There have been numerous attempts by President Trump to "erase the law" - popularly known as Obamacare - that have been rejected by Congress and in previous court cases, Mr Biden said. "Now, in the middle of a deadly pandemic that has affected more than 10 million Americans....these ideologues are once again trying to strip health coverage away from the American people." Healthcare has been a key issue for voters even before the pandemic and a key part of the Democratic platform, helping the party win a majority in the House of Representatives in the 2018 mid-term elections. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has remained popular overall - an October Kaiser Family Foundation poll that reported 55% of Americans viewed it favourably. A Pew Research Center report from September found 63% of US adults feel the government has a responsibility to provide health coverage for all - a rise from 59% last year. Mr Biden noted that the nation is "more united on this issue than divided". "This effort to bypass the will of the American people, the verdict of courts in the past, the judgments of Congress, in my view, is simply cruel and needlessly divisive," he said of the court case - and said that regardless of the outcome, his administration would work to expand public health coverage when he takes office.
11-11-20 Biden: Trump refusal to concede 'an embarrassment'
Joe Biden has said President Donald Trump's refusal to concede victory in last week's White House election is "an embarrassment". But the US president-elect - who has been making contact with foreign leaders - insisted nothing would stop the transfer of power. Mr Trump meanwhile tweeted he would ultimately win the race that all major TV networks have forecast he lost. As happens every four years, US media projected the election victor. None of the state-by-state results have yet been certified. Several vote counts are continuing, and the outcome will only be set in stone once the US electoral college meets on 14 December. The electoral college is made up of delegates from each state. They are tasked with choosing the next president according to how their state voted. Mr Biden is projected to win more than the 270 electoral college votes needed to secure the presidency. The Democrat has a period of transition until his inauguration on 20 January to choose his team and prepare to take the reins of power. The president-elect was asked by a reporter on Tuesday what he thought of President Trump's refusal to acknowledge defeat. "I just think it's an embarrassment, quite frankly," Mr Biden, a Democrat, said in Wilmington, Delaware. "The only thing that, how can I say this tactfully, I think it will not help the president's legacy." "At the end of the day, you know, it's all going to come to fruition on January 20," he added. Mr Biden has been fielding phone calls with foreign leaders as he prepares to assume office. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were among those he spoke to on Tuesday. Referring to those calls, Mr Biden said: "I'm letting them know that America is back. We're going to be back in the game."
11-11-20 Trump is a demonic force in American politics
If I were still a believing Christian, I might be tempted to think that Donald Trump is Satan himself. No, I don't mean that literally, but I do mean it seriously. The idea of Satan, the Devil, Lucifer, a fallen angel, or demonic force who rises up in defiance of God, tempts human beings toward sin, inspiring evil, sowing chaos and disorder, tearing down good things, desecrating the beautiful, telling lies for the sheer thrill of spreading confusion and muddling minds — the pious believe such a being actually exists, wandering the world, intervening in lives, possessing bodies, polluting souls. But it's also possible to make use of the character as a metaphor, an idea, treating it as the fanciful creation of culture as it tries to make sense of something real in human experience. What is this something? It's more precisely a someone — the kind of person who delights in wreaking havoc, who acts entirely from his own interests, and whose interests are incompatible with received norms, standards, restraints, and laws. Someone who actively seeks to inspire anger and animus, who likes nothing more than provoking conflict all around him, both to create advantages for himself and because pulling everyone around him down to his own ignoble level soothes his nagging worry that someone, somewhere might be more widely admired. This is a person who lives for adulation without regard for whether the glory is earned. The louder the cheers, the better. That's all that counts. And so the only thing that's a threat is the prospect of the cheers going silent — of someone else rightfully winning the contest for public approval. Donald Trump is the demon in American democracy. A week ago, immediately following Election Day, I felt anxious. I'm a liberal-leaning centrist. I've written hundreds of columns lambasting Trump. I voted for Biden without a moment's hesitation. So I was disappointed to see that the outcome of the election was much closer in the Electoral College than I hoped it would be. The rest of the week was tense. But by midday Saturday, the outcome was clear. Biden had pulled into the lead in Pennsylvania (my home state) the day before, and by late morning his lead in the vote count had grown to more that 0.5 percent. With that milestone reached, major news organizations called the race. Members of my family traveled from the suburbs into Philadelphia to celebrate on the streets. That evening we gathered in front of the TV to watch the speeches from Kamala Harris and Joe Biden. We all felt grateful. Relieved. In my own case, the feeling flowed less from partisanship than patriotism — love of my country and hope that the civic turbulence of the past four years might recede for a time. We had held a national election during the worst pandemic in a century and peacefully voted the president out of office. That realization, combined with Biden's calls to healing and unity and his gestures of reconciliation toward the other side, felt like a return to normal politics after years of crisis. A Democrat holding the White House isn't how I define "normal." I define "normal" as the country managing an orderly transfer of power from one administration to the next. The fact that many Americans consider this normal, and that it is achieved (for the most part) democratically, is an enormous achievement — and a testament to the great good fortune of everyone lucky enough to call the U.S. home.
11-11-20 Democrats need to stop worrying and get behind legal pot
There was one bright spot in the 2020 election results that has thus far gotten buried in all the usual Donald Trump madness: legal marijuana. This was on the ballot in five states — Montana, South Dakota, Arizona, and New Jersey — and passed in every one, by large margins. It was closest in conservative South Dakota, and still passed there by over nine points. And yet much of the Democratic elite, including President-elect Joe Biden, is dragging its feet on endorsing fully legal, regulated weed. This is both bad policy and political malpractice — wedge issues as perfect as this one do not come along very often. Let's deal with policy first. As anyone with even a passing knowledge of pharmacology knows, marijuana is one of the more anodyne, harmless drugs out there. It is not perfectly safe, and has some side effects. Some people can develop a harmful dependency, as they can with gambling or even exercise. But weed is not even in the same galaxy danger-wise as harder drugs like heroin, methamphetamine, alcohol, or tobacco. People instinctively resist the comparison to the latter two drugs because its sounds silly, but the science is open and shut. Both alcohol and tobacco are more addictive and vastly more harmful than pot is. Even moderate alcohol use can damage the liver, kidneys, heart, brain, and other organs, and its use causes roughly 95,000 deaths per year. Smoking tobacco drastically raises the risk of numerous types of cancer, as well as secondary problems like emphysema, and causes about 480,000 deaths annually. The argument that marijuana is a gateway drug is also false — again, alcohol or tobacco are much more likely to serve this function. On the other hand, the illegal drug market provides considerable revenue to murderous drug traffickers. This is much less true than it used to be with weed, thanks to so many states partly or fully legalizing it, but still, there is no reason not to cut off the rest of the revenue (and indeed to do so with all currently prohibited drugs, though that's a subject for another article). These facts, which have been obvious for all with eyes to see for decades, are why all arguments against legal weed don't withstand a moment's scrutiny. Drug warriors end up resorting to facially absurd arguments, like South Dakota's Republican Governor Kristi Noem, who cut an ad in which she said, "The fact is, I've never met someone who got smarter for smoking pot." Setting aside alcohol's brain-melting effects, one wonders if motorcycles, guns, or high-fructose corn syrup would survive that particular standard. That is not to say we should allow the marijuana market to become monopolized by a few big corporations. The interest in any capitalist industry is to maximize profits, and when selling drugs that generally means cultivating a small group of very heavy users to be exploited ruthlessly regardless of the social costs. This is how the big alcohol and tobacco companies (the latter of which are already making a major play into the pot market, by the way) conduct business. In my view, marijuana should be heavily regulated and remain a labor-intensive craft industry, or better still, sold through a state monopoly (or some combination of the two). But the details of that can be figured out later. By comparison, the politics are quite simple. The debate is already over in the public mind — aside from all the ballot initiatives that have already passed, polling shows 68 percent of Americans support legalization (which is only likely to grow even larger over time).
11-11-20 Hungary government proposes same-sex adoption ban
Hungary's government has drafted a change to the country's constitution that would in effect ban adoption by same-sex couples. The proposed amendment would specify that "the mother is a woman, the father is a man" and permit only married couples to adopt children. Same-sex marriage is illegal in Hungary, but adoption has been possible if one partner applies on their own. The draft legislation has been condemned by human rights groups. The proposal was sent to parliament by the governing right-wing Fidesz party late on Tuesday. It would require children to be raised with a "Christian" interpretation of gender roles. "[It] ensures education in accordance with the values based on Hungary's constitutional identity and Christian culture," it reads. Hungary's government, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has made sweeping changes to the constitution since coming to power in 2010. The document already defines "the institution of marriage as between a man and a woman" as well as "the basis of the family and national survival". Under the latest proposed amendment, single people could only adopt with special permission from the minister in charge of family affairs. LGBTQ groups said it was deliberately drafted at a time when mass protests were not possible due to the coronavirus pandemic. "The timing is no coincidence," a statement from the Háttér Society rights group said. It added: "The proposals that severely limit legal rights and go against basic international and European human rights ... were submitted at a time when... protests are not allowed." In May, Hungary's parliament approved a law that banned transgender people from changing the gender they were assigned at birth on official documents. At the time, rights groups said it would worsen discrimination against LGBTQ citizens. "People are in panic, people want to escape from Hungary to somewhere else where they can get their gender recognised," said Tina Korlos Orban, vice president of the advocacy group Transvanilla Transgender Association.
11-11-20 Catholic Church abuse: Vatican defends handling of McCarrick case
A Vatican report has found that two recent popes and Church officials ignored allegations about a US cardinal later found guilty of sex abuse. Theodore McCarrick, a former archbishop of Washington DC, was expelled from the priesthood after the Vatican concluded its investigation last year. It has now issued a report into how he was able to rise through the ranks, despite allegations going back decades. It argues that credible evidence only surfaced in 2017. The current Pope, Francis, then ordered the investigation and last year Mr McCarrick, now 90, was found to have sexually abused a teenage boy in the 1970s. His abuses may have taken place too long ago for criminal charges to be filed because of the US statute of limitations. The 450-page report includes testimonies and dozens of letters and transcripts from Vatican and US Church archives. Mr McCarrick served as archbishop of Washington DC from 2001 to 2006. The report finds that the late Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005, was told of his abuses but chose to believe American bishops who instead concealed the information and Mr McCarrick himself, who denied it all. It also finds that Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned in 2013, probably rejected the idea of an investigation because there were "no credible allegations of child abuse". The report acknowledges that, in hindsight, the Vatican's investigations into the allegations against Mr McCarrick were of a "limited nature". In July 2018, Mr McCarrick became the first person to resign as a cardinal since 1927. Pope Francis suspended him from all priestly duties the following February. He is among hundreds of members of the clergy accused of sexually abusing children over several decades. "We publish the report with sorrow for the wounds that these events have caused to the victims, their families, the Church in the United States and the universal Church," said the Vatican's Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
11-10-20 Covid-19 news: Vaccine hesitancy may undermine fight against virus
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Coronavirus vaccine effectiveness could be limited by vaccine hesitancy, warns UK report. About 36 per cent of people in the UK and 51 per cent in the US report being either uncertain or unlikely to agree to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, should a vaccine become widely available, according to a report by two UK scientific institutions. Uptake of a future coronavirus vaccine would need to be 80 per cent or higher in order to protect communities, assuming the virus was spreading with an R number of around 2.5 to 3.0, according to a report published today by the Royal Society and the British Academy. “To achieve the estimated 80 per cent of uptake of a vaccine required for community protection, we need a serious, well-funded and community-based public engagement strategy,” said Melina Mills at the University of Oxford, who led the report, in a statement. A coronavirus antibody drug made by pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly has been given emergency use authorisation by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The authorisation, announced by the FDA yesterday, applies to people who test positive and are at risk of developing a severe form of covid-19 or being hospitalised for the condition. The FDA said it only applies to people above age 12 who are newly infected, and should not be used in people already hospitalised for covid-19. Doses of the drug are limited, however – in a statement Eli Lilly said it expects to have enough doses to treat up to one million people by the end of the year. A phase III trial of a coronavirus vaccine candidate being developed by Chinese company Sinovac Biotech has been suspended. Brazil’s health regulator paused the trial after a participant became ill. This is standard procedure in vaccine development, and allows time for researchers to determine the cause of the illness and ensure the safety of participants in the trial. Rapid coronavirus tests being trialled in Liverpool will also start to be rolled out in other UK cities, including London, Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle, Nottingham and Bristol, according to the UK government.
11-10-20 Pfizer covid-19 vaccine will need a gigantic new network of freezers
We have a covid-19 vaccine that works. But can we keep it cold enough to get it to enough people? Among Pfizer and BioNTech’s long list of risks and uncertainties for its BNT162b2 vaccine, which this week was reported to be 90 per cent effective, is the challenge of its “ultra-low temperature formulation”, and how to store and distribute it along the so-called “cold chain”. Between manufacture and doses being given to people, the vaccine needs to be kept frozen at about -70°C, around four times colder than a home freezer can manage. Once it has left Pfizer’s manufacturing facilities in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Puurs, Belgium, the vaccine cannot be thawed and frozen more than four times in transit, according to UK health secretary Matt Hancock. He said that adds “another tricksiness” to logistics. The vaccine, developed using a new approach of using messenger RNA from the coronavirus, is unusual in needing such low temperatures. Most vaccines are refrigerated at around 2-8°C, rather than frozen. Even those that are frozen, such as the Varivax vaccine used against the virus that causes chickenpox, are stored at much higher temperatures than Pfizer’s one. Nilay Shah at Imperial College London says healthcare systems have some experience of handling cells and samples at temperatures at around -70°C. However, he says it is “not at the volumes we anticipate for vaccines”. Pfizer told New Scientist it is confident it can distribute the vaccine at such low temperatures. Vials of the vaccine will be put in purpose-built packaging about the size of an aircraft carry-on suitcase, weighing around 32 kilograms. Dry ice will be used inside to keep temperatures at -75°C, give or take 15°C, for up to 10 days. The dry ice (solid carbon dioxide) will be replenished along the journey. One trade body has already said there is enough capacity to supply that dry ice, at least in the US and Canada.
11-10-20 US election: Biden urges mask-wearing to save 'thousands of lives'
US President-elect Joe Biden has appealed to Americans to wear a mask as the best way to "turn this pandemic around". Mr Biden said the US faced a "very dark winter" and the "worst wave yet", and Americans had to put aside political differences to tackle Covid-19. He has named a new task force and vowed to "follow the science" as he puts together his transition team. Donald Trump still refuses to concede defeat and is challenging key results. He is taking legal action in several states. Mr Biden's victory was declared on Saturday but it remains a projection, with a number of states still counting ballot papers. He leads Mr Trump in the nationwide vote by about 4.5 million. Mr Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris have launched a website for the transition, saying the team will also focus on climate change, the economy and tackling racism. But the president-elect will need the help of an agency called the General Services Administration to begin the transition process and its Trump-appointed head has given no indication when that will happen. On Monday, Mr Biden set out the blueprints for his Transition Covid-19 Advisory Board. In a TV address, he said "I implore you, wear a mask", calling it the "single most effective thing we can do to stop the spread of Covid". He added: "A mask is not a political statement but it is a good way to start pulling the country together." During the election campaign, his mask-wearing was markedly different to President Trump, whose attitude to it has varied considerably. They have differed too on how to follow scientific advice. Mr Biden said on Monday there would be a "bedrock of science" to his policy. President Trump's comments on Covid-19 have often conflicted with scientists, including leading infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci.
11-10-20 Facebook: Biden aide Bill Russo attacks post-election role
One of Joe Biden's senior aides has attacked Facebook over its handling of conspiracy theories, calls to violence and disinformation in the days following the US election. "Our democracy is on the line. We need answers," tweeted Bill Russo, who is deputy press secretary to the US president-elect. Facebook declined to directly respond. However, it has introduced "probation" as a measure to tackle the spread of disinformation within its groups. This involves tasking the administrators of some politically themed groups with checking that all posts made within them follow Facebook's rules. They have been warned that failure to comply could lead to their groups being shut down. Facebook has also removed a network of pages linked to President Donald Trump's ex-chief strategist Steve Bannon, which anti-disinformation campaigners had said were using "co-ordinated activity to spread voter fraud misinformation at scale". "We've removed several clusters of activity for using inauthentic behaviour tactics to artificially boost how many people saw their content," Facebook said in a statement. The social network has also frozen Mr Bannon's personal page, preventing him from posting further content, according to the Washington Post. But Mr Russo said it should have gone further. "Steve Bannon literally called for the beheading of FBI director Wray and [infectious disease expert] Dr Fauci in a video on November 3," he wrote. "It was live on Facebook for 10 hours before it was removed after a journalist inquired about the video. "Bannon? His page is still live on Facebook." Twitter suspended Mr Bannon last week.
11-10-20 US election: Justice lawyer quits after attorney general orders 'vote fraud' inquiries
US attorney general William Barr has allowed federal prosecutors to probe alleged irregularities in the presidential election, prompting a top justice department official to quit. The official, Richard Pilger, would have overseen such investigations. Any such cases would normally be the remit of individual states, but Mr Barr said this was not a hard and fast rule. Donald Trump refuses to accept Joe Biden's projected victory, and has made unsubstantiated fraud claims. The president's campaign is seeking an emergency injunction in Pennsylvania to prevent Mr Biden's victory being certified in the state. The president-elect's projected win there on Saturday took him over the threshold of 270 electoral college votes needed to secure victory nationwide. The attorney general wrote that inquiries could be made by federal prosecutors "if there are clear and apparently-credible allegations of irregularities that, if true, could potentially impact the outcome of a federal election in an individual State". Mr Barr said prosecutors should only look into "substantial allegations" of irregularities. He acknowledged that individual states had the primary responsibility for the conduct of elections but said the justice department had "an obligation to ensure that federal elections are conducted in such a way that the American people can have full confidence in their electoral process and their government". The department would normally only go beyond preliminary investigations after an election had been concluded and the results certified, but Mr Barr said this could result in situations where "misconduct cannot realistically be rectified". Mr Pilger said he had quit in response to Mr Barr's memo. "Having familiarised myself with the new policy and its ramifications... I must regretfully resign from my role," he wrote in an email to colleagues.
11-10-20 Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is 90% effective, preliminary trial data show
The vaccine protects people from getting COVID-19, according to an analysis of 94 cases. The race to greenlight a COVID-19 vaccine in the United States has entered its final sprint, with one leading candidate becoming the first to release preliminary results showing its vaccine is more than 90 percent effective at preventing people from getting sick from the coronavirus. The long-awaited announcement came in a Nov. 9 news release detailing the results from an interim analysis of an ongoing Phase III clinical trial comparing the vaccine developed by global pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German biotech company BioNTech with a placebo. COVID-19 cases are soaring globally, and some countries are reverting to lockdowns and other drastic measures to curb the virus’ spread. As of November 9, more than 50 million people have been infected worldwide — including more than 10 million in the United States — and more than 1.2 million people have died from the disease. “We are a significant step closer to providing people around the world with a much-needed breakthrough to help bring an end to this global health crisis,” Pfizer chairman and CEO Albert Bourla said in the release. The preliminary data have yet to be peer reviewed by other scientists and the specifics have not yet been released. But among people who received the vaccine, there were more than 90 percent fewer symptomatic cases of COVID-19 than among people given a placebo, the companies reported. It’s still unclear how the vaccine might perform among different age groups, including children and older people, and whether getting the vaccine affected the severity of the disease. The trial has so far enrolled more than 43,000 people. Of those participants, 38,955 have completed the vaccine regimen, which consists of two injections spaced three weeks apart. At the time of the analysis — which looked at data seven days after participants received a second dose — a total of 94 people in the trial had confirmed coronavirus cases.
11-10-20 Covid: China's Sinovac vaccine trial halted in Brazil
The Brazilian clinical trial for a Chinese Covid-19 vaccine has been suspended after health authorities reported a "severe adverse" incident. Brazilian health regulator Anvisa said the incident took place on 29 October, but did not give further details. The CoronaVac vaccine, developed by the Chinese firm Sinovac Biotech, is one of several in final-stage testing globally. Sinovac says it is "confident in the safety of the vaccine". The firm has already been using it to immunise thousands of people at home in an emergency use programme. Brazil has been one of the countries worst affected by coronavirus, recording more than 5.6m confirmed cases - the third highest tally in the world after the US and India - and nearly 163,000 deaths so far, according to data collated by Johns Hopkins University. On Monday Anvisa said it had "ruled to interrupt the clinical trial of the CoronaVac vaccine after a serious adverse incident". It did not reveal what happened, nor where it took place. Late-stage trials for the Sinovac vaccine are also being conducted in Indonesia and Turkey, but neither of these countries have announced a suspension. Indonesia's state-owned Bio Farma said on Tuesday that its own Sinovac vaccine trials were "going smoothly", according to Reuters news agency. Dimas Covas, the head of Butantan, the medical research institute conducting the Brazilian trial, told local media that the trial's suspension was related to a death. However, he insisted that the death was not related to the vaccine, Reuters said. Sinovac said on Tuesday that it was communicating with Brazil about the reported incident. "We learned the head of Butantan Institute believed that this serious adverse event (SAE) is not related to the vaccine," it said in a statement. "The clinical study in Brazil is strictly carried out in accordance with GCP (Good Clinical Practice) requirements and we are confident in the safety of the vaccine." Butantan has said it will hold a news conference on Tuesday at 11:00 local time (14:00 GMT). A pause in a clinical trial is not unusual. In September, the UK paused trials for another Covid-19 vaccine after a participant had a suspected adverse reaction.
11-10-20 Coronavirus: Russia resists lockdown and pins hopes on vaccine
The ticket booths at Krylatskoye ice palace are shuttered, but the rink is full: not of speed skaters and hockey players, but rows of coronavirus patients. It's one of five facilities in Moscow transformed into giant temporary hospitals that are now swinging into action as the number of new Covid cases reaches daily record highs. The Kremlin describes the rate of infection as "worrying" - close to 21,000 new cases were announced across Russia on Tuesday - and it admits that healthcare facilities in some regions are "overloaded". It is resisting a full, national lockdown, anxious to protect the economy and optimistic that Russia's contender for a Covid-19 vaccine can help chart a way out of this crisis. But on Tuesday Moscow's mayor announced new restrictions, including a 23:00 curfew on bars and restaurants, describing the coronavirus situation in the capital as "unstable". The ice has gone for now, but the ice palace hospital is equipped with the latest digital technology and the chief doctor is insistently upbeat. "Every day we admit between 40 and 50 patients, but we also discharge the same amount," Andrei Shkoda told the BBC, beneath a giant screen that once displayed figure-skating scores: last winter, before Covid. This year it's showing films from Soviet classics to Mr Bean for the sick to watch from their beds. The field hospital was built in a month during the first surge in Covid cases and never used. Now, a quick scan from the spectator stands shows that around one third of its 1,347 beds are full. The spare capacity in Moscow is in stark contrast with some of Russia's regions where even state TV is now reporting on provincial hospitals, stretched at the best of times, full to overflowing. The same is true of some morgues. Moscow still has the highest number of new cases and there are periodic queues of ambulances at city clinics and long waits for free Covid tests or for doctors to make house calls.
11-10-20 US-Mexico border: Bid to reunite migrant families 'finds 121 more separated children'
The hunt to reunite families separated under the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" migration policy is looking for the parents of even more children, an email seen by NBC News says. The search involves 666 children rather than the 545 known last month, it says. The policy on illegal immigration at the Mexico border began in 2018 but was pulled months later amid an outcry. A group of lawyers was appointed last month to find parents, most of whom were deported to Central America. The coronavirus pandemic has partly hindered the searches. NBC News said the email, from Steven Herzog, the lawyer heading the mission to reunite families, blames the higher figure on a lack of government information on the additional children whose parents need to be found. Mr Herzog says "we would appreciate the government providing any available updated contact information, or other information that may be helpful in establishing contact for all 666". Although the "zero tolerance" policy only ran from April to June 2018, it had been running under a pilot programme since 2017 in the El Paso area. Hundreds of parents and children were separated, most of them under the pilot. As soon as the policy was announced, pictures and audio emerged of children sleeping in cages and crying for their parents, provoking widespread criticism from within the US and around the globe. In June 2018, in response to a suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a US judge ordered that migrant children and their parents be reunited within 30 days. But those separated by the pilot programme were not covered by this court order, and their reunification was only ordered last year. The remaining children have now been released from federal institutions into the care of sponsors - usually relatives or family friends in the US. Dozens of the children are under the age of five. A House Judiciary Committee report said the Trump policy was implemented with the "full knowledge that hundreds of children would likely be lost to their families forever".
11-9-20 Pfizer covid-19 vaccine: Is it the breakthrough we've been hoping for?
Pfizer and its partner BioNTech say their coronavirus vaccine is 90 per cent effective in phase III trials. How excited should we be about the news, and what questions remain unanswered? US drug maker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech have today released some positive-looking results from a clinical trial of their experimental covid-19 vaccine BNT162b2. The headline figure is “90 per cent effective”. But that may not be quite as good news as it first appears. What did Pfizer and BioNTech find? The results are from a phase III clinical trial, the final stage of testing whether a vaccine or drug is both safe and effective. The companies gave the vaccine or a placebo to 43,538 participants in a double-blinded study, meaning that about half were dosed with the real thing and half with the placebo but nobody knows who got what. They then waited until there were 94 confirmed cases of covid-19. As of 8 November, 38,955 participants had received two doses. An independent committee then “unblinded” the study and found that about 90 per cent of the cases were in the placebo group. The raw numbers haven’t been released, but back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest 85 cases in the placebo group and nine in the vaccine group. Does this mean we are on the brink of a successful vaccine? Not yet. It is an interim verdict, not a final one. And the “end point” of this trial – the criterion against which success or failure is judged – is almost the bare minimum. It merely looks at whether people are protected from being infected by the virus, not whether the vaccine prevents severe illness or death. Of course, people who don’t catch the virus cannot get very ill or die from it. But if 10 per cent of vaccinated people remain vulnerable, that could still add up to a lot of illness and death. The trial isn’t big enough to pick that up. “The studies do not have adequate numbers of patients in them to be able to reliably tell us if they prevent severe disease,” says Susanne Hodgson at the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute, which researches vaccines, who spoke to New Scientist about covid-19 vaccine trials in general not Pfizer’s in particular. “We will need to give these vaccines to much larger populations in order to collect that kind of data.”
11-9-20 Covid-19 news: Pfizer coronavirus vaccine is ‘more than 90% effective’
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Coronavirus vaccine candidate being developed by Pfizer is ‘more than 90% effective’. A coronavirus vaccine candidate being developed by Pfizer is “more than 90% effective in preventing covid-19”, according to early results, the company announced today. The results have been described as “reason for optimism for 2021” by Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer. Joe Biden, US president-elect, said this was “excellent news”, but warned that “the end of the battle against covid-19 is still months away” as it will take “many more months before there is widespread vaccination.” Pfizer said that an early analysis of the results from the phase III trial found more than 90 per cent fewer symptomatic coronavirus cases among trial participants who received two doses of the vaccine candidate three weeks apart compared to those who received a placebo. So far in the trial, 38,955 people have received two doses of either vaccine or placebo as of 8 November, and there have been 94 confirmed coronavirus cases in total among them. The results have not been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal, and Pfizer said further analysis will occur once there have been 164 confirmed coronavirus cases among the participants. Pfizer is developing the vaccine in partnership with German biotechnology company BioNTech. There have been more than 50 million coronavirus cases confirmed globally, according to Johns Hopkins University, and more than 1.25 million people have died from covid-19. Reuters analysis suggests a second wave of the virus in the past 30 days accounted for a quarter of the total confirmed cases.
11-9-20 Covid vaccine: First 'milestone' vaccine offers 90% protection
The first effective coronavirus vaccine can prevent more than 90% of people from getting Covid-19, a preliminary analysis shows. The developers - Pfizer and BioNTech - described it as a "great day for science and humanity". Their vaccine has been tested on 43,500 people in six countries and no safety concerns have been raised. The companies plan to apply for emergency approval to use the vaccine by the end of the month. There are still huge challenges ahead, but the announcement has been warmly welcomed with scientists describing themselves smiling "ear to ear" and some suggesting life could be back to normal by spring. "I am probably the first guy to say that, but I will say that with some confidence," said Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University. A vaccine - alongside better treatments - is seen as the best way of getting out of the restrictions that have been imposed on all our lives. There are around a dozen in the final stages of testing - known as a phase 3 trial - but this is the first to show any results. It uses a completely experimental approach - that involves injecting part of the virus's genetic code - in order to train the immune system. Previous trials have shown the vaccine trains the body to make both antibodies - and another part of the immune system called T-cells to fight the coronavirus. Two doses, three weeks apart, are needed. The trials - in US, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and Turkey - show 90% protection is achieved seven days after the second dose. Pfizer believes it will be able to supply 50 million doses by the end of this year, and around 1.3 billion by the end of 2021. The UK should get 10 million doses by the end of the year, with a further 30 million doses already ordered. However there are logistical challenges, as the vaccine has to be kept in ultra-cold storage at below minus 80C.
11-9-20 US election: Joe Biden backs Covid vow with new task force
US President-elect Joe Biden has named the members of his coronavirus task force, highlighting his pledge to make tackling Covid-19 his top priority. Mr Biden said one of his "most important battles" was to manage the surge in cases and bring a safe and viable vaccine to the people. He is also forging ahead on transition issues from climate change to migrants. But President Trump still refuses to concede and is backing legal challenges to results in several key states. Mr Biden's victory was declared on Saturday but it remains a projection, with a number of states still counting votes. The nationwide difference in votes for the two candidates is about 4.5 million. Mr Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris have launched a website for the transition, saying the team will also focus on the economy and tackling racism. But the president-elect will need the help of an agency called the General Services Administration to begin the transition process and its Trump-appointed head has given no indication when that will happen. On Monday, Mr Biden set out the blueprints for his Transition Covid-19 Advisory Board. In his first appointments since his victory was announced, he named three co-chairs and 10 members. Among the co-chairs named is Vivek Murthy, who was appointed US surgeon-general by President Barack Obama in 2014 and removed by President Trump in 2017. One member is Rick Bright, who says he was ignored and then removed by the Trump administration over his early warnings on Covid. In a statement, Mr Biden said the board would help to get the virus under control, deliver relief for working families, address racial disparities and work to reopen schools and businesses. He also said it would "elevate the voices of scientists and public health experts". President Trump's comments on Covid-19 have often conflicted with scientists, including leading infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci. Mr Biden on Monday also welcomed the news from Pfizer and BioNTech that preliminary analysis showed their vaccine in development could prevent more than 90% of people from getting Covid-19. He thanked the "brilliant women and men who helped produce this breakthrough and to give us such cause for hope" but also warned it was "important to understand that the end of the battle against Covid-19 is still months away". The focus of his policy will be on mask wearing, social distancing, contact tracing and hand washing.
11-9-20 US election: Joe Biden pushes forward with plans for office
US President-elect Joe Biden is to make tackling the coronavirus pandemic his top priority following his win over Donald Trump, his team says. Announcing the first steps in his transition plan, his team said there would be more testing and Americans would be asked to wear masks. On Monday, Mr Biden is expected to name a 12-member coronavirus task force. His win remains a projection as key states still count votes. Mr Trump does not plan to concede, his campaign says. Mr Trump is launching legal challenges to the results in several key states. He has made unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud, but election officials say there is no evidence that the vote was rigged against him. Mr Biden is forging ahead with his plans for assuming power in January after major US networks called the election in his favour on Saturday. That reportedly also includes a slew of executive orders - written orders issued by the president to the federal government that do not require congressional approval - aimed at reversing controversial Trump policies. According to US media: 1. Mr Biden will rejoin the Paris climate agreement, which the US officially left on Wednesday. 2. He will reverse the decision to withdraw from the World Health Organization. 3. He will end the travel ban on citizens from seven mostly Muslim countries. 4. He will reinstate an Obama-era policy of granting immigration status to undocumented migrants who entered the US as children. In his first speech as president-elect on Saturday, Mr Biden said it was "time to heal" the US and vowed "not to divide but to unify" the country. Addressing Trump supporters directly, he said: "We have to stop treating our opponents as enemies." He and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris have launched a website for the transition, saying the team will also focus on the economy, tackling racism and climate change. The projected election result means Mr Trump becomes the first one-term president since the 1990s.
11-9-20 Global markets rally as Biden heads for White House
Global markets have rallied in response to Saturday's declaration that Joe Biden has won the US election. The end of uncertainty about the race's outcome saw London's FTSE 100 rise 1.5% to 5,994.58 points in early trade, with similar gains seen across Europe. Asian shares also jumped, with Japan's Nikkei 225 climbing 2.1% to 24,839.84 - it's highest level since 1991. There were similar gains in Australia, China and Hong Kong while oil and currency markets also climbed. Donald Trump has yet to concede and Mr Biden's win remains a projection as key states are still counting votes. However, the Democrat is forging ahead with his plans for assuming power in January after major US networks called the election in his favour on Saturday. Randeep Somel, director of global equities at M&G, told the BBC: "First and foremost it looks as if the uncertainty of who is going to be the president is going away, with world leaders coming out and openly congratulating Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. "I think the markets can focus now on the policies that Joe Biden is likely to enact going forward as opposed to this constant, 'is it going to be litigious? Are we looking at another potential Bush-Gore event like we saw in 2000, where it took 6-7 weeks to realise what was going to happen." Mr Biden has already said he will reverse many Trump era policies, including rejoining the Paris Climate agreement on his first day in office in January. There are also hopes that the new administration will expand fiscal stimulus in the US and widen measures to reduce the spread of Covid-19. However, Mr Biden could struggle to enact key planks of his agenda as its looks unlikely the Democrats with have control of both houses in Congress. This means the Senate may be able to block any big regulatory or tax policies, a plus for some businesses.
11-9-20 What a Biden presidency means for covid-19, climate change and tech
US president-elect Joe Biden has said he will “listen to science”, promising to take new stances on tackling covid-19, climate change and other key issues. The transition team for Biden and Kamala Harris, the US’s first black, Indian-American and female vice president-elect, has pledged to double the number of drive-through coronavirus testing sites, address shortages of personal protective equipment and work with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to “dial up or down” social distancing. The incoming administration will also establish a new covid-19 task force, allocate $25 billion for vaccine development and distribution and cancel plans for the US to leave the World Health Organization. This approach contrasts with that of the Trump administration, which sent mixed messages on mask-wearing and undermined key science agencies fighting to limit the spread of the virus. However, as Biden won’t be inaugurated until 20 January next year, he is likely to inherit a far worse crisis than today’s. As the US election dominated attention, the country’s covid-19 cases and deaths surged to their highest levels yet. More than 100,000 daily cases were reported for three consecutive days between 4 and 6 November – the first time this threshold has been exceeded – taking the US near the milestone of 10 million cases cumulatively. Daily deaths have yet to reach the heights that they hit in April, but have started to increase. The new administration’s efforts on covid-19 will overlap with one of its other top priorities, tackling racism, through the creation of a task force on ethnic disparities around the illness. So far, black Americans have accounted for 108.4 deaths per 100,000 people, almost twice the rate of white Americans. Biden’s presidency will also mark a break with Trump’s approach to climate change. The president-elect has said that when he takes office, he will immediately reverse Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement that came into effect on 4 November and call on other countries to increase their ambition. His transition team said the administration would put the US on “an irreversible path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by no later than 2050”. The move would decrease global warming by 0.1°C, according to estimates by analysts Climate Action Tracker. The group said that, combined with net-zero targets from China, Japan, South Korea and other countries, a “tipping point” is being approached that brings the Paris accord’s 1.5°C target within reach.
11-9-20 Coronavirus: Hungary and Portugal in partial lockdown
Hungary and Portugal are introducing new coronavirus restrictions to stem the second wave of infection now affecting most of Europe. Hungary's partial lockdown will include starting the current night curfew earlier, so it runs from 20:00 to 05:00 local time (19:00 to 04:00 GMT). Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the month-long curbs would include limits on public gatherings and closure of schools, restaurants and universities. Portugal has imposed a night curfew. Its state of emergency has started and is set to last at least two weeks. The curfew covers 70% of the population, including Lisbon and Porto. On weekdays it runs from 23:00 to 05:00 local time, but at weekends it will run from 13:00 to 05:00. Hungary's state of emergency is expected to get parliamentary approval on Tuesday, as Mr Orban's supporters have a majority. In a video message, quoted by Reuters news agency, he warned that "if coronavirus infections rise at the current pace... Hungarian hospitals will not be able to cope with the burden". Hungary reported 5,162 new cases and 55 new deaths on Monday. Its official total death toll in the pandemic is nearly 2,500. Across the whole of the EU and UK, the Covid death rate per 100,000 population is highest in the Czech Republic (25), followed by Belgium (19) and Hungary (10.4), the EU's European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) reports. The figure for Portugal is 5.6. Since the second wave began this autumn Mr Orban had refrained from imposing a partial lockdown, despite many of Hungary's EU partners doing so. France and Belgium have reimposed lockdowns similar to those clamped on Europe in March. All secondary school and university students in Hungary now have to work online, while junior schools and kindergartens remain open. Most family gatherings now have a 10-person upper limit. Hungary's sports and leisure facilities will be closed.
11-8-20 US election: Joe Biden vows to 'unify' country in victory speech
Joe Biden has said it is "time to heal" the US in his first speech as president-elect, vowing "not to divide but to unify" the country. "Let's give each other a chance," he said at an event in Delaware addressing those who did not vote for him. Mr Biden defeated incumbent President Donald Trump following a cliff-hanger vote count after Tuesday's election. Mr Trump has yet to concede and has not spoken publicly since his defeat was announced while he was playing golf. The result makes Mr Trump the first one-term president since the 1990s. His campaign has filed a barrage of lawsuits in various states but election officials say there is no evidence that the vote was rigged against him, as he has said. Spontaneous celebrations erupted in major cities after media outlets announced Mr Biden's victory on Saturday. Disappointed Trump supporters demonstrated in some cities but there were no reports of incidents. Addressing cheering supporters in a car park in his hometown of Wilmington, Mr Biden said: "I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide, but to unify; who doesn't see red states and blue states, only sees the United States." Mr Biden - who has won more than 74 million votes so far, the most ever for a US presidential candidate - hailed the "diverse" support he gathered during the campaign, and thanked African-American voters in particular. But he also reached out to Trump supporters directly. "It's time to put away the harsh rhetoric, lower the temperature, see each other again, listen to each other again," Mr Biden said, without mentioning his rival in the election. "And to make progress, we have to stop treating our opponents as enemies." The president-elect, who arrived on stage wearing a face mask, announced that he would form his coronavirus response committee to ensure it is ready to implement decisions from his inauguration day in January, because "that's the only way we can get back to living". The Trump administration's response to the pandemic was at the centre of the presidential campaign, and drew heavy criticism from Mr Biden, who said his plan would be "built on bedrock science". The US has reported more than 237,000 deaths, the most of any country.
11-8-20 US election 2020: How the world reacted to a Biden win
The results are finally in and the world is reacting to the victory of Joe Biden over Donald Trump in the US presidential election. For days, people around the world have been glued to the White House race. It is not just the US that the election of a new president affects - a new leader in the White House can transform the country's foreign policy and its approach to its friends and foes alike. Here is how some of the world's leaders have reacted, and where they stand with the US. "Congratulations to Joe Biden on his election... and to Kamala Harris on her historic achievement. The US is our most important ally and I look forward to working closely together on our shared priorities, from climate change to trade and security" "Congratulations, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Our two countries are close friends, partners, and allies. We share a relationship that's unique on the world stage. I'm really looking forward to working together and building on that with you both." "Our transatlantic friendship is indispensable if we are to deal with the major challenges of our times" "The Americans have chosen their President... We have a lot to do to overcome today's challenges. Let's work together!" "I congratulate Joe Biden on his election as the next US President & Kamala Harris as Vice President. I know Joe Biden as a strong supporter of our Alliance & look forward to working closely with him. A strong NATO is good for both North America & Europe"
11-8-20 US election 2020: Celebrations in the streets at Biden victory
Democrat Joe Biden has won the 2020 US election, according to BBC projections. Across the US, his supporters, as well as those who voted for Donald Trump, have been responding to his success.
11-8-20 Kamala Harris: The many identities of the first woman vice-president
Kamala Harris savoured the moment she became the first woman, and the first black and Asian American, to be vice-president-elect, with a very hearty laugh. In a video posted to her social media she shares the news with President-Elect Joe Biden: "We did it, we did it Joe. You're going to be the next president of the United States!" Her words are about him but the history of the moment is hers. Just over a year ago, as the senator from California hoping to win the Democratic nomination for presidency, she launched a potent attack on Joe Biden over race during a debate. Many thought it inflicted a serious blow on his ambitions. But by the end of the year her campaign was dead and it was Mr Biden who returned the 56-year-old to the national spotlight by putting her on his ticket. "It is a big reversal of fortune for Kamala Harris," says Gil Duran, a communications director for Ms Harris in 2013 and who has critiqued her run for the presidential nomination. "Many people didn't think she had the discipline and focus to ascend to a position in the White House so quickly... although people knew she had ambition and star potential. It was always clear that she had the raw talent." What she has demonstrated from the moment she took the national stage with her pitch for the presidency - is grit. Born in Oakland, California, to two immigrant parents - an Indian-born mother and Jamaican-born father - her parents divorced when she was five and she was primarily raised by her Hindu single mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, a cancer researcher and civil rights activist. She grew up engaged with her Indian heritage, joining her mother on visits to India, but Ms Harris has said that her mother adopted Oakland's black culture, immersing her two daughters - Kamala and her younger sister Maya - within it. "My mother understood very well that she was raising two black daughters," she wrote in her autobiography The Truths We Hold. "She knew that her adopted homeland would see Maya and me as black girls and she was determined to make sure we would grow into confident, proud black women."
11-8-20 US election: Being with Trump the day he lost
Over the past four years, I have seen President Donald Trump on good days and bad days. But 7 November, the day he lost the election, was a day like no other. Dressed in a black windbreaker, dark trousers and a white MAGA hat, or Make America Great Again, the president left the White House a few minutes before 10:00. He had spent the early part of his day tweeting about election fraud. Now he leaned forward slightly, as if he were pushing into the wind. He climbed into a dark vehicle and headed to his golf club, Trump National in Sterling, Virginia, about 25 miles (40km) from the White House. In that moment, he projected an air of confidence. It was a lovely day, perfect for golf, and he was going to spend the day at the club. But the people who worked for him seemed on edge. "How are you doing?" I asked one of the junior staffers. "Fine," she said. She smiled, but her eyes narrowed. She looked down at her phone. The White House has been through some trauma in the days since the election. It was only on Tuesday, but it feels like a lifetime ago. Many of the desks in the West Wing were empty when I walked through the building on Saturday morning. Several staffers have been infected with the coronavirus, and they were out of the office. Others were in quarantine. Then, starting at about 11:30, while the president was at his golf club, the BBC and the US networks began calling the election for Joe Biden, his Democratic rival.I was sitting in an Italian restaurant about a mile from the club when I heard the news. I'm a member of the White House press pool, a small group of journalists who travel with the president. We were all waiting for him to emerge from the club. "He's toxic," said one woman outside the restaurant, who had, like most of her neighbours in this Democratic-leaning area, voted for his rival. Others wondered aloud when the president would leave the club and go back to the White House. The minutes passed, then hours. "He's taking his time," said a law-enforcement officer, quietly, to a colleague. The president's motorcade roared through Virginia, with me riding in the motorcade in a van that narrowly avoided a crash on Fairfax County Parkway. Sirens blared. The closer we got to the White House, the bigger the crowds became: people were out to celebrate his defeat. Someone held up a sign: "You lose and we all win". People honked and jeered. (Webmaster's comment: He was not just a bad president — he's a bad human being. His contempt for truth is unmatched. He shows disregard for the well-being of so many Americans. He is willing to wink at racists, bullies, and conspiracy mongers. And he is downright mean. NOW HE'S FIRED!)
11-7-20 Covid-19: US hits record daily case rise three days running
The US reported a third straight daily record for new coronavirus cases on Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 127,000 infections were reported in 24 hours, as well as 1,149 deaths. The news comes as officials announced that White House chief of staff Mark Meadows had also tested positive for the virus. He is the latest Trump administration official to contract the disease. The US is the worst affected nation in the world by Covid-19, with more than 9.7 million confirmed cases and a death toll of more than 230,000. It was not immediately clear how Mr Meadows - who has often appeared at public events without a face mask - was infected. According to the New York Times he first tested positive on Wednesday. Trump election campaign adviser Nick Trainer also has the virus, the paper said. Mr Meadows travelled with the president on the final days of campaigning and was at an election night party attended by dozens of Trump supporters at the White House. The country's coronavirus outbreak was a key policy battleground in the run-up to the 3 November election, and contributed to a surge in postal and early in-person voting. In late October, Mr Meadows said in an interview with CNN that the US was "not going to control the pandemic", saying that Covid-19 could only be defeated by "mitigation areas" like vaccines and therapeutics. President Trump and his wife Melania and son Barron all contracted and recovered from Covid-19 - as did national security adviser Robert O'Brien, senior advisor Stephen Miller and White House counsellor Hope Hicks. A ceremony at the White House on 26 September came into focus after the president contracted the virus. More than a dozen reporters, guests and officials at the crowded Rose Garden event - where Mr Trump formally announced Amy Coney Barrett as his pick for the Supreme Court - contracted the virus. Footage captured attendees standing close together without masks. Some shook hands, bumped fists and even hugged.
11-7-20 US Election results: Biden predicts victory over Trump as counts go on
Joe Biden has again said he is confident of victory as he inches closer to beating Donald Trump after Tuesday's US presidential election. The Democratic challenger now has 253 of the 270 Electoral College votes needed to clinch the White House under the state-by-state US voting system. Mr Biden leads vote counts in the battlegrounds of Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Arizona. A Biden win would see Mr Trump leave office in January after four years. As counting enters its fifth day, it is still unclear when the contest will end. Officials are tallying up record numbers of postal votes due to the coronavirus pandemic, causing the longest delay to a presidential election result in 20 years. "We're going to win this race," Mr Biden told supporters in Wilmington, Delaware, on Friday night, striking a confident tone. He was joined by his running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris. He said he was on track to win more than 300 Electoral College votes and pointed out that more people had voted for his campaign - over 74 million people - than any US presidential candidate in history. Mr Biden said Americans had given him a mandate to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, the struggling economy, climate change and systemic racism. On Friday for the third straight day the US set a fresh record for new Covid-19 cases, with more than 127,000 infections. The Democrat - presenting himself as the candidate of unity after a bitterly fought campaign - said it was time to "get the vitriol out of our politics" and "be civil to one another". "We may be opponents but we're not enemies, we're Americans," said Mr Biden, who did not mention his Republican opponent, Mr Trump. Mr Biden's appearance had originally been planned as a victory speech, but he opted instead to give a general update on the state of the race as US TV networks cautiously held off declaring him the winner. The Democrat said he hoped to address the nation again on Saturday.
11-7-20 US Election 2020: Battle for US Senate to be decided in January
The balance of power in the US Senate will be decided in January, when Georgia will hold run-off elections for both its seats. No candidate in either race has polled 50%, as required by state election law. The run-off elections will take place on 5 January, two days after the new Senate is due to convene. The Republicans currently have a 53 to 47 majority in the Senate. So far, the Democrats have managed a net gain of one seat. The Democrats had high hopes of gaining the four seats they needed to take control, but many Republican incumbents held their seats. If however the Democrats can gain both seats in Georgia, a traditionally Republican state, this would lead to a 50-50 tie in the Senate. The result will effectively put them in control of the chamber if Joe Biden wins the White House, given the vice-president's power to cast tie-breaking votes. In one of Georgia's Senate races, incumbent Republican David Perdue had 49.8% of the vote and Democrat Jon Ossoff had 47.9%, according to the BBC's results system. "If overtime is required when all of the votes have been counted, we're ready, and we will win," Mr Perdue campaign manager Ben Fry said on Thursday. But the Ossoff campaign predicted that "when a run-off is called and held in January, Georgians are going to send Jon to the Senate". In Georgia's other Senate race, Democrat Raphael Warnock won 32.9% and will go into a run-off against Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler, who trailed him with 26%. Ms Loeffler was appointed to the Senate last year to fill a seat left vacant when her predecessor retired. Of the 35 Senate seats being contested, 23 were Republican-held and 12 were Democrat. The Democrats had hoped to gain several seats, but one of only two wins came in Colorado, where former Governor John Hickenlooper defeated Republican incumbent Cory Gardner. They also won a seat in Arizona, where former astronaut Mark Kelly defeated Republican incumbent and former fighter pilot Martha McSally. But this gain was cancelled out when Alabama Senator Doug Jones lost to Republican candidate Tommy Tuberville. In Maine, the moderate Republican incumbent Susan Collins staved off a fierce challenge from Democrat Sara Gideon. Democrats have not had control of the Senate for six years.
11-7-20 The debate over the 1619 Project
The reframing of U.S. history around slavery and racism continues to draw ferocious opposition. The reframing of U.S. history around slavery and racism continues to draw ferocious opposition. Here's everything you need to know: (Webmaster's comment: If you question the validity of this project, explain the continuous murdering of blacks by police!)
- What is the 1619 Project? It was a New York Times Magazine special issue last year marking the 400th anniversary of American slavery, in which the Times proposed regarding 1619 as "our nation's birth year." In August of that year about 20 slaves from present-day Angola were sold in chains to British colonists in Jamestown, Virginia. The establishment of slavery in the British colonies, the Times argued, was as formative to U.S. history as the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
- What are the most controversial claims? The Times argued that progress toward racial equality is stunted because "anti-Black racism runs in the very DNA of this country." Hannah-Jones wrote that an American "racial caste system" was put in place before the nation's founding, and that "one of the primary reasons" colonists declared independence from Britain was "because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery."
- Why so much controversy? The 1619 Project argues that the systemic racism that is slavery's legacy remains deeply rooted in every American institution and is still an ever-present factor in the lives of Black Americans.
- Who else attacked the Times? Many historians and scholars were critical of some of its claims, with conservatives rejecting its premise that slavery and racial oppression should be central themes in U.S. history.
- Does the Times defend its story? Yes, although the Times tweaked the text online. The paper issued a "clarification" stating that only "some of" the colonists revolted from Britain in order to protect slavery.
- The 1619 Project in the schools: The Pulitzer Center partnered with the Times to distribute teaching materials based on the 1619 Project, and more than 4,500 classrooms in all 50 states, from kindergarten to college, have crafted lessons using those resources. School systems in Buffalo; Chicago; Washington, D.C.; Wilmington, Delaware; and Winston-Salem, North Carolina incorporated the project more broadly into their history curriculum.
11-6-20 Covid-19 news: US cases surge to record 121,000 infections in a day
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. US reports record daily new cases as people wait for US election results. The US recorded more than 121,000 new daily coronavirus cases on 5 November, surpassing its previous record of more than 100,000 new cases reported the day before. Increases in new coronavirus infections were reported in 38 US states this week compared to the previous week, and 31 states reported record-high numbers of daily new infections, according to Johns Hopkins University. Coronavirus cases are surging as the country waits for the results of the US election, with Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden currently the favourite to become the next president and unseat president Donald Trump. Asked about the two candidates’ different approaches to the pandemic, senior US government health adviser Anthony Fauci said last week that Biden “is taking it seriously from a public health perspective”, and that Trump is “looking at it from a different perspective” focused on “the economy and reopening the country”. He warned that the US was in for “a whole lot of hurt” during the winter months and said there would need to be an “abrupt change” in public health practices and behaviours. “It’s not a good situation,” he told the Washington Post in an interview. Stephen Bannon, the former chief strategist for president Donald Trump was banned from Twitter today for suggesting violence against Fauci in a live video posted to Facebook. Earlier this week, Trump threatened to fire Fauci after the election. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued guidance advising people to stay home if they can, including during the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. About one in 90 people in England had the coronavirus in the week ending 31 October, according to the latest results of a random swab testing survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). They estimated that 618,700 people had the virus in communities in England, up from 568,100 people the previous week. However, there are early signs that the rate of increase in infections is becoming “less steep compared with previous weeks”, the ONS said in its report. During the week ending 31 October, there were an average of 45,700 new virus cases per day in England, down slightly from a seven-day average of 51,900 the previous week.Denmark has identified 214 people infected with a mutant form of the coronavirus from mink since June, according to its State Serum Institute, which deals with infectious diseases. The Danish government has already ordered the slaughter of all farmed mink in the country.
11-6-20 US Election 2020: Biden ahead in Pennsylvania and Georgia
Democratic candidate Joe Biden has pulled ahead of Donald Trump in Pennsylvania, a key state in the US presidential race, voting data shows. If Mr Biden takes the state, he would secure his victory in the election. The state has 20 electoral college votes. According to the most recent data, Mr Biden is leading by more than 6,800 votes, with 98% counted. Earlier, Mr Biden edged ahead of his Republican rival in Georgia, another key battleground state. He is leading there with more than 1,500 votes, with 99% of the ballots counted. Georgia is a traditionally Republican state and has not been won by a Democrat in a presidential race since 1992. Georgia's secretary of state said on Friday that there would be a recount of votes there because the margin was so small. If Mr Biden wins Pennsylvania, the state where he was born, he would have 273 votes in the electoral college - enough to clinch the victory. Pennsylvania has always been a major political battleground. The state voted Democrat in six consecutive races before it swung to Mr Trump in 2016. The Republican president's team insists the election "is not over" and that legal challenges and recounts in some states will favour them. Bob Bauer, a Biden campaign lawyer, said the lawsuits were legally "meritless" and designed "to message falsely about what's taking place in the electoral process". A senior Trump administration official told CBS News that Mr Trump did not plan to concede if Mr Biden ultimately declared victory. Joe Biden currently has 253 electoral college votes, while Mr Trump has 214. To win the White House, a candidate needs 270. Some news organisations have a higher tally for Mr Biden, having projected a win for the Democrat in Arizona. But the BBC considers the state too early to call. The vote is also currently too close to call in Nevada and North Carolina. A win in just Pennsylvania, or two of the other four remaining states would be enough to confirm Mr Biden as president-elect, barring any legal challenge
11-6-20 Coronavirus: Italy imposes regional lockdown as Europe battles surges
Much of Italy is now in lockdown, including the densely populated northern Lombardy region, after the Covid-19 death toll for 24 hours hit 445 - a six-month record. Italy is now split into three zones: red for high risk, then orange and yellow. The red areas are Lombardy, Piedmont and Aosta Valley in the north and Calabria in the south. The whole country has a night curfew. In neighbouring Slovenia police clashed with violent anti-lockdown protesters. Riot police used water cannon and teargas to disperse the crowd of several hundred outside parliament in the capital Ljubljana. Some demonstrators threw bottles, stones and smoke bombs at officers. Slovenia is under partial lockdown, as coronavirus infections have spiked there as in much of Europe. Thursday night's violence was the worst in Slovenia for years. In Italy's red zones, which cover an estimated 16.5 million people in a population of 60 million, you can now only leave home for work, health reasons, essential shopping or emergencies, but all non-essential shops are closed. Bars and restaurants are also shut but people can exercise near their homes if they wear masks and hairdressers can remain open. Lombardy, which includes Milan, was the worst-hit area in Italy's March crisis - and it was Europe's first coronavirus hotspot. Nationally all older secondary school pupils in Italy are studying from home. The orange - medium-risk - regions are Puglia and Sicily in the south. People there can move freely but not leave their home town or city, and shops remain open. In the yellow zone, including Rome, only the national restrictions apply, which involve a curfew from 22:00 to 05:00 local time. France has now been in nationwide lockdown for a week, but on Thursday it reported a record 58,046 people infected over 24 hours and a further 363 deaths. Paris is now banning food and alcohol takeaways and deliveries during the night curfew, between 22:00 and 06:00.
11-6-20 Covid-19: How a 'warm vaccine' could help India tackle coronavirus
In India's boiling summers, temperatures can easily rise to 50C (122F). Nearly all vaccines need to be transported and distributed between 2C and 8C in what comprises the so-called cold chain. And most of the Covid-19 vaccines under development, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), will need to be refrigerated at temperatures well below 0C, the freezing point of water. Imagine a Covid-19 vaccine that is heat tolerant and can be transported to remote towns and villages for tens of millions of jabs without depending on the cold chain. A group of Indian scientists are working on such a vaccine. The "warm" or a heat-stable vaccine, they claim, can be stored at 100C for 90 minutes, at 70C for about 16 hours, and at 37C for more than a month and more. Raghavan Varadarajan, a biophysicist and professor at the Indian Institute of Science, and his team have tested this vaccine on animals. "We got good results," Prof Varadarajan told me. Now they are waiting for funding to begin safety and toxicity tests on humans. Their paper has been accepted for publication in Journal of Biological Chemistry, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, published by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. "I am hopeful that after this study, newer avenues would open up with regards to having cold-chain independent vaccines," said Dr Renu Swarup, secretary of India's Department of Biotechnology. Vaccines that can withstand high temperatures are rare. Only three - offering protection against meningitis, human papillomavirus (HPV) and cholera - are licensed and approved by WHO for use at temperatures up to 40C. These vaccines can be deployed quickly in hard- to-reach communities, and reduce pressures on healthcare workers. They have proved to be useful during large-scale emergency responses like distributing oral cholera vaccine in Mozambique last year following Cyclone Idai, according to WHO.
11-6-20 Coronavirus: Denmark imposes lockdowns amid mink covid fears
Danish authorities have said a lockdown will be introduced in some areas over a coronavirus mutation found in mink that can spread to humans. The government has warned that the effectiveness of any future vaccine could be affected by the mutation. Bars, restaurants, public transport and all public indoor sports will be closed in seven North Jutland municipalities. The restrictions will come into effect from Friday and initially last until 3 December. It comes soon after an announcement that Denmark would cull all its mink - as many as 17 million. The Scandinavian country is the world's biggest producer of mink fur and its main export markets are China and Hong Kong. Culling began late last month, after many mink cases were detected. On Thursday, the World Health Organization said mink appear to be "good reservoirs" of coronavirus. It also commended Denmark's "determination and courage" for going ahead with the culls, despite the economic impact it would bring. Coronavirus cases have been detected in other farmed mink in the Netherlands and Spain since the pandemic began in Europe. But cases are spreading fast in Denmark - 207 mink farms in Jutland are affected - and at least five cases of the new virus strain were found. Authorities said 12 people had been infected with the mutated strain. Meanwhile, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said about half of the 783 human cases reported in north Denmark related to a strain of the virus that originated in the mink farms. Under the new rules, gatherings of 10 or more people will be banned, and locals have been urged to stay within the affected municipalities and get tested. At a press conference, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said: "Right now the eyes of the world are resting on us. I hope and believe that together we can solve the problems we face." On Wednesday, Ms Frederiksen said the mutated virus had been found to weaken the body's ability to form antibodies, potentially making the current vaccines under development for Covid-19 ineffective. Since the start of the pandemic Denmark has reported 52,265 human cases of Covid-19 and 733 deaths, data from Johns Hopkins University shows.
11-6-20 Transgender in Bangladesh: First school opens for trans students
Bangladesh's first religious school for transgender people has opened in Dhaka. More than 150 students will study Islamic and vocational subjects free of charge at the privately-funded seminary, or madrassa, in the capital. Many in the transgender community identify as a third gender which is now officially recognised in the country. They have the right to vote and to stand for election, but conservative social attitudes still make it hard for them to access jobs and education. Some migrate to cities and support themselves by singing and dancing at weddings and births, by begging or through sex work. The government says Bangladesh has about 10,000 hijras, as transgender people are known in South Asia. Other estimates put the number at more than 50,000. Almost all have transitioned from male to female. Funding for the madrassa comes from a foundation set up with money left by the late Ahmad Ferdous Bari Chowdhury, a businessman who wanted to educate the hijra community. Until now there has been no school exclusively for transgender people in Bangladesh. People of any age in the hijra community can enrol at the school. It is hoped that after studying there, students will have a chance to enter a number of different professions. "Whether or not someone is of the third sex is identified at a fairly mature age. That's why we don't set any age limit. Anyone can be admitted here as soon as a transgender person is identified, no matter what age they are," the madrassa's education and training secretary, Mohammad Abdul Aziz Hussaini, told the BBC Bengali service. One new student at the school, Shilpy, said most of the trans community were illiterate. "No one wants to hire us. If we had some education, we could have worked somewhere better. There is no education system. "That is why we still do what our ancestors did and earn money by dancing and singing," Shilpy, whose name means "artist" in Bengali, told the BBC.
11-5-20 Covid-19 news: England enters second nationwide lockdown
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Nationwide lockdown begins in England as Europe continues to see rising cases. England has joined other nations in Europe with a second nationwide lockdown starting today and lasting at least four weeks. France has been under a new lockdown since Friday and Germany entered a partial lockdown on Monday. The new measures are in response to surging coronavirus cases across Europe. European nations recorded a 22 per cent increase in new cases and a 46 per cent rise in deaths from covid-19 in the week up to 3 November, according to the World Health Organization. Under the new restrictions in England, pubs, bars, restaurants and non-essential shops are required to close and people have to stay home unless they have a specific reason to leave. Unlike during the UK-wide lockdown in March, schools, colleges and universities in England can remain open. People are allowed to meet one person from a different household outdoors, with physical distancing. Not obeying the rules could result in fines ranging from £200 to £6400 for individuals and £10,000 for organisers of large gatherings. Coronavirus cases are continuing to surge across the US, with 34 states reporting more than 1000 daily new cases and 16 states reporting peak numbers of covid-19 hospitalisations, according to The Covid Tracking Project. On 5 November, the US reported more than 100,000 new cases in a day. Denmark plans to cull 17 million mink to prevent mutated versions of the coronavirus from spreading to humans, which might affect the potency of potential vaccines. Health authorities discovered five coronavirus infections in the animals with mutations that were transmitted to humans.
11-5-20 Coronavirus: Record 100,000 new Covid cases reported in US
There were more than 100,000 new cases of coronavirus in the US on Wednesday - a record one-day increase. The figure, reported by the Covid Tracking Project, is accompanied by a steep rise in hospital admissions - suggesting that it is not solely due to increased testing. More than 1,100 deaths linked to coronavirus were recorded on Wednesday. The Covid crisis is being overshadowed by tensions over vote counting in the fraught aftermath of the US election. More than 50,000 people across the US are currently in hospital with coronavirus - an increase of about 64% from early October. Average daily death rates in the country have also been increasing again, although they are still lower than at the start of the pandemic. In an interview with the Washington Post newspaper on Friday, commenting on the US nearing 100,00 cases, the country's top infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci said: "We're in for a whole lot of hurt." He added that the US "could not possibly be positioned more poorly", with colder weather driving people indoors. In response, White House spokesman Judd Deere said the comments were "unacceptable and breaking with all norms". With almost 9.5 million total coronavirus infections and more than 233,000 deaths, the US has both the highest number of cases and the highest total death toll in the world.
11-5-20 US election results: Trump sues as path to victory over Biden narrows
Donald Trump and Joe Biden each claim to be ahead in the US presidential election, even as the final outcome hangs on a razor's edge and both sides gear up for legal action. The Trump campaign is contesting counts in the key states of Nevada, Wisconsin, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan. The BBC projects Mr Biden won Michigan. US media forecast he took Wisconsin. No result has yet emerged in Pennsylvania. Winning all three of these Rust Belt states would hand Mr Biden victory. The Democratic candidate is also currently leading in Nevada and Arizona, while the gap is closing between him and Mr Trump as counting continues in Georgia. Mr Biden has stopped short of declaring victory, but said he was confident he was on course to beat his Republican rival. Overall turnout in Tuesday's election was projected to be the highest in 120 years at 66.9%, according to the US Election Project. Mr Biden had the support of 70.5 million voters, the most won by any presidential candidate ever. Mr Trump has pulled in 67.2 million votes, four million more than he gained in 2016. The bitter election race was dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, which hit a new record high of 103,000 daily cases in the US on Wednesday, according to the Covid Tracking Project. On Wednesday afternoon, Mr Biden told reporters in Wilmington, Delaware: "When the count is finished, we believe we will be the winners." "I will govern as an American president. The presidency itself is not a partisan institution." He and his running mate Kamala Harris have launched a website for the transition of power, which says that their team "will continue preparing at full speed so that the Biden-Harris Administration can hit the ground running on Day One." Mr Biden also said he was feeling "very good" about Pennsylvania, although President Trump's campaign said it was "declaring victory" in the state on the count of "all legal ballots".
11-5-20 US Election 2020: Democrats' hopes of gaining control of Senate fade
Democrats are rapidly losing hope of gaining control of the US Senate after underperforming in key states. Controlling the Senate would have allowed them to either obstruct or push through the next president's agenda. The party had high hopes of gaining the four necessary seats in Congress's upper chamber, but many Republican incumbents held their seats. The Democrats are projected to retain their majority in the lower chamber, the House, but with some key losses. With many votes still to be counted, the final outcome for both houses may not be known for some time. Among the disappointments for the Democrats was the fight for the seat in Maine, where Republican incumbent Susan Collins staved off a fierce challenge from Democrat Sara Gideon. However, the night did see a number of firsts - including the first black openly LGBTQ people ever elected to Congress and the first openly transgender state senator. This year's congressional election is running alongside the battle for the White House between Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden. The Democrats had hoped to flip the Republicans' 53-47 majority in the Senate - giving them the power to obstruct the plans of a second-term President Trump or push through the agenda of a first-term President Biden. Of the 35 Senate seats up for grabs, 23 were Republican-held and 12 were Democrat. Senators serve six-year terms, and every two years a third of the seats are up for re-election. Democrats have not had control of the Senate for six years. Maine Democrats had high hopes of unseating Susan Collins, the 67-year-old moderate Republican who had been trailing her Democrat rival in the polls for months. But Susan Gideon, 48, conceded defeat in a call to Ms Collins on Wednesday afternoon. So far, Democrats have managed a net gain of one seat in the Senate election. Democratic former governor John Hickenlooper won a key Colorado seat from the Republican incumbent Cory Gardner.
11-5-20 Denmark to cull up to 17 million mink amid coronavirus fears
As many as 17 million mink are to be culled in Denmark after a mutated version of the coronavirus that can spread to humans was detected on mink farms. Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said the mutated virus posed a "risk to the effectiveness" of a future Covid-19 vaccine. Denmark is the world's biggest producer of mink fur. Police said the culling should happen as soon as possible. Coronavirus cases have been detected in mink farms in Denmark's northern Jutland region, and in other parts of Europe, for several months. But cases are spreading fast in Denmark, and five cases of the new virus strain were found on mink farms. Twelve people had become infected, the authorities said. Prime Minister Frederiksen described the situation as "very, very serious". She cited a government report which said the mutated virus had been found to weaken the body's ability to form antibodies, potentially making the current vaccines under development for Covid-19 ineffective. "We have a great responsibility towards our own population, but with the mutation that has now been found, we have an even greater responsibility for the rest of the world as well," she told a news conference. More than 50 million mink a year are bred for their fur, mainly in China, Denmark, the Netherlands and Poland. Outbreaks have been reported in fur farms in the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, Sweden and the US, and millions of animals have had to be culled. Mink, like their close relatives ferrets, are known to be susceptible to coronavirus, and like humans, they can show a range of symptoms, from no signs of illness at all, to severe problems, such as pneumonia. Mink become infected through catching the virus from humans. But genetic detective work has shown that in a small number of cases, in the Netherlands and now Denmark, the virus seems to have passed the other way, from mink to humans.
11-5-20 Coronavirus spreads after Covid-sceptic bishop's funeral in Montenegro
Serbia's leading religious figure has contracted coronavirus, days after attending a large public funeral for a senior bishop who died of Covid-19. Patriarch Irinej, the 90-year-old head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, was admitted to hospital on Wednesday. He led the funeral of the church's most senior cleric in Montenegro, 82-year-old Amfilohije Radovic, on Sunday. Mourners gathered at the event without masks and many kissed the bishop's body as it lay in an open coffin. This was despite a major spike in coronavirus cases in both Serbia and Montenegro, and a warning from the authorities that the event posed a risk to public health. Amfilohije, who died on Friday, described pilgrimages as "God's vaccine" and avoided wearing a mask. As well as Patriarch Irinej, several other people who attended the funeral are believed to have contracted Covid-19. Amfilohije's successor, meanwhile, was said to be suffering with "mild pneumonia". Montenegro's Prime Minister-designate Zdravko Krivokapic and Serbia's president also attended the event in Podgorica, Montenegro. "His Holiness is hospitalised in a Covid-19 hospital in Belgrade," Patriach Irinej's office said in a statement. "[He remains] without symptoms and is in excellent health."
11-4-20 Beware those who promise you that the pandemic will be over soon
AS THE coronavirus began spreading through Europe in the spring, many scientists warned that worse could come in winter. Now, it seems they were right. The continent’s wave of second lockdowns (see “Europe’s second wave of coronavirus is starting to eclipse the first”) has brought gloom, anger, fear and, in some countries, protests. In the UK, the prime minister, Boris Johnson, has tried to offer his citizens some hope, telling them that everything will look much cheerier come 2021. Such offerings of hope should be treated with caution. Perhaps things will be better when spring returns to the northern hemisphere. But it isn’t immediately clear why that should be the case. It is possible that by then we will have a stopgap therapy to create immunity without a vaccine, but as Graham Lawton writes, the results are still too early to equate to a panacea. An actual vaccine may become available, but if so it will only be available to some at first. It may also fail to deliver on any number of other counts, for example, requiring repeated booster injections. A vaccine, as we have said before in these pages, was never going to be a quick or easy way out. Meanwhile, in the UK at least, testing for coronavirus and tracing the contacts of those who test positive is patchy at best. So what next for those countries hardest hit? First, we need to stop thinking short term. The pandemic could well continue to significantly affect our lives for years. It would be wise to plan accordingly. Second, we must admit that lockdowns are an indication of government failure and ultimately do nothing to stop the virus spreading if the pause isn’t used to build testing and contact tracing capacity. Brief, planned lockdowns, rather than the emergency ones being introduced now, could be a useful tool to keep infections under control, but really we need what we have always needed: working test, trace and isolate systems.
11-4-20 How covid-19 has exposed a huge computing disaster in the making
Tangled webs of "legacy" computer software underpin banks, airlines, welfare systems and more – and the coronavirus pandemic has exposed how vulnerable that makes us. AS THE coronavirus pandemic swept across the US, it brought with it an unprecedented economic crisis. As firms shut down and people stayed home, the country’s unemployment rate shot up from 4.4 per cent in March to 14.7 per cent in April, adding fuel to a political fire already raging in a tumultuous election year. That much is well known. But the stories of many of those who lost their livelihoods and sought help exposed a slower-burn technological crisis. Outdated computer systems simply fell over as they attempted to deal with the flood of people applying for welfare benefits – and hardly anyone around knew how to fix things. It is far from an isolated problem. Tangled webs of computer code built up over decades, often written in programming languages now rarely taught or understood, underpin IT systems across the world, in government departments, banks, airlines, hospitals and more. Coronavirus taught us a lot about how the systems we had assumed would assist and protect us can fail in a crisis. As the fallout continues, it is becoming ever clearer that we need to revisit the computer code that underpins many aspects of our societies before disaster strikes. Thousands of different programming languages exist, performing the same basic job: translating real-world commands such as “import this data” or “run this calculation” into the strings of binary 1s and 0s that encode information in computer processors and memory chips. Certain ones dominate (see “Top five languages”), but new languages pop up as requirements change. Google developed the Go language, for example, to streamline the development of massive applications running across hundreds of servers in the cloud. “There’s still a rich space out there where people are exploring new ideas and trying to make things better,” says Barbara Liskov at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology./p>
11-4-20 Covid-19 news: England health service to move to highest alert level
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. NHS England to move to its highest alert level as covid-19 patient numbers rise. England’s healthcare service will move to alert level four – its highest alert level – from midnight tonight, its chief executive Simon Stevens announced today. Alert level four means NHS England will take over coordination of the health service’s response to covid-19 so that staff can be moved around the country and patients can be sent to other regions if covid-19 cases threaten to overwhelm local services. There are now more than 10,000 covid-19 patients in hospitals across England, up from just over 2000 a month ago, according to official figures. Almost 1000 covid-19 patients in England are receiving ventilation. “It is going to be a difficult period,” said Stevens at a press conference today. The last time the NHS declared the coronavirus pandemic a level four incident was during the first wave. “The truth, unfortunately, is that if coronavirus takes off again, that will disrupt services,” said Stevens. “We are seeing that in parts of the country where hospitals are dealing with more coronavirus patients now than they were in April.” The UK as a whole reported 492 deaths from covid-19 today, its highest daily toll since May. The country reported 25,177 new coronavirus cases. Data from the covid-19 symptom tracking app run by researchers at King’s College London suggests infections across England, Wales and Scotland may be plateauing, with an R number of 1.0, although infections are still rising among people over 60. Official figures published last week put the R number estimate for the UK between 1.1 and 1.3, which indicates infections are rising overall. The R number is the average number of people each person with coronavirus infects. People in the world’s poorest countries may not get access to any future coronavirus vaccine until at least 2024, due to competition from wealthier countries which have secured billions of doses of vaccine candidates, a study suggests. Researchers at Duke University calculated that access to 3.73 billion doses of the most promising vaccine candidates have already been purchased by wealthier countries, with negotiations currently on-going for a further 5 billion doses. Limitations on manufacturing capacity mean it could take three to four years to produce enough doses of vaccine to immunise the global population, said the report.
11-4-20 US Election 2020: Tense wait as US election winner remains unclear
The outcome of the US presidential election is on a knife edge, with Donald Trump and his rival Joe Biden neck and neck in key swing states. Mr Trump, a Republican, claimed to have won and vowed to launch a Supreme Court challenge, baselessly alleging fraud. Earlier Mr Biden, a Democrat, said he was "on track" to victory. Millions of votes remain uncounted and no candidate can credibly claim victory as yet. There is no evidence of fraud. The US is on course for the highest electoral turnout in a century. More than 100 million people cast their ballots in early voting before election day, and tens of millions more added their vote on Tuesday. With the nation on edge, the final result may not be known for days. Mr Trump has defied the pre-election polls to do better than predicted, but Mr Biden is still in the race and the overall result is not yet clear. In the US election, voters decide state-level contests rather than an overall, single, national one. To be elected president, a candidate must win at least 270 votes in what is called the electoral college. Each US state gets a certain number of votes partly based on its population and there are a total of 538 up for grabs. The president is projected to have held the must-win state of Florida - a major boost to his re-election bid. The BBC projects Mr Trump will win another conservative sunbelt state, Texas, where the Biden campaign had dreamed of an upset victory. But Mr Biden could snatch Arizona, a once reliably conservative state. Fox News and the Associated Press have projected Mr Biden will win that state and CBS News, the BBC's US partner, says it is leaning the Democrat's way. A loss for Mr Trump in that previously Republican-voting state would be a potentially serious setback. The Rust Belt battlegrounds of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin - which propelled Mr Trump to the White House four years ago - are very close. Pennsylvania is considered crucial for Mr Trump if he is to stave off defeat - he has a significant lead there but a large number of mail-in ballots are yet to be counted. Mr Biden has a narrow lead in Wisconsin and the two are almost neck-and-neck in Michigan.
11-4-20 US Election 2020: How the world is reacting to knife-edge vote
A US presidential election always courts massive global interest, with the eventual winner playing a leading role on the world stage. In fact, the decision of the American people every four years can transform the country's foreign policy and its approach to its allies and enemies alike. So it's no wonder that countries around the world have been paying close attention to the neck-and-neck race for the White House. Our colleagues from BBC Monitoring have rounded up the global media reaction so far. Relations between the US and China, which are longstanding rivals and duelling economic powers, have sunk to their lowest level in decades. And both candidates in this election have pledged to be strong in dealing with Beijing. With this in mind, it's perhaps unsurprising that Chinese state media branded this a "divisive, tense and chaotic" election marred by "unrest, mud-slinging and money politics". "Many media and people worry that if the election is contested, it may trigger chaos and even social unrest," China's official Xinhua news agency reported on Tuesday. "Tension and chaos loom over US election day," read the front-page headline of the state-run Global Times newspaper. Meanwhile, the state broadcaster CCTV featured a video report which focused on fears of post-election violence amid record numbers of Covid-19 infections and deaths. "There is deep concern about continued social unrest," the report said. In Russia, the state-run TV news channel Rossiya 24 has been giving blanket coverage to the election. "We are continuing to follow the madness," one of the presenters said earlier. It's worth remembering that US intelligence believe Russia tried to sway the 2016 election in favour of Mr Trump, an accusation Moscow has repeatedly denied. But the two anchors on Rossiya 24 joked about potential accusations of bias towards the incumbent president. "Some comrades... will listen to us now and conclude that we have already declared Trump the winner," one presenter said, to which the other replied: "It is pure mathematics, nothing more."
11-4-20 US election: Trump alleges 'fraud' in speech without offering evidence
With millions of legitimate ballots left to count, Donald Trump has declared an unsupported victory. Suggesting "major fraud on our nation", he added he would take the election results to the Supreme Court. The US is on course for its highest turnout in more than a century and counting in some states will not finish on election night. The president has not presented evidence of any fraud.
11-4-20 US Election 2020: Democrats face tight race for control of Senate
As well as the White House, Democrats and Republicans are locked in a tight race for control of the US Senate. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the upper chamber of Congress, meaning the Democrats are seeking a net gain of four seats. Five seats, including some tight battleground contests in Georgia and North Carolina, are yet to be decided. The Democrats are confident they have retained their majority in the lower chamber, the House of Representatives. With many votes still to be counted, the final result of both races may not be known for some time. However, the night did see a number of firsts - including the first black openly LGBTQ people ever elected to Congress and the first openly transgender state senator. This year's congressional election is running alongside the battle for the White House between Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden. A Democrat-controlled House and Senate would have the power to obstruct the plans of a second-term President Trump, or push through the agenda of a first-term President Biden. Of the 35 Senate seats up for grabs, 23 are Republican-held and 12 are Democrat. Senators serve six-year terms, and every two years a third of the seats are up for re-election. By early on Wednesday, Democrats had managed a net gain of one seat in the Senate election. This means three seats would have to flip to their control for the party to guarantee control of the chamber for the first time in six years. Democratic former governor John Hickenlooper won a key Colorado seat from the Republican incumbent Cory Gardner. Mr Hickenlooper, who stood for the Democratic nomination for president, was governor of Colorado for two terms from 2011 until last year. His rival was considered particularly vulnerable because of his allegiance to President Trump.
11-3-20 Covid-19 news: UK science advisers warn of rising deaths in England
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. UK chief science adviser warns deaths could pass spring peak in six weeks without action. The UK’s chief scientific adviser warned that England could see coronavirus deaths rise above levels seen during the first wave peak by mid-December if no action is taken. Patrick Vallance was answering questions from the Commons Science and Technology committee alongside England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty. Vallance also cautioned that hospitalisations could pass first wave levels by the end of November, and Whitty said some hospitals in the north of England are already seeing more coronavirus patients than during the spring. “It doesn’t take much increase from that to run into serious trouble,” Whitty told the committee. There are currently more than 9000 people in hospital with covid-19 across England. Whitty said that figure is rising on an “exponential upward curve.” Asked whether it was likely that the planned lockdown in England could end by 2 December, Whitty said: “The aim of this is to get the rates down far enough that it’s a realistic possibility to move into a different state of play at that point in time.” MPs are expected to pass the new restrictions, due to start on Thursday, in a vote tomorrow. Hospitals in Germany are being urged to postpone non-urgent procedures to free up beds and staff to deal with a surge in coronavirus patients. Uwe Janssens, president of Germany’s Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine (DIVI) said during a press conference today that hospitals in areas with the highest infection rates “should end normal operations as soon as possible.” The number of covid-19 patients in intensive care in Germany has risen from just over 360 at the start of October to almost 2400 at the moment.
11-3-20 Will city-wide testing halt spread of the coronavirus in Liverpool?
The UK government has announced plans to start regularly testing all 500,000 people in the city of Liverpool for the coronavirus. Here’s what you need to know. Why test a whole city? In theory, regular mass testing could help eradicate the coronavirus in just weeks. The UK government said in September that it wanted to try the approach nationwide – dubbed Operation Moonshot – and the Liverpool scheme is a pilot study. “I’m absolutely delighted,” says Julian Peto of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, one of the signatories of an April letter calling for universal testing to be trialled in a city. Why might mass testing be better than just testing people with symptoms? We know most cases of the coronavirus go undetected, often because people don’t even realise that they are infected. They might have no, mild or unusual symptoms, for instance, but can still infect others. If a bigger proportion of the people carrying the virus can be identified and isolated, there will be a bigger reduction in the spread of the virus. Has this kind of thing been done before? Yes. In May, China tested all 11 million people in the city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began, to prevent a resurgence of the virus. Chinese authorities clearly think mass testing works, because it has since been done in cities such as Qingdao and Kashgar, which have populations of 9 million and 5 million respectively. Slovakia is also experimenting with the concept – in the past week it tested two-thirds of its 5 million residents. “China and others have shown its feasibility,” says Keith Godfrey at the University of Southampton, UK. Will it work in Liverpool? It should help reduce the spread of the coronavirus. How big an effect it has will depend on three main factors. Will enough people come forward for testing? Can authorities set up the infrastructure needed to regularly test everyone and return their results quickly? And will people who test positive actually self-isolate? It will also be hard to tell if it is working because mass testing will start at the same time as a new lockdown in England.
11-3-20 Europe's second wave of coronavirus is starting to eclipse the first
England has begun a second national lockdown, after weeks of regional restrictions failed to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The UK government didn’t follow suggestions made by scientific advisers in September to institute a shorter lockdown weeks earlier, intended to halt the exponential growth of coronavirus cases. This new lockdown is needed to stop the spread of the virus, but it and similar efforts across Europe may be too late to prevent the second wave of covid-19 being worse than the first. “It’s pretty bleak,” says Paul Hunter at the University of East Anglia in the UK. He thinks the second wave will be more drawn out but will eventually lead to more deaths in the UK than the 44,000 seen in the first wave. “I think probably we will ultimately see more deaths over the next six months,” he says. A sharp rise in cases has also been seen across Europe in recent months, and many countries are being forced to ramp up covid-19 control measures and introduce lockdowns. Northern Ireland increased restrictions on 16 October, stopping short of a full lockdown, while the Czech Republic was the first to impose a second lockdown, on 22 October, despite the government having stated that it wouldn’t do so. “We have no time to wait,” said Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. “The surge is enormous.” Since then, Wales, Spain, France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and other countries have also announced new lockdowns or restrictions with varying degrees of severity. In England, where a three-tier system of regional restrictions has been in place since 12 October, a four-week lockdown will begin on 5 November, while a five-tier system began in Scotland on 2 November. In the Czech Republic, which did better at limiting the first wave than many other countries in Europe, the second wave is already far worse on every measure. There are six times as many people in hospital with covid-19 than during the first wave, and there are 16 deaths per million people per day compared with just one per million people per day in the first wave.
11-3-20 Covid-19: Is Germany losing the fight against the second wave?
HAILED as an example to follow for its initial coronavirus response, Germany is now struggling to curb surging infections amid Europe’s second wave. “We are now at a point where, on average nationally, we no longer know where 75 per cent of infections come from,” German chancellor Angela Merkel said during a press conference on 28 October. Unlike many nations, Germany didn’t have to build up its testing and contact-tracing infrastructure from scratch when the pandemic hit. During its first wave in the spring, the country’s 400 or so local health authorities facilitated rapid identification of source cases and tracing of their contacts. Ahead of a gradual easing of restrictions in early May, Merkel and German state leaders focused on expanding the country’s tracing capacity further, agreeing in April that local health authorities should each have at least five contact tracers for every 20,000 citizens. Combined with Germany’s large testing capacity and its use of localised restrictions to quash emerging hotspots, this worked to keep cases and deaths low through the summer months. “I think also the fact that Germany had a high number of beds in ICU [intensive care units] really helped to control the situation,” says César Muñoz-Fontela at the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg. “The system was never really overwhelmed.” Germany has the most hospital beds per 1000 people in the European Union and has had a much lower death rate from covid-19 than other European countries with a similar population size. During the first wave, deaths in Germany peaked at 2.78 per million people, compared with 13.88 in the UK, 13.59 in Italy, 16.87 in France and 18.57 in Spain, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
11-3-20 America stands at a crossroads
It's finally Election Day. It's possible for either candidate to win, of course, but Joe Biden has been firmly ahead in the polls, and Donald Trump is not behaving like someone who expects to win fairly. Instead he is celebrating his thug supporters attempting to drive a Biden campaign bus off the road with a caravan of trucks, and promising that the moment Election Day is over, he will send in his lawyers to try to halt the counting of votes. In this he has the lockstep support of virtually his entire party. State party leaders have worked hard to halt or slow advance counting of early ballots, so Trump can have an illusory lead on Election Day in key swing states. His administration has deliberately fouled up the Post Office to interfere with mail-in voting. His loyal toadies tried to throw out 127,000 mostly-Democratic ballots in Texas, though a federal judge ruled against them Monday. In other states, GOP-appointed judges look set to prevent potentially decisive numbers of legal votes from being counted. In short, Trump is trying to steal the election, more blatantly than any previous president, and providing a clear preview of how Republicans would move to further erode democracy if given another four years in power. It's an unusually clear and stark choice this election: a continuation of America's republican institutions, or its probable replacement with a tyranny. The meaning of republic, much like similarly-broad terms liberty, democracy, or socialism, is contested. But bracketing quite a lot of political theory, it's fair to say that a republic is a political entity in which government is the business of the public. The word comes from the Latin words res publica, which translates as "public thing." A republic is thus often contrasted with an absolutist monarchy in which the government is the private property of a hereditary ruler, as Machiavelli did in his Discourses on Livy. When French revolutionaries overthrew King Louis XVI in 1792, for example, they proclaimed a republic. It follows that there can be many varieties of republic. The Roman Republic, for instance, was not particularly democratic. It had popular assemblies and elections for the highest offices, but in practice the oligarchic Roman Senate, composed entirely of the rich, had the bulk of the power. Elections were also routinely marred by overt intimidation and violence. But so long as the republic lasted, there was real competition for political power, carried out (mostly) through the legible rules of a constitutional system — as opposed to the later Roman Empire, in which a single person held all power so long as he lived, and political disputes were typically resolved by open military conflict. The American Constitution was written by men who romanticized the janky Roman Republic to a preposterous degree, which accounts for many of its anti-majoritarian structures. Still, even at the time there was a broad understanding that in a republic, the majority opinion should predominate in general. In Federalist #10, James Madison wrote that in case of a minority faction trying to oppress the majority, "relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote." In his first inaugural address, President Thomas Jefferson advocated an "absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority, the vital principle of republics." (Webmaster's comment: Trump is a Hitler! He has acted liked Hitler in his early years. Destroying the people's right to choose as fast as he could! Installing right-wing authoritarian judges as fast as he could on federal benches!)
11-3-20 US Election 2020: Americans choose between Trump and Biden
Americans are voting in one of the most divisive presidential polls in decades, pitting incumbent Republican Donald Trump against Democrat Joe Biden. Polls have opened in the east of the country after a long and bitter campaign amid the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly 100 million people have already cast their ballots in early voting, putting the country on course for its highest turnout in a century. Both rivals spent the final hours of the race rallying in key swing states. National polls give a firm lead to Mr Biden, but it is a closer race in the states that could decide the outcome. In the US election, voters decide state-level contests rather than an overall single national one. Among the first swing states to begin election-day voting on Tuesday were the key battlegrounds of North Carolina and Ohio (11:30 GMT), followed half an hour later by Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin. Arizona - another closely-contested state - followed at 13:00 GMT. To be elected president, a candidate must win at least 270 votes in what is called the electoral college. Each US state gets a certain number of votes partly based on its population and there are a total of 538 up for grabs. This system explains why it is possible for a candidate to win the most votes nationally - as Hillary Clinton did in 2016 - but still lose the election. Control of the Senate is also at stake in these elections, with the Democrats seeking to gain control of both houses of Congress and the White House for the first time since early in Barack Obama's first term. The coronavirus pandemic has at times overshadowed the election campaign, with the epidemic in the US worsening over the final weeks of the race. The country has recorded more cases and more deaths than anywhere else in the world, and fear of infection has contributed to an unprecedented surge in early and postal voting.
11-3-20 US Election 2020: Biden and Trump make final pitches to voters
US President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden have spent the final hours of the White House race delivering their closing pitch to voters in critical states. Mr Biden campaigned in Pennsylvania and Ohio, as Mr Trump toured the voting battlegrounds of Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. National polls suggest a firm lead for Mr Biden in Tuesday's election. But his lead is narrower in the handful of states that could decide the result. Nearly 99 million people have already cast their ballots in early voting, putting the country on course for its highest turnout in a century. In the US election, voters decide state-level contests rather than an overall single national one. To be elected president, a candidate must win at least 270 votes in what is called the electoral college. Each US state gets a certain number of votes partly based on its population and there are a total of 538 up for grabs. This system explains why it is possible for a candidate to win the most votes nationally - like Hillary Clinton did in 2016 - but still lose the election. Tuesday's vote comes amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The US has recorded more cases and more deaths than any other country worldwide, reporting more than 81,000 new infections on Sunday alone. As the nation counts down the hours to the vote, there are fears that pockets of post-election violence could break out. Businesses in the nation's capital, Washington DC, and in New York City have been seen boarding up their premises due to concerns about unrest. After a punishing schedule of rallies in six states on Sunday, President Trump sprinted through four more battleground states on Monday. In North Carolina, he told supporters that "next year will be the greatest economic year in the history of our country". The rally was postponed from Thursday due to Hurricane Zeta. The US economy saw record-breaking 33% growth in the third financial quarter of this year, following a record 31% contraction in the second. Economists warn the damage inflicted by the pandemic - the biggest decline in the US economy in more than 80 years - could still take years to overcome.
11-3-20 Twitter hides Trump mail voting tweet ahead of polling day
Twitter has hidden a tweet from President Donald Trump about voting, hours before election day. Mr Trump tweeted that a Supreme Court decision to allow more time for postal ballots to arrive in Pennsylvania was "very dangerous". He once again made the widely debunked claim that "rampant and unchecked cheating" would follow. Facebook also labelled the message with a fact-check that contradicted the president. The tweet was hidden behind a warning on the president's account that the content was "disputed and might be misleading". Twitter has taken similar action against Mr Trump's account in the past. Mr Trump also claimed that the court decision would "induce violence in the streets" and that "something must be done!" On Facebook, the social network did not hide the post, but added the warning: "Both voting by mail and voting in person have a long history of trustworthiness in the US. Voter fraud is extremely rare across voting methods." His rival Joe Biden spent the final hours before polling day urging people to make sure they voted, as well as making explicit and direct attacks on President Trump's record in office. Vast numbers of Americans have already voted and many have done so by postal ballot, known as mail-in voting in the US. Controversy around postal delays has led to concerns that not all ballots will reach counting centres in time. The US Supreme Court recently refused to block a lower court's decision to extend Pennsylvania's deadline for receiving mail-in ballots by a few days, as long as the votes were postmarked by election day, showing that they had been in transit since. Mr Trump has repeatedly condemned mail-in voting as unsecured and prone to massive voter fraud. But that is not supported by precedent, and voter fraud has historically been very rare. Republicans have filed a number of legal cases against alternative types of voting in some states.
11-3-20 COVID-19’s death rate in the U.S. could spike as new cases soar
A crush of cases could test gains made with treatments and understanding of the disease. Christopher Petrilli, an internal medicine doctor in New York City, cared for hospitalized COVID-19 patients when the city was at the epicenter of the U.S. pandemic in the early spring. It was “all hands on deck,” he recalls. So many COVID-19 patients were admitted to his hospital system, NYU Langone Health, during that surge — 1,724 adults in March and 2,305 in April — that “everyone was pitching in to do whatever they could to help,” he says. By August, the number of COVID-19 patients had dropped considerably, to a more manageable 134. Over that time, the mortality rate dropped too: from 25.6 percent in March to 7.6 percent in August, Petrilli and his colleagues report online October 23 in the Journal of Hospital Medicine. The team’s calculation took into account the patients’ age, sex, race and ethnicity, past medical history and severity of illness. That way, it was clear the decrease in the death rate wasn’t just due, for example, to younger and healthier patients being admitted over the summer (SN: 9/9/20). New York City wasn’t alone. The COVID-19 death rate has fallen across the United States as a whole. A cruder measurement — simply dividing the number of deaths by the number of cases — finds the country’s rate dropped from 6.7 percent in April to 1.9 percent in September, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Why more people have been surviving a bout of COVID-19 is likely a combination of doctors having more experience with the disease, the availability of effective treatments and many hospitals no longer being overtaxed. But rising cases could reverse the mortality rate trend. Many places in the United States are seeing uncontrolled spread of the disease. On October 30, per the CDC, the United States posted its highest ever one-day total of cases: 99,750. Even with improvements in care, this latest surge threatens to overwhelm hospitals and lead to more deaths.
11-3-20 Holden Matthews: US man jailed for burning historic black churches
A young white man has been jailed for 25 years for burning down three historic black churches in the US state of Louisiana last year. Heavy metal musician Holden Matthews, 23, was also ordered to pay $2.7m (£2.1m) in restitution. He said he had burnt the churches to boost his reputation within his favoured music scene. A judge found the attacks had not been racially motivated but said they evoked memories of a "dark time in history." (Webmaster's comment: Nonsense! He was burning black churches!) White supremacists attacked black churches during America's civil rights era. The three churches Matthews burnt were St Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas, between 26 March and 4 April. Matthews, the son of a local sheriff's deputy, admitted to posting photographs and video on Facebook of the first two churches burning. All three buildings were razed to the ground by the fires, but no-one was injured because they were torched at night. A judge cleared him of hate crime charges, which Matthews admitted to earlier this year. But he was found guilty of three counts of arson on religious buildings, and one count of using fire to commit a federal felony. At the time of the attacks, Matthews was a member of a band called Vodka Vultures. In a plea hearing, he said he had sought to emulate church burnings carried out by "black metal" music fans in Norway in the 1990s. During that period, at least 50 Christian churches in Norway were attacked by arsonists in the name of "black metal", a subgenre of heavy metal music. In a statement, Acting US Attorney Alexander Van Hook said Matthews' sentence "should send a clear message that there is a high price to pay for this type of destruction and violence".
11-2-20 Covid-19 news: Earlier lockdown in England would have ‘saved lives’
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Earlier lockdown would have saved thousands of lives, says UK science adviser. UK prime minister Boris Johnson has announced plans to impose a nationwide lockdown across England, following growing pressure from public health experts and the government’s scientific advisers. Johnson told MPs today that without the new lockdown, the number of covid-19 deaths would be twice as high as the first wave. At a press conference on Saturday, he presented slides showing that the NHS would be overwhelmed by December without the new restrictions, and today he told MPs that the healthcare system faces an “existential threat.” The new restrictions, due to start on Thursday, are expected to pass when MPs vote on Wednesday, and will last for at least four weeks. First minister of Wales Mark Drakeford has said he is concerned about people crossing into Wales from England to escape the lockdown restrictions, due to come into force in England later this week. “It’s very important Wales doesn’t become an escape for people trying to get round the new tighter restrictions being introduced in England,” Drakeford said on BBC Radio Wales today. A lockdown in Wales, which began on 23 October, is due to end in a week’s time, shortly after England goes into lockdown. World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is quarantining after a person he had been in contact with tested positive for the coronavirus. “I am well and without symptoms but will self-quarantine over the coming days, in line with WHO protocols and work from home,” Ghebreyesus tweeted yesterday, adding “it is critically important that we all comply with health guidance.” US president Donald Trump suggested he would fire senior health adviser Anthony Fauci after the US presidential election. In response to calls to “fire Fauci” from crowds at a rally in Florida yesterday, Trump said: “Don’t tell anybody, but let me wait until a little bit after the election. I appreciate the advice.”
11-2-20 This election is about American virtue
Trump calls for America to be great. But he does not nudge us to be good. can remember every American president going back to Jimmy Carter. Some have been better than others, but none has been as devoid of public virtue as Donald J. Trump. Bill Clinton had an affair in the Oval Office. George W. Bush's government tortured terror suspects. Ronald Reagan ignored the AIDS epidemic until he couldn't anymore. This is not always a moral or perfect or wise country, and we do not always have moral or perfect or wise leaders. If those men weren't always good, however, they at least wanted to be seen as good. What's more, they wanted Americans to believe they live in a good country, that we are a good people. That belief may have involved a fair amount of self-deception and deliberate forgetting — or been used to justify terrible blunders — but it can be argued that in aspiring to goodness, at least, America also sometimes moved closer to that target. Trump is different. He is not just a bad president — he's a bad human being. His contempt for truth is unmatched. He shows disregard for the well-being of so many Americans. He is willing to wink at racists, bullies, and conspiracy mongers. And he is downright mean. Trump is not the source of the divisions that now plague the country, but it is fair to say he is a deliberate catalyst, happy to set us against each other if it gives him any kind of advantage. He calls for America to be great. He does not nudge us to be good. A conservative friend once told me that a president cannot make the economy better, but he can screw it up. I suspect the same is true for the country's virtue. Joe Biden, the former vice president, has spent much of his presidential campaign pledging to restore the "soul of America." That sounds like an impossible task. Nonetheless, to that end, his campaign has featured videos of Biden simply acting kindly to a child with a stutter, and an artist with an intellectual disability. Is some of this performative? Perhaps. But there is value in what many conservatives these days dismiss as "virtue signaling" — sometimes it pays off at the polls, sure, but it also can shape how we are expected to behave toward one another. And any small measure of added grace in our public life is infinitely better than the ugly status quo. "I'm so starved for basic compassion from our government that stuff like this wipes me out emotionally," the writer Matt Zoller Seitz tweeted after seeing one of the Biden videos. Conservatives once seemed to understand the need for character in high office. During Bill Clinton's presidency, the commentator (and former Cabinet member) Bill Bennett released The Book of Virtues, designed to help teachers and parents impart moral lessons to young readers. Those virtues — self-discipline, compassion, responsibility, friendship, work, courage, perseverance, honesty, loyalty, and faith — don't sound anything like the current president. Yet here we are. That isn't to say all of Trump's supporters are hypocrites. I grew up in central Kansas, among the conservative Christians who now comprise some of the president's most devoted supporters. I still love and respect many of those people, even if I bitterly disagree with them. Some fervently believe that abortion is murder, or that they stand to lose their religious freedom under a Democratic administration. So they are voting for virtue as they understand and prioritize it.
11-2-20 Democrats' first priority
It's time to fix voting in America. Whatever happens on Election Day, one thing is incontrovertible: The American system of voting is an embarrassing, quasi-authoritarian mess, a set of ambiguous, loophole-filled procedures unfit for selecting a student council president, let alone the leader of the world's most powerful country. The consequence is that instead of spending the campaign's closing days deliberating over the merits of each candidate's policy proposals and character, we are mostly cycling endlessly through different scenarios about how the president of the United States might steal the election in cahoots with his new friends on the federal judiciary, GOP state legislatures, and lawyers ready to challenge every real or hallucinatory irregularity in all 50 states. This is no way to operate a democracy. It is intolerable. Democrats across the country have been losing sleep for weeks over escalating rhetoric coming from President Trump and his surrogates about how they intend to litigate basically every ballot that isn't tabulated by Tuesday at midnight — even those cast unproblematically under existing state law. Democrats believe — rightly — that they need to win this election in a landslide so enormous that it is obvious on election night, or else we are in for a month of ugly litigation that will make Bush v. Gore look like a friendly moot court simulation. That was certainly the chilling takeaway of Trump adviser Jason Miller's Sunday morning interview with George Stephanopoulos on MSNBC. "If you speak with many smart Democrats, they believe that President Trump will be ahead on election night ... And then they're going to try to steal it back after the election." Miller isn't freelancing here. The administration really believes that counting votes is "theft." They've been hatching this plan since the spring. Trump himself has said over and over that the winner must be known on Election Night even though most states don't certify their results for days or weeks afterwards. One of Trump's hand-picked Supreme Court nominees, Brett Kavanaugh, mused in a concurring opinion last week that late arriving ballots could "flip" the results of elections. Justice Neil Gorsuch concurred with this demented logic, claiming that "The Constitution provides that state legislatures — not federal judges, not state judges, not state governors, not other state officials — bear primary responsibility for setting election rules." To be clear, four Supreme Court justices have now endorsed the view that state legislatures possess sovereignty that is beyond the purview of state supreme courts and elected governors. Down this road lies tyranny. And it gets worse. An 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled over the weekend that the state of Minnesota, in an otherwise uncontroversial compromise, could not extend the deadline for receipt of absentee ballots, on this same completely lunatic theory of state legislative supremacy. And Republicans have been trying to persuade a federal judge to throw out 127,000 ballots cast legally in Harris County, Texas, under procedures green-lit by the GOP secretary of state, under a novel legal theory that boils down to this: Democrats should not be able to vote unless we say when, where, and how, and then we reserve the right to take it all back when the results are inconvenient. No national Republican has denounced these tyrannical machinations. None will, because the whole party has disappeared down a rabbit hole of paranoid authoritarianism, the sole purpose of which is the preservation of white, conservative power against the clear wishes of a majority of the American people. The very idea of tossing out more than 100,000 votes cast by citizens under procedures approved by their own state government should be discarded as grossly immoral, an affront to the concept of democracy itself. Anyone who argues otherwise is a monster. Step back and take in the broader context of this mess: In the midst of a once-in-a-century public health crisis that obviously called for an expansion of vote-by-mail options for those who don't want to risk their lives voting in person, Republicans in Congress stonewalled legislation to provide extra money for states to competently scale up their mail-voting operations, while the president himself relentlessly undermined public faith in the process.
11-2-20 Covid: White House accuses top scientist Fauci of 'playing politics'
The White House has accused leading infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci of playing politics days before the election in an interview about the coronavirus pandemic. Dr Fauci told the Washington Post the US was in for a "whole lot of hurt". He also offered an assessment of how both President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, are approaching the pandemic. The US has recorded more deaths and cases than any other country. According to data collated by Johns Hopkins University, deaths in the US have now passed 230,000, while more than nine million cases have been registered. In his interview with the Post published on Saturday night, Dr Fauci warned that "all the stars are aligned in the wrong place as you go into the fall and winter season, with people congregating at home indoors." "You could not possibly be positioned more poorly," he said. When asked about the approaches of the two presidential candidates, Dr Fauci said Mr Biden was "taking it seriously from a public health perspective", while Mr Trump was "looking at it from a different perspective… the economy and reopening the country". He said the US needed to make an "abrupt change" in public health practices and behaviours. The comments drew a sharp rebuke from the White House, which accused Dr Fauci of attempting to bolster Mr Biden's bid for the presidency. Spokesman Judd Deere said the comments were "unacceptable and breaking with all norms". "As a member of the [US Coronavirus] Task Force, Dr Fauci has a duty to express concerns or push for a change in strategy, but he's not done that, instead choosing to criticise the president in the media and make his political leanings known by praising the president's opponent," he added in a statement. Coronavirus has been a central issue in the run-up to Tuesday's presidential election. Mr Biden has called the president's handling of the coronavirus pandemic an "insult" to its victims. The Democratic candidate - who has not ruled out further lockdowns - pledged to "let science drive our decisions" if he is elected. "Even if I win, it's going to take a lot of hard work to end this pandemic," he told voters this week. "I do promise this: We will start on day one doing the right things."
11-2-20 COVID-19 keeps proving everyone wrong
Our coronavirus culture war is no match for the virus. America once again broke its own record last week for daily confirmed cases of COVID-19, with over 90,000 new cases on a single day. That's almost certainly not as many cases as we actually had back in the worst days of March when testing capacity was almost nonexistent and the virus had been raging essentially unchecked for weeks through the Northeast. But it is clearly worse than the summer surge through the Southeast and Southwest. And while the current wave is hitting Midwestern states like Wisconsin hardest, in every part of the country, from Texas to Massachusetts, numbers are rising, and in an accelerating fashion. It's a terrible and depressing state of affairs. So imagine how we'd feel if the numbers were more than two and a half times worse — if, instead of 90,000 new cases a day, we had nearly 250,000. Because that's what America would look like if we had the same number of new cases per capita as France. The ferocious return of the virus across Europe is not exactly an underreported story. But it has been under-assimilated to the dominant narratives of both sides in America's COVID culture war. This past summer, advocates of stringent measures — aggressive lockdowns, universal mask-wearing, etc. — could point to Europe's success as proof that the virus could be beaten with sufficient determination, organization, and social solidarity. If America would only get its act together, we could emulate the approach of countries like France and have some semblance of our normal lives back by Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, advocates of a less-stringent response could point to Sweden, Europe's outlier country that never locked down, to say that ruthless suppression of the virus was unnecessary. With adequate protections for the residents of nursing homes (which Sweden failed to enact in the initial phase of the pandemic), and with restrictions on large gatherings, much of life could continue almost as normal and without massive economic and social dislocation. The virus would spread slowly through the population, taking a modest toll in life and health, but there would be no crisis, and eventually herd immunity would cause it to peter out. Both views have now taken a serious hit. France successfully suppressed the virus to a level well below where states like New York got it, declared victory, and returned to something closely approaching normal. And it was precisely that return to normal that allowed the virus to return as well — and once it achieved a critical mass of infected individuals, the number of cases exploded. Nor is France unique. The Czech Republic, a country that responded swiftly and forcefully in the spring, and thereby managed to avoid the first wave almost entirely, is now suffering one of the worst outbreaks in Europe. After doing surprisingly well through September, Sweden is facing its own surge, and abandoning its earlier lax approach to the virus. Meanwhile Belgium, arguably the worst-hit European country back in the spring, is also having a devastating fall, with two and a half times the number of daily cases per capita as France — over six times the U.S.'s rate. If Belgium hasn't benefited from herd immunity, it's hard to think of what country could. Where does that leave all of us, staring down the barrel of a brutal winter?
11-2-20 Coronavirus: Germany restricts social life in 'lockdown light'
Germany has entered the first day of a month-long "lockdown light", shutting restaurants, bars, gyms and entertainment venues, but keeping schools, shops and workplaces open. The lockdown is not as restrictive as the March-April one, and food outlets can still provide takeaways. The coronavirus infection rate is still rising in Germany, though not as dramatically as in France and Belgium, which are now in tighter lockdowns. Italy is also planning tighter rules. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte proposed curbs on travel to high-risk areas and an earlier night-time curfew. Museums and exhibitions would shut and shopping centres would close at weekends, under the plans now to be discussed in parliament. Cinemas, swimming pools, theatres and gyms are already closed, and food outlets have to stop table service by 18:00. Mr Conte warned that intensive care units could be overwhelmed by December. But Italy wants to avoid another full lockdown because of the economic cost. As in Italy's March crisis, the worst-hit region is Lombardy, which includes Milan. Next comes Campania, the region around Naples. Under Germany's new national measures, public meetings are restricted to 10 people maximum from two households. Private parties are banned. There is some regional variation, as German states have a large degree of autonomy in public health. Hamburg, Lower Saxony and Berlin, for example, are exempting children under 12 from the two-households rule. On Saturday, Austria and Portugal became the latest countries to announce new restrictions. The latest official data from Germany's respected Robert Koch Institute (RKI) shows 12,097 new infections in the past 24 hours, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 545,027 in Germany. The totals for France, Spain and the UK - all with smaller populations than Germany - are all above a million. On Saturday however, Germany recorded its highest daily total so far, with 19,059 cases.
11-1-20 US Election 2020: Missouri officials cover noose near polling booths
Officials have covered up a noose on display near polling booths in Missouri, after local Democrats argued it could intimidate black voters. The incident is one of a number of controversial occurrences in the final days of the US election campaign. Meanwhile a Democratic campaign bus in Texas was encircled by supporters of President Donald Trump, a Republican. And a rally to promote voting in North Carolina ended with attendants getting pepper-sprayed and arrested. There are widespread fears across the country of post-election violence, whether the election is won by Mr Trump or his Democrat challenger Joe Biden. Businesses in downtown Washington DC have been seen in recent days boarding up their premises amid concerns about looting. Mr Biden currently has a solid lead in opinion polls, but his advantage is narrower in swing states that could decide the election. Both men have been criss-crossing the country in the final days of the campaign in a last-ditch effort to gain votes. But more than 85 million people have voted early, 55 million of them by post, setting the country on course for its biggest voter turnout in over a century. Democrats in Stone County, Missouri, drew attention to a noose in a room containing voting booths, describing it as "clear intimidation" of black voters. "This symbol's purpose is to stoke the fires of racial prejudice and strike fear in the hearts of people of colour," said Missouri party acting chair Clem Smith in a statement, adding that it was a painful reminder of lynchings of black Americans. It was "offensive, inappropriate and outrageous" and should be taken down, he added. County official Cindy Elmore said, quoted by the Kansas City Star newspaper, that the noose was a replica and part of a historical exhibit in the county building hosting the voting booths. It had "nothing to do with the election office", she added. Ms Elmore said the noose was covered up on Friday morning. Stone County was the location of Missouri's last legal hanging in 1937, which is depicted in the exhibit.
11-1-20 Covid: New breath test could detect virus in seconds
Early trials of a new test for coronavirus open up the possibility of "rapid identification" for the disease in seconds rather than hours. Research shows breath analysis developed in Wales may be able to distinguish Covid-19 from other chest infections almost immediately. Results published by the Lancet follow trials in Scotland and Germany. Developers Imspex Diagnostics said its devices could be ready to use in six months - if they can secure funding. "The potential, I think, is very exciting," said founder and chief executive Santi Dominguez. "Being so immediate, you could see many different applications outside a traditional hospital environment. "You could see the potential in aviation, you could see it in transportation in general, you could see it in immigration. "You could take a quick sample, it's non-invasive, you don't need a particularly specialised person to collect those samples - and a few minutes later you get a result." The latest machines were developed by Imspex at its headquarters in the Cynon Valley in south Wales. Originally, the technology was being used to develop tests to detect illnesses such as lung cancer, and how to distinguish between bacterial and viral respiratory diseases quickly. But as the new strain of coronavirus became a global pandemic, the firm took the decision to focus its diagnostic efforts on the emerging disease. "We do have experience in that area, and experience in its implementation. When Covid came along, it made us divert in that direction and to contribute to the effort," added the Imspex chief. Two trials have now been carried out using the firm's technology, on hospital patients in Edinburgh and in Dortmund, Germany, early in the Covid outbreak. The study, led by Loughborough University, evolved from the university's work on its toxi-triage project to help emergency services in civil disasters.
11-1-20 Joe Biden needs a better answer on police brutality
Want to stop looting? Stop police violence. ere's a little window into relations between community and police in my home neighborhood of West Philadelphia. One night earlier this week, a young black woman named Rickia Young borrowed her sister's car to take her two-year-old son and 16-year-old nephew home. On Chestnut Street (a one-way route), she inadvertently ran into a confrontation between a group of police and activists, who were protesting the death of Walter Wallace, Jr. at the hands of police days before. A local filming on their phone captured what happened next. After telling Young to turn around, a mob of cops suddenly surrounded the car, broke all its windows with their batons, dragged her and her nephew out, bludgeoned them senseless, and violently threw them to the ground. Then they ripped her baby son out of his car seat, injuring his head in the process, and took him away. Unbelievably, the nation's largest police union later posted a picture on social media of a female cop holding the kidnapped toddler with a caption lying that he "was lost during the violent riots in Philadelphia, wandering around barefoot in an area that was experiencing complete lawlessness … The only thing this Philadelphia police officer cared about in that moment was protecting this child." The posts were quietly deleted after the truth came out. In reality, though Young was later released without any charges, her son's grandmother had to retrieve him from the police, who had put him back in a police cruiser in his car seat, still strewn with broken glass. The Washington Post reports that, as of Friday, the family still had no idea what happened to the car, which contained hearing aids for the baby. That brings me to Joe Biden. After the killing of Wallace, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris issued a statement that lamented his death, but quickly pivoted to blaming the protesters for the disturbances. No "amount of anger at the very real injustices in our society excuses violence," they wrote. Biden later emphasized the latter sentiment in person, telling reporters that "there is no excuse for looting." This line is both wrong, and politically blinkered. It's not hard to understand why Philly folks were furious about the Wallace shooting. He reportedly was having some kind of mental health crisis, and was walking around holding a knife. A bystander called for an ambulance, but two cops showed up first. As another phone video shows, they immediately started shouting at him, weapons drawn, and when he moved towards them, they opened fire — long before he was in a position to actually threaten them. No apparent attempts to talk him down, no retreating to summon backup, not even a warning shot or aiming to wound. It was immediate death from a hail of bullets, 10 of which hit him. This instant resort to lethal violence bears a marked contrast with how British police, for one example, behave around disturbed knife-wielding people. Here you can watch a group of bobbies contain such a person while armored backup arrives, after which they corner him with shields and get the knife away with no injuries to anyone. It's not even that risky.