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Sioux Falls Atheists and Atheism, Agnostics and Humanism

154 Atheism & Humanism News Articles
for February 2021
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2-28-21 U.N. Human Rights Council starts work to address a 'pandemic of human rights abuses'
The U.N. Human Rights Council convened Monday for its 46th regular session to address what U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called a "pandemic of human rights abuses" that has intensified amid the coronavirus. The HRC's session runs through March 23, and it has a full agenda: It plans to discuss dire situations in Myanmar, Venezuela, Syria, South Sudan, and Sri Lanka, among others. More than 100 nongovernmental organizations are also calling on the council to establish a way to monitor and report human rights violations in Egypt. In addressing those issues, the HRC's "biggest challenge is just its credibility on the international scene," said David Kaye, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine. The council is the sole international body entrusted with the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe. But Kaye said it's also been widely criticized for not holding its own members accountable for human rights violations. That was one of the Trump administration's criticisms when it withdrew U.S. participation from the council in 2018. The U.S., under President Joe Biden, is now rejoining the council as an observer — which means it can speak in the council meetings, participate in negotiations and partner with others to introduce resolutions. Kaye said that the U.S. left a vacuum that allowed China to increase its influence on the council. China was elected as a member of the HRC late last year. "China is committing some of the most serious human rights abuses in the world," Kaye said. "While they're doing that, they are also seeking to play a pretty active role on the council itself, taking aggressive positions." To push back against that, and to help restore the council's credibility, overall, Kaye said the U.S. needs to support actions that hold even its allies accountable — from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to Poland, Hungary, and Israel. And, he said the U.S. needs to account for its own human rights abuses — something he thinks it's not prepared to do. "Historically, the United States has simply not implemented its human rights obligations in the United States," Kaye said. "There's no human rights culture and infrastructure in the United States." Kaye said that was highlighted last year when Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, and protests spread across the U.S. and the world. African countries asked the council to establish an independent commission of inquiry to investigate police brutality in the U.S. The council didn't agree to that, but it "adopted a watered-down resolution due to the enormous diplomatic pressure from the United States and other allied countries," said Salma El Hosseiny of the International Service for Human Rights. The U.S. successfully lobbied to limit the investigation to a less extensive report by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and also to widen the scope to focus on all countries. An update on that report is due next month, and many groups will be closely watching how the U.S. reacts, Hosseiny said. "We look forward to seeing the United States constructively engage in good faith with this process, with the report, and with genuine self-reflection and commitment toward change," she said, adding that it will be one of the early tests of the U.S.'s renewed commitment to the Human Rights Council.

2-28-21 Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine: FDA approves single-shot jab
US regulators have formally approved the single-shot Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine, the third jab to be authorised in the country. The vaccine is set to be a cost-effective alternative to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and can be stored in a refrigerator instead of a freezer. Trials found it prevented serious illness but was 66% effective overall when moderate cases were included. The vaccine is made by the Belgian firm Janssen. The company has agreed to provide the US with 100 million doses by the end of June. The first doses could be available to the US public as early as next week. The UK, EU and Canada have also ordered doses, and 500 million doses have also been ordered through the Covax scheme to supply poorer nations. President Joe Biden hailed it as "exciting news for all Americans, and an encouraging development", but warned that the "fight is far from over". "Though we celebrate today's news, I urge all Americans - keep washing your hands, stay socially distanced, and keep wearing masks," he said in a statement. "As I have said many times, things are still likely to get worse again as new variants spread, and the current improvement could reverse." The authorisation by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) came after an external committee of experts unanimously backed the vaccine on Friday. Results from trials conducted in the US, South Africa and Brazil showed it was more than 85% effective at preventing serious illness, and 66% effective overall when moderate cases were included. Notably, there were no deaths among participants who had received the vaccine and no hospital admissions after 28 days post-vaccine. Overall protection was lower in South Africa and Brazil, where virus variants have become dominant, but defence against severe or critical illness was "similarly high".

2-28-21 What you need to know about J&J’s newly authorized one-shot COVID-19 vaccine
The jab becomes the third available in the United States, after Pfizer’s and Moderna’s. And then there were three: A single-shot vaccine is the latest weapon to join the battle against COVID-19 in the United States. On February 27, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave emergency use authorization for Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. South Africa is the only other country to OK Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine so far, though other countries are poised to follow suit. The FDA determined that Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine meets the criteria for safety and effectiveness and that there is clear evidence that it may prevent COVID-19, the agency said in a statement. “With today’s authorization, we are adding another vaccine in our medical toolbox to fight this virus,” said Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. Its authorization for emergency use in the United States – for people age 18 and older – follows similar authorizations in December for vaccines made by Moderna and by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech. Shortages of vaccines make the addition of a third safe and effective vaccine welcome. “We’re still in the midst of this deadly pandemic,” says Archana Chatterjee, Dean of the Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science. “Authorization of this vaccine will help meet the needs at the moment,” she said February 26 after an FDA vaccine advisory committee unanimously voted to recommend Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine for emergency use. But even as the pharmaceutical company readies to ship out 4 million doses, questions remain about how well the public will embrace the new shot.

2-28-21 The forgotten nuclear threat
Constraints on nuclear proliferation have lapsed or been loosened in recent years. How great is the danger? Here's everything you need to know:

  1. Who has nuclear weapons? The vast majority — some 91 percent — of the world's 13,400 nuclear weapons are owned by the U.S. and Russia, which each have the power to render Earth an uninhabitable nuclear wasteland. The other early developers of nuclear arsenals were the U.K., China, and France. In an attempt to prevent further spread, the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was adopted in 1970, pledging those five powers to eventually disarm in return for other states promising not to pursue the bomb.
  2. What about arms control treaties? Few remain. During the Reagan era, the U.S. and the Soviet Union agreed to slash their nuclear arsenals, but most arms control treaties since then have lapsed. The Bush administration pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, which sparked an arms race in missile-defense systems, and President Trump yanked the U.S. out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019, saying that Russia had violated it.
  3. What is Iran's capability? Israeli intelligence says that the assassination of Iran's top nuclear scientist in November set Iran's nuclear program back, and that it would need two years to build a nuclear weapon. In the early 2000s, the International Atomic Energy Agency discovered that Iran had been cheating on the NPT with a clandestine program to enrich uranium. Under the 2015 treaty negotiated by the Obama administration, Iran agreed to radically slash its stockpile of uranium and limit the number of centrifuges that it can use for enrichment.
  4. What happens if Iran goes nuclear? It would set off a chain of proliferation. Saudi Arabia, Iran's enemy, has said it would seek nukes if Iran got them, and Turkey and Egypt could follow. The threat from North Korea, meanwhile, is alarming to Japan and South Korea, where factions have argued for the development of their own nuclear weapons as deterrents.
  5. What comes next? The next nuclear summit — the NPT review conference held every five years — takes place in August. That will be a chance for the Biden administration to reassure allies and to open negotiations with rising power China. China is planning to double its arsenal to 200 warheads over the next decade, and it has been pouring money into new missile designs.
  6. The trouble with missile defense: Missile defense is a system designed to shoot down incoming nuclear missiles before they hit. But if a country can shoot down, say, 100 enemy missiles, the enemy has an incentive to fire 200 to overwhelm the defense, leading to an offensive and defensive arms race. So in their arms control treaty, the U.S. and Soviets banned most missile defenses, relying instead on deterrence — the threat of mutual assured destruction.

2-27-21 Coronavirus: Biden's $1.9tn Covid relief bill passes House vote
President Joe Biden's $1.9tn (£1.4tn) relief plan to help Americans during the Covid pandemic has been approved in the House of Representatives. The vote was along partisan lines. Two Democrats joined Republicans - who see it as too expensive - in opposing it. The bill must now go to the evenly-divided Senate, which has already blocked a key element - doubling the US minimum wage to $15 an hour. The package seeks to boost vaccinations and testing, and stabilise the economy. The cash would be extended as emergency financial aid to households, small businesses and state governments. Unemployment is close to 10%, with some 10 million jobs lost in the pandemic. The vote comes in the same week the US passed 500,000 coronavirus-related deaths - the largest figure of any nation in the world. Joe Biden had appealed for bipartisan unity when he took office last month, but there was little on show in the early hours of Saturday when the Democrats scraped the bill through on a 219 to 212 vote. President Biden has championed what he calls the American Rescue Plan as a way to help struggling Americans through Covid-19. But Republicans say the plan is unnecessarily large and stuffed with Democratic priorities unrelated to the pandemic. The divisions were reflected by the representatives. Democrat Brendan Boyle said: "After 12 months of death and despair, the American recovery begins tonight." The leader of the Republicans in the House, Kevin McCarthy, said: "Democrats are so embarrassed by all the non-Covid waste in this bill that they are jamming it through in the dead of night." It's the third major US spending package of the pandemic, and actually not quite as big as Donald Trump's $2tn last March. The key elements include: A $1,400 cheque per person, although payments phase out for higher incomes, Extending jobless benefits until the end of August to help the more than 11 million long-term unemployed, Parents of children under the age of 18 to get a year of monthly benefits, $70bn to boost Covid testing and vaccinations, Financial support for schools and universities to help them reopen, Grants for small businesses and other targeted industries, Funds for local government. (Webmaster's comment: The Democrats care about the American people! The Republicans obviously do not!)

2-27-21 Texas weather: Biden visits state amid recovery from deadly cold snap
President Joe Biden has travelled to Texas in his first trip to a disaster zone, visiting workers still reeling from a deadly winter storm. "You're doing God's work," Mr Biden told emergency workers in Houston. His visit on Friday came as Texas recovers from a massive energy failure that left millions without electricity amid an unusually severe cold snap. Dozens of deaths have been blamed on the cold, but it could take months to determine the full tally, US media say. The energy disaster, which affected some four million residents, came as Texas was seeing the lowest recorded temperatures in more than three decades earlier this month. Miles of pipes in the south-western state froze and subsequently burst as homes and businesses that are not often insulated against cold weather lost heat. Water treatment plants also failed, forcing millions of residents to boil water to disinfect it. Thousands collected snow - rare in the state - and used the water to flush their toilets. Several communities are still under orders to boil their water. Earlier this week, Mr Biden declared a major disaster in Texas, clearing the way for more federal funds to be spent on relief efforts. Mr Biden's homeland security adviser said on Thursday that $9m (£6.5m) had already been allocated for assistance. The cold weather that set in over the Valentine's Day weekend has mostly now passed, with temperatures reaching around 78F (26C) in Houston during Mr Biden's visit. In one of his first trips since taking office in January, Mr Biden toured the Houston area with Republican Governor Greg Abbott and First Lady Jill Biden. Houston - the most populous city in Texas - experienced over one million power outages. He began by touring the Harris County Emergency Operations Center, where he told workers: "Thank you for what you're doing." "This is a hell of an operation here," he said, after receiving a briefing from emergency officials. Harris County at one point had 3.5 million residents without running water, one official told him. Twelve millions bottles of water have since been distributed. "You're saving people's lives," Mr Biden continued. "As my mother would say, you're doing God's work."

2-27-21 Biden in the quagmire
Whack-a-mole airstrikes in the Middle East only perpetuate the forever war. resident Biden came into office promising a new way of doing foreign policy. His campaign said he would "repair the damage wrought by President Trump and chart a fundamentally different course for American foreign policy[.]" And he did start with a promising move — cutting off U.S. support for Saudi Arabia's genocidal war in Yemen. But now, barely one month into office, he's done just what Trump did early in his term: bomb Syria on a stupid pretext. U.S. forces conducted an airstrike in the eastern part of the country late on Thursday, supposedly against Iran-backed militias, in retaliation for hitting American forces with a rocket attack on February 15 in northern Iraq. This move demonstrates the utter folly of keeping such a gigantic military footprint in the Middle East (and indeed in the rest of the world). American forces only inflame chaos in the region and pose a constant risk of touching off a serious war. Now, this was a pretty modest strike by prior standards: reportedly just seven 500-pound bombs, as compared to the 59 cruise missiles that Trump launched in April 2017. But that only underlines the senselessness of Biden's move. Nobody can possibly believe this will make any serious change to either the tactical or strategic situation anywhere. It's just tit-for-tat feuding with Iran — in a fight that America started when Trump betrayed the U.S. promise to stick with the nuclear deal, and assassinated its prominent general Qasem Soleimani. Iran could very well respond in kind, going in circles with the U.S. like the Hatfields and McCoys — or things could escalate out of control, resulting in outright war. Moreover, on any even halfway reasonable reading of the Constitution, U.S. treaty commitments, and U.S. law, this strike was blatantly illegal. Wars of aggression are forbidden in the United Nations charter, and according to the War Powers Act the approval of Congress is required for the use of force. As Adil Ahmad Haque writes at Just Security, "It cannot be lawful to use armed force on the territory of another State when it is clear that no armed attack by a non-State actor is ongoing or even imminent." Or as Biden Press Secretary Jen Psaki tweeted in 2017 in response to Trump's cruise missile strike: Also what is the legal authority for strikes? Assad is a brutal dictator. But Syria is a sovereign country. Biden's legal team will probably cook up some argle-bargle "rationale" based on the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force passed in response to 9/11. But if permission to attack al Qaeda 20 years ago can justify this attack, it can justify anything. It's tantamount to saying "if the president does it, that means it is not illegal." Establishment types in the foreign policy "Blob" often portray themselves as the steely-eyed custodians of national interest — the people who will make the tough decisions to keep Americans safe. So it seems a tough negotiation stance is part of the motivation here: "The airstrike appears to be part of a U.S. message to Iran that it cannot improve its leverage in talks by attacking U.S. interests," surmises The Washington Post. (Webmaster's comment: We need to get out of foreign countries and stop killing those we don't like! To the rest of the world we are a brute dictatorship!)

2-27-21 Global inequity in COVID-19 vaccination is more than a moral problem
Lopsided distribution will cost lives, ding the global economy and perpetuate the pandemic. Months before the first COVID-19 vaccine was even approved, wealthy nations scrambled to secure hundreds of millions of advance doses for their citizens. By the end of 2020, Canada bought up 338 million doses, enough to inoculate their population four times over. The United Kingdom snagged enough to cover a population three times its size. The United States reserved over 1.2 billion doses, and has already vaccinated about 14 percent of its residents. It’s a drastically different story for less wealthy nations. More than 200 have yet to administer a single dose. Only 55 doses in total have been delivered among the 29 lowest-income countries, all to Guinea. Only a few sub-Saharan African countries have begun systematic immunization programs. “The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure, and the price of this failure will be paid with the lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director of the World Health Organization recently said. COVAX, an international initiative tasked with ensuring more equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, aims to redress this imbalance by securing deals that send shots to low-income countries free of charge. Despite new pledges of support from some of the wealthiest nations, COVAX is off to a slow start. Its first shipment of 600,000 shots was sent February 24, to Ghana. COVAX still needs nearly $23 billion to meet its goal of vaccinating 20 percent of participating countries by the end of the year. Such stark inequities don’t just raise moral questions of fairness. With vaccine demand still vastly outstripping supply, lopsided distribution could also ultimately prolong the pandemic, fuel the evolution of new, potentially vaccine-evading variants, and drag down the economies of rich and poor — and vaccinated and unvaccinated — nations alike.

2-27-21 Jamal Khashoggi: US says Saudi prince approved Khashoggi killing
A US intelligence report has found that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the murder of exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. The report released by the Biden administration says the prince approved a plan to either "capture or kill" Khashoggi. The US announced sanctions on dozens of Saudis but not the prince himself. Saudi Arabia rejected the report, calling it "negative, false and unacceptable". Crown Prince Mohammed, who is effectively the kingdom's ruler, has denied any role in the murder. Khashoggi was killed while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, and his body cut up. The 59-year-old journalist had once been an adviser to the Saudi government and close to the royal family but he fell out of favour and went into self-imposed exile in the US in 2017. From there, he wrote a monthly column in the Washington Post in which he criticised the policies of Prince Mohammed. "We assess that Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi," the report by the office of the US director of national intelligence says. The crown prince is the son of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud and is considered to be the effective ruler of the kingdom. The intelligence report lists three reasons for believing that the crown prince must have approved the operation: His control of decision-making in the kingdom since 2017, The direct involvement in the operation of one of his advisers as well as members of his protective detail, His "support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad". The report goes on to name individuals allegedly complicit in, or responsible for, Khashoggi's death. But it says "we do not know how far in advance" those involved planned to harm him. Saudi authorities have blamed the killing on a "rogue operation" by a team of agents sent to return the journalist to the kingdom, and a Saudi court tried and sentenced five individuals to 20 years in prison last September, after initially sentencing them to death. In 2019, UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard accused the Saudi state of the "deliberate, premeditated execution" of Khashoggi and dismissed the Saudi trial as an "antithesis of justice". (Webmaster's comment: The reason the United States does not punish the prince is the huge amount of weapons he buys from our arms manufacturers! It's all about the money!)

2-26-21 Covid-19 news: One dose of Pfizer vaccine greatly reduced transmission
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 dose of Pfizer vaccine shows 75 per cent reduction in asymptomatic infections. There is yet more good news on vaccine effectiveness. A study based on nearly 9000 coronavirus tests done on healthcare workers in Cambridge, UK, has found that asymptomatic infections fell by 75 per cent 12 days after they got one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. There was a similar reduction in symptomatic infections. The finding is significant because it shows the vaccine will greatly reduce the spread of the virus. It was already clear from clinical trials and previous studies that the Pfizer vaccine is highly effective at preventing symptomatic infections but we did not know how many vaccinated people might still get infected without symptoms and potentially pass the disease on to others. “This will mean a substantial reduction in transmission of the virus as more and more people are vaccinated, which is really great news,” study leader Mike Weekes at the University of Cambridge, told the Guardian. Fifty million Covid-19 vaccine doses have been given to people in the US since President Joe Biden took office 37 days ago, taking the total to around 67 million. Biden had promised to deliver 100 million doses in his first 100 days, so his administration is on course to comfortably beat this target. But he warned that things will not return to normal soon. “This is not a victory lap. Everything is not fixed. We have a long way to go. And that day when everything is back to normal depends on all of us,” Biden said. New Zealand has reported one more locally acquired case of coronavirus. The infected person went to work at a fast food restaurant on Monday despite being told to isolate at home. But officials say the small cluster of cases in Auckland is under control, and have not imposed another lockdown on the city. “This is a situation where we know the source of the cases [and] we know where there may have been contact with others,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

2-26-21 The U.S. could double its COVID-19 vaccine availability overnight. What's the holdup?
How the FDA could approve a more efficient vaccine rollout. What if we could instantly double COVID-19 vaccine availability in America? This is the tantalizing prospect raised by data collected while testing the double-dose regimen for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. As two Canadian researchers highlighted in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine this month, both vaccines have been found to achieve 92 percent efficacy 14 days after a recipient has been given just one dose. The second dose, administered three to four weeks after the first, offers comparatively small gains by this measure: It boosts the Pfizer vaccine's efficacy to 95 percent, and the Moderna vaccine's to 94 percent, differences of just three and two points, respectively. "With such a highly protective first dose, the benefits derived from a scarce supply of vaccine could be maximized by deferring second doses until all priority group members are offered at least one dose," the letter argues. In other words, it's possible we could more efficiently slow the viral spread and prevent thousands of deaths and hospitalizations in America if we saved the second shot for later, when supplies are larger. Could a single-dose plan actually happen here in the United States? Would the FDA ever permit it, especially in the relatively short time span where this shift could make a big difference? Or is delaying the second dose a pipe dream? The Canadian researchers dubbed such a strategic shift "a matter of national security" — strong words, and not unwarranted. Vaccine availability has increased, but present forecasts don't see us hitting the target of 3 million per day until April. The current average is just 1.4 million per day, and of the 267 million people eligible for COVID-19 vaccination in America (the vaccines aren't approved for children yet), just 7 percent are fully vaccinated and 14 percent have one shot. We're going too slow. I reached out to I. Glenn Cohen, a professor of health law and bioethics at Harvard University, and Holly Fernandez Lynch, an assistant professor of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania. Together they edited FDA in the Twenty-First Century: The Challenges of Regulating Drugs and New Technologies, which explores the FDA's function, successes, and failures. Both experts told me the move to a one-dose regimen here in the U.S. would be possible — at least theoretically. "If there are adequate data to support moving to a single dose of any of the two-dose vaccines, I would expect [the FDA] to amend the emergency use authorizations accordingly," Fernandez Lynch told me in an email. But, she said, there's a catch: "They can only act on applications submitted to the agency." That means the ball is in Moderna and Pfizer's court. They would have to call for the FDA to change its use authorization for their products to allow for delaying the second dose. If the companies do apply for a change, Cohen said he would expect the FDA to move quickly enough to give an answer within the critical period of vaccine shortages this spring. "As agencies go, FDA is appropriately careful in their review of these matters," he said, "but given the amount of data experience they have with Pfizer and Moderna thus far, if provided appropriate data, I think they could probably make a determination of whether such a change was warranted fairly quickly."

2-26-21 Biden's Covid stimulus plan: It costs $1.9tn but what's in it?
The US is poised to pass its third major spending package of the pandemic - a $1.9tn (£1.4tn) plan that President Joe Biden has championed as a way to help struggling Americans. Leaders of his Democratic Party, which has a slim majority in Congress, are planning to pass the so-called American Rescue Plan by mid-March. Republicans say the plan is unnecessarily large and stuffed with Democratic priorities unrelated to the pandemic. But Mr Biden and his team maintain the US must "act big" and that the extra cash is being spent on those most affected by the crisis - the poor, minorities and women. Democrats on Thursday saw their push for a minimum wage hike thrown into question after a Senate arbiter ruled it must be removed from the Covid package. Here are some of the key elements, with analysis by BBC correspondent Anthony Zurcher who ranks how much each component has support from Republicans (party mascot the elephant). The plan calls on the government to send out $1,400 per person, with the payments phasing out for those with higher incomes -at $75,000 for a single person and couples making more than $150,000. This will be the third stimulus cheque since the pandemic. The US approved $1,200 cheques last spring, and another $600 in late December. Supporters see the payments as critical financial support for families - many of which have seen incomes drop, even if they have not lost work entirely. But opponents say the measure is overly broad. The bill provides money to extend jobless benefits until the end of August. That's a critical reprieve for the more than 11 million long-term unemployed, whose eligibility for benefits is currently due to expire in mid-March. The plan also boosts the weekly amount received by workers through state unemployment programmes by $400. Democrats intend to give parents of children under the age of 18 a year of monthly benefits worth $250-$300, depending on age. The measure works by temporarily increasing the worth of America's existing child tax credit from $2,000 annually to as much as $3,600, and making the benefits available in advance. The bill also increases how much parents - many of whom have been juggling extra childcare duties due to school closures - may reclaim from their annual tax bill for childcare expenses.

2-26-21 Equality Act: US House passes legislation protecting LGBT rights
The US House of Representatives has passed sweeping legislation that prohibits LGBT discrimination, but it is unlikely to pass the Senate. The Equality Act was previously passed by the Democratic-led House in 2019, but was killed by Senate Republicans. The debate has laid bare the ideological battle between liberals who support the act and conservatives who say it infringes on religious freedom. The act expands on a 2020 Supreme Court ruling protecting some LGBT rights. The Equality Act expands on the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But what does that actually mean? The act provides non-discrimination protections for LGBT people, It would extend into all areas of life, including employment, housing, credit, jury service, and public services, It makes existing state protections federal and consistent across the nation. The act would also federally codify into law the 2020 June Supreme Court ruling that said employers who fire workers for being gay or transgender are violating civil rights law. Advocates for the act have argued that the current "patchwork" of state anti-discrimination laws does not provide enough comprehensive protection, and leaves many LGBT individuals at risk. "The patchwork nature of current laws leaves millions of people subject to uncertainty and potential discrimination that impacts their safety, their families, and their day-to-day lives," the Human Rights Campaign said in a statement. Passing the act was one of President Joe Biden's campaign promises and he has said he would sign it into law immediately should it pass Congress. Nearly all House Republicans said the bill infringed on their religious freedom and voted against it. (Webmaster's comment: The Republicans are always against the people!) Before the vote, the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank said the act "would make mainstream beliefs about marriage, biological facts about sex differences, and many sincerely held beliefs punishable under the law". It also argued the bill would give transgender athletes "an obvious unfair advantage" by permitting them to compete in sports against women, a claim often echoed by Republican lawmakers. Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene - one of the fiercest opponents of the bill - tried to halt passage of the legislation on the House floor.

2-26-21 Biden takes first military action with Syria strike on Iran-backed militias
The US has carried out an air strike targeting Iran-backed militias in Syria, in the first military action undertaken by the Biden administration. The Pentagon said the strike destroyed "multiple facilities" and was ordered in response to attacks against US and coalition personnel in Iraq. Militia officials said one person had been killed but a war monitor reported at least 22 fatalities. Syria condemned the attack as a "bad sign" from the new US administration. The Pentagon said its strike near the Iraqi border in eastern Syria was a "proportionate military response" that was taken "together with diplomatic measures", including consulting coalition partners. It came after a civilian contractor was killed in a rocket attack on US targets earlier this month. A US service member and five other contractors were also injured when the rockets hit sites in Irbil, including a base used by the US-led coalition. Rockets have also struck US bases in Baghdad, including the Green Zone, which houses the US embassy and other diplomatic missions. There are about 2,500 US troops in Iraq to assist Iraqi forces in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group. The messaging around this strike is probably more important than the strike itself. Ten days elapsed between the trigger - 15 February's rocket attack in Irbil - and retaliation. The US defence secretary made a point of thanking the Iraqi government for its intelligence input. The Pentagon said the air strikes had been conducted "together with diplomatic measures", including consultation with coalition partners. Nor did the attacks take place on Iraqi soil, thus minimising any embarrassment for the government in Baghdad. In short, Washington seems to be drawing a sharp distinction with the more intemperate, unilateral instincts of the previous administration. But at a time when the Biden administration is exploring ways of reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the strikes also sends a message to Tehran: just because we're willing to sit down and talk doesn't mean your proxies around the region can do what they want.

2-25-21 Covid-19 news: 1.4m doses of AstraZeneca vaccine unused in Germany
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. More than a million vaccine doses going unused in Germany. The perception that the AstraZeneca/University of Oxford vaccine is inferior to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has led to poor take-up in Germany, says the chair of the committee advising the German government on vaccines. “We have about 1.4 million doses of [the] AstraZeneca vaccine in store and only about 240,000 have been given to the people,” Thomas Mertens told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. An initial study in Scotland suggests that, while both are highly effective, one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine is slightly more effective at reducing the risk of hospitalisation than one dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Vaccination in the EU has got off to a slow start, with only around 6 per cent of the population given a first dose compared with 27 per cent in the UK. China has approved two more coronavirus vaccines, taking the total to four. The newly approved vaccines are made by CanSino Biologics and Sinopharm. A vaccine made by Sinovac was approved earlier this month, and another from Sinopharm approved last year. The approvals may help speed up vaccine rollout. According to NPR, only 24 million people in China – 1.6 per cent of the population – had at least one vaccine dose by the end of January. Moderna has produced the first batches of a version of its mRNA vaccine tweaked to better protect against the B.1.351 variant from South Africa. Doses have been sent to the US National Institutes of Health for testing, the company announced yesterday. Previous trials have shown some existing coronavirus vaccines are less effective against B.1.351. The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 2.5 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 113 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

2-25-21 Biden's Covid stimulus plan: It costs $1.9tn but what's in it?
The US is poised to pass its third major spending package of the pandemic - a $1.9tn (£1.4tn) plan that President Joe Biden has championed as a way to help struggling Americans. Leaders of his Democratic Party, which has a slim majority in Congress, are planning to pass the so-called American Rescue Plan by the end of the month. Republicans say the plan is unnecessarily large and stuffed with Democratic priorities unrelated to the pandemic. But Mr Biden and his team maintain the US must "act big" and that the extra cash is being spent on those most affected by the crisis - the poor, minorities and women. Here are some of the key elements, with analysis by BBC correspondent Anthony Zurcher who ranks how much each component has support from Republicans (party mascot the elephant). The plan calls on the government to send out $1,400 per person, with the payments phasing out for those with higher incomes -at $75,000 for a single person and couples making more than $150,000. This will be the third stimulus cheque since the pandemic. The US approved $1,200 cheques last spring, and another $600 in late December. Supporters see the payments as critical financial support for families - many of which have seen incomes drop, even if they have not lost work entirely. But opponents say the measure is overly broad. The bill provides money to extend jobless benefits until the end of August. That's a critical reprieve for the more than 11 million long-term unemployed, whose eligibility for benefits is currently due to expire in mid-March. The plan also boosts the weekly amount received by workers through state unemployment programmes by $400. Democrats intend to give parents of children under the age of 18 a year of monthly benefits worth $250-$300, depending on age. The measure works by temporarily increasing the worth of America's existing child tax credit from $2,000 annually to as much as $3,600, and making the benefits available in advance. The bill also increases how much parents - many of whom have been juggling extra childcare duties due to school closures - may reclaim from their annual tax bill for childcare expenses.

2-25-21 Johnson and Johnson vaccine: FDA finds the single-shot jab safe
US regulators have found the single-shot Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine is safe and effective. It paves the way for it to become the third Covid-19 vaccine to be authorised in the US, possibly within days. The vaccine would be a cost-effective alternative to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and can be stored in a refrigerator instead of a freezer. Trials found it prevented serious illness but was 66% effective overall when moderate cases were included. The company has agreed to provide the US with 100 million doses by the end of June. The UK, EU and Canada have also ordered doses and 500 million doses have also been ordered through the Covax scheme to supply poorer nations. The briefing document published by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gives more detail on the data submitted by Janssen, a pharmaceutical branch of Johnson & Johnson, to the regulator. The FDA concludes that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has "known benefits" in reducing both symptomatic and severe illness. It comes after the firm released data last month. Results from trials conducted in the US, South Africa and Brazil found its efficacy against the worst outcomes of the virus was "similarly high" but overall protection was lower in South Africa and Brazil, where virus variants have become dominant. Data showed it was more than 85% effective at preventing serious illness, but only 66% effective overall when moderate cases were included, when considering cases at least 28 days after vaccination. Notably, there were no deaths among participants who had received the vaccine and no hospital admissions after 28 days post-vaccine. An external committee of experts will meet on Friday to recommend whether the FDA should authorise the vaccine, possibly adding to a coming surge in vaccine availability in the US. The US would be the first country in the world to approve the vaccine.

2-25-21 China's Xi declares victory in ending extreme poverty
Chinese President Xi Jinping says his country has achieved the "miracle" of eradicating extreme poverty. His government says that over an eight-year period, nearly 100 million people have been lifted out of poverty. Speaking at a ceremony in Beijing, Mr Xi said it was a "complete victory" that would "go down in history". But some experts have questioned the way this has been measured. In China, extreme poverty is defined as earning less than $620 (£440) a year. In his speech on Thursday, Mr Xi said the "arduous task of eradicating extreme poverty has been fulfilled". "According to the current criteria, all 98.99 million poor rural population have been taken out of poverty, and 832 poverty-stricken counties as well as 128,000 villages have been removed from the poverty list," he said. Eradicating rural poverty has been a key initiative of Mr Xi's since he came to power in 2012. China announced late last year that it had removed the last remaining counties from a list of poor regions, which officials said meant it had achieved the goal of eliminating extreme poverty by the end of 2020. At the ceremony on Thursday, Mr Xi handed out medals to key figures in the poverty fight. But some experts say that China has set a low bar in its definition of poverty, and that ongoing investment is needed in its poorest areas. The threshold set by China to define extreme poverty amounts to $1.69 a day at current exchange rates, compared to the World Bank's global threshold of $1.90, Reuters news agency reports. Wide income inequalities also continue to exist in the country. (Webmaster's comment: Just like in America!)

2-24-21 Covid-19 news: Single dose J&J vaccine likely to get US approval
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. Single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine likely to get go-ahead in US. The one-shot coronavirus vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson is safe and effective, according to an analysis by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released today. The vaccine is already being used in South Africa, and the FDA is due to meet on Friday to make a decision for the US, where the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are currently being used. The Johnson & Johnson shot can be kept in ordinary fridges, unlike the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which needs to be stored at -70 degrees C for most of the time. The FDA review found that in trials of one dose in about 40,000 people, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 66 per cent effective at preventing moderate to severe illness from covid-19, and there were no safety concerns. A verdict is expected in March from both the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority and the European Medicines Agency. The firm also has large trials ongoing of a two-shot regime, including at 16 sites in the UK. The EU, US and the UK have ordered 400 million, 100 million and 30 million doses of the vaccine, respectively. Ghana in western Africa has become the first country to receive a shipment of covid-19 vaccines as part of the Covax scheme for distributing the jabs to poorer countries. Ghana received 600,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine at its capital Accra today. Hungary has started using China’s Sinopharm vaccine against the coronavirus, the first European Union nation to do so. The jab has had emergency approval in Hungary but has not yet been approved by the European Medicines Agency. “Today we are starting vaccinations with the Chinese batches,” Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Facebook. Hungary has bought five million doses from Sinopharm, enough to give two doses to a quarter of its population.

2-24-21 What could we do for the climate and health if money were no object?
SOME readers might remember the 1985 movie Brewster’s Millions. Richard Pryor’s character has to spend $30 million in 30 days in order to inherit a $300 million fortune. This week, we update the conceit, inflating the sum to a cool $1 trillion, and set a few ground rules: the money has to be spent on projects to improve human welfare, to restore the environment and to advance science. It is the premise of How to Spend a Trillion Dollars, a new book by New Scientist‘s podcast editor Rowan Hooper that takes 10 megaprojects and costs them out. It is a timely exercise, with US president Joe Biden pushing a $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package through Congress, with a $2 trillion climate plan waiting in the wings. What could be achieved, if money were no object? To take the examples we focus on this week – solving world poverty, improving public health across the globe and preventing catastrophic climate change – the answer is quite a lot. So much could be achieved for what is, globally speaking, a small sum, that you have to wonder why we don’t just get on with it. One reason, of course, is that there is no “we” endowed to act internationally with this level of investment. Maybe there should be. It would be no bad thing if this book encourages greater public pressure for action on many issues, and if it helps to show that even big problems are soluble. Sadly, Hooper doesn’t tell us how to get our hands on a trillion dollars. But by assessing what it would take to tackle the world’s biggest problems, he finds that solving them is limited not by technology, but by the availability of cash, and most of all by a lack of political will. So much might already be obvious, but the situation makes little sense: again and again financial analyses find that even huge investments pay for themselves many times over. In that sense, it really is like a new version of Brewster’s Millions: spend now, win later, with more jobs, better health and, crucially, a better functioning biosphere. Spending imaginary money is one thing, however. Now comes the task of getting politicians and the ultra-rich to make it happen.

2-24-21 How to spend a trillion dollars to fix climate change and end poverty
Let’s imagine you have inherited a fortune and want to solve the world’s most pressing problems. Here’s the best way to spend your money to make a difference to climate change, disease and poverty. MOST of us have had that conversation: what would you do if you won the lottery? Pay off the mortgage, quit your job, maybe start a small business doing something you have always dreamed of. But what if you acquired a truly vast fortune – not just a few million but a trillion dollars? And what if you had to spend it on making the world a better place? I know, a trillion dollars – a thousand billion dollars – sounds like a vast amount of money, especially during the twin crises of recession and pandemic. But in the grand scheme of things, it isn’t. A trillion dollars is about 1 per cent of world GDP. It is what Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is on course to be worth by 2026. The world’s richest 1 per cent together own $162 trillion in assets. And it’s just one-twelfth of what governments around the world found in 2020 alone for economic stimulus packages in response to the new coronavirus. What could you do with such a relatively modest sum, if charged to spend it on the world’s biggest challenges? This is the central question of my book, How to Spend a Trillion Dollars, in which I choose 10 megaprojects (all things scientists are working on now) and explore what could be achieved if we showered them with money. Here we examine three of the most urgent of those challenges: solving world poverty, halting runaway climate change and curing all disease. Perhaps the most important thing we could do for human welfare would be to alleviate poverty. According to the World Bank, about 10 per cent of the planet’s population, or 760 million people, earn $1.90 or less per day. The hardship is such that the life expectancy of the world’s poorest people is nearly 15 years lower than that of the richest.

2-24-21 Security officials testify Capitol rioters 'came prepared for war'
US Capitol security officials who were ousted in the wake of the 6 January attack on Congress have blamed intelligence failures for the breach. Testifying to a Senate committee, the officials said that the rioters "came prepared for war" with weapons, radios and climbing gear. Ex-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund said he had prepared for a protest, not "a military-style coordinated assault". Four people died after pro-Trump protesters stormed the US Capitol. Three of the four officials testifying on Tuesday to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee resigned in the immediate wake of the attack, in which one Capitol Police officer was killed. Acting Washington DC police chief Robert Contee III told lawmakers, who are holding the first public hearing into the attack, that he was "stunned" by how long it took for the Pentagon to deploy National Guard troops to help quell the riots. Democrats charge that the attack amounted to an insurrection, and impeached former President Donald Trump for allegedly inciting the mob. He was later acquitted by the Senate, becoming the first president in US history to be impeached twice. All three officials agreed that there appeared to be a level of co-ordination and planning from the crowd. Mr Sund said that pipe bombs that were placed at the edge of the security perimeter appeared to be intended to draw law enforcement away from the Capitol building. "When the group arrived at the perimeter, they did not act like any group of protesters I had ever seen," said the 30-year police veteran. "A clear lack of accurate and complete intelligence across several federal agencies contributed to this event and not poor planning by the United States Capitol Police," he added. Capitol Police Captain Carneysha Mendoza described the clashes, telling lawmakers that she has chemical burns on her face from attackers that still have not fully healed. "Of the multitude of events I've worked in my nearly 19-year career in the department, this was by far the worst of the worst," she said.

2-24-21 Biden holds first foreign meeting with Canada's Justin Trudeau
US President Joe Biden has spoken to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in his first bilateral meeting with a foreign leader since taking office. The two leaders highlighted mutual policy priorities around climate change and China. They vowed to align climate goals to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. And Mr Biden said the US would help Canada secure the release of two Canadians held by Beijing, saying they were not bartering chips. Canada is often the destination chosen for a US president's first foreign trip, but Covid-19 scuppered Mr Biden's plans. Instead, the meeting was held remotely. Mr Biden, a Democrat, is hoping to hit the reset button with Mr Trudeau, a Liberal, whose relationship with the former Republican US President Trump was often considered rocky. Mr Trudeau also pledged to work with the US to "get through Covid but also to make sure we're pulling our weight around the world". The leaders did not take questions from journalists, which is unusual in Washington for a bilateral event such as this. Mr Trudeau in his opening remarks criticised the Trump administration, and thanked Mr Biden for "stepping up". The prime minister added: "As we are preparing the joint rollout and communique... it's nice when the Americans aren't pulling out all references to climate change." But the two leaders did not publicly comment on the White House's decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline project, which would have boosted oil supplies from Canada's Alberta province to US refineries. In a phone call two days after Mr Biden took office - Mr Biden's first official call as president - Mr Trudeau conveyed his "disappointment" at the pipeline decision. A US official later said the closure would "not be reconsidered". Development of the pipeline was originally blocked by the Obama administration in 2015, but former President Donald Trump overturned that order and allowed it go ahead.

2-24-21 Daniel Prude: No charges for US officers over 'spit-hood' death
New York police officers filmed restraining an unarmed black man until he stopped breathing will not be charged over his death, officials say. Daniel Prude, who had mental health issues, died in Rochester city after officers put him in "spit hood" designed to protect police. The death in March last year led to days of protests against police. On Tuesday, New York's attorney general said a grand jury had declined to indict any officers in the case. "I know that the Prude family, the Rochester community and communities across the country will rightfully be disappointed by this outcome," Letitia James said at a news conference. "My office presented an extensive case, and we sought a different outcome than the one the grand jury handed us today." A grand jury is set up by a prosecutor to determine whether there is enough evidence to pursue a prosecution. In legal terms, it determines whether probable cause exists to believe a crime has been committed. Ms James expressed disappointment with the grand jury's verdict, alluding to other cases in which officers had not been held accountable for "the unjustified killing of unarmed African Americans". Mr Prude's death was one of the key events in months of unrest over racial injustice in the US last year. His arrest bore similarities to that of George Floyd, who died in police custody a few months later in Minnesota. Mr Prude, 41, had been suffering from acute mental health problems when his brother called police. When they arrived, officers found Mr Prude running naked in the street near his brother's home in Rochester. While hooded and being held down, he stopped breathing and died a week later after being taken off life support. But details of his death did not come to national attention until September 2020, when body camera footage of the arrest was released by the family after a public records request. The case led to the suspension of seven officers and the dismissal of the city's police chief. Mr Prude's family have filed a lawsuit, accusing the police department of trying to cover up the facts around his death.

2-24-21 Covid: WHO scheme Covax delivers first vaccines
Ghana has become the first country to receive coronavirus vaccines through the Covax vaccine-sharing initiative. A delivery of 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in Accra on Wednesday. The first recipients are due to be healthcare workers. The Covax scheme aims to reduce the divide between rich countries and poorer nations unable to buy doses. The programme is planning to deliver about two billion vaccine doses globally by the end of the year. Ghana was chosen as the first recipient after promising quick distribution. The vaccines delivered to the Ghanaian capital were produced by the Serum Institute of India. The AstraZeneca vaccine, developed with Oxford University, has been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO). Vaccinations are expected to start in Ghana next week, and, as well as health workers, those over 60, people with underlying health conditions, and senior officials are due to be prioritised. Many nations in the developed world, which began their own vaccinations months ago, have faced criticism for buying or ordering more vaccines than they need. But many of those countries placed orders for doses with pharmaceutical companies before knowing whether the vaccine in development would be effective. They were hedging their bets - placing multiple orders in the hope that at least some of them would work out. The UK, which has ordered 400 million vaccine doses and will have many left over, has said it will donate most of its surplus vaccine supply to poorer countries. The Covax scheme is led by the WHO and also involves the Global Vaccine Alliance (Gavi) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi). In a joint statement, the WHO and the United Nations children's fund (Unicef) said it was a momentous occasion and "critical in bringing the pandemic to an end".

2-23-21 Covid-19 news: UK reviews vaccine passports for travel and pubs
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. Review into “vaccine passports” launched in UK. The UK government has begun a review of whether to introduce certificates showing someone has had a covid-19 vaccine. So-called vaccine passports could be used for international travel and for allowing people to enter places like theatres or pubs, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said today. Japan had slightly fewer deaths in 2020 than the previous year, the first time the annual death toll has fallen in 11 years. It was down by 0.7 per cent, according to preliminary data from the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. The fall was probably due to a sharp decline in influenza cases thanks to infection control measures against covid-19, such as wearing face masks and handwashing. Japan has recorded only 7529 deaths from the coronavirus so far. In England, no cases of flu have been detected in the first seven weeks of 2021, according to Public Health England. Scotland’s roadmap for exiting lockdown was announced today. From the 15 March, all primary and more secondary pupils will return to school, and four people from two households will be allowed to meet outside. In the last week of April, non-essential shops, bars, restaurants, gyms and hairdressers can reopen. The plan is similar to timings in England, where all pupils will be allowed back to schools on 8 March, two households or up to six people can meet outside from 29 March, and non-essential shops will reopen no earlier than 12 April. Mutation test can quickly reveal which coronavirus variant you have: The test could also dramatically improve surveillance efforts around the world, boosting the chances of containing new variants before they spread widely.

2-23-21 Covid: Biden calls 500,000 death toll a heartbreaking milestone
President Joe Biden has addressed the nation as the US passed the figure of 500,000 Covid-related deaths, the highest number of any country. "As a nation, we can't accept such a cruel fate. We have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow," he said on Monday. The president and vice-president, and their spouses, then observed a moment of silence outside the White House during a candle-lighting ceremony. Confirmed US infections now stand at 28.1 million, also a global record. "Today I ask all Americans to remember. Remember those we lost and remember those we left behind," President Biden said, calling for Americans to fight Covid together. The president ordered all flags on federal property to be lowered to half mast for the next five days. At the White House, he opened his speech by noting that the number of American deaths from Covid was higher than the death toll from World War One, World War Two, and the Vietnam War combined. "Today we mark a truly grim, heartbreaking milestone - 500,071 dead," he said. "We often hear people described as ordinary Americans," he went on to say. "There's no such thing, there's nothing ordinary about them. The people we lost were extraordinary. They span generations. Born in America, emigrated to America." "So many of them took their final breath alone in America." He drew on his own experience with grief - his wife and daughter were killed in a car crash in 1972 and one of his sons died from brain cancer in 2015. "I know what it's like to not be there when it happens. I know what it's like when you are there holding their hands; there's a look in their eye and they slip away," he said. "For me, the way through sorrow and grief is to find purpose." Mr Biden's approach to the pandemic is different to his predecessor, Donald Trump, who cast doubt on the impact of the deadly virus and was viewed as having politicised the wearing of masks and other measures needed to prevent the spread of the virus.

2-23-21 Covid US death toll: Imagining what 500,000 lost lives look like
The US has topped over 500,000 deaths in the Covid-19 pandemic. It will be the latest grim milestone for a country that has by far the highest death toll in the world from the virus. The US has seen more than twice as many deaths as the next hardest-hit country, Brazil. But it is also one of the most populous countries. In terms of deaths per 100,000 population, it ranks ninth, behind countries like the UK, Czech Republic, Italy and Portugal, according to Johns Hopkins University. The first known US death from the virus came on 6 February 2020. That means half a million lives have been lost in just over one year, more than the US death tolls from World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined. If every death came from the city of Atlanta, nearly its entire population would be wiped out. If you held a minute's silence consecutively for every person who has died from Covid in the US, it would take 347 days, almost a full year, to honour them all. The death toll equals the total crowd from four days of the Coachella Music Festival, one of the biggest annual music gatherings in the US. And it is nearly five times the attendance at the most highly attended Super Bowl ever - at the Rose Bowl in California, in 1977 (103,985). The first wave in the spring began as most of the country went into lockdown and was followed by a second albeit less severe wave in the period from late summer to early autumn. A devastating third surge over the past three months had communities reeling over the holidays. It is among the leading causes of death in the US. Last year, it was the third leading cause of death overall, with only heart disease and cancer claiming more US lives. At times, most notably during the third wave of cases, it spiked higher than both heart disease and cancer. The death toll in the US is more than 10 times higher than the number of Americans who died from influenza and pneumonia the year before the pandemic.

2-23-21 Is the new COVID normal preventing us from getting back to life?
How our desire for normalcy is prolonging the pandemic. When will we finally get back to normal? As we roll through the one-year anniversaries of the COVID-19 pandemic, that's the question I keep asking myself and others. We all mean different things by our answers — when will kids be back in school full time; when will we not have to wear masks indoors; when will Broadway be open again (that's my personal benchmark) — but we all mean the same general thing: When can we stop thinking about COVID? I understand the question — I ask it myself. But I think it might be the wrong question. Indeed, I think the formulation highlights a way in which our desire for "normalcy" has inhibited the very return to a fuller life that we all seek, encouraging us to take risks that we shouldn't and avoid risks that we should be willing — even eager — to take. "Normalcy" is, by definition, a way of life that feels stable and sustainable. It doesn't mean that way of life is optimal — it means what we're used to, what we don't really have to think about. What we're trying to minimize, when we talk about "normalcy," is the mental stress of dealing with change, and the constant decision-making that requires. It's easy to understand the resistance to various COVID restrictions in that light. These restrictions were impositions, demands that we change our behavior — and they had profound personal costs in terms of social isolation and economic dislocation. Moreover, these restrictions were not only open-ended but repeatedly revised as we learned more about how the virus is transmitted (initially assumed to be via contaminated surfaces, later understood to be almost exclusively through the air). It's not surprising that, in the face of what could look like public confusion, many people preferred to try to live as "normally" as possible even when the consequence of their living "normally" was to prolong the pandemic itself. But, after a year of living with the virus, I fear that our adaptations have created a new "normalcy" that itself is inhibiting our return to a fuller life. We now know what it is like to live under the shadow of COVID. To get out from under that shadow, we need to change. Consider the problem of vaccine hesitancy. In the initial rollout, significant percentages of those offered the vaccine — active-duty military, nursing home workers, front-line health-care workers, etc. — refused. The proportion of the population that is willing to get vaccinated has increased over time — from 34 percent in late December to 47 percent in late January (the latter including those already vaccinated) — but that's still a very large hesitant population. Hesitancy is higher among Black and Hispanic Americans than among white and Asian Americans, among rural and Republican-leaning people than among urban and Democratic-leaning ones, and among the young than the old — but the numbers are high enough across the overall population that they pose a potentially serious obstacle to truly defeating the virus. Why is hesitancy so high? One can point to specific reasons for different groups — Black distrust of a health-care system that has frequently ignored or mistreated them and used them as guinea pigs; Republican distrust of public health authorities for political bias. The public health messaging around vaccines has been terrible generally, emphasizing minor concerns rather than the safety, effectiveness, and urgency of the vaccination effort. But I believe one large factor looming behind all these reasons is simply that COVID has become normal, while the vaccines are still new. Whether we're flouting the rules or abiding by them assiduously, whether we've gotten sick or not, we as a society have adapted to life under COVID's shadow. And while half of us are jumping at the chance to get vaccinated, the other half are willing to wait and see. It's preferring the devil we know to the angel we don't.

2-23-21 Donald Trump ordered to hand over tax returns to prosecutors
Donald Trump has been ordered by the US Supreme Court to hand over his tax returns and other financial records to prosecutors in New York. The former US president has been refusing to release the documents for several years, despite a precedent that presidential candidates should do so. A lower court had earlier ruled that the records were pertinent to a criminal investigation. The ruling does not necessarily mean the files will be made public. The financial documents should be provided as evidence to a grand jury to be scrutinised in secret, and might only later become public as part of an indictment. A grand jury is set up by a prosecutor to determine whether there is enough evidence to pursue a prosecution. The jury is given investigative powers and can issue subpoenas to compel people to testify. The US Supreme Court's decision is a blow to Mr Trump, who has been in a legal battle to protect his records from a grand jury for months. Last July, the Supreme Court ruled that Mr Trump's financial records could be examined by prosecutors in New York. But lawyers representing Mr Trump challenged that ruling, suggesting that the court filing was "wildly overbroad" and issued in bad faith. On Monday, the court rejected the lawyers' argument. According to US media, this was the last opportunity for the former president, who left the White House last month ahead of President Joe Biden's inauguration, to keep the records private. Mr Trump has continuously denied wrongdoing and has called the investigation into his tax affairs a "witch hunt". In a statement on Monday, Mr Trump accused New York prosecutors of unfairly targeting him and said that the Supreme Court "never should have let this 'fishing expedition' happen". Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, a Democrat, has been trying for months to obtain eight years' worth of Mr Trump's personal and corporate tax returns. Mr Vance has been investigating allegations surrounding the payment of hush money before the 2016 presidential election to two women who said they had had sexual relationships with Mr Trump.

2-22-21 Covid-19 news: True US death toll could be more than 720,000
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. Official US death toll passes 500,000 and true figure could be 720,000. The official death toll from covid-19 in the US has passed the 500,000 mark. However, there is substantial undercounting and the true death toll could be around 720,000, Andrew Stokes at Boston University in Massachusetts told New Scientist. The US death toll is the highest of any country in the world. “It’s terrible. It is historic. We haven’t seen anything even close to this for well over a hundred years, since the 1918 pandemic of influenza,” the US president’s chief medical advisor Anthony Fauci told NBC. Brazil is second with nearly 250,000 deaths, followed by Mexico with 180,000, India with 156,000 and the UK with 121,000. Per capita, the UK also has the fourth highest covid-19 death rate in the world. Case numbers in the US are now declining fast. However, the more transmissible B.1.1.7 variant, first detected in the UK is now spreading, and there are fears it could lead to yet another wave of infections. Schools in England will reopen on 8 March in the first of a series of steps towards easing a lockdown imposed on 5 January. From 29 March outdoor sports and outdoor meetings of up to six people, or two households, are due to be allowed. If all goes to plan, all limits on social contact could end by 21 June. The UK’s chief scientific advisor Patrick Vallance said the easing should proceed slowly to avoid the risk of a resurgence. “We are not starting all this as of today from a good position. We are not now in a sort of ‘let’s release everything’ [position]. We are in a not very good position that is getting better,” he said at a press briefing today. A second “real world” study by Public Health England shows that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine prevented 70 per cent of asymptomatic and symptomatic infections in health workers in England under 65, just 14 days after vaccination. Vaccine studies show ‘spectacular’ results: The first real-world data of the effectiveness of two coronavirus vaccines has shown they are performing “spectacularly well”.

2-22-21 America's maddeningly inept vaccine rollout
It is excruciatingly difficult to get a vaccine in many states. We must do better. It was a little over a year ago — the weekend of March 7-8, 2020 — that I last traveled outside of my house for work. A conference took me to Indianapolis, and everyone in attendance understood that this gathering could well be the last of its kind for a while. No one was wearing a mask yet, but we awkwardly bumped elbows all weekend and remained abnormally distant from each other as we schmoozed over meals and drinks. When I arrived home early in the afternoon on Sunday, I told my wife that I thought we were just a few days away from something big happening. Less than a week later, our children were on an early spring break that would never fully end, with remote and then hybrid instruction becoming the new normal. Masks had started to become ubiquitous. Businesses were being shut down, leaving only grocery stores and gas stations fully operational. This initial lockdown would end a few months later, but it would be followed by new surges of the COVID-19 virus and the reimposition of restrictions. A year later, half a million Americans are dead, with the number continuing to rise, and our lives are still disrupted — with the brutal winter that has slammed much of the country only adding to our exhaustion and anxiety about when, precisely, life might return to something like normal, with normality defined as the rhythms and risk calculations that prevailed before the pandemic first settled in. You'd think that the remarkable speed with which a series of pharmaceutical companies developed highly effective vaccines — an incredible human achievement — would be a much-needed source of hope. And indeed, it was exactly that for me from November through January. We had the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel! All that needed to happen was for these drug companies to mass produce enough vaccine for everyone — and for our government to get it distributed and put in people's arms. Surely this would be made the highest possible priority, with nothing less than our economies, our psyches, and our children's educations and social well-being hanging in the balance. Right? Apparently not. The astonishing fact is that we don't appear to be in much of a hurry. The vaccines have been available since late last year. The country has currently administered first doses to 13 percent of the population. At the current vaccination rate — a rate that, incidentally, dropped last week to 1.4 million doses from 1.7 million the week before — the country will only be half vaccinated on August 1 and won't reach the 90 percent threshold until Jan. 22, 2022, nearly another year from now. (And that assumes, of course, that nine out of 10 Americans could be persuaded to get the shot, rather than the mere 49 percent who say they are willing to do so.) I suspect that the dawning realization of just how slowly the roll-out is going is what motivated Anthony Fauci to suggest on Sunday that Americans may still need to wear masks outside their homes into 2022. How can this be? Why does it feel like our public institutions are treating this like a mildly important initiative instead of a matter of decisive — nay, critical — importance to the country and its citizens? Or might the problem be something even more troubling — namely, that our public institutions are treating this with grave seriousness and yet are incapable of doing any better? I don't know for sure. All I do know is that my wife is in the 1a vaccine group — those who should be near the front of the line — and getting an appointment where we live (in Pennsylvania) is absurdly, maddeningly complex and frustrating. She placed her name on a list with our county weeks ago. While we wait to hear something from that black box, we've turned elsewhere, which means to pharmacy chains.

2-22-21 How America got to 500,000 COVID-19 deaths
More than 500,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. That is a half-million people who leave behind family, friends, and other loved ones haunted by grief and guilt. But the number doesn't quite capture the scope of the damage done — the survivors who lived through the disease but whose health has never fully returned, the young students whose education has been compromised, the shuttered businesses and employed workers who struggle to keep their homes, the widespread loneliness and isolation caused by the need for social distancing. Survivors of the pandemic are a devastated generation, to be forever marked by the experience. The pandemic afflicted the entire world, of course, but there is widespread agreement that it was far worse in the United States than it had to be — that there was so much death and suffering that could have and should have been avoided, if only we had collectively made a better, smarter effort. We didn't make that effort, I think, because too many of us were selfish and deluded. A year ago this week, the CDC's Dr. Nancy Messonier warned reporters that communities might need to shut down schools and ban mass gatherings. "We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare for the expectation that this could be bad," she said. Then-President Donald Trump didn't spring into action to support those preparations — instead, he raged because Messonier's comments sent the stock market tumbling. It was among the first of many selfish mistakes he would make. Indeed, economic considerations have often taken priority over public health during the pandemic. Republicans resisted extending unemployment benefits because they feared American workers would stay home rather than risk their lives for a low-paying job. Meatpacking companies got Trump to issue an order keeping their plants open, after which executives at one plant allegedly started betting how many workers would get sick. The Republican lieutenant governor of Texas celebrated people returning to work last spring because "there are more important things than living." Since then, more than 40,000 Texans who tested positive for the virus have died. Not everybody was afflicted by the profit motive — some Americans simply couldn't be bothered to feel responsible to or for the health of their neighbors. For example: It would have been easier for Americans to go about their lives safely over the last year if they had simply chosen to put on a mask. In my home state of Kansas, a CDC study in November showed that COVID cases decreased in the 24 counties with mask mandates — and increased in the 81 counties that shunned such mandates. To be fair, mask usage across the country reached 90 percent by October. But many of the remaining 10 percent of Americans treated us to a series of viral video moments — rampaging in Walmarts, Targets, and other stores across America. The best case for wearing a mask is not to protect the wearer, but to protect other people from the wearer — somebody who might unknowingly be carrying the virus and inadvertently spread illness to others. But that argument asks individuals to care about other people, to balance their own desires against the possibility of harming somebody else. Too many of us failed that test. Instead, going maskless often became proof of one's manhood and political bona fides. That might not have happened if so many Americans hadn't been primed to reject reality itself. One of the most haunting stories of the pandemic came in November from a South Dakota nurse who said many of her hospitalized patients refused to believe that COVID is real. "And their last, dying words are, 'This can't be happening. It's not real,'" Jodi Doering told CNN. Many Americans didn't want the virus to be real, so they decided it wasn't, and told each other it was "no worse than the flu." In a year during which conspiratorial thinking seemed to grip much of the country, this was one of the deadliest fantasies around.

2-22-21 Coronavirus: High Covid rates delay France and Germany easing
Stubbornly high infection rates are hampering French efforts to ease coronavirus restrictions, with Nice in the south a particular hotspot. In Germany many schools are reopening on Monday, but officials say infection rates remain worryingly high. France is not under lockdown, but a national curfew is in force (6pm-6am). The area around Nice, which has the highest rate in France, will go into partial lockdown for the next two weekends. The Riviera resort city has more than 700 cases per 100,000 inhabitants - more than three times higher than the national average of 190, French news agency AFP reports. The more contagious English variant has been blamed, as well as an influx over the Christmas holiday when tourists descended on Nice. Over the holidays, international flights to Nice jumped from 20 to 120 daily, and most tourists were not tested for the virus, Mayor Christian Estrosi said. Commenting on the Covid-19 spread nationally, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said "it's going up a bit" and "unfortunately the trend doesn't point to an easing of restrictions". A senior public health official in Paris, Rémi Salomon, said the epidemic in Alpes-Maritimes, the area in and around Nice, was "out of control". Measures taken so far were insufficient to stop hospitals being overwhelmed, he warned. Children are back at school after a two-week holiday in several cities, including Bordeaux, Grenoble and Lyon. The schools in those cities have introduced a simple saliva test for the virus. Called EasyCov, it is less intrusive than PCR and antigen tests that are carried out via a nasal swab. It delivers a result in about 40 minutes. France staggers the two-week February-March break according to region, so more schools will soon have the new tests. "With the saliva tests, we think nearly everyone will agree to be tested," said Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer. France has more than 25,000 Covid-19 patients in hospital, of whom more than 3,300 are in intensive care.

2-22-21 Texas weather: State should pay soaring power bills, says Houston mayor
The mayor of Houston has called for the state of Texas to pay the huge electricity bills racked up by residents due to the freezing weather. Sylvester Turner told CBS News it was not the fault of residents that the system could not cope. Some residents reported bills of up to $16,000 (£11,500) for just a few days of usage, as temperatures hit 30-year lows of 0F (-18C) last week. At least 70 people died as the freeze swept several southern US states. Texas has since seen a return of its usual milder winter weather, with temperatures as high as 64F. However, residents are still having to boil water due to fears of contamination caused by low water pressure and ruptures at water mains. The deadly storm, which blanketed Texas in snow last week, knocked out power to millions of people across the region. But some residents who were still able to turn on their lights and keep their fridges running found themselves with bills reaching thousands of dollars. Dallas resident and US Army veteran Scott Willoughby told the New York Times that he faced a $16,000 bill which had obliterated his savings. Susan Hosford, who lives in the city of Denison, told the Associated Press she had been charged $1,346 for the first two weeks of February alone and faced bank charges when the money automatically left her account, despite not having enough funds. Many people who have gone public on social media about their high electricity bills are customers of electricity provider Griddy, which only serves Texas. Texas is one of the few US states to have an independent energy grid - so when the cold snap hit and power was in short supply, they were unable to receive support from neighbouring states. As a result, the Public Utility Commission of Texas decided at an emergency meeting last Monday to raise the price of energy. This change has not affected people on fixed-rate payment plans for their power. However, people on variable-rate tariffs - which can work out cheaper in the short-term, when weather conditions are consistent - have been hit hard by the increase and are now facing soaring costs. (Webmaster's comment: Pay or die!)

2-22-21 Texas weather: Family of 11-year-old file lawsuit over his death
The family of an 11-year-old boy who died in recent cold weather in Texas have filed a $100m (£71m) lawsuit against power companies for negligence. Cristian Pineda was found unresponsive by his mother in their mobile home last week amid freezing temperatures. Millions were left without power in the unusually cold weather, which has killed dozens in southern states. The family suspect hypothermia but police say official autopsy results may take weeks. The lawsuit accuses utility firms of putting "profits over the welfare of people" by failing to prepare properly. Both the Energy Corporation provider and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (Ercot) are named in the lawsuit. The BBC has contacted both for comment. "Despite having knowledge of the dire weather forecast for at least a week in advance, and the knowledge that the system was not prepared for more than a decade, Ercot and Entergy failed to take any pre-emptory action that could have averted the crisis and were wholly unprepared to deal with the crisis at hand," ABC News quotes the lawsuit as saying. The state's power companies are facing major scrutiny for the blackouts as well as cases where some customers are receiving sky-high bills for their usage. Texas has a deregulated power system which operates independently from other states. Governor Greg Abbott has already called for an investigation into Ercot, which manages the grid for over 90% of the state's customers, over its handling of the weather crisis. The council said it took a decision to initiate emergency rolling blackouts last week to avoid a state-wide loss of power after about 46% of the privately owned power generation tripped offline on Monday morning. The Pineda family lawsuit contends information about the length of the blackouts was not accurately communicated to customers and alleges power was turned off to "those who were most vulnerable to the cold" as temperatures plummeted to 30-year lows. (Webmaster's comment: The poor power system design was to provide for higher power company executive salaries.)

2-22-21 Boeing 777: Dozens grounded after Denver engine failure
US plane manufacturer Boeing has recommended grounding all of the 777-model aircraft which have the same type of engine that suffered failure and shed debris over Denver on Saturday. It said 128 jets should be suspended until inspections are carried out. United Airlines and Japan's two main operators have already stopped using 56 planes with the same engine. Flight 328, carrying 231 passengers, was forced to make an emergency landing at Denver airport. No-one was injured. "While [an] investigation is ongoing, we recommended suspending operations of the 69 in-service and 59 in-storage 777 aircraft powered by Pratt & Whitney 4000-112 engines," the company said in a statement. Pratt & Whitney said it had dispatched a team to work with investigators. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), United is the only US airline flying this model of 777, with the others being in Japan and South Korea. Korean Air, which has six planes in operation and 10 in storage, said it was awaiting instruction from South Korean regulators regarding any measures for its 777 jets. United Flight 328, bound for Honolulu, suffered a failure in its right-hand engine. Debris from the jet was found scattered over a nearby residential area after it returned to Denver airport. The agency has ordered extra inspections of Boeing 777 jets fitted with the Pratt & Whitney 4000 engine following the incident. "We reviewed all available safety data following [Saturday's] incident," said FAA administrator Steve Dickson in a statement. "Based on the initial information, we concluded that the inspection interval should be stepped up for the hollow fan blades that are unique to this model of engine, used solely on Boeing 777 airplanes." The FAA met representatives from the engine firm and Boeing on Sunday evening. (Webmaster's comment: At Boeing it's Profits First, Safety Second! Don't fly on Boeing planes! Their planes are obviously flying death traps! Boeing should be put out of business and their executives sued and imprisoned!)

2-22-21 Malcolm X family demands reopening of murder investigation
The daughters of assassinated US black civil rights leader Malcolm X have requested that the murder investigation be reopened in light of new evidence. They cite a deathbed letter from a man who was a policeman at the time of the 1965 killing, alleging New York police and the FBI conspired in the murder. Raymond Wood wrote his responsibility was to ensure Malcolm X's security team were arrested days before he was shot dead in Manhattan, his family says. Three men were convicted of the murder. The men - all members of the Nation of Islam political and religious movement - were each sentenced to life in prison. One of them has since died, while the other two have been paroled. By the time he was gunned down, Malcolm X - who was at one time seen as a public face of the Nation of Islam but then left the movement - had moderated his militant message of black separatism. However, he remained a passionate advocate of black unity, self-respect and self-reliance. In 2020, the Manhattan district attorney launched a review of the convictions after meeting representatives of the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal group campaigning for justice for individuals it says have been wrongly convicted. The letter says the New York Police Department (NYPD) and the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) covered up details of the assassination on 21 February 1965 in Harlem's Audubon Ballroom, Upper Manhattan, according to Wood's family and their lawyer. Wood alleges that he was tasked with making sure that Malcolm X would have no door security in the building where he was due to speak in public. At a press briefing on Saturday, Wood's family members provided no details about how and when Raymond Wood died. But they said he did not want to make the letter public until after his death, fearing repercussions from the authorities. "Any evidence that provides greater insight into the truth behind that terrible tragedy should be thoroughly investigated," said Ilyasah Shabazz, one of Malcolm X's daughters. (Webmaster's comment: Killing blacks has always been an objective of the nation's law inforcement agencies!)

2-21-21 Texas weather: President Biden declares major disaster
President Joe Biden has declared a major disaster in Texas, clearing the way for more federal funds to be spent on relief efforts in the US state. Power is returning across Texas and temperatures are set to rise, but at least 14 million people still have difficulty accessing clean water. Mr Biden has said he will visit Texas as long as his presence is not a burden on relief efforts. Nearly 60 deaths have been attributed to cold weather across the US. The administration had already declared a state of emergency for Texas, along with Oklahoma and Louisiana. In a statement on Texas released by the White House, President Biden said he had "ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by severe winter storms". "Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programmes to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster," the statement said. Mr Biden has been in touch with the mayors of some of Texas' biggest cities, such as Houston, Austin and Dallas, to ensure they have access to government resources, an administration official said. Several other southern states hit by snow and ice storms this week have also reported water service outages. Winter weather also cut off water in the city of Jackson, Mississippi - home to around 150,000 people - as well as the largest county in Tennessee that includes the city of Memphis, with more than 651,000 residents. City officials in Jackson say water treatment plants are now running again, but 43,000 households still have no or low water pressure, WLBT TV reports. Across the US South, a region unaccustomed to such frigid temperatures, people whose pipes have frozen have taken to boiling snow to make water.

2-21-21 Covid: 'Each one of these people mattered'
As the US Covid death toll continues to climb, Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg is working to commemorate each life lost through an elaborate art installation featuring thousands of white flags.

2-21-21 Covid: WHO pleads with Tanzania to start reporting cases
The World Health Organization has urged Tanzania to start reporting coronavirus cases and share its data. Tanzania is one of the few countries in the world to not publish data on Covid-19 cases. It last did so in May, when about 500 cases and 20 deaths were recorded. The following month, President John Magufuli declared Tanzania "coronavirus-free". But concern is growing about the possibility of a hidden epidemic. The WHO's plea comes after a spate of deaths of government officials. The vice-president of Tanzania's semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar, Seif Sharif Hamad, died on Wednesday after his party said he had contracted Covid-19. He was the most prominent politician in Tanzania to have openly declared that he had the virus. The head of the civil service, John Kijazi, also died on Wednesday but no reason was given for his death. World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement: "We extend our condolences to our Tanzanian sisters and brothers on the recent passing of a senior Tanzanian leader as well as the government's chief secretary." He then went on to urge Tanzania to start reporting Covid-19 cases and share its data. While it is difficult to know the extent of the spread of coronavirus in Tanzania without this data, he said that Tanzanians travelling outside the country have tested positive for coronavirus. "This underscores the need for Tanzania to take robust action both to safeguard their own people and protect populations in these countries and beyond," he said. President Magufuli had previously played down the virus and refused to take measures to curb its spread. The health minister said earlier this month that Tanzania had no plans to vaccinate. However, on Friday, while giving a speech at Mr Kijazi's funeral, Mr Magafuli appeared to admit that the virus was circulating in Tanzania.

2-21-21 Australian PM is vaccinated as rollout begins
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has received the coronavirus vaccine as the country prepares to start inoculations this week. His jab was televised on Sunday in order to help boost confidence in the vaccine rollout across Australia. Vaccinations officially begin on Monday and at least 60,000 doses are expected to be administered next week. On Saturday, small crowds of anti-vaccination demonstrators gathered to protest against the launch. Mr Morrison was part of a small group of people vaccinated on Sunday along with some frontline health workers and care home residents. Australia's chief nurse Professor Alison McMillan and Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly were also immunised. Speaking at ahead of his vaccination, Mr Morrison said: "Tomorrow our vaccination programme starts, so as a curtain raiser today we're here making some very important points; that it's safe, that it's important, and we need to start with those who are most vulnerable and are on the front line." The first person to be vaccinated in the country was 85-year-old Jane Malysiak. The first vaccinations in Australia will be the Pfizer vaccine which has been granted approval for use. Australia's medical regulator earlier this week also granted provisional approval for the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, which is expected to be rolled out next month. Health Minister Greg Hunt says he will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine in the coming weeks. Both vaccines have undergone extensive safety checks and are already being used in several countries. Australia aims to inoculate four million people by early March. The priority groups in the first round include the 700,000 frontline workers in the health sector, border enforcement and care homes, along with the residents of care homes.

2-21-21 Germany's LGBTQ actors come out publicly en masse to fight discrimination
n a movement called #ActOut, actors are advocating for LGBTQ representation on-screen and behind-the-scenes in Germany’s media productions. On the front page of Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, one of Germany's largest publications, 185 actors have come out as members of the LGBTQ community. The cover is filled with pictures and names of the actors, along with the message: "We are here." In a movement called #ActOut, actors are advocating for LGBTQ representation on-screen and behind-the-scenes in Germany's media productions. Actor Karin Hanczewski started planning the statement about a year and a half ago when she experienced LGBTQ erasure while at a film festival with her girlfriend. Before they hit the red carpet, Hanczewski's agent told her it "would be better" to appear in pictures without her partner. "People told us to be invisible. And, of course, this hurts," Hanczewski said. Hanczewski had spent years hearing similar acts of discrimination from fellow queer actors. She says she knows of casting agents who would threaten to refuse auditions for queer actors if they came out publicly. Along with another queer actor, Hanczewski decided she would come out despite the risk of losing her career. She said they wanted to make structural changes in the media industry, and that coming out en masse was the only way to do it. "To really change something — to really change structures — it was clear and obvious that we would need to gather a huge group of people," Hanczewski said. She started talking with other actors who were out in their personal lives — but not professionally. Responses to the proposition ran the gamut. Some were supportive from the start. Others hesitated even after several discussions about it. "There were people who said they wanted to be a part of it and then talk to us again and say, 'No, I responded too quickly. I'm not there emotionally. I can't do it.'" Over the course of 18 months, the group gradually started to expand. Actor João Kreth d'Orey heard about the movement through other actors. Kreth d'Orey was immediately excited but never expected it to attract so much attention. When the magazine cover and story came out on Feb. 5, Kreth d'Orey knew it was a historical moment. Kreth d'Orey ran out the next day to buy the print edition, but copies had already flown off the shelves. Kreth d'Orey went to a supermarket and three other shops with no luck. "And then someone on Instagram posted that they are all sold out. Tragic!" Kreth d'Orey added with a laugh. Jules Elting is one of the lucky actors who was able to snag a print copy of the paper before it sold out. Elting says coming out as nonbinary — a person whose gender is not strictly male or female — with such a large group felt momentous. But like Kreth d'Orey, the significance didn't hit Elting until they saw the front page of the South German newspaper. "It was so emotional because I went, really, from picture to picture, and said hello and thank you to every person for their courage," Elting said. "And acknowledging each life story, which is so different." The group includes people of all genders and sexual orientations. The 185 German actors have intersectional identities and belong to a range of generations. This diversity is key to its message — that there is no stereotypical lesbian or transgender person. The paper also included the #ActOut manifesto.

2-20-21 Hundreds of Black families in Brazil could be evicted to make way for space base expansion
When Leandra Silveira's family was relocated from their ancestral home on the northeast coast of Brazil to the Pepital agrovila, a government-built village miles inland, she was a young mother of three. I cried like a child. Crying in the car, looking back," said Silveira, who is now a great-grandmother. "It was really hard when we arrived. Really hard. We didn't have any crops, or fruit trees, or places to fish … If it wasn't for help from other communities, we wouldn't have survived." In the early 1980s, in the final years of Brazil's military dictatorship, hundreds of Black families like Silveira's were removed from their land to make way for the construction of the Alcântara Satellite Launch Center. The families were relocated to agrovilas, or agricultural villages, where the government promised they would receive food, support, and compensation. Ultimately, they received little help, according to Silveira and other community members. Today, hundreds more Black families from the region could be evicted to make way for the launch site's expansion as part of a 2019 agreement between Brazil and the United States. The treaty grants the U.S. permission to launch nonmilitary and commercial rockets from Alcântara. President Jair Bolsonaro's government has said it hopes the agreement will become a key source of revenue for the Brazilian state by opening the door to the facility's rental for commercial launches from abroad. Alcântara's location is key because of its proximity to the equator, launches burn less fuel and rockets can carry larger payloads. It could yield "tens to hundreds of millions of dollars a year," said Carlos Moura, head of the Brazilian Space Agency. Dozens of Brazil's 3,000 quilombo communities — Brazilians of African descent — surround the Alcântara Launch site. Roughly 800 families are now scheduled to be removed to make way for the launch site's expansion, though their removal is on hold, in part due to the coronavirus pandemic. For some, the expansion project's planned evictions are part of an all-too-familiar cycle of disregard for the quilombo inhabitants. "Never, in these 40 years has the threat of removal of these communities been so real because the Bolsonaro government is known around the world as one that does not respect the constitution or legislation. And it's a government that is clearly racist," said Danilo Serejo, a lawyer with the Movement of People Affected by the Alcântara Launch Site, who was raised in the Canelatiua quilombo. From the Mamuna quilombo's communal yucca fields, residents can see the top of the installations of the Alcântara Satellite Launch Center, which borders their land. They are sustainable farmers. They fish in the ocean, a short walk from the village. Their fruit trees are plentiful. "This land is abundant. Land. Ocean. Fields of crops. Everything you plant here will grow," said resident Lorenza Vera, whose family has lived on this land for generations. "We are Black, Indigenous, quilombola peoples. We are being threatened today. Just like in the past, we are at risk of becoming extinct," Vera said. "We are living the same things as in the past. Running the risk of being extinct from our place of origin, our roots, and our identity." The expansion project has received pushback in the U.S., and some hope the Biden administration will put a stop to it. In January, nongovernmental organizations and Brazil experts delivered a policy paper to the Biden administration, asking it to reconsider agreements with the Brazilian government because of Bolsonaro's disregard for "democracy and the rule of law. "The Alcântara accord was listed among the top issues.

2-20-21 Texas weather: President Biden declares major disaster
President Joe Biden has declared a major disaster in Texas, clearing the way for more federal funds to be spent on relief efforts in the US state. Power is returning across Texas and temperatures are set to rise but some 13 million people are still facing difficulties accessing clean water. Mr Biden has said he will visit Texas as long as his presence is not a burden on relief efforts. Nearly 60 deaths have been attributed to cold weather across the US. In a statement released by the White House, President Biden said he had "ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by severe winter storms". "Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programmes to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster," the statement said. Mr Biden has been in touch with the mayors of some of Texas' biggest cities, such as Houston, Austin and Dallas, to ensure they have access to government resources, an administration official said. Several other southern states hit by snow and ice storms this week have also reported water service outages. Winter weather has also cut off water in the city of Jackson, Mississippi - home to around 150,000 people - as well as the largest county in Tennessee that includes the city of Memphis, with more than 651,000 residents. Across the US South, a region unaccustomed to such frigid temperatures, people whose pipes have frozen have taken to boiling snow to make water. The Southwestern state's energy grid has been overwhelmed by a surge in demand for heat as temperatures plummeted to 30-year lows, hitting 0F (-18C) earlier this week. As of Friday, about 180,000 homes and businesses in Texas still had no electricity. Amid freezing temperatures earlier this week, as many as 3.3 million were without power. Around 13 million people - close to half of the state's population - have faced some disruption of water services as hundreds of water systems have been damaged by the freeze. Austin, the state's capital, lost 325 million gallons (1.2 billion litres) of water when pipes burst, the city's water director told reporters on Thursday.

2-20-21 The limits of bootstrapping in Texas
Who is at fault for the misery in Texas, and who should take responsibility for its alleviation? This is the debate as extreme winter weather and infrastructure failures in the state have left at least two dozen people dead and millions without heat, water, and/or power. And it's not an unreasonable debate to have, with one glaring exception: lock-up. As is often the case in crises, misery in Texas is particularly concentrated in carceral facilities. But we know exactly who is responsible for the conditions in Texas jails and prisons. It is the state, and the conditions are cruel. Before we come to this exception, though, let's turn to the rule — or rather, the comparative lack thereof. Texas is unique on the American mainland for having its own power grid covering most of the state. Called the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), it's a deliberate isolation to avoid some federal regulations. Many, like my colleague Ryan Cooper, have pointed to this choice to skirt regulation in favor of underinvestment, poor maintenance, and higher profits as the source of Texans' present distress. Other fingers are pointed elsewhere. ERCOT CEO Bill Magness argued the system simply needs more winterization. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) blamed windmills. The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal tilted at windmills, too, even as its news team reported renewable energy sources weren't the primary problem. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) implicitly accused federal regulators (though, in fairness, he also said the "government is supposed to [protect against] ... freakish events that can ... cost people their lives"). And perhaps inevitably, since it's Texas, at least one voice piped up for personal responsibility. Tim Boyd, the mayor of the small town of Colorado City, published a lengthy Facebook diatribe against "lazy" "people looking for a damn handout" from "a socialist government." "Sink or swim it's your choice!" Boyd wrote. "The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING!" He advised those without electricity to "step up and come up with a game plan" for single-digit temperatures. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, sonny — the exercise will keep you warm! Boyd soon resigned amid broad condemnation, which is interesting in that it's not difficult to imagine his general theme being well-received in more comfortable circumstances. Moreover, it can hardly be said Texans haven't already stepped up, remarkably so given the limitations of a built environment that is simply not made for deep cold: They're boiling snow for drinking water, taking in neighbors, manning warming centers in churches and libraries, burning baby toys and fences to keep warm. And that brings me back to the exception, because you can't do those things while incarcerated. You can't have a prepper game plan in a cell. You likely can't even meaningfully participate in the responsibility debate — for more regulation or less, more green energy or less, more localized control or less, more government-run disaster relief or less — because information and voting access is so limited behind bars. You can't take your fate into your own hands personally or politically. That's the very point of imprisonment as punishment: To impose responsibility, ironically, we take away responsibility, and we accord it to the state instead.

2-20-21 America is back, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tells BBC
"America is back" and is fully engaged in helping resolve issues including the pandemic, climate change and Iran's nuclear ambitions, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has told the BBC. In his first international interview, Mr Blinken stressed the importance of worldwide vaccination against Covid-19. He also criticised China for its lack of transparency in uncovering how coronavirus emerged. It marks a break with the "America First" policy of Donald Trump. Mr Blinken was speaking as the leaders of the G7 richest industrialised nations met in virtual session. The last four years with Donald Trump in charge, it has been all about America first. But what does the US now stand for in the world with Joe Biden as President? In his first international broadcast interview, I've been speaking to Secretary Blinken about what role Washington can play in resolving conflicts and navigating a path out of the coronavirus pandemic. Blinken has been Biden's top foreign policy advisor for nearly two decades. He has also served as deputy secretary of state. Arguably, not since James Baker under the first President Bush has a Secretary of State entered office with so close a relationship with the president. This is what distinguishes Antony Blinken from Colin Powell, Rex Tillerson or Hillary Clinton. None of these people knew the President deeply. None of them had worked for the president previously. When Antony Blinken speaks, he speaks for the president. He is a consummate foreign policy insider and like his boss he is also someone with a reputation for his civility and graciousness. Blinken has had a front row seat to history over the past 30 years and now he's been tasked by the president to re-frame America's relationship with the world. At the centre of the Trump Administration's approach was great power competition. For Obama it was restraint. For Bush it was the war on terror. I asked Blinken what the Biden Administration's foreign policy bumper sticker was. He smiled and without hesitation said "American engagement, American leadership".

2-20-21 Covid: Anti-vaccination protests held in Australia ahead of rollout
Anti-vaccination protesters have gathered across Australia ahead of the launch of the country's coronavirus inoculation programme. Protests were held in cities including Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, with participants chanting slogans like: "My body, my choice." The rallies were largely peaceful, but police made several arrests in Melbourne, local media reported. The national rollout of the Pfizer vaccine is set to begin on Monday. Australia's medical regulator earlier this week also granted provisional approval for the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, which is expected to be rolled out next month. Both vaccines have undergone extensive safety checks and are already being used in several countries. The rallies on Saturday were joined by a few thousand people in total, according to broadcaster ABC. In Melbourne, some protesters clashed with police, who used pepper spray and made several arrests. Police said 15 people would receive penalty notices for breaching its Covid-19 laws. Five others were charged for resisting arrest, hindering police and refusing to provide details, according to ABC. Former Australian celebrity chef Pete Evans, who has been banned from Instagram and Facebook for repeatedly sharing misinformation about coronavirus, spoke at the rally in Sydney. Protesters there held signs denouncing the vaccine rollout. "I don't care, you want the vaccine, take the vaccine but don't force me to take it," one protester said. The jabs in Australia are free, but it is not mandatory for people to have them. Australia aims to inoculate four million people by early March. The priority groups in the first round include the 700,000 frontline workers in the health sector, border enforcement and care homes, along with the residents of care homes. Australia has recorded just under 29,000 cases, and 909 deaths since the pandemic began.

2-19-21 Covid-19 news: 95 per cent of over 70s in Great Britain given 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. 95 per cent of people over 70 in Great Britain have had a vaccine dose. In Great Britain, 95 per cent of people aged over 70 have had at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to a survey of 6000 people by the Office of National Statistics (ONS). Most of the remainder have been offered a vaccine and are waiting to receive it. Less than 1 per cent of people aged over 70 years said they declined the offer of a vaccine. Overall, 91 per cent of all adults surveyed said they had either been vaccinated already or would get vaccinated when offered it. These numbers are better than expected. For instance, in one UK survey done in December before vaccination began, just 72 per cent said they were willing to get vaccinated. However, the ONS survey did not include adults living in care homes or other establishments, and because of small sample sizes, the ONS says the percentage of people saying they have declined vaccination should be treated with caution. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine does not need to be kept ultracold as was previously thought when the vaccine was approved for use. The companies say it is stable at between -25ºC and -15ºC, and have asked regulators to change the terms on which it was approved. New Scientist reported in November that other mRNA vaccines using the same technology were stable at fridge temperatures, and that the same should be true of the Pfizer vaccine. Japan has reported 91 cases of people infected with a new coronavirus variant called B.1.1.316. It has the E484K mutation also found in the South African and Brazilian variants, which allows the virus to partially evade immunity from past infection or vaccination. However, Japan has had lower levels of infection than South Africa or Brazil, and just 7000 deaths. Brazil is vaccinating an entire town as an experiment to see what effect it has on coronavirus transmission. The entire adult population of Serrana in the state of São Paulo, estimated to be 30,000, will be offered the CoronaVac vaccine made by China-based company Sinovac.

2-19-21 Iran nuclear deal: Tehran plays down hopes of nuclear talks with US
Iran says that despite an EU offer to broker talks with the US aimed at reviving a nuclear deal, America "must act" first and lift sanctions. "Gestures are fine," Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh tweeted, adding: "Remember, Trump left the room." Iran vowed to limit its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of economic sanctions under the 2015 deal. But former US President Donald Trump abandoned the accord in 2018. The move led Iran to roll back its commitments. The US has now expressed intent to rejoin the deal under President Joe Biden. On Thursday, the Biden administration made its firmest pledge yet to re-engage with Iran over the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). State department spokesman Ned Price said the US would accept an invitation from the European Union to meet Iran for talks. Senior EU diplomat Enrique Mora tweeted he was "ready to invite" all parties to talks, saying this was a "critical moment" for the deal. But Mr Khatibzadeh later said that Tehran would only "respond" to calls to revive the deal after the Biden administration lifted all sanctions. Meanwhile, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also suggested on Friday that the country would only comply with the deal fully once US sanctions had been lifted, saying it would then "immediately reverse" its actions. Iran has ratcheted up pressure on the Biden administration, threatening to block international inspections of its nuclear sites within days if the US does not lift sanctions. Since the US withdrew from the deal, Iran, which says its nuclear programme is peaceful, has resumed or begun nuclear activities barred under its terms. This has heightened concern among the parties to the deal, who suspect Iran's intentions. In response, the US and its European allies - the UK, France and Germany - have called on Iran to refrain from blocking inspections, warning jointly that the move would be "dangerous".

2-18-21 Covid-19 news: Virus helped life expectancy fall by a year in the US
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. Life expectancy fell by one year in 2020, helped by the coronavirus. Life expectancy in the US fell by one year on average in the first half of 2020, according to figures from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The covid-19 pandemic is likely to be a significant contributor, experts told CNN. US life expectancy is now the lowest it has been since 2006. “Covid is on track to cause more deaths than cancer or heart disease,” Eileen Crimmins at the University of Southern California told CNN. The fall was seen across ethnic groups but was most pronounced in minorities. Black Americans lost 2.7 years off their life expectancy, and Hispanics lost 1.9 years, while white Americans lost 0.8 years. Life expectancy disparities between Black and white people in the US had been shrinking in recent years but the pandemic has reversed some of that progress. Over the past 40 years, life expectancy had been gradually rising in the US, apart from between 2014 and 2017, when it fell by one third of a year. This has been attributed to the epidemic of opioid misuse in the country, as well as stagnating decline in deaths from heart disease. New coronavirus infections in England fell by two-thirds between mid-January and the first two weeks of February. The fall shows “lockdown measures are effectively bringing infections down”, said Paul Elliott at Imperial College London in a statement. The figures come from one of the largest and most authoritative surveys of infections called REACT. Currently about one in 200 people are infected in England, a similar level to September. The national R number – the average number of people one person will infect – is estimated to be between 0.69 and 0.76, meaning that infections are falling. The findings are based on more than 85,000 swab tests from randomly selected people. While all areas of England showed declining infections, they fell most steeply in London, the South East and West Midlands, and less steeply in the North West, North East and Yorkshire and the Humber. This could be linked to tougher lockdown rules being introduced earlier in London and the South East, the BBC reported. Greece has agreed to a trial of allowing tourists to enter the country if they have been vaccinated against covid-19, once flights resume. The initial trial will be with visitors from Israel, which has given the coronavirus vaccine to a higher proportion of its population than any other country. Greece’s tourism minister, Haris Theoharis told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the country is in talks with British officials about how a similar scheme might work with the UK.

2-18-21 The COVID-19 death toll sent U.S. life expectancy plunging in 2020
Overall U.S. life expectancy declined by a year, the biggest drop since the 1940s. Life expectancy in the United States plunged in the first half of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. A preliminary estimate of overall U.S. life expectancy from birth finds it dropped a full year compared with 2019, from 78.8 to 77.8 years, the National Center for Health Statistics reports online February 18. It’s the largest decline in life expectancy for the United States since the early 1940s. When broken down by race and ethnicity, stark differences in the pandemic’s toll in the United States emerge. Life expectancy for Black people fell by 2.7 years, from 74.7 in 2019 to 72 in 2020. For Hispanic people, the drop was 1.9 years, from 81.8 to 79.9. White people experienced the smallest decline, from 78.8 to 78. As a result, the gap in life expectancy between Black and white populations in the United States grew to six years, a 46 percent increase from 2019, and the largest gap since 1998. “These racial and ethnic disparities reflect persistent structural inequalities that increase both the risk of exposure to the COVID virus and the risk of dying from COVID among those that are infected,” says Noreen Goldman, a demographer at Princeton University. Many Black and Latino Americans have worked in frontline jobs that can’t be done at home and are less likely than white Americans to have access to healthcare (SN: 7/2/20). The new report’s preliminary estimates include deaths only through June. With the year-end surge in COVID-19 casualties, “I think — and fear — that the final estimate for the decline in life expectancy in 2020 will be non-trivially higher,” says Goldman. She and a colleague projected an overall drop in U.S. life expectancy in 2020 of 1.13 years, in a study published online February 2 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, but she expects that is an underestimate as well.

2-18-21 Coronavirus: US life expectancy falls by a year amid pandemic
Life expectancy in the US fell by a full year in the first half of 2020, a change experts say was fuelled by the growing coronavirus pandemic. The life expectancy for the entire population dropped to 77.8 years, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control. "This is a huge decline," Dr Robert Anderson, the CDC's Chief of Mortality Statistics, told the Associated Press. But there were even greater changes among ethnic minority groups. Black men suffered the largest decline, with life expectancy dropping by three years between January and June 2020. And Hispanic men saw a fall in life expectancy of 2.4 years during that period. "You have to go back to World War Two, the 1940s, to find a decline like this," Dr Anderson said. It means life expectancy at birth is now 75.1 years for American men - a decline of 1.2 years from 2019. For women, life expectancy is 80.5 years after it fell by almost a year. Deaths from coronavirus were a key factor driving the overall drop in life expectancy, according to the CDC report. More than 490,000 people have died as a result of Covid-19 in the US, the highest death toll in the world. Statistics have also shown how the pandemic is disproportionately affecting black and other minority communities in the US. Black Americans are three times more likely to die from the virus than white Americans. And analysis by the Brookings Institution published last year said: "In every age category, black people are dying from Covid at roughly the same rate as white people more than a decade older". The latest CDC data is based on death certificates processed during the first half of 2020. Given the six month timeframe, the report notes that the estimates "do not reflect the entirety of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020". It also makes clear that the virus affected different areas of the country at different times, with urban communities more likely to have been hit hard during the early months of the year.

2-18-21 Texas weather: How to stay safe in freezing conditions
As a blast of winter weather hits Texas and other southern US states, we have rounded up some of the top tips for keeping safe. When working out what to wear in freezing temperatures, experts say the answer should always be "layers". This is because several thin layers of clothing trap heat more effectively than a single bulky item. It also means you have the option of removing excess clothing if you start feeling overheated. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says when venturing outside, people should wear a tightly-woven coat, along with inner layers of light warm clothing, and gloves, a hat, a scarf and waterproof boots. But it's best to stay indoors and maintain a warm temperature in the house, particularly if you are over the age of 65. Extreme cold can cause water pipes to freeze and sometimes break. Tips to avoid this include leaving taps slightly open so they drip continuously, and allowing heated air to reach pipes by opening cabinet doors beneath sinks. However, in some instances this can have an impact on water pressure and levels of supply. In such cases, residents may be asked to switch off the water supply to their homes at certain times in order to maintain access for essential services, such as hospitals. Winter storms can also cause power cuts, which can prevent water treatment facilities from carrying out essential work and lead to contaminated supplies. If this happens, a "boil water notice" may be issued, advising people to boil any water before consuming or using in food preparation, such as cleaning fruit or salads. Even if tap water is filtered, the CDC guidance states that it will still need to be boiled as it may be contaminated. Only boiled or bottled water - which may be provided by local shelters - should be used, including for brushing teeth. Food and drink are really important in terms of providing energy and keeping us warm, so make the most of hot chocolates and soups. But you should avoid alcohol and caffeine as they cause your body to lose heat faster, the CDC warns.

2-18-21 Texas weather: Are frozen wind turbines to blame for power cuts?
As freezing temperatures grip the southern United States, there have been major power failures across Texas as increased demand for heating has overwhelmed the energy grid. Supplies of both electricity and gas have been intermittent, with the authorities saying they need to "safely manage the balance of supply and demand on the grid" to avoid another major power cut. Republican representatives and media commentators have blamed green energy policies, in particular the increased use of wind turbines. "So it was all working great until the day it got cold outside," Fox News's Tucker Carlson said. "The windmills failed like the silly fashion accessories they are, and people in Texas died." The bitingly cold temperatures have caused major problems across the energy sector in Texas. Wind turbines froze, as well as vital equipment at gas wells and in the nuclear industry. But because gas and other non-renewable energies contribute far more to the grid than wind power, particularly in winter, these shortages had a far greater impact on the system. So when critics pointed to a loss of nearly half of Texas's wind-energy capacity as a result of frozen turbines, they failed to point out double that amount was being lost from gas and other non-renewable supplies such as coal and nuclear. Texas has promoted the development of wind energy over the past 15 years. And on average, renewable energy sources - mostly wind - account for about 20% of its electricity supply. But the largest proportion comes from fossil fuels, as well as 10% from nuclear. On Tuesday, the state's principal energy supplier, the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (Ercot), said the freezing conditions had led to: 30GW being taken offline from gas, coal and nuclear sources, a 16GW loss in capacity in wind and other renewable energy supplies. And this, it said, had severely curtailed its ability to satisfy a peak demand of 69GW over the past few days - a surge even greater than anticipated. In its plan for an extreme winter weather event, Ercot says it expects only 7% to be provided by wind energy. The company's Dan Woodfin said: "It appears that a lot of the generation that has gone offline today has been primarily due to issues on the natural gas system." The cold weather also affected a water system needed to run the South Texas Nuclear Power Station, causing one reactor to shut down.

2-17-21 Two coronavirus variants have merged – here's what you need to know
Two variants of the coronavirus first identified in the UK and in California appear to have combined into a heavily mutated hybrid. This could signal a new phase of the covid-19 pandemic, as more hybrid variants may emerge. So far, a single genome sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus deposited in a database of thousands from the US. The sequence has tell-tale signs of being a hybrid virus created by a recombination event between two different lineages of SARS-CoV-2. Coronaviruses such as SARS-CoV-2 have an evolutionary superpower called “recombination” which allows two closely related viruses to mix-and-match their genomes into novel combinations. Unlike regular mutation, which proceeds slowly one change at a time, recombination can produce wholesale changes in a coronavirus genome in one single swoop. Has the hybrid been detected among actual viruses circulating in people? No, although the sequence is from a virus taken from an infected person, so it is a plausible hypothesis that the recombinant virus is in the community. However, it could have already fizzled out after failing to transmit to other people. The US has relatively low rates of viral sequencing, so it is hard to say either way. There is another possibility: the recombination event may have occurred within the sample after it was taken from the infected person, not while it was inside their body. In which case it is an accidental laboratory artefact, not a wild virus. Could it somehow leak out from the lab? That would be very unlikely. The sample itself, and hence the virus, has almost certainly been destroyed by now, in line with usual safety procedures. If so, all that remains is a sequence of letters in a database. Do we know where and when the sample was taken? No, but southern California in the past month or so is a good guess. It was discovered during an investigation of a recent surge of covid-19 cases in Los Angeles apparently caused by a new SARS-CoV-2 variant called B.1.429.

2-17-21 Texas weather: Deaths mount as winter storm leaves millions without power
A huge winter storm sweeping across the southern US has killed at least 21 people and left millions without power. There have been widespread blackouts in Texas, where the energy grid was overwhelmed by a surge in demand. Millions of people in the state, which rarely experiences such low temperatures, have been struggling to cope with the lack of power and frigid conditions. The extreme weather is forecast to continue until the weekend. Deaths attributed to the storm have been recorded in Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky, North Carolina and Missouri. The National Weather Service (NWS) said more than 150 million Americans were now under winter storm warnings. And on Tuesday, it reported that more than 73% of the US was covered by snow. The freezing storm has even reached northern and central parts of Mexico, where millions of people have experienced days of intermittent power cuts. "I'm in Houston, Texas freezing to death," one Twitter user, Chris Prince, wrote. "No power, no heat, no water. I have four young children. How is this happening right now?" Another user, Josh Morgerman, wrote that a friend in Texas had resorted to "burning furniture in the fireplace" to stay warm. The recorded deaths include people who have died in traffic accidents, as well as some who suffered carbon monoxide poisoning from running cars and generators indoors to stay warm. "This is an absolute public health disaster," one medical official in Houston told the local television station KPRC-TV. "[Carbon monoxide poisoning] certainly happens when it gets cold, but never in these numbers. One county said it had seen more than 300 suspected carbon monoxide cases during the cold snap. "It's turning into a mini mass casualty event," one Harris County doctor told the Houston Chronicle. At least four people were killed following a house fire in Houston that officials said may have been sparked by candles. Separately, police said two men found alongside a Houston highway were believed to have died due to the cold.

2-17-21 What the Texas blackout reveals about America's climate vulnerability
We need a better grid. Texas has been hammered by the worst winter storm the state has seen in many years, and suffered the state's worst electricity blackout in at least a decade as a result. Over four million people were without power early Tuesday morning, and many were scrambling simply to avoid freezing in bitterly cold temperatures. For a state that is built to withstand hot summers, and whose leaders had frequently boasted about its abundant energy supplies, the outages came as a shock. But this blackout shows the need for a more resilient, cooperative power grid. Climate disasters like this one will only get worse as global temperatures rise, and unless enormous upgrades are made, this won't be the last time millions of people lose power when they need it most. Paradoxically, there is a strong case that this cold snap has a lot to do with climate change. Normally during winter, a "polar vortex" tightly circles the North Pole, bounded by the jet stream. But the warming of the Arctic — which is heating up about twice as fast as the rest of the planet — seems to have destabilized that pattern. That leads to what's happening now: Freezing air spills down from the high Arctic, blasted south by an unusually flappy jet stream. (Meanwhile, the Arctic is experiencing extremely warm weather.) There is still some dispute over this particular argument among climate scientists, and it may turn out to be mistaken in some way. But we do know for sure that higher temperatures mean more extreme weather in general, which will damage the American power grid in any number of ways. Even if this particular disaster turns out to be unrelated to climate change, future mass power outages will be. So what exactly caused the blackout? Naturally, many conservatives tried to blame it on Texas' extensive wind power, as reportedly some turbines have iced up in the cold. On Fox News, Tucker Carlson asserted: "The windmills failed like the silly fashion accessories they are, and people in Texas died." This is egregiously false. Wind power generation always tends to decline during the winter, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages the Texas power grid, plans for this. Indeed, on Monday wind was exceeding its expected output, and though wind output fell on Tuesday, solar was making up much of the difference. As Princeton engineering professor Jesse Jenkins points out, the real primary culprit was the mass failure of nuclear, coal, and natural gas (or "thermal") power plants. At the peak of the blackout something like 27,000 megawatts of thermal capacity were offline — or nearly 40 percent of Texas's entire thermal capacity. So far it is unclear which plants exactly were down, but it seems that it was mainly natural gas to blame, as pipes were frozen and the extreme cold stoked high demand for gas heating. But the cold also knocked out some coal capacity and at least one nuclear power plant, and also damaged a lot of transmission infrastructure. That leads to the fundamental reason behind the blackout — the neglected, isolated Texas grid. It is easily possible to operate power infrastructure in extreme cold conditions, one just needs to prepare for it. For instance, wind turbines really can ice up, but this problem can be avoided with electric heating elements. (There have been wind turbines in Antarctica for years.) Similarly, nuclear plants can run in cold temperatures with proper insulation and heating. But thanks in part to deregulation passed in the early 2000s, the state's whole electricity and production system has been gone without many needed upgrades or maintenance, as investing in backup capacity or a rugged distribution system would have eaten into profits (and pricing rules make it risky to invest in extra capacity). "The ERCOT grid has collapsed in exactly the same manner as the old Soviet Union," energy analyst Ed Hirs told the Houston Chronicle. "It limped along on underinvestment and neglect until it finally broke under predictable circumstances." (To be fair to Texas, it is not the only state that has cheaped out on its power infrastructure.)

2-17-21 In freezing US, Biden seeks to cool down politics
Travelling with Donald Trump versus ridin' with Joe Biden. Compare and contrast. Look, Air Force One hasn't changed with the presidency. It is still that elegant timepiece that came out of the 1970s. Elegant and all that, but dated as anything. There is one priceless bit of swag that you get on Air Force One - the little box of M&Ms with the presidential seal on one side, and the signature of the president on the other. Now, I know you're already feeling sorry for me, but, the Biden ones aren't ready yet. That means I have (as we say here) deplaned swagless (as no one says anywhere else). So everything is exactly the same as the Trump era - except in one important respect. The TVs in the press cabin are now on CNN, not on Fox News. One of the understated aspects of the peaceful transfer of power is the ability to change the channel on Air Force One. After all, we were on our way to a CNN Town Hall, the president's first official outing since his inauguration a month ago. The town hall shows the extent to which Covid-19 is dominating everything. The big announcement from President Biden is that the US would have 600 million doses of coronavirus vaccine by July, meaning that jabs would be available to every American. Biden also corrected something stated by his Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, on getting kids back to school. "There was a mistake in the communication," he told the CNN Town Hall audience. He wouldn't box himself in absolutely, but said he hoped to have kindergarten to 8th grade pupils back in the classroom within the first 100 days of his presidency. I'm guessing that must have been an uncomfortable moment for Psaki. But Biden has made that part of his shtick: if we make a mistake, we'll own up to it. There is an easy charm to Biden. He asked one questioner to come and see him after the town hall to talk to him. When a mother and her young daughter asked a question, he was engaging and empathetic.

2-17-21 Trump attacks "dour" leader Mitch McConnell
Former President Donald Trump has launched a scathing personal attack on fellow Republican Mitch McConnell. "Mitch is a dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack," said Mr Trump, "and if Republican Senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again." His statement came after Mr McConnell said the former president was "morally responsible" for the US Capitol riots. The exchange exposed an apparent rift between the two over the future of the Republican party. The majority of Republican senators backed Mr Trump in his impeachment trial last week, including Mr McConnell who voted to acquit. But in a speech on the Senate floor, Mr McConnell implied the former president should face criminal and civil litigation because he was "still liable for everything he did while in office". Where does the Republican Party go after Trump? He said Mr Trump's actions prior to the riots on 6 January amounted to "a disgraceful dereliction of duty". The feud has prompted concern among some Republicans about the impact it may have on next year's mid-term elections. The party is trying to regroup having lost the House, the Senate and the presidency. "I'm more worried about 2022 than I've ever been," Senator Lindsey Graham told Fox News. "I don't want to eat our own," he added. "We need to knock this off." Mr Trump responded on Tuesday with his lengthiest statement since he left office a month ago. "The Republican Party can never again be respected or strong with political 'leaders' like Senator Mitch McConnell at its helm," the press release reads. Mr McConnell's "lack of political insight, wisdom, skill, and personality" cost the Republicans control of the Senate following last November's elections, he said. Two closely-contested run-off votes in Georgia saw the Republicans lose both seats to Democrats, resulting in a 50-50 split of seats in the Senate. This leaves the Democrats in control because Vice-President Kamala Harris has the casting vote in the case of a tie.

2-16-21 Covid-19 news: Millions more people told to shield by UK government
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 two million more people will be added to England’s shielding list. About 1.7 million people in England will be told to shield and take extra precautions from covid-19 after they were found to be at serious risk of disease or death. They will also be prioritised for covid-19 vaccination. The addition will bring the total number on the UK government’s shielding list to almost 4 million, all of whom are being advised to shield until 31 March. An estimated one in five people in England had antibodies against the coronavirus in the 28 days up to 1 February, suggesting they had previously been infected or had received a covid-19 vaccine, according to the Office for National Statistics. In Wales and Northern Ireland the equivalent estimate was one in 7 and for Scotland it was one in 9 people. People were tested for antibodies as part of the COVID-19 Infection Survey in the UK. In England, people aged 80 and over were most likely to test positive for antibodies with 40.9 per cent testing positive, which is probably due to the high vaccination rate in this group. “It could be tempting to assume that quantifying antibody levels like this tells us the level and distribution of immunity to covid-19 in the population, but we do not know what components of the immune system are required for immunity or how long protection will last,” said Simon Clarke at the University of Reading in a statement. Early data from vaccinations in Israel indicate that the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine prevents 94 per cent of symptomatic coronavirus infections. The study looked at 600,000 fully vaccinated people and the same number of unvaccinated people. This is a very similar level of effectiveness to that recorded in clinical trials of the vaccine. Israel’s health fund, Clalit, used coronavirus test results extracted from people’s health records to compare numbers of infections between those who had received two doses of the vaccine and those who hadn’t received any doses. There were 94 per cent fewer infections among those who had been vaccinated. Nearly half of Israel’s resident adult population have received at least one dose of covid-19 vaccine so far.

2-16-21 After the BLM protests
Millions of Americans took to the streets last summer to demand police reform. Did anything change? Millions of Americans took to the streets last summer to demand police reform. Did anything change? Here's everything you need to know: (Webmaster's comment: As long as our law enforcement is infiltrated with racists, white supremacists, the Klan and Neo-Nazis, the MURDERS of blacks by police will continue!)

  1. What did protesters want? A fundamental transformation of American policing. After watching the horrific video of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin driving his knee into George Floyd's neck for seven minutes and 46 seconds, killing the 46-year-old Black man as three other cops stood by, an estimated 26 million Americans marched in the streets of cities and towns across the nation. The largest U.S. protest movement since the Vietnam War demanded sweeping police reform, arguing that law enforcement was militarized and systemically racist.
  2. What was actually done? Denver, St. Louis, and three other cities enacted all "8 Can't Wait" reforms endorsed by the activist group Campaign Zero, including requiring officers to attempt de-escalation and issue a warning before firing their weapon. Most cities and states, however, reformed around the edges.
  3. In what way? California required a prosecutor in its state attorney general's office to investigate every police shooting that resulted in the death of an unarmed civilian. New York state created a special prosecutors' unit to probe deaths resulting from encounters with police.
  4. Why did some proposals fizzle? Legislation encountered fierce resistance. In June, House Democrats passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would have required federal police officers to wear body cameras, barred chokeholds, and restricted distribution of military gear to police departments.
  5. Has reform helped? There are glimmers of progress. Police misconduct complaints in Baltimore, for example, dropped 40 percent last year, after the department adopted less aggressive tactics.
  6. Defunding the police: Far-left calls to "defund the police" created massive headaches for Democratic candidates in the 2020 election, but few departments actually saw budget cuts. In fact, law enforcement spending as a share of general costs in the 50 largest U.S. cities actually ticked up this year.

2-16-21 Independent commission to investigate Capitol riots
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says Congress will establish an "outside, independent" commission to investigate the 6 January attack on the US Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump. In a letter to lawmakers, she said the commission would be modelled on the inquiry into the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York and the Pentagon. "We must get to the truth of how this happened," she said. Former President Trump was acquitted by the Senate of inciting the violence. But Democrats and some Republicans have backed an independent investigation into the riots, which left five people dead. Mrs Pelosi said that retired US Army Lt Gen Russel Honoré had, over the past few weeks, been assessing the security needs of the Capitol in light of the attack. The commission, she said, "would investigate and report on the facts and causes" of the attack; "the interference with the peaceful transfer of power"; and the "preparedness and response" of both the Capitol police and other branches of law enforcement. She also said that, based on Lt Gen Honoré's initial findings, Congress needed to allocate additional funding to "provide for the safety of members and the security of the Capitol". A group of House Republicans wrote to Mrs Pelosi on Monday complaining that their party had not been consulted about the general's security review. In the letter, they also demanded to know what Mrs Pelosi knew and the instructions she gave to secure the Capitol ahead of 6 January. House Republican Adam Kinzinger, who called for Mr Trump's removal after the riots, was condemned by 11 members of his family in a handwritten letter, in which they said he was in cahoots with "the devil's army". "Oh my, what a disappointment you are to us and to God!" they wrote to the Illinois representative, who was one of 10 Republicans to vote to impeach Mr Trump last month, denouncing his "horrible, rude accusations of President Trump", the New York Times reports. "It is now most embarrassing to us that we are related to you," they said in the 8 January letter. "You have embarrassed the Kinzinger family name!"

2-16-21 US snow: Deadly winter storm sweeps US southern states
A winter storm in the US has brought deadly freezing winds, ice and snow to many regions that rarely see such frigid conditions. In Texas, a surge in demand for electricity has led to widespread power cuts. The state is bracing for another icy storm later on Tuesday. The National Weather Service (NWS) said more than 150 million Americans were now under winter storm warnings. At least 11 deaths have been blamed on the widespread storm. Deaths have been reported in Tennessee, Texas, Kentucky and Louisiana. In North Carolina, a tornado spawned by the same storm left three dead early on Tuesday morning. The freezing storm even reached northern parts of Mexico where more than four million homes and businesses lost power early on Monday. US President Joe Biden has approved a state of emergency in Texas, which has seen some of its coldest temperatures in more than 30 years - some areas hit 0F (-18C) on Sunday. The high demand for electricity in the state has caused the power grid to fail. Rolling blackouts have been imposed in some areas to conserve power for hospitals, police and fire stations, leaving over 4.1 million people without electricity. The crisis was worsened when nearly half the state's wind power generation was knocked out by the storm on Sunday. Wind power is the state's second-largest source of electricity. Homes in Texas are not normally insulated for cold weather. In Houston, authorities say two family members died from suspected carbon monoxide poisoning after they ran their car in an enclosed garage to keep warm. In Fort Worth, members of another family were taken to hospital in a critical condition for suspected carbon monoxide poisoning. Icy roads have also led to a spate of traffic accidents and people have been advised to avoid travel where possible. In Houston, nearly 120 road crashes were reported on Sunday alone. A pile-up on a major highway near Oklahoma City during a snowstorm on Sunday left several lorries on fire.

2-16-21 Australia is still doing lockdowns the right way
Go hard, go early, and lockdowns can be over quick. Australia has thus far mostly dodged the coronavirus pandemic. At time of writing, it has seen just 909 deaths from COVID-19, as compared to about 490,000 in the United States. Australia has a much smaller population, but adjusted for size, the U.S. rate of death is still 42 times larger. If America had handled things as well as Australia, something like 478,000 of those people would still be alive today. How did they manage it? It is not primarily because Australia is an island, nor is it because Aussies have been under the thumb of a meddlesome state for months. On the contrary, over the course of the pandemic Australians have, on average, experienced dramatically fewer intrusive government controls than most Americans or Europeans. The main reason can be seen in the lockdown that has taken effect in the state of Victoria in Australia this week. Its capital city, Melbourne, has seen a cluster of cases of the dangerous U.K. variant of the coronavirus in a quarantine hotel, and therefore the government has triggered a very strict lockdown lasting for five days starting Saturday. That kind of hair-trigger containment reaction is why Australia has been able to be largely open and virus-free for much of the last year — they halted the spread, and could then let up on containment. It makes for a depressing contrast with the U.S. and most of Europe, where halfhearted containment measures are still unpleasant but do not squelch the virus, and so drag on forever. Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews made the announcement Thursday. All gatherings of any kind are banned, and masks are mandatory in all places. Residents will not be able to leave their homes except for needed shopping, exercise, and caregiving. The surrounding states also closed their borders. It's important to recall that, unlike other star performers like Vietnam and New Zealand, Australia did have serious community spread of coronavirus on two occasions. When the pandemic first struck last March, and again in July, it suffered galloping outbreaks with hundreds of new cases per day — a total of about 29,000 positive results thus far, and no doubt thousands more that were not caught. This means it can't be that Australia evaded the pandemic solely by virtue of being a remote island with little foreign travel. That surely helped, but once the virus gets going in any community, we have seen it spreads like wildfire. National isolation is little help against a disease that has already made it inside the border. Now, early restriction on movement was a key part of the Australian strategy — but it was not just about closing the border to foreign travel, but also halting movement between states. That in turn was only one facet of a super-aggressive containment strategy. When the pandemic first struck, the government locked down hard, quickly built out mass-testing capacity, set up contact-tracing and isolated quarantine facilities, and kept the economy on ice. All that eventually halted the spread as of mid-May, and normal life could be (gradually and carefully) resumed.

2-16-21 Covid: Dutch crisis as court orders end to Covid curfew
A court in The Hague has told the Dutch government that an overnight curfew to reduce the spread of coronavirus should be lifted immediately, ruling that it breaches the right to free movement. The court said the 21:00 to 04:30 curfew was imposed by an emergency law when there was no "acute emergency". The decision is a victory for campaign group Viruswaarheid (Virus Truth). Prime Minister Mark Rutte urged people to follow the curfew, even if ministers failed to stop it being lifted. The government has asked the court to suspend its decision ahead of an appeal. Unless the court agrees, ministers will be unable to prevent the curfew from being lifted on Tuesday night. "We haven't for a second considered scrapping the curfew as it is simply necessary," said Mr Rutte, who described the ruling as a setback. The cabinet is urgently working on a new law to enforce the curfew, but that could take time. Curfews have been widely used in Europe to restrict movement. France has had a nightly curfew from 18:00 but has stopped short of imposing a third lockdown. Greece has also imposed curfews, as have Spain and Italy. The Dutch measure, which came into force on 23 January, was intended to reduce movement, particularly among young people, but triggered days of rioting in a number of towns and cities. The Netherlands had not seen a curfew since Nazi occupation in World War Two. Although the Netherlands initially avoided strict measures, a lockdown was brought in last December and, after the cabinet decided on a curfew in January, MPs backed it days later amid fears that the UK, or Kent, variant would increase infections. The government resigned before last month's curfew decision and now has a caretaker role ahead of elections next month. In their ruling on Tuesday, the Dutch judges said the curfew had been imposed under an emergency law, even though the court said there was no emergency as in the case of a "dyke being breached".

2-15-21 Covid-19 news: Seven coronavirus variants identified in the US
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 variants carrying similar mutations detected in the US. Seven coronavirus variants carrying similar mutations have been detected in the US. All the variants, reported in a preliminary study, have gained a mutation at the same location in their genome and appear to belong to the same lineage as a virus first sequenced on 1 December, which subsequently became more common. “There’s clearly something going on with this mutation,” Jeremy Kamil at Louisiana State University and co-author of the study, told the New York Times. It isn’t clear if the mutation makes the variants more transmissible, like the B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant first sequenced in the UK, but its location in a gene that influences how the virus enters human cells is concerning. “I think there’s a clear signature of an evolutionary benefit,” said Kamil. The preliminary study was released on a pre-print server and has not been peer-reviewed. UK health minister Matt Hancock revealed that a third of social care workers in England haven’t had a covid-19 vaccine yet, despite being among the first priority groups. “We’ll keep offering and keep contacting people who work in social care,” Hancock told the BBC’s Breakfast show. “Obviously the uptake there is very important,” he said. Separately, a preliminary study found lower covid-19 vaccine uptake among Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff at the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust in England. “These findings give significant cause for concern, as ethnic minority groups (especially those working in healthcare) are at higher risk of infection with [the coronavirus] and adverse outcome from covid-19,” said the report, which has not been peer-reviewed. More than 15 million people have received a dose of covid-19 vaccine in the UK so far, in keeping with the government’s target of offering a first dose of vaccine to four priority groups by mid-February. “We’ll do everything we can” to reopen schools in England by 8 March, UK prime minister Boris Johnson has said, adding: “But we’ve got to keep looking at the data, we’ve got to keep looking at the rates of infection, don’t forget they’re still very high.” The UK government is expected to set out plans for ending restrictions at a briefing on 22 February. Johnson said the government’s plans will be “cautious but irreversible”. The first travellers required to stay at quarantine hotels in England arrived at London’s Heathrow airport on 15 February. People arriving in the UK from 33 “red list” countries are now required to go into mandatory hotel quarantine for 10 days on arrival, at their own expense.

2-15-21 Biden calls for gun law reform on anniversary of Parkland shooting
US President Joe Biden has called for Congress to pass gun law reforms, including a ban on assault weapons. Mr Biden released the statement on Sunday, the third anniversary of the Parkland school shooting in Florida. "All across our nation, parents, spouses, children, siblings, and friends have known the pain of losing a loved one to gun violence," he said. In 2018, 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were killed by an ex-student armed with an AR-15 rifle. Many of the school's teenage survivors went on to become prominent advocates for gun legislation reform. The right to bear arms is protected by the Second Amendment to the US constitution and is staunchly defended by many conservatives, including ex-president Donald Trump. In his statement, President Biden also called for the introduction of background checks for all gun sales, a ban on high-capacity magazines, and for an end to legal immunity for gun manufacturers. "We owe it to all those we've lost and to all those left behind to grieve to make a change," Mr Biden said. "The time to act is now." In a separate statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Congress would resurrect background check legislation that had stalled when Republican former President Donald Trump was in office. "Now, working with the Democratic Senate and Biden-Harris Administration, we will enact these and other life-saving bills and deliver the progress that the Parkland community and the American people deserve and demand," she said.

2-15-21 Double masks: Should we use them?
There’s a lot of choice about which type of face covering to wear – and in some countries the advice is changing as we learn more about how the virus spreads. In certain countries a specific type of mask is required in public areas. The BBC's Science Editor David Shukman explains the differences between cloth masks, surgical masks and N95 masks - and looks at whether we should double mask.

2-15-21 US cold snap: Why is Texas seeing Arctic temperatures?
Texas is known for its sprawling deserts and excruciating heatwaves - but right now, it's blanketed in a thick layer of ice. The state is seeing some of its coldest temperatures in more than 30 years, with some areas breaking records that are more than a century old. Parts of Texas hit 0F (-18C) on Sunday, and weather warnings are going to stay in place through the week. So why is this normally boiling state suddenly freezing over? According to the US National Weather Service (NWS), this is down to an "Arctic outbreak" that originated just above the US-Canada border, bringing a winter snow storm as well as plummeting temperatures. Cold air outbreaks such as these are normally kept in the Arctic by a series of low-pressure systems, the NWS said. However, this one moved through Canada and spilled out into the US last week. Temperatures in the city of Dallas for example will reach a high of 14F (-10C) on Monday when it should be more like 59F (15C) at this time of year. For the first time in the US state, all 254 counties are under a winter storm warning, US media report. The temperature in Dallas is already colder than in Anchorage, Alaska, CBS News reports. In a statement on Sunday night, President Joe Biden declared an emergency in Texas, which authorises US agencies to co-ordinate disaster relief in the state. Rotating power outages have been initiated by the state's power grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (Ercot), early on Monday, to reduce demand on the electricity system. "Traffic lights and other infrastructure may be temporarily without power," it added in a tweet. It has also issued a level-three energy emergency alert, urging consumers to reduce electricity use. Nearly 120 car accidents were reported on Sunday, Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña tweeted. Hundreds of flights in and out of the state have also been cancelled. The weather has already proved deadly. On Thursday, icy roads led to a massive crash involving more than 100 vehicles in Fort Worth, killing six people and leaving dozens more needing hospital treatment.

2-14-21 Trump impeachment trial: Biden warns democracy is fragile
US President Joe Biden has said his predecessor Donald Trump's acquittal for inciting mob violence is a reminder that "democracy is fragile". Seven Republicans joined Democrats in voting to convict, falling short of the two-thirds majority needed to do so. Mr Biden said the charge, relating to Mr Trump's role in the Capitol riot last month, was "not in dispute", while seeking to move on from the process. Mr Trump has welcomed his acquittal, calling his impeachment a "witch hunt". In the Senate on Saturday, the trial ended with a 57-43 vote in favour of conviction. The vote split largely along party lines, with the seven Republicans joining the Senate's 48 Democrats and two independents in voting to convict. Mr Trump faced a single charge of incitement to insurrection after pro-Trump supporters stormed Congress on 6 January. Five people died. Democratic prosecutors argued he stoked the mob with false claims the election was stolen. Mr Trump's lawyers denied his words amounted to incitement, and said the Senate should not try a former president. Impeachments of US presidents are rare. Only two other presidents have been impeached, while Trump is the only man to face the process twice. Responding to the acquittal, President Biden said: "While the final vote did not lead to a conviction, the substance of the charge is not in dispute. "This sad chapter in our history has reminded us that democracy is fragile. That it must always be defended. That we must be ever vigilant. That violence and extremism has no place in America. And that each of us has a duty and responsibility as Americans, and especially as leaders, to defend the truth and to defeat the lies." Mr Biden has kept his distance from the impeachment process, not watching the trial live. Aides were reportedly worried that it would distract from his early plans for office.

2-14-21 McConnell blames 'Trump's lies' but votes not guilty
Republican Mitch McConnell calls the former president's actions a “disgraceful dereliction of duty” that led to the 6 January riots.

2-14-21 Immigrants, rights activists call on Biden to end private detention
Advocates say that ending the migrant detention system is one more piece of the puzzle in achieving racial justice and ending migrant abuse. Last month President Joe Biden instructed the Department of Justice to end contract renewals with private prisons as a first step to end racial disparities and pave the way to fair sentencing. But Biden, who ran on promises to make sweeping changes to immigration policy, left private immigration detention untouched, allowing the Department of Homeland Security to continue renewing contracts with these private facilities. For years, immigrants in detention and advocacy groups have documented a lack of oversight and physical and mental abuse at the facilities. Today, about 80 percent of immigrants in detention centers are in private detention, according to an American Civil Liberties Union report. Advocates say that ending the migrant detention system is one more piece of the puzzle in achieving racial justice and ending migrant abuse. In 2020, 170,000 people cycled through detention, which is an unusually low number compared to other years. The pandemic, along with former President Donald Trump's tough policies on immigration contributed to those lower numbers. Policies like the Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as "Remain in Mexico," kept asylum-seekers on the Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico border. Still, detention continues to be a lucrative business. The U.S. government used to oversee immigration detention. But that changed after 9/11 with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Immigration detention expanded after that, and U.S. officials turned to private prison companies to manage this work. The companies jumped right in. "[Companies] started seeing the federal government as a place to have these more lucrative contracts," said Silky Shah, executive director of the Detention Watch Network, an immigration detention advocacy group. The group has tracked the increasing privatization of the detention system during the Trump administration, with more multimillion-dollar contracts signed by key companies such as CoreCivic Inc and GEO Group. During the pandemic, many immigration detention centers have also become COVID-19 hot spots. These private companies say they take safety seriously, especially during the pandemic. Immigrants are given face masks and medical attention, they say. But addressing abuse and neglect is only the beginning of a much larger detention problem, Shah said. It's also about racial justice. "What we know about these systems [is] that [they] disproportionately target people of color and Black people, and we're seeing that even now, in the context of who is currently in detention and who is being deported," she said. Biden said he wants to address racial inequity inside detention centers, too. But unwinding these contracts might be more of a battle. Last August, the Trump administration renewed contracts with GEO Group and CoreCivic, Inc., in Texas, to run two facilities for an additional 10 years. Any steps Biden takes now need clear deadlines to phase out these and other private contracts, said Jesse Franzblau, a policy analyst with the National Immigrant Justice Center, which provides direct legal services to immigrants. Franzblau said giving these companies a two-year deadline is reasonable, and the federal government has the authority to do so. "But they need direction from above to start carrying that out," he said. Advocates also stress the fact that nearly one-third of immigrants held in detention centers don't have a criminal record. And many others have minor nonviolent offenses.

2-14-21 Covid: New Zealand Auckland lockdown ordered
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has ordered the country's biggest city Auckland to go into lockdown after the discovery of three new local cases of Covid-19. The measures will last three days and require residents to stay at home. Ms Ardern said the country was going "hard and early" after the cases were identified. New Zealand has won widespread praise for its handling of the pandemic, going months without community transmission. The country closed its borders entirely to almost all non-citizens or residents early on in the pandemic, aiming to eliminate the virus. New Zealand, with a population of five million, has recorded just over 2,300 cases of Covid and 25 deaths. The measures in Auckland require its 1.7 million residents to stay at home except for essential shopping and work. Schools and non-essential shops will close, and entry in and out of the city restricted. Ms Ardern said three days should allow the government to get more information and get more testing done, and would also help determine if there was any community transmission. "New cases of Covid-19 in the community was something none of us wanted to happen," Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said, adding the restrictions were the "best way to stamp out the virus". The rest of the country moves to a higher level of alert, with schools and businesses remaining open but people encouraged to find alternative ways of working if possible. The lockdown forced the postponement of two races in sailing's America's Cup, one of the few major sporting events with no restrictions on spectators. The three community cases were announced earlier on Sunday - a mother, father and daughter from South Auckland. It is unclear how the three contracted Covid. The mother works in the laundry department for an airline catering facility, while New Zealand media said the father was a self-employed tradesman.

2-14-21 TJ Ducklo: Biden aide quits over 'abhorrent' language
White House deputy press secretary TJ Ducklo has resigned, a day after being suspended without pay for allegedly threatening a female reporter. Mr Ducklo had reportedly said he would "destroy" Politico journalist Tara Palmeri who was asking questions about his private life. In a statement on Saturday, Mr Ducklo said his language had been "abhorrent". President Joe Biden has vowed to fire anyone in his administration who treats "another colleague with disrespect". In the statement posted on Twitter, Mr Ducklo, 32, wrote: "No words can express my regret, my embarrassment and my disgust for my behaviour." "I used language that no woman should ever have to hear from anyone, especially in a situation where she was just trying to do her job. It was language that was abhorrent, disrespectful and unacceptable. "I am devastated to have embarrassed and disappointed my White House colleagues and President Biden, and after a discussion with White House communications leadership tonight, I resigned my position." Mr Ducklo said "this incident is not representative of me I am as a person", adding that he was determined "to earn back the trust of everyone I have let down because of my intolerable actions". Ms Palmeri has so far made no public comments on the latest developments. Mr Ducklo was suspended on Friday, after Vanity Fair magazine reported on his alleged threats to Ms Palmeri. The Politico reporter had been investigating Mr Ducklo's relationship with Alexi McCammond, a journalist with Axios who had covered Mr Biden's election campaign. He allegedly rang her and said: "I will destroy you". He also made other derogatory and misogynistic comments, Vanity Fair reports. President Biden's spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, tweeted on Friday that TJ Ducklo was "the first to acknowledge this is not the standard of behaviour set out by the president".

2-14-21 Chris Harrison: Bachelor host to step aside over racism row
The long-time host of hit US dating show The Bachelor has said he is stepping aside after widespread criticism of his comments on race. Chris Harrison drew ire after he excused behaviour of a current cast member that some said was racist, saying he was not the "woke police". "By excusing historical racism, I defended it," the 49-year-old host said in an Instagram post announcement. This current season is the first to feature a black lead. The show revolves around a single bachelor selecting a potential spouse from a pool of hopefuls. In June 2020, fans of the ABC show petitioned for it to address the unequal treatment of cast members of colour. At the forefront of that initiative was Rachel Lindsay, who at the time was the only black lead to have ever served on The Bachelor's sister show, The Bachelorette. The show responded with a promise to address their race issues by casting more people of colour. They announced the first black lead, Matt James, as the next Bachelor on 12 June 2020, following the protests over George Floyd's death. When pictures surfaced of current contestant Rachael Kirkonnell at an Old South fraternity formal at a former slave plantation in 2018, she drew immediate criticism from fans. Ms Kirkonnell has since apologised. In an interview with Mrs Lindsey on Extra TV, Mr Harrison defended Ms Kirkonnell, a current front-runner who has yet to be eliminated from the show. "I saw a picture of her at a sorority party five years ago and that's it," said Mr Harrison. Ms Lindsay reminded him the photo had been taken in 2018, which "wasn't a good look". "Well, Rachel, is it a good look in 2018? Or, is it not a good look in 2021? Because there's a big difference," said Mr Harrison. To this, Mrs Lindsay pushed back and said: "It's not a good look ever."

2-13-21 Trump impeachment trial nears climax
Live coverage of the second Trump impeachment trial. The trial of former President Donald Trump resumes in the Senate. Democrats say they want to call a witness, but Trump's lawyer seeks to proceed to closing arguments. A verdict to convict or acquit him on a single charge of causing a deadly insurrection could follow as early as this afternoon. He is accused of egging on his supporters, over many months and then on 6 January, to riot at the US Capitol. The attack on the US government was an attempt by Trump supporters to stop the election result being certified. Trump's lawyers have called the incitement charge "a monstrous lie". Seventeen Republicans will need to turn against the former president to convict him. But this appears to be unlikely. Their leader Mitch McConnell says he plans to acquit Trump. We're seeing some - slightly heated - back-and-forth on the floor now between Raskin and van der Veen regarding calling witnesses. Essentially, the House wants to call at least one new witness (Congresswoman Beutler) while Trump's defence prefers a speedy end to this trial - or else, they'll want to call dozens of witnesses. After both sides finish presenting their case, it will be time for the senators to debate the matter. A simple majority vote in the evenly split chamber will then decide whether or not witnesses are called. And of course, all this means today's trial proceedings will take longer than previously anticipated, so get settled in. House impeachment manager Jamie Raskin has asked to subpoena Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler and her notes, believing there may be new evidence about a phone call between Trump and McCarthy on 6 January.

2-13-21 Trump impeachment: Insurrection incitement charge a 'monstrous lie'
Donald Trump's insurrection incitement charge is a "monstrous lie", defence lawyers said as they presented evidence in the US Senate. Lawyer Michael van der Veen called impeachment proceedings against the former president a "politically motivated witch hunt" by the Democrats. Mr Trump is accused of causing riots in the Capitol on 6 January which left five people dead. He denies the charge. Most Republicans have indicated they will not vote to convict Mr Trump. The defence team took less than four of its 16 hours, trying to move the impeachment trial to a speedy end. After this, senators were given four hours to ask questions of the two sides. Earlier, they sat through two days of minute-by-minute accounts featuring video and audio footage, as Democratic prosecutors sought to show that Donald Trump had a pattern of condoning violence, had done nothing on the day to prevent the riot, and had expressed no remorse. They argued that an acquittal could see a repeat attack on Congress. On Friday, Mr van der Veen used his opening remarks to dispute the Democrats' case that Mr Trump had incited violence during his speech to supporters on 6 January in Washington DC to try to stop Joe Biden's election victory being certified. Mr Trump had made allegations of voter fraud and urged his supporters to converge at the Capitol building a short while before the riot broke out. However, the fact there was evidence among some groups that violence had been pre-planned demonstrated "the ludicrousness of the incitement allegations against the [former] president", Mr van der Veen said, adding: "You can't incite what was already going to happen." "To claim that the president in any way wished, desired or encouraged lawless or violent behaviour is a preposterous and monstrous lie. In fact, the first two messages the president sent via Twitter once the incursion at the Capitol began were 'Stay Peaceful' and "No violence because we are the party of law and order,'" the lawyer said.

2-13-21 Impeachment: Three key arguments by Trump’s lawyers
On the fourth day of the impeachment trial, the former president’s defence set out their case. They argued that the article of impeachment was an act of ‘political vengeance’. Donald Trump has been impeached for inciting an insurrection following the Capitol riots on 6 January. His lawyers argued that the premeditated attack absolves the former president of responsibility.

2-13-21 US to allow in thousands of asylum seekers waiting in Mexico
The Biden administration says it will start gradually allowing into the US tens of thousands of asylum seekers currently forced to wait in Mexico. It says it will begin next week processing about 25,000 people with active cases. Asylum seekers will first be required to register and pass a Covid-19 test, before being allowed in via one of three border crossings. The move reverses the much-criticised policies of ex-President Donald Trump. The Migrant Protection Protocols programme was enacted in 2019, deterring would-be asylum seekers from coming to the US. It required migrants entering through the southern border to wait in Mexico while their cases were being heard by US immigration courts. But on his first day in office since winning last year's election, President Joe Biden suspended the policy. "As President Biden has made clear, the US government is committed to rebuilding a safe, orderly, and humane immigration system," Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said. "This latest action is another step in our commitment to reform immigration policies that do not align with our nation's values." The Biden administration plans to start with two border crossings each processing up to 300 people a day and a third crossing taking fewer numbers, according to the Associated Press. The authorities say asylum seekers will be released with notices to appear in court in cities close to or in their final destinations, typically with family. At the same time, Mr Mayorkas stressed that "individuals who are not eligible under this initial phase should wait for further instructions and not travel to the border", amid concerns that many people would try to cross the border illegally. Friday's announcement was welcomed in a sprawling migrant camp in the Mexican city of Matamoros, just across the border from Texas. ast year, charity Human Rights First said "returned families, children and adults are being sent to highly dangerous situations where many suffered kidnappings, attacks, sexual assaults, threats and other incredible cruelty".

2-13-21 Making masks fit better can reduce coronavirus exposure by 96 percent
Double masking, rubber bands and other hacks can produce a tighter fit. By now, most people have gotten the message that wearing a face mask is one way to help stop the spread of COVID-19. But now health officials are taking the masking message a step further: Don’t just wear a mask, wear it well. Taking steps to improve the way medical masks fit can protect wearers from about 96 percent of the aerosol particles thought to spread the coronavirus, a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. That’s provided both people are wearing masks. But even if only one person is wearing a mask tweaked to fit snugly, the wearer is protected from 64.5 percent to 83 percent of potentially virus-carrying particles, the researchers report February 10 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. “I know some of you are both tired of hearing about masks, as well as tired of wearing them,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky said February 10 during a White House briefing. But scientists have learned in the past year how effective masks can be to protect people from catching COVID-19, she said. “The bottom line is this: Masks work, and they work best when they have a good fit and are worn correctly.” That message is increasingly crucial as more transmissible coronavirus variants — including ones first detected in South Africa and the United Kingdom — are beginning to spread more widely in the United States (SN: 2/5/21). Plenty of studies have already demonstrated that masks cut down on the amount of spit particles that may spray others when a person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes (SN: 6/26/20). Still, photos and videos show that air and droplets often escape from the tops, sides and bottoms of ill-fitting masks. “Even a small gap can degrade the performance of your mask by 50 percent,” says Linsey Marr, an environmental engineer at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg

2-13-21 Pfizer’s vaccine appears to reduce coronavirus transmission
Vaccinated people tend to carry less virus in their bodies than unvaccinated people, studies show. Researchers are getting the first real-world hints that a vaccine can curb the coronavirus’s spread, not just prevent people from getting seriously ill. People vaccinated with Pfizer’s shots and who still get infected with the coronavirus carry less virus in their bodies than unvaccinated people who are infected, researchers from Israel report in two separate preliminary studies posted February 8 at If the vaccines do reduce the spread of the virus, “it means that even people [who] aren’t vaccinated will gain protection from the vaccinated people around them,” says Marm Kilpatrick, an infectious diseases researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz. As more people get vaccinated, they won’t go on to infect as many other people as they might have before the shot, he says. Even as data on vaccines’ ability to curb transmission is just starting to emerge, U.S. public health officials have updated quarantine guidelines for vaccinated people exposed to the virus. If exposure happens from two weeks to three months after getting both doses of Pfizer’s or Moderna’s vaccine, no quarantine is needed, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said February 10. That’s because the vaccines are highly effective at preventing COVID-19 symptoms, and people who get sick are thought to be more likely to transmit the virus. The new finding that vaccines may curb coronavirus spread comes from vaccination and infection data from Israel. After a clinical trial showed that Pfizer’s vaccine had 95 percent efficacy to prevent COVID-19 symptoms, Israeli health officials swiftly vaccinated a large swath of the country’s population — particularly people 60 years and older (SN: 11/18/20). As of February 6, 80 percent of people in that age group had received both doses of the vaccine compared with 20 percent of younger people, according to data from Our World in Data. Almost half of the population has received at least one dose, and infection rates and hospitalizations in Israel are falling.

2-13-21 Covid: Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to be tested on children
A new trial is to test how well the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine works in children. Some 300 volunteers will take part, with the first vaccinations in the trial taking place later in February. Researchers will assess whether the jab produces a strong immune response in children aged between six and 17. The vaccine is one of two being used to protect against serious illness and death from Covid in the UK, along with the Pfizer-BioNTech jab. As many as 240 children will receive the vaccine - and the others a control meningitis jab - when the trial gets under way. Volunteers who live near one of the four study sites - the University of Oxford, St George's University Hospital, London, University Hospital Southampton and Bristol Royal Hospital for Children - are being asked to sign up. Those interested in taking part must complete a short questionnaire. Andrew Pollard, professor of paediatric infection and immunity, and chief investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial, noted that most children were relatively unaffected by Covid and were unlikely to become unwell with the virus. But he said it was important to establish the safety and immune response to the vaccine in children and young people as some children might benefit from vaccination. There are currently no plans for children to be vaccinated with the Oxford-Astrazeneca jab in the UK, as it has only been authorised to prevent Covid in people aged 18 or over. The Pfizer-BioNTech jab is only authorised in those aged over 16. The vaccine priority list also excludes anyone under the age of 16, even the clinically extremely vulnerable. Earlier this week England's deputy chief medical officer, Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, told ITV News several trials were under way to develop vaccines that were safe and effective in children, saying it was possible there would be some licensed children's vaccines by the end of the year. The University of Oxford said its was the first trial of a Covid vaccine in the six to 17 age group. It said other trials had begun but only measuring efficacy in those aged 16 and 17.

2-13-21 Why Canada is falling behind in Covid vaccinations
Canada has secured the world's largest number of potential Covid vaccine doses per capita - but it's struggling to get its hands on some of those doses and to get jabs into arms. On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised an "enormous increase" in doses coming to Canada of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the only two currently authorised for use in the country. He is under pressure from critics who say he has not delivered vaccines fast enough, and has promised that all Canadians who want a vaccine will get one by the end of September. Canada's inoculation drive began 14 December, and the country has so far given just over 1.18 million doses. It currently stands at 40 in global rankings of doses per 100 people, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Just over three out of 100 Canadians have received at least one dose, compared to about 14 in the US and 21 in the UK. There have been over 823,000 confirmed Covid cases in the country, and over 21,000 deaths. Canada was criticised at the end of last year for buying up multiple times the supply it needs to cover its population. It has signed deals with seven vaccine suppliers - Moderna and Pfizer, as well as ones with pending authorisation like AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson - for a total of over 400 million doses. But it seems it wasn't positioned for priority delivery of the two authorised jabs. That's partly because the country decided to invest in vaccines from European factories, afraid that the US, under former president Donald Trump, would issue export bans. But European factories are struggling with supply and recently it has been the EU, not the US, that has been threatening those bans. Canada lacks domestic production capacity for vaccines. There have been delivery delays, with reduced or cancelled orders, in recent weeks for both the Moderna and Pfizer inoculations.

2-12-21 Covid-19 news: Vaccinations of people under 70 begin 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. Vaccinations of people under 70 begin in England next week. Vaccinators in England can now start giving covid-19 vaccines to people aged between 65 and 69, as long as they have already offered jabs to older and clinically vulnerable people in the top priority groups. “We have been told by NHS England that, in exceptional circumstances, where we have reached other groups, we can move on to cohort five [people aged 65 to 69],” an anonymous doctor told the Guardian. Across the UK, 14 million people had received a first dose of covid-19 vaccine as of 12 February – equivalent to about 20 per cent of the total population. Coronavirus infections appear to be falling across the UK. The Office for National Statistics estimates that about one in 80 people in England had covid-19 in the week up to 6 February, down from one in 65 people the previous week. In Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland the equivalent figures for the most recent week are approximately one in 85, one in 75 and one in 150 people respectively, all down from the previous week’s figures. The latest official estimate of the R number – the average number of people each person with coronavirus infects – puts it between 0.7 and 0.9 for the UK as a whole, indicating the country’s epidemic is shrinking. Germany is imposing strict new border controls due to concern over coronavirus variants, with a ban on travel into the country from the Czech Republic and Austria where the B.1351 and B.1.1.7 variants of the virus were found to be prevalent. Returning residents and certain essential workers will be exempt. French health authority Haute Autorite de Sante recommended that people who have already had covid-19 and recovered should only be offered a single shot of covid-19 vaccine. “The single dose of vaccine will act as a reminder,” it said in a statement.

2-12-21 Trump impeachment: Defence team set to present speedy case
Donald Trump's defence lawyers are set to present evidence in the US Senate, denying charges he incited insurrection in the Capitol riots of 6 January. The team has indicated it may take up only four of its 16 hours, and so move the impeachment trial to a speedy end. Democrats spent two days putting their case, including video footage of the violence and arguing acquittal could see a repeat of the attack on Congress. Acquittal is the likely verdict though, as most Republicans remain unmoved. A two-thirds majority is required to convict Donald Trump in the evenly split 100-seat Senate. At least 17 members of Mr Trump's party would need to vote against him and although six have shown some movement that way, none of the others have, with many staunchly rejecting the accusation. Donald Trump will not appear and testify in his defence on Friday. If Mr Trump were convicted, the Senate could then vote to bar him from holding elected office again. The Democratic-led House of Representatives voted to impeach Mr Trump last month - for a second time - accusing him of inciting supporters to attack the Capitol building to stop Joe Biden's election victory being certified. Five people lost their lives. Over the course of two days of Senate evidence this week, the Democrats argued Donald Trump had shown a pattern of condoning violence, did nothing on the day to prevent the riot and had expressed no remorse. It hasn't given any specific details but there are obvious lines of defence that have already been suggested. The first will be simply freedom of speech. The Democrats tried to head that off on Thursday by arguing that this did not protect Mr Trump if his comments to supporters on 6 January and before incited them to attack Congress. His lawyers will probably argue that there was no overt call for violence in Mr Trump's remarks and that he could not be held responsible for the rioters' actions. The defence will also paint the impeachment as a partisan Democratic action motivated by political gain. In their comments so far they have accused the Democrats of "tremendous hypocrisy", with lawyer David Schoen saying their case lacked any real evidence. He said the video presentation-based evidence was like making "movies" and an "entertainment package". (Webmaster's comment: The Republicans will prove again that they are anti-people!)

2-12-21 Trump legal team to launch impeachment defence
What is impeachment? To impeach, in this context, means to bring charges in Congress that form the basis for a trial. The US constitution states a president "shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanours". This is a political process, rather than a criminal one. It happens in two stages. The first stage saw impeachment charges brought to the House of Representatives and passed in a vote. Then the process headed to the Senate where Trump's trial is now taking place. A two-thirds vote is necessary to convict Trump. This milestone has never been reached in US history. It also looks unlikely in this case, as 17 Republican senators would have to vote to convict Trump. Trump has already left office but, if he were convicted, the Senate could then vote to bar him from holding elected office again.Donald Trump's lawyers are due to defend the former president, arguing that he did not incite the 6 January riot. They have previously argued Trump has freedom of speech to declare the election fraudulent. On Thursday Democrats argued Trump had shown no remorse and warned he or another president could do it again if the Senate did not convict him. They had earlier presented previously unseen footage of the rioters inside the Capitol building. The deadly riot at the US Capitol was an attempt by Trump supporters to stop the election result being certified. Seventeen Republicans will need to turn against their former president to convict him. President Joe Biden has commented on Trump's impeachment trial. "I am just anxious to see what my Republican friends do, and if they stand up," he told reporters outside the White House. Biden has remained mostly tight-lipped about the impeachment process of his predecessor, saying it is the job of Congress to decide the outcome. But on Thursday he said "some minds might be changed" by new video footage of the Capitol riot presented by impeachment managers on Wednesday.

2-12-21 How Mike Pence became a villain in Trump world
A pro-Trump mob called the loyal former vice-president a traitor who should be hanged. What changed?

2-12-21 Elizabeth Neumann: Heightened threat of extremism in US
A former senior adviser in the Trump administration has warned there will be a heightened threat of extremism in the US for some time. Elizabeth Neumann, who was deputy chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security said: "Some of this comes from the dynamics of what happened on January 6. "It is seen as a success story for white supremacists, for anti-government extremists and they are actively recruiting what they perceive to be disheartened Trump supporters, disheartened QAnon adherents and sadly that means we are likely to see not only a growth in their numbers but also the likelihood of additional attacks," she told BBC World News. A second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump is currently underway. He stands accused of inciting supporters to attack the Capitol building on 6 January. Five people lost their lives. Mr Trump's legal team has previously called the trial "absurd and unconstitutional" on the basis that he has already left office. They have also argued Mr Trump has freedom of speech to declare the election fraudulent. (Webmaster's comment: We should round up all these dangerous animals and put them in cages like dangerous animals!)

2-12-21 President Biden cancels funding for Trump border wall
US President Joe Biden has rescinded the national emergency order used to fund Donald Trump's border wall. In a letter to Congress on Thursday, Mr Biden wrote that the order was "unwarranted" and said that no further tax dollars will be spent on the wall. Mr Trump declared a state of emergency over the southern border in 2019, which allowed him to bypass Congress and use military funds for its construction. When Mr Trump left office, about $25bn (£18bn) had been spent on the project. The announcement from President Biden is the latest in a series of executive orders that have rolled back key parts of the former president's agenda. Last week, Mr Biden signed orders seeking to reunite migrant families split up by Trump-era policies, and ordered a probe of his predecessor's immigration agenda. In a letter on Thursday, Mr Biden wrote that he would also seek a review of "all resources appropriated or redirected" to the construction of the wall. Building a border wall was a signature pledge of Mr Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. But the project faced strong opposition in the Democratic-controlled House, and the Republican president announced he would use emergency powers to fund its construction. An emergency declaration allows US presidents to circumvent the usual political process and to access military funding. Various types of fencing totalling 654 miles (just over 1,000 km) were already in place before Mr Trump became president in 2017. During his his time in office, 80 miles of new barriers were built where there were none before, and almost 400 miles replaced existing parts of the structure. "Trump's national emergency was never about security," wrote Arizona Democratic Congressman Raúl Grijalva on Twitter following Mr Biden's announcement. "Now we must cancel the contracts and ensure that not another foot of the border wall is constructed." (Webmaster's comment: We ought to tear the damn thing down!)

2-12-21 Black, Hispanic and female police use force less often than white male officers
A case study of Chicago police suggests diversification may improve treatment of civilians. Black and Hispanic police officers tend to stop, arrest and use force against civilians less often than white officers do, and female officers of all races use less force than their male colleagues, a new case study of the Chicago Police Department suggests. Information on the demographics and behavior of thousands of Chicago police officers revealed how officers of different races and genders acted while on similar patrol assignments. While the results do not shed light on why these differences exist, they do suggest that diversifying U.S. police departments — which have historically been nearly all white and male — may improve police treatment of minority communities, researchers report in the Feb. 12 Science. “When I got the paper, I literally at one point said, ‘hot damn,’” says Phillip Goff, a behavioral scientist at Yale University who wrote a commentary on the study published in the same issue of Science. “I was a skeptic about demographic reform previously, and now I am a convert.… Demographics reform in policing actually has the potential to dramatically change behavior.” Diversifying law enforcement is one of the oldest, most frequently proposed police reforms, Bocar Ba, an economist at the University of California, Irvine, said in a Feb. 8 news conference at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, held online. Calls for changes to law enforcement have been particularly strong within the last year, in response to the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other unarmed Black civilians (SN: 7/9/20). But so far, scientific research has not provided clear answers about how police officer demographics may influence their law enforcement activities.

2-12-21 England's quarantine hotels won't stop spread of coronavirus variants
From Monday 15 February, travellers arriving in England from a “red list” of 33 countries will be required to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days. But the ruling has been criticised as too little, too late, with not enough consistency to be effective. Travellers will be required to quarantine at their own expense, taking a covid-19 test on day two and eight of their stay, which will be extended if a person tests positive. The UK government has announced tough measures for individuals who provide false or deliberately misleading information in regards to their travel. Offences may provoke fines of up to £10,000 or a 10-year prison sentence. Scotland will require all arriving air passengers to quarantine in hotels, while Wales will enforce the same rules as England. UK health secretary Matt Hancock told parliament on 9 February that he had sought advice from the Australian Government on implementing hotel quarantine measures. However, it is unclear what lessons learned from the Australian system will be implemented. Like many other countries who have successfully controlled the spread of covid-19 – including New Zealand, Vietnam, and Taiwan – Australia has had strict border control measures in place for nearly a year. Since March 27, 2020, returning residents have been required to spend 14 days in hotel quarantine. “In the case of Australia, the goal is to eliminate the risk of international travellers bringing covid-19 into an environment where we have no community spread,” says Nancy Baxter at the University of Melbourne. “But when your country has one of the world’s biggest outbreaks, I’m not really sure what you’re gaining by having hotel quarantine – other than being ready for when you do get your numbers to the point where international travellers pose a greater risk to your community than just going to the grocery store,” she says. “I think it might very well be too late,” says Beverley Paterson at the University of Newcastle in Australia.

2-12-21 Covid-19: How England's hotel quarantine will differ from Australia's
England's rules on quarantine hotels for travellers arriving from Covid "red list" countries are less stringent than those enforced in Australia. The BBC has seen a copy of the government's official requirements for hotel operators ahead of the policy starting on Monday. It spells out the rules for handling travellers for 11 nights of quarantine. The UK government said its hotel quarantine measures were "in line with those in other countries". And it promised to update guidance for hotels "imminently". Australia's system, introduced early last year, is seen as among the best internationally. But as a result of repeated outbreaks among staff and guests, and the arrival of new variants, the rules in Australia have been tightened and are under review again. It comes as the Australian state of Victoria enters a five-day "circuit breaker" lockdown in a bid to suppress an outbreak linked to its hotel quarantine system. UK Home Office minister Victoria Atkins said the system being introduced was "very strong" and its "standards are amongst the strongest in the world". "We keep these measures under review," she added. In Australia, people staying in quarantine hotels are not allowed to leave their rooms. This follows incidents in the early months of the pandemic when security guards and hotel guests were seen to mingle, and were blamed for spreading the virus. One of these outbreaks led to a surge in cases that forced Melbourne into a five-month lockdown. The view is that hotel staff should not be put at risk by escorting people outside. The rules drawn up by England's Department of Health said people would be allowed out for exercise, but not to smoke, and must be accompanied. In New Zealand, smoking breaks are allowed, under escort, but with strict guidance not to get close to anyone else. Policy on this changed in Australia after the risks of meal service became apparent. A woman from Singapore who tested negative during most of her stay became infected with the same variant of coronavirus found in a family of five from Nigeria in the room opposite. There's no definitive explanation for how she caught the virus but one suggestion is that the doors of both rooms were opened at the same time to collect meals.

2-11-21 Covid-19 news: Arthritis drug found to cut deaths in severe covid-19
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. Roche’s arthritis drug tocilizumab found to cut risk of death among patients with severe covid-19. The arthritis drug tocilizumab reduces the risk of death among severely ill covid-19 patients, according to findings from the RECOVERY trial, which has been testing a range of potential treatments for the disease since March last year. The study found that 29 per cent of covid-19 patients who received tocilizumab died within 28 days, compared to 33 per cent of those who did not receive the drug. Treatment with tocilizumab – sold under the brand name Actemra by Swiss company Roche – also shortened the time to recovery and reduced the requirement for mechanical ventilation. The trial included 2022 covid-19 patients randomly allocated to receive tocilizumab in addition to their standard care and 2094 patients allocated to standard care only, which for 82 per cent of all patients in the study included treatment with a steroid, such as dexamethasone. Last year, dexamethasone became the first drug found to reduce death rates in covid-19 patients. The most recent results indicate that tocilizumab provides additional benefits when used with steroids, like dexamethasone. “Used in combination, the impact is substantial,” said Martin Landray at the University of Oxford, one of the lead investigators on the trial. “After dexamethasone (steroids), this is the most significant advance in the treatment of covid,” said Athimalaipet Ramanan at the University of Bristol in a statement. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued updated guidance saying people who have been “fully vaccinated” against covid-19 are no longer advised to quarantine if they are exposed to someone who tests positive for coronavirus. This applies to people who have had both doses of a covid-19 vaccine at least two weeks ago. However, the CDC said this does not mean that fully vaccinated individuals should stop taking precautions and added that people who had their shots three months ago or more should still quarantine if they are exposed, since it isn’t known how long protection against covid-19 lasts. US health officials are advising people in the country to consider wearing two masks on top of each other to better protect themselves against coronavirus infection. A CDC report suggested wearing a cloth mask over a disposable surgical mask or improving the fit of a single surgical mask as ways to boost protection. It could take six to nine months to produce and deploy covid-19 vaccines that work against new variants of the coronavirus, according to AstraZeneca. The UK-Swedish company made this statement after its current vaccine was found to be less effective against the coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa. The Guardian reported that more than 40 per cent of staff at the UK’s largest care home provider have not received any doses of covid-19 vaccine.

2-11-21 Trump impeachment: Graphic video shown as ex-president called 'inciter in chief'
Senators at Donald Trump's second impeachment trial have been shown new dramatic and graphic video of the day his supporters stormed the US Congress. The footage showed police engaging in hand-to-hand clashes with rioters and desperately pleading for support. Officers ushered politicians to safety, sometimes within metres of the mob breaking into the chambers. Using Mr Trump's own words and tweets, Democrats prosecuting the case argued he had acted as "inciter in chief". A two-thirds majority is required to convict Mr Trump in the evenly split 100-seat Senate, but an acquittal looks likely as the vast majority of Republican senators have remained loyal to him so far. However, if convicted, he could be barred from holding office again. In at times emotional testimony, impeachment managers - the Democrats tasked with leading the prosecution - methodically pieced together the 6 January attack on the Capitol. The building was stormed after thousands gathered in support of false claims that widespread fraud denied Mr Trump victory in the November presidential election. Five people died, including a Capitol police officer. The previously unreleased security footage revealed how rioters, including some in body armour, violently breached the building and sought out those who had gathered to certify the election result. In frenzied audio, security officials were heard describing how crowds were using weapons like bats and tear gas against them. In one clip, Republican senator and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney was seen walking towards the rioters before being ushered to safety by Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman. Another video showed Vice-President Mike Pence and his family being evacuated amid chants by some in the crowd to "hang" him for refusing to object to certifying the result. In another sequence, staffers of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were heard whispering in hiding as rioters breached her office and called out: "Where are you, Nancy". Graphic mobile phone footage showed a Trump supporter being shot dead as she tried to enter the House of Representatives' lobby and another video showed a riot police officer screaming out in pain as he was crushed in a doorway by the mob.

2-11-21 Capitol mob got close to Pence, Romney and Schumer, new footage shows
Impeachment managers from the Democratic Party released security footage for the first time since the US Capitol riots on 6 January. The videos show US Vice-President Mike Pence came within a few hundred feet of the rioters when he was escorted to safety. Senators Mitt Romney and Chuck Schumer had to turn around to avoid the mob.

2-11-21 Instagram bans Robert F Kennedy Jr over Covid vaccine posts
Instagram has removed the account of Robert F Kennedy Jr for making false claims about coronavirus and vaccines. The nephew of late President John F Kennedy had his account permanently taken down "for repeatedly sharing debunked claims", Facebook, which owns Instagram, said in a statement. His Facebook account remains active despite similar claims posted there. These have included linking the death of legendary baseball player Hank Aaron to the Covid-19 vaccine. Facebook has vowed to remove false claims about Covid-19 vaccines to prevent "imminent physical harm". Mr Kennedy, a lawyer and environmentalist, is the son of late former US attorney general, senator and presidential candidate Robert F Kennedy. He chairs Children's Health Defense, a group that expresses scepticism about the health benefits of vaccines. He also campaigned against the immunisation of measles during a resurgence of the infection. Speaking last year at a conference for the National Vaccine Information Centre, a controversial group accused of spreading misinformation on vaccines, Mr Kennedy said people were hearing his message and "those seeds are landing on very fertile ground". He has addressed anti-lockdown protests and his videos are regularly translated by activists based in other countries. In December, his niece, Kerry Kennedy Meltzer, a physician, wrote a piece in the New York Times entitled: Vaccines Are Safe, No Matter What Robert Kennedy Jr Says.

2-10-21 The 5 best things you can do to boost the chance of a vaccine working
SIMPLE behaviour changes could improve how your body responds to a covid-19 vaccination and the speed at which you are protected from the coronavirus, evidence from studies on other vaccines suggests. These factors could be so important that some scientists believe that ignoring them could reduce the overall success of the covid-19 vaccine roll-out. More than 130 million doses of vaccine against covid-19 have been administered at the time this magazine went to press. But not everyone who gets a shot will respond in the same way. Although the majority will build their immunity over the following weeks, a small percentage of people won’t become immune at all. But even among those who do respond, factors such as age, sex, stress levels and the time of day that you receive a vaccine may affect how strong that immunity is, how quickly you build it, how long it lasts and what side effects you might encounter. “While you can’t change your age, there are psychological, social and behavioural strategies that can substantially impact the immune system’s response to any vaccine,” says Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State University.

  1. Stress: Kiecolt-Glaser’s experiments around 30 years ago were some of the first to show the impact we can have on our body’s response to vaccination. During a stressful exam period, she and her colleagues vaccinated medical students against the viral disease hepatitis B. Those students who were most stressed took the longest to build up a protective antibody response. Likewise, a study of individuals looking after people with dementia showed that the caregivers had a smaller antibody response to flu shots than non-caregivers, and their immunity declined significantly faster six months later.
  2. Sleep: Evidence for the benefits of sleeping well around a vaccination comes from several directions. For instance, healthy adults who sleep less than 6 hours on average per night before a hepatitis B vaccination are less likely to mount an antibody response strong enough to fully protect them from being infected, compared with people who typically sleep more than 7 hours.
  3. Social support: Alongside stress and sleep, you may want to try to mitigate the effects of isolation. Even in young, healthy people, feelings of loneliness have been associated with a lower antibody response to flu vaccination. And having better social support or being married is linked to higher antibody responses to hepatitis B and flu vaccination, while bereavement is associated with lower such responses to the flu vaccine. The mechanism behind this is probably related to the increased levels of stress that can result from a lack of social support.
  4. Alcohol: Something else you can control is your alcohol intake. In December, Anna Popova, the head of the Russian Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing, sparked debate advised Russians to quit alcohol two weeks before their first coronavirus vaccine and to abstain until three weeks after their booster shot. Alexander Gintsburg, head of the Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, which developed the Sputnik V vaccine, said that drinking alcohol after getting a coronavirus jab can impair the immune response and could even render the vaccine ineffective. Contrary to Popova, though, he recommended refraining from alcohol for three days after each injection.e-5-best-things-you-can-do-to-boost-the-chance-of-a-vaccine-working/#ixzz6mB4bpmDu
  5. Exercise: On top of all that, make sure you are getting enough exercise. Not only will this improve your health more generally, helping to minimise stress and reduce risk factors like obesity and diabetes that can worsen covid-19 symptoms, but exercise is also intimately involved with your body’s ability to form an adequate response to a vaccine.

2-10-21 People’s actions are making a real difference against the coronavirus
FOR many people, one of the most unsettling things about living through the coronavirus pandemic is the feeling of lacking control – whether it is over our daily lives, the broader situation or both. Vaccines promised a return to some kind of normality and, with it, a greater sense of control. But this week has brought sobering news: South Africa has decided to pause its roll-out of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine because of findings that it doesn’t offer enough protection against the B.1.351 coronavirus variant first detected in that country. That promised sense of more control may now seem to be slipping through our fingers. In this week’s issue, however, we throw a spotlight on some of the ways in which we can influence our own course through the pandemic – beyond trying to avoid the virus itself as best we can. We also look at some of the many ways in which scientists and doctors have already made big strides towards controlling the impacts of the spread of covid-19. As individuals, we may be able to affect how our bodies respond to a vaccine by taking measures as simple as getting a good night’s sleep or taking more exercise. Once you have had a vaccine, is there any way you can know whether it is working? Well, there are tests that can tell you, as we explain on page 12. Meanwhile, on the science front, a great deal of progress is being made. Innovative new vaccines are in the works. These could not only work against new variants, but may also help solve other problems, such as the global inequalities in accessing vaccines. Then there are the insights that have transformed how medics treat people who have been hospitalised with covid-19, enabling health services to save many more lives than at the start of the pandemic. The interventions that have brought this change may look obvious now, but they certainly weren’t early on. It may not always feel like it, but people’s actions are making a real difference in the fight against the coronavirus. We just need to keep on working at it.

2-10-21 The game-changing covid-19 treatments that helped slash the death rate
Faced with an unknown disease, doctors had to update best practices faster than ever before. Here's what we now know about gold standard coronavirus treatments. AS MUCH as the gloves and N95 masks, Devan Kansagara‘s constant companion early last February was a sense of gnawing anxiety. As a physician at the Oregon Health Sciences University, he braced himself for a tidal wave of covid-19 cases. A few weeks later, it arrived. Like doctors around the world, Kansagara found himself having to care for patients with a deadly disease he knew very little about. “Everyone was grasping at straws,” he says. Ideas flooded in from all corners, ranging from the medically plausible to the utterly crackpot. Various clinical insights began to emerge from cities hit early by the outbreak such as Wuhan in China and Milan in Italy. Doctors and researchers had to decide in real time which strategies to pursue and what warranted further testing. It all happened at a blistering pace. Doctors swapped advice over WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter, changing clinical practice in hours instead of years. Scientists launched clinical trials, enrolled participants, analysed data and rapidly disseminated results. Some pinned their hopes on new, life-saving medicines. Yet while thousands of drugs are being tested or are in development, few have yet proven to make much difference (see “Where are the medicines?“). In spite of this, we have made tremendous progress since those early days. Although outcomes vary by location, and new variants pose new challenges, people hospitalised with covid-19 now are much more likely to survive than they would have been at the start of the pandemic. This is largely thanks to three major changes. The vast majority of people infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes covid-19, won’t need hospital care, says Anita Simonds, a respiratory physician at the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London. But about 3.5 per cent will need to be looked after in hospital, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project and the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard.

2-10-21 Trump impeachment video: What was in it?
Democrats opened their case against Donald Trump by showing a chilling 13-minute video from the Capitol riots which US senators watched in stunned silence. The goal of the prosecution was clear: keep the focus squarely on Mr Trump, linking him and his words to the deadly riot that followed. They also wanted to ensure the jury of senators - and, importantly, Americans watching at home - saw the brutal violence of the mob, the panic of police, and the fear of lawmakers. The montage opens on Mr Trump speaking to a cheering crowd on 6 January before moving through clips showing the horror of the day - played out in excruciating, expletive-laden detail. Mr Trump continues his speech, invigorating his crowd with false claims of voter fraud. "We're going to walk to the Capitol," he says. A mob of his supporters have already reached the Capitol building. Chanting "USA, USA, USA", a group charges the barricade around the complex. Some wear Make America Great Again hats, others are decked out in military gear, as they stampede through the police officers trying in vain to stop them. Some confront police, using vicious expletives, calling them "pigs" and "traitors". The video cuts back to Mr Trump's speech. As lawmakers convene inside the Capitol building to certify the presidential election results and Joe Biden's victory, the scene outside is bedlam. Supporters wield flags and weapons. One man stands on a make-shift gallows, complete with a noose. The crowd chants: "Fight for Trump." A group of police officers on the steps leading up to the Capitol backs away from the quickly advancing mob, helpless against the crowd. As Vice-President Mike Pence is rushed from the Senate, the mob smashes through windows and doors of the Capitol Building. They confront officers inside the halls of Congress. "You're outnumbered," one says. "There's a [expletive] million of us. And we're listening to Trump - your boss." One group chants "treason, treason, treason", as more Trump supporters rush inside. Another group shouts "defend your Constitution", as they walk the corridors of power. In the footage, Democrats include the chilling moment where pro-Trump rioter Ashli Babbitt is shot and killed by an officer. In a hallway outside the House chamber, a group attempts to force its way through a set of locked doors. The glass window panes on the doors are shattered. A rioter uses a baton to smash through as the crowd around him chants "break it down, break it down". We see the hands of an officer on the other side, holding a gun and pointing it toward the mob. We hear a shot and see Babbitt fall to the ground. Lawmakers cower in the gallery of the House. Someone off camera shouts at them to "stay down". A group of lawmakers - many wearing protective gas masks - are guided by police to secure locations. A group breaks in to the Senate chamber. "Is this the Senate?" one demands to know. "Where are they?" another asks, apparently referring to the evacuated senators. We see some rioters rifling through papers and materials left behind by lawmakers. "There's got to be something we can use against these scumbags," one says. The footage shows a sprawling mob, a sea of people on the Capitol grounds. A Confederate flag waves in the foreground. 'That's why we've got to have 30,000 guns up there," one man says. "Next trip," another replies. Some of the most disturbing scenes of violence come near the end of the video. Police officers are crushed in an entrance to the Capitol by the surging crowd trying to force its way in. It looks and sounds like pandemonium. "We need fresh patriots in the front," one rioter shouts. Others shoot pepper spray at the line of cops trying to guard the entrance. A rioter tries to rip the gas mask from the face of a police officer. The crowd gathers steam, chanting "heave ho" as they attempt to force their way inside in unison. We hear a horrible cry of anguish from an officer trapped in the doorway. Outside, the crowd chants encouragement: "Fight for Trump."

2-10-21 Trump impeachment trial to see new footage
Donald Trump's lawyer David Schoen argued before senators that this second impeachment trial was unconstitutional. Schoen bemoaned the effort, which, he said, made him "want to cry" at the damage being done to the constitution. Donald Trump's impeachment trial resumes with Democratic prosecutors expected to show unseen images of the attack on the Capitol. They hope their case may lead to convicting him of inciting supporters ahead of the 6 January deadly riot. Six Republicans sided with all 50 Democrats to proceed with the trial. Trump's lawyers and supporters in the Senate argue it is unconstitutional to put a private citizen through this process. Seventeen Republicans will need to turn against their former president to convict him. It is unlikely, but - if successful - it would lead to a subsequent vote to bar him from seeking public office again.

2-10-21 Capitol riots: Five takeaways from the arrests
The storming of the US Capitol last month left five people dead, over 100 police officers injured and millions of dollars in damage to the building. Most of the rioters were allowed to leave the building without facing arrest, but a month-long search for offenders has resulted in charges against a reported 221 people. Among those arrested, there have been state lawmakers, military veterans and even a gold medal-winning Olympian. Here's a closer look at who conducted the siege and why. Far-right insignia was spotted on the clothing, badges and flags of several insurrectionists, but the vast majority of the 200-plus people charged so far are ordinary pro-Trump activists. So far, only about 10% of those charged have been found to have ties to organised far right militias or other right-wing extremist groups. "What we are dealing with here is not merely a mix of right-wing organisations, but a broader mass movement with violence at its core," wrote Dr Robert Pape, director of the Chicago Project on Security & Threats. Dr Pape led a 22-person research team from the University of Chicago in a study - titled Faces of the American Insurrection - that takes a closer look at who has been arrested since 6 January. The report found that FBI arrests of violent right-wingers over the past five years were almost five times as likely to uncover militia and gang connections as those arising from the violence on 6 January. At least 12 people linked to the Proud Boys - an all-male group with a history of street violence against left-wing opponents - currently face charges. It includes prominent members like a leading organiser of its Hawaii branch, a self-proclaimed "sergeant in arms" and a former US Army captain who ran for a seat in a state legislature. Bomb-making manuals were located in the home of one arrested Proud Boy. Another was a self-professed white supremacist who had previously expressed his desire to become a "lone wolf killer". Other extremists had connections with militant anti-government groups such as the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters and the Aryan Nations, several of whom have military experience. One arrested Three Percenter - Guy Wesley Reffitt, 48, a drilling rig worker from Texas - reportedly threatened his children, saying: "If you turn me in, you're a traitor and you know what happens to traitors...traitors get shot." (Webmaster's comment: These people are animals and they should be treated like aninals!)

2-10-21 Trump impeachment: What the Proud Boys did before president's speech
BBC Newsnight's Gabriel Gatehouse takes a closer look at the movements of far right extremists on the day of the Capitol riots. We see how the Proud Boys were already heading to the Capitol before President Trump had even spoken at his rally by the White House. And video footage shows members of the Oath Keepers, an anti-government militia, storming the building. But the vast majority of those arrested for their actions on 6 January did not have affiliations to such groups before the siege. Experts say that many more Americans have become radicalised since the election and warn that the risk of political violence could grow.

2-10-21 Trump impeachment: Senate says trial is constitutional and can go ahead
The US Senate has found that the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump is constitutional, allowing full proceedings to begin. Mr Trump's defence team argued that he could not face trial after leaving the White House. But a 56-44 majority voted in favour of continuing, with a handful of Republicans backing the measure. Mr Trump is accused of "inciting insurrection" when Congress was stormed last month. Thousands gathered in support of false claims that widespread electoral fraud denied Mr Trump victory in the US presidential election. However Mr Trump is almost certain to be acquitted because only six Republican senators voted to move forward with impeachment, well short of the 17 Republicans whose votes would be needed to convict Mr Trump. Democrats prosecuting the case opened the proceedings by showing a dramatic video montage of Mr Trump's 6 January speech and the deadly rioting by some of his supporters. "That's a high crime and misdemeanour," Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland said of the footage. "If that's not an impeachable offence, then there's no such thing." Lawyers for the former president argued it was unconstitutional to put a former president through the process at all and accused Democrats of being politically motivated. A two-thirds majority is required to convict Mr Trump in the evenly split 100-seat Senate. Tuesday's vote implies loyalty toward the former president in his party remains high enough to avoid a conviction. However, if convicted, Mr Trump could be barred from holding office again. Proceedings opened with impeachment managers - the Democrats tasked with leading the prosecution - arguing their attempts were legitimate. In the 10-minute video used in their presentation, Mr Trump was shown telling his supporters to "fight like hell" before they stormed the US Capitol in violence that resulted in five deaths - including a police officer. Rep Raskin was brought to tears as he recounted fear for his own family's safety during the riot after he was separated from his visiting daughter.

2-10-21 Bruce Castor: Trump lawyer offers bewildering defence statement
Donald Trump's lawyers stole the show at the opening of his impeachment trial at the US Senate - but not in a way that will have pleased the former president. Indeed Mr Trump was unhappy, according to media reports, with the performance of Bruce Castor, whose 48-minute address appeared to have very little substantive content. Mr Castor's presentation contrasted sharply with a dramatic video montage presented by impeachment managers - the Democrats tasked with leading the prosecution. The clip showed Mr Trump telling supporters to "fight like hell" before they stormed the US Capitol last month. And the defence was roundly criticised by Republican allies and critics of Mr Trump. Alan Dershowitz, who defended Mr Trump in his first impeachment trial last year, said he could not understand what Mr Castor had been hoping to achieve. "There is no argument. I have no idea what he's doing. I have no idea why he's saying what he's saying," the high-profile lawyer told conservative TV channel Newsmax. He is a former Pennsylvania district attorney previously known for declining to prosecute comedian Bill Cosby for sexual assault in 2005. Cosby was eventually convicted on three counts of sexual assault in a 2018 retrial of his case. He and the other lawyer representing Mr Trump in the Senate, criminal defence lawyer David Schoen, were drafted in with just over a week to go before the trial after the former president parted ways with his legal team, including attorneys Butch Bowers and Deborah Barbier. Neither Mr Castor nor Mr Schoen have high-level constitutional law experience. He argued that Mr Trump's speech ahead of the Capitol riot should be protected by the First Amendment, which refers to freedom of speech, and warned that partisan impeachments would otherwise become commonplace. "We can't possibly be suggesting that we punish people for political speech," he said. Mr Castor said impeachment was unnecessary because Mr Trump could not be removed from office as a result of the trial as he was no longer president. However, if convicted, Mr Trump could also be barred from holding federal office again. "President Trump no longer is in office. The object of the Constitution has been achieved. He was removed by the voters," Mr Castor said, contradicting Mr Trump's repeated but unsubstantiated assertion that he had been the victim of electoral fraud.

2-10-21 Covid: EU's von der Leyen admits vaccine rollout failures
The EU was late to authorise Covid-19 vaccines and "still not where we want to be", European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said. She also acknowledged the EU had been overconfident about production targets being met amid delays at factories. The Commission chief has come under fire for the EU's slow vaccine rollout. There is anger that the bloc has fallen behind countries like the UK, where more than 12 million people have already received the jab. But Mrs von der Leyen was adamant that ordering vaccines collectively on behalf of member states was "the right thing to do". Meanwhile pharmaceutical group AstraZeneca has said it will join forces with German company IDT Biologika to produce more vaccines for Europe. Producers of vaccines including the Oxford-AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech jabs have postponed delivery of some of the EU's order because of capacity and supply issues. This was Mrs von der Leyen's first public acceptance of criticism. Last week, she told German paper Süddeutsche Zeitung that "a country on its own can be a speedboat, the EU is more like a tanker". "We were late to authorise. We were too optimistic when it came to massive production," the Commission president told the European Parliament, "and perhaps too confident that what we ordered would actually be delivered on time." She also noted that questions would have to be answered about what went wrong. However, Mrs von der Leyen maintained that a joint EU response had been the correct decision in dealing with the pandemic: "I can't even imagine if a few big players had rushed to it and the others went empty-handed. "In economic terms it would have been nonsense and it would have been I think the end of our community." She also defended the time taken to approve vaccines, which she described as "an essential investment to establish confidence and security". The Commission president said she "deeply" regretted a threat made by the EU last month to restrict the flow of vaccines passing between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. "But in the end we got it right and I can reassure you that my Commission will do its utmost to protect the peace in Northern Ireland."

2-9-21 Why Republicans won't convict Trump
They'll stand by their man — even when doing so is bad for democracy. Former President Trump will once again make the kind of history you do not want your name associated with on Tuesday when his second impeachment trial commences in the U.S. Senate. As with Trump's first trial (barely more than a year ago, if you can believe it), the outcome is not in doubt. But just because we know how it will end doesn't mean the trial won't be gripping. Members of Congress narrating their terrifying Insurrection Day ordeals will be a riveting spectacle. And just as we did in the House last month, Americans will get a quick and dirty head count of how many Republicans value democracy itself more than their own political fates. Don't get your hopes up on that score. While the political and evidentiary cases for GOP senators to convict Trump and bar him from ever holding federal office again are straightforward, the path to 67 votes is not. Instead, viewers should brace themselves for torturous arguments about how it is unconstitutional to impeach a former president, and some extremely "It depends on what the meaning of 'is' is" galaxy logic about how Trump did not incite the crowd to insurrection because he did not literally say the words "please go and lay violent siege to our national legislature." Gathering more than one Republican in a room these days is a plain invitation to this kind of sophistry. It is possible to imagine a world where Trump would have no defenders. After all, the 45th president of the United States exited the White House in a state of objective disgrace so thorough that it wasn't even particularly remarkable that he and his wife slipped away hours before Joe Biden's inauguration in a kind of Helicopter Ride of Shame. Trump spent his last months in office conspiring to overturn the clear results of the 2020 election with a slimy pillow company executive and a group of awful lawyers in painfully obvious cognitive decline, all while ignoring his responsibility to help manage the rampaging pandemic that has now claimed nearly 500,000 American lives in a year. Had he succeeded in his dark quest, he would have triggered at minimum the violent breakup of the United States of America and God knows what else. It's also not like Trump is an unassailably popular figure. His final approval rating in the Five Thirty Eight average was 38.6 percent, close to the lowest marks of his term. A 13-point majority wants him found guilty and to never see him darken the national doorstep with his presence again. Even if you cautiously assume these polls are all a few points off, their message is nevertheless stark. With the next national elections 21 months away, there simply could not be a more auspicious opportunity for America's warring political parties to come together in defense of the principles of democracy itself. Last but not least is this: Without a conviction, Trump remains a serious threat to run again in 2024, and until proven otherwise has to be considered the favorite for the GOP nomination. Multiple sitting Republican senators, including Josh Hawley (Mo.) and Ted Cruz (Texas), are rumored to be serious 2024 aspirants. Have none of them considered that eliminating Trump from contention would help clear a path for them? Are they really worried his supporters would stay angry for all three years until Iowa? Imagine you're a sports executive chasing the off-season's hottest free agent and you could just vote one of your competitors off the island. Damn the consequences, because successful major-party nominations fly forever. But even if Trump himself shows up on the Senate floor dressed as the QAnon shaman screaming "You're damn right I ordered the Capitol siege, and I'd do it again!" he isn't getting 17 Republican votes for conviction. As sad as it is to acknowledge, no more than a handful of GOP senators will join their Democratic colleagues to issue what amounts to a formal reprimand for attempting to extinguish American democracy from the face of the Earth.

2-9-21 Historic second Trump impeachment trial to open
To convict Donald Trump, Democrats will need to muster a two-thirds majority in the Senate. With the chamber split exactly in half - 50 seats each - at least 17 Republicans will have to vote with Democrats to make this happen. This isn't likely. Still, there are some Republicans to keep an eye on, who might cross party lines in the trial. Donald Trump's second impeachment trial begins in the US Senate - the first time a president has gone on trial after leaving office. He faces a single charge of "incitement of insurrection" in a speech to supporters ahead of a deadly riot at the US Capitol on 6 January. Trump's legal team has called the trial "absurd and unconstitutional" on the basis that he has already left office. Democrats laying out the case for the prosecution dispute this saying he should be held accountable. Both sides will present arguments on the legality of the trial, with a vote on whether to proceed later on Tuesday. Trump made history last month by becoming the first president to be charged with misconduct twice by the lower chamber of Congress. He is not expected to attend the Senate trial in person. 1. Mitt Romney, from Utah. Voted to convict Trump last time, has said the riot was "an insurrection incited by [Trump]" 2. Ben Sasse, from Nebraska. Has been an outspoken critic of Trump, saying the 6 January violence "was the inevitable and ugly outcome of the President's addiction to constantly stoking division". 3. Susan Collins, from Maine. A moderate Republican, she wrote an op-ed saying Trump had "incited" the rioters. 4. Lisa Murkowski, from Alaska. She called on Trump to resign as president following the riots. 5. Pat Toomey, from Pennsylvania. He has said that Trump might face "criminal liability" for the 6 January siege. Donald Trump is facing an impeachment trial for the second time, but this time he'll watch the drama play out from West Palm Beach, Florida, instead of the White House. The former president has kept a low profile since leaving office last month, spending time at his Florida estate Mar-a-Lago. And his indefinite ban from Twitter has meant we've heard far less from the Republican than we got used to during his four years in office. But unfortunately for Trump, he didn't leave all of his legal disputes behind in Washington. Officials in Palm Beach will meet tonight to discuss if he's allowed to keep living at his Mar-a-Lago resort. Some of his neighbours have argued he's violating a decades-old agreement by residing at the private club.

2-9-21 Trump impeachment: Senate paves way for speedy trial of ex-president
The second impeachment trial of Donald Trump begins on Tuesday as Senate leaders agreed a rapid timetable. The former president is charged with "inciting insurrection" in a speech to supporters ahead of the deadly riot at the US Capitol on 6 January. Democrats say they have "overwhelming" evidence of his guilt while his defence team claim rioters acted independently. The defence call the trial "absurd and unconstitutional" and its legality of it will be a focus on Tuesday. Mr Trump is the only US president in history to have been impeached twice and one of only three to have been impeached at all. If convicted, he could be barred from holding office again. But a two-thirds of the 100-seat senate is required to convict - Democrats hold 50 seats and there is little sign enough Republicans will join them. In a pre-trial statement released on Monday, Mr Trump's lawyers argued the trial is unconstitutional because Mr Trump has left office and is now a private citizen. The nine "impeachment managers" - Democrats from the House of Representatives who will lay out the case for prosecution - dispute this, saying he should be accountable for actions as president. Both sides will have four hours to tackle this constitutional question on Tuesday, with a vote expected at the end of the day on whether to proceed. Senate leaders agreed a framework for the trial on Monday. "All parties have agreed to a structure that will ensure a fair and honest Senate impeachment trial of the former president," US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said. If Tuesday's constitutional vote passes - and it is expected to - opening arguments will begin on Wednesday afternoon with both sides allowed up to 16 hours each for presentations. These arguments are expected to run through until the weekend when senators will get a chance to ask both sides questions. It is unclear if the impeachment managers will then extend the timetable by requesting witnesses be called or subpoenaed - though Mr Trump has already declined to voluntarily testify. Lawmakers on both sides are said to favour a quick trial, amid an ongoing effort to have President Joe Biden's coronavirus relief package approved. With the speedy timetable, it is thought a Senate vote on whether to convict Mr Trump or not could come as early as Monday.

2-9-21 UK coronavirus variant spreading 'rapidly' through US, study finds
The coronavirus variant that has moved through the UK is now spreading "rapidly" through the US, according to a new study published on Sunday. The more contagious strain is nearly doubling its prevalence among confirmed cases in the US every nine days. The spread of the variant, known as B.1.1.7, has put added pressure on vaccination efforts worldwide. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has predicted it could be the predominant strain by March. The report, posted on the preprint server MedRxiv, is a collaboration of several researchers and scientists. It has not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a journal. Case numbers of the new variant are still somewhat small in the US. According to the CDC, Florida leads the country in reported cases of B.1.1.7 with 187 as of Thursday, followed by California with 145. "Our study shows that the US is on a similar trajectory as other countries where B.1.1.7 rapidly became the dominant SARS-CoV-2 variant, requiring immediate and decisive action to minimize Covid-19 morbidity and mortality," the report's authors wrote. This new strain is 35-45% more transmissible than other strains of the virus currently in the US, the report found. When the CDC first warned of the new variant's presence in the US in mid-January, it was present in less than 0.5% of cases. By the end of the month, this figure had jumped to 3.6%, according to the study. The report comes as the United States' winter virus surge passes its peak. Daily cases throughout the country have been falling for about a month, since early January. But the average daily death toll remains extremely high - some 3,000 per day - and hospitals remain under immense pressure. The B.1.1.7 variant, first discovered in Britain, has so far spread to more than 50 countries. As with the original virus, the risk is highest for the elderly and for those with significant underlying health conditions. There has been some suggestion that the strain may be associated with a 30% higher risk of death, but the evidence on this is not strong, and the data is still uncertain. Current vaccines were designed around earlier variants but initial studies have indicated that that the Pfizer, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines will all protect against the B.1.1.7 strain.

2-9-21 Covid: WHO team says 'extremely unlikely' virus leaked from lab
A team of international experts investigating the origins of Covid-19 have all but dismissed a theory that the virus came from a laboratory. Peter Ben Embarek, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) mission, said it was "extremely unlikely" that the virus leaked from a lab in the Chinese city of Wuhan. He said more work was needed to identify the source of the virus. The comments came at the conclusion of a joint WHO-China mission. Wuhan, in China's western Hubei province, is the first place in the world that the virus was detected. Since then, more than 106 million cases and 2.3 million deaths have been reported worldwide. Dr Embarek told a press conference that the investigation had uncovered new information but had not dramatically changed the picture of the outbreak. Experts believe the virus is likely to have originated in animals, before spreading to humans, but they are not sure how. Dr Embarek said work to identify the origins of Covid-19 pointed to a "natural reservoir" in bats, but that it was unlikely that this happened in Wuhan. The experts said there was "no indication" that the virus was circulating in Wuhan before the first official cases were recorded there in December 2019. Liang Wannian, an expert with China's Health Commission, said Covid-19 could have been in other regions before it was detected in Wuhan. It was unlikely that the expert group, in its politically-charged mission, would be able to pinpoint the source of the pandemic in China a year after it began. But, after visiting the Wuhan Institute of Virology, they have closed the lid on a controversial theory that coronavirus came from a lab leak or was made by scientists. Their search for clues also included a visit to the now-famous wet market in Huanan - selling fish, meat and live wild animals - that was linked to some of the first human cases. The team say the virus may have jumped from animals to humans, but they don't have the proof yet.

2-9-21 Hacker tries to poison water supply of Florida city
A computer hacker gained access to the water system of a city in Florida and tried to pump in a "dangerous" amount of a chemical, officials say. The hacker briefly increased the amount of sodium hydroxide (lye) in Oldsmar's water treatment system, but a worker spotted it and reversed the action. Lye is used in small amounts to control acidity but a large amount could have caused major problems in the water. Oldsmar Mayor Eric Seidel said: "There's a bad actor out there." No arrests have yet been made and it is not known if the hack was done from within the US or outside. A computer controlling Oldsmar's water treatment system was remotely accessed on Friday. A plant operator saw an attempt to access the system in the morning but assumed it was his supervisor, the Tampa Bay Times reported. But another attempt was made early in the afternoon and this time the hacker accessed the treatment software and increased the sodium hydroxide content from 100 parts per million to 11,100 ppm. The operator immediately reduced the level to normal. Sodium hydroxide is the chief ingredient in liquid drain cleaners. It is very corrosive and can cause irritation to the skin and eyes, along with temporary loss of hair. Swallowing it can cause damage to the mouth, throat and stomach and induce vomiting, nausea and diarrhoea. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said: "I'm not a chemist. But I can tell you what I do know is... if you put that amount of that substance into the drinking water, it's not a good thing." But he added: "At no time was there a significant adverse effect on the water being treated. Importantly, the public was never in danger." The Oldsmar plant provides water to businesses and about 15,000 residents. The remote access programme to the water system has been temporarily disabled.

2-8-21 South Africa rethinks plans after variant evades AstraZeneca vaccine
On 1 February, there was joy in South Africa when 1 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine arrived in the country. On 7 February, the health minister announced that the roll-out of the vaccine would be put on hold after a small study suggested that it doesn’t prevent mild or moderate illnesses caused by the B.1.351 variant responsible for almost all covid-19 cases in the country. “These results are very much a reality check,” Shabir Madhi at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa said during a video conference announcing the findings. The finding is worrying, not least because the B.1.351 variant is now spreading in several other countries including the UK and US. The number of detected cases outside of South Africa remains very low in most places but Austria has found nearly 300, leading the neighbouring German state of Bavaria to threaten to close the border. The UK has stepped up testing to try to halt its spread. It also seems that past infection by other coronavirus variants confers no protection against mild or moderate infections by B.1.351, said Madhi. In a study of people given a placebo during a trial for a vaccine made by Novavax, the infection rate was just as high in those who tested positive for antibodies as in those who had none. However, it is likely that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine does still protect against severe disease caused by the B.1.351 variant, said Madhi. South Africa may now roll out vaccines in a step-wise manner, giving each new vaccine to about 100,000 people and then checking what the hospitalisation rate is, said Salim Abdool Karim, who heads the country’s advisory committee on covid-19. “We can still proceed with our roll-out, but we need to do it wisely,” said Karim. Madhi pointed out that some other vaccines have already been shown to be effective against B.1.351. “It’s not all doom and gloom,” he said.

2-8-21 Covid-19 news: Race is on to tweak vaccine due to South Africa variant
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. Researchers are investigating ways to modify covid-19 vaccines to tackle the South Africa variant and others that emerge. UK ministers say work is underway to tweak existing covid-19 vaccines to tackle new variants of the coronavirus including the B.1.351 coronavirus variant, commonly referred to as the “South Africa variant”. On 6 February, a small, preliminary study was reported to show that the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine may not protect against mild or moderate covid-19 caused by B.1.351. At least 147 cases of this variant have now been detected in the UK. “Our brilliant scientists and medical advisers are now working on the potential for new versions of existing vaccines to offer further protections against covid variants,” Nadhim Zahawi, minister for covid-19 vaccine deployment, wrote in the Telegraph. As a precaution, South Africa – where the variant accounts for about 90 per cent of new coronavirus cases – has put its rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine on hold. However, the study, which has not yet been published or peer-reviewed, was relatively small and did not look at the impact of the vaccine on severe disease or death. All people living in the UK will be eligible to receive a covid-19 vaccine regardless of whether they have the legal right to work and live in the country, the UK government said on 8 February. “Coronavirus vaccines will be offered to everyone living in the UK free of charge, regardless of immigration status,” a government spokesperson told Reuters. The government said getting the vaccine would not trigger immigration checks. Ireland said it will crack down on travellers returning to the UK from the Middle East via Ireland to avoid recently introduced quarantine rules. The number of people travelling to Dublin from Dubai has risen since the UK added the United Arab Emirates to its travel ban list in January.

2-8-21 Iran nuclear deal: US sanctions will not be lifted for talks, says Biden
US President Joe Biden says he will not lift economic sanctions against Iran until it complies with the terms agreed under a 2015 nuclear deal. Mr Biden was speaking in a CBS News interview aired on Sunday. But Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Tehran would only return to compliance if the US first lifted all economic sanctions. The 2015 deal sought to limit Iran's nuclear programme, with sanctions eased in return. Former President Donald Trump, however, withdrew the US from the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions, leading Iran to roll back on a number of its commitments. Iran, which says its nuclear programme is peaceful, has been increasing its stockpile of enriched uranium. Enriched uranium can be used to make reactor fuel, but also nuclear bombs. Under the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal - an agreement reached between Iran, the US, China, France, Germany, Russia and the UK - Tehran agreed to limit its uranium enrichment and allow international inspectors to access sites and facilities. In return, sanctions imposed on Tehran were lifted. But Mr Trump withdrew the US from the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in an effort to force Iran to negotiate a new accord, and reinstated economic sanctions. Mr Trump wanted to place indefinite curbs on Tehran's nuclear programme and also halt its development of ballistic missiles. Iran refused. In July 2019, it breached the 3.67% cap on uranium enrichment and in January this year announced it had resumed enriching uranium to 20% purity. Weapons-grade uranium is 90% purity. In a short clip of the interview published before the full broadcast at 16:00 EST (21:00 GMT) on Sunday, Mr Biden was asked if he would halt economic sanctions to bring Tehran back to the negotiating table, and he replied: "No."

2-8-21 Covid vaccine rollout gives US hope amid variant concerns
It's been a long winter for the US, with hospitals seeing more coronavirus patients than at any point in the pandemic and the average number of daily deaths topping 3,000 for the first time. But as spring approaches, the number of infections is now falling and the vaccination programme looks to have overcome some of its initial problems. So is the US on track to get back to some form of normality in 2021 or do new variants of the virus mean further setbacks are ahead? We've taken a look at the data and spoken to an epidemiologist to assess the situation. The average number of daily cases in the US had been rising since September - apart from a few dips due to incomplete data over holiday periods like Thanksgiving and Christmas. But as you can see from the chart below, daily cases have now been falling since early January. There are, however, still more than 120,000 new infections every day on average and it's unclear whether the recent decline will continue - especially now the US has cases of the more highly transmissible variants of virus, first discovered in the UK, South Africa and Brazil. Overall, there have been nearly 30 million confirmed cases in the US - the highest figure in the world. But as testing was so limited in spring last year, the true number is probably much higher. One study by scientists at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested the real number was as high as 100m towards the end of last year. Although the decline in cases is good news, it will be a few weeks before it has any major effect on the number of coronavirus patients in hospitals across the US. That number has been falling for a few weeks now, but more than 80,000 people are currently in hospital - that's still 20,000 more than during the two previous surges last year. The latest data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project shows the number of Covid patients in hospital is falling in all four regions of the US, with the Midwest having seen the biggest drop since the start of the year.

2-8-21 Covid: South Africa halts AstraZeneca vaccine rollout over new variant
South Africa has put its rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on hold after a study showed "disappointing" results against its new Covid variant. Scientists say the variant accounts for 90% of new Covid cases in South Africa. The trial, involving some 2,000 people, found that the vaccine offered "minimal protection" against mild and moderate cases. But experts are hopeful that the vaccine will still be effective at preventing severe cases. South Africa has recorded almost 1.5 million coronavirus cases and more than 46,000 deaths since the pandemic began - a higher toll than any other country on the continent. The country has received one million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab and was preparing to start vaccinating people. Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said his government would wait for further advice on how best to proceed with the AstraZeneca vaccine in light of the findings. In the meantime, he said, the government would offer vaccines produced by Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer in the coming weeks. The trial was carried out by researchers at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa and the UK's Oxford University, but has not yet been peer reviewed. The trial's chief investigator, Prof Shabir Madhi, said it showed that "unfortunately, the AstraZeneca vaccine does not work against mild and moderate illness". Prof Madhi said the study had not been able to investigate the vaccine's efficacy in preventing more serious infections, as participants had an average age of 31 and so did not represent the demographic most at risk of severe symptoms from the virus. The vaccine's similarity to one produced by Johnson & Johnson, which was found in a recent study to be highly effective at preventing severe disease in South Africa, suggested it would still prevent serious illness, according to Prof Madhi.

2-8-21 Trump impeachment explained
Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial opens on Tuesday, almost a year after his first. He’s accused of inciting the 6 Jan attack on the Capitol by a crowd of his supporters. But members of his Republican party are mostly standing by him. What’s the case against him and what are the chances of a conviction?

2-7-21 The growing white supremacist threat
In the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection, federal officials are warning of more attacks by 'violent domestic extremists'. In the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection, federal officials are warning of more attacks by 'violent domestic extremists.' Here's everything you need to know:

  1. What are the extremists' goals? "Far-right extremism" encompasses a broad number of groups whose specific beliefs and goals vary. They fall into two broad, overlapping categories: white supremacist groups who believe they must defend the white race from "extinction," and anti-government paramilitary groups, or militias, who see themselves as revolutionary heroes opposing a tyrannical federal government and the "New World Order" — a secretive global government run by Jews and socialists.
  2. When did the militia movement begin? While armed anti-government groups are a longtime presence in the U.S., the modern militia movement dates to the 1980s. It grew in response to the election of President Bill Clinton in 1992 and the subsequent passage of gun restrictions, including the assault weapons ban in 1994 — which alarmed those who see all gun restrictions as a form of tyranny.
  3. What happened in 2008? The election of the country's first black president, Barack Obama, which horrified far-right extremists. Experts say the 2008 economic collapse deepened their fears and cynicism, while Facebook and other social media facilitated recruitment efforts.
  4. How many people are involved? Experts estimate there are now tens of thousands of far-right extremists connected to several hundred groups. The Southern Poverty Law Center identified 576 "extreme anti-government groups" in 2019, 181 of them militias.
  5. Why is the threat growing? A major factor, experts who study white supremacists say, is the election and rhetoric of Donald Trump. His outspoken anti-immigrant stance and defense of the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville in 2017 ("very fine people") electrified extremist groups, who believed the president of the U.S. was signaling his approval.
  6. What's being done? President Biden vowed in his inaugural address to confront "a rise in political extremism, white supremacy, [and] domestic terrorism." He's ordered the director of national intelligence to work with the FBI and DHS to compile a comprehensive assessment.
  7. The role of military veterans: Law enforcement officials who track militias and other extremist groups cite a growing worry: a rising number of military veterans within their ranks. Experts say veterans and active-duty military may compose up to 25 percent of militia members.

2-7-21 Covid pandemic: Has the US turned the corner?
It's been a long winter for the US, with hospitals seeing more coronavirus patients than at any point in the pandemic and the average number of daily deaths topping 3,000 for the first time. But as spring approaches, the number of infections is now falling and the vaccination programme looks to have overcome some of its initial problems. So is the US on track to get back to some form of normality in 2021 or do new variants of the virus mean further setbacks are ahead? We've taken a look at the data and spoken to an epidemiologist to assess the situation. The average number of daily cases in the US had been rising since September - apart from a few dips due to incomplete data over holiday periods like Thanksgiving and Christmas. But as you can see from the chart below, daily cases have now been falling since early January. There are, however, still more than 130,000 new infections every day on average and it's unclear whether the recent decline will continue - especially now the US has cases of the more highly transmissible variants of virus, first discovered in the UK, South Africa and Brazil. Overall, there have been nearly 30 million confirmed cases in the US - the highest figure in the world. But as testing was so limited in spring last year, the true number is probably much higher. One study by scientists at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested the real number was as high as 100m towards the end of last year. Although the decline in cases is good news, it will be a few weeks before it has any major effect on the number of coronavirus patients in hospitals across the US. That number has been falling for a few weeks now, but nearly 90,000 people are currently in hospital - that's 30,000 more than during the two previous surges last year. The latest data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project shows the number of Covid patients in hospital is falling in all four regions of the US, with the Midwest having seen the biggest drop since the start of the year.

2-7-21 Chechnya: Escaped gay men sent back by Russian police
Two gay Chechen men who fled to Russia after allegedly being tortured have been returned to Chechnya and are in "mortal danger", a rights group says. The Russian LGBT Network said Salekh Magamadov and Ismail Isayev had been seized and returned by Russian police. The group said it helped the men escape to Russia last year to avoid arrest by Chechen police, officially for running an opposition Telegram channel. The two men said they were tortured and forced to record a video apology. Now the Russian LGBT Network says the pair were apprehended on Thursday by Russian police at their apartment in Nizhny Novgorod, 450km (280 miles) east of Moscow. It is not clear why they were detained. The group says they were later forcibly returned to authorities in Chechnya, a southern republic of Russia. Gay people and other sexual minorities face systematic persecution in predominantly Muslim Chechnya, where homophobia is widespread. The region's authoritarian leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has consistently denied allegations of illegal detentions and human rights abuses. He and other government officials have even suggested there are no members of the LGBT+ community in Chechnya. Despite official denials, dozens have come forward with allegations that they have been detained and tortured by authorities because of their sexual orientation. Mr Magamadov and Mr Isayev are among them. The LGBT Network said the men had arrived at a police station in the Chechen town of Gudermes on Saturday. "They are tired and frightened," a spokesman for the group, Tim Bestsvet, told AFP news agency. In the custody of Chechen authorities, the men were in "mortal danger", Mr Bestsvet added. The group has been monitoring alleged abuses in Chechnya since 2017, when dozens of gay people were reportedly detained. In 2019, the group alleged a fresh wave of persecution and abuses, accusing Chechen police of killing two people under torture. A government spokesman dismissed that report as "complete lies". One victim of the 2017 crackdown spoke anonymously to the BBC about his experience while detained. He said he was subjected to torture - including electric shocks and beatings.

2-6-21 Biden pushes $1.9tn bill without Republican support
US President Joe Biden is forging ahead with plans to ram through a $1.9tn (£1.4tn) relief bill without Republican support after disappointing jobs data. Despite an Obama-era economist's warnings the stimulus package may be too big, Mr Biden vowed to "act fast". The new president's fellow Democrats run Congress, and plan to pass the final bill using a budget manoeuvre. Mr Biden's speech is being seen by US media as a shift in tone after he entered office pledging bipartisanship. He met 10 Republican senators at the White House on Monday in the hope of a breakthrough, but brushed off their counter-proposal for a slimmed-down $618bn coronavirus relief bill. Speaking at the White House on Friday after meeting congressional Democratic leaders, he said: "A lot of folks are losing hope. "I believe the American people are looking right now to their government for help, to do our job, to not let them down. "So I'm going to act. I'm going to act fast. I'd like to be doing it with the support of Republicans. They're just not willing to go as far as I think we have to go." Under the Biden-backed "American Rescue Plan", $1,400 cheques would be sent directly to most Americans. The Democratic president cited lower-than-expected numbers that showed the country added only 49,000 jobs in January. The US economy remains 10 million jobs under its level before the Covid-19 pandemic, which has now killed nearly 460,000 Americans. Mr Biden said: "Are we going to say to millions of Americans who are out of work - many out of work for six months or longer, who have been scared by this economic and public health crisis - 'Don't worry, hang on, things are going to get better.' "That's the Republican answer right now. I can't in good conscience do that." (Webmaster's comment: The Republicans only want to preserve the wealth of the rich. The rest of the American people don't matter to them.)

2-6-21 Marjorie Taylor Greene: US House votes to strip Republican of key posts
The US House of Representatives has voted to expel a Republican congresswoman from two committees over incendiary remarks she made before being elected last November. Marjorie Taylor Greene had promoted baseless QAnon conspiracy theories and endorsed violence against Democrats. Before the vote, she said she regretted her views, which included claims that school shootings and 9/11 were staged. Eleven Republicans joined the Democrats to pass the motion by 230-199. It means the representative - who was elected in November, representing a district in the southern state of Georgia - cannot take up her place on the education and budget committees. This would limit her ability to shape policy as most legislation goes through a committee before reaching the House floor. Committee positions can determine the influence of individual lawmakers in their party. It is highly unusual for one party to intervene in another party's House committee assignments. On Friday, Mrs Greene said that she woke up "laughing" at the situation. "I woke up early this morning literally laughing thinking about what a bunch of morons the Democrats (+11) are for giving some one like me free time," she tweeted, referencing the 11 Republicans who also voted to remove her. At a news conference in Washington hours later, Mrs Greene said that Democrats had "stripped my district of their voice" by removing her from the committees. She described the Democratic-run government as "tyrannically controlled" and denounced the upcoming Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump - over his role in the 6 January riot - as a "circus". The lawmaker also criticised the media for "addicting people to hate". On the floor of the House, she said her controversial remarks had been made before she ran for office last year. She said she had "stopped believing" in QAnon - a conspiracy theory claiming that former President Donald Trump was waging a clandestine war on a Satan-worshipping cabal of child-abusers and cannibals - sometime in 2018 after finding "misinformation, lies and things that weren't true" in the group's posts. She walked back comments suggesting that school shootings - such as the 2012 attack at Sandy Hook elementary school and the 2018 Parkland shooting - were staged. "School shootings are absolutely real," Mrs Greene said on Thursday. She retracted a past claim suggesting that no airplane hit the Pentagon on 9/11. "I want to tell you 9/11 absolutely happened," she said. "I do not believe that it's fake." "These were words of the past. These things do not represent me," she said. (Webmaster's comment: LIAR! she said those things to get elected.)

2-6-21 Lou Dobbs: Fox cancels vocal Trump supporter's programme
US broadcaster Fox has cancelled the TV programme hosted by Lou Dobbs, a vocal Trump supporter who is accused of using his platform to spread baseless claims of fraud in the 2020 election. The news emerged a day after Dobbs was named in a defamation lawsuit filed by the voting machine maker Smartmatic. The $2.7bn (£2bn) lawsuit claims Dobbs was part of a "disinformation campaign" against the company. Fox, which denies the allegations, said the Dobbs decision was not linked. The veteran financial journalist, 75, has presented Lou Dobbs Tonight on the Fox Business Network since 2011. He was also an occasional commentator on Fox News, the conservative channel that has been home to several staunch supporters of Mr Trump. Dobbs - who has recently written the book The Trump Century: How Our President Changed the Course of History Forever - said he had no comment. Despite the cancellation of his programme, Dobbs remained under contract but was unlikely to appear on the network again, the Los Angeles Times reports. The Smartmatic lawsuit names Fox Corporation, which is Fox Business Network's parent company, as well as Fox News, Dobbs and two other Fox hosts - Maria Bartiromo and Jeanine Pirro. It also cites Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, two lawyers who represented Mr Trump. The company accused the group of intentionally repeating the false claim that it was "responsible for stealing" the election by "switching and altering votes to rig" the election for Joe Biden. Smartmatic claims Dobbs was "one of the primary proponents and speakers for the disinformation campaign". Fox said on Thursday the network was "proud of our 2020 election coverage and will vigorously defend this meritless lawsuit in court". Legal experts say the lawsuit has put enormous pressure on Fox. Dominion, another voting technology maker, has also threatened to sue the network and other conservative media for defamation over their repeated unsubstantiated claims of election fraud.

2-6-21 Biden: 'Erratic' Trump should not get intelligence briefings
President Joe Biden has said his predecessor Donald Trump should not be given access to intelligence briefings because of his "erratic behaviour". The US has a tradition of allowing former presidents to be briefed on the nation's security issues - as a courtesy extended by the incumbent. But when asked by CBS News if Mr Trump would receive the same courtesy, President Biden said: "I think not". He cited Mr Trump's "erratic behaviour" as his reason for refusing access. "I don't think there's any need for him to have an intelligence briefing," Mr Biden said in his first sit-down interview since becoming president. He declined to speculate on what his worst fears would be if Mr Trump were allowed to see classified reports, but he suggested the former president could not be trusted to keep confidential information to himself. "What value is giving him an intelligence briefing? What impact does he have at all, other than the fact he might slip and say something?" Mr Biden said. The move is the first time a former president has been excluded from the tradition of being granted continued access to the briefings, according to the New York Times. For weeks after the 3 November presidential election, Mr Trump himself broke with tradition by failing to include his successor in security and intelligence briefings. Mr Trump eventually agreed to allow the formal transition process to take place, but his administration was still accused of blocking Mr Biden's access to intelligence. Mr Trump feuded with the intelligence community throughout his four-year presidency and went through six national intelligence directors. He questioned reports by US agencies that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election, and assailed intelligence chiefs for being "extremely passive and naive" over Iran. In 2017, he disclosed highly classified information to Russia's foreign minister about an Islamic State operation in what was seen as a breach of trust by many in the US intelligence community.

2-6-21 Covid vaccine rollout: When might life in US return to normal?
It's been a long winter for the US, with hospitals seeing more coronavirus patients than at any point in the pandemic and the average number of daily deaths topping 3,000 for the first time. But as spring approaches, the number of infections is now falling and the vaccination programme looks to have overcome some of its initial problems. So is the US on track to get back to some form of normality in 2021 or do new variants of the virus mean further setbacks are ahead? We've taken a look at the data and spoken to an epidemiologist to assess the situation. The average number of daily cases in the US had been rising since September - apart from a few dips due to incomplete data over holiday periods like Thanksgiving and Christmas. But as you can see from the chart below, daily cases have now been falling since early January. There are, however, still more than 130,000 new infections every day on average and it's unclear whether the recent decline will continue - especially now the US has cases of the more highly transmissible variants of virus, first discovered in the UK, South Africa and Brazil. Overall, there have been nearly 30 million confirmed cases in the US - the highest figure in the world. But as testing was so limited in spring last year, the true number is probably much higher. One study by scientists at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested the real number was as high as 100m towards the end of last year. Although the decline in cases is good news, it will be a few weeks before it has any major effect on the number of coronavirus patients in hospitals across the US. That number has been falling for a few weeks now, but about 90,000 people are currently in hospital - that's 30,000 more than during the two previous surges last year. The latest data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project shows the number of Covid patients in hospital is falling in all four regions of the US, with the Midwest having seen the biggest drop since the start of the year. January was the deadliest month of the pandemic in the US, with 95,000 deaths reported - more than a fifth of the overall death toll of 455,000. The average number of deaths remains extremely high at 3,000 a day at the moment, but there are now signs of a small decline in recent days.

2-5-21 Covid-19 news: Oxford vaccine appears effective against UK variant
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. Early results suggest the Oxford covid-19 vaccine works against B.1.1.7 virus variant. Preliminary results indicate that the covid-19 vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca is effective against the highly transmissible coronavirus variant B.1.1.7, which was first detected in the UK. Researchers at the University of Oxford analysed swabs from vaccine trial participants who had tested positive for the coronavirus between 1 October 2020 and 14 January 2021, to determine the variant of the virus with which they had been infected. They found similar efficacy rates of the vaccine against the B.1.1.7 variant (74.6 per cent effective) and the original virus (84 per cent effective). This is despite the fact that those infected with the B.1.1.7 variant produced fewer antibodies that could neutralise the virus. The results were released online as a pre-print and have not been peer-reviewed. Coronavirus cases appear to be falling in most of the UK. The most recent results from a random swab testing survey by the Office for National Statistics indicate positive tests were falling in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland in the week up to 30 January. New infections across the UK as a whole are estimated to be falling by between 2 and 5 per cent each day, and the latest official estimate for the UK’s R number – the average number of people each coronavirus case infects – puts it between 0.7 and 1.0. This is most likely to represent the situation two to three weeks ago, due to a time lag in the data. The UK government said it aims for all people aged 50 and above to have been offered a covid-19 vaccine by May, clarifying earlier comments by a spokesperson for UK prime minister Boris Johnson who on 4 February said the government’s target was “spring”. Johnson & Johnson applied for an emergency use authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration for its covid-19 vaccine. The company announced last week that the single-dose vaccine had an efficacy of about 66 per cent in phase III trials. If approved, it would become the third covid-19 vaccine authorised for emergency use in the US, after those developed by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech and by Moderna. Israel announced it will ease lockdown restrictions from 7 am local time on 7 February but will keep its borders closed, after a slight reduction in coronavirus cases. Almost 80 per cent of people over 50 in Israel have received a covid-19 vaccine so far. The country is vaccinating its 9 million citizens at a higher rate than any other nation.

2-5-21 Marjorie Taylor Greene: US House votes to strip Republican of key posts
The US House of Representatives has voted to expel a Republican congresswoman from two committees over incendiary remarks she made before being elected last November. Marjorie Taylor Greene had promoted baseless QAnon conspiracy theories and endorsed violence against Democrats. Before the vote, she said she regretted her views, which included claims that school shootings and 9/11 were staged. Eleven Republicans joined the Democrats to pass the motion by 230-199. It means the representative - who was elected in November, representing a district in the southern state of Georgia - cannot take up her place on the education and budget committees. This would limit her ability to shape policy as most legislation goes through a committee before reaching the House floor. Committee positions can determine the influence of individual lawmakers in their party. It is highly unusual for one party to intervene in another party's House committee assignments. According to The Hill, a political news outlet, Mrs Greene received a standing ovation at a closed-doors meeting with members of her party on Wednesday after she apologised for her past remarks, and on Thursday before the vote, she expressed regret for her past comments. On the floor of the House, she said her controversial remarks had been made before she ran for office last year. She said she had "stopped believing" in QAnon - a conspiracy theory claiming that former President Donald Trump was waging a clandestine war on a Satan-worshipping cabal of child-abusers and cannibals - sometime in 2018 after finding "misinformation, lies and things that weren't true" in the group's posts. She walked back comments suggesting that school shootings - such as the 2012 attack at Sandy Hook elementary school and the 2018 Parkland shooting - were staged. "School shootings are absolutely real," Mrs Greene said on Thursday. She retracted a past claim suggesting that no airplane hit the Pentagon on 9/11. "I want to tell you 9/11 absolutely happened," she said. "I do not believe that it's fake." "These were words of the past. These things do not represent me," she said. (Webmaster's comment: LIAR!)

2-5-21 Trump impeachment: When is his Senate trial and will he testify?
Donald Trump is about to stand trial in the US Senate for his role in the riot at the Capitol on 6 January. He says he won't give evidence himself, so what can we expect? The former president is the first in US history to have been charged with misconduct - or impeached - twice by the lower chamber of US Congress. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives accused Mr Trump of encouraging violence with his false claims of election fraud and egging on a mob to storm the Capitol on 6 January. Some Republicans also backed impeachment in that historic vote. The Senate trial of Mr Trump, a Republican, begins on Tuesday. A two-thirds majority in the Senate means a conviction. If Mr Trump is convicted, senators could also vote to bar him from ever holding public office again. Donald Trump is "personally responsible" for the riot and must be convicted, Democrats say. In a pre-trial legal brief, they said his repeated refusal to concede the election led to an "incitement of insurrection against the republic he swore to protect". Mr Trump's "statements turned his 'wild' rally on 6 January into a powder keg waiting to blow", they claim. They will use his words and footage from the riot to show that "the furious crowd" was "primed (and prepared) for violence if he lit a spark". "The evidence is clear," they wrote. "When other attempts to overturn the presidential election failed, former President Trump incited an attack on the Capitol." Although he is no longer in office, they argue "a president must answer comprehensively for his conduct in office from his first day in office through his last". They call for him to be disqualified from ever running for office again. Mr Trump's team will reject the case against him as unconstitutional, claiming that he is private citizen who can no longer be deposed. His lawyers argue that the Senate cannot act against him "because he holds no public office from which he can be removed". They will also claim his pre-riot remarks did not incite his supporters to attack the Capitol. Mr Trump has rejected that allegation in the past, saying his comments were "totally appropriate".

2-5-21 Donald Trump quits Screen Actors Guild amid disciplinary action
Donald Trump has quit America's Screen Actors Guild after it launched a disciplinary hearing into him, citing the US Capitol attack. "Who cares!" the former US president wrote in a letter, adding that the union had "done nothing for me". "Thank you," was the Guild's brief response. (Webmaster's comment: They should have said "Good Riddance To Bad Rubbish") Mr Trump has appeared in a number of films, including Home Alone 2 and Zoolander. He also hosted the US version of The Apprentice TV show. Last month, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) said its disciplinary committee would meet to decide what action should be taken regarding Mr Trump's role in the Capitol riot in Washington DC on 6 January. Five people died and dozens were injured during the pro-Trump siege. "Donald Trump attacked the values that this union holds most sacred - democracy, truth, respect for our fellow Americans of all races and faiths, and the sanctity of the free press," said SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris. "There's a straight line from his wanton disregard for the truth to the attacks on journalists perpetrated by his followers," she said. SAG-AFTRA represents about 160,000 actors, journalists and other media professionals in the US. Mr Trump, a Guild member for more than 30 years, was expected to be expelled at a forthcoming disciplinary meeting. The union shared his resignation letter, which was addressed to its president, a former star of Beverly Hills, 90210, on its website. "I write to you today regarding the so-called Disciplinary Committee hearing aimed at revoking my union membership. Who cares!" Mr Trump wrote. "While I'm not familiar with your work, I'm very proud of my work on movies such as Home Alone 2, Zoolander and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps; and television shows including The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, Saturday Night Live, and of course, one of the most successful shows in television history, The Apprentice - to name just a few!"

2-5-21 Europe's Roma: 'Even dogs can't live like this' under Covid
Roma communities are some of the most marginalised in Europe. More than 10 million people live largely in poverty, often in overcrowded settlements. The pandemic has ravaged many of their communities, further cutting them off from society. Inhabitants of Roma settlements are often wary of letting journalists in, but BBC Europe correspondent Jean Mackenzie was invited into one of Bulgaria’s largest.

2-4-21 Covid-19 news: UK to test one dose each of different covid-19 vaccines
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 plans to test effect of giving one dose each of the Pfizer and Astrazeneca covid-19 vaccines A UK trial is aiming to investigate the impact of giving people two different covid-19 vaccines for their first and second doses. Being able to use either vaccine will create more flexibility in the delivery of doses, and help deal with disruption in supplies, said England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam. He said combining two different vaccines in this way could also boost immune responses, potentially leading to better protection against covid-19. The trial, which is being led by researchers at the University of Oxford and funded by the UK government’s vaccine taskforce, will recruit 820 volunteers over the age of 50 who haven’t yet received a covid-19 vaccine. Participants will then receive a first dose of either the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca or the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. Some of them will get the same vaccine again for their second dose four or 12 weeks later and others will get a second dose of the other vaccine, to test the effect of combining the two shots and of different time intervals between doses. International travel was associated with increased death rates in the worst-affected countries during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a study published in the scientific journal BMJ Open. Tiberiu Pana at the University of Aberdeen, UK, and colleagues analysed the relationship between country-level factors – such as international arrivals, population density and health indicators – and the average increase in daily deaths recorded in early 2020 across the 37 countries with the highest death rates from covid-19. They found that the biggest increase in death rates was associated with international arrivals. An increase of a million international arrivals was associated with a 3.4 per cent rise in the average daily increase in covid-19 deaths. A World Health Organization scientist has said society is unlikely to return to “normal” until 2022. “I think we are going to be well into next year before we see a change – that change is likely to be caused by high coverage of the vaccines,” said Helen Rees, who sits on the WHO’s committee for covid-19. “I think this new normal we all talk about is with us for a very long time,” Rees told BBC Wales Live.

2-4-21 Marjorie Taylor Greene: House to hold vote on fate of Republican
Democrats in the US House of Representatives will force a vote on the fate of a newly-elected Republican congresswoman over incendiary rhetoric. Marjorie Taylor Greene has promoted unfounded conspiracy theories and shown support for violence against Democrats. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy condemned the remarks, but refused to punish Ms Greene, saying the remarks were made before she was elected. The vote is set to take place on Thursday afternoon. Democrats, who control the chamber, say they will vote to expel her from the education and budget committees. Most legislation goes through a committee before reaching the House floor. Committee positions can determine the sway of individual lawmakers in their party. She was elected in November, representing a district in the southern state of Georgia. She is widely known for expressing support for QAnon, a bizarre conspiracy theory that former President Donald Trump was waging a clandestine war on a cabal of child-abusers. Before taking office, she liked posts calling for violence against Democratic lawmakers, claimed that school shootings and the 9/11 terror attack were staged events, and suggested Muslims should not serve in government, among other comments online. Her harangue of a teenage survivor of a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, was recently unearthed. Last month, Mrs Greene introduced a measure attempting to impeach US President Joe Biden, accusing him of corruption and abuse of power, which made her a heroine of the party's pro-Trump wing. Top Republican lawmakers have been outspoken in their criticism of Mrs Greene's past comments. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida called her "either deranged or a sadist". Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said she had embraced "loony lies" that were a "cancer" to the party. Senator Todd Young of Indiana called her "nutty" and "an embarrassment".

2-4-21 Covax: Canada defends taking vaccines from sharing scheme
Canada has defended its decision to draw on a supply of coronavirus vaccines from a global inoculation-sharing initiative known as Covax. Covax pools funds from wealthier countries to help buy vaccines for themselves and low-income nations. The scheme has announced a plan to deliver more than 330 million vaccine doses in the first half of 2021. Canada is the only member of the G7 group of rich countries listed as a Covax beneficiary at this stage. Other wealthier countries, including New Zealand and Singapore, have requested an early allocation as well. Most of the first doses available, though, will be delivered to low- and middle-income countries. Many of those countries haven't even started vaccinations. Meanwhile, Canada has vaccinated 2.29% of its population with one dose, including 48% of health workers, government data shows. Aside from Covax, agreements for 398 million doses of vaccines have been struck by the Canadian government - more than enough to cover the country's population of 37 million. In an interview with Canadian broadcaster CBC News, International Development Minister, Karina Gould, was asked why the country decided to access Covax vaccines now. "Our top priority is to ensure Canadians have access to vaccines," the minister said. "Covax's objective is to provide vaccines for 20% of the populations of all member states, both self-financing and those who will receive donations. "Canada made the decision, as other countries have, to take on this first allocation, because we recognise how important it is that all Canadians have access to vaccines." The Canadian government has come under pressure to speed up vaccinations after delays. Covax works towards the development, purchase and delivery of vaccines to more than 180 countries. It was launched in April 2020 and is led by the World Health Organization (WHO), together with the Global Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. Covax released its first vaccine distribution forecast on Wednesday, outlining how many doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines it expected to deliver.

2-4-21 Proud Boys: Canada labels far-right group a terrorist entity
Canada has designated the far-right group Proud Boys as a terrorist entity. Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the decision was influenced by the group's "pivotal role" in the 6 January riots at the Capitol in Washington, DC. The designation allows the Proud Boys' assets to be frozen, and members of the groups could be charged with terrorist offences if they commit violent acts. The group is all-male and anti-immigrant, and has a history of violent political confrontations. It was founded in 2016 by Gavin McInnes, the Canadian co-founder of Vice Media. Vice has since worked to distance itself from Mr McInnes and the Proud Boys. The Proud Boys' platform includes ideas espoused by former US President Donald Trump, libertarianism and traditional gender roles. The group was mentioned by Mr Trump during the first US presidential debate last October. Responding to a question about white supremacist and militia groups, he said, "Proud Boys - stand back and stand by", which members of the group online took as a call to prepare for action. Mr Trump later distanced himself from them. The announcement in Canada comes one week after the US Department of Homeland Security warned of a "heightened threat" of domestic terrorism from violent extremists unhappy with the outcome of the presidential election. arrested and charged a top member of the group's Seattle chapter. Ethan Nordean, 30, who is also known as Rufio Panman, is at least the eighth group member to be charged in connection with the Capitol riots. In Canada on Wednesday, Mr Blair described a "growing threat of ideologically motivated violent extremism". He did not specify how many Proud Boy chapters are currently in Canada. The Canadian Proud Boy groups had previously been thought of as disparate and disorganised, but the new designation suggests their perceived threat has been elevated. The decision was made based on "a trove of new information", Mr Blair said. "Over the past several months, basically since 2018, we have seen an escalation towards violence for this group [the Proud Boys]." The escalation has continued since the US presidential election, he added.

2-4-21 Israeli hackers breach KKK-affiliated website
A collective of anti-fascist Israeli hackers have broken into a website of a group allied to the white-supremacist Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The hackers subsequently published names, photos and other personal information about members of the Patriotic Brigade Knights, which they had scraped, on social media. They also replaced some of the site's content with their own. This included a banner saying: "Shabbat Shalom! Goodnight white pride." The hackers told the Jerusalem Post newspaper they were part of the Antifa movement, operating under the name Hayalim Almonim, Hebrew for Anonymous Soldiers. And their goal was to "strike terror into the hearts of the enemies of humanity". The Antifa - short for anti-fascist action - movement, considered to be a loosely organised group of activists with no leaders, opposes neo-Nazis, fascism, white supremacists and racism. Among the information taken from the Patriotic Knight Brigade's website was the name, phone number and address of the group's alleged leader. Hayalim Almonim also shared a link to the Texas Public Sex Offender Registry, where, it said, a senior member had been registered for the sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl. "There is a lot more coming," one of the hackers told BBC News. "We aren't going to stop until we finish the Klan and strike a death blow to fascism in the United States. "Facilitation of fascistic terrorist activity will no longer be tolerated." The hacker added that if other anti-fascists took similar actions then the "enemies of mankind will tremble with fear". The hackers previously carried out a similar attack on the Church of the Ku Klux Klan, which they said appeared active in 25 states across the US.

2-3-21 Biden signs orders on migrant family separations and asylum
US President Joe Biden has signed three executive actions seeking to reunite migrant families split up by a Trump-era policy and ordering a review of his predecessor's wider immigration agenda. In an attempt to deter illegal immigration, President Donald Trump's administration separated undocumented adults from children as they crossed the US-Mexico border. Mr Biden's orders will set up a task force to try to reunite the estimated 600-700 children who are still apart from their families. The Trump administration split up at least 5,500 children from adults along the border between 2017-18. The administration of US President Barack Obama - whom Mr Biden served as vice-president - also separated undocumented children from adults at the border, though much more rarely, say activists. One of Mr Biden's orders will set up an inter-agency task force - led by the newly confirmed Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas - to oversee family reunifications. Mr Biden's second and third orders signed on Tuesday order a review of Mr Trump's immigration policies that curtailed asylum, slowed legal immigration into the US, and cancelled funding to foreign countries. Speaking at the White House, Mr Biden said: "We're going to work to undo the moral and national shame of the previous administration that literally not figuratively ripped children from the arms of their families, their mothers and fathers, at the border and with no plan, none whatsoever, to reunify the children who are still in custody and their parents." Mr Biden has also proposed legislation to grant legal status and a path to citizenship to all of the estimated 11 million undocumented people in the US. But analysts say the new president has so far avoided reversing Mr Trump's hardline policies in order to avoid a surge in illegal immigration at the southern border. At Tuesday's White House briefing, press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration was committed to building a "moral" and "humane" immigration system. But until that happened, she added, now was "not the time to come to the United States".

2-3-21 Impeachment: House lays out case against Trump
Donald Trump must be convicted because he is "personally responsible" for the riot at the US Capitol, House Democrats have said. They detail the former president's "incitement of insurrection against the republic he swore to protect" in a pre-trial brief released Tuesday. It calls for him to be disqualified from ever running for office again. Mr Trump's legal team argues that the impeachment article is in "violation" of the US Constitution. The storming of the Capitol occurred while Congress was meeting inside to certify the election victory of President Joe Biden. The riot led to the deaths of five people, including a Capitol Police officer. This is Trump's second impeachment trial, and he is the first US president in history to be impeached twice. House impeachment managers said the former president's repeated refusal to concede the election to Mr Biden encouraged the riot. Before the armed insurrection, thousands of Trump supporters gathered at a "Save America" rally near the White House and listened to Mr Trump, who urged them to "fight like hell" because "we won [the election] by a landslide". Mr Trump's "statements turned his 'wild' rally on 6 January into a powder keg waiting to blow", the 80-page legal brief says. Impeachment managers plan to use Mr Trump's own words and video footage of the riot to say that "the furious crowd" was "primed (and prepared) for violence if he lit a spark". "The evidence is clear. When other attempts to overturn the presidential election failed, former President Trump incited an attack on the Capitol," it reads. They argue that, although Mr Trump is no longer in office, the Senate has to act because "a president must answer comprehensively for his conduct in office from his first day in office through his last". "This is not a routine corruption charge," they wrote. "Trump has committed an impeachable offense of historic proportions." Unlike in the case of Mr Trump's first impeachment last year, Democrats have not indicated that they will call any witnesses.

2-3-21 Haunting images of America's painful past
Rich Frishman has travelled across the US, photographing the vestiges of racial oppression in smalltown America. From bricked-over segregated entrances to the gravesites of lynching victims, "these places surround us and we don't realise it," he says.

2-2-21 Covid-19 news: Scientists advised UK on travel restrictions weeks ago
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 science advisers recommended introduction of travel restrictions two weeks ago. The UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) advised the government to introduce mandatory hotel quarantine for travellers arriving into the UK two weeks ago, according to minutes from a meeting on 21 January that were leaked to the Times. On Thursday 21 January, SAGE reportedly warned that “reactive, geographically targeted” travel bans couldn’t be relied on to prevent faster-spreading coronavirus variants, such as those identified in South Africa and Brazil, from reaching the UK, adding that: “no intervention, other than a complete, pre-emptive closure of borders, or the mandatory quarantine of all visitors upon arrival in designated facilities, irrespective of testing history, can get close to fully preventing the importation of new cases or new variants.” Interim results from phase III trials suggest Russia’s covid-19 vaccine is 91.6 per cent effective, and data on the vaccine is being submitted to the European Medicines Agency, according to Kirill Dmitriev, director of the Russian Direct Investment Fund. The results, based on a phase III trial including 21,977 adults, three-quarters of whom received the Sputnik V vaccine, are published in scientific journal the Lancet. Other participants received a placebo. Sweden announced it would not recommend the covid-19 vaccine developed by the University of Oxford in partnership with AstraZeneca for people aged over 65, hours after Poland said it would not offer the vaccine to over 60s. Last week, medical experts in Germany and Austria made similar recommendations, citing a lack of data in this age group. The European Medicines Agency authorised the vaccine for use in all adult age groups across the European Union and Julie Raine, chief executive of the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, last week said: “Current evidence does not suggest any lack of protection against covid-19 in people aged 65 or over. The data we have shows that the vaccine produces a strong immune response in the over-65s.”

2-2-21 Sputnik V vaccine is 91.6% effective against symptomatic covid-19
Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine is 91.6 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic covid-19, preliminary results suggest. The vaccine has been submitted to European Union regulators for approval. The data is based on interim results from a trial of 21,977 adults. Three-quarters of the participants were randomly assigned to receive two doses of the vaccine, the remainder were given a placebo. Of the 14,964 people who received the vaccine, 16 developed symptomatic covid-19 compared with 62 out of 4902 in the placebo group. The results, published today in The Lancet, suggest efficacy was similar across all age groups, including among people over the age of 60. The results look reassuring, says Naveed Sattar at the University of Glasgow, UK. “[There was] very good protection from infection, matched by evidence of good antibody responses in all age groups tested and good safety profiles,” he says. The Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, which developed the vaccine, has already submitted documents to the European Medicines Agency to apply for approval of the vaccine in the EU, says Kirill Dmitriev, director of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which is funding the Sputnik V programme. Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn recently hinted that covid-19 vaccines from Russia and China could be used in Europe to overcome a shortage of doses. “Regardless of the country in which a vaccine is manufactured, if they are safe and effective, they can help cope with the pandemic,” Spahn told German media on 31 January. The Russian vaccine prompted concern among immunologists last year after it was approved in Russia in August before any detailed results from advanced clinical trials were released.

2-2-21 UK coronavirus variant gets nastier as South African variant spreads
Coronavirus variants are becoming increasingly concerning as they mutate. Samples of the more transmissible B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant, which was first detected in the UK, have acquired a mutation that will help them evade immune protection – the same mutation already present in the B.1.351 variant in South Africa, which is now spreading worldwide. Local transmission of the B.1.351 variant has been confirmed in the US, several European countries including the UK, Israel and much of sub-Saharan Africa. It isn’t yet clear if B.1.351 is more transmissible, but it is certain that it can partly evade the immunity we develop from natural infection by other coronavirus variants and from vaccines. The big worry is that it could evolve further and completely evade immunity, undermining vaccination efforts. Lab studies have shown that a mutation called E484K helps B.1.351 to evade antibodies. This same mutation has now been found in 11 B.1.1.7 viruses, according to a UK government document. It doesn’t say when or where these viruses were found. Ravindra Gupta at the University of Cambridge and his colleagues have already confirmed that this new B.1.1.7 plus E484K variant is better at evading immune protection. In other words, this is a faster-spreading virus that is also better at evading immunity. If it isn’t stopped, it could outcompete the older B.1.1.7 variant, which has already spread to many countries worldwide. B.1.351 is also going global despite efforts to halt its spread. On 1 February, the UK announced that it had identified 11 cases of B.1.351 that couldn’t be linked to travel, meaning it is spreading within the local community. The UK government has begun testing people in eight areas of England, regardless of symptoms, in an effort to find and eliminate the variant.

2-2-21 Russia's Sputnik V vaccine has 92% efficacy in trial
Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine gives around 92% protection against Covid-19, late stage trial results published in The Lancet reveal. It has also been deemed to be safe - and offer complete protection against hospitalisation and death. The vaccine was initially met with some controversy after being rolled out before the final trial data had been released. But scientists said its benefit has now been demonstrated. It joins the ranks of proven vaccines alongside Pfizer, Oxford/AstraZeneca, Moderna and Janssen. The Sputnik vaccine works in a similar way to the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab developed in the UK, and the Janssen vaccine developed in Belgium. It uses a cold-type virus, engineered to be harmless, as a carrier to deliver a small fragment of the coronavirus to the body. Safely exposing the body to part of the virus's genetic code in this way allows it to recognise the threat and learn to fight it off, without risking becoming ill. After being vaccinated, the body starts to produce antibodies specially tailored to the coronavirus. This means the immune system is primed to fight coronavirus when if it encounters it for real. It can be stored at temperatures of between 2 and 8C degrees (a standard fridge is roughly 3-5C degrees) making it easier to transport and store. But unlike other similar vaccines, the Sputnik jab uses two slightly different versions of the vaccine for the first and second dose - given 21 days apart. They both target the coronavirus's distinctive "spike", but use different vectors - the neutralised virus that carries the spike to the body. The idea is that using two different formulas boosts the immune system even more than using the same version twice - and may give longer-lasting protection. As well as proving effective, it was also safe with no serious reactions linked to the vaccine during the trial. Some side effects to a vaccine are expected but these are usually mild, including a sore arm, tiredness and a bit of a temperature. And there were no deaths or serious illness in the vaccinated group linked to the jab.

2-2-21 Spain's vaccine delays hamper fight against pandemic
The Isabel Zendal hospital in Madrid only opened in December, but already it's feeling the strain. Spain's third wave of Covid-19 broke after the Christmas holiday, making January the worst month the country has had in terms of infections. "We had a terrible January," said Javier Marco, medical director of the hospital. It was built in just three months specifically to manage the Covid crisis. "It's been stressful." The country's infection rate has stabilised in recent days, at just below 900 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, but the pressure is still on the healthcare system. The roll-out of vaccines is a boon for a country whose death toll from Covid-19 is now approaching 60,000. However, the recent problems with deliveries and distribution of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have directly hampered the vaccination campaign. The regions of Catalonia and Madrid both announced alterations to their plans at the end of January. Catalonia's secretary general for health, Marc Ramentol, said the region had been "very affected" by the drop in supply. In Madrid, second, follow-up vaccines have been prioritised over first jabs, which have been temporarily suspended. "The impact of the vaccine won't be visible until a good percentage of the population has been vaccinated," says Javier Marco. "That was not going to happen until the end of the summer. With this delay we won't be able to see that until the end of the year, being optimistic." Since coming out of one of the world's tightest national lockdowns last year, Spain has taken a more localised approach to restrictions. Local governments have been imposing and lifting measures in towns, cities, or whole regions, according to infection rates. In many areas bars, restaurants and cultural spaces have severe restrictions. A curfew is also in place nationwide, its timing varying according to each region. Many of Spain's local politicians have also been in the headlines recently, for a very different reason: a number of public figures have been accused of using their position in order to get vaccinated early.

2-2-21 Turkey's Erdogan denounces LGBT youth as police arrest students
Turkey's president has lashed out at the country's LGBT movement amid a wave of student protests. Recep Tayyip Erdogan praised the youth wing of his ruling AK Party for carrying the "glorious history of this nation" and not being "LGBT youth". On Saturday four students were arrested in Istanbul over a piece of artwork that reportedly combined LGBT symbols with an image of an Islamic site. There were more protests at Bogazici University after Mr Erdogan's speech. A total of 159 people were detained on Monday - more than at any previous point during weeks of demonstrations - although about 100 were released the next day. Homosexuality is legal in Turkey but official opposition to the LGBT community has grown in recent years. The Istanbul Pride march was banned for five years in a row up to 2019. Covid-19 prevented any attempt to hold it in 2020. Public opinion is generally conservative and the LGBT community has reported widespread discrimination and harassment. In a video broadcast to members of his conservative AK Party on Monday, the Turkish president said: "We will carry our young people to the future, not as the LGBT youth, but as the youth that existed in our nation's glorious past. "You are not the LGBT youth, not the youth who commit acts of vandalism. On the contrary, you are the ones who repair broken hearts." In a speech in July last year, Mr Erdogan accused LGBT activists of undermining "our national and spiritual values" and "poisoning" young people. His latest statement follows weeks of protests at Bogazici University over the appointment of Prof Melih Bulu as rector. Activists say he has close links to AK, an Islamist-rooted party. On Friday, protesters hung an artwork opposite the new rector's office depicting the Kaaba in Mecca, one of Islam's holiest sites, and images of the LGBT rainbow flag. The students arrested on Saturday were accused of "inciting hatred". In a tweet posted on Tuesday, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu called the four suspects "LGBT deviants". Twitter flagged the post saying it violated its "rules about hateful conduct", but added that it would remain accessible for public-interest reasons.

2-2-21 Marjorie Taylor Greene: Congresswoman faces expulsion threat
Democrats have introduced a resolution to strip a pro-Trump Republican lawmaker of her committee assignments over her past posts on social media. Marjorie Taylor Greene has embraced conspiracy theories, including that school shootings and 9/11 were staged. The group of Democrats that filed the resolution called it a "line-in-the-sand moment for the Republican Party". The Georgia congresswoman last month introduced a measure attempting to impeach US President Joe Biden. She tweeted on Monday: "If Democrats remove me from my committees, I can assure them that the precedent they are setting will be used extensively against members on their side once we regain the majority after the 2022 elections. "And we will regain the majority, make no mistake about that." Elected to Congress in November, Mrs Greene was assigned to the Education and Labour Committee and the Budget Committee by House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy. Democrats contend that, because of her past remarks, she has "forfeited her right" to join these panels, particularly the education committee. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat who is leading the resolution, said: "If Republicans won't police their own, the House must step in." The resolution was co-sponsored by two other Democrats: Ted Deutch of Florida and Jahana Hayes of Connecticut. On Monday, House Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer delivered an ultimatum to Mr McCarthy, calling on him to remove Mrs Greene from the two committees within 72 hours or Democrats would bring the issue to the House floor. In addition, California Democrat Jimmy Gomez now has 61 of his colleagues co-sponsoring a longshot resolution to expel Mrs Greene from Congress itself, accusing her of "extremism". Even some of Mrs Greene's fellow Republicans have repudiated her. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell on Monday condemned the conspiracy theories she has espoused as "loony lies" and "cancer for the Republican party".

2-1-21 Covid-19 news: South Africa variant found in eight areas 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. All adults in parts of England to be tested for South Africa variant after 11 new cases identified. Door-to-door testing for the so-called South Africa coronavirus variant will begin in parts of England this week, after 11 cases with no known links to travel or to previous cases were identified in eight areas of the country. Urgent testing of adults, regardless of symptoms, will take place in some postcodes in Hertfordshire, Surrey, Kent, Walsall, Sefton and in the London boroughs of Merton, Haringey and Ealing. “We are trying to contain this so it does not spread,” Susan Hopkins, senior medical adviser at Public Health England told the BBC. Any newly identified infections will be analysed to see if they are caused by the highly transmissible coronavirus variant first sequenced in South Africa. A covid-19 vaccine has now been offered to older residents at every eligible care home in England, the NHS announced, but vaccination rates of care home staff are lagging behind residents. Fiona Carragher, director of research and influencing at Alzheimer’s Society told the BBC she remained concerned that the vaccination rollout for care home staff “has not been nearly so effective”. In January, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK government aims to vaccinate all those over 70, the most clinically vulnerable people and frontline health and social care workers by 15 February – equivalent to about 15 million vaccinations. Across the UK, more than 8.9 million people had received a first dose of covid-19 vaccine as of 30 January. The European Union said AstraZeneca has agreed to supply it with 9 million additional doses of its covid-19 vaccine, developed in partnership with the University of Oxford. This brings the total number of expected doses for the first quarter of this year to 40 million, which is about half of what the EU was originally expecting. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen tweeted saying the company would expand its manufacturing capacity in Europe, and start delivering doses a week earlier than scheduled. Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn hinted that covid-19 vaccines from China and Russia could be used in Europe to compensate for the shortfall of doses supplied by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech, and by Oxford/AstraZeneca. “Regardless of the country in which a vaccine is manufactured, if they are safe and effective, they can help cope with the pandemic,” Spahn told German media on Sunday, adding that any vaccine will first need to be approved by the European Medicines Agency.

2-1-21 Have US police departments become too militarised?
US President Joe Biden is reportedly looking to restrict police from receiving military equipment. The 1033 programme allows local law enforcement to receive surplus weapons and vehicles from the US Department of Defense. More than $7.5bn (£5.5bn) worth of equipment has been transferred over the years, with over 8,000 agencies enrolled.

2-1-21 The GOP's dismaying embrace of fringe politicians
To measure how far and how fast the Republican Party has been overtaken by its fringe elements, compare the cases of Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Steve King (R-Iowa). Greene arrived in Congress last month, instantly infamous for her embrace of QAnon and other conspiracy theories. So far she has been accommodated — and even encouraged — by party leadership. King, meanwhile, just departed Congress after 18 years, turned out by voters two years after Republicans made him a pariah and stripped him of his committee assignments for defending white nationalism to The New York Times. Looking at Greene, you have to wonder if King would still be serving if the incident had happened today. Greene, after all, was already known for promoting QAnon's nutty theories by the time she was elected. New revelations have made the picture look even worse: It appears that in recent years she liked a social media comment calling for the executions of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and FBI agents investigating Donald Trump; speculated that California wildfires were caused by space-based lasers controlled by the Rothschild family, a frequent bogeyman for anti-Semites; and endorsed the false notion that the Sandy Hook and Parkland school massacres were "false flag" operations designed to rob Americans of their gun rights. Through it all, Greene has expressed an affinity for political violence. "If this generation doesn't stand up and defend freedom, it's gone," she said in a video made before the election, but which drew public attention last week. "And once it's gone, freedom doesn't come back by itself. The only way you get your freedoms back is it's earned with the price of blood." Officially, GOP leaders in Congress disapprove of all this, though their objections are tepid. "These comments are deeply disturbing, and Leader McCarthy plans to have a conversation with the congresswoman about them," a spokesman for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said last week. Whatever happens in that conversation, it is also true that Republicans have already assigned Greene to the House Education Committee. And that she is touting Trump's support after a phone call last week. On Sunday, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) on Sunday tried to sidestep the question of Greene's fitness for Congress. Hutchinson said he rejected her stances, but: "I'm not gonna answer that question as to whether she's fit to serve, because she believes in something that everybody else does not accept." One of the functions of a political party, though, is to determine if politicians are fit to serve under its banner. Part of that is deciding what beliefs are — and are not — acceptable. Certainly, Republicans were able to do that quickly after King's comments to The New York Times in January 2019. "White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?" King mused to the paper. The backlash was quick and severe. "That is not the America I know, and it is most definitely not the party of Lincoln," McCarthy said at the time. "Action will be taken. I'm having a serious conversation with Congressman Steve King on his future and role in this Republican Party." King was soon after stripped of his committee assignments, left powerless, and rendered vulnerable to voters who wanted more effective representation.

2-1-21 Have US police departments become too militarised?
US President Joe Biden is reportedly looking to restrict police from receiving military equipment. The 1033 programme allows local law enforcement to receive surplus weapons and vehicles from the US Department of Defense. More than $7.5bn (£5.5bn) worth of equipment has been transferred over the years, with over 8,000 agencies enrolled.

2-1-21 Covid: EU and AstraZeneca in 'step forward' on vaccines
The EU says UK-Swedish drug firm AstraZeneca will now supply an additional nine million Covid vaccine doses by March, after days of criticism of the bloc's vaccination programme. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it was a "step forward". But the 40m doses now expected are still only about half of what had been hoped, amid continuing supply problems. The Commission has been involved in a much-criticised row with both the UK and AstraZeneca this week. In particular it was condemned over its threat to put checks on the Northern Ireland border to prevent vaccines produced in the EU from reaching the UK. The border was one of the most difficult problems to overcome in the recently agreed Brexit deal, following the UK's departure from the EU. The EU was angry that Britain was getting its UK-made contracted supplies from AstraZeneca while it suffered a shortfall. So the bloc announced it was introducing export controls on coronavirus vaccines made inside the EU to try to protect its supplies. The Brexit deal ensures there are no obstacles to trade between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. In a tweet, Ms von der Leyen said AstraZeneca would "deliver 9 million additional doses in the first quarter (40 million in total) compared to last week's offer & will start deliveries one week earlier than scheduled". She said this represented a 30% increase on the previous amount. Irish broadcaster RTE is reporting that the country will get another 100,000 doses as a result. The EU signed a deal in August for 300 million AstraZeneca doses, with an option for 100 million more. It was hoped 80 million would be delivered in the first quarter of 2021 - although other sources had put the figure at 100 million - but AstraZeneca said there were production problems at its Dutch and Belgian plants. Media reported this would mean a 60% cut in supplies to the end of March.

2-1-21 Covid-19: Cambridge vaccine aims to 'take care of' variants
A coronavirus vaccine being developed in Cambridge will aim to "take care of" future variants of the virus, according to its chief scientist. Jonathan Heeney, Cambridge University professor and chief executive of Diosvax, said: "It isn't the first out of the blocks but it has a longer usability in the future." He hopes it can be used in human trials later this year. "It hopefully will be the vaccine that will come along to make sure that new future variants will be taken care of," he said.

2-1-21 Austria Covid: Brits among 96 skiers quarantined in St Anton
Austrian police have put 96 foreigners, including Britons, into mandatory quarantine after they were caught breaching Covid-19 restrictions by taking a skiing holiday. They are suspected of using loopholes to stay at the St Anton am Arlberg resort. Some registered local addresses or said they were seeking work. Each could now face a fine of up to €2,180 (£1,921; $2,633). Austrian ski slopes remain open for locals, but not for foreigners. Police said the foreigners included Danes, Swedes, Germans, Irish, Romanians, Poles and Australians. It is not yet clear how many British have been quarantined. All of them must also show coronavirus PCR tests. The police checks took place at 44 hotels and chalets in the resort on Friday. Austria has imposed quarantines and strict rules on entering the country, in large part to discourage skiers, the BBC's Bethany Bell reports from Vienna. Commenting on the police operation, Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said "whoever fails to obey the Covid-19 rules and stays in our country without justification must be fined". Tyrol regional governor Günther Platter said there would be "zero tolerance" for violators of the rules. Elsewhere in the Tyrol, avalanches killed four people over the weekend, AFP news agency reports. A man and woman - both Austrians - were buried in one on Saturday in the Sellrain area. The other two fatalities were a 16-year-old German boy in the Kühtai area and an Austrian man near Axamer Lizum.

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