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First Thing: Covid 'will get worse before it gets better', says Biden

Molly Blackall
·7-min read
<span>Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Good morning.

Joe Biden has used the first full day of his presidency to strengthen the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, unveiling a “wartime” strategy to combat the virus. Speaking from the White House with the vice-president, Kamala Harris, and the US’s top infectious diseases expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, Biden warned that the pandemic would “get worse before it gets better” and forecast that the death toll could rise to 500,000 by the end of next month. So far, more than 410,000 American lives have been lost to coronavirus.

As part of Biden’s plan, the Defense Production Act has been invoked to increase the production of PPE and other resources. Mask-wearing is now required on federal property, in airports and on many journeys, and people travelling to the US must show proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding the plane, and quarantine on arrival. The president is today expected to sign executive orders aimed at combatting food insecurity and expanding the safety protections for federal workers.

Fauci was at the conference in his new role as head of the US delegation to the World Health Organization, chosen by Biden in one of his first acts as president. After a tortuous relationship with Donald Trump, in which he was forced to repeatedly contradict the president over peddling baseless claims about the pandemic, Fauci welcomed Biden’s focus on truth and transparency.

[Under Trump] you didn’t feel that you could actually say something and there would be any repercussions about it. The idea that you can get up here and … let the science speak. It is somewhat of a liberating feeling.”

The public health expert also announced some big changes in direction in the US’s global cooperation on public health issues, revealing that the US would rejoin the international vaccine-sharing scheme, Covax and repeal the Mexico City policy. The latter, also known as the global gag rule, prevented foreign NGOs from performing or promoting abortions as a condition of receiving US family planning aid.

  • Biden’s exercise bike could be a cybersecurity threat, according to some experts who fear the interactive tablet on the bike, which has a microphone and webcam, could be hacked. In 2017, Michelle Obama had been supplied with a specially modified Peloton that came without a camera or microphone.

  • A WHO scheme for Pharma companies to share coronavirus information has received zero contributions, the Guardian has learned. The Covid-19 technology access pool (C-Tap) was launched in May last year to share information including diagnostics, therapeutics and trial data.

Mitch McConnell wants to push back Trump’s impeachment trial

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at Joe Biden&#x002019;s inauguration in Washington DC
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at Joe Biden’s inauguration in Washington DC on Wednesday. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, is proposing to delay the beginning of Trump’s impeachment trial by at least a week, in order to give the former president more time to review the case. House Democrats voted to impeach Trump last week for his incitement of the siege on the Capitol earlier this month, a violent attempt to overturn democracy that left five people dead. They want a quick trial as the case moves up to the Senate, arguing that dragging it on will prevent the country from progressing.

Seventeen Republicans would have to join Democrats in impeaching Trump for him to be convicted – unlikely, but not impossible. If that happened, Trump could be banned from again holding public office. Tom McCarthy explains where the impeachment process stands, and what the future could hold.

  • Top justice department officials tried to impede an investigation into their role in Trump’s immigration policies, refusing to be interviewed by the department’s inspector general about the family separation policy. The former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, was one of those who refused to cooperate.

  • The woman who allegedly stole Pelosi’s laptop will be released from jail, a federal judge ruled yesterday. Riley June Williams reportedly helped to take the House speaker’s laptop when she stormed the Capitol as part of a violent mob of Trump supporters. She is set to be released into the custody of her mother, with travel restrictions.

After four years, the US steps up to the climate crisis

John Kerry said that &#x002018;we need to all move together&#x002019; to tackle the climate crisis.
John Kerry said ‘we need to all move together’ to tackle the climate crisis. Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

John Kerry committed the US to the fight against the climate crisis after four years of absence under Donald Trump, in his first remarks as the US’s new climate envoy. Speaking to business leaders at a G20 forum yesterday, he warned that the environmental picture was bleak, saying that “no country and no continent is getting the job done.” Kerry called for a “wholesale transformation of the global economy” to reach net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, and that climate action needed to be dramatically sped up.

In pushing for serious change, Kerry might have the right idea: David Sirota argues that Biden needs to be more radical if he wants a lasting legacy. According to Sirota, Obama stopped short of lasting change because he was too focused on the middle ground, and Biden must not do the same.

That reverence for the status quo – and deference to Wall Street after the financial crisis and housing meltdown – ultimately helped create the backlash conditions for the rise of Trump.

In other news …

Russian authorities warned social media sites not to spread online calls to protest, ahead of demonstrations planned this weekend against the detention of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Russian authorities told social media sites not to
spread online calls to protest ahead of demonstrations planned this weekend against the detention of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Photograph: Evgeny Feldman/AP
  • Russia has detained aides of opposition leader Alexei Navalny ahead of demonstrations planned this weekend in 65 cities against Navalny’s arrest. Navalny was detained when he returned to Russia on Sunday from Germany, where he was recovering after being poisoned by novichok – thought to be the work of the Russian state.

  • The release of the latest James Bond film has been pushed back again due to coronavirus. After repeated delays, the film, Daniel Craig’s last as 007, will arrive in October. The film has been marred by a series of issues, from Craig injuring his ankle to a writer quitting and an explosion on set.

  • Jeff Bezos’s space travel company is “really close” to flying humans, after the successful completion of its 14th mission into space earlier this month. The firm, Blue Origin, hopes to take six space tourists on a flight to witness three minutes of weightlessness.

Stat of the day: climate disasters have cost the global economy $650bn in the past three years

More than a million young people have urged governments to act on the climate crisis ahead of a meeting of world leaders next week discussing how to adapt to extreme weather, wildfires and floods. Over the past three years alone, climate-related disasters are estimated to have cost about $650bn globally. The UN wanted that by 2040 this could soar to $54tn.

Don’t miss this: ‘California is America, only sooner’

Many of Biden’s top team are from California, and some of his policy agenda is expected to be modelled on measures planned or enacted in the Golden State. With experts describing California as a “living laboratory for progressive ideas”, Gabrielle Canon looks at how the state will impact Biden.

Last thing: a dog spent three days waiting outside hospital for her owner

Boncuk when she was reunited with her owner on Wednesday. Is this the happiest dog you&#x002019;ve ever seen?
Boncuk was reunited with her owner on Wednesday. Is this the happiest dog you’ve ever seen? Photograph: AP

A devoted dog waited for three days outside a hospital in Turkey where her owner, Cemal Senturk, was being treated, after following the ambulance that took him there. Senturk’s daughter would take the dog, named Boncuk, meaning bead, back home, but Boncuk ran straight back to the hospital. The pair were reunited on Wednesday when Senturk came outside in a wheelchair, and they returned home together.

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