First Thing: Covid vaccine gets presidential promotion

Molly Blackall
·7-min read
<span>Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/AP</span>
Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/AP

Good morning.

President-elect Joe Biden will urge all Americans to wear masks for 100 days following his inauguration, in an attempt to lower the rate of coronavirus transmission amid a surge in cases and deaths in the US. Biden and the vice-president-elect, Kamala Harris, have also said they will have the coronavirus vaccine as soon as it is available.

In their first joint interview since the election, Biden told CNN he would join three former presidents, Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama, in committing to be vaccinated live on television, to demonstrate its safety.

In stark comparison, Donald Trump remained silent yesterday, despite news that US had marked a record 2,804 daily deaths from coronavirus – almost as many as in the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. The president was instead presenting an award to a US football coach.

Wisconsin supreme court has refused to hear Trump’s election lawsuit

Trump was attempting to disqualify hundreds of thousands of ballots, alleging irregularities in the way absentee ballots were administered.
Donald Trump was attempting to disqualify hundreds of thousands of ballots, alleging irregularities in the way absentee ballots were administered. Photograph: Andy Manis/Getty Images

In Wisconsin on Thursday, the state supreme court refused to hear Trump’s lawsuit that attempted to disqualify more than 221,000 ballots in the state’s two biggest Democratic counties, with judges ruling that the case must go through lower courts first. The 4-3 ruling marks the latest defeat for Trump, who has pursued a string of failed post election lawsuits.

Republicans are reportedly concerned about the impact Trump’s continued voter fraud claims might have on critical Senate run-off contests in Georgia. The Republicans need to win at least one of the contests in order to keep control of the Senate, which would essentially give them veto powers over Biden’s presidency. But claims of voter fraud are as old as American democracy itself, writes former Obama speechwriter David Litt, even featuring in 19th-century New Jersey. He argues that it’s time for our institutions to stop taking the claims seriously.

Courts should stop giving self-proclaimed fraud-fighters the benefit of the doubt, and instead demand that they substantiate their allegations before barring eligible Americans from the ballot box.

  • A Michigan resident and voting system worker became an internet sensation after she appeared before a house panel on Wednesday to insist, without providing evidence, that tens of thousands of votes had been counted twice. The claims by Melissa Carone, contract worker for Dominion Voting Systems, proved too outrageous for even Rudy Giuliani, who shushed her loudly as he sat next to her, and visibly winced at some of her claims. The incident has been widely compared to an SNL sketch.

Green light for one green initiative, code red for another

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to polar bears, caribou and many other wildlife species, but Trump is set to enable gas and oil drilling.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to polar bears, caribou and many other wildlife species, but Trump is set to enable gas and oil drilling. Photograph: Reuters

The Trump administration has given formal approval for the sale of controversial gas and oil drilling licenses in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The move has been strongly opposed by environmental groups and some Alaska native communities, with the refuge home to polar bears and other wild species. The leases will be sold on 6 January, just weeks before the inauguration of Joe Biden, who opposes the move.

However, there is some good news. The Trump administration has finally proposed critical habitat protections form twelve species of coral in the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean - in essence protecting nearly 16,000 sq km of important coral habitat. Coral reefs are integral to biodiversity, and it estimated that their annual economic value in the US exceeds $3bn a year.

  • Pollution from car tires is contributing to a mass die-off of salmon on the west coast, researchers have found. Rainwater carries fragments of old car tires into nearby waterways, containing certain chemicals that are deadly to the salmon. In recent years, at least half of the coho salmon returning to streams in Washington have been dying before spawning.

California’s hospitals “will be overwhelmed” without new stay at home orders

On 2 November, the state reported just 14 Covid-related deaths. One month later, the state saw 113 deaths.
On 2 November, the state reported just 14 Covid-related deaths. One month later, the state saw 113 deaths. Photograph: Jae C Hong/AP

California is planning to introduce regional stay-at-home orders for areas where intensive care units are at risk of being overwhelmed. Governor Gavin Newsom said the plans would apply to areas where the units are expected to fall below 15% capacity – criteria which the majority of the state are expected to meet in coming days. As Newsom warns that the measures will be the most restrictive since the pandemic began, Vivian Ho answers questions about what this might mean for you.

“The bottom line is if we don’t act now, our hospital system will be overwhelmed,” the governor said. “If we don’t act now, our death rate will continue to climb.”

  • Who get the vaccine first? This is the question plaguing state officials, and playing on the minds of the public. In Colorado, public health experts recommended prisoners, a vulnerable population in crowded housing, a move that Democratic governor Jared Polis quickly ruled out. Jessica Glenza asks how officials will decide.

  • San Francisco is set to ban tobacco smoking in apartments, but will not ban the smoking of cannabis. The ban is an attempt to reduce the impact of secondhand smoke, and will also apply to e-cigarettes.

In other news …

  • Residents were forced to flee due to wildfires in southern California on Thursday. The biggest fire began as a house fire late on Wednesday, and spread rapidly to tinder dry bush, carried by flames of more than 113 kph.

  • China is the ‘greatest threat to democracy and freedom’ worldwide, a top US intelligence official has said, in the latest escalation of tensions between Washington and Beijing.

  • Time magazine has named its first “kid of the year” as 15-year-old scientist and inventor, Gitanjali Rao, who has already invented new technologies including a device that can identify lead in drinking water. Rao, from Colorado said that she wanted to “inspire others” to get involved in science, saying that on TV “it’s an older, usually white, man as a scientist.”

Stat of the day: More than 25 members of Congress and 150 workers have had Covid

Coronavirus infections among US lawmakers are continuing to rise, as Capitol Hill struggles to contain the spread of the virus. At the end of November, more than 25 members of Congress and 150 Congress workers have been infected, or are presumed to have been. Now, new precautions have been introduced to Congress, including new directives on travelling, quarantining and working on Capitol Hill, while testing will be expanded. But why has it taken so long?

Don’t miss this: Spacecraft carrying insights into the ‘origins of life’ to return six years later

Six years and three days after Hayabusa2 left earth, it will return with fragments of asteroids that scientists hope will provide invaluable insight into the formation of the solar system and origins of life on earth. The unmanned Japanese spacecraft will have travelled 6bn kilometres when it drops its capsule on to the Australian outback on Sunday.

Last thing: ‘Scandalous’ first ever commercial Christmas card is up for sale

The card is 177 years old.
The card is 177 years old. Photograph: Dennis MV David/AP

The first commercially printed Christmas card is up for sale, depicting a Victorian-era scene that features a child drinking wine. The card made teetotallers, of whom there were many during the era, “quite distressed” and a campaign was launched to censor it. Fewer than 30 copies of the card, which is being sold by a Boston-based dealer, are thought to have survived.

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