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US Covid surge is big risk and is ‘not being taken seriously’ | First Thing

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Good morning.

In the fourth year of the pandemic, Covid-19 is once again spreading across the US and is being driven by the recent holidays, fewer precautions and the continuing evolution of Omicron subvariants.

New subvariants are causing concern because of their increased transmissibility and ability to evade some antibodies, but the same tools continue to curtail the spread of Covid, especially bivalent boosters, masks, ventilation, antivirals and other precautions, according to experts.

Yet booster uptake had been “pitiful”, said Dr Neil Sehgal, an assistant professor of health policy and management at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. Antiviral uptake was low, and few mandates on masking, vaccination and testing had resumed despite the increase in cases this winter, which was once again putting pressure on healthcare systems, he added.

New Covid admissions to hospital are now at the fourth-highest rate of the pandemic, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Covid hospitalizations declined after the summer wave but not to the low levels recorded after previous spikes, persisting through the fall and rising again during the winter holidays.

  • How big is the increase? Covid deaths rose by 44%, from 2,705 in the week ending 4 January to 3,907 in the week ending 11 January. This is one of the greatest increases in cases since the pandemic began, according to wastewater analyses of the virus. It is much lower than the peak in January 2022 but similar to the summer 2022 increase.

Ron Johnson speaks to reporters in Washington.Ron Johnson speaks to reporters in Washington. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

The Wisconsin senator, Ron Johnson, refused to say whether Republicans planning investigations of Hunter Biden for profiting from his connection to the presidency should also investigate Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser who secured a $1.2bn loan from Qatar while working in the White House. “I’m concerned about getting to the truth,” Johnson insisted. “I don’t target individuals.”

Republicans are undoubtedly targeting Biden, for allegedly making money thanks to his father, Joe. In the House, newly under GOP control, committees have promised investigations.

Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, Johnson focused his fire on the president’s surviving son.

The host, Chuck Todd, said: “Senator, do you have a crime that you think Hunter Biden committed because I’ve yet to see anybody explain? It is not a crime to make money off of your last name.”

The Russian River, swollen with storm water, flows alongside Highway 101 in Hopland, CaliforniaThe death toll rose to 19 after a prolonged spell of rain and snow caused by atmospheric rivers. Photograph: Fred Greaves/Reuters

The president has declared a major disaster in California after devastating winter storms caused flooding and mudslides and the deaths of at least 19 people. On Saturday, Joe Biden ordered federal aid to supplement state, tribal and local recovery efforts in areas affected by storms since late December.

“The president’s action makes federal funding available to affected individuals in the counties of Merced, Sacramento and Santa Cruz,” the White House said. “Federal funding also is available to state, tribal and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work in the counties of Merced, Sacramento, and Santa Cruz.”

Storms and flooding were expected to continue into Monday, the National Weather Service warned on Sunday. Drier weather is expected from Tuesday.

Flood warnings were issued for the region north of San Francisco Bay, including Marin, Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

  • How did the fast-moving floods have such a deadly toll? Over the past two weeks, a parade of powerful atmospheric rivers, narrow bands of enhanced water vapor, has brought both relief and ruin to California. While the rain is a welcome sight in the drought-hit state, the violent storms landed in quick succession, causing flash floods, billions of dollars in damage and killing at least 19 people.

Mafia boss Matteo Messina DenaroMatteo Messina Denaro was sentenced in absentia to a life term for his role in the 1992 murders of anti-mafia prosecutors. Photograph: Studio Camera di Lannino/Rex

  • Italian police have arrested Matteo Messina Denaro, Italy’s most wanted mafia boss who had been on the run for three decades. Denaro, who was detained at a clinic in Palermo is alleged to be in Sicily’s Cosa Nostra mafia.

  • In the moments before Nepal’s deadliest air crash in decades on Sunday, four friends from India who were onboard began recording the descent on a Facebook live video. Before the crash, all appears calm in the plane, with no emergency announcements or warnings from the pilot or staff.

  • Dr Dre has successfully blocked the Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene from using his music in any context to do with her political career after she used his 1999 hit Still Dre to soundtrack a promotional video. Billboard reports that Greene’s lawyers formally acknowledged a cease and desist letter.

  • The New York Republican congressman George Santos, whose résumé has been shown to be largely fictional and who is under local, federal and international investigation, is a “bad guy” who has done “really bad” things, the new the new chair of the House oversight committeesaid on Sunday.

Evanston Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, who spearheaded the city’s reparations initiative, poses near her home in the Fifth Ward in Evanston, IllinoisRobin Rue Simmons: ‘We have to recognize that we have to start somewhere. We have to take a first step. We can’t be paralyzed.’ Photograph: Eileen Meslar/Reuters

In the heated debate over reparations in the US, the daunting task before those fighting for compensation for Black Americans is twofold. Their first challenge is justifying to those against reparations what has already been documented throughout history time and time again: that the lasting legacy of slavery, and the racism and discrimination tied to it, stretches centuries after the Emancipation Proclamation and continues to harm Black Americans today. The second is proving that the messy and complicated process of meting out this restitution, be it monetary or through policy – an endeavor some economic experts have estimated could result in tens of millions of dollars being paid out to millions of Black Americans – is even possible.

In this photo illustration the Facebook social media app company logo seen displayed on a smartphone, face of Donald Trump and the United States of America flag seen in the background. Company logo on a smartphoneMeta suspended Donald Trump from Facebook and Instagram in 2021. Lawmakers, activists and researchers have called for a permanent ban. Photograph: Filip Radwański/Sopa/Rex/Shutterstock

It has been a little more than two years since Meta suspended Donald Trump from Facebook and Instagram over his actions during the January 6 Capitol riots. Now, a major decision looms – reinstate Trump’s account, or keep him off the platform for good? It is a widely watched decision that will set a new precedent on how social media firms balance free speech with content moderation, especially when it comes to world leaders and other newsworthy individuals. The announcement, which is expected this month, stems from a self-imposed deadline. While Trump’s ban was initially indefinite, the company later pledged to revisit the decision two years after the suspension began, writes Kari Paul.

Indigenous people from Malaysia’s Mah Meri perform a thanksgiving to the sea. Asia is one of the region’s most affected by population displacement.Indigenous people from Malaysia’s Mah Meri perform a thanksgiving to the sea. Asia is one of the region’s most affected by population displacement. Photograph: Mohd Daud/Zuma/Rex/Shutterstock

Every 40 days a language dies. This “catastrophic” loss is being amplified by the climate crisis, according to linguists. If nothing is done, conservative estimates suggest that half of the 7,000 languages still spoken will be extinct by the end of the century, writes Karen McVeigh. Speakers of minority languages have experienced a long history of persecution. As a result half of all Indigenous languages in Australia, the US, South Africa and Argentina were extinct by the 1920s. The climate crisis is now considered the “final nail in the coffin” for many Indigenous languages and the knowledge they represent.

The Manhattan skyline looms over the East River.The Manhattan skyline looms over the East River. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Several groups of treasure hunters have been seen on the East River in New York City after a guest on the Joe Rogan podcast claimed a boxcar of valuable prehistoric mammoth bones was dumped in the river in the 1940s. Despite a lack of evidence, people have used boats, diving gear and remote-operated cameras to search. “I think the chances are just as good as the lottery. And people buy those tickets every day,” said Don Gann, 35, of North Arlington, New Jersey, a commercial diver who has been out on the water since early last week. Gann said he had seen about two dozen other sets of fossil hunters out searching for mammoth remains.

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