Figures on both sides of politics are demanding US President Donald Trump’s immediate removal from office following yesterday’s attack on the US Capitol. Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has called for the 25th Amendment to be invoked, and will consider impeachment if not, saying she expects a decision from Vice-President Mike Pence today. Whether or not Trump is removed, he has had one power stripped from him: Facebook and Instagram* have extended his ban for the remainder of his presidency, potentially indefinitely. Newly certified president-elect Joe Biden laid the blame for the insurrection with Trump, pointing out, as many have before him, that Black Lives Matter protesters would have been treated “very, very differently”. The National Guard will be placed on a 30-day mobilisation in DC, with troops on the ground through Inauguration Day and beyond, but anger remains over how the Capitol was so vulnerable to attack, with politicians and officials demanding an inquiry. Trump is considering pardoning himself, The New York Times reports.
A mutant strain of the coronavirus, a precursor to the more infectious variety currently ravaging the UK, escaped hotel quarantine during Victoria’s second wave, but the public was not told about it at the time, The Age reports. The strain infected at least 37 people before being brought under control by lockdown. Researchers have found that the variant, known as N501Y, has similar mutations to the British and South African strains, making it bind more tightly to human cells. Professor Damian Purcell, head of the molecular virology laboratory at the Doherty Institute, said it was kept quiet because “we did not want to spook people that we had a real problem with mutants here”. Victoria’s health department declined to comment. Looks like we might have a “real problem with mutants here” now, with a quarantine hotel cleaner in Brisbane and a patient involved in PPE breaches in Perth both testing positive for the UK strain yesterday. National cabinet is today expected to mandate pre-flight COVID tests for all international arrivals, including rapid testing for those coming from the UK, along with masks on domestic and international flights, the ABC reports.
In vaccine news, experts are warning that life will not get back to normal in 2021, even with the accelerated rollout, as herd immunity is only reached once 60 to 70 per cent of the population is vaccinated. Australian unions have offered to collaborate with the government to encourage workers to get vaccinated, with the ACTU requesting formal talks between employers and unions. The social media disinformation code under development has become more critical than ever, sources say, with concerns anti-vaxxers could derail the rollout. Authorities, meanwhile, are cracking down on wildly inaccurate rapid antibody test kits, cancelling approvals and issuing fines. A review by the Doherty Institute found many tests had low accuracy rates, despite companies’ claims that their products could detect Covid antibodies with more than 90 per cent accuracy.
Last decade was the hottest on record for Australia, while 2020 was the fourth hottest year since records began, according to the Bureau of Meteorology’s annual climate statement. Last year was cooler than 2005, 2013, and 2019 (the hottest on record), but what sets 2020 apart is a La Nina event, which tends to drop temperatures, making fourth place a “significant record”, says head of climate prediction services Andrew Watkins. Each decade since 1950 has been hotter than the previous one, while every year since 2013 has been in the top 10 warmest on record, Guardian Australia reports. Meanwhile, yet another research paper has confirmed what all know to be true: the Black Summer bushfires were made worse by climate change, with the risks to rapidly intensify unless significant efforts are made to curb emissions. Speaking of which: extreme temperatures and winds are expected to create nightmare conditions for WA’s Red Gully bushfire over the next three days, with worries it may jump containment lines.
*The email version of this newsletter incorrectly stated that Facebook and Twitter had extended Trump’s ban; it is just Facebook and Instagram which have so far implemented a longer ban.