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First Thing: US marks record high in daily coronavirus deaths

Molly Blackall
·6 min read
<span>Photograph: Bryan R Smith/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Bryan R Smith/AFP/Getty Images

Good morning. The US recorded its highest daily tally of coronavirus deaths yesterday, with the number of people admitted to hospital with Covid exceeding 100,000 for the first time since the start of the pandemic. According to the Johns Hopkins university tracker, there were 3,157 new deaths recorded on Wednesday, much higher than the previous high of 2,607 deaths which was recorded on 15 April. It follows a warning from Joe Biden earlier this week that there could be a further quarter of a million lives lost between now and January.

The US is also expected to pass the grim milestone of 14 million cases of coronavirus later on Thursday. More than 200,000 new cases were also recorded on Wednesday – only the second time this figure has been reached.

  • Austin’s mayor went on vacation while he urged people to stay home last month, even recording a video during his trip to Mexico which told residents that now was “not the time to relax”. Steve Adler joins a cast of officials including California governor Gavin Newsom who have come under fire for violating their own regulations.

Biden’s administration takes shape

This weekend, the CHC (members of which are depicted here last year) sent a letter to the Biden transition team urging him to nominate Michelle Lujan Grisham, the New Mexico governor, to be secretary of health and human services.
This weekend, the CHC (members of which are depicted here last year) sent a letter to the Biden transition team urging him to nominate Michelle Lujan Grisham, the New Mexico governor, to be secretary of health and human services. Photograph: Erik S Lesser/EPA

Joe Biden’s transition team is expected to meet with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus today, as the group pushes for the president elect to put a Latino person in charge of a major federal agency. Biden has made much of his intentions to have a diverse cabinet which “reflects America”, and is also under pressure to help win back support from Latino voters, whom the Democrats struggled to reach this election.

While he solidifies his top team at home, Biden is also under pressure to start looking at his strategy overseas. Kurt Campbell, who was a top US diplomat for east Asia under Barack Obama, said the president elect must establish a strategy for dealing with North Korea as early as possible to avoid missing a window for engagement. Meanwhile, a counterintelligence chief warned that Chinese agents are already targeting Biden’s team, in an influence campaign “on steroids”. It came as the House of Representatives unanimously passed a law to ensure that Chinese companies cannot engage with US stock exchanges unless they comply with auditing rules.

Trump makes his ‘most important speech ever’ – and it’s more allegations of voter fraud

Trump began by saying: ‘This may be the most important speech I have ever made.’ Photograph: Facebook

Social media sites added verification warnings to a 46-minute video statement released by Donald Trump yesterday, in which he repeated baseless claims of voter fraud and alleged that the electoral system was “under coordinated assault and siege”. It came the day after the attorney general and long-time Trump ally, William Barr, said the Department of Justice had not found any evidence of widespread voter fraud that could change the election result.

But it was the site of another Trump campaign speech which pulled focus yesterday. Four Seasons Total Landscaping, the gardening firm wedged between a sex shop and a crematorium in Philadelphia where Rudy Giuliani made baseless allegations of voter fraud, has become an unlikely tourist attraction. Following the widespread hilarity, the firm has sold more than $1.3m in merchandise and the owner said that “not a day goes by where there’s not a crowd outside”.

  • Ivanka Trump was interviewed by attorneys alleging that her father’s inauguration committee misused donor funds. The lawsuit claims that the committee made more than $1m in improper payments to the president’s Washington, DC, hotel during the week of the inauguration in 2017.

  • Why are the Republicans winning over Asian American voters? Geoffrey Mak, whose father voted for Trump, examines the growing support for Republicans amongst Asian Americans, who often support Trump’s aggressive stance on China and feel “seen” by the president.

A CIA officer was killed during a Somali raid against extremists

A CIA officer died during a raid in Somalia last month, which was targeting an extremist suspected of being behind an attack that killed an American soldier last year. Local intelligence officials told the Guardian that the officer, who has not been named, died when fighters from the al-Shabaab extremist movement detonated a car bomb minutes into the raid.

  • Russia has taken steps to expel a US human rights activist who has lived in the country for more than a decade, and has two children with a Russian man. Vanessa Kogan, director of the Justice Initiative project, which gives legal support to Russians seeking justice for human rights abuses, said that migration officials had revoked her residency permit and she has been given two weeks to leave the country.

In other news…

  • Barack Obama has criticised slogans like ‘defund the police’ for turning voters away, chastising Democratic politicians for using them. “You lost a big audience the minute you say it, which makes it a lot less likely that you’re actually going to get the changes you want done,” the former president said.

  • The cofounder of the American Indian Movement has died aged 89. Eddie Benton-Banai helped create the movement in response to allegations of police brutality against Indigenous people.

  • A new mystery monolith has appeared in California, shortly after a similar structure in Utah deserts triggered mass interest and confusion. A local newspaper in the town of Atascadero, on the central California coast, reported that the silvery column had been found atop Pine mountain.

Stat of the day: air pollution kills more people each year than the pandemic has so far

The UN’s secretary general has warned that humanity’s treatment of the environment is “suicidal”, and that nature is hitting back “with growing force and fury”. In a speech, António Guterres has said that air pollution kills 9 million people a year, more than the current pandemic and that 75% of new and emerging diseases come from animals.

Don’t miss this: farm workers at three times the risk of coronavirus

California’s agricultural workers have contracted Covid-19 at nearly three times the rate of other residents in the state, highlighting the disproportionate risks faced by farm workers, a new study has shown. The principle investigator, Ana Maria Mora, said that the study showed that “the Latino population is not just disproportionately affected by high positivity rates, but they’re also affected in the sense that they’re vulnerable because a lot of them are going to work when sick because they’re worried about losing their jobs and losing their pay”.

Last thing: on the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a koala in a Christmas tree

It’s not your usual ornament, but one family in Australia discovered a young koala in their Christmas tree when they came home yesterday. When they called the local koala rescue, the group initially thought it was a prank call, but safely removed the koala. The rescue groups founder said the koala, dubbed Daphne and thought to be a three or four year old female, was probably just being nosy. “They are curious, and they are in the suburbs, and if they see something that they want to have a look at they’ll just drop in and have a look,” Dee Hearne-Hellon said.

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