First Thing: US could face ‘fifth wave’ of Covid as Omicron spreads

·7 min read
<span>Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP</span>
Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP

Israel seals borders and Morocco bans flights as new variant fears rise plus, tributes pour in for fashion maverick Virgil Abloh


Good morning.

Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci, said on Sunday the US has “the potential to go into a fifth wave” of coronavirus infections amid rising cases and stagnating vaccination rates.

Early evidence suggests the heavily mutated variant poses a higher risk of reinfection than earlier variants and that it could also be more transmissible.

Last night, shortly after the first Omicron cases in North America were confirmed in Canada, the White House said Biden met Fauci and other advisers on returning to Washington from holiday in Nantucket.

Fauci said any fifth wave of cases “will really be dependent upon what we do in the next few weeks to a couple of months”.

  • How are other countries reacting to the spread of Omicron? Israel is barring entry to all foreign nationals and Morocco is suspending all incoming flights for two weeks. Many countries, including Brazil, Canada, European Union states, Iran and the UK, have placed restrictions on travel from various southern African countries.

Ghislaine Maxwell sex-trafficking trial expected to go before jury

Ghislaine Maxwell in 2013.
Ghislaine Maxwell in 2013. Photograph: Rick Bajornas/AP

The trial of British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell is expected to go before a jury in New York City on Monday, as opening statements follow finalization of the panel of 12 jurors and six alternates.

Maxwell, 59, has pleaded not guilty on six counts related to her alleged involvement in the late financier Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual abuse of teen girls, some as young as 14. The indictment cites four accusers though it is believed more will take the stand.

The charges include conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, conspiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, sex trafficking conspiracy, and sex trafficking of a minor.

  • Epstein, a convicted paedophile, killed himself in a Manhattan federal jail in August 2019, while awaiting trial. Maxwell’s alleged crimes took place from 1994 to 2004, prosecutors have said.

  • Authorities arrested the Briton, the daughter of the late press baron Robert Maxwell, on 2 July 2020 at an estate in the small New Hampshire town of Bradford.

  • Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against her and is expected to challenge claims she groomed underage girls.

Michael Flynn apparently calls QAnon ‘total nonsense’ despite his links

National security adviser Michael Flynn speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House in 2017.
Michael Flynn speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House in 2017. Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/AP

Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s first national security adviser, appears to have called QAnon “total nonsense” and a “disinformation campaign” created by the CIA and the political left – despite his own extensive links to the conspiracy theory and seeming eagerness to serve as its hero.

Flynn’s apparent statement was revealed by Lin Wood, a pro-Trump attorney and QAnon supporter once allied with the disgraced former general.

QAnon followers believe in the existence of a secret cabal of pederastic cannibal satanists, dominated by Democrats, against whom Trump is fighting. Followers also believe John F Kennedy Jr is not dead and will soon return to lead them. Many recently congregated in Dallas, waiting for that to happen. The FBI considers QAnon a potential source of extremist violence.

Trump has refused to disavow QAnon believers. Tucker Carlson, of Fox News, called them “gentle patriots”.

  • Where was the statement made? Wood released a recording of what appeared to be a call between him and Flynn on Telegram, a social media and messaging app favored by far-right extremists.

  • Is it real? The Guardian could not verify the authenticity of the recording.

In other news …

Designer Virgil Abloh appears at the end of his Spring/Summer 2019 collection in Paris, France, in June 2018.
Designer Virgil Abloh appears at the end of his Spring/Summer 2019 collection in Paris, France, in June 2018. Photograph: Charles Platiau/Reuters
  • Fashion designer Virgil Abloh has died after suffering from cancer, it has been announced. The fashion maverick was creative head at Louis Vuitton and founder of Off-White. Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner and Justin Timberlake were among the stars paying tribute to the “once-in-a-generation creative mind”.

  • An episode of the Simpsons in which the cartoon American family visit Tiananmen Square is absent from Disney’s streaming channel in Hong Kong, at a time when authorities are clamping down on dissent. The missing episode adds to concerns that mainland-style censorship is becoming the norm.

  • The private office of the Prince of Wales has dismissed as “fiction” claims Prince Charles speculated on grandchildren’s skin colour. A new book claims that it was Charles who asked about the “complexion” of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s future children.

  • Missouri Senate candidate is hoping Trump notices his neckwear as he seeks endorsement from the former president, which he believes still carries the ultimate weight. Billy Long, who wears a tie that Trump signed with a sharpie, said: “If he endorses in this race … it’s over.”

Don’t miss this: Rita Moreno on West Side Story, dating Brando and joy at 90

Rita Moreno
‘I think I’m funny as hell and I think I’m cute and I think I’m mischievous’ … Rita Moreno. Photograph: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

She overcame abuse to break Hollywood, romanced Marlon Brando, dated Elvis to make him jealous and fought hard for civil rights. Now in her 10th decade, she is busier and happier than ever. She is one of only six women to have bagged the Egot (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards), alongside Helen Hayes, Audrey Hepburn, Barbra Streisand, Whoopi Goldberg and Liza Minnelli. Yet she has spent much of her career battling typecasting or simply not being cast at all.

… or this: What will US’s future look like if abortion becomes a crime again?

Abortion-criminalization graphic
As Roe v Wade faces a direct challenge, criminal defense attorneys, prosecutors, local judges and cops begin to lay out what it would look like to criminalize abortion. Composite: Getty Images

If Roe v Wade were to be overturned, at least 26 states hostile to abortion would outlaw abortion either immediately or as quickly as possible, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research organization. Abortion advocates believe this would likely result in desperate people (who have the resources) seeking abortions in more liberal states where the procedure remains legal, such as Illinois or New York. In just one example, Louisiana has passed a “trigger-law” designed to outlaw abortion if Roe is overturned. A person from Louisiana seeking an abortion would need to reach Kansas to obtain one legally.

Climate check: Nobel-winning stock market theory used to help save coral reefs

A Nobel prize-winning economic theory used by investors is showing early signs of helping save threatened coral reefs, scientists say. Researchers at Australia’s University of Queensland used modern portfolio theory (MPT), a mathematical framework developed by the economist Harry Markowitz in the 1950s to help risk-averse investors maximise returns, to identify the 50 reefs or coral sanctuaries around the world that are most likely to survive the climate crisis and be able to repopulate other reefs, if other threats are absent.

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Last Thing: Canada digs deep into strategic reserves to cover maple syrup shortage

Maple syrup producers have been forced to raid the world’s only stockpile of the highly valued sweet treat, as surging worldwide demand combined with an unusually short harvest season in 2021. The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, sometimes referred to as the “Opec of maple syrup”, has released about 22m kg of syrup from its strategic reserve to cover a shortfall driven by a short and warm spring in 2021, NPR reported.

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