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Tuesday briefing: Eulogy for America's 500,000 Covid victims

The Guardian - Tue Feb 23 06:19

Top story: ‘Such a cruel fate’

Morning everyone. This is Martin Farrer and here are today’s top stories.

Joe Biden has said America must “resist becoming numb” to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic as deaths in the world’s richest country passed 500,000. In a primetime television address, the US president said the country could not accept “such a cruel fate” and warned against seeing each death simply as a “statistic”. His speech was followed by a moment of silence and a candle-lighting ceremony at the White House to mark the shocking toll, which is the highest in the world by far. The milestone is a stark reminder of the challenges faced by the new president in bringing the virus under control. The deaths of 500,000 people have left 4 million family members grieving, according to analysis of data, and include Erika Martinez, a Californian woman who has lost her father and brother to the disease. The victims also include nearly 3,500 healthcare workers.

Boris Johnson has promised an “incomparably better summer” than last year after he outlined the key steps required to take England out of lockdown. Starting with the reopening of schools on 8 March, the prime minister said restrictions would be lifted in stages and see the eventual return of crowds to sporting events, domestic tourism, and the final entertainment venues such as nightclubs by 21 June. It was hoped that Covid test and vaccine certificates could help ease the path back to normality. However, amid the euphoria, Prof Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, warned the country to expect that coronavirus “will be a problem for the next few winters”. For all the overnight developments in the pandemic check out our live blog.

Qatar toll – The human cost of Qatar’s ambition to stage the World Cup is revealed in new figures that show more than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died in the Gulf state since it won the right to host the tournament 10 years ago. The real toll is also likely to be much higher because the number does not include data from other countries that send a lot of workers to Qatar, such as the Philippines and Kenya. Campaigners say the figures show that the resource-rich emirate has not done enough to protect workers, whose deaths often leave families without their main wage earner. The causes of fatalities include falls and “death due to decomposition”. But the biggest category is unexplained deaths such as that of Madhu Bollapally, a 43-year-old Indian man who was found dead in his dorm in 2019.

Friends again – Facebook will restore news pages to Australian users after talks agreed changes to the government’s new media code that demands technology firms pay for content. The social network caused a storm last week when it cut off news content to millions of Australians, accidentally blocking some government health sites in the process.

Forgotten fish – Up to one-third of the world’s freshwater fish population is in danger of extinction, thanks to a deadly combination of factors including pollution, overfishing, the introduction of invasive species, climate change and disruption of river ecologies. A report called The World’s Forgotten Fishes says numbers of migratory freshwater fish have plummeted by 76% since 1970, and large fish – those weighing more than 30kg – have been all but wiped out in most rivers.

Brexit limbo – UK language students hoping to do the traditional year abroad studying are caught in limbo after facing disruption to their travel plans due to post-Brexit red tape and costs. Universities say they received inadequate guidance from the government about the situation which has led tio conflicting advice and students having to cancel or postpone placement.

‘Stuff of dreams’ – The first proper footage of the Perseverance rover landing on Mars has been released by Nasa showing how the craft unfurled an enormous orange and white parachute on its final descent and kicked up the planet’s famous red dust as it lowered to the surface. “These videos and these images are the stuff of our dreams,” said Al Chen, who was in charge of the landing team.

Today in Focus podcast

The Freshwater Five case is in front of the court of appeal today after the disclosure of new evidence that the defence says points to the men’s conviction being unsafe. Why has it taken a decade to get to this point?

Today in Focus

Freshwater Five, part five

Sorry your browser does not support audio - but you can download here and listen https://audio.guim.co.uk/2020/05/05-61553-gnl.fw.200505.jf.ch7DW.mp3



Lunchtime read: Children of the gulag seek payback

Alisa Meissner (centre) with other descendants of gulag survivors.
Alisa Meissner (centre) with other descendants of gulag survivors. Photograph: Alexander Koryakov

The horrors of the Soviet gulag have been resurfaced in Russia as the descendants of Stalin’s countless victims seek some recompense. Alisa Meissner, whose family was exiled from Moscow in the 1940s, is one such “child of the gulag”. She still lives in the remote Kirov region where her family was sent but wants to see out her days back in the capital. “They’re all thinking that we’re old and are waiting for us to disappear,” she says. “But we want to live, and we will live to spite everyone.”


In an interview with the Guardian, Chris Froome has spoken of his hunger for a fifth Tour de France title, his career-threatening crash and doping in cycling. Jofra Archer looks set to return for Wednesday’s day-night third Test against India in Ahmedabad as England ponder up to five changes to their XI and a potentially seam-heavy attack in order to cash in on the pink ball. The prospect of relocating the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa to the UK and Ireland moved a step closer on Monday after the government’s announcement that bumper crowds may return to sporting events in June. Christian Benteke scored a stoppage-time volley for Crystal Palace to secure a dramatic 2-1 win at Brighton after the hosts had dominated the match. German beach volleyball stars Karla Borger and Julia Sude have said they will boycott a tournament in Qatar because it is “the only country” where players are forbidden from wearing bikinis on court. Andy Murray has said he avoided watching the Australian Open, even unfollowing his fellow players on social media to cope with his disappointment at not taking part. And England midfielder Jill Scott is set to be the second Lioness to win 150 caps when she runs out as captain against Northern Ireland tonight, after a journey featuring the wrong studs and prison workouts.


HSBC has reported a 34% fall in profits this morning as it prepares to outline more details of its plans to pivot to Asia despite the political crackdown in Hong Kong. Businesses from pubs to holiday homes says they need more help and certainty from the government as they prepare to lift themselves out of lockdown. In the US, a Cherokee leader has told the carmaker Jeep that it is time for it to stop using the Native American name for one of its most popular models. Bitcoin has dropped 10% in Asian trade overnight and is now worth $48,600. The FTSE 100 is set to open flat, while the pound is buying $1.407 and €1.156.

The papers

“The end is in sight”, says the splash in the Times, and the FT also likes that line: “Johnson insists ‘end in sight’ with summer target to end Covid curbs”. The Mirror lays out the key dates for gradual easing – “The best days of our lives”, while the Sun has a similar page with the headline “The wait escape”. The Express quotes Johnson with “We’re on a one-way road to freedom”, the Telegraph has “118 days to freedom” and the i says “Four steps to freedom”. The Mail has a note of impatience, reporting that the PM faces a “clamour” for a faster road out of lockdown under a headline reading “What are we waiting for?”. The Guardian is less celebratory than some with the headline “PM reveals roadmap to ‘better’ days with warning on deaths”, while the Star’s front page is also more off-message: “That Bozo road map in full”.

Guardian front page, Tuesday 23 February 2021
Photograph: The Guardian

In Scotland the big story is Alex Salmond’s attack on the SNP leadership. “Salmond claims ‘malicious’ SNP chiefs conspired to have him jailed”, says the Scotsman, “Salmond hits out as inquiry evidence is published” says the National, and the Record has “Salmond: SNP plot to jail me”.

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