Fauci cautiously optimistic about Omicron variant severity

Good morning.

Dismissing as “preposterous” a Republican senator’s claim he is “overhyping” Covid-19 as he did HIV and Aids, Dr Anthony Fauci said on Sunday the threat to the US from the Omicron variant remained to be determined – but that signs were encouraging.

“Thus far – though it’s too early to really make any definitive statements about it – it does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it,” Fauci told CNN’s State of the Union.

“But we have really got to be careful before we make any determinations that [Omicron] is less severe or it really doesn’t cause any severe illness comparable to Delta.”

Fauci’s evident caution stood at odds with the bizarre accusation made by the Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson, who told Fox News this week Fauci had overhyped Aids and created all kinds of fear. He said: “He’s using the exact same playbook for Covid.”

As the supreme court weighs the future of abortion access in America, Republicans expressed confidence on Sunday that the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision would soon be overturned, paving the way for a raft of anti-abortion legislation around the country next year.

On Wednesday, the supreme court heard arguments over a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Observers suggested that the conservative supermajority on the court appeared poised to uphold the law and potentially go further by overturning Roe, which protects a woman’s right to choose. A decision is not expected until June next year.

Mississippi’s governor, Tate Reeves, told CNN’s State of the Union he had “some reason for optimism” after this week’s arguments. He also confirmed that if the landmark ruling was overturned entirely, Mississippi would enforce a ban on almost all abortions in the state under a so-called “trigger law”.

In remarks to diners at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Saturday night, Donald Trump called the American media “crooked bastards” and Gen Mark Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, a “fucking idiot”.

The meandering, foul-mouthed speech to Turning Point USA, a group for young conservatives, was streamed by Jack Posobiec, a rightwing blogger and provocateur.

The insult to the press recalled barbs while Trump was in power, including calling reporters and editors “fake news” and the “enemy of the people”, attacks many in the media regarded as dangerous, inviting political violence.

“The country is at a very important, dangerous place,” Trump said, amid familiar lies about his defeat in the 2020 election, which he says was the result of electoral fraud.

A Gallup poll conducted in November found that, like last year, only 34% of Americans describe their mental health as “excellent”. Those are the lowest levels in two decades. Even though many people in the US are vaccinated, the country’s population continues to suffer from anxiety and depression. And now there are fresh worries about the Omicron variant and the impact it could have on public life this winter. If Omicron does lead to another Covid-19 surge, the impact on mental health will be serious.

The Sex and the City star is back for the reboot, And Just Like That … Here he talks to Hadley Freeman about bereavement, rebellion, the fun of acting – and the absence of Kim Cattrall. He was actually hesitant about returning himself, he says, because he felt, not unreasonably, that he had taken Big as far as he could. So what convinced him otherwise? “A conversation with [the show’s writer and director] Michael Patrick King. It was a long conversation, it continued through the pandemic and he took in a lot of my ideas and we came up with a way for me to work into it.”

If you’re a regular listener of the New York Times podcast The Daily, you would have heard an ad for ExxonMobil’s carbon capture investments more than once in November. Similar ads have run on NPR podcasts, including Invisibilia and Up First that suggest they are taking aggressive climate action. Climate experts call them greenwashing but why the sudden interest in podcasts? One reason could be explained in the different ways advertising is regulated on newer media compared with the stricter rules around adverts on legacy media such as print and radio.

Want more environmental stories delivered to your inbox? Sign up to our new newsletter Down to Earth to get original and essential reporting on the climate crisis every week

A treasure trove of emeralds, rubies and sapphires buried for decades on a glacier off France’s Mont Blanc has finally been shared between the climber who discovered them and local authorities, eight years after they were found. The mountaineer stumbled across the precious stones in 2013. They had remained hidden in a metal box that was onboard an Indian plane that crashed in the desolate landscape about 50 years earlier. “The stones have been shared this week” in two equal lots valued at about €150,000 ($169,000) each, Chamonix mayor Eric Fournier said.

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