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

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”.

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.

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”.

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.

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.

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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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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