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Covid-19 vaccine may be widely available by April 2021, Fauci says

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French President Emmanuel Macron addresses the nation during a televised interview from the Elysee Palace on October 14 in Paris.
French President Emmanuel Macron addresses the nation during a televised interview from the Elysee Palace on October 14 in Paris. Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images

Paris and other French cities will be subject to a nighttime curfew starting Saturday to try to slow the spread of coronavirus, French President Emmanuel Macron announced Wednesday. 

The 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew will also apply to Aix-en-Provence, Marseille, Grenoble, Montpellier, Toulouse, Saint Etienne, Lille and Lyon, he said. 

It takes effect starting at midnight Friday night into Saturday.

“The aim is to reduce private contacts, which are the most dangerous contacts,” Macron said.

Violating the nighttime curfew will carry a fine of 135 euros (about $160) for a first offense, and 1,500 euros ($1,760) if the offense is repeated, he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of two French cities that will be impacted by the curfew. The cities are Aix-en-Provence and Marseille.

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Amy Coney Barrett is now one step away from becoming a Supreme Court justice

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The Senate voted to end its debate over the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court on Sunday afternoon, a move that sets the stage for a final Senate floor vote for her confirmation on Monday.

Despite efforts by Democratic lawmakers to use procedural maneuvers to slow her appointment, Barrett is on track to be confirmed to the court just about a week before Election Day with almost unanimous support from Senate Republicans.

Republicans have moved quickly to seat Barrett on the court, following her nomination by President Donald Trump in late September. Democrats have protested Republicans working to fill the seat left open by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg so close to the presidential election — particularly given the GOP blocked President Barack Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee for months in 2016, arguing that the winner of that year’s presidential election should get to fill any empty seats.

But Republicans have the votes needed to secure the judge’s place on the court, and the Senate Judiciary Committee began its confirmation hearings for Barrett on October 12.

And on Thursday, the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee voted to approve Barrett’s nomination, despite the fact that every Democrat on the panel boycotted the meeting — which technically meant they didn’t have the required number of minority members needed to conduct business. Chair Lindsey Graham (R-SC) disregarded the requirement and proceeded anyway.

On Friday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) deployed a number of tactics to try to slow down the nomination process, with little effect.

For example, he forced a closed Senate session on Friday for the first time since 2010. “The damage to Americans’ faith in these institutions could be lasting. So before we go any further, we should shut off the cameras, close the Senate and talk face to face about what this might mean for the country,” Schumer argued. But the GOP ended that session — which required cameras to leave — in just 20 minutes.

Schumer also tried to file several motions to delay the nomination process, like calling for the Senate to be adjourned until after the election unless both parties settle on a coronavirus relief package, but these all failed as the GOP-controlled Senate acted against them along party lines. Ultimately, McConnell filed a cloture motion, a mechanism for limiting debate, which set up Sunday’s vote.

Saturday, Schumer tried again to halt confirmation proceedings by raising coronavirus relief legislation, but was blocked by the GOP. And the Republicans’ position grew even stronger Saturday afternoon, with Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — one of just two Republican senators who had objected to confirming a justice before the election — saying she would in fact vote to confirm Barrett during a floor vote.

On Sunday Murkowski, along with Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, were the only two Republicans to decline to vote to end debate. Murkowski, however, has signaled that her objection is over the timing of the vote, not with Barrett herself, and that she intends to vote to confirm Barrett on a floor vote.

“I’ve concluded she’s the sort of person we want on the Supreme Court,” Murkowski said of Barrett on Saturday, according to Politico. “While I oppose the process that led us to this point, I do not hold it against her.”

Barrett is likely to be confirmed Monday

A final confirmation vote is likely to take place on Monday evening, and barring unforeseen events, Barrett is all but certain to be confirmed.

Republicans need 51 votes to confirm Barrett, and have 53 in the Senate. They can afford to lose three votes, since Vice President Mike Pence can cast a tie-breaking vote in the case of a 50-50 draw.

But that is unlikely to be necessary, since only one Republican lawmaker is expected to defect: Collins, who is running a competitive race for reelection this year.

Political scientists say that the controversy surrounding the Barrett confirmation battle could increase turnout for the elections by illustrating how high stakes the next presidency is as the Supreme Court becomes an increasingly politicized institution.

According to polling for Data For Progress, likely voters split largely along party lines in their perception of whether it was appropriate for Republicans to press ahead with one of the most rapid confirmation processes in modern American history.

Schumer has indicated that the Democrats have considered boycotting the final confirmation vote in a display of dissent — and to send a message to the voters that they feel the process is illegitimate.

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White House defends Pence campaigning after aide’s COVID-19 test

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President Donald Trump’s chief of staff has defended a decision by Vice President Mike Pence to continue an aggressive campaign schedule even after Pence’s closest aide tested positive for COVID-19.

The decision to stay on the campaign trail, which was announced hours after the White House on Saturday said Pence’s Chief of Staff Marc Short tested positive for the virus, has been derided by public health experts.

At least four other people in Pence’s orbit have also tested positive, according to reports in United States media.

A spokesman for Pence, who has headed the White House coronavirus task force since late February, said he will continue to campaign with just nine days until the November 3 election because he is considered “essential personnel”. That exempts the vice president from quarantining, despite being a “close contact” to someone who has been infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, the spokesman said.

Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff, defended that assertion on Sunday, saying Pence is “not just campaigning, he’s working” during the last leg of the presidential contest.

Trump and Pence have multiple daily campaign events scheduled as part of a battleground-state blitz they hope will close the gap in polls with Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Meadows said Pence will wear a mask while campaigning, except for when he speaks at rallies.

“He’s wearing a mask as it relates to this particular thing because the doctors have advised him to do that,” he said during the interview.

Meadows also appeared to confirm a New York Times report that he had sought to prevent details of the infection from going public. When asked about the report, he said: “Sharing personal information is not something that we should do, not something that we do actually do, unless it’s the vice president or the president, or someone that’s very close to them where there is people in harm’s way.”

Pence, who held in-person rallies in Florida on Saturday, most recently tested negative on Sunday morning, hours before he was set to host a campaign event in North Carolina. Trump had tested positive for the virus on October 2 but was later cleared to return to campaigning after being briefly hospitalised.

‘Grossly negligent’

The decision to continue campaigning has been widely criticised by public health experts.

Dr Ali Nouri, a molecular biologist and president of the Federation of American Scientists, noted that Pence’s “negative test does not mean he is virus-free”.

“Even gold standard PCR tests don’t detect the virus in early stages when levels are low,” he tweeted on Sunday.

Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease expert at George Mason University, in an interview with The Associated Press news agency, called the decision “grossly negligent”.

“It’s just an insult to everybody who has been working in public health and public health response,” she said. “I also find it really harmful and disrespectful to the people going to the rally” and the people on Pence’s own staff who will accompany him.

“He needs to be staying home 14 days,” she added. “Campaign events are not essential.”

Meanwhile, Dr Leana Wen, a professor at George Washington University School of Public Health and the former health commissioner of Baltimore, said Pence’s decision sets a bad example for a country grappling with a new surge in cases.

The US has reported more than 83,000 new infections two days in a row, breaking its daily record for new cases on Friday. More than 224,000 people have died in the country from COVID-19.

“How can we ask our patients to follow public health guidelines when [Pence] won’t?” she wrote.

Cavalier approach

The plan for Pence largely underscores the cavalier approach to the coronavirus the Trump campaign has taken throughout the election season, even after the president, his wife and son tested positive.

The president has continued to host rallies with little social distancing and with some congregants not wearing masks. He has used his own experience, and the fact that his teenage son, Barron, was asymptomatic, to portray the pandemic as overblown by Democrats and the media.

As recently as Saturday, the president suggested the US might already have a vaccine if it were not for “politics”, renewing unfounded allegations that actors inside government agencies have been working to slow the development of an inoculant to hurt his chances at re-election.

That, despite public health experts repeatedly stressing that even the most ambitious timelines would not produce a safe vaccine before election day.

In an interview on Sunday, the White House’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci said it would be clear whether a government-supported COVID-19 vaccine was safe and effective by early December, but more widespread vaccination would not be likely until later in 2021.

“We will know whether a vaccine is safe and effective by the end of November, the beginning of December,” Fauci told the BBC.

“When you talk about vaccinating a substantial proportion of the population, so that you can have a significant impact on the dynamics of the outbreak, that very likely will not be until the second or third quarter of the year.”

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Road to 270: This state could be a ‘game over’ win for Biden

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CNN’s John King breaks down the spending and traveling of President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden in the run-up to Election Day.

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