First Thing: US Covid-19 death rate now same as the 1918-19 flu pandemic

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<span>Photograph: Underwood Archives/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Underwood Archives/Getty Images

Good morning.

Covid-19 has now killed as many Americans as the 1918-19 flu pandemic – more than 675,000.

The US population a century ago was just one-third of what it is today, meaning the flu cut a much bigger, more lethal swath through the country. But the Covid-19 crisis is by any measure a colossal tragedy in its own right, especially given the incredible advances in scientific knowledge since then and the failure to take maximum advantage of the vaccines availablee.

Like the 1918-19 flu, the coronavirus may never entirely disappear from our midst. Instead, scientists hope it will become a mild seasonal bug as human immunity strengthens through vaccination and repeated infection. That could take time.

“We hope it will be like getting a cold, but there’s no guarantee,” said Rustom Antia, a biologist at Emory University, who suggests an optimistic scenario in which this could happen over a few years.

  • How many people are dying of Covid-19 a day? While the Delta variant-fueled surge in infections may have peaked, US deaths are more than 1,900 a day on average.

  • Will winter bring a new surge? Yes, the University of Washington’s influential model is projecting an additional 100,000 or so Americans will die of Covid-19 by 1 January.

  • How many people are vaccinated? Just under 64% of the US population have received as least one dose of the vaccine.

White House criticizes border agents who rounded up migrants on horseback

A US border patrol agent on horseback tries to stop a Haitian man from entering an encampment near the international bridge in Del Rio, Texas, on Sunday.
A US border patrol agent on horseback tries to stop a Haitian man from entering an encampment near the international bridge in Del Rio, Texas, on Sunday. Photograph: Paul Ratje/AFP/Getty Images

The White House on Monday responded critically to widely shared images of US border patrol agents in Texas rounding up Haitian migrants on horseback.

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, was asked if the use of horses and possibly whips, potent imagery in a country founded on slavery, represented an “appropriate tactic”.

She said: “I have seen some of the footage. I don’t have the full context. I can’t imagine what context would make that appropriate. I don’t think anyone seeing that footage would think it was acceptable or appropriate.”

More than 6,000 Haitians and other migrants have been removed from the encampment at the Texas border town of Del Rio, other US officials said Monday as they defended their strong response.

  • What has the homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas said? Calling it a “challenging and heartbreaking situation”, he issued a stark warning: “If you come to the United States illegally, you will be returned.”

  • What about the border control agents? Mayorkas and the border patrol chief, Raul Ortiz, said they would look into the agents’ actions but both officials said they saw nothing apparently wrong based on the photos and video.

Canada election result: Trudeau wins third term after early vote gamble

Justin Trudeau greets supporters with a thumbs-up as he celebrates his election victory in Montreal.
Justin Trudeau greets supporters with a thumbs-up as he celebrates his election victory in Montreal. Photograph: Eric Bolte/EPA

Justin Trudeau has won a third term as Canada’s prime minister, with his Liberal party set to capture the most votes in the snap election, a result he called a “clear mandate” to get the country through the pandemic.

With results still trickling in late Monday night, Trudeau was on track for another minority government, meaning he will once again need to work with other parties to pass legislation.

Elections Canada, which oversees the vote, had previously warned that some results would take days to be finalised as mail-in ballots are counted.

“You have given this government and this parliament clear direction,” Trudeau said from Montreal early on Tuesday morning, while acknowledging the decision to hold an early election was deeply unpopular.

  • Preliminary results indicated his Liberals had won or were leading in 156 seats – short of the 170 needed for a parliamentary majority.

  • Erin O’Toole’s opposition Conservatives had 121. The result largely mirrored the outcome of the 2019 election.

  • The prime minister gambled by calling an election in August in the hopes that the government’s pandemic response could boost his party’s power in parliament.

US supreme court to hear arguments in Mississippi case that threatens Roe v Wade

Abortion rights demonstrators rally outside the supreme court in Washington.
Abortion rights demonstrators rally outside the supreme court in Washington. Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

The US supreme court has set a date to hear arguments in a Mississippi case that could overturn Roe v Wade, the near-50-year-old ruling that guarantees a woman’s right to abortion.

Oral arguments in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization will be heard on 1 December. The case concerns a law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, a direct challenge to Roe v Wade.

News of the court date arrived amid controversy over a Texas law, known as SB8, which in effect bans abortion at six weeks and empowers citizens to sue providers and anyone who helps a woman access their services.

A San Antonio doctor who said he had performed an abortion in defiance of Texas’s new law has been sued, setting up a potential test of the legality of the extreme, near-total ban on the procedure.

  • What law does the Mississippi case concern? The law, known as the Gestational Age Act, allows abortion after 15 weeks in cases involving “medical emergencies or for severe fetal abnormality”. Like the Texas law, it contains no exception for rape or incest.

  • Who is the doctor being sued in Texas? It is Dr Alan Braid, who became the first Texas abortion provider to publicly reveal he violated the law when he wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post over the weekend.

In other news …

Phil Valentine, released a song called Vaxman, an anti-Covid vaccination ditty based on the Beatles track Taxman before he died from coronavirus.
Phil Valentine released Vaxman, an anti-Covid vaccination song based on the Beatles track Taxman, before he died from coronavirus. Photograph: Larry McCormack/AP
  • Phil Valentine, a prominent Tennessee rightwing talk radio host, died of Covid-19 after mocking the vaccine. Meanwhile, media watchdogs suggest some basic level of responsibility to the public should be required to keep a broadcast license.

  • At least 10 women and girls are murdered every day in Mexico, according to a report by by Amnesty International. The scathing study documents the scale of the violence and the disturbing lack of interest on the part of Mexican authorities to prevent or solve the murders.

  • Nearly three tonnes of heroin with a street value of $2.7bn from Afghanistan have been seized from a western Indian port, officials said. Two Indians were arrested with the heroin, which was kept in two containers marked as talc.

  • America’s restaurant industry is largely open for business again but is still struggling with labor shortages. Workers have attributed this to poor pay and working conditions and disrespect from customers – and are demanding better treatment from employers.

Stat of the day: Biden administration seeks to lift US refugee cap to 125,000 from 1 October

Refugees from Afghanistan waiting to board buses outside Dulles airport.
Refugees from Afghanistan waiting to board buses outside Dulles airport. Photograph: Nathan Posner/Rex/Shutterstock

The Biden administration wants to nearly double the number of refugees admitted to the US to 125,000 in the fiscal year starting on 1 October, in keeping with a campaign promise, according to the state department. The state department will consult with the Department of Homeland Security and Congress to lift the cap, which was set at 62,500 for the 2020 fiscal year, ending this month. Biden, a Democrat who took office in January, promised to reverse course after his predecessor, the Republican president Donald Trump, cut the refugee cap to just 15,000, the lowest level in the history of the modern refugee program.

Don’t miss this: mountain goat kills attacking grizzly bear with ‘dagger-like’ horns

A mountain goat stands on a ridge line in Juneau, Alaska.
A mountain goat stands on a ridge line in Juneau, Alaska. Photograph: Becky Bohrer/AP

With their long, sharp claws and frightening speed, few predators in Canada’s wild hinterlands attack as mercilessly as a hungry grizzly bear. But in a rare turn of events, park officials say a mountain goat not only defended itself from becoming a meal, but was able to kill the attacking bear with its “dagger-like” horns. The remains of the bear, who weighed only 70kg (154lb), was discovered on 4 September by a hiker near Field, British Columbia. Parks Canada said the recent forensic necropsy of a female grizzly bear suggested a goat’s horns pierced the bear’s armpits and neck.

Climate check: A Black town’s water is more poisoned than Flint’s. In a white town nearby, it’s clean

Tap water samples tested in 2018 revealed lead levels of 22 parts per billion – well over the federal lead action level of 15 parts per billion and higher, even, than the 20 parts per billion nearby Flint averaged at the height of the crisis that made that city a national symbol of environmental injustice. But for the last three years, neither the city of Benton Harbor, the county, nor the state have taken sufficient action. The health risks posed to the residents of this mostly Black, poverty-stricken city – which also happens to be the corporate headquarters of Whirlpool – are extraordinary. Despite this, as one resident said: “It’s like they don’t care.”

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Last thing: ‘We saw RuPaul in a loincloth and went, “Oh my God!”’

RuPaul’s Drag Race, which pits drag queens against one another in a lipstick-smudged, wig-strewn, basque-busting contest with a $100,000 prize, has notched up 13 seasons, won 19 Emmys and attracted guests such as Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande. Countless spin-offs and international iterations include live DragCon events as well as Drag Race UK. We talk to Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, the duo who took took RuPaul from obscurity to global fame and created a show that combines reality TV, talent contest, sketch comedy, spoof and musical.

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