First Thing: Trump winds down pandemic response as cases ramp up

Tim Walker
Photograph: Eric Gay/AP

Good morning. The White House confirmed on Wednesday that it plans to end federal funding for 13 coronavirus test sites, on the same day the US recorded 34,700 new cases of the disease, the country’s highest one-day total since the pandemic’s original peak in late April. Seven of those 13 testing sites are in Texas, where the spike in cases has seen hospitals in Houston, America’s fourth-largest city, fast approaching their capacity.

Infections are surging in California, too, where confirmed cases of Covid-19 have increased by 69% in just two days. The pandemic is also complicating the state’s preparations for another potentially devastating wildfire season.

A grand jury indicted three men for Ahmaud Arbery’s murder

The suburban street where Ahmaud Arbery was shot dead in Brunswick, Georgia, in February. Photograph: Dustin Chambers/Reuters

Three white men who chased down and shot dead the black jogger Ahmaud Arbery on a suburban street in Brunswick, Georgia have been indicted by a grand jury on charges including felony murder. Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William Bryan have been in custody since their arrests last month for the February killing, which helped to fuel the nationwide protests over racial violence and the police killings of black Americans.

The Democrats are planning a virtual convention

The DNC is dramatically scaling back plans for its physical conventions at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee. Photograph: Eric Baradat/AFP/Getty Images

Joe Biden intends to appear in person to accept his party’s presidential nomination in Milwaukee in August. But most of his audience will likely be watching not in a packed arena, but via live broadcasts and online streams, after the Democratic National Committee unveiled plans to conduct most of the event’s official business virtually – including the votes to nominate Biden and his running mate.

The pandemic will also have a significant impact on the election process in November. With record numbers of mail-in voting expected, reports Sam Levine, it is more than likely that the results of the presidential election will not be known on election night.

Barr’s politicisation of the DoJ is ’worse than Watergate’

Trump’s longtime adviser Roger Stone was “treated differently” to other defendants thanks to his relationship with the president, a federal prosecutor told Congress on Wednesday, at a hearing into the politicisation of the justice department under attorney general William Barr. Aaron Zelinsky, who was on the Mueller investigation, said that after Stone was convicted on seven counts, Barr intervened to slash his sentence from nine years to 40 months.

Among the other witnesses on Wednesday was Donald Ayer, a deputy attorney general under George HW Bush, who – despite Republican attempts to disrupt his testimony – described Barr as “a major threat to our legal system” and called his politicisation of the DoJ “worse than Watergate”.

In other news…

  • A Tanzanian subsistence miner unearthed the two largest tanzanite gemstones ever found. Saniniu Laizer said he wanted to build a shopping mall and a school with the $3.35m that the country’s mining ministry paid him for the vast, violet gemstones, which have a combined weight of around 30lbs.

  • Atheists and humanists face discrimination and persecution from religious majorities around the world, according to a new study, based on testimony from eight countries, published by Humanists International.

  • DC is bidding to become the 51st US state, with the House Democratic majority expected to vote in favour of a statehood bill for the nation’s capital on Friday. The legislation will almost certainly fail to pass the senate, however.

Great reads

An Asian hornet in pursuit of a honeybee. Photograph: Jean-François Monier/AFP/Getty Images

The race to protect America’s bees from the ‘murder hornet’

Beekeepers across western Canada and the US have turned hunter, hoping to track down and destroy an invasive population of Asian hornets, aka the “murder hornet” – which poses a deadly threat to honeybees. Leyland Cecco learns more about their efforts.

The radical history of gay liberation

The Pride movement was born half a century ago, when the police raided the Stonewall gay bar in Greenwich Village. But as Huw Lemmy explains, the fight for LGBTQ+ rights really began decades earlier, in prewar Germany and postwar California.

How Bandcamp became the heroes of streaming

Bandcamp and Spotify were created in the same year, but while the music industry may have remade itself in Spotify’s image over the past decade, Bandcamp is a slow-burn success – built on support for artists, as its founder Ethan Diamond tells Chal Ravens.

Opinion: Rehabilitating Covid survivors is a long, hard path

Cate Leighton is a physiotherapist in Britain’s NHS. After coronavirus survivors’ lives are saved in the ICU, she says, they face a Herculean task in rehabilitating and returning to their lives.

Never have I seen the cracked-glass effect on lung CT scans like those of Covid-19 patients. I have stared at them wondering where the breath is coming from, worrying if they will be able to conjure up the respiratory effort to sit, stand, step, move, live.

Last Thing: the transatlantic tea war

In what may be the most severe transatlantic disagreement over tea since the American Revolution, the UK ambassador to Washington and her US opposite number in London are embroiled in a brouhaha over how best to prepare a hot drink – all because of a TikTok video.

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