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media captionGeorgia official Gabriel Sterling urges voters to cast ballots

The US state of Georgia is going to the polls for a second-round vote that will decide whether President-elect Joe Biden’s Democrats control the Senate.

Mr Biden’s party needs to win both seats in the state’s runoffs to gain full control of Congress – and with it the power to push forward his agenda.

The Republican Party of outgoing President Donald Trump needs only to win one in order to retain the Senate.

Mr Biden said Georgians could shape the US for years to come.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump told voters it was their “last chance to save the America” they loved.

  • ‘I’ve never seen this energy in Georgia before’

  • Why is the Georgia election so important?

Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue currently hold Georgia’s two Senate seats. Ms Loeffler is taking on Reverend Raphael Warnock and Mr Perdue is battling Jon Ossoff.

None of the candidates reached the 50% needed to win outright in the elections in November, forcing Tuesday’s runoffs under Georgia’s election rules. Voting began at 07:00 (12:00 GMT).

What’s at stake in Georgia?

The vote will decide the balance of power in the Senate.

The Republicans currently hold 52 of the 100 seats. If both Democrats win on Tuesday, the Senate will be evenly split, allowing incoming Democratic Vice-President Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote.

This would be crucial for pushing through Mr Biden’s agenda, including on key issues such as healthcare and environmental regulations – policy areas with strong Republican opposition.

media captionWhat’s in store for US President-elect Biden in 2021? Senior North America reporter Anthony Zurcher looks ahead

The Senate also has the power to approve or reject Mr Biden’s nominees for cabinet and judicial posts.

If Mr Ossoff and Mr Warnock both win, it would bring the White House, Senate and the House of Representatives under Democratic control for the first time since President Barack Obama’s election in 2008.

How will the vote proceed?

Voting should last about 12 hours, ending at 19:00 local time (midnight GMT), although all those still in line to vote at that time will be allowed to do so.

Democrats are hoping for a large turnout and have been buoyed by the fact that more than three million Georgians have already cast their ballots – nearly 40% of the state’s registered voters. Early voting was a key benefit for Joe Biden in the presidential election.

image copyrightReuters

image captionSenators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue are the candidates for the Republican Party

The Democrats will be looking to turn out supporters in major urban areas, particularly the suburbs of Atlanta. The issue of long lines of voters could be more of a problem for them.

For the Republicans, getting out voters on the day is even more crucial, and they will be looking to the stronghold of north Georgia, as well as rural areas and smaller towns.

Generally, results come in quickly but if these races are close, it could take days.

image copyrightEPA
image captionVoters in Tucker, Georgia, on Tuesday

Mr Perdue nearly won first time out against Mr Ossoff in November, falling just short of the needed majority with 49.7%. The other seat had more candidates, with Democrat Mr Warnock recording 32.9% to Ms Loeffler’s 25.9%.

A Democrat has not won a Senate race in Georgia in 20 years but the party will be boosted by Mr Biden’s presidential election win over Mr Trump there. Mr Biden’s margin of victory was about 12,000 votes among five million cast.

How important is the black vote for the Democrats?

Georgia’s black community is more than double America’s national proportion, making up a third of the population.

image copyrightEPA
image captionRaphael Warnock (left) and Jon Ossoff are the Democratic candidates

Across America, nine in 10 black voters supported Mr Biden in the presidential election, according to a survey of more than 110,000 voters for the Associated Press.

In Georgia, voting rights activists like former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams have played a major part in driving up black support for the Democrats and delivering the state for Mr Biden in November.

Candidate Raphael Warnock serves as the senior pastor of the Atlanta church where assassinated civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr grew up and preached.

If elected, the Baptist preacher would be the first black person to represent the state in the US Senate, as well as just the 11th black senator in American history.

What have Biden and Trump said?

Both attended rallies in the state on Monday evening.

Mr Biden told voters in Atlanta: “Georgia, the whole nation is looking to you.”

Flanked by Mr Ossoff and Mr Warnock, he said: “Unlike any time in my career, one state – one state – can chart the course, not just for the four years but for the next generation.”

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionMr Biden campaigned in Georgia, saying “the power is literally in your hands”
media captionTrump: “If [Pence] doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much”

In Dalton, President Trump told voters the Georgia runoffs were the “last line of defence” against the Democrats.

“The whole world is watching,” he said.

The president spent a lot of his speech repeating claims he had won the presidential election – and unsubstantiated allegations of widespread voter fraud.

Republican officials are worried this could depress turnout in Tuesday’s vote although Mr Trump played this down, telling voters to “swarm it”.

Joe Biden’s first big test

It’s just over two weeks until Joe Biden’s inauguration, but the first real test of his presidency is on Tuesday.

If Democrats pick up the two seats and forge a 50-50 tie in the upper chamber, it’s still far from certain that Biden will be able to enact the kind of sweeping legislation on the environment, healthcare and the economy that he proposed during his successful presidential campaign. The narrowness of the margin will ensure that any laws will have to be supported by centrists in his party, like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Arizona’s two senators.

It will, however, give the new president a fighting chance at legislative accomplishments – and make it significantly easier for him to appoint the administration officials and federal judges of his choice.

If the Republicans hold on, then Democratic hopes will rest on the whims of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a handful of Republican moderates.

Is Trump still challenging the White House election?

Mr Trump – who is due to leave office on 20 January – said at his Georgia rally: “They’re not taking this White House. We’re going to fight like hell.”

He hinted that he wanted Vice-President Mike Pence, in his role as president of the Senate, to reject Mr Biden’s win when Congress meets on Wednesday to certify the election results.

“If he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much,” he said.

Some Republicans including Kelly Loeffler have signalled they will raise objections to the presidential election result in the House and Senate, requiring a debate and vote. Senator Ted Cruz, once a staunch critic of the president, is now his major ally.

media captionSenator Ted Cruz on Donald Trump: Then and now

But with other Republicans saying they will not contest Mr Biden’s victory, the votes questioning it would not succeed.

In his speech, Mr Biden accused Mr Trump of “whining and complaining” about the election result rather than concentrating on the Covid-19 pandemic.

Over the weekend it was revealed Mr Trump had pressured Georgia’s top election official, secretary of state Brad Raffensperger, to “find” votes that would reverse his defeat in the state.

Mr Biden won 306 votes to Mr Trump’s 232 in the US electoral college, which confirms the US president. Mr Biden won at least seven million more votes than the president.

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Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump

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“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in the letter to Democrats on Sunday night laying out next steps.

The House will try to pass a measure on Monday imploring Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, through which he and the Cabinet declare Trump “incapable of executing the duties of his office, after which the Vice President would immediately exercise powers as acting president.” If Republicans object, as is virtually certain, Democrats will pass the bill via a roll call vote on Tuesday.

“We are calling on the Vice President to respond within 24 hours,” Pelosi wrote. “Next, we will proceed with bringing impeachment legislation to the Floor.”

But it’s not clear when exactly the Senate will take up the House’s measure. The Senate isn’t scheduled to return until Jan. 19, but will hold pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Friday. In theory, a senator could try to pass the House resolution by unanimous consent, but as of now it appears unlikely that it would pass.

On Monday, multiple House Democrats plan to introduce impeachment resolutions that would become the basis of any impeachment article considered by the House later this week.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who will introduce an article of impeachment against Trump on Monday, said on Sunday that roughly 200 Democrats have co-sponsored the measure.

Currently, 211 voting members (plus three nonvoting members) support Cicilline’s legislation, and they are hoping to reach 217 voting members by Monday morning, enough for the House to impeach Trump, one Democratic source familiar with the matter told POLITICO.

A small number of Democrats have opted not to co-sign the bill, but privately say they will vote to support the resolution on the floor, the source added.

The impeachment effort in the House is likely to be bipartisan, with Democrats expecting at least one GOP lawmaker — Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — to sign on. A handful of other House Republicans are seriously weighing it, according to several sources, though those lawmakers are waiting to see how Democrats proceed, and some are concerned about dividing the country even further.

Among the GOP members whom Democrats are keeping an eye on are Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington.

Across the Capitol, at least two Republicans — Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have called on Trump to resign. On Saturday, Toomey told Fox News, “I do think the president committed impeachable offenses,” but told CNN the next day that he does not believe there is enough time to impeach.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has also said he would consider articles of impeachment.

Another option has emerged among some Republican and moderate Democratic circles — censuring Trump — though it remains highly unlikely to advance.

A censure resolution would gain far more support in the GOP than impeachment. Some Republicans have privately been pushing for that route and are trying to get Biden on board, according to GOP sources. That group of Republicans is also warning that impeachment could destroy Biden’s reputation with Republicans.

But censure is considered a nonstarter in an incensed House Democratic Caucus, where members see it as a slap on the wrist that gives Republicans an easy out.

The Democrats’ enormous step toward impeachment on Sunday comes after Pelosi and other top Democrats held a private call on Saturday night in which they discussed the potential ramifications that a lengthy impeachment trial could have on Biden’s presidency.

Democratic leaders discussed several options to limit the political effects on Biden’s first 100 days, with one option — floated by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — for the House to delay the start of an impeachment trial in the Senate by holding on to the article of impeachment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent out a memo to senators explaining that the Senate could not take up impeachment until Jan. 19 at the earliest, absent unanimous consent.

A final decision has not been made, and House Democrats will discuss the matter on a 2 p.m. caucus call on Monday.

Lawmakers are already privately expressing concerns about returning to the Capitol for multiple days this week, worried about both a potential coronavirus outbreak and whether the building is secure, given how easily an armed pro-Trump mob invaded on Wednesday.

The Capitol physician urged House lawmakers and staff to get tested in a memo Sunday, saying they might have been exposed to someone who had the virus while huddling for safety in a large committee room for hours on Wednesday. During the hourslong lockdown, several Republican members refused to wear masks despite being offered them by Democrats worried about the spread of the deadly virus.

Melanie Zanona, Olivia Beavers and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout

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Matt Hancock has agreed to remove some of the training modules required for volunteers to sign up to deliver the Covid-19 vaccine (PA)


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Matt Hancock said people will no longer need to undertake training including an anti-terrorism course to give the coronavirus jab after MPs said “bureaucratic rubbish” was delaying mass vaccination.

It comes as MPs called for the government to produce targets for the number of people given immunity before lockdown can be lifted.

The health secretary said a series of “unnecessary training modules” are being scrapped to speed up the process of getting people qualified to deliver the jab.

Speaking in the Commons, Sir Edward Leigh said he was shown by his fellow the Tory MP, a qualified GP, the “ridiculous form” he had filled out to start delivering the vaccine.

“When he’s inoculating an old lady, he’s not going to ask her if she’s come into contact with Jihadis or whatever, so the Secretary has got to cut through all this bureaucratic rubbish,” he said.

In response Mr Hancock said: “I am a man after Sir Edward’s heart and I can tell the House that we have removed a series of the unnecessary training modules that had been put in place, including fire safety, terrorism and others.

“I’ll write to him with the full panoply of the training that is not required and we have been able to remove, and we made this change as of this morning and I am glad to say it is enforced.

“I am a fan of busting bureaucracy and in this case I agree with him that it is not necessary to undertake anti-terrorism training in order to inject vaccines.”

Dr Fox had earlier challenged Boris Johnson to drop the “bureaucracy” and “political correctness” of the forms vaccine volunteers must fill out.

He told MPs: “As a qualified but non-practising doctor, I volunteered to help with the scheme and would urge others to do the same. 

“But, can I ask the Prime Minister why I’ve been required to complete courses on conflict resolution, equality, diversity and human rights, moving and handling loads and preventing radicalisation in order to give a simple Covid jab?”

Mr Johnson said he had been “assured by the Health Secretary that all such obstacles, all such pointless pettifoggery has been removed”.

The government has been attempting to recruit thousands of volunteers to help with a mass vaccination programme, and with the recent approval of the more easily deliverable Oxford/AstraZeneca version has today revealed the location of seven mass vaccination centres set to open next week.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists at a briefing they would be at Robertson House in Stevenage, the ExCel Centre in London, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester, Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Millennium Point in Birmingham, and it is expected they will be run with a combination of NHS staff and volunteers.

But so far the government has not said how many people need to be inoculated before it has an impact on the coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Hancock was asked by a number of MPs if the measures could be eased once the top few tiers in the vaccine priority list had been clear.

Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said once the top four groups, which includes care home residents and staff, frontline NHS workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over 70 “we’ve taken care therefore of 80% of the risk of death”.

Adding: “What possible reason is there at that point for not rapidly relaxing the restrictions that are in place on the rest of our country?”

The health secretary replied: “We have to see the impact of that vaccination on the reduction in the number of deaths, which I very much hope that we will see at that point, and so that is why we will take this – an evidence-led move down through the tiers, when we’ve broken the link, I hope, between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.”

The ex-Tory minister and another doctor, Andrew Murrison, said: “The logic of anticipating what is going to happen in two or three or four weeks’ time from the number of cases we are getting at the moment is that we can do the same in reverse.

“That is to say, when we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated up we can anticipate in two or three or four weeks’ time how many deaths have been avoided. 

“That means, since it cuts both ways he will be able to make a decision on when we should end these restrictions.”

Mr Hancock replied: “The logic of the case that Dr Murrison makes is the right logic and we want to see that happen in empirical evidence on the ground.

“This hope for the weeks ahead doesn’t take away, though, from the serious and immediate threat posed now.”

The Cabinet minister said the challenge for the government is to increase the amount of doses available, claiming “the current rate-limiting factor on the vaccine rollout is the supply of approved, tested, safe vaccine”.

He added: ”We are working with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer to increase that supply as fast as possible and they’re doing a brilliant job.”

But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the government to ramp up its vaccination programme to six million doses a week.

He told the Commons: “The Prime Minister has promised almost 14 million will be offered the vaccine by mid-Feb. That depends on around two million doses a week on average.

“Both [Mr Hancock] and the Prime Minister have reassured us in recent days that it’s doable based on orders.

“But in the past ministers have told us that they had agreements for 30 million AstraZeneca doses by September 2020 and 10 million of Pfizer doses by the end of 2020.

“So, I think people just want to understand the figures and want clarity. Can ministers tell us how many of the ordered doses have been manufactured?”

Mr Ashworth added: “Two million a week would be fantastic but it should be the limit of our ambitions, we should be aiming to scale up to three, then five, then six million jabs a week over the coming months.”

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How South African police are tackling pangolin smugglers

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Quiet, solitary and nocturnal, the pangolin has few natural enemies, but researchers believe it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. The tough scales covering its body are sought after for use in Chinese medicine, in the erroneous belief that they have healing properties.

The animal has also been of interest to researchers during the coronavirus pandemic. Related viruses have been found in trafficked pangolins, though there is continued uncertainty around early theories that pangolins were involved in the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.

After South African police seized a pangolin from suspected smugglers, BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding witnessed how vets tried to save the animal’s life.

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