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Morning Briefing Jan 21: The Biden era begins

Joe Biden is sworn in as US President, quarantine-free flights begin arriving in Auckland, and The Wiggles find themselves in hot water over their NZ tour.

Joe Biden has been sworn in as the 46th president of the United States.

Biden took his presidential oath just before 6am NZT on the steps of the US Capitol Building, two weeks after a pro-Donald Trump mob stormed the building, seeking to overturn the election result.

In an emotional inauguration speech, President Biden spoke of his hopes for America’s future and the importance of democracy to the country.

Kamala Harris made history this morning, too, becoming the first woman to be sworn in as vice president. Harris is also the first Black person and first person of South Asian descent to become vice president.

She was escorted to the podium by police officer Eugene Goodman, the man who single-handedly took on a mob of Trump supporters during the Capitol insurrection.

Former presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush attended this morning’s ceremony, as did Mike Pence, who chose Biden’s inauguration over his former boss’s send-off event at Joint Base Andrews. 

You can find 1 NEWS' live updates from the inauguration here.

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Trump leaves White House

Not in attendance at Biden’s inauguration was former US President Donald Trump. The first president in modern history to boycott his successor's inauguration, Trump has already arrived in Florida.

He did offer some rare, kind words to Biden in a farewell video yesterday, although he failed to address him by name. Trump also used the speech to make a variety of other claims about his time as president that the Associated Press has fact-checked here

Just before he officially left the White House for the last time, Trump used his presidential powers to pardon dozens of people, including his former adviser Steve Bannon, rapper Lil Wayne, and former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski.

Trump didn’t, however, issue any pre-emptive pardons for himself or his family members as had been widely speculated beforehand. 

Trump’s final hours at the White House were also marked by another grim milestone.

It was nearly a year ago that Trump insisted his administration had the coronavirus outbreak “totally under control”. Now, the Covid death toll in the US has just eclipsed 400,000 – and continues to grow exponentially.  

Quarantine-free flights begin

International arrivals will be able to sidestep quarantine for the first time in nearly 10 months today, with the beginning of a one-way quarantine-free travel route between New Zealand and the Cook Islands.

People from the Cook Islands can now skip managed isolation in New Zealand, however those heading the other way will still be subject to health entry requirements. 

Trans-Tasman travel arrangements were also back in the headlines yesterday, with Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly, urging New Zealand to reconsider its position on the current one-way quarantine-free travel arrangement there. 

Concern over Covid mutations

The race against Covid-19 has taken a new turn with mutations of the virus rapidly popping up around the world.

International health officials are now warning that the longer it takes to vaccinate the global population, the more likely a variant that can elude current tests, treatments and vaccines could emerge. 

Those warnings come as New Zealand looks ahead to its own Covid vaccination programme.

The Ministry of Health says approximately 10,000 border workers will be vaccinated when the first batches of vaccines arrive here.

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says the most likely vaccine to be used in New Zealand will be Pfizer’s, which is taken in two doses three weeks apart.

And with the wider vaccine rollout just months away, the pressure is on to find staff to administer the jab.

The Ministry of Health wants an extra 3000 vaccinators, however the NZ Nurses Organisation says that will be a challenge

Govt reveals public housing plan

The Government has released its latest Public Housing Plan, outlining where 8000 proposed housing spaces will go over the next three years. The plan features a mix of public and transitional housing announced in last year’s Budget.

Regional centres in the North Island, where there’s been large population growth and sharp price rises, are the focus. 

The move comes a day after other political parties called for urgent action amid an exploding public housing wait list and a continued rise in house prices.

National’s Nicola Willis says “housing has become more unaffordable than ever under Labour with more and more Kiwis struggling to find a home”.

The Greens’ Marama Davidson also reiterated her party’s belief that public housing builds need speeding up and taxing wealth or capital gains should take place. 

Wiggles tour in trouble?

The Wiggles may have landed themselves in hot water after selling thousands of tickets for their New Zealand tour without booking a stay in managed isolation.

Tickets went on sale in November, however a border exemption for the group wasn’t granted until a month later.

Slots in managed isolation are now booked up until the end of March – after their first show is set to begin.

Consumer NZ says selling tickets without all the necessary permissions could be considered bait advertising and in breach of the Fair Trading Act.

Other news of note this morning:

- Thousands of secondary school students will be able to access their provisional NCEA exam results today.

- An Upper Hutt woman has been charged with two burglaries following multiple reports of intruders on properties.

- The Police Association says officers want to be actively armed amid an apparent surge of gun-related violence.

- An explosive study has found the typical Kiwi roof is well adapted to withstand the fallout from a volcanic eruption.

- Wellington City Council is investigating a shipping container listed as a rental property for $390 per week online.

- A revised schedule for the Prada Cup, including “ghost races”, has been released following American Magic’s dramatic capsize.

- The Duchess of Sussex is seeking a court ruling over a “serious breach of her rights of privacy”.

- And Richie and Gemma McCaw have announced they’re expecting another baby this year. 

And finally.. 

When Donald Trump was inaugurated as US president four years ago, the star power at his celebrations was low wattage. Cover bands and mostly unknown acts abounded.

But not so at Joe Biden’s inauguration today.

From Lady Gaga singing the national anthem while sporting a very Gaga-esque brooch, to a musical special later today which will feature plucky up-and-comers like Bruce Springsteen, John Legend, Demi Lovato, Foo Fighters and Justin Timberlake, it’s safe to say Biden’s presidency is getting off to the more glittering start.