USDA Gets Realistic on China Corn Imports, But China’s Ag Ministry Hiding Imports

Posted on 02/10/2021 8:19 AM

Democrats detail billions for ag sector, focusing on equity aid to farmers of color

 


In Today’s Digital Newspaper


 

Market Focus:
• USDA reports cancellation of 132,000 MT corn to unknown destinations during 2020-21
• U.S. orange crop for 2020-21 forecast 11% smaller than previous season: USDA
• China’s Shanghai stock index hit a 5.5-year high
• Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing world’s most valuable exchange group
• Survey: 1 in 5 Americans playing the stock market

• Fed’s Main Street Program ends with just $17.5 billion in loans
• A cattle rancher senator owns Bitcoin
• How trader/analyst Richard Crow sums up USDA reports on Tuesday
• Copper prices on Tuesday reached highest settle value since February 2013
• Ag demand update
• Anec remains optimistic about an uptick in Brazilian soybean exports this month

• FranceAgriMer again raises its outlook for French soft wheat exports beyond the EU

• Ukraine nowhere near hitting its 24 MMT cap on wheat exports

• Indian soymeal exports surge vs. year-ago

• Latvia reported its first case of avian flu

• China approves cattle imports from Laos

• ASF reported in Hong Kong

• Big jump in cash hog prices amid cold weather

 

Policy Focus:
• House Ag panel to debate $16.112 billion stimulus measure
• USDA said it backs Farmers of Color Act legislation
• Republicans on the House & Senate Ag Committees upset re: lack of aid participation
• Financial Services stimulus markup
• House Ways and Means Committee begins tax portions of stimulus bill
• House Oversight and Reform Committee details $350 bil. in state/local aid  
• Restaurants, small businesses get fresh relief in draft package
• Dems’ coronavirus relief proposal includes major changes to Affordable Care Act
• President Biden met with CEOs to push his stimulus plan

 

Biden Administration Personnel

• Senate panel approves Regan nomination to top EPA post
• Biden picks ex-Obama climate official for Energy Department deputy

 

China Update:
• China’s Ag Ministry’s forecast of total corn imports more off kilter than USDA
• Still some questions about USDA’s China corn numbers
• China’s ban on Australian coal imports is intensifying a crisis in its coal market
• Huawei challenges its status as a national security threat

 

Trade Policy:
• Trade deals are key, farmers say
• British meat processors registering in EU to bypass post-Brexit export delays

 

Energy & Climate Change:

• Boozman attacks Biden/Dems’ climate change proposals
• Boozman: Gina McCarthy will determine EPA policy
• Boozman raised doubts about expanding conservation programs via climate strategy
• BOEM extends comment period on exploratory drilling on Arctic Outer Continental shelf

 

Food & Beverage Industry:

• Aunt Jemima rebranded as Pearl Milling Company


Coronavirus Update:
• Newly reported Covid-19 cases in the U.S. dropped 56% over past month
• People may need to get vaccinated against Cocis-19 annually over next several years
• Biden admin. considering rule requiring negative Covid-19 test results for domestic air travel  
• CVS and Walgreens will begin vaccinating select populations in stores this week

 

Politics & Elections:
• Democrats will begin formally making case to convict former President Trump


Other Items of Note:
• Senate plans action by spring on infrastructure

 


MARKET FOCUS


 

Equities today: U.S. equity futures are up. Inflation data this morning is expected to show steady but slow gains in January. Global stock markets were mostly higher overnight. China’s Shanghai stock index hit a 5.5-year high, on the last day of trading before the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday begins. The Hang Seng Index rose 562.53 points, 1.91%, at 30,038.72. Japan’s Nikkei was up 57.00 points, 0.19%, at 29,562.93. European equity markets are mostly higher.

 

     U.S. equities yesterday: The Dow ended down 9.93 points, 0.03%, at 31,375.83. The Nasdaq rose 20.06 points, 0.14%, at 14,007.70, a new record finish. The S&P 500 eased 4.36 points, 0.11%, at 3,911.23.

 

     Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing is now the world’s most valuable exchange group, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence data. HKEX shares have risen 92% in the past 12 months, according to S&P.

 

     One in five Americans are now playing the stock market as Covid-19 creates an army of day traders. Booming markets and spare cash have encouraged Americans to trade, a new survey said (link).

 

On tap today:

 

     • European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde speaks at a webinar organized by The Economist at 8 a.m. ET.
     • U.S. consumer prices are expected to rise 0.3% in January from a month earlier, and 1.5% from a year earlier. Excluding food and energy, prices are expected to increase 0.1% and 1.5%. (8:30 a.m. ET)
     • U.S. wholesale inventories for December are expected to rise 0.1% from a month earlier. (10 a.m. ET)
     • Bank of England Gov. Andrew Bailey delivers a Mansion House speech at 12 p.m. ET.
     • Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell speaks about the labor market at an Economic Club of New York webinar at 2 p.m. ET.
     • U.S. federal budget deficit for January is expected to widen to $150 billion from $33 billion a year earlier. (2 p.m. ET)

 

Fed’s Main Street Program ends with just $17.5 billion in loans. The Federal Reserve’s Main Street Lending Program, which was designed to provide emergency support to mid-size U.S. companies during the pandemic, lent out a total $17.5 billion — or just 3% of its potential capacity — according to data released yesterday by the central bank.

 

A senator owns Bitcoin. Cynthia Lummis is a cattle rancher, libertarian and the Senate’s only known Bitcoin holder. The Wyoming Republican, a vocal crypto supporter, sensed an opportunity after Tesla’s $1.5 billion Bitcoin investment made headlines this week: She asked Elon Musk on Twitter if he’d considered moving to her home state, boasting that “it has the best laws for digital assets.” She sits on the Senate Banking Committee, among others, and is starting a Financial Innovation Caucus, the New York Times reports, where she’ll try to persuade colleagues to go the way of Wyoming. The state has drawn crypto companies with fintech regulations that make it more attractive to set up shop there, the senator explained. Bitcoin investments by Tesla and other companies, and concerns about Chinese fintech dominance, highlight the need for federal laws, she said. “Congress’s lack of fiscal discipline is responsible for debasing our currency,” she told the NYT, explaining her interest in decentralized digital assets. “Debt addiction is decimating savers’ return on their hard-earned dollar,” she added. Before winning her Senate seat in November, Lummis was Wyoming’s state treasurer and served four terms in the House.

 

Market perspectives:

 

     • Outside markets: The U.S. dollar index is trading slightly lower. Nymex crude oil futures prices are higher and hit another 13-month high overnight and are trading around $58.70 a barrel. The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note yield is currently fetching 1.16%.


     • How trader/analyst Richard Crow sums up USDA reports on Tuesday: “USDA s/d report for corn left many questions. The carryout number of 1.5 billion bushels was some 200 million over the trade estimates and some 300 to 400 million over the private trade expectation.  USDA raised the export number only 50 million bushels which leaves them some 200 to 300 million bushels over others. USDA did acknowledge China’s buying by raising them to 24 million tons.  With Ukraine having shipped 4 million tons to China for the Sept. to Jan period, USDA should have 20 million tons from the U.S.  However, envelope calculations would say USDA has accounted for only 15 million tons. Questions that will only be answered as the grain is shipped. USDA did lower the EU, Japan, Korea, and Saudi imports 4 million tons. With China still a question, the market read the corn information as USDA sees rationing taking place. South America’s production was left unchanged.  Brazil’s second crop is late being planted and dry weather in Arg are two variables to watch going forward.  A late planted Brazil crop could mean more exports from July to August from the U.S.”

 

     • Copper prices on Tuesday reached their highest settle value since February 2013. Front month Comex copper for February delivery gained 1.5% to $3.7335 per pound.

 

    • USDA: cancellation of 132,000 MT corn to unknown destinations during 2020-21.

     • U.S. orange crop for 2020-21 forecast 11% smaller than the previous season, led by a 26% collapse in production of early, mid-season and navel oranges in Florida, USDA said.

 

     • Ag demand: Japan’s ag ministry purchased 50,720 MT of food-quality wheat from the U.S. in a regular tender, as well as 36,125 MT of the grain from Canada. The country is also seeking 80,000 MT of feed wheat and 100,000 MT of feed barley via a simultaneous buy and sell auction.

 

Items in Pro Farmer's First Thing Today include (Link to subscribe to FTT):

     • Anec remains optimistic about an uptick in Brazilian soybean exports this month
     • FranceAgriMer again raises its outlook for French soft wheat exports beyond the EU
     • Ukraine nowhere near hitting its 24 MMT cap on wheat exports
     • Indian soymeal exports surge vs. year-ago
     • Latvia reported its first case of avian flu
     • China approves cattle imports from Laos
     • ASF reported in Hong Kong
     • Big jump in cash hog prices amid cold weather

 


POLICY FOCUS


 

—  House Ag panel to debate $16.112 billion stimulus measure that includes a funding for racial justice payments. The committee’s draft bill is part of the $1.9 trillion stimulus package pushed by Democrats and President Joe Biden. The ag portion (link) includes:

  • $5 billion to help farmers of color that Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) released in a legislative proposal on Tuesday (see Tuesday’s Policy Updates for details).
  • $1 Billion in assistance to and support for community-based organizations and 1890 Land Grant and other minority-serving institutions that work with Black farmers and other farmers of color on land access, financial training, heirs property issues, training the next generation and access to education.
  • Farm Loan Assistance for Black farmers and other farmers of color.
  • Extending 15% SNAP benefit increase through Sept. 30, 2021.
  • $37 million to the Commodity Supplemental Food Program to fill a gap that has grown as food for this program has become scarcer during the pandemic.
  • $500 million in Community Facility Program funds to help rural hospitals and local communities broaden access to Covid-19 vaccines & food assistance.
  • $3.6 billion for the Secretary of Agriculture to continue to help the food and ag sector supply chains — to purchase commodities, such as fresh produce and dairy, and aid the food supply chain.
  • $100 million in overtime fee relief to small meat and poultry processors currently grappling with Covid-19-related backlogs.
  • $800 million for the Food for Peace program, including for purchases of U.S.-grown crops used in international humanitarian aid.

     Meanwhile, USDA said it backs Farmers of Color Act legislation. USDA is welcoming the legislation introduced in the Senate and companion measure expected today in the House — the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act. Katharine Ferguson, USDA Chief of Staff, said, “We are pleased to see the introduction of the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act yesterday in the Senate, a bill that will bring much-needed economic assistance during the pandemic and begin to advance equity for farmers of color. The bill is the culmination of hard work and collaboration among members of the Senate and House and new leadership at USDA who share a common purpose to end inequity in our food and agricultural systems. It’s a bill crafted to address the immediate need for debt relief among those who have been marginalized and are hurting while also advancing long-term issues such as Heirs’ Property, tackling the root causes of discrimination via an Equity Commission, and investing in building back a new generation of farmers of color.”


— Republicans on the House and Senate Ag Committees are upset they weren’t included in the drafting of the ag stimulus package. Senate Ag ranking member John Boozman (R-Ark.) told a crop insurance group: “No Republican has any idea regarding what’s in it in the way of agriculture.”

 

— Financial Services stimulus markup. Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) will convene the House Financial Services Committee today to vote on its portion of coronavirus stimulus legislation. The panel was charged, under terms of the 2021 budget adopted last week by Congress, with writing up legislation totaling $75 billion in deficit increases. According the committee’s draft legislation, that will include $10 billion to use the Defense Production Act to produce masks and other Covid-19 equipment, $25 billion for rental assistance, and $5 billion in assistance for the homeless. The bulk of the rental aid program would run through the Treasury Department. Homeowners would benefit from $10 billion for direct assistance with mortgage payments, property tax payments and utility costs.

 

— House Ways and Means Committee begins process to approve the tax portions of the stimulus bill. That text includes another round of relief checks, paid-leave benefits, and widened tax credits for families with children and low-income individuals. It also addresses the extended unemployment benefits that Biden called for in his overall $1.9 trillion proposal.

 

— House Oversight and Reform Committee released its draft of stimulus legislation, which proposed $350 billion in state and local aid, and said it planned to mark up the bill Friday at noon ET. The measure sets up a new dedicated state and local fund in order to bypass the traditional appropriations process which is not eligible for budget reconciliation. States would receive $195 billion and that money would partly be distributed based on a the share of unemployed workers. The District of Columbia would get the same share as states, unlike in last year’s relief bill. Local governments would receive $130 billion, partly based on population, with a carve-out for smaller communities. Territories would receive $4.5 billion and tribes $20 billion.

 

     The bill also would spend $570 million to pay for 600 hours of paid leave for federal and postal workers to use for Covid quarantine or to care for infected loved ones.

 

     “Democrats’ plan to bail out locked-down, poorly managed liberal states is unfair to American taxpayers and is ripe for waste, fraud, and abuse,” said the committee’s top Republican James Comer of Kentucky.

 

— Restaurants, small businesses get fresh relief in draft package. House Democrats have allotted $7.5 billion in additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) of forgivable loans for small businesses. The House Small Business Committee released its draft language for its elements of President Biden’s Covid-19 relief plan, one of a dozen panels working on the bill. The PPP only just re-opened last month, thanks to fresh funding approved in the December aid bill. The House Small Business Committee will vote on the text today. The new proposal creates a $25 billion program for restaurants and other food and drinking establishments. A fifth of the funding will be set aside for the smallest firms — those with 2019 revenue of less than $500,000. The grants, available in amounts as large as $10 million per entity, may be used for expenses including payroll, mortgage, rent and utilities. The new initiative would be welcome news in the hospitality industry, which has been among the hardest hit during the pandemic crisis.

 

— Democrats' coronavirus relief proposal includes major changes to the Affordable Care Act. The aim is to make health insurance more affordable for millions of people who have lost employer coverage during the pandemic. House Ways and Means legislation includes these enhancements:

  • People making up to 150% of federal poverty would be eligible for fully subsidized plans. No one — regardless of income — would pay more than 8.5% of their income for health insurance.
  • People receiving unemployment would get full subsidies for a year.

— President Biden met with CEOs to push his stimulus plan. The leaders of Gap, JPMorgan Chase, Lowe’s and Walmart met with Biden to discuss his $1.9 trillion proposal and efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

 


BIDEN ADMINISTRATION PERSONNEL


 

—  Senate panel approves Regan nomination to top EPA post. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted 14-to-six Tuesday (Feb. 9) to approve the nomination of Michael Regan to serve as EPA Administrator. Four Republicans — Sens. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) — joined the panel’s 10 Democrats in support. The six Republicans voting no — Sens. Shelly More Capito (R-W.Va.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyoming), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) — indicated their vote was not so much against Regan as against the Biden administration’s climate policies. “As an individual, he is exactly the sort of person that I would like to see leading a federal agency but unfortunately officials in place at the White House and at the EPA already have set the agenda before he even achieves the office,” Ranking Member Capito said. “It is unclear whether Secretary Regan, if confirmed, would have any authority to stop the regulatory march towards the Green New Deal. Without clear commitments to oppose some policies that would economically devastate my state, I cannot support him.” It is not yet clear when his nomination will be taken up by the full Senate, but he is expected to be approved by the chamber to take the top EPA post.

 

— Biden picks ex-Obama climate official for Energy Department deputy. President Biden plans to nominate David Turk, a former Obama administration official, as his deputy energy secretary. “Growing up in a small Midwestern town, I saw up close our community struggle when the local steel mill downsized and laid off more and more workers,” the Rock Falls, Ill., native said in a statement provided to the Washington Post. His nomination is expected to be made public later today. “If confirmed, I’ll carry this experience to my work at the Department of Energy to make sure we listen to the voices of workers and families impacted by changing economic conditions so the clean energy future we build creates good-paying jobs in all corners of our country,” Turk said. He also worked for the State Department as a deputy envoy for climate change and at the National Security Council. And on Capitol Hill, he worked for Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), a lead author of a major cap-and-trade bill, and Biden himself when he was a senator from Delaware.
 


CHINA UPDATE


 

If you think USDA’s World Board was slow regarding getting realistic on China’s total corn imports, take a look at China’s Ag Ministry. China’s big corn purchases caught China's Ministry of Agriculture off guard. The Ministry's monthly "CASDE" report also predicted China's corn imports would be 7 million metric tons until they grudgingly lifted their estimate to 10 MMT in January. It was left at 10 MMT in its February report issued this week. Last April, China's ag ministry predicted that China's corn imports would gradually rise over the decade to just under 6.5 MMT in 2029. So the question: Can you believe any numbers from China’s CASDE?

 

     As for USDA’s World Board… USDA’s China corn import forecast shifts did not start until November 2020. USDA’s China corn import forecast for 2020-21 started at 7 million tonnes in the May 2020 WASDE report and stayed there through the October 2020 report. In November, USDA upped the outlook to 13 million tonnes and increased it in December 2020 to 16.5 million tonnes. In January 2021, the corn import forecast was raised to 17.5 million tonnes and USDA upped that in the Feb. 9 WASDE report to 24 million tonnes.

 

— Still some questions about USDA’s China corn numbers. In its monthly balance sheet update yesterday, as previously noted, USDA hiked its 2020-21 Chinese corn import projection by 6.5 MMT to a record-high 24 MMT, a move many in the industry say was long overdue based on export commitments and shipments already on the books. But in a bit of a head scratcher, USDA only raised Chinese corn use 2 MMT, shifting the remaining 4.5 MMT into ending stocks and pushing global carryover higher than expected. Pro Farmer analysts say that while certainly there has been talk about China rebuilding its corn reserves, record-high corn prices, active reserve auctions and market chatter about shortages seem to paint a tighter Chinese corn stocks picture. Between May and September, China auctioned off 56.84 MMT of mostly 2015 reserve corn. USDA is calling for Chinese corn ending stocks of 196.18 MMT, which would be just a 2% drop from year-ago levels. When China is excluded, global corn stocks are at an eight-year low.

 

— China’s ban on Australian coal imports is intensifying a crisis in its coal market, which is battling surging prices, supply shortages, conflicting policy goals and a cold winter. Locked in a diplomatic brawl over Canberra’s call for an independent global inquiry into the origins of Covid-19, Beijing imposed an informal ban around September that forced boatloads of Australian coal to languish at sea. China’s central government made the embargo official in mid-December. To comply, buyers in China have had to pay steep premiums for imports from farther afield, on top of prices that have risen 84% since midyear. Link for more via the WSJ.

     China coal

U.S./China Phase 1 tracker: China’s purchases of U.S. goods. Link

 

— Huawei challenges its status as a national security threat. The Chinese telecom giant filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to review an FCC ruling, issued in December by the Trump administration, that blocks it from selling equipment to American companies.

 


TRADE POLICY


 

— U.S. farmers said new trade deals are critical to help boost agricultural producers after the disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic and the Trump administration’s trade battles. Firming up existing trade agreements and joining with multicountry trade pacts would give U.S. producers better prices for some products than they can get domestically, farmers said at the WSJ Global Food Forum. Farmers said giving priority to trade would help reduce the need for government aid, which climbed to a record level in 2020 as the Trump administration sought to stem losses from the U.S./China trade war and the food-supply chain was upended by the pandemic.

 

     Ag aid

 

— British meat processors are registering businesses in the European Union to bypass post-Brexit export delays, with flows just 50% of normal levels and costs soaring, the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said. The move means Britain is losing jobs, the industry group warned, as delays caused by customs checks at the border have all but halted small lorry loads of mixed meat products heading to the EU and Northern Ireland. Link for details via Reuters.

 


ENERGY & CLIMATE CHANGE


 

— Boozman attacks Biden/Dems’ climate change proposals; says Gina McCarthy will determine EPA policy. So much for bipartisanship in the Ag panel, which had already seen some major differences during the last farm bill. Now, differences are clearly being defined as Senate Ag ranking member John Boozman (R-Ark.) did not mince words over the Biden administration’s plans regarding climate change. He again said USDA lacks the legislative authority to use the Commodity Credit Corp. (CCC) as a carbon bank and challenged the department to produce a legal analysis: “I’d like to see some lawyer from the USDA actually put their name to some of the stuff they’re talking about… “I don’t think the people who drafted it would think that carbon would be part of the program,” Boozman said, adding that if carbon qualifies for funding through the CCC other things might also be eligible. “What scares me is that they said they do,” Boozman said.

 

     “What they are saying puts you on guard.” Such thinking “shows that the end justifies the means,” just as the Obama administration did with WOTUS, he said. “There is a finite amount of money,” Boozman said. “Whatever we do, carbon credits have to be voluntary,” Boozman said, even though “there is talk” about attaching participation and conservation to crop insurance. The benefits of climate programs also should go to farmers, he said.

 

      “It appears they’re willing to do whatever they need to do to cram it down our throats the way they did the waters of the U.S. (WOTUS),” Boozman said, referring to the controversial Obama-era water pollution rule that was eventually pushed aside by the Trump administration. Boozman said he believes the Biden administration is going to mount “an all-out assault” on climate policy rather than wait for the 2023 Farm Bill.

 

     Boozman also raised doubts about the administration’s interest in expanding farm bill conservation programs as part of its climate strategy. He thinks it will be even harder to get farmers to enroll in conservation programs with commodity prices relatively high: “What are they going to do to force people” to sign up for conservation programs? There is a danger to taking land out of production, he said, because “it is not like the old days that the U.S. was such a dominant player.” Now the United States will lose market share to Brazil and other countries that do nothing on climate change, he explained.

 

     Meanwhile, Boozman said he believes Gina McCarthy, the White House national climate adviser, will determine environmental policy in the Biden administration rather than Michael Regan, President Biden’s nominee for Environmental Protection Agency administrator. In his online speech to the crop insurance industry convention, Boozman noted that Regan last week came before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on which he sits for a confirmation hearing but that Boozman believes that McCarthy, who headed EPA in the Obama administration, will decide environmental policy. Boozman added that he fears that the Obama-era WOTUS rule, which the Trump administration rewrote, will be “coming back.” He told the crop insurers that legislators “need your help in fighting things that are not good for agriculture or the rest of the economy.”

 

— BOEM extends comment period on Trump proposed rule on exploratory drilling on the Arctic Outer Continental shelf. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) have reopened and extended the comment period to April 9 on the proposed rule released Dec. 9 which proposed revisions to the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) to “reduce unnecessary burdens on stakeholders while still maintaining safety and environmental protection.” The rule would also propose changes relative to how BSEE and the operator could address seasonal weather-related constraints in the Arctic OCS that severely impact the operator’s ability to safely perform lease holding operations for a significant portion of the term on a lease. The original comment period on the plan closed Feb. 8.

 


FOOD & BEVERAGE INDUSTRY


 

— Aunt Jemima rebranded as Pearl Milling Company. Quaker Oats has announced the new name for its “Aunt Jemima” products in response to criticism that was levied at the brand for featuring a racist stereotype of a Black woman. The name “Aunt Jemima” and the picture of a Black woman shown on the packaging, based on a former slave named Nancy Green, will be replaced with the name "Pearl Milling Company" and what appears to be a picture of a 19th century water mill, CNN reports. The new brand is expected to launch in June, one year after Quaker Foods announced the rebranding of “Aunt Jemima” in the midst of Black Lives Matter protests calling for an end to racial inequality.

 


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE


 

 Summary: Global cases of Covid-19 are at 106,993,984 with 2,343,078 deaths, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. case count is at 27,193,586 with 468,217 deaths.
 

       Link to Covid Case Tracker
       Link to Our World in Data

 

— Newly reported Covid-19 cases in the U.S. have dropped 56% over the past month, based on a seven-day average, and hospitalizations have declined 38% since Jan. 6 — though both remain higher than during earlier surges. The rise of more contagious variants could quickly worsen the spread. The Biden administration plans to ramp up a safety campaign focused on social distancing and mask wearing in the coming weeks as states begin relaxing public-health measures but will delay a vaccine awareness campaign until more doses are available.

 

— People may need to get vaccinated against Cocis-19 annually over the next several years, Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky told CNBC, meaning the jabs could become like seasonal flu shots. Other public health officials and infectious disease experts have said there is a high likelihood that Covid-19 will become an endemic disease, meaning it'll always be present in the population, but circulating at lower rates, while others think we may have to "live with the virus forever."

 

     "Unfortunately, as [the virus] spreads it can also mutate," Gorsky declared. "Every time it mutates, it's almost like another click of the dial so to speak where we can see another variant, another mutation that can have an impact on its ability to fend off antibodies or to have a different kind of response not only to a therapeutic but also to a vaccine."

 

— Biden administration is still considering a rule that would require negative Covid-19 test results for domestic air travel, according to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The administration first floated the idea in late January. In an interview with Axios on Sunday, Buttigieg said there is an "active conversation'' with the CDC on domestic testing. "What I can tell you is it's going to be guided by data, by science and by the input of the people who are actually going to have to carry this out,'' he said. "But here's the thing. The safer we can make air travel, in terms of perception as well as reality, the more people are going to be ready to get back in the air.'' No details have been released publicly. Buttigieg, meanwhile, will quarantine for 14 days after a member of his security detail tested positive for Covid-19, his chief of staff announced.

 

— CVS and Walgreens will begin vaccinating select populations in stores this week, the companies say. Walgreens announced last week its program in 15 states will begin Friday, while CVS said Monday it was pushing back its start date in 11 states from Thursday to Friday.

 


POLITICS & ELECTIONS


 

— Democrats will begin formally making their case today to convict former President Donald Trump. After the Senate agreed Tuesday to proceed with the impeachment trial, Democrats have 16 hours from noon today to present their arguments, after which Trump’s defense team will have another 16 hours. Democrats are expected to offer as evidence video and audio presentations of the Jan. 6 riot, as they make their case that Trump incited his supporters to storm the Capitol. On Tuesday, House managers played a video of Trump encouraging his supporters to march to the Capitol and of the subsequent violence. After hearing opening arguments on whether it was constitutional to try a former president, six Republican senators joined all Democrats in asserting the Senate’s jurisdiction. Trump was said to be angry with his legal team’s meandering defense.
 


OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE     


 

— Senate plans action by spring on infrastructure. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.,) said his panel will complete two major infrastructure bills by Memorial Day. “We expect to have a hearing later this month that focuses on surface transportation re-authorization with a strong climate title,” Carper told reporters. Carper said the committee will also complete a Water Resources Development re-authorization bill by the end of May.

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