SARS-CoV-2 virus particles seen under an electron microscope.
SARS-CoV-2 virus particles seen under an electron microscope. Photograph: AP

Morning mail: 'friendly fire' driving severe Covid cases, bitcoin ad scam, songs of 2020

SARS-CoV-2 virus particles seen under an electron microscope. Photograph: AP

Monday: Researchers believe ‘auto-antibodies’ are leaving coronavirus patients with long-term health problems. Plus: the ultimate farewell playlist for a year like no other

Last modified on Sun 13 Dec 2020 15.09 EST

Good morning, this is Imogen Dewey bringing you the main stories and must-reads on Monday 14 December.

Top stories

“Autoantibodies” may be driving severe Covid-19 cases, with dramatic levels of “friendly fire” from the immune system possibly leaving patients with “long Covid” – when medical problems persist for a significant time after the virus has been beaten. Research has revealed some patients had large numbers of misguided antibodies in their blood that targeted the organs, tissues and the immune system itself, rather than fighting off the invading virus.

A highly organised scam bitcoin operation is using unauthorised celebrity images to con tens of thousands of Australians into parting with their money. The fake ads, featuring photos of Dick Smith and Andrew Forrest, among others, have run on news websites since at least 2018. During the pandemic there’s been a sharp rise in the number of people caught out. IDCare, a registered charity that offers support to people scammed online, has been hearing from a victim every business hour since March. But the sheer scale of the scam, which has links to addresses in Moscow, has made it difficult for Google to block the ads and for regulators to take action. Here’s what happened when a Guardian reporter signed up to see how it works.

Britain and the EU have taken a step forward towards striking a post-Brexit trade and security deal after Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen agreed to “go the extra mile” and ordered the resumption of talks in Brussels. But Eurosceptic Tories have said Johnson must “hold firm” to his commitment to no deal, suggesting Brussels was finally taking the UK’s intention to walk away from talks seriously. The Queen is reportedly delaying her Christmas speech due to all the uncertainty and, while EU leaders stress unity, Europe’s commentators are scathing of “new heights of hysteria and habitual xenophobia” in the British tabloids.


Mathias Cormann
Mathias Cormann is in self-quarantine in Western Australia. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

The former finance minister Mathias Cormann tested negative to coronavirus seven times while crisscrossing Europe and travelling to South America as part of his government-backed campaign to lead the OECD. The British Labour party opposition has reportedly written to Boris Johnson demanding the UK oppose his nomination.

Industry superannuation funds are claiming the government’s super changes are a “gift” to for-profit fund operators that will enable them to continue making billions each year off dud retirement savings schemes.

Australia’s losses from trade tensions with China are being offset by rising iron ore prices, according to new analysis, which also predicts that the Morrison government will announce a smaller budget deficit than originally forecast.

A Victorian police officer dismissed for sexually harassing colleagues has been reinstated by an independent board, five years after a review exposed a troubling culture within the force.

The world

Ivanka Trump
Ivanka Trump has sought to position herself as a more media-friendly version of her father. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Speculation is swirling about Ivanka Trump’s potential run for the US Senate in Florida, amid reports that she and her husband, Jared Kushner, buying expensive property in the state as a possible base to launch her political career. As her father continues to contest the election, pro-Trump protests this weekend turned violent.

Hundreds of Nigerian students are missing after gunmen attacked a secondary school in the country’s north-western Katsina state, police have confirmed.

Plastic bags and flexible packaging are the deadliest plastic items in the ocean, killing wildlife including whales, dolphins, turtles and seabirds around the globe, a new CSIRO review finds.

The true glory of a 1,000-year-old cross buried in Scottish field has been revealed at last, six years after the “sorry-looking object” was first unearthed with the Galloway Hoard of viking-age booty.

Recommended reads

Port Fairy
Port Fairy was voted in 2012 as the most liveable community under 20,000 in the world.
Photograph: BeyondImages/Getty Images/iStockphoto

What makes Port Fairy so special?, asks Brigid Delaney. The pretty, historic cottages certainly play their part, as does the excellent food – but it’s the locals that really seal it. “Far away enough from Melbourne to deter day trippers and overwhelming crowds, but with enough of the trappings of a big city – it may be Australia’s most perfect holiday destination.”

“When the bubonic plague spread through England in the 17th century, Sir Isaac Newton fled Cambridge where he was studying for the safety of his family home in Lincolnshire,” writes Paula Cocozza. “The Newtons did not live in a cramped apartment; they enjoyed a large garden with many fruit trees. In these uncertain times, out of step with ordinary life, his mind roamed free of routines and social distractions. And it was in this context that a single apple falling from a tree struck him as more intriguing than any of the apples he had previously seen fall. Gravity was a gift of the plague. So, how is this pandemic going for you?”

“My life’s paper trail was longer than I’d imagined,” Paul Daley discovered when he tried to “purge” the stack of boxes threatening to become a fire hazard. But deciding what to keep and what to turf was harder than he thought. “All the cards and letters from my partner and kids. Invitations. Speeches. Notebooks. Diaries. Then there are the photographs. Hundreds I can’t possibly ditch … In the end it was more a bit of a paper shuffle than a cull.”


Arman’s claim for asylum was rejected because the Australian government thought it was safe for him to return to Afghanistan. While this is no longer the government’s view, Australia’s appeal system means the decision still stands. In this episode of Full Story, he explains how he has nowhere to turn – his only chance to stay in Australia is if Peter Dutton personally intervenes. Arman’s story comes from our Temporary series, showcasing stories from the 30,000 people caught in legal limbo by Australia’s campaign to “stop the boats”.

Full Story

What happens when the government wants to send you back to an unsafe place?


Full Story is Guardian Australia’s daily news podcast. Subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or any other podcasting app.


“Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how much evidence you have in front of you if what you’re looking at is something you don’t want to see,” writes Stephanie Convery. “Contact sport is in dire need of a reckoning and it must be driven by those who watch and play it … it is not enough just to tell players to take responsibility for their own health.” But changing the culture surrounding concussion is a monumental task – and that, she says, is what we really need to come to terms with.

At 4.30am on Monday, 15 cyclists rolled off from the Haymarket roundabout on Elizabeth Street in central Melbourne. To any onlookers, the bleary-eyed group must have seemed incongruous; even the most eager cyclists do not typically begin their bunch rides before dawn. But they were commemorating history.

Media roundup

Chinese Communist party “insiders” have infiltrated both Australian, British and US consulates and global companies holding sensitive military and scientific information, reports the Australian. China’s rise exposes the “myth” of the liberal global order, Stan Grant suggests on ABC. But Australia’s chief executives think Joe Biden can repair our “fractured relationship” with China, the Australian Financial Review reveals.

Coming up

The ABC chair Ita Buttrose’s response to the government’s concerns about a Four Corners investigation into two government ministers is due.

The NSW cabinet will discuss changes to drug possession laws.

The parliamentary inquiry into Victoria’s contact tracing system will release its final report.

And if you’ve read this far …

composite of musicians
What song would you pick to represent the year we’ve had? Composite: Rob Galbraith/Fin Costello/Tim Mosenfelder/Mark RALSTONMARK//Getty/Redfern/Reuters

The year that lasted centuries is finally coming to a close – and we need some music to bid good riddance to the horrors of 2020. Last week we asked our readers what song they’d add to the ultimate New Year’s Eve playlist. Here are all the songs that were nominated – now we need you to make your pick. Voting closes this Wednesday and our final playlist will be revealed on Friday.

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