The Australian and international news stories you need to know today, Wednesday January 20.

Trump expected to issue flurry of pardons on last day in office.

US President Donald Trump is expected to spend his last full day in office issuing a flurry of pardons and bidding farewell to the US public from a near-deserted White House, surrounded by an extraordinary security presence outside.

In one of his final acts as president, Trump was expected to grant clemency to as many as 100 people, according to two people briefed on the plans.

The list of pardons and commutations is expected to include names unfamiliar to the US public - regular people who have spent years languishing in prison - as well as politically-connected friends and allies like those he's pardoned in the past.

Republicans in Congress have reportedly begged the White House for pardons for their incitement at the US Capitol. But after learning it'd expose him personally, Trump refused.

Trump also has been using his final days in office to issue a steady stream of executive orders as he tries to lock in initiatives that President-elect Joe Biden is likely to ignore.

Trump has also recorded a video offering a final message to the US public before a farewell event at nearby Joint Base Andrews on Wednesday morning.

Once there, he will board Air Force One for a final time, flying to Florida and becoming the first outgoing president in more than a century to skip the inauguration of his successor.

Top Republican blames Trump for riot, with Pence to skip farewell event.

The top Republican in Congress has blamed outgoing US President Donald Trump for the violent mob that attacked the US Capitol this month.

"The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people," Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said on the floor of the chamber.


It is likely McConnell's last speech in his role, with the Senate set to be split 50-50 as of Wednesday.

The comments by McConnell come as the Senate seems likely to soon hold a trial for Trump, after the House of Representatives impeached him last week for a second time.

Trump is accused of inciting the insurrection, with fiery rhetoric that sought to delegitimise the victory of Joe Biden in the presidential election, including through allegations of voter fraud.

McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, along with Vice President Mike Pence, plan to skip President Donald Trump’s departure ceremony on Wednesday morning.

Pence will be attending Biden's inauguration in Trump's place.

Two Aus Open players test positive to COVID.

Two Australian Open players have tested positive for coronavirus, with the reclassification of another two cases failing to free some of the 72 players confined to hard quarantine.

The two unnamed players and another person connected to the Open were among four fresh coronavirus cases reported in Victoria on Tuesday.

One is a woman in her 20s and the other two are men in their 30s.

A total of 72 players have been forced into 14 days of hard lockdown over positive tests on three charter flights to Melbourne from Abu Dhabi, Doha and Los Angeles.


Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton revealed two previously reported cases, a man in his 30s and another in his 50s, had been reclassified after evidence of previous infection.

It dropped the number of cases linked to the grand slam contingent to seven, with Victoria's health department investigating if others can also be reclassified.

But the locked-down players are still unable to leave their hotel rooms for training, unlike their fellow competitors who arrived on flights with a clean bill of health.

"This does not change broader assessment of the player group in hotel quarantine," Professor Sutton said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon.

"As yet, none of the three affected flights have been cleared as a result of the two reclassified cases."

Earlier, Premier Daniel Andrews indicated players could be free to practise if a case was ruled non-infectious shedding.

"If you've got say 30 people who are deemed a close contact because they've been on a plane with a case, and the case is no longer an active case but a historic shedding, well that would release those people from that hard lockdown," he told reporters.

Professor Sutton said the virus could still be incubating in some of the 1200 people who landed in Melbourne for the Open from Thursday to Saturday.

Victoria had its 13th straight day without a locally acquired case on Tuesday, as stranded residents started to return from parts of Sydney, Wollongong and the Blue Mountains now downgraded to "orange" risk zones. 

Miranda Kerr breaks quarantine rules while isolating at home.

Australian Supermodel Miranda Kerr has been issued a warning from New South Wales police after leaving her Hunter Valley property during mandatory quarantine.


The Daily Telegraph reports the model and entrepreneur was granted an exemption to isolate at the luxury, multimillion-dollar Hunter Valley property late last year instead of in hotel quarantine to allow her to visit a sick relative in palliative care.

But the paper reports her movements breached that exemption, and NSW police issued her a warning late last year as she was completing a 14-day mandatory quarantine with her husband, Snapchat founder husband Evan Spiegel.

7NEWS reports police arrived at the property to speak to Kerr, who wasn't there. She was only issued a warning, not a fine, for the breach.

More testing needed before restrictions can ease in NSW. 

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian wants more NSW residents to be tested for COVID-19 before she eases restrictions. 

The state has recorded zero new locally acquired cases for two days straight and appears to have all but stamped out the Northern Beaches and Berala clusters. 

But health officials are increasingly worried about the state's low testing numbers, causing hesitation before restrictions on gatherings and other rules ease.


Only 10,621 people were tested in the 24 hours to 8pm on Monday, up slightly from 8,773 the day before.

It's a long way short of the daily record, set at above 60,000 tests in one day just before Christmas as the Northern Beaches cluster spread.

"We're definitely in the space of wanting to ease those restrictions that are in place currently but it depends on the rate of testing and the number of cases," Ms Berejiklian told reporters on Tuesday.

"Unfortunately the testing rates are still too low for the liking of the health experts and they want to see that rate go up."

Greater Sydney, Central Coast and Wollongong residents have to wear masks indoors when out of home at present. Households can only have five visitors, including adults and children, throughout a day. Outdoor gatherings are limited to 30 people as well. 

Ms Berejiklian said on Tuesday that she would prefer to announce any changes all at once, rather than piece by piece. 

Push for January 26 minute of silence.

Federal member for Warringah and Winter Olympian Zali Steggall has written to mayors in her Sydney electorate asking them to observe a minute's silence on January 26.

'Australia Day' marks the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet of British ships into Port Jackson in 1788, and pushback against the celebration is growing every year.

"January 26 provokes a range of emotions for many within our community," Ms Steggall said.


"While it marks the commencement of European colonisation of this land, it also represents the commencement of violence, disempowerment and displacement of our Indigenous communities that has created sorrow, discrimination and hardship that has lasted for generations."

Her push comes as the organisers of Sydney's annual 'Invasion Day' march plead with police to allow a COVID-safe version of the event to go ahead.

UK reports record daily high virus deaths.

The UK has reported 1325 new deaths from COVID-19, its highest daily figure since the outbreak of the pandemic, with another 68,053 additional cases.

The total eclipsed the previous record number of deaths reported on April 21, 2020, of 1224.

England entered a new lockdown this week with a "stay at home" message as health officials cited rising hospital admissions that threaten to overrun the National Health Service (NHS).

London declared a major incident on Friday because its hospitals were at risk of being overwhelmed by a highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus racing "out of control" across the United Kingdom.


"Each life lost to this virus is a tragedy but sadly we can expect the death toll to continue to rise until we stop the spread," said Dr William Welfare, Director for the COVID-19 response at Public Health England.

"To protect our loved ones it is essential we all stay at home where possible. This will reduce new infections, ease the pressure on the NHS and save lives."

WHO must be reformed, says pandemic panel.

The World Health Organisation is underpowered and underfunded, and must be reformed to give it the resourcing to be more effective, according to an independent panel reviewing the WHO and the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We are not here to assign blame but to make concrete recommendations to help the world respond faster and better in future," the panel's co-chair Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told reporters on a briefing on Tuesday, a day after the panel's interim report was issued.

"I do believe that WHO is reformable," she said.

Johnson Sirleaf said it was up to countries whether they wanted to overhaul the WHO to accord it more authority to stamp out outbreaks, saying the organisation was also constrained by its lack of funding.

"The bottom line is WHO has no powers to enforce anything," she said. "All it can do is ask to be invited in. This clearly isn't working," she added.

Last week, an international team of WHO-led scientists arrived in Wuhan to research the animal origins of the pandemic after months of political wrangling to secure China's approval for the probe.

The panel also cited evidence of cases in other countries in late January, saying public health containment measures should have been put in place immediately in any country with a likely case, adding: "They were not."


The experts also wondered why the WHO did not declare a global public health emergency - its highest warning for outbreaks - sooner.

Joe Biden gives emotional departure speech ahead of Washington inauguration.

In an emotional farewell, President-elect Joe Biden has promised that even as he departs for Washington, DC, to be sworn in, "I'll always be a proud son of the state of Delaware."

Speaking at an event at the National Guard headquarters in Delaware named for his late son, Beau, Mr Biden's voice became emotional as he told the crowd that "when I die, I've got Delaware written on my heart."

He's leaving Wilmington via plane Tuesday afternoon and will spend the night at Blair House, the president's official guest house, before moving into the White House after he is sworn in Wednesday.

Around the world.

- Donald Trump's youngest daughter Tiffany Trump has announced her engagement to boyfriend Michael Boulos on her last day in the White House.

- The Duchess of Sussex is seeking a summary judgement to settle her privacy lawsuit against a British tabloid newspaper before it goes to trial. 

- A court in Thailand has sentenced a former civil servant to a record prison term of 43 years and six months for breaching the country's strict law on insulting or defaming the monarchy.

- With AAP

Feature image: Getty/ Twitter @nastiaapotapova/ Instagram @mirandakerr/ Getty.

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