4-30-20 Coronavirus: Los Angeles offers free virus testing to all residents
Los Angeles is offering free coronavirus tests to all residents, regardless of whether they are displaying any symptoms. Mayor Eric Garcetti made the announcement just hours after Los Angeles County reported its largest daily increase in new Covid-19 cases. Until now, only essential workers and those displaying symptoms could receive tests due to a scarcity of kits. Meanwhile, California ordered all beaches in Orange County to close. California is the most populous state in the US, and while some of its beaches have been closed for weeks, others have remained open with social distancing rules in place. Over the weekend, photos of crowded beaches in the county, which is south of Los Angeles, led state governor Gavin Newsom to warn that the behaviour of some sun-seekers threatened to undo weeks of work to restrict the spread of Covid-19. Los Angeles County currently accounts for almost half of California's confirmed coronavirus cases. The state has so far reported over 48,000 cases and more than 1,900 deaths. On Thursday, Mr Garcetti urged all of the city's residents to get swabbed after earlier tweeting that "LA is now the first major city in America to offer free Covid-19 testing". Meanwhile, US media had expected Governor Newsom to sign an executive order to close all beaches and parks in the state after a memo circulated to the state's police chiefs indicated as much. However, he restricted his order on Thursday to beaches in Orange County, saying "we are going to do a hard close in that part of the state". The beaches would be closed until further notice, although he added that he hoped he would not have to maintain the order for too long. California was among the first US states to bring in blanket restrictions, issuing a "stay at home" order to residents last month in an effort to stem the march of the coronavirus. Mr Newsom recently said that he was still weeks away from lifting some restrictions.
4-30-20 Coronavirus: President Trump’s testing claims fact-checked
In a video clip posted by the White House on Twitter, President Trump has made several claims about testing policy in the United States, an issue over which his administration has faced significant criticism. "The testing has been incredible now, and to a level that nobody's seen... we have tested more than all countries put together." President Trump says the US has carried out more tests than every other country in the world combined. The latest data shows that a total of 6,231,182 tests have been carried out in the US. This is more than any other single country. However, it's nowhere near as many as the rest of the world combined. Just adding together the totals of Spain, Italy, Germany and the UK gives you more than the US. The US also still lags behind several other nations in terms of testing per capita. Exact testing comparisons can be difficult as countries count testing in different ways. But looking at the latest data available, the US has carried out about one test in every 53 people. Italy has performed around one in every 30 people, Spain around one in every 45, and Australia around one in every 45. "We had old-fashioned tests that didn't work - they were really obsolete - they didn't work, they were broken." President Trump says his administration had a "broken" test that didn't work when first testing for the coronavirus. He has previously said: "We inherited a broken test - the whole thing was broken." The US did have faulty tests initially after the White House conceded the first batch sent out by the government's central health body produced inconclusive results. However, these tests were introduced in February under the Trump administration so they weren't inherited or old. In early March, the White House conceded the US did not have enough testing kits, but since then it has significantly ramped up testing, with the total number increasing six fold since the start of April. "Millions of tests - and the highest quality test." When President Trump talks about the "highest quality" test, it's not exactly clear what he's referring to. He has previously said the US tests are "better" than those used in other countries. However, when it comes to antigen tests - tests that tell you if someone currently has coronavirus - the accuracy tends to be similar across the globe. The Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, an independent evaluator of tests, based in Switzerland, says its results "see equally good performance from companies in multiple countries". Antibody tests - which tell you if someone has previously had Covid-19 - have so far proved unreliable and have not been widely rolled out. So, the "millions of tests" must be the antigen ones. There is no clear evidence that these tests in the US are any better or worse than in any other country.
4-30-20 Transatlantic slavery introduced infectious diseases to the Americas
Viral and bacterial DNA found in the remains of three African slaves in Mexico suggests that the transatlantic slave trade may have introduced new infectious diseases into the Americas. This discovery highlights the slave trade’s impact on the spread of diseases during the colonial period, between the 1500s and 1800s, says Rodrigo Barquera at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany. Barquera and his colleagues analysed the remains of people who were buried in a mass grave, first uncovered in the early 1990s, near the Royal Hospital of San José de los Naturales in what is now Mexico City. DNA and chemical analysis of the remains suggested three of the individuals were of African descent, rather than Native American, and showed that they were male. Carbon dating of their skeletons revealed that they died soon after the start of the colonial period in Mexico, suggesting they were enslaved people, since slavery was the main way that Africans came to the region during this time. Their bones revealed skeletal changes consistent with intense labour and heavy manual activity as well as gunshot wounds and signs of malnutrition. The researchers were able to extract viral and bacterial DNA from the teeth of all three individuals. They discovered DNA from the hepatitis B virus (HBV) and from bacteria responsible for a disease called yaws, which is similar to syphilis and was common in Mexico during the colonial period. “We didn’t expect to recover genomes from such important pathogens,” says Barquera. “These are the earliest human remains in the Americas in which HBV and yaws have been identified so far, suggesting that the slave trade may have introduced these diseases into Latin America very early into the colonial period.” DNA sequences from these pathogens revealed their close relationship to strains circulating in current West African populations, indicating that the three individuals probably contracted the diseases before they were forcefully brought to Mexico.
4-30-20 Coronavirus: Trump says China wants him to lose re-election
US President Donald Trump has said China "will do anything they can" to make him lose his re-election bid, stepping up his criticism of Beijing amid the coronavirus pandemic. In a White House interview with Reuters news agency, he said Beijing faced a "lot" of possible consequences from the US for the outbreak. He said China should have let the world know about the contagion much sooner. A spokesperson for China's foreign ministry has denied the allegations. Geng Shuang said China saw the US election as an internal issue, and said he hoped US politicians would stop using China in their domestic politics. Mr Trump himself is often accused of not doing enough to tackle the crisis. The coronavirus has ravaged a formerly humming US economy that had been the president's main selling point for his re-election campaign in November. Mr Trump, who has waged a trade war with China, offered no specifics about how he might act against Beijing. He told Reuters: "There are many things I can do. We're looking for what happened." Mr Trump added: "China will do anything they can to have me lose this race." The Republican president said he believes Beijing wants his likely Democratic challenger Joe Biden to win in November's election. Mr Trump also said he is sceptical of data indicating Mr Biden would win. "I don't believe the polls," the president said. "I believe the people of this country are smart. And I don't think that they will put a man in who's incompetent." US media reported earlier in the day that Mr Trump had erupted at political advisers last Friday evening about internal polling that showed him losing in critical states. His aides have doubts about whether Mr Trump will win crucial battlegrounds such as Florida, Wisconsin and Arizona, while some of his re-election team have all but given up hope of success in Michigan, according to the Associated Press news agency. "I'm not losing to Joe Biden," Mr Trump reportedly said, inserting an expletive, during a conference call with campaign officials.
4-30-20 Coronavirus and South Korea: How lives changed to beat the virus
South Korea has recorded its first day with no locally transmitted cases of Covid-19 since the middle of February. It did record four new cases, but all were people coming from abroad, who were diagnosed and isolated on arrival. They brought the country's total number of confirmed cases to 10,765. It's a major milestone for a country that was once among the world's biggest virus hotspots, but it comes after significant efforts - and remarkably, without a total lockdown. "This is the strength of South Korea and its people," President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday. South Korea saw a huge spike in the number of infections in February, after a religious group in the city of Daegu was identified as a virus cluster. One member of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus was found to have infected dozens of others and thousands of cases were later linked back to the church. The government reacted by launching a massive testing campaign. As part of making tests freely available, drive-through clinics were set up throughout the country. Here, drivers are seen undergoing testing from their cars in the capital, Seoul. The huge number of tests meant South Korea's infection numbers grew quickly, but also that authorities were able early on to effectively find those who were infected, isolate and treat them. South Korea also started aggressively contact tracing, finding people who had interacted with a confirmed case, isolating and testing them too. Cases linked to the Shincheonji cluster had at one point accounted for about half of South Korea's total. All churches in South Korea were ordered shut as officials fought to rein in public gatherings. Today, churches have reopened, but worshippers are still required to keep a distance and keep their masks on. And those rules also applied to these students, seen here sitting for their exams last week - making sure there's no chance of contact (and even less of a chance of cheating).
4-30-20 What coronavirus studies suggest about the result of easing lockdowns
American states are beginning to relax their coronavirus control measures, despite the fact that the epidemic is not remotely under control. Daily new confirmed cases are still hovering close to 30,000, and the 7-day average of daily confirmed deaths has been plateaued near 2,000 for about two weeks. New York alone accounts for more than a quarter of total U.S. cases and deaths, but as numbers there have fallen off somewhat they have been balanced by rises in other locales. Are states like Texas, Ohio, and Georgia about to cast themselves into the same deadly abyss as New York state? It will likely depend on how these lockdown relaxation orders are implemented, and how the residents of those states behave in response. Let me start by reviewing some recent science — with the provisos that the science on coronavirus is still in its early stages, and I of course am not an infectious disease specialist. All conclusions here must be considered tentative. Several studies on coronavirus transmission have found that contained environments like buildings, trains, cars, or buses are where the vast majority of infection happens. A study on 318 individual outbreaks that infected three or more people in China found most happened in homes, and about a third in transportation — but only one outdoors. A study on an infection cluster in a Guangzhou restaurant found one pre-symptomatic person likely infected others (which has been demonstrated in Singapore as well) because the air conditioning system circulated air from the person to neighboring tables. People sitting nearby but out of the air flow path escaped infection — but note again this person was pre-symptomatic, so was surely less infectious than someone who was coughing. A study of two Chinese hospitals similarly found heavy contamination in surfaces and objects frequently touched by medical personnel, especially in intensive care wards. The dynamics of the disease progression are also important. As noted, it seems that infected people without symptoms can spread the disease, and these may be a big fraction of the case total. A study of an Italian town did two broad surveys of tests, and found 43 percent of positive cases had no symptoms. A case of COVID-19 also takes a long time to progress. Other studies on transmission dynamics found an incubation period (that is, the time between being infected and showing symptoms) of about five days, as compared to about two days for most common cold viruses. People being able to infect others unknowingly is probably part of why without controls the virus spreads extraordinarily quickly. This research points to a possible set of reasons why the outbreak in New York state is so much worse than anywhere else in the country. First, denser cities where lots of people are in close contact in enclosed spaces will be more vulnerable. Probably the subway was a major vector of contagion, since New York City is the only place in the U.S. where a majority of households do not own a car.
4-30-20 To end social distancing, the U.S. must dramatically ramp up contact tracing
How open will Americans be to having their movements tracked? Right now, many countries are fighting the spread of COVID-19 with the bluntest tool possible: widespread social distancing. To deny the virus the opportunity to hop between people, most of us are staying in, regardless of whether we’ve come into contact with the virus. But social distancing, which has saved lives and eased the burden on hospitals, comes at a high cost. Lost jobs, closed businesses and a frozen economy have many people anxious for restrictions to be eased and for life to get back to normal. If countries hit the restart button now, epidemiologists say that the virus will come roaring back, exploiting the fact that so many people are still susceptible. Until a vaccine arrives, two key measures will need to pick up the slack as social distancing is eased. One is widespread, easily accessible testing (SN: 4/17/20). And for tests that come back positive, a second system must quickly identify people who may have been infected by that person to prevent further spread. That’s what is known as contact tracing. The bread and butter of infectious disease control for over a century, contact tracing is a targeted way of breaking a pathogen’s chain of transmission. When a positive case pops on the radar of public health officials, a contact tracer takes action, doing detective work to track down all the people that person has encountered, or even been near. Then, the contact tracer notifies those contacts that they may have been exposed to the virus and asks them to quarantine for the incubation period of the virus (about two weeks for cases of COVID-19). Starved of new hosts, the epidemic fizzles out, and contact tracers keep tabs on the people who are potentially infected to see if they develop symptoms.
4-30-20 Coronavirus kills 70 veterans at Massachusetts care home
Seventy veterans living in a care home in the US state of Massachusetts have died after contracting coronavirus, officials said. The outbreak is the deadliest reported in a long-term care home in the US. A nurse at the facility claimed understaffing had contributed to the spread as employees moved from one unit to another. The US has more than one million confirmed cases of coronavirus - more than any other country. Nursing homes across the US and in other parts of the world have been particularly badly hit by the pandemic. Officials are investigating if veterans at the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke, a state-run healthcare facility, received proper medical care. The superintendent at the home, Bennett Walsh, has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. Mr Walsh said that Massachusetts state officials had been notified about the staffing shortages at the home as well as its coronavirus outbreak. He has denied any wrongdoing in his management of the facility, rejecting the allegations as "outrageous". Edward Lapointe, whose father-in-law lives at the home, claimed the conditions there were "horrific". "These guys never had a chance," Mr Lapointe told the Associated Press news agency. As well as the 70 confirmed Covid-19 deaths, there are 80 residents and 81 staff at the home who have tested positive for coronavirus, a spokeswoman from the state's health office told the BBC. Eleven veterans who tested negative for the virus have also died as of Wednesday, and one death is unconfirmed for Covid-19. Residents are being re-tested for Covid-19 as appropriate, said the statement. Joan Miller, a nurse at the Soldiers' Home, told the AP she thought that veterans were living "on top of each other". She claimed a lack of staff had meant that a unit in the home had been shut down in response to the coronavirus outbreak and the veterans housed there moved to other parts of the facility, making those more crowded. "We didn't know who was positive and who was negative and then they grouped people together and that really exacerbated it even more," Ms Miller said.
4-30-20 Coronavirus: New York funeral home puts corpses in lorries
Dozens of bodies have been found stored in moving lorries in New York, authorities say, after passersby complained of the smell. The Andrew T Cleckley Funeral Home in Brooklyn had rented trucks and put about 50 corpses inside with ice. One official quoted anonymously in the New York Times said the home's freezer had stopped working. Police were called to the scene and sealed off the area. A refrigerated truck later arrived. Workers in protective suits were later seen moving bodies. It is unclear if these were victims of the coronavirus. But officials and funeral homes have struggled to cope with the huge numbers of dead in New York, the worst-affected state in the US. More than 18,000 people have died in New York City alone, according to Johns Hopkins University data. As a whole, the US has more than one million confirmed cases of coronavirus, more than any other country. "They had dead bodies in the vans and trucks," the owner of the building next door told the New York Times. "They were on top of each other in body bags... all of [the vehicles] were packed." Eric Adams, the Borough President of Brooklyn, went to the scene after the funeral home complaint emerged. "While this situation is under investigation, we should not have what we have right now, with trucks lining the streets filled with bodies," he later told the New York Daily News. Mr Adams said they were alerted by "people who walked by who saw some leakage and detected an odour coming from a truck." By law, funeral directors must keep bodies in safe conditions that prevent infection before they are buried or cremated. The home has since been cited by health officials. In separate news, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio apologised after criticising a gathering at a Jewish funeral - comments some said were anti-Semitic. Mourners had gathered in large numbers to mourn the passing of a rabbi in Williamsburg.
4-30-20 Coronavirus: Eurozone economy shrinks at record rate
The eurozone economy shrank at the sharpest pace on record in the first quarter as the Covid-19 pandemic forced countries into lockdown. A first estimate of GDP between January and March showed a contraction of 3.8%, worse than during the financial crisis. Separate figures revealed a steep fall in economic activity in France and Spain over the same period. In Germany, unemployment has increased though it remains relatively low compared with other nations. On Wednesday, the US revealed that its economy had suffered its most severe contraction for more than a decade, after GDP shrank at an annual rate of 4.8% in the first quarter of the year. However, this "annualised" rate implies that the US economy actually contracted by about 1.2% in the three-month period, a less severe contraction than in the eurozone. On Thursday, figures from the US Department of Labor showed that 3.8 million more Americans filed claims for unemployment benefits last week. That is the lowest weekly rise for a month, but still very high, bringing jobs lost during the pandemic to about 30 million. Andrew Kenningham of Capital Economics called the European news a blizzard of depressing economic data that "confirms that the eurozone economy was in free-fall". In the case of France, the 5.8% decline in gross domestic product (GDP) was the largest the quarterly series has recorded since it began in 1949. Two other large economies have published first estimates: Spain saw a contraction of 5.1% while Italy's economy shrank by 4.7%. The figure for the eurozone as a whole was more moderate, but is still by any standards severe especially for a contraction over just three months. So far most individual European countries have not published national estimates. That applies to the largest of them, Germany. But new figures for the German labour market are beginning to show the impact of the pandemic, with the number of people out of work rising by 373,000 in April.
4-29-20 How many people have really died from covid-19 so far?
Looking at how many more people are dying than usual gives an idea of the coronavirus pandemic’s true effect – and suggests a far higher death toll in many countries. WITH few countries doing enough testing to identify anywhere near all the deaths caused by the coronavirus, looking at how many more people are dying than usual is a better way of assessing the pandemic’s effect. Reported coronavirus deaths are typically severely ill people who have tested positive for the coronavirus in a hospital. However, many people who have died may not have been tested – especially those who died at home or in a care home. Looking at the number of excess deaths suggests the true death toll has been higher than the number reported in many places, including Italy, Spain, Sweden, and England and Wales. It is how many more people are dying than would be expected. For instance, at this time of year, normally around 50,000 people die each week in the 24 European countries that report deaths to the EuroMOMO monitoring scheme. This has shot up to about 90,000, according to the latest numbers, which aren’t yet complete. It varies. One study estimates that the coronavirus had caused the deaths of 52,000 people in Italy by 18 April (medRxiv, doi.org/ds6s) – more than double the reported figure. Similarly, a Financial Times analysis suggests the virus had led to 45,000 deaths in the UK by 21 April, more than twice the official figure then of 17,000. Figures from the UK’s Office for National Statistics indicate that the coronavirus is to blame for more than two-thirds of the excess deaths in England and Wales, based on the number of confirmed or suspected cases of covid-19 reported on death certificates. That leaves roughly a third of excess deaths unexplained. Some of these may have been coronavirus cases without obvious symptoms, or cases where doctors weren’t confident enough to mention covid-19 on the death certificate. However, some of the unexplained excess deaths could be a result of more people dying of other causes, such as heart attack or stroke, because some are avoiding going to hospital due to the coronavirus. Emergency admissions figures from Public Health England suggest that attendance at hospital emergency departments in England was down about 50 per cent in April.
4-29-20 Coronavirus: Why so many US nurses are out of work
At a time when medical professionals are putting their lives at risk, tens of thousands of doctors in the United States are taking large pay cuts. And even as some parts of the US are talking of desperate shortages in nursing staff, elsewhere in the country many nurses are being told to stay at home without pay. That is because American healthcare companies are looking to cut costs as they struggle to generate revenue during the coronavirus crisis. "Nurses are being called heroes," Mariya Buxton says, clearly upset. "But I just really don't feel like a hero right now because I'm not doing my part." Ms Buxton is a paediatric nurse in St Paul, Minnesota, but has been asked to stay at home. At the unit at which Ms Buxton worked, and at hospitals across most of the country, medical procedures that are not deemed to be urgent have been stopped. That has meant a massive loss of income. While she has, until now, retained health insurance benefits through the company she worked for, Ms Buxton is not being paid her salary while she is off work. "People would always say to me, being a nurse you'll never have to worry about having a job. And here I am, newly 40 years old and unemployed for the first time since I started working," she says. Although she is supportive of the measures taken to curb the spread of the virus, Ms Buxton worries that the longer hospitals cannot perform regular medical procedures, the more nurses that will find themselves in the same position as her. And revenue generation for hospitals has not just been affected by bans on elective surgery. "I was scheduled to work 120 hours for the month of April. But about halfway through March, I looked at the schedule and all of my hours had been cut," says Dr Shaina Parks. "I didn't receive a phone call or an email or anything. They were just gone. It was an extremely uncomfortable feeling," she says.
4-29-20 Covid-19 news: UN says 1.6 billion people could lose their livelihood
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Nearly half the global workforce – more than 1.6 billion people – could lose their livelihoods due to coronavirus restrictions and lockdowns, according to a UN International Labour Organization report. These include many informal workers, such as domestic workers, agricultural workers and street vendors, who may not have worker benefits or social protection. “For millions of workers, no income means no food, no security and no future,” said the organisation’s director general Guy Ryder. “As the pandemic and the jobs crisis evolve, the need to protect the most vulnerable becomes even more urgent,” he said. A new coronavirus antibody test has been certified as compliant with European Union safety standards. The company which developed the antibody test, Abbott, claims it is highly sensitive when used 14 days after a person first developed symptoms. It is still not clear whether people with antibodies are protected from reinfection and how long such protection might last. US GDP fell 4.8 per cent in the first quarter of 2020, the largest quarterly fall since the 2008 financial crisis and exceeding economists’ forecasts of a 4 per cent decline. US president Donald Trump signed an executive order yesterday to compel meat-processing plants to stay open during the pandemic, despite hundreds of workers falling ill. Unions and worker advocates argue that closures are necessary to limit the spread of coronavirus. The US now has more than 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases, making up about a third of confirmed cases worldwide. More than 58,000 people have died from covid-19 in the US, more than the number of US citizens killed during the Vietnam war. Millions of women will be unable to access contraceptives and face unwanted pregnancies, gender-based violence and other harmful practices over the next few months due to the pandemic, according to new projections from the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency.
4-29-20 We can't rely on rampant consumerism to get us out of this mess
Hyperconsumption adds to environmental destruction that brings people into contact with animal viruses that can spark pandemics. We have to avoid the temptation to rely on it to get us out, writes Graham Lawton. WHEN I heard the news that Amazon is making sales of $11,000 every second of the lockdown, my initial reaction was weary resignation. You probably don’t eat bushmeat, but Western consumerism adds to the deforestation and habitat destruction that increasingly brings humans into contact with animal viruses. The world is in turmoil due to a virus unleashed in part by greed, and how do we respond? By going shopping. There was a stab of guilt too: I don’t think of myself as a materialist, but I’ve become a regular user of online retailers, buying things I don’t really need to help ease the boredom. Thankfully, it turns out that my initial reaction was wrong. In the US – where the spree has been likened to Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when people go on an online retail bender – consumer spending is actually falling in almost every category. The little money being spent is going on essentials such as food and household goods and, out of necessity, this is shifting online. Amazon’s bounce is not a frenzy but a hunkering down. In that I find hope rather than dismay. There has been much discussion of the environmental benefits of furloughing the world economy. Oil consumption has gone through the floor and there is increasing talk of a green economic recovery. I’m sceptical. Once we get the all-clear, I think the most likely response will be a rapid push to return to business as usual, encouraged by leaders whose electoral prospects hinge on an economic recovery. But I also have hope, because the pandemic and its aftermath might permanently shift attitudes away from hyperconsumption.
4-29-20 Coronavirus: What does evidence say about schools reopening?
As the coronavirus spread around the globe earlier this year, many countries closed their schools and nurseries to most children. Lockdown has rewritten almost every aspect of our lives, but for parents, one of the most striking changes is to be spending unprecedented amounts of time cheek by jowl with their offspring. With older children, there may be battles over laptops, working space and wifi access, as well as the inevitable bugs of hastily devised online lessons. With younger ones, parents may be required to do two jobs at once, becoming home teachers as well as carrying out their usual work. As coronavirus deaths appear to be peaking in many places, governments are wrestling with the question of when schools can reopen. In the UK, there are calls for schools to reopen at the beginning of June after the May half-term break. “We all want to come back, that’s the job of the school, but it’s got to be safe for everyone,” says a London headteacher, who asked not to be named. On the face of it, closing schools may seem like an essential safety measure to protect children, but not all countries are making the same choices. While Australia has brought in many similar lockdown measures to the UK, in some areas, most children are continuing to go to school. Taiwan has had no mass shutdown, just closures of individual classes or, in some cases, schools if local covid-19 cases pass a threshold. Unfortunately, it is hard to draw conclusions from the different infection rates as there are so many other factors that vary between countries. Taiwan, for instance, flattened its coronavirus curve very effectively, but through a host of measures that would meet resistance in the UK, such as tracking people through their phones. Some of our assumptions about the coronavirus have turned out to be wrong. As the outbreak progressed, signs emerged that it has an unusual feature for a respiratory virus: of all age groups, it affects children least. It is unclear why, but a study of nearly 45,000 people in China with confirmed covid-19 found that children under 10 made up less than one per cent of cases.
4-29-20 What four coronaviruses from history can tell us about covid-19
Four coronaviruses cause around a quarter of all common colds, but each was probably deadly when it first made the leap to humans. We can learn a lot from what happened next. IN 1889, a disease outbreak in central Asia went global, igniting a pandemic that burned into the following year. It caused fever and fatigue, and killed an estimated 1 million people. The disease is generally blamed on influenza, and was dubbed “Russian flu“. But with no tissue samples to check for the flu virus, there is no conclusive proof. Another possibility is that this “flu” was actually a coronavirus pandemic. The finger has been pointed at a virus first isolated in the 1960s, though today it causes nothing more serious than a common cold. In fact, there are four coronaviruses responsible for an estimated 20 to 30 per cent of colds. Only recently have virologists begun to dig into these seemingly humdrum pathogens and what they have found suggests the viruses have a far more deadly past. Researchers now believe that all four of these viruses began to infect humans in the past few centuries and, when they did, they probably sparked pandemics. The parallels with our current crisis are obvious. And it turns out that our growing knowledge about these other coronaviruses could be vital in meeting the challenge of covid-19. Insights into the origins, trajectories and features of common cold coronaviruses can provide crucial clues about what to expect in the coming months and years. Understanding these relatively benign viruses may also help us avoid another pandemic. Coronaviruses are a big family of viruses that are mainly known for causing diseases in livestock. Until recently, few virologists paid them much attention. “Human coronaviruses were recognised in the 1960s,” says Frank Esper at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. But the two strains that were discovered then merely caused the common cold. “We pushed them to the side,” he says. “We had more important viruses to work on.” This blasé attitude evaporated in 2002 when a new member of the coronavirus family began infecting humans. By the time the epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) was brought under control the following year, the SARS-CoV-1 virus had affected 26 countries and killed one in 10 of the 8000 plus people it infected. The fact that a coronavirus could be so deadly was a wake-up call. A sleepy backwater in the world of virology was suddenly in the spotlight. SARS-CoV-1 was soon traced back to its roots. Related viruses were discovered in bats, animals whose unusual physiology allows them to live with a cornucopia of coronaviruses without falling ill. The SARS outbreak seems to have been sparked when one of these bat viruses started infecting civet cats, and moved from this intermediate host to humans.
4-29-20 Coronavirus: Mike Pence flouts rule on masks at hospital
US Vice-President Mike Pence has visited a top US hospital without wearing a mask, despite the medical centre's own rules that visitors should wear personal protective equipment. Mr Pence appeared to be the only person present without a facial covering at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. In a deleted tweet, the clinic said the vice-president had been notified in advance of its policy requiring masks. Mr Pence leads the White House coronavirus taskforce. He defended his decision as necessary in order to meet with staff and patients. The US government's own coronavirus-prevention advice is that people should wear face coverings "in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain". The Mayo Clinic itself requires all patients and visitors to its medical centres to wear a mask or face covering. Mr Pence was accompanied by commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration Dr Stephen Hahn, who wore a mask for the trip. The visit came on the same day that the US coronavirus caseload topped one million and the number of deaths surpassed 57,000. Asked by a reporter on Tuesday to explain why he did not wear a mask, the vice-president said he and everyone around him are regularly tested for the coronavirus. "When the CDC issued guidelines about wearing a mask, it was their recognition that people that may have the coronavirus could prevent the possibility of conveying the virus to someone else by wearing a mask," he said. "And since I don't have the coronavirus, I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to be here, to be able to speak to these researchers, these incredible healthcare personnel, and look them in the eye and say thank you." Mr Pence chose to forgo a mask earlier this month while greeting Colorado Governor Jared Polis - who did don a facial covering - on their way to the Air Force Graduation ceremony. (Webmaster's comment: Pence thinks he's above he law just like Trump!)
4-29-20 Coronavirus: Trump orders meatpacking plants to stay open
US President Donald Trump has ordered meat processing plants to stay open to protect the nation's food supply amid the coronavirus pandemic. He invoked a Korean War-era law from the 1950s to mandate that the plants continue to function, amid industry warnings of strain on the supply chain. An estimated 3,300 US meatpacking workers have been diagnosed with coronavirus and 20 have died. The UN last month warned the emergency threatened global food supply chains. Twenty-two US meatpacking plants across the American Midwest have closed during the outbreak. They include slaughterhouses owned by the nation's biggest poultry, pork and beef producers, such as Smithfield Foods, Tyson Foods, Cargill and JBS USA. "Such closures threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure during the national emergency," says Tuesday evening's executive order, invoking the 1950 Defense Production Act. "Given the high volume of meat and poultry processed by many facilities, any unnecessary closures can quickly have a large effect on the food supply chain." The order designates the meatpacking plants as part of critical infrastructure in the US. A White House official told US media it will work with the Department of Labor to issue guidance for vulnerable workers, such as over-65s and those with chronic health conditions, to stay at home. John Tyson, chairman of Tyson Foods took out full-page ads on Sunday in the Washington Post and New York Times to warn "the nation's food supply is breaking". "As pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain," he wrote. "As a result, there will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed." He said millions of cattle, pigs and chickens will be euthanised because of slaughterhouse closures, limiting supplies at supermarkets. Pork production has borne the brunt, with daily output slashed by at least a quarter.
4-29-20 Coronavirus: US Congress abandons return to Washington
The US House of Representatives will not reconvene next week following a revolt from lawmakers who complained that it was too soon to return. On Monday, members were told to return to the Democratic-controlled chamber. However, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said on Tuesday the plan was scrapped after consulting the House doctor. The volte-face came as the confirmed number of US Covid-19 cases passed 1m. The Republican-controlled Senate still plans to return on 4 May. "We made a judgement that we will not come back next week but that we hope to come back very soon," Mr Hoyer said, adding that the bipartisan group studying remote work options for Congress would meet on Tuesday. "My objective would be that we agree upon a process so that committees can do all the work they would do if they were sitting in the same room," he said. Washington DC remains under a stay-at-home order until 15 May. Officials say the infection rate is still climbing. The Washington DC area, which includes suburbs in Maryland and Virginia, has recorded over 38,000 cases and more than 1,600 people have died. The number of Americans who have tested positive for the virus stood at 1,011,600 on Tuesday afternoon, according to Johns Hopkins University, and over 58,300 people in the US have died. Democratic leaders faced a backlash from members of their own party over the plans to return next week. On a private call with House members, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a congresswoman from Florida, told party leaders the plan was "dangerous" and several complained that they had no way of managing childcare, according to Politico, a US media outlet. On Tuesday, Mr Hoyer announced that the return to Washington would be postponed. "The House physician's view was that there was a risk to members that was one he would not recommend taking," he said.
4-29-20 Coronavirus: US economy sinks 4.8% amid pandemic shutdowns
The US economy suffered its most severe contraction in more than a decade in the first quarter of the year, as the country introduced lockdowns to slow the spread of coronavirus. The world's largest economy sank at an annual rate of 4.8%, according to official figures released on Wednesday. It marked the first contraction since 2014, ending a record expansion. The figures do not reflect the full crisis, since many of the restrictions were not put in place until March. Since then, more than 26 million people in the US have filed for unemployment, and the US has seen historic declines in business activity and consumer confidence. Forecasters expect growth to contract 30% or more in the three months to June. "This is off the rails, unprecedented," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. "The economy has just been flattened." Before the coronavirus knocked the global economy off course, the US economy was expected to grow about 2% this year. But by mid April, more than 95% of the country was was in some form of lockdown. Although some states have started to remove the orders, they remain in place in many others, including major economic engines such as New York and California. While the economic hit is expected to be most severe in the April-June period, economists say even the estimate for the first quarter estimate is likely to be revised lower, as the government receives more data. The US has responded to the economic crisis with more than $3tn in new spending. The central bank has also mounted a significant intervention.
4-29-20 Coronavirus: Outcry as Spanish beach sprayed with bleach
Authorities in a Spanish coastal resort have apologised after spraying a beach with bleach in an attempt to protect children from coronavirus. Zahara de los Atunes, near Cadiz, used tractors to spray more than 2km (1.2 miles) of beach with a bleach solution a day before Spain allowed children out of lockdown for the first time. Environmentalists say the move caused "brutal damage" to the local ecosystem. Spain has been badly affected by the coronavirus, with 23,800 deaths. It recently announced a four-phase plan to lift its stringent lockdown measures and return to a "new normality" by the end of June. María Dolores Iglesias, who heads an environmental volunteer group in the Cadiz region, said she had visited the beach at Zahara de los Atunes and seen the damage for herself. She said the bleach "killed everything on the ground, nothing is seen, not even insects". The beach and its dunes are protected breeding and nesting places for migratory birds and Ms Iglesias said she had seen at least one nest with eggs destroyed by the tractors. "Bleach is used as a very powerful disinfectant, it is logical that it be used to disinfect streets and asphalt, but here the damage has been brutal," she told Spanish media. "They have devastated the dune spaces and gone against all the rules. It has been an aberration what they have done, also taking into account that the virus lives in people not on the beach. It is crazy." Ms Iglesias said that because of the lockdown, wildlife had been thriving on the beach. "The beach has its own way of cleaning itself, it was not necessary," she said. "They do not think that this is a living ecosystem, but a lot of land." Local official Agustín Conejo admitted it was "a wrong move". "I admit that it was a mistake, it was done with the best intention," he said. Mr Conejo said they had wanted to protect children who were coming to see the sea after six weeks in confinement.
4-28-20 Covid-19 latest: Worldwide confirmed coronavirus cases pass 3 million
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. There have been more than 3 million confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide and more than 211,000 deaths, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University. Almost a third of the confirmed cases are in the US, which remains the worst affected country with more than 56,000 deaths. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) modelling indicates that deaths are likely to continue to rise in the US in coming weeks but could be substantially slowed by increased social distancing. Several states including Georgia, Texas, Michigan, Hawaii and Alaska have already begun to ease social distancing restrictions. A third of all coronavirus deaths in England and Wales are happening in care homes, according to figures from the UK’s Office for National Statistics for the week ending 17 April. The daily death toll in hospitals has been falling since 8 April. Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced that all people aged over 70 who are admitted to hospital will now be tested for covid-19. Sturgeon also said that face masks should be worn while shopping or using public transport. France will only ease coronavirus restrictions on 11 May if the number of new confirmed coronavirus cases falls to less than 3000 per day, French prime minister Edouard Phillippe told parliament today. There were 3743 new confirmed cases in France today, although the average number of daily confirmed cases over the past 2 weeks is 2162. The postponed Tokyo Olympics will be cancelled if they cannot take place in 2021 because it will be too “difficult to hold the games unless the pandemic is over in the rest of the world”, according to Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori. The games are currently scheduled to run from 23 July to 8 August next year. Germany has agreed a £7.8 billion (€9 billion) rescue package to help the airline Lufthansa, which, like many other airlines, has been affected by pandemic travel restrictions.
4-28-20 Coronavirus: One thing that makes job loss in US so painful
More than 20 million Americans have lost their jobs in the last few weeks and for many that also means losing health insurance. Susan Kent became unemployed when the theatre she worked at closed because of coronavirus, leaving her uninsured. Half of Americans rely on health insurance tied to their jobs so how did we get here?
4-28-20 Coronavirus: Trump 'can't imagine why' US disinfectant calls spiked
President Donald Trump has said he "can't imagine why" US hotline calls about disinfectant have risen after he suggested injecting the substance to treat coronavirus. The governors of Michigan and Maryland on Sunday blamed the president for the spike in such calls. Following heavy criticism from medical professionals, Mr Trump said his remarks were made sarcastically. Disinfectants are hazardous substances and can be poisonous if ingested. During Monday's Covid-19 news conference, a reporter noted that the state of Maryland's emergency hotline had received hundreds of calls in recent days seeking guidance about Mr Trump's comments. "I can't imagine why," the president said, moving quickly on. "I can't imagine that." When asked whether he took responsibility at all for the increase in calls, Mr Trump replied: "No, I don't." Mr Trump made the disinfectant remarks on Thursday, after an official presented the results of US government research that showed Covid-19 could be killed in minutes by bleach. "I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute," Mr Trump said. "And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning?" On Friday afternoon, Mr Trump told journalists: "I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen." During Monday's Rose Garden press conference, Mr Trump was also asked whether he would delay the presidential election in November. "I never even thought of changing the date of the election," he said. "Why would I do that?" Former US Vice-President Joe Biden, Mr Trump's presumptive Democratic opponent, said last week he thought Mr Trump would "try to kick back the election somehow". But Mr Trump told reporters the idea was "made-up propaganda".
4-28-20 More US states begin lifting virus lockdown orders
More US states are beginning to lift lockdown orders even as US leaders say social distancing guidelines will be necessary throughout the summer. But governors warn that life will not quickly return to normal, and that restrictions will remain in some places to keep the virus from resurging. On Friday, the US saw its largest single-day spike in cases. But the infection rate has dropped significantly in several hotspots, including New York, the US epicentre. As of Monday, the US has over 979,000 recorded coronavirus cases, according to Johns Hopkins University, and more than 55,500 deaths. Public health experts warn that lifting restrictions too soon could cause a second wave of infections. The decision to end mandatory orders comes as over 26m Americans seek unemployment protection, and the jobless rate climbs to around 16% of the population. Even as state governors allow orders to expire, some city mayors have issued their own separate plans to end local lockdowns rules. At one point, over 90% of the US population was under mandatory lockdown orders, but some states began lifting orders over the weekend allowing some Americans to return to hair salons and tattoo parlours. Georgia, Oklahoma, Alaska and South Carolina have already allowed some businesses to reopen. They and other states have issued plans that call for more rules to be relaxed in the coming week. Colorado's Democratic Governor Jared Polis has said kerb-side retail pickup can begin on Monday, with hair salons, barbershop and tattoo parlours allowed to reopen on Friday. Tennessee will allow restaurants to reopen on Monday, the same day that Mississippi's mandatory lockdown order expires. Montana's governor has allowed churches to reopen starting on Sunday, with social distancing measures still required. Restaurants and schools will be allowed to reopen on 7 May. Eight states led by Republican governors - Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming - never issued mandatory orders to stay at home. Michigan's Democratic governor, who has angered protesters with her lockdown orders, told ABC News that it is too early to lift mandatory orders in the state.
4-28-20 Coronavirus: Florida pastor continues in-person services
Pastor Rich Vera, who runs a church in Florida, says he believes that faith can stop the coronavirus. He is one of a vocal minority of Christians in America who feel it’s appropriate to gather to worship despite US federal advice to stay home, and who support protests against the restrictions in place to try and limit the spread of coronavirus. (Webmaster's comment: Faith didn't stop the Black Plague either!)
4-28-20 Coronavirus: How New Zealand got its coffees and fries back
Coffee and fast food seemed to be the first thing on the mind of New Zealanders as the country emerged from almost five weeks of strict lockdown. The alert level has shifted to level three, allowing takeaway food shops and some non-essential business to re-open. And it wasn't long before queues formed in front of coffee shops and McDonald's outlets as people rushed out. "That cup of coffee tasted amazing and I felt a sense of normality come back into my life," said one coffee lover. "Nothing beats a skilled barista making you coffee," Victoria Howe, who is based in Auckland, told the BBC. Dr Samantha Keene, a New Zealander based in Wellington agreed, saying "the ability to get a coffee and a scone made by someone else after weeks of doing it myself was a real treat". But it was the re-opening of McDonald's that got people most excited - with local media speaking to one Auckland resident who said he arrived at 04:00. Pictures online showed queues of cars and people posing with their fast food loot. "It's just great to have a wee treat at the end of a pretty tough period in lockdown," Christopher Bishop, a local MP, told the BBC, adding that his order was "a delicious Sausage and Egg McMuffin". But though the curve appears to have flattened, New Zealand's top health expert warned against people congregating outside public spaces. "Like many people returning to work today, I have enjoyed a takeaway coffee. However it is important not to congregate outside the cafes, the carpark of takeaway places like McDonald's. We do not want to see the sort of rebound we have seen in other countries," said Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Under the level three alert - a notch below its highest alert level - people have still been told to stay at home and work at home if they can, but businesses are allowed to open if they can provide contactless service. Schools are also allowed to re-open but will have to ensure social distancing rules are followed. Mass gatherings however, remain cancelled and public venues closed.
4-27-20 Covid-19 latest: Wuhan discharges outbreak’s last coronavirus patient
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Wuhan, where the coronavirus pandemic began, has discharged the outbreak’s last covid-19 patient. The whole of China reported fewer than 12 new coronavirus cases on Saturday. Social distancing restrictions are still in place, but are being gradually reduced, with almost 50,000 high school students returning to class in Beijing today. Since the outbreak began, China has reported more than 83,000 cases and more than 4,600 deaths, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University. An analysis by the Financial Times suggests the global death toll for covid-19 may be almost 60 per cent higher than official counts according to excess death statistics from 14 countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) says “immunity passports”, which would allow people who have been been infected with coronavirus to move around after they recover, are a bad idea. “There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from covid-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection,” according to a WHO statement. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will focus “almost entirely” on the coronavirus pandemic in the near future. “This has the foundation’s total attention,” Bill Gates told the FT. The foundation, which has a $40 billion endowment, has already committed $250 million to fighting the pandemic. UK prime minister Boris Johnson returned to work today, more than three weeks after testing positive for covid-19. He said it is still too risky for the country to relax restrictions. Doctors in the UK have been alerted to an inflammatory syndrome appearing in children that may be related to covid-19 after a rise in cases in the last few weeks. Italy’s prime minister Giuseppe Conte has said that people will be able to visit their families and factories will be allowed to reopen from 4 May, in a step towards ending the lockdown that has been in place there since early March. People in Germany are now required to wear cloth face masks on public transport and, in most regions, within shops. German authorities across the country are beginning to ease restrictions by re-opening certain shops and schools. New Zealand says it has stopped community transmission of the coronavirus. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the virus was “currently” eliminated, with new confirmed cases in single figures for several days and only one new confirmed case reported on Sunday. More than 1 million Australians downloaded a coronavirus contact tracing smartphone app called COVIDSafe within hours of its release by the government.
4-27-20 Coronavirus: New Zealand claims no community cases as lockdown eases
New Zealand says it has stopped community transmission of Covid-19, effectively eliminating the virus. With new cases in single figures for several days - one on Sunday - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the virus was "currently" eliminated. But officials have warned against complacency, saying it does not mean a total end to new coronavirus cases. The news comes hours before New Zealand is set to move out of its toughest level of social restrictions. From Tuesday, some non-essential business, healthcare and education activity will be able to resume. Most people will still be required to remain at home at all times and avoid all social interactions. "We are opening up the economy, but we're not opening up people's social lives," Ms Ardern said at the daily government briefing. New Zealand has reported fewer than 1,500 confirmed or probable cases of coronavirus and 19 deaths. New Zealand's Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the low number of new cases in recent days "does give us confidence that we have achieved our goal of elimination". He warned that "elimination" did not mean there would be no new cases, "but it does mean we know where our cases are coming from". Ms Ardern said there was "no widespread undetected community transmission in New Zealand", adding: "We have won that battle." But she said the country "must remain vigilant if we are to keep it that way". The country brought in some of the toughest restrictions in the world on travel and activity early on in the pandemic, when it only had a few dozen cases. It closed its borders, started enforcing quarantine of all arrivals in the country, brought in a stringent lockdown and mounted an extensive testing and contact tracing operation. Beaches, waterfronts and playgrounds were shut on 26 March, as were offices and schools. Bars and restaurants were also closed, including for takeaway and delivery. Ms Ardern said modelling indicated New Zealand could have had more than 1,000 cases a day if it had not brought in the lockdown so early. She said the country could never know how bad it would have been, but that "through our cumulative actions we have avoided the worst". New Zealand's remote location and easily sealable borders played in its favour when the virus broke out, experts say. But the government has also been praised for the clarity of its messaging throughout the crisis. (Webmaster's comment: This could not have happened in America. We have Trump!)
4-27-20 The U.S. government's coronavirus response has been an epic failure
The coronavirus pandemic is expanding the English language, as big historical events often do. There's one awkward phrase that's suddenly particularly in vogue among elected officials and bureaucrats battling the outbreak: the "whole of government" approach. It is a term meant to signal that all hands are on deck, that COVID-19 has the attention and effort of every person and agency in Washington, D.C., and beyond. Unfortunately, it is also a good way to describe how the government has performed during this crisis. We have a "whole of government" failure on our hands. It isn't just President Trump who has done an insufficient job, although he bears a great deal of well-documented responsibility. Congress and the courts are falling short, too. The pandemic is more than a public health threat — it also stands to harm and delegitimize American institutions that were already weakened by polarization and the president's preference for demagoguery over leadership. On the surface, Congress has been unexpectedly responsive to the economic catastrophe created by the pandemic and accompanying lockdowns. The legislative branch has approved $3 trillion in new spending in just a matter of weeks — not enough to make everything right, certainly, but a remarkable achievement considering the gridlock that usually plagues Capitol Hill. But the House of Representatives — the only part of government controlled by Democrats — is proving unable or unwilling to adapt to the emergency. As The Washington Post notes, the House is "struggling so far to adopt remote voting, Zoom video hearings, or any of the other alternative methods that have become standard for most workplaces in the age of COVID-19." That means little or no oversight of the executive branch, which is run by a known grifter who suddenly has trillions of dollars to spend. Committees can't meet to work on bills. Nobody can cast votes. But the House — so far — can't agree to allow things like remote voting or proxy voting as emergency alternatives to the centuries-old requirement that members be physically present to cast votes. And so the House, at this critical stage, is forfeiting its ability to be an equal branch of government. (Webmaster's comment: We must have total Freedom and Liberty from quarantines and lockdowns no matter how many will die!)
4-27-20 Coronavirus: The US resistance to a continued lockdown
In these times, the sight of a public gathering of hundreds of people mostly without face masks is alarming. But that is what happened at a demonstration against the shutdown measures in Washington State. "We believe that the state governor has gone beyond his constitutional authority in shutting down businesses and ordering people to stay at home," organiser Tyler Miller says from the grounds of the state capitol. In mid-March, Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced an emergency proclamation mirroring many issued around the world; closing restaurants and bars and banning large gatherings. But protesters say that was unconstitutional. "The state constitution says that the right of the people to peaceably assemble shall never be abridged. We believe that the (emergency coronavirus) proclamations that the governor here ordered violate that," Mr Miller says. Mr Miller said he was not protesting against the recommendations from the public health bodies and respected the need to 'flatten the curve'. "I even self-quarantined for 14 days back at the very beginning of this myself, when I had an illness that mirrored some of the symptoms," he says. "The fact I am protesting does not mean I think it is a good idea to have gatherings, I just believe that the government has no authority to prohibit them." Throughout the crisis, Mr Miller has also been able to continue his work as an engineering technician with the US Navy. He says the thing that has angered him is what he feels is an un-American overreach of power by the Democratic governor. The restrictions differ from state to state, and about 20 states have had protests against the measures. These demonstrations vary in size from a few dozen people to thousands. They come as the US finds itself still very much in the grip of this crisis. (Webmaster's comment: Those at the gatherings will infect eachother. Then many of them will die and we'll be rid of them!)
4-27-20 Coronavirus: Schools start reopening in China's biggest cities
Older students in China's biggest cities are starting to return to school following the coronavirus outbreak. Shanghai welcomed back pupils in their final years of middle and high school, while Beijing allowed students preparing for China's university entrance exam in July to return. Schools in other parts of China re-opened several weeks ago. Wuhan, the city where the outbreak began late last year, is set to reopen high schools on 6 May. The country says it has largely curbed the spread of the disease. China has reported an increase of just 26 confirmed cases since Friday, bringing the total number to 82,830. All coronavirus patients in Wuhan have now been discharged, Beijing says. However, there are still fears of a possible second wave of infection, and social distancing measures are being strictly enforced, with students wearing masks and sitting at a distance from each other. In Hangzhou, one headmaster was taking no risks with his young charges. Pictures emerged of the pupils at Yangzheng Primary School wearing specially adapted hats to make sure they didn't forget to keep their distance. In Beijing on Monday, some students were met by people wearing full hazmat suits. The Ministry of Education said the capital's returning pupils would have their temperatures taken on arrival at school gates and must show that they have a "green" code on an app which calculates their risk before being allowed back to class. Beijing has still got some of the country's strictest restrictions in place, including making new arrivals to the city spend two weeks in quarantine. According to the BBC's Stephen McDonell in Beijing the cautious approach to re-opening schools in the capital has been part of a process of trying to make sure it can host the National People's Congress, the Communist Party's most important annual gathering. It has already been delayed for several months.
4-27-20 Coronavirus: Germans don compulsory masks as lockdown eases
Germans have started wearing facemasks outside the home as new rules come into force to curb the spread of coronavirus. The use of cloth masks is now mandatory on public transport and, in most regions, within shops. The rules vary among the 16 German states - Bavaria being the strictest, while in Berlin shoppers do not have to wear masks. But the authorities are moving very cautiously in easing the lockdown. Across the world countries are coming up with their own guidance on mask-wearing. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) advice suggests people should wear protective masks only if they are sick and showing symptoms, or if they are caring for people suspected to have Covid-19. It says masks are not recommended for the general public because they can be contaminated by coughs and sneezes, and might offer a false sense of security. German media report that mask-wearing is now required in school corridors and when children go on breaks, but not in the classroom. Students sit in class spaced apart and there is more frequent cleaning with disinfectant. Students preparing for their school leaving exams are also back in class. Most German schoolchildren are still at home under lockdown. The German authorities require mask-wearing at stations and on buses and trains, but not yet on long-distance trains. Home-made cloth masks are acceptable; people are not expected to wear hospital-style intensive care masks. These are now on sale in station vending machines and at markets. Monday also saw some further easing of the lockdowns in the Czech Republic and Switzerland, while Italy has set out a detailed plan for easing its lockdown which remains one of the strictest in Europe. Germany has reported 5,750 deaths from Covid-19 - a much lower toll than in Italy, Spain, France or the UK. Its large-scale testing and strict, early lockdown are believed to have kept the rate of infection down.
4-27-20 Coronavirus: Italy's PM outlines lockdown easing measures
Italy has outlined plans to ease the restrictions it imposed seven weeks ago to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the measures would be relaxed from 4 May, with people being allowed to visit their relatives in small numbers. Parks, factories and building sites will reopen, but schools will not restart classes until September. Roman Catholic bishops have written to Mr Conte to protest against the continued ban on church services. It comes as the country recorded its lowest daily death toll in weeks. There were 260 new virus-related deaths on Sunday, the lowest daily figure since 14 March. The total is now at 26,644, Europe's highest official toll. Italy has confirmed 197,675 cases of the virus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the disease globally. Other countries like Switzerland and Spain are also relaxing their measures. The number of cases in Italy has been falling, and authorities now believe the contagion rate - the amount of people each person with the virus infects - is low enough to justify a cautious easing of curbs. Speaking on television on Sunday, Mr Conte outlined how the country would begin "Phase Two" of lifting its coronavirus lockdown. There was no announcement on the possibility of Italy's premier football league Serie A resuming, even behind closed doors. Mr Conte stressed that social distancing measures would need to continue for months to come, and said church services would remain banned. He urged people to stay a metre (3ft) away from each other. "If we do not respect the precautions the curve will go up, the deaths will increase, and we will have irreversible damage to our economy," the prime minister said. "If you love Italy, keep your distance." He also said his government would cap the price of face masks at 50 cents ($0.54; £0.44).
4-27-20 Coronavirus: Spain eases lockdown measures to allow children outside
Restrictions of movement in Spain, one of the worst-hit countries in the coronavirus pandemic, have been eased to allow children outside for the first time in six weeks. Spain has had one of Europe's strictest lockdowns but the government hopes to ease measures further to let everyone exercise outside. On Sunday, the country reported its lowest daily death toll since 20 March - 288. The health ministry said the total number of fatalities now stood at 23,190. Kate Walder, who lives in Madrid, filmed her family both during the lockdown and as they ventured out again after 42 days inside.
4-27-20 Saudi Arabia ends executions for crimes committed by minors, says commission
Saudi Arabia will no longer impose the death penalty on people who committed crimes while still minors, the country's Human Rights Commission says. The announcement, citing a royal decree by King Salman, comes two days after the country said it would ban flogging. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child - which Riyadh has signed - says capital punishment should not be used for offences carried out by minors. Activists say Saudi Arabia has one of the world's worst human rights records. They say freedom of expression is severely curtailed and critics of the government are subject to what they say is arbitrary arrest. A record 184 people were executed in the kingdom in 2019, according to human rights group Amnesty International. At least one case involved a man convicted of a crime committed when he was a minor, the rights group reported. In a statement published on Sunday, Awwad Alawwad, president of the state-backed commission, said a royal decree had replaced executions in cases where crimes were committed by minors with a maximum penalty of 10 years in a juvenile detention centre. "The decree helps us in establishing a more modern penal code," Mr Alawwad said. It was unclear when the decision - which was not immediately carried on state media - would come into effect. The kingdom's human rights record has remained under intense scrutiny, despite recent changes, following the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018, while many civil rights and women's rights activists remain in prison. Earlier this week, the most prominent Saudi human rights campaigner died in jail after a stroke which fellow activists say was due to medical neglect by the authorities.
4-26-20 More US states begin lifting virus lockdown orders
More US states are beginning to lift lockdown orders even as US leaders say social distancing guidelines will be necessary throughout the summer. But governors warn that life will not quickly return to normal, and that restrictions will remain in some places to keep the virus from resurging. On Friday, the US saw its largest single-day spike in cases. But the infection rate has dropped significantly in several hotspots, including New York, the US epicentre. As of Sunday, the US has over 940,000 recorded coronavirus cases, according to Johns Hopkins University, and more than 54,000 deaths. Public health experts warn that lifting restrictions too soon could cause a second wave of infections. The decision to end mandatory orders comes as over 26m Americans seek unemployment protection, and the jobless rate climbs to around 16% of the population. Even as state governors allow orders to expire, some city mayors have issued their own separate plans to end local lockdowns rules. At one point, over 90% of the US population was under mandatory lockdown orders, but some states began lifting orders over the weekend allowing some Americans to return to hair salons and tattoo parlours. Georgia, Oklahoma, Alaska and South Carolina have already allowed some businesses to reopen. They and other states have issued plans that call for more rules to be relaxed in the coming week. Colorado's Democratic Governor Jared Polis has said kerb-side retail pickup can begin on Monday, with hair salons, barbershop and tattoo parlours allowed to reopen on Friday. Tennessee will allow restaurants to reopen on Monday, the same day that Mississippi's mandatory lockdown order expires. Montana's governor has allowed churches to reopen starting on Sunday, with social distancing measures still required. Restaurants and schools will be allowed to reopen on 7 May. Eight states led by Republican governors - Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming - never issued mandatory orders to stay at home. (Webmaster's comment: Eleven people have died in South Dakota.)
4-26-20 Coronavirus: New York to allow tests in pharmacies
The US state of New York, the epicentre of the country's Covid-19 outbreak, will allow pharmacies to carry out tests for the virus, the governor says. Andrew Cuomo said some 5,000 pharmacies would be able to carry out testing, with the aim to provide 40,000 per day. The US has more than 938,000 confirmed cases. Almost a third of the 53,751 deaths happened in New York City alone. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump did not hold his daily briefing, saying it was not worth his "time or effort". Speaking on Twitter on Saturday, he blamed the media for asking "nothing but hostile questions". He was heavily criticised after suggesting at Thursday's White House news conference that disinfectant could potentially be used as a treatment for the virus. His remarks have been condemned as dangerous by doctors and manufacturers, as disinfectants are hazardous substances and can be poisonous if ingested. In New York City, calls to the hotline for exposure to certain household chemicals more than doubled in the 18 hours after Mr Trump's remarks - 30 cases compared to 13 for the same time frame last year. The briefings with Mr Trump and the coronavirus task force could run for more than two hours. But Thursday's performance caused embarrassment even among some of his supporters, BBC North America correspondent Peter Bowes says. Mr Trump's tweet appears to confirm reports that the conferences may be coming to an end because polls suggest they have not bolstered the president's popularity among voters, our correspondent adds. On Friday, the president's briefing was unusually short - lasting just over 20 minutes - and he took no questions from the media. Governor Cuomo announced on Saturday that antibody screenings would be expanded at four hospitals, beginning with frontline medical workers. He also said independent pharmacies would be allowed to collect samples for diagnostic tests. It is part of a drive to find out how widely the virus has spread across the state of 20 million people. "Twenty-one days of hell, and now we are back to where we were 21 days ago," he said. "Testing is what we are compulsively or obsessively focused on now."
4-26-20 Coronavirus: US and China trade conspiracy theories
From the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak, conspiracy theories about the origin and scale of the disease were spread on online platforms. Among these were the false claim that the virus was part of a Chinese "covert biological weapons programme", and a baseless claim that a Canadian-Chinese spy team had sent coronavirus to Wuhan. The claim that the virus was man-made has been pushed by numerous conspiracy groups on Facebook, obscure Twitter accounts and even found its way on to primetime Russian state TV. And months into the outbreak, not only have these theories not faded away, but new, unverified claims have been promoted by government officials, senior politicians and media outlets in China and the US. Zhao Lijian, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, has repeatedly promoted the idea - without evidence - that Covid-19 might have originated in the US. On 12 March, he said in a tweet that it might have been the US army that brought the virus to Wuhan. A day later, he tweeted an article by the website Global Research headlined "Further evidence that the virus originated in the US", and urged users to read and share it. The article has since been deleted. Chinese daily The Global Times echoed Mr Zhao's sentiment. While stressing the diplomat had made the claim in a "personal capacity", his remarks resonated "with similar doubts raised by the Chinese public", the paper said. Mr Zhao's claims have also been amplified by a number of Chinese embassies and social media users in different parts of the world. BBC Monitoring's China specialist Kerry Allen said that while Mr Zhao is known for being an outspoken figure - particularly on social media - he has a different persona within mainland China and does not necessarily always represent the view of the leadership. Founded in 2001 in Canada, Global Research is the website of the Center for Research on Globalization. According to PolitiFact, a US-based independent fact-checking website, Global Research "has advanced specious conspiracy theories on topics like 9/11, vaccines and global warming". (Webmaster's comment: The Americans have one objective since they can't compete with the Chinese, Demonize China!)
4-26-20 Jack Ma: The billionaire trying to stop coronavirus (and fix China's reputation)
The richest man in China opened his own Twitter account last month, in the middle of the Covid-19 outbreak. So far, every one of his posts has been devoted to his unrivalled campaign to deliver medical supplies to almost every country around the world. "One world, one fight!" Jack Ma enthused in one of his first messages. "Together, we can do this!" he cheered in another. The billionaire entrepreneur is the driving force behind a widespread operation to ship medical supplies to more than 150 countries so far, sending face masks and ventilators to many places that have been elbowed out of the global brawl over life-saving equipment. But Ma's critics and even some of his supporters aren't sure what he's getting himself into. Has this bold venture into global philanthropy unveiled him as the friendly face of China's Communist Party? Or is he an independent player who is being used by the Party for propaganda purposes? He appears to be following China's diplomatic rules, particularly when choosing which countries should benefit from his donations, but his growing clout might put him in the crosshairs of the jealous leaders at the top of China's political pyramid. Other tech billionaires have pledged more money to fight the effects of the virus - Twitter's Jack Dorsey is giving $1bn (£0.8bn) to the cause. Candid, a US-based philanthropy watchdog that tracks private charitable donations, puts Alibaba 12th on a list of private Covid-19 donors. But that list doesn't include shipments of vital supplies, which some countries might consider to be more important than money at this stage in the global outbreak. No one else other than the effervescent Ma is capable of dispatching supplies directly to those who need them. Starting in March, the Jack Ma foundation and the related Alibaba foundation began airlifting supplies to Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and even to politically sensitive areas including Iran, Israel, Russia and the US. Ma has also donated millions to coronavirus vaccine research and a handbook of medical expertise from doctors in his native Zhejiang province has been translated from Chinese into 16 languages. But it's the medical shipments that have been making headlines, setting Ma apart. "He has the ability and the money and the lifting power to get a Chinese supply plane out of Hangzhou to land in Addis Ababa, or wherever it needs to go," explains Ma's biographer, Duncan Clark. "This is logistics; this is what his company, his people and his province are all about."
4-26-20 Coronavirus: Spain's children run free from lockdown - but not all
When Spain's government announced a national lockdown in mid-March, in reaction to coronavirus, not everyone was dismayed at the prospect of spending several weeks at home. Miguel Sánchez, a 15-year-old from Madrid, was delighted he wouldn't have to go to school for the foreseeable future. Six weeks later, having not left the family's flat once, the lockdown has lost some of its shine for him and he still does not know when he will be able to go out. Restrictions have been partially lifted for children under the age of 14 for the first time. That means Miguel's younger brother, Jaime, can now go out each day. But Miguel cannot. "It does bother him, because he says 'Why can my brother go out and I can't?'," says their mother, Cristina Carrasco, a primary school teacher. Miguel has spent much of the time inside doing school work. In his free time he has been playing video games and watching films with his younger brother. "Being a teenager, he really misses seeing his friends, going out and having contact with other kids of his age," she says. "Miguel is a good kid but teenagers have good days and bad days." The new lockdown conditions allow Spain's 6.3 million under-14s to leave their homes each day for a total of one hour between 9am and 9pm, but without going further than a kilometre. Bicycles, skates and skateboards are allowed, but public parks remain off-limits. The lockdown's other conditions remain in place for the moment, with the government considering loosening it further in the second half of May. Psychologists have welcomed the lifting of restrictions for smaller children, saying that even one hour outside each day can provide an important boost to their state of mind. "The change of routine, being outside and being in the sunlight - all of that is extremely important," says Laura Piñeiro, a psychologist and the director in Madrid of the charity Asociación Bienestar Desarollo (ABD).
4-25-20 Coronavirus: Doctors dismantle Trump's treatment comments
On Thursday, during the White House coronavirus taskforce briefing, President Donald Trump attracted widespread criticism after he suggested research into whether Covid-19 might be treated by injecting disinfectant into the body. He also appeared to propose irradiating patients' bodies with UV light, an idea dismissed by Dr Deborah Birx at the briefing. On Friday, President Trump said his comments had been made "sarcastically". However, doctors warned that some people might take the president's comments to heart. Speaking to the BBC, Dr Jonathan Spicer warned that "these products have corrosive properties that melt or destroy the lining of our innards."
4-25-20 Trump's contradictory immigration order
If conventional political wisdom is that a leader should never let a crisis go to waste, it follows that a crisis will reveal a leader's true priorities. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Donald Trump's focus couldn't be more clear. On Wednesday, Trump signed an executive order that bars most forms of immigration to the United States for the next 60 days. While not an outright ban on legal immigration, Trump's executive order is the culmination of what has been a set of increasingly restrictive immigration policies put out by his administration since COVID-19 began. All along, Trump and his allies have defended these restrictions primarily as sensible health measures, meant only to protect Americans from infection-carrying outsiders. At the same time, those very voices, particularly the president, seriously downplayed the health consequences of coronavirus even as it ravaged the country and has killed, thus far, more than 50,000 Americans. The latest extreme immigration decision by Trump this week took place just as he was also ramping up his latest push to end the lockdowns and reopen the American economy, despite public health officials warning of the potentially deadly consequences from doing so. The blatant hypocrisy of ignoring experts' health warnings while using supposed health concerns as the basis for limiting immigration is trademark Trump doublespeak, of course, and not surprising from a man who regularly contradicts himself even while he's speaking. Perhaps more than anything else, it starkly demonstrates how much the coronavirus for Trump is simply a political football rather than a real and urgent crisis. If the virus is serious enough to suspend immigration, then the economy shouldn't be reopened. Yet the cruel contradiction in simultaneously advocating for both underscores how unserious Trump and his lackeys are about the gravest threat this country has faced since 9/11. It's no wonder Trump has seized on the pandemic to escalate his anti-immigration agenda. In normal times, accusing immigrants of bringing disease, crime, and economic woes to the country offers his impassioned supporters the reddest meat to feed their ravenous resentments. Now, during a health emergency that Trump is both incapable of understanding and uninterested in managing, Trump's anti-immigration rhetoric, amplified by his favorite propaganda mill, Fox News, serves as a convenient distraction from how disastrously he has mishandled the crisis while also setting in motion what is sure to be one of the dominant narratives of his re-election campaign. Coupled with the xenophobic blaming of China for the coronavirus, Trump is counting on racist messaging to divert from his shortcomings and reignite his followers' fantasies.
4-25-20 Coronavirus: Some states begin to reopen as US death toll passes 50,000
Three US states have allowed some shops to reopen after measures imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus, as the country's death toll passed 51,000. Salons and spas could reopen in Georgia and Oklahoma while Alaska lifted restrictions on restaurants. On Friday, President Donald Trump walked out of a shorter than usual briefing, refusing to take questions. He has faced criticism after suggesting that injecting household disinfectant into patients could be beneficial. His remarks have been condemned as dangerous by doctors and manufacturers. Disinfectants are hazardous substances and can be poisonous if ingested, and even external exposure can be dangerous to the skin, eyes and respiratory system. Mr Trump said on Friday that the comments - made at a news conference one day earlier - were sarcastic and taken out of context. Customers visiting the newly reopened businesses in Georgia, Oklahoma and Alaska will be expected to continue adhering to social distancing measures. But some cities and areas have decided to keep their lockdowns in place. In Georgia, which has one of the fastest reopening timetables in the country, bowling alleys, spas, hair and nail salons, tattoo parlours and other personal care businesses will be allowed to resume operations. On Monday, dine-in restaurants and theatres will be allowed to re-open. With unemployment claims reaching 26 million people - or around 15% of the population - since mid-March, many US states are feeling the pressure to resume trading. But health experts have warned that the steps might be happening too soon, amid fears they could spark another wave of infections. After being criticised by Mr Trump, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp tightened some of the sanitation and social distancing requirements for restaurants. (Webmaster's comment: Ridiculous! Is getting your hair done more important than staying alive?)
4-25-20 Coronavirus: Immunity passports ‘could increase virus spread’
Governments should not issue so-called "immunity passports" or "risk-free certificates" as a way of easing lockdowns, the World Health Organization (WHO) says. It said there was "no evidence" that people who had developed antibodies after recovering from the virus were protected against a second infection. Such a move could actually increase virus transmission, it warned. People who assumed they were immune might stop taking precautions, it said. Some governments have considered permitting people who have recovered to travel or return to work. Restrictions imposed on movement to stop the virus spreading have crippled economies around the world. More than 2.8m cases of the virus have been confirmed worldwide and nearly 200,000 people have died. "There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from Covid-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection," the WHO said in a briefing note. Most studies carried out so far showed that people who had recovered from infection had antibodies in their blood - but some of these people had very low levels of antibodies. This suggested that another part of the body's immune response - T-cells, which eliminate infected cells - may also be "critical" for recovery. As of Friday no study had evaluated whether the presence of antibodies to the virus conferred immunity to subsequent infection by the virus in humans, the WHO said. "At this point in the pandemic, there is not enough evidence about the effectiveness of antibody-mediated immunity to guarantee the accuracy of an 'immunity passport' or 'risk-free certificate'," it said. The organisation also said laboratory tests to detect antibodies needed further validation to determine their accuracy and also needed to distinguish between previous infection by the SARS-CoV-2 virus - which has caused the pandemic - and the six other known coronaviruses in circulation.
4-25-20 The anatomy of a coronavirus conspiracy theory
The idea of a "plannedemic" makes no sense. So what are these conspiracists really afraid of? Most conspiracy theories have some sort of basis in historical fact. The CIA really did have a mind-control program. The FBI knew more about Lee Harvey Oswald than it let on to the Warren Commission. The planes that smuggled guns into Nicaragua were also smuggling drugs out of Nicaragua. We frequently uncover secrets about the U.S. government that make the wilder conspiracy theories sound more plausible. But it is hard to draw a line from the U.S. government's coronavirus response to the conspiracy theories circulating about that response. Conspiracists believe the pandemic, or "plannedemic," is a coordinated effort to hold American citizens hostage and institute martial law. They warn that sheltering-in-place and social distancing are not temporary measures but instead will become the new normal. The government will require us to receive some sort of "digital tattoo" or microchip implant before we are allowed to leave our homes and go back to work. And eventually, the conspiracists claim, there will be a mandatory rollout of tainted vaccines concocted by the same mysterious forces that concocted the "COVID-1984" virus: vaccines that will render us infertile, docile, or dead. How does this square with the federal government's documented actions? If anything, the government has been guilty of downplaying the threat posed by the virus, not exaggerating it. They have demonstrated a grievous lack of planning for this supposed "plannedemic." And rather than attempting to parlay the temporary economic lockdown into something more permanent, the president is eager to end it as soon as possible, so the stock market can go up and unemployment can go down in time for his re-election. When protesters around the country demanded that the economy reopen, Trump didn't call them enemies of the state; he celebrated them. If the Trump administration's secret goal is to provoke mass hysteria, shut down the economy permanently, and cancel democracy, it is not doing a good job. There are other narratives being spun about the coronavirus which at least have greater internal logic. Small-government conservatives at outlets like The National Review and the Wall Street Journal argue that, yes, the federal government's response has been weak — and this is a good thing. They champion what corporations, nonprofits, and state and local governments are doing to combat the virus. Where conspiracists see the ascendance of tyranny, many conservatives see a vindication of capitalism and federalism. Meanwhile, traditional nationalists like Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley, and Steve Bannon see the pandemic as a chance to vilify China and the World Health Organization. They call for greater national autonomy and stronger border control, which have indeed been the clearest aspects of the White House's coronavirus response. Conspiracists, however, are less interested in vilifying China, which they see as a pawn in a greater scheme. They frequently claim the pandemic is a hoax, in which case border control would be irrelevant.
4-25-20 Coronavirus: Has Sweden got its science right?
Sweden's strategy to keep large parts of society open is widely backed by the public. It has been devised by scientists and backed by government, and yet not all the country's virologists are convinced. There is no lockdown here. Photos have been shared around the world of bars with crammed outdoor seating and long queues for waterfront ice cream kiosks, and yet it is a myth that life here goes on "as normal". On the face of it little has shut down. But data suggests the vast majority of the population have taken to voluntary social distancing, which is the crux of Sweden's strategy to slow the spread of the virus. Usage of public transport has dropped significantly, large numbers are working from home, and most refrained from travelling over the Easter weekend. The government has also banned gatherings of more than 50 people and visits to elderly care homes. Around 9 in 10 Swedes say they keep at least a metre away from people at least some of the time, up from seven in 10 a month ago, according to a major survey by polling firm Novus. Viewed through the eyes of the Swedish Public Health Agency, the way people have responded is one to be celebrated, albeit cautiously. The scientists' approach has led to weeks of global debate over whether Sweden has adopted a sensible and sustainable plan, or unwittingly plunged its population into an experiment that is causing unnecessary fatalities, and could fail to keep the spread of Covid-19 under control. In Stockholm, the epicentre of the virus so far, cases have largely plateaued, although there was a spike at the end of this week, put down partly to increased testing. There is still space in intensive care units and a new field hospital at a former conference venue is yet to be used. "To a great part, we have been able to achieve what we set out to achieve," says state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell. "Swedish healthcare keeps on working, basically with a lot of stress, but not in a way that they turn patients away." In contrast with other countries where political leaders have fronted the national response to the crisis, Dr Tegnell has led the majority of news conferences.
4-25-20 Coronavirus: India allows small shops to reopen
India has allowed small local stores to reopen more than a month after the country went into lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic. The interior ministry said only half of staff should work and they had to follow precautions such as wearing face masks and observing social distancing. However shopping malls must remain closed and businesses in coronavirus hotspots will also stay shut. The move is part of Delhi's attempt to gradually restart economic activity. India has nearly 25,000 confirmed cases of the virus and 780 people have died. Millions of Indian households depend on their local shops for their day-to-day groceries and other essentials. All shops in rural areas except those in shopping malls were allowed to reopen from Saturday, as are stores in urban areas. However shops in markets are to remain closed. However officials said alcohol stores had to remain closed and online shopping platforms could only be used to buy essential items, Indian media reported. India's lockdown has seen domestic and international travel banned and factories, schools, offices and all shops other than those supplying essential services shut. The abrupt halt to economic activity prompted an exodus from big cities as hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who had moved there to find work suddenly found they had way of supporting themselves. Many began long journeys back to their home villages and towns in rural areas, often walking hundreds of miles. In March India announced a $22bn (£19bn) bailout for the country's poor to help counter the economic effects of the Covid-19 outbreak - but critics noted that this amounted to just 1% of India's GDP - in stark contrast to the US and Singapore which spent about 10% of their GDP on similar packages. Earlier this month the World Bank said the South Asia region faced its worst economic performance in 40 years because of the pandemic. The effects would unravel decades of progress in the region's battle against poverty, it said. India, the biggest economy in South Asia, could see growth of just 1.5% in its financial year, down from a figure of around 5%, the World Bank predicted.
4-24-19 Sen. McConnell the Elder and the fall of the American Republic
GENEVA, 2147 — The North American territory between Canada and Mexico is, as everyone knows, a blighted dystopian hellscape. Just last month United Nations peacekeepers attempting to mediate between the Fuddruckers Free State and the New Virginia Republic were attacked by "coal bandits" — part of a primitive nomadic tribe that practices a ritual in which this type of rock is set ablaze in great heaps to appease the gods. Luckily, the troops were able to withdraw before the heavily-armed irregulars, operating an early 21st-century type of wheeled transportation known as an "F-350 Super Duty," could cut them off. A century and a half ago, this region was home to by far the most powerful nation on Earth: the United States. Many have attempted to explain its downfall — suggesting a decline in civic virtue, an inability to move past filthy fossil fuel energy sources, a poor diet, or other reasons. But modern scholars have settled on a political explanation. The United States partly based its constitutional system on an even older nation, the Roman Republic. In the end it collapsed for roughly the same reason its ancient ancestor did — a wealthy aristocratic elite strangled vitally-needed reforms for so long that the national government lost all legitimacy and fell apart. The rapid decline of the U.S. accelerated during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020. In almost all countries this caused tremendous economic problems, because to control the virus as many people as possible had to stay at home to avoid becoming infected. Poor countries were especially hard-hit, as they struggled to afford rescue measures. However, almost all rich countries eventually weathered the storm. The strategy was simple — national governments kept their citizenry solvent through direct payments, or by paying businesses to maintain their employees on staff, while they built up their health care system to prevent the virus from spreading. The U.S. was the one significant exception. Its legislative Congress (divided into two parts, a House of Representatives and a Senate) did pass economic rescue measures, but they were weeks late, heavily slanted towards wealthy elites, and even then plainly short of what was necessary. Meanwhile, the U.S. president at the time was Donald Trump, an unhinged former television celebrity, and he did almost nothing to control the epidemic, which would continue to grip the U.S. more than a year after it had been controlled in every other rich country. United States citizens were banned from traveling to most countries, and it was around this time that Mexico began constructing the famous "Gran Muralla" across its northern border to keep infection (and later, armed extremist militias) out. More importantly, after the initial rush of panic, the Senate, led by Mitch McConnell "the Elder" (so named because he remained in politics until 2032 at age 90), blocked all further rescue measures. This branch of Congress had two seats for every state regardless of population, meaning the 40 million residents of California had the same influence as the 600,000 residents of Wyoming. As a result, states representing just 16 percent of the population could form a Senate majority.
4-24-20 Coronavirus: Doctor rejects Trump's 'heat and light' idea at White House
President Donald Trump discussed research showing how sunlight kills coronavirus. He asked top US doctor Deborah Birx if coronavirus patients' bodies could be irradiated by UV light. "Not as a treatment," she said.
4-24-20 What the first coronavirus antibody testing surveys can tell us
A few initial surveys looking at how many people have antibodies against the coronavirus have suggested that far more people have been infected than previously thought. But we need to be very cautious about these preliminary results. So far, almost all testing has been looking for the presence of the virus in swabs of the nose or throat. But not everyone suspected to be infected gets tested in this way, so we know the actual number of cases in any country or region must be higher than the official figure. The question is, how much higher? These figures matter because they can help indicate the best strategy for removing lockdowns or social distancing measures. This is why initial studies using a different kind of testing have been hitting the headlines. Unlike swab tests, antibody tests look to see how many people have antibodies against the coronavirus in their blood – a sign of past infection. For instance, a study at Zhongnan Hospital in Wuhan, China, found that 2 per cent of 3600 staff there had antibodies to the virus. That is surprisingly low, given the scale of the outbreak in Wuhan and that hospital staff are probably more likely to get infected than the general population. By contrast, a study in Santa Clara County, California, where just 50 deaths have been attributed to the virus so far, claimed up to 4 per cent of people there had already been infected – up to 85 times the official figure – based on a survey of 3000 people. Based on this finding, the team estimated that less than 0.2 per cent of people infected with the coronavirus die, which is far lower than most other estimates, which tend to fall somewhere between 0.7 and 3.4 per cent. But this study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, and similar work elsewhere have come under fire. “We should not be making policies based on press releases until the studies are properly reviewed,” says Daniel Larremore at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “It really matters that we get these things right.”
4-24-20 What is it like to be a covid-19 contact tracer and what do they do?
The UK has announced plans for a large-scale contact tracing programme to help the country exit the coronavirus lockdown, with reports that thousands of people are to be recruited. Other countries are already running such operations. In some Asian countries, such as South Korea, tracers are able to access credit card transactions, phone GPS data and CCTV in an effort to track down everyone an infected person may have come into contact with. Meanwhile, places like Germany and the US are interviewing people who tested positive for covid-19, to work out who they may have infected, and to inform those possible contacts. The role is unusual. It is part healthcare worker, part detective and part call centre operative. To find out what the job is really like, New Scientist spoke with someone who recently spent a month as a contact tracer in Ireland, which has nine contact tracing centres that make thousands of calls a day. “It was very rewarding. I don’t really like the wartime analogy, but it did feel like contributing to the national effort,” says the tracer, who doesn’t want to be named. Calls were split into three groups. The first were made by healthcare professionals telling people they have tested positive for covid-19. The second, handled by the tracer, was a call to the same person, to establish close contacts since symptoms appeared – later changed to 48 hours before symptoms appeared. Close contacts were defined as someone within 2 metres for 15 minutes or longer, or within an enclosed space for more than 2 hours. Working out all the possible contacts wasn’t always easy. “If you ask someone to go through a list of close contacts they’ve had over the last 14 days – or even longer, in some cases – they won’t come up with a very complete list,” he says. To get more information, the tracers used a script to walk people through their day-to-day contacts. One doctor the tracer called had already drawn up a list of names and numbers, but asking him to talk through his days revealed he had overlooked a few contacts. The third group of calls was to the people who had been potentially exposed to the virus, advising them to self-isolate.
4-24-20 Coronavirus: Disinfectant firm warns after Trump comments
A leading disinfectant producer has issued a strong warning not to use its products on the human body after Donald Trump suggested they could potentially be used to treat coronavirus. Reckitt Benckiser, which owns Lysol and Dettol, said "under no circumstance" should its products be injected or ingested. President Trump faces a backlash over his comments at a briefing on Thursday. Disinfectants are hazardous substances and can be poisonous if ingested. Even external exposure can be dangerous to the skin, eyes and respiratory system. Mr Trump's comments have been heavily criticised by doctors and have generated a huge online response. They have provoked hundreds of thousands of comments and caused well-known cleaning brands to trend on social media. Reckitt Benckiser, which also owns the brands Vanish and Cillit Bang, said its products should not be administered "through injection, ingestion or any other route". "Our disinfectant and hygiene products should only be used as intended and in line with usage guidelines. Please read the label and safety information," the company said in a statement. During Thursday's White House coronavirus task force briefing, an official presented the results of US government research that indicated coronavirus appeared to weaken faster when exposed to sunlight and heat. The study also showed bleach could kill the virus in saliva or respiratory fluids within five minutes, and isopropyl alcohol could kill it even more quickly. Mr Trump then hypothesised about the possibility of using a "tremendous ultraviolet" or "just very powerful light" on or even inside the body as a potential treatment. "And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute," he said. "And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning? "Because you see it gets in the lungs and does a tremendous number on them, so it'd be interesting to check that," he said. Doctors warned that the president's suggestion could have fatal results. "This notion of injecting or ingesting any type of cleansing product into the body is irresponsible and it's dangerous," Dr Vin Gupta, a pulmonologist and global health policy expert, told NBC news. "It's a common method that people utilise when they want to kill themselves." (Webmaster's comment: President Trump is a Clear and Present Danger to the American people!)
4-24-20 Coronavirus: Trump’s disinfectant and sunlight claims fact-checked
President Donald Trump has questioned whether injecting people with disinfectants and exposing patients' bodies to UV light could help treat the coronavirus. "I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning, because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs." Mr Trump suggests injecting patients with disinfectants might help treat coronavirus. Using a disinfectant can kill viruses on surfaces, but this is crucially only about infected objects and surfaces - not about what happens once the virus is inside your body. Not only does consuming or injecting disinfectant risk poisoning and death, it's not even likely to be effective. Doctors have appealed to people not to ingest or inject disinfectant, as there are concerns people will think this is a good idea and die. "Injecting bleach or disinfectant at the dose required to neutralise viruses in the circulating blood would likely result in significant, irreversible harm and probably a very unpleasant death," says Rob Chilcott, professor of toxicology at the University of Hertfordshire." He adds that it would also "not have much effect on viral particles within the cells". Reckitt Benckiser, a leading manufacturer of disinfectant products including Lysol and Dettol, has issued a statement in response to the president's comments. It said: "We must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route)." "I said supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way. And I think you said you're going to test that too... So, we'll see, but the whole concept of the light, the way it kills it in one minute - that's pretty powerful." There is some evidence that, in general, viruses on surfaces die more quickly when exposed directly to sunlight. But we don't know how much or how long they have to be exposed for UV light to have an effect. And again, this is only about infected objects and surfaces - not about what happens once the virus is inside your body. By the time the virus has taken hold inside your body, no amount of UV light on your skin is going to make a difference. "UV irradiation and high heat are known to kill virus particles on surfaces," says Dr Penny Ward, visiting professor in pharmaceutical medicine at Kings College London. But "neither sitting in the sun, nor heating, will kill a virus replicating in an individual patient's internal organs". (Webmaster's comment: President Trump is a Clear and Present Danger to the American people!)
4-24-20 Coronavirus: Doctor rejects Trump's 'heat and light' idea at White House
President Donald Trump discussed research showing how sunlight kills coronavirus. He asked top US doctor Deborah Birx if coronavirus patients' bodies could be irradiated by UV light. "Not as a treatment," she said.
4-24-20 Coronavirus: Congress passes $484bn economic relief bill
The US Congress has passed a new Covid-19 relief package totalling $484bn (£391bn), the fourth aid bill to clear Congress in response to the pandemic. The legislation, approved 388-5 by the House of Representatives, tops up a small business aid fund, while funding hospitals and testing. President Donald Trump said he would enact the bill, which passed the Senate unanimously on Tuesday. The US has over 845,000 confirmed cases of the virus and 46,800 deaths. Last month, Washington enacted the largest economic stimulus package in US history, with $2 trillion in coronavirus aid. (Webmaster's comment: 2/3's of which went to big corporations, not samll businesses!) Thursday's bill will bring the total federal spending on Covid-19 relief up to $3tn, swelling the US budget deficit towards record levels. Mr Trump and Democrats are keen on passing another relief bill that could top $1tn, but the president's fellow Republicans are not keen. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell has drawn bipartisan criticism for saying he would support states declaring bankruptcy rather than having the federal government "borrow money from future generations". The economic ravages of the pandemic were brought into sharp focus on Thursday by official unemployment figures that showed over 26 million Americans have filed for jobless claims in the last five weeks - and 4.4 million last week alone. In Thursday's bill, lawmakers gave $310bn in new funds to the Paycheck Protection Program, which offers loans to small businesses so they can keep employees on the payroll. The $349bn allocated to the programme last month ran out last week after just 13 days, leaving millions of business owners questioning how they could keep operating. There was uproar when it emerged large, publicly traded companies had obtained the funding, and the US Treasury has given them until 7 May to return the money without penalty.
4-24-20 The Republican capture by big business has never been clearer — or more dangerous
Who really wants to end the lockdowns? Journalists and scholars spend a lot time focused on signs of dysfunction and breakdown in the American political system. Congress is weak and shirks its constitutional responsibilities. Public opinion is polarized. Presidents increasingly resort to executive orders, regulatory edicts, and assertions of unlimited discretion to which the Supreme Court increasingly defers. And then there's the evidence of widespread corruption within the Trump administration in particular. The list of worrying trends is long. Yet the experience of pandemic over the past six weeks has complicated matters. Congress managed to pass the largest economic aid package in American history in short order and has added to it just this past week. The governors of several states have taken charge of public health in a decisive and effective way. And polling has showed broad-based support for and patience regarding highly restrictive measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. All of this is cause for encouragement. Aside from Donald Trump's trademark inconsistency and incontinence, there have been anti-social-distancing protests against public-health measures in several states that were actively encouraged by leading media personalities on the right and even by the president himself in a series of astonishing tweets calling for the "liberation" of states led by Democratic governors. Most of the protests were small, and polls have revealed that relatively few Americans (just 12 percent) think public-health measures have gone too far. So why highlight them? Because support for such protests on the right demonstrates the remarkable extent to which Republicans have been captured by the part of their electoral coalition representing the interests of big business. This obviously isn't something entirely new. The GOP has long been the party more inclined to support business interests. It has been true since before the New Deal. It continued through the postwar decades and became amplified with the election of Ronald Reagan, when ideological conservatism first came to power in Washington. Reagan cut taxes and expanded on Jimmy Carter's deregulatory moves. George W. Bush combined a message of "compassionate conservatism" with a domestic agenda that was heavy on additional tax cuts. And then there's Trump, who ran as a populist and spoke of turning the GOP into a "workers' party" but has pursued the most flagrantly pro-business agenda yet, overseeing a massive cut to corporate taxes, a huge increase in deficit spending, and a strong push across the executive branch to cut regulations. But that's different than taking a stance during a national crisis that's beholden to right-leaning interests in the business community, which is what we've seen over the past few weeks. This is different than Congress' aid package, which made enormous sums available to businesses to help them weather the economic storms of the present so they can stay solvent and keep as many workers as possible on payrolls. That kind of thing is justified during a pandemic that threatens to plunge much of the world into a depression.
4-24-20 In defense of Florida's open beaches
They are no more risky than New York City's open parks. It's fun and easy to dunk on Florida. Even Floridians do it. I mean, sinkholes! Boiled Gatorade! Alligators where there should not be alligators! "Florida man," haha! So when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) permitted his state's beaches to begin reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic — and Jacksonville promptly availed itself of that option — criticism was predictably swift and harsh. #FloridaMorons trended on Twitter. "I guess in a way it makes perfect Florida-sense," tweeted actress Bette Midler. "To try to get a little sun so you look healthy at your funeral." Haha, I guess, but opening the beaches isn't such a wild idea, provided social distancing is maintained as DeSantis directed. Though permitted to reopen, Florida's beaches aren't supposed to operate as usual. "No sunbathing, towels, blankets, chairs, coolers, grills, etc. will be permitted on Duval County beaches during the restricted hours they are open," directed the Jacksonville announcement. Group activities are prohibited; public bathrooms and pavilions are closed; beachgoers are expected to avoid contact with people outside their households. "This is not a time to lounge," said Atlantic Beach Mayor Ellen Glasser. "This is not a time to party. This is a time where you need to exercise, keep moving, and then go home." Set aside our assumptions about Florida and this isn't unreasonable. Is walking on a beach somehow more dangerous than walking through a park? New York City, site of the single worst COVID-19 outbreak in the country — and boasting a higher population density than any place in Florida — has kept city parks open for exercise. The guidelines for park use are, in fact, remarkably similar to Jacksonville's present beach rules: Solo exercise is permitted. Team sports and group gatherings are not. A major difference is New York's decision to keep many of its park restrooms open to the public. On that point, Jacksonville is the more cautious municipality. (There's a sentence no one thought they'd ever read.) Assuming social distancing, opening beaches is a good thing. One advantage is it increases the tolerability of stay-at-home orders, and the protests popping up around the country show tolerability is a serious consideration. "It bugs me to see these restrictions on people being outside," Dr. Edward Nardell, a Harvard School of Public Health specialist in airborne infection, told Slate. "Mental health means something as well." Nardell deemed outdoor transmission of the coronavirus "possible but improbable." And for some nontrivial number of people, being able to take a walk on the beach will make social distancing more bearable for a longer time. They'll find it easier to make safe choices in daily life if they're allowed this outlet. That's a public health benefit, not a loss.
4-24-20 US announces millions in aid for resource-rich Greenland
The US has announced a $12.1m (£10m) aid package for mineral-rich Greenland - a move welcomed by the Danish territory's government. This year the US will also open a consulate in the vast Arctic territory, whose population is just 56,000. Last August President Donald Trump expressed an interest in buying Greenland - an idea dismissed by Denmark as "absurd". The US is competing with Russia and China for Arctic resources. Greenland is an autonomous Danish territory heavily reliant on fishing and Danish government subsidies. Most of its people are ethnic Inuit. But Greenland is gaining strategic importance due to thawing Arctic ice opening up new sea routes and mineral deposits. The US has an important military base there, at Thule, crucial for missile early warning and space surveillance. A senior US state department official said the aid package would help Greenland's economic development, notably natural resources and education. The Associated Press reports that a big part of it will be US specialist consultancy work. "This good news confirms that our work on building a constructive relationship with the United States is fruitful," Greenland Premier Kim Kielsen said. The US official in Washington said the aid was not "designed to pave the way to purchase Greenland". The official, quoted by AFP news agency, said "we also have concerns about Russia's military build-up in the Arctic - its presence has grown dramatically in recent years". Mining companies are prospecting in Greenland for ores containing rare earths, uranium or gold, while gemstones are already being mined. But the harsh climate and vast ice sheet make mining difficult and expensive. The US ambassador in Copenhagen, Carla Sands, has spoken of Washington being Denmark's "preferred partner" in the Arctic - a comment that drew sharp criticism from some Danish politicians.
4-24-20 Coronavirus: Lockdown's heavy toll on Italy's mental health
Italy’s coronavirus death toll is the second highest in the world, and its lockdown is the strictest and longest in Europe. Doctors say both things are creating a mental health emergency. The BBC has been given access to a psychological support centre run by the Red Cross, where staff say they’re overwhelmed by calls from people struggling. Psychologists are warning that Italy is not equipped to deal with the crisis, and that the rest of Europe must prepare.
4-23-20 Coronavirus: Huge economic rescue plan agreed by EU leaders
A plan for injecting billions of euros of emergency aid into Europe's battered economies has been agreed by EU heads. Meeting via video, they agreed to set up a massive recovery fund, closely tied to the bloc's seven-year budget. They also confirmed that €540bn (£470bn) of financial support would be released through existing mechanisms from 1 June. European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said the fund would mobilise €1 trillion of investment. There has been bitter argument over how to fund the much-needed aid. But Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said "great progress" had been made on Thursday. Italy - which has had the deadliest outbreak in Europe to date - had urged its EU partners, especially the richer countries of northern Europe, to show more solidarity. Leaders also agreed to follow guidance from the EU Commission - the organisation's executive arm - on easing their respective lockdowns once the spread of the virus had reduced for a "significant period". Details of how the longer term recovery plan will be funded will be discussed at another videoconference on 6 May. There had earlier been divisions over sharing the burden, with the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, Germany and Sweden opposing France's proposal on how to support Italy and Spain in their recovery.But Prime Minister Conte expressed satisfaction with what had been agreed, calling it "an important milestone in European history". The French president, Emmanuel Macron said that divisions remained. "I'm saying this sincerely: if Europe raises debt to loan to others, that won't live up to the response we need," Mr Macron said. Ahead of Thursday's talks, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that her country was not seeing "the end phase but still just the beginning". "We'll have to live with this virus for a long time," Ms Merkel told parliament, adding that Germany should be ready to "make very different, meaning much higher contributions to the EU budget".
4-23-20 Stay-At-Home protesters: 'We want our lives back'
From Pennsylvania to Kansas, protesters across the country have been insisting that the coronavirus lockdowns should be lifted and states reopened. "I want to be a voice for those who are afraid to come out, and are thinking what we're thinking," a woman in Dallas, Texas, said. On Friday, the state of Georgia will begin to reopen certain businesses like gyms and hair salons but President Trump said he felt that the state's governor, Brian Kemp, was moving too quickly. According to John Hopkins University there are currently over 864,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the US and over 47,000 deaths. (Webmaster's comment: Candidates for sheer stupidity!)
4-23-20 Coronavirus: US unemployment claims hit 26.4 million amid virus
A further 4.4 million Americans sought unemployment benefits last week as the economic toll from the coronavirus pandemic continued to mount. The new applications brought the total number of jobless claims since mid-March to 26.4 million. That amounts to more than 15% of the US workforce. However, the most recent data marked the third week that the number of new claims has declined - a sign that the worst of the shock may be over. "While this week's 4.4 million jobless claims are staggering, there are signs that the pace of layoffs has reached its peak," said Richard Flynn, UK managing director at financial service firm Charles Schwab. "The key questions at this point are when can the economy reopen and what happens when it does?" Economists have warned that the world is facing the sharpest slowdown since the Great Depression in the 1930s. In the US, the economy is expected to contract 5.9% this year, according to the International Monetary Fund. The surge in jobless claims over the last six weeks exceed the number created in the near-decade of expansion that ended in February. In response, the US government has approved more than $2 trillion in rescue funds, expanding eligibility for unemployment benefits and increasing the payments. But many people have had trouble getting through to state offices processing the applications. "The phones lines are often busy," said John Dignan, a 52-year-old real estate agent in Nevada. "It's very frustrating because you have no control and no information. You already have so much anxiety about Covid-19, you know the economy's falling apart and I don't have much left in savings - maybe about a month left." A $349bn relief programme for small businesses ran out of fund within two weeks. Reviews subsequently found that roughly two-thirds of the money went to large, publicly traded companies rather than the small firms it was intended for. (Webmaster's comment: Why are we not suprised! The rich helping the rich as always!)
4-23-20 Coronavirus: Trump signs order on immigration green card suspension
US President Donald Trump has signed an executive order to temporarily suspend the approval of some green cards. The measure, which contains a number of exemptions, is to last for 60 days and then could be extended, he said. Mr Trump says the order is designed to protect American workers' jobs in an economy pummelled by the coronavirus. Critics have accused him of using the pandemic as cover to ram through long-sought hardline immigration policies in an election year. "This will ensure that unemployed Americans of all backgrounds will be first in line for jobs as our economy reopens," Mr Trump said during Wednesday's coronavirus briefing at the White House. The measure is expected to stop the practice of green card holders sponsoring their extended families for permanent US residency, which the president calls chain migration. But it makes an exception for American citizens' spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21. The order also suspends the Diversity Visa Lottery, which issues about 50,000 green cards annually. Also exempt are the hundreds of thousands of green card applicants already living and working in the US, and those seeking entry to work as doctors, nurses or other healthcare professionals. Another exception is the hundreds of thousands of temporary guest visas issued each year to such applicants as farm labourers and skilled workers in the H-1B visa programme. The pandemic has blunted the immediate effect of the order because almost all visa processing by the state department has been halted for weeks with consulates closed. Nevertheless, according to the the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute, Mr Trump's order could block more than 20,000 applicants per month from obtaining a green card. Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Immigrants' Rights Project, said the policy "will cause real pain for families and employers across the country". (Webmaster's comment: Americans are basically an unskilled workforce. They do not have high tech skills. What good are they for filling the high tech jobs which can only be filled by foreigners?)
4-23-20 Trump is throwing Georgia under the bus
The president pushed for states to reopen, but now he's backtracking. President Trump's leadership has always been inconsistent and erratic. He takes a position one day, only to reverse himself the next. This has been frustrating since the beginning of his tenure, but now, it is positively dangerous to Americans trying to survive during a global pandemic — and it is a threat to the futures of local politicians trying to follow his lead. Trump's tendency to flip-flop was on display Wednesday at his daily news briefing. After days of signalling his support for protesters who are trying to get their states to lift quarantine conditions, the president suddenly reversed course, criticizing Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who earlier this week announced his state is lifting its lockdown. "Would I do that? No," Trump told reporters. "But I'm going to let him make his decision, but I told him, I totally disagree." You couldn't blame Kemp for being confused. Last week, Trump unveiled his administration's official guidelines for states to return to normalcy when the pandemic subsides, but then almost immediately undermined those guidelines by tweeting his support — "LIBERATE Michigan!" — for anti-lockdown demonstrators in states run mostly by Democratic governors. "They have got cabin fever," Trump said about the protesters Sunday. "They want their life back. Their life was taken away from them." Considering Trump's comments, plus congressional Republicans' refusal to approve aid for states and cities — an attempt to incentivize local leaders to reopen their economies — you could almost understand why a GOP stalwart like Kemp thought the smart political thing to do would be to go ahead, despite the recommendations of health experts, and try to put this state back to business. Among the president's defining characteristics is a certain malleability — he has shifted, on a dime, on issues like DACA, Syria, and health care. His positions are based on whatever he believes gives him an advantage in the moment, and attempts to hold him to account for these inconsistencies are often met with lies and bluster. And it's only gotten worse since the pandemic arrived. The president has flipped frequently between pushing to end quarantine conditions and acceptance of expert recommendations to hold off. He has asserted "total authority" to order governors to reopen states, then deferred to them. Trump can't even pick a tone — in some briefings he tries to act presidential, calm, and measured, but most other days he is defensive and antagonistic. The overall impression is that he wants to claim credit but avoid responsibility.
4-23-20 Coronavirus: Lifting lockdowns could see virus 'reignite', WHO warns
The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned against complacency in the fight against the coronavirus, saying the disease "will be with us for a long time". Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also warned of upward trends in Covid-19 cases in Africa, Eastern Europe, Central America and South America. He said that lifting lockdowns could cause infections to "reignite". Dr Tedros also defended the WHO's handling of the pandemic. He said he believed the UN agency had warned the world of Covid-19 early enough. "Looking back I think we declared the emergency at the right time and when the world had enough time to respond," he told a daily briefing in Geneva. The WHO declared Covid-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January and said it had become a pandemic on 11 March. (Webmaster's comment: And Trump didn't listen!) Although many governments have praised the agency for its work, Dr Tedros has faced some calls to resign over the crisis, particularly from a number of US politicians. When asked about calls for his resignation, Dr Tedros said he would keep working "day and night" to save lives. There have been more than 2.6 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 globally and more than 181,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University in the US. Addressing the news briefing, Dr Tedros said that while most of the epidemics in Western Europe appeared to be stable or in decline, for many countries the disease was just getting started. "And some (countries) that were affected early in the pandemic are now starting to see a resurgence in cases," he said. "Make no mistake - we have a long way to go. This virus will be with us for a long time." He added: "There is no question that stay-at-home orders and other physical distancing measures have successfully suppressed transmission in many countries. But this virus remains extremely dangerous. "Early evidence suggests most of the world's population remains susceptible. That means epidemics can easily reignite. "One of the greatest dangers we face now is complacency."
4-23-20 Merkel warns coronavirus crisis 'still just the beginning'
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said her country must remain "clever and cautious" in handling the coronavirus crisis, as it is "not the end phase but still just the beginning". "We'll have to live with this virus for a long time," Ms Merkel told parliament ahead of an EU summit, via videolink. She said Germany should be ready to "make very different, meaning much higher contributions to the EU budget". The video summit - the EU's fourth on coronavirus - is now under way. EU leaders are expected to sign off on a new €540bn (£470bn; $575bn) emergency fund to protect European workers, businesses and countries worst affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The details are yet to be worked out. The €540bn would be released through EU institutions that already exist, including the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the main bailout fund set up in response to the 2008 financial crisis. European Council President Charles Michel told leaders they should aim to start releasing the funds by 1 June. But a thornier issue is how much extra to commit to the EU budget to deal with this crisis, and how much the 27 member states will spend jointly. There are plans for a special recovery fund, like the post-1945 Marshall Plan. Italy and some other states want EU help in aid grants, not loans. The scale of the crisis is such, they argue, that at least €1.5 trillion will be needed. Mrs Merkel said extra EU budget funds should be provided "in a spirit of solidarity" and for a limited time. Italy, at the epicentre of the pandemic in Europe, has been especially vocal in urging its EU partners to jointly guarantee debt. But Germany, the Netherlands and Austria oppose any mutualisation of debt, in the form of so-called "coronabonds". Under current EU rules countries cannot be made liable for each other's debts. (Webmaster's comment: They don't plan to give money to the already rich!)
4-23-20 Coronavirus: How will the developing world cope?
Hundreds of thousands of people already die every year from preventable diseases in the developing world, where resources are scarce. But how will they cope with a health challenge on a truly global scale?
4-22-20 Covid-19 latest: CDC director warns US second wave could be even worse
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. A second wave of coronavirus cases in the US could be even worse than the first, according to the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Robert Redfield. He said a second wave would coincide with the flu season and put “unimaginable strain” on the US healthcare system. The US has more than 820,000 confirmed cases and more than 45,000 deaths from covid-19, the highest in the world, according to the most recent figures from Johns Hopkins University. The pandemic has already caused at least 41,000 deaths in the UK, according to a Financial Times analysis of “excess deaths” data from the country’s Office for National Statistics. The government death toll stands at 18,000 deaths as of 22 April. About 50 patients have been turned away from the NHS Nightingale hospital, a temporary hospital for covid-19 patients in London, UK, due to there not being enough nurses. The US state of Missouri is attempting to sue the Chinese government over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Missouri attorney general Eric Schmitt says residents have suffered significant economic damages because China did not do enough to stop the spread of the virus. A spokesperson from China’s foreign ministry says US courts have no jurisdiction over the Chinese government. Spain’s parliament is debating whether to extend the country’s state of emergency for a third time to 9 May. Prime minister Pedro Sanchez says the lockdown could start to be gradually phased out towards the end of May. Spain has the most confirmed coronavirus cases of any European country. A potential vaccine for covid-19 developed by Pfizer and BioNTech has been given regulatory approval for human testing. There are at least 70 vaccine candidates at exploratory or pre-clinical stages, but only a small number have been given the greenlight for clinical testing, and development of a viable vaccine is expected to take at least a year. Netflix gained nearly 16 million new subscribers in the first quarter of 2020, twice as many as predicted by analysts, as people turned to streaming to provide entertainment amid coronavirus travel restrictions.
4-22-20 Coronavirus: Harvard says it won't accept relief funds
Harvard University says it has decided not to accept nearly $9m (£7.3m) in coronavirus relief aid, a move that was criticised by President Donald Trump. Mr Trump had said he was unhappy that the prestigious US university had received stimulus money. strong>(Webmaster's comment: But he's said nothing about the corporate rich getting 2/3's of the stimulus money!) Harvard is rated the world's wealthiest university with an endowment fund valued at $40bn. But the elite Ivy League college said it faced "significant financial challenges" because of the pandemic. In a statement, the university said it was concerned that "the intense focus by politicians and others" on Harvard could undermine participation in the relief effort. "As a result of this, and the evolving guidance being issued around use of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, Harvard has decided not to seek or accept the funds allocated to it by statute," it said. The $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (Cares) Act was signed into law by Mr Trump last month. It reserved $12.5bn in federal aid to about 5,000 colleges and universities. At a daily briefing on Tuesday, Mr Trump told a journalist that he wanted Harvard to pay back the money that it had been allocated. "They have to pay it back, I don't like it," he said. "This is meant for workers, this isn't meant for one of the richest institutions. They got to pay it back." Harvard then issued a statement acknowledging it had been allotted $8.6m through the Cares Act, but did not say at that stage it would pay the money back. The college tweeted at the time: "Harvard has committed that 100% of these emergency higher education funds will be used to provide direct assistance to students facing urgent financial needs due to the Covid-19 pandemic." It said it had already provided financial assistance to students with travel, living expenses and online education amid the pandemic. In its most recent statement, it said it "did not apply for this support, nor has it requested, received or accessed these funds".
4-22-20 Coronavirus: US health official warns of dangerous second wave
A second wave of coronavirus cases in the US could be even worse than the first, the country's top health official has warned. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Robert Redfield said the danger was higher as a fresh outbreak would likely coincide with the flu season. It would put "unimaginable strain" on the US health care system, he said. The US has seen more than 800,000 cases - the highest in the world. More than 45,000 people have so far died with coronavirus across the US, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. California had its highest one-day rise in new cases on Monday while New Jersey, the worst-hit US state apart from New York, saw its highest increase in deaths in one day. In other developments in the US: 1. President Trump says he will halt applications for US green cards - which give immigrants legal permanent residence and the opportunity to apply for American citizenship - for 60 days. 2. Harvard University says it will keep an $8.6m-coronavirus grant despite pressure from President Trump to return it. 3. California's first cases of coronavirus occurred much earlier than previously thought, health officials have confirmed. A post-mortem examination has revealed that a person who died at home on 6 February in Santa Clara county is now the first known fatality in the US. Until now, the first fatality was thought to have been a man in Washington state who died on 26 February. 4. The US Senate has unanimously approved $484bn (£392bn) in coronavirus relief, including funds designed to help small businesses. The legislation will go to the House of Representatives for approval on Thursday. In an interview with the Washington Post, Mr Redfield said that "there's a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through". He urged officials in the US to prepare for the possibility of having to confront a flu and a coronavirus epidemic at the same time.
4-22-20 Republicans' self-defeating rush to reopen states
The United States is now the epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic. We have more cases and deaths than any other country by far, centered in New York City, which has had the worst outbreak of any major metro area in the world. Unlike Western Europe, where the epidemic was very bad but new cases and deaths have fallen markedly, the U.S. has so far roughly plateaued at around 30,000 new confirmed cases per day and 2,000 deaths. New York seems to have declining cases and hospitalizations but many other states and cities definitely do not. And no place in the country seems to be anywhere near the level of mass testing and contact-tracing measures needed to get a firm handle on the outbreak. Naturally, Republicans are already pushing to ease lockdown measures anyway. Their stubborn childishness and ideological zealotry, aside from getting people killed, will likely mean lockdown measures need to last much longer than they otherwise would. Readers may recall the goldfish-brained political press seizing on some halfway responsible comments from President Trump back in early April as evidence that he had finally started taking the pandemic seriously. But as I predicted, he quickly got bored and frustrated, and went back to his usual habits — lashing out at the media and Democrats, hyping dubious miracle cures, and demanding the lockdown measures be rolled back so he could make his big beautiful stock market and employment numbers go back up. The latest iteration of this has been seen in a handful of protests from right-wing extremists at state capitals. Trump has been attacking Democratic governors over the lockdowns (despite plenty of Republican governors enacting similar measures), which inspired a few heavily armed right-wing militia types to mount demonstrations at some state capitals and major cities, which got heavy coverage by Fox News, which led Trump to support them publicly, and so on. That in turn got much of the mainstream press to cover the minuscule protests like a giant grassroots revolt. (Back in the old blogosphere days, we used to call this the "puke funnel.") From the very start it has been obvious how to get out of this crisis as fast as possible. As better-governed countries have shown, you lock everyone down to suppress the first wave of infection, and in the meantime build out the capacity for mass testing and contact tracing, so any new outbreak can be directly suppressed before it gets out of control. You set up crash production of medical equipment, protective gear, and sanitation supplies, so doctors and nurses and other essential workers can keep working without infecting themselves or others. Any place that must remain open, like grocery stores, can keep their employees suited up and their locations regularly cleaned. While that is happening, you put the economy in stasis. The best approach is probably what Denmark has done — paying all businesses to keep their employees on payroll so the economy can bounce back rapidly when the crisis has passed (then recouping the cost with a one-time tax).
4-22-20 Coronavirus: Missouri sues Chinese government over virus handling
The US state of Missouri says it is suing the Chinese government over its handling of the coronavirus which it says has led to severe economic losses. In the lawsuit, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt alleges China did little to stop the spread of the virus. Mr Schmitt claims Missouri residents have suffered possibly tens of billions of dollars in economic damages. China's foreign ministry denounced the move, saying the "frivolous lawsuit has no factual or legal basis". A spokesperson said: "Really absurd. Based on the principle of sovereign equality, US courts have NO jurisdiction over the Chinese government." Legal experts have also questioned the move and how far it will get. A legal doctrine called sovereign immunity offers foreign governments broad protection from being sued in US courts. "There is an exception for torts committed in the United States by officials acting in an official capacity; the paradigm would be something like a car accident in an embassy car," said Tom Ginsburg, a professor of international law at the University of Chicago. The civil lawsuit, filed on Tuesday, is against the Chinese government, Chinese Communist Party and other Chinese officials and institutions. "In Missouri, the impact of the virus is very real - thousands have been infected and many have died, families have been separated from dying loved ones, small businesses are shuttering their doors, and those living paycheck to paycheck are struggling to put food on their table," Mr Schmitt said in a statement. "The Chinese government lied to the world about the danger and contagious nature of COVID-19, silenced whistleblowers, and did little to stop the spread of the disease," Mr Schmitt said. "They must be held accountable for their actions." (Webmaster's comment: "The American President lied to the world about the danger and contagious nature of COVID-19, silenced whistleblowers, and did little to stop the spread of the disease," Mr Schmitt said. "He must be held accountable for his actions.")
4-22-20 Coronavirus: US green cards to be halted for 60 days, Trump says
President Donald Trump has said he will halt applications of foreign nationals seeking permanent residence in the US because of the coronavirus crisis. A day after he announced the move in an ambiguous tweet, Mr Trump said the measure would protect American jobs. It is not clear how effective it will be as most visa services have already been suspended because of the outbreak. Critics say he is trying to distract attention away from his response to the virus. The US has nearly 45,000 deaths. Democrats also accuse the administration of using the pandemic to crack down on immigration. The issue has traditionally been a strong campaigning theme for Mr Trump, a Republican, but has taken a back seat during the crisis and in the lead-up to the November election. At a White House coronavirus briefing, Mr Trump said the ban could be extended "much longer" depending on how the economy was doing, he said. After vowing to suspend "all immigration" to the US on Monday night, Mr Trump apparently changed his original plan after a backlash from some business leaders. It would reportedly impact immigrants given temporary working visas, like farm labourers and hi-tech employees. On Wednesday, the president wrote on Twitter that he would be signing an executive order "prohibiting immigration" later in the day. More than 20 million Americans have lost their jobs amid the coronavirus outbreak, and the president said the government had a "solemn duty" to ensure they regain their jobs. "It would be wrong and unjust for Americans laid off by the virus to be replaced with new immigrant labour flown in from abroad," he said, adding that there could be some exemptions to the measure. "We want to protect our US workers and I think as we move forward we will become more and more protective of them". Mr Trump's order could spark legal challenges. The US has the highest number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the world - more than 820,000 - according to Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the disease globally.
4-22-20 Coronavirus: How to combat back pain while working from home
As millions of people are told to work from home and adjust to doing their jobs remotely, there are likely to be inconsistent desk set-ups where injuries are more likely. Alishah Merchant, a physiotherapist at Rebalance Sports Medicine, gives some tips on how to optimise your home workstation.
4-22-20 How close are we to herd immunity?
As the first American states begin to experiment with reopening parts of their economy, many (perhaps most) Americans are worried that we're moving too fast. Of the six indicators that California Gov. Gavin Newsom identified as crucial for reopening — a massive expansion of testing, protections for high-risk groups, adequate space and supplies for hospitals and patients, new therapeutics, the ability of schools and businesses to support social distancing, and clear metrics to determine whether restrictions need to be reinstated — few if any are already in place in any state. If we open the economy prematurely, there's a very real risk of a surge of new infections that puts us right back where we were a month ago. But if we wait until everything we want is in place, we might not be able to open up until the fall, or even later, which is not an economically- or socially-viable time frame. We appear to be between a rock and a hard place. Or maybe not. Early on in the pandemic, a number of critics questioned whether COVID-19 posed a sufficiently serious threat to the general population to warrant massive lockdowns. While the huge surge in fatalities over the past month largely discredited their views, they are now getting a second look, based on the possibility that the large number of deaths reflected not high mortality but very rapid spread of the virus itself. That's the promise held out by recent studies of antibodies tests out of Santa Clara and Los Angeles — tests that show who has ever been infected, not just those who are infected currently — that suggest that the virus has already infected 40-50 times the number of people that have tested positive for current infection, implying that the mortality rate isn't much higher than the seasonal flu. It's bolstered as well by the results of tests of the crew of the U.S.S. Roosevelt that revealed a majority of those infected were asymptomatic. If the virus is highly contagious, but not nearly as deadly as originally feared, then perhaps we've already gone through the worst. Perhaps enough of us have already had the virus — unwittingly, because we never developed serious symptoms — that the hardest-hit areas are approaching the vaunted "herd immunity," and can safely go back to business as usual. Meanwhile, the less-hard-hit areas can take a more relaxed approach to limiting the virus' spread than they have been led to believe. Unfortunately, a cursory look at the hardest-hit areas reveals that the rosiest view is essentially impossible. Take my home, New York City. Over 10,000 people have already died from COVID-19 in NYC, about 0.12 percent of the city's population. If the virus had a mortality rate comparable to the seasonal flu, that death rate would imply that every person in New York has already been infected. If the real rate of infection is between 10 percent and 30 percent — a much more realistic range — then the infection fatality rate is somewhere between 0.4 percent and 1.2 percent.
4-22-20 Coronavirus: First US deaths weeks earlier than thought
An autopsy in California has revealed that the first US coronavirus-related death came weeks earlier than previously thought. The first previously known death in the US was in Seattle on 26 February and the first in California on 4 March. New information from a Santa Clara county coroner changes that timeline. Autopsies on two people who died on 6 February and 17 February show they died with Covid-19. Samples from the autopsies were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which confirmed the presence of the virus, California's Santa Clara County coroner's office said in a statement on Tuesday. The death of a third Santa Clara individual on 6 March has also been confirmed to be coronavirus-related. "These three individuals died at home during a time when very limited testing was available only through the CDC," the coroner statement said. At the time, the CDC's criteria restricted testing only to people with a known travel history and who were showing specific symptoms. The coroner statement said "we anticipate additional deaths from Covid-19 will be identified" as more deaths are investigated in Santa Clara county. The number of confirmed virus cases in the US has reached more than 825,000. At least 45,000 people have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Elsewhere in California, health officials from Los Angeles confirmed an additional 1,400 cases of coronavirus in that county, an increase of almost 10% of the total number. There are now a total of 15,153 cases in Los Angeles. The sudden spike is a result of a "backlog" of almost 1,200 cases from a single laboratory, according to Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. “Over the weekend we received a large backlog of test results from one lab," she said. "This is a tremendous lag in data reporting to the Department of Public Health and we are working hard to make sure we don’t have backlogs moving forward."
4-22-20 Coronavirus: Spanish PM Sánchez sees 'slow and gradual' end to lockdown
Spain will slowly ease its nationwide lockdown in the second half of May, the prime minister said, provided authorities stay "on top of the virus". Pedro Sánchez asked parliament in Madrid for a third extension to the state of emergency until 9 May. The government has also announced looser restrictions on children, allowing them to leave the house. Spain imposed its lockdown on 14 March, with some of the tightest restrictions in Europe. Currently, children are not allowed outside for any reason. After mounting criticism, the government announced plans on Tuesday to allow those aged 14 and under out for walks from 26 April. Construction and manufacturing businesses were allowed to resume work last week, albeit under strict new social distancing and safety measures. Spain currently has the most confirmed coronavirus infections in Europe. Latest data released on Wednesday show the death toll stands at 21,717, rising by 435 in the past 24 hours - the second consecutive day-on-day rise. The total number of confirmed cases has risen to 208,389. Addressing parliament in Madrid on Wednesday, Mr Sánchez asked for the state of emergency to be extended for a third time by an additional two weeks. The prime minister said Spain could then hopefully begin to ease its restrictions in the second half of May, but warned that "de-escalation will be slow". "We must avoid missteps," he warned. "If we stay on top of the virus and our health system maintains and reinforces that impression, then we will propose another step." Lawmakers will vote later on the extension. The measure is expected to pass, although some parties, including the far-right Vox and two from Catalonia have said they will not back it. Mr Sánchez said he expected EU leaders to agree a common economic response to the coronavirus outbreak during a European Council video summit on Thursday.
4-22-20 Coronavirus in India: Desperate migrant workers trapped in lockdown
Last week, hours after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus, thousands of migrant workers gathered near a railway station in Mumbai city. There had been rumours of train services restarting, and the workers had gathered defying rules of social distancing, putting themselves and others at risk. They demanded that authorities arrange transport to send them back to their hometowns and villages so they could be with their families. The police, instead, used sticks to disperse them. Around the same time, in the western state of Gujarat, hundreds of textile workers protested in Surat city, demanding passage home. And a day later, there was outrage in the capital, Delhi, when several hundred migrants were discovered living under a bridge along the Yamuna river. The river here resembles a sewer and the bank is strewn with rubbish. The men were unwashed and said they had not eaten in three days, since the government shelter they lived in was burned down. They have now been moved to new shelters. The incidents have shone a spotlight the plight of millions of poor Indians who migrate from villages to cities in search of livelihood - and how the lockdown has left them stranded far away from home, with no jobs or money. The problem of migrant workers may not be entirely unique to India, but the sheer scale - there are more than 40 million migrant labourers across the country - makes it difficult to provide relief to everyone. Most move from villages to work in the cities as domestic helpers, drivers and gardeners, or as daily-wagers on construction sites, building malls, flyovers and homes, or as street vendors. One critic said the mismanagement of the migrant crisis and the treatment of its poorest citizens during the pandemic could be India's shame.
4-21-20 UN says covid-19 pandemic will double number of people facing hunger
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. The covid-19 pandemic will double the number of people with acute hunger, according to the United Nations World Food Programme. If no action is taken to support people in low and middle-income countries, more than 265 million people will be in crisis and will find it difficult to source or pay for food by the end of 2020, up from 135 million in 2019. US president Donald Trump has said that immigration to the US is to be temporarily suspended due to the pandemic, but it’s unclear whether Trump would be legally allowed to carry out the order. Confirmed cases of coronavirus have more than doubled in Singapore since last week, rising to more than 9000, the highest in southeast Asia. Many of the new infections have been reported in government-built dormitories that house up to 200,000 migrant workers, some with up to 20 people in a single room. More than 28,000 coronavirus deaths may be “missing” from official government death tolls, according to a New York Times analysis of data from 11 countries and regions including Spain, England, Wales, France and New York City. The UK’s Office for National Statistics said there were 18,516 deaths of all causes in the week that ended on 10 April, the highest figure for any week since a winter flu outbreak in 2000. Milan has announced a new scheme to reduce car use after lockdown by reallocating 35 km of street space from cars to cyclists and pedestrians. Oil prices continue to fall worldwide, with the price of a barrel of Brent crude falling to below $20 today, the lowest price since 2002.
4-21-20 An unequal society means covid-19 is hitting ethnic minorities harder
During the coronavirus epidemic, people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are being hit particularly hard, according to emerging data. The most recent figures compiled by the UK’s Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre suggests that of nearly 5000 people critically ill with covid-19 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland whose ethnicity was known, 34 per cent were from BAME backgrounds. But people from such groups make up only 14 per cent of the population of England and Wales, for instance. In the US, figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on 18 April showed that of about 120,000 confirmed covid-19 cases where race has been specified, 36 per cent were among non-white people, who account for 23 per cent of the US population. Most were in black or African-American people, who comprise 13 per cent of the population, but 30 per cent of all cases. The UK government has launched an inquiry into this over-representation, and Public Health England is the first UK health body to say it will begin recording covid-19 cases and deaths by ethnicity. The differences are due to “widespread health inequities”, says Linda Sprague Martinez at Boston University’s school of social work in Massachusetts. “Communities of colour are disproportionately impacted because of racism,” she says. “It’s not about people’s biological make-up. It’s about the conditions that are created due to racialised policies, and how that’s impacted communities over time.” For example, poorer, more disadvantaged people – who are disproportionately from ethnic minorities – are more likely to have underlying health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity that put them at increased risk of covid-19, says Sprague Martinez.
4-21-20 Coronavirus: Governors ask Trump to call off lockdown protests
Democratic governors have asked the White House to urge Americans to heed stay-at-home orders amid anti-lockdown protests stoked by the president. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said the "phenomenon was nationwide" and asked for "help on the national level". President Donald Trump has been accused of inciting insurrection after championing the demonstrators, while telling governors they were in charge. The plea comes amid 782,159 confirmed US Covid-19 cases and 41,816 deaths. The protesters - who say the Covid-19 restrictions are draconian - are largely conservative and pro-Trump. As one militia leader in Illinois put it to the BBC: "Reopen my state or we will reopen it ourselves." Ms Whitmer, a Democrat whose state has seen one of the largest anti-lockdown protests, told the White House during Monday's call she knew citizens were "frustrated" and called protesting a "wonderful American tradition". "But it's just so dangerous to do that," she said, noting the fear of Covid-19 cases spiking in less-affected regions of her state, which has the third-highest infection rate in the nation. Ms Whitmer said having the federal government "reiterate the importance of staying home until we get these numbers down... would be incredibly appreciated". North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, also a Democrat, echoed the same, requesting the Trump administration "let the public know that it is important for us to reach these minimum thresholds, before we began easing restrictions". Vice-President Mike Pence, head of the coronavirus task force, promised the governors the administration would do so. "We will make a point today and going forward to continue to reiterate that," Mr Pence said. The Republican president has expressed his support of the protesters in recent days, even as state governors say they are following White House guidance for safely reopening in phases. Mr Trump - who faces an election in November - last week tweeted in all capital letters for several states to be liberated.
4-21-20 Coronavirus lockdown protest: What's behind the US demonstrations?
Across the country, groups of Americans are taking to the streets in protest of lockdown orders aimed at limiting the spread of Covid-19. Why? The US now has over 761,000 cases and more than 40,000 deaths, with numbers still rising, though signs have emerged that infection rates are slowing in some states. Some states are beginning to ease restrictions, re-opening parks, beaches and some small businesses in the coming days, but most of the US remains under some form of stay-at-home order. In over a dozen states from coast to coast, protesters have taken to the streets, blocking roads and honking car horns. Those taking to the streets say that the stringent measures restricting movement and businesses are unnecessarily hurting citizens. Protesters say the stay-at-home measures imposed by state governments to control the spread of Covid-19 are an overreaction. Some have also come bearing firearms as gun rights groups have been among the organisers, citing infringements on civil liberties. Some also say keeping these restrictions in place too long will cause long-term damage to local economies. As of last week, the total number of unemployment claims in the nation reached over 22 million - overturning decades of US job growth. Many cite President Trump's caution that the cure cannot be worse than the disease itself. But not everyone wants to see all restrictions eased immediately: some groups have also called for quarantining just the vulnerable, more testing to get people back to work or redefining "essential" businesses. Protests have varied in size across the country - from a few dozen protesters in Virginia and Oregon to rallies of thousands in Michigan and Washington state. On Sunday, Washington state saw one of the largest demonstrations, with some 2,500 protesters gathering at the capital in Olympia. The state was the early epicentre of the Covid-19 outbreak in the US. In Colorado, hundreds of anti-lockdown protesters were met with a counter protest by a few healthcare workers, who, dressed in scrubs, blocked traffic at crossroads. Hundreds in Arizona took to their cars to create a gridlock around the capitol building in Phoenix. Idaho, Maryland, Texas and Indiana saw similar gatherings of hundreds.
4-21-20 'A lot of people love Trump, right?'
During a White House briefing on Monday, PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor asked President Trump if more people got sick from coronavirus because he was perceived to have downplayed the severity of it. He responded with, "a lot of people love Trump. A lot of people love me."(Webmaster's comment: You got to love him. He's such a good example of an evil man!)
4-21-20 Coronavirus: Immigration to US to be suspended amid pandemic, Trump says
President Donald Trump has said he will sign an executive order to temporarily suspend all immigration to the US because of the coronavirus. On Twitter, he cited "the attack from the invisible enemy", as he calls the virus, and the need to protect the jobs of Americans, but did not give details. It was not clear what programmes might be affected and whether the president would be able to carry out the order. Critics say the government is using the pandemic to crack down on immigration. Immigration has traditionally been a strong campaigning theme for Mr Trump, but has taken a back seat during the pandemic and in the lead-up to the November election. Mr Trump's announcement late on Monday came as the White House argued that the worst of the pandemic was over and the country could begin reopening. The restrictions on people's movement, implemented by many states to curb the spread of the virus, have paralysed parts of the economy. Over the past four weeks, more than 20 million Americans have registered for unemployment benefits. That amounts to roughly as many jobs as employers had added over the previous decade. The US has more than 787,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and more than 42,000 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the pandemic globally. It was not immediately clear who could be affected by Mr Trump's announcement or when such a move could come into force, and the White House has not commented. According to the New York Times, citing several people familiar with the plan, a formal order temporarily barring the provision of new green cards and work visas could be one way of implementing the measure; the administration would no longer approve any applications from foreigners to live and work in the US for an undetermined period of time.
4-21-20 Georgia's dangerous coronavirus experiment
The state of Georgia is about to become a giant — and possibly dangerous — lab experiment, and its residents are the guinea pigs. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, on Monday announced that "due to favorable data & more testing," many of the state's businesses will be allowed to open starting this Friday under "Minimum Basic Operations." The state is moving forward despite falling short of White House reopening guidelines. "As a small business person for over 30 years, I know the impact of this pandemic on hardworking Georgians in every ZIP code and every community," Kemp said. The rest of the country will be watching and waiting to see what the consequences of Kemp's decision might be. No doubt some states will follow suit. Indeed, Texas, Tennessee, and South Carolina have also announced plans to relax quarantine requirements. So, we may soon settle the question of whether the American economy can truly be reopened while the global coronavirus pandemic still rages. The best guess: Probably not. The initial reaction to Kemp's announcement was intense criticism. Stacey Abrams, the Democrat whom he defeated in the governor's race in 2018, called the decision "dangerously incompetent," while Vanity Fair dubbed Kemp the "front-runner for country's dumbest governor." While one widely used model suggests that Georgia hit its peak of daily COVID-19 deaths roughly two weeks ago, medical experts have said that widespread testing for the virus will be required before we can return to any kind of normality. The United States overall still hasn't accomplished widescale testing — and Georgia's testing levels have lagged behind even the national average. That means Kemp doesn't know how many people in his state have been infected, and thus does not know the level of danger he's exposing residents to by reopening businesses. Nobody does. But there is reason to be skeptical that this move would even do the local economy any good. Many businesses might find it difficult to meet the state's definition of "Minimum Basic Operations," which includes screening workers for fever and respiratory illness, separating workstations by at least six feet, and implementing staggered shifts. And given that Kemp is urging Georgians to shelter in place "as often as you can," there may not be enough customers for business owners to justify making those efforts, even if they can manage to acquire the equipment to do so. On top of that, will residents really want to go to theaters, or get tattoos, or get a massage, when even asymptomatic carriers of the virus can pass it along, making every close encounter fraught with danger? (Kemp claims he was unaware of this widely reported fact until recently.) While the anti-quarantine protests of the last week do suggest some Americans are ready to rub elbows again — if they ever stopped — most people are afraid that lifting restrictions too soon will fuel the pandemic. We already see evidence for this in states that have not locked down. In South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem (R) has refused to issue a statewide stay-at-home order, but the economy is taking hits nonetheless: A Smithfield Foods plant in the state suspended operations, for example, after a cluster of coronavirus cases was found there.
4-21-20 The Navajo Nation outbreak reveals an ugly truth behind America's coronavirus experience
One of the most important stories of the pandemic is also one of the least talked about. In Diné Bizaad, the Navajo language, COVID-19 is fittingly called Dikos Ntsaaígíí-19, the "cough that kills." The first confirmed case in the Navajo Nation came on March 17: a 46-year-old man with a travel history, subsequently rushed to Phoenix for treatment. But then, only a few hours later, came confirmation of a second case. The weeks that followed have been a nightmare for the Diné — the Navajo people's name for themselves — as the federal government has utterly failed to step up to the task of protecting the country's first citizens. The Navajo Nation's infection rate today is 10 times higher per capita than that of neighboring Arizona, and currently the region has the third-highest infection rate in the country outside of the epicenters of New York and New Jersey; 44 Diné have died, NBC reports, "more than in 14 other states." But the apathetic federal response to the Navajo Nation outbreak is tragically representative of a larger story unfolding in America right now, one in which the pandemic is disproportionately affecting people of color and, as a result, failing to inspire the level of urgency and horror it deserves from the public. I'd first learned about the outsized impact of COVID-19 on the Diné in mid-March when it was reported to me anecdotally by my cousin, who works as a nurse in a coronavirus ICU in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A few weeks later, the story started to make national news; today, some 31 percent of the New Mexicans that have contracted COVID-19 are Native American, The Salt Lake Tribune reports, although it bears noting that the Navajo Nation has been more aggressive in its testing than surrounding states. While reports often blame the disease's wildfire-like spread on poverty, poor health, and lack of infrastructure in the region, the Navajo — like many other tribes — have in fact been more proactive in their approach to combating COVID-19 than most states. History, sadly, is a powerful teacher. "Sicknesses are not new to the Navajo people," explains the Navajo Times. There were, of course, the initial deaths in the thousands from smallpox and measles, brought by European colonists starting in the 16th century. Modern sicknesses, though, have ripped through the Navajo Nation too: The Spanish Influenza in 1918 left 2,000 Diné dead (the Navajo Times places that number higher, at 3,000 dead, or about a quarter of the nation's population at the time). In 1993, the Diné were plagued by the hantavirus outbreak, which killed 50 percent of the two dozen people it infected. Most recently, during the swine flu epidemic in 2009, NBC reports that Navajos died at a rate four to five times higher than other Americans. Naturally, as the novel coronavirus put down roots in the U.S., the Navajo Nation reached out to the government for preemptive aid was never granted.
4-21-20 Coronavirus: Italy PM Conte says lockdown exit plan coming
Italy will announce its plan to gradually exit its lockdown by the end of this week, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said. In a Facebook post, Mr Conte said the country could not give up its policy of "maximum caution", and said Italy would reopen in line with "serious scientific policy". "A reasonable expectation is that we will apply it from May 4," he said. Italy has reported 24,114 deaths, the highest recorded toll in Europe. Data released on Monday showed the number of people officially confirmed as infected with coronavirus had dropped for the first time since the outbreak began. Italian authorities said the symbolic drop of 20 cases was a "positive development". The third-largest economy in the eurozone has been under lockdown measures since 9 March, brought in to tackle the spread of the virus. Countries across Europe are slowly beginning to ease the restrictions, on businesses and on education. There is however no coordination between states. Some countries like Denmark have already reopened primary schools, while Spain's government is discussing on Tuesday how to ease its tight restrictions and allow children outside. Current national quarantine restrictions officially expire on 3 May. Mr Conte said he would announce the plan for how to leave the lockdown "before the end of this week". "A reasonable prediction is that we will apply it from 4 May," he concluded. Many European nations have slowly started to ease restrictions this week, with Germany, Austria, Denmark and the Czech Republic among countries to allow certain businesses to reopen. There is however no coordination at an EU level, and countries are reopening at different rates. Denmark was the first in Europe to allow pupils back in the classroom, with students under the age of 12 returning to education last week. Norway allowed kindergarten students to return on Monday, provided they bring their own lunches and follow new hygiene rules.
4-21-20 Saudi Arabia executed record number of people in 2019 - Amnesty
Saudi Arabia put to death 184 people in 2019 - a record number for the kingdom - despite a decline in executions worldwide, Amnesty International says. The number of executions also doubled in Iraq to 100 last year, while Iran remained the second most prolific executioner after China, with 251. However, global confirmed executions decreased for the fourth consecutive year to 657 - 5% less than in 2018. It was the lowest recorded figure of the past decade, according to Amnesty. The human rights group's tally does not include China, where the number of executions - believed to be in the thousands - remains a state secret. It also notes that other countries, including Iran, North Korea and Vietnam, hide the full extent of their use of the death penalty by restricting access to information. "The death penalty is an abhorrent and inhuman punishment; and there is no credible evidence that it deters crime more than prisons terms. A large majority of countries recognize this and it's encouraging to see that executions continue to fall worldwide," said Clare Algar, Amnesty's senior director for research. "However, a small number of countries defied the global trend away from the death penalty by increasingly resorting to executions." Saudi Arabia's growing use of the death penalty was an "alarming development", she added. The kingdom executed 178 men and six women in 2019, just over half of whom were foreign nationals. The total was 149 in 2018. The majority were convicted of drug-related offences and murder. But Amnesty documented what it called the "increased use of the death penalty as a political weapon against dissidents from the Shia Muslim minority". In April 2019, there was a mass execution of 37 people. All but five were Shia men convicted on "terrorism" charges after trials that Amnesty said relied on confessions extracted through torture.
4-20-20 Covid-19 latest: Pro-gun groups push US social distancing protests
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. On Friday, US president Donald Trump posted a series of tweets endorsing protests against social distancing measures in Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia. Over the weekend, more protests took place, including in Denver, Colorado, where nurses stood in the road to block drivers on the way to gatherings. An investigation by the Washington Post found that the protests were promoted using Facebook groups set up by a small group of far-right, pro-gun activists with ties to the husband of education secretary Betsy DeVos. More than 95 per cent of Democrat and 70 per cent of Republican voters support stay-at-home measures, according to recent polling. More than 760,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 40,000 deaths have been reported in the US, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University, although this will be an underestimate. The drop in demand for transport caused by the pandemic helped US oil prices fall to below $3 a barrel today, down from pre-pandemic prices of $60 a barrel. No new coronavirus cases were recorded in Hong Kong yesterday for the first time since 5 March. Spain’s daily death toll has fallen below 400 for the first time since 11 March. 399 people were confirmed to have died of covid-19 yesterday, the lowest number in four weeks. The UK government has been criticised for its response to the coronavirus pandemic after the Sunday Times reported that Boris Johnson missed five Cobra meetings about the virus between January and the start of March. The Department of Health and Social Care has issued a lengthy response. The government’s coronavirus job retention scheme, which covers up to 80 per cent of employee wages up to a limit of £2500 per month, opened this morning. Up to 8 million people are predicted to apply for the scheme. People who have recovered from coronavirus in the UK are being asked to donate blood plasma as part of a potential clinical trial to learn whether their antibodies could help fight the disease. Non-essential shops in some German states including car dealers, book and bicycle shops reopened today, as the country continues to gradually ease some of its restrictions.
4-20-20 Coronavirus: How New Zealand relied on science and empathy
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said her country has "done what few countries have been able to do" and contained the community spread of Covid-19 and can start easing its lockdown measures. As the BBC's Shaimaa Khalil writes, the country's success - and Ardern's leadership - have won it global attention. On 13 March, New Zealand was about to mark the first anniversary of the Christchurch shooting with a national memorial event. I asked Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern then if she was concerned about hosting such a large gathering, just after the World Health Organization (WHO) had declared a pandemic. She said she wasn't, based on the existing scientific advice. Things changed overnight. Not only was the event cancelled, the prime minister announced that almost everyone coming into New Zealand would have to self-isolate for 14 days. It was among the earliest and toughest self-isolation measures in the world, which, a week later, would lead to a complete lockdown. "We're going hard and we're going early," Ms Ardern told the public. "We only have 102 cases, but so did Italy once." During the next two weeks of lockdown, New Zealand saw a steady decline in the number of new cases. To date, it has had 12 deaths, and has confirmed that on average each infected person is passing the virus to fewer than one other person. The country is now preparing to move out of its most severe level of lockdown on 28 April. And while there has been some criticism over how the government has reacted, others say New Zealand has offered a model response of empathy, clarity and trust in science. New Zealand is of course a small nation - its population is smaller than New York City's - and it is remote with easily sealable borders, which all played in its favour when the virus broke out. But its relative success - it has among the lowest cases per capita in the world - has mainly been attributed to the clarity of the message coming from the government.
4-20-20 Is Trump dangerously strong or perilously weak?
How disorienting is political reality in the Trump era? So disorienting that people who devote their lives to observing and analyzing politics can't even agree on whether President Trump is inches away from abolishing democracy and turning himself into a dictator — or if, instead, he's a pitifully weak president who regularly demonstrates his impotence. This elemental confusion has reached a crescendo during the coronavirus crisis of the last six weeks. Faced with a genuine emergency, Trump has responded by holding daily press briefings in which he rails against journalists, spreads propaganda and disinformation, and demonizes scapegoats. He's also proclaimed that his office gives him the power to do anything he wants and that he could summarily adjourn Congress and use his recess appointment power to bypass the Senate's role in confirming judges. And then there's the most bizarre and irresponsible example of all: the president using Twitter to foment civil unrest against state governments attempting to combat a pandemic. Yet over this very same six weeks, numerous governors have taken the lead in imposing public-health measures to fight COVID-19 and in laying the groundwork for the gradual loosening of social restrictions. Compared to the decisive actions of Govs. Andrew Cuomo in New York, Phil Murphy in New Jersey, Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, and others, the Trump administration has been inept and ineffectual, with the president himself constantly displaying his characteristic impetuousness and inconstancy. The result has been slowness and sloppiness at the federal level that contrasts sharply with displays of nimbleness and competence in states and localities. So which is it? Is Trump a would-be authoritarian or an enfeebled executive? Dangerously strong or perilously weak?
4-20-20 Coronavirus: US faced with protests amid pressure to reopen
Protesters have taken to the streets in states across the US, demanding that governors reopen economies shut by the coronavirus pandemic. Rallies in Arizona, Colorado, Montana and Washington state took place on Sunday, following earlier protests in half a dozen states. Agitation for easing restrictions has grown, despite the risk of a Covid-19 resurgence posed by reopening too soon. US President Donald Trump has signalled support for the protests. The US has become the centre of the Covid-19 crisis, with over 735,000 cases and some 40,000 deaths - but signs have emerged that it is reaching the apex of the outbreak and that infection rates are slowing in some states. In Washington state, an early US virus hotspot, hundreds of people gathered in the state capital, Olympia, to demand the governor relax rules restricting the economy. Police estimated the crowd at 2,500, making it one of the largest protests in US states against lockdowns over the past week, Reuters news agency reports. Many of the protesters ignored social distancing guidelines, as well as pleas from rally organisers to wear masks. Montana saw a few hundred protesters at a rally held in Helena, the Associated Press news agency reports. There was a similar-sized protest in Denver, Colorado, where protesters descended upon the state capitol building to demonstrate against the social distancing orders. As protesters clogged streets with cars, healthcare workers in scrubs and face masks stood at crossroads in counter-protest. Dozens of cars circled the capitol, local media report, while roughly 200 people assembled on the lawn, waving signs and flags. In Arizona, protesters also took to their cars - estimated to be about 100 - and drove in circles around the state capitol in Phoenix to create gridlock, reports say. (Webmaster's comment: Thanks to these idiots many more will die!)
4-20-20 Disney stops paying 100,000 workers during downturn
Walt Disney will stop paying more than 100,000 employees from this week as it struggles with coronavirus closures. (Webmaster's comment: But it didn't stop paying any executives I'll bet!) The world's biggest entertainment group operates theme parks and hotels in the US, Europe and Asia. Stopping pay for almost half of its workforce will save Disney up to $500m (£400m) a month, according to the Financial Times. Disney made operating income of $1.4bn for its parks, experiences and products in the last three months of 2019. The company said it will provide full healthcare benefits for staff placed on unpaid leave and urged its US employees to apply for government benefits through the $2tn coronavirus stimulus package. The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits has been surging since its national lockdown, rising above six million. Protesters have taken to the streets in the US, demanding the reopening of economies. The travel and leisure sectors were the first to be hit financially from coronavirus shutdowns. Airlines have been struggling to survive with many asking for financial assistance from governments. But Disney's fortunes for its online streaming site Disney Plus are much better, with more than 50m subscribers in just five months since it was launched. Last month Walt Disney said its executive chairman Bob Iger would give up his entire salary during the pandemic while chief executive Bob Chapek will take a 50% pay cut. Mr Iger is one of highest paid executives in the entertainment sector, earning $47.5m last year as chairman and chief executive. When the theme parks reopen, Mr Iger has forecast that temperature checks of visitors could become part of its normal routine along with bag checks.
4-20-20 Lessons from Oklahoma City
25 years after the Oklahoma City bombing, what lessons can we apply to today's national crisis? Sunday was the 25th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, a crime that killed 168 people — including 19 children — and wounded several hundred more. Typically, such anniversaries get big play in the media and our culture, but the coronavirus pandemic is, rightfully so, sucking up most of our attention these days. The bombing deserves to be remembered in its own right. But a look back at the events of 1995 also offers perspective on the challenges we face today. The threat we face now is a virus, instead of an angry domestic terrorist — but like the pandemic, the deadly attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building revealed the character of our leaders and exposed some blind spots in our collective thinking. Here are three lessons from that event:
The biggest threats can come from unexpected places. We know now that the Oklahoma City bombing was committed by Timothy McVeigh, a disaffected Army vet who held anti-government views. But in the first hours after the attack, the focus settled mainly on the likelihood of Islamic terrorism. "Police do not know for certain whether the bombing is foreign terrorism or domestic," The New York Times' A.M. Rosenthal wrote two days later. "Either way, the fact remains that whatever we are doing to destroy Mideast terrorism, the chief terrorist threat against Americans, has not been working."
Right-wing radicalism can do tremendous damage. The emergence of McVeigh and his accomplice, Terry Nichols, brought to light a strain of anti-government radicalism in American life — a "militia movement" defined by racism, devotion to guns, and a conception of freedom so extreme that members often refused to even use license plates on their cars. Indeed, McVeigh was arrested 90 minutes after the bombing not because he was a suspect, but because he was fleeing the scene in a car that lacked plates.
Difficult times call for strong leadership. While President Bill Clinton's impeachment hadn't happened by the time of the Oklahoma City bombing, he'd had a rough presidency: His signature health-care plan had failed and Republicans had captured Congress the year before, turning then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich into a celebrity. Clinton seemed callow and flawed, a mediocrity of a chief executive who had risen on the strength of charisma and ambition.
When the bombing occurred, though, Clinton acted presidentially. He went before the press, announced the steps the federal government would take in response to the disaster, and asked Americans to pray for the victims. "Meanwhile, we will be about our work," he said. He was calm, measured — and he said everything he needed to say in under three minutes. He didn't look for a scapegoat. He didn't linger at the podium, bantering and bashing journalists. He set an agenda and didn't undermine it by reversing himself, in action or tone, the next day.
4-20-20 How Typhoid Mary left a trail of scandal and death
No-one ever thought we'd see a time when every news bulletin and website in the world would be filled with stories of a global health crisis and the scientific race to beat it. But this is not the first time that epidemiology has captured the public imagination. There was the "Spanish" flu epidemic of 1918-1920 that infected a quarter of the world's population and killed anywhere between 17 and 50 million people. But even before that there was the extraordinary story of Typhoid Mary, a young Irish immigrant working as a cook in New York at the beginning of the 20th Century who left in her wake a trail of death, scandal and controversy. At some points in her story Mary appears to be a victim and at others a villain, but she certainly made epidemiology the talk of New York and the wider world in the years just before World War One. Mary Mallon was born in Cookstown, County Tyrone, in 1869 but left Ireland as a teenager to seek a new life in the New World. By 1900 Mary was a cook working in the houses of wealthy families in and around New York City. Her signature dish was said to be peach ice cream. Somewhere between one and two million Americans worked in domestic service back then and to be a cook was to be Queen of the Castle. You managed the kitchen staff, bought in supplies and to prove your status you were to your employers Miss Mallon, and not merely Mallon. Mary Mallon worked in the ritzier parts of Manhattan but things were not going as well as they seemed. Between 1900 and 1907 she cooked in the homes of seven families - the last one on Park Avenue - and in every one of them people fell sick or died. Each time she slipped away and found work elsewhere. Her wealthy employers in places like Oyster Bay and Fifth Avenue were shocked. Typhoid was a killer but it belonged to another world. The disease thrived in the overcrowded, insanitary conditions of New York's slums, such as Five Points, Prospect Hill and Hell's Kitchen. The family of one of the victims hired a researcher called George Soper and the diligent Mr Soper proved to be Mary's nemesis - even though when he first tracked her down she chased him out of her kitchen with a carving fork. And that's part of the problem with Mary.
4-20-20 9 ways coronavirus could reshape American higher education
Most colleges and universities have closed their campuses for the rest of the semester, with milestones like graduation ceremonies canceled and classes moved online. But the 2019-2020 school year was already three-quarters finished when the United States' response to the novel coronavirus began in earnest. The bigger question now: What happens next year and in years to come? We've been wondering if higher education is due for an overhaul for some time now — whether that be the right's notion of bursting the college bubble or the left's push for sweeping student debt relief. The novel coronavirus pandemic could be the event that fundamentally reshapes American higher education. Here are nine plausible shifts.
- Colleges close and consolidate. Some schools have already permanently closed their doors or suspended admissions because of the pandemic. So far, these are small colleges with pre-existing financial woes.
- No more sports unless they pay for themselves. Another plausible cost-cutting mechanism: Cancel sports, which also tend to run afoul of social distancing rules for players and fans alike. The probable exception to this would be athletic departments that are a net financial asset to their institutions.
- The end of luxury amenities. Slamming universities for luring shallow teenagers with ritzy dorms, rock walls, and water park features is a bipartisan favorite, though there's debate (and conflicting data) on whether those amenities pay for themselves by increasing enrollment or simply hike current students' fees. Whatever the reality, they'll be an obvious choice for the chopping block during a recession.
- Cuts to administrative overhead. Much like amenities, there's disagreement over how much administrative costs are to blame for spiking tuition rates. However, a 2014 study "found that from 1987 to 2012, the higher-education sector added more than half a million administrators," writes Columbia University's Philip Hamburger in the Wall Street Journal.
- Fewer majors. The trend toward cutting smaller, less profitable majors perceived to have more insecure job markets (i.e. liberal arts) is already underway and could easily accelerate amid pandemic. That the lacking value of a liberal arts degree (even if you measure value by lifetime earnings and job prospects) is significantly a myth may not matter.
- A permanent shift toward online education. Defending his controversial COVID-19 plan, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. in March let slip that his school's extant online education is "really not the same quality of education" as residential courses. Falwell's comment was impolitic, but we all know that's generally true, and not just at Liberty.
- More localized student bodies. "For years, Claire McCarville dreamed of going to college in New York or Los Angeles, and was thrilled last month to get accepted to selective schools in both places," begins a recent New York Times report. "But earlier this month, she sent a $300 deposit to Arizona State University, a 15-minute drive from her home in Phoenix." Many other students will do the same, and schools that have long boasted of a student body hailing from all 50 states and several dozen foreign countries will have to edit their promotional materials.
- Canceled student loans. Part of the coronavirus relief package passed by Congress and signed by President Trump suspended payments on federally-held student loans through the end of September. It's plausible that policy could be extended, or even that a future relief bill will affect private loans, too.
- Reassessment of the value of college. The Obama administration called higher education a universal "economic imperative," but that's not obviously true. A university education is not the best or most necessary choice for everyone, and making policy as if it is can disadvantage those who do not want or need to go to college.
4-20-20 Coronavirus: Germany relaxes shop closures
Germany has reopened small shops, car dealerships and bicycle stores, in a tentative easing of the coronavirus lockdown imposed nearly a month ago. The country has flattened the curve of new infections and last week said it had got the spread under control. But social distancing remains in force. In Saxony it is mandatory for people to wear face masks in public - and that is strongly recommended elsewhere. The only students back in school are those sitting leaving exams. Germany's mortality rate from Covid-19 is significantly lower than for many of its European neighbours. Efficient, large-scale testing by diagnostic labs, and tracing of carriers, is seen as a major factor in that. The country on Monday recorded 1,775 new cases for the past day, while the number of deaths linked to Covid-19 rose by 110 to 4,404, according to official figures. Spain registered 399 more Covid-19 deaths in the past 24 hours, pushing its total to 20,852. That is the second-highest in Europe after Italy. In both countries the daily death toll is declining. More than 200,000 are infected with the virus in Spain, but 80,587 have recovered, according to the latest official figures. There are significant regional differences in how Germany's 16 states are implementing the partial relaxation of the lockdown. For instance, the densely populated state of North Rhine-Westphalia has reopened large shops as well as small. Elsewhere only those with an area of less than 800sq m (8,611sq ft) are allowed to start operating again. The government imposed the lockdown on 22 March, shutting schools and banning gatherings of more than two people outdoors. Germany's hotels, restaurants and cafes are to remain shut, as are sports and leisure facilities. For most German businesses, the lockdown will remain in place until at least 3 May, the government says. Other school pupils will also begin to return to classes after that. Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged her Christian Democrat (CDU) colleagues to refrain from discussing further relaxation of the lockdown, German media report. She warned that such talk could undermine social distancing and fuel a new surge of coronavirus cases, harming Germany's so far successful efforts to fight the virus.
4-20-20 Coronavirus: Brazil's Bolsonaro joins anti-lockdown protests
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro has come under criticism for joining protesters demanding that restrictions on movement introduced to stop the spread of coronavirus be lifted. Mr Bolsonaro has clashed in recent weeks with state governors who have imposed lockdowns, denouncing the measures as "dictatorial". As of Sunday, Brazil had more than 38,000 confirmed cases, the highest number in Latin America. More than 2,400 people there have died. President Bolsonaro addressed a crowd of a few hundred supporters outside army headquarters in the capital, Brasilia. He said the protesters were "patriots" for defending individual freedoms. As well as demanding an end to the lockdown, some of those attending the rally also held up signs calling for Brazil's Congress and the Supreme Court to be closed down. Others said they wanted the military to take over the handling of the coronavirus crisis. Brazil was under military rule for more than two decades from 1964 until 1985 and calls for the armed forces to be given more power are highly controversial. While the president did not make any reference to those demands, his appearance at the rally - at which people were calling for the closure of the country's democratic institutions - has been labelled "provocative" by his critics. Journalists also noted that he neither wore a face mask, even though he coughed on occasion, nor gloves - precautions which many other politicians in the region are taking. He has in the past dismissed coronavirus as "little more than a flu". (Webmaster's comment: Sounds like another Trump to me!) The speaker of Brazil's Chamber of Deputies, Rodrigo Maia, tweeted that "the whole world is united against coronavirus, but in Brazil we have to fight the coronavirus and the virus of authoritarianism". "In the name of the Chamber of Deputies, I reject any and all acts which defend the dictatorship," he added. Relations between the president on the one hand and Congress and the Supreme Court on the other have been tense, with Mr Bolsonaro claiming they are trying to curtail his powers and even oust him. Last week, the president sacked his health minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, who had backed the lockdown measures. President Bolsonaro argues that the lockdown measures are damaging the economy and has argued that they should be eased and Brazil's borders reopened.
4-20-20 Coronavirus in Latin America: How bad could it get?
Compared to Asia, Europe and North America, the coronavirus pandemic came late to Latin America. But now the region is feeling the full effect on its already stretched healthcare systems and economy. Here's the latest from Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia and Nicaragua.
4-19-20 Coronavirus: US protests against and for lockdown restrictions
Protesters have voiced their anger over lockdown restrictions in the US in a series of demonstrations. Measures brought in to try to stop the spread of Covid-19 have been criticised as too harsh by some, while others say they aren't tough enough. (Webmaster's comment: Let those protesting lockdowns all infect one another.)
4-19-20 America's fake federalism
Coronavirus has once again exposed that we live in a tyranny of the minority. The United States is supposed to be a federal republic — that is, a government in which significant powers are delegated to the individual states. The idea is that in a huge country like this, it makes sense to give regional governments substantial latitude so their people can choose different policy models appropriate to local conditions. It's not a crazy idea. But in fact, the U.S. version of federalism is largely disintegrating or fake. On the one hand, President Trump's abject failure to coordinate a national response to the novel coronavirus pandemic has forced states to jury-rig new federal structures themselves. On the other, the rump federal government is not actually constructed according to federalist principles — it is a minoritarian system which grants certain states enormous leverage over national policy. To begin, the Trump administration has refused to set up a rational system to allocate medical supplies like protective gear and ventilators across the country. The Defense Production Act allows the president to nationalize factories during an emergency, or instruct them to produce important materials, which any sane person would have done months ago. Trump still refuses to do this on a systematic basis, so states have been desperately bidding against each other and the federal government and foreign governments for supplies. Indeed, Trump's FEMA has routinely been seizing shipments of protective equipment en route to hospitals or state governments, for unclear reasons or purposes. Meanwhile, even after he stopped relentlessly downplaying the threat of the virus, Trump has continually undermined Democratic governors by blaming them for equipment shortages and testing delays. Now Trump and the right-wing agitprop machine are beginning to demand that the economy be reopened long before the virus is under control. He recently falsely claimed that he has "total" power to decide when states should reopen, and while he characteristically backed off that statement later, on Friday he recklessly encouraged the tiny groups of right-wing nuts who have been protesting state-level restrictions (after watching Fox News, of course).
4-19-20 Coronavirus: Spanish PM promises to ease confinement of children
Spanish children have been kept at home since 14 March, under strict measures to curb the spread of Covid-19. Now Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez aims to relax the rule on 27 April so they can "get some fresh air". Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau, who has young children herself, this week pleaded with the government to allow children outside. Spain has seen more than 20,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic and almost 200,000 reported cases. In a televised briefing on Saturday evening, Mr Sánchez said Spain had left behind "the most extreme moments and contained the brutal onslaught of the pandemic". But he said he would ask parliament to extend Spain's state of alarm to 9 May as the achievements made were "still insufficient and above all fragile" and could not be jeopardised by "hasty decisions". Spain's latest coronavirus figures appear to confirm the virus's downward curve, given that at one point earlier this month the country was recording nearly 1,000 deaths each day. Also, the number of daily new infections appears to have stabilised. Although the health ministry has warned that weekend figures can be misleading because of a delay by local authorities in reporting data, the apparently improving picture will further encourage calls for the lifting of certain restrictions. There has been growing social and political pressure on Prime Minister Sánchez to allow children, in particular, to go outside. Opposition leader Pablo Casado tweeted that "these little heroes are climbing the walls" after more than a month of not being allowed out beyond the confines of their homes. However, a poll published by 40dB for El País reported that 59% of those asked thought that the lockdown should be maintained as it is for the time being. Another 410 deaths were reported on Sunday - fewer than Saturday. The latest toll is well down from the peak of the pandemic, and the government allowed some non-essential workers to resume construction and manufacturing last Monday.
4-19-20 Coronavirus: Madrid’s medical heroes in the fight of their lives
Applause and cheering rings out every night in the huddled streets around 12 Octubre hospital in Madrid, hailing the 6,000 staff who work there as heroes. "We're not heroes; we're health workers," insists Hernando Trujillo, a doctor tackling the coronavirus emergency in the working-class south of the capital. The hospital has capacity for 1,300 beds and, at the height of the Covid-19 epidemic, close to 1,000 were being used to treat coronavirus patients. "There was almost no transition. It was really quiet and then suddenly a mad rush. The collapse came in a day," says Laura Andújar, a 37-year-old emergency nurse. Spain has seen more than 20,000 deaths and the Madrid region is at the heart of it: a capital city blighted by this virus. This city has seen 7,000 deaths, more than other European capitals. The contagion spread at a remarkable rate through the densely populated city and its cluster of suburbs. The real death toll could be considerably higher as Madrid's regional government has revealed only 800 of 4,260 care home residents suspected of dying from Covid-19 were tested. The first local infection is believed to have been detected on 27 February. By 15 March, there were 3,544 confirmed cases. At the peak on 31 March, 3,419 new cases were reported here on a single day. "What followed was two weeks of madness," says Laura Andújar. Another emergency department nurse, Eugenia Cuesta, is no stranger to epidemics. She has dealt with cholera in Haiti and Ebola in Sierra Leone as a Red Cross volunteer. "We collapsed. On a normal bad winter flu day you might get 100 people waiting. We had 220 from Covid-19, and people ended up sleeping in corridors," she remembers. And in this outbreak they were not prepared for the onslaught. "Five days in, I got a cough and tested positive." "The protective equipment arrived late and is still insufficient. I avoided cholera and Ebola infection, and I got this straight away," she says. When she came back at the end of March she found "the same degree of disorganisation". Her colleagues had become used to chaos and were too exhausted to consider working in other ways, she believes.
4-18-20 Trump: Some states 'to begin a safe, gradual and phased opening'
Donald Trump has said that a number of states have announced "concrete steps to begin a safe, gradual and phased opening". It comes after the US president gave guidelines to governors on reopening state economies. Speaking at the White House on Saturday, he said Texas and Vermont would allow certain businesses to open on Monday with "appropriate social distancing precautions". However, some state governors have warned against the lifting of restrictions until more testing is available.
4-18-20 Coronavirus: Japan doctors warn of health system 'break down' as cases surge
Doctors in Japan have warned that the country's medical system could collapse amid a wave of new coronavirus cases. Emergency rooms have been unable to treat some patients with serious health conditions due to the extra burden caused by the virus, officials say. One ambulance carrying a patient with coronavirus symptoms was turned away by 80 hospitals before he could be seen. Japan, which initially appeared to have the virus under control, passed 10,000 confirmed cases on Saturday. More than 200 people have now died with Covid-19 and the capital Tokyo remains the worst-affected area. Groups of doctors at GP surgeries in the city are assisting hospitals with the testing of potential coronavirus patients in order to ease some of the pressure on the health system, officials say. "This is to prevent the medical system from crumbling," Konoshin Tamura, the deputy head of an association of GPs, told Reuters news agency. "Everyone needs to extend a helping hand. Otherwise, hospitals would break down," he added. This is a stark warning. Two medical associations said the coronavirus outbreak was reducing the ability of Japan's hospitals to treat other, serious, medical emergencies. Hospitals are already turning away patients, and all this while the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 remains relatively low compared with other countries. Doctors have complained of a lack of protective equipment, which suggests Japan has not prepared well for the virus. This is despite the fact it was the second country outside China to record an infection, way back in January. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been criticised for not introducing restrictions to deal with the outbreak sooner for fear they could harm the economy. His government has argued with the governor of Tokyo, who wanted tougher measures introduced more quickly. Only on Thursday did Mr Abe extend a state of emergency to the whole country.
4-18-20 Here’s where things stand on COVID-19 tests in the U.S.
Ramping up testing is key to knowing how far the virus has spread and getting back to normal. White House officials have released guidelines to help states decide how — and when — to loosen social distancing measures in a way that prevents the coronavirus from surging back. But health experts say beginning to open parts of society during the pandemic hinges on the availability of widespread testing to both stamp out new flare-ups and find out who may already have been exposed. Many people infected by SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, may have mild or no symptoms (SN: 3/17/20). As of April 17, more than 3.4 million coronavirus tests had been conducted in the United States, according to the COVID Tracking Project, which relies on state public health data. But to curb the pandemic in a country of more than 329 million people, that’s not nearly enough. As a result, researchers are racing to develop new tests that they can scale up quickly. Here’s where things stand with tests for COVID-19 — including those currently used in clinics and others under development. The current gold standard for diagnostic tests is based on a method that searches for bits of the virus’s genetic material (SN: 3/6/20). Most available tests rely on swabs from a person’s nose or throat, which are then sent to a lab where researchers use a technique called polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, to detect tiny amounts of the coronavirus. PCR-based tests typically take about three to four hours. On April 10, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved an emergency use authorization for a COVID-19 saliva test using a patient’s spit. That test — developed by researchers at Rutgers University in Piscataway, N.J., and now being rolled out in New Jersey — also relies on PCR to detect viral genes. But it skips the step requiring a health care professional to swab the back of a patient’s throat or nose. Instead, patients spit into a tube. The test aims to help with swab shortages and protect health care workers from getting infected from the close contact needed to take a nasal or throat swab.
4-18-20 Coronavirus: President Trump defends tweets against US states' lockdowns
President Donald Trump has defended tweets in which he appeared to endorse protests against stringent lockdown measures in several US states. At his Friday briefing, he said some measures imposed by Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia had been "too tough". Earlier, he wrote in a series of tweets: "LIBERATE MINNESOTA", "LIBERATE MICHIGAN" and then "LIBERATE VIRGINIA". The curbs, which include stay-at-home orders, are needed to slow the spread of coronavirus. But protesters say they are hurting citizens by limiting movement unreasonably and stifling economic activity. (Webmaster's comment: If they stop lockdowns they are signing their own death warrents!) The three states the Republican president referred to in Friday's tweets are all led by Democratic governors. Mr Trump may be seeking to encourage his political base to protest against Democrats, the BBC's Anthony Zurcher says. Demonstrations calling on authorities to end the shutdown have occurred in Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina, Minnesota, Utah, Virginia and Kentucky. But Mr Trump did not mention Ohio and Utah, which both have Republican governors. His comments came shortly after the US saw its highest daily death toll from coronavirus, recording 4,591 deaths in 24 hours on Thursday. That rise could be because Johns Hopkins University, which records the data, began to include deaths with a Covid-19 probable cause. The US has the highest number of cases and deaths worldwide, with nearly 700,000 confirmed infections and more than 36,000 deaths. More demonstrations against the lockdown measures are planned, including in Wisconsin, Oregon, Maryland, Idaho and Texas. The protests have varied in size, ranging from a few dozen people in Virginia to thousands in Michigan. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz responded to the president's tweets, saying he called the White House to ask "what they think we could have done differently" but did not hear back.
4-18-20 Coronavirus: Lockdown protesters 'responsible' - Trump
At the coronavirus press briefing, President Trump said thatsome governors have been too tough with coronavirus restrictions. He said protestors in Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia have a right to express their views because "they’ve been treated a little bit rough".
4-18-20 A parade that killed thousands?
How the refusal to ban large public gatherings during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic led to disaster. Here's everything you need to know:
- Why hold a parade? America was in the waning months of World War I, and officials across the country were under enormous pressure to sell war bonds, or Liberty Loans. Big parades were staged in major cities to rally the public behind the war bond effort.
- Why didn't Philadelphia cancel the parade? The decision fell to Health Commissioner Wilmer Krusen, a political appointee with no prior public health experience. Doctors pleaded with him to cancel the parade, with one branding it "a ready-made inflammable mass for conflagration."
- How did Krusen react? In the days before the parade, Philadelphia officials distributed 20,000 flyers urging citizens to cover their mouths when they coughed or sneezed. "If the people are careless," Krusen was quoted as saying in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin the day of the parade, "thousands of cases may develop and the epidemic may get beyond control."
- Did the shutdown help? It was too late. By the second week in November, 12,000 Philadelphians were dead, and the phrase "bodies stacked like cordwood" had become commonplace among the survivors.
- How did other cities fare? Researchers have found that cities that quarantined the sick and shut schools, churches, and theaters saw 50 percent lower death rates than those that did not. In Milwaukee, which had the lowest death rate (0.6 percent) of any large city in America during the pandemic, the city's health commissioner, Dr. George Ruhland, had aggressively shut schools, saloons, and public places the moment the virus arrived there, and plastered the city with an ad campaign warning people to stay home.
- The economic impact of shutdowns: A study published this year argued that cities that acted early and aggressively to impose social distancing to limit the spread of the Spanish flu actually performed better economically after the pandemic was over than those that did not. Fewer workers had died, and the local population more quickly resumed normal economic behavior, three economists found.
4-18-20 DACA health workers risk their lives to fight COVID-19 while they await SCOTUS ruling
Jessica Esparza has spent the past few weeks caring for COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit at Central Washington Hospital and Clinics in Wenatchee, about two hours east of Seattle. She cares for intubated patients, constantly checking their vitals and managing their medications. She said the work is mentally, physically, and emotionally grueling. "I think my anxiety to go to work has jumped, you know, way, way up there," she said. "All of a sudden, it's like here's a pandemic and we don't really know exactly where this is going to go." Working in the ICU during a pandemic is not the only thing giving her anxiety. Esparza's very future in the United States is precarious: She is one of roughly 700,000 beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an Obama-era program that provides work permits and protection from deportation to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. They could eventually lose their work permits and protections if the U.S. Supreme Court rules the Trump administration has authority to end the program. The justices could rule any week now. For DACA recipients who work in health care, the uncertainty is an extra layer of stress as they work through an already stressful situation. "It is scary to think that I could potentially not be able to work as a nurse, especially at a time when all of this is needed," said Esparza, who joined the ICU in March. "If all of a sudden I don't have a work permit, I don't know. I can't legally work as a nurse. So, I'm not sure where that leaves me." The Trump administration announced in September 2017 it would phase out DACA by 2020, but lower courts kept it in place temporarily. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in November. Advocates for DACA recipients said a ruling ending the program would be disastrous — especially as the nation grapples with a public health crisis. Nearly 30,000 DACA recipients work as health care professionals, according to the left-leaning Center for American Progress. They include doctors, nurses, technicians, aides, and other medical support staff.
4-18-20 Coronavirus: Is pandemic being used for power grab in Europe?
Some of Europe's leaders have been accused of taking advantage of a public health crisis to clamp down on dissent and bolster their power. As Turkey arrests hundreds for social media posts and Russians are threatened with jail for anything considered fake news, there are fears that democracy is being jeopardised in Poland and that it has been swept away in Hungary. BBC correspondents assess whether coronavirus is being used as cover for a power grab. Hungary's powerful Prime Minister Viktor Orban stands accused at home and abroad of using the coronavirus crisis to grab even more power, instead of uniting the country. First his Fidesz government declared a state of danger on 11 March, winning valuable time to prepare for the pandemic. But it then used its majority in parliament to extend that indefinitely, so the government now has the power to rule by decree for as long as necessary and can decide itself when the danger is over. Critics speak of an end to Hungary's democracy, but the justice minister insists the "Authorisation Act" will expire at the end of the emergency and it was both necessary and proportionate. s it the end of democracy? Constitutional law expert Prof Zoltan Szente warns the pandemic could easily be used to maintain the government's extraordinary powers. As it is the exclusive power of the government to decide when to end the state of danger, he says parliament has actually "committed suicide" by waiving its right of control over the government. But Mr Orban's Fidesz party has a decisive majority in parliament and all by-elections and referendums are postponed until the end of the emergency. The Constitutional Court is already packed with Orban favourites but the one remaining thorn in the prime minister's side is the largely independent judiciary. The ruling party needs to maintain its two-thirds majority in parliament to appoint a new Supreme Court president at the end of 2020. Then Mr Orban's power would be almost unassailable.
4-17-20 Cuomo: 'Don't pass the buck without passing the bucks'
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says that states need better funding from the federal government to reopen their economies. He appeared to criticise the Trump administration for failing to "pass the bucks" to ramp up testing in the state, which is part of the three phases towards reopening that the president announced on Thursday. Governor Cuomo has extended New York's lockdown to 15 May. The president quickly fired back on Twitter and suggested the governor "spend more time 'doing' and less time 'complaining'." He added that the federal government has given New York "far more money, help and equipment than any other state, by far, and these great men and women who did the job never hear you say thanks."
4-17-20 Coronavirus: Could Donald Trump delay the presidential election?
As the coronavirus pandemic grinds much of the US economy to a halt, it is also playing havoc with the American democratic process during a national election year. Primary contests have been delayed or disrupted, with in-person polling places closed and absentee balloting processes thrown into doubt. Politicians have engaged in contentious fights over the electoral process in legislatures and the courts. In November voters are scheduled to head to the polls to select the next president, much of Congress and thousands of state-government candidates. But what could Election Day look like - or if it will even be held on schedule - is very much the subject of debate. Here are answers to some key questions. A total of 15 states have delayed their presidential primaries at this point, with most pushing them back until at least June. That presents the pressing question of whether the presidential election in November itself could be delayed. Under a law dating back to 1845, the US presidential election is slated for the Tuesday after the first Monday of November every four years - 3 November in 2020. It would take an act of Congress - approved by majorities in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and the Republican-controlled Senate - to change that. The prospect of a bipartisan legislative consensus signing off on any delay is unlikely in the extreme. What's more, even if the voting day were changed, the US Constitution mandates that a presidential administration only last four years. In other words, Donald Trump's first term will expire at noon on 20 January, 2021, one way or another. He might get another four years if he's re-elected. He could be replaced by Democrat Joe Biden if he's defeated. But the clock is ticking down, and a postponed vote won't stop it. (Webmaster's comment: Trumps a wannabe Hitler and he'll do anything to form a dictatorship! He doesn't care how many die from the coronavirus as long as he remains in power.)
4-17-20 Coronavirus: Germany says its outbreak is 'under control'
Germany's health minister says the month-long lockdown has brought his country's coronavirus outbreak under control. Jens Spahn said that since 12 April the number of recovered patients had been consistently higher than the number of new infections. The infection rate has dropped to 0.7 - that is, each infected person passed the virus to fewer than one other. In Germany 3,868 have died of Covid-19 - fewer than in Italy, Spain or France. However, the number of fatalities is still rising in Germany, as is the number of infected health care workers. So far almost 134,000 people have been infected in Germany. The degree of lockdown varies across Germany's regions - it is tightest in the states of Bavaria and Saarland. On Wednesday Chancellor Angela Merkel announced tentative steps to start easing the restrictions. Some smaller shops will reopen next week and schools will start reopening in early May, with the focus on students due to sit exams soon. But Mrs Merkel warned there was "little margin for error" and that "caution should be the watchword". Sports and leisure facilities, as well as cafes and restaurants, will remain closed indefinitely. Germany's network of diagnostic labs has been praised internationally for having responded rapidly to the pandemic. By early April Germany was doing more than 100,000 swab tests daily, enabling more coronavirus carriers to be traced than in other EU countries. Mr Spahn said that by August, German companies would produce up to 50 million face masks a week for healthcare workers. On Friday the eastern state of Saxony became the first German state to make the wearing of masks compulsory on public transport and in shops. Mask-wearing is compulsory in neighbouring Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
4-17-20 UK’s coronavirus science advice won’t be published until pandemic ends
Key scientific data and advice the UK government is using to guide its covid-19 response won’t be published until the pandemic ends. Documents used to make decisions and the minutes of meetings of the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE) will only be made public when the current outbreak is brought under control, according to Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser. In a letter sent earlier this month to MP Greg Clark, who chairs the House of Commons science and technology committee, Vallance said: “Once SAGE stops convening on this emergency the minutes of relevant SAGE meetings, supporting documents and the names of participants (with their permission) will be published.” SAGE currently meets twice a week and passes advice to government ministers. The committee’s decision-making and membership have come under scrutiny because of the government’s reluctance to announce strict social distancing measures to minimise infection. Critics also want to know why the government initially played down the importance of testing for the virus. Ministers have repeatedly said they are following scientific advice, and that such advice will be central to decide when – and how – to lift social distancing restrictions. “It’s disgraceful,” says Allyson Pollock, director of the Institute of Health and Society at Newcastle University, UK, who was one of dozens of experts who signed a letter in The Lancet medical journal last month arguing that government advisors should be more transparent. “We ought to know who is advising the government,” she says. “What is the government hiding and who is it protecting?” Government employees and publicly funded university scientists – likely to make up a large number of SAGE members – are accountable to the taxpayer, she says.
4-17-20 Covid-19 latest: Death roll in Wuhan revised up by 50 per cent
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. China has revised the covid-19 death toll in Wuhan up by 50 per cent to 3869 from 2579, saying the total number now accounts for deaths at home and delays in reporting. The Chinese government has denied any cover-up in its handling of the crisis or sharing of data. French president Emmanuel Macron has questioned China’s management of the outbreak, saying “there are clearly things that have happened that we don’t know about”. The UK has confirmed that its social distancing measures will last for at least another three weeks and financial support for furloughed employees will be extended for an additional month until the end of June. Foreign minister Dominic Raab outlined five conditions that need to be met before restrictions will be eased including a “sustained and consistent” fall in the daily death rate and adequate testing. Health minister Matt Hancock said that 18,000 coronavirus tests are being carried out in the UK each day. The country is now less than two weeks away from the government’s target of doing 100,000 daily tests. Hancock said the vast majority of the tests so far were NHS swab tests for patients and key workers, and that antibody tests – which could show a person has had the virus and is immune – were still not ready for clinical use. In March, the government paid £16 million up front to two Chinese companies for untested antibody tests which were subsequently found not to work. The public will not be told to wear cloth face masks unless scientists say it is necessary, according to transport minister Grant Shapps. It is unclear whether cloth face masks minimise the spread of the coronavirus, but many places around the world, including New York, have made it mandatory to wear them outside.
4-17-20 Coronavirus at Smithfield pork plant: The untold story of America's biggest outbreak
How did the biggest cluster in the US emerge in a corner of South Dakota? Infections spread like wildfire through a pork factory and questions remain about what the company did to protect staff. On the afternoon of 25 March, Julia sat down at her laptop and logged into a phony Facebook account. She'd opened it in middle school, to surreptitiously monitor boys she had crushes on. But now, many years later, it was about to serve a much more serious purpose. "Can you please look into Smithfield," she typed in a message to an account called Argus911, the Facebook-based tip line for the local newspaper, the Argus Leader. "They do have a positive [Covid-19] case and are planning to stay open." By "Smithfield", she was referring to the Smithfield Foods pork-processing plant located in her town of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The factory - a massive, eight-story white box perched on the banks of the Big Sioux River - is the ninth-largest hog-processing facility in the US. When running at full capacity, it processes 19,500 freshly-slaughtered hogs per day, slicing, grinding and smoking them into millions of pounds of bacon, hot dogs and spiral-cut hams. With 3,700 workers, it is also the fourth-largest employer in the city. The next day, at 7:35am, the Argus Leader published the story on its website: "Smithfield Foods employee tests positive for coronavirus". The reporter confirmed through a company spokeswoman that, indeed, an employee had tested positive, was in a 14-day quarantine, and that his or her work area and other common spaces had been "thoroughly sanitised". But the plant, deemed part of a "critical infrastructure industry" by the Trump administration, would remain fully operational. "Food is an essential part of all our lives, and our more than 40,000 US team members, thousands of American family farmers and our many other supply chain partners are a crucial part of our nation's response to Covid-19," Smithfield CEO Kenneth Sullivan said in an online video statement released 19 March to explain the decision to keep factories open. "We are taking the utmost precautions to ensure the health and well-being of our employees and consumers." (Webmaster's comment: Typical Corporate Executive Lies and Bullshit!)
4-17-20 Coronavirus: Trump unveils plan to reopen states in phases
As Covid-19 continues to spread across the US, President Donald Trump has given governors guidance on reopening state economies in the coming months. The guidelines for "Opening up America Again" outline three phases for states to gradually ease their lockdowns. Mr Trump promised governors they would be handling the process themselves, with help from the federal government. There has been a mixed reception to the plans, with a leading Democrat calling them vague and inconsistent. The US currently has 654,301 confirmed cases and 32,186 deaths due to the virus, and Mr Trump has suggested some states could reopen this month. In his daily briefing on Thursday, President Trump declared "the next front in our war - opening up America again". "America wants to be open and Americans want to be open," he said. "A national shutdown is not a sustainable long-term solution." He said that a prolonged lockdown risked inflicting a serious toll on public health. He warned of a "sharp rise" in drug abuse, alcohol abuse, heart disease, and other "physical and mental" problems. Mr Trump told reporters that healthy citizens would be able to return to work "as conditions allow". He said Americans would continue to be called upon to maintain social distancing measures and to stay home if they are unwell. He said that reopening the US economy would be done "one careful step at a time" but he called on state governors to move "very, very quickly, depending on what they want to do". Shortly afterwards, leading Democrat Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, called the new guidelines "vague and inconsistent". She said the document did "nothing to make up for the president's failure to listen to the scientists and produce and distribute national rapid testing". The administration's 18-page guidance document details three phases to reopen state economies, with each phase lasting, at minimum, 14 days. They include some recommendations across all three phases including good personal hygiene and employers developing policies to ensure social distancing, testing and contact tracing.
4-17-20 Coronavirus: Denmark to reopen hairdressers as it loosens lockdown
It began with schools for young children this week - now Denmark will allow beauty salons, hairdressers and tattoo parlours to reopen on Monday. Denmark moved fast to tackle the outbreak, imposing restrictions on movement early on 12 March, while neighbouring Sweden decided to steer clear of severe measures. Companies that do go back to work will have to follow guidelines. Any further easing will depend on Danes respecting social distancing rules. "No-one wants to keep Denmark closed a day more than is absolutely necessary," Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen wrote on Facebook. "But we mustn't go ahead faster than we are able to keep the epidemic under control." Hairdressers, dentists, tattooists and driving school instructors will be allowed to resume work. The courts will reopen on 27 April. Cafes, restaurants and schools for ages 12 and over will not. Those who are allowed to go back to work but feel the time is not yet right will still be allowed to claim government compensation. Work will also be carried out to enable family visits to vulnerable people, both the elderly and children. As soon as details of the relaxation became clear, one of Denmark's biggest online hairdresser booking systems, ordering.nu, crashed, Ekstra Bladet reported. The newspaper suggested that Danes crying out for a haircut had all tried to book at the same time. When young children returned to schools and nurseries on Wednesday, it certainly wasn't a normal school day. Lots of new health and safety rules had to be met before schools could open their doors. Inevitably many weren't ready. That's very likely to happen next week when Denmark allows a number of smaller businesses to reopen. Much of the work done by hairdressers, tattooists, dentists or opticians requires close contact with customers. Businesses will need to comply with health guidelines on hygiene and distance, but rules will vary sector by sector, and details are still being ironed out. The Dental Association says it is still waiting to hear whether extra protective clothing or visors will be needed. One hairdresser told me she was fully booked for the next three weeks, and planned to open on Monday by taking common sense precautions and using hand sanitiser.
4-17-20 Coronavirus: China outbreak city Wuhan raises death toll by 50%
The Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus originated last year, has raised its official Covid-19 death toll by 50%, adding 1,290 fatalities. Wuhan officials attributed the new figure to updated reporting and deaths outside hospitals. China has insisted there was no cover-up. It has been accused of downplaying the severity of its virus outbreak. Wuhan's 11 million residents spent months in strict lockdown conditions, which have only recently been eased. The latest official figures bring the death toll in the city in China's central Hubei province to 3,869, increasing the national total to more than 4,600. China has confirmed nearly 84,000 coronavirus infections, the seventh-highest globally, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The virus has had a huge impact on the Chinese economy, which shrank for the first time in decades in the first quarter of the year. In a statement released on Friday, officials in Wuhan said the revised figures were the result of new data received from multiple sources, including records kept by funeral homes and prisons. Deaths linked to the virus outside hospitals, such as people who died at home, had not previously been recorded. The "statistical verification" followed efforts by authorities to "ensure that information on the city's Covid-19 epidemic is open, transparent and the data [is] accurate", the statement said. It added that health systems were initially overwhelmed and cases were "mistakenly reported" - in some instances counted more than once and in others missed entirely. A shortage of testing capacity in the early stages meant that many infected patients were not accounted for, it said. A spokesman for China's National Health Commission, Mi Feng, said the new death count came from a "comprehensive review" of epidemic data. In its daily news conference, the foreign ministry said accusations of a cover-up, which have been made most stridently on the world stage by US President Donald Trump, were unsubstantiated. "We'll never allow any concealment," a spokesman said.
4-17-20 China's virus-hit economy shrinks for first time in decades
China's economy shrank for the first time in decades in the first quarter of the year, as the virus forced factories and businesses to close. The world's second biggest economy contracted 6.8% according to official data released on Friday. The financial toll the coronavirus is having on the Chinese economy will be a huge concern to other countries. China is an economic powerhouse as a major consumer and producer of goods and services. This is the first time China has seen its economy shrink in the first three months of the year since it started recording quarterly figures in 1992. "The GDP contraction in January-March will translate into permanent income losses, reflected in bankruptcies across small companies and job losses," said Yue Su at the Economist Intelligence Unit. Last year, China saw healthy economic growth of 6.4% in the first quarter, a period when it was locked in a trade war with the US. In the last two decades, China has seen average economic growth of around 9% a year, although experts have regularly questioned the accuracy of its economic data. Its economy had ground to a halt during the first three months of the year as it introduced large-scale shutdowns and quarantines to prevent the virus spread in late January. As a result, economists had expected bleak figures, but the official data comes in slightly worse than expected. The huge decline shows the profound impact that the virus outbreak, and the government's draconian reaction to it, had on the world's second largest economy. It wipes out the 6% expansion in China's economy recorded in the last set of figures at the end of last year. Beijing has signalled a significant economic stimulus is on the way as it tries to stabilise its economy and recover. Earlier this week the official mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party, the People's Daily, reported it would "expand domestic demand". But the slowdown in the rest of the global economy presents a significant problem as exports still play a major role in China's economy. If it comes this will not be a quick recovery.
4-16-20 Coronavirus: Is there any evidence for lab release theory?
US State Department cables show that embassy officials were worried about biosecurity at a virus lab in Wuhan, China. The lab is in the same city where the coronavirus outbreak first came to the world's attention. And President Donald Trump has said the US government is looking into unverified reports that the virus escaped from a laboratory. So what, if anything, does this add to our understanding of the current pandemic? The Washington Post newspaper has reported information obtained from diplomatic cables. They show that, in 2018, US science diplomats were sent on repeated visits to a Chinese research facility. Officials sent two warnings to Washington about inadequate safety at the lab. The column says the officials were worried about safety and management weaknesses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) and called for more help. It also claims diplomats were concerned the lab's research on bat coronaviruses could risk a new Sars-like pandemic. The newspaper says the cables fuelled more recent discussions in the US government about whether the WIV or another lab in Wuhan could have been the source of the virus behind the current pandemic. In addition, Fox News has also issued a report promoting the lab origin theory. The outbreak came to light late last year when early cases were linked to a food market in Wuhan. But despite rampant online speculation, there is no evidence of any kind that the Sars-CoV-2 virus (which causes Covid-19) was released accidentally from a lab. One online theory, that went viral in January, suggested the virus could have been engineered in a lab as a bioweapon. This allegation has been repeatedly dismissed by scientists, who note that studies show the virus originated in animals - most likely in bats. (Webmaster's comment: The whole purpose of these stories is to detract attention from Trump's early downplaying of risks and failure to take action.)
4-16-20 Covid-19 latest: US unemployment claims pass 22 million in four weeks
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Another 5.2 million US citizens filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the total for the last four weeks to 22 million claims. That’s about 13 per cent of the country’s entire workforce, the highest unemployment rate since the start of the second world war. President Donald Trump is expected to announce guidelines on re-opening the US economy later today but many state leaders have said they are not ready to relax restrictions and that the decision on how best to proceed without causing a second wave of infections depends on testing capacity. Yesterday the US reported 4811 deaths, the highest daily death toll of any country. More than 640,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 31,000 deaths have been reported in the US according to John Hopkins University data. The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, offered an apology to Italy on behalf of Europe for not offering enough support at the start of the country’s covid-19 crisis. Italy has reported more than 21,000 deaths from coronavirus, the highest number in any European country. “Too many were not there on time when Italy needed a helping hand,” she told the European Parliament. The head of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva, has said that the UK and European Union should not refuse to extend the negotiating period for a post-Brexit trade deal, as this would add to uncertainty during the coronavirus pandemic. If a deal is not signed by 31 December 2020, the UK and EU would trade on World Trade Organization terms which would include new taxes and restrictions on traded goods. The UK will need to keep a “significant level” of social distancing until a coronavirus vaccine has been found, according to Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist advising the government whose research previously influenced changes to the UK’s coronavirus policy. However, Mark Woolhouse, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh, UK, recently told New Scientist that waiting for a vaccine wasn’t a good plan: “I do not think waiting for a vaccine should be dignified with the word ‘strategy’. It’s not a strategy, it’s a hope.”
4-16-20 Coronavirus: How California kept ahead of the curve
After a resident of California died of coronavirus on 4 March, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency. It was the first Covid-19 related death in the US outside of Washington state. More than 24,424 people have tested positive for coronavirus in California and 821 people have died. Yet the losses, while tragic, are a fraction of what experts predicted the state's 40 million people would face. The virus is spreading fast in southern California and the state's Central Valley - so it's not out of trouble yet. But considering the dire prediction made by Governor Gavin Newsom in March that up to 25 million Californians could be infected with coronavirus, the situation in California has been surprisingly well controlled. State officials maintain they think the virus will peak in mid-May. Others think California could reach its peak this week. The University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projected in March that more than 6,000 people in California would die of coronavirus. This week, the institute revised their forecast - projecting that California will reach its peak on 17 April - with 1,783 deaths. California has only tested 212,900 people - and not all of the tests have been processed - so the number of confirmed cases will likely be considerably higher. But the death rate is much lower than many expected. So why is California faring so much better than many predicted? California was the first place in the United States to issue shelter in place orders. Gov Newsom ordered California to shelter in place on 19 March - three days before New York. The statewide order followed similar ones issued on 16 March by several Bay Area counties and cities - including San Francisco. Residents were urged to stay home and only go to essential businesses, like grocery stores and pharmacies, when necessary. But can a day or two really make that much difference? "Oh yes," said Dr Neha Nanda, the medical director of infection prevention and antimicrobial stewardship at Keck Medicine, University of Southern California. "Even being one day ahead can have a huge impact," she told the BBC. "The morbidity we will be able to avert, the mortality we will be able to avert - it's huge." Because so little is known about the virus or how it can be treated, it makes prevention "more important than anything else," she said. "The most potent tool that you have in tool kit is social distancing."
4-16-20 Coronavirus: Weekly jobless claims hit 5.2 million
Another 5.2 million Americans registered for unemployment benefits last week as businesses remain shut amid the coronavirus lockdown. The new Department of Labor filings bring the number of jobless claims over the last four weeks to more than 20 million. That amounts to roughly as many jobs as employers had added over the previous decade. The economic crisis comes as the number of US virus cases exceeds 629,000. The surging joblessness is a stark reversal for the world's biggest economy where the unemployment rate had been hovering around 3.5%. Economists now expect that rate to have hit double digits. While the 5.2 million new claims in the week ended 11 April were down from 6.6 million the previous week, the numbers still eclipse prior records. Many economists warn that elevated numbers will linger, with Goldman Sachs researchers expecting some 37 million claims by the end of May." Records are being broken left and right with respect to the depth and breadth of the current downturn," said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com. "With no immediate end in sight to efforts aimed at mitigating the virus' spread and impact, it is impossible to see a near-term upturn in employment prospects." Electronics chain Best Buy this week said it would furlough more than 50,000 employees, while Royal Caribbean Cruises announced it would cut or suspend about a quarter of its American workforce. The moves come as retail sales plunged by a record 8.7%, while manufacturing output dropped by the most in more than 74 years. The US has expanded its unemployment programme, making disbursements bigger and more people - including the self-employed - eligible. But requests to participate have overwhelmed state offices, which process the applications. Glenn Hawker, co-owner of a now-closed hair salon in Virginia, said he had applied for the funds as an independent contractor at least twice and been rejected. When he called to figure out why, he couldn't reach anyone. "The phone rings and rings and rings," the 49-year-old said.
4-15-20 Coronavirus: Is President Trump right to criticise the WHO?
US President Donald Trump has accused the World Health Organization (WHO) of mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus after it emerged in China. He added he would halt WHO funding while his administration reviewed its actions. Peter Piot, from London's School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said this would be "dangerous and short-sighted" But does Mr Trump have a point about the WHO's response to the virus? Set up in 1948, it is the part of the UN responsible for global public health, co-ordinating vaccination campaigns, health emergencies and supporting countries with primary healthcare. It is funded by fees and voluntary contributions from its 194 member states, with the US the largest single contributor. President Trump has accused the WHO of failing to challenge China's early assertion there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus. China first informed the WHO of "a pneumonia of an unknown cause, on 31 December". On 5 January, the organisation said the information it had from China at that time showed there was "no evidence of significant human-to-human transmission". And on 14 January, it tweeted preliminary Chinese investigations had found "no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission" of the new virus. The same day, however, the Wuhan Health Commission said the possibility of limited human-to-human transmission could not be excluded, although the risk of sustained transmission was low. Around the same time, other WHO statements raised the possibility of some human-to-human transmission, referring to what was known about other coronaviruses such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars). And on 22 January, the WHO, following a brief field visit to China, made a much clearer statement saying that human-to-human transmission was happening in Wuhan. It's worth adding that a full WHO delegation with international experts did not visit China until the second week of February. At the end of January, the WHO had praised China for its efforts to contain the virus, including its "commitment to transparency".
4-16-20 Coronavirus: Trump's WHO move makes zero sense, says Melinda Gates
Philanthropist Melinda Gates has told BBC Radio 5 Live it makes "zero sense" for US President Donald Trump to halt funding for the World Health Organization (WHO) during the coronavirus crisis. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the second-largest funder of the WHO, behind the United States. Speaking to Emma Barnett, Melinda Gates said the WHO is "exactly the organisation to deal with a pandemic".
4-16-20 The Republican graft machine
It takes a true moral cretin to profiteer off a pandemic. The Republican Party is gripped by an extreme right-wing ideology that is contemptuous of basic science and the norms of constitutional democratic government. Their model of politics is that Democrats should be prevented from voting as much as possible, and their theory of jurisprudence amounts to "laws passed by Democrats are unconstitutional." This is part of why times of Republican rule tend to end in disaster. However, there is another aspect to Republican dysfunction that gets comparatively little attention: moral corrosion. A great many Republican elected officials think nothing of using their position to turn a quick profit during a crisis. Take Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who was recently caught by ProPublica selling between $628,000 and $1.72 million in stocks in mid-February, immediately after receiving several classified briefings about the dangers of coronavirus on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which he chairs. A week before Burr co-wrote a Fox News op-ed assuring the public that "the United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus," but on Feb. 27 he warned a small private club of wealthy constituents that "There's one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history … It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic." This sounds like the dictionary definition of illegal insider trading. The Securities Exchange Act establishes legal penalties for "purchasing or selling a security while in possession of material, non-public information[.]" This was explicitly extended to members of Congress in the STOCK Act of 2012, and while that law was later quietly watered down in 2013, the ban on overt insider trading definitely still applies. Even Tucker Carlson said that if the allegations were true, Burr should resign and be prosecuted. (The senator has denied any wrongdoing.)
4-16-20 The very American conflict between liberty and lockdown
What do we owe each other? This is a famous philosophical question, one that received prominent attention the last few years thanks to the late, lovely sitcom The Good Place. If you were to pose such a query to the protesters in some parts of America who are demanding an end to "stay at home" orders issued in response to the coronavirus pandemic, I suspect their answer would be: "not much." This is a mistake, but an understandable one. Liberty, after all, is hardwired into the American psyche, and the limiting obligations of quarantine are in conflict with that instinct. To recap: Demonstrators have hit the streets this week in Ohio, Kentucky, and North Carolina. On Wednesday, a protest in Michigan was dubbed "Operation Gridlock." Despite the firearms and Confederate battle flags, the protesters' demands might seem familiar, even sympathetic to most Americans. They want freedom — freedom to go shopping, freedom to open up their businesses, freedom to go sit in a restaurant and have dinner with friends, freedom merely to do what they were doing unencumbered two months ago. Don't we all? "Quarantine is when you restrict movement of sick people," one of the Michigan organizers told Fox News. "Tyranny is when you restrict the movement of healthy people." But what if the free movement of healthy people creates more sick people? The protesters may soon find out — many defied "social distancing" requirements, clumping together in close groups without masks and raising the possibility that this week's protests will be the source of next week's outbreak. "We know this rally endangered people," Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) said afterward. The anti-quarantine stance is driven by a powerful American impulse. Our country's story has been told to us primarily in terms of freedom: who has it, who doesn't, how we got it, how some of us had to fight for it for far too long, how some of us are still fighting for it, and even how we define it. Individual liberty isn't just one of our chief national values — it can sometimes seem like the only principle we collectively share across the political spectrum. It's difficult to think of a song about America that doesn't include the word "freedom."(Webmaster's comment: Right! Freedom to kill those we don't agree with! Freedom to infect those we don't care about! Freedom to do EVIL!)
4-16-20 Coronavirus: How California kept ahead of the curve
After a resident of California died of coronavirus on 4 March, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency. It was the first Covid-19 related death in the US outside of Washington state. More than 24,424 people have tested positive for coronavirus in California and 821 people have died. Yet the losses, while tragic, are a fraction of what experts predicted the state's 40 million people would face. The virus is spreading fast in southern California and the state's Central Valley - so it's not out of trouble yet. But considering the dire prediction made by Governor Gavin Newsom in March that up to 25 million Californians could be infected with coronavirus, the situation in California has been surprisingly well controlled. State officials maintain they think the virus will peak in mid-May. Others think California could reach its peak this week. The University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projected in March that more than 6,000 people in California would die of coronavirus. This week, the institute revised their forecast - projecting that California will reach its peak on 17 April - with 1,783 deaths. California has only tested 212,900 people - and not all of the tests have been processed - so the number of confirmed cases will likely be considerably higher. But the death rate is much lower than many expected. So why is California faring so much better than many predicted? California was the first place in the United States to issue shelter in place orders. Gov Newsom ordered California to shelter in place on 19 March - three days before New York. The statewide order followed similar ones issued on 16 March by several Bay Area counties and cities - including San Francisco. Residents were urged to stay home and only go to essential businesses, like grocery stores and pharmacies, when necessary. But can a day or two really make that much difference? "Oh yes," said Dr Neha Nanda, the medical director of infection prevention and antimicrobial stewardship at Keck Medicine, University of Southern California. "Even being one day ahead can have a huge impact," she told the BBC. "The morbidity we will be able to avert, the mortality we will be able to avert - it's huge." Because so little is known about the virus or how it can be treated, it makes prevention "more important than anything else," she said. "The most potent tool that you have in tool kit is social distancing."
4-16-20 Coronavirus: Michigan protesters defy stay-at-home order
Workers blocked roads, demanding the state reopen after Governor Gretchen Whitmer extended stay-at-home restrictions. There are 27,000 Covid-19 cases in Michigan, where more than 1,700 have died from the virus.
4-16-20 Coronavirus: 668 infected on French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle
A third of the sailors serving with France's aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle - 668 out of nearly 2,000 - are infected with coronavirus. Nearly all are on the carrier itself, the navy says. An escorting frigate and carrier pilots are also in quarantine. The carrier returned to the French port of Toulon early from Atlantic exercises. Twenty sailors are in hospital, one in intensive care. The infection total looks set to rise, as 30% of test results are not yet in. The navy is investigating how so many sailors caught the virus. Last week the aircraft carrier was brought home 10 days early from its Atlantic deployment after some sailors showed symptoms. Earlier this month nearly 600 coronavirus cases were confirmed aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, one of two US aircraft carriers in the western Pacific. One sailor later died of Covid-19 in Guam, after the ship - which has a total crew of 4,800 - had docked there. The ship's captain Brett Crozier was fired after his letter pleading for help with the outbreak was leaked to US media. A public outcry over that dismissal triggered the resignation of acting Navy secretary Thomas Modly. Meanwhile, a Dutch navy submarine, MS Dolfijn, has returned to its Den Helder base two weeks early because of a coronavirus outbreak on board. Eight of the 58 crew tested positive and the submarine, which had been sailing near Scotland, is now in quarantine. Proximity and contagion make for dangerous shipmates. We have already seen how deadly the virus can be in the close confines of civilian cruise ships, albeit with many older passengers. Now France's only carrier and its naval flagship, the Charles de Gaulle, has been hit. Following the outbreak on the US carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, the US Navy is attempting to quarantine the crew of the USS Nimitz on board, ahead of a future deployment. The problems of confinement are heightened on such large vessels. (Webmaster's comment: Navy ships are a perfect breeding ground for the coronavirus!)
4-16-20 Coronavirus: 'Undocumented explosion' spreads around Brazil
At Vila Formosa, Latin America's biggest cemetery, mourning loved ones has become somewhat fraught. Families are strictly limited to an hour with the coffin in the chapel of rest and no more than 10 people are allowed in. All in the name of curbing the spread of Covid-19. For gravediggers and undertakers, the rules have become even tighter. When they prepare a burial, they're handed a piece of paper - on the top right, there's a code. D3 means a suspected or confirmed coronavirus death. It also means they have to wear full protective suits, masks and gloves. Workers at Vila Formosa, in the Brazilian city of São Paulo, say they're turning over more graves than normal. On an average day, they bury about 40 bodies at the cemetery. The weekend before last it, that figure was about 60. "The municipality bought 5,000 body bags and they're hiring more people, too," says gravedigger Manuel Pereira. But they're bracing themselves for the weeks ahead. Brazil's health ministry says the peak is not expected in the country until May or June. In one corner of the cemetery, a coffin is removed from a hearse and six undertakers in white overalls walk over fresh red soil to a newly-dug grave. Maria Odete died at the age of 77 from suspected coronavirus. The family have come wearing masks and observing social distancing, a few hugs are given to those who need them, and just a short round of applause follows. "I'm really sad and worried about the situation," says Sandro Nunes, her son. He never imagined saying goodbye to his mother like this. "I wasn't taking it too seriously before. I thought it was the media stirring things up. Then, when it happened to our family, we understood the severity of it." Maria Odete's family won't find out for sure whether or not she had Covid-19 until at least two weeks after her burial. This is a pattern that's being repeated every day across Brazil.
4-15-20 Covid-19 latest: Worldwide coronavirus cases pass 2 million
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. There have now been more than 2 million confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University, although the true number of cases will be much higher. The total number climbed from 1 million to 2 million confirmed cases in less than two weeks, and more than 600,000 cases have been recorded in the US alone. One of the temporary hospitals built in Wuhan, China, in February has been closed and put on standby. More than half of all new cases of coronavirus in China since the start of April have come from abroad, many travelling across land borders with Russia which are now closed. Taiwan reported no new coronavirus cases for the first time yesterday in 36 days. Health minister Chen Shih-chung said identifying, isolating, and tracing all contacts of people infected with coronavirus was the reason no new cases were detected. South Korea held an election today under strict social distancing measures to minimise spreading the coronavirus. Voters, many of whom were wearing masks and gloves, were told to stand at least 1 metre apart from one another and before entering the polling station, everyone’s temperature was taken. Anyone whose temperature was above 37.5C would be taken to a separate area to vote, away from other people. US president Donald Trump has said the US will stop giving funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) although it’s still unclear how this change will be implemented. The US is the largest individual contributor to the WHO’s funding, providing $553 million of the WHO’s $6 billion budget last year. UN secretary-general António Guterres said now was “not the time” to cut the WHO’s resources. (Webmaster's comment: That makes absolutely no sense! Cutting funding to a major organization fighting the coronavirus.)
4-15-20 Coronavirus: Trump says peak is passed and US to reopen soon
President Donald Trump says the US has "passed the peak" of new coronavirus cases and predicted some states would reopen this month. Mr Trump told the daily White House briefing that new guidelines would be announced on Thursday after he had spoken to governors. "We'll be the comeback kids, all of us," the president said. "We want to get our country back." The US has nearly 640,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases and over 30,900 deaths. Mr Trump's comments came after New York City reported a rise in virus fatalities to 10,367. (Webmaster's comment: What a blantant self-serving lie! We will have over 1.4 million cases and over 70,000 deaths by May 1st!) The president has been at loggerheads with state governors about the timing of easing restrictions and reopening businesses. He has now conceded that his powers are limited to issuing guidelines. "The data suggests that nationwide, we have passed the peak of new cases," Mr Trump told reporters in the Rose Garden on Wednesday. "Hopefully that will continue, and we will continue to make great progress." The co-ordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, Deborah Birx, said there had been a national decline in confirmed new daily cases from the recorded peak in recent days. Asked why the US accounted for such a significant proportion of the global coronavirus death toll of more than 137,000, Mr Trump accused other countries of lying about their mortality rate. "Does anybody really believe the numbers of some of these countries?" he said, naming China. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said China must show "full transparency" on coronavirus, during a call with his Beijing counterpart, Yang Jiechi, the Department of State said. Mr Pompeo has repeatedly accused Beijing of covering up the scale of the outbreak in the early days, which China denies. President Trump said the US was looking into unverified reports that the coronavirus may have emerged from a laboratory in Wuhan, China, rather than in a market in the city. "I will tell you more and more we're hearing the story and we'll see," Mr Trump said when asked about the claims at his daily briefing. (Webmaster's comment: Creation of more Fake News by our president!)
4-15-20 Coronavirus: Why is NYC reporting surge in virus deaths?
New York City's death count has spiked to more than 10,000 after it reported 3,778 people who likely had Covid-19, but died without being tested. Firefighters and paramedics had been recording drastic increases in deaths at home around the city, assumed to be caused by the virus. The new figures, from the city's Health Department, mark a 60% rise in deaths. In terms of per-capita death rate, New York City has now outpaced Italy - home to the highest death toll in Europe. "Behind every death is a friend, a family member, a loved one. We are focused on ensuring that every New Yorker who died because of Covid-19 gets counted," said the city's health commissioner, Dr Oxiris Barbot. The revised count brings New York's total virus fatalities to 10,367. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had changed guidelines for how coronavirus deaths were to be recorded. "They want deaths, and then another category of probable deaths," Mr Cuomo said, to be administered by local health departments or coroners. He added that people who passed away outside of a hospital or nursing home may have been missed in previous counts. Mark Levine, chair of the city's Heath Council that even these adjusted numbers were likely an undercount. "There were an additional 3,017 deaths above normal levels in past month, not known to be connected to covid," he wrote on Twitter. "There is only one explanation for this increase: direct & indirect victims of the pandemic." It's unclear. Mr Cuomo said the state will work with local agencies to publish revised numbers "as soon as we can". As of yet, the coronavirus database from Johns Hopkins University - used as the definitive count by many US states and news outlets, including the BBC - has not changed its tally to include "presumed" deaths. "While these data reflect the tragic impact that the virus has had on our city, they will also help us to determine the scale and scope of the epidemic and guide us in our decisions," Dr Barbot said.
4-15-20 Coronavirus: Trump's WHO de-funding 'as dangerous as it sounds'
US President Donald Trump has been heavily criticised for halting funding for the World Health Organization (WHO) amid the global coronavirus pandemic. Philanthropist Bill Gates, a major funder of the WHO, said it was "as dangerous as it sounds". President Trump said on Tuesday that the body had "failed in its basic duty" in its response to coronavirus. But the head of the WHO said the agency's "singular focus" was to stop the outbreak. "There is no time to waste," Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Twitter. UN Secretary General António Guterres said it was "not the time" to cut funds to the WHO, which "is absolutely critical to the world's efforts to win the war against Covid-19". Mr Trump has accused the WHO of making deadly mistakes and overly trusting China. "I am directing my administration to halt funding while a review is conducted to assess the World Health Organization's role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus," Mr Trump told reporters on Tuesday. Mr Trump has been under fire for his own handling of the pandemic. He has sought to deflect persistent criticism that he acted too slowly to stop the virus's spread by pointing to his decision in late January to place restrictions on travel from China. He has accused the WHO of having "criticised" that decision, an apparent reference to general advice from the agency against travel restrictions. The US is the global health body's largest single funder and gave it more than $400m in 2019. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is funding Covid-19 treatment and vaccine research, is the second-largest funder. A decision on whether the US resumes funding will be made after the review, which Mr Trump said would last 60 to 90 days. The US has by far the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths worldwide - with more than 600,000 cases and 26,000 deaths. Mr Trump accused the WHO of having failed to adequately assess the outbreak when it first emerged in the city of Wuhan, losing precious time. (Webmaster's comment: But in fact it was Trump who denied the risks and delayed taking action!)
4-15-20 Coronavirus: Trump says US will halt funding to WHO
US President Donald Trump says his administration will halt funding to the World Health Organization (WHO). He said the WHO had "failed in its basic duty" in its response to the coronavirus outbreak. Mr Trump has himself come under criticism at home over his handling of the outbreak.
4-15-20 President Donald Trump’s name will be printed on paper cheques being sent to millions of Americans struggling financially because of coronavirus.
It is the first time a US president's name will appear on a federal government handout. Treasury officials have denied claims that the decision could delay delivery of the aid. The assistance is part of a $2 trillion financial relief package approved by the US Congress in March. Some 16m lost their jobs in the past month alone. More than 80 million Americans are expected to receive payments of up to $1,200 in their bank accounts on Wednesday, according to the Treasury Department. But for those who did not provide banking details, they will receive a cheque with "President Donald J. Trump" printed on the left-hand side. “It’s absolutely unprecedented,” Nina Olson, a former senior official in the Internal Revenue Service, told the Washington Post. "Taxes are supposed to be nonpolitical, and it's that simple." Two senior IRS officials told the Washington Post the move would probably lead to a delay in issuing the first batch of cheques. The Treasury Department denied this. Critics are accusing the president of playing politics, using the financial aid to boost his reputation in an election year. "You are getting your money late because the President thinks it is more important that his name be on the cheque than that you are able to pay your bills on time," tweeted Democatic Senator Brian Schatz. And Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut, which has around 3,500 COVID-19 cases, accused Mr Trump of putting himself “first” and “America second”. Computer code must be changed to include the president’s name, US Treasury officials were quoted as saying. The cheques need to be printed and sent for postal delivery in a process that should begin on Thursday. The US coronavirus outbreak has quickly become one of the worst in the world. The death toll has doubled in one week, reaching more than 25,000, and the number of infections is approaching 610,000.
4-15-20 Covid-19 latest: Spain relaxes lockdown as global cases near 2 million
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Some European countries are allowing certain non-essential workers to return to their jobs this week, most notably in Spain, which has been one of the countries worst affected by the pandemic. More than 300,000 people who work in construction and manufacturing who cannot work from home will be allowed to return, but schools and restaurants will remain shut. Austria plans to open most shops including malls and hairdressers from 1 May, but restaurants and hotels will remain closed and cloth face masks will be mandatory for everyone outdoors. In Italy, bookshops and children’s clothing shops opened today and in Denmark this week, some nurseries and schools will allow children to return. German chancellor Angela Merkel will consider relaxing restrictions across Germany in a meeting on 15 April. In France, lockdown measures could be extended until 11 May. The UK government is also likely to extend the lockdown and may introduce further restrictions including banning outdoor exercise if people don’t follow social distancing laws. However, the UK lockdown has been less restrictive than in other countries, and has not applied to many jobs that cannot be conducted from home, including construction. According to the Office for National Statistics, more than a fifth of deaths in England and Wales the week ending 3 April were linked to coronavirus. In the US, which has the most confirmed cases and deaths of any country in the world, president Donald Trump has said he wants to ease restrictions from 1 May. In a press conference yesterday he claimed he had “total” authority to lift the lockdown, drawing criticism from state governors including New York governor Andrew Cuomo who said Trump was acting like a “king”. India’s national lockdown will be extended until at least 3 May, according to prime minister Narendra Modi. The lockdown was originally scheduled to end today. Modi said some restrictions in regions outside of infection hotspots would be eased on 20 April to help poorer people who are dependent on daily wages. Two of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi, say they will work together on a coronavirus vaccine, which could be trialled in humans within months.
4-15-20 Coronavirus: Denmark lets young children return to school
Children up to the age of 11 are returning to nurseries and schools across Denmark, as the government becomes the first in Europe to relax coronavirus restrictions on education. Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen welcomed children as they went back to school in the capital Copenhagen. Denmark was among the first countries in Europe to impose a lockdown, with schools closed on 12 March. Infection rates have been low but critics warn the strategy is risky. "We're all a bit nervous and we'll have to ensure that we stick to hygiene rules," Elisa Rimpler of the BUPL, the Danish Union of Early Childhood and Youth Educators, told the BBC. "We have a lot of washing hands during the day. We don't have masks and we have to keep a good distance from each other so that's a very difficult task." Denmark's move came as European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen set out a roadmap on Wednesday for a gradual lifting of restrictions across the 27-state bloc, but made clear it was not a signal to act immediately. She set out key conditions involving a significant decrease in the spread of Covid-19, capacity in the health system, surveillance and monitoring. A donors' conference will take place online for governments and organisations to pledge money in search of a vaccine, Mrs von der Leyen added. Other countries besides Denmark have moved to relax lockdown measures this week: 1. Austria reopened thousands of smaller shops on Tuesday. 2. The Czech government has set out a five-stage timetable. 3. Spain has allowed non-essential workers to go back to work after a two-week pause. 4. Italian bookshops and clothing stores for youngsters have reopened their doors in some regions. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will discuss easing restrictions with the country's 16 state premiers on Wednesday, with reports that they are expected to agree to a limited reopening of shops from next Monday and a relaxation of rules on movement from 3 May. Spain reported another 523 deaths on Wednesday and a 3% increase in infections but officials said the rise in new cases may have been due to a delay in reporting because of the Easter break.
4-14-20 America's lurch toward 'competitive authoritarianism'
Why were Wisconsin Republicans so adamant about holding an in-person election in the middle of the worst pandemic in 100 years, even though demand for absentee ballots catastrophically overwhelmed the system and effectively disenfranchised tens of thousands of people? Suppressing the vote to deliver wins to President Trump is standard-issue Republican politics at this point, so unremarkable that the president himself admits its dark logic almost casually. But Last Tuesday's election for the court seat of Republican-appointed judge Daniel Kelly wasn't just important on its own terms. Rather, it was about locking in Republican power statewide for another decade, no matter what the electorate wants. Preserving their hold on the state Supreme Court will let the GOP purge hundreds of thousands of voters before the 2020 elections and then do an end run around Democratic Governor Tony Evers in the post-2020 redistricting process. It's a clear-as-day example of the Republican Party’s lurch toward unapologetic authoritarianism. And even though Kelly lost the race to Democrat Jill Karofsky, narrowing conservatives' hold on the court from 5-2 to 4-3, the GOP's tactics are a terrifying harbinger of things to come for America. Why exactly does a state Supreme Court race hold so much significance? Wisconsin's 2020 state legislative elections will already take place with the same absurdly gerrymandered maps that delivered hefty GOP majorities in the state house and state senate in 2018 despite decisive Democratic advantages in the aggregate vote totals. Democrats won 53 percent of the vote but just 36 percent of the seats across the two legislative chambers. Barring some total collapse of Republican popularity in the next six months, there is almost no question that the Wisconsin legislature will remain in GOP hands. But there remains the problem of Evers, the soft-spoken Democrat who narrowly unseated Republican Scott Walker in 2018. Like many, though not all states, Wisconsin's redistricting process (which redraws the boundaries of state legislative and national House districts) requires agreement between the legislature and the governor, and you would think that Evers gives Democrats a much better chance at negotiating something approximating fair maps for future election cycles. Wisconsin Republicans, therefore, might try to create the maps by using something called a joint resolution, which doesn't require the governor's signature. While this is transparently illegal according to Wisconsin's own case law, and while state Republicans currently deny they are considering this option, the current composition of the state Supreme Court would almost certainly uphold the maneuver, granting the GOP another decade of illegitimate control over both the state legislature and the national House delegation, which has had a 5-3 Republican edge for the past decade despite the state's roughly even overall partisan split.
4-14-20 Coronavirus: Oprah warns black Americans about outbreak
American broadcaster Oprah Winfrey has warned African Americans to take the coronavirus outbreak seriously, saying the disease is "taking people out". The virus was hitting the black community hard, and "people aren't getting the message" about the risk of asymptomatic carriers, she said. African Americans make up a disproportionate number of coronavirus deaths and hospitalisations in the US. The US is the epicentre of the pandemic with 592,743 cases and 25,239 deaths. Government data suggests that 33% of those in the US hospitalised for coronavirus are black - even though African Americans only make up 13% of the US population. In Chicago, nearly 70% of those who died from coronavirus were African American - while only 23% of the population was black. Winfrey said that initial messages around coronavirus "did not connect to the [US] audience in a way they could hear". "When this was happening in Wuhan, we thought it was 'over there'… and then I talked to African Americans in Milwaukee, and folks were saying 'we heard about it in Washington, but Washington is way over there, we didn't think it had anything to do with us'," she told CBS news. It was important for "black people to understand pre-existing conditions" like diabetes and asthma put them at greater risk of the virus, she added. Winfrey, who suffered from pneumonia last year, said she was also taking additional precautions because of her condition - and because many people could be asymptomatic carriers. She added that actor Idris Elba, who she interviewed for her Oprah Talks Covid-19 series, had tested positive for the virus, but shown no symptoms. "It's all these people, who perhaps could be carriers," she said. Surgeon General Jerome Adams has said that many ethnic minority communities are at higher risk because they are more likely to have pre-existing health problems, or are in lower income jobs where working from home is not an option.
4-14-20 Trump's frightening claim of 'total' authority
The president wants all the power, all the credit, and none of the responsibility in curbing America's coronavirus crisis. The United States of America faces two critical emergencies. One is the coronavirus pandemic. The other is the presidency of Donald Trump. The latter assertion isn't just linked to the Trump administration's well-documented mishandling of the pandemic response. Indeed, Trump is not the first president to be caught short by an unexpected crisis. But other presidents — FDR after Pearl Harbor, George W. Bush after 9/11, Barack Obama after the economy collapsed in 2008 — brought their focus to bear on meeting the great challenges before them. But as anybody who watched Trump's latest bonkers news briefing on Monday can attest, beating back a virus that threatens public health is a priority for Trump only to the extent that it helps him assert his power and preserve his own image. Trump used the briefing to show a campaign-style video defending his management of the pandemic, featuring glowing quotes from governors. "Everything we did was right," he told reporters. That isn't true: Reports have shown that Trump was slow to take action on the virus, diverting early discussions to talk of vaping and accusing advisers of being alarmist when they warned the virus might require the shutdowns we're now seeing. The president's overwhelming need to brag and burnish his reputation is unseemly at the best of times. That he insists on prioritizing it when thousands of Americans are dying of COVID-19 speaks to his rare moral and spiritual bankruptcy. We now have a definitive answer to an old question: Does character matter in a president? Yes, it does, and Trump lacks it completely. But the most troubling part of the president's Monday performance came when Trump said he might order state governors to ease shelter-at-home rules and begin to re-open their economies. Trump is likely pushing for this because he fears facing re-election while the economy is in tatters thanks to widespread lockdowns. But experts fear that lifting the lockdowns too quickly could lead to a new wave of coronavirus illnesses and deaths. Asked what authority he had to command states re-open, Trump responded: "When someone is president of the United States, the authority is total. And that's the way it's gotta be." (Webmaster's comment: Trump is a Hitler wannabe!)
4-14-20 Coronavirus: Trump claims 'total' authority to lift lockdown
President Donald Trump has claimed "total" power to lift the nationwide coronavirus lockdown, contradicting governors and legal experts. "The president of the United States calls the shots," Mr Trump said during a combative press conference in which he feuded with reporters. (Webmaster's comment: The Hitler wannabe speaks. But he is not yet Hitler.) But the US Constitution says the states maintain public order and safety. Ten states on the US East and West coasts are planning to lift their strict stay-at-home orders. The US is the global epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic with 554,684 confirmed cases and 23,608 deaths. Mr Trump, a Republican, told the daily White House coronavirus briefing on Monday that his administration was finalising a plan to reopen the US economy, which has been largely shut down to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The Trump administration has signalled 1 May as a potential date for easing the restrictions. The current White House recommendations for Americans to avoid restaurants and non-essential travel and keep in-person gatherings to no more than 10 people expire on 30 April. But when journalists queried whether Mr Trump had the authority to over-ride stay-at-home orders imposed on a state-by-state basis, he said: "When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total. (Webmaster's comment: The Hitler wannabe speaks. But he is not yet Hitler.) "It's total. The governors know that." He added: "That being said, we're going to work with the states." The president insisted "numerous provisions" in the US founding charter give him such power, without specifying which ones. But legal experts say the president does not have the authority to reverse a public health restriction put in place at the state or local level. Asked by the BBC's Jon Sopel if he was concerned about the possibility of having to close the economy again if a second wave of coronavirus strikes, Mr Trump said: "It does weigh on my mind."
4-14-20 Coronavirus: Trump berates media at jaw-dropping briefing
On Monday morning I had a delivery to my apartment from the nearby off-licence - or liquor store, as they say over here. And I put a jokey picture on Twitter of a bottle of gin and eight bottles of tonic, with the caption that at least I had the next week sorted. After leaving the White House Briefing Room on Monday evening following a marathon two-hour 24-minute press conference, I felt I could have knocked off the whole lot in one sitting. This has been the most dizzying, jaw-dropping, eyeball-popping, head-spinning news conference I have ever attended. And I was at Bill Clinton's news conference in 1998 when he faced the press for the first time over his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. I was at this president's first White House gathering when he called me "another beauty". I was in Helsinki when he had his first news conference with Vladimir Putin, and seemed to prefer to believe the Russian leader over his own security and intelligence chiefs on interference in the 2016 election. I was in Vietnam when Mr Trump gave a news conference after his talks with Kim Jong-un had unceremoniously collapsed. So I've sat in on some corkers. What made last night's encounter unique was the context. And secondly, this was, if you like, a distillation - all the talk of gin, I think, forced me to use that word - in one news conference of what three and a half years of Donald Trump has been like to cover. There are more than 23,000 Americans dead because of coronavirus and more than half a million infected - and remember that, in early March, Donald Trump was saying there were a handful of cases, but that would soon be down to zero. Yet Donald Trump walked into the briefing room with scores to settle with the media. This wasn't about the dead, the desperately sick, the people fearful of catching the virus. This was about him. And more particularly his profound sense of grievance that the media has been critical of his handling of Covid-19.
4-14-20 Coronavirus: Reporter grills Trump on pandemic response
CBS White House correspondent Paula Reid was met with a fiery response when she challenged President Trump during a coronavirus briefing. Mr Trump touted his ban on travel from China at the end of January as an example of his administration taking decisive action. However, he did not declare a national emergency until 13 March - and public health experts have criticised the response to the outbreak, including early testing failures and a shortage of protective equipment. The reporter asked Mr Trump what his administration had done in February, "with the time you bought with your travel ban".
4-14-20 Wisconsin Democrat Jill Karofsky in Supreme Court election upset
Democrat Jill Karofsky has ousted Justice Daniel Kelly from his seat at Wisconsin's top court in a shock win. The election went ahead despite Democrat calls for it to be postponed, or held by postal voting, owing to coronavirus fears. Justice Kelly is the second incumbent state Supreme Court justice to be ousted by voters since 1967. He had the support of President Donald Trump. Wisconsin is expected to be crucial in the presidential election in November. Former Vice-President Joe Biden looks set to become the Democratic Party challenger to President Trump after his main rival Bernie Sanders dropped out and backed him. The US is now the country worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic with 554,684 confirmed cases and 23,608 deaths. Wisconsin has recorded more than 3,400 coronavirus cases and 154 deaths. The Wisconsin Supreme Court vote - and the Democratic Party primary election - went ahead last week, after the same court blocked the governor's effort to postpone it to June. Voters braved long queues at a limited number of polling stations where some staff wore hazmat suits. Judges had ordered a delay in the publication of results to make sure absentee votes had arrived and been included in the count. "Despite the result, the fact that this in-person election took place was a searing loss for Wisconsin," said Ben Wikler, the chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party. "Wisconsin voters will not forget this travesty." Wisconsin was the first state in a month to hold a primary with in-person voting since stay-at-home orders swept the US due to the pandemic. The Badger state imposed its own lockdown on 25 March. All other states have postponed their primary season elections or moved entirely to postal votes while the country remains in the throes of its health emergency.
4-14-20 Coronavirus: 'World faces worst recession since Great Depression'
The global economy will contract by 3% this year as countries around the world shrink at the fastest pace in decades, the International Monetary Fund says. The IMF described the global decline as the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It said the pandemic had plunged the world into a "crisis like no other". The Fund added that a prolonged outbreak would test the ability of governments and central banks to control the crisis. Gita Gopinath, the IMF's chief economist, said the crisis could knock $9 trillion (£7.2 trillion) off global GDP over the next two years. While the Fund's latest World Economic Outlook praised the "swift and sizeable" response in countries like the UK, Germany, Japan and the US, it said no country would escape the downturn. It expects global growth to rebound to 5.8% next year if the pandemic fades in the second half of 2020. Ms Gopinath said today's "Great Lockdown" presented a "grim reality" for policymakers, who faced "severe uncertainty about the duration and intensity of the shock". "A partial recovery is projected for 2021," said Ms Gopinath. "But the level of GDP will remain below the pre-virus trend, with considerable uncertainty about the strength of the rebound. "Much worse growth outcomes are possible and maybe even likely." The IMF predicts the UK economy will shrink by 6.5% in 2020, compared with the IMF's January forecast for 1.4% GDP growth. A decline of this magnitude would be bigger than the 4.2% drop in output seen in the wake of the financial crisis. It would also represent the biggest annual fall since 1921, according to reconstructed Bank of England data dating back to the 18th century. However, this is half the annual rate expected by the OBR, which expects GDP to drop by 35% in the three months to June. The UK's furlough scheme, which is designed to keep workers in a job amid the government lockdown, is expected to limit the rise in unemployment to 4.8% in 2020, from 3.8% last year. UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak has pledged billions of pounds in wage subsidies and loan guarantees to help workers and businesses through the shutdown. The Bank of England has also slashed interest rates to a new low and freed up billions of pounds for commercial banks to lend.
4-14-20 Coronavirus: Health workers around the world on fears and fighting virus
Impossible decisions, lack of personal protective equipment and mental health concerns. These are some of the challenges doctors around the world tell us they're facing. BBC Minute has been speaking to doctors and nurses on the frontline against coronavirus in Italy, Iraqi Kurdistan, Ecuador and the US.
4-13-20 Coronavirus: Fauci says US 'could have saved lives' with earlier action
The US "could have saved lives" if it had introduced measures to stop Covid-19 earlier, a top health official says. "If we had, right from the beginning, shut everything down, it may have been a little bit different," Dr Anthony Fauci told CNN, but added that making that decision had been complicated. The US has recorded over 555,000 virus cases and 22,000 deaths so far. President Donald Trump later signalled his disproval with the interview by sharing a tweet about firing Dr Fauci. Dr Fauci has become the public face of the US fight against the outbreak, appearing alongside Mr Trump at the White House's daily updates. But the two have openly differed on several issues, Mr Fauci pointing out in a recent CBS interview that he takes a scientific approach while Mr Trump comes from a "hope, layperson standpoint". Mr Trump retweeted a post on Sunday from former Republican congressional hopeful Deanna Lorraine. "Fauci was telling people on February 29th that there was nothing to worry about and it posed no threat to the US public at large," it said. "Time to #FireFauci..." The Trump administration has issued social distancing guidance that lasts until 30 April, but there are questions over when restrictions should be lifted. When asked about a New York Times report that Dr Fauci and other officials had suggested aggressive mitigation towards the end of February, Dr Fauci said health officials could only make recommendations from a "pure health standpoint". "Often, the recommendation is taken. Sometimes, it's not. But it is what it is, we are where we are right now." Dr Fauci, who is leading the US response to coronavirus, added that "no one is going to deny" that logically, earlier mitigation could have saved lives. But he said "what goes into those kinds of decisions is complicated". "There was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then."
4-13-20 Stop declaring premature victory against coronavirus
This will be with us as long as Trump is in power. Over the past week or so, the direst possible futures for the novel coronavirus pandemic have seemingly receded. Though the U.S. has by far the greatest number of confirmed cases of any country (at time of writing about 558,000 cases and 22,000 deaths, which are almost certainly drastic underestimates), a recent analysis from the University of Washington revised its estimate of the predicted total American death count down to "only" about 60,400. This has led many to question the necessity of all the social-distancing and lockdown measures that are wreaking economic havoc. But while a possibly lower death count is certainly good news, it would be wildly premature to declare victory now. America is not even close to finished with the first wave of infection, and we have done almost nothing to prevent a second. Let's deal with the idiots first. Fox News conservatives and pudding-brained contrarians like former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson have seized on the revised estimates to conclude the experts were wrong all along, and coronavirus is not as bad as they claimed. This is like a firefighter in a burning building saying that because his flesh has not been scorched off his bones, he can safely ditch all his fireproof gear. The researchers are clear that the estimated death toll has declined because all the lockdown measures have drastically cut the infection rate. The appalling failure of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio shows what happens to places that don't get on top of an outbreak quickly — they end up digging mass graves. Furthermore, it is not at all clear yet that the U.S. has actually bent the infection curve across the country. While new cases and deaths have clearly slowed in New York, and were kept relatively under control in West Coast states, they are still rising fast in states like Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Texas. A case of COVID-19 takes a long time to proceed, and as Italy shows it will take weeks for the death rate to come down. More importantly, all this leaves aside the possibility of a second wave of infection, which the University of Washington analysis simply does not consider. Conservatives, including President Trump, are implicitly arguing that since new infections and deaths seem to be on their way down, we can soon safely abandon the lockdown measures. But unless the disease is totally eradicated (which is vanishingly unlikely), that is almost certain to create another galloping epidemic.
4-13-20 Coronavirus: Five ways the outbreak is hitting global food industry
As the world's population was plunged into lockdown, our social media feeds became filled with stories of shortages at local supermarkets. But with many restaurants and other areas of the hospitality industry effectively shut for business, food producers are warning they actually have too much stock which will now go to waste. These are some of the ways the coronavirus pandemic is impacting the supply chain of food around the world. With coffee shops closed completely in some countries, oversupply of milk is emerging as a real side-effect of the pandemic. Dairy Farmers of America, the country's biggest dairy co-operative, is estimating that farmers are having to dump 3.7 million gallons (14 million litres) of milk every single day because of disrupted supply routes. This issue is not only being seen in the US, with dairy farmers in the UK asking for government help because of their own surplus problems. Peter Alvis, chair of the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers, says about five million litres per week are at risk. He warned farmers receiving reduced value for their output or having to dump their excess are faced with severe economic repercussions amid already tight margins. Closures are impacting all areas of agriculture. Some producers have tried to pivot to supplying ordinary shoppers, but changed market demand and excess stock remains a problem across the sector. The New York Times, which interviewed some US producers, cited an example of one chicken processor having to smash 750,000 unhatched eggs every single week. They also spoke to an onion farmer who was having to let most of his harvest decompose, unable to re-distribute his onions in high enough qualities and without the facilities to store them. In India, tea planters are warning that lockdown measures have already caused the first wave of their precious Darjeeling crop to go to waste and there are fears for the second.
4-12-20 Coronavirus: US death toll overtakes Italy as world's highest
The United States has now overtaken Italy to have the highest death toll from coronavirus in the world. The latest data, compiled by Johns Hopkins University, shows more than 20,000 people in the US have now died. The grim milestone comes shortly after the US became the first nation to record more than 2,000 virus deaths in a single day. The governor of New York Andrew Cuomo said on Saturday the state's death toll appeared to be stabilising. Announcing a 24-hour figure of 783 new deaths, he noted the last several days had seen around the same number. "That is not an all-time high, and you can see that the number is somewhat stabilising but it is stabilising at a horrific rate," Mr Cuomo said. "These are just incredible numbers depicting incredible loss and pain." New York state has become the epicentre of the outbreak in the US, recording more than 180,000 of the country's nearly 530,000 cases. As of Saturday, every single US state has declared a disaster in response to the outbreak. More than 100,000 have now died with the virus around the world since the pandemic broke out in China in December. As of early Sunday, Italy had reported 19,468 coronavirus deaths while the US had 20,608, according to the Johns Hopkins tally. There are now at least 529,951 recorded cases of Covid-19 across the US. Dr Anthony Fauci, US infectious diseases chief, has said the country is "starting to see the levelling off and coming down" of cases and deaths but says mitigation efforts such as social distancing should not be pulled back yet. Federal social distancing recommendations, issued by President Donald Trump, are currently in place until 30 April. The president is facing twin pressures from the outbreak: with at least 16 million jobs lost in recent weeks as virus restrictions cripple the country's economy. He said on Friday that a new council, made up of business and medical figures, would be announced next week to help him with the "biggest decision I've ever had to make" on when to relax measures. It comes as Congress continues to spar over the next stage of Covid-19 financial relief. Democrats want a new proposed $250bn (£200bn) bill to help small businesses to also allow for additional funding for hospitals and local governments. But on Saturday the two top Republicans in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, rejected the demand. In a statement they described the move as a "reckless threat" which blocked "job-saving funding".
4-12-20 Bill Gates: Few countries will get 'A-grade' for coronavirus response
Speaking exclusively to BBC Breakfast Bill Gates has said we are "in uncharted territory" due to a lack of investment and preparation for such a pandemic.
4-12-20 Coronavirus: Why Denmark is taking steps to open up again
Denmark is about to make its first move to relax restrictions imposed to fight coronavirus. From Wednesday, children aged 11 and younger return to schools and nurseries, after a month of closures. It's among the first European countries aiming to put the lockdown into gradual reverse, just as it was one of the first to impose restrictions. "It's important we don't keep Denmark closed for longer than we need to," said Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, as she announced the move last week. The spread of coronavirus appears to be under control and the government wants to get the economy going again. But Denmark's moves will be slow and cautious. Ms Frederiksen likened them to walking a tightrope. "If we open Denmark too quickly again, we risk infections rising too sharply and then we'll have to close down again," she said. Denmark's borders will remain shut. Norway and Austria are also scaling back restrictions slowly. In Austria some shops reopen this Tuesday, followed by other stores, restaurants and hotels in May. Children go back to Norway's kindergartens on 20 April and junior schools a week later. In Bulgaria farmers' markets are reopening. In the Czech Republic, shops selling building materials and bikes are back in business and rules have been relaxed for open-air recreation areas. Spain, which along with Italy has been hardest hit by Covid-19, aims to allow non-essential workers back to work from Monday and will hand out protective masks at stations. But for many countries the easing of restrictions still lies ahead. UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said it's too early to consider an exit strategy. And the head of the World Health Organization has warned against lifting stay-at-home measures too fast. Compared with other European countries, Denmark was an early mover. A raft of restrictions was announced on 11 March, 12 days before measures were introduced in the UK. Gatherings have been limited to 10 people, the workforce told to stay home, and the borders shut.
4-12-20 Coronavirus: Easter celebrations continue under lockdown
Christians around the world have continued with Easter celebrations, experimenting with new forms of worship as many countries stay under lockdown. Some clergy have been preaching to cameras in empty churches as their congregation watch services online this Easter Saturday. But in other countries traditions continued as normal, ignoring calls for tougher restrictions to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
4-12-20 Coronavirus: Pope calls for global solidarity in Easter message
Pope Francis has called for global solidarity to fight the coronavirus crisis in his Easter message read to an empty St Peter's Basilica. "This is not a time for indifference. Because the whole world is suffering and needs to be united," the pontiff said in a message broadcast online. He warned that the EU risked collapse and urged debt relief for poor nations. Around the world, services have been held in closed churches as millions of people have been told to stay at home. The leader of the Roman Catholic Church delivered his Urbi et Orbi (to the city and the world) message behind closed doors amid lockdown measures imposed in Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic. Saying this year's "Easter of solitude" message should be a contagion of hope, he urged political leaders to work "for the common good", to help people live through the crisis and eventually resume their normal lives. "This isn't a time for self-centredness because the challenge we're facing is shared by all," the pontiff said in a message almost entirely dominated by the effects of the outbreak, that has killed more than 109,000 people globally. "Indifference, self-centredness, division and forgetfulness are not words we want to hear at this time. We want to ban these words forever!," he added. Without citing any country, the pontiff also called for the relaxation of international sanctions and praised doctors, nurses and other workers who were keeping essential services running. The Pope, who usually delivers the message to tens of thousands of people gathered at the square outside the basilica, expressed particular concern for the future of Europe. He warned that the European Union risked collapse if it did not agree on how to help the region recover. EU nations have been divided over how to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic, with wealthier nations including Germany and the Netherlands blocking some demands from Spain and Italy, the region's hardest hit so far. The pontiff said it was "more important than ever" that rivalries that existed before World War Two did not "regain force", adding: "The European Union is presently facing an epochal challenge, on which will depend not only its future but that of the whole world."
4-11-20 Coronavirus: US death toll passes 2,000 in a single day
The US has become the first country in the world to record more than 2,000 coronavirus deaths in a single day. Figures from Johns Hopkins University show 2,108 people died in the past 24 hours while there are now more than half a million confirmed infections. The US could soon surpass Italy as the country with the most coronavirus deaths worldwide. But experts on the White House Covid-19 task force say the outbreak is starting to level off across the US. Dr Deborah Birx said there were good signs the outbreak was stabilising, but cautioned: "As encouraging as they are, we have not reached the peak." President Donald Trump also said he expects the US to see a lower death toll than the initial predictions of 100,000 fatalities, adding: "We're seeing clear signs that our aggressive strategy is saving countless lives". In other developments: 1. The World Health Organization chief warned that lifting lockdown measures too early could spark a "deadly resurgence" in infection. 2. Brazil became the first country in the southern hemisphere to surpass 1,000 deaths with coronavirus. 3. Turkey ordered a 48-hour curfew in 31 cities - including Istanbul and Ankara - to start at midnight. The announcement, made just two hours before the curfew was due to start, sparked panic buying and crowds of shoppers. 4. Aid agencies expressed alarm after the first virus case was confirmed in Yemen, where years of civil war have devastated health systems. The US now has at least 18,693 deaths and 500,399 confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins, which is tracking the disease globally. About half of the deaths were recorded in the New York area. Italy has reported 18,849 deaths while globally more than 102,000 people have died with the virus. Researchers had predicted the US death toll would hit its peak on Friday and then gradually start to decline, falling to around 970 people a day by 1 May (Webmaster's comment: That's still horrible! Over Nine Times the number that die in traffic accidents!) - the day members of the Trump administration have floated as a possible date to start reopening the economy. "I want to get it open as soon as possible," Mr Trump said at a Good Friday briefing at the White House. "I would say without question it's the biggest decision I've ever had to make." However, no action would be taken until the government knew the "country [was] going to be healthy", he said. "We don't want to go back and start doing it over again."
4-11-20 South Korea’s coronavirus success
The Seoul government was able to slow the spread of coronavirus and limit deaths. What did it do right? The Seoul government was able to slow the spread of coronavirus and limit deaths. What did it do right? Here's everything you need to know:
- How does South Korea compare with the U.S.? Both countries saw their first coronavirus cases on the same day, Jan. 20. By April 2, the U.S. had more than 240,000 cases and more than 5,800 deaths. Most businesses were shut down or crippled, and more than 10 million people had filed for unemployment in two weeks. In contrast, South Korea on April 2 had fewer than 10,000 confirmed cases and 169 deaths.
- How did they know to do that? An outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in South Korea in 2015 exposed vulnerabilities that terrified the populace and forced an overhaul of epidemic response. A single patient infected with MERS — caused by a different coronavirus than the one that causes COVID-19 — brought it in from the Middle East, was treated at three hospitals, and sparked outbreaks in each one, infecting 186 people and killing 38.
- How did they react this time? Just three days after news broke on Dec. 31 of a novel pneumonia in Wuhan, China, the KCDC set up a response team to study the virus. Once the first case appeared, authorities started tracking the health of some 3,000 people who had traveled to Wuhan over the previous two weeks. The KCDC assembled a vast public-private network to produce and administer tests, including drive-through centers, and established labs to process them.
- What were these? President Moon Jae-in allowed the use of invasive surveillance tactics to track worshippers at Shincheonji churches across the country. South Korea's phone companies have each user's national ID number. So authorities were able to follow the movements of infected people and identify those they had interacted with over the past 14 days.
- Did other countries follow suit? The other Asian countries with effective responses to the pandemic are Singapore, Vietnam, and Taiwan. All were previously hit by the 2003 epidemic of another coronavirus, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which had a terrifying 10 percent fatality rate. Because of swift measures in affected areas, it killed just 774 people.
- What the U.S. can do: The Trump administration's failure to test and impose distancing rules for two months let the virus gain a foothold and led to the current exponential increase in cases. But it's not too late to implement much wider testing.
4-11-20 Trump's obsession with hydroxychloroquine is an encapsulation of his presidency
What began primarily as a series of tirades against the media and other perceived enemies in President Trump's daily press briefings about the coronavirus has in recent days devolved into a bizarre and brazen infomercial for hydroxychloroquine, something Trump has touted as a potential miracle cure for COVID-19. "What do you have to lose? Take it," the president said last weekend as he hyped the drug, an anti-malarial medication that lupus patients have long relied on for its anti-inflammatory benefits. Health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director and sometime guest expert at Trump's daily pressers, have consistently pointed out that hydroxychloroquine has not been proven to be safe or effective against COVID-19. But that's not stopping Trump — or the conservative media universe that props up his presidency — from continuing to push the drug. And while reports this week showed the president has a small financial interest in the medicine, Trump has something even more precious to gain than money by promoting hydroxychloroquine: the puffing up of his power and authority through the continued undermining of expert knowledge and dissenting voices. No doubt, Trump's financial stake in hydroxychloroquine, however small, has surely played some part in his actions. This is a man, after all, who once stole $7 from his charity to pay for his son's Boy Scouts fee. In plain daylight, Trump has funneled millions of public dollars to his coffers while president, an ongoing violation of the Constitution and a direct assault on the public trust. As both candidate and president, Trump has regularly used the public limelight to shill everything from his line of steaks and winery to his golf resorts and properties. Rather than a national security hawk who has kept America safe, Trump is a smarmy hawker of shoddy products, some of which may threaten the safety of Americans. From the start, Trump understood that the presidency could be a cash cow for himself, and he'll never let the Constitution — or American lives — stand in the way of raking in millions. Yet Trump also covets power and has an insatiable need for public adoration that has been curtailed by the momentary pause on his public rallies. Clearly out of his depth when it comes to understanding the virus, Trump has latched onto hydroxychloroquine as a way of keeping himself at the center of the story. Like an ignored child who settles for his parents' negative attention by acting out, Trump knows he can keep the spotlight on him by continuing to recklessly promote hydroxychloroquine, something reporters are right to press him on. And all of it has the added benefit of undercutting the actual experts in the room, a move essential to Trump's constant pitch that his gut instinct is superior to expert knowledge. That's why Trump didn't allow Fauci to answer a question about hydroxychloroquine earlier this week. Fauci's cautious skepticism of the medicine's usefulness for treating COVID-19 importantly demonstrates that experts always make the limits of their knowledge clear, a galling affront to a president who has never let his ignorance keep him from spouting off. Fauci's steady presence also threatens Trump's sense of himself as the final word on all matters, an authoritarian impulse that animates his presidency, especially now.
4-11-20 Coronavirus: Brazil reports over 1,000 deaths
Brazil has become the first country in the southern hemisphere to surpass 1,000 deaths with coronavirus. The health ministry confirmed 1,056 deaths and 19,638 cases. The numbers are likely to be much higher as only patients at hospitals are being tested. Most states have imposed quarantine measures but President Jair Bolsonaro has challenged the restrictions, saying they needlessly harm the economy. Officials say the outbreak is not expected to peak for a few weeks yet. There is growing concern that the virus could spiral out of control, especially in poorer areas like favelas, crowded neighbourhoods where social distancing is hard to achieve and basic sanitation is lacking, the BBC's Katy Watson in São Paulo reports. There are also fears that Brazil's indigenous communities could be devastated by an outbreak. Experts say they are more vulnerable because they have fewer natural defences to external diseases. Earlier this week, an indigenous teenager died in hospital in the northern state of Roraima, becoming the first officially confirmed death of an indigenous person. Alvanei Xirixana, 15, was one of more than 20,000 members of the Yanonami ethnic group, who live mostly in large indigenous reservations along the Brazilian-Venezuelan border. Meanwhile on Friday, President Bolsonaro hit the streets of the capital Brasília, drawing crowds and greeting followers. In his latest act of disregard for his own government's recommendations of social distancing, he took pictures with supporters and shook hands. But some residents banged pots and pans in anger while others shouted "Go home!" The far-right leader - who was not wearing a face mask or gloves - was particularly criticised for wiping his nose with his lower right arm at one point, then shaking hands with an elderly woman. President Bolsonaro has frequently clashed with state governors and his own health officials over coronavirus, describing their reaction to the "little flu" as "hysteria". He also argues that their restrictions on movements and business are creating an unnecessary drag on the economy. The president's actions have incurred political costs in recent weeks, with his popularity falling in opinion polls. Nightly protests have also been held in Brazil's biggest cities, with residents banging pots and pans and shouting "Get out, Bolsonaro!"
4-11-20 How the spread of coronavirus is testing Africa
Africa has passed the grim milestone of 10,000 reported cases of coronavirus, along with more than 500 deaths, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (ACDC). As the daily number of new infections appears to be falling in parts of the world, some fear the epicentre of the virus could move to the continent. Despite efforts to lock down cities and countries, despite donations of protective equipment, testing kits and ventilators from China, one thing is clear: Africa has not yet flattened the curve and the room for manoeuvre is getting smaller. "What we are seeing is that this opportunity is no longer there or almost not there for some countries," says Dr Michel Yao, who runs the emergency response programme for the World Health Organization (WHO) in Africa. "The worry is also now that [countries] cannot adequately manage this phase, they are moving to [in country transmission]. But we are seeing there is some delay in addressing [this]… to mobilise more people, train more people, think about capacity." It is difficult to compare regions with different cultures, economies, travel links and infrastructure, but some comparisons paint an urgent picture. In studying the daily increases in the number of those who have tested positive for coronavirus around the world, Africa appears to be controlling the spread better than in the US and Europe so far. But the comparison with Asia, where some countries appeared to reduce the daily increase in the number of new cases relatively quickly, does not fare so well. Perhaps a better comparison could be with the Middle East. There, cases have steadily risen, along with deaths, and the region has now recorded more than 78,000 cases in total, according to the WHO. Nearly every African country has reported cases, and while most began with patients bringing the virus in through international travel, it is now spreading within communities. Different variables make predictions difficult, but the worst-case scenarios are still jarring. "Cases can easily pick up," Dr Yao says, "even triple, maybe multiply by seven to 10 from what we have right now".
4-11-20 Coronavirus in New York: A paramedic's diary
As a senior paramedic in New York City, Anthony Almojera is used to being close to death. But nothing in his 17-year career could have prepared him for the outbreak of coronavirus. The state has now had more diagnosed cases of the virus than any single country. It has the grim distinction of being at the forefront of a global health crisis. Anthony is now working 16-hour days to try to save people across the city, while supporting colleagues who fear for their lives and their families. Anthony, a lieutenant paramedic and vice president of the Fire Department of New York's Emergency Medical Services officers' union, talked the BBC's Alice Cuddy through what happened last Sunday - what he calls the toughest day of his career. I got a pretty good night's sleep considering all the calls going on the day before. A solid five hours. I get up and listen to the news in the shower. More Covid-19 but the world still seems intact. I have to get ready to be at work in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, at 06:00 for a 16-hour shift. I put on my uniform, grab my radio and start the process of decontaminating my equipment. We have to wipe down all the radios, keys, trucks, bags and the rest of the gear. This virus can stay alive on everything. Nothing is safe - even your co-workers. In wars you see the bullet, you know who your enemy is. This is a war with an invisible bullet - everyone you come into contact with is a bullet who could get you. I log on that morning at 06:02. I'm able to go get a bite to eat at the bagel shop. I start to hear the radio get busy around 07:00. We have already had more than 1,500 calls since midnight. I get called for the assignment - a cardiac arrest. As a lieutenant I go with the medic and emergency medical technician crews to help treat patients and provide resources as needed. These days there aren't many resources as most days there are well over 6,500 calls. New York City has the busiest emergency medical services (EMS) system in the world - with about 4,000 calls a day on average. Sometimes you get a spike like with a heatwave or a hurricane, but the busiest day before this was 9/11. That day, we had 6,400 calls but that wasn't 6,400 patients - either you made it out or you didn't. This is 9/11 call volume with patients every day.
4-10-20 US shares see their biggest weekly gain in 46 years
US stocks have just recorded their biggest weekly gain since 1974 despite the bleak economic outlook. Wall Street's S&P 500 shares index has risen 12% this week, as the US central bank announced more stimulus measures to support the economy. Financial markets have experienced extreme volatility as the economic impact from the coronavirus worsens. Gold prices hit a seven-year high with many investors still remaining cautious about the future of the global economy. "It looks like the Fed are on a mission to blow holes in every dam that stops the flow of credit. And it sure sounds like they have plenty more dynamite if needed," said Stephen Innes, global chief market strategist at Axicorp. "Markets have been encouraged by corona curves flattening in Europe, exits from lockdowns in China, and talk of economic reopening globally. The level optimism has caught virtually everyone by surprise." On Thursday, the Federal Reserve said an additional $2.3 trillion was available to support debt markets saying it would act "forcefully, pro-actively, and aggressively" to combat an economic tidal wave. The strong words came after data showed US jobless claims jumped by 6.6 million, taking the three-week total to more than 16 million unemployed and seeking benefits. The Fed's chairman Jerome Powell emphasised the central bank's measures were temporary, but that there was "no limit" to the dollar amounts it can deploy for programmes already on the books. Markets were also lifted by comments from Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who said there may end up being fewer fatalities from the coronavirus than earlier forecast. He placed the number at around 60,000 Americans, compared to earlier estimates of up to 240,000 deaths.
4-10-20 Coronavirus: Should the world worry about Singapore's virus surge?
Singapore had been a master class in how to handle the Covid-19 outbreak. Before the disease even had a name, the country had stringent travel restrictions and an efficient contact-tracing operation which contained the virus's spread. But in recent days, the number of confirmed cases has rocketed. Thursday brought the highest day of new infections to date at 287, up from 142 the day before. Mostly, these are coming from densely-packed migrant worker accommodation. Having avoided it for months, Singapore is now under a partial lockdown, with schools and non-essential businesses closed, and people urged to stay at home. Experts say one of the world's wealthiest nations - which seemed to be doing everything right - has important lessons for poorer countries, and there's still time to put them in place. Singapore had its first case of the new coronavirus very early on. It was a Chinese tourist who arrived from Wuhan on 23 January, the same day the virus epicentre was put into a total lockdown. By the time the disease caused by the virus got its official name - Covid-19 - it was already spreading among the population here. But a well-rehearsed response was in place. In addition to health checks at airports, Singapore carried out extensive testing of every suspected case; tracked down anyone who'd come into contact with a confirmed case; and confined those contacts to their homes until they were cleared. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called it "a good example of an all-of-government approach". For weeks, Singapore managed to keep its numbers low and trackable, with only small, easily contained clusters, without any real restrictions to daily life. But Prof Dale Fisher, chair of the WHO's Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network and a professor at the National University of Singapore, told the BBC that whenever he heard people say Singapore was doing well, he'd reply: "So far." "This is a really hard disease to contain," he says.
4-10-20 Can fabric masks stem the coronavirus’ spread?
Not enough studies exist on whether homemade cloth masks trap viruses to know for sure. People across the United States are donning homemade masks in an effort to curb transmission of the coronavirus. But there isn’t enough data to know for sure whether such cloth masks will prevent an infected person from spreading the virus to someone else, experts say. In the face of evidence that the coronavirus may spread by talking and breathing, on top of coughing or sneezing, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended April 3 that people cover their faces with cloth or fabric when going out in public (SN: 4/2/20). Cloth may cut down on some large respiratory droplets from a cough or sneeze, but it’s unclear whether it will also catch smaller droplets called aerosols that are released by just breathing or talking. Cloth masks, as well as surgical masks, are designed to protect others from virus spread by the mask wearer, not the other way around. Those infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 can transmit it to others before they begin showing symptoms (SN: 3/13/20). When the masks are worn as a general habit, they aim to prevent people who are unaware that they are sick from unwittingly transmitting the virus to others. Wearing a mask is not meant to be a replacement for social distancing, handwashing and other efforts. But there are few studies evaluating the effectiveness of fabric masks at preventing respiratory diseases from spreading, researchers from the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine wrote in an April 8 letter to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Those that do exist suggest that fabric masks may capture large respiratory droplets, like those from a cough or a sneeze. Those made of different types of cloth have a wide-ranging ability to filter virus-sized particles, with a trade-off between filtration and ability to breathe.
4-10-20 Coronavirus: New York ramps up mass burials amid outbreak
Images have emerged of coffins being buried in a mass grave in New York City, as the death toll from the coronavirus continues to rise. Workers in hazmat outfits were seen stacking wooden coffins in deep trenches in Hart Island. Officials say burials are being ramped up at site, which has long been used for people with no next-of-kin or families who cannot afford a funeral. New York state now has more coronavirus cases than any single country. The state's confirmed caseload of Covid-19 is almost 162,000, of whom 7,067 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. Spain has recorded about 157,000 cases and Italy 143,600, while China, where the virus emerged last year, has declared 82,000 cases. The US as a whole has recorded 466,000 cases and nearly 16,700 deaths. Globally there are 1.6 million cases and 97,000 deaths. The drone footage comes from Hart Island, off the Bronx in Long Island Sound, which has been used for more than 150 years by city officials as a mass burial site for those with no next-of-kin, or families who cannot afford funerals. Normally, about 25 bodies a week are interred on the island, according to the Associated Press news agency. But burial operations have increased from one day a week to five days a week, with around 24 burials each day, said Department of Correction spokesman Jason Kersten. Prisoners from Rikers Island, the city's main jail complex, usually do the job, but the rising workload has recently been taken over by contractors. It is not clear how many of the dead have no next-of-kin or could not afford a funeral. However, the city has cut the amount of time it will hold unclaimed remains amid pressure on morgue space. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio indicated earlier this week that "temporary burials" might be necessary until the crisis had passed. "Obviously the place we have used historically is Hart Island," he said.
4-10-20 US-Mexico border: Thousands of migrants expelled under coronavirus powers
The US has expelled more than 6,300 undocumented migrants on its Mexico border using emergency powers to curb coronavirus spread, officials say. The 21 March public health measure lets officials override immigration laws, expediting removal processes. Critics say the order is being used as an extension of strict immigration policies. Meanwhile, the number of illegal border crossings has fallen amid travel restrictions across the region. The emergency public health order issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) bans the entry of foreigners considered to pose a "serious danger" to the spread of communicable disease. The measure, initially in place for 30 days, was necessary to limit the spread of the disease in crowded places such as border patrol stations or ports of entry, said CDC Director Dr Robert R Redfield. The US has the world's highest number of confirmed infections - more than 460,000 - and nearly 16,500 deaths. Since the CDC measure was introduced, apprehensions at the border dropped by 50%, acting CBP commissioner Mark Morgan said. Fewer than 100 people were under the agency's custody, a 97% fall from the average of 3,000. Nearly 80% of those found at the border were being removed within hours, Mr Morgan added, saying the "overwhelming majority" were caught crossing illegally. Most were sent back to Mexico while some were returned to their home countries. In recent years, most of the people trying to enter the US have come from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, usually claiming to be fleeing poverty and violence. Combined, those countries have fewer than 700 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 32 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the disease globally. Mexico has some 3,400 confirmed cases with 194 deaths. Those being sent back under the CDC order include children arriving at the border alone who would previously be transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services to be protected from violence and exploitation. "The disease doesn't know age,"? Mr Morgan said.
4-10-20 Coronavirus: Great apes on lockdown over threat of disease
Great apes have been put on lockdown against the threat of coronavirus. Gorilla tourism in Africa has been suspended, while sanctuaries for other apes, such as orangutans, have closed to the public. It's not known if great apes can contract the virus, but there are growing fears that our closest living relatives might be equally at risk. This week a tiger at Bronx Zoo tested positive for coronavirus. New measures have been put in place to protect big cats and their caregivers. Dr Kirsten Gilardi is chief veterinary officer for Gorilla Doctors, which provides veterinary care to gorillas in the forests of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. "We don't know if it's infected mountain gorillas; we have not seen any evidence of that," she said. "But because mountain gorillas are susceptible to human pathogens, we know that they can develop respiratory illness." Mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) are an endangered species of great ape found only in the forests of Rwanda, Uganda and the DR Congo. All three countries have seen human cases of coronavirus, with gorilla tourism currently suspended. The work of vets and rangers who care for wild gorillas continues, but with added precautions. "Much of what we're practicing right now, in terms of social distancing, and self-quarantine, are at the heart of the recommendations for protecting great apes as well," said Dr Gilardi, who is also a veterinary professor at the University of California, Davis. Even before the outbreak, people were asked to stay seven metres away from gorillas at all times. New guidance from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) calls for a minimum distance of 10 metres from great apes, with visits by humans reduced to the minimum needed to ensure their safety and health. No person who is ill, or who has been in contact with a sick person in the preceding 14 days, should be allowed near them.
4-9-20 Coronavirus latest: US unemployment claims pass 16 million
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. More than 1.5 million confirmed cases have been infected with the coronavirus and at least 90,000 people have died, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University. Yesterday more than 2000 deaths were recorded in the US for the second day in a row, while in the UK the daily death toll hit a record 938. Spain, the country with the highest number of detected cases in Europe, reported 683 deaths – lower than the previous two days. More than 6 million people filed for unemployment benefits in the US last week, bringing the total number of claims in the last three weeks above 16 million. Two people in the US have been charged with terrorism offences after threatening to spread the coronavirus. US president Donald Trump has threatened to cut government funding for the World Health Organization (WHO) and criticised the organisation’s response to the pandemic for being “China centric” and for withholding information. Lawrence Gostin, a public health law professor at Georgetown University, said its annual budget was insufficient for its role and should be increased. Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, has warned that the European Union (EU) risks failing as a political project unless member countries share the financial cost of the coronavirus crisis. Conte called upon the EU to rise to the challenge of “the biggest test since the Second World War.” UK prime minister Boris Johnson has now spent three nights in intensive care with covid-19. People from ethnic minority backgrounds in the UK are being disproportionately impacted by the outbreak according to the non-profit Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre. A similar pattern seems to be occurring in the US.
4-9-20 Coronavirus: US weekly jobless claims hit 6.6 million
The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits has surged for a third week as the economic toll tied to the coronavirus pandemic intensifies. More than 6.6 million people filed jobless claims in the week ending 4 April, the Department of Labor said. To shore up the economy, the Federal Reserve said it would unleash an additional $2.3tn in lending. The deepening economic crisis comes as the number of virus cases in the US soars to more than 430,000. Over the last three weeks, more than 16 million people have made unemployment claims, as restrictions on activity to slow the spread of the virus force most businesses to close and put about 95% of Americans on some form of lockdown. The surging joblessness is a stark reversal for the world's biggest economy where the unemployment rate had been hovering around 3.5%.Economists now expect that rate has hit the double digits. "Today's report continues to reflect the personal sacrifice being made by America's workers and their families to slow the spread of the coronavirus," Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said. The Federal Reserve on Thursday announced programmes it said would provide more than $2.3tn in loans, including loans for states and municipalities, whose budgets have been strained by the crisis. The US Congress has also passed a roughly $2tn rescue bill, which funds direct payment for households, assistance for businesses and increased unemployment benefits. Lawmakers are now discussing further relief.
4-9-20 Coronavirus Canada lost a record one million jobs in March
More than one million Canadians lost their jobs in March, as the country locked down to combat the coronavirus. The data, released by the federal statistics agency on Thursday, also pushes the unemployment rate to 7.8%. March saw the largest loss of jobs in a single month since the records began in 1976. There have been 19,290 confirmed cases in Canada and 436 deaths, according to figures from John Hopkins University. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned Canadians that the figures, released by Statistics Canada, would lead to "a hard day for the country". "We're facing a unique challenge. But I know that if we pull together, our economy will come roaring back after this crisis," Mr Trudeau said in a televised address. The report begins by saying that "measuring the labour market is not business as usual" for the end of March. Statistics Canada said 1,011,000 jobs were lost across the country, driving the unemployment rate up. Between 15-21 March, an estimated 1.3m people were not able to work due to Covid-19, the government said. An additional 800,000 worked half of the hours they normally would. All together, approximately 3.1m people were affected either by job loss or reduced hours. The country is now at its lowest employment rate since April 1997. The jobs rate dropped in every province, with Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, and Quebec hardest-hit.
4-9-20 Coronavirus fuels a surge in fake medicines
Growing numbers of fake medicines linked to coronavirus are on sale in developing countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned. A BBC News investigation found fake drugs for sale in Africa, with counterfeiters exploiting growing gaps in the market. The WHO said taking these drugs could have "serious side effects". One expert warned of "a parallel pandemic, of substandard and falsified products". Around the world, people are stockpiling basic medicines. However, with the world's two largest producers of medical supplies - China and India - in lockdown, demand now outstrips the supply and the circulation of dangerous counterfeit drugs is soaring. In the same week the World Health Organization (WHO) declared coronavirus a pandemic last month, Operation Pangea, Interpol's global pharmaceutical crime fighting unit, made 121 arrests across 90 countries in just seven days, resulting in the seizure of dangerous pharmaceuticals worth over $14m (£11m). From Malaysia to Mozambique, police officers confiscated tens of thousands of counterfeit face masks and fake medicines, many of which claimed to be able to cure coronavirus. "The illicit trade in such counterfeit medical items during a public health crisis, shows a total disregard for people's lives," said Interpol's Secretary General Jurgen Stock. According to the WHO, the broader falsified medicines trade, which includes medicines which may be contaminated, contain the wrong or no active ingredient, or may be out-of-date, is worth more than $30bn in low and middle-income countries. "Best case scenario they [fake medicines] probably won't treat the disease for which they were intended", said Pernette Bourdillion Esteve, from the WHO team dealing with falsified medical products. "But worst-case scenario they'll actively cause harm, because they might be contaminated with something toxic."
4-9-20 Do face masks work against the coronavirus and should you wear one?
As cases of covid-19 continue to rise, many people are choosing to wear a face mask when out in public – but do they work? Guidance on face masks varies wildly among international health bodies and governments. The World Health Organization (WHO) currently only recommends face masks for people who are coughing or sneezing, or for those who are caring for people who are suspected to have covid-19. In some places like Lombardy, the worst hit region of Italy, face masks are mandatory. The UK government doesn’t recommend widespread use of them, while as of 3 April, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that people wear “cloth face coverings” when they go out – and even provide instructions for how to make one. Part of the reason for recommending homemade face masks is to reserve the limited supplies of medical face masks for healthcare workers, some of whom have had to resort to covering up with bin bags, snorkels and office supplies bought from craft stores due to shortages. Some have also been using cloth face coverings, but these aren’t up to the job, says Raina MacIntyre at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. In 2015, MacIntyre and her colleagues ran a clinical trial pitting cloth masks against medical ones. The team provided 1607 healthcare workers at 14 hospitals in Hanoi, Vietnam, with either disposable medical masks or reusable cloth ones, which could be washed at home at the end of the day they were worn. Those that wore cloth masks were significantly more likely to catch a virus, the team found. But what about the rest of us? In an attempt to answer this question, Paul Hunter at the University of East Anglia, UK, and his colleagues looked at 31 published studies on the efficacy of face masks. Overall, the evidence suggests there may be a small benefit to wearing some kind of face covering. They do seem to prevent sick people from spreading the virus, but the evidence is weak and inconsistent, says Hunter.
4-9-20 Coronavirus in Suifenhe: Remote border town locks down as China opens up
A Chinese city on the Russian border is entering a "lockdown" due to an increase in coronavirus cases - even as the rest of China cautiously opens up. n Suifenhe, 1,000 miles from Beijing, people have been ordered to stay indoors, with some exceptions. The border is closed to people, although not goods, and a 600-bed isolation hospital is being built. One business owner told the BBC she was "very scared" - but another local said he had confidence in the government. On Wednesday, China reported 59 imported cases of Covid-19 across the whole country. According to state media, 25 of them entered the country via Suifenhe - making the remote north-east crossing something of a hotspot. The patients were all returning Chinese citizens who had flown from Moscow to Vladivostok, a Russian city around 100 miles south. All the new patients were taken to hospital, with two in a serious condition. In addition, another 86 people in Suifenhe - who came via the same route - were classed as "asymptomatic" but positive for the virus, which China counts separately. The border was closed to people on Tuesday, the local government said, although cargo can continue. Russia closed its border with China in February. People in the city have been told to stay at home, although the lockdown isn't as severe as Hubei province experienced. One person per house can shop for essentials every three days. At the same time, the new hospital - in an existing building - is due to open this weekend, intended for patients with mild symptoms. "Of course I'm very scared," one woman who runs a bakery shop told the BBC. "We don't leave the house now. Many people already left the city. But we can't do that, because we have a shop need to take care of." Meanwhile, a member of staff at a restaurant in the city said it was normally their high season, with around 1,000 customers a day. Instead, they were told to close earlier this week, with "no idea" when they can open again. But the staff member was not critical of the government. He said the lockdown made him feel "secure" - and that he was "very confident" the government would look after the situation.
4-9-20 The U.K.'s pandemic response shows the U.S. what it's missing
As the British people rally around their shared institutions, they have been revealed as both sentimental and as valuing the linchpins of their social democracy. It should come as no surprise that when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's coronavirus symptoms worsened over the weekend, he was taken to a National Health Service (NHS) hospital in London. Despite the fact that President Trump two years ago declared the NHS "broke and not working," the universally free, taxpayer-funded health service has become the U.K.'s practical and emotional front line during the COVID-19 national crisis. Indeed, no British politician would allow themselves to be treated anywhere else at such a time. The outpouring of support for the NHS has been one of the defining features of the country's coronavirus experience. U.K. citizens care deeply about their free-at-the-point-of-use, state-funded health-care behemoth. As a British person, and a diabetic since childhood, so do I. It's a system in which no one is refused medical care because they lack insurance, and no one has to worry about whether seeking care for their symptoms will result in bankruptcy. More than 750,000 people volunteered to carry out tasks to ease the coronavirus burden the NHS currently shoulders, delivering food and medicine, driving patients to appointments, and manning virus phone lines. They continue to emerge from their lockdowns in huge numbers every Thursday evening at 8 to show their appreciation by clapping for the NHS carers. The pandemic has also shone a light on the reality of multiculturalism in Britain. Amged El-Hawrani, Adil El Tayar, Habib Zaidi, Jitendra Rathod, Alice Kit Tak Ong, Areema Nasreen — just some of those who have died treating the infected. Brexit exposed a petty vein of nativism in U.K. society, to which these names are the ultimate rebuke. Already, the 2,800 foreign doctors, nurses, and paramedics who sustain the NHS have been granted an automatic one-year visa extension. Now, campaigns are under way to grant them the right to stay indefinitely — their families alongside them. There's nothing like a crisis to change perceptions of where tribes begin and end.
4-9-20 A racial response to coronavirus isn't political correctness. It's public health.
If available evidence suggests predominantly black areas are at greater risk, refusing to use that evidence to adjust our response is the real unjustified politicization. In the midst of pandemic, New York magazine's Andrew Sullivan sarcastically tweeted Monday, the "most urgent task, apparently, is to prove that the coronavirus is a function of white supremacy." A few hours later, he appended a qualifying thread to the now-deleted post, which had linked to an Ibram X. Kendi piece at The Atlantic collating evidence that COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting minorities, especially black Americans. "Of course it matters if one segment of the population seems to be affected disproportionately," Sullivan conceded in the new tweets, "especially if we can figure out why a virus has such an effect. But we don't know yet, and politicizing this as a function of white supremacy, seems to me to be the wrong emphasis," he continued, concluding that the proper focus is "prevention and treatment and humanity right now, rather than race." s it true, though, that "we don't know yet"? I'm duly skeptical of the available coronavirus data — at this stage, it's misleading and incomplete more often than not. But what racial data has been collected so far shows pre-existing disadvantages have been exacerbated by the pandemic's strain on our health-care system, and the result in multiple areas around the country is a disproportionate infection and death rate for African Americans. Sullivan's argument seems to be informed by a fear that unwarranted focus on race for the sake of politics (indeed, though he didn't use the phrase, for political correctness) will result in misallocation of limited medical resource. But if we have good reason to believe that race correlates with outbreak severity, then race may be a useful data point to produce more efficient resource distribution. In fact, if the available evidence reliably suggests predominantly black areas are at greater risk, refusing to use that evidence to adjust our response to coronavirus is the real unjustified politicization. So do we have reason to believe racial data tells us something important about the shape of this pandemic? I think we do.
4-9-20 Coronavirus: WHO chief urges end to 'politicisation' of virus
The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has urged unity, as the agency comes under continued fire from US President Donald Trump. (Webmaster's comment: Trump needs someone to blame! He doesn't want to take credit for delaying our reponse to the virus!) Speaking on Wednesday, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus defended the WHO's work and called for an end to the politicisation of Covid-19. The Ethiopian also said that he had received deaths threats and has been subjected to racist abuse. Mr Trump said he would consider ending US funding for the UN agency. He accused the WHO of being "very China-centric" and said they "really blew" their pandemic response. Dr Tedros has now dismissed the comments, insisting: "We are close to every nation, we are colour-blind." After first attacking the WHO the previous day, President Trump renewed his criticism at his news briefing on Wednesday, saying the organisation must "get its priorities right". He said the US would conduct a study to decide whether it would continue paying contributions, Also answering questions at the briefing on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the administration was "re-evaluating our funding" of the WHO, adding; "Organisations have to work. They have to deliver the outcomes for which they were intended". Covid-19 first emerged last December in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which has just ended an 11-week lockdown. An advisor to the WHO chief earlier said their close work with China had been "absolutely essential" in understanding the disease in its early stages. Mr Trump's attacks on the WHO come in the context of criticism of his own administration's handling of the pandemic, especially early problems with testing. The WHO approved a coronavirus test in January - but the US decided against using it, developing its own test instead. However, in February, when the testing kits were despatched, some of them didn't work properly and led to inconclusive results. Public health experts say the delay enabled the virus to spread further within the US.
4-9-20 Coronavirus: Christians face lockdown for Easter
Europe's Christians are facing an extraordinary Easter under lockdown, with traditionally large congregations replaced by livestreamed services. On Friday the Vatican will livestream Pope Francis's celebration of the Passion in St Peter's Basilica and prayer of the Stations of the Cross. Portugal has not been hit as badly as Spain and Italy by coronavirus, but has now ordered people to stay at home, with police roadblocks to cut travel. Poland has also imposed strict curbs. The Pope's Palm Sunday mass took place behind closed doors at St. Peter's on 5 April, with just a few people attending. closed its borders, as well as schools, shops, restaurants and entertainment venues. Deputy Health Minister Waldemar Kraska said some restrictions would be eased after Easter to "turn on the economy a little", but he did not elaborate. In an interview with The Tablet, the Pope said humanity must draw lessons from the Covid-19 crisis, calling it a time to reconnect with nature. "Let us not file it away and go back to where we were. This is the time to take the decisive step, to move from using and misusing nature to contemplating it," he said. He cited a Spanish expression: "God always forgives, we forgive sometimes, but nature never forgives", and lamented the devastating wildfires in Australia and melting of polar ice attributed to global warming. He also condemned the "hypocrisy" of certain politicians - not named - who spoke about tackling the pandemic and hunger in the world, "but who in the meantime manufacture weapons". On a more positive note, he praised "the saints who live next door" - people like medics, volunteers and priests who were serving the community, to keep society functioning. Describing the impact on him personally, the Pope said he was praying more and Vatican staff were working in shifts, to practise social distancing. They were relying on technology to reduce meetings, he added. (Webmaster's comment: God never forgives because he doesn't exist!)
4-9-20 Ebola epidemic in Democratic Republic of the Congo to be declared over
At last, the Ebola epidemic that has been continuing in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo since 2018 is finally set to be declared over by the World Health Organization (WHO). The announcement, expected on 12 April, follows a difficult two years in which the virus killed 66 per cent of the more than 3400 people who were infected. But celebrations at the Ebola Treatment Centre in Beni, a city once at the heart of the outbreak, will be muted. Just as one epidemic is coming to an end, another is just getting started: the coronavirus arrived in the surrounding North Kivu province last week. “The battle is won, but the war is far from over,” says Esther Sokolua Perso, who has led the centre’s medical team since June 2019. “We have achieved a great success working together as a machine,” says Perso, who has had to cancel a ceremony marking the end of Ebola due to the coronavirus. “But there is no time to relax and we must be ready and prepared for the worst.” The end of the Ebola epidemic is a significant achievement. In a country that has experienced decades of civil war, identifying and isolating the contacts of those who contracted Ebola was extremely challenging. But a successful mass monitoring programme has conducted almost 160 million screenings for Ebola symptoms at regional checkpoints since August 2018. In addition to this monitoring, two experimental vaccines have helped turn the tide. Nearly 320,000 people have been given either a vaccine made by Merck, which proved highly protective during the 2015 Ebola outbreak in Guinea, or a vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson, which began clinical trials in the DRC in late 2019. This vaccine was deployed using a “ring strategy”, specifically targeting the contacts of those diagnosed with the virus. “It was very effective,” says Bérengère Guais, regional emergency coordinator for Médecins sans Frontières. “But we still don’t have a perfect knowledge of the disease and we are learning all the time.”
4-8-20 Coronavirus latest: Lockdown in Wuhan, China is lifted
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Lockdown lifted in Wuhan. The lockdown in Wuhan, China, which has been in place since 23 January was lifted today, four months after the world’s first reported coronavirus cases were detected there last year. People with a “green” code on a government-issued smartphone health app are now allowed to leave the city, and train, road and rail connections have reopened. Some limits on transport remain and schools will stay closed for now. Other coronavirus developments. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Africa has passed 10,000, with more than 500 deaths across the continent from covid-19 so far. The US recorded the world’s highest death toll in a single day on Tuesday, with more than 1800 deaths. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s condition is “improving” after he spent two nights in intensive care in hospital being treated for covid-19. Mauro Ferrari, the president of the European Research Council (ERC), the EU’s most prestigious scientific research organisation, has resigned and criticised the EU’s coronavirus response. Ferrari wanted the ERC to provide funding for a large-scale programme to support scientists researching covid-19, but his proposal was rejected. The coronavirus can infect and replicate in domestic cats and ferrets, but replicates poorly in dogs, pigs, chickens and ducks, according to a study. The virus is thought to have originated in bats, although it is not known if the virus crossed over into other animals before it first spread to humans. Researchers are investigating whether people who have recently recovered from mild coronavirus infections can become infected again. A preliminary study found that 175 recently-recovered individuals had unexpectedly low levels of antibodies against the virus, which might be too low to provide protection.
4-8-20 Deciding how to end lockdown will be hard, but we should do it soon
An end to lockdown is many weeks away for some nations, but decisions on how to do it need to be made now so we can make preparations and communicate it clearly. ALTHOUGH the UK and many other countries are still on the upward curve in terms of covid-19 cases and deaths, in scientific circles, thoughts are already turned towards how we can end the lockdown and return to a semblance of normality. It is a crucial endeavour, but it isn’t a simple one by any means. The world can’t remain in lockdown, yet millions and millions of people remain very vulnerable to the coronavirus. Added to this, a possible vaccine is a long way off, if indeed we ever get one that is useful. So how do we get out of the current situation and resume our former day-to-day lives? As we report, there are essentially three ways of achieving this. None of them is risk-free or cheap, and all will require life-and-death decisions: essentially, who will bear the brunt of a near-inevitable second wave of infections? Another lockdown may well have to be put in place if case numbers start to shoot up again. The execution of such a strategy is weeks away in the UK, but the decision on which method to pursue needs to be made now, so that adequate preparations can be made. It also needs to be communicated expertly and well in advance – especially the part about the possibility of having to reimpose restrictions if a second wave of infections takes hold. There is currently no globally agreed exit strategy. Individual countries are largely going it alone. That isn’t wrong, because the situation varies from place to place, but some form of global cooperation will be needed: for example, to allow travel and trade to resume. Meanwhile, the global situation is about to change in ways we can’t predict as the virus takes hold in poorer countries. As we explore on page 8, low-income economy countries will face different challenges from those seen in the relatively rich countries hit worst so far. To take one example, Uganda has 0.1 intensive care unit beds per 100,000 people compared with 34.7 in the US. In other nations, slums and refugee camps, where isolation is well-nigh impossible, are a big concern. The full impact of this pandemic has yet to emerge.
4-8-20 Coronavirus: US records highest death toll in single day
The US recorded the most coronavirus deaths in a single day with more than 1,800 fatalities reported on Tuesday. It brings the total number of deaths in the country to nearly 13,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The US has more than 398,000 confirmed cases, the highest number in the world. Global cases have exceeded 1.4 million. However during a press conference President Donald Trump said the US might be getting to the top of the "curve". Meanwhile the city of Wuhan in China, where the infection first emerged, ended its 11-week lockdown. The new figures announced on Tuesday are up on the previous record of 1,344 which was recorded on 4 April. The family of American singer-songwriter John Prine has confirmed his death from complications related to coronavirus. Known for songs such as Angel from Montgomery and Sam Stone, Prine died in Nashville on Tuesday at the age of 73. His wife tested positive for coronavirus and recovered however Prine was hospitalised last month with symptoms and placed on a ventilator. A number of musicians including Bruce Springsteen and Margo Price have paid tribute to him. A large proportion of the deaths announced were from New York state. Widely considered the epicentre of the outbreak, it recorded 731 deaths on Tuesday. It is on the cusp of overtaking the entire country of Italy with its number of confirmed cases. Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state appeared to be nearing the peak of its pandemic. Hospital and intensive care admissions were down. The governor urged people to stay inside and continue with social distancing. "I know it's hard but we have to keep doing it," he said. New Yorkers have been told to avoid large gatherings as Passover and Easter approaches. Elsewhere, the state of Wisconsin pressed ahead with an election on Tuesday, despite a state-wide stay-at-home order amid the escalating outbreak. (Webmaster's comment: Nuts!)
4-8-20 Australia seems to be keeping a lid on covid-19 – how is it doing it?
There are early signs that Australia is starting to beat the coronavirus, with the rate of new infections slowing for more than a week. How is it achieving this and will the trend continue? Australia has recorded just more than 6000 confirmed cases of covid-19 to date, with 50 people dying from the virus so far and another 40 currently on ventilators. The number of new confirmed cases per day has been trending downwards for the past 10 days, from 460 new cases on 28 March to 119 on 7 April. The country’s chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said in a press conference on 7 April that the current situation in Australia is even better than the best-case scenario predicted by government modelling done in January. However, he stressed that it “could all come undone” if Australians flout the rules put in place to contain the virus. Australia’s response to the pandemic has largely centred on shutting its borders, limiting public gatherings and conducting large-scale testing and contact tracing. Travelling overseas is banned, foreigners aren’t allowed to enter the country, and Australians who return from other countries are kept in mandatory quarantine at specially designated hotels for two weeks. Social gatherings of more than two people are also forbidden and leaving the house is permitted only for essential reasons like buying food and exercising. Australia has so far tested more than 310,000 people for covid-19. When someone tests positive, their close contacts are tracked down and ordered to self-isolate for two weeks. The main reason for Australia’s success is probably its strict travel restrictions, says Adam Kamradt-Scott at the University of Sydney. About 70 per cent of Australians who have tested positive for covid-19 picked it up while they were overseas, making it important to stem this flow, he says, and being an island nation has made it easier for Australia to rapidly shut its borders.
4-8-20 The coming backlash against the public health experts
As COVID-19 rampages across the country and the world, well-meaning members of the political, journalistic, and academic establishments have begun to daydream about how our public-health emergency will produce a rebirth of respect for scientifically informed expertise in our public life. I wouldn't bet on it. Those expressing hope for such a renaissance are likely to be people who never lost their faith in experts in the first place. What they want and expect is that other people will change their minds, abandoning their skepticism and hostility toward those who profess to tell them and the country what they should do in a crisis. The trouble is that there are powerful historical, cultural, and political forces pushing in the other direction, encouraging the intensification of skepticism and hostility toward credentialized experts. The experience with coronavirus is likely to strengthen this tendency. This is as much a function of our success at combatting the virus as it is a result of our mistakes. Yes, some epidemiologists and other medical experts have overstated likely death tolls and other predictions. But the message coming from the overwhelming consensus of public-health professionals has been that we need to practice social distancing and sheltering in place for several weeks — and that if we do so, the spread of the virus can be dramatically slowed, keeping the medical system from being overwhelming and preventing illness from spreading as widely as it otherwise would have. Many fewer people will die. But of course there are no control groups in life, no alternative timelines we might use to evaluate definitively the relative effectiveness of our actions. All we know is what happens in our world, and that is always a murky mixture of natural processes we only partially understand, chance occurrences we can't entirely control, and human agency and the often unintended consequences that follow from it. When confronting a menacing, highly contagious disease we have good reason to think has the potential to kill millions, it seems reasonable to take actions we hope will save lives. If we take those actions and the number of fatalities turns out to be lower than many widely publicized estimates, that might show that our efforts worked splendidly — maybe far better than we dared to dream when our policies were enacted. Congratulations are in order, as is gratitude for the knowledge and wisdom of the experts who guided the crafting and implemented the policies. This is what those hoping for a rebirth of respect for expertise are likely to conclude when they see that a leading model for predicting deaths during the pandemic has significantly changed its forecast to suggest 10,000-15,000 fewer people will die of COVID-19 over the next two months. (Webmaster's comment: The real guilty party is the President!)
4-8-20 Coronavirus: Wisconsin defies its own lockdown to vote
The US state of Wisconsin pressed ahead with an election on Tuesday, despite a state-wide stay-at-home order amid the escalating coronavirus outbreak. Voters braved long queues at a limited number of polling stations where some staff wore hazmat suits. The governor had tried to postpone the primary to June, but was blocked on Monday by the state Supreme Court. On the ballot were Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, who are both vying to be the Democratic presidential nominee. The eventual winner will challenge President Donald Trump, a Republican, in November. Local offices were also on the ballot, and a seat on the state's Supreme Court. Wisconsin is the first state in three weeks to hold a primary with in-person voting since stay-at-home orders swept the nation amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Badger state imposed its own lockdown on 25 March. All other states have postponed their primary season elections or moved entirely to postal votes while the country remains in the throes of its health emergency. Wisconsin has recorded more than 2,500 coronavirus cases and 92 deaths. On the eve of the election, Wisconsin's Supreme Court blocked Governor Tony Evers's last-minute executive order to suspend in-person voting. "No Wisconsinite should ever have to choose between exercising their constitutional right to vote and being safe, secure, and healthy," the governor said. But the Republican-controlled legislature immediately took Mr Evers - a Democrat - to the state Supreme Court, where conservatives hold a 4-2 majority. That same day, the US Supreme Court intervened, barring an extension of postal voting. Pollsters expected a lower turnout on Tuesday to benefit the conservative judicial candidate - who was endorsed by the president - for the state's highest court. At a White House briefing on Tuesday, President Trump said the Wisconsin Supreme Court had made the right decision to allow the state's primary election to go ahead. "Mail-in voting is horrible," he said. "It's corrupt." Webmaster's comment: Absolute Bullshit!)
4-8-20 Coronavirus warship row: Acting US Navy secretary resigns
The acting secretary of the US Navy has resigned amid uproar over his handling of a coronavirus outbreak on an aircraft carrier. Thomas Modly fired the USS Theodore Roosevelt's captain after he pleaded for help in a letter leaked to media. Mr Modly apologised on Monday after it emerged he had called Captain Brett Crozier's actions "naive" and "stupid". The secretary's exit comes a day after US President Donald Trump signalled he might get involved in the dispute. Defence secretary Mark Esper said Mr Modly had "resigned of his own accord". The Pentagon chief said the crew's health and safety were a priority for the department. Army Undersecretary James McPherson is expected to replace Mr Modly. Capt Crozier was fired last week, and footage of his crew sending him off the warship with applause went viral. Mr Modly flew 8,000 miles on Monday to the Pacific island of Guam, where the USS Theodore Roosevelt is docked, and berated the crew for having cheered the captain as he left the ship. Mr Modly told the crew what their former captain did "was very, very wrong" and amounted to "a betrayal of trust with me, with his chain of command", according to recordings leaked to US media. "If he didn't think that information was going to get out into the public... then he was a) too naive or too stupid to be the commanding officer of a ship like this," Mr Modly said. "The alternative is he did it on purpose." Amid rebukes from members of Congress, Mr Modly issued an apology the same day, saying: "I do not think Captain Brett Crozier is naive nor stupid. I think and always believed him to be the opposite." Capt Crozier sent a letter to defence officials on 30 March begging for assistance with a coronavirus outbreak on his vessel, which has more than 4,000 crew. "We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die," he wrote, requesting the quarantine of nearly the entire crew.
4-8-20 Coronavirus: Wuhan emerges from the harshest of lockdowns
For the first time in months, people have been allowed to leave the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus emerged before spreading across the world. The authorities have hailed this moment as a success - but residents had markedly different experiences of what is arguably the largest lockdown in human history. It took 76 days, but Wuhan's lockdown is now at an end. The highway tolls have reopened, and flights and train services are once again leaving the city. Residents - provided they're deemed virus free - can finally travel to other parts of China. "During the past two months, almost no-one was on the streets," delivery driver Jia Shengzhi tells me. "It made me feel sad." Wuhan has endured one of the most extensive and toughest set of quarantine restrictions on the planet. To begin with, people were allowed out to shop for food but by mid-February, nobody was allowed to leave their residential compounds. Delivery drivers became a vital lifeline. "We sometimes received phone calls from customers asking for help such as sending medicines to their ageing parents," Mr Jia says. As the head courier at one of e-commerce company JD.com's Wuhan delivery stations, he worried that such an order wouldn't reach the customer on time if sent via the normal method. "So, I rode on scooter, went to the pharmacy, picked up the medicine and took it to his father." It's a story of pulling together in a crisis that would be music to the ears of the Chinese authorities. But you don't have to look hard in Wuhan to find voices that are not quite so on message. "The cover-up by small group of Wuhan officials led to my father's death. I need an apology," Zhang Hai tells me, before adding: "And I need compensation." His 76-year-old father, Zhang Lifa, died of Covid-19 on 1 February, having contracted the virus in a Wuhan hospital during routine surgery for a broken leg. "I feel very angry about it," Mr Zhang says, "and I believe other victims' families are angry too." In the early days of the outbreak, officials silenced doctors in the city who voiced concerns about the spread of the virus. But Mr Zhang is particularly angry that, even today, the authorities still appear to be trying to mute criticism of their actions.
4-8-20 Coronavirus: 'Please learn from Wuhan's mistakes'
The Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus pandemic originated, is finally lifting its 11-week quarantine as infections and deaths have tailed off. As they emerge from their long lockdown, residents share the lessons they've learned from the outbreak, and offer encouraging words to the rest of the world.
4-8-20 Covid-19: We can ward off some of the negative impacts on children
Children will face many hidden negative effects from the new coronavirus, but it's not too late to avert them, says Paul Ramchandani. THE direct impact of covid-19 on children seems to be less severe than on adults, but indirect and hidden consequences will have a lasting effect. The choices we make now can stave off some of the worst of these. Across much of the world, schools are closed and families are largely restricted to their homes. The associated uncertainty and anxiety is a real concern, with disruptions to children’s education as well as to their time with friends, for exploration and play. These disruptions won’t be fairly shared out. Children from more prosperous homes will have more space, greater access to toys and learning opportunities, greater support from their schools and better access to resources on the internet. We must ensure that those who have the least in society don’t end up being more adversely affected. There are, and will continue to be, clear effects of the coronavirus on children’s education, social life and physical and mental health. For children in key development stages, such as the very young and those in adolescence, disruption of many months will have a larger impact on social development. These effects will be pernicious and sustained. Though they are hidden from view, we can act now to tackle them. There are many examples, but here are three. First, the very youngest children (including those yet to be born) are potentially the most vulnerable to family stress and anxiety. Effects on them may not be immediately apparent, but there is a large body of research showing that depression and anxiety in either parent is linked to a greater risk of mental health problems in children. This isn’t set in stone, so intervention and support now, such as psychological therapies for parents, would be transformative for many families. Second, confinement to home seems to lead to a rise in domestic violence. Children experiencing or witnessing violence in the home are at a much higher risk of psychological difficulties in their lives. Many local authority and school staff are doing an amazing job at supporting vulnerable children and families during the pandemic, but as schools close and home visits by health and social care staff are reduced, more children in this situation will go unheard and unnoticed. Third, and probably the largest in terms of children’s future health and opportunities, is the impact of an economic downturn. In the UK over the past decade, the burden of economic pain was felt widely, with a stalling of life expectancy. Policies enacted to tackle the recession had the greatest impact on families from the poorest communities, with 30 per cent of children living in poverty and a large and sustained increase in the number of families using food banks. The next economic shock may be larger, but choices can be made about how the challenge is shared. Children shouldn’t bear the brunt this time.
4-8-20 Coronavirus: EU top scientist forced out in political row
The president of the European Union's ERC scientific research council has resigned after three months in the job with an attack on the EU's scientific governance and political operations. Mauro Ferrari said he had lost faith in the system after he failed to set up a special programme to fight coronavirus. But the research council said later his resignation followed a written, unanimous vote of no confidence. It said it regretted Prof Ferrari's comments. "Since his appointment, Professor Ferrari displayed a lack of engagement with the ERC, failing to participate in many important meetings, spending extensive time in the USA and failing to defend the ERC's programme and mission when representing the ERC," it said in a statement. The EU's executive insisted it had the most comprehensive measures to combat the virus. One MEP had earlier been quoted accusing Prof Ferrari of taking a "window-dressing public relations stand". Mauro Ferrari is an Italian-American scientist known as a pioneer in the field of nanomedicine with decades of work in the US. When he took up the role as head of the European Research Council he stressed his commitment to serving society. In a statement to the Financial Times and Corriere della Sera in Italy, he spoke of his commitment to the "idealistic dream of a United Europe... crushed by a very different reality". As the tragedy of the pandemic became clear Prof Ferrari says he pushed for a special programme directed at combating Covid-19, with the world's best scientists having the resources to fight it with new drugs, vaccines, diagnostic tools and behavioural approaches based on sciences "to replace the oft-improvised intuitions of political leaders". His proposals were rejected unanimously, he said, by the council's governing body because the ERC funded "bottom-up" research proposed by scientists themselves and did not see the beneficial impact on society as a justification for funding.
4-7-20 Coronavirus latest: No new deaths in China and hopes of plateau in NYC
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. No new deaths in China and hope of a plateau in New York. China reported no new coronavirus deaths today for the first time since the outbreak started. Concerns remain about a second wave of infections being brought into China by people arriving from abroad. A total of 32 new cases were confirmed in China today, all of whom had arrived from other countries. There are hopes that the outbreak may be starting to plateau in New York. The state reported 599 deaths yesterday, on par with previous days. Over 4800 people have died of coronavirus in New York, nearly half the national death toll. The UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, spent the night in intensive care with covid-19, and is reported to be in a stable condition in hospital. Although he did receive oxygen support, he did not require ventilation, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said this morning. US president Donald Trump has said he asked US pharmaceutical companies working on experimental coronavirus drugs to approach Boris Johnson’s doctors and offer their help. People in Wisconsin are casting their votes in the Democratic presidential primary today, as well as electing a state supreme court judge. The state’s governor tried to call off the election because of the risk to public health, but his decision was overruled by the state supreme court. African-Americans may be disproportionately affected by covid-19, according to data from some states, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are not releasing data on race or ethnicity at a national level. Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe has declared a state of emergency in seven urban centres with high numbers of covid-19 cases, including Tokyo. The country reported seven more deaths yesterday, bringing the country’s total to 91.
4-7-20 When will lockdown end? Nations look for coronavirus exit strategies
There are three main strategies for leaving coronavirus lockdown, but each risks a dangerous second wave and further lockdowns if things don't go as planned. BANS, curfews and wide-reaching restrictions. For many people worldwide, severe limitations on daily life because of the coronavirus have become the new normal. But as we adjust to these measures, what prospect is there of returning to the old normal? What is the world’s exit strategy? If you are hoping for a return to your old life, there is good news and bad news: it will happen, but not necessarily soon. “It is absolutely the case that government advisers and researchers are considering the question of an exit strategy,” says epidemiologist Mark Woolhouse at the University of Edinburgh, UK. But what different nations’ exit strategies will look like, how long we will have to wait for them, and whether they will work, are all still up in the air. In addition to this, a lack of coordination at the international level could spell trouble when the time comes. The lockdowns that many nations are enduring are a short-term strategy to reduce the average number of subsequent infections each pan case causes, in order to stop the rate of infections increasing exponentially. This is known as “flattening the curve”. The approach is intended to prevent hospitals being overwhelmed, which should lessen the death count. It also buys time to develop new treatments and better understand the infection. Lockdown isn’t a long-term strategy, however. “We want to get out of lockdown because of all the damage it is doing to society as a whole, economically and psychologically,” says Woolhouse. But there is a risk to lifting restrictions that have successfully flattened the curve: the curve unflattens and the rate of infection returns to exponential growth. “We want to get out, but we don’t want the epidemic to take off again,” says Woolhouse. In other words, the two things we want to achieve – a flat curve and an end to lockdown – are incompatible. Devising an exit strategy, then, becomes a question of determining the best time to lift restrictions, and the action to take to keep infection rates under control.
4-7-20 Coronavirus wreaks havoc in African American neighbourhoods
Stark statistics from Chicago health officials have underscored the heavy toll of coronavirus on black Americans. Black Chicagoans account for half of all coronavirus cases in the city and more than 70% of deaths, despite making up 30% of the population. Other cities with large black populations, including Detroit, Milwaukee, New Orleans and New York, have become coronavirus hotspots. The US has recorded nearly 370,000 virus cases and almost 11,000 deaths. Globally there have been nearly 75,000 deaths and more than 1.3m cases total. As of 5 April, 1,824 out of Chicago's 4,680 confirmed Covid-19 cases were black residents, said city officials on Monday. That compared with 847 white, 478 Hispanic and 126 Asian Chicagoans. Chicago has seen a total of 98 deaths as of Sunday, with 72% of them black residents. The disparity is reflected across the state, where black people account for 41% of Covid-19 deaths, despite making up 14% of the population of Illinois. Chicago public health commissioner Dr Allison Arwady told reporters that black city residents already lived on average about 8.8 years less than their white counterparts. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the coronavirus was "devastating black Chicago". She said city inspectors would be sent into shops to ensure everyone was adhering to social distancing guidelines. Mayor Lightfoot also raised the possibility of curfews in areas where people gathered outside liquor stores, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. Though the coronavirus has been called the "great equalizer", data suggests that vulnerability to the infection may vary by neighbourhood. In Michigan, African Americans make up 14% of the population, but they account for 33% of the coronavirus cases and 41% of deaths, figures from the state health department showed on Monday. White residents account for about 23% of recorded cases in Michigan and 28% of deaths, according to the data.
4-7-20 Coronavirus: China reports no Covid-19 deaths for first time
China reported no coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, the first time since it started publishing daily figures in January. The National Health Commission said it had 32 confirmed cases, down from 39 on Monday. It comes as the government is under scrutiny as to whether it is underreporting its figures. The government says more than 3,331 people have died and 81,740 have been confirmed as infected. All of the confirmed cases on Tuesday had arrived from overseas. China is concerned a second wave of infections could be brought in by foreign arrivals. It has already shut its border to foreigners including those with visas or residence permits. International flights have been reduced with both Chinese and foreign airlines only allowed to operate one international flight a week. Flights must not be more than 75% full. On Wednesday, Wuhan is set to allow people to leave the city for the first time since the lockdown began in January. Officials say anyone who has a "green" code on a widely used smartphone health app will be allowed to leave the city. Some people in "epidemic-free" residential compounds have already been allowed to leave their homes for two hours. But Wuhan officials revoked the "epidemic-free" status in 45 compounds because of the emergence of asymptomatic cases and for other unspecified reasons. Asymptomatic refers to someone who is carrying the virus but experiencing no symptoms. China began reporting asymptomatic cases at the beginning of April. More than 1,033 asymptomatic patients are under medical observation. Hitting back at claims China was too slow to raise the alarm, the country's state media have published what they describe as a detailed timeline of its response and information sharing.
4-7-20 Hydroxychloroquine: The unproven 'corona drug' Trump is threatening India for
US President Donald Trump has said the US could "retaliate" if India does not release stocks of a drug he has called a "game-changer" in the fight against Covid-19. Mr Trump had called India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday, a day after the country banned the export of hydroxychloroquine, which it manufactures in large quantities. Local media said the government was "considering" Mr Trump's request and a decision is expected on Tuesday. The US President's comments, made at the White House press briefing on Monday, haven't gone down well with many in India, with critics pointing out that there was no need for him to be so abrasive when Mr Modi has already agreed to help. The two leaders are on friendly terms and Mr Trump had made a high-profile trip to India recently. But is India really in a position to help the US? And does hydroxychloroquine even work against the coronavirus? Hydroxychloroquine is very similar to Chloroquine, one of the oldest and best-known anti-malarial drugs. But the drug - which can also treat auto-immune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus - has also attracted attention over the past few decades as a potential antiviral agent. President Trump said that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had approved it for treating coronavirus, something the organization has denied. Mr Trump later said that it had been approved for "compassionate use" - which means a doctor can give a drug that is yet to be cleared by the government to a patient in a life-threatening condition. Doctors are able to prescribe chloroquine in these circumstances as it's a registered drug. Hydroxychloroquine could be bought over the counter and is fairly inexpensive. However, its purchase and use has been severely restricted ever since it was named as a possible treatment for Covid-19.
4-7-20 How the coronavirus led to the highest-ever spike in US gun sales
Americans grappling with the rapidly-spreading coronavirus purchased more guns last month than at any other point since the FBI began collecting data over 20 years ago. Why? With the death toll climbing every day and most of the country under some form of lockdown, many Americans seem to be turning to guns as part of their response. And it's not just about fears over social disorder, say experts. The FBI conducted 3.7m background checks in March 2020, the highest total since the instant background check programme began in 1998. The figure represents an increase of 1.1m over March 2019. On 21 March alone, 210,000 checks were done, the largest one-day record ever. According to US media, the FBI data indicates that over two million guns were purchased in March alone. Illinois led with nearly a half million sales, followed by Texas, Kentucky, Florida, and California. Gun shops across the country report that they are unable to re-stock shelves quickly enough to cope with the rush. The latest figure also tops the previous high of 3.3 million, which was set in December 2015 after the Obama administration raised the possibility of restricting assault rifles in the wake of a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. According to Georgia State University law school professor Timothy Lytton, an expert on the US gun industry, most new gun sales are being motivated by two factors that have been spurred on by the coronavirus crisis. The first is the concern that civil society - fire, police and health services - could be severely "eroded" someday, leading to a breakdown in law and order. In such a case, a gun can be viewed as a "self-help" survival tool, he says. The second reason is concerns over so-called big government infringing on American freedoms such as gun ownership, which is enshrined in the US constitution.
4-7-20 What America needs to do before lockdown can end
Other countries are starting to make plans, but the U.S. has a long way to go Most of the world outside the United States has reached the end of the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic. New confirmed infections and deaths have plateaued and are beginning to fall in some of the hardest-hit countries like Italy and Spain, and Germany is beginning to draw up plans for re-starting its economy. (It seems that only Brazil, with its crackpot far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, is failing as badly as the U.S., with perhaps the U.K. in a close second.) We're beginning to see a glimmering of what it will take to be able to restore some semblance of normal life. Countries will need to keep a "test and track" apparatus going, and they will need to be ready to reimpose lockdown measures on a moment's notice. Unfortunately, there is no sign whatsoever that the U.S. government is even thinking about what will be required, much less actually preparing to make it happen. The German plan will include "mandatory mask-wearing in public, limits on gatherings and the rapid tracing of infection chains," Reuters reports. The idea is to allow people to leave their homes, and use testing and tracking to "make it possible to track more than 80 percent of people with whom an infected person had contact within 24 hours of diagnosis." Anybody with the disease will be quarantined, along with anyone they had contact with. If all goes well, the rate of new infections will be low enough that the pandemic will eventually fizzle out. Now, this is a dangerous thing to attempt, because relaxing lockdown measures recreates the conditions that allowed the virus to spread in the first place. Even the Asian countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Korea which were able to initially squelch their outbreaks have been forced to reinstate controls when new small outbreaks were seeded by international travelers.
4-6-20 Coronavirus latest: US braces for 'peak death week'
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Daily death tolls decline in Europe’s worst-hit countries as US braces for “peak death week”. In Europe, Italy and Spain have the highest number of confirmed cases and deaths from covid-19, but infections appear to be slowing and the number of new deaths in both countries has been falling for several days in a row. The number of deaths in one day in Spain peaked on Thursday last week, when 950 people died; yesterday, the Spanish government reported 637 deaths. The number of deaths in Italy peaked with 919 deaths on 27 March, compared with 525 deaths reported yesterday. The lockdown measures in both countries have been extended, with restrictions in Spain set to last until at least 25 April. Silvio Brusaferro, head of Italy’s public health institute, says that the lockdown measures have led to a “significant slowdown in the spread” of the virus. The US, which is now the worst-affected country in the world, is bracing for “peak death week”, according to White House officials. US surgeon general, Jerome Adams, warned that this will be “the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans’ lives.” US president Donald Trump pointed to the signs of change in Europe as “the light at the end of the tunnel.” Some lockdown measures are gradually being lifted in Europe including in Austria which will start reopening non-essential shops, with strict hygiene measures, next week. The Czech government is also considering relaxing lockdown measures, with more shops allowed to reopen from 9 April. Danish prime minister Mette Frederikse, announced last week that restrictions in the country would gradually be lifted after Easter.
4-6-20 America's national priority should be a home coronavirus test
This is the terrible predicament we face as coronavirus cases worldwide top one million: In order to avoid getting infected, we have to stay at home in a mass lockdown. But if we don't go out, we won't develop the "herd immunity” — the critical mass of recovered and immune people — that can limit the virus' spread. That means the minute we unlock and venture out, we risk getting attacked again. So are we doomed to stay locked up — watching our economy go up in smoke — till a vaccine or treatment emerges, months, perhaps years, from now? Or is there a way out in the interim? There may be if mass home-testing kits become available soon. That will allow near-universal and repeat testing, point out Sweden-based molecular biologists Jussi Taipale and Sten Linnarsson, which will be a game changer. At this stage it's pretty clear to everyone but denialists that the COVID-19 coronavirus is not a hoax. Rather, it spreads at an exponential rate. In epidemiological parlance that means its spread rate — Ro, the number of people an infected person spreads in turn — is greater than one. Without intervention, in coronavirus' case, each infected person gives it to about two to four more people, each of whom gives it to two to four more till the vast chunk of the population is infected. This wouldn't be so bad if every coronavirus victim could just pop analgesics and recover. But that's not the case. Although most people do get better on their own, about 20 percent of diagnosed cases develop severe respiratory problems — breathing difficulty, pneumonia, and worse — and need hospital stays and even ICUs. No country has enough health-care infrastructure or medical professionals to deal with the surge of patients — not even the United States, as the horrific reports from swamped hospitals in New York City suggest. Worse, the more the disease spreads and overwhelms a country's treatment capacity, the more lethal it gets. (It's not a coincidence that coronavirus' crude case fatality rate — i.e. the number of infected people who die — is 1.4 percent for Germany and 1.67 percent for South Korea, both of whom managed to contain it early, compared to 9.3 percent for Spain and a jaw-dropping 12.2 percent for Italy, who didn't.) So the only way to avoid mass death is to stop mass infection.
4-6-20 Russian white supremacists are terrorists says Trump
US President Donald Trump has labelled a Russian nationalist group as a terrorist organisation. The announcement marks the first time the US government has applied the label to a white supremacist group. "These actions are unprecedented," said Nathan Sales, assistant secretary of State for counterterrorism on Monday. The Russian Imperialist Movement is believed to have offered military training to neo-Nazi fighters and aided election interference in the US. The group is also thought to have been involved in neo-Nazi bombings at several locations in Sweden in 2016 and 2017. The designation has been seen as an unusual move, as President Trump has previously been criticised for failure to do more about the threat of white supremacy. The terror designation gives the US government authority to block Americans from providing material support or engage in financial dealings with such groups. To receive such a designation, a group must be a foreign organisation and must engage in terrorist activity that threatens the security of US nationals or the national security of the US. The Treasury Department can block any American assets belonging to a named terrorist group, and its members can be prevented from entering the US. The label has been most frequently used for Islamist extremist groups. The Russian Imperial Movement is an ultra-nationalist paramilitary group based in St Petersburg, where it has a training camp, with alleged links to white supremacist organisations in the West. According to Swedish investigators, the group trained two of the three Swedish men convicted of bombings targeting a café and refugee centres in 2016, and a synagogue the following year. The group is not believed to be state-sponsored but Russian President Vladimir Putin has "tolerated" its activities, the New York Times reports. It supported the Kremlin after the 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula by recruiting fighters for the conflict.
4-6-20 Coronavirus: Trump voices hope for ‘levelling-off’ in US hotspots
President Donald Trump has expressed hope coronavirus cases were "levelling off" in US hotspots, saying he saw "light at the end of the tunnel". On Sunday, New York, the epicentre of the US outbreak, reported a drop in the number of new infections and deaths. Mr Trump described the dip as a "good sign", but warned of more deaths as the pandemic neared its "peak" in the US. "In the days ahead, America will endure the peak of this pandemic," Mr Trump said at his daily coronavirus briefing. He said more medical personnel and supplies, including masks and ventilators, would be sent to the states that are most in need of assistance. Deborah Birx, a member of the president's coronavirus task force, said the situation in Italy and Spain, where infections and deaths have fallen in recent days, was "giving us hope on what our future could be". "We're hopeful over the next week that we'll see a stabilisation of cases in these metropolitan areas where the outbreak began several weeks ago," Dr Birx said at the same news conference. Optimism from Dr Birx and Mr Trump contrasted with other leading US experts, including top advisor Dr Anthony Fauci, who earlier said the short-term outlook was "really bad". The US surgeon general, meanwhile, warned that this will be "the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans' lives". "This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment," Surgeon General Jerome Adams told Fox News on Sunday. The US has reported 337,274 confirmed infections and 9,619 deaths from Covid-19, by far the highest tally in the world. On Sunday, Governor Andrew Cuomo reported 594 new deaths giving an overall total of 4,159 deaths in New York, the state hit hardest by the coronavirus so far. He said there were now 122,000 New York residents who had been infected. But he added that nearly 75% of patients who have required hospitalisation had now been discharged.
4-6-20 Hydroxychloroquine: Can India help Trump with unproven 'corona drug'?
India is reportedly "considering" a request by Donald Trump to release stocks of a drug the US president has called a "game-changer" in the fight against Covid-19. Mr Trump called India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday, a day after the country banned the export of hydroxychloroquine, which it manufactures in large quantities. The two leaders are on friendly terms, and Mr Trump recently made a high-profile trip to India. But is India really in a position to help the US? And does hydroxychloroquine even work against the coronavirus? Hydroxychloroquine is very similar to Chloroquine, one of the oldest and best-known anti-malarial drugs. But the drug - which can also treat auto-immune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus - has also attracted attention over the past few decades as a potential antiviral agent. President Trump said that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had approved it for treating coronavirus, something the organization has denied. Mr Trump later said that it had been approved for "compassionate use" - which means a doctor can give a drug that is yet to be cleared by the government to a patient in a life-threatening condition. Doctors are able to prescribe chloroquine in these circumstances as it's a registered drug. Hydroxychloroquine could be bought over the counter and is fairly inexpensive. However, its purchase and use has been severely restricted ever since it was named as a possible treatment for Covid-19. On Saturday, India banned the export of the drug "without any exception". The order came even as the number of positive cases of Covid-19 spiked in the country. India has now recorded 3,666 active cases of the virus with more than 100 deaths, according to the latest data released by the ministry of health. But now it seems the government could be reconsidering this stance, possibly following Mr Trump's call to Mr Modi. Local media quoted government sources as saying that a decision on this could be taken as early as Tuesday after considering what domestic requirements could look like in the near future.
4-6-20 Trump is using the states as scapegoats for his coronavirus calamity
This isn't federalism, it's failure. One of defining features of President Trump's management of the COVID-19 outbreak has been his unprecedented willingness to shift the blame and responsibility to the states. Trump has suggested governors should act appreciative if they want the federal government's help, and said the states are the primary line of defense against the disease, while sitting back and watching as they bid against each other for lifesaving equipment. At his coronavirus press briefing Sunday, Trump managed — again — to pick a fight with a Democratic governor. The target this time was Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who has been vocal in his criticism of Trump's response to the coronavirus pandemic. Trump ticked off a list of federal actions in Illinois, while labeling Pritzker a "complainer" who is falling down on the job. There's a nickname for Trump's approach to letting the states fend for themselves: "Darwinian federalism." But that's not quite right. What Trump is doing isn't federalism, and it doesn't involve any coherent idea or philosophy about how government should work. This president doesn't have many firm ideological commitments beyond his own advancement and aggrandizement. Instead, we should understand that the president is doing what he always does when the nation starts to wise up to his failures: He is seeking a scapegoat. committed the national government to a few responsibilities — defending the country, governing interstate commerce — and left the rest up to the states. There was always some overlap, but the separation between those spheres became fuzzier as the government grew and expanded its reach, particularly during the New Deal era. Many conservatives have spent the last few decades hoping and working for a return to the good old days when the lines were sharper — and states had more power — but there isn't much evidence Trump embraced that philosophy.
4-5-20 Coronavirus: Trump predicts ‘a lot of death’ as cases pass 300,000
US President Donald Trump has warned Americans to prepare for the "toughest week" of the coronavirus pandemic yet, predicting a surge in deaths. At his daily briefing, Mr Trump said "there will be death" in a grim assessment of the days ahead. He sought to reassure the worst-hit states, promising medical supplies and military personnel to combat the virus. But in contrast to his warning, Mr Trump suggested easing social-distancing guidelines for Easter. "We have to open our country again," Mr Trump told a news conference at the White House on Saturday. "We don't want to be doing this for months and months and months." (Webmaster's comment: Trump is playing politics with our lives!) Mr Trump's calls to relax restrictions came on the day confirmed coronavirus infections in the US surpassed 300,000, the highest number in the world. As of Saturday, there were almost 8,500 deaths from Covid-19 in the US, with most in New York state. New York state recorded 630 more deaths, another daily record that takes its toll to 3,565. The state now has almost as many cases - more than 113,000 - as the whole of Italy, one of the countries worst-hit by coronavirus. President Trump gave a candid assessment of what lies ahead for the US in the coming weeks. "This will be probably the toughest week between this week and next week, and there will be a lot of death, unfortunately, but a lot less death than if this wasn't done," Mr Trump said. To support states, Mr Trump said his administration would be deploying a "tremendous amount of military, thousands of soldiers, medical workers, professionals". The military personnel will "soon" be advised of their assignments, he said, adding that "1,000 military personnel" were being deployed to New York City. Mr Trump also addressed his use of the Defence Production Act, a Korean-War-era law that gives him powers to control the production and supply of US-made medical products. He said he was "very disappointed" with 3M, a US company that makes face masks, saying it "should be taking care of our country" instead of selling to others. But he rejected accusations that the US had committed an act of "modern piracy" by redirecting 200,000 Germany-bound masks for its own use.
4-5-20 The race for a coronavirus vaccine
Researchers are working frantically on a shot that would immunize people against Covid-19. Why does it take so long? Here's everything you need to know:
- Is a vaccine close? Despite the global competition to develop a coronavirus vaccine, experts agree one won't be available for at least 12 to 18 months. The race kicked off Jan. 10, when Chinese scientists published the complete 30,000-letter genetic code of SARS-CoV-2, (Webmaster's comment: The Chinese in the lead again!) the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
- What's the holdup? Before injecting a vaccine into millions of people, scientists need to conduct tests to prove that it actually protects against a specific pathogen and doesn't have serious side effects. Under normal circumstances, a vaccine can take a decade to get FDA approval.
- How is a vaccine created? There are no existing vaccines for coronaviruses, but new technology is accelerating the process; three hours after China published the COVID-19 genome, Inovio Pharmaceuticals in San Diego used a computer algorithm to produce a vaccine blueprint.
- How long will testing take? Clinical trials usually occur in three phases. First, about 50 healthy human volunteers are paid $1,100 each to be injected with a candidate vaccine, and then monitored to see if they produce antibodies without unintended side effects. If that's successful, a few hundred people get the vaccine, and their immune response and side effects are carefully studied. In phase three, several thousand people are tested: Half get the vaccine, half get a placebo; if vaccinated subjects don't get sick or get sick at much lower rates, the vaccine is ready for FDA approval.
- What are the top contenders? Some of the most promising vaccines build on proven science. Janssen, the Belgian pharmaceutical subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, is developing a vaccine modeled on the successful vaccine for Ebola. Inovio, the San Diego–based company, and Maryland-based Novavax are modeling vaccines on candidates in advanced trials for MERS, a coronavirus disease similar to COVID-19. In China, 1,000 scientists are working on a vaccine and launching more than 200 clinical trials to test everything from anti-flu drugs to ancient Chinese herbal medicine. (Webmaster's comment: My money is on them finding a vaccine first!)
- What's a realistic timeline? There are dozens of vaccines in the pipeline, but COVID-19 cases are expected to peak in the U.S. months before any of them is approved. Scientists raced to find vaccines for SARS, in the early 2000s, and MERS, in 2012, only to shelve their work when those outbreaks were contained.
- Promising treatments: A treatment that lessens the impact of COVID-19 is expected to come before a vaccine, but doctors on the front lines warn against high hopes. "We have no idea what works or does not at this point," says Andre Kalil, an infectious-disease physician at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Kalil is leading U.S. clinical trials for one of the most promising treatments, the antiviral drug remdesivir, which was developed for Ebola.
4-5-20 Coronavirus: Scientists brand 5G claims 'complete rubbish'
Conspiracy theories claiming 5G technology helps transmit coronavirus have been condemned by the scientific community. Videos have been shared on social media showing mobile phone masts on fire in Birmingham and Merseyside - along with the claims. The posts have been shared on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram - including by verified accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers. But scientists say the idea of a connection between Covid-19 and 5G is "complete rubbish" and biologically impossible. The conspiracy theories have been branded "the worst kind of fake news" by NHS England Medical Director Stephen Powis. Many of those sharing the post are pushing a conspiracy theory falsely claiming that 5G - which is used in mobile phone networks and relies on signals carried by radio waves - is somehow responsible for coronavirus. These theories appear to have first emerged via Facebook posts in late January, around the same time the first cases were recorded in the US. They appear to fall broadly in to two camps: One claims 5G can suppress the immune system, thus making people more susceptible to catching the virus. The other suggests the virus can somehow be transmitted through the use of 5G technology. Both these notions are "complete rubbish," says Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading. "The idea that 5G lowers your immune system doesn't stand up to scrutiny," Dr Clarke says. "Your immune system can be dipped by all sorts of thing - by being tired one day, or not having a good diet. Those fluctuations aren't huge but can make you more susceptible to catching viruses." While very strong radio waves can cause heating, 5G is nowhere near strong enough to heat people up enough to have any meaningful effect. "Radio waves can disrupt your physiology as they heat you up, meaning your immune system can't function. But [the energy levels from] 5G radio waves are tiny and they are nowhere near strong enough to affect the immune system. There have been lots of studies on this."
4-4-20 Coronavirus: Trump to defy 'voluntary' advice for Americans to wear masks
US President Donald Trump has said he will not wear a face mask despite new medical guidance advising Americans to do so. He could not see himself greeting "presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens" in the Oval Office while wearing one, he said. He stressed that the guidance released on Friday was "voluntary". "You do not have to do it," he said. "I don't think I'm going to be doing it." The guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the government's public health advisory agency, came as the US reported more than 1,100 deaths in a single day - the highest total for a 24-hour period anywhere in the world. The US has so far confirmed 278,458 cases of Covid-19 and more than 7,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. New York state remains the worst affected area, with nearly 3,000 deaths, and state governor Andrew Cuomo has appealed for help from other parts of the country. Until now, US health authorities had said that only the sick, or those caring for patients of coronavirus, should wear masks, but newer studies suggest that covering up one's face is important to prevent inadvertent transmission. "From recent studies we know that the transmission from individuals without symptoms is playing a more significant role in the spread of the virus than previously understood," Mr Trump said on Friday. However, he told reporters after announcing the CDC's new guidance: "I just don't want to do it myself." "Sitting in the Oval Office... I somehow don't see it for myself." Americans are now advised to use clean cloth or fabric to cover their faces whilst in public. Officials have stressed that medical masks remain in short supply, and should be left for healthcare workers. The guidance comes as the number of cases globally climbs past one million.
4-4-20 Coronavirus: US accused of ‘piracy’ over mask ‘confiscation’
The US has been accused of redirecting 200,000 Germany-bound masks for its own use, in a move condemned as "modern piracy". The local government in Berlin said the shipment of US-made masks was "confiscated" in Bangkok. The FFP2 masks, which were ordered by Berlin's police force, did not reach their destination, it said. Andreas Geisel, Berlin's interior minister, said the masks were presumably diverted to the US. The US company that makes the masks, 3M, has been prohibited from exporting its medical products to other countries under a Korean-War-era law invoked by President Donald Trump. On Friday, Mr Trump said he was using the Defence Production Act to demand that US firms provide more medical supplies to meet domestic demand. "We need these items immediately for domestic use. We have to have them," Mr Trump said at the daily Coronavirus Task Force briefing at the White House. He said US authorities had taken custody of nearly 200,000 N95 respirators, 130,000 surgical masks and 600,000 gloves. He did not say where they were taken into US hands. Mr Geisel said the diversion of masks from Berlin amounted to an "act of modern piracy", urging the Trump administration to adhere to international trading rules. "This is not how you deal with transatlantic partners," the minister said. "Even in times of global crisis, there should be no wild-west methods." Mr Geisel's comments echo the sentiments of other European officials, who have complained about the buying and diversion practices of the US. In France, for example, regional leaders say they are struggling to secure medical supplies as American buyers outbid them. The president of the Île-de-France region, Valérie Pécresse, compared the scramble for masks to a "treasure hunt". "I found a stock of masks that was available and Americans - I'm not talking about the American government - but Americans, outbid us," Ms Pécresse said. "They offered three times the price and they proposed to pay up-front." As the coronavirus pandemic worsens, demand for crucial medical supplies, such as masks and respirators, has surged worldwide.
4-4-20 Coronavirus: New York forced to redistribute ventilators
Ventilators will be taken from certain New York hospitals and redistributed to the worst-hit parts of the state under an order to be signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo. New York saw its highest single-day increase in deaths, up by 562 to 2,935 - nearly half of all virus-related US deaths recorded yesterday. The White House may advise those in virus hotspots to wear face coverings in public to help stem the spread. The US now has 245,658 Covid-19 cases. A shortage of several hundred ventilators in New York City, the epicentre of the outbreak in the US, prompted Mr Cuomo to say that he will order the machines be taken from various parts of the state and give them to harder-hit areas. Amid a deepening crisis, top health official Dr Anthony Fauci has said he believes all states should issue stay-at-home orders. "I don't understand why that's not happening," Dr Fauci told CNN on Thursday. "If you look at what's going on in this country, I just don't understand why we're not doing that." "You've got to put your foot on the accelerator to bring that number down," he added, referring to infection and death rates. The comments from Dr Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, appeared to contradict those of President Trump, who has consistently dismissed the notion of a nationwide lockdown. "It's awfully tough to say, 'close it down.' We have to have a little bit of flexibility," Mr Trump said on Wednesday. New York state remains the epicentre of the US coronavirus outbreak with at least 102,863 positive cases. The more than 500 person spike in deaths state-wide over the past day is more than half of that reported in a single day in both Spain and Italy, the countries with greatest fatalities. New York City is the worst-hit area of the state, with 1,562 deaths, Johns Hopkins University reports.Mr Cuomo warned on Friday that people would die unnecessarily because of a lack of equipment in the areas most devastated by the outbreak.
4-4-20 Michael Atkinson: Trump fires intelligence chief involved in impeachment
US President Donald Trump has fired a senior official who first alerted Congress to a whistleblower complaint that led to his impeachment trial. Mr Trump said he no longer had confidence in Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community. Democrats said the president was settling scores during a national emergency caused by the coronavirus. They also accused him of trying to undermine the intelligence community. Last year, Mr Atkinson informed Congress of the complaint that President Trump had allegedly abused his office by pressuring Ukraine to open an investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son. In letters to Congress, Mr Atkinson described the complaint as "urgent" and "credible". The Democratic-majority House of Representatives voted to impeach the president, but a trial in the Republican-led Senate later acquitted him of all charges. On Friday, Mr Trump notified Congress that Mr Atkinson would be removed from his post within 30 days. Sources told the Associated Press the official had been placed on administrative leave and would not serve out his 30 days. "It is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as inspectors general," Mr Trump wrote. "This is no longer the case with regard to this inspector general." He said he would name a successor "at a later date". Officials quoted by Reuters said Thomas Monheim, a career intelligence professional, would serve as acting inspector general in the meantime. Democrats reacted angrily to the move. "In the midst of a national emergency, it is unconscionable that the president is once again attempting to undermine the integrity of the intelligence community by firing yet another intelligence official simply for doing his job," said Senator Mark Warner, the most senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
4-3-20 Coronavirus: US 'wants 3M to end mask exports to Canada and Latin America'
A major US mask manufacturer, 3M, says the government has asked it to stop exporting US-made N95 respirator masks to Canada and Latin America. The request had "significant humanitarian implications", it warned, and could prompt other countries to act in kind. On Thursday, the US invoked the Korean War-era Defence Production Act to demand that 3M provide more masks. Canada's prime minister said stopping 3M's exports would be a "mistake". President Donald Trump said he had used the Defence Production Act to "hit 3M hard", without providing additional details. The law dates back to 1950 and allows a president to force companies to make products for national defence. In a statement on Friday, 3M said the government had invoked the act "to require 3M to prioritise orders from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) for our N95 respirators", and had also requested that 3M import more respirators made in its overseas factories into the US. It said it supported both moves. However, 3M added that the government also requested that it stop exporting respirators made in the US to Canada and Latin America. "There are significant humanitarian implications of ceasing respirator supplies to healthcare workers in Canada and Latin America, where we are a critical supplier of respirators," it said. 3M added that such a move "would likely cause other countries to retaliate and do the same", which would lead to the overall number of respirators being made available to the US decreasing. The company says it manufactures about 100 million N95 masks per month - about a third are made in the US, and the rest produced overseas. The Trump administration has not provided details on its communications with 3M. On Thursday night, Mr Trump tweeted: "We hit 3M hard today after seeing what they were doing with their masks... Big surprise to many in government as to what they were doing - will have a big price to pay!" Meanwhile, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said on Thursday: "We've had issues making sure that all of the production that 3M does around the world, enough of it is coming back here."
4-3-20 COVID-19 Effects at Workplaces Accelerate
Thursday's record unemployment figures from the U.S. Department of Labor revealed the harsh reality that roughly 10 million Americans filed for unemployment in the last two weeks of March. With the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging U.S. businesses, Gallup's latest data show that U.S. workers are increasingly seeing the effects at their workplaces. In polling conducted March 30-April 2, U.S. workers are more likely to report that their employers have frozen hiring (40%) and cut hours or shifts (33%) than that they have cut jobs (13%). Between March 24 and April 2, workers' reports of hiring freezes at their places of employment rose seven percentage points, and those seeing cuts to hours increased six points. Nearly four in five workers say the coronavirus is having a negative effect on their workplace, including 24% who say it is very and 53% somewhat negative. Fourteen percent say it is not having any effect and 9% say it is having a somewhat or very positive effect.
4-3-20 Coronavirus latest: US hospitals come under increasing strain
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Coronavirus cases and deaths have begun to plateau in some European countries, including Italy and Spain, although cases and deaths continue to accelerate in the UK and the US. More people in the UK have died with coronavirus than in China, according to today’s figures from Johns Hopkins University. In the US hospitals across the country are coming under increasing strain. In Louisiana, the death toll is mounting and there are concerns that the state could run out of hospital beds. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered the National Guard to seize and redistribute any ventilators and personal protective equipment from facilities in the state. Florida has issued a stay-at-home order – over the past week cases in the state have been growing by hundreds daily. There have now been more than one million confirmed coronavirus cases diagnosed across the globe, though the true number of cases will be much higher. More than 55,000 people have died from covid-19. UK health secretary, Matt Hancock, has pledged to have 100,000 people in England tested per day by the end of the month, following criticism of the UK’s coronavirus testing strategy. Last month, Boris Johnson promised to move up to 25,000 tests a day with a goal of 250,000, but the UK is still only carrying out around 10,000 coronavirus tests per day. The new testing target for England includes the introduction of antibody tests, to check whether people have already had the virus, in addition to the existing swab tests, which determine whether a person is currently infected. Antibody tests are still being validated and the government says they won’t roll them out if they aren’t effective. Following widespread debate over whether people should wear masks in public spaces, a new study has found that surgical face masks could prevent people with symptoms from spreading seasonal human coronaviruses and influenza viruses. It is not yet clear whether these findings could be extended to more severe coronaviruses, such as the covid-19 virus, as the study did not include any participants with covid-19, SARS or MERS.
4-3-20 Coronavirus: US Navy removes Captain Brett Crozier who raised alarm
The commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt has been removed after saying the US Navy was not doing enough to halt a coronavirus outbreak on board the aircraft carrier. In a letter, Capt Brett Crozier had urged his superiors to act to prevent US troops dying outside of wartime. But acting US Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said the commander "exercised extremely poor judgement". At least 100 people aboard the vessel have been infected, reports say. On Thursday, Mr Modly told reporters that Capt Crozier was being fired for allegedly leaking the letter to the media. He said the letter "created the impression the Navy was not responding to his questions". "It creates the perception the Navy is not on the job; the government is not on the job. That's just not true." Uninfected members of the ship's more than 4,000 crew are now being quarantined in Guam after the governor of the US island territory in the western Pacific Ocean said they could stay as long as they had no interactions with locals. Until now, the sailors had been restricted to the naval base’s pier. He had warned the Pentagon that the outbreak aboard his ship was “accelerating” because crew members were living in confined spaces. "We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die," stated the four-page letter, dated 30 March. Capt Crozier had called for "decisive action", saying uninfected sailors had to be removed from the ship and isolated. The letter was later published by the San Francisco Chronicle. In a statement, Democratic leaders of the House Armed Services Committee said: "While Captain Crozier clearly went outside the chain of command, his dismissal at this critical moment... is a destabilising move that will likely put our service members at greater risk and jeopardise our fleet's readiness." "Throwing the commanding officer overboard without a thorough investigation is not going to solve the growing crisis aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt."
4-3-20 Donald Trump is playing with revolutionary fire
The American military is suffering from the novel coronavirus pandemic. At time of writing over 1,600 Department of Defense staff have tested positive, including a major outbreak on the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, where over 100 sailors out of a crew of over 4,000 have been infected. The lack of proper quarantine facilities onboard prompted the ship's Captain Brett Crozier to plead for help in a letter to his superiors which was later obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle. "Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors," he wrote. The Roosevelt was eventually docked in Guam and evacuated. But Crozier has now been relieved of his command. Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly said Crozier showed "extremely poor judgment" in creating a "firestorm." Translation: He embarrassed President Trump, who has installed toadies like Modly in a number of senior military leadership positions. As Crozier departed the Roosevelt, the remaining crew sent him off to wild cheers. "One of the greatest captains you ever had … the man for the people," said one sailor. Such a sight ought to freeze the blood of any American politician. Historically, treating the armed forces with gratuitous contempt runs a serious risk of mutinies or revolution. He surely does not know it, but Trump is playing with fire. In his history of the Russian Revolution, Leon Trotsky wrote that the state's grip on the armed forces was one deciding factor in any potential revolution. "Against a numerous, disciplined, well-armed and ably led military force, unarmed or almost unarmed masses of the people cannot possibly gain a victory." The ground for revolt in 1917 was only laid because disgruntled soldiers disgusted by Tsar Nicholas II's appalling performance in the First World War turned against the regime. That followed an example set in the quasi-revolution of 1905, when the crew of the Russian battleship Potemkin famously mutinied after their captain murdered a sailor for complaining about being fed rancid meat.
4-3-20 Coronavirus will play out very differently in world's poorest nations
The new coronavirus may prove disastrous for the world’s poorest people, including those living in slums and refugee camps. Cases were slower to appear in developing economies, but almost nowhere has escaped the pandemic. Pakistan has been the worst hit country in south Asia, with 2291 cases and troops deployed across cities to enforce a national lockdown. Elsewhere, Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, has reported 16 cases. In Africa, most cases have been in relatively affluent South Africa and Egypt, but other countries are seeing rises too. Burkina Faso now has more than 250 cases, Senegal 190 and Ghana 195. Across the continent, there are now more than 7000 cases. The impact of the virus in many developing economies is likely to be very different to rich ones such as the UK, says Azra Ghani at Imperial College London. Demographics are one big difference. The world’s poorest typically live in households containing more people, with all generations living together in daily contact, in contrast to countries like the UK where older people are effectively already socially distanced from younger ones. As a result, infections are likely to be spread more evenly across all age groups. “That in a sense makes everybody more at risk,” says Ghani. However, as covid-19 seems to hit older people hardest and developing economies have much younger populations, death rates may be lower, she says. “We’d expect more infections in low-income settings but there’d be less severe cases.” Most of the data we have on the virus is coming from countries like China, Italy and the US. That means we simply don’t know how much the mitigating effect of a younger population in developing economies will be offset by populations being more malnourished and already coping with other diseases, such as malaria, HIV and TB, says Ghani. In Africa, testing rates are rising and are now in the tens of thousands, says Kevin Marsh at the African Academy of Sciences, up from around 400 three weeks ago. But he says data is generally scarce.
4-3-20 The looming collapse of private health insurance
The unemployment surge caused by coronavirus is an existential threat to the American system of health coverage. he week ending on March 21 had the greatest explosion of new unemployment claims in American history, with 3.3 million people filing for benefits — surpassing the previous weekly record by a factor of nearly five. Now we have data for the week ending March 28, which more than doubled the prior week's record. Given struggling state enrollment programs and other factors, the real damage was surely worse than that. Well over 10 million people have lost their jobs in just two weeks, and a lot more will soon. A Federal Reserve economist estimated America could be seeing over 30 percent unemployment in a few months — more than the nadir of the Great Depression. Thanks to America's uniquely boneheaded insistence on tying health insurance to employment, a great many of these people also suddenly find themselves without health coverage — one of several ways the novel coronavirus pandemic is hammering the insurance system. But the problem will also affect more than those who have lost their jobs. If Congress doesn't do something very big — like throwing every American onto the military's Tricare program — the system is in very real danger of collapsing altogether. Before the crisis hit, about half of Americans got their insurance through their job. Now, maybe a third of those people will lose their coverage. It turns out, contrary to the argument from moderate Democrats that the current system allows people to keep their insurance if they like it, in fact people have no such choice. Even during normal times, millions of people lose their employer-based coverage every month. Now perhaps 50 million people are about to learn all at the same time how little choice they actually have. Now, there are a couple fallback systems for unemployed folks — namely, COBRA, the ObamaCare exchanges, and Medicaid. But all have serious problems. COBRA (named after a 1986 law) allows you to continue the same employer-based coverage as before, but because your employer is no longer chipping in, it typically costs 3-4 times as much in premiums as before. Most people are unlikely to be able to swallow such an enormous expense just after they lost their job.
4-3-20 Coronavirus halts a decade of US jobs growth
A decade of jobs growth in the US came to an abrupt halt in March as employers shed 701,000 jobs amid the coronavirus outbreak. The unemployment rate rose to 4.4% in the biggest one-month jump since 1975, according to new data from the US Department of Labor. The leisure and hospitality industries accounted for more than half the cuts. The losses - greater than expected - are believed to now be worse since the data was collected early in the month. Since then, cases of coronavirus have jumped to more than 245,000 and a majority of states have put lockdown measures in place, forcing most businesses to close. State filings show about 10 million people have registered for unemployment benefits in the last two weeks - record figures that far eclipse previous highs. "It's clear that the pandemic is already having a more significant impact on the labour market than most had expected even a week ago," said Andrew Hunter, senior US economist at Capital Economics. The US had logged job gains every month since September 2010, amid a slow but steady recovery from the 2008 financial crisis. The 3.5% unemployment rate in February was hovering near historic lows. The country is now facing the possibility of its largest contraction on record, said Beth Ann Bovino, chief economist at S&P Global. About 1.8 million people told the Labor Department that they were on "temporary layoff" last month - more than double the number in February. The agency warned that the true figures were likely even higher, since some firms may have misclassified the status of their staff. While restaurants and bars - which were among the earliest hit by coronavirus lockdowns - accounted for the majority of losses last month, the cuts started to affect other industries, including retail, construction and other services, like laundry and childcare. Even the healthcare sector lost jobs as dentists and physicians shut their doors. The number of people forced to work part-time surged and the rate of participation in the workforce - those working or looking for work - dropped to 62.7%. About a quarter of small businesses are two months or less away from permanent closure, according to a survey by the Chamber of Commerce.
4-3-20 South Africa's ruthlessly efficient fight against coronavirus
One week into South Africa's nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and it is tempting - dangerously tempting - to breathe a sigh of relief. One week into South Africa's nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and it is tempting - dangerously tempting - to breathe a sigh of relief. South Africa seems to have acted faster, more efficiently, and more ruthlessly than many other countries around the world. Heading the fight here against Covid-19, President Cyril Ramaphosa has emerged as a formidable leader - composed, compassionate, but seized by the urgency of the moment and wasting no time in imposing tough restrictive steps and galvanising crucial support from the private sector. And one rung below the president, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has likewise garnered near universal praise for his no-nonsense, energetic performance, and his sober, deeply knowledgeable, daily briefings. Of course, there have been mistakes, and worse. The police and army have, at times, acted with thuggish abandon in their attempts to enforce the three-week-long lockdown, humiliating, beating, and even shooting civilians on the streets of the commercial capital, Johannesburg, and elsewhere. There has been confusion about some of the regulations, clumsy messaging and U-turns from some of the country's less impressive ministers. Above all, there has been the struggle to impose social distancing and effective hygiene in South Africa's poorest, most crowded neighbourhoods, where many fear the virus could yet wreak havoc. But overall, as South Africans mark their first week under one of the strictest lockdowns introduced anywhere in the world - no jogging outside, no sales of alcohol or cigarettes, no dog-walking, no leaving home except for essential trips and prison or heavy fines for law-breaking - there is an argument to be made that a government so often attacked as corrupt and inefficient, and a private sector so often seen as aloof and greedy, are rising to meet what is widely anticipated to be the greatest challenge this young democracy has ever seen. It is fitting that the man now loudly warning the nation against any hint of complacency - indeed about the profound dangers of such complacency - is the health minister himself.
4-3-20 How Trump's attitude toward coronavirus has shifted
President Trump's attitude towards coronavirus has shifted. He has changed his views on social distancing, willingness to compare Covid-19 to the flu, and message around when the pandemic will end.
4-3-20 Coronavirus: Europe's care homes struggle as deaths rise
As nursing and care homes across Europe battle to stop the spread of Covid-19 among the elderly, France has revealed 884 residents have succumbed to the virus since the epidemic began. Alarming cases have emerged in the Spanish capital Madrid, with reports of dozens of deaths in two nursing homes. Residents were taken to hospital in the Italian city of Naples after a care home outbreak claimed several lives. Cases have also been reported in 100 care homes around the Swedish capital. Although authorities in the Stockholm region have not given figures, public broadcaster SVT says more than 400 people have been infected and about 50 have died. For some time, French health officials have made clear the number of cases and fatalities they report every evening does not include nursing and care homes. Late on Thursday, a top health official revealed that at least 884 people in such homes had died since the start of the pandemic, on top of the 4,503 fatalities across France. Even that figure was incomplete, said Jérôme Salomon, as not all homes had passed on details. The area worst affected is the Grand Est region near the German border, where two-thirds of care homes have been caught up in the pandemic. Regional health agency ARS says 570 elderly residents have died in the Grand Est. While it is unclear how many deaths were caused by coronavirus or if it is was a contributing factor, one care home director in the Bas Rhin area told French TV that he would normally see 10 deaths a year, and he had seen five in March alone. In Spain, where 10,905 people have died in the pandemic, the Madrid region has been worst affected with 4,483 deaths. The president of the Madrid region, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, estimates that 3,000 people died in care homes in March and says that figure is 2,000 higher than normal. Care homes have seen appalling outbreaks leading to a collapse in staffing. Last month the military was called in to help at retirement homes and found elderly patients abandoned and, in some cases, dead in their beds. In two facilities alone there are reports of almost 90 deaths linked to the crisis.
4-3-20 Coronavirus: US set to recommend wearing of masks
The White House is expected to advise Americans in coronavirus hotspots to wear cloth masks or scarves in public to help stop the virus spread. President Donald Trump said such an advisory would not be mandatory. Residents of New York, the epicentre of the US outbreak, have already been urged to cover their faces in public. Top health official Dr Anthony Fauci has said he believed all states should issue stay-at-home orders, as the US death toll passed 6,000. "I don't understand why that's not happening," Dr Fauci told CNN late on Thursday. "If you look at what's going on in this country, I just don't understand why we're not doing that." "You've got to put your foot on the accelerator to bring that number down," he added, referring to infection and death rates. The comments from Dr Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, appeared to contradict those of Mr Trump, who has consistently dismissed the notion of a nationwide lockdown. "It's awfully tough to say, 'close it down.' We have to have a little bit of flexibility," Mr Trump said on Wednesday. New York City is the worst-hit area, with 1,562 deaths in the pandemic, Johns Hopkins University reports. Both the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are reassessing their guidance on face masks, as experts race to find ways to fight the highly contagious virus. Covid-19 is carried in airborne droplets from people coughing or sneezing, but there is some dispute over how far people should distance themselves from each other, and whether masks are useful when used by the public. The WHO advises that ordinary face masks are only effective if combined with careful hand-washing and social-distancing, and so far it does not recommend them generally for healthy people. However, more and more health experts now say there are benefits. They argue that the public use of masks can primarily help by preventing asymptomatic patients - people who have been infected with Covid-19 but are not aware, and not displaying any symptoms - from unknowingly spreading the virus to others. Masks may also help lower the risk of individuals catching the virus through the droplets from another person's sneeze or a cough - and people can be taught how put masks on and take them off correctly, they argue.
4-2-20 Coronavirus: The young doctors being asked to play god
When the tannoy blasts out a "Team 700" alert at Elmhurst hospital in Queens in New York City it is because a "crash" team is needed immediately. Someone is going into cardiac arrest. In normal times that would happen maybe once a week. Yesterday, during the course of one 12-hour shift, there was a Team 700 announcement nine times. Not one of the patients survived, according to the young doctor I spoke to. She is one of the residents in emergency medicine, and nothing in her training could have prepared her for the harrowing scenes she is witnessing on a daily basis at the epicentre of the epicentre of this outbreak. The hospital, which has a capacity of 282 beds, is now housing over 500 patients, according to the latest email sent round by the hospital administrators. And though it has not been declared as such, it is the first Covid-19 hospital in the country. Yes, the ER still functions - but all other patients who were admitted have been moved out. Only those who are gasping for breath are given beds. In the initial stages of the outbreak, it was the worried well who would be turning up in this poor neighbourhood, Elmhurst. Now everyone is sick. Really sick. Half of the patients are undocumented, and don't speak English - they work in restaurants and are hotel chambermaids. They are not "plugged in". The calls for social distancing have passed them by. And this medic, in her early 30s, tells me the stress is intense. Nearly everyone who arrives at the ER needs to be intubated and put on a ventilator. That would normally be a job done in the Intensive Care Unit. But they are overloaded. These people need "pressors" - meds that will keep blood pressure up. And that is a job normally done by specialist nurses. But there aren't the nurses to do it. So people who are untrained are having to do it. "How can I not worry when there are patients not getting the care that they need?" And she says it is not just the old who are falling prey to this. "There are patients in their 30s and 40s with no pre-existing conditions. Equally, we had a 90-year old man the other day who was brought to the ER after he had fallen at home. He had a broken leg - but he also tested positive for coronavirus - even though he was exhibiting no symptoms." It is a confounding virus, is Covid-19.
4-2-20 Coronavirus: China wildlife trade ban could become law within months
China’s ban on eating and trading wildlife due to the coronavirus crisis could become law within the next three months, according to conservationists – and unlike past efforts, it may end up being permanent. The country’s ruling body declared in late February that it was forbidden to eat wildlife, after evidence pointed to a wet market in Wuhan as the possible point where covid-19 spilled over from animals to humans – though that origin has now been questioned. In the past, similar bans around the world have faded away after an epidemic has blown over. However, Aili Kang at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) says conversations with partners in China lead her to believe the country will introduce legislation within a few months. That is crucial and would mark a big difference to wildlife trade bans after the 2003 SARS epidemic, when there was no change in legislation. “If it’s not into the law it won’t be permanent. If it is into the law, it will be further force for enforcement and provide a legal foundation for government to further educate people and alert people to change their behaviour,” she says. A law would mean the ban would likely stay in place for at least a decade, she adds, rather than be dropped under pressure. Kang says there is evidence authorities are taking the issue seriously, with 10 Chinese provinces conducting operations on captive breeding farms, restaurants and markets since the ban was announced. Even if China’s ban does last and is enforced, one concern is the problem simply gets moved to other countries. “If one country like China bans you have the risk of leakage of the trade to neighbouring countries. It has to be a ban not just a ban by a single country but a ban regionally and ultimately worldwide,” says Russ Mittermeier at WCS. German environment minister Svenja Schulze said it will be important to understand the links between environmental damage and the coronavirus. “Science tells us that the destruction of ecosystems makes disease outbreaks including pandemics more likely. This indicates that the destruction of nature is the underlying crisis behind the coronavirus crisis,” she said in a statement.
4-2-20 ‘Deep concern’ over coronavirus emergency powers
A group of 13 EU member states have said they are “deeply concerned” about the use of emergency measures to tackle the coronavirus outbreak. It was legitimate to use “extraordinary measures”, they said, but some powers could threaten “democracy and fundamental rights”. Earlier this week Hungary’s parliament granted Prime Minister Viktor Orban sweeping new powers. Other states are considering similar measures. Europe has been hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 30,000 fatalities. Spain has seen 10,000 deaths and Italy more than 13,000, and the numbers are rising across the continent, with daily records reported in France and the UK. Governments across the continent have imposed severe restrictions on movement in a bid to contain the spread. But there are fears some leaders and parties are using the pandemic as an excuse to tighten control over their countries. The statement was issued on Wednesday by Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok posted a link to the statement on Twitter. “The rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights must remain strong principles of our societies, also in times of coronavirus,” he wrote. The statement was issued on Wednesday by Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok posted a link to the statement on Twitter. “The rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights must remain strong principles of our societies, also in times of coronavirus,” he wrote. Though no one country is specifically mentioned, it comes just two days after Hungary’s parliament gave the government powers to rule by decree. The law has no time limit. (Webmaster's comment: Authoritarian leaders will take this opportunity to grant themselves dictatorial powers just like Hitler did!)
4-2-20 Coronavirus: US jobless claims hit 6.6 million as virus spreads
The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits has hit a record high for the second week in a row as the economic toll tied to the coronavirus intensifies. More than 6.6 million people filed jobless claims in the week ended 28 March, the Department of Labor said. That is nearly double the week earlier, which was also a new record. The deepening economic crisis comes as the number of cases in the US soars to more than 216,000. With the death toll rising to more than 5,000, the White House recently said it would retain restrictions on activity to try to curb the outbreak. Analysts at Bank of America warned that the US could see "the deepest recession on record" amid forecasts that the unemployment rate could hit more than 15%. The outlook is a stark reversal for the world's biggest economy where the unemployment rate had been hovering around 3.5%. However, more than 80% of Americans are now under some form of lockdown, which has forced the closure of most businesses. This is the highest number of new unemployment claims in US history. But what is so terrifying is not just the magnitude but also the speed with which American firms have shed workers. Roughly 10 million Americans lost their jobs in just the last two weeks. To put that in context, 9 million jobs were lost in the 2008 financial crisis. There were several reasons for this week's historic increase. More states ordered non-essential businesses to close to contain the virus. According to economists, a fifth of the US workforce is now in some form of lockdown. And a government relief package signed last week expanded unemployment benefits to help more people, such as the self-employed and independent contractors. Some fear the true number could be even higher since many people couldn't even get through to file a claim. Given these are weekly figures, this data is the closest we have to real-time information showing just how catastrophic the pandemic is for the American economy. And it points to a bruising couple of months ahead.
4-2-20 Coronavirus: US death toll exceeds 5,000
The death toll from the coronavirus pandemic in the US has gone above 5,000, while confirmed cases worldwide are close to reaching one million. There were 884 deaths in the US in 24 hours, a new record, according to Johns Hopkins University, which has tracked virus figures globally. The latest victims include a six-week-old baby. More than 216,000 are now infected, the world's highest figure. Reserves of protective equipment and medical supplies are almost exhausted. This has left the federal government and individual US states competing for safety gear, while the unprecedented demand has led to profiteering, officials in the Department for Homeland Security were quoted by the Washington Post as saying. The Trump administration says it can acquire adequate supplies, and has $16bn (£13bn) available to do so. State and local officials have complained about insufficient protective equipment such as masks and gowns as well as ventilators, needed to help keep patients breathing. Meanwhile, US Vice-President Mike Pence warned the US appeared to be on a similar trajectory as Italy where the death toll has exceeded 13,000 - the worst in the world. The number of confirmed infections across the US rose by more than 25,000 in one day. The worst-hit place is New York City, where nearly 47,500 people have tested positive and more than 1,300 have died. Officials say as many as 240,000 people could die in the US from Covid-19 - the disease caused by the virus - even with the mitigation measures in place. In Connecticut, a six-week-old baby has died from coronavirus, believed to be America's youngest victim of the virus so far. Queens, New York City's second-most populous borough, has the highest number of confirmed cases and deaths. The area is home to a large population of low-income workers employed by the service sector who live in close proximity, and social-distancing guidelines are hard to enforce. "While we are practising as a city, social distancing, you may have multiple families living in a very small apartment. And so it's easy to understand why there's a lot of transmission of Covid occurring," said Dr Mitchell Katz, head of New York City Health + Hospitals. The city needed 2.1 million surgical masks, 100,000 surgical gowns and 400 ventilators, among other items, by Sunday, said Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has warned that April would be worse than March as the outbreak gathered pace. He said the goal was to triple the number of hospital beds, to 65,000.
4-2-20 How coronavirus control measures could affect its global death toll
Experts analyzed contact patterns and disease severity to estimate COVID-19’s potential reach. When the U.S. White House coronavirus task force announced that social distancing needed to continue through April, it cited a stark death toll: As many as 240,000 Americans could die from COVID-19 even with efforts to mitigate its spread. As horrific as those numbers are, it could be a lot worse. In the first global assessment of the impact of the coronavirus, researchers at Imperial College London estimate that if governments weren’t taking any actions, the coronavirus would infect an estimated 7 billion people in 2020, nearly 90 percent of people on Earth. Roughly 40 million would die and no health-care system anywhere would be able to keep up. Already, countries are curbing that worst-case scenario, racing to implement strategies to drastically reduce the rapid growth of new cases (SN: 3/13/20). Even so, the virus could hit various countries differently, depending on their demographics and income levels, the new study suggests. And delays to put such strategies in place may put millions of lives at risk. By analyzing disease severity and how people interact, the team projected how the growing pandemic might affect 202 countries. The global look builds on the team’s previous work that calculated the virus’s impact on the United States and the United Kingdom (SN: 3/24/20). Slowing the virus’ spread will save millions of lives worldwide, the team reports March 26 in a research update released through Imperial College London. But differences among high income and low income countries could mean the pandemic might follow a different pattern, and take a different toll, in these areas. “This is a very complex problem and [members of the Imperial College team] have captured a lot of that complexity,” says Julie Swann, a systems engineer at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. “This is continued evidence that interventions are necessary to slow the disease spread and reduce deaths in the population.”
4-1-20 Coronavirus latest: New York hospitals and morgues overwhelmed
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. A doctor in New York City has described the situation in hospitals as “apocalyptic, complete chaos.” They said, “We just aren’t able to offer people a proper standard of care – like sitting and talking to them about their treatment – and it’s getting worse day by day.” Some of the morgues in the city are already filled to capacity. A record 6.6 million US citizens applied for unemployment benefits last week, reflecting thehuge impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the economy. The job losses have mostly affected people who work in retail, restaurants, travel, hotels and leisure industries. The previous weekly unemployment record was set a week earlier, at 3.3 million. State services across the US have been overwhelmed with the large numbers of people filing for benefits. The Indian government has launched a coronavirus tracker app that alerts people if they have crossed paths with someone infected with the virus. The app, called Aarogya Setu or “bridge to health”, uses the smartphone’s location data and Bluetooth to check where infected people are and to alert users in their vicinity. Similar technology has been used in China. The US coast guard is directing cruise ships registered in the Bahamas to seek aid there first, even if they are owned by Miami based companies. All ships with more than 50 people on board have been advised that they may be sequestered indefinitely. Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has announced that parents will be offered free childcare. The government has pledged A$1.6 billion to ensure childcare centres remain open, provided they do not charge parents. A preliminary study has suggested that countries with mandatory TB vaccination have fewer coronavirus deaths, but more research is needed to confirm the link. The TB vaccine is being tested to see if it protects people against covid-19.
4-1-20 Trump is incapable of taking the coronavirus outbreak seriously
President Trump is finally starting to take the novel coronavirus pandemic seriously, America's top political reporters inform us. At a grim briefing Monday evening, he showed projections estimating between 100,000-240,000 deaths, and said "We're going to go through a very tough two weeks." "Trump sounding different today. Scale of death appears to have changed his tone, at least," says Eric Lipton of The New York Times. He is "coming to grips with a reality he had long refused to accept," writes his colleague Peter Baker. "This is an absolutely new message and new tone from Trump," says Politico's Jake Sherman. I have only one question: Have these people been locked in a bunker for the past three years? Donald Trump has not magically discovered an ability to care about other people, nor has he found some hitherto unused reserves of competence. To begin with, Trump has still not taken the kind of sweeping action that would put force behind this new "serious" pose. He has not demanded recalcitrant Republican governors implement lockdowns to keep the virus from spreading — especially in Florida, where the outbreak is spreading fast and its elderly population is at extreme risk. He has refused to re-open ObamaCare enrollment so millions of uninsured Americans can try to get health insurance. He has not used Defense Production Act powers to take control of the medical supply chain and stop the ongoing bidding war over protective gear and ventilators. As a result, states are wasting scarce cash trying to secure supplies for their doctors and nurses, and millions of N95 masks are still being exported to other countries. He has not demanded Congress set up remote voting measures so they can pass more vitally-needed legislation. In other words, Trump is continuing to botch the coronavirus response just as he has from the start. He frittered away a critical six weeks insisting that nothing bad would happen, and blaming Democrats and the media for exaggerating bad news. On Tuesday, Jim Tankersly reported at the Times (where the non-political outbreak coverage has generally been excellent) that back in September White House economists published a study warning "a pandemic disease could kill a half million Americans and devastate the economy." Trump ignored it even as the coronavirus pandemic took hold.
4-1-20 Coronavirus: Things the US has got wrong - and got right
It has been more than two months since the first case of coronavirus was diagnosed in the US. Since then, the outbreak has spread across the nation, with more than 217,000 cases and over 5,000 deaths. The US is now the global epicentre of the pandemic, surpassing the number of reported cases in China, where the virus began, and Italy, the hardest-hit European nation. Although public health officials report that the peak of the outbreak in the US is still weeks, perhaps months, away, shortcomings in the US response - as well as some strengths - have already become apparent. Here's a look at some of them. Masks, gloves, gowns and ventilators. Doctors and hospitals across the country, but particularly in areas hardest hit by the pandemic, are scrambling for items essential to help those stricken by the virus and protect medical professionals. The lack of adequate supplies has forced healthcare workers to reuse existing sanitary garb or create their own makeshift gear. A shortage of ventilators has state officials worried they will soon be forced into performing medical triage, deciding on the fly who receives the life-sustaining support - and who doesn't. On Tuesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo complained that states, along with the federal government, were competing for equipment, driving up prices for everyone. "It's like being on eBay with 50 other states, bidding on a ventilator," he said. It didn't have to be this way, says Jeffrey Levi, a professor of health policy and management at George Washington University. The US government failed to adequately maintain the stockpile of supplies necessary to deal with a pandemic like this - and then moved too slowly when the nature of the current crisis became apparent. "We lost many weeks in terms of ramping up the production capacity around personal protection equipment and never fully utilizing government authority to make sure that production took place," he says. According to Professor Levi, ramping up testing at an early date - as done in nations like South Korea and Singapore - is the key to controlling a viral outbreak like Covid-19. The inability of the US government to do so was the critical failure from which subsequent complications have cascaded. "All of pandemic response is dependent on situational awareness - knowing what is going on and where it is happening," he says.
4-1-20 Coronavirus latest: US estimates between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Deaths in Italy plateau, while deaths in US, UK and Spain continue to accelerate. More than 12,000 people in Italy have died with covid-19 so far, but the number of new cases of coronavirus in Italy has fallen for several days in a row, and the number of new deaths each day is plateauing. The lockdown measures that have been in place in Italy since 9 March will continue until at least the middle of April, according to health minister Roberto Speranza. New cases and deaths continue to accelerate in Spain, the UK and the US. Yesterday US president Donald Trump said that between 100,000 and 240,000 people will die in the US from the outbreak. The president has been strongly criticised for downplaying the expected impact of the crisis over the last two months. Governments around the world are considering whether to recommend that everyone wears face masks in their daily lives. Taiwan has made these mandatory on trains and buses, and Austria plans to make masks compulsory for supermarket shoppers. The US Coronavirus Task Force is considering suggesting that everyone wears face masks, as is Germany. In the UK, there is continuing concern over the low levels of coronavirus testing. The government has blamed a global shortage of the required chemicals, but the UK Chemicals Industry Association have said there is no shortage. A leaked government briefing note seems to disagree with World Health Organization advice about testing. Amid uncertainty about the pandemic, Saudi Arabia has asked Muslims planning to take part in the annual Hajj pilgrimage to delay booking their trips. Data security and privacy concerns have been raised about Zoom, the videoconferencing app now being used by millions of people as more countries are under lockdown. Elon Musk announced yesterday that Tesla has purchased FDA-approved ventilators, which he said the firm would give them to hospitals worldwide for free, within Tesla delivery regions. Timelapse footage has captured the conversion of London’s ExCeL exhibition centre into one of the NHS Nightingale field hospitals built to cope with the expected surge of covid-19 patients.
4-1-20 Estimates of the predicted coronavirus death toll have little meaning
With all the unknowns about covid-19, any numbers you hear about death tolls or how long restrictions will last should be taken not just with a pinch of salt but with a sack of it. YOU will probably have read that there are going to be X thousand deaths from coronavirus in the country you live in. You may also have read that there are going to be an order of magnitude more or fewer deaths. You would be right to be unsure which is correct. It could be any of them, or none. President Donald Trump has been talking about a possible 100,000 to 200,000 coronavirus deaths in the US if his administration “does well” at tackling the virus. In the UK, there has been talk of 20,000 deaths if measures work and 250,000 without restrictions. There has been no shortage of other estimates put forward by people with little experience of epidemiology, some of which come in very low indeed. These calculations, approximations and guesstimates from expert modelling studies and back-of-the-envelope blogging build a confusing picture, not least because they suggest that it is possible to assign a numerical value to covid-19’s future death toll at this point. We are living through a situation with few certainties. If someone calculates that 1 per cent of the global population is set to die in this pandemic, say, this could be wrong for at least six reasons. First, we can’t yet be sure of the covid-19 fatality rate, or to what extent this will be affected by local shortages of ventilators. Second, we don’t know what proportion of the world population is likely to catch the infection, with some estimates varying between about 60 and 80 per cent. Third, we don’t know to what extent national restrictions, which vary wildly across the globe, will prevent or delay infections and deaths. Added to this, we can’t know yet whether we can slow the pandemic long enough to develop drugs and vaccines that can dramatically cut the number of covid-19 deaths. And finally, we don’t even know what kind of immunity – if any – is conferred by this virus, and whether it is possible to develop severe symptoms from a repeat infection. With all of these unknowns, the numbers you are hearing about death tolls, or how long restrictions will be in place, or how many people will need intensive care, should be taken not just with a pinch of salt but with a sack of it.
4-1-20 Coronavirus treatment: What drugs could work and when can we get them?
To fight the new coronavirus, researchers are investigating more than 60 drugs, including remdesivir and hydroxychloroquine and brand new ones. Here’s a breakdown of progress so far. EYES tight with worry above white surgical masks, more than 300 people slowly boarded the waiting 747 cargo planes at Tokyo’s Haneda airport. It was 17 February, and after weeks in quarantine aboard the Diamond Princess anchored off the coast of Japan, they were heading home to the US. Fourteen had tested positive for covid-19. On arrival, one of the 14 was given an experimental antiviral drug called remdesivir, as part of a global clinical trial. By the time this article went to press, hundreds of covid-19 patients around the world had taken the drug as part of ongoing trials. Remdesivir was first developed in the mid-2010s to fight Ebola. Although it was found to be ineffective against that virus, it showed promise in early trials against coronaviruses such as the one that causes SARS. That’s why many hope it will work against the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. The demand is already so high that its manufacturer, Gilead Sciences, recently had to stop providing access for people outside of trials seeking the drug under compassionate-use schemes for untested medicines. But we still don’t know if remdesivir, or any other drug, works against the new coronavirus. And while 80 per cent of people who catch covid-19 don’t require hospital treatment, those who do get admitted desperately need effective drugs, which may still be several months away. The good news is, we know where to look, and which strategies are most likely to work. At least 60 different compounds are now being investigated, including existing drugs and therapies being designed from scratch, and in record time. To figure out how to help people fight off covid-19, we first need to understand how it causes harm. Since the covid-19 virus grabbed the world’s attention in late December, doctors and researchers have been able to pin down quite a lot about what it does to our bodies. When the coronavirus infects someone, it enters their cells, hijacks their protein-making machinery and begins making copies of itself. These viruses enter neighbouring cells, and the cycle repeats itself. This viral invasion doesn’t go unnoticed. Dying cells display fragments of the virus to alert the immune system that a pathogen is present.
4-1-20 WHO 'deeply concerned by coronavirus 'rapid escalation'
The head of the World Health Organisation says he is "deeply concerned" by the "rapid escalation" of the coronavirus pandemic. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Covid-19 had spread to almost every country, and the global death toll would reach 50,000 in the next few days.
4-1-20 Coronavirus' profound threat to democracy
The health of the state is endangered. "War is the health of the state." That's Raldolphe Bourne's famous and succinct expression for how state power grows during conflict and resists being scaled back once peace is restored. But it's a worry that's highly relevant to our battle against COVID-19 as well. For while the health of the citizenry appears today to depend on the very health of the state that Bourne feared, we must think now about the consequences of ceding liberty if we want to ensure these temporary measures don't become permanent. First, it's important to remember that many, if not most, of the ways in which states expand their power during wartime actually have very legitimate purposes related to war-fighting. In the economic sphere, the nation's industrial might needs to be retooled to serve military needs, making everything from boots to battleships, on a schedule that maximizes the chance of victory rather than either profits or the wellbeing of the civilian population. That population may have to suffer under strict rationing regimes and will likely be forbidden from striking, both profound intrusions on economic freedom. In the social sphere, there may be curfews and restrictions on mobility driven by civil defense needs, and limits on freedom of the press both to prevent leaks and to promote high morale. And, of course, conscription is itself a profound infringement on individual liberty. Every one of these measures has been subject to corruption and abuse in past conflicts. And yet, it's very hard to imagine winning a major war of any meaningful duration without them. The battle with the coronavirus presents the state with an awesome set of new powers and responsibilities fully comparable to those of wartime mobilization. Shelter-in-place orders have put government officials in the position to destroy whole industries by fiat, and the efforts to cushion the consequences have quickly entrenched government in the operation of much of the economy. They also make political protest extremely difficult — indeed, they make it extremely difficult even to conduct normal politics, like running a campaign. The best prospect for reopening the economy on a reasonable schedule, meanwhile, may well require the implementation of a regime of testing and tracking — potentially including monitoring individuals' temperatures and registering their immunity status — that poses obvious and profound challenges to the very idea of privacy. In high-trust societies with capable states like South Korea or Denmark, measures like these may win support across the political spectrum. As a consequence, social solidarity can both support their implementation without excessive coercion and can act as a check on state abuse of these new powers, either during the crisis or after it has passed. While the war against the virus may be beyond politics, any attempt to use the virus to suspend politics as such would likely incur a fierce and swift backlash.
4-1-20 Viktor Orbán's American apologists
The right's love affair with Hungary's nationalistic authoritarianism blows up in its face. Life in liberal democracies can sometimes be a drag. That's especially so when one's vision of the rightly ordered society consistently falls short at the ballot box, faces opposition from the courts, and comes in for constant abuse by the leading lights of the dominant culture. For those who find themselves on the losing side of political and cultural disputes, there are, broadly speaking, two options: Keep playing the liberal game in the hope of a better outcome down the line — or sign up for a more radical political program aimed at toppling the prevailing order and replacing it with one in which the dissenters might be given a greater share of ruling power. This is a choice that conservative intellectuals have confronted in recent years, with right-wing anti-liberal movements on the rise at home and across the liberal-democratic world tempting them with the promise of new and expanded horizons. None of these ascendant nationalists and populists has managed to generate more support from American conservatives than Hungary's Viktor Orbán. While those on the center-left and center-right have warned that Orbán and his Fidesz Party were playing with anti-Semitic fire in their unhinged attacks on Jewish financier George Soros, taking direct aim at civil liberties by shutting down opposition news outlets and a prominent university in the capital city of Budapest, and making repeated gestures toward favoring single-party rule, many conservatives swooned — far more than most of them have for President Trump. Bestselling author Patrick Deneen has spoken of Orbán's Hungary serving as a model for conservatives in the West and even sat down for a photo op in a book-lined office with the statesman himself. Prominent blogger Rod Dreher has written numerous posts plugging Orbán's anti-liberal political project and passionately defended him against the supposedly malicious smears of Western critics. Author Christopher Caldwell has penned a highly literate essay explaining that Orbán should be considered the "future of Europe." And in the most astonishing example of all, journalist Sohrab Ahmari allowed Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó to use the pages of the New York Post as a megaphone for spreading Fidesz Party propaganda directly to American readers. I know and respect all of these authors. I count some of them as longstanding friends. I'm therefore eager to know what they think of the alarming (but also completely unsurprising) events of recent days — days during which the Hungarian legislature, which Orbán's party controls with a strong majority, approved an open-ended extension of the previously declared COVID-19-related state of emergency, suspending parliament and elections, giving Orbán the power to rule by decree, and pronouncing that the spreading of "fake news" would be punished by up to five years in prison.
4-1-20 Coronavirus: Trump changes tack on coronavirus crisis
There was no sugar-coating it this time. No optimistic talk of miracle cures or Easter-time business re-openings. There was just the cold, hard reality of the facts on the ground. "I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead," a grave-faced Donald Trump said in his Tuesday afternoon press conference. "This is going to be a very, very painful two weeks." How painful? When the president was asked how many Americans are currently projected to die from the virus given even the current mitigation efforts, he said it was better if his medical experts responded. The number of deaths, based on current projections, is between 100,000 and 200,000. On 15 April, for instance, 2,214 Americans are expected to die. "No-one is denying that we're going through a very, very difficult time," said Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "That's what it is." The president tried to frame this news as best he could, noting that the projections for US casualties if the government had done nothing were in the millions. "A lot of people were saying think of it as the flu, but it's not the flu," he said. "It's vicious." Of course, it was just a week ago the president himself was making exactly such comparisons, noting that the early fatality numbers were much less than those from the flu or even automobile accidents. "We lose thousands of people a year to the flu," he said then. "We never turn the country off." Now, however, the seriousness of the situation has hit home. He spoke of checking in on a friend who was in the hospital with the virus - "a little older, and he's heavy, but he's tough person" - only to find out he was now in a coma. "I spoke to some of my friends, and they can't believe what they're seeing," he said. Mr Trump's change of attitude also extended to some of his recent political feuds. Just days after attacking Democratic Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, mocking her name and calling her incompetent on Twitter, the president said he had a "really great conversation" with her and detailed the support the federal government was providing her state. Last Friday, he had suggested that if state leaders were not "appreciative" of him, he wouldn't talk to them.
4-1-20 Coronavirus: The US governor who saw it coming early
As the coronavirus outbreak barrels throughout the US, states have scrambled to get ahead of its spread, often after weeks of inaction. But one governor imposed sweeping measures days before a single case had been reported in his state. At the podium for Tuesday's daily coronavirus press briefing, Republican Ohio Governor Mike DeWine provides the latest on the virus's march through his state - 2,199 cases, 55 deaths, 585 hospitalisations. His announcements are peppered with "thank yous" and mild "just-a-reminders", encouraging continued social distancing. He holds printed notes, shuffling the papers occasionally, staring down at them frequently. He doesn't speak in platitudes, but in detail, taking time to dictate every letter and character in the state's coronavirus web address. It's a stark contrast from his New York counterpart Andrew Cuomo, whose own daily briefings have become a staple of the US coronavirus news cycle. But while the lesser known Mr DeWine, 73, may lack the media attention of Mr Cuomo, he is drawing praise for his early moves against the virus, at a time when much of the US was still playing catch up. On 5 March, after resistance from organisers, Mr DeWine got a court order to shut down much of the Arnold Sports Festival - an annual event featuring 20,000 athletes from 80 countries, around 60,000 spectators each day, and an expected $53m for Columbus, the state's largest city. The state had yet to report a single case. "This is a balancing test," the first-term governor said at the time, in response to criticism. Over the next three weeks, Mr DeWine moved to bar spectators from major sporting events - days before US professional leagues decided to cancel their seasons. He was first in the nation to declare a state-wide school shutdown. He invoked an emergency public health order to postpone Ohio's presidential primary the night before it was scheduled on 17 March.
4-1-20 Coronavirus is making American workers say enough is enough
Many of those still on the job are facing perilous conditions. And they're getting increasingly loud about it. The coronavirus has upended the U.S. economy. But one thing it doesn't appear to have changed is employers' drive to squeeze every ounce of effort out of their workers that they can for minimal cost — even when the costs include the things we need to do to keep everyone safe and whole during a global pandemic. While shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders have closed down huge swaths of American economic activity, crucial jobs and businesses — the ones that deliver groceries and supplies, that handle garbage and public transit — remain open, and in many cases are as busy as ever. And in the last week or so, the workers in these jobs have gotten increasingly loud about insufficient safety standards and insufficient compensation. Everyone from Instacart and Amazon to General Electric and the City of Detroit has faced protests, strikes, and work stoppages. Instacart — the platform app that delivers groceries right to your door — is a good example of what makes this particular moment unusual. The company is on track to hire as many as 300,000 more shoppers and delivery people to help deal with the increased demand from the coronavirus shutdown. But a lot of the people Instacart already employs feel it isn't doing enough to keep them or their customers safe, nor is it paying them enough for the extra burden of putting themselves at risk to get others the food they need. On Friday, the grassroots outfit Gig Workers Collective, announced a series of demands — hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, an extra $5 per order and default tip increases as hazard pay, and paid leave for workers with a pre-existing condition or other risk factor — and said Instacart workers would go on strike Monday to make those demands heard. "Instacart's corporate employees are provided with health insurance, life insurance, and paid time off and [are] also eligible for sick pay and paid family leave," Vanessa Bain, an Instacart gig worker in Menlo Park, California, and a lead organizer of the strike, told Vice. "By contrast its [gig workers], who are putting their lives on the line to maintain daily operations are afforded none of these protections."
4-1-20 Coronavirus: Greatest test since World War Two, says UN chief
The current coronavirus outbreak is the biggest challenge for the world since World War Two, UN Secretary General António Guterres has warned. He said it could bring a recession "that probably has no parallel in the recent past". His warning comes amid dire predictions about the possible economic impact of measures imposed to fight the virus. The number of confirmed cases around the world is now nearing 860,000, with more than 42,000 deaths. The death toll in the US is now more than 4,000 - higher than the declared number of fatalities in China, where the outbreak began late last year. Johns Hopkins University said 865 people had died in the past 24 hours in the US and in all more than 189,000 people in the country had been infected. About three out of four Americans are now, or about to be, under some form of lockdown, as more US states tighten measures to fight the coronavirus, which causes the Covid-19 disease. Meanwhile, Spain, second only to Italy in the number of recorded fatalities, has seen 849 deaths in the last 24 hours - the highest number it has had in a single day. In the UK, a total of 1,789 people have died - a rise of 381, officials say. Among the victims was a 13-year-old boy, King's College Hospital Trust in London said. Speaking at the UN headquarters in New York at the launch of a report on the potential socioeconomic impact of the outbreak, Mr Guterres said: "The new coronavirus disease is attacking societies at their core, claiming lives and people's livelihoods". Countries around the world have imposed a series of measures, including restricting people's movements and closing most businesses, to curb the spread of the virus. The UN report estimates that up to 25 million jobs could be lost around the world as the result of the outbreak. It also projects an up to 40% "downward pressure" on global foreign direct investment flows. "Covid-19 is the greatest test that we have faced together since the formation of the United Nations," he said, calling for "an immediate co-ordinated health response to suppress transmission and end the pandemic".