3-31-20 New York City’s coronavirus outbreak is already overwhelming hospitals
In the US, the focus of the coronavirus outbreak last week shifted from the West Coast to New York City. As of 30 March, the city of 8.6 million people had 38,087 confirmed cases, which account for more than a quarter of cases in the US, and 914 people had died of covid-19. In one 24-hour period last week, 2000 people were hospitalised in the city. Most of the positive covid-19 test results have been clustered in the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn. At a press conference on 25 March, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio said these are “numbers I can barely even comprehend… number[s] that would have been unimaginable just a couple of weeks ago”. In Queens, hospitals and emergency rooms have been flooded with critically ill covid-19 patients struggling to breathe. “It’s inconceivable. Everything we know about medicine is out the window,” says Lisa Epstein, a nurse at New York-Presbyterian Queens, who is working in the hospital’s emergency room. Waiting areas have been repurposed to treat people with covid-19. Beds, chairs, wheelchairs and stretchers fill every available space. “It’s like a war zone, only there’s no blood,” says Epstein, who has been a nurse for 40 years. New York governor Andrew Cuomo said at a press conference on 24 March that the city has 53,000 hospital beds and may need as many as 140,000. The Javits Center, a convention hall in Manhattan, has been converted into a temporary field hospital with nearly 3000 beds. The disaster unfolding in New York City is the culmination of errors made in the US response to the outbreak. Mistakes with the initial test kits designed and distributed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sparked a weak testing effort that has yet to be fully remedied.
3-31-20 Coronavirus: LA county gun shops to reopen as 'essential' business
Los Angeles County is reopening gun shops to the public after a federal memo listed them as "essential" businesses. (Webmaster's comment: INSANE!) Sheriff Alex Villanueva closed shops last week, but reversed course on Monday, following the guidance. The LA county closures had prompted a lawsuit from gun rights groups. The change comes amid a national dispute over whether gun access is critical amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The federal guidance issued on 28 March classified munitions makers and sellers as "essential critical infrastructure workers". Mr Villanueva said that though the memo was non-binding, it has national scope and he would therefore open shops closed last week. Previously, Mr Villanueva had told gun shops to close in the nation's most populous county, as long queues due to panic-buying posed health risks. California's Governor Gavin Newsom, who issued a state-wide stay at home order to combat the spread of Covid-19 earlier this month, has said each of the state's counties may determine whether firearm stores, like groceries and pharmacies, were essential businesses permitted to remain open. The state has seen over 130 deaths due to the novel coronavirus. The US currently has over 164,000 confirmed cases. An order was issued closing gun stop to the public, but dealers could continue to do business with police, security companies and some residents who had not yet collected their previously purchased firearms. The National Rifle Association - one of the most powerful gun lobby groups in the US - and other pro-gun groups filed a federal lawsuit against California officials on Friday over store closures. The mandatory closures violated the US Constitution's Second Amendment right to bear arms, the suit said. Gun control groups have argued keeping these shops open is not safe in a pandemic. Across the nation, Covid-19 has caused a rise in firearm sales, including from many first-time buyers, local media report. States have taken different approaches to gun access amid the Covid-19 crisis. The Texas attorney general has deemed gun shops essential businesses protected by the Second Amendment, but New Jersey has restricted business to appointment-only sales during limited hours. Pennsylvania residents may also continue to buy firearms as long as they abide by social distancing guidelines. (Webmaster's comment: The right to kill those you don't like shall not be infringed!)
3-31-20 Trump on coronavirus: Heated response to 'snarky, nasty question'
Donald Trump has launched a scathing attack on a CNN journalist who reminded the US president "of the way you downplayed this (coronavirus) crisis over the last couple of months." When the journalist read Mr Trump previous comments he had made on the pandemic, the president said: "I don't want panic in the country. I could cause panic, much better than even you, I could make you look like a minor league player."
3-31-20 Coronavirus: US death rates v China, Italy and South Korea
The US has seen its cases spike dramatically in recent days and these graphs show what could be in store.
3-31-20 Coronavirus: Three out of four Americans under some form of lockdown
About three out of four Americans are now, or about to be, under some form of lockdown, as more states tighten measures to fight the coronavirus. Maryland, Virginia, Arizona and Tennessee became the latest states to order citizens to stay at home, meaning 32 of 50 states have taken such steps. Meanwhile governors are quarrelling with President Donald Trump about the availability of testing kits. The US has more than 163,000 confirmed virus cases and over 3,000 deaths. It surpassed Italy last week as the country with the highest number of people suffering from Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. New York City is the worst-hit place in America, with 914 confirmed fatalities, according to Johns Hopkins University. Some 245 million people are already under orders to stay at home, or facing such orders which come into effect later on Tuesday. Almost two-thirds of states have issued directives for their citizens to stay put, while the remaining states have localised orders in effect. In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis, who has been reluctant to impose a state-wide order, said he would instruct people in four counties in the south - where more than half the state's cases of the virus exist - to stay at home. He said this would last until at least the middle of May. In general, the "lockdowns" allow people to only go out to get essential supplies and medicines, or limited forms of exercise. The economic consequences have been profound, with millions of people having lost their jobs. According to an estimate of the Federal Reserve, the US central bank, 47 million people could be out of work in the coming months, with the US still weeks away from the peak of infections. According to CBS News, President Trump and state governors held a conference call on Monday in which Mr Trump suggested there was no longer a lack of kits to test people for Covid-19. In an audio recording obtained by the US network, Mr Trump says he has not "heard about testing in weeks. "We've tested more now than any nation in the world. We've got these great tests and we're coming out with a faster one this week... I haven't heard about testing being a problem," he says. However, Montana Governor Steve Bullock is heard to say his state does not have adequate numbers of kits. "Literally, we are one day away, if we don't get test kits from the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], that we wouldn't be able to do testing in Montana," he says
3-31-20 Coronavirus: World leaders' posts deleted over fake news
Facebook and Twitter have deleted posts from world leaders for spreading misinformation about the coronavirus. Facebook deleted a video from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro that claimed hydroxychloroquine was totally effective in treating the virus. He has repeatedly downplayed the virus and encouraged Brazilians to ignore medical advice on social distancing. It follows Twitter’s deletion of a homemade treatment tweeted by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Both social networks rarely interfere with messages from world leaders, even when they are verifiably untrue. Twitter, for example, says it will “will err on the side of leaving the content up” when world leaders break the rules, citing the public interest. But all major social networks are under pressure to combat misinformation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. Twitter has updated its guidance on combating medical misinformation that goes against international public health guidance. And Facebook has similarly committed to removing information that could cause physical harm. President Bolsonaro’s posts showed him talking to people in the streets of Taguatinga. Facebook said it had removed the video from both that site and Instagram, which it also owns. The posts violated its community standards for causing harm, it told BBC News. Follow-up statements issued to Buzzfeed and The Verge clarified the claim about hydroxychloroquine was the main reason for its deletion. The World Health Organization says while some drug cocktails may have an impact, there is no proven drug treatment. And hydroxychloroquine and a related compound, chloroquine, are unproven, experimental treatments. But despite the lack of clinical trials, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has now approved both compounds, listed as anti-malarial drugs, for “emergency use” in Covid-19 patients admitted to hospital. The potential for possible treatment outweighed the known risk, the FDA said.
3-31-20 Coronavirus: Amazon workers strike over virus protection
Pressure is building on Amazon and other delivery firms to improve protection for workers worried about getting infected with coronavirus. Some workers at US food delivery firm Instacart and US and Italian workers at Amazon have walked out, complaining of inadequate protection. US senators have also written to Amazon boss Jeff Bezos to express concerns. The companies have said they are taking extra precautions, amid booming demand for delivery services due to the virus. "We are going to great lengths to keep the buildings extremely clean and help employees practice important precautions such as social distancing and other measures", an Amazon spokesman said in a statement. "Those who don't want to work are welcome to use paid and unpaid time off options and we support them in doing so". Amazon said it had adjusted its practices, including increased cleaning of its facilities and introducing staggered shift and break times. In Italy, the company said it had reduced deliveries since 22 March. However, union leaders say workers need access to better protection. "Several employees working at the site use face masks for days instead of having new ones each day," one union representative told Reuters. A group of workers at Whole Foods, which is owned by Amazon, plan to walk out on Tuesday, citing similar problems. The company told NBC it has "taken extensive measures to keep people safe." Last year, the company faced criticism for cutting healthcare benefits for 1,900 part-time employees. Earlier this month, Mr Bezos - who is one of the world's richest people with an estimated $115.6bn fortune - addressed the worries in an open letter to staff, thanking them for their work. The company, which is looking to hire 100,000 more warehouse workers in the US to help address the surge in orders, has also said it would boost pay for warehouse staff around the world, including by $2 per hour in the US and by £2 per hour in the UK, where staff have been told to work overtime. However, US lawmakers have questioned Amazon over reports of shortages of protective and cleaning supplies, as well as its sick leave policies. The firm earlier faced strikes by workers in France and Italy and has been hit by legal complaints over the issues in Spain, according to a global alliance of unions coordinated by UNI Global Union.
3-30-20 Coronavirus: 'Nurses prepare for the worst but not this'
Facing supply shortages and the fear that this could just be the beginning, a nurse working in a New York City emergency room, with 12 years' experience, tells the BBC what it's like on the front lines of America's coronavirus outbreak. We've seen an influx of patients that are coming in with the typical Covid symptom - fever, cough, sometimes sore throat, lung pain, chest pain. Other people are coming in with gastro-intestinal symptoms which are nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, which have been identified as possibly an early symptom of Covid. We're also noticing that our patients are coming in with red eyes, their eyes are red around the rim. You can look at these patients that are coming in that turn out to be Covid positive and you can see the sickness in their face, in their eyes. Our emergency room is completely Covid. And we're short staffed, so it puts an even bigger strain on our emergency-care system. The short answer to that no, we don't. As of the last day that I worked, we were running out of pumps. When a patient has an IV hooked-up, there is a machine that's sitting next to you that calculates the medication, making sure it is being given to you at the right time and the right amount. We are running out of those pumps. We're giving patients medications to sedate them and we don't even have the correct equipment to monitor them. We are being rationed PPE - which is our personal protective equipment. We're getting one N-95 mask and we're having to reuse it for five shifts. Before this pandemic, you were never to reuse this equipment. It was one time use and it was thrown out. It was discarded. Now we are being told to use it for our shift, put it in a paper bag and save it for next shift. After five shifts, we turn it in and we'll get a new one. We're running out of basic supplies because all of our patients are requiring so much.
3-30-20 Coronavirus: Lockdown 'must become the social norm'
To persuade the majority to continue to comply with the lockdown to slow the spread of coronavirus, it must become the only "socially acceptable norm", a King's College London study suggests. "Social pressure from others" had an important role to play, lead researcher Dr Rebecca Webster told BBC News. But this was not a reason for public shaming of others on social media. And ensuring people had enough food, medical supplies and money to pay the bills was even more important. "That's what we're seeing the government doing at the moment - working with supermarkets to make sure people aren't going without and with NHS volunteers to make sure medicines are delivered," Dr Webster said. The study, published online in the journal Public Health, is based on 14 analyses of how different groups of people adhered to quarantine rules during disease outbreaks, including Ebola, Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), swine flu and mumps. The researchers found "up-to-date, clear information was the key to getting people to adhere to the guidelines". "If instructions or language are unclear, then people tend to make up their own rules," Dr Webster said. "We need positive stories about the benefits of what we're being asked to do. "It reinforces that this is the new normal - that everyone needs to get behind it in order for it to work. "We'll have to wait to see the real impacts on infection rates but those positive social messages come from some of the community spirit we're seeing in videos people are posting - singing from balconies and other displays of this community spirit. "We all need to step up and do our bit, and I think the general public is doing quite a good job of that already. "There will always be some people who don't follow the rules. We just have to do our best."
3-30-20 Coronavirus latest: Interventions 'saved 59,000 lives' in 11 countries
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. Government interventions across 11 European countries have already saved 59,000 lives, according to a new report from scientists at Imperial College London which includes Neil Ferguson, whose modelling has informed the UK’s coronavirus strategy. The researchers modelled the impact of social distancing, school closures, lockdowns and the banning of large gatherings in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. A new breathing aid to help keep covid-19 patients out of intensive care will soon undergo clinical trials in several London hospitals. The device can deliver oxygen to the lungs without the need for a ventilator. It was designed and built in under a week as part of a collaboration between engineers and doctors at University College London and Mercedes Formula One. The new device has already been approved by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and, if trials are successful, up to 1000 could be produced per day. US president Donald Trump has said restrictions in the country will be extended until at least 30 April. This follows a warning from the US government’s leading infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, over the weekend that the coronavirus could kill as many as 200,000 people in the US. It could be six months before life in the UK returns to “normal”, according to the UK’s deputy chief medical officer. UK prime minister Boris Johnson said that 20,000 former UK National Health Service (NHS) staff have returned to work to help in the fight against the virus. Virgin Atlantic and EasyJet flight attendants are being offered work at the new NHS Nightingale Hospital in east London. EasyJet’s entire fleet of aircrafts has been grounded due to the pandemic.
3-30-20 Machine translates brainwaves into sentences
Scientists have taken a step forward in their ability to decode what a person is saying just by looking at their brainwaves when they speak. They trained algorithms to transfer the brain patterns into sentences in real-time and with word error rates as low as 3%. Previously, these so-called "brain-machine interfaces" have had limited success in decoding neural activity. The study is published in the journal Nature Neuroscience. The earlier efforts in this area were only able decode fragments of spoken words or a small percentage of the words contained in particular phrases. Machine learning specialist Dr Joseph Makin from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), US, and colleagues tried to improve the accuracy. Four volunteers read sentences aloud while electrodes recorded their brain activity. The brain activity was fed into a computing system, which created a representation of regularly occurring features in that data. These patterns are likely to be related to repeated features of speech such as vowels, consonants or commands to parts of the mouth. Another part of the system decoded this representation word-by-word to form sentences. However, the authors freely admit the study's caveats. For example, the speech to be decoded was limited to 30-50 sentences. "Although we should like the decoder to learn and exploit the regularities of the language, it remains to show how many data would be required to expand from our tiny languages to a more general form of English," the researchers wrote in their Nature Neuroscience paper. But they add that the decoder is not simply classifying sentences based on their structure. They know this because its performance was improved by adding sentences to the training set that were not used in the tests themselves. The scientists say this proves that the machine interface is identifying single words, not just sentences. In principle, this means it could be possible to decode sentences never encountered in a training set. When the computer system was trained on brain activity and speech from one person before training on another volunteer, decoding results improved, suggesting that the technique may be transferable across people.
3-30-20 Coronavirus: Trump extends US guidelines beyond Easter
President Donald Trump has said federal coronavirus guidelines such as social distancing will be extended across the US until at least 30 April. He had previously suggested that they could be relaxed as early as Easter, which falls in mid-April. "The highest point of the death rate is likely to hit in two weeks," Mr Trump said. He appeared to be referring to peak infection rates that experts fear could overwhelm hospitals. White House medical adviser Dr Anthony Fauci had earlier warned that the virus could kill up to 200,000 Americans. Dr Fauci said that it was "entirely conceivable" that millions of Americans could eventually be infected. The US now has more than 140,000 confirmed cases. As of Sunday evening, 2,493 deaths had been recorded in the country in relation to Covid-19, according to figures collated by Johns Hopkins University. The US last week became the country with the most reported cases, ahead of Italy and China. Speaking during the latest Coronavirus Task Force press briefing at the White House on Sunday, the president said that measures such as social distancing were "the way you win", adding that the US "will be well on our way to recovery" by June. Suggesting that the "peak" of death rates in the US was likely to hit in two weeks, Mr Trump said that "nothing would be worse than declaring victory before victory is won - that would be the greatest loss of all". Analysts suggest that when Mr Trump referred to a peak in the "death rate", he probably meant the total number of recorded infections. He said the decision to extend social distancing was made after he heard that "2.2 million people could have died if we didn't go through with all of this", adding that if the death toll could be restricted to less than 100,000 "we all together have done a very good job".
3-30-20 As the pandemic rages, the president brags
Trump's obsession with his own ratings knows no limits. oes President Trump think he is still the star of a reality TV show? The COVID-19 death toll in America continues to mount. As of Sunday, the number stood at more than 2,400 — but the president took little note. Instead, he was preoccupied with a different set of numbers: TV ratings. In a series of tweets, Trump purported to quote The New York Times about the huge audiences tuning into his daily pandemic press briefings. The tweets were very misleading. The New York Times did report that Trump's briefings are a ratings hit — but it also warned that journalists and public health experts considered this a "dangerous thing" because of the constant stream of "ill informed, misleading, or downright wrong" comments spewing from the president's mouth. Not exactly an affirmation. But Trump's tweets were also, as James Fallows of The Atlantic noted Sunday, a demonstration of "complete amorality." While doctors and nurses across the country battle the pandemic to the point of exhaustion, while thousands of families grieve for lost loved ones, and while tens of thousands more struggle through illness, the president of the United States is looking into a mirror, asking it to assure him that he is the fairest of them all. Shameful. Even Trump's usual defenders seemed astonished at his misplaced ratings obsession. "Why bother to tweet about this, of all things?" Fox News' Brit Hume tweeted. We know the answer to that question. The president is endlessly narcissistic, a man who craves the limelight above all else. We have known this since the 1980s, when he rose to fame stamping his name on every building, casino, and business that would have it. We knew it when he parlayed his first divorce into a creepy pizza commercial. We knew it when he went on Howard Stern's show to talk — even more creepily — about his daughter's looks. Donald Trump is one of those guys who believes there is no such thing as bad publicity. For decades, this trait was simply clownish. But he is president now, and he hasn't changed, even in the face of a pandemic ravaging his hometown.
3-30-20 Trump's message to blue states battling coronavirus: Drop dead
Heading into 2020, it seemed like those online election prediction maps would be the most exciting thing to watch over the coming year. But now, a different map may tell us much more about what the future holds. While the coronavirus spreads across the nation with no regards to state borders, the nation's governors are taking wildly different approaches to tackling the disease, resulting in a patchwork national map that undermines our ability to stop COVID-19 effectively. Coupled with the disastrous leadership of a president more interested in retaliating against his perceived enemies than employing his powers for good, the fractured response to coronavirus reveals how much has to be healed in our nation's system. It also sets in motion an inevitable showdown between Trump and those state leaders who are taking coronavirus seriously, a divide that is only going to get worse given Trump's toxic tendency to blame others for his own shortcomings. Trump's sickness was startlingly evident in his interview with Fox News' Bill Hemmer last Tuesday. Asked about his administration's coordination with the states, a basic function of the federal government and a critical one in a crisis moment, Trump's response displayed his typically transactional view of how things get done under his watch. "It's a two-way street," Trump childishly whined, "They have to treat us well, also. They can't say, 'Oh, gee, we should get this, we should get that.'" That's been Trump's approach to working with others, especially those in need, from the start, a twisted outgrowth of the manipulation tactics he's used throughout his personal and professional life. As president, his self-interest and demands for personal loyalty always guide his decision making. At the depressingly dysfunctional level, that has meant a revolving door of White House staffers and administration appointees, including Jeff Sessions, who didn't satisfy Trump's insatiable ego enough to stay. At the lawbreaking level, it has meant his bald quid pro quo demand that Ukraine investigate a political rival in order to receive congressionally-mandated foreign aid and putting extreme restrictions on federal aid to Puerto Rico, seemingly in retaliation for how government officials there had criticized his handling of Hurricane Maria. But where Trump's pay-to-play expectations of Ukraine, despite the Senate's judgments, were unconstitutional, his praise-to-play demands of state governors while the health of the nation hangs in the balance are nothing short of unconscionable. Trump's refusal to take federal action against the virus may be the most disastrous decision of his presidency. His petty privileging of red states and his punishing of blue states may be the most deadly, with consequences for all Americans no matter their politics.
3-30-20 Coronavirus: Field hospitals treating patients around world
Coronavirus cases globally have now reached more than 735,000, with at least 34,000 deaths. To cope with pressure that threatens to overwhelm health systems, countries are building field hospitals that can treat thousands of patients. Armed forces and even laid-off airline workers are being drafted in for construction and to support medics and patients. Conference venues, stadiums, and fairgrounds are some of the sites used. In London, UK the ExCel conference venue has been turned in a hospital with beds for 500 patients, increasing eventually to 4000. New York City is the epicentre of the US coronavirus outbreak as the country now leads the world in the number of confirmed cases. A field hospital in Central Park, as well as a temporary morgue outside a major hospital, are under construction. Doctors in Europe's hardest-hit country Italy have described "war-like" conditions in their hospitals as they try to treat patients. In Crema, Lombardy, the army have set up tents, and 52 doctors flown in from Cuba will assist medics. Iran has struggled to contain its outbreak, with more than 2,640 deaths from the virus. A hospital set up by the military in capital city Tehran can take 2,000 patients. Brazil has more than 4,250 cases of the virus, with 136 fatalities. Clubs have offered former World Cup venues for use by the health system. Football stadium and concert venue Pacaembu Stadium in Sao Paulo has been turned in a temporary hospital with room for 200 beds. Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones are among artists who have performed at Sao Paulo's Pacaembu Stadium. Construction of a field hospital in Rafah, Gaza Strip began in mid-March. The United Nations warns that poverty and a debilitated health system in the Palestinian territories would make an outbreak of the coronavirus disastrous. Spain has reported soaring death tolls for a number of days, with a total of 7,340 fatalities from Covid-19. Madrid is particularly hard-hit, where some patients are being treated by doctors in an exhibition centre. In Florida, US one county fairground will be host to 250 hospital beds, and another site is under construction at Fort Lauderdale airport. The Miami-Dade fair was cancelled in March when mass gatherings in the US were banned. The US navy hospital ship the Comfort is expected to dock in New York City on Monday to aid with the outbreak there. The ship, which can hold around 1,000 beds, left from Norfolk naval base, Virginia on Saturday.
3-29-20 Coronavirus: Trump backs away from New York quarantine
US President Donald Trump has said quarantining New York "will not be necessary", after the state's governor said doing so would be "preposterous". Mr Trump said the latest decision was taken on the recommendation of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. The president had earlier said he might impose a quarantine on New York, and parts of New Jersey and Connecticut, to slow the spread of Covid-19. There are more than 52,000 cases in New York. The state has about half of the total confirmed Covid-19 cases in the entire US. Mr Trump tweeted that instead of quarantine, a "strong travel advisory" would be issued to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC then published a statement urging residents of those three states to "refrain" from all non-essential domestic travel for 14 days. The agency said the advisory did not apply to "critical infrastructure" service providers, including healthcare professionals and food suppliers. Speaking to reporters earlier on Saturday about the situation in New York, Mr Trump said: "We'd like to see [it] quarantined because it's a hotspot... I'm thinking about that." He said it would be aimed at slowing the spread of the virus to other parts of the US. "They're having problems down in Florida. A lot of New Yorkers are going down. We don't want that," he said. He said New York had already implemented "quarantine" measures, such as banning major gatherings and ordering people to remain at home, but that he would oppose any "lockdown" efforts. "Then we would be Wuhan, China, and that wouldn't make any sense," he told CNN, adding that this would cause the stock market to crash in a way that would make it impossible for the US economy to "recover for months, if not years". "You would paralyse the financial sector," he said. (Webmaster's comment: It's all about money isn't it. Human lives are less important!)
3-29-20 Coronavirus: Brazil's Bolsonaro in denial and out on a limb
As the world tries desperately to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, Brazil's president is doing his best to downplay it. Jair Bolsonaro has largely struggled to take it seriously. Going against his own health ministry's advice earlier in March, and while awaiting the results of a second coronavirus test, he left self-isolation to join rallies against Congress. He shook hands with supporters in Brasilia and sent a message to millions that this was not something to worry about. (Webmaster's comment: Sounds exactly like early Trump!) In a televised address last week, he repeated a now well-worn phrase. "It's just a little flu or the sniffles," he said, blaming the media once again for the hysteria and panic over Covid-19. A few days later, he clearly demonstrated his prioritisation of the economy over isolation measures favoured by the rest of the world. "People are going to die, I'm sorry," he said. "But we can't stop a car factory because there are traffic accidents." "Jair Bolsonaro is alone right now," says Brian Winter, editor-in-chief of the publication Americas Quarterly. "No other major world leader is denying the severity of this to the extent that he is and depending on how things go, that approach could cost a lot of lives in Brazil." Jair Bolsonaro is frustrated. He came to power last year promising a better economy and coronavirus has put a stop to that. Rio's beaches are deserted and the normally gridlocked streets of Sao Paulo are empty. Shops, schools, public spaces and businesses in many states have shut. So Mr Bolsonaro is determined to make this pandemic political, blaming his adversaries for trying to destroy the country. A few days ago, a video was shared by Jair Bolsonaro's son, Flavio - a politician himself. The video's message, which claimed to come from the Brazilian government, was that "BRAZIL CAN'T STOP" (in Portuguese, #obrasilnãopodeparar). People need to keep working to keep the country safe and the economy growing.
3-29-20 Lockdown, what lockdown? Sweden's unusual response to coronavirus
While swathes of Europe's population endure lockdown conditions in the face of the coronavirus outbreak, one country stands almost alone in allowing life to go on much closer to normal. After a long winter, it's just become warm enough to sit outside in the Swedish capital and people are making the most of it. Families are tucking into ice creams beneath a giant statue of the Viking God Thor in Mariatorget square. Young people are enjoying happy-hour bubbles from pavement seating further down the street. Elsewhere in the city, nightclubs have been open this week, but gatherings for more than 50 people will be banned from Sunday. Compare that to neighbouring Denmark, which has restricted meetings to 10 people, or the UK where you're no longer supposed to meet anyone outside your household. On the roads in Sweden, things are noticeably quieter than usual. Stockholm's public transport company SL says it saw passenger numbers fall by 50% on subway and commuter trains last week. Polls also suggest almost half of Stockholmers are remote working. Stockholm Business Region, a state-funded company that supports the city's global business community, estimates that rises to at least 90% in the capital's largest firms, thanks to a tech-savvy workforce and a business culture that has long promoted flexible and remote working practices. "Every company that has the possibility to do this, they are doing it, and it works," says its CEO Staffan Ingvarsson. His words cut to the heart of the government's strategy here: self-responsibility. Public health authorities and politicians are still hoping to slow down the spread of the virus without the need for draconian measures. There are more guidelines than strict rules, with a focus on staying home if you're sick or elderly, washing your hands, and avoiding any non-essential travel, as well as working from home. Sweden has so far reported nearly 3,500 cases of the virus and 105 deaths.
3-28-20 We need to send people money. We need to fix how they get it, too.
Putting the coronavirus stimulus into action will be much harder than it should be. To battle the economic crash from the coronavirus pandemic, Congress is sending Americans cash. The deal just hammered out will send $1,200 to every adult making under a certain income threshold, and $500 for every child. But will the money actually get to everyone? In many cases, it turns out, it could take weeks or months. And many of the poorest and most vulnerable Americans will face further difficulties once the check arrives. weeks of the bill's passing," The New York Times reported. "But mailed payments will take one or two weeks longer, Republican Senate aides said Wednesday." It sounds like the mailed checks, for individuals who don't have bank information already on file with the IRS, could take up to two months, and earlier reports suggested they could take up to four. And that time frame doesn't even get to the question of people who may be too poor to have filed taxes, who may move a lot, or who may not have reliable housing, and whose address has to be pieced together from Social Security data or the Veterans Administration. Meanwhile, one out of every four U.S. households either has no bank account or has real trouble accessing one, which adds further hurdles to actually being able to use the money. "You'll have to cash that check, and take that cash and put it into a money order again to pay your bills," Mehsra Baradaran, a professor at the University of California at Irvine who studies banking inclusion and inequality, told The Week. That process will impose further fees, not to mention the costs, time, and effort required to physically go from the check casher to the utility and landlord's offices to pay bills and rent. Senate Democrats, including Sen. Sherrod Brown's office, tried to do something about this. Baradaran helped Brown draft a provision that would give any American who needed it a free banking account — available at any local bank or post office — in which the $1,200 aid could be directly dropped. Others in the House, like Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), have their own proposals to do something similar. Ultimately, none of this made it into the Senate deal, which has now passed the House and is headed to President Trump for signing. But Brown and Tlaib have also introduced their proposals as standalone bills. And we really need to fix this, for both moral and economic reasons. Around 8.4 million U.S. households (or 6.5 percent) are "unbanked," meaning they have no bank account at all. Another 24.2 million households (18.7 percent) are "underbanked," meaning they technically have a bank account but have real difficulty using it. As Baradaran explained, low-income Americans' finances don't mesh well with banks' business models, which are designed more for the steady income flows of the middle class. Less fortunate Americans are constantly hit with fees for things like overdrafts or not having enough money in their accounts. Nor are they particularly profitable for banks, so many institutions have simply abandoned those communities, leaving people with either no banking option, or a branch that's 50 miles away. Regulations used to require banks to keep a branch in every community, but those rules were dismantled in the 1990s, and "those voids were filled with payday lenders and check cashers" as Baradaran put it. Those outfits charge even more onerous fees and interest rates for their services.
3-28-20 Coronavirus: Trump signs into law largest bailout in US history
President Trump has signed the largest-ever US financial stimulus package, worth $2tn (£1.7tn), as the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic. The House of Representatives passed the cross-party bill two days after the Senate debated its provisions. On Wednesday the number of Americans filing for unemployment surged to a record high of 3.3 million people. The US has more confirmed cases of coronavirus than any other country, with more than 100,000 positive tests. No Democratic lawmakers were invited to the historic signing ceremony, which was held at the White House, though the president thanked both parties "for coming together, setting aside their differences and putting America first". Mr Trump said the package was "twice as large" as any prior relief bill. "This will deliver urgently needed relief to our nation's families, workers and businesses," he said. Just before signing the act into law, Mr Trump invoked the Defence Production Act (DPA), which gives the president the power to force private industries to create items required for national defence. Mr Trump said the order will compel General Motors (GM) to manufacture much-needed medical ventilators for the federal government. Earlier in the day, Mr Trump tweeted that GM had promised to "give us 40,000 much needed Ventilators, 'very quickly'. "Now they are saying it will only be 6,000, in late April, and they want top dollar," he said, threatening to invoke the DPA. During the bill signing, the president said that "tremendous [medical] supplies" would be coming soon, adding: "We've had great results on just about everything we're talking about." Earlier on Friday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced eight temporary hospitals to meet an expected surge in cases. He said 519 people had died in the state - the worst-hit in the US - and there were 44,635 confirmed cases.
3-28-20 Coronavirus: Lack of medical supplies 'a national shame'
President Trump has invoked the Defense Production Act to get General Motors to make more ventilators and Boeing will make face shields for medical professionals. Doctors in the United States have been sharing the difficulty of obtaining gear to treat patients with Covid-19. Some say it adds to the pressure of caring for their patients while another took matters into his own hands by buying medical equipment on the black market. A recent study from the United States Conference of Mayors suggested that 91.5% of cities did not have enough face masks for their first responders and medical personnel.
3-28-20 Coronavirus: Trump orders 'time-wasting' General Motors to make ventilators
US President Donald Trump has ordered General Motors to make ventilators for coronavirus patients after attacking the car giant's chief executive. He invoked the Korean War-era Defense Production Act, which allows a president to force companies to make products for national defence. Mr Trump said that "GM was wasting time" and action was needed to save American lives. The US now has 104,000 cases of the virus, the most in the world. With nearly 1,700 fatalities, America's Covid-19 death toll still lags far behind Italy and China. Mr Trump had previously said the defence order was not necessary, because companies were voluntarily converting their operations to help fight the spread of coronavirus. But on Friday he said in a statement: "The virus is too urgent to allow the give-and-take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course." Earlier in the day he took to Twitter to complain that GM had lowered the number of ventilators they had promised to deliver from 40,000 to 6,000 and had wanted "top dollar". He also criticised GM chief executive Mary Barra, saying things were "always a mess" with her at the helm of the Detroit-based auto manufacture. GM said on Friday it could build at least 10,000 ventilators per month from April. GM has been working with a Seattle-based medical device manufacturer, Ventec Life Systems, to build ventilators at the car maker's plant in Kokomo, Indiana. GM's factory in Warren, Michigan, will be used to make surgical masks, the Associated Press reports. The White House had been due to announce the joint venture between the two companies on Wednesday until Trump administration officials reportedly baulked at the $1bn bill to taxpayers. During the coronavirus task force briefing on Friday, the president said: "We're not looking to be ripped off on price." Mr Trump also acknowledged he was "extremely unhappy" over the closing of GM's plant in Lordstown, Ohio. The car-maker sold the factory last November, axing 1,400 jobs in a key presidential swing state.
3-28-20 Coronavirus cradle Wuhan partly reopens after lockdown
The city in China where the coronavirus pandemic began, Wuhan, has partially re-opened after more than two months of isolation. Crowds of passengers were pictured arriving at Wuhan train station on Saturday. People are being allowed to enter but not leave, according to reports. Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, saw more than 50,000 coronavirus cases. At least 3,000 people in Hubei died from the disease. But numbers have fallen dramatically, according to China's figures. The state on Saturday reported 54 new cases emerging the previous day - which it said were all imported. As it battles to control cases coming from abroad, China has announced a temporary ban on all foreign visitors, even if they have visas or residence permits. It is also limiting Chinese and foreign airlines to one flight per week, and flights must not be more than 75% full. Meanwhile, the virus continues to spread rapidly in other countries around the world. Nearly 600,000 infections have been confirmed globally and almost 28,000 deaths, according to figures collated by Johns Hopkins University. The death toll in Spain has exceeded 5,000, after it reported 832 more fatalities in the past 24 hours. Spain is the world's worst hit country after Italy. The US now has the highest number of confirmed infections at 104,000. South Korea says that for the first time it now has more people who have recovered from the virus than are still infected. It reported 146 new cases on Saturday, taking the total to 9,478 - of whom 4,811 have been released from hospital. Russia and Ireland are among the latest countries to bring in new restrictions to try to slow the spread of the virus. In Russia, shopping centres, restaurants and cafes have been ordered to close. In Ireland, people will have to stay at home with limited exceptions for the next two weeks. In the UK, frontline National Health Service staff in England will begin being tested this weekend to see if they have coronavirus.
3-27-20 Pope gives prayer to empty St Peter's Square
Pope Francis has given a solitary prayer service to an empty St Peter's Square as Italy's coronavirus death toll passes 9,000. The "Urbi et Orbi" usually happens twice a year - at Christmas and Easter - and this particular service was called "An Extraordinary Prayer in the Time of Pandemic". (Webmaster's comment: We knew it all along. Belief in GOD does not matter!)
3-27-20 Coronavirus: Tesla donates hundreds of ventilators to New York
Elon Musk has promised to provide New York with hundreds of ventilators to help meet demand from the growing coronavirus outbreak. The Tesla chief executive said the first batch of donated machines would be delivered later on Friday. The ventilators were purchased from US government-approved manufacturers in China. The mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio thanked Mr Musk on Twitter writing "We're deeply grateful." "We need every ventilator we can get our hands on these next few weeks to save lives," he tweeted. The ventilators will be donated to hospitals in New York City and across New York state. New York has the highest number of cases of Covid-19 in the US. As of Friday the governor said 519 people in the state had died from the disease. On Thursday, the US officially became the country with the most confirmed cases of Covid-19 globally. Ventilators are needed because the virus attacks the lungs. The patients with serves symptoms often need ventilators to breathe. New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state needed 30,000 ventilators to prepare for the apex of the outbreak. Mr Musk purchased 1,255 ventilators from three manufacturers - ResMed, Philips and Medtronic - last week. He said his company would be giving all its ventilators away "whether we buy them or build them". Earlier this month, Mr Musk pledged to reopen Tesla's gigafactory in Buffalo, New York - which builds solar cells - and repurpose it to manufacture additional ventilators. "Giga New York will reopen for ventilator production as soon as humanly possible. We will do anything in our power to help the citizens of New York," he wrote on Twitter. The company had suspended production at its factories in New York and California. These donations appear to mark a turn in Mr Musk's view of the coronavirus. In early March he tweeted that the panic over coronavirus was "dumb". In another tweet he suggested children were "essentially immune" to the virus - which is false.
3-27-20 U.S. Employees Increasingly Seeing COVID-19 Effects at Work
Nearly three in 10 employed Americans now say that their employer has cut jobs, reduced hours or frozen hiring as a result of the novel coronavirus outbreak, marking an 18-percentage-point increase since mid-March. Part-time workers are more likely than those employed full time to report these negative effects on their workplace.
- 29% of U.S. workers say employer has cut jobs, cut hours or frozen hiring
- 52% say cutbacks at work are affecting their financial situation
- 81% expect a negative effect on their workplace from COVID-19
3-27-20 The U.S. coronavirus outbreak is going to be worse than Iran's
The way the United States has treated Iran over the past three years is an abominable war crime. After Iran signed the nuclear agreement with the Obama administration, and held up its end of the bargain, the Trump administration unilaterally abrogated the deal for no reason, and reimposed devastating economic sanctions. That is a clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, of which both Iran and the U.S. are signatories, that prohibits collective punishment of civilians. The resulting damage has seriously hindered Iran's ability to respond to the novel coronavirus pandemic — and despite their government's desperate pleas to relax the sanctions that prevent it from obtaining vital medical supplies, the Trump administration refused. This is vicious, genocidal cruelty. But ironically, it now looks like the coronavirus outbreak is going to be much worse in the United States than Iran. The U.S. outbreak is growing faster than any other — we now have more cases than any other country, including China and Italy, and more than twice the number of confirmed cases as Iran (85,762 versus 32,332 as of March 27). While America has fewer deaths so far, we have matched Iran's figure at an equivalent point in the outbreak, and numbers are rising fast. The number of deaths in New York State is going up faster than any other region, including Lombardy and Madrid. The monstrous callousness and incompetence of Donald Trump and the Republican Party are going to hurt Americans more than they do our so-called enemies. Early in the pandemic, Trump administration officials have gloated over how badly Iran is suffering. On March 17, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blasted the Iranian government for mishandling the outbreak. "The Iranian leadership is trying to avoid responsibility for their grossly incompetent and deadly governments," he said. COVID-19 "is a killer and the Iranian regime is an accomplice." That was rich coming from a U.S. regime that refused to stop strangling the Iranian economy out of pure spiteful malice and whose own response has been defined by dissembling and delay.
3-27-20 UK science advisers expect coronavirus epidemic to peak within a month
The peak of the UK coronavirus epidemic now looks likely to arrive within a month, according to analysis by the government’s science advisers. As of 9 am on 27 March, there were 14,579 confirmed covid-19 cases in the UK, among them prime minister Boris Johnson and health secretary Matt Hancock. A total of 759 people have died. With most people confined to their homes, the peak number of cases is now expected to occur between the next two to four weeks, followed by a slow decline. Although the government anticipates that some intensive care units will be overwhelmed, it believes an ongoing expansion of capacity in the National Health Service should enable the healthcare system to cope at a national level. Overall, the expectation is that the country is still on course for what the UK’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, has publicly said would be a “horrible” but “good” outcome of fewer than 20,000 people dying. However, if people don’t comply with the restrictions in place, that figure is expected to be higher. The UK government says it is ramping up testing for covid-19, but efforts are still far short of the high levels seen in Germany and South Korea. The UK expects to get to 10,000 tests a day by Monday, up from around 4000 a day in recent weeks. Plans are under way for an industrial-scale factory to make test kits, to help expand testing beyond hospital patients to front-line NHS workers and eventually the wider public. The factory may consist of several facilities in different locations. It remains unclear how and when stringent social distancing measures will begin to be relaxed or lifted. Scientific advisers to the UK government believe the risk of a second peak in cases after the one within a month is still an unknown, but the history of epidemics suggests a significant chance of a further coronavirus peak.
3-27-20 Coronavirus: US overtakes China with most cases
The US now has more confirmed cases of coronavirus than any other country, with more than 86,000 positive tests. According to the latest figures collated by Johns Hopkins University, the US has overtaken China (81,897 cases) and Italy (80,589). But with over 1,300 Covid-19-related fatalities, the US death toll lags behind China (3,296) and Italy (8,215). The grim milestone came as President Donald Trump predicted the nation would get back to work "pretty quickly". Asked about the latest figures at a White House briefing on Thursday afternoon, President Trump said it was "a tribute to the amount of testing that we're doing". Vice-President Mike Pence said coronavirus tests were now available in all 50 states and more than 552,000 tests had been conducted nationwide. Mr Trump also cast doubt on the figures coming out of Beijing, telling reporters: "You don't know what the numbers are in China." But later, he tweeted that he had had a "very good conversation" with China's President Xi Jinping. "China has been through much & has developed a strong understanding of the Virus. We are working closely together. Much respect!" President Trump said. Mr Trump has set a much-criticised goal of Easter Sunday, 12 April, for reopening the country. That plan seemed to gather impetus on Thursday as it emerged an unprecedented 3.3 million Americans have been laid off because of the virus. At Thursday's briefing, he said: "They [the American people] have to go back to work, our country has to go back, our country is based on that and I think it's going to happen pretty quickly. "We may take sections of our country, we may take large sections of our country that aren't so seriously affected and we may do it that way." He added: "A lot of people misinterpret when I say go back - they're going to be practising as much as you can social distancing, and washing your hands and not shaking hands and all of the things we talked about." (Webmaster's comment: Trump Lies Again!)
3-27-20 Coronavirus: Record number of Americans file for unemployment
The number of Americans filing for unemployment has surged to a record high as the economy goes into lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly 3.3 million people registered to claim jobless benefits for the week ended 21 March, according to Department of Labor data. That is nearly five times more than the previous record of 695,000 set in 1982. The rush overwhelmed many state offices handling the claims and signalled an abrupt end to a decade of expansion. The shift comes as officials in states across the country close restaurants, bars, cinemas, hotels and gyms in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. Car firms have halted production and air travel has fallen dramatically. According to economists, a fifth of the US workforce is on some form of lockdown. Analysts said the situation could be even worse than the data currently shows, noting the reports of jammed call lines and crashing state websites. Some kinds of workers, such as people working part-time, do not qualify. "I've been writing about the US economy ... since 1996, and this is the single worst data point I've seen, by far," said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist of Pantheon Economics. Nationally, the figures are nearly five times higher than the worst point of the 2008 financial crisis. In Illinois, weekly jobless claims increased 10-fold. They more than quintupled in New York and more than tripled in California, which were among the earliest and biggest states to impose restrictions. The effects were even more dramatic in smaller states. While some retailers, such as Walmart and Amazon, have announced plans to hire, economists said that will not make up for the jobs lost. As incomes evaporate, the economic damage is likely to snowball, since consumer spending accounts for the majority of the US economy. "Once the risks around the virus pass, it will not be just easy to flip the switch and employment returns to pre-crisis levels," Joseph Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM wrote on Twitter. "That is not how this is going to work and will require more aid."
3-27-20 Coronavirus: Tears, fears and anxiety amid job losses
Nearly 3.3 million people registered to claim jobless benefits for the week ended 21 March, according to Department of Labor data. Rosie Alumbaugh and Chase Charaba tell BBC News about the struggles they're facing following their job losses.
3-27-20 Face mask shortages have sparked creative solutions. Will they work?
Health care workers are considering rewearing masks or using homemade ones during the COVID-19 pandemic. As COVID-19 sweeps across the United States, hospitals are running out of masks, gowns and eye protection. New supplies aren’t being made fast enough to keep up with demand, and stockpiles seem insufficient. “There is no bailout,” says David Witt, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist at Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center in California. “There is no military supply. There is no national stockpile that will suffice. It’s not coming from another country in aid.” Mask-making company 3M is ramping up production, and other companies, including Ford, are pitching in. But these efforts will take time. Meanwhile, carpenters, clothing companies and local sewing circles are stepping up to help. Crowdsourcing efforts such as #getmePPE and the 100 Million Mask Challenge are seeking to fill supply gaps in face masks, goggles and other personal protective equipment, or PPE. An editorial published March 20 in JAMA requested creative ideas. Proposals have flooded in with predominant themes emerging on how to reuse the face masks called N95s, thick, tight-fitting masks that can block tiny virus particles, and how to make alternatives to commercial ones. The innovation on display convinced surgeon Ed Livingston, a coauthor of the editorial and an editor at JAMA, that “this is the biomedical engineering community’s Apollo 13 moment.” In this fast-moving emergency, it’s unclear which homespun efforts will help the most. Here’s what we know, and don’t know, about how to best conserve the PPE that we have and how to make more. Hospitals are asking for donations from anyone who might have PPE on hand, including construction workers, dentists and spa workers. Wearing a single mask for multiple patients is “something that we would normally never do,” Witt says.
3-27-20 Will a home antibody test for covid-19 really be a game changer?
The UK has ordered 3.5 million antibody tests designed to reveal if people have been infected with the coronavirus. The UK’s prime minister Boris Johnson, who today announced he himself has tested positive for the virus, has said these tests will be a “game changer”, but the reality is they might not have that much of an impact in the short term. Almost all testing around the world is based on looking for the presence of the virus, by looking for its genetic sequence. But such tests require or nose or throat swabs to be taken by trained personnel and sent to a specialised lab, and there’s a global shortage of equipment. Genetic tests also detect only active infections. Antibody tests, by contrast, detect the antibodies our bodies produce to kill the virus, which we keep producing even after the virus is eliminated. These tests can reveal who has been infected even after they have recovered. Handheld tests that require only a drop of blood can give results in ten minutes, and can be mass produced quickly and cheaply. If we know someone has had the virus, they can potentially leave their home without risk of being re-infected, which would help countries getting moving again. However, the accuracy of the tests has yet to be established. “The one thing that’s worse than no test is an inaccurate test,” Chris Whitty, the UK’s chief medical officer, said on 25 March. Someone wrongly told they have already had covid-19 could go out and get infected. How accurate do they need to be? “It’s very difficult to say,” says Emily Adams at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, who is helping assess the tests developed by Mologic, one of the companies supplying the UK. Part of that process will be working out what accuracy is required for different uses, Adams says.
3-27-20 Coronavirus: How can I shop or get deliveries and takeaways safely?
Remember a time - just a few weeks ago - when a trip to the supermarket wasn't restricted to the "basic necessities" to be done "as infrequently as possible"? Those were the words Boris Johnson used about the new approach to shopping as he outlined the government's curbs on daily life, to limit the spread of coronavirus. He said people should "use food delivery services where you can". But what are the safest ways to go shopping for food or accept a delivery or takeaway at home? Coronavirus spreads when an infected person coughs small droplets - packed with the virus - into the air. These can cause an infection if they are breathed in, or potentially if you touch a surface they have landed on. So going shopping and mixing with other people does carry a risk. That is why social distancing - keeping at least 2m (about 6ft) from others - is so important, and many shops are enforcing it. Supermarkets can provide an "ideal setting" for virus transfer, says Prof Sally Bloomfield, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. "Many people are touching and replacing items, checkout belts, cash cards, car park ticket machine buttons, ATM payment buttons, paper receipts etc... Not to mention being in the proximity of several other people." There are ways to offset these risks: 1. Wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and water, or with alcohol-based hand sanitiser before and after shopping. 2. Treat surfaces as if they may be contaminated, meaning you avoid touching your face after handling shopping trollies, baskets, packages and produce. 3. Use contactless payment methods There is no evidence of Covid-19 being transmitted through food, and thorough cooking will kill the virus. The UK Food Standards Agency website has advice on food safety at home. But while there is no such thing as "zero risk", says Prof Bloomfield, it is packaging - handled by other people - that is a chief concern.
3-27-20 Social distancing is about to get a whole lot harder
It's another Friday in America, but we are not living in the same country we were even a week ago. Since last Sunday, versions of shelter-in-place orders have gone into effect in more than half the states; California, uniquely, will be spending its second weekend under government-mandated quarantine, while the rest of us are going into our first. Viruses don't take weekends off, though, and neither should our social distancing precautions. Still, it can be extremely tempting to ignore the orders to stay primarily indoors, particularly as spring continues to warm up the northern hemisphere. As people lose their patience with being cooped up inside — and as the thermometer rises after a long, cold winter — isolation is going to get a lot harder to voluntarily follow. Just look at last weekend, when governors and health experts were already cautioning people against being in public for longer than absolutely necessary. Places of natural congregation, like trail heads, parks, and popular running paths, were swarmed in many cities as people sought ways to get out of their homes and stretch their legs. Alarming photographs emerged from places like Washington state, Illinois, New York, and Oregon, of lax social distancing practices — or none at all. It's understandable, to some degree. The end of March and beginning of April mark the transition from winter activities into summer ones in most states, as running outside grows more bearable, cyclists switch to short sleeve jerseys, and eager hikers start to hit trails as they melt out at the lower altitudes. While there are still many days of bad weather ahead — here come April showers! — you start to get beautiful, cobalt skies again as well. I've found myself feeling like a cartoon character, staring longingly out my window at sun-drenched streets I'm now warned against idling on. It's especially hard when you feel like you've earned an escape from your home or apartment after a long week trapped inside. "Everybody is going to think that it's the weekend; therefore, we can take a break from the discipline of what we're having to apply for the care of those around us," Midland, Texas, Mayor Patrick Payton explained to the Midland Reporter-Telegram. "Just because it's the weekend doesn't mean we're off high alert." Even if your local parks haven't closed, or the basketball hoops are still up down the street, it is imperative to keep up proper isolation and suspend all group sports.
3-27-20 Coronavirus: Can EU get a grip on crisis?
"The EU is finished," gloat the nay-sayers. "Even faced with the coronavirus, its members can't stick together." Certainly EU leaders meeting on Thursday - by socially-distant video conference - glaringly failed to agree to share the debt they are all racking up fighting Covid-19. From her flat in Berlin, where she is self-isolating after her doctor tested positive for the virus, German Chancellor Angela Merkel openly admitted to the disharmony over financial instruments. What leaders did agree on was asking Eurogroup finance ministers to explore the subject further, reporting back in two weeks' time. The EU is famous for kicking difficult decisions down the road but in coronavirus terms, with spiralling infection and death rates, two weeks feels like an eternity. For ordinary people, frightened for their health, the safety of their loved ones, worrying about their rent and feeding their family after businesses shut down, the idea that Europe's leaders spent six hours on Thursday night, squabbling over the wording of their summit conclusions in order to defer a key decision over coronavirus funds, will be incomprehensible. Spain and Italy - ravaged by the effects of the virus on their populations and their limited public finances - were deeply disappointed. Italy was already one of the EU's most Eurosceptic member states before Covid-19 hit. Italian Twitter was littered with expletives on Thursday - and those were just the posts from politicians. President Emmanuel Macron of France is said to have told leaders the political reaction after the crisis could spell the end of the EU. The thing is, the coronavirus simply highlights already existing, well-known difficulties in the EU. Firstly, the tension between centralising power in "Brussels" vs keeping decision-making with national governments/parliaments. Public health, for example is a national competency, which is why we've seen different EU countries taking different national measures to mitigate the effects of Covid-19. And secondly, when it comes to economics, when wealthier countries like the Netherlands and Germany hear the words "debt-sharing" or "solidarity", what they worry that their voters will understand by that is - "richer EU countries in northern Europe have to foot the bill for poorer ones in the south".
3-27-20 Coronavirus travel: China bars foreign visitors as imported cases rise
China has announced a temporary ban on all foreign visitors, even if they have visas or residence permits. The country is also limiting Chinese and foreign airlines to one flight per week, and flights must not be more than 75% full. Although China reported its first locally-transmitted coronavirus case for three days on Friday, almost all its new cases now come from abroad. There were 55 new cases across China on Thursday - 54 of them from overseas. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said it was "suspending the entry of foreign nationals" because of the "rapid spread of Covid-19 across the world". The suspension applies to people with visas and residence passes, but not to diplomats or those with C visas (usually aircraft crew). People with "emergency humanitarian needs" or those working in certain fields can apply for exceptions. Although the rules seem dramatic, many foreign airlines had already stopped flying to China - and a number of cities already had restrictions for arrivals. Last month, for example, Beijing ordered everyone returning to the city into a 14-day quarantine. Although the virus emerged in China, it now has fewer cases than the US and fewer deaths than Italy and Spain. There have been 81,340 confirmed cases in China and 3,292 deaths, the National Health Commission said on Friday. In total, 565 of those confirmed cases were classed as "imported" - either foreigners coming into China, or returning Chinese nationals. In Hubei - the province where the outbreak began - there were no new confirmed or suspected cases on Thursday. The lockdown in provincial capital Wuhan, which began in January, will be eased on 8 April.
3-26-20 Coronavirus: Trump knows economic meltdown brings political pain
The latest US unemployment numbers were predicted to be catastrophic. The actual total, 3.3 million, turned out to be even worse than expected. The record-breaking amount reflects a US economy put into deep-freeze almost overnight. The government-ordered shutdown hasn't just shuttered businesses temporarily, it has vaporised the jobs of millions of Americans - many of whom are the particularly vulnerable hourly service workers who live paycheque to paycheque. The stock market free-fall and early reports of layoffs foreshadowed Thursday's grim news, prompting Congress to craft its largest-ever aid package, which passed the US Senate Wednesday night. The test now will be whether the multi-trillion-dollar relief will do enough, quickly enough, to staunch the bleeding. What's clear at this point, however, is the physical disease that is afflicting tens of thousands of Americans and growing will be accompanied by an economic ailment that adversely affects the lives of millions. Like Congress, the White House has also seen the coming economic tsunami - and what it could portend. Earlier this week, Donald Trump said he was anxious to reopen businesses and get Americans back to work, representing a shift of focus from earlier statements about doing everything possible to stop the spread of the virus. The political reality for Trump is there will be very real consequences for his presidency not only if the US death toll from the coronavirus pandemic continues to mount, but also if the US spirals into a deep recession. While this is uncharted territory, a nation in economic turmoil early in an election year is a serious threat to a president's political hopes. There are few more reliable indicators of ballot-box success or failure than the state of the economy. When times are bad, financial hardship becomes a roar that drowns out all other concerns. Trump's call for the nation to get back to work has been echoed by other conservatives who are more bluntly suggesting that aggressive measures to save American lives may not be worth the extended economic distress they require.
3-26-20 Which covid-19 patients will get a ventilator if there's a shortage
If the coronavirus pandemic causes a shortage of ventilators, who will be attached to these potentially life-saving machines and who won’t? This is the grim question doctors around the world are currently grappling with. Life-or-death choices are already being made in Italy, where covid-19 has claimed more than 7500 lives. Doctors in Bergamo in northern Italy have said that “older patients are not being resuscitated and die alone” because hospital resources are so overstretched with cases. According to data from China, about 2 per cent of people who became infected with the covid-19 virus in the country before the end of January needed a ventilator to pump air with extra oxygen into their lungs via a tube, helping them to breathe. It normally takes a few weeks before the immune systems of people relying on such machines can clear the virus, allowing them to breathe on their own again. On 16 March, Italian guidelines recommended to the country’s hospital doctors that, if demand outstrips supply, ventilators should be preferentially given to patients with the best chance of recovery and the most years to live. Similar guidelines have also been published in the UK and in Australia and New Zealand. This approach reflects an ethical framework called utilitarianism that aims to bring about the most good for the greatest number of people, says philosopher Julian Savulescu at the University of Oxford. But making these choices about who to save will be difficult, he says. One challenge is that we still don’t have a firm understanding of which health conditions affect the chance of surviving covid-19, he says. One way around this kind of dilemma may be to implement a “trial of treatment” approach for people infected with the covid-19 virus whose outcomes are uncertain, says Savulescu. You could put them on a ventilator for a designated period – say a week – to see how they respond, before deciding whether to give it to someone else who may benefit more. “That way you give them a chance and you can also test your hypotheses,” he says.
3-26-20 No, the coronavirus wasn’t made in a lab. A genetic analysis shows it’s from nature
Scientists took conspiracy theories about SARS-CoV-2’s origins seriously, and debunked them. The coronavirus pandemic circling the globe is caused by a natural virus, not one made in a lab, a new study says. The virus’s genetic makeup reveals that SARS-CoV-2 isn’t a mishmash of known viruses, as might be expected if it were human-made. And it has unusual features that have only recently been identified in scaly anteaters called pangolins, evidence that the virus came from nature, Kristian Andersen and his colleagues report March 17 in Nature Medicine. When Andersen, an infectious disease researcher at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., first heard about the coronavirus causing an outbreak in China, he wondered where the virus came from. Initially, researchers thought the virus was being spread by repeated infections jumping from animals in a seafood market in Wuhan, China, into humans and then being passed person to person. Analysis from other researchers has since suggested that the virus probably jumped only once from an animal into a person and has been spread human to human since about mid-November (SN: 3/4/20). But shortly after the virus’s genetic makeup was revealed in early January, rumors began bubbling up that maybe the virus was engineered in a lab and either intentionally or accidentally released. An unfortunate coincidence fueled conspiracy theorists, says Robert Garry, a virologist at Tulane University in New Orleans. The Wuhan Institute of Virology is “in very close proximity to” the seafood market, and has conducted research on viruses, including coronaviruses, found in bats that have potential to cause disease in people. “That led people to think that, oh, it escaped and went down the sewers, or somebody walked out of their lab and went over to the market or something,” Garry says.
3-26-20 Coronavirus: Pangolins found to carry viruses related to Covid-19
Smuggled pangolins have been found to carry viruses closely related to the one sweeping the world. Scientists say the sale of the animals in wildlife markets should be strictly prohibited to minimise the risk of future outbreaks. Pangolins are the most-commonly illegally trafficked mammal, used both as food and in traditional medicine. In research published in the journal Nature, researchers say handling these animals requires "caution". And they say further surveillance of wild pangolins is needed to understand their role in the risk of future transmission to humans. Despite confirmation that pangolins carry viruses closely related to Covid-19 (also known as SARS-CoV-2), exactly how the virus jumped from wild animals to humans remains a mystery. The horseshoe bat and now the pangolin have both been implicated, but the precise sequence of events is unknown. Commenting on the study, Dr Dan Challender of the University of Oxford, said pangolins are known to host various strains of coronaviruses. He added: "Identifying the source of SARS-CoV-2 is important to understand the emergence of the current pandemic, and in preventing similar events in the future." The ant-devouring scaly mammal, said to be the most widely trafficked mammal in the world, is threatened with extinction. The animal's scales are in high demand in Asia for use in traditional Chinese medicine, while pangolin meat is considered a delicacy. Elisa Panjang of Cardiff University, a pangolin conservation officer at the Danau Field Centre in Malaysia, said it would be devastating if the report led to persecution of pangolins. "This is the time for the international community to pressure their governments to end illegal wildlife trade," she said. China has moved to ban the consumption of meat from wild animals in the wake of the outbreak. Similar moves are being considered in Vietnam.
3-26-20 Coronavirus: Man planning to bomb Missouri hospital killed, FBI says
A man suspected of planning to attack a hospital treating coronavirus cases in the US state of Missouri died after a shootout with the FBI, officials say. The confrontation happened as agents tried to arrest the 36-year-old in the city of Belton as part of a domestic terrorism investigation, the FBI said. Officials said the man was motivated by racist and anti-government beliefs. He had allegedly considered a range of targets before settling on the hospital because of the current outbreak. The suspect, identified by authorities as Timothy R Wilson, had been under surveillance for months, which revealed him to be a "potentially violent extremist" who had expressed racial and religious hatred, the FBI said in a statement. Wilson had previously considered attacking a school with a large number of black students, a mosque and a synagogue, according to the FBI. He reportedly decided to target the unidentified hospital after authorities in Belton, located in the Kansas City area, told residents to stay at home in an attempt to stem the coronavirus spread. "Wilson considered various targets and ultimately settled on an area hospital in an attempt to harm many people, targeting a facility that is providing critical medical care in today's environment," the statement added, without identifying the facility. The suspect had taken "the necessary steps to acquire materials needed to build an explosive device," according to the FBI. The shooting happened when agents were prepared to arrest Wilson, who was armed, and he tried to retrieve what they believed to be an explosive device, the agency said. After the confrontation he was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. According to Missouri's health department, the state had 356 confirmed cases of Covid-19 - the disease caused by coronavirus - as of Wednesday. Eight people there have died of it. Across the US, there have been more than 1,000 deaths caused by the virus and nearly 70,000 confirmed infections.
3-26-20 Coronavirus: Record number of Americans file for unemployment
The number of people without jobs in the US has surged to a record high as the economy goes into lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly 3.3 million people registered to claim unemployment benefits for the week ended 21 March, according to Department of Labor data. The previous record was set in 1982, when unemployment claims hit 695,000. The sharp rise marks an abrupt end to a long period of slow and steady job market expansion. It comes as officials in states across the country close restaurants, bars, movie theatres, hotels and gyms. Car firms have halted production and air travel has fallen precipitously. According to economists, a fifth of the workforce is on some form of lockdown. State officials, who process unemployment claims, have reported being overwhelmed by requests for the benefits, which analysts said means the situation could be even worse than the data currently shows. Ian Shepherdson, chief economist of Pantheon Economics, said he expects to see the unemployment rate increase to to at least 6.5% shortly - nearly double the prior rate - and continue to accelerate in future months. "I've been writing about the US economy ... since 1996, and this is the single worst data point I've seen, by far," he wrote. In Illinois, weekly jobless claims multiplied by 10. They more than quintupled in New York and more than tripled in California, which were among the earliest and biggest states to impose restrictions. The effects were even more dramatic in smaller states. Nationally, the figures are nearly five times higher than the worst point of the 2008 financial crisis. Analysts warn that lower income workers are particularly vulnerable, as the lockdown forces retailers, fast food outlets and other low wage employers to cut back or close. And as people lose jobs, the economic damage is likely to snowball, since consumer spending accounts for the majority of the US economy.
3-26-20 Coronavirus: US Senate passes $2tn disaster aid bill
The US Senate has passed a $2 trillion (£1.7tn) coronavirus aid bill that is the largest economic stimulus in US history. The vote was delayed by a last-minute row between Republican and Democratic senators over unemployment benefits. The plan includes direct payments of $1,200 to most American adults and aid to help small businesses pay workers. US coronavirus deaths are around the 1,000 mark and there have been nearly 70,000 confirmed infections. More than 21,000 people with coronavirus have died across the world since it emerged in China's Hubei province in December, while the number of infections is racing towards half a million. Southern Europe is now the centre of the pandemic, with Italy and Spain recording hundreds of new deaths every day. President Donald Trump, a Republican, said on Wednesday he would sign the fast-tracked bill as soon as it reached his desk. But the plan hit a speed bump as Republican senators Tim Scott, Rick Scott, Ben Sasse and Lindsey Graham said its major expansion of unemployment benefits provided "a strong incentive for employees to be laid off instead of going to work". They said they would oppose the bill unless it was fixed to ensure workers could not have a higher income while unemployed than in a job. Senator Bernie Sanders, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, said he would oppose the bill unless the Republicans dropped their objections. He also demanded tougher conditions on the legislation's "corporate welfare". In the end the Republican senators were allowed a vote on their amendment, which failed. The bill does have cross-party support but it must still be passed in votes in the Senate and House of Representatives before the president signs it into law. With revisions being made to the bill late into Wednesday, the Republican-majority Senate finally, and unanimously, approved it with a 96-0 vote. It now moves on to the House which is expected to vote on Friday.
3-26-20 Will the EU survive coronavirus?
What may finally tear it apart are the same economic divides that have dominated in prior crises. Will the European Union be one of the casualties of COVID-19? The worldwide pandemic has dealt a dramatic and obvious blow to the liberal ideas of free trade and freedom of movement that inspired and were inspired by the EU. The openness that made it possible to travel and do business seamlessly across a continent has provided the virus with a cornucopia of vectors for transmission. If the refugee crisis of the mid-2010s put strengthened borders back on the continent's political agenda, the pandemic has made the case for hunkering down nationally as well as individually hard to dispute. But the EU could survive a change to its freedom of movement rules. In fact, the only practical way to address problems like chaos at the Austria-Hungary border as EU citizens try to get home is through coordinated action at the EU level. The same is true of other efforts to fight the virus, like tracking the infected and providing emergency medical assistance. The goal of effectively containing and eradicating the virus no more militates against the need for Europe-wide policymaking than it does against the need for coordinated national action in the United States. "Europe" may be based on certain ideals, but it is embodied in institutions, and it is the effectiveness of those institutions in meeting novel challenges that matters to its survival far more than perfect fidelity to those ideals. And that's the problem. The threat to the EU's future stems from the fundamental weakness of its central institutions. And what may finally tear it apart are the economic divides that have dominated in prior crises. The EU is already divided over the coronavirus, and along the same axes as obtained in the wake of the financial crisis and in the subsequent sovereign debt crises: the southern countries are getting hit much harder. As of this writing, Italy and Spain between them account for nearly 60 percent of the cases of COVID-19 within the Eurozone (EU members that use the Euro as their currency), and over 80 percent of fatalities. The death rate in Italy and Spain together is 9 percent; in the rest of the Eurozone, it's 2.5 percent. Those numbers may well change as the virus spreads — but they also reflect different demographic and organizational realities. Germany did far more effective testing and tracking in the early phases of the epidemic, for example, and the virus was initially brought into the country by young people who did not spread it to the older population as quickly as took place in Italy. But even if Germany looks like Italy in four weeks' time, Italy looks like Italy right now. And the nature of membership in the Eurozone puts real limits on Italy's ability to respond effectively to the economic challenge before it.
3-25-20 Coronavirus latest news: Economic impact of pandemic 'worse than 2008'
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. Covid-19 impact will be “worse than the global financial crisis” The impact of the covid-19 pandemic on the global economy will be worse than the 2008 recession, according to the World Trade Organization’s director general, Roberto Azevêdo. The managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva, has asked G20 leaders to support an increase of its emergency financing capacity to boost its response to the coronavirus pandemic. Singapore’s economy has experienced its largest contraction in a decade in the first quarter of this year, according to data released on 26 March. The country is planning for a deep recession. Numbers released from the US Labor Department today revealed that a record 3.3 million US citizens filed for unemployment last week. The US Senate recently passed a stimulus bill of approximately $2 trillion. In India, the government announced a $22 billion bailout for people in urgent need of financial support. This comes amid concerns about the prospects for the millions of daily-wage earners in the country, after it went into lockdown earlier this week. The UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, says self-employed people will have up to 80 per cent of their wages covered by the government during the pandemic. A study of 33 newborns born to mothers with covid-19 in Wuhan, China, found that 9 per cent of the infants had covid-19 symptoms but no deaths were reported. It remains unclear whether the virus can transmit from a mother to a fetus during pregnancy. China’s Civil Aviation Administration has announced they will significantly reduce the number of flights in and out of the country to prevent a second coronavirus outbreak. The UN’s food body has warned that protectionist measures brought in by national governments during the pandemic could lead to food shortages around the world. This year’s Tour de France may go ahead without spectators, according to France’s sports minister. The race is due to start on 27 June.
3-25-20 Coronavirus latest news: Covid-19 antibody test ready 'in days'
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 UK government has ordered more than 3 million finger prick antibody tests that could be ready in a matter of days. The tests could reveal whether someone had covid-19, but they are being checked first to show that they work properly. It is also still not known whether it’s possible to develop long-lasting immunity to the coronavirus. China’s Hubei province lifted all travel restrictions today, with the exception of Wuhan, where restrictions won’t be eased until 8 April. In Malaysia, which is currently the worst-hit country in South East Asia, the lockdown has been extended for two more weeks. Facebook usage has surged in countries under lockdowns. It’s estimated that a quarter of the world’s population is currently under lockdown and, although Facebook usage is up, the tech giant’s advertising revenue is falling. The White House and the Senate have agreed a stimulus package worth more than $1.8 trillion to help ease the economic impact of coronavirus in the US. Some prisoners could be temporarily released in several countries, including England and Wales, to ease pressure on jails caused by more staff taking sick leave and self-isolating, the BBC reports. Epidemiologist Neil Ferguson gave evidence to the UK’s parliamentary select committee on science and technology today as part of an inquiry into the nation’s response to the pandemic. He said that he is “reasonably confident” that the health service will be able to cope during the predicted peak of the epidemic in two or three weeks, because of expected increases in National Health Service capacity and on-going travel restrictions.
3-25-20 How does coronavirus testing work and will we have a home test soon?
Because the symptoms of covid-19 are similar to those of other diseases, testing is the only way to know for sure if someone is infected with the coronavirus. Mass testing is therefore crucial to halting its spread. In the UK, a home test will apparently go on sale very soon. At present, most tests are based on looking for genetic sequences specific to the covid-19 coronavirus. If these sequences are found in a sample, it must contain the virus. Getting a sample to test involves pushing a swab – which resembles an extra-long cotton bud – deep inside the nose or to the back of the throat. The swab is then sent off to a lab. The virus is only detected in the blood, urine or faeces of roughly half of those who test positive based on nose or throat swabs, so blood, urine and stool tests aren’t reliable. If you are coughing up sputum, testing that can provide more accurate results than a nose or throat swab, according to a handbook summarising findings in China. Most labs use a method called the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which takes several hours. It can take days for labs to run the tests and tell people their result. Several groups around the world, are developing faster genetic tests, typically based on a method called loop mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP), which takes less than half an hour. Handheld LAMP tests that could be used in homes and airports may start to become available within weeks. In theory, genetic tests should be extremely accurate if done properly. However, there have been reports from China of many false negatives and false positives. This may be because the swabbing wasn’t done correctly, or because overworked lab technicians were making mistakes. In addition, if people are tested very soon after becoming infected, they may not be shedding the virus yet.
3-25-20 Coronavirus: One case lays bare America's testing failure
"Trace, test and treat" has been the mantra of global health bodies in tackling the spread of Covid-19. But innumerable cases around the country show it is a model the United States has failed to recreate. "I'm still sick, it hasn't improved. I'm coughing, I've been feverish and my left lung hurts. There have been times the wheezing and the gurgling in my chest have been so bad at night that it's woken me up. There's no doubt I have all the symptoms." Claudia Bahorik - who is 69 and lives in Bernville, Pennsylvania - does not say this lightly. As a retired physician herself, she has done her research. But this is the story of Dr Bahorik's determined, though so far unsuccessful plight - involving clinics, hospitals and even a senator's office - to find out if she has the coronavirus. It all started as far back as the last week of February. Dr Bahorik had recently been on a trip to New York with her great niece, and soon after developed a cough and a fever, though it appeared to subside. She carried on as planned, performing jury duty, attending the funeral of a friend and travelling to Washington DC for a medical appointment. While she cannot be certain when she got infected, in early March, Dr Bahorik became extremely ill. "By 9 March I was coughing so hard and I could hardly walk, and at that point I really suspected I had the coronavirus." So began Dr Bahorik's quest to get tested, one that she documented. Claudia Bahorik sees her family doctor who agrees that she should have a coronavirus test. The local health system's protocol requires that he first carry out an influenza test, a test for RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus), a chest X-ray and some laboratory work to rule out other possibilities. She goes home to await those results. The doctor informs Claudia that while tests ruled out the other causes, Pennsylvania Department of Health did not give approval for her to get a coronavirus test. She does not meet the criteria of having known exposure to someone who had tested positive for coronavirus, or travelled to a country deemed to be high risk.
3-25-20 There are constructive steps we can all take to fight the coronavirus
The new coronavirus is upending our lives, but simple actions can slow its spread, help our neighbours, foster a sense of togetherness and rejuvenate our immune systems. HARD times lie ahead. Not only do we all have to contend with the threat of covid-19 itself, and its economic fallout, but as nations lock down movement outside our homes, there are extra mental pressures to cope with too. Fortunately, there are constructive things we can do. Our individual actions can slow the spread of the virus. We can help our neighbours to get through this. We can reach out electronically to support others. Such actions may help us develop a new sense of togetherness, and that will help. There is something else, though, that we can do to improve both our physical and mental resilience: exercise. As we report in “How to fight infection by turning back your immune system’s clock”, exercise is a sure-fire route to a stronger immune system. This isn’t your typical well-being advice, issued alongside adjuncts to eat and sleep well. This is grounded in the cutting-edge science behind the idea that our immune system has an age that doesn’t necessarily match our body’s count in years. As we discuss, exercise is just one part of what we can do to reduce our immune age and strengthen our body’s defences against disease. Elsewhere in this issue, we look at the race to identify and test drugs that might treat covid-19 (“We haven’t identified any new drugs for severe covid-19 cases yet”). Caution is needed: many celebratory reports and announcements are premature, and we are still without a drug that can help those who are seriously ill. We also analyse the scientific advice that informed the UK government’s coronavirus strategy (“UK’s scientific advice on coronavirus is a cause for concern”), which until Monday night was notably different from the line many other countries were taking, and report on studies showing that the virus causes negligible symptoms in many of those who have it. Strangely, infectiousness seems to peak before the onset of noticeable symptoms (“You could be spreading the coronavirus without realising you’ve got it”).
3-25-20 Coronavirus: Senate agrees $1.8tn stimulus package with Trump
A stimulus package worth more than $1.8 trillion (£1.5tn) has been agreed by US Senate leaders and the White House to ease the impact of coronavirus. It reportedly includes payments of $1,200 to most American adults and aid to help small businesses pay workers. Full details of the deal, which Congress is expected to pass, are not known. Financial markets around the world rose on news of the deal. President Donald Trump has said he hopes the US will shake off coronavirus within less than three weeks. But the top US infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, warned that "you have to be very flexible" about a timeframe for ending the crisis. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo warned the illness was spreading faster than "a bullet train" in his state, which is at the centre of the pandemic in the US. After 802 deaths and 55,225 confirmed infections, America is more than midway through a 15-day attempt to slow the spread of the virus through social distancing. Around 19,000 people have died with coronavirus across the planet since it emerged in China's Wuhan province in January, and more than 425,000 infections have been confirmed. Southern Europe is now at the centre of the pandemic, with Italy and Spain recording hundreds of new deaths every day. Governments around the world have responded by locking down societies in the hope of slowing the spread of the virus. The agreement announced by Democratic and Republican senator leaders at 01:30EDT (05:30GMT) on Wednesday includes tax rebates, loans, money for hospitals and rescue packages. According to US media, individuals who earn $75,000 or less would get direct payments of $1,200 each, with married couples earning up to $150,000 receiving $2,400 and an additional $500 per each child. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell described the package as a "wartime level of investment" in the US nation. If passed, it would be the largest government economic stimulus in US history.
3-25-20 The dangerous economy-first argument sweeping the right
President Trump is apparently eager to restart the American economy — coronavirus or no coronavirus. In tweets and at a press conference on Monday, Trump repeatedly toyed with calling off the social distancing recommendations that have kept American businesses shuttered and consumers at home, once the current period ends on March 30. The president, his advisors, sympathetic Republicans, and his supporters in the media are reportedly becoming convinced that risking the virus' spread is preferable to keeping the economy on lock down. "The cure can't be worse than the disease," Larry Kudlow, the president's top economic advisor, said on Fox News. "We're going to have to make some difficult tradeoffs." The sudden turn towards "economy-first" thinking by the White House and its allies has several layers worth pulling back. But let's begin with the obvious point: Ending social distancing within a week would be an extraordinarily dangerous move. Health officials are virtually unanimous that we're nowhere close to containing the disease, and it will probably take several more weeks, or even months, of society-wide shutdowns of activity to get COVID-19 cases under control. The novel coronavirus is rapidly headed past 10,000 new infections in America per day. And that's just the infections we know about, since testing capabilities remain grossly inadequate. It's worth noting that most of the shelter-in-place and social distancing orders have come from mayors and governors. Trump has little power to actually change these decisions. He can maybe convince ideologically sympathetic states to go along with him, and possibly encourage loyal voters to defy the rules regardless. But of course those rules will remain in place in many states and cities, and most likely the vast majority of people will stay isolated out of justifiable fear. So we'll still get most of the economic damage from a national stop to commerce, plus all the economic costs of far more infections, far more deaths, and most likely the breakdown of our health-care system. Trump and his people say the cure shouldn't be worse than the disease, but this solution would get us the worst of both. (Webmaster's comment: The evidence is clear. These people care not a whit about human life!)
3-25-20 A pro-lifer shrugs in the face of mass death
The editor of a conservative religious magazine cautions against shutting down the country over a pandemic, even if it means a bunch of people die. With a pandemic rampaging across the country and the world, the stock market falling and rising like a roller coaster at full throttle, Congress passing $2 trillion dollars in economic stimulus to avoid a depression, and the president openly defying the consensus of experts in public health, just keeping up with the news requires sharp focus on the biggest headlines. But that shouldn't prevent you from pausing for a few short minutes to read a remarkable essay recently published by the conservative religious magazine First Things. Authored by the journal's editor R.R. Reno, "Say 'No' to Death's Dominion" manages to distill something important about the character of conservative American Christianity in the Trump era. For years now, commentators have tried to make sense of how so many people who profess devotion to the teachings of Jesus Christ can square that faith with fervent support for what the Republican Party has become in recent years. Usually the answer has to do with the president's embrace of the pro-life movement, along with his facility at antagonizing secular liberals. But Reno aims to go further. In a recent book, he gave a modulated endorsement in classically Christian terms to Trumpian nationalism and populism. And now, in the form of a pithy opinion column, he offers readers a theologically inflected defense of the Fox News line on the coronavirus: Don't shut down the country because of a pesky little virus, even if it means a bunch of people die. For those looking for a primer on how conservative Christianity in the United States might look in the future, Reno's essay is the place to go. On a first read, my initial reaction to Reno's piece was to be stunned that the editor of a magazine that has always been steadfastly pro-life had made an argument implying that Christians should respond to mass death with a collective "meh." (Full disclosure: I worked as an editor at First Things from 2001 to 2005 and quit after an ideological falling out with its late founder and editor in chief Richard John Neuhaus.) Whereas FT has long held that abortion is always wrong in every circumstance because human life has absolute intrinsic worth, Reno seems to argue … something very different.
3-25-20 You can help fight the coronavirus. All you need is a computer
Donating computing time can help create a virtual supercomputer that can search for a cure. Staying home isn’t the only way to help fight the coronavirus pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of volunteers have added their home computers to a vast network that forms a virtual supercomputer called Folding@home. The Folding@home project, which uses crowdsourced computing power to run simulations of proteins for researchers studying diseases, announced in February that it would begin analyzing proteins found in the coronavirus behind the ongoing pandemic (SN: 3/4/20). These proteins are tools that help the virus infect human cells. Using computer simulations, researchers are mapping the coronavirus’s proteins, in hopes of revealing vulnerabilities that can be attacked with new drugs. The more volunteers who donate their unused computing power to the effort, the faster the virtual supercomputer can work its magic. Since the project announced its new focus on the coronavirus, around 400,000 new volunteers have joined. Science News spoke with project leader Gregory Bowman, a biophysicist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, about how the project works and how people can help. Researchers have taken snapshots of the proteins of the coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, using techniques like X-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy (SN: 10/4/17). But proteins don’t hold still, Bowman says. “All the atoms in the protein and [its surroundings] are continually pushing and pulling on each other,” he says. “What we’re doing is modeling those physical interactions in the computer.” Those simulations reveal the different shapes a protein’s structure can take. “You want a nice pocket on the surface of a protein where you can imagine this little molecule that we design inserting into a groove,” Bowman says. But many proteins, particularly those in viruses, have seemingly smooth surfaces, making them hard to target.
3-25-20 UK has enough intensive care units for coronavirus, expert predicts
The UK should now be able to cope with the spread of the covid-19 virus, according to one of the epidemiologists advising the government. Neil Ferguson at Imperial College London gave evidence today to the UK’s parliamentary select committee on science and technology, as part of an inquiry into the nation’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. He said that expected increases in National Health Service capacity and ongoing restrictions on people’s movements make him “reasonably confident” the health service can cope when the predicted peak of the epidemic arrives in two or three weeks. UK deaths from the disease are now unlikely to exceed 20,000, he said, and could be much lower. The need for intensive care beds will get very close to capacity in some areas, but won’t breached it at a national level, said Ferguson. The projections are based on computer simulations of the virus spreading, which take into account the properties of the virus, the reduced transmission between people asked to stay at home, and the capacity of hospitals, particularly intensive care units. The Imperial model has played a key role in informing the UK’s coronavirus strategy, but this approach has been criticised by some. “To be fair, the Imperial people are the some of the best infectious disease modellers on the planet,” Paul Hunter at the University of East Anglia, UK told New Scientist last week. “But it is risky to put all your eggs in a single basket.” Ferguson said the current strategy was intended to keep transmission of the virus at low levels until a vaccine was available. Experts say that could take 12 to 18 months and Ferguson acknowledged it was impractical to keep the UK in lockdown for so long, especially because of the impact on the economy. “We’ll be paying for this year for decades to come,” he said.
3-25-20 Canada backs $57bn coronavirus relief bill
Canada's multi-billion-dollar relief package to respond to the coronavirus slowdown has passed in the House of Commons. It allows the government to spend C$82bn ($57bn, £48bn) in emergency aid and economic stimulus. The bill received approval Wednesday with support from all parties, after amendments that removed provisions giving cabinet unprecedented powers. It must now go to the Senate for approval. Legislators passed the package, worth about 3% of the country's GDP, after a debate in the House of Commons that went into the early morning hours. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had promised to push the bill through parliament this week. "No matter who you are, where you are or what you do, Covid-19 is having an impact on your life," he said Tuesday in a press conference from his residence on Tuesday. "Speed is of the essence." Local governments have been increasing social-distancing measures to stem the spread of coronavirus, which has led thousands of businesses to close their doors. The government said it received 500,000 claims for unemployment benefits last week, about 20-times the amount from the week before. Canada's oil and gas sector has also taken a sharp downturn as the price of oil plummeted, from about $35.82 for a barrel of Western Canadian Select in January to just $5.43 last week. The oil and gas industry accounts for about 10% of the country's gross domestic product. Measures in the bill include a boost to child benefit payments to families with children, wage subsidies for small employers, assistance for people unable to work due to the pandemic, and tax relief measures. An earlier version granted Mr Trudeau's cabinet far-reaching powers to tax and spend without parliamentary approval for up to 21 months. This prompted sharp criticism from opposition parties. Mr Trudeau's Liberal Party lead a minority government and need the support of other parties in order to pass legislation.
3-25-20 Coronavirus: Spain’s death toll surpasses China’s
Spain’s death toll from the coronavirus has surpassed the official figure from China, becoming the second highest in the world. Deaths have risen by 738 in just 24 hours to a total of 3,434 - a record spike for Spain. In comparison, China has officially reported 3,285 deaths, while Italy – the worst affected country – has 6,820. Spain's prime minister will later ask MPs to extend his country’s state of emergency for another two weeks. Lawmakers are expected to agree to Pedro Sánchez's request for lockdown measures to stay in place until 11 April. Under the rules, people are banned from leaving home except for buying essential supplies and medicines, or for work. Figures released by the health ministry on Wednesday show that in just 24 hours, Spain’s national death toll rose by 738. Its number of cases soared by 7,973. These are the highest figures for Spain in a single day. The country now has 47,610 confirmed cases. Catalonia accounts for close to 10,000 of those, while the Basque Country and Andalusia both have more than 3,000 cases. But the worst affected region is the area around the capital Madrid, which has recorded 14,597 cases. Madrid’s municipal funeral home announced on Tuesday it has stopped collecting victims of Covid-19 – the disease caused by the coronavirus – while the city’s major ice rink will be used as a temporary mortuary. On Monday, soldiers in Spain brought in to tackle the outbreak found retirement home patients abandoned and even dead in their beds. The defence ministry said that staff at some care homes had left after the coronavirus was detected. There have been more than 435,000 confirmed cases worldwide. Europe is now the centre of the global outbreak. Leaders of nine EU countries have called for the 27-member bloc to raise funds through a “common debt instrument” to tackle the pandemic.
3-25-20 Coronavirus: Trump hopes US will shake off pandemic by Easter
US President Donald Trump has said he hopes the US will shake off coronavirus by Easter, even as New York's governor sounded the alarm that the illness is spreading faster than "a bullet train". The president told a White House news briefing reopening the US early next month would be "a beautiful timeline". Hours later, the Senate agreed a $2 trillion (£1.7tn) economic rescue plan with the White House. The deal will be passed later on Wednesday by the Senate. "At last, we have a deal," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, citing the massive "wartime level of investment into our nation". The package includes tax rebates, loans, money for hospitals and rescue packages for businesses. The House of Representatives still needs to pass the legislation before it is sent to Mr Trump for his signature. The US has recorded almost 55,000 cases and nearly 800 deaths from coronavirus. Globally there have been more than 420,000 cases confirmed and approaching 19,000 deaths. On Tuesday, he told Fox News he hoped the country could get back to normal by Easter, which is on the weekend of 12 April. Mr Trump, a Republican, said: "We're going to be opening relatively soon... I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter." He added in a subsequent interview: "Easter is a very special day for me... and you'll have packed churches all over our country." Mr Trump also warned that unless the country reopened for business it could suffer "a massive recession or depression". The president said: "You're going to lose people. You're going to have suicides by the thousands. You're going to have all sorts of things happen. You're going to have instability." Speaking at a White House briefing later, Mr Trump said he was beginning "to see the light at the end of the tunnel", though he said "our decision will be based on hard facts and data". Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading expert on infectious diseases and a member of the White House's coronavirus task force, told the same press briefing: "No-one is going to want to tone down anything when you see what is going on in a place like New York City."
3-24-20 Coronavirus: Reopening the US by Easter 'a beautiful timeline'
President Trump said he was speaking to the Coronavirus Taskforce about when to open the US for business. He thought Easter - the weekend of 12 April - presented a "beautiful time, a beautiful timeline" and said he hoped to be able to open at least some sections of the country. The US began a 15-day period on 16 March to encourage all Americans to work from home when possible and limit gatherings of more than 10 people. Earlier on Tuesday, the governor for New York, Andrew Cuomo, urged other states to look at what has happening there as an example of what could follow. With 25,665 cases in New York, the state accounts for more than half of all US infections.
3-24-20 Why US society is so vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic
The economic and healthcare policies pursued by the US in recent years have failed to prioritise public health and made it vulnerable to a pandemic. Could things be different? THE coronavirus outbreak is a once-in-a-century event – and it seems the US has spent the past 100 years unwittingly weakening its defences. In fact, the US is probably the developed economy with the worst type of healthcare system to tackle covid-19. Many economic and healthcare policies it has enacted don’t prioritise public health, and it is finding out first-hand how dangerous that can be. The impact of this has been seen in the past month or so in the lack of testing – as of 23 March, the US has done 238,632 tests compared with 338,036 in South Korea, a far smaller country. “We don’t have enough resources to do the testing quickly enough, and have been slow to measure the epidemic and reduce its spread,” says Ben Sommers, a health economist and physician at Harvard University. But the long-term issue is that many people in the US simply don’t have adequate healthcare, he says. “The biggest holes in our system are the issues of affordability and financing.” About 8 per cent of people in the country don’t have health insurance – and many more have plans that don’t cover the full cost of healthcare. In early March, a man in Florida said that even though he had insurance, he was expected to pay about $1400 to get a test for covid-19. As businesses close to enable social distancing, some people will lose their jobs and with it their employer-provided insurance. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has now lifted restrictions on testing and made it free to all. But Sommers points out that if someone needs care for severe symptoms – for example, a ventilator in an intensive care unit (ICU) to help them breathe – that care won’t be covered by the federal government. That isn’t to say that universal healthcare coverage is a panacea. The US has one of the highest number of ICU beds per 100,000 population, at 34.7 according to the latest figures available. The UK, with its National Health Service, has just 6.6, while Italy, with a similar universal service, has 12.5. “I understand the temptation to look at the new coronavirus and say we need to get everyone covered. As we see in Italy, that alone isn’t going to fix this,” says Sommers.
3-24-20 Coronavirus: What this crisis reveals about US - and its president
There are no fresh flowers at the 9/11 Memorial any more. An American altar usually decorated with roses, carnations and postcard-sized Stars and Stripes is sequestered behind a makeshift plastic railing. Broadway, the "Great White Way", is dark. The subway system is a ghost train. Staten Island ferries keep cutting through the choppy waters of New York harbour, passing Lady Liberty on the way in and out of Lower Manhattan, but hardly any passengers are on board. Times Square, normally such a roiling mass, is almost devoid of people. In the midst of this planetary pandemic, nobody wants to meet any more at the "Crossroads of the World". A city known for its infectious energy, a city that likes to boast it never even has to sleep, has been forced into hibernation. With more cases than any other American conurbation, this city is once again Ground Zero, a term no New Yorker ever wanted applied here again. With manic suddenness, our world has been turned upside down, just as it was on September 11th. Nations, like individuals, reveal themselves at times of crisis. In emergencies of this immense magnitude, it soon becomes evident whether a sitting president is equal to the moment. So what have we learnt about the United States as it confronts this national and global catastrophe? Will lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who have been in a form of legislative lockdown for years now, a paralysis borne of partisanship, rise to the challenge? And what of the man who now sits behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, who has cloaked himself in the mantle of "wartime president"? Of the three questions, the last one is the least interesting, largely because Donald Trump's response has been so predictable. He has not changed. He has not grown. He has not admitted errors. He has shown little humility. Instead, all the hallmarks of his presidency have been on agitated display. The ridiculous boasts - he has awarded himself a 10 out of 10 for his handling of the crisis. The politicisation of what should be the apolitical - he toured the Centers for Disease Control wearing a campaign cap emblazoned with the slogan "Keep America Great". The mind-bending truth-twisting - he now claims to have fully appreciated the scale of the pandemic early on, despite dismissing and downplaying the threat for weeks. The attacks on the "fake news" media, including a particularly vicious assault on a White House reporter who asked what was his message to frightened Americans: "I tell them you are a terrible reporter." His pettiness and peevishness - mocking Senator Mitt Romney, the only Republican who voted at the end of the impeachment trial for his removal from office, for going into isolation.
3-24-20 Coronavirus latest news: Wuhan plans to end lockdown in April
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. Residents of Wuhan in Hubei province will be allowed to leave the city from 8 April if they are given the all-clear from a health app issued by Chinese authorities. The city has been under complete lockdown since 23 January. People in other areas of Hubei will be able to travel from tomorrow. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the US may become the next centre of the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, US president Donald Trump has controversially suggested that the US could soon re-open for business. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games will be postponed to summer 2021. Many other major sporting events, including Six Nations Rugby, the UEFA European Football Championship and the London Marathon have also been postponed. India has announced a total lockdown of its 1.3 billion citizens for 21 days. This comes after the WHO warned yesterday that the pandemic is accelerating. Ivory Coast and Senegal have both declared states of emergency. Ivory Coast has begun to introduce confinement measures, while Senegal will introduce a curfew from dusk to dawn. A modelling study of a simulated Singapore published in The Lancet has estimated that a combination of physical distancing interventions, including quarantine for infected individuals and their families, school closures, and workplace distancing is most effective at reducing the number of coronavirus cases. Researchers are inventing new types of masks and ventilators to help tackle the pandemic. A new ventilator has already been used to treat a person in the UK. In the UK, the government said a decision to temporarily allow early medical abortions to be carried out at home was published in error.The worldwide death toll has passed 17,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 390,000, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.
3-24-20 How America can get its economy back up and running as quickly as possible
Letting the pandemic spread unchecked would only make things much, much worse. For about a week, it seemed as though President Trump and the Republican Party were taking the novel coronavirus epidemic at least sort of seriously. But you didn't think we'd escape that easily, did you? Now a new argument is quickly gaining currency on the right, and among some libertarians — with all the economic damage from the outbreak, perhaps we should just lift the social distancing measures in a week or so and hope for the best? As my colleague Joel Mathis writes, this idea is complete lunacy. However, other countries have demonstrated there is a way to make shutdown measures as short as possible, protect the American people from the fallout, and keep the economy ticking over in the meantime. The smartest countries like Taiwan and Vietnam managed to get ahead of their outbreaks, but that is already out of the question for us — the United States probably already has the worst outbreak in the world, and it is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. However, China, South Korea, and some European countries have demonstrated a viable backup strategy. First, you lock down the population to prevent the spread of the virus, and boost up medical system capacity as much as possible. The state must recruit as many additional medical workers as possible, build field hospitals where they are most needed, and mobilize factories wartime-style to produce vital supplies like gloves, N95 and surgical masks, protective gowns and suits, disinfectant and hand sanitizer, and so on. With sufficient production, both medical personnel and ordinary citizens can protect themselves and slow transmission further. Meanwhile, as Denmark is doing, you pass an economic rescue that keeps people fed and housed during the lockdown. As I've discussed previously, this includes stuff like paying businesses to keep their staff on payroll, boosting unemployment insurance, direct cash payments to individuals, and so on. The basic idea is to keep systems of economic production in stasis until the crisis passes.
3-24-20 Coronavirus: Wuhan to ease lockdown as world battles pandemic
The lockdown in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the global coronavirus outbreak began, will be partially lifted on 8 April, officials say. Travel restrictions in the rest of Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, will be lifted from midnight on Tuesday - for residents who are healthy. A single new case of the virus was reported in Wuhan on Tuesday following almost a week of no new cases. Countries around the world have gone into lockdown or imposed severe curbs. The UK is getting to grips with sweeping new measures to tackle the spread of coronavirus, including a ban on public gatherings of more than two people and the immediate closure of shops selling non-essential goods. Meanwhile, health experts say Americans must limit their social interactions or the number of infections will overwhelm the health care system there. Spanish soldiers helping to fight the coronavirus pandemic have found elderly patients in retirement homes abandoned and, in some cases, dead in their beds, the defence ministry has said. An ice rink in Madrid is to be used as a temporary mortuary for Covid-19 victims. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the pandemic is accelerating, with more than 300,000 cases now confirmed. It is urging countries to adopt rigorous testing and contact-tracing strategies. Wuhan has been shut off from the rest of the world since the middle of January. But officials now say anyone who has a "green" code on a widely used smartphone health app will be allowed to leave the city from 8 April. Earlier, the authorities reported a new case of coronavirus in Wuhan, ending a five-day run of no new cases in the city. It comes after health officials there confirmed that they were not counting cases of people who were positive but had not been admitted to hospital or did not show any symptoms of the disease. Official government figures say there have been 78 new cases reported on the Chinese mainland in the last 24 hours. All but four of them were caused by infected travellers arriving from abroad. This so-called "second wave" of imported infections is also affecting countries like South Korea and Singapore, which had been successful in stopping the spread of disease in recent weeks. South Korea has been seeing a drop in its daily tally of new cases. On Tuesday it reported its lowest number since 29 February. (Webmaster's comment: The China is beating this virus, why can't the United states?)
3-24-20 Trump says coronavirus not Asian Americans' fault
US President Donald Trump - under fire for labelling Covid-19 the "Chinese virus" - has said Asian Americans should not be blamed for the outbreak. He said it is "very important that we totally protect" Asian Americans, whom he praised as "amazing people". Mr Trump spoke out amid rising reports of verbal and physical attacks on the community amid the pandemic. Coronavirus is still spreading in the US, which currently has more than 43,000 confirmed cases and 533 deaths. At a White House coronavirus task force news conference on Monday, Mr Trump said: "It is very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States and all around the world. "They're amazing people and the spreading of the virus is not their fault in any way, shape or form. "They're working closely with us to get rid of it - we will prevail together." Asked by a reporter why he had spoken out, Mr Trump said: "It seems that there could be a little bit of nasty language toward the Asian Americans in our country and I don't like that at all. "These are incredible people, they love our country and I'm not going to let it happen." During press conferences last week, Mr Trump used the term "China virus" and "Chinese virus", rejecting suggestions from reporters that the term was racist. "It comes from China," Mr Trump said then. "It's not racist at all." The World Health Organization has issued guidance against "stigmatising certain communities" when naming illnesses. US lawmaker Judy Chu - a California Democrat and chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus - was not impressed by Mr Trump's remarks. She told NBC News his comments would not "be necessary if he and his supporters had not already endangered so many by spreading this toxic xenophobia".
3-24-20 This is not how America should be responding
The country must come together to defeat the virus. The coronavirus pandemic has already proven to be a profound institutional test for countries around the world — a test that many countries have yet to pass. It's a test of state capacity: Can the government formulate and execute a coherent and sensible response to a novel threat quickly enough to make a difference? It's a test of the health-care system: Are there enough trained doctors nurses and other providers; enough basic supplies like masks and pharmaceuticals; enough hospital beds; and can the delivery and financing system get care where needed quickly? And it's also a test of basic social and political cohesion: Can society as a whole pull together to solve a collective problem, something that will require both central coordination and spontaneous cooperation? So far, the United States is failing on almost every level. But it's the last test that matters most, both in terms of being able to dig our way out of the hole we've already dug and recovering afterward. There has been a lot of finger-pointing about the lethargy with which America responded to the initial reports out of Asia. Our mistakes at that time were costly indeed: We had two months to massively ramp up testing capacity, roll out production of masks and other basics, and come up with a plan for tracking and isolating people with the virus. Instead, we mostly dithered; worse, our national political leadership actively denied the problem. It's worth remembering, though, that lethargy was the most common public response outside of those countries that had prior experience with SARS. Countries like Taiwan and Singapore reacted so swiftly and effectively in part because they had already been through a terrifying test drive. Canada and the U.K., France and Germany, Italy and Spain, Iran and Israel didn't all make the same mistakes as we did, and have varied between them in the alacrity and comprehensiveness of their responses. Nonetheless, they are all playing catch-up as their death tolls mount and their economies collapse. America's health-care system has profound flaws that are being exposed by this crisis, most especially the patchwork system of financing that leaves so many falling through the cracks. But the over-investment that is another feature of our system may yet pay some dividends: in the form of more ICU beds per capita than most countries have, for example, or the enormous capabilities of our biomedical research institutions. Whatever our views on single-payer health care in general, a robust response right now to this specific crisis is entirely feasible economically and technologically, provided we demonstrate the necessary political will and coordination.
3-24-20 Coronavirus: Trump wants US open for business amid pandemic
As a growing number of states issue "shelter in place" orders, businesses shutter and Americans everywhere are told to limit outings and practise social distancing, Donald Trump may be having second thoughts. For more than a week, Trump administration officials and state leaders have been talking of the need to "bend the curve" of the coronavirus outbreak, limiting the spread of the illness to prevent the American healthcare system from being overwhelmed. The steep economic toll, however, is becoming increasingly apparent. Last week Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin predicted that US unemployment could reach 20%. On Thursday the Treasury Department will release last week's new jobless claims, and the numbers are sure to be in the millions. A Goldman Sachs report estimated that the nation's gross domestic product in the second quarter could shrink by 24%, dwarfing the previous 10% record decline in 1958. But at Monday's White House coronavirus news conference, the president said: "America will again and soon be open for business." In the late hours of Sunday night, Trump had vented his concerns. "WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF," he tweeted, using the all-caps he reserves for matters of apparent urgency. "AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!" The 15-day period the president referenced began on 16 March, when the White House announced new Centers for Disease Control guidelines encouraging all Americans to work from home when possible and limit gatherings of more than 10 people. As is often the case, the president's tweet may have been prompted by watching a segment on Fox News. On Sunday evening, host (and former advisor to then-British PM David Cameron) Steve Hilton warned that an economic collapse would itself result in avoidable deaths and other hardships - that the "cure" could be worse than the "disease". "Our ruling class and their TV mouthpieces whipping up fear over this virus, they can afford an indefinite shutdown," Hilton said. "Working Americans can't. They'll be crushed by it." (Webmaster's comment: Trump only cares about the economy so he can win the next election. How many people die in this process doesn't matter to him!)
3-24-20 Trump's false choice about coronavirus
Your economy or your life? You can't negotiate with a pandemic. A virus doesn't respond to threats, bluffs, wheedling or flattery. You can't change its behavior by setting deadlines. All you can really do is slow it down, work to find a vaccine or effective treatment, and hope for the best. The spread of the COVID-19 virus in recent weeks has done much in recent weeks to reveal humanity's limited control over the world in which we live. The memo hasn't been received by President Trump, though. On Monday, his "15 days to stop the spread" effort — originally conceived to challenge Americans to radical action in the face of illness — suddenly became a deadline, after which the president will apparently take it upon himself to decide who among his fellow citizens will live and who will die. Time and tide wait for no human. Neither, apparently, does the economy. "We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself," the president said Monday afternoon, warning that he won't let "social distancing" get in the way of reviving America's suddenly cratered commerce. "At the end of the 15-day period, we'll make a decision as to which way we want to go, where we want to go, the timing, and essentially we're referring to the timing of the opening ... of our country." Monday was also the first day the United States reported more than 100 deaths from the coronavirus. By the end of this week — by the end of the president's 15-day period — that number is likely to be much higher. (Webmaster's comment: Right now its at 588!) "Things are going to get worse before they get better," Surgeon General Jerome Adams told the Today show on Monday. That's an argument for staying locked down for awhile yet. Indeed, there are two big problems with Trump's apparent desire to liberate the economy from the clutches of a government shutdown. The first is legal — the shutdown orders are taking place at the state and local levels; Trump can't override the decisions of governors and mayors in their spheres of authority. (He also can't order, say, the NBA to resume play.) The second is moral and psychological — there is unlikely to be much "pent-up demand" to jumpstart the economy if Americans remain terrified to go out, or if they're grieving lost friends and family for months to come. The best way to fight the economic damage of COVID-19 is to fight the virus itself. Under those circumstances, it would be easier and safer simply to pay everybody to stay home, right?
3-24-20 Trump's crackdown on skilled immigrants is hurting our coronavirus response
Limiting visas for skilled workers has kept out huge numbers of doctors, nurses, and researchers .President Donald Trump has said he is directing federal medical bureaucracies to cut any red tape that might be hampering new tests and better drugs to fight coronavirus. While he's at it, he should direct immigration bureaucracies to do the same. The H-1B visa program that allows companies to hire foreign technical talent has always been woefully inadequate. The annual visa cap — 65,000 for professionals and 25,000 for foreign students graduating from American universities — fills within weeks of opening every April. That means companies that don't land a visa have to wait another year when they can play the lottery again. Most hires can't simply sit around, so they leave for better climes elsewhere, especially Canada, which has become a popular destination for spurned H-1Bs. Now, more than ever, the coronavirus crisis means the U.S. and the world can't afford to let this happen. Whatever the case for restricting travel by infected foreigners, foreign health care professionals fighting to save American lives and foreign researchers developing treatments should be allowed to stay in the country if they are here and fast-tracked in if they are not. But that'll require Trump to undo all the damage his administration has done to America's ability to recruit talented foreigners and put more welcoming policies in place. Thanks to Trump's 2017 Buy American and Hire American directive, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) massively increased the red tape for the H-1B program. Why? Because it wanted to ensure that immigrants wouldn't land any job that an American can do — never mind that STEM graduates have been in short supply for years with jobs going a begging. To this end, it started issuing twice as many "requests for evidence," requiring employers to furnish even more documentation than usual to justify that they absolutely needed a foreign-born worker for a job before handing them an H-1B. And it started rejecting more applications. The upshot has been more delays and denials. The denial rate for new H-1Bs in 2016 before Trump's directive was 10 percent. Last year? 24 percent. Worse, H-1B renewals used to be a pro-forma matter. But now they are being treated like new applications. So their denial rate too has spiked from 4 percent in 2016 to 18 percent in the first quarter of 2019. This means that foreigners who have been living and making vital economic contributions for years are being suddenly asked to pack up and leave. Given how much the health care sector relies on them, the post-coronavirus cost of kicking these folks out won't only be in dollars and cents but also in death and illness.
3-23-20 Coronavirus latest news: Global pandemic is 'accelerating' warns WHO
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 coronavirus pandemic is accelerating, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said today in a press briefing as the number of deaths from covid-19 passed 15,000.The UK government is considering firmer policies to force people to distance themselves from others, while the lockdown in Italy has already been ramped up further with all non-essential businesses now closed. 100 million people are now under lockdown in India and more than 1000 people have been arrested in Sri Lanka for breaking a nationwide curfew declared on Friday. The world’s busiest international airport in Dubai will suspend all passenger flights for two weeks from 25 March. All domestic flights in India will be grounded from 25 March onwards. There are early signs that the rise in new infections in Germany may be plateauing, according to the head of the country’s public health institute, Lothar Wieler. South Korea today reported the fewest new covid-19 cases since the peak on 29 February. The first two cases of coronavirus have been reported in the Palestinian territory of Gaza, where about two million people live in overcrowded cities and refugee camps. Syria is bracing for lockdown after the Health Ministry reported the first case of coronavirus on Sunday. A prominent member of the International Olympic Committee says the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games will be postponed. Australia and Canada have already announced they won’t be sending teams to compete. Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook has donated 720,000 masks to healthcare workers in the US. Over the weekend, the billionaire co-founder of Alibaba, Jack Ma, donated millions of face masks, testing kits and other equipment to countries in Africa.
3-23-20 Coronavirus: New York warns of major medical shortages in 10 days
The coronavirus outbreak in New York will get worse, with damage accelerated by shortages of key medical supplies, the city's mayor has said. "We're about 10 days away from seeing widespread shortages," Bill de Blasio said on Sunday. "If we don't get more ventilators people will die." New York state has become the epicentre of the outbreak in the US and accounts for almost half of the country's cases. There are now 31,057 confirmed cases nationwide, with 390 deaths. On Sunday, the state's Governor Andrew Cuomo said 15,168 people had tested positive for the virus, an increase of more than 4,000 from the previous day. "All Americans deserve the blunt truth," Mr de Blasio told NBC News. "It's only getting worse, and in fact April and May are going to be a lot worse." New York now accounts for roughly 5% of Covid-19 cases worldwide. On Friday, President Donald Trump approved a major disaster declaration for the state which gave it access to billions of dollars of federal aid. However, Mr de Blasio has continued to criticise the administration for what he views as an inadequate response. "I cannot be blunt enough: if the president doesn't act, people will die who could have lived otherwise," he said. "This is going to be the greatest crisis, domestically, since the Great Depression," he added, referring to the economic crisis of the 1930s. Speaking at a news conference at the White House on Sunday, Mr Trump said he had also approved a major disaster declaration for Washington state and would approve a similar measure for California. "This is a challenging time for all Americans. We're enduring a great national trial," he said. President Trump also said a number of medical supplies were being sent to locations nationwide, as well as emergency medical stations for New York, Washington and California, the worst-hit states.
3-23-20 Coronavirus: Trump to deploy National Guard in three states
US President Donald Trump has ordered the deployment of National Guard troops in the three states hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak. Troops will be used in New York, California and Washington to deliver medical aid and set up medical stations after the number of deaths nationwide rose to 471 and infections to 35,244. There are fears of a shortage of key medical supplies in New York City. A bill to fund national relief efforts has been blocked in the Senate. Opposition Democrats want the emergency stimulus bill, which is worth almost $1.4 trillion (£1.2 trillion), to include more money for state and local governments and hospitals, while Mr Trump's Republicans are pushing for quick action to reassure financial markets. President Trump described the crisis facing the US as a "war", saying: "I want to assure the American people that we're doing everything we can each day to confront and ultimately defeat this horrible invisible enemy." The medical stations the National Guard will set up have a capacity of 4,000 beds, 2,000 of which will go to California, 1,000 to New York and 1,000 to Washington state. In addition, Mr Trump said he had approved requests to issue a major disaster declaration for the states of New York and Washington, and would do the same for California "very shortly". Such declarations make federal funds available for relief work. Earlier, several state governors and local authorities pleaded with the federal government to make more medical supplies available. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Sunday: "We're about 10 days away from seeing widespread shortages. If we don't get more ventilators people will die." New York state accounts for almost half of the country's cases. In California, officials have instructed hospitals to restrict coronavirus testing because of a shortage of medical supplies. Meanwhile, a hospital in Washington state - once the centre of the US outbreak - said it could run out of ventilators by April.
3-23-20 Coronavirus: South Korea reports lowest number of new cases in four weeks
South Korea has reported the lowest number of new coronavirus cases since infection rates peaked four weeks ago, fuelling hope Asia's worst outbreak outside China may be abating. The country recorded 64 new cases of Covid-19 in the last 24 hours, taking the total to 8,961 with 111 deaths. But health officials warn against complacency, saying the country still faces a long war against the infection. Europe is currently at the centre of the pandemic. Italy reported 651 new deaths on Sunday, bringing the total there to 5,476, while Spain added another 462 deaths in the past 24 hours for a total of 2,182. In New York, the city mayor warned of a worsening outbreak, with damage accelerated by shortages of key medical supplies. And the expectation that the battle against the virus will be a long one was reinforced by news from Japan that its prime minister has admitted for the first time that the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games could be postponed. Nearly 20,000 people are tested every day for coronavirus in South Korea, more people per capita than anywhere else in the world. The country has created a network of public and private laboratories and provides dozens of drive-through centres where people with symptoms can check their health status. South Korea developed its approach after an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) in 2015, when 36 people died in the country, which had the second-largest number of Mers cases after Saudi Arabia. Mers forced the country to reassess its approach to infectious diseases and its Centres for Disease Control set up a special department to prepare for the worst, a move which appears to have paid off. Laws on managing and publicly sharing information on patients with infectious diseases changed significantly after Mers and could be seen in action this year when the government used phone alerts to tell people if they were in the vicinity of a patient.
3-23-20 Global economy will suffer for years to come, says OECD
The world will take years to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has warned. Angel Gurría, OECD secretary general, said the economic shock was already bigger than the financial crisis. He told the BBC it was "wishful thinking" to believe that countries would bounce back quickly. The OECD has called on governments to rip up spending rules to ensure speedy testing and treatment of the virus. Mr Gurría said a recent warning that a serious outbreak could halve global growth to 1.5% already looked too optimistic. While the number of job losses and company failures remains uncertain, Mr Gurría said countries would be dealing with the economic fallout "for years to come". He said many of the world's biggest economies would fall into recession in the coming months - defined as two consecutive quarters of economic decline. "Even if you don't get a worldwide recession, you're going to get either no growth or negative growth in many of the economies of the world, including some of the larger ones, and therefore you're going to get not only low growth this year, but also it's going to take longer to pick up in the in the future," he added. Mr Gurría said the economic uncertainty created by the virus outbreak meant economies were already suffering a bigger shock than during the September 11 terror attacks or the 2008 financial crisis. He said: "And the reason is that we don't know how much it's going to take to fix the unemployment because we don't know how many people are going to end up unemployed. We also don't know how much it's going to take to fix the hundreds of thousands of small and medium enterprises who are already suffering." Governments around the world have taken unprecedented steps to support workers and businesses during the outbreak.
3-23-20 UK's scientific advice on coronavirus is a cause for concern
As the covid-19 pandemic rages on, governments around the world are turning to teams of scientists for guidance on how to proceed. The UK government finally published the scientific advice it has received on Friday 20 March. At first, most commentators welcomed the transparency. But closer reading of the documents made available online suggests a few causes for concern. The strongest advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) on controlling outbreaks of the coronavirus – testing – barely gets a mention, for example. And the guidance seems to lean heavily on a single model of the outbreak – which some scientists suggest contains systematic errors. The UK government is advised by a panel of epidemiologists, infectious disease modellers, virologists and medical doctors, as well as groups that focus on pandemic influenzas. The exact members vary, a government representative told New Scientist. The dozen reports compiled by this group summarise what is known about the virus and its spread, and the likely impact of any government measures taken to prevent it. Social distancing comes up several times. But there is barely a mention of widespread testing, despite the WHO director general’s pleas to all countries to “test, test, test”. As the WHO’s assistant director-general Bruce Aylward told New Scientist last week, the countries that are best able to control outbreaks of the virus are those extensively testing people who might be infected, isolating them away from their friends and relatives, and tracing who they have been in contact with. The UK guidance doesn’t mention this. “I think it is incredibly surprising that testing and contact tracing is overlooked,” says Devi Sridhar at the University of Edinburgh, UK. “Outbreaks begin and end with testing.” The reports draw heavily on models of how the outbreak will develop with various interventions. These models all come from one team, based at Imperial College London. “It comes across as though they have based everything on the Imperial model,” says Paul Hunter at the University of East Anglia, UK.
3-22-20 How bad will the coronavirus crash get?
From 'very bad' to 'we're ****ed': The range economic outcomes is getting scarier by the day. hen I set out to write this piece, my goal was to give readers some practical sense of the most likely economic consequences of the coronavirus crisis: a best-to-worst range of outcomes. That proved difficult for a few reasons. First, we've never really dealt with anything like this, at least in the modern economic era. Second, what happens next depends enormously on the government's actions: how fast, how big, and how well-designed the policy response is. Third, and this is the tough part to write: The speed at which the projections are getting much worse is simply head-spinning. Numbers that seemed stratospheric days ago are now the mid-to-low range. "Estimates are a little bit all over the place at the moment," Mark Paul, an assistant professor of economic and environmental studies at the New College of Florida, told The Week. "But I think it's clear that the economy is currently in free fall, and without sizable government intervention in the form of large scale fiscal stimulus, we risk having an economic recession or depression that dwarfs the 2008 financial crisis." With that uplifting introduction, let's try to put some numbers on this thing. Last week, JP Morgan anticipated the economy would contract by 2 percent in the first quarter of 2020 (January, February, March) and then contract by 3 percent in the second quarter (April, May, June). By Monday, Goldman Sachs said the economy would stop growing in the first quarter, and shrink by 5 percent in the second. To give you some context: In the Great Recession, the economy shrank 2.3 percent in the first quarter of 2008, rebounded to positive 2.1 percent growth in the second, then dropped again by negative 2.1 percent in the third quarter, then finally fell by a brutal 8.4 percent in the fourth quarter, before finally starting to grow again. And unfortunately, as this past week went on, projections of the coronavirus' economic impact rocketed past even the worst of the 2008 collapse. Last Wednesday, JP Morgan projected negative 4 percent growth in the first quarter, and negative 14 percent in the second. On Thursday, Bank of America projected negative 12 percent growth in the second quarter. Finally, Friday morning, Goldman Sachs released its own renewed figures: negative 6 percent in the first quarter and negative 24 percent in the second — almost three times the worst quarter of the Great Recession. Which is simply staggering. Goldman's latest numbers suggested unemployment would peak at 9 percent. But it's also hard to see how a 24 percent drop in the size of the economy in a single quarter wouldn't come with a significantly worse jobs crash than we saw at the peak of the Great Recession.
3-22-20 Coronavirus: Lombardy region announces stricter measures
The Italian region of Lombardy has introduced stricter measures in a bid to tackle the spread of coronavirus. Under the new rules announced late on Saturday, sport and physical activity outside, even individually, is banned. Using vending machines is forbidden. The move comes as Italy reported nearly 800 coronavirus deaths on Saturday and saw its toll for the past month reach 4,825, the highest in the world. Lombardy is the worst-affected region in the country with 3,095 deaths. The region's President Attilio Fontana announced the new measures in a statement. Businesses have been asked to close all operations excluding "essential" supply chains. Work on building sites will be stopped apart from those working on hospitals, roads and railways. All open-air weekly markets have been suspended. Across Italy there have been 53,578 total cases to date, with about 6,000 people having recovered. Lombardy has been under a lockdown since 8 March and the government had hoped to see results there first. On Saturday, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte ordered the closure of all "non-essential" businesses in the country. However he did not specify which businesses would be considered essential. Supermarkets, pharmacies, post offices and banks will remain open and public transport will continue to run. During a television address to the nation, he said: "We will slow down the country's productive engine, but we will not stop it." Mr Conte described the situation as "the most difficult crisis in our post-war period". Despite the measures introduced so far, the number of new cases and deaths has continued to grow. There have been about 300,000 cases of the virus worldwide with 13,000 deaths.
3-22-20 Coronavirus: Australia to close pubs, cafes and places of worship
Australia is shutting down non-essential services as coronavirus cases rise rapidly in the country. Pubs, clubs, gyms, cinemas and places of worship will be shut from midday on Monday, while restaurants and cafes will have to switch to takeaway only. Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the restrictions after a national cabinet meeting. The number of cases in Australia has risen sharply in recent days, reaching 1,315. New South Wales (NSW), home to Sydney, is the worst-affected state with 533 confirmed cases. Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, has 296 cases, while Queensland has 259. The new restrictions will see many businesses close but supermarkets, petrol stations, pharmacies and home delivery services will continue running. The prime minister said he wanted to keep schools open but parents would be able to keep their children at home if they wished to do so. "I don't want to see our children lose an entire year of their education," he said. Some states, including Victoria, have signalled that they want to close schools. Seven people have died across Australia so far from Covid-19. The new measures come after large crowds gathered on Sydney's beaches including Bondi on Saturday, flouting social distancing advice. Mr Morrison said that the federal and state governments had decided to act because Australians were not obeying guidelines. But he added: "We are not putting in place lockdowns that put people in and confine them to their homes. "That is not a measure that has been contemplated at this point." Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said people, especially the young, had to realise that they needed to live "very differently" and stop going out in order to control the virus.
3-22-20 Coronavirus: India observes 14-hour curfew
More than a billion people in India have been asked to stay indoords for 14-hours to try to combat the coronavirus pandemic. When he announced the curfew last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the curfew last week told citizens that it would be a test in order to assess the county's ability to fight the virus. There have been 315 recorded cases in India has so far.
3-22-20 Shutting the door to legal immigration
The Trump administration is building a virtual wall to keep out potential immigrants who apply legally. Here's everything you need to know: (Webmaster's comment: The whole idea is to make America white!)
- What is the new policy? Since President Trump took office, his administration has dramatically cut the number of people obtaining lawful permanent residence — in other words, a green card — from 1,063,289 during the 2016 fiscal year to about 577,000 in 2019.
- How has that been accomplished? With a large number of rule changes. Rules for applying for asylum have been tightened, forcing 60,000 people to wait in camps in Mexico as their applications are processed. The administration has capped the admissible number of refugees fleeing violence or persecution at a historic low of 18,000, down from 110,000 in 2016.
- What is the public charge rule? Reportedly "a singular obsession" of Trump adviser Stephen Miller, it could prove the most significant change to immigration policy yet. Originally, the public charge rule was part of the Immigration Act of 1891 and was used to deny applications from "idiots, insane persons, paupers, or persons likely to become a public charge." But in August, the administration broadened that evaluation to include 20 separate factors, including English-language proficiency, credit scores, student loans, income level, and whether an applicant had received "noncash benefits for basic needs."
- What about fees? They are being raised across the board, in an apparent attempt to dissuade the poor from even applying. There's a new $50 fee on applications for asylum, for example, which many destitute people fleeing drug gangs or political persecution can't pay. In November, Trump issued a proclamation that all green card applicants had to prove to a consular officer that they plan to buy health insurance within 30 days of their arrival, or that they have sufficient funds for medical care.
- What else is in store? Last spring, the administration released a proposal for a "merit-based" revamp of the existing immigration system. It would, if enacted by Congress, award applicants "eligibility points" based on criteria such as English fluency, whether they have existing job offers, professional skills, education level, and age, as well as a category called "patriotic assimilation," which might include a test on historical texts like George Washington's farewell address.
- Worsening a labor shortage: Critics claim that Trump's immigration policies are making an existing labor shortage worse. In January, before the disruption caused by the new coronavirus, the Labor Department released data showing that U.S. employers were trying to fill 7.5 million vacant positions, while only 6.5 million people were looking for jobs. It was the 11th month in a row that open positions outnumbered applicants, a reversal of a 20-year trend.
3-21-20 Coronavirus: One in five Americans ordered to stay at home
A number of US states have ordered shutdowns with one in five Americans soon set to be under a "stay at home" order. Connecticut and New Jersey are joining Illinois and California in ordering residents to stay at home in order to combat the spread of coronavirus. New York State has ordered non-essential businesses to close. The virus has claimed nearly 230 lives in the US and infected more than 18,500 people. Globally more than 275,000 patients have tested positive for the respiratory illness and more than 11,000 have died. A ban on non-essential travel across the US-Canada border came into effect overnight. On Friday, Connecticut, Illinois and New York state announced measures directing tens of millions of people to stay at home. The restrictions order most workplaces to close and require residents to remain inside except for trips to grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo restricted public gatherings and ordered all "non-essential workers" to stay at home. The measures come as confirmed coronavirus cases in New York reached 7,000 - the highest of any US state. "These provisions will be enforced," Mr Cuomo told reporters. "These are not helpful hints." Late on Friday, President Trump declared a major disaster in New York state, a move which will release federal funding. New York and the neighbouring states of New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania also issued a joint order on Friday for the closure of all "personal care" businesses, such as hair and nail salons and piercing and tattoo parlours. All outdoor team sports such as basketball games are also banned under the measures, which take effect on Sunday night. The announcement comes after California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a similar order, telling all residents to stay at home. He estimated more than half of the 40 million people in his state would contract Covid-19 in just the next two months. Images from Los Angeles show some of the city's most famous landmarks completely deserted while the freeways are almost empty. Illinois, whose biggest city is Chicago, has also ordered all residents indoors with exceptions to shop for food and medicine or take exercise. Nevada and Hawaii have also introduced tough new restrictions to reduce social contact. President Trump has so far ruled out any nationwide lockdown. He said on Friday: "I don't think we'll ever find [a US shutdown] necessary". He added that the US was "winning" the war against the virus. (Webmaster's comment: Trump said while new cases double every two days!)
3-21-20 Coronavirus: People in Beijing begin to head outdoors
After several days with no "home-grown" infections, according to China’s official figures, there is a feeling there that the coronavirus emergency appears to be under control. People in Beijing are finally heading outdoors, as China correspondent Stephen McDonell reports.
3-21-20 Coronavirus: What could the West learn from Asia?
The number of coronavirus cases in the West is skyrocketing, and countries have announced drastic measures, including school closures and lockdowns. The outbreak hit many countries in Asia several weeks earlier - and some have been praised for containing the number of infections. For example, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan all kept case numbers relatively low - despite their proximity to mainland China. What did they do differently - and are there any lessons for other countries?
- Lesson one: Take it seriously - and act quickly: Health experts agree on the same measures for containing the outbreak - test widely, isolate those infected, and encourage social distancing. Such measures are being adopted to varying degrees in the West now - but a key difference is that many countries didn't act as quickly.
- Lesson two: Make tests extensive, and affordable: Cases in South Korea spiked initially. However, it swiftly developed a test for the virus - and has now tested more than 290,000 people. It conducts about 10,000 tests daily for free.
- Lesson three: Trace and isolate:: It's not enough to just test those with symptoms - tracing those with whom they were in contact has been key. In Singapore, detectives have contact-traced more than 6,000 people - locating individuals with CCTV footage, testing them, and ordering them to self-isolate until their results are clear. In Hong Kong, contact tracing goes back to two days before someone develops symptoms.
- Lesson four: Early social distancing: Social distancing is considered one of the best ways of containing an outbreak. But the later the measures are introduced, the more extreme they need to be to work. In Wuhan, China, where the virus is thought to have started, five million people had left the city before the shutdown began. This led to the government imposing the biggest quarantine in human history.
- Lesson five: Keep the public well informed and on side: "Unless you get the co-operation of the public, your policies may not be adhered to, and enforcement only goes so far," says Prof Pangestu. "The important thing is to show that policies are based on scientific evidence."
- Lesson six: It's also down to individual attitudes: It's far too simplistic to say, as some have, that Asians are more likely to comply with government orders. In Hong Kong, public trust in the government is low - and there have been months of anti-government protests. But, in one of the densest cities in the world, many have voluntarily socially distanced themselves - with some even avoiding Lunar New Year gatherings, the equivalent of skipping Christmas events.
- Is all this enough to stop the virus? Experts believe the more aggressive measures being put in place in Western countries will successfully slow the rate of transmissions over time. But, to get a sense of their next challenge after that, they could also look ahead to Asia. Despite having contained the virus, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong are now facing a second coronavirus wave, fuelled by people entering their borders.
3-20-20 Coronavirus basics: What to do if you think you’re infected
Know the symptoms The most common symptoms of Covid-19 are a fever, a dry cough, and difficulty breathing, though some patients also experience diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Do not assume you are virus-free and noncontagious if you haven’t yet shown symptoms, but for now, seek testing only if you are symptomatic or have been in contact with someone who has tested positive. Seek medical attention immediately if your symptoms include persistent chest pain, confusion, or a bluish face or lips. Call your doctor If you have a fever, dry cough, or other worrisome symptoms, your doctor can determine whether you should be tested. Test kits are currently hard to come by in many areas, but you can expect a test in which a swab is inserted in one nostril, with results after a wait of a few days. If you are told to visit a doctor’s office or ER, call ahead so that staff can take precautions, and wear a kerchief or respiratory mask to contain your cough. Don’t bother with masks if you’re not sick, because there’s a nationwide shortage and health-care workers need them. Self-quarantine Most people who contract the virus will recover without intervention, so if you’re not considered high-risk and don’t require urgent medical attention, stay home and self-isolate for at least two weeks, avoiding even the people you live with. Stay in your own bedroom, and ideally, use your own bathroom. Wash your hands often, only grab food when no one else is in the kitchen, and disinfect any surfaces you touch. Drink lots of water, sleep as much as possible, run a humidifier, and manage symptoms with over-the-counter cough suppressants and fever reducers such as Tylenol. Your doctor can tell you when you’re no longer contagious. Sources: CDC.gov and Vox.com
3-20-20 Coronavirus paralyzes the U.S.
American life ground to a halt this week as the coronavirus swept across the country, prompting a historically unprecedented effort to isolate people in their homes. With schools, offices, bars, and restaurants closing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that widespread “social distancing” was necessary to slow the virus’ spread and prevent the CDC’s worst-case scenario of 160 million to 214 million Americans infected and 200,000 to 1.7 million dead. All the major sports leagues suspended their seasons, and the NCAA basketball tournament was canceled. Schools were closed for some 30 million children, or half of national enrollment. Americans, everywhere, confronted eerie scenes of emptiness (see Talking Points) while U.S. infections soared past 7,500, with 124 deaths. Globally, the tally of those sickened surpassed 200,000, with more than 8,000 dead. After downplaying the coronavirus for several weeks as similar to a flu, and castigating the media for “panicking markets,” President Trump abruptly changed his tone and messaging, warning that the epidemic could last into August or later. “It’s bad,” he said. “It’s bad.” But testing still lagged far behind the demand—about 41,000 Americans had had one by midweek—leaving most people feeling symptoms unable to know whether they had Covid-19. Federal officials promised to make 1.9 million tests available by the end of the week. With swaths of the economy shutting down, House lawmakers passed an emergency multibillion-dollar bill offering free testing, 14 days of paid sick time, and free food for children whose schools are closed. Days later, Trump called on the Senate to pass an additional $1 trillion stimulus, which would include two $1,000 direct payments, in April and May, to most Americans and $300 billion in business loans and assistance. Meanwhile, the Dow Jones industrial average has plunged more than 9,000 points in recent weeks, wiping out all the gains during Trump’s term. Scientists are warning “we made need to live with social distancing for a year or more,” said Brian Resnick in Vox.com. So far, such draconian measures have proved the only reliable way to prevent the virus’ spread. A vaccine is still likely to be at least a year away, and herd immunity, which only occurs after more than 60 percent of the population has been infected, would require the deaths of hundreds of thousands. A new federal report also has a pessimistic timeline, said Peter Baker and Eileen Sullivan in The New York Times. The 100-page plan warned that the pandemic “will last 18 months or longer” and could result in “widespread shortages that would strain consumers” and hospitals. The report urged a maximum federal response. “State and local governments, as well as critical infrastructure and communications channels, will be stressed and potentially less reliable,” the report said.
3-20-20 America has one of the world's worst coronavirus responses
The world is gripped by the coronavirus pandemic. At time of writing there were about 225,000 confirmed cases in total, and 9,300 deaths. Europe is for the moment the epicenter of the outbreak, particularly in Italy where the virus has overwhelmed the health care system, but dozens of other countries are only a week or two behind on a similar track, including the United States.. However, there are major divergences between the performance of different countries. Rich and middle-income East Asian countries like Taiwan, Vietnam, and Singapore have managed to nearly halt the outbreak in its tracks, while more ramshackle countries like the U.S. and U.K. have botched it almost beyond belief. While it is obviously too early to conduct a full accounting of what works and what doesn't, some broad lessons about best practices are still apparent. America will need to learn these lessons quickly if it wants to save itself from potentially horrifying outcomes, both now and in future pandemics. It's fair to say there are three broad levels to any pandemic response, each built on top of the other. The foundation is the national health care system, which provides the necessary broad access to testing and treatment. The second is the state's administrative bureaucracy and welfare state, which coordinates additional response measures. That means stuff like setting up mass testing checkpoints at border crossings and around the country, securing stockpiles of necessary medical supplies, constructing emergency hospitals, and so on. It also means deploying income support to individuals and businesses should mass lockdowns or quarantines become necessary, to keep people from being ruined financially and the economy ticking over. The third is citizen awareness: The population must be ready to upgrade their hygiene habits, accept drastic restrictions on movement, and avoid gathering together, so transmission is limited. Of all these, mass testing deserves special emphasis, because without it any emergency response is all but hamstrung. A nation cannot fight an epidemic without knowing where the disease actually is. The best-performing countries, however, excelled on all three levels. Taiwan has a Medicare-style single-payer system (indeed, it was actually based initially on America's Medicare system, except made universal), which allowed them to deploy testing, treatment, and quarantine without any fuss. They also had pandemic response plans drawn up after the SARS outbreak in 2002, which had been regularly reviewed and practiced. Finally, their citizens had been educated and prepared to take any epidemic seriously, so that people did not try to escape lockdowns and spread the disease further. Even middle-income countries can manage this. Vietnam, whose per-capita GDP was only about $6,600 in 2018 (or about 12 percent as much as the U.S.), squelched its initial epidemic with a lightning-fast deployment of mass testing, contact-tracking, quarantine, and public education measures (though it has since been dealing with new infections from foreign travelers). If the state is on top of the situation, mass lockdowns and the associated economic devastation can be limited or avoided.
3-20-20 Hospitals: A dire shortage of beds
Across America, nervous hospital officials are “taking stock,” said Christopher Rowland and Ariana Eunjung Cha in The Washington Post. They are “tallying hospital beds” and intensive-care units, respirators and protective gear. They’re “squeezing extra beds into break rooms and physical therapy gyms” and “erecting triage tents” outside their emergency rooms. They know that the management of for-profit hospitals has spent years cutting their supplies and bed capacity in the name of efficiency, so if the novel coronavirus were to spread in this country with the speed and in the numbers it has in Iran, Italy, and China, they will soon be overwhelmed. “It’s a simple matter of math,” said William Wan, also in the Post. American hospitals have, in total, about a million beds, fewer than 160,000 ventilators, 64,000 adult ICU units, and a finite number of doctors and hospital staff. Assuming even a moderate rate of novel coronavirus infection would imply that 1 million people will need hospitalization and another 200,000 will require ICU-level care, according to Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. And, remember, two-thirds of those beds are already occupied at any given time with the regular patient flow. When asked this week about the number of ventilators in the U.S., said Adam Weinstein in NewRepublic.com, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said it was “classified” for “national security” reasons. Trump, meanwhile, told governors to hunt for ventilators on their own. Rather than level with Americans about what we are facing, the Trump administration is still stonewalling “to conceal its own incompetence.” The paucity of equipment may mean doctors will face “horrendously wrenching” choices in the days ahead, said Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel in The New York Times. With too little of everything, physicians will have no choice but to ration what is available among those most likely to survive. The tragedy of a pandemic is that “some will go without”—and be left to die. You’re already seeing this nightmare scenario play out in Italy, said Jason Horowitz, also in the Times. In the country’s hard-hit northern region around Milan, hospitals are turning away elderly patients with pneumonia and parking the sick in hallways to await care, while exhausted staff are collapsing at their posts. It’s a “grim glimpse” of what may lie ahead for Americans.
3-20-20 America’s shutdown: Civic life goes dark
America’s “coronavirus ground zero” has become “a ghost town,” said Ruairí Arrieta-Kenna in Politico.com. Seattle and the surrounding King County, where the first American died of coronavirus on Feb. 29, has reported nearly 500 cases and at least 43 deaths, and has all but “shut down.” Grocery store shelves are barren, tech industry employees are working at home, and downtown areas are “eerily silent.” That’s now true nationwide, said Annie Gowen in WashingtonPost.com. “America has changed virtually overnight.” Tens of millions of workers, hundreds of thousands of college students, and millions of schoolkids are stuck at home. Even churches are shut. “Fear and anxiety” compete with boredom, and “there is a sudden vacuum” of activities—live entertainment, movies, dating, dining out—that would provide much-needed diversion from this “unnerving” new reality. Even sports isn’t offering its usual escape, said Jason Gay in The Wall Street Journal. March is usually one of the best months on the sports calendar, with NBA and NHL playoffs nearing, college basketball entering March Madness, golfers preparing for the Masters, and baseball gearing up for opening day. Instead, “it’s the Great Sports Shutdown of 2020,” with every major sport postponing or canceling its events until further notice. That’s unprecedented, said Will Leitch in NYMag.com. Sports endured “in the aftermath of every national tragedy” from World War II to 9/11, offering escape, solace, and tribal togetherness. But amid a deadly pandemic, games in which groups of sweaty athletes bang into one another in front of large, closely packed crowds are “a luxury we cannot afford.”
Seven Bay Area counties issued “shelter in place” orders this week for 6.7 million residents in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus. The country’s first lockdown, in place until at least April 7, came after more than 290 people in the region tested positive. Residents must stay home as much as possible, but can run essential errands such as picking up prescriptions, getting gas, buying food, and checking on relatives. Outdoor exercise is allowed. The order carries the weight of law, but San Francisco Mayor London Breed said the city is relying on voluntary compliance and doesn’t want people to feel like “prisoners in their homes.” Additional California counties joined the Bay Area later in the week. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio warned that a lockdown for his 8.6 million constituents could be imminent, though New York’s governor has resisted the move, saying only the state had the power to impose such an order.
3-20-20 Trump: Can he recover from bungling the pandemic?
“It took a stock market crash” and a personal intervention from Fox News host Tucker Carlson, but it seems President Trump has finally “snapped out of coronavirus delusion mode,” said Jonathan Swan in Axios.com. Trump’s public remarks on the pandemic had a new seriousness this week, and he laid out dramatic new measures to blunt the human and economic impact of coronavirus in the U.S. The question is whether the shift came too late to save his presidency. Clearly, said Peter Wehner in TheAtlantic.com, it came far too late. Thousands of Americans are about to die because for three long months, as the virus raged through Asia and then Europe, Trump “brazenly denied reality” since he saw it as a threat to the booming stock market and his re-election. Insisting the virus was no worse than the flu and “totally under control,” he missed a critical window to ramp up our medical infrastructure and actively resisted widespread public testing because, in his words, “I like the numbers where they are. The numbers are now rising dramatically, and the crisis has exposed our overwhelmed narcissist-in-chief as “fundamentally unfit—intellectually, morally, temperamentally, and psychologically—for office.”” His administration will “stagger on” until January 2021, but in every meaningful sense “the Trump presidency is over.” This pandemic is of a “completely different political magnitude” than anything Trump has faced before, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com. It was easy for Americans to tune out “Trump’s continuous din of scandals and gaffes” when they were confined to newspapers, Twitter, and TV screens. But a public health emergency, coupled with the collapse of our economy, is going to have a “tangible impact on the lives of Americans.” When paychecks disappear and the hospitals and morgues overflow, Trump’s failures will be “so blatant that even his own supporters will notice.” For critical weeks, Trump was a passive and willfully ignorant bystander to an unfolding disaster, insisting the virus would just “go away,” said David Frum in TheAtlantic.com. As president, he owns responsibility for the slow U.S. response to the pandemic. “He cannot escape it, and he will not escape it.”
3-20-20 Trusting Trump
Just 37% of Americans say they trust what President Trump is saying about the coronavirus, while 60% say they have little or no trust. 74% of Republicans, however, say they trust Trump.
3-20-20 How they see us: China steps up as U.S. steps back
In times of international crisis, the world used to be able to look to the U.S. for leadership, said Matthew Fisher in Canada’s GlobalNews.ca. But as the coronavirus pandemic rages, U.S. President Donald Trump has made clear that he’d rather build a wall around America than cooperate with any other country. Trump first treated the outbreak as a hoax, then declared a national emergency and barred most Europeans from flying to the U.S.; America’s European allies were given no notice of the ban. And instead of expressing sympathy for the Italians, French, and Britons dying of the illness, Trump boasted that if Europe had implemented a similarly tough travel ban “it would not have replaced China as the new epicenter for the disease.” No one has stepped up to fill the leadership void. Russian President Vladimir Putin has used the crisis to launch an oil-price war with Saudi Arabia, hoping to “depress the price of oil enough that the U.S. fracking business goes bankrupt.” Chinese President Xi Jinping “has behaved no better.” He initially hid the virus from his citizens and the world, allowing it to spread like wildfire. Yet Xi now claims that China’s authoritarian system saved the planet, because it was able to enforce a quarantine on tens of millions of people. Actually, Beijing’s response to this calamity “is giving hope to humanity,” said Peter Kagwanja in the Daily Nation (Kenya). After rising “from the ashes of Covid-19 like the proverbial phoenix,” China is now using “its spectacular success in rolling back the virus to project its soft power globally.” Xi has pledged $20 million to help the World Health Organization improve public health systems in poor countries, and is sending doctors and medical equipment to hard-hit Italy. Contrast this generosity with the selfishness of President Trump, who tried to cut funding for international pandemic prevention efforts and who weeks ago “portrayed the outbreak as good for America”—claiming it would make Americans spend their dollars at home rather than abroad.
3-20-20 Depending on China’s medications
China’s dominance of the pharmaceutical supply chain “is highly dangerous to the U.S.,” said Rik Mehta. Most of our medicine used to be manufactured in the U.S., at plants in New Jersey, but drug making was among the many industries that moved offshore, with 80 percent of pharmaceutical ingredients now manufactured in China. This was “a national security concern” all along, but the coronavirus pandemic has made it emphatically clear why it’s so foolish to depend on another country—particularly one with which we have serious trade and political tensions—for lifesaving medications. Federal officials have warned of possible shortages of some drugs due to supply-chain problems caused by factory shutdowns in China. Generic antibiotics, for example, are now entirely made in China. In the event of a trade-war escalation or a diplomatic rupture in our relationship with Beijing, imagine the damage China’s autocrats could do by cutting off all antibiotics. “The more fraught U.S.-China tensions become,” the more vulnerable Americans are. President Trump has called on U.S. companies to move manufacturing back home, and drug companies should heed that call as soon as possible. “Now is the time to preempt the next public health emergency.”
3-20-20 Coronavirus: Government is 'distilling best science'
The Commons Science Select Committee has praised the government’s use of science in its handling of the coronavirus epidemic. The backing comes after some scientists raised concerns that the government was “risking lives” by not introducing more drastic measures earlier in the outbreak. The MPs have launched an investigation. It will look at how science has been used to inform the measures introduced to control the spread of the virus. Greg Clark, the committee chair, told BBC News that the government’s measures had been based on the “best distillation of (scientific) advice that has been possible”. "The role of science through the chief medical officer and the government's chief scientific adviser has been very prominent. And what we have seen so far is that the advice has been acted upon,” he added. Mr Clark’s comments are in contrast to the chair of the Commons Health Select committee, Jeremy Hunt, who raised concerns last week that the government was moving too slowly in stopping the spread of coronavirus. Mr Clark’s comments follow a private briefing given to the Science Select Committee by key experts, including Prof Neil Fergusson, from Imperial College London, whose study published on Monday led to the dramatic ramping up of control measures. MPs also heard evidence focussing on how UK scientists and social scientists have informed actions on the domestic and global scale, as well as on potential barriers for the expert community as the outbreak continues. In addition, the select committee received a briefing on efforts to diagnose the disease rapidly, and measures such as vaccines and potential therapies taken to tackle infection. Mr Clark said his committee would continue to take evidence through the spring and summer to monitor the government’s handling of the crisis. “We want to make sure that during and after the crisis we learn all of the lessons, for everything from the role of UK science in understanding the causes and the reasons for the outbreak of this pandemic to how science contributed to the handling of it," he told BBC News. "If we were to discover, for example, that the government was departing from taking a rigorously scientific view, that would be something that would be of concern. And then obviously we'd need to call that out."
3-20-20 Kicking out reporters
China this week expelled American journalists working for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, including Mandarin speakers with decades of experience. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said the expulsions were a response to the “unreasonable oppression” of Chinese news outlets in the U.S. In early March, the Trump administration limited the number of Chinese citizens from five state-run media organizations who could work in the U.S. to 100, which forced some 60 Chinese to leave. Some of the expelled American journalists were among the first to report in depth about the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan. Times executive editor Dean Baquet called the ban “especially irresponsible at a time when the world needs the free and open flow of credible information about the coronavirus pandemic.”
3-20-20 Italy: Life in the center of a viral storm
Lombardy now resembles a war zone, said Lettera 43 in an editorial. This wealthy northern region is the epicenter of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak, and its intensive-care wards are packed with thousands of patients suffering from the respiratory illness. When one ventilator becomes free—because a patient has died or recovered—doctors must make a life-and-death decision about who should be hooked up to the machine. Younger people have better odds of survival, and so some hospitals are no longer ventilating coronavirus patients over age 60. The death toll in Lombardy is accelerating rapidly—more than 1,200 people had died by the start of this week, and the figure was going up by a few hundred every day—as is the caseload. At the Pope John XXIII Hospital in the city of Bergamo, doctors “work tirelessly, intubating seven people a day and resting one day out of every 14.” But they are not superhuman. In Bergamo and the surrounding area, at least 71 health-care workers have come down with the virus. To understand the scale of the suffering, said Alessandra Ferrara in Switzerland’s Tio.ch, consider that the newspaper L’Eco di Bergamo now has 11 pages of death notices. There used to be only one page. Crematoriums are working at capacity, and the morgues are full. In the city of Brescia, the bishop has begun identifying empty churches he can use “to shelter the remains awaiting burial.” Funeral services have been banned along with all other gatherings. “Many now realize they said goodbye to their relatives for the last time when they were taken to the hospital.” Lombardy feels abandoned, said Sandro Neri in Il Giorno. The whole of Italy is under lockdown, with all schools and artistic events canceled and most bars and restaurants closed. But the region most affected by the coronavirus “has found itself alone in the fight against an aggressive enemy, without government support.” Authorities in Lombardy are desperately trying to build an extra field hospital—as the Chinese did in Wuhan—and the civil defense corps was supposed to provide beds and equipment, but it has been slow. The 200,000 masks it did send were not hospital-grade and had to be thrown out. “What they sent us was like a handkerchief, a sheet of toilet paper,” said Lombardy’s senior health official, Giulio Gallera. And since the crisis began several weeks ago, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and his ministers have barely set foot here.
3-20-20 Vaccine poaching?
European Union leaders this week drew up a plan to prevent hostile U.S. takeovers of European firms developing drugs to fight the coronavirus, after a report that the U.S. government tried to buy a German company that has a promising lead on a vaccine. The respected German newspaper Welt am Sonntag reported that the Trump administration offered up to $1 billion to biotech firm CureVac to relocate its research to the U.S. The paper quoted an unnamed German official who said President Trump wanted the vaccine “only for the United States.” CureVac and Trump administration officials denied the report, but the European Commission pledged $88 million in extra funding to CureVac just in case. “This is not just about CureVac,” said an EU official. “Many other companies are concerned.”
3-20-20 Borders closed
Canada has closed its borders except to citizens and permanent residents, and all arrivals will have to self-isolate for 14 days. Americans may enter for “essential business” only. Airlines will test all travelers and bar anyone showing symptoms of the coronavirus from boarding a plane, and international flights will land in only four cities: Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, and Calgary. Canada is also bracing for an influx of “snowbirds,” the retirees who winter in Florida or Arizona and are beginning to return home for spring. Ontarians are “coming back in ever-increasing numbers,” said Ontario Chief Medical Officer David Williams. “Unfortunately, a number of them, after a few days, have been found to be positive.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife, Sophie, has tested positive for the virus, so the first family is in quarantine.
3-20-20 Finance: Who can save the economy?
Throw out the playbook, said Dennis Kelleher in MarketWatch.com. Saving the economy from ruin will require more than the tools used in the 2008 financial crisis. It’s time to think about the coronavirus pandemic as “a CAT 5 hurricane” that may cause “nationwide destruction and cripple the financial system and the U.S. economy.” Economists say that the epidemic could make 3 million jobs disappear by June. The crisis will require $1 trillion in spending to cover supply-chain shortages, health-care expenditures, and “the basic necessities for everyone who loses their job or income.” The Federal Reserve is already doing “whatever it takes,” said Neil Irwin in The New York Times. The central bank has slashed rates to zero, offered more generous terms at the “discount window” for banks to borrow, and pledged $700 billion in bond purchases. It’s applying almost all “extraordinary policies used to combat the global financial crisis” in 2008. Instead of rolling them out over 16 months, “it announced versions of them in a single weekend.” Yet the stock market continued to plummet early this week. “The Fed is officially spent,” said Greg Ip in The Wall Street Journal. It has ruled out cutting interest rates to below zero, and giving banks cheap loans doesn’t allay their worry “that their customers may go out of business.” Putting out the fire is now “up to someone else.” That someone may have to be a hitherto unlikely candidate, said Gina Chon in BreakingViews.com: the Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin. Mnuchin doesn’t have the stature of Hank Paulson, who “led the response to the 2008 financial meltdown,” but he has been “an unexpectedly steady hand in a chaotic White House.” It was Mnuchin who advanced the idea of a stimulus check that would “send at least $1,000 each to average Americans.” The Treasury secretary has survived in the White House by “defending the president at every turn.” That has bought him influence that he can right now use to pilot the economy through the crisis.
3-20-20 Markets: Darkest days for the Dow
The Dow “suffered its worst day since the Black Monday market crash in 1987” as fear of a global slowdown gripped Wall Street this week, said Fred Imbert in NBC.com. The blue-chip index’s decline of 12.9 percent, or 2,977.10 points, earlier this week represented its third-worst day ever, behind the 22 percent rout in 1987 and a 13 percent drop in October 1929. Actions by the Federal Reserve did little to reassure panicked investors. Since hitting a record high on Feb. 12, the Dow is down more than 31 percent.
3-20-20 Restaurants will be first casualties
The coronavirus pandemic will “crush” the restaurant industry, said Derek Thompson, and the impact on the entire economy will be devastating. “Americans now spend more at restaurants than at grocery stores,” and today as many people are employed in food service as in manufacturing. Restaurants have become the lifeblood of many communities, including big cities. Now social distancing rules are shutting restaurants of all kinds, and limiting others to takeout service. More than 3 million waiters and waitresses may lose their jobs virtually overnight. “Already operating at paper-thin margins,” restaurants suffering partial or total loss of revenues still have to make their rent and loan payments. Soon, “the entire global leisure and retail economy” will face “mass layoffs, mass bankruptcy, or both.” Only massive federal intervention in the form of grants and cheap loans can keep restaurants from going broke; we also need a direct infusion of $1 trillion in cash to American consumers, so they can continue to keep ordering takeout until the crisis ends. If we don’t act now, most restaurants will be out of business on that happy day when we can safely return to sharing meals in public.
3-20-20 Jobs: Unemployment claims flood the states
.An unprecedented surge in claims has overwhelmed state unemployment departments, crashing websites and threatening to deplete trust funds, said David Lieb in the Associated Press. “In Ohio, more than 48,000 people applied for jobless benefits during the first two days of this week”—a stunning increase from just 1,825 in the same period a week earlier. Pennsylvania saw 70,000 applications in one day, “six times the total for the entire previous week.” National predictions were dire, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warning lawmakers that unemployment could hit Great Depression levels of 20 percent without swift intervention. “The government needs to make sure the hardest-hit families have enough income to keep food on their tables,” said Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers in The New York Times. This recession is not like others. The usual goal in recessions is to get consumers spending. But now millions of businesses are closing “to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus.” The White House is pushing for a payroll tax cut, but that does nothing for people who are out of work. We need to expand eligibility for unemployment insurance and include independent contractors. Business can’t resume if there’s a “wave of ruined credit scores, home foreclosures, and bankruptcies.”
3-20-20 Fox News: Why Republicans don’t fear the virus
“Afraid of coronavirus?” asked Giovanni Russonello in The New York Times. “That might say something about your politics.” Two national polls now show that Democrats are far more likely to view its spread as a “dire threat” than Republicans are. One, from Quinnipiac University, found 60 percent of Republicans “were not especially concerned,” while two-thirds of Democrats said the opposite. The other, from The Wall Street Journal and NBC News, found almost 80 percent of Democrats think the worst is ahead, while just 40 percent of Republicans feel that way. It’s “not surprising,” said Zeesham Aleem in Vox.com. President Trump, his congressional allies, and conservative media outlets have been downplaying the crisis “since day one.” Fox News’ Sean Hannity echoed Trump’s claim that the coronavirus was like the flu, while Rush Limbaugh called the virus “the common cold” and a “ploy to stop Trump rallies.” All this while Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was warning that if Americans don’t practice “social distancing,” we’ll face a catastrophe. Fox News might end up with blood on its hands, said Justin Peters in Slate.com. By repeatedly comparing the new coronavirus to the flu, and echoing Trump’s claim that he was doing “a great job” controlling its spread, the network has persuaded its aging viewers to ignore “the hysteria” and go about their lives as if nothing has changed. These lies are even more perverse when one considers that the network’s elderly demographic is among those most at risk for death if they become infected, with the Centers for Disease Control reporting mortality rates at 8 percent for those between 70 and 79 and almost 15 percent for those over 80. That’s compared with less than 1 percent for the same age group for the flu. This “may well be a new low for Fox News”—and that’s “really saying something.”
3-20-20 Prisons could see a viral nightmare
As the coronavirus spreads, we can’t overlook one of our most vulnerable populations, said Amanda Klonsky: the 2.3 million Americans under incarceration. Life under lockup is no quarantine: Jails get a daily influx of staffers, vendors, and visitors who “carry viral conditions at the prison back to their homes and communities and return the next day packing the germs from back home.” They bring them to overcrowded inmates who often have chronic health problems, share bathrooms and eating areas, and may lack hand sanitizer and soap. Breakouts of coronavirus are certain, and given the constant turnover of prisoners, that puts at risk “anyone with a jail in their community.” Visitors to federal lockups have been barred, but much broader measures are needed. Prison populations should be reduced by using citations instead of arrests for low-level crimes, and by releasing as many pretrial detainees and at-risk individuals as possible. Aging inmates, who are especially vulnerable and have low recidivism rates, should be considered for “medical furloughs or compassionate release.” Any prisoner who contracts the virus “should be offered immediate access to free, high-quality health care.” To do anything less would be inhumane—and “will endanger us all.”
3-20-20 Shutting the door to legal immigration
The Trump administration is building a virtual wall to keep out potential immigrants who apply legally. Since President Trump took office, his administration has dramatically cut the number of people obtaining lawful permanent residence—in other words, a green card—from 1,063,289 during the 2016 fiscal year to about 577,000 in 2019. The number of visas issued to people intending to immigrate has fallen from 617,752 to 462,422 over the same period. Critics charge that the administration’s efforts are racially motivated, since they disproportionately affect lower-income immigrants from Africa, Latin America, and Asia. They point to Trump’s repeated attacks on the diversity visa lottery program that annually grants entry to 50,000 immigrants from what Trump has described as “shithole countries.” The administration counters that it’s just emphasizing merit and skill and protecting the American taxpayer from a drain on the social safety net. What isn’t in dispute is the effect: “I don’t think we have seen any modern president engage in an effort to reduce the number of immigrants the way this president has,” said Kevin Johnson, dean of the University of California–Davis’ law school. Critics claim that Trump’s immigration policies are making an existing labor shortage worse. In January, before the disruption caused by the new coronavirus, the Labor Department released data showing that U.S. employers were trying to fill 7.5 million vacant positions, while only 6.5 million people were looking for jobs. It was the 11th month in a row that open positions outnumbered applicants, a reversal of a 20-year trend. Trump’s former chief of staff Mick Mulvaney conceded the dilemma in February. “We are desperate, desperate for more people,” he said. “We created 215,000 jobs last month. We are running out of people to fuel the economic growth.” Complicating the issue is that much of the need is for low-skilled labor such as home health care and restaurant and hotel work, which college-educated Americans are disinclined to do. “The U.S. economy needs low-skilled immigrants much more than high-skilled immigrants,” said Alexia Fernandez Campbell in Vox.com. “Businesses are having a much harder time finding construction workers, restaurant cooks, and hotel housekeepers than computer engineers and doctors,” yet those are types of workers that Trump’s proposed “merit-based” system disfavors.
3-20-20 Border fall
A pregnant 19-year-old died last week after falling from the top of an 18-foot border fence, the latest casualty of a surge of accidents at the border. Miriam Estefany Girón Luna, a Guatemalan social worker and former beauty queen, was 30 weeks pregnant when she fell while trying to scale the steel mesh fence with her partner. After several surgeries in El Paso, doctors could not save her or deliver the child via cesarean section. As the Trump administration installs fencing, some of it 30 feet high, along the border, smugglers have taken to having migrants climb up the steel fence, swing their legs around, then descend on a ladder. Immigration advocates say new restrictions have led migrants to attempt that dangerous route. Last month, U.S. agents detained 37,119 people at the border, the first increase in nine months.
3-20-20 Nondetained docket
Immigration and Customs Enforcement has 3.3 million illegal migrants on its “nondetained docket,” meaning people who have been apprehended and released in the U.S. while awaiting the disposition of their cases. The number has risen from 2.4 million in 2017, after a surge in border crossings.
3-20-20 Judge blocks major food stamp cuts
Afederal judge blocked the Trump administration last week from forcing an estimated 688,000 adults off of food stamps, arguing that the rule changes would be disastrous amid the fallout from coronavirus. Nineteen states sued the Department of Agriculture over a proposal that would require able-bodied, childless adults to work at least 20 hours a week in order to qualify for food stamps after three months. States could only waive the requirement where the unemployment rate is above the national average, and no lower than 6 percent. The USDA wanted the changes to take effect April 1 despite the coronavirus crisis, but District Judge Beryl Howell of Washington, D.C., imposed an injunction, saying the changes are “likely unlawful because they are arbitrary and capricious.”
3-20-20 Gun sales are surging
Gun and ammunition sales are surging in states hard hit by the new coronavirus. Major supplies are out of stock, and customers have been lining up outside gun shops. (Webmaster's comment: Typical White Nationalist reponse to a crises! Kill someone!)
3-20-20 Coronavirus latest news: UK government to pay up to 80% of wages
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 UK government has announced that it will pay 80 per cent of wages up to £2,500 a month for employees who are not working during the coronavirus outbreak. The scheme will last at least three months, backdated to 1 March, and it could be extended for longer if necessary. UK pubs and restaurants will also close, mirroring moves in other countries around the world. Researchers at the University of Oxford in the UK are planning a safety trial for a vaccine against coronavirus in humans. Normally vaccines are tested in animals first, but the trial has been accelerated due to the speed of the coronavirus outbreak. The first human trial of a vaccine to protect against the covid-19 coronavirus began in the US earlier this week. Other vaccines are in development in Germany and China. Development of an antibody test will also be important to confirm whether people have acquired immunity to the coronavirus. China reported no new local coronavirus cases on Wednesday and Thursday. All new cases reported on those two days were from returning travellers who are thought to have contracted the virus while outside China. Nasa’s pollution monitoring satellites have detected a drop in nitrogen dioxide over China which is thought to be partly due to the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus outbreak. Schools are to reopen in Singapore but with strict social isolation rules for teachers and children who have recently been abroad. Singapore was one of the first countries to be hit by the virus, in late January. More lockdowns, border closures and travel restrictions came into effect around the world today. Argentina has imposed a nationwide lockdown and The Philippines has closed borders to non-nationals. Curfew has been imposed in Sri Lanka and a stay-at-home order has been announced in the US state of California. Police on the Isle of Man arrested a man for allegedly failing to self-isolate, and he could face a fine of up to £10,000 or a three month prison sentence. In the UK, more than 65,000 retired medics are being asked to return to work to help fight the virus. Documents from the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) suggest that policies to limit the spread of coronavirus would need to be in place for “at least most of a year” in order to prevent healthcare services from becoming overwhelmed.
3-20-20 Google may help UK officials track coronavirus social distancing
Google is discussing sharing aggregated and anonymised location data from its apps with the UK government, to show whether people are practising social distancing to combat the coronavirus. The technology giant told New Scientist it was at very early stages of seeing how it could share trends in location data, similar to a Google Maps feature that allows users to see when certain locations are busy. But it stressed it hadn’t yet shared any data with authorities. The effort is part of wider talks between tech firms and governments on how countries can judge whether official guidance is affecting patterns of travel and where people are gathering, rather than trying to track individuals. Unlike Google, UK mobile network operator O2 has already begun sharing aggregated location data with the UK government, Sky News reported. Executives from telecoms firm BT and the largest network operator, EE, also met officials last week to discuss how cellphone companies can help the government, The Guardian reported. Understanding whether or not people are responding to social distancing measures is vital information for governments, because scientists have said the impact of these measures on covid-19 cases and healthcare systems won’t be seen for two to three weeks. Google said it had no plans to share or combine data with others in industry, but was in conversations with tech firms and governments on how it could share insights into trends. A spokesperson says: “We’re exploring ways that aggregated anonymised location information could help in the fight against covid-19. One example could be helping health authorities determine the impact of social distancing, similar to the way we show popular restaurant times and traffic patterns in Google Maps.” They added: “This work would follow our stringent privacy protocols and would not involve sharing data about any individual’s location, movement, or contacts.”
3-20-20 When the far right takes control
If their approach to municipal government is any guide, the far-right Sweden Democrats are authoritarians in waiting, said Jenny Wennberg. In 2018, the anti-immigration populist party won its first mayoralty in the southern Swedish town of Horby. And so far, this experiment in far-right governance has been a disaster. At least 25 municipal managers have quit since the takeover, citing “bullying, abuses, harassment, and slander.” Union representatives say they have been threatened. The federal government has already been forced to step in: The Swedish Work Environment Authority has ordered the city council to improve its work environment by June or face stiff fines. Yet the bullying ethos isn’t just limited to those who work directly for the town. Residents who protested cuts to municipal services weren’t listened to respectfully, as is the norm in Sweden, but were treated as if they had made “an attack on the people’s government.” The city council is even trying to block the work of journalists reporting on it: When a reporter from this paper went to review the daily city planner—standard operating procedure for local reporters—he was flanked by two city workers, who loomed at his side the whole time. This is what happens when a “racist movement” takes power: We end up with “fear, silence, and a dying democracy.”
3-20-20 The Nazareth Inscription’s origins may refute ties to Jesus’ resurrection
Chemical analysis of the marble suggests it came from the Mediterranean island of Kos. A mysterious tablet bearing a Roman emperor’s orders from around 2,000 years ago has long been thought by some scholars to refer to early Christian claims of Jesus’ resurrection from a tomb in the Middle Eastern village of Nazareth. But new research has opened up an entirely different possibility —that the marble slab issued a general demand for law and order after Greek islanders vandalized the tomb of their recently deceased ruler. For the Christian theory to be correct, the document bearing 22 lines of Greek text — known as the Nazareth Inscription — would probably have been written on a piece of Middle Eastern marble. That also would make the tablet the oldest object linked to early Christianity. Instead, a chemical analysis of the marble puts its origins in a quarry on the Greek island of Kos, near Turkey’s southwestern coast, says a team led by Roman historian Kyle Harper of the University of Oklahoma in Norman. That suggests the unnamed emperor’s edict, decreeing that anyone who disturbs tombs and graves or destroys corpses be killed, was a response to a break-in at the grave of a Kos tyrant named Nikias by his former subjects, the researchers report in the April Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. Nikias ruled Kos during the 30s B.C. before being overthrown. News of the people of Kos dragging Nikias’ body from its resting place and scattering his bones apparently spread by word of mouth and created a scandal. Not long after that incident, one Greek poet used the life of Nikias as an example of a reversal of fortune. The researchers propose the tablet was probably issued by the first Roman emperor, Augustus, as a call for law and order in the eastern Mediterranean. The tablet’s message and the style of the inscribed Greek lettering suggest the document dates to between roughly 2,100 and 1,900 years ago.
3-20-20 America has one of the world's worst coronavirus responses
The U.S. is doing everything wrong. Taiwan is doing everything right. The world is gripped by the coronavirus pandemic. At time of writing there were about 225,000 confirmed cases in total, and 9,300 deaths. Europe is for the moment the epicenter of the outbreak, particularly in Italy where the virus has overwhelmed the health care system, but dozens of other countries are only a week or two behind on a similar track, including the United States.However, there are major divergences between the performance of different countries. Rich and middle-income East Asian countries like Taiwan, Vietnam, and Singapore have managed to nearly halt the outbreak in its tracks, while more ramshackle countries like the U.S. and U.K. have botched it almost beyond belief. While it is obviously too early to conduct a full accounting of what works and what doesn't, some broad lessons about best practices are still apparent. America will need to learn these lessons quickly if it wants to save itself from potentially horrifying outcomes, both now and in future pandemics. It's fair to say there are three broad levels to any pandemic response, each built on top of the other. The foundation is the national health care system, which provides the necessary broad access to testing and treatment. The second is the state's administrative bureaucracy and welfare state, which coordinates additional response measures. That means stuff like setting up mass testing checkpoints at border crossings and around the country, securing stockpiles of necessary medical supplies, constructing emergency hospitals, and so on. It also means deploying income support to individuals and businesses should mass lockdowns or quarantines become necessary, to keep people from being ruined financially and the economy ticking over. The third is citizen awareness: The population must be ready to upgrade their hygiene habits, accept drastic restrictions on movement, and avoid gathering together, so transmission is limited. Of all these, mass testing deserves special emphasis, because without it any emergency response is all but hamstrung. A nation cannot fight an epidemic without knowing where the disease actually is. The best-performing countries, however, excelled on all three levels. Taiwan has a Medicare-style single-payer system (indeed, it was actually based initially on America's Medicare system, except made universal), which allowed them to deploy testing, treatment, and quarantine without any fuss. They also had pandemic response plans drawn up after the SARS outbreak in 2002, which had been regularly reviewed and practiced. Finally, their citizens had been educated and prepared to take any epidemic seriously, so that people did not try to escape lockdowns and spread the disease further. Even middle-income countries can manage this. Vietnam, whose per-capita GDP was only about $6,600 in 2018 (or about 12 percent as much as the U.S.), squelched its initial epidemic with a lightning-fast deployment of mass testing, contact-tracking, quarantine, and public education measures (though it has since been dealing with new infections from foreign travelers). If the state is on top of the situation, mass lockdowns and the associated economic devastation can be limited or avoided.
3-20-20 Why the coronavirus fight needs your most precious resource: Time
Social distancing is just waiting. Here's what your time buys. or both economic and ethical reasons, it is imperative that the United States prioritize defeating the virus over other concerns. Now that we are finally making that a priority, we're starting to see the full consequences of that necessary decision. Our economy is screeching to a halt, and the government is consumed with ad hoc efforts to prop up existing economic arrangements and prevent a total collapse. It's enough to give anyone pause. The psychological and physiological consequences of long-term separation and enforced idleness are not to be minimized either. Critics even warn that they could dwarf the ultimate harm caused by the virus itself. We've barely begun to fight, and yet it's already clear we can't keep this up forever. How long will it have to last? If extreme social distancing is about buying time, what are we buying time for? Ultimately, we're buying time for a vaccine and/or cure, both of which are being worked on furiously, with the first human trials for a vaccine already begun. But vaccine development and deployment is not a quick process. An 18-month timeline is already breakneck speed for bringing a vaccine for a novel virus on line; the world economy can't be held at a standstill that long. And while a number of anti-viral strategies are already being tested, and could prove effective much more quickly, it's impossible to know when or if any of them will succeed. So it's important to realize we're buying time for many things short of a vaccine or an effective treatment, milestones that we have far more control over. First, extreme social distancing buys time to ramp up testing, so that we can shift from keeping most of the population away from work and from each other, and focus on quarantining those who are actually infected. That's been South Korea's approach from the start, and while it hasn't been perfectly effective, South Korea has performed far better than most Western countries, and their economy and society have continued to function.
3-20-20 Coronavirus: California issues state-wide 'stay at home' order
California has issued a "stay at home" order to residents as it tries to stem the march of the coronavirus across the most populous US state. Governor Gavin Newsom told Californians they should only leave their homes when necessary during the pandemic. He earlier estimated more than half of the 40 million people in his state would contract Covid-19 in just the next two months. The virus has claimed 205 lives in the US and infected more than 14,000. Globally nearly 250,000 patients have tested positive for the respiratory illness and more than 10,000 have died. Mr Newsom said on Thursday evening: "This is a moment we need to make tough decisions. We need to recognise reality." California is among the first US states to bring in blanket restrictions. Earlier this week Nevada said non-essential businesses should close for 30 days. The governor's order will allow residents to leave their homes to buy groceries or medicine, or walk a dog or take exercise, but seeks to limit public interactions. It will force businesses deemed non-essential to close, while allowing others including grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and petrol stations to stay open. About half of the state's population is already subject to similar stringent measures, including the city of San Francisco. The Democratic governor said parts of the state were seeing infection rates double every four days. Speaking at a press conference in Sacramento, Mr Newsom said the virus "will impact about 56% of us - you do the math in the state of California, that's a particularly large number". The governor did not clarify how his officials had calculated that figure, which would amount to nearly 22.5 million infected people. But his spokesman acknowledged the estimate did not take into account the mitigation measures being implemented state-wide.
3-20-20 US students party on spring break despite coronavirus
Crowds of US university students flocked to Florida for their spring break, defying recommendations from the federal government and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) over the coronavirus outbreak. National health officials are advising against gatherings of 10 or more people. Miami bars and restaurants are closing early, and some beaches have been shut to the public to avoid infection.
3-20-20 Young adults can face severe cases of COVID-19, too
While coronavirus risk rises with age, 1 in 5 hospitalized were younger adults, CDC finds. A new analysis of COVID-19 cases in the United States reveals that while older people are at high risk of becoming seriously ill, the disease can hit younger adults hard, too. Early data from China examining the country’s first 44,000 cases had suggested that most severe COVID-19 cases and deaths happen in adults aged 60 or older and those with underlying conditions. But the first snapshot of U.S. cases, released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows that 1 in 5 people landing in the hospital are 20 to 44 years old. The CDC analysis, released March 18, covers 2,449 reported cases from February 12 to March 16. Among 508 patients who required hospitalization, 20 percent were 20 to 44 years old. And of 121 people who were admitted to an intensive care unit, 12 percent were in that age group. France and Italy are also reporting cases of younger adults falling seriously ill with the coronavirus. Consistent with other studies, the CDC found that patients 65 and older still fared worst, making up 45 percent of hospitalizations, 53 percent of ICU admissions and 80 percent of deaths. And patients younger than 20 still appear to have milder symptoms. Few children or teens required hospitalization, and none died, the analysis found. But not all the cases included enough information to track their care, and it’s unclear whether any of the younger adults had underlying health conditions — a risk factor for developing severe disease. That could inflate the apparent risk to younger adults. More widespread testing and tracking is needed to better pinpoint who is at risk and guide what measures communities adopt to protect vulnerable groups (SN: 3/6/20; SN: 3/13/20). (Webmaster's comment: Sioux Falls Scientists have always claimed the young have lower risk than the elderly. These facts are still consistent with that claim!)
3-20-20 How parents and kids can stay safe and sane during the coronavirus pandemic
Infectious disease experts weigh in on playdates, playgrounds and other parenting questions. To slow the spread of the coronavirus, society is becoming much less social. Public areas are emptying, businesses are shutting down, and schools and day cares are closing. Parents are struggling to navigate this new way of isolated family life, often with imperfect information. Here’s what we do know: The virus behind the pandemic, SARS-CoV-2, can infect children. Kids under 10 are just as likely as adults to become infected from a person in the home, a study of transmission in Shenzhen, China suggests. For reasons that remain mysterious, kids carrying the virus are less likely to get sick than adults. Of about 2,500 U.S. COVID-19 cases reported as of March 16, only 5 percent were in people aged 19 and younger. None died, but children aren’t out of the woods. “Kids do better than adults, but they can still get sick,” says Sean O’Leary, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. And COVID-19, the disease that the coronavirus causes, can be severe, particularly for babies and preschoolers, an analysis of 2,143 children in China suggests. That study, published March 16 in Pediatrics, found that the 5 and under crowd suffered more severe symptoms, including breathing trouble, than older children. In addition to possibly getting sick themselves, children can spread the virus. A study of children in Wuhan posted March 18 at medRxiv.org concludes that although children account for a sliver of the confirmed illnesses, they are “nonnegligible invisible infection sources.” Put another way, kids are huge germ bags. What’s more, people are highly contagious before they show symptoms (SN: 3/13/20), which means they unwittingly spread the virus (SN: 3/17/20). Although scientists are still missing key details about this spread, upper airways are known to be packed with virus early in the illness. And young children are terrible at covering coughs and wiping their noses.
3-19-20 Coronavirus latest news: China reports no new local cases
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. For the first time since the outbreak began in late December, China reported that yesterday there were no new local cases of the coronavirus. The lockdown could be lifted in Wuhan, China, once there are no new cases for 14 days, according to the China Daily newspaper. In Italy, the number of people who have died has overtaken China. The probability of dying after developing symptoms of covid-19 in Wuhan, where the new coronavirus was first detected, was 1.4 per cent as of 29 February, according to a new study. This is lower than was previously thought. The European Central Bank has launched an emergency €750 billion package to ease the economic impact of the pandemic, and the Bank of England cut the base interest rate from 0.25% to 0.1%, a record low. More travel restrictions have been put into place around the world to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Australia and New Zealand have completely closed their borders to foreigners and, in the UK, up to 40 London Underground stations are to be shut. On-going lockdowns in France and Italy may be extended into April. India’s population of 1.3 billion have been asked to observe a curfew on Sunday to test the country’s ability to respond to the coronavirus crisis. At a press briefing, Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, said it is now highly improbable that the virus can be made to “go away”. Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, said it was not possible to put a timeline on when the country will be able to relax its measures for controlling the virus. In the world of sports, there is still no sign of the Tokyo Olympics being postponed or cancelled, but all English football will be suspended until at least 30 April.
3-19-20 Coronavirus: Trump blames media for virus spread
The president criticised the media's coverage of his decision to ban those coming to the US from China. He said that without such an implementation the situation would have been much worse: "You wouldn't have even recognised it to where we are," he told reporters. The US has more than 9,300 cases of Covid-19 and has seen 150 deaths so far, according to estimates. Globally there are some 220,000 confirmed cases and over 8,800 deaths. (Webmaster's comment: Anyone and everyone's to blame but him! But where are the test kits?)
3-19-20 Coronavirus: Trump puts US on war footing to combat outbreak
Describing himself as a "wartime president", President Donald Trump has vowed the US will achieve "total victory" over the coronavirus. He spoke as he revived a Korean War-era measure allowing the US to ramp up production of vital medical supplies. Two lawmakers meanwhile became the first members of Congress to test positive for the infection. The US has more than 9,300 cases of Covid-19 and has seen 150 deaths so far, according to estimates. Globally there are some 220,000 confirmed cases and over 8,800 deaths. At a White House press conference, the president was asked by a reporter whether he considered the country to be on a war footing in terms of fighting the virus. "It's a war," he said. "I view it as a, in a sense, a wartime president." Mr Trump has been holding daily briefings on the emergency this week after being accused of playing down the outbreak in its early stages. He said: "We must sacrifice together, because we are all in this together, and we will come through together. It's the invisible enemy. That's always the toughest enemy. "But we are going to defeat the invisible enemy. I think we are going to do it even faster than we thought, and it'll be a complete victory. It'll be a total victory." (Webmaster's comment: Trump is so full of bullshit it's comming out of his ears!) Mr Trump announced he was signing the 1950 Defense Production Act, which empowers the president to direct civilian businesses to help meet orders for products necessary for national security. But he said later on Twitter that he would only invoke the measure "in a worst case scenario in the future". Mr Trump also described as an "absolute, total worst case scenario" a warning by his Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, that the pandemic could send US unemployment rocketing to 20%. The president said two US Navy hospitals ships would be pressed into service to help alleviate an expected shortage of sick beds. The USNS Comfort is expected to be sent to New York Harbor, though defence officials said it is currently undergoing maintenance in Virginia. The other vessel, USNS Mercy, is being prepared to deploy to a location on the West Coast.
3-19-20 Coronavirus and how it's changed our world
When the coronavirus pandemic broke out it changed the way we interact with social distancing encouraged to prevent the spread of the virus. From clearer water in Venice to emptier trains in London, how has coronavirus changed everyday life around the world?
3-19-20 WHO head tells Africa to 'wake up' to coronavirus threat
Africa must "wake up" to the coronavirus threat and prepare for the worst, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has said. The continent should learn from how the spread of virus has sped up elsewhere, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. He warned that while Africa's confirmed cases were currently low - around 640 - there was no reason for complacency. "Africa should wake up, my continent should wake up," said the Ethiopian, the WHO's first African head. Health experts warn that strained public health systems in Africa could become quickly overwhelmed if the virus takes hold, especially in overcrowded urban areas. "WHO's recommendation is actually mass gatherings should be avoided and we should do all we can to cut it from the bud, expecting that the worst could happen," Mr Tedros told a news conference in Geneva, where the WHO is based. In Africa, 16 people have died from Covid-19, the respiratory illness caused by coronavirus: six in Egypt, six in Algeria, two in Morocco, one in Sudan and one in Burkina Faso. In South Africa, which has 116 cases, President Cyril Ramaphosa has declared a state of disaster, restricting travel, closing schools, banning mass gatherings and ordering bars to close or limit numbers to 50. The country has also banned all cruise ships from its ports. This comes despite tests coming back negative for six people on board a cruise ship, which had been put under quarantine. All 1,700 people are now free to leave the ship and return home. Anyone breaking South Africa's coronavirus measures will be subject to a fine, or even imprisonment.
3-18-20 Coronavirus hits all 50 US states as death toll rises
The deadly coronavirus has now hit all 50 states in the US as West Virginia reported its first case of the infection on Tuesday. Announcing West Virginia's first Covid-19 patient, Governor Jim Justice said: "We knew this was coming." There have so far been 108 deaths in the US from coronavirus and more than 6,300 confirmed cases nationwide. Globally, there are about 200,000 cases and nearly 8,000 people have died. As the Trump administration seeks a $1tn economic stimulus package, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reportedly warned Republican senators privately on Tuesday evening that if Congress failed to act, US unemployment could hit 20% - almost double the jobless rate during the Great Recession after the 2008 financial crisis. Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would decide within two days whether to order the city's 8.5 million residents to "shelter in place". Such a move could largely confine people to their homes, while allowing them to make necessary trips to buy groceries or medicine, walk a dog or exercise as long as they avoid public interaction. "It's a very, very difficult decision," Mr de Blasio said. "We've never been here before. I have never heard of anything like this in the history of New York City." However, New York state's governor Andrew Cuomo has suggested he would reject such a plan. Officials in the San Francisco Bay area have already ordered 6.7 million residents to stay home for all but the most crucial outings until 7 April. US Vice-President Mike Pence said the White House may call on the US military to establish field hospitals in virus hot spots if requested by state governors. He told a White House news conference on Tuesday that the Army Corps of Engineers could be asked to set up field hospitals, known as Mash (mobile army surgical hospital) units, or help expand existing hospitals. Pentagon chief Mark Esper said the US military would make available five million respirator masks and up to 2,000 ventilators to the US health department. He said the military would also open its 14 certified coronavirus labs to test non-military personnel.
3-18-20 Coronavirus: UK stocks dive despite stimulus plans
UK stocks tumbled on Wednesday as major UK and US stimulus plans failed to quell worries about the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The FTSE 100 index of top UK firms dived more than 5%, with aerospace firms, travel companies and housing firms leading the declines. The pound meanwhile hit a six-month low against the dollar to trade at $1.1966. It came despite the US on Tuesday outlining a $1tn (£830bn) package to support the world's biggest economy. UK chancellor Rishi Sunak also revealed a £350bn stimulus package for UK firms, including £330bn of business loan guarantees. It also included aid to cover a business rates holiday and grants for retailers and pubs. Help for airlines is also being considered. Mr Sunak told a news conference: "Never in peacetime have we faced an economic fight like this one." US stock market futures were also indicating a weaker open for Wall Street on Wednesday, despite the main indexes rebounding more than 5% on Tuesday. The stimulus measures taken globally also failed to buoy Asian stocks. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 ended Wednesday 1.7% lower, the Hang Seng in Hong Kong fell by 3.3%, and China's Shanghai Composite lost 1.8%. On Tuesday, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he supports sending money directly to Americans as part of a $1tn stimulus plan aimed at averting an economic crisis caused by the virus. The overall aid package would be larger than the US response to the 2008 financial crisis, amounting to nearly a quarter of what the US federal government spent last year. In Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is reportedly forming a panel of key economic ministers and Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda to discuss measures to prop up the economy. The move, which would bring Japan in line with other nations, is designed at averting an economic crisis in the country, which some fear could tip into recession.
3-18-20 New York: The city that never sleeps on lockdown
Crowds in downtown Manhattan thinned last week as officials sounded alarms about the spread of the coronavirus. By Monday morning, the city that never sleeps had become a ghost town. Museums, theatres and libraries were closed. Schools were shut. Plazas, typically packed with tourists and office workers, were deserted. Restaurants and bars were empty, as staff prepared to comply with orders limiting businesses to take-away and delivery. Thousands of jobs are affected, as barbers, gyms and other businesses cease operations for the foreseeable future. At the few places still open, cuts are on the horizon. At Ruchi's, an Indian restaurant near the World Trade Center, staff worked reduced hours last week, as sales dropped 80%. But now the place is empty. "It started two weeks back and last week, it was bad but you see, this is horrible," said manager Protima Sumi, gesturing at the tables around her. Ms Sumi said she is worried about how she will provide for her staff. "If we don't have money, we can't give it to them," she said. "I'm just hoping we will survive." Last week New York became the American state with the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases. As of Tuesday there were more than 1,300, many of them in the city. As officials take steps to limit the spread of the disease - including bans on gatherings of more than 50 people - they are contending with the prospects of an economic slowdown the likes of which America's largest city has never seen. Restaurant sales are expected to drop by 80%; property and retail sales by 20%, while hotel occupancy rates plunge to 20%, according to forecasts by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer. And that was before the mayor said he was considering curfews and orders to shelter in place. "It's surreal," said construction worker Patrick Conway, as he surveyed the desolate halls of the Brookfield Place shopping mall near the World Trade Center.
3-18-20 US-Canada border to close amid virus crisis
US President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have agreed to close the US-Canada border to all non-essential travel in an attempt to curb the spread of coronavirus. "We will be, by mutual consent, temporarily closing our Northern Border with Canada," Mr Trump tweeted. He said trade would not be affected. Both countries had already issued sweeping travel bans but had maintained exemptions for each other. Canada relies on the US for approximately 75% of its exports. The shutdown will affect tourists and shoppers, but goods will continue to be moved across the border. Mr Trudeau had previously resisted closing the border to his country's most important trading partner. "Nearly 200,000 people cross that border every day, and that border and that traffic that goes across that border is literally a lifeline for both the Canadians and the Americans on both sides of that border," Mr Trudeau's Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Tuesday. "We get our groceries thanks to truckers who drive back and forth across that border. Very urgently needed medical supplies and medicines go back and forth across that border. And essential workers go back and forth across that border every day." Approximately $2bn in goods and services crosses the US-Canada border each day.
3-18-20 Coronavirus: Asian nations face virus battle amid WHO warning
Many Asian nations are facing an increasing battle to stem the spread of coronavirus, amid a World Health Organization warning that some needed to take "aggressive measures". Malaysia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines are among nations imposing strict border controls. Cases in the South Asian subcontinent are still below 500 but there are fears a spike could overwhelm health systems. There are 185,000 cases globally, with 7,500 confirmed deaths. Some nations and territories that had seen success in controlling the virus or slowing its arrival, including South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan, have seen new spikes, amid fears people returning from abroad are importing the virus. Asian stocks have continued to fall as worries about the coronavirus pandemic eclipsed hopes that major stimulus plans would ease the impact of the outbreak. It was issued for the organisation's South East Asia region, although this contains 11 nations spread widely, including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bangladesh and North Korea. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director of the WHO South East Asia region, said on Tuesday that "more clusters of virus transmission are being confirmed". "We need to immediately scale up all efforts to prevent the virus from infecting more people," Dr Khetrapal Singh said. "We clearly need to do more, and urgently." The WHO said the numbers in its South East Asia region showed that "some countries are clearly heading towards community transmission of Covid-19". It called for continued efforts to "detect, test, treat, isolate and trace contacts". Dr Khetrapal Singh said "practising social distancing [could] not be emphasised enough... this alone has the potential to substantially reduce transmission". "We need to act now," she said. Many regional countries inside and outside the WHO's definition of South East Asia have had a slow response to the outbreak, only taking drastic measures in recent weeks or days as the number of cases continue to grow.
3-18-20 Australia axes overseas travel and large gatherings to slow covid-19
Australia has announced major restrictions on overseas travel, large gatherings and visits to care homes in an effort to limit the spread of covid-19. The country is in the early stages of its coronavirus outbreak, with 454 infections and six deaths recorded so far. About 50 per cent of infections have been contracted while travelling, 14 per cent from someone with the virus and the rest have unclear sources or are still being investigated. On 18 March, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a suite of new measures to try to contain the virus. A blanket “do not travel” warning is now in place that asks Australians not to visit any other country. A ban on non-essential indoor gatherings of more than 100 people has also been introduced, and only two people can visit an aged care resident at any one time, and only for a short duration. These measures build on existing rules that were implemented on 16 March, including a mandatory 14-day self-isolation period for anyone arriving from overseas, a ban on cruise ships docking in Australia, and a ban on outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people. The Australian government has also launched an advertising campaign to educate the public about hand hygiene and requested where possible that people stay at least 1.5 metres from each other, pay by card instead of handling cash, shop online and only catch public transport at quiet times. Many Australian companies, including several of the major banks, telecommunications companies, law firms and consulting firms, have asked their staff to work from home. These measures are “absolutely what we need right now”, says Kathryn Snow at the University of Melbourne. They aren’t as restrictive as those imposed by some other countries, like Italy, which is under strict lockdown, or Austria, which has banned gatherings of more than five people, but that’s because the virus doesn’t appear to be spreading as widely in Australia, she says.
3-18-20 Coronavirus: Why washing hands is difficult in some countries
As Europe and much of the developed world shuts down in the face of coronavirus, many millions of people haven't much hope in following the World Health Organization (WHO) advice on washing hands and keeping their distance. About one billion people live in slum-like conditions, making up 30% of the world's urban population. These housing facilities tend to have very little ventilation, drainage and sewage facilities, with diseases spreading easily. Celestine Adhiambo, 43, lives in the Mukuru slum in Nairobi with her husband and six children. The family's one-room house has no running water or electricity. She says her children can't move around much without banging into each other. "It is not possible for us to separate a child from another in case of any infection. We don't have any space. No rooms here. The government should take the infected people to hospitals," she told the BBC. Her husband works as a carpenter and on the days he works, he earns about 400 Kenyan Shillings (£3.15, $4) and every day the family spends about 50 shillings on buying 10 buckets of water. But the water supply is erratic and on days when there is no water, the family has to forgo the quick bath they are accustomed to. Over half-a-million people live in Mukuru. The houses are made from cardboard or plastic material while those who are better off have houses made from corrugated iron sheets. There is no waste collection, with most of it going directly into the river. Local NGO Mercy Mukuru runs four primary schools in the area with a total of around 7,000 students. About half of the students cannot afford soap, according to its head, Mary Killeen. "I am worried. If the virus spreads in our locality it will be terrible," Ms Adhiambo said. Dr Pierre Mpele, a former WHO representative who has worked in many countries in central and West Africa says African households can be more crowded and in some cases, up to 12 people will share a small house. "Self-quarantine is not possible in many places," he says. It's not just slums that are struggling with the availability of water. The cities of Johannesburg and Chennai both almost ran out of water last year.
3-18-20 Iran needs sanction relief to get through this pandemic
Depriving Iranians of medicine right now is a moral obscenity. he country with the largest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases to date, of course, is China. Next is Italy. And third in this grim ranking, with more than 16,000 cases and nearly 1,000 deaths as of this writing, is Iran. But Iran also has something no other nation with a significant cluster of infections must handle: It remains under a harsh sanctions regime re-imposed by the Trump administration after the president withdrew from the Iran deal. These sanctions are damaging enough to Iran's medical institutions and basic goods markets under normal circumstances. In a time of pandemic, they are a moral obscenity. Iran needs sanctions relief now to respond to the novel coronavirus. Even a temporary relief — say, for an initial six months with an option for extension — would be a good start, and it is a necessary mercy anyone, including the most vehement Iran hawk, should be able to support. Sanctions have always had a human cost. The narrative that they're a moderate tool of statecraft — gentler than airstrikes or invasion, more active than diplomacy — is false. Sanctions are not gentle. They are not bloodless. They are almost never as targeted as their advocates would have you believe. Restrictions on financial institutions, for example, may seem like a smart option for limiting weapons development or coercing favorable behavior from a rogue state's elite. In practice, however, the wealthy and powerful rarely suffer from sanctions. They have the resources and contacts abroad to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. Ordinary people do not, and sanctions affect their lives in dangerous ways. In Iran, the U.S. sanctions program has limited imports of medicines and medical equipment. Innocent Iranians, most famously a 15-year-old boy with the entirely treatable condition of hemophilia, have died because our government prevented Iranian doctors from getting the supplies they needed.
3-17-20 Coronavirus: US pushes direct payment plan as part of $1tn stimulus
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says he supports sending money directly to Americans as part of a $1tn (£830bn) stimulus aimed at averting an economic crisis caused by the coronavirus. "We're looking at sending cheques to Americans immediately," he said. The $250bn (£207bn) in cheques are part of a huge aid package which the White House is discussing with Congress. It follows widespread school and shop closures as the number of coronavirus cases in the US approached 6,000. The US has been debating how to provide relief as activity grinds to a halt in response to curfews and other measures intended to slow the spread of the virus. Details such as the size of the cheques, and who would qualify for them, are still under discussion. A $1tn aid package - roughly the size of the entire UK budget - would be larger than the US response to the 2008 financial crisis, amounting to nearly a quarter of what the US federal government spent last year. In addition to the $250bn in cheques for families, the plan includes a bailout for airlines and hotels, among other measures. The proposal must be approved by Congress to move forward. Wall Street rebounded sharply on Tuesday after the plan was announced, though not nearly enough to make up for the previous day's heavy losses. Separate from the $1tn package, Mr Mnuchin said the government would also allow companies and individuals to delay their tax payments for 90 days. "We look forward to having bipartisan support to pass this legislation very quickly," he said. US President Donald Trump initially proposed a payroll tax cut, which would reduce the money the government automatically withholds from worker pay to pay for social programmes. However, critics said that relief would come too slowly and leave out those without jobs. Several high-profile economists had urged more direct assistance, including $1,000 payments, winning support from lawmakers such as Republican Senator Mitt Romney.
3-17-20 Coronavirus: Latest news about the covid-19 pandemic
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 World Health Organization (WHO) said today a combination of actions by governments including more testing and contact tracing could save lives. “The experience of China and others shows testing and contact tracing, combined with social distancing measures and community mobilisation, when put in place quickly and effectively, can prevent infections and can save lives,” said Hans Kluge at the WHO, during an update on the situation in Europe. He said the virus could be beaten back by solidarity within communities and between countries. “These are unprecedented times. It is important that countries work together, learn from each other and harmonise the efforts.” Asked by New Scientist about the new measures announced by the UK yesterday, he said he applauded them. “We are pleased to see the UK is getting into the mainstream and stepping up its efforts.” The UK’s chief scientific advisor Patrick Vallance said today there were probably around 55,000 cases in the country, as official cases jumped to 1950, up 407 on yesterday. By comparison to the roughly 8000 annual deaths from the flu he said it would be a “good outcome” if the UK’s new measures kept coronavirus deaths to below 20,000. “But I mean it is still horrible; that’s still an enormous number of deaths and an enormous pressure on the health service,” Vallance told MPs on the health and social care committee. Asked why schools had not closed yet as they have in other countries, he said it did not have as much impact as other measures at slowing the virus’s spread, and it had “complicating effects”, including children mixing with grandparents, and the impact on the National Health Service workforce. But he said: “It’s absolutely still on the table.” The chief executive of the NHS, Simon Stevens, said in response to the crisis the health service was freeing up 30,000 of 100,000 acute care beds for coronavirus patients. He also announced the NHS was stopping all non-urgent surgery from 15 April for three months. Stevens added the UK had access to more than 8000 ventilators for intensive care now, and would soon have around 12,000. But he would not be drawn on whether that would be enough to cope with the peak of the epidemic.
3-17-20 Coronavirus: How the world's streets are emptying
The outbreak of the coronavirus has led to the emptying of public spaces around the world, whether by government decree or by more personal responses.
3-17-20 Coronavirus: US funerals move to live-streaming
As the coronavirus crisis escalates the US’s health protection agency has urged mourners to change drastically the way they say goodbye to loved ones - by live-streaming their funerals. In a webinar with the National Funeral Directors Association and funeral homes across the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said funerals should be limited to a small number of mourners physically present, and streamed online for everyone else. This is not because of a risk of being infected from a deceased person whose cause of death was coronavirus-related - the CDC said there was no evidence to suggest this was possible. Instead, it is so people can adhere to “social distancing” advice, not just in the US, but in countries around the world. Dr David Berendes, an epidemiologist at CDC, told the webinar: “As you think about planning for the event, limit the number of people if possible, use live-streaming options and perhaps have only immediately family on hand.” The CDC had earlier recommended limiting gatherings to no more than 50 people, while US President Donald Trump said gatherings should be no larger than 10 people. This is particularly crucial for events where many guests are considered vulnerable, either because they’re over 70 years old or because of underlying health conditions. But even before this directive, funeral homes in the US had already started offering to live-stream their services - sometimes out of last-minute necessity. One funeral director in Syracuse, New York, told a local news site that a pastor had carried out a service over webcam, when travel bans in the state prevented him from holding it in person. And the US is far from the first country to change funeral arrangements. In the UK, some funeral homes have pre-empted any official directives by offering live-streaming services. One funeral director in North Yorkshire told the BBC that although he offered the service before, he would now waive the usual £62 fee. In Ireland, mourners have been ordered not to kiss the bodies of their deceased loved ones, while the Irish Association of Funeral Directors went a step further and suggested all services should be postponed. But perhaps the most stringent measures are in Italy, the new epicentre of the virus, where funeral services have been banned altogether - restricted instead to a simple blessing.
3-17-20 Coronavirus: US stocks see worst fall since 1987
Global stock markets have sunk again despite central banks around the world announcing a co-ordinated effort to ease the effects of the coronavirus. The Dow Jones index closed 12.9% down after President Donald Trump said the economy "may be" heading for recession. London's FTSE 100 ended 4% lower, and other major European markets saw similar slides. On Sunday, the US Federal Reserve cut interest rates to almost zero and launched a $700bn stimulus programme. It was part of co-ordinated action announced alongside the eurozone, the UK, Japan, Canada, and Switzerland. However, investors are worried that central banks now have few options left to combat the impact of the pandemic. The new governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, has pledged to take "prompt action again" when necessary to stop the damage to the economy from the coronavirus pandemic. David Madden, a market analyst at CMC Markets, said that while central bankers were trying to calm the markets, "in reality it is having the opposite effect". "The radical measures have sent out a very worrying message to dealers, and that is why they are blindly dumping stocks." In New York, steep falls as markets opened triggered another automatic halt to trading, which is meant to curb panic selling. Before last week, such halts, known as circuit breakers, had not been used in more than two decades. But the sell-off continued after the 15-minute suspension, with the Dow losing nearly 3,000 points or 12.9%, its worst percentage drop since 1987. The wider S&P 500 dropped 11.9%, while Nasdaq dropped 12.3%. All three indexes are now down more than 25% from their highs. In London, firms in the travel sector saw big falls. Share in holiday firm Tui sank more than 27% after it said it would suspend the "majority" of its operations. BA-owner IAG fell more than 25% after it said it would cut its flight capacity by at least 75% in April and May. The FTSE 250, which includes a number of well-known UK-focused companies, ended down about 7.8%.
3-17-20 Coronavirus: Stock market turmoil continues
Financial markets remain turbulent as a massive slowdown in economic activity due to the coronavirus takes hold across Europe and in the US. In the US, shares rallied in opening trade, but quickly retreated, failing to rebound from Monday's steep falls. London's FTSE 100 also shed early gains to drop more than 1%, with other major European markets making similar moves. However, government promises of financial aid helped to limit the falls. Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to announce more financial help later for UK firms affected by the outbreak. The outgoing head of the Office For Budget Responsibility, Robert Chote, has said a temporary spike in borrowing would be sensible. Speaking to the Treasury Select Committee he said it was better to spend a "little too much" than too little, adding: "When the fire is large enough, you just spray water" (and worry about the clean up after). In the US, the Federal Reserve announced additional steps to ease financial strains, including using emergency powers to purchase short-term corporate debt and offering another $500bn in overnight loans. The White House is said to be making plans for a relief package worth some $850bn. Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at IG, said: "The government response from around the globe appears to be ramping up once again, as the chancellor prepares to unveil more measures to help support businesses. "Whatever is announced, the measures will be expensive, but if they can form a credible package, and one co-ordinated with other governments, then markets may try to find a positive, although it may take time." On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron said his government would guarantee €300bn of loans, and pledged that no French company would be allowed to collapse. Earlier Asian shares continued to see volatile trading on Tuesday with markets in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai swinging between losses and gains. The turbulence follows one of the worst days in history for US markets. The Dow Jones lost close to 13% and the S&P 500 fell almost 12%, marking the biggest one-day falls for both indexes since "Black Monday" in 1987.
3-17-20 Amazon: Staff told to work overtime as virus spikes demand
Workers at Amazon's UK warehouses are being told to work overtime to tackle huge demand due to the coronavirus pandemic, despite government calls to restrict social contact. The GMB union says that workers across at least four different sites were informed that they had to work "compulsory overtime" from Monday. National officer Mick Rix said Amazon had put "profit before safety". Amazon said it was working to ensure it can continue to deliver to customers. Compulsory overtime means that some employees must work additional hours as requested by an employer - if their contract says so. Amazon employs 27,000 people in the UK and has 17 warehouses. One worker at Amazon's Dunfermline warehouse in Scotland, who asked not to be named, told the BBC that staff in the "inbound goods" department are having additional hours imposed. The worker, who thinks they have a compulsory overtime clause in their contract, believes this will be for at least two weeks. They said that there is extra pressure on the workforce to deal with an influx of goods the company is bringing in due to a spike in demand. Sought-after items include bleach, handwash, nappies, large boxes of rice and powdered milk. The worker added that these actions were "very rare" outside of the Christmas trading period or Amazon "Prime week", where the firm offers discounts on goods for subscribers. The worker said other departments in the Dunfermline warehouse are not saying staff should do more hours, but offering them up to 60 hours of voluntary overtime. An Amazon spokesperson confirmed that the company had ramped up shifts across the UK. They said: "As demand continues to increase, we are working to ensure we can continue to deliver to the most-impacted customers while keeping our people safe". "Many of these customers have no other way to get essential items and we want to be sure that we have the right resources in place to deliver on their needs. (Webmaster's comment: Profits first, Worker Health second!)
3-17-20 Coronavirus: What is social distancing and how do you do it?
Governments around the world are responding to the covid-19 pandemic and social distancing is a central aspect of plans to limit the spread of the virus. But what is social distancing and how do you do it? What does social distancing mean? Social distancing practices are changes in behaviour that can help stop the spread of infections. These often include curtailing social contact, work and schooling amongst seemingly healthy individuals, with a view to delaying transmission and reducing the size of an outbreak. How do you practice social distancing? As an individual, you can lower your risk of infection by reducing your rate of contact with other people. Avoiding public spaces and unnecessary social gatherings, especially events with large numbers of people or crowds, will lower the chance that you will be exposed to the new coronavirus as well as to other infectious diseases like flu. Other measures include working from home if possible, organising meetings via video calls rather than face to face and avoiding unnecessary use of public transport, says Stuart Neil at King’s College London. Social distancing “should be approached sensibly and rationally,” says Neil. If you do have to be out and about, the WHO recommends maintaining a distance of at least 1 metre between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing. It is also recommended to avoid physical contact with others in social situations, including handshakes, hugs and kisses. Does social distancing work? There is evidence from previous outbreaks, including the 1918 flu pandemic and the 2014 Ebola outbreak, as well as from outbreak simulations, that social distancing can effectively limit the spread of infections. We do not know exactly how the new coronavirus spreads, but similar viruses are predominantly transmitted by droplets emitted from the mouths and noses of infected people when they cough or sneeze, which can land on surfaces and people’s hands.
3-17-20 Why Texas is saying 'no' to all new refugees
Texas wants to halt admission of all new refugees, saying the needs of Texans must be prioritised over others. But aid workers in Texas say there is sufficient help for the state's growing homeless population as well as newly arriving refugees, writes journalist James Jeffrey. A photograph of a young Marsh Arab girl in a papyrus boat hangs on a wall of the Pita Shack diner in the northern suburbs of Austin, Texas. The one-year-old business belongs to husband and wife Ayman Attar Bashi and Raya Thanoon, who came from Iraq in 2010 as refugees after a 12-year application process. "I would love it if there was an open door for refugees, but I understand politicians have to think about the country's safety," Thanoon says. "You see the homeless here and then see refugees getting benefits, so I understand why some people think that's not fair." Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott announced in January that the state would not accept any refugees in 2020. His decision came in the wake of an executive order issued from President Trump last year granting states and municipalities the right to veto the placement of refugees. "Texas has carried more than its share in assisting the refugee resettlement process," Abbott said in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, noting that Texas has received more refugees than any state since 2010, totalling about 10% of all refugees resettled in the US. He also noted that Texas has faced the brunt of migration issues at the southern border due to a "broken federal immigration system". More than 40 other governors - both Democrat and Republican - have signalled their willingness to continue accepting refugees, leaving Texas as the only nay-saying state. Widespread criticism of the governor's decision only intensified after he argued that Texans in need - especially the homeless -should be prioritised over refugees.
3-17-20 US museum Dead Sea Scroll collection found to be fakes
A collection of supposedly valuable Dead Sea Scroll fragments on display at the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC has been found to be fake. After six months of analysis, experts released a 200-page report detailing how the fragments were forged - likely made from old shoe leather. "Each exhibits characteristics that suggest they are deliberate forgeries," the analysts said in a statement. The scrolls are a set of ancient manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible. The first of the scrolls were found in caves in Qumran on the western shore of the Dead Sea in 1947. They were reportedly first discovered by a young Bedouin shepherd searching for lost sheep. Their discovery is considered to be among the most significant archaeological finds in history. The majority are held in a collection by the Israeli government. The fakes were among the most valuable artefacts in the Museum of the Bible's collection. Costing $500m (£386m), the museum was opened by Evangelical Christian and billionaire Steve Green in 2017. Mr Green has not disclosed how much was paid for the 16 fragments but similar, authentic artefacts may be sold for millions. "After an exhaustive review of all the imaging and scientific analysis results, it is evident that none of the textual fragments in Museum of the Bible's Dead Sea Scroll collection are authentic," said the head of the investigation, Colette Loll of Art Fraud Insights, in a statement. Since 2002, previously unknown textual fragments - believed to be biblical artefacts belonging to the Dead Sea Scroll - surfaced on the antiquities market. The Museum of the Bible purchased 16 of these fragments from four individual private collectors. Thirteen of these were published by a team of scholars in 2016 "to provide a comprehensive physical and textual description of the fragments," the analysts wrote. "At the time of publication, no scientific examination of the Museum's scroll fragments had been carried out." "Since publication, scholars have expressed growing concern about the authenticity of these fragments."
3-17-20 Uganda's Kanungu cult massacre that killed 700 followers
Judith Ariho does not shed any tears as she recalls the church massacre in which her mother, two siblings and four other relatives were among at least 700 people who died. Exactly 20 years ago, in south-western Uganda's Kanungu district, they were locked inside a church, with the doors and windows nailed shut from the outside. It was then set alight. Two decades on, the horror of the event is still too much for Ms Ariho, who appears to only be able to cope with the trauma by closing herself off from the emotion. The dead were members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God - a doomsday cult that believed the world would come to an end at the turn of the millennium. "The end of present times", as one of its books phrased it, came two-and-a-half months later, on 17 March 2000. Twenty years later, no-one has been prosecuted in connection with the massacre and the cult leaders, if they are alive, have never been found. Anna Kabeireho, who still lives on a hillside that overlooks the land that the cult owned, has not forgotten the smell that engulfed the valley that Friday morning. "Everything was covered in smoke, soot and the stench of burnt flesh. It seemed to go right to your lungs," she recalls. "Everybody was running into the valley. The fire was still going. There were dozens of bodies, burnt beyond recognition. "We covered our noses with aromatic leaves to ward off the smell. For several months afterwards, we could not eat meat." Kanungu is a fertile and peaceful region of green hills and deep valleys, covered in small farms broken up by homesteads. The journey down into the valley that was once the headquarters of the Movement has to be taken by foot. From down there, it is easy to see how the religious community would have maintained their lives away from the eyes of neighbours. Birdsong bounces off the hills and there is the sound of a waterfall in the near distance. It is the ideal setting for a contemplative existence. But nothing remains of the building that was doused in petrol and set alight. At the edge of the spot where it stood is a long mound of soil, the only marker for the mass grave in which the remains from the inferno were buried.
3-16-20 U.S. Coronavirus Concerns Surge, Government Trust Slides
In the past month, as the coronavirus moved from an outbreak mainly limited to China to a worldwide pandemic, the percentage of Americans worried about being exposed to the virus has surged, while their confidence in the government to handle an outbreak has declined sharply. And the percentage expecting significant harm to the world economy has more than doubled. Six in 10 Americans are now "very" (26%) or "somewhat worried" (34%) that they or someone in their family will be exposed to the virus, up from 36% very or somewhat worried in the initial Feb. 3-16 poll. Increased worry is apparent among all major subgroups -- though much more so among Democrats and less so among Republicans.
- Percentage who are worried climbs 24 percentage points since February
- Confidence in government's ability to handle outbreak drops 16 points
- Outlook on the disease's impact on global economy increasingly negative
3-16-20 Half of U.S. Workers Expect COVID-19 to Harm Workplace
As U.S. employers rapidly adapt their workplaces to avoid further community spread of COVID-19, American workers offer a mixed assessment of how the disease will affect their place of work. Half say COVID-19 will have a negative effect on their company or workplace -- either very (18%) or somewhat negative (32%) -- while 50% say it will not negatively affect their workplace.
- Half of U.S. workers expect a negative effect on workplace
- Democrats, women expect more negative workplace effects
3-16-20 Coronavirus: Can the US catch up on testing?
The US government has come under fire for its response to the coronavirus - particularly because it has tested far fewer people than other affected countries. On Thursday, the top health official for infectious diseases admitted that the testing system was "currently failing", and that the US was not able to supply tests "easily, the way people in other countries are doing it". On Friday, US President Donald Trump declared a national emergency and said more tests would be available soon. So what exactly went wrong - and will the US be able to catch up now? The short answer is no-one knows for sure - not even the government. Both Vice-President Mike Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar have been unable to confirm how many Americans have been tested. This is because some tests were being conducted by private laboratories and hospitals that have not been reporting in to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "We don't have a centralised data registry tracking this the way we should," says Prof Howard Forman, a public health expert at Yale University. "We should learn from this experience - having a centralised registry to keep track, with information flowing from labs to state and then federal governments, is critical." One thing that is widely accepted however, is that US testing has lagged far behind that of other countries. One project by The Atlantic estimates that about 38,600 people have been tested in the US so far. By contrast, countries with far smaller populations have conducted more tests. South Korea has tested more than 240,000 people, while the UK has tested 44,100 people. During a conference last week, Prof Pardis Sabeti, an expert in infectious disease, estimated that South Korea was testing "700 times more people per capita than the US". And Canada, which has a population nearly 10 times smaller than the US, has tested about 25,000 people as of Sunday.
3-16-20 Coronavirus: Latest news about the covid-19 pandemic
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. The UK government has announced that everyone in the country should avoid “non-essential” travel and should voluntarily avoid pubs, clubs and theatres. Governments around the world continued to limit travel and close borders. In Europe, Germany partially closed its borders with five countries. The European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has proposed that there should be a ban on all non-essential travel from outside the European Union for 30 days with exemptions for long-term residents, family members of EU nationals and diplomats. South Africa and Kenya have imposed strict bans on travel from the worst affected countries. In the US, flight bans that were extended to the UK and Ireland came into effect. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut forced the closure of restaurants, bars and cinemas. Australia’s prime minister said all travellers arriving in the country would have to self-isolate for 14 days, or risk prison and fines. In Italy, Lombardy’s governor says the growth of new cases has slowed slightly, but cases in Italy and Spain are still increasing much more rapidly than they did in China, as this (log scale) chart from the Financial Times shows. The worldwide death toll has passed 6500. Keep up with the best data on the global cases with this map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University. Testing is key: The WHO’s assistant director general Bruce Aylward tells New Scientist that effective quarantine is essential for tackling the coronavirus, but this cannot happen without extensive testing for covid-19. Read our full interview with Bruce Aylward. Pregnancy and babies: According to initial reports based on small numbers of people, pregnant women and their babies do not seem to be more vulnerable to covid-19 than other groups of people, but doctors warn that it is too early to know for sure. Early reports suggest the virus doesn’t pass from mother to baby via breast milk, but health bodies are advising new mothers who are infected with the virus to take precautions while breastfeeding, such as washing their hands and wearing a facemask. Psychological responses: When facing uncertainty, we are motivated to take actions that increase our sense of control over the situation, explains psychologist Rachel McCloy. Unfortunately, this can lead to behaviours such as panic buying, which do not actually help to control the virus and may make the situation worse.
3-16-20 WHO expert: We need more testing to beat coronavirus
The WHO’s assistant director general Bruce Aylward says effective quarantine is essential for tackling the coronavirus, but this cannot happen without extensive testing for covid-19. Effective quarantine is essential for tackling the coronavirus and this cannot happen without extensive testing for covid-19, says World Health Organization assistant director general Bruce Aylward. “To actually stop the virus, [China] had to do rapid testing of any suspect case, immediate isolation of anyone who was a confirmed or suspected case, and then quarantine the close contacts for 14 days so that they could figure out if any of them were infected,” Aylward told New Scientist in an exclusive interview. “Those were the measures that stopped transmission in China, not the big travel restrictions and lockdowns.” His comments come after the UK government announced that it would now only test for covid-19 among people admitted to hospital, and that people with mild symptoms wouldn’t be tested but should stay at home for seven days. “In some countries they’re not even testing them. They’re saying if you have a cough and high fever, stay at home,” says Aylward. “But the problem then is that they don’t know that they have the disease, they haven’t had it confirmed. After a couple of days people get bored, go out for a walk and go shopping and get other people infected. If you know you’re infected you’re more likely to isolate yourself.” This is a particular problem with covid-19 because up to 80 per cent of those infected may have only mild or moderate symptoms. “If those people are all out of hospital, most of your cases are at home, but not isolated,” says Aylward. “In China, they found that didn’t work. They had to get them isolated in hospitals or dormitories or stadiums. The main goal was to keep them from getting bored.”
3-16-20 We have to respect the coronavirus – and learn as the disease evolves
At the end of February, the WHO's assistant director general Bruce Aylward set out to learn more about China's response to the covid-19 outbreak. He tells New Scientist what he thinks the rest of the world can learn from China's approach. Cases in China are declining – we are now only seeing a handful of new reported cases every day. Does China have the virus under control? They have absolutely turned it around. The trends are very real, there’s no question. Governors, mayors and others that I talked to in China would never say things were “under control”. When I asked them if they felt good about falling cases, they said no. They said they were building more beds and buying more ventilators, because they were worried that they might never get something like this – a new virus that we don’t understand – under control. Now they are planning to open up all of the travel restrictions, get people back to work and get students back to school. But their feeling was that this is going to remain in the population and raise its ugly head, and they have to be able to respond rapidly. How did China get to this point? China did something that most other countries would not even have tried, and many people thought would have been impossible. They used fundamental public health approaches – such as case finding and contact tracing – to stop a respiratory virus. That seemed almost impossible as a premise because respiratory viruses transmit so effectively and efficiently – typically the only way you can stop them is with a vaccine or pharmaceutical treatment. What China did provides a lesson for infectious disease epidemiologists. Does that mean China has taken the model approach? Were those lockdowns that seemed so extreme at the beginning the right way to go? Everyone always starts at the wrong end of the China response. The first thing they did was to try to prevent the spread as much as they could, and make sure people knew about the disease and how to get tested. To actually stop the virus, they had to do rapid testing of any suspect case, immediate isolation of anyone who was a confirmed or suspected case, and then quarantine the close contacts for 14 days so that they could figure out if any of them were infected. Those were the measures that stopped transmission in China, not the big travel restrictions and lockdowns. (Webmaster's comment: Why doesn't the United States follow China's successful lead? Because the process that works was not invented here!)
3-16-20 Coronavirus: People in the UK must avoid unnecessary social contact
The UK dramatically ramped up its response to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak today, with prime minister Boris Johnson calling on everyone in the country to stop all non-essential contact with other people. Johnson said people should also stop all unnecessary travel and work from home where they can, and avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other social spaces. Whole households should also self-isolate for 14 days if any individual in it develops symptoms, under new guidance issued today. The stringent steps were needed, Johnson said, because the UK was now approaching the “fast growth” part of the upwards curve of cases. The aim of the actions is to delay the epidemic’s peak and enable the National Health Service to cope, he added. The UK’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, said the UK was now probably three weeks behind where Italy is with the epidemic, and warned that cases are now probably doubling every five days or so. While the transmission of the coronavirus in the UK has so far been relatively evenly spread out geographically, compared with the concentration of cases in the north of Italy, Johnson said it now appears London is a “few weeks ahead” of the rest of the UK. Asked how long today’s tough new measures will be in place for, the chief medical adviser to the UK, Chris Whitty, said: “People should be thinking of minimum of weeks to months and, depending how it goes, it may be longer. It’s really important people realise they’re in for the long haul on this.” Whitty identified three groups that should take particular care to minimise their social contact: the over-70s, anyone who in adult life would normally be advised to have the flu vaccination, and pregnant women. More detailed guidance will be issued online, he said.
3-16-20 Coronavirus: US volunteers test first vaccine
The first human trial of a vaccine to protect against pandemic coronavirus has started in the US. Four patients received the jab at the Kaiser Permanente research facility in Seattle, Washington, reports the Associated Press news agency. The vaccine cannot cause Covid-19 but contains a harmless genetic code copied from the virus that causes the disease. Experts say it will still take many months to know if this vaccine, or others also in research, will work. The first person to get the jab on Monday was a 43-year-old mother-of-two from Seattle. "This is an amazing opportunity for me to do something," Jennifer Haller told AP. Scientists around the world are fast-tracking research. And this first human trial, funded by the National Institutes of Health, sidesteps a check that would normally be conducted - making sure the vaccine can trigger an immune response in animals. But the biotechnology company behind the work, Moderna Therapeutics, says the vaccine has been made using a tried and tested process. Dr John Tregoning, an expert in infectious diseases at Imperial College London, UK, said: "This vaccine uses pre-existing technology. "It's been made to a very high standard, using things that we know are safe to use in people and those taking part in the trial will be very closely monitored. "Yes, this is very fast - but it is a race against the virus, not against each other as scientists, and it's being done for the benefit of humanity." The volunteers were being given different doses of the experimental vaccine. They will each be given two jabs in total, 28 days apart, into the upper arm muscle. But even if these initial safety tests go well, it could still take up to 18 months for any potential vaccine to become available for the public.
3-16-20 Pandemic throws US primary elections into uncertainty
Ohio's governor has ordered polling stations in the state to close as the Covid-19 pandemic disrupts vast swathes of American life. The state was one of four due to hold Democratic primary votes on Tuesday. However, Governor Mike DeWine has closed polls following a state supreme court decision allowing the vote to be postponed. Other Democratic contests to choose a nominee to take on President Donald Trump have also been disrupted. Mr DeWine made the decision to close in-person voting sites soon after Americans were warned by the White House to avoid groups of 10 or more. On Tuesday, another Republican governor, Larry Hogan of Maryland, said his state's primary contest would be postponed from 28 April to 2 June. Millions of people are sheltering in their homes as the Covid-19 transmission rate grows. The outbreak has interrupted the primary contest season in the US as Democrats hold state-by-state votes to pick a candidate who will challenge Mr Trump in November. It is now a two-man race between Vice-President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders. Four states had been scheduled to vote on Tuesday - Arizona, Illinois, Florida and Ohio - but now only the first three will go forward as planned. Georgia, Louisiana and Kentucky have already postponed their contests due to the outbreak. Wyoming has suspended in-person voting. Mr Trump has said the nationwide coronavirus emergency could last until the end of the summer or even longer. The White House on Monday advised Americans not gather in groups of more than 10 for the next 15 days, and to avoid bars, restaurants, food courts, gyms and crowds. The country is facing "an invisible enemy" that is "so contagious," Mr Trump said. The US has so far had more than 4,600 cases of the virus and 85 deaths. There have been more than 180,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 globally and over 7,100 deaths, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University.
3-16-20 How to argue with a racist: Five myths debunked
Stereotypes and myths about race abound, but this does not make them true. Often, these are not even expressed by overt racists. For many well-intentioned people, experience and cultural history has steered them towards views that aren't supported by human genetics. For example: the assumption that East Asian students are inherently better at maths, black people have natural rhythm, or Jews are good with money. Many of us know someone who thinks along these lines. Dr Adam Rutherford, a geneticist and BBC presenter, says "Racism is being expressed in public more openly today than at any time I can recall, and it's our duty to contest it with facts." Here's how to debunk five racist myths with science and facts.
- MYTH 1: The DNA of white and black people is completely different: The primary pigment in human skin is melanin. It's used to protect us from the sun. It absorbs the sun's ultra violet rays before they can destroy folate, one of the body's key vitamins. Many genes are involved in the biochemical pathways that result in melanin production. Natural variation within these genes is the root cause of the spectrum of skin tones that humans have.
- MYTH 2: There is such a thing as 'racial purity' We think of certain areas, lands or peoples as being isolated - either physically or culturally - and these boundaries as being insurmountable. But this is neither what history, nor genetics, tell us. In fact, no nation is static. "People have moved around the world throughout history, and had sex whenever and wherever they could," says Dr Rutherford.
- MYTH 3: 'Germany for the Germans', 'Turkey for the Turks' (and other variations) Some people experience a lot of angst about migrants and refugees coming to their country, a phenomenon that has been experienced in many places around the world of late. Among recent examples, the shooting rampage last month that started in a shisha bar in Hanau, Germany, was motivated by a far-right doctrine to expel or murder immigrants. Those on the far right have long expressed anger in the form of epithets: "Germany for the Germans", "France for the French", "Turkey for the Turks" and "Italy for Italians" have all been used as anti-immigration phrases by far-right groups.
- MYTH 4: A genealogy test can prove someone is 100% white Genealogy and ancestry fascinate us - and racists in particular. Websites like Stormfront are frequented by white nationalist, white supremacist, and anti-Semitic members who forward theories for Holocaust-denial and are obsessed with population genetics. They use mainstream genealogy tests, like those offered by Ancestry DNA, to "prove" they are 100% white or non-Jewish.
- MYTH 5: Black people are better at running than white people: The last white man to compete in a 100m final at the Olympics was in 1980. Since then, black athletes have dominated the modern era of sprinting. This has fuelled a commonly held belief that people of African descent have an advantage at the sport because of their genetic ancestry. "Maybe there are probabilistic predictions one could make about ethnicity and sporting success based on genetics," says Dr Rutherford, "but they would be weak at best."
3-16-20 Coronavirus: New York City shuts down schools, restaurants and theatres
New York City is closing schools on Monday, and restaurants, bars and other venues a day later in an effort to halt the spread of the deadly coronavirus. Mayor Bill de Blasio said he decided to act because "our city is facing an unprecedented threat, and we must respond with a wartime mentality". Separately, the US is extending its European travel ban to include the UK and Republic of Ireland. The US has confirmed 69 deaths linked to the pandemic and 3,774 infections. New York City - which has the population of more than eight million - has recorded five deaths. Each of the victims - aged 53 to 82 - had underlying health conditions, officials say. Last week, a top US health official admitted that the country's testing system for coronavirus was failing. President Donald Trump has said the US has "a tremendous testing set up where people coming in have to be tested". Correspondents say there is a growing sense of unease and confusion in America, with fears of a run on hospital beds and concern about childcare as tens of millions of children are sent home from school. On Sunday, Mayor de Blasio said the city's public schools would be closed from Monday until at least 20 April, in what he described as "the painful decision". He said officials would then review on whether to re-open, but did not rule out that schools would remain shut for the rest of the academic year. Separately, Mayor de Blasio said that from 09:00 EDT Tuesday (13:00 GMT) the city's restaurants, bars and cafes would be limited "to food take-out and delivery". "The virus can spread rapidly through the close interactions New Yorkers have in restaurants, bars and places where we sit close together. We have to break that cycle," he said in a statement. New York City has about 27,000 restaurants, according to the city's health department. Mayor de Blasio also said that "nightclubs, movie theatres, small theatre houses, and concert venues must all close". "This is not a decision I make lightly. These places are part of the heart and soul of our city. They are part of what it means to be a New Yorker," his statement said.
3-16-20 Coronavirus: Some China schools reopen after more than a month
Students in Guizhou province, south-west China, are returning to school after more than a month off, according to the country's state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV).
3-16-20 Rate cuts: US goes to almost zero and launches huge stimulus programme
The US has cut interest rates to almost zero and launched a $700bn stimulus programme in a bid to protect the economy from the effect of coronavirus. It is part of a co-ordinated action announced on Sunday in the UK, Japan, eurozone, Canada, and Switzerland. In a news conference Fed chairman Jerome Powell said the pandemic was having a "profound" impact on the economy. US President Donald Trump said the emergency action "makes me very happy". The Fed has cut rates to a target range of 0% to 0.25%, and said it would it begin buying bonds - quantitative easing - a move that pumps money directly into the economy. The central bank had already cut interest rates by half a percentage point after an emergency meeting on 3 March. That had been the first rate cut outside of a regularly scheduled policy meeting since the financial crisis in 2008. Stock markets have plunged in recent days amid fears that economic paralysis will wipe out corporate profits and spark a global recession. But early indications suggest the Fed's move may not shore up financial markets. US stock market futures, which anticipate the direction of shares when trading begins, were almost 4% down. Speaking after the emergency meeting, which was held in place of the Fed's regular rates setting decision scheduled for this week, Mr Powell warned that although it was clear the outbreak was already having a major impact on the economy it was still too early to tell just how far-reaching the effects will be. "The economic outlook is evolving on a daily basis and it is depending on the spread of the virus... that is not something that is knowable," he said. As part of Sunday's announcement, the Fed will work with other central banks to increase the availability of dollars for commercial banks. These so-called currency swap lines were an important tool in maintaining financial stability after the 2008 banking crisis.
3-16-20 Coronavirus: Germany latest country to close borders
Germany has become the latest country to close borders as European nations try to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Its borders with France, Austria and Switzerland were shut on Monday morning, except for commercial traffic. France is considering more stringent lockdowns, with its health chief saying the situation is "deteriorating fast". Latest World Health Organization (WHO) figures list 164,000 confirmed cases and 6,470 deaths worldwide. However, last week it said Europe was now the "epicentre" of the virus and urged governments to act aggressively to control the spread of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Leaders of the G7 nations are to hold a video conference on Monday to discuss a joint response to the coronavirus pandemic. Central banks around the world, including the US Federal Reserve and those in the UK, Japan, Canada, and Switzerland have cut interest rates and taken other measures to try to curb the economic turmoil. But stock markets in Asia and Europe still fell and, on Wall St, trading was temporarily halted after the S&P 500 index dropped 8% on opening. It was the third time in six days that the session was interrupted. The EU's Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said a recession was now expected, with a 2-2.5% negative growth. Airlines are also continuing to slash flights as demand slumps. Germany had tried to resist closing its borders, to try to keep the Schengen agreement on free travel between European countries working, but traffic crossing the borders with the three neighbours and also Luxembourg will now be restricted to goods and people commuting for work. The aim is to stem the spread of the virus but also to curtail cross-border panic-buying, German media reported. Only the borders with the Netherlands and Belgium are as yet unaffected. Following a phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU chiefs, French President Emmanuel Macron criticised those who were taking unilateral border control measures. Schools in Germany were closed on Monday, while the capital Berlin over the weekend shut all clubs, bars and fitness centres. Large gatherings nationwide are banned.
3-15-20 Coronavirus is exposing America's shameful selfish streak
We have forgotten how to make sacrifices for each other. We have forgotten that we should. During World War II, Americans of all stripes pitched in to win the war against the Axis powers. While soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines fought in Europe and the Pacific, the citizens who stayed home helped the effort by doing with a little less.In what might now be called an "all of America" approach, every family — even that of President Franklin Roosevelt — was subject to rationing. They accepted limits on the amount of meat, sugar, and other foodstuffs their families could buy, and they repaired car tires instead of buying new ones, so that those critical supplies could be used to feed and arm the troops. People made sacrifices for the sake of the greater good. "Do with less so they'll have enough!" pleaded a propaganda poster featuring a smiling soldier. "Rationing gives you your fair share." That was the 1940s. These days, Americans can't even give up a Saturday night at the bar. We have forgotten how to make sacrifices for each other. We have forgotten that we should. The coronavirus crisis facing both this country and the world might well end up being our biggest challenge since World War II. President Trump on Friday finally declared a national emergency, and health authorities pleaded continually with Americans to adopt "social distancing" measures like working from home and maintaining a distance of six feet from each other. The reason? Even young people — who don't face as much risk of death from the virus as older folks — can pass the virus along in crowded places. Self-isolation is the order of the day. Saturday night, though, bars and restaurants across the country were full. Reports spilled in from packed bars in Manhattan, crowds filling downtown Nashville, and busy restaurants in Oklahoma City. Some people said they were trying to help their local businesses survive the certain economic devastation that will accompany the coronavirus lockdown, but many folks were simply defiant. "I just went to a crowded Red Robin and I'm 30," one young woman tweeted in response to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's (D-N.Y.) plea for people to stay home. "It was delicious, and I took my sweet time eating my meal. Because this is America. And I'll do what I want." Those are words — "I'll do what I want" — that could end up killing people.
3-15-20 Coronavirus and the end of the conservative temperament
Instead of prudence and care, the American right is offering ignorance and ego. Conservatism is less a fixed set of beliefs, many conservatives have long argued, than it is a temperament. It's "not an ideology or a creed," David Brooks wrote at The New York Times, "but a disposition, a reverence for tradition, a suspicion of radical change." Temperamental conservatism, better sketched than precisely defined, is about understanding our own finitude, being prudent and careful. It is frugal and local, concerned with self-reliance but also charity. National strength and wealth are to be conserved for the future, never wasted, not spent on needless conflict or crude nationalism. "Temperamental conservatism understands that in order to preserve anything, it must be kept within certain limits," explained The American Conservative's Daniel Larison. "It recognizes that resources are finite and can be exhausted by current generations at the expense of posterity." Brooks and Larison both concluded temperamental conservatism has been deleteriously eroded by the Republican Party's shift toward shallow ideology, rejection of economic and military limits, and epistemological hubris. The American right's response to the global pandemic of COVID-19 shows that erosion is nearly complete. Temperamental conservatism's response to the threat of pandemic would be a "better safe than sorry" approach, not panic-induced prepping but judicious stockpiling of enough supplies to make reasonable self-quarantine possible. As the conservative temperament is not stridently individualist, it would also include some preparation to help family, friends, and neighbors who, for logistical or financial reasons, can't create a stockpile of their own. Understanding the motivation here is crucial: It's not rash indulgence of fear. It's prudence and a sense of community responsibility, preservation, and benevolence.My colleague Damon Linker's Friday repudiation of "the pretense of mastery and control" and acceptance of the "profound and painful lesson" of our limitations which the novel coronavirus is teaching us is an archetypal example of the conservative temperament. So are calls from National Review's Michael Brendan Dougherty for a "sober-minded realism" which rejects the false "notion that things will go on roughly as they always have." The conservative temperament thinks ahead and plans accordingly. It would rather err on the side of being too careful than too reckless or presumptive that everything will work itself out for the best. This description is likely ringing strange if you've tracked reactions to the spread of COVID-19 from much of the American right. The contrast was especially stark before President Trump's Wednesday address and Friday emergency declaration, in which he appeared to take the pandemic seriously after weeks of suggesting coronavirus is less concerning than the seasonal flu and making clear that his priorities here are the stock market and his own re-election.
3-15-20 Coronavirus: US airports in disarray over screening
US airports have been thrown into chaos as new coronavirus health screening measures for people returning from Europe come into force. Long queues formed as travellers waited for hours for the screenings before passing through customs. The US is banning the entry of people travelling from the UK and Ireland from midnight on Monday (04:00 GMT Tuesday). As a result, the UK Foreign Office is now advising against all but essential travel to the whole of the US. The US has more than 2,700 confirmed cases, with 54 deaths. Correspondents say there is a growing sense of unease and confusion in the US, with fears of a run on hospital beds and concern about childcare as tens of millions of students are sent home from school. At Chicago O'Hare and Dallas DFW airports, passengers reported long queues as travellers returning from Europe waited to be screened as part of measures to combat coronavirus. The US administration has imposed a ban on non-Americans travelling from the 26 European countries in the Schengen free movement zone, which will be extended to the UK and Ireland as of Tuesday. US citizens are allowed to return but face screening. Ruth Procopi, who has lived in the Chicago area for 20 years, returned on Saturday from the UK, where she had been visiting family. "I arrived at [O'Hare airport] from Heathrow at about 3.30pm yesterday. It was chaos. Nobody explained anything," she told the BBC. "And I was one of the lucky ones - I had no checked bags to try to find and because I had not been to a Schengen country, I did not have to undergo additional screening (still not sure what that was), but I didn't find out until I got to the front of this line. "We were told there was additional screening while on the plane, but no details. We were not told anything at any stage. It took me two hours to get through." Illinois Governor JB Pritzker said the long lines at O'Hare were "unacceptable". People have been tweeting pictures and videos of passengers waiting to be processed, forming large crowds in airport terminals. Passengers are being questioned about their medical histories and checked for symptoms.
3-15-20 Coronavirus: Austria bans most gatherings as restrictions tighten
Austria is to ban gatherings of more than five people from Monday, as efforts to combat the spread of the coronavirus in Europe step up. Romania is set to declare a state of emergency, and the Czech PM said he was likely to declare a quarantine for the whole country. The moves follow strict measures taken by France and Spain on Saturday. Spain recorded 97 more deaths and 2,000 new cases in the past 24 hours. That brings the country's total death toll to 288 and overall number of cases to 7,753, the health ministry reports. France, with 4,469 confirmed cases and 91 deaths, is holding local elections, despite the shutting of cafes, restaurants and most shops. Italy, which has recorded 1,441 deaths and and 21,157 cases, began a nationwide lockdown on Monday. The Czech Republic and Slovakia have already closed their borders. The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday that Europe was now the "epicentre" of the pandemic. WHO head Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has urged countries to use aggressive measures, community mobilisation and social distancing to save lives. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz urged people to self-isolate and banned gatherings of more than five people as of Monday. He added the UK, the Netherlands, Russia and Ukraine to a list of countries, entry to whose citizens is restricted. Schools and most shops will be closed from Monday, following an earlier announcement. Meanwhile, the prime minister of the neighbouring Czech Republic, Andrej Babis, said in a TV interview he would propose to government that the entire country should be put under quarantine. He said the number of cases in the country had risen from 214 to 231, with no fatalities. Romania, which has 123 cases, is set to declare a state of emergency on Monday. On Saturday Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said citizens should not leave home, except for buying essential supplies and medicines, or for work. The state of emergency there will last for two weeks - more if deemed necessary and parliament approves. In France the closure - which went into force at 23:00 GMT on Saturday - applies to restaurants, cafes, cinemas and nightclubs as well as non-essential businesses. Prime Minister Édouard Philippe also asked people to reduce their travel, especially between towns, in the country of 63.5 million.
3-14-20 Coronavirus: US to extend travel ban to UK and Ireland
The US is to extend its European coronavirus travel ban to include the UK and Republic of Ireland. The ban will begin at midnight EST on Monday (04:00 GMT Tuesday), Vice-President Mike Pence announced. President Trump's travel ban on 26 European countries - members of the Schengen free movement zone - came into force on Saturday. Mr Pence also announced that free coronavirus testing would be provided for every American. "Now it's all systems go," said National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci on efforts to expand testing. Speaking at the same news conference, President Trump said he had been tested himself. The White House later said that the test was negative. The US has confirmed 51 deaths linked to the pandemic and 2,488 infections. In the first six weeks of vetting for the virus at US, 17 travellers were placed under quarantine at medical facilities, a senior official at the US Department of Homeland Security told Reuters news agency. During that period, more than 30,000 travellers were also asked to self-quarantine at home. More than 132,500 people have now been diagnosed in 123 countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It says Europe is now the epicentre for the virus, which originated in China. Following Italy's lead, Spain is poised to declare a 15-day national lockdown on Monday to battle the virus. They are Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. The travel ban was met with anger and confusion in the EU, with leaders accusing President Trump of making the decision "without consultation". The UK and Ireland had been exempt but Mr Trump said on Saturday: "They've had a little bit of activity, unfortunately." The total number of confirmed cases in the UK has reached 1,140, with 21 deaths - up from 11 on Friday. Mr Pence explained that American citizens and legal residents could still return. Such people would be "funnelled through specific airports and processed", he said.
3-14-20 Coronavirus: US travel ban on 26 European countries comes into force
President Donald Trump's travel ban on 26 European nations has come into force in the US, as part of a contingency plan to tackle the coronavirus crisis. The ban applies to non-Americans who have been in the Schengen border-free travel area within 14 days of travelling to the US. People travelling from the UK and the Republic of Ireland are exempt, as are returning US citizens. There are nearly 2,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the US, and 43 deaths. Mr Trump also declared a national emergency, freeing up to $50bn (£40bn) in relief funds. Mr Trump's administration has faced criticism for its failure to provide Americans with widespread coronavirus testing. Separately, Washington on Friday summoned the Chinese ambassador to protest at comments by a Chinese diplomat that the US military might have brought the virus to China. The coronavirus originated in China's Hubei province late last year. But the daily rates of new infections have been slowing in China, making Europe the new "epicentre" of the pandemic. Italy on Friday recorded its highest daily death toll - 250 over 24 hours, taking the total to 1,266, with 17,660 infections overall. To better co-ordinate the global response to the pandemic, leaders of the world's richest economies - the G7 group - will hold a crisis summit via videoconference on Monday. In all, travel is suspended for 30 days from 26 Schengen countries - 22 European Union members and four non-EU. They are Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Mr Trump said the UK's exemption had been made on the advice of "a group of professionals" but could be reviewed because the number of cases had "gone up fairly precipitously over the last 24 hours". The US travel ban was met with anger and confusion, with EU leaders accusing President Trump of making the decision "without consultation". (Webmaster's comment: Trump and his lackeys are desperate to close the barn door after the horse got out of the barn!)
3-14-20 Coronavirus: Spanish cases up by 1,500 in a day
Coronavirus cases in Spain have risen by 1,500 to more than 5,700, public health officials say. Spain is the worst affected country in Europe after Italy, which has more than 15,000 cases. The Spanish government is set to announce a lockdown as part of a national state of emergency, according to local media reports. On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Europe was now the "epicentre" of the pandemic. Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged countries to use aggressive measures, community mobilisation and social distancing to save lives. Several European countries have reported steep rises in infections and deaths in recent days. Spain reported 136 fatalities by Saturday. Infections there have increased to 5,753, up by more than 1,500 from 4,231 on Friday night. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is set to announce emergency measures to combat the crisis shortly. This will be only the second state of emergency in the country since the transition to democracy began in 1975, the first being a 2010 air traffic controllers' strike. Local measures are already in force. The authorities in Madrid and its surrounding area have ordered the closure of most bars, restaurants and shops. Shops selling foodstuffs, pharmacies and petrol stations are exempt. Similar measures have been brought in elsewhere, including the regions of Galicia and Catalonia. The mayor of the southern city of Seville said he had suspended the famous Easter processions. Catalan regional leader Quid Torra has said he wants to seal off the whole region, and has asked the authorities in Madrid to block access by air, rail and sea. On Thursday the region's authorities locked down four towns north of Barcelona with a high number of cases. Airlines are also stopping flights to Spain. Low-cost leisure airline Jet2 turned back planes in mid-air on Saturday as it announced it was cancelling all flights. All but "essential travel" to parts of Spain should be avoided, says the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
3-14-20 The conservative movement is a public health hazard
Right-wing government and media is a one-two punch that has crippled America's coronavirus response. It is by now beyond any question that President Trump has bungled the response to the novel coronavirus pandemic about as badly as one could possibly imagine. Senegal, a country with a per-capita GDP of about $3,500, is conducting mass tests for the virus and getting results within 4 hours, while the tiny handful of Americans who can even access tests have to wait days or even weeks. On Friday, a single Chinese oligarch announced he was donating to America on the order of 30 times more test kits than there had been tests conducted across the entire United States since the start of the outbreak up to that point. It has been clear since 1980 that under Republican rule, the federal government decays. But under Trump, it has gotten full-blown administrative gangrene. Compared to what is needed to combat the crisis, Trump has done basically nothing. Meanwhile, he and his allies in conservative media have pushed an avalanche of misinformation that will only accelerate the spread of the disease. This is what the conservative movement has become: a gigantic public health hazard for America and the world. There are two main ways in which conservatives have dissolved the bones of American government. The first is ideological. For decades, Republicans have been pushing a libertarian economic vision that can be summarized as "Government Bad." By this view, the government is a largely-pointless hindrance to private enterprise, and basically all regulations and social welfare programs should be done away with. (Prisons and the military can stay, of course.) But there are many, many things, like public health emergencies, in which private businesses simply cannot handle things on their own. Nothing but the federal government can carry out the rapid and extensive actions needed to coordinate a response to a galloping nationwide viral pandemic, and the federal government is by far best able to finance one. As The New Republic's Alex Pareene writes, the right-wing extremists in the Trump administration have reacted with a sort of slack-jawed disbelief at the private sector completely failing to rise to the coronavirus challenge. Second and more importantly, there is the conservative propaganda machine. The American right-wing media is without question the most unhinged, hysterical, irresponsible, and conspiracy-addled major press complex in the world. The right-wing media in the U.K. and Australia come close (probably because of shared language and ownership), but nobody beats Fox News in their combination of wide reach and utterly shameless propaganda. On the one hand, Fox News, The Federalist, Rush Limbaugh, and so on are akin to the state media in a communist dictatorship. The movement is never wrong, Republican politicians are always right, and their political enemies are loathsome traitors who hate freedom, puppies, and apple pie. News that reflects badly on Trump is either made up or the product of a dastardly foreign or left-wing conspiracy. Aging white people across the country have turned their brains to pudding watching Sean Hannity yell insane racist nonsense at them night after night.
3-14-20 Coronavirus is most contagious before and during the first week of symptoms
People stop making infectious virus once the body’s antibody response kicks in. As sweeping efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic go into effect around the globe, researchers are starting to get hints of just when patients are most contagious. People infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes the disease, may test positive for the virus both before and after they have symptoms. But a new study of nine people who contracted the virus in Germany suggests that people are mainly contagious before they have symptoms and in the first week of the disease. Infectious viruses were isolated from about 17 percent of nose and throat swabs and more than 83 percent of phlegm samples during that first week, researchers report March 8 in a study posted at medRxiv.org. Patients produced thousands to millions of viruses in their noses and throats, about 1,000 times as much virus as produced in SARS patients, Clemens Wendtner, director of infectious disease and tropical medicine at Munich Clinic Schwabing, a teaching hospital, and his colleagues found. That heavy load of viruses may help explain why the new coronavirus is so infectious. Scientists identified these nine people some time after they had been exposed to the coronavirus, so researchers don’t know for sure when exactly people begin giving off virus. After the eighth day of symptoms, however, the researchers could still detect the virus’s genetic material, RNA, but they could no longer find infectious viruses. That’s an indication that antibodies that the body’s immune system makes against SARS-CoV-2 are killing viruses that get out of cells, Wendtner says. The study brings an important point to light; finding RNA or pieces of a virus in a swab or sample is no guarantee that the virus is “live,” or infectious, says Ali Khan, dean of the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. “Some of it is discouraging news because when you are mildly [ill] or just [getting] sick, you’re putting out a whole lot of virus, which explains why we’re seeing so much transmission within our communities,” says Kahn, was not involved in the study.
3-14-20 Social distancing, not travel bans, is crucial to limiting coronavirus’ spread
Acting now to reduce the virus’ spread will help avoid worst-case scenarios. Aggressive actions to prevent — or at least to slow — the spread of COVID-19 are being taken across the world. Universities are cancelling in-person classes, while academic conferences and political rallies are postponed. Shops are shuttering. Sports leagues are suspending seasons or competing in empty stadiums. Such “social distancing” measures, as they are called by public health experts, are considered essential in controlling a viral pandemic (SN: 3/11/20). What’s not helpful at this point is banning travel from other affected countries, experts say, such as the U.S. ban on most European visitors announced March 11 by President Donald Trump. “I recommend that people voluntarily cut back on non-essential travel” — a form of social distancing in that people would be avoiding crowded airports, train stations and bus depots, says Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “But I do not expect that travel bans will meaningfully impact the trajectory of the outbreak.” The virus is probably more widespread than we realize in the United States, partly because early problems with testing meant cases likely slipped by undetected (SN: 3/6/20). So U.S. health officials are most concerned now with limiting opportunities for transmission. That helps to prevent hospitals and clinics from becoming overwhelmed, as reportedly has happened in Italy as the number of confirmed cases shot beyond 10,000 in just two weeks. Acting quickly to establish social distancing measures can “flatten the epidemic curve” of an outbreak, experts say. That means the outbreak spreads more slowly and reaches its peak later, with a lower number of active cases at the peak than if no preventive measures were taken.
3-13-20 Quarantine shopping—simplified
- Hand soap: Washing your hands thoroughly and regularly with soap provides better protection from the novel coronavirus than hand sanitizers, which might not kill the virus. You may want sanitizers with 60 percent alcohol, though, for when you can’t access soap and water.
- Bathroom tissues: Yes, you will need a two-week supply of toilet paper if you have to self-isolate because you develop flu symptoms. Facial tissues are needed, too: Have them at hand to cough or sneeze into, plus more to limit contact with doorknobs, etc.
- Nonperishable foods: You won’t lose tap water or the use of your freezer and fridge, but stretch your available food supplies by stocking up on healthy nonperishables such as canned tuna, broth, and tomatoes; shelf-stable milk, dried legumes and pasta; and grains. And don’t forget your pets.
- Medications: Stock up on pain relievers and other OTC treatments for flu symptoms. More importantly, request a month’s supply of needed prescription medications and consider other pharmacy needs, such as diapers, contact lens supplies, and feminine-care products.
- Disinfectant: The coronavirus can live for several days on hard surfaces, so make a routine of using a disinfectant to wipe down countertops, faucets, doorknobs, light switches, phones, etc. Lysol on paper towels will work. So does a cloth dampened with a mix of ¼ cup bleach to 2¼ cups water.
3-13-20 Coronavirus: Donald Trump declares US national emergency
President Donald Trump has declared a state of national emergency as the latest step in his plan to deal with the global outbreak of the coronavirus strand, Covid-19. The president also said that he was considering adding the UK to the list of countries that are banned from flying to the US, and told reporters that he would "most likely" be tested for coronavirus. (Webmaster's comment: Trump and his lackeys are desperate to close the barn door after the horse got out of the barn!)
3-13-20 Coronavirus cases and deaths spike across U.S.
President Trump appeared to undermine federal efforts to contain the new coronavirus this week, insisting that the pandemic will “go away” even as cases of the respiratory illness skyrocketed across the U.S., spooking markets and sparking fears of a recession. By the middle of the week, health officials had reported more than 1,000 cases of the coronavirus in 38 states and the District of Columbia, and at least 30 deaths. To stem the spread of the virus, known as Covid-19, universities across the country scrapped in-person classes; major events such as the South by Southwest festival were canceled; and companies began mandating that employees work from home. (See Making Money.) New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the closure of schools and gathering places in New Rochelle—a New York City suburb that has seen dozens of cases—and sent in the National Guard to sanitize a 1-mile-wide “containment zone.” The Dow Jones industrial average plunged 2,000-plus points in one day, the worst daily showing since the 2008 financial crisis. Globally, officials reported more than 125,000 cases and at least 4,600 deaths. With multiple states declaring emergencies, Trump tweeted that 37,000 Americans die from the flu each year and “nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on.” Influenza typically kills 0.1 percent of the people it infects every year; the World Health Organization estimates that Covid-19 has a mortality rate of up to 3.4 percent. Trump dismissed WHO’s fatality figure as “a false number” and during a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention boasted about his “natural” scientific ability. He attributed this to his “super-genius uncle,” who had once worked at MIT. The Trump administration’s top public health officials were grilled in Congress over the sluggish rollout of Covid-19 testing kits. By the beginning of the week, about 4,300 people had been tested since the start of the outbreak; South Korea has been conducting up to 10,000 tests a day. “There’s not enough equipment,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said of public labs’ capabilities. “There’s not enough people.” Brian Monahan, Congress’ in-house doctor, told Capitol Hill staffers in a closed-door meeting that 70 million to 150 million Americans will likely contract the virus.
3-13-20 The U.S. has passed its 1,000th officially tallied case of coronavirus infection.
“Officially tallied” because it is very likely that there are far more cases that have not been counted. The total number of Americans tested by the beginning of this week stood at about 4,300. Are we even sure of that number? We are not, though it’s the best estimate that an excellent investigation in The Atlantic could get to. The reality is that we just don’t know. Some states have not released the number of tests they’ve done. The federal government has “walked back” (that’s the polite term) the claim that anybody who wants a test can get one. In about 1,000 cases, the U.S. has registered 30 deaths. Germany, meanwhile, has 1,575 cases and just two deaths. Does that mean it has a less virulent strain? Better treatment? Or—most likely—has it just done a better job of testing? Again, we don’t know. And without knowing how far the virus has spread, we are merely guessing at how to slow it. When Covid-19 was first detected in Wuhan, the world got to sit back and criticize the Chinese regime’s obfuscation and denial. Now other countries are not doing any better. Iran has seen 23 members of its parliament infected, and two dead, even as it claims that the virus has hit only one Iranian in 9,000 or so. Maybe we should expect nothing better of Iran. But European democracies, too, are finding it impossible to tell how many cases they have. In Italy—which has now put in place a nationwide lockdown—the death toll of 631 points to many more infections than the country’s recorded 10,149. Right now, the U.S. count of cases and deaths stands roughly where Italy’s stood 11 days ago. There is no reason to be optimistic that the U.S. can do any better than Italy at stemming the spread of the virus. However little we know about the virus, we have a frighteningly good idea of where we are likely to be in 11 days.
3-13-20 Coronavirus: Can the US catch up on testing?
The US government has come under fire for its response to the coronavirus - particularly because it has tested far fewer people than other affected countries. On Thursday, the top health official for infectious diseases admitted that the testing system was "currently failing", and that the US was not able to supply tests "easily, the way people in other countries are doing it". US President Donald Trump has now declared a national emergency to help handle the growing outbreak of coronavirus. So what exactly went wrong - and will the US be able to catch up now? The short answer is no-one knows for sure - not even the government. Both Vice-President Mike Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar have been unable to confirm how many Americans have been tested. This is because some tests were being conducted by private laboratories and hospitals that have not been reporting in to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "We don't have a centralised data registry tracking this the way we should," says Prof Howard Forman, a public health expert at Yale University. "We should learn from this experience - having a centralised registry to keep track, with information flowing from labs to state and then federal governments, is critical." One thing that is widely accepted however, is that US testing has lagged far behind that of other countries. One project by The Atlantic estimates that about 14,000 people have been tested in the US so far. Meanwhile, US lawmakers said on Thursday that fewer than 10,000 people had been tested. By contrast, countries with far smaller populations have conducted more tests. South Korea has tested more than 210,000 people, while the UK has tested 32,771 people. During a conference, Prof Pardis Sabeti, an expert in infectious disease, estimated that South Korea was testing "700 times more people per capita than the US". Meanwhile, Canada, which has a population nearly 10 times smaller than the US, says it has tested more than 15,000 individuals. Prof Forman says the US response has been inadequate. "Certainly at a federal level, we've not done a good job at all," he says. "In an ideal world we'd be emulating South Korea - with parking lot and drive-through testing" which prevents sick people waiting in emergency rooms and infecting others, he adds.
3-13-20 C oronavirus Outbreak
62% of Republicans think that news reports on the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak are “generally exaggerated,” double the 31% percent of Democrats who feel the same way. Democrats are more likely to believe Covid-19 spreads “very easily” than Republicans (47% to 34%) and are more likely to avoid public spaces such as restaurants and shopping malls (53% to 37%), large events or concerts (67% to 49%), and gatherings of friends or family (38% to 25%).
3-13-20 Coronavirus: Why systemic problems leave the US at risk
As the coronavirus spreads across the US, tens of millions of Americans may not seek medical help either because they are uninsured or undocumented. That puts everyone in society at greater risk. Sebastian shows me his hands. His skin is dry and cracked through over washing. "I've always been obsessed with washing my hands because growing up I knew if I got sick I wouldn't be able to see a doctor," he tells me. Sebastian has lived in the US since he was three years old, after having been brought here from Mexico by his parents. He is one of the estimated 11 million people in the country who are "undocumented". No US citizenship means no US healthcare. Even the language of Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act makes it very clear that undocumented immigrants are excluded. "I never went to a doctor, if I got sick my mom would always try to treat it at home, but I remember getting very sick sometimes and missing a lot of school," says Sebastian. The day we meet is the day the first coronavirus case has been confirmed in his area, but Sebastian says that while his family have seen all the news about the virus, their reality remains the same. "Being undocumented it's hard to get medical attention. There's the aspect of presenting yourself to the legal system at medical facilities and that runs the risk of deportation," he says. "My family may not be criminals, but they sure are undocumented and seeing a doctor scares them." For everyone in the US, whether they are undocumented or not, there is also the huge expense involved in even just seeing a doctor. More than 27 million people in America have no medical insurance at all, a number that has been growing dramatically during the Trump presidency. A consultation with a doctor for someone without insurance costs hundreds of dollars. But there are tens of millions more who are classed as being "underinsured" - having basic insurance that often only covers a fraction of the cost of any check ups or treatment. "During the flu season we are getting sick a lot, but taking my children to see their paediatrician costs $100 each visit just for a check," says Lisa Rubio, 28, who has basic health insurance through her employer. "I started with a cough and a sore throat a week ago, but if the doctor tells me they can't prescribe anything, that it's just a virus, I have to decide whether it's worth it to take away money from my bills and my children's other needs.
3-13-20 Covid-19: The coming lockdown
It could be the opening sequence “of a pretty good horror movie,” said Charles McGrath in The Washington Post. The malls and sports stadiums are empty, the parking lots desolate. In movie theaters, dust gathers on the seats, “the popcorn in the popper going hard and stale.” America’s highways have “turned into eerie corridors” and “Times Square is a ghost town.” These scenes don’t come from a new adaptation of a Stephen King novel—this is what life could soon be like in America if the new coronavirus spreads unchecked and officials decide the only solution is to close our public spaces. If you want a glimpse of our future, look at Italy, said Rachel Donadio in TheAtlantic.com. There, the government has locked down the entire country, banning all public gatherings, closing all “cinemas, theaters, concert halls, libraries, and museums.” Travel is restricted to only those facing emergencies, and anyone with even a low fever is quarantined. These are the most sweeping restrictions yet implemented by a Western democracy. “They may soon become the rule.” Imagine if schools were forced to “close for days, weeks, months, or even a year,” said Ashley Fetters and Timothy McLaughlin, also in TheAtlantic.com. Sports seasons would be canceled, working parents would have no place to leave their kids, and summer vacation could go up in smoke as schools recoup lost days. It’s not far-fetched. Globally, more than 290 million children from pre-K through 12th grade “have been dismissed from school due to Covid-19, some for weeks now.” The outbreak could prove good for big government and “deadly to your liberty,” said J.D. Tuccille in Reason.com. Already, authorities are weighing plans to restrict movement and “proposals for massive federal spending” to stabilize the economy. Make no mistake: When the threat from the coronavirus recedes, it will leave behind a “residue of laws, spending, and precedents” that will affect us all for decades to come. But if we want to collectively make it through this crisis, we have to accept there will be some infringement on our liberty, said James Traub in The New York Times. I’m not looking forward to being placed in a forced quarantine, but should it come to that, I will accept the “justice of my confinement” if my sacrifice means that my neighbors have a better chance of staying healthy. With “the flood upon us,” Americans will need to “rise to the occasion” and “learn how to build dikes together.”
3-13-20 Working alone: The self-quarantine economy
The global coronavirus outbreak is giving us the “world’s biggest work-from-home experiment,” said Jessie Yeung in CNN.com. With millions in Asia under quarantine, and more companies in the U.S. taking precautionary measures, the past few weeks have “marked a step toward widespread” adoption of remote work. Thanks to technology such as videoconferencing and cloud storage, this transition is smoother than ever. Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon started telling their Seattle-based employees to work from home last week, said Alex Kantrowitz in BuzzFeedNews.com, and as “social distancing” becomes the norm, many more offices will follow. The health crisis is “a test case for the moment working remotely will broadly replace working in person.” This is a test case we don’t actually need, said Molly Wood in Wired.com. We’ve had plenty of experience with remote work, and we’ve learned that “the only thing worse than conference rooms is conference calls.” In San Francisco, as office lights “wink out one by one,” everyone is talking about how to use tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams and Hangouts. The problem is that “we all know these tools don’t work that well.” Despite years of breathless promotion, we know that the reality of remote work is predictable “frustration and miscommunication.” We should not “ignore health guidelines and force people to work in an office during a pandemic,” said Kevin Roose in The New York Times. Working from home will be the only option for many in this health crisis, and it’s a good option generally “for new parents, people with disabilities, and others who aren’t well served by a traditional office setup.” But for the rest of us, it’s disappointing. “Working in isolation can be lonely,” and it doesn’t spur innovative thinking. Apple’s Steve Jobs was “a famous opponent of remote work” who believed that creativity comes from spontaneous meetings and chance discussions. “I’ll stay home as long as my bosses and the health authorities advise. But honestly, I can’t wait to go back to work.”
3-13-20 Travel: Airlines devastated by coronavirus
Major airlines cut flights this week as the coronavirus crisis caused a dire plunge in passenger travel, said Chris Isidore in CNNBusiness.com. Delta and American reduced flights, following the lead of United and JetBlue; Delta said it “will slash its international flights by between 20 percent and 25 percent and trim domestic flights by 10 percent to 15 percent.” United president Scott Kirby called the current situation “far worse than the 40 percent drop in demand following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.” Taking into account cancellations, United’s bookings have fallen 70 percent. Delta’s CEO said that bookings could fall further, and warned that if things get worse, “we can go deeper.”
3-13-20 Coronavirus: Europe now epicentre of the pandemic, says WHO
Europe is now the "epicentre" of the global coronavirus pandemic, the head of the World Health Organization says. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged countries to use aggressive measures, community mobilisation and social distancing to save lives. "Do not just let this fire burn," he said. His comments came as several European countries reported steep rises in infections and deaths. Italy has recorded its highest daily toll yet. There were 250 deaths recorded over the past 24 hours, taking the total to 1,266, with 17,660 infections overall. Spain, the worst-affected European country after Italy, reported a 50% jump in fatalities to 120 on Friday. Infections increased to 4,231. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez says a state of alert will come into effect there on Saturday for two weeks. Controls are also being introduced at an increasing number of borders in Europe, in response to rapid spread of the virus. More than 132,500 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19 in 123 countries around the world, according to the WHO. The total number of deaths has reached about 5,000 - a figure Dr Tedros described as "a tragic milestone". "Europe has now become the epicentre of the pandemic, with more reported cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined, apart from China," he said. "More cases are now being reported every day than were reported in China at the height of its epidemic." As well as the increases in Spain and Italy, France has now confirmed 2,876 cases and 79 deaths, up from a total of 61 deaths on Thursday. Germany has seen 3,062 cases and five deaths. There have been 798 confirmed infections in the UK and 11 deaths. Announcing the state of alert in Spain, Mr Sanchez said the government would "mobilise all the resources of state to better protect the health of all of its citizens". It will be able to limit movement, order evacuations, prohibit access to certain places and intervene in industry for up to 15 days. "Victory depends on every single one of us," Mr Sanchez said. "Heroism is also about washing your hands and staying at home." All but "essential travel" to parts of Spain should be avoided, says the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Italy has imposed a nationwide lockdown.
3-13-20 Why is the UK approach to coronavirus so different to other countries?
Why is the UK not taking action as drastic and quickly as other countries to tackle the coronavirus? Yesterday, the UK government issued new guidance, telling people with a cough to stay home. But it stopped short of more extreme measures such as banning big gatherings and school closures, which some neighbouring countries have done. The approach has drawn criticism in some quarters, but Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, took to TV and radio studios this morning to explain the strategy’s two main goals. His office told New Scientist today that it is working to make the models behind the reasoning available for public scrutiny. Vallance said the first goal was: “To reduce the peak of the epidemic, flatten it and broaden it, so you don’t end up with so much intense pressure on healthcare systems at one time.” The second is to protect the most vulnerable people while the virus spreads through the population. He said the approach would help build up herd immunity as people recover from the disease and become immune, reducing transmission. This stance appears at odds with the World Health Organization (WHO), which has called on countries to “take urgent and aggressive action”. “That to me translates into hit hard, early,” says Mark Woolhouse at the University of Edinburgh, UK. But Woolhouse is broadly supportive of the UK government’s approach. That is partly because he believes it is more sustainable over time than that of the WHO, which he says appears to want to eradicate the virus entirely, like with SARS, rather than learning to live with a virus that may be here to stay. “At some point, I suspect the WHO is going to have to change its position to something like the UK government’s, and not the other way around,” he says.
3-13-20 War crimes fight
The Trump administration denounced the International Criminal Court last week after it authorized an investigation into allegations of war crimes by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. “This is a truly breathtaking action by an unaccountable political institution,” said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The ICC overturned a previous decision to block the investigation and will now examine alleged crimes committed by the Taliban, the Afghan government, and U.S. troops since May 2003. Prosecutors say they have evidence that U.S. interrogation techniques were used in Afghanistan— “torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape” —that amount to war crimes. The U.S. is not a member of the ICC.
3-13-20 The spread of assisted suicide
As more doctors help patients die, a debate rages over what constitutes ‘unbearable suffering.’
- What is ‘assisted’ dying? Thousands of suffering people, most of them in Europe, are given lethal drugs each year to end their lives under a doctor’s care.
- Where is it legal? The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Canada, Switzerland, and Colombia. And last month, German courts overturned a 2015 law prohibiting assisted suicide, and the Portuguese parliament passed a bill to legalize it, although that bill has yet to be signed into law. In Australia and the U.S., the practice is legal in certain states
- How are the criteria expanding? Both Belgium and the Netherlands began allowing assisted suicide in 2002 for patients in “constant and unbearable physical or psychological pain” attested to by at least two doctors. The first to die that way were terminal cancer patients. But over the years, the criteria for “psychological pain” has been applied more and more broadly, and to more people without terminal illness.
- Are there accusations of overuse? Some activists say that helping depressed people kill themselves is not compassionate care. “Almost all serious psychiatric patients think that their situation is ‘unbearable’ and ‘without perspective,’” says René Stockman, a priest and mental health expert with the Catholic order Brothers of Charity, citing the legal criteria patients must meet.
- How do supporters respond? Supporters of assisted dying say that the safeguards are adequate, or even too onerous. They argue that thousands of nursing home patients—reliable statistics are impossible to come by—starve themselves to death each year.
- What is the trend in the U.S.? Oregon was the first state to legalize assisted dying, in 1997; since then California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Jersey, Washington, Vermont, and the District of Columbia have followed.
- The case of Tine Nys Belgium’s first criminal case concerning euthanasia was resolved Jan. 31, when three doctors were acquitted of unlawfully poisoning Tine Nys, 38, a heroin addict who had suffered from depression for years and had attempted suicide several times.
3-13-20 P rom dresses be approved
A Louisiana high school has backed off its demand that all prom dresses be approved in advance. Dr. Kim Pendleton, principal of Southwood High School in Shreveport, asked for photos of all proposed female prom attire, warning that only “wholesome” dresses that do not show “excess cleavage” would be permitted. The school district canceled the policy after public pushback.
3-13-20 Ban on yoga
An Alabama lawmaker has proposed lifting a ban on yoga in public schools. Democratic state Rep. Jeremy Gray wants to repeal a 1993 law that called yoga a “Hindu philosophy” and barred it. Yoga, Gray insists, is “a great way to work on your posture, flexibility, and balance and to strengthen your core.” To mollify opponents, his bill requires that yoga be taught with English terminology.
3-13-20 Coronavirus: Countries enforce mass closures to stem spread
Schools have been closed, sports events cancelled and cultural institutions shut around the world as countries try to stem the coronavirus outbreak. In the US, six states told schools to close on Monday for at least two weeks. Belgium announced sweeping measures including the closure of schools, cafes and restaurants, and cancellation of cultural and recreational events. All forthcoming fixtures in Europe's top football contests the Champions and Europa leagues have been postponed. In other developments: 1. Iran announces another 85 deaths, the country's highest toll in a 24-hour period, bringing the total number of dead there to 514, 2. Deaths in Spain rise by some 50% to reach 120 and infections jump to 4,200, 3. Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau began 14-day self-isolation after his wife Sophie tested positive for coronavirus. He is not showing symptoms, 4. Australia's Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is admitted to hospital after testing positive, 5. European markets are recovering some ground after heavy losses on Thursday and Asian markets finished down, having rallied after sharp falls on Friday morning Kenya records its first case of coronavirus, in a 27-year-old woman just returned from the US via London, 6. More than 125,000 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19 in 118 countries around the world, according to the World Health Organization. The total number of deaths is more than 4,600. More than 125,000 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19 in 118 countries around the world, according to the World Health Organization. The total number of deaths is more than 4,600.
In the US, six states told schools to close on Monday for at least two weeks. Belgium announced sweeping measures including the closure of schools, cafes and restaurants, and cancellation of cultural and recreational events. All forthcoming fixtures in Europe's top football contests the Champions and Europa leagues have been postponed. In other developments: 1. Iran announces another 85 deaths, the country's highest toll in a 24-hour period, bringing the total number of dead there to 514, 2. Deaths in Spain rise by some 50% to reach 120 and infections jump to 4,200, 3. Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau began 14-day self-isolation after his wife Sophie tested positive for coronavirus. He is not showing symptoms. 4. Australia's Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is admitted to hospital after testing positive, 5. European markets are recovering some ground after heavy losses on Thursday and Asian markets finished down, having rallied after sharp falls on Friday morning, 6. Kenya records its first case of coronavirus, in a 27-year-old woman just returned from the US via London
3-13-20 Cruise ship outbreak helps pin down how deadly the new coronavirus is
Outcomes suggest that, in the real world, about 0.5 percent of COVID-19 infections in China end in death. Exactly how deadly COVID-19 is remains up in the air. Limited testing and undetected cases — people with no symptoms or ones so mild they don’t seek medical attention — make it hard to pin down how many are infected. And that number is crucial for calculating the ratio of people who may die from COVID-19. Enter the Diamond Princess cruise ship. Quarantined at sea off Japan after a passenger tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the ship became a natural data lab where nearly everyone was tested and few cases of infection were missed. Infections and deaths onboard suggest that the disease’s true fatality ratio in China is about 0.5 percent, though that number may vary from place to place, researchers report March 9 in a paper posted at MedRxiv.org. That 0.5 percent is far less than the 3.4 percent of confirmed cases that end in death cited by the World Health Organization, but troubling nonetheless. The WHO’s number has come under fire because the true number of people infected with the virus worldwide is not known. “How worried should we be?” says Timothy Russell, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who does mathematical modeling of disease outbreaks. “Well, it’s more severe than the flu.” Flu — which annually kills hundreds of thousands worldwide — has an estimated 0.1 percent fatality rate. As of February 20, tests of most of the 3,711 people aboard the Diamond Princess confirmed that 634, or 17 percent, had the virus; 328 of them did not have symptoms at the time of diagnosis. Of those with symptoms, the fatality ratio was 1.9 percent, Russell and colleagues calculate. Of all infected, that ratio was 0.91 percent. Those 70 and older were most vulnerable, with an overall fatality ratio of about 7.3 percent.
3-13-20 Social distancing, not travel bans, is crucial to limiting coronavirus’ spread
Acting now to reduce the virus’ spread will help avoid worst-case scenarios. Aggressive actions to prevent — or at least to slow — the spread of COVID-19 are being taken across the world. Universities are cancelling in-person classes, while academic conferences and political rallies are postponed. Shops are shuttering. Sports leagues are suspending seasons or competing in empty stadiums. Such “social distancing” measures, as they are called by public health experts, are considered essential in controlling a viral pandemic (SN: 3/11/20). What’s not helpful at this point is banning travel from other affected countries, experts say, such as the U.S. ban on most European visitors announced March 11 by President Donald Trump. “I recommend that people voluntarily cut back on non-essential travel” — a form of social distancing in that people would be avoiding crowded airports, train stations and bus depots, says Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “But I do not expect that travel bans will meaningfully impact the trajectory of the outbreak.” The virus is probably more widespread than we realize in the United States, partly because early problems with testing meant cases likely slipped by undetected (SN: 3/6/20). So U.S. health officials are most concerned now with limiting opportunities for transmission. That helps to prevent hospitals and clinics from becoming overwhelmed, as reportedly has happened in Italy as the number of confirmed cases shot beyond 10,000 in just two weeks. Acting quickly to establish social distancing measures can “flatten the epidemic curve” of an outbreak, experts say. That means the outbreak spreads more slowly and reaches its peak later, with a lower number of active cases at the peak than if no preventive measures were taken.
3-13-20 Coronavirus' lessons in limits
A pandemic is a harsh reminder that much of reality is still beyond our control. From the very beginning, the message of modernity has been one of control and mastery — over fate, over the natural world, over human nature itself. And the program for human improvement very much included the conquering of medical maladies. It began with the hope for the expansion and dissemination of scientific knowledge that would in turn lead to economic and technological advances to make human life easier, healthier, less painful, and more peaceful, pleasant, and prosperous. Eventually, leading thinkers hoped to extend progress in knowledge to politics, allowing for the expansion of self-government and the application of expertise to the administration of a social life that was becoming ever-more dynamic and complex. Over the past century, this effort at control has even been extended to the human mind, first in totalitarian regimes through the technological dissemination of propaganda, but more recently in the governing of liberal democracies. Less than two decades ago, an anonymous senior adviser to President George W. Bush (widely presumed to be Karl Rove) dismissed those who work (and trust) in the "reality-based community." It was now possible, this senior White House aide insisted, to create whole new realities through the manipulation of information by those in power. They could do this by controlling what we now call "the narrative." Donald Trump's constant spewing of lies and denunciations of "fake news" takes this one step further into an intentional, active, and ongoing effort to manipulate and distort the public mind of the country in order to more effectively wield political power without limits. But that's not all. Not even close. We now live in a world that's shot through with the pretense of mastery and control. Don't like the limits imposed by low tax rates? Just run up the deficit without consequence. Unhappy with your nose or your chin or your hairline or your breasts? Just alter them surgically. Don't like your mood? We have a pill for that. Feel uncomfortable as a man or a woman? Just change things up — under the knife and with some hormones and a dose of transgender ideology. Can't figure out how to make your start-up earn a profit? No worries: if you tell an exciting enough story, your IPO will still bring in billions as it rides the market into the stratosphere.
3-13-20 US-Mexico border: Pregnant woman from Guatemala dies after fall from wall
A 19-year-old pregnant woman from Guatemala died from injuries suffered after falling from the US-Mexico border wall, US and Guatemalan officials say. Miriam Stephany Girón Luna fell as she tried to climb the steel mesh barrier near El Paso, Texas on Saturday. She was taken to hospital where doctors tried to deliver the baby by emergency C-section without success. Officials say the case indicates a change in how migrants are trying to reach the US amid new restrictions. President Donald Trump has made the fight against illegal migration to the US a major policy issue and has taken measures to deter entry across the border from Mexico, including plans for a border wall. Large sections of the border near El Paso already have some form of barrier. Girón Luna was travelling with a 26-year-old man believed to be her partner and the baby's father, and fell more than 6m (19ft), Guatemala's foreign ministry said on Thursday (in Spanish). The man eventually found US border patrol agents, who called for an ambulance to rescue her. According to the statement, Girón Luna was taken to a hospital in El Paso with a cerebral haemorrhage, liver and kidney lacerations and a pelvis fracture. She underwent multiple surgeries but died from her injuries on Tuesday. The Guatemalan statement said she was seven months pregnant while US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said she was eight months. Gloria Chavez, CBP's El Paso sector chief, blamed the death on "human smugglers" who had "encouraged her and helped her climb" the barrier. "We will engage our law enforcement partners in Mexico to find those responsible for placing these lives in danger," she said in a statement. Media reports said Girón Luna was a social worker and beauty pageant winner and wanted to reach the US to help her family financially.
3-13-20 How the U.S. census has measured race over 230 years
The 2020 census faces the same challenges as previous counts. On the first Monday in August 1790, just over a year after the inauguration of President George Washington, America’s first census marshals began knocking on doors. The new country’s constitution decreed that each state would be represented in Congress “according to their respective numbers.” A national enumeration was in order. And so, marshals took to the streets with schedules, quill pens and ink in hand. The census intended to enumerate every person in the original 13 states, three districts (Kentucky, Maine and Vermont) and one western territory (Tennessee). The Northwest Territory and American Indian communities were left out. The marshals asked the head of each household to record his or her name and the size of the household, and then placed the residents into one of three racial categories: “white” people, “other free people” and “slaves.” That first census tallied 3.9 million residents, approximately the number of people living in Los Angeles today. The U.S. population has expanded and diversified a great deal since that first count. And the categories the census uses to describe people have diversified as well. Still, the underlying purpose of the procedure, which happens every 10 years, remains the same: to determine each area’s proportional representation in national and local politics and to distribute government funding for social services. In that 1790 census, white people made up about 80 percent of the total population, enslaved black people represented 18 percent and other free people represented the remaining 2 percent. These three categories were the primary markers of racial difference in the population until 1860. As retired census demographer Campbell Gibson notes in his online compilation, American Demographic History Chartbook: 1790–2010, racial categories used in the census tended to reflect social attitudes and political considerations. One such political consideration was built into the Constitution. To boost their representation in the House of Representatives, delegates from southern states wanted slaves to be counted with the free population. But northern states wanted the free population to be more heavily weighted. Delegates finally agreed on the Three-Fifths Compromise — each slave was counted as three-fifths of a person until the category “slave” was removed in 1860.
3-12-20 Coronavirus: US is failing on testing, says Fauci
The testing system for coronavirus in the US is currently failing, a top health official has admitted. "The system is not really geared to what we need right now... let's admit it," said Dr Anthony Fauci from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Authorities in the US have come under fire for carrying out far fewer tests than many other affected countries. There are currently more than 1,300 confirmed cases of the virus in the US. President Donald Trump says the US has "a tremendous testing set up where people coming in have to be tested". However, he has not given further details, and there has not been routine testing for the virus in the US. In an interview with CNN on Thursday, Vice-President Mike Pence could not confirm how many Americans had been tested for the virus, saying he "would leave that to the experts". According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a total of at least 11,079 specimens have been tested since January. However, the number of people tested is likely to be lower, as patients typically provide at least two specimens for testing. Furthermore, government officials say they do not know the number of people being tested, because some tests are being conducted by private hospitals and laboratories that have not been reporting in to the CDC. The Atlantic, which is running a project to track the number of tests being conducted, estimates about 8,000 people have been tested. Meanwhile, lawmakers who went to a briefing with health officials told Politico that fewer than 10,000 Americans had been tested. By contrast, South Korea has tested more than 210,000 people and is testing nearly 20,000 people every day, while in the UK, more than 29,700 people have been tested, and more than 1,000 tests are being carried out per day.
3-12-20 Coronavirus: Should Americans be worried?
The coronavirus that began in Wuhan, China, has now reached dozens of countries and has started to take its toll in the US. So how prepared is the country? Thousands of new cases across the world are being reported each day, and the true scale could be 10 times higher. There are 1,323 confirmed cases in the US, 117 in Canada. Thirty-eight people have died in the US due to the virus and one person has died in Canada. Officials say risk remains low for the general US public, but is growing. Bans on large gatherings have been announced, with national guard troops dispatched to cities on both the US East and West coasts. Several states, including Washington, have declared emergencies to deal with the outbreak. The global outbreak has now been labelled a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). Stock markets around the world have been in free-fall forcing trading to temporarily halt and causing many people to worry about their retirement funds. President Donald Trump has claimed the situation is "well under control", while officials at the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) warn the virus will spread and may severely disrupt daily life. Relative to other countries dealing with coronavirus, the US has done only a handful of tests. On 6 March, the president signed an $8.3bn (£6.4bn) emergency funding bill to develop a vaccine and help states combat the virus. The UK, for instance, has allocated $38bn (£30bn) to deal with its impacts. Concerns have deepened amid the sharp rise in the number of cases reported in the first week of March. More than half of US states have now reported cases of the sickness. Mr Pence has said one million tests are available in all state labs. So far fewer than 10,000 people have been tested - compared to 20,000 per day in South Korea. The administration has also granted labs permission to develop and use their own diagnostic tests even as they are being reviewed by the national drug agency.
3-12-20 Coronavirus: EU condemns Trump travel ban on 26 European countries.
President Donald Trump's coronavirus travel ban on 26 European countries has been met with anger and confusion, with EU leaders accusing him of making the decision "without consultation". The Covid-19 pandemic is a "global crisis", said top European Union officials Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel. It "requires cooperation rather than unilateral action," they said. The ban is due to go into effect on Friday at midnight EDT (0400 GMT). It affects only countries that are members of the Schengen border-free travel area and does not affect US citizens, the UK, or Ireland. It is a major escalation in the response to Covid-19 by Mr Trump, who has been accused of inaction. However, the ban was met with frustration in Washington as well as abroad. On Thursday, the US leader said he did not inform his EU counterparts because "it takes time". "We had to move quickly," Mr Trump said, adding that the EU did not consult the US when raising taxes on American goods. The European ambassador was, naturally, diplomatic. "We feel there should have been cooperation rather than action that targets one continent," the diplomat, who asked not to be named, says on the phone, referring to the travel ban. Mr Trump's action took him and other ambassadors in Washington by surprise. Still he made his views about the travel ban, as well his frustration and anger about the restrictions, clear: "We are not very pleased," he says. "No." Others are equally dismayed: the Atlantic Council's Daniel Fried, a former US ambassador to Poland, says he found the president's remarks disappointing: "Anti-EU bashing is indulgence." Ambassadors here in Washington, both current and former, are now waiting for the president's next move - with a fair amount of dread. As another former ambassador put it: "I am not confident." Over 1,300 confirmed cases of the virus have been reported in the US, with 38 deaths so far. Italy now has over 12,000 confirmed cases and 827 deaths, second to China. France, Spain and Germany have also seen a rise in cases.
3-12-20 Coronavirus: NBA, NHL, MLS suspend seasons, MLB delays start of 2020 campaign
All major sport in the United States has been suspended amid the coronavirus outbreak. The NBA has announced that all matches will be suspended from Thursday until further notice, after a Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive. The NHL and MLS later announced the stoppage of its respective seasons, the latter for 30 days. The MLB has delayed the start of its 2020 season by at least two weeks due to the "national emergency". The other major US sports league - the NFL - is currently in its off-season, although the 2020 Draft in Las Vegas is scheduled to start on 23 April. Men's and women's college basketball has also been cancelled, just a day after it was announced it would initially continue without spectators. The NCAA, the governing body of US college sport, announced the Division I men's and women's tournaments would be cancelled, in addition to remaining winter and spring NCAA tournaments. The Division I men's basketball tournament, known as March Madness, is one of the biggest and most popular sports events in the United States. The NBA's announcement was made just before the Jazz game against the Oklahoma Thunder was due to start on Wednesday. The NBA said Gobert was not at the game, which was postponed, but the Frenchman has since had to issue an apology for potentially exposing others to the virus. Earlier this week, he jokingly touched reporters' microphones and dictaphones at a pre-match news conference. "I have gone through so many emotions since learning of my diagnosis, mostly fear, anxiety, and embarrassment," he wrote on Instagram. "The first and most important thing is I would like to publicly apologise to the people that I may have endangered. At the time, I had no idea I was even infected. I was careless and make no excuse.
3-12-20 Mitch McConnell is aiding and abetting the spread of coronavirus
The outbreak of coronavirus has become a full-blown epidemic in the United States. The NBA has suspended its season after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert came down with the disease (after scoffing at disease precautions, and possibly infecting many others as a result). President Trump may have it. Stock markets around the world are plummeting. A financial crisis looks very possibly in the offing, as well as a recession. So like some arthritic, emaciated polar bear coming out of hibernation, the American federal government is finally starting to respond, sort of. House Democrats have announced a major coronavirus bill, which includes "paid sick leave, widespread free testing, food aid, and unemployment insurance," Politico reports. It would also increase federal funding of Medicaid to ease burdens on states. Naturally, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell immediately announced his opposition, as did House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. On Twitter McConnell complained that the bill "wanders into policy areas that are not related to the pressing issues at hand." These men, and the rest of the Republican congressional caucus, are aiding and abetting the coronavirus epidemic. It's probably fair to conclude that the national-level American response to novel coronavirus outbreak has been the worst in the developed world by a considerable margin. When I first read that Italy had a major outbreak, I unfairly assumed it was due to mistakes and disorganization on their part. But it turns out this was not true at all. Italy responded quite quickly and aggressively — shutting down travel from China, rapidly expanding their testing, deploying medical personnel, and putting whole cities on lockdown. Nevertheless, their initial efforts were still short of what was needed to contain the virus — and that makes all the difference. East Asian countries like Singapore, Vietnam, and Taiwan had experience fighting off the SARS and swine flu outbreaks years ago, and learned that to actually stop an outbreak before it becomes an epidemic, you need total commitment and perfect performance from the jump. Indeed, it seems South Korea had a major outbreak solely because of a single unlucky break — a "super-spreader" event where one person infected dozens of others in a few hours.
3-12-20 Why don't children seem to get very ill from the coronavirus?
It has been widely reported that children are less likely to get severely ill and die from the new coronavirus. A recent study of 44,672 people with confirmed covid-19 infection found that children under 10 years old made up less than 1 per cent of those cases and none of the 1023 deaths. “This is unlike flu,” says Akiko Iwasaki at Yale University. With flu, young children and older people are usually the most severely affected, so why is the new coronavirus different? It is a bit of a mystery. A straightforward explanation would be that children are resisting infection in the first place, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. One recent study even found children to be just as likely as adults to get infected. In any case, children that do become infected are still less likely to get sick with covid-19 and die – a similar trend to that seen with SARS or MERS, two other severe diseases caused by coronaviruses. So, what is protecting children? “No one has a good answer to that question yet,” says Iwasaki. But she and other experts suspect it may be down to the unique way children’s immune systems respond to these viruses. A common complication of covid-19, SARS and MERS in adults is acute respiratory distress syndrome, where the immune response against the coronavirus becomes overzealous and causes life-threatening damage to the lungs. The resulting leakage of fluid and immune cells into the lungs causes big problems, says Chris van Tulleken at University College London. Even if those immune responses are trying to help by attacking the virus, they can end up blocking oxygen uptake in the lungs, he says. Because children’s immune systems are still developing, one suggestion is that they are shielded from this type of dangerous immune response – called a cytokine storm – when they get covid-19 or similar diseases. During the SARS outbreak, two studies found children produced relatively low levels of inflammation-driving cytokines, which may have been what protected their lungs from serious damage.
3-12-20 Coronavirus: Trump suspends travel from Europe to US
US President Donald Trump has announced sweeping travel restrictions on 26 European countries in a bid to combat the spread of the coronavirus. The ban applies to travellers from countries which are members of the Schengen border-free travel area. The UK, Ireland and other non-Schengen countries are unaffected. US citizens are also exempt. The EU condemned the measures, which it said were taken "unilaterally and without consultation". The new rules go into effect on Friday at midnight EDT (0400 GMT) and mark a major escalation from the US president, who has been accused of inaction over the coronavirus. There are 1,135 confirmed cases of the virus across the US, with 38 deaths so far. "This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history," he said in a prime-time televised address from the Oval Office on Wednesday. Justifying the travel restrictions, he accused the EU of failing to take "the same precautions" as the US in fighting the virus. In his speech he said all travel from Europe would be suspended, but a presidential proclamation later said it would only apply to anyone who had been in the EU's Schengen border-free area in the 14 days before their arrival in the US. Mr Trump also said the suspension would also apply to cargo coming from Europe into the US. He later tweeted to say that trade would "in no way be affected". The speech included plans to provide billions of dollars in loans to small businesses and the president urged Congress to free up more funds. President Trump said for most Americans the risk was "very, very low" adding, "no nation is more prepared or more resilient than the United States". In its response the EU said the coronavirus was "a global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action". "The EU disapproves of the fact that the US decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation," European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel said in a statement. Senior Democrats said it was "alarming" that President Trump had not addressed a shortage of coronavirus testing kits in the US.
3-12-20 Trump cannot lead America through the coronavirus crisis
The reality TV president is no match for a real pandemic President Trump's biggest failing may be that he can never not be himself. On Wednesday, Trump addressed the nation from the Oval Office to discuss the COVID-19 crisis — announcing what actions the federal government will take, and ostensibly trying to reassure the American people that we are collectively up to meeting the terrible challenge before us. We will see how the policies shake out. After the speech, it became clear Trump had repeatedly misspoken when announcing the details of his administration's plans to confront the new coronavirus: He overstated the extent of a travel ban from Europe, mistakenly said it included "trade and cargo," and wrongly said insurers were waiving co-payments for coronavirus treatments. But technicalities aside, it was clear from the start that the president is not up to the task of reassuring the nation he leads. He was puffy-faced and sniffly, raising new questions about his own exposure to the virus. And he fell back into all of his own worst, easily predictable habits: xenophobia, hyperbole, and problem dodging. He pitted the United States against outsiders, referring to the "foreign virus" that "started in China" — as though the disease had any idea of or respect for national boundaries. He boasted undeservedly. "The virus will not have a chance against us," Trump said, even as events outside the White House were quickly indicating otherwise: While cases continued to rise in the U.S., Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the virus was 10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu. Perhaps most dangerously, Trump refused to acknowledge the magnitude of the emergency. "This is not a financial crisis," the president told the nation. "This is just a temporary moment in time we will overcome as a nation and a world." It was an absurd bit of rhetorical nonsense, belied by his announcement of emergency measures to shutter travel, help workers, and assist businesses. Within minutes of his speech, several developments unfolded: Dow futures immediately plunged. Tom Hanks announced that he and his wife, Rita Wilson, had contracted COVID-19. And the NBA announced it was suspending the remainder of this season after a member of the Utah Jazz tested positive for the disease.
3-12-20 Coronavirus in South Korea: How 'trace, test and treat' may be saving lives
In a car park behind a hospital in Seoul, 45-year-old Rachel Kim rolls down her car window and sticks out her tongue. She travelled to Daegu last week, the area with the highest number of coronavirus cases in South Korea. Now she's developed a bad cough and a fever. Fearing the worst, she decided to get a Covid-19 test at one of the dozens of drive-through centres. Two people dressed head-to-toe in white protective clothing, clear goggles and surgical face masks are ready for her. A long swab stick is rummaged around the back of her mouth and throat and then placed carefully into a long test tube. Then comes the tough bit. The swab goes right up her nose. She screws up her eyes in discomfort, but the whole thing is over in minutes. She rolls up her car window and off she drives. She will get a call if the result is positive, or a text if it's negative. Nearly 20,000 people are being tested every day for coronavirus in South Korea, more people per capita than anywhere else in the world. Rachel's sample is quickly shipped off to a nearby laboratory where staff are working 24 hours a day to process the results. In the battle to contain the contagion, these labs have become the front line. South Korea has created a network of 96 public and private laboratories to test for coronavirus. Health officials believe this approach may be saving lives. The fatality rate for coronavirus in South Korea is 0.7%. Globally the World Health Organization has reported 3.4% - but scientists estimate that the death rate is lower because not all cases are reported. I turned up at Green Cross laboratories just outside Seoul as a new batch of samples arrived to be tested. Dr Oh Yejin gave us a tour until she stopped at a door and made it clear we were not allowed through. "The tests are carried out in this negative pressure room," she told me. "It prevents any droplets from the samples escaping." Inside, two doctors in bright yellow protective clothing are moving around the sealed room. They lift up a number of test tubes and get to work. Beside us dozens of machines are whirring away and processing results. These are PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests - in very basic terms it is searching for the presence of Covid-19 in the sample. The whole process from test tube to test result is about five to six hours. (Webmaster's comment: The US should be doing this but Trump axed the funds.)
3-12-20 What WHO calling the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic means
The organization is asking countries to double down on containment and mitigation efforts. Given its spread and rapidly growing impact, the coronavirus outbreak is now considered a pandemic, the World Health Organization announced March 11 in a news conference. So far, the virus has reached at least 114 countries, killed over 4,000 people and infected at least 120,000. The situation is likely to get worse before it improves. “We expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries climb even higher,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in the news conference. The WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency in late January, but declined to describe COVID-19 as a pandemic until now. “Using the word pandemic carelessly has no tangible benefit,” Ghebreyesus said in a news conference February 26. “But it does have significant risk in terms of amplifying unnecessary and unjustified fear and stigma, and paralyzing systems.” That sentiment, as well as a desire to emphasize the possibility of containing the virus once it enters a country, kept the WHO from describing COVID-19 a pandemic until now. A pandemic differs from an epidemic in the scope of its spread. Epidemics are large outbreaks of a new disease confined to a specific region, such as in the early days of COVID-19 when cases were largely centered in China. An epidemic becomes a pandemic when multiple outbreaks persist on multiple continents, sustained by widespread human-to-human transmission that can’t be traced back to the country where the outbreak began (SN: 2/25/20). The last time that the WHO used the word pandemic to describe a rapidly spreading virus was in 2009, for a then-novel H1N1 strain of influenza, which killed hundreds of thousands of people in its first year and is now part of the group of annually circulating influenza viruses (SN: 3/26/10). A pandemic has never been sparked by a coronavirus before.
3-11-20 The WHO is now calling the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic
The World Health Organization today said the covid-19 outbreak caused by coronavirus is now classed as a pandemic. “In the past two weeks, the number of cases outside China has increased thirteenfold,” said WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a press conference. “WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity. We have therefore made the assessment that covid-19 can be characterised as a pandemic.” The WHO had been reluctant to declare a pandemic up until now. There is no universally agreed definition of when a disease outbreak should be called a pandemic, but three criteria generally need to be met. It needs to cause disease or death, there must be sustained transmission between people and it must be spreading in multiple countries. As of 11 March, there are more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and more than 4000 people have died, Tedros said. “In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, deaths and affected countries climb even higher.” Tedros said that two countries, China and South Korea, had managed to change the course of their outbreaks. The number of cases in South Korea began plateauing in the past week, and case numbers in China have been doing the same since mid-February, due to the countries’ drastic containment measures. “Even those countries with community transmission or large clusters can turn the tide on this coronavirus,” said Tedros. But he also said in some places there were alarming levels of inaction. “Some countries are struggling with a lack of resources. Some countries are struggling with a lack of resolve.”
3-11-20 Why the coronavirus is different from flu and warrants major action
People who argue that covid-19 is no bigger a problem than flu ignore the fact that we lack natural immunity and have no vaccines in our armoury. FOR weeks now, the news has been dominated by the coronavirus. This is hardly surprising: it is an unprecedented global story with an unknown ending, featuring a new virus we don’t yet fully understand. The planet’s most populous nation shut down an entire province to try to contain it, and now there is an exponential uptick in cases worldwide. It is also no wonder everyone is talking about the virus, given many people are worrying about the risks to themselves or their loved ones. No wonder, too, that inaccurate articles and even conspiracy theories are flourishing, and that warnings to be ready for self-isolation have led to panic-buying. Inevitably perhaps – with the numbers of diagnosed cases currently still low in many countries – a backlash is under way. There is a view that the fatality rate will turn out to be tiny, that the new virus is no more noteworthy than flu and that the economic harm of containment measures doesn’t justify the lives they could save. The media, meanwhile, is being accused of stoking panic in its reporting. But as Michael Leavitt, a former US secretary of health, put it last week: “Anything said in advance of a pandemic seems alarmist. After a pandemic begins, anything one has said or done is inadequate.” The best information now available suggests a fatality rate of around 0.7 per cent (see “Why is it so hard to calculate how many people will die from covid-19?”), which means the covid-19 virus has the potential to kill a large number of people worldwide. The virus differs from flu in that there is no widespread immunity to it – the only people likely to have any are those who have already had it. What’s more, unlike flu, we have no vaccines to give to those who are most at risk.
3-11-20 The race to test coronavirus antiviral drugs and vaccines is under way
AS THE number of coronavirus cases escalates, a massive research and development effort is under way, with human trials planned. What the thousands of people who already have the covid-19 virus would benefit from is a drug that can stop it replicating. To find what may do this, people are ransacking lists of existing drugs that could be repurposed with minimal further testing. Leading the pack is remdesivir, an experimental antiviral drug now undergoing large trials in patients in China and the US, including 13 people who were on the Diamond Princess cruise ship. It is hoped that the drug, which failed in trials against Ebola in 2014 but passed safety tests, can stop the covid-19 virus replicating by blocking a crucial enzyme. Its maker, US firm Gilead Sciences, is building manufacturing facilities ahead of trial results in April. Trials are also planned for kaletra, a combination of two anti-HIV drugs that stops viral replication and has reportedly worked on covid-19 in China. Chloroquine, an antimalarial drug that most malaria now resists, might also hold promise. Studies suggest that it stops the related SARS virus replicating and invading cells, and that it works against the covid-19 virus. Treatment guidelines in China now recommend two 500 milligram doses daily. Another approach is to use proteins called monoclonal antibodies that target specific viruses for destruction by the immune system. Vir Biotechnology in the US has made monoclonal antibodies for the covid-19 virus for an experimental diagnostic test. It now plans, with Chinese firm WuXi Biologics, to test them as a treatment. US firm Regeneron is brewing similar antibodies. A team at Imperial College London has used artificial intelligence to assess approved drugs for promising candidates, and identified a rheumatoid arthritis drug, baricitinib (The Lancet, doi.org/dph5). This blocks the pathway the covid-19 virus uses to invade cells, as well as interfering with interleukin-6, the signalling molecule that triggers the lethal runaway immune response that can kill in severe cases. An antibody called tocilizumab is already being used in China to block interleukin-6 in people with covid-19.
3-11-20 Why is it so hard to calculate how many people will die from covid-19?
HOW many of those infected by the coronavirus will die? It is still hard to say for sure, not least because the proportion of deaths will vary depending on local circumstances and how the outbreak is handled. So what do we know? Last week, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’s take on this was widely reported. “Globally, about 3.4 per cent of reported covid-19 cases have died,” he said. That statement is correct, but was misunderstood by some as being the true death rate. Dividing the number of deaths by the number of reported cases doesn’t reveal how many will die. This is because some of those recently confirmed to have the coronavirus and included in the reported case count might still die, pushing the true figure up. On the other hand, many people with mild symptoms might be going undiagnosed, pushing it down. Last month, a study estimated that the fatality rate when infected people without symptoms are included in the case count is around 1 per cent, and this is still thought to be in the right ball park. It is clear that some countries, including the US and Iran, are missing cases as so few people are being tested. South Korea, by contrast, had tested 190,000 people as of 9 March, with 7478 confirmed cases and 51 deaths. This means 0.7 per cent of reported cases in South Korea have died so far, which matches what we have seen in China outside of Wuhan. If these places are detecting most cases, the fatality rate will not be much lower than this, though it could be higher if many recently infected people die. The fatality rate for covid-19 isn’t fixed, and will vary based on many factors. Age is one, with the rate rising from around age 50 and reaching 15 per cent in over-80s, according to data from China. Countries like Niger, with many younger people, may fare better than Japan, where more than a quarter are aged over 65.
3-11-20 Coronavirus: Up to 70% of Germany could become infected - Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that up to 70% of the country's population - some 58 million people - could contract the coronavirus. Mrs Merkel made the stark prediction at a news conference on Wednesday alongside Health Minister Jens Spahn. She said since there was no known cure, the focus would fall on slowing the spread of the virus. "It's about winning time," she explained. Her remarks came as Italy entered its second day of a national lockdown. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced the closure of schools, gyms, museums, nightclubs and other venues across the country, which on Wednesday passed 10,000 confirmed infections. New York's governor announced that troops would be sent into New Rochelle, a town north of the city, in an attempt to contain an outbreak of the virus, as the total number of US cases passed 1,000 on Wednesday. A one-mile (1.6km) containment zone was in force around New Rochelle - with all of those in the zone quarantined. In Italy, which has seen a steep rise in cases, Mr Conte pledged 25bn euros ($22bn) to tackle the outbreak - up from the 7.5bn euros announced last week. Music festivals and other major events, including Coachella festival in California, have been cancelled or postponed. Berlin city authorities on Wednesday banned all events with more than 1,000 participants. Thousands of flights have been cancelled worldwide as airlines struggle to cope with a slump in demand. A UK health minister, Nadine Dorries, said she had tested positive for coronavirus and was self-isolating at home. China - where the virus was first detected - has seen a total of 80,754 confirmed cases and 3,136 deaths. But it recorded its lowest number of new infections, just 19, on Tuesday. Germany confirmed its third coronavirus-related death on Wednesday, in the badly affected district of Heinsberg in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The first fatality was an 89-year-old woman who died in the town of Essen, the second a 78-year-old man with pre-existing health conditions who died in Heinsberg. Germany has so far reported 1,296 cases of the virus, according to figures released by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control late on Tuesday. Lothar Wieler, the president of the RKI, said the body did not believe there was a significant number of undetected cases in the country.
3-11-20 Coronavirus testing in the US has been hampered by multiple problems
IT IS more than seven weeks since the first case of coronavirus in the US, but according to one estimate, fewer than 2000 people across the country had been tested for the infection by 7 March. In contrast, reports suggest that more than 190,000 people have been checked in South Korea. One reason for the low figure in the US lies in problems with the tests developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although it sent test kits out to state laboratories on 5 February, by 12 February it was clear there was a hitch with one reagent used in the test, and many state labs couldn’t use the kits. On its own, this might not have had such a severe impact on testing in the US because, says William Schaffner at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, government labs can perform only a limited number of tests. “They have a finite capacity, not only in terms of reagents but in terms of personnel to process tests,” he says. Instead, the US healthcare system relies on commercial companies to develop their own test kits and handle the bulk of the demand. “These larger commercial labs are more like factories,” says Schaffner. “They can process many more specimens.” But commercial tests were also held up. US authorities declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency on 31 January. In those circumstances, testing kits for the virus had to obtain “emergency use approval” from the US Food and Drug Administration. This further limited the ability to test for the virus in the US at precisely the time it became urgent and necessary to do so more widely. The rules were eventually changed. From 29 February, companies were able to begin using their test kits without emergency use approval, providing they intended to apply for it. Commercial tests are now being made available.
3-11-20 Coronavirus: Troops sent to New York 'containment zone'
New York's governor has announced that troops will be sent into a town north of the city in an attempt to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The National Guard will deliver food to quarantined individuals in New Rochelle, where a one-mile (1.6km) "containment zone" will be enforced. The area has seen "the largest cluster" of US cases, Andrew Cuomo said as he announced the measures on Tuesday. There are more than 1,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the US so far. New York state has 173 active cases, the most in the US, and 108 of them are in Westchester County where New Rochelle is located. China - where the virus was first detected - has seen a total of 80,754 confirmed cases and 3,136 deaths. But it recorded its lowest number of new infections, just 19, on Tuesday. In other developments: A UK health minister, Nadine Dorries, said she had tested positive for coronavirus and was self-isolating at home, Music festivals and other major events, including Coachella festival in California, were cancelled or postponed, Thousands of flights were cancelled worldwide as airlines struggled to cope with a slump in demand. New York City has 36 confirmed cases of the virus. But New Rochelle, which has a population of just 77,000, is believed to have at least twice as many. "[It's] a particular problem," Mr Cuomo said. "It's a phenomenon." A synagogue is reported to be at the centre of the New Rochelle outbreak and around 1,000 people associated with the temple are now in quarantine. Mr Cuomo announced a string of measures on Tuesday afternoon in a bid to quell the spread of the virus in the area. He said the "dramatic action" was a "matter of life and death". Schools, gathering places and businesses in the virus hot spot will be closed for two weeks. Officials will also set up a coronavirus testing facility at a local hospital. The National Guard will be deployed to help clean schools and public spaces as well as deliver food. But Mr Cuomo stressed there would be no travel restrictions in the town.
3-11-20 Andrew Yang is right about coronavirus
Universal basic income is the best economic response to the crisis. Before Andrew Yang dropped out of the Democratic presidential primary back in mid-February, he built his campaign around one central proposal: a universal basic income (UBI). Essentially, it was a no-strings-attached check that would go out monthly to every adult in America, the same amount for everybody, regardless of their employment situation or income level or anything else. Yang's big idea didn't win him the Democratic nomination, and the way he pitched it came with a few problems. But Yang's UBI might be just the thing we need in terms of an economic response to the coronavirus. "Lower interest rates do nothing for the wage worker losing shifts and tips, for the mom stuck at home looking after her child because the school closed, for the restaurant or theater losing business because people are staying in," Yang noted yesterday on Twitter. "The only stimulus that would work is #UBIStimulus." Saying it's the “only stimulus that would work” goes a little far. But basically Yang is right: The coronavirus is a unique kind of economic shock that limits the effectiveness of traditional stimuli, such as infrastructure spending, public works, and interest rate cuts (which the Federal Reserve just tried). But coronavirus is also a unique economic shock to which UBI's strengths are particularly well suited. And understanding why that is can help us structure the rest of our economic response as well. In a classical recession, workers are still available to work, and the factories can still run, but the money to employ them simply isn't there. That means there are lots of options for re-employing those resources, from direct cash aid to infrastructure projects to public works and other public investments. But when you're talking about quarantines and economic shutdowns from a disease outbreak like COVID-19, the situation is entirely different: By definition, the workers affected can't go back on the job, and factories need to stay shuttered to prevent spreading the infection.
3-11-20 Efforts to stop prisoners reoffending can be useless or even backfire
Efforts to prevent prisoners from reoffending are often lacking in scientific rigour and can even fly in the face of available evidence. UK POLITICIANS are considering new measures to combat domestic violence. Many elements of the government’s proposed Domestic Abuse Bill have been welcomed by campaigners, but it also includes a plan for those convicted of such offences to be regularly monitored after release with lie detector tests. Lie detectors, also known as polygraph machines, measure changes in people’s pulse, sweating rate and other indicators, but they are notoriously inaccurate so it isn’t clear they can prevent reoffending. The issue goes to the heart of a broader problem in the criminal justice systems of many nations. Very few crimes result in people spending the rest of their lives in prison, so sooner or later they are released – and our methods for attempting to prevent repeat offences lack scientific evidence. Prison treatment programmes based on psychological techniques are designed to cut reoffending, but it is unclear if they work. They may achieve nothing, wasting money, or even make it more likely that people will reoffend. Such programmes have been around for decades. Early attempts were based on Freudian-style psychoanalysis, where people talk about their childhood. By the 1980s, these were being replaced with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a form of counselling that aims to change people’s thinking patterns. “We are trying to get offenders to stop and think instead of going straight to violence” CBT is perhaps best known as a treatment for emotional problems like depression and anxiety. There is good evidence to show it can help with these conditions, but changing complex behavioural patterns such as criminal offending is another matter.
3-10-20 Trump may lose the battle with the coronavirus — but nationalists will win the war
With a global pandemic on the rise, financial markets in free fall, and the likelihood of a deep, global recession increasing by the day, President Trump's re-election is going to face serious headwinds. But that doesn't mean the political tendency of which Trump is the distinctively American expression will confront the same fate. On the contrary, our ominous moment is tailor-made to give the nationalist trend a serious boost. This can be easy to miss in the American context because Trump looms so large in our politics. Some think his facility at spewing lies, conspiracy theories, and partisan demonization into the political culture will allow him to conceal from his supporters his administration's ineptitude and the extent of the epidemiological and financial carnage, thereby protecting him from political fallout. Others suspect — rightly, in my view — that the miasma of BS is more likely to be smashed on the rocks of biological and economic reality. But whichever turns out to be truer, it's important to remember that Trump is merely one idiosyncratic example of a much broader tendency — and that evaluating its longer-term political prospects, both in the United States and around the world, requires taking a much wider view. The nationalism that currently holds or vies for power in countries around the world arose in reaction to the globalization that came to political prominence during 1990s, in the wake of the Cold War. It was a time of relative economic prosperity and few geopolitical threats for the countries of the Western world. Major thinkers and policymakers championed a globalized marketplace and favored the dissolving of national boundaries, with universal humanitarianism becoming the moral currency of world.
3-10-20 Biden vs. Sanders: Coronavirus edition
The economy may be falling apart — perhaps permanently — but if there is a sliver of a bright side to the coronavirus panic that now dominates our lives, it's that it has brought clarity: President Trump is failing the biggest test of his administration, demonstrating with every panicked tweet that he has no idea how to respond to the emergency before us. At this point, there are two viable alternatives to Trump: Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Vice President Joe Biden. The intra-Democratic warfare between the two has come to a head as the party's field of candidates has narrowed, but this is another area where coronavirus has thrown the contest into sharp relief. Once you decide on the biggest problem with the Trump administration's response to the outbreak, it is pretty easy to decide which Democrat deserves your vote more. If you believe the president should be the comforter-in-chief, Biden is your man. If you want the president to be a master of policy, pick Bernie. Many observers might scoff at the former proposition, but the truth is that the president sets the tone for the nation in times of trouble — and it matters. Franklin Roosevelt calmed America during the Great Depression by telling citizens that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Jimmy Carter's ill-named "malaise speech," though, didn't offer much relief to the country's "crisis of confidence" during the energy crisis of the 1970s. Even George W. Bush, who could be maladroit in so many ways, managed — briefly — to inspire confidence during the early days after 9/11: For reasons that frankly remain beyond my understanding, his first pitch at the World Series that fall was seen as a milestone in the nation's recovery from the attacks. ESPN made a documentary about it. Journalists still interview him about it. It mattered. President Trump doesn't possess the ability to inspire confidence. We have known this a long time, but his flailing reaction to Monday's stock market drop — tweets decrying "fake news!" and casting blame while making time to troll Democratic politics — suggested the terror of a man coming to realize he had reached the limits of what his one-dimensional shtick can accomplish. Trump can't calm the nation, since his own fears are made manifest in his compulsive tweeting — he is Captain Queeg, surrounded by storms and muttering about stolen strawberries.
3-10-20 The only way to protect the economy is to defeat the virus
The stock market plunge on Monday has focused attention on the potential economic fallout from COVID-19 and the government's role in mitigating it. With interest rates plunging toward the zero bound, the Federal Reserve has little traditional ammunition left to pump money into the economy. President Trump is proposing a package of payroll tax cuts and small-business loans; liberal think tanks have urged greater direct support for low-income workers and state governments likely to face fiscal stress, among other measures. Other commentators are focused on the likely impact on the financial system of a sharp contraction. Anything the government can do to mitigate the economic hardship faced by individuals is worth pursuing, and we should indeed be vigilant about preventing a literal virus from leading to financial contagion. But it's important to realize there is very little the government can do to prevent a contraction due to the pandemic. Moreover, the things we need to do to prevent the worst harm are precisely the things that will precipitate the contraction. If we continue to slow-walk those responses out of fear of economic damage, we'll not only cause more deaths and more stress to our health-care system in the long run, but substantially greater economic damage as well. COVID-19 is a "real" shock, not a financial shock, and that difference has important consequences for how we think about the economic damage. A financial shock, such as the crisis caused by the bursting of the housing bubble in 2007, is ultimately a matter of accounting. Individuals and institutions that borrowed against assets suddenly discover that those assets aren't worth what they thought and will not generate the income that they thought. They face the prospect of insolvency, and fear of insolvency causes spending and investment to dry up, causing an economic contraction.
3-10-20 Coronavirus: China says disease 'curbed' in Wuhan and Hubei
President Xi Jinping has visited the city of Wuhan, the centre of the coronavirus outbreak, sending a message that Beijing has the situation under control. His visit comes as China recorded its lowest number of infections, just 19 on Tuesday, all in Wuhan apart from two who had arrived from overseas. China has seen 80,754 confirmed cases, 3,136 of whom have died. The visit was Mr Xi's first trip to the city since the outbreak began. According to state media, Mr Xi arrived in Wuhan on Tuesday to inspect epidemic prevention and control work in the province. Wuhan and its province, Hubei, have been locked down in order to prevent the spread of the disease. The president visited a community in the city currently in self-quarantine. During his visit, Mr Xi declared that the spread of the disease had been "basically curbed" in Hubei province and Wuhan. "Initial success has been made in stabilising the situation and turning the tide in Hubei and Wuhan," he said. Chinese state media quoted analysts as saying Mr Xi's visit had sent a "strong signal to the entire country and the world that China is ascending out of the darkest moment amid the outbreak". The president also visited Huoshenshan hospital, a temporary facility that was completed in 10 days. Images from his visit show the president speaking to staff and patients via video link. Shortly after his visit, state media confirmed that all 14 of the temporary hospitals in China had now been closed. It is unclear how long Mr Xi will stay in the city. Zhang Ming, a professor at Renmin University, told Reuters news agency: "He is there now to reap the harvest. His being there means the Communist Party of China (CCP) may declare victory against the virus soon." Mr Xi has been notably absent from Chinese state media coverage of the virus. However, CGTN said on Tuesday that Mr Xi had been "personally directing the disease prevention and control work". His deputy, Vice President Li Keqiang, visited Wuhan in January. Last week, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan visited a Wuhan housing community where she received a hostile reception from residents who claimed the area had been cleaned up for her visit. As the number of infections rapidly decreases, there are signs that life in China is slowly returning to normal.
3-10-20 We don't know why so few covid-19 cases have been reported in Africa
Experts still don’t know why so few cases of the new coronavirus have been reported in Africa, despite China – where the virus originated – being the continent’s top trading partner and the continent having a population of 1.3 billion people. Although the official number of cases in Egypt spiked from two to 59 over the weekend, including 33 people who were on a Nile cruise, across Africa the number of cases has stayed low. As of Tuesday morning there were just 95 official cases on the continent, though two countries – Togo and Cameroon – reported their first cases over the weekend. The spread in Africa is of concern because of the fragility of some countries’ healthcare systems, and the continent already faces big public health issues, particularly malaria, TB and HIV. The World Health Organization (WHO) has rushed to beef up the ability of African countries to test for the virus and train health professionals in caring for people affected by it. Only Senegal and South Africa had labs that could test for the virus at the end of January, but 37 countries now have testing capability. Mary Stephen of the WHO, who is based in Brazzaville in the Republic of the Congo, says she believes the running tally of cases is accurate because more than 400 people have been tested for covid-19 across Africa so far. “I wouldn’t say it’s an underestimate,” she says. “It will always be possible to miss cases and that’s always been admitted in the UK,” says Mark Woolhouse at the University of Edinburgh, UK. But given heightened awareness in Africa, the lack of coronavirus-linked deaths on the continent implies there aren’t yet big undetected outbreaks, he says. “If there were major outbreaks, of the scale that Italy or Iran have had, anywhere in Africa, I would expect those deaths to be well above the radar by now.”
3-9-20 Letter from Africa: The spread of coronavirus prejudice in Kenya
In our series of letters from African writers, Kenyan journalist Waihiga Mwaura reflects on how the coronavirus has fuelled anti-Chinese prejudice in his country. Despite the concerns around the spread of the coronavirus, the greatest enemy is not the virus itself, but "fears, rumours and stigma". Not my words, but those of the Ethiopian who is leading the global effort to lessen the impact of Covid-19. The World Health Organization chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, was responding at the end of last month to cases of anti-Chinese prejudice. He repeated the message on Twitter earlier this week while sharing a story about a Singaporean man who was beaten up in the UK capital, London, over the coronavirus. The virus of prejudice is spreading. Kenya is no exception. A shakily filmed video has been circulating on social media here showing an Asian man and woman being bullied by a large crowd in a low-income area of the capital, Nairobi. The video begins with unidentified individuals in the crowd shouting: "You are coronavirus, you are coronavirus." The man responds by trying to film the crowd but quickly realises that his female companion could be attacked so rushes to her aid. He stands up to the most aggressive member of the crowd and starts shouting back: "We don't have corona, we don't have corona." The video stops before we see how the incident ended but it was a true depiction of the side-effects of the coronavirus. On 27 February, a message went viral on Facebook, allegedly posted by a Kenyan member of parliament, calling for his constituency residents to avoid interaction with Chinese nationals who had just returned from China after celebrating their new year. The post warned that if the government did not do enough to protect its citizens, and forcefully quarantine any of these Chinese nationals, then the residents had his permission to chase away and stone any Chinese people within their vicinity.
3-9-20 Coronavirus: Hospital ward staffed entirely by robots opens in China
A new hospital ward run entirely by robots has opened in Wuhan, China, in a bid to protect medical staff from contracting the coronavirus. On 7 March, about 200 patients exhibiting early symptoms of covid-19 were ushered into the new ward, which is in a converted sports centre in Wuhan, the city where the coronavirus outbreak started. The robots deliver food, drinks and drugs to the patients, and keep the ward clean. Some have a humanoid head, arms and upper torso but a wheeled base, while others look more like a box on wheels. The machines can move around autonomously but are under the observation and control of staff outside of the ward. The trial is a partnership between CloudMinds, a Beijing-based robotics firm, and mobile operator China Mobile, along with Wuhan Wuchang Hospital, an institution at the heart of early efforts to contain the virus. The hospital’s director Liu Zhiming died of the disease last month. The temporary ward was initially established as a human-run clinic, but has now been turned over to the robots after a week-long upgrade. Engineers mapped the area and uploaded the information to a cloud server for the robots to use as they move through the ward. CloudMinds CEO Bill Huang says the ward will be a pilot case for future initiatives. “This is China’s first-ever entirely robot-led ward and an opportunity to test the capability of the technology and how we work together,” he says. Robots will look after patients who aren’t acutely ill but who need basic medical care. If they recover, they will be sent home. If their health problems become more acute, they will be transferred to the human-run hospital. During their stay, patients wear bracelets fitted with sensors to measure their heart rates and temperatures. This information is displayed on a large screen outside the ward for doctors and nurses to access along with other health information. Medical staff can also use the screen to assign the robots their next task.
3-9-20 Coronavirus: Should Americans be worried?
The coronavirus that began in Wuhan, China, has now reached dozens of countries and has started to spread across the US in earnest. So how prepared is the country? Thousands of new cases across the world are being reported each day, and the true scale could be 10 times higher. There are 755 confirmed cases in the US, 77 in Canada. Twenty-sixpeople have died in the US due to the virus and one person has died in Canada. Thirty-three new cases of Covid-19 were reported in a single weekend at the end of February. Officials say risk remains low for the general US public, but this could change. California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency on Wednesday after the first reported death from coronavirus in his state. A cruise ship carrying 3,500 people has docked in California as tests for coronavirus are being carried out on dozens of passengers and crew members. One passenger died and at least four others became infected on a previous leg of the voyage - a round trip from San Francisco to Mexico. President Donald Trump has claimed the situation is "well under control", while officials at the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) warn the virus will spread and may severely disrupt daily life. On 6 March, the president signed an $8.3bn (£6.4bn) emergency funding bill to develop a vaccine and help states combat the virus. Concerns have deepened amid the sharp rise in the number of cases reported in the first week of March. Nine new infections were disclosed Wednesday in New York, along with 12 additional patients in Washington. New Jersey and Tennessee have also reported their first cases of coronavirus. An anonymous whistleblower at the Department of Health and Human Services has complained that government workers interacting with quarantined Americans were not provided with proper safety gear, and were allowed to come and go from the secure zone freely. US health chief Alex Azar has denied the allegations.
3-9-20 America needs to prepare for the next pandemic
It is already time to start thinking about the next pandemic. We are knee-deep in the current outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus, which is likely to get considerably worse before it gets better. Every hour brings more reports of new infections, more deaths, the closures of schools, and the quarantining of entire regions. The effects these developments will have on the economy are potentially devastating. This is a bad moment for America — and the world. The terrifying nature of the outbreak has been exacerbated by the exceeding foolishness of President Trump, who sees this public health emergency as an occasion — like all occasions — to magnify his own glory. His Friday news conference at the Centers for Disease Control, where he bragged about his understanding of medical science — "Every one of these doctors said, 'How do you know so much about this?' Maybe I have a natural ability." — was infuriatingly absurd. Meanwhile, the public is continually presented with fresh evidence that Trump and his cronies are botching the virus response. There aren't enough tests to track the outbreak. Decisions are being made that place Trump's poll numbers as a higher priority than public health. Even as the situation worsens, the president tries to steer blame to the media and Democrats. "Donald Trump is incapable of truth, heedless of science, and hostage to the demands of his insatiable ego," The New Yorker's David Remnick wrote over the weekend. There is a temptation to wallow in anger at the president's ineptitude and inadequacies, but there is no time for that. Barring unexpected events, Trump will occupy the White House at least until next January. So the smart thing to do now is to start thinking about the next pandemic — the one that comes after this president leaves office. We are, after all, already learning lessons that, properly heeded, might make the next big viral outbreak much easier to weather. Some preparations we need to make before then:
- America should increase funding for local health departments: As The Washington Post points out, "decades of budget cuts have left many local departments without the staff, equipment, or plans to mount an adequate response."
- We need a more robust safety net: On Sunday, the U.S. Surgeon General's office tweeted a plea for employers to give workers paid sick leave: "PLEASE understand giving your employees flexibility and (paid) sick leave will save you money in the long run — it's much cheaper than shutting down because everyone else gets sick!"
- It is time every American had home access to high-speed broadband internet: Even in a best-case scenario, pandemics can force the implementation of "social distancing" techniques like asking some employees to stay at home, or closing schools for weeks at a time and requiring students to continue their educations online.
3-9-20 Canada presents bill banning conversion therapy
Canada's government is moving ahead with plans for a nationwide ban on conversion therapy. Newly proposed federal legislation would make it illegal to have a minor undergo the practice or have someone undergo it against their will. The so-called therapy seeks to help change someone's sexuality or gender identity and is widely discredited. Federal Justice Minister David Lametti said the practice was "premised on a lie". The legislation, introduced on Monday, proposes five changes to the federal criminal code related to conversion therapy. If it is passed, it would become illegal to: 1. Cause a minor to undergo conversion therapy. 2. Remove a minor from Canada to undergo the practice. 3. Cause a person to undergo conversion therapy against their will. 4. Profit from providing conversion therapy. 5. Advertise an offer to provide conversion therapy. Mr Lametti said the proposed bill did not target private conversations about sexual orientation or gender identity with the likes of teachers, school counsellors, faith leaders, or mental health professionals. The opposition federal NDP said it would work with the minority Liberal government to pass the legislation. Conversion therapy has been widely discredited by major psychotherapy and medical associations in many countries, including Canada, the US and the UK, and is opposed by the World Health Organization and the United Nations. Various forms of conversion therapy continue to be carried out across the world on LGBT people, despite scientific evidence that it is harmful and ineffective. In 2018, thousands of Canadians rallied behind two petitions calling for a nationwide ban on conversion therapy, but the federal government rejected the plea at the time. Four provinces in Canada - Ontario, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia - have already taken steps to limit conversion therapy within their jurisdictions, as have some cities. Canada is not the first country to look at implementing restrictions or bans on the practice.
3-8-20 Is coronavirus really a black swan event?
The coronavirus, although dangerous and scary, isn't some unpredictable event. he global spread of the coronavirus is making America more anxious by the day. And those deepening worries are reflected in the gyrating stock market. Both the long economic expansion and 2020 presidential race seem poised on a knife's edge. Politico reports, "Trump faces 'black swan' threat to the economy and reelection." The New Yorker puts it this way: "As Coronavirus Spreads, Stocks Fall Again and the White House Frets About a Black Swan." But the coronavirus, although dangerous and scary, isn't some unpredictable, "Gosh, who woulda thunk it?" black swan. And employing that powerful metaphor lets governments evade their responsibility to keep us safe and avoid accountability if they fail. Recall that the phrase "black swan" gained currency a decade ago during the Great Recession and aftermath. It provided a compelling way of thinking about the simultaneous crises in banking and housing. Those economic shocks elevated investor and mathematician Nassim Nicholas Taleb to global celebrity. His best-selling 2007 book about unpredictable events, The Black Swan, seemed eerily prescient of the terrible downturn starting later that year. More than that, it gave investors and academics a conceptual framework for thinking about potential risks that were both highly destructive and low probability. Taleb's definition of a "black swan" synced perfectly with the global financial crisis: From his 2007 book: "First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme 'impact.' Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable." The coronavirus, on the other hand, is a bad fit for Taleb's definition. Yes, it is carrying an extreme impact, in terms of human lives, dislocation, and economic losses. But is the emergence of such a dangerous virus really an unpredictable outlier that suddenly swooped in from outside our "regular expectations?" If asked, many American could easily cite several dangerous global outbreaks from the past two decades: SARS in 2004, H1N1 in 2009, and the Ebola outbreak in 2015.
3-8-20 Coronavirus: China's classrooms without students
All schools and colleges in China have been closed for more than two weeks in the fight against coronavirus. There are now signs that the coronavirus in China is being controlled, with new infection figures and numbers of deaths beginning to stabilise. John Sudworth looks at the impact of China's efforts to deal with the virus across education - taking classes online - and some of its unexpected advantages.
3-8-20 To fight discrimination, the U.S. census needs a different race question
The government has asked people their race since 1790. Wendy Roth has been arguing for years that the U.S. Census Bureau should ask about race in a different way. The race box that people check for themselves on the census doesn’t always match the box someone else might have checked for them. And that, Roth says, is a problem. Roth, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, began researching that mismatch in racial identification in the early 2000s. She recruited 60 New Yorkers who had been born in Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic, showed them the census race question and asked them how they would answer. The responses surprised her. Consider the case of Salvador, a kitchen worker in the Bronx. “Many Americans observing him would consider him to be black,” Roth wrote in December 2010 in Social Science Quarterly. But Salvador told Roth that he checks “white.” While attitudes in the mainland United States have been shaped by the long legacy of the “one-drop rule,” in which a single drop of “black blood” conferred “blackness,” Puerto Ricans believe the opposite — that even dark-skinned people can’t be black if they have “white blood.” Puerto Ricans use terms like mulatto or trigueño to describe those falling somewhere between white and black. But when presented with race checkboxes that offer no intermediate options, Salvador simply goes by what he knows. People from the Dominican Republic, who have long viewed themselves as “whiter” than their Haitian neighbors, likewise avoided checking “black.” Roth found that Dominicans selected “white” or “some other race” and then wrote in descriptors, such as Latino or Hispanic. “There are a lot of other people who don’t understand how to complete the U.S. census … because it doesn’t match their way of understanding race,” Roth says. “Sometimes they will identify in ways that are the complete opposite of what the U.S. census is trying to capture.”
3-7-20 How the coronavirus epidemic threatens global growth
Is a recession looming? The COVID-19 epidemic has walloped the stock market to a degree not felt by investors since the financial crisis, said Fred Imbert and Eustance Huang at CNBC. The Dow dropped more than 3,500 points last week, or 12 percent, while the S&P 500 fell 11.5 percent in the market's worst five-day skid since 2008. Stocks staged a rally on Monday but then swooned again as more companies, including Microsoft, "issued earnings and revenue warnings." This week, the Federal Reserve took the extraordinary step of making an emergency cut in its benchmark interest rates, but the move failed to stop the market's slide. The fast-moving virus poses a crucial test for the 11-year bull market, which "has survived an unprecedented trade war, a catastrophic tsunami in Japan, and a severe crash in oil prices," said Matt Egan at CNN. Consumer spending has kept the U.S. economy afloat during the trade war with China, which weakened the global economy. With Americans preparing to hunker down, Moody's chief economist estimated the odds of a recession in the first half of 2020 at 40 percent. "Economists say a pandemic could clearly cause a recession in the United States," said Ben Casselman at The New York Times, but we're not there yet. The damage from the epidemic has mainly hit factories and supply chains, causing a short-term drop in production and sales. Consumer buying can snap back from those kinds of shocks — just as natural disasters tend to be followed by a burst of rebuilding. "So far, the coronavirus outbreak looks more like a hurricane than like a financial crisis — but that could change quickly." This feels like a panic, said Marcus Ashworth at Bloomberg. The stock market's bull run has also been "long overdue" for a correction "that has been delivered all at once." Markets will eventually rationalize the severity of the outbreak "and accept that the world can get back to business."
3-7-20 South by Southwest festival cancelled over coronavirus
One of America's most famous music festivals, South by Southwest, has been cancelled due to coronavirus fears. Organisers of the annual event in Austin, Texas, said they had no choice but to call it off for the first time in its 34-year history. The move was ordered by Austin Mayor Steve Adler, who declared "a local disaster". The US coronavirus death toll stands at 14, but over 200 people have been confirmed sickened nationwide. All but one of the deaths have occurred in Washington state. Despite the Austin mayor's declaration of a local disaster - a largely administrative step - none of the six coronavirus cases recorded so far in Texas are in the state capital. The World Health Organization says nearly 100,000 people worldwide have contracted the coronavirus. More than 3,000 people have died - the majority in China. In a statement on Friday, SXSW said it was "devastated" by the news, but respected the decision. Event organisers said: "'The show must go on' is in our DNA, and this is the first time in 34 years that the March event will not take place. "We are now working through the ramifications of this unprecedented situation." Some of the event's biggest exhibitors - including Apple, Amazon, Twitter and Facebook - had already pulled out. The 10-day event attracts leading figures from the spheres of technology, music and media to mingle in the Texas capital. Last year SXSW drew nearly 74,000 people with over 19,000 coming from outside the US. In 2018, visitors spent $350m (£270m) during the festival, according to a study commissioned by event organisers. The event's organisers had been under pressure to call it off. A petition to that effect on change.org received 55,000 signatures. Several other large tech conferences have been cancelled in recent weeks including Google's Cloud Next conference, Mobile World Congress and the Game Developers conference.
3-7-20 What you need to know about coronavirus testing in the U.S.
Testing has been limited but could ramp up soon. U.S. government officials say a million promised tests for diagnosing coronavirus infections will soon be in the mail. But that still leaves many state and local laboratories without the ability to test for the virus, crucial for curbing its spread around the country. Some states have developed their own tests. Clinical testing companies are now joining the ranks. LabCorp announced March 5 that physicians or other authorized health care providers could already order its test. Quest Diagnostics announced the same day that the company will also offer commercial tests as soon as March 9, pending U.S. Food and Drug Administration reviews. Participation of those two commercial laboratories could greatly expand testing capacity in the United States. But for now, “we still find ourselves as a country with pretty limited capacity to test,” says Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston. Here’s what you need to know about coronavirus testing in the country. As of March 6, at least 45 states are now doing testing for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease. Wyoming, Oklahoma, Ohio, West Virginia and Maine as well as Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are listed as “in progress” of having labs certified to do testing, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even states that have tests may have only a single kit, containing enough material to test just 700 people, Mina says. As of March 5, 1,583 people had been tested at CDC. That figure doesn’t include tests now going on in many state or commercial laboratories, which began this week. Contrast that with the United Kingdom, where 20,388 people have been tested as of March 6. Only 163 cases of COVID-19 have been detected there. Switzerland, which had 181 cases and one death as of March 6, has tested more than 3,500 people.
3-7-20 Travel bans have barely slowed the coronavirus’s spread
It will take other public health interventions to manage the epidemic, a new study says. Travel restrictions imposed as the new coronavirus took China by storm slowed the spread of COVID-19 by only a few days within China and a few weeks internationally, according to a new study. On January 23, Chinese officials shut down travel in and out of Wuhan, the city where the COVID-19 outbreak began, including closing the airport. But by then the virus, called SARS-CoV-2, had already spread to other cities in mainland China. As a result, the travel ban delayed the progression of the outbreak within the country by only three to five days, researchers report online March 6 in Science. The study simulated the impact of restricting travel on the spread of COVID-19 using population data, travel patterns and disease transmission. While minimally effective within China, the Wuhan travel ban initially had a larger impact on international spread of the virus. The simulation suggested that there were 77 percent fewer cases imported from mainland China than would be expected absent the ban. But starting in mid-February, the number of international cases rose as other places in China where the virus had become established, including Shanghai and Beijing, began to fuel its spread to other countries. In February, 59 airlines stopped or curtailed flights to mainland China. It’s difficult to pinpoint how much travel was reduced, but the researchers analyzed the potential impact of a 90 percent drop in overall traffic to and from China. On its own, this scenario could slow the progression of the epidemic by only a matter of weeks. Despite the extensive travel restrictions, the study suggests that many individuals exposed to SARS-CoV-2 have traveled undetected. Only when combined with robust measures to control infection in the community — such as the quick diagnosis and isolation of new cases — would such a reduction of traffic make a meaningful difference, the researchers report.
3-6-20 Coronavirus: How do I get tested and how does the test work?
Think you might be infected with coronavirus? Here’s what to do and how the test works. Because infected people may have anything from severe pneumonia to no symptoms at all, the only way to confirm that someone is infected is to test them for the virus. If you suspect that you are infected, current official advice is that you shouldn’t go to a hospital or to a doctor. You could infect other people including much-needed healthcare workers. Contact your local health authority and follow their advice. In the UK, call 111 or go to this website. Several countries including the UK are testing only people who have symptoms of covid-19 and have either been in close contact with someone confirmed to have the disease, or have been to an area with a widespread covid-19 outbreak. These criteria can lead to cases being missed, because people don’t always know if, say, they have been in contact with a confirmed case. The US has said it wants testing to be more widely available, and some are calling for it to be free, as it already is in many countries including the UK. But testing based on symptoms alone would be too broad, given covid-19 has similar symptoms to many common respiratory illness. “I am not sure what other criteria you could use,” says Mark Woolhouse of the University of Edinburgh, UK. “The symptoms are too non-specific; we’d end up testing millions of people.” Based on 55,000 confirmed cases in China, 90 per cent of people with covid-19 develop a fever, 70 per cent have a dry cough, 40 per cent feel very tired and 30 per cent cough up sputum. Rarer symptoms include shortness of breath, sore throat, headache, muscle or joint pains, nausea or vomiting, blocked nose and diarrhoea. Testing involves taking a swab of the nose or throat and samples of sputum if you are coughing it up. You may also have blood drawn and tested. This may be done at your home or in a drive-through site.
3-6-20 Blind man fails citizenship test after being denied Braille
A blind man has been denied US citizenship after immigration agents refused to provide him with an English language sentence to read in Braille. Lucio Delgado, 23, was born blind and uses a cane to get around. He moved to the US from Mexico six years ago. Mr Delgado said he was offered a large-print sentence to read, which he could not, being totally blind. Mr Delgado, who is legally blind under Illinois state law, was told to get a doctor's note to prove his condition. "Over here I was going to get the education I couldn't get in Mexico," he told CBS News from his home on a farm in Pembroke Township, Illinois - about 70 miles (110km) south of Chicago. After taking the test in May, he recently received a letter from US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) informing him that he had been rejected. "Unfortunately, you were unable to read a sentence in the English language," the letter said. "Regrettably, you were unable to achieve a passing score on the reading portion of the naturalisation test." "I really wasn't expecting not to be provided that very basic accommodation," he told the Washington Post newspaper. "It was quite a shocker, honestly." "I was going to be someone. I was going to make my family here and there proud," he told CBS. He was told during the test to go and get a doctor's note to prove that he was blind, but he could not afford to do so because he does not have health insurance. A spokesman for the USCIS told the Post that they began offering Braille tests in November, months after Mr Delgado sat for his exam. A lawyer for Mr Delgado said the USCIS had contacted him since his story was first reported last week to offer him another appointment later this month. (Webmaster's comment: The United States is one of the most unfriendly nations on earth!)
3-6-20 The stock market in the age of coronavirus
The stock market is in the midst of one of its most volatile periods ever. On Thursday, February 27, 2020 the Dow dropped 1,190 points — the largest drop in the market's history. And the sudden fall was hardly a one-off. After peaking in early February at 29,551 points, by the end of month the Dow Jones had lost roughly 20 percent of its value. Then, on Tuesday March 3, the Federal Reserve Board announced they were cutting the benchmark interest rate by half a point and Joe Biden had a strong showing in the Democratic primaries, and just like that, the market came roaring back to life with a 1,173-point gain on Wednesday, March 4. But this was followed by another 1,000 loss on Thursday. In a matter of one week, trillions of dollars vanished, dramatically began to reappear, and then vanished again. These rapid swings have been credited in the media to the uncertainty created by the global outbreak of coronavirus. But what connection is there really, and what impact does the stock market actually have on the lives of everyday people? The answer is complex. The stock market is often touted as a general measure for the economy, and in turn for social wellbeing. Every day, news channels around the world report on the market as if it represented a basic measure for societal health. But it's not. The stock market is a measure for social and economic inequality. And its current instability has more to do with our world's barbaric inequalities and plutocratic leadership than it does with the coronavirus. In other words, while the virus may have triggered the current crash, it is hardly the root cause of the market's recent instability. In recent years, the stock market has been breaking new records every few weeks. In early February, the Dow Jones flirted with 30,000 points, and since the world's benchmark trading floor bottomed out in 2009 at 7,062 points, it has climbed by an incredible 324 percent. In fact, since November 4, 2016 alone, the stock market has increased by 67 percent. But while the Dow Jones' historic climb has lined the pockets of the well-to-do, everyday citizens have benefited little from the market's record ascent. Americans' wages have been stagnant for the last 50 years. And since the 1980s, the cost of education has increased by 213 percent while the cost of health care has gone up by just over 100 percent. In other words, while the stock market has gone through the roof, average wages have been flat and the cost of living has skyrocketed. As a result, social mobility is on the decline and the middle-class is beginning to wane. As American economist Michael D. Carr reports, "It is increasingly the case that no matter what your educational background is, where you start has become increasingly important for where you end."
3-6-20 'I received death threats for having coronavirus'
A man who contracted the coronavirus on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship has said he has received "graphic" death threats. Carl Goldman, who owns California-based radio station KHTS and remains in self-isolation, told the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme there was "a lot of unnecessary hysteria".
3-6-20 Coronavirus: Starbucks bans reusable cups to help tackle spread
Starbucks branches have temporarily banned reusable cups in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The coffee chain said customers would still receive a 25p discount for bringing reusable cups with them, but drinks would be served in paper cups. Great Western Railway and LNER have banned reusable cups on trains - but GWR scrapped the policy after days. A hygiene expert said containing the virus should be a "greater priority" than environmental concerns. It is understood Starbucks made the decision internally, rather than on the advice of health officials. The coffee chain's Europe spokesman, Robert Lynch, said: "Out of an abundance of caution, we are pausing the use of personal cups or tumblers in our stores across the UK. "However, we will continue to honour our 25p discount for anyone who brings in a personal cup." He said Starbucks was suspending its 5p charge for customers asking to use a paper cup. Mr Lynch added the coffee chain - which, in 1998, was the first to offer users a discount for customers with reusable cups - was also introducing "increased cleaning measures" for all in-store crockery such as ceramic mugs and plates. Starbucks stores in the US have already brought in similar measures. The coffee chain closed half of its almost 4,300 outlets in China in January to support efforts to contain coronavirus, which causes Covid-19. UK train operator LNER said it had stopped accepting refillable cups on its trains "to help prevent possible contamination from handling cups and lids". While Great Western Railway (GWR) said it banned the use of reusable cups on its trains for "three or four days" as part of "sensible precautions" to protect customers and staff. But the train company "reverted" to its normal policy on Tuesday, a spokesman said. He said GWR had received "a couple of comments" from people asking for an explanation of the ban.
3-6-20 Coronavirus: Vietnam's handwashing song goes global
Authorities around the world are trying to hammer home the message that we have to wash our hands to protect against the spread of the new coronavirus. In Vietnam, they've produced a music video along with a dance challenge - the tune has taken the country by storm and has since gone global.
3-6-20 School's out: Parents stressed by Italy coronavirus shutdown
At the San Cosimato playground in Rome, parents have that unmistakeable look of "how on Earth am I going to entertain them?" The perennial problem has struck early this year: with schools and universities now closed across Italy until at least 15 March, in an effort to contain the spread of coronavirus, some 8.4 million children are out of class well before the Easter break. It's an unprecedented response by Europe's worst-hit country. Malvina Diletti watches her eight-year-old, Edoardo, play on the climbing frame. "We think 10 days off is totally useless, it's not even enough to discover if you're sick," she says. "So they'll probably extend it, which is bad as it's tiring to have them home all the time. They may be happy today - it's the first day - but they'll get bored eventually." They are heading home for lunch with six other children, as parents are taking it in turn to host, sharing the babysitting load during this difficult period. "It's so we avoid grandparents having to stay with us," Malvina tells me, "because if more elderly got sick, hospitals would just crash." On Thursday the Italian authorities reported 41 deaths from the virus in the past 24 hours, raising the total death toll to 148 in Italy. Currently 3,296 people are infected in the country. This was the first country in Europe to ban all flights to China; the first to cordon off entire towns; and now it's the first to close all schools and universities, a dramatic effort to limit a worsening outbreak. "Maybe they've done it to protect the older teachers," says Malvina, "since the children are still mixing out of school. "It doesn't really make sense - but we accept it and will do it for the community."
3-5-20 Coronavirus is an environmental wake-up call
The global outbreak has meaningfully curbed carbon dioxide emissions. But can we learn its lessons for the long run? In the 1970s, chemist James Lovelock and microbiologist Lynn Margulis developed the Gaia hypothesis; the theory that all organic and inorganic components on the planet are part of one self-regulating system, working to maintain and perpetuate life on earth. At the moment, the biggest threats to the delicate balance that makes this planet habitable are human-caused climate change and the destruction of biodiversity. Scientists agree that if individuals, businesses, and governments don't take significant action within the next decade to curb emissions, the damage will be catastrophic. Already, the effects to the natural world are massive and deadly, including infectious disease transmission patterns. But where scientists and popular movements have thus far failed to convince the world to act, it seems that Mother Earth may have succeeded, with the never-before-seen COVID-19 virus. The novel coronavirus is estimated to have curbed carbon dioxide emissions in China by a quarter. More than 80,000 people in one of the world's biggest industrial polluters have been infected, causing refineries and factories to shut down, and slowing construction activities. This temporary reduction is by no means insignificant. As The New York Times reported, the three-week decline equals about 150 million metric tons of carbon dioxide — roughly the amount that New York produces in an entire year. Recent analysis published in Carbon Brief shows a 70 percent drop in Chinese domestic flights in February compared with January. Internationally, at least 73 airlines, including Delta, British Airways, and Lufthansa have cut their flights to China. Air travel, which contributes more than 2 percent of global CO2 emissions, has also been disrupted beyond China. European companies such as L'Oreal, Nestlé, and Unilever have restricted or suspended business travel. Privately, people are flying less for fear of being infected, stranded at holiday destinations, or quarantined in hotels like the roughly 700 guests under lockdown at the Costa Adeje Palace hotel in Tenerife.
3-5-20 Coronavirus: California declares emergency after death
California has declared a state of emergency after announcing its first coronavirus death, bringing the US death toll from the disease to 11. The 71-year-old man had underlying health conditions and had been on a cruise ship, said officials. Eleven passengers and 10 crew members are potentially infected on board the Grand Princess now being held off the coast of California. There are now at least 150 reported US patients with Covid-19 in 16 states. Worldwide, authorities have confirmed more than 92,000 cases of the virus, of which more than 80,000 are in China. More than 3,000 people have died globally, the vast majority in China where the virus originated. Ten of the 11 US deaths were in Washington state. Meanwhile Washington and Florida both declared states of emergency over the weekend to help prevent the coronavirus. Such a declaration gives cities and counties the ability to ask the state or other municipalities for aid if and when their own resources are depleted. Officials have said that a state of emergency is meant to expedite the distribution of resources and should not be cause for panic. It is believed that the deceased California man became infected aboard the Grand Princess, a cruise ship which made a round trip from San Francisco to Mexico last month. After the ship docked in San Francisco on 21 February, thousands more passengers boarded and thousands disembarked. The vessel then began a round-trip to Hawaii. Some 62 passengers were on both the Mexico and the Hawaii trips. They have been restricted to their rooms for testing. The Coast Guard will deliver sampling kits to the ship by helicopter on Thursday and a medical team on board will administer the tests. Fewer than 100 passengers and crew have been identified for testing, Princess Cruises said in a statement.
3-5-20 Nazi name lists in Argentina may reveal loot in Swiss bank
Files discovered in Argentina reveal the names of 12,000 Nazis who lived there in the 1930s and many had Swiss bank accounts, researchers say. The US-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre, famous for tracking down Nazis, has asked Credit Suisse to identify the dormant bank accounts. "We believe that these long-dormant accounts hold monies looted from Jewish victims," the centre says. The papers were found in a store room at a former Nazi HQ in Buenos Aires. Nazi Germany began seizing Jewish property after enacting racist laws in 1935 and a colossal amount was stolen during the Holocaust in the 1940s. Much of that wealth was transferred to secret Swiss bank accounts. In a letter to Credit Suisse Vice-President Christian Küng, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre says "we are aware that you already have claimants as alleged heirs of Nazis in the list". In a statement on its website, the centre says many of the Nazis listed in the Argentinian files "contributed to one or more bank accounts at the Schweizerische Kreditanstalt, which became the Credit Suisse bank". In 1930-1938 Argentina had a pro-Nazi military regime led by President José Félix Uriburu, nicknamed "Von Pepe", and his successor Agustín Pedro Justo. The lists were seized by a special commission set up under the anti-Nazi presidency of Roberto Ortiz, who ruled from 1938. The commission had raided the Nazi Unión Alemana de Gremios (German Union of Syndicates). In 1943 another military coup put a pro-Nazi regime in power in Buenos Aires and the commission's findings were burned, but recently an Argentinian investigator, Pedro Filipuzzi, found an original copy listing the 12,000 Nazis. In a statement to the AFP news agency, Credit Suisse says it co-operated with the Volcker inquiry in 1997-1999 to track down Swiss bank accounts that belonged to victims of Nazi persecution. You can read the full Volcker report on dormant accounts here.
3-4-20 Our fight against climate change could help us rein in coronavirus too
The world's response to the growing covid-19 outbreak has surprising parallels with efforts to limit global warming, including transferable lessons WE ARE facing a global emergency, and politicians who appear to not believe in science are putting us all at risk. That this statement applies equally to coronavirus and climate change says something about the era in which we live. Our response to the ever-widening outbreak has surprising parallels with our efforts to tackle global warming, though at accelerated speed. There are some transferable lessons. First, we must listen to scientists. There have been reports of public health officials in the US being told not to speak to the media without first clearing it with the White House. This is a mistake. As with climate change, open discussion of the risks and uncertainties is the only way forward. Likewise, science alone can’t guide our response. In the coming weeks, politicians will face difficult decisions over whether to restrict people’s movements, perhaps even locking down cities as happened in Wuhan, China, where the covid-19 outbreak began. They will need to weigh the social and financial fallout against the public health risk. Many people can’t afford to self-isolate without pay for two weeks, so should governments pay them to stay at home? A virologist can’t answer that. As climate change rises up the agenda, people increasingly look for advice on how they can help mitigate the crisis, whether it be flying less, recycling or reducing meat intake. The role of individual action in this fight is still being debated, but with the coronavirus, it is clear that handwashing will help protect your own health, and that of others. In fact, as the virus spreads, we may need to take more drastic action, such as preparing food supplies to allow us to self-isolate. Younger, healthier people in particular should see this as a civic duty. Although they may only develop mild symptoms if they become infected, they risk passing the virus to people who are much less likely to be so lucky. This isn’t a call to panic buy or begin prepping a bunker. As with climate change, we must calibrate our caution, neither denying the issue nor giving up in despair. The virus can be beaten – but at what cost will depend on our response.
3-4-20 Gamifying hate: How alt-right extremists recruit and mobilise online
Julia Ebner infiltrated the hidden forums that extremists use. Her experiences lay bare how they hijack social media and video games to spread hate – and how to beat them. ON 15 March 2019, 51 people were killed in two consecutive shootings at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The first of the attacks was live-streamed on Facebook for 17 minutes. But social media wasn’t only used on the day. It is thought that the accused gunman was radicalised online by far-right extremists before immersing himself in an internet subculture of white supremacist ideology. In short, his journey from personal trainer to gunman was fuelled by social media. It is an increasingly familiar phenomenon and few people understand it better than Julia Ebner, a counter-extremism expert at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in London, UK. Over the past decade, she has seen digital technology transform almost every aspect of how radical groups work. She has watched extremists use digital platforms, from anonymous message board 8chan and instant messaging app Telegram to YouTube and Facebook, to disseminate their ideologies, recruit and radicalise new members, and inspire them to carry out violent attacks. A couple of years ago, Ebner realised that the best way to understand online extremists is to infiltrate their hidden forums. She went undercover, joining dozens of groups, from white nationalists to radical misogynists, to see from the inside how they operate – and how to counter them. Ebner has documented her experiences in her book Going Dark: The secret social lives of extremists.
3-4-20 Coronavirus' economic threat just got real
The Fed's shocking move shows policymakers are taking the threat very seriously. n Monday morning, the economic threat from the coronavirus got real for U.S. policymakers. In a surprise announcement, the Federal Reserve said it would immediately cut its interest rate target by half a percentage point, bringing the new target to a range of 1-to-1.25 percent. Normally, the central bank announces its interest rate changes at its regularly scheduled meetings, the next of which happens March 17 and 18. And when the Fed has made cuts in recent years, it's limited itself to one-fourth of a percentage point reductions at a time. This will be the first time the Fed has cut interest rates this much in one go, or done so outside its normal schedule, since the financial crisis of 2008. It was also a unanimous decision among the voting Fed officials. "We saw a risk to the outlook of the economy and we chose to act," Fed Chair Jerome Powell told reporters, in a press conference attempting to project measure and calm, even as the unusual nature of the decision underscored the potential seriousness of the situation. The good news is that the Fed's move remains a preemptive measure to an economic threat that may materialize, rather than an after-the-fact response. The COVID-19 coronavirus has infected around 90,000 people worldwide — mostly in China, but with outbreaks rapidly expanding in Italy, Iran, Japan, South Korea, and other countries, leading to widespread shutdowns of social and economic activity in those places. Thus far, the United States has remained relatively unaffected, with our biggest problem being disrupted supply chains — specific companies and sectors here unable to get parts and inputs from abroad — and export-dependent industries facing a slowdown in global demand. But with domestic consumer spending making up 70 percent of our economic output, America has an enormous cushion to fall back on. The Fed's move is insurance, designed to make it even less likely that things go south. In terms of fiscal policy responses from Congress, nothing concrete has happened yet. But discussions have definitely sped up. On Monday, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren — one of the contenders for the Democrats' presidential nomination — proposed a $400 billion spending package to shore up the economy against the coronavirus. It includes emergency paid sick leave for people who contract the virus, as well as their close relatives; boosts to unemployment insurance; federal aid to shore up state and local budgets; emergency aid to hospitals and local providers to cover the potential costs of treating people with COVID-19; public investments to build out our response to the virus; and more. President Trump, meanwhile, took to Twitter to call for a one-year reduction in the payroll tax, and his administration is reportedly considering its own plan to reimburse hospitals for the costs of caring for COVID-19 patients, through established emergency measures designed to respond to natural disasters.
3-4-20 How badly prepared is the world for a coronavirus pandemic?
LAST week, the World Health Organization raised its assessment of the global risk from the novel coronavirus to Very High – its maximum level. The virus has escaped containment in at least four countries. But the WHO is eager for nations to keep practising containment measures (see “Why the WHO won’t use the p-word”). These can slow the spread of the virus in countries that only have a few cases. But as long as it is circulating somewhere in the world, new cases will continue to crop up in countries even if they have effective containment practices. Mike Ryan of the WHO said on 28 February that the goal isn’t to stop the virus spreading, but “to slow its spread so health systems can prepare”. But what will that take? Can countries around the world handle a pandemic? The short answer is no. “Health systems, north and south, are just not ready,” Ryan said emphatically. When the epidemic started in the city of Wuhan, in China’s Hubei province, a rapid build-up of severe cases overwhelmed medical staff. There wasn’t enough medical protective gear and there were insufficient intensive care beds – along with oxygen and ventilators needed to help people with severe pneumonia breathe – to meet the high demand. It also strained the delivery of ordinary medical care. Bruce Aylward of the WHO, who led an international mission to study China’s response, noted last week that containment stopped the virus spreading generally and overwhelming healthcare in every Chinese province but Hubei, and mitigation measures aimed at preventing contact between people are driving case numbers down in Hubei. But this isn’t permanent: China is still building hospitals, growing public health capacity and buying more ventilators for when cases rise again, he said. Countries whose health systems struggle during a bad winter flu season, or which can’t build new hospitals in days or lock down whole cities, could struggle to repeat China’s success in slowing an outbreak.
3-4-20 We were warned – so why couldn’t we prevent the coronavirus outbreak?
THE world dodged a bullet in 2003 when a global effort contained the SARS coronavirus, after it jumped from bats to humans in China and then spread to 26 countries. We nearly had another close call when MERS, another bat coronavirus, spilled over into people in 2012. A year later, Chinese scientists found SARS-like viruses in fruit bats that could infect human cells And in 2016, the World Health Organization put coronaviruses among the top eight known viral threats requiring more research. So you would think we would have some coronavirus drugs and vaccines by now. But there are none licensed. That is why we are hurriedly testing drugs designed for other viruses to see if they can help, and running expedited trials for experimental vaccines. Why were we so unprepared for a threat we knew about? After 2003, there was a burst of research, but it was short-lived. “From 2005, it became really difficult to get funding for work on SARS coronavirus,” says Rolf Hilgenfeld at the University of Lübeck, Germany. This was partly because, when SARS disappeared, there was no obvious market waiting for drugs or vaccines to treat it, says David Heymann at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Only big drug companies have the money and expertise to get drugs or vaccines through human trials, and without a market they can’t invest. But Hilgenfeld says agencies that fund research also lost interest, because “prominent virologists believed that SARS coronavirus was a one-time only thing”. Compared with other coronaviruses, SARS had an extensive genetic mutation that prompted some virologists to guess that this was what allowed it to suddenly spread in humans – and that such a mutation was unlikely to happen again. They were right about the second part. The covid-19 virus doesn’t have this mutation, but it spreads even better in humans than SARS did.
3-4-20 As the coronavirus outbreak evolves, we answer some key questions
In this rapidly changing public health emergency, many unknowns remain. As a new coronavirus that has infected tens of thousands around the world continues to spread, scientists and public health officials are racing to understand the virus and stop the growing public health crisis. In this rapidly evolving situation, many unknowns remain. Here’s what we know so far about the new virus — called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2 — and the disease that it causes. We will update these answers as more information becomes available. The virus is a novel type of coronavirus, a family of viruses that typically cause colds. But three members of this viral family have caused deadly outbreaks. Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or SARS-CoV, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or MERS-CoV, and now SARS-CoV-2 all cause more severe disease, including pneumonia. SARS-CoV-2 got its name because it is similar to SARS-CoV. There are still a lot of unknowns, like how contagious the virus is. And SARS-CoV-2 is a new coronavirus and hadn’t infected people before the outbreak in China, so no one has prior immunity to it. That means everyone is susceptible to getting infected and transmitting the virus to others. Most cases have been mild. Of people who contract the virus, 3.4 percent die, according to the World Health Organization. Officials say the number will probably change as the outbreak continues, and varies from place to place. The analysis of about 44,000 cases of COVID-19 from China shows that the elderly are most vulnerable. Older people, especially those with heart disease and other conditions, are more likely to die. Middle-aged and elderly adults are most likely to contract the virus, while children and teenagers seem to rarely get infected or become seriously ill when they do catch the virus (SN: 2/14/20). Even though their symptoms are mild, infected children may still spread the virus. People with COVID-19 often have a dry cough and sometimes shortness of breath. And the vast majority of patients with this illness have fever, according to reports characterizing patients from China.
3-4-20 Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: The Ethiopian at the heart of the coronavirus fight
What a challenge to be the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the time of the coronavirus. The entire planet hanging on your every word, addressing daily press conferences at the headquarters in Geneva to detail an ever increasing number of cases in an ever increasing number of countries. This is the lot of Ethiopian Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the first African head of the WHO, who took office two-and-a-half years ago promising to reform the organisation, and to tackle the illnesses that kill millions each year: malaria, measles, childhood pneumonia, or HIV/Aids. And yet, while the WHO is undoubtedly working hard on those illnesses, Dr Tedros' time in office has been dominated first by Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and now by Covid-19. Both have been declared Public Health Emergencies of International Concern, or PHEICs. That means they require 24-hour monitoring, deployment of medical staff, equipment and medicines, daily discussions with affected countries and countries who might be affected, and of course, a steady stream of reliable information for an anxious world desperate for immediate answers. "Charming" and "unassuming" are some of the words those who know him use to describe the 55-year-old. At his first press conference as WHO director general, the Geneva-based journalists were somewhat bemused by his manner. He strolled in smiling, sat down and chatted in a very relaxed way, his voice sometimes so quiet it was difficult to hear him. That was a very big change from his more formal predecessor, Margaret Chan. And yet behind that quiet manner there must lie a very determined man. Before becoming head of the WHO he climbed through the ranks of Ethiopia's government, becoming health minister and then foreign minister. He could not have risen that far by being self-effacing.
3-4-20 China demands US response over CIA hacking claims
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has asked the US for a "clear explanation" after claims the CIA had been hacking targets in China for at least 11 years. The allegations were made by Qihoo, a well-known cyber-security firm based in Beijing. The company said it had found evidence in malware suggesting the CIA had targeted airlines, petrol companies and government agencies. The BBC has contacted the CIA for comment. Qihoo said it had analysed malicious code and found similarities between it and information about alleged CIA hacking tools which was published three years ago. Among other alleged targets of the hacking campaign were internet firms, scientific institutions and energy companies. "We speculate that in the past 11 years of infiltration attacks, CIA may have already grasped the most classified business information of China, even of many other countries in the world," added Qihoo. In recent years, we have become used to private cyber-security companies, and then Western governments, calling out espionage by other states - with China often in the firing line. Many private cyber-security companies, though, are still wary of publicly linking a particular hacking group to a foreign state. This new report is a sign that Chinese companies are willing to hit back at the US and the CIA. One thing making it easier for them is the fact that the CIA lost control of some of its most sensitive hacking tools, which were leaked onto the web. That allowed others to recognise them being used by the CIA - or, perhaps, by people using them to falsely implicate the US. At times, reports by US cyber-security companies appear to have dovetailed with US policy. The same might be true in this case, as China seeks to push back. China has urged the US to give a clear explanation of any hacking activities, and make cyber-space peaceful and safe. In March 2017, a trove of documents was published by WikiLeaks, that appeared to reveal a number of CIA hacking tools. (Webmaster's comment: Using the CIA the United States is the enemy of all thw world's people!)
3-4-20 Afghan conflict: US conducts first air strike on Taliban since deal
The US military has conducted an air strike against Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, just hours after President Donald Trump said he had had a "very good talk" with a leader of the group. The US signed a deal with the Taliban on Saturday aimed at bringing peace to Afghanistan after years of war. But a US forces spokesman said it launched an air strike on Wednesday in response to Taliban fighters attacking Afghan forces in Helmand province. The Taliban called for de-escalation. In a post on Twitter, spokesman Suhail Shaheen said the group "plans to implement all parts of the agreement one after another to prevent conflict escalation". "The opposite side should also remove the obstacles in implementing all parts of the agreement so the way is paved for comprehensive peace and for the Afghans to have their basic rights," he added. It was not clear if there were any casualties. Wednesday's strike was the first by the US against the Taliban in 11 days, when a reduction in violence agreement began between the two sides in the lead-up to Saturday's pact. In a statement on Twitter, Colonel Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for the US forces in Afghanistan, said it was a "defensive strike" to disrupt an attack on an Afghan National Security Forces checkpoint. The spokesman added that the US was still "committed to peace" but had a responsibility to defend its Afghan partners. He said Afghans and the US had complied with their side of the agreement, while the Taliban appeared intent on "squandering" the opportunity. On Tuesday alone, he said, the Taliban had launched 43 attacks on checkpoints belonging to Afghan forces in Helmand. "We call on the Taliban to stop needless attacks and uphold their commitments. As we have demonstrated, we will defend our partners when required," he wrote. The Taliban has so far declined to confirm or deny responsibility for any of the attacks.
3-4-20 Venezuela's Maduro urges women to have six children
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has urged women to have six children "for the good of the country". Appearing at a televised event promoting a national women's healthcare plan, Mr Maduro instructed women to "give birth, give birth". The country is facing an economic crisis which has resulted in severe food and medicine shortages. Between 2013 and 2018, 13% of Venezuelan children were malnourished, says UN children's agency Unicef. A bitter power struggle between the government and the opposition has exacerbated the country's trials. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó is considered the legitimate leader of Venezuela by more than 50 countries. But President Maduro, the country's left-wing leader who enjoys the support of the Venezuelan military, has remained in power. "May God bless you for having given life to six little girls and boys", Mr Maduro told a woman who attended the healthcare event. "Every woman should have six children for the good of the country", he said, adding that it was "women's week", a reference to International Women's Day on 8 March. Supporters of Mr Guaidó responded angrily on Twitter. Manuela Bolivar, a member of the opposition-controlled National Assembly said in a tweet: "Hospitals are not functioning, vaccines are scarce, women cannot breastfeed because they are malnourished or buy baby formula because it is unaffordable, and the country faces forced migration due to the humanitarian emergency. "Maduro and all of his regime who say this have psychological dissociation." One in three Venezuelans is struggling to put enough food on the table to meet minimum nutrition requirements, according to a study by the UN World Food Programme. Amid the economic crisis, one charity said in 2018 that it had seen the number of babies abandoned in the streets or left at the entrances of public buildings increase by 70%. The Venezuelan government has not released any official figures in recent years.
3-3-20 Trust in Science Essential in Battle Against COVID-19
The trust people have in the medical advice and health information they receive -- and who they trust to provide them -- is always critical, but is particularly important now as the world is scrambling to combat the spread of coronavirus or COVID-19. But whom do people trust most for this information? Across much of the world, this answer is overwhelmingly doctors and nurses, according to the 2018 Wellcome Global Monitor survey. Nearly three in four (73%) adults worldwide say they trust a doctor or nurse most, far more than information from family and friends, traditional healers, religious leaders and celebrities. The same is true across the eight Asian countries and areas that currently account for the bulk of confirmed cases. A median of 81% say they most trust doctors and nurses for health advice and 11% trust family and friends. The pattern is the same in the country at the epicenter of the current outbreak, China, where 62% say they trust doctors and nurses most and 17% trust family and friends.
3-3-20 Coronavirus: Four more deaths in Washington state
Four more people have died in a coronavirus outbreak in Washington state, bringing the total fatalities there to six. These are the first deaths due to Covid-19 on US soil. Washington declared a state of emergency over the weekend. Five of the deaths occurred in King County, whose main city is Seattle. There are now 18 confirmed cases in the region, and there are growing fears it may spread further. Researchers who studied the first two Washington deaths had said the virus may have been spreading there for weeks, and suggested that up to 1,500 people may have been infected. Kathy Lofy, Washington state's health officer, said cases were confined to two counties - King and Snohomish - and the virus was "actively" spreading there. She added it was possible the virus was spreading elsewhere. Eight of the 14 cases in King County, and four of the deaths, are linked to one care facility. Most of those who died were elderly or had underlying health conditions. King County is to buy a hotel so it can isolate the growing number of patients in the region. More schools in the Seattle area closed on Monday. Dr Jeff Duchin, the chief health officer for the Seattle and King County Public Health agency, said there would be no wider school closures at this stage, nor would major events be cancelled. But, he said, the number of cases is expected to increase. "We are taking this situation extremely seriously," he said. The weekend brought a sharp rise in the number of cases, raising concerns. There are now 91 confirmed cases across the country and while some patients are believed to have travelled to high-risk countries, others are thought to have contracted the virus within the US. Late on Monday, officials said two cases of coronavirus had been confirmed in Georgia. One of the two people infected - who both live in the same household - had recently returned from Italy. Officials on the US West Coast - in Washington, California and Oregon - have expressed concerns about infections appearing in patients who had not visited an area where there was an outbreak or been in contact with anyone who had. The federal government has admitted to problems with its diagnostic testing amid the rise in cases. A top federal scientist has raised concerns about a possible contamination in an Atlanta, Georgia, lab where the government had made test kits for the virus, Axios reports.
3-3-20 Coronavirus: US in emergency rate cut as coronavirus spreads
The US central bank has slashed interest rates in response to mounting concerns about the economic impact of the coronavirus. The Federal Reserve lowered its benchmark rate by 50 basis points to a range of 1% to 1.25%. The emergency move comes after the G7 group of finance ministers pledged action earlier on Tuesday. It follows warnings that slowdown from the outbreak could tip countries into recession. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said the US economy remains strong but it is difficult to predict the "magnitude and persistence" of the effects of the spreading virus. "The virus and the measures that are being taken to contain it will surely weigh on economic activity for some time, both here and abroad," he said at a press conference in Washington. "We don't think we have all the answers. But we do believe that our action will provide a meaningful boost to the economy." The last time the bank made an interest rate cut at an emergency meeting was during the global financial crisis of 2008. The decision is a "dramatic turnaround from last week", when many Fed officials appeared confident that rates, already low by historical standards, would not need to be cut further, said Paul Ashworth, chief US economist at Capital Economics said. "With financial markets in turmoil and evidence growing that the coronavirus is developing into a pandemic, the Fed's change of heart is entirely understandable," he said. Mr Powell said the bank believed the rate cut would help strengthen consumer and business confidence, and keep money flowing.However, Peter Tuchman, a stock trader at Quattro Securities, said he did not think financial markets would necessarily welcome the move. "They're doing it to support the markets but that makes people fearful that we must be in bad shape," he told the BBC. "To pull that bullet out so fast and so furiously leaves us with not that much ammo," he said.
3-3-20 Why America is so vulnerable to coronavirus
All over the world, governments are scrambling to defend their citizenry from COVID-19, the disease caused by the outbreak of novel coronavirus. So far it seems levels of success have varied; countries like Italy and Iran have struggled so far, while Vietnam and Taiwan have seemingly put forth an efficient and effective response. The United States, where a major outbreak is clearly developing, however, is in a class by itself. America's atrociously inadequate welfare state makes it by far the most vulnerable rich country to a viral pandemic, and the vicious, right-wing ideology of the Republican Party has wrecked the government's ability to manage crises of any kind. The national health care system is of course the most important tool for any country trying to fight off an epidemic — all citizens need to be able to get tested, receive treatment, or be quarantined if necessary. If and when a vaccine is developed, the system needs to distribute it to everyone as fast as possible. That means handing it out for free in locations across the country, and perhaps making it mandatory if uptake is insufficient. The American health care system fails at every one of these tasks. Nearly 30 million Americans are uninsured, and a further 44 million are underinsured — meaning they will likely hesitate to go to the doctor if they start developing COVID-19 symptoms. This problem is seriously exacerbated by the rampant predatory profiteering that infects every corner of the health care system. Indeed, responsible citizens who have gone in for tests have already started getting slammed with multi-thousand dollar bills. A father and daughter who were evacuated from China and then forcibly quarantined for several days (luckily they were not infected) went home to find $3,918 in bills. If you are working-class person with a $10,000 deductible (not at all uncommon), going to the doctor simply because you have flu-like symptoms (which is how most cases of COVID-19 are experienced) could very easily send you into bankruptcy. If infected, millions of Americans are likely going to take their chances — and keep spreading the virus.
3-3-20 6 key coronavirus numbers you should know
COVID-19 cases and deaths are going up around the world. Just days after news that the new coronavirus was spreading in the United States, cases have now been reported in 10 states and the death toll is rising. As of March 2, six people — all in Washington state — have died from COVID-19, public health officials confirmed. Globally, more and more countries are reporting their first cases, including Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Senegal. The almost minute-by-minute drumbeat of rising cases and deaths has led to school closings, a volatile stock market and a lot of worry and questions. Here’s a by-the-numbers look at the outbreak — including how rapidly the coronavirus spreading and just how deadly it really is. The virus is now in more than 60 countries. The virus that causes COVID-19 probably began spreading in China in early November, according to an analysis conducted by researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and the University of Basel in Switzerland. From there, the virus has spread to more than 60 countries as of March 2, including the United States. Of people who contract the virus, 2.3 percent die overall. That’s according to a study of more than 44,000 cases in China through February 11. That’s far more than the estimated 0.1 percent of people infected with the flu who die (though the flu has infected millions of people this season in the United States alone, so the number of flu deaths is much higher). The actual death rate for coronavirus may not be known for some time, until researchers can determine how many people were infected, but didn’t have symptoms, or had very mild symptoms and didn’t get tested. The death rate also varies by age, with children, teens and young adults rarely dying, the case data from China show. Older people, especially those with heart disease and other conditions, are more likely to die. Middle-aged and elderly adults are most likely to contract the virus, while children and teenagers seem to rarely get seriously ill, but can spread the disease.
3-3-20 7 books that will help you understand coronavirus
These page-turning accounts of past epidemics read like blueprints for what we're experiencing now. ases of coronavirus are surging stateside, but there is still so much we don't — and can't — know about the outbreak yet. How long will it last? Will we develop a vaccine? How many people are going to get sick — and how many will die? While there are no simple answers, history provides plenty of blueprints for what we're experiencing now. Over the years, I've spent a lot of time reading such accounts, gripped by authors' murder mystery-like treatment of pandemics. In addition to being thrilling reads, though, such books also give us a chance to better understand what's unfolding now with COVID-19. Here are seven of my favorites.
- The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, The Epidemic That Shaped Our History, by Molly Caldwell Crosby
- Flu: The Story Of The Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It, by Gina Kolata
- How to Survive a Plague: The Story of How Activists and Scientists Tamed AIDS, by David France
- The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus, by Richard Preston
- The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria, and Hubris, by Mark Honigsbaum
- On Immunity: An Inoculation, by Eula Biss
- Pale Horse, Pale Rider, by Katherine Anne Porter
3-3-20 Coronavirus: UK government reveals action plan to combat an outbreak
The coronavirus outbreak could lead to a fifth of workers in the UK staying at home, cause the police to drop low-priority cases and force the National Health Service (NHS) to delay non-urgent care. That is according to a 27-page document published by the government today, which sets out the UK-wide response to the covid-19 virus, amid widespread concerns about the impact it will have on people’s well-being, the economy and public services. Measures aimed at delaying the spread of the virus could include school closures, reducing the number of large-scale gatherings and encouraging people to work from home. The government’s response is in four areas: containing the outbreak, delaying its spread and mitigating the impact of the disease once it becomes established. Alongside that, a research programme is aimed at improving diagnostics and treatment for the disease. Amid warnings about the impact on the global economy, the document acknowledges the potential impact on businesses. “In a stretching scenario, it is possible that up to one fifth of employees may be absent from work during peak weeks,” it says. The government’s response is currently in the containment phase, along with research being carried out and planning for the delay and mitigation work. Officials hope to delay the peak of the virus until the warmer spring and summer months when health services are less busy. If the disease becomes established, mitigation measures will be introduced. These could include police concentrating on serious crimes and maintaining public order if faced with a significant loss of officers and staff, and the NHS delaying non-urgent care and calling retired staff back to duty. Local authorities may have to deal with “an increase in deaths”, particularly among vulnerable and older people, and the government is also considering how to distribute the UK’s stockpiles of key medicines and equipment such as protective clothing.
3-3-20 Russia's Putin wants traditional marriage and God in constitution
Russian President Vladimir Putin wants marriage to be defined as the union of a man and woman in a revised constitution, ruling out gay marriage.It is among several constitutional amendments proposed by Mr Putin, which are set to be put to a public vote. Critics see the proposals as a move by Mr Putin to keep a hold on power after his presidential term ends in 2024. The package includes a proclamation of Russians' faith in God and a ban on giving away any Russian territory. The territorial amendment would strengthen Russia's hold on Crimea - a Ukrainian region it annexed in 2014 - and the Kuril Islands, disputed with Japan since World War Two, according to Vladimir Mashkov, a renowned actor-director involved in drafting the new constitution. Mr Putin also proposed an amendment on "historical truth", to protect "the great achievement of the people in their defence of the Fatherland". He has railed against what he sees as foreign attempts to diminish the enormous sacrifice made by the USSR in World War Two. The defeat of Nazi Germany cost an estimated 27 million Soviet lives. Mr Putin is in his fourth presidential term; he has been the dominant figure in Russian politics for 20 years. His presidency has been marked by a revival of Soviet-era symbols, conservative values and the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church. He surprised the nation in January with plans for constitutional changes that include transferring some powers from the presidency to parliament. While most Russians identify as Orthodox Christians, the state is officially secular. The current constitution dates from 1993, when then President Boris Yeltsin was embracing Western democracy and capitalism. Mr Putin's drive against Western liberalism has included a controversial ban on disseminating "gay propaganda" among young Russians. The ban - condemned by many liberals and the European Court of Human Rights - has been used to harass gay rights activists. The constitutional reform bill was approved by the Russian parliament's lower house - the State Duma - in January, and Mr Putin's amendments were introduced in time for a second reading next week. The Russian legislature is dominated by Putin supporters.
3-2-20 Coronavirus may have been circulating undetected in the US for 6 weeks
Covid-19 could already be circulating in the US, according to similar genetic sequences in viruses from two people who contracted the disease several weeks apart. One comes from a recent case in Snohomish County, Washington, in which the infected person had no contact with another case or outbreak location. Despite this, the sequence of the virus in their sample closely matches that in the first infection detected in the US, on 21 January, in a man in the same county who had visited Wuhan. Both sequences, which were posted to GISAID, a public database initially designed for flu viruses, share a rare single mutation. “This strongly suggests that there has been cryptic transmission in Washington State for the past 6 weeks,” with perhaps several hundred cases, tweeted Trevor Bedford at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, who belongs to a scientific collaboration using genetic analysis to track covid-19. The US has reported only 86 cases of covid-19 so far, but there could be more. Testing for the virus has been limited – partly because a test can cost more than $3000, and in some cases even people with private insurance may have to pay half of that. But there have been other problems. Bedford suspects that the outbreak in Washington wasn’t detected until now because of narrow governing testing rules. Under guidelines issued on 1 February, a person needed to have had contact with mainland China or a known case to be tested for covid-19, and tests could only be processed at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia. This led to a backlog of tests and the exclusion of cases infected elsewhere, including by local spread. Last month, the CDC initially refused to test the first locally acquired infection in the US for four days, because it didn’t meet the criteria for testing. One problem was that in test kits the CDC sent to state labs, one of three components was faulty. China is now doing 1.6 million covid-19 tests a week, and South Korea is testing upwards of 10,000 people a day – some at drive-through windows – while the UK had tested about 13,000 suspected cases by 28 February. By that same date, the US had tested only 500 local cases – those with no known links to other cases – and some 2000 repatriated ones.
3-2-20 Coronavirus: What are the worst symptoms and how deadly is covid-19?
It has been two months since China’s health officials described a mysterious virus spreading in Hubei. As of 2 March, the new coronavirus has infected nearly 89,000 people across 65 countries, according to the World Health Organization. Cases of the covid-19 virus seem to be levelling off in China. But elsewhere, infections – and deaths – are rising. We now have a better idea of just how contagious covid-19 is, and the main symptoms to look out for. But there is still a lot to learn. How much do symptoms vary? Just how deadly is the virus? Who is most vulnerable and why? And will there be lasting consequences for those who recover from an infection? The most commonly reported symptoms include a fever, dry cough and tiredness. In the most severe cases, people with the virus can develop difficulty breathing, and may ultimately experience organ failure. Some cases are fatal. But many other individuals will just get a runny nose or a sore throat. Some people with the virus don’t seem to show any symptoms at all. This might be because they have stronger immune systems, says Osamah Alwalid, a radiologist at Wuhan Union Hospital, who has been studying the impact of the virus on lung health. A report covering 82 deaths linked to covid-19 in Wuhan found that 80 per cent of those who had died were over the age of 60, and three-quarters of these individuals had other disorders that may have made them more vulnerable, including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Young people, on the other hand, appear to be better protected against the virus. A report by the World Health Organization and China, based on the 75,465 cases reported up to 20 February, found that only 2.4 per cent of cases were in those aged 18 or under. We don’t yet know if children aren’t catching the virus at the same rate as adults, or if they just don’t show symptoms when they do have the virus. It is also difficult to estimate how fatal the virus is. Most estimates put the rate at somewhere between 1 and 2 per cent of infections. This is higher in older populations – a report covering 44,672 cases put the fatality rate at 8 per cent for those in their 70s and 14.8 per cent for people aged 80 or over. But the exact figure is impossible to calculate, because we can’t be sure how many people have caught the virus, says Mark Woolhouse at the University of Edinburgh, UK.
3-2-20 Afghan conflict: Taliban to resume attacking local forces after deal with US
The Taliban are to resume attacks against government forces, just days after signing a deal with the US aimed at bringing peace to Afghanistan. The hard-line Islamist group had observed a "reduction in violence" in the week leading up to the agreement. The deal included a commitment to hold peace talks with the Afghan government. But the group's spokesman said on Monday the talks would not go ahead if 5,000 Taliban prisoners held by the government were not released. The release formed part of the agreement signed on Saturday in Qatar with the US. But on Sunday, Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani told reporters his government had agreed to no such release. "There is no commitment to releasing 5,000 prisoners," Mr Ghani said. "This is the right and the self-will of the people of Afghanistan. It could be included in the agenda of the intra-Afghan talks, but cannot be a prerequisite for talks." The Taliban have previously refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, so Saturday's deal was just with the US, which invaded Afghanistan weeks after the September 2001 attacks in New York by al-Qaeda, then based in Afghanistan. The Taliban were ousted from power but became an insurgent force that by 2018 was active in more than two-thirds of the country. The Taliban said they would resume fighting Afghan forces, but would not target international troops. This contradicted Mr Ghani's comments on Sunday. He had said the partial truce was set to continue "with a goal to reach a full ceasefire". Meanwhile, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told news agency Reuters they would not take part in talks with the government unless the release went ahead. "We are fully ready for the intra-Afghan talks, but we are waiting for the release of our 5,000 prisoners," he said. "If our 5,000 prisoners - 100 or 200 more or less does not matter - do not get released there will be no intra-Afghan talks." An estimated 10,000 captured Taliban are being held in Afghanistan. The BBC's Secunder Kermani says it's not yet clear if the Taliban will now resume fighting - or if this is an attempt to pressurise the government into releasing the detainees.
3-2-20 Fears of US coronavirus outbreak rise after second death
Fears of an outbreak in Washington deepen after a second patient in the state died from coronavirus. The patient was a man in his 70s who was treated in the same facility where the first patient died a day earlier. Twenty-three new cases of Covid-19, the illness caused by the virus, were reported in the US over the weekend, bringing the total to 88 cases. The first two Covid-19 deaths on US soil prompted Washington State to declare a state of emergency. New cases were reported in US states from coast to coast, in Washington, California, Oregon, Illinois, Florida, New York and Rhode Island. The first of the US cases were announced on 21 January, with 65 cases in the country as of last Friday. The weekend brought a sharp rise in numbers, raising concerns. Of the existing cases, some patients are believed to have travelled to high-risk countries, while others are thought to have contracted the virus from within the US. Officials on the US West Coast - in Washington, California and Oregon - have expressed concerns about cases appearing in patients who had not visited an area where there was an outbreak or been in contact with anyone who had. Researchers who studied the two Washington deaths have said that the virus may have been spreading for weeks, and suggested that up to 1,500 people may have been infected. The second US patient to die of the coronavirus infection was being treated at the EvergreenHealth hospital in Kirkland, Washington - the same facility to identify the country's first death on Saturday, a man in his 50s. Both patients had underlying health conditions, officials said. More than 85,000 Covid-19 cases have been reported in 57 countries around the world, causing over 3,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. The majority of infections and deaths are in China, where the virus emerged late last year.
3-2-20 Coronavirus: What are the worst symptoms and how deadly is covid-19?
It has been two months since China’s health officials described a mysterious virus spreading in Hubei. As of 2 March, the new coronavirus has infected nearly 89,000 people across 65 countries, according to the World Health Organization. Cases of the covid-19 virus seem to be levelling off in China. But elsewhere, infections – and deaths – are rising. We now have a better idea of just how contagious covid-19 is, and the main symptoms to look out for. But there is still a lot to learn. How much do symptoms vary? Just how deadly is the virus? Who is most vulnerable and why? And will there be lasting consequences for those who recover from an infection? The most commonly reported symptoms include a fever, dry cough and tiredness. In the most severe cases, people with the virus can develop difficulty breathing, and may ultimately experience organ failure. Some cases are fatal. But many other individuals might just get a runny nose or a sore throat. Some people with the virus don’t seem to show any symptoms at all. This might be because they have stronger immune systems, says Osamah Alwalid, a radiologist at Wuhan Union Hospital, who has been studying the impact of the virus on lung health. A report covering 82 deaths linked to covid-19 in Wuhan found that 80 per cent of those who had died were over the age of 60, and three-quarters of these individuals had other disorders that may have made them more vulnerable, including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Young people, on the other hand, appear to be better protected against the virus. A report by the World Health Organization and China, based on the 75,465 cases reported up to 20 February, found that only 2.4 per cent of cases were in those aged 18 or under. We don’t yet know if children aren’t catching the virus at the same rate as adults, or if they just don’t show symptoms when they do have the virus.
3-2-20 Vatican to open archives of Holocaust-era Pope Pius XII
The Vatican is to open its archives on the wartime papacy of Pius XII, kept secret for decades amid accusations that he turned a blind eye to the Holocaust. Critics say Pius XII, sometimes labelled "Hitler's Pope", knew Nazi Germany was murdering Jews but failed to act. He reigned from 1939 to 1958. But the Vatican says Pius XII worked behind the scenes to save Jews. Dozens of scholars are preparing to pore over the many documents. Pope Francis took the decision a year ago to open up the archives on one of the Roman Catholic Church's most controversial figures. "The Church is not afraid of history," the Pope told Vatican researchers. Pope Francis said the Pius XII papacy was marked by "moments of grave difficulties, tormented decisions of human and Christian prudence, that to some could appear as reticence". Bishop Sergio Pagano, prefect of the Vatican's Apostolic Archives, said the World War Two documents ran into millions of pages, divided into 121 sections according to topic. All the space in the consulting area has been booked for the rest of the year, said Bishop Pagano, quoted by Reuters news agency. The scholars include some from the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC and award-winning German historian Hubert Wolf, a specialist on the Pius XII pontificate. The BBC's Mark Lowen in Rome reports that the controversy over this papacy is thought to have halted his elevation to sainthood. "There is no doubt that the pope was aware of the murder of Jews," said Hubert Wolf, quoted by AFP news agency. In the 1920s the then Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli had witnessed the rise of Nazism as Holy See ambassador in Germany, before returning to the Vatican and becoming pope. There are Jesuit documents sent to the pope which informed him about Nazi concentration camps, but historians have not yet seen any of his replies.
3-1-20 What the new phase of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. means for you
Health experts warn there are probably many undetected COVID-19 cases already here. As U.S. public health officials are working to figure out how two California women contracted a novel coronavirus that’s spreading widely around the world, experts say the cases mark a troubling new phase of the outbreak in the United States. A 50-year-old woman from Solano County tested positive for the virus on February 26. Her case appears to be the first in the United States of what’s known as community spread, meaning she had no history of travel to affected areas and was not exposed to someone known to have the COVID-19 illness. On February 28, a couple counties south, Santa Clara County officials announced a second instance of COVID-19 with no known origin. The patient, an older woman with underlying health conditions, was diagnosed after she was hospitalized with a respiratory disease. The announcement suggests the virus may be circulating in at least two U.S. communities. Since the start of the outbreak, there have been more than 83,000 cases of the disease in at least 57 countries. A few regions — including Italy, Iran, South Korea and Japan — have reported sustained community spread, meaning the virus is circulating among people outside China’s borders, where the outbreak first began. The World Health Organization on February 28 upgraded the risk of global spread to “very high,” but stopped short of calling it a pandemic (SN: 2/25/20). “We don’t see evidence yet that the virus is spreading freely in communities. As long as that is the case, we still have a chance of containing this virus,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said February 28 during a news briefing. Here’s what the California cases mean, what to expect in the coming days and months, and what to do if you think you are infected.
3-1-20 Coronavirus: US confirms first death, in Washington state
The US has reported the first death from the new coronavirus in the country, in the state of Washington. Officials said the patient was a man in his 50s with underlying health conditions. President Donald Trump said more cases were "likely" but added that the country was prepared for any circumstance. (Webmaster's comment: Just 4 days ago Trump said "Because of all we’ve done, the risk to the American people remains very low." See stories below! And now one has died and many more will follow!) On Sunday, Australia and Thailand also recorded their first fatalities from coronavirus. A 78-year-old Australian man died after being infected on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan last month. Thailand, which has had 42 cases of the virus, said a 35-year-old man who died was also suffering from dengue fever. More than 85,000 coronavirus cases have been reported in 57 countries around the world and almost 3,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. The vast majority of infections and deaths are in China, where the virus emerged late last year. Local health officials confirmed on Saturday that the man in his 50s died in Washington state's King County. They said he had not travelled to any high-risk areas. Washington Governor Jay Inslee has declared a state of emergency in response to new cases in the state. It comes as officials on the US West Coast - in California, Oregon and Washington - expressed concerns about cases appearing in patients who had not visited an area where there was an outbreak or been in contact with anyone who had. Officials in Washington state on Saturday said they were investigating a possible outbreak of the coronavirus at a local nursing home. Dr Jeffrey Duchin, a health official for Washington's Seattle and King County, said there were two cases associated with the long-term care facility Life Care Center of Kirkland - one a healthcare worker and the other a resident in her 70s. Dr Duchin said about 27 residents and 25 staff members at the centre had "some sort of symptoms". Officials said more positive cases were expected. In total, the WHO says there have been 62 cases in the US so far.
3-1-20 (2-27-20) Coronavirus "risk to the American people remains very low"
President Trump said the success in dealing with the virus so far is because of early decisions to contain it, which he claimed were "ridiculed" at first. Those measures included closing the border to "certain flights" coming in. Mr Trump added that of the 15 people diagnosed with the virus who were in quarantine, only one was still ill in hospital. Thousands of new cases are being reported around the world each day and the true scale could be 10 times higher.
3-1-20 (2-27-20) We can't trust Trump to handle the coronavirus crisis
President Trump went before the nation on Wednesday with the ostensible purpose of informing and reassuring the public about his administration's handling of the global coronavirus outbreak. Instead, Trump gave the American public what he always does: a mix of hyperbole, ignorance, and score-settling. His administration's response to the outbreak has been "tremendous," Trump boasted. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is "incompetent," he moaned. This week's stock market slide was the fault of Democratic presidential candidates, he claimed. Trump took shots at the Federal Reserve, former President Obama, and The New York Times. Every now and again, he seemed to have to remind himself to get back on track. "We're here to talk about the virus," he said after one digression. There was just one grace note — a preliminary moment to acknowledge a mass shooting at the Molson Coors brewery in Wisconsin. Otherwise, Trump was Trump: listless when he had to stick more or less to the facts, energetic when given an opportunity to boast of his accomplishments or tear down his rivals. "Because of all we've done, the risk to the American people remains very low," he said. (Webmaster's comment: We've done nothing!) The proclamation wasn't reassuring. At almost the same time as Trump spoke, the Centers for Disease Control revealed a new case of the virus in Northern California — the first case of domestic infection in which the patient had not traveled to the countries where the virus is circulating, or knowingly interacted with someone who was infected. "That would suggest there are other undetected cases out there," an infectious diseases specialist told The New York Times. The outbreak couldn't come during a worse presidency. Even if Trump hadn't gutted the federal government's ability to respond to pandemics, and even if his administration wasn't rabidly anti-science, it remains the case that our president is both a prolific liar and an egregious narcissist who betrays no understanding of or ability to act in pursuit of the public good. This means the public — which needs to trust what leaders say in moments like these — has little reason to believe what comes out of his mouth. In other words, Trump has an extreme credibility problem. That's never a good thing, but it might be particularly dangerous during a public health emergency.