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Sioux Falls Atheists and Atheism, Agnostics and Humanism

177 Atheism & Humanism News Articles
for May 2020
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5-24-19 How pandemics change society
History can tell us a lot about the ways coronavirus might transform how we live. The Black Death, the Spanish Flu, and other widespread disease outbreaks have transformed how people live. Here's everything you need to know:

  1. Will Covid-19 change the world? Yes, if it's similar to the pandemics of the past. Plagues and viral contagions have regularly blighted the course of human civilization, killing millions of people and wreaking economic devastation. But as each pandemic receded, it left cultural, political, and social changes that lasted far beyond the disease itself.
  2. When was the first pandemic? The earliest on record occurred during the Peloponnesian War in 430 B.C. Now believed to have been a form of typhoid fever, that particular "plague" passed through Libya, Ethiopia, and Egypt before striking the city of Athens, then under siege by Sparta
  3. What caused the Justinian Plague? Yersinia pestis, a bacterium spread by fleas on rodents — the same culprit behind one of the worst pandemics in human history: the Black Death. Arriving in Sicily on a trading ship in 1347, the Black Death eventually spread throughout Europe and wiped out about 200 million people — up to 60 percent of the global population.
  4. What other impact did it have? The Black Death's biggest socioeconomic legacy was its role in ending feudalism. Feudalism was a medieval system that empowered wealthy nobles to grant the use of their land to peasants in exchange for their labor — with rent, wages, and other terms determined by the lords.
  5. What about other epidemics? In 1802, an outbreak of yellow fever in the French colony of St. Domingue (now Haiti) triggered a chain of events that led to the vast expansion of the United States. The epidemic, caused by a virus transmitted by mosquitoes, killed an estimated 50,000 French troops trying to control Haiti, forcing France to withdraw.
  6. What was the Spanish Flu? It was a virulent strain of H1N1 influenza that may have actually originated on a Kansas poultry farm. One of its first victims was a U.S. soldier stationed in Kansas. Unlike the bacterial plagues of the past, the Spanish Flu was a virus, which became more deadly when it picked up some genetic material from a virus infecting birds.
  7. COVID-19's possible legacy: The coronavirus has already had a huge and potentially enduring impact on everyday life. Our work and social lives have gone virtual, with even G-7 leaders conducting their meetings via videoconferencing. Movie studios, gyms, musicians, and karaoke bars are streaming their content straight into our homes.

5-24-19 Coronavirus: Why reopening French schools is a social emergency
It's obvious that a lack of schooling has increased inequalities, says France's Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer. "Social emergency" is the term he uses to describe the need to unlock the country's schools. France started reopening its education system after lockdown with primary schools, because it was even more important for young people than for older pupils, he explained. In the UK, there has been strong opposition to the government's plans to reopen schools in England on 1 June. Some scientists, councils and teachers' unions say it's too soon to welcome pupils back safely. In France, 40,000 primary schools have reopened since lockdown was lifted on 11 May along with some middle schools. So far, around one in five primary school pupils have returned to class. Mr Blanquer admitted that the children who had returned were often those from wealthier families. "It's true that the children of poor families are coming less than the others," he said. "That's why it was important to start in May, not in June, because we know that it's [a] step-by-step [process] with poor families. It takes time to persuade people." Fathia Sissani lives in Seine-Saint-Denis, a poor suburb of Paris that last month recorded the highest rate of coronavirus deaths anywhere in France. She is a single parent to three children, two girls and a boy, aged between 11 and 14. She gave up work to look after her middle child, who is disabled. Her youngest, Riya, has dropped out of school because it was too hard for him to follow the courses online at home. "I'm a parent, not a teacher," says Fathia. "I grew up in Algeria so I studied in Arabic. I speak French well, but I don't understand lessons like maths or grammar." Her internet connection has also been a problem. "I had to change provider because I didn't have a good signal," she explained. "I was having difficulty connecting to the school. Everyone is online. We tried for a bit, but I'd had enough of it." Having everyone at home has been hard for Fathia. Her two daughters love school, but even though schools are reopening she isn't sending any of them back into class yet.

5-23-19 A eulogy for 100,000 Americans
Imagine if, starting now, we held a moment of silence for every American who has died from COVID-19. We wouldn't speak for the rest of the day. For the rest of the week. For the rest of the month. If each one of those deaths was honored with the full traditional 60 seconds of silence, this country would stand in hushed, somber, unrelenting remembrance for just short of 70 days. Sometime in the next few days we will officially record this country's 100,000th coronavirus victim. In truth, we probably passed that number awhile ago; the U.S. death counts are almost certainly too conservative. Still, that number is unthinkable. It means that in four months, more Americans have died from the novel coronavirus than died during the two decades of the Vietnam War. In less than 110 days, almost two and a half times as many Americans will have died than perished in car accidents in the whole of 2019, and over six times as many as the worst recent flu season. But numbers, comparisons — these are just ways of trying to quantify something that cannot be measured: a life. "One hundred thousand" doesn't tell you about the 51-year-old mother, whose children, when they were young, would race down the stairs to help her with her bags. They don't tell you about the 59-year-old grandfather whose wife met him at a Harley-Davidson dealership and who, after his death, donated important images of his lungs to help fight the virus. They don't tell you about the beloved 67-year-old teacher who was mourning her 42-year-old son, who had died from COVID-19 in April, when she caught the disease herself. By now, you might even know someone who has died; one in eight Americans do. I am still one of the lucky; none of my close loved ones have become victims of the disease. There is an implicit and terrible addendum to that statement: yet. That possibility, that word, lives in a knot in my stomach like a parasite, a heavy, angry, terrifying thing gnawing away at me even when I'm not consciously thinking about it. But for now, my mourning is general and abstract, the numb sadness of a citizen. I hurt for my suffering country. Yet America at large has not been permitted to grieve. At the most basic level, this is to keep us safe; funerals are heartbreakingly difficult to hold when gatherings are so dangerous, and there can be no moment of silence before a baseball game if there are no baseball games to begin with. It also seems misguided to hold a memorial when we're still in the thick of the tragedy. It would be a denial of the truth, that hundreds of people are still dying every single day. (Webmaster's comment: Trump said the Coronavirus was no worse than the flu. We should call him "Wrong Again Trump!")

5-23-19 World faces risk of 'vaccine nationalism' in COVID-19 fight
With so many competing interests facing off, it's far from clear that once an effective vaccine is produced, all of the world's citizens will have equitable access to it. Global competition to find a vaccine to tackle COVID-19 is fierce, with at least 130 groups racing to be first. One U.S.-based company, Moderna, announced preliminary positive results in May, saying a human vaccine trial produced protective antibodies in a small group of healthy volunteers. The Moderna vaccine is one of more than 100 under development intended to protect against the novel coronavirus that has infected more than 4.7 million people globally and killed over 315,000. There are currently no approved treatments or vaccines for COVID-19, and experts predict a safe and effective vaccine could take 12 to 18 months to develop. The very early data offers a glimmer of hope for a vaccine among the most advanced in development. And with so many groups around the world working towards an inoculation, the odds of finding a way to put a stop to the pandemic increase. But the competition is also somewhat worrisome. With so many competing interests facing off, it's far from clear that once an effective vaccine is produced, all of the world's citizens will have equitable access to it. It's a problem Jane Halton, a former WHO board member, calls "vaccine nationalism." "I worry that some countries will see that there is strategic advantage in the use of any developed vaccine, if they are successful. I also think that there is, in some cases, a need to deal with domestic concerns," Halton said. "And I understand that being able to balance a need for domestic distribution, particularly for the vulnerable, but at the same time acknowledging that all countries are in this together — I think there's a middle line to be struck here." Halton, who is chair of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and former head of Australia's health and finance departments, tells The World's host Marco Werman that vaccine production should be globally distributed and initially target the most vulnerable in all nations. "What I hope is that whomever succeeds in this search, the quest for a vaccine, that when that vaccine is actually developed and is approved for use, that it isn't used exclusively for the needs of one population, when in fact, the people who need this vaccine are the vulnerable healthcare workers around the world, the elderly, the immune-compromised. And I think that is going to be the very big challenge we're about to face," she added. (Webmaster's comment: Keep in mind that in America it's always profits first, safety second!)

5-23-19 Coronavirus: New York state daily death toll drop below 100
New York state's daily death toll has dropped below 100 for the first time since late March. A total of 84 people died in the last 24 hours, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Saturday, compared with 109 a day before. During the height of the outbreak in April, more than 1,000 people a day were losing their lives in worst-hit US state. "In my head, I was always looking to get under 100," Mr Cuomo said. "It doesn't do good for any of those 84 families that are feeling the pain," he said at his daily briefing, but added that the drop was a sign of "real progress". Mr Cuomo announced on Friday that groups of up to 10 people could gather "for any lawful purpose" anywhere in the state, including New York City. But, he added: "If you don't have to be with a group of 10 people don't be with a group of 10 people." New York state was once the epicentre of the US coronavirus outbreak, with more than 28,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. The US has the biggest death toll from Covid-19 at 96,000. The UK is second with more than 36,000.

5-23-19 Biden regrets saying black voters considering Trump 'ain't black'
Democratic White House candidate Joe Biden is in damage limitation mode after saying African Americans "ain't black" if they even consider voting for President Donald Trump over him. Gaffe-prone Mr Biden made the remark in an interview on Friday with a prominent black radio host, Charlamagne Tha God, about his outreach to black voters. Mr Biden later expressed regret for the "cavalier" comment. The black vote has been key to the Biden candidacy. Throughout the 18-minute interview, Mr Biden, 77, stressed his longstanding ties to the black community, noting his overwhelming win this year in South Carolina's presidential primary, a state where the Democratic electorate is more than 60% African American. "I won every single county. I won the largest share of the black vote that anybody had, including Barack," he said of President Barack Obama, the country's first African-American president, who picked Mr Biden as his running mate. The presumptive nominee for November's election also "guaranteed" that several black women were being considered to serve as his vice-president. He has already committed to selecting a woman to join him on the Democratic ticket. Toward the end of the interview, a campaign aide interrupted to say the former vice-president was out of time. When an aide for Mr Biden tried to end the interview, Charlamagne protested, saying: "You can't do that to black media." "I do that to white media and black media," Mr Biden replied, adding that his wife was waiting to use their home broadcast studio. Charlamagne urged Mr Biden to return for another interview, saying he had more questions. "If you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't black," Mr Biden responded. (Webmaster's comment: What a colossally stupid remark! We need another Democratic candidate!)

5-23-19 Ramadan: German church opens doors for Muslim prayers
A church in Berlin has opened its doors to Muslim worshippers unable to fit into their mosque under new social distancing rules. Germany allowed religious services to resume on 4 May but worshippers must maintain a distance of 1.5m (5ft). As a result the Dar Assalam mosque in the city's Neukölln district could only hold a fraction of its congregation. But the Martha Lutheran church in Kreuzberg offered to help by hosting Friday prayers at the end of Ramadan. Throughout the month of Ramadan, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from dawn to dusk. Normally families and friends would gather to break their fast and attend communal prayers, but in Berlin - as in countries across the world - this year's celebrations have been affected. "It is a great sign and it brings joy in Ramadan and joy amid this crisis," the mosque's imam told Reuters news agency. "This pandemic has made us a community. Crises bring people get together." "It was a strange feeling because of the musical instruments, the pictures," congregation member Samer Hamdoun said, noting the contrast to Islamic worship. "But when you look, when you forget the small details. This is the house of God in the end." Even the church's pastor took part in the service. "I gave a speech in German," said Monika Matthias. "And during prayer, I could only say yes, yes, yes, because we have the same concerns and we want to learn from you. And it is beautiful to feel that way about each other." (Webmaster's comment: There are many decent people in the world.)

5-23-19 Politics aside, hydroxychloroquine could (maybe) help fight COVID-19
It may not help very sick COVID-19 patients, but tests aim to see if it can prevent infection. President Donald Trump’s announcement that he is taking the drug hydroxychloroquine as a precaution against the coronavirus has once again thrown a decades-old antimalarial drug into the headlines. There’s currently not enough data to say whether the drug can protect people from catching COVID-19 or from getting very ill if they do get infected with the virus. Studies of its use in treating very sick patients have shown mixed results and, in some cases, have led to dangerous side effects. But now, with the president touting hydroxychloroquine even as scientists issue cautions about its use, the drug has found itself at the center of political divides, to the possible detriment of figuring out whether it works. Nevertheless, researchers are busy testing hydroxychloroquine and a related drug called chloroquine to see if they can either prevent infection or keep illness from worsening. Nearly 200 clinical trials are under way or planned around the world to test the drugs, either alone or in combination with other medications. That includes at least 28 trials examining whether either drug can protect healthcare workers and others at high risk of getting COVID-19. Here’s what scientists know about the drugs and their potential. Both are antimalarial drugs that also have well-known antiviral activity against many viruses, including SARS and MERS. At least they work against those viruses in lab dishes. In lab tests, hydroxychloroquine can also stop SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, from infecting cells and decreases replication of viruses that do get inside cells, researchers report March 18 in Cell Reports. A February 4 report in Cell Research found that chloroquine also inhibits the virus.

5-22-19 Trump drug hydroxychloroquine raises death risk in Covid patients, study says
The drug US President Donald Trump said he was taking to ward off Covid-19 actually increases the risk of patients with the disease dying from it, a study in the Lancet has found. The study said there were no benefits to treating patients with the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine. Mr Trump said he was taking the drug despite public health officials warning that it could cause heart problems. The president has repeatedly promoted the drug, against medical advice. Hydroxychloroquine is safe for malaria, and conditions like lupus or arthritis, but no clinical trials have recommended the use of hydroxychloroquine for coronavirus. The Lancet study involved 96,000 coronavirus patients, nearly 15,000 of whom were given hydroxychloroquine - or a related form chloroquine - either alone or with an antibiotic. The study found that the patients were more likely to die in hospital and develop heart rhythm complications than other Covid patients in a comparison group. The death rates of the treated groups were: hydroxychloroquine 18%; chloroquine 16.4%; control group 9%. Those treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine in combination with antibiotics had an even higher death rate. The researchers warned that hydroxychloroquine should not be used outside of clinical trials. Mr Trump says he has not tested positive for Covid-19 and is taking the drug because he thinks it has "positive benefits." A trial is under way to see whether the anti-malarial drug could prevent Covid-19. More than 40,000 healthcare workers from Europe, Africa, Asia and South America who are in contact with patients with the disease will be given the drug as part of the trial. When asked about the Lancet study, White House coronavirus taskforce co-ordinator Dr Deborah Birx said the US Food and Drug Administration had been "very clear" about concerns in using the drug as either a coronavirus prevention or as a treatment course. Dr Marcos Espinal, director of the Pan American Health Organization - part of the World Health Organization - has stressed that no clinical trials have recommended the use of hydroxychloroquine for coronavirus. (Webmaster's comment: Following Trump's advice can kill you!)

5-22-19 Earlier coronavirus lockdown 'could have saved 36,000 lives'
A study has estimated there may have been 36,000 fewer coronavirus-related deaths had the US entered lockdown a week earlier in March. The Columbia University research also estimated that around 83% of deaths could have been avoided if measures had been taken two weeks earlier. It suggested that 54,000 fewer people would have died had cities begun locking down on 1 March. President Trump dismissed the report as a "political hit job". The study, which has not been peer reviewed yet, covers data up to 3 May, at which point there had been just over 65,300 coronavirus-related deaths in the US. There have now been more than 93,400 coronavirus-related deaths in the United States, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The results of the study indicate that stricter measures imposed sooner could have made a dramatic impact. It said the findings "underscore the importance of earlier intervention and aggressive response in controlling" the virus. Mr Trump urged citizens to limit travel on 16 March, five days after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic. Individual states then began lockdown measures at different times, with California and New York state going into lockdown on 19 March and 22 March respectively, while Georgia became one of the last to implement such measures on 3 April. Critics say the Trump administration's flawed and delayed rollout of testing meant states had limited information on the extent of the outbreak in February and early March. The president also downplayed the risk during this period. Asked about the research on Thursday before a visit to Michigan, Mr Trump said: "I was so early - it was earlier than anybody thought." Although the president claimed the study was a political attack on him, the findings also raise questions for other politicians about when they enforced stay-at-home orders. New York was the epicentre of the US outbreak and the state has had more than 28,000 deaths and 360,000 Covid-19 cases. Although New York City schools shut on 15 March, it was another week before a total lockdown was introduced. Asked about the new research, Governor Andrew Cuomo conceded: "If this country knew more and knew it earlier we could have saved many more lives."

5-22-19 Coronavirus: Is it safe to visit US national parks?
National parks are re-opening across the US, and people are overjoyed. After weeks of staying at home, they are desperate to go outdoors. But is it safe? Judah Brass, 19, has been hunkered down in Knoxville, Tennessee, with his parents and brothers and sisters for weeks. But a few days ago, they went for a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains in a park near their house. "Standing in the breeze, I was just so thankful," he says, describing what it was like to see spring flowers and hear the croaking of frogs. "It was freeing." He was one of the first to visit the Great Smoky Mountains park after it had re-opened. The park, along with Yellowstone National Park and many of the other national parks, had been shut because of the pandemic. Park officials were concerned about the virus, and they closed off access to many of the national parks in March. The parks are the country's treasures, showcasing beauty that ranges from the Florida Everglades to California's giant sequoias. With such impressive offerings, the parks attract crowds - last year, more than 4m people visited Yellowstone alone. But the Great Smoky Mountains, which has also reopened, is the busiest - a million visitors each month. It means people who have been cooped up for weeks can now head for the parks and enjoy the outdoors. The president celebrated the opening of the parks in a speech last month, saying that it showed the US had made progress in its effort to fight the virus. "People are going to be very happy," he said. He's right - hikers and others are thrilled at the prospect of returning to the great outdoors. They know that spending time outdoors is good for one's mental, emotional and physical well-being. Science also shows that it helps people at work and allows them to find new ways to solve problems. Shelley Carson, a psychology professor at Harvard University, explains: "Being surrounded by natural beauty helps our ability to be creative." But still hikers and nature lovers, even the most avid among them, are concerned about risks. They are worried about crowds at the park. They wonder if social-distancing guidelines will be followed, and they are not sure if it is safe to be in a place with so many people.

5-22-19 America's coronavirus death toll has been a bipartisan achievement
The United States: proud home of the world's largest prison population, and among rich nations, lowest life expectancy and highest obesity rate. Now we can add the world's largest coronavirus outbreak to our national parade of ignominy — there have been over 5 million confirmed cases around the world and 330,000 deaths, and roughly 30 percent of each have happened in the U.S. Most or all of this carnage could have been prevented. A recent study suggested that if lockdown procedures had been implemented one week earlier than they actually were, about 55 percent of the deaths would have been avoided. Two weeks earlier, and about 80 percent would have been. Then of course, if America had followed the lead of capable countries like Taiwan, Vietnam, or Greece, practically nobody would have died. It's a world-historical failure of governance. The lion's share of blame for this disaster must fall on President Trump, who is responsible for protecting the nation from pandemic threats, and has utterly botched the job from January to today. But he is far from the only failure — the worst outbreak in the country by far happened in New York, a state controlled by the Democratic Party at all levels of government. It is a bipartisan rot that is dissolving America from the inside. It is now obvious that the U.S. national response to the virus itself is by far the worst among rich countries. Indeed, in most of the ways that matter there has been no response. Trump frittered away a critical two months when the virus was first beginning to spread, denying it was problem and insisting it would just go away, and when states locked themselves down in a justifiable panic, frittered away the following two months and counting. There has been no coordinated national-level purchases of medical equipment and protective gear, no full-scale national testing program, no national quarantine facilities, no national contract-tracing effort, and no sign whatsoever Trump is ever going to set any of that up. Indeed, perhaps the most substantial action of the Trump administration — aside from fueling anti-lockdown protests from crack-brained maniacs — has been randomly confiscating shipments of protective equipment bought by states and hospitals, possibly so that Jared Kushner can use them for political patronage. We are now four months into the pandemic and barely in a better position to control it than when we started. Now, fragments of a pandemic control system have been set up in most places, but that is almost entirely the result of state, local, and private efforts. What little positive that has been done at the national level has been the remaining shreds of the federal bureaucracy that Trump hasn't torn up, or filled with idiot cronies, operating on autopilot. The efforts have been haphazard and badly incomplete. Trump is constitutionally incapable of dealing with a viral pandemic. His only political skill is shameless demagoguery: whipping his supporters into a raging froth by lying, downplaying problems, blaming others, or boosting quack miracle cures. The only thing that is real to him is himself, and the only thing he truly cares about is how he looks on television. One could no more expect him to respond rationally to such a crisis than one could expect a toddler to engineer the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge. But New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio are not unhinged crackpots, and they still enabled, through their inaction, one of the worst regional coronavirus outbreaks in the world. As Charles Duhigg writes at The New Yorker, as the local epidemic gathered strength, they squabbled with their scientific advisers and each other, resisting the need for immediate lockdown measures until it was too late. These two men are just incompetent fools, leavened with a large helping of malevolence in Cuomo's case. After horribly botching the crisis, the governor leveraged the crisis to slash Medicaid, and now appears to be considering an attack on New York's public school system.

5-22-19 Trump removes mask before facing cameras at car factory
President Donald Trump says he wore a mask in a "back area" during a factory tour in Michigan, but removed it before facing the cameras. He told reporters he took off the facial covering at the Ford car plant because he "didn't want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it", and he was about to make a speech. Despite Michigan's attorney general urging the president to comply with health guidelines, the president insisted it was unnecessary because he is regularly tested for coronavirus. (Webmaster's comment: But regular testing does nothing to prevent you from catching the virus!)

5-22-19 The constitutional immune system kicks in
All 50 states have begun to return to normal life. Measures to curtail the spread of COVID-19 are gradually lifting as various milestones are met, and though ordinary economic and social activity is still weeks or months away, we're moving — however haltingly and with much bickering, hyperbole, and mutual recrimination — in that very welcome direction. We're also going to court, with suits against lockdowns appearing on the docket in multiple states. This is good news, even if, like me, you've generally supported a robust public health response to this pandemic. We need this accountability, and we need it now, as fears rise about state overreach and the risk of permanent changes to our governance and society. In the early days of COVID-19, legal experts predicted court challenges to stay-at-home orders and distancing mandates would generally fail. "The idea that you're going to walk into court and object vehemently and successfully against known, proven public health social distancing measures that are being employed currently is not a winner," Arizona State University law professor James Hodge told Bloomberg Law in March. That view wasn't unwarranted, as police power, the authority under which states and municipalities have issued pandemic decrees, has historically permitted quarantines, travel restrictions, and the like to control epidemics. In New York City's 1916 polio epidemic, for example, families with infections were quarantined and publicly identified; movie theaters and other public gathering spaces were closed; and neighboring locales forbid travel from affected areas. Philadelphia took similar steps when afflicted with yellow fever in 1793 (tragically, quarantine was useless for a disease doctors did not yet realize was spread by mosquitoes). Cato Institute legal scholar Walter Olson reports he has been unable to find a single successful court challenge to "prohibition on public assemblies and closure of businesses" commonly used to fight the 1918 flu epidemic. And, in an extreme case, "Typhoid Mary" Mallon was essentially imprisoned for the final three decades of her life after she repeatedly refused to take steps to stop spreading her deadly infection. But police power has never been unlimited in America. So, as Texas Supreme Court Justice James Blacklock wrote at the beginning of this month with the concurrence of several colleagues, the longer this pandemic lasts and the more we know about the virus, the less legal durability sweeping public health measures will have. "As more becomes known about the threat and about the less restrictive, more targeted ways to respond to it, continued burdens on constitutional liberties may not survive judicial scrutiny," Blacklock said. Some of those burdens have already succumbed. A state judge on Wednesday issued an injunction against Ohio's stay-at-home directive as it applies to gyms and health clubs, a group of which have brought suit. The ruling raised multiple objections to the order, which was found to exceed the "quarantine and isolation" authority of the Ohio Department of Health because it went well beyond the definitions of quarantine and isolation in Ohio law. The Health Department's director "has acted in an impermissibly arbitrary, unreasonable, and oppressive manner and without any procedural safeguards," the decision held.

5-22-19 Coronavirus: Is Latin America the next epicentre?
Coronavirus cases have been rising sharply in many Latin American countries, causing increasing concern to regional health authorities. Brazil has more than 300,000 confirmed cases - the third highest in the world. Other countries in the region, including Mexico, Chile and Peru, are also struggling to contain major outbreaks. With new confirmed cases in the US plateauing and many European countries reporting declining numbers, is Latin America on course to become the new epicentre of the pandemic? The first confirmed case in Latin America was identified in Brazil on 26 February, although researchers have said there are indications that there were cases there as early as January. Coronavirus has since spread to every country in the region. More than 600,000 cases have been recorded, and more than 30,000 people have died, according to the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. This is far fewer cases and deaths than in Europe and the US, but testing is nowhere near as widespread and deaths may be under-reported. Latin America's two most populous nations, Mexico and Brazil, have seen the highest number of deaths, more than 6,000 and 20,000 respectively. And researchers say both could be significantly under-reporting deaths, with many cases going undiagnosed. Peru has reported the 12th highest number of cases in the world with more than 100,000 confirmed - which is more than China. And Chile is reporting thousands of new coronavirus cases each day, with more than 500 people dead. Ecuador has seen the most deaths per capita in the region - with around 17 per 100,000 people. Daily cases in Ecuador have been dropping, but this is not the trend in many other countries in the region. Unlike in the US and most countries in Europe, many countries in Latin America are seeing their daily cases and deaths increase. Looking at Brazil, Mexico and Peru compared to the worst hit countries in Europe in terms of deaths - the UK, Italy and France - you can see daily deaths are growing in Latin American nations as they drop elsewhere. (Webmaster's comment: It's countries with the most macho males that have been hit the worse.)

5-21-19 Calls to US poison control centres jump during pandemic
More than 3,600 cases of disinfectant exposure were reported in April to the US poison control centres compared to 1,676 in February. Experts warn against using cleaning products beyond their intended use, such as wiping down groceries. Dr Kelly Johnson-Arbor from the National Capital Poison Center said there was no medical reason to be "drinking or bathing in disinfectants". In April, President Trump seemed to suggest injecting bleach as way of "cleaning" Covid-19 from the inside but appeared to recant the following day, telling journalists: "I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen." (Webmaster's comment: Trump is responsible for these cases and any that have died!)

5-21-19 Coronavirus: US workers seeking jobless aid near 40 million
A further 2.4 million Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, despite hopes that easing lockdown restrictions would help restart the US economy. The new filings brought the total since mid-March to roughly 38.6 million - almost a quarter of the workforce. The weekly figures have declined since peaking at almost 6.9 million at the end of March but remain high. The number of people remaining on benefits also continues to grow. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned this week that the US risked "permanent damage" if the lockdowns continued. All 50 states in the US have started to reopen but it is not clear whether simply easing restrictions will prompt activity to rebound. In the week ending 16 May, about 2.2 million people sought unemployment benefits under the government's pandemic relief programme, which expanded eligibility to people such as gig economy workers. Their numbers, which are reported separately from the regular figures, are likely to grow as more states implement the programme. "This is so tragic it is almost unfathomable," Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton, wrote on Twitter. Employers in the US cut more than 20 million jobs last month, sending the official unemployment rate to 14.7%, a sharp rise from 50-year lows of about 3.5% seen as recently as February. Economists have warned that the rate is likely to worsen and remain elevated for several years. While many of the unemployed said they believed their layoffs were temporary, a recent study estimated that more than 40% of recent pandemic job cuts are likely to be permanent. Companies such as Uber are among the firms that have announced significant job cuts in recent weeks, as they prepare for a prolonged slowdown. Retailers have also unveiled scores of permanent shop closures, with Victoria's Secret this week saying it would close some 250 locations in North America, with more expected. "Overall there is little evidence that the reopening of the economy has, as yet, led to any sudden snap back in employment," said Paul Ashworth, chief US economist at Capital Economics.

5-21-19 Coronavirus: Hydroxychloroquine trial begins in the UK
A trial to see whether two anti-malarial drugs could prevent Covid-19 has begun in Brighton and Oxford. Chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine or a placebo will be given to more than 40,000 healthcare workers from Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. All the participants are staff who are in contact with Covid-19 patients. US President Donald Trump was criticised this week after he said he had been taking hydroxychloroquine, despite warnings it might be unsafe. The first UK participants in the global trial are being enrolled on Thursday at the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals and the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. They will be given either hydroxychloroquine or a placebo for three months. At sites in Asia, participants will be given chloroquine or a placebo. These are the first of a planned 25 UK sites, with results expected by the end of the year. The trial is open to anyone delivering direct care to coronavirus patients in the UK, as long as they have not been diagnosed with Covid-19. It will test whether the drugs can prevent healthcare workers exposed to the virus from contracting it. One of the study's leaders, Prof Nicholas White at the University of Oxford said: "We really do not know if chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine are beneficial or harmful against Covid-19." But, he said, a randomised controlled trial such as this one, where neither the participant nor the researchers know who has been given the drug or a placebo, was the best way to find out. "A widely available, safe and effective vaccine may be a long way off," said Prof Martin Llewelyn from Brighton and Sussex Medical School, who is also leading the study. "If drugs as well-tolerated as chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine could reduce the chances of catching Covid-19, this would be incredibly valuable." The drugs can reduce fever and inflammation and are used as both a prevention and a treatment for malaria. Hydroxychloroquine regulates the body's immune response and is also used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and Lupus - an inflammatory disease caused by an overactive immune system.

5-21-19 Coronavirus: Which countries does US think handled it best?
Americans have praise for South Korea and Germany's handling of the coronavirus pandemic but give poor marks to Italy and China. What other attitudes do Americans hold when it comes to the global response to the outbreak? The Washington-based Pew Research Center, a public opinion polling and research organisation, took the temperature on how Americans think other countries have handled the pandemic. Pew surveyed 10,957 US adults from 29 April to 5 May for the poll. When it comes to the response to the global coronavirus pandemic, a majority of Americans give high marks to South Korea and Germany - in fact higher marks than they gave their own country. A majority of respondents gave both those countries a rating of either "good" or "excellent" for their efforts. Just under 50% of respondents said the same about the US response. South Korea's rapid ability to react to the virus spread and to set up a testing network has made the country a role model as other nations look to battle their own coronavirus outbreaks - though officials have had to respond to recent outbreaks linked to nightclubs and bars. Germany has also won praise for its response to the outbreak. Mass testing and effective lockdown restrictions have helped keep the death toll far lower than in other European countries, though infection rates have increased since its lockdown measures were eased. Americans placed the UK in the middle of the pack, roughly divided over its response. In contrast, a majority of Americans say China and Italy have not handled the outbreak well. In March, Italy was the worst-hit country by the pandemic after China. The US, which now has over 1.5 million known cases, overtook Italy's death toll in mid-April. An overwhelming majority of Americans say the US can learn from other countries about ways to slow the spread of the virus.

5-21-19 Emptier US roads more lethal in coronavirus pandemic, report says
US roads have become more lethal even though Americans are driving less due to coronavirus quarantine and stay-at-home orders, a new report has found. Early data indicate a year-on-year 14% jump in fatality rates per distance driven in March, the document by the National Safety Council (NSC) says. The number of miles driven during the month dropped by more than 18%. However, the overall number of roadway deaths across the US in March fell by 8% to 2,690. Deaths for the current year have so far totalled 8,460. The mileage death rate per 100 million vehicle miles driven was 1.22 in March compared with 1.07 in March 2019, the NSC report said. "Disturbingly, we have open lanes of traffic and an apparent open season on reckless driving," said NSC President Lorraine M Martin. "Right now, in the midst of a global pandemic and crisis, we should take it as our civic duty to drive safely. "If we won't do it for ourselves, we should do it for our first responders, our law enforcement and our healthcare workers, who are rightly focused on coronavirus patients and should not be overwhelmed by preventable car crashes," Ms Martin said. Data suggested that the increase in speeding was one of the key factors explaining the alarming rise in the death rate, the NSC said. It also said relaxing driving licence requirements for teenagers in some states might have been a contributing factor. The NSC - a non-profit organisation chartered by US Congress - counts a fatality as anyone involved in a motor vehicle accident: drivers, passengers, pedestrians and cyclists. The estimated cost of motor-vehicle deaths, injuries, and property damage through March was $95.4bn (£78bn), the report said.

5-21-19 Coronavirus: Alarm as crowds flock to European beaches
A surge in visitors to beaches in northern Europe after coronavirus lockdowns were eased and temperatures rose has alarmed officials and experts. Three towns in north-western France shut their beaches on Wednesday because of the "unacceptable" failure of people to observe social-distancing rules. Municipalities in the Netherlands urged German tourists not to visit. And in England, the town council in Southend said it might take action after sunseekers flocked there. The number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 around the world has now passed five million, but the number of new infections has been falling across most of Europe. European countries had reported 1.74 million cases and 164,349 deaths as of Wednesday, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Those with the most fatalities are the UK, Italy, France, Spain and Belgium. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that there is "still a long way to go in this pandemic", and called on people in countries where restrictions are being eased to continue to adapt their behaviour to minimise transmission of Covid-19. The authorities in France reopened hundreds of beaches last weekend for running, swimming and fishing, but not for sunbathing or picnicking. On Wednesday evening, the prefecture of Morbihan, in Brittany, said beaches in five municipalities had been closed because of "unacceptable behaviour" by visitors in recent days, including incivility and ignoring social distancing. Several municipalities in the Netherlands meanwhile called on German tourists not to cross the border for a trip during the Ascension Day public holiday on Thursday. The Zeeland Safety Region temporarily closed roads in seaside town of Vlissingen to vehicles, while the Limburg-Noord Safety Region warned that it would seek to prevent crowding in its town centres and shopping malls by fining people who violated social distancing and other rules. People also headed to beaches across England on Wednesday on the hottest day of the year so far, a week after lockdown rules were eased. But people in England should not travel to Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, where the public is still being told to avoid any travel which is not essential. A care worker's tweets expressing concern at the pictures from Southend-on-Sea, in Essex, were shared 20,000 times.

5-20-19 Independent scientists urge UK government to delay reopening schools
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. Delaying the reopening of primary schools in England on 1 June by two weeks could halve the risk to each child of being exposed to an infectious classmate, according to a report by the Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, a recently-formed group of scientists that is seeking to provide alternative advice to the UK government. (Webmaster's comment: The United States should do the same.) The group say that modelling suggests that waiting until September would reduce this risk further, to less than the risk to children of road traffic accidents. The group is chaired by former government chief scientific advisor David King and is separate from the official SAGE committee that advises the UK government. “The crucial factor allowing school reopening around the world has been the presence of well-functioning local test, trace and isolate protocols – something that is now accepted will not be in place in England by early June,” the report says. It adds that before schools can reopen, it is important to confirm that daily new coronavirus infections are decreasing and that schools have access to personal protective equipment. However, the models used by the independent group to calculate the risk to children have not yet been published in detail. Meanwhile, documents released by the official SAGE committee and the government today revealed that the UK’s Department of Education did not model the impact of schools in England reopening on 1 June as part of work in which the department examined nine possible scenarios relating to schools for SAGE. An observational study published today in The Lancet found no evidence that either of the antimalarial drugs hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine are beneficial for covid-19. The study also suggests that using these drugs to treat covid-19 patients may be harmful, although randomised controlled trials are needed to confirm this. Several trials are currently underway.

5-20-19 UK needs contact strategy to prevent second wave of covid-19
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 NHS Confederation, a membership body that represents people who commission or provide NHS services, has warned of the urgent need for a UK contact tracing strategy. “Our members are concerned that unless there is a clear strategy, then there must be a greater risk of a second wave of infections and serious health consequences,” chief executive Niall Dickson wrote in a letter sent to the UK’s health and social care minister Matt Hancock yesterday. “We would therefore urge you to produce such a strategy with a clear implementation plan ahead of any further easing of the lockdown.” Dickson welcomed Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new commitment to trace 10,000 new coronavirus cases per day by 1 June, adding that “delivery and implementation will be critical, and we await further details.” However, he said that a strategy for tracing contacts “should have been in place much sooner”. An international randomised controlled trial investigating whether hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine can prevent people becoming infected with coronavirus began in the UK today. More than 40,000 healthcare workers in Europe, Africa, Asia and South America who regularly come into contact with covid-19 patients will receive either hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine or a placebo over the next three months. There is no clear evidence that either of these drugs are useful for covid-19, but Brazil’s health ministry issued new guidelines yesterday suggesting doses for their use in the treatment of coronavirus. The rapid spread of coronavirus in the southern hemisphere means the US is likely to see a second flare up in the winter, according to Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The worldwide number of confirmed coronavirus cases passed 5 million today, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 328,000 people around the world are known to have died from covid-19. Less than half of people aged 18 to 29 say they are completely complying with the UK government’s social distancing rules, according to an ongoing online survey of more than 90,000 people in the UK by researchers at University College London. Self-reported levels of complete compliance were highest among people over the age of 60 at about 65 per cent. The average across all age groups was less than 60 per cent.

5-20-19 Covid-19 news: UK aims to recruit 25,000 contact tracers by June
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. UK prime minister Boris Johnson told MPs today that he is confident that the government will have recruited 25,000 coronavirus contact tracers by the start of June, which he says will provide the capacity to trace the contacts of 10,000 new coronavirus cases per day. Johnson said 24,000 contact tracers have already been recruited. In April, health secretary Matt Hancock said the government hoped to recruit 18,000 contact tracers by mid-May, to coincide with the planned release of the NHS covid-19 contact tracing app. But the widespread release of the app, currently being trialled on the Isle of Wight, has now been delayed until June. There are also ongoing concerns about privacy. In a recent report, security researchers wrote that there should be a legal requirement that all data collected by the app is deleted at the end of the coronavirus crisis, rather than being anonymised or repurposed. The UK government prioritised coronavirus testing in hospitals over care homes because of limited availability of tests, the justice secretary Robert Buckland told Sky News today. “We needed to make a choice,” he said. According to the Office for National Statistics, there were more than 14,000 deaths involving covid-19 in care home residents in England between 13 April and 15 May. The UK government’s tally of daily coronavirus tests conducted includes diagnostic tests being performed by researchers to monitor the spread of coronavirus, rather than to confirm suspected cases. When these monitoring tests (and testing kits sent out to people by post) are discounted, only 69,900 tests were carried out on 15 May compared to the government’s reported 136,486. The government’s daily testing target is 100,000. The UK government’s policy to reopen primary schools in England on 1 June will not be followed by at least 18 local authorities, which have indicated they won’t force schools in their area to reopen. A government spokesperson told The Guardian that there won’t be sanctions for councils overseeing schools that don’t reopen. Shops and restaurants reopened today in the US state of Connecticut, the last state to partially ease coronavirus restrictions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published detailed guidelines on easing restrictions today, including advice for children at school to eat lunches in classrooms, buses to leave every other row empty and face coverings to be used when physical distancing is not possible.

5-20-19 Coronavirus and covid-19: Your questions answered
Twelve questions answered. Follow the link.

  1. Why do people without underlying health conditions get seriously ill from covid-19?
  2. Are you protected if you have been infected by a different coronavirus?
  3. Do people who survive covid-19 become immune to the virus?
  4. Can vitamin D supplements improve our immune response to covid-19?
  5. Will social distancing measures have an effect on other infections, like flu and measles?
  6. What is the risk of catching the virus from fresh produce?
  7. Are toilets and sewage systems an infection risk?
  8. What is more likely – a successful vaccine, or an effective drug?
  9. Could antibodies from recovered patients be used as a treatment for covid-19?
  10. You can take pills to cut your risk of catching HIV – could something similar be made against the coronavirus?
  11. Will countries that successfully contain the virus refuse visitors from countries that don’t?
  12. Will covid-19 always be with us or can it be eradicated?

5-20-19 Trump says US topping world virus cases is 'badge of honour'
President Donald Trump has argued it is "a badge of honour" that the US has the world's highest number of confirmed Covid-19 infections. "I look at that as, in a certain respect, as being a good thing because it means our testing is much better," he said at the White House. The US has 1.5 million coronavirus cases and nearly 92,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. In second place is Russia, with nearly 300,000 confirmed cases. On Monday, Mr Trump was hosting his first cabinet meeting since the US outbreak began. "By the way," he told reporters, "you know when you say that we lead in cases, that's because we have more testing than anybody else." "So when we have a lot of cases," he continued, "I don't look at that as a bad thing, I look at that as, in a certain respect, as being a good thing because it means our testing is much better." He added: "So I view it as a badge of honour. Really, it's a badge of honour. (Webmaster's comment: Trump is insane!) "It's a great tribute to the testing and all of the work that a lot of professionals have done." According to the Centers for Disease Control, a federal agency, the US had conducted 12.6m coronavirus tests by Tuesday. Mr Trump was responding to a question about whether he was considering a travel ban on Latin America, Brazil in particular. That country now has the third highest number of confirmed cases, following the US and Russia. The Democratic National Committee criticised the Republican president's comments, tweeting that the 1.5 million Covid-19 cases in the US represented "a complete failure of leadership". While the US has carried out more tests by volume than any other country, it is not first in the world on a per capita basis, according to Our World in Data, a scientific publication based at Oxford University. Its chart ranks the US as 16th globally in terms of tests per 1,000 people, ahead of South Korea, but behind the likes of Iceland, New Zealand, Russia and Canada. Over the past week, the US has been conducting between 300,000 and 400,000 tests daily, according to the Covid Tracking Project, a volunteer-led effort. But Harvard Global Health Institute director Ashish Jha last week told a congressional hearing: "The US needs more than 900,000 tests every day to safely open up again. We are doing about a third of that."

5-20-19 How can countries know when it’s safe to ease coronavirus lockdowns?
By April this year, around half of the world’s population was under some kind of lockdown. Such restrictions helped slow the spread of the coronavirus. As new cases decline in many places, countries are beginning to ease restrictions. How can we know it is safe to do so? The World Health Organization’s principal recommendation is that, in order to move to a sustainable level of virus transmission, countries should have the spread of the virus under control. In practice, this means seeing a robust decline in the number of cases. The WHO also advises that countries use testing and contact tracing to identify and isolate new cases of covid-19. Without screening and isolation, easing restrictions will inevitably lead to the number of new infections rising again. The UK government appears to be on course to restart contact tracing imminently, after controversially abandoning it in March, although details are scarce. Yet to ease restrictions, a country’s number of cases also needs to be at a manageable level, says Christina Pagel at University College London. A lot of attention has been paid to the R, or reproduction number: the number of people each person with the virus is likely to infect. If this is above one, cases will continue to rise exponentially, so the aim is to keep it below this. But that alone isn’t enough, says Pagel. “Say you have an R of just less than one. That will give you a stable level of infection,” says Pagel. “But if that stable level of infection is thousands a day, that’s not really going to help you – you’re going to end up with a really burdened health system.” The UK government reported 2684 positive test results on 18 May, and 2412 on 19 May. Even when new case numbers are low, lifting restrictions will always carry a risk of a second wave of infections. South Korea brought its outbreak under control with a stringent policy of testing, isolation and contact tracing. In recent weeks, the country was reporting only around 10 new cases per day. However, following eased restrictions from 6 May, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week confirmed 102 new cases linked to nightclubs in Seoul. As a result, some clubs and bars have been ordered to close again.

5-20-19 The start-up economy is fundamentally broken. The virus will make it worse.
magine this: The year is 2013. You've got 25 billion dollars you'd like to flush down the toilet, but your personal commode simply can't handle an entire cargo plane full of 100-dollar bills. Luckily for you, Uber is there — because $25 billion is about what the company has lost since that date. From 2013-2018 they lost $14 billion; in 2019 a further $8.5 billion; and in the first quarter of 2020 another $2.9 billion. This kind of money-torching start-up has taken root all over the economy. Uber competitor Lyft, the mattress company Casper, and dozens of other companies are following the same strategy. Some have hit a rough patch — the WeWork property-leasing money pit has lost most of its value, and Uber's taxi business is struggling thanks to the coronavirus. But Uber also recently proposed an acquisition of delivery service Grubhub, which would make it the largest player in the restaurant delivery middleman market (ahead of Doordash, which also loses gobs of money). Delivery for both restaurants and grocery stores are surging due to the pandemic, though unsurprisingly most such deliveries are still unprofitable. These companies generally treat both their suppliers and their workers like crap, but what is less noticed is that their "business model" is undermining one of the basic premises of capitalism — the price system. The process may only accelerate thanks to the pandemic. The libertarian economist Friedrich von Hayek once wrote a soaring paean to market prices as the best possible way of allocating resources. The details of economic production are continually changing, and every person has differing preferences as to what they want. So, he argued, prices were the only way that all that widely-dispersed information could be processed in an efficient and accurate way. Through the "marvel" of the price system, news about the scarcity of some raw material could be known "without an order being issued, without more than perhaps a handful of people knowing the cause," he wrote. That leads to "tens of thousands of people whose identity could not be ascertained by months of investigation [using] the material or its products more sparingly[.]" That in turn alters people's behavior regarding other goods that become relatively cheaper. Now, Hayek was an evidence-proof zealot and his essay is a political tract attempting to rule out any sort of government economic planning by definition. But the interesting thing for today's circumstances is how the plague of loss-making start-ups destroys all that he likes about the price system. If a company sells below cost, then the entire system of preference aggregation is turned on its head, because customers have inaccurate information about the relative costs of different goods and services. In 2015 an Uber passenger paid only 41 percent of the cost of the real resources (mainly labor of the driver, plus use of his or her car) required to make the ride happen, while competitors or other businesses who do not have investor cash to set on fire appear expensive by comparison.

5-20-19 Coronavirus: Virus outbreaks push Germany to clean up abattoirs
Germany has agreed a proposal to ban the use of temporary workers at slaughterhouses following a spate of coronavirus infections. Hundreds of people working at abattoirs across Germany and France have tested positive for Covid-19 in recent weeks. Many workers have arrived from Romania on flights chartered by farmers. Health experts are looking at possible reasons for the outbreaks, including overcrowded accommodation and cold conditions at processing facilities. On Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet agreed a draft proposal preventing subcontractors - largely migrant workers - from processing meat at plants from January 2021. Any violation of the new rules by abattoir owners could result in a fine of up to €30,000 (£26,800; $32,900), the proposal states. Countries across Europe started closing their borders to non-essential travel and reinstating checkpoints in March, to try to limit the spread of coronavirus. However, European farm workers - largely from Romania - are among the few permitted to travel. As many as 30,000 Romanians have been flown to Germany to work in the food industry. The issue of poor working conditions in German meat-packing factories was raised after a cluster of coronavirus infections were recorded at a slaughterhouse in the western German city of Münster over the weekend. At another slaughterhouse in Coesfeld, North Rhine-Westphalia, more than 260 workers - many living in shared accommodation - tested positive for the virus. Cases are also increasing in western France, where more than 100 infections were recently reported at two separate slaughterhouses. "The circumstances we are going through reveal a number of systemic problems that we haven't addressed properly," Romania's labour minister, Violeta Alexandru, told Reuters news agency following a meeting with her German counterpart Hubertus Heil.

5-20-19 Coronavirus: Spain tightens mask rules for all older than five
Wearing masks is being made compulsory in Spain both indoors and out in public if social distancing is not possible. Only children under six and people with health issues are exempt from the law, which comes into force on Thursday. Many European countries have now made wearing masks a requirement on public transport but the Spanish decree goes further. Spain has seen one of the worst Covid-19 outbreaks in Europe but is now easing the lockdown gradually. It already requires the wearing of masks on public transport and is now strengthening the rules across the population. Spain has reported almost 28,000 deaths and 232,000 infections since March but the rate of infection has declined. Spain had imposed some of the toughest measures on the continent, including keeping children indoors for six weeks. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez addressed parliament on Wednesday ahead of a vote on extending the state of alert for two more weeks. The decree states: "Using masks will be compulsory on the street, in open spaces and any closed place of public use, when it is not possible to maintain a safe distance of at least two metres (6.5ft)." While children under six are not required to wear masks, all between the ages of three and five are recommended to wear them. According to El País, that means 45 million people will now have to wear a mask and another 1.3 million will be urged to. The law underlines that it is following World Health Organization recommendations to minimise infection in closed and public places where there is a large concentration of people. It says wearing masks is justified as it blocks the transmission of infected droplets in areas where safe distances cannot be guaranteed. You are exempt if you have a respiratory illness or another health issue or disability that makes wearing a mask impossible.

5-19-19 Trump offers no commitment to wear mask at Ford factory
In a cabinet meeting, President Donald Trump was asked if he would wear a mask when visiting the Ford Motor Company factory on Thursday. In a cabinet meeting, President Donald Trump was asked if he would wear a mask when visiting the Ford Motor Company factory on Thursday. Ford officials said earlier on Tuesday they would insist the president wear a mask during his visit to the plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Later in the day, a company spokeswoman said Ford would defer to the White House on the matter. (Webmaster's comment: Fear of the man in power!)

5-19-19 UK government advised to ‘urgently’ build up contact tracing capacity
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 House of Commons science and technology committee has made recommendations to the government based on evidence from its on-going inquiry into the role of science in the country’s pandemic response. These include a call for the government to “urgently” build up capacity for contact tracing. The committee emphasised the importance of contact tracing in easing UK lockdown measures and preventing a second wave of infections. The committee also recommended that the government be more transparent about the scientific advice it receives, asking that the published list of Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) members be updated regularly. They also suggested the government set out a plan for tackling infections spread by people who do not have any covid-19 symptoms, and called for the systematic recording of the ethnicity of everyone who dies from the disease. The committee also urged the government to publish its rationale for concentrating coronavirus testing in a limited number of Public Health England laboratories, rather than making use of testing capacity at a large number of public, private, university and research institute labs. “Greater transparency around scientific advice; putting capacity in place in advance of need, such as in testing and vaccines; collecting more data earlier and learning from other countries’ approaches are some of the early lessons of this pandemic that are relevant to further decisions that will need to be taken during the weeks and months ahead,” said the committee’s chair, MP Greg Clark. The number of people claiming unemployment benefits in the UK rose to 2.1 million people in April, up from 1.2 million in March, according to the Office for National Statistics. April was the first full month of coronavirus social distancing restrictions in the UK. People on the government furlough scheme were not included in the total. In a letter to the World Health Organization (WHO), US president Donald Trump accused the organisation of being a “puppet of China” and said he would permanently withdraw funding unless it committed to “substantive improvements”. US health secretary Alex Azar told the UN’s world health assembly today that the WHO’s response to the pandemic had “cost many lives.” Zhao Lijan, a spokesperson from China’s foreign ministry, said the US was trying to use China to shift the blame for its own mishandling of the crisis. Today China’s president Xi Jinping pledged $2 billion to the WHO over two years to help fight coronavirus. At a meeting of restaurant executives yesterday, Trump told reporters he is taking the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine to protect himself from the coronavirus. There is no evidence that the drug can protect people from getting infected and the drug can have dangerous side effects.

5-19-19 Coronavirus: Trump says he is taking unproven drug hydroxychloroquine
US President Donald Trump has said he is taking hydroxychloroquine to ward off coronavirus, despite public health officials warning it may be unsafe. Speaking at the White House, he told reporters he started taking the malaria and lupus medication recently. "I'm taking it for about a week and a half now and I'm still here, I'm still here," was his surprise announcement. There is no evidence hydroxychloroquine can fight coronavirus, and regulators warn the drug may cause heart problems. The 73-year-old president was hosting a meeting devoted to the struggling restaurant industry on Monday, when he caught reporters unawares by revealing he was taking the drug. "You'd be surprised at how many people are taking it, especially the frontline workers before you catch it, the frontline workers, many, many are taking it," he told reporters. "I happen to be taking it." Asked what was his evidence of hydroxychloroquine's positive benefits, Mr Trump said: "Here's my evidence: I get a lot of positive calls about it." He added: "I've heard a lot of good stories [about hydroxychloroquine] and if it's not good, I'll tell you right I'm not going to get hurt by it." Though some people in the White House have tested positive for coronavirus, the president said again on Monday he had "zero symptoms" and was being tested frequently. He added that he had been taking a daily zinc supplement and received a single dose of azithromycin, an antibiotic meant to prevent infection. When asked whether the White House physician had recommended he start taking the disputed remedy, Mr Trump said he himself had requested it. Dr Sean Conley, physician to the president, said in a statement issued through the White House later on Monday that Mr Trump was in "very good health" and "symptom-free". (Webmaster's comment: Never take the word of a proven liar for anything!)

5-19-19 The snake oil salesman cometh
3 theories for why Trump is still promoting hydroxychloroquine. President Trump has always been a snake oil salesman. But now we know he's not just selling the stuff, he's taking it himself.At least, that's what we're supposed to think. Trump on Monday told reporters that he was taking hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malarial drug he has pushed for months — against the advice and wisdom of government experts — as a possible "game changing" treatment for the COVID-19 disease that has shut down much of the world. "I'm not going to get hurt by it," Trump said, despite evidence that the drug can produce serious side effects — including death — and has little or no benefit to patients suffering from the coronavirus. The backlash and confusion was swift. Even Fox News' Neil Cavuto was so alarmed by the president's statement that he went on air to plead with viewers not to follow Trump's example. "If you are in a risky population here, and you are taking this as a preventative treatment ... it will kill you," Cavuto said. "I cannot stress enough. This will kill you." Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) went a step further, expressing concern on CNN that Trump was endangering his health because he is already "morbidly obese." Trump infamously can never admit when he is wrong — the government purchased more than 29 million doses of the drug, a presidential "accomplishment" that turned sour as the negative studies started to stack up — but it seems unlikely he would risk his own life to make a point. So what's going on? To contemplate this question is to dive into Trump's tricky relationship with the truth and the power of his own self-regard. Here are three possibilities. Maybe he's lying. There is always a reason to approach Trump's claims with skepticism. After all, this president lies about everything. Yes, the White House on Monday furnished a note from his doctor saying the two had agreed that "the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the risks." But Trump's doctors — like their patient — haven't always been reliable interpreters of reality. On the surface, Monday's revelation simply seems unbelievable. "Trump is either unnecessarily taking hydroxychloroquine, a drug which can cause hallucinations and heart failure," Vox's Aaron Rupar noted on Twitter, "or he's irresponsibly lying about it." The president has frequently warned — in an economic context — that cures should not be worse than the disease. Trump is notoriously inconsistent, but taking chloroquine would show serious disregard for his own advice, particularly if (as we have been told) he hasn't even tested positive for the virus. And Trump is not above creating a diversion. Until he revealed his alleged drug regimen on Monday, the top story of the day was his announced firing of the State Department's inspector general — a clear attack on the systems designed to curb executive branch corruption and waste. Suddenly, the president's choice of pharmaceuticals dominated the airwaves and headlines. Pretty convenient.

5-19-19 Coronavirus and hydroxychloroquine: Is there evidence it works?
US President Donald Trump has said he's taking the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a preventative measure against Covid-19, although scientists have warned about side effects. Studies are underway to examine if hydroxychloroquine (and a similar drug chloroquine) are effective against the coronavirus. We've looked at what we know so far about these drugs. The World Health Organization has said it's concerned by reports of individuals self-medicating and causing themselves serious harm. These safety concerns have been echoed by a former top US health official. Dr Rick Bright, who was removed from his post in April leading the government's vaccine development efforts, says President Trump's focus on these drugs has been "extremely distracting to dozens of federal scientists". And the US Food and Drugs Administration, which granted emergency approval for using them in certain settings only, has also warned about possible side effects. President Trump has previously referred to the potential of hydroxychloroquine in White House briefings. At a press conference in April, he said: "What do you have to lose? Take it." And Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro claimed in a video that "hydroxychloroquine is working in all places", although that was subsequently removed by Facebook for breaching its misinformation guidelines. The publicity given to these drugs led to a global surge in demand for them. Following Mr Trump's comments in late March, there was a sharp increase reported in prescriptions in the US for both chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. Tablets containing chloroquine have long been used in the treatment of malaria to reduce fever and inflammation, and the hope is that they can also work against the virus that causes Covid-19. There are ongoing trials in various countries on using the drugs to prevent the illness. As part of these studies, frontline workers who are highly exposed to the virus are taking it as a prophylactic.

5-19-19 Pompeo denies inspector general fired as payback for investigation
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has denied seeking to oust the state department's independent watchdog in "retaliation" for an investigation. President Donald Trump fired Steve Linick, the agency's inspector general, on Friday night. He had been investigating Mr Pompeo's alleged use of government staff for personal errands, US media reported. It emerged on Monday he was also scrutinising a Trump administration Saudi arms deal. He is the fourth inspector general (IG) to be fired by Mr Trump in four weeks, and the move sparked outcry from Democrats, who claimed Mr Linick was fired for political reasons. Mr Pompeo confirmed that he had recommended Mr Linick's removal, but said he did not know that the inspector general was investigating him. "I'm not briefed on it. I usually see these investigations in final draft form 24 hours, 48 hours before the IG is prepared to release them," he told the Washington Post on Monday. "So it's simply not possible for this to be an act of retaliation. End of story." The secretary of state said Mr Linick was sacked for "undermining" the state department, though he did not give further details. "I went to the president and made clear to him that Inspector General Linick wasn't performing a function in a way that we had tried to get him to, that was additive for the state department, very consistent with what the statute says he's supposed to be doing," he said. Mr Linick, a former prosecutor, was appointed by Mr Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, to oversee spending and detect mismanagement at the state department. Democrats say Mr Trump is retaliating against public servants who want to hold his administration to account. On Friday, Mr Trump said he no longer had the "fullest confidence" in Mr Linick and that he would be terminated in 30 days. (Webmaster's comment: The thugs get rid of all oversite!)

5-19-19 Coronavirus: World Health Organization members agree response probe
World Health Organization (WHO) member states have agreed to set up an independent inquiry into the global response to the coronavirus pandemic. The resolution, approved without objection by the WHO's 194-member annual assembly meeting virtually in Geneva, also allows for the inquiry to look into the health body's own role. The United States in particular has been highly critical of its response. The EU presented the resolution on behalf of 100 nations. It calls for an "impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation" of the international response. This will also focus on the WHO's "timelines pertaining to the Covid-19 pandemic". The body has faced criticism that it was late to declare a health emergency. The resolution also calls for the world to ensure "transparent, equitable and timely access" to any treatments or vaccines, and pushes for the WHO to investigate the "source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population". "As I see no requests for the floor, I take it that there is no objection and the resolution is therefore adopted," declared the assembly's president, Keva Bain, the Bahamas ambassador. President Donald Trump has labelled the organisation a "puppet" of China and suspended funding for the WHO. The US is the largest donor. He has also accused China of trying to cover up the outbreak - something it strongly rejects - and said the WHO had failed to hold Beijing to account. US Health Secretary Alex Azar was scathing in his address to the assembly on Monday. "We must be frank about one of the primary reasons this outbreak spun out of control: there was a failure by this organisation to obtain the information that the world needed, and that failure cost many lives," he said. President Trump faces re-election this year and opponents see his criticism as an attempt to deflect blame for his handling of the pandemic in the US, which has the highest number of cases, and deaths, which passed 90,000 on Monday.

5-19-19 Coronavirus: Trump gives WHO ultimatum over Covid-19 handling
US President Donald Trump has sent a letter to the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) threatening to pull US funding permanently over Covid-19. The letter outlines a 30-day deadline for the body to commit to "substantive improvements" or risk losing millions and US membership altogether. Addressed to WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, it criticises stages of the body's response since December. Earlier on Monday, Mr Trump called the UN's health body a "puppet of China". The president, who faces re-election this year and has himself been criticised for his handling of the pandemic, has blamed China for trying to cover up the outbreak and has accused the WHO of failing to hold Beijing to account. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Mr Trump was trying to mislead the public, smear China and "shift the blame for [the US's] own incompetent response". The US has more than 1.5 million of the world's 4.8 million confirmed cases of coronavirus so far, with more than 90,000 deaths. Mr Trump's ultimatum also comes at a time of pressure for the WHO. On Monday Dr Tedros backed a review of the agency's handling of the pandemic. He said an independent evaluation would take place "at the earliest appropriate moment".Mr Trump published the letter on Twitter on Monday night, following a day of heavy US criticism of the health agency. Health Secretary Alex Azar spoke at the WHO's World Health Assembly and accused the organisation of letting Covid-19 spin "out of control" at the cost of "many lives". In his letter to Dr Tedros, the US president accuses the WHO of having an "alarming lack of independence" from China. Among his assertions, Mr Trump accuses the agency of having "consistently ignored" what he describes as "credible reports" of the virus spreading in Wuhan at the start of December or even earlier. (Webmaster's comment: In truth it was the United States that ignored the warnings that came out of China and from Who in early January! That's why Trump and his lackeys are trying to shift the blame to anyone but them!)

5-18-19 Covid-19 news: Mixed progress on coronavirus vaccine as US stocks rise
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. A preliminary test in only eight volunteers suggests the first coronavirus vaccine to be tested in people seems to be safe and can stimulate an immune response against the virus. Antibodies generated by the volunteers were able to stop the virus from replicating in human cells in the laboratory and the levels of antibodies in their blood were similar to those previously detected in recovered covid-19 patients. Tal Zaks of Moderna, the US firm developing the vaccine, said that if the next stages go well, it could be widely available by the end of this year or early next year. The US stock market was up sharply today following the announcement. However, it remains to be seen if such speedy testing and manufacturing of a vaccine is really possible – no vaccine has ever been produced in less than five years. Meanwhile, a trial of another vaccine, developed by researchers at the University of Oxford found it wasn’t able to stop six rhesus macaque monkeys from becoming infected with the coronavirus. None of the vaccinated monkeys developed pneumonia, however, suggesting it may offer some protection against severe covid-19. There are currently more than 100 vaccines for the coronavirus in various stages of early development. The UK has added anosmia – loss of or change in sense of smell – to the list of coronavirus symptoms that warrant self-isolation. However, other symptoms such as muscle pain or a sore throat are still not included on the government’s list. The UK, the European Union, Australia and New Zealand are among those pushing for an independent inquiry into the World Health Organization’s (WHO) handling of the coronavirus pandemic. WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the UN’s World Health Assembly today that an investigation would be initiated “at the earliest opportunity.” Brazil now has more than 241,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, the highest number of any country after the US, Russia and the UK. Hospitals in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city are running out of beds, according to the city’s mayor, Bruno Covas. The country’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, participated in an anti-lockdown protest in Brasilia on Sunday. Some countries across Europe have begun to ease travel and border restrictions as they prepare for a rise in domestic and international tourism. Italy’s prime minister Giuseppe Conte signed a decree to allow tourists from abroad to enter the country from 3 June. Food and drink outlets, shops and some tourist attractions reopened today in Italy, as well as in Portugal, Belgium, Denmark and Poland, with social distancing measures in place.

5-18-19 The ongoing assault on American democracy
Three worrying trends that suggest our system of government is in trouble. merican democracy isn't quite dead, but it is getting awfully close. The signs are all around us. The latest indication came last week in Lansing, Michigan. Legislators there decided to cancel their Thursday session and close the state capitol — not because they had finished their business, but because of death threats against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, and the armed anti-lockdown protesters who have been made the state's other elected officials fear for their own safety. "Michigan is a failed state within a failed state," Charles Pierce wrote for Esquire, and he is right: If the people's duly elected officials cannot meet and do business because they fear violence, then democratic government has been deeply undermined, if not killed outright. As Pierce suggested, though, this isn't just a Michigan problem. The trends that shut down the legislature there have been increasingly apparent at the national level for several years, and brought to a head by the coronavirus pandemic. Democracy is complex and fragile. It depends on more than the assent of the governed, though that is a critical element. To survive, traditional American governance also requires accountability, adherence to the rule of law, and — at its most basic — the simple ability for citizens to vote for their leaders. Recent weeks have seen terrible developments on each front. Accountability: On Friday night, the Trump administration announced its intent to fire the State Department's inspector general, Steve Linick — the latest in a series of IG firings that The Washington Post dubbed a "slow-motion Friday night massacre." Rule of law: The president's efforts to wipe away accountability are of a piece with his overall project to undermine the fairness of the federal justice system in favor of a process that shields his friends — and himself — from legal scrutiny while threatening prosecution against Trump's political enemies. Elections: Now that impeachment has failed, the one hope Americans have to stop such abuses is to vote President Trump out of office in November. That may prove problematic in the pandemic era — the safest way to vote will be by mail, but Republicans have dedicated themselves to fighting initiatives to make that possible.

5-18-19 Coronavirus: Fed chairman Powell warns downturn 'may last until late 2021'
The chairman of the Federal Reserve says the US economy could "easily" contract by 20-30% amid the pandemic. Jerome Powell added in a CBS interview that the economic downturn might last until late 2021, and a full rebound may not be happen until a vaccine is found. However, he expressed confidence the economy would recover, and said he would never bet against the US economy. Earlier this week, Mr Powell had called on US lawmakers to pass more economic stimulus and relief aid. More than 36 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits since mid-March. In an interview with CBS' 60 minutes, Mr Powell said: "This is a time of great suffering and difficulty... you can't really put into words the pain people are feeling. "This economy will recover. It may take a while," he said. "It could stretch through the end of next year. We really don't know." Unemployment could potentially peak at 25%, and "the lowest paid people" - particularly women - were being hurt worst by the downturn, he added. However, he said he believed the US could avoid a depression - a sustained economic downturn - because the financial system itself was healthy, and the coronavirus pandemic was "an outside event" the economy could recover from. While the economy could "easily" contract 20-30% this quarter, he expected the economy to "recover steadily through the second half of this year", as long as the country could avoid "a second wave of the coronavirus". "It's very important to avoid that... that would be quite damaging to the economy and also to public confidence." The interview, which was recorded on 13 May, aired on Sunday evening. The US has already approved nearly $3 trillion (£2.5tn) in new stimulus spending - packages worth an estimated 14% of the country's economy. The Fed has also taken radical steps to shore up the economy, pumping trillions of dollars into the financial system. On Friday, Democrats in the House of Representatives passed an additional $3tn coronavirus relief package. However, it is not expected to pass the Republican-majority Senate, where leader Mitch McConnell has argued there is "no urgency" to act.

5-18-19 Coronavirus: Global push for inquiry into Covid-19 response
Global health leaders are pushing for an independent review of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic at the UN's World Health Assembly. Monday's virtual meeting brings together envoys from 194 member states of the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO is facing questions on how it dealt with the coronavirus pandemic. Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has defended his country's actions during the outbreak, spoke during Monday's opening ceremony. He said China had acted "with openness and transparency" and insisted that any investigation should happen after the pandemic was brought under control. In other opening remarks, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed a proposed resolution calling for a review of the WHO's handling of the pandemic and said it would initiate it "at the earliest opportunity". South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the WHO must be given more legal powers to ensure that countries report outbreaks and share data. "A novel infectious disease could emerge at any time and we must be able to respond more quickly and effectively," he said. The two-day assembly - an annual meeting that reviews the work of the UN's health agency - comes amid recriminations between the US and China over the virus. The US has already stopped its funding for the agency and is promoting its own vaccine programme. More than 4.5 million people have been infected and more than 300,000 have died since the virus emerged in China in December. The European Union, alongside countries including the UK, Australia and New Zealand, is pushing for an inquiry into how the pandemic has been handled and what lessons can be learned. EU spokeswoman Virginie Battu-Henriksson said several key questions needed to be answered as part of any review. "How did this pandemic spread? What is the epidemiology behind it? All this is absolutely crucial for us going forward to avoid another pandemic of this kind," she said. However, she added that now was not the time for "any sort of blame game".

5-18-19 Coronavirus: European countries further relax restrictions
Italy and Spain are among a number of European countries further easing their coronavirus lockdown restrictions on Monday. Most businesses in Italy, including bars and hairdressers, are reopening after more than two months of nationwide lockdown measures. Spain meanwhile has slightly eased restrictions on some of its least affected islands. The measures follow consistent drops in the number of daily recorded deaths. On Sunday, Italy recorded the fewest daily deaths since it entered lockdown in March. It said 145 people had died with the virus in the previous 24 hours. This marked a significant drop from its highest daily death toll, which was more than 900 on 27 March. In Spain, the daily death toll fell below 100 for the first time since it imposed its lockdown restrictions. But officials are warning that complacency over the virus could lead to a second wave of infections. Restaurants, bars, cafes, hairdressers and shops have been allowed to reopen in Italy, providing social distancing is enforced. Almost 32,000 people in Italy have died in the pandemic, and the economy is expected to shrink by nearly 10% this year. Catholic churches are resuming Mass, but there is strict social distancing and worshippers must wear face masks. Other faiths are also being allowed to hold religious services. But health officials have warned of the continued dangers of large social gatherings. Pope Francis held a private Mass at St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, which has been disinfected ahead of its reopening to tourists. The Mass honoured the late Pope John Paul II, 100 years after his birth in Poland. In Spain, some areas are also seeing restrictions ease. The country has a four-phase system for reopening, which authorities are applying at different speeds in different regions. Most of Spain moved into phase one last week. Up to 10 people are allowed to meet together, provided they wear masks and socially distance, while bars and restaurants can open outdoor seating at half capacity. Cinemas, museums and theatres are also opening at reduced capacity.

5-17-19 New York Governor Andrew Cuomo takes coronavirus test live on TV
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has taken a coronavirus test during a live briefing in front of reporters. He said he wanted to demonstrate how "fast and easy" the test is, before a doctor put a swab up his nose. The state of New York has been the epicentre of the US coronavirus outbreak.

5-17-19 The coronavirus infodemic
How the coronavirus sparked a tsunami of misinformation. Here's everything you need to know: What's being said? Social media has been awash in lies, rumors, and distortions about the coronavirus, its origins, and potential cures almost since the pandemic's start. NewsGuard, a private company that rates websites' reliability, has identified 203 websites throughout the world promoting COVID-19 misinformation. Among the most popular COVID-19 myths were "Garlic can cure COVID-19," "A group funded by Bill Gates patented the coronavirus," and "The COVID-19 virus is a man-made bioweapon." The World Health Organization is calling the deluge of misinformation "an infodemic," while Google, Facebook, and Twitter are instituting policies to help slow the spread of lies. CEO Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook fact-checkers have "taken down hundreds of thousands of pieces of misinformation," and slapped warnings on 40 million posts during March alone, the company says. Last week, YouTube removed a video titled "Plandemic" that had been viewed millions of times, featuring discredited microbiologist and anti-vaxxer Judy Mikovits. In the video and a book that reached No. 1 on Amazon, Mikovits contends the coronavirus was created and spread by a conspiracy of wealthy people and scientists such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to bolster vaccine rates and make money. Mikovits has been claiming her career was destroyed by Fauci and other scientists since she falsely reported in a 2009 study, later retracted by the journal that published it, that a retrovirus caused chronic fatigue syndrome. What's the motive? For some, profit; for others, attention. Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his InfoWars website have warned their audience that the coronavirus is a man-made tool to winnow the world's population. InfoWars was ordered by the FDA and FTC last month to stop peddling products such as "SuperSilver Whitening Toothpaste," and "Superblue Silver Immune Gargle" that Jones portrayed as coronavirus cures and prophylactics. He and many other websites popular on Facebook are hawking colloidal silver as a cure for coronavirus; taken in large doses, it turns your skin blue. The idea that there is a magical treatment has been promoted by President Trump, who suggested that UV light and disinfectant could be used to kill the virus inside the lungs "almost like a cleaning." He also spent weeks promoting an anti-malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, as "one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine." That led to a huge spike in sales of the drug, and to state governments stockpiling 30 million doses of it. Several studies have subsequently found that hydroxychloroquine has no benefit for COVID-19 patients and can cause life-threatening heart arrhythmias. Why so much disinformation? Stanford University Professor Robert N. Proctor says humanity has always been susceptible to misinformation during "a time of great fear ... from the burning of witches on up to hydroxychloroquine." Conspiracy theories, he says, make powerless people feel they have some inside knowledge and thus some control over frightening events. Misinformation also spread easily during prior health scares, including the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918, the AIDS epidemic, and SARS in 2003. The fact that so little is known about the coronavirus also fuels the lies and rumors. "It's frustrating when responsible media say, 'Look, we don't know the answers yet,'" said Carl T. Bergstrom, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Washington who studies misinformation.

5-17-19 Coronavirus: Obama criticises Trump administration's virus response
Former US President Barack Obama has criticised his successor Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus crisis. In an online address to graduating college students, he said the pandemic had shown that many officials "aren't even pretending to be in charge". It is the second time in recent days that Mr Obama has hit out at the Trump administration's coronavirus response. He said it had been "an absolute chaotic disaster" during a leaked conference call last week. The former president also gave an address to high school students that was hosted by NBA star LeBron James and was part of a special programme that featured numerous celebrities including the Jonas Brothers, Megan Rapinoe, Pharrell Williams and education activist Malala Yousafzai. In his speech to graduates from several dozen historically black colleges and universities, Mr Obama said the Covid-19 outbreak had exposed failings in the country's leadership. "More than anything this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they're doing," he said. "A lot of them aren't even pretending to be in charge," he added. Mr Obama also spoke at length about the impact the pandemic is having on black communities in the US. "A disease like this just spotlights the underlying inequalities and extra burdens that black communities have historically had to deal with in this country," he said. African Americans make up a disproportionate number of coronavirus deaths and hospitalisations in the US. The former president also referenced the killing of Ahmaud Arbery - an unarmed black jogger who was shot and killed by two white men in February - during his address. He said racial inequalities in the US were made apparent "when a black man goes for a jog and some folks feel like they can stop and question and shoot him, if he doesn't submit to their question". "If the world's going to get better, it's going to be up to you," he told the graduates.

5-17-19 Steve Linick: Democrats probe Trump's firing of inspector general
US Democrats have launched an investigation into President Donald Trump's firing of the state department's internal watchdog. Inspector General Steve Linick was investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for suspected abuse of office, reports say. But he was sacked late on Friday after Mr Trump said he no longer commanded his full confidence. The move prompted angry criticism from senior Democrats in Congress. They accused Mr Trump of retaliating against public servants who want to hold his administration to account. Mr Linick was the third official responsible for monitoring government misconduct to be dismissed in recent weeks. The former prosecutor was appointed by Mr Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, to oversee spending and detect mismanagement at the state department. On Saturday, top Democrats on the House and Senate Foreign Relations Committees questioned the timing of Mr Linick's removal and announced an immediate investigation. "We unalterably oppose the politically-motivated firing of inspectors general and the president's gutting of these critical positions," Congressman Eliot Engel and Senator Bob Menendez said in a statement. They said Mr Linick had "opened an investigation into wrongdoing by Secretary Pompeo himself", adding that his firing was "transparently designed to protect Secretary Pompeo from personal accountability". Mr Linick had begun investigating allegations that Mr Pompeo had improperly used staff to run personal errands, US media report. Mr Engel and Mr Menendez have requested that the White House and State Department hand over all records related to his dismissal by next Friday. Meanwhile, on Saturday, the White House said the decision to oust Mr Linick was prompted by Mr Pompeo himself. "Secretary Pompeo recommended the move, and President Trump agreed," an official said. (Webmaster's comment: The suspected crook got rid of the man investigating him. What a travesty of justice!)

5-16-19 Coronavirus: Trump says US reopening, 'vaccine or no vaccine'
President Donald Trump says the US will reopen, "vaccine or no vaccine", as he announced an objective to deliver a coronavirus vaccine by year end. He likened the vaccine project, dubbed "Operation Warp Speed", to the World War Two effort to produce the world's first nuclear weapons. But Mr Trump made clear that even without a vaccine, Americans must begin to return to their lives as normal. (Webmaster's comment: No matter how many have to get sick and die!) Many experts doubt that a coronavirus vaccine can be developed within a year. Speaking at a White House Rose Garden news conference on Friday, Mr Trump said the project would begin with studies on 14 promising vaccine candidates for accelerated research and approval. "That means big and it means fast," he said of Operation Warp Speed. "A massive scientific, industrial and logistical endeavour unlike anything our country has seen since the Manhattan Project." Mr Trump named an Army general and a former healthcare executive to lead the operation, a partnership between the government and private sector to find and distribute a vaccine. Moncef Slaoui, who previously led the vaccines division at pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, will lead the mission, while Gen Gustave Perna, who oversees distribution for the US Army, is to serve as chief operating officer. Speaking after Mr Trump, Mr Slaoui said he was "confident" that a "few hundred million doses of vaccine" will be delivered by the end of 2020. He acknowledged in an earlier interview with the New York Times that the timeline was ambitious, but said he "would not have committed unless I thought it was achievable". Many experts say a vaccine is the only thing that will give Americans confidence in fully reopening the economy in the absence of widespread testing.

5-16-19 Steve Linick: Trump fires state department inspector general
The US state department's inspector general, Steve Linick, has become the latest senior official to be fired by US President Donald Trump. Mr Trump said Mr Linick no longer had his full confidence and that he would be removed in 30 days. Mr Linick had begun investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for suspected abuse of office, reports say. Democrats say Mr Trump is retaliating against public servants who want to hold his administration to account. "It is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as inspectors general. That is no longer the case with regard to this inspector general," Mr Trump is quoted as saying in a letter sent late on Friday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, US media report. Not long after Mr Linick's dismissal was announced, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Mr Linick had opened an investigation into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. "This firing is the outrageous act of a president trying to protect one of his most loyal supporters, the secretary of state, from accountability," Eliot Engel, a Democrat, said in a statement. "I have learned that the Office of the Inspector General had opened an investigation into Secretary Pompeo. Mr Linick's firing amid such a probe strongly suggests that this is an unlawful act of retaliation." Mr Engel did not provide any further details about the content of this investigation into Mr Pompeo. Congressional aides, speaking on condition of anonymity, have been quoted in different media as saying that Mr Linick was examining complaints that Mr Pompeo may have improperly used staff and asked them to perform personal tasks. Mr Linick, a former prosecutor, was appointed by Mr Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, to oversee spending and detect mismanagement at the state department. (Webmaster's comment: Hitler did the same thing. Eliminating those who were revealing the thugs he put in office!)

5-16-19 Coronavirus: Italy to lift travel restrictions as lockdown eases
Italy's government has signed a decree that will allow travel to and from the country from 3 June, as it moves to ease its coronavirus lockdown measures. It will also allow travel between the regions - which has so far been tightly restricted - from the same day. The move marks a major step in the country's efforts to reopen its economy after more than two months of lockdown. Italy has one of the highest death tolls in the world, but its infection rate has fallen sharply in recent days. More than 31,600 people have died with the virus in the country, the third highest figure behind the US and UK. It was the first country in Europe to impose nationwide restrictions when coronavirus cases began to surface in northern regions in February. But it began to relax those measures earlier this month, when it allowed factories and parks to reopen on 4 May. The latest decree was signed by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and published early on Saturday. Some Italian regions had called for a swifter easing of restrictions, but Prime Minister Conte said they would be relaxed gradually to avoid a second wave of cases. Shops and restaurants are also due to reopen from 18 May providing social distancing is enforced. Catholic churches are preparing for the resumption of Mass on the same day, but there will be strict social distancing and worshippers must wear face masks. Other faiths will also be allowed to hold religious services. All travel restrictions will then be lifted from 3 June. Mr Conte's announcement came shortly after the country, which was once the global epicentre of the pandemic, reported a further decline in its daily death toll. It reported more than 900 deaths on 27 March, but the authorities said there were 262 on Friday. Earlier this week, the government approved a €55bn (£48bn; $59bn) stimulus package designed to offset the economic impact of the pandemic on businesses and families.

5-15-19 Coronavirus: Dutch singletons advised to seek ‘sex buddy’
The Dutch government has issued new guidance to single people seeking intimacy during the pandemic, advising them to find a "sex buddy". The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) says singletons should come to an arrangement with one other person. But pairings should avoid sex if one of them suspects they have coronavirus, the advice says. The guidance comes after critics said there was no sex advice for singles. Social-distancing measures have been in place in the Netherlands since 23 March, when the government imposed what it called an "intelligent" or "targeted" lockdown. The rules were far less strict than those of the country's neighbours, permitting small gatherings of people if social distancing was observed. But in guidance published on 14 May, the RIVM said "it makes sense that as a single [person] you also want to have physical contact" during the pandemic. Should singletons choose to engage in sexual contact, precautions should be taken to minimise the risk of coronavirus exposure, the authority said. "Discuss how best to do this together," the RIVM guidance says. "For example, meet with the same person to have physical or sexual contact (for example, a cuddle buddy or 'sex buddy'), provided you are free of illness. "Make good arrangements with this person about how many other people you both see. The more people you see, the greater the chance of (spreading) the coronavirus." The RIVM has also issued advice for people whose long-term partners suspect they have contracted the coronavirus. "Don't have sex with your partner if they have been isolated because of (suspected) coronavirus infection," it says. "Sex with yourself or with others at a distance is possible," it adds, suggesting "erotic stories" and "masturbating together" as possible solutions.

5-15-19 Trump outlines plans for coronavirus vaccine
The US president elaborated on Operation Warp Speed, which aims to expedite vaccine development. On Friday, President Trump announced that Moncef Slaoui, former vaccine chief at GlaxoSmithKline and Gustave Perna, a four star general, would oversee the initiative, which was first reported in April. The president said that the operation's aim is to deliver a vaccine by the end of the year, if not by early 2021. Experts have cast doubt on the White House timelines for a jab.

5-15-19 Covid-19 news: UK infection rate has risen in past week
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. The UK’s coronavirus R value – the estimated number of people each person infects – is now between 0.7 and 1, according to the government’s scientific advisory group for emergencies (SAGE). Five days ago, UK prime minister Boris Johnson said R was between 0.5 and 0.9. The government’s science advisors say the increase is not a reflection of coronavirus restrictions being eased in England this week, but rather due to a lag in the data that is used to model the R value. We won’t know how easing restrictions has impacted the current R value for another three weeks. Only 1500 of a total of 18,000 coronavirus contact tracers – just over 8 per cent – have been recruited by the UK government by its mid-May deadline, a cabinet minister said today. The government had previously refused to say exactly how many contact tracers it had employed. Up to 8 million people could be on waiting lists for National Health Service (NHS) treatment by autumn, UK ministers heard yesterday. Hospital capacity could be cut by 30 per cent as trusts attempt to implement social distancing among staff and patients. 16 health unions have asked the UK government to provide rapid testing and adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for doctors and nurses before the NHS reopens services that were cancelled during the covid-19 peak. This comes as evidence has emerged suggesting some doctors were pressured by NHS managers not to share their concerns about PPE.
US citizens should prepare to face the “darkest winter in modern history,” according to a whistleblower who was recently removed from his position as a government public health official. Rick Bright, who was ousted from his role leading a federal agency in charge of vaccine development in April, told a US congressional committee that the “window is closing to address this pandemic” and criticised the Trump administration’s lack of planning.
There have been no new covid-19 deaths announced in China for a month and only 91 patients are currently receiving treatment for the disease. 623 people are in isolation for suspected or confirmed coronavirus.

5-15-19 Coronavirus: Two Americas in the nation's capital
Amid political pressure to reopen America from the White House, the nation's capital city itself still isn't ready to do so - and Washington DC offers a diverse snapshot of how Americans are responding to the crisis. t's a gloriously sunny afternoon, and a rare opportunity to enjoy a live performance from a world-class musician. Residents of Washington's Capitol Hill district are still under orders to shelter at home. But they're taking a break from the pandemic, sitting on front steps and in socially distanced lawn chairs, listening to a neighbour in search of an audience after he had to cancel a tour. Just down the road at the Capitol building itself, lawmakers are gradually returning to work, to deal with matters less lyrical. "There can be no doubt that this will be one of the strangest sessions of the United States Senate in modern history," said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer when it opened at the beginning of the month. Members wearing masks sit in chambers that feel more empty than occupied. But while political pressure to open up the country is mounting in the capital, the city itself isn't ready yet for business. You just need to drive 10 minutes to see it's still on emergency footing. In DC's majority-black neighbourhoods like Anacostia, the virus has laid bare longstanding social and racial divides. I caught up with local councillor Trayon White, who's campaigning for re-election in Ward Eight, Washington's poorest. He's hard to miss - wearing a florescent yellow track suit and surrounded by a team of young men in blue and white camouflage outfits with matching blue surgical gloves. They're distributing bags with bleach and toilet paper while the councillor hands out masks with his name on them and takes selfies with constituents. But behind the smiles for the camera is a disturbing reality. The pandemic is killing black people at an alarming rate, including Mr White's own grandmother. Eighty percent of the city's Covid-19 deaths are African Americans, even though they're less than half its population. "We have some of the highest health disparities per capita in the country in this community," he says.

5-15-19 Covid-19: Inside the UK's top-secret military lab
Their work is normally highly classified, but military scientists at Porton Down in Wiltshire are now fighting coronavirus. Some of the same scientists who identified Novichok, the nerve agent used in the Salisbury poisoning, have been helping to analyse Covid-19 and finding ways to protect NHS staff.

5-15-19 Women leaders eschew 'macho-man' politics in COVID-19 response
New Zealand, Taiwan, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and Norway all have notably low rates of fatalities and Germany stands out in central Europe for its low death rate. The seven countries have something else in common: All are led by women. The day Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern imposed a strict nationwide lockdown in March, no one in New Zealand had died from the coronavirus. Compare that to the United Kingdon: 335 people had already died by the time Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the British public to stay home. Like many world leaders, Ardern held daily press conferences where she appealed to New Zealanders to unite in their battle against the virus. "We are all in this together," she told them. Ardern streamed Facebook live videos from her sofa at home, apologizing for her casual attire. Now, New Zealand is "halfway down Everest," Ardern said last week as she announced measures to ease New Zealand's lockdown. Her "go hard and go early" strategy combined with a warm empathetic manner worked. New Zealand recorded zero new cases of the coronavirus in a series of days last week and Ardern's popularity rating is at an all-time high. But Zoe Marks, a lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School says there's nothing inherently female about this style of leadership. "The fireside chat approach originated with Franklin Roosevelt in the United States. The problem is not that only women can pull it off, it's that men are afraid to really let their guard down and be relatable," Marks said. Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has not been afraid to show a more human side either. Frederiksen posted a video of herself and her partner doing the dishes and singing along during a weekly TV lockdown singalong show. Like New Zealand, Denmark moved quickly to close its borders, then its schools and businesses. Other Nordic countries led by women did likewise, and have seen relatively low death rates from COVID-19. Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, by contrast, took a gamble and shunned the idea of a lockdown, instead trusting the public to maintain social distancing themselves. It remains to be seen if his strategy pays off but currently Sweden's death toll is by far the highest in Scandinavia. Suze Wilson, who teaches leadership at Massey University in New Zealand, says the evidence is mixed on whether men and women govern differently. Some research shows female leaders can be more participative in their approach, she says. "Research shows women are more willing to listen to advice and include different perspectives and try to weigh them up when making decisions," Wilson said.

5-15-19 Coronavirus: How 'overreaction' made Vietnam a virus success
Despite a long border with China and a population of 97 million people, Vietnam has recorded only just over 300 cases of Covid-19 on its soil and not a single death. Nearly a month has passed since its last community transmission and the country is already starting to open up. Experts say that unlike other countries now seeing infections and deaths on a huge scale, Vietnam saw a small window to act early on and used it fully. But though cost-effective, its intrusive and labour intensive approach has its drawbacks and experts say it may be too late for most other countries to learn from its success. "When you're dealing with these kinds of unknown novel potentially dangerous pathogens, it's better to overreact," says Dr Todd Pollack of Harvard's Partnership for Health Advancement in Vietnam in Hanoi. Recognising that its medical system would soon become overwhelmed by even mild spread of the virus, Vietnam instead chose prevention early, and on a massive scale. By early January, before it had any confirmed cases, Vietnam's government was initiating "drastic action" to prepare for this mysterious new pneumonia which had at that point killed two people in Wuhan. When the first virus case was confirmed on 23 January - a man who had travelled from Wuhan to visit his son in Ho Chi Minh City - Vietnam's emergency plan was in action. "It very, very quickly acted in ways which seemed to be quite extreme at the time but were subsequently shown to be rather sensible," says Prof Guy Thwaites, director of Oxford University Clinical Research Unit (OUCRU) in Ho Chi Minh City, which works with the government on its infectious disease programmes. Vietnam enacted measures other countries would take months to move on, bringing in travel restrictions, closely monitoring and eventually closing the border with China and increasing health checks at borders and other vulnerable places. Schools were closed for the Lunar New Year holiday at the end of January and remained closed until mid-May. A vast and labour intensive contact tracing operation got under way. "This is a country that has dealt with a lot of outbreaks in the past," says Prof Thwaites, from Sars in 2003 to avian influenza in 2010 and large outbreaks of measles and dengue.

5-15-19 Rick Bright: 'Ousted' vaccine expert says US is facing its 'darkest winter'
A former top US health official has told Congress the country could face its "darkest winter in modern history" because of the coronavirus. Rick Bright led the government agency trying to develop a vaccine, but was removed from his post last month. Mr Bright says he was ousted from the job after refusing to promote an untested drug treatment being touted as a "game changer" by President Trump. Mr Trump has claimed Mr Bright is a "disgruntled" employee. Mr Bright also told the House of Representatives subcommittee on health "lives were lost" because of government "inaction" in the early stages of the outbreak. He said he first spoke out about a medical equipment shortage in January, raising the issue to the "highest levels" of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), but "got no response". During his testimony, Mr Bright warned that the US's "window of opportunity" to deal with the coronavirus was "closing". "If we fail to improve our response now, based on science, I fear the pandemic will get worse and be prolonged," he said. "Without better planning, 2020 could be the darkest winter in modern history." Mr Bright also told the subcommittee that in January he received an email he would "never forget", from a supplier of medical-grade face masks who warned of a severe shortage. "He said... we need to act. And I pushed that forward to the highest level that I could of HHS - and got no response." A total of 85,807 people have now died with the coronavirus in the US. New York state continues to have the highest death toll in the US, with 27,607 deaths. Michigan's state legislature cancelled its Thursday session after receiving death threats and facing more armed protests from right-wing groups campaigning against lockdown measures. Almost a quarter of US workers are now claiming unemployment benefits, after the number of people seeking unemployment jumped by almost three million last week.

5-15-19 The next phase of America's coronavirus problem is a massive housing crisis
Thursday brought yet more grim economic numbers, with 2.98 million Americans filing for unemployment over the last week. That makes for 36.5 million claims since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis (though millions no doubt have not managed to make it onto the program rolls, or are not receiving benefits even if they have). A recent Federal Reserve study found that nearly 40 percent of households making $40,000 per year or less lost a job in March.. Millions of people are already unable to afford their rent or mortgage payments, and tens of millions more will be unable to in a few months if nothing changes. America is facing a major housing crisis if it doesn't get its act together. Either the economic rescue programs need to be strengthened and extended, or we need some kind of cancellation of rent and mortgage payments until things return to normal, or both. There have been several programs and rules passed already intended to help homeowners and renters. But, as usual in American policymaking, these policies are haphazard, over-complicated, and incomplete. For renters, evictions have been temporarily banned in many cities and states, and some places like Philadelphia have begun to extend rental payment assistance for lower-income people. But rent payments have only been paused in most places, not canceled, and there hasn't been any nationwide policy. Landlords are already champing at the bit to evict people. For homeowners, mortgage holders or servicers have been banned from foreclosing on people for 60 days starting March 18. Homeowners whose loans are backed by the government (which is most of them) can apply for forbearance, which puts their payments on hold for up to a year. However, the stipulations are complicated and unclear. Mortgage servicers (businesses that collect the loan payments and administer paperwork for the true loan owner) are reportedly misleading homeowners by telling them all missed payments will be due at the end of the forbearance period, when in fact there are several repayment options, including paying them at the end of the loan term.

5-15-19 Coronavirus: 'We're in the experimental phase'
While lockdown broke the links via which the coronavirus was transmitted, as it is relaxed we all become participants in a vast observational experiment, scientists say. Relaxing restrictions too quickly in this "experimental phase" could cause a "sizeable, second epidemic wave". Emerging from lockdown requires a "cautious, measured approach". And social distancing and working from home are likely to be features of our lives until a vaccine is available. "We need to lift only measures that we consider to be safe and then monitor them very carefully," Dr Mike Tildesley, who was involved in the University of Warwick study, told BBC News. For schools in particular, this cautious, stepwise approach - and learning from every measure taken - will be "extremely important", he said. It "needs to be gradual". "And obviously there is an awful lot of worry from parents and teachers." In the short term, any relaxation of social distancing measures would be likely to trigger the second peak every country affected was trying to avoid, Dr Tildesley said. The study, led by Prof Matt Keeling, revealed the short-term measures that could be considered safe: 1. reopening non-essential shops and businesses only where social-distancing measures can be put in place. 2. those who can working at home for the foreseeable future. 3. possible longer-term shielding for older people, who are known to be more vulnerable to severe disease. If there was any sign of the infection rate increasing, the scientists stressed that control measures would need to be reintroduced quickly.

5-15-19 Rebelling against sanity
Defying sound health advice on COVID-19 won't save the economy. Our country was born in rebellion against authority, so it's no surprise Americans have always had a strong libertarian streak. We bristle at being told what to do, especially by the ­government — even when it's demonstrably in the public interest. Millions of Americans angrily objected when health officials and the government began warning that cigarettes could kill them, and banned indoor smoking, and required motorists to wear — ugh — seat belts. Such bondage! Each of these impositions on personal freedom saved immeasurable suffering and many, many lives. Government can also overreach, of course; finding the right balance between individual liberty and the common good is a perpetual struggle. Now, in the midst of a catastrophic pandemic, it is masks, social distancing, and the closures of public places and businesses that have provoked cries of nanny-state tyranny from such diverse voices as a Dallas beauty salon owner and Elon Musk. Infectious diseases, however, have a strong anti-libertarian bias. Without knowing it, a single infected person sheds billions of viruses and can spread illness and death to anyone standing near him or even sharing the same enclosed space. And if COVID-19 lands that free spirit in the hospital, the cost of a typical, 20-day hospitalization is $30,000 and up, which all of us pay through higher insurance premiums and taxes. The freedom to ignore the virus isn't free. Several countries have used strict closures, testing, contact tracing, and masking not only to flatten their curves — but also to crush them. Taiwan (population 24 million) has had just 440 cases and seven deaths. Densely populated Hong Kong has had just four deaths. The U.S. may be stumbling into the worst of all worlds: repeated waves of infection into 2021 and a devastated economy paralyzed by ongoing, legitimate fear. This is not a good time to act like a 5-year-old shouting: "You're not the boss of me!"

5-15-19 US targets Huawei with tighter chip export rules
The US has announced new export controls aimed at limiting Chinese technology giant Huawei's access to semiconductor technology. The new rule bars semiconductor-makers that use US technology and software in chip design from shipping to Huawei without US government permission. It is the latest US action to target Huawei, which US officials view as a national security threat. China threatened to retaliate against US tech firms. The tightened controls come a year after the US moved to cut off Huawei, the world's second largest smart phone maker, from access to US-made semiconductor chips, which form the backbone of most computer and phone systems. In response, the company and others in China accelerated efforts to manufacture such chips domestically. US Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross said that those efforts were "still dependent on US technologies", and accused Huawei of taking steps "to undermine" earlier export controls. "This is not how a responsible corporate citizen behaves," Mr Ross said. "We must amend our rules exploited by Huawei... and prevent US technologies from enabling malign activities contrary to US national security and foreign policy interests." The new US rule, to be published on Friday, applies to foreign-made items, using US technology. It exempts equipment or software made or shipped within the next 120 days - a move meant to limit economic harm. In a background briefing for reporters, the US said officials would consider licence applications to do business with Huawei on a "case by case" basis. "This is a licensing requirement. It does not necessarily mean that things are denied," a senior State Department official said. "We tend to approach Huawei with some concern but this is a measure that gives the US government visibility into what is moving." Also on Friday, the US extended waivers that allow US companies, many of them rural internet providers, to use some kinds of Huawei technology for another 90 days. (Webmaster's comment: The real problem is that we need them. They do not need us.)

5-15-19 Burning EU and other flags can now bring German jail term
Germany has made public burning of the EU flag or that of another country punishable by up to three years in jail, classing it as a hate crime. The vote in the Bundestag (parliament) on Thursday makes defiling foreign flags equal to the crime of defiling the German flag. The same applies for the EU anthem, Beethoven's Ode to Joy theme. The move followed Social Democrat (SPD) complaints about protesters' burning of the Israeli flag in Berlin in 2017. Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht, a member of the centre-left SPD, said "burning flags publicly has nothing to do with peaceful protests". She said it stoked up "hatred, anger and aggression", and hurt many people's feelings. The new law also applies to acts of defilement besides burning, such as publicly ripping a flag up. Public display of the Nazi swastika and other Nazi symbols is already banned in Germany. The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) has condemned the new law as "excessive interference in free speech and artistic expression". The act of defiling the Union Flag in the UK is not a crime, but France has made desecration of the tricolour punishable by a fine of up to €7,500 (£6,600; $8,000) or six months in jail. Spain, Italy and Greece also have laws banning desecration of the national flag. (Webmaster's comment: This is a serious violation of our right to protest against a governement. Trump is cheering and Hitler is cheering from his grave.)

5-14-19 Covid-19 news: 36 million US citizens have filed for unemployment
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. More than 36 million US citizens have filed for unemployment since start of pandemic! Another 3 million US citizens filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the total to 36.5 million since mid-March, about 22 per cent of the US workforce. The total number of people who have lost their jobs is likely to be an underestimate because many states still have a backlog of claims to get through. Brazil has become a hotspot for coronavirus infections as the country confirmed a record 11,385 daily coronavirus cases and 749 more deaths yesterday. The total number of confirmed cases is now more than 190,000, the sixth highest in the world. Doctors in the country say a lack of adequate testing means the true number of cases could be ten times higher. A coronavirus antibody test developed by Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche has been approved for use by Public Health England. UK health minister Edward Argar said the test “appears to be extremely reliable”. Unlike other forms of testing, antibody tests detect whether someone has been previously infected with the coronavirus, rather than whether they are infected with it now. However, it remains unclear whether people who have recovered from the virus are immune to reinfection. Provisional results of a random swab testing survey in England by the UK’s Office for National Statistics estimates that 148,000 people (0.27 per cent) outside of hospitals and care homes had covid-19 between 27 April and 10 May. The pandemic is affecting people’s mental health worldwide, UN secretary general António Guterres said today, with frontline healthcare workers, older people and people with pre-existing mental health conditions particularly at risk. “We must help them and stand by them,” he said. Japan has lifted the country-wide state of emergency that restricted people’s movements to tackle the spread of coronavirus. The order still applies in Tokyo, Osaka and other areas where new cases are still being detected daily.2237475-covid-19-news-36-million-us-citizens-have-filed-for-unemployment/#ixzz6MWTa8Cat

5-14-19 Coronavirus: Are states reopening ahead of White House guidelines?
After more than 40 state-wide lockdowns were put in place across the US throughout March and April, many states are now easing restrictions - but some are going against White House guidelines, worrying public health experts. Dr Anthony Fauci, the White House's top infectious disease adviser, has said he's concerned some states are opening up too soon and risk triggering "an outbreak that you may not be able to control". Dr Fauci said: "I've been very clear in my message to try, to the best extent possible, to go by the guidelines that have been very well thought out and very well delineated." The reopening guidelines laid out by the Trump administration in April propose that states should have a "downward trajectory" of reported cases, or a falling share of positive tests, over a 14-day period before beginning a gradual reopening. They also say states should have a robust testing programme in place and hospitals shouldn't be overwhelmed. These are only guidelines and the decision is ultimately down to state governors. President Trump has also repeatedly encouraged states to open up, seemingly going against his administration's guidance. Since the guidelines were announced on 16 April, more than 30 states have partially reopened. Daily coronavirus cases are increasing in a handful of states, but most are seeing a plateau, with neither a significant rise nor fall in reported daily cases. Far fewer states are seeing a sustained decline - or a "downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period" as recommended by the White House reopening guidelines. But as testing expands, the government guidelines allow for an increase in daily cases if there's a decrease in the proportion of positive tests - as more testing is likely to produce more cases overall. But some states didn't meet these criteria before reopening either.

5-14-19 Coronavirus: How the pandemic is relaxing US drinking laws
Coronavirus has Americans picking up two new summer accessories: a mask and an alcoholic to-go drink. After weeks of sheltering in place, many Americans are looking for ways to cut loose. With bars and restaurants closed to the public in most states, and summer weather approaching, that means that many are heading outdoors to relax and socialise. And for some, that means having a drink - sometimes in spite of the law. Veteran drinks writer Amanda Schuster says that in her neighbourhood of Brooklyn, New York, "it seems like everyone's over" prohibitions on public drinking. "It's as if people have the attitude that 'no one's going to arrest us for this when they have other things to do,'" Ms Schuster, who is the editor-in-chief for online magazine Alcohol Professor, told the BBC. This laissez-faire approach is something Americans used to have to go abroad to experience. While an 18-year-old can walk into a London pub and order a pint, the national minimum age to purchase alcohol in the US has been 21 since 1984, when Congress passed the Minimum Drinking Age Act, in part over concerns about drink-driving fatalities. In many countries in Europe like Germany, it is perfectly fine to go for a stroll with a beer or bring wine to a picnic. But in the US, carrying open alcohol in public is largely forbidden, except in a handful of municipalities. A notable exception in the US is New Orleans, Louisiana, a city that proudly boasts its relaxed open container laws, giving it the feel of a European town. "We are considered fairly puritanical when compared to other countries in regard to liquor laws," Ms Schuster says. When the 21st Amendment repealed national prohibition in 1933, states were given the ultimate power to decide who could manufacture, sell and drink alcohol. That means that most states exercise tight control over who can sell alcohol, when, and where.

5-14-19 Richard Burr: Senate intelligence chief steps down for FBI probe
The Republican chairman of the US Senate intelligence committee will step down while an insider trading inquiry is carried out. Richard Burr of North Carolina said he had decided to do so because he did not want the investigation to distract the committee from its work. Mr Burr's phone has been seized by the FBI as part of the inquiry. The senator, who denies wrongdoing, allegedly used inside information to avoid market losses from coronavirus. He declined a request for comment. Mr Burr and his wife sold as much as $1.7m (£1.4m) of equities in February, just before markets plunged on fears of an economic crisis. It is illegal for members of Congress to trade based on non-public information gathered during their official duties. Republican Senators Kelly Loeffler of Georgia and James Inhofe of Oklahoma, as well as Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, also reportedly sold holdings before the downturn, but are not confirmed to be under investigation. Ms Feinstein said she had answered questions from the FBI regarding trades made by her husband, however. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Mr Burr had contacted him to inform of his decision to step aside temporarily. "We agreed that this decision would be in the best interests of the committee and will be effective at the end of the day tomorrow [Friday]," Mr McConnell said in a statement. Mr Burr said: "The work the Intelligence Committee and its members do is too important to risk hindering in any way. I believe this step is necessary to allow the Committee to continue its essential work free of external distractions." He turned over his mobile phone to authorities after federal agents issued and executed a search warrant at his Washington, DC, home. The justice department began investigating Mr Burr, 64, in March. Public disclosures first investigated by ProPublica show the senator sold more than 30 stocks between late January and mid-February. Some of the stocks were in sectors now devastated by the coronavirus outbreak, such as the hotel, restaurant and shipping industries. As chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, Mr Burr receives nearly daily briefings on threats to US national security. He defended the transactions, saying he had "relied solely on public news reports" to instruct his decision to sell.

5-14-19 Coronavirus: Trump says Dr Fauci's warning 'not acceptable'
US President Donald Trump has said a sobering warning by his top infectious diseases expert about lifting pandemic restrictions too soon was unacceptable. He accused Dr Anthony Fauci of wanting "to play all sides of the equation" in his testimony to lawmakers on Tuesday. The president said he was especially dissatisfied with Dr Fauci's caution around reopening schools too quickly. Covid-19 has infected nearly 1.4 million people in the US and killed 84,000, while ravaging the economy. Speaking on Wednesday at the White House, Mr Trump took issue with Dr Fauci's comments to a Senate hearing a day earlier about the risks to children of reopening and his assessment that a vaccine was unlikely before classes could begin this autumn. "Look, he wants to play all sides of the equation," Mr Trump said of his top coronavirus expert's concerns. "I was surprised by his answer actually, because, you know, it's just to me - it's not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools," the president told reporters. He said "the only thing that would be acceptable" is giving older teachers and professors a few more weeks before they return. "Because this is a disease that attacks age, and it attacks health," the president said. "But with the young children, I mean, and students, it's really - just take a look at the statistics. It's pretty amazing," Mr Trump added. The Republican president is keen to get Americans back to work and has praised governors who are moving to do so while criticising others for not acting aggressively enough. The country is split over Mr Trump's focus on protecting livelihoods, and critics accuse him of gambling with lives to serve his own political interests ahead of November's re-election bid. The president's latest comments come amid reports of some young children being severely affected by an inflammatory syndrome that could be linked to the virus. Speaking to lawmakers on Tuesday, the White House task force coronavirus expert warned that relaxing stay-at-home rules too quickly could bring more "suffering and death". The director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases emphasised the importance of not being "cavalier in thinking that children are completely immune to the deleterious effects" of the disease. Dr Fauci said: "We just have to see on a step-by-step basis as we get into the period of time with the fall, about reopening the schools, exactly where we will be in the dynamics of the outbreak." The infectious disease chief also said the real US death toll is probably higher than the official figure. (Webmaster's comment: Trump gives not a twit about how many die as long as he can get re-elected!)

5-14-19 Coronavirus: New Zealand lockdown eased as businesses reopen
New Zealand has eased its coronavirus restrictions after moving to Level 2, described as a "safer new normal". The country has reported no new cases of the virus in the past three days and thousands of businesses have reopened. People are allowed to start seeing their friends and families again, with a limit of 10 people. (Webmaster's comment: Before removing lockdowns the United States needs to lockdown very tight like New Zealand did until the virus spread completely stops. Then the United States can also start slowly relaxing lockdowns.)

5-14-19 Coronavirus may never go away, World Health Organization warns
The coronavirus "may never go away", the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned. Speaking at a briefing on Wednesday, WHO emergencies director Dr Mike Ryan warned against trying to predict when the virus would disappear. He added that even if a vaccine is found, controlling the virus will require a "massive effort". Almost 300,000 people worldwide are reported to have died with coronavirus, and more than 4.3m cases recorded. The UN meanwhile warned the pandemic was causing widespread distress and mental ill health - particularly in countries where there's a lack of investment in mental healthcare. The UN urged governments to make mental health considerations part of their overall response. "It is important to put this on the table: this virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities, and this virus may never go away," Dr Ryan told the virtual press conference from Geneva. "HIV has not gone away - but we have come to terms with the virus." Dr Ryan then said he doesn't believe "anyone can predict when this disease will disappear". There are currently more than 100 potential vaccines in development - but Dr Ryan noted there are other illnesses, such as measles, that still haven't been eliminated despite there being vaccines for them. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stressed it was still possible to control the virus, with effort. "The trajectory is in our hands, and it's everybody's business, and we should all contribute to stop this pandemic," he said. WHO epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove also told the briefing: "We need to get into the mindset that it is going to take some time to come out of this pandemic." Their stark remarks come as several countries began to gradually ease lockdown measures, and leaders consider the issue of how and when to reopen their economies. Dr Tedros warned that there was no guaranteed way of easing restrictions without triggering a second wave of infections.

5-14-19 Coronavirus: US accuses China of hacking coronavirus research
China-linked hackers are targeting organisations researching the Covid-19 pandemic, US officials say. The FBI said it had seen hacking attempts on US groups researching vaccines, treatments and testing. The US has long accused the Chinese government of cyber-espionage, something Beijing denies. The pandemic has worsened tensions between the two countries, which have both accused each other of failing to contain the outbreak. More than 4.3m people around the world have been infected by Covid-19, with over 83,000 US deaths and 4,600 deaths in China, according to Johns Hopkins University. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (Cisa), a division of the homeland security department, issued a rare joint warning on Wednesday. In what was billed as a public service announcement, they said "healthcare, pharmaceutical and research sectors working on Covid-19 response should all be aware they are prime targets" of hackers. The cyber-thieves had "been observed attempting to identify and illicitly obtain valuable intellectual property and public health data" on treating the coronavirus, the statement added. China has repeatedly denied US accusations of cyber-espionage. Earlier this week, foreign affairs ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said: "We are leading the world in Covid-19 treatment and vaccine research. It is immoral to target China with rumours and slanders in the absence of any evidence." At a press briefing on Monday, President Donald Trump referred to China's alleged cyber-activities. (Webmaster's comment: The Chinese are way ahead of the US - 4,600 deaths versus 83,000 deaths. It is far more likely we are hacking them!)

5-14-19 Fed warns of slow recovery without more virus relief
Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell has warned that America faces a slow and painful economic recovery without additional government relief. The dark forecast from the head of the US central bank is a turnaround from early April, when he said he expected a robust rebound. It comes as lawmakers debate additional spending to shield the US economy from coronavirus shutdowns. Mr Powell said further measures would be "costly but worth it". Employers in the US cut more than 20 million jobs last month, sending the unemployment rate to 14.7%, with the many of the losses falling on poor and minority households. Analysts expect the jobless rate to climb further in May, before starting to subside. Mr Powell said on Wednesday that unemployment levels are likely to to remain elevated - particularly compared to the 50-year lows the US labour market enjoyed as recently as February. "There is a growing sense...that the recovery will come more slowly than we would like, but it will come and that may mean that it is necessary for us to do more," he said in a video conference hosted by the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Financial markets sank following the comments, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average ending more than 2% lower. The US has already approved nearly $3tn (£2.5tn) in new spending - packages worth an estimated 14% of the country's economy. The Fed has also taken radical steps to shore up the economy, pumping trillions of dollars into the financial system. While Democrats this week proposed an additional $3tn package, Mitch McConnell, who leads the Republicans in the Senate, responded that there was "no urgency" to act. Some in Washington are leery of further spending, pointing to America's skyrocketing national debt. "We know that long periods of unemployment leave a shadow...we also know that waves of bankruptcies can weigh on economic activity for years," he stressed.

5-14-19 The conservative victimhood complex has made America impossible to govern
It's an obstacle to fighting coronavirus or any other crisis. The United States has had the worst national response to the coronavirus pandemic among rich nations largely because President Trump is an incompetent leader whose narcissism means he can focus on little beyond his own approval ratings. From the start of the crisis to today, he has completely failed to take the virus seriously, and refused to do anything meaningful to stop it. It was his job to protect America, and he can't do the job. But Trump's appalling failure is only the most visible part of a vast ocean of right-wing dysfunction. For conservative zealots and media figures, the pandemic is quickly becoming just another culture war battleground — an axis of postmodern symbolic conflict, another vent for bottomless grievance, and fuel for a screeching victimhood complex. The practical effect will be to fuel infection and hamstring economic recovery. It's a stark obstacle before fixing this or any other crisis. Let's take mask-wearing. As research about the coronavirus has developed, the effectiveness of masks in slowing the spread of the disease has become clear, above all in confined indoor spaces. Studies have found that being outdoors is relatively low-risk, and most infections happen when people are in proximity to each other indoors for a long time — but also that masks can drastically reduce the possibility of infecting others if you happen to be contagious. Offices, public transportation, stores, restaurants, church services, and especially homes are where most transmission happens. Wearing a mask whenever one is indoors around strangers is a cheap and no-consequence way of protecting one's community — even if it only helps a little, it's a minuscule inconvenience. Yet a developing narrative on the right holds that masks are a sign of weakness and cowardice. Trump refuses to wear one even to set an example, reportedly because he thinks it will make him look bad. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) refuses to wear one even though it is not clear he is permanently immune after recovering from the disease. Vice President Pence refused to wear one even while visiting COVID-19 patients. On Fox News, Laura Ingraham defended Pence from critics, saying "They'll say this whole mask thing is settled science just like they do with climate change. Of course, it's not and they know it," despite having previously endorsed wearing them. (Naturally, after two cases of coronavirus cropped up in the White House last week, all staffers are now required to wear masks when in the building.) Further down the conservative food chain, anti-mask fulmination has gotten more extreme and much weirder. First Things editor R.R. Reno claimed on Twitter that "Masks=enforced cowardice." A city order in Stillwater, Oklahoma requiring masks in businesses was quickly reversed when conservative lunatics threatened violence against workers trying to enforce the rule. The conservative base is taking the elite cue — in a recent poll, just 47 percent of Republicans report wearing masks in public, against 69 percent of Democrats. At New York, Ed Kilgore reports that in a suburban Georgia grocery store, conservatives glared daggers at him for wearing a mask.

5-14-19 The strange conflation of masks and masculinity
Why even traditionalists should have no problem with the practice. That the coronavirus pandemic would be shoehorned into our perpetual culture war was all but inevitable, but that masks would be a major point of contention has come as a surprise. That they would occasion a new discussion of masculinity is a stranger plot twist still. The advice of wearing a mask in public to limit COVID-19's spread may be the most innocuous of the standard retinue of mitigation efforts: It doesn't interfere with our work or limit our movement, keep us from worship or separate us from extended family. In many places, you can get a mask for free. And as it reassures strangers we're acting responsibly, masking is a step, however counterintuitive, toward normalcy. Yet since masks became widely used, they acquired symbolic meaning for their skeptics. Among those skeptics is R.R. Reno, the editor of the conservative religious journal First Things, who argued masking signals unmanly cowardice. There are two grounds on which to reject Reno's framing, which lionized President Trump and a group of elderly World War II veterans who met with the president last week, none of them masked. The first is a bare accounting of the real rationale behind masking: It is a precaution we take not for our own safety but because it eases others' minds and may help to keep them healthy. This allows us to avoid hysteria and return to more usual habits of life. Though some may be misinformed about this rationale, and though the evidence for the value of masking is not unassailable, the reason masking is being promoted is not about "terror" for oneself, the mask-wearer. It is an act of care for others. (It is also not expected in outdoor spaces where social distance can be maintained — like going for a run on an empty street, or the apparent arrangement of Trump's meeting with the vets.) The more interesting conversation Reno raised is about masculinity: Is it unmanly to wear a mask? Though he was more explicit and accusatory than some, Reno isn't the first to connect masks and masculinity. Trump's refusal to wear a mask has been widely read as a statement about manliness by his supporters and critics alike. Masking "looks weak — especially for men," an Arizona protester declared. One Federalist piece said Trump in a mask would be a "searing image of weakness," and another satirically derided the "fragile masculinity" of any public figure who isn't constantly masked. The charge of "fragile masculinity" has been leveled sincerely as well. Trump's "warrior" rhetoric, his reported assertion that masking would "send the wrong message," and his long record of attention to the perceived manliness of himself and his political opponents all serve as suggestions he won't wear a mask because it doesn't feel macho. "[A]ppearing to play it safe contradicts a core principle of masculinity: Show no weakness," argued a social scientist in Scientific American. "In short, wearing a mask emasculates."

5-14-19 Coronavirus Sanofi: France resists idea of US getting vaccine first
France has said it would be "unacceptable" for French drug giant Sanofi to prioritise the US market if it develops a Covid-19 vaccine. The government was reacting to remarks by Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson, who said "the US government has the right to the largest pre-order because it's invested in taking the risk". Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said access for all was "non-negotiable". Many labs worldwide are involved in research to find a Covid-19 vaccine. Vaccines usually take years to develop. "For us, it would be unacceptable for there to be privileged access to such and such a country for financial reasons," Deputy Finance Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher told France's Sud Radio. The prime minister later tweeted that a vaccine should be for the benefit of everyone worldwide. President Emmanuel Macron said that recent efforts proved that a vaccine should not be subject to market forces, the Elysée Palace said. He is due to meet top Sanofi officials next week. Earlier this month the EU chaired a global online summit to boost coronavirus research, and secured pledges of $8bn (£6.5bn) from some 40 countries and donors. The funding is aimed at developing a coronavirus vaccine and treatments for Covid-19. The UK co-hosted the summit but the US and Russia did not take part. (Webmaster's comment: Why am I not surprised.) The EU insisted on Thursday that all countries should get equal access to a vaccine. "The vaccine against Covid-19 should be a global public good and its access needs to be equitable and universal," said European Commission spokesman Stefan de Keersmaecker, quoted by AFP news agency. Sanofi's Covid-19 vaccine research is partly funded by the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (Barda). But in recent years Sanofi has received tens of millions of euros in tax credits from the French government to help its research. Mr Hudson's remarks in a Bloomberg interview provoked uproar among politicians on the right and left in France. The Socialists estimated that Sanofi had received some €150m (£133m; $162m) in research tax credit and millions more in other tax credit. On Thursday Sanofi's chief in France, Olivier Bogillot, said "the goal is to have this vaccine available to the US as well as France and Europe at the same time".

5-13-19 Latest coronavirus news as of 5 pm on 13 May
In the US, 25 million more people left their homes on an average day last week compared to the previous six weeks. Businesses in many states including Texas and Florida have started to reopen after governors allowed stay-at-home orders to lapse, often against government health advice. It could be as long as “four or five years” before covid-19 is under control and the pandemic could “potentially get worse”, according to the World Health Organization’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan. Speaking at an FT conference, she said a vaccine “seems for now the best way out,” but it could stop working if the virus mutates.

5-13-19 Will the Supreme Court crown Trump king?
How a landmark decision could transform the presidency into a monarchical office. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in three cases touching on presidential immunity from congressional and grand jury investigations. If a majority of the justices side with the sweeping arguments made by Justice Department lawyers — and even more so if they are persuaded by the especially radical claims put forth by President Trump's personal attorneys — then the U.S. will have taken a big step toward elevating the presidency into a monarchical office. In this new world, the president would not only be, in effect, an elected king. He would also be a king with two bodies — more like the absolute rulers of pre-modern Europe than the head of one of three co-equal branches in a system of republican government. The phrase "the king's two bodies" comes down to us from the political thought of the Middle Ages, and specifically from the work of the pioneering intellectual historian Ernst Kantorowicz. In his 1957 book on medieval political theology, Kantorowicz showed how thinkers in Christian Europe conceived of the political power exercised by kings. Inspired by the idea of an incarnational God and developing dualistic concepts inherited from various philosophical sources, a range of writers and artists pictured kings as having a physical, mortal body and then a second, symbolic or mystical "body politic" that endures in the monarchical office and is handed down from one corporal king to the next. This concept helped medieval Europeans make sense of otherwise mysterious aspects of politics, such as the idea of sovereignty and its (perhaps automatic) transfer from one leader to another upon the death of a king. The theory may have been most clearly expressed in the well-known, paradoxical phrase first uttered upon the death of the French King Charles VI and the ascension of his son Charles VII in 1422: "The king is dead, long live the king!" As the centuries wore on and theories of state sovereignty became more sophisticated, the concept of the king's two bodies developed into the idea of monarchical absolutism rooted in powers inherent in the office of the king and temporarily taken on and exercised by a series of contingent individuals who hold the office. (Webmaster's comment: Turning Trump into the next Hitler!)

5-13-19 When crisis powers become permanent
Americans were little familiar with the Patriot Act when then-President George W. Bush signed it into law in October of 2001, less than two months after the 9/11 attacks. (Most members of Congress never read the bill, either.) But subsequent years made increasingly clear the extent of its civil liberties abuses, and Americans' opposition rose accordingly. For civil libertarians, the Patriot Act has become an archetypal example of state abuse of a crisis to grab new powers it will never voluntarily concede. The law is once again up for congressional renewal, this time while a new crisis, the coronavirus pandemic, is raising fresh fears of "temporary" emergency measures becoming permanent. The history of the Patriot Act is a window into why those fears are justified — and defensible without downplaying the risk of COVID-19 or dismissing the value of a robust public health response. Much like support for COVID-19 mitigation measures now, the Patriot Act was largely popular when it was newly made law. The bill passed the House in a 357-66 vote and the Senate with only a single dissent (Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold). The Bush administration touted it on the Justice Department website as key to "a number of successful operations to protect innocent Americans from the deadly plans of terrorists dedicated to destroying America and our way of life." Its changes were "modest" and "incremental," the Bush DOJ claimed, simply a matter of taking "existing legal principles and retrofitt[ing] them to preserve the lives and liberty of the American people from the challenges posed by a global terrorist network." These claims were lies. The DOJ revealed in 2015 that in 14 years, the mass surveillance capabilities authorized by Section 215 of the Patriot Act hadn't helped solve any major terrorism cases. Between 2003 and 2006, for example, the FBI used Patriot Act authority to issue 192,499 national security letters, which allowed the agency to collect targets' phone and computer records, as well as credit and banking history, without obtaining a warrant from a judge. (The letters predated the Patriot Act, but the law substantially expanded their use.) All those thousands of letters produced a sole terrorism conviction — and it could have been accomplished without a national security letter. One national security letter alone could acquire hundreds of Americans' data; that data could be shared with more than 30,000 law enforcement agencies; and, once collected, it would never be deleted.

5-13-19 Coronavirus: Fauci warns Senate of 'serious consequences'
The top US infectious diseases doctor has warned senators that the coronavirus will spread further if the country opens up too soon. Dr Anthony Fauci said if federal guidelines to reopen were not followed, "little spikes" would become outbreaks. He also said the real US death toll is probably higher than the official figure of 80,000. His message is at odds with the upbeat tone of President Donald Trump who is keen to get the economy going again. Dr Fauci was speaking via video to a Republican-led committee of the US Senate. He was referring to the White House's Opening Up America Again plan, which includes three 14-day phases that states are urged to consider implementing as they allow schools and businesses to reopen. Several states which are restarting their economies have infection rates that are rising, not falling. He warned of the risk of triggering an outbreak that officials would not be able to control, adding that such an outbreak would set back economic recovery and lead to "suffering and death". Although the White House has laid out guidelines for reopening, it is ultimately up to state governors to make the decisions on how to ease the lockdown. "There is no doubt, even under the best of circumstances, when you pull back on mitigation you will see some cases appear," Dr Fauci warned the US officials. Questioned about the possibility of a rebound in autumn of the virus, Dr Fauci said one is "entirely conceivable and possible". "I hope that if we do have the threat of a second wave we will be able to deal with it very effectively to prevent it becoming an outbreak," he said. Dr Fauci also said there are multiple vaccines in development but "no guarantee" any will be effective, though based on his knowledge of other viruses, he is "cautiously optimistic". "We have many candidates and hope to have multiple winners," he said. "In other words it's multiple shots on goal."

5-13-19 Robert De Niro on coronavirus lockdown and US politics
Robert De Niro spoke to the BBC about life in New York during the outbreak and the country's leadership. The Oscar winning actor told Newsnight's Emily Maitlis that it was a very difficult time and he found it "scary" that there wasn't stronger criticism of President Trump's response to the pandemic.

5-13-19 We will have summer tourist season, promises EU
A gradual lifting of borders has been proposed by the EU's executive in an attempt to kick-start a tourist industry hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. "Our message is we will have a tourist season this summer," said economic affairs commissioner Paolo Gentiloni, "even if it's with security measures and limitations." Borders closed across the EU, including the border-free Schengen zone. But states are starting to reopen them. Austria and Germany have become the latest EU countries to agree to remove travel restrictions. From Friday there will be random checks at border crossings and then on 15 June free movement should resume. "We want to make people's everyday lives easier and take another step towards more normality," said Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. UK travellers have already been warned not to expect "lavish" international holidays, with plans for a 14-day quarantine on air arrivals. But travel without quarantine will be possible to France and Ireland. The scale of the crisis was illustrated by travel giant Tui announcing the loss of up to 8,000 jobs worldwide with plans to cut costs by 30%. The German government has given the company a €1.8bn (£1.6bn; $1.9bn) bridging loan to stay afloat. The European Commission said its guidance was based on the principles of safety and non-discrimination. Tourism provided almost 10% of Europe's economic output and millions of jobs across the 27 member states relied on it. Commission Vice-President Margrethe Vestager said no-one should travel if they felt sick or experienced symptoms. The non-binding plans involve countries working together to gradually remove travel bans and then border checks, while keeping targeted measures as the Covid-19 outbreak comes under control across the member states. A phased approach would start by allowing seasonal workers across borders, followed by a lifting of restrictions between countries with the virus under a similar level control and then the opening of all the EU's internal borders.

5-13-19 Ahmaud Arbery mum 'believes there will be justice'
The mother of Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed while out for a jog near his home in Georgia, believes "there will be justice". The 25-year-old was shot by a white father and son in an attack his family say was clearly racist. "He was African-American, he was jogging in a predominantly white neighbourhood - he was targeted for the colour of his skin," says Wanda Cooper-Jones. Gregory and Travis McMichael were charged with murder last week. It was the first time any arrests had been made in the case, despite Ahmaud being killed on 23 February. The McMichaels admitted to killing Ahmaud in the initial police report, claiming they acted in self-defence. Given the time that had passed, the arrests surprised Wanda. "In the very beginning, when it first occurred, I thought it was going to be covered up. Everything was working in that direction. If we didn't find the right resources to push the issue we wouldn't have an arrest today." She adds: "They visited a crime scene where there was a man dead. And all parties that were responsible were able to return home while my son was taken to the morgue." The Glynn County Police Department says it has "sought justice in this case from the beginning". (Webmaster's comment: Pure Bullshit!) Ahmaud, from Brunswick in Georgia, was "humble, happy and well-mannered", according to his mum. "He loved life. He was love. To know Ahmaud was to love Ahmaud." He had dreams of being a "very successful electrician, like his uncles are". "Ahmaud was young. He loved - so I'm quite sure he dreamed of having a wife and kids. "All that was taken away." Wanda says it's been "long, stressful and hopeless" trying to get Ahmaud's name out there in the months since his death. Ordinarily with cases like this we would expect to see pictures of demonstrators out on the streets. But Ahmaud was killed as coronavirus began its spread and the lockdown started. "I really was getting to a point where I never thought I would receive justice." William Bryan, who filmed the video, is also being investigated. (Webmaster's comment: Killing blacks for any reason is a protected right for white southerners!)

5-13-19 Breonna Taylor: Lawsuit after US health worker shot dead by police
A woman in the US state of Kentucky was shot and killed by police after they raided the wrong address, according to a lawsuit. Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician (EMT), was shot eight times when officers entered her apartment in Louisville on 13 March. They were executing a search warrant as part of a drugs investigation, but no drugs were found in the property. The lawsuit accuses the officers of wrongful death and excessive force. It was filed by Ms Taylor's family last month and says the officers were not looking for her or her partner - but for an unrelated suspect who was already in custody and did not live in the apartment complex. Louisville police said they returned fire after one officer was shot and wounded in the incident. At a press conference on 13 March, the department said its officers knocked on the door several times and announced themselves as police. But a lawyer for Ms Taylor's partner, Kenneth Walker, said he fired in self-defence because the officers did not identify themselves and he believed they were breaking in. The lawsuit alleges that the police then fired more than 20 rounds of ammunition into the home. The department has declined to answer questions on the case citing an ongoing investigation. "Breonna had posed no threat to the officers and did nothing to deserve to die at their hands," the lawsuit reads. "Shots were blindly fired by the officers all throughout Breonna's home," it added. The family, which is seeking compensation and damages, has hired a prominent civil rights lawyer to represent them. Ben Crump has represented the families of other high-profile black shooting victims, such as Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery. (Webmaster's comment: Killing blacks for any reason is still a white southerners prerogative.)

5-12-19 Independent scientists criticise UK government's covid-19 approach
The UK government’s decision to outsource coronavirus contact tracing to private call centre operators including Serco has been branded “bewildering” by an independent group of scientists set up in parallel to the government’s official science advisers. The “Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies”, led by former chief scientific adviser David King, today published a report criticising the government’s covid-19 approach so far, from its use of statistics to its new “stay alert” messaging. The document comes as the UK Office for National Statistics published figures showing deaths in England and Wales have been above the five-year average for seven weeks in a row, with covid-19 mentioned in more than 33,000 death certificates by 1 May. King said at a virtual press conference today that his group was “not happy” with the government’s decision to stop contact tracing on 12 March. The UK government has set a target of recruiting 18,000 contact tracers by the middle of May, but has declined to tell New Scientist how many are in place so far. Most of the work will be contracted to two private firms, The Times has reported. “It’s very bewildering to outsource contact tracing to Serco and to have a centralised system. This doesn’t make sense,” said Allyson Pollock at Newcastle University, one of the group’s 12 members. It would have been better to have focused on working with family doctors, local environmental health officers and local authorities for contact tracing, she said. “To use the fire analogy, it’s thousands of outbreaks, and when you want to put out a fire in Blackpool or Cumbria or the Isle of Wight, you don’t call the fire engine from Westminster, London, you have to do that locally. That way you engage, you understand your local communities.”

5-12-19 Coronavirus: Developing countries are ‘on a ledge with no safety net’
The world’s richest countries are guilty of a myopic international response to the coronavirus crisis that will hurt the world’s poorest people and the global fight against the disease, warns David Miliband, CEO of the US-based International Rescue Committee (IRC). Miliband, a former UK politician and foreign secretary, says there is still time to stop human suffering in the world’s most fragile countries, by increasing handwashing, fever testing and building isolation centres. A report by the IRC estimates that in a worst-case scenario, more than 3 million people will die from covid-19 and a billion would be infected across 34 crisis-affected countries. The estimates, based on modelling done by Imperial College London, are likely to be conservative because they assume levels of healthcare that match those in China, which many of the countries don’t have, says Miliband. Three of the countries most at risk are Yemen, which already has the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, Nigeria, because it has the largest population in Africa, and Bangladesh, which is home to the biggest refugee camp, he says. Sub-Saharan Africa is puzzling, Miliband says, because although little covid-19 testing has taken place in the region, health facilities run by the IRC there haven’t been overrun. That could be due to a younger population in the region. “Demography might be playing a part, but it might not. More likely is that the spread of the disease has not yet hit the full ramp-up, partly because many of the places we work are not as integrated into the global economy as New York or London.” The coming weeks will be critical, he says. On 4 May, Nigeria confirmed its highest daily number of covid-19 cases on the day it began to phase out lockdown measures.

5-12-19 Coronavirus: Fauci to warn Senate of 'needless suffering and death'
The US's top infectious diseases doctor is to tell senators that the country will suffer "needless suffering and death" if it opens up too soon. In an email to the New York Times, Dr Anthony Fauci set out the arguments he intends to make at Tuesday's hearing. "If we skip over the checkpoints in the guidelines to Open America Again, then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks," he told the newspaper. More than 80,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the US. Although the White House has laid out guidelines for reopening, it is ultimately up to state governors to make the decisions on how to ease the lockdown. Re-opening the country prematurely "will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal" said the doctor, who is a key member of the White House coronavirus task force. In his comments to the New York Times, Dr Fauci was referring to the White House's Opening Up America Again plan, which includes three 14-day phases that states should consider implementing as they allow schools and businesses to re-open. He will be testifying to the Senate Health, Education, Labour and Pensions Committee. Witnesses will be appearing remotely. Three members of the White House coronavirus task force are self-isolating after possible exposure to the illness, including Dr Fauci. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr Robert Redfield and Food and Drug Administration commissioner Stephen Hahn are also self-isolating. Dr Fauci has tested negative but will continue to work from home for the time being, and will be regularly tested. He plans to warn of the risks associated with reopening the country too soon, and will advise people that there is a lot they can do to get back to normality, but they should follow government guidelines, he told CBS News. (Webmaster's comment: He will likely be prevented from testifing to the Senate.)

5-12-19 Trump spars with Asian American reporter over 'nasty question'
CBS News journalist Weijia Jiang asked Mr Trump why testing is a global competition to him. The president answered by saying that's a question she should ask China. After calling on another reporter, Ms Jiang followed up by asking the president why that response was specifically for her. President Trump has previously made comments regarding Ms Jiang's Asian American background. (Webmaster's comment: He is a racist pure and simple!)

5-12-19 Coronavirus: The lost six weeks when US failed to contain outbreak
Having watched Asian and European countries struggle against Covid-19, the US was slow to ramp up testing and order its residents to stay at home. We look at this crucial time period and what exactly was done to prevent the outbreak.

5-12-19 US Supreme Court hears arguments over Trump's tax returns
The US Supreme Court is hearing arguments on whether President Donald Trump should be allowed to keep his financial records secret, in a major showdown over presidential powers. Mr Trump declines to share documents that could shed light on his fortune and the work of his family company. Two congressional committees and New York prosecutors demand the release of his tax returns and other information. Mr Trump's private lawyers argue he enjoys total immunity while in office. Experts say the ruling will have far-reaching implications for the ability of Congress to scrutinise the activities of sitting presidents and of prosecutors to investigate them. A decision is expected before the US presidential election in November. A ruling against Mr Trump could mean the release of his personal financial information in the campaign season. The judges will hear the cases by telephone because of the coronavirus pandemic. In the three cases being heard, Mr Trump's lawyers tried to bloc the subpoenas - orders to hand-over evidence. But lower courts in Washington and New York ruled against the president in all cases, but those decisions have been put on hold pending a final court ruling. Two committees at the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives demanded financial records from two banks that did deals with Mr Trump, Deutsche Bank and Capital One, as well as from Mazars, the president's accountants. Deutsche Bank was one of the few banks willing to lend to Mr Trump after a series of corporate bankruptcies in the 1990s, and the documents sought to include records related to the president, the Trump Organization and his family. Mr Trump's lawyers argued that Congress had no authority to issue the subpoenas. Mazars is also the recipient of a subpoena from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr, a Democrat. The investigation concerns alleged hush money payments made by Mr Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen to two women - adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal - who both say they had affairs with Mr Trump. The president denies the affairs took place. In this case, Mr Trump's lawyers said his records could not be handed over because his position as president gave him immunity from any criminal proceeding while in office. Unlike other recent presidents, Mr Trump has refused to release his tax returns. The Supreme Court has a 5-4 conservative majority, and includes two Trump appointees - Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

5-12-19 Coronavirus: Musk defies orders and reopens Tesla's California plant
Tesla has reopened its only US electric car plant in California, despite local orders against manufacturing. On Monday, the company's chief executive Elon Musk tweeted that production had restarted and he would be "on the line with everyone else". US states and local governments are trying to determine the best way to open up after lockdown. Mr Musk previously vowed to move the firm's headquarters out of California if the plant was not allowed to reopen. He has been vocal about the lockdown orders in recent weeks. Mr Musk recently celebrated plans to relax restrictions across the country, writing on Twitter: "FREE AMERICA NOW". He has also dismissed as "dumb" concerns about the coronavirus. While the state has eased restrictions to allow manufacturing, Alameda County, where the Fremont plant is located, has not. The town is about one hour south of San Francisco. On Saturday, Elon Musk said that Tesla had filed a lawsuit against the county asking a court to remove the order that prevents the carmaker from resuming production. Rather than wait for a ruling, Mr Musk announced on Twitter on Monday that the plant would reopen. The local police department said that it was aware of the situation, but that it would act at the discretion of county health officials. The Alameda County Public Health Department said on Monday it was "actively communicating" with Tesla about reopening plans and that it was taking the same approach it had taken with other business that had violated lockdown orders. In an email seen by Reuters, Tesla also reportedly told workers the decision to reopen was in line with California guidelines. Mr Musk wrote on Twitter that Tesla had been "singled out", saying that other US carmakers were allowed to restart production. Other carmakers had planned to resume production in May but some have had to delay this in states like Michigan where non-essential business operations are limited. Pictures of the Tesla car park on Monday showed it mostly full. The plant has been closed to all but limited essential operations since 26 March. (Webmaster's comment: Arrest him and lock him up!)

5-12-19 Coronavirus: Germany not alarmed by infection rate rise
The scientific body advising the German government on coronavirus says it is not concerned that the virus reproduction rate - the R rate - has been above one for three straight days. Above R1.0 means that, statistically, one infected person is passing the virus to more than one other person. But Lars Schaade of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said only if the R value rose above 1.2 or 1.3 for several days would he be worried. The data is also subject to delays. Mr Schaade said "individual days are not a problem". He also said that the fewer the overall number of infections, the greater the impact of an outbreak - like those recently reported in slaughterhouses - on the R value. "If the second decimal digit were above 1 that would not yet be critical. But the higher it goes above 1, like 1.2 or 1.3 and over a longer period of time, it would create a situation where we would pay very close attention and think about measures how to countersteer that." RKI said on Tuesday the total of deaths in Germany from Covid-19 had reached 7,533. The daily average of deaths in the past week was 100 to 200. The death tolls in some other European countries - notably Italy, the UK and Spain - are much higher. Judging the level of threat from the coronavirus depends on understanding the rate at which it's spreading - what's known as 'R'. If that rate goes above 1, the outbreak can escalate because anyone infected can pass the virus to more than one other person. But that is not the whole story. What also matters is the actual scale of infection - the numbers of people catching the virus. So in Germany, while the R is now slightly above 1, and may go higher, the authorities are concerned but not panicking. That's because it's estimated that fewer than 1,000 Germans are becoming infected every day. So even if the rate of spread accelerates, the problem can be handled with careful surveillance and mass testing, because the numbers involved are manageable. By contrast, it's thought that in the UK something like 20,000 people are becoming infected every day - far fewer than at the height of the outbreak, but still a serious number. And at that scale of infection, even a small rise in the R rate could have a dangerous impact, potentially overwhelming the health service with a second peak in the crisis.

5-12-19 Scott Johnson death: Australian man arrested in gay hate killing cold case
Australian police have charged a man with the decades-old murder of a gay US student in Sydney. The body of Scott Johnson, 27, was found at the bottom of beach cliffs in 1988. Police ruled it a suicide. However, later inquiries concluded he had been killed in a hate crime. This also drew attention to other cases of homophobic killings around Sydney's beaches in the 1980s. Scott Price, 49, was arrested at his Sydney home on Tuesday. He was refused bail and will face a court on Wednesday. The New South Wales police chief said it was a "career highlight" to call Scott Johnson's brother, Steve, who lives in the US, to inform him of the arrest. The police force has previously apologised to the family for not investigating the case properly in the 1980s and failing to protect the gay community. "While we have a long way to go in the legal process, it must be acknowledged that if it wasn't for the determination of the Johnson family... we wouldn't be where we are today," Commissioner Mick Fuller said. Scott, a gifted University of Cambridge maths student, had moved from the US to Sydney to be with his partner in 1986. He had been close to completing his PhD when he was found dead at the bottom of the North Head cliffs in Manly. His brother Steve campaigned for decades for the case to be re-investigated. He told the BBC in 2018 it was "inconceivable" that his brother had jumped off a cliff. "This is a very emotional day," he said in a video message on Tuesday. "He was my best friend and he really needed me to do this." Family petitions sparked coroner investigations in 2012 and 2015 which both recommended police reopen the case. However no action was taken until a third inquiry in 2017 where the coroner found Scott had died as a result of a gay hate crime. Police offered a A$1m (£570,000; $645,000) cash reward in 2018 for information about the case. It's now estimated up to 80 gay men were murdered by homophobic gangs in and around Sydney in the late 1980s - with many pushed off cliffs.

5-12-19 Coronavirus: Wuhan draws up plans to test all 11 million residents
The Chinese city of Wuhan is drawing up plans to test its entire population of 11 million people for Covid-19, state media report. The plan appears to be in its early stages, with all districts in Wuhan told to submit details as to how testing could be done within 10 days. It comes after Wuhan, where the virus first emerged, recorded six new cases over the weekend. Prior to this, it had seen no new cases at all since 3 April. Wuhan, which was in strict lockdown for 11 weeks, began re-opening on 8 April. For a while it seemed like life was getting back to normal as schools re-opened, businesses slowly emerged and public transport resumed operations. But the emergence of a cluster of cases - all from the same residential compound - has now threatened the move back to normalcy. According to report by The Paper, quoting a widely circulated internal document, every district in the city has been told to draw up a 10-day testing plan by noon on Tuesday. Each district is responsible for coming up with its own plan based on the size of their population and whether or not there is currently an active outbreak in the district. The document, which refers to the test plan as the "10-day battle", also says that older people and densely populated communities should be prioritised when it comes to testing. However several senior health officials quoted by the Global Times newspaper indicated that testing the entire city would be unfeasible and costly. Peng Zhiyong, director of the intensive care unit of the Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University, instead that testing was instead likely to be targeted at medical workers, vulnerable people and those who'd had close contacts with a case. Another Wuhan University director suggested that a large percentage of Wuhan's population - around 3-5 million - had already been tested, and Wuhan was "capable" of testing the remaining 6-8 million in a 10-days period. (Webmaster's comment: China is serious about protecting its people. The United States is not. Its only interest is to somehow save the economy and re-elect Trump regardless of the number of deaths!)

5-11-19 White House staff ordered to wear masks
White House staff have been ordered to wear masks when entering the West Wing after two aides tested positive for coronavirus. The White House personnel office has said that staff must cover their faces at all times except when seated at their desks, socially distant from colleagues. The directive comes after an aide for Vice-President Mike Pence and a valet for President Trump fell ill. Mr Trump said he required the policy. Appearing without a mask in the Rose Garden for a press briefing on Monday, however, the president claimed he did not need to follow the directive because he kept "far away from everyone", and played down the White House infections. "We have hundreds of people a day pouring into the White House" each day, he said. "I think we're doing a good job containing it." Three members of the White House coronavirus task force went into self-isolation for two weeks after possible exposure to the illness. They include Dr Anthony Fauci, who has become the public face of the fight against the virus in the US. Mr Pence's press secretary Katie Miller, the wife of Trump aide Stephen Miller, tested positive for the virus on Friday. Her diagnosis came after a valet for US President Donald Trump was also confirmed to have the illness. Mr Trump shrugged of the White House spread, saying it was "basically one person" who had contracted the virus and that people who were in contact had since tested negative. Mr Trump said more funds would be made available to increase testing in states. The government is to provide $11bn (£8.9bn) to states to meet testing goals this month. States were asked how many tests they hope to conduct in May, and will be given supplies to match the targets. Senior White House officials who come into regular contact with Mr Trump are currently being tested daily for the coronavirus. Pressed by journalists on when all Americans could expect to have access to testing, Mr Trump said: "If someone wants to be tested right now they will be able to be tested". The claim is heavily disputed. (Webmaster's comment: Trump is a Liar!)

5-11-19 Why are Trump and Obama in a new spat over Flynn?
The Justice Department's surprising decision to drop all charges against Donald Trump's former national security adviser has set off a cascade of accusations and counter-accusations. And at the centre of it are the present and previous presidents. Michael Flynn was forced to resign early in the Trump presidency for lying to Vice-President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russian government officials. He had also pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents investigating ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. After years of legal wrangling, however, the former three-star general is now a free man. Obama has largely held his tongue about the actions of his successor but on Friday in a call to 3,000 former aides and officials that was leaked to the media, he let loose. "There is no precedent that anybody can find for someone who has been charged with perjury just getting off scot-free," he said. "That's the kind of stuff where you begin to get worried that basic - not just institutional norms - but our basic understanding of rule of law is at risk." Trump, who has never been shy about criticising - or blaming - his predecessor, responded with a flurry of social media posts and retweets on Sunday, accusing Obama and his aides of engaging in a criminal effort to undermine his presidency. He amplified the assertions of right-wing commentators and lashed out at Obama, former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, late-night television host Jimmy Kimmel and numerous reporters and media outlets. "The biggest political crime in American history, by far!" the president wrote, retweeting a conservative talk-radio host who accused Obama officials of sabotaging Trump in the days before he took office. (Webmaster's comment: Our White House is full of crooks, from the President on down.)

5-11-19 Covid-19 news: Coronavirus restrictions to ease slightly in England
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. Restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus are being eased slightly in England this week, but many have criticised the government for creating confusion with a new slogan telling people to “stay alert”, which replaces previous advice to “stay at home.” In a video message broadcast on Sunday evening, prime minister Boris Johnson announced the following changes to the government’s policy in England, which are listed in full online and will come into effect from Wednesday 13 May: 1. Employees can return to work if they can’t work from home and if their work place is open, but they should try to avoid using public transport to get there. This applies to essential shops, but excludes restaurants, pubs, and gyms. 2. Face coverings are advised in places like shops or on public transport, but will not be made compulsory. 3. People will be able to meet with one person from a household other than their own, but only if they meet in a public place and stay at least two metres apart. These new policies mean that social distancing rules in England are now different from the advice given to UK citizens in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon said people should continue to “stay at home”, and Northern Ireland’s first minister Arlene Foster also rejected the new slogan. Some London Underground platforms were packed with passengers this morning following last night’s announcement. Two people who work in close proximity to US president Donald Trump and vice president Mike Pence have tested positive for coronavirus, and several senior staff including government health adviser Anthony Fauci are now self-isolating for two weeks. The White House said that vice president Pence will not alter his routine or self-quarantine. Doctors in the US have reported a wide range of possible effects of covid-19 on the body, including damage to the kidneys, heart and brain. The death toll in the US could reach 137,000 by early August according to researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Many states are continuing to ease restrictions despite failing to meet White House criteria for reopening businesses. The covid-19 pandemic is causing a decline in routine childhood vaccination in the US, according to a report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Parents’ concerns about potentially exposing their children to covid-19 may be a contributing factor.

5-11-19 Coronavirus is no reason to cut Social Security
America has spent trillions so far on economic rescue packages to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, and the national debt is therefore soaring. As a result, The Washington Post reports, some of the president's economic advisers are increasingly keen on finding ways to cut spending, though the president himself is apparently not much interested. One possibility being floated by conservatives is a particularly harebrained scheme to undermine Social Security, in the guise of helping people get through the crisis. The proposal might be sort of well-intentioned, but it's also pointlessly convoluted, harmful in the long term, ideologically blinkered, and politically toxic. It emerges from a cramped, false view of what Social Security is, and a desire to capitulate to the dangerous austerity mindset. Don't be fooled by these bad, bad ideas. The suggestion originates with a couple different groups of conservative or neoliberal economists. One paper in question comes from Sylvain Catherine, Max Miller, and Natasha Sarin from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. It is similar to an idea from conservative scholars Andrew Biggs and Joshua Rauh, but bears closer examination because it is nominally framed in a progressive way. The proposal is to give current workers access to 1 percent of their future Social Security benefits in a lump sum payment. This would swiftly boost the economy "by providing more than $2,000 to the large majority of workers." The modeling of the paper is extremely complicated, but the idea is fairly simple. Basically we would hand out a cash payment calculated as 1 percent of the present value of whatever someone would be entitled to when they retire, according to the Social Security benefit formula and estimates for how wages would evolve over time. Then we would reduce their future retirement benefits by 1 percent when they do enroll in Social Security. There are several huge problems here. First, while Catherine and company are correct that Social Security benefits are relatively equitably distributed throughout the population, many people would still be left out of this proposal, because benefits are calculated based on income history. Those who haven't earned much (that is, the poor) wouldn't get much. Second, this approach would make the program substantially more complicated, because differing benefit amounts would have to be calculated for each person. Third, the proposal would give less to younger workers simply because they don't have as long of an earning history — which would also be regressive on net, as older people tend to make more money than younger ones. Fourth, and most significantly, people would needlessly suffer in the future. A 1 percent decrease in future benefits doesn't sound like much, but Social Security benefits are already meager — about $1,500 per month on average in 2019. That one percent would tip a lot of people into financial insolvency. Indeed, America is already in the early stages of a serious retirement crisis, because traditional pensions are vanishing and the 401(k) experiment was a disastrous failure. We should be increasing Social Security benefits, not reducing them.

5-11-19 Coronavirus: South Dakota Sioux refuse to take down 'illegal' checkpoints
Sioux tribes in the US state of South Dakota are refusing to remove coronavirus checkpoints they set up on roads which pass through their land. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem wrote to several tribal leaders last week saying the checkpoints were illegal. But the Sioux say they are the only way of making sure the virus does not enter their reservations. Their limited healthcare facilities would not be able to cope with an outbreak, they say. At present, people are only allowed to enter the reservations for essential business if they have not travelled from a Covid-19 hotspot. They must also complete a health questionnaire before doing so. Ms Noem is threatening to take the two tribes - the Oglala Sioux and the Cheyenne River Sioux tribes - to federal court if they do not comply. In a letter sent to their representatives on Friday, she demanded the checkpoints be removed. "The checkpoints on state and US highways are not legal, and if they don't come down, the state will take the matter to federal court, as Governor Noem noted in her Friday letter," her senior adviser and policy director, Maggie Seidel, said in an email sent to the local Argus Leader newspaper on Sunday. Tribes are meant to get permission from state authorities if they want to close or restrict travel inside their reservations. The chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe, Harold Frazier, issued a statement in response to the governor on Friday, saying: "We will not apologise for being an island of safety in a sea of uncertainty and death." "You continuing to interfere in our efforts to do what science and facts dictate seriously undermine our ability to protect everyone on the reservation," he added. Oglala Sioux President Julian Bear Runner says Ms Noem's decision "threatened the sovereign interest of the Oglala people". "Due to the lack of judgment in planning of preventative measures in response to the current pandemic, Covid-19, the Oglala Sioux Tribe has adopted reasonable and necessary measures to protect the health and safety of our tribal members and our other residents of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation," he is quoted as saying by the Argus Leader. (Webmaster's comment: Standing up to authoritarian Kristi Noem!)

5-11-19 US start-up is testing drones in India to enforce social distancing
As countries around the world are gradually reopening following lockdowns, government authorities are using surveillance drones in an attempt to enforce social distancing rules. In India, police are using AI-equipped drones developed by US start-up Skylark to monitor evening curfews and the distance between people who are outside during the day. The drones are being used in six cities in the northern state of Punjab, and are also being trialled in the southern city of Bangalore, says Skylark CEO Amarjot Singh. Each drone is fitted with a camera and an AI that can detect humans within a range of 150 metres and 1 kilometre. If it spots people it can send an alert to police in the district located nearest to the sighting. The system can also calculate the physical distance between two or more people and let the police know if people get too close to each other. The police can then go to the location and issue a fine if they see people breaching the rules. “Previously, the police had no idea of where people were gathering, so now they are able to view larger areas,” says Singh. India was shut down on March 25 and lockdown restrictions are set to remain in place until at least 17 May in many parts of the country. In the more severely hit parts of the country, residents aren’t allowed to go outside at any time without reason. In the US, authorities in several states have used drones fitted with cameras and loudspeakers to broadcast messages to urge social distancing. Some firms have also floated the idea of using drones equipped with thermal imaging to identify potentially infected people with fevers. However, the World Health Organization suggests that “temperature screening alone may not be very effective” at detecting covid-19.

5-11-19 The making of a coronavirus conspiracy theory
What climate change deniers and coronavirus skeptics have in common. or most of my adult life, I have believed there would come a point when climate denialists would have to give up the game. I thought the plain facts of rising coastal waters, widening drought, and growing human misery would at long last force them to stop resisting efforts to mitigate climate change and start working in earnest for effective solutions. The COVID-19 pandemic has made me realize I was wrong. "Climate change is going to be exactly like this," my colleague Ryan Cooper correctly asserted in March, "only on a much longer time scale." What we're also finding is that the American coronavirus backlash looks a lot like the resistance to climate-friendly policymaking — only on a much shorter time scale. In both cases, conservative elites attempt to muddy the scientific consensus in order to raise the hackles of rank-and-file voters against government action. In both cases, it is the poor and minorities who will feel the brunt of that inaction. And in both cases, many of those same elites will find they cannot fully protect themselves from the fallout of their choices.

One! Denialism has many tactics. One is to generate a controversy over the known facts where none really exists. (The term "hoax" has been bandied about a lot when it comes to both climate change and coronavirus.) Skeptics routinely offer up lists of scientists who challenge the consensus that the climate is changing, and that change is due to human activity. That means instead of taking action, real experts end up spending their time and energy defending that consensus, getting bogged down in debate when they could be formulating and executing a response to the crisis. Similarly, coronavirus deniers have offered up questionable research and conspiracy theories to contest expert-driven guidelines on social distancing — and to outright deny that the coronavirus is a threat. Sometimes they even throw multiple, contrasting arguments out to the public. The point is not to inform or be consistent, but to generate noise and skepticism among the wider citizenry.

Two! Another tactic is to kill the messengers — and their message. President Trump has proposed deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, curtailing climate-related projects at NASA and ending grants aimed at helping coastal residents adapt to rising waters. Similarly, the administration has shelved guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how local governments can safely reopen their economies amid the pandemic, and Arizona's governor is cutting off scientists from data they can use to track coronavirus and predict how it will affect the state. This tactic doesn't change or slow the devastation of the the threats, but it does make it more difficult for both experts and the public to comprehend the dimensions of the challenge they pose.

Three! A final tactic of skeptics is to normalize the devastation. Denialists make the case that the Earth's climate goes through hot and warm stages anyway — ignoring the experts' conclusion that humans have greatly and dangerously accelerated that process. Likewise, Trump and his allies are making the case that Americans must learn to accept the risk of COVID-19 infection as part of everyday life. But normalization suggests those risks are inevitable. That isn't true, or not entirely so. America's rising number of infections is the result of choices made by Trump and other policymakers.

5-11-19 Coronavirus: How lockdown is being lifted across Europe
After almost seven weeks of lockdown in the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced the next phase of the country's response to the coronavirus pandemic. Across Europe, people are already seeing an easing of lockdown measures, as businesses reopen and children start going back to school. Here is how Europeans are emerging from life under lockdown. Germany has begun opening up: control of lifting the lockdown will now be in the hands of Germany's 16 federal states. But Chancellor Angela Merkel has stressed that an ''emergency brake'' will be applied anywhere that sees a surge in new infections. Shops of all sizes are now allowed to reopen, with extra hygiene and social distancing measures. Shops smaller than 800 m2 have been allowed to open since 20 April, alongside car dealerships, bicycle shops and bookshops. Schools have been partially reopened for young children and those taking exams. All other classes will return gradually throughout the summer term. Bundesliga football matches resume behind closed doors on Saturday 16 May - the first big European league to do so Two different households are now allowed to meet up with each other. Big public events like festivals are banned until at least the end of August. Germany says football can resume and shops reopen. France: End to travel permits. France's strict lockdown was imposed on 17 March and residents were required to provide a travel permit justifying any trips outside. From 11 May, those restrictions have been eased and the situation will be reviewed after three weeks. Residents no longer have to provide travel certificates, and car journeys within a radius of up to 100km (62 miles) from home are now permitted. Longer trips still require a certificate and during the rush-hour in Paris you will need your employer's authorisation or a compelling reason to travel. The lockdown map shows France split in two, with four "red zones" including Paris keeping parks, gardens and schools for 11 to 18-year-olds shut for the time being. Primary schools and nurseries can reopen after 11 May, while schools for 11 to 15 year-olds (collèges) in "green zones" will open on 18 May. A limit of 15 pupils will be put on classrooms and masks will be compulsory for older children. Schools for 15 to 18-year-olds (lycées) are not opening before June. All shops (bar Paris shopping centres) can now reopen; leisure centres and cemeteries can reopen but bars and restaurants will remain closed. Gatherings of fewer than 10 people will also be permitted; the elderly and vulnerable will be allowed out but must use common sense. Lockdown bites poor as France eases grip

5-11-19 Coronavirus: France eases lockdown after eight weeks
France has cautiously begun to lift its lockdown, with millions back in work after eight weeks of restrictions. Shops are reopening, many pupils are returning to primary schools, and people will not need travel certificates when they leave home. But some parts of the country - including the capital Paris - remain under tighter controls, with the country split into green and red zones. The government has faced criticism for how it has handled the crisis. French President Emmanuel Macron won broad support for imposing restrictions on 17 March. But many have attacked the response since then. More than 26,000 people have died from Covid-19 in France since 1 March - one of the highest tolls in Europe. Many other European countries are also easing restrictions on Monday. Belgium is opening shops, subject to distancing guidelines. The Netherlands is opening libraries, hairdressers and driving schools - and partially restarting primary schools. Both primary and middle schools are restarting in Switzerland, albeit with reduced sizes, and restaurants, bookshops and museums are reopening too. Gatherings of up to 10 people are allowed in Spain and some restaurants can open their doors provided they impose social distancing rules. Austria, Denmark, Germany and Italy began to lift their lockdown measures earlier. The government has released a detailed plan of how France will slowly come out of lockdown, first brought in on 17 March. Masks are mandatory on public transport and in secondary schools as they reopen in the coming weeks. Shops also have the right to ask customers to wear one. Gatherings of up to 10 people are allowed, and the elderly and vulnerable will be allowed outside. People will no longer need travel permits to explain why they have left home. Car journeys of up to 100km (60 miles) from home are allowed, but drivers need permission for distances further than that. And anyone wanting to travel in Paris during rush hour will need authorisation from their employer.

5-11-19 How some African countries are beginning to ease coronavirus lockdowns
Coronavirus cases across Africa have continued to occur at much lower levels than on other continents. After many African countries took quick action to stop the virus spreading, attention is now turning to what will happen as several nations begin easing lockdown restrictions in one of the world’s most vulnerable regions. South Africa has some of the continent’s most stringent coronavirus measures, including a ban on cigarette and alcohol sales and a lockdown that only allows people out to get food or medicine. Its government is taking a very gradual approach to relaxing these restrictions. Ghana is at the other end of the spectrum: against expectations, lockdown was lifted in the capital of Accra and the city of Kumasi after only three weeks. “In balancing lives and livelihoods, [African] countries are now looking at easing restrictions. In doing so, we are encouraging countries to adjust measures slowly and in line with the evidence,” Matshidiso Moeti at the World Health Organization told a virtual meeting held by the World Economic Forum on 30 April. Ghana’s first covid-19 cases were reported on 12 March, and the epidemic has centred on Accra and Kumasi. Before lockdown was imposed on Accra at the end of March, a grace period enabled people to leave the city. A “sizeable number” carrying the virus left for other parts of the country, according to epidemiologist Kojo Ansah Koram, the former director of the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research in Ghana. With the lockdown now lifted, Ghana is continuing to test and trace cases as much as possible – more than 100,000 people have been tested so far. Physical distancing and mask wearing are encouraged. Koram told the meeting that economic voices had won out over scientific advice. While many expected a further three weeks of lockdown, the government had to take into account the large number of people in informal jobs who need to work each day to earn a living.

5-10-19 Cuomo demands twice weekly care home Covid-19 tests
Workers at care homes in New York state must be tested for coronavirus twice a week under new rules laid out by Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo. Care facilities that fail to meet requirements intended to stem infections will lose their operating licences, Mr Cuomo said on Sunday. The order comes as New York weighs options for relaxing other lockdown measures. Parts of the state and neighbouring region could reopen business on 15 May. New York has been the epicentre of the US coronavirus outbreak, with 26,670 deaths and 335,395 cases as of Sunday. The US has seen a total of 1,327,720 cases and 79,495 deaths from the virus. Despite a decline in the number of new Covid-19 infections in New York from a peak last month, deaths from the illness continue to mount. Mr Cuomo has faced particular criticism for high numbers of deaths in the state's care homes. The US has seen more than 25,000 coronavirus deaths in elderly homes, with more than a fifth - about 5,300 - in New York, according to a count by The Associated Press. More than 100,000 elderly people live in care facilities in New York. The governor announced new rules for care homes on Sunday, though he bristled at the suggestion that the new guidance was an acknowledgment of a flawed plan on the part of his administration. "This virus uses nursing homes. They are ground zero. They are the vulnerable population in the vulnerable location," he said. Besides monitoring care home staff, hospitals can no longer discharge patients back to care homes unless they have tested negative. Any of the more than 600 care facilities in New York that fail to comply would lose their licences, Mr Cuomo said. The announcement comes as New York moves to reopen parts of the state beginning on 15 May. To qualify, a region must have at least 14 days of declines in reported infections and be able to run 30 tests for every 1,000 residents. The governor also reported that the state is investigating 85 cases involving children suffering from an inflammatory illness suspected of being linked to Covid. The White House is working to contain coronavirus cases after a valet for President Trump, and Katie Miller, press secretary to Vice-President Mike Pence and the wife of Trump aide Stephen Miller, tested positive for the virus. Dr Anthony Fauci - the public face of the US fight against the coronavirus - is among three members of the White House task force now self-isolating after possible exposure. Dr Fauci has tested negative. A senior economic adviser to Mr Trump has said that working from the White House could be risky.

5-10-19 The dark decade ahead
We face years of immiseration on a scale unimaginable to at least three generations. The churches all closed. Jets flying overhead. Lunatics banging pots and pans. Masked joggers, masked pizza men, masked dogs awaiting testing; everyone in the park wearing masks; no one masked in a crowd of 30 watching the armored van roll over the discarded grass clippings. A woman beaten by a police officer (off duty, of course) for refusing to wear a mask in a warehouse store. A man spits in the face of a clerk. Alcohol sales increasing by 70 percent or more, and legal dope available for curbside pickup. Standoffs, the stockpiling of weapons, protests and counter-protests with assault rifles in state capitols. The hospitals not overwhelmed but empty and staff let go. Yellow murder tape across merry-go-rounds. Children, neighbors objects of medium-level suspicion at best. Technology not a stopgap or a substitute but a condition for a new conception of bare life. Packages on doorsteps, dropped by unseen and poorly remunerated agents of the world's richest man. Children raped on camera. Domestic assault. A hundred thousand defaults piling up in the portfolio of a single regional bank. Suicide. The end of education. The end of employment. Prophets, of course, everywhere. This is what the end of the end of history looks like. We had asked ourselves how it would appear and when. These questions mattered, and not only incidentally. They matter less now as we prepare for what I suspect will be at least a decade of immiseration on a scale unimaginable to at least three generations. It is important to observe that this has happened because of the lockdown, not even proximately because of the virus for which the median age of death is higher than the American life expectancy. In the last century, the upheavals of the interwar period were the result of a worldwide economic depression, not of a barely remembered pandemic, serious as it might have been. We are not witnessing the long-rumored revenge of nature, but a way of life that was always unsustainable extinguishing itself. (Webmaster's comment: This idiot blames lockdowns for all our current misery! In fact it is those who do not lockdown making all the efforts of those who do lockdown less ineffective that cause all the misery!)

5-10-19 Coronavirus: How South Korea 'crushed' the curve
As coronavirus spread outside China, South Korea was at risk of becoming among the world's worst affected countries. The southern city of Daegu was an initial hotspot. But the country managed to avoid the peaks and fatalities seen elsewhere due to the government's implementation of an aggressive test, trace and contain policy. Laura Bicker reports on how technology proved vital in tracing the infected. A tracking app using GPS on mobile phones paired with CCTV footage managed to identify Covid-19 carriers and notify people in recent contact and at risk.

5-10-19 Coronavirus: Obama says US response a 'chaotic disaster'
Former US President Barack Obama has strongly criticised his successor Donald Trump over his response to the coronavirus crisis. In a private conference call, he called the US handling of the pandemic "an absolute chaotic disaster". His remarks were made while encouraging former staff to work for Joe Biden's presidential election team, CNN says. The White House said in response that President Trump's "unprecedented" action had "saved Americans' lives". During the call, Mr Obama said his Republican successor's approach to government was partly to blame for the US response to coronavirus. "It would have been bad even with the best of government," he was quoted as saying in the call. "It has been an absolute chaotic disaster when that mindset of 'what's in it for me' and 'to heck with everybody else', when that mindset is operationalised in our government." Mr Obama also strongly criticised the decision to drop criminal charges against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. More than 77,000 people have now died and the US has 1.2m confirmed cases - both by far the highest in the world. Many states introduced lockdown measures in March but have now lifted restrictions, allowing people to return to work. But health officials warn this may lead the virus to spread further. Mr Trump's approach to the pandemic has oscillated. In February he dismissed the threat, saying it would disappear, but by mid-March he acknowledged its severity. In April he suggested that ingesting disinfectant could be a treatment - something experts immediately rejected. Last week he announced he would close down his government's coronavirus task force, but later said it would continue - but focusing on reopening the economy.

5-10-19 Coronavirus: White House task force members self-isolate
Three members of the White House coronavirus task force are self-isolating for two weeks after possible exposure to the illness. Dr Anthony Fauci, who has become the public face of the fight against the virus in the US, is one of those who will go into quarantine. His agency, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he was at "relatively low risk" due to the degree of his exposure. Dr Fauci has tested negative. The 79-year-old will work from home for the time being and will be regularly tested, the institute said. Vice President Mike Pence's press secretary Katie Miller, the wife of Trump aide Stephen Miller, tested positive for the virus on Friday. Her diagnosis came after a valet for US President Donald Trump was also confirmed to have the illness. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Dr Robert Redfield and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Stephen Hahn are also self-isolating. In a statement, the CDC said Dr Redfield, 68, had no symptoms and was not feeling unwell, but would also be teleworking for two weeks after "low risk exposure" to someone at the White House. It is unclear who this person is. And an FDA spokesman told Reuters news agency on Friday that 60-year-old Stephen Hahn was also self-isolating. He has also tested negative, the spokesman said. The three men were due to address a Senate committee on Tuesday. Before the news about Dr Fauci became public, committee chairman Senator Lamar Alexander said Dr Redfield and Dr Hahn would be allowed to testify by videolink. According to Johns Hopkins University data, the US has 1.3 million confirmed cases and has recorded 78,794 deaths - by far the highest total in the world. Many states brought in lockdown measures in March to try to contain the outbreak. But now some have lifted restrictions to allow people to return to work, a move health officials fear could further spread the virus. Former US President Barack Obama has sharply criticised his successor's response to the crisis. During a private phone call to former staffers, Mr Obama called the response "an absolute chaotic disaster". Last week Mr Trump said he would refocus the White House task force on kickstarting the US economy, a day after suggesting he would disband it.

5-10-19 Coronavirus: Number of global cases rises above four million
More than four million confirmed cases of coronavirus have been reported around the world, according to data collated by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll has also risen to above 277,000. The US remains the worst-hit country, accounting for over a quarter of confirmed cases and a third of deaths. Experts warn the true number of infections is likely to be far higher, with low testing rates in many countries skewing the data. Daily death tolls are continuing to drop in some nations, including Spain, but there is concern that easing lockdown restrictions could lead to a "second wave" of infections. In addition, governments are bracing for economic fallout as the pandemic hits global markets and supply chains. A senior Chinese official has told local media that the pandemic was a "big test" that had exposed weaknesses in the country's public health system. The rare admission, from the director of China's National Health Commission, Li Bin, comes after sustained criticism abroad of China's early response. This week, some lockdown measures have begun easing in Italy, once the global epicentre of the pandemic. Italians have been able to exercise outdoors and visit family members in their region. France has recorded its lowest daily number of coronavirus deaths for more than a month, with 80 deaths over the past 24 hours. Authorities are preparing to ease restrictions from Monday, as is the government in neighbouring Spain. Meanwhile lockdowns are continuing in countries like South Africa, despite calls from opposition parties for it to end. In South Korea, renewed restrictions are being imposed on bars and clubs after a series of transmissions linked to Seoul's leisure district. Russia also cancelled a military parade in Moscow, planned as part of the country's Victory Day celebrations. Instead, President Vladimir Putin hosted a subdued event on Saturday, laying roses at the Eternal Flame war memorial. But despite scientific evidence, leaders of several countries have continued to express scepticism about the virus and the need for lockdowns.

5-10-19 Coronavirus: Germany infection rate rises as lockdown eases
Coronavirus infections are rising in Germany, official data shows, just days after the country eased its lockdown restrictions. According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany's reproduction rate - the number of people each confirmed patient infects - is now above 1. This means the number of infections is now rising in the country. The report came as thousands of Germans gathered on Saturday calling for a total end to the lockdown. Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a broad relaxation of national restrictions on Wednesday after talks with the leaders of Germany's 16 states. All shops are allowed to reopen, pupils will gradually return to class and the Bundesliga - Germany's top football league - will restart as soon as next weekend. But there were protests across the country on Saturday, as some called for measures to be lifted even quicker. Germany has the seventh-highest number of confirmed cases in the world, with latest RKI data on Sunday showing the reported infected tally at 169,218 and a reported death toll of 7,395. The report from the public health agency released on Saturday said the reproduction rate was estimated at 1.1. While this estimate involves "a degree of uncertainty", the rise in the number requires "a close monitoring of the situation in the coming days". Germany has won praise for its response to the outbreak. Mass testing and effective lockdown restrictions have helped keep the death toll far lower than in other European countries. But some have criticised Mrs Merkel's decision to relax those measures after speaking with the heads of the 16 states on Wednesday. The chancellor imposed an "emergency brake", requiring local authorities to reimpose restrictions if cases rise above a threshold of 50 per 100,000 people. Outbreaks at meat processing plants in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Schleswig-Holstein have already reportedly breached that line, and forced district officials to act. And one district in the state of Thuringia reportedly recorded more than 80 infections per 100,000 people, thought to be due to outbreaks at care facilities. These latest official figures appear to show that the number of Covid-19 infections in Germany may be rising faster again. The reproduction rate has risen to 1.1 - that means that ten people will pass the virus on to 11 more people. To keep the pandemic in check this level should be below one.

5-10-19 Coronavirus: Elon Musk vows to move Tesla factory in lockdown row
Billionaire Tesla boss Elon Musk has said he will move the electric carmaker's headquarters out of California, after he was ordered to keep its only US vehicle plant closed. "Tesla will now move its HQ and future programs to Texas/Nevada immediately," the CEO tweeted. The company was filing a lawsuit against Alameda County, he added. The county's health department had refused to let the Tesla factory reopen on Friday, citing lockdown measures. According to figures from Johns Hopkins University, 2,632 people in California have died with coronavirus. Since 23 March, all but "basic operations" have been suspended at Tesla's Fremont plant, near San Francisco, because of "shelter in place" orders enacted in Alameda County. The factory employs more than 10,000 workers, and makes about 415,000 vehicles every year. California's government has eased some restrictions around the state this week, allowing businesses to resume operations. But several Bay Area counties have issued their own criteria for which businesses may reopen, which take precedence. In Alameda, all but essential businesses must remain shut until the end of May. Mr Musk suggested the factory's future could now be in doubt, tweeting: "If we even retain Fremont manufacturing activity at all, it will be dependen[t] on how Tesla is treated in the future." In a statement released before Mr Musk's tweets, Alameda County said: "We welcome Tesla's proactive work on a reopening plan, so that once they fit the criteria to reopen, they can do so in a way that protects their employees and the community at large." The tech billionaire has also poked fun at the mass purchasing of toilet paper when the pandemic began. But he has also sparked controversy for promoting an unproven treatment for the virus, and for asserting, falsely, that children are "essentially immune". (Webmaster's comment: The only thing Musk thinks about is making more money for himself. The safety of his workers is irrelevent!)

5-9-19 Coronavirus: Chinese official admits health system weaknesses
The coronavirus pandemic is a "big test" that has exposed weaknesses in China's public health system, a senior official has told Chinese media. The rare admission, from Director of China's National Health Commission Li Bin, comes after sustained criticism abroad of China's early response. The country will now improve its disease prevention, public health system and data collection, he says. China has offered to help North Korea fight the pandemic there. Mr Li told journalists the pandemic was a significant challenge for China's governance, and that it exposed "the weak links in how we address major epidemic and the public health system." China has been accused of responding too slowly to early signs of the virus in Wuhan, where the outbreak began, and failing to quickly alert the international community of the outbreak. (Webmaster's comment: On Jan. 10 Chinese scientists published the complete 30,000-letter genetic code of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. But the world did not listen!) China has rejected calls for an independent international investigation into the origins of the virus. In April an EU report accused China of spreading misinformation about the crisis. A doctor who tried to alert authorities about the virus in December was told to stop "making false comments". Li Wenliang later died from Covid-19 in hospital in Wuhan. China has 4,637 deaths from coronavirus, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins university, and nearly 84,000 cases. Globally more than 275,000 people have died, with nearly 4m confirmed cases. China has now offered to help North Korea, after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un congratulated Xi Jinping on its success in fighting Covid-19, Chinese state media report. North Korea says it has had no confirmed cases of coronavirus, something that is questioned by experts. The country has a fragile health system that would likely become overwhelmed in a serious outbreak.

5-9-19 Unemployment is a catastrophe — but it could still be worse
The American economy is in freefall. In April, the U.S. lost 20.5 million jobs, and the unemployment rate spiked to 14.7 percent — the highest rate since the Great Depression, by a considerable margin. Most business sectors were smashed, particularly scenic transportation, dentists, and theaters, which saw an annualized shrinkage rate of 100 percent. State and local government employment plummeted by nearly a million — worse than the worst month for the entire economy during the 2008 crash. Now, it's not quite as bad as it looks. The point of the coronavirus lockdowns and the associated rescue packages was to put the economy in stasis, and that is basically what is happening. Most of the rise in unemployment is so far at least theoretically temporary. Without the virus, it ought to be possible to return to normal fairly quickly with another big dollop of economic stimulus. However, that means the possibility of restoring all these jobs after the crisis passes will depend on controlling the pandemic, which is not even close to happening — on the contrary, President Trump is doing essentially nothing, and it is clear he is incapable of managing the crisis. States are already relaxing their containment measures despite cases outside the New York-area epicenter still increasing. We will need much more to keep the damage from becoming permanent. As Matt Bruenig writes for the People's Policy Project, the various economic rescue bills pass so far have been a mixed bag. The best parts were the Payroll Protection Program, which gave out loans to small businesses that could be forgiven if they were spent on payroll, and the boost to unemployment insurance, which added a temporary $600 bonus to most benefits. As usual for American policy, these objectives were incoherent — on the one hand paying businesses to keep people on staff, but on the other paying workers extra to get laid off. It would have been a better idea to pay all businesses to keep people on payroll. A job is a job — it shouldn't matter for rescue purposes whether or not someone works for a large or small firm. Restricting the PPP loans to only small businesses also created resentment when larger businesses who were eligible got loans. Several chain restaurants were successfully bullied into returning their loans, which no doubt caused more layoffs. Pointlessly capping the size of the fund (which could have easily been boosted to any size by the Federal Reserve) meant the money ran out long before it got to everyone who needed it. I also suspect that many of these "temporary" layoffs would become permanent even in ideal circumstances. Laid off people often move around, and businesses will likely be looking to cut their workforces, especially given the bleak outlook for the future. Moreover, most state unemployment systems are a janky mess or worse, and likely millions of people who are eligible for benefits are not receiving them.

5-9-19 How Europe is bailing out its workers
European countries are paying workers who've been sent home by employers. Can they afford it? Here's everything you need to know:

  1. What is their plan? Unlike the U.S., where some 30 million people have filed for unemployment and millions of gig workers are going without income, most European workers are still getting paid through their employers. But instead of requiring workers to apply for unemployment and sending them a $1,200 bailout check, many European Union countries chose to begin paying part of their workers' salaries, so companies would not have to fire them.
  2. Who came up with this program? Germany pioneered the wage-subsidy system years ago. The German version of capitalism relies on a collegial relationship between labor and management. To avoid layoffs in times of slow production, Germany innovated a scheme called Kurzarbeit, or short-time work.
  3. How many people are covered? As of mid-April, at least 18 million European workers were working less or not at all — and with each passing week, the numbers are growing. Management consulting firm McKinsey estimates that up to 59 million jobs in the EU and the U.K. are in jeopardy, a staggering 26 percent of total employment.
  4. How much will this cost? It depends on how long the crisis lasts. In Britain, assuming one million people need assistance for three months, the tab will be about $51 billion, or 2 percent of the nation's economic output. In France, the bill will be $21 billion for the next three months, but in Germany, because its benefits are so substantial anyway, the extra cost should be just $11 billion.
  5. How will they pay for that? The poorer countries like Italy and Spain — which are also some of the hardest hit by the virus — wanted the EU to issue "coronabonds" that would be dispensed to those nations that needed cash the most. But fiscally conservative Germany and the Netherlands balked, saying that would make them pay for profligate budgets they don't control.
  6. How does this compare with the U.S.? Some economists say that the U.S. system will help the economy rebound faster than in Europe, because it will allow laid-off workers to go where they're needed in the post–COVID-19 economy, rather than trapping them in industries that might not fully recover for years. But the U.S. subsidies are far more expensive and complicated, and many workers and small businesses are falling through the cracks.
  7. Italy's anger at the EU: Italy has the highest death toll from the virus in Europe, at more than 28,000 as of May 1. But its rescue package of some $87 billion is smaller than that of other EU countries, because it simply can't afford much. Italian public debt was already some 130 percent of GDP and unemployment almost 10 percent before the crisis hit.

(Webmaster's comment: Europeon Democratic Socialism works better than American Authoritarian Democracy)

5-9-19 Ahmaud Arbery: Trump laments 'heart-breaking' killing
President Donald Trump has called the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man in the US state of Georgia, a "very disturbing situation". Mr Arbery was jogging in February when Gregory McMichael and his son Travis, who are white, confronted him. They now face murder and assault charges. "My heart goes out to the parents and the family and friends," Mr Trump told Fox News on Friday. The case drew national attention when video of the death emerged on Tuesday. Police had not charged the McMichaels for more than two months, but the pair were detained on Thursday by the state bureau of investigation. Gregory McMichael, 64, and Travis McMichael, 34, are in the custody of the Glynn County Sheriff's Department, officials said on Friday. Both were charged with felony murder and aggravated assault. State investigators earlier said the father and son had followed Mr Arbery and confronted him with two firearms, and the younger McMichael shot and killed him. Mr Arbery would have turned 26 on Friday. Rallies have taken place outside of courthouses in Glynn County and in neighbouring Jacksonville, Florida. Online, supporters of Mr Arbery have been using the hashtag #IRunWithMaud, sharing photos and running 2.23 miles (3.6km) in remembrance of the day he died, 23 February. "I just want justice for my son," Mr Arbery's father, Marcus, told CNN on Friday. He said the arrest was a "relief" for the family, and described his son's killing as a "lynching". "He was a very good young man," Mr Arbery said of his son. "His heart was just bigger than life." Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for the family, asked for the same justice for Mr Arbery as if the situations were reversed and Mr Arbery and his father had attacked an unarmed white man. "We know beyond a shadow of a doubt they would've been arrested on day one," Mr Crump said, adding that he does not trust the local police department.

5-9-19 US Vice-President Mike Pence's aide tests positive for coronavirus
A top aide to US Vice-President Mike Pence has tested positive for Covid-19 one day after another White House staff member was diagnosed with the virus. Mr Pence's press secretary Katie Miller tested positive on Friday, a day after President Donald Trump's valet. The White House has begun daily testing for Mr Pence and Mr Trump, and has claimed to be taking "every single precaution to protect the president". The US death toll is now over 76,000 and states are beginning to reopen. Six members of Mr Pence's team were abruptly taken off his plane, Air Force 2, after it was held on the tarmac outside Washington, DC for over an hour on Friday, as he prepared to travel to Iowa to meet religious leaders. The staff members had had recent contact with Mrs Miller, according to an unnamed US official cited in the media pool report. The president and vice-president had not. Mrs Miller is the wife of Trump aide Stephen Miller. During a meeting with Republicans at the White House, Mr Trump told reporters: "She's a wonderful young woman, Katie." "She tested very good for a long period of time and then all of a sudden today she tested positive." When asked about the possibility of an outbreak in the White House, Mr Trump told reporters: "All you can do is take precautions and do the best you can." He also said he was correct not to wear a mask while visiting the World War II memorial in Washington for VE Day, because the elderly veterans there with him were "far away". "Plus the wind was blowing so hard and such a direction that if the plague ever reached them, I'd be very surprised," he added. The president has made it clear he does not like the way that a mask looks on him. He said last month that he believes wearing a mask would not make a good impression on world leaders and others he meets. "As I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens ... I don't see it for myself, I just don't," Trump told a journalist. For some, the president's refusal to wear a mask is more than a question of style. It is a political statement. Trump and the other officials at the White House want to give people the impression that the health crisis is under control and that soon the economy will be on back on track. (Webmaster's comment: What a bunch of baloney!)

5-9-19 Coronavirus: Tesla ordered to keep main US plant closed
Electric car firm Tesla has been ordered to keep its main plant in the US closed, as California grapples with a coronavirus outbreak. Chief executive Elon Musk had told staff "limited" production would resume on Friday at the Fremont factory, near San Francisco, according to CNBC. But Alameda County says this could lead to a spike in coronavirus cases. Nearly 9,500 cases have been reported in the San Francisco Bay Area, along with 342 virus-related deaths. Since 23 March, all but "basic operations" have been suspended at the plant because of "shelter in place" orders enacted in the county. The factory employs more than 10,000 workers, and makes about 415,000 vehicles every year. California's government has eased some restrictions around the state this week, allowing businesses to resume operations. But several Bay Area counties, including Alameda, have issued their own criteria according to which businesses may reopen, which take precedence. "Tesla has been informed that they do not meet those criteria and must not reopen," Alameda County said in a statement. "We welcome Tesla's proactive work on a reopening plan, so that once they fit the criteria to reopen, they can do so in a way that protects their employees and the community at large." Tesla did not immediately respond to the BBC's request for comment. Mr Musk has drawn controversy for his opposition to coronavirus restrictions, and his promotion of unproven treatments for the virus. In a series of tweets, the tech billionaire has said "the coronavirus panic is dumb" and "FREE AMERICA NOW". It comes as Tesla has suspended operations at its plant in the Chinese city of Shanghai, according to Bloomberg. It had previously closed the factory as a temporary measure when the virus was at its peak in China. The company reported a net profit in the first three months of this year, and its stock has risen to nearly $820 (£669; €756). But analysts expect the coronavirus pandemic will adversely affect its earnings in 2020.

5-9-19 How the pandemic is leaving immigrants' families without lifelines
It's been more than two months since Sergio Armas got his last paycheck — and two months since he wired his parents in Nicaragua cash. For years before the coronavirus hit, Sergio Armas hustled to support his parents back home in Nicaragua. By day, he helped manage a small housekeeping business in San Francisco. At night, he served dinners at a popular Italian restaurant with views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The family breadwinner from afar, he typically wired his parents $300 every month for food, electricity, and medicine. His father, 82, is blind and has heart problems. His mother, 68, has a neuromuscular disease and can't walk without getting winded. They rely on his support to survive. But it's been more than two months since Armas, 33, got his last paycheck — and two months since he wired them cash. "I'm the only one here. I'm the only one with the opportunity to help my family, and I can do nothing right now," he said recently. "I'm so worried about it. That's my main concern in this moment." Immigrants across the globe share his worries. In normal times, millions of small financial transactions take place daily worldwide when immigrants wire a portion of their earnings to loved ones back home. Last year, these remittances totaled more than $550 billion, according to the World Bank. This year, the economic crisis is wrecking that cash flow. Worldwide, remittances are expected to fall a staggering 20 percent this year — plummeting by about $100 billion, according to a recent report by the World Bank. "That is going to rupture an important lifeline to a large number of people," said Dilip Ratha, a lead economist at the World Bank on migration and remittances. Hundreds of millions will feel the financial hit in countries such as India, China, Mexico, and the Philippines, which rely heavily on remittances from expats overseas. The economic ripple effects will also extend to smaller countries, such as those in Central America, along with Kyrgyzstan, South Sudan, and Haiti. The fall in remittances is also far greater than the 5 percent decrease that resulted from the 2009 global recession. The effects of that economic crisis also took longer to hit. "It's not comparable in terms of the magnitude and unexpected loss of work within a couple of days," said Manuel Orozco, senior director of remittances and development at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington, DC-based think tank. "In 2009, some people may have waited three months until they got the news. Here, it was mañana." In addition, people who receive remittances typically have no other safety net. "People will not be able to compensate for it by just borrowing from some friends," Ratha said. "They will have to cut their consumption of food, and they will have to suffer." For Armas, receiving federal aid or unemployment benefits from the U.S. government could help him keep his family in Nicaragua from suffering. But he cannot access that help because he does not have a Social Security number yet — a requirement for such relief. He was on the verge of receiving his green card, and thus his SSN, when the pandemic hit and disrupted U.S. immigration services.

5-9-19 Coronavirus: China offers to help North Korea fight pandemic
China's president has expressed concern about the threat of the coronavirus to North Korea and offered help. Xi Jinping was responding to a message that he received from the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. Chinese state media reported that the message congratulated Mr Xi on China's apparent success in fighting Covid-19. North Korea's government maintains that there has not been a single confirmed case there, though analysts have questioned whether that is possible. North Korea was the first country to suspend tourism and to shut its borders in response to the virus, in the third week of January. The country has a fragile health system, which experts fear would be quickly overwhelmed by even a small outbreak of Covid-19. In his "verbal message of thanks", Mr Xi said he highly appreciated Mr Kim's support during China's outbreak and "showed his personal attention to the situation of the pandemic and people's health" in North Korea, according to state media. Mr Xi called for more efforts to strengthen co-operation in preventing the spread of the coronavirus, and said China was "willing to continue to provide assistance within its own capacity for [North Korea] in the fight against Covid-19". On Friday, North Korean state media reported that Mr Kim had sent a verbal message to the president that "congratulated him, highly appreciating that he is seizing a chance of victory in the war against the unprecedented epidemic". Mr Kim recently went 20 days without appearing in public, and missed the celebration of his grandfather's birthday - one of the biggest events of the year. Some media reports claimed he was "gravely ill", or even dead. But he then appeared at a fertiliser factory on 2 May - apparently in good health. On Wednesday, South Korea's National Intelligence Service told a parliamentary committee that there had been no signs the health rumours were true. "He was performing his duties normally when he was out of the public eye," a member of the committee, Kim Byung-kee, told reporters afterwards. The lawmaker said the North Korean leader's absence could have been down to a Covid-19 outbreak that the authorities in Pyongyang had not reported.

5-8-19 The Religion Paradox
We are seeing an interesting paradox in our recent data on religion in the age of the coronavirus. Americans have become significantly more likely to say that religion is increasing its influence on American life, but there is no actual evidence of an uptick in religiosity at the individual level. Specifically, the percentage of Americans who say religion is increasing its influence on American life has jumped from 19% last December to 38% in Gallup's latest April 14-28 survey. The results of this change are not dramatic in an absolute sense. The 38% who now say that religion is increasing its influence is still less than a majority -- and by way of comparison much lower than measured by Gallup after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In December 2001, 71% of Americans said that religion was increasing its influence on American life, the highest ever recorded across Gallup's six-decade trend. But the current "increasing its influence" figure is double what we recorded last year and the highest since 2006, when in September of that year 40% said the influence of religion was increasing. The all-time low in response to this question, which Gallup first asked in 1957, was 14% in 1969 and 1970.

5-8-19 Coronavirus: Pandemic sends US jobless rate to 14.7%
The US unemployment rate has risen to 14.7%, with 20.5 million jobs lost in April, as the coronavirus pandemic devastated the economy. The rise means the jobless rate is now worse than at any time since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Since the pandemic began, the US has suffered its worst growth numbers in a decade and the worst retail sales report on record. Just two months ago, the unemployment rate was at 3.5%, a 50-year low. "It is historically unprecedented," said economist Erica Groshen, former head of the government's Bureau of Labor Statistics, who now teaches at Cornell University. "We have put our economy into a medically induced coma in order to heal it from the pandemic... and that has led to the most precipitous loss of jobs seen in any of the modern data." The report from the Labor Department showed declines in every sector of the economy. Leisure and hospitality was hit especially hard, with payrolls falling by 7.7 million or 47%. Employers in education and health services cut 2.5 million positions, while retailers shed 2.1 million. The Labor Department said more than three-quarters of those without jobs described themselves as temporarily laid off, a sign that many of those currently without work are hopeful that the economy will be able to rebound. But economists warned that the pandemic is likely to force major changes to businesses - such as limits on how many people may be in a restaurant at one time - that could reduce the need for workers. And the longer the shutdown lasts, the more likely it is that a business will not survive. "Even a temporary layoff can turn into a permanent one if the business doesn't survive or if the business has to change its business model so dramatically that it needs different numbers or a different kind of worker," Ms Groshen said. The economic crisis is not unique to the US. In the UK, the Bank of England has warned of the sharpest recession on record, while Canada on Friday reported its unemployment rate had increased 5.2 percentage points to 13% last month. Statistics Canada estimated that about a third of the workforce was either out of work, or working less than half of their usual hours. In an appearance on the Fox News channel, US President Donald Trump shrugged off the 20.5 million jobs lost in the US as "totally expected" and "no surprise".

5-8-19 New Zealand is close to wiping out covid-19 - can it return to normal?
New Zealand is tantalisingly close to wiping out covid-19, but does that mean that life there will be able to go back to normal? New Zealand was swift to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, introducing some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world on 25 March, when the country had recorded only 205 cases and no deaths. Under the lockdown, schools, universities and almost all businesses were shut, people could only leave their homes for essential reasons like buying food, exercising or accessing medical care, and the nation’s borders were closed to travellers. These measures have been highly effective, with only 1489 covid-19 cases and 21 deaths recorded in New Zealand to date. Most infected people have now recovered, leaving just 134 active cases. Only one new case was recorded on 7 May and two the day before. The lockdown was eased slightly on 27 April, allowing schools to reopen for some students, workplaces without face-to-face customers to reopen, and people to socialise within close family circles. The New Zealand government will decide whether to lift restrictions further on 11 May. Restrictions will need to be eased slowly and cautiously in case there are still undetected covid-19 cases in the community that could rapidly spread if people are allowed to mix freely again, says Michael Baker at the University of Otago in New Zealand. “We don’t want to have to go in and out of lockdown, we want to come out of this in a virus-free New Zealand,” he says. For the nation to feel confident that it has eliminated covid-19 altogether, says Baker, it will need to have 28 days – equivalent to two incubation cycles of the virus – of no new cases against a backdrop of widespread testing. Even if this goal is attained, the country will still need to be hypervigilant about not letting the virus re-enter, for example, via airline and shipping crews delivering goods from overseas, he says.

5-8-19 Texas governor amends lockdown and orders salon owner freed from jail
The governor of Texas has amended his lockdown executive order to free a salon owner who was jailed after refusing to close down her business. Gov Greg Abbott's order bans "confinement as a punishment" for violating virus mitigation orders. Shelley Luther, the owner of Salon à la Mode in Dallas, was jailed for contempt of court on Tuesday after she refused to apologise and pay a fine for staying open despite official warnings. Texas is nearing 1,000 Covid-19 deaths. On Thursday, Gov Abbott said in a news release: "Throwing Texans in jail who have had their businesses shut down through no fault of their own is nonsensical, and I will not allow it to happen." "That is why I am modifying my executive orders to ensure confinement is not a punishment for violating an order. This order is retroactive to April 2nd, supersedes local orders and if correctly applied should free Shelley Luther." He said his updated order should also lead to the release of Ana Isabel Castro-Garcia and Brenda Stephanie Mata, who were arrested in Laredo for allegedly selling cosmetic services from their homes. He added: "As some county judges advocate for releasing hardened criminals from jail to prevent the spread of Covid-19, it is absurd to have these business owners take their place." Speaking from the White House, where he met President Trump on Thursday, Gov Abbott told reporters: "We should not be taking these people and put them behind bars, these people who have spent their life building up a business." Data from the Texas Department of State Health Services shows that more new cases are being recorded each day, even as the state begins to reopen parts of its economy. Across the state, there have been over 35,000 confirmed infections. (Webmaster's comment: Those who ignore common sense and infect others should in turn get the virus themselves!)

5-8-19 US shopping centres re-open: 'This is the best day ever'
In states like Texas, shopping centres can currently operate at a 25% capacity. For some shoppers, it's a reason to get out of the house. Throughout the United States, lockdown restrictions are being lifted in phases. (Webmaster's comment: This will guarantee that the number of cases rise and that the rate of deaths increase!)

5-8-19 Ahmaud Arbery: Father and son charged with murder of US black jogger
A father and son have been arrested and charged in the US state of Georgia for the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man. Gregory McMichael, aged 64, and Travis McMichael, aged 34, were detained on Thursday by the state bureau of investigation. Both were charged with murder and aggravated assault, investigators said in a statement. Mr Arbery, 25, was jogging in February when he was confronted by the pair. For more than two months, police did not charge the McMichaels, who are white, until the shooting gained widespread attention in the national media and provoked outrage. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced late on Thursday that both men had been taken into custody. The bureau said the father and son followed Mr Arbery and confronted him with two firearms, and the younger McMichael shot and killed him. Mr Arbery was out running in the coastal city of Brunswick early in the afternoon of 23 February. Gregory McMichael told police he saw Mr Arbery and believed he resembled the suspect in a series of local break-ins. Mr McMichael and his son armed themselves with a pistol and a shotgun and pursued Mr Arbery in a pick-up truck. Gregory McMichael told police he and his son said "stop, stop, we want to talk to you" and claims Mr Arbery then attacked his son. Video footage of the incident appears to show Travis McMichael firing a shotgun at point blank range at Mr Arbery and the victim falling to the street, in the Satilla Shores neighbourhood. Mr Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, said police told her after the shooting that her son had been involved in a burglary before the incident, but the family say they do not believe the keen jogger had committed a crime. He was unarmed and carrying nothing. A number of calls were made to police around the time of the confrontation, according to a CBS News report. In one 911 call, a neighbour said a black man was seen at a home under construction in the area. When asked what the man was doing now, the caller said "running down the street". (Webmaster's comment: They will probably get off. Killing of a black man by white men is still not considered a crime by many whites in the south .)

5-8-19 Coronavirus: Russian hospital staff 'working without masks'
As coronavirus spreads more widely in Russia’s provinces, hospitals - often old and ill-equipped - have become infection "hot spots". The number of medical workers getting sick, and dying, is growing. President Putin admitted that there was a shortage of PPE and ordered an increase in production. But even now, many Russian healthcare staff are scared to complain publicly about having to work without proper protection.

5-8-19 Dateci Voce: Italian women demand voice in Covid-19 fight
Women in Italy have demanded a greater role in the country's official response to the coronavirus outbreak. Italy has one of the highest coronavirus death tolls in Europe, with almost 30,000 fatalities. Yet the Civil Defence's daily briefings on the crisis are chaired by men, and the group of experts advising the government does not include any women. In response, Italian women have taken to social media to call for better representation. "We want to be able to exercise our right to be fairly represented," the Dateci Voce ("give us voice") Facebook page said. "Reconstruction of the country must be a project shared by women and together." A petition started by the group has been signed more than 4,500 times, including by MPs, scientist and researchers. The page also encouraged Italians to post pictures of themselves wearing face masks with the hashtag Dateci Voce, which was soon trending in Italy. No women were included in Italy's 20-member technical scientific committee (CTS) - a group of experts advising the government during the coronavirus outbreak. In contrast, at least 17 of the approximately 55 members of the UK's equivalent body, Sage, are women. The US only has two women in its 22-strong White House Coronavirus Task Force, although its high-profile response co-ordinator is Dr Deborah Birx. Italy's taskforce charged with the post-Covid construction of the country fares somewhat better, with four women and 13 men. Dateci Voce points out that women have worked as doctors, nurses, researchers and other key professions throughout the outbreak. Laura Boldrini, who posted a selfie with the Dateci Voce hashtag, was one of more than 40 deputies who submitted a parliamentary question calling on the government to "respect gender equality in the [coronavirus] task force and more generally in all decision-making bodies and at work".

5-8-19 Coronavirus: WHO warns 190,000 could die in Africa in one year
As many as 190,000 people across Africa could die in the first year of the coronavirus pandemic if crucial containment measures fail, the World Health Organization (WHO) warns. The new research also predicts a prolonged outbreak over a few years. "It likely will smoulder in transmission hot spots," says WHO Africa head Matshidiso Moeti. This patchier and slower pattern of transmission sets Africa apart from other regions, WHO experts say. Other factors taken into account are the region's younger populations who have "benefitted from the control of communicable diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis", as well as lower mortality rates. The WHO's warning comes as Africa's most populous nation, Nigeria, plus others including South Africa and Ivory Coast, have begun relaxing some of their lockdown measures. The study finds that between 29 million and 44 million people in the WHO African region could get infected in the first year of the pandemic. Between 83,000 and 190,000 could die in the same period, it warns. The estimates are based on prediction modelling, and focus on 47 countries in the WHO African region with a combined population of one billion - Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia and Djibouti are not included. Across the whole of the African continent more than 2,000 coronavirus deaths have been recorded by Africa's Centre for Disease Control. By comparison, 140,000 have died in Western Europe, where the virus took hold several weeks earlier. Cases have been recorded in every African nation except Lesotho. South Africa has the highest number of confirmed cases - more than 8,200 and 160 deaths - while Algeria has the most deaths - 483. "Covd-19 could become a fixture in our lives for the next several years unless a proactive approach is taken by many governments in the region," Dr Moeti says in a WHO statement. "We need to test, trace, isolate and treat."

5-7-19 Black people in England and Wales twice as likely to die with covid-19
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. Black people in England and Wales almost twice as likely to die from covid-19. Black people in England and Wales are 90 per cent more likely to die with coronavirus than white people, according to a study by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which combined census and covid-19 deaths data. The study showed that even after accounting for age, levels of deprivation in different areas and how healthy people said they were at the time of the 2011 census, black people are still more likely to die of covid-19. People from Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities were found to have between a 30 and 80 per cent higher risk than white people. US president Donald Trump has said the coronavirus pandemic is an “attack” on the US worse than Pearl Harbor or 9/11 and blamed China for not doing more to stop it. Trump and his secretary of state Mike Pompeo both recently claimed that the virus came from a laboratory in Wuhan. Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said this week that the virus was not manufactured, and that it “evolved in nature and then jumped species.” The official daily death toll in the US is predicted to rise to more than 3,000 by 1 June. Nearly 3.2 million US citizens filed for unemployment over the last week, bringing the total to 33 million since the country’s covid-19 shutdowns started in mid-March. The Bank of England said that the UK economy could shrink by 14 per cent this year, the country’s sharpest ever recession. UK prime minister Boris Johnson said the government will move cautiously in its consideration of easing coronavirus restrictions. Johnson will outline the government’s plans for the next three weeks at 7PM BST on Sunday, but any changes are expected to be relatively minor.

5-7-19 Coronavirus: US unemployment claims hit 33.3 million amid virus
A further 3.2 million Americans sought unemployment benefits last week as the economic toll from the coronavirus pandemic continued to mount. The new applications brought the total number of jobless claims since mid-March to 33.3 million. That amounts to more than 15% of the US workforce. However, it was less than the 3.8 million a week ago and down from the record 6.9 million for one week in March. Although the number of people filing claims is on the decline, it is still extraordinarily high, says BBC Business correspondent Samira Hussain in New York. Although the unprecedented job losses seem to be slowing, economists say the monthly unemployment rate for April, which will be released on Friday, could reach 15% or higher. Just two months ago, the unemployment rate was at 3.5%, a 50-year low. Since the coronavirus has taken hold in the US, the country has suffered its worst growth numbers in a decade, the worst retail sales report on record and the highest weekly unemployment claims ever seen.

5-7-19 How the virus could weigh down America's economy for the long haul
The pre-pandemic economy's biggest problem is only going to get worse. President Trump frequently called the pre-pandemic American economy the best in the country's history. And in some ways it was pretty impressive. The stock market was way up and unemployment way down — as the president's social media accounts constantly reminded us. But all that good stuff only came after a long, so-so recovery from the Great Recession. In the decade before that devastating downturn — one many of us probably thought would be the worst we would ever experience — economic growth averaged 3.3 percent a year, adjusted for inflation. In the decade after the 2007-2009 recession, however, growth averaged 2.3 percent, a percentage point lower. And that slower pace was a big reason wage growth was steady but unspectacular. Now, of course, the quarantined economy is suffering its worst contraction since the Great Depression, if not ever. It might shrink as much as 40 or 50 percent, on an annualized basis, from April through June. But as states gradually reopen, the economy should start growing again, maybe quite quickly at first. After that, it might oscillate between slower and faster growth, depending on the future path of the coronavirus outbreak. For his part, Trump is tweet-promising to "build the greatest economy in the world AGAIN!" But we have to do better. Much better. Before the COVID-19 collapse, economists from Wall Street to Washington were forecasting the long-term U.S. growth rate at a bit below 2 percent. One reason is the demographic-driven decline in labor-force growth. America is getting older and having fewer kids. With fewer new workers, the ones we have will need to be more productive, at least if future growth is going to be anywhere near as strong as past growth. Unfortunately, rich nations entered into the pandemic in the midst of a 15-year-long productivity growth slowdown.

5-7-19 Trump says coronavirus worse 'attack' than Pearl Harbor
US President Donald Trump has described the coronavirus pandemic as the "worst attack" ever on the United States, pointing the finger at China. Mr Trump said the outbreak had hit the US harder than the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in World War Two, or the 9/11 attacks two decades ago. His administration is weighing punitive actions against China over its early handling of the global emergency. Beijing says the US wants to distract from its own response to the pandemic. Since emerging in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December, the coronavirus is confirmed to have infected 1.2 million Americans, killing more than 73,000. Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office of the White House on Wednesday, Mr Trump said: "We went through the worst attack we've ever had on our country, this is worst attack we've ever had. "This is worse than Pearl Harbor, this is worse than the World Trade Center. There's never been an attack like this. "And it should have never happened. Could've been stopped at the source. Could've been stopped in China. It should've been stopped right at the source. And it wasn't." Asked later by a reporter if he saw the pandemic as an actual act of war, Mr Trump indicated the outbreak was America's foe, rather than China. "I view the invisible enemy [coronavirus] as a war," he said. "I don't like how it got here, because it could have been stopped, but no, I view the invisible enemy like a war." (Webmaster's comment: The race for a coronavirus vaccine. The race kicked off Jan. 10, when Chinese scientists published the complete 30,000-letter genetic code of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. In China, 1,000 scientists are working on a vaccine and launching more than 200 clinical trials to test everything from anti-flu drugs to ancient Chinese herbal medicine.)

5-7-19 Coronavirus: The health advice that is misleading or worse
As countries around the world grapple with the coronavirus epidemic, there's been widespread sharing of health advice, ranging from the useless but relatively harmless to things that could be dangerous. We've been looking at some examples and what the science says about them.

  1. Drinking alcohol won't stop the virus: This one has also come up regularly but is misleading and possibly harmful. A politician has demanded the immediate opening of shops selling alcohol, closed during India's lockdown. "When coronavirus can be removed by washing hands with alcohol, then drinking alcohol will surely remove the virus from the throat," said Bharat Singh, a senior member of the Congress Party, in Rajasthan state. But there is no medical evidence for this.
  2. Holding your breath can't tell you if you have the virus: The claim about holding your breath has surfaced in a many countries. A popular yoga guru in India, Baba Ramdev, has said you should try holding your breath for a full minute if you're young and healthy - 30 seconds for the elderly or those with underlying conditions. If you can't, he says, it indicates you have the virus. But there is no scientific basis for this claim.
  3. Mustard oil isn't an effective treatment: The same Indian guru also suggests putting drops of mustard oil into the nostrils while doing the breathing test, claiming - again erroneously - the oil forces the virus out of the respiratory tract down into the stomach, where it is killed by acid. The guru, one of India's most widely followed, has a vast business empire that sells a wide range of products. The Indian government's own fact-checking service has debunked the claim.
  4. Disinfectant and UV light claims have been widely shared: Using a disinfectant can kill viruses on surfaces. But consuming or injecting disinfectant risks poisoning and death. And there is no evidence it has any effect against the virus. Mr Trump also talked of exposing patients to UV (ultraviolet) light. And there is some evidence viruses do not last as long on surfaces when exposed to direct sunlight. But it is very damaging to human tissue. And there is no evidence UV light is an effective treatment for anyone with the virus.

5-7-19 Mother of killed Georgia man seeks justice
Wanda Cooper says her son, Ahmaud Arbery, was "hunted down like an animal and killed". Arbery was shot and killed while jogging after a confrontation with a former police officer and his son in Brunswick, Georgia. In a police report, Gregory McMichael says he saw Mr Arbery and believed he resembled the suspect in a series of break-ins. He and his son armed themselves and pursued him in a pick-up truck. (Webmaster's comment: In America any suspicion can be used as an excuse to kill a black man.)

5-7-19 Ahmaud Arbery and the racist history of loitering laws
Ahmaud Arbery went for a jog in a neighborhood of Brunswick, Georgia, a coastal town south of Savannah, in late February. He paused to look around a construction site of a new house. Then, in the middle of his run, a newly public video reveals, he was confronted by Gregory and Travis McMichael, a father-son duo — the father, Gregory, a retired police officer — who'd seen Arbery and decided he looked like a local burglary suspect. Arming themselves with a .357 magnum and a shotgun, the McMichaels, who are white, chased Arbery, who was black, with a pick-up truck. The video doesn't always keep the three men in frame, but we see Arbery attempt to go around the pick-up only to be intercepted by Travis McMichael with the shotgun. There's a shot, then the two men tussle for the weapon, then another shot at point-blank range, after which Arbery stumbles away, attempting to run before collapsing dead on the pavement. The McMichaels claimed they were attempting a citizen's arrest and shot Arbery, an unarmed runner they'd chased and cut off, in self-defense. No charges have been filed. The video's release prompted protests, plans for a grand jury, and a statement from Georgia's attorney general calling for swift justice. It's a welcome call, but swift justice wouldn't have required a viral video. And this case is all too familiar: It calls to mind the spate of nationally reported killings of unarmed black men and boys, often by white police officers, over the last six years. But it's also reminiscent of a longer American history of doing violence to black men for the "crime" of being out in public. Arbery's death resembles nothing so much as lynchings conducted in the name of vagrancy laws, Jim Crow-era legislation crafted to create an endless supply of excuses to harass African Americans and even arrest them, jail them, and profit from their labor. "We have the power to pass stringent laws to govern Negroes — this is a blessing — for they must be controlled in some way or white people cannot live among them," said one Alabama planter in the post-Civil War era. The Jim Crow "black codes" were indeed stringent. "Nine Southern states adopted vagrancy laws," writes Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow, "which selectively made it a criminal offense not to work and were applied selectively to blacks."

5-6-19 Coronavirus: Texas banned abortions - how did that affect women?
exas was one of a handful of states to deem abortions non-essential procedures during the pandemic. But what impact has that decision had? As the US was going through the darkest days of the crisis, the state of Texas was fighting hard in the courts to ensure abortions did not take place there. The battle, against women's health groups, was over the state's assertion that abortions were non-essential. Texas officials won, and abortions - which usually number about 50,000 a year in the state - were banned. They are only starting to resume again now because of an easing of restrictions on "elective" medical procedures. But that has come too late for many women. "My husband and I had been trying for a while and we were elated to find I was pregnant, and even more excited that we were having twins," says Louise. The 34-year-old lives just outside Austin. She speaks openly and eloquently, but it is also clear how badly the events of recent days have affected her. Fourteen weeks into her pregnancy, she was told that one of the twins she was carrying had died. More bad news was to come. "Last Monday, we were devastated to a receive a diagnosis of lethal skeletal dysplasia for the remaining twin. We were told that condition was incompatible with life and that the baby would suffocate upon being born and never be able to draw their first breath." Louise describes how the gut-wrenching news was made even worse as her doctor broke it to her that abortions were currently banned in Texas unless it was to save the life of the mother or the child. Even though Louise had inside her one foetus that had already passed away and another that was destined to die at birth, she was told she would not be able to have an abortion in the state. "I was shocked. I never thought that this wouldn't be applicable, it was such a such a strong set of circumstances," she tells me. Every US state introduced varying restrictions on non-essential medical procedures during the pandemic, to preserve protective equipment for staff and to curb the spread of the virus in hospitals.

5-6-19 UK covid-19 official death toll passes 30,000 - world's second highest
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 now has the highest recorded death toll from covid-19 in Europe and the second highest in the world, according to the latest data. (Webmaster's comment: The United States leads with 75,000 deaths!) Total deaths in the UK have reached 30,076, compared to 29,684 in Italy, previously the highest in Europe. The number of deaths in care homes in the UK continue to rise, and today prime minister Boris Johnson said he “bitterly regrets” the situation there. He said a “huge effort” had been made to provide more personal protective equipment and he set a new target of 200,000 daily coronavirus tests by the end of May. US president Donald Trump said the country’s coronavirus task force will keep working “indefinitely.” Yesterday he suggested that the group, led by vice president Mike Pence, would be phased out over the next few weeks. A statistical model created by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington estimated deaths in the US could double to 134,000 by 4 August if states continue to relax social distancing measures. German chancellor Angela Merkel announced further easing of coronavirus restrictions today. Larger shops will now be allowed to reopen as long as they comply with strict hygiene rules, and people from two different households can now meet. Germany is now at a point “where we can say that we have reached the goal of slowing down the spread of the virus,” said Merkel. Airbnb has seen a spike in bookings as people in Europe start planning holidays. If the outbreak remains under control, people in Germany may be able to take holidays abroad soon, according to the country’s federal tourism commissioner Thomas Bareiss. Italy’s prime minister Giuseppe Conte recently said Italians would be able to go on holiday this summer. High school students have been allowed back to school in Wuhan, China for the first time since schools closed there in January. More than 57,000 students were allowed to sit university entrance exams but had to abide by social distancing rules, wear face masks and arrive at staggered times. Junior and middle school students have not yet returned. No new deaths from coronavirus have been reported in China since 27 April.

5-6-19 It's time to retreat from the tyranny of lockdown tech
People in lockdown are no longer trying to use technology to get their old lives back and that's a good thing, says Annalee Newitz. WE’VE been living in quarantine for almost two months in San Francisco, and lockdown tech is starting to drive us bonkers. We were initially full of hope that the internet would save us – but now all we want to do is go outside and run around. Unfortunately, “outside” will never be the same. When we were only a week or two into this, things felt extremely weird, but those of us who still had jobs could do them. We had Zoom. We had Skype. Kids had Google Classroom. Amazon had masked workers to dispatch fresh produce to our doorsteps. What happened next will not surprise you. Everything sucked. Workers at Amazon started to protest about their conditions. They wanted paid sick time, as well as protections like hand sanitiser and disinfectant wipes. They had become key workers – and they rightly wanted benefits that reflected that. Customers were complaining too. They would spend hours trying to get delivery slots. It got so bad that a college student created a program to automatically queue on the Amazon Prime app on your behalf. Meanwhile, parents who were already sick of Zoom meetings discovered that sending their kids to online school didn’t work at all. Archaeologist Sarah Parcak declared on Twitter that school by app was a “joke” for her first-grader (year 2 for UK schools). She said that doing maths worksheets with her kid, while also juggling her own work, was “insanity”. So she pulled him out of school for an early summer vacation. Her tweets went viral. And so, instead of embracing technology, many people are now retreating from it. They’re making bread from scratch, going on long walks, making forts in their gardens and reconnecting with their sewing machines. We know this because they’re posting it on Instagram, of course. But my point is that people aren’t using apps to maintain their old lives any more. They’re embarking on something new – if they can. And that’s a big if. Millions of people are jobless, and still waiting for government pay cheques.

5-6-19 Universal basic income seems to improve employment and well-being
The world’s most robust study of universal basic income has concluded that it boosts recipients’ mental and financial well-being, as well as modestly improving employment. Finland ran a two-year universal basic income study in 2017 and 2018, during which the government gave 2000 unemployed people aged between 25 and 58 monthly payments with no strings attached. The payments of €560 per month weren’t means tested and were unconditional, so they weren’t reduced if an individual got a job or later had a pay rise. The study was nationwide and selected recipients weren’t able to opt out, because the test was written into legislation. Minna Ylikännö at the Social Insurance Institution of Finland announced the findings in Helsinki today via livestream. The study compared the employment and well-being of basic income recipients against a control group of 173,000 people who were on unemployment benefits. Between November 2017 and October 2018, people on basic income worked an average of 78 days, which was six days more than those on unemployment benefits. There was a greater increase in employment for people in families with children, as well as those whose first language wasn’t Finnish or Swedish – but the researchers aren’t yet sure why. When surveyed, people who received universal basic income instead of regular unemployment benefits reported better financial well-being, mental health and cognitive functioning, as well as higher levels of confidence in the future. When asked whether basic income could help people dealing with situations such as the economic fallout of the covid-19 pandemic, Ylikännö said that it could help alleviate stress at an uncertain time. “I think it would bring people security in very insecure situations when they don’t know whether they’re going to have an income,” she said. The findings suggest that basic income doesn’t seem to provide a disincentive for people to work.

5-6-19 Can nudge theory really stop covid-19 by changing our behaviour?
Human behaviour is key to the spread of coronavirus, so government scientists are trying to control our decisions. Does it work, and what happens when they get it wrong? “I WAS at a hospital the other night where I think there were actually a few coronavirus patients, and I shook hands with everybody, you’ll be pleased to know. I continue to shake hands and I think it’s very important…” UK prime minister Boris Johnson, Downing Street press conference, 3 March 2020. “Sick Boris faces fight for life”. Front page, Daily Mirror, 7 April 2020. If a week is a long time in politics, a month is an eternity in a pandemic. In early March, few batted an eyelid at Johnson’s handshakes. Now they seem reckless. News of the prime minister’s illness led many of the Twitterati to point out that the coronavirus “doesn’t discriminate”. Wrong. It does – by behaviour. If you come into contact with an infected person, you may well catch it. If you don’t, you probably won’t. This is why behavioural science is absolutely central to our fight against the pandemic. Clearly, the hard biomedical sciences such as virology, epidemiology, immunology and pharmacology matter. But unless we also factor in the science of human behaviour – how real humans in the real world act and think – our understanding is incomplete, and our attempts to defeat the virus will fail. Getting people to do what we want is notoriously hard, which is why governments around the world have been relying on behavioural scientists to inform their approach to the pandemic. There’s everything to play for, as Molly Crockett, a psychologist at Yale University, and her colleagues wrote in a recent paper on behavioural science in the time of coronavirus: “In order to slow the coronavirus pandemic, healthy people must take basic steps to change their behaviour, and doing so has the potential to collectively save thousands if not millions of lives.” Get it wrong, however, and the effects could be disastrous.

5-6-19 How to sniff out the good coronavirus studies from the bad
With researchers, journals, politicians, journalists and social media influencers all capable of espousing misleading or unverified scientific findings, it pays to be able to recognise the telltale signs of a study that might be poor. Here are seven potential warning flags:

  1. Study is published on a blog, preprint server or social media
  2. Study has only one author
  3. The researchers are from a surprising field of study
  4. The analysis is very fast
  5. The study is very small
  6. The trial has no placebo group
  7. The study reports a correlation or association

5-6-19 Coronavirus: White House plans to disband virus task force
US President Donald Trump has confirmed the White House coronavirus task force will be winding down, with Vice-President Mike Pence suggesting it could be disbanded within weeks. "We are bringing our country back," Mr Trump said during a visit to a mask-manufacturing factory in Arizona. New confirmed infections per day in the US currently top 20,000, and daily deaths exceed 1,000.US health officials warn the virus may spread as businesses begin to reopen. The US currently has 1.2 million confirmed coronavirus infections and more than 70,000 related deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, which is tracking the pandemic. During a visit to the plant in Phoenix after weeks holed up at the White House, Mr Trump told journalists: "Mike Pence and the task force have done a great job, but we're now looking at a little bit of a different form, and that form is safety and opening. And we'll have a different group probably set up for that." The president - who wore safety goggles but no face mask during his tour of the facility - was asked if it was "mission accomplished", and he said: "No, not at all. The mission accomplished is when it's over." Critics have accused the president of sacrificing Americans' public health in his eagerness to reopen the US economy ahead of his re-election battle in November. In Arizona on Tuesday, Mr Trump said that Democrats were hoping his coronavirus policy would fail "so they can win the election". Acknowledging a human cost to the plans, Mr Trump told reporters: "I'm not saying anything is perfect, and yes, will some people be affected? Yes. "Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open and we have to get it open soon." However, it will be up to individual states to determine how they reopen. Some Democratic governors in badly hit states have been cautious, calling for more testing and other safeguards before easing lockdowns. Other states, many led by Republicans in the south and mid-west, have already begun lifting restrictions. (Webmaster's comment: Getting Trump re-elected is the most important objective no matter how many must die!)

5-6-19 Why countries should start weekly covid-19 testing for key workers
Many countries are focusing coronavirus testing on people who have covid-19 symptoms. But regularly testing all essential workers would have more of an impact. MUCH attention in the UK was last week focused on whether the country could meet its end-of April target of conducting 100,000 tests for coronavirus a day. While increasing testing capacity is important for countries that failed to contain the virus and now have massive outbreaks, how testing is used is even more important than how many tests are done. To reduce the spread of the virus, many researchers think countries need to move to testing those without any signs of disease instead of focusing on those with symptoms. “A good strategy would be to devote part of the resources for identifying asymptomatic infected too, starting with random testing in the population,” says Giulia Giordano at the University of Trento in Italy. People with mild symptoms can be isolated without wasting a test that could be instead used for identifying hidden outbreaks, she says. Early on, most countries tested any individuals suspected to be infected. Anyone these people had come into contact with was then traced, isolated or quarantined, and tested too. But only a few countries such as South Korea managed to scale up this approach fast enough to keep pace with the outbreak. It works: on 30 April, South Korea reported no new infections within the country. Many other countries, including the US and UK, failed to keep up with testing and contact tracing as their national outbreaks took off. Testing has instead been mainly restricted to use in hospitals to confirm that seriously ill patients have covid-19. The UK government decided to limit testing to hospitals early in March. Critics denounced this as a blunder, arguing that more widespread testing was essential to being able to ease lockdown restrictions. The UK has since begun increasing testing and has announced plans to resume contact tracing.

5-6-19 What a sane country would learn from coronavirus
America was broken long before the pandemic hit. Countries around the world are learning some hard lessons during the coronavirus pandemic. Ones that had their acts together — usually places that had recent experience of disease outbreaks, like Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea, and Sierra Leone — acquitted themselves rather well. Ones that did not, like Sweden and the U.K., saw huge caseloads and mass death. But nowhere has bungled things worse than the United States. It may well end up that some countries have worse epidemics relative to their population size, or that some U.S. communities escape disaster thanks to their state governments or dispersed geography, but the national American response has been basically nonexistent, despite our vast wealth and power. In almost every other rich country cases are now falling sharply, but here they have plateaued or even increased. The Trump administration appears to be all but giving up on attempts to control the spread and is itself forecasting huge increases in both cases and deaths, while the Democratic House has been almost wholly absent in the last month. This failure points to how broken the United States was before coronavirus hit. It turns out we were already wobbling on the precipice of disaster, and it took only a sharp shove to send us over the edge. If America were a sane country, this would be a perfect opportunity to clean house. Probably the most glaring weakness exposed by the pandemic is America's horrendous health care system. We spend about 17 percent of our economy on health care — roughly twice the figure of many of our peer nations — and yet the system was caught flat-footed by the crisis. On the one hand, even before the crisis about 14 percent of Americans were uninsured, and a much greater fraction who technically had coverage effectively could not use it in many circumstances because the benefits were so lousy. Now that tens of millions of people are being laid off, they are also losing their employer-based insurance, which was already crumbling before the crisis. Perhaps a quarter of Americans with employer-based coverage may lose it before the crisis passes. Some will end up on Medicare or the lousy ObamaCare exchanges, but many will no doubt go uninsured. Health care providers are also being hit hard by the crisis. Consumer health care spending fell 18 percent in the first quarter of 2020 and many providers cut pay to doctors and nurses or laid them off, despite the fact that many hospitals were jammed to bursting with COVID-19 patients. The reason is that elective procedures — like knee surgeries charged at a 500 percent markup — is where providers make most of their money. There just isn't much percentage in treating regular old sick people. In other words, the American health care system is not geared towards providing care as such. It is geared towards profit.

5-6-19 American individualism is a suicide pact
The United States is about to undertake a remarkably risky epidemiological experiment on itself.With at least 72,000 Americans dead of COVID-19 over the past seven weeks and no sign of overall decline in rates of infection, the White House and numerous state governments have decided it's time to begin lifting stay-at-home orders that were imposed to slow the spread of the disease. There are several reasons why the country has decided to risk precipitating a sharp increase in the number of infections and fatalities. For one thing, there's genuine fear among elected officials that damage to the economy from the lockdowns is too great for them to be allowed to continue any longer. (This is usually combined with an unproven and most likely dubious assumption that people will return to normal patterns of behavior and spending as soon as legal restrictions on economic activity are lifted.) Then there's the restive faction of the Republican Party that uses its media perches and headline-grabbing protests at state houses and city halls to express displeasure with stay-at-home orders. And well-publicized anecdotes of people becoming less willing in warm spring weather to continue sheltering-in-place (despite numerous polls showing strong broad-based support at both the national and local level for maintaining such restrictions). But underlying all of these sources of opposition to public-health measures is a deeper cause that intertwines with and underlies all of them, at least in part — and that is the old-fashioned, pig-headed individualism of the American people. We hear it every day from politicians, protesters, and media personalities — and on Tuesday it was also expressed by Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley. Judge Bradley and her colleagues were presiding over a lawsuit filed in protest of the Wisconsin governor's stay-at-home order when she volunteered that she considered it "the very definition of tyranny." Americans like to see their "don't tread on me" ethic as one of the country's most admirable traits. And maybe in some contexts and historical moments it is. But during a pandemic it is idiocy to cry tyranny at efforts to mitigate the spread of the pathogen. In such circumstances, our incorrigible individualism can become lethal — a suicide pact that threatens individuals as well as the political community as a whole. That makes it a public menace. We hear versions of the argument for individualism so often that it's hard to think about it critically. In the context of the coronavirus, it goes like this: "Don't force me to shelter-in-place against my will. I can take care of myself. If I want to work, shop, or go party with my friends, that's my call. I'll accept the risk. And anyway, the only people facing a significantly elevated likelihood of death from the illness are the elderly. So worry about them and get your niggling, do-gooder, nanny-state nonsense out of my face. You're not the boss of me. Let me live my life and make my own choices about what risks I'm willing to accept." Even if we assume this imagined individualist is actually informed about how bad COVID-19 really is and hasn't been hoodwinked by nonsense about how it's "just like the flu," the argument is wildly irresponsible — as we can see as soon as we reflect on cases in which it is comparatively persuasive.

5-6-19 Coronavirus: Germany reopens shops as lockdown is relaxed
Chancellor Angela Merkel has agreed to reopen all shops as part of a deal with the leaders of Germany's 16 states to ease restrictions on society. General contact rules will continue for another month. Schools are likely to reopen gradually this term and Bundesliga football is expected to be given the green light to restart. The states have agreed to take control of timing the reopening. They will also have to react fast to any new surge in infections. A limited resumption has already begun, but this would be far more widespread. Two households will be able to meet and eat together under the easing of restrictions, according to reports from the talks. Germany has seen fewer than 7,000 deaths in the coronavirus pandemic - a much lower figure than seen in other Western European countries including the UK, Italy, France and Spain. The RKI public health institute reported 165 deaths in the past 24 hours on Wednesday and some 947 new infections. Significantly the rate of infection has been consistently low for some time. Popular Bild daily newspaper announced on Wednesday that Germany was opening up again. And broadly that is what the draft deal proposes. Shops of up to 800 sq m (8,600ft) in size have already been allowed to open. All restrictions on shops will now be lifted, although masks must be worn and social distancing maintained. Schools have already begun opening for older children; reports say all pupils will be allowed to return to school gradually during the summer term. During Wednesday's talks, state leaders reportedly agreed to take responsibility for the consequences of lifting the lockdown, which came into force on 17 March. Germany, in common with other countries, is wary of a second surge in infections. If new infections rise to above 50 people in every 100,000 over a seven-day period, then in the affected areas the reopening has to be reversed, news agency DPA reports. Restaurants, hotels and gyms will reportedly also be allowed to reopen. But as a number of the 16 states have been less affected by the crisis than others, some are more eager to ease restrictions than others.

5-6-19 Coronavirus: Most Africans 'will go hungry in 14-day lockdown'
More than two-thirds of people surveyed in 20 African countries said they would run out of food and water if they had to stay at home for 14 days. Just over half of the respondents said they would run out of money. The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention research was conducted to help governments map out future policies on how to tackle coronavirus. It warns that if measures are not adapted to local needs, there is a risk of unrest and violence. The report, Using Data to Find a Balance, shows the difficulties of maintaining strict lockdown policies on the continent. The research was conducted between late March and mid-April in 28 cities in 20 countries to assess the impact of the crisis and people's attitudes to restrictions that had already been imposed in some areas. Several African countries which had responded swiftly to the coronavirus threat are now easing restrictions. "The proliferation of peaceful protests demanding government relief is evidence of the strain some people are already under, and highlights gaps in current responses," the report says. But it found that there was currently general support for restrictions that had been put in place. Opposition was highest to measures such as closing workplaces and shutting down markets. According to the survey, the lowest-income households expected to run out of food and money in less than a week. In Nigeria and Kenya, social media users noted that hunger in urban area was forcing them to violate stay-at-home orders, it said. The findings chime with a story that viral last week of a Kenyan widow who was found cooking stones for her eight children to make them believe she was preparing food for them, saying: "I could do nothing because I had nothing." The researchers have recommended that governments need to communicate more effectively with their citizens and properly inform them about the reasons behind the measures that are being taken.

5-6-19 Biden demands justice for Georgia killing of black jogger Arbery
The Democrats' likely presidential candidate Joe Biden has demanded justice over the killing of an unarmed black man in the US state of Georgia. Mr Biden said his heart went out to the family of Ahmaud Arbery. Mr Arbery, 25, was jogging in February when confronted by an ex-policeman and his son. Video purported to show the shooting emerged online on Tuesday. A district attorney in Georgia has now ruled that a grand jury should decide whether charges should be brought. An earlier decision by a prosecutor in the Brunswick jurisdiction argued there was no probable cause to arrest Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis, 34, the New York Times has reported. Mr Arbery was out running in the Satilla Shores neighbourhood of Brunswick in Georgia's Glynn County early in the afternoon on 23 February. In a police report, Gregory McMichael says he saw Mr Arbery and believed he resembled the suspect in a series of break-ins. He and his son armed themselves and pursued him in a pick-up truck. In the police report, Gregory McMichael says he and his son had said "stop, stop, we want to talk to you" and that Mr Arbery had attacked his son. Shots were fired, with Mr Arbery falling to the street. Mr Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper, said police told her her son had been involved in a burglary before the incident, but the family say they do not believe the keen jogger had committed a crime and he was unarmed. It was initially posted on a local radio station website but was then taken down. The 36-second video is shot from a vehicle following the pick-up truck said to be involved in the incident. It shows a man jogging and then approaching the stationary pick-up from behind. He tries to bypass the truck and then is seen struggling with a man carrying a shotgun. There is muffled shouting and shotgun shots are heard. A second man is standing in the bed of the pick-up. The second man is then shown with a pistol standing alongside the other armed man with the jogger no longer in view. Although not shown in its video, CNN says that after a third gunshot the jogger recoils and blood appears on his T-shirt below his ribcage. (Webmaster's comment: Shooting black suspects without trial is a time-honored tradition in the South.)

5-6-19 Coronavirus: Dallas hair salon owner jailed for week for defying lockdown
A hair salon owner in Texas has been jailed for a week for staying open despite coronavirus restrictions that have shut all non-essential businesses. Shelley Luther, owner of Salon à la Mode in Dallas, appeared in court on Tuesday after defying a cease-and-desist letter and a restraining order. The judge said she could avoid jail if she apologised for being selfish, shut the salon and paid a fine. But Luther refused, saying "feeding my kids is not selfish". She would only have needed to close the salon until Friday, because the state plans to allow them to reopen then. Luther was fined $7,000 (£5,652) and warned that she would be fined a further $500 a day from now until Friday if the business continued to remain open. Judge Eric Moyé told Luther: "The rule of law governs us. People cannot take it upon themselves to determine what they will and will not do." A Dallas inspector and a police officer told the court that they saw clients inside getting haircuts and manicures, according to the Texas Tribune. On 25 April, Luther was pictured at a rally to reopen the state, ripping up a cease-and-desist letter that had been handed to her. Last week, she told her followers on Facebook that she had a right to remain open. In court she told the judge: "I have to disagree with you, sir, when you say that I am selfish, because feeding my kids is not selfish. I have hair stylists that are going hungry because they'd rather feed their kids. "So, sir, if you think the law is more important than kids being fed, then please go ahead with your decision. But I'm not going to shut the salon." (Webmaster's comment: So spreading the disease is a right?)

5-6-19 Why even mask skeptics should want to wear them
A handful of states have mandated mask use in public to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and many smaller entities both public and private — various municipal governments, Uber, Costco, airlines, my local hardware store — have too. Polling shows about three in four Americans think this is a sound plan and intend to wear a mask most or all of the time in public. But that still leaves another quarter of the country opposed, including about 15 percent who reported, in another survey, they have not even considered donning a mask. Distaste for masking is understandable (I resisted for a while), and it's true the scientific evidence for its efficacy is not unassailable. But consistent public mask usage in the short-term has advantages whatever we think about its efficacy and the wisdom of stay-at-home orders. It could help us re-open our economy, a goal we all share even as we differ on how and when it should happen. The plaints against masking are several. Perhaps the most common (and distinctly American) is the idea that wearing a mask signals sheepish subservience to an overreaching state. "Adding to my post-lockdown predictions," libertarian author Jeffrey Tucker tweeted Saturday, "the face mask will be rightly regarded as a symbol of obsequious obedience and grotesque compliance with arbitrary and ignorant authority." After initially promoting masks, Fox News host Laura Ingraham has rebranded them as a means of exerting "social control over large populations" through "fear and intimidation." Rush Limbaugh told his listeners it's become "clear that the mask is a symbol of fear." For some in the anti-mask crowd, this is less about principle than partisan politics, a symptom of what my colleague Damon Linker has described as the decision of some on the right "to allow the culture war to swallow everything else in our public life." As the left generally considers COVID-19 a serious threat to public health, that adversarial mindset dictates downplaying it. This seems a plausible explanation of Vice President Mike Pence's now-recanted decision not to wear a mask while visiting the Mayo Clinic. Pence's initial rationale — that he wanted to be able to make eye contact while thanking health-care workers — is certainly flimsy, and the vice president has a history of staged political performance. Then there are the cultural reasons, often reflexive and inchoate. An Arizona journalist reports being told masks look "weak — especially for men." An Ohio lawmaker refused to wear a mask on the grounds that "we are all created in the image and likeness of God" — a basic, uncontroversial Jewish and Christian doctrine — and this "image is seen the most by our face" — an odd, extrabiblical understanding of the Imago Dei. His comment may be generously read as an inarticulate variation of the argument of National Review's Michael Brendan Dougherty that masks "will always feel like an imposition" in the West, where our culture has "inherited the view that God meets us face to face, because a face is where our personhood is incarnate in the world." I don't have much patience for petty partisanship or selfish machismo. Owning the libs or looking "strong" are callow, indefensible reasons not to take a simple precaution that could save someone from death or long-term lung damage.

5-5-19 Coronavirus: Why is there a US backlash to masks?
While US health experts continue to encourage mask use in public, and more parts of the country adopt this guidance, there has been pushback from some Americans about covering up. Why? Many protesters across the states have been pictured defying social distancing guidance without masks or face coverings. Online, the debate about mask effectiveness still plays out, with some claiming masks are not effective - or enforceable under US law. This is in marked contrast to other countries where populations have generally been compliant in wearing face coverings. (Webmaster's comment: And as a result cases and deaths run lower than in the United States!) The UK has yet to adopt the policy, pointing to WHO advice which says only health workers should wear them. But the London Underground advises passengers to cover their nose and mouth. Ohio's Republican governor Mike DeWine - who has been praised for his early efforts to stem the spread - had to walk back an order requiring residents to wear masks in public as businesses reopened, calling the measure "a bridge too far". "People were not going to accept the government telling them what to do," he told ABC News on Sunday. There are similar stories across the nation, though many states and local governments have rules or guidance encouraging masks in public spaces. In Stillwater, Oklahoma, city officials had to rescind a mandatory mask order for local restaurants and businesses after employees were threatened and verbally abused by residents who refused to cover up. In Flint, Michigan, a security guard was shot and killed in an altercation that allegedly began over a customer's refusal to cover their face per the state governor's order. US store guard killed after mask row with customer. Many New Yorkers were photographed in Central Park over the weekend enjoying the warm weather without proper nose and mouth coverings; similar scenarios have played out on Californian and Floridian beaches. (Webmaster's comment: These people have no concern for others and are perfectly happy to infect others! They are deplorables!)

5-5-19 Coronavirus: US allies tread lightly around Trump lab claims
While the Trump administration has publicly pushed the line that the coronavirus outbreak originated in a laboratory accident in China, some of its close allies are more cautious. UK officials believe it is not possible to be absolutely sure about the origins but point to scientific opinion suggesting the most likely scenario is that it was from a live animal market. However, they add that it is impossible to rule out the theory of an accidental release from a lab without a full investigation. Their view echoes comments on Tuesday by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who said: "We can't rule out any of these arrangements... but the most likely has been in a wildlife wet market." In the US, the intelligence community has also been more cautious in its public position than its political leaders and, last week, it issued a carefully worded statement. It said that it concurred with the "wide scientific consensus" that Covid-19 was not man-made or genetically modified. It then added it would "continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan". However, both President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have since pointed strongly towards the lab accident theory without providing any specific evidence. Mr Pompeo said the evidence was "enormous". It is possible that there could be lines of intelligence which could be used to support that theory, but they may not be confirmed or reflect the overall balance of evidence. US intelligence, like other countries, has devoted extensive resources to try and understand what has been happening within China, and some of the information could be highly sensitive. Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told National Geographic on Monday that he did not entertain the lab theory. The World Health Organization (WHO) also says it has not received any evidence from the US to back up the lab theory.

5-5-19 Coronavirus: Chinese state media take aim at US 'lab theory'
Chinese state media has accused US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of lying, after he said there was "enormous evidence" the coronavirus emanated from a laboratory in Wuhan. Mr Pompeo made the claim on Sunday, without going into specifics. In an editorial on Tuesday, the hawkish Global Times newspaper said Mr Pompeo was "degenerate". The World Health Organization says the US claims are "speculative", and that it has seen no "specific evidence". Editorials in Chinese state media often given an insight into the direction of government thinking, but there has been no official response to Mr Pompeo's comments as yet. On Monday, the Global Times accused Mr Pompeo of "absurd theories and twisted facts", and on Tuesday the attack continued. "Pompeo aims to kill two birds with one stone by spewing falsehoods," it said. "First, he hopes to help Trump win re-election this November...second, Pompeo hates socialist China and, in particular, cannot accept China's rise." The editorial admitted there were "initial problems" in China's response to the outbreak, but claimed "the overall performance is bright enough to outweigh the flaws". It also said it was "conceivable that the virus first contacted humans in other places [than Wuhan]". The Global Times is not the only Chinese outlet to take aim at Mr Pompeo and the US. The People's Daily said Mr Pompeo had "no evidence", while a piece on the CCTV site accused US politicians of "nefarious plotting". (Webmaster's comment: The US government is being run by Lying Thugs and Religious Fruitcakes such as Pompeo, Barr, Trump and Pence.)

5-5-19 Trump is pursuing a herd immunity strategy — whether intentionally or not
He's driving the country straight into a coronavirus sandpit. The coronavirus pandemic is still raging in the United States. Daily new confirmed cases have been over 20,000 since March 28, and daily new deaths have been over 1,000 (and often over 2,000) since March 30, with no sign of sustained decline. And yet many states, encouraged by President Trump and his administration, are rolling back their lockdown measures. In many of these same states, new cases are still surging, especially Texas. Mississippi retreated on its rollback when it experienced an influx of cases. Trump is driving America directly into a coronavirus sandpit, and it's hard to see any way it can be avoided. A background condition of Trump's position here is the small minority of people who have been protesting furiously about coronavirus containment measures for weeks. The implicit logic of these protests is extremely strange. They are acting as though the lockdowns are something liberals are doing basically for fun, and therefore an intolerable infringement on their personal liberty. In reality, everyone hates the lockdowns. Everyone desperately wants to be able to see their families, catch a movie, or go to a restaurant as soon as possible. They just — and it may be necessary to remind people of this point — don't want to get severely ill or die, or infect others with the virus. Several other countries have already demonstrated the way to accomplish this. What you need is severe lockdown to contain the spread of the virus (and to prevent your health care system from being swamped), and in the meantime you build up a "test, track, and isolate" apparatus that can squelch any subsequent outbreak before it gets out of hand. Anyone with symptoms must be tested, as well as a regular random sample of the population. Positive cases must be moved to an isolated quarantine facility so they don't infect their families, as well as anyone they came in contact with when they were contagious. If you catch a high enough proportion of new cases, then the virus can be throttled. The basic idea is to go from flattening to "crushing" the infection curve — not just spreading out cases to protect health care capacity but drastically reducing their number. The faster and more aggressively the government moves, the faster things can return to something like normal. Indeed, Taiwan and New Zealand have both virtually eliminated their outbreaks using these measures. Then you just remain cautious until a vaccine is (hopefully) developed, and fully normal life can return. The conservative anti-lockdown complaints are thus a self-defeating fit of childish foot-stamping. We were already seeing increased case numbers in several of the states that are relaxing lockdown orders, because the virus is still spreading in the wild (and many people are only halfheartedly following the recommendations, which aren't nearly rigorous enough anyways). That means numbers are likely to only get worse and state economies will remain effectively in partial lockdown no matter what governments do, because most people will not go about normal activities with a pandemic on the loose. We can't just will the virus away.

5-5-19 US family 'murdered shop guard for enforcing mask policy'
A woman has been charged along with her husband and son with killing a security guard who refused her daughter entry to a shop because she was not wearing a face covering. Calvin Munerlyn, 43, was shot in the back of the head on Friday at the Family Dollar store in Flint, Michigan, one of the US states hardest hit by the pandemic. He was attacked after telling 45-year-old Sharmel Teague's daughter she could not come into the shop without a state-mandated mask. The mother's husband, Larry Teague, 44, and son, Ramonyea Bishop, 23, are accused of going to the store shortly afterwards and fatally attacking Mr Munerlyn. Sharmel Teague has been arrested, but the two other suspects remain at large. All three face first-degree premeditated murder and firearms charges. Larry Teague is also charged with violating the governor's order requiring face coverings inside stores in order to prevent coronavirus transmission. Her daughter has not been charged. After the initial verbal altercation at the store, Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton told a news conference on Monday, Sharmel Teague shouted at and spat on Mr Munerlyn before driving away in a red GMC Envoy. She returned a short while later with her son and husband before the fatal confrontation ensued, according to officials. It was the son who allegedly pulled the trigger. The prosecutor told reporters: "The death of Calvin Munerlyn is senseless and tragic, and those responsible will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law." Mr Munerlyn's mother, Bernadett, told the Associated Press news agency: "All my baby was doing was his job." A GoFundMe page set up for Mr Munerlyn's funeral has raised nearly $100,000 (£80,000). According to the page, he leaves behind eight children. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has ordered all residents in the Midwestern state to wear face coverings when inside business premises in order to fight Covid-19. Stores can refuse service to anyone who does not comply with this rule.

5-4-19 Covid-19 latest: Scientists advising UK pandemic response revealed
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. In Italy, 4.4 million people returned to work today as the country eased restrictions after a two month lockdown which began on 9 March. Italy was the first country in Europe to have a serious covid-19 outbreak and there have been at least 28,000 deaths due to coronavirus there. Yesterday there were 174 deaths, the lowest daily count since 10 March, the day after the lockdown went into effect. Researchers in Germany estimate that only one in 10 of the country’s coronavirus cases have been diagnosed. 1.8 million people in Germany may have contracted the virus to date, about 10 times the official number, according to their study. The European Commission has launched a global coronavirus research fund focused on developing a vaccine and plans to host a virtual fundraising event to encourage donations from philanthropists and other governments. It aims to raise more than £6.6 billion (€7.5 billion) to make up for a funding shortfall for the World Health Organization and other organisations that are fighting the pandemic. The number of people reporting deep levels of concern and stress in a regular wellbeing survey has more than doubled since late 2019, according to the UK’s Office for National Statistics. Between 20 and 30 March this year, more than 20 per cent of people reported low levels of happiness. People’s main concerns were personal wellbeing, their jobs and the impact of the covid-19 pandemic on their finances. A draft of the UK government’s plan to ease social distancing restrictions and allow more people back to work has been published by Buzzfeed, which includes staggered working hours and relaxing the requirement to stay more than 2 metres away from other people.

5-4-19 3 big assumptions about modern life upended by the pandemic
I have a rhetorical tic — which my husband mocks, and I rebrand as virtuous gratitude, which he also mocks — of expressing perhaps exaggerated enthusiasm for modern life, especially the plumbing and appliances. I have waxed rapturous about washing machines and showers and air conditioning. These things make it possible for me to spend my workday writing instead of cleaning clothes, hauling buckets of water to a galvanized bathtub, and doing it all marinated in my own sweat. They loom in my mind as a physical barricade against the Bad Old Days, a time for which comedian John Mulaney's vision of people waking up each morning in horror of another day of wearing layers and layers of clothing and doing weird stuff very slowly is only barely a joke. For all its flaws, the modern world, for those of us fortunate to live well in wealthy nations, is different from eons past. It's easier, more comfortable, safer — better. Or is it? The coronavirus pandemic doesn't have a role in that story, so it's unsettling all sorts of assumptions about modern life. Here are three big ones.

  1. We're safe from the unexpected tragedy that haunted older eras. In 1924, when Calvin Coolidge was president, his younger son, aged 16, played tennis on the White House courts wearing shoes without socks. He got a blister on his toe. A week later, he was dead of sepsis from a staph infection
  2. We value life more than people in the past. Death was more familiar for our ancestors. Of course, everyone eventually dies now, just as everyone eventually died then, but now we tend to do it when we're older, with more warning, and in a more managed, medicalized setting.
  3. Life will keep improving. This last assumption is a dearly held Americanism. It creeps into our mindsets however pessimistic our politics or apocalyptic our theology.

5-4-19 Coronavirus: Trump warns US death toll could hit 100,000
US President Donald Trump has warned that as many as 100,000 people could die of coronavirus in the US. Speaking at a two-hour virtual "town hall", Mr Trump also denied that his administration had acted too slowly. More than 67,000 people have already died with Covid-19 in the US. But Mr Trump expressed optimism about the development of a vaccine, suggesting one could be ready by the end of this year - although experts believe it will take 12 to 18 months. "I think we're going to have a vaccine by the end of the year," he told Fox News. "The doctors would say, well you shouldn't say that. I'll say what I think... I think we'll a vaccine sooner rather than later." Among the experts to disagree with this optimistic estimate are Dr Anthony Fauci, America's top infectious disease expert, and England's Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty. Dr Fauci has previously said a vaccine will take up to 18 months to develop, while Professor Whitty said last month the chances of having an effective vaccine or other treatment within the next year were "incredibly small". The town hall - or community meeting featuring viewers' questions - was intended to relaunch Mr Trump's presidential campaign in lieu of rallies. President Trump also rejected claims that his administration had failed to act quickly enough at the start of the outbreak, saying: "We did the right thing." Instead, he again accused China for failing to stop the virus spreading: "I think they made a horrible mistake, and they didn't want to admit it. We wanted to go in. They didn't want us there." Mr Trump also laid some of the blame at the door of US intelligence officials, accusing them of failing to raise concerns about the outbreak until 23 January. However, US broadcasters CNN and ABC report that the president's intelligence briefings mentioned the coronavirus as early as 3 January.

5-4-19 Coronavirus: Pompeo accuses Chinese of blocking investigations
The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has said there is "enormous evidence" that the coronavirus pandemic originated in a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Mr Pompeo did not present any facts to support his claim. But, speaking on ABC television, Mr Pompeo accused the Chinese government of stonewalling any investigations and refusing to co-operate with experts. (Webmaster's comment: Chinese expects stopped the virus in it's tracks! Our expects have not and Trump downplayed the risks from the start! That's why the US leads the world in cases and deaths.)

5-4-19 Trump was the disaster we should have seen coming
We were warned. This disaster was foreseen. You probably think I'm talking about the coronavirus pandemic — and if so, well, you're half-right. Each week brings us new evidence that President Trump failed to heed warnings that the COVID-19 virus could bring disaster, missing an opportunity to prepare for an outbreak that has claimed nearly 70,000 American lives. But I'm also referring to the president's botched leadership in this crisis. Long before he won his shocking Electoral College victory in 2016, it was obvious that Trump would falter disastrously when faced with an emergency. "Just imagine Donald Trump in the Oval Office facing a real crisis," Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent in that election, tweeted in August of that year. "We can't afford that kind of risk." She was right. Looking back to such forecasts is more than a matter of saying "I told you so." The president and his allies are already busy rewriting history with a mix of happy talk and scapegoating: Everything Trump has done has been a spectacular success, we're to believe, except for all the stuff that is the fault of China, or the responsibility of governors, or caused by the shortcomings of former President Obama. The battle for the historical narrative is under way. We have to act now to preserve the real history — of what went wrong and how it could have been avoided — so that future generations can look at us and hopefully learn from our mistakes. The first mistake was electing Trump. It's important to remember that one of the most influential pieces of pro-Trump punditry during the 2016 campaign conceded up front that his election could well end in a disaster for the country. Even in hindsight, it is shocking to remember how utterly and nakedly cynical, even suicidal, the pro-Trump position was even before he became president. "The Trump crisis playbook tends to have three, overlapping tactics," The Atlantic's David Graham wrote in September 2016. "First, he doubles down on anything he said that's getting heat. Second, he insists that he actually was right and/or victorious. Third, he blames a rigged game for any troubles he encounters."

5-4-19 Coronavirus: Naples feels the cost of Italy's lockdown
As Italy begins to ease its lockdown measures, residents in some of Naples' poorest neighbourhoods share their stories of how the global pandemic has left scars on their city. Takeaways and parks are reopening, small funerals can resume and some businesses are restarting. But the shutdown has left deep wounds in a country with already serious economic problems. Mark Lowen has been speaking to people whose lives have been changed.

5-3-19 Coronavirus: Tanzanian president promises to import Madagascar's 'cure'
The president of Tanzania says he will send a plane to Madagascar to import a herbal tonic which has been touted as a cure for coronavirus by the country's president. Congo-Brazzaville's president has also promised to import the drink. It is produced from the artemisia plant - the source of an ingredient used in a malaria treatment. The World Health Organization has said there is no proof of any cure and has advised people against self-medicating. The drink was launched as Covid-Organics and was being marketed after being tested on fewer than 20 people over a period of three weeks, the president's chief of staff Lova Hasinirina Ranoromaro told the BBC. In response to the launch of Covid-Organics, the WHO said in a statement sent to the BBC that the global organisation did not recommend "self-medication with any medicines... as a prevention or cure for Covid-19". It reiterated earlier comments by WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus that there were "no short-cuts" to finding effective mediation to fight coronarvirus. International trials were under way to find an effective treatment, the WHO added. In March, the US-based National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health warned against purported coronavirus remedies, including herbal therapies and teas - saying the best way to prevent infection was to avoid exposure to the virus. The drink has been picked up in other African countries. On Saturday Madagascar delivered a shipment to Guinea-Bissau. The Malagasy president also tweeted that the special envoy to Equatorial Guinea picked up a shipment of the drink. Speaking on TV, Tanzania's President John Magufuli said he was already in contact with the government of Madagascar and would despatch an aircraft to the island nation to collect the medicine. (Webmaster's comment: Just like Trump's announcing miracle cures that don't work and may even kill you!)

5-3-19 Coronavirus: What global travel may look like ahead of a vaccine
Sun loungers separated by plexiglass. Blood tests and sanitiser spray-downs before flights. These might sound extreme, but they are real measures some in the travel industry are looking at to keep holidaymakers feeling safe and comfortable in a post-lockdown world. It's too early to say when international travel might restart again - Argentina, for example, has extended flight bans until September and a UK minister has said he won't be booking a summer holiday anytime soon. But what will overseas trips look like when they're able to be taken again? Here's what you might expect. Many airports, including in London, have already introduced measures to cater for essential travellers based on government guidelines - so they might sound familiar. These include between one and two-metre distancing at all times (excluding people who live together), hand sanitisers distributed throughout the airport and efforts to spread passengers more evenly across terminals. In the US, the Transport Security Administration (TSA) says travellers should wash their hands for 20 seconds - in accordance with official guidelines - before and after the security screening process. But, at Hong Kong International Airport, testing is under way on a full-body disinfectant device. This, the airport says, can sanitise users within 40 seconds, using sprays that kill bacteria and viruses on skin and clothing. The airport is also trialling autonomous cleaning robots that move around killing microbes by zapping them with ultraviolet light. Similar robots have been tested in makeshift hospital rooms. Airports that have electronic check-in kiosks are encouraging passengers to use them where possible to avoid unnecessary interaction. Most will display posters that explain guidance measures and instructions throughout their buildings.

5-3-19 When will sports come back?
The coronavirus pandemic has put sports on hold. When will it be safe for them to return? Pro sports leagues are desperate to resume play this summer, but will it be safe to do so? Here's everything you need to know:

  1. Will games be held this year? It's still unknown. Cooped-up fans craving the escape of sports have suffered a month of postponements: the NBA and NHL playoffs, baseball's opening day, the Masters golf tournament, college basketball's "March Madness," even the Olympics in Tokyo.
  2. How much money has been lost? American sports is roughly a $71 billion–a-year business, and leagues will collectively lose $10 billion by June 1, Forbes estimates. "Our revenue, in essence, has dropped to zero," said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
  3. How would that work? "We don't have a plan," said MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. "We have lots of ideas." The leading proposal is having all 30 teams confined around Phoenix, where there's an MLB stadium and 10 spring-training complexes.
  4. What are the drawbacks to playing? Safety, above all. Plans to play games even without live audiences this summer are contingent on the overall infection rate in the U.S. dropping to a much lower level and staying there, which is no sure thing.
  5. What about college sports? The men's NCAA basketball tournament generates more than $800 million per year, most of which is distributed to hundreds of college athletic departments. Insurance covered just $270 million after the March tournament was canceled
  6. How do pro players feel? Some of the younger players who've yet to make much money say they're eager to return, even if it means playing in empty stadiums. But older players with families are worried about their health and months of living in a bubble.
  7. Lessons from abroad: South Korea's pro baseball players took the field last week, but the beloved spring tradition featured some new rules: no fans, no spitting, and mandatory masks and gloves for everyone but the players. Baseball is also back in Taiwan.

5-2-19 Coronavirus: Spain makes masks compulsory on public transport
Masks will be compulsory on public transport in Spain from Monday as the country moves to gradually relax its tough lockdown. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the government would distribute 6m masks, mainly at transport locations, and give another 7m to local authorities. Adults in Spain were able to exercise outdoors on Saturday for the first time in seven weeks. The lockdown was eased for children under 14 a week ago. Lockdowns in other European countries are also being eased, though social distancing remains in force. Some countries require mask-wearing in shops and on public transport. Italy has Europe's highest death toll from coronavirus, closely followed by the UK and then Spain (though experts caution that countries do not record death figures in exactly the same way). The UK's figures show hundreds of people are still falling victim to Covid-19 every day - on Saturday the deaths of a further 621 people were announced. Both France and Italy recorded fewer than 200 deaths in a 24-hour period. Italy announced another 474 deaths on Saturday, a larger number than in recent days, but according to La Repubblica that figure includes 282 deaths outside hospitals in April which were not included in earlier figures. Mr Sanchez said Spain was now reaping the rewards of the sacrifices made during the lockdown, one of Europe's strictest. He also said his government would approve a €16bn ($17.6bn; £14bn) fund to help regional authorities deal with the economic damage inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic. In Madrid, residents voiced relief to be finally exercising outdoors. "Happy, we feel free!" Susana Piego told Reuters. Jesus Gutierrez said "it's basic, for physical and mental health, it is basic to allow people to do sport".Since 14 March people have only been allowed to leave the house to buy food or medicine, to go to work if working from home was not possible, or to briefly walk the dog. There are now exercise slots for different age groups, and the amount of outdoor exercise time remains limited. Most adults can walk or play sports between 06:00 and 10:00, and between 20:00 and 23:00.

5-2-19 Malaysia migrant raids 'to reduce Covid-19 spread'
Malaysian police say an operation to arrest hundreds of undocumented migrants in Kuala Lumpur on Friday aimed to reduce the spread of Covid-19. They were detained to ensure that they did not move around and spread the disease, police chief Abdul Hamid Bador told the state news agency. Images show large numbers of enforcement agents wearing protective suits to carry out the arrests. The raids took place in a part of the capital known to house foreigners. The United Nations has urged the Malaysian authorities to release children and vulnerable individuals from the detention camps where migrants are held. Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch tweeted that the detentions risked worsening the pandemic in Malaysia, both in terms of potential outbreaks inside the camps but also by making undocumented people less likely to co-operate. Images shared by Human Rights Watch and other organisations but not verified by the BBC, apparently from the raids, show hundreds of people sitting on the ground in close proximity, surrounded by armed police. Malaysia has seen just over 100 deaths from coronavirus, according to figures tracked by Johns Hopkins University. The country remains under a partial lockdown. Malaysia does not recognise refugees and there are high levels of distrust for those who come from abroad, often working as low-paid labourers. (Webmaster's comment: Just like the United States other governments will use coronavirus fear to demonize immigrants!)

5-2-19 Coronavirus: Spain enjoys first exercise freedom for weeks
Spanish adults have been jogging and cycling for the first time after seven weeks of coronavirus lockdown. The lockdown - one of Europe's strictest - was eased for children a week ago, yet the amount of outdoor exercise time remains limited. There are now exercise slots for different age groups. Most adults can walk or play sports between 06:00 and 10:00, and between 20:00 and 23:00. Spain's official death toll is 24,824, but the rate of fatalities has dropped. Italy has Europe's highest death toll, followed by the UK and Spain. The Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has announced that the wearing of masks on public transport will be made compulsory from Monday. He also said his government would approve a €16 billion ($17.57 bn; £14 bn) fund to help regional authorities deal with the economic damage inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic. In Madrid, residents voiced relief to be finally exercising outdoors. "Happy, we feel free!" Susana Piego told Reuters. Jesus Gutierrez said "it's basic, for physical and mental health, it is basic to allow people to do sport". Since 14 March people have only been allowed to leave the house to buy food or medicine, to go to work if working from home was not possible, or to briefly walk the dog. Spaniards have made the most of the latest easing of the national lockdown, as they have taken to the streets in droves since early this morning. In many areas, the large numbers who took to the streets made it look almost like a normal Saturday morning, yet social distancing was observed and few cars were on the roads. Some, however, remain reluctant to venture out. "I want to go out because it's a beautiful day," said Carmen Pérez, a 65-year-old in Madrid. "But I'm a bit scared of getting infected." Until last week Spain was the only country in Europe where children under 14 could not leave home at all.

5-2-19 Coronavirus: US authorises use of anti-viral drug Remdesivir
The US's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorised emergency use of the Ebola drug remdesivir for treating the coronavirus. The authorisation means the anti-viral drug can now be used on people who are hospitalised with severe Covid-19. A recent clinical trial showed the drug helped shorten the recovery time for people who were seriously ill. However, it did not significantly improve survival rates.Experts have warned the drug - which was originally developed to treat Ebola, and is produced by Gilead pharmaceutical company in California - should not be seen as a "magic bullet" for coronavirus. The drug interferes with the virus's genome, disrupting its ability to replicate. During a meeting with US President Donald Trump in the Oval Office, Gilead Chief Executive Daniel O'Day said the FDA authorisation was an important first step. The company would donate 1.5 million vials of the drug, he said. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn also said at the meeting: "It's the first authorised therapy for Covid-19, so we're really proud to be part of it." Emergency FDA authorisation is not the same as formal approval, which requires a higher level of review. The drug did not cure Ebola, and Gilead says on its website: "Remdesivir is an experimental medicine that does not have established safety or efficacy for the treatment of any condition." Gilead also warns of possible serious side-effects. However, President Trump has been a vocal supporter of remdesivir as a potential treatment for the coronavirus. In its clinical trial, whose full results are yet to be released, the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) found that remdesivir cut the duration of symptoms from 15 days down to 11. The trials involved 1,063 people at hospitals around the world - including the US, France, Italy, the UK, China and South Korea. Some patients were given the drug and others were given a placebo (dummy) treatment.

5-1-19 Coronavirus: New York becomes Ground Zero again
The headlines seemed to be crowding in on us. The coronavirus had reached American shores. It had come to the outer suburbs of New York. There were cases in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. By now, the news was coming word of mouth. Someone had tested positive in our downtown office complex. A tenant in a neighbouring apartment building had been laid low. Our school was shutting. All the schools were shutting. The whole of New York was soon in lockdown. Back then I remember thinking how different this was to stories of the past. Whether it was war or disaster, there was always a plane to take you away to safety; always a refuge at the end of a harrowing ordeal. With Covid-19, however, there was no plane; there was no refuge. In this planetary pandemic, the entire world was a trouble-spot. Also this was the first time my family was living the same story of disaster that I had to cover. They were subject to the same risks and dangers. They felt the same tensions and concerns. And for us there was an extra layer of anxiety. My wife, Fleur, is seven months pregnant. So some of those headlines now came like thunderbolts. A top New York hospital was barring partners from being present at the birth. Other maternity wards were following suit. Delivery rooms were being placed in Covid isolation: women sequestered from their partners, partners sequestered from their newborns. New life in the time of coronavirus. The magical realism of birth was becoming something altogether more dystopian. In pre-pandemic times - how quickly we've adopted the language of the before and the after - many New Yorkers suffered from a paranoia known as FOMO. The fear of missing out. Those who can afford it want to dine in the most fashionable new restaurants. Go see the hottest new Broadway show. Attend the latest gallery opening. But the virus was something that everyone wanted to miss out on - the talk of the town that nobody wanted to speak of from firsthand experience.

5-1-19 Trudeau announces ban on 1,500 kinds of assault weapons
Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has introduced a long-promised ban on assault-style weapons following the country's worst gun massacre in April. New rules would make it illegal to sell, transport, import or use 1,500 varieties of assault weapons. The ban is effective immediately but there will be a two-year amnesty period for law-abiding gun owners to comply. Mr Trudeau also said he would introduce legislation, which has yet to pass, to offer a buy-back programme. Unlike the US, gun ownership is not enshrined in Canada's constitution, but gun ownership is still popular, especially in rural parts of the country. Mr Trudeau made a point of saying that most gun owners are law-abiding citizens, but argued that assault-weapons serve no beneficial purpose."These weapons were designed for one purpose and one purpose only — only to kill the largest amount of people in the shortest amount of time," he said in a press conference on Friday. "You don't need an AR-15 to bring down a deer." The call to ban assault weapons was heightened after a number of high-profile shootings -- in 2017, at a mosque in Quebec, in 2018 on a commercial street in Toronto and most recently, in a rampage across the province of Nova Scotia that became the deadliest shooting in Canada's history. RCMP have said that the shooter was not licensed to own firearms, but had what appeared to be an assault-style weapon, as well as other guns. The RCMP did not specify which kind, so it is unknown if it will be covered by the ban. Mr Trudeau campaigned on the ban ahead of last November's election, and he said he was planning on introducing the ban in March, but it was delayed because of coronavirus. His government had already expanded background check requirements and made it tougher to transport handguns, prior to November's election. (Webmaster's comment: The US should do this also, but our white male brutes want the right to kill anyone, anywhere, anytime!)

5-1-19 No, this won't be over soon
Infectious disease specialists expect waves of infection. By Memorial Day, says Vice President Mike Pence, "we will have this coronavirus epidemic behind us." (Webmaster's comment: He's got to be joking!) In the warmth of summer, he and other sunny optimists predict, the virus will vanish like magic. By fall, the economy will come roaring back in a "V-shaped" recovery, and the past two months will all seem like a bad dream. Wouldn't it be lovely? When faced with a monu­mental crisis, optimism can be ­helpful — but magical thinking, not so much. It can lead to reckless behavior and disappointment. There is no reason to expect the virus to disappear in May or June or any time in 2020, says ­infectious-­disease specialist ­Michael Oster­holm, who's been urging the world to prepare for a pandemic since 2005. "This first wave of illness," he told CNN this week, "is just the beginning of what could very easily be 16 to 18 months of substantial activity of this virus around the world, coming and going, wave after wave." That's a reality we're going to have to adapt to, Osterholm and other scientists say. They acknowledge we can't remain in lockdown indefinitely, but warn that as states loosen restrictions, the number of cases will start climbing again. This coronavirus is highly contagious, spreading easily through the air and touched surfaces; without social distancing, one infected person gives the virus to about three others. Oster­holm's math tells him that the virus will eventually infect at least 50 percent of the population, or roughly 150 million Amer­i­cans. About 80 percent will have mild or no symptoms, but assuming a fatality rate of just 0.5 ­percent — which is much lower than now ­observed — at least 800,000 Americans will die over 18 months if there is no vaccine or effective treatment. (Herd immunity would require 70 percent to be infected, and much higher death tolls.) These grim numbers, Oster­holm concedes, are just educated guesses. But he is certain of this: "As a country, we are utterly unprepared for the marathon ahead."

5-1-19 Republicans literally want to work Americans to death
The Republican Party represents regular working stiffs, the forgotten men and women of America, who have been left behind by the country's effete liberal elites. Or at least that's the message that President Trump, GOP leadership, and the American right in general have been pushing for years. But while their words are one thing, their actions are another. And the actions of Trump and his fellow Republicans during the coronavirus pandemic suggest they see American workers as nothing but cannon fodder to be sacrificed in the name of a rejuvenated economy.. The most recent example was the president's executive order from earlier this week, telling meatpacking plants to remain open. The industry, which involves thousands of often poorly-paid workers laboring shoulder to shoulder to process and package poultry, pork, and other items, has become a hotspot for COVID-19 outbreaks. Facilities are shutting down, at least 20 workers in meat and food processing have died, and thousands have either been infected or had to self-quarantine. Pork and beef processing has already fallen 25 percent, and the Trump administration was concerned capacity could be cut by as much as 80 percent. The president's decision was no doubt influenced by an ad taken out by the chairman of Tyson Foods this weekend, warning that America's food supply chain "is breaking." Trump's order comes from his authority under the Defense Production Act (DPA). I've written myself about how Trump needs to put the DPA to much wider use to rationalize the economic production of crucial needs like ventilators, tests, masks and gloves. Food is obviously a crucial need too. (You could debate how crucial meat specifically is, but set that aside for now.) The challenge of the coronavirus pandemic is that going to work is now risky for both individuals and the community, but some work must still be done for society to function. It just has to be done as safely as possible. That's where Trump's order turns ominous. Reporting suggests vague promises from the White House that the government will provide additional protective gear and safety guidance to the meatpacking industry. But thus far the White House's record on both counts is pretty appalling. Trump's executive efforts to get tests and masks and ventilators to the country at large have amounted to irresponsible and incompetent bedlam. Meanwhile, the executive agency tasked with overseeing workers' well-being, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), has effectively checked out during the coronavirus pandemic. The agency has received thousands of complaints from Americans about dangerous conditions at their places of work. But thus far OSHA hasn't bothered giving employers hard rules for coronavirus safety — instead releasing purely voluntary guidelines, while leaving enforcement with teeth to under-resourced state governments. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has, of course, lobbied against any actual enforceable regulations. And even though Democrats tried to pass new enforceable safety standards legislatively, Republicans aren't having it. Nor is the Trump administration requiring employers outside of the health sector to track and report COVID-19 cases at their worksites.

5-1-19 Coronavirus: Armed protesters enter Michigan statehouse
Gun-toting protesters against Michigan's coronavirus lockdown have rallied in the state capitol building. Hundreds of demonstrators, a few of them armed, gathered in Lansing and many did not wear masks or socially distance. Police checked their temperatures before some were allowed into the capitol, where lawmakers were debating. Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, extended her stay-at-home mandate earlier this month until 15 May. Michigan has been hard hit by the coronavirus, with 3,788 deaths. More than 41,000 infections have been recorded across the Midwestern state, mostly in the Detroit metro area. Thursday's protest, dubbed the "American Patriot Rally", was organised by Michigan United for Liberty. It called for state businesses to reopen on 1 May in violation of state orders. It is legal to bear firearms inside the statehouse, and several demonstrators were openly carrying guns in the Senate gallery. But some armed protesters reportedly tried to enter the floor of the chamber, and were blocked by state police and sergeants-at-arms. One state senator said several of her colleagues wore bulletproof vests. Footage of protesters outside the building showed them chanting "Let us in!", "Let us work" and "This is the people's house, you cannot lock us out". "The virus is here," one demonstrator, Joni George, told the Associated Press. "It's going to be here... It's time to let people go back to work. That's all there is to it." The rally is believed to have been the largest of its type since one on 15 April when Michigan protesters sat in their cars in order to create traffic around the statehouse. President Donald Trump threw his support behind demonstrators at the time, tweeting "LIBERATE MICHIGAN". Some critics said his tweets were an attempt to foment insurrection.

5-1-19 Coronavirus: Michigan lockdown protesters enter statehouse
Protesters rallied at the state's capitol as legislators voted on extending the state of emergency. Michigan has seen more than 41,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and over 3,700 deaths.

5-1-19 Coronavirus: Lack of co-ordination let virus spread - UN's Guterres
The UN secretary general says he has been "shocked but not surprised" by the global response to the pandemic. Speaking to the BBC's Nick Bryant, António Guterres also responded to criticism of the WHO and explained how countries might come together for a greener future.

5-1-19 Coronavirus: Trump stands by China lab origin theory for virus
US President Donald Trump has appeared to undercut his own intelligence agencies by suggesting he has seen evidence coronavirus originated in a Chinese laboratory. (Webmaster's comment: From the biggest liar on the planet!) Earlier the US national intelligence director's office said it was still investigating how the virus began. But the office said it had determined Covid-19 "was not manmade or genetically modified". China has rejected the lab theory and criticised the US response to Covid-19. Since emerging in China last year, the virus has killed 230,000 people worldwide including 63,000 in the US. The pandemic has seen at least 3.2 million people infected, a million of them Americans, since the virus spread from the city of Wuhan. At the White House on Thursday, Mr Trump was asked by a reporter: "Have you seen anything at this point that gives you a high degree of confidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the origin of this virus?" "Yes, I have. Yes, I have," said the president, without specifying. "And I think the World Health Organization [WHO] should be ashamed of themselves because they're like the public relations agency for China." Asked later to clarify his comment, he said: "I can't tell you that. I'm not allowed to tell you that." He also told reporters: "Whether they [China] made a mistake, or whether it started off as a mistake and then they made another one, or did somebody do something on purpose? "I don't understand how traffic, how people weren't allowed into the rest of China, but they were allowed into the rest of the world. That's a bad, that's a hard question for them to answer." Intelligence agencies have also been tasked with determining if China and the WHO withheld information about the virus early on, unnamed officials told NBC News. In a rare public statement, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees US spy agencies, said on Thursday it concurs with the "wide scientific consensus" regarding Covid-19's natural origins. It was the first clear response from American intelligence debunking conspiracy theories - both from the US and China - that the virus is a bioweapon.

5-1-19 Trumplomacy: What's behind new US strategy on China?
Tensions between the US and China are longstanding but the pandemic and a looming presidential election have amplified the rivalry, and this week the war of words hit a new peak. What's the US strategy? This week President Donald J Trump turned a corner with his 2020 re-election campaign. "China will do anything they can to have me lose this race," he told the Reuters news agency. His sharpening rhetoric against Beijing marked a new phase in an effort to reframe an election that's been reshaped by the coronavirus pandemic. And it signalled rockier times for the already rocky relationship between the world's two biggest economies. The Trump campaign had planned to make America's booming economy its centrepiece, but that has tanked. And polls show decreasing support for the president in key battleground states amidst criticism of his corona crisis performance. Enter China, the origin of the pandemic and accused of acting too slowly to stop its global spread. The Republican strategy actually attacks the former vice president, Joe Biden, the presumed Democratic nominee. Mr Trump's allies in the America First Action (AFA) political committee have been rolling out advertisements lashing "Beijing Biden" for "leading the charge" of a Washington elite too willing to accommodate a predatory China. Mr Biden has hit back with an advert that accuses the president of trying to deflect blame for his own slow response to the pandemic, and of being too trusting of China's initial information about the virus. The common element in these starkly different positions is that both campaigns believe it's good politics to argue their man will be strongest in taking on Beijing. "If you look at the most recent Pew poll and Gallup poll, Americans' distrust of China, whether you're Republican or Democrat, is at an all-time high," roughly two-thirds of the country, says the AFA's Kelly Sadler.


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Atheism News & Humanism Articles for April 2020