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  • Korea Cases Top 2,000; Nigeria Confirms Infection: Virus Update

    Korea Cases Top 2,000; Nigeria Confirms Infection: Virus Update(Bloomberg) -- The number of new coronavirus cases in South Korea crossed 2,000. Japan is closing schools to limit the spread of the outbreak. New cases continue to appear outside of China with Italy, Iran and Kuwait reporting more infections. Nigeria confirmed its first case, the first reported in sub-Saharan Africa.Stocks tumbled with equity markets in Hong Kong, Japan and Australia all losing more than 2%. U.S. health authorities moved to greatly expand the number of people who will be tested, adding travelers from several new countries and people with unexplained, severe respiratory illnesses. California is monitoring 8,400 people for signs of the virus after they traveled to Asia.Key DevelopmentsConfirmed cases worldwide at 83,048; global deaths 2,858China death toll at 2,788, up 44; cases climb to 78,824, up 327South Korea confirms 256 more cases, bringing total to 2,022Limited virus testing in Japan masks true scale of infectionHong Kong dog found to have ‘low level’ of virusCoronavirus crisis seeds chaos in Washington and on Wall StreetClick VRUS on the terminal for news and data on the coronavirus and here for maps and charts. For analysis of the impact from Bloomberg Economics, click here.JPMorgan Restricts All Non-Essential Travel Globally (11:29 a.m. HK)JPMorgan Chase & Co. issued global restrictions on non-essential travel to protect its employees and its business against the spreading coronavirus.Because of the continuing spread of the virus, it’s now “restricting all international travel to essential travel only,” the New York-based bank said in a memo distributed to staff. The memo was confirmed by spokespeople at the bank.Hyundai Halts Korea Plant as Worker Infected (10:34 a.m. HK)Hyundai Motor Co. halted operations at its No. 2 plant in Ulsan for disinfection after a worker tested positive, Maeil Business Newspaper reported, without citing anyone.Tokyo Disney to Shut (10:31 a.m. HK)Tokyo Disney Resort will close for two weeks starting Saturday as a precaution to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, operator Oriental Land Co. said.Two parks, Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea, will not accept visitors from Feb. 29 to March 15, the company said in a statement Friday. With Disney parks in Hong Kong and Shanghai already closed, this means all of the entertainment company’s resorts in Asia have shut down for the time being due to the spread of the virus.South Korea’s Moon Sees Disapproval Rating Top 50% (9:53 a.m. HK)South Korea President Moon Jae-in’s disapproval rating rose to 51%, the highest level since October, as the virus spreads in the country, a Gallup Korea poll showed. That’s up from 46% a week earlier. The poll showed 51% of respondents aren’t satisfied with the government’s response to the virus.China to Resume Road Traffic in Lower-Risk Regions (9:16 a.m. HK)China will resume buses, subways and taxis in urban and rural areas with lower coronavirus risk, the transport ministry said in a statement. The move is aimed at supporting factory resumptions and stabilizing the economy.Nigeria Confirms First Infection (9:10 a.m. HK)Nigeria confirmed its first case of the coronavirus in Lagos, the West African country’s biggest city and commercial capital, the Health Ministry said. It’s also the first reported in sub-Saharan Africa.Algeria has also reported a case. Health experts have voiced concerns over the possible spread of the virus in places like Africa that may be ill-equipped to handle such a crisis.South Korea Cases Top 2,000 (9:01 a.m. HK)South Korea confirmed 256 more infections, bringing the total in the country to 2,022, the health ministry said in a statement. Among the 256, 182 cases are from Daegu, at the center of the outbreak, and 49 are from the neighboring North Gyeongsang province.Hong Kong Dog Found to Have ‘Low Level’ of Virus (8:49 a.m. HK)The pet dog of a coronavirus patient in Hong Kong has been found to have a “low level” of the virus, the Hong Kong government said.The dog tested “weak positive,” the city’s agricultural and fisheries department said in a statement, without giving further details. Officials will carry out further tests to confirm whether the dog has really been infected, or if it was a result of environmental contamination of its mouth and nose.Japan Children’s Day-Care Centers to Stay Open (8:06 a.m. HK)Japan’s children’s day-care centers and after-school clubs will stay open, even as schools nationwide close for at least a month in a bid to control the outbreak, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said. Japan wants to make it easy for people to take time off work, Kato said. This is an important time for controlling the domestic spread of the virus, he said.Plague Inc. Removed From Apple’s Chinese Store (8:04 a.m. HK)Plague Inc. -- the mobile simulation of a global pandemic that topped download charts in February after the outbreak -- has been removed from Apple Inc.’s Chinese app store. The eight-year-old game’s developers said on their website Chinese regulators determined it contained “illegal” content. The developers say they’re trying to contact the Cyberspace Administration of China to get the game back online.Plague Inc. became the most downloaded paid game on iPhones in at least 80 countries early this month, according to research firm App Annie.China Death Toll Rises to 2,788, Up 44 (7:53 a.m. HK)China’s death toll rose to 2,788 by the end of Thursday as it reported 44 new fatalities, according to a statement from the country’s National Health Commission. The number of cases climbed to 78,824 as 327 additional infections were reported. Discharged patients increased by 3,622 to 36,117.Hubei, the province at the center of the outbreak, had 318 additional cases and 41 new deaths.Trump Says He’s Doing ‘Incredible Job’ (7:13 a.m. HK)President Donald Trump said his administration has done an “incredible job” preventing the spread of coronavirus after California’s governor said the state is monitoring 8,400 for signs of exposure.Limited Testing in Japan Masks Scale of Infection (6:57 a.m. HK)Japan is becoming a center of concern, with the country’s official infection tally suspected to be the tip of the iceberg of a much wider outbreak.“For every one who tests positive there are probably hundreds with mild symptoms,” said Masahiro Kami, chair of the Medical Governance Research Institute in Tokyo, and a practicing doctor. “Those with mild symptoms are not being tested.”Read more here.U.S. Workers Didn’t Get Protective Gear: Report (5:05 p.m. NY)Federal employees who helped evacuate people from the center of the coronavirus outbreak in China didn’t get protective gear or training, the Washington Post said, citing a whistleblower’s complaint.Trump administration officials disputed the report.“Every precaution has been taken,” said William Walters, a health official with the U.S. State Department. “I can say unequivocally that everyone involved with those evacuations was appropriately equipped and trained.”One member of Congress called the situation deeply concerning. “Finding out that the U.S. government might have put its own personnel in harm’s way is deeply concerning to me,” said Representative Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat from Virginia.Mask Prices and Interest Spike on Amazon (4:52 p.m. NY)Prices for face masks spiked on Amazon.com Inc. in early February, with many items sold out, according to a firm that tracks traffic on the website.Searches over the past 30 days for N95 masks, which are tighter fitting and filter out smaller particles than surgical masks, surged to 1.3 million on Feb. 10, up from 23,000 on Jan. 10, according to Helium 10, the monitoring company.Daily sales of a 20-pack of popular N95 masks from 3M jumped to more than 1,000 in February, from roughly 25 in December, according to Helium. Prices for the product, which typically sells for $29.99, climbed as high as $99.“Many third-party sellers appear to be outright price-gouging, likely due to low stock and high demand,” Lee said. “Even Amazon, which has kept pricing mostly stable across products, has had to increase prices on some products.”Amazon’s pricing policies suggest the company monitors for gouging and can punish merchants with irregular prices, but the policies lack specifics. “Setting a price on a product or service that is significantly higher than recent prices offered on or off Amazon” is a potential violation, the company says on its policy page.“Sellers set their own product prices in our store and we have policies to help ensure sellers are pricing products competitively,” Amazon said in an emailed statement. “We actively monitor our store and remove offers that violate our policies.”CDC Expands Coronavirus Testing to More Patients (4:38 p.m. NY)U.S. health authorities moved to greatly expand the number of people who will be tested for the coronavirus, adding travelers from several new countries with outbreaks as well as people with unexplained, severe respiratory illnesses.People showing respiratory symptoms and who have been in China, Iran, Italy, Japan or South Korea within the past 14 days will be screened for the virus under the new guidelines released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.The CDC is also calling for testing of patients who have unexplained, severe lower-respiratory illnesses that require hospitalization, but no other history of potential exposure to coronavirus. The expansion comes after a patient in California, who had no known ties to an infected area, was confirmed to have the virus after a long delay to get tested.Pence Says He’s In Charge, Not Azar (3:36 p.m. NY)U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said he’s now leading the government’s coronavirus task force instead of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.“I’m leading the task force,” Pence said Thursday at a meeting on the virus at HHS headquarters. “We’ll continue to rely on the secretary’s role as chairman of the task force.”Trump initially appointed Azar to lead the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, but on Wednesday, he named Pence to the role at a news conference. The Washington Post reported that Azar was blindsided by the decision, though Azar told lawmakers that he thought Pence’s appointment was “genius.”Trump Mulls Special Powers on Mask Production: Reuters (1:58 p.m. NY)President Trump’s administration is considering invoking special powers through the 1950 Defense Production Act to quickly boost domestic manufacturing of protective masks and outfits in the U.S., Reuters reports, citing two officials it doesn’t name.California Monitoring 8,400 Travelers and Contacts (2:16 p.m.)California is monitoring 8,400 people who flew into its airports from Asia and their close contacts for possible infection from the novel coronavirus, Governor Gavin Newsom said Thursday. Thousands of people around the U.S. have been asked to self-isolate or check themselves for symptoms since the U.S. put new limits on travel earlier this month.Those people are scattered across 49 local jurisdictions, he said. There have been 33 people confirmed to be infected with the virus in California.Earlier, health officials said a woman from Northern California has the virus and hadn’t traveled to China. She also didn’t have any close contact with anyone who did and appears to be the first case of community transmission in the U.S.Lagarde: ECB Response Not Required Yet (11:30 a.m. NY)European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde said the coronavirus outbreak carefully isn’t yet at the stage that would require a monetary-policy response, the Financial Times reported on Thursday.Lagarde said the ECB would have to determine whether the coronavirus could become a “long-lasting shock” that would affect inflation. “But we are certainly not at that point yet,” Lagarde told the FT.Outbreak Is At Decisive Stage, WHO Says (10:10 a.m. NY)The novel coronavirus has the potential to become a pandemic and is at a decisive stage, the head of the World Health Organization said Thursday.“The outbreak can go in any direction based on how we handle it,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during the group’s daily briefing in Geneva.China’s efforts show that containment can work, while clusters of infections in Iran, Italy and South Korea are cause for concern, he said. For a second day, there were fewer new cases in China than in the rest of the world.Several countries that have reported cases previously -- including India, Russia and Vietnam -- haven’t had any new infections in two weeks, Tedros said. However, Finland and Sweden, which had gone without infections for a prolonged period, reported cases Wednesday.Middle East Cases Rise (7:30 a.m. NY)Iran reported 87 new cases on Thursday, bringing the total to 245 including 26 deaths. The number of patients in Kuwait almost doubled to 43, with all the cases linked to Iran. The United Arab Emirates, which has 13 cases and hasn’t given an update since Saturday, said it’s setting up a medical facility to quarantine patients.Italy Coronavirus Cases Rise to 528, With 14 Possible Deaths (7:09 a.m. NY)Total cases increased from the 400 reported late Wednesday, civil protection head and emergency chief Angelo Borrelli said. Forty people have recovered. The number of possible virus-linked deaths reached 14.\--With assistance from Isabel Reynolds, Emi Nobuhiro, Dominic Lau, Edwin Chan, Zheping Huang, Josh Wingrove, Shiho Takezawa, Li Liu, Dulue Mbachu, Shinhye Kang, Kanga Kong, Lily Nonomiya and Reed Stevenson.To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Jeff Sutherland in Tokyo at jsutherlan13@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Stuart Wallace at swallace6@bloomberg.net, ;Drew Armstrong at darmstrong17@bloomberg.net, Tom Redmond, Jeff SutherlandFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.




  • UN chief: Growing inequality for women should shame world

    UN chief: Growing inequality for women should shame worldU.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Thursday that inequality for women is growing and it “should shame us all in the 21st century because it is not only unacceptable, it is stupid.” The U.N. chief said in a speech at the New School in New York that gender inequality and discrimination against women is the “one overwhelming injustice across the globe — an abuse that is crying out for attention.” Guterres said gender inequality is “a stain,” just like slavery and colonialism were in previous centuries.




  • At least 7 Iranian government officials have coronavirus

    At least 7 Iranian government officials have coronavirusMasoumeh Ebtekar, Iran's vice president for women and family affairs, is the latest Iranian government official to contract coronavirus.At least seven officials in the country have tested positive for the coronavirus, COVID-19. Ebtekar is the highest-ranking woman in Iran's government, and is now quarantined at home, her deputy announced on Thursday. She was photographed on Wednesday during a cabinet meeting, sitting just a few yards away from President Hassan Rouhani.The other infected officials are Iraj Harirchim, deputy health minister; Mojtaba Zolnour, a Parliament member from Qom and head of Parliament's national security and foreign policy committee; Mahmoud Sadeghi, a member of Parliament from Tehran; Morteza Rahmanzadeh, the mayor of a Tehran district; Dr. Mohamad Reza Ghadir, head of coronavirus management in Qom; and Hadi Khosroshahi, a major cleric and former ambassador to the Vatican. Iran's official media has reported that Khosroshahi, 81, has died.The first case of coronavirus in Iran was reported on Feb. 19 in Qom. Health Ministry officials on Thursday said there are 245 confirmed cases in the country, and at least 26 people have died from the virus. Health experts estimate there are many more COVID-19 cases in Iran, because the death rate is so high. Friday prayers have been canceled in Tehran and 22 other cities, and all schools and universities are closed until March 21.More stories from theweek.com Harvard scientist predicts coronavirus will infect up to 70 percent of humanity What it's like to be in Venice during coronavirus lockdown Turkish official: Airstrike in Syria kills 29 Turkish soldiers




  • Hong Kong Media Tycoon Jimmy Lai Arrested for Unlawful Assembly


  • Korea Virus Threat Puts Expected Trump-Kim Face-Off on Hold

    Korea Virus Threat Puts Expected Trump-Kim Face-Off on Hold(Bloomberg) -- The next showdown between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may need to wait until after the virus scare.The U.S. said Thursday that it would postpone joint military exercises planned for the coming weeks, as its ally South Korea copes with one of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks. The decision removes for now a looming friction point with North Korea, which has denounced the exercises as rehearsal for an invasion and a “main factor of screwing up tensions.”Meanwhile, North Korea has turned inward since neighboring China sounded the alarm about the new virus strain last month, shutting its borders and trumpeting its prevention campaigns in state media. Moves to provoke the U.S. haven’t materialized since Kim told ruling party leaders on New Year’s Eve that he was no longer bound by a freeze on tests of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.“The virus likely has delayed Pyongyang’s implementation of its U.S. policy,” said Rachel Minyoung Lee, a Seoul-based analyst for NK News who focuses on North Korean state media. “North Korea has focused on domestic issues after Kim Jong Un’s party plenum speech. After mid-January, the coronavirus has been added to its list of domestic priorities.”This year was expected to bring a return to tensions on the Korean Peninsula after Kim spent much of last year threatening to take a “new path” in nuclear talks with the U.S. in 2020 if Trump didn’t make a more appealing offer. The two leaders have made little progress since Trump walked out of their second formal summit last year in Hanoi.Pressure has piled on Trump in recent days as markets have plummeted on fears the virus will slow the economy, while a whistle-blower cited by the New York Times and Washington Post accused the Department of Health and Human Services of a “failure to protect its employees” responsible for managing the coronavirus outbreak.The coronavirus outbreak, which has infected more than 82,000 and killed more than 2,800 worldwide, is particularly concerning to impoverished North Korea, which lacks the public health infrastructure of its more developed neighbors. While the country has yet to report any confirmed cases, the border closures have cut off a vital source of cash needed to soften the blow of international sanctions.“As the novel coronavirus infection is hard to curb once it has spread, all the regions and units in the DPRK are intensifying their anti-epidemic work against its making inroads into the country with each passing day,” the official Korean Central News Agency said in a Feb. 21 news report, referring to the country’s formal name.The outbreak also poses risks to the allies, with South Korean cases surging to 1,700 in little more than a week. President Moon Jae-in -- a longtime advocate for greater North Korea ties -- is rushing to get the disease under control before April parliamentary elections that will shape the remainder of his single, five-year term.Some 28,500 American troops are based on the peninsula and at last one U.S. solider has already tested positive for the virus. U.S. Forces Korea raised its risk level to “high” Thursday, restricting service members from attending non-essential, off-base activities and social events that have more than 20 people in attendance.Military officials said the request to delay the exercise was initially made by South Korea and the U.S. accepted it.“Coronavirus is a very serious thing,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley told the U.S. House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday. “We in the U.S. military and we in the Department of Defense are taking all kinds of appropriate precautions.”In a separate move, U.S. Forces Korea said Friday it notified thousands of South Korean workers at American military bases that they would be furloughed from April 1 unless Seoul and Washington could reach a new financing deal. Even before the virus erupted, tensions flared between the long-standing allies over a Trump demand for a five-fold increase in what South Korea pays to host U.S. troopsStill, it’s unclear how long the virus will keep tensions at bay. North Korea typically tapers down on its missile testing during its bitter winter and could resume provocations once the weather warms.“The decision to suspend the exercise probably was purely based on a public health perspective,” said Kim Ki-jung, a professor of political science and international studies at Yonsei University who also had advised former South Korean presidents and the foreign ministry on North Korea issues. “But it brings an incidental effect of deescalating tensions.”(Adds notice sent to workers on U.S. bases of furlough)To contact the reporter on this story: Kanga Kong in Seoul at kkong50@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at bscott66@bloomberg.net, Jon HerskovitzFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.




  • Dozens of Turkish soldiers killed in strike in Idlib in Syria

    Dozens of Turkish soldiers killed in strike in Idlib in SyriaUS condemns attack which Turkish official says killed 33 of its soldiers, in Ankara’s worst day of the conflict so farDozens of Turkish soldiers have been killed in an airstrike in Syria’s Idlib province, in a dramatic escalation in the battle for control of the country’s last opposition stronghold.Turkish officials said at least 33 of its military personnel were killed in the attack on Thursday night. Military sources among moderate and jihadist rebel factions fighting in the north-western province bordering Turkey said the deaths followed a precision strike on a two-storey building in the village of Balioun.A Turkish convoy, part of reinforcements sent to the area to aid rebel groups earlier this month, was subjected to heavy shelling on Thursday morning. The soldiers had taken cover in Balioun, basing themselves in the local council building.Rahmi Dogan, the local governor of the south-eastern Turkish province of Hatay on the border with Idlib, said ambulances streamed from a Syrian border crossing to a hospital in the nearby town of Reyhanli on Thursday night. Turkish officials have blamed the Syrian regime for the attack, but several sources in Idlib and unverified footage of the nighttime strike suggested it had been carried out by the Russian air force, which has helped Damascus conduct a ferocious three-month-old offensive on Idlib.Map of turkey, syria, idlibAfter the attack the United Nations called for urgent action in north-west Syria, warning that “the risk of greater escalation grows by the hour.”Nearly a million civilians have been displaced in Idlib near the Turkish border since December as Russia-backed Syrian government forces seized territory from Turkey-backed Syrian rebels, marking the worst humanitarian crisis of the country’s nine-year war.Although Ankara and Moscow share important trade, energy and defence links, the relationship has already been sorely tested by the recent violence in Syria, where they back opposing sides.Turkey responded with airstrikes on “all known” Syrian government targets, said the country’s communications director Fahrettin Altun early on Friday, according to state-run Anadolu news agency. Altun said authorities had decided to “respond in kind” to the attack.“All known targets of the regime have come and will continue to come under fire from the air and ground,” Altun, said in a statement.“We urge the international community to fulfil its responsibilities” to stop the regime’s “crimes against humanity”, he said. “We cannot stand by and watch as past events in Rwanda, and Bosnia and Herzegovina are repeated today in Idlib.”Turkey’s activities on the ground in Syria would continue, he added.The US state department has said it is very concerned about the attack: “We stand by our Nato ally Turkey and continue to call for an immediate end to this despicable offensive by the Assad regime, Russia and Iranian-backed forces,” a spokesperson said.The Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan chaired an emergency security meeting overnight, Turkish officials briefed reporters that Ankara had decided it would no longer stop Syrian refugees from reaching Europe by land and sea – a move calibrated to win EU and Nato support for its operation in Idlib.Turkish police, coastguard and border security officials have already been ordered to stand down, Turkish officials added.Almost one million people are camped out in desperate conditions on Idlib’s border with Turkey in winter weather as they flee the swift advance of Bashar al-Assad’s army and allied militias backed by Russian airpower.Turkey has expressed unwillingness to take in any more Syrians on top of the 3.6m refugees it already hosts. In an effort to secure its southern border, Ankara took the unprecedented step of sending thousands of troops and convoys of equipment to Idlib in the past three weeks, leading to direct clashes with regime forces for the first time.While Idlib province and the surrounding countryside are technically protected by a de-escalation deal brokered in 2018, the agreement broke down last year after control of most of the area was wrested from more moderate rebel groups by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), formerly al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate.Despite warnings from the UN and aid agencies that fighting in Idlib would put 3 million civilians at risk, Damascus launched an attritional and then full-scale campaign on the province, arguing that HTS was not covered by the de-escalation deal.Turkey has helped rebels to retake one town but had already lost 17 military personnel in the campaign before a strike on Thursday morning killed three, and the evening strike killed at least 22, marking the biggest single day of losses for the country’s forces.Turkish attempts to broker a ceasefire, and growing international calls for a halt to the violence, have so far been met with indifference from the Kremlin. Erdogan has vowed Ankara will not take the “smallest step back” in the standoff with Damascus and Moscow over Idlib, giving the regime until the end of the month to pull back.US senator Lindsey Graham called on Thursday for the establishment of a no-fly zone over Idlib and called on Donald Trump to help stop the violence against civilians there.“The world is sitting on its hands and watching the destruction of Idlib by Assad, Iran, and the Russians,” Graham, a Republican and an ally of Trump, said in a statement.“I am confident if the world, led by the US, pushed back against Iran, Russia, and Assad that they would stand down, paving the way for political negotiations to end this war in Syria.”Kay Bailey Hutchison, the US ambassador to Nato, said Thursday’s events should show Turkey “who is their reliable partner and who isn’t” and prompt it to drop its purchase of a major Russian missile defence system, which Washington says threatens the western alliance.




  • AP decides not to declare Iowa caucus winner after recount

    AP decides not to declare Iowa caucus winner after recountThe Iowa Democratic Party on Thursday released updated results of the Iowa caucuses after the completion of a recount requested by the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg. In the new results, Buttigieg has 562.954 state delegate equivalents and Sanders has 562.021 state delegate equivalents out of 2,151 counted.




  • Grandfather, Navy vet among 5 victims of Wisconsin shooting

    Grandfather, Navy vet among 5 victims of Wisconsin shootingThe five men who were killed by a co-worker at a Milwaukee brewery include an electrician, a Navy veteran, a father of two small children, a fisherman and a grandfather who is being remembered as someone who "always put his family's needs before his own.” Authorities said the five men were working at Molson Coors Brewing Co. on Wednesday when they were killed by a co-worker, who then turned his gun on himself. Milwaukee police Chief Alfonso Morales identified the victims on Thursday as Jesus Valle Jr., 33, of Milwaukee; Gennady Levshetz, 61, of Mequon; Trevor Wetselaar, 33, of Milwaukee; Dana Walk, 57, of Delafield; and Dale Hudson, 60, of Waukesha.




  • UN prepared to make humanitarian exemptions for N. Korea on coronavirus

    UN prepared to make humanitarian exemptions for N. Korea on coronavirusThe UN Security Council on Thursday declared that it would adopt humanitarian exemptions to the heavy economic sanctions imposed on North Korea to help the impoverished country fight the novel coronavirus, Germany's ambassador to the UN said. "The coronavirus issue was discussed and the committee immediately had given permission to export the equipment" used to fight the illness, said Christoph Heusgen, who heads the United Nations body that applies the sanctions imposed on Pyongyang in an effort to force it to give up its ballistic and nuclear programs.




  • Whistleblower: Feds helping evacuees lacked virus protection

    Whistleblower: Feds helping evacuees lacked virus protectionA government whistleblower has filed a complaint alleging that some federal workers did not have the necessary protective gear or training when they were deployed to help Americans evacuated from China during the coronavirus outbreak. The complaint deals with Health and Human Services Department employees sent to Travis and March Air Force bases in California to assist the quarantined evacuees. The Office of Special Counsel, a federal agency that investigates personnel issues, confirmed Thursday it has received the unnamed whistleblower's complaint and has opened a case.




  • Western nations demand immediate cease-fire in Syria's Idlib


  • Officials scramble to retrace steps of California coronavirus case

    Officials scramble to retrace steps of California coronavirus caseA northern California woman is believed to be the first to contract the virus with no connection to travel or other casesCalifornia and federal officials were in the midst of an intense effort Thursday to retrace the movements of a northern California woman believed to be the first person in the US to contract the highly contagious coronavirus with no known connection to travel abroad or other known causes.The diagnosis, confirmed Wednesday, marks an escalation of the worldwide outbreak in the US because it means the virus could now spread beyond the reach of quarantines and other preventative measures. But state health officials were quick to reassure the public on Thursday that such a scenario was inevitable and the risk of widespread transmission remained low.The new California case raised questions, however, about how quickly public health officials are moving to diagnose and treat new cases. State and federal health officials disagreed about when doctors first requested the woman be tested.Doctors at the UC Davis Medical Center said they asked the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to test the woman for the virus on 19 February. But they said the CDC did not approve the testing until Sunday “since the patient did not fit the existing CDC criteria” for the virus, according to a memo posted to the hospital’s website.Richard Quartarone, a CDC spokesman, said a preliminary review of agency records indicates the agency did not know about the woman until Sunday, the same day the woman was first tested.Quartarone said the agency is concerned about reports of delayed testing and is “investigating this carefully”.The woman lives in Solano county, home to Travis air force base, where dozens of people infected in China or on cruise ships have been treated. But Sonia Angell, director of the California Department of Public Health, said there was no evidence the woman had any connection to the base.The California governor Gavin Newsom said the state was limited in how many people it could test because it only had 200 testing kits. But he said federal officials have promised to send many more in the coming days.“I’m not going to politicize this moment, and I’m not going to point fingers,” Newsom said. “We have had a very strong working relationship with the (Trump) administration.”Investigators were focused on tracing the woman’s steps to figure out how she got the virus and who else she may have unwittingly infected.The woman, who has not been identified, first sought medical care at NorthBay VacaValley Hospital, in Vacaville, a city of more than 100,000 people about 55 miles (88 kilometers) north-east of San Francisco.She stayed there for three days and was then transferred to a Sacramento hospital where she later tested positive for the virus.Ten experts from the CDC arrived Thursday and were heading to Vacaville to help with the search, said Dr James Watt, interim state epidemiologist at the California Department of Public Health.With the patient as ground zero, they are interviewing immediate family members. Then, as with any similar case, they are expanding the net to include more distant family members who may have been in contact, social gatherings the patient may have attended, and any possible time spent at work or events.They are not too worried, for now, about casual contact, because federal officials think the coronavirus is spread only through “close contact, being within six feet of somebody for what they’re calling a prolonged period of time”, said Watt, who was the state’s deputy epidemiologist for 10 years before he took the interim post two months ago.“That’s more than casual contact at a grocery store,” Watt said. “That’s where our focus is going to be. What was the pattern of disease transmission?”Dr Bela Matyas, the Solano County Public Health officer, said public health officials have identified dozens of people, but less than 100 who had close contact with the woman. Those people are quarantined in their homes. A few have shown symptoms and are in isolation, Matyas said. Following the emergence of the California case, the CDC updated its testing criteria on its website, a move that had been in the works for days, according to a federal official familiar with the change.Previously, the number of people being tested in the US had been limited to those who, in addition to showing symptoms, had a history of travel to countries affected by the disease or contact with those who have done so, said Lauren Sauer, director of operations at Johns Hopkins University’s Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response.“In the US, people are sticking pretty closely to that definition,” Sauer said. But the increasing cases on other continents “are demonstrating we need to do a better job than just where the outbreak originated”.The CDC will continue to advise testing people who have traveled to certain outbreak areas and have fever and certain other symptoms. But now testing is also appropriate if such symptoms exist and flu and other respiratory illnesses have been ruled out and no source of exposure has been identified. As part of that, the CDC has expanded the list of countries that are red flags for testing to include not only China but Iran, Italy, South Korea and Japan.UC Davis Medical Center, which has treated other coronavirus patients, has been taking infection prevention precautions since the patient arrived. Officials believe there was a small chance that others at the facility were exposed to the virus and they were asked to stay home and monitor their temperatures, the memo said.All of the 59 other cases in the US have been for people who had traveled abroad or had close contact with others who traveled. Health officials have been on high alert for so-called community spread.Earlier US cases included 14 in people who returned from outbreak areas in China, or their spouses; three people who were evacuated from the central China city of Wuhan; and 42 American passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship who were evacuated by the federal government to the US from where the ship was docked in Japan.The global count of those sickened by the virus hovered Thursday around 82,000, with 433 new cases reported in China and an additional 505 in South Korea.The new virus is a member of the coronavirus family that can cause colds or more serious illnesses such as Sars and Mers.The virus can cause fever, coughing, wheezing and pneumonia. Health officials think it spreads mainly from droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how the flu spreads.Officials are advising people to take steps to avoid infection with coronavirus or other respiratory infections like colds or the flu, including washing hands with soap and water and avoiding close contact with people who are sick.




  • CORRECTED-U.S. spy agencies monitor coronavirus spread, concerns about India -sources


  • Why is Iran's reported mortality rate for coronavirus higher than in other countries?

    Why is Iran's reported mortality rate for coronavirus higher than in other countries?Four doctors in Iran said that the total number of those infected is likely substantially higher than the number released by Iranian health authorities.




  • Do liberals want Trump to spark a panic?

    Do liberals want Trump to spark a panic?I am old enough to remember a time when President Trump's response to coronavirus was decried as heavy handed and authoritarian by observers who thought that restricting air travel to and from China and the imposition of a quarantine were over-the-top responses to a disease that posed less of a threat to the health of the average American than seasonal influenza. These impressions were preceded by sweeping assurances that the assassination of Qassem Soleimani was about to spark war with Iran and that the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement quietly approved by Democratic leaders in the middle of the failed impeachment process would actually worsen our trade relations, to name only a handful of the alas so-far unrealized crises into which L’Éminence orange was confidently assumed to have plunged us in the first month and a half or so of the new year. Perhaps a national moment of silence in acknowledgement of the various dooms to which we have managed not to succumb individually or collectively in the ensuing days would be in order. We are certainly lucky.As of this writing, roughly 60 Americans have been diagnosed with coronavirus, which is about the same as the number who own copies of Out of the Bachs, an obscure 1968 garage rock album often considered among the rarest and most valuable in the world. A whopping one of them appears to have contracted the disease on these shores. This seems to me about the best one could hope for given the reality of globalized commerce and the unwillingness of millions around the world to forego travel or subject themselves to inconvenient screening processes. (I for one would be happy to see far more stringent restrictions in place.)You would not know this from reading the headlines or watching television news. On Thursday morning our paper of record greeted us with the following invitation: "Let's Call It Trumpvirus." Let's not, maybe? I am reliably informed that Gail Collins' readers consider her something of a humorist. (Given her audience, one wonders why she did not suggest "covfefevirus," which, no pun intended, would really have knocked them dead.) Her column was painfully unfunny, not because this president never lends himself to mockery but because it assumed that a plague of well-nigh biblical proportions has been visited upon the American people while their feckless commander-in-chief conducts a propaganda campaign meant to distract us from the wagon loads of corpses being carried through the streets.This item is of a piece with hundreds of articles and late-night comedy rants now accusing Trump in some vague manner of downplaying the significance of coronavirus. The impression one gets is that instead of what he is doing now (i.e., taking advice from relevant officials; declaring a public health emergency; instituting the first Centers for Disease Control quarantine in half a century; coordinating a response among an almost uncountable number of federal, state, and local bodies charged with everything from screening travelers and contacting Americans abroad to educating doctors and the general public) he should spend hours a day on television engaged in an omnidirectional attempt to induce panic in as many people as possible.What else would these people prefer to Trump's calm, decisive action here? If he had taken more sweeping measures — restricting business travel by executive order, for example, rather than with the tacit cooperation of Apple and hundreds of other firms — he would have been called a fascist. If he had gone to the airwaves (or his favorite social media platform) to warn everyone of an imminent outbreak, he would be dismissed as an uninformed crank whose scare-mongering posed a more serious threat to global peace and health than the disease itself. Fact-checkers are handing him Pinocchios for saying that the situation is "very much under control." What would have been more accurate? Him declaring that coronavirus is on the verge of destroying civilization as we know it and suggesting the average American family stock up on masks, food, and gasoline and pray that the end, when it comes, be swift and painless? The mind reels.The cynicism of the president's critics here is boundless. There are thousands of valid grounds upon which Trump can be criticized. His administration's sober response to coronavirus is not one of them. To quote The New York Times again: "If you're feeling awful, you know who to blame."I have no trouble believing that millions of my fellow citizens really do feel this way. But their bizarre emotional needs are their own problem, not Trump’s.More stories from theweek.com Harvard scientist predicts coronavirus will infect up to 70 percent of humanity What it's like to be in Venice during coronavirus lockdown Turkish official: Airstrike in Syria kills 29 Turkish soldiers




  • Russian Firm Dodging U.S. Questions on ‘Putin’s Chef’ Ties


  • WHO says virus at 'decisive point' as world battles spread

    WHO says virus at 'decisive point' as world battles spreadThe World Health Organization declared Thursday that the new coronavirus epidemic was at a "decisive point" as countries across the globe battled to contain the deadly outbreak. Saudi Arabia banned pilgrims from visiting Islam's holiest sites as the number of deaths jumped in neighbouring Iran, while Japan and Iraq ordered the closure of schools. Alarm is growing as China is no longer the only breeding ground for COVID-19, with other countries including South Korea and Italy becoming hotbeds of infection, raising fears of a pandemic.




  • Feds cite new evidence against former Mexico security chief


  • Democrats focus on Super Tuesday even as S. Carolina looms

    Democrats focus on Super Tuesday even as S. Carolina loomsBernie Sanders will swing through North Carolina, Virginia and Massachusetts in the coming days. Elizabeth Warren will make stops in Texas and Arkansas. Amy Klobuchar will be in Tennessee and Virginia.




  • States ramp up virus preparations, try to reassure public

    States ramp up virus preparations, try to reassure publicAs worries about the new coronavirus grow in the U.S., state officials are ramping up efforts to prepare for a possible outbreak while simultaneously trying to assure the public that they are well-positioned to handle it. State health officials are checking on stockpiles of supplies such as face masks and respirators and arranging potential isolation sites for sick patients. Governors in several states — including the three most populated, California, Texas, and Florida — sought to ease concerns about the virus Thursday at news conferences.




  • Former Baltimore mayor sentenced to 3 years in book scheme

    Former Baltimore mayor sentenced to 3 years in book schemeThe disgraced former mayor of Baltimore was sentenced to three years in federal prison Thursday for arranging fraudulent sales of her self-published children’s books to nonprofits and foundations to promote her political career and fund her run for the city’s highest office. Catherine Pugh spoke through tears for about 10 minutes before her sentencing in federal court in Baltimore. The scandal has shaken Maryland's largest city, which for years has struggled with grinding poverty, political mismanagement, record crime rates and police abuses that led to massive riots.




  • AP-NORC poll: How Americans describe 2020 Democrats, Trump

    AP-NORC poll: How Americans describe 2020 Democrats, TrumpAs the 2020 campaign intensifies, a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research asked Americans to say what word or phrase comes to mind when they think of the top candidates, including incumbent President Donald Trump. Many Americans think of the former vice president's job when asked about Joe Biden, but one response ranked above all others: He's “old.” Sixteen percent of those thinking of a phrase to describe Biden mention his age, including comparable shares of Democrats and Republicans.




  • Israeli top court rules against surrogacy law excluding gays

    Israeli top court rules against surrogacy law excluding gaysIsrael's Supreme Court ruled against a surrogacy law Thursday that critics said discriminated against same-sex couples and which sparked uproar in the LGBT community when it was passed. In a statement, the court said the 2018 law, which expanded access to surrogacy in Israel to single women but excluded gay couples, “disproportionately harmed the right to equality and the right to parenthood” for same-sex couples and that it was unlawful. Israeli same-sex couples looking to become parents are often deterred by the additional costs that come with finding a surrogate in another country, costs they could save if they were allowed to use a surrogate in Israel.




  • UK talks tough on EU post-Brexit trade deal

    UK talks tough on EU post-Brexit trade dealBritain put the prospect of a chaotic Brexit back on the table on Thursday as it set out its red lines for upcoming trade talks with the European Union. In its mandate for negotiations that start on Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government rebuffed the EU's demands for common trading standards and to maintain existing fishing rights. It set out hopes for a free trade deal with Brussels, but warned it could walk away without one if a "broad outline" of an agreement has not emerged by June.




  • Biggest explosion seen in universe came from black hole

    Biggest explosion seen in universe came from black holeAstronomers have discovered the biggest explosion seen in the universe, originating from a super-massive black hole. Scientists reported Thursday that the blast came from a black hole in a cluster of galaxies 390 million light-years away. The explosion was so large it carved out a crater in the hot gas that could hold 15 Milky Ways, said lead author Simona Giacintucci of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington.




  • ¿Cómo prepararnos para el coronavirus? 3 preguntas y respuestas

    ¿Cómo prepararnos para el coronavirus? 3 preguntas y respuestasNota del editor: Las autoridades de Salud Pública en los Estados Unidos han advertido que el coronavirus, que se ha propagado en distintas partes de los Estados Unidos, se avecina y el país necesita estar preparado. ¿Pero qué quiere decir esto para usted, y para las autoridades de salud pública? Aubree Gordon, profesora en la Universidad de Michigan lo explica. 1\. ¿Cómo nos preparamos para algo que no podemos predecir?Lo primero, y más importante, es que las personas deben prepararse para que su vida diaria se vea afectada por medidas de salud pública que se emplearán para tratar de limitar el contagio y propagación del virus.Esto puede ser algo tan sencillo como medidas de distanciamiento en círculos sociales que incluye la cancelación de eventos donde se aglomeren muchas personas, hasta medidas que tengan un mayor impacto en el diario vivir como el cierre de escuelas y negocios. También es posible que se les solicite a las personas que permanezcan en sus casas por un periodo de tiempo extenso si hay un brote lo suficientemente grande en el área, tal y como ha ocurrido en China.Para poder prepararse para ello, es recomendable tener suficientes alimentos que duren por un periodo de dos semanas, artículos de higiene personal y un número suficiente de medicamentos que sean de prescripción o sin prescripción médica. Es también muy importante tener copias de récords médicos por motivos de referencia. 2\. ¿Se han reportado 60 casos en los EEUU hasta ahora, por qué puede aumentar este número?Hasta hace poco, todos los casos en los Estados Unidos han sido importados directamente y están relacionados a viajes. Esto quiere decir que, o alguien vino a los Estados Unidos ya infectado con el virus o tuvo contacto con alguien que recientemente ha viajado fuera del país.Para poder darle seguimiento a estos casos, las autoridades de salud pública han estado realizando exámenes en todas las personas que han viajado recientemente a China y que han reportado síntomas o que han tenido contacto con personas que han viajado de China donde inició este brote. De la misma manera, también se está examinando a personas que han tenido contacto con alguna persona con infección confirmada. Personas que hayan tenido un resultado de examen positivo han sido aisladas. Además de ello, a las personas que viajan desde lugares donde también han habido brotes se les ha solicitado que se mantengan en cuarentena en sus casas o el gobierno de los Estados Unidos los ha mantenido en cuarentena por 14 días para prevenir transmisión a partir del día en que fueron infectados pero que todavía no han mostrado síntomas.Sin embargo, conforme el virus se establece en en diferentes países, habrá más ingresos a los Estados Unidos lo cual se podría traducir en que viajeros traigan el virus a los Estados Unidos de otros países. Es inevitable que hayan casos que pasemos por alto lo cual resultará en transmisión entre la comunidad en los Estados Unidos. Puede que esto ya esté pasando.Además, ahora mismo el sistema de salud pública se está concentrando en examinar a individuos con conexión a algún brote conocido en alguna localización específica o conexión con algún caso confirmado. Las autoridades de salud pública y personal médico están buscando activamente los casos en los lugares más obvio, pero esto quiere decir que posiblemente no estén detectando casos de forma temprana en sitios donde no se espera tenerlos. Las autoridades de los Estados Unidos podrán saber que esto ha sucedido si detectan un grupo de casos severos, en cuyo punto ya habrán pasado múltiples cadenas de transmisión y un brote habrá comenzado. 3\. ¿Que ha cambiado y por qué las autoridades de salud pública se encuentran más preocupadas que antes?Los brotes están ocurriendo ahora en múltiples países. También, el hecho de que tengamos múltiples brotes, brotes concurrentes-y que las autoridades de salud pública conozcan poco sobre la dimensión de estos brotes es preocupante.Conforme el virus vaya propagándose a más países, particularmente aquellos con sistemas de salud no tan bien establecidos, será más difícil controlar que haya un propagamiento global. Mientras el número de casos en una localización vayan aumentando, la posibilidad que alguien se infecte viajando desde ese lugar irá en incremento. Y esto por su parte incrementa la posibilidad de que el virus sea introducido a otros lugares.Por ejemplo, había habido pocos casos de COVID-19 detectados en Italia hasta el 22 de febrero de 2020 y todos ellos estaban relacionados a personas que viajaron. Sin embargo, un par de días después, las autoridades detectaron un conglomerado de casos en COVID-19. No existía una conexión clara de estos casos con el antecedente de viajar, lo cual indica que se está dando transmisión en la comunidad. Ahora, los casos importados de Italia, sea por turistas italianos o ciudadanos retornando de Italia han sido detectados en múltiples países. Igualmente, Irán ahora también tiene transmisión en la comunidad y ha exportado casos a múltiples países.En las semanas y meses por venir, este patrón muy probablemente se repetirá en múltiples localizaciones.Traducido por Julio Zuniga Moya, un estudiante de posgrado en el Departamento de Epidemiología en la Escuela de Salud Pública de Universidad de Michigan.This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts.Read more: * ¿Qué pasa si el nuevo coronavirus provoca una pandemia? * ¿Por qué el coronavirus nos parece incluso más peligroso de lo que es?Aubree Gordon recibe el apoyo de los National Institutes of Health de Estados Unidos.




  • One of Iran's vice presidents has been infected with coronavirus

    One of Iran's vice presidents has been infected with coronavirusEbtekar, one of Iran's vice presidents, was the English-language spokesperson known to the media as "Mary" during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis.




  • Iran coronavirus deaths jump to 26, top officials infected

    Iran coronavirus deaths jump to 26, top officials infectedThe coronavirus epidemic in Iran has cost 26 lives, the health ministry announced Thursday, with a vice president becoming the latest top official to be infected as the spread appeared to accelerate. Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour told a news conference that the tally of infections had risen to 245 with 106 more cases confirmed -- the highest number for a single day since Iran announced its first infections on February 19. Among the latest coronavirus sufferers is one of Iran's seven vice presidents, Massoumeh Ebtekar, who oversees women's affairs.




  • Russia announces date for referendum that could extend Putin's rule

    Russia announces date for referendum that could extend Putin's ruleRussia has announced the date of a national referendum on constitutional changes that could allow Vladimir Putin, now 67, to extend his time in office. While Putin has remained in power, either as president or prime minister, since 1999, current laws prohibit the Russian president from seeking another term, preventing him from serving past 2024. The proposed changes to the constitution could diminish the powers of the Russian presidency while boosting those of the prime minister, a position Putin held from 2008 to 2012 in between his second and third terms as president.




  • Saudi Arabia closes two holiest shrines to foreigners as coronavirus fears grow

    Saudi Arabia closes two holiest shrines to foreigners as coronavirus fears growPilgrims also banned amid broader restriction on visa holders from states deemed most likely to pose a health risk * Coronavirus – latest updatesSaudi Arabia has closed the two holiest shrines of Islam to foreign travellers and banned pilgrims from entering the country as fears surrounding the coronavirus outbreak continue to grow in the Middle East.Officials in the kingdom said the ban, announced late on Wednesday, was temporary, but gave no indication how long it might last. It comes amid a broader ban on visa holders from states deemed most likely to pose a risk to regional health.“The kingdom’s government has decided to [suspend] entry to the kingdom for the purpose of umrah and visit to the Prophet’s mosque temporarily,” the Saudi foreign ministry said in a statement.While not explicitly stating which countries that referred to, border authorities at Riyadh’s King Khalid international airport were on Thursday screening passengers from Iran, China, South Korea and Italy, from where clusters of coronavirus have spread across neighbouring borders.Saudi Arabia has so far recorded no cases of the virus, but the number infected across the region has steadily increased, with patients quarantined in Bahrain, Kuwait, the UAE, Iraq and Lebanon.Officials in Iran said Friday prayers in Tehran will be cancelled this week, as a crackdown on large gatherings gathered pace. Iran remains the regional hotspot for the coronavirus and is the country with the highest death toll outside China, where the Covid-19 outbreak originated.The state-run Irna news agency reported that Iran had confirmed 245 cases and 26 deaths, although experts fear the country is underreporting the number of cases.The World Health Organization is recommending that people take simple precautions to reduce exposure to and transmission of the Wuhan coronavirus, for which there is no specific cure or vaccine.The UN agency advises people to: * Frequently wash their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or warm water and soap * Cover their mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when sneezing or coughing * Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough * Seek early medical help if they have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and share their travel history with healthcare providers * Avoid direct, unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals when visiting live markets in affected areas * Avoid eating raw or undercooked animal products and exercise care when handling raw meat, milk or animal organs to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods.Despite a surge in sales of face masks in the aftermath of the outbreak of the coronavirus outbreak, experts are divided over whether they can prevent transmission and infection. There is some evidence to suggest that masks can help prevent hand-to-mouth transmissions, given the large number of times people touch their faces. The consensus appears to be that wearing a mask can limit – but not eliminate – the risks, provided they are used correctly.Justin McCurryA state-owned newspaper in Iran said the vice-president, Masoumeh Ebtekar, has recently been diagnosed with coronavirus. Other senior Iranians, including the country’s deputy health minister and top clerics, have been struck down.Meanwhile, Kuwait announced that it had confirmed 43 cases of coronavirus, all of which involved people who had been to Iran.Iraq announced the first confirmed case of coronavirus in its capital, Baghdad, taking nationwide infections to six and raising concerns about the capacity of the dilapidated health system to respond.Hours earlier, the Iraqi government announced sweeping measures to try to contain the spread of the virus, ordering the closure of schools and universities, cafes, cinemas and other public spaces until 7 March.Saudi Arabia’s borders have been partially closed to pilgrims from some countries during previous global health scares, such as Ebola in 2014, a mass suspension of foreign travellers visiting Mecca and Medina is a significant development, which may have implications for the annual hajj pilgrimage, which will this year be held in July.“This move by Saudi Arabia is unprecedented,” Ghanem Nuseibeh, the founder of the London-based risk consultancy Cornerstone Global Associates, told Agence France-Presse. “The concern for Saudi authorities would be Ramadan, which starts at the end of April, and hajj afterwards, should the coronavirus become a pandemic.”Hajj attracts close to 3 million people from around the world every year for a pilgrimage, that transforms the holy shrines into the most densely packed pocket on earth for up to one week a year. Along with the Tokyo Olympics, which are also set to be held in July, it is one of the two biggest events in the world in 2020 drawing masses of people from around the planet to gather in close proximity to each other.Such conditions are considered ideal for an even quicker spread of coronavirus, which now exists on every continent, except Antarctica, and in 44 countries. With a global infection rate of more than 80,000 and growing daily, the spread of the virus is now near a pandemic, and public health officials around the globe say a tipping point in which a further breakout cannot be contained, may have already been passed.




  • Watchdog: Israel moves ahead with hundreds of settler homes

    Watchdog: Israel moves ahead with hundreds of settler homesIsrael is moving forward on plans to build more than 1,700 homes for settlers in the West Bank, the settlement watchdog Peace Now said Thursday. Peace Now said the housing was spread over 10 settlements, some deep inside the West Bank in areas the Palestinians want for a future state. The housing approvals come days ahead of national elections in Israel, the third straight vote in less than a year after the previous two ended inconclusively.




  • Halt of Muslim pilgrimage over virus brings worldwide dismay

    Halt of Muslim pilgrimage over virus brings worldwide dismayFor years, Ibrahim al-Dabba has been saving up money to make the umrah pilgrimage to Islam's holiest sites in Saudi Arabia, which for many Palestinians is the only way to leave the impoverished and isolated Gaza Strip. The outbreak could potentially affect the much larger annual hajj pilgrimage, set to begin in late July. For the 2 million Palestinians in Gaza, the Saudi decision closes one of the last avenues for leaving the narrow coastal strip, which has been ruled by the Islamic militant group Hamas and blockaded by Israel and Egypt since 2007.




  • Prague square named after Russian opposition figure Nemtsov

    Prague square named after Russian opposition figure NemtsovPrague has renamed a square in front of the Russian Embassy after Boris Nemtsov, honoring the slain Russian opposition leader. The change did not immediately draw an angry response from Moscow, as did some other recent moves in the Czech capital, such as a plan to remove the statue of a World War II Soviet commander, Marshall Ivan Stepanovic Konev. Nemtsov was an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and was murdered near the Kremlin five years ago.




  • Q&A: Saudis halt Muslim pilgrimage over virus fears

    Q&A: Saudis halt Muslim pilgrimage over virus fearsSaudi Arabia's unprecedented decision to halt the umrah pilgrimage amid the global outbreak of a new virus could prevent millions of Muslims from undertaking a major religious rite that many spend years saving up for. Unlike the hajj pilgrimage, which takes place once a year and is required for all Muslims who are able to undertake it, the lesser umrah pilgrimage can be performed year-round. Just like the five-day hajj, which annually brings 2-3 million pilgrims to Saudi Arabia from around the world, umrah is centered on the holy cities of Mecca and Medina and includes rituals dating back to the Prophet Muhammad, who founded Islam in the 7th century.




  • What's happening: Virus forges on, as world hunts solutions

    What's happening: Virus forges on, as world hunts solutionsFrom California to Italy, France, Germany, Spain and beyond, more cases are popping up in which the source of the virus remains a mystery. Health authorities in all these places are working hard to find the original source of infection using what’s called contact tracing, or finding all the people the latest patients were in contact with. U.S. President Donald Trump had reason to worry as stocks tanked further on fears about the virus’ global spread.




  • Virus response in Mideast tainted by political views of Iran

    Virus response in Mideast tainted by political views of IranThe coronavirus has killed 26 people in Iran -- the highest toll outside of China where it originated. Many of the over 240 confirmed cases in the region have links to Iran, including dozens in Kuwait and Bahrain, six in Iraq and two in Lebanon. In sharp contrast to Europe, were countries kept borders with Italy open despite a cluster of virus cases there, Iran's neighbors have all announced measures to cut links with the country, either completely closing their borders and suspending air traffic or limiting travel.




  • Trump freaks out about all the wrong things

    Trump freaks out about all the wrong thingsYou don't need to worry about the epidemic that's spreading rapidly around the world, killing all those people, and creating economic turmoil, according to someone who knows nothing about it."The Coronavirus is very much under control in the U.S.A.," President Trump tweeted on Monday. "We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!" This was on the same day that U.S. stock markets plunged more than 3.5 percent amid concerns that the coronavirus was very much not under control.The following day, the Centers for Disease Control warned that the coronavirus was headed to the United States, and the Dow Jones dropped more than 800 points. Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the CDC's head of respiratory diseases, said, "Disruption to everyday life might be severe."Lesson: When Trump tells you not to worry, you should worry.Not only does the president get things wrong, but his priorities are skewed. He doesn't worry about things he cannot understand, and he doesn't want us to worry about them either. This is a lot of things.Trump wants people to be afraid when they shouldn't be afraid and wants people to be unconcerned when they should be concerned. The rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak is under control. The plunging stock market is nothing to worry about. North Korea is now a pacifist hippie commune. Americans with pre-existing conditions won't lose their health coverage, notwithstanding the Trump administration's attempts to deprive them of it.The man who said that he alone could "fix it" solves problems by wishing them away.Here are the things you shouldn't worry about that Trump wants you to freak out about:In his second month of office, Trump called the media "a great danger to our country."Prior to the 2018 midterm elections, the president stoked fears of a massive caravan of Hispanics. "Sadly, it looks like Mexico's Police and Military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the Southern Border of the United States," he tweeted. "Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emergy."The caravan was such an emergency that Trump didn't have time to spell "emergency" correctly."To those in the Caravan, turnaround," he demanded three days later, mistaking a noun for a verb.Trump's caravan fears subsided after the election, but not entirely. Two weeks after Republicans lost control of the House of Representatives, Trump tweeted: "There are a lot of CRIMINALS in the Caravan. We will stop them. Catch and Detain! Judicial Activism, by people who know nothing about security and the safety of our citizens, is putting our country in great danger. Not good!"Judicial activism, though a great danger in regard to criminals in caravans, is welcome — indeed, just — when the criminals are Trump's friends. That is why the president berates judges who don't reinterpret the laws in such a way as to keep him and his cronies out of prison. Trump takes trivial things seriously and serious things trivially, and he makes his personal problems national problems.There are problems in the world that Trump doesn't want to unnerve you about. Real problems, unlike fabricated ones, he is able to solve by going on the internet and declaring them solved.In June 2018, Trump tweeted that "everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea." He declared that "all missle launches have stoped…. We will be fine!" The missile launches have not stopped, and neither have Trump's viral misspellings. (He misspelled "coronavirus" on Wednesday.)It's hard to tell whether Trump is lying or just ignorant about literally everything.In his book The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin wrote, "Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: It is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science."Trump exemplifies the descent of man. Two years ago, he said on purpose, "I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else's brain can ever tell me."His gut, it is true, is larger than most people's brains, but that does not make it smarter. Which is why you should always keep in mind this axiom: The more confidently Trump asserts something, the less confident you should be that it is true.Want more essential commentary and analysis like this delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for The Week's "Today's best articles" newsletter here.More stories from theweek.com Harvard scientist predicts coronavirus will infect up to 70 percent of humanity What it's like to be in Venice during coronavirus lockdown Turkish official: Airstrike in Syria kills 29 Turkish soldiers




  • Libya officials: 21 civilians killed in Tripoli since Jan. 9


  • EXPLAINER-Gaps between Britain and EU on eve of talks on post-Brexit ties


  • Germany eyes fiscal plan to counter coronavirus impact -Handelsblatt

    Germany eyes fiscal plan to counter coronavirus impact -HandelsblattGermany is considering a fiscal stimulus programme should the coronavirus hit the economy hard, Handelsblatt reported on Thursday, as the economy ministry said it would announce plans for dealing with the epidemic later in the day. Chancellor Angela Merkel has long resisted calls at home and abroad to provide more fiscal stimulus, despite record-low borrowing costs and an economy teetering at the brink of recession.




  • UN rights chief regrets Sri Lanka withdrawal from resolution

    UN rights chief regrets Sri Lanka withdrawal from resolutionThe United Nations' human rights chief expressed regret Thursday over the Sri Lankan government's decision to withdraw its co-sponsorship of a 2015 resolution backing an investigation into alleged human rights violations during the country's civil war. Michelle Bachelet told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva that the decision risks setting back efforts for postwar reconciliation. “The fundamental problem remains that Sri Lanka has still not addressed impunity for past violations, nor undertaken the security sector reforms needed to address their drivers and enablers," Bachelet said.




  • Brexit talks will be tough, short, but agreement possible -Barnier


  • Boris Johnson Gives EU Four Months to Make a Brexit Deal — Or He Walks

    Boris Johnson Gives EU Four Months to Make a Brexit Deal — Or He Walks(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the European Union he’ll walk away from the negotiating table in June if it’s not clear he’s going to get a Canada-style trade agreement with the bloc. The pound fell.London’s negotiating mandate for the next stage of Brexit, released on Thursday, was in many areas close to what the EU published on Tuesday. The main differences were around how closely it will have to stick to EU regulations -- the so-called level playing field, how the deal will be structured and governed, and what access to its waters the U.K. will give other countries’ fishing fleets.“We want the best possible trading relationship with the EU -- but in the pursuit of the deal, we will not trade away our sovereignty,” Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove told the House of Commons on Thursday.The U.K. is setting a tough timetable for the negotiations, saying it wants the broad outline of an agreement by June so it can assess whether the talks are on course to succeed. It will then decide whether to continue or “focus solely” on preparing to leave the EU’s regulatory orbit without a deal on Dec. 31. The competing U.K. and EU documents show where the arguments will be when talks start on Monday.The U.K.’s emphasis on sovereignty risks making it harder to reach a deal with the EU. The pound fell after the document was released, erasing gains against the dollar and extending losses against the euro.Canada’s deal removed tariffs on 98% of goods, but didn’t require the country to join the EU’s single market, apply the bloc’s rules, or allow for free movement of people.The Canada, Australia Models for Post-Brexit Trade: QuickTakeThe EU argues Britain’s size and proximity means simply replicating that agreement is unreasonable. The U.K. argues that neither obstacle is necessarily a factor in trade talks.“Geography is no reason to undermine democracy,” Gove told Parliament. “To be clear, we will not be seeking to dynamically align with EU laws, on EU terms governed by EU laws and EU institutions.”The U.K. said it won’t agree to EU institutions, including the bloc’s Court of Justice, having jurisdiction in the U.K. It also wants the right to apply its own policies on taxes and state subsidies.The EU argues that position is a shift from the commitments Britain made in the Political Declaration, the non-binding part of its Withdrawal Agreement with the bloc.The U.K. wants to be clear of EU labor and environmental regulation, and the bloc’s rules on state aid, but Brussels argues Britain should continue to abide by its rules, and be policed by the European Court of Justice. To Johnson’s government, that is unacceptable.Both sides, however, say they are committed to reaching a broad trade deal. While the EU sees Johnson’s June deadline as a stock-taking opportunity, it has said it will keep trying to get a deal until the last possible moment.“We want an ambitious and fair partnership with the U.K. in the future,” Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, tweeted. “We will stick to all our prior commitments in the Political Declaration.”The details of the U.K. mandate show that, on financial services, it’s not looking for a closer relationship than a non-EU country would expect. But Britain does want safeguards against the EU suddenly withdrawing the right for U.K. financial services companies to trade in the bloc.“A compromise will no doubt be difficult,” said Sam Lowe, of the Center for European Reform. But “what is perhaps surprising is just how aligned the EU and U.K. positions are with regard to the nature of the eventual trade agreement.”(Updates with Barnier comment in 12th paragraph.)\--With assistance from Edward Evans and Ian Wishart.To contact the reporters on this story: Robert Hutton in London at rhutton1@bloomberg.net;Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net;Jessica Shankleman in London at jshankleman@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net, Edward Evans, Thomas PennyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.




  • Trump Has a Problem as the Coronavirus Threatens the U.S.: His Credibility

    Trump Has a Problem as the Coronavirus Threatens the U.S.: His CredibilityWASHINGTON -- When Hurricane Dorian crashed into the Atlantic Coast in September, President Donald Trump assumed a take-charge role in response. But he undermined his own effectiveness after it became apparent that before displaying a map in front of the television cameras in the Oval Office, he had altered it with a Sharpie pen to match his inaccurate forecast of where the storm was headed.For years, experts have warned that Trump has been squandering the credibility he could need in a moment of national emergency, like a terrorist attack or a public health crisis.Now, as the coronavirus races across the globe and has begun to threaten the United States, Trump could face a moment of reckoning. Maintaining a calm and orderly response during an epidemic, in which countless lives could be at stake, requires that the president be a reliable public messenger."I think the president has a unique opportunity to dispel fears and calm the situation -- if people believe he is telling the truth," said Kathleen Sebelius, who served as secretary of health and human services during the Obama administration. "And I think that's really where a great disconnect occurs."On Wednesday evening, Trump delivered an almost casual account of the administration's response to the coronavirus, leaving it to the experts appearing with him to relay the real information and assure a jittery public. Still, he kept trying to suggest the risk was low."We will see what happens," the president said as he addressed the nation. "But we are very, very ready for this, for anything."Trump said that Johns Hopkins University rated the United States "No. 1 for being prepared," holding up a chart printed on an 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper."This will end," he said, comparing the coronavirus to the everyday flu. "We really have done a very good job."During a crisis, presidents are looked to for direct and honest assessments of threats and for reassurance to the public about their impact. During the swine flu outbreak of 1976, President Gerald Ford announced during a news conference that the government planned to vaccinate "every man, woman and child in the United States."Ford himself was photographed receiving the vaccine in the White House as part of a public awareness campaign.Responding to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014, President Barack Obama visited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to announce that the administration would send as many as 3,000 people to the region.Trump, in contrast, contradicted his own health experts in a news conference Wednesday evening, insisting that the spread of the virus was not inevitable, and excoriating two of his favorite foils, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, for "trying to create a panic."For 3 1/2 years, Trump has repeatedly proved an unreliable narrator on a range of subjects.At times, he has exaggerated threats, like talking up the caravans of migrants he claimed were storming the southern border before the 2018 midterm elections. Other times, he has minimized potentially serious dangers that could be politically damaging, like the renewed nuclear threat posed by North Korea after the failure of his talks with its leader, Kim Jong Un, and now, the global spread of the coronavirus, which he has persistently tried to play down.In his response to the coronavirus, Trump has made inaccurate or questionable claims, twice misstating the number of Americans infected with the virus and insisting that it "miraculously goes away" when warmer spring weather arrives -- a prediction that health experts have said is premature.He based that prediction on a comment made at one of his briefings, when an expert noted that temperatures can affect the spread of viruses. Trump has used that data point as evidence in saying in public and in private to guests at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, that the global outbreak will be behind him by April.The president, as he often does, has also focused on coverage of his response, complaining that he is being treated unfairly and blaming the news media. "If the virus disappeared tomorrow, they would say we did a really poor, and even incompetent, job," he tweeted on Tuesday. "Not fair, but it is what it is. So far, by the way, we have not had one death. Let's keep it that way!"Before he took office, Trump was an outspoken critic of the Obama administration's handling of the Ebola outbreak, arguing that infected people should not be allowed back into the United States.Current Trump allies said the fact that the president chose to address the growing public health crisis quickly after returning from a trip to India showed how seriously he was taking the outbreak.But privately, they say he has been reluctant to give in to what he has called an "alarmist" view of the virus's potential to cause damage as he warily watches the effect of the outbreak on the stock market. He has been rattled by the Wall Street reaction to the spread of the virus in places like Italy, lashing out at the news media in tweets and accusing journalists of intentionally trying to harm the stock market.And polls show that Trump's credibility with much of the United States is low after an impeachment inquiry in which a majority of voters said they did not believe that he was telling the truth about his actions involving Ukraine.Federal health officials had been bracing for the arrival of the virus in the country with minimal intervention by the White House.As Ebola presented both a health and political threat to his administration in 2014, Obama carefully hewed to proven science, which he repeatedly invoked in his carefully calibrated public messages."We have to be guided by the science. We have to remember the basic facts," he said in an October 2014 radio message.Trump, in contrast, has not been focused on scientific detail. The secretary of health and human services, Alex Azar, has told officials they should give the notoriously impatient president simple, paint-by-numbers briefings on coronavirus.But a larger fear among experts in the field has been that he would contradict scientific experts."That's where Trump is most pernicious, potentially," said Ron Klain, who served as Obama's "Ebola czar," and now is an adviser to the presidential campaign of former Vice President Joe Biden. "When he contradicts those experts, when he suggests they have biases, or when he intimidates them not to be straight, that's when the risk really grows."As Trump faces this emergency, his history of issuing false claims could make it harder to sell the public on any plans to address coronavirus."When you're trying to build trust in the government's response, people have to have trust," said Leslie Dach, a senior counselor at health and human services during the Ebola outbreak."Making false promises and them turning out not to be true undermines people's confidence," Dach said. He pointed to Trump's claim this month about the virus that, "We did shut it down, yes."As recently as this week, the president appeared to simply want to put the coronavirus response in his rearview mirror. "I think that's a problem that's going to go away," he said in remarks Tuesday to a group of business leaders in New Delhi.On Wednesday, before Trump's news conference, his allies on television and radio appeared to be speaking to the proverbial "audience of one" as they sought to give their unsolicited advice to the president.Jason Miller, a top adviser to Trump's 2016 campaign who hosts a podcast that is currently focused on the coronavirus, tweeted that the president had to "make clear full Administration working around the clock on this, and explain in everyday, layman's terms what we need to both do and avoid to remain safe."On Fox News, daytime hosts noted the news conference presented an "opportunity for him to act presidential."Trump, however, chose to conduct the news conference his own way."It is what it is," he said of the potential for a virus with a higher fatality rate than the flu to spread through communities. "We've got the greatest people in the world."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company




  • Syria: Israel drone strike kills civilian near Golan Heights


  • Bernie Sanders Is Partly Right About Cuba

    Bernie Sanders Is Partly Right About Cuba(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has come under fire for praising a 1960s-era Cuban literacy drive and other social-welfare programs. Critics, including fellow candidate Mike Bloomberg (majority owner of Bloomberg LP, publisher of Bloomberg Opinion), have assailed Sanders for saying good things about an authoritarian regime. The disagreement has sparked a wider argument about how Americans should think about Cuba’s record since the communist takeover of the late 1950s. The truth, as usual, lies somewhere between the extremes.Praising the successes of an authoritarian regime is always fraught with peril. Such regimes tend to inflate their performance by issuing fake or distorted statistics. And it’s easy for onlookers to conflate praise for a specific program with praise for a regime in general. Although Sanders has repeatedly condemned Cuba’s authoritarianism, opportunistic propagandists will inevitably try to use his limited praise of education and health programs to support their argument for one-party systems over pluralistic democratic ones. No one should forget how Cuban dictator Fidel Castro threw gays into concentration camps and imprisoned political dissidents.But on the other hand, real economic accomplishments by authoritarian regimes shouldn’t be denied or ignored. Instead, they should be used as motivation for the U.S. and other democracies to improve their own systems. In the U.S., Cold War competition with the Soviet Union gave rise to the moon landing, better science and math education, and efforts to reduce racism. If praise for Cuba’s health and education systems could produce a comparable Sputnik moment that would push the U.S. to spend more on schools in poor neighborhoods and fix the country’s broken health-insurance system, that would be a good thing.As for Cuba’s literacy program, critics are right to point out that it wasn’t just about teaching people to read; it was also about indoctrinating young people to support the new communist regime. They’re also right to note that Cuba had a fairly high literacy rate (about 76%) before the program began; a number of other Latin American countries have achieved universal literacy starting from a much lower base and thus deserve even more effusive praise.But Sanders is right to give the communist regime credit for its focus on education and health care. A 2002 report by the World Bank stated:This model has enabled Cuba to achieve near universal literacy, the eradication of certain diseases, widespread access to potable water and basic sanitation, and among the lowest infant mortality rates and longest life expectancies in the region.The report cited a 1998 assessment by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization that found that Cuba “far outperformed the region in third and fourth grade math and language achievement.”Cuba’s health care system is even more famous for its high quality. The country spends only about 12% of its gross domestic product on health care, while achieving a life expectancy similar to that of the U.S., which spends almost 18% of its enormous GDP on health care:It’s important to put these numbers in perspective. Cuban statistics probably undercount infant mortality, and pressure to keep the official rate down probably results in some forced abortions. The country also has a high maternal mortality rate. This sort of distortion is typical of an authoritarian regime. But it shouldn’t obscure the country’s  real accomplishments, especially because these have come in the face of a U.S. embargo that prevents the Cuban health system from accessing much-needed supplies and technologies.The rest of Cuba's economy has a more mixed record. Cuban unemployment is famously low — only 2.25%. But because unemployment is conventionally defined as the percent of people who are actively looking for a job and can’t find one, this is an easy statistic to manipulate; the true rate is probably considerably higher. And many of the country’s jobs consist of government make-work; in 2010, Cuban President Raul Castro declared that 20% of Cuba’s workers might be redundant.Cuban living standards are also hard to estimate. A true accounting requires adjusting for local living costs, which is almost impossible to do in a closed society. In 2016, the Central Intelligence Agency estimated that in purchasing-power-parity terms, the country’s average annual income was $12,300 — about 38% lower than Mexico and 21% lower than Brazil, but about 51% higher than Guatemala.This is a middling performance. No one would mistake Cuba for a rich country — least of all the large numbers of poor Cubans who fled north to the U.S. whenever the regime allowed them to. But it has managed to remain a middle-income country in the face of an economic embargo by its largest and richest neighbor. That’s much better than the communist regimes in Vietnam and North Korea, run by a brutal dictator whom President Donald Trump has praised, were able to do.Here, then, lies the true lesson of Cuba’s economy. The long-running U.S. embargo has failed to dislodge the regime and only succeeded in making Cubans poorer. President Barack Obama wisely began to soften the U.S. stance toward Cuba, only to have his policies reversed by Trump. This Cold War grudge does nothing to spur improvement in Cuba’s human rights record; instead, it merely encourages it to continue in its slumber of stagnation and isolation.  To contact the author of this story: Noah Smith at nsmith150@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.netThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Noah Smith is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He was an assistant professor of finance at Stony Brook University, and he blogs at Noahpinion.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.




  • Bernie Sanders Is Partly Right About Cuba

    Bernie Sanders Is Partly Right About Cuba(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has come under fire for praising a 1960s-era Cuban literacy drive and other social-welfare programs. Critics, including fellow candidate Mike Bloomberg (majority owner of Bloomberg LP, publisher of Bloomberg Opinion), have assailed Sanders for saying good things about an authoritarian regime. The disagreement has sparked a wider argument about how Americans should think about Cuba’s record since the communist takeover of the late 1950s. The truth, as usual, lies somewhere between the extremes.Praising the successes of an authoritarian regime is always fraught with peril. Such regimes tend to inflate their performance by issuing fake or distorted statistics. And it’s easy for onlookers to conflate praise for a specific program with praise for a regime in general. Although Sanders has repeatedly condemned Cuba’s authoritarianism, opportunistic propagandists will inevitably try to use his limited praise of education and health programs to support their argument for one-party systems over pluralistic democratic ones. No one should forget how Cuban dictator Fidel Castro threw gays into concentration camps and imprisoned political dissidents.But on the other hand, real economic accomplishments by authoritarian regimes shouldn’t be denied or ignored. Instead, they should be used as motivation for the U.S. and other democracies to improve their own systems. In the U.S., Cold War competition with the Soviet Union gave rise to the moon landing, better science and math education, and efforts to reduce racism. If praise for Cuba’s health and education systems could produce a comparable Sputnik moment that would push the U.S. to spend more on schools in poor neighborhoods and fix the country’s broken health-insurance system, that would be a good thing.As for Cuba’s literacy program, critics are right to point out that it wasn’t just about teaching people to read; it was also about indoctrinating young people to support the new communist regime. They’re also right to note that Cuba had a fairly high literacy rate (about 76%) before the program began; a number of other Latin American countries have achieved universal literacy starting from a much lower base and thus deserve even more effusive praise.But Sanders is right to give the communist regime credit for its focus on education and health care. A 2002 report by the World Bank stated:This model has enabled Cuba to achieve near universal literacy, the eradication of certain diseases, widespread access to potable water and basic sanitation, and among the lowest infant mortality rates and longest life expectancies in the region.The report cited a 1998 assessment by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization that found that Cuba “far outperformed the region in third and fourth grade math and language achievement.”Cuba’s health care system is even more famous for its high quality. The country spends only about 12% of its gross domestic product on health care, while achieving a life expectancy similar to that of the U.S., which spends almost 18% of its enormous GDP on health care:It’s important to put these numbers in perspective. Cuban statistics probably undercount infant mortality, and pressure to keep the official rate down probably results in some forced abortions. The country also has a high maternal mortality rate. This sort of distortion is typical of an authoritarian regime. But it shouldn’t obscure the country’s  real accomplishments, especially because these have come in the face of a U.S. embargo that prevents the Cuban health system from accessing much-needed supplies and technologies.The rest of Cuba's economy has a more mixed record. Cuban unemployment is famously low — only 2.25%. But because unemployment is conventionally defined as the percent of people who are actively looking for a job and can’t find one, this is an easy statistic to manipulate; the true rate is probably considerably higher. And many of the country’s jobs consist of government make-work; in 2010, Cuban President Raul Castro declared that 20% of Cuba’s workers might be redundant.Cuban living standards are also hard to estimate. A true accounting requires adjusting for local living costs, which is almost impossible to do in a closed society. In 2016, the Central Intelligence Agency estimated that in purchasing-power-parity terms, the country’s average annual income was $12,300 — about 38% lower than Mexico and 21% lower than Brazil, but about 51% higher than Guatemala.This is a middling performance. No one would mistake Cuba for a rich country — least of all the large numbers of poor Cubans who fled north to the U.S. whenever the regime allowed them to. But it has managed to remain a middle-income country in the face of an economic embargo by its largest and richest neighbor. That’s much better than the communist regimes in Vietnam and North Korea, run by a brutal dictator whom President Donald Trump has praised, were able to do.Here, then, lies the true lesson of Cuba’s economy. The long-running U.S. embargo has failed to dislodge the regime and only succeeded in making Cubans poorer. President Barack Obama wisely began to soften the U.S. stance toward Cuba, only to have his policies reversed by Trump. This Cold War grudge does nothing to spur improvement in Cuba’s human rights record; instead, it merely encourages it to continue in its slumber of stagnation and isolation.  To contact the author of this story: Noah Smith at nsmith150@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.netThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Noah Smith is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He was an assistant professor of finance at Stony Brook University, and he blogs at Noahpinion.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.




  • AP-NORC poll: Election security, integrity worry Americans

    AP-NORC poll: Election security, integrity worry AmericansAmericans have widespread concerns about the security and integrity of elections, with few saying they have high confidence that votes in the 2020 presidential election will be counted accurately. A poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds skepticism about the democratic process in the United States. FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress this month that Russia is still engaged in “information warfare” heading into the 2020 election but that law enforcement has not seen efforts to target infrastructure like voting machines.




  • Wanna Know Why Kim Jong-Un Is Smiling? He's 'Sitting' on Trillions of Dollars.

    Wanna Know Why Kim Jong-Un Is Smiling? He's 'Sitting' on Trillions of Dollars.North Korea has a lot of wealth--just below the surface.




  • Fed’s Outlook, Sanders’ Spending, Johnson’s Strategy: Eco Day



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