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World Monthly Headline News March 2020 Page 1


BBC News

President Putin may have been exposed to the Coronavirus after he met a leading doctor who has since tested positive.   Russia has passed tough new laws including prison terms for breaking quarantine rules after a surge in Coronavirus infections.  Sophie Raworth presents BBC News at Ten coverage from Moscow Correspondent Steve Rosenberg.


BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission said on Tuesday there was no evidence that a drug touted by U.S. President Donald Trump as a potential miracle cure against COVID-19 was effective against the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Trump had said that hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug, could be among “the biggest game changers in the history of medicine” for its potential effects against COVID-19. “The efficacy of hydroxychloroquine in the treatment of COVID-19 patients has to date not been proved,” a spokesman for the European Commission said on Tuesday, relaying an internal opinion from the European Medicine Agency. The spokesman said there was also no evidence either of the positive effects of chloroquine, another malaria drug, which is also being tested for its possible use against COVID-19. The U.S. Health and Human Services on Thursday listed hydroxychloroquine as a protected medical resource after Trump signed an executive order to prevent its hoarding and price gouging.

By Sam Meredith

As countries around the world effectively shut down to tackle the spread of the coronavirus, the authoritarian president of Belarus is urging citizens to drink vodka, go to saunas and return to work. A global health crisis has prompted governments worldwide to impose draconian measures on the daily lives of hundreds of millions of people. The restrictions range from so-called lockdowns and school closures to strict regulations on social distancing and public gatherings. Yet in the Eastern European country of Belarus, borders remain open, and President Alexander Lukashenko remains unmoved by the coronavirus pandemic. Lukashenko has refused to implement a lockdown in the country of roughly 9.5 million people, reportedly suggesting that others have done so as an act of “frenzy and psychosis,” according to Sky News. As of Tuesday, more than 801,000 cases of the coronavirus have been recorded worldwide, with 38,743 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

By Alexandra Ulmer, Swati Bhat

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the nation’s poor for forgiveness on Sunday, as the economic and human toll from his 21-day nationwide lockdown deepens and criticism mounts about a lack of adequate planning ahead of the decision. Modi announced a three week-lockdown on Tuesday to curb the spread of coronavirus. But the decision has stung millions of India’s poor, leaving many hungry and forcing jobless migrant laborers to flee cities and walk hundreds of kilometers to their native villages. “I would firstly like to seek forgiveness from all my countrymen,” Modi said in a nationwide radio address. The poor “would definitely be thinking what kind of prime minister is this, who has put us into so much trouble,” he said, urging people to understand there was no other option. “Steps taken so far… will give India victory over corona,” he added. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in India rose to 979 on Sunday, with 25 deaths. The government announced a $22.6 billion economic stimulus plan on Thursday to provide direct cash transfers and food handouts to India’s poor.

By Tauren Dyson For Dailymail.com

A man who was considered one of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's loudest critics was arrested for allegedly helping the leader ship 250 tons of cocaine a year into the United States. Retired Venezuelan army general Cliver Alcalá was charged with conspiracy to commit narco-terrorism, conspiracy to import cocaine, and associated firearms, according to the Associated Press. Alcalá surrendered to the Drug Enforcement Administration agents in Barranquilla, Colombia before heading for arraignment in New York. 'We had everything ready,' Alcalá said in social media video. 'But circumstances that have plagued us throughout this fight against the regime generated leaks from the very heart of the opposition, the part that wants to coexist with Maduro.' This arrest comes two days after the U.S. Justice Department indicted Maduro along with four co-conspirators on narco terrorism charges.

by Ryan W. Miller USA TODAY

A 101-year-old Italian man has reportedly survived his battle with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus spreading around the globe. An official from the city of Rimini on the northeast coast of Italy says the man, identified publicly as only Mr. P., was released from the hospital earlier this week. "He made it. Mr. P. made it," said Gloria Lisi, vice mayor of Rimini, according to ANSA, the Italian news agency. "Even at 101 years, the future is not written," she added, per CNN.

By Angela Dewan and Sarah Dean, CNN

London (CNN) UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tested positive for coronavirus, the leader said on Friday. On his Twitter account, Johnson said he had developed mild symptoms and was self-isolating. "Over the last 24 hours I have developed mild symptoms and tested positive for coronavirus. I am now self-isolating, but I will continue to lead the government's response via video-conference as we fight this virus. Together we will beat this," Johnson wrote.

   Over the last 24 hours I have developed mild symptoms and tested positive for coronavirus. I am now self-isolating, but I will continue to lead the government's response via video-conference as we fight this virus. Together we will beat this. #StayHomeSaveLives pic.twitter.com/9Te6aFP0Ri  — Boris Johnson #StayHomeSaveLives (@BorisJohnson) March 27, 2020

In a video, Johnson said he was experiencing a temperature and a persistent cough, which are key symptoms of the virus, and that he took a test on the advice of the country's chief medical officer, Chris Whitty. "I've taken a test. That has come out positive," he said, adding that he was working from home and self-isolating. "And that's entirely the right thing to do." "But be in no doubt that I can continue, thanks to the wizardry of modern technology, to communicate with all my top team to lead the national fightback against coronavirus," he said. A government spokesperson said that the test was carried out in Downing Street by staff from the NHS, the country's public healthcare system. Johnson joins a long list of government officials around the world who have been infected with the coronavirus.

Bloomberg News

The long lines and stacks of ash urns greeting family members of the dead at funeral homes in Wuhan are spurring questions about the true scale of coronavirus casualties at the epicenter of the outbreak, renewing pressure on a Chinese government struggling to control its containment narrative. The families of those who succumbed to the virus in the central Chinese city, where the disease first emerged in December, were allowed to pick up their cremated ashes at eight local funeral homes starting this week. As they did, photos circulated on Chinese social media of thousands of urns being ferried in. Outside one funeral home, trucks shipped in about 2,500 urns on both Wednesday and Thursday, according to Chinese media outlet Caixin. Another picture published by Caixin showed 3,500 urns stacked on the ground inside. It’s unclear how many of the urns had been filled. People who answered the phone at six of the eight funeral homes in Wuhan said they either did not have data on how many urns were waiting to be collected, or were not authorized to disclose the numbers. Calls were not answered at the other two. Some families said they had been forced to wait for several hours to pick up the ashes. The photos circulated as mass deaths from the virus spiked in cities across the west, including Milan, Madrid and New York, where hospitals were erecting tents to handle the overflow as global infections soar past 500,000, with 24,000 dead.

By Philip Ewing

The Justice Department unsealed criminal charges against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and other regime heavies on Thursday in connection with alleged narcoterrorism and drug smuggling into the United States. Attorney General William Barr announced the charges at the Justice Department in Washington with some officials in attendance and others connected via teleconference — precautions taken because of the coronavirus pandemic. The charges involve 15 defendants, including Maduro and other political and military leaders in Venezuela. Venezuela is accused of permitting Colombians linked with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — the People's Army, known by its Spanish initials, FARC — to use its airspace to fly cocaine north through Central America to destinations in North America, Barr said. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman said the scheme between the Colombians and Venezuelans had been operating for some two decades and represented a deliberate strategy by Maduro's regime to "flood the United States with cocaine." The announcement of the charges followed months of pressure by President Trump's administration on Maduro's regime, which the United States considers illegitimate following an election deemed unfair by many world powers. Washington has supported alternative political leaders in Caracas against Maduro and Trump invited the man he recognizes as Venezuela's leader, Juan Guaidó, to the State of the Union address this year.

Spanish soldiers helping to fight the coronavirus pandemic have found elderly patients in retirement homes abandoned and, in some cases, dead in their beds, the defence ministry has said.

Spanish prosecutors said an investigation had been launched. The military has been brought in to help disinfect care homes in Spain, one of Europe's worst hit countries. Meanwhile, an ice rink in Madrid is to be used as a temporary mortuary for Covid-19 victims, officials said. The virus is spreading very fast in Spain - the second worst-hit European country after Italy. On Tuesday, the health ministry announced that the number of deaths had risen by 514 in the past 24 hours - a daily record. A total of 2,696 people have now died and there are 39,637 confirmed cases. Spanish soldiers helping to fight the coronavirus pandemic have found elderly patients in retirement homes abandoned and, in some cases, dead in their beds, the defence ministry has said. Spanish prosecutors said an investigation had been launched. The military has been brought in to help disinfect care homes in Spain, one of Europe's worst hit countries. Meanwhile, an ice rink in Madrid is to be used as a temporary mortuary for Covid-19 victims, officials said. The virus is spreading very fast in Spain - the second worst-hit European country after Italy. On Tuesday, the health ministry announced that the number of deaths had risen by 514 in the past 24 hours - a daily record. A total of 2,696 people have now died and there are 39,637 confirmed cases.

by Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the speaker of the parliament on Monday to put into motion a move in parliament, which he had rejected, that could weaken close ally Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hold on power. The rare court intervention in parliamentary procedure followed Yuli Edelstein’s refusal to hold a vote on March 25 that would likely remove him as speaker and fast-track legislation to bar Netanyahu from forming a new government with a corruption trial looming. Edelstein, a member of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, had cited the coronavirus crisis and the Israeli leader’s call for a “national emergency government” as reasons for delaying a vote for the speaker’s position, following an inconclusive national election on March 2. Although no government has been formed to replace Netanyahu’s caretaker coalition, a new parliament has been sworn in and Netanyahu’s main rivals - the centrist Blue and White party and its allies, which include a coalition of Arab parties, control a slim majority - 61 of its 120 seats. Hearing a petition from Blue and White and democracy advocacy groups on Monday to force Edelstein to schedule a vote for a new speaker, the court gave him until the evening to say whether he would be prepared to do so at a parliamentary session on Wednesday. After the deadline passed, Edelstein took to Twitter with an emphatic no.

Dr Linda Quick was a trainer of Chinese field epidemiologists who helped track, investigate and contain outbreaks.

Several months before the coronavirus pandemic began, the administration of US President Donald Trump eliminated a key American public health position in Beijing that was intended to help detect disease outbreaks in China, Reuters news agency has learned. The American disease expert Dr Linda Quick, a medical epidemiologist embedded in China's disease control agency, left her post in July, according to four sources with knowledge of the issue. The first cases of the new coronavirus may have emerged as early as November, and as cases mounted, the Trump administration in February chastised China for censoring information about the outbreak and keeping experts from the United States from entering the country to help. "It was heartbreaking to watch," said Bao-Ping Zhu, a Chinese-American who served in that role, which was funded by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2007 and 2011. "If someone had been there, public health officials and governments across the world could have moved much faster." Zhu and the other sources said Quick was a trainer of Chinese field epidemiologists who were deployed to the epicentre of outbreaks to help track, investigate and contain diseases. As an American CDC employee, they said, Quick was in an ideal position to be the eyes and ears on the ground for the US and the rest of the world on the coronavirus outbreak and might have alerted them to the growing threat weeks earlier. No other foreign disease experts were assigned to lead the programme after Quick left in July, according to the sources. Zhu said an embedded expert can often get word of outbreaks early, after forming close relationships with Chinese counterparts.

By Amelia Wynne For Mailonline and Reuters

The Taliban have pledged their readiness to cooperate with healthcare workers instead of killing them, as fear of a coronavirus epidemic spreads in Afghanistan. Whatever reservations the militants previously held over eradicating the crippling disease, they have now clearly grasped the dangers posed by the pandemic sweeping the rest of the world. In the past the military organisation have been accused of impeding the work of doctors. 'The Islamic Emirate via its Health Commission assures all international health organizations and WHO of its readiness to cooperate and coordinate with them in combating the coronavirus,' said Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban's spokesman, on Twitter, using the term the group uses to describe itself.

By Zack Budryk

Nigerian health officials on Monday issued a warning about chloroquine, an antimalarial drug President Trump has repeatedly touted as a possible coronavirus treatment, saying three people have overdosed on it. Lagos State Gov. Babajide Sanwo-Olu's press secretary, Gboyega Akosile, tweeted that the governor’s senior special assistant on health, Oreoluwa Finnih, had warned against "massive consumption" of the drug.

Please note: Hospitals Now Receiving Patients Suffering From Chloroquine Poisoning, Says Gov @jidesanwoolu's SSA on Health, Dr @Oreoluwa_Finnih
She urged people against massive consumption of Chloroquine as a measure to fight #coronavirus. pic.twitter.com/Q4vLS79KUs
— gboyega akosile (@gboyegaakosile) March 20, 2020

An official in Lagos told CNN that three residents of the capital had been hospitalized as of Monday. Trump’s comments on the drug have caused demand to surge in Lagos, CNN noted, which has in turn caused major price hikes. Kayode Fabunmi, a Lagos-based lawyer, told the network that he saw prices rise 400 percent in his area. "The pharmacist knew the market and was saying to every incoming customer, 'You know Donald Trump has said this thing cures coronavirus,' and the price kept changing,” he told CNN. Lagos’s state health commissioner, Akin Abayomi, said in a tweet that there is not "hard evidence that chloroquine is effective in preventing or managing COVID-19.”

"We do not have any hard evidence that chloroquine is effective in preventing or managing #COVID19" - @ProfAkinAbayomi@NigeriaGov@followlasg @jidesanwoolu @toluogunlesi @ogundamisi@NCDCgov@Fmohnigeria@NafdacAgency@WHONigeria pic.twitter.com/qtBAsAniTp
— LSMOH (@LSMOH) March 21, 2020

Public health officials have warned Trump’s promotion of the drug, which has not been approved to treat the virus, could both prove ineffective for treatment and lead to insufficient supplies for those using it against malaria and other ailments.

By Stephanie Busari and Bukola Adebayo, CNN

Lagos, Nigeria (CNN)Health officials in Nigeria have issued a warning over chloroquine after they said three people in the country overdosed on the drug, in the wake of President Trump's comments about using it to treat coronavirus. A Lagos state official told CNN that three people were hospitalized in the city after taking the drug. Officials later issued a statement cautioning against using chloroquine for Covid-19 treatment.

Please note: Hospitals Now Receiving Patients Suffering From Chloroquine Poisoning, Says Gov @jidesanwoolu's SSA on Health, Dr @Oreoluwa_Finnih
She urged people against massive consumption of Chloroquine as a measure to fight #coronavirus. pic.twitter.com/Q4vLS79KUs
— gboyega akosile (@gboyegaakosile) March 20, 2020

US President Donald Trump claimed at a White House briefing last week that the Food and Drug Administration had approved the "very powerful" drug chloroquine to treat coronavirus. "It's shown very encouraging -- very, very encouraging early results. And we're going to be able to make that drug available almost immediately. And that's where the FDA has been so great. They -- they've gone through the approval process; it's been approved. And they did it -- they took it down from many, many months to immediate. So we're going to be able to make that drug available by prescription or states," Trump said. He added: "Normally the FDA would take a long time to approve something like that, and it's -- it was approved very, very quickly and it's now approved, by prescription." However, the FDA after the briefing issued a statement saying it had not approved the drug for use against Covid-19 and is still studying its effectiveness against the disease.

Price hikes
Trump's endorsement of the drug led to a surge of interest among Nigerians keen to stock up on the medication, which has led to inevitable price hikes in the megacity of around 20 million inhabitants. One man told CNN that in a pharmacy near his home on the Lagos mainland, he witnessed the price rise by more than 400% in a matter of minutes. Kayode Fabunmi, a Lagos-based lawyer, said: "The pharmacist knew the market and was saying to every incoming customer, 'You know Donald Trump has said this thing cures coronavirus,' and the price kept changing. "The original price was 200 naira (around 50 cents), then it became 500 naira ($1.38) then it became 1,000 naira ($2.77) while I was there," he said. The Lagos State Health Ministry issued a brief statement saying there was no "hard evidence that chloroquine is effective in prevention or management of coronavirus infection."

New Day

Loss of smell and taste could be symptoms of the novel coronavirus, according to ENT UK, a professional organization representing ear, nose and throat surgeons in the United Kingdom. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta explains. Source: CNN

Bloomberg Politics

Mar.22 -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in quarantine at home following contact with a doctor who later tested positive for coronavirus. Spain and Italy are suffering their worst days of the pandemic so far with deaths surging in both countries. Bloomberg’s Rosalind Mathieson reports on “Bloomberg Daybreak: Asia.”

By Nicoletta Lanese

The dog did not develop symptoms of illness while infected, and had been allowed to return home after finally testing negative for the virus. A pet dog that contracted a "low-level" COVID-19 infection from its owner has now died, according to news reports. The owner has not allowed the dog to be autopsied, so the exact cause of death remains unknown. The 17-year-old Pomeranian first tested "weak positive" for the virus on February 28, and experts from the University of Hong Kong, City University and the World Organisation for Animal Health "unanimously agreed" that the test results reflected a plausible case of human-to-animal transmission, according to a South China Morning Post report published March 4. The dog was quarantined at a government facility from February 26 to March 14, after it finally tested negative for the virus and was allowed to return home, the South China Morning Post reported March 18. The animal died on March 16, the dog's owner told the Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD).

By Mary Ilyushina, CNN

Moscow (CNN) Russian President Vladimir Putin said this week his country managed to stop the mass spread of coronavirus -- and that the situation was "under control," thanks to early and aggressive measures to keep more people from getting the disease. Does Russia have coronavirus under control? According to information released by Russian officials, Putin's strategy seems to have worked. The number of confirmed Russian coronavirus cases is surprisingly low, despite Russia sharing a lengthy border with China and recording its first case back in January. The numbers are picking up, but Russia -- a country of 146 million people -- has fewer confirmed cases than Luxembourg, with just 253 people infected. Luxembourg, by contrast, has a population of just 628,000, according to the CIA World Factbook, and by Saturday had reported 670 coronavirus cases with eight deaths. Russia's early response measures -- such as shutting down its 2,600-mile border with China as early as January 30, and setting up quarantine zones -- may have contributed to the delay of a full-blown outbreak, some experts say.

A strong record on testing
"The director-general of WHO said 'test, test, test,'" Dr. Melita Vujnovic, the World Health Organization's representative in Russia, told CNN Thursday. "Well, Russia started that literally at the end of January." Vujnovic said Russia also took a broader set of measures in addition to testing. "Testing and identification of cases, tracing contacts, isolation, these are all measures that WHO proposes and recommends, and they were in place all the time," she said. "And the social distancing is the second component that really also started relatively early." Rospotrebnadzor, Russia's state consumer watchdog, said Saturday that it had run more than 156,000 coronavirus tests in total. By comparison, according to CDC figures, the United States only picked up the pace in testing at the beginning of March, while Russia says it has been testing en masse since early February, including in airports, focusing on travelers from Iran, China, and South Korea. That's not to say there were no holes in Russia's defenses. Russia didn't start testing those arriving from Italy or other badly affected EU countries immediately, limiting its controls for arrivals from Europe to taking temperatures and imposing two-week quarantines. The majority of the coronavirus cases reported in Russia were brought from Italy, according to health officials.

Distrust among the population
Still, Russia contends with widespread public skepticism, a legacy of its Soviet past. On social media, Russians have raised questions referring to their country's poor track record of transparency, such as the coverup around the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe in 1986 and the country's botched response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. Authorities have moved swiftly to counter what they see as misinformation. In early March, Russia's Federal Security Service and internet watchdog moved to take down a viral post claiming the real number of coronavirus cases was 20,000 and that the Russian government was covering it up. Facebook and Instagram users in Russia then started to see coronavirus awareness alerts linking to Rospotrebnadzor's official website.

BBC News

Deaths continue to spiral in Italy. Official figures show 793 have died of Covid-19 in the last 24 hours - another daily record. In total 4,825 people have now died across the country. More than 53,500 have been diagnosed with the virus nationally, up more than 6,500 since yesterday.

Brazil declares state of emergency, freeing up funds for the federal government to fight a coronavirus crisis

Brazil's health system will enter a state of collapse by the end of April, the country's health minister said on Friday, with coronavirus cases hitting a plateau in July and hopefully falling quickly in September. Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta said that Sao Paulo is at the start of the coronavirus whirlwind, and cases should jump there next week. Brazil has become one of the centres of South America's coronavirus crisis. The country has 691 confirmed cases of coronavirus and seven deaths as of March 20, according to local media.

Hospital shortages
Brazil declared a state of emergency on Friday, freeing up funds for the federal government to fight a coronavirus crisis that has hurt the popularity of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro's government. The Senate approved a measure letting the government waive fiscal targets this year, with senators voting remotely after two of them tested positive for the virus that causes the COVID-19 respiratory disease. Bolsonaro is facing criticism as he seeks to balance major public health concerns with protecting Brazil's long-ailing economy. The pandemic poses serious political risks for the populist, who initially labelled it a "fantasy". In comments to journalists on Friday, he slammed state governors for taking "extreme measures" that hurt the economy.

By Valentina Di Donato, Nicola Ruotolo and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN

Rome (CNN) Soldiers were being drafted in to help enforce the lockdown in Italy on Friday as officials announced 627 new deaths, the largest single-day toll anywhere in the world since the coronavirus outbreak began. Desperate scenes have unfolded in the north of the country, particularly the hard-hit Lombardy region where infections first exploded last month, as hospitals struggle to treat thousands of cases. And Chinese medical experts helping Italy deal with the crisis have said the restrictions imposed in Lombardy are "not strict enough." The government has now agreed that the military can be used to help enforce the lockdown, the president of the Lombardy region, Attilio Fontana, told a news conference on Friday. "(The request to use the army) has been accepted... and 114 soldiers will be on the ground throughout Lombardy... it is still too little, but it is positive," Fontana said. "Unfortunately we are not seeing a change of trend in the numbers, which are rising." The soldiers had until now been deployed in the region to ensure general security in the streets. More than 4,000 people have now died from the disease in Italy, the country's civil protection agency said Friday -- more than any other nation -- and nearly 6,000 new infections were confirmed in the past day, bringing the total to more than 47,000 cases. Daniela Confalonieri, an Italian nurse in Milan, the region's capital, said the situation was so dire that the dead were no longer being counted. "We're working in a state of very high stress and tension," Confalonieri told Reuters. "Unfortunately we can't contain the situation in Lombardy, there's a high level of contagion and we're not even counting the dead any more. "Look at the news that's coming out of Italy and take note of what the situation really is like. It's unimaginable." A hospital doctor in Bergamo, another Lombardy city, told CNN it had been hit so hard by the coronavirus that it is now sending patients who need intensive care to other parts of the country. "Bergamo is sending ICU patients to other regions because we ran out (of space)," Dr. Stefano Magnone told CNN on Friday, adding that intensive care units in hospitals in nearby Brescia were also full. Brescia is the second-worst affected province, according to the civil protection agency.

Tokyo says Pyongyang appeared to have fired a missile, which landed outside Japan's exclusive economic zone waters.

North Korea fired two projectiles that appeared to be short-range ballistic missiles into the sea off the east coast of the Korean peninsula, South Korea's military said on Saturday, after what analysts said was a show of confidence during the coronavirus pandemic by announcing an April legislature session. The launch follows two earlier this month, when North Korea launched short-range missiles and multiple projectiles, according to South Korea's military, drawing US and Chinese appeals for Pyongyang to return to talks on ending its nuclear and missile programmes. The suspected missiles were fired from North Pyongan province, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said. The province is above Pyongyang on the northwest corner of the Korean peninsula, bordering China.

By Ivana Kottasová and Henrik Pettersson, CNN

(CNN) Most people who contract the novel coronavirus experience mild symptoms, according to data from China, where the worst of the epidemic now appears to be over. Last month, scientists from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention published a research paper analyzing the data for the first 72,314 people diagnosed with Covid-19. Epidemiologists say it will take a long time to fully understand the mechanics of the coronavirus outbreak, but the information published by the Chinese scientists may give some insight into those most vulnerable to the virus. The data shows that men and women have roughly the same chance of contracting the virus. When the scientists looked at 44,672 patients confirmed to have the disease, they found there were 106 diagnosed men per 100 women. However, the impact on men appears to be worse, at least among those who were part of this initial study. While 2.8% of the men diagnosed with the disease died, only 1.7% of women did. The researchers also looked at how severe the illness was for those who were diagnosed. The good news: more than 80% experienced only mild symptoms. Almost 14% were classed as severe cases, while the condition of almost 5% was determined to be critical. But even though a minority of cases are severe and critical, the sheer scale of the pandemic means healthcare systems in many countries are starting to crumble. The northern Italian city of Bergamo has been hit so hard by coronavirus that it is sending patients who need intensive care to other parts of the country.

By Adam Bienkov

The UK government is in "genuine disbelief" about how badly US President Donald Trump has handled the coronavirus outbreak, with officials reacting with "incredulity" to the president's attempts to downplay the epidemic. The Trump administration's slow response and the president's stream of tweets about COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, have been received badly by Prime Minister Boris Johnson's team, UK officials told BuzzFeed News. "There is a general level of incredulity over his comments but especially over the lack of testing," a UK official told the website. People in the UK government "are used to the steady stream of tweets, but the last few days have caused more than the usual eye-rolling," the official said. "There is genuine disbelief." In the past week, the president has used the outbreak to attack his Democratic opponents. The president has labeled the outbreak a "hoax" and falsely claimed that "anyone who wants a test can get a test." He also reportedly has become fixated on keeping the official number of US cases low. Referring to Trump's response and a new UK government unit designed to counter misinformation about the virus online, a UK official told BuzzFeed News that "our COVID-19 counter-disinformation unit would need twice the manpower if we included him in our monitoring." Johnson has distanced himself from Trump after an 'apoplectic' call.

By Aristos Georgiou

A senior World Health Organization (WHO) official criticized the use of stigmatizing language which associates the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic with ethnic Chinese people. Mike Ryan, head of the WHO's health emergency programs, made the comments after President Donald Trump defended his use of the term "Chinese virus" when referring to the outbreak. "I think we've been very clear right since the beginning of this event that viruses know no borders and they don't care [about] your ethnicity, the color of your skin, how much money you have in the bank," Ryan told a reporter from the South China Morning Post at a WHO press conference on Wednesday. "It's really important that we are careful in the language we use lest it lead to profiling of individuals associated with the virus," he said. "This is just something we need to all avoid. It's easy in situations to summarize or to make comments that are not intended to do that but ultimately end up having that outcome. I'm sure anyone would regret profiling a virus along ethnic lines. That's not something anybody would want." On Wednesday, the president said his use of the term "Chinese virus" in reference to the pandemic was justified. "It's not racist at all. No, not at all. It comes from China, that's why. It comes from China. I want to be accurate," Trump told reporters at a press conference. However, the president's remarks have been branded as offensive and racist, with some commentators arguing that it could fuel xenophobia against Chinese people.

By James Asquith

For anyone looking for some positive headlines regarding the most talked about topic online, they may seem few and far between. Just one new case of COVID-19 was reported on Monday this week in China domestically as parks restaurants and even domestic tourism begins to recover. I recently wrote about how life in Hong Kong and Singapore is continuing with a large amount of relative normality compared to the lockdown situations being experienced in Europe and the U.S. In nearby China, which was the centre of the outbreak, life is also returning to relative normality. Air China is even operating a daily scheduled flight from Beijing to London Heathrow again. The last temporary Coronavirus hospital has now closed in Hubei province as there are not enough new cases to justify keeping them open. Rates of new infections of COVID-19 continue to decline in China from data released by the World Health Organization and the Chinese government. Restrictions on movement and travel are tentatively being relaxed now in China as life begins to return to normal.

"Just because it’s much more uncommon for children to get severe disease, these data show it is indeed possible," an expert said of the study of more than 2,000 children in China.
By Elizabeth Chuck

The majority of children infected with the coronavirus experience mild to moderate symptoms, although a small percentage have severe complications, according to a study published Monday. The study examined 2,143 confirmed or suspected pediatric cases of the coronavirus in China, where the pandemic started, and is the largest analysis yet of the illness in children. For the most part, it confirms what doctors have already noticed: that the coronavirus seems to mostly be sparing children, for reasons that are not entirely understood. Of the few children who do develop serious cases, those under 5 are the most at-risk, with infants under 1 year of age at the greatest danger, according to the study, which was published online in the journal Pediatrics. But even those types of cases were few and far between. A total of 94.1 percent of the children were asymptomatic or had mild or moderate cases, and only 5.9 percent of them had critical or severe cases, significantly lower than the 18.5 percent of adult patients who fell into that category in China during the same time frame, according to the study authors. Just one child died of the illness in China: a 14-year-old boy in Hubei, the province where the outbreak originated. The coronavirus and the illness it causes, COVID-19, have infected more than 200,000 people worldwide and killed more than 8,000. Of the 125 children in the China study who became severely or critically ill, 76 were age 5 or younger. Forty were infants under 1 year old. The study found no gender differences in which children caught the virus or how severely they got it. The study is important because it makes clear that children are indeed catching the coronavirus, disproving one possibility that experts had considered about why young patients did not seem to be as affected by it as older ones, said Dr. Buddy Creech, associate professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital.

(CNN) – As the death toll mounts from the novel coronavirus, questions are arising about whether U.S. officials might have been wrong about how it spreads. On March 1, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said on ABC’s “This Week” that it’s mainly spread by people who are already sick. "You really need to just focus on the individuals that are symptomatic,” Azar said. “It really does depend on symptomatic presentation.” Regarding whether someone can spread the virus without being sick, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention writes, in part: “Some spread might be possible before people show symptoms; there have been reports of this occurring with this new coronavirus, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.” But in Massachusetts, more than 80 people contracted coronavirus at a conference held by the biotech company Biogen. The state Department of Public Health told CNN that none of the people who attended displayed any symptoms during the conference. "We now have conclusive evidence that this disease is also being transmitted through asymptomatic carriers, or people who show no symptoms, and trying to stop that transmission is like trying to stop the wind," said Dr. Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist and director of the Center of Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. And a study, which has yet to be peer reviewed, found that in Singapore and in the Chinese city of Tianjin, infection was transmitted about two to three days before symptom onset.

By Emilia Jiang For Mailonline

China has launched the clinical trials for its first coronavirus vaccine, which is developed by the country's top military bio-warfare expert and her team. Chen Wei, the lead researcher, announced last night that Beijing has granted permission to start the tests. 'Vaccine is the strongest scientific weapon to end the coronavirus,' the bio-warfare expert told state broadcaster CCTV. 'If China is the first country to invent such weapons and have our own patents, it shows the progress of our science and the image of a giant country.' The research team has also prepared for large-scale production of the vaccine, Chen added. The Recombinant Novel Coronavirus Vaccine was successfully developed following more than a month of research, including the study of the vaccines for Ebola. Chen, also a leading specialist in genetic engineering vaccines in China, developed a medical spray during the SARS outbreak in 2003. The product prevented around 14,000 medical workers from contracting the virus, said another state-media report. She is also known in the country as the 'terminator of Ebola' for leading a team to create a vaccine against the fatal illness. Speaking of fighting the novel coronavirus, Chen said: 'The epidemic is like a military situation. The epicentre equals to the battlefield.'

The announcement comes weeks after President Trump limited the number of Chinese citizens who could work in the United States for five state-controlled Chinese news organizations.
By Marc Tracy and Edward Wong

In the latest escalation of tensions between the two superpowers, China announced on Tuesday that it would expel American journalists working for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. It also demanded that those outlets, as well as the Voice of America and Time magazine, provide the Chinese government with detailed information about their operations. The announcement, made by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, came weeks after the Trump administration limited the number of Chinese citizens who could work in the United States for five state-controlled Chinese news organizations to 100. China instructed American journalists “whose press credentials are due to expire before the end of 2020” to “notify the Department of Information of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs within four calendar days starting from today and hand back their press cards within ten calendar days.” It went on to specify that the American journalists now working in China “will not be allowed to continue working as journalists in the People’s Republic of China, including its Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions.” The full scope of the directive was not immediately clear. In a translated statement, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said the decisions “are entirely necessary and reciprocal countermeasures that China is compelled to take in response to the unreasonable oppression the Chinese media organizations experience in the U.S. They are legitimate and justified self-defense in every sense. What the U.S. has done is exclusively targeting Chinese media organizations, and hence driven by a Cold War mentality and ideological bias.”

By Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran issued its most dire warning yet Tuesday about the outbreak of the new coronavirus ravaging the country, suggesting “millions” could die in the Islamic Republic if the public keeps traveling and ignoring health guidance. A state television journalist who also is a medical doctor gave the warning only hours after hard-line Shiite faithful the previous night pushed their way into the courtyards of two major shrines that had just been closed over fears of the virus. Roughly nine out of 10 of the over 18,000 cases of the new virus confirmed across the Middle East come from Iran, where authorities denied for days the risk the outbreak posed. Officials have now implemented new checks for people trying to leave major cities ahead of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, on Friday, but have hesitated to quarantine the areas. That’s even as the death toll in Iran saw another 13% increase Tuesday. Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said the virus had killed 135 more people to raise the total to 988 amid over 16,000 cases. Jordan meanwhile prepared for a shutdown of its own over the virus, banning gatherings drawing more than 10 people. Most people infected by the new coronavirus experience only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and recover within weeks. But the virus is highly contagious and can be spread by people with no visible symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

By Soo Kim

Cases of the new coronavirus, COVID-19, have soared past 169,000, including more than 6,500 deaths, across 148 countries, while more than 77,000 people have recovered, according to a map of the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University. The outbreak continues in the U.S., where President Donald Trump declared a state of national emergency and the total cases have risen to more than 3,770. Several states have enforced stricter precautionary measures to combat the spread, including the closure of schools, restaurants and bars in various parts of the country. Similar measures have been expanded in Spain, France and Italy, where cases continue to spike, with Italy recording the highest surge in deaths within 24 hours, reporting nearly 398 new fatalities in the last day, BBC reports. There are nearly 81,000 infections in China, including at least 3,000 deaths. More than 55,000 in the country have also recovered from the virus. For the first time, the combined total number of infections outside China has surpassed those within, reaching more than 87,000, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University on Monday. Nearly 11,000 new cases have been reported across the globe, including first cases within at least seven African countries, as well as in Europe and the Americas region, in the past couple of days, according to the latest report by the World Health Organization (WHO). The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the recovery curve compared to the infection curve of the virus.

Combined data for January and February showed that industrial production, retail sales and asset investment all declined far more than analysts expected
Lockdowns to control the coronavirus proved to be a constraint to economic growth, but with China now in recovery, data suggests what rest of the world could expect
SCMP
By Finbarr Bermingham and Orange Wang

The coronavirus’ impact on China’s economy was made plain in new numbers released on Monday, which showed a dramatic collapse across the board. Amid a widespread shutdown of manufacturing operations, industrial production – a measure of manufacturing, mining and utilities activity – declined by 13.5 per cent over the first two months of the year, combined data for January and February showed. This was the first decline on record, although ordinarily the data is released monthly. But the numbers were well below expectations of a 3.0 per cent decline. Retail sales, a key metric of consumption in the world’s second largest economy, fell by 20.5 per cent, again the first decline on record. This was well below the median forecast of a group of analysts, conducted by Bloomberg, which predicted a 4.0 per cent contraction. Fixed asset investment – a gauge of expenditure on items including infrastructure, property, machinery and equipment – collapsed by 24.5 per cent, much worse than analysts’ predictions of minus 2.0 per cent. This was the first shrinkage on record. That China’s economy sank to all time lows in the first two months of the year is not a surprise, given that the period included the Lunar New Year holiday, plus a prolonged containment effort that left hundreds of millions of people unable to return to work and factories struggling to get back to capacity. As of last week, around 95 per cent of large companies outside the epicentre of the virus in Hubei province had reopened, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, while “about 60 per cent” of small to medium-sized firms had returned to work. The shutdown has led analysts to downgrade their outlook for the Chinese economy, with most now expecting a historic contraction in the first quarter.

By Berkeley Lovelace Jr., Noah Higgins-Dunn, William Feuer

The World Health Organization is considering “airborne precautions” for medical staff after a new study showed the coronavirus can survive in the air in some settings. The virus is transmitted through droplets, or little bits of liquid, mostly through sneezing or coughing, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, head of WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, told reporters during a virtual news conference on Monday. “When you do an aerosol-generating procedure like in a medical care facility, you have the possibility to what we call aerosolize these particles, which means they can stay in the air a little bit longer.” She added: “It’s very important that health-care workers take additional precautions when they’re working on patients and doing those procedures.” World health officials say the respiratory disease spreads through human-to-human contact, droplets carried through sneezing and coughing as well as germs left on inanimate objects. The coronavirus can go airborne, staying suspended in the air depending on factors such as heat and humidity, they said.


DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran’s death toll from the new coronavirus has reached 853, with 129 new deaths in the past 24 hours, a health ministry official tweeted on Monday, adding that a total of 14,991 people have been infected across Iran. “In the past 24 hours we had 1,053 confirmed new cases of coronavirus and 129 new deaths,” Alireza Vahabzadeh tweeted.

MPs and ministers criticise display of ‘self-interest’ and accuse US president of electioneering
Staff and agencies

German ministers have reacted angrily following reports US president Donald Trump offered a German medical company “large sums of money” for exclusive rights to a Covid-19 vaccine. “Germany is not for sale,” economy minister Peter Altmaier told broadcaster ARD, reacting to a front page report in Welt am Sonntag newspaper headlined “Trump vs Berlin”. The newspaper reported Trump offered $1bn to Tübingen-based biopharmaceutical company CureVac to secure the vaccine “only for the United States”. The German government was reportedly offering its own financial incentives for the vaccine to stay in the country. The report prompted fury in Berlin. “German researchers are taking a leading role in developing medication and vaccines as part of global cooperation networks,” foreign minister Heiko Maas told the Funke Mediengruppe research network. “We cannot allow a situation where others want to exclusively acquire the results of their research,” said Maas, of the centre-left SPD.

Ayatollah Hashem Bathayi Golpayegani dies two days after testing positive, while number of deaths tops 850.

COVID-19 has killed a member of the clerical body that appoints the supreme leader, according to Iranian state media, the latest official in the country to die of the highly infectious disease caused by the new coronavirus. Ayatollah Hashem Bathayi Golpayegani, 78, died two days after testing positive for the new coronavirus and being hospitalised, state news agency IRNA reported on Monday. Golpayegani represented Tehran in the assembly of experts, an 88-strong body of Muslim scholars that appoints and monitors Iran's supreme leader. At least 12 Iranian politicians and officials, both sitting and former, have now died of the illness, and 13 more have been infected and are either in quarantine or being treated.

Capacity concerns
The country has been scrambling to contain the rapid spread of coronavirus which so far has infected some 14,000 people and killed 853 - 129 of whom over the past 24 hours, according to official figures, The number of coronavirus deaths and infections has been on the rise ever since the first two fatalities were announced on February 19. The official leading Iran's response to the new coronavirus acknowledged on Sunday the pandemic could overwhelm health facilities in his country, which is battling the worst outbreak in the Middle East while under heavy US sanctions. "If the trend continues, there will not be enough capacity," Ali Reza Zali, who is leading the campaign against the outbreak, was quoted as saying by IRNA.

The Joint Arab List and Avigdor Liberman, of ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, recommend Gantz over Netanyahu.

The main rival to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won support from Israel's Arab coalition on Sunday to form a government, potentially undermining Netanyahu's plan to stay in power atop a proposed unity cabinet to fight the coronavirus outbreak. After a third inconclusive election in less than a year left Netanyahu still three seats short of forming a majority, the prime minister has asked his main rival, Benny Gantz, the former chief of the Israeli military, to agree to an "emergency government" to fight the global pandemic.

By James Mackenzie

MILAN (Reuters) - Italian authorities voiced growing concern on Sunday over how much longer strained health systems could cope with the coronavirus outbreak, as thousands of new cases were recorded over the past 24 hours and several hundred more people died. While the virus has begun spreading rapidly across Europe, Italy remains the second most heavily affected country after China, where the illness first emerged, and the outbreak has shown no signs of slowing. The government is working urgently on procuring more protective equipment, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said, adding there was maximum attention on helping Lombardy, the northern region where the virus emerged three weeks ago. “Our priority is to keep doctors, nurses and all our health personnel safe,” Conte said in a statement. A week ago, his government, which is expected to confirm a 25 billion euro ($27.68 billion) package of measures to support businesses and workers hit by the crisis, imposed a virtual lockdown across the country. With 24,747 cases and 1,809 deaths by Sunday - a rise of 368 in the death toll in just 24 hours - Italy’s experience has offered an alarming example for other European countries which have begun seeing sharp rises in cases over recent days. Lombardy, the heavily populated area around the financial capital Milan, has been the worst-affected region with 1,218 deaths. Of those, 252 were recorded in the last 24 hours. Italy has the most elderly population in Europe, with almost a quarter of the population aged 65 and over, rendering it especially vulnerable to a disease that has predominantly killed older people.


DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran said on Sunday that the new coronavirus has killed 113 people in the past 24 hours, raising the country’s death toll to 724, a health ministry official tweeted, adding that the number of infected people had reached 13,938. The new figures were tweeted by Alireza Vahabzadeh, an adviser to Iran’s health minister. To contain the outbreak in Iran, one of the deadliest outside of China, officials have called on people to avoid unnecessary trips and stay at home.

By James Walker

The first confirmed case of someone suffering from COVID-19 in China can be traced back as far as November 17 last year, according to local reports. The South China Morning Post reported it had seen government data showing that a 55-year-old from Hubei may have had the first confirmed case of the new coronavirus on November 17, but did not make the data public. The newspaper also said that it was possible there were cases reported before the November date set out in the government data, adding that Chinese officials had identified 266 cases of COVID-19 last year. Newsweek has contacted the World Health Organization (WHO) asking if it has been made aware of the data reportedly seen by the South China Morning Post. This article will be updated with any response. The WHO says its country office in China first received reports of a "pneumonia of unknown cause" detected in the city of Wuhan in the Hubei province on December 31 last year. It added that authorities said some of the early patients had been operators in the Huanan Seafood market. The first patient to show symptoms of what would later be identified as the new coronavirus, known as COVID-19, presented themselves on December 8, according to Chinese officials. The World Health Organization classified the spread of the virus as a pandemic on Wednesday. Ai Fen, a doctor from Wuhan, told China's People magazine in an interview for the title's March edition that authorities had tried to suppress her early warnings about COVID-19 in December.

"I must level with you, the British public: Many more families are going to lose their loved ones before their time," Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.
By Alexander Smith and Saphora Smith

LONDON — No one is sugarcoating the coronavirus in the United Kingdom. Experts in the government have revealed that as many as 10,000 might already be infected in the country, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson warning Thursday, "I must level with you, the British public: Many more families are going to lose their loved ones before their time." And yet the U.K. is becoming increasingly isolated in its response to the pandemic. It is one of the only major countries of Western Europe to impose few, if any, restrictions on daily life. The U.K.'s tactics, which are backed by its top team of epidemiologists and behavioral psychologists, have left many here asking: Why do our experts disagree with those in most other countries? The disparity has also highlighted that while "flatten the curve" has become something of a mantra, there is considerable disagreement among experts about the best way to achieve that. The U.K. has emerged somewhat out on its own in the international community. Thursday brought a major shift in its government strategy, moving from the "contain" to the "delay" phase of its plan. That effectively concedes that the virus is here, that it will spread rapidly and widely through society, and the focus should be on slowing it down. The U.K's Electoral Commission said Friday it was postponing more than 300 local elections for 12 months, including the contest to be London mayor which was due to be held on May 7. But still, the government did not introduce measures to close schools, ban large gatherings or sporting events, or impose restrictions on travel, like some had predicted it might. "The most important thing individuals can do to protect themselves remains washing their hands more often," updated guidelines read. "Make sure you cough or sneeze into a tissue, put it in a bin and wash your hands."

Washington Post

In Iran - now facing one of the largest outbreaks of the novel coronavirus outside of China - graves are being dug at an unusual speed in a cemetery in Qom. Iranian authorities downplayed the spread of the virus by incorrectly reporting the death toll and failing to implement preventative measures, like closing holy sites in Qom where visitors were filmed touching and kissing shrines.Eventually, the government began to show more transparency in addressing the crisis, but videos and satellite imagery reveal how the situation quickly worsened after the government’s slow response. Just days after Iran declared its first cases of coronavirus, authorities began digging a pair of trenches for the victims of the disease. Together their lengths are now that of a football field. According to expert analysis, videos and official statements, the graves were dug to address the rising rate of deaths from the virus. This investigation verifies the visual evidence that shows what is going on in Iran amid the coronavirus outbreak and a contradictory government narrative. It lays out a timeline of events, which shows the consequences of the Iranian government’s initial downplaying of the virus’ spread.

By christina capatides

A new study in The Lancet medical journal published Wednesday found that the novel coronavirus lived in the respiratory tracts of some patients for more than five weeks. Some of the patients received antiviral medications but the drugs did not appear to shorten the virus's lifespan. The 19 doctors who authored the study analyzed the medical records of 191 patients in China (135 from Jinyintan Hospital and 56 from Wuhan Pulmonary Hospital), including the demographic, clinical, treatment and laboratory data of 137 coronavirus patients who were discharged and 54 patients who died in the hospital. They found that the virus was present in the bodies of patients with severe disease status for an average of 19 days, and inside the bodies of patients with critical disease status for an average of 24 days. Overall, the virus was detected for an average of 20 days in patients who were eventually discharged from the hospital. In the respiratory tracts of patients who died, coronavirus was detectable until death.

by Christina Wilkie, Dan Mangan

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump refused to accept any responsibility for the slow rate of coronavirus testing in the United States, saying on Friday that he was “given a set of circumstances” that wasn’t meant for the high numbers of potential COVID-19 infections. “What we’ve done, and one of the reasons people are respecting what we’ve done, is we’ve gotten it done very early, and we’ve also kept a lot of people out,” Trump said during a press conference in the Rose Garden. During the briefing, NBC’s Kristen Welker asked Trump whether he took responsibility for the testing lag, which one member of his own task force called “a failing.” “No, I don’t take responsibility at all. Because we were given a — a set of circumstances, and we were given rules, regulations and specifications from a different time. It wasn’t meant for this kind of — an event with the kind of numbers that we’re talking about,” Trump responded. In reality, America’s low rate of COVID-19 testing has drawn criticism from health experts around the world, who say the slow rate of testing obscures the actual rate of infection in the United States, which is likely far higher than tests have so far confirmed. During the earliest stages of the outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention distributed faulty tests to state and local health departments. Once the flawed tests were discovered and discarded, bureaucratic red tape held up the process of granting exemptions to private labs to make their own tests. As criticism of the Trump administration’s coronavirus testing protocol has intensified, and testing in other countries such as South Korea has outpaced the U.S. by orders of magnitude, Trump has sought to shift the blame onto his predecessor, Barack Obama. On Friday, asked about testing rates, Trump brought up the example of the 2009 swine flu, or H1N1 epidemic, in order to criticize Obama and boast of his success. “If you go back to the swine flu, it was nothing like this, they didn’t do testing like this, and they lost approximately 14,000 people. They started thinking about testing when it was far too late,” Trump said. Former Obama administration official Ron Klain, who managed the 2014 Ebola outbreak, disputed Trump’s assessment. “The Obama administration tested 1 million people for H1N1 in the first month after the first US diagnosed case,” Klain tweeted on Thursday. “The first US coronavirus case was 50+ days ago. And we haven’t event tested 10,000 people yet.”

By Veronica Stracqualursi and Kaitlan Collins, CNN

(CNN) Australia's home affairs minister confirmed Friday that he tested positive for the novel coronavirus, less than a week after meeting with Attorney General William Barr, senior White House adviser Ivanka Trump and other White House officials. In a statement, Minister Peter Dutton said that he woke up on Friday morning "with a temperature and sore throat" and was "subsequently tested for COVID-19." Dutton was advised by Queensland Health that his tests returned positive on Friday afternoon. Dutton had met with Trump, Barr, Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway and Director of the Domestic Policy Council Joe Grogan in the US less than a week ago. CNN has reached out to the White House for comment. Dutton said Friday that under the policy of Queensland Health, "anyone who tests positive is to be admitted into hospital and I have complied with their advice." Dutton added that "I feel fine and will provide an update in due course."

By Kenneth Rapoza

On Wednesday night, President Trump finally took the coronavirus COVID-19 seriously. He banned all travel to EU countries for 30 days. The disease may seem benign to some. Around 95% or more of the people who get it will survive and symptoms are generally mild and far from scary. But what is scary is how fast it spreads. And there are too many unknowns about the disease to find comfort in the fact that less than 1,000 people have it. China went from 1,000 patients to 80,000 in a matter of roughly six weeks, mostly all of it in a self contained, quarantined state called Hubei. Italy went from around 20 cases two and half weeks ago to over 12,000. It is now the Hubei of the Western world. Travel bans on China helped mitigate spread from travelers coming to the U.S. from there. All early cases last month were from China travelers. They have since healed. The U.S. was caught flat footed by Europe, cruises, and European business travelers at major conferences. The U.S. is now playing catch-up in the mitigation phase.

By Barbara Starr, Ryan Browne and Zachary Cohen, CNN

(CNN) The US carried out airstrikes on Thursday against multiple Iranian-backed militia sites in Iraq, according to the US Defense Department. The strikes come one day after the US assessed an Iranian-backed group was responsible for a rocket attack on a base where coalition forces are located, killing two American service members and one British service member. Fox News was first to report on the strike. A US defense official told CNN that the strikes were carried out by manned aircraft and targeted five weapons storage facilities. In a written statement, the Defense Department stated the strike was aimed at harming the ability of Kata'ib Hezbollah, an Iranian-sponsored Shia militia group, to conduct future strikes against American troops. The weapons storage facilities included areas where weapons used to attack American and coalition troops were stored. "These strikes were defensive, proportional, and in direct response to the threat posed by Iranian-backed Shia militia groups (SMG) who continue to attack bases hosting OIR coalition forces," the department statement read. A briefing on the attack is scheduled for Friday morning at the Pentagon. The statement added, "These terror groups must cease their attacks on U.S. and coalition forces or face consequences at a time and place of our choosing. The US and the coalition remain committed to the lasting defeat of ISIS, and the long-term security, stability, and sovereignty of Iraq." The strikes come months after the US and Iran were brought to the brink of war in early January. While the situation appeared to deescalate in the weeks following Iran's retaliatory strike on a base housing US troops in Iraq, tensions have flared up once again between Tehran and Washington. There have been multiple rocket attacks in Iraq in recent weeks, but Wednesday's was the first to cause a US death since December, when a US contractor was killed. That death prompted retaliatory US airstrikes against Iranian-backed militia targets in Iraq and Syria. Trump administration officials pointed to the contractor's death as their justification for air strikes that killed Iran's second most powerful leader, Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

By Saheli Roy Choudhury

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Gregoire, has tested positive for COVID-19. “Following medical advice, she will remain in isolation for the time being. She is feeling well, is taking all the recommended precautions and her symptoms remain mild,” according to a statement tweeted by Cameron Ahmad, the prime minister’s communications director. Health professionals are set to reach out to people who have been in close contact with Gregoire Trudeau. The prime minister himself is in “good health with no symptoms,” Ahmad said. “As a precautionary measure and following the advice of doctors, he will be in isolation for a planned period of 14 days,” the statement added. “Also on the advice of doctors, he will not be tested at this stage since he has no symptoms.” Trudeau will address Canadians on Friday, the statement said. Gregoire Trudeau thanked people in a personal statement that Ahmad shared on Twitter. She said although she is experiencing “uncomfortable symptoms of the virus, I will be back on my feet soon,” and noted that other Canadian families and patients may be facing more serious health concerns. Gregoire Trudeau had recently returned from a speaking engagement in London and began exhibiting “mild flu-like symptoms including a low fever” late Wednesday.

EXCLUSIVE: By Clarissa Ward, Katie Polglase, Sebastian Shukla, Gianluca Mezzofiore and Tim Lister, CNN

Accra, Ghana (CNN)The Russian trolls are back -- and once again trying to poison the political atmosphere in the United States ahead of this year's elections. But this time they are better disguised and more targeted, harder to identify and track. And they have found an unlikely home, far from Russia itself. In 2016, much of the trolling aimed at the US election operated from an office block in St. Petersburg, Russia. A months-long CNN investigation has discovered that, in this election cycle, at least part of the campaign has been outsourced -- to trolls in the west African nations of Ghana and Nigeria. They have focused almost exclusively on racial issues in the US, promoting black empowerment and often displaying anger towards white Americans. The goal, according to experts who follow Russian disinformation campaigns, is to inflame divisions among Americans and provoke social unrest. The language and images used in the posts -- on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram -- are sometimes graphic. One of the Ghanaian trolls -- @africamustwake -- linked to a story from a left-wing conspiracy website and commented on Facebook: "America's descent into a fascist police state continues."

By Rob Picheta, Shasta Darlington and Jonny Hallam, CNN

(CNN) Fabio Wajngarten, the press secretary for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, tested positive for coronavirus on Thursday, two sources have told CNN. Bolsonaro's health is being monitored. It comes just days after Wajngarten met US President Donald Trump in Florida. Bolsonaro's aide posted an image of himself standing with Trump and US Vice President Mike Pence at Mar-a-Lago over the weekend. He was accompanying Bolsonaro on a trip to the US, during which the two leaders dined together. Earlier in the day, the pair had spoken to reporters about the coronavirus outbreak. "I'm not concerned at all," Trump told the press. He had been asked about his attendance at the CPAC conference, where another person was also tested positive for coronavirus. Trump said he was aware of the aide's diagnosis during remarks in the Oval Office on Thursday. "We did nothing very unusual, we sat next to each other for a period of time," he added, referring to Bolsonaro. Trump on Wednesday announced sweeping travel bans for people coming into the United States from mainland Europe, as his administration attempts to tackle the ongoing pandemic.

By Ellen Mitchell

The Pentagon’s top leaders on Thursday confirmed that Iranian-backed militia groups were behind the rocket attack in Iraq that killed two U.S. troops and one British soldier a day earlier, saying that “all options are on the table” for a response. “Yesterday’s attack by Iranian-backed Shia militia groups consisted of multiple indirect fires that originated from a stationary platform and was clearly targeting coalition and partnered forces on Camp Taji,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters at the Pentagon. “Let me be clear, the United States will not tolerate attacks against our people, our interests or our allies,” Esper added. “All options are on the table as we work with our partners to bring the perpetrators to justice and maintain deterrence. … We will take any action necessary to protect our forces in Iraq and the region," he said. The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq on Wednesday evening announced that 18 Katyusha rockets hit Camp Taji north of Baghdad, killing three and wounding 12. Iraqi forces found a rocket-rigged truck a few miles from the base, the coalition said. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, who spoke alongside Esper, echoed that all options are on the table and “we're looking at everything,” as a potential response.

By Soo Kim

The COVID-19 virus continues to gain ground as more cases emerge in parts of Europe, with Italy now reporting more than 10,000 infections, as well as in Asia, including in Japan, India and Vietnam. South Korea has reported a cluster of new cases in its capital Seoul. Cases have also surged past 1,000 in the U.S., which saw its first deaths in New Jersey and South Dakota. While the number of global cases has climbed to more than 119,000, including around 4,000 deaths, more than 66,000 people have recovered from the infection, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University. Cases of the virus, which was first detected in China's Wuhan city in the Hubei province, have been reported in Brunei on the Asian island of Borneo, as well as Mongolia, Guernsey of the Channel Islands and Panama, in the past couple of days. "WHO reiterates that measures that restrict the movement of people during this outbreak should be proportionate to the public health risk, short in duration and reviewed regularly as more information about the virus, the disease epidemiology and clinical characteristics becomes available," the World Health Organization noted in its latest statement. Earlier this week, the director-general of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, acknowledged that while "the threat of the pandemic has become very real", the COVID-19 virus would be "the first pandemic in history that could be controlled."

Nearly 67,000 have recovered from the infection
More than 54,000 of the nearly 81,000 infected people across China have recovered from the virus, including around 49,000 in the Hubei province. Italy, which currently has the highest number of cases outside China, has reported more recoveries than deaths, with around 1,000 having fully recovered from the virus, according to the country's Civil Protection Agency. Around 600 deaths have been reported in Italy.

By Dawn Kopecki, Berkeley Lovelace Jr., William Feuer

The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on Wednesday as the new coronavirus, which was unknown to world health officials just three months ago, has rapidly spread to more than 121,000 people from Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the United States. “In the past two weeks the number of cases outside China has increased thirteenfold and the number of affected countries has tripled,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference at the organization’s headquarters in Geneva. “In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths and the number of affected countries to climb even higher.” Tedros said several countries have demonstrated the ability to suppress and control the outbreak, but he scolded other world leaders for failing to act quickly enough or drastically enough to contain the spread. “We’re deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction,” he said, just before declaring the pandemic. “We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.” Cases in China and South Korea have significantly declined, he said, adding that 81 countries don’t have any confirmed cases and 57 countries have 10 or fewer cases. “We can not say this loudly enough or clearly enough or often enough: All countries can still change the course of this pandemic,” he said. “Some countries are struggling with a lack of capacity. Some countries are struggling with a lack of resources. Some countries are struggling with a lack of resolve.” Declaring a pandemic is charged with major political and economic ramifications, global health experts say. It can further rattle already fragile world markets and lead to more stringent travel and trade restrictions. WHO officials had been reluctant to declare a global pandemic, which is generally defined as an illness that spreads far and wide throughout the world.

By Elliot Hannon

Italians woke up to a nationwide quarantine Tuesday as the country extended sweeping controls on movement in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The new regulations will impact daily life for the entire population of 60 million after initial efforts to isolate the virus in the north of the country proved ineffective. Italy currently has the most cases of coronavirus outside of China, where the outbreak began. With 1,500 new cases reported on Monday, bringing the total number of confirmed illnesses to nearly 10,000, and deaths due to the virus also continuing to rise, approaching 500, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced more drastic efforts to curtail the coronavirus in a prime-time news conference Monday evening. “We have to avoid moving around other than for emergencies or essential work reasons within designated areas,” Conte said. “Our habits must change now. We all must give up something for the sake of Italy. … We have adopted a new decision based on the assumption that there is no more time.” Under the new restrictions, Italians have been instructed to stay at home other than in extraordinary cases for work or health reasons. Italians are no longer allowed to move freely and need special permission to travel within the country or abroad. “Under the new rules Italians will be able to travel to work and shop for food, and leave their houses for medical treatment, meaning businesses will be able to stay open,” the Financial Times reports. “All citizens will have to sign a self-declared document to present to the police and the military to explain their movements. Anyone who is judged to be breaking the measures faces fines or imprisonment for three months.”


The death toll from alcohol poisoning in Iran rose to 44 Tuesday, state news agency IRNA reported, over misguided efforts to ward off the new coronavirus by drinking bootleg alcohol. The outbreak of the virus in the Islamic republic is one of the deadliest outside of China, where the disease originated. The highest poisoning toll struck in the southwestern province of Khuzestan, where it grew by 16 to reach 36 on Tuesday, the agency said. They had "drank bootleg alcohol over rumors that it would be effective in treating coronavirus and were poisoned," it added. The poisoning toll in Khuzestan is higher than its 18 direct deaths from coronavirus, according to IRNA. Seven more people have died from bootleg alcohol in the northern region of Alborz and one in Kermanshah, western Iran.

In a carefully scripted appearance, President Vladimir V. Putin agreed that he should be allowed to seek two more terms, if the Constitutional Court agrees.
By Anton Troianovski

MOSCOW — At the urging of President Vladimir V. Putin, Russia’s lower house of Parliament passed legislation Tuesday allowing him to run for a fifth term as president. Mr. Putin, who is 67 years old and was first elected in 2000, noted that the legislation would still have to be approved by Russia’s Constitutional Court and in a nationwide plebiscite in April. But in Russia’s tightly controlled political system, Tuesday’s choreographed flurry of events was the clearest sign yet that after 20 years as president or prime minister, Mr. Putin is preparing to stay in the Kremlin for, perhaps, the rest of his life. If he serves two additional terms, Mr. Putin will have held the nation’s highest office for 32 years, longer than Stalin but still short of Peter the Great, who reigned for 43 years. In finding ways to escape what seemed to be ironclad limits on his tenure, Mr. Putin joined President Xi Jinping of China and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey as authoritarian leaders who have sought to extend their power. In the past, Mr. Putin proceeded cautiously, seeking to preserve a veneer of legality. Confronting term limits in 2008, Mr. Putin opted for a four-year hiatus as prime minister while his protégé, Dmitri Medvedev, became the caretaker president.

Trump cut a secret deal to get out of Afghanistan — and for once congressional Republicans are unhappy with him
By Sophia Tesfaye

Congressional Republicans have remained remarkably unwavering in their fealty to President Trump. But even as they march lock-step right into the middle of a global health outbreak — mocking the crisis while simultaneously self-quarantining — a number of GOP lawmakers have broken with the president over his latest foreign policy bungle. On Monday, U.S. officials confirmed that the initial troop withdrawal out of Afghanistan had begun, with aims to remove all U.S. troops within 14 months, which would bring 18 years of intermittent combat operations to an end. The U.S. is following through on its part of a peace agreement with the Taliban to reduce its troop strength in Afghanistan — even after confirming that the Islamist militant network has already reneged on its pledges. Ending America's longest and most unpopular war would undoubtedly be a good thing for a president facing a panicked economy and looming pandemic. Afghan and American forces killed more civilians in 2019 than the Taliban did, according to a UN report. Within hours of signing a peace deal with the Taliban late last month, however, this supposedly historical achievement by the Trump administration turned into a public embarrassment. Less than 24 hours after the peace deal was signed, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, whose government was not involved in the agreement, rejected the Taliban's main demand: the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners. It was then revealed that Defense Secretary Mark Esper had approved the withdrawal of U.S. troops before a weeklong truce, a crucial test for the Taliban, was even completed. Then, just hours after President Trump said he'd had a "very good talk" with the Taliban's chief negotiator, Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was released from a Pakistani prison so he could sign the deal, U.S. warplanes bombed a Taliban position in support of Afghan troops. "We had a good conversation. We've agreed there's no violence. We don't want violence," Trump told journalists last Tuesday, after the Taliban publicized the call before even White House officials were informed. Esper defended the U.S. airstrikes against the Taliban as allowed under the peace agreement. "It's the commitment I made to the Afghans when I was [in Kabul] on Saturday, that we would continue to defend the Afghans, support them."

By Kashmira Gander

Experts fear a "broken" system for testing suspected cases of the deadly new coronavirus in the U.S., which has reached more than a dozen states, has set the country back in containing the disease and enabled it to silently spread. Following weeks of setbacks with screening for COVID-19, the head of the White House coronavirus task force, Vice President Mike Pence, told reporters in Minnesota on Thursday according to CNN, "We don't have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward." Earlier in the week, Pence told media at the White House screening restrictions had been lifted so "any American can be tested" for the illness, according to The New York Times, although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Politico that capacity on Tuesday stood at 15,000, and was expected to rise to 75,000 this week. Thursday's admission came after the head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Dr. Stephen Hahn told a White House press briefing on Monday that industry estimates indicated "by the end of this week, close to a million tests will be able to be performed," The New York Times reported. Hahn said there would be a "substantial increase in the number of tests this week, next week, and throughout the month" after the agency said it would allow private laboratories and companies to make their own tests to increase capacity. Asked whether the U.S. would hit its million test goal, Pence spokesperson Katie Miller told CNN on Thursday, "We're not missing it." But experts have told Newsweek snafus have lost the country precious time in controlling the spread of the disease. Earlier this week, the CDC controversially stopped reporting the number of individuals who have or are being tested for COVID-19, explaining on its website "now that states are testing and reporting their own results, CDC's numbers are not representative all of testing being done nationwide." While the health agency's website (accurate as of March 5 and due to be updated at noon today) reported a total of 99 cases across 13 states, a dashboard maintained by Johns Hopkins University pooling data from the CDC as we as local health departments put the figure at 233. The New York Times tracker said people with COVID-19 have been treated in 20 states, and 14 have died. Medical doctor and former Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress Dena Grayson, who played a role in the development of drugs to treat the deadly Ebola virus, told Newsweek: "the government has made some blunders in our pandemic preparedness by not quickly deploying functional coronavirus testing kits nor having sufficient testing capacity early on, when containment (via contact tracing and quarantines) would have been much more feasible."

“I don’t know what went wrong,” a former CDC chief told The Atlantic.
By Robinson MeyerAlexis C. Madrigal

It’s one of the most urgent questions in the United States right now: How many people have actually been tested for the coronavirus? This number would give a sense of how widespread the disease is, and how forceful a response to it the United States is mustering. But for days, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has refused to publish such a count, despite public anxiety and criticism from Congress. On Monday, Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, estimated that “by the end of this week, close to a million tests will be able to be performed” in the United States. On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence promised that “roughly 1.5 million tests” would be available this week. But the number of tests performed across the country has fallen far short of those projections, despite extraordinarily high demand, The Atlantic has found. “The CDC got this right with H1N1 and Zika, and produced huge quantities of test kits that went around the country,” Thomas Frieden, the director of the CDC from 2009 to 2017, told us. “I don’t know what went wrong this time.” Through interviews with dozens of public-health officials and a survey of local data from across the country, The Atlantic could only verify that 1,895 people have been tested for the coronavirus in the United States, about 10 percent of whom have tested positive. And while the American capacity to test for the coronavirus has ramped up significantly over the past few days, local officials can still test only several thousand people a day, not the tens or hundreds of thousands indicated by the White House’s promises.

Converged Security and Management Engine flaw may jeopardize Intel's root of trust.
By Dan Goodin

Virtually all Intel chips released in the past five years contain an unfixable flaw that may allow sophisticated attackers to defeat a host of security measures built into the silicon. While Intel has issued patches to lessen the damage of exploits and make them harder, security firm Positive Technologies said the mitigations may not be enough to fully protect systems. The flaw resides in the Converged Security and Management Engine, a subsystem inside Intel CPUs and chipsets that’s roughly analogous to AMD’s Platform Security Processor. Often abbreviated as CSME, this feature implements the firmware-based Trusted Platform Module used for silicon-based encryption, authentication of UEFI BIOS firmware, Microsoft System Guard and BitLocker, and other security features. The bug stems from the failure of the input-output memory management unit—which provides protection preventing the malicious modification of static random-access memory—to implement early enough in the firmware boot process. That failure creates a window of opportunity for other chip components, such as the Integrated Sensor Hub, to execute malicious code that runs very early in the boot process with the highest of system privileges. Jeopardizing Intel’s root of trust Because the flaw resides in the CSME mask ROM, a piece of silicon that boots the very first piece of CSME firmware, the vulnerability can’t be patched with a firmware update. “This vulnerability jeopardizes everything Intel has done to build the root of trust and lay a solid security foundation on the company's platforms,” Mark Ermolov, lead specialist of OS and hardware security at security firm Positive Technologies wrote in a post detailing the bug. “The problem is not only that it is impossible to fix firmware errors that are hard-coded in the mask ROM of microprocessors and chipsets. The larger worry is that, because this vulnerability allows a compromise at the hardware level, it destroys the chain of trust for the platform as a whole.” Besides the Trusted Platform Module, attackers who successfully exploit the flaw can bypass security protections provided by Intel’s Enhanced Privacy ID (EPID) (which provides on-chip encryption capabilities) and digital rights management protections for proprietary data. It might also be possible to extract the chipset encryption key, which is identical on each chipset generation. Because exploits allow the modification of firmware, attackers could carry out other nefarious actions. In an email responding to a question about the extent of the potential damage caused by the exploit and how the exploit worked, Ermolov wrote:

BBC

A ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey has come into effect in the northwest Syrian province of Idlib. The deal was signed in Moscow on Thursday by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said a relative calm descended on the region. It comes after weeks of intense fighting between Turkish-backed rebels and Syrian forces supported by Russia. Around 60 Turkish soldiers have been killed during a Syrian government offensive on Idlib - the last area of the country held by anti-government forces. The fighting has led to a humanitarian crisis in the province, and sparked fears of a direct military conflict between Russia and Turkey, a Nato member. Before the truce came into effect, Turkey said two of its soldiers had been killed in clashes with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces. Turkey said it had killed 21 Syrian troops and destroyed artillery pieces.

A RECKONING
The majority Netanyahu expected in the Knesset never materialized. But another majority pulled together to block an indicted politician like him from forming a government.
By Noga Tarnopolsky

JERUSALEM—An elated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu roared “this is the biggest victory of my life!”—but that was Monday. By Thursday, his voice hoarse, a tired Netanyahu growled, “We won’t let them steal the election!” In the words of Netanyahu’s centrist rival and Israel’s probable next prime minister, Benny Gantz, “Someone here celebrated too early.” Then came a remarkable cascade of bad news for Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving prime minister, and its first to be indicted while in office. Avigdor Lieberman, his onetime defense minister and now a fearsome nemesis, announced his support for a law proposed by Gantz, a former army chief of staff, which would bar an indicted legislator from being appointed to form the government. Such a law would eliminate any route to immediate political survival for Netanyahu, whose trial in three separate cases of bribery, fraud and breach of trust is scheduled to open in Jerusalem District Court on March 17. In an almost unseen instance of Israeli multi-partisanship that Israeli media call “the anti-Bibi coalition,” this law enjoys the support of 62 members of the 120-member Knesset, from the majority-Arab Joint List through the left-wing Labor Party, and now, unto Lieberman, a hardline secular right-winger. Further, Lieberman, who holds seven potentially king-making Knesset seats, announced that he would recommend Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin choose Gantz to form the next government. It is the third election in under a year in which Netanyahu—and Gantz—have failed to secure an operating majority of the Knesset, but for Netanyahu the stakes are higher.

So far, the evidence suggests that Iran’s recent actions are calculated to pressure the Trump administration and Europe rather than rushing for a bomb.
By David E. Sanger and William J. Broad

WASHINGTON — Iran’s growing stockpile of nuclear fuel recently crossed a critical threshold, according to a report issued Tuesday by international inspectors: For the first time since President Trump abandoned the 2015 nuclear deal, Tehran appears to have enough enriched uranium to produce a single nuclear weapon, though it would take months or years to manufacture a warhead and deliver it over long distances. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors nuclear capabilities and reports to the United Nations, also documented for the first time how Iran’s leadership blocked its inspectors from visiting three critical sites where there was evidence of past nuclear activity. The agency’s newly appointed director, Rafael Mariano Grossi, an Argentine diplomat who has spent most of his life working on nuclear issues, said it was urgent for “Iran immediately to cooperate fully with the agency” by allowing it access to the sites, and to answer additional questions “related to possible undeclared nuclear material and nuclear-related activities.” In response, Iran said it rejected the agency’s new rounds of questions because it had been cleared of responsibility to answer for its nuclear past. Iran, the report quoted Tehran as saying, “will not recognize any allegation on past activities and does not consider itself obliged to respond to such allegations.” Taken together, the findings and the demand for more intrusive inspections take the standoff between Washington and Tehran into new territory. Mr. Trump’s decision to abandon what he called a “terrible” deal has backfired for now. Iran has moved from complying with the accord’s strict limits on uranium production to beginning to rebuild its stockpile.

A contempt hearing for the firm linked to ‘Putin’s chef” produces prickly exchanges between the defense and the judge.
By JOSH GERSTEIN

The Justice Department signaled Monday that it could back away from plans to put a Russian company on trial next month on a criminal charge that it bankrolled online and offline troll activity during the 2016 U.S. presidential race. During a court hearing in Washington, a prosecutor questioned whether the firm linked to an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin — Concord Management and Consulting — was sufficiently involved in the American legal process to demand a trial on the criminal conspiracy charge obtained by special counsel Robert Mueller in 2018 as part of a broader indictment of Russian companies and individuals. Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Jed, who served on Mueller's staff and is still assigned to the case, said Concord's defiance of a court-approved subpoena raised doubts about its commitment to the U.S. trial. "We're starting to have some concern about whether Concord is really participating in this case," Jed told U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich. "We envision a possible situation where it would not be either possible or prudent to adhere to the current trial schedule." Screening of potential jurors for the trial has already begun. Potential jurors are scheduled to appear in court April 1 with the trial set to begin in earnest the following week. Friedrich seemed startled by Jed's suggestion of a postponement, although she indicated earlier in the half-hour-long hearing that she was frustrated with the company's limited response to a subpoena seeking various documents about its corporate structure, calendars of key personnel and internet use. The judge, an appointee of President Donald Trump, said she was highly suspect of Concord's failure to provide any documents in response to a request for the internet addresses the company used over a four-year period. Prosecutors say the firm's response was so lacking that the company should be held in contempt of court.

Why prisoner swaps are hindering an intra-Afghan peace deal.
By Alex Ward

President Donald Trump’s vaunted Afghanistan peace deal has already hit a major roadblock, increasing the chance it could fall apart and kickstart a new round of violence. The US signed two agreements over the weekend: one just with the Taliban, the hardline Islamist group that formerly ran the country and which the US has been fighting against since 2001; and the other a declaration with the Afghan government. Under the US-Taliban agreement, the US will gradually withdraw its 12,000 service members in exchange for a Taliban commitment to neither aid nor harbor terrorists, as well as to exchange prisoners, and to enter into talks with the US-backed Afghan government. Taliban members will also receive sanctions relief as part of the deal. But, critically, the agreement also stipulates that Afghanistan’s government and the Taliban must both release political prisoners before talks between the two sides can start on March 10 in Norway. Those discussions were always going to be very tricky, because the insurgents reject Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s administration as an American puppet with little control outside the capital. The discussions are being made even harder by the prisoner swap requirement, which says the government must release up to 5,000 Taliban fighters and the Taliban must free up to 1,000 Afghan security forces. The militant group has long pushed for this, mainly because it would help build up its ranks, but Kabul fiercely rejects the idea.

By Nasser Karimi and Jon Gambrell / AP

(TEHRAN, Iran) — A member of a council that advises Iran’s supreme leader died Monday after falling sick from the new coronavirus, state radio reported, becoming the first top official to succumb to the illness that is affecting members of the Islamic Republic’s leadership. Expediency Council member Mohammad Mirmohammadi died at a Tehran hospital of the virus, state radio said. He was 71. The council advises Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as settles disputes between the supreme leader and parliament. His death comes as other top officials have contracted the virus in Iran, which has the highest death toll in the world after China, the epicenter of the outbreak. Those sick included include Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar, better known as “Sister Mary,” the English-speaking spokeswoman for the students who seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and sparked the 444-day hostage crisis, state media reported. Also sick is Iraj Harirchi, the head of an Iranian government task force on the coronavirus who tried to downplay the virus before falling ill. Iran has reported 978 confirmed cases of the new virus with 54 deaths from the illness it causes, called COVID-19. Across the wider Mideast, there are over 1,150 cases of the new coronavirus, the majority of which are linked back to Iran.

By Jay Croft, CNN

(CNN) Italy reported a 50% increase in coronavirus cases Sunday, as the US further restricted travel and the famed La Scala opera house closed.
Italy's Civil Protection Authority reported the county now has 1,694 confirmed coronavirus cases, up from 1,128 confirmed cases on Saturday. Thirty-four people have died. Italy has the most coronavirus cases of any country outside of Asia. Delta Air Lines is suspending its US flights to Milan, the carrier announced Sunday. The last flight out will be depart New York on Monday. The last return flight will be on Tuesday. Delta said it will resume flights to Milan on May 1. Rome flights are not affected.

Concerns affecting cultural institutions
In Milan, the La Scala opera house will be closed until March 8, according to a notice on its official website. "In relation to the diffusion of the coronavirus, the prime minister has decreed the suspension of all events and initiatives and of all meeting in public places, including cultural ones, until Sunday 8 March," says a notice on the opera house's website. "In compliance with these provisions, all performances and events open to the public at La Scala until 8 March are cancelled," it said.

By Daniel Estrin

After two failed tries, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is campaigning aggressively to win another term on Monday. It'll be the country's unprecedented third election in less than a year. Netanyahu is Israel's longest-serving prime minister ever, in office for more than a decade. He has led the country as it turned politically further to the right during a period of economic growth. He hardened Israel's policies toward the Palestinians and became a leading ally of President Trump, who has sweetened Netanyahu's reelection campaign with diplomatic gestures and Oval Office photo ops. Now Netanyahu is fighting to hang on under a cloud of corruption charges. To solidify his grip on power, Netanyahu called April elections, in which he failed to win enough support in parliament to form a new government. So he orchestrated a repeat vote — a stunning blitz to block the centrist candidate, retired Gen. Benny Gantz, from taking his job. In the second elections, neither Netanyahu's Likud party nor Gantz's Blue and White coalition had enough votes to form a government, and they couldn't agree on a power-sharing deal. Now Israelis are being dragged into a third exasperating round of elections.

Why's it so hard to form a government?
Eight main parties or coalitions of parties are vying for votes in Israel's legislative elections, and none is expected to win a majority of parliament's 120 seats. Whichever front-runner can form a majority coalition with other parties is the victor. For years, Netanyahu has managed to stay in office by partnering with mostly right-wing and religious Jewish parties. A slightly larger share of Israelis has voted for those parties in the past year. But one right-wing party, led by former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, no longer supports Netanyahu, leaving the incumbent without a majority. Netanyahu has acted as interim prime minister while election after election has been inconclusive. Meanwhile, Gantz hasn't been able to muster his own center-left majority in parliament. Hence the political standoff.

By Jessie Yeung, Brett McKeehan and Amy Woodyatt, CNN

2 more coronavirus cases confirmed in Washington

From CNN's Melissa Alonso
Seattle & King County Public Health "announced on Sunday two more confirmed cases of COVID-19 in King County residents, bringing the total of confirmed cases" in the county to six, and eight in the state, according to a Seattle & King County Public Health press release. The two new cases are both males in their 60s with underlying health conditions. One is "in critical but stable condition" at Valley Medical Center in Renton. The other is in critical condition at Virginia Mason Medical Center, the release said. "This number is expected to rise as more people are tested and results confirmed," according to the release. A spokesperson for Washington Public Health said they were aware of the new cases.

Bloomberg News

Italy reported a 50% surge in new coronavirus cases as deaths reached 34 while the U.S. and Japan issued “do-not-travel” warnings for affected regions of Italy and South Korea. A major energy industry gathering in Houston was canceled, the latest large-scale event scrapped over virus concerns. The Louvre in Paris was closed all day. The U.S., Australia and Thailand reported fatalities. The U.S. will speed distribution of tests to help states diagnose the illness. Middle East markets slumped as more cases were announced.

Key Developments
   Iran infections almost double; cases in Spain jump
   South Korea added 586 cases, taking total to 3,736 with 18 deaths
   First U.S. death in Washington State as governor declares emergency
   China reported 35 new deaths -- the lowest in three days
   Czech Republic reports first cases

Follow the latest data on COVID-19 cases and deaths caused by the disease.
By Peter Aldhous BuzzFeed News Reporter

COVID-19, the disease caused by a novel coronavirus first identified late last year in Wuhan, China, is spreading across the globe. The charts and maps below will update automatically with the latest data compiled from WHO and other sources by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Toggle between the Total cases, New cases, and Deaths tabs to track the coronavirus outbreak. The New Cases tab shows what experts call the “epidemic curve,” in which the number of cases newly diagnosed each day typically rises over time and then falls. New case numbers have already declined in China, where stringent quarantine measures were put in place to try and limit the spread from the initial epicenter of COVID-19 in Wuhan. The big question is what will happen now that the virus has started to spread from person to person in other countries.

Conspiracy theories that claim powerful actors are plotting something sinister to do with the virus have the potential to be just as dangerous for societies as the outbreak itself.
By Daniel Jolley and Pia Lamberty The Conversation

The novel coronavirus continues to spread around the world, with new cases being reported all the time. Spreading just as fast, it seems, are conspiracy theories that claim powerful actors are plotting something sinister to do with the virus. Our research into medical conspiracy theories shows that this has the potential to be just as dangerous for societies as the outbreak itself. One conspiracy theory proposes that the coronavirus is actually a bio-weapon engineered by the CIA as a way to wage war on China. Others are convinced that the UK and US governments introduced the coronavirus as a way to make money from a potential vaccine. Although many of these conspiracy theories seem far-fetched, the belief that evil powers are pursuing a secret plan is widespread in every society. Often these relate to health. A large 2019 YouGov poll found 16% of respondents in Spain believe that HIV was created and spread around the world on purpose by a secret group or organisation. And 27% of French and 12% of British respondents were convinced that “the truth about the harmful effects of vaccines is being deliberately hidden from the public”. The spread of fake news and conspiracy theories around the coronavirus is such a significant problem that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has created a “myth busters” webpage to try and tackle them.

Spread of conspiracy theories
Research shows that conspiracy theories have a tendency to arise in relation to moments of crisis in society – like terrorist attacks, rapid political changes or economic crisis. Conspiracy theories bloom in periods of uncertainty and threat, where we seek to make sense of a chaotic world. These are the same conditions produced by virus outbreaks, which explains the spread of conspiracy theories in relation to coronavirus. Similar conditions occurred with the 2015-16 outbreak of Zika virus. Zika conspiracy theories proposed that the virus was a biological weapon rather than a natural occurrence. Research examining comments on Reddit during the Zika virus outbreak found conspiracy talk emerged as a way for people to cope with the extreme uncertainty they felt over Zika.


BERLIN (Reuters) - The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany has jumped to 117 from 66, the Robert Koch Institute for disease control said on Sunday. A German government crisis committee has widened cross-border travel guidelines and canceled major international events, and the health minister has advised people with cold symptoms to stay away from mass events. More than half of the cases are in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state where several schools and daycare centers will be closed on Monday to try to prevent the spread of the virus after staff members tested positive.

Government never committed to set free 5,000 Taliban prisoners as a precondition for talks with the group, says Ghani.

A landmark deal between the United States and Taliban aimed at ending the US's longest war may already be facing obstacles as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced that his government had not agreed to a clause set out in the deal. Ghani objected to arrangements within the deal that would see the Afghan government release 5,000 Taliban prisoners as a condition for direct talks between the armed group and the government. "The government of Afghanistan has made no commitment to free 5,000 Taliban prisoners," President Ghani told reporters in Kabul on Sunday, a day after the accord was signed in Qatar's capital, Doha. After 18 months of negotiations and nearly 20 years of war, the US and the Taliban signed an agreement set to pave the way for the withdrawal of all US and NATO troops from Afghanistan and a commitment by the Taliban that Afghan territory will not be used to launch attacks on other countries. There are high hopes that the agreement will be followed by intra-Afghan talks between all major stakeholders and aiming to chart a course for peace in the country. The Taliban had long refused to sit down with the Afghan government, calling it a "puppet regime". The four-part agreement sets March 10 as the date for an intra-Afghan dialogue with Ghani's government as well as a prisoner-swap which would see the government release 5,000 Taliban prisoners and the Taliban release 1,000 captives. However, Ghani said: "It is not in the authority of the United States to decide, they are only a facilitator". Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from Kabul, said: "What we are seeing now are actually all the problems that were existing before coming to the surface again today."

The military deployed troops to the northern border with Turkey, and automated text messages told migrants not to cross over. But many ignored the warnings.
By Matina Stevis-Gridneff

ORESTIADA, Greece — Greece deployed additional military forces to the country’s northern border with Turkey on Sunday to fortify the area and to repel a stream of migrants after Turkey opened the floodgates to the European Union over the weekend. Military officials would not say how many additional troops were being deployed, but they confirmed that they were stepping up joint military and police operations along the border. Dozens of military vehicles were seen moving toward various outposts along the 120-mile-long border with Turkey. Groups of army officers in uniform appeared on  Sunday morning in the small Greek town of Orestiada, which is close to the frontier, before heading toward the border. Two army officers said they had been brought in overnight from other parts of the country. The fortification of the border came after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey confirmed on Saturday that he was opening Turkey’s border for migrants to enter Europe, saying that his country could no longer handle the huge numbers of people fleeing the war in Syria.

Neither Benjamin Netanyahu nor opponent Benny Gantz are likely to break political deadlock
By Oliver Holmes

Israelis are due to vote on Monday in the country’s third election in 12 months, with many worried the result will be just as inconclusive as previous rounds, extending a painful political stalemate deep into 2020. After two failed attempts to form a government, the country has been plunged into limbo, run by an interim administration without powers to pass significant legislation or even a budget. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is – once again – facing off against his former army chief of staff, Benny Gantz. Polls still suggest that neither side will have enough seats in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, to end the crisis. The country may be dragged into yet another months-long election cycle. While politicians bicker, Israel has remained on autopilot, and the stasis has already affected state-funded projects, not only building roads and classrooms, but also vital charity work. Lior Finkel Perl, who heads an umbrella organisation for non-profit organisations (NGOs), the Israeli Civic Leadership Association, said the lack of a 2020 budget meant that no new government contracts had been handed out, while ongoing projects were also facing severe delays in getting funds, even cancelling some services due to the unpredictability. “Basically, what happened is a lot of services that are very important are either being reduced or are being cut,” she said. “You can see it in different organisations that are dealing with important issues: those that are helping people in need; shelters for women who suffer from violence; organisations that are doing extra-curricular activities after school.” The biggest issue, she said, was that NGOs could not plan ahead as it was not clear when the political crisis would end. “It’s a lost year.”


Turkey shot down two Syrian fighter jets on Sunday as it intensified military action in northern Syria. The pilots parachuted to safety over Idlib province, where Turkish troops and rebels have been clashing with Syrian government forces. Turkey, which backs the opposition, said it had also targeted Syrian air defence systems and dozens of tanks. Tensions in Idlib escalated sharply last week when at least 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike. The incident sparked fears of a major escalation involving Turkey and Syria's main military ally, Russia. But, on Sunday, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said the country did not want conflict with Russia. "We expect Russia to stop the regime's attacks," he said in a televised statement. "We don't have the desire or intention to clash with Russia." Mr Akar dubbed the latest operation against the Syrian army "Spring Shield". He said it had destroyed a drone, eight helicopters, 103 tanks, as well as rocket launchers and other military equipment. He added that 2,212 members of the Syrian forces had been "neutralised", a term used to mean killed, wounded or captured. But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based war monitor, said 74 Syrian government troops and pro-Damascus fighters had been killed since 27 February.


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