The US coronavirus crisis took a sharp political turn on Friday as President Donald Trump lashed out at four Democratic governors over their handling of the pandemic after having conceded that states bear ultimate control of restrictions to contain the outbreak.
The Republican president targeted three swing states critical to his re-election bid – Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia – where his conservative loyalists have mounted pressure campaigns challenging those governors’ stay-at-home orders.
Amplifying a theme that his supporters have trumpeted this week in street protests at the state capitals of Lansing, St. Paul, and Richmond, Trump issued a series of matching Twitter posts touting the slogans: “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA!”
Michigan has become a particular focus of agitation to relax social-distancing rules that rank among the strictest in the nation after Governor Gretchen Whitmer, widely seen as a potential running mate for presumed Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, extended them through the end of April.
Protesters defying the restrictions from the steps of the state Capitol on Wednesday shouted “lock her up,” a chant that was a staple of Mr Trump’s campaign rallies and originally referred to his 2016 Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
Mr Trump this Monday claimed he had “total” authority to set the pace of where and when the coronavirus lockdown ends.
With Thursday’s announcement, he gave up on that, saying the 50 state governors will have full control.
Some saw this as a retreat. But political analysts also say Mr Trump wanted the benefit of the big White House announcement while shielding himself from what could be a messy process ahead of election day.
With Mr Trump standing back, this means the onus will rest with people like Governor Andrew Cuomo in New York, Ron DeSantis in Florida, Gavin Newsom in California, and Greg Abbott in Texas.
Mr Trump will be on the sidelines, supporting or in some cases castigating, as he did Friday when he berated Cuomo for “ridiculously” demanding federal help to get tens of thousands of ventilators.
Even the decision whether or not to keep up the quarantines is becoming a bitter left-right issue in radically partisan America.
A grassroots anti-lockdown movement with strong links to Mr Trump’s right-wing base has mounted protests in several Democrat-run states.
On Wednesday, a large protest erupted in the Michigan capital, Lansing. Demonstrators clogged streets with cars, while a group toting rifles and handguns paraded on the steps of the legislature.
On Friday, hundreds of protesters were reported to have gathered outside the home of the Minnesota governor. On Thursday, other frustrated Americans protested in Virginia.
Here is Some More about Latest Development about CoronaVirus
The United States on Friday passed 700,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, according to a tally maintained by Johns Hopkins University.
With the highest number of cases and deaths of any country in the world, the US had recorded 700,282 cases of Covid-19 and 36,773 deaths as of 8:30 pm Friday (4.30am Saturday, UAE), according to the Baltimore-based university.
That marked an increase of 3,856 deaths in the past 24 hours, but that figure likely includes “probable” virus-linked deaths, which had not previously been counted.
This week, New York City said it would add 3,778 “probable” virus deaths to its official count.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave a toll Friday night of 33,049 dead, including 4,226 probable virus-linked deaths.
The United States has seen the highest death toll in the world in the coronavirus pandemic, ahead of Italy (22,745 deaths) although its population is just a fifth of that of the US.
Spain has recorded 19,478 deaths, followed by France with 18,681.
The worldwide death toll from the novel coronavirus pandemic rose to 150,142 on Friday, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 1900 GMT (11pm UAE).
More than 2,207,730 declared cases have been registered in 193 countries and territories since the epidemic first emerged in China in December.
Of these cases, at least 483,000 are now considered to have recovered.
The tallies, using data collected by AFP from national authorities and information from the World Health Organization (WHO), probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections.
Many countries are testing only the most serious cases.
In the United States, now the epicentre of the pandemic, the death toll stood at 34,575 with 683,786 infections. At least 56,546 patients have recovered.
Italy is the next most-affected country with 22,745 deaths and 172,434 confirmed infections.
It is followed by Spain with 19,478 fatalities and 188,068 confirmed infections, France with 18,681 deaths and 147,969 infections and Britain with 14,576 deaths and 108,692 cases.
China — excluding Hong Kong and Macau — has to date declared 4,632 deaths and 82,367 cases.
Europe has listed 1,100,677 cases and 96,721 deaths to date; the US and Canada together have 715,428 cases with 35,929 deaths; Asia 157,131 cases with 6,801 deaths; the Middle East 117,953 cases with 5,371 deaths; Latin America and the Caribbean 89,460 cases with 4,242 deaths; Africa 19,296 cases with 995 deaths; and Oceania 7,785 cases with 83 deaths.
The World Bank Group (WBG) is expected to launch health emergency programs in over 100 countries by the end of April to support the fight against COVID-19, with 64 already in operation, President David Malpass said Friday.
The WBG will work to deploy as much as $160 billion over the next 15 months, tailored to the nature of the health, economic and social shocks that countries are facing during the pandemic, Malpass told a virtual press conference during the Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the WBG.
Other multilateral development banks (MDBs), such as Asian Development Bank, and Inter-American Development Bank, have committed as a group to roughly $80 billion over this period, bringing the total funding from MDBs to 240 billion dollars, Malpass said.
The World Bank president said he is pleased that Group of Twenty (G20) countries have recently decided to provide a suspension in debt service to bilateral creditors during the crisis, calling it “a powerful fast-acting initiative that can bring real benefits to the poor.”
Noting that China is one of the big creditors, Malpass said China’s support in the international agreement to allow a moratorium of debt repayments for the poorest countries is “important” and was “very welcome.”
In response to a question from Xinhua regarding protectionism amid the pandemic, Malpass said big countries need to step forward and pledge not to use the crisis as a reason to close or block the markets.
“We should allow markets to function, markets to clear and the supplies to go to those most in need,” said the World Bank president, adding that China is exporting medical supplies to the rest of the world, which is “very welcome.”
Shortly before the briefing, a meeting of the Development Committee, the joint ministerial committee of the boards of governors of the WBG and the IMF, also urged countries to keep trade open.
The committee “ask that all countries ensure the flow of vital medical supplies, critical agricultural products, and other goods and services across borders, and that they work to resolve disruptions to the global supply chains, to support the recovery,” it said in a statement.
The committee also urged the two institutions to work with countries to design and implement policies and programs that help lift the poorest households out of poverty and support small businesses.
The policy-setting body of the IMF on Thursday also pledged collective action to mitigate the health and economic impact of Covid-19.
“The fund has revamped the fund’s toolkit by doubling access levels to emergency facilities, expanding the use of precautionary lines, establishing a new short-term liquidity line, and considering other options to help countries meet their financing needs,” Lesetja Kganyago, International Monetary and Financial Committee chairman, told a news conference on Thursday.
The move came after G20 finance ministers and central bankers on Wednesday agreed to “support a time-bound suspension of debt service payments for the poorest countries that request forbearance” following a teleconference meeting
“Just seeing how the G20 united around debt standstill for the poorest members gives me that confidence that whatever is necessary, we will collectively do in the face of this tremendous crisis,” IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said Wednesday.
Two NASA astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut on Friday made a safe return from the International Space Station to find a “different planet,” transformed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Andrew Morgan, Jessica Meir and Oleg Skripochka touched down in central Kazakhstan at 0516 GMT (9.16am UAE) in the first returning mission since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a global pandemic in March.
Morgan had been on the ISS since July last year, while Meir and Skripochka arrived in September.
“TOUCHDOWN! Welcome home, Oleg Skripochka, Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir!” Russia’s Roscosmos space agency wrote on Twitter.
Unusually, NASA and Roscosmos did not show live footage of the trio parachuting down in their Soyuz landing capsule.
This was scrapped “due to technical limitations associated with the epidemiologicalsituation,” Roscosmos said.
Subsequent footage from the landing site showed recovery crews wearing face masks and rubber gloves as they hauled the crew members out of the Soyuz MS-15 capsule, which was lying on its side.
“Please keep your distance,” one ground crew member could be heard telling another.
While the trio’s landing site southeast of the Kazakh town of Dzhezkazgan is the same as for previous crews, the pandemic has forced changes to mission-end protocol.
The crew will not be flying back home via Kazakhstan’s Karaganda airport as usual because it has been shut down, like so many other airports across the world.
Instead, Skripochka will fly from the Baikonur cosmodrome used to launch missions to the ISS while the NASA duo will take off in a plane from the steppe city of Kyzlorda after a drive of several hours.
“Quite a ride home from @Space_Station today,” Meir tweeted late on Friday.
“We’ve returned to a different planet, but it remains a spectacular one.”
Prior to departure, Meir said it would be difficult to forego embraces with family and friends as she gets to grips with a new culture of physical distancing on Earth.
“I think I will feel more isolated on Earth than here,” reflected Meir, who made history as one half of the first all-women spacewalk along with NASA colleague Christina Koch in October.
– End to Russian monopoly –
While the astronauts’ home planet fights the global battle against Covid-19, the ISS is also entering a new era as it prepares to welcome the first crew flown by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company as early as next month.
NASA has said that the SpaceX flight taking NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS could launch as early as the second half of May, ending Russia’s near decade-long monopoly on manned missions to the ISS from its Baikonur launchpad.
After blasting off from the Kennedy Space Centre, the pair will spend two to three months aboard the orbital lab, interrupting the usual rhythm aboard the ISS, where missions typically last around six months or longer.
They will be met by Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner of Roscosmos and NASA’s Chris Cassidy, who arrived at the ISS from Baikonur on April 9, the first new crew members to join after the pandemic began.
The International Space Station — a rare example of cooperation between Russia and the West — has been orbiting Earth at about 28,000 kilometres per hour (17,000 miles per hour) since 1998.
Saudi Arabia, the current G20 chair, said it has pledged $500 million to support global efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic and urged other countries and organisations to help bridge a $8 billion financing gap.
Riyadh said it would allocate $150 million to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation, $150 million to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations, and $200 million to other health organisations and programmes.
In a statement, it called on all countries, non-governmental organisations, philanthropies and the private sector to help close a financing gap estimated at over $8 billion to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
China, meanwhile, acknowledged that the coronavirus death toll in the one-time epicentre city of Wuhan was nearly 50 per cent higher than reported, underscoring just how seriously the official numbers of infections and deaths around the world may be understating the dimensions of the disaster.
Such figures can have a huge influence on governments’ actions, as medical staff struggle to figure out how to cope with surges of sick people and officials make crucial decisions about where to devote resources and how to begin easing lockdowns to resuscitate their economy.
As virus deaths mounted – the economic devastation from the restrictions is becoming even more shocking.
China’s economy shrank 6.8 per cent in the quarter ending in March compared with the same period a year ago, its worst contraction since market-style economic reforms began in 1979. And in Europe, car sales tanked 55 per cent last month. – Reuters, AP
Remdesivir, a drug originally developed to treat Ebola patients is showing great promise in the fight against Covid-19. The experimental drug has cleared Phase 3 of clinical trials.
Gilead, the company that manufactures the medication is positive and said it would wait for more data from trials to confirm its efficacy and safety. But the way these trials are going in the drug’s favour, it could well be approved for use in patients within months.
During the latest Phase 3 trials at the University of Chicago, 125 patients with Covid-19 were selected; 113 of these patients had severe disease, and were given daily infusions of the experimental drug. “The best news is that most of our patients have already been discharged, which is great. We’ve only had two patients perish,” said Kathleen Mullane, the University of Chicago specialist who conducted the trials.
Gilead CEO and Chairman, Daniel O’Day, however, is more circumspect. “In studying remdesivir, the question is not just whether it is safe and effective against Covid-19 but in which patients it shows activity, how long should they receive treatment and at what stage of their disease would treatment be most beneficial. Many answers are needed, which is why we need multiple types of studies involving many types of patients.”
As you read this, a unique exchange of positive words and stories is taking place in the world. People have rediscovered the joy of writing letters, to instill hope during these testing times. “We turned one of our existing projects, Letter Earthlings, which included writing letters to strangers into a digital activity called Letters in the Time of Corona. People can now request for letters for loved ones who are going through a tough time,” says Sonia Parekh, co-founder of Goodwill Tribe, a non-profit based in India.
So far, they’ve received three letter requests and five letter writers from the UAE. You can request a letter for yourself too, or sign up as a volunteer writer. Once you submit the letter, it will be scanned and sent to the recipient. “It’s our chance to build gratitude and kindness. There’s no better way to connect with another person than sending them a letter to tell them they aren’t alone,” says Shweta Mayekar, a Dubai-based student, a volunteer. So, what should one write? “The letters must be positive and motivating with the simple aim to spread smiles,” says Sonia.
Italian health officials cheered Friday after the number of people currently being treated for Covid-19 rose by only a few hundred for the first time since the outbreak began.
Figures from the civil protection service showed the number of those receiving hospital care or recovering at home under medical supervision rising by 355 to 106,962 on Friday.
But the figure outside the outbreak’s Italian epicentre in Milan’s norther region of Lombardy went up by just 11 cases.
It went up by 344 in Lombardy itself.
The number had been rising by at least 1,000 a day nationally for over a month.
“In absolute terms, we have had had the highest number of recoveries since the start of the crisis,” civil protection service chief Angelo Berrelli told reporters.
Italy’s official death toll still rose by another 575 fatalities Friday to 22,745 — second-most after the United States.
The number of people currently suffering from Covid-19 is counted separately from the number of new officially registered infections.
That number rose by 3,493 on Friday — about the same as it has been all week.
The generally improving picture prompted the civil protection service to announce that it was suspending daily briefings and moving to a twice-a-week format.
New tolls will still be issued daily.
– Waiting for green light –
The Italian government is waiting for the green light from leading doctors to start lifting an economically devastating lockdown that has left millions furloughed and unemployed.
The current restrictions are due to expire on May 4 and the government is planning to partially lift stay-at-home orders in regions where new cases have sharply dropped.
The government’s public health council chief Franco Locatelli hinted Friday that regions south of Rome may be allowed to resume something resembling their old way of life next month.
“We have prevented the spread of contagions in southern regions. This is now a fact supported by (Friday’s) figures,” Locatelli said.
But the scale to which businesses are allowed to open across the economically vital north will be determined by the number of deaths and recoveries reported over the coming days.
Italy is still digging though data from individual regions to determine the health and economic effects of its worst crisis since World War II.
Previously undisclosed figures from its public health institute revealed that nearly 17,000 medics have been infected with the virus since Italy’s first Covid-19 death was recorded on February 21.
Several Italian doctors have expressed fears that infected health care workers may have been unwittingly spreading the disease to their patients in the early weeks of the outbreak.
A study released Thursday by the FNOMCeO medical association said Covid-19 has killed 125 doctors in Italy.
Media reports Friday said that at least 34 nurses have also died of the disease.
Doctors believe that Italy’s real number of deaths could be double the official figure in some of the worst-hit provinces around Milan.