Friends, foes see opening in helping virus-hit US
Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, Serdar Kilic, waits as a Turkish cargo plane carrying COVID-19 relief supplies is unloaded at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington in April 2020
The aid shipment marks part of an effort to reach out broadly to the United States after Erdogan „put all its eggs in Trump’s basket,” said Gonul Tol, director of the Turkey program at the Middle East Institute.
„I’m sure there is an understanding in Ankara that this could be Trump’s final year,” Tol said, while adding: „Turkey’s problems with the US are too deep to be resolved by this PR campaign.”
– Lasting damage to US? –
The last time the United States received such wide assistance was after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans in 2005.
The then administration of George W. Bush also decided largely to accept all aid regardless of politics, although it refused an offer of doctors from Cuba.
Cull, the scholar of public diplomacy, said it was striking how little of Washington’s own COVID-19 assistance gets noticed by Americans, who are more likely to oppose exporting aid at a time of need.
The State Department says the US government has committed $775 million in overseas pandemic assistance.
But Trump has also vowed to freeze funding for the World Health Organization, which is at the frontlines of the crisis and receives more than $400 million in US money each year, for alleged bias toward China.
Cull expected that Trump’s „America First” approach, coupled with scenes of COVID-19 devastation within the country, would bring lasting damage to the US reputation.
„It’s like a country with a terrible navy having to fight a naval war. Everybody knows that, for all the wonderful things in the United States, health care is a problem.”
Many people may still admire US products or universities, but „they are certainly not going to admire the American government in the way they have historically.”
The Senate will reopen on Monday as the coronavirus crisis rages and the House of Representatives stays shut, an approach that leaves Congress as divided as the nation.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to convene 100 senators at the Capitol during a pandemic gives his fellow Republican Donald Trump the imagery he wants of America getting back to work, despite health worries and a lack of testing.
Yet the Washington region remains under stay-at-home orders as a virus hot spot. Gathering senators for the first time since March puts at risk not only politicians but the cooks, cleaners, police officers and other workers who keep the lights on at the Capitol complex.
“We will continue to stand together for the American people — even as we stand six feet apart,” Mr McConnell said ahead of the opening.
President Trump himself offered Congress access to the instant virus test system used to screen visitors to the White House.
But in an extraordinary rebuff, Mr McConnell and Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement on Saturday they would “respectfully decline” the offer and instead direct resources to the front lines “where they can do the most good”.
No reason to turn it down, except politics. We have plenty of testing. Maybe you need a new Doctor over there. Crazy Nancy will use it as an excuse not to show up to work! https://twitter.com/senatemajldr/status/1237391198328745984 …
The time is now for all Americans to engage in basic common-sense measures, and for Americans at heightened risk to take additional precautions. The experts’ detailed recommendations for individuals, families, and employers are available online at http://Coronavirus.gov .
For Senate Republicans, returning to session is an attempt to set the terms of debate as Democrats push for another costly coronavirus relief bill.
Frustrated after Ms Pelosi boosted Democratic priorities in earlier aid packages – an unprecedented $3 trillion (£2.4 trillion) in emergency spending – they are resisting more. Republicans are counting on the country’s reopening and an economic rebound as their best hope to limit a new round of big spending on virus aid.
As the Senate gavels in and the 430-member House stays away on the Capitol physician’s advice, the Congress provides a snapshot of divided America struggling to confront the Covid-19 crisis. Some states are reopening, others are staying closed and questions abound.
Senators face few new rules for operating in the pandemic beyond the recommendations that they wear masks — blue face coverings will be available for free — keep their distance and leave most staff at home.
Hand sanitiser is back in stock but public access will be limited, including at public hearings. The Capitol itself remains closed to visitors and tours.
Democrats complain they are returning to a noticeably light agenda, packed with confirmation hearings for Mr Trump’s judicial and executive branch nominees, but with little emphasis on the pandemic and Great Depression-level economic collapse.
“Democrats are going to fight like hell,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said on a conference call with Latino community leaders.
“We’re going to make sure people have enough money to live and get back on their feet.”
In making his snap decision to return, Mr McConnell said the Senate could not “sit on the sidelines”. He compared the senators to the essential work force of grocery clerks, truck drivers and others keeping Americans fed during the crisis.
But Capitol Hill erupted in the days after the attending physician, facing questions from top Republican officials, said the health office did not have the means to perform instant virus tests on returning lawmakers.
The Democrats are just, as always, looking for trouble. They do nothing constructive, even in times of crisis. They don’t want to blame their cash cow, China, for the plague. China is blaming Europe. Dr. Fauci will be testifying before the Senate very soon! #DONOTHINGDEMOCRATS https://twitter.com/markknoller/status/1256682853431160832 …
.@PressSec accuses House Approp Chair @NitaLowey of staging a „publicity stunt” by asking for testimony from Dr. Anthony Fauci at a hearing on HHS funding. McEnany says Lowey failed to explain request to WH Chief of Staff @MarkMeadows, who approved Fauci for a Senate hearing.
On Saturday, Mr Trump stepped in, tweeting: “There is tremendous CoronaVirus testing capacity in Washington for the Senators returning to Capital Hill on Monday.”
Ninety minutes later, Health Secretary Alex Azar tweeted that the administration would be sending three machines and 1,000 virus tests to Capitol Hill.
In the rare joint statement, the congressional leaders said Congress would use the existing protocols from the Capitol physician “until these speedier technologies become more widely available”.
Hours later Mr Trump tweeted a response that insulted Ms Pelosi but did not mention Mr McConnell, saying: “No reason to turn it down, except politics. We have plenty of testing. Maybe you need a new Doctor over there. Crazy Nancy will use it as an excuse not to show up to work!”
The haphazard approach — to testing, health guidelines and the broader reopening — is what Democrats say is inadequate in the Republican response to the crisis.
With more than 65,000 US deaths due to the virus and 30 million Americans suddenly unemployed, Democratic senators say the focus needs to be singular — to ease this crisis and prevent a second wave of infections.
“If we’re going to go back, let’s do something about Covid,” Mr Schumer said.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump moved Friday night to replace a top official at the Department of Health and Human Services who angered him with a report last month highlighting supply shortages and testing delays at hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic.
The White House waited until after business hours to announce the nomination of a new inspector general for the department who, if confirmed, would take over for Christi A. Grimm, the principal deputy inspector general who was publicly assailed by the president at a news briefing three weeks ago.
The nomination was the latest effort by Trump against watchdog offices around his administration that have defied him. In recent weeks, he fired an inspector general involved in the inquiry that led to the president’s impeachment, nominated a White House aide to another key inspector general post overseeing virus relief spending and moved to block still another inspector general from taking over as chairman of a pandemic spending oversight panel.
Trump has sought to assert more authority over his administration and clear out officials deemed insufficiently loyal in the three months since his Senate impeachment trial on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress ended in acquittal largely along party lines. While inspectors general are appointed by the president, they are meant to be semiautonomous watchdogs ferreting out waste, fraud and corruption in executive agencies.
The purge has continued unabated even during the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed about 65,000 lives in the U.S. Grimm’s case in effect merged the conflict over Trump’s response to the outbreak with his determination to sweep out those he perceives to be speaking out against him.
Her report, released last month and based on extensive interviews with hospitals around the country, identified critical shortages of supplies, revealing that hundreds of medical centers were struggling to obtain test kits, protective gear for staff members and ventilators. Trump was embarrassed by the report at a time he was already under fire for playing down the threat of the virus and not acting quickly enough to ramp up testing and provide equipment to doctors and nurses.
“It’s just wrong,” the president said when asked about the report on April 6. “Did I hear the word ‘inspector general’? Really? It’s wrong. And they’ll talk to you about it. It’s wrong.” He then sought to find out who wrote the report. “Where did he come from, the inspector general? What’s his name? No, what’s his name? What’s his name?”
When the reporter did not know, Trump insisted. “Well, find me his name,” the president said. “Let me know.” He expressed no interest in the report’s findings except to categorically reject them sight unseen.
After learning that Grimm had worked during President Barack Obama’s administration, Trump asserted that the report was politically biased. In fact, Grimm is not a political appointee but a career official who began working in the inspector general office late in President Bill Clinton’s administration and served under President George W. Bush as well as Obama. She took over the office in an acting capacity when the previous inspector general stepped down.
Trump was undaunted and attacked her on Twitter. “Why didn’t the I.G., who spent 8 years with the Obama Administration (Did she Report on the failed H1N1 Swine Flu debacle where 17,000 people died?), want to talk to the Admirals, Generals, V.P. & others in charge, before doing her report,” he wrote, mischaracterizing the government’s generally praised response the 2009 epidemic that actually killed about 12,000 in the U.S. “Another Fake Dossier!”
To take over as inspector general, Trump on Friday night named Jason C. Weida, an assistant U.S. attorney in Boston. The White House said in its announcement that he had “overseen numerous complex investigations in health care and other sectors.” He must be confirmed by the Senate before assuming the position.
Among several other nominations announced Friday was the president’s choice for a new ambassador to Ukraine, filling a position last occupied by Marie L. Yovanovitch.
Yovanovitch was ousted a year ago because she was seen as an obstacle by the president’s advisers as they tried to pressure the government in Kyiv to incriminate Trump’s Democratic rivals. That effort to solicit political benefit from Ukraine, while withholding security aid, led to Trump’s impeachment largely along party lines in December.
Trump selected Lt. Gen. Keith W. Dayton, a retired 40-year Army officer now serving as the director of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Germany. Dayton speaks Russian and served as defense attaché in Moscow. More recently, he served as a senior U.S. defense adviser in Ukraine appointed by Jim Mattis, Trump’s first defense secretary.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
© 2020 The New York Times Company
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- The Florida Department of Health has withheld coronavirus death data compiled by the state’s medical examiners for more than a week, the Tampa Bay Times reported on Wednesday.
- The health department prevented Florida’s medical examiners from publishing their death tally on their own after the Times found a discrepancy between their count and the department’s count, the report said.
- Dr. Stephen Nelson, the chairman of Florida’s Medical Examiners Commission, said state officials told him they would remove the cause of death and the case descriptions from the medical examiners’ death data, the Times reported.
- Last month, attorneys for the state health department unsuccessfully sought to withhold the Miami-Dade County medical examiner’s death data from the Miami Herald.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Florida’s Department of Health has stopped publishing the state’s medical examiners’ coronavirus death data after finding that their count was about 10% higher than the state’s official tally, the Tampa Bay Times reported on Wednesday.
The health department has withheld the medical examiners’ data for more than a week, according to the Times.
The Times reported that state officials said earlier this month that they wanted to review the data following the newspaper’s report about the discrepancy with medical examiners’ figures. But the Times said on Wednesday that they had not provided details on „what they plan to remove.”
The state health department is still releasing its own numbers, with less detail than the medical examiners’ data.
Dr. Stephen Nelson, the head of Florida’s Medical Examiners Commission, told the Times that state officials told him they would strike the cause of death and the case descriptions from the medical examiners’ tally, even though such information has always been in the public record.
„The State of Florida remains dedicated to providing Floridians with transparent information regarding COVID-19,” a health department spokesperson told Business Insider. „Medical examiner data is still included in DOH data as the Medical Examiner Commission reports it to the State.”
But Nelson said that without the cause of death or case descriptions, the medical examiners’ death toll cannot reflect the actual number of coronavirus deaths.
„This is no different than any other public record we deal with,” Nelson told the Times. „It’s paid for by taxpayer dollars and the taxpayers have a right to know.”
Some local medical examiners’ offices have continued to release their own tallies, according to the Times.
A spokesman for the health department told the Times that it was recently in talks with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement about „privacy concerns for the individuals that passed away related to COVID-19.” The medical examiners’ tally does not include names but does include other demographic information.
This may be the first time Florida officials have successfully withheld coronavirus death data, but it is not their first attempt to do so.
Last month, attorneys for the state health department tried to prevent the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner’s Office from providing death data to the Miami Herald, the Herald reported.
The Herald found through public records it obtained that Christine Lamia, a deputy general counsel for the health department, told Christopher Angell, an assistant county attorney, that the data should be withheld.
„As we discussed, it is the Department of Health’s position that the information requested in the request below should not be released as it is confidential and exempt from public record disclosure,” Lamia said in an email to Angell on April 2.
This article has been updated.
Read the original article on Business Insider
China has refused requests by the World Health Organization to take part in an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.
“We know that some national investigation is happening but at this stage we have not been invited to join,” Dr. Gauden Galea, WHO representative in China, toldÂ Sky News. “WHO is making requests of the health commission and of the authorities.”
The WHO and the U.S. intelligence community have concluded that the coronavirus is naturally-occurring and was not genetically engineered. However, U.S. officials suspect that the pathogen may have been accidentally from a lab, possibly the Wuhan Institute of Virology or the Wuhan Center for Disease Control.
Laboratory logs “would need to be part of any full report, any full look at the story of the origins,” Dr. Galea said. The WHO representative emphasized that “the origins of virus are very important, the animal-human interface is extremely important and needs to be studied. The priority is we need to know as much as possible to prevent the reoccurrence.”
U.S. officials and politicians have accused China of attempting to cover up the initial coronavirus outbreak. The White House has ordered intelligence agencies to compile evidence of a cover up.
President Trump has also halted U.S. funding to the WHO after accusing the organization of mishandling the outbreak and parroting Chinese propaganda regarding the coronavirus. Republicans on the House Oversight Committee have urged Democratic colleagues to investigate the WHO’s ties to China.
For the first time in seven weeks, Spanish adults can enjoy some fresh air beyond their brief walks to the grocery store.
Coronavirus restrictions continued to ease Saturday in some European countries, including Spain, one of the world’s hardest-hit nations. Adults were allowed outside to exercise for the first time in seven weeks, prompting runners and cyclists to hit the pavement, though social distancing guidelines remain in place. There are designated time slots for activity between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.
Spain has had more than 213,000 cases of COVID-19 with 24,543 deaths, but the rate of new infections and fatalities has slowed significantly during the lockdown. In another sign that things are improving, a field hospital set up by the military at a convention center in Madrid was closed, as was a makeshift morgue established at an ice rink in the capital, which experienced the worst of Spain’s struggles.
Elsewhere in Western Europe, museums, zoos, and playgrounds were permitted to open for the first time in several weeks in Germany, which has a high amount of cases but a relatively low death rate.
Italy will begin gradually loosening some restrictions Monday. The governments in Madrid, Rome, and Berlin, have all acknowledged people must remain vigilant and that the virus’ resurgence remains possible. Read more at The Associated Press and BBC.
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Spain will make the wearing of masks obligatory on public transport from Monday to help prevent a new wave of coronavirus infections as it begins lifting its strict lockdown measures.
The Madrid government, which had until now „highly recommended” the use of masks, will distribute six million across the country and supply another seven million to local authorities.
Announcing the measure on Saturday, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said: „The virus is still with us. We need to respect the rules as well as the guidelines for hygiene and social distancing.”
It came as thousands of Spaniards flocked into streets, parks and squares to exercise for the first time in seven weeks after the government ended a prohibition on outdoor activity.
People ran, walked or rode bicycles and in Barcelona many flocked to the maritime promenade for a glimpse of the still closed beach. Others simply delighted in jogging around parks and neighbourhoods across the nation.
Some parts of industry were allowed to resume work in the past two weeks and children have been allowed out for a walk with one adult since last weekend, but Saturday’s move represented a significant step forward for Spaniards.
„Some people think it may be too early, as I do, but it is also important to do exercise for health reasons,” says 36-year-old Cristina Palomeque in Barcelona.
In Madrid’s Chueca district financial advisor Marcos Abeytua, who got up at 7am to make the most of the easing of restrictions, said: „After so many weeks in confinement, I badly wanted to go out, run, see the world. Yesterday, I was like a child on Christmas Eve.”
Spain recorded another 276 deaths from Covid-19 on Saturday, taking the total to 25,100, a steep fall from the daily death tolls of over 900 a month ago. Another 1,147 cases of infection were reported over the previous 24 hours, taking the total number to 216,582.
Meanwhile France announced it is to extend by two months a health emergency put in place on March 24 to deal with the pandemic, taking it to July 24.
Health Minister Olivier Veran said lifting the emergency would be premature and carry the risk of a resurgence in the outbreak.
„We are going to have to perform a long-distance run,” Veran said, adding that the French people had already been asked for „colossal efforts” in the fight against the virus.
Tehran (AFP) – Iran has slammed Germany’s ban on the activities of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement on its soil, saying it would face consequences for its decision to give in to Israeli and US pressure.
Germany branded Hezbollah a „Shiite terrorist organisation” on Thursday, with dozens of police and special forces storming mosques and associations across the country linked to the Lebanese militant group.
In a statement issued overnight, Iran’s foreign ministry said the ban ignores „realities in West Asia”.
The Islamic republic said the move was based solely on the goals of the „propaganda machine of the Zionists and America’s confused regime”.
It „strongly” condemned the decision it said showed „complete disrespect to the government and nation of Lebanon, as Hezbollah is a formal and legitimate part of the country’s government and parliament”.
Iran said Hezbollah had a „key role in fighting Daesh’s terrorism in the region,” using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.
„The German government must face the negative consequences of its decision in the fight against real terrorist groups in the region,” it added.
Hezbollah was established in 1982 during the Lebanese civil war and fought a 2006 war with Israel.
Iran is a major supporter of the Lebanese Shiite group and its „resistance” against the Islamic republic’s arch foe Israel.
The United States and Israel have long designated Hezbollah as a terrorist group and urged allies to follow suit.
Like the European Union, Germany had until now outlawed only Hezbollah’s military wing while tolerating its political wing.
Britain outlawed Hezbollah’s political wing last year, making membership of the Shiite movement or inviting support for it a crime.