Covid-19 surging internationally

Despite many countries taking drastic action to try to slow the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus the number of cases and number of deaths continues to surge.

Current totals from the Johns Hopkins University Corona Resource Centre:

  • Total Confirmed 441,187 (yesterday 407,485)
  • Total Deaths: 19,784 (yesterday 18,227)
    – 3 hours later this has jumped to 20,807
  • Total Recovered: 111,933 (yesterday 104,234)

So that’s a jump of about 1500 deaths in about 22 hours (I got those numbers from about 9 am yesterday).

While there are quite a few recovered there are a large number who must be still suffering from the virus, and potentially able to transmit it to other people.

It is certain that all these official totals will be less than the actual numbers, especially the number of cases. It now seems accepted that people without symptoms can be contagious.

Spain’s reported death toll (3,343) is now greater than China’s. Their total cases is less than China, Italy and the US (now 60,115 with 827 deaths). US cases have just jumped to 62,086 in 3 hours

MSN/AFP: One third of humanity under virus lockdown

More than one billion Indians went into lockdown Wednesday, leaving a third of the planet now under orders to stay at home, as the United States vowed to spend $2 trillion to counter the economic harm of the coronavirus.

Europe remains at the heart of the epidemic, with first Italy and now Spain’s death toll overtaking that of China, while Britain’s Prince Charles became the latest prominent figure to test positive for the COVID-19 disease.

Coronavirus cases are also spreading in the Middle East, where Iran’s death toll topped 2,000 on Wednesday, and in Africa, where Mali joined all seven of its neighbours in declaring its first cases — two nationals who arrived home recently from France.

Government policies and the capacity for virus testing vary widely around the world, so the true extent of the pandemic is difficult to estimate, but more than 404,000 cases have been declared in 175 countries and territories since the epidemic first emerged in China in December.

What is in less doubt is the number of deaths, with more than 19,000 attributed to the new coronavirus strain since the outbreak began.

Some people (including Donald Trump) are downplaying the death toll and saying things like ‘what about flu deaths’, or cancer deaths, or suicide deaths. I think this is diversionary and misguided. Sure people who die from Covid-19 would die from something else sooner or later, but if nothing was done to limit the spread of Covid-19 there would be a lot more people dying prematurely.

It would be just as silly saaying we shouldn’t do anything about road safety because people die from accidents, or die from heart attacks.

Prince Charles is reported as having Covid-19 – Prince Charles tests positive but ‘remains in good health’ – he’s getting into the high risk age group (he’s 71) but will have much better health care available than most people. I hope he hasn’t been out shaking hands lately.

Officially Russia been unusually low numbers (currently CRC data shows 658 cases and just 2 deaths) but there are other signs of having been affected:  Coronavirus delays Russian vote on Putin staying in power

Russian President Vladimir Putin has postponed a vote on constitutional change that would allow him to stay in power, because of coronavirus concerns.

Later on Wednesday Russia confirmed the deaths of two people who had been diagnosed with the virus. The 88- and 73-year-olds had pre-existing conditions, Ria Novosti reported. Russia has a total of 658 cases.

“The absolute priority for us is the health, life and safety of people. Therefore I believe that the vote should be postponed until a later date,” Mr Putin said.

Mr Putin had seemed to be delaying the decision, though, hoping Russia would somehow escape the worst of Covid-19.

Some suspected the statistics were being massaged to make it seem that way, a claim officials here have denied repeatedly. But the number of confirmed cases is now climbing in Russia, like everywhere else.

A ninth death in Australia: Ninth COVID-19 victim is 68-year-old man from Queensland

A 68-year-old man from Toowoomba has become Australia’s ninth coronavirus victim.

The man died on Wednesday afternoon in intensive care at Toowoomba Hospital.

It’s understood the man contracted COVID-19 onboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship that docked in Sydney last week.

I was working in Toowoomba earlier this week (remotely). It’s a nice city inland from Brisbane, a similar size to Dunedin (I stayed there on holiday a few years ago).

Mixed reports from the US:

International escalation of Covid-19 and travel restrictions

International spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus and measures to try to limit or slow the spread – a lot of the world is going into virtual lockdown.

Coronavirus Cases:

154,273

Deaths:

5,798

Recovered:

74,262

https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

Divided responses to Trumps address and travel ban

One address was never going to suddenly change the division over Donald Trump’s performance as president and on his handling of the Covid-19 coronavirus. Not long ago Trump was claiming the virus was a hoax and he has blamed a variety of countries and people, especially the media (that criticises him) and the Democrats.

Financial Times Donald Trump’s troubling coronavirus address

Perhaps the biggest fallout of Mr Trump’s address was what he did not say. His most glaring omission was any plan to increase America’s capacity to test for infections.

Epidemiologists say accurate testing is the single most effective method to counter the disease’s spread. It allows the authorities to isolate clusters, trace the movement of the virus and make critical decisions on where the biggest risks lie. That is what places such as Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea have done so effectively without resorting to the draconian measures taken in China.

Trump claimed “Our team is the best anywhere in the world”, but a key member of his team things differently – US admits ‘failing’ on testing, says Fauci top US health official Dr Anthony Fauci:

“The system is not really geared to what we need right now… that is a failing, let’s admit it. The idea of anybody getting it easily the way people in other countries are doing it, we’re not set up for that. Do I think we should be. Yes. But we’re not.” –

In his address Trump praised himself and the US, as he frequently does, and blamed others in the world.

This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history.

Viruses are ‘foreign’ to nearly every country, but the source of new strains is largely irrelevant.

China efforts were probably more aggressive and comprehensive, as were South Korea and Japan and recently in particular, Italy, who have just about locked the whole country down.

Until yesterday US states were acting on their own. The worst affected area, Washington State (at least 29 deaths), declared a state of emergency last month, and many other states have done likewise.

At the very start of the outbreak, we instituted sweeping travel restrictions on China.

The European Union failed to take the same precautions and restrict travel from China and other hotspots. As a result, a large number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travelers from Europe.

No evidence of this claim.

Italy tried travel bans as early as January from China (before the US did), unsuccessfully.

Bizarrely Trump excluded the UK from his travel ban, saying that was because they had done “a good job” on the outbreak and “They don’t have very much infection at this point and hopefully they’ll keep it that way.”

ITV: Up to 10,000 people in UK could have coronavirus, chief scientific adviser warns

Up to 10,000 people in the UK could already be infected with coronavirus, the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance has warned.

Speaking at a press conference alongside the prime minister, it was announced the UK would now be moving from the “contain” to “delay” phase in a bid to slow down the spread of Covid-19.

That presumably includes trying to slow down the spread from the UK to the US.

Under the new measures, the Government is recommending foreign trips be cancelled and says even those with mild symptoms should self-isolate for seven days whether they have travelled to virus-hit countries or not.

So the UK is recommending against travel to the US.

Trump closed his address with:

Our future remains brighter than anyone can imagine. Acting with compassion and love, we will heal the sick, care for those in need, help our fellow citizens, and emerge from this challenge stronger and more unified than ever before.

Unifying is not something Trump is known for. After his address he continued his partisan attacking:

As usual, opinions are divided:

However the world financial markets are not divided. They have all reacted in unison – downwards.

Financial Times Donald Trump’s troubling coronavirus address

On Wednesday night the global pandemic met US nationalism. It will not take long to see which comes off best. As Donald Trump was speaking, the Dow futures market nosedived. His Europe travel ban came just a few hours after the US stock market entered bear territory — a fall of 20 per cent or more — for the first time since the global financial crisis. It also followed the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global pandemic. Mr Trump’s address was meant to calm the waters. By the time he finished they were considerably rougher.

Reuters: Markets tumble again as global coronavirus alarm spreads

Trump restricted certain travel from Europe to the United States in a televised address about the health crisis on Wednesday, shocking investors and travelers.

Major European bourses fell by double-digit percentages, with Italian stocks .FTMIB plunging 17% for their worst single-day loss ever, as stimulus efforts from the European Central Bank did little to calm nerves.

BBC: UK shares suffer worst day since 1987

Shares around the world have plunged as investors fear the spread of the coronavirus will destroy economic growth with government action unable to arrest the decline.

The main UK index dropped more than 10% in its worst day since 1987.

Losses on European indexes accelerated after the European Central Bank (ECB) failed to cut interest rates, although it did pledge fresh stimulus measures.

Earlier, stocks in Asia also saw big falls, with Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index closing 4.4% lower.

“We can call this a market crash – particularly given speed and sharpness, as well as the size of the declines,” said Supriya Menon, senior multi-asset strategist at Pictet Asset Management. The “question is whether this will cause a recession”.

The French and German markets dropped more than 12%

Spain’s main index was down 14%, it’s biggest drop ever.

Wall Street opened after the address down about 7% (Dow Jones) and has mostly stayed down at that level (currently 2 pm so another 2 hours trading to go Thursday there).

NPR: The Fed Steps In, But Stock Market Meltdown Continues

Stocks recovered some of their losses after the Federal Reserve moved aggressively Thursday to try to calm investors rattled by the global coronavirus pandemic, but then the market slide continued. The New York Fed said it would pump $1.5 trillion into short-term funding markets over the next two days.

Stocks fell so fast Thursday morning that it triggered a 15-minute halt in trading for the second time this week.

Those indexes are now down at least 24% from record highs set just last month. At 22,074.10 in early afternoon trading, the Dow was down more than 7,400 points from its peak Feb. 12.

Trump has responded to this crash assuring that the markets will be “just fine” and they will bounce back ‘when the time is right”.

NPR: Trump Defends Travel Ban, Says Stock Market Will Bounce Back

President Trump on Thursday defended new restrictions on travelers from most parts of Europe, a decision that angered allies and trading partners, was questioned by some public health experts, and sent stock markets reeling.

Trump told reporters that he viewed the ban as one way to protect Americans from the virus spreading, and he predicted the stock market would eventually bounce back. “It’s not important compared to life and death,” Trump said in the Oval Office.

Breaking news: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Italy has risen to 15,113 from 12,462 on Wednesday, officials say.

Covid-19 up, markets down, down, down

The Covid-19 virus is getting worse in some places, especially Italy but it is also getting a hold in Spain.

And following a bad week on sharemarkets in the last two weeks there are even bigger drops this week, with the Dow Jones slumping.

At the same time oil prices have crashed by more than 20%.

The spread of the virus seems under control in New Zealand for now, but the economic effects are significant with Air New Zealand scaling back operations and many businesses under stress.

We may benefit from plunging oil prices, but our stock market (and Kiwisaver investments) is suffering, and it is likely to follow \world markets down and get worse today.

And problems around the world are much worse, especially currently in Italy where they are shutting down a lot of the country to try and stop the virus spreading.

Reuters: EU seeks to tackle coronavirus as Italy locks down north, prisoners riot

EU leaders will seek a coordinated response to the coronavirus after global markets plunged on Monday and Italy sealed off much of its industrial north, where six prisoners were killed in a riot over curbs on visits.

Joining the global rout, triggered by a 22% slump in oil prices, Wall Street’s main share indexes dropped 7% and the Dow Jones Industrials crashed 2,000 points – which would be its biggest ever one-day ever if there is no recovery by the close.

More than 110,000 people have been infected in 105 countries and territories, and 3,800 have died, the vast majority in mainland China, according to a Reuters tally.

With Italy’s economy already on the brink of recession, bars and restaurants in Lombardy were ordered to close or to restrict entry and maintain a distance of at least a meter between people on their premises.

Major sporting events in Italy, including top-flight Serie A football, will be played without spectators for a month.

This must have a major impact in the Italian economy. And the virus is spreading in Spain.

In Spain, schools were closed in the town of Labastida near Vitoria in the Basque country after nearly 150 cases of coronavirus were identified in the region.

Spain has reported 999 cases in all, most of them in two areas around Madrid and around Vitoria in the north. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said it had prepared an emergency plan to deal with the economic consequences of the virus.

It is improving in regions that were first hit.

China and South Korea, Asia’s second-worst-hit country, both reported a slowdown in new infections.

Mainland China, outside Hubei province, center of the outbreak, reported no new locally transmitted coronavirus cases for the second day on Monday, but a top Communist Party official warned people against dropping their guard.

South Korea reported 165 new coronavirus cases, bringing the national tally to 7,478, while the death toll rose by one to 51.

The New Zealand Government is rolling out economic measures.

Beehive: Cabinet approves Business Continuity Package in response to COVID-19

Cabinet today approved the development of a Business Continuity Package to help support the economy through the disruption caused by COVID-19.

The Business Continuity Package includes:

  • a targeted wage subsidy scheme for workers in the most adversely affected sectors.
  • training and re-deployment options for affected employees; and
  • working with banks on the potential for future working capital support for companies that face temporary credit constraints;

As part of the package:

  • The Treasury and IRD have been directed to develop tax policy options in line with the goal of reducing the impact for affected businesses, to support businesses to maintain operational continuity.
  • The Treasury and MSD have been directed to develop policy options to support households to maintain incomes and labour market attachment.

The detail of this package is now being worked through. It will be discussed again at the Cabinet COVID-19 committee on Wednesday, and the Government expects to be in a position to make further detailed announcements next week.

So a bit of dabbling so far.

“New Zealand is well-placed to respond to COVID-19. We have been running surpluses and our net debt position at 19.5% of GDP is well below what we inherited, and well below other countries,” Finance Minister Grant Robertson says.

But if world markets crash they will drag us down, and that could have a major impact.

Newshub: BNZ becomes first major New Zealand bank to predict a recession

BNZ is now using the much-dreaded R-word, saying it’s more than likely there’ll be a recession this year.

“Everyone sort of panics when they hear the word recession,” BNZ head of research Stephen Toplis said. “It’s like the whole world’s going to fall in.

That may be happening now.

CNBC: Oil nosedives as Saudi Arabia and Russia set off ‘scorched earth’ price war

Oil prices fell through the floor in early trading Monday, tanking as much as 30% after Saudi Arabia slashed its crude prices for buyers. The kingdom is reportedly preparing to open the taps in an apparent retaliation for Russia’s unwillingness to cut its own output.

  • Oil prices are down nearly 50% for the year after OPEC+ talks collapsed and Saudi Arabia announced slashed prices in an apparent price war with Russia.
  • With previously agreed OPEC+ production cuts expiring at the end of March, Saudi Arabia and Russia can theoretically pump as much crude as they want.
  • An oil price war will have massive geopolitical consequences, pummeling markets already shaken by the new coronavirus, COVID-19.

Reuters: Wall Street pounded by oil crash, virus fears

Wall Street’s main stock indexes plummeted about 5% on Monday, as a slump in oil prices and the rapid spread of the coronavirus amplified fears of a global recession on the anniversary of the U.S. stock market’s longest bull run.

The energy .SPNY index plunged 18.2% to its lowest level since August 2004 and crude prices were on track for their worst day in three decades as Saudi Arabia and Russia moved to significantly ramp up production after the collapse of a supply cut agreement. [O/R]

Companies listed on the S&P 500 have now lost more than $5 trillion in value in a sell-off sparked by fears that the coronavirus epidemic could tip the global economy into recession.

That report is out of date, Wall Street has got progressively worse through the day, with several trading haalts to try to pause the slide.

At 2:15 pm Monday in New York the Dow Jones is down 7.3% for the day.

The NZX already dropped 2.94% in Monday trading and will be affected by international markets today. All we can do is wait and see what happens.

And all the New Zealand Government can do is try to limit the damage here, but the may be chasing a bear.

 

Claim that Taliban don’t intend honouring peace deal with US

NBC news report: “U.S. government has collected persuasive intelligence that the Taliban do not intend to honor the promises they have made in the recently signed deal with the United States

A week ago Afghanistan’s Taliban, US sign agreement aimed at ending war

US officials and Taliban representatives have signed an agreement after months of negotiations in Qatar’s capital that is aimed at ending the United States’s longest war, fought in Afghanistan since 2001.

Saturday’s agreement, signed in Doha in the presence of leaders from Pakistan, Qatar, Turkey, India, Indonesia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, will pave the way for the US to gradually withdraw its troops.

In a statement, the Taliban said it had reached an agreement “about the termination of occupation of Afghanistan”.

“The accord about the complete withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan and never intervening in its affairs in the future is undoubtedly a great achievement,” it added.

Earlier on Saturday, the Taliban ordered all its fighters to halt fighting and “refrain from attacks”.

For his part, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on the Taliban to honour its commitments.

“I know there will be a temptation to declare victory, but victory for Afghans will only be achieved when they can live in peace and prosper,” he said at the Doha ceremony.

Minutes before the agreement was signed, a joint statement released by the US and the Afghan government said the US and NATO troops would withdraw from Afghanistan within 14 months.

About 14,000 US troops and approximately 17,000 troops from 39 NATO allies and partner countries are stationed in Afghanistan in a non-combatant role.

“The United States will reduce the number of US military forces in Afghanistan to 8,600 and implement other commitments in the US-Taliban agreement within 135 days of the announcement of this joint declaration and the US-Taliban agreement,” the joint statement said.

Abut the following day Afghan Government Objects to Elements of US-Taliban Peace

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, speaking at a news conference less than 24 hours after the agreement was signed, questioned several elements of the deal, including the timeline for a controversial prisoner exchange and the conditions surrounding the start of talks between the Taliban and his government.

Yesterday Afghans Wonder: Is the Peace Deal Just for Americans?

The Taliban, for their part, are now saying more clearly than ever that the peace deal signed Feb. 29 in Doha, Qatar, after 18 months of negotiations applies only to a truce with U.S. forces, not to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. “We signed an agreement with the Americans. But our jihad is not over,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Foreign Policy this week. “The stooges who supported the invaders during the last two decades are our enemies. This might change after additional talks but at the moment, we are still at war.”

So it looks like it isn’t a peace deal, but rather a way of getting the US out of Afghanistan.

Today U.S. has persuasive intel Taliban do not intend to abide by terms of peace deal, officials say

The U.S. government has collected persuasive intelligence that the Taliban do not intend to honor the promises they have made in the recently signed deal with the United States, three American officials tell NBC News, undercutting what has been days of hopeful talk by President Donald Trump and his top aides.

“They have no intention of abiding by their agreement,” said one official briefed on the intelligence, which two others described as explicit evidence shedding light on the Taliban’s intentions.

Trump himself acknowledged that reality in extraordinary comments Friday, saying the Taliban could “possibly” overrun the Afghan government after U.S. troops withdraw.

“Countries have to take care of themselves,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “You can only hold someone’s hand for so long.” Asked if the Taliban could eventually seize power, Trump said it’s “not supposed to happen that way, but it possibly will.”

After the publication of this article, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen tweeted, “We categorically reject allegations by U.S. intel officials to NBC News that the (Taliban) has no intention of abiding by the agreement. The…implementation process is going good so far and such comments by U.S. officials cannot be justified.

It was never going to be easy to end fighting in Afghanistan.

This cartoon is from twenty years ago when the US military went in to Afghanistan.

 

Covid-19 virus dominating news

The Covid-19 coronavirus is dominating the news as it spreads around the world. More cases are now being identified outside China than in the country where it started.

It is leading the news at RNZ:  Coronavirus: more new cases outside China than inside – WHO

More new coronavirus cases have for the first time been reported outside China than inside, World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said.

In China, the number of new cases reported on Tuesday was 411, whereas in the rest of the world the number was 427.

The WHO chief said the sudden rise in coronavirus cases in Italy, Iran and South Korea was “deeply concerning” but the virus could still be contained and did not amount to a pandemic.

Several European countries have announced their first coronavirus cases, all apparently linked to the growing outbreak in Italy.

Austria, Croatia, Greece and Switzerland said the cases involved people who had been to Italy, as did Algeria in Africa.

The first positive virus test has been recorded in Latin America – a Brazilian resident just returned from Italy.

RNZ: Coronavirus expert tells nations to get ready to respond rapidly

“Think the virus is going to show up tomorrow,” the head of the joint WHO-Chinese mission on the outbreak, Dr Bruce Aylward, told reporters in Geneva.

“If you don’t think that way, you’re not going to be ready,” he said, adding that it was an “incredibly interconnected world”.

Aylward said the public needed to be educated about the issue to ensure their support in the battle to contain the virus.

He said 10 per cent of people who come in contact with an infected person contracts it.

RNZ: GPs feel vulnerable to Covid-19 as protective gear stock runs out

GPs have run out of masks and other protective gear and say that makes them vulnerable to the novel coronavirus, while the government holds on to 18 million masks.

The Ministry of Health has stockpiled nine million masks with filters as well as nine million general surgical masks as part of its pandemic planning.

But the Royal New Zealand College of GPs said several clinics had run out after using up their supply on suspected cases of Covid-19.

RNZ: Coronavirus – floods of information in a misinfodemic

The headline seems quite misleading.

The response of health experts around the world to the rapidly evolving global health emergency has led to a “knowledge explosion”.

Vaccinologist Helen Petousis-Harris from the University of Auckland calls it an unprecedented triumph in human research collaboration. Researchers tend to be precious about their life’s work, she says; they guard it closely in case someone else beats them to it. But in this case, traditional academic and research practices have “gone out the window”.

She also says Covid-19 “is not the apocalypse”, and the speed of the international reaction is incredible. That includes helping countries that have very weak health systems to cope with what’s happening.

The unprecedented collaboration and the hundreds of millions of dollars available through a special fund called the Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovation [CEPI] could mean that a vaccine starts to roll out at the end of April.

“Some vaccines have taken 20 years, some vaccines still elude us, others have been faster but we’re moving into a new paradigm, a new world in this space now, which means if we can do this – what else can you do?” she says.

RNZ: Auckland Arts Festival cancels French performance due to Covid-19 impact

Chief executive David Inns said the arial spectacle Place des Anges was hampered by rising air freight costs driven by the Covid-19.

Inns said the festival had been hit by other impacts from Covid-19, including increased flights costs for the Los Angeles Master Chorale group Lagrime Di San Pietro, which had to cancel its show in Hong Kong.

RNZ: Auckland Asian restaurants hit by coronavirus fears

As coronavirus continues to spread offshore, local Asian businesses say they’re starting to fail as customers stay away.

Profits have halved for some Chinese restaurants in Auckland, and with the increase of the minimum wage set to kick in, the timing could not be worse.

I wonder if Italian restaurants will also be affected.

Leading the news also at…

Newsroom: It’s not the apocalypse, but yes, you should care

Less than two months after China told the World Health Organisation there was a problem, a lot has happened. Sadly, deaths, confirmed cases and countries affected are increasing every day.

However, on a scientific and medical level, what is going on to contain, cure and prevent this new disease is truly inspirational. Let’s look at the build-up to this global health emergency and what is being done by medical teams all over the world to combat its effects.

Internationally, Reuters:  Coronavirus pandemic a question of ‘when’ not ‘if’, warns U.S.

Asia reported hundreds of new coronavirus cases, including a U.S. soldier stationed in South Korea, as the United States warned of an inevitable pandemic and outbreaks in Italy and Iran spread to other countries.

Also:

ABC: As coronavirus COVID-19 spreads, how are Italy, Iran, Korea and others dealing with the outbreak?

The Australian Government says it is “pandemic ready” but warns “no country is immune” as coronavirus hotspots continue to crop up around the globe.

Key points:

  • The outbreak in Italy has seen the virus spread to other European countries for the first time
  • A Brazilian man has been confirmed as South America’s first case
  • Iran has been accused of a cover-up while some of China’s allies have a relaxed approach

Only two months from the first reported case in China, the death toll now stands at more than 2,700 and there are more than 80,000 recorded cases of the COVID-19 virus around the world — although the vast majority of cases and deaths continue to be concentrated in Hubei province’s Wuhan.

Following on the heels of other nations, Australia imposed a travel ban on China with some exemptions despite the World Health Organisation warning such measures would only contribute to “fear and stigma”.

A world map colour-coding the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

Deadline: Donald Trump Blames Media Coverage Of Coronavirus For Dow Jones Drop

President Donald Trump lashed out at MSNBC and CNN for their coverage of the outbreak, claiming that they are “doing everything possible” to make the situation “look as bad as possible.”

He said that he would hold a press conference at 6 p.m. ET to talk about the subject along with representatives for the Centers for Disease Control.

Media do at times over-hype stories, but the virus is a big world story.

Perhaps Trump could set the record straight via Twitter.

The impeachment, Ukraine, Russia and election interference

Donald Trump’s impeachment trial continues in Washington. It is far more political than legal. Just about everyone expects the Republican dominated Senate to acquit Trump,

Regardless of the outcome, Trump is likely to remembered as a president who was impeached, just like it is one of the first things people remember Bill Clinton for (he was also acquitted).

The Democrats may lose this battle but they are trying to win a bigger war, this year’s election. The target of Trump’s Ukraine pressure is Joe Biden, who has a good chance of competing with Trump for the presidency (that is why Trump tried to pressure the new Ukraine to dump on Biden). So the impeachment attempt is likely to be a major influence on a geriatric face off.

There’s bigger issues involved, in particular the Russian interference in the 2016 US election.

Here’s one take on that – allegations that Trump was promoting Russian fake news that it was Ukraine that interfered in the 2016 election.

Note first that the writer of this has Ukraine connections “Kenneth Foard McCallion is a former organized crime and counterintelligence expert with the U.S. Department of Justice, and has been counsel for former Ukraine Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and numerous other Ukraine pro-democracy leaders and businessmen.”

RealClear Politics – A Key Impeachment Fact: Trump Pushed Russian Disinformation

Article One of the Articles of Impeachment now pending before the Senate is primarily focused on President Trump’s extortionate demand that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky announce an investigation into the Bidens.

However, it should be kept well in mind by the House managers as they present their case on the Senate floor that Trump has also been impeached for improperly using the powers of his office to pressure Ukraine into investigating, in the words of Article One, “a discredited theory promoted by Russia’s disinformation machine, alleging that Ukraine — rather than Russia — interfered in the 2016 United States Presidential election.”

Russian and right-wing media propaganda, and Trump himself, have wrongly claimed that CrowdStrike, the cybersecurity firm hired by the Democratic National Committee in 2016 to investigate the massive hack of its server, is “owned by a very rich Ukrainian” and is hiding evidence that could clear Russia of any wrongdoing in regards to the 2016 U.S. election.

U.S. Intelligence agencies agree that this discredited theory, which deftly shifted blame for the cyberattack on the U.S. electoral system away from Russian and squarely onto Ukraine and CrowdStrike, originated as a Russian intelligence talking point before it gained traction in right-wing media outlets and, ultimately, in the White House.

Ukraine could not give into Trump’s demands for an “investigation.” Announcing an investigation of a leading U.S. presidential contender would have been harmful to Zelensky’s reputation, and an investigation by Ukraine into its own government for U.S. election interference would have been crippling to the Zelensky administration. Furthermore, the Ukraine government well knew that once it gave in to Trump’s extortionate demands for announcement of these two bogus investigations, the demands and the extortion would not stop.

Given Ukraine’s extensive experience with predatory Russian practices, the Ukraine government strongly suspected that Putin and his U.S. crony in the White House were capable of neutering and ultimately dismantling Ukraine as an independent pro-Western democracy. Due to the fortuitous public disclosure of the whistleblower complaint and the ensuing impeachment investigation, Ukraine was not forced to subject itself to this destabilizing humiliation.

Make no mistake, the Russians will not hesitate to manipulate the 2020 U.S. election in the same way they did in 2016. They know U.S. election machinery in key swing states is vulnerable, and that many electronic voting machine systems in these states are fully hackable.

The Democratic leadership is understandably hesitant to call Trump’s abuse of power what it is: TREASON. However, the House has at least given its managers the tools to explain to the American people during the impeachment trial that Trump was not just crassly seeking to further his own political interests at the expense of U.S. national security interests, but that he was also trying to do Russia’s bidding while, at the same time, selling out the United States and one of its staunchest allies. The House managers must not ignore this crucial fact.

(Parts of this are edited).

While the impeachment is likely to fizzle out, the issues surrounding it may swirl around the US election all year.

US-Chinese trade deal (Phase 1)

A three year trade war between the US and China, initiated by Donald Trump, created disruptions and uncertainties around the world, and cost the US billions of dollars, ‘phase 1’ of an agreement has been signed.

It’s hard to know whether the gains have been worth the pains.

Fox News:  US, China sign historic phase one trade deal

President Trump signed a landmark trade agreement with China, heralding a period of detente in a trade war between the world’s two largest economies fueled by decades of complaints that Beijing was manipulating its currency and stealing trade secrets from American firms.

The pact, detailed in a 94-page document, is only the initial phase of a broader deal that Trump has said may come in as many as three sections.

During two years of negotiation, there were occasional setbacks because “on some issues, we don’t see eye to eye,” noted Liu He, the Chinese vice premier who represented President Xi Jinping at the signing, but “our economic teams didn’t give up.”

The document specifies that both China and the U.S. “shall ensure fair and equitable market access” for businesses that depend on the safety of trade secrets. Specific measures that will protect pharmaceutical firms’ intellectual property, govern patents, block counterfeiting on e-commerce platforms and prevent exports of brand-name knockoffs are detailed.

The agreement, which was first reported on Dec. 12, includes commitments from Beijing to halt intellectual property theft, refrain from currency manipulation, cooperate in financial services and purchase an additional $200 billion of U.S. products over the next two years.

The purchases will include up to $50 billion of U.S. agriculture, according to Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, $40 billion of which has been confirmed by Chinese sources. China will also buy $40 billion in services, $50 billion in energy and $75 billion to $80 billion worth of manufacturing, the sources said.

BBC – US-China trade deal: Winners and losers

Winner: Donald Trump

Some critics say there is little substance, but the signing offers an opportunity for US President Donald Trump to put the trade war behind him and claim an achievement heading into the 2020 presidential election.

Winner: President Xi Jinping

China appears set to emerge from the signing having agreed to terms it offered early in the process, including loosening market access to US financial and car firms. In many cases, companies from other countries are already benefiting from the changes.

Winners: Taiwan/Vietnam/Mexico

Globally, economists estimate that the trade war will shave more than 0.5% off of growth. But some countries have benefited from the fight, which redirected an estimated $165bn in trade.

Analysts at Nomura identified Vietnam as the country that would gain the most, while the UN found that Taiwan, Mexico and Vietnam saw US orders ramp up last year.

Loser: American companies and consumers

The new deal halves tariff rates on $120bn worth of goods, but most of the higher duties – which affect another $360bn of Chinese goods and more than $100bn worth of US exports – remain in place. And that’s bad news for the American public.

Economists have found that the costs – more than $40bn so far – are being borne entirely by US companies and consumers. And that figure does not even try to measure lost business due to retaliation.

Loser: Farmers and manufacturers

The new deal commits China to boost purchases in manufacturing, services, agriculture and energy from 2017 levels by $200bn over two years.

Mr Trump has said that could include as $50bn worth of agricultural goods a year.

But the official figures are lower, analysts are sceptical those are attainable and China has said the purchases will depend on market demand. So far, the primary effect on business has been pain.

Farmers, who have been targeted by China’s tariffs, have seen bankruptcies soar, prompting a $28bn federal bailout.

Among manufacturers, the Federal Reserve has found employment losses, stemming from the higher import costs and China’s retaliation.

BBC – US-China trade deal: Five things that aren’t in it

The US and China have finally – after almost two years of hostilities – signed a “phase one” deal. But it only covers the easier aspects of their difficult relationship, and only removes some of the tariffs.

The biggest hurdles are still to come, and could stand in the way of a second phase agreement – one that would in theory remove all of the tariffs, bringing some much needed relief for the global economy, which is in the interests of all of us.

So what didn’t make it into the agreement?

1. Industrial subsidies and ‘Made in China 2025’

The deal doesn’t address Beijing’s ambitious ‘Made in China 2025’ programme, which is designed to help Chinese companies excel and become world-class leaders in emerging technologies. It also doesn’t address the subsidies that China gives its state-owned enterprises, says Paul Triolo of the Eurasia Group.

2. Huawei

The trade deal won’t reduce US pressure on Huawei, the Chinese telecoms giant that has been caught in the crossfire of the trade war, with the US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin saying the company isn’t a “chess piece” in the negotiations.

3. Access for foreign financial services firms

While the agreement does talk about opening up market access for financial services firms, some analysts have said it doesn’t go far enough to ensure they have equal market access.

4. Enforcement and interpretation

The deal has a dispute resolution mechanism in place, which basically requires China – once a complaint has been made – to begin consultations with the US, with the onus on Beijing to resolve it.

But what the deal leaves out is “how the US is going to monitor enforcement,” says Derek Scissors of the American Enterprise Institute.

5. Further reductions in tariffs

The deal doesn’t include a definitive timeline on when the tariffs that are still in place will go down.

According to research from the Peterson Institute for International Economics, average tariffs on both sides are still up about 20% from pre-trade war levels – six times higher than when the dispute began. That means companies and consumers are still paying more.

So a lot of the pain remains.

Also from BBC:

Bloomberg/Japan Times (opinion): Round one to Trump in U.S.-China trade war

It is too early to give a final assessment of the U.S.-China trade deal, the details of which have just been published, but it’s not too soon for a provisional opinion: China is badly shaken, and American credibility has been greatly enhanced.

In general, I am suspicious of detailed agreements when one of the parties claims the other does not respect the terms of their deals, as the United States does with China. If the U.S. holds up its end of the bargain and China doesn’t, you have to wonder what all the trouble was about.

So what about the potential benefits for the U.S.? Most of them concern credibility.

The U.S. has established its seriousness as a counterweight to China, something lacking since it largely overlooked China’s various territorial encroachments in the 2010s. Whether in economics or foreign policy, China now can expect the U.S. to push back — a very different calculus. At a time when there is tension in North Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the South China Sea, that is potentially a significant gain.

Credibility is difficult to measure, as is the political effects of of trade issues.

The U.S. still is keeping $360 billion of tariffs on Chinese goods, hardly a propitious sign that China made a great bargain. There is even speculation that China will not report the full deal to its citizens.

That isn’t a great bargain for American businesses and consumers who have to pay the tariffs.

It is too soon to judge the current trade deal a success from an American point of view. Nevertheless, its potential benefits remain underappreciated, and there is a good chance they will pay off.

Some of the agreement will no doubt be beneficial to the US, but there’s definite downsides as well.

Politico (opinion): The U.S.-China Trade Deal Was Not Even a Modest Win

It’s generous to even call it a deal.

The deal simply restores the U.S.-China relationship to where it was pre-President Donald Trump, declares victory in areas that don’t matter as much as they did and has cost the U.S. billions in the meantime.

The A1 article in the Wall Street Journal was measured but said that the deal “contains wins for the U.S.” The New Yorker dubbed the deal “an uneasy truce.” On CNBC, the garrulous Jim Cramer heralded it as a win for Trump and America, saying “tariffs worked.” In general, while few outside the White House saw the agreement as transformative, the reception to it has been amicably positive, if only because it appears to arrest the destructive slide to more and more confrontation, higher tariffs and greater disruption and uncertainty.

Halting the onward march toward an all-out economic Cold War with China is a good thing. But given that the march began with impulse and barely any strategy on the part of the Trump administration and given as well that an even better pseudo-deal, with more agricultural purchases, could have been struck this spring without more escalation of tariffs, the agreement inked this week should be seen as an almost complete failure.

Here’s why. When Trump became president, he immediately latched onto the trade deficit in goods, which showed the United States importing hundreds of billions more goods than it exported to China. Many also assailed China for years of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers and for restricting market access to U.S. financial companies. Those issues were at the heart of the decision to begin using tariffs to coerce China into changing its behavior.

At best, the Phase I agreement modestly revises the status quo before Trump came into office.

At a substantial cost in the meantime.

Politically much will depend on whether Trump can get any voters who aren’t already supporters to buy his “momentous” and “remarkable” and “righting the wrongs of the past” sales pitch.

The reality seems to be that this steadies things back to approximately where they were, with the addition of substantial new tariffs remaining in place. Success or otherwise is likely to be determined in the future, by what both the US and China actually do, and what they agree on in future phases of trade agreements.

 

Russian PM and Cabinet resigns, Putin power push?

RNZ: Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev resigns

Russian President Vladimir Putin has formally put forward Mikhail Mishustin, the little-known head of Russia’s Federal Tax Service, to be Russia’s new prime minister, the Kremlin said.

Putin gets to choose who Russia’s Prime Minister is?

It came after Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said his government was resigning to give Putin room to carry out changes to the constitution.

And Putin gets to decide on what changes can be made to the Russian constitution?

The unexpected resignation, which came shortly after Putin proposed a nationwide vote on sweeping changes that would shift power from the presidency to parliament, mean Russia would also get a new prime minister.

Wednesday’s changes will be seen by many as the start of Putin’s preparations for his own political future when he leaves the presidency in 2024.

Whoever he picks as prime minister will inevitably be viewed as a possible presidential successor – echoing the way that Putin stepped down from the presidency in 2008 to become prime minister under Medvedev, who then stepped aside four years later to allow Putin to resume the presidency.

Reuters: Putin unveils shake-up that could extend his influence as cabinet quits

Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed constitutional changes on Wednesday that would give him leeway to extend his grip on power after leaving the presidency, and picked a new prime minister after Dmitry Medvedev and his cabinet resigned.

The dramatic moves were widely seen as preparing the ground for 2024, when Putin, now 67, is constitutionally obliged to leave the presidency after occupying the Kremlin or the prime minister’s job continuously since 1999.

Critics have long accused Putin of plotting to stay on in some capacity to wield power over the world’s largest nation – and one of its two biggest nuclear powers – after he steps down. Putin, a former KGB officer, has always kept mum on his plans.

But the constitutional changes he set out, which he suggested should be put to a referendum, would give him the option of taking an enhanced role as prime minister after 2024 or a new role as head of the State Council, an official body he said he was keen to build up.

Under his proposed constitutional changes, the powers of the presidency would be diminished and those of the prime minister’s office beefed up.

Opposition politician Leonid Volkov said it looked as though Putin was digging in.

“It’s clear to everyone that everything is going exclusively toward setting Putin up to rule for life,” Volkov wrote on social media. Dmitry Gudkov, another opposition politician, said Putin had decided to re-arrange everything around him now rather than wait until closer to 2024.

Putin told the political elite in his annual state-of-the-nation speech that he favored changing the constitution to hand the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, the power to choose the prime minister and other key positions.

“It would increase the role and significance of the country’s parliament … of parliamentary parties, and the independence and responsibility of the prime minister.”

And it could increase the future power of Putin, designed by himself.

US versus Iran continues

Donald trump may be trying to defuse the escalating situation between the US and Iran in Iraq.

Reuters: Trump says U.S. does not have to use military against Iran

President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the United States did not necessarily have to use its military power against Iran, in an apparent attempt to defuse a crisis over the American killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani.

The crash of a Ukranian airliner in Iran has added to the tensions.

No survivors after Ukrainian Boeing plane with 176 aboard crashes in Iran

A Ukrainian airliner crashed shortly after take-off from Tehran on Wednesday, bursting into flames and killing all 176 people on board.

Among the victims were 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, three Germans and three Britons, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said.

It was the Kiev-based carrier’s first fatal crash, and it said it was doing everything possible to establish the cause.

Ukraine will send a team of experts to Iran later on Wednesday to investigate the crash, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in the Ukrainian capital.

“Our priority is to establish the truth and those responsible for this terrible catastrophe,” he said.

Asked at a briefing in Kiev whether the plane could have been hit by a missile, Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk cautioned against speculation until the results of the investigation were known.

Safety experts say airliner accidents rarely have a single cause and that it typically takes months of investigation to understand all the factors behind them.

In Paris, the maker of the plane’s engines, French-U.S. firm CFM – co-owned by General Electric and France’s Safran – said speculation regarding the cause was premature.

U.S. calls for complete cooperation with any probe into cause of Iran crash

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday the United States was calling for complete cooperation with any investigation into the cause of the crash of a Ukrainian airliner in Iran.

In a statement, Pompeo said the United States was prepared to offer Ukraine all possible assistance after the crash of the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737, which burst into flames shortly after takeoff from Tehran on Wednesday, killing all 176 people aboard.

The plane crashed hours after Iran launched missiles at bases housing U.S. forces in Iraq, and officials have cautioned that speculation about what happened was premature.

There have been wider effects of the tot for tat attacks.

Airlines re-route or cancel flights around Iraq, Iran after missile strike on U.S. troops

Major airlines canceled Iran and Iraq flights on Wednesday and re-routed others away from both countries’ airspace, following an Iranian missile strike on United States-led forces in Iraq.

On the Iranian missile attacks:

Trump says no U.S. casualties, Iran appears to be standing down

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday there were no American casualties in the Iranian strikes on military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq and that Tehran appeared to be standing down.

“No Americans were harmed in last night’s attack by the Iranian regime. We suffered no casualties,” Trump said in a White House address. “Our great American forces are prepared for anything. Iran appears to be standing down.”

Iran believed to have deliberately missed U.S. forces in Iraq strikes: sources

Iran is believed to have deliberately avoided U.S. military casualties during retaliatory missile strikes on bases housing American troops in Iraq, following the U.S. killing of an Iranian general, according to U.S. and European government sources familiar with intelligence assessments.

USA Today: US knew Iranian missiles were coming ahead of strike

The U.S. military had advance warning of Iran’s missile assault on two Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces, attacks that prompted new economic sanctions Wednesday from President Donald Trump.

The missiles targeted al Assad air base in Iraq’s western Anbar province and another base in Erbil in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region. The extent of damage to the bases was not immediately clear, but early-warning defense systems gave U.S. forces advance knowledge that missiles had been launched, according to a U.S. official speaking to USA TODAY on the condition of anonymity.

The advance warning explains no casualties. I would expect the US to be monitoring and detecting missiles, but they can’t have known in advance what the exact targets would be.

CNN, citing an Arab diplomatic source, reported that Iran notified Iraq in advance and that Iraqi officials then tipped U.S. troops before the attack began. A U.S. defense official also told CNN that Iraqis were told by Iran to stay away from certain bases.

The militaries of Finland and Lithuania, which had personnel at one of the targeted bases, said they also received information about an imminent attack and had time to take shelter or leave the base.

It sounds like it was a symbolic counter attack.

Trump has given a national address on the situation. Highlights from Reuters: Trump addresses Iran situation

ATTACK ON MILITARY BASES

“I’m pleased to inform you the American people should be extremely grateful and happy. No Americans were harmed in last night’s attack by the Iranian regime. We suffered no casualties. All of our soldiers are safe and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases.

“Our great American forces are prepared for anything. Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.”

U.S. STRENGTH

“Our missiles are big, powerful, accurate, lethal and fast. Under construction are many hypersonic missiles. The fact that we have this great military and equipment, however, does not mean we have to use it. We do not want to use it. American strength, both military and economic, is the best deterrent.”

SANCTIONS

“As we continue to evaluate options in response to Iranian aggression, the United States will immediately impose additional punishing economic sanctions on the Iranian regime. These powerful sanctions will remain until Iran changes its behavior.”

There have been US imposed sanctions on Iran for years.

CREATING A NEW IRAN DEAL

“Iran must abandon its nuclear ambitions and end its support for terrorism. The time has come for the United Kingdom, Greece, France, Russia and China to recognize this reality. They must now break away from the remnants of the Iran deal, or JCPOA. And we must all work together toward making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place.”

Trying appeasement after assassinating a foreign leader in another country.

Wanting to scrap one deal and make another deal is typical Trump.