Winston Peters versus genomic tracing

From last night Winston Peters announced on Australia’s ABC that he had been informed by a “usually very reliable” journalist that the Auckland Covid outbreak was linked to a Covid quarantine facility – see Winston grandstanding, election campaign – but dumping on Government Covid quarantine.

Quarantine and isolation facilities are obvious potential sources of the spreading virus as they have been the only known locations of Covid cases for weeks if not months, so the claim could easily be correct and unsurprising.

What is remarkable is that a journalist would pass this story on to a politician who desperate for attention to try to save his political career and his party.

Usually stories are passed from politicians to journalists. This being reversed suggests the possibility a journalist is trying to help Peters and the NZ First election campaign.

Also of major interest is why the Deputy Prime Minister is grandstanding via Australian media and not working with the Government he is supposed to still be a significant part of. Presumably Peters and other NZ First ministers will be involved in the Cabinet meeting today that will make a decision of Covid lockdown levels.

And there is a scientific query over the claim.

NZ Herald – Genomic tracing used to find source of latest outbreak

Dunedin scientist Jemma Geoghegan says four Covid-19 cases at the centre of the latest outbreak in NZ – at this stage at least – do not seem to be linked to earlier cases in managed isolation or quarantine facilities.

That appears to contradict Peters’ claim.

Dr Geoghegan is using genomic tracing technology to try to solve the riddle of how the four Auckland family members became infected with Covid-19.

It was hard to be definitive, but the viral genomes seemed to be linked with genomes from English data bases on the Sars-cov-2 virus, which causes Covid-19, and checks were continuing with Australian viral genomes.

“By comparing the virus genomes from these cases to those from both the quarantine facilities and the global population, we can determine their likely origin and how long they have been circulating in the community.”

Peters’ source may turn out to be correct, either through being well informed or guessing the most likely source of the outbreak, but he seems to be working against the Government and contrary to current science.

At least Winston’s grandstanding may force the Government or Ministry of Health to address his claims and give us a bit more information.

Winston grandstanding, election campaign – but dumping on Government Covid quarantine

Winston Peters has a record of attention seeking grandstanding, especially during election campaigns, so this news should be viewed with that in mind.

In Winston’s world journalists are only reliable when they suit his purposes.

It’s hard to know what he is trying to achieve unless it is discredit the Government he is Deputy Prime Minister of.

Obviously the current Covid outbreak came from somewhere, and a quarantine breach is an obvious possibility, but going public via Australian media is a bizarre way for the Deputy Prime Minister to deal with this information if it is accurate, and nuts if it is false.

NZ Herald: Winston Peters claims Covid-19 cluster linked to quarantine breach

The Deputy Prime Minister Peters reportedly told ABC 24 News he was given the information by a New Zealand journalist, who he said was “usually very reliable”.

“It wasn’t an official, I found out from somewhere else, but I think there’s been a breach inside our quarantine system.

“I think, when that comes out very shortly, in a matter of maybe less than a day, we’ll find out that was the case. But you don’t always find out from your officials.

“You don’t always find out from the experts. It’s something you sort of find out by contact with other people.”

“I don’t know where this quarantine breach may have happened, but I think you can eliminate it being some new strain of Covid-19 that hitherto my country hadn’t seen.

“In Melbourne’s case, of course, it was – how shall I say it without being too critical? – pretty slack oversight and supervision, where it was put in the hands of private industry, which was a disaster. In our case, we got the army in early enough to know that that wouldn’t have been the problem. But there’s been a breach, and we’ll find out in a matter of hours, or within a day.”

A spokesperson for the prime minister’s office said they have not seen what Peters had said, but “no connection between managed isolation and these cases has been established at this point”.

If someone from National tried a stunt like this right now they would be hammered by media and by opponents.

The ABC interview is here:

https://iview.abc.net.au/show/afternoon-briefing

This social media campaign today looks like a joke:

Labour launch Jacinda/Covid campaign

Labour launched their election campaign yesterday. For obvious reasons Jacinda Ardern was prominent. A lot of confidence was on display – there were comments that they looked like they were celebrating already.

RNZ: Labour launches re-election campaign with $300m plan to create thousands of new jobs

The Labour Party has launched its re-election campaign today with a promise to invest $311 million to help unemployed New Zealanders into jobs.

The government’s existing Flexi-wage scheme – a wage subsidy to help employers hire those on a benefit at risk of long-term unemployment – would be revamped and expanded under a re-elected Labour Party, with the average amount a business can access to hire a worker more than doubling.

The party believes scaling up the scheme could enable 40,000 people to be employed.

Jacinda Ardern, speaking at the launch today, said $30 million will also be ring-fenced to help unemployed people start a business through an expanded Flexi-wage self employment programme, which will provide the equivalent of the minimum wage for up to 30 hours a week.

Trying too address things that the Government has been trying to address for the last few months. Unemployment could be a big issue as the campaign progresses and the wage subsidies run out.

A lot of us would prefer not to become unemployed in the first place.

Martyn Bradbury: Labour Party Campaign Launch tone deaf

So the Labour 2020 Election Campaign Launch was a tad disappointing.

We have just endured the worst pandemic for a century, there is fear and there is genuine worry about what happens as early as September and what was the tone Labour struck with their launch?

A slam poem that came across as a religious sermon mixed with an arts festival variety show which is not what worried NZers are wanting right now.

They are wanting to know how the bloody hell we get out of this mess.

Singing and dancing can be done once we’ve won folks, but the pandemic has reset everyones reality and the immediate future in a way not seen outside of World War 2.

Labour’s variety show came across as tone deaf and smug.

Labour are celebrating before they’ve won.

Labour’s lack of major policies and lack of ambition (except their ambition to win) is being noted.

Henry Cooke (Stuff): Labour launch an extremely centrist campaign

This was Labour’s campaign launch and first real policy release. Finally, after three years of only promoting things that could pass the Winston Peters’ test, Ardern had a chance to release some properly Labour Party Labour policy, the kind of “transformation” stuff she had been itching to do all term but couldn’t get away with.

Instead, she launched a hiring subsidy so centrist that the National Party already built it in 2012, albeit in a different form. And it isn’t even new spending: The whole $311m package comes from left-over money unspent by the extension to the wage subsidy.

The hiring subsidy may well be good public policy.

But what it isn’t is particularly Labour. BusinessNZ were effusive in their praise for it, and even Judith Collins was only able to muster a “we did it first”. This was Ardern’s first chance in a long while to set out what her party stood for, outside of the binds of Winston Peters, and she released a policy that you would probably get 119 votes for in Parliament. Indeed, it’s hard to see why the Government wouldn’t just do this policy before the election, if it was such a good idea and the money is just lying around unspent.

It makes total sense for Labour to campaign from the centre. Centrism is probably the route to keeping that huge swath of voters Ardern won over during lockdown on their side through September 19. The party’s base loves Ardern and hates Collins enough that they would probably be out door-knocking if Ardern announced a business tax cut next.

But voters do deserve a contest of ideas, and not just one fought between the Green Party and ACT, who have put out policies that really tap into the ideologies of each party.

There is no doubt that Ardern is a very good image marketing politician.

But she seems very unambitious when it comes to delivering on transformation, progressiveness, reform, anything much apart from promoting a popularity contest.

Even The Standard did little to promote Labour’s launch. A few hours afterwards a post appeared: Jacinda’s speech to the Labour campaign launch

And comments there were generally fairly muted and mixed. Maybe they believe they can coast to victory.

Perhaps Muttonbird summed things up:

Except apparently Jesus actually did a bunch of stuff for the poor.

Ardern: “When people ask, is this a COVID election, my answer is yes, it is,” 

Campaigning a lot on what they have done (recently), and little on any plan or vision for the future.

For Labour this election is all about three things – Jacinda, Jacinda, Jacinda.

Covid, politics and the election

The Government have been criticised for some time for using regular Covid media conferences to promote themselves leading up to the election.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern fronted important announcements, which was a significant reason for widespread public support of the lockdown. She earned strong public support of Government actions.

She was helped by the very competent media skills of the Director-general of Health, Ashley Bloomfield.

But for a while Ardern continued to do the media gigs with little of importance to say but an update of the daily totals and reminders of care that needed to be taken to minimise the opportunity for Covid to spread.

Criticism of her promoting herself and her Government and her party started to grow. Some of the news was not so good as new cases started to add up and a number of people escaped from isolation. Coincidentally or not she removed herself from the Covid front line most of the time.

At the same time Ardern replaced the inept Minister of Health David Clark with the far more competent and media savvy Chris Hipkins, who has been the regular Government Covid spokesperson since the beginning of July, along with Megan Woods.

It can be difficult to differentiate between dealing with Covid and competent government, but there is no doubt Labour’s election chances have been substantially enhanced by both their handling of Covid and their frequent public performances.

The major Government party has always had a significant advantage in election campaigns. They have far more media exposure – even more so during the Covid pandemic – and they have money to dish out to appear generous too voters – and there is a lot more of that at the moment dealing with Covid and the economic impact.

So Labour are benefiting, and are no doubt milking it a bit with the election in mind. It has been suggested that there won’t be any Pacific Island bubble until after the election so as to not risk adverse publicity during the campaign. This may be a bit cynical but is fairly normal politics, albeit in abnormal times.

Polls show that Labour has benefited from Ardern’s popularity and the relative success of keeping control of Covid – and the publicity for doing that.

This has put Labours main opponent, National, in a difficult situation (made quite a bit more difficult by their leadership changes and MPs behaving badly). It has been hard for them to criticise the Covid response, and hard for them to promote anything better as an alternative.

National have been effectively been sidelined by circumstances, self inflicted wounds and by Ardern in particular doing so well in the eyes of most of us.

Judith Collins has had a mixed start as leader. She is better than Bridges and much better than Muller, but those were low bars.

She is much better handling media – but she is far from perfect with that. Both her occasional flippancy and trying to appear to be tough don’t come across very well.

And she hasn’t been helped by a bit of bumbling by her deputy, Gerry Brownlee. While the Government Covid response is inextricably linked with politics, Opposition politicising of it has major risks for National.

Covid is too important and poses too many risks political point scoring.

Today’s ODT editorial warns both Labour and National: Leave health response to experts

The ongoing public health response to the global pandemic must not become fodder for the election campaign. It is far too important for that.

Clarity and certainty are paramount as our communities meet the Covid-19 threat. Mixed messages from all and sundry may make us vulnerable.

The election campaign has started. Now, we should expect to get all the information we need about the Covid-19 health response from the public servants managing it.

Director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield, unsullied by the need to seek re-election, remains the primary source of key health messages. He is the most qualified to explain where-to next.

So particularly now the campaign proper has kicked off politicians should butt out unless something out of the ordinary needs to be addressed.

National Party Covid-19 border response spokesman Gerry Brownlee cast a light on the potential for mixing messages with his latest foray into the practical response.

Yesterday, he pondered the Ministry of Health’s latest guidance urging people to have masks ready in case the country has to return to Level 2.

The announcement came out of the blue and he had ‘‘seen very little evidence that would back up the reason for it’’, he said.

‘‘Why is it now when we have 94 days now with no community transmission and apparently secure borders that they’re suddenly wanting to bring this up,’’ he asked.

‘‘I think it’s a bit of a squirrel running up a tree so that we’re not looking at the teetering employment situation.’’

That and other things Brownlee has said don’t help Collins or National’s cause. National could learn from Labour, who mostly keep deputy Kelvin Davis out of the spotlight.

Dr Bloomfield this week warned community transmission was inevitable — our border may eventually be breached — and people should not be complacent. Epidemiologists continue to say the same thing. This all meant the guidance had to change, eventually.

Such readily available information helped explain the ‘‘why now’’ of the announcement, but if it caused distraction, it was generated by politicians.

Not just by politicians. Political axe grinders have claimed Bloomfield and particularly the Government are ‘scaremongering’ and trying to raise fear in the public for political purposes.

Our health advisers are apolitical public servants. It is a very serious thing to suggest they would issue an important health advisory to benefit the Government.

But in this case, health advisers were not left alone in the advising. As has been the case since lockdown, a senior minister shared the daily announcement spotlight. Minister of Health Chris Hipkins amplified the advice, in a simple act that some considered enough to infer a political motivation.

Whether it was right or wrong to do so — though we suggest it was wrong — is almost beside the point. The point is, politicians must opt for absolute care during the election campaign.

They must spend the next few weeks letting health officials make and restate official health announcements. They should defer to them, and let them explain the need for masks, sanitiser and quarantine.

But will they? Ardern focussed on the Covid response in her Adjournment Debate – Jacinda Ardern speech, and appears to be openly campaigning on Covid competence and control.

And all that leaves Collins and National is to try to attract attention with alternatives but without appearing too negative. They have a way to go to work that out, and a long way to go to suggest they deserve to run the government.

Otherwise Ardern and Labour will cruise to victory virtually untouchable, as they appear to be doing now.

Trump challenged on Covid response, death toll ‘is what it is’

Donald Trump is under fire yet again after an interview in which he said that Covid is under control in the US, the death toll ‘is what it is’, and he disputed comparing deaths to population.

As always it’s difficult too know whether Trump believes what he says or if he is deliberately speaking bull to a specific audience. I think probably at times at least he has come too believe his own bull.

CNBC: Trump says coronavirus death toll ‘is what it is’ as he insists pandemic is ‘under control’ in U.S.

“Numerous categories, we’re lower than the world,” Trump said while reading from a small stack of papers he was holding.

“Lower than the world? What does that mean? In what?” Swan said.

The president handed one paper to Swan, who after a brief examination responded: “Oh, you’re doing death as a proportion of cases. I’m talking about death as a proportion of population. That’s where the U.S. is really bad. Much worse than South Korea, Germany, etc.”

Trump replied: “You can’t do that … you have to go by the cases.”

Swan maintained that it was relevant to look at the number of deaths in the U.S. from Covid-19 in proportion to the population of the country. He compared the U.S. with South Korea, a nation of more than 50 million people that he counted about 300 total death from the coronavirus.

“You don’t know that,” Trump said.

“You think they’re faking their statistics?” Swan responded.

“Uh, I won’t get into that because I have a very good relationship with the country, but you don’t know that,” Trump said. 

President Donald Trump insisted that the coronavirus pandemic is “under control” in the United States even when confronted with the staggering death tolls from the virus.

During a contentious interview, Axios’ Jonathan Swan asked Trump how he could claim his administration has a handle on the virus as it kills 1,000 Americans a day.

“They are dying. That’s true, and — it is what it is,” Trump said. “But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can. It’s under control as much as you can control it,” Trump said in the interview, which took place July 28 and aired Monday night on HBO.

“You really think this is as much as we can control it?” Swan asked. “A thousand deaths a day?”

“First of all, we have done a great job,” Trump replied, focusing on how governors have handled the crisis in their own states rather than him taking personal responsibility. “I could tell you right now who the great ones are and who the not-so-great ones are. But the governors do it. We gave them massive amounts of material.”

Trump’s rosy view of the U.S. response to the pandemic comes as more than 4.71 million cases have been confirmed in the country, as well as at least 155,478 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Both are the highest recorded totals for any country.

Going by Worldometer it looks like the US is heading for another 1000+ deaths today after the usual weekend drop in numbers

The US is getting close to 5 million cases and 160,000 deaths.

More Trump ignorance on Covid testing

Donald Trump has been again combined contradictory and ignorant claims about Covid testing with an attack on media.

The US has done more testing than any other country, but Israel, Russia, Singapore, UK, Denmark and a bunch of small countries have done more testing per head of population (US is 19th on the WorldInfo list).

Testing is a critical means of controlling Covid, but the raw number of tests doesn’t say much anyway. Here’s some percentages of other numbers

USA has:

  • 4.26% of the world population
  • 17.28% of Covid tests
  • 22.93% of Covid deaths
  • 26.45% of total cases
  • 28.48% of serious/critical cases
  • 37.63% of active cases

Those are numbers are only based on recorded statistics so won’t be 100%, but give an obvious indication that the US is struggling with Covid.

Testing matters, but the quality of testing, the timing of testing and the use of the results of the testing are more important than raw numbers.

Testing in the US showed that Covid was still widespread in the US when Trump and some states pushed for relaxing lockdowns. Covid got worse – deaths have been trending back upwards there through July, and this week were the highest since May.

Tests are important but it’s how you use the tests that matter.

Note that New Zealand is included and rates very well on these charts.

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New Zealand’s testing rate of 93,574 per million is much less than the US rate of 177,883 per million, but we have 4 deaths per million compared to the US rate of 475 so we don’t need to do as much testing.

Our testing peaked at over 10,000 per day in June – when we came out of lockdown and wanted to make sure Covid was under control – and is now peaking at 3,000 per day. We need to make sure we don’t have community transmission, but because fewer people have symptoms or concerns, fewer get tested.

Reuters: U.S. records over 25,000 coronavirus deaths in July

U.S. coronavirus deaths rose by over 25,000 in July and cases doubled in 19 states during the month, according to a Reuters tally, dealing a crushing blow to hopes of quickly reopening the economy.

The United States recorded 1.87 million new cases in July, bringing total infections to 4.5 million, for an increase of 69%. Deaths in July rose 20% to nearly 154,000 total.

The biggest increases in July were in Florida, with over 310,000 new cases, followed by California and Texas with about 260,000 each. All three states saw cases double in June.

Cases also more than doubled in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia, according to the tally.

The United States shattered single-day global records when it reported over 77,000 new cases on July 16. During July, 33 out of the 50 U.S. states had one-day record increases in cases and 19 set records for their rise in deaths in 24 hours, according to a Reuters tally.

We have virtually no restrictions because we have Covid under control here.

And Covid isn’t the only worrying statistic in the US.

The news that more states could be hard hit by the virus comes a day after the U.S. reported that gross domestic product collapsed at a 32.9% annualized rate in the second quarter, the nation’s worst economic performance since the Great Depression.

We may be able to keep Covid out of New Zealand, but it will be difficult to avoid the economic impact.

Odd tweets about testing doesn’t address the problems the US still face.

Vaccines are being fast tracked but at best it will be some time before they limit the Covid damage.

Reuters: U.S. makes deal for 100 million doses of coronavirus vaccine, deaths expected to rise

Two major drug companies will supply the U.S. government with 100 million doses of an experimental coronavirus vaccine, the Trump administration said on Friday, as the nation’s top health agency predicted that fatalities would rise in the coming weeks.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control on Friday forecast between 168,000 and 182,000 total fatalities by August 22, predicting that deaths will rise fastest in Alabama, Kentucky, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, Tennessee and Washington state.

The CDC also released a study that said COVID-19 had spread to nearly half the staff and campers at a sleep-away camp in Georgia over a week and a half ago.

The investigation demonstrated “that children of all ages are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and, contrary to early reports, might play an important role in transmission.”

Coronavirus deaths in the United States are rising at their fastest rate since early June. Roughly one American died about every minute from COVID-19 on Wednesday.

Wisconsin joined 21 other states that have seen a surge in new cases.

The COVID-19 outbreak “is not in good control” in Wisconsin said Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.

This isn’t fake news. Many US states are having very real problems with Covid.

While the president keeps fiddling with twitter his country burns.

Covid isolation charges announced

The Government has announced that a small number of people will be charged for some of the costs of the 14 day Covid isolation required of everyone coming into the country – “$3100 per person in a room, $950 for each additional adult and $475 for each additional child sharing the room”.

$479 million has been budgeted for managed isolation until the end of the year, but in Parliament Minister Megan Woods said:

Indicative modelling shows that the scheme would generate between $2.2 million and $8.8 million a year at a cost of recouping that of $600,000″.

That works out to about $1 to $4 million until the end of the year out of the $479 million cost so you would have to wonder whether it is worth it.

At this stage it is impossible to tell how long isolation will be required – going by how Covid is increasing in many parts of the world including parts of Australia it could be some time.

Also from Parliament:

Hon Gerry Brownlee: What is legally challenging about saying to New Zealanders who are coming back to this country, having been away for quite some time, that the costs of their managed isolation, the cost of their re-joining the team of 5 million, is a charge that they need to meet?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: This is a complex legal area and, I know, an easy political sound bite, but the advice that we have worked through in a lot of detail with Crown Law is about whether any charge to enter a public health managed isolation facility, a requirement of entry to your own country, that is placed on all New Zealanders, constitutes a barrier of entry to your country. 

I don’t know why some can be charged if it is supposed to be legally difficult to charge people. And Government legislation is supposed to make whatever they want legal.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Why has the Government not come to Parliament to introduce a law that would make legal the charges that she apparently says cannot be applied, so that the taxpayers of New Zealand can be relieved of some of this extraordinary burden for people who want to come back and join the team of 5 million?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Because this Government has come to this Parliament with a law that is not going to be legally overturned by the courts. What it does is it puts in place a regime that does not trample on the bill of rights and the rights of New Zealanders to return to their country. The member may like to look at the legislation that has been tabled this afternoon.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Where does the Minister think a law passed by the Parliament of New Zealand would be overturned by the courts?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: A thing called the bill of rights.

Not sure why the Bill of Rights stops them charging some but not others.

And I thought that checking legislation against the Bill of Rights was standard practice.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: So does her policy mean that a business person travelling offshore to gain new markets for New Zealand will pay for their managed quarantine when they come back but someone who had chosen to make a life offshore, perhaps for many years, will come back into this country to join the team of 5 million paying nothing?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: The regime that we have outlined today would see anyone that was leaving for a holiday or for business pay for their isolation and factor that into the cost of their trip overseas. 

This may delay people going overseas to try to do business. It could cost me my job.

Legislation for managed isolation payments

Legislation to allow the Government to recover some of the costs for managed isolation and quarantine will be introduced to Parliament today, said Minister of Housing Megan Woods.

“The Bill will allow the government to charge for managed isolation and quarantine facilities. We have carefully considered how to design a system that is fair on arrivals and not a barrier for returning to New Zealand, especially for those who might already be experiencing financial stress,” said Megan Woods.

“We want to share the costs in a way that fairly reflects the benefits to both the New Zealand public of having such a robust system, and those who leave and enter the country. 

“As Minister I am proposing to only charge New Zealanders who enter temporarily, or who leave New Zealand after the regulations come into force. Temporary visa holders would have to pay unless they were ordinarily resident in New Zealand before the border closure, and left before the border closure. I intend to seek Cabinet agreement to a charging structure of $3100 per person in a room, $950 for each additional adult and $475 for each additional child sharing the room. There will also be mechanisms to allow charges to be waived in full or in part,” said Megan Woods.

The COVID-19 Public Health Response Amendment Bill provides a legal framework to allow the Government to set payment terms, exempt groups of people and waive charges in cases of financial hardship. It will also ensure that recovered charges do not exceed the actual costs of managed isolation and quarantine.

“The legislation will be passed next week before the House rises for the parliamentary term, and will enable regulations to be developed. Further details of the charging scheme and when it will come into force, will be announced soon. Charges will not apply to anyone entering New Zealand and going into MIQ before regulations are in force.

It is forecast that more people will be travelling and arriving at the border. The Government has set aside a total of $479 million dollars to pay for the costs of Managed Isolation facilities until the end of the year.

US unrest likely to continue at least until November election

Covid-19 has caused a lot of problems in the United States, and that looks like continuing for months at least, with a resurgence of the spread, cases and deaths. Even Donald Trump has conceded, deciding to can the Republican convention he was previously determined to go ahead with in Florida after North Carolina ruled it out due to Covid.

Alongside that are the race protests that refuse to go away following the death of George Floyd, with Trump intent on clamping down on protests or inflaming the situation.

A snapshot of current news:

  • U.S. charges 18 Portland protesters as it sends tactical police to Seattle
    U.S. prosecutors on Friday unveiled charges against 18 Portland, Oregon protesters ranging from assaulting police to arson and trespassing, a day after the Trump administration expanded the deployment of tactical police to Seattle.
  • Chicago takes down statues of Columbus, plans review of all monuments
    Chicago temporarily removed two statues of Christopher Columbus on Friday and announced it would reassess the appropriateness of all its monuments, a week after protesters had tried to topple one of the statues, leading to a violent clash with police.
  • Trump signs orders to lower prescription drug prices
    U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday signed four executive orders aiming at lowering prices that Americans pay for prescription drugs as he faces an uphill re-election battle and criticism over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • As U.S. coronavirus surges, Trump officials press back-to-school plan
    With just weeks to go before U.S. schools begin to open, federal health and education officials on Friday stressed the need for children to get back into the classroom despite parents’ fears about safety as coronavirus infections surge.
    Administration officials said reopening schools was critical for children’s mental and emotional well-being, as well as to allow parents to get back to work to boost the economy, a priority for President Donald Trump as he seeks re-election in November.
  • The wealthy Republicans who want to oust Trump in November’s election
    Jimmy Tosh, who runs a multi-million dollar hog and grain farm in Tennessee, is a lifelong Republican. He is pro-gun, supports lower taxes and agrees with most of Republican President Donald Trump’s agenda. “I agree with 80% of the things he does; I just cannot stand a liar,” Tosh, 70, said of Trump.
  • Explainer: Why Election Day could be just the start of a long battle over the U.S. presidency
    President Donald Trump’s refusal this week to say if he would accept the results of November’s election, and his repeated assertions that the vote will be “rigged” because of mail-in ballots, have raised the specter of a disputed election that could take weeks, or even months, to resolve
  • Pompeo Urges More Assertive Approach to “Frankenstein” China
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took fresh aim at China on Thursday and said Washington and its allies must use “more creative and assertive ways” to press the Chinese Communist Party to change its ways, calling it the “mission of our time.”
  • China Tells U.S. to Close Chengdu Consulate in Retaliatory Move
    China has ordered the closure of the US consulate in the south-western city of Chengdu, in a tit-for-tat escalation between the two countries. China said the move was in response to the US closing its consulate in Houston, and accused staff in Chengdu of meddling in its internal affairs.

The US is not a happy place, with no sign of them getting over Covid nor racial and political division any time soon.

Trump interview as controversial as usual

In an interview on Fox News Donald Trump has been as controversial as usual.

Fox: Trump pushes back against critics on coronavirus, addresses whether he will accept election results in exclusive interview

President Trump, in an exclusive interview with Fox News, challenged his critics on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, threatened a veto for the defense bill, and speculated on whether he will accept the results if his Democratic challenger wins the presidency in November.

Trump, in a contentious sitdown that aired Sunday, told “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace that recent statistics regarding COVID-19 cases and deaths are misleading. Early in the discussion, the president disputed Wallace’s claim that the U.S. currently has the seventh-highest mortality rate in the world.

“I think we have one of the lowest mortality rates in the world,” Trump said, offering White House statistics that differed from the ones Wallace cited.

Worldometer ranks the US tenth worst in deaths per 1m population.

Wallace then explained that his numbers came from Johns Hopkins University, which ranked the U.S. seventh in mortality, ahead of the UK and worse than Brazil and Russia. He noted that the White House’s chart, which uses data from the European Centre for Disease Protection and Control, has the U.S. ahead of Spain and Italy, but worse than Brazil and South Korea, with Russia and other countries not included in the chart.

rom there, Trump pushed back against statements from leading U.S. doctors, specifically CDC Director Robert Redfield and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci. Redfield said last week that he expects the coming fall and winter to be among “the most difficult times that we’ve experienced in American public health.”

When asked if he agrees with Redfield, Trump said he was unsure, but pointed to mistakes that doctors have made.

“I don’t know and I don’t think he knows,” Trump said. I don’t think anybody knows with this. This is a very tricky deal. Everybody thought this summer it would go away and it would come back in the fall. Well, when the summer came, they used to say the heat — the heat was good for it and it really knocks it out, remember? And then it might come back in the fall. So they got that one wrong.”

That’s something trump also got wrong, as well as a number of predictions he has made on Covid.

“I guess everybody makes mistakes,” the president said, then added, “I’ll be right eventually. I will be right eventually,” referring to his past prediction that the virus would eventually go away.

“It’s going to disappear and I’ll be right,” he said.

In the meantime, Trump says that he takes responsibility for what happens to the nation during the pandemic, as critics claim that the U.S. does not have a national plan.

“Look, I take responsibility always for everything because it’s ultimately my job, too. I have to get everybody in line,” Trump said, while stating that governors have to lead as well.

“No country has ever done what we’ve done in terms of testing. We are the envy of the world,” he said.

The US ranks 23rd on tests per 1m.

With 3.8 million cases and 143,000 deaths and rising case rates, totalling a quarter of world cases and nearly a quatrer of recorded world deaths, the US is not the envy of the world.

Asked about racial tension in the wake of George Floyd’s death, Trump recognized how Black Americans are feeling. When asked if he understands why Black people are angry about being disproportionately shot and killed by police compared to White people, Trump said he does.

“Of course I do. Of course I do,” Trump said. At the same time, the president noted that “many Whites are killed also,” and that “this is going on for a long time, long before I got here.”

Turning to the upcoming election, Trump had strong words for Joe Biden, taking political and personal shots at the presumptive Democratic nominee.

In the past, Trump has taken shots at Biden’s mental capabilities, and he continued to go down that path.

“Biden can’t put two sentences together,” Trump said.

Trump is in risky territory accusing others of mental capabilities and incoherent speech.

Later on, Trump said that this is why he will be victorious.

“[Y]ou know why I won’t lose, because the country, in the end, they’re not going to have a man who – who’s shot. He’s shot, he’s mentally shot,” Trump said.

Asked about the possibility of losing, however, Trump noted that he does not handle losing well, and may not handle it well if it happens in November.

“I’m not a good loser. I don’t like to lose,” he said. “I don’t lose too often. I don’t like to lose.”

When asked if he is gracious, Trump said, “You don’t know until you see. It depends.” He then claimed that mail-in voting, which Democrats have pushed as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, “is going to rig the election.”

Asked if this means that he will not accept the election results, Trump said, “No. I have to see.”

Asked again if he would accept the results, Trump said, “No, I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no, and I didn’t last time either.”

Transcript: ‘Fox News Sunday’ interview with President Trump

There wasn’t anything in this interview that is likely to change things for Trump, it was fairly familiar stuff.

Polls suggest he has an uphill battle this election – FiveThirtyEight currently has him on:

  • 55.5% disapproval
  • 40.5% approval.

And presidential polls aren’t promising for him either.

  • Biden 50.4%
  • Trump 41.6%

See also:

A million new Covid cases in 5 days

In New Zealand we fret about each of a handful of people arriving in the country not staying in isolation for 14 days while life has returned more or less to normal for most of us.

But Covid-19 is causing a lot of concern with a surge in cases around the world.The World Health Organisation chief warns that it will continue to get worse unless many countries change how they are dealing with the virus.

There has been a million new Covid-19 cases in five days, with now over 13 million cases in total recorded.

The death toll has flattened (but is showing signs of rising again following the surge in cases), suggesting a number of possibilities – health care and prevention of deaths has been improved, infected populations are younger and less vulnerable, newer strains of virus are not as lethal – but still the current death toll is 573,000 and going up by thousands a day.

There is an obvious concern that the death rate will follow the case rate upwards, but the daily toll is bad enough as it is.

Reuters:  WHO sounds alarm as coronavirus cases rise by one million in five days

The number of coronavirus infections around the world hit 13 million on Monday, according to a Reuters tally, climbing by a million in just five days.

The pandemic has now killed more than half a million people in six-and-a-half months, and World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said there would be no return to the “old normal” for the foreseeable future, especially if preventive measures were neglected.

“Let me be blunt, too many countries are headed in the wrong direction, the virus remains public enemy number one,” he told a virtual briefing from WHO headquarters in Geneva.

“If basics are not followed, the only way this pandemic is going to go, it is going to get worse and worse and worse. But it does not have to be this way.”

Parts of the world, especially the United States with more than 3.3 million confirmed cases, are still seeing huge increases in a first wave of COVID-19 infections, while others “flatten the curve” and ease lockdowns.

Some places, such as the Australian city of Melbourne and Leicester in England, are implementing a second round of shutdowns.

The Melbourne surge means that trans-Tasman travel will remain off limits to Kiwis for some time, and reopening borders to the rest of the world looks to be months away at least.

The United States reported a daily global record of 69,070 new infections on July 10. In Brazil, 1.86 million people have tested positive, including President Jair Bolsonaro, and more than 72,000 people have died.

India, the country with the third highest number of infections, has been contending with an average of 23,000 new infections each day since the beginning of July.

In countries with limited testing capacity, case numbers reflect a smaller proportion of total infections. Experts say official data probably under-represents both infections and deaths.

Covid is affecting the United States more than most countries, with a third of the new cases there. And the health problems aren’t limited to Covid.

Reuters: New U.S. health crisis looms as patients without COVID-19 delay care

A Texas man who waited until his brain tumor was softball-sized; a baby who suffered an ear infection for six days; a heart patient who died: The resurgence of COVID-19 is creating another health crisis as hospitals fill and patients are fearful or unable to get non-emergency care.

With U.S. coronavirus infections reaching new heights, doctors and hospitals say they are also seeing sharp declines in patients seeking routine medical care and screenings – and a rise in those who have delayed care for so long they are far sicker than they otherwise would be.

After the pandemic was declared a national emergency in March, many states banned non-essential medical procedures, and the number of patients seeking care for other ailments took a nosedive. Hospitals and medical practices were hit hard financially.

Emergency department use dropped by 42% during the first 10 weeks of the pandemic despite a rise in patients presenting with symptoms of the coronavirus, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show. In the same period, patients seeking care for heart attacks dropped by 23% and stroke care by 20%.

This is a real problem but with no easy solutions. If Covid was even less contained people with other health problems would be exposed more.

…the recent surge in cases has swamped hospitals in many states, including Texas, Arizona, Florida and parts of California.

But with new COVID-19 cases swamping the hospital, sickening nearly 30 staff members and forcing it to divert non-coronavirus cases to other facilities for several days, Wolcott fears that again patients with heart conditions and other illnesses will stay away.

“We won’t know for years how many people lost their lives or lost good years of their lives for fear of coronavirus,” he said.

While individual states are responsible for a lot of their handling of Covid it doesn’t help that the country’s leadership has been hopeless. Donald Trump remains intent on reopening businesses and schools and abusing those trying to deal with the pandemic.

Reuters: Trump swipes at Fauci, CDC as U.S. coronavirus cases rise

President Donald Trump on Monday took swipes at health experts in his government leading the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak, as his relationship further frayed with top infectious diseases doctor Anthony Fauci.

In the early morning, Trump retweeted to his 83 million followers the accusations of a former game show host that “everyone is lying,” including the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“The most outrageous lies are the ones about Covid 19. Everyone is lying. The CDC, Media, Democrats, our Doctors, not all but most, that we are told to trust,” Chuck Woolery wrote Sunday night without citing evidence.

The White House did not respond to questions on whether the president believed the CDC was lying.

Tensions with Fauci have risen with the decline of Trump’s popularity in the polls over the president’s handling of the outbreak. Fauci’s plain-spoken assessments during White House coronavirus briefings have made him a household name.

Trump told the Fox News Channel on Thursday that “Dr. Fauci is a nice man, but he’s made a lot of mistakes.” Fauci said in a Financial Times interview the following day he has not briefed Trump in two months.

Trump appears to be finally losing trust and support with the US people as he slides in the polls, with the highest disapproval levels for two and a half years. He is more concerned with his own re-election chances than people getting sick and dying, but poorly as he is lagging and slipping further behind an old, lacklustre Joe Biden.

He is even turning on his favoured Fox:

But that is a sad sideshow. Covid is a crisis that doesn’t look like going away, with major immediate effects and major longer term implications.

At least here in New Zealand Covid is well under control. We just have to hope the impact on business and jobs isn’t too harsh as we observe from a distance as many other countries struggling with far greater problems.