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SpaceX rocket lifts off on historic private crew flight

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, May 30: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying two veteran NASA astronauts lifted off on Saturday on an historic first private crew flight into space.

The two-stage Falcon 9 rocket with astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard blasted off smoothly in a cloud of orange flames and smoke from Launch Pad 39A at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center for the 19-hour voyage to the International Space Station.

The first booster stage of the rocket separated cleanly and landed upright on a barge off the Atlantic coast.

The second stage also separated smoothly, sending the astronauts in the Crew Dragon capsule on their way to the space station orbiting some 250 miles (450 kilometers) above the Earth.

The first crewed flight from US soil since the space shuttle program ended in 2011 had originally been scheduled for Wednesday but was delayed because of weather conditions, which also remained uncertain on Saturday right up until liftoff at 3:22 pm (1922 GMT).

President Donald Trump flew to Florida aboard Air Force One to watch the launch and described it as “really something special.”

“Real talent, real genius, nobody does it like us,” Trump said.

Trump terminates ties with WHO; To end special status for Hong Kong

WASHINGTON, May 29: US President Donald Trump on Friday announced he was “terminating” the country’s ties with the World Health Organization (WHO) for its failure to carry out reforms and said the annual contribution of $450 million will be diverted to other bodies around the world.

President Trump also said that United States will end special status for Hong Kong and treat it on par with Mainland China and prevent certain students from China from enrolling in US universities and colleges.

This statement of the President comes after China imposed a controversial national security law on Hong Kong that many critics have said will pose restrictions on Hong Kong’s freedom.

“Because they have failed to make the requested and greatly needed reforms, we will be today terminating our relationship with the World Health Organization and will be redirecting those funds to other worldwide and deserving urgent public health needs,” Trump said at news briefing.

Trump had sent a list of reforms that United States wanted the world body to carry out and end its dependence on China.

“The only way forward for the organization is if it can actually demonstrate independence from China,” he had written in a four-page letter to WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last week. He had given the world body 30 days to respond.

The United States has exited a number of world bodies and multilateral pacts on President Trump’s watch, starting with the Trans-Pacific Partnership in January 2017, the month when he took office. This was followed by departures from the Paris Accord on climate change (2017), UNESCO (2017), Iran deal (2018) and UNHCR (2018). And the president has grumbled about US contributions to NATO and the United Nations and now with the World Health Organization.

Trump calls Covid epidemic a ‘bad gift’ from China as toll in US crosses 100,000

WASHINGTON, May 28: President Donald Trump finally acknowledged on Thursday that US Covid-19 toll had surpassed 100,000, calling it a “sad milestone” almost 20 hours late, and promptly proceeded to blame it on China, saying the coronavirus behind it was a “very bad gift from China”.

Trump had been noticeably quiet on the toll as he tweeted and retweeted about an upcoming executive order on social media, about his political rivals, ongoing legal case involving his first national security adviser Michael Flynn, and his predecessor President Barack Obama.

“We have just reached a very sad milestone with the coronavirus pandemic deaths reaching 100,000,” he wrote in a tweet Thursday, hours after the Johns Hopkins University tracker marked the crossing.

In a tweet minutes after, the president wrote, “All over the World the CoronaVirus, a very bad “gift” from China, marches on. Not good!”

President Trump and his Republican allies have sought to shift all of the blame for the epidemic including the devastation caused in the United States by this administration’s delayed and botched response, on China, where the first infections occurred last December. Approval ratings of the president’s handling of the crisis have been declining steadily.

The toll had risen to 100,467 by Thursday morning (much earlier, according to some trackers), with 1,505 deaths in the last 24 hours, marking a return to four-digit toll after days. Infections rose by 18,263 to reach 1.7 million. The United State accounts for around a third of both the infections and fatalities worldwide.

The epidemic has continued to take a heavy toll on the US economy with 2.1 million more American filings for unemployment benefits, according to new data released by the US department of labor. The total of jobs lost due to the Covid-19 lockdown is now up to 41 million.

Trump offers to mediate on India, China border dispute

WASHINGTON, May 27: US President Donal Trump on Wednesday said he has offered to arbitrate the India-China border dispute in what is being seen as move that will irk Beijing more than New Delhi, given the steadily rising hostility and antipathy towards China in the United States over the Covid-19 outbreak, which comes on top of months of differences over trade and mounting irritation over theft of intellectual property.

“We have informed both India and China that the United States is ready, willing and able to mediate or arbitrate their now raging border dispute,” Trump wrote in a tweet Wednesday morning.

The United States has been closely watching the latest flare-up on the India-China border, and had sided with India in its first official response. The flare-ups were a “reminder that Chinese aggression is not always just rhetorical”.,” Alice Wells, the top US diplomat for South and Central Asia had told reporters last week.

“Whether it’s in the South China Sea or whether it’s along the border with India, we continue to see provocations and disturbing behaviour by China that raises questions about how China seeks to use its growing power,” she had added.

There were no followup pronouncements from the US since, till the morning tweet from the president, with his offer to mediate. No official explanation was forthcoming of the president’s new offer and it was not clear if either India and China had asked the American leader to intervene. A response is awaited from the White House to a request for more information.

US Senate passes bill to delist Chinese firms from exchanges

WASHINGTON, May 21: The Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation Wednesday that could lead to Chinese companies such as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Baidu Inc. being barred from listing on US stock exchanges amid increasingly tense relations between the world’s two largest economies.

The bill, introduced by Senator John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, and Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland, was approved by unanimous consent and would require companies to certify that they are not under the control of a foreign government.

US lawmakers have raised red flags over the billions of dollars flowing into some of China’s largest corporations, much of it from pension funds and college endowments in search of fat investment returns. Alarm has grown in particular that American money is bankrolling efforts by the country’s technology giants to develop leading positions in everything from artificial intelligence and autonomous driving to internet data collection.

Shares in some of the biggest US-listed Chinese firms, including Baidu and Alibaba, slid Thursday in New York while the broader market gained.

If a company can’t show that it is not under such control or the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, or PCAOB, isn’t able to audit the company for three consecutive years to determine that it is not under the control of a foreign government, the company’s securities would be banned from the exchanges.

“I do not want to get into a new Cold War,” Kennedy said on the Senate floor, adding that he wants “China to play by the rules.”

“Publicly listed companies should all be held to the same standards, and this bill makes common sense changes to level the playing field and give investors the transparency they need to make informed decisions,” Van Hollen said in a statement. “I’m proud that we were able to pass it today with overwhelming bipartisan support, and I urge our House colleagues to act quickly.”

Since discussions on increased disclosure requirements began last year, many Chinese companies have either listed in Hong Kong already or plan to do so, said James Hull, a Beijing-based analyst and portfolio manager with Hullx.

“All Chinese U.S.-listed entities are potentially impacted over the coming years,” he said. “Increased disclosure may hurt some smaller companies, but there’s been risk disclosures around PCAOB for a while now, so it shouldn’t be a shock to anyone.”

In a sign of broad support for the measure, Representative Brad Sherman, a California Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, introduced a companion bill in that chamber. Sherman said in a statement that Nasdaq moved this week to delist China-based Luckin Coffee after executives at the company admitted fabricating $310 million in sales between April and December 2019.

“I commend our Senate counterparts for moving to address this critical issue,” Sherman said. “Had this legislation already been signed into law, U.S. investors in Luckin Coffee likely would have avoided billions of dollars in losses.”

House leaders are discussing the legislation -- and a separate Senate-passed bill to sanction Chinese officials over human rights abuses against Muslim minorities -- with lawmakers and members of the relevant committees, a Democratic aide said.

The Senate measure -- S. 945 -- is an example of the rising bipartisan pushback against China in Congress that had been building over trade and other issues. It has been amplified especially by Republicans as President Donald Trump has sought to blame China as the main culprit in the coronavirus pandemic.

GOP lawmakers have in recent weeks unleashed a torrent of legislation aimed at punishing China for not being more forthcoming with information or proactive in restricting travel as the coronavirus began to spread from the city of Wuhan, where it was first detected.

Trump escalated his rhetoric against China on Wednesday night, suggesting that leader Xi Jinping is behind a “disinformation and propaganda attack on the United States and Europe.”

“It all comes from the top,” Trump said in a series of tweets. He added that China was “desperate” to have former Vice President Joe Biden win the presidential race.

Kennedy told Fox Business on Tuesday that the bill would apply to US exchanges such as Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange.

“I would not turn my back on the Chinese Communist Party if they were two days dead,” Kennedy said. “They cheat. And I’ve got a bill to stop them from cheating.”

At issue is China’s longstanding refusal to allow the PCAOB to examine audits of firms whose shares trade on the New York Stock Exchange, Nasdaq and other U.S. platforms. The inspections by the little-known agency, which Congress stood up in 2002 in response to the massive Enron Corp. accounting scandal, are meant to prevent fraud and wrongdoing that could wipe out shareholders.

Since then China and the US have been at odds on the issue even as companies including Alibaba and Baidu have raised billions of dollars selling shares in American markets. The long-simmering feud came to the forefront last year as Washington and Beijing clashed over broader trade and economic issues, and some in the White House have been urging Trump to take a harder line on the audit inspections.

Last week, Trump said in an interview on Fox Business that he’s “looking at” Chinese companies that trade on the NYSE and Nasdaq exchanges but do not follow US accounting rules. Still, he said that cracking down could backfire and simply result in the firms moving to exchanges in London or Hong Kong.

While not technically part of the government, the PCAOB is overseen by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The ability to inspect audits of Chinese firms that list in the US is certain to come up at a roundtable that the SEC is holding July 9 on risks of investing in China and other emerging markets.

Senators Kevin Cramer, Tom Cotton, Bob Menendez, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott are also sponsors of the bill. Rubio applauded the passage of the Kennedy-Van Hollen bill and said it incorporated aspects of a similar bill he introduced last year.

“I was proud to work with Senator Kennedy on this important legislation that would protect American retail investors and pensioners from risky investments in fraudulent, opaque Chinese companies that are listed on U.S. exchanges and trade on over-the-counter markets,” Rubio said in a statement. “If Chinese companies want access to the U.S. capital markets, they must comply with American laws and regulations for financial transparency and accountability.”

According to the SEC, 224 US-listed companies representing more than $1.8 trillion in combined market capitalization are located in countries where there are obstacles to PCAOB inspections of the kind this legislation mandates.

US approves $180m sale of advanced torpedoes to Taiwan

WASHINGTON, May 21: The United States approved a $180m sale of heavyweight torpedoes to Taiwan, the State Department said on Wednesday, in a move that is likely to further strain ties between Washington and Beijing, which claims Taiwan as its own.

The US framed the sale as a mutually beneficial transaction.

"This proposed sale serves US national, economic, and security interests by supporting the recipient's continuing efforts to modernise its armed forces and to maintain a credible defensive capability," the State Department said.

The sale "will help improve the security of the recipient and assist in maintaining political stability, military balance, and economic progress in the region," it added.

The MK-48 Mod 6 Advanced Technology Heavy Weight torpedoes, which can be launched from a submarine are being provided from existing US Navy stock, the State Department said.

Taiwan has evolved into one of Asia's most vibrant democracies since the end of China's civil war when the losing Nationalists retreated to the island to set up a rival government to the Communists on the mainland.

Beijing, however, continues to see Taiwan as part of its territory and has not ruled out the use of force to achieve its aims.

Washington cut diplomatic ties with Taipei in 1979 in order to recognise the government in Beijing as China's only legitimate ruling body, but it is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself and remains the island's main supplier of weapons.

The US announcement came on the same day that Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen took her oath of office for a second time, indicating that while Taiwan and China should talk, she would never accept China's claims of sovereignty over the island. China retorted that it would never tolerate independence for Taiwan and that "reunification" was inevitable.

China has stepped up manoeuvres around the island in recent months, sending fighter jets across its airspace and warships around its sea.

It has also warned countries away from supporting the island, telling France that a weapons deal with Taiwan would damage French-Chinese relations.

The deal is related to the 1990s sale of French warships to Taiwan, according to the Taiwanese press, which at the time led to a diplomatic crisis between Paris and Beijing.

US backs India amid border tensions with China

WASHINGTON, May 20: The US on Wednesday strongly backed India amid its simmering border tensions with China, with the Trump administration’s pointperson for South Asia saying such disputes are a “reminder of the threat posed by China”.

Alice Wells, the outgoing head of the state department’s South and Central Asia bureau, said there like-minded nations such as the US, India, Australia and Asean states have rallied together in the face of China’s “provocations and disturbing behaviour”.

The remarks, made in the course of an online briefing for journalists, came against the backdrop of simmering tensions in Ladakh and Sikkim sectors of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), where India and China have deployed additional troops. China on Tuesday also accused Indian forces of crossing into Chinese territory.

The top US diplomat also addressed India’s role as a critical player in Afghanistan, saying it was for New Delhi to decide whether it wants to directly engage with the Taliban. However, she suggested that with the Taliban set to join the emerging governing structure in Kabul, it would be necessary for India and any future Afghan government to have a “healthy relationship”.

Answering a question on the recent India-China tensions, Wells replied: “The flare-ups on the border, I think, are a reminder that Chinese aggression is not always just rhetorical. And so whether it’s in the South China Sea or whether it’s along the border with India, we continue to see provocations and disturbing behaviour by China that raises questions about how China seeks to use its growing power.”

She added, “What we want to see is an international system that provides benefit to everyone and not a system in which there is suzerainty to China. And so I think in this instance, the border disputes are a reminder of the threat posed by China.”

China’s actions have led to a “rallying of like-minded nations, whether it’s through Asean or through other diplomatic groupings – the trilateral that the US has with Japan and India or the quadrilateral with Australia – and conversations that are taking place globally”, Wells said.

India is and will remain a “critical player” in Afghanistan and this was reflected in US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s decision to travel to New Delhi amid the Covid-19 lockdown for consultations with the Indian leadership last week, Wells said.

Khalilzad had said in an interview that India should engage with the Taliban. Asked about the issue, Wells replied: “We defer to India as to whether it wants to engage directly with the Taliban.

“But in a situation where we are seeking through a negotiated political settlement to have the Taliban as part of that political governing structure, that government’s relationship with India should be close, and we believe that a healthy Afghanistan is going to need to have a healthy relationship with India.”

Wells was less forthcoming on a question about the US-Taliban agreement signed in February having no guarantees about Afghan soil being used by anti-India terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed that are known to have links with the Taliban.

The Taliban, she said, have made commitments against international terrorism, and the US is committed to ensuring that Afghan soil is never used as a base for “terrorism directed against us, the region and our friends and partners”. Noting the $3 billion in aid and political and diplomatic support provided by New Delhi to Kabul, she added, “Obviously, it’s up to India to determine how best to support the peace process.”

Wells also noted that the core principles of President Donald Trump’s South Asia Strategy of 2107 remain in place – that Pakistan must take “decisive action against militant groups” and that India is “an important partner in Afghanistan’s development”. Trump’s suspension of security assistance to Pakistan in January 2018 “demonstrated our resolve”, she said.

The South Asia Strategy also marked a major change by seeking to hold Pakistan accountable for the presence of terrorist groups on its soil. Pakistan has taken “initial steps” to curtail terror groups that threaten the region, such as arresting and prosecuting LeT leader Hafiz Saeed and beginning to dismantle terrorist financing structures, she said.

With the formation of an inclusive government by President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah, Wells said, the time has come to “double down” in Afghanistan and take forward the peace process and to root out the Islamic State, which has committed despicable acts of violence such as the attack on a maternity hospital in Kabul.

“It is against groups like ISIS that we believe the Afghan government and Taliban should make common cause and you’re only going to be able to defeat the most vicious of these terrorists by reaching a peace agreement that allows a unified and total response to the threat posed by these terrorist organisations,” she said.

China's Covid-19 is mass worldwide killing: Trump

WASHINGTON, May 20: President Donald Trump on Wednesday further ratcheted up his attacks on China saying its “incompetence” caused the Covid-19 pandemic, which he described as “mass worldwide killing”.

The American president and his Republican allies have increasingly targeted China in a bid to shift the blame for the high number of infections and fatalities in the United States and the economic downturn triggered by the mitigation efforts with an eye on the November general elections.

Referring to a statement issued by “some wacko in China” the president wrote in a tweet “it was the ‘incompetence of China’, and nothing else, that did this mass Worldwide killing”.

The president has called for an independent investigation in the origin of the epidemic in Wuhan in China last December and Beijing’s attempts to conceal the true extent of the epidemic, with the complicity of the World Health Organization. He has separately accused the WHO and its director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus personally of “missteps” of their own, including abetting China’s cover-up.

With all 50 United States set to reopen partially President Trump stirred fresh controversy Tuesday saying he considered it a “badge of honor” that the United States had the highest number of infections in the world at 1.5 million, arguing it was a testimony to increased testing.

Critics pounced on the president, arguing, he was taking credit for the highest number of infections.

“So when we have a lot of cases, I don’t look at that as a bad thing; I look at that as -- in a certain respect, as being a good thing because it means our testing is much better,” he had said, “I view it as a badge of honor. Really, it’s a badge of honor.”

There were 1.52 million confirmed Covid-19 cases in the United States till Wednesday morning and 91,983 fatalities, up by 20,260 and 1,574 in past 24 hours respectively. The total number of tests administered thus far was 12.6 million, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The high number of infections is a reflection of higher testing, as the president has argued in his defence, but critics have largely attributed them, and the high fatalities, to his administration delayed and botched initial response to the outbreak, which allowed the virus to spread rapidly unchallenged.

President Trump has touted testing figures in recent days to counter criticism that the United States is not testing enough, specially with states reopening steadily. Public health officials have sought more testing to ensure lifting of curbs on public life did not lead to a resurgence as it has in countries.

Connecticut became Wednesday the 50th American state to join the national reopening, allowing restaurants, malls and some outdoor activities to resume. As in a number of other states, rest of the economy and public life will be reopened in phases depending, determined by declining incidence of infections.

Trump Threatens WHO With Permanent Funding Freeze, Gives 30-Day Ultimatum

WASHINGTON, May 19: President Donald Trump threatened to permanently freeze US funding to the World Health Organization unless "substantive improvements" were made within the next 30 days.

Washington suspended payments to the WHO in mid-April, accusing it of being too close to Beijing and covering up and mismanaging the coronavirus pandemic.

On Monday, Trump tweeted images of a letter he sent to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, saying the letter was "self-explanatory."

In the letter, Trump lists what he says are examples of the WHO's shortcomings in managing the pandemic, including ignoring early reports of the emergence of the virus, and being too close to China.

"It is clear the repeated missteps by you and your organization in responding to the pandemic have been extremely costly for the world. The only way forward for the World Health Organization is if it can actually demonstrate independence from China," Trump said in the letter.

"If the World Health Organization does not commit to major substantive improvements within the next 30 days, I will make my temporary freeze of United States funding to the World Health Organization permanent and reconsider our membership in the organization," he said.

Earlier Monday, the WHO said it would launch an independent review of the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

During a virtual assembly, Tedros acknowledged there had been shortcomings and told the assembly he welcomed calls for a review.

The plague came over from Wuhan: Trump

WASHINGTON, May 14: US President Donald Trump on Thursday said he was very disappointed in China over its failure to contain the novel coronavirus, saying the worldwide pandemic cast a pall over his U.S.-China trade deal.
The coronavirus outbreak originated in Wuhan, China, in December and was spreading silently as Washington and Beijing signed a Phase 1 trade deal hailed by the Republican president as a major achievement.

"I'm very disappointed in China," the Republican president said in an interview broadcast Thursday on Fox Business Network.

"They should have never let this happen. So I make a great trade deal and now I say this doesn't feel the same to me. The ink was barely dry and the plague came over. And it doesn't feel the same to me," Trump said.

Under the Phase 1 deal signed in January, Beijing pledged to buy at least $200 billion in additional U.S. goods and services over two years while Washington agreed to roll back tariffs in stages on Chinese goods.

A Chinese state-run newspaper has reported that some government advisers in Beijing were urging fresh talks and possibly invalidating the agreement.

Trump said again he was not interested in renegotiating.

While US intelligence agencies said the virus did not appear to be manmade or genetically modified, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said early in May there is "a significant amount of evidence" the virus came from a laboratory in Wuhan.

His comments followed Trump's assertion on April 30 that he was confident the coronavirus may have originated in a Chinese virology lab.

In the Fox Business interview, which was taped on Wednesday, Trump focused more on China's response to the outbreak than on its origin.

"We have a lot of information, and it's not good. Whether it came from the lab or came from the bats, it all came from China, and they should have stopped it. They could have stopped it, at the source," he said.

"It got out of control."

US Condemns Heinous Terrorist Attacks in Afghanistan

By Deepak Arora

WASHINGTON, May 12: The United States has condemned in the strongest terms the two horrific terrorist attacks in Afghanistan on Tuesday. In an unconscionable assault, gunmen seized one of Kabul's busiest hospitals, which housed a maternity ward run by Doctors Without Borders. In the hospital, the terrorists took the lives of at least 16 innocent people, including newborn babies, new mothers, and health care workers.

In a statement, US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo said "Any attack on innocents is unforgivable, but to attack infants and women in labor in the sanctuary of a hospital is an act of sheer evil."

Separately, in the eastern province of Nangarhar, a suicide bomber attacked the funeral of a local police commander, leaving at least 26 people dead and more than 68 wounded.

"Terrorists who attack mourners lining up for prayer at a funeral are only seeking to tear apart the bonds that hold families and communities together, but they will never succeed. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families of both attacks, as well as the brave Afghan security forces who defended against the terrorists," said Secretary Pompeo.

During the holy month of Ramadan and amidst the threat of COVID-19, the statement said "these dual attacks are particularly appalling. We note the Taliban have denied any responsibility and condemned both attacks as heinous."

It said "the Taliban and the Afghan government should cooperate to bring the perpetrators to justice. As long as there is no sustained reduction in violence and insufficient progress towards a negotiated political settlement, Afghanistan will remain vulnerable to terrorism. The Afghan people deserve a future free from terror, and the ongoing peace process continues to present a critical opportunity for Afghans to come together to build a united front against the menace of terrorism."

‘Serious’ consequences of premature reopening of US: Fauci

WASHINGTON, May 12: Anthony Fauci, a top US immunologist and a key figure in the Trump administration’s response to the Covid-19 epidemic, warmed lawmakers at a Senate hearing Tuesday that premature opening of the country could lead to “serious” consequences and “little spikes that might turn into outbreaks”.

The long-time director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious had told the New York Times he planned to tell senators that rushed reopening could cause “needless suffering and death”.

“The major message that I wish to convey to the Senate HLP (health, education, labor and pensions) committee tomorrow is the danger of trying to open the country prematurely,” he wrote in an email to a reporter of the New York Times ahead of the hearing. “If we skip over the checkpoints in the guidelines to ‘Open America Again’, then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country. This will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal.”

Fauci’s “checkpoints” are conditions laid down in guidelines for reopening prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for undoing the lockdown in phases, with clear markers for moving from one phase to the next. The White House has blocked its release.

Asked specifically about his NYT remarks at the hearing, Fauci made the same argument but in different words. The “consequences could be really serious”, he said and added later that premature reopening could lead to “little spikes that might turn into outbreaks”.

The immunologist testified remotely through video, along with two other top officials of the president’s task force, Stephen Kahn and Robert Redfield, who are all in self-quarantine after possible exposure to the virus.

Fauci’s warning to the lawmakers came at a time when US fatalities have crossed another bleak milestone to rise to 80,684, accounting for every third death worldwide; infections rose to 1.34 million.

President Donald Trump is eager to reopen the country with an eye on his re-election prospects later in the year and has called for it repeatedly, while at the same time, leaving the final decision to state governor. He has backed protests against the lockdown and publicly criticized states that are being cautious.

A widely respected research model, which has been cited the White House coronavirus task force members often, has doubled its forecast to more than 134,000 deaths at the current speed and nature of the reopening. Trump has insisted the model does not take into account social-distancing.

But the president himself doesn’t observe these social distancing guidelines and has continued to not use a mask or a face covering during his meetings and engagements, even as he was instructed all White House staff to it, in the aftermath of two White House personnel testing positive.

“If they’re a certain distance from me or if they’re a certain distance from each other, they do,” he told reporters at a White House news briefing when asked. “In the case of me, I’m not -- I’m not close to anybody.”

The president walked out of the briefing shortly, after heated exchanges with two female reporters. He had asked a Chinese American reporter to check with China in response to an unrelated question, which he went on to call “nasty”. He had then denied another reporter a chance to ask her questions.

New York reports lowest new coronavirus deaths since end of March

NEW YORK, May 10: New York reported the lowest number of new deaths from Covid-19 -- 207 -- since the end of March. Other indicators also began to show the virus outbreak nearing where it was at the start of what Governor Andrew Cuomo on Sunday called “this hellish journey.”

He said he would release on Monday more details on how New York would begin to reopen -- and confirmed that some areas upstate would be ready to slowly open after the official lockdown ends on May 15.

Cuomo gave no indication that New York City or the surrounding areas are anywhere near being able to reopen.

He also reported another 12 cases, for a total of 85, of a newly-recognized, Covid-related illness that afflicts children and has killed three in New York. The condition is called pediatric multi-system inflammatory disease, and it can cause dangerous inflammation, including to the heart.

“This is every mother’s nightmare,” he told reporters in Albany on Mother’s Day. “Every parent’s nightmare. Nobody knew about it. Nobody was watching for it.”

Earlier on Sunday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also issued a warning about the illness, saying that 38 cases have been detected in the city and another nine are being investigated. One child has died, he said.

He also said parents should be alert to symptoms including persistent fever, rash, abdominal pain and vomiting.

“Every parent out there, if you see these symptoms, take them seriously,” de Blasio told reporters. “If you see these symptoms, report them to their doctors immediately. I want to make sure everyone takes this seriously.”

Both the governor and the mayor talked about the use the drug remdesivir in New York. Cuomo said the drug will be used on 2,900 people at 15 hospitals and has shown “some positive effect.”

De Blasio said the drug had cut hospital stays for patients taking it from 15 days to 11 days.

The total number of new coronavirus cases in New York rose on Sunday 2,273, for a total of 335,395.

The number of new deaths dropped from 226 the day before, the lowest since March 27, and marked the 10th straight day of new deaths at a plateau in the 200s. New and total hospitalizations, as well as intensive care cases, continued to drop.

Covid-19 pandemic destroys 20.5 m US jobs in April in historic collapse

WASHINGTON, May 8: The coronavirus lockdown wiped out 20.5 million US jobs in April, destroying nearly all the positions created in the prior decade in the world’s largest economy, the Labor Department reported Friday.

The unprecedented collapse drove the unemployment rate to 14.7 percent -- well beyond the peak hit in late 2009 during the global financial crisis -- from 4.4 percent in March.

And job losses in March were worse than initially reported, falling 870,000 even though the business closures mostly happened in the second half of the month.

The plunge in nonfarm payroll employment was the largest ever recorded since 1939, while the jobless rate was the highest and the biggest increase since 1948, the report said.

Employment fell sharply in all major industry sectors, with particularly heavy job losses in leisure and hospitality, the first sector hit and the one bearing the brunt of the impact of the lockdowns.

However, the Labor Department noted that the some workers were misclassified in the report as employed when they should have been counted as laid off. Had they been listed properly, the unemployment rate would have been nearly five percentage points higher.

US has very ‘conclusive’ report on Covid-19’s China origins: Trump

WASHINGTON, May 4: President Donald Trump promised a “conclusive” report from the U.S. government on the Chinese origins of the coronavirus outbreak, adding that he has little doubt that Beijing misled the world about the scale and risk of the disease before it became a global pandemic.

“We will be giving a very strong report on what we think happened, and I think it will be very conclusive,” Trump said during a “virtual town hall” hosted by Fox News on Sunday, after he was asked about evidence the virus is related to research conducted in a laboratory in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

“Personally, I think they made a very horrible mistake,” Trump said of the Chinese. “They tried to cover it, they tried to put it out.”

The White House’s deputy national security adviser, Matt Pottinger, is scheduled to speak on the U.S. relationship with China on Monday in a webinar hosted by the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.

Earlier Sunday, it was reported that U.S. officials believe China covered up the extent of the outbreak, in part, to stock up on medical supplies needed to respond to it.

The president’s comments come as U.S.-China tensions climb amid the rising death toll from the virus in the U.S., which has the highest reported numbers of infections and deaths of any country, despite the outbreak first spreading more quickly in Asia and Europe. More than 67,000 people have died from the virus in the U.S. so far, out of a reported 247,000 worldwide.

Earlier in the day, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said “enormous evidence” shows the Covid-19 outbreak began in the Wuhan laboratory, but didn’t provide any proof for his claims.

“I can tell you that there is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan,” Pompeo said on ABC’s “This Week.” “These are not the first times that we’ve had a world exposed to viruses as a result of failures in a Chinese lab.”

While the Wuhan Institute of Virology was studying bat-borne coronaviruses like the one that causes Covid-19 at the time of the first known outbreak nearby, there has so far been no evidence showing it possessed the previously unknown strain. Yuan Zhiming, director of the facility’s high-security Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory, said last month that “there is absolutely no way that the virus originated from our institute.”

Pompeo stopped short of saying the virus was man-made, noting that he agreed with a report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that ruled out genetic modification of the pathogen.

“I’ve seen what the intelligence community has said,” Pompeo said. “I have no reason to believe that they’ve got it wrong.”

Pompeo declined to say whether the Chinese intentionally released the virus. “I don’t have anything to say about that,” he said.

In his town hall event Sunday, Trump declined to directly criticize Chinese President Xi Jinping, calling him a “strong” leader who he struck a trade deal with just as the outbreak was spreading.

“I’m not going to say anything,” Trump responded when asked about Xi. “I had a very good relationship with him.”

Although China has reprimanded Wuhan police for punishing doctors who sounded early warnings about the disease and replaced local officials responsible for the initial outbreak, Beijing says its response has been open and transparent. China’s foreign ministry has cited Trump’s tweets praising Xi’s handling of the outbreak as evidence of U.S. satisfaction with its response.

Trump and his aides sharpened their criticism of Beijing last week, demanding answers about the virus’s origin. The president tweeted Friday that some U.S. television networks were “Chinese puppets,” while his super-political action committee unleashed anti-China ads.

“China behaved like authoritarian regimes do, attempted to conceal and hide and confuse,” Pompeo said on ABC. “It employed the World Health Organization as a tool to do the same.”

The secretary said China continued to block access by health experts from the WHO, as well as U.S. scientists, from getting access to samples of the virus needed for study.

“This is an ongoing threat, an ongoing pandemic,” Pompeo said. “The Chinese Communist Party continues to block access to the Western world, the world’s best scientists, to figure out exactly what happened.”

Trump’s latest attack on Sweden stirs coronavirus controversy

WASHINGTON, May 1: Donald Trump’s latest verbal attack on Sweden has reignited a debate on whether the country’s relaxed approach to fighting Covid-19 is madness or genius.

The US president, who is facing criticism at home for initially playing down the threat of a pandemic, on Thursday sought to direct attention toward developments in Sweden.

“Despite reports to the contrary, Sweden is paying heavily for its decision not to lockdown,” he tweeted.

Johan Carlson, the director general of Sweden’s public health agency, said Trump’s comments weren’t weighing on his deliberations. “The important thing is that you make sure you keep the disease under control so that the health-care system isn’t overloaded, and so far we’ve managed that,” he said, according to a report in Aftonbladet.

But Trump’s latest outburst has once again drawn attention to Sweden’s controversial response to fighting the coronavirus. The country has left schools, hairdressers, restaurants, gyms and much of the rest of society open. Instead, the government has urged citizens to act responsibly and observe social distancing guidelines.

Initially, there was near universal condemnation of Sweden’s decision to avoid a full lockdown. But more recently, opinions have evolved after the country’s top epidemiologist declared the strategy a success amid signs the rate of infections is stabilizing.

According to Johns Hopkins University data, Sweden’s death rate per thousand is about 24, compared with roughly 19 in the US.

Anders Tegnell, the mastermind behind Sweden’s approach, says the idea is to come up with a model that can stay the course, based on an assumption that Covid-19 isn’t going away any time soon.

In a recent interview with Danish state broadcaster DR, Tegnell said, “The long-term sustainability of strict rules isn’t that big. You can only impose such restrictions for a limited time. So you need to find a different way, and our model may prove more sustainable.”

It’s a notion that won the support of the World Health Organization this week. Michael Ryan, who runs WHO’s health emergencies program, says that “if we are to reach a new normal, in many ways Sweden represents a future model.”

Importantly, Sweden’s laissez-faire approach has at no point resulted in a rate of infections that has overburdened the country’s health-care system, thanks to its universal, state-funded model.

There’s also some confusion as to what the statistics on national death rates actually measure. Swedish authorities say they’ve been meticulous in reporting fatalities in nursing homes, which isn’t the case in some other countries. On Friday, Sweden reported another 67 Covid-19 deaths, bringing the total to 2,653, according to national data. The number of people infected with the virus is 21,520.

Others have pointed to Sweden’s comparative affluence as an important factor in helping the country deal with the virus. HSBC Global Research economist James Pomeroy notes that more than half of Swedish households are single-person, making social distancing easier to carry out. More people work from home than anywhere else in Europe, and everyone has access to fast Internet, which helps large chunks of the workforce stay productive away from the office.

Tegnell, the country’s chief epidemiologist, says that “other countries might be able to learn something from Sweden now.”

 

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