Connect with us


Tensions mount between EU members ahead of budget talks | World news



European Union leaders are preparing for acrimonious talks on the bloc’s seven-year budget, amid deepening divisions between the self-styled “frugal” club versus a larger number of countries fighting cuts.

The EU’s 27 leaders will attempt to agree a budget for 2021-27 at a special summit on Thursday, the first such exercise since Brexit blew a €70bn (£58bn) hole in the finances. “It is an exercise in the division of loss, a bit like Brexit,” a senior EU diplomat said.

European council president Charles Michel has taken the high-risk strategy of calling the special one-day summit, which could drag into the weekend if there is a chance of a deal. “We don’t have the intention to keep them imprisoned,” an EU official said. “They are there for the time it will take.”

Brussels budget squabbles are nothing new, but Thursday’s summit threatens to be the most difficult yet. The EU is seeking to spend more on tackling the climate emergency, research and border security, while facing demands to maintain spending on farmers and infrastructure for poorer member states, and dealing with the Brexit black hole. “The facts are the facts,” said the EU official. “We face a €60-75bn gap [over 2021-7] because of Brexit, we are facing new challenges and demands for which money is needed and … the member states have a tight budgetary situation. So realism is needed.”

Adding another layer of division, western countries want better oversight of EU funds, so governments that flout the rule of law, by weakening independent courts, would lose EU funds. Some claim that Michel has gone too far in weakening an original mechanism to ensure that recipients of cohesion funds act in accordance with the rule of law.

The budget battle pits the self-styled “frugal four” – net payers Austria, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands – against “the friends of cohesion”, 15 southern and eastern European countries that seek at least to preserve current agricultural and infrastructure spending.

The two largest net payers (by size of contribution) are outside both camps. France wants to maintain agricultural spending and boost EU defence funds. Germany wants a speedy agreement, to avoid having to solve the budget during EU presidency in the final six months of the year. “The Germans face a dilemma,” said the senior EU diplomat. “They don’t want to own this hot potato. But will they pay up just to avoid it?”

As well as the Brexit gap, the UK leaves another poisonous legacy: the rebate. After Margaret Thatcher secured the British rebate in 1984, some other countries were granted one, effectively a discount on their EU membership fee. While the European commission proposed sweeping away all “corrections”, Michel has proposed that five net payers should keep their rebates. “The rebate is not there just for fun. It is there, because otherwise, things would really get out of hand and off the scale,” said a diplomat from one country that gets a rebate.

Other countries, including net payers such as France, think the rebate has had its day. “Why these five countries? Just because they already had one [a rebate],” said another diplomat. “It is very unfortunate that we continued with this tinkering.”

Although the arguments are big, the sums are relatively small. The “frugal four” want to limit the EU budget to 1% of the EU’s economy, as measured by gross national income (GNI). The European commission proposed 1.11% GNI, while Michel has almost split the difference with his 1.07% compromise plan.

“We have a plan”, said an EU diplomat from one of the self-styled frugal member states. “Plan A is the 1% and the rebate. And we have a plan B which is 1% and the rebate”. The “frugal four” argue that while content to be net payers to the seven-year budget the additional contributions being sought by Michel put an intolerable burden on their taxpayers. The Dutch estimate that the proposals put forward would increase their contribution by 20%.

The battle threatens to be even more ferocious than 2013, when David Cameron helped force through the first-ever cut in the EU’s budget. EU diplomats, outside the frugal camp, argue the previous austerity budget means a low starting point. “Is there really a collective will to act?” asked one diplomat. “We are facing a failure of collective ambition.”

The diplomat said 22 countries think the Michel compromise is not enough, while five find it too much, adding: “the balance is not necessarily in the middle.”

But the frugal four insist they won’t compromise, despite being a minority: “Whose money are you going to spend? In any negotiation you need the investors on board otherwise you won’t get an agreement,” said one frugal diplomat.

Hours ahead of the summit, few EU insiders are banking on a deal. Michel has warned EU leaders in private meetings that failure to find agreement imperils current and new EU programmes due to start in 2021.

“It looks like quite a big gap to reach,” said one of the frugal diplomats. “If not, then we will have to come back a second time, which is not something special because it’s quite normal to not manage it.”

Another diplomat, worried about “unpleasant” media headlines, asked: “Do we want such a fiasco when the numbers are going to be the same in March and April?”

Source link


The missing six weeks: how Trump failed the biggest test of his life | US news




When the definitive history of the coronavirus pandemic is written, the date 20 January 2020 is certain to feature prominently. It was on that day that a 35-year-old man in Washington state, recently returned from visiting family in Wuhan in China, became the first person in the US to be diagnosed with the virus.

On the very same day, 5,000 miles away in Asia, the first confirmed case of Covid-19 was reported in South Korea. The confluence was striking, but there the similarities ended.

In the two months since that fateful day, the responses to coronavirus displayed by the US and South Korea have been polar opposites.

One country acted swiftly and aggressively to detect and isolate the virus, and by doing so has largely contained the crisis. The other country dithered and procrastinated, became mired in chaos and confusion, was distracted by the individual whims of its leader, and is now confronted by a health emergency of daunting proportions.

Within a week of its first confirmed case, South Korea’s disease control agency had summoned 20 private companies to the medical equivalent of a war-planning summit and told them to develop a test for the virus at lightning speed. A week after that, the first diagnostic test was approved and went into battle, identifying infected individuals who could then be quarantined to halt the advance of the disease.

A nurse at testing booth outside the Yangji hospital in Seoul.

A nurse at testing booth outside the Yangji hospital in Seoul. Photograph: Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images

Some 357,896 tests later, the country has more or less won the coronavirus war. On Friday only 91 new cases were reported in a country of more than 50 million.

The US response tells a different story. Two days after the first diagnosis in Washington state, Donald Trump went on air on CNBC and bragged: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming from China. It’s going to be just fine.”

‘A fiasco of incredible proportions’

A week after that, the Wall Street Journal published an opinion article by two former top health policy officials within the Trump administration under the headline Act Now to Prevent an American Epidemic. Luciana Borio and Scott Gottlieb laid out a menu of what had to be done instantly to avert a massive health disaster.

Top of their to-do list: work with private industry to develop an “easy-to-use, rapid diagnostic test” – in other words, just what South Korea was doing.

It was not until 29 February, more than a month after the Journal article and almost six weeks after the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in the country that the Trump administration put that advice into practice. Laboratories and hospitals would finally be allowed to conduct their own Covid-19 tests to speed up the process.

Those missing four to six weeks are likely to go down in the definitive history as a cautionary tale of the potentially devastating consequences of failed political leadership. Today, 86,012 cases have been confirmed across the US, pushing the nation to the top of the world’s coronavirus league table – above even China.

More than a quarter of those cases are in New York City, now a global center of the coronavirus pandemic, with New Orleans also raising alarm. Nationally, 1,301 people have died.

Most worryingly, the curve of cases continues to rise precipitously, with no sign of the plateau that has spared South Korea.

“The US response will be studied for generations as a textbook example of a disastrous, failed effort,” Ron Klain, who spearheaded the fight against Ebola in 2014, told a Georgetown university panel recently. “What’s happened in Washington has been a fiasco of incredible proportions.”

An empty Times Square. New York is now considered a global center of the pandemic.

An empty Times Square. New York is now considered a global center of the pandemic. Photograph: Jeenah Moon/Reuters

Jeremy Konyndyk, who led the US government’s response to international disasters at USAid from 2013 to 2017, frames the past six weeks in strikingly similar terms. He told the Guardian: “We are witnessing in the United States one of the greatest failures of basic governance and basic leadership in modern times.”

In Konyndyk’s analysis, the White House had all the information it needed by the end of January to act decisively. Instead, Trump repeatedly played down the severity of the threat, blaming China for what he called the “Chinese virus” and insisting falsely that his partial travel bans on China and Europe were all it would take to contain the crisis.

‘The CDC was caught flat-footed’

If Trump’s travel ban did nothing else, it staved off to some degree the advent of the virus in the US, buying a little time. Which makes the lack of decisive action all the more curious.

“We didn’t use that time optimally, especially in the case of testing,” said William Schaffner, an infectious diseases specialist at Vanderbilt University medical center. “We have been playing reluctant catch-up throughout.”

As Schaffner sees it, the stuttering provision of mass testing “put us behind the eight-ball” right at the start. “It did not permit us, and still doesn’t permit us, to define the extent of the virus in this country.”

Though the decision to allow private and state labs to provide testing has increased the flow of test kits, the US remains starkly behind South Korea, which has conducted more than five times as many tests per capita. That makes predicting where the next hotspot will pop up after New York and New Orleans almost impossible.

The National Guard is helping to manage a Covid-19 testing site in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans.

The national guard is helping to manage a Covid-19 testing site in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans. Photograph: Bryan Tarnowski for the Guardian

In the absence of sufficient test kits, the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) initially kept a tight rein on testing, creating a bottleneck. “I believe the CDC was caught flat-footed,” was how the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, put it on 7 March. “They’re slowing down the state.”

The CDC’s botched rollout of testing was the first indication that the Trump administration was faltering as the health emergency gathered pace. Behind the scenes, deep flaws in the way federal agencies had come to operate under Trump were being exposed.

In 2018 the pandemic unit in the national security council – which was tasked to prepare for health emergencies precisely like the current one – was disbanded. “Eliminating the office has contributed to the federal government’s sluggish domestic response,” Beth Cameron, senior director of the office at the time it was broken up, wrote in the Washington Post.

Disbanding the unit exacerbated a trend that was already prevalent after two years of Trump – an exodus of skilled and experienced officials who knew what they were doing. “There’s been an erosion of expertise, of competent leadership, at important levels of government,” a former senior government official told the Guardian.

“Over time there was a lot of paranoia and people left and they had a hard time attracting good replacements,” the official said. “Nobody wanted to work there.”

It was hardly a morale-boosting gesture when Trump proposed a 16% cut in CDC funding on 10 February – 11 days after the World Health Organization had declared a public health emergency over Covid-19.

Schaffner, who describes himself as the “president of the CDC fan club”, said he has been saddened by how sidelined the CDC has become over the past two months. “Here we have the public health issue of our era and one doesn’t hear from the CDC, the premier public health organization in the world,” Schaffner said.

Under Trump, anti-science sweeps through DC

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates the diagnostic tests and will control any new treatments for coronavirus, has also shown vulnerabilities. The agency recently indicated that it was looking into the possibility of prescribing the malaria drug chloroquine for coronavirus sufferers, even though there is no evidence it would work and some indication it could have serious side-effects.

The decision dismayed experts, given that Trump has personally pushed the unproven remedy on a whim. It smacked of the wave of anti-science sentiment sweeping federal agencies under this presidency.

As the former senior official put it: “We have the FDA bowing to political pressure and making decisions completely counter to modern science.”

Highly respected career civil servants, with impeccable scientific credentials, have struggled to get out in front of the president. Dr Anthony Fauci, an infectious disease expert who has become a rare trusted face in the administration amid the coronavirus scourge, has expressed his frustration.

Secretary of state Mike Pompeo with Dr Anthony Fauci and HHS secretary Alex Azar.

The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, with Dr Anthony Fauci and the health secretary, Alex Azar. Photograph: Al Drago/EPA

This week Fauci was asked by a Science magazine writer, Jon Cohen, how he could stand beside Trump at daily press briefings and listen to him misleading the American people with comments such as that the China travel ban had been a great success in blocking entry of the virus. Fauci replied: “I know, but what do you want me to do? I mean, seriously Jon, let’s get real, what do you want me to do?”

Trump has designated himself a “wartime president”. But if the title bears any validity, his military tactics have been highly unconventional. He has exacerbated the problems encountered by federal agencies by playing musical chairs at the top of the coronavirus force.

The president began by creating on 29 January a special coronavirus taskforce, then gave Vice-President Mike Pence the job, who promptly appointed Deborah Birx “coronavirus response coordinator”, before the federal emergency agency Fema began taking charge of key areas, with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, creating a shadow team that increasingly appears to be calling the shots.

“There’s no point of responsibility,” the former senior official told the Guardian. “It keeps shifting. Nobody owns the problem.”

Trump: everything’s going to be great

Amid the confusion, day-to-day management of the crisis has frequently come directly from Trump himself via his Twitter feed. The president, with more than half an eye on the New York stock exchange, has consistently talked down the scale of the crisis.

On 30 January, as the World Health Organization was declaring a global emergency, Trump said: “We only have five people. Hopefully, everything’s going to be great.”

On 24 February, Trump claimed “the coronavirus is very much under control in the USA”. The next day, Nancy Messonnier, the CDC’s top official on respiratory diseases, took the radically different approach of telling the truth, warning the American people that “disruption to everyday life might be severe”.

Trump was reportedly so angered by the comment and its impact on share prices that he shouted down the phone at Messonnier’s boss, the secretary of health and human services, Alex Azar.

“Messonnier was 100% right. She gave a totally honest and accurate assessment,” Konyndyk told the Guardian. And for that, Trump angrily rebuked her department. “That sent a very clear message about what is and isn’t permissible to say.”

Traders, some in medical masks, work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange last week. Traders are now trading remotely.

Traders, some in medical masks, work on the floor of the New York stock exchange last week. Traders are now working remotely. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Konyndyk recalls attending a meeting in mid-February with top Trump administration officials present in which the only topic of conversation was the travel bans. That’s when he began to despair about the federal handling of the crisis.

“I thought, ‘Holy Jesus!’ Where’s the discussion on protecting our hospitals? Where’s the discussion on high-risk populations, on surveillance so we can detect where the virus is. I knew then that the president had set the priority, the bureaucracy was following it, but it was the wrong priority.”

So it has transpired. In the wake of the testing disaster has come the personal protective equipment (PPE) disaster, the hospital bed disaster, and now the ventilator disaster.

Ventilators, literal life preservers, are in dire short supply across the country. When governors begged Trump to unleash the full might of the US government on this critical problem, he gave his answer on 16 March.

In a phrase that will stand beside 20 January 2020 as one of the most revelatory moments of the history of coronavirus, he said: “Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment – try getting it yourselves.”

To date, the Trump administration has supplied 400 ventilators to New York. By Cuomo’s estimation, 30,000 are needed.

“You want a pat on the back for sending 400 ventilators?” Cuomo scathingly asked on Tuesday. “You pick the 26,000 who are going to die because you only sent 400 ventilators.”

‘A total vacuum of federal leadership’

In the absence of a strong federal response, a patchwork of efforts has sprouted all across the country. State governors are doing their own thing. Cities, even individual hospitals, are coping as best they can.

In an improvised attempt to address such inconsistencies, charitable startups have proliferated on social media. Konyndyk has clubbed together with fellow disaster relief experts to set up Covid Local, an online “quick and dirty” guide to how to fight a pandemic.

“We are seeing the emergence of 50-state anarchy, because of a total vacuum of federal leadership. It’s absurd that thinktanks and Twitter are providing more actionable guidance in the US than the federal government, but that’s where we are.”

Valerie Griffeth is a founding member of another of the new online startups that are trying to fill the Trump void. Set up by emergency department doctors across the country, seeks to counter the top-down chaos that is putting frontline health workers like herself in danger through a dearth of protective gear.

Griffeth is an emergency and critical care physician in Portland, Oregon. She spends most days now in intensive care treating perilously ill patients with coronavirus.

Medical personnel are silhouetted against the back of a tent at a coronavirus test site in Tampa, Florida.

Medical personnel are silhouetted against the back of a tent at a coronavirus test site in Tampa, Florida. Photograph: Chris O’Meara/AP

Her hospital is relatively well supplied, she said, but even so protective masks will run out within two weeks. “We are all worried about it, we’re scared for our own health, the health of our families, of our patients.”

Early on in the crisis, Griffeth said, it dawned on her and many of her peers that the federal government to which they would normally look to keep them safe was nowhere to be seen. They resigned themselves to a terrible new reality.

“We said to ourselves we are going to get exposed to the virus. When the federal government isn’t there to provide adequate supplies, it’s just a matter of time.”

But just in the last few days, Griffeth has started to see the emergence of something else. She has witnessed an explosion of Americans doing it for themselves, filling in the holes left by Trump’s failed leadership.

“People are stepping up all around us,” she said. “I’m amazed by what has happened in such short time. It gives me hope.”

Source link

Continue Reading


Lockdown living: how Europeans are avoiding going stir crazy | World news




In Italy they are singing and sharing recipes. In France, humour is saving the day. In Spain, communal staircases have become the new running tracks, and in Germany, ordinarily disorderly hackers are busy coding corona-busting apps.

As hundreds of millions of Europeans languish in lockdown, people are finding increasingly inventive ways to keep themselves entertained – and to counter what the continent’s psychologists warning are the very real risks of confinement.

Like everyone else, Italy’s 60 million citizens, who went into lockdown on 9 March, have been “asked to make sacrifices”, said Sara Raginelli, a psychologist in Ancona. “And as we live in a rather dramatic way, our mental health is being challenged.”

In a survey during the first week of Italy’s confinement, 93% of respondents said they felt at least a little anxious, while 42% described a distinct drop in their mood and 28% reported that they were not sleeping well.

Italians are entitled to a free online consultation from the health ministry, which has warned of a “psychological emergency”, saying people risk being “overwhelmed by fear of a insidious virus that has banned us from hugging and being close to others”.

Some 9,000 psychologists are involved in the #psicologionline scheme, offering phone or video consultations aimed also at countering the “heartbreaking effects of the daily death toll, warlike scenes, and easy risk of infection if we don’t stay home”.

Some degree of anxiety, of course, is only normal. Borwin Bandelow, from Göttingen in Germany, said humans developed into social creatures to survive, so isolation was an unnatural state for most. “In the past we lived in tribes, and those who broke away from those tribes had very little chance,” he told Der Spiegel.

That meant isolation “can cause some to develop pathological angst conditions,” he said. But overall, the long-term negative effects of physical isolation should be considerably lessened by the knowledge that everyone is experiencing them, said Bandelow, who has made a special study of fear.

“As soon as an exceptional situation affects many people, the effect is less strong … During the war in Yugoslavia, patients who habitually suffered panic attacks were no more scared than the next person. In fact, the number of panic attacks decreased, because they were suddenly faced with other, very concrete things they had to fear. They needed to protect themselves, and so needed to have control over their bodies.”

Germans who suffer from angst or panic at an avalanche of coronavirus news can turn to a fear-free news service,, which twice a day publishes a short news overview so that they can stay informed without being overwhelmed by horror stories.

French psychologists echo the importance of realising that the pain is shared. While everyone will respond differently, we all “have to be able to make sense of the situation”, said Aurélia Schneider. “This will give us psychological protection. It’s about knowing this isn’t an individual and isolated suffering, but a collective suffering.”

In Spain, however, clinical psychologist Albert Soler warned against the dangers of trying to stay falsely upbeat. “When things are bad, being pressured to be positive can be positively harmful,” he said. “The positivism of Instagram is dangerous at the best of times – but now it’s even worse.”

In terms of practical advice, Europe’s psychologists mainly stress the importance of staying in touch and keeping busy, if necessary with the help of daily to-do lists. In Italy, Raginelli’s advice was to “maintain contact with others” by every means possible and as much as possible.

Rosella De Leonibus, a psychologist in Perugia, said that keeping active was vitally important. What counted, she said, was “everything that’s an action – with a result. Passive is no use; passivity makes you feel anxious and increases anxiety.”

Erik Scherder, a professor of neuropsychology at VU university in Amsterdam, said the crisis presented a challenge and an opportunity: to exercise. “The biggest gains are for those who are very sedentary,” he told De Standaard. “Which is most of us.”

Belgians, who went into confinement on 17 March, are getting regular down-to-earth suggestions on how to live their best locked-down lives by the spokesman at the national crisis centre, Benoît Ramacker, who advises basic everyday activities such as cooking, reading, gardening and DIY.

“The psycho-social dimension is very important in this crisis,” Ramacker said at one briefing, urging people not to spend the whole day on social media and to establish a routine that gives structure to their days. “You can do a lot at home.”

But there are bound to be tensions. When the inevitable rows do break out, Jean-Luc Aubert from Nantes suggests self-isolating for a while in the bathroom. “Everyone is a little anxious, so it doesn’t take much for everyone to get upset, angry, worse,” he said. “We have to acknowledge this, to be very careful and on our guard.”

Whether they have listened to the psychologists or not, millions across the continent have developed coping strategies. Gregarious by nature and used to living life outdoors, Spaniards – most of whom, like many Europeans, live in apartments – are finding solitude, silence and confinement particularly hard.

Rooftop terraces have become a popular location for workouts, although not everyone has access. Many have taken to running up and down the communal staircase. One father reported that his daughter was keeping up volleyball practice at home, using a toilet roll as a ball so as to avoid breakages.

Many, too, have been faced with the delicate challenge of educating elderly relatives they would habitually visit at least once a week in the use of mobile technology. “I’ve taught my 82-year-old mother how to make video calls,” said Reme, one Barcelona resident. “Now there’s no stopping her.”

Italians, also suffering from having to lead an indoor life, cheered the world in the early stages of their confinement by singing or playing musical instruments from their balconies each night in a show of solidarity, although reports suggest that has tapered off over the past week.

Many have now taken to doing online yoga or are sharing their fitness regimes. Others have been writing, painting, and cooking more – and sharing their recipes online. Many are joining top chef Massimo Bottura for his live Instagram show.

“It’s not a masterclass, it’s kitchen quarantine with our family,” Bottura said. “We just want to have fun and show to the world that with a few things – a table, a few ingredients, a family – we can have fun.”

Simona Fabrizio, another international chef and the owner of Sagraincasa in Orvieto, Umbria, asks her followers to pick one ingredient – eggs, tuna, chicken – and create a recipe with an additional four ingredients, then share their pictures.

In Germany, 42,000 programmers and software designers gathered online for a mass hackathon. #Wirvsvirus (we against the virus) came up with possible solutions to problems including virus tracking, improving inter-hospital communication, distributing food to the homeless, and helping farmers find people to bring in the harvest, and ended with a mass party on YouTube and Slack. A jury will decide which projects will be supported, with government funding guaranteed for the best.

Like many across Europe, Brussels residents have taken to applauding healthcare workers at at their windows and balconies at 8pm every evening. Belgium’s King Philippe flies a white flag from the Royal Palace in tribute.

In France, confined since 17 March and allowed out – on pain of a heavy fine – only to shop for essentials, exercise or walk the dog, humour has – for the time being – become a mainstay of social media conversation. Comedians post a new video every day.

Photoshopped images of exhausted dogs (“Everyone in the apartment block has walked me today; when will it end?”) abound. President Emmanuel Macron, his face digitally aged by a decade, informs the nation: “Compatriots, you may now go out.” A spoof tourist guidebook promises “the indispensable guide to the finest undiscovered corners of your place of residence”.

Videos of neighbours cycling round the balcony and flatmates playing foot-ping have gone viral while on Twitter individuals share their tales of lockdown woe: “My mother: ‘You don’t get fed up spending the whole day on your computer?’ Me: ‘I run a web marketing department.’ Mother: ‘So?’” tweeted one.

Another lamented that after only four days of confinement, his mother could take no more: “She told me to go out – and she’d pay the fine.”

Reporting by Angela Giuffrida, Kate Connolly, Kim Willsher, Jennifer Rankin and Stephen Burgen.

Source link

Continue Reading


Live Coronavirus News Updates and Coverage




More than 100,000 people in the United States have now been infected with the coronavirus, according to a New York Times database, a grim milestone that comes on the same day the national death toll surpassed 1,500.

Earlier this week the country surpassed the case totals in China and Italy. The number of known cases has risen rapidly in recent days as testing ramped up after weeks of widespread shortages and delays.

And the outbreak has already transformed life in the United States, where millions of Americans have been asked to do what might have been unthinkable only a week or two ago: Don’t go to work, don’t go to school, don’t leave the house, except in limited circumstances.

The directives to keep people at home to stunt the spread of the coronavirus began in California, and have quickly been adopted across the country. By Friday, two dozen states and the Navajo Nation had told their residents to stay at home as much as possible, orders that affect at least 223 million Americans.

The pandemic is also having an effect on the primary calendar, as states across the country scramble to protect voters and poll workers. Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin on Friday requested that absentee ballots be sent to all of the state’s 3.3 million registered voters ahead of its April 7 presidential primary. And on the same day, Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania signed a measure postponing the contest from April 28 to June 2.

President Trump on Friday evening lamented the loss of economic gains that he had often used to measure his success in office and that served as the heart of his re-election message until the coronavirus hit the United States.

And he attacked Democratic governors for being insufficiently grateful for his efforts.

“Think of it, 22 days ago we had the greatest economy in the world,” Mr. Trump said at a news conference. “Everything was going beautifully. The stock market hit an all-time high again for the over 150th time during my presidency.”

He singled out the governor of Washington, Jay Inslee, and the governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, for his prime time scorn.

Mr. Inslee, he said, was “a failed presidential candidate” who was “constantly tripping and complaining.” Ms. Whitmer “has no idea what’s going on,” he said.

He then said he told Vice President Mike Pence, his coronavirus coordinator, to stop calling Mr. Inslee and Ms. Whitmer: “Don’t call the woman in Michigan, doesn’t make any difference,” he said of Ms. Whitmer.

“Very simple. I want them to be appreciative,” he said, saying his administration has “done a hell of a job.”

In a subsequent CNN town hall event on Friday night, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who is likely to face Mr. Trump in the general election, took issue with how the president has spoken about some governors. Ms. Whitmer is a national co-chair of his campaign.

“This is not personal,” Mr. Biden said. “It has nothing to do with you, Donald Trump, nothing to do with you. Do your job. Stop personalizing everything.”

Mr. Biden said he would recommend to governors that they lock down their states for several weeks, and he expressed support for a rent freeze for at least three months.

President Trump on Friday signed into law the largest economic stimulus package in modern American history, backing a $2 trillion measure designed to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Under the law, the government will deliver direct payments and jobless benefits for individuals, money for states and a huge bailout fund for businesses battered by the crisis.

Mr. Trump signed the measure in the Oval Office hours after the House approved it by voice vote and less than two days after the Senate unanimously passed it.

In brief remarks, Mr. Trump, flanked by Republican leaders in Congress, thanked “Democrats and Republicans for coming together and putting America first” and said it would help pave the road to economic recovery.

“I think we are going to have a tremendous rebound,” he said.

The legislation will send direct payments of $1,200 to millions of Americans, including those earning up to $75,000, and an additional $500 per child. It will substantially expand jobless aid, providing an additional 13 weeks and a four-month enhancement of benefits, and for the first time will extend the payments to freelancers and gig workers.

The measure will also offer $377 billion in federally guaranteed loans to small businesses and establish a $500 billion government lending program for distressed companies reeling from the crisis, including allowing the administration the ability to take equity stakes in airlines that received aid to help compensate taxpayers. It will also send $100 billion to hospitals on the front lines of the pandemic.

The law was the product of days of talks between members of Mr. Trump’s administration and Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress. And even before Mr. Trump held a bill signing on Friday afternoon, congressional leaders said they expected to negotiate more legislative responses to the pandemic in the coming months.

A second wave of coronavirus cases is charting a path far from coastal Washington State, California, New York and New Jersey, and threatening population centers in America’s middle that had no known cases of coronavirus not long ago.

Emerging hot spots include smaller communities like Greenville, Miss., and Pine Bluff, Ark., and large cities like New Orleans, Milwaukee, Detroit and Chicago. The areas around Cleveland, St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo., have also seen spikes.

As the toll of the virus grows, mayors, county executives and governors are sounding the alarm over a dearth of equipment and struggling to deal with the deadly onslaught.

“I look to New York to see what’s going on there, and I think, it’s a cautionary tale for the rest of us,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago, a Democrat, said in an interview on Friday. “I look at New York and think, what do we do so that we are as prepared as possible as this begins to ramp up in a city like Chicago?”

Officials in nearly 200 U.S. cities, large and small, report a dire need for face masks, ventilators and other emergency equipment to respond to the coronavirus outbreak, according to a survey released on Friday.

The United States Conference of Mayors questioned officials in 213 municipalities and found serious shortages that underscored the “scope and severity” of the crisis. The organization, a nonpartisan association of mayors from across the country, urged the federal government to provide more support.

More than 90 percent — or 192 cities — said they did not have an adequate supply of face masks for police officers, firefighters and emergency workers. In addition, 92 percent of cities reported a shortage of test kits and 85 percent did not have a sufficient supply of ventilators available to local health facilities.

Roughly two-thirds of the cities said they had not received any emergency equipment or supplies from their state, the report said. And of those that did receive state aid, nearly 85 percent said it was not enough to meet their needs.

In total, the conference tabulated that cities need 28.5 million face masks, 24.4 million other items of personal protection equipment, 7.9 million test kits and 139,000 ventilators.

For the millions of Americans who found themselves without a job in recent weeks, the sharp and painful change brought a profound sense of disorientation.

They were going about their lives, bartending, cleaning, managing events, waiting tables, loading luggage and teaching yoga. And then suddenly they were in free fall, grabbing at any financial help they could find, which in many states this week remained locked away behind crashing websites and overloaded phone lines.

For Joseph Palma, so much has changed so quickly that he barely recognizes his life.

On Tuesday last week, he was going to work, helping passengers in the customs area of the Miami airport. The next day, he was laid off without severance or benefits. Five days later, he moved back in with his 59-year-old mother, loading his bed and his clothes into the back of his friend’s pickup truck.

Now he is staring at his bank account — totaling about $3,100 — and waiting on hold for hours at a time with the unemployment office, while cursing at its crashing website.

“I’m feeling scared,” said Mr. Palma, who is 41 and nervous about the $15,000 in medical debt he has from two recent hospital stays. “I don’t know what’s the ending. But I know I’m not in good shape.”

Meanwhile, stocks fell Friday as investors who initially cheered progress on a $2 trillion U.S. aid package saw further economic troubles ahead. The S&P 500 dropped more than 3 percent on Friday. Stocks in Europe were also lower.

For days Mr. Trump resisted using the Defense Production Act to mobilize private industry to produce the critically-needed supplies, arguing at points that private industry was stepping up on its own, and at other points suggesting dismissively that using it would be analogous to “nationalizing” businesses.

But on Friday afternoon Mr. Trump said that he had directed his administration “to use any and all authority available under the Defense Production Act to require General Motors to accept, perform, and prioritize Federal contracts for ventilators.”

“Our negotiations with G.M. regarding its ability to supply ventilators have been productive, but our fight against the virus is too urgent to allow the give-and-take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course,” the president said in a statement. “G.M. was wasting time. Today’s action will help ensure the quick production of ventilators that will save American lives.”

Earlier on Friday, Mr. Trump lashed out at General Motors on Friday, blaming it for overpromising on its ability to make new ventilators for critically ill coronavirus patients.

In a series of tweets, the president had emphasized the urgent need for the ventilators, an abrupt change of tone from the night before, when he had told Sean Hannity, the Fox News host, that states were inflating their needs.

Mr. Trump appeared to be reacting to reports that the White House had dragged its feet in awarding contracts to G.M. and Ventec Life Systems, to start new production lines in a converted G.M. plant in Kokomo, Ind.

No country has been hit harder by the coronavirus pandemic than Italy, where officials announced Friday that more than 950 people had died in the past 24 hours. It was the highest daily tally yet, lifting the national death toll to 9,134 — by far the highest in the world.

The virus has also penetrated the high walls of the Vatican.

The Vatican on Tuesday said an official who lives in the pope’s residence has tested positive and required hospitalization. Now the Vatican is testing scores of people and considering isolating measures for Francis, 83, who has tested negative in two separate tests, according to top Vatican officials.

“For weeks now, it has been evening — thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities,” Pope Francis, who had part of his lungs removed during an illness in his youth, said on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica Friday. “It has taken over our lives.”

Pope Francis also expressed support and appreciation for “doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves.”

The coronavirus mostly infects the lungs, causing pneumonia in severe cases; the typical symptoms are fever, cough and difficulty breathing. But some infected patients, including one recently in Brooklyn, have arrived at the hospital with symptoms not of respiratory disease, but of heart attack.

On close examination, the Brooklyn patient and some others were suffering from acute myocarditis, a severe inflammation of the heart. The condition also has been seen in patients with other viral infections, such as MERS and the H1N1 swine flu. Patients with coronavirus infections and heart complications have a risk of death nearly four times higher than patients without heart complications.

Other doctors have been keeping a close watch on the virus’s impact on the youngest targets. Newborns and babies have so far seemed to be largely unaffected by the coronavirus, but three small new studies suggest that the virus may reach the fetus in utero.

Even in these studies the newborns seem only mildly affected, if at all. That is reassuring, experts said; in theory, the virus could pose a risk to the fetus early in gestation, when the fetal brain is most vulnerable.

“We don’t have any knowledge of that at all, said Dr. Christina Chambers, a perinatal epidemiologist at the University of California in San Diego. “That is a complete open question at this point.”

After four passengers died aboard Holland America’s Zaandam cruise ship, the fate of the vessel became increasingly unclear on Friday night when it was denied permission to cross the Panama Canal. The ship is currently off the southern coast of Panama, conducting an evacuation of healthy passengers to one of the company’s sister ships, the Rotterdam.

The Panama Canal Authority posted an announcement on Twitter saying that new health regulations aimed at preventing contagious diseases would prohibit the Zaandam from crossing the canal.

Both ships had hoped to cross the Panama Canal and head to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which has not given them permission to dock. The Zaandam was originally scheduled to disembark in Chile on March 21, but the country shut its ports to cruise ships and ultimately closed its borders.

There were 1,243 guests and 586 crew members on board the Zaandam, with passengers from 34 nations. People who are sick as well as their close contacts and all of the crew will remain on the Zaandam, the company said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tested positive for the coronavirus and is suffering mild symptoms, he said on Friday. He is the first leader of a major Western country known to have contracted the virus.

“I’ve developed mild symptoms of the coronavirus,” Mr. Johnson said in a video posted on Twitter, noting that he was tested on Thursday after he began running a temperature and suffering a persistent cough.

The prime minister said that he would isolate himself in his official residence, 10 Downing Street, but would not relinquish his duties.

“Be in no doubt that I can continue, thanks to the wizardry of modern technology, to communicate with all my top team to lead the national fight back against coronavirus,” Mr. Johnson said.

But a critical member of his cabinet, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, also tested positive, meaning that the two people most directly responsible for dealing with the virus are now afflicted with it.

The government’s chief medical adviser, Chris Whitty, also reported symptoms of the virus and said he was isolating himself. There are fears that other officials who have been in meetings with Mr. Johnson could also have been exposed.

If Mr. Johnson becomes incapacitated, his duties would be taken over by the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, who has tested negative for the virus. It is a head-spinning turn of events for a government that, just two weeks ago, was brimming with confidence after a landslide election victory in December.

Mr. Johnson’s diagnosis rattled a country that was already unnerved by news that Prince Charles, the eldest son of Queen Elizabeth II and the heir to the throne, had tested positive for the virus. Buckingham Palace said the queen remained healthy and was sequestered at Windsor Castle. Mr. Johnson delivered his weekly briefing to the queen by telephone on Wednesday.

South Africa, Africa’s most industrialized nation, ordered most of its 59 million people to stay at home for three weeks starting today. It is by far the biggest and most restrictive action undertaken on the African continent to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

The nationwide lockdown followed an alarming increase in confirmed cases across South Africa’s nine provinces. Three weeks after detecting its first infection, the country is now the center of the pandemic on the continent, with more than 1,000 confirmed cases, double the number of the next hardest-hit country, Egypt.

While the deadly virus was slow to take hold in Africa, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths has gradually increased in recent days, raising fears about the continent’s readiness to deal with a pandemic.

To date, 46 African states have reported a total of 3,243 positive cases and 83 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

You can take several steps to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and keep yourself safe. Be consistent about social distancing. Wash your hands often. And when you do leave your home for groceries or other essentials, wipe down your shopping cart and be smart about what you are purchasing.

Reporting was contributed by Michael Cooper, Alan Blinder, Julie Bosman, Emily Cochrane, Donald G. McNeil Jr., Maya Salam, David E. Sanger, Maggie Haberman, Annie Karni, Mark Landler, Stephen Castle, John Eligon, Amy Qin, Marc Santora, Megan Specia, Elian Peltier, Raphael Minder, Jason Horowitz, Fabio Bucciarelli, Nikita Stewart, Michael Crowley, Jason Horowitz, Elisabetta Povoledo, Lara Jakes, Jesse Drucker, Abdi Latif Dahir, Vikas Bajaj, Carl Hulse, Steven Lee Myers, Caitlin Dickerson, Annie Correal, Adam Liptak, Neil MacFarquhar, Frances Robles, Thomas Kaplan, Sabrina Tavernise, Audra D. S. Burch, Sarah Mervosh and Campbell Robertson.

Source link

Continue Reading