The Early Edition: April 2, 2020

Curated summary of up-to-the-minute national security developments at home and abroad.

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Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.  

CORONAVIRUS

The death toll in the United States topped 5,000 today with more than 216,000 confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins University, which has become the leading authority on tracking the global pandemic. Around the world, cases of the coronavirus are closing in on a million with over 941,000 people infected. There have now been over 47,000 deaths globally related to the pandemic, but over 185,000 people have recovered. The BBC reporting.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order yesterday following a phone call with President Trump’s coronavirus task force as the state’s case count kept climbing. Georgia, Mississippi, Nevada and Pennsylvania also issued statewide orders yesterdays, leaving just a shrinking number of states without such measures. Talal Ansari, Phred Dvorak and Paul Hannon report for the Wall Street Journal.

Trump has admitted the government’s emergency stockpile of protective equipment is nearly exhausted because of the extraordinary demands of the coronavirus pandemic. During yesterday’s White House briefing, Trump confirmed the supply of respirator masks, gloves and other medical supplies was running low, telling reporters his administration has sent supplies “directly to hospitals.” The stockpile was designed to respond to a handful of cities … it was never built or designed to fight a 50-state pandemic,” a D.H.S. official said. Trump stated a day earlier that the administration has almost 10,000 ventilators on reserve and that authorities are ready to distribute the lifesaving equipment promptly to coronavirus hot spots in coming weeks. Nick Miroff reports for the Washington Post.

Trump said yesterday he was “certainly looking at” potentially limiting air travel between some U.S. cities, especially those with high numbers of coronavirus cases, but accepted that would create yet more sting for the already-battered airline sector. The idea of possibly closing down domestic air travel in an effort to contain the virus’ spread has repeatedly cropped up over the last few weeks but never come to fruition, even as the U.S. has restricted foreign air travel. Anthony Adragna and Sam Mintz report for POLITICO.

House Democrats unveiled a proposal yesterday to bolster the country’s infrastructure to cushion the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, in what would be “phase four” of the congressional response to the outbreak. Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters in a conference call that the House’s “interest in infrastructure has always been bipartisan,” adding that House Democrats hope to vote on the proposal when Congress reconvenes April 20. Al Jazeera reporting.

Military personnel deployed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (F.E.M.A.) are not intending to help with treatment of coronavirus patients excepting a change in circumstances, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said yesterday. Esper said the military will not be treating infected populations unless “push comes to shove,” asserting the Pentagon’s resources are better used constructing hospitals and treating trauma patients to ease the burden on hospitals. Brett Samuels reports for the Hill.

Nearly 3,000 sailors on board a U.S. aircraft carrier where coronavirus has spread will be taken off the ship within a couple days, Navy officials said after the ship’s captain penned a letter pleading for help in the face of the outbreak. So far, 93 of the nearly 5,000 sailors assigned to the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, now docked in Guam, have tested positive for the virus, but the Navy is moving sailors into various facilities and is arranging to use hotel rooms in the coming days. Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said that almost 1,000 of the crew had been removed, and that that number would increase to 2,700, explaining the ship could not be evacuated in its entirety due to the need to continue to perform essential tasks as the vessel undergoes a thorough sterilization. AFP reporting.

The malaria drug hydroxychloroquine helped to accelerate the recovery of a small number of patients who were “mildly” or “moderately” ill from the coronavirus, doctors in China reported this week. The authors of the report said that the medicine was promising, but that more research was required to clear up how it might work in treating coronavirus disease and to ascertain the best way to use it. Denise Grady reports for the New York Times.

The federal government has assigned extra security personnel to Dr. Anthony Fauci after the number of threats made against him went up. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, has become the face of the country’s response to the new coronavirus outbreak and is among the few officials willing to correct Trump’s misguided assessments. Isaac Stanley-Becker, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Devlin Barrett report for the Washington Post.

Initial data from two weeks of stay-at-home orders in California and Washington suggest that early mandatory social distancing has helped to “flatten the curve” of infections. Geoffrey A. Fowler, Heather Kelly and Reed Albergotti report for the Washington Post.

“More than 95% of those who have died of coronavirus in Europe have been over 60 but young people should not be complacent,” the head of the World Health Organization’s office in Europe said today. Dr. Hans Kluge said age is not the sole risk factor for experiencing a severe case of the virus, stressing: “The very notion that COVID-19 only affects older people is factually wrong … Young people are not invincible.” AP reporting.

Russia yesterday sent a cargo plane with masks and other medical equipment to the United States after Trump accepted an offer of humanitarian aid from President Vladimir Putin to combat the coronavirus outbreak, a senior administration official confirmed. Lara Seligman reports for POLITICO.

Putin approved legislation yesterday to allow the Russian government to declare a state of national emergency in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus. Only the president can declare a state of emergency after he has officially received the backing of the upper house of parliament, but lawmakers on Tuesday passed legislation bestowing on the cabinet of ministers the same emergency powers. Reuters reporting.

Russian lawmakers have authorized fines of up to $25,000 and sentences of up to five years in prison for individuals spreading misinformation relating to the coronavirus. The nation’s legislature took on the bill after Putin called for action against “provocations, stupid gossip and malicious lies” about the outbreak. AP reporting

A confidential report from the U.S. intelligence committee suggests that Chinese officials may have modified the total number of coronavirus cases found within the country. The report, which apparently had been presented to the White House, found that China’s government has intentionally underreported both the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases as well as the number of deaths in the country from the virus. Nick Wadhams and Jennifer Jacobs report for Bloomberg News.

“Although China has tools that many other governments would not be able to usually deploy to track potentially infected people, such as location data from individual phones and facial recognition technology, the state’s ability to access personal data is at times limited,” Yuan Yang, Nian Liu, Sue-Lin Wong and Qianer Liu write in a “Big Read” for the Financial Times.

North Korea remains completely free of coronavirus, a senior health official insisted today, despite building skepticism overseas as confirmed global infections continue to rise. The already isolated, nuclear-armed nation quickly closed down its borders and introduced strict containment measures in January after the news became public that the virus was detected in neighboring China. Al Jazeera reporting.

Hezbollah says it is shifting the organizational strength it once deployed to fight Israel or in the civil war in neighboring Syria to tackle the spread of the virus pandemic in Lebanon. It would like to send a “clear message” to its supporters in Lebanon’s Shiite community that it is a force to depend on in a crisis. AP reporting.

The Taliban said yesterday the group was ready to announce a cease-fire in parts of Afghanistan under its control if they are hit by a coronavirus outbreak. The announcement follows a U.N. Security Council statement Tuesday calling for Afghanistan’s warring parties to heed the U.N. secretary-general’s call for an immediate truce to respond to the pandemic and ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid throughout the country. AP reporting.

Trump’s daily coronavirus briefing yesterday reveals that the president remains doubtful of hospital requests for the need of more protective equipment but seems to now be treating the coronavirus more seriously than flu. Amber Phillips provides key takeaways in an analysis at the Washington Post.

Trump and his top scientific advisers face the reality of a potential significant rise in death toll following confirmation that in the best case scenario more Americans will die than in the Korean and Vietnam wars combined, Peter Baker writes in an analysis for the New York Times.

A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. is available at the New York Times.

U.S. and worldwide maps tracking the spread of the pandemic are available at the Washington Post.

Latest updates on the pandemic at The Guardian and CNN.

IRAN

President Trump warned Iran of “a very heavy price” if there were to be a “sneak attack” on U.S. troops in Iraq, after U.S. intelligence suggests that Iran or Iran-backed forces are planning an attack on U.S. military personnel. Although not clear on the specific information relied upon, Trump said in a post on Twitter: “Upon information and belief, Iran or its proxies are planning a sneak attack on U.S. troops and/or assets in Iraq. If this happens, Iran will pay a very heavy price, indeed!” Reuters reporting.

The U.S. believes Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security was involved in the killing of Iranian dissident Masoud Molavi Vardanjani, a senior administration official told reporters yesterday. Turkish officials have also confirmed that they will be raising the shooting of Vardanjani with Iran. Al Jazeera reporting.

Iran has accused U.S. trade sanctions of taking lives, calling for the U.S. to lift the sanctions during the coronavirus on humanitarian grounds. Support of lifting sanctions has come from Russian, China, the European Union and the United Nations secretary-general; however, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was resolute in a tweet that Iran’s “concerted effort to lift U.S. sanctions isn’t about fighting the pandemic … it’s about cash for the regime.” Farnaz Fassihi reports for the New York Times.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Pentagon is currently in the final stages of selecting a new military intelligence chief to replace Defense Intelligence Agency chief Army Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley. The four candidates are: Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Kruse, Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Michael Groen, Army Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, and Navy Rear Adm. Trey Whitworth. POLITICO reporting.

Afghanistan have begun the process of releasing from jail 100 Taliban Islamist militants in a prisoner swap for 20 of its security forces, following the meeting of the Afghanistan government and the Taliban on Tuesday. This is the first step towards the peace deal under which the Afghanistan government free 5,000 Taliban prisoners and the Taliban release 1,000 pro-government captives in return. Al Jazeera reporting. 

About the Author(s)

Nat O'Connell

Associate News Editor at Just Security and Legal Fellow at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK - Follow her on Twitter (@oconnellnat).