The Early Edition: April 3, 2020

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

CORONAVIRUS

More than one million coronavirus cases have been confirmed globally and more than 53,000 deaths have been reported worldwide due to the virus, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The coronavirus death toll in the U.S. topped 6,000 today, including 1,100 deaths in the past 24 hours, and nearly 240,000 cases have been confirmed across the country. AFP reporting.

Dr. Anthony Fauci and other leading epidemiologists are skeptical of the White House’s prediction that between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans will die of the new coronavirus. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the federal coronavirus task force this week that too many factors in the pandemic are shifting, saying, “You can’t really rely upon models.” The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has expressed similar doubts. White House officials have declined to explain how they arrived at the estimated death toll, William Wan, Josh Dawsey, Ashley Parker and Joel Achenbach report for the Washington Post.

President Trump announced yesterday that he is expanding his use of the Defense Production Act (D.P.A.) to help six major manufacturers secure supplies for ventilators, as the national stockpile was running dangerously low amid the outbreak. In an order under the Act, the president instructed Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to “use any and all authority” to supply materials to General Electric Co., Hill-Rom Holdings Inc., Medtronic PLC, ResMed Inc., Royal Philips NV and Vyaire Medical. “Today’s order will save lives by removing obstacles in the supply chain that threaten the rapid production of ventilators,” Trump said in a statement. Alex Leary reports for the Wall Street Journal.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (F.E.M.A.) officials told lawmakers this week that the life-saving ventilators Trump promised would be available likely will not be ready until June “at the earliest.” The F.E.M.A. officials warned the House Oversight Committee that there were just 9,500 ventilators in the emergency federal stockpile of personal protective equipment, and said that only 3,200 additional ventilators will be rolled out by the week of April 13, which is when the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. is expected to peak. Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) yesterday announced the forming of a new select committee with subpoena powers to supervise the $2.2 trillion economic relief package passed by Congress. Pelosi announced the panel will be led by Democratic White Jim Clyburn, stressing that “This is not an investigation of the administration,” but that the panel wants “to be sure that there are not exploiters out there … where there’s money, there is also frequently mischief.” Natalie Andrews reports for the Wall Street Journal.

The creation of a new select committee raises the likelihood of a fresh round of “constitutional showdowns” between Trump and the Democrat-led House over details about how the administration confronted the coronavirus threat, and its actions as the disease began raging across the country. Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Nicholas Fandos report for the New York Times.

The White House is expected to recommend that people who live in areas with high transmission of the coronavirus wear cloth face coverings in public to avoid further spread of the virus. Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the task force, confirmed that a new mask advisory, based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, would be released in “coming days.” Kristen Welker and Geoff Bennett report for NBC News.

The U.S.N.S. Comfort, a Navy hospital ship with 1,000 beds, has taken in just three patients since docking in New York City on Monday, according to a Department of Defense briefing yesterday. Another ship, the U.S.N.S. Mercy, has docked in Los Angeles to aid recovery efforts, but has had a total of only 15 patients, officials said. The Navy ships were sent to treat patients with conditions other than COVID-10, however military protocols and bureaucratic obstacles, including a strict list of what conditions ship personnel cannot treat, have prevented the boats from accepting more patients. Michael Schwirtz reports for the New York Times.

The Navy announced it has relieved the captain who sounded the alarm about a coronavirus outbreak on board the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt.  In a strongly worded letter, Capt. Brett Crozier had urged his superiors to act to prevent U.S. troops dying outside of wartime. But acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said the commander “exercised extremely poor judgement.” Modly said there was no pressure from the White House to sack Crozier and that Defense Secretary Mark Esper endorsed the decision. Rebecca Kheel reports for the Hill.

A virus-hit cruise ship with dozens of ill passengers and crew docked in Florida yesterday after officials reached a deal with Holland America’s parent company, Carnival Cruise Line, as concerns mounted for the passengers. The Zaandam tied up at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale and began disembarking people, with its sister ship the Rotterdam close behind. Greg Allen reports for NPR.

The U.N. General Assembly adopted by consensus a resolution last night acknowledging “the unprecedented effects” of the coronavirus pandemic and urging “intensified international cooperation to contain, mitigate and defeat” the COVID-19 disease. It was the first resolution approved by the 193-member world body on the pandemic. AP reporting.

Sponsoring diplomats said they hoped the resolution would add pressure on the Security Council, the U.N.’s most powerful arm, to act. The Council has been notably silent, and without the supportive muscle of the only U.N. body allowed to authorize military and economic coercion to back its demands, Secretary General António Guterres’s calls for a unified global response will continue to be ignored. Rick Gladstone reports for the New York Times.

A look at how the National Security Council (N.S.C.) is handling the health crisis is provided by Daniel Lippman and Meridith McGraw at POLITICO.

As video conference App Zoom climbs in popularity amid the pandemic, federal officials have issued a warning about a new possible privacy and security threat called “Zoombombing.” The term refers to a type of cyber harassment reported by some App users, who have reported that some of their calls have been hijacked by unknown individuals and trolls who scatter hateful language or share graphic images. Dakin Andone reports for CNN.

The Supreme Court has still not announced alternatives for routine oral arguments in pending cases, even as Trump has declared the national distancing guidelines should carry on through April. The justices issued an order on Monday in an April case, as though the month’s list had not altered amid the pandemic.That ambiguous order and lack of public notice about how the nine justices may modify their practices for spring cases has only added to the swirl of uncertainty in difficult times,” Joan Biskupic reports for CNN.

Google yesterday reported that it will be offering public health officials location data to help track people’s movements in an effort to assist in “unprecedented times.” In response to concerns expressed over infringement of user privacy, Dr. Karen DeSalvo, chief health officer for Google Health and Jen Fitzpatrick, senior vice president for Google Geo, wrote in a blog post: “These reports have been developed to be helpful while adhering to our stringent privacy protocols and policies,” Paresh Dave reports for Reuters.

C.I.A. continues to warn the White House that China is seriously understating the spread and damage of the pandemic. Accurate numbers have been unobtainable, with national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien stating that “There’s no way to confirm any of those numbers … There’s lots of public reporting on whether the numbers are too low.” Julian E. Barnes reports for the New York Times. 

Former State Department officials were “mystified” and “bemused” by America’s purchase of medical equipment from Russia amid the coronavirus pandemic — a move that experts claim is a propaganda victory for the Kremlin. The U.S. on Wednesday night welcomed a Russian shipment of supplies, including ventilators and personal protective equipment, following a phone call between Washington and Moscow earlier in the week. Jennifer Hansler and Kylie Atwood report for CNN.

Russian President Vladminir Putin yesterday announced that there will be no work permitted in Russia until April 30 as “the peak of the epidemic in the world has not yet been passed, including in our country.” This is an extension to the week-long nonworking period announced last week by Putin, and has been implemented in response to a rapid increase in cases in Russia, with a reported total of over 3,550 infected and 30 deaths. Al Jazeera reporting.

Instanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu has urged the Turkish Government to lock down Istanbul over concerns that the city is becoming the country’s coronavirus epicentre. Although the Turkish government had announced measures to close schools, ban mass prayers and limit international flights, Imamoglu has called for a minimum three-week lockdown in Instanbul. AFP reporting.

North Korea’s central emergency anti-epidemic headquarters has claimed that the country remains totally free of the coronavirus. The global world has been sceptical of these claims, with experts opining that North Korea’s weak healthcare system will leave them particularly vulnerable to the virus. AFP reporting.

Hungarian journalists concerned that the country’s new coronavirus laws will make transparent reporting on the pandemic more difficult and potentially lead to journalists facing criminal sanction. Although the legislation only includes offences for intentionally spreading misinformation, journalists have expressed that they already face accusations from government for spreading misinformation. Shaun Walker reports for The Guardian.

A fact-check of Trump’s coronavirus briefing yesterday is helpfully provided by Daniel Dale and Holmes Lybrand at CNN, who note the president “made fewer false claims than usual.”

Key takeaways from the latest White House briefing are provided in an analysis by Aaron Blake for the Washington Post.

Will data science save us from the global health crisis? Richard Walters explores the shortcomings of technology in helping to contain the pandemic at the Financial Times.

Social distancing is helping to slow the disease spread “but the strategy of ‘flattening the curve’ doesn’t work … if politicians and people ignore the restrictions, or tire of them too soon,” the Washington Post Editorial Board warns.

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 NBC News.

IRAN

Leaders in Iran have said they only act in self-defense after President Trump’s claims that Iran or its ‘proxies’ are planning a sneak attack on U.S. troops in Iraq. Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, tweeted: “Don’t be mislead [sic] by usual warmongers,” adding that “Iran has FRIENDS: No one can have MILLIONS of proxies. Unlike the U.S. which surreptitiously lies, cheats & assassinates.” Patrick Wintour reports for The Guardian.

The Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden yesterday called for the Trump administration to lift sanctions on Iran during the coronavirus pandemic. 34 members of the U.S. Congress have signed a letter to the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to call for sanctions to be eased, with Biden expressing that “While the Iranian government has failed to respond effectively to this crisis, including lying and concealing the truth from its own people, and it continues to act provocatively in the region, the Iranian people are hurting desperately.” Al Jazeera reporting.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

At least 75 pro-government forces and twelve civilians were killed during the last week of fighting in Afghanistan, Fahim Abed reports in a casualty report at the New York Times.

“Not even the surrender of one side has been enough to create to a breakthrough [in Israel’s unprecedented political impasse] … At least, not yet.” Steve Hendrix reports on the latest negotiations for the Washington Post. 

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).