The Early Edition: April 9, 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

U.S. cases of the novel coronavirus reached more than 430,000 yesterday, as the nation recorded its deadliest day yet. There were 1,973 deaths from Covid-19 in America during the 24-period ended 8 p.m. last night, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. The number of reported coronavirus cases worldwide approached 1.5 million, with over 88,000 deaths. Talal Ansari, Liza Lin and Laurence Norman report for the Wall Street Journal.

Encouraging signs show that new infections may be leveling off in some of the United States’s worst affected areas. “There are some hopeful signs in New York and other places … But we all know there’s a long way to go,” Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said. The improving models indicate that social distancing and other mitigation efforts by the American people are working. Melanie Zanona and Heather Caygle report for POLITICO.

A leading forecasting model used by many states and the White House now predicts tens of thousands fewer Covid-19 deaths by August. The model run by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine estimates the virus will kill 60,000 people in the U.S. over the next four months – some 33,000 fewer than its forecast last Thursday. Arman Azad reports for CNN.

Experts warned against complacency, however, insisting that the advice must still be followed and warning that moving too soon could result in a “second wave.” The White House coronavirus task force stressed that aggressive social distancing remains crucial to controlling the spread of the virus. Philip Bump and William Wan report for the Washington Post.

President Trump is planning to announce as early as this week a second, smaller coronavirus task force designed specifically to tackle the economic impact of the virus and focused on restarting the nation’s economy, according to four people familiar with the plans. The task force will be compiled of a combination of private-sector and senior administration officials, including chief of staff Mark Meadows — whose first official day on the job was last week — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and national economic adviser Larry Kudlow, a senior administration official said. Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey and Yasmeen Abutaleb report for the Washington Post.

Trump and his administration continued to feud with the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) yesterday. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington was reviewing U.S. funding to the agency, saying international organizations using U.S. taxpayer money needed to deliver on their goals. However, he opposed a leadership change at the W.H.O. at this time. Reuters reporting.

The W.H.O.’s Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus yesterday warned world leaders against politicizing the new coronavirus after Trump threatened to withhold funds from the U.N. agency due to its handling of the outbreak. Speaking at a virtual press conference, Ghebreyesus defended the organization’s work and urged leaders to focus on saving lives, arguing that political attacks would only lead to “more body bags.” Emma Tucker reports for The Daily Beast.

A new study indicates that the coronavirus started to circulate in the New York area by mid-February, weeks before the first confirmed case, and that it was introduced to the area mainly by travelers from Europe, not Asia. Carl Zimmer reports for the New York Times.

An additional 10,000 National Guard troops are expected to be activated to help fight the coronavirus in the next week or two, the National Guard Bureau chief said yesterday. “We’ve been accelerating at sort of more than 1,000 a day. … We could easily get this up another [10,000] or more than that in the next week or two,” Gen. Joseph Lengyel told reporters at the Pentagon. Around 28,400 Guardsmen are deployed throughout America, with Lengyel saying that number will reach well over 30,000 “in the next couple of days.” Ellen Mitchell reports for the Hill.

The U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort will begin taking some of New York’s severe coronavirus cases, in a sharp U-turn for the Navy, which warned as recently as Friday that the Comfort was “not configured to provide treatment for infectious diseases.” The Comfort’s mission in New York raises questions about whether the ship and its crew are up to the task, some of which are answered by Geoff Ziezulewicz at the New York Times.

The top cybersecurity agencies in the United States and Britain yesterday issued a warning advising that cyber criminals are intensifying attacks on health care groups and those working from home during the current public health crisis. The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (C.I.S.A.) and the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Centre (N.C.S.C.) noted in the alert that the assaults often involved “malicious phishing emails or ransomware attacks,” in which an attacker takes over a system and requests payment to give the user access again. Maggie Miller reports for the Hill.

Some doctors working in intensive care units say the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine is not aiding the sickest patients. Many doctors believe that if the drug does turn out to be advantageous, it may work better early on in the course of the illness. “That’s the case for any therapeutic,” Dr. George Diaz, an infectious disease specialist at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Washington, said. “Generally the earlier you use it, the more effective it is.” Erika Edwards reports for NBC News.

Austria, Denmark and Italy have confirmed that they will begin to lift coronavirus lockdown restrictions in the coming weeks, although the European countries have stressed this will be a slow and gradual process. Eric Sylvers, Margherita Stancati and Bojan Pancevski report for The Wall Street Journal.

The French navy’s nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is returning to France due to suspected Covid-19 cases aboard. The Charles de Gaulle, the French navy’s flagship, has been reported to have around 40 sailors “under close medical observation”, the armed services ministry confirmed Wednesday. NPR reporting. 

Easing lockdown restrictions cannot be fully implemented until countries find a vaccine for the new coronavirus, a study found. Professor Joseph T Wu from the University of Hong Kong, who co-led the research, warned that if countries allow normal life to resume too quickly, reproductive numbers will rise again. “Although control policies such as physical distancing and behavioral change are likely to be maintained for some time, proactively striking a balance between resuming economic activities and keeping the reproductive number below one is likely to be the best strategy until effective vaccines become widely available.” Sarah Boseley reports for The Guardian.

The Islamic State militant group (ISIS) relishes in times of coronavirus, as counterterrorism operations in Iraq come to a slow halt. Michael Knights reports for POLITICO.

Key takeaways from yesterday’s White House briefing are provided in an analysis by Aaron Blake for The Washington Post.

Steps Congress can take to demonstrate American leadership on its coronavirus response, including engaging multilateral bodies like the United Nations Security Council (U.N.S.C.) and investing more in diplomacy, are outlined by Rob Berschinski and Benjamin Haas at Just Security.

Trump is in no need of adversaries to dispute or contradict his statements, as he does that all by himself, argues Peter Baker at 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 NBC News.

AFGHANISTAN

Five rockets struck a key U.S. air base in Afghanistan today but there were no casualties, security officials said, in an attack claimed by the Islamic State militant group (ISIS). Reuters reporting.

The Afghan government has released 100 Taliban prisoners in an attempt to continue working towards the terms of the U.S.-Taliban peace deal. However, this follows recent statements by the Taliban that they have suspended all peace talks, with Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid telling reporters, “We have nothing to do with the release of 100 prisoners, as it is not according to the agreed mechanism … the prisoner swap process [remain halted].” Sharif Hassan and Susannah George report for The Washington Post. 

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The former acting U.S. Navy Secretary Thomas Modly’s trip to Guam on the weekend where he criticized the commanding officer of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt cost at least $243,000, officials said on Wednesday. The figure is based on 35 hours of flight time, traveling on a C-37B, which costs $6,946.19 per hour. Marty Johnson reports for The Hill.

The Saudi Arabian-U.A.E. coalition fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen has declared a unilateral two-week ceasefire in an attempt to initiate peace talks and respond to the U.N.’s call for peace in war-torn Yemen amidst the coronavirus pandemic. The ceasefire, due to come into effect tomorrow, follows five years of fighting, and has been welcomed by U.N. officials. Dion Nissenbaum and Warren P. Strobel report for The Wall Street Journal. 

The U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris has expressed that he plans to resign after the November U.S. presidential election due to his growing frustration with the tensions and drama of his tenure.  Reuters reporting.  

A bipartisan group of senators is calling on President Trump to explain why he dismissed the intelligence community’s top watchdog, writing in a letter late last night that the president’s stated reasoning was “not sufficient.” The letter, signed by three Republican and five Democratic senators, represents Congress’ clearest criticism yet of Trump’s decision to fire Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general. Andrew Desiderio reports for POLITICO. 

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).