The Early Edition: April 17, 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 number of reported deaths in the U.S. hit a grim new high yesterday, with 4,591 people reported to have died from the new coronavirus in the 24 hours ending at 8 p.m. last night. In total, there have been more than 30,000 deaths in the U.S., according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Global deaths now top 145,000, while confirmed cases of the virus have reached more than 2.16 million worldwide. Jennifer Calfas, Newley Purnell and Matthew Dalton report for the Wall Street Journal.

At least 50 percent more people died in Wuhan, the first epicenter of the coronavirus, than previously counted, with state media today attributing the initial undercount to how overburdened the health system was as it sought to cope with thousands of sick patients. The addition of 1,290 previously undisclosed victims raised Wuhan’s death toll to 3,869. The updated figure comes after weeks of skepticism about the reported toll. AP reporting.

President Trump yesterday unveiled guidelines for reopening the economy that ultimately defer to state governors on when and how restrictions should be eased within their borders. The White House guidance describes three phases for a slow return to normalcy: the first phase includes much of the current lockdown measures such as avoiding non-essential travel and not gathering in groups, but allows large venues such as restaurants, movie theaters, places of worship and sports venues to “operate under strict physical distancing protocols;” in the second phase, nonessential travel could resume, schools and youth activities could reopen, and bars could open with some restrictions; and under phase three, visits to care homes and hospitals could resume and bars could increase their standing room capacity. Kevin Liptak, Kristen Holmes and Ryan Nobles report for CNN.

The recommendations call on states to show a “downward trajectory” of Covid-19 cases or positive tests for the disease over 14 days before proceeding with the plan, in line with the advice of public health experts, who have said that due to the virus’s 14-day incubation period, states should avoid relaxing their restrictions until they have seen a “sustained reduction” in new cases for at least that long. Josh Dawsey, Seung Min Kim, Felicia Sonmez and Colby Itkowitz report for the Washington Post.

The White House plan offers no timetable and fails to set out critical elements like a national testing strategy. “Trump’s the-buck-stops-with-the-states posture is largely designed to shield himself from blame should there be new outbreaks after states reopen or for other problems,” according to multiple current and former senior administration officials. Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey and Yasmeen Abutaleb report for the Washington Post.

On two phone calls with Trump, congressional Democrats yesterday pressed him to hold off until widespread coronavirus testing is available before publishing federal guidance to reopen the country’s economy, two lawmakers on the teleconferences said. But the president insisted that the economy would have to be restarted before vast testing can be available, Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) told NBC News. “We’re probably not going to have enough time to get testing done at the level that many would like to see it before we really need to reopen the economy,” Braun admitted after the president’s teleconference with senators. Leigh Ann Caldwell and Julie Tsirkin report for NBC News.

An email containing a controversial memo from the captain of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier was sent to fewer people than the Navy said it was when officials justified sacking him. The email from Capt. Brett Crozier was sent to three admirals and copied to seven other captains, according to a copy obtained by the Washington Post, contradicting former acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly’s assertion it was sent to “20 or 30” people. Dan Lamothe and Shawn Boburg report for the Washington Post.

The U.N. General Assembly has until Monday to examine a draft resolution calling for global action to quickly increase development, manufacturing and access to medicine, vaccines and medical supplies to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. The proposed resolution, drafted by Mexico and co-sponsored by around 75 countries, asks Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to coordinate with the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) and recommend options to ensure “timely and equitable access” to critical equipment and future coronavirus vaccines for all in need, especially in developing nations. AP reporting.

Trump found himself outlying among western leaders at a virtual G-7 summit yesterday, as they voiced strong support for the W.H.O. after the U.S.’s freezing of its funding. Yesterday, G-7 leaders expressed their backing for the U.N. agency and called for international co-operation. Soon after the hour-long conference call, a spokesperson for Angela Merkel said that the German chancellor had argued that “the pandemic can only be overcome with a strong and co-ordinated international response;” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said: “the W.H.O. is an important part of [the international collaboration and coordination we need] … We recognize that there have been questions asked, but at the same time it is really important we stay coordinated as we move through this.” Patrick Wintour reports for The Guardian.

The W.H.O. acted with “greater foresight and speed” than many national governments, and more than it had demonstrated in earlier epidemics. And while it made errors, there is little evidence that the W.H.O. is to blame for the disasters that have unfolded in Europe and then the United States. Richard Pérez-Peña and Donald G. McNeil Jr.report for the New York Times following Trump’s decision this week to cut off U.S. funding to the organization.

U.S. intelligence agencies are assessing whether the coronavirus that has caused a global pandemic escaped accidentally from a Chinese biological laboratory in Wuhan, according to current and former intelligence officials. Asked about the information on NBC’s “TODAY” show, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said, “this is something we’ve been watching closely now for some time,” adding that the results of the probe are so far “inconclusive.” Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed early this week that the possibility that an accident at the lab might have released the virus is being looked at by the U.S. intelligence community. Ken Dilanian and Courtney Kube report for NBC News.

The world’s largest trial of drugs to treat Covid-19 patients has begun in the United Kingdom at “unprecedented speed,” and hopes to report on findings within weeks. The Recovery trial has recruited over 5,000 patients in 165 British hospitals in a month, ahead of similar studies in the U.S. and Europe, which have a few hundred. “We’re guessing some time in June we may get the results,” said Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases and global health at Oxford University, who is leading the trial. “If it is really clear that there are benefits, an answer will be available quicker,” Horby added. Sarah Boseley reports for The Guardian.

“Africa could see 300,000 deaths from the coronavirus this year even under the best-case scenario,” according to a new report published today that cites modeling from Imperial College London. Under the worst-case scenario with no efforts to militate the virus, Africa could see 3.3 million deaths and 1.2 billion infections, the report by the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa said. Any of the scenarios would overburden Africa’s largely fragile and underfunded health systems, experts have warned. AP reporting.

CORONAVIRUS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

Four key takeaways from yesterday’s White House coronavirus briefing are provided in an analysis by Amber Phillips for the Washington Post.

A fact check on President Trump’s “false claim” that the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) said Covid-19 was “not communicable” is provided by Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post. 

Although the U.S. Constitution does allow the President to convene or adjourn Congress, “practically speaking, it would be virtually impossible for Trump to exercise that right,” William Roberts comments for Al Jazeera. 

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.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS 

President Trump’s longtime confidant Roger Stone has had his bid for a new trial denied after he claimed the jury was tainted by anti-Trump bias. The federal judge, who initially sentenced him to over three years’ imprisonment for obstructing congressional and F.B.I. investigations into links between the Trump campaign and Russia, also decided his application for a retrial, stating: “There is zero evidence of ‘explicit bias’ against Stone, and defendant’s attempts to gain a new trial based on implied or inferred bias fail.” Sharon LaFraniere reports for the New York Times.  

Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen will be released from prison early and serve the remainder of his three-year sentence at his home due to the spread of Covid-19 in prisons, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (B.O.P.) confirmed yesterday. Cohen is currently being held in a prison in Otisville, New York, after pleading guilty to numerous charges, including campaign finance fraud and lying to Congress. Rebecca Ballhaus and Rebecca Davis O’Brien report for the Wall Street Journal.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

N.S.O. Group who is currently being sued by the messaging App company WhatsApp for allegedly hacking its users has said it will seek to bar the proceedings under the doctrine of derivative state immunity; however, although this is “available under U.S. law, when tested against the relevant rules of international law this claim is likely to fail,” Russell Buchan and Daniel Franchini comment for Just Security.

The Iranian government have dismissed U.S. claims that their navy vessels came dangerously close to U.S. Navy ships in the Gulf. “What leads to insecurity in the Persian Gulf region is actually the illegal and aggressive presence of the Americans who have come from the other end of the world to our borders and make such baseless claims,” said Iranian defense minister Brigadier Gen. Amir Hatami. Reuters reporting. 

“Good progress” has been made between the Saudi-U.A.E. coalition and the Houthi rebel group to agree a truce in the “immediate future” on several key agreements, it was confirmed yesterday to the U.N. Security Council by the U.N.’s envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths. The agreed economic and humanitarian measure include: release of prisoners and detainees, opening Sanaa airport, paying civil servant salaries, opening access roads, and ensuring entry at Hodeidah ports for ships carrying commodities that will help in the fight against COVID-19, the potentially lethal respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. 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).