The Early Edition: April 21, 2020

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

Signup to receive the Early Edition in your inbox here.

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 new coronavirus has now killed more than 42,000 people in the U.S., while more than 761,000 Americans have tested positive for it, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Global deaths have surpassed 171,000, while confirmed cases of the virus have reached more than 2.5 million. Jessie Yeung and Adam Renton report for CNN.

President Trump announced last night that he will order a temporary ban on immigration to the U.S. in response to the coronavirus outbreak and to protect American jobs. The move, which the president announced in a post on Twitter, effectively achieves a long-term Trump policy goal to curb immigration and prompted immediate questions about its timing and scope. Nick Miroff, Josh Dawsey and Teo Armus report for the Washington Post.

The U.N. General Assembly approved a resolution last night urging global action to quickly increase development, manufacturing and access to medicine, vaccines and medical equipment to tackle the new coronavirus pandemic. The Mexican-drafted resolution asks U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to coordinate with the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) and recommend options to ensure “timely and equitable access” to urgent supplies and future coronavirus vaccines for all in need, particularly in developing countries. AP reporting.

U.S. lawmakers came close to finalizing an interim stimulus package yesterday but failed to agree on the bill’s wording, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in an interview last night. The nearly $500bn package aims to replenish an empty relief fund for small businesses that was included in the $2.2tn stimulus package and in which Democrats had aimed to include money for hospitals, coronavirus testing and state and local governments. John Bowden reports for the Hill.

Congress’ independent watchdog is preparing a flurry of audits that will become the first wide-ranging check on Trump’s management of the national rescue effort. Even as Trump has attacked internal watchdogs in his administration, the Government Accountability Office (G.A.O.) remains largely out of the president’s reach because of its home in the legislative branch. The office will look into a range of topics, including the government’s handling of coronavirus testing, its dispersal of medical equipment, and any blunders in distributing the emergency cash payments that were made to millions of Americans this week. Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO.

Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina and other U.S. states say some  businesses could reopen soon with relaxed social distancing rules, as governors across the country weigh steps toward lifting orders and restarting their stalled economies. Rick Rojas and Michael Cooper report for the New York Times.

Trump and his allies in conservative media have subtly toned down their promoting of hydroxychloroquine as a possible cure for the coronavirus, according to a POLITICO review of White House briefings and cable news coverage. Although Trump had repeatedly touted the decades-old malaria drug since the early days of the disease’s outbreak in the United States, his public statements regarding hydroxychloroquine have gone down significantly over the past week for reasons that remain uncertain. Quint Forgey reports for POLITICO.

The White House’s coronavirus task force apparently has split into two camps: one that defends the president’s statements, and another that actively works to ignore and brush aside those excesses. Trump’s own aides and officials are aware that the president’s missives clash with the advice embraced by his top public health experts. But rather than set the record straight or even push back internally on the president’s efforts, they have tried to carry on, looking the other way. Asawin Suebsaeng, Erin Banco and Sam Stein report for The Daily Beast.

The Army yesterday resumed sending new soldiers to basic training, although with conditions, after a two-week break due to the coronavirus pandemic. The service is moving forward vigilantly, allowing only recruits from areas deemed low risk to continue on to the Army’s four training bases. “Those who are in high risk areas will be rescheduled for future dates,” the Army said in a statement. Ellen Mitchell reports for the Hill.

The heads of all the U.N.’s key agencies have issued a striking warning of the risk of coronavirus to the world’s most vulnerable nations after revealing that international donors had committed around a quarter of the $2bn the U.N. requested for its emergency Covid-19 response in March. In an open letter, the world’s most senior emergencies, health and development officials, warned that assistance for the world’s weakest countries was in everyone’s “interest to stop the virus from spreading unchecked, destroying lives and economies, and continuing to circle around the world.” In particular, the agency heads are asking for $350m to be specifically set aside for the creation of a rapidly enhanced and expanded U.N. global logistics system, including major regional hubs, to serve as air and cargo bridges to transport key personnel and supplies as regular air traffic has shut down, or movement has been restricted. Peter Beaumont reports for The Guardian.

Iran’s foreign minister during a meeting yesterday with Syrian President Bashar Assad urged the U.S. to lift sanctions against both countries, during his first trip to the war-torn country in a year. Mohammad Javad Zarif said America had “shown its inhumane face to the world” by declining to lift sanctions during the pandemic. AP reporting.

Hong Kong’s C.E.O. Carrie Lam yesterday announced an extension of the city’s social distancing measures and closures. The Chinese-ruled territory yesterday reported its first day since early March with no new cases, but Lam said the restrictions would stay in place for another 14 days to “preserve the city’s success in keeping the number of cases down.” Reuters reporting.

Chile is expected to issue the world’s first “immunity passports” to people who have recovered from the novel coronavirus, marking them exempt from quarantines and other restrictions.The so-called immunity passports would allow those who have recovered from the coronavirus or tested positive for the presence of antibodies to go back to work, over the concerns of physicians who cautioned that much about Covid-19 immunity remains unknown. John Bartlett reports for the Washington Post.

CORONAVIRUS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

Five key takeaways from yesterday’s White House coronavirus briefing are provided in an analysis by Aaron Blake for the Washington Post. 

The U.S. is not ready for lockdown restrictions to be lifted, argues Ishaan Tharoor for the Washington Post, following a review of other countries’ approaches to easing measures.

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.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

President Trump has rejected South Korea’s offer of $1bn to keep U.S. military forces deployed in the country. “We’re defending a wonderful nation. We’re asking them to pay for a big percentage of what we’re doing. It’s not fair. … It’s a question of will they contribute toward the defense of their own nation,” Trump said at a White House news conference yesterday. Al Jazeera reporting. 

The health of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un has been met with pessimism following claims he is “gravely ill” after cardiovascular surgery. The South Korean government have stated that there is “nothing to confirm rumors about chairman Kim Jong-un’s health, and no special movement has been detected inside North Korea as of now.” Justin McCurry reports for The Guardian. 

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his political rival Benny Gantz yesterday signed an agreement to form an emergency unity government. Netanyahu will remain in office for 18 months before handing the position over to Gantz for the remainder of the three-year term. AFP reporting. 

Syrian air defenses have intercepted several missiles fired by Israeli warplanes over the city of Palmyra yesterday, the Syrian Arab News Agency (S.A.N.A.) have reported. The attack was said to have been targeting Iranian fighters and its allies, the U.K.’s Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed. Al Jazeera reporting. 

A Russian court in the “secret trial” of the ex-U.S. marine Paul Wheelan has refused to allow U.S. Ambassador John Sullivan to attend the hearing in Moscow. Sullivan commented that “The fact that it is a closed hearing, that it is a secret trial – Paul hasn’t seen the evidence against him – it makes a mockery of justice.” Al Jazeera reporting. 

A Russian fighter aircraft intercepted a U.S. Navy aircraft whilst flying over the Mediterranean Sea Sunday, in what has been described as “unsafe and unprofessional.” The maneuver is the second reported since the weekend, with the U.S. Navy stating that: “The unnecessary actions of the Russian SU-35 pilot were inconsistent with good airmanship and international flight rules, seriously jeopardizing the safety of flight of both aircraft.” Ryan Browne and Chandelis Duster report for CNN. 

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).