The Early Edition: April 23, 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 total U.S. reported death toll from the new coronavirus passed 46,700 yesterday, according to Johns Hopkins University. The United States now has over 842,000 confirmed coronavirus cases. Globally, Covid-19 has infected more than 2.6 million people and killed at least 183,500. Henrik Pettersson, Byron Manley and Sergio Hernandez report for CNN.

The head of the federal agency working on a coronavirus vaccine said yesterday that he was removed from his job for opposing the malaria drugs promoted by President Trump as potential treatments for Covid-19. Rick Bright said he was abruptly removed on Tuesday as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (B.A.R.D.A.), the government agency for developing and procuring treatments and vaccines, and moved to a lesser position in the National Institutes of Health. “I believe this transfer was in response to my insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the Covid-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit,” he said in a stunningly candid statement. Michael D. Shear and Maggie Haberman report for the New York Times.

Trump yesterday signed an executive order to temporarily block some immigrants from entering the United States, saying he was doing so in order to protect American workers during the coronavirus pandemic. But the measure contains broad exceptions and is more limited than the extensive closure he announced on Twitter earlier in the week. The BBC reporting.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is calling on the President to retract a signing statement from last month’s giant coronavirus package, warning it could be used to sideline inspectors general (IG).Grassley, in a letter to Trump, said he was “concerned” the White House document from March 27 could “negatively impact the ability of IGs to independently communicate with Congress.” “Read broadly, this interpretation could be cited as authority to unduly strip IGs of their fundamental ability to timely report waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct in government programs to Congress,” Grassley wrote, adding, “such authority is vital to their role in securing government transparency and efficiency, and is a critical role that all IGs routinely perform.” Jordan Carney reports for the Hill.

A new blueprint from the nation’s governors for reopening the economy calls for a cautious approach, saying the White House must dramatically increase testing and help states strengthen other public health measures before social distancing can be safely pulled back. The proposal from the National Governors Association and state health officials indicates a wide-scale reopening of the country is not imminent, echoing worries from health experts that advancing too quickly could revive the spread of the virus in communities and reverse the health benefits gained by weeks of social distancing. Rachel Roubein, Dan Goldberg and Brianna Ehley report for POLITICO.

Trump yesterday criticized the decision of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) to allow many businesses — such as beauty salons, tattoo parlors and bowling alleys — to reopen this week, a day after he hailed him during the White House briefing. “I told the governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, that I disagree strongly with his decision to open certain facilities,” Trump said at his daily coronavirus briefing yesterday. “But at the same time, he must do what he thinks is right.” Trump said Kemp’s plan was premature given the number of coronavirus cases in the state. Dareh Gregorian reports for NBC News.

A look at the trade-offs the president, governors, mayors and county executives will have to make before restarting the economy is provided by Peter Baker at the New York Times, who comments, “the nation’s leaders are left with the excruciating dilemma of figuring out how to balance life and livelihood on a scale unseen in generations.”

Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, challenging his stay-at-home order to contain the coronavirus outbreak. The suit seeks a temporary injunction against the state’s coronavirus-related lockdown that was extended until May 26 by the state department of health services secretary under the direction of the governor last week. Joe Barrett reports for the Wall Street Journal.

A federal judge in New York has lambasted the federal Bureau of Prisons (B.O.P.) for what she described as “illogical” and “Kafkaesque” quarantine policies that place inmates and the community at greater risk of catching coronavirus. U.S. District Court Judge Alison Nathan, in a decision dated Sunday, condemned federal officials over their practice of putting inmates considered or approved for early release into a pre-release quarantine before they are sent home. The period usually lasts 14 days, but the judge noted that it can be extended, potentially repeatedly, if another inmate in the same lot tests positive for the virus. Josh Gernstein reports for POLITICO.

More than 10,000 people have died of the new coronavirus in U.S. nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, according to a survey from The Wall Street Journal. While some states, such as Ohio and Washington, have not reported data on deaths in such facilities, the survey found at least 10,700 fatalities among the 35 states that either report data online or responded to information requests. Jon Kamp and Anna Wilde Mathews report for the Wall Street Journal.

Two pet cats in New York have tested positive for the coronavirus, marking the first confirmed cases in pets in the country, federal officials said yesterday. “We don’t want people to panic … We don’t want people to be afraid of pets,” Dr. Casey Barton Behravesh of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) told reporters, adding: “There’s no evidence that pets are playing a role in spreading this disease to people.” The C.D.C. is advising pet owners to keep their animals in their homes as a precautionary measure and only seek out testing for them if they are showing symptoms or were exposed to someone infected with the virus. AP reporting.

Mississippi plans to file a lawsuit against China over its handling of the novel coronavirus outbreak. In a statement announcing her plans yesterday, the state’s Attorney General Lynn Fitch (R) said that “too many Mississippians have suffered as a result of China’s cover-up,” adding, “They must not be allowed to act with impunity.” The lawsuit will also ask for damages under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (F.S.I.A.), according to a release. The move follows a similar suit Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R) filed against Beijing a day earlier over its response to the pandemic. Aris Folley reports for the Hill.

More than 232,000 people might have contracted Covid-19 in China’s first wave of the outbreak, according to a study by Hong Kong researchers. That would be four times the official figure that was reported by the Chinese government. China has now reported just over 83,000 cases. Helen Davidson reports for The Guardian.

Calls for an international inquiry into the coronavirus outbreak’s origins are getting louder, with America and Australia leading the charge. In a move likely to frustrate China, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said all members of the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) should cooperate with such an investigation. In Britain, prominent lawmakers are calling for a harder line on China over its initial “coverup” of the public health crisis. Rick Noack reports for the Washington Post.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged today for global cooperation on the development of a vaccination for the novel coronavirus, saying that the pandemic cuts across borders and can only be tackled jointly. Speaking to parliament in a session where lawmakers sat at a cautious distance from one another in line with the country’s social-distancing regulations, Merkel said German scientists were tirelessly researching the virus at home, but that “international cooperation against the virus is extremely important.” AP reporting.

How South Korea successfully “flattened the curve” on Covid-19 is explained by Justin McCurry at The Guardian, following Seoul’s newly released playbook on how to contain the coronavirus.

CORONAVIRUS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

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

The issue with U.S. coronavirus testing is not testing capacity but a lack of testing supplies, with many state governors stating they lack supplies such as swabs and reagents, JM Reiger comments for the Washington Post. 

The Trump administration is ignoring the contributions of science to tackling the pandemic, argues Stephen Collinson for CNN. 

The White House is hindering the crucial work done by the International Monetary Fund (I.M.F.) and the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) in supporting developing nations tackle Covid-19, argues the Washington Post editorial board. 

Missouri attempts to circumvent the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (F.S.I.A.) in its coronavirus lawsuit against China. Chimène Keitner highlights and explains the flaws in such an approach in a piece for Just Security.

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.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Continuing conflict between Afghan forces and the Taliban has resulted in dozens of deaths in the last 24 hours, officials reported yesterday, which threatens to destabilize current peace talks. Reuters reporting. 

President Trump has warned that the U.S. Navy will “shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea,” in a post on twitter. The warning follows reports that Iranian Revolutionary Guard successfully sent satellite missiles into orbit and last week’s “dangerous and harassing approaches” to U.S. Navy ships by Iranian forces. AP reporting. 

The U.S. Department of Defense (D.O.D) has received freedom of information requests for the number of U.S. servicemembers who are currently in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The requests were filed yesterday by Just Security and the Project of Government Oversight, after the Pentagon stopped publishing its figures in 2017 on the initiative of former defense secretary James Mattis. Julian Borger reports for The Guardian.

Syrian security officers have been put on trial in Germany for crimes against humanity committed in the early stages of the Syrian civil war. The trial marks a milestone in holding to account abuses of international law and state-sponsored torture in the Syrian conflict, with the country’s first senior official, Anwar Raslan, among those being tried. Ben Hubbard reports for the New York Times. 

Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah are preparing for what could be a war although both remain cautious of being the instigator. Israeli forces last week fired missiles at a Hezbollah SUV in Syria but killed or injured no-one, in what officials have said is an emerging policy of first warning the other side before attacking; “We can see you, even if we don’t kill you,” a senior Middle Eastern intelligence official has said. Ben Hubbard and Ronen Berman report for the New York Times.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s recent report into Russia’s interference in the U.S. election confirms that what Trump called “‘the Russia hoax’ isn’t a hoax at all,” argues the Washington Post editorial board. 

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).

Siven Watt

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