The Early Edition: April 24, 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

Covid-19 has infected more than 2.7 million people and killed at least 190,000 worldwide, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. has reported almost 50,000 deaths and 870,000 cases. Henrik Pettersson, Byron Manley and Sergio Hernandez report for CNN.

Almost all of the hospitalized coronavirus patients in the New York City area had at least one major chronic health condition, and most — 88 percent — had at least two, according to a new study. Though previous research has shown chronic conditions like obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes are common risk factors for severe Covid-19, the prevalence of serious medical conditions in these patients was remarkable: only 6 percent of them had no underlying health conditions. Roni Caryn Rabin report for the New York Times.

New figures released yesterday by New York, the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States, suggest that one fifth of New York City residents have contracted the coronavirus. Officials estimate that statewide, 2.7 million residents — or 13.9% of the state’s population — have been infected. That tally greatly outpaces the officially confirmed number of cases in the state. “This basically quantifies what we’ve been seeing anecdotally and what we have known,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) told a news conference yesterday, “but it puts numbers to it.” Colin Dwyer reports for NPR.

The Pentagon and the intelligence community are more forcefully looking into the prospect that adversaries could use the novel coronavirus as a bioweapon, according to defense and intelligence officials, in a move that reflects the national security apparatus’ evolving understanding of the virus and its dangers. Officials stressed that the shift does not mean they consider the virus was purposefully created to be weaponized — the intelligence community is still probing the virus’ potential origins, but there is currently no hard intelligence or scientific proof to support the theory that it spread from a lab in China, people briefed on the matter said. Natasha Bertrand, Daniel Lippman and Lara Seligman report for POLITICO.

President Trump was lambasted by the medical community yesterday after suggesting research into whether coronavirus might be treated using ultraviolet lights or by injecting disinfectant into the body. At yesterday’s White House coronavirus task force briefing, Trump remarked on research by the Department of Homeland Security that said the virus appeared to weaken faster under exposure to sunlight, heat and humidity. Robert Reich, a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and a former labor secretary, said Trump’s briefings were “actively endangering the public’s health,” adding: “Boycott the propaganda … Listen to the experts … And please don’t drink disinfectant.” David Smith reports for The Guardian.

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence yesterday did not rule out the possibility that they might extend social distancing and other mitigation measures past their current end date on May 1. The pair acknowledged during yesterday’s White House briefing that all the countermeasures and precautions to curb the spread of the virus are working. If they go on, “by early summer we could be in a much better place as a nation,” Pence said. Philip Ewing reports for NPR.

Governors yesterday slammed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s suggestion that state and local governments should file for bankruptcy rather than seek financial aid from the government — an approach New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo labeled “one of the really dumb ideas of all time.” “You want to see the market fall through the cellar?” Cuomo asked during a press conference in the New York state Capitol yesterday. “Let New York State declare bankruptcy … Let Michigan declare bankruptcy … Let Illinois declare bankruptcy … Let California declare bankruptcy. You will see a collapse of this national economy.” Nick Niedzwiadek reports for POLITICO Magazine.

The House yesterday approved a $484 billion package to help small businesses and hospitals and expand testing, bringing the total spending response to the crisis to an unprecedented near $3 trillion. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who argued that the relief bill needed to include money for states and cities, was the only Democrat to vote against the measure, which does not include the additional funding for states and local governments that Democrats had sought. Lauren Egan reports for NBC News.

The House voted yesterday to set up a new investigative committee to keep an eye on Trump’s implementation of nearly $3 trillion in coronavirus relief measures, a move they said would safeguard the huge sums flowing to businesses, hospitals and individual taxpayers. “It will be laser-focused on ensuring that taxpayer money goes to workers’ paychecks and benefits and it will ensure that the federal response is based on the best possible science and guided by health experts — and that the money invested is not being exploited by profiteers and price gougers,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in remarks on the House floor. Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO.

Remdesivir, a drug thought to be one of the best prospects for treating Covid-19, showed no benefit in results from a hotly anticipated clinical trial that were mistakenly posted to the World Health Organization (W.H.O.)’s website yesterday. The draft documents posted to the W.H.O. website — and then quickly removed — suggest that the experimental drug did not help patients enrolled in a randomized clinical trial in China, and caused significant side effects in multiple people that led them to end treatment. Just under 14% of those on remdesivir died, compared with nearly 13% of those not taking the treatment. Donato Paolo Mancini and Hannah Kuchler report for the Financial Times.

Lawyers for the ousted director of a federal agency tasked with developing a coronavirus vaccine said yesterday he will file a whistleblower complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general over his reassignment. “The administration is now making demonstrably false statements about Dr. [Rick] Bright, one of the nation’s leading vaccine, drug and diagnostic experts,” reads a statement from his lawyers Debra Katz and Lisa Banks. “In our filing we will make clear that Dr. Bright was sidelined for one reason only — because he resisted efforts to provide unfettered access to potentially dangerous drugs, including chloroquine, a drug promoted by the Administration as a panacea.” Emma Tucker reports for The Daily Beast.

The Trump administration pressed for “nationwide” access to a malaria drug lauded by Trump as a Covid-19 treatment “with limited physician oversight,” according to a person familiar with the allegations of Dr. Bright. Dan Diamond reports for POLITICO.

The chair of the House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee indicated yesterday that she would hold hearings into the exit of Dr. Bright. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto.) said that among the witnesses she would like to call are the secretary of health and human services, Alex Azar II, and an assistant secretary, Dr. Robert Kadlec, who supervised Dr. Bright. Maggie Haberman, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Kenneth P. Vogel report for the New York Times.

The U.S. is starting to divert its W.H.O. contributions to other health-focused bodies, marking an escalation in Trump’s fight with the U.N. agency. The move is part of the Trump administration’s efforts to punish the W.H.O. after freezing payments to the global health body pending a “review” of its response to the coronavirus pandemic. Laura Kelly reports for the Hill.

China yesterday announced it was planning to donate $30 million in additional funding for the W.H.O. in the battle against Covid-19, one week after the Trump administration halted its own contributions. In announcing the donation, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang defended the W.H.O. and said the agency under the leadership of Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has been “actively fulfilling its duties and upholding an objective, scientific and impartial stance.”Gerry Shih reports for the Washington Post.

The W.H.O. said it would launch a “landmark collaboration” today to accelerate development of safe, effective drugs, tests and vaccines to prevent, diagnose and treat Covid-19. The Geneva-based agency, in a short statement issued late last night, said the project with partners aims to make technologies against the disease caused by the new coronavirus “accessible to everyone who needs them, worldwide,” but gave no details. Reuters reporting.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan yesterday disclosed that his government was using a system, originally meant to track down terrorists by the spy agency I.S.I., to trace the suspected coronavirus cases in the country, as the number of the Covid-19 patients continues to rise. International rights groups such as Amnesty International have repeatedly accused the I.S.I. of utilizing its surveillance programs to capture rights activists alongside legitimate security targets. Al Jazeera reporting.

CORONAVIRUS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

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

“The Chinese government has no one to blame but itself” for the growing conspiracy theories about the origins of Covid-19, argues David Ignatius for the Washington Post, who explains how China can “put the truth on lockdown.” 

Attempts to sue China for its role in the spread of coronavirus are not conducive to effective accountability, even if legally possible, comments John B. Bellinger III for the Washington Post, who supports accountability through means such as diplomatic pressure and U.S.-led investigations into Beijing’s role.

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

U.S. and Danish officials yesterday confirmed that the U.S. will open a consulate in Greenland and give the country $12 million in development aid. The announcement follows talks last year that President Trump wanted to buy Greenland from Denmark, and has been characterized by the Trump administration as an attempt to hinder Chinese and Russian interests. Carol Morello reports for the Washington Post. 

Trump is to nominate retired Army general Anthony Tata as the new under secretary of defense for policy, after John Rood was fired from the position in February. Tal Axelrod reports for The Hill.

A U.S. warship has travelled through the Taiwan Strait – an area separating Taiwan from mainland China – twice this month, U.S. and Taiwanese officials confirmed today, after growing tension between China and Taiwan. Al Jazeera reporting. 

The United Nations (U.N.) and the European Union (E.U.) have said Israel’s plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank would have “devastating” consequences and “constitute a serious violation of international law.” The recent formation of an emergency government between Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz includes formal plans to appropriate parts of the West Bank from as soon as July, which U.N. special Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladneov said yesterday would “deal a devastating blow to the two-state solution, close the door to a renewal of negotiations, and threaten efforts to advance regional peace.” Al Jazeera reporting. 

The leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp Gen. Hossein Salami yesterday warned the U.S. that it “will answer any action by a decisive, effective and quick counteraction,” which was in response to threats made by Trump a day earlier that the U.S. Navy will “destroy” Iranian gunboats that harass them. AP reporting. 

The two-week ceasefire between Yemeni Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition ended yesterday and rebels have refused to engage in peace talks unless the five-year blockade is lifted. Senior leader of the Iranian-back Houthi group, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, said yesterday: “Our proposal was very simple … We asked them to leave our country, lift the blockade, stop bombing … Very simple.” Sune Engel Rasmussen and Saleh al-Batati report for the Wall Street Journal.  

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).