The Early Edition: April 27, 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 2.9 million people and killed at least 206,000 worldwide, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. As of today, the U.S. has over 965,000 recorded coronavirus cases and more than 54,000 deaths, accounting for more than a quarter of all global deaths. Henrik Pettersson, Byron Manley and Sergio Hernandez report for CNN.

Social distancing guidelines will be necessary throughout the summer, Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus task force coordinator, said yesterday — the same day many governors appeared optimistic about the course of the virus and set out their plans for a piecemeal reopening of their economies. Birx said that while downward trends in infections and deaths in certain locations “gives us great hope,” “social distancing will be with us through the summer to really ensure that we protect one another as we move through these phases.” She cited the necessity for more testing that would need to be developed following a scientific “breakthrough.” Her comments come after Vice President Mike Pence said the pandemic would be largely “behind us” by Memorial Day, on May 25. Felicia Sonmez, Paige Winfield Cunningham and Meryl Kornfield report for the Washington Post.

President Trump and his top aides are actively trying to sideline the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) on various fronts as they seek to transfer blame for the new coronavirus pandemic to the world body, according to U.S. and foreign officials involved in the discussions. State Department officials are removing references to the W.H.O. from virus fact sheets, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has ordered his employees to “cut out the middle man” when it comes to public health projects America previously supported through the W.H.O. This comes after the Trump administration announced a week ago it was freezing payments to the global health body pending a “review” of its response to the coronavirus pandemic. John Hudson, Josh Dawsey and Souad Mekhennet report for the Washington Post.

The W.H.O. last Friday said there was not enough evidence that a person who has recovered from Covid-19 is immune from a second infection. In a scientific briefing, the U.N. agency said the belief that one-time infection can lead to immunity remains unproven and is therefore dubious as a foundation for the next phase of the world’s response to the pandemic. The statement comes days after Chile declared it would begin issuing “immunity passports,” allowing travelers to clear security at airports with a document that supposedly shows they have recovered from the virus. Authorities and researchers in other countries — such as France and the United Kingdom — have floated similar ideas, while some officials in the U.S., such as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, have mentioned it as one potential facet of a reopening strategy. Colin Dwyer reports for NPR.

The Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) on Friday warned against the use of malaria drug hydroxychloroquine on Covid-19 patients outside of hospital settings or clinical trials. The federal health agency said it was issuing the safety caution after several reports of abnormal heart rhythms and rapid heart rates in patients who took the medication. Trump has repeatedly hailed the drug as a “game changer.” Erica Edwards reports for NBC News.

Prescriptions for two malaria drugs surged by more than 46 times on the day that Trump touted his opinion about their effectiveness in the coronavirus fight during a March briefing. The roughly 32,000 prescriptions came from a broad range of doctors, including rheumatologists, cardiologists, dermatologists, psychiatrists and podiatrists, the data shows. Ellen Gabler and Michael H. Keller report for the New York Times. 

Top Pentagon officials are divided on whether or not to reinstate Capt. Brett Crozier, the former commander of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, after the Navy’s recommendation Friday to let Crozier return to his previous position, two senior defense officials said. Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley wants a “full-blown investigation” into the events leading up to the Crozier’s ouster, a move that would put off a final decision on reinstating Crozier after the Navy concluded an “extensive” preliminary inquiry, according to one of the officials. Crozier was removed from his post aboard the Roosevelt recently after a letter he wrote pleading for help amid a coronavirus outbreak aboard the aircraft carrier was leaked to the press. Lara Seligman reports for POLITICO.

White House officials are reviewing whether to scale back Trump’s participation in news conferences in the weeks to come as the president’s aides and allies are increasingly concerned that his lengthy appearances are backfiring politically. After almost 50 coronavirus press briefings in March and April, worries that the briefings are harming the president reached a critical moment last Thursday evening when Trump suggested that injected disinfectant and ultraviolet light could play a role in the medical treatment of Covid-19, triggering immediate and universal backlash from the medical community. On Friday, Trump held the shortest coronavirus briefing to date — 21 minutes — and declined to take any questions from reporters. Monica Alba and Lauren Egan report for NBC News.

Trump yesterday rejected reports that he was planning to fire Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar as “Fake News.” Over the weekend, several news outlets reported that White House officials are discussing possible replacements for Azar as frustration has mounted over his handling of the coronavirus crisis earlier this year, and the outcry that followed his removal of a top vaccine official in his agency last week. Yasmeen Abutaleb and Josh Dawsey report for the Washington Post.

White House officials are weighing whether and how to advance a “liability shield” that would block businesses from being sued by customers who contract the coronavirus, according to four people with knowledge of the internal planning effort, as the administration tries to coax businesses to reopen without fear of being struck by lawsuits. Attorneys in the White House Counsel’s Office are assessing the matter, but some administration officials have protested the idea, arguing it would expose the federal government to legal claims, according to two of the people. Jeff Stein and Josh Dawsey report for the Washington Post.

Georgia, Oklahoma and a handful other states took tentative steps toward reopening from coronavirus-related lockdowns last Friday, despite criticism from President Trump and warnings from public health experts. Salons, fitness clubs and other businesses in several U.S. states began to reopen over the weekend, as governors started easing restrictions in certain sectors in an effort to begin to repair the battered economy. Reuters reporting.

Around the world, officials began moves to relax restrictions. Hard-hit Italy announced a timetable for reopening beginning next month, while Spain allowed children under 14 to leave their homes after six weeks under one of the strictest lockdowns in the world. Zack Budryk reports for the Hill.

New Zealand says it has halted community transmission of Covid-19, essentially eliminating the virus, as tough lockdown restrictions are scheduled to ease tonight. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the country had “avoided the worst” in the pandemic, but must continue to fight the virus amid warnings from officials against complacency. The BBC reporting.

The Chinese city of Wuhan, the first epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, has discharged all of its coronavirus patients, as the country reported just three new cases and no new deaths. At the same time, authorities are still fearful of a second wave of infections. Yesterday, Beijing unveiled new rules for “promoting civilized behavior” that include requiring residents to cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, not eating on public transport, and wearing a mask in public when sick. Lily Kuo reports for The Guardian.

CORONAVIRUS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

The revival of America will take years, not months, comments Stephen Collinson for CNN.

A breakdown of the Trump administration’s claims about the World Health Organization (W.H.O.)’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic shows that President Trump’s justifications for suspending funding to the W.H.O. “exaggerate the case,” Jared LeBrun writes in a piece for Just Security.

The U.S. needs to be the first nation to develop a vaccine, writes Scott Gottlieb for the Wall Street Journal, as this could be of great advantage to the economy and a “tremendous public-health achievement.”

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

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has confirmed that the U.S. will argue that it remains a “participant state” of the Iran nuclear accord that President Trump renounced in 2018 in order to force the extension of the arms embargo that expires in October. The move, which is expected to receive opposition from Europe and Russia, would be a strategic step to ensure U.N. sanctions on Iran remain, with Pompeo saying, “We are prepared to exercise all of our diplomatic options to ensure the arms embargo stays in place at the U.N. Security Council.” David E. Sanger reports for the New York Times. 

A report by the United Nations (U.N.) has confirmed today that Afghanistan has seen a 29 per cent decrease in the number of civilian deaths in the first three months of this year compared with 2019. The report states that 533 people, including 152 children, have died this year due to the ongoing conflict, with the Taliban being responsible for up to 39 per cent of civil causalities. AP reporting.

The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has today rejected the Southern Transitional Council (S.T.C.)’s declaration of self-rule in the south of Yemen, demanding “an end to any escalatory actions and calls for return to the [Riyadh] Agreement by the participating parties.” The country’s internationally recognized government said that the Southern Yemeni separatist group’s declaration could have “catastrophic and dangerous” effects on Yemen. Al Jazeera reporting. 

South Korean officials have stressed that Kim Jong-un is “alive and well,” after international suspicion grows of the leader’s health. A special adviser to the South Korean president said “our government position is firm … Kim Jong Un is alive and well … He has been staying in the Wonsan area since April 13 … No suspicious movements have so far been detected.” Rebecca Klar reports for the Hill. 

Trump has the power to help shape the future of Israel as Benjamin Netanyahu must act in “full agreement with the United States” before being able to annex the West Bank, comments Jackson Diehl for the Washington Post. 

An American military airstrike in Somalia over a year ago caused the death of two civilians and wounded three others, U.S. Africa Command is acknowledging in a new report anticipated today. The deaths, confirmed by an internal probe, mark only the second time Africa Command has made out that civilians were killed in a military strike in Somalia. AP reporting.

The Trump administration’s recent decision to temporarily suspend people from receiving green cards is the start of a wider strategy to reduce the number of immigrants into the U.S., confirmed the president’s senior policy adviser Stephen Miller in a private call to White house supporters Thursday. Miller’s remarks follow increasing criticism that Trump’s overall strategy on immigration has not met his initial claims. Michael D. Shear and Maggie Haberman report for the New York Times. 

Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov announced today that other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council would hold a virtual five-way summit, proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The world powers plan to talk about international peace and security measures. Reuters 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).

Siven Watt

Assistant 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)