The Early Edition: April 28, 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

Reported U.S. coronavirus cases neared one million today, representing one-third of all infections in the world, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. More than 56,000 people have died in the United States. Globally, Covid-19 has infected more than 3 million people and killed at least 211,000. Henrik Pettersson, Byron Manley and Sergio Hernandez report for CNN.

The main model used by the White House to estimate the impact of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States revised its death toll yesterday to 74,000 by August 4 — an increase from a projection a week ago of nearly 67,000 deaths. The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (I.H.M.E.) director Christopher Murray said the death toll would rise if states reopen their economies too early. Reuters reporting.

President Trump himself projected that the death toll in the U.S. from Covid-19 could reach 70,000. “So, yeah, we’ve lost a lot of people,” Trump said during a White House press briefing that was initially canceled. “But if you look at what original projections were, 2.2 million, we are probably heading to 60,000 to 70,000.” Alice Miranda Ollstein reports for POLITICO.

The White House yesterday released what it called a “blueprint” on its testing plans. The document sets out where the administration sees the boundaries between federal and state responsibilities, leaving the onus on states to develop their own plans and rapid-response programs. The federal government was described as the “supplier of last resort” whose role would include “strategic direction and technical assistance,” as well as the ability to “align laboratory testing supplies and capacity with existing and anticipated laboratory needs.” A White House official said the aim was to help each state reach the ability to test at least 2 percent of its residents, with particular attention paid to vulnerable populations and emergency workers. Ryan Nobles, Kevin Liptak and Kaitlan Collins report for CNN.

American intelligence agencies warned Trump about the new coronavirus in “more than a dozen classified briefings” in January and February, which traced the virus’s spread, China’s downplaying of the threat, and “raised the prospect of dire political and economic consequences,” according to current and former U.S. officials. The warnings came via the President’s Daily Brief, a daily report that informs the president about significant global developments and potential security threats. As the president was receiving these intelligence briefings containing alarms about the impending global pandemic, however, Trump was publicly downplaying the virus as an actual threat. Greg Miller and Ellen Nakashima report for the Washington Post.

Trump refused to rule out yesterday a threat by Attorney General Bill Barr to consider suing states over coronavirus-related restrictions. “It would depend on the state, it would depend on the circumstances of the state,” Trump said when asked yesterday about Barr’s directive to federal prosecutors. In a document dated yesterday with the subject “Balancing Public Safety with the Preservation of Civil Rights,” Barr wrote about the measures states have implemented to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. He then instructed U.S. attorneys to “also be on the lookout for state and local directives that could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens.” Hunter Woodall reports for The Daily Beast.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) added six symptoms of the new coronavirus to its list, reflecting doctors’ evolving understanding of how the virus is affecting patients. The symptoms, which echo the observations of health experts treating thousands of patients in the pandemic, are: chills; repeated shaking with chills; muscle pain; headache; sore throat; and, new loss of taste or smell. Previously, the C.D.C. listed just three known symptoms: shortness of breath, cough and fever. Pam Belluck reports for the New York Times.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said yesterday his stay-at-home order will likely be extended past May 15 in several parts of the state, but that restrictions could be lifted in some regions if they have sufficient hospital capacity and meet other criteria, including programs in place for large-scale testing, tracing and isolating. Hard-hit New York would join other U.S. states and some countries in Europe eyeing a gradual reopening. Reuters reporting. 

California’s new contact tracing plans, which involve recruiting over 10,000 volunteer contract tracers, “could serve as a template for the nation and create a whole new sector of public health workers,” writes Victoria Colliver for POLITICO Magazine.

Trump yesterday said he claims no responsibility for the spike in calls to emergency hotlines after he suggested last week that ingesting disinfectants could be used as a coronavirus cure. When asked about the rise in calls specifically related to household cleaners, Trump responded: “I can’t imagine why.” The BBC reporting.

Coronavirus cases have spiked on another U.S. Navy warship, with nearly 50 crew members aboard the U.S.S. Kidd testing positive, the Navy said yesterday in a release. This is the second reported outbreak of Covid-19 aboard a Navy vessel at sea. Roughly half the sailors on the U.S.S. Kidd have been tested for the virus, and some have been evacuated, the Navy said. Justine Coleman reports for the Hill.

Trump has told his military and national security advisers that he wants the U.S. to pull its troops from Afghanistan to avoid service members there being exposed to the novel coronavirus. The president asks about removing troops from the war-torn country almost daily, saying they are at risk to the pandemic, two current and one former senior U.S. official said. The officials said his renewed push has also been spurred by his impatience with the slow-moving peace agreement with the Taliban. Carol E. Lee and Courtney Kube report for NBC News.

An analysis of federal data by the Yale School of Public Health shows that in the initial weeks of the coronavirus epidemic, the United States recorded an estimated 15,400 excess deaths, nearly twice as many as were publicly attributed to Covid-19 at the time. The excess deaths — the number beyond what would typically be expected for that time of year — happened during March and through April 4, a time when 8,128 coronavirus deaths were reported. The analysis indicates that the deaths announced in the weeks leading up to April 4, based on reports from state public health departments, “failed to capture the full impact of the pandemic.” In any pandemic, higher-than-normal mortality is a starting point for scientists trying to understand the full effect of the disease. Emma Brown, Andrew Ba Tran, Beth Reinhard and Monica Ulmanu report for the Washington Post.

The gap between the number of deaths publicly attributed to coronavirus and the total deaths above normal levels in the past six and a half weeks is particularly wide in New York. Although many of the deaths not currently credited to coronavirus may represent an undercount of the outbreak’s direct toll, the wider effects of the pandemic —  including overcrowded emergency rooms, slower ambulance response rates and a reluctance to seek medical care because of fears of contracting the virus — might have also increased deaths indirectly. Josh Katz and Margot Sanger-Katz report for the New York Times.

The House Committee on Foreign Affairs initiated an investigation yesterday into the Trump administration’s decision to block funds for the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), after Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stating that the White House’s explanation for freezing funds was “inadequate [and that] cutting the WHO’s funding while the world confronts the COVID-19 tragedy is not the answer.” Reuters reporting. 

Trump’s suspension of U.S. funding to the W.H.O. during the Covid-19 pandemic will allow China to expand its global influence, Emily Rauhala writes for the Washington Post, explaining that the U.S.’s decision “hands Beijing a propaganda victory.”

Trump yesterday renewed his attack on China over the spread of the coronavirus, saying Beijing could have stopped the disease before it swept the globe. He promised to conduct “serious investigations” into China’s handling of the pandemic and suggested that he may seek damages for the U.S. over the coronavirus outbreak which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan and spread around the world. Helen Davidson and Alison Rourke report for The Guardian.

China has threatened Australia with economic consequences and a boycott of Australian exports and products if the country investigates Beijing’s handling of the Covid-19 outbreak, Australian Sky News reported yesterday. The Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in response: “We reject any suggestion that economic coercion is an appropriate response to a call for such an assessment, when what we need is global co-operation.” Laura Kelly reports for the Hill. 

China has ramped up its surveillance in response to Covid-19, installing cameras outside – and sometimes inside – people’s homes. Although there has been no official announcement of the measures, reports by people suggest it has been taking place since February. CNN reporting. 

Oxford University’s Jenner Institute is a leader in the global race to find a vaccine for the new coronavirus and has scheduled more than 6,000 people to be involved in trials by the end of May. The institute has confirmed that if the vaccine receives official approval from regulators, a few million doses could be produced by September. David D. Kirkpatrick reports for the New York Times. 

Russia’s shipment of coronavirus aid sent to Italy in March has been criticized as propaganda and a move to expose a lack of European Union (E.U.) solidarity, with Russia sending 122 military doctors, personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators and mobile disinfection machines to the country. Gen. Tod Wolters, N.A.T.O. commander, has warned to “pay very close attention to Russian malign influence;” former Italian defense ministry spokesperson Andrea Armaro said: “[Russian is] playing to weaken Europe and Italy.” Angela Giuffrida and Andrew Roth report for the Guardian. 

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.

A powerful piece exposing the White House “cover-up” of the pandemic is provided by Just Security’s Co-Editor-in-Chief Ryan Goodman and Danielle Schulkin at the New York Times, who argue that Trump and his team minimized the severity of the outbreak and spread “an egregiously false message to Americans.” 

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

The U.S. is to tighten restrictions on exports of technology that could be used for military purposes, the Department of Commerce confirmed yesterday. The new rules are intended to place export controls on countries that are considered national security threats through civil supply chains. “It is important to consider the ramifications of doing business with countries that have histories of diverting goods purchased from U.S. companies for military applications,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said, adding, “Certain entities in China, Russia, and Venezuela have sought to circumvent America’s export controls, and undermine American interests in general, and so we will remain vigilant to ensure U.S. technology does not get into the wrong hands.” Chris Mills Rodrigo reports for the Hill. 

An analysis by four leading experts of the Justice Department’s Inspector General report, which found several problems with the F.B.I.’s surveillance procedures, is provided in a Q&A format at Just Security. 

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)