The Early Edition: April 29, 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

Confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the United States hit the grim 1million milestone yesterday, accounting for a third of the 3.12 million cases worldwide, and fatalities overtook the American death toll from the Vietnam War of 58,220. Globally, Covid-19 has killed at least 217,000 people. Anne Gearan and Felicia Sonmez report for the Washington Post.

A study has found genetic markers of the coronavirus in airborne droplets, many with diameters smaller than one-ten-thousandth of an inch, adding to mounting evidence that the virus can spread through air. That had been previously demonstrated in laboratory tests, but now Chinese scientists examining real-world conditions report that they captured tiny droplets containing the genetic markers of the virus from the air in two hospitals in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began. It remains unknown if the virus in the samples they gathered was infectious, but droplets that small, which are expelled by breathing and talking, can remain in the air and be inhaled by others.  Kenneth Chang reports for the New York Times.

House lawmakers will not return to Washington next week as planned, Democratic leaders said yesterday, citing warnings from the congressional physician about the continued risk of coronavirus infection, an abrupt reversal of plans outlined just a day earlier. The announcement by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer follows widespread backlash from members in both parties who complained that the move would be unsafe. The Republican-controlled Senate still plans to return on May 4. Sarah Ferris, Heather Caygle and Melanie Zanona report for POLITICO.

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer said yesterday that it will start testing its coronavirus vaccine in the United States as early as next week. With testing already underway in Germany, the company predicts it may produce a viable drug for emergency use by the fall of 2020. Research into a Covid-19 preventive drug has ramped up in recent weeks, with Oxford University researchers making similar claims to Pfizer and biotechnology firm Moderna entering the second phase of human testing of its vaccine. Jared S. Hopkins and Jonathan D. Rockoff report for the Wall Street Journal.

Trump signed an executive order late yesterday to compel U.S. meat-processing plants to stay open during the coronavirus pandemic, even as many experience outbreaks. The order will use the Defense Production Act to classify meat processing as critical infrastructure, forcing meat production factories to continue to function as the president and agricultural leaders say the coronavirus outbreak is threatening the country’s food supply. The BBC reporting.

Trump yesterday suggested that state and local bailout funding from the federal government could depend on whether the immigration policies of the individual governments seeking relief “align” with Trump administration priorities. During an exchange with reporters, the president suggested he would be open to a federal relief plan, but only for states economically affected by coronavirus, not for difficulties “related for mismanagement over a long time.” In addition to his suggestion that states will need to have regard to sanctuary city policies, the president said a payroll tax cut would have to be part of any agreement on a state and local bailout. Myah Ward reports for POLITICO.

Democratic lawmakers in Congress will put forward legislation today that would force U.S. manufacturers to produce medical supplies such as gowns, masks and swabs for testing, they said. The bill would require the president to invoke the Defense Protection Act to increase production of protective equipment and put supply chains under federal oversight. The measures comes as hospitals and state governments have spoken out about serious supply shortages and a lack of widespread testing. Teo Armus reports for the Washington Post.

Trump said yesterday the United States was weighing having passengers on international flights from coronavirus hot spots be tested for the virus. “We’re looking at doing it on the international flights coming out of areas that are heavily infected,” Trump said at a White House event. He said his administration was collaborating with airlines on the proposal, which could happen “in the very near future.” Reuters reporting.

California joined the growing succession of U.S. states and countries around the world preparing to ease coronavirus-related restrictions, with many planning gradual rollbacks to help minimize the potential for new waves of infections. California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said yesterday that the country’s most populous state was “weeks, not months, away” from relaxing its stay-at-home order, as his administration worked first to ramp up testing and contact-tracing capabilities. Newsom said he anticipated enough progress to safely reopen certain manufacturing, retail businesses and public spaces in the coming weeks, with changes to accommodate social distancing; businesses that required close human contact — like nail salons or barbershops — would be reopened as part of a later wave. Jennifer Calfas, Joshua Jamerson and Stella Yifan Xie report for the Wall Street Journal.

Total deaths in seven U.S. states hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic are up nearly 50 percent from the usual figures, according to new death statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.). The analysis of the seven states — Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, and New Jersey — shows 9,000 more excess deaths over and above the 18,000 already attributed to Covid-19, indicating the coronavirus death toll is far higher than official records suggest. Demographers around the world are using higher-than-normal mortality rates to understand the full impact of the disease, saying this figure also captures deaths caused by knock-on effects of the virus, such as strains on the health-care system. Josh Katz, Denise Lu and Margot Sanger-Katz report for the New York Times.

A second wave of the coronavirus is “inevitable,” the nation’s leading epidemiologist said, but just how severe it is will depend on the progress the U.S. makes in the coming months. “If by that time we have put into place all of the countermeasures that you need to address this, we should do reasonably well,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said. “If we don’t do that successfully, we could be in for a bad fall and a bad winter.” If states begin easing restrictions too soon, Fauci says he anticipates the country could see a “rebound” of the virus that would “get us right back in the same boat that we were a few weeks ago,” adding that the U.S. could see many more deaths than are currently forecast. Christina Maxouris reports for CNN.

Almost 70 residents infected with the coronavirus have died at a Massachusetts home for aging veterans, as state and federal officials scramble to determine what went wrong in the deadliest known outbreak at a long-term care facility in the U.S.. While the death toll at the state-run Holyoke Soldiers’ Home continues to rise, federal officials are looking into whether residents were denied proper medical care and the state’s top prosecutor is debating whether to bring legal action. AP reporting.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they are either “unable” or “unwilling” to use the infection-alert Apps under development by Google and Apple, suggesting a further hurdle to the adoption of the technology to make it effective during the coronavirus crisis, a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll has found. The two tech giants are working with public health authorities and university researchers to create apps that would alert users who had come in close contact with an individual who tested positive for Covid-19. The initiative has been billed as a way to enhance traditional forms of contact tracing to find possible new infections and help make resumption of economic and social activities safer in the months ahead. Craig Timberg, Drew Harwell and Alauna Safarpour report for the Washington Post.

The White House has directed intelligence agencies to sift through “communications intercepts, human source reporting, satellite imagery and other data” to determine whether China and the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) initially concealed what they knew about the emerging coronavirus pandemic, current and former U.S. officials with knowledge of the matter told NBC News. A specific “tasking” looking for details about the outbreak’s early days was sent last week to the National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency, which includes the National Center for Medical Intelligence, according to one official directly familiar with the matter. The C.I.A. was given similar instructions, the current and former officials said. Ken Dilanian, Courtney Kube and Carol E. Lee report for NBC News.

An Iranian scientist who has been requesting for weeks to be released from a U.S. immigration prison due to his frail health has contracted Covid-19, according to his family and lawyers. Dr Sirous Asgari, a materials science and engineering professor who decried last month the “unsanitary” and “inhumane” conditions in detention, was moved to an isolation cell this week inside an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) jail in Louisiana. His attorneys found out yesterday that his Covid-19 test was positive. Sam Levin reports for The Guardian.

Human Rights Watch said yesterday that medical equipment to prevent and treat the novel coronavirus are not reaching northeast Syria because of restrictions enforced by the Syrian government and the Kurdish regional government. The international rights organization called on the U.N. Security Council to urgently adopt a resolution reopening the Al Yarubiyah border crossing from Iraq into the northeast. The crossing, which was used mainly to deliver medicine and medical supplies from the W.H.O. was shut in January at the insistence of Russia. AP reporting.

CORONAVIRUS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

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 President Trump and his team minimized the severity of the outbreak and spread “an egregiously false message to Americans” in part to protect the markets and keep morale high with China during trade talks.

Trump’s leadership in the pandemic has “consistently featured wrong, ill-informed and dangerous decisions, omissions and politically fueled pivots,” CNN’s Stephen Collinson writes in an analysis.

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: WORLD

A bomb attack in the north-western city of Arfin in Syria has killed over 40 people, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed yesterday. Those responsible have not yet been confirmed, although Turkish defense officials have blamed the Kurdish militia group Yekineyen Parastina Gel (Y.P.G.). The BBC reporting. 

A suicide bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan has killed three people and wounded fifteen today, the country’s Ministry of Interior confirmed. Reuters reporting.  

The U.S. is seeking to indefinitely extend a United Nations (U.N.) arms embargo on Iran, after officials have confirmed a U.N. Security Council resolution is currently being drafted and is intended to be presented for vote in May. AP reporting.

The recent declaration of self-rule by south Yemini separatists “threatens fresh chaos in the war-torn country” and complicates the Saudi-led coalition’s recent move to withdraw from conflict with Houthi rebels, writes Declan Walsh for the New York Times. 

Leader of the Libyan National Army (L.N.A.) Khalifa Haftar said Monday that he intends to seize Tripoli, the Libyan capital, as he has “a popular mandate” to govern the country. Haftar, who is the leading commander of the eastern-based military group, described the U.N and Libya 2015 agreement as “a thing of the past.” Al Jazeera reporting. 

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS: U.S.

The Pentagon will use $500 million assigned to overseas projects to pay for U.S. construction projects that were put on hold due to funding being reallocated to Trump’s border wall. Defense Secretary Mark Esper wrote in a memo that, “To enable the execution of certain projects scheduled for award in calendar year 2020, I direct you to release funding associated with 22 currently deferred projects within the United States totaling $545.526 million,” which Democrats have said is the Trump administration “putting domestic political considerations ahead of national security, and Trump is trampling on Congress’ power of the purse in the process.” Connor O’Brien and David Rogers report for POLITICO. 

The House Armed Services Committee confirmed yesterday that it intends to pass the annual National Defense Authorization Act (N.D.A.A.) this year, in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic. The committee’s chair Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and ranking member Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said in a joint statement “this year, Congress will pass the 60th National Defense Authorization Act … This milestone has been made possible by decades of bipartisanship, regular order and transparency.” Rebecca Kheel reports for the Hill. 

The F.B.I. has released documents that reveal Trump’s confidant Roger Stone was in communications with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during the 2016 election campaign, where the men discussed the information Assange’s website published about Hilary Clinton’s campaign. Transcripts of conversations quote Stone as saying: “If the US government moves on you I will bring down the entire house of cards,” adding that “With the trumped-up sexual assault charges dropped I don’t know of any crime you need to be pardoned for — best regards. R.” Stone has addressed the newly released conversations, contending in a statement to The Associated Press that: “I have no trepidation about their release as they confirm there was no illegal activity and certainly no Russian collusion by me during the 2016 Election.” Tal Axelrod reports for the Hill.

The Trump administration’s unprecedented transformation of the U.S. federal judiciary makes the Democratic fight for the White House and Senate “a fight for the rule of law,” writes David Smith for the Guardian. The administration has been responsible for the nomination of 193 judges, which critics say were selected not on merit but ideology: the majority of new judges are “younger, more partisan, more political and really having a big impact on the lives of Americans,” Christopher Kang, chief counsel for Demand Justice said. 

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)