The Early Edition: May 12, 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 United States continues to be, by far, the world’s coronavirus hot spot, accounting for 1.34 million of the 4.19 million confirmed cases worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University data. More than 286,000 people have died globally from Covid-19, including 80,600 people in America. Jennifer Calfas and Nick Kostov report for the Wall Street Journal.

President Trump alleged yesterday that his administration is “leading the world in testing” and that it will help states expand such efforts, pledging to send $11 billion — in funds allocated by the $2 trillion stimulus legislation Congress passed in March — to states and territories to help expand their testing capacities, which public-health experts have said is key to sending Americans back to work safely. Trump insisted again yesterday that any American who wants a test can get one, which health experts say is not the case. The President said that with the federal assistance, each state would be able to test more people per capita in May than South Korea, which is held up as a model for mass Covid-19 testing, has tested in four months. Anne Gearan, Brady Dennis, Philip Rucker and John Wagner report for the Washington Post.

Trump also claimed yesterday that coronavirus case numbers are declining “all throughout the country,” but data collected by his own task force shows that is not the case. Undisclosed tables produced for the White House’s pandemic task force list 10 locations where cases have jumped between 72.4 percent and 650 percent in the space of a week — including Tennessee, Iowa and Kentucky. Under the heading of “Locations to Watch,” there were another 10 counties with increases of 64 percent to 186 percent. Notably, some of the hot spots are in states where governors refused to issue stay-at-home orders. Jonathan Allen, Phil McCausland and Cyrus Farivar report for NBC News.

The President abruptly ended his press conference yesterday after a contentious exchange in which he told an Asian-American reporter to “ask China” about her question. During a question-and-answer session, Weijia Jiang, White House correspondent for CBS News, asked why Trump sees coronavirus testing as a global competition when more than 80,000 Americans have died. The President retorted: “Well, they are losing their lives everywhere in the world. Maybe that is a question you should ask China. Don’t ask me. Ask China that question. When you ask China that question you may get a very unusual answer.” Trump then refused to take a query from another White House reporter. David Smith reports for The Guardian.

The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, plans to warn the Senate today that Americans would experience “needless suffering and death” if the country opened prematurely. Fauci, a key member of the U.S. coronavirus task force team, told reporters: “The major message that I wish to convey to the Senate H.L.P. [Health, Education, Labor and Pensions] committee [on Tuesday] is the danger of trying to open the country prematurely … If we skip over the checkpoints in the guidelines to ‘Open America Again,’ then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country. This will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal.” Four top government doctors, including Fauci, will testify remotely at a hearing today before the Senate H.L.P. Committee. Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports for the New York Times.

The White House has directed staff to wear face masks at all times inside the building except when seated at their own desks, socially distant from colleagues, administration officials said yesterday. Appearing without a mask in the Rose Garden for a press briefing yesterday, however, the president said he was not expected to follow the order because he kept “far away from everyone.” The directive came after two officials in the West Wing tested positive for the new coronavirus last week. The BBC reporting.

The Pentagon’s inspector general will assess the U.S. Navy’s response to the coronavirus pandemic throughout the fleet, according to a memo dated yesterday. In the memo, the Department of Defense (D.O.D.) Inspector General’s office informed the Navy that it plans to begin a subject evaluation to “determine whether the Navy has implemented policies and procedures to prevent and mitigate the spread of infectious diseases, such as coronavirus-disease-2019 (COVID-19), on ships and submarines.” Rebecca Kheel reports for the Hill.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) said several regions, not including New York City, could start reopening their economies this weekend. The move toward partially reopening construction, manufacturing and curbside retail came 10 weeks after the state’s first confirmed case of the virus, which has killed more than 26,000 residents in New York and sickened hundreds of thousands more. Jesse McKinley reports for the New York Times.

A program established in California, the biggest state and a point of entry for thousands of travelers from Asia, designed to identify travelers from high-risk countries and trace their contacts with others was rendered “ineffective,” according to a study published yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.), which looked exclusively at California. The state’s tracing system, which started on Feb. 5, was “quickly overwhelmed by a flood of air passengers, many with inaccurate contact information, and was understaffed in some cases,” the C.D.C. study found. David Waldstein reports for the New York Times.

A decades-old malaria drug promoted by Trump as a coronavirus treatment showed no benefit for patients hospitalized in New York. There was also “no noticeable advantage” for patients that took the medicine paired with the antibiotic azithromycin, according to long-awaited research published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Sarah Owermohle reports for POLITICO.

A group of scientists in the United States and the United Kingdom says a crowdsourcing smartphone App may help track the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in real time. In a study published yesterday in the journal Nature Medicine, researchers found that an App that allows people to mark off symptoms they are experiencing was strikingly effective in predicting coronavirus infections among the 2.5 million people who were using it between March 24 and April 21. Using a mathematical model, the researchers were able to predict with almost 80 percent accuracy whether a person was likely to get sick with Covid-19 based on their age, sex and a combination of four symptoms: loss of taste or smell, persistent cough, fatigue and loss of appetite. Andrew Jacobs reports for the New York Times.

The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) chief said yesterday there are roughly seven or eight “top” candidates for a vaccine to fight the novel coronavirus and work on them is being sped up. W.H.O. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a U.N. Economic and Social Council video briefing the initial thinking two months ago was that it may take 12 to 18 months for a vaccine. But he said an accelerated effort is under way, assisted by $8 billion pledged a week ago by leaders from 40 countries, organizations and banks for research, treatment and testing. AP reporting.

The W.H.O. has called on countries to show “extreme vigilance” when easing Covid-19 restrictions. The W.H.O.’s emergencies chief, Michael Ryan, hailed the gradual lifting of coronavirus lockdowns in some countries whose death and infection rates were dropping, as a sign of “hope,” but he cautioned that “extreme vigilance is required.” Ryan urged countries to boost their public health responses, ensuring they could identify new cases, and trace and isolate all contacts, which he said was key to avoiding large second waves. “If the disease persists in countries at a low level without the capacity to investigate clusters, there is always the risk that the virus will take off again,” he said. His statement came amid concern over new spikes of infection in South Korea and China. Al Jazeera reporting.

The Chinese city of Wuhan is planning to test its entire population of 11 million people for Covid-19, after the city recently reported six new cases. Final details as to how testing will be conducted are to be released within 10 days. BBC reporting. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced that the country’s nationwide stay-at-home order will end today, notwithstanding the fact that over 10,000 new coronavirus cases are being reported each day. Putin said, “Starting from … May 12, the national period of non-working days will be over for all sectors of the economy.” John Bowden reports for the Hill. 

Iran is using its unsold sanctioned oil and expertise on energy to gain support and finance from nations in disputes with the U.S., including Syria and Venezuela. Fabrice Balanche, a research director at Lyon 2 University in France said “Iran can’t sell this oil, so they may as well give it to Syria … It will give them leverage on the regime.” Benoit Faucon reports for the Wall Street Journal. 

CORONAVIRUS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

A fact check on President Trump’s false claims that coronavirus numbers are “going down almost everywhere” is provided by Jane C. Timm for NBC News.

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.

A state-by-state guide to lockdown measures and reopenings is provided by the New York Times.

Latest updates on the pandemic at The Guardian and NBC News.

The DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

Former Department of Justice (D.O.J.) attorney Jonathan Kravis, who resigned over the department’s handling of the Roger Stone prosecution, has denounced the D.O.J.’s recent decision to withdraw charges against President Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. In a critical opinion piece written for the Washington Post, Kravis said that “the department’s handling of these matters is profoundly misguided … [and puts] political patronage ahead of its commitment to the rule of law.” He further added that he is “convinced that the department’s conduct in the Stone and Flynn cases will do lasting damage to the institution.” Quint Forgey reports for POLITICO.

Nearly 2,000 former D.O.J. and F.B.I. officials have signed an open letter that criticizes Attorney General William Barr’s decision to drop the case against Flynn. The letter called the recent decision “extraordinarily rare, if not unprecedented” and asserted Barr has “once again assaulted the rule of law.” Pete Williams reports for NBC News.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

At least eight people were killed today in an attack on a hospital in the Afghan capital, Kabul, where the international humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders runs a maternity clinic, officials said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the Taliban denied involvement. Reuters reporting.

Retired Afghan general Gen. Abdul Jalil Bakhtawar has joined the Taliban, the country’s interior ministry confirmed Sunday, describing the move as “regretful” and criticizing the general as opting for “violence over a life of dignity.” A senior Taliban official yesterday said: “The honorable general was in contact with our Mujahideen, and we are happy to have him in our ranks … He is an influential personality, and it is great that he is back at his home.” Susannah George reports for the Washington Post. 

The Yemeni government has today warned that it will confront head on an “armed rebellion” by the separatist group Southern Transitional Council (S.T.C.) which refused to de-escalate tensions after it declared self-rule last month. The county’s foreign minister said forces will do “everything necessary to preserve the state, its institutions, and the safety of its citizens.” Reuters reporting.

Turkey today accused Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, France and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) of trying to form an “alliance of evil” after these nations issued a joint declaration criticizing Ankara’s policies in the eastern Mediterranean and Libya. In a strongly-worded statement, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy said the five countries were pursuing “regional chaos and instability” in the eastern Mediterranean and forgoing Libyans’ “hope for democracy for the reckless aggression of dictators.” AP reporting.

The U.S. Supreme Court will today consider two cases about President Trump’s refusal to hand over financial records and tax returns following subpoena requests from the House Oversight Committee and a grand jury investigation led by New York City. 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

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)