Trump Demands Biden Take Drug Test Before Or After Tuesday Debate

US President Donald Trump whispers to a White House staffer as he makes his way to board Marine One from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC on September 26, 2020. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP
US President Donald Trump whispers to a White House staffer as he makes his way to board Marine One from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC on September 26, 2020.
Olivier DOULIERY / AFP.

 

US President Donald Trump demanded Sunday that his Democratic rival Joe Biden take a drug test either before or after the pair’s first debate on Tuesday, in his latest salvo against his opponent’s mental acuity.

“I will be strongly demanding a Drug Test of Sleepy Joe Biden prior to, or after, the Debate on Tuesday night,” Trump tweeted.

“Naturally, I will agree to take one also. His Debate performances have been record-setting UNEVEN, to put it mildly. Only drugs could have caused this discrepancy???” he continued, without offering any evidence for the claim.

Senate will ‘easily’ confirm Barrett 

Meanwhile, the US President said Sunday the Senate will “easily” confirm his Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett before the election, despite furious Democratic opposition to his bid to steer the court rightward for years to come.

Trump has nominated Barrett, a darling of conservatives for her religious views, to replace the late liberal justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in a lifetime seat on the top court, potentially impacting some of the most partisan issues in America, from abortion to gun rights to health care.

His decision to push her nomination through just weeks before the tense and potentially disputed November 3 election, in which polls show he is the underdog, has galvanized Democrats, who are calling for the decision to be made by the winner of the vote.

His election rival, Democrat Joe Biden, has led the charge.

“The Senate should not act on this vacancy until after the American people select their next president and the next Congress,” Biden said Saturday, just moments after Trump announced Barrett’s nomination.

But Trump expressed confidence Sunday in an interview with “Fox & Friends.”

“I think we’re going to have it done easily before the election,” he said.

“I think it would be nice to do. Get it out of the way,” he continued, adding: “We have plenty of time.”

Barring a huge surprise, Republican senators, who have 53 out of 100 votes in the upper house of Congress, are expected to confirm Barrett.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has already announced that a vote will be held “this year.”

US Judge Halts Ban On WeChat Downloads

 

A US judge on Sunday blocked the government’s ban on WeChat downloads, hours before it was due to take effect in an ongoing technology and espionage battle between Washington and Beijing.

The Trump administration had ordered the ban on downloads of video-sharing app TikTok as well as messaging platform WeChat, both owned by Chinese companies.

A California court ruling said it granted the “motion for a nationwide injunction against the implementation” of the government order, with the judge citing concerns over free speech.

The order against WeChat would have slowed it down and made it unusable in the United States for videochats with family and friends, according to experts.

Owned by technology giant TenCent, WeChat in the United States has around 19 million active daily users.

President Donald Trump said Saturday that he had approved a deal allowing Silicon Valley giant Oracle to become the data partner for hugely popular TikTok to avert a shutdown of that app.

The deal, announced by the companies, includes Walmart as a commercial partner and would create a new US company named TikTok Global.

TikTok — owned by China’s ByteDance — confirmed the agreement, which came with companies racing against the Sunday deadline set by Trump’s administration.

The US Department of Commerce on Saturday announced it was postponing the ban on TikTok downloads until September 27, due to “recent positive developments.”

When announcing the ban on Friday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had said China used the two apps “to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and the economy of the US.”

APC

US Hits 5 Million COVID-19 Cases As Trump Is Criticised Over Relief Package

In this collage, US President Donald Trump arrives for a press conference in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, Lisa Taylor receives a COVID-19 vaccination, Medics with Austin-Travis County EMS transport a nursing home resident with coronavirus symptoms and Boxes of food are distributed by the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank to people facing economic or food insecurity amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

The United States on Sunday reached the extraordinary milestone of five million coronavirus cases as President Donald Trump was accused of flouting the constitution by unilaterally extending a virus relief package.

The US has been hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic, recording nearly 163,000 deaths — by far the highest of any country, ahead only of Brazil, which on Saturday became the second country to pass 100,000 deaths.

The global death toll is at least 727,288 since the novel coronavirus emerged in China last December, according to a running tally from official sources compiled by AFP.

Nearly 20 million cases have been registered worldwide — probably reflecting only a fraction of the actual number of infections.

As around much of the globe, the small African country of Malawi on Sunday imposed tight social restrictions to try to contain the disease, shutting all bars and churches, while hot weekend weather drew crowds in Europe to the beach.

In Washington, the new virus relief package — announced by Trump on Saturday after talks between Republican and Democrat lawmakers hit a wall — was “absurdly unconstitutional,” senior Democrat Nancy Pelosi told CNN.

Fellow Democrat and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, appearing on ABC, dismissed Trump’s unilateral measures as “unworkable, weak and far too narrow.”

But with the nation’s economy still struggling to dig itself out of an enormous hole, Democrats appeared skittish about any legal challenge to a relief package they see as seriously inadequate.

READ ALSO: Trump Signs Orders Extending Economic Relief For Americans

The four executive orders Trump signed Saturday at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey will, among other things, defer payroll taxes and provide some temporary unemployment benefits.

The president was seen as keen to show himself taking decisive action ahead of a November 3 election that could see him ousted from office, with polls showing a large majority of voters unhappy with his handling of the crisis.

On Sunday night, Trump blamed what he called Democratic stubbornness for his being forced to take executive action.

“The Democrats were unwilling to do anything,” Trump told reporters as he boarded Air Force One to return to Washington.

“It was time to act,” he said. “We have to get money out to the people.”

Summer crowds

Democrats say the president’s orders infringe on Congress’s constitutional authority over the federal budget.

But Pelosi demurred when asked about possible legal action, saying, “Whether (it was) legal or not takes time to figure out.”

White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow defended the new measures.

“Maybe we’re going to go to court on them. We’re going to go ahead with our actions anyway,” he said.

Trump’s Democratic opponent in the presidential election, Joe Biden, tweeted that five million coronavirus cases was “a number that boggles the mind and breaks the heart.

“It shouldn’t have gotten this bad,” he said.

The US on Sunday had added 47,197 new cases in 24 hours, with 532 additional deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

US fatalities now total 162,913, and the number of infections is 5,041,473, the Baltimore-based university said.

Elsewhere, growing infections in and around Paris prompted French officials to make face masks compulsory outdoors in crowded areas and tourist hotspots in the city and surrounding areas from Monday.

The mask will be obligatory for all those aged 11 and over in “very crowded zones,” said a police statement, including the banks of the Seine River and more than 100 streets in the French capital.

As temperatures soared across western Europe, holidaymakers crowded beaches at the weekend despite warnings about the risk of infection.

Local authorities in Germany warned that some beaches and lakes would be closed if there were too many people.

Belgian police meanwhile arrested several people Saturday at the resort of Blankenberge after a brawl broke out on a beach between officers and youths they had told to leave for refusing to respect virus safety measures.

Around 5,000 people demonstrated in Vienna for increased financial support for nightlife and relaxing coronavirus regulations.

In Peru, indigenous people armed with spears and angry over what they consider government neglect of their communities in the pandemic assaulted a settlement for oil workers deep in the Amazon, triggering a clash with police that left three natives dead, the government said Sunday.

Back in the US, in another burst of defiance over health warnings, thousands of bikers converged on a town in South Dakota for what is billed as the largest cycle gathering in the world.

In past years, the 10-day rally in Sturgis has drawn hundreds of thousands of bikers to socialize, drink and party together — raising fears among some locals that this year’s version could be a superspreader event.

AUSTIN, TEXAS – AUGUST 03: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) Medics with Austin-Travis County EMS transport a nursing home resident with coronavirus symptoms on August 03, 2020 in Austin, Texas. Texas has had the third-highest number of COVID-19 cases in the United States, following Florida and California. John Moore/Getty Images/AFP
PARAMOUNT, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 06: Boxes of food are distributed by the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank to people facing economic or food insecurity amid the COVID-19 pandemic on August 6, 2020 in Paramount, California. Around 2,500 motorists were expected to collect the food boxes which included a pamphlet urging recipients to complete the 2020 census as the spread of the coronavirus continues. The problem of food insecurity is increasing with almost 30 million respondents telling the U.S. Census Bureau they did not have enough to eat at some point during the week ending July 21. Mario Tama/Getty Images/AFP
HOLLYWOOD, FLORIDA – AUGUST 07: Lisa Taylor receives a COVID-19 vaccination from RN Jose Muniz as she takes part in a vaccine study at Research Centers of America on August 07, 2020 in Hollywood, Florida. Research Centers of America is currently conducting COVID-19 vaccine trials, implemented under the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed program. The center is recruiting volunteers to participate in the clinical trials, working with the Federal Government and major Pharmaceutical Companies, that are racing to develop a vaccine to potentially prevent COVID-19. Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP
HOLLYWOOD, FLORIDA – AUGUST 07: A patients blood samples are seen during a COVID-19 vaccination study at Research Centers of America on August 07, 2020 in Hollywood, Florida. Research Centers of America is currently conducting COVID-19 vaccine trials, implemented under the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed program. The center is recruiting volunteers to participate in the clinical trials, working with the Federal Government and major Pharmaceutical Companies, that are racing to develop a vaccine to potentially prevent COVID-19. Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP
AUSTIN, TEXAS – AUGUST 07: Medical personnel train to receive Covid-129 patients at the Austin Convention Center on August 07, 2020 in Austin, Texas. The cavernous facility was prepared for use as a field hospital for Covid-19 patients, if Austin hospitals were to become overwhelmed. In recent weeks, however, Texas has seen the number of new Covid-19 hospitalizations decrease, even as pandemic-related deaths remain high. John Moore/Getty Images/AFP
AUSTIN, TEXAS – AUGUST 07: Austin-Travis County EMS medics transport a man with possible Covid-19 symptoms to the hospital on August 07, 2020 in Austin, Texas. Nationwide the African American community continues to be disproportionally affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Texas has seen the number of new Covid-19 hospitalizations decrease, even as Covid-19 deaths continue. John Moore/Getty Images/AFP
US President Donald Trump arrives for a press conference in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on August 5, 2020. (Photo by Olivier DOULIERY / AFP)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL – AUGUST 08: General view of Atmosphere during Rick Ross Partners With Co-Founders of Feed Your City Challenge Music Industry Legend Tony Draper and Ricky Davis To Combat COVID-19 at Calder Casino on August 8, 2020 in Miami Gardens, Florida. Jason Koerner/Getty Images for Feed Your City Challenge/Tony Draper /AFP
MIAMI GARDENS, FL – AUGUST 08: General view of Atmosphere during Rick Ross Partners With Co-Founders of Feed Your City Challenge Music Industry Legend Tony Draper and Ricky Davis To Combat COVID-19 at Calder Casino on August 8, 2020 in Miami Gardens, Florida. Jason Koerner/Getty Images for Feed Your City Challenge/Tony Draper /AFP

Trump Says US Coronavirus Vaccine ‘Possible’ By Election

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he departs for Walter Reed National Military Medical Center from the White House on July 11, 2020 in Washington, DC. Joshua Roberts/Getty Images/AFP
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he departs for Walter Reed National Military Medical Center from the White House on July 11, 2020 in Washington, DC. Joshua Roberts/Getty Images/AFP

 

President Donald Trump on Thursday said that a vaccine may be produced ahead of the US presidential election on November 3 — a more optimistic timeline than given by his top infectious diseases doctor.

Asked by radio talk show host Geraldo Rivera whether a vaccine could come by the election, Trump said: “I think in some cases, yes, possible before. But right around that time.”

Trump said the vaccine would be ready “sooner than the end of the year. Could be much sooner.”

“We have a lot of vaccines under study by the way. We look like we’re going to be really good on vaccines and therapeutics also,” he said.

READ ALSO: China Accuses US Of ‘Political Suppression’ Over TikTok, WeChat Ban

A more careful note was sounded on Wednesday by Dr Anthony Fauci, a lead government official on the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Fauci said he was “cautiously optimistic” of success and that “somewhere towards the end of the year, the beginning of 2021, we will know whether they have a safe and effective vaccine.”

The Trump administration is pouring federal funds into vaccine development, seen as the only way to stop the virus and end the mass shutdowns and social distancing that have crippled economies around the world.

AFP

US Records 63,872 New Virus Cases In 24 Hours – Johns Hopkins

 

The United States on Sunday recorded 63,872 new coronavirus cases in the previous 24 hours, Johns Hopkins University reported in its real-time tally.

That put the total number of cases in the US, the nation hardest hit by the global pandemic, at 3,762,081, the Baltimore-based university said at 8:30 pm (0030 GMT Monday).

Another 514 deaths were reported, bringing total fatalities to 140,474.

READ ALSO: I Almost Killed My Daughter, Kanye West Reveals At Chaotic Opening Of Presidential Bid

The US has recorded more than 60,000 new cases every day for the last six days, peaking at a record 77,638 infections on Friday.

President Donald Trump, in a Fox News interview broadcast on Sunday, again defended his handling of the pandemic, claiming that the US was “the envy of the world” on testing. Referring to his early prediction that the virus would disappear, he said, “I’ll be right eventually.”

He again opposed any national mandate for mask-wearing, saying, “I want people to have a certain freedom.”

Trump Never Told Officials To Slow COVID-19 Testing – Fauci

Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci testifies before the US Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to examine COVID-19, "focusing on lessons learned to prepare for the next pandemic", on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on June 23, 2020. KEVIN DIETSCH / POOL / AFP
Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci testifies before the US Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to examine COVID-19. KEVIN DIETSCH / POOL / AFP

 

US disease expert Anthony Fauci told Congress Tuesday that Donald Trump never told him or other officials to curb coronavirus testing, essentially contradicting the president who told supporters he had urged such slowdown.

“None of us have ever been told to slow down on testing,” Fauci told a House panel on US efforts to mitigate the pandemic, adding that “in fact, we will be doing more testing” instead of less.

READ ALSO: China Launches Final Satellite To Complete Rival To GPS

Trump raised alarm bells Saturday when he told a Tulsa campaign rally — where most attendees were not wearing masks or following social distancing guidelines — that testing is a “double-edged sword,” and that he had told his experts to “slow the testing down.”

AFP

Man Opens Fire On Cuban Embassy In Washington

 

A man was arrested early Thursday after opening fire on the Cuban embassy in Washington, the US Secret Service said.

The unidentified person fired multiple rounds from a high-powered assault rifle, damaging the building but injuring no one, according to the Secret Service and the embassy.

“This morning at approximately 2:15 am, US Secret Service officers responded to the Embassy of Cuba following reports of shots fired,” the Secret Service said in a statement.

“One individual was arrested for being in possession of an unregistered firearm as well as unregistered ammunition, assault with the intent to kill, and possession of a high capacity feed device.

“No injuries were reported at the scene.”

Washington’s police department confirmed the incident but said an investigation was in the hands of the Secret Service, which often handles investigations involving foreign diplomats.

READ ALSO: Hungary Eases Coronavirus Lockdown

Local media said the man fired about 30 rounds at the embassy, located on 16th Street at the edge of the Adams Morgan neighborhood, a normally bustling area full of bars and restaurants but which has been stilled by the coronavirus shutdown.

The embassy posted pictures of bullet holes in the exterior walls and columns, a window and a light fixture.

“Mission staff was not injured and is safe. Investigation is in progress,” Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez tweeted.

“It is the responsibility of states to protect diplomats accredited to them and their facilities,” he said.

The administration of President Donald Trump has chilled relations with Havana, reversing course after an opening initiated by his predecessor Barack Obama.

In October 2017, it expelled 15 Cuban diplomats after a rash of incidents in which US embassy staff in Cuba reported as yet unexplained head pains, dizziness and hearing loss.

AFP

Biden Under Pressure To Address Sexual Assault Allegation

emocratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden delivers remarks about the coronavirus outbreak, at the Hotel Du Pont March 12, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

 

Presidential hopeful Joe Biden said Wednesday he has a proud history of campaigning against sexual violence, as he faces mounting pressure to respond to an assault allegation made by a former aide.

The presumptive Democratic nominee has been accused by Tara Reade of assaulting her in 1993, when she was a 29-year-old staff assistant in the office of Biden, then a US senator from Delaware.

Biden’s campaign has denied the claims, but he himself has not responded directly to the allegations by Reade, now 56.

However he touted his record of supporting abuse victims when asked a question about military prosecutions for felonies including rape at a virtual town hall late Wednesday.

READ ALSO: Bollywood Mourns Another Star As Rishi Kapoor Dies At 67

“As you know, I wrote and championed the Violence Against Women Act, transformed how this country gets justice and support to survivors and led the ‘It’s On Us’ campaign to fight sexual assault on campuses. As VP, I fought to provide a special victims counsel for sexual assault cases in the military,” the 77-year-old said.

He promised that “all options are on the table” when it came to assaults in the military.

Biden spoke as the furor surrounding the claim by Reade continues to grow, despite a statement issued by his campaign on April 13 which said the incident “absolutely did not happen.”

The claim has drowned out other news about Biden, such as his search for a running mate, who he has pledged will be a woman.

President Donald Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale has flooded his Twitter feed with mocking references to Reade’s allegation, ignoring the string of accusations made by women against his own candidate.

More than a dozen women have accused the real estate mogul of sexual misconduct including rape before he became president.

Biden has not been asked directly about Reade’s allegation in either the interviews he has given from his Delaware home, where he has been confined because of the coronavirus pandemic, or various online campaign events.

‘Everything shattered’

According to Reade, the assault took place in August 1993 in a hallway on Capitol Hill.

“We were alone, and it was the strangest thing,” Reade said in a late March interview on the Katie Halper Show podcast. “There was no, like, exchange, really, he just had me up against the wall.

“His hands were on me and underneath my clothes and, yeah, he went, he went down my skirt but then up inside it and he penetrated me with his fingers,” she said.

“He was kissing me at the same time,” she said.

Reade said she pulled away and Biden allegedly said: “Come on man, I heard you liked me.”

“For me everything shattered at that moment,” Reade said.

Reade has since recounted her story to other media outlets, and filed an incident report with the Washington police in early April — seen by AFP — in which she did not name Biden.

“This is an inactive case,” a police spokesman told AFP when asked about the status of the matter.

Reade told the right-leaning Washington Examiner that she had filed the report to show she was serious and establish a paper trail.

Other women have accused Biden of touching them inappropriately in the past, and Reade’s initial claims were similar — less severe than her most recent allegations.

The New York Times reported that it had interviewed Reade on multiple occasions, along with her friends and others who worked for Biden in the early 1990s.

According to the Times, no former Biden staffers corroborated her account, and a pattern of misconduct was not uncovered.

A friend said Reade had told her about the alleged assault at the time. A second friend said Reade told her in 2008 of a traumatic experience while working in Biden’s office.

Reade said she had also related the incident to her brother.

The allegations have led some supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders, who dropped out of the Democratic race and endorsed Biden, to call on the former vice president to end his White House bid.

“Out of respect for survivors and for the good of the country, he should withdraw from the race,” said Claire Sandberg, the former national organizing director of the Sanders campaign.

COVID-19: Trump To Sell Ventilators To Developing Countries To Fight Virus

FUS President Donald Trump speaks at a press conference on COVID-19, known as the coronavirus, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, March 13, 2020. Trump is declaring coronavirus a national emergency. SAUL LOEB / AFP

 

President Donald Trump’s administration said Friday it would sell ventilators to at least four developing countries to fight the coronavirus, saying US needs were being met.

Trump said he spoke by telephone to the presidents of Indonesia, Ecuador, El Salvador and Honduras and promised that the United States would send the vital medical equipment.

“We will be sending them desperately needed Ventilators, of which we have recently manufactured many, and helping them in other ways,” Trump wrote on Twitter of his call to President Lenin Moreno of Ecuador, which has seen a spike in coronavirus cases.

Michael Kozak, the top US diplomat for Latin America, confirmed the United States was selling the ventilators.

“We’re seeing our own needs met; we can become an exporter again,” Kozak told reporters.

“I think in many of these cases that the countries just want to buy them. They aren’t asking us for financing,” he said.

But Kozak said some countries may use assistance from the United States to make the purchases.

Governors led by New York’s Andrew Cuomo said they were seriously short of ventilators at the start of the pandemic and had faulted the federal government.

But Cuomo last week said New York would send ventilators to Michigan and Maryland as the situation had stabilized in his own state — the worst-hit by the pandemic that has killed more than 50,000 people in the United States.

With companies such as Ford and General Motors switching to ventilator production, Trump has boasted that the country as a whole is in good shape and said foreign leaders were asking him for supplies.

“No country is equipped like we are. We have 11 different places making ventilators,” Trump told reporters Thursday.

“Our country, as you know, doesn’t need them now. Our governors are very happy,” Trump said.

In his tweets, Trump praised Honduras and El Salvador for helping curb emigration to the United States — a signature issue for the mogul-turned-president.

Guatemala is also a major source of migrants but has temporarily stopped accepting deported citizens from the United States due to coronavirus infections.

Kozak said that Guatemala — not mentioned in Trump’s tweets on ventilators — was not being punished.

“There isn’t some hard linkage here between cooperation on removals and ventilators. We’re trying to get medicine and medical supplies to anybody who needs them”

Trump Tests Negative For Virus As US Expands Europe Travel Ban

In this file photo US President Donald Trump gives a thumbs up during a "Keep America Great" campaign rally at Wildwoods Convention Center in Wildwood, New Jersey, January 28, 2020.
In this file photo US President Donald Trump gives a thumbs up during a “Keep America Great” campaign rally at Wildwoods Convention Center in Wildwood, New Jersey, January 28, 2020.

 

President Donald Trump has tested negative for the novel coronavirus, his physician said, following concerns over his exposure to a disease that has paralyzed the globe.

Trump agreed to the test after coming in contact with several members of a Brazilian presidential delegation visiting his Florida resort who have since tested positive for the virus.

“This evening I received confirmation that the test is negative,” the president’s physician Sean Conley said in a Saturday memo.

Trump, 73, had dismissed concerns over his exposure to the disease which has killed at least 51 Americans and upended the rhythm of daily life across the country, with millions working from home and schools shut.

New York, the most populous US city, saw its first coronavirus death on Saturday, as store shelves were stripped bare after days of panic buying.

Across the Hudson River in Teaneck, New Jersey, Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin called for a citywide self-quarantine after 18 cases were confirmed in the township.

“What we are saying is that we are ground zero,” Hameeduddin said. “Expect or act as though you’re going to infect somebody or somebody is going to infect you.”

Vice President Mike Pence announced further curbs on travel to the United States, saying a ban imposed on European nations over the pandemic would be extended to the United Kingdom and Ireland Tuesday.

The restrictions threw airports across the country into disarray, with incoming travelers forced to wait hours for medical screenings before passing through customs.

Illinois governor JB Pritzker said the long lines at Chicago’s O’Hare airport were “unacceptable.”

“The federal government needs to get its [email protected]#t together. NOW,” he tweeted.

Acting Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf said his office was working with airlines to improve screening times.

Trump advised against non-essential travel and said officials were also considering imposing domestic restrictions.

“If you don’t have to travel, I wouldn’t do it,” Trump said at a White House news conference. “We want this thing to end.”

In an official proclamation, he also named Sunday a national day of prayer “for all people who have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.”

Trump declared a national emergency on Friday, freeing up some $40 billion in disaster relief funds.

The US House of Representatives also passed a bill — crafted by Democrats in consultation with the Trump administration — to provide billions of dollars for free virus testing, emergency paid sick leave and family leave. It is expected to pass the Republican-majority Senate.

An end to hand-shaking

The coronavirus pandemic has claimed more than 5,800 lives in at least 137 countries.

Repeatedly attacked for sending out mixed signals on the health crisis, the president raised eyebrows on Friday when, contrary to medical advice, he was seen shaking hands as he gathered his coronavirus response team at the White House.

On Saturday, he blamed habit — “people put their hand out… you don’t think about it” — but said it would have to change.

“Maybe people shouldn’t be shaking hands for the long term,” said Trump, a self-declared germophobe.

Trump’s virus test came after contact with the Brazilian delegation as well as US lawmakers and political leaders who have gone into self-quarantine over potential infection.

Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel was on Saturday awaiting results of a virus test after she came down with flu-like symptoms. She reportedly attended an event in Florida with Trump on Monday and flew back to Washington on Air Force One.

A broader travel ban

On Saturday a 30-day US ban took effect on all travel from the EU’s Schengen border-free zone, part of a global clampdown on travel to curtail the virus.

Pence said the ban would include Britain and Ireland as of midnight EST on Monday (0400 GMT on Tuesday). Both countries had been excluded from the initial ban.

“Americans in the UK or Ireland can come home. Legal (US) residents can come home,” Pence said.

Trump also aimed a new jab at the US Federal Reserve, saying he wanted it to be “much more proactive” in moving to protect Americans from the widespread economic dislocation caused by the pandemic.

But the president seemed otherwise subdued during Saturday’s briefing, uncharacteristically offering praise to Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Trump also tweeted that he had a “nice conversation” with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and that it was “great to hear that his wonderful wife Sophie is doing very well.”

Trudeau has been tele-governing since his wife was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Thursday.

AFP

Coronavirus Time Bomb: America’s Uninsured And Brutal Work Culture

Workers in protective clothes stand before passengers disembarkating off the Diamond Princess cruise ship, in quarantine due to fears of new COVID-19 coronavirus, at Daikoku pier cruise terminal in Yokohama on February 21, 2020. Hundreds of people have been allowed to leave the ship after testing negative for the disease and many have returned to their home countries to face further quarantine. Philip FONG / AFP

 

Like many Americans, bartender Danjale Williams is worried about the growing threat of the novel coronavirus.

What makes the 22-year-old in Washington even more frightened: The thought of medical bills she just can’t afford, as one of almost 27.5 million people in the United States who don’t have health insurance.

“I definitely would second guess before going to the doctor, because the doctor’s bill is crazy,” she said. “If it did come down to that, I don’t have enough savings to keep me healthy.”

As the virus begins spreading in the west of the country, where the first death was reported Saturday, public health experts warned the US has several characteristics unique among wealthy nations that make it vulnerable.

READ ALSO: South Korea Wages ‘All-Out Responses’ To Virus With 376 New Cases

These include a large and growing population without medical insurance, the 11 million or so undocumented migrants afraid to come into contact with authorities, and a culture of “powering through” when sick for fear of losing one’s job.

“These are all things that can perpetuate the spread of a virus,” said Brandon Brown, an epidemiologist at UC Riverside.

The number of Americans without health insurance began falling from a high of 46.7 million in 2010 following the passage of Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act), but has risen again over the past two years.

The current figure is about 8.5 percent of the population.

Getting through the door

Public health experts often worry about the destructive potential of a pandemic in poorer parts of the world like sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia.

These poverty-plagued regions have hospitals that are ill-equipped to stop the spread of infectious diseases, or to adequately care for patients needing breathing assistance, which the most severe cases of COVID-19 require.

By contrast, the US has some of the world’s best hospitals and medical staff, but those not lucky enough to have good insurance through their employer, and not poor enough to qualify for state insurance, often opt out of the system entirely.

A routine doctor’s visit can run into hundreds of dollars for those without coverage.

“I think that it’s possible if this has the sustained spread, that might highlight some of those health care disparities that we already know about and are trying to work on, but haven’t figured out a way to solve,” said Brian Garibaldi, the medical director of Johns Hopkins Hospital’s biocontainment unit.

That’s not to say uninsured people have no recourse if they fall seriously ill.

US law requires that people who are truly sick get the care they need, regardless of ability to pay.

Abigail Hansmeyer, a Minnesota resident who along with her husband is uninsured, said that if she did fall ill, “we may seek out the emergency room for treatment.”

But being treated doesn’t mean the visit was free and the uninsured can be lumped with huge bills after.

“So we have to very carefully consider costs in every situation,” the 29-year-old said.

Presentee-ism

One of the key messages the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has put out about the coronavirus is to stay home if you have mild respiratory symptoms, except to go to the doctor once you have called in and if they think you need to.

“But a lot of people, depending on their jobs, their position and their privilege, are not able to do that,” said Brown.

The US is alone among advanced countries in not offering any federally mandated paid sick leave.

Though private companies offer an average of eight days per year, only 30 percent of the lowest paid workers are able to earn sick days, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

For many of these people, missing even a day’s work can make a painful financial dent.

An October 2019 nationwide survey of 2,800 workers by the accounting firm Robert Half found that 57 percent sometimes go to work while sick and 33 percent always go when sick.

– Vaccine cost fears –
As the global death toll from the virus approaches 3,000 and the US braces for a wider outbreak, the race is on to develop vaccines and treatments.

Current timeline estimates for the leading vaccine candidate are 12-18 months, but will it be affordable for all? That question was put to Health Secretary Alex Azar in Congress last week.

His response: “We would want to ensure that we work to make it affordable, but we can’t control that price because we need the private sector to invest.”

Ed Silverman, a columnist for industry news site Pharmalot, panned the comment as “outrageous.”

“No one said profits are verboten,” he wrote. “But should we let some Americans who may contract the coronavirus die because the price is out of reach?”

AFP

US Military Begins Adjusting Presence In Africa

A US military convoy drives on the outskirts of the Kurdish-controlled northern Syrian city of Qamishli on February 12, 2020. DELIL SOULEIMAN / AFP

 

The United States announced Wednesday an initial plan for adjusting its military presence in Africa amid concerns the country will reduce forces fighting radical jihadists on the continent.

The first change will see part of one infantry unit, around 800 troops, replaced with a similar number of military trainers and advisors to support local forces in “spotlight African countries,” Defense Department officials said.

“The message I’m relaying to my (African) partners is we are not walking away,” US Army Africa commander Major General Roger Cloutier told reporters.

“We are still engaged.”

The move is the first resulting from a sweeping Pentagon review of the presence of US forces around the world in an effort to better align that presence with US defense priorities — which list China and Russia as the principle threats to the country.

That could mean reducing US deployments meant to confront Islamic militant threats, including in Africa.

But the Pentagon is also wary of leaving a vacuum in certain areas, like in Africa, for the Chinese and Russians to fill, which could give them strategically valuable footholds.

The United States has about 6,000 military personnel throughout Africa, including 800 in West Africa, 500 Special Forces in Somalia and an unspecified number at an air base in Niger.

The US depends especially on French and various African partner forces in West Africa in field operations, but the US strategy has moved to mostly seeking to “contain” the extremist groups rather than degrade them.

“The terrorist threat in Africa remains persistent and, in many places, is growing,” said the Pentagon’s inspector general in a recent report on US counterterrorism operations in Africa.