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World Health Organization Declares Coronavirus Pandemic

Mar 12, 2020

The World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus a global pandemic, as the number of cases continues to multiply worldwide, with tens of millions of people living under unprecedented lockdowns. The pandemic declaration came as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 127,000 in about 120 countries, with more than 4,700 deaths blamed on the virus. The WHO’s director said Wednesday health officials are alarmed by both the spread of the virus and the failure of governments to act.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: “In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths and the number of affected countries climb even higher. WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock, and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction.”

Top Italian Health Official Among 827 Coronavirus Dead as Italy Faces “Darkest Hour”

Mar 12, 2020

In Italy, where 60 million people are under an unprecedented nationwide lockdown, the death toll has increased to at least 827. Authorities have ordered all shops closed except food markets and pharmacies. Italy’s economy has all but ground to a halt, with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte describing the outbreak as the country’s “darkest hour.” Among the recent dead is Roberto Stella, the head of the medical association in the northern Italian province of Varese.

In Germany, where there have been about 2,000 confirmed cases so far, Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the majority of the German people are likely to contract the virus.

Chancellor Angela Merkel: “When the virus is out there, the population has no immunity, and no therapy exists, then 60 to 70% of the population will be infected, as long as the situation continues to exist.”

Iran Condemns U.S. Sanctions as “Medical Terrorism” as Coronavirus Death Toll Hits 429

Mar 12, 2020

Iran’s government has urged people to remain in their homes, as the country’s death toll rose to 429 and over 10,000 infected. On Wednesday, Iranian officials accused the Trump administration of “medical terrorism” over U.S.-imposed sanctions that have severely hampered Iran’s ability to respond to the outbreak. Iran has asked the International Monetary Fund for $5 billion in emergency funding. One relative bright spot is China, where draconian measures appear to have stemmed the spread of the virus. Just 24 new infections were reported on Wednesday across China, and 10 of those involved people who recently traveled abroad. 

President Trump Announces Europe Travel Ban in Error-Laden Oval Office Speech

Mar 12, 2020

In the United States, President Trump addressed the nation in a primetime speech from the Oval Office Wednesday, ordering a travel ban that’s unprecedented in U.S. history.

President Donald Trump: “I have decided to take several strong but necessary actions to protect the health and well-being of all Americans. To keep new cases from entering our shores, we will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days.”

Trump said the travel ban would not apply to the United Kingdom — even though coronavirus is spreading in Britain and Northern Ireland. Trump owns Trump Turnberry and Trump International Golf Links in Britain.

Trump’s address inspired panic in financial markets after he said he was imposing restrictions on “tremendous amount of trade and cargo” from Europe. Dow futures dropped 1,100 points immediately after the comments, building on historic losses in recent days that ended an 11-year bull market. Trump quickly issued a correction to his Oval Office address, tweeting that the restriction “stops people not goods.”

Trump also said during his speech that U.S. insurance companies have agreed to waive all copayments for coronavirus treatments. A spokesperson for America’s Health Insurance Plans quickly issued a statement saying the waived copays would only apply to coronavirus tests, not treatment.

And Trump also later clarified that U.S. citizens in Europe will be allowed to return home — though they will have to undergo screenings.

During the address, Trump referred to the COVID-19 pathogen as a “foreign virus” that “started in China.” China’s Foreign Ministry has condemned such rhetoric as a “despicable practice” meant to stigmatize China.

U.S. Labs Face Shortage of Supplies Needed to Test for Coronavirus

Mar 12, 2020

Across the U.S., labs are reporting shortages of critical equipment and chemicals needed to test for the virus. And Time magazine reports the White House has blocked the public release of a report by the director of national intelligence warning the United States is starkly unprepared for a global pandemic.

The editor-in-chief of Science magazine blasted the Trump administration’s coronavirus response in a scathing op-ed published Wednesday. The editor, Holden Thorp, writes that Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top scientist on Vice President Mike Pence’s coronavirus task force, must be allowed to speak freely about the outbreak. Thorp wrote, “Informing Fauci and other government scientists that they must clear all public comments with Vice President Mike Pence is unacceptable. This is not a time for someone who denies evolution, climate change, and the dangers of smoking to shape the public message.”

On Capitol Hill, Dr. Fauci warned lawmakers Wednesday that COVID-19 is likely 10 times deadlier than seasonal flu and that the pandemic is certain to get worse.

Dr. Anthony Fauci: “How much worse we’ll get will depend on our ability to do two things: to contain the influx of people who are infected coming from the outside and the ability to contain and mitigate within our own country. Bottom line, it’s going to get worse.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander Blocks Quick Passage of Paid Sick Leave Bill

Mar 12, 2020

On Capitol Hill, Tennessee Republican Senator Lamar Alexander blocked a motion to immediately pass legislation that would guarantee 14 days of paid sick leave to workers during public health emergencies. This comes as Democrats in the House of Representatives prepare to debate a package of bills Thursday to give workers 14 days paid sick leave and up to three months of paid family and medical leave. The bill also includes funding for low-income mothers and pregnant people who may be laid off due to coronavirus, $400 billion for local food banks and free coronavirus testing for all those who need it, including those without insurance.

Meanwhile, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a public health emergency in the nation’s capital, where there have been 10 confirmed cases of coronavirus. One of them is a staffer for Washington Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell. Congressional leaders have agreed to severely restrict public access to Capitol Hill, and Senator Cantwell has closed her D.C. and Seattle offices and has ordered her staff to work remotely. 

School Closures from Coronavirus Affecting Over 1 Million K-12 Students Nationwide

Mar 12, 2020

In Seattle, Governor Jay Inslee has ordered public schools closed for a minimum of two weeks, bringing the total number of U.S. school closures to over 1,500 — affecting over 1 million K-12 students nationwide.

In Oklahoma City, an NBA game was called off moments before tip-off Wednesday evening, after visiting Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus. The NBA has since suspended its season until further notice. The NCAA said all upcoming Division I basketball tournaments will be played in empty arenas — with only essential staff and family members allowed to attend. Other sports leagues are preparing to cancel events or to limit public access to games. California is urging officials to cancel all public gatherings of more than 250 people.

Joe Biden’s presidential campaign has scrapped planned rallies in Chicago and Miami and will instead hold virtual events. Biden is planning an address on the coronavirus from Wilmington, Delaware, this afternoon. President Trump’s campaign postponed plans for a “Catholics for Trump” rally scheduled for March 19 in Milwaukee — one day after announcing the event.

Even Hollywood has been affected by the coronavirus. On Wednesday, celebrities Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson announced they have both tested positive for COVID-19 after coming down with flu-like symptoms during a trip to Australia.

Bernie Sanders Promises to Question Biden Over Progressive Policies at Next Debate

Mar 12, 2020

In campaign news, Sen. Bernie Sanders said Wednesday he will continue his fight for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination and is looking forward to Sunday’s debate against Joe Biden in Arizona, where he promised to challenge Biden’s lack of support for progressive causes like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders: “The American people understand that we cannot continue a cruel and dysfunctional healthcare system. And it is amazing to me to see that even in conservative states like Mississippi, there is an overwhelming understanding that we are now spending twice as much per capita on healthcare as do the people of any other country, while 87 million of us remain uninsured or underinsured. And this crisis, this absurd healthcare system, is becoming more and more obvious to the American people as we face the challenge of the coronavirus pandemic.”

With more than half of the U.S. population yet to vote, Sanders is trailing Biden by about 150 pledged delegates out of about 2,000 needed to clinch the nomination. After headlines, we’ll play extended remarks from Senator Bernie Sanders’s address.

Joe Biden’s Brother Faces Fraud Allegations over For-Profit Hospital Ties

Mar 12, 2020

Joe Biden’s younger brother is facing allegations of financial fraud in civil court proceedings. According to a lawsuit filed in federal court by a pair of medical firms, James Biden promised investors at the for-profit hospital chain Americore Health that he’d leverage the Biden family name to attract a large investment from the Middle East. The money never materialized, and Americore has since entered bankruptcy proceedings — but not before James Biden allegedly walked away with a $650,000 personal loan from the company that he has yet to repay. Politico reports James Biden introduced Americore’s founder to his older brother Joe Biden at a September 2017 fundraiser for the Beau Biden Foundation. A Biden campaign spokesperson denied Joe Biden ever discussed Americore with his brother or expressed support for the business. James Biden’s ties to Americore came under increased scrutiny following an FBI raid on the company’s Ellwood City hospital in Pennsylvania in January. The reason for the raid is unknown.

Harvey Weinstein Sentenced to 23 Years in Prison for Rape, Sexual Assault

Mar 12, 2020

Here in New York, a Manhattan judge has sentenced former Hollywood producer and convicted sex offender Harvey Weinstein to 23 years in prison, in a landmark ruling for the #MeToo movement. After his sentencing, Weinstein was taken under armed guard and bussed from the Manhattan courthouse to the Rikers Island jail. He was later transferred to Manhattan’s Bellevue Hospital after complaining of chest pains. Weinstein was found guilty last month of raping then-aspiring actress Jessica Mann in a hotel room in 2013 and of sexually assaulting production assistant Mimi Haley at his apartment in 2006 by forcibly performing oral sex on her. Attorney Gloria Allred read from Haley’s victim’s impact statement outside the court just after Weinstein’s sentencing.

Gloria Allred: “'I have observed an indifference, a lack of remorse, a lack of acknowledgement, a lack of awareness and self awareness by the defendant throughout this process that has made me feel anger, that has left me concerned that he is completely disconnected from the gravity of the crime that he committed against me and the impact it's had. I can only hope that whatever sentence the court sees fit is long enough for Harvey Weinstein to acknowledge what he’s done and to be truly sorry.’”

Actress Mira Sorvino tweeted in response, “I literally cried tears of amazement, gratitude that the justice system has worked on behalf of all of his victims today.” Meanwhile, prosecutors in Los Angeles are working to extradite Weinstein to face further charges of rape and sexual assault in California.

1 British Medic and 2 U.S. Soldiers Killed in Rocket Attack on Base Near Baghdad

Mar 12, 2020

In Iraq, a British Army medic and two U.S. soldiers were killed Wednesday in a rocket attack on the Taji military base near Baghdad. Twelve other soldiers were injured. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Iraq’s military circulated photos showing an abandoned pickup truck with a battery of rocket launchers found a few miles from the base. After a similar attack three months ago killed a U.S. contractor, President Trump ordered a drone strike on Iran’s top military commander, Qassem Soleimani, in Baghdad. The assassination brought the U.S. and Iran to the brink of war.

Supreme Court Allows Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” Policy to Stay in Place

Mar 12, 2020

The Supreme Court said Wednesday it will allow the Trump administration to continue to force asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while they await their day in a U.S. court. Only one justice — Sonia Sotomayor — registered a dissent, as the Supreme Court ordered a stay on a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the policy likely violates U.S. law. Some 60,000 asylum seekers have been forced to wait in Mexico in dangerous and often squalid conditions while their claims make their way through U.S. courts, which can take months or even years.

Jailed U.S. Army Whistleblower Chelsea Manning Hospitalized After Suicide Attempt

Mar 12, 2020

U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning is recovering in a Virginia hospital after she reportedly attempted suicide at a federal prison in Alexandria. Manning has been jailed since March of last year on contempt charges for refusing to cooperate in a federal grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks. Manning previously attempted suicide twice in a U.S. military prison, after she was sentenced to 35 years for leaking documents and video to WikiLeaks showing evidence of U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Obama granted her clemency in 2017. Manning is due in court on Friday, where her lawyers have entered a motion for her release.

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