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HeadlinesMarch 19, 2020

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Italy Records Record 475 Coronavirus Deaths as Infections Continue Climbing

Mar 19, 2020

The death toll from the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe is nearing 9,000, with over 221,000 confirmed cases, as governments around the world increasingly shut down economies and locked down cities to slow the spread of the disease. In a positive sign, Hubei province in central China, where the virus first struck, for the first time reported no new local infections Wednesday. In contrast, in Italy, there have been a record 475 deaths over the last day. In the city of Bergamo, soldiers were called in to transport away dozens of coffins as the city’s crematorium failed to keep up with the pace of deaths. At least 91 people have died in Bergamo, and the city’s hospital has run out of beds in its intensive care unit. 

British PM Boris Johnson Closes Schools After Reversing Lax Virus Containment Plan

Mar 19, 2020

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered schools closed across the United Kingdom beginning Friday. Johnson reversed course this week after initially favoring a strategy to let the virus burn rapidly through the population in order to build “herd immunity.” He abandoned the approach after a study estimated that, without mitigation, a quarter of a million Britons could die. 

Millions of Brazilians Protest from Windows and Balconies Demanding President’s Ouster

Mar 19, 2020

In Brazil, the president of the Senate has tested positive for COVID-19, along with two Cabinet ministers and 16 members of President Bolsonaro’s entourage on a recent trip to the U.S. to meet with President Trump. Over the weekend, Bolsonaro — who should have self-quarantined under guidelines suggested by his own government — joined packed political rallies, hugging supporters and posing for selfies. On Wednesday, Bolsonaro and government ministers put on face masks at a news conference announcing new emergency measures to contain the virus. All over Brazil, millions of homebound residents went onto their balconies Wednesday evening banging pots and pans and shouting, “Bolsonaro out!” in protests against the far-right president’s handling of the crisis. 

World Health Organization Warns Critical Lack of Testing Is Costing Lives

Mar 19, 2020

Reuters reports that U.S. labs have run just 60,000 coronavirus tests since late January when the first case was detected in the U.S. — compared to South Korea, which has tested nearly 300,000 people in the same time period. In Geneva, the World Health Organization’s top emergency official, Dr. Michael Ryan, said the failure of countries like the U.S. to screen for coronavirus was helping the disease to spread.

Dr. Michael Ryan: “Every suspect case should be tested, their contacts identified. If those contacts are sick or showing symptoms, they should be tested. That requires a scale-up, because many countries have not been systematically testing all suspect cases, and it’s one of the reasons why we’re behind in this epidemic.”

Egypt Arrests Protesters Calling for Release of Prisoners at Risk of COVID-19

Mar 19, 2020

In Egypt, four women activists were arrested in Cairo Wednesday for protesting medical neglect in Egyptian prisons and demanding the immediate release of prisoners at risk of coronavirus. Egyptian authorities have since announced the women — including world-renowned writer Ahdaf Soueif — will be released on bail. 

Yemen, Already Wracked by U.S.-Supported, Saudi-Led War, Braces for Coronavirus

Mar 19, 2020

In Yemen, where a U.S.-supported, Saudi-led war has killed over 100,000 people and shattered the healthcare infrastructure, medical workers are bracing for the rapid spread of coronavirus. Already, 80% of Yemenis rely on humanitarian assistance, with high rates of malnutrition, malaria and cholera. One textile factory manager in Sana’a switched from producing clothing to makeshift masks for the coming pandemic.

Abdel Ilah Shiban: “We are driven by need. Coronavirus is knocking on the whole world’s door. Yemen is a country under siege and under attack, and its institutions and factories are working at the lowest capacity, as you can see in this factory.”

Trump Admin Tightens Sanctions That Have Devastated Iran’s Public Health System

Mar 19, 2020

In Iran, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will pardon 10,000 additional prisoners, including political prisoners, as the official death toll from coronavirus topped 1,100 — though the WHO believes the true number is five times higher. Iran’s prisoner release came as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Trump administration was imposing new sanctions on Iran to “deprive the regime of critical income from its petrochemical industry and further Iran’s economic and diplomatic isolation.” Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted in response, “U.S. sanctions should not be contributing to this humanitarian disaster. As a caring nation, we must lift any sanctions hurting Iran’s ability to address this crisis, including financial sanctions.”

Trump Signs Coronavirus Relief Bill Providing Paid Leave to Small Fraction of U.S. Workers

Mar 19, 2020

President Trump Wednesday signed a coronavirus relief package providing unemployment benefits and free coronavirus testing to millions of Americans suddenly out of a job. The aid package guarantees paid sick leave to less than 20% of American workers. It does not apply to companies with 500 or more employees, and workplaces with fewer than 50 employees can request to opt out. On Wednesday, the White House also ordered the suspension of evictions and foreclosures through April. 

150,000 Auto Workers Idled as Ford, GM and Fiat Chrysler Halt Production

Mar 19, 2020

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones plummeted 7% at midday, triggering an automatic halt to trading for the fourth time in the last two weeks. The market crash has wiped out nearly all stock market gains since President Trump took office in early 2017. On Wednesday, all big three U.S. auto companies — Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler — decided to halt production for at least two weeks, under pressure by the United Auto Workers union to close plants for safety reasons. The closures came after a worker at a Ford plant in Dearborn, Michigan, tested positive for COVID-19. About 150,000 factory workers will be idled; under a union agreement, many will receive supplemental pay along with state unemployment benefits. Meanwhile, Hyundai halted production at its plant in Montgomery, Alabama, after a worker tested positive. 

White House Invokes Defense Production Act to Order Manufacture of Life-Saving Equipment

Mar 19, 2020

President Trump has invoked the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to allow the government to direct industrial production. The White House’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said Wednesday he was consulting with General Motors’s CEO to use idled factories to produce ventilators, which will be critical to keeping patients alive when a surge of coronavirus cases reaches hospitals.

Kudlow also said the Trump administration is considering taking an equity stake in companies bailed out by taxpayers. In 2008, Kudlow blasted a similar move by the Obama administration to take a stake in General Motors after a bailout as “an attack on free-market capitalism.”

On Wednesday, billionaire hedge fund investor Bill Ackman called on President Trump to shut down the country for the next 30 days and close the borders. Ackman tweeted, “With exponential compounding, every day we postpone the shutdown costs thousands, and soon hundreds of thousands, and then millions of lives, and destroys the economy.” He was writing from self-isolation. 

Two U.S. Congressmembers Test Positive for COVID-19

Mar 19, 2020

On Capitol Hill, two House lawmakers said Thursday they’ve tested positive for COVID-19: Republican Mario Díaz-Balart of Florida and Democrat Ben McAdams of Utah. Díaz-Balart tweeted that he is feeling much better after coming down with a fever and headache on Saturday. He wrote, “It’s important that everyone take this seriously and follow CDC guidelines in order to avoid getting sick & mitigate the spread of this virus.” Republican House Minority Whip Steve Scalise said he would self-quarantine for the next two weeks after close contact with Díaz-Balart.

A Pew Research Center poll found more than three in four Republicans believe the media has exaggerated the threat of the virus, following the lead of President Trump, who has repeatedly said the virus would “go away,” while accusing Democrats of making the coronavirus “their new hoax.” 

White House Warns Millennials at Substantial Risk of Illness and Death from COVID-19

Mar 19, 2020

Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House coronavirus task force said Wednesday that millennials may be at a higher risk of getting seriously ill or dying from coronavirus than previously thought. Despite that, Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis rejected calls again on Wednesday to close beaches, and instead ordered beachgoers to limit themselves to parties of 10 or fewer. The pandemic is increasingly threatening prisoners and migrants held behind bars in immigration jails. An officer at New York’s infamous Rikers Island jail tested positive for COVID-19. Prisoners at the Yakima County Department of Corrections in Washington state have been quarantined after developing respiratory problems. 

Hospital Workers Produce DIY Masks as Medical Supplies Dwindle

Mar 19, 2020

Hospitals around the United States are already reporting shortages of testing swabs and protective gear to shield medical workers from infection. In Washington state, workers at Providence St. Joseph Health purchased vinyl sheets, foam and industrial tape from Home Depot and began manufacturing their own face shields and masks after supplies began to dwindle. President Trump said he was immediately deploying two Navy hospital ships to free up capacity in civilian hospitals, but the Pentagon acknowledged Wednesday the USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy will take weeks to deploy. 

Celebrities Get Coronavirus Tests as Critically Ill Patients Struggle to Learn Status

Mar 19, 2020

Amid a severe shortage of test kits in the U.S., there are growing concerns that ordinary people who fall ill are less likely to be tested than the rich and powerful. On Wednesday, the Brooklyn Nets said it hired a private lab to test its entire team after a game with the Golden State Warriors last week. Four Nets players, including superstar Kevin Durant, tested positive. In a tweet, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio wished them a speedy recovery, but added, “With all due respect, an entire NBA team should NOT get tested for COVID-19 while there are critically ill patients waiting to be tested. Tests should not be for the wealthy, but for the sick.”

Trump Doubles Down on Racist “Chinese Virus” Label

Mar 19, 2020

President Trump opened a White House press briefing on the pandemic Wednesday with a statement that took on racist and xenophobic overtones.

President Donald Trump: “I would like to begin by announcing some important developments in our war against the Chinese virus.”

Later in the news conference, Trump was questioned by reporter Cecilia Vega.

Cecilia Vega: “Why do you keep calling this the 'Chinese virus'? There are reports of dozens of incidents of bias against Chinese Americans in this country. Your own aide, Secretary Azar, says he does not use this term. He says ethnicity does not cause the virus. Why do you keep using this?”

President Donald Trump: “Because it comes from China.

Cecilia Vega: “A lot of people say it’s racist.”

President Donald Trump: “It’s not racist at all. No, not at all. It comes from China. That’s why. Comes from China.” 

This came a day after CBS White House correspondent Weijia Jiang, who describes herself in her Twitter profile as a “Chinese born West Virginian,” tweeted, “This morning a White House official referred to #Coronavirus as the 'Kung-Flu' to my face. Makes me wonder what they’re calling it behind my back.” We’ll have more on racist remarks by President Trump and Republican lawmakers later in the broadcast. 

Air Pollution Plummeted as Coronavirus Crisis Idled Much of China’s Economy

Mar 19, 2020

In China, satellite data show tough measures enacted to halt the spread of the coronavirus have dramatically cut emissions of toxic nitrogen dioxide. A Stanford University researcher estimated the huge reduction in air pollution as parts of China’s economy ground to a halt may have prevented the premature deaths of tens of thousands of people.

In Venice, Italy, dolphins and fish have been spotted in the city’s famous canals as they turned from muddy brown to crystal clear amid a drop-off in boat traffic.

U.S.-Canada Border Partially Closed as ICE Says It Will Suspend Most Immigration Raids

Mar 19, 2020

In immigration news, the U.S.-Canada border has been temporarily closed to nonessential traffic as an attempt to deter the spread of the coronavirus. Trade will not be affected. It is unknown how long the border closure will last.

Meanwhile, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, says it will temporarily postpone arresting immigrants during the pandemic, and will allegedly instead focus on apprehending people who pose “public safety risks” and who are subject to mandatory detention on criminal grounds. This comes as ICE agents continued to make arrests across the country this week, including in Colorado and in California, where much of the state is in lockdown.

Georgia Department of Driver Services Shared Data with ICE

Mar 19, 2020

In Georgia, immigrant rights groups have revealed that the state’s Department of Driver Services has been sharing information about residents, including facial recognition searches, with immigration officials. Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request found between September 2017 and last June, the department processed over 250 requests from ICE and other agencies “to gather and share information on hundreds of immigrants living in Georgia.”

Asked About Campaign Plans, Bernie Sanders Says “I’m Dealing with a F––– Global Crisis”

Mar 19, 2020

Senator Bernie Sanders has shot down rumors he’s planning to suspend his campaign after losses in Tuesday’s primaries in Florida, Illinois and Arizona. With about 2,000 delegates needed to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination, Joe Biden has claimed 1,180 delegates to Sanders’s 885. Asked by a CNN correspondent Wednesday to give a timetable for his next steps, Senator Sanders responded, “I’m dealing with a [bleep]ing global crisis.” He added, “I’m trying to do my best to make sure that we don’t have an economic meltdown and that people don’t die.”

Meanwhile, The Intercept reports elections officials in Chicago used nearly 50 housing facilities for low-income seniors as polling locations on Tuesday — despite warnings that crowds of voters posed a threat of transmitting the coronavirus to an already high-risk population.

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