Covid-19 Live Updates: Trump’s Defenders Field Sharp Questions Over Woodward Revelations

Trump defenders are asked on Sunday shows why Trump had downplayed the virus.

White House and Republican officials struggled to respond to sharp questioning by Sunday morning news show hosts about why President Trump knowingly played down the coronavirus in the crucial early months of the pandemic, as revealed by the journalist Bob Woodward in his new book, “Rage.”

The White House trade adviser, Peter Navarro, claimed on the CNN program “State of the Union” that “nobody knew” how dangerous the virus was at the time the president spoke to Mr. Woodward in February and March. In fact, Mr. Navarro himself wrote a memo in late January warning Trump administration officials that the virus could cost the United States trillions of dollars and put millions of Americans at risk of illness or death.

Jake Tapper, the show’s host, aggressively pushed back during the interview.

“He knew it was deadlier than the flu and he was lying to the American public two weeks later,” Mr. Tapper said, referring to remarks Mr. Trump gave on Feb. 26. “Why wasn’t the president straightforward with the American people?”

Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, provided a different defense of the president, saying that Mr. Trump had understood the serious threat the coronavirus posed by early February, but was “calm and steady and methodical” because he did not want to cause a panic.

“Think of what would have happened if he’d have gone out and said: ‘This is awful. We should all be afraid. We don’t have a plan,’” Ms. McDaniel said on the NBC program “Meet the Press.” “It would have been a run on the banks. It would have been a run on the hospitals. It would have been a run on the grocery stores.”

The host, Chuck Todd, characterized the president’s defenders as saying, “You don’t yell fire if you’re in a crowded movie theater.”

“It’s true,” he said. “But you do if the theater is actually on fire.”

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration under Mr. Trump, suggested on the CBS program “Face the Nation” that the president may have chosen to underplay the seriousness of the virus in part because he was getting bad information early on from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health agencies. Dr. Gottlieb pointed out that the C.D.C. botched its initial diagnostic test for the virus, keeping state laboratories from being able to test for the virus for weeks in February.

The difficulties the C.D.C. had in monitoring for the virus’s spread early on have been well documented. The agency’s plan to conduct a national surveillance effort — by testing samples from people with flulike symptoms — to determine whether the virus was spreading undetected also failed to get off the ground that month.

“I think in this respect, the White House leadership was failed by health officials,” Dr. Gottlieb told the host, Margaret Brennan. “We did not have a diagnostic in the field, so we couldn’t screen for it.”

“I had a lot of conversations with the White House over this time period because I was concerned it was spreading,” Dr. Gottlieb said, “and they were telling me over and over they were hearing from top officials from the agencies that they were pretty confident it wasn’t spreading here.”

In an interview with “60 Minutes” that aired on Sunday night, Mr. Woodward discussed interviews he recorded with the president. He said Mr. Trump was warned about the danger at a Jan. 28 meeting by a deputy national security adviser, Matthew Pottinger.

“Pottinger said his contacts in China told him, ‘This is going to be like the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that killed 675,000 people in this country,’” Mr. Woodward said.

Independent scientists and public health experts are criticizing vaccine companies for a lack of public transparency, and particularly their refusal to release their criteria for deciding whether to stop a trial for safety concerns.

The outcry grew after news that AstraZeneca’s chief executive had disclosed the reason his company recently halted its vaccine trial — a subject given the vaccine experienced serious neurological symptoms — at a closed meeting organized by J.P. Morgan, the investment bank.

AstraZeneca said on Saturday that an outside panel had cleared its trial in Britain to begin again, but the company still has not given any details about the test subject’s medical condition. And it has not released a transcript of the executive’s remarks to investors, which were reported by the news outlet STAT and later confirmed by an analyst for J.P. Morgan.

Another front-runner in the vaccine race, Pfizer, made a similarly terse announcement on Saturday: The company wants to expand its clinical trial to include thousands more participants, but it gave few other details about its plan.

Critics say American taxpayers are entitled to know more since the federal government has committed billions of dollars to vaccine research and to buying the vaccines once they’re approved.

And greater transparency could also help bolster faltering public confidence in vaccines at a time when a growing number of Americans fear President Trump will pressure federal regulators to approve a vaccine before it is proved safe and effective.

“Trust is in short supply,” said Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a cardiologist and health care researcher at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., who has spent years prodding companies and academic researchers to share more trial data with outside scientists. “And the more that they can share, the better off we are.”

It was Europe’s largest refugee camp. Its squalid conditions made it one of the most notorious. Then the coronavirus found its way in.

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If the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos was a tinderbox, the virus was the spark.

When the authorities tried to quarantine the residents to contain the outbreak, a small group of asylum seekers, angry that their living situations were somehow about to get even worse, began setting blazes, officials and aid workers say.

Now, with the camp destroyed, some 8,000 adults and 4,000 children, among them hundreds of infants, are stranded without shelter or sanitation.

“We escaped from fire, but everything is black,” said Mujtaba Saber, sitting on a thin blanket spread on a street, next to his napping 3-year-old son. His 20-day-old baby slept nearby in her mother’s arms.

The Times’s Matina Stevis-Gridneff, who is on Lesbos, reports that the Greek army has been setting up tents for a new camp. The authorities said they hoped to relocate the migrants, nearly two-thirds of whom are Afghans, into 2,000 tents over the next few days.

For now, they’ve been sleeping on tombstones and on the side of the road, in parking lots and among dried weeds on the hillsides. Some have pitched makeshift tents with bamboo poles and blankets. They’ve used the few clothes they have to make mattresses so their babies don’t sleep on tarmac.

“I think sleeping on the street is bad, but Moria is bad-bad,” said Mahbube Ahzani, 15, who had been in the camp with her family for 10 months. But what will be worse, she said, is the “new Moria.”

As cases fall in most parts of the country, they are on the rise in the Midwest, prompting alarm in places that had until now avoided the worst of the pandemic.

“Our community is experiencing its first sustained, significant surge of illness since this terrible pandemic began,” said Joe Parisi, the county executive in Dane County, Wis., which includes Madison. “We will have some incredibly difficult and sad weeks ahead if we don’t rally together now and stop this deeply disturbing trend.”

Through Friday, North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri and Iowa had added more recent cases per capita than all other states.

Case numbers are not the only sign of trouble. Testing positivity rates, which measure the percent of positive findings among all people tested, are high across much of the Great Plains, a sign of uncontrolled spread and insufficient monitoring.

The rise of infection in the Midwest is different from what Brooklyn experienced in March or South Texas in July. So far, hospitalizations have not spiked. Morgues have not been overrun. Lockdowns have not been ordered.

Young adults, who often have milder cases of the virus, are helping to drive the current surge. Thousands of infections have been linked to Midwestern universities, some of which have struggled to enforce social distancing rules.

“We knew this was coming,” said Mayor Brandon Bochenski of Grand Forks, N.D., where more than 600 infections — or roughly one of every 24 cases in the state — have been linked to the University of North Dakota.

“If we could control college students,” the mayor said, “we would have figured that out about 200 years ago. We did the best we could.”

Many cases across several states have also been linked to a motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D., which attracted thousands of people from around the country. Hundreds of people were infected at a jail in Wichita, Kan. And in parts of rural Iowa and North Dakota, case numbers have risen with no obvious link to a college.

Infections in the U.K. have reached levels not seen since May, leading a member of the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group to warn that the country would have to act fast.

“I think everyone is in agreement that we really need to act very quickly now in order to prevent this from growing exponentially,” the adviser, Professor Peter Openshaw, told Sky News.

He warned that failure would send the country “right back in hard lockdown in short order.”

In an effort to curtail the virus’s spread, the British government dropped the limit on the number of people allowed to meet from 30 to six, as of Monday.

Despite various costly mistakes made in rolling out testing systems and contact tracing, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has at various points in the pandemic boasted of Britain’s performance. Earlier this week, Mr. Johnson launched “Operation Moonshot,” a plan for mass testing that aims to carry out 10 million tests a day — enough to test each individual in the country once a week — by early next year, at a cost of $130 billion.

But the current testing rate falls far below that.

The government says it has processed about 200,000 coronavirus tests each day in the past week, and officials claim testing capacity is the highest to date. However, people all over England have reported that they cannot obtain tests in their local areas or have been asked to travel hundreds of miles to be tested. A spokeswoman from the Department of Health acknowledged in a statement that there was significant demand for tests.

The Sunday Times reported that Britain’s laboratories are so overstretched that there is a backlog of 185,000 swabs, and the country is sending swabs to laboratories in Europe to be processed.

Israel will be returning to a nationwide lockdown for at least three weeks, starting on Friday, the eve of the Jewish New Year holiday.

The public sector and some private businesses will continue to work under tight limitations, and citizens will only be allowed to move within 500 yards of their homes. Schools, which reopened for the new school year on Sept. 1, will also close on Friday for the duration of the lockdown. No decision has been taken yet on whether the airport will remain open to international travel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the drastic and unpopular measures in a televised address on Sunday evening after Israel’s per capita coronavirus infection rate rose to among the highest in the world. More than 1,100 people in the country have died from the virus.

The announcement, which came barely four months after the country emerged from the last lockdown, were the clearest sign yet of the government’s failure to contain the spread of the virus.

Earlier Sunday, an ultra-Orthodox minister resigned from Israel’s government over the lockdown plans. Yaakov Litzman, the minister of housing and construction, was furious that it was coinciding with Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the day of fasting and atonement, and that worshipers would be allowed in synagogues only in limited numbers.

Dr. Ronni Gamzu, the country’s virus czar, argued that a lockdown over the Jewish holidays would do less economic damage and would prevent large family gatherings where the virus could spread. But Mr. Litzman said the government had delayed acting earlier for fear of spoiling Israelis’ summer vacation plans.

Mr. Netanyahu said Dr. Gamzu and other health professionals had “raised a red flag,” warning of a jump in the number of serious cases and deaths, of hospital teams becoming worn out and of the double danger of the virus and influenza that winter would bring.

Other developments around the world:

  • Ireland is backing a proposal that all E.U. countries adopt shared rules on international travel restrictions. If the measures are approved, Ireland’s quarantine requirements will be replaced with a focus on testing and a system rating countries from low to high risk. The initiative would require some travelers to be tested for the virus before entering Ireland, Prime Minister Micheal Martin told the state broadcaster, RTE, on Sunday.

  • India reported 94,372 new cases on Sunday, the fourth consecutive day that new cases exceeded 90,000 in the country, according to a New York Times database. India has the world’s second-highest number of cases after the United States. On Monday, members of Parliament were to gather for a session with social-distancing precautions.

  • Officials in South Korea said on Sunday that social-distancing measures would be eased in metropolitan Seoul for the next two weeks, even though daily new cases remain in the triple digits. The easing includes lifting a ban on on-site dining after 9 p.m. and reopening gyms and internet cafes. Stronger measures are to return on Sept. 28, ahead of the Chuseok fall harvest holiday, during which many people travel.

Ethiopia, which has some of the highest numbers of virus cases and deaths in Africa, has formed a partnership with a Chinese company to increase testing capacity across the country.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed presided over the opening of a commercial test-kit production facility in the country’s capital that he said would produce kits for both the local market and for export, with a focus on African nations.

The facility — which is being run by BGI Health Ethiopia, a subsidiary of the genome sequencing company BGI Group headquartered in Shenzhen, China — is also expected to provide laboratory services for travelers at Ethiopia’s Bole International Airport, one of the continent’s biggest and busiest airports.

Mr. Abiy said the facility was expected to produce other types of testing kits for diseases like AIDS and tuberculosis after the pandemic. He also highlighted a field hospital in the country that can hold up to 200 Covid-19 patients.

China has in recent years been extending its influence around the world, including in Africa, through commercial enterprise. Now the virus is offering new opportunities. The country has also used the promise of a vaccine as a diplomatic carrot to repair strained ties and bolster engagement, an effort that helps it project itself as a responsible player as the United States retreats from global leadership.

Although Ethiopia lags behind South Africa — the hardest-hit African country — it has so far reported more than 63,000 cases, with almost a thousand deaths, according to a New York Times database. Experts say those numbers are low for a nation with over 110 million people, and the authorities recently detected a rising number of cases after starting a testing campaign nationwide.

The collection of virus data in Texas has been inconsistent.

Inconsistencies and problems with data collection in Texas have clouded the picture of the pandemic’s trajectory in that state, the latest of many examples of how states’ reporting of data in real time has complicated efforts to understand the virus.

Texas has overlooked thousands of coronavirus cases, only to report them weeks after infection. It has made major adjustments to its case and death counts, defining them one way and then another, sometimes suddenly reporting figures for some counties that were vastly different from those posted by the local health department.

Other states have also grappled with data challenges, including glitches and backlogs in California and a debate over transparency in Florida. But Texas has been troubled by multiple issues.

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Public health officials and researchers place the blame for the state’s data problems on Texas’ antiquated data systems and a reliance on faxed test results, which limit the state’s ability to track every infection and death in many of its 254 counties. They also say that the state’s decentralized structure — with many local governments, some of them tiny, running their own public health operations — is ill suited to coping with the crush of Covid-19.

“It’s a colossal undertaking, and because it’s happening in real time, there will inevitably be situations where we have to update or correct something,” said Chris Van Deusen, spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

“Texas has these 57 strong, independent organizations that will do what they do,” he said, referring to the state’s local health departments. “That’s just the situation we’re in.”

The coronavirus was spreading around the world, and officials at the United States Agency for International Development were anxious to rush humanitarian aid to nations in need. But first they had to settle a debate over branding on the packages.

Political appointees from the White House and the State Department wanted the aid agency’s logo affixed to all of the packages to show the world how much the United States was sending abroad, even as it grappled with its own outbreak.

Career employees at U.S.A.I.D. argued that the logo and other American symbols could endanger people who delivered or received the aid in countries that are hostile to the United States and where branding exceptions are usually granted.

At the end of the debate this spring, relief workers were allowed to distribute aid without the branding in a handful of countries in the Middle East and North Africa. But the discussion delayed assistance for several weeks to some of the world’s most vulnerable communities and served as a cautionary example of political intervention roiling an agency that prides itself as leading the humanitarian response to global disasters, conflict and other emergencies.

“As far back as I go, working on these programs, U.S.A.I.D. has really been an extraordinary, respected leader in global health and humanitarian responses,” said Representative Nita M. Lowey, Democrat of New York and the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee. “To distort that mission is an insult, and it’s really outrageous to me.”

As President Trump campaigns for re-election and the virus has claimed more than 193,000 lives in the United States, evidence has been building of his administration’s interference across many agencies dealing with the pandemic.

For instance, political appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services repeatedly asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to revise, delay and even scuttle reports on the coronavirus that they believed were unflattering to Mr. Trump.

And the president personally pressured the director of the National Institutes of Health to speed up the review of convalescent plasma as a treatment for Covid-19. Even though that agency’s vetting was not complete, Mr. Trump announced on the eve of the Republican National Convention that the F.D.A. had approved plasma therapy for wider use and vastly overstated what the data had shown about the benefits.

As students return to colleges worldwide, eager to socialize after months under coronavirus restrictions, they are paying a price for a previously common aspect of student life: parties.

In Britain, the police in recent days issued a fine of 10,000 pounds (about $12,800) to a university student who had organized a party of more than 50 people at his off-campus housing. The fine — the maximum penalty possible for violating the country’s 30-person limit on gatherings — came as England and Wales prepared to sharply reduce the size of permitted gatherings to just six people, starting Monday.

In the United States, six Miami University students in a house near the campus in Oxford, Ohio, received citations with fines of $500 each over Labor Day weekend when they were found hosting a party at which many students present had tested positive for the virus.

Penalties for attending unlawful gatherings have been frequent, with 11 Northeastern University students dismissed for violating public health rules and hundreds of students at Ohio State University suspended, in addition to suspensions at Purdue University, Syracuse University and New York University.

Some institutions acknowledged that there would be little point in trying to clamp down on parties altogether. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a comprehensive plan to keep the virus under control factored into its model that the school’s more than 7,000 students would attend parties three times a week. What it did not calculate was that some would attend gatherings after testing positive.

Yet many are taking the virus restrictions seriously. Oxford University and other colleges have experimented with asking students to sign “responsibility agreements,” and Yale University set up hotlines for reports of risky activity.

Though many students have said the idea of blowing the whistle on their classmates makes them uncomfortable, more than 4,000 people signed a petition started by students to revoke the admission of a first-year student at Cornell University after she posted a video from a party mocking safety precautions.

Reporting was contributed by Christopher Cameron, Damien Cave, Abdi Latif Dahir, Tess Felder, Lazaro Gamio, Abby Goodnough, Lara Jakes, Lisa Waananen Jones, Isabel Kershner, Sarah Kliff, Dan Levin, Eric Nagourney, Dan Powell, Roni Caryn Rabin, Anna Schaverien, Mitch Smith, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Kate Taylor, Katie Thomas, Pranshu Verma, Amy Schoenfeld Walker and Will Wright.


Source NY Times

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