Author: Depoworld

Most Coronavirus Deaths in US Projected to Occur in Next Few Weeks  

The United States should be prepared to endure 100,000 to 240,000 deaths from the #COVID-19 coronavirus over the next two months even if Americans continue to keep their distance from each other. The peak number of deaths will come over the next two to three weeks, according to the White House coronavirus task force.  “Our country is in the midst of a great national trial unlike any we have faced before,” said U.S. President Donald Trump as the White House on Tuesday formally introduced its extended 30-day social-distancing guidelines based on statistical models.  “This is going to be one of the roughest two or three weeks we’ve ever had in our country,” Trump predicted.  For the most part, the two physicians on the podium with the president and Vice President Mike Pence administered the bitter medicine to the American public.  “This is a number we need to anticipate, but we don’t necessarily have to accept it as inevitable,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, of the anticipated 100,000-plus fatalities.  Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, gestures to a chart as President Donald Trump listens as they speak about the coronavirus in the White House, March 31, 2020, in Washington.“There’s no magic bullet,” said Dr. Deborah Birx, an immunologist who is the response coordinator on the White House’s coronavirus task force. “There’s no magic vaccine or therapy,” just behaviors that can change the course of this viral pandemic.  More than 187,000 people in the United States have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. Total deaths in the country from the disease has exceeded 3,800 (about one-fourth of those in New York City) eclipsing the reported number in China and in excess of the number of lives lost initially in the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.  The first COVID-19 case in the U.S. was reported in the Western state of Washington on Feb. 29. In this March 27, 2020, photo provided by Office of Governor, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, right, walks the corridor of a nearly completed makeshift hospital erected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York.The governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, said the apex of his state’s battle against the disease is still 7 to 21 days out. During his daily briefing for the media, which aired live, for the most part, by the country’s three top cable TV news channels, Cuomo continued to express frustration with securing critical supplies for hospital intensive care units. He announced New York has put in an order from China for 17,000 ventilators at a cost of $25,000 each.  Cuomo said states and the federal government are all in competition to secure the breathing machines.  “It’s like being on eBay (an online auction site) with 50 other states bidding on a ventilator,” the governor said. “That’s literally what we’re doing.” Forcing states to compete for critically needed supplies, “doesn’t make sense,” Cuomo added.  About 10,000 ventilators in the federal government’s inventory need to be held back for an anticipated surge in different parts of the country, Trump said.  “We have a reserve right now. It’s like oil reserves, but more valuable,” the president explained.  The chairman of the National Governors’ Association, Larry Hogan of Maryland, told CNN on Tuesday that his counterparts are pushing the federal government to coordinate purchases of scarce items for medical facilities so that states are not competing against each other.  New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, walks the practice courts with officials at the USTA Indoor Training Center where a 350-bed temporary hospital will be built March 31, 2020, in New York.Hours later, the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio said he needs an answer “right now” on a request that had been made to the White House for relief medical staff, including 1,000 nurses, 300 respiratory therapists and 150 physicians.   In the afternoon, before the briefing, Trump spoke on the phone with nine executives of top network service providers to thank the companies “for their tireless work to keep Americans connected during this time of social distancing,” said White House spokesman, Judd Deere. “The president thanked these leaders for not only rising to the increased demand but extending services to all Americans at no additional cost and for waiving bills and late fees for those experiencing financial hardship.”  In recent days, the president has adopted a more somber tone about the overall human toll that is going to be caused by the coronavirus in the country. Earlier he had brushed off the disease as nothing worse than the annual waves of influenza and stated, “the cure can’t be worse than the disease,” suggesting he would relax now-extended restrictions so the economy would not be more severely crippled. The president has now pivoted from leaning toward the advice of some on his economic team who advocated loosening the social distancing restrictions to the public health officials – and members of his reelection team – with dire warnings.  Trump this week began publicly warning of the worst-case scenario of more than 2 million Americans dying of the virus if people returned to work and school prematurely. On Tuesday, Trump also suggested a fourth phase spending bill by Congress that would total $2.2 trillion (a similar price tag that was on the third phase), but this legislation, he said, would focus solely on jobs and rebuilding the country’s infrastructure.  “We have a strong dollar. People want to invest in the United States” so “this would be a great time to borrow money at a zero interest rate” to fund fixing roads, highways, tunnels and bridges, Trump said. Democratic congressional leaders have also started work on potential programs for a fourth phase bill, including infrastructure efforts that would put people to work, more money for unemployment benefits and more help for hospitals. Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have been cooler to the idea of more action now.  McConnell said on the Hugh Hewitt radio show Tuesday, “Let’s see how things are going and respond accordingly.” 

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US Military Furloughs Thousands of South Korean Workers

Thousands of South Korean workers on U.S. bases were placed on unpaid leave Wednesday, after the United States and South Korea failed to reach a deal on how to split the cost of the U.S. military presence here.  Through seven rounds of talks, South Korea has refused the Trump administration’s demand to massively increase its contribution toward the approximately 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. The latest cost-sharing deal expired at the end of the year, but the U.S. had been covering the salaries of Korean employees with funds that ran out this week.  Starting Wednesday, about 4,000 Korean civilian employees, who work in areas such as logistics and administration, will be indefinitely furloughed. The U.S. will temporarily cover the salaries of about 4,500 others whose duties are considered essential, U.S. officials said.  The cost-sharing dispute has caused unusual friction in the 70-year-old alliance that both sides regularly refer to as “ironclad.” The friction is especially ill-timed, coming as the U.S. military fights off the coronavirus and as North Korea test-fires a record number of short-range missiles. During a last-minute push to reach a deal, the head South Korean negotiator, Jeong Eun-bo, said the two sides had reached the “final stages for sealing a deal,” but called the furloughs “regrettable.”FILE – Amphibious assault vehicles of the South Korean Marine Corps travel during a military exercise as a part of the annual joint military training called Foal Eagle between South Korea and the U.S. in Pohang, South Korea, April 5, 2018.“This is an unfortunate day for us. It’s unthinkable. It’s heartbreaking. The partial furlough of [Korean National] employees is not what we envisioned or hoped what would happen,” said General Robert Abrams, the top U.S. commander in Korea. “The furlough is in no way a reflection of their performance, dedication or conduct, but rather due to a lack of a burden sharing agreement making programmed funds unavailable,” Abrams said.  U.S. President Donald Trump has demanded South Korea pay up to $5 billion to support the U.S. military presence — or about five times the amount Seoul paid in 2019. Local media reports suggest the U.S. had recently lowered its demand to $4 billion. Trump accuses South Korea of taking advantage of U.S. protection. He has at times hinted he would support pulling troops from South Korea. At other times, he denies a withdrawal has been discussed.  South Korean officials have rejected Trump’s cost-sharing demands as absurd, noting that any deal will have to be reasonable, since it will have to be ratified by South Korea’s parliament. The issue could become even more politically sensitive ahead of South Korea’s legislative election this month. South Korean officials have warned that the furloughs could impact military readiness.  Camp Humphreys, the main U.S. base in South Korea, is already in partial lockdown after more than a dozen service members, contractors, and other individuals related to the U.S. military in South Korea tested positive for the coronavirus. 

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Controversial French Doctor Sparks Hope, Criticism for Coronavirus Research

Fellow scientists question his findings, but an unlikely mix of supporters — from French yellow vest protesters to U.S. President Donald Trump — are cheering their promise.Last month, French immunology specialist Didier Raoult had no Twitter account. Now, he has more than a quarter-million followers, and counting.   The 68-year-old French physician has emerged as one of France’s most publicized and polarizing figures of these coronavirus times, since claiming his research shows an anti-malarial drug can help fight COVID-19.   Outside the Marseille university hospital where he works, a long line of sick and frightened people waits to be tested each day for COVID-19.   The sick may receive a much-hyped experimental treatment — a mix of anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine and antibiotic azithromycin that have starred in a pair of quick, small-scale studies that Raoult conducted, and were published this month. Together, the studies show the “efficacy” of the anti-malarial drug in fighting the virus, Raoult and his research team claim, and the synergetic effects of adding the antibiotic.  “He’s a visionary,” Renaud Muselier, head of the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region and a friend of Raoult, told the weekly Le Journal du Dimanche. “That’s what makes his strength today.”   But critics say Raoult’s team did not follow rigorous procedures, had no control group, and drew their results based on too few people, among other failings.   “The methodology is fragile, the results are forced, one doesn’t give people hope based on approximate trials,” Gilles Pialoux, infectious diseases head of Paris-based Tenon Hospital, told BFMTV.     A few years ago, Raoult grew his white-blond hair long — adding a mustache and beard —just to annoy the establishment, he is reported as saying. No stranger to controversy Raoult, who heads the infectious diseases department of La Timone Hospital in Marseille, is no stranger to controversy — or applause. Born in Dakar, Senegal, he dropped out of high school in his junior year and spent a couple of years in the French merchant marines before heading to medical school. A few years ago, he grew his white-blond hair long — adding a mustache and beard —just to annoy the establishment, he is reported as saying.  His award-winning research includes discovering giant viruses and new bacteria. He has published prodigiously, although his massive output has sparked skepticism about its rigor.   Raoult has also questioned climate change. In January, he initially dismissed the first coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan as overblown.   And while he has been added to the government coronavirus team of health experts, he has reportedly distanced himself from it, failing to attend recent meetings. “I don’t care what others think of me,” he told La Provence newspaper. “I’m not an outsider. I’m the one who is the most advanced.”   After Raoult’s first coronavirus findings were published mid-March in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents, Trump tweeted that the two-drug combination he tested could become “the biggest game changers” in medical history.  France and the United States have since authorized limited, emergency use of hydroxychloroquine and related compound chloroquine in treating the most serious COVID-19 cases. On Monday, the French food safety agency warned of potentially dangerous side effects.   But the public has dismissed such strictures. Pharmacies report a rush for Plaquenil, the brand name of hydroxychloroquine, which has worried lupus and other patients who have long depended on it.   Local hero  New and larger experimental studies are now under way in Europe and the United States to see if Raoult’s findings, among others, can be replicated on a bigger scale.   In the meantime, he has vaulted to near rock star status. His wide spectrum of supporters includes controversial French comedian Dieudonne, far-right adherents, ex-soccer champion Eric Cantona and several prominent politicians, some of whom took Raoult’s experimental treatment after contracting COVID-19.   “Bravo to @raoult didier and his team,” tweeted Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi. “I’m proud to have fought beside him.”   But a raft of medical experts is less enthusiastic, questioning the credibility of Raoult’s studies, the first of which involved just 20 patients.   “No, ‘not huge’ I’m afraid,” tweeted Francois Balloux of University College in London, in response to the results of Raoult’s second study involving 80 patients.   Released Friday, the study claimed that most of the patients treated with the combination drug had favorable outcomes.   But Balloux noted that those who had tested presented mild symptoms of coronavirus and likely would have recovered anyway.

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Scotland Increases Spending on Women’s Crisis Programs

Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced an appropriation of $1.8 million Tuesday for Scottish women’s aid and rape crisis programs, noting coronavirus-mandated isolation can put domestic abuse victims at greater risk.Speaking to reporters Tuesday in the capital, Edinburgh, Sturgeon said the new funding will ensure access to support services by women and children who find themselves more isolated and vulnerable during the current crisis.Sturgeon also announced a total of 1,993 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in Scotland as of Tuesday, up 430 from the previous day. She noted 108 of those cases came from one laboratory that had been unable to report its data from the weekend. She said the spike also reflects a greater capacity for testing in the country.The first minister also reported 13 additional deaths from the coronavirus since Wednesday, raising the total number of fatalities in Scotland to 60. 

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HRW: Ankara Denying Water to Syrian Kurds as Coronavirus Escalates

Turkey is being accused of “weaponizing” water against Syrian Kurds amid the coronavirus epidemic. Ankara is dismissing the accusation, however, as a “smear campaign.”  U.S.-based Human Rights Watch warned Tuesday that “Turkish authorities’ failure to ensure adequate water supplies to Kurdish-held areas in northeast Syria is compromising humanitarian agencies’ ability to prepare and protect vulnerable communities in the COVID-19 pandemic.”   The key Allouk water-pumping station is at the center of the controversy. HRW says that through March, the station worked only intermittently and now is closed again.  Syrian forces backed by Ankara operate the water station that serves territory held by the Syrian Kurdish militia, the YPG, which is designated as terrorists by Ankara.In October, Syrian rebels backed by Turkish forces launched an offensive against the YPG, taking control of a large swathe of territory. Ankara claims the Kurdish militia is affiliated with the PKK, which is fighting a decade’s long insurgency inside Turkey for greater minority rights.  A Syrian girl fills a jug with water in Washukanni camp, on Dec. 16, 2019, which was recently established on the outskirts of Hasakeh city for people displaced from the northeastern Syrian town of Ras Al-Ain.”Turkey and Turkish-backed factions are in control of the area where the Allouk pumping station is. Before they took control, we hadn’t seen any interruption in the water supply,” said Sara Kayyali, a researcher for Human Rights Watch in Syria. “What we’ve seen by the closure of the pumping station is an attempt to weaponize, to use water as a weapon to get more out of the Syrian Kurdish lead authority, as well as the Syrian authorities,” said Kayyali.  HRW warns the pumping station is of critical importance to hundreds of thousands of people.  “The water pumping station supplies clean drinking water to the most vulnerable refugee camps in the region,” said Kayyali.  “There are tens of thousands of Syrians and foreigners who are already living in dire humanitarian conditions. If you stop pumping water to these regions and coronavirus comes in, it will become an absolute disaster,” she said.  “Fortunately, until now, we don’t have any corona cases, because we acted very quickly, by closing all the borders,” said Dr. Raperin Hasan, co-chair of regional Health Authority in Jazira, an autonomous region of northern and eastern Syria.  But Hasan warns, with the region hosting several large refugee camps, the loss of the Allouk water station means they are still facing a humanitarian crisis.   “We now have hundreds of thousand people living together closely without water. They have only a small quantity of water every three days,” said Hasan.  “We are trying to bring water from other places by truck, but there is only a very small quantity. It’s not working, as there are so many people, and the water quality is not the same as if it comes piped in,” she said.  “We already have a lot of diseases — diarrhea, stomach problems, and skin diseases,” she added. “But our biggest fear is the coronavirus. Because there is no water to wash their hands, and they have the same problem in Hasakah [a local city].”  A woman carries jerry cans to fill them up with water at the Kurdish-run al-Hol camp for the displaced where families of Islamic State (IS) foreign fighters are held, in the al-Hasakeh governorate in northeastern Syria on Dec. 9, 2019.Personal hygiene, particularly regularly washing hands, according to experts, is one of the main ways of controlling the spread of the virus.  Ankara is blaming Damascus for failing to provide adequate electricity for the pumping station.  “The unstable electricity supply in the region affects the sustainment of water services provided by the Allouk water station,” according to a Turkish official speaking on the condition of anonymity.  “The Assad regime should prioritize repair and maintenance of the electricity infrastructure in the region rather than initiating a joint smear campaign against Turkey with the terrorist organization PKK-YPG, its long-time partner.”  HRW’s Kayyali disputes Ankara’s explanation. “It’s not that there’s not enough electricity; it’s just they [Ankara] want the electricity for rest of the region they control,” she added.  “Turkey had never used water as a weapon in the region, even when the Syrian regime was hosting the terrorist leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan,” said international relations professor Huseyin Bagci, of Ankara’s Middle East Technical University.  “But if Ankara was to use water to squeeze the Syrian Kurds, that would be against international law and will create major problems for Turkey internationally,” he said.  “I think the situation is more likely a failure of all sides to work together, Damascus, Russia, Syrian Kurds, and Turkey. They all need to sit down talk together to resolve this, as it’s the most vulnerable who are suffering,” Bagci added.  Hasan concurs, warning that the water crisis comes as they are engaged in a desperate struggle to prepare for combating the coronavirus pandemic.   
   
“Our health care system is very, very weak. We don’t have supplies. We don’t have major hospitals. It’s a very big problem. We don’t have any international support. We don’t even have masks,” said Hasan.  “The coronavirus represents a threat to all of us,” said Kayyali. “It will be very easy to see how a failure to respond in one part of Syria will defiantly lead to consequences in areas of Syria controlled by other groups, but also in Turkey itself given it’s a neighboring country. It’s very clear, if we don’t fight coronavirus collectively and do what we can, we are all going to suffer the consequences.”  

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Could COVID-19 Spread Unchecked in US Prisons?

The death of a U.S. prisoner in the state of Louisiana is amplifying concerns that COVID-19 could spread unchecked in America’s detention facilities that hold more than two million people nationwide. Health officials and local leaders warn the prison population is especially vulnerable to an outbreak, and that hospitals near prisons would be overwhelmed by any inmate epidemic. VOA’s Chris Simkins reports, some prisons are taking steps in hopes of lessening a looming crisis.

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Hungary’s PM Wins Emergency Powers to Fight Coronavirus

Hungary’s parliament granted nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban the right to rule by decree on Monday to fight the coronavirus, ignoring calls by opponents and rights groups to put a timeframe on the extra powers.
 
President Janos Ader, an Orban ally, signed the legislation extending a state of emergency after it was approved by parliament, dominated by Orban’s Fidesz party. Ader said it was in line with international treaties and Hungary’s constitution.
 
The law has triggered criticism from opposition parties, rights groups and the Council of Europe, Europe’s main rights forum, because it does not set a specific limit on the time the additional powers will be in force.
 
It also imposes jail terms of up to five years on those hindering measures to curb the spread of the virus or spreading false information that could upset people or hinder the fight against the virus.
 
Rights groups said this might be used to muzzle journalists as remaining independent media are forced to cut staff and budgets while media loyal to the government continue to receive taxpayers’ money.
 
Since he took power in 2010, Orban has built media he can control, using legal levers, ownership changes and advertising money for more loyal media coverage. The economic impact of the coronavirus could accelerate the shake-up of the media, journalists say.
 
The government has rejected the criticism, saying the law empowers it to adopt only measures needed to fight the virus, and that parliament can revoke the special powers.
 
“This is an authorization limited both in time and scope … as it is solely related to the coronavirus, and you are crying a dictatorship,” state secretary Bence Retvari told opposition parties before the vote.
 
Justice Minister Judit Varga said it was “very damaging fake news” that the law is intended to neutralize the national assembly.
 
Orban, who has gradually increased his power in a decade in office, has often been in conflict with the European Union and rights organizations over his perceived erosion of democratic checks and balances and the rule of law.
 
Opposition lawmakers said they back the government’s overall fight against the coronavirus but wanted a time limit placed on the government’s special powers, which parliament can extend if necessary. Parliament rejected all opposition amendments.
 
President Ader said the government’s special authorization would end once the epidemic is over and was limited to dealing with the epidemic and its fallout.
 
“The controlling role of Parliament and the government’s duty to report will remain in place during the epidemic,” Ader said. Hungary has reported 447 coronavirus cases and 15 deaths.
  Independent Media at Risk
 
Some media companies, facing severe short-term liquidity problems, have already scrapped plans for 2020.
 
Central Media, one of Hungary’s largest media groups, has put journalists on reduced hours and cut salaries by up to a quarter, several sources told Reuters.
 
Pesti Hirlap, a tabloid, has told staff it will cut jobs and switched to online-only mode. Executives at HVG, a weekly that also runs a popular web site, warned staff of budget cuts, according to several sources.
 
“Press freedom could fall victim to the coronavirus,” Miklos Hargitai, chair of the Hungarian Journalists Association (MUOSZ), told Reuters.
 
State media have an annual budget of around 90 billion forints ($280 million). The public media budget is not affected by the crisis this year, a government spokesman said.
 
Loyal outlets receive state advertisements regardless of their audience size, data shows.
 
“The coronavirus epidemic will have a devastating effect on Hungarian independent media,” said Agnes Urban, director of the Mertek Media Monitor think tank. “This can become critical for independent outlets within 2-3 months as most lack a rich owner.” 

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Greece Blocks Iranian From Plotting to Arm Asylum Seekers

In Greece, the case of an Iranian migrant now jailed on charges of inciting an insurrection is highlighting the Greek government’s rising concerns about a flare-up of clashes involving migrants along Greece’s border with Turkey. Greek authorities say the Iranian man — a self-described anarchist — was urging groups in Greece to arm asylum seekers trying to enter Europe from Turkey. The man, if convicted, faces a stiff sentence of up to ten years in prison.Greek counter-terrorism forces say they arrested the 23-year-old Iranian national in central Athens after he posted a call for an armed insurrection on a website that is often visited by homegrown extremists and urban guerrilla groupings.Authorities say the unidentified man describes himself as a migrant anarchist and they say he has not denied the criminal charges set against him — among the stiffest slapped on a migrant in recent years.
 
Greek intelligence officials say Greece granted the man political asylum three years ago and that he has since then established a militant profile, linking up with a far-left extremist group in Greece.
 
Left-wing groups in Greece have long supported asylum seekers, advocating their safe passage — and their right to stay in Europe. But in his online calling, the Iranian went a step further, urging anarchists to help arm migrants, take to the streets and renew clashes with authorities in northern Greece to help tens of thousands trapped in Turkey stream in to Europe.
 
Authorities in Athens say they have not established links between that plot and Turkey.
 
But the Iranian’s arrest here and the severity of the charges laid against him underscore Greece’s desperate bid to stamp out any potential flare up of migrant clashes along the country’s borders with Turkey.
 
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan flung open the borders to migrants heading for Europe in late February after dozens of Turkish soldiers were killed in an air raid in Syria. FILE – Migrants walk in Edirne at the Turkish-Greek border, March 9, 2020.Turkey last week said it moved 5,800 migrants away from the border crossing at Edirne province where they had been massing, citing concerns over the threat of coronavirus.  The move was interpreted by some in Greece as a reversal by Ankara. But Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told an independent broadcaster the move did not represent a policy change.
 
“Once the COVID-19 crisis is over, the Turkish government will not block migrants from returning to the border,” he said. Although Greek authorities have not established a link between the Iranian migrant and the Turkish government, they worry about how Ankara may use the nearly four million Syrian refugees now inside Greece.
Ioannis Mazis, an international relations analyst in Athens, said Greece has already seen Turkey using tens of thousands of migrants as pawns in the recent border clashes. He said the Turkish government has even admitted that it has orchestrated much of the border violence. So, threats of further clashes should not be underestimated, Mazis added.
 
By some accounts, as many 150,000 migrants and refugee tried to push into Europe last month. Greece says it succeeded in fending off more than 50,000, while many others managed to sneak in.  
 
  

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Millions of US Workers Losing Jobs as Coronavirus Spreads

Millions of U.S. workers are losing their jobs in a surge of layoffs as businesses large and small shut their operations amid the coronavirus pandemic.A week ago, nearly 3.3 million workers filed for unemployment benefits. The figure is expected to rise rapidly in the coming weeks, with 40 million people predicted to be unemployed by mid-April.Before the pandemic struck the United States, 5.8 million U.S. workers were unemployed — 3.5% of the workforce of 164.6 million. That figure had changed little in the past six months and was a linchpin of a robust economy.FILE – An empty restaurant is seen in Manhattan borough following the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in New York City, March 15, 2020.Now, the world’s largest economy has been hurt by what President Donald Trump describes as the “horrible scourge” of the coronavirus.
On Tuesday, investment banker Goldman Sachs Group forecast a far steeper decline in the U.S. than it had previously, predicting that output of goods and services would plunge by an annualized 34% in the April-to-June period, compared to its earlier estimate of 24%.Goldman Sachs economists said the U.S. jobless rate would soar to 15% by mid-year, an estimate that would leave 25 million workers unemployed. Its earlier estimate was for a 9% jobless rate.James Bullard, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (in the midwestern state of Missouri), predicted the unemployment rate may climb to 30% in the second quarter because of the business shutdowns, with a plunging 50% drop in the gross domestic product.  An estimated 190,000 stores have closed, making that about 50% of retail space. On Monday alone, major retailers Macy’s, Kohl’s and Gap announced that collectively, they are laying off 290,000 workers.  FILE – The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts overlooking the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. (Diaa Bekheet/VOA).In Washington, D.C., the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts furloughed the 96 musicians playing for the National Symphony Orchestra without pay, even though the U.S. Congress just last week approved a $25 million rescue fund for the cultural hub, where all performances have been canceled.Some employers initially said they would continue to pay their workers, but many of those decisions have quickly been scrapped because of uncertainty on how the coronavirus might spread or when the pandemic will end.  Global management consulting firm Mckinsey & Company says a quarter of U.S. households already live from paycheck to paycheck, with 40% of Americans unable to cover an unexpected expense of $400 without borrowing.The $2 trillion rescue package approved by Congress last week and signed into law by Trump calls for enhanced unemployment compensation for laid-off workers. States normally pay jobless workers a fraction of their normal pay, but the national assistance plan will add $600 a week in extra pay for the next four months if workers are unemployed for that length of time.Goldman Sachs economists say they expect a significant recovery in the July-to-September period, with the GDP expanding by 19%.“Our estimates imply that a bit more than half of the near-term output decline is made up by year-end,” they wrote.State governments across a wide swath of the U.S. have ordered millions of Americans to stay home in the coming weeks, except to buy groceries, purchase carry-out food, go to medical appointments or exercise by themselves or with family members.  Such orders have forced many businesses deemed not essential to close their doors, although the term, “essential,” has varied among the 50 states, leading to a patchwork of functioning commerce depending on where one lives. 
 

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Inmate Death Underscores COVID-19 Risks for US Prison Population

The death of a U.S. prisoner in the state of Louisiana is amplifying concerns that COVID-19 could spread unchecked in America’s detention facilities that hold more than two million people nationwide. Health officials and local leaders warn the prison population is especially vulnerable to an outbreak, and that hospitals near prisons would be overwhelmed by any inmate epidemic. VOA’s Chris Simkins reports, some prisons are taking steps in hopes of lessening a looming crisis

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Iran Gets Medical Aid Through US Sanctions Workaround

Germany, Britain and France have facilitated exports of medical goods to Iran in the first use of a mechanism designed to get around U.S. sanctions, Germany said Tuesday.A German Foreign Ministry statement Tuesday did not specify what type of medical supplies were involved, nor any companies that were part of the action.It said now that the system had been used successfully, the two sides would “work on more transactions.”Iran and a group of five world powers signed a deal in 2015 that restricted Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.After the United States withdrew from the deal and imposed sanctions, Iran pressured the European signatories to work around those restrictions to help its battered economy.That pressure included Iran taking a series of steps away from its commitments under the 2015 deal, including caps on uranium enrichment.

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US Outlines Plan for Venezuela Transition, Sanctions Relief

The Trump administration is prepared to lift sanctions on Venezuela in support of a new proposal to form a transitional government representing allies of both Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido, U.S. officials said.
The plan, which will be presented Tuesday by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, echoes a proposal made over the weekend by Guaidó that shows how growing concerns about the coronavirus, which threatens to overwhelm the South American country’s already collapsed health system and crippled economy, are reviving U.S. attempts to pull the military apart from Maduro.  
What’s being dubbed the “Democratic Framework for Venezuela” would require Maduro and Guaidó to step aside and hand power to a five-member council of state to govern the country until presidential and parliamentary elections can be held in late 2020, according to a written summary of the proposal seen by The Associated Press.  
Four of the members would be appointed by the opposition-controlled National Assembly that Guaidó heads. To draw buy-in from the ruling socialist party, a two-third majority would be required. The fifth member, who would serve as interim president until elections are held, would be named by the other council members. Neither Maduro nor Guaidó would be on the council.
“The hope is that this setup promotes the selection of people who are very broadly respected and known as people who can work with the other side,” U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams told the AP in a preview of the plan. “Even people in the regime look at this and realize Maduro has to go, but the rest of us are being treated well and fairly.”
The plan also outlines for the first time U.S. requirements for lifting sanctions against Maduro officials and the oil industry — the source of nearly all of Venezuela’s foreign income.
While those accused of grave human rights abuses and drug trafficking are not eligible for sanctions relief, individuals who are blacklisted because of the position they hold inside the Maduro government — such as members of the supreme court, electoral council and the rubber-stamp constitutional assembly — would benefit.  
But for sanctions to vanish, Abrams said the council would need to be functioning and all foreign military forces — from Cuba or Russia — would need to leave the country.  
“What we’re hoping is that this really intensifies a discussion inside the army, Chavismo, the ruling socialist party and the regime on how to get out of the terrible crisis they’re in,” Abrams said.
For months, the U.S. has relied on economic and diplomatic pressure to try and break the military’s support for Maduro and last week U.S. prosecutors indicted Maduro and key stakeholders — including his defense minister and head of the supreme court — on drug trafficking and money laundering charges.  
Still, any power-sharing arrangement is unlikely to win Maduro’s support unless the thorny issue of his future is addressed and he’s protected from the U.S. justice system, said David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America. While Venezuelans are protected from extradition by Hugo Chavez’s 1999 constitution, the charter could be rewritten in a transition, he said.
“It’s a little hard to see how this is going to be convincing to the major players in the government,” said David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America. “They seem to think the military is going to step in, but that seems extremely unlikely.”
It also would require the support of Cuba, China or Russia, all of whom are key economic and political backers of Maduro. In a call Monday with Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump reiterated that the situation in Venezuela is dire and told the Russian leader we all have an interest in seeing a democratic transition to end the ongoing crisis, according to a White House readout of the call.  
A senior administration official said Monday that the U.S. is willing to negotiate with Maduro the terms of his exit even in the wake of the indictments, which complicate his legal standing.
But recalling the history of Gen. Manuel Noriega in Panama, who was removed in a U.S. invasion after being charged himself for drug trafficking, he cautioned that his options for a deal were running out.
“History shows that those who do not cooperate with U.S. law enforcement agencies do not fare well, ” the official said in a call with journalists on condition of anonymity to discuss U.S. policy. “Maduro probably regrets not taking the offer six months ago. We urge Maduro not to regret not taking it now.”
Guaidó, who has been recognized by the U.S. and nearly 60 other countries as the lawful leader of the country following a widely viewed fraudulent re-election of Maduro, called on Saturday for the creation of a “national emergency government.”  
He said international financial institutions are prepared to support a power-sharing interim government with $1.2 billion in loans to fight the pandemic. Guaido said the loans would be used to directly assist Venezuelan families who are expected to be harmed not only by the spread of the disease but also the economic shock from a collapse in oil prices, virtually the country’s only source of hard currency.  
The spread of the coronavirus threatens to overwhelm Venezuela’s already collapsed health system while depriving its crippled economy of oil revenue on which it almost exclusively depends for hard currency.  
The United Nations said Venezuela could be one of the nations hit hardest by the spread of the coronavirus, designating it a country for priority attention because of a health system marked by widespread shortages of medical supplies and a lack of water and electricity.  
Last September, Guaidó proposed a similar transitional government in talks with Maduro officials sponsored by Norway, which never gained traction.  
But with the already bankrupt country running out of gasoline and seeing bouts of looting amid the coronavirus pandemic, calls have been growing for both the opposition and Maduro to set aside their bitter differences to head off a nightmare scenario.
“The regime is under greater pressure than it has ever before,” Abrams said.

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US Outlines Plan for Venezuela Transition, Sanctions Relief

The Trump administration is prepared to lift sanctions on Venezuela in support of a new proposal to form a transitional government representing allies of both Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido, U.S. officials said.
The plan, which will be presented Tuesday by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, echoes a proposal made over the weekend by Guaidó that shows how growing concerns about the coronavirus, which threatens to overwhelm the South American country’s already collapsed health system and crippled economy, are reviving U.S. attempts to pull the military apart from Maduro.  
What’s being dubbed the “Democratic Framework for Venezuela” would require Maduro and Guaidó to step aside and hand power to a five-member council of state to govern the country until presidential and parliamentary elections can be held in late 2020, according to a written summary of the proposal seen by The Associated Press.  
Four of the members would be appointed by the opposition-controlled National Assembly that Guaidó heads. To draw buy-in from the ruling socialist party, a two-third majority would be required. The fifth member, who would serve as interim president until elections are held, would be named by the other council members. Neither Maduro nor Guaidó would be on the council.
“The hope is that this setup promotes the selection of people who are very broadly respected and known as people who can work with the other side,” U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams told the AP in a preview of the plan. “Even people in the regime look at this and realize Maduro has to go, but the rest of us are being treated well and fairly.”
The plan also outlines for the first time U.S. requirements for lifting sanctions against Maduro officials and the oil industry — the source of nearly all of Venezuela’s foreign income.
While those accused of grave human rights abuses and drug trafficking are not eligible for sanctions relief, individuals who are blacklisted because of the position they hold inside the Maduro government — such as members of the supreme court, electoral council and the rubber-stamp constitutional assembly — would benefit.  
But for sanctions to vanish, Abrams said the council would need to be functioning and all foreign military forces — from Cuba or Russia — would need to leave the country.  
“What we’re hoping is that this really intensifies a discussion inside the army, Chavismo, the ruling socialist party and the regime on how to get out of the terrible crisis they’re in,” Abrams said.
For months, the U.S. has relied on economic and diplomatic pressure to try and break the military’s support for Maduro and last week U.S. prosecutors indicted Maduro and key stakeholders — including his defense minister and head of the supreme court — on drug trafficking and money laundering charges.  
Still, any power-sharing arrangement is unlikely to win Maduro’s support unless the thorny issue of his future is addressed and he’s protected from the U.S. justice system, said David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America. While Venezuelans are protected from extradition by Hugo Chavez’s 1999 constitution, the charter could be rewritten in a transition, he said.
“It’s a little hard to see how this is going to be convincing to the major players in the government,” said David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America. “They seem to think the military is going to step in, but that seems extremely unlikely.”
It also would require the support of Cuba, China or Russia, all of whom are key economic and political backers of Maduro. In a call Monday with Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump reiterated that the situation in Venezuela is dire and told the Russian leader we all have an interest in seeing a democratic transition to end the ongoing crisis, according to a White House readout of the call.  
A senior administration official said Monday that the U.S. is willing to negotiate with Maduro the terms of his exit even in the wake of the indictments, which complicate his legal standing.
But recalling the history of Gen. Manuel Noriega in Panama, who was removed in a U.S. invasion after being charged himself for drug trafficking, he cautioned that his options for a deal were running out.
“History shows that those who do not cooperate with U.S. law enforcement agencies do not fare well, ” the official said in a call with journalists on condition of anonymity to discuss U.S. policy. “Maduro probably regrets not taking the offer six months ago. We urge Maduro not to regret not taking it now.”
Guaidó, who has been recognized by the U.S. and nearly 60 other countries as the lawful leader of the country following a widely viewed fraudulent re-election of Maduro, called on Saturday for the creation of a “national emergency government.”  
He said international financial institutions are prepared to support a power-sharing interim government with $1.2 billion in loans to fight the pandemic. Guaido said the loans would be used to directly assist Venezuelan families who are expected to be harmed not only by the spread of the disease but also the economic shock from a collapse in oil prices, virtually the country’s only source of hard currency.  
The spread of the coronavirus threatens to overwhelm Venezuela’s already collapsed health system while depriving its crippled economy of oil revenue on which it almost exclusively depends for hard currency.  
The United Nations said Venezuela could be one of the nations hit hardest by the spread of the coronavirus, designating it a country for priority attention because of a health system marked by widespread shortages of medical supplies and a lack of water and electricity.  
Last September, Guaidó proposed a similar transitional government in talks with Maduro officials sponsored by Norway, which never gained traction.  
But with the already bankrupt country running out of gasoline and seeing bouts of looting amid the coronavirus pandemic, calls have been growing for both the opposition and Maduro to set aside their bitter differences to head off a nightmare scenario.
“The regime is under greater pressure than it has ever before,” Abrams said.

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