EU unites, Trump relents on virus fight
Posted on July 25th, 2020

By Lucien Rajakarunanayake Courtesy The Daily News

While the spread of the Covid 19 virus continues globally, and the United States remains having the highest infections close to reaching 4 million, a significant political change has taken place in Europe arising from the Covid crisis, President Donald Trump has shifted his position on the pandemic, and the search for a vaccine against Covid 19 gets closer.  

The European Union agreed on a historic 750-billion-euro ($858-billion) deal in the early hours of Tuesday after intense negotiations through four days that saw threats of walkouts, vetoes and fierce opposition from the Netherlands and Austria. It is a rescue plan for economies left shattered by the coronavirus epidemic, hailed by French President Emmanuel Macron as the most important moment in the life of our Europe since the creation of the euro” in 2002.  

Germany and France strongly backed the package, which enables joint borrowing by the 27 members of the bloc to help virus-hit countries, particularly Spain and Italy.  

While German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe had shown itself equal to the greatest crisis” in EU history, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez hailed a Marshall Plan for Europe” that would boost his country’s economy by 140 billion euros over the next six years.  

There was strong criticism of the plan by four European countries – Netherlands, Austria, Finland and Sweden – referred to as the Frugal Four”, who had concerns on how the related debt would be repaid. The move was broadly welcomed by the majority of 27 members of the EU, who saw a significant shift in the principles of European unity, which analysts saw as a major strengthening of the EU.  

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte had warned against the EU becoming a transfer union” with a permanent north-south movement of wealth. He later said: This is a one off, there is a clear necessity for this given the excessive situation.”  

Many political analysts see this move as a step towards bringing the EU to a situation as close to the United States, and strengthening the unity among the member states, which will have a major impact on global activity in the future.  

ECB chief Christine Lagarde welcomed the accord, saying it shows that when most needed, the EU steps up and comes together to help the people of Europe”.  

Overall, the deal will dole out €390 billion in the form of grants to pandemic-hit countries. That was lower than an original €500 billion proposal made by France and Germany. Another €360 billion will be disbursed in loans. Spending must be devoted to policies seen as compatible with European priorities, including politically difficult economic reforms as well as the environment.  

 Covid 19 spread

The spread of Covid 19 was 15,226,993 worldwide midweek, with 623,374 deaths. The US remained having the highest number infected with over 3 million, fast approaching 4 million with 143,187 deaths: Brazil had the second highest infections – 2,227, 850 and 143,187 deaths, India remained at third place with 1,238,798 infected and 29,881 deaths, and Russia was fourth with 787 infections and 12,726 deaths.  

The number of people who have had the coronavirus in the U.S. is likely ten times higher than reported, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Six to 24 times more infections were found per site than with the data that has been reported to date, according to the study.  

Eighteen U.S. states have become hotspots for virus transmission. These states have been placed in a red zone,” meaning they logged more than 100 new cases per 100,000 individuals last week. The 18 states (in alphabetical order) are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.  

It is recommended that these states implement stricter protective measures, such as limiting social gatherings to no more than 10 people, closing bars and gyms and urging residents to wear masks, the Center for Public Integrity reported.  

 Trump relents 

President Donald Trump who has been strongly against the medical experts’ warnings about the spread of the Covid 19, and was moving too quickly rebuild the US Economy, has given in to the realities of the pandemic as it spreads in many states of the US with more than 140,000 US lives lost; keeping it as the ‘world leader’ in the current global crisis.  

At a White House press briefing on the pandemic, which did not take place for three months, President Trump pulled a mask from his pocket but didn’t put it on, but supported the masks as a way to fight the pandemic. He admonished young people against crowding in bars and spreading the disease.  

It will probably unfortunately get worse before it gets better,” Trump said, and encouraged Americans to wear masks when social distancing is not possible. Whether you like the mask or not, they have an impact,” he said. I’m getting used to the mask,” he added, pulling one out after months of suggesting that mask-wearing was a political statement against him.  

Much of the US is now battling rising infections and growing deaths, and some states are once again having to close businesses and rethink school openings in the fall. Many retailers themselves are insisting their customers wear masks.  

For months, the nation’s top health experts have pleaded with Americans to wear masks in public and steer clear of crowds – calling those simple steps life-saving – even as the president’s stance fueled a partisan social divide.  

Little more than three months from Election Day, Trump and his political team hoped that the new move would give him an edge against Democratic rival Joe Biden. Meanwhile, Biden is in the lead by 15% in opinion polls, raising much concern among Trump activists in the presidential poll campaign, as the poll month of November approaches.  

 Vaccine search

A coronavirus vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford in partnership with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is ‘safe and activates an immune response in people’, according to preliminary results from trials involving 1,077 volunteers.  

People injected with the vaccine, called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, made antibodies and immune cells against the coronavirus. The trial results were published today in The Lancet. No serious side effects were found, although 70 per cent of people developed a fever or headache which could be managed with painkillers. It is not yet clear whether this vaccine candidate offers protection against infection with the coronavirus, and we won’t know whether it can stop people from becoming ill with covid-19 until we see the results of larger trials. Those trials will involve 10,000 people in the UK, 30,000 people in the US, 2,000 in South Africa and 5,000 in Brazil.  

The UK government has secured access to 100 million doses of the vaccine candidate, in addition to 90 million doses of other coronavirus vaccine candidates from US and European companies. Globally, more than 140 coronavirus vaccines are currently in development, with 23 candidates being tested in people.  

The Trump administration in US announced a $1.95 billion contract with Pfizer and the German biotech BioNTech to produce and deliver up to 600 million doses of its candidate coronavirus vaccine (with 100 million doses by December), depending on if the vaccine is successful in clinical trials, the Department of Health and Human Services announced.  

Researchers in China also reported similar results in The Lancet for another experimental vaccine, also based on a weakened adenovirus. This group used an adenovirus that typically infects humans, rather than chimpanzees. The new study also didn’t find serious adverse events. More than 90% of the participants in their phase 2 trial developed T-cell responses and about 85% developed neutralizing antibodies.  

In other coronavirus situations, France has made face coverings mandatory in all enclosed public spaces, with those who fail to adhere to the rules facing fines of €135 (£123). Coronavirus cases are on the rise in the north-west and eastern parts of the country, with the health minister warning that France has between 400 and 500 active coronavirus clusters.  

Anti-mask activists gathered in London’s Hyde Park on Sunday to protest the introduction of new legislation on face coverings. It will be mandatory to wear them in shops and supermarkets in England from July 24. A survey by the Office for National Statistics conducted between July 8 and 12 found that 61 per cent of people said they used face coverings outside their homes in the previous week.  

 Threats to UK from Russia

The UK government has been strongly criticized by a special committee of the UK Parliament on the poor handling of threats from Russia and lack of investigation into Russian interference in UK polls, such as the referendum on EU membership.  

The UK government badly underestimated” the Russian threat and the response it required, according to the Intelligence and Security Committee’s (ISC) long-awaited report into Russian activity in the UK. It said the government was playing catch-up” and needed to take immediate action”, and claimed the government made no effort to investigate Russian interference in the EU referendum.  

The Russian Foreign Ministry called the report Russophobia”.  

The UK Prime Minister’s office said the government was fully aware of the significant and enduring threat” Russia posed.  

The ISC’s inquiry covers a number of topics, including disinformation campaigns, cyber tactics and Russian expatriates in the UK. Much of the highly sensitive” detail was not published due to fears Russia could use the evidence to threaten the UK.  

The committee said Russian influence in the UK was now the new normal”, and the UK was a top Western intelligence target” for the state, only behind NATO and the US.  

ISC member, Stewart Hosie, told reporters the government took its eye off the ball, because of its focus on counterterrorism”, adding: The government had badly underestimated the response required to the Russian threat, and is still playing catch up.”  

In its report, the group said UK was clearly a target” for disinformation campaigns around its elections, but that the issue was described as a hot potato”, with no one organisation taking a lead to tackle it. Intelligence agencies were criticized for not taking action during the EU referendum, despite there being credible open source commentary” suggesting influence campaigns” from the Russians during the Scottish independence referendum in 2014.  

The committee said: Had the relevant parts of the intelligence community conducted a similar threat assessment prior to the [EU] referendum, it is inconceivable that they would not have reached the same conclusion as to Russian intent, which might then have led them to take action to protect the process.”  

Hosie also said no-one in Government wanted to touch the issue of Russian interference when it came to elections with a 10-foot pole”… The report reveals that no one in government knew if Russia interfered in or sought to influence the referendum, because they did not want to know”.  

The Report has raised serious questions about the failure of the UK to confront the spread of Russian money and influence over a long period. And there is an urgent call for new legislation to deal with an ongoing challenge, accusing successive governments of welcoming Russian oligarchs with open arms” due to the investments they brought with them.  

The committee said A lot of Russians with very close links to Putin who are well integrated into the UK business and social scene, are accepted because of their wealth.”  

The report said it had concerns about links between these wealthy Russians and the House of Lords.  

 US – China: Houston 

As the tension in the relations between the US and China mounts, the US has ordered China to close its consulate in Houston, Texas, by Friday – a move described as political provocation” by Beijing.  

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the decision was taken because China was stealing” intellectual property.  

China’s foreign ministry condemned the move on Twitter, saying its embassy in Washington had received death threats.  

Earlier, unidentified individuals were filmed burning paper in bins in the Houston building’s courtyard.  

Tensions have been rising between the US and China for some time. President Donald Trump’s administration has clashed repeatedly with Beijing over trade and the coronavirus pandemic, as well as China’s imposition of a controversial new security law on Hong Kong.  

This week, the US Department of Justice accused China of sponsoring hackers who had been targeting labs developing Covid-19 vaccines. Two Chinese nationals, who allegedly spied on US research companies and got help from state agents for other thefts, have been charged.  

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Trump said it was always possible” he would order the closure of more Chinese consulates.  

Pompeo said the Chinese Communist Party was stealing not just American intellectual property… but European intellectual property too… costing hundreds of thousands of jobs”.  

We are setting out clear expectations for how the Chinese Communist Party is going to behave,” he continued. And when they don’t, we’re going to take actions that protect the American people, protect our security, our national security, and also protect our economy and jobs.”  

The consulate is one of five in the US, not counting the embassy in Washington DC.  

In a series of tweets, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying described the reasons given by the US for closing the consulate as unbelievably ridiculous”. She urged the US to reverse its erroneous decision”, or China would react with firm countermeasures”.  

While Chinese diplomats are promoting mutual understanding and friendship, the US embassy in China publicly attacks China’s political system,” she said.  

The foreign ministry has posted a warning to Chinese students in the US, asking them to be on guard” as US law enforcement agencies have stepped up arbitrary interrogations, harassment, confiscation of personal belongings and detention targeting Chinese international students in the US”.  

 UK – China

UK has suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and imposed an arms embargo on the territory over China’s national security law. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the measures were a reasonable and proportionate” response to the legislation imposed by Beijing. He told MPs the extradition treaty was being suspended immediately and indefinitely” because of concerns new rules could allow cases to be transferred to mainland China. Earlier, Prime Minister Boris Johnson stressed there was a balance” to be struck in the UK’s relationship with China.   

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