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Trump and Biden gird for final debate of a bitter campaign
InternationalOct 21. 2020President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden at the first presidential debate, Sept. 29 in Cleveland. After that chaotic and widely criticized faceoff, organizers this time will mute each candidate’s microphone for portions of the debate. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Melina Mara
By The Washington Post · Amy B Wang, Sean Sullivan, Josh Dawsey · NATIONAL, POLITICS
WASHINGTON – Two days before their final televised faceoff, President Donald Trump on Tuesday attacked the upcoming debate as yet another campaign event that would be “a stacked deck” against him, while Joe Biden’s camp hunkered down and strategized over Trump’s expected attacks on his family.
The maneuvering came as both sides prepared for the last scheduled event that could change the trajectory of the campaign and wrestled with what it would mean that the debate will feature a mute button for the first time. Biden held no public appearances for a second straight day, while Trump tried out lines of attack and in essence held his debate prep in public.
In a phone interview broadcast on “Fox & Friends,” Trump lashed out at the moderator of Thursday’s event, NBC’s Kristen Welker, as “totally partisan” and sought to portray the debate topics and rules as unfair.
“There are people out there that can be neutral. Kristen Welker cannot be neutral,” Trump said, adding that she comes from a Democratic family. An official from the Commission on Presidential Debates defended Welker, noting that a Trump official had praised her just last week, and said both campaigns had agreed to the rules. The president has complained about previous moderators as well.
The debate, set to take place in Nashville just 12 days before Election Day, is the clearest opportunity for Trump to shift the dynamic of a presidential race whose contours have remained stable despite numerous surprises. Biden leads Trump by 11 percentage points nationally, 54% to 43%, according to an average of national polls since Oct. 4.
It could also take on added significance because the previous matchups were so chaotic. The first debate was dominated by Trump’s interruptions and determination to talk over Biden, and the second faceoff was canceled after Trump contracted the coronavirus, resulting in separate, dueling town halls.
At the first debate, Trump’s entourage ignored rules that they had to wear masks, but organizers have signaled that they will not permit such behavior this time.
The Commission on Presidential Debates decided unanimously this week to mute each candidate’s microphone during the opening two minutes of his opponent’s remarks on each of the six featured topics. The debate sponsors said the change was a way to enforce rules that the campaigns had already accepted.
Commission Co-Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. said in a recent interview that the debates had to be changed “for the American people to have a better experience” after the unruly first face-off. He said Trump’s team had agreed to the rules before that first debate, and he noted that the candidates could go back and forth for the remaining 11 minutes of each segment.
Fahrenkopf also said the Trump campaign’s assertion that this debate was initially supposed to be about foreign policy was “entirely false.”
Some Trump advisers were annoyed with the change but kept their protests to a minimum because they believed that the president’s interruptions in the first debate hurt him, three advisers said.
With two weeks before the election, Biden is keeping an unusually light public schedule. In the past four days, he has traveled outside his home state of Delaware just once, to North Carolina on Sunday. On Monday, he taped an interview with “60 Minutes,” which will air over the weekend, but held no public events.
Biden’s surrogates have kept a robust travel schedule in his place: Sen. Kamala D. Harris, D-Calif., his running mate, campaigned in Florida on Monday, and former president Barack Obama is scheduled to hold his first public event for Biden in Philadelphia on Wednesday.
In any other presidential race, such a low-key approach would be extremely unusual at this juncture. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, however, it has become emblematic of Biden’s campaign. The former vice president has blasted Trump for holding large in-person rallies, calling them “superspreader” events, and has hewed to smaller, socially distanced gatherings or drive-in car rallies while on the trail.
Trump, meanwhile, has taunted Biden for his sparser public schedule and has continued crisscrossing the country in the past week, holding rallies from Arizona to Pennsylvania as he seeks to make up ground during the final stretch.
Trump has not undertaken the same kind of formal preparation as before the first debate, when he was peppered with questions by former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and others. Instead, he has taken some informal questions from advisers such as Jared Kushner and Hope Hicks.
Trump allies including Christie and former presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway have encouraged the president to change his strategy and let his rival speak more. “My main advice is to let Biden speak. After 60 or 70 minutes, he’ll be worn out,” Conway said.
Trump hinted Tuesday that he may oblige. “Actually, the interesting thing, they said if you let him talk, he’ll lose his train of thought,” Trump said of Biden on Fox. “There were a lot of people that say let him talk because he loses his train.”
Trump’s advisers have made it clear they are unhappy with the selected topics for the debate, arguing that foreign policy should play a more central role and that Biden should be forced to address alleged emails from his son Hunter that were recently published in the New York Post.
The Trump team argued that foreign policy is traditionally the focus of the final presidential debate, but Fahrenkopf said that has not been true for years. National security is one of the listed debate topics, along with fighting the coronavirus, American families, race in America, climate change and leadership.
Trump wants and plans to bring up Hunter Biden during the debate, though some of his advisers would prefer that he focus on the economy and Joe Biden’s record, aides said, painting the former vice president as a liberal who would raise taxes. Trump charged Tuesday that Biden would turn the United States into a “socialist hellhole.”
Biden’s advisers, for their part, see little to be gained by engaging publicly in the details of Hunter Biden’s alleged emails and texts beyond what they have already said, according to people with knowledge of their thinking. These people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to more candidly describe strategy, said there is no reason to give credibility to a report that is sourced in part to close allies of Trump and has prompted considerable public skepticism. The Washington Post has not independently verified the contents of the report.
But ignoring the matter altogether is not an option either, they said, leaving some uncertainty about how Biden will address it Thursday night.
“I know how I would react, which would be very angry,” said Sen. Robert Casey Jr., D-Pa., a Biden ally, stressing that he was not speaking for the campaign. “The whole thing is just another pack of lies in a desperate, last-minute smear campaign.”
Biden did show a flash of anger when he was asked about the subject last week. “I have no response. It’s another smear campaign, right up your alley,” he told a CBS News correspondent who asked about the New York Post’s reporting.
The tensions surrounding the issue were evident Tuesday. Biden spokesman Andrew Bates sent a preemptive warning shot at Trump, who has appeared eager to bring up Biden’s son. “He invests in these tainted smears,” Bates said, “because he knows his presidency is a weak, pathetic failure.”
Substance aside, Biden should show that he can stand up to Trump in the debate, said former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, a longtime Biden ally who has been raising money for his campaign.
“He should push back a little bit – not a lot, a little bit – so he doesn’t look weak,” Rendell said. “They’ve been peddling this thing that he’s too weak to be president. . . . He’s got to smack back.”
Questions also remain about how the debates commission will enforce public health guidelines inside the hall this time.
Trump – as well as several people involved in preparing him for the first debate – contracted the coronavirus after that event, and the unmasked prep sessions were among the suspected sources of the virus’s spread.
Trump has refused to disclose the date of his last negative test before he contracted the virus. After Trump was hospitalized with covid-19, the Commission on Presidential Debates decided that the second debate would be virtual, prompting the president to angrily withdraw.
Biden has repeatedly said he would follow whatever guidelines the commission issues.
“Look, I’m going to abide by what the CPD rules call for,” Biden said during his town hall when asked whether he would demand that Trump test negative.
Biden also said he was “confident” that the Cleveland Clinic, which is overseeing the public health practices of the debates, would ensure adherence to its guidelines.
– – –
The Washington Post’s Toluse Olorunnipa, Michael Scherer and Annie Linskey contributed to this report.
#SootinClaimon.Com : ขอบคุณแหล่งข้อมูล : หนังสือพิมพ์ The Nation.
Trump criticizes ‘Fauci and these idiots,’ says public is tired of restrictions as infection rates rise
InternationalOct 20. 2020President Donald Trump is shown at a campaign event at the Muskegon County Airport in Michigan on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Salwan Georges
By The Washington Post · Michael Scherer, Josh Dawsey · NATIONAL, POLITICS
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump dismissed precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and attacked the nation’s top infectious-disease expert as a “disaster” Monday, saying people are getting tired of the focus on a pandemic that has killed more than 219,000 Americans and continues to infect thousands of people across the country.
The president claimed that voters do not want to hear more from the country’s scientific leaders about the pandemic, responding angrily to Anthony Fauci’s critical interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes.”
“People are tired of listening to Fauci and these idiots,” Trump said in a call with his campaign staff Monday that was intended to instill confidence in his reelection bid two weeks before Election Day. He baselessly suggested that Fauci’s advice on how best to respond to the outbreak was so bad it would have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands more people.
“And yet we keep him,” Trump continued, calling in from his Las Vegas hotel. “Every day he goes on television there’s always a bomb, but there’s a bigger bomb if you fire him. But Fauci is a disaster.”
Later in the day, the president again criticized Fauci, mocking the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for his opening pitch at Nationals Park earlier this year and misrepresenting some of the doctor’s positions on the coronavirus in a series of tweets.
Trump’s comments and his aggressive travel schedule, which continued Monday with two stops in Arizona as Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden holed up in his Delaware home, is part of a broader and more aggressive bet that the American public will reward his projection of strength and general defiance toward the virus, which hospitalized the president and infected many of his top aides this month.
He said Monday that Americans were no longer interested in taking precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“They’re getting tired of the pandemic, aren’t they? You turn on CNN. That’s all they cover. Covid, covid, pandemic. Covid, covid, covid. They’re trying to talk people out of voting . . . People aren’t buying it, CNN, you dumb bastards,” Trump said at a rally in Arizona. The crowd was packed shoulder-to-shoulder outside, with few masks in sight.
Trump is expected to do three or four rallies a day starting this weekend, according to people familiar with the plans.
The president’s comments come as infection rates have risen in recent weeks amid cooling temperatures in more than half of states, with national daily infection rates returning to midsummer levels. Voters continue to give Trump poor marks on his handling of the pandemic; nearly two out of three voters in a Washington Post-ABC News poll this month said they were “very” or “somewhat” worried that they or a family member might catch the virus. Eight percent said an immediate family member has been infected.
Trump aides said they had hoped the last-minute call with staffers would not become a story about the coronavirus. Senior advisers to the president say they still want the closing message to be about the economy and the negative impacts of a Biden victory, with a campaign focus on Florida, Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. They see the coronavirus – and the president’s handling of the pandemic – as their biggest political weakness, and Biden’s top advisers agree. But Trump continues to call attention to the outbreak.
For months, Trump has treated Fauci delicately even as divisions have grown, occasionally praising him and assuring Americans that he is intimately involved in the White House response. Trump’s campaign aides have even put excerpts from a Fauci interview into their advertising, hoping to convince voters that the infectious-disease expert has approved of Trump’s response to the coronavirus. Fauci has reacted angrily to the ads, which he says quote him out of context.
“I do not and nor will I ever publicly endorse any political candidate,” Fauci said in his Sunday interview on “60 minutes.” “They’re sticking me right in the middle of a campaign ad, which I thought was outrageous.”
Trump tried to tie Biden to Fauci on Monday in a seeming attack that his Democratic rival said he welcomed.
“He wants to listen to Dr. Fauci,” Trump said of Biden at the rally.
Biden said he considered the claim that he would listen to scientists “a badge of honor.”
“Mr. President, you’re right about one thing: the American people are tired. They’re tired of your lies about this virus,” a Biden statement read. “They’re tired of watching more Americans die and more people lose their jobs because you refuse to take this pandemic seriously.”
The president was angry at Fauci after he was critical of Trump and the White House in the “60 Minutes” interview, saying that the president’s conduct made it unsurprising that he caught the coronavirus and that the administration had tried to muzzle him. Fauci has a higher approval rating than the president, which has long rankled Trump, according to advisers who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions. Trump has also repeatedly told top senior aides that Fauci is on TV far too often.
The president later posted a video online of him throwing a first pitch and another video of Fauci’s first pitch.
Trump has been barnstorming the West Coast in recent days, while Biden has mostly stayed out of public view, preparing for Thursday’s debate and avoiding the large crowds amid a global pandemic.
Trump is taking a less rigorous preparation plan for the debate, advisers said, and is unlikely to do extensive formal preparations. The president is instead maintaining an extensive in-person campaign schedule and is expected to visit Florida after the debate for a series of events, aides said.
On Monday afternoon, campaign manager Bill Stepien wrote a letter to the debate commission, seeking to move the conversation in the final debate away from domestic issues such as coronavirus to foreign policy issues. The president’s aides have made clear that the president wants to debate the foreign business dealings of Biden’s youngest son, Hunter. Trump and his allies have also repeatedly claimed that the debate commission, which is bipartisan, is being unfair to him even though its rules apply equally to both candidates and the terms of the face-to-face events were negotiated in advance with both campaigns.
The Monday call, which some reporters were invited to listen in on, appeared to have been motivated by recent news stories about internal concerns about the president’s reelection chances and division within the president’s team. He spoke about The New York Times and The Washington Post with particular derision and threatened to take legal action because of a poll’s results.
The call had been scheduled as a staff-wide morale booster, with top aides and the president presenting a rosy case for his reelection and trying to boost what several aides said were flagging spirits.
Trump repeatedly told his campaign staff on the call that he had never felt more confident as a politician that he would win election – even though he said he was concerned two or three weeks ago during his hospital stay after contracting the coronavirus. He repeatedly attacked the news media but also said he hoped the media was listening to the call.
He praised his senior team, naming aides one by one – Stepien, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, campaign strategist Jason Miller – and criticized news stories that mentioned them in specific detail.
“I love my team. I am happy with my team,” Trump said after denying friction among his top lieutenants.
Trump ticked through individual states and bragged about the crowds he gets and the unspecified poll results he has seen, which he claimed were different from the voter “suppression polls” reported publicly.
“I go to a rally I have 25,000 people,” Trump said, greatly exaggerating the size of his crowds while making a comparison with Biden. “He goes to a rally, he has four people.” Most of Trump’s rallies are held outside at airports because of the pandemic.
Trump also made a range of startling accusations and comments, including that Biden should be “in jail.”
“He’s a criminal,” Trump said, without offering evidence to what crime he allegedly had committed.
Trump also made repeated references to alleged communications between Biden’s son Hunter and foreign officials that have been reported in the New York Post in recent days. The newspaper said the information it reported was provided by Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, who has not shared with other news organizations a hard drive from a computer allegedly owned by Hunter Biden that the former New York mayor claims to possess. The Washington Post has not been able to independently verify the information in the New York Post reports.
“I think Joe Biden has a scandal coming up that will make him almost an impotent candidate,” he said. “This scandal is so big. And the only thing he has going is he has a corrupt press who will not write about it.”
Trump made a number of dubious or false statements, including saying he was back at campaign rallies one day after he was released from the hospital. It was one week later. He again said he could lose the election only if it were “rigged” and made false claims about voter fraud. He exaggerated his record in terms he usually uses on the campaign trail.
The president said The New York Times has not reached out to him in two years, but the outlet interviewed him in August and like almost all news organizations regularly requests comment from the White House.
In closing, he offered some advice for his campaign’s employees, saying they need to “work their asses off.”
“You have two weeks,” he said. “Don’t listen to anybody. Don’t even read the papers.”
By The Washington Post · Steven Mufson · NATIONAL, WORLD, SCIENCE-ENVIRONMENT, ASIA-PACIFIC
China delivered a diatribe against U.S. climate policies on Monday, saying that under President Donald Trump, the United States “is widely viewed as a consensus-breaker and a troublemaker.”
Beijing’s Foreign Affairs Ministry blamed Trump’s “negative stance” and “retrogression on climate change” for undermining progress on an international climate accord. Trump, who plans to formally pull out of the Paris climate agreement the day after Election Day, had “seriously undermined the fairness, efficiency and effectiveness of global environmental governance,” the ministry said in a fact sheet.
The barrage from Beijing resembled the tit-for-tat criticism that China and the United States have traded on subjects such as human rights, trade and the expulsion of reporters and diplomats, but climate policies have been largely the exception. Not anymore.
China, the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, took aim at the United States, the second-biggest emitter, after the State Department on Sept. 25 issued a “China’s Environmental Abuses Fact Sheet,” which said that Beijing “threatens the global economy and global health by unsustainably exploiting natural resources and exporting its willful disregard for the environment through its One Belt One Road initiative.”
In the U.S. fact sheet, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “too much of the Chinese Communist Party’s economy is built on willful disregard for air, land, and water quality. The Chinese people – and the world – deserve better.”
“This seems like a reminder that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” Jason Bordoff, director of Columbia University’s global energy center, said of the Chinese report. “We put out a statement attacking their environmental record and they put out an even stronger one, and the Trump administration has given them a lot to work with.”
He said the dueling attacks were “a reminder of how strained the U.S.-China relationship is, and there’s going to need to be a lot of work to be done to allow for a constructive relationship on climate moving forward.”
The relationship between China and the United States has been deteriorating for years. China has seized islands in the South China Sea, deploying military forces to the disputed territories. It has detained in prison camps large numbers of Uighurs seen as possible threats. And it has pursued trade policies that have made it difficult for American companies to do business there.
During his administration, President Barack Obama managed to make climate change key to the relationship and succeeded in wooing Beijing to support broad policies to slow the growth in greenhouse gases and shift the Chinese economy toward renewable sources of energy.
The planet has already warmed by 1 degree Celsius since the late 1800s, and many parts of the world have already reached the 2 degree Celsius mark scientists say should be the limit to prevent dire climate change.
On Monday, however, China’s report reiterated many of the weak but well-known points in the U.S. climate policy. The United States has fallen behind China in emissions, but its emissions per capita are twice as high as China’s, whose population is five times as big. China also criticized Trump for rolling back nearly 70 domestic policies – signaling the pullout from the Paris climate accord – and failing to honor the U.S. agreement to pay its share of Green Climate Fund contributions. It said the United States accounts for 95.7% of total international arrears to the fund.
The ministry also said that “due to the negative stance of the U.S.,” summit meetings of the world’s 20 largest economies had “failed to reach consensus on climate change for three consecutive years starting from 2017, and each time the ’19+1′ approach was adopted as a compromise.”
“China’s fact sheet on U.S. damage to the environment is a slap in the face for a country that normally prides itself on its environmental leadership,” said Joanna Lewis, director of Georgetown University’s science, technology and international affairs program. “It demonstrates how the U.S. has lost almost all of its moral high ground when it comes to engaging with China and other emerging economies on the environment and climate change in particular.”
She said, “While China’s environmental record is highly problematic, the country has made impressive gains in many areas while the current U.S. administration continues to roll back many hard-won environmental protection laws.”
Beijing won praise internationally in September when it announced that its greenhouse gas emissions would peak in the year 2030 and that it would reach net-zero emissions for the entire economy by 2060.
In its fact sheet, however, the State Department criticized China’s dams on the Mekong River, marine debris, plastic product waste, illegal logging, mercury emissions and air quality.
China “has been the world’s largest annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter since 2006,” the State Department report said. “China’s total emissions are twice that of the United States and nearly one third of all emissions globally.”
China replied in its fact sheet that between 1751 and 2010, emissions from U.S. energy and industrial sectors accounted for 27.9% of the global total and three times as much as China.
Sarah Ladislaw, director of the energy security and climate change program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that the Chinese statement “will irk the Trump administration but not provoke them too much because climate change is not a high-priority issue for this administration.”
“The U.S. and China share the same challenge – some things they do are great for climate and other things are damaging,” she said. She said the United States was “the engine of global innovation, but at the federal level, it fails to stay true to its commitment when political leadership changes. China has set ambitious targets for itself and is a clean energy manufacturing leader, but it is also a big source of global emissions both at home and through its investments overseas and is not always transparent about its behavior.”
Pete Ogden, a vice president at the United Nations Foundation and former climate expert during the Obama administration, said, “When it comes to the critical and urgent climate and environmental threats that the world is facing, this diplomatic energy of the U.S. and China should be focused on solutions, not recriminations.”
By The Washington Post · Amy Gardner, Michael Majchrowicz, Lori Rosza · NATIONAL, POLITICS
Thousands of voters flocked to the polls throughout Florida on the state’s first day of in-person voting Monday despite heavy rains across the state, adding to evidence that Americans are unusually eager to cast ballots in this year’s presidential election.
In Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Sarasota, St. Petersburg and many other Florida communities, voters lined up before polls opened to cast their ballots in person at the first available moment.
Kyle Woodard, a 44-year-old schoolteacher from Pompano Beach, said “it’s just a really important year to vote,” after casting his ballot at the African-American Research Museum in Fort Lauderdale.
“I’m really inspired based on what’s going on in the country,” Woodard said. “So the first chance I got, I was going to take it.”
Woodard said President Donald Trump’s constant attacks on mail voting, including unsubstantiated claims that it would result in widespread fraud, are a blatant attempt at voter suppression. “Being Black, I’ve seen a lot of suppression my whole life,” he said. “This is nothing new.”
With early voting underway across the United States, and Americans casting ballots by mail at historic numbers, nearly 30 million have already voted with two weeks to go before Election Day, according to a tally by political scientist Michael McDonald of the University of Florida. That represents more than a fifth of total turnout in 2016.
Even as Americans are turning out in record numbers, many of the rules governing which ballots will be counted and when are still the subject of political and legal wrangling.
In North Carolina, a weeks-long dispute over mail ballots returned without a witness signature came to an end on Monday, allowing county election administrators to resume the process to fix, or “cure,” thousands of deficient ballots left in limbo as the state continues its early voting period.
An agreement announced by state attorney general Josh Stein stated that ballots without a witness signature will not be “curable” with a simple certification or affidavit, reversing previous guidance that drew multiple lawsuits from Republicans. Voters who return ballots without a witness signature will receive a new ballot in the mail, the State Board of Elections stated in guidance issued Monday afternoon. The first ballot will be spoiled, and they will be able to cast a new vote, unless they already voted in person.
A voter certification will serve to correct other ballot problems, such as a missing voter signature or witness address.
Stein said in a tweet that his office, the State Board of Elections and the Republican National Committee agreed with the new policy.
In Pennsylvania, Republicans in the state legislature announced Monday that they have no plans to pass a new law allowing county election officials to begin processing mail ballots before Nov. 3, which is prohibited under current law.
The decision makes it all but certain, barring a landslide, that a result won’t be known in Pennsylvania on Election Day. It took more than two weeks for election officials to complete the count after Pennsylvania’s spring primary.
In Florida, meanwhile, statewide data from Friday showed a distinct advantage for Democrats among mail voters, with more than 1 million Democrats casting ballots by mail compared to about 620,000 Republicans, according to the Florida Democratic Party.
It was too early to say whether the first day of in-person voting would favor Democrats or Republicans. In other states where such data is available, enthusiasm is far higher among registered Democrats among both mail and in-person voting.
In downtown Sarasota, a major Republican stronghold in Florida since the 1970s, people began lining up to cast their ballots 90 minutes before Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner opened his doors at 8:30 a.m. The line stretched out of the county office building, constructed as a hotel in 1925 by circus magnate John Ringling’s brother, Charles, and into a tree-shaded courtyard where a steady breeze cooled the crowd. A partisan breakdown of turnout so far was not immediately available.
In Pinellas County, home of Clearwater and St. Petersburg, Democrats had outvoted Republicans 3,331 to 3,023 by about 6 p.m. In mail ballots, the Democratic advantage in Pinellas, which narrowly supported Trump in 2016, was even starker: 78,980 to 53, 306.
In Lee County, home of Fort Myers, Republicans were outvoting Democrats both by mail and in person by the end of the day. Lee voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016.
“Trump all the way,” said Melinda McGehee, 53, as she stood next to her friend and fellow Republican voter, Alexandra Connor, 51, in Fort Lauderdale. “Because being in health care, I think it’s super important everyone gets what Trump’s trying to do with health care. I’m super scared if Biden wins what’s going to happen to my career, my parents, my family and my friends with health care.”
The coronavirus is doing more in Florida than increasing mail balloting; it also shuttered an elections office in Okaloosa County, in the state’s Panhandle, after Elections Supervisor Paul Lux and several other employees tested positive for the virus, according to the Destin Log.
In-person voting also kicked off in Colorado Monday, but voting centers were largely quiet in a state where the majority of voters have cast ballots by mail or drop box for many years.
Yet mail ballot returns show historic enthusiasm in Colorado, too, with Secretary of State Jena Griswold reporting that 24 times more voters have returned their ballots than by this time in 2016. She also said a historic number of people applied to be election judges.
“I was really motivated to get here and get my ballot in,” said Robbie Martinez, 46, a journeyman electrician, after dropping his ballot into a drop box in downtown Denver. “I have never liked Trump. I couldn’t even believe he became president. It’s been a circus.”
By The Washington Post · Ellen Nakashima, Devlin Barrett · NATIONAL, WORLD, COURTSLAW, EUROPE
WASHINGTON – The United States on Monday unsealed criminal charges against six Russian intelligence officers in connection with some of the world’s most damaging cyberattacks, including disruption of Ukraine’s power grid and releasing a mock ransomware virus that infected computers globally causing billions of dollars in damage.
That group, authorities alleged, also hacked computers supporting the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, hacked and leaked emails of individuals involved in French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s 2017 campaign, and targeted the organizations investigating the poisoning of a former Russian operative, Sergei Skripal, two years ago in Britain.
The alleged hackers are members of the same military intelligence agency – the GRU – previously charged in connection with efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, and one of those charged Monday, 29-year-old Anatoliy Kovalev, was also indicted as part of then-special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the alleged conspiracy to hack American election systems that year.
But the new indictment does not charge any Russians with attempting to interfere in this year’s contest, and officials said the announcement was not timed to the current political schedule.
Rather, they stand accused of what Justice Department officials say is the single most disruptive and destructive series of cyberattacks ever attributed to one group. The indictment, like others before it, is an effort, officials say, to pull the veil back on how Moscow has sought to punish or retaliate against detractors of the Russian federation – whether they are former Soviet states, European nations or the United States.
“No country has weaponized its cyber capabilities as maliciously and irresponsibly as Russia, wantonly causing unprecedented collateral damage to pursue small tactical advantages and to satisfy fits of spite,” Assistant Attorney General John Demers said in announcing the indictment.
On the heels of the U.S. announcement, the British government levied its own accusation, saying the same GRU unit sought to hack individuals and organizations involved in the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games that were due to take place in Tokyo. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned the effort as “cynical and reckless,” and said Britain will continue to work with its allies “to call out and counter” malicious attacks.
“The new allegations of cyber attacks aimed at interfering are another step to discredit Moscow,” Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs, told the Interfax news agency. “Such statements have never been accompanied by strong evidence – it’s all in the category of ‘highly likely.’ “
The charges read like a Top 10 list of cyberattacks and attempts, which authorities say were conducted by a team known as Unit 74455 and which cybersecurity researchers have dubbed the Sandworm Team.
In 2016, Unit 74455 worked in tandem with another GRU team, Unit 26165, to carry out the hack and leak of Democratic computers ahead of that year’s election in 2016. Unit 26165 conducted the intrusion, officials determined, while their colleagues at Unit 74455 set up a website, DC Leaks, to display hacked emails. The GRU also leaked the emails to WikiLeaks, whose disclosure drew far more attention than DC Leaks’.
Although officials said Monday’s indictment was not a specific warning to Moscow to avoid interfering in this year’s election, they said it serves as a “general” warning that such activities are not deniable.
“Americans should be confident that a vote cast for their candidate will be counted for that candidate,” Demers said.
FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich said charges show that “time and again, Russia has made it clear they will not abide by accepted norms and instead they intend to continue their destructive and destabilizing cyber behavior.”
The timeline of Unit 74455’s activities dates back at least to 2015. According to the indictment, the alleged hackers unleashed wave after wave of computer attacks on Ukraine – a former Soviet state engaged in ongoing conflict with Russia and a perennial target for Moscow.
In late 2015 and 2016, the alleged hackers launched computer attacks against Ukraine’s electric grid, officials said.
In the 2015 attack, the GRU tunneled into three electric distribution systems and disrupted circuit breakers remotely – the first cyberattack to cause a power outage, said Robert Lee, chief executive of Dragos, a firm specializing in critical infrastructure. A year later, the Russians targeted a transmission company, employing more sophisticated malware designed specifically to interfere with electricity grids, Lee said.
“These attacks turned out the lights and turned off the heat in the middle of the Eastern European winter, as the lives of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian men, women and children went dark and cold,” Demers said.
Hackers also deployed malware against Ukraine’s Ministry of Finance and State Treasury Service in late 2016, disconnecting the treasury’s automated payment system and temporarily disabling the finance ministry’s telecommunications infrastructure, the indictment said.
In 2017, U.S. officials said, the Russian military launched a more costly attack against Ukraine, one that quickly spread to computer systems around the world. That malware, dubbed “NotPetya,” is considered by many security experts to be the most destructive cyberattack ever. Disguised as ransomware ostensibly demanding money, NotPetya acted more like a forest fire, torching computer networks as it spread and inflicting billions of dollars in damage.
It infected computers at dozens of hospitals, doctors’ offices and medical facilities in western Pennsylvania as well as a large drugmaker and a FedEx subsidiary, which collectively suffered nearly $1 billion in losses, officials said.
One U.S. pharmaceutical firm spent more than half a billion dollars to fix the problems caused by NotPetya, officials said.
The hack of a company supporting the 2018 Winter Olympics came in apparent retaliation for the International Olympic Committee’s ban on participation by the Russian team after the IOC found evidence of widespread doping by Russian athletes, officials said. Although individual athletes were allowed to compete in the winter games, they could not do so under the Russian banner or display the flag on their uniforms.
Demers said the Russians showed “the maturity of a petulant child” in choosing to attack the 2018 games. That malware, dubbed “Olympic Destroyer,” deleted data from thousands of computers supporting the Games, rendering them inoperable, U.S. officials said. The authors of that software tried to make it look like the work of North Korea, but U.S. investigators and computer experts have said it was Russia.
The GRU attempted to replicate its 2016 success in hacking and leaking emails to disrupt the U.S. election by attempting a similar feat in France in 2017, but their effort fizzled when media organizations that received the emails refrained from reporting on them because of a mandatory news blackout on the eve of the election.
The indictment shows that the GRU was trying for a while to get the hacked material placed, evidently without success. According to the charges, from April 12 through April 26, 2017, a GRU-controlled social media account contacted various French individuals offering them access to internal Macron campaign documents. Macron reported on May 6 – the day before the election – that the material had been disseminated.
The targeting of the organizations investigating the attempted assassination of Skripal did not result in apparent compromises, but took place as Britain announced that it had identified the poison used as a military-grade nerve agent, Novichok, a class of chemical weapons developed in the former Soviet Union and Russia.
Although none of the defendants is in custody, Justice Department officials say the indictment educates the American public and the international community to Moscow’s aims, sends a message to others that “there’s no safe haven abroad,” and offers support to those who have been hurt.
“We want to stand behind the victims that have been targeted by this group,” said a department official, who was not authorized to speak on the record. “Victims should not have to face foreign governments and their intelligence services alone.”
The other defendants charged Monday are Yuriy Andrienko, 32, Sergey Detistov, 35, Pavel Frolov, 28, Artem Ochichenko, 27, and Petr Pliskin, 32.
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Supreme Court to review Trump’s border wall funding and ‘remain-in-Mexico’ program
InternationalOct 20. 2020The Supreme Court. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Ricky Carioti
By The Washington Post · Robert Barnes · NATIONAL, COURTSLAW, WHITEHOUSE
WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday said it would take up two challenges to President Donald Trump’s immigration initiatives, his diversion of military funds to pay for construction of the southern border wall, and a policy that has required tens of thousands of asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while their claims are processed.
The Trump administration had asked the court to intervene in both because of decisions against it in lower courts. Also in both cases, the justices have previously allowed the administration to proceed with its plans while the merits of the issues were litigated.
The cases will not be heard until next year, so a change in administrations after next month’s election could alter the legal landscape, or even make the court’s consideration unnecessary.
In July, the court rejected a last-ditch effort from environmentalists to stop ongoing construction of parts of the border wall. The previous month, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled it was unlawful for the administration to use funds intended for the Defense Department on the wall instead.
By the time the court hears the case, lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition, say the Trump administration will have used all of the money.
But the administration told the court it was important for it to weigh in to correct the decision that the president did not have the authority to redirect military funds.
Trump, who ran for office in 2016 promising that Mexico would pay for his plans to expand the border wall, has obtained more than $15 billion in federal funds for his signature project, including $5 billion provided by Congress through conventional appropriations. The president has tapped into Pentagon accounts for the remaining $10 billion, including the $2.5 billion transfer last year that the 9th Circuit said was unlawful.
In 2019, the Supreme Court in an emergency order allowed the administration to proceed with the transfers and contracts for construction, even though House Democrats, affected states and environmental groups said that violated the will of Congress, which withheld the funds from the administration.
As a practical matter, much of the $2.5 billion has been spent and the portions of the wall funded by it have been built. As of the summer, about 40 miles of two projects in New Mexico and Arizona had yet to be completed.
In allowing the administration to proceed, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority said the government had “made a sufficient showing at this stage” that private entities could not challenge the transfer of money by the executive branch.
But all lower courts that have heard the dispute have disagreed, with the 9th Circuit panel’s merits decision this summer affirming the ruling of a district judge.
“It is for the courts to enforce Congress’s priorities,” the panel said in a 2-to-1 decision, and it found the Sierra Club “may invoke separation-of-powers constraints, like the Appropriations Clause, to challenge agency spending in excess of its delegated authority.”
In its brief, the ACLU said: “It could not be plainer that Congress rejected President Trump’s funding request for the wall construction in dispute here. The president himself conceded that Congress turned him down.”
In the other case, the court last March granted the Trump administration’s emergency request to let it enforce its Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as the “remain-in-Mexico” policy. That allows the Department of Homeland Security to return immigrants who cross at the southern border to Mexico while they wait for their claims to be heard.
The protocol, which took effect in January 2019, was a fundamental change to previous U.S. policy, and was intended to protect against massive migration from Central America.
A federal judge blocked the initiative with a nationwide injunction. He said the policy contradicted the text of the Immigration and Nationality Act. A 9th Circuit panel upheld part of the ruling.
But the Supreme Court last spring said the government could enforce the program.
Challengers have said that restrictions put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic made the Supreme Court’s review of the lower court rulings unnecessary at this time.
Moreover, they said the policy is hurtful.
“Asylum seekers face grave danger every day this illegal and depraved policy is in effect,” said Judy Rabinovitz, a lawyer for the ACLU, one of the groups challenging the policy. “The courts have repeatedly ruled against it, and the Supreme Court should as well.”
A spokesman for the asylum officers’ union said Monday that they are anxiously awaiting a Supreme Court ruling in the case, and are worried about the thousands of people spirited away from the border to potential danger.
“The law is that people who knock at our door or who cross our border, whether legally or illegally, have the right to have their asylum case heard in safety,” said Michael Knowles, an asylum officer and a spokesman for the union. “They should not be returned somewhere they would be in danger. That’s fundamental to the law.”
Since last spring, the Trump administration has used emergency pandemic restrictions along the southwestern border that allow agents to “expel” most migrants back to Mexico in a matter of hours.
But after an initial drop in border crossings, arrests have been steadily rising, driven mostly by Mexican adults trying to enter the United States again and again.
The number of migrants that U.S. border agents took into custody rose to a 13-month high in September, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures.
The border wall case is Trump v. Sierra Club and the immigration case is Wolf v. Innovation Law Lab.
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Vaccine doubters could hamper global effort to beat coronavirus
InternationalOct 20. 2020A heath worker injects a patient with a covid-19 vaccine during trials in Moscow. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Andrey Rudakov
By Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · James Paton, Sybilla Gross · NATIONAL, WORLD, HEALTH, SCIENCE-ENVIRONMENT, HEALTH-NEWS
Eddie Rice believes in vaccines. The Melbourne locksmith has received jabs in the past and understands that they go through rigorous testing before they’re rolled out. This time, as researchers sprint ahead with potential shots to protect the world against covid-19, he’s not so sure.
Scientists dressed in a full body protective suits enter a laboratory used for coronavirus research in Pecs, Hungary. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Akos Stiller
“This is a pretty unique one, just because it’s going to be so quick,” said Rice, 29. “I don’t know enough of the science to know 100% that it’s safe.”
Governments and drugmakers have long faced skepticism, and even hostility, from a small but vocal group of anti-vaccination campaigners. In the battle against the coronavirus, they may also run into reluctance from a broader swath of the population – people like Rice who would normally be on board.
Fading trust in governments, political interference and the dash to create a shot in record time are sowing doubts. Temporary halts to studies because of unexplained illnesses in volunteers – a part of vaccine development that doesn’t usually make headlines – add to the anxiety. These misgivings could hobble the high-stakes quest to slow a pathogen that’s killed 1.1 million people.
Assuming immunizations can be successfully developed, mass produced and deployed, vaccine advocates will need to convince enough people the shots are key to ending the crisis. In a survey of 20,000 people conducted over the summer, more than a quarter of respondents said they wouldn’t get a covid-19 shot. Russia, Poland, Hungary and France had the lowest support, the World Economic Forum and Ipsos study showed.
The effort to overcome that sentiment will start with health workers. Medical staff are at heightened risk of catching the virus and spreading it to others, and will likely be among the first to get immunized. Any worries they have about the quality of a vaccine could hamper wider acceptance.
Nor should their support be taken for granted. Medical workers would be careful not to damage the trust they’ve earned by promoting a product they don’t have faith in, said Sara Gorton, head of health at Unison, a union in the U.K. representing nurses, paramedics and others in the field.
“If health-care workers are going to be expected to advocate for the vaccine, then their natural concerns will have to be addressed in advance,” she said. “It’s not going to help with take-up if you go to have your jab and the person who gives it to you isn’t able to say reassuring things.”
A study in Hong Kong earlier this year found that only 63% of nurses expressed a willingness to get a potential covid-19 shot. It cited uncertainty over effectiveness, side effects and how long protection would last. Support was higher as cases surged, but slipped as infections ebbed, according to researchers including Kin On Kwok, an epidemiologist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
If less than two thirds of nurses during an outbreak intend to get immunized, “we anticipate that promoting the vaccine to the general public in the post-pandemic period will be much more challenging,” they wrote.
Anxiety over China’s growing influence in the former British colony may be another factor behind the lack of conviction. A mainland-backed effort that offered free tests to all Hong Kong residents saw only a quarter of them come forward. Chinese vaccine developers have been at the forefront of the race. Though the final stage of trials is not complete, thousands in China have already received doses under expansive emergency-use provisions.
One of the main concerns among doubters is that critical steps to demonstrate safety and efficacy could be carried out in haste, despite reassurances – like the pledge in September by nine U.S. and European developers – to avoid shortcuts on science.
Vaccines led by AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford, Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc. are among those in the final stage of tests, and pivotal data could come before the end of the year, clearing the way for emergency approvals. That feat would be achieved by compressing into just months a development process that normally takes up to a decade. Public confidence in vaccines that haven’t been extensively tested could be low, according to analysts at HSBC Holdings Plc.
The pursuit of a covid shot has been increasingly politicized, reducing the number of people who are inclined to get one, according to Scott Ratzan, a doctor and public health specialist at the City University of New York. Officials will need to demonstrate why an immunization that is proven safe is beneficial to individuals and society, he said.
Among the majority of the public, vaccines are embraced as safe and straightforward ways to prevent diseases, but worries about a covid shot have escalated in recent months. Americans’ willingness to be vaccinated against the virus dropped to 50% in September from 66% in July, a Gallup poll shows.
“Most people do support vaccines,” said Ratzan, who is part of a group working to boost trust in future covid-19 immunizations. “We have to find the fence-sitters. Are they hesitant? Are they unsure? How do we shore them up?”
Interruptions to trials haven’t helped. While it’s common to pause studies to probe potential side effects, those episodes highlight why the work can’t be rushed. Tests of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the U.S. remain on hold after a volunteer in a U.K. trial became ill more than a month ago. Johnson & Johnson said last week it would pause its study to investigate an ailment, which it didn’t specify, in a participant.
The fast pace of the studies has made people uneasy.
President Donald Trump has pushed for a vaccine before the Nov. 3 election, although many companies and experts have said it’s unlikely. He acknowledged earlier this month that the goal may not be met, blaming “politics” after regulators released new standards that could delay an authorization.
As the virus continues to run rampant, pressure to come up with a vaccine has increased. The U.S. effort to accelerate the delivery of a vaccine is named Operation Warp Speed.
“People are scared – in a pandemic one would expect that – and the rush, the political proclamations have made people even more nervous,” said Seth Berkley, chief executive officer of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the nonprofit that works to immunize children in poor countries and is helping to lead a program to deploy future covid-19 vaccines all over the world.
Fiascos in the past may fuel doubts in some regions. The Philippines in 2016 started a major drive to vaccinate children against dengue, the mosquito-borne illness, but it was suspended after the shot was linked to a higher risk of severe disease in some who hadn’t previously been exposed to the virus.
Some people will also remember a 1976 outbreak of swine flu in the U.S. Then-President Gerald Ford announced a plan to vaccinate everyone in the country, and soon more than 40 million Americans had received shots. But it never turned into a pandemic as feared, and some of those who had been vaccinated developed Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can cause temporary paralysis.
Suspicions that extend beyond the usual anti-vaccine movement pose an additional problem for health advocates already struggling to contain a surge of misinformation. In one example, social media posts pushed a bogus story that seven children had died in Senegal as part of a covid vaccine trial.
AstraZeneca boss Pascal Soriot issued a statement Friday calling misinformation a “clear risk to public health” and urging the public to stick with reliable sources after reports of a campaign in Russia to undermine the drugmaker’s vaccine with Oxford.
Efforts to track and counter misleading claims are ramping up. Unicef, which focuses on protecting children and is one of the largest vaccine providers, said it forged a digital partnership with the Yale Institute for Global Health and others to create content aimed at taking on falsehoods before they get out of control.
In the past, much of the opposition has revolved around the value of “purity,” and claims that vaccines contain unsafe levels of toxins, said Angus Thomson, senior social scientist at Unicef.
“What we’ve seen is an interesting pivot to liberty,” he said. “Suddenly vaccination is about restricting your freedom.”
Engagement with the public will also need to increase to explain how vaccines are being created and how they will be deployed, said Heidi Larson, who leads the Vaccine Confidence Project, a research group. Many promising covid-19 shots are relying on novel approaches, such as messenger RNA.
“There hasn’t been much discussion about why these vaccines are able to be made faster, the new technologies being used, how some may have one dose and others two,” she said. “We need to talk about that more.”
Although health officials will confront reluctance, and even “nefarious” behavior from people touting incorrect information, there is reason for optimism, according to Berkley, the Gavi CEO.
Strides have been made on the therapy front to help patients who get severely ill, but a vaccine is still seen as essential to the global exit strategy, especially amid concerns about long-term complications months after initial symptoms.
“I have to believe in my heart of hearts if we follow the processes, if we end up with a safe and effective vaccine that’s gone through stringent regulatory approval, if people start taking it and they can go back to normal or close to normal, that will lead to other people wanting the product,” Berkley said.
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Trump’s den of dissent: Inside the White House task force as coronavirus surges
InternationalOct 20. 2020Trump listens as FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn speaks during a coronavirus press briefing on March 19. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford
By The Washington Post · Yasmeen Abutaleb, Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey, Robert Costa · NATIONAL, HEALTH, POLITICS, WHITEHOUSE
WASHINGTON – As summer faded into autumn and the novel coronavirus continued to ravage the nation unabated, Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist whose commentary on Fox News led President Donald Trump to recruit him to the White House, consolidated his power over the government’s pandemic response.
Atlas shot down attempts to expand testing. He openly feuded with other doctors on the coronavirus task force and succeeded in largely sidelining them. He advanced fringe theories, such as that social distancing and mask-wearing were meaningless and would not have changed the course of the virus in several hard-hit areas. And he advocated allowing infections to spread naturally among most of the population while protecting the most vulnerable and those in nursing homes until the United States reaches herd immunity, which experts say would cause excess deaths, according to three current and former senior administration officials.
Atlas also cultivated Trump’s affection with his public assertions that the pandemic is nearly over, despite death and infection counts showing otherwise, and his willingness to tell the public that a vaccine could be developed before the Nov. 3 election, despite clear indications of a slower timetable.
Atlas’s ascendancy was apparent during a recent Oval Office meeting. After Trump left the room, Atlas startled other aides by walking behind the Resolute Desk and occupying the president’s personal space to keep the meeting going, according to one senior administration official. Atlas called this account “false and laughable.”
Discord on the coronavirus task force has worsened since the arrival in late summer of Atlas, whom colleagues said they regard as ill-informed, manipulative and at times dishonest. As the White House coronavirus response coordinator, Deborah Birx is tasked with collecting and analyzing infection data and compiling charts detailing upticks and other trends. But Atlas routinely has challenged Birx’s analysis and those of other doctors, including Anthony Fauci, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn, with what the other doctors considered junk science, according to three senior administration officials.
Birx recently confronted the office of Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the task force, about the acrimony, according to two people familiar with the meeting. Birx, whose profile and influence has eroded considerably since Atlas’s arrival, told Pence’s office that she does not trust Atlas, does not believe he is giving Trump sound advice and wants him removed from the task force, the two people said.
In one recenet encounter, Pence did not take sides between Atlas and Birx, but rather told them to bring data bolstering their perspectives to the task force and to work out their disagreements themselves, according to two senior administration officials.
The result has been a U.S. response increasingly plagued by distrust, infighting and lethargy, just as experts predict coronavirus cases could surge this winter and deaths could reach 400,000 by year’s end.
This assessment is based on interviews with 41 administration officials, advisers to the president, public health leaders and other people with knowledge of internal government deliberations, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to provide candid assessments or confidential information.
– – –
Atlas defended his views and conduct in a series of statements sent through a spokesperson and condemned The Washington Post’s reporting as “another story filled with overt lies and distortions to undermine the President and the expert advice he is being given.”
Atlas said he has always stressed “all appropriate mitigation measures to save lives,” and he responded to accounts of dissent on the task force by saying, “Any policy discussion where data isn’t being challenged isn’t a policy discussion.”
On the issue of herd immunity, Atlas said, “We emphatically deny that the White House, the President, the Administration, or anyone advising the President has pursued or advocated for a wide-open strategy of achieving herd immunity by letting the infection proceed through the community.”
The doctor’s denial conflicts with his previous public and private statements, including his recent endorsement of the “Great Barrington Declaration,” which effectively promotes a herd immunity strategy.
On Saturday, Atlas wrote on Twitter that masks do not work, prompting the social media site to remove the tweet for violating its safety rules for spreading misinformation. Several medical and public health experts flagged the tweet as dangerous misinformation coming from a primary adviser to the president.
“Masks work? NO,” Atlas wrote in the tweet, followed by other misrepresentations about the science behind masks. He linked to an article from the American Institute for Economic Research – a libertarian think tank behind the Barrington effort – that argued against masks and dismissed the threat of the virus as overblown.
Trump and many of his advisers have come to believe that the key to a revived economy and a return to normality is a vaccine.
“They’ve given up on everything else,” said a senior administration official involved in the pandemic response. “It’s too hard of a slog.”
Infectious-disease and other public health experts said the friction inside the White House has impaired the government’s response.
“It seems to me this is policy-based evidence-making rather than evidence-based policymaking,” said Marc Lipsitch, director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “In other words, if your goal is to do nothing, then you create a situation in which it looks okay to do nothing [and] you find some experts to make it complicated.”
These days, the task force is dormant relative to its robust activity earlier in the pandemic. Fauci, Birx, Surgeon General Jerome Adams and other members have confided in others that they are dispirited.
Birx and Fauci have advocated dramatically increasing the nation’s testing capacity, especially as experts anticipate a devastating increase in cases this winter. They have urged the government to use unspent money Congress allocated for testing – which amounts to $9 billion, according to a Democratic Senate appropriations aide – so that anyone who needs to can get a test with results returned quickly.
But Atlas, who is opposed to surveillance testing, has repeatedly quashed these proposals. He has argued that young and healthy people do not need to get tested and that testing resources should be allocated to nursing homes and other vulnerable places, such as prisons and meatpacking plants.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Matthews defended Trump and the administration’s management of the crisis.
“President Trump has always listened to the advice of his top public health experts, who have diverse areas of expertise,” Matthews said in a statement. “The President always puts the well-being of the American people first as evidenced by the many bold, data-driven decisions he has made to save millions of lives. Because of his strong leadership, our country can safely reopen with adequate PPE, treatments, and vaccines developed in record time.”
Yet 10 months into a public health crisis that has claimed the lives of more than 219,000 people in the United States – a far higher death toll than any other nation has reported – a consensus has formed within the administration that some measures to mitigate the spread of the virus may not be worth the trouble.
The president gave voice to this mind-set during an NBC News town hall Thursday night, when he declined to answer whether he supported herd immunity. “The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself,” Trump told host Savannah Guthrie.
But medical experts disagreed, saying it is dangerous for government leaders to advocate herd immunity or oppose interventions.
“We’d be foolish to reenter a situation where we know what to do and we’re not doing it,” said Rochelle Walensky, chief of the division of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “This thing can take off. All you need to do is look at what’s happened at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue over the last two weeks to see that this thing is way faster than we’re giving it credit for.”
– – –
After Trump came home from the hospital this month, he all but promised Americans that they could soon be cured from the coronavirus just as he claimed to have been. In a video taped at the White House on Oct. 5, he vowed, “The vaccines are coming momentarily.”
Then, at a rally last Tuesday night in Johnstown, Pa., Trump told supporters, “The vaccines are coming soon, the therapeutics and, frankly, the cure. All I know is I took something, whatever the hell it was. I felt good very quickly . . . I felt like Superman.”
Trump’s miraculous timeline has run headlong into reality, however. On the same day that he declared “the cure” was near, Johnson & Johnson became the second pharmaceutical giant, after AstraZeneca, to halt its vaccine trial. A third trial, a government-run test of a monoclonal antibody manufactured by Eli Lilly & Co., was also paused. Each move was prompted by safety concerns.
And on Friday, Pfizer said it will not be able to seek an emergency use authorization from the FDA until the third week of November, at the earliest, seemingly making a vaccine before Election Day all but impossible.
Trump’s notion of a vaccine as a cure-all for the pandemic is similarly miraculous, according to medical experts.
“The vaccines, although they’re wonderful, are not going to make the virus magically disappear,” said Tom Frieden, a former CDC director who is president of Resolve to Save Lives. “There’s no fairy-tale ending to this pandemic. We’re going to be dealing with it at least through 2021, and it’s likely to have implications for how we do everything from work to school, even with vaccines.”
Frieden added: “Remember, we have vaccines against the flu, and we still have flu.”
Still, Trump has ratcheted up his push for vaccines over the past several months, intensifying the pressure on government scientists, federal regulators and pharmaceutical executives. He has had one end date in mind: Nov. 3, which is Election Day.
Trump has envisioned a greenlit vaccine as the kind of breakthrough that could persuade voters to see his management of the pandemic as successful and thus upend a race in which virtually all public polls show him trailing Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
Earlier this fall, Trump called Albert Bourla, the chief executive of Pfizer, and asked whether a vaccine could be ready for distribution by late October, before the election. Pfizer spokeswoman Sharon Castillo said executives have regular communications with administration officials on a wide range of health policy issues but that she could not comment on private conversations.
On a call in August with Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, Trump accused the agency of moving too slowly to approve a vaccine or other treatments, including convalescent plasma, according to two officials familiar with the conversation. The NIH, which declined to comment, is a biomedical research agency and does not approve treatments or vaccines.
Matthews denied that Trump sees the vaccine timetable through the prism of the campaign calendar. “This is not about politics; it’s about saving lives,” she said. She added, “any vaccine approval will maintain the FDA’s gold standard for safety and efficacy and be proven to save lives.”
The relationships between FDA officials and White House staffers have grown more acrimonious since September, when details of stricter FDA vaccine guidance were reported by The Post. Trump and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows – who has involved himself in the work of health agencies to a degree other officials consider inappropriate – have repeatedly challenged Hahn over his agency’s proposals and rules, much to the FDA commissioner’s frustration.
Trump is asserting control over the messaging campaign around a vaccine. His politically minded aides in the White House have taken over the government’s communications effort, as opposed to health or scientific communicators at the relevant agencies.
For example, White House aides have sought to persuade Moncef Slaoui, head of “Operation Warp Speed,” the government’s initiative to mass-distribute an eventual vaccine, to speak more positively about the vaccine, and sometimes he has pushed back on their talking points, two officials said.
Trump routinely has told his political advisers that a vaccine would be ready by the time he stands for reelection. And he has plotted with his team on a pre-election promotional campaign to try to convince voters a vaccine is safe, approved and ready for mass distribution – even if none of that is true yet.
These are some of the ingredients of a public health disaster, experts say.
“The one thing you can’t do – and it’s what everybody fears, it’s what the pharmaceutical companies fear, it’s what everybody on the inside fears – is that the government would, because of political purposes or because other countries put a vaccine out before us, truncate the normal process you’d accept for a safe and effective vaccine,” said Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the FDA’s vaccine advisory council.
Trump’s view of the FDA has darkened considerably in recent weeks. The president now believes – despite the absence of any such evidence – that officials there are working against him to slow-walk vaccine approval as “some sort of ‘deep state’ push to keep him from winning reelection,” according to an administration official.
Trump has said as much himself.
“New FDA Rules make it more difficult for them to speed up vaccines for approval before Election Day. Just another political hit job! @SteveFDA,” the president wrote in an Oct. 6 tweet, tagging Hahn’s Twitter handle.
Trump’s conspiratorial view of the FDA is shaped in part by White House trade adviser Peter Navarro and others in the president’s orbit, both inside and outside the government.
Saad Omer, director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, said the atmosphere of pressure and recrimination, nurtured by the president, is “very concerning.”
“These are people who have dedicated their lives to working in public health and medicine and research,” he said. “To think that in the biggest public health event of their lives they would sleep an extra hour or slow-walk this for any reason is absurd.”
He added, “It’s like how an ambulance drives faster than a regular car because it’s an emergency, but even an ambulance driver is not foolhardy. They don’t want to drive over the bridge.”
– – –
The distrust in Washington has trickled down to the states, where friction has increased between several governors and the administration over the vaccine process.
Some governors and officials close to them privately have expressed alarm about Trump and his aides laying the groundwork for a rushed vaccine announcement. The president has delegated much of the state outreach to Pence, who in regular calls with governors has come across as a smooth salesman for Trump’s speedy approach. The vice president has encouraged governors to help build confidence for eventual vaccines among their constituents.
Democratic Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, whose state is the site for vaccine trials, said in an interview, “I certainly fear there is a lot of political pressure being applied.” He said his state is preparing for a vaccine rollout, but would carefully evaluate the integrity of any announcement emanating from the White House.
“Nobody has told me that it’ll be ready by November 2nd or anytime before the election,” Pritzker said. “But [Trump] will no doubt claim such a thing because of the cocktail of drugs that he seems to be on now. He’s liable to say anything that isn’t true.”
The concerns are not limited to Democrats. One Republican state official who works with the Trump administration and spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve that relationship, said, “It’s what I would call soft power. Pence comes on these calls and sounds normal and upbeat, and basically says, ‘Stand with us.’ “
The official added, “We all want a vaccine, right? We obviously want it. We’ll take it. But we don’t really know if they’ll do this right.”
The politicization of the process has damaged public credibility in an eventual vaccine. A Gallup poll released this month found that 50% of Americans said they would be willing to take a coronavirus vaccine approved by the FDA “right now at no cost.” That is a sharp decline from 61% in August and 66% in July.
During a virtual task force meeting led by Pence on Sept. 21, Democratic Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said, “There is a substantial concern,” according to an audio recording of the meeting. “A significant part of that problem is the president’s continued anti-science statements that are contradictory to his medical advisers in so many different ways.”
Inslee asked Pence directly, “Have you discussed with the president how he’s been eroding public confidence in our efforts, including the vaccine approval? Have you discussed that with him? Have you urged him to stop this behavior?”
Pence did not directly answer the question. Rather, he replied, “We think you and all the governors on this call have a great responsibility to make sure the public knows while we’re moving rapidly and while there may be differences in opinion about various events, we just don’t want any undermining of confidence in the vaccine.”
The vice president added, “I can assure you the president will continue to speak clearly about that process.”
Inslee later said in an interview that Pence was anything but assuring.
“There is a pressure campaign,” Inslee said. “We need to follow science and not this distortion campaign . . . The people are on to [Trump]. They know he is trying to turn this into an electoral issue.”
– – –
As the election nears, one of Trump’s biggest vulnerabilities with voters is his handling of the pandemic – which he increasingly has sought to blame on others. For instance, the president has complained bitterly about Hahn and Redfield, pointing to congressional testimony and other public comments they have made as undermining his chances for reelection, according to multiple administration officials.
Trump also has vented about the slow pace of vaccine trials and has fumed privately about the pharmaceutical industry, even though he speaks highly of some industry executives. Lately, he has expressed particular concern that the absence of a vaccine announcement has been hurting him with early voting, according to an administration official.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, a former Eli Lilly president who has close ties to the pharmaceutical industry, has sought to cool Trump’s temper and assure him that the process is sound.
Also whispering optimism in the tempestuous president’s ear has been Atlas, who is said to be operating with the full confidence of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser overseeing key aspects of the pandemic response, and Hope Hicks, the president’s counselor and confidante.
This is in part because Atlas has sought to spin the public with what others deride as “happy talk” that the outbreak is close to over. “Everybody looks for what Atlas is giving them,” one official involved in the response said.
Offit said, “This administration, like it does with everything, is overselling vaccines. They make it sound like a magic dust they’ll distribute over the country and the disease will go away . . . What could happen is people think, great, I just got my vaccine, I can throw away my mask, I can engage in high-risk activity, and then we’d actually take a step back.”
Most controversially, Atlas has pushed a baseless theory inside the task force that the U.S. population is close to herd immunity – the point at which enough people become immune to a disease either by becoming infected or getting vaccinated that its spread slows – despite a scientific consensus that the United States is nowhere close.
Given the transmissibility of the coronavirus, experts estimate about 60% to 70% of the population would need to become infected to reach herd immunity, a course that they warn would probably result in hundreds of thousands of excess deaths. A recent CDC study, about which Redfield testified to the Senate, showed about 9% of people in the United States had antibodies against the virus.
But Atlas publicly contradicted Redfield last month, telling reporters that more of the population was protected against the virus because of so-called T-cell immunity, in which people with exposure to previous coronaviruses – such as the common cold – have T cells that also protect them against covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
No credible scientific study has proved this theory, and Atlas’s advocacy of it dismayed other task force officials.
At a task force meeting late last month, Atlas stated that there was herd immunity in much of the country because of a combination of high infection rates in cities such as New York and Miami and T-cell immunity, according to two senior administration officials. He said that only 40% to 50% of people need to be infected to reach the threshold. And he argued that because of this immunity, all restrictions should be lifted, schools should be opened and only the most vulnerable populations, such as nursing home residents, should be sheltered.
This resulted in a fierce debate with Birx and Fauci, who demanded Atlas show them the data that backed up his assertions, one of the officials said.
“It is not the case there’s extra immunity around in T cells,” Lipsitch said. “The vast, vast majority of infectious-disease epidemiologists in this country don’t believe several of the key points these people are arguing for and don’t believe it because the evidence isn’t there and points in the other direction.”
Regardless, Trump has used Atlas to back up his own rejection of medical expertise. At Thursday’s NBC News town hall, a Florida voter asked the president whether after contracting covid-19 he now believed in the importance of mask-wearing.
“I’ve heard many different stories on masks,” he said.
When Guthrie challenged him by noting that all of his health officials were united in advocating masks, Trump countered by invoking Atlas.
“Scott Adkins,” Trump said, mispronouncing the doctor’s name. “If you look at Scott, Dr. Scott, he’s from – great guy – from Stanford, he will tell you.”
“He’s not an infectious-disease expert,” Guthrie said.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Trump replied. “Look, he’s an expert. He’s one of the experts of the world.”
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Inside the ‘Malarkey Factory,’ Biden’s online war room
InternationalOct 20. 2020Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex in Florida on Oct. 5. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Demetrius Freeman
By The Washington Post · Matt Viser · NATIONAL, TECHNOLOGY, POLITICS, WHITEHOUSE
Joe Biden’s campaign has quietly built a multimillion-dollar operation over the past two months that’s largely designed to combat misinformation online, aiming to rebut President Donald Trump while bracing for any information warfare that could take place in the aftermath of the election.
The effort, internally called the “Malarkey Factory,” consists of dozens of people around the country monitoring what information is gaining traction digitally, whether it’s resonating with swing voters and, if so, how to fight back. The three most salient attacks the Malarkey Factory has confronted so far are claims that Biden is a socialist, that he is “creepy” and that he is “sleepy” or senile.
In preparation for misinformation spreading as voters head to the polls, especially a stretch around Election Day when Facebook will not let campaigns buy new ads, the campaign has partnered with dozens of Facebook pages associated with liberal individuals or groups that have large followings. The campaign has also enlisted 5,000 surrogates with big social media platforms who can pump out campaign messages.
The Malarkey Factory has already been at work. When Trump began attacking Biden as a socialist, for example, the Biden campaign saw that it was affecting Hispanic voters in Florida. So it developed counter-messaging that showed a different image of Biden, with him speaking of his love for America and being endorsed by former president Barack Obama, and the campaign blasted the messaging to Latinos in the state.
“Our theory of the case has been that we need to find and identify the misinformation that is actually moving voters, even if it is a small number of voters, then find who those voters are and see if we can intervene,” said Rob Flaherty, the campaign’s digital director and head of the Malarkey Factory. “There’s misinformation that inflames a base. There’s misinformation that persuades people. And there’s misinformation that suppresses a base.”
While it is increasingly easy to determine where disinformation is coming from, given the proliferation of online tools, the trickier challenge is figuring out whether it’s shaping voting behavior and merits a response.
“The real dilemma of misinformation, from a campaign perspective, is that in the vast majority of cases, the correct tactical thing to do is nothing,” said Matthew Hindman, an associate professor at George Washington University who co-wrote a study on misinformation during the 2018 midterms. “There is a very real risk that you will take a nothing story that nobody has heard of and raise its prominence and give it oxygen.”
And given the speed of social media, that decision often has to be made within minutes.
When a conspiracy theory emerged that Osama bin Laden was never really killed – and Biden and Obama had Navy SEALs executed to cover that up – Biden’s campaign felt little need to respond. The deeply implausible fabrication might affect some potential Trump voters, Biden staffers concluded, but would not affect the types of voters they were trying to attract.
The campaign also found that Trump’s attack on Biden’s criminal justice record was not resonating with the Black voters prized by Biden’s campaign. His attacks on Biden’s mental acuity, however, were hitting home, so the campaign sent videos to targeted voters showing their candidate talking clearly and articulately.
“They are seeing this stream of poorly edited clips of him falling asleep at a news interview – things that are just not real,” Flaherty said. “When we show them him talking about policy, which he does all the time, [support goes] up.”
This sort of elaborate virtual war room, tasked with ferreting out volatile information in the dark recesses of the Web, could become a routine feature of campaigns as they confront a still-new world of elusive but potentially destructive information.
In this case, the effort is also a reflection of the trauma Democrats are still experiencing from the last election, when Hillary Clinton’s campaign was hit by a wave of disinformation and hacking for which, in retrospect, it was woefully unprepared.
The Biden effort, which advisers describe as costing more than $10 million, also coincides with an unprecedented campaign that the coronavirus pandemic has forced almost entirely online. And it comes as intelligence officials warn of foreign interference in the election, with Russia again seen as a major threat to spread false information.
The project started in August when the Biden campaign assembled groups inside and outside the campaign, tapping campaign staffers working remotely in places such as Washington, D.C.; Portland, Maine; and Long Island, as well as an array of marketing and tech firms in Silicon Valley.
Trump’s team had been extraordinarily successful at harnessing social media, using Facebook to mobilize its base and running a network of social media platforms that dwarf those of the Biden campaign.
That operation was largely built by Brad Parscale, the former Trump campaign manager who was ousted earlier this year. Parscale famously called his digital operation the Death Star, a reference to the planet-sized weapon in Star Wars. (The Biden team has started calling its own network the Rebel Alliance, after the warriors who fought back.)
Trump regularly spreads falsehoods – such as the notion that Biden is on performance-enhancing drugs or that top Democrats committed treason – which are amplified by his supporters online. But Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh contended that it’s the Biden team that is the guiltier party.
“If the Biden campaign wants to clean up misinformation, they should start with themselves,” Murtaugh said.
He cited Biden’s claims that Trump has embraced white supremacists, called the novel coronavirus a hoax and signaled a plan to dismantle Social Security; the last two have beenchallenged by fact-checkers. “The entire foundation of the Biden campaign is built on lies, so they should police themselves,” Murtaugh said.
A chief question of the 2020 campaign has been whether Biden can match the massive digital megaphone of Trump and his supporters. Allies have sought to amplify a report in the New York Post, for example, which published emails purported to be from a laptop belonging to Biden’s son Hunter. The origin of that information remains unclear.
Sometimes, the attacks are fantastical. During a town hall last week, Trump declined to condemn QAnon, a baseless conspiracy theory claiming there is a cabal of satanic, cannibalistic pedophiles that includes prominent Democrats, which has spread rapidly online.
While most of the effort is aimed at combating misinformation, the Malarkey Factory is also attempting to persuade undecided voters. It has run a program in Pennsylvania and is about to do the same in Michigan, for example, that gathers videos recorded by voters on why they support Biden. The campaign tests the videos on thousands of people, and based on the results, forwards specific clips to particular groups of voters.
The campaign has also teamed up with users on TikTok, the enormously popular platform featuring super-short videos, to spread Biden’s message.
And on Friday, Biden opened a virtual field office in “Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” part of a Biden island in the virtual world that has ice cream stands, model trains and campaign merchandise.
Thomas Rid, author of “Active Measures,” a book about disinformation, said that hack-and-leak operations, which disclose confidential information, can be even more effective than spreading complete falsehoods.
“We are all focused on the social media disinformation side, which is not unimportant,” Rid said. “But it’s the potential for hacks and leaks or forging – or infrastructure hacking, or perceived election infrastructure hacking, on or before Election Day – that have a bigger impact.”
The Biden team says that among its biggest concerns is a potential effort to raise doubts about the integrity of the vote on Nov. 3 and its aftermath.
“Trust in the election is something that we are focused on,” said Rebecca Rinkevich, the Biden campaign’s director of digital rapid response. “Right now, it’s super localized to far-right folks, but it’s something that we have every intention of focusing this program on, especially in the week leading up to the election.”
The Biden campaign is contemplating scenarios in which Trump tries to declare victory before all the votes are counted, or in which he loses but refuses to leave office.
In such a situation, the campaign would use its network to push out messages saying that Biden legitimately prevailed, using the same technology that Major League Baseball employs to send content between the league and individual teams.
“This is all part of the new environment,” Hindman said. “It’s part of the playing field, and it’s not going away.”
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Italy opts for light touch in Europe’s battle to contain virus
InternationalOct 20. 2020A health-care worker wearing personal protective equipment collects a swab sample from a passenger at the covid-19 rapid test facility at Fiumicino Airport in Rome on Sept. 25, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Alessia Pierdomenico
By Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · John Follain, Peter Laca, Dara Doyle · WORLD, EUROPE
Italy, the European country that was hit first and hardest by the coronavirus pandemic and hoped it had dodged the worst of its return, is clinging to the idea that incremental measures can be enough. In doing so, it’s following the path many neighbors have taken.
The virus is setting daily records in Europe as the continent contemplates the worst recession in living memory. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte late on Sunday drew the same conclusion as most of his counterparts: prioritize the economy.
“We must act, deploying all the measures necessary to avert a new generalized lockdown,” Conte said in a televised news conference. “The country cannot afford a new setback which would severely jeopardize the whole economy.”
Trying to keep people covid-free without limiting their personal freedom is something many nations are having a hard time squaring off in this less deadly wave of infections. When Italy’s new curbs fell short of the demands made by scientific experts, it showed Conte has become the latest leader trapped between competing interests, with local officials and central government clashing.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week struggled to forge a consensus with regional premiers in a meeting that dragged on for eight hours, while Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has fought publicly with the president of the Madrid region over the correct strategy.
U.K. government officials on Monday continued to negotiate with local leaders in Manchester in an attempt to persuade them to accept the toughest restrictions.
Merkel’s Economy Minister, Peter Altmaier, said Germany would be sticking to a policy of targeting measures at localized outbreaks.
“A complete shutdown isn’t an option this time because in many sectors there are no problems,” Altmaier said Monday in an interview with ZDF television. “When we have very few infections for example in the auto industry or in retail, then you don’t achieve anything if you close down the shops or companies.”
After cases rose to a record above 7,000 last week, Germany recorded 4,007 new infections in the 24 hours through Monday morning, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Case numbers typically decline over the weekend and into the start of the following week.
Italy lags countries like Spain, France and the U.K. in terms of infections but its government too has succumbed to a series of political struggles — with allies and the opposition, the medical advisers and the economic forecasters — about what are the best steps to take.
Conte’s new decree — only five days after a previous package — picked nightlife and sports as his main targets. It urged mayors to close piazzas and streets at 9 p.m. to stop crowds gathering, and imposed a maximum of six people per table at restaurants which must close at midnight. Amateur and school competitions for contact sports are banned.
Italy’s cabinet also approved a 2021 budget in the early hours of Sunday with a focus on supporting families by extending a moratorium on loan and mortgage payments.
What is certain is that there is little coordination between European partners. In Slovakia, every citizen has been promised a test. Switzerland will now require masks in public indoor spaces and has banned spontaneous public gatherings of more than 15 people.
The Czech Republic, which has the most cases per capita in Europe, has shut schools and will wait until the start of next month to assess the impact of its latest restrictions.
“We won’t be deciding about a lockdown this week,” Industry Minister Karel Havlicek said Sunday. “We said clearly that we’ll wait until Nov. 2 for the results.”
Several hundred people clashed with police in the center of Prague Sunday during a protest against the curbs, such as closing pubs and banning sporting events.
Ireland is set to introduce some of the toughest constraints in Europe after health authorities recommended a move to the tightest lockdown tier. That would mean non-essential stores are shuttered, all bars closed and travel restricted to within 3.1 miles (5 kilometers) of home.
In Austria, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz will detail new restrictions at a news conference Monday morning. On Sunday, he repeated a call for discipline to help avoid a second lockdown and is expected to announce some tightened measures on masks, social and family gatherings, and possibly an earlier curfew for restaurants.
Poland, meanwhile, has started construction of its first temporary hospital for Covid-19 patients at Warsaw’s national stadium.
Romania will likely impose new restrictions in its capital Bucharest later on Monday, including making wearing face masks mandatory in all outdoor and indoor spaces and switching to online schooling, Prime Minister Ludovic Orban said late Sunday.
The government in Slovakia on Sunday approved testing for all citizens for the disease next month, claiming it’s the only country to attempt it.
“We aren’t able to handle the pandemic, let’s be honest,” Prime Minister Igor Matovic said. “This is a way out of hell which we are heading for.”