A Daily Beast investigation reveals dozens of Russian accounts pushing disinformation on everything from Joe Biden to the origin of the novel coronavirus.By Adam RawnsleySuspected Russian government trolls are trying to pin the COVID-19 pandemic on the Pentagon; hyping Rudy Giuliani’s conspiracy theories about collusion between Democrats and Ukraine; and trying to meddle in European elections, an investigation by The Daily Beast reveals. Working with researchers from the disinformation-tracking firm Graphika, The Daily Beast found at least 20 fake news articles pushed by over 40 suspected Kremlin-backed personas across dozens of social media networks like Facebook, Reddit, Medium, and smaller web forums. “This looks like a Russian disinformation operation we call ‘Secondary Infektion’ that's been running for years,” said Ben Nimmo, director of investigations at Graphika, who has been investigating the operation since Facebook exposed a first set of accounts in May 2019. “It uses blogging platforms as the soft underbelly of the internet, planting false stories based on forged documents or leaks that never happened. The fakes mostly appear designed to trigger tensions between European countries, or between Europe and the United States, but they were generally too clumsy to be believed.” Nimmo and other disinformation researchers first identified the Secondary Infektion campaign in 2019, which uses forgeries and fake articles to push Moscow-friendly propaganda through fictional personas. The troll personas and articles identified by The Daily Beast followed the same Secondary Infektion pattern identified by Graphika and others. Trolls would set up one-time-use accounts at a handful of outlets in specific places—from obscure forums like the DebatePolitics and DefendingTheTruth to larger platforms like Medium and Reddit—and post articles and forgeries in broken English just minutes after creating their accounts. The cluster of personas and articles identified by The Daily Beast date back through 2016. They add to a growing body of evidence that shows Russian information operations didn’t stop after Moscow’s interference in the last presidential campaign, but rather continued on, spreading to other countries. The trolls in this campaign forged letters and screenshots in an attempt to meddle in elections in Sweden and Latvia, touted Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s Ukraine conspiracy theories, and tried to sow confusion about a former suspect in the leak of NSA hacking tools.Pinning COVID-19 on the PentagonAs COVID-19 ravaged China and began to spread around the globe, the State Department issued cryptic warnings in February and March that Russia was trying to pin the virus on the U.S. both through its overt and covert propaganda organs. In one February briefing, Assistant Secretary of State Philip Reeker called out the propaganda campaign in vague terms and claimed that Moscow was "once again choosing to threaten public safety by distracting from the global health response" with a COVID-19 disinformation campaign. American diplomats offered no specifics, but just a few days before Reeker’s briefing, a fake story bearing the hallmarks of Secondary Infektion trolls surfaced in Russian-language blogging platforms. The story, posted to Russian-language blogs and Reddit by multiple fake personas, tries to pin the blame on the COVID-19 outbreak on the U.S. and Kazakhstan by casting the virus as the byproduct of a U.S. nonproliferation program in the country. The trolls pointed to social media posts by a group of hackers calling themselves “Anonymous Kazakhstan.”
By Emma Reynolds and Luke McGee(CNN) British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's condition "continues to improve" after his third night in intensive care with the coronavirus, his official spokesman said Thursday. Johnson was continuing to receive "standard oxygen treatment" and thanked health staff for their brilliant care, the spokesman said."(Johnson) had a good night and continues to improve," the spokesman added. "He's in good spirits." Rishi Sunak, the UK's top finance minister, said at the daily Downing Street press briefing Wednesday that Johnson was "sitting up in bed and engaging positively with the clinical team." Sunak added: "The news about the Prime Minister reminds us how indiscriminate this virus is."
By Scott NeumanRussian officials on Thursday reported 1,459 new cases of the novel coronavirus in a single day, a record for the country, which has now surpassed 10,000 cases. The national coronavirus crisis response center said the death toll for the day had risen by 13. In total, 76 people have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, according to official tallies in Russia. In a televised address, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Thursday that he was ordering an extension of a national "non-working week," a measure designed to increase social distancing, until the end of the month, according to The Moscow Times. He also signed legislation making it a crime to break coronavirus quarantine rules, with a punishment of up to seven years in prison and a sentence of up to five years in prison for spreading false information about the novel coronavirus, the newspaper said. Putin said he would delegate decision-making to regional authorities because of the differences in infection rates throughout the country. That announcement appears to be aimed at quelling resentment over a one-size-fits-all approach to the pandemic that has occurred until now. The capital, Moscow, has borne the brunt of the outbreak, and it accounts for the vast majority of confirmed cases in Russia. Charles Maynes, reporting from Moscow for NPR earlier this week, noted that far-flung territories with few cases so far were falling under the same tight restrictions as Moscow and other cities with higher infection rates.
Secretary of State Pompeo said the report is part of a "large and growing body of evidence" the Syrian regime uses chemical weapons against its own people.By Dan De Luce and Abigail WilliamsWASHINGTON — The international chemical weapons watchdog said Wednesday that Syria's air force carried out three chemical weapons attacks using sarin and chlorine in March 2017 on the town of Latamneh, including a strike on a hospital. The findings were issued by a new investigative team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague, and were based on interviews with witnesses, samples from the sites, laboratory results, and analyses of munition remnants and other information, the report said. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed the report, saying it represented "the latest in a large and growing body of evidence that the Assad regime uses chemical weapons attacks in Syria as part of a deliberate campaign of violence against the Syrian people." "The United States shares the OPCW's conclusions and assesses that the Syrian regime retains sufficient chemicals — specifically sarin and chlorine — and expertise from its traditional chemical weapons (CW) program to use sarin, to produce and deploy chlorine munitions, and to develop new CW," Pompeo said in a statement. The attacks carried out in March 2017 confirmed Syria's continued use of chemical weapons and showed an "utter disregard for human life," Pompeo said. The Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia and Iran in its civil war, has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons. But the detailed OPCW report said the authorities in Damascus refused to cooperate with the investigation despite repeated requests.
By Bill ChappellUsing the COVID-19 pandemic to score political points is dangerous and will only result in "many more body bags," World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday, less than a day after President Trump criticized the WHO and its relationship with China. Tedros also revealed he has received death threats in recent months. "Please don't politicize this virus," Tedros said in a briefing in Geneva, after he was asked about Trump's remarks. He later urged political leaders to "please quarantine politicizing COVID." "The focus of all political parties should be to save their people," Tedros said. He added that politicizing the virus only exploits differences at the national level. "If you want to be exploited and if you want to have many more body bags, then you [politicize the virus]," the WHO leader said. "If you don't want many more body bags, then you refrain from politicizing it." The remarks came after Trump sharply criticized the WHO during a White House coronavirus task force briefing Tuesday night and suggested he might put a hold on U.S. funding — the largest single source of money for the health organization. Tedros did not refer to Trump by name as he stressed the importance of confronting COVID-19 as a common enemy. And he stated several times that he does not mind being targeted by personal attacks. Everyone's focus, he said, should remain on the coronavirus, not political or international rivalries.
Passengers to be evacuated from Antarctic cruise ship after almost 60% test positive for coronavirusBy James Griffiths and Jackie Castillo, CNN(CNN) Australian and New Zealand passengers will be evacuated from a stricken Antarctic cruise ship Thursday, after almost 60% of those on board tested positive for the coronavirus. The Greg Mortimer, a cruise liner operated by Australia's Aurora Expeditions, departed March 15 on a voyage to Antarctica and South Georgia. Since the beginning of April, however, the ship has been stuck off the coast of Uruguay, after authorities refused to allow passengers to disembark due to the risk of coronavirus. Of the 217 people on board, 128 passengers and crew have now tested positive for the virus. Six passengers requiring specialized care have been transferred to medical facilities in Montevideo -- a video posted online by the Uruguayan navy showed them being transferred from ship to ship wearing full protective gear. Passengers from Europe and America who have tested positive for coronavirus, however, will have to remain on board until they have a negative test result, after which they may be able to depart via Brazil, Aurora said. All passengers will be retested every two or three days, according to the company's website.
A Saudi Arabian-led coalition fighting Houthi forces in Yemen has declared a ceasefire, according to officials. Sources told the BBC the ceasefire will come into effect on Thursday in support of UN efforts to end the five-year-old war. The coalition, backed by Western military powers, has been fighting against Houthi forces aligned to Iran since March 2015. It's unclear if the Houthi forces will also observe the ceasefire. Last month the UN Secretary General António Guterres called on those in Yemen to cease fighting and ramp up efforts to counter a potential outbreak of the coronavirus. He called on the parties in the country to work with his special envoy Martin Griffiths to achieve a nationwide de-escalation. On Wednesday, Mr Griffiths welcomes the ceasefire news in a statement. He said: "The parties must now utilise this opportunity and cease immediately all hostilities with the utmost urgency." Both sides are expected to take part in a video conference to discuss the ceasefire. The proposal calls for the halting of all air, ground and naval hostilities. A statement from the coalition forces said: "On the occasion of holding and succeeding the efforts of the UN envoy to Yemen and to alleviate the suffering of the brotherly Yemeni people and work to confront the corona pandemic and prevent it from spreading, the coalition announces a comprehensive ceasefire for a period of two weeks, starting on Thursday." The situation in Yemen has long been described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis. The war has cost many civilian lives and left the country on the brink of collapse. The UN has brokered talks in the past, but this will be the first that the coalition has announced a countrywide ceasefire. Mohammed Abdulsalam, spokesman of the Houthi movement said his group had put forward a vision to the UN which includes an end to the war and to "the blockade" on Yemen.
French doctor apologizes for comments on testing a COVID-19 vaccine in Africa, prompting outrage on social media‘Shouldn’t we be doing this study in Africa where there are no masks, no treatment, no intensive care, a little bit like we did in certain AIDS studies or with prostitutes?’ Dr. Jean-Paul Mira said.By Wilson WongA French doctor apologized after suggesting that Africa should become a testing ground for a COVID-19 vaccine, remarks that sparked public outcry on social media. Jean-Paul Mira, head of the intensive care unit at the Cochin Hospital in Paris, made the comments in an interview that aired last week on the French television channel LCI with Camille Locht, the research director at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, Inserm. “If I could be provocative, shouldn’t we do this study in Africa where there are no masks, treatment, or intensive care, a little bit like we did in certain AIDS studies or with prostitutes?” Mira asked. “We tried things on prostitutes because they are highly exposed and do not protect themselves.” Locht responded in agreement: “You are right. We are thinking of a parallel study in Africa to use this same kind of approach with the BCG placebos,” referring to the tuberculosis vaccination that Inserm said appeared to protect children against infections, particularly respiratory diseases like COVID-19. Their comments triggered a deluge of outrage on social media, including from several leading soccer players in Africa. “Welcome to the West, where white people believe themselves to be so superior that racism and debility become commonplace,” Senegal striker Demba Ba said on Twitter.
by Dawn Kopecki, Berkeley Lovelace Jr.President Donald Trump blamed the World Health Organization for getting “every aspect” of the coronavirus pandemic wrong and threatened to withhold funding from the international organization. “They did give us some pretty bad play calling ... with regard to us, they’re taking a lot of heat because they didn’t want the borders closed, they called it wrong. They really called, I would say, every aspect of it wrong,” Trump said at a White House press conference Tuesday. The WHO, the United Nations’ health agency, started sounding the alarm on the outbreak of a new coronavirus in Wuhan, China in mid-January, designating the COVID-19 pandemic as a global health emergency on Jan. 30 when there were just 8,200 cases in 18 countries across the world. The coronavirus has since wreaked havoc across the globe, spreading to more than 1.4 million people and killing more than 81,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. WHO officials declared the outbreak a pandemic on March 11, when there were just 121,000 global cases. In the U.S. alone, there are now more than 380,000 cases, according to Hopkins. “Take a look, go through step by step. They said there’s no big deal, there’s no big problem. There’s no nothing, and then ultimately when I closed it down, they said I made a mistake in closing it down and it turned out to be right,” Trump said, referring to travel restrictions he put in place on people flying to the U.S. from China on Jan. 31 when he declared it was a public health emergency in the U.S. While WHO officials have praised the U.S. response to the coronavirus, they’ve also been critical of some of Trump’s policies and practices surrounding it. They’ve urged people against calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” as Trump has done, saying that it could unintentionally lead to racial profiling.
By Amanda WoodsChina has ended its more than 10-week-long lockdown of Wuhan — the city where the coronavirus is believed to have originated, and spread to 184 countries across the globe. As of Wednesday local time, the city’s 11 million residents are permitted to leave if they present a government-sanctioned phone app confirming they are healthy and have not recently been in contact with any infected individuals. The city celebrated the occasion with a light show on either side of the Yangtze river, with skyscrapers and bridges displaying animated images of health workers treating patients. One displayed the words “heroic city,” the title bestowed on Wuhan by Chinese president Xi Jinping. Residents waved flags along embankments and bridges, sang China’s national anthem and chanted “Wuhan, let’s go!” “I haven’t been outside for more than 70 days,” emotional resident Tong Zhengkun, who watched the display from a bridge told the AP. “Being indoors for so long drove me crazy.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been moved to intensive care in hospital after his coronavirus symptoms "worsened", Downing Street has said. A spokesman said he was moved on the advice of his medical team and was receiving "excellent care". Mr Johnson has asked Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to deputise "where necessary", the spokesman added. The prime minister, 55, was admitted to hospital in London with "persistent symptoms" on Sunday evening. The Queen has been kept informed about Mr Johnson's health by No 10, according to Buckingham Palace. BBC political correspondent Chris Mason said the prime minister was given oxygen late on Monday afternoon, before being taken to intensive care. However, he has not been put on a ventilator. A No 10 statement read: "The prime minister has been under the care of doctors at St Thomas' Hospital, in London, after being admitted with persistent symptoms of coronavirus. "Over the course of [Monday] afternoon, the condition of the prime minister has worsened and, on the advice of his medical team, he has been moved to the intensive care unit at the hospital." It continued: "The PM is receiving excellent care, and thanks all NHS staff for their hard work and dedication."
By Rob Picheta, CNN(CNN) A man has been arrested in Russia on suspicion of shooting and killing five people after asking them not to be so loud during the country's coronavirus lockdown. The man was arrested over the weekend after having an argument with neighbors while standing on the balcony of his apartment, the Russian Investigative Committee told state news agency TASS. The alleged incident took place in the village of Yelatma, in the Ryazan region of western Russia. As with most Russian regions, the area has imposed a stay-at-home order for residents as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic. "Police officers arrived at the scene promptly. A resident of that building born in 1988 was detained by police officers near that building where five bodies were found," the Interior Ministry's regional department told TASS on Sunday. "According to preliminary data, those were four men and one woman."
UN chief calls on governments to step up prosecution of abusers and set up emergency-warning systems in pharmacies.UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned of a "horrifying global surge" in domestic violence during the coronavirus crisis and urged governments to step up efforts to prevent violence against women. "We know lockdowns and quarantines are essential to suppressing COVID-19. But they can trap women with abusive partners," Guterres said in a video message posted on Twitter on Sunday. "For many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest - in their own homes." In some countries, the number of women calling support services has doubled, healthcare providers and police are overwhelmed and understaffed, and local support groups are "paralysed" or short of funds, the UN chief said.
By Holly EllyattThere are tentative hopes in Europe that the coronavirus outbreak could be slowing, as the number of new infections and fatalities starts to slow down, according to data over the weekend. The figures are prompting European leaders to look for an exit strategy to national lockdowns, while urging the public to maintain discipline while the apparent recovery from the outbreak is in its infancy. Italy, the epicenter of Europe’s pandemic, reported its lowest daily COVID-19 death toll for more than two weeks on Sunday. The Civil Protection Agency said there had been a rise of 525 deaths from a day earlier — the smallest daily increase since March 19, Reuters noted. On Saturday, there had been a rise of 681 deaths, and the day before that, a rise of 766 deaths, so the numbers are going in the right direction. Italy has recorded 128,948 cases of the coronavirus to date, and 15,887 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University, meaning it has the highest death toll in Europe. Rome has implemented some of the most draconian restrictions in the world, imposing a national lockdown on March 12, but there were hints Sunday that it could start to look for a way to ease the measures the near future. “The curve has started its descent and the number of deaths has started to drop,” Italy’s ISS national health institute Director Silvio Brusaferro told reporters. “If these data are confirmed (in the coming days), we will have to start thinking about Phase 2,” he said. However, he noted that there needed to be consistency in the slowdown in numbers. “It is a result that we have to achieve day after day,” he said.
By Emma NewburgerU.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to a hospital for tests Sunday, 10 days after contracting the coronavirus. A Downing Street spokesperson said it’s a “precautionary step” since the prime minister continues to have persistent symptoms of the virus. “The Prime Minister thanks NHS staff for all of their incredible hard work and urges the public to continue to follow the Government’s advice to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives,” the spokesperson said. Johnson, 55, is the first major governmental leader known to have contracted the disease. He had been self-isolating at in his flat next door to 10 Downing Street and was running a high temperature. He remains in charge of the government and is in contact with ministerial colleagues and officials. News of Johnson’s hospitalization followed a rare television address to the nation by Queen Elizabeth II, who urged citizens to confront the pandemic with resolve and unity.
The US has been accused of redirecting 200,000 Germany-bound masks for its own use, in a move condemned as "modern piracy".The local government in Berlin said the shipment of US-made masks was "confiscated" in Bangkok. The FFP2 masks, which were ordered by Berlin's police force, did not reach their destination, it said. Andreas Geisel, Berlin's interior minister, said the masks were presumably diverted to the US. The US company that makes the masks, 3M, has been prohibited from exporting its medical products to other countries under a Korean-War-era law invoked by President Donald Trump. On Friday, Mr Trump said he was using the Defence Production Act to demand that US firms provide more medical supplies to meet domestic demand. "We need these items immediately for domestic use. We have to have them," Mr Trump said at the daily Coronavirus Task Force briefing at the White House. He said US authorities had taken custody of nearly 200,000 N95 respirators, 130,000 surgical masks and 600,000 gloves. He did not say where they were taken into US hands. Mr Geisel said the diversion of masks from Berlin amounted to an "act of modern piracy", urging the Trump administration to adhere to international trading rules. "This is not how you deal with transatlantic partners," the minister said. "Even in times of global crisis, there should be no wild-west methods."A 'treasure hunt' for masksMr Geisel's comments echo the sentiments of other European officials, who have complained about the buying and diversion practices of the US. In France, for example, regional leaders say they are struggling to secure medical supplies as American buyers outbid them. The president of the Île-de-France region, Valérie Pécresse, compared the scramble for masks to a "treasure hunt".
By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN(CNN) Perhaps half the world's population is living under some form of restriction to help curb the spread of coronavirus. Many are starting to wonder when and how these tough limits on everyday activities will end. Most experts agree that the only way out of a lockdown is testing. Reliable tests would allow people to know whether they have had the virus, and therefore enjoy at least a degree of immunity. They would give officials the ability to isolate new outbreaks when they emerge. But just how would people prove their status -- and just what rights would that status confer? These are big questions that countries around the world are grappling with. In the UK, Health Secretary Matt Hancock -- who has himself just emerged from self-isolation after testing positive for Covid-19 -- suggested that Britons who've had the virus might be issued with a certificate, which has already been dubbed an immunity passport. "We are looking at an immunity certificate, how people who've had the disease, have got the antibodies and therefore have immunity, can show that and get back as much as possible to normal life," he said. On the BBC later, he said it could take the form of a wristband. For many who have already lost their jobs or are desperate to return to work and keep businesses alive, the idea sounds like a godsend. But little is yet known about how feasible or reliable such a scheme would be -- not least because the evidence surrounding Covid-19 immunity is not clear. "It's too early in the science of the immunity that comes from having had the disease" to take any firm decisions now, Hancock said. Potential challenges include finding a reliable test to determine who has antibodies for the coronavirus, establishing the level of immunity conferred by previous infection and how long it lasts, and the capacity of overstretched health systems to carry out reliable, widespread antibody tests in the general population. Difficult social questions could also be thrown up. Could immunity passports create a kind of two-tier society, where those who have them can return to a more normal life while others remain locked down? The UK government has already been widely criticized this week over its limited coronavirus testing capacity for frontline health care workers and others, prompting skepticism about whether it could deliver a more ambitious program.
Bodies lie in the streets of Guayaquil, Ecuador, emerging epicenter of the coronavirus in Latin AmericaBy Anthony Faiola and Ana Vanessa HerreroThe body was wrapped in a plastic tarp, swollen, already attracting flies. He had been a neighbor, a man Rosangelys Valdiviezo passed while walking home from work, though they’d never exchanged words. Now he lay in front of his home, one of an untold number of bodies cast out in the streets of Guayaquil, Ecuador, a sweltering South American city being ravaged by the novel coronavirus. Valdiviezo, a 30-year-old seafood worker, said the body had been out in the tropical heat for six days. “I am very afraid,” Valdiviezo, a Venezuelan migrant who moved to Guayaquil, said by telephone. “I’m terrified of dying so far from home.” Ecuador’s largest city, a commercial center of nearly 3 million, is emerging as the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak in Latin America. In local news accounts, videos shared on social media and telephone interviews, officials, aid workers and others in the poverty-stricken metropolis are reporting fly-covered bodies on sidewalks and corpses left inside homes for days. Ecuador confirmed its first case of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, on Feb. 29: A 71-year-old Ecuadoran woman who returned to Guayaquil from Spain on Valentine’s Day. Since then, the crisis in Guayaquil has ballooned, jumping to more than 2,200 cases, or roughly 70 percent of Ecuador’s total, far surpassing the numbers in Quito, the capital. The outbreak has struck faster than Guayaquil can cope. Hospitals were quickly overwhelmed. Mortuary workers couldn’t, or wouldn’t, collect the bodies — some dead from the virus, some apparently from other causes — from homes. With daytime temperatures topping 90 degrees in a city where many live with no air conditioning, some grieving families saw little option but to carry days-old corpses outside.
An international team, including Arizona State University researcher Gary Schwartz, have unearthed the earliest known skull of Homo erectus, the first of our ancestors to be nearly human-like in their anatomy and aspects of their behavior. Years of painstaking excavation at the fossil-rich site of Drimolen, nestled within the Cradle of Humankind (a UNESCO World Heritage site located just 40 kilometers or around 25 miles northwest of Johannesburg in South Africa), has resulted in the recovery of several new and important fossils. The skull, attributed to Homo erectus, is securely dated to be two million years old. Published this week in Science, the international team of nearly 30 scientists from five countries shared details of this skull — the most ancient fossil Homo erectus known — and other fossils from this site and discuss how these new finds are forcing us to rewrite a part of our species’ evolutionary history. The high-resolution dating of Drimolen’s fossil deposits demonstrates the age of the new skull to pre-date Homo erectus specimens from other sites within and outside of Africa by at least 100,000 to 200,000 years and thus confirms an African origin for the species. The skull, reconstructed from more than 150 separate fragments, is of an individual likely aged between three and six years old, giving scientists a rare glimpse into childhood growth and development in these early human ancestors. Additional fossils recovered from Drimolen belong to a different species — in fact, a different genus of ancient human altogether — the more heavily built, robust human ancestor Paranthropus robustus, known to also occur at several nearby cave sites preserving fossils of the same geological age. A third, distinctive species, Australopithecus sediba, is known from two-million-year old deposits of an ancient cave site virtually down the road from Drimolen.
OPEC and allies reportedly set for video meeting as analysts pour skepticism on Trump’s interventionBy Sam MeredithOil producer group OPEC and its partners will reportedly hold an emergency virtual meeting on Monday, with all members of the energy alliance expected to take part in an effort to stabilize markets. It comes less than 24 hours after President Donald Trump told CNBC that he expected OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia and non-OPEC leader Russia to take up to 15 million barrels of crude off the market. International benchmark Brent crude traded at $32.78 a barrel Friday morning, up over 9%, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $26.59, more than 5% higher. Brent settled up more than 21% on Thursday, registering its best day since contract inception in 1989, while WTI closed up over 24%, also marking its best-ever daily rally. It leaves both benchmarks on pace for their best week since January 2009, although, year-to-date, Brent and WTI are still down more than 54%. On Friday, Azerbaijan’s energy ministry said a virtual meeting between OPEC producers and non-OPEC partners, an alliance sometimes referred to as OPEC+, had been scheduled for April 6, according to the RIA news agency. OPEC was not immediately available to comment when contacted by CNBC Friday morning. ‘Nonsense’ Trump said via Twitter on Thursday that he expected OPEC+ to cut approximately 10 million barrels of oil, “which, if it happens, will be GREAT for the oil & gas industry!” Around 30 minutes after his first tweet, Trump then suggested the deal “could be as high” as 15 million barrels. This would be “great news for everyone!” he added. “Donald Trump’s tweet … It’s nonsense, really,” Patrick Armstrong, chief investment officer at Plurimi Investment Managers, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Friday. “There is no way that Russia and Saudi Arabia are going to cut production by 50%, which is the midpoint of the 10 to 15 million barrels per day he was talking about,” he added. The U.S. president claimed via Twitter on Thursday that he had spoken with “his friend,” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who in turn had spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and he hoped they would both orchestrate an output cut. Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, told Interfax news agency on Thursday that the Russian leader did not speak with his Saudi counterpart, as Trump had claimed.
The health secretary, who just emerged from isolation after contracting the coronavirus, vowed that Britain would conduct 100,000 tests a day by the end of April, a tenfold increase.By Mark Landler and Stephen CastleLONDON — When Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to the British people from isolation on Wednesday, still suffering his own bout of the coronavirus, he said the key to overcoming the pandemic was more testing. “This is how we will unlock the coronavirus puzzle,” he said in a shaky, hand-held video. In fact, the British government came very late to the recognition that testing for the virus is a key part of fighting it, by helping to slow transmission. That failure has set off an outcry in the country. The government’s tardiness has left Britain with an undersupplied and poorly coordinated testing program that has reached only a fraction of the people tested in countries like Germany or South Korea. The shortfall has frustrated doctors and nurses, who often have not had access themselves to tests despite potential exposure to the virus and who cannot quickly determine if patients have it. It has angered public-health experts, who say Britain is squandering valuable time during the lockdown that it could be using to get a better fix on the spread of the virus in the population. Front-line doctors and nurses in the United States, where testing is now being ramped up, complained for weeks of similar deficiencies. In Britain, the testing gap has generated a flood of outraged headlines, even in newspapers normally cozy with Mr. Johnson’s Conservative government. “Virus testing plans in chaos,” said The Times of London. “Questions without answers,” declared The Daily Telegraph. “500,000 NHS Staff,” said The Daily Mail. “Only 2,000 Tested.”
By Rodrigo Orihuela, Rudy Ruitenberg and John FollainThe number of coronavirus deaths in Italy, Spain, France and Germany surpassed 31,000, with all four countries on almost complete lockdown as leaders struggle to bring the outbreak under control. Deaths mounted across the four European nations, which between them have almost 60% of total fatalities and more than a third of the global tally of 1 million confirmed cases. The grim figures give governments little leeway to ease restrictions in a human and economic crisis that is straining continental unity. While new infections slowed in Italy and intensive-care admissions declined in France, officials said it’s still too early to relax restrictions that have brought wide swathes of Europe to a halt. France’s death toll rose sharply on Thursday after data from some nursing homes were included for the first time. In a tentative sign of hope, Spain -- the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe alongside Italy -- reported the first decline in coronavirus deaths in four days on Friday. The number of new cases was also less than the previous day.
Speaking at the White House COVID-19 press briefing on Monday, March 30, U.S. President Donald Trump said many foreign countries were sending help for the coronavirus pandemic. He specifically mentioned China and Russia, without specifying whether assistance was purchased or a form of humanitarian aid. “Russia sent us a very, very large planeload of things, medical equipment, which was very nice.” Trump’s announcement created a confusion, first because Russia had yet to send the plane when the U.S. president said it already had arrived. Secondly, Trump’s critics assumed the aid was a gift, providing President Vladimir Putin a propaganda victory. Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov was the source of the misleading claim that the Russian supplies were of a “humanitarian nature.” Peskov said Putin offered to send humanitarian aid to the U.S. during a phone call with Trump on March 30, and that Trump “accepted the offer with gratitude.” While “some on the American side” did not support rapid implementation of the presidents’ agreement, the Kremlin expects the spirit of cooperation to be mutual, Peskov added. On Wednesday, April 1, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Twitter that Russia’s “largest cargo aircraft” was en route to the U.S. to “help save lives of American citizens.” The tweet used hashtag “RussiaHelps,” further suggesting a humanitarian gesture. But in a move that unsettled the narrative, the U.S. State Department issued a statement that the U.S. actually bought the supplies from Russia. “As a follow-up to the March 30 phone call between President Trump and President Putin, the United States has agreed to purchase needed medical supplies, including ventilators and personal protection equipment, from Russia, which were handed over to FEMA on April 1 in New York City,” the State Department said. The U.S. did not provide the details of the purchase, including the price and the content of supplies. (FEMA stands for the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, which responds to disasters like the pandemic.) On April 2, the Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed that the cargo was indeed not entirely humanitarian – and added a new wrinkle. In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Garry Kasparov, the exiled Russian world chess champion and Putin critic, compared the Kremlin’s COVID-19 disinformation efforts to the Soviet regime’s cover-up of the Chernobyl disaster. “Putin’s coronavirus malpractice isn’t just the latest misery visited upon the Russian people; he also endangers the rest of the world. Remember the lessons of Chernobyl,” Kasparov wrote. Russia’s coronavirus aid to hard-hit Italy, dubbed “From Russia with Love,” came under criticism, after the Moscow Times and La Stampa newspapers reported that 80 percent of the supplies were “totally useless.”
BBC NewsThe UK government has set a target of 100,000 coronavirus tests a day in England by the end of April. Universities and private firms will be called in to help. The new target was announced by Health Secretary Matt Hancock. It follows criticism that previous targets have not been reached. One of Britain’s most eminent scientists, Sir Paul Nurse, has told the BBC that “the country wasn’t as well prepared as it should have been”.
By Chloe TaylorRussian President Vladimir Putin and his administration are using the coronavirus crisis to spread conspiracy theories in a bid to “subvert the West” and create a new world order, a new report has alleged. In an article published Wednesday by The University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, it’s claimed Russia has been “churning out propaganda that blames the West for creating the virus.” The report’s author, Sergey Sukhankin, said the state was propagating disinformation and conspiracy theories via social media accounts, fake news outlets, state-controlled media, pseudo-scientists and Russians living in the West. The Kremlin has previously denied such claims. “Putin’s larger goal in spreading propaganda and conspiracy theories is to subvert the West,” Sukhankin said. “Russia seeks to seriously damage the solidarity among EU members and capitalize on any internal European weaknesses to promote broader conflicts. COVID-19 is seen as an ideal way for Russia to deal a powerful blow not only to the EU, but to inflict damage on the ties between Europe and its North American allies.”
There are 1 million coronavirus cases worldwide. But there are probably many more people who have the disease.By Doug Stanglin - USA TODAYThe world marked a grim milestone on Thursday, registering more than 1 million confirmed cases of the deadly coronavirus that has swept the globe in less than five months. But in reality that mark — 1,002,159 around 4 p.m. EDT — was crossed much earlier. That's because the number of official cases, compiled by Johns Hopkins' Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases website, are only those identified through testing. Cases not tested would include asymptomatic individuals; people who may have died of complications of the virus without anyone knowing it; and those whose symptoms were not serious enough to qualify for testing. "The million (cases) is clearly way under what the actual number will be because of all the issues of testing and all the people with mild symptoms that haven’t been tested," said Dr. Steven Corwin, president and CEO of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. He said the U.S. figures are especially underreported "because of the lag that we had getting testing underway and the ability to only test the sickest of patients to begin with." What is exponential growth? Coronavirus is spreading so quickly that our brains can't keep up. Experts explain why. That is an especially alarming reality because people with undetected cases unwittingly spread the virus, especially within families or if people mix in large, public gatherings. "Every infectious agent only goes as the hosts go," said Dr. Ogbonnaya Omenka, an assistant professor and public health specialist at Butler University's College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. "In essence, our social patterns are excellent indicators of how far and wide an outbreak would go, if they remain unchanged. This is why physical distancing has been put in place, to throw the virus off-balance, so to speak, by breaking its chain of transmission."
By Kevin BreuningerThe Chinese government has deliberately underreported the total number of coronavirus cases and deaths in the country, the U.S. intelligence community told the White House, a new report says. Bloomberg, citing three U.S. officials, reported Wednesday that the intelligence community said in a classified report that China’s public tally of COVID-19 infections and deaths is purposefully incomplete. The secret report concludes that China’s numbers are fake, two of the officials told Bloomberg. The White House received the report last week, according to the news outlet. China has reported 82,361 coronavirus cases, data from Johns Hopkins University shows. That number is about half of the total cases confirmed in the U.S., which has become the country with the highest number of reported infections in the world.
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan remains on the brink of a state of emergency as the rate of coronavirus infections continues to increase in the country, its top government spokesman said on Wednesday.
“The material presented by the public health authorities is weak, even embarrassing,” one professor who is critical of Sweden's strategy, said.By Karolina Modig and Saphora SmithSTOCKHOLM — As the temperature passed 50 degrees in Stockholm last week, people congregated in parks unable to resist socializing during the first signs of spring in the Swedish capital. This country of 10 million has bucked the trend in Europe, where many countries have locked down their residents in an attempt to slow the coronavirus that has spread throughout the world at breakneck speed. The Swedish government has left it up to individuals to act responsibly and decide whether to stay home or not. Restrictions that are in place are far more liberal compared with those of the nation's neighbors. Public gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited but there are no restrictions on private meetings, meaning parties and corporate events can still go ahead. Libraries and swimming pools remain open. Standing at bars has been prohibited but restaurants are still able to offer table service. Students over 16 have been asked to study from home but kindergartens and elementary schools are still open. Rather than wide-ranging restrictions, the authorities have instead advised the public to practice social distancing and to work from home, where possible, and urged those over the age of 70 to self-isolate as a precaution. In other words, the country has staked its bets on people acting responsibly. “There are a few critical times in life when you must make sacrifices, not just for your own sake, but also for those around you, for your fellow human beings, and for our country. That time is now,” Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said earlier this month. The British government had pursued a similarly laissez-faire approach earlier in the crisis before drastically reversing course and ordering a countrywide lockdown March 23. Britain's about-turn has left Sweden increasingly isolated in its response to the coronavirus outbreak and has prompted some scientists to suggest the strategy is based on scant scientific evidence and is irresponsible in a pandemic that has already killed more than 35,000 people worldwide.
By Arshad Mohammed, Humeyra PamukWASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held out the possibility on Tuesday that the United States may consider easing sanctions on Iran and other nations to help fight the coronavirus epidemic but gave no concrete sign it plans to do so. The comments reflected a shift in tone by the U.S. State Department, which has come under withering criticism for its hard line toward sanctions relief even in the face of a call by the U.N. secretary-general to ease U.S. economic penalties. Pompeo stressed that humanitarian supplies are exempt from sanctions Washington reimposed on Tehran after President Donald Trump abandoned Iran’s 2015 multilateral deal to limit its nuclear program. However, broader U.S. sanctions deter many firms from humanitarian trade with Iran, one of the nations hardest hit by the coronavirus epidemic. Asked if there might come a point at which Washington might reevaluate its stance on easing sanctions, Pompeo told reporters: “We evaluate all of our policies constantly, so the answer is - would we ever rethink? - Of course.” Asked about such relief on March 20, Pompeo simply said U.S. sanctions do not apply to medical and other humanitarian goods. Washington is pursuing a “maximum pressure” policy to try to force Tehran to curb its nuclear, missile and regional activities. Iran has accused the United States of “medical terror,” prompting Pompeo’s spokeswoman, Morgan Ortagus, on Monday to tweet: “Stop lying. ... It’s not the sanctions. It’s the regime.”
By Parisa HafeziDUBAI (Reuters) - Iran’s president said on Wednesday that, with the advent of the coronavirus, the United States had missed a historic opportunity to lift sanctions on his country, though the penalties had not hampered its fight against the infection. On Tuesday, U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised the possibility that Washington might consider easing sanctions on Iran and other nations to help fight the epidemic, but gave no concrete sign it plans to do so. “The United States lost the best opportunity to lift sanctions,” Hassan Rouhani said in a televised cabinet meeting. “It was a great opportunity for Americans to apologize ... and to lift the unjust and unfair sanctions on Iran.” The coronavirus has killed more than 3,000 people in Iran with confirmed infections close to 48,000, making it the worst-hit country in the Middle East and prompting China and the United Nations to urge the United States to ease sanctions. “Americans could have used this opportunity and told the Iranian nation that they are not against them,” Rouhani said. “Their hostility (toward Iranians) is obvious.” Friction between Tehran and Washington has increased since 2018, when U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six nations and re-imposed sanctions, crippling Iran’s economy.
BBC NewsThe virus is thought to have originated in a seafood market in Wuhan that "conducted illegal transactions of wild animals". The city's 11 million residents have been shut off from the rest of the world since the middle of January, with roadblocks around the outskirts and drastic restrictions on daily life. But roads reopened to incoming traffic late on Friday, according to Reuters news agency. And state media said the subway was open from Saturday and trains would be able to arrive at the city's 17 railway stations.
The plane will arrive today, after President Donald Trump accepted an offer by Russian President Vladimir Putin to send personal protective equipment and other gear.By LARA SELIGMANRussia is sending a planeload of masks and other supplies to help the United States fight the coronavirus pandemic as the number of cases threatens to top 200,000 across the country. The plane will arrive today, after President Donald Trump accepted an offer on Monday by Russian President Vladimir Putin to send personal protective equipment and other gear, a senior administration official confirmed to POLITICO.
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