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Israel to Seize Ibrahimi Mosque Land in Hebron

Ibrahimi Mosque in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron
Palestine Chronicle | April 22, 2020

Israeli government’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit yesterday approved the expropriation of Palestinian land adjacent to the Ibrahimi Mosque in occupied West Bank city of Hebron (Al-Khalil).

According to Arab48, after Mandelblit’s approval, the Palestinian land will be under the control of Defence Minister Naftali Bennett.

The land belongs to the Islamic charitable trust in the Palestinian city, which oversees the Ibrahimi Mosque.

The occupation will use the land to allow disabled visitors to access a synagogue near the mosque.

Israeli media reported the Israeli Ministry of Justice saying in a statement that the decision was made in collaboration with the Civil Administration.

The statement said that this land would be used to build an elevator and ramp to allow people with disabilities, including tourists and Jewish worshippers, to access a synagogue.

Commenting on this step, the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Waqf and Religious Affairs said: “The decision is an assault on the Muslims’ ownership of the Ibrahimi Mosque and the endowments that surround it, which are numerous in the city of Hebron.”

April 22, 2020 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , | 2 Comments

Lebanon legalises cannabis cultivation

A farmer is seen in a green of cannabis plants in a field overlooking a lake in Yammouneh in West of Baalbek, Lebanon on 13 August 2018. [Mohamed Azakir/ Reuters]

Cannabis plants in a field overlooking a lake in Yammouneh in West of Baalbek, Lebanon on 13 August 2018. [Mohamed Azakir/ Reuters]
MEMO | April 22, 2020

Lebanon has become the first Arab country to legalise cannabis cultivation for medicinal and industrial purposes, after the country’s parliament approved the law yesterday.

The new legislation, first endorsed by parliamentary committees in March, aims to regulate cultivation by Lebanon’s cannabis farmers, considered illegal under current laws but which has been grown illicitly for decades in the country’s eastern Bekaa Valley.

Last month, Lebanese police reported intercepting 25 tonnes of hashish travelling through the port of Beirut to an African country. Officials said the cargo was part of the largest drug smuggling operation in Lebanese history.

Now, however, though export of hashish for recreational use remains illegal, Lebanon is set to establish a new above-board industry producing medicinal cannabis products, including Cannabidiol (CBD oil). The harvest could also be used to make industrial commodities, such as fibres for textiles.

As Lebanon’s economy teeters on the brink of collapse, the creation of a new industry, and manufacture of products for export, could provide much needed economic stimulus.

Alain Aoun, a senior MP in the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) founded by current President Michel Aoun, told Reuters that parliament’s decision was “really driven by economic motives, nothing else”.

Adding: “We have moral and social reservations but today there is the need to help the economy by any means… we don’t want to speculate on numbers… but let’s say it is worth a try.”

The move was initially recommended as a method of revitalising Lebanon’s debt-ridden economy by US consultancy firm McKinsey in 2018. A study by the company estimated legalisation of Lebanon’s cannabis industry could be worth as much as $4 billion.

Under the new legislation, an official authority, which will fall under the jurisdiction of the presidency of the Cabinet, will oversee the enforcement of the law. The authority will issue permits for the cultivation, transport, production, store, trade and distribution of cannabis. Only permit holders will be able to work under the new law.

The proposed regulation of the industry, however, has drawn criticism, with many concerned the system leaves room for corruption since the source of funding for the authority will not come from the government budget, but from permit fees, which could create a conflict of interest.

Other concerns, raised by those opposed to the bill, include fears the new legislation should include a change to punishments for recreational cannabis users, as such use remains illegal under Lebanese law. Activists have in the past recommended rehabilitation programmes in lieu of punishment.

April 22, 2020 Posted by | Economics | | Leave a comment

Why does MSM believe bizarre rumors coming from the South about North Korea?

The two countries are still technically AT WAR!

By Helen Buyniski | RT | April 21, 2020

The rash of stories claiming North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is on his deathbed – all sourced to a South Korean blog post – show Western media will run any horrific item on the Hermit Kingdom, confident they won’t be contradicted.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is clinging to life by a thread after heart surgery went horribly, horribly wrong! Or at least, US intelligence is monitoring reports that Kim was “in grave danger” after botched surgery, as CNN reported on Monday. The source for Kim’s health troubles was a single report from South Korean web outlet The Daily NK, itself citing a single source in the North.

While CNN acknowledged it “couldn’t independently verify” the story (or anything else happening in North Korea), the outlet ran with it anyway, leading others to do the same. And while the Guardian eventually front-loaded its own article with official denials from China and South Korea as the story began to unravel, its Twitter account reveals the original title, “North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has heart surgery – report,” a much more authoritative-sounding line than the lukewarm “South Korea and China play down Kim Jong-un health claims” it became.

By the time the stories had been edited, however, fervent speculation on “the North Korean succession” was already underway.

None of these stories thought to mention that the South Korean source regularly runs sensationalist pieces depicting the North as a seething pit of death and misery (“Pyongyang hospital construction workers stealing to survive” and “Chagang Province forestry official executed for illegal corn farm” are some recent headlines). Nor do they mention that the South and North never formally concluded the decades-long war that split the Korean landmass, or explain that such atrocity propaganda is typical among enemies.

Indeed, Western media rely on South Korea for news about the North, a weakness which has resulted in some truly preposterous stories being reported with a straight face by Western outlets eager to take a whack at the DPRK piñata.

A 2014 story claiming Kim had his uncle (and several aides) killed by stripping them naked and feeding them to a pack of starving dogs was reported by numerous “reputable” outlets, including NBC and the UK’s Channel 4 even though it originated with a satirical post on a Chinese social network.

About the only thing more embarrassing than publishing the Chinese equivalent of the Onion as straight news is for one of Kim’s “grisly execution” victims to appear in public alongside her executioner. The Telegraph, HuffPost and other ‘reputable’ Western outlets reported in 2013 that Kim had his ex-girlfriend, pop singer Hyon Song-wol, executed by firing squad, citing a South Korean news outlet that in turn cited an anonymous Chinese source. The story was proven spectacularly false last year, when she was photographed alongside the North Korean leader on a factory tour. Incredibly, some outlets still tried to spin the story – the Daily Mail hinted that 10 performers rumored to have been shot alongside her were actually dead, citing South Korea’s intelligence director as their source in a way that implied only Hyon had managed to (literally) dodge the executioner’s bullets.

Yet “numerous” individuals reported executed in South Korean media have later surfaced very much alive, News.com.au admitted last year… before repeating unverified claims that multiple North Korean officials had been executed over the failed US-DPRK peace talks in Vietnam. Why do these outlets keep repeating South Korean propaganda if they know it’s false?

It’s easy for western media to run the most lurid horror stories about the ‘hermit kingdom,’ confident that the only denials will come from state-run media and will be summarily dismissed as the controlled rantings of an ‘Evil Dictator’. Who are you going to believe, a charter member of the Axis of Evil or good old CNN? At a time when the media establishment is widely distrusted and loathed almost as much as politicians, atrocity propaganda is always good for ratings and patriotic sentiment, and there’s no risk of an inconvenient fact-checker bumbling in and making life difficult.

It’s worth noting that trying something similar with other heads of state lasts about five minutes. When UK PM Boris Johnson was hospitalized with coronavirus last month, RIA Novosti published an anonymous NHS source’s claim that he was more seriously ill than the public knew and was to be placed on a ventilator. This was immediately slapped down as “Russian disinformation” (even though it was later admitted that Johnson’s condition had worsened significantly while in hospital). But if the mainstream media is willing to perpetrate this level of disinformation about North Korea, it’s long past time to reconsider trusting their reporting on other countries as well.

 Follow Helen Buyniski on Twitter @velocirapture23

April 22, 2020 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | | 3 Comments

Pompeo claims countries will ‘rethink’ Huawei partnerships after Covid-19

RT | April 17, 2020

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has predicted “many, many countries” will reconsider telecom partnerships with China’s Huawei after Covid-19, using Beijing’s supposed lack of “transparency” to take a whack at a favorite target.

Pompeo was “very confident” that the Chinese response to coronavirus would “cause many, many countries [to] rethink what they were doing with respect to their telecom architecture,” he told Fox Business Network on Friday.

“And when Huawei comes knocking to sell them equipment and hardware, they will have a different prism through which to view that decision,” he continued.

The diplomat denounced the Chinese Communist Party’s “fail[ure] to be transparent and open, and handle data in an appropriate way,” bolstering the narrative the Trump administration has kept up throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Washington accused China early on of hiding the spread of the disease – even as it dragged its feet preparing for the epidemic to hit US shores – and later insisted Beijing was covering up both deaths and new infections.

The government had briefly let up on hammering Huawei amid the chaos the outbreak unleashed, quietly granting the company another 45-day license extension before doing business with it becomes officially off-limits for US companies.

However, Pompeo’s comments appear to signal that Washington has refocused its diplomatic efforts on what’s really important: intimidating allies out of using Chinese equipment. The US threatened last year to cut Germany and the UK out of the loop on intelligence-sharing if they partnered with Huawei on building 5G infrastructure, insisting the equipment was backdoored and used by Beijing for spying – although failing to provide any proof of such security risks. Despite US protests, however, both countries have tentatively moved forward in their relationships with the company.

Pompeo went further toward blaming China for the coronavirus outbreak in an interview with Fox News on Thursday, hinting that “We know that there is the Wuhan Institute of Virology just a handful of miles away from where the wet market was. There’s still lots to learn.” While the ‘wet market’ in question was initially believed to be the origin site for the coronavirus epidemic that has taken the world by storm, several studies have since called that theory into question, revealing that the earliest infected patients actually had no exposure to the market.

Doubling down on his insistence that Beijing had been doomed by its failure to be “open and transparent,” Pompeo grew vague about what the State Department knew and if it had received, as reported, a set of lurid cables in 2018 from US officials describing lax security procedures at the Wuhan lab.

April 22, 2020 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | | 1 Comment

Developed West is managing Covid-19 worse than poorer countries – French virologist

Didier Raoult © AFP / Gerard Julien
RT | April 22, 2020

The world’s experience with Covid-19 has exposed the fact that wealthy nations are not necessarily more prepared than poorer ones to deal with a pandemic and they are often too slow to act, French biologist Didier Raoult said.

In a video posted on YouTube, Raoult noted that many of the countries with the highest coronavirus mortality rates are “wealthy countries.” This reveals “a disconnect between wealth and the ability to respond to situations of this kind.”

The difference could lie in how rich and poor countries have chosen to deal with the virus, Raoult believes.

“The rich and developed countries have had less significant results than the poor countries, which chose to treat [Covid-19] like pneumonia with common drugs and which cost nothing,” he said.

Raoult has been at the center of an international debate over the use of the hydroxychloroquine anti-malaria drug which he promoted as a possible treatment for the coronavirus, citing his own small study and some positive experiences with the drug in China.

Faced with a pandemic, the choice is whether to begin treating patients with existing drugs or conduct studies to find new ones.

“If we start doing research which ends when there’s no disease anymore, we can’t fight it,” he said.

“We decided to treat the disease and you got some extremely violent reactions because of this decision,” he said, referring to backlash from other doctors, officials and media.

While Raoult has adamantly defended his approach, there is still no solid evidence that hydroxychloroquine actually works against the coronavirus.

The most recent study was conducted on sick veterans in the US. In that study of 368 patients, which is not yet peer-reviewed, about 28 percent of the Covid-19 sufferers treated with hydroxychloroquine died of the infection, while only 11 percent of those receiving routine care died.

On Twitter, Raoult slammed the US study as “fraudulent” and “fake news.” He said that the patients treated with hydroxychloroquine were already in critical condition.

April 22, 2020 Posted by | Economics | | Leave a comment

How the Nicaraguan Opposition Distorted the Government’s Response to COVID-19

By John Perry | Council on Hemispheric Affairs | April 21, 2020

Masaya, Nicaragua – The right-wing opposition in Nicaragua, having failed in their attempted coup in 2018, still looks at any potential crisis as a new opportunity to attack the Sandinista government. Their latest chance, of course, arrived with the coronavirus pandemic. Even though the virus has barely hit the country yet, the government is under attack. The international media are lapping up opposition propaganda and ignoring or disparaging the government’s efforts to deal with the coming crisis, even though preparations began before those in many other countries.

Since early April, Nicaragua’s well-connected opposition leaders have used their contacts in the international press to push a series of stories relating to the pandemic. These stories – detailed below – variously claim that President Daniel Ortega is in quarantine or has died, that his government is in denial about the coronavirus or that it is ill-prepared and inactive in the face of the threat. None of this is true. What is worse, it seems based on the tone of news coverage, that reporters who are unable to visit the country nevertheless make little attempt to find out what action the government is actually taking and whether opposition criticisms have any substance.

At the time of writing (April 16, 2020) Nicaragua has only nine confirmed virus cases, all of them people who have come from abroad or their immediate contacts.[1] The opposition and the media pour scorn on the official figures and (without evidence) claim that infection levels are far higher. Ignoring the daily press briefings by Dr. Carlos Sáenz, Secretary General at the health ministry,  the opposition claims that Nicaraguans are being kept in the dark. Despite health officials having visited 2.7 million households,[2] sometimes on several occasions, to dispense advice (see photo), the opposition complains that there is little or no guidance on combating the virus.

How the international media attacks developed

The attacks began on April 4 with BBC World, which in addition to criticising President Daniel Ortega for not making public appearances asserted that his government had taken “no measures at all” in the face of the virus threat.[3] Then The New York Times (April 6), asking Where is Daniel Ortega?, said his government had been “widely criticized for its cavalier approach” to the pandemic.[4] It quoted opposition supporters who say the public “is deeply dubious about government claims.” On April 8, The Guardian said that Ortega was “nowhere to be seen.” [5] By April 13, The Washington Post said Ortega had “vanished” and castigated his government’s “laissez-faire approach” (the Post’s print edition even managed to report that nine virus victims had died, when there has been only one death so far).[6]According to The Guardian, on April 12, the “authoritarian” Daniel Ortega is one of only four world leaders who are in denial about the coronavirus (among the others is, of course, the right-wing Bolsonaro in Brazil).[7] The attacks have even been reproduced by the international medical journal, The Lancet.  On April 6, an article entitled Love in the time of COVID-19 labelled the government’s approach as “erratic” and “violating the human rights of its citizens.” [8]

The real situation in Nicaragua

What is the real situation in Nicaragua? The country has had health checks at its borders for months, far sooner than in the US. Travellers entering Nicaragua are managed tightly, and officials follow up with new arrivals by phone and by house visits, as I know from my own and friends’ direct experiences after arriving in the country. Two lengthy and porous land frontiers make it preferable to keep borders open so as to minimise informal crossings which make health checks impossible. When people do cross illegally, neighbors often report them using a free, dedicated phone number set up a few weeks ago. This number is also used to obtain more general advice on the virus. Nineteen hospitals have been identified to receive virus cases and 37,000 health workers and 250,000 volunteers have been trained accordingly.[9] The result is that – so far at least – Nicaragua’s nine virus cases represent the lowest infection rate in Latin America.

Social distancing and its costs

In the international press, opposition spokespeople call for more drastic measures such as social distancing and school closures. Reporters ignore the obvious dilemma that faces poor countries in deciding when to take such steps. Importantly, even though the World Health Organization has emphasized the importance of social distancing, it also recognises this dilemma. Its Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said this on April 16:

“Governments must consider that for some countries and communities, stay-at-home orders may not be practical, and may even cause unintended harm. Millions of people around the world must work every day to put food on the table. They cannot stay at home for long periods of time without assistance.”[10]

In Nicaragua, because all confirmed COVID-19 cases so far have come from abroad, the government assessment is that no or very limited local, community transmission has taken place.[11] This is why there continues to be vigilance while wider measures have not yet been imposed. If self-isolation becomes necessary it will carry a massive cost as seen for example in the US and other countries, as most people need to go to work daily to eat. There is no reliable mechanism to distribute subsidies, nor can small, poor countries like Nicaragua borrow with impunity to pay for them. Many Nicaraguans live in cramped houses in densely populated neighbourhoods, making social distancing extremely difficult. The government is genuinely attempting to balance the fight against the virus with the economic needs of the population. To impose an untimely lockdown, at a time when the spread of the virus appears to be still under control, would not only cause huge resentment and hardship but could be totally counterproductive. Of course, government policy is subject to change as the situation evolves and any objective assessment must be based on the government’s future handling of the crisis, not only on its response to date.

The Lancet article cites approvingly the contrasting policies of El Salvador and Honduras. In the former, President Nayib Bukele forced people to self-isolate, offering a subsidy of $300 per family which caused massive, unregulated queues and then rowdy protests outside government offices.[12] The Los Angeles Times reported (April 7) that in some areas the lockdown is enforced by gangs with baseball bats.[13] In Honduras, a “militarized quarantine” has led to police violence, more than 1,000 arrests and the confiscation of almost 900 vehicles, according to respected human rights group COFADEH.[14] Despite these actions, both countries have much higher infection levels than Nicaragua. So does Costa Rica. All of these neighbouring countries are quick to criticise the Ortega government and express fears for cross-border contamination, when the reality is that Nicaragua should be the country that fears contamination from its neighbours. This is not to say that mitigation is inherently counterproductive; the point is that if a situation does call for quarantine, state actors ought to inspire a sense of solidarity and understanding rather than impose punitive and coercive measures that divide people rather than unite them.

International media are more sympathetic to other low-income countries

The irony is that international media have carried a number of articles about the dangers of imposing draconian measures in poor countries. In The Observer, Kenan Malik pointed out that whether in the UK or the developing world, we’re not all in coronavirus together.[15] As he says, in many poor countries “only the privileged can maintain any kind of social isolation.” David Pilling in the Financial Times points out that in developing countries, the lockdown cure could be worse than the disease.[16] Mari Pangestu, a managing director with the World Bank, says in the Daily Telegraph that for the poorest countries, the full danger from coronavirus is only just coming into view, because of its effect on their ability to maintain food and medical supplies.[17]

Astonishingly, the international media treat their sources in the Nicaraguan opposition as bone fidewhen there is a mountain of evidence to the contrary. Even in the current crisis, they have excelled themselves, as Ben Norton has shown in The Grayzone.[18] They created a fake account posing as Nicaragua’s TV Channel 4, with invented statements supposedly by Vice-President Rosario Murillo, announcing school closures that were never planned.[19] They purport to give advice on issues such as social distancing, as if this isn’t available from the government, when in fact, it is (and, as Norton points out, in their daily lives several of them ignore their own recommendations).[20] Within Nicaragua, Facebook is alive with false rumours from opposition sources about deaths allegedly caused by the virus, attempting to undermine people’s confidence in official figures.

President Ortega addresses the nation

When he addressed the public on April 15,[21] President Ortega said little about the criticisms being made by his opponents, although he noted one item of fake news. A Nicaraguan woman, returning recently to Costa Rica where she works, via a route with no border controls, had been accused in local media of carrying the coronavirus. However, when tracked down and tested by the Costa Rican authorities, she was shown to be free of the disease.  Ortega also pointed out that a hospital, various health centers and supplies of medical equipment had been destroyed in opposition arson attacks in Nicaragua during the attempted coup of April 2018; all of these have now been rebuilt or restored, and are available to deal with the pandemic. Referring indirectly to the clamour for Nicaragua to adopt measures like the lockdowns employed in adjoining countries, he pointed out that without work the country dies. And he was able to quote one new statistic: since the worldwide pandemic was officially declared on March 11, a total of 1,237 people had died in Nicaragua; but only one of these had been killed by the coronavirus. In the days ahead we may see a change in public health policy in Nicaragua, but any such change will likely be informed by the situation on the ground, rather than by ill-judged comments in the international media.

John Perry is a writer based in Nicaragua and writes on Central America for The Nation, London Review of Books, Open Democracy, The Grayzone and the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

End notes.

[1] See https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries

[2] Informe Pastran, April 15 2020 (http://www.informepastran.com/prueba/).

[3] “La larga ausencia en Nicaragua de Daniel Ortega, el único presidente de América Latina que no ha aparecido en público ante la crisis del covid-19”, https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-52145204

[4] “Where Is Daniel Ortega? Nicaragua’s Leader Drops From View”, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/world/americas/nicaragua-daniel-ortega-coronavirus.html

[5] “President nowhere to be seen as Nicaragua shuns coronavirus curbs”, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/08/nicaragua-daniel-ortega-missing-anger-fear-month

[6] “The president has vanished; his wife, the VP, says the coronavirus isn’t a problem. Nicaragua declines to confront a pandemic”, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/coronavirus-nicaragua-daniel-ortega-missing/2020/04/11/3ad1fafc-79c3-11ea-a311-adb1344719a9_story.html

[7] “Bolsonaro dragging Brazil towards coronavirus calamity, experts fear”, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/12/bolsonaro-dragging-brazil-towards-coronavirus-calamity-experts-fear

[8] “Love in the time of COVID-19: negligence in the Nicaraguan response”, https://www.thelancet.com/journals/langlo/article/PIIS2214-109X(20)30131-5/fulltext

[9] “Brigadistas de salud visitarán a un millón de familias brindando las medidas preventivas ante el coronavirus”, https://www.el19digital.com/articulos/ver/titulo:101463-brigadistas-de-salud-visitaran-a-un-millon-de-familias-brindando-las-medidas-preventivas-ante-el-coronavirus-

[10] WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the Mission briefing on COVID-19 – 16 April 2020”, https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-mission-briefing-on-covid-19—16-april-2020

[11] This and other details about the effects of the epidemic and steps being taken are published in daily press briefings and on the website of the health ministry (http://www.minsa.gob.ni/).

[12] See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nv0zv1Xv0MQ (March 31, 2020).

[13] “In El Salvador, gangs are enforcing the coronavirus lockdown with baseball bats”, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-04-07/el-salvador-coronavirus-homicides-bukele

[14] “Informe: Crisis de derechos humanos durante la pandemia Covid-19”, https://defensoresenlinea.com/informe-crisis-de-derechos-humanos-durante-la-pandemia-covid-19/

[15] “Whether in the UK or the developing world, we’re not all in coronavirus together”, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/05/whether-in-the-uk-or-the-developing-world-were-not-all-in-coronavirus-together

[16] “In poor countries, the lockdown cure could be worse than disease”, https://www.ft.com/content/6c3a34c2-73f8-11ea-95fe-fcd274e920ca

[17] “For the poorest countries, the full danger from coronavirus is only just coming into view”, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/science-and-disease/poorest-countries-full-danger-coronavirus-just-coming-view/

[18] “As Nicaragua confronts Covid, its US-backed opposition exploits the pandemic to create chaos”, https://thegrayzone.com/2020/04/13/regime-change-coronavirus-nicaragua/

[19] See https://www.facebook.com/Canal4Nica/videos/205790274093519/

[20] See https://www.instagram.com/tv/B-Gi31SHlTH/?utm_source=ig_embed

[21] See https://www.el19digital.com/articulos/ver/titulo:102299-presidente-daniel-ortega-se-dirige-al-pueblo-de-nicaragua . For an English translation of President Ortega’s complete speech of April 15, 2020, see “DANIEL : ‘It is time to swap nuclear weapons for hospitals’ in Tortilla Con Sal. April 16, 2020, http://www.tortillaconsal.com/tortilla/node/9104

April 22, 2020 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , | Leave a comment

First Covid-19 deaths in US occurred WEEKS EARLIER than previously thought

RT | April 22, 2020

People in the US were dying of the novel coronavirus weeks before authorities officially reported the first death linked to the disease, new data published in Santa Clara County, California reveals.

Autopsies performed on two people who died at home on February 6 and February 17 show that their tissues were infected with Covid-19, Santa Clara health authorities said in a statement, adding that another previously unreported death associated with the coronavirus had occurred on March 6.

The first coronavirus-linked death in America was originally believed to have occurred on February 29. At that time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that a man in his 50s had died in Washington state.

The California cases were not previously associated with the epidemic as these victims died at a time when “only individuals with a known travel history and who sought medical care for specific symptoms” were being tested, the statement said.

The news suggests that the virus may have been circulating in the US earlier than previously thought. Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith said the fact that several people were apparently infected “right around the beginning of February and late January” – and that two of them had passed away – meant “the virus has been around for a while.”

According to Mercury News, both of the fatal cases are believed to have originated in the community and were not associated with foreign travel. This also means that community transmission in America had started well before the first such case was officially reported on February 26.

The US has seen more than 800,000 confirmed coronavirus cases to date. More than 45,000 Americans died of Covid-19.

April 22, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , | 4 Comments

Kremlin says ‘not enough info’ to support claim Covid-19 began in a lab

RT | April 22, 2020

Speculations that the coronavirus leaked from a lab are as groundless as those saying it definitely couldn’t have, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said, adding that it’s “unacceptable” to accuse anyone without proof.

Claims have been circulating on social media around the exact origins of Covid-19, which is believed to have started in the Chinese province of Wuhan at the end of 2019. They range from the belief that the virus may have been artificially made by scientists in a Chinese laboratory to the theory that it was brought into Wuhan by the US army – or even linked to the introduction of 5G.

Peskov told reporters that “in the situation where there is not enough information that has been supported and checked by science […] we think it is unacceptable […] to groundlessly accuse anyone.”

“For every expert claiming or hinting at an artificial origin of the virus, there are two experts ruling out such an origin. But both of those takes are absolutely evidence-free. We just do not know enough to make any conclusions.”

The Kremlin’s statement follows claims made by French virologist Luc Montagnier, winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine for the discovery of HIV, who told viewers during a TV interview earlier this month that the wet-market origin story is “a beautiful legend.” He is of the view that Covid-19 was made in a lab and “is the work of molecular biologists.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) has rejected claims that the novel coronavirus has artificial origins and has stated that it originated in animals before spreading to humans. “All available evidence suggests the virus has an animal origin and is not a manipulated or constructed virus [from] a lab or somewhere else,” WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told a news briefing in Geneva this week.

According to the latest figures from the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker, there are currently 2,580,729 confirmed Covid-19 cases globally, with a total death toll of 178,371.

April 22, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , | 6 Comments

Modernisation of Nuclear Triad Pentagon’s ‘First Priority’ Amid Virus Outbreak: DoD Official

By Oleg Burunov – Sputnik – 22.04.2020

February 2018 saw the rollout of the US’ new Nuclear Posture Review, which specifically maintained the need for updating its nuclear triad in the country’s defence strategy.

Developing the US nuclear triad remains a key task for the Pentagon amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Ellen Lord, US under secretary of defence for acquisition and sustainment, told a virtual press briefing on Monday.

“Obviously, our first priority in DOD [Department of Defence] relative to acquisition is the nuclear modernization process of the nuclear triad, [which includes intercontinental ballistic missiles, atomic submarines and strategic bombers]. We look at Missile Defense Agency. We look at those critical capabilities we have”, she pointed out.

Referring to the Pentagon’s “continued efforts to mitigate impacts from COVID-19”, Lord also pointed to the DoD’s main focus on “the greatest pain points”, which she said are “really aviation, shipbuilding, and small space launch.”

Her remarks came as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the US military had increased to 3,496 as of 21 April, according to the Defence Department’s latest estimates. The military’s COVID-19 death toll currently stands at two.

US’ New Nuclear Posture Review

In early February 2018, US President Donald Trump presented the country’s new Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which, in particular, underscored the necessity of developing the American nuclear triad.

The document clarified that Washington “would only consider the employment of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, its allies and partners.

The NPR addressed US nuclear capabilities, as well as the challenges allegedly posed by Russia, China, rogue states, and nuclear terrorism.

According to the document, US nuclear forces should contribute to the “deterrence of nuclear and non-nuclear attack”, “achievement of US objectives if deterrence fails”, and “capacity to hedge against an uncertain future.”

April 22, 2020 Posted by | Militarism | | 2 Comments

Trump says ordered Navy to destroy Iranian boats ‘if they harass’ US ships

Press TV – April 22, 2020

US President Donald Trump is stepping up his anti-Iran threats by claiming that he has instructed the US Navy to destroy Iranian boats “if they harass” US ships in the Persian Gulf.

“I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea,” Trump wrote in a tweet posted on Wednesday morning.

The order is Trump’s first reaction to a recent confrontation between US warships and Iranian boats in the Persian Gulf.

Trump posted the tweet as his administration is under unprecedented pressure over its highly criticized response to the coronavirus pandemic, prompting suggestions that his anti-Iran statement is probably meant to divert attentions from his poor handling of the crisis.

A video released by Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps on Sunday shows the IRGC Navy warning off a flotilla of US warships in the Persian Gulf as they try to approach the Iranian territorial waters.

In the video, a personnel of the IRGC Navy warns the vessels to stop inspecting and detaining Iranian fishing or commercial ships in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman.

He also warns them that they would face consequences according to the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran if they ignore this notice.

Tensions in the strategic waterway rose significantly last summer after a series of mysterious explosions targeted a number of oil tankers.

The US, quickly blaming Iran for the incidents without providing conclusive evidence along with other countries such as Saudi Arabia, has since deployed thousands of troops and military equipment to the region.

Meanwhile, in a statement released on Sunday, the IRGC refuted the claims by the US that Iranian forces behaved in a dangerous manner when faced with US Navy vessels.

The IRGC further blamed Washington as the main source of insecurity in the in West Asia region and called for the full withdrawal of all American forces.

April 22, 2020 Posted by | Militarism | , | 21 Comments