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Can social distancing hide Biden from voters until November?

By Stanley DeWitt | RT | March 26, 2020

Democratic Party front-runner Joe Biden has rejected the possibility of holding a televised debate with challenger Bernie Sanders, raising questions about his campaign’s strategy going forward.

Asserting that “we’ve had enough debates,” the former vice president claimed that he is focused on combating the coronavirus outbreak. “My focus is just dealing with this crisis right now,” Biden said on Wednesday, when asked if he wanted another debate next month. “I think we should get on with this.”

Mainstream media is generally treating his decision as an understandable reaction to the new realities of social distancing, with the New York Times reporting that “Biden has been forced off the physical campaign trail because of the coronavirus outbreak, and is grappling with new ways to connect with voters and break through in the news media.”

But his dismissal of the opportunity to meet his opponent in a one-on-one debate fueled speculation that his campaign is afraid of giving him too much public exposure. With hashtags such as #WhereIsJoeBiden trending on Twitter, critics pointed out that the DNC had promised 12 Democratic debates and there have been just 11 so far.

The rejection of another debate with Sanders comes after several public appearances that drew widespread scrutiny for signs of Biden’s apparent cognitive decline and possible health concerns. In a series of interviews this week, Biden repeatedly coughed and acted confused, sometimes making statements that made little sense.

In a discussion on The View about the need for a vaccine for the coronavirus, Biden left everyone scratching their heads when he said, “We have to take care of the cure. That will make the problem worse no matter what.”

At other times his sentences have tapered off without completing a thought. In a live interview on MSNBC, he started to express pride in the frontline responders to the coronavirus but failed to finish his sentence. “I’m so darn proud,” he said, “of those poor people who have lost…. anyway.”

These gaffes have led to interviewers looking visibly uncomfortable, with Biden’s apparent cognitive difficulties on display for all to see.

President Trump’s supporters are already seizing on some of Biden’s slips to ridicule the presumptive nominee, with the Trump War Room Twitter account noting on Wednesday that “Joe Biden literally forg[ot] he was Vice President of the United States” in an appearance he made on CNBC.

The Biden campaign is now struggling to control the damage of these disastrous public appearances, but critics are claiming that Biden has abdicated national leadership by disappearing for days in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

While some in his campaign would no doubt like to hide him until the general election in November, this is not realistic, especially considering that the country is in the grip of a public health emergency.  So it looks like he will be forced to choose his forums with increasing care.

How the campaign walks this tightrope could determine his chances against Trump heading into the general election later this year.

March 26, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , | 1 Comment

Ministry: Seven new coronavirus cases detected in Gaza

Palestine Information Center – March 26, 2020

GAZA – The ministry of health has announced that seven new coronavirus cases were detected in Gaza Strip.

The ministry said in a terse statement late Wednesday that the new persons affected with the virus had mingled with the first two cases in Gaza detected last Sunday.

It pointed out that the seven new cases were all security personnel who were at the quarantine and still are there and did not leave or mix with anyone else.

The statement noted that no corona victims were reported in the besieged enclave.

The number of corona-infected cases in Gaza has thus reached nine.

March 26, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , | 2 Comments

US State Dept offers $15 MILLION REWARD for help arresting Venezuela’s Maduro after indictments

RT | March 26, 2020

The US State Department is dangling millions of dollars in reward money in exchange for information that could be used to arrest Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, his VP, or other senior officials on drug trafficking charges.

The eye-popping reward of up to $15 million is being offered for “information related to Nicolas Maduro Moros” with regard to his alleged involvement in “international narcotics trafficking,” the State Department announced on Thursday, signaling a hard shift in its regime-change policy against the socialist nation.

Tips leading to the narcotrafficking arrest or conviction of National Constituent Assembly President Diosdado Cabello Rondon, retired generals Hugo Carvajal Barrios and Clive Alcala Cordones, or Minister for Industry and National Production Tareck Zaidan El Aissami Maddah can net as much as $10 million, the statement continued.

The rewards were unveiled on the same day as the US Justice Department unsealed indictments against the Venezuelan leaders for the same drug trafficking crimes – suggesting that Washington’s evidence isn’t as solid as Attorney General William Barr has claimed.

Indictments in Miami and New York accuse the officials of participating in a “narco-terrorism conspiracy” with Colombian guerrilla group FARC, to “flood the United States with cocaine.” But if evidence against Maduro and his compatriots is at such a premium that the State Department will pay $15 million for it, the Venezuelans are unlikely to see the inside of a US court anytime soon.

The one-two punch is a profoundly cynical move in the US’ continuing assault on sanctions-starved Venezuela, especially in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic.

After over a year of pushing its preferred leader, Juan Guaido, accomplished nothing except wearing out the latter’s welcome in the opposition National Assembly, Washington appears to have lost patience with their golden boy’s failed coup attempts, pushing him aside to play hardball.

The last Latin American leader charged with drug trafficking by the US was Panama’s Manuel Noriega, whom Washington essentially stabbed in the back after a long and profitable partnership running drugs with the CIA, invading his country and hauling him back to Miami to stand trial on drug trafficking and money laundering charges.

March 26, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , | 3 Comments

Iran to US: Do not politicize ex-FBI agent’s case, avoid exploiting his family’s emotions

Press TV – March 26, 2020

Iran has warned the United States against politicization of the possible death of a former FBI agent, whom the US administration alleges has been imprisoned in the Islamic Republic, after Washington claimed on Wednesday that he has died in detention in Iran.

Speaking on Thursday, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi said if Washington has made sure about the retired agent Robert Levinson’s death, “then it can [simply] announce this matter without politicization and attempting to take advantage of the Levinson family’s emotions.”

The US has, for long, been alleging that Levinson disappeared on the southern Iranian Kish Island in 2007. Tehran has categorically denied any involvement in his disappearance.

On Wednesday, Levinson’s family cited the US government as claiming he had died in Iranian custody.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said the Islamic Republic has, over the recent years, done its utmost to find any evidence pointing to Levinson’s exact fate.

“Based on credible evidence, the aforementioned person left the Iranian soil for an unspecified destination years ago,” Mousavi said. He also reminded that the US itself had confirmed his departure back then.

On January 19, 2016, after years of pointing the finger to Iran for his fate, the White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest announced for the first time that “we have reason to believe that he no longer is in Iran.” Back then, Earnest said he rested assured that Iran would search for Levinson.

Elsewhere in his remarks, Mousavi emphasized that Tehran’s investigation has not yielded any leads pointing to Levinson’s still being alive, and condoled with his family over his likely demise.

‘US officials knew Levinson died on rogue CIA mission’

Until last December, the administration of US President Donald Trump would claim that Levinson was in Iranian custody and ask Tehran to hand him over.

Despite recent claims by his administration that Levinson has died in such a condition, there is ample evidence pointing to the fact that US officials already knew that he had died while on an unauthorized mission for the CIA some place outside Iran.

The fact that he was on a rogue mission had been already admitted in an article by The Washington Post, which wrote on December 12, 2013 that “an American man, who disappeared in Iran more than six years ago had been working for the CIA in what US intelligence officials described as a rogue operation that led to a major shake-up in the spy agency.”

The Post, back then, described the nature of the mission by citing emails and other documents that had shown “he had gone to Iran at the direction of certain CIA analysts who had no authority to run operations overseas.”

The New York Times also carried a piece on Wednesday, in which it said that the preceding administration of Barack Obama had at one point been tipped off about intelligence showing that “the remains of an American had been buried in [Pakistan’s] Balochistan.”

“American officials assumed that the remains were Mr. Levinson’s,” the paper wrote.

‘Repercussions for CIA’

The revelations showing the nature of the CIA mission enlisting Levinson, The Post noted, prompted “a major internal investigation” within the US spy agency.

The probe eventually had its leadership “discipline 10 employees, including three veteran analysts, who were forced out of their jobs.”

‘CIA paid off family’

The Post also said that the CIA reached an extrajudicial settlement with Levinson’s family after the emergence of his dealings with the agency. The agreement saw the agency paying the family “a $2.5 million annuity and an additional $120,000, the cost of renewing Mr. Levinson’s contract.”

“Both sides wanted to avoid a lawsuit that would publicly reveal details of the arrangement,” The Post noted.

See also:

White House believes Levinson is no longer in Iran

Iran says it has no commitment to the US to find and bring former FBI agent Robert Levinson back home

March 26, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | Leave a comment

EU Tries to Save Face amidst Coronavirus Debacle

By Paul Antonopoulos | March 26, 2020

The European Union’s decision to open negotiations with Northern Macedonia and Albania is a propaganda act from Brussels that attempts to reassure members of the Union that countries, even in the midst of the epidemic, want to become members of the organization. This is a cheap propaganda trick that attempts to restore confidence in the European Union at a time when it has completely failed to deal with the coronavirus pandemic that has shown weakness in the alliance.

Maurizio Massari, Italy’s ambassador to the EU, said earlier this month that “the coronavirus crisis is a test of the EU’s cohesiveness and credibility — one that can only be passed through genuine, concrete solidarity. Europe must act according to the principle of mutual defense and help those members whose security is under threat.” With nearly 60,000 people confirmed infected and over 7,500 deaths, the European Union has failed in this test as no member states came to the aid of Italy and instead looked inwardly towards their own borders.  The European Union’s cohesiveness was exposed as a fantasy when days ago member state Poland closed its airspace to a Russian plane delivering aid to fellow European Union member Italy, forcing the aircraft to take an alternate route that is 1,000 kilometers longer.

Essentially the European Union that is currently the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic has exposed why the Union is dysfunctional and without any solidarity. It has shown a huge gap between words and action. The European Union as an example of the liberal world order endlessly spoke of humanity but have proven they are inhumane. They promoted the idea of efficiency but proven they are actually ineffective. In short, the announcement to progress the European Union membership of Albania and North Macedonia is a cheap propaganda gimmick for Brussels at a time when it is under heavy scrutiny for showing a lack of solidarity and assistance to Italy, raising questions regarding the credibility of the organization. It is negotiating in a way that has never existed, utterly undefined, with a big question mark as to what will be.

According to a draft decision signed by the bloc’s 27 members, which Reuters had access to, the hope of membership for the two Western Balkans countries has often been shattered in recent years due to the scepticism expressed, primarily by the Netherlands and France, as they correctly highlight that both countries are highly corrupt. However, the start date of the negotiations is not specified and will be subsequently determined when the European Commission prepares the framework for the negotiations.

Michael Roth, Germany’s state secretary for European affairs, wrote on Twitter on March 24, “Congrats to Tirana+Skopje, it’s well deserved,” after the agreement was reached during a videoconference. This was followed by European Union Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi also going to Twitter, saying that he is “very pleased that EU member states today reached political agreement on opening of accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia. I wholeheartedly congratulate both countries. This also sends a loud and clear message to Western Balkans: your future is in EU.”

North Macedonia is unlikely to face resistance in joining the European Union, and is already being rapidly ascended into NATO after it resolved its name issue with Greece. However, the accession is not yet guaranteed for Albania as Greece raises concerns on the rights and treatment of the Greek minority in occupied Northern Epirus in southern Albania. Approximately 200,000 Greeks of Northern Epirus face daily discrimination with Albanian authorities removing bilingual road signs that display Greek, the confiscation of property belonging to Greeks, and Albanian police even murdering a Greek in a shootout as they removed a Greek flag from a cemetery, among many other forms of discrimination. On these grounds, Greece may veto Albania’s accession, but this is likely to be a temporary measure as the Greek political establishment always eventually capitulate to the demands of Brussels and Germany. Once this issue is resolved, it is likely that Albania with North Macedonia will be accelerated into the European Union, and this will prove necessary as the bloc wants to maintain the illusion that it is not in disarray in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

This begs the questions though as to why Albania and North Macedonia would want to ascend into the European Union after seeing the alliance’s treatment of its own long-time member states like Italy. Albania has always been a pro-Western state, owing to the Western world its existence, its occupation of Northern Epirus, and its indirect occupation of Kosovo. It is therefore unsurprising that it wants to be further integrated into the Western world. North Macedonia since the very beginning of its foundation with the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s wanted to join the European Union and NATO, but was prevented from doing so because of the name dispute with Greece. With this issue resolved, it now has a clear path towards the bloc. None-the-less, both states are not even remotely close in an economic or so-called democratic sense to being candidates, but will be fast-tracked to help save face after the European Union’s debacle with the coronavirus pandemic.

Paul Antonopoulos is a Research Fellow at the Center for Syncretic Studies.

March 26, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | Leave a comment

Correctly Estimating Coronavirus Infections

By Ron Unz • Unz Review • March 25, 2020

The Coronavirus epidemic may soon produce the greatest American disaster since our Civil War over 150 years ago, and numbers reveal the possible magnitude.

For example, New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof on Sunday reported the disheartening analysis of Dr. Neil Ferguson of Britain, one of the world’s leading epidemiologists. According to Dr. Ferguson the “best case” scenario is that the Coronavirus will kill over a million Americans.

Other possible projections are far worse. Last week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued orders completely locking down his entire state in order to halt the spread of the disease. He justified this decision by explaining that experts had warned him that without drastic changes in behavior, over 25 million Californians would become infected over the following couple of months. Such a calamity would obviously have produced to a total collapse of the state’s health care system, probably resulting in more than a million deaths. A million dead Californians by early summer…

The key to understanding the terrible danger of the Coronavirus is that there is no existing immunity and the disease is highly contagious. Therefore, under ordinary circumstances, the number of infected individuals tends to double every 3-6 days. A doubling-time of 3 days would multiply the ranks of the infected a thousand-fold during the course of a single month.

Thus, in late February Italian political leaders hardly regarded the virus as a serious national threat, but within just a few weeks much of the Italian health care system had collapsed and many thousands of Italians were dead. Despite a full national lockdown, the number of deaths in Italy has continued to rise exponentially.

Similarly, New York reported its first death on March 14th. Yet just ten days later, deaths in that state were running at 50 per day, and rapidly accelerating.

Unfortunately, although numbers are absolutely crucial for our efforts to combat this dread disease, we lack accurate American data, especially with regard to the rate of infection.

The problem is that any program of massive, widespread testing is completely impossible given our lack of sufficient testing resources. Meanwhile, the Coronavirus has a substantial latency period during which victims experience no symptoms, and even afterward many cases are quite mild or even completely asymptomatic, leaving the infected unaware of their condition. So at present, testing has been confined to just a tiny sliver of the population, ensuring that the reported numbers of those infected represents a severe undercount. But we are left to guess just how severe.

However, the Coronavirus death statistics are certainly far more solid and reliable, and I soon noticed a simple and easy means of reasonably estimating Coronavirus infections from Coronavirus deaths. But although the methodology seemed obvious to me, after I described it on a comment-thread yesterday, I encountered quite a bit of initial confusion and disagreement, suggesting that the idea was not nearly as obvious as I had assumed. So on the off-chance that some people might be unfamiliar with the method, I’ve decided to outline it below.

Let us note three crucial Coronavirus parameters, which have already been estimated by medical experts although they are obviously dependent upon particular conditions.

  1. The infection doubling period – probably 3-6 days
  2. The mortality rate – perhaps 1% prior to the collapse of a the local health system.
  3. The typical mortality period (time between infection and death) – according to some estimates, around 3 weeks.

Now consider a Coronavirus death. If we assume a mortality rate of 1% and a three week interval between infection and death, we can therefore estimate that there had been 100 new infections three weeks earlier. Next, if we assume a doubling-period of 6 days, those 100 infections would have increased to 100 * 2^(21/6) = over 1000 infections by the time the death occurred.

Therefore, under these particular assumptions (along with a few simplifications), the true number of total infections can be estimated at over 1000x the number of deaths.

Let’s apply this methodology to a real-life situation. On 3/23/20, New York reported 53 new Coronavirus deaths, bringing the total to 210. This suggests that the true number of new infections that day may have been over 50,000, raising the total infected to more than 200,000. These estimates are eight to ten times larger than the officially-reported Coronavirus totals for New York, namely 4,750 and 25,665.

This estimate of New York infections relied upon a doubling period of six days, and it is quite possible that greater “social distancing” together with the recent lockdown imposed in that state may have considerably increased that parameter this figure, thereby reducing the correct number of infections. But I strongly suspect that the figures provided above are still far closer to the truth than those officially reported by the New York authorities. And there is obviously a huge practical difference between assuming 25,000 infected New Yorkers and believing the true figure is already closer to 200,000.

Here’s another example. The official estimate of Coronavirus infections in Louisiana is currently less than 1,400, but this estimation method suggests that the true total is nearly 50,000, a figure that has vastly different policy implications. While I would put little weight in the precise accuracy of that estimate, I strongly believe it’s much closer to reality than the tiny official total.

Summarizing things, the formula for estimating infections is:

  • Number of infected = Number of Deaths / Mortality_Rate *2^(Mortality_Period/Doubling_Period).

It’s important to recognize that the parameters used may need to be sharply readjusted based upon particular circumstances.

For example, once a health care system collapses, the death rate probably spikes to around 5%, greatly changing the calculation. Similarly, once government lockdowns or other similar measures are taken, the doubling-period of the infection becomes much longer.

Under other circumstances, if a substantial fraction of the deaths are the elderly residents of nursing homes (as was the case in Washington State), the assumed death-rate would be much higher and the doubling-period of the infections generated by the immobile residents lower, significantly altering the appropriate equation.

Finally, this analysis may carry an important policy implication. Suppose that our best and most accurate means of estimating infections is indeed based upon this methodology. We would therefore be using the current death rate to back into the infection rate that that occurred three weeks earlier, so that any analysis of the impact of government policies would necessarily be lagged by three weeks.

Under these circumstances, it would be extremely inadvisable for President Trump or other government officials to rescind any of their lockdown or quarantine decisions until at least three weeks had gone by and the impact of these policies upon the rate of infection became fully apparent.

March 25, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | | Leave a comment

Former first minister of Scotland Alex Salmond cleared of sex assault charges

RT | March 23, 2020

Alex Salmond, former Scottish National Party leader and first minister of Scotland, has been acquitted of sexual assault charges by a jury at Edinburgh’s High Court.

After about six hours of deliberation, the jury found Salmond not guilty on 12 charges of attempted rape, sexual assault and indecent assault. A further charge, sexual assault with attempt to rape, was “not proven by majority.”

Salmond had denied all of the charges, which were made by nine women who are all either former Scottish government officials or SNP politicians, as “deliberate fabrications” for political purposes.

The allegations against the former first minister spanned a period of six years between 2008 and 2014.

The verdicts were read out after an 11-day trial. His defense team had argued that the charges had come from the same “political bubble” with no direct witnesses, and noted there had been inconsistencies in the testimonies of the women.

Two members of the jury were dismissed on Monday morning, apparently in relation to concerns over the Covid-19 outbreak, some reports said. The trial was also moved to a large courtroom due to fears around transmission of the virus.

March 23, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , | Leave a comment

WUHAN OUTBREAK: CHINA DEMANDS AN HONEST ACCOUNTING

By Thomas Hon Wing Polin | March 22, 2020
  • It is now virtually certain that COVID-19 was brought to Wuhan by American troops taking part in the city’s World Military Games last Oct. 18-27.
  • The 300-strong US contingent stayed 300 meters from the Huanan Seafood Market where China’s outbreak began (see map below) at the Wuhan Oriental Hotel.
  • Five of the US troops developed a fever on Oct. 25 and were taken to an infectious-diseases hospital for treatment.
  • 42 employees of the Oriental Hotel were diagnosed with COVID-19, becoming the first cluster in Wuhan. At the time only 7 people from the market had been thus diagnosed (and treated before the hotel staff). All 7 had contact with the 42 from the hotel. From this source, the virus spread to the rest of China.
  • The American Military Games team trained at a location near Fort Detrick, the military’s viral lab closed down by the CDC in July for various deficiencies.
  • The big question now is whether the transmission was planned, or accidental.
  • Chinese authorities are awaiting an explanation from US authorities.

  • A few days ago, Mike Pompeo phoned Yang Jiechi, Chinese State Councillor for Foreign Affairs. Pompeo’s counterpart is actually Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Yang is Wang’s boss, so Pompeo wanted to talk about something urgent and important.
  • Pompeo wanted the Chinese not to publicize what they had found.
  • Yang’s reply: “We await your solemn explanation, especially about Patient Zero.”

China’s leaders have long suspected US military involvement in the Wuhan outbreak but were determined to stop the disease before pursuing the Americans for an honest accounting.

March 22, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , | 12 Comments

Africa, Latin America Fragile Targets for Coronavirus Spread

teleSUR | March 20, 2020

The West African nation of Mali has roughly one ventilator per 1 million people — 20 in all to help the critically ill with respiratory failure. In Peru, with more than 32 million people, about 350 beds in intensive care units exist.

Many of their nations are slamming shut borders and banning large gatherings in the hope of avoiding the scenes in wealthier countries such as Italy and the U.S., but local transmission of the virus has begun.

Containing that spread is the new challenge. Africa has more than 900 confirmed cases and Latin America more than 2,500, but an early response is crucial as fragile health systems could be quickly overwhelmed.

With such limited resources, experts say identifying cases, tracing and testing are key.

“We have seen how the virus actually accelerates that after a certain … tipping point. So the best advice for Africa is to prepare for the worst and prepare today,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday.

“We have different and significant barriers to health care in Africa, which could be a real challenge,” said Dr. Ngozi Erondu, a senior research fellow at the Chatham House Center for Global Health Security.

Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa do not have the isolation wards or large number of health care workers to respond to a surge of COVID-19 patients, she said.

Liberia and Burkina Faso only have a few ventilators for their millions of people.

Dr. Bernard Olayo, founder of the Kenya-based Center for Public Health and Development, said most countries in Africa can’t afford ventilators. Even if ventilators were provided by other countries, it’s not sufficient because of the lack of qualified people to use them.

“It’s complex, it’s very very complex because the patients that end up on ventilators require round the clock care by larger teams,” he said.

Many patients could do well with just oxygen, he said, but close to half of health facilities in African countries don’t have reliable oxygen supplies. Oxygen concentrators can be used, but given the frequent electricity cuts in many countries, oxygen generators and pressure cylinders are needed because they can function while power is out.

The WHO regional Africa director, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said the lack of ICU facilities and ventilators is one of the biggest challenges facing the continent.

“We have been able to identify importing a field hospital-type of facility that can be set up and equipped with some of the key items needed, such as ventilators,” she said. Training has begun in Republic of Congo and Senegal so health care workers will be ready to operate it, and World Bank funding is being made available, she said.

Several countries in Latin America are also among the least prepared in the world for a pandemic, with healthcare systems already stretched thin.

Peruvian Minister of Defense Walter Martos told local America TV on Monday that the nation has less than 400 respirators available.

“It’s not a lot,” he said. “Really, we don’t have the infrastructure that developed nations do.”

Peru and other nations in Latin America are looking to the experience in Europe as a cautionary tale and hoping to curtail the spread of coronavirus cases before they overwhelm hospitals.

Epidemiologist Cristian Díaz Vélez said those measures could potentially create a slower rise in cases that is more manageable for Peru’s medical system. He said the country has around 300 to 350 beds in intensive care units, half of which are now in use.

“It will overwhelm our healthcare system,” he said, if cases skyrocket.

Other countries in Latin America could fare far worse.

March 21, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , | Leave a comment

Covid-19 Shatters the Facade of European Union

Strategic Culture Foundation | March 20, 2020

The new coronavirus and its accompanying disease Covid-19 has stopped the globe in its tracks. Governments, markets and news cycles have become dominated by the pandemic. Europe is now the epicenter for the disease, with reportedly more fatal cases of infection than China where the virus first erupted in December.

Several European Union countries have declared themselves to be in states of emergencies, including Belgium, France, Portugal, Spain and Italy. The 27-member bloc has sealed off external borders. Some states, such as Poland, have begun closing borders with other EU members. Brussels, the administrative center of the EU, is alarmed because the much-vaunted single market and its core principles of free movement of goods and people is at risk of collapsing.

The European entity which proclaims solidarity and supranational status is reverting to a collection of nation states, each desperately fighting for their own survival amid the Covid-19 pandemic. EU leaders have been criticized for showing a lack of central leadership and solidarity. When Italy first reported a surge in infections a few weeks ago, the rest of Europe was slow to respond with the necessary prompt assistance. Now Italy is in such a grip of the disease – with thousands dead – that in some parts of the country normal funeral services reportedly cannot even cope with the number of deceased.

In blistering remarks this week, the Serbian President Alexander Vucic lamented that there was “no European solidarity”. Serbia is a prospective member of the EU along with several other Balkan states, but Vucic said his country has received little in the way of aid from the EU in face of the coronavirus threat. Indeed, by contrast, the Serb leader extolled the generosity of China which has sent large shipments of equipment to combat the disease. Beijing has also dispatched aid cargoes and medical teams to Italy and other EU members to help them cope with their outbreaks.

The World Health Organization has praised the prompt and massive intervention by the Chinese authorities in curbing the spread of the disease within their borders. Latest indications seem to show China has halted the spread of the infection.

The dithering response by the EU and its belated nation-based reactions could turn out to be a fatal political incompetence with consequences of a huge death toll and ruinous economic impact. The citizens of Europe will not forgive such fecklessness.

Laughably, an EU monitoring group this week claimed that Russia was interfering by spreading disinformation about impacts of the novel coronavirus in such a way as to undermine European governments and to “sow division” among European civilians. This scapegoating for its own incompetence is risible.

Weeks ago when the world could see that the virus outbreak in China was a grave development, the EU administrators and national leaders were sitting on their hands. Now that the disease has become a pandemic across the EU, the European Central Bank has suddenly announced it is pumping €750 billion ($820 billion) to shore up financial markets and institutions while countries struggle to find test kits to detect the disease and ventilators to treat victims. Healthcare systems have been gutted by years of economic austerity under neoliberal capitalism whereby Brussels and European governments have prostrated themselves to the diktat of finance capital.

What is abundantly clear is that the EU has become a financially-driven cartel, not a human-centered federation of nations. An organization that cannot adequately protect the health of its public is not an organization worth defending. The EU’s declarations of democracy and solidarity are being seen for the facade that they are. That facade was always shaky. A microbe is enough to tear it down.

March 20, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | | 1 Comment

Asleep at the wheel: Why didn’t Western politicians act quicker on Covid-19 spread?

By Neil Clark | RT | March 19, 2020

Western countries are in lockdown due to Covid-19, but if leaders, their advisers, and the political class in general had paid attention to what was going on in China at the turn of the year, the crisis might have been averted.

Imagine you’re a passenger on a ship. You’d expect, wouldn’t you, that the captain and his officers keep a very good look-out for dangers ahead? You’d expect them to have up-to-date weather information. You’d expect them to take corrective action before the ship hit an iceberg.

The sad truth – for Western citizens, the passengers of the ship – is that those whose job it was to watch out for gathering storms have let us down very badly.

The chronology is most important.

According to the South China Morning Post, the first case of someone suffering from what later came to be known as Covid-19 occurred in China on November 17. The number of cases grew in December, (the majority linked to the Huanan Seafood Market), but we didn’t know internationally what was going on until news began to come out that Wuhan had been hit by a new virus in very late December/early January. The Chinese informed the World Health Organization of new pneumonia cases of unknown etiology on December 31.

The Chinese delay in flagging up what was happening in Wuhan absolutely didn’t help, but there was still time – about a two-week window – for other countries to act.

As reported in the BMJ, on January 11 and 12, the Chinese authorities shared the virus’ genetic sequence for countries to use in “developing specific diagnostic kits.” 440 deaths had been confirmed by January 21. By the 22nd, seven cases had been confirmed OUTSIDE China, including one in the US. All were travelers from Wuhan.

That surely should have got alarm bells ringing in Western capitals, especially as Chinese New Year on January 25 was coming up. Western leaders, and their advisers, would surely know that many Chinese workers based in the West would return home to celebrate, greatly increasing the risk that the virus would be brought back to Europe and North America.

On January 22, the UK government announced that health teams would meet the three direct flights a week from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the virus. At the same time, the risk level was raised from ‘very low’ to ‘low’.  But as Neil Ferguson, director of the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College, London, pointed out, flight screening was no panacea.

“This measure will only identify people who have symptoms as they come off the plane. If someone was infected two days before they travelled, they will arrive without any symptoms at all.” He added, and I emphasize in bold: “It’s essential that the entire health system is alert to the possibility that there will be cases here.”

Lo and behold, the first British case was confirmed nine days later, on January 31, 2020, from Chinese nationals staying at a hotel in York. That very same day, the first cases were also confirmed in Italy. Guess what: they were two Chinese tourists in Rome. Italy is now the world’s number one coronavirus ‘hotspot’. Nearly 3,000 have died there and 60mn people are in quarantine.

Wouldn’t it have been better, if instead of ineffective flight screening, all flights to Western countries from China had been stopped in January – and all travelers who had recently visited China been quarantined? France, by the way, got its first three cases on January 24 (a week before Italy and the UK). All three people had just come back from China. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to see the pattern, do you?

In the New Year, the number one priority of Western politicians should have been the new coronavirus and how best to protect their own populations from it. But their minds were clearly on other things.

Trump – egged on by Washington’s Endless War Lobby – was engaged in an utterly reckless escalation of tensions with Iran. While Covid-19 was spreading in China, the New Year began with the assassination of General Soleimani, a man who had been fighting ISIS, but who was now portrayed as the ‘worst terrorist in the world’. The ‘Iran crisis’ dominated the news cycle. Boris Johnson meanwhile began the year on holiday with his girlfriend in Mustique. The opposition Labour Party were focusing on a leadership election which needn’t have taken place for several months. Three of the four candidates declared on television on February 13 – a day after the UN had activated its WHO-led Crisis Management team to deal with a rapidly escalating problem –that their ‘number one priority’ was… tackling ‘anti-Semitism’ in the Labour Party. Yet after all the brouhaha about anti-Semitism being ‘rife’ in Labour, it was reported at the end of February that the police had ended up charging just one person, a former Labour member.

One person, that is, out of a membership of half a million.

It seemed in February that no one in the political class was very interested in Covid-19.

This is despite the publication in the leading medical journal The Lancet on January 24 of a report entitled ‘A novel coronavirus outbreak of global concern’.

Covid-19 only began to be taken with the seriousness it warranted when it was already too late to try and stop its entry.

By not acting in time to restrict travel to and from China – and later from other ‘hotspots’ like northern Italy and Madrid, Spain, the governments instead waited and waited, until the measures they did take were far more draconian that might otherwise have been the case. It’s true that Trump did bar foreigners who had recently visited China from entering the US on January 31, but as David Leonhardt pointed out in the New York Times, it was “not the sweeping solution that Trump portrayed it to be.”

The costs to the economies of the various lockdowns are incalculable. People’s livelihoods are going to be destroyed. Entire industries are threatened. Don’t forget lockdowns and ‘social distancing’ can actually cause deaths too. As John Pilger pointed out on Twitter, a 2012 study showed that isolation killed the elderly, but isolate is what they’re now being told to do.

We’re in a right old state at the moment, but how much of this could have been avoided if instead of dozing off, or looking elsewhere, those whose job it was to protect us had acted quickly, at the proper time?

March 19, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | 1 Comment

US Military Accuses North Korea of Lying About Coronavirus Infection Rate of Zero

Sputnik – March 17, 2020

North Korea, whose contacts with the outside world remain limited even in a normal situation, was one of the first countries to introduce tough inspection and quarantine measures, canceling tourist visits, cutting off flights and rail travel and quarantining all workers coming home from abroad.

Nearly three months into the COVID-19 outbreak, North Korean health officials maintain that the country has zero cases of the virus.

The Korean Central News Agency reported last week that it there were no cases of COVID-19 in the country, but urged the public to remain vigilant. The agency reported that the country has enforced “strict, top-class anti-epidemic measures,” to intensify its coronavirus response, including the tightening of inspection and quarantine of imports from abroad. The measures are said to include comprehensive “inspection and disinfection of vehicles, vessels and goods,” and a 10-day quarantine of imports.

The World Health Organization too has indicated that it’s not aware of any cases of the virus in the self-isolating country, although the organization does plan to send equipment and supplies to help Pyongyang battle COVID-19. North Korea had previously asked the WHO for material assistance including disposable gowns, gloves and hazmat suits.

The popular Coronavirus Resource Center map run by Johns Hopkins’ University School of Medicine, which depends on credible sources including the WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also reports zero cases for North Korea thus far.

However, US officials believe Pyongyang, which is required to report on any outbreak of contagious viruses as part of its WHO membership obligations, is lying.

Speaking to reporters last week, US Forces Korea commander Gen. Robert Abrams said the Pentagon was “fairly certain” that the country had coronavirus cases given the lack of noticeable military activity. According to the US commander, the North Korean military only recently restarted training following a month-long lockdown.

Keith Luse, executive director of the National Committee on North Korea, a Washington-based think tank, told Bloomberg that it “it’s hard to imagine that North Korea could dodge the COVID-19 bullet.”

Western media have similarly spread stories suggesting that the virus was quietly raging throughout the country, with one report by the US National Endowment for Democracy-sponsored Daily NK online newspaper claiming that as many as 200 soldiers had already died, and that another 4,000 people were in quarantine. These claims, citing anonymous sources, were never verified, but have been spread widely by English-language media.

North Korea, which is thought to have successfully weathered both the SARS and Ebola outbreaks in 2003 and 2014, became one of the first countries in the world to mount a nation-wide emergency response to COVID-19 amid rising infection rates in neighbouring China, South Korea and Japan.

These measures included a ban on all foreign tourists in late January, quarantine for travellers from China exhibiting potential symptoms of the virus in Sinuiju in the country’s west, and the declaration of a “state emergency” to deal with the epidemic on January 30, including the creation of a special ‘Central Emergency Anti-Epidemic Headquarters’.

North Korea’s presumed infection rate stands in sharp contrast to those of its neighbours, with China, where the virus originated, reporting over 81,000 cases, including some 218 cases in the North-Korea neighbouring regions of Liaoning and Jilin. South Korea has 8,320 confirmed cases. Japan has reported 833 cases. Russia, meanwhile, has 93 confirmed cases.

March 17, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | Leave a comment