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Russia says it scales down war games amid pandemic

Last Updated May 19, 2020 at 9:41 am PDT

Russian army officers wearing face masks to protect against coronavirus walk in St.Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday, May 19, 2020. Russia has continued to see a steady rise of new infections, and new hot spots have emerged across the vast country of 147-million people that ranks the second in the world behind the United States in the number of coronavirus cases. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)
Summary

The White House is rushing to defend President Donald Trump's decision to take a malaria drug

Spain has recorded fewer than 100 deaths from the new coronavirus for the third day in a row

MOSCOW — Russia’s foreign minister said Tuesday that Moscow has scaled down its military drills amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Sergey Lavrov said that the Russian military also has decided not to conduct any war games near the country’s borders with NATO member nations during the outbreak.

Russia-West relations have sunk to post-Cold War lows after the 2014 Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and Moscow’s support for a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow has repeatedly voiced concern over the deployment of NATO forces in the Baltics, describing it as a threat to its security. Russia and the alliance also have blamed one another for conducting destabilizing military exercises near the borders.

Meanwhile, Russia’s prime minister has fully resumed his duties after recovering from the coronavirus.

Mikhail Mishustin, 54, announced he was infected on April 30.

On Tuesday, Mishustin’s office says he’s checked out of the hospital and returned to his duties in the Cabinet headquarters. He’s set to take part in a video conference with President Vladimir Putin later in the day.

Several Cabinet ministers and Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov also have been infected. Peskov says he had double pneumonia caused by the virus. He noted he hadn’t met with Putin in person for more than a month.

Putin has limited public appearances and held most of his meetings online during the virus pandemic.

U.S.

The White House is rushing to defend President Donald Trump’s decision to take a malaria drug he’s been promoting as a treatment for the coronavirus, despite warnings from his own government that it should only be administered for COVID-19 in a hospital or research setting due to potentially fatal side effects.

The president has been drawing criticism from Democratic leaders and some health experts after saying he’s been taking hydroxychloroquine and a zinc supplement daily for a week and a half, after two White House staffers tested positive for the coronavirus.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Tuesday that “tens of millions of people around the world have used this drug for other purposes,” including malaria prophylaxis, and urged all patients to consult with their doctors.

Trump’s previous endorsement of hydroxychloroquine sparked India, the world’s largest producer of the drug, to make much more of it, prescribe it for health workers treating the coronavirus and deploy it as a diplomatic tool.

New York

New York City’s virus-disrupted school year will extend into the summer for 177,700 youngsters.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday that “unprecedented learning” will happen during the online-only summer school session. Officials said the six-week summer session will be either required or suggested for students at risk of being held back.

De Blasio said earlier that he hopes to create a city where disparities like those revealed by new coronavirus data “don’t exist.”

Data released by the city Monday showed that the virus has hit hardest in low-income neighbourhoods outside of Manhattan. The data showed that black and Hispanic New Yorkers were more than twice as likely to be killed by the virus as white people.

Madrid

In Madrid, Spain has recorded fewer than 100 deaths from the new coronavirus for the third day in a row.

The Health Ministry said Tuesday that 83 people had died over the previous 24 hours, taking the overall death toll to 27,778.

It reported 295 new cases, bringing the total in the outbreak to just over 232,000.

The government is asking parliament to extend the current state of emergency to June 7, saying it is the only legal instrument that allows authorities to order lockdowns.

Spain is also mandating facial masks in all public spaces, including outdoors when a safe distance of two metres between people can’t be kept.

Health Minister Salvador Illa says the decision expands recommendations in March for masks worn only in hospitals and nursing homes.

Previously, masks were in short supply in a country ravaged by the pandemic.

Last month, masks became mandatory on public transportation.

Spain has recorded more than 27,000 deaths from the coronavirus and more than 230,000 confirmed infections.

Spain’s government also says it will seek to extend the current state of emergency to fight the coronavirus outbreak until mid-June.

London

In London, A British lawmaker is urging the government to accept a bill that enshrines privacy protections in law in connection with a new app meant to track COVID-19 cases.

Harriet Harman, chair of parliament’s human rights committee, says Britain needs a bill to safeguard privacy rights with the new app, rather than relying on existing legislation.

Though Health Secretary Matt Hancock has promised to safeguard privacy rights in rolling out the app nationally, Harman says the system shouldn’t “rely on the individual integrity of any minister.”

Britain is testing an app on the Isle of Wight that logs details of nearby phones that have the app. If a user gets symptoms, those other phones will receive an alert and people can get a coronavirus test.

But the app’s success depends on large swathes of the population being willing to share personal data. Harman argues that such an intrusion requires legislation — even if the ultimate goal is to safeguard the population.

Germany

Germany’s agreement to share debt with other EU countries to finance an economic recovery plan is being greeted as a political breakthrough and an overdue sign of unity in the face of the worst downturn the bloc has ever seen.

Chancellor Angela Merkel broke with her country’s longstanding opposition to shared borrowing with other EU member countries. The proposal made with French President Emmanuel Macron is limited in scale and duration, which could help her sell it to skeptics back home.

The 500 billion euros ($550 billion) fund would make outright grants to help countries through the recession, going beyond an earlier rescue package based on loans that would have to be paid back someday. By endorsing common borrowing and direct cash help, the Merkel-Macron deal is being viewed by some as a step toward stronger EU financial links, as the 27-country union faces challenges not just from the virus crisis, but from populist forces in member countries Hungary and Poland.

France, whose president had pushed hard for the fund proposal announced Monday, exulted.

“It’s a historic breakthrough,” said Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire on Tuesday. “We will be able to support the economic recovery in the countries most hit by the virus.”

“The second consequence is political: France and Germany affirm loud and clear their determination to see solidarity among European Union members placed at the heart of the European construction,” he said, calling it “a historical step for the whole European Union.”

Macron and Merkel suggested that the fund would send money starting in 2021 to the areas hardest hit by the virus outbreak and target sectors that are priorities for EU economic policy such as digitalization and fighting climate change.

The fund would be a one-off part of the EU’s budget and take advantage of EU institutions’ ability to borrow at extremely low interest rates for long periods. It adds to a 540 billion-euro package agreed among finance ministers from the 19 EU countries that use the euro. That included loans from the eurozone bailout fund that would have to be repaid.

Since the proposal is only for a limited one-time fund during a crisis, it would represent incremental change. But some were seeing it as potentially the harbinger of more EU central spending.

Geneva

In Geneva, member states of the World Health Organization have unanimously passed a resolution brought by European Union members, African nations and others calling for an independent “comprehensive evaluation” of the international response to the COVID-19 outbreak co-ordinated by the U.N. health agency.

The United States has sharply criticized the agency and its relationship with China, where the outbreak erupted.

Overnight, U.S. President Donald Trump listed concerns and criticism about the WHO to its director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Nations rallied around the resolution that calls on the director-general to initiate “at the earliest appropriate moment” an evaluation that would “review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-co-ordinated international health response to COVID-19.”
It was not immediately clear how, when or by whom that evaluation will be conducted.

The resolution pointed to the “role of extensive immunization against COVID-19 as a global public good,” and called on international organizations to “work collaboratively” to produce safe, effective and affordable medicines and vaccines.

United Nations

The United Nations secretary-general is recommending the annual gathering of world leaders in late September be dramatically scaled back because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Antonio Guterres suggested heads of state and government deliver prerecorded messages instead, with only one New York-based diplomat from each of the 193 U.N. member nations present in the General Assembly Hall.

The meeting of world leaders in New York usually brings thousands of people for more than a week of speeches, lunches, dinners, receptions, one-on-one meetings and hundreds of side events.

However, New York has been an epicenter of the coronavirus crisis. This year was expected to bring an especially large number of leaders to U.N. headquarters to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the United Nations.

But Guterres said in a letter to Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, the president of the General Assembly, obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, that the COVID-19 pandemic “will continue to cycle with varying degrees of severity” across the world and it’s highly unlikely leaders can travel to New York in September.

Muhammad-Bande has said a decision on the annual gathering will be made after consultations with U.N. member states.

Sao Paulo

A study shows the number of COVID-19 cases in Brazil could reach one million if unconfirmed cases are taken into consideration.

The study conducted for the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper by researchers in the Brazilian Navy and universities in Rio de Janeiro and France says the number of cases is expected to peak this week. It could start stabilizing at the end of July after reaching nearly 370,000 confirmed infections.

Brazil this week became the world’s third worst-hit country with more than 250,000 confirmed cases despite limited testing. The United States has the most cases, followed by Russia.
The governor in the northeastern state of Pernambuco said Monday he has COVID-19, becoming the fifth state governor to announce being infected.

Most Brazilian states haven’t implemented strict lockdown measures to contain the virus that has already killed nearly 17,000 people in the South American nation.

The Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and the University of Bordeaux helped conduct the study.

Brussels

In Brussels, the European Union is supporting the World Health Organization. The EU is urging all countries to back the U.N. agency after President Donald Trump threatened to permanently cut U.S. funding.
European Commission spokeswoman Virginie Battu-Henriksson says global co-operation is “the only effective and viable option to win this battle.”

She says “this is the time for solidarity. It is not the time for finger-pointing or undermining multilateral co-operation.”

In a letter to WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Trump wrote the agency’s “repeated missteps” in its response to the pandemic have proven “very costly for the world.”

Trump’s threatened to cut U.S. WHO funding unless it commits to “substantive improvements” in the next 30 days.