Leaked White House report warns current Covid-19 mitigation efforts ‘inadequate’ | US news

As the US death toll from Covid-19 surpassed 250,000 on Wednesday, with a caseload above 11.3m and more than 161,000 new cases added the previous day, an internal White House taskforce report warned of “aggressive, unrelenting, broad community spread across the country, without evidence of improvement but, rather, further deterioration”.

The report, which leaked widely to the media, added: “Current mitigation efforts are inadequate and must be increased.”

Daily death numbers are rising: 1,707 were reported by Johns Hopkins University on Tuesday. With some forecast models predicting a death toll beyond 400,000 by March, a year after the pandemic began, states across the US are implementing targeted social restrictions in attempts to beat back rising case numbers and reduce pressure on hospital resources.

According to the Covid Tracking Project, an all-time high of 76,830 people were hospitalised with the virus as of Wednesday morning.

Speaking anonymously, one White House official told the Associated Press the taskforce had concluded existing efforts to slow the spread “are inadequate and must be increased to flatten the curve” and that Thanksgiving travel and gatherings, around the US holiday next Thursday, could “amplify transmission considerably”.

On Wednesday, President-elect Joe Biden was due to stage a virtual meeting with frontline healthcare workers. Continuing to prepare for government without a concession from Donald Trump and consequent federal government support, Biden has named a Covid advisory board and made tackling the pandemic a key focus of plans for his first steps in power next January.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key member of the White House taskforce, has said Trumpwho is in the White House with no public events scheduled, has not attended a taskforce meeting for five months.

On Tuesday, Fauci said he regretted not pushing harder for mass testing earlier in the pandemic.

“Deep down, perhaps I should’ve been much more vocal about saying, ‘We really absolutely gotta do that,’” he told the Stat Summit healthcare conference. “I said it, it went nowhere and maybe I should have kept pushing the envelope on that.

“It never became a reality because we never really had enough tests to do the tests that you had to do.”

Fauci also said: “Community spread doesn’t stop spontaneously unless you do something about it. It is easier to stop when the level is relatively low. The only way that you can get at community spread is that you need to test people who are without symptoms, in order to show what the degree of penetrance of infection is.”

Fauci praised the federal Operation Warp Speed vaccine development programme that pairs government with private sector efforts, but said: “A vaccine should not be considered as a total substitute at this point for public health measures.

“In my mind, it should be an incentive for people who have Covid fatigue and are really tired of public health measures to say, ‘You know there is light at the end of the tunnel, help is coming, let me hang in there a bit longer.’

“If we could just hang on enough to do that until we get enough people vaccinated to turn around the dynamics of the outbreak, we will be OK. We will be OK.”

Around the US, many counties, cities and states are in crisis. On Wednesday, Axios, using Johns Hopkins data, reported rising cases in 83% of counties.

“Crowley county, Colorado, and Lee county, Kentucky, had the first- and third-highest caseloads per 100,000 people this week,” Axios reported. “Both were the site of prison-based outbreaks.”

Many Republican-led states are struggling. In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine has ordered a three-week curfew, from 10pm to 5am statewide. In Texas, in scenes reminiscent of New York in the early days of the pandemic, a convention center in El Paso has been turned into a field hospital and the city has more cases than the larger metropolitan centers of Houston and Dallas combined.

In Arkansas, Governor Asa Hutchinson has warned that 1,000 people are likely to die in the state before Christmas.

“We are on the precipice of a significant and possibly uncontrollable rise in cases,” the Arkansas state health secretary, Jose Romero, said on Tuesday. “This is like a boulder rolling down a hill. There will come a time when we can not stop it … Now is the time to act.”

South Dakota, suffering particularly badly, remains without even a mask mandate, regarding the wearing of facial coverings in public. Its governor, Kristi Noem, is a rising star of the Trumpist right.

“The facts are simple: mask mandates, harsh lockdowns, massive testing and contact tracing haven’t worked – in the United States or abroad,” a spokeswoman for Noem, Maggie Seidel, claimed to the AP this week.

Local authorities are stepping into the breach. The Rapid City-area school system, for example, planned to close all schools and move to virtual instruction on Wednesday, after data showed 94 students and 47 staff with active Covid-19 cases and 105 staff and 676 students in quarantine following exposure.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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Africa: Netflix Africa Announced a New Partnership With Realness Institute

Netflix and Realness Institute announced a new partnership to create an Episodic Content Development Lab for writers in South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria.

Realness Institute will commit to foster a new wave of storytelling, while Netflix will bring its expertise in episodic content development, production and insight into global content trends.

“At Netflix, we believe that great stories come from anywhere and be loved everywhere,” says Dorothy Ghettuba, who leads African Original Series in Africa.

“We strongly believe that Africa has a wealth of untold stories. As we grow our slate of Originals in Africa, partnerships with organisations like Realness will help us achieve our goal of investing in writers who will bring diverse genres of authentic, local stories that cater for every mood and will ensure our members see their lives reflected on screen.”

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Military Judge in U.S. Held Court by Video Link to Guantánamo Bay

But the complexities are magnified when it comes to Guantánamo, which in normal times is essentially a commuter court that opens with the arrival of the judge, lawyers, stenographers, translators and other staff aboard a charter plane from Joint Base Andrews outside Washington.

Credit…Office of Military Commissions

In Guantánamo’s best-known case — the long-delayed trial of the defendants in the Sept. 11, 2001, plot — the government has chosen to prosecute five men simultaneously on charges that they conspired in the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. Hearings typically require more than 100 people at the base, including experienced death-penalty lawyers, some in their 70s, who live outside the Washington area and are now considered at particular risk if they travel in the pandemic.

Over the weekend, the chief war court judge, Col. Douglas K. Watkins of the Army, canceled plans to hold a pretrial hearing this week in the case of a confessed Qaeda courier, Majid Khan, at a makeshift courtroom in Reston, Va. Given the rapid spread of the coronavirus, Colonel Watkins declared it too risky to hold the hearing because he was traveling from Texas and two defense lawyers were traveling from New York and Connecticut.

By the time he canceled it, one of Mr. Khan’s lawyers, Col. Wayne J. Aaron of the Army, was finishing two weeks of quarantine in a small trailer at Guantánamo in order to be able to sit with the prisoner in the courtroom and participate remotely.

Mr. Khan, who grew up in suburban Baltimore, pleaded guilty in 2012. This week’s hearing was to discuss witnesses for his sentencing, which is scheduled for May at Guantánamo — after two weeks of quarantine there for participants followed by a weeklong fact-finding hearing on the prisoner’s torture by the C.I.A.

For the Khan hearing, the Pentagon had also set up a viewing site at Fort Meade, Md., for four socially distanced journalists to watch the proceedings in feeds that would have toggled between Guantánamo and Virginia. Typically, reporters can travel to Guantánamo to observe the hearings.

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US military reported record high of Covid cases on Tuesday

There are currently about 25,000 active Covid-19 cases in the ranks, and another 44,390 service members have recovered from the virus, according to the Pentagon. The number of military cases has grown over the last few weeks as case counts have increased in the general population.

A US defense official told CNN that the US military has a positivity rate of 6.8%. That compares to about 10% among civilians taking coronavirus tests. The military has claimed since the beginning of the pandemic that it can maintain a lower positivity rate because the military has a younger, healthier population. It also can also more easily mandate restrictions than civilian authorities.

This comes as several military bases across the country have had to once again tighten health measures to protect the force and military families. Since last week, 10 Air Force installations instituted stronger measures at Health Protection Condition Level Charlie just one step below the most stringent level.

While commanders can make detailed decisions about their bases, under the Charlie measures, schools, daycare and community activities may be canceled. It also introduces travel restrictions and more personnel may be ordered to work from home. Additionally family activities may be restricted to homes for a prolonged period of time.

The impact is being felt at installations across the country and around the world.

One of the installations impacted is Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, which houses what the Air Force calls “the largest and most demanding advanced air combat training mission in the world.”

In the Navy, 37 installations worldwide are now at the higher level of health protection. They include some of the Navy’s largest bases, including those in Norfolk, Virginia; San Diego, California; and the Joint Base with the Air Force at Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Three facilities in Europe are also included.

The Army now says since the beginning of the month, 59 installations are at the higher protection level with Fort Gordon, Georgia, just added to the list on Wednesday. At Fort Bliss, Texas, in the hard hit area of El Paso, stringent new measures are now in place for troops and families including maintaining 10 feet of distance while exercising or running and a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

The Marine Corps says it does not currently have any bases at the higher protection level.

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Ethics experts and Trump critics call for Senate investigation into Graham’s probe into presidential election

In a letter, Walter Shaub, a former top ethics watchdog for the federal government, Richard Painter, the chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush’s administration, and Claire Finkelstein, the director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law, asked the panel to look into Graham’s call last week with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, and whether Graham “suggested” that Raffensperger “disenfranchise Georgia voters by not counting votes lawfully cast for the office of president.”

They also asked the panel to investigate whether Graham “threatened anyone with a Senate investigation of the Georgia vote tally.”

The Senate panel reviews complaints “from virtually any source,” according to its guidelines, but whether it will probe Graham is uncertain. The panel, which is evenly split between three Democrats and three Republicans, acts in secrecy and often offers little more than a slap on the wrist to admonish a senator’s misconduct.

Graham told CNN “no, not at all” on Wednesday when asked if he’s concerned about facing any ethics investigation.

“I get accused of everything, I’m just going to keep being me,” Graham said in the Capitol. “I called up the Secretary of State to find out how you verify a signature and what database you use because I think it’s important that if we’re going to vote by mail, we get it right.”

Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a top Trump ally, has no oversight over election matters, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Senate Rules Committee, and has faced a barrage of criticism for his interventions in the democratic process.

But he defended his call to Raffensperger, who is currently overseeing the Georgia recount, and has said that he also investigated the voting practices of Arizona and Nevada — two other states that Joe Biden won. Graham has maintained that he’s interested in protecting the integrity of absentee voting and zeroing-in on signature matching, although there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Graham has not looked into states that Trump won. Asked why not, Graham said Wednesday “because they’re not in question. I mean, we’re looking at states where there’s a contest. I’m not looking at states that he lost. I’m looking at states where there’s a challenge.”

Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop also dismissed the ethics complaint, noting that Painter and Shaub are “long-time, frequent and vocal critics of Sen. Graham.”

In the letter, the three ethics experts and Trump critics wrote that if the allegations are true, Graham’s conduct is “an abuse of office” and “unbecoming of a senator,” and claimed that the Ethics committee led by Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford and Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons should “seek an appropriate sanction or any other appropriate remedy.”

“For the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee to suggest to a state Secretary of State that he refrain from counting lawful votes threatens the electoral process and damages representative democracy,” they wrote.

Raffensperger said on CNN’s “The Situation Room” on Monday that Graham had hinted that he should try to discard some ballots in Georgia.

“It was just an implication of, ‘Look hard and see how many ballots you could throw out,'” said Raffensperger.

Georgia election implementation manager Gabriel Sterling, who works for Raffensperger, said on Tuesday that he had participated in the call with Graham on Friday. Sterling said he had heard the senator ask if state officials could throw out all of the absentee ballots where a “percentage” of signatures did not “truly” match.

Graham’s comments “might have gone a little to the edge of” what people deem acceptable, said Sterling. But he added that he understood why Raffensperger and Graham interpreted the conversation differently.

“The President is going to continue to fight; his supporters continue to fight,” Sterling said. “Our job is to continue to follow the law, and we were answering process questions.”

CNN’s Sarah Fortinsky and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

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Hackers HQ and Space Command: how UK defence budget could be spent | Military

National Cyber Force

A specialist cyber force of several hundred British hackers has been in the works for nearly three years, although its creation has been partly held back by turf wars between the spy agency GCHQ and the Ministry of Defence, to which the unit is expected to jointly report.

The idea behind the new unit is to bring greater visibility and coherence to offensive cyber, a capability that the UK claims to have had for a decade but until recently has rarely acknowledged or discussed. Earlier in the autumn, Gen Patrick Sanders, the head of the UK’s strategic command, said the military already had the capacity to “degrade, disrupt and destroy” enemies.

Past operations include hacking into Islamic State systems in 2017 to understand how the terror group was operating a low-tech drone capability out of Mosul, which the military claims allowed it to understand how the drones were bought and how operators were trained.

Space Command

Creating a “Space Command” is a promise that was made in the Conservative election manifesto, and comes at a time when major military powers are rapidly showing an interest in space, largely because of the need to ensure the safety and security of satellites on which critical communications and location systems depend.

The UK’s new Space Operations Centre, based at the RAF headquarters in High Wycombe, comes less than a year after Donald Trump announced the creation of a new space force, arguing that “space is the world’s new war-fighting domain,” and that maintaining American superiority over Russia and China was “absolutely vital”.

The UK’s plans are expected to be be far less ambitious than those of the outgoing president, given that British capability in space is far behind that of US, Russia or China. Instead, the UK wants to develop a satellite rocket launch capability from 2022.

Space command staff will come from all three of the armed forces, but one former senior Whitehall insider questioned whether the UK had the capability to make a Space Command an effective reality. “Where are the people who will make this real? Are there cybermen waiting to be activated?”

Artificial intelligence agency

Extra cash in the review will also fund the creation of an artificial intelligence agency, details of which were scant on Wednesday, such is the speed at which the defence spending announcement has been put together.

It is unclear how this is related to plans devised by Dominic Cummings, when he was working in Downing Street, to create an advanced projects research agency along the lines of the US’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa). Defence sources said it would be led by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Building a strong UK position in artificial intelligence is an obsession among the intelligence and defence community, in the belief the technology has a long-term strategic value and the country must have its own capability. But little has emerged in the public domain.

At present, the UK’s AI efforts are coordinated by the existing Office for Artificial Intelligence, which was created as part of Theresa May’s industrial strategy of 2017, and sits within the departments for business and culture.

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Two more House members announce they have Covid-19

The cases brings CNN’s tally to 26 House members and eight senators that have so far tested positive or been presumed positive.

Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican from Washington and Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado, announced separately they had tested positive for Covid-19.

“Congressman Doug Lamborn (CO-05) has recently tested positive for Covid-19 and is experiencing mild symptoms,” Lamborn’s office said in a statement. “He has been in contact with the US House Attending Physician and is following all CDC guidelines and isolating at his home in Colorado Springs. The Congressman will continue to work for the district from home and his staff will continue to provide the best of constituent services. He looks forward to resuming his normal schedule soon.”

Meanwhile, Newhouse tweeted Wednesday, “I began to feel a little run down yesterday, so I took a Covid-19 test. Last night, the results came back positive for the virus. My symptoms remain mild, and I am following CDC guidelines. I am quarantining and will continue to serve the people of Central Washington from home.”

More and more lawmakers from both parties and chambers of Congress have announced they’ve tested positive with Covid-19 amid the uptick of cases in the country. The House began offering Covid-19 testing for members this week, eight months after the pandemic began.

On Tuesday, the Senate president pro tempore — Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa — announced that he was positive for the coronavirus. On Wednesday, Grassley tweeted that he was not showing symptoms. “I continue to feel good Thx for all the messages of encouragement & prayers,” he wrote.

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Africa: Zambia Debt Crisis Just the Ears of the Hippopotamus in Africa’s Perilous Fiscal Position

Zambia’s debt crisis is part of a much bigger affliction facing many sub-Saharan African countries which have been sinking in sovereign debt since the financial crisis of 2008. Persistent systemic governance and economic challenges accompanied by external shocks have led to a rise in the continent’s indebtedness.

Even in the less superstitious view, Friday the 13th is an unlucky day. In the African sovereign finance world, Friday 13 November 2020 will be remembered as the day in which one of the member states, Zambia, failed to meet its debt servicing commitments of $225-million due to the country’s lenders.

It is tempting to ascribe the country’s failure to meet its debt obligations to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, Zambia and many Africa watchers have seen this coming. A recent seminar held by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and the Brenthurst Foundation shed more light on Zambia’s path to chronic indebtedness under President Edgar Lungu.

However, focusing on the Zambia debt crisis in isolation would be remiss. It is part of a much bigger affliction facing many of the sub-Saharan African countries. African countries have been sinking in sovereign debt since the financial crisis of 2008. Zambia illustrates some of the fiscal challenges the…

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