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National Govt & Politics
US and Taliban agree to truce, way forward in Afghanistan

US and Taliban agree to truce, way forward in Afghanistan

US and Taliban agree to truce, way forward in Afghanistan
Photo Credit: MSC
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, shakes hands with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani,during the 56th Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Munich, southern Germany, on Friday, Feb. 14, 2020. The 2020 edition of the Munich Security Conference (MSC) takes place from Feb. 14 to 16. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool photo via AP)

US and Taliban agree to truce, way forward in Afghanistan

The United States and the Taliban have agreed to a temporary truce that, if successful, would open the way for a deal that would bring American troops home from Afghanistan and end 18 years of war.

The peace deal would call for negotiations between Afghans on both sides of the conflict to start next month, an eventual countrywide cease-fire and a commitment from the Taliban not to harbor terrorist groups like al Qaida, while setting a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

The truce marks a milestone in efforts to end America’s longest-running conflict and fulfill President Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to bring U.S. troops home from foreign conflicts. But prospects for a real and lasting peace remain unclear.

Details were provided separately Friday by a senior U.S. official and a Taliban official, who were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The U.S. official said the agreement for a seven-day “reduction in violence” is “very specific” and covers the entire country, including Afghan government forces. There were indications a formal announcement could come as early as the weekend.

The official said the Taliban had committed to a halt in roadside and suicide bombings as well as rocket attacks. If the Taliban uphold their commitments, a U.S.-Taliban peace agreement would be signed within 10 days.

The Taliban official said the signing had been tentatively set for Feb. 29, with the start of the Afghan talks planned for March 10. The official said Germany and Norway have offered to host the talks but there has been no decision on the venue.

That Taliban official said the agreement would provide for the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners before the start of the negotiations.

Much will depend on the results of the all-Afghan negotiations, if and when they get off the ground. The presence of “spoilers” — those happy with the status quo — will remain a threat to peace efforts throughout the process, the U.S. senior official acknowledged.

Also uncertain are the gains made for Afghan women and girls since the fall of the Taliban months after the U.S. military response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks ordered by Osama bin Laden from Afghan soil.

But, for the Taliban, the proposal represents a way to gain the political legitimacy they never had in the late 1990s when they first came to power.

The new developments came as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper met Friday with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on the sidelines of an international security forum in Munich.

To make good on its promise to release Taliban prisoners, Washington is going to need the cooperation of Ghani, who has been critical of the way U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has conducted the talks with the Taliban, complaining about being kept in the dark.

Ghani has also bickered with his partner in the current Unity Government, Abdullah Abdullah, over who will represent Kabul at the negotiating table. Ghani has insisted he lead the talks, while his political opponents and other prominent Afghans have called for more inclusive representation at the negotiating table.

The Taliban and those familiar with the details of the Afghan negotiations say the representatives from Kabul will include government officials but they will sit across from the Taliban as ordinary Afghans and not as government representatives.

U.S. officials have not publicly spelled out their timetable for an initial drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but the expectation is that a reduction from the current total of about 12,000 to approximately 8,600 will begin after the signing of a U.S.-Taliban deal. That initial reduction is likely to stretch out over a period of weeks or months.

The Taliban official said the withdrawal of foreign troops would start gradually and be carried out over 18 months.

A senior U.S. military officer told a small group of reporters that U.S. counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan against the Islamic State group and al-Qaida will continue, separate from the truce agreement. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive aspects of military operations ahead of an expected announcement of the U.S.-Taliban deal.

He also said the United States has sufficient intelligence-gathering assets to be able to determine within the seven-day period whether the Taliban is making a good-faith effort to reduce violence, even if some limited violence persists.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy on Friday called the U.S. agreement a first step in the process.

“It’s going to take several weeks for this to unfold, but it’s very encouraging that we’re heading down a path to a political solution,” he said in response to a question during remarks at the National Press Club.

A truce had been widely anticipated, and Trump agreed in principle to the deal, according to U.S. officials.

The final details were hammered out in recent days by Khalilzad and Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar. Khalilzad also was in Munich and attended Pompeo and Esper's meeting, as did Gen. Scott Miller, the commander of the U.S.-led international force in Afghanistan.


Gannon reported from Islamabad. AP National Security Writer Robert Burns and Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

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Death toll rises to 1,770 worldwide  Update 7:05 p.m. EST Feb. 16: Numbers shared Monday local time in China’s Hubei province have brought the coronavirus death toll to 1,770 globally, according to the South China Morning Post and CNN.  Health officials in the province, the epicenter of the COVID-19 epidemic, reported 100 new deaths connected to the virus Sunday, the Morning Post reported.  The 2019 novel coronavirus has claimed 1,696 lives in China since it was discovered late last year in Wuhan, according to CNN and health officials. Four deaths have been reported outside of China: one in the Philippines, one in Taiwan, one in France and one in Japan. Charter planes carrying Americans evacuated from cruise ship leave Tokyo  Update 5:30 p.m. EST Feb. 16: Two planes chartered by the U.S. government for Americans who had been quarantined off the coast of Japan on the Diamond Princess cruise ship have left Tokyo, according to CNN.  The planes are bound for Kelly Field/Lackland Air Force Base in Texas and the Travis Air Force Base in California, respectively, CNN reported.  Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell told The New York Times that once the planes land in Texas and California, passengers will undergo a 14-day quarantine, as required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Singapore confirms 3 new coronavirus cases  Update 4:20 p.m. EST Feb. 16: Officials with Singapore’s Ministry of Health have confirmed three new cases of coronavirus, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 75.  Health officials linked two of the cases, involving two men ages 43 and 29, to a church in central Singapore. The third cases, involving a 71-year-old woman, is a relative of someone who had been placed under quarantine, officials said Sunday in a statement.. 44 Americans on Diamond Princess tested positive, official says Update 1:23 p.m. EST Feb. 16: Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told The Washington Post on Sunday that 44 Americans who were traveling on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan have been infected with the coronavirus. Hundreds of U.S. citizens who have been quarantined on the ship were evacuated Sunday evening, the newspaper reported. They were taken by bus to a nearby airport, where two chartered planes are scheduled to return them to the United States. Taiwan reports first death; fourth outside mainland China Update 11:53 a.m. EST Feb. 16: Taiwan officials reported the island’s first fatality from the coronavirus Saturday, as a 61-year-old man who had a history of diabetes and hepatitis B died, The New York Times reported. The man was admitted to a hospital Feb. 3 after he developed a cough a week earlier, Taiwan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare said in a statement. The man did not have a known history of traveling to mainland China, and health officials were investigating how he became infected, the newspaper reported. This death is the fourth reported coronavirus fatality to take place outside mainland China. Holland America confirms case in former Westerdam passenger Update 8:43 a.m. EST Feb. 16: The company that owns the Westerdam cruise ship issued a statement Sunday acknowledging one of its passengers tested positive for the coronavirus. In a statement, Holland America said, “The guest departed Westerdam (on) Feb. 14 and later reported feeling ill at the Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia airport. The guest was taken to the hospital and is reported to be in stable condition. The guest’s traveling companion tested negative.” Italy plans to evacuate 35 from Diamond Princess cruise ship Update 7:01 a.m. EST Feb. 16: Italy will be evacuating 35 passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan, according to CNN. Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio issued a statement Sunday about the evacuation. A flight will bring the Italian passengers home, he said. No further details were immediately available. More Diamond Princess cruises canceled through April 20 Update 3:43 a.m. EST Feb. 16: Princess Cruises announced early Sunday that it is canceling more voyages for the Diamond Princess ship docked in Japan. “Based on the prolonged quarantine period, and the anticipated time to prepare the ship to return to service, we unfortunately must cancel additional Diamond Princess voyages through the April 20 voyage,” the cruise line tweeted.  See the full list of scheduled changes here. Fatality rate remains stable in China at 142 new deaths  Update 8 p.m. EST Feb. 15: China reported a drop in new virus cases for a third straight day.  There are 2,009 new cases in mainland China, bringing its total number of confirmed cases to 68,500, according to the country’s National Health Commission.  The fatality rate remained stable with 142 new deaths. The death toll in mainland China from COVID-19, a disease stemming from a new form of coronavirus, now stands at 1,665. Fourth coronavirus fatality outside mainland China, first in Europe confirmed  Update 6:05 a.m. EST Feb. 15: A Chinese tourist has died in France from the novel coronavirus, marking the first recorded fatality from the disease outside Asia.  French Health Minister Agnès Buzyn confirmed to the BBC early Saturday that the victim was an 80-year-old woman from China’s Hubei province who arrived in France Jan. 16 and was quarantined in a Paris hospital on Jan. 25.  Although more than 1,500 people have died from the virus since the outbreak began, only three – one each in Hong Kong, the Philippines and Japan – had occurred outside mainland China prior to the fatality in France.  France has previously confirmed 11 cases of coronavirus, and six remain hospitalized, the BBC reported.  New coronavirus cases confirmed in Malaysia, Thailand  Update 6 a.m. EST Feb. 15: Malaysian officials confirmed early Saturday two new novel coronavirus cases, while officials in Thailand confirmed a medical worker has become that nation’s 34th case, CNN reported.  Both Malaysian patients are Chinese nationals and bring that country’s total cases to 21. According to CNN, a 27-year-old businessman from Guangzhou presented with symptoms during a Friday screening at the Bukit Kayu Hitam Customs, near the border with Thailand. The second patient is a 32-year-old Malaysian woman who visited China between Jan. 22 and Jan. 30.  The infected Thai medical worker is a 35-year-old woman whom health authorities confirmed had close contact with another confirmed patient. Of Thailand’s 34 confirmed cases, CNN reported, 14 have been discharged and 20 remain hospitalized.  67 new coronavirus cases confirmed aboard Diamond Princess cruise ship  Update 5:55 a.m. EST Feb. 15: Japanese Health Minister Katsunobu Kato confirmed early Saturday that an additional 67 people aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship moored off the coast of Japan have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, CNN reported.  The latest figures bring the total number of confirmed cases aboard the ship to 286. That figure, combined with the 39 cases confirmed elsewhere across Japan, brings the country’s total recorded infections to 325, the highest concentration of cases reported outside mainland China, the network reported. Email to passengers outlines chartered flight, stateside quarantine plans  Update 4:13 a.m. EST Feb. 15: In an email to American passengers aboard the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship, officials with the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said a chartered flight will arrive Sunday evening to retrieve any of the roughly 380 U.S. citizens aboard the ship who have not yet tested positive for or exhibited symptoms of the novel coronavirus, the New York Times and CNN reported.  The ship, carrying more than 3,700 passengers and crewmembers, has been quarantined off the coast of Japan in Yokohama Bay since Feb. 4, after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong was diagnosed with the virus. To date, at least 218 cases have been confirmed aboard the ship, including at least 40 Americans who have been transported to medical facilities for treatment, the Times reported.  Per the email shared by CNN, buses will transport evacuating U.S. citizens from Yokohama to an undisclosed airport.  “Passengers will be screened for symptoms and we are working with our Japanese partners to ensure that any symptomatic passengers receive the required care in Japan if they cannot board the flight,” the email reads.  The plane is scheduled to first land at California’s Travis Air Force Base, before transporting remaining passengers to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.  “We will provide information about your final destination prior to boarding the plane,' the embassy told passengers, noting a new 14-day quarantine of all evacuees will begin once transport is complete.  “We understand this is frustrating and an adjustment, but these measures are consistent with the careful policies we have instituted to limit the potential spread of the disease,” the email reads.  Disembarkation of passengers not voluntarily evacuating on Sunday’s charter flight, will begin Feb. 21 and last several days, CNN reported.  More than 8,000 recovered coronavirus patients discharged from hospitals  Update 4:10 a.m. EST Feb. 15: China’s National Health Commission confirmed early Saturday a total of 8,096 patients have been declared recovered from the novel coronavirus and discharged from medical facililties.  According to the most recent data available, 67,097 cases have been reported worldwide with 66,492 cases confined to mainland China. While only three coronavirus-related deaths have been confirmed outside China, the illness has claimed 1,523 lives within the country. Meanwhile, 605 confirmed cases have been reported outside China, including 15 in the United States, CNN reported. Report: The State Department organizing evacuation of Americans from Diamond Princess cruise ship Update 9:30 p.m. EST Feb. 14: The State Department is planning to evacuate at least 380 Americans quarantined on Diamond Princess cruise ship near Japan, according to the Wall Street Journal. China reports major drop from higher numbers after broader diagnostic method implemented Update 8 p.m. EST Feb. 14: The number of new deaths rose slightly to 143, bringing the total fatalities in mainland China to 1,523. The total number of confirmed cases in the country now stands at 66,492, according to a notice from China’s National Health Commission. China has implemented unprecedented measures in a sweeping campaign to contain the virus. At the outbreak’s epicenter in the central province of Hubei, cities with a combined population of more than 60 million have been placed under lockdown, with outbound transportation halted and virtually all public activities suspended. 1st coronavirus case confirmed in Egypt Update 1:35 p.m. EST Feb. 14: Officials Egypt have confirmed the country’s first case of coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization. Officials said in a statement posted on Twitter that the Egyptian Ministry of Health and Population confirmed the case, which involves a foreign national who appeared to be asymptomatic. The man has been hospitalized in stable condition, according to WHO officials. The case marks the first in Africa since COVID-19 was first discovered in Wuhan, China, late last year, according to The Guardian. Tens of thousands of cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in 26 countries. A vast majority of the cases were reported in China. CDC: 81 possible coronavirus cases under investigation in US Update 12:30 p.m. EST Feb. 14: Officials with the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 81 possible coronavirus cases remained under investigation Friday. Officials have confirmed 15 cases so far of the 2019 novel coronavirus in a handful of states: eight in California, two in Illinois and one each in Washington, Massachusetts, Texas, Arizona and Wisconsin. A total of 443 possible coronavirus cases have been investigated by CDC officials since Jan. 21. Of those, 347 people have tested negative for the virus. WHO team to land in China over weekend Update 11:15 a.m. EST Feb. 14: A team of World Health Organization experts is set to touch down over the weekend in China to help health officials dealing with the ongoing coronavirus outbreak in the country. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO, said at a news conference Friday that the group of 12 experts would work with an equal number of their Chinese counterparts to “understand the application and impact of response activities at provincial and county levels, including urban and rural settings.” “The goal of the joint mission is to rapidly inform the next steps in the COVID-19 response and preparedness activities in China and globally,” Tedros said. “Particular attention will be paid to understanding the transmission of the virus, the severity of disease and the impact of ongoing response measures.” According to WHO, Chinese laboratories have confirmed 47,505 cases of coronavirus in the country as of Friday. In the Hubei Province, 16,427 coronavirus cases have been clinically confirmed. Officials with WHO said they were investigating Friday to ensure those reports didn’t erroneously include other respiratory illnesses, such as influenza. Outside of China, 505 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in two dozen countries. Health officials said 1,383 people have died of the coronavirus, with all but two of the deaths in China. Japan confirms 3 new coronavirus cases, Singapore confirms 9 Update 9:30 a.m. EST Feb. 14: Officials in Japan and Singapore have confirmed several new coronavirus cases, according to CNN and health officials. Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare announced a Japanese citizen who recently returned on a government charter from China’s Wuhan Province tested positive for the coronavirus, according to CNN. Two men, one in his 60s from Aicha Prefecture and the other in his 50s from Hokkaido, were also confirmed to have the virus. Neither of the latter two men had visited China, CNN reported. The new cases bring the total number of coronavirus cases in Japan to 257. Officials with Singapore’s Ministry of Health said Friday in a statement that nine new cases of coronavirus had been confirmed in the country. Six of the cases were linked to a church in central Singapore and one other was linked to a previous case. Health officials said Friday that they were still investigating the causes of the other two cases. The new cases bring the total number of coronavirus cases in Singapore to 67. Quarantine break threatens public health in Russia  Update 7:20 a.m. EST Feb. 14: A Russian woman might have outsmarted health care workers observing her for evidence of novel coronavirus exposure in a St. Petersburg hospital, but her escape did not go unnoticed.  Health authorities have filed a lawsuit against the unidentified woman for endangering the public after she short-circuited the electronic lock on the door to her Botkin Hospital for Infectious Diseases ward, CNN reported. The woman had returned from China in February.  Read more here.  Hong Kong confirms 3 new cases, Japan confirms 4  Update 7:15 a.m. EST Feb. 14: The citywide total reached 56 on Friday after health officials confirmed three new cases of novel coronavirus in Hong Kong, CNN reported  Chuang Shuk-Kwan of the Center for Health Protection said during a Friday press conference the patients include a 70-year-old woman in critical condition who visited mainland China in January and a 61-year-old woman who has been hospitalized with fever and breathing problems since Feb. 3.  Health officials confirmed 36 suspected cases have been reported in the past 24 hours, while 114 people are already hospitalized with the virus. Of those confirmed cases, five are listed in critical condition and four are in serious condition, CNN  reported.  Meanwhile, four additional cases – none of which are associated with the Diamond Princess cruise ship – have been confirmed in Japan, the country’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare reported Friday.  The new cases bring Japan’s total number of infected patients to 254, including 219 linked to the Diamond Princess. A woman in her 80s is the country’s only known fatality associated with the virus to date, CNN reported. 6 medical workers in China have died, more than 1,700 infected Update 4:50 a.m. EST Feb. 14: A total of 1,716 medical workers in China have contracted the novel coronavirus, including six who have died of COVID-19, health officials confirmed Friday.  Zeng Yixin, vice minister of China’s National Health Commission told reporters in Beijing the figures are current through Feb. 11, CNN reported.  Zeng also said steps have been taken to reduce future infections among medical personnel such as beefing up the equipment needed to treat patients and ensuring healthcare workers have access to better conditions for rest and recuperation, the network reported.  High-risk cruise ship passengers await transfers to shoreside quarantine facilities in Japan  Update 4:45 a.m. EST Feb. 14: Diamond Princess Captain Stefano Ravera told passengers that 11 of them will be moved to shoreside quarantine facilities Friday afternoon because the Japanese Ministry of Health says they meet the criteria for being at high risk if infected with the novel coronavirus, CNN reported.  The ship, slated to remain under a 14-day quarantine until Feb. 19, is docked off the coast of Yokohama, Japan, and 219 cases of the virus have been confirmed aboard the vessel.  China seeks plasma donors to help develop antibody treatment  Update 4:40 a.m. EST Feb. 14: A senior health official in China is urging patients who have recovered from the novel coronavirus to donate blood plasma, in hopes their naturally-produced antibodies could spur development of treatment, the New York Times reported.  Dr. Zhang Dingyu, director of the Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan, China, issued his plea to the public late Thursday.  According to the Times, China National Biotec Group, a state-owned company under the Ministry of Health, announced Thursday it has determined that administering a round of human antibodies from the survivors to more than 10 critically ill patients reduced inflammation levels significantly after 12 to 24 hours of treatment. Virus expected to linger ‘beyond this year’ Update 1:55 a.m. EST Feb. 14: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is leaning heavily on the latter portion of its name and entering what Director Robert Redfield called “aggressive containment mode” to limit the novel coronavirus’ spread, CNN reported. 'We don't know a lot about this virus,' Redfield told CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta, adding, “This virus is probably with us beyond this season, beyond this year, and I think eventually the virus will find a foothold and we will get community-based transmission.'  The containment phase, he told the network, is a tactic to buy time.  'The containment phase is really to give us more time. This virus will become a community virus at some point in time, this year or next year,' Redfield said.  Officials blame ‘duplication’ for initially higher fatality reports, revise down death toll Update 1:50 a.m. EST Feb. 14: China’s National Health Commission clarified early Friday that duplications detected in “data collection and recording” inadvertently inflated infection and fatality figures reported earlier in the day.  Although initial figures released Thursday out of Hubei province indicated the total number of infections reported globally had eclipsed 65,000, the revised figures suggest about 1,200 fewer confirmed cases, CNN reported. According to the commission, the current number of mainland China infections increased by 5,090 cases in 24 hours to 63,851, resulting in 1,380 deaths. The global totals have been adjusted to 64,435 cases and 1,383 deaths, the New York Times reported. There are now at least 585 confirmed cases of the virus in 27 countries and territories outside mainland China, CNN reported. Cruise ship Westerdam passengers begin disembarking  Update 1:45 a.m. EST Feb. 14: The first of hundreds of passengers stuck onboard the Westerdam cruise ship in southeast Asia began disembarking the beleaguered ship late Thursday.  Officials with the Holland American Line tweeted confirmation of the departures in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. The ship had been turned away by Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines due to fears of potential COVID-19 infections, but no cases were detected onboard after docking in Cambodia, CNN reported. Limited availability of charter flights, however, could mean it could take several days to complete the departures, the network reported. 2nd coronavirus death outside China reported in Japan Update 12:40 p.m. EST Feb. 13: The second death attributed to COVID-19 outside of China has been reported in Japan. Officials said the coronavirus claimed the life of an 80-year-old woman living near Tokyo, according to Reuters. The woman became ill in January, but it wasn’t until after her death that health officials determined she had coronavirus, Reuters reported, citing Japan’s health minister. The virus has claimed more than 1,360 lives in China since it was discovered late last year in the city of Wuhan, CNN reported. In the Philippines, one person has died of coronavirus. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases spiked in China on Thursday because of a change in the way the virus is diagnosed and reported. In China’s Hubei province, medical professionals are now able to diagnose suspected coronavirus cases using chest imaging instead of awaiting laboratory confirmation, according to the World Health Organization. Laboratory confirmation is still required in the rest of China and the rest of the world, said Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme. 15th coronavirus case confirmed in Texas Update 10:35 a.m. EST Feb. 13: Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday that the 15th case of coronavirus has been confirmed in the U.S. The case involved a person who was placed under a federal quarantine order with a group at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas. The person had flown to the U.S. on a flight chartered by the U.S. State Department on Friday. Officials with the CDC said the person was receiving medical care Thursday at a nearby hospital Fourteen other people have been confirmed as having been infected with coronavirus: eight in California, two in Illinois, one in Washington, one in Massachusetts, one in Arizona and one in Wisconsin. Cruise ship Westerdam allowed to dock in Cambodia Update 7 a.m. EST Feb. 13: The Holland America Line announced Wednesday that a cruise ship barred from docking in Thailand, the Philippines, Japan and Taiwan amid coronavirus fears has been authorized to dock in Cambodia and let passengers off the ship, The Associated Press is reporting. The ship’s operators said nobody on board the cruise, which began in Singapore, has the virus, according to the AP. Nearly 50,000 cases confirmed in province at center of outbreak Update 2:52 a.m. EST Feb. 13: Almost 50,000 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in China’s Hubei Province, The New York Times is reporting. Officials said Thursday that they have confirmed 14,840 more cases of the illness, raising the total in the region to 48,206, according to the newspaper. At least 1,310 people there have died from the virus, authorities said. 44 more cases on quarantined Diamond Princess ship Update 11 p.m. EST Feb. 12: Japan’s health ministry said 44 more people on the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo have tested positive for the virus that causes the new disease known as COVID-19. The ship, which is still carrying more than 3,500 passengers and crewmembers, has 218 people infected with the virus out of 713 people tested since the ship returned to the Yokohama Port on Feb. 3. 2nd case in San Diego Update 7:30 p.m. EST Feb. 12: Another person has tested positive for coronavirus in California bring the total of confirmed cases in the United States to 14, according to the CDC. The CDC said in a release that there will likely be additional cases “in the coming days or weeks.” At least 195 were discharged from quarantine yesterday but more than 600 who returned to the U.S. on chartered flights from Wuhan remain under the federal quaranantine. Test kits sent by CDC flawed, officials say Update 4:25 p.m. EST Feb. 12: Some of the coronavirus test kits sent by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to states and at least 30 countries have proved to be flawed, CDC officials said Wednesday at a news conference. Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters Wednesday that some laboratories reported issues after receiving coronavirus diagnostic test kits from the CDC. “Some public health labs in states were getting inconclusive results,” Messonnier said. “What that means is that test results were not coming back as false positive of false negatives, but they were being read as inconclusive.” The issues were discovered while scientists were verifying the tests worked correctly, Messonnier said. Officials believe the issue is tied to one of the reagents used to verify the test. “We think the issue in these states can be explained by one reagent that isn’t performing as it should consistently,” Messonnier said. “That’s why we’re re-manufacturing the reagent.” Messonnier stressed that the issue was not unusual. “This is part of the normal process and procedure and redoing the manufacturing is the next step,” she said. Officials with the CDC began sending test kits last week to laboratories in the U.S. and internationally. New coronavirus case confirmed in UK Update 3:55 p.m. EST Feb. 12: Health officials in the United Kingdom confirmed Wednesday that a new case of COVID-19 has been confirmed in the country, bringing the total number of people infected by coronavirus in the country to nine. “The virus was passed on in China and the patient has now been transferred to a specialist (National Health Service) center at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ in London,” Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said in a statement. More than 45,000 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed globally since the virus was first detected late last year in Wuhan, China, according to the World Health Organization. More than 1,110 people have died of the virus. More than 45,000 cases of COVID-19 confirmed worldwide Update 1:55 p.m. EST Feb. 12: More than 45,000 cases of the 2019 novel coronavirus have been confirmed globally, with a majority reported in China, according to the World Health Organization. As of 6 a.m. Geneva time Wednesday, 44,730 cases of coronavirus had been confirmed in China. In two dozen other countries, a total of 441 other cases have been confirmed. “The number of newly confirmed cases reported from China has stabilized over the past week, but that must be interpreted with extreme caution,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said Wednesday. “The outbreak could still go in any direction.” In China, 1,114 people have died after being infected with the coronavirus, WHO officials said. One person has died of coronavirus in the Philippines. Illinois becomes first state with ability to test for coronavirus Update 11:40 a.m. EST Feb. 12: Illinois has become the first state able to test for COVID-19, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. “The ability to do this testing will mean we will be able to detect any new cases of novel coronavirus earlier and prevent any possible spread,” IDPH Assistant Director Evonda Thomas-Smith said Tuesday in a news release. “We understand there is concern about this new virus, which is why having test results back quickly can help reduce some of those concerns.” Previously, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had the only lab able to test for the 2019 novel coronavirus. Last week, CDC officials began sending out diagnostic test kits to laboratories in the U.S. and internationally. Singapore confirms 3 more coronavirus cases Update 10:45 a.m. EST Feb. 12: Officials with Singapore’s Ministry of Health said Wednesday that three new cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the country, bringing the total number of cases there to 50. Health officials said the new cases involved three Singaporean men, ages 34, 49 and 62, who had no recent history of travel to China. Fifteen people have been discharged from hospitals in Singapore after recovering from coronavirus. Health officials said 35 people remained hospitalized Wednesday, most improving or in stable condition. Testing ongoing for coronavirus vaccine Update 10:05 a.m. EST Feb. 12: Scientists worldwide continue work to develop and test a vaccine for the 2019 novel coronavirus, including a San Diego lab which developed a possible vaccine in just three hours, according to multiple reports. Biotechnology company Inovio Pharmaceuticals previously developed vaccines for the Zika virus and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, a coronavirus related to COVID-19. On Tuesday, Trevor Smith, director of research and development at Inovio Pharmaceuticals, told KFMB-TV that company scientists had developed a vaccine for COVID-19 hours after beginning work with a genetic sequence released by Chinese scientists. “We have an algorithm, which we designed, and we put the DNA sequence into our algorithm and came up with the vaccine in that short amount of time,” Smith said according to KFMB-TV. The lab is collaborating with Philadelphia’s Wistar Institute and others to test the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The newspaper noted that testing is expected to take months. Last month, Inovio Pharmaceuticals announced the company was working with Beijing Advaccine Biotechnology Co. in order to run human trials of the vaccine concurrently in China and the U.S. More than 45,000 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus worldwide, mostly in China. The virus has killed over 1,100 people since it was first discovered late last year in Wuhan, China. In the U.S., health officials said 13 people had been diagnosed with the virus in California, Washington, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Arizona and Illinois. 50th coronavirus case confirmed in Hong Kong Update 6 a.m. EST Feb. 12: A 50th confirmed coronavirus case has been reported in Hong Kong, authorities announced Wednesday. According to CNN, the latest patient is a 51-year-old man who worked with the city’s 37th patient. 3 coronavirus patients discharged in South Korea Update 2 a.m. EST Feb. 12: Three people in South Korea who were confirmed to have coronavirus have been discharged from the hospital, health officials said Wednesday. The South Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said all three recovered from the illness, according to CNN. The news comes days after officials discharged another patient in South Korea last week, the news outlet reported. Two dozen coronavirus patients remain hospitalized in South Korea, authorities said. China’s new virus cases fall again Update 10 p.m. EST Feb. 11: China reported another drop in the number of new cases of a viral infection and 97 more deaths, pushing the total dead past 1,100 even as the country remains largely closed down to prevent the spread of the disease. The National Health Commission said that 2,015 new cases had been reported over the last 24 hours, declining for a second day. The total number of cases in mainland China is 44,653, although many experts say a large number of others infected have gone uncounted. The 97 additional deaths from the virus raised the mainland toll to 1,113. Japan’s health ministry: 39 new cases confirmed on cruise ship Update 9 p.m. EST Feb. 11: Japan’s health ministry said that 39 new cases of a virus have been confirmed on a cruise ship quarantined at a Japanese port. The update brings the total found on the Diamond Princess to 174 cases. The ministry also said the virus was confirmed in a official who participated in the initial quarantine checks the night the ship returned to Yokohama Port near Tokyo on Feb. 3. The quarantine official is being treated in the hospital. The U.S.-operated Diamond Princess had completed a 14-day tour during which it stopped at Hong Kong and several other Asian ports before returning to Japan. WHO: More evidence shows link between COVID-19, bats Update 3:50 p.m. EST Feb. 11: Officials with the World Health Organization said Tuesday in a situation report that mounting evidence is showing a link between the 2019 novel coronavirus and bats. Officials said the virus appeared to be linked to bats of the Rhinolophus sub-species, which are abundant in southern China and across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe, officials said. However, it remained unclear Monday how the virus passed from bats to humans. As of Tuesday, more than 43,000 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed worldwide, with a vast majority reported in China. Officials with WHO said the virus has claimed 1,017 lives in the country so far. One person has also died of coronavirus in the Philippines. Germany confirms two more cases of coronavirus Update 2:45 p.m. EST Feb. 11: Two new cases of the coronavirus, COVID-19, have been confirmed by authorities in Germany, The Washington Post reported. The illnesses, which were connected to automotive supplier Webasto, bring the total number of coronavirus cases in Germany to 16, according to the Post. Officials with Webasto said last month that a 33-year-old Chinese employee from Shanghai tested positive for coronavirus after visiting China and returning to Germany, according to Reuters and the Post. The company temporarily closed its headquarters after learning of the employee’s diagnoses. Officials told Reuters they planned to reopen the building near Munich on Wednesday. American Airlines extends suspension of flights to and from China, Hong Kong Update 2:15 p.m. EST Feb. 11: American Airlines officials announced the company is extending its suspension of flights to and from mainland China and Hong Kong due to reduced demand amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. Airline officials said flights bound to mainland China from the company’s Dallas-Fort Worth and Los Angeles hubs would be suspended until April 24. Flights from Los Angeles to Hong Kong were expected to resume the same day. Flights between Dallas and Hong Kong were expected to resume April 23. WHO: Vaccine for coronavirus could be ready in 18 months Update 12:05 p.m. EST Feb. 11: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said Tuesday that a vaccine targeting the coronavirus could be ready in 18 months, according to Reuters. “So, we have to do everything today using available weapons,” he said. Tedros on Tuesday asked that countries be “as aggressive as possible” in the fight against COVID-19. “If the world doesn’t want to wake up and consider the virus as public enemy number one, I don’t think we will learn from our lessons,” he said, according to The Guardian. “We are still in containment strategy and should not allow the virus to have a space to have local transmission.” Death toll rises to 1,018 Update 10:45 a.m. EST Feb. 11: The World Health Organization said just over 42,700 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in China as of 6 a.m. Geneva time Tuesday. Nearly 400 cases have been confirmed in two dozen other countries. Coronavirus has killed more than 1,017 people in China and one person in the Philippines, according to health officials. WHO names new coronavirus outbreak Update 10:40 a.m. EST Feb. 11: The World Health Organization on Tuesday announced the name for the deadly new coronavirus: Covid-19. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO, said the new name was aimed at preventing “the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing.” Singapore confirms 2 more coronavirus cases Update 9:40 a.m. EST Feb. 11: Officials with Singapore’s Ministry of Health said Tuesday that two new cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the country, bringing the total number of cases there to 47. Health officials said the new cases involved a 35-year-old Singapore permanent resident and a 39-year-old Bangladesh national, neither of whom had recently traveled to China. Both new patients were being treated in isolation. Coronavirus a ‘very grave threat’ for world, WHO director-general says Update 8:45 a.m. EST Feb. 11: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, called the 2019 novel coronavirus “a very grave threat' Tuesday.  His comments came at the start of the global research and innovation forum aimed at addressing the coronavirus. Last week, Tedros told a WHO executive committee that “panic and fear” was the biggest threat posed by the coronavirus, according to The Washington Post. At the time, only 146 cases of coronavirus had been reported outside China. As of Monday, WHO officials said 319 people in 24 countries had been diagnosed with the coronavirus. First case of coronavirus reported in San Diego  Update 8:52 p.m. EST Feb. 10: Officials in San Diego have confirmed its first case of coronavirus in the Southern California city, KGTV reported. A Centers for Disease Control spokesman confirmed Monday evening that an individual taken to the University of California at San Diego Health hospital was infected with the virus, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.K KGTV, citing an anonymous source, said the patient was aboard the first flight from Wuhan, China, to Miramar. It was unclear whether the adult patient was a man or woman, the television station reported. China reports 1,011 deaths, including 103 Monday Update 7:07 p.m. EST Feb. 10: Officials with China’s Hubei health authority now report 1,011 dead, including 103 on Monday, The Washington Post reported. There have been about 42,000 cases of coronavirus, with more than 6,000 patients in critical condition, authorities told the newspaper. British businessman may have spread coronavirus to people in 3 countries Update 3:10 p.m. EST Feb. 10: Authorities are investigating reports that a British businessman might have spread coronavirus to several Britons in three countries, according to multiple reports. The man, who was not identified, is believed to have been exposed to coronavirus during a sales conference last month in Singapore, The Guardian reported. Following the conference, the man traveled to France and then back to the U.K., according to the newspaper. The man is suspected of being what scientists call a “super spreader,” a person who spreads a disease at a faster rate than the average. Trump: People think coronavirus threat will end in April Update 12:25 p.m. EST Feb. 10: President Donald Trump claimed without evidence that people believe the deadly 2019 novel coronavirus “will go away in April.” “A lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat,” Trump said Monday during an address of governors held at the White House. “Typically, that will go away in April. We’re in great shape though.” Previously, Trump said on Twitter that Chinese President Xi Jinping was hopeful that he would successfully counterattack the coronavirus, “especially as the weather starts to warm & the virus hopefully becomes weaker, and then gone.” Since the coronavirus was first detected late last year in Wuhan, China, more than 40,500 cases of the virus have been confirmed globally. An overwhelming number of the cases were reported in China, where 909 people have died of the disease as of Monday morning, according to the World Health Organization. One person has died of coronavirus in the Philippines, health officials said. In the U.S., a dozen people have been confirmed as having been infected with coronavirus: six in California, two in Illinois, one in Massachusetts, one in Arizona, one in Washington and one in Wisconsin. WHO: 910 killed, 40,500 sickened by coronavirus Update 10:30 a.m. EST Feb. 10: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said Monday that health officials are continuing to see a rise in confirmed coronavirus cases with 99% of illnesses being reported in China. About 2% of the cases have proved deadly, he said. According to WHO, more than 40,500 cases so coronavirus have been confirmed globally as of 6 a.m. local time (12 a.m. EST). A majority of those -- 40,235 -- were reported in China, where 909 people have died of the virus. Officials said 319 cases were confirmed in 24 other countries, including the Philippines, where one person died last week. Death toll hits 908 The death toll in mainland China has risen to 908 with more than 40,000 cases diagnosed, NBC News reported. Chinese officials said of the 40,000 diagnosed with the coronavirus, 27 of them are foreigners and two have died. There are another 23,589 possible cases of the illness, NBC News reported. On Sunday, 97 people died in China from the virus, the biggest daily death toll, The New York Times reported. The number of those killed by the virus has passed the number of people killed in the 2002-2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak. At that time, 774 people died from SARS, The Associated Press reported. Despite the number of people who died, officials are hopeful, since, for more than 10 days, the number of people recovering is higher than those who have died, the Times reported. Return to work As the numbers continue to climb, workers return to their jobs after the extended Lunar New Year holiday that kept many people home. Shoppers are also heading back to markets and stores despite the threat, the AP reported. They are taking precautions of wearing face masks as they go about their day. “We just need to have a little more sense of self-protection,” Iris Ke told the AP. “Life goes on anyway. How come we stop going outside or stop working simply because of fear of disease? We can’t do that.” But business is still slow, with some shop owners saying it’s about half as busy as normal. China’s leader Xi Jinping made an appearance at a hospital and government offices in Beijing, about five miles north of his residence in the Forbidden City, The New York Times reported. He made no public statement during the appearance. He also had a video conference with workers at a hospital in Wuhan, the town that is ground zero for the illness, the Times reported. There are rules that have been established to help stop the spread. In some areas, business owners must know if their employees have traveled to areas where there are large outbreak numbers. They’re also being told by the government to check the workers’ temperatures and have hand-washing protocols, the Times reported. And despite the return to normalcy, some business continues to be on hold. Airbnb has suspended all bookings in Beijing amid the outbreak, CNN reported. Illness continues to spread outside China A cruise ship is quarantined in Yokohama, Japan. There were 70 cases of coronavirus on the Diamond Princess at the time of the quarantine, but that number has increased, with another 66 people testing positive, the AP reported. That brings the number up to 136 confirmed cases, the Times reported. Japanese government officials may test all 3,711 passengers and crew on board. They’re also trying to get medicine to more than 600 passengers who have requested it, the AP reported. There are 11 Americans among those who have tested positive on the Diamond Princess, The Washington Post reported. Four more patients in England have tested positive, bringing the total there to eight, officials in the UK said. The newest diagnosis was from people who had contact with others who were diagnosed with the virus. The country’s department of health said that people diagnosed with coronavirus could be forcibly quarantined. Two hospitals have been set up as isolation facilities, the AP reported. In the United States, there are 12 confirmed cases, CNN reported. And flights from China are going to only 11 airports in the U.S., the AP reported. So far, there are six confirmed cases in California, two in Illinois and one each in Massachusetts, Washington, Wisconsin, and Arizona, CNN reported.
  • Princess Cruises plans to get the Diamond Princess cleaned, sanitized and ready for new passengers by the end of April ... though it remains unclear whether passengers will still WANT to experience a vacation on that same ship that’s left dozens sickened and two Japanese citizens dead from a coronavirus outbreak aboard the ship while in Japanese waters.  The Diamond Princess has become the world’s most famous cruise ship ... but for surely all the wrong reasons.  First put in the water in 2004, the $500-million ship is only halfway through its expected operating lifespan.  Now, Princess Cruises has announced they plan to take the ship out of service for the amount of time needed to give the ship a thorough sanitation and cleaning. And it’s not going to just be a quick clean. Instead, Princess plans to take the ship completely out of the water in a dry dock while they process the cleaning.  “The expectation is that the ship would be fully sanitized and then taken into dry dock for a period of time,” said Negin Kamali, public-relations director for Princess Cruises, according to Bloomberg News.

Washington Insider

  • Ignoring declarations from President Donald Trump that the prosecution of his friend Roger Stone had been a 'disgrace,' a federal judge in Washington on Thursday sentenced Stone to 3 years and 4 months in prison for obstructing efforts by Congress to probe the Trump-Russia investigation. 'He was not prosecuted, as some have claimed, for standing up for the President,' said Judge Amy Berman Jackson of Stone. 'He was prosecuted for covering up for the President.'  “The truth still exists. The truth still matters,” the judge added. Stone was convicted in November of obstructing a Congressional investigation, making false statements to Congress, and engaging in witness tampering to stop testimony which would undercut his defense. Democrats in Congress praised the sentence, and warned President Trump not to pardon Stone. “He did it to cover up for Trump,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the lead House impeachment prosecutor, and Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.  “It should go without saying, but to pardon Stone when his crimes were committed to protect Trump would be a breathtaking act of corruption,” Schiff tweeted. “The President should not further taint this process by using his pardon power as a Get Out of Jail Free card,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI). As the sentencing hearing got underway, President Trump was out in Las Vegas - but paying attention to the story of the morning from back in Washington. Republicans quickly made clear they would not oppose clemency for Stone. “Under our system of justice President Trump has all the legal authority in the world to review this case, in terms of commuting the sentence or pardoning Mr. Stone for the underlying offense,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a key Trump ally. The sentencing played out days after an extraordinary twist in the case, as the Justice Department withdrew its original sentencing recommendation for Stone, as four prosecutors then resigned from the case. That recommendation urged a sentence of between seven and nine years in jail. During the court proceedings on Thursday, Judge Jackson indicated she thought that was excessive.