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Countries Consider Loosening Coronavirus Lockdowns as Japan Moves to Declare State of Emergency

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  • Austria is set to be the first country in Europe to loosen lockdown restrictions, with smaller businesses allowed to open their doors on April 14.
  • They are not the only European country with hopeful news regarding the virus. Both Spain and Italy have seen cases grow at a slower rate.
  • In China some restrictions have already been lifted, leading to massive crowds in national parks and tourist spots. Some fear this will cause a second outbreak.
  • Meanwhile, Japan, which is just now seeing cases surge, is set to announce a state of emergency starting on Tuesday.

Austria to Lift Lockdown

As countries like Austria are poised to loosen lockdown measures, others are just starting to ramp up their efforts to combat coronavirus outbreaks.

Austria is set to be the first country in Europe to ease its lockdown measures. On Monday Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that smaller businesses will be allowed to open up on April 14, and that others can resume on May 1. This, however, is contingent on the fact that citizens continue to practice social distancing efforts. Kurz told Austrians to cancel their Easter plans and stay inside, or else the country could “gamble away what we have achieved in the past few weeks.”

Cases Slow in Spain and Italy

Austria is not the only country feeling an ounce of hope during this ongoing pandemic. In the past 24 hours, Spain has reported a slower increase in both deaths and fatalities. In one day, there were 674 new deaths in the country, which is the lowest increase in fatalities in nine days, according to Fox News. Over the course of the day, confirmed cases went up just five percent, the lowest increase since the outbreak began. 

Italy, which is home to one of the worst outbreaks in the world, has also seen cases slow down a bit. While the country might still be miles away from a return to normalcy, options as to how to get people back out are now being discussed. According to the New York Times, politicians are looking at the potential for people who have recovered from the virus to head back to work first. 

“Having the right antibodies to the virus in one’s blood — a potential marker of immunity — may soon determine who gets to work and who does not, who is locked down and who is free,” the Times explained. Many researchers are hesitant about this idea, but politicians seem eager to explore it as a potential strategy for when the time comes to resume normal life. 

China Sees Crowds After Lockdown Lift

Some places have already begun their lifts on lockdowns, including several areas of China. As cases have slowed in the pandemic’s first home, some places have opened back up and seen massive crowds. National parks and tourist attractions have been packed with people eager to get out after being trapped inside. 

According to CNN, on Saturday, one park was so populated that authorities announced that it reached its 20,000 person capacity before 8 a.m.

Major cities also saw crowded streets, despite health experts still warning to avoid crowds. In fact, many experts fear that these crowds could lead to a second wave of the virus in China. One county has already reinstated its lockdown after cases popped up again. 

U.S. Cases

Not everyone is ready to return to normalcy, even if there are signs of positive change. On Sunday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced its first daily dip in deaths. The state went from 630 new deaths on Saturday to 594 on Sunday. Still, Cuomo does not believe this is a guaranteed sign of progress. 

“We’re not really a hundred percent sure what the significance is, as we’re feeling our way through this,” Cuomo said before calling the dip a potential “blip.”

In fact, the whole of the United States has probably not seen the worst of the outbreak yet. U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams spoke to Fox News on Sunday and said that this week is “going to be the hardest and saddest week of most Americans’ lives.”

“This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized, it’s going to be happening all over the country,” he added. Currently, the United States has over 357,000 cases and 10,000 deaths. 

Japan’s State of Emergency

While many countries are well into their mass responses to the coronavirus, the Prime Minister of Japan has just announced his intention to declare a state of emergency. Compared to many countries, Japan has had a smaller outbreak, with roughly 4,000 cases and 80 deaths. Cases are on the rise though, with capital city Tokyo reporting that infections doubled in just one week.

The state of emergency is set to go into effect on Tuesday and with be in effect at least until May 6. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked for citizens to cooperate “to prevent an explosive surge.”

See what others are saying: (Fox News) (Al Jazeera) (CBS News)

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U.S.

White House Experts Clash Over Promotion of Hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 Treatment

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  • Axios reported that presidential trade adviser Peter Navarro heatedly confronted Dr. Anthony Fauci on Saturday over whether or not there has been “clear” evidence showing hydroxychloroquine’s effectiveness against COVID-19.
  • The fiery exchange did little to stifle President Trump’s praise of the drug, as he continued to push it in back-to-back press conferences this weekend.
  • On Sunday, Trump cut off a reporter trying to ask Dr. Fauci about his thoughts on hydroxychloroquine’s effectiveness.

Navarro Clashes With Fauci Over Hydroxychloroquine

The debate within the Trump Administration on how to advertise hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19 heated up over the weekend in a fiery exchange between presidential trade adviser Peter Navarro and Dr. Anthony Fauci.

According to an exclusive report by Axios, that confrontation happened Saturday afternoon in the White House Situation Room. It began after Commissioner of Food and Drugs Stephen Hahn began talking about hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug that’s being investigated to possibly treat COVID-19 patients.

President Trump has frequently touted it at press conferences, calling it a “game-changer” for the United States. Many scientists like Dr. Fauci, however, have been more cautious on how to present the drug to the public since it’s not currently approved to treat COVID-19. This is because hydroxychloroquine has a number of known side effects, including heart and vision problems.

While their argument isn’t to necessarily prevent hydroxychloroquine from ever being used, scientists simply want to make sure the benefits outweigh the risks before it gets widespread use. 

In the meeting, Hahn reportedly started giving updates regarding different hydroxychloroquine trials.

Navarro then got up, and according to an Axios source familiar with the situation, “…the first words out of his mouth are that the studies that he’s seen, I believe they’re mostly overseas, show ‘clear therapeutic efficacy.’ Those are the exact words out of his mouth.”

Fauci then pushed back, saying that at the moment, the evidence for those studies and hydroxychloroquine’s effectiveness is only anecdotal. Notably, that is something he’s repeatedly said in the past weeks. 

Fauci’s comment reportedly set Navarro off. According to Axios’ sources, Navarro then pointed to those studies and said, “That’s science, not anecdote.”

Reportedly, he then started yelling and accused Dr. Fauci of objecting to Trump’s travel restrictions, saying, “You were the one who early on objected to the travel restrictions with China.” 

Dr. Fauci and others then reportedly looked confused, likely because Fauci has praised Trump’s travel restrictions on China.

Following that, Vice President Mike Pence and others reportedly tried to moderate the discussion, a source saying, “It was pretty clear that everyone was just trying to get [Navarro] to sit down and stop being so confrontational.”

Eventually, Jared Kushner reportedly managed to convince Navarro and everyone else to change the conversation to hot zones in the U.S. 

Before they did, they agreed that the administration’s stance should be that the decision to use the drug is between patients and doctors prescribing it off-label.

“There has never been a confrontation in the task force meetings like the one yesterday,” Axios’ sources said. “People speak up and there’s robust debate, but there’s never been a confrontation. Yesterday was the first confrontation.”

Monday morning, Navarro spoke on that disagreement and defended himself on CNN, saying, “Doctors disagree about things all the time. My qualifications in terms of looking at the science is that I’m a social scientist. I have a Ph. D. And I understand how to read statistical studies, whether it’s in medicine, the law, economics or whatever.” 

Trump Continues to Tout Hydroxychloroquine

Despite a notable escalation in tensions over hydroxychloroquine among President Doanld Trump’s advisers, it did not seem to stop Trump from propping up the drug this weekend. 

“What do you have to lose?” Trump said Saturday. “It’s been out there for a long time, and I hope they use it. And they’re going to look at the—with doctors, work with doctors, get what you have to get. 

“And I hope they use it because it’s been used for a long time and therefore, it’s passed the safety tests,” he continued.

“In fact, I might do it anyway,” Trump added on hydroxychloroquine. “I may take it. I’ll have to ask my doctors about that, but I may take it.”

Alongside that, Trump said that the U.S. has stockpiled 29 million pills of hydroxychloroquine.

Trump continued to rush hydroxychloroquine as a treatment on Sunday, saying, “We don’t have time to say, ‘Gee, let’s go and take a couple of years and test it out. And let’s go and test with the test tubes and the laboratories.’ We don’t have time. I’d love to do that, but we have people dying today, as we speak, there are people dying.” 

Sunday’s press briefing, however, was eclipsed by another moment when Trump cut off a reporter as that reporter tried to ask Dr. Fauci a question regarding his opinion on the use of hydroxychloroquine.

“Would you also weigh in on this issue of hydroxychloroquine? What do you think about this and what is the medical evidence?” a reporter asked Fauci, who was taking questions from the podium

“Do you know how many times he’s answered that question?” Trump asked, stepping forward from the side as Dr. Fauci  “Maybe fifteen. Fifteen times. You don’t have to ask the question.”

“The question is for the doctor,” the reporter said. “He’s your medical expert, correct?”

“He’s answered that question 15 times,” Trump repeated before moving onto the next question.

Where Is the U.S. With Hydroxychloroquine?

Right now, the United States is likely still months away from knowing whether or not hydroxychloroquine will prove to be effective against COVID-19.

That said, clinical trials have already begun in New York. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration also approved hydroxychloroquine for emergency treatment.

On Sunday, Pence announced another clinical trial, a 3,000 person trial set to begin with the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. Specifically, it will look at whether or not hydroxychloroquine will prevent COVID-19 in healthcare workers battling the virus.

“This is going to be the first major, definitive study in healthcare workers and first responders of hydroxychloroquine as a preventative medication,” said Dr. William O’Neill with the Henry Ford Health System. “There has been a lot of talk about this drug, but only a small, non-blinded study in Europe. We are going to change that in Metro Detroit and produce a scientific answer to the question: Does it work?”

Still, that study will also take at least a few months to conduct. Even then, doctors are warning that timely caution is the best practice for this drug.

“There could be negative side effects,” President of the American Medical Association Dr. Patrice Harris said on CNN. “There could be deaths. This is a new virus, and so we should not be promoting any medication or drug for any disease that has not been proven and approved by the FDA.”

“You could lose your life,” she added after being asked about potential dangers. “It’s unproven. And so certainly there are some limited studies, as Dr. Fauci said. But at this point, we just don’t have the data to suggest that we should be using this medication for COVID-19.”

Se what others are saying: (Axios) (CNN) (Newsweek)

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Politics

Senate Democrats and Republicans Reach Agreement With White House on $2 Trillion Stimulus Package

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  • After a long day of talks, Senate Democrats and Republicans reached an agreement with the White House on a stimulus package that would now cost the government $2 trillion.
  • On Monday, Democrats shot down a stimulus package designed by Republicans and the White House.
  • The revised package would include an increase in unemployment pay as well as an extension to unemployment insurance.
  • It would also provide $500 billion to companies but would bar President Donald Trump, White House officials, and Congress from taking out loans for their businesses.

Senate Leaders and the White House Reach a Deal

After long talks and worries that lawmakers would go home empty-handed Tuesday, Senate Democrats finally reached a historic $2 trillion stimulus package with Senate Republicans and the Trump Administration around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.

The agreement, which comes after Senate Democrats blocked a different version of the bill on Monday, includes several noticeable differences.

While Republicans had sought to extend unemployment insurance for up to three months, Democrats convinced them to extend that program for up to four months. Additionally, the bill would reportedly expand eligibility to cover more people, including gig economy workers. 

People eligible for benefits will also see an additional $600 each week from the federal government, on top of their state benefits. On average, people receive $385 in state benefits each week while on unemployment.

The bill also includes $150 billion to hospitals and other health-care providers for equipment and supplies. According to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the bill will also increase Medicare payments to all hospitals and providers.

As for direct checks, that breakdown remains unchanged. Adults making under $75,000 would receive two $1,200 checks and two $500 checks for each child. The first of those payments would go out on April 6.

People making above $75,000 would see a dip in that assistance, with payments phasing out altogether for people making more than $99,000 a year. 

Trump and Congress Can’t Benefit From Business Loans

The bill also provides loan options for both small and large businesses. 

Small businesses would receive more than $350 in aid. Notably, those loans would be federally guaranteed as long as a small business pledges not to lay off workers. If an employer continues to pay workers for the duration of the crisis, those loans would then be forgiven.

Big businesses would still receive about $500 billion to be used as back loans and assistance, a provision that originally led Democrats to vote down the previous version of the bill on Monday. 

However, this bill also contains a few key limitations.

The most buzzworthy is that Democrats won language barring any business owned by President Trump from applying for those loans. That includes both Trump hotels and Mar-a-lago. Democrats sought such a measure because of their concern that Trump might try to use this bill to help his businesses, especially since many of them are connected to the travel industry.

Because they barred Trump, the bill also went a step further by also barring White House officials as well as any member of Congress. 

Another limitation is that if a company does take out a loan, it will then be subject to a ban on stock buybacks through the term of the loan and for one year after. 

Republicans also agreed to allow for an oversight board and to create a Treasury Department special inspector general for pandemic recovery. That is largely an attempt by the Democrats to ensure companies limit executive bonuses as well as take steps to protect workers.

Will the Bill Help the Economy and Will It Pass?

As far as if this bill actually will help the economy, that’s still unclear. With an economy that is slowing down every day and with stocks plunging over the last month, there is worry that it may not do enough; however, with more of the details of this package, stocks did see an uptick Tuesday morning. 

Still, Congress is trying to move this bill into law as soon as possible. Reportedly, they’re rushing it through without public hearings or a formal review of the full bill.

If it passes through the Senate as expected, then it moves to the House of Representatives. Here, things could get a little trickier.

“This bipartisan legislation takes us a long way down the road in meeting the needs of the American people,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday. “House Democrats will now review the final provisions and legislative text of the agreement to determine a course of action.”

While Pelosi did say that the bill meets some of Democrats’ demands, she didn’t say how the House would vote. On Tuesday, as the agreement was being discussed among Senators and the White House, Pelosi said on CNBC that she hoped the House would pass it with unanimous consent.

While lawmakers are under extreme pressure to get a bill like this passed, unanimous consent may be a tall order for a $2 trillion bill that covers every aspect of the U.S. economy, especially because while the details of the bill have been released, the full document is still under wraps.

Because of that, it’s very possible that some lawmakers might hold off on passing the bill until a formal vote is held, and there have already been some concerns from both sides of the aisle.

If unanimous consent isn’t possible, some version—possibly a very similar version—of this bill will likely get passed; however, taking a formal vote could extend this process by several days. This is because representatives will likely be encouraged to wait an extended amount of time between their trips to the floor to vote.

From there, a couple things could happen. The House could pass a slightly different version. The House and the Senate would then need to hash out those details.

Or, the House could pass the legislation as is and go directly to Trump, who Mnuchin said would “absolutely, absolutely, absolutely” sign the bill.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Los Angeles Times) (CNN)

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