- Prime Minister Boris Johnson lost a call to hold snap elections after the House of Commons voted to block a no-deal Brexit on Wednesday.
- The motion to bar the United Kingdom from leaving the European Union will now move to the House of Lords.
- On Tuesday, Johnson expelled the 21 Conservative Party MP’s that voted against him to take control of the government.
Vote to Block No-Deal Brexit
Lawmakers approved a bill Wednesday that would prevent a no-deal Brexit after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson lost his first vote in British Parliament on Tuesday.
Johnson lost the vote 327 to 299. The bill now heads to the House of Lords, which must also pass the legislation for it to go into effect. If it passes, Johnson could be forced to go back to the European Union and ask for another extension. Johnson previously said he will not ask the EU for an extension.
The vote Tuesday night set the stage for Wednesday’s blockade of a no-deal divorce plan from the EU. That vote took power from Johnson to be able to deliver a Brexit deal of his choice and allowed parliament to set Wednesday’s agenda.
At the beginning of the day, Johnson held a majority in parliament by a single member. While delivering a speech, however, Johnson lost that majority when fellow Conservative Party member Philip Lee moved to sit with the Liberal Democrats, who are anti-Brexit.
During the Tuesday vote, which MP’s cast 328 to 301, Johnson suffered a massive blow to his majority, losing the support of 21 fellow conservatives. Directly following the announcement of the vote, a lawmaker mocked Johnson, shouting, “Not a good start, Boris!”
Johnson has argued that if the United Kingdom votes to stop a no-deal, the U.K. will effectively be surrendering to the EU. Johnson said he believes the only way the EU will offer a better deal is if it thinks the U.K. will walk away without any deal at all come the October 31 deadline. This is because a no-deal Brexit is expected to damage other European economies, along with the U.K.’s.
Calls for a General Election
Following the vote to block a no-deal, Johnson called for general elections on October 15 but failed to gain the two-thirds majority needed to initiate snap elections.
Johnson had promised to call for a general election if a no-deal Brexit was blocked in the House of Commons. That would have meant all 650 seats in the House of Commons, including Johnson’s prime minister position, would open up three years before their terms are scheduled to end.
Previously, opposition Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn said he will only agree to elections if a no-deal blockade is passed.
Johnson Expels Tories
During the vote on Wednesday, another conservative, Caroline Spelman, broke from Johnson after she voted to block a no-deal; however, the Telegraph reported she will not lose her membership in the Conservative Party.
The announcement comes in contrast of Tuesday’s vote, where Johnson threatened to expel any conservatives who voted against him. Johnson then followed through with his promise and expelled those 21 conservatives from the party later the same evening.
Some of those conservatives include the grandson of Winston Churchill, Nicholas Soames, and Ken Clarke, who has been in parliament since 1970 and is known as the Father of the House.
“I do think the prime minister, with the greatest respect, has a tremendous skill in keeping in keeping a straight face whilst he’s being so disingenuous,” Clarke said on Wednesday.
None of those conservatives, however, were fired from their positions; instead, they will serve as independents. Nonetheless, they will be unable to run for re-election as conservatives.
What Brexit Means for the U.K.
In June 2016, U.K. citizens voted to leave the E.U. in a referendum, garnering 52% of the majority. Since then, lawmakers have attempted to push through with the deal, but each attempt has faced massive hurdles.
The day following the referendum, then-prime minister David Cameron resigned, with Theresa May assuming the position shortly thereafter.
In 2019, she failed to execute a Brexit deal in parliament three times and ultimately resigned in July. Conservative Party members then elected Boris Johnson, who has promised to take the U.K. out of the EU by the current October 31 deadline with or without a deal.
Johnson had also promised to negotiate a better deal with the EU, but the EU has said it won’t budge on the deal it’s already offered.
An attempt to solve Brexit before a no-deal comes amid shortage fears for necessities like food, gas, and medicine — including insulin. Economists warn a no-deal divorce would be a huge blow to the economy.
Last week, Johnson reportedly took steps to protect his ability to execute a no-deal Brexit after asking Queen Elizabeth II to suspend, or “prorogue,” parliament. In a statement, Johnson said the prorogue was to give him time to develop a robust post-Brexit domestic policy.
It did, however, severely limit the time parliament would have to agree on a deal or to block a deal, adding a week to a previously scheduled three-and-a-half week recess.
Following the suspension, protests and petitions surged. Some lawmakers like George Young and Ruth Davidson even resigned, though Davidson attributed her resignation to caring for her newborn son. Still, many media outlets connected the timing of her resignation with parliament’s prorogue.
On Wednesday, Davidson spoke out directly about the expulsion of Soames from the Conservative Party. Soames has served in parliament since 1980, and including Tuesday’s vote, had only voted against the Conservative Party three times.
See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (The Guardian) (Washington Post)
Wuhan Lifts Lockdown Measures as Other Countries Consider Loosening Their Own
- Wuhan has ended its 76-day lockdown amid concerns that lifting restrictions could cause a second wave of outbreaks.
- At least 65,000 people have already left Wuhan, even though the government has urged people not to leave the city or even their neighborhoods.
- Meanwhile, China has reported new coronavirus cases, most of which are from travelers. Notably, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan all experienced second waves of the virus after an influx of travelers.
- The U.S. and numerous countries are also considering easing restrictions despite continued reports of new cases and deaths increasing.
Wuhan Lifts Restrictions
Wuhan, the Chinese city where the coronavirus first started, has officially ended its lockdown after 76 days.
With the reopening, travel restrictions have also been lifted. Residents will now be allowed to leave the city as long as they show authorities a government-sanctioned phone app that indicates whether or not they are a health risk based on their home address, travels, medical history, and other data collected by the government.
According to local reports, within just hours of the ban being lifted, around 65,000 people had left the city by train and plane alone. Thousands more were allowed to leave by car or bus once the roads were open.
However, Chinese health officials said Tuesday that Wuhan residents are still being pushed not to leave their neighborhoods, the city, or the province unless necessary, furthering apprehension about the decision to reopen.
Concerns Over Spread & Travel
While the situation seems to have calmed down, some experts say there is still a risk in ending the lockdown and letting people leave Wuhan.
Although only three new cases of the coronavirus have been reported in Wuhan in the last three weeks, there are still concerning numbers in other parts of the country.
On Tuesday, China reported that new confirmed cases had doubled, rising to 62 from 32 the day before, the highest since March 25. Notably, new imported infections made up 59 of those cases.
Chinese health officials also said Wednesday that asymptomatic cases quadrupled, going up to 137 from just 30 a day earlier. Again, travelers accounted for a high number of those, making up 102 of the cases.
The fact that so many of the new cases are coming from travelers is quite significant because it is something that has happened before.
Last month, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan had all flattened their curves. Then travelers from the US and Europe began bringing the virus back, forcing all four to implement much stricter social distancing and immigration controls.
Other Countries Loosening Measures
Despite these concerns, numerous countries all over the world have said that they will begin easing containment measures.
On Monday, Denmark and Austria both announced that they will slowly start opening up parts of the countries starting next week. The Czech Republic also lifted some restrictions Tuesday and said it will start allowing some travel next week.
Spain’s government announced Wednesday that the country will start returning to “normal life” starting April 26. While officials did not give specifics about how restrictions would be eased, the move would be especially concerning for a country like Spain.
Spain has been one of the hardest-hit countries, with the second-highest number of confirmed cases after the U.S. The country’s reported fatalities slowed last week, but the number of deaths rose again recently, with 757 reported Wednesday and 743 Tuesday.
But Spain is not the only country with alarming numbers that has been looking to open things up again.
Germany and France have also said they are preparing options to ease restrictions in spite of the fact that forecasts show the outbreak is growing rapidly in both countries, which rank fourth and fifth respectively for the highest number of confirmed cases.
Similar ideas have also been floated in the U.S., which on Wednesday reported the largest single-day coronavirus death toll of any country with more than 1,800 confirmed deaths.
But on Wednesday morning, Vice President Mike Pence said that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is considering changing guidelines to make it easier for essential workers who have been exposed to someone infected to return to work.
“Under the proposed guidance, people who are exposed to someone infected would be allowed back on the job if they are asymptomatic, test their temperature twice a day and wear a face mask, said a person familiar with the proposal under consideration,” NBC News reported.
To Plan or Not to Plan
Many experts say that it is far too early to be opening things up.
While speaking during a news conference this morning, Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) director for Europe, warned that despite seeing “positive signs,” it is too soon to change the regulations put in place.
“Now is not the time to relax measures,” he said. “It is the time to once again double and triple our collective efforts to drive toward suppression with the whole support of society.”
That point was also echoed by Bruce Aylward, another top WHO official, who emphasized the need to ensure that the public does not take the situation lightly.
“We have got to ensure that the public understands we’re moving to a new phase,” he said “It’s not lifting lockdowns and going back to normal. It’s a new normal.”
While some experts believe that serious discussion about plans to lift restrictions could undermine the importance of containment measures in the public eye, others believe it is important to plan for the future.
Speaking to Fox News on Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force, said that the administration has been working on plans to eventually reopen the country.
“If, in fact, we are successful, it makes sense to at least plan what a reentry into normality would look like,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to do it right now. But it means we need to be prepared to ease into that. And there’s a lot of activity going on.”
See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)
India Lifts Ban on Hydroxychloroquine to the U.S. as Confusion Mounts Around Trump’s Investment in a Major HCQ Company
- India will now partially lift a hydroxychloroquine ban after it said Saturday that it would enact that ban to keep domestic stores from depleting.
- The ban reportedly cut off nearly half of the United States’ supply of hydroxychloroquine, and Monday night, President Donald Trump threatened to retaliate.
- Also regarding hydroxychloroquine, #Sanofi trended on Twitter Tuesday after the New York Times reported that Trump had a “small” investment in the company, which makes the drug.
- Despite many online believing this to be a major cash grab by the president, those holdings are likely less than $1,000.
India Agrees to Export Limited HCQ
Hours after President Donald Trump threatened retaliation, India lifted its recent ban on all hydroxychloroquine exports as demand for the drug surges.
Late last month, India implemented a partial ban on hydroxychloroquine exports; however, it said it would still honor existing contracts and certain shipments on humanitarian grounds on a case-by-case basis. On Saturday, India took that measure one step further by implementing a total ban on hydroxychloroquine exports.
The move was reportedly an attempt to protect domestic stocks, especially as hydroxychloroquine gains attention all over the world.
“Like any responsible government, our first obligation is to ensure that there are adequate stocks of medicines for the requirement of our own people,” a spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs said.
India is one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical producers and is a major manufacturer of hydroxychloroquine.
As of Tuesday, it has recorded just over 5,100 cases of COVID-19, according to John Hopkins University. That’s compared to India’s massive population of 1.3 billion. While the number of infected people is likely already much higher than what’s being reported, India is also bracing for a potential surge.
The Trump Administration has heavily promoted hydroxychloroquine despite reservations from doctors wanting to make sure it’s safe and effective first. Still, the U.S. has been preparing by stockpiling the drug. Part of that has included buying it from India; however, that ban reportedly cut off half of the U.S. supply of hydroxychloroquine.
On Saturday, the same day as that total ban, Trump said he had spoken with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and had appealed for the release of shipments the US has already ordered. Trump also noted that India was giving the request “serious consideration.”
By Monday night, Trump ramped up that pressure, saying, “I spoke to him Sunday morning, called him, and I said we’d appreciate your allowing our supply to come out. If he doesn’t allow it to come out, that would be OK, but of course, there may be retaliation. Why wouldn’t there be?”
Hours later, India announced that it had enough hydroxychloroquine pills for a domestic supply and that it would partially lift the drug’s export ban.
“Given the enormity of the COVID19 pandemic, India has always maintained that the international community must display strong solidarity and cooperation,” the spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs said.
“In view of the humanitarian aspects of the pandemic, it has been decided that India would licence paracetamol and HCQ in appropriate quantities to all our neighbouring countries who are dependent on our capabilities.”
“We will also be supplying these essential drugs to some nations who have been particularly badly affected by the pandemic,” he added, though he didn’t refer to Trump or the U.S. specifically. “We would therefore discourage any speculation in this regard or any attempts to politicise the matter.”
Trump’s “Small” Stake in Sanofi
Hydroxychloroquine also made headlines Tuesday after a report from The New York Times led to confusion about Trump’s investment in a company that makes the drug.
“If hydroxychloroquine becomes an accepted treatment, several pharmaceutical companies stand to profit, including shareholders and senior executives with connections to the president,” the article about Trump’s “aggressive advocacy” for the drug mentioned several paragraphs down.
“Mr. Trump himself has a small personal financial interest in Sanofi, the French drugmaker that makes Plaquenil, the brand-name version of hydroxychloroquine.”
“As of last year, Mr. Trump reported that his three family trusts each had investments in a Dodge & Cox mutual fund, whose largest holding was in Sanofi,” the article read several more paragraphs lower.
#Sanofi then began trending on Twitter, with many people believing that Trump stood to gain serious cash from his investments in Sanofi.
“1. Trump is relentlessly pushing hydroxychloroquine for #COVID19,” one person tweeted. “2. Sanofi manufactures the brand-name version of hydroxychloroquine. 3. Just guess what comes next…”
Others were angry at the New York Times because these investments weren’t the focus of the article. Because of that, they accused the New York Times of burying the lede.
However, it seems The New York Times might have put that mention so low for a reason. According to Business Insider headline on the situation, “Trump has a distant financial link to a pharma giant that makes the drug he’s been pushing to fight COVID-19 — but it’s probably worth less than $1,000.”
Business Insider then goes on to explain that each of Trump’s three family funds are valued between $1,000 and $15,000. Those funds are managed by JP Morgan, with Trump not providing any input.
According to data from December, those funds have Sanofi holdings at 2.9%. Using that information, Business Insider then calculates that at most, Trump has an investment of $1,305, and at minimum, his investment is $87.
Even though The New York Times calls it a “small” investment, such a number is probably a lot less than most people would imagine. Without seeing any extra context, however, those lines from The New York Times likely led many to believe that Trump has been touting hydroxychloroquine as a business move.
See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (The Guardian) (Business Insider)
Countries Consider Loosening Coronavirus Lockdowns as Japan Moves to Declare State of Emergency
- 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.
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.”