Morning Brief

Countries Begin Evacuating Citizens From Wuhan

Global alarm about the coronavirus outbreak is still rising as China prepares to bring in international health experts.

A couple wearing protective masks to help stop the spread of the Wuhan virus walk in Beijing on Jan. 28.
A couple wearing protective masks to help stop the spread of the Wuhan virus walk in Beijing on Jan. 28.

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Several countries have evacuated citizens from Wuhan—the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, U.S. senators question both legal teams in Trump’s impeachment trial, and the EU Parliament votes on the U.K. Withdrawal Agreement.

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Global Concern Rising Over Coronavirus

Global alarm about the Wuhan coronavirus is rising, with some governments arranging evacuation plans to get their nationals out of the city, which is under quarantine, via charter plane. On Tuesday, the European Commission announced it would partially fund two planes for EU citizens, including 250 French nationals. U.S. diplomats and other citizens were evacuated to California on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, British Airways has suspended all flights to and from mainland China and the British government is evacuating citizens—but in some cases U.K. authorities are dividing families by refusing to evacuate dual citizens and British permanent residents with Chinese passports, the Guardian reports.

The evacuations come alongside other prevention measures. Most of the virus cases—4,633, according to official figures—so far are in China, but Germany, Vietnam, Taiwan, the United Arab Emirates, and Japan have confirmed cases, raising fears of contagion elsewhere. The United States has increased its screening of passengers from Wuhan to include 20 ports of entry, and its health secretary said it wasn’t ruling out further travel restrictions.

Read all of FP’s coverage of the Wuhan coronavirus here.

China’s official response. In China, the death toll from the Wuhan virus exceeded 100 on Tuesday. The Chinese National Health Commission was expected to deliver an update on the virus on Wednesday, and the government will allow international experts to join the effort to contain the outbreak. There are concerns that a number of cases in China have gone unreported due to a shortage of test kits, including in Wuhan itself. Access to health care—mostly private in China—is becoming a critical issue, as Andreea Brinza writes for FP.

Will the virus wreck the economy? Markets rebounded on Tuesday, showing that investors are still trying to figure out how much the Wuhan virus outbreak will affect the global economy. If the epidemic extends into the summer as some experts predict, the effects on China’s economy could be wide-reaching, FP’s Keith Johnson and James Palmer report. 

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What We’re Following Today

Senators ask questions in impeachment trial. With U.S. President Donald Trump’s defense team wrapping up its case in his impeachment trial in the Senate, senators now have the chance to question both legal teams over the next two days. Revelations this week from former National Security Advisor John Bolton’s upcoming book have threatened to derail Trump’s lawyers’ plan for a quick acquittal. His claims that the president explicitly linked withholding military aid from Ukraine to its potential investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden could come up in questioning. The Senate is expected to vote on whether or not to call witnesses—such as Bolton—on Friday.   

EU Parliament votes on Brexit bill. The European Parliament votes today on the U.K. Withdrawal Agreement, which it is expected to pass. The vote comes two days before the Brexit deadline on Friday, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government signing off on the bill last week. On Monday, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator called for the agreement to be implemented “with rigor,” with the EU closely monitoring the situation in Northern Ireland. Britain’s departure from the European Parliament will leave 73 seats vacant, with 27 reallocated to other countries whose new members will begin on Feb. 1.

Did Trump give Netanyahu a boost? At the White House on Tuesday, Trump at last announced his long-delayed Middle East peace plan with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his side. The proposal would discard a longstanding U.S. policy consensus: that a future political settlement in Israel would be based on the 1967 borders between Israel and its Arab neighbors. As he faces another election campaign and corruption charges, the plan is certainly a boost for Netanyahu, FP’s Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer report. On Sunday, Israel’s cabinet will vote on a proposal to annex parts of the occupied West Bank where Israeli settlements are located, according to local TV reports.

Keep an Eye On

U.S. military cuts in Africa. U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper is weighing a proposal to significantly reduce U.S. forces in Africa, including in the Sahel region where they are engaged in combating Islamic extremism. Some Pentagon and State Department officials see the drawdown as “about politics”—tied to Trump’s reelection. They also worry it could cede ground to Chinese influence, FP’s Lara Seligman and Robbie Gramer report.

Kenya’s new digital IDs. Kenya plans to issue its citizens new digital identification numbers needed to access health care, education, voting rights, and housing. Nearly 40 million people have already signed up for the new biometric system, but millions of minorities say they are facing obstacles to registration, the New York Times reports. Kenya’s high court will rule on Thursday on whether the plan is constitutional.

The Fed’s press conference. Concluding a meeting this week, the U.S. Federal Reserve is expected to announce today that it will hold interest rates steady—despite Trump’s calls that they go lower. Other questions faced by the Fed this week include whether to slow the expansion of its asset portfolio and wind down its short-term lending.

Odds and Ends

All four sugar factories in Belarus saw their directors vanish last week: One “went on vacation,” one “went to Minsk,” another was pulled off a Munich-bound flight, and the fourth vanished while on the job. Belarusian authorities have not offered an official explanation for the disappearances, but according to the news site [link in Russian], 11 people were detained last week as part of a corruption probe that could involve the factory directors.

Ex-Belgian monarch King Albert II at last acknowledged this week that he was the biological father of the 51-year-old artist Delphine Boël, according to DNA tests. The admission comes after years of lawsuits involving Boël, who has publicly claimed since 2005 that she was King Albert’s daughter from an extramarital affair. The former monarch only submitted to a DNA test last year. Boël could now stand to inherit some of the king’s private fortune.

A German court has ruled that a backpacker hostel operating on the grounds of North Korea’s embassy in Berlin has to close because it violates U.N. sanctions and a European directive intended to stop cash from flowing to the regime in Pyongyang. The hostel currently leases one building from the embassy, which kept operating after German reunification in 1990.

That’s it for today.

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Amy Mackinnon contributed to this report.

Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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