Morning Brief

Coronavirus Epicenter Reports Surge in New Cases

China’s Hubei province has confirmed thousands of new coronavirus cases after using a new diagnostic method, raising fears.

A Chinese worker wears a protective mask as she has her temperature checked in Beijing on Feb. 12.
A Chinese worker wears a protective mask as she has her temperature checked in Beijing on Feb. 12. Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: China’s Hubei province reports thousands of new coronavirus cases, Lebanon requests technical help from the IMF amid economic crisis, and Italy’s Matteo Salvini could go on trial over migration case.

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New Coronavirus Cases Surge in Hubei

China’s Hubei province, where the coronavirus outbreak began, has reported 14,840 new cases and 242 deaths after using a new method to diagnose the severe respiratory illness. The news came a day after China had recorded the lowest number of new cases of the virus countrywide in two weeks, filling observers with cautious optimism. But the World Health Organization (WHO) had issued a warning on Wednesday: “This outbreak could still go in any direction,” Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Many of the new cases in Hubei were diagnosed by CT scan, with the province suffering a shortage of diagnostic test kits. With the new method, there could be further surges in new cases in the coming days: The test kits used to diagnose the virus require several steps and are reportedly only 30 to 50 percent accurate. Asian markets appeared shaky after the new figures from Hubei were reported on Thursday.

Unanswered questions. Weeks into the outbreak, it seems there are still more questions than facts. It’s still unknown exactly how many cases there are, how deadly the virus is, and when the government confirmed human-to-human transmission. That’s in part because of the novelty of the virus and the scale of the outbreak—but it’s also because the Chinese government routinely conceals information from the public, FP’s James Palmer writes.

Looking for a cure. Scientists in China are testing two drugs that could treat the virus, according to the WHO. The combination medicine is used effectively in the treatment of HIV and available as a generic formula. Whether it will work against the new coronavirus will be clear within a few weeks. A vaccine to slow the outbreak won’t be available until the fall at the earliest.

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What We’re Following Today

Lebanon calls on the IMF. Lebanon has formally requested technical assistance from the International Monetary Fund to stabilize its economy. The new government, which won a confidence vote on Tuesday, is grappling with mass protests spurred by economic crisis and faces a $1.2 billion debt payment due on March 9. The IMF’s technical team arrives in Beirut in the coming days to help come up with a plan, including possible debt restructuring. An IMF statement on Wednesday did not mention any financial assistance for Lebanon.

Salvini could see trial over migrant boat. On Wednesday, Italian senators voted to remove far-right leader Matteo Salvini’s immunity as a former cabinet minister. The move sets up a possible trial over accusations that Salvini—then the interior minister—broke the law by keeping over 100 migrants detained on a ship for six days last July while he waited for other European states to take them in. If Sicilian officials charge Salvini, the trial could end his career: A conviction would carry up to 15 years in prison and ban him from political office.

Libyan airport closed to U.N. flights. Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) will not allow the United Nations to use Tripoli’s only functioning airport, where the U.N. said that restrictions had slowed down humanitarian aid and mediation in Libya’s long-running conflict. Backed by air support from the United Arab Emirates, the LNA is waging a campaign to take Tripoli, where the internationally-recognized government is based. The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday adopted a resolution calling for a lasting cease-fire.

Keep an Eye On

Canadian pipeline protests. An indigenous community in Canada has launched a legal challenge against the construction of a gas pipeline through British Columbia over its climate impact. Though some of the community’s elected officials back the project, protesters supporting the leaders of the Wet’suwet’en Nation have disrupted rail lines for six straight days. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called for a quick end to the protests.

The U.S. and the WTO. The United States is considering a plan to raise its tariff ceiling—a move designed to trigger renegotiations with members of the World Trade Organization, Bloomberg reports. The Trump administration seeks to rebalance global trading rules, which it sees as working against the United States. Washington has already obstructed the WTO’s ability to resolve disputes, as FP’s Keith Johnson reported last year.

A cruise ship in Cambodia. After being turned away from five countries over coronavirus fears, a cruise ship that left Hong Kong two weeks ago has docked in Cambodia with nearly 1,500 passengers. No one onboard the Westerdam is ill, but passengers were unable to disembark in Japan, Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines, or Thailand. Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has aligned Cambodia closely with China, has been reluctant to raise the alarm over the virus.

Odds and Ends

As the British Home Office evaluates applications in the post-Brexit EU settlement scheme, it has run into some glitches. Last week, a 101-year-old Italian man, Giovanni Palmiero, who has lived in London since 1966 was informed his parents would need to confirm his identity after the EU settled status app read his birth year as 2019 instead of 1919. “It’s like a humiliation, you’ve been here so long and then all of a sudden this happens … people of his age should not have to go through this process,” his son told the Guardian. The issue was resolved after a few phone calls convinced the Home Office that its software was at fault.

That’s it for today.

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

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