Morning Brief

More Evidence Shows White House Saw Pandemic Coming

New revelations add to evidence that Trump administration ignored early warnings about an impending coronavirus pandemic.

A construction worker moves equipment while building New York-Presbyterian's Northern Manhattan Field Hospital at Columbia University's Baker Athletic Complex on April 11, 2020 in New York City.
A construction worker moves equipment while building New York-Presbyterian's Northern Manhattan Field Hospital at Columbia University's Baker Athletic Complex on April 11, 2020 in New York City. Photo by Misha Friedman/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Evidence builds of White House inaction on early coronavirus measures, OPEC secures historic agreement to cut oil production, and Israel’s parliament is in limbo.

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Did Trump Fail to Act on Early Coronavirus Warnings?

The Trump administration failed to act on numerous signals from public health experts and White House advisors as the coronavirus reached the United States, leading to a delayed response and allowing the virus to spread, according to reporting by the New York Times over the weekend.

It follows earlier reporting that trade advisor Peter Navarro had alerted the Trump administration to the dangers of the coronavirus reaching the United States in a memo on January 29 and warnings from the U.S. intelligence community throughout January and February.

U.S. President Donald Trump has pushed back, citing the limited restrictions imposed on travelers from China on Jan. 31 as proof that the administration acted. The White House announced public health guidelines on March 16, but has largely left it up to states to decide the level of restriction to put on its citizens.

Fauci appears to confirm New York Times report. Speaking to CNN on Sunday, infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci appeared to side with the Times’ reporting. Asked whether an earlier shutdown would have meant more lives saved Fauci replied that “You could logically say, that if you had a process that was ongoing, and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives.”

Today the United States has the highest recorded number of coronavirus cases worldwide at over 560,000. The next closest is Spain with just over 166,000 cases. The U.S. death toll is also the world’s highest, with over 22,000 of the world’s roughly 115,000 deaths attributed to coronavirus recorded in the United States.

How far back do the U.S. intelligence warnings go? According to a report by ABC News, concerns were raised about a potential coronavirus pandemic as far back as November in a report by the National Center for Medical Intelligence (NCMI). The U.S. Department of Defense, which oversees the NCMI, has denied that any such report exists.

Writing in Foreign Policy in late March, Micah Zenko described the coronavirus pandemic as “worst intelligence failure in U.S. history.” “The White House detachment and nonchalance during the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak will be among the most costly decisions of any modern presidency,” he wrote.

What We’re Following Today

A deadline looms in Israel. Israel’s two largest political parties have until midnight tonight to form a coalition after Israeli President Reuven Rivlin refused to grant an extension to Blue and White leader Benny Gantz while also refusing to allow Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take a shot at forming a government himself—a move widely seen as Rivlin’s way of pressuring the two to formalize a national unity government.

Gantz had one month to form a government after he received the required level of support from Israeli parliamentarians back in March. An anti-Likud coalition failed to coalesce, however, leaving Gantz to negotiate a potential power-sharing deal with Likud that would leave Netanyahu in the top job for 18 months. Gantz’s own colleagues denounced him for what they regarded as a capitulation—a move that Dennis Ross and David Makovsky praised in FP as an act of statesmanship.

As Haviv Rettig Gur writes in the Times of Israel, “It seemed that after three inconclusive election cycles and endless claims by the two leading candidates that they were committed to a unity government … the president had had enough.” Rivlin’s decision means that if midnight passes with no deal, the Knesset must within three weeks find a member of the 120-member body who can garner 61 votes or face the prospect of a dreaded fourth election amid the coronavirus crisis.

OPEC cuts production. Details of an historic agreement between OPEC and other oil producing nations to cut global oil production are now clear after the deal was finalized on Sunday. All told, 9.7 million barrels per day will be cut, just short of the 10 million barrels the group had hoped to cut after Mexico balked on its commitment. At about 10 percent of global production, it still falls short of matching up with the nearly 30 percent drop in consumption brought on by global lockdown measures. After the deal was formally announced, U.S. President Donald Trump welcomed it on Twitter, saying it would save “hundreds of thousands” of jobs in the U.S. energy industry.

Turkey’s curfew crisis. Turkey’s interior minister Suleyman Soylu offered his resignation on Sunday after a hastily-announced surprise curfew led to a wave of panic buying in cities across the country. “In a process carried out diligently and meticulously, the responsibility for all implementation of the weekend curfew to stem the pandemic falls on me in every respect,” he wrote on Twitter. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected Soylu’s resignation. Turkey has recorded just under 57,000 coronavirus cases and 1,198 deaths so far.

Keep an Eye On

China new cases rise to highest since beginning of March. China recorded its biggest rise in coronavirus infections in the past six weeks, as 108 new cases were reported yesterday. China’s Health Commission said that 98 of those cases involved someone entering China from another country. Just last week, China began reopening the city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began.

Lockdowns lead to drop in some crimes, rise in others. Police in the United States and across the world are reporting dramatic drops in crime as a result of stay-at-home measures introduced to combat the coronavirus. The Associated Press reports that drug arrests in the city of Chicago have decreased 42 percent amid an overall drop in crime of 10 percent across the city. In El Salvador, the country with the highest murder rate in the world, the murder rate has dropped to two per day—down from as high as 600 per day. Lockdown measures have not been a panacea for crime, however, as domestic violence cases have spiked across the world since social distancing rules were put in place.

The World This Week

International Monetary Fund Spring Meetings begin this week. The meeting will kick off with IMF Chief Economist Gita Gopinath presenting the group’s economic outlook at 8:30 am in Washington. The IMF’s full schedule is here.

Negotiators from the European Union and United Kingdom are due to talk this week to lay out a path forward for Brexit negotiations in April and May. The coronavirus pandemic has delayed discussions to date, and with it the likelihood of the U.K. leaving the single market and customs union before the end of the year.

On Friday, China’s National Bureau of Statistics will host its quarterly press conference reviewing China’s economic situation, including GDP data and consumer retail sales figures.

Odds and Ends

New emojis not available until 2022 ☹️.  The Unicode Consortium, the non-profit group that oversees and releases new emojis, has announced that its planned new slate will be delayed from March 2021 to September 2021. Because of the long process through which the icons eventually reach devices, it means there won’t be a release at all in 2021. “Under the current circumstances we’ve heard that our contributors have a lot on their plates at the moment and decided it was in the best interests of our volunteers and the organizations that depend on the standard to push out our release date,” Mark Davis, president of the Consortium, said.

That’s it for today. 

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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