Morning Brief

U.S. Breaks Record for Daily Coronavirus Cases 102 Days After First Lockdown

Faced with growing cases nationwide, the White House coronavirus task force will host its first public briefing in over seven weeks.

Cars wait in line at a Covid-19 testing center at Dodger Stadium, June 25, 2020, in Los Angeles, California.
Cars wait in line at a Covid-19 testing center at Dodger Stadium, June 25, 2020, in Los Angeles, California. Valerie Macon/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. sets record for new coronavirus cases, the Ebola outbreak is over in Congo, and Malawi’s opposition leader appears poised for victory in presidential election.

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Jump In Cases Shows U.S. Fight Against COVID-19 Is Far From Over

The United States is showing no sign of controlling its coronavirus epidemic, after it set a new record for the number of coronavirus cases in one day on Thursday. The spike in cases seems to be driven by a rise in cases in the country’s south and west, including some states that were the first to reopen.

The White House coronavirus task force, largely absent from public view over the past seven weeks, will hold a briefing today—its first since April 29.

Faced with inaction at the national level, state governors have resumed their leadership role. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has paused his state’s reopening process to “corral the spread” and has suspended elective surgeries in order to free up hospital beds as the state’s caseload rises.

While the number of daily new cases increases, they are only a snapshot of the total, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). On Thursday, CDC Director Robert Redfield said the actual number is likely ten times higher than the official count of roughly 2.4 million cases.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Trump has continued to play down the severity of epidemic, citing the relatively low death count—776 per day according to the latest three-day moving average. “We have cases because you test. Deaths are down,” Trump said in Wisconsin on Thursday. “It came from China, and it hit 188 countries—not good, not good,” he later added.

Another continent moves on. A brief glance at the sharp drop in cases in Europe shows just how badly the United States has fared. On the same day that U.S. authorities registered 31,153 new cases, the entire European Union only registered 4,141. Included in that number is Italy, a former pandemic epicenter, which recorded only 226 new cases.

The wrong kind of exceptionalism. “America’s mediocre performance in response to COVID-19 has shaken a lot of observers,” Michael Fullilove, the executive director of Australia’s Lowy Institute told FP’s Colum Lynch on June 18. “We are accustomed to seeing America as the epicenter of global power, not the epicenter of global disease.”

Will America learn? Even as the United States bungles its pandemic response, an understanding of what has gone wrong is crucial, Micah Zenko wrote on June 5 in Foreign Policy. “The virus offers a focusing event from which political leaders and government officials can have a (roughly) shared understanding of what happened, why it happened, who is accountable, and how can it be avoided.” If not, the coronavirus pandemic will become “another ‘9/11’—a hollow justification for anything and everything … The suffering experienced by the millions of casualties and sacrifices made by tens of millions of health care professionals will be in vain and forgotten, offering little guidance on America’s thinking and policies in the future,” Zenko argued.

What We’re Following Today

Serbia-Kosovo meeting postponed. A June 27 meeting in Washington between the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo has reportedly been postponed indefinitely. Kosovo’s Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti cancelled his visit to Washington in the wake of news that Kosovar President Hashim Thaci had been indictment for war crimes. The office of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic confirmed that U.S. Balkan envoy Richard Grenell had “decided to postpone the meeting,” on Thursday.

Ebola outbreak over in Congo. The second deadliest Ebola outbreak in history is officially over in the Democratic Republic of Congo after claiming 2,280 lives. This outbreak was the first where a vaccine was put into action from the very beginning of the health response. The Ebola virus is not fully eradicated in the country, however, as a new spate of cases was reported in the northwest of the country at the beginning of June; 11 people have been killed in that outbreak so far.

Israel and UAE announce health and tech agreement. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced a new health security partnership with the United Arab Emirates to collaborate “in the areas of research and development and technology.” The news comes after the UAE Foreign Affairs Minister Anwar Gargash said last week it was prepared to work with Israel on coronavirus issues and technology, even though the two countries still lack formal diplomatic relations. It’s a further sign of warming relations between Israel and the UAE, despite the latter’s opposition to a proposed Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank: In May, the Abu Dhabi-based airline Etihad made its first flight to Israel carrying a shipment of health care supplies.

Scores dead in Indian lightning strikes. At least 107 people have died after being struck by lightning in India, according to local officials. The strikes are common during the country’s monsoon season, and the most recent figures show more than 2,300 Indians died from lightning strikes in 2018. Lakshmeshwar Rai, the disaster management minister for the state of Bihar, said it was the highest daily death toll he has seen in his state in recent years.

Keep an Eye On

Australian politician’s home raided on China links. Australian intelligence officers have raided properties linked to an Australian state legislator in an investigation into alleged Chinese influence operations. The target of the raid, New South Wales state legislator Shaoquett Moselmane, is known for his pro-Beijing stances and has praised Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “unswerving” leadership in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The raid comes after the Australian government recently passed foreign interference legislation following the revelation that Chinese businessmen had funded local candidates in Australia.

Lazarus rises in Malawi. Malawi opposition leader Lazarus Chakwera appears to have won the country’s presidency after an initial tally by the state broadcaster showed him winning 60 percent of the vote—although the electoral commission has yet to announce the official result. Tuesday’s election was a rerun of the May 2019 presidential vote which was later annulled by Malawi’s constitutional court for voting irregularities.

Poland’s president faces Sunday reckoning. Voters in Poland go to the polls this Sunday to choose a president. The incumbent Andrzej Duda, fresh from his midweek meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, is hoping to triumph—although a June 25 poll shows the election going to a second round run-off against rival Rafal Trzaskowski.

Odds and Ends

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has had to postpone her wedding for a third time, after an extraordinary European Council summit was called on the weekend of her planned ceremony. The EU meeting, scheduled for July 17-18, will be the first in-person summit since the coronavirus pandemic began. In a Facebook post, Frederiksen pointed out that Denmark’s priorities come before her family’s, meaning her fiancé Bo Tengberg will have to wait. “I’m looking forward to saying yes to Bo (who fortunately is very patient),” she wrote.

Pakistan International Airlines has has been forced to ground 150 pilots after an investigation found that many pilots had fake aviation licenses or had cheated in exams. Aviation minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said that 260, or 30 percent, of the country’s active pilots had obtained their licenses fraudulently. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said the scandal represented a “serious lapse” in safety protocols.

That’s it for today. 

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

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