The Daily 202: A phone call with Trump can open doors for executives, celebrities and others with coronavirus asks

With Mariana Alfaro

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) called President Trump over the weekend to ask a favor. Battelle, a company headquartered in his state, was struggling to get approval from the Food and Drug Administration to sterilize face masks in bulk so that they can be reused by health workers. So Trump called up FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn. “And within a very short period of time,” the president said, “they got the approval.”

Trump proudly told this story during his news conference in the Rose Garden on Sunday and then he retold it again on Monday evening. He’s trying to demonstrate that he’s a hands-on leader singularly focused on combatting the novel coronavirus and eager to cut through red tape. These kinds of anecdotes have become standard fare during his daily briefings, and they illustrate his view of presidential leadership as the death toll of the pandemic exceeds 3,000 people in the United States. That is more than the number of people who died on Sept. 11, 2001, during the terrorist attacks.

The 73-year-old, who famously loves to kibitz on the phone, is known for reaching out to cable news hosts, rich friends and assorted associates at all hours to shoot the breeze. Cooped up in the White House for weeks now, except for a brief trip to Virginia on Saturday, Trump appears to be working the phones even harder than usual. Corporate executives, governors, celebrities and foreign leaders looking to get something from the U.S. government seem especially eager to secure a telephonic audience with the president.

Trump spoke on Sunday with Wolfgang Puck, who told him about how hard his business has been hit by the closures. A few hours later, citing that conversation with the celebrity chef, Trump announced support for something the hospitality industry’s lobbyists have pursued for years. He directed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia to look into restoring the deductibility of meals and entertainment costs for corporations. “I’ve directed my staff to use any and all authority available to give restaurants, bars, clubs incentives to stay open,” the president said. 

Trump says he’s talking constantly with corporate executives, praising chieftains like Tim Cook of Apple and companies like the Swiss drugmaker Roche. 

Boeing has been looking for a federal lifeline, and Trump spoke with the aerospace giant’s CEO Dave Calhoun on Friday. The $2 trillion Senate stimulus included a $17 billion federal loan program for businesses deemed “critical to maintaining national security.” The provision does not mention Boeing by name, but it was crafted largely for the company’s benefit, according to people with knowledge of the internal deliberations.

“Boeing will be producing and donating face shields to help our medical professionals on the frontlines,” Trump announced the day he signed the bill. “Boeing is also offering us the use of what they call their Dreamlifter cargo plane. It’s the largest plane in the world.”

The president has also implied that phone calls with friends in New York who have been stricken by the coronavirus helped shape his decision to extend social distancing guidelines through the end of April. Trump said on Monday that he has “some friends who are unbelievably sick who thought they were going in for a mild stay.” One friend – whom he has not named – has gone into a coma because of complications from the virus.

Oil markets are rising today because Trump called Vladimir Putin yesterday to discuss Russia’s scuffle with Saudi Arabia, which has led to a glut in supply, and expressed concern that gasoline doesn’t cost enough. The Kremlin said in a statement that the call was about the coronavirus pandemic but that the two presidents also “exchanged views on the current state of the global oil market and agreed that Russian and American energy ministers should hold consultations on this topic.” The White House confirmed the conversation, saying in a statement that Putin and Trump “agreed on the importance of stability in global energy markets.”

Trump thanked Russia and China for sending medical supplies to the United States during his Monday evening news conference, even though both adversaries are running active disinformation operations that falsely blame the United States for the spread of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. “China sent us some stuff, which was terrific. Russia sent us a very, very large planeload of things, medical equipment, which was very nice,” the president said. “Other countries sent us things that I was very surprised at, very happily surprised.” 

Trump said he spoke with Chinese leader Xi Jinping about the origins of the coronavirus for more than an hour late Thursday night and welcomed his advice on how to combat it in the United States. “It was fascinating to me,” Trump told reporters the next day. “You know, they have a whole … different form of government, to put it mildly. He’s developed some incredible theories, and all of that information is coming over here. A lot of it’s already come. The data. We call it ‘data.’ And we’re going to learn a lot from what the Chinese went through. Our relationship with China is very good.”

The Trump White House discontinued the longstanding bipartisan practice of releasing readouts whenever a president speaks with a foreign leader. Often this means we’re dependent on another government to disclose the call or we get Trump’s unique spin on it.

Trump called German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday, who had to self-quarantine after exposure to a doctor who later tested positive for the coronavirus. The president also checked in on U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson a few hours after he revealed on Friday that he tested positive. “Before I even was able to get a word out of him, he said, ‘We need ventilators,’” Trump recalled a day later. “The UK needs ventilators. A lot of countries need ventilators badly.”

“I just spoke to the prime minister of Italy,” Trump said Monday in the Rose Garden. “And we have additional capacity. We have additional product that we don’t need. We’re going to be sending approximately $100 million worth of things – of surgical and medical and hospital things – to Italy. And [Prime Minister] Giuseppe [Conte] was very, very happy. I will tell you that. They’re having a very hard time.”

Trump’s declaration that the United States has more medical products than it needs was news to many governors who have been complaining publicly that they are struggling to obtain supplies. 

During a conference call with several governors on Monday that lasted a little over an hour, leaders of rural states told the president that they’re having a hard time getting equipment. A participant leaked an audio recording to CBS News. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, the former Democratic presidential candidate now running for Senate, said he’s tried to buy supplies four or five times over the past week, but the orders have been canceled and suppliers tell him that the federal government’s demands come first. Trump brushed aside his worries. 

On the same call, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon (R) told Trump that he has family in New York and understands the challenges there but that his state also needs materiel. “Good point,” Trump replied. “If you have a problem, call me. I’ll get you what you need.”

A few hours after word leaked out last Thursday that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) told Trump on a conference call that states need him to act more like Tom Brady than a “backup,” the president revealed during his daily briefing that he had recently spoken with the legendary quarterback, who just switched teams from the New England Patriots to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “I like Tom Brady,” Trump said, while claiming that Inslee meant his criticism as a compliment. “He’s a great guy.”

Trump also called former New York Yankees baseball star Alex Rodriguez last week as part of his coronavirus-related outreach, according to ABC News. The president called the report that he made the call “fake news.” USA Today subsequently confirmed its accuracy.

Trump said after Inslee’s comment made its way into the media that he’s not going to call the governor of Washington state. “If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call,” the president said on Friday. Asked about this on Sunday, Trump sought to clarify that, while he does not call, he will not stop people who work for him from calling. “I don’t have to call because I’m probably better off not because we don’t get [along],” Trump said of Inslee. “He’s a failed presidential candidate. He’s a nasty person. I don’t like the governor of Washington. So you know who calls? I get Mike Pence to call.” Referring to other Democratic governors, including Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer, Trump added: “When they disrespect me, they’re disrespecting our government.”

Trump emphasized that there are Democratic elected officials he does call. He has said he’s speaking “a lot” to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, as well as New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. “I’ve really gotten to like him,” Trump said of de Blasio. “I get along with him very well. Now he wants us to do certain things, and we’ve produced.” He’s also said he enjoyed phone conversations with the Democratic governors of Louisiana and Connecticut. 

People who talk to the president can put ideas in his head that he often later espouses in public. Conversations with unspecified individuals have also led the president to accuse doctors and hospitals of “hoarding” supplies and ventilators. “I spoke to a couple of people today, and I don’t want to mention their names, but there is hoarding going along,” Trump said in the Cabinet room on Sunday afternoon. “And it’s not really something that you wouldn’t understand. They don’t want to lose their ventilators in case they need them. But these are areas, in some cases, that probably will not need them, and in some cases, even if they do, they have too many. So they have to release ventilators, if they have them.”

During an interview with Fox News at the White House last Tuesday, Trump was asked about the early failures of his administration to ramp up testing for the coronavirus. “A month ago, the CDC had an initial test that failed,” the host asked. “At that moment in late February, you said, ‘It’s perfect.’ And it wasn’t perfect. So what happened?”

This question led Trump to bring up the most infamous phone call of his presidency: the July 25 conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The rough transcript of that call was key evidence that prompted the House to impeach the president for abuse of power. He was acquitted by the Senate.

“What I said was ‘perfect’ was my conversation with the head of the Ukraine,” Trump answered. “That’s what I really said is ‘perfect,’ okay? That was another whole scandal, nonsense, a total, you know, witch hunt. But this one is a much different thing. … No, I – we – did not screw up.”

The cascading domestic fallout

Federal and state officials caution the death toll will continue to spike.

“As deaths across the world from covid-19 climbed above 37,000 and those in the United States rose to more than 2,900, federal and state officials offered grim warnings that the country should expect things to get worse before they get better,” Matt Zapotosky, John Wagner and Marisa Iati report. “Deborah Birx, the coronavirus coordinator, [said the United States] could record 200,000 deaths even ‘if we do things together well, almost perfectly.’ … The United States continued to lead the world in confirmed cases, with more than 160,000 officially reported as of Monday evening. … [Michigan] reported an 18 percent surge in cases from a day earlier, along with more than 50 additional deaths — bringing its total fatalities to 184. Michigan’s nearly 6,500 confirmed cases was the third-highest total in the nation, behind New Jersey (more than 16,600) and New York (more than 66,000). … Trump said the United States has administered more than 1 million tests, and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said authorities are testing 100,000 samples a day.”

In New York, 253 people died in a 24-hour period – one every 2.9 minutes. 

The USNS Comfort, a hospital ship that arrived in New York on Monday, will provide 1,000 hospital beds to the city, alleviating the strain on local hospitals, the Wall Street Journal reports. “After welcoming the ship on Manhattan’s West Side, [Gov. Andrew] Cuomo held a press conference at Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, which is being converted into a 2,500-bed hospital and began receiving patients Monday. The facilities at the USNS comfort and the Javits Center are meant for noncoronavirus patients and will free up capacity for existing hospitals to treat patients with the virus … New York had 66,497 cases of the disease statewide as of Monday, up from 59,513 cases Sunday … New York City had 36,221 cases as of Monday morning. The death toll in the state reached 1,218. More than 9,500 people have been hospitalized … 

“Mr. Cuomo said the peak of the state’s outbreak was still weeks away and that the death toll would continue to rise. But the leaders of all the state’s public and private hospitals on Monday agreed to take part in a new program to coordinate New York’s scarcity of beds and medical supplies, the governor said. … Under the arrangement, hospital systems across the state have also agreed to share supplies and staff as needed.”

  • Subway ridership in NYC has dropped 87 percent, but subway stations in poorer neighborhoods are still bustling, amplifying the divide between those with the means to shelter at home and those who must continue braving public transit to preserve their livelihoods. (NYT)
  • A New York City man claimed he had covid-19 and then coughed on FBI agents who were investigating him for allegedly attempting to sell 1,000 N95 masks for an approximate 700 percent markup. (Daily News)
  • NYC lost its first child to the virus. The age of the minor wasn’t released, but the victim had an underlying condition. (NBC New York)
Other states are also scrambling to surge their medical capacity.
  • With more than 5,000 cases in Illinois, work began on converting Chicago’s McCormick Place, the largest convention center in North America, into a medical facility. Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) said the center will eventually be able to hold 3,000 beds. (Chicago Tribune)
  • Ford and GE Healthcare said they plan to produce 50,000 ventilators in the next 100 days, with the support of 500 United Auto Workers union members in Michigan. (Detroit Free Press)
  • Across the nation, thousands of displaced homeless people are seeking shelter amid the contagion. In Las Vegas, a temporary homeless shelter was opened at Cashman’s parking lot, the Review-Journal reports. In New York City, more than 100 homeless people have tested positive for the virus, with the vast majority of them living in the city’s shelter system, per the New York Post. In the Bay Area, homeless people at risk of contracting the virus are being housed in Oakland hotels, NBC News reports.
  • Covid-19 hospitalizations doubled in California over the past three days, from 746 to 1,432. California’s secretary of health and human services said the state’s modeling suggests it’ll need 50,000 new hospital beds by mid-May. So far, the state has recorded 142 deaths and more than 6,800 confirmed cases. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Hospitalizations in Washington state declined by more than 20 percent last week, marking the end of a month-long rise in admissions. But the state health department doesn’t include reporting from 16 percent of hospital emergency rooms, and some patients who may have the disease but not all the symptoms. (Seattle Times)
  • Data from the past two days suggests the spread may be slowing in the New Orleans area. Numbers for the rest of Louisiana, though, continue to accelerate, with the virus now detected in all but five of 64 parishes. (Times-Picayune)
The contagion is killing people from all walks of life. 
  • Songwriter Alan Merrill, known for co-writing Joan Jett’s hit “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” died Manhattan at 69. (BBC)
  • James Goodrich, a neurosurgeon who conducted a remarkable operation to separate a pair of conjoined twins four years ago, died in his 70s. (CNN)
  • William Helmreich, a sociologist known for walking every single block in New York City, died at 74. (NYT)
  • Eleven veterans died from an outbreak at a state-run residential facility in Massachusetts. At least five had tested positive for the virus. (Teo Armus)
  • A New Jersey Army National Guard soldier became the first service member to die from covid-19, the Pentagon announced Monday night. Capt. Douglas Linn Hickok was a drilling Guardsman and physician assistant, per the governor.
  • A 25-year-old pharmacy technician who had no known underlying health conditions died in California from the virus. (Los Angeles Times)
Leaders in the D.C. region ordered residents to stay home. 

“Nearly 3,000 residents of the Washington region have tested positive for the coronavirus, and 53 people have died,” Antonio Olivo, Ovetta Wiggins and Gregory Schneider report. “Together, the directives from [D.C. Mayor] Bowser, [Maryland Gov.] Hogan and [Virginia Gov. Ralph] Northam affect about 15.2 million people … Officials said residents may still go outside for food, medication and essentials, and to exercise or walk pets, but should avoid shopping for other things and contact with people not from their households. … Maryland’s stay-home order went into effect at 8 p.m. Monday, with violators subject to one year in jail or a fine of as much as $5,000, or both. There was no end date given.… Northam’s stay-at-home order took effect Monday and will last through June 10. … [Violations] can result in a fine of up to $2,500 and or jail time of up to a year. … Bowser’s order is effective Wednesday through April 24 … Residents who willfully violate the ban face criminal penalties, including up to 90 days in jail and fines up to $5,000.” (More on the three orders.) 

  • The Pleasant View Nursing Home in Carroll County, Md., which announced an outbreak of 66 coronavirus cases over the weekend, said it has 11 more known cases and a second fatality, a man in his 80s. Eight patients and one staffer tested positive at a Maryland psychiatric hospital. (Dan Morse)
  • The District reported 94 new cases Monday evening, its highest single-day increase, which brought its total number of known infections to 499, with nine deaths. District officials urged residents who experience symptoms to seek medical care, saying some people appear not to be doing that. But getting tested in the region is still not simple. People who are seeking a test must be referred by a doctor and then have to pass additional screening by the testing hospital or clinic. Here is an updated list of sites in the region where testing is underway.
  • The deadline to file applications for money from a $25 million small-business relief fund in D.C. is tonight. (Justin Wm. Moyer)
More than 250 million Americans in at least 29 states have now been told to stay at home. 
  • Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) issued a statewide stay-at-home order, preventing residents from leaving their homes except for food, medicine and other essential activities. The order will stay in effect through at least the end of April. (Arizona Republic)
  • Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) issued a two-week statewide order closing nonessential businesses and telling Tennesseans to stay home. (Tennessean)
  • New Mexico’s governor banned gatherings of more than four people. (USA Today)
  • Ohio extended school closures through May 1. (Akron Beacon Journal)
  • But some red-state governors continue to dither, including Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon (R), who has resisted a shelter-in-place directive despite a tripling of cases in his state over the past week and dire warnings from the state’s medical society. (Casper Star Tribune)
  • New data suggests these restrictions are slowing infections. Kinsa Health, which produces Internet-connected thermometers, created a national map of fever levels that shows social distancing edicts are working. (NYT)
Local leaders in Florida are filling the leadership vacuum left by a weak governor.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who has been heavily criticized for his uneven and slow response, said on Monday that people living in Southeast Florida, including the counties that include Miami and Palm Beach, should stay home until April 15. DeSantis originally said folks should stay home until May 15, but then he walked back his statement, saying the “safer at home” order would lapse in mid-April. (Miami Herald)

  • A Tampa-area pastor, Rodney Howard-Browne, was arrested by the county sheriff for defying coronavirus-related bans on large gatherings by encouraging crowds as big as 500 to meet for a religious service. He was released on bond after being charged with unlawful assembly and violation of a public health emergency order. (Michelle Boorstein)
  • The Holland America Line ship where four people have died, two have tested positive for covid-19 and nearly 200 report flu-like symptoms, made it through the Panama Canal. Owned by Carnival Corp., the ship was hoping to let passengers disembark in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. But local officials say they have not received approval and the ship’s owner needs to address a long list of requirements, Hannah Sampson reports.
Retail workers in their 60s, 70s and 80s worry about their health – but need the money. 

“Julio Guzman doesn’t want to stop working. But these days, just about everyone is urging the 71-year-old to stay home: His wife, his kids, state officials, even the president. Guzman loves his job at Walmart, where managers are offering $300 bonuses and, in some cases, an extra $2 an hour. But now he’s scared he’ll get sick,” Abha Bhattarai reports. “Nearly one-quarter of retail workers are 55 or older, and 7 percent are over 65, according to Labor Department data, which means that the demographic most vulnerable to the coronavirus is increasingly on its front lines, selling groceries, medicine and other necessities to the crowds of shoppers who raise their risks for infection.”

  • Workers at Instacart, Amazon and Whole Foods are demanding health protections and hazard pay. Some workers for Instacart, a grocery delivery app, began a strike while warehouse employees at an Amazon facility in Staten Island, N.Y., walked out because they said the e-commerce giant, founded by Post owner Jeff Bezos, isn’t doing enough to protect them. Meanwhile, some Amazon-owned Whole Foods staffers plan on calling in sick to demand hazard pay of double their hourly wages, along with other health protections. (Nitasha Tiku)
  • Macy’s announced it will furlough most of its 125,000 workers as sales evaporated with the shuttering of 775 stores. Kohl’s and Gap also announced furloughs of about 80,000 each. Media giant Gannett announced furloughs for newspaper employees who earn more than $38,000 a year and pay cuts across the company. The massive cuts have prompted some economists to predict that more than 40 million Americans could be unemployed by mid-April. (Abha Bhattarai, Rachel Siegel and Jeff Stein)
  • Shattered dreams: Long-shot draft hopefuls worry that canceled pro days mean they’ll never get to play in the NFL. (Kent Babb)

Quote of the day

“The economy is No. 2 on my list,” Trump said at his Monday night news conference. “First, I want to save a lot of lives.”

The federal response

The CDC is considering recommending everyone wear face coverings in public. 

“There’s still no consensus on whether widespread use of facial coverings would make a significant difference, and some infectious disease experts worry that masks could lull people into a false sense of security and make them less disciplined about social distancing,” Joel Achenbach, Lena Sun and Laurie McGinley report. “Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are considering altering the official guidance to encourage people to take measures to cover their faces amid the coronavirus pandemic … [T]he new guidance would make clear that the general public should not use medical masks — including surgical and N95 masks — that are in desperately short supply and needed by health-care workers. Instead, the recommendation under consideration calls for using do-it-yourself cloth coverings.” 

The FDA approved the emergency use of unproven anti-malarial drugs.

“There have been only a few, small anecdotal studies showing a possible benefit of the drugs, hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, to relieve the acute respiratory symptoms of covid-19 and clear the virus from infected patients. Health experts warn the drugs’ well-known side effects could become commonplace with wide use. In particular, they say, patients with existing heart problems or taking certain drugs, such as anti-depressants that affect heart rhythm, are at risk of a fatal episode. Experts recommend screening before the drugs are prescribed to prevent drug-related deaths,” Christopher Rowland reports. “With no established treatments available, the FDA said in an approval letter Saturday that, essentially, trying the anti-malarial drugs was worth a shot. … Larger, more rigorous clinical trials of the treatments are underway around the world and in the United States.” 

Political considerations shaped Trump’s decision to extend social distancing guidance.

“Aides and advisers say the president was heavily influenced by briefings from scientific and public health officials, as well as by the stark reality of the virus, including projections of greater deaths depending on what measures the government takes. But Trump campaign officials and political allies had also briefed the president in recent days about their fears of reopening the economy too soon, arguing that a spike in deaths could be even more politically damaging in November than the current economic downturn,” Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey and Yasmeen Abutaleb report. “Public health officials warned Trump that many rural areas — which form the bedrock of the president’s political support — do not have the necessary hospitals and doctors to handle an outbreak, should it come. Some administration officials had also circulated a Yahoo News/YouGov poll showing that 59 percent of Americans believed opening up ‘the country for business’ by Easter, as Trump suggested last week, was ‘too soon’ … And Trump has been pleased by how his approval ratings have ticked up recently.”

  • The State Department has repatriated 25,000 Americans who were stuck abroad. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he’s still working to bring home “several thousand more” Americans who are stranded overseas. (Felicia Sonmez)
  • The Defense Department told individual military bases to stop reporting case totals. (Teo Armus)
  • The Treasury Department is looking at creating new roles for some of its top officials to implement the $2 trillion stimulus package. Deputy Secretary Justin Muzinich is under serious consideration to serve in a leading role. (Jeff Stein)
  • Nancy Pelosi hopes to move fast on a fourth rescue bill. The speaker said the next measure will focus on shoring up health systems and investing in infrastructure. Meanwhile, Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) was diagnosed with a presumed case of covid-19. (Politico)
  • The administration said gun shops are “essential” businesses and should be allowed to stay open. (Teo Armus)
  • This should not be overlooked amid the crisis: The Trump administration is poised to finalize a rule dramatically weakening the federal government’s gas mileage standards for cars and pickup trucks. (Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis)
Undocumented immigrants on the pandemic’s front lines fear for their health and their homes. 

Federal immigration authorities have begun expelling border-crossers in an average of 96 minutes under emergency coronavirus measures. Under the new rules, U.S. agents are processing migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras “in the field” before they are able to set foot inside a U.S. Border Patrol station. The migrants are then whisked back to the border and sent into Mexico. (Nick Miroff)

There are about 27,000 DACA recipients working as doctors, nurses, paramedics and other health-care workers who could be pulled from the workforce if the Supreme Court sides with the Trump administration and ends their protections. (USA Today)

A federal judge declined to release dozens of detained immigrant families, for now, demanding instead that immigration authorities come into compliance with federal guidelines for preventing transmission. (Politico)

A Jared Kushner-linked firm is no longer developing a testing website for the feds. 

“Oscar Health—a health-insurance company closely connected to Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner—developed a government website with the features the president had described,” the Atlantic reports. “Then the website was suddenly and mysteriously scrapped. The site would not have helped many Americans even if it had launched. Today, more than two weeks after the president promised a national network of drive-through test sites, only a handful of such sites have opened, and fewer than 1 million Americans have been tested. The partnership between the administration and the firm suggests that Kushner may have mingled his family’s business interests with his political interests and his role in the administration’s coronavirus response. Kushner’s younger brother Joshua is a co-founder and major investor in Oscar, and Jared Kushner partially owned or controlled Oscar before he joined the White House. The company’s work on the coronavirus website could violate federal ethics laws, several experts said.”

The global fallout

The coronavirus killed its first democracy.

“You could say that Hungary was already ‘immunocompromised.’ A decade under the nation’s illiberal nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orban, has corroded the state’s checks and balances, cowed the judiciary, enfeebled civil society and the free press, and reconfigured electoral politics to the advantage of Orban’s ruling Fidesz party. So, when the coronavirus pandemic hit, Budapest’s ailing democracy proved all too vulnerable,” Ishaan Tharoor reports. “On Monday, Hungary’s parliament passed a controversial bill that gave Orban sweeping emergency powers for an indefinite period of time. Parliament is closed, future elections were called off, existing laws can be suspended and the prime minister is now entitled to rule by decree. Opposition lawmakers had tried to set a time limit on the legislation but failed. Orban’s commanding two-thirds parliamentary majority made his new powers a fait accompli.”

Refugees International warned the world’s 70 million displaced people face catastrophe.

“Several factors have helped create a virus time bomb: crowded conditions and, for many, a lack of basic shelter; aid that has slowed and, in some cases, stopped altogether during the crisis; along with the absence of medical care and basic sanitation … In a report released Monday, the independent organization said that while a failure to protect refugee communities will threaten societies at large, ‘many nations are turning inward as they seek to protect their own citizens,’” Karen DeYoung reports. “Among the most dire situations, more than 3 million Afghans live in Iran, which is one of the main hot spots for the disease … As tens of thousands of Afghans return home, nearly all of the confirmed coronavirus cases in Afghanistan have been among those coming from Iran. Last week, Afghanistan’s health ministry warned that ‘half of the country’s almost 39 million people might be infected,’ the report noted.”

Mexico has fewer reported cases than the U.S., mainly because of its unorthodox strategy.

“It is relying less on tests, and more on its own disease modeling, to guide its response to the pandemic. As Central American neighbors declared emergencies in mid-March, Mexico kept its airports, shops and government offices open — the government didn’t urge a broad stay-at-home policy until last week,” Mary Beth Sheridan reports. “Mexico’s approach amounts to a bet, its coronavirus czar acknowledges — ‘a bet that’s technically sound,’ Hugo López-Gatell said in an interview.” 

  • Spain’s coronavirus death toll grew to at least 8,189, with 849 deaths reported in one day. (Pamela Rolfe and Rick Noack)
  • Saudi Arabia quarantined select neighborhood in the holy city of Mecca, home to Islam’s holiest site and focus of an annual pilgrimage. (Paul Schemm)
  • Europe is exporting medical goods to Iran using a special mechanism to avoid U.S. sanctions. (Rick Noack and Erin Cunningham)
  • Wheat and rice prices are surging in the lockdown worldwide. Difficulties moving grain within countries and across borders, coupled with frenzied buying, could exacerbate the impact of the pandemic on the global food market. (WSJ)
  • Japan is likely to ban visitors from the U.S. as that country’s number of cases crossed 2,000 this morning. (Simon Denyer)
  • New Zealand’s modeling suggests that two-thirds of the country could get sick and nearly 30,000 could die in the worst-case scenario. So far, the island has 647 confirmed cases and just one death. (Adam Taylor)
  • The Tokyo Olympics will now begin on July 23, 2021. The Olympic flame arrived in Japan on March 20 and will continue to burn there until the Games are held. (Denyer)
  • Wimbledon will be cancelled for the first time since World War II. (CNN)
  • An astrophysicist got magnets stuck up his nose while trying to invent a device to alert people when they try to touch their faces. (Guardian)
China is starting to reopen, including Wuhan.

“China’s leaders say the country has largely won the battle against its outbreak, reporting each day that domestic transmissions are negligible or nonexistent. The gradual reopening of parts of Hubei province, and now of Wuhan, the provincial capital, is testament to that,” Anna Fifield reports

Social media speed read

A Yahoo News reporter who is recuperating from the virus encouraged other survivors to also donate plasma:

Thousands in Pittsburgh waited in their cars to get provisions from a food bank:

The Empire State building paid tribute to all emergency workers, but some complained that the display, which will stay on through the covid-19 battle, heightens anxiety: 

Videos of the day

Five California prosecutors recorded a public service announcement to speak out against the surge of anti-Asian racism that’s been sparked by the coronavirus:

Stephen Colbert is back and has a message for America:

Seth Meyers castigated Trump for caring about his TV ratings during the crisis:

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