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We Predicted a Coronavirus Pandemic. Here’s What Policymakers Could Have Seen Coming. – POLITICO



We Predicted a Coronavirus Pandemic. Here’s What Policymakers Could Have Seen Coming. – POLITICO_5e642ff510e14.jpeg

What we found, overall, was that the world has changed in ways that make it far harder to contain disease—and some of the mistakes that fuel its spread have already happened in the current real-world outbreak. There is still time, though, to think more carefully about how to respond both to this outbreak and likely future ones.

We chose a new strain of coronavirus for our scenario because scientists agreed that this was a likely pathogen for a future epidemic; recent outbreaks such as SARS and MERS were also caused by the coronavirus family. The future we described was based on the research of deep subject matter experts who have studied recent epidemics, including our colleagues in the Center for Strategic and International Studies Global Health Security program and researchers with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

The parallels between our exercise and today’s real outbreak aren’t exact. We assumed a research laboratory-created virus first released in Europe (by accident or intentionally—we left it deliberately unclear); the real-world SARS-CoV-2 virus likely originated in wild animals sold at a meat market and was first detected in Wuhan, China. But other aspects are extremely similar: In our scenario, the virus was highly transmissible and had a 3.125 percent lethality rate. So far, the true rate of the new virus is unknown, but according to the World Health Organization about 3.4 percent of reported COVID-19 cases have died.

So what happened, as our exercise unfolded—and what do Americans need to know about what might happen next?

The coronavirus in our scenario spread much as today’s virus does, jumping between countries via international air travel, causing problems not only for their health systems, but for economies and political leaders.

The fictional outbreak rapidly spread from its primary case at Berlin Tegel Airport to a range of connecting international destinations. An infected individual first transmitted the virus as he transited the airport, then proceeded to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, traveling to several additional destinations in the New York area, where he continued to transmit the virus. In the three months since its first human-to-human transmission at Tegel Airport, our virus spread rapidly across Europe, North America, Northeast Asia and the Middle East.

Our scenario assumed governments would first turn to short-term measures to try to slow the spread, such as travel bans and border closures. These bans, we found, did little to slow the spread of the virus: By the time those decisions got made, it had already started to spread through international air corridors and further human-to-human transmission. Like the real-world COVID-19 we are battling now, our hypothetical disease was transmissible before carriers show serious symptoms, so authorities—as now—found themselves playing catch-up.

Our experts also projected that travel bans could have the unintended effect of worsening international cooperation and disrupting trade. They noted that travel bans are easy to enact, but difficult to repeal, creating lasting friction in the movement of people that is central to the U.S. services-led economy. In our scenario, we assumed that economic activity had slowed substantially, due to the direct effects on worker health and government efforts to prevent further spread of the virus. If anything, the real-world disruption has sometimes exceeded our expectations, especially in the case of the extraordinary quarantine measures imposed in China. In the U.S., we assumed that life as normal would be on pause, as individuals focused on their personal health and that of their families.

We also assumed that nations would begin turning to fiscal and monetary stimulus to calm markets and prop up growth—a response we’re already seeing in the real world, such as the extraordinary decision on March 3 by the Federal Reserve Bank to cut its benchmark interest rate by a half percentage point.

Our workshop presented experts with a world coming to terms with a pandemic three months after the initial outbreak. During that time, governments, bio-research communities and drug manufacturers had raced to develop treatments and a vaccine for this novel coronavirus, much as they are today. But, given the long lead time for research and then human subject testing, it would still take more than a year to come forward—exactly the amount of time U.S. health officials are now forecasting a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 is likely to take.

We ended up with a handful of clear insights that we should heed in our current crisis, and to get ahead of the next one.

• One of our exercise’s most important insights is that early and preventative actions are critical. Establishing trust and cooperation domestically and internationally among governments, companies, workers and citizens is important before crisis strikes. There has been some progress on this in recent years: After the last crisis of the 2014-16 Ebola response, a range of investments were made and initiatives undertaken in the United States, within the World Health Organization, and elsewhere. In an era in which Congress seems unable to agree on anything, global health security has been a bright spot for bipartisanship—including $50 million allocated to the CDC Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund, the passage of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act, and the continuation of the Global Health Security Agenda. It’s not enough according to public health experts, but it is a start.

• We also concluded that communication is vital—but a decline in trust makes it harder. Dramatic shifts in the world also raised new alarm bells for health security in our exercise. The first of these is the need for consistent messaging and trusted sources of information. A critical ingredient for addressing pandemics is public order and obedience to protocols, rationing, and other measures that might be needed. Today, public trust in institutions and leaders is fragile, with routine evidence of intentional disinformation by foreign actors and elected officials alike.

Misstatements about science are particularly damaging to the credibility of scientists and health officials seeking to guide policy. One need look no further than the anti-vaccination movement to see how disinformation can effectively impair public health goals. And the broad-scale use by state and nonstate actors alike of online disinformation to diminish public confidence in governments and institutions is especially dangerous in an already fragile crisis environment. Amid the hyperpartisanship of the current U.S. political environment in a presidential election year, coronavirus is a dangerously political issue.

International cooperation is also key. A virus knows no borders, as we have already seen with the real-world outbreak, and here a concerning change is heightened mistrust among countries. In the midst of trade tensions, increased meddling by one country in the internal politics of another and growing military tensions in hot spots around the globe, organizations such as the World Health Organization are increasingly caught in the middle, unable to play their intended neutral function. States compete with one another rather than cooperate, ignoring the inherently transnational nature of the threat as they try to minimize the downsides to their own populations, economies and ruling party. In our scenario, these international tensions inhibited information sharing, much as we initially saw from China with COVID-19. (Our scenario had an additional complication: Because it wasn’t clear who exactly was behind the disease outbreak, and whether it was accidental or intentional, the global environment was even more charged.)

• Our exercise also underscored that the private sector will be vital to managing the outbreak. There’s a good reason the president gathered pharmaceutical executives on Monday. The U.S. federal government is rightly at the center of the response to this likely pandemic, but it is the private sector that holds the bulk of the technological innovation to producing treatments and cures. One bit of good news on this front: There is already in place a highly effective public-private partnership structure in the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which is making important contributions in the current race for a vaccine.

The principal conclusion of our scenario was that leaders simply don’t take health seriously enough as a U.S. national security issue. Congress holds few hearings on the topic, especially in the defense committees, and the White House last year eliminated a top National Security Council position focused on the issue.

There’s also weakness at the global level: Though there are bodies dedicated to global coordination, especially the WHO, countries prioritize domestic considerations in times of crisis, and international coordination and collaboration become an afterthought. Even within the European Union, countries make their own independent decisions in responding to an epidemic. We already see rising frictions from border closures and travel bans to export restrictions related to medicine.

Ours was not the first pandemic scenario to raise serious questions about the strength of the global health system. The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security has developed a particularly outstanding pandemic exercise, Clade X, a full video of which is available online.

These warnings have not been taken seriously enough. Overall, the U.S. government’s approach continues to suffer from a “cycle of crisis and complacency,” as the CSIS Commission on Strengthening America’s Health Security recently reported—meaning that leaders scramble to react to a headline epidemic, and then their attention drifts, hurting their ability to prevent the next one. Managing from crisis to crisis carries a staggering cost in lives and dollars.

In the real crisis unfolding now, tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars will be spent—but little of that money will address underlying issues that will set in when the complacency strikes again. Overall economic costs to the global economy will range in the trillions. It’s in America’s interest to spend money on greater pandemic preparedness, not just in the U.S., but globally.

The fact that the real-world outbreak happened in China may actually have been lucky: China is the world’s second-largest economy, with a relatively advanced scientific base and uniquely top-down system of governance that gives it unusual ability to control and monitor its enormous population. Despite significant missteps at the outset, China has come to deal aggressively with this outbreak. The next pandemic is far likelier to emerge from a country or region that is poor, weakly governed and with weak public health infrastructure.

The coronavirus scenario we crafted was one of three designed to investigate the vital but rapidly changing role for government at the intersection of security and emerging technology. The other two focused on Chinese military employment of artificial intelligence and a major state cyberattack and large-scale disinformation campaign aimed at the United States. Across all the threat streams we examined, early detection, public and international trust and information sharing, and harnessing innovation in the private sector were vital to effective risk reduction. Policy, health and our very survival are within our control. Scenarios and foresight work can be powerful tools to imagine a possible future. But we must do better. We must make policy that prevents and, where needed, prepares for those futures we do not want.

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Cabinet slashes budgets to pay for 6 new ministries, including ‘alternate PM’ – The Times of Israel




Cabinet slashes budgets to pay for 6 new ministries, including ‘alternate PM’ – The Times of Israel_5ed43a3d6fdc5.jpeg

The cabinet on Sunday approved widespread fiscal reforms that will cut the budgets of most ministries in order to fund the establishment of six new ministries, including the office of the “alternate prime minister,” in a series of controversial decisions.

A unity coalition deal between Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White’s Benny Gantz ended over a year of political deadlock when the most minister-rich government in Israel’s history was sworn in earlier this month. New ministerial positions were created to accommodate the cabinet’s 33 ministers, who number over a quarter of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers.

The price tag for the overhead costs of the new government has been estimated as high as a billion shekels ($285 million) over its three-year span. There have been widespread accusations that the government is overlarge and costly at a time when the economy is being ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the new offices created Sunday was the Alternate Prime Minister’s Office, which will be held by Defense Minister Gantz for 18 months and then be transferred to Netanyahu as part of a power-sharing deal designed to allow him to keep the prime ministerial title even after vacating the post. Unlike other ministers, a prime minister can remain in his post even after he is indicted on criminal charges.

Other offices are Ze’ev Elkin’s Water Resources and Higher Education ministries; Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Ministry of Community Empowerment; David Amsalem’s Cyber Ministry; and Tzipi Hotovely and Tzachi Hanegbi’s Settlements Ministry.

Gantz — who is currently defense minister, in addition to the new post of alternate premier — is set to take over as prime minister in 18 months under the coalition deal, at which point Netanyahu will become alternate prime minister.

As the Alternate Prime Minister’s Office was approved, Netanyahu on Sunday denied reports that the alternate prime minister would also be granted an alternate prime minister’s residence. “It’s not true. It didn’t come up and it won’t,” he said.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz are seen at the Knesset, May 17, 2020. (ALEX KOLOMOISKY/POOL)

In order to create the new posts, ministers approved a government decision that will see a 1.5% cut to the budgets of all government offices, specifically at the upper personnel level. The move will slash 300 posts from the various offices to free up some NIS 100 million ($28.5 million).

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi opposed the budget cuts to foreign service, whereupon the cuts to his ministry were reduced from NIS 11.5 million ($3.2 million) to NIS 4.8 million ($1.3 million), the Walla news site reported.

Incoming Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, right, with his predecessor, incoming Finance Minister Israel Katz, at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, May 18, 2020 (Foreign Ministry)

On the 22-item agenda, the cabinet was also voting on filling the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, led by Blue and White’s Avi Nissenkorn, and other ministerial panels; appointing directors general of the defense and economy ministries; and giving the green light to new Finance Minister Israel Katz’s program to encourage employment amid the pandemic.

In a Saturday night address, Katz presented his new Finance Ministry plan aimed at encouraging employers to take back employees placed on unpaid leave during the height of the pandemic in March. For every employee called back, places of business will receive a grant of NIS 7,500 ($2,141) starting on June 1, according to the plan. An additional grant of some NIS 3,500 ($1,000) will be handed out to employers for employees called back in May. Katz said some NIS 500 million ($142 million) have been allocated for businesses that would put employees back to work.

Economy Minister Amir Peretz opposed the treasury proposal during the meeting, arguing that it rewards employers who dropped their workers while harming those who kept their employees on the payroll even at a loss, according to the Globes business daily.

Katz retorted: “There is an alternate prime minister. There is no alternate finance minister. I am the finance minister and I will lead the implementation of the government decisions, which I proposed, and which were accepted by an overwhelming majority,” the Ynet news site reported.

Incoming Economy Minister Amir Peretz at a changeover ceremony in Jerusalem on May 18 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Sunday’s cabinet meeting also saw Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri receive building and planning powers that were previously under the treasury’s purview, while the Health Ministry was granted additional powers to combat the coronavirus.

The meeting on Sunday was held in the Foreign Ministry’s auditorium as the regular cabinet meeting rooms were not large enough to accommodate all the ministers while maintaining social distancing, according to reports.

Opposition chairman Yair Lapid issued a statement blasting the government after ministers approved funding for the newly formed offices created by the Gantz-Netanyahu coalition deal.

“The government handed half a billion shekels to itself today. Not for the self-employed, not for the unemployed, not for small businesses, but for itself,” said Lapid.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid at the Knesset as the 35th government of Israel is presented on May 17, 2020. (Knesset/Adina Veldman)

“For redundant offices like the Water Resources Ministry, the nonexistent Community Empowerment Ministry and for deputy ministers that no one needs. Detached lawmakers, we’ve had enough of you.”

Separately, last Wednesday,  a bill allowing ministers to give up their positions as Knesset members in order to enable a different member of their party slate to take their spot in parliament passed its preliminary Knesset plenary reading. The so-called Norwegian Law — which still requires three more votes to become law — would allow any MK who is appointed to a cabinet post to resign temporarily from the Knesset, thereby permitting the next candidate on the party’s list to enter parliament in his or her stead.

The opposition has blasted the bill, and the coalition’s rush to pass it, as a way of pushing more people into sweetheart jobs on the taxpayers’ dime.

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Tapper: Some of Trump’s allies think he’s not up to the task – CNN




Tapper: Some of Trump’s allies think he’s not up to the task – CNN_5ed43a31b38fc.jpeg

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In Days of Discord, President Trump Fans the Flames – The New York Times




In Days of Discord, President Trump Fans the Flames – The New York Times_5ed43a2a0f874.jpeg

WASHINGTON — With a nation on edge, ravaged by disease, hammered by economic collapse, divided over lockdowns and even face masks and now convulsed once again by race, President Trump’s first instinct has been to look for someone to fight.

Over the last week, America reeled from 100,000 pandemic deaths, 40 million people out of work and cities in flames over a brutal police killing of a subdued black man. But Mr. Trump was on the attack against China, the World Health Organization, Big Tech, former President Barack Obama, a cable television host and the mayor of a riot-torn city.

While other presidents seek to cool the situation in tinderbox moments like this, Mr. Trump plays with matches. He roars into any melee he finds, encouraging street uprisings against public health measures advanced by his own government, hurling made-up murder charges against a critic, accusing his predecessor of unspecified crimes, vowing to crack down on a social media company that angered him and then seemingly threatening to meet violence with violence in Minneapolis.

As several cities erupted in street protests after the killing of George Floyd, some of them resulting in clashes with the police, Mr. Trump made no appeal for calm. Instead in a series of tweets and comments to reporters on Saturday, he blamed the unrest on Democrats, called on “Liberal Governors and Mayors” to get “MUCH tougher” on the crowds, threatened to intervene with “the unlimited power of our Military” and even suggested his own supporters mount a counterdemonstration.

The turmoil came right to Mr. Trump’s doorstep for the second night in a row on Saturday as hundreds of people protesting Mr. Floyd’s death and the president’s response surged in streets near the White House. While most were peaceful, chanting “black lives matter” and “no peace, no justice,” some spray painted scatological advice for Mr. Trump, ignited small fires, set off firecrackers and threw bricks, bottles and fruit at Secret Service and United States Park Police officers, who responded with pepper spray.

The police cordoned off several blocks around the Executive Mansion as a phalanx of camouflage-wearing National Guard troops marched across nearby Lafayette Square. A man strode through the streets yelling, “Time for a revolution!” The image of the White House surrounded by police in helmets and riot gear behind plastic shields fueled the sense of a nation torn apart.

Mr. Trump praised the Secret Service for being “very cool” and “very professional” but assailed the Democratic mayor of Washington for not providing city police officers to help on Friday night, which she denied. While governors and mayors have urged restraint, Mr. Trump seemed more intent on taunting the protesters, bragging about the violence that would have met them had they tried to get onto White House grounds.

“Big crowd, professionally organized, but nobody came close to breaching the fence,” the president wrote on Twitter on Saturday morning. “If they had they would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen. That’s when people would have been really badly hurt, at least. Many Secret Service agents just waiting for action.”

His suggestion that his own supporters should come to the White House on Saturday foreshadowed the possibility of a clash outside his own doors. “Tonight, I understand, is MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE???” he wrote on Twitter, using the acronym for his first campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

Asked about the tweet later, he denied encouraging violence by his supporters. “They love African-American people,” he said. “They love black people. MAGA loves the black people.” By evening, however, Mr. Trump’s supporters were not in evidence among the crowds at the White House.

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser of Washington responded sharply on Saturday morning, saying her police department will protect anyone in Washington, including the president, and by Saturday evening her officers were out in force around the White House.

But she called the president a source of division. “While he hides behind his fence afraid/alone, I stand w/ people peacefully exercising their First Amendment Right after the murder of #GeorgeFloyd & hundreds of years of institutional racism,” she wrote. “There are no vicious dogs & ominous weapons. There is just a scared man. Afraid/alone …”

After his morning barrage, Mr. Trump tried to recalibrate later in the day, devoting the opening of a speech at the Kennedy Space Center following the SpaceX rocket launch to the unrest in the streets and clearly trying to temper his bellicose tone.

“I understand the pain that people are feeling,” he said. “We support the right of peaceful protesters and we hear their pleas. But what we are now seeing on the streets of our cities has nothing to do with justice or peace. The memory of George Floyd is being dishonored by rioters, looters and anarchists.”

The days of discord have put the president’s leadership style on vivid display. From the start of his ascension to power, Mr. Trump has presented himself as someone who seeks conflict, not conciliation, a fighter, not a peacemaker. That appeals to a substantial portion of the public that sees in him a president willing to take on an entrenched and entitled establishment.

But the confluence of perilous health, economic and now racial crises has tested his approach and left him struggling to find his footing just months before an election in which polls currently show him behind.

“The president seems more out-of-touch and detached from the difficult reality the country is living than ever before,” said Carlos Curbelo, a former Republican congressman from Florida who has been critical of Mr. Trump. “At a moment when America desperately needs healing, the president is focused on petty personal battles with his perceived adversaries.”

Such a moment would challenge any president, of course. It has been a year of national trauma that started out feeling like another 1998 with impeachment, then another 1918 with a killer pandemic combined with another 1929 given the shattering economic fallout. Now add to that another 1968, a year of deep social unrest.

It is fair to say that 2020 has turned out to be a year that has frayed the fabric of American society with an accumulation of anguish that has whipsawed the country and its people. But in some ways, Mr. Trump has become a totem for the nation’s polarization rather than a mender of it.

“I am daily thinking about why and how a society unravels and what we can do to stop the process,” said Timothy Naftali, a presidential historian at New York University. “The calamity these days is about more than Trump. He is just the malicious con man who lives to exploit our vulnerabilities.”

As the nation has confronted a coronavirus pandemic at the same time as the greatest economic catastrophe since the Great Depression, whatever unified resolve that existed at the beginning of the twin crises quickly evaporated into yet another cultural clash. And the president has made everything into just another partisan dispute rather than a source of consensus, from when and how to reopen to whether to wear a mask in public.

Mr. Trump led no national mourning as the death toll from the coronavirus passed 100,000 beyond lowering the flags at the White House, posting a single tweet and offering a passing comment on camera only when asked about it. Rather than seek agreement on the best and safest way to restore daily life, he threatened to “override” governors who prevented places of worship from resuming crowded services.

“Crisis leadership demands much more from the White House than irresponsible threats on social media,” said Meena Bose, director of the Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency at Hofstra University.

Mr. Trump’s initial response to the rioting in Minneapolis, where a police officer has been charged with murder after kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as he cried out that he could not breathe, underscored the president’s most instinctive response to national challenges. Threatening to send in troops, he wrote early Friday morning that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

Only after a cascade of criticism did he try to walk it back, posting a new tweet 13 hours later, suggesting that all he had meant was that “looting leads to shooting” by people in the street.

“I don’t want this to happen, and that’s what the expression put out last night means,” he said, a reformulation that convinced few if any of his critics.

Even some of Mr. Trump’s usual allies were distressed at the original shooting tweet. Geraldo Rivera, the television and radio host who often spends time with Mr. Trump at the president’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, decried “the recklessness” of that message and called on the president “to self-censor himself.”

“Come on, what is this, sixth grade?” Mr. Rivera said on Fox News. “You don’t put gasoline on the fire. That’s not calming anybody.” He added: “All he does is diminish himself.”

But many of the president’s defenders rejected the idea that he had mishandled the crises, pressing the argument that Democrats and the news media were to blame for the turmoil in the streets, which spread from Minneapolis to New York, Atlanta, Washington, Louisville, Portland and other cities.

“Keep track of cities where hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage and serious injuries and death will take place,” Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor who has served as Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, wrote on Twitter on Friday night. “All Democrat dominated cities with criminal friendly policies. This is the future if you elect Democrats.”

Bernard B. Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner who was pardoned by Mr. Trump for tax fraud earlier this year, amplified the point on Twitter. “It should be no surprise that every one of these cities that the anarchist have taken over, are the same cities run by leftist Democrats with the highest violence, murder and poverty rates,” he wrote on Twitter. “They can’t handle their cities normally, so how are they going to deal with this?”

Mr. Trump, who this past week retweeted a video of a supporter saying that “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat” (though the supporter insisted he meant that in a political sense), picked up the theme on Saturday.

With crowds visible from his upstairs windows, Mr. Trump reached for his phone and again assailed the “Democrat Mayor” of Minneapolis for not responding more vigorously and called on New York to unleash its police against crowds. “Let New York’s Finest be New York’s Finest,” he wrote. “There is nobody better, but they must be allowed to do their job!”

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