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Coronavirus updates: Johnson & Johnson announces US vaccine deal; progress toward $1 trillion stimulus package; US nears 5M cases – USA TODAY

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Communities of color are dying at higher rates from the novel coronavirus than white Americans. Here’s how structural inequities play a role.

USA TODAY

Days after President Donald Trump defended his administration’s “incredible” handling of the coronavirus outbreak in a widely viewed interview, the nation’s top health official called the country’s response “disparate” and “not as well suited” to the dynamics of the pandemic.

“What happened when the rubber hit the road on this, and we did get hit, we had the kind of response that was not as well suited to what the dynamics of this outbreak is,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said during a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health forum Wednesday. “What happened is, we had a bit of a disparate response.”

The country’s response has allowed the daily COVID-19 case count to plateau at an “unacceptable level,” Fauci said, warning that the U.S. will continue to “smolder” without a unified effort to stop the virus. 

Here are some significant developments:

  • deadly explosion that rocked Lebanon’s capital city of Beirut has put a further strain on the nation’s health system, which was already running short on personal protective equipment and grappling with more than 5,200 cases of COVID-19.
  • Virginia on Wednesday became the first state to roll out a smartphone app to automatically notify people if they might have been exposed to the coronavirus.
  • Johnson & Johnson said it has a $1 billion agreement to supply 100 million doses of its vaccine candidate to the U.S. government. Also Wednesday, Moderna said it expects to fully enroll 30,000 people for a trial of its vaccine candidate next month.
  • Whatever was left of an in-person 2020 Democratic National Convention evaporated Wednesday as organizers announced Joe Biden won’t travel to Milwaukee to give his presidential acceptance speech.
  • Trump says schools should reopen because children are “virtually immune,” despite evidence suggesting they are not. “This thing’s going away – It will go away like things go away,” Trump said during a wide-ranging interview on “Fox & Friends”. Facebook took down a post with the interview from President Trump’s personal page, and Twitter will require Trump’s campaign account to remove the post before the account can tweet again.

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 158,000 deaths and 4.8 million cases of COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University. Worldwide, there have been more than 706,000 deaths and 18.7 million cases. 

📰 What we’re reading: Kids are less likely to die from the coronavirus. But some experts say a lack of information about how they contract and transmit COVID-19 will leave the nation unprepared when schools reopen.

Our live blog is being updated throughout the day. Refresh for the latest news, and get updates in your inbox with The Daily Briefing.

No NBA players test positive for COVID-19 for third week

No NBA players tested positive for COVID-19 for the third consecutive weekly testing period, the NBA and National Basketball Players Association said in a joint news release Wednesday.

In the latest round of precautionary measures, 343 players were tested inside the NBA’s bubble-like environment at the Disney campus near Orlando, Florida.

No player has tested positive inside the bubble since initial testing between July 7-13.

– Jeff Zillgitt

Kids less likely to die, but schools could become hot spots for spread

As many school districts prepare to reopen campuses, some experts fear classrooms will become the next incubators for large coronavirus outbreaks.

Advocates for resuming school in person, including President Donald Trump, have repeatedly claimed that children pose less of a risk of spreading COVID-19 and that the benefits outweigh the risks. About 6 out of 100,000 school-age kids are hospitalized with COVID-19 compared with the overall rate of 130 people per 100,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, a recent study estimated that closing schools in March reduced the rate of new COVID-19 cases by 66%.

“We show that it actually did make a difference in cases and in deaths,” said lead study author Dr. Katherine Auger, an associate professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. “That was a very important thing society did.”

In an interview with Fox & Friends on Wednesday morning, Trump claimed children should return to school because they are “almost immune” or “virtually immune” from the disease.

The interview was posted on Trump’s personal Facebook page, and later removed – it was the first time Facebook has removed a post by the president for violating its policies on COVID-19 misinformation.

Twitter hid the campaign’s post of the interview, telling USA TODAY in a statement that  the “account owner will be required to remove the tweet before they can tweet again,”

Jayme Fraser, Dan Keemahill, and Jessica Guynn

NCAA releases requirements for schools hoping to play fall sports

The NCAA on Wednesday released a set of requirements for all schools wishing to complete fall sports competition. Although the NCAA left the decision on whether to hold fall sports up to individual divisions, it said divisions must determine the status of fall championships by Aug. 21.

“The board expressed serious concerns about the continuing high levels of COVID-19 infection in many parts of the nation,” the NCAA statement read. “The board has determined that it will only support moving forward with fall championships and other postseason play if strict conditions are applied and adhered to.”

Two of the requirements involve protecting players who choose to opt out. First, the school is required to honor the scholarship of any athlete who opts out, and each division must decide by Aug. 14 how opting out or having a season cut short would affect eligibility, and inform players of that decision. 

– Aria Gerson

Coronavirus in Lebanon: ‘Struggling’ health system devastated by Beirut explosion

A massive, deadly explosion that rocked Lebanon’s capital city of Beirut has put a further strain on the nation’s health system, which was already running short on personal protective equipment and grappling with more than 5,200 cases of COVID-19.

Several hospitals were damaged in the explosion – which killed at least 135 people and wounded thousands – and those still working were overwhelmed with patients, the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a series of tweets.

“After months of a spiraling economic crisis and battling the coronavirus pandemic, Lebanon was already in a fragile state,” the ICRC said. “The health system was already struggling to respond to the mounting health needs. Now it is totally overwhelmed.”

At Hôtel Dieu, a university hospital in Beirut, oncologist Hampig Kourieh was just finishing his shift when the explosion happened. He described “hundreds of people covered in blood arriving on foot, cars and bikes … the scene was apocalyptic.”

The smell of blood, Kourieh said, was so strong it was like “iron was covering the ER.”

– Nadia Al Faour, special for USA TODAY

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Lebanese authorities believe the deadly Beirut explosion could be tied to highly explosive ammonium nitrate, which was stored at the port for years.

Associated Press

Georgia schools face questions after viral back-to-school photos surface

Two suburban Atlanta school districts that began in-person classes Monday with mask-optional policies face more questions about COVID-19 safety protocols after on-campus pictures showed students packed shoulder-to-shoulder.

In Cherokee County, dozens of seniors gathered at two of the district’s six high schools to take traditional first-day-of-school senior photos, with students squeezing together in black outfits. In Paulding County, student pictures taken Monday and Tuesday show crowded hallways at North Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia. Fewer than half of the students shown are wearing masks.

In Columbia County, the school district has already confirmed its first COVID-19 case.

– Miguel Legoas, The Augusta Chronicle; The Associated Press

Virginia is first state to roll out app to detect virus exposure

Virginia on Wednesday became the first state to roll out a smartphone app to automatically notify people if they might have been exposed to the coronavirus. The new pandemic technology, created by Apple and Google, is available in Apple and Android app stores as of Wednesday. The app relies on Bluetooth wireless technology to detect when someone who downloaded the app has spent time near another app user who later tests positive for the virus. State officials said the app doesn’t track user location or collect personal information.

“We’re using every possible approach to fight this virus and keep Virginians healthy,” Virginia Gov. Northam said in a statement.

Joe Biden won’t go to Milwaukee to claim Democratic nomination

When Milwaukee landed the 2020 Democratic National Convention more than a year ago, city leaders hoped 50,000 people would flood into town for four non-stop days and nights of politics. Now even the party’s nominee isn’t going.

Officials announced that Joe Biden will accept the party’s nod from his home in Delaware – and the other convention speakers won’t travel to Wisconsin, either. Organizers cited the “worsening coronavirus pandemic.” 

“This convention will look different than any previous convention in history,” said Joe Solmonese, the convention’s chief executive. “It will reach more people than ever before, and truly be a convention across America for all Americans, regardless of which party you belong to or who you’ve voted for in previous elections.”

Bill Glauber, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Florida surpasses 500,000 virus cases

Florida became the second state to confirm more than 500,000 cases of COVID-19. The state Department of Health on Wednesday reported 5,409 new cases, bringing the state’s total to 502,739. California leads the nation, with more than 526,000 cases, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University. 

Florida also announced an additional 225 deaths, bringing the state’s seven-day rolling average for reported deaths to a record 184.86. The state death toll now stands at 7,627.

Cheryl McCloud, Treasure Coast Newspapers

Chicago Public Schools to start online-only this year

Chicago Public Schools are joining a lengthening line of major school systems that will start the academic year fully online. The district, which had initially planned to launch a hybrid online and in-person model starting Sept. 8, said Wednesday the continued uptick in coronavirus cases and concerns from parents urged them to adjust the plan.

Tens of thousands of families indicated in a district survey that they did not intend to send their children to school. And the city’s teacher’s union threatened to go on strike over concerns about in-person classes. The district said it will consider switching to a hybrid learning model in the second quarter, which begins on Nov. 9. 

Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Miami are among other major cities starting the school year online-only.

Cruise lines extend moratorium on cruises through October

The cruise industry has voluntarily extended its pause on operations in U.S. waters until “at least” Oct. 31, a month past the date the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s “no-sail” order is set to expire. CLIA’s member lines carry 95% of the world’s ocean-going cruisers. The new order will apply to all CLIA member ships that can carry 250 or more passengers.

“We believe it is prudent at this time to voluntarily extend the suspension of U.S. ocean-going cruise operations to Oct. 31,” Cruise Lines International Association, the major trade organization for ocean-going cruise lines, said in a statement.

Morgan Hines

UConn is first bowl-level college football program to cancel season

The University of Connecticut football team became the first bowl-level program to cancel its 2020 season Wednesday, citing an “unacceptable risk level” faced by the student athletes.

UConn, which plays as an independent, had games against Illinois, Indiana, Maine and Mississippi dropped from the schedule due to “conference-only” schedules being played by those schools. Games against North Carolina and Virginia might have faced the same fate. The players released a joint statement through the school citing “full support of the decision to not compete in 2020.”

Several schools in college football’s lower divisions, including the entire Ivy League, also have canceled their seasons.

Chris Bumbaca

Alaska cruise ship quarantines after passenger tests positive

One of the first cruise ships to resume overnight sailing in U.S. waters since the pandemic shut down the cruise industry has reported one case of COVID-19. Passengers are quarantining on board UnCruise Adventures’ Wilderness Adventurer “until the state of Alaska deems it safe for them to return home,” according to a travel alert posted on the cruise line’s website. The ship was able to bypass the federal no-sail order because its capacity is less than 250 passengers and crew.

“The guest is showing no symptoms and no other guests or crew are showing outward symptoms of any kind,” the cruise line said. “All guests have been informed and will quarantine until the state of Alaska deems it safe for them to return home.”

Hannah Yasharoff and Morgan Hines

What we’re reading

US buys 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine candidate

Johnson & Johnson announced a deal with the U.S. government for 100 million doses of its SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate, Ad26.COV2.S, for use in the United States – if and when the vaccine wins Food and Drug Administration approval. The government may also purchase an additional 200 million doses, the company said in announcing the $1 billion deal. A clinical trial is underway, and the company said it is evaluating one- and two-dose regimens. The plan is to provide more than 1 billion non-for-profit doses globally through the course of 2021.

“We are scaling up production in the U.S. and worldwide to deliver a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine for emergency use,” said Dr. Paul Stoffels, Johnson & Johnson’s chief scientific officer.

517 inmates at Arizona prison test positive for COVID-19

More than 500 inmates at the Arizona State Prison Complex Tucson Whetstone Unit have tested positive for COVID-19, authorities said. The 517 inmates, almost half the unit’s population of 1,066, are being housed together in separate areas and receiving medical care, according to a statement released by the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry.

The department did not immediately respond to questions, including when tests were performed and whether every inmate there was tested. The tests came after inmates at the Whetstone Unit staged a peaceful walkout last week due to virus concerns.

Audrey Jensen, Arizona Republic

Moderna in talks with ‘several countries’ for vaccine candidate

Biotech giant Moderna said Wednesday it expects to fully enroll 30,000 volunteers in the crucial Phase 3 study of its COVID-19 vaccine next month. Moderna’s vaccine candidate, backed by almost $1 billion in federal funding, last week became the nation’s first to begin such a large trial. It’s being tested at scores of sites in the U.S., with results expected as soon as October.

“We began discussions with several countries for supply agreements for (vaccine candidate) mRNA-1273 and as of July 31, we have received approximately $400 million of customer deposits for potential supply,” Moderna said in a statement.

The announcement came one day after Novavax released promising results from a small, early trial. AstraZeneca, Pfizer and a group of Chinese researchers also have released promising early trial results, and China has begun providing its candidate vaccine to members of its military.

By the numbers: Record deaths in California, Florida, Georgia

A USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data through late Tuesday shows one state set records for new cases in a week while three states had a record number of deaths in a week. New case records were set in Hawaii, and also Puerto Rico. Record numbers of deaths were reported in California, Florida and Georgia. The United States has reported 4,771,080 cases and 156,801 deaths.

– Mike Stucka

More COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY

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Contributing: Elinor Aspegren, UISA TODAY; The Associated Press

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Johnson & Johnson ordered to pay $2.1 billion in baby powder lawsuit | TheHill – The Hill

A Missouri appeals court on Tuesday ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $2.1 billion to women who claimed the company’s talc-based products caused their ovarian cancer.

The decision by the Eastern District Missouri Court of Appeals cut in half the amount of compensatory and punitive damages the company is required to pay compared with a previous jury verdict, according to reports.

The jury verdict from July 2018 had ordered $4.69 billion paid after allegations by 22 women and their families, but the court ruled to reduce the damages owed because it said some of the plaintiffs were from out of state and should not have been included in the suit, St. Louis Today reported.

Johnson & Johnson had appealed the verdict, requesting the court throw out the decision entirely, which the court declined to do, saying it had found “significant reprehensibility” in the company’s conduct. The court cited in its decision internal memorandums as far back as the 1960s indicating the company’s talcum products contained asbestos, a known carcinogen.

“A reasonable inference from all this evidence is that, motivated by profits, defendants disregarded the safety of consumers despite their knowledge the talc in their products caused ovarian cancer,” the ruling said, according to The New York Times.

The plaintiffs “showed clear and convincing evidence defendants engaged in conduct that was outrageous because of evil motive or reckless indifference,” the court said.

Johnson & Johnson has to pay $500 million in actual damages and $1.62 billion in punitive damages. 

Kim Montagnino, a spokeswoman for the company, told the Times that Johnson & Johnson will seek review of the case by the Supreme Court of Missouri. 

“We continue to believe this was a fundamentally flawed trial, grounded in a faulty presentation of the facts,” she said. “We remain confident that our talc is safe, asbestos free and does not cause cancer.”

Mark Lanier, who represents the plaintiffs, said the decision was “a clarion call for J&J to try and find a good way to resolve the cases for the people who have been hurt,” according to Fox Business. Six plaintiffs in the case died before the trial began, and another five have died since the trial ended in 2018, according to the Times.

Lanier told The Hill in a statement that his clients “appreciate the extensive time and careful scholarship shown in the appellate court’s meticulous detailed ruling.”

Johnson & Johnson has defended its talc-based products as safe as the company has faced more than 19,000 lawsuits relating to those products as of March. The company has appealed almost all of the cases it has lost. 

Last month, the company announced it would discontinue its talc-based products in the U.S. and Canada, citing decreased sales and “misinformation around the safety of the product and a constant barrage of litigation advertising.” 

In October, Johnson & Johnson recalled 33,000 bottles of baby powder after the Food and Drug Administration found trace amounts of asbestos in a bottle.

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Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson decries ‘racist thuggery’ after London protests become violent | TheHill – The Hill

United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday decried “racist thuggery” after violent clashes broke out between far-right protestors and anti-racism demonstrators in London.

The violence took place amid escalating unrest in the U.S. and other parts of the world in wake of the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis. In response, protestors in the U.K. have targeted monuments of figures they’ve deemed symbols of racism in recent weeks. 

On Saturday, counterprotestors gathered for what was advertised as a demonstration to “protect the monuments” in Parliament Square. The protest was announced after the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was toppled in Bristol and graffiti was tagged on a statue of Winston Churchill

Thousands of people travelled into London for the demonstration, which resulted in violent scuffles between right-wing protestors and demonstrators speaking out against racism. Video captured in Parliament Square showed right-wing protestors at one point pelting horse-mounted police officers with bottles and cans.

Stones were also lobbed at police at a bridge near the Waterloo train station, Reuters reported.

“Racist thuggery has no place on our streets,” Johnson said on Twitter. “Anyone attacking the police will be met with full force of the law. These marches & protests have been subverted by violence and breach current guidelines.”

“Racism has no part in the UK and we must work together to make that a reality,” he added. 

Racist thuggery has no place on our streets. Anyone attacking the police will be met with full force of the law. These marches & protests have been subverted by violence and breach current guidelines. Racism has no part in the UK and we must work together to make that a reality.

— Boris Johnson #StayAlert (@BorisJohnson) June 13, 2020

The London Metropolitan Police Department said that more than 100 people were arrested on Saturday for offenses including breach of the peace, violent disorder and assault on officers. 

The city had walled off statues of Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Gandhi ahead of the protests to avoid any possible damage, The Guardian reported. The Metropolitan police said Sunday that it had arrested a 28-year-old man for allegedly urinating on a memorial dedicated to Keith Palmer, a police officer killed by a terrorist in 2017. 

The arrest came after a photo appeared on social media apparently showing the suspect committing the act.

London mayor Sadiq Khan blamed Saturday’s events on “right-wing extremists” and commended police for how they controlled the situation. 

“Millions of Londoners will have been disgusted by the shameful scenes of violence, desecration and racism displayed by the right-wing extremists who gathered in our city today,” he said. 

Millions of Londoners will have been disgusted by the shameful scenes of violence, desecration and racism displayed by the right-wing extremists who gathered in our city today.

In the face of attacks and abuse, our police did a fantastic job to control the situation. Thank you.

— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) June 13, 2020

Floyd, 46, died on May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd said, “I cannot breathe.” The incident spurred massive demonstrations throughout the world, as well as a renewed push from many activists for statues dedicated to figures who espoused racist views to be removed. 

In the U.S., protestors have toppled several statutes commemorating leaders of the Confederacy. 

Churchill is widely admired in the U.K. for leading to the country during World War II, though some demonstrators have argued that he expressed racist and anti-Semitic beliefs. Johnson said last week that it was “shameful” that a Churchill statue was facing the threat of being targeted. 

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Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson says attacking statues is ‘lying about our history’ – Fox News

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has denounced the demolition of statues, calling it an effort to “censor” the past.

In a Twitter essay posted on Friday morning, Johnson launched into a targeted criticism of the current Black Lives Matter protesters in the UK: the continuing effort to tear down statues of figures who profited from the slave trade.

It comes amid global protests on police brutality and race relations, with protesters recently throwing a statue of noted slave trader Edward Colston into a Bristol harbor.

London mayor Sadiq Khan earlier in the week announced plans to create a commission aimed at reviewing statues, plaques and street names in London to more “suitably reflect London’s achievements and diversity.”

A protective covering installed overnight surrounds the statue of former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, London, Friday, June 12, 2src2src, following Black Lives Matter protests that took place across the UK over the weekend. The protests were ignited by the death of George Floyd, who died after he was restrained by Minneapolis police on May 25. (Aaron Chown/PA via AP)

A protective covering installed overnight surrounds the statue of former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, London, Friday, June 12, 2020, following Black Lives Matter protests that took place across the UK over the weekend. The protests were ignited by the death of George Floyd, who died after he was restrained by Minneapolis police on May 25. (Aaron Chown/PA via AP)

Johnson called it an “absurd and shameful” display that works to create a “lie” about British history. He expressed his concerns as a statue of Winston Churchill has been boarded up for protection ahead of more protests this weekend.

The statue of Churchill had previously been defaced during protests, with the words “was a racist” scrawled across the base.

Protesters gather around a vandalized Winston Churchill statue in Parliament Square on Sunday. (AP)

Protesters gather around a vandalized Winston Churchill statue in Parliament Square on Sunday. (AP)

“We cannot now try to edit or censor our past,” he tweeted. “We cannot pretend to have a different history.”

Johnson mainly appealed to the sense of a changing time, that the figures of the past had “different perspectives, different understandings of right and wrong.”

“To tear them down would be to lie about our history, and impoverish the education of generations to come,” he added.

The prime minister went on to voice concerns that the movement has been hijacked by extremists to indulge in violence, a sentiment that echoes similar concerns the U.S. faced throughout the nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd while in police custody.

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The U.S. has seen a rash of statue demolitions as protesters have taken it into their own hands to tear down statues of former Confederate officers. Officials in several cities are planning to officially remove the statues.

The most recent focus has been on the removal of Christopher Columbus statues, with one statue in Boston beheaded by protesters.

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Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson asks Trump: ‘Where are you?’ in powerful speech – The Mercury News

Movie star and former wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has released a video calling out Donald Trump and bemoaning what he sees as a lack of presidential leadership amid the nation’s anguish and outrage over the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.

In the eight-minute-long video posted to his Instagram account, Johnson, a Hayward native, asked, “Where are you? Where is our leader? Where are you? Where is our leader at this time? At this time when our country is down on its knees, begging, pleading, hurt, angry, frustrated, in pain, begging and pleading with its arms out just wanting to be heard.”

He also slammed the president’s use of military force on peaceful protestors:

“There is military force that has been deployed on our own people. Looters, yes. Criminals, absolutely. But on protesters, who are begging and pleading, our protesters who are in pain? You know, you would be surprised how people in pain would respond when you say to them, ‘I care about you.’ When you say to them, ‘I’m listening to you.’”

The Rock ends with a call for individuals to unite and become leaders on their own.

“As we continue to wait for that leader to emerge, I would recommend to all of you that we must become the leaders we are looking for. We become our own leaders because we’re doing it now. We’re doing it now. We must become the leaders we are looking for.”

You can view the video below:

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Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson under pressure to sack his chief adviser, as a growing scandal threatens to break Britain’s lockdown – CNN

London (CNN)Boris Johnson has refused to sack Dominic Cummings, standing by his embattled chief aide despite a growing scandal in the UK over his reported decision to break lockdown restrictions multiple times.

“I think he followed the instincts of every father and every parent, and I do not mark him down for that,” Johnson said at the government’s daily coronavirus briefing on Sunday.
The Prime Minister added that Cummings had “no alternative” but to drive 260 miles across England to stay with his parents while his wife was sick with Covid-19 symptoms.
Ministers have spent much of the weekend loyally defending Dominic Cummings, the enigmatic aide often portrayed as the mastermind behind Johnson’s premiership, after it emerged he and his wife made at least one journey to Durham.
But Cummings’ position became more perilous still on Sunday, after fresh claims emerged that he had in fact broken the UK’s coronavirus lockdown on multiple occasions throughout April.
The saga has descended into scandal in Britain, quickly becoming a defining moment in the country’s much-scrutinized response to the coronavirus pandemic and threatening to undermine the lockdown rules Johnson has spent eight weeks pleading with Britons to follow.
And its timing is particularly unfortunate for the Prime Minister, who has overseen the deadliest Covid-19 outbreak in Europe and who was forced into an embarrassing U-turn on a controversial fee for immigrant health care workers just days earlier.
But his refusal to let Cummings go ensures the controversy will continue to overshadow the country’s coronavirus response in the coming days.

Calls for Cummings to be sacked

The uproar over Cummings’ behavior began on Friday evening when two newspapers, The Guardian and the Daily Mirror, revealed he had traveled from London to Durham to stay at his parents’ property at the end of March while his wife had coronavirus symptoms.
The journey appeared a clear breach of the UK’s lockdown, with Cummings’ boss Johnson repeatedly urging the public to “stay at home” and “save lives,” and has dominated front pages in the country throughout the weekend.
But Downing Street has stood by the aide, insisting he needed his parents to care for his child in case Cummings also became sick with symptoms, which he later did. “Caring for your wife and child is not a crime,” minister Michael Gove tweeted, one of a number of leading government figures to claim the lockdown allowed for such trips.
It marked a notable shift from previous episodes regarding the lockdown. When leading epidemiologist Neil Ferguson was forced to resign from the scientific body advising the government for breaching lockdown, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was left speechless by the “extraordinary” breach. On Saturday, Hancock said Cummings’ trip was “entirely right.”
That defense was bruised on Sunday, after the same papers dropped new details alleging Cummings had been seen in the Durham area on multiple occasions after his initial trip. Downing Street has rebutted the subsequent claims, saying in a statement that they “will not waste our time answering a stream of false allegations about Mr. Cummings from campaigning newspapers.”
Cummings’ influence over ministers is well documented in the British political press, but Downing Street’s approach is no longer being followed by several of Johnson’s own backbenchers, who one by one began to call on Cummings to go on Sunday.
“Enough is enough,” Conservative lawmaker Steve Baker wrote in an opinion piece for The Critic website. “Dominic Cummings must go before he does any more harm to the UK, the Government, the Prime Minister, our institutions or the Conservative Party.”
And concerns have been raised that the government’s defense of Cummings’ behavior has given implicit permission to the public to interpret the lockdown rules however they see fit.
“There cannot be one rule for Dominic Cummings and another for the British people,” the opposition Labour Party said in a statement. “What worries me most is that some of the most senior politicians in the government have spent the weekend undermining laws and public health messaging designed to protect the public in the pandemic. All to defend their friend,” its shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy added.

Johnson forced into NHS U-turn

Critics of Johnson fear the Cummings controversy will mark a turning point in the British public’s attitudes towards lockdown, but the Prime Minister had already suffered through a torrid few days.
On Thursday the Prime Minister was forced into his first major policy U-turn since winning a sizable majority in December’s general election, agreeing to scrap a heavily criticized fee that overseas NHS and health care workers were forced to pay while simultaneously working on the front lines of the country’s coronavirus battle.
“We cannot clap our carers one day and then charge them to use our NHS the next,” said Labour leader Keir Starmer, who is proving a formidable opponent to Johnson as he settles into the position he took over in April. Starmer was referring to the weekly round of applause for health workers that Britons have been taking part in.
Johnson had defended the surcharge as late as Wednesday, telling MPs “we must look at the realities” and insisting the fee was “the right way forward” to provide the NHS with funding.
But by Thursday the policy was gone, amid growing discontent among Tory backbenchers. The change in tone added to the criticism Johnson has faced over the NHS, with opponents pointing to a lack in personal protective equipment (PPE) and a slow rate of testing.
Throughout the controversies, Britain’s death toll has continued to climb. Though it is well past its peak of cases and deaths, the country has seen more fatalities from Covid-19 than any other country in Europe, with more than 36,000 in total.
The country is entering its final week under the current phase of lockdown. From June 1, the government will look to lift certain restrictions as it paves a way back towards normality.

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Johnson & Johnson to discontinue sales of talc-based baby powder in U.S., Canada – CBS News

Johnson & Johnson announced Tuesday that it will discontinue sales of its talc-based baby powder in Canada and the United States. The company has faced thousands of lawsuits alleging the powder contains asbestos, a claim the company denies. 

“Demand for talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder in North America has been declining due in large part to changes in consumer habits and fueled by misinformation around the safety of the product and a constant barrage of litigation advertising,” the company said in a statement

As of late 2019, the company was facing thousands of lawsuits alleging the talc-based powder contains asbestos, a known carcinogen. Johnson & Johnson has consistently said its products are safe. 

In early October, the company recalled 33,000 bottles of the baby powder after FDA regulators found a small amount of asbestos in a bottle purchased online. But later that month, Johnson & Johnson said that 15 tests of the same bottle of baby powder conducted by two laboratories hired by the company found no asbestos. 

“Johnson & Johnson remains steadfastly confident in the safety of talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder. Decades of scientific studies by medical experts around the world support the safety of our product,” the company said in the Tuesday statement. “We will continue to vigorously defend the product, its safety, and the unfounded allegations against it and the Company in the courtroom.” 

Johnson & Johnson added that although the product has been discontinued in the U.S. and Canada, existing inventory will still be sold. The powder will continue to be sold in other countries, where “there is significantly higher consumer demand,” the company said. 

Illinois Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, celebrated the announcement. “Today, in a major victory for public health, Johnson & Johnson’s asbestos-containing baby powder finally will be taken off store shelves,” Krishnamoorthi said in a statement. “My Subcommittee’s 14-month investigation revealed that Johnson & Johnson knew for decades that its product contains asbestos, and the company fought to keep using a testing method that never would have allowed it to be detected. Today’s victory means that children and families no longer will be endangered by this baby powder.”

Johnson & Johnson’s cornstarch-based baby powder, which has not faced similar allegations, will remain on the market in North America, the company added. 

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PM Boris Johnson forced to clarify UK lockdown advice – Al Jazeera English

In his first statement to Parliament on the coronavirus pandemic, months after the beginning of the outbreak in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday issued a lengthy clarification to his government’s advice over the lifting of lockdown measures.

He had addressed citizens on Sunday evening in a recorded televised address, but his statement was criticised for prompting more questions than it had answered.

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The prime minister, who was himself hospitalised with the virus, said those people who could not work from home should return to their usual places of work, but did not specify who those people were, when they should return, or what bosses should do to ensure those workplaces were safe.

He also said public transport should be avoided where possible, but confusion about who should be returning to work, as well as drastically-reduced services, led to chaotic scenes on Monday morning of crowded London Underground platforms leaving commuters with no chance of social distancing.

Adding to the confusion was Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary who deputised for Johnson when the prime minister was sick, as he appeared to change the government’s lockdown advice three times within an hour during appearances on Monday morning talk shows.

Raab told Sky News that government scientists were studying whether there could be limited contact between family members who live in separate households.

He then told BBC News that a person could see both of their parents, as long as they did so outdoors, and one at a time – “mum in the morning and dad in the afternoon”, while maintaining social distancing of two metres.

Subsequently interviewed on BBC Radio 4, Raab said that people could meet both of their parents at the same time, for example, in a park, as long as they kept to the two-metre distancing rule.

Johnson made his statement in the House of Commons in the afternoon, and led a later-than-usual news briefing in the evening.

“Our challenge now is to find a way forward that preserves our hard-won gains while easing the burden of lockdown,” he told Parliament. “This is a supremely difficult balance.”

Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said the government had been issuing conflicting guidance that did not answer the public’s practical questions about going back to work.

“What the country needs at this time is clarity and reassurance, but at the moment both are in pretty short supply,” he said.

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas tweeted: “Very worried that – even after this second statement from PM – people still don’t have answers on what safety measures to expect at work, nor clarity on transport or childcare. There must be no pressure to return to work unless and until those questions are answered & safety assured.”

Devastating critique of government’s handling of crisis by Greg Clark: strategy didn’t drive testing capacity – lack of testing capacity drove strategy.

Decision to abandon community testing meant we had a “self-imposed blindfold”, unable to collect vital data as virus spread

— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) May 11, 2020

On Monday, the government published a 51-page document entitled “Our Plan to Rebuild: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy”, followed by a series of sector-by-sector documents offering guidance to employers and workers.

“It’s the common sense of the British people that has been so crucial in the whole of the UK in getting the [transmission rate] down,” Johnson said. “It’s by applying common sense that we’ll be successful in this second phase as well.”

The plan includes a staged undertaking to allow businesses to reopen, advice on avoiding public transport and wearing face coverings as well as a 14-day quarantine for most international arrivals.

Visitors from Ireland and France will be exempt from the quarantine, and it remains unclear if those coming to London on the Eurostar train from France, but which also has connections from across Europe, will be subject to quarantine. 

While the clarification for business was broadly welcomed, the prime minister failed to convince the leaders of the United Kingdom’s constituent nations, with officials in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all saying they would stick to the previous lockdown rules.

While Johnson’s advice was that, from Wednesday, people would be allowed to travel unlimited distances by car, as long as they observed social distancing when they got to their destination and did not stay overnight, Wales and Scotland – which have had devolved powers since the end of the 1990s – said travel there remained for essential journeys only, and warned would-be English visitors that police would be enforcing lockdown restrictions.

8️⃣0️⃣% of COVID-19 fines issued over the bank holiday weekend were to people who had travelled to Dyfed-Powys from outside the area.

💭 Please remember that travel in Wales is still only for essential purposes.

Read more here: https://t.co/p2wG7NKrTV pic.twitter.com/owa0XrS7JU

— HeddluDPPolice #StayHomeSaveLives (@DyfedPowys) May 11, 2020

“The prime minister and his closest advisers knew back in March, even before the lockdown was imposed, that imposing it would be the easy part – but coming out of it would be the really complicated thing, and so it is proving,” said Al Jazeera’s Paul Brennan, reporting from London.

“There was something clear and simple and concrete about a simple message of ‘stay at home’. With the new arrangements that are being proposed, people are being given more freedom, they’re being asked to apply a degree of common sense, and that means there is a possibility of different levels of enforcement. On that basis, it means that people might do wrong – they actually find themselves bumping into people they shouldn’t be, down at parks, for example.”

A further 210 people had died after contracting coronavirus in the 24 hours to Sunday evening, Johnson said at the evening briefing, bringing the UK’s death toll to 32,065, according to government figures. It is the highest death toll of any European country, and second only to the United States. 

At the briefing, Johnson did not take questions from the media, and instead responded to questions from members of the public, including one who asked for clarity on the earlier question of someone meeting family members who do not live with them. Johnson replied that, while social distancing was maintained, one member of one household could meet another member of the same family from another household – but anything more than a one-on-one would be “pushing it too far” at this stage.

He also called on employers to “be understanding” with workers facing difficulties returning to work due to a lack of private transport, or who were facing a lack of childcare. Schools remain mostly shut but the government is hoping they can reopen to reception, year one and year six classes next month, with the remaining years of primary school opening before the end of the summer term in July, in a move that came as a surprise to many teachers.

“The fact of the matter is the government has announced a date but hasn’t come forward with a plan about how schools will ensure that they’re safe for pupils and safe for staff to be in,” Patrick Roach, general secretary of teachers’ union NASUWT, told BBC Breakfast on Monday morning.

“And the prime minister said that it would be madness to risk a second spike in relation to transmission of the virus. Well, the profession has got very serious concerns about that announcement of June 1, whether indeed it is possible to achieve it, but also how to achieve that in a way which is safe for pupils and staff.”

The government on Monday did publish a document detailing suggestions for schools to keep children in small groups, staggering lunchtimes and increasing the frequency of cleaning. 

Meanwhile, a parody of Johnson’s Sunday night address by comedian Matt Lucas had been watched nearly five million times on Twitter by Monday night.

pic.twitter.com/k6Sr4Iac15

— realmattlucas (@RealMattLucas) May 10, 2020

“So we are saying don’t go to work, go to work, don’t take public transport, go to work, don’t go to work, stay indoors, if you can work from home, go to work,” Lucas said in a tone strongly reminiscent of Johnson’s distinctive speech.

“And then, we will or won’t, something or other.”



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Boris Johnson Outlines Plan To Ease Coronavirus Restrictions In U.K. – NPR

On Sunday, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a gradual easing of restrictions.

Andrew Parsons/AP


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Andrew Parsons/AP

On Sunday, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a gradual easing of restrictions.

Andrew Parsons/AP

Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined plans Sunday for a phased reopening of Britain’s economy, citing decreasing coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths, and asked anyone who cannot perform their jobs from home, such as construction and factory workers, to return to work.

“There are millions of people who are both fearful of this terrible disease, and at the same time also fearful of what this long period of enforced inactivity will do to their livelihoods and their mental and physical well-being,” Johnson said. “To their futures and the futures of their children.”

Johnson — who himself returned to work last month after being hospitalized with COVID-19 — encouraged those who will need to return to workplaces to avoid public transportation and to bike, walk or drive instead. He stressed that workers would be protected by new guidelines designed to make workplaces “COVID-secure.”

The prime minister said that starting Wednesday, Britons will be allowed to participate in “unlimited” outdoor exercise, but can only sunbathe or play sports with members of their own household.

As part of his phased reopening plan, the prime minister said elementary schools and shops could begin to reopen as early as June 1. He said parts of the hospitality sector “and other public places” could be cleared to reopen at the earliest in July.

Johnson stressed that his plans are conditioned on five factors: that there are enough National Health Service facilities and personnel to care for those infected; a sustained fall in the death rate from COVID-19; a sustained fall in the rate of infection; ample supply of personal protective equipment; and that “exponential growth” of the coronavirus does not return.

The U.K. has recorded more than 220,000 cases of the coronavirus, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University, and more than 31,000 deaths.

Johnson also announced a new COVID alert system that will monitor how prevalent and severe the coronavirus outbreak is. The five-tier alert system will inform the level of restrictions in the U.K., Johnson said.

“The lower the level, the fewer the measures,” he said. “The higher the level, the tougher and stricter we will have to be.”

He continued: “We have been through the initial peak, but it’s coming down the mountain that is often more dangerous.”

Johnson’s announcement comes as other leaders in the country have recently extended their stay-at-home orders through May and expressed frustration with his handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Explaining his decision to begin the reopening process, Johnson pointed to the crippling effect the lockdown has had on the U.K. economy.

“We must also recognize that this campaign against the virus has come at colossal cost to our way of life,” Johnson said. “We can see it all around us in the shuttered shops and abandoned businesses and darkened pubs and restaurants.”

Johnson said during his Sunday address that he had “consulted across the political spectrum, across all four nations of the UK” and that there was a “general consensus on what we could do.”

But leaders in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have rejected his new messaging on coronavirus restrictions, which advises, “stay alert, control the virus, save lives.” As the BBC reported, they are sticking with the message, “stay at home.”

“We mustn’t squander our progress by easing up too soon or by sending mixed messages that result in people thinking that it’s okay to ease up,” said Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister. “Now, let me be very blunt about the consequences if we were to do that. People will die unnecessarily.”

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PM Boris Johnson says UK is ‘past the peak’ of the coronavirus outbreak – CNBC

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks and takes questions during a press conference in Downing Street regarding the coronavirus outbreak, on March 9, 2020. in London, England.

Alberto Pezzali – WPA Pool | Getty Images

Britain has officially passed the peak of its coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Thursday.

“I can confirm today that for the first time we are past the peak of this disease,” Johnson said in his first appearance at the government’s daily briefing since returning to work after falling ill with Covid-19.

“We’re past the peak and we’re on the downward slope.”

Johnson did not however lay out a road map for the U.K. to eventually lift its restrictions on public life, something which countries elsewhere in Europe have been gradually doing.

“We will be saying a lot more next week and in the coming weeks about how and when we propose to unlock the various parts of the U.K. economy,” Johnson said.

Britain has been on lockdown for almost six weeks now, with nonessential shops shuttered across the country. There have been calls for the government to map out an exit strategy to mitigate the toll the restrictions have taken on the economy.

“I think the economy will bounce back strongly,” Johnson insisted. “I think that this government will want to encourage that bounce back in all kinds of ways.”

Thursday’s briefing included a video presentation explaining that the U.K.’s so-called R rate has fallen below 1. The R rate is used by epidemiologists and governments to determine the number of secondary infections generated from one infected individual.

It is meant to give experts an indication of the extent to which the disease is being spread, or reproduced, among a population. The higher the R rate, the higher the risk of the virus spreading exponentially.

Johnson has only recently returned to work after himself recovering from Covid-19. His government has been heavily criticized over its handling of the health crisis, with some claiming it failed to adequately distribute personal protective equipment and scale up testing.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock set out an ambitious target of reaching 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of April, but just 52,000 tests were carried out on Tuesday. However, the U.K. appears to be much closer to that aim now, with 81,611 people having been tested on Wednesday.

The country’s coronavirus death toll now stands at 26,711, Johnson said in the daily briefing, an increase of 674 from the previous day. More than 171,000 people have tested positive for the disease. 

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