Today’s News: March 09, 2020

World News

Italy’s massive coronavirus quarantine provokes panic and prison riots; stocks fall 11%

CNBC – Italy’s extended quarantine restricting the movement of people in its industrial northern heartland have provoked panic among residents and accentuated the country’s north-south divide.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed a decree on Sunday imposing restrictions to the movement of people in the northern region of Lombardy — the epicenter of the outbreak in Italy — and 14 other provinces across the north, until April 3. The measures (an extension of a preexisting lockdown of 11 towns in Lombardy and Veneto) now affect more than 16 million people, banning them from moving in and out of those areas.

The publication of a draft decree Saturday afternoon by a newspaper revealing the forthcoming, wider quarantine measures prompted panic among residents trying to get out before the restrictions came into force after midnight.

Media reports said bars and restaurants emptied and thousands of people tried to leave the region in cars and trains, where there were reports of shoving and pushing by passengers.

Violent protests have broken out in 27 Italian prisons against coronavirus restrictions with many inmates asking for an amnesty due to the virus emergency, news agency ANSA reported Monday, citing local sources.

Some 20 inmates had managed to break out of Foggia prison in Puglia during a riot Monday morning, ANSA said citing local sources.  Shop keepers in the area were told to close their shops in the vicinity of the prison.

Prison unrest broke out in a prison in Modena Sunday after inmates were informed that visits from relatives had been banned to prevent the spread of infection. In the south, relatives of detainees in a Poggioreale prison in Naples clashed with police against the government ban.

talian stocks on the blue-chip FTSE MIB initially failed to open Monday along with other European markets. When the index did open, stocks were trading down around 2,290 points, or around 11% lower.

Qatar announces closure of schools, universities over coronavirus

Al Jazeera – Qatar also temporarily banned the entry of travellers from 14 nations as the number of cases in the country rose to 15.

Top Saudi royals ‘arrested for plotting with Americans against King,’ Western media say. What’s happening in oil-rich kingdom?

RT – Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has had his relatives arrested for plotting a coup against him and King Salman with the help of “foreign powers, including the Americans,” Western media claim. RT asked Middle East analysts to weigh in.

Three senior members of the Saudi Royal family were arrested on Friday, several Western media outlets have reported, citing sources. The list of detainees includes prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, the younger brother of King Salman, Mohammed bin Nayef, the king’s nephew and former crown prince, and Nawaf bin Nayef, the younger half-brother of Prince Nayef, as reported by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has allegedly accused them of treason, namely “conducting contacts with foreign powers, including the Americans and others, to carry out a coup d’etat” against King Salman and his son, Reuters, which has also picked up the news, added, citing own sources.

U.S. News, Politics & Government

Missouri reports first virus case

SF Gate – A St. Louis-area woman who recently traveled to Italy is the U.S. state of Missouri’s first confirmed coronavirus case.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said Saturday that the woman is in her 20s and is at home with her parents. She was returning home from Italy when she showed symptoms.

Page said the parents are not showing symptoms.

The Missouri announcement came the same day that neighboring Kansas also announced its first case of the virus.

Iowa Announces First Three Coronavirus Cases

Brietbart – Iowa announced its first three cases of the coronavirus Sunday evening as the deadly outbreak continues to spread across the United States.

More suspected cases of coronavirus in Kansas

Hays Post – Authorities are investigating additional cases of coronavirus cases in south-central Kansas.

William Newton Hospital in Winfield on Sunday cancelled the grand opening of their new surgery center to limit exposure of coronavirus, according to hospital spokesperson Sarah Johnson.

Cowley County has a suspected case of coronavirus which is currently being tested.

Other cases have been confirmed in Johnson County Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma over the past two days. Hospital staff also has received word of a patient in Wichita meeting the criteria.

Coronavirus hits Capitol Hill as 2 GOP lawmakers ‘self-quarantine’

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and and Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar interacted with the same infected person at the recent CPAC conference.

Politico – The coronavirus crisis is starting to hit Capitol Hill as two Republican lawmakers announced Sunday they were were in “self-quarantine” following their exposure to an infected individual at a recent gathering of conservative activists.

While neither lawmaker has been diagnosed with the disease, the two cases show that Congress — like the rest of the country — is having to grapple with the growing outbreak.

White House Staff Fear for Trump’s Health After Handshake With Man Exposed to Coronavirus, Says Report

Daily Beast – President Donald Trump, an admitted germaphobe, is now two degrees away from someone who tested positive for the novel coronavirus—and his staff at the White House is reportedly getting more and more worried about the illness. Over the weekend, a photo emerged of the president shaking hands with Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union who led the Conservative Political Action Conference last month. Schlapp has admitted he was in direct contact with an as-yet-unnamed attendee of the four-day conference who tested positive. The Washington Post reports there is growing tension among Trump administration officials who fear the virus could dominate the president’s fourth year in office, and there are increasing fears over Trump’s personal health. The president is in an age bracket that is particularly vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. His personal doctor, Sean Conley, reportedly now attends some White House meetings on the coronavirus, the White House is being cleaned more regularly, and no campaign rallies were scheduled as of Sunday evening. It’s reportedly the first time this year that there were no rallies on the books.

Gov. Inslee considering ‘mandatory measures’ to combat coronavirus

Kiro 7 – State officials are considering mandatory measures for social distancing to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Jay Inslee said Sunday in an interview on “Face the Nation.”

He will be meeting with Department of Health officials, local officials and others Sunday to discuss the possibility.

Italy recently put in place social distancing measures, locking down millions of people there, including cultural sites.

When asked if the next step was quarantine, Inslee responded, “Not necessarily quarantine, but reducing social activities that are going on, and we need to make decisions about that looking forward.”

Leading coronavirus researchers, like Samuel Scarpino at Northeastern University, said those measures worked wonders for China.

“Seattle is much earlier on in the outbreak than anywhere in China. However, because these pathogens can spread and grow very rapidly in terms of the number of cases, we need to be taking decisive action now to prevent a scenario where we end up having sizeable number of cases in the thousands in the Seattle area,” Scarpino said in a Skype interview.

While the governor’s spokesperson said no final decision has been made about mandatory social distancing measures, Inslee said his team will be looking at models of future infection rate, which will factor into any future decisions on such measures.

State Dept. Tells Americans to Avoid Cruise Ships, Despite Trump’s Misgivings

The warning was another indication of the Trump administration’s increasingly cautious approach to the coronavirus, and another instance of an apparent gap between the president and health officials.

NYT – The State Department on Sunday advised Americans against traveling on cruise ships, warning that they presented a higher risk of coronavirus infection and made U.S. citizens vulnerable to possible international travel restrictions, including quarantines.

The decision came after President Trump resisted requests from administration officials to publicly urge older travelers to avoid cruise ships and plane travel, saying he thought it would harm those industries, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

“U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship,” the State Department wrote in an alert posted to its website Sunday.

Americans should not rely on being evacuated if other countries subject them to quarantine, the department said.

Surprise reshuffle: Trump names new chief of staff

CS Monitor – President Trump makes a major staff overhaul, replacing his Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney with Republican Rep. Mark Meadows.

Cory Booker Endorses Joe Biden: ‘He’ll Restore Honor to the Oval Office’

Breitbart – Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) on Monday endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for president, contradicting his earlier criticism of the Democrat frontrunner’s record on racial issues.

“The answer to hatred & division is to reignite our spirit of common purpose,” Booker, who dropped out of the Democrat presidential primary in January, said on social media. “He’ll restore honor to the Oval Office and tackle our most pressing challenges.”

Economy & Business

Major Events Shutting Down Worldwide Amid Coronavirus Spread

Voice of America – Cancellations of events, from school field trips to giant international trade shows, are gouging out service economies around Asia as organizers fear that bringing too many people together would allow the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Spiked events now threaten to flood Europe, where the coronavirus is growing in countries such as Italy and France, analysts believe.

Cancellations hurt sponsors, hotels, airlines, catering and venues behind the events. Cancellations breed more cancellations as well, because organizers hope not to be seen as risk-taking outliers. The trend is expected to last at least through April or May, depending on containment of the virus.

“Event organizers are either being told by governments or voluntarily cancelling their events for health-safety reasons because there have been a couple of incidents where there have been conferences which had created clusters of coronavirus cases,” said Rajiv Biswas, the Asia-Pacific chief economist at IHS Markit.

“Even if the organizers in Asia want to hold (events), the attendees are not willing to attend or their companies won’t allow it,” Biswas added.

International travelers with sights on concerts and conferences would risk 14-day quarantines if they come from an infected country.

Dow Dives 1,900 Points, NYSE Halts Trading As Stock Indexes Plummet

NPR – Trading on the New York Stock Exchange was halted temporarily Monday after indexes plunged 7% in reaction to Saudi Arabia’s shocking oil-price cut. The financial market chaos comes amid increasing worries that the coronavirus epidemic will plunge the global economy into recession.

Stock market news live: Oil crashes, stock futures crater on coronavirus, crude war fears

Yahoo Finance – The world’s faltering effort to contain the coronavirus outbreak hammered stocks and crude oil on Monday, as new cases surfacing across the globe amplified fears of a downturn.

Worldwide cases of COVID-19 are well over 100,000 — with Italy emerging as the worst-hit country outside of Europe as new infections rise in the U.S. The Italian government’s move to quarantine its entire Northern region raised new fears about the pathogen becoming a global pandemic, sending markets into a free-fall.

A grim offshore trading session turned into a full-fledged rout as equities sold off, and in the bond market, the benchmark U.S. 10-year Treasury yield fell to a fresh all-time low.

Brent crude (BZ=F) prices collapsed, falling by as much as 31% on Sunday evening in what was the largest single-day drop since the U.S. invaded Iraq in 1991.

OPEC’s failure last week to strike a deal to cut production prompted Saudi Arabia to lean in aggressively on cheaper oil prices, which fanned concerns about a full-fledged price war that sent oil into free-fall. Investors appeared to price in the likelihood that Saudi Arabia’s fight with Russia over market share will worsen the dramatic spiral lower in prices, taking place against a backdrop of falling demand and plentiful supply.

The coronavirus epidemic has stoked fears of a sharp global downturn, which have in turn weighed heavily on major benchmarks and crude (CL=F). Around 7:30 a.m. Monday morning, Dow, S&P and Nasdaq futures were all pinned deeply in the red, suggesting that last week’s volatile price action was set to continue.

Most economists estimate that cheaper oil translates into lower gasoline prices, which act as a de-facto tax cut for consumers.

Yet with the COVID-19 epidemic creating supply shocks and forcing business activity to grind to a halt, analysts don’t see much to cheer about in the current price action.

Trump blames oil fight, ‘Fake News’ for stock market drop

Reuters – President Donald Trump blamed a fight for oil market share between Saudi Arabia and Russia, as well as unspecified “Fake News,” for a precipitous drop in U.S. stock prices on Monday, amid sliding demand for crude due to the coronavirus.

In a series of tweets, Trump also said the associated plunge in oil prices would benefit Americans: “Good for the consumer, gasoline prices coming down!”

In referring to “Fake News,” Trump appeared to be referring to coverage of the coronavirus.

Trump to meet with economic advisers amid coronavirus fallout: official

Reuters – U.S. President Donald Trump will meet with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other economic officials later on Monday to weigh possible actions to stem the fallout over the coronavirus, an administration official told Reuters.

The Trump administration is weighing a number of potential policy steps, including paid sick leave, the official said.

Virginia lawmakers vote to decriminalize marijuana

The Hill – Virginia lawmakers voted to decriminalize marijuana Sunday as the state’s 2020 legislative session drew to a close.

Both the state House of Delegates and Senate agreed on the bipartisan decriminalization plan, which sets a $25 civil penalty for a first offense. The measure also establishes a process for expunging charges that result in a dismissal, the Washington Post reported.

The legislature also approved a message requesting a study on marijuana legalization.

Midwest farmers face crisis. Hundreds dying by suicide

USA Today – More than 450 farmers killed themselves across nine Midwestern states from 2014 to 2018. Meanwhile, calls to Farm Aid’s crisis hotline soar.

Energy & Environment

5.8 mag quake shakes Northern California

NBC – A 5.8-magnitude earthquake shook Northern California on Sunday night, jolting people just north of Sacramento all the way up to the Oregon border.

Science & Technology 

Navy robot sub to kill without human control

New Scientist – The US Navy is quietly developing armed robot submarines controlled by onboard artificial intelligence. The vessels could potentially kill without explicit human control.

The Office of Naval Research is carrying out the project, known as CLAWS, which it describes in budget documents as an autonomous undersea weapon system for clandestine use. CLAWS will “increase mission areas into kinetic effects”, say the documents – military-speak for destroying things.

In particular, CLAWS will equip robot submarines with sensors and algorithms to carry out complex missions on their own, such as evading anti-submarine …


Household chemical use linked to child language delays

Children in low-income homes at risk, study finds

Eureka Alert – Young children from low-income homes whose mothers reported frequent use of toxic chemicals such as household cleaners were more likely to show delays in language development by age 2, a new study found.

In addition, the children scored lower on a test of cognitive development. These developmental delays were evident even when the researchers took into account factors such as the education and income of mothers, which are also linked to their children’s language and cognitive skills.

The findings provide additional evidence of the need for pediatricians and other health care providers to counsel parents of young children to restrict their use of toxic household chemicals, said Hui Jiang, lead author of the study and senior research associate at The Ohio State University.

“We found that a significant percentage of mothers with young children may commonly expose their children to toxic household chemicals, possibly because they are unaware that such materials may be harmful,” said Jiang, who is with Ohio State’s Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy.

The study was published online recently in the journal Clinical Pediatrics.

The researchers used data on 190 families from the Kids in Columbus Study, a Crane Center research project that followed children born into low-income families in Columbus for five years after birth.

When they first started the study, mothers were asked about their use of household chemicals such as floor and toilet cleaners and solvents during pregnancy. They were asked again when their child was 14 to 23 months old. Mothers also reported whether they had mold in the home, their use of pesticides, and neighborhood pollution sources.

Children’s language development was measured when they were between 14 and 23 months old and again when they were 20 to 25 months old. The researchers used a standardized test that examines children’s understanding and expression of language – for example, recognition of objects and people, following directions, and naming objects and pictures.

But the more household chemicals mothers reported using regularly after childbirth, the lower the child language and cognitive outcomes at 2 years of age.

There was no link between chemical use during pregnancy and child outcomes, possibly because mothers reported using significantly fewer chemicals during pregnancy.

Exposure to toxic chemicals was reported by about 20 percent of mothers during pregnancy, but that increased to 30 percent when their children were between 1 and 2 years old. Mothers also reported using more household chemicals after childbirth.

“A lot of mothers seem to know to limit exposure to toxic chemicals during pregnancy, but once their child is born, they may think it is no longer a problem,” Jiang said.

But research has shown these early years of a child’s life are key in many ways, said Laura Justice, co-author of the study and professor of educational psychology at Ohio State.

“When kids reach about 2 years old, that is a peak time for brain development,” said Justice, who is executive director of The Crane Center.

“If the use of toxic chemicals is interfering with that development, that could lead to problems with language and cognitive growth.”

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