Pandemic politics: Biden shuns ‘false promises’ of fast fix
BULLHEAD CITY, Ariz. (AP) — Focused firmly on COVID-19, Joe Biden vowed Wednesday not to campaign in the election homestretch “on the false promises of being able to end this pandemic by flipping a switch.” President Donald Trump, under attack for his handling of the worst health crisis in more than a century, breezily pledged on his final-week swing to “vanquish the virus.”
The Democratic presidential nominee also argued that a Supreme Court conservative majority stretched to 6-3 by newly confirmed Justice Amy Coney Barrett could dismantle the Obama administration’s signature health law and leave millions without insurance coverage during the pandemic. He called Trump’s handling of the coronavirus an “insult” to its victims, especially as cases spike dramatically around the country.
“Even if I win, it’s going to take a lot of hard work to end this pandemic,” Biden said during a speech in Wilmington, Delaware. “I do promise this: We will start on day one doing the right things.”
His comments reflected an unwavering attempt to keep the political spotlight on the pandemic. That was a departure from the president, who downplayed the threat and spent his day in Arizona, where relaxed rules on social distancing made staging big rallies easier.
The pandemic’s consequences were escalating, with deaths climbing in 39 states and an average of 805 people dying daily nationwide — up from 714 two weeks ago. Overall, about 227,000 Americans have died. The sharp rise sent shockwaves through financial markets, causing the Dow Jones Industrial Average to drop 900-plus points.
At least 1 dead as Hurricane Zeta hammers Gulf Coast
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Hurricane Zeta slammed into the storm-weary Gulf Coast on Wednesday, pelting the New Orleans metro area with rain and howling winds that ripped apart buildings, knocked out power to thousands and threatened to push up to 9 feet of sea water inland in a region already pounded by multiple storms this year.
The storm killed at least one person, a 55-year-old man who a Louisiana coroner said was electrocuted by a downed power line in New Orleans, and officials said life-threatening conditions would last into Thursday.
St. Bernard Parish President Guy McInnis said emergency workers were doing their best to respond to reports of people in distress after their roofs were blown off.
“Guys, we received the brunt of Zeta, and Zeta gave us a good punch,” McInnis told WDSU-TV.
Roads were flooded near the coast, where forecasters said Zeta made landfall around Terrebone Bay near Cocodrie, an unincorporated fishing village at the end of a highway with few if any full-time residents and a marine laboratory where a building was inundated.
Europe and US facing new round of shutdowns amid virus surge
A new wave of lockdowns and business closings swept across France, Germany and other places in Europe on Wednesday as surging coronavirus infections there and in the U.S. wipe out months of progress against the scourge on two continents.
The resurgence and the resulting clampdown sent a shudder through Wall Street. The S&P 500 fell 3.5%, its biggest drop since June, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 943 points, or 3.4%.
French President Emmanuel Macron declared a new nationwide lockdown starting Friday, saying the country has been “overpowered by a second wave.” Many doctors had urged the move, given that 58% of the nation’s intensive care units are now taken up by COVID-19 patients.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a four-week shutdown of bars, restaurants and theatres. “We must act, and now, to avoid an acute national health emergency,” she said.
Countries such as Switzerland, Italy, Bulgaria and Greece have closed or otherwise clamped down again on nightspots and imposed other restrictions such as curfews and mandatory mask-wearing. Madrid and other parts of Spain banned all but essential travel in and out of their regions.
Philadelphia pledges better response after Black man’s death
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Philadelphia police pledged to release 911 tapes and police body camera footage “in the near future” in the shooting death of a Black man with a history of mental health problems, a death that prompted protests, widespread vandalism and an overnight curfew days before Election Day.
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw pledged to release the video evidence once the department shares it with the family of Walter Wallace Jr. Outlaw, who came to Philadelphia less than a year ago from Portland, Oregon, lamented at a news conference Wednesday that her department lacks a mental health unit or consistent way to co-ordinate police calls with specialists.
“We don’t have a behavioural health unit, which is sorely needed,” said Outlaw, when asked about reports that police had been called to the home twice before that day. “There’s clearly a disconnect on our end in terms of knowing what’s out there “ at the scene.
Police say they fatally shot Wallace on Monday after he ignored orders to drop a knife, a death that intensified already heightened tensions in the presidential battleground state. Wallace’s mother said she warned police Monday afternoon that her son was in the throes of a mental health crisis.
In the days since, more than 90 people have been arrested and about 50 police officers injured in clashes with protesters and vandals, including the 1,000 or so who suddenly swarmed a shopping centre Tuesday night, breaking windows and stealing merchandise. That scene erupted on the other side of the city, miles from Wallace’ neighbourhood, where protests were underway.
FBI warns ransomware assault threatens US healthcare system
BOSTON (AP) — Federal agencies warned that cybercriminals are unleashing a wave of data-scrambling extortion attempts against the U.S. healthcare system designed to lock up hospital information systems, which could hurt patient care just as nationwide cases of COVID-19 are spiking.
In a joint alert Wednesday, the FBI and two federal agencies warned that they had “credible information of an increased and imminent cybercrime threat to U.S. hospitals and healthcare providers.” The alert said malicious groups are targeting the sector with attacks that produce “data theft and disruption of healthcare services.”
The cyberattacks involve ransomware, which scrambles data into gibberish that can only be unlocked with software keys provided once targets pay up. Independent security experts say it has already hobbled at least five U.S. hospitals this week, and could potentially impact hundreds more.
The offensive by a Russian-speaking criminal gang coincides with the U.S. presidential election, although there is no immediate indication they were motivated by anything but profit. “We are experiencing the most significant cyber security threat we’ve ever seen in the United States,” Charles Carmakal, chief technical officer of the cybersecurity firm Mandiant, said in a statement.
Alex Holden, CEO of Hold Security, which has been closely tracking the ransomware in question for more than a year, agreed that the unfolding offensive is unprecedented in magnitude for the U.S. given its timing in the heat of a contentions presidential election and the worst global pandemic in a century.
Australia’s pandemic travel ban brings family heartbreak
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Astrid Magenau wasn’t able to keep a promise to hold her father’s hand at his deathbed in Germany because of Australia’s extraordinary pandemic restrictions that make her feel like a prisoner in her adopted country.
Australia has sought to prevent new coronavirus cases from reaching its shores by banning most of its residents from leaving in the first place. But the ban on overseas travel creates a heartbreaking burden on a multicultural nation such as Australia, where around half the people were born abroad or have an immigrant parent.
“I always wanted to move to Australia because it felt like a free country,” said German-born Magenau, who became an Australian citizen this year. “It makes the whole feeling of living in Australia quite different because, personally, it makes me feel like I’m trapped … because I can’t travel as I want to.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has held up Australia’s travel ban as an example to the world of how to avoid severe coronavirus spikes caused by citizens who are infected while on vacation.
Still, Australia is the only member of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development — a group of 37 developed nations — that has banned its citizens from leaving during the pandemic.
Former DHS official says he wrote ‘Anonymous’ Trump critique
WASHINGTON (AP) — A former Trump administration official who penned a scathing anti-Trump op-ed and book under the pen name “Anonymous” revealed himself Wednesday as a former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security.
The official, Miles Taylor, came forward six days before Election Day to criticize President Donald Trump as “a man without character.” He said he hoped other former administration officials will “find their conscience when they wake up tomorrow” and speak up, too.
Taylor has been an outspoken critic of Trump’s in recent months and had repeatedly denied he was the author of the column and subsequent book — even to colleagues at CNN, where he has a contributor contract. He left the Trump administration in June 2019 and endorsed Democrat Joe Biden for president this summer.
Trump and White House officials moved quickly to describe Taylor as someone with little standing and clout.
“This guy is a low-level lowlife that I don’t know. I have no idea who he is, other than I got to see him a little while ago on television,” Trump told a campaign rally crowd in Arizona. As he belittled Taylor as a “sleazebag” and called for his prosecution, the crowd broke into cheers of “drain that swamp.”
AP Explains: Trump pushes questions about Joe Biden’s son
WASHINGTON (AP) — Looking to undermine Democratic rival Joe Biden, President Donald Trump’s campaign is pushing a familiar line of attack: unverified allegations about Biden’s son and his foreign business ties.
But reporting in the New York Post, and the emergence of a man who says he worked with Hunter Biden, have raised more questions than answers, including about the authenticity of emails at the centre of the story.
The renewed allegations trace back to Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who has repeatedly pushed unfounded claims about the Bidens. Even if the emails in the Post are legitimate, they do not validate claims that Biden’s actions were influenced by his son’s business dealings.
A look at developments:
HOW DID BIDEN’S SON BECOME A CAMPAIGN ISSUE?
Asian shares lower, US futures up after S&P 500 sinks 3.5%
Asian shares declined Thursday and U.S. futures turned higher after the S&P 500 slid 3.5% overnight for its biggest drop since June.
The selling in U.S. markets followed broad declines in Europe, where the French president announced tough measures to slow the virus’ spread and German officials agreed to impose a four-week partial lockdown.
So far, the measures are not as stringent as shutdown orders that swept the world early this year, but the worry is they could still hit the already weakened global economy.
In Asia, some countries appear to be keeping the pandemic in check, while caseloads surge in others. India is on track to surpass 8 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, Indonesia and the Philippines are struggling to keep outbreaks in check, and fresh clusters of cases are being reported in Japan.
“When it rains, it pours, particularly if you are following today’s COVID-19 headlines,” Edward Moya of Oanda said in a commentary. “An overvalued stock market was ripe for a pullback, but when you focus on COVID-19 headlines, it looks more like panic-selling.”
MLB says Turner violated protocols when he returned to field
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Justin Turner violated coronavirus protocols when he celebrated with his Los Angeles Dodgers teammates and he refused instructions from security to leave the field, behaviour that Major League Baseball said risked the safety of others.
The commissioner’s office said Wednesday it is starting a full investigation of the 35-year-old third baseman.
The Dodgers won their first World Series championship since 1988 with a 3-1 victory over Tampa Bay in Game 6 on Tuesday night at Globe Life Field.
Turner was pulled from the game following the seventh inning after MLB was notified that he had tested positive for COVID-19. He was quarantined in a doctor’s office off to the side, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said.
Turner later returned to the field with a mask to celebrate the Dodgers’ title. He then took down his mask and posed for a team photo on the field.
The Associated Press