Daily Archives: July 7, 2020
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who repeatedly has expressed skepticism about the coronavirus, said Tuesday he has tested positive for COVID-19.
Brazil trails only the U.S. in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths. The South American country had more than 1.6 million total COVID-19 cases and upward of 65,000 deaths Tuesday, according to John’s Hopkins University statistics.
The 65-year-old Bolsanaro has downplayed the risks posed by the coronavirus, once telling supporters that because of his history of athleticism, he would not worry if he became infected.
His apparent disregard for the potential lethal effects of the virus has led him to challenge safeguard measures to prevent the spread of the virus, such as weakening laws requiring a face mask in public.
“I’m, well, normal. I even want to take a walk around here, but I can’t due to medical recommendations,” a mask-wearing Bolsonaro told reporters who were close to him Tuesday in front of the capital. “I thought I had it before, given my very dynamic activity. I’m president and on the combat lines. I like to be in the middle of the people.”
There were more than 2.9 million coronavirus cases and 130,000 deaths Tuesday in the U.S., according to Hopkins data.
The nation has reported over 50,000 new daily confirmed cases during the first week of July, with many states posting a record number of single-day new cases. The figures support Monday’s declaration by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, that the United States is “still knee-deep in the first wave” of the pandemic.
Amid surges in many U.S. states and a rise in the number of hospitalizations, doctors, nurses and some legislators complain that personal protective gear is again running low in the U.S. after dangerously low supplies during the early weeks of the pandemic.
Doctors established the nonprofit group #GetUsPPE in March to help distribute donated protective gear. The group said it had a 200% increase in requests during the last two weeks of June from medical providers in Texas, where state officials have said their supplies are adequate, despite being one of the hardest-hit states in the country.
Texas reported at least 8,700 new COVID-19 cases Monday, a new single-day record for the southwestern state. Hospitals across Texas have reached full capacity due to the huge numbers of hospitalized coronavirus patients; the situation has become so dire in the city of San Antonio that the U.S. military is planning to deploy a 50-member team of medical personnel to help with the crisis, including emergency-room and critical care nurses.
At the request of @fema, @DeptofDefense is deploying approximately 50 medical and support personnel from the 627th Hospital Center from Fort Carson, Colorado to provide medical assistance by embedding in medical care facilities in the San Antonio, Texas area.
— U.S. Northern Command (@USNorthernCmd) July 6, 2020
The dramatic rise in new COVID-19 cases has prompted authorities in some states, including California and Florida, to reimpose restrictions.
In California, which reported a record 11,786 new confirmed cases on Monday, Governor Gavin Newsom ordered bars in six new counties to shut down, just days after imposing a similar order for 19 counties that also calls on restaurants, movie theaters and wineries to close indoor services.
NEW: #COVID19 cases continue to spread at alarming rates in some CA counties.
CA is now asking Colusa, Madera, Marin, Merced, Monterey & San Diego to close indoor operations for:
Bars must close ALL operations.
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) July 6, 2020
Officials in Florida’s largest county, Miami-Dade, Monday ordered the closure of restaurants, gyms, fitness centers and other indoor venues. The county’s mayor, Carlos Gimenez, is allowing retail stores and hair salons to stay open. Beaches in the county will reopen Tuesday after they were closed for the July Fourth weekend.
In neighboring Georgia, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms was diagnosed Monday with COVID-19. She says she has not shown symptoms and plans to work from her home office in isolation with her family.
Across the globe
Israel announced Monday it is closing all bars, clubs, gyms and public swimming pools because of a rise in cases in the country. It will also reduce occupancy at restaurants and places of worship. The country has more than 30,000 confirmed cases and more than 330 deaths.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday turned down an invitation to visit the White House this week to celebrate the new regional free trade agreement with the presidents of the United States and Mexico because of the coronavirus.
India reported more than 23,000 new coronavirus cases Monday, pushing its total during the pandemic past Russia for third most in the world. India now trails only the United States and Brazil in terms of overall confirmed cases.
The country is closed to international travel, but the government has been gradually lifting restrictions on local tourism to try to boost the economy.
But in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, officials have extended lockdowns on businesses, monuments and other attractions in the city of Agra, including at the Taj Mahal, amid the continued spread of COVID-19.
The Taj Mahal and other tourist sites in Agra have been closed since March.
In Pakistan, Minister of State for Health Zafar Mirza tested positive for the coronavirus, the latest high-profile government minister to contract the virus, after Foreign Minister Moahmood Qureshi announced last week he tested positive. Both men say their cases are mild.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced this week that international students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities that switch to online-only courses will have to leave the country or risk deportation. Here’s an overview of what is known about the most recent changes to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program during the pandemic.
How many colleges and universities are planning online-only classes?
Nine percent of 1,090 U.S. universities — or 98 institutions — are planning for a fall semester exclusively online, according to the Chronicle for Higher Education, which since March has been tracking which colleges and universities will teach online, in person or a hybrid of both.
An additional 24% — or 262 — say they are planning a hybrid model (part in class, part online), and 7.2% — or 78 — are undecided or undeclared.
Sixty percent – or 654 — say they are planning for an in-person semester.
New York University, with the largest population of international students at 19,605, is proposing a hybrid model. Columbia University, the fourth-largest international student population with 15,897, says it is considering multiple options but hopes to return to in-person instruction as soon as it is safe to do so.
University of Southern California — with the second-largest population of international students at 16,340 — is planning for online instruction for undergraduates. Twenty-three state universities in California, including University of California-Los Angeles with 11,942 international students, also plan to conduct online-only classes.
Northeastern University, with 16,075 international students, is planning a hybrid model, [[ ]] as is Boston University, which has 10,598 foreign scholars.
How many students are affected? What is the deadline for them to decide where to live?
As of the 2018-2019 academic school year, there were 1,095,299 international students at U.S. colleges and universities, according to the Institute for International Education, which issues an annual report on international students in the U.S. International students make up 5.5% of the higher education population in the U.S., according to IIE.
Colleges and universities typically notify applicants of acceptances the first quarter of the year, with most letters going out in early April. Students are expected to commit — including making a deposit to hold their spot — by early May. The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed that process.
The states with the largest populations of international students are California, New York, Texas, Massachusetts, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana. Some of those states have been among the hardest-hit by COVID-19.
What options do foreign students have if their university goes to online-only? Is there an appeal process?
Because the visa and university application process is long and complicated, students cannot easily pivot to other schools.
Meanwhile, the Association of International Educators (NAFSA) has updated its guidance for the upcoming semester: “Some flexibility will continue for schools that adopt an in-person or hybrid model for Fall 2020, but will not continue for students in the United States studying at schools operating entirely online for Fall 2020.”
The association adds that a deadline is looming: “[A]ll schools must update their operational plans with SEVP: Schools that will be entirely online or will not reopen for Fall 2020 must notify SEVP no later than Wednesday, July 15, 2020. Schools that will offer an in-person or hybrid program for Fall 2020 must notify SEVP of their plans by August 1, 2020.”
What happens to students if colleges hosting in-person classes are later forced to go to online-only?
ICE advises, “Schools should update their information in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) within 10 days of the change if they begin the fall semester with in-person classes but are later required to switch to only online classes, or a nonimmigrant student changes their course selections, and as a result, ends up taking an entirely online course load.”
The ICE website adds: “Nonimmigrant students within the United States are not permitted to take a full course of study through online classes. If students find themselves in this situation, they must leave the country or take alternative steps to maintain their nonimmigrant status such as a reduced course load or appropriate medical leave.”
What are the financial implications of this new policy for universities and colleges?
Universities already weathering big declines in international enrollment and revenues will suffer another financial hit if foreign students are unable to attend. According to the Brookings Institution, international students account for $2.5 billion in tuition and other revenue to American colleges and universities.
But their total contribution to the U.S. economy is far larger. The American Council on Education estimates foreign students have economic impact of $41 billion and support more than 450,000 U.S. jobs.
Colleges and universities that have the largest populations of foreign students are California (161,693), New York (124,277), Texas (81,893), Massachusetts (71,098), Illinois (53,724), Pennsylvania (51,818), Florida (45,957), Ohio (37,314), Michigan (33,236) and Indiana (29,083) in 2018-2019.
What are universities telling international students about this rule change?
Many colleges and universities are expressing dismay and pledging to do what they can to assist foreign students.
“We are deeply concerned that the guidance issued today by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement imposes a blunt, one-size-fits-all approach to a complex problem giving international students, particularly those in online programs, few options beyond leaving the country or transferring schools,” Harvard University President Larry Bacow wrote the university community Monday.
“Our focus and efforts right now are on analyzing the DHS guidance to provide Stanford students accurate and timely information,” Shalini Bhutani, executive director of Stanford University’s International Center, wrote in a message to international students on Monday. “Please know that the Stanford community is committed to supporting international students.”
“With today’s update, students with certain visas must enroll in at least one in person course this fall to enter or remain in the U.S. Students who choose to enroll fully online will still be able to matriculate with UCI this fall from outside the U.S.,” wrote Willie L. Banks Jr., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Student Affairs, and Gillian Hayes, Ph.D., vice provost for graduate education in an email to the University of California-Irvine community Monday.
The U.S. Agency for Global Media announced Tuesday the appointment of James M. Miles to serve as acting chief executive officer of the Open Technology Fund, a grantee organization of the agency.
The OTF “funds internet freedom, technologies and initiatives,” according to a USAGM press release.
In the statement, USAGM CEO Michael Pack said Miles will bring “a wealth of knowledge” and expertise to OTF.
“Bolstering firewall circumvention is a top priority of my three-year term at the agency, and Jim will bring much-needed new leadership to OTF, which has a critical role to play in advancing global freedom of expression and the American national interest.”
The USAGM statement said Miles was secretary of state of South Carolina from 1991 to 2003 and a founding partner at a South Carolina law firm that specializes in labor relations law.
Miles’s appointment was announced after U.S. House Democrats published an open letter Friday expressing concern about the recent firings of heads of several news agencies under the USAGM, urging more transparency in its strategy and suggesting lawmakers should “consider fencing portions of USAGM funding.”
Eleven representatives sent the letter to the heads of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, declaring they were “deeply concerned about the firings of qualified leadership” and “reports that USAGM has frozen funds and grants” for programs aimed at evading censorship and providing tools for internet freedom in Hong Kong and elsewhere.
Signed by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and other top Democrats, the letter expressed alarm about changes made by Pack, whom the Senate confirmed last month to lead the USAGM.
Beyond personnel and budgetary matters, the lawmakers expressed concern that the agency’s “truth-based reporting and programming” would be jeopardized if its editorial independence was eroded.
The letter was sent ahead of Monday’s scheduled congressional hearing on oversight of the agency by the subcommittee that helps set funding for America’s outreach to the world.
Earlier in the week, a bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to Pack last week saying they planned to review USAGM’s funding in light of recent developments. The senators said they were “deeply concerned” by Pack’s decision to fire the chiefs of Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, as well as the Open Technology Fund, which supports the free flow of information to countries that restrict press freedom.
“These actions, which came without any consultation with Congress, let alone notification, raise serious questions about the future of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) under your leadership,” the senators wrote.
Neither Pack, nor USAGM have responded to questions from VOA about the lawmakers’ letters.
China is targeting hundreds of Chinese dissidents in the United States under the cover of an international anti-corruption campaign, using coercive tactics to force critics to return to China, FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday.
The initiative, dubbed Operation Fox Hunt, was launched in 2014 as part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s sweeping crackdown on corruption. Run by the Ministry of Public Security, the operation purports to hunt down suspected corrupt officials and others who have fled China.
But in reality, Fox Hunt is not an anti-corruption campaign, Wray said.
“Instead, Fox Hunt is a sweeping bid by General Secretary Xi to target Chinese nationals whom he sees as threats and who live outside China, across the world,” the FBI director said. “We’re talking about political rivals, dissidents and critics seeking to expose China’s extensive human rights violations.”
Wray made the comments in a speech Tuesday at the Hudson Institute in Washington, where he also highlighted Beijing’s use of intermediaries in its “malign influence” campaign to shape U.S. policy.
Hundreds of “Fox Hunt victims” live in the United States, many of them American citizens or permanent residents, Wray said.
“The Chinese government wants to force them to return to China, and China’s tactics to accomplish that are shocking,” he said.
In one instance, the Chinese government sent an “emissary” to visit the family of a target in the United States after the target could not be located to relay an ominous warning, according to the FBI chief.
“The target had two options: return to China promptly, or commit suicide,” Wray said.
Dissidents who refuse to return to China have had their family members in the United States and China threatened, Wray said.