Covid-19 cases top 1m; Trump brags he’s #1 on Facebook and says he knows about the virus because a ‘friend’ got it; UK testing scandal grows; Cats more vulnerable to virus than dogs

Ticking up to a million cases: A gruesome landmark was passed today when we go over one million cases worldwide, officially reported. So just think about how many cases are unreported and how many people are asymptomatic carriers and you get a sense of how exponential a pandemic is. As we hit publish on Friday at 8.50am, New Zealand time, the Johns Hopkins University tracker shows 1,002,159 cases.

Stat du jour: When I started doing these updates a week or so ago it was half that. Deaths worldwide are now 51,485. You will see the million mark everywhere in media today — it is a landmark but you also know it’s going to get a lot worse.

It’s all about America, and you know who: The United States now has almost double the reported cases of Italy, at 226,374, and you know, as it always does, that it will become a huge focus of the story. Some of the credulous reporting on New York, Florida and other centers of infection suggest the message from Italy and Spain, let alone China, about testing and social distancing were never read or absorbed. Of course, the story is also a political one about the reactions and lack of reactions of Donald Trump.

Quote du jour…: Trump started the White House briefing overnight with this doozy: “Did you know I was number one on Facebook? I just found out I’m number one on Facebook. I thought that was very nice for whatever it means.”

‘Some people say…’ On the disease, his remarkable ability to forget what he said before and to take on the impression the last person to talk to him, was evident. There are so many read-it-and-weep quotes, but just take on the full magnitude of this one. It’s also unclear if his purported friend with Covid-19 exists.

‘My friend was the right person’: Asked what he now thought, he said: “I think the severity. I think also looking at the way, the contagion. It is so contagious, nobody’s ever seen anything like this where large groups of people all of a sudden just by being in the presence of somebody have it. The flu has never been like that. And the flu is contagious, but nothing like we’ve ever seen here. Also the violence of it. If it hits the right person — and you know what those stats are — if it hits the right person, that person’s in deep trouble. And my friend was the right person.” (The Washington Post)

While Nero bloviates, America burns: A record 6.6 million Americans registered as unemployed in the past week; FEMA, the federal emergency group that performed so brilliantly with Hurricane Katrina, appears to be utterly failing in delivering medical equipment — including ventilators on which it hadn’t updated a maintenance contract so they arrive in hospitals not working. (The Washington Post)

Speaking truth to power has a price: In a country where guns are regarded as an essential item in a pandemic and more than a million have been sold since Trump toughened up anti-Covid-19 measures, the man who has at times seemed like the only sensible person in the country, has had death threats and his security has been tightened.

Death threats: Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been threatened with death and accused by pro-Trump groups of undermining the president. (The Washington Post). At the overnight briefing where a 30-day extension of tougher measures was announced, Fauci, who has forecast between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths in the United States, said recovery from the disease would only come if the measures were taken seriously and worked. It’s a message to think about here too.

‘No deaths, then relax’: “When it goes down to essentially no new cases, no deaths at a period of time, I think it makes sense that you’re going to have to relax social distancing,” Fauci said at the White House overnight. Remember, US cases are nearing quarter of a million, testing has been negligible and deaths are rising (The Washington Post).

‘A great basketball player’: Trump, who has apparently been moved from his denial by Fauci’s undeniable numbers and evident boundless patience, said his adviser didn’t need protection from those accusing him of being part of the “Deep State”. He went on: “He doesn’t need security. Everybody loves him. They’d be in big trouble if they ever attacked him. You know, he was a great basketball player.” (The New York Times).

Pouring oil on oily waters: Trump did find time to intervene in perhaps the second biggest economic crisis facing him, the slump in oil prices to $20 a barrel and below after a tiff between Russia and Saudi Arabia prompted Saudi Arabia’s unpredictable Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman, to dramatically raise production just as the global economy was stalling over coronavirus. That’s bad news for the US fracking boom which needs oil to be worth around double what it is today.

Big love for big oil: Trump, conscious of his Texas big oil supporters no doubt, was on the case and said on Twitter: “Just spoke to my friend MBS (Crown Prince) of Saudi Arabia, who spoke with President Putin of Russia, & I expect & hope that they will be cutting back approximately 10 Million Barrels, and maybe substantially more which, if it happens, will be GREAT for the oil & gas industry!” 

Meanwhile in the rest of the world: A sticky and opaque scandal is emerging in the UK over testing for the novel coronavirus, with even traditional supportive media pointing out that despite its claims to be achieving testing targets, only 2,000 of half a million frontline health workers had been tested, let alone mass public testing and contact tracing. The Health Secretary doubled down on targets and said he wanted 100,000 a day by the end of the month.  (The Guardian) (The Daily Mail)

Italy‘s cases rose at a higher rate again, reversing some earlier slowing, with 760 new cases; Spain‘s death toll passed 10,000; France rose to 4,500; and the African Union reported 6,470 cases and 241 deaths, and clearly aware the data are by no means comprehensive said the growth is “close to exponential” (The Guardian).

In China authorities suggested they would have Covid-19 under control by the end of April; India struggles with dislocation of millions of people and the entire economy. (The South China Morning Post).

And, finally…: Cats, particularly kittens, appear more susceptible to Covid-19 than dogs (that’s the one’s you pet rather than eat), according to researchers in China, reported in The South China Morning Post. But a Bejing vet, Edgar Wayne Johnson, said you don’t need to panic about Tibbles just yet: 

Quote du jour: “It is an interesting study, but I suggest calmness in the face of this report…At this point I would advise benign neglect. Take care of your pets much the same as you would any other day.”

Peter Bale is a London-based journalist and media consultant who has worked for the Wellington Evening Post, Reuters, the FT Group, The Times of London, and CNN Europe.

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