Covid-19 live updates: Former Trump officials say pandemic response was in disarray, hundreds of thousands died as result

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Some of the Trump administration’s most senior public health officials offered a blistering post-mortem of the former president’s response to the pandemic in a documentary that aired on CNN on Sunday night. The former and current officials described a federal government in such disarray that hundreds of thousands of people may have needlessly died as a result.

© Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post In Nov. 19, 2020 photo, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, and Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Elinore McCance-Katz listen as then Vice President Mike Pence participates in a news briefing at the White House.

Much of the administration’s dysfunction played out in the open, but the insider accounts provided additional confirmation of the chaos and underscored the devastating effects the political polarization had on public health measures. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator under President Donald Trump, said in an interview for the documentary that most coronavirus deaths in the United States could have been prevented if the administration had acted earlier and more decisively.

Here are some significant developments:

  • A forthcoming World Health Organization-China report on the origins of the coronavirus says it most likely jumped from animals to humans via an intermediate animal host, downplaying the possibility it leaked from a lab.
  • The Biden administration and private companies are working to develop a standard for “vaccine passports” that would allow Americans to prove they have received coronavirus vaccinations as businesses try to reopen. More than 48.5 million people have been fully vaccinated in the United States.
  • Recent research suggests the full effect of the nearly 550,000 American deaths from the coronavirus will not be known for some time as it is a grief distinct from that brought on by other deaths from natural causes.
  • Despite crushing U.S. sanctions and a small population, Cuba is set to become the world’s smallest country to develop multiple coronavirus vaccines.
  • Texas ended mask mandates but they survive in Austin, the liberal enclave that doubles as the state capital.
  • The number of new cases in the United States is continuing its two-week rise as daily deaths are now also steadily increasing with a 10.5 percent average increase over the last week. The increases have been attributed to people letting down their guard amid the spread of more virulent variants.

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10:18 AM: Biden administration extends ban on renter evictions through end of June

The Biden administration on Monday announced it is extending a federal policy that prohibits landlords from evicting tenants who are behind on their rent.

The new protections cover Americans until the end of June, extending an eviction moratorium that had been set to expire before the end of the week.

The extension comes as the Biden administration races to dole out nearly $50 billion in housing aid to renters who are out of work or otherwise facing economic hardships caused by the coronavirus. Most of the federal funds, which Congress first approved in December, have not yet been distributed because of stimulus implementation delays.

The U.S. government first authorized the eviction ban under President Donald Trump, arguing that Americans who are forced out of their homes — and into potentially crowded alternative living conditions — could worsen the spread of the pandemic. Citing federal public-health laws, they placed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in charge of overseeing it.

But the order has faced an onslaught of legal challenges, particularly from landlords who challenge its constitutionality and the CDC’s authority to implement it. Some in the CDC also privately expressed their reservations, The Post previously reported.

By: Tony Romm

9:15 AM: Trump officials say coronavirus response was worse than known

© Oliver Contreras/For The Washington Post Adm. Brett Giroir, then assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, shows a new rapid result coronavirus test on Sept. 28 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Oliver Contreras/For The Washington Post)

Several top doctors in the Trump administration offered their most pointed and direct criticism of the government response to coronavirus last year, with one of them arguing that hundreds of thousands of covid-19 deaths could have been prevented.

They also admitted their own missteps as part of a CNN special that aired Sunday night, saying that some Trump administration statements that the White House fiercely defended last year were misleading or outright falsehoods.

“When we said there were millions of tests available, there weren’t, right?” said Brett Giroir, who served as the nation’s coronavirus testing czar, referring to the administration’s repeated claims in March 2020 that anyone who sought a coronavirus test could get one. “There were components of the test available, but not the full meal deal.”

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By: Dan Diamond

8:43 AM: Cuba could become a coronavirus vaccine powerhouse

© Ramon Espinosa/Pool/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock A nurse applies the Cuban Sovereign 2 vaccine to a health worker, at the Heroes del Corinthia polyclinic in Havana on March 24.

Cuban leader Fidel Castro vowed to build a biotech juggernaut in the Caribbean, advancing the idea in the early 1980s with six researchers in a tiny Havana lab.

Forty years later, the communist island nation could be on the cusp of a singular breakthrough: Becoming the world’s smallest country to develop not just one, but multiple coronavirus vaccines.

Five vaccine candidates are in development, two in late-stage trials with the goal of a broader rollout by May. Should they prove successful, the vaccines would be an against-the-odds feat of medical prowess for an isolated country of 11 million that was added back to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism in the final days of the Trump administration.

Cuban officials say they are developing cheap and easy-to-store serums.

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By: Anthony Faiola and Ana Vanessa Herrero

8:04 AM: Despite the pandemic, Regal Cinemas head says movies will be back this year

Cineworld is one of the most important entertainment companies in the world, and Mooky Greidinger, its CEO, is the most important person at Cineworld.

The movie theater chain controls 2,500 screens throughout Europe and Regal Cinema’s 7,500 screens in the United States, which means it can determine both what gets seen by millions of moviegoers and when they see it.

After a difficult year in which the company reported its first-ever loss thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, Cineworld has now seen its reopening plans set back. A slow vaccine rollout in Europe has put the brakes on a quick comeback there. Warner Bros. will continue to release its films simultaneously on HBO Max through December, flouting the theatrical window. And Disney recently said it would roll out its Marvel title “Black Widow” and “101 Dalmatians”-set picture “Cruella” on Disney Plus along with theaters, further delaying exclusive new product.

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By: Steven Zeitchik

7:34 AM: Biden to provide update on government’s response to pandemic

President Biden on Monday plans to provide an update on the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, including the “state of vaccinations,” during remarks from the White House.

His latest assessment follows an announcement last week of a more ambitious goal for administering vaccines but as the number of new cases in the United States are on the rise, with more people letting down their guard amid the spread of more virulent variants.

Biden’s appearance also comes at the start of a week in which he plans to launch a concerted push for his next legislative package. On Wednesday, he is scheduled to travel to Pittsburgh to pitch the first part of a $3 trillion effort to improve the country’s roads, bridges and water systems nationwide.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Fox News Sunday that Biden would follow that announcement in April with a second package to include spending on social welfare programs, addressing health care, child care and other issues.

Meanwhile, the White House is continuing to tout provisions in the recently passed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.

By: John Wagner and Tony Romm

7:15 AM: As many still wait, young, healthy D.C. residents being offered vaccine shots by hospitals

Paul Lewis, a 34-year-old who works from home for a think tank, recently received an unexpected but very welcome email.

“Great news!” it began. “It’s time to schedule your COVID-19 vaccination with MedStar Health.”

Lewis got vaccinated Thursday. He is one of a number of D.C. residents who say they are not qualified under city guidelines to get a coronavirus shot right now — but were invited to do so by MedStar over the past two weeks. Some Kaiser Permanente patients have reported similar invitations.

D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) is calling for an investigation, saying the many anecdotes she has heard and seen on social media suggest otherwise. At a council meeting Wednesday, she suggested that perhaps these hospitals should not receive so many vaccine doses if they aren’t using them according to the city’s guidelines.

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By: Julie Zauzmer

6:45 AM: Mexico’s true covid-19 death toll likely much higher, new data shows

© Marco Ugarte/AP In June 4, 2020 photo, workers in protective gear remove a coffin that contained the remains of a person who died from the coronavirus, at the crematorium inside the San Nicolas Tolentino cemetery in Mexico City.

The coronavirus death toll in Mexico is probably at least 60 percent higher than the official, test-confirmed figure of about 202,000, according to new government data posted over the weekend.

The true death toll now probably tops 321,000, according to the Associated Press. Mexico has recorded more than 2.2 million coronavirus cases since the pandemic began.

The new statistics reflect a review of excess deaths and death certificates in Mexico over the past year, when authorities conducted only limited testing and many infected residents ended up dying at home. They were posted to the government’s official coronavirus information page.

Mexico already has one of the world’s highest death tolls from the virus, dwarfed only by the United States and Brazil — nations with much larger populations.

The government has refrained from imposing strict lockdowns in a nation where half the population lives in poverty. The country fell victim to a devastating surge in new infections in January and is struggling to ramp up its vaccination campaign.

By: Erin Cunningham

6:12 AM: Microstates, island nations and overseas territories speed ahead in global vaccination race

© Javier Fergo/AP People enjoy a meal at a restaurant in Gibraltar on Thursday March 25, 2021.

The international coronavirus vaccination race might appear to be dominated by giants like China, Russia, the United States and the European Union, all of which have developed multiple vaccines and distributed millions of doses. But some of the big winners are quite small.

Tiny island nations, microstate enclaves and far-flung overseas territories are likely to be among the first places to vaccinate nearly their entire adult populations, proving that bigger isn’t always necessarily better when it comes to vaccinations.

Last week, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock described Gibraltar, a British-administered territory on the tip of the Iberian Peninsula home to around 30,000 people, as “the first nation in the world to complete its entire adult vaccination program.”

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By: Adam Taylor and Antonia Noori Farzan

5:32 AM: Analysis: Pandemic boosts Biden’s bet on bigger government

The biggest expansion of the federal government in a generation is underway, a pandemic-inspired shift in resources and responsibilities that will challenge President Biden and the Democrats to demonstrate that they can make government work.

Over the course of the pandemic, Congress has authorized an astonishing amount of spending. Biden recently passed his American Rescue Plan, a nearly $2 trillion package of aid and assistance designed to soften the blows of the coronavirus pandemic on individuals and stimulate an economy that suffered major blows as the pandemic took hold.

That bill followed shortly after the passage of nearly $1 trillion in coronavirus-related spending at the end of last year, which came after Congress had approved more than $2 trillion in assistance during the earlier months of the pandemic.

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By: Dan Balz

5:01 AM: Cash-strapped Venezuela ready to pay for coronavirus vaccines with oil

© Miraflores Palace/Via Reuters Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro holds a copy of the country’s constitution during a televised address in the capital Caracas on March 28, 2021.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro offered Sunday to pay for coronavirus vaccines doses with oil shipments, saying in a televised address that the cash-strapped yet oil-rich nation would dedicate some of its production toward acquiring the shots.

“Venezuela has the oil tankers, it has customers ready to buy oil from us. It would devote part of its production to obtain the vaccines it needs. Oil for vaccines!” Maduro said, news agencies reported.

He provided few details on how such a program would work, but added, “We are ready and prepared for oil for vaccines, but we will not beg anyone.”

Venezuela is in the midst of a years-long economic collapse, aided in part by harsh U.S. sanctions that have especially targeted the country’s oil sector. By some estimates, Venezuela maintains the largest oil reserves in the world.

But decades of mismanagement and domestic political repression have also contributed to the malaise. And Maduro himself has touted so-called miracle cures for the virus, including the Carvativir oral solution derived from thyme.

Facebook said Saturday that it had temporarily frozen Maduro’s page for violating its policies against spreading misinformation on covid-19, including promoting Carvativir, Reuters reported.

Maduro said Sunday that he hoped Venezuela could use oil payments to secure vaccine doses through the United Nations-backed Covax facility, which seeks the equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines worldwide.

His government ordered more than a million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine through the facility, none of which were delivered because of Venezuela’s outstanding debts with the World Health Organization, Agence France-Presse reported.

Earlier this month, Venezuelan authorities said they would not authorize the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for use inside the country after several European nations suspended the shot’s rollout over blood clot concerns. Most countries have resumed inoculations using the vaccine, after both the WHO and the European Union’s pharmaceutical regulator deemed the shot effective and safe.

By: Erin Cunningham

4:35 AM: For a year, the workers at the Boulder supermarket endured the pandemic — then a gunman walked in

© Rachel Woolf for The Washington Post Carlee Lough, a co-worker and friend of Rikki Olds, one of 10 people who was killed in the shooting at the King Soopers in Boulder, during a news conference on March 24.

BOULDER, Colo. — All Darcy Lopez could feel was terror. When the shooting began that Monday afternoon, the cheese shop manager at King Soopers hid in a storage cabinet just big enough to fit her body. After what she thinks was an hour, long after the shots and shouting and sprinting escapes had stopped, she looked out and saw a police officer’s red laser sight flickering across the deli freezer doors.

“I didn’t even look around. I just wanted to get the hell out of there,” said Lopez. “I think about how last Thursday I got my vaccine shot. What a hopeful day that was. Then a few days later, my store gets shot up.”

After what seemed like an impossibly difficult year — one marked repeatedly by difficult encounters with mask-refusing customers — the sudden, bloody assault on King Soopers seemed bewildering. How could colleagues and customers die this way after all they had survived?

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By: Robert Klemko

4:00 AM: A year after quarantine was first declared, Manila is back under lockdown

© Jam Sta Rosa/AFP/Getty Images An empty street is seen at Quiapo district in Manila on March 29, 2021, on day one of government’s imposing stricker lockdown, as hospitals in the capital struggle to cope with a surge in coronavirus infections.

MANILA — The Philippine capital and its surrounding provinces returned to the most restrictive form of lockdown on Sunday, as covid-19 cases in the country reach unprecedented numbers.

“Enhanced community quarantine,” which limits travel and prohibits dining in restaurants, was announced on Saturday evening. Only essential businesses will be allowed to operate, and a 6 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew was imposed.

Hospitals have been teeming with patients, as the number of daily reported cases approaches 10,000. Filipinos posted online about struggling to find space for the sick.

The government also walked back its brief lift of a ban on religious gatherings — which means the dominantly Catholic Philippines will be spending its second Easter season online.

Government critics fear a repeat of human rights abuses under lockdown last year. News of killings has already surfaced, as labor leader Dandy Miguel was gunned down by unidentified assailants and two were killed in a drug-related police operation.

In an exception to the government’s own rule against nonessential travel, populist President Rodrigo Duterte flew out of Manila to spend his birthday in his hometown, Davao City.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque denied that the spike in cases was due to government inefficiency or negligence.

“If we are back to square one, it’s not because of the government,” he told local broadcaster ABS-CBN. “It’s because of the virus. … No one could have done anything about it because it’s in the nature of the virus to mutate.”

The Philippines has recorded over 721,000 covid-19 cases and 13,000 deaths, the second-highest case count in Southeast Asia.

By: Regine Cabato

4:00 AM: WHO study on covid-19 origins to focus on cross-species transmission, leaked report says

© Ng Han Guan/AP A security official moves journalists away from the Wuhan Institute of Virology after a World Health Organization team arrived for a field visit in Wuhan in China’s Hubei province on Feb. 3, 2021.

A World Health Organization report on the origins of the coronavirus says that it most likely jumped from bats to humans through another animal, according to a draft copy obtained by the Associated Press, but offers little in the way of further evidence that would shed light on the pandemic’s beginnings.

The findings are the result of a joint study between the WHO and China and have already been dogged by concerns over the latter’s lack of transparency. The report’s release has been postponed several times since a WHO team returned from a fact-finding mission in the Chinese city of Wuhan last month.

According to the AP, which said it received a copy of the report from a Geneva-based diplomat, the researchers listed four scenarios that could explain the genesis of the pandemic, including cross-species transmission, direct spread from bats to humans, and delivery through “cold chain” or frozen food products.

The fourth scenario involves a potential lab leak that allowed the virus to escape, a hypothesis (which would reflect badly on China) the report calls “extremely unlikely” but that has not been entirely ruled out.

Still, the study says that while the closest relative of the coronavirus that causes covid-19 has been found in bats, “the evolutionary distance between these bat viruses and SARS-CoV-2 is estimated to be several decades, suggesting a missing link,” the AP reported.

According to WHO officials, the final report should be released in the coming days.

By: Erin Cunningham

2:50 AM: Australia’s Queensland goes into lockdown as new virus cluster grows, other states shut borders

© Dave Hunt/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock Brisbane residents are seen exiting a grocery store in Brisbane, Australia, March 29, 2021.

Officials in tropical Queensland state, in Australia’s northeast, have imposed a snap three-day lockdown in the state capital, Brisbane, after the city recorded four new community cases.

The new virus cluster, which has grown in recent days to seven cases, prompted other states to close their borders. Western Australia barred travelers from the entire Queensland state. Victoria declared Brisbane a “red zone,” restricting travel to returning residents who officials said must self-quarantine for 14 days. New South Wales ordered anyone who had visited Queensland since March 20 to stay at home for the duration of the lockdown.

The willingness of officials to impose rapid restrictions in response to small outbreaks has helped Australia suppress the coronavirus. But the lockdown delivered a fresh blow to businesses, on the day that generous government payments to encourage firms to retain staff amid the pandemic ended. More than a million workers were receiving the federal wage subsidy, and economists predict that as many as 250,000 jobs will be lost.

It also came the same day that New South Wales, the most populous state, relaxed almost all of its coronavirus restrictions, allowing singing in churches and dancing in clubs for the first time in 12 months. Masks are no longer mandatory on public transport in the state, attendance at weddings and funerals is unrestricted, and people can have up to 100 guests in their homes. The state has recorded just two local cases in as many months.

By: Rachel Pannett

2:07 AM: There will soon be ‘vaccine passports,’ but developing them won’t be easy

The Biden administration and private companies are working to develop a standard way of handling credentials — often referred to as “vaccine passports” — that would allow Americans to prove they have been vaccinated against the novel coronavirus as businesses try to reopen.

The effort has gained momentum amid President Biden’s pledge that the nation will start to regain normalcy this summer and with a growing number of companies — from cruise lines to sports teams — saying they will require proof of vaccination before opening their doors again.

The administration’s initiative has been driven largely by arms of the Department of Health and Human Services, including an office devoted to health information technology, said five officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the effort.

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By: Dan Diamond, Lena H. Sun and Isaac Stanley-Becker

2:04 AM: Could this pandemic end with Roaring Twenties-style parties and excess?

This has been a year of extreme social deprivation. But the pandemic — like all pandemics before it — eventually will end. Then what? Will we easily transition from isolation back into the real world? For most of us, the answer probably is yes, although it may take time to adapt, according to social scientists who study human behavior.

Nevertheless, scientists predict that after many more Americans are vaccinated, society might resemble what followed in the aftermath of the 1918 influenza pandemic, a decade known as the Roaring Twenties, an age striking in its excesses.

“It was the biggest street party of all time,” says Robin Dunbar, emeritus fellow, Magdalen College, and professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Oxford. “I’m sure it will happen again. Who knows what form it will take, but it will surely result in a resurgence of social events, including concert-type gigs, but also just more meeting up in the pub.”

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By: Marlene Cimons

2:04 AM: Most U.S. covid could have been ‘mitigated’ after the first 100,000, says Birx

© Alex Brandon/AP White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx speaks at an April briefing.

Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator under President Donald Trump, said most coronavirus deaths in the United States could have been prevented if the Trump administration had acted earlier and more decisively.

Birx made her comments in the CNN documentary “Covid War: The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out,” a clip from which the network released Saturday. The full documentary was set to air 9 p.m. Sunday.

In it, CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta asked Birx how much of a difference she thinks it would have made had the United States “mitigated earlier, … paused earlier and actually done it,” referring to extending shutdowns, urging people to wear masks and implementing other steps to slow the spread of the virus.

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By: Amy B Wang

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