Daily News Roundup

February 14, 2020

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 14

The head of the World Health Organisation’s health emergencies program, said a spike of some 14,000 cases in China reported on Thursday was a result of authorities reclassifying a backlog of cases using patients’ chest images, and not necessarily the “tip of an iceberg” of a wider epidemic.

“Most of these cases relate to a period going back over days and weeks and are retrospectively reported as cases, sometimes back to the beginning of the outbreak itself,” Dr Mike Ryan told a news conference at WHO headquarters.

“We’ve seen this spike in the number of cases reported in China, but this does not represent a significant change in the trajectory of the outbreak.

Dr Ryan’s statement came as the Australian Federal Government insisted it had no choice but to extend a travel ban preventing people coming from mainland China to Australia unless they are Australian citizens or permanent residents in a bid to reduce the spread of coronavirus, or COVID-19.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said he understands China’s concerns but  the extension was based on health officials’ advice

WHO figures released earlier on Thursday had shown China reporting a total of 46,550 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the outbreak began in December.

No significant shifts in mortality or severity patterns have been detected.

Paul Hunter, a professor of health protection at the University of East Anglia in England, expressed frustration with the revised numbers from China, but said he believed it did not represent an increase in the rate of infections.

“I suspect but can’t be certain that the underlying trend is still downwards,” Professor Hunter said.

“It almost certainly does not mean that there has been a resurgence of the epidemic overnight.”

More than 1,300 people have died from the disease in China, WHO figures show.

But only three deaths have been reported outside China — one in the Philippines, one in Hong Kong, and the latest, an 80-year-old woman, in Japan.

Australia is facing criticism from China over the decision it made late on Thursday to extend the travel ban to at least February 22.

The Chinese Embassy in Canberra has criticised the decision, urging the Government to lift the ban as soon as possible.

###

The US Senate has moved to limit President Donald Trump’s authority to launch military operations against Iran, with eight Republicans joining Democrats to support the resolution.

But the President is expected to veto the war powers resolution if it reaches his desk, warning that if his “hands were tied, Iran would have a field day.”‘

It was the Senate’s first major vote since acquitting Trump on impeachment charges last week. The measure, authored by Senator Tim Kaine, says Trump must win approval from Congress before engaging in further military action against Iran.

Kaine and other supporters said the resolution, which passed 55-45, was an important reassertion of congressional power to declare war.

While Trump and other presidents “must always have the ability to defend the United States from imminent attack, the executive power to initiate war stops there,” Kaine said. “An offensive war requires a congressional debate and vote.”

The Senate vote continues a pattern in which Republican senators have shown a willingness to challenge Trump on foreign policy, a sharp departure from their strong support during impeachment and on domestic matters.

Two-thirds votes in the House and GOP-run Senate would be needed to override an expected Trump veto of the new war powers resolution on Iran.

The principle of congressional approval is established for an important reason, Kaine said. “If we’re to order our young men and women … to risk their lives in war, it should be on the basis of careful deliberation by the people’s elected legislature and not on the say-so of any one person.”

Trump argued on Twitter that a vote against Kaine’s proposal was important to national security and pointed to the January 3 drone strike that killed Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani.

“We are doing very well with Iran and this is not the time to show weakness. Americans overwhelmingly support our attack on terrorist Soleimani,” Trump said. “If my hands were tied, Iran would have a field day. Sends a very bad signal. The Democrats are only doing this as an attempt to embarrass the Republican Party. Don’t let it happen!”

###

Cardinal George Pell’s High Court appeal against his convictions for abusing two choirboys in 1996 while he was Catholic archbishop of Melbourne has been set down for March 11 and 12 in Canberra.

Pell, 78, was convicted on five charges — one count of sexual penetration of a child under the age of 16 and four counts of committing an indecent act with, or in the presence of a child.

In March last year he was sentenced to six years’ jail, with a non-parole period of three years and eight months.

In August, two of three judges from Victoria’s Court of Appeal turned down Pell’s primary ground of appeal, that the jury’s verdict was unreasonable.

The judges unanimously dismissed two other grounds of appeal which argued that there were errors in the way the trial was run.

The High Court case will be Pell’s final chance to seek to have his convictions overturned.

His offending took place in the sacristy at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, in what the sentencing judge described as a “brazen and forcible sexual attack on the victims”.

Pell was the archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s and eventually rose to the powerful position of Prefect for the Secretariat for the Economy, a position which essentially made him the Vatican treasurer.