Today and tomorrow, world leaders are meeting (virtually) to discuss the coronavirus pandemic.
What's going on?
The World Health Organization is holding its 73rd annual World Health Assembly. Usually, it's held in Geneva and representatives from the WHO's 194 member countries discuss a wide range of issues. But with the coronavirus pandemic, this year's meeting will look a little different. Not only will it be held virtually for the first time, but other health topics may be put on the back-burner as officials zero in on the disease that's killed over 300,000 people and infected more than 4.5 million others.
So what's on the agenda?
Vaccines. The EU has reportedly put together a resolution calling for global cooperation to get it done. Also in the resolution: testing, treatment, and supplies. Some orgs are pushing to make the vaccine universally available when it's ready. And several countries (think: Australia, EU members) are expected to call for an investigation into the virus's origin. Today, China's foreign ministry said it was premature to start that kind of probe. But one place that's gotten international praise for its handling of the outbreak didn't get an invite.
Taiwan. Health experts have applauded the island for how it's tackled the coronavirus. Taiwan has more than 23 million residents but fewer than 500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and only seven deaths. All of that without a major lockdown. Experts say they kept numbers low by doing things like early screenings of incoming passengers from Wuhan, setting up testing centers, contact tracing, and ramping up face mask production. It's also been donating millions of masks to other countries, including the US.
Sounds like we could learn from Taiwan…
Maybe. That's what countries like the US, New Zealand, and Japan have been pushing for. But things are a bit complicated. China (a WHO member) considers self-governed Taiwan as its territory and has pressured other countries against having any kind of diplomatic ties with the island. It's also blocked Taiwan from coming to the World Health Assembly as an observer since 2016. And this year's no different. The WHO reportedly says it doesn't have a mandate to invite Taiwan – and that only member states can decide who gets an invite. Today, Taiwan said it won't push the issue, but it wants to talk about its participation at the WHO later this year. But the discussion has only added to the increasing tensions between the US and China over how the latter has handled the outbreak.
The coronavirus pandemic stands to be the biggest challenge the WHO's ever faced. As is, it's struggled to get countries to follow through on resolutions because it lacks the power to enforce them. Now, with geopolitical tensions taking center stage, the stakes are even higher.
What's raising eyebrows…
Steve Linick. On Friday, President Trump fired the State Department inspector general, raising eyebrows. The IG's job is basically the dept's hall monitor, looking into the agency for things like fraud, waste, and abuse. In this case, Trump said he no longer had the "fullest confidence" in Linick, who'd served since 2013. But a White House official said it's because Sec of State Mike Pompeo had specifically asked for Trump to cut him loose.
Pomp-eo and circumstances: Republicans and Democrats now want answers. One Dem says Linick was investigating Pompeo for potential misconduct, like having a staffer run personal errands on gov dollars. House Dems are opening an investigation.
What's saying 'why don't you just meet me in the middle'...
Afghanistan's gov. Yesterday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah signed a deal agreeing to a power-sharing gov. The announcement ends a months-long political deadlock, ever since Abdullah claimed election fraud from last year's election and rejected the results. Now, it seems the two are ready to play nice and are splitting the gov. Ghani will remain president and Abdullah will appoint half of the cabinet. He'll also lead peace negotiations with the Taliban – a move that could help the US end the 19-year war.
Who people are missing…
Fred Willard. Last week, the four-time Emmy nominee and comic actor passed away from natural causes at 86. He was best known for his roles in "Best in Show," "Everybody Loves Raymond," and "Modern Family." Actors, filmmakers, and comedians paid tribute to his life and legacy, including Jimmy Kimmel who tweeted "there was no man sweeter or funnier." RIP.
Who's Liber-tearing himself away…
Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI). Over the weekend, the Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Libertarian candidate said he is no longer running for president – nearly three weeks after announcing his exploratory committee.
Who deserves all of the good things...
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