Coronavirus Government Global Briefing: October 6

By Chris Woods

Tuesday October 6, 2020

Welcome to Coronavirus Government Global Briefing, Mandarin Premium’s coverage of local and global COVID-19 policy news.

Everything we know, or don’t, about Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis

News that Donald Trump and his wife Melania tested positive for COVID-19 last week led to immediate, far-reaching geopolitical consequences, from the rattling of US futures and global markets to a potential delay of Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination to even fears of Boeing E-6B Mercury planes — aka “doomsday planes” capable of ending all life on earth — showing up in public flight data.

While US Strategic Command media operation chief Karen Singer told WIRED that the doomsday flights were pre-planned — and that “Any timing to the president’s announcement is purely coincidental” — here’s everything else we know about the Trump’s diagnosis and its potential consequences.

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Mixed medical messages

While Trump claimed in a Twitter video released Saturday night (US time) that he was “starting to feel good” and officials claim he has only mild symptoms, CNN reports that he is furious with his chief of staff Mark Meadows for (anonymously) telling reporters on Saturday that, “the President’s vitals over the last 24 hours were very concerning and the next 48 hours will be critical in terms of his care,” and, later that day, admitting to Fox News that the president’s oxygen levels had “dropped rapidly” Friday morning.

Additionally, the White House has revealed that Trump is receiving an experimental antibody treatment consisting of REGN-COV2, remdesivir, oxygen and dexamethasone, along with zinc, vitamin D, an acid reducer, melatonin and a daily aspirin. While this could be Trump’s team simply trying everything and seeing what works, Crikey reported in a list yesterday that these drugs are all used for serious cases:

  • REGN-COV2: consists of two antibodies: one manufactured, and one isolated from humans who have recovered from COVID-19; Queensland University Infectious Diseases Physician Dr Paul Griffin says early evidence is starting to show that REGN-COV2 helps those with more severe symptoms.
  • Remdesivir: Trump is receiving a five-day course, via IV transfusion, of the antiviral drug that makes it harder for the virus to replicate, and has been used since the early days of the pandemic.
  • Dexamethasone: Infectious disease specialist at Australian National University Dr Gaetan Burgio notes that, from clinical trials, this drug is only beneficial for “severe cases — patients that are under oxygen but close to mechanical ventilation, where they need to be intubated. Clinical trials show it has an adverse effect on those who don’t need oxygen. So it’s not rational to give him that if he has just mild symptoms.”
  • Famotidine: Burgio notes the drug, used for reflux and intestinal problems, has been repurposed for COVID-19 because it might affect the virus’ ability to invade the body and that a recent review using “low-quality evidence” suggested it could reduce mortality in hospitalised COVID-19 cases.
  • Zinc, vitamin D, melatonin and aspirin: None of these over-the-counter “cold drugs” have been shown to treat COVID-19, Burgio said.

His physician, Dr Sean Conley, released an error-riddled statement later Saturday — which included typos, misidentified an experimental antiviral treatment, and claimed he had made a statement issued by another doctor — walking back claims made earlier in the day that the president had tested positive midday Wednesday, a full day-and-a-half earlier than Trump and Melania’s cases were announced.

According to The New York Times, doctors have since rewritten the official record, noting that while they had painted a rosier picture of his health on Saturday, his blood oxygen level dropped twice in two days, he has required medical intervention, and has been put on steroids. However, they insist that his situation had improved enough that he could be released from the hospital as early as Monday (US time).

Will the Republicans have time to squeeze in Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court?

The number of White House and Republican allies who have tested positive following the previous Saturday’s Rose Garden announcement ceremony for Supreme Court pick Coney Barrett grew over the weekend, with the current list including former White House counsellor Kellyanne Conwayformer governor Chris Christie, three GOP senators, and, overnight, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.

Source: CNN, October 5.

The New York Times reports that Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has since cancelled this week’s senate hearing meeting but intends to press ahead with Barrett’s confirmation — a controversial move given he blocked Obama’s replacement arguing a president could not fill a Supreme Court vacancy in an election year — “without delay”.

“The Senate’s floor schedule will not interrupt the thorough, fair and historically supported confirmation process previously laid out,” McConnell said in a statement, adding that the Senate Judiciary Committee had “successfully” met with senators appearing both in person and virtually since May.

However, The Atlantic notes that the current diagnosis for the three senators potentially robs Republicans of their majority ahead of both hearings and an expected committee vote at the end of the month, especially considering three senators have pledged to cross the floor over the push to confirm Barrett:

“The crucial step for Republicans is likely not the hearings but the committee vote, which requires senators to be physically present to achieve a quorum, according to Sarah Binder, an expert on congressional procedure at the Brookings Institution. “If Lee and Tillis weren’t there, Democrats could boycott the hearing and block the vote. But Graham and McConnell could delay a committee vote until a few days before the full Senate vote at the end of the month, buying Lee and Tillis more time to recover. McConnell could try other options, such as replacing Lee and Tillis on the Judiciary Committee, or bypassing the panel entirely, but each of those would require majority votes on the Senate floor that he might struggle to win.”

Citing both those senators’ diagnoses and the fact “we do not yet know the full extent of exposure”, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer has since launched a campaign to delay both the Senate vote and committee hearings on the Supreme Court appointment as “COVID-19 is having a domino effect in the Capitol, and we need transparency and tracing.

Joy ride backlash

Despite all of this, Trump took a joyride on Sunday to visit supporters surrounding the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, a move The Washington Post reports outraged a number of Secret Service agents — one of whom said “he’s not even pretending to care now” — but defended by White House spokesman Judd Deere, who argued that “appropriate precautions were taken.”

While Trump wore a mask, studies demonstrate they are not foolproof, and an attending physician at Walter Reed — Chief of Disaster Medicine for GWU Emergency Medicine Dr. James P. Phillips — noted that the presidential SUV is not only bulletproof but hermetically sealed against chemical attack, meaning, “the risk of COVID-19 transmission inside is as high as it gets outside of medical procedures.”

On why exactly Trump took the risk, advisors cited by the newspaper report that the president said he was bored and buoyed by crowds outside, and wanted to show strength after Meadows offered his grimmer assessment on Saturday.

“Optics matter right now,” said one senior aide close to Meadows, adding: “Shows of strength and resilience are crucial. For the American public, but also those watching abroad.”

Additionally, The Hill reports that futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped 150 points following the stunt, while the S&P500 and the Nasdaq 100 rose about 0.5%.

State wrap: NSW public sector to return to offices under ‘COVID-safe’ transition

  • On Sunday, the New South Wales government announced that state public servants will begin returning to the office in coming weeks in line with COVID-safe practices, i.e., adopting the 4 square metre rule for office (voluntarily, as offices are usually exempt); the Gathering and Movement Order requiring employers to allow their employees to work from home if reasonably practicable; and, as has been the case for the past few months, employees urged to travel outside of peak times where possible to help maintain social distancing on public transport and where unable to social distance to consider wearing a face mask.
  • As The Age reports, Victoria’s Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton, yesterday warned that Melbourne is at risk of failing to hit the daily fortnightly average of >5 cases by the October 19 target, and has defended the state’s five-kilometre limit on movement amid expert concerns there is no evidence either way as to its effectiveness.
    • In an updated roadmap to reopening schools, the Victorian government yesterday announced that Year 7 students in metropolitan Melbourne will resume face-to-face learning from Monday October 12, while students in Years 8 to 10 will return from October 26.
  • The Queensland government has announced that specialist sexual assault services will share in an extra $2.7 million in Commonwealth COVID-19 funding to meet additional demand during the state’s recovery. Separately, the government also extended an existing break on land rent to March 31 next year.
  • The Western Australian government launched the biggest regional flights deal in the state’s history, with 50,000 affordable airfares between Perth and Broome, Kununurra and Exmouth now on sale due to post-COVID-19 tourism partnerships between the state government, Virgin Australia and Qantas. This comes after the government announced a $600 one-off WA Household Electricity Credit on electricity bills to be received from November 1, 2020, under the state’s recovery plan.

For health department updates: Federal, NSW, Victoria, QueenslandACTSouth AustraliaTasmaniaNorthern Territory and Western Australia.

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