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Blackwater USA | Daily Brief


  • Chinese markets reopened after the extended Chinese New Year holiday, and proceeded to crash because of worries about the Wuhan coronavirus’s effect on the economy: the Shanghai Composite Index tumbled 7.7%.
  • Pres. Xi spoke before a special meeting of the Communist Party’s ruling Politburo Standing Committee about the outbreak. He tried to make it clear the government is taking it seriously, but still sounded overly bureaucratic. A WSJ article pasted below discusses his remarks, and includes an outbreak update, too.
  • Yesterday was the deadliest day yet for the Wuhan coronavirus, with another 65 deaths reported in China—and one in Hong Kong (only the 2nd outside of Mainland China).
  • China’s National Health Commission said the coronavirus death rate in China is approx. 2.1% nationwide, and 3.1% in Hubei. [I read that death rates are usually higher at the beginning of an outbreak, because the only cases that seek treatment—and thus get diagnosed—in the early days are the most severe ones.] Additionally, 80% of the fatalities in China have been elderly (>60, by China’s definition), and 75% had an underlying condition.
  • OPEC is considering deepening oil supply cuts to buoy prices, given that global demand has declined due to the outbreak and its effect on industry.


  • Yesterday’s Iowa Caucus was a debacle. Results were delayed because of apparent “inconsistencies,” and Pres. Trump and several Democratic candidates have been criticizing the process. 538 is predicting that former VP Biden has the best chance of winning a majority (43%), followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (30%).


  • A Ukrainian TV station aired a leaked audio recording in which an Iranian pilot correctly identified the missile that struck the Ukrainian passenger jet on Jan. 8th, which suggests Iran’s civilian government would’ve known (or surmised) it was a missile right away—not days later. The head of Iran’s investigation team acknowledged the recording was legitimate. That looks bad for Pres. Rouhani, who claimed to have been kept in the dark for several days.
  • Danish police arrested three leaders of an Iranian Arab opposition group, the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz, who they accuse of spying for Saudi Arabia in Denmark.


  • Turkey responded to Syrian shelling in northern Syria by targeting Syrian government solders with airstrikes. Pres. Erdogan claimed the strikes inflicted 30-35 Syrian casualties, but it’s not clear how he came up with that number.


  • Burkina Faso’s parliament unanimously approved plans to arm civilians to fight a growing wave of Islamist attacks. However, some of those civilians historically fought each other in ethnic clashes—perhaps arming them isn’t the best solution.


  • Here’s a nasty stat I missed in SIGAR’s latest quarterly report: there were 33 insider attacks on the ANSF (by ANSF personnel) in Q4 2019, and a total of 90 fatalities from them—that’s one every four days, killing an average of one person per day.
  • Chief Executive Abdullah criticized Pres. Ghani for insisting on a full ceasefire before beginning intra-Afghan talks with the Taliban: “Imposing conditions for beginning (intra-Afghan) negotiations shows a willingness to delay and a lack of commitment.”
  • The U.S. isn’t being quite as demanding: SecState Pompeo said the U.S. only requires: “demonstrable evidence of [the Taliban’s] will and capacity to reduce violence, to take down the threat, so the inter-Afghan talks…will have a less violent context”—rather than a full ceasefire.
  • However, the Taliban isn’t even clearing that lower hurdle: it killed six ANSF in Sar-i-Pul, and burned down a girls’ school in Takhar.


  • Tullow Oil is reportedly thinking about giving up on its block in Guyana, which has proven far less viable than Exxon’s producing blocks nearby. Tullow did find significant reserves in its block, but the oil there is heavy—which makes it harder and more expensive to produce.


  • Venezuela’s National Assembly created a special commission to investigate possible wrongdoing by its own leader, Pres. Guaido. Guaido is accused of mishandling aid funds, but this seems like another Maduro ploy to frustrate his challenger.
  • Trinidad cancelled an agreement to jointly develop a natural gas field with Venezuela, due to U.S. sanctions on PDVSA.
  • Pres. Maduro blocked a visit by the Organization of American States (OAS) Human Rights Commission, saying the OAS has no jurisdiction in Venezuela, since he withdrew from the body in 2019.

Other News

  • The UK’s Justice Secretary introduced new emergency legislation that would end the practice of automatically releasing convicted terrorists after they’ve served half their sentence—after two convicted terrorists committed new attacks after their release. Now convicted terrorists will only be eligible for release after serving two-thirds of their sentence (instead of half), and still only with Parole Board approval.

Coronavirus Outbreak a Major Test of China’s System, Says Xi Jinping (WSJ)

Chinese leader Xi Jinping described the coronavirus outbreak rampaging through central China as a major test of the country’s system of governance, and vowed consequences for officials who shirk responsibility in tackling the crisis.

The first virus-related death in Hong Kong was confirmed Tuesday, hours after the special Chinese territory announced it was tightening its borders with the mainland. City Chief Executive Carrie Lam has stopped short of a full border closure.

The 39-year-old Hong Kong resident who died was admitted to a hospital Jan. 31, about a week after returning from a three-day trip to the mainland that included travel to Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak

Hong Kong has 15 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

And casinos in Macau, the world’s richest gambling market, will be asked to close for half a month as officials there race to curtail an outbreak of the coronavirus. Macau has recorded 10 cases of the virus.

As of midnight Monday, mainland China had 20,438 cases, with 425 deaths, according to the National Health Commission.

Meantime, American health authorities on Monday reported a second case of the coronavirus being passed from one person to another in the U.S., and raised the number of confirmed cases in the country to 11.

Mr. Xi, who delivered his comments Monday at a special meeting of the Communist Party’s ruling Politburo Standing Committee about the government’s response to the dangerous new pathogen, said, “Anyone who fails to perform their duties will be punished according to discipline and law,” according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Mr. Xi also said he was closely monitoring the effects of the epidemic on China’s economy, according to Xinhua.

The number of coronavirus cases reported in China by the health commission is more than double the number afflicted world-wide by severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, nearly two decades ago. The death toll in mainland China has also exceeded the 349 people that the World Health Organization said died there during the SARS crisis. But SARS, caused by a different strain of coronavirus, killed more people globally—nearly 800 as it spread in 2002 and 2003.

In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a California resident was infected by a member of the person’s household who became ill after returning from Wuhan. The transmission was the latest between two people in the U.S. after a Chicago woman who had traveled to Wuhan infected her husband following her return to the U.S.

All other infected people in the U.S. had recently traveled to the Wuhan area. No U.S. deaths from the virus have been reported.

The CDC added five confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. since its last update Friday. Four occurred in California and the fifth in Massachusetts, the agency said. CDC officials said Americans remain at low risk of infection.

Federal and local health authorities have investigated 260 people for the virus, the CDC said, with 167 testing negative and the 11 testing positive. Eighty-two cases are pending.

The CDC also said it expected this week to receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration for a test it developed to diagnose the infection. State and local health officials and health providers then would be able to test directly without sending samples to the CDC.

Authorities are working on the details of quarantining Americans entering the U.S. after traveling to China’s Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, under the Trump administration’s more stringent travel restrictions announced Friday. Currently, only the 195 people who were evacuated from Wuhan last week are under the quarantine, the CDC said.

In China, the outbreak puts immense pressure on Mr. Xi, who in a meeting last week with WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, took credit for personally directing the country’s response. Officials have come under fire, both internationally and at home, for being slow to react to the threat, and concerns are mounting that the virus could derail an economy already slowed by a trade war with the U.S.

The rapid construction of a hospital to treat patients at the resource-strained center of the coronavirus outbreak was completed Sunday. Built in 10 days, the hospital, which began accepting patients Monday, according to state media, is one of two going up to treat virus patients in Wuhan. A video on the website of Xinhua, which reported the completion, showed a crowd of construction workers—all wearing face masks—applauding during the inauguration ceremony. Roughly 1,400 military medical workers will staff the 1,000-bed Huoshenshan (“Fire God Mountain”) hospital, Xinhua said.

The outbreak has strained resources throughout Hubei province, leaving lines long and hospital beds and gear short. Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, has been under severe travel restrictions, as have some others.

U.S. national security adviser Robert O’Brien said Sunday that the U.S. was prepared to send a CDC team to help but that Chinese officials hadn’t responded to the offer.

Officials in Beijing said Monday that medical gear was flowing into the outbreak’s center. More than 150,000 pieces of protective clothing and some 130,000 medical masks had been sent to Hubei, said Tian Yulong, chief engineer with China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

In a regular Monday press briefing—held over Chinese social-media app WeChat instead of at the Foreign Ministry because of the outbreak—ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said more medical masks, protective suits and safety goggles were urgently needed.

China’s markets, opening Monday after the outbreak-extended Lunar New Year holiday, fell sharply. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index closed down 7.7%, catching up with last week’s declines in the rest of the world.

In Hong Kong, hospital workers began a five-day strike Monday, an effort by organized labor to get the government to fully close the border with mainland China. Mrs. Lam, the city’s leader, said Hong Kong would shut some of its busiest checkpoints but stopped short of closing all border crossings with the mainland. The move wasn’t a concession to the workers, she said.

Previously, about half had been closed, including ferries and high-speed rail services from the mainland. Some governments have included Hong Kong and Macau, a neighboring territory, in their Chinese travel restrictions.

The medical workers’ strike had a big effect on hospital service in Hong Kong, said Hospital Authority Chief Executive Ko Pat-sing, who later met with the union. A union representative said that talks broke down and that the union would escalate the action on Tuesday, affecting the city’s hospital emergency service.

Russia, which has already tightened its borders and restricted air travel, might start deporting foreigners who are infected, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said during a televised meeting Monday. President Vladimir Putin ordered the use of military aircraft to evacuate Russian nationals stuck in parts of China worst affected by the coronavirus.

Several governments, including the U.S. and the U.K., have chartered planes to repatriate people from Hubei.

The Israeli health ministry on Sunday began requiring all citizens returning from China to quarantine themselves at home for 14 days, and the country’s borders are closed to noncitizens who have been in China in the past two weeks. Several other countries in the Middle East—Iran, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iraq and Egypt—took measures to distance themselves from contact with China, including suspending flights to and from the mainland.

Ms. Hua, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, singled out U.S. restrictions in criticizing some governments as overreacting, saying the WHO doesn’t endorse a travel ban. “We hope countries will make reasonable, calm and science-based judgments and responses,” she said.

In the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security had announced new precautions on Sunday: U.S. citizens who have traveled in China within the past 14 days will be rerouted to one of seven designated airports for screening. The U.S., along with governments in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, is restricting visitors from China and screening returning nationals.

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