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jarun011/iStock(NEW YORK) -- While much of the United States and Europe has been staying home to avoid COVID-19 as it kills thousands, terrorist groups are blasting online propaganda messages toward followers and potential recruits which hail the calamity of the disease as divine retribution.

In propaganda communiques this week, ISIS and al-Qaeda have each claimed that the highly contagious and deadly coronavirus is God's wrath upon the West, and the disease itself is a "soldier of Allah," as one ISIS supporter recently said in an online chatroom, according to the private SITE Intelligence Group.

"Allah, the Creator, has revealed the brittleness and vulnerability of your material strength. It is now clear for all to see that it was but a deception that could not stand the test of the smallest soldier of God on the face of the earth," al-Qaeda said in a statement this week distributed by its propaganda arm As-Sahab.

COVID-19 has killed more than 47,000 people worldwide but there are relatively few cases in regions where Islamist extremist groups have their strongholds, such as in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Arabian Peninsula and the Sahel region of North Africa.

ISIS on Tuesday in its official online publication al-Naba said the pandemic's impact -- it has killed more Americans as of this week than the nearly 3,000 who died in al-Qaeda's 9/11 attacks -- shows that America isn't all-powerful and invincible.

"It is falsehood to worship America and to fear it instead of Allah the Almighty," ISIS said in its message.

Terrorism experts point out that we have heard all of this before. Jihadi groups have a propensity for calling any natural disaster the will of God exacting vengeance on western powers who have been waging war on them for more than two decades.

"This is apocalyptic fervor. It plays into their end-of-times rhetoric," Col. Chris Costa, a retired Army intelligence officer whose career focused on jihadist adversaries, told ABC News. "They are opportunistic and taking advantage of a pandemic by suggesting this is divine retribution. If they can't beat us on the battlefield they can beat us through God's vengeance, they believe."

In an op-ed for DefenseOne this week, Costa, a former Trump White House counterterrorism adviser who now is director of the International Spy Museum, argued that the U.S. cannot allow the coronavirus to cause the U.S. to take its foot off the accelerator in confronting enemies such as jihadi groups and right-wing extremists.

In its long communique, al-Qaeda drilled down on the economic impact of COVID-19, which brought America's booming economy to a dead stop and caused the filing of four million unemployment claims and forced Congress to adopt Trump's $2 trillion emergency stimulus plan.

Bleeding the U.S. economy dry has always been a goal of the terrorist group, and the financial cost of 9/11 was something its late leader Osama Bin Laden often spoke of as a great success.

"ISIS is taking a totalitarian vision, whereas al-Qaeda is trying for hearts and minds" by calling on westerners to use time at home to study Islam and consider joining with jihadis," said Aaron Zelin, an ISIS expert and author of the new book, Your Sons Are at Your Service: Tunisia's Missionaries of Jihad.

Both al-Qaeda and its Taliban allies promote ways to avoid the disease spreading around the world, offering social services to Muslims "like they're jihadis in business suits."

Will it succeed? Zelin and Costa expressed skepticism that either the "god's vengeance" or soft-power approaches will draw in a significant number of converts and recruits.

"They may draw some troubled personalities and in-betweeners, folks on the extreme edges of society," Costa said.

Both groups have called upon followers to be ready to strike in violent attacks, and federal law enforcement and the New York Police Department in bulletins have each urged officers to remain vigilant even as thousands of cops nationwide have been put on sick leave or tested positive for COVID-19.

"The last thing they hope for today, is that this difficult time will coincide with the preparations of the soldiers of the Caliphate for new strikes on them, similar to those of Paris, London, and Brussels and elsewhere," ISIS said on Tuesday in its al-Naba publication.

In a warning late last week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security told police around the country that there are no known plots.

"Violent extremists probably are seeking to exploit public fears associated with the spread of COVID-19 to incite violence, intimidate targets and promote their ideologies, and we assess these efforts will intensify in the coming months," according to the intelligence bulletin, compiled by the agency's Counterterrorism Mission Center and Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office, and obtained by ABC News.

"I think there is a legitimate concern of some kind of action that takes advantage of our vulnerability right now," Costa said.

There is no telling where the coronavirus will strike in the coming months but spinning natural disasters in the homelands of their enemies is a default reaction by jihadi groups overseas, said another expert who monitors the group.

“Whether it’s a devastating tsunami, earthquake, wildfire, or the unprecedented situation we are facing now, groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda always bend the story into a ‘God’s will’ narrative, or call to carry out attacks amid destabilization,” said SITE Director Rita Katz.

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holgs/iStock(TAIPEI, Taiwan) -- Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has announced plans to donate 10 million masks to countries that have been most severely impacted by the coronavirus.

On the heels of an estimated $35 billion stimulus package intended to bolster the island nation's economy, Taiwan pledges to donate masks and medical supplies to the rest of the world as part of its global "Taiwan can help" campaign.

"We want everyone to not only see that ‘Taiwan can help,’ but that ‘Taiwan is helping,’" Tsai said at a press conference Wednesday morning.

Despite being one of the countries expected to be hardest hit by COVID-19, Taiwan as of Wednesday had a total of only 329 cases and five deaths.

While Taiwan appears to have the virus under control, Tsai said that each country affects all others.

"We cannot stop the spread of COVID-19 simply by preventing an outbreak within Taiwan. All members of the international community must pool their capabilities and work together to overcome this challenge," she said.

With the ability to produce up to 13 million face masks a day, Taiwan is donating seven million masks to Europe, including Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Belgium and the U.K., and an additional two million masks to the U.S., with the rest going to other smaller countries who have diplomatic ties with the island, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"Over the past months we have seen countless acts of bravery and sacrifice from medical workers from around the world. It is our duty as global citizens to give them our full support," Tsai said in English, adding that Taiwan would also be donating its surplus medical supplies to those "on the front lines who are working around the clock to save lives."

Taiwan's mask donation announcement comes as the White House coronavirus task force is debating whether to reverse the current U.S. recommendation against wearing masks in public, an about-face that President Donald Trump informally endorsed at his Wednesday evening press conference.

Taiwan, meanwhile, is seeking to strengthen its position in the international medical community, having been largely excluded from involvement with the World Health Organization due to pressure from China.

Earlier last month, Academia Sinica, Taiwan’s most prominent research institution, held a video conference with the U.S., European Union, Czech Republic and Canada to discuss the research and development of COVID-19 test kits, vaccines and reagents.

In addition to working with charities and nongovernmental organizations, Taiwan is also slated to start collaborating with the Czech Republic on the production of test kits and vaccines and the exchange of medical supplies and equipment. Taiwan previously sent alcohol for making hand sanitizer to Australia in exchange for fabric used for masks.

"Taiwan again urges WHO to comprehensively include it in related meetings, mechanisms and activities, so that Taiwan can work hand in hand with the world to overcome this grave challenge," Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. "Taiwan will take concrete actions to prove to the international community that the world needs Taiwan and that Taiwan will not be absent."

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oonal/iStock(LONDON) -- Victor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary, was granted extraordinary powers by his nation’s government this week. By 137 votes to 53, lawmakers in the Hungarian parliament voted to give Orban’s government the power to rule by decree to combat the coronavirus pandemic, for as long as the prime minister sees fit.

Rights groups have warned that Orban, who was praised by President Trump last year as having done a “tremendous job” in the eastern European country, appears to be using the guise of the COVID-19 emergency to assume the position of dictator.

In the words of David Vig, Amnesty International’s Hungary director, “This new law bestows unlimited powers to the government to rule by decree beyond the pandemic.”

And the headline in the Washington Post blared: “Coronavirus kills its first democracy.”

Renáta Uitz, chair of the Comparative Constitutional Law Program at the Central European University, called the situation in Hungary "the opening of a new era.”

"This is the first time that he has claimed uncurbed, unconstrained, uncontrolled power,” Uitz said. This is “definitely the closest we have been to what a dictatorship looks like on paper. The elements of power are there. And now the only defense is, ‘OK, I’m not going to use these powers. So we are waiting for a dictatorship in practice.”

The law's “closet competitor is a historical competitor — and that’s the 1933 Enabling Act, that literally put Hitler into the driving seat in Germany. The paper powers resemble those of the 1933 German Enabling Act and that’s pretty scary to whoever has studied history,’ Uitz said.

While the new law in Hungary is the most marked example of national leaders using the coronavirus pandemic to consolidate their power, the unprecedented lockdowns in countries around the world to help stop the spread of the disease, which has no vaccine or known cure, has posed concerns for civil liberties and human rights campaigners.

The lockdown

While the U.S. has so far resisted calls for a nationwide lockdown, the sheer scale of the international response to the spread of the novel coronavirus is unlike anything seen to peacetime.

The Guardian newspaper estimated that around 20% of the world’s population – some 1.7 billion people – were living under some kind of lockdown.

And that was before the 1.3 billion inhabitants of India, the world's largest democracy, were instructed not to leave their homes for 21 days. UNESCO, the United Nation’s education agency, estimates that around 1.5 billion students have had their studies disrupted, by school closures and delayed exams.

After the law giving Orban sweeping new powers was passed, the president of the European Commission, the executive branch of the EU, of which Hungary is a member, issued a statement saying that the Commission would be monitoring emergency measures by member states, which must be “limited to what is necessary and strictly proportionate,” and must “not last indefinitely.”

The “values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law… are common to all of us. We must uphold and defend them, even in these challenging times,” the statement said.

France, Italy and the U.K. have all gone into varying states of lockdown, although the crucial difference is that their governments have set time limits, and promised regular review of the expansion of their powers. Yet the U.K., for instance, has come under criticism for alleged abuse of police powers in monitoring the lockdown.

“Many democratic constitutions have provisions for declarations of emergency for temporary rule by decree, and so the question is what gets rolled back when the crisis passes,” Matthew Kroenig, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank and author of the upcoming book, ‘The Return of Great Power Rivalry, Democracy vs Autocracy,’ told ABC News. “And I suspect in some cases leaders are seeing this as an opportunity to grab power.”

Joe Nye, an American political scientist and former Dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, told ABC News that he believes “such policies [of lockdown] will be accepted if they are seen as necessary to save many lives.”

There is an undoubted tension between the emergency powers governments around the world are using to suspend modern life as we know it, and the preservation of vital civil liberties.

“A government is entitled to do that, to protect its citizenry when there is a true threat of health and also of safety,” Michelle Goodwin, the founding director of the Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy at the University of California, said. “But that right is not absolute… There have been times across history where the government has quickly turned to health as being its wedge issues in order to carry out what would otherwise be a political agenda.”

‘Never let a good crisis go to waste’

In the current crisis, there remains a difference between conventional democracies taking on emergency powers, and countries in recent years which have "backsliding towards autocracy" – the system of government by one powerful individual – according to Kroenig. Hungary is just one of those countries.

“Part of the broader context here is that we've seen a decline in the number of democracies around the world... we're in a period where autocracy is on the march and democracy appears to be on the decline,” Kroenig said.

Another example is the Philippines, where Rodrigo Duterte, another strongman leader who President Trump has praised in the past, has also been granted sweeping new emergency powers over the country’s healthcare system, which could be extended past three months.

Like Hungary, the Philippines has also passed laws making the spreading of fake news about the virus a criminal offense, which advocates believe are pretexts for crackdowns.

Pointing to the example of Duterte, Kroenig said some leaders may be seeking powers they “intend to keep forever,” adopting the mantra: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

There are many historical examples, he said, of “leaders slowly accru[ing] power until there is no vestige of democracy left.”

Last year may seem long ago in the current climate, yet it is important to remember that protest movements challenged the authority of governments throughout the world – from South America, to India, Iran and Hong Kong.

Emergency situations such as the coronavirus pandemic not only allow for governments to use emergency powers, they often see people look to strong leaders in order to deal with them, according to Nye.

“I think such policies will be accepted if they are seen as necessary to save many lives,” Nye added. “Yes, in times of crisis and fear, humans turn to authority figures.  Americans tend to rally around the president, and authoritarians tend to seize more power.”

Mass surveillance

The tactics being used to monitor the movement of people, ostensibly to protect public health, could have significant implications for future protest movements, and indeed ordinary life for millions of people, for the coming months and beyond.

A host of democratic countries, Israel and South Korea to name just two, have joined authoritarian regimes such as China and Iran that have sought track coronavirus patients using cellphone data. Several European countries are reportedly considering similar moves.

But in China, the origin of the outbreak, the authorities have gone one step further, resorting to using drones to not just disinfect areas and deliver shopping, but also to track individuals, after they found people could circumvent cellphone tracking by leaving their phones at home, according to Kroenig.

"We've seen specific ways in which authoritarian governments are improving their capabilities to crack down on society in the crisis," he said. "I think the Chinese [Government] are learning lessons in this crisis that they could continue to implement even after the crisis passes."

Indeed, drones have been used to help enforce lockdowns in such a range of places as India, Italy, Portugal and Indonesia.

Russia meanwhile is turning to its facial recognition system in Moscow, already one of the largest in the world, to police its lockdown. The system can alert police when it recognizes people who should not be outside their homes and authorities have said it has already caught 500 people who violated orders to self-isolate since the start of March. The city is also set to introduce a special pass system where residents will receive a QR code that they must be able to show when going outside, even to visit the grocery store.

Miles Kahler, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, while hesitant to speculate about how the pandemic will change politics in the long run, is in agreement.

“We have only one other comparable case - the 1918 [Spanish flu] pandemic,” he told ABC News in an email exchange. “In that case, most of the world was already on a war footing; politically, populations had experienced years of large-scale casualties and expected less of their governments in terms of public health.”

In the U.S., the lawmakers on the left and the libertarian right are in general agreement that the use of such measures should be strictly limited, he said, but that those same counterbalances are not in place for a host of countries across the globe.

While it may be too early to say what the long-term impacts on global politics the pandemic will have, what is clear is that we are in a “major historical moment,” according to Koenig.

"I think this could be a huge inflection point. A point at which things could go in a number of different directions,” he said. “"Where does this stop? Is it temporary to deal with the crisis or do these powers remain in place permanently?"

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


narvikk/iStock(BRASILIA, Brazil) -- Governors responsible for more than 200 million Brazilian citizens have refused to relax social distances measures despite the insistence of the country’s president amid the outbreak of novel coronavirus.

Rejecting the recommendations of international organizations and his own health ministry, President Jair Bolsonaro urged his nation to end its quarantine and get back to work.

"We have to face this virus, but face it like a man, dammit, not a boy," Bolsonaro said Sunday. "We have to face it with reality. That's life. We're all going to die someday."

He added, "We have to take precautions with the elderly, with people who are at high risk. But protecting jobs is essential."

Over the last several weeks, the leader of Latin America’s most populous country has repeatedly played down the dangers of COVID-19, comparing the pandemic to a “little cold” and questioning decisions to close schools.

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have taken down some of the president’s videos and posts because they are seen as harmful content and a violation of the companies' policies.

Bolsonaro’s rejection of international recommendations has sparked political outrage, alienating the populist president from one-time allies and igniting calls for his impeachment.

All but three of Brazil’s 27 states have refused to follow Bolsonaro's proclamation. Even former right-wing allies of the president, like Rio de Janeiro Gov. Wilson Witzel, have begun to break with him.

“So far I’ve been asking, now I am giving an order: don’t leave your home,” Witzel told Rio de Janiero residents Monday.

He went on to accuse Bolsonaro of possibly committing crimes against humanity for rejecting the advice of international health organizations.

In addition to the state governors, Brazil’s Senate has broken with the president. Many citizens have participated in nightly panelaços -- protests of banging pots and pans -- from their home quarantines.

According to Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, Brazil has over 5,800 cases of COVID-19 with over 200 deaths as of Wednesday, the highest in South America.

A press aide of Bolsonaro tested positive for COVID-19 in March after meeting President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago. Both Trump and Bolsonaro have tested negative for coronavirus.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


PeterHermesFurian/iStock(NEW YORK) -- The COVID-19 pandemic has dominated the news agenda across the globe since the start of this year, but in one secretive Central Asian country you won’t even hear the word ‘coronavirus’ mentioned -- and its putting its citizens in danger, according to a new report.

In Turkmenistan, which was ranked at the bottom of the World Press Freedom Index in 2019 -- one place lower than North Korea -- the word ‘coronavirus’ has been removed from the national vocabulary, according to the independent NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

The government, led by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, who is known in Turkmenistan as the “Father Protector” of the nation, was one of the fastest moving countries in combatting the pandemic by closing its borders in early February.

To date, no cases of COVID-19 have been reported by the authorities, and the media, controlled by the Turkmen government, has removed the world “coronavirus” from every source of public information, from health pamphlets to schools and hospitals, according to RSF.

Despite the banishment of the word, leader of neighboring Uzbekistan spoke to the Turkmen President last week, the Uzbek readout of the call made clear that the two discussed a number of measures related to the spread of coronavirus.

“Current aspects of bilateral cooperation were discussed, including the priority measures taken in both countries to prevent the spread of coronavirus infection,” according to the readout.  “The work of the relevant departments and organizations in providing mutual practical assistance and monitoring the development of the epidemiological situation, especially in the border areas, was noted with satisfaction.”

Meanwhile there was no mention of coronavirus on the Turkmenistan government’s published readout of the call.

“The Turkmen authorities have lived up to their reputation by adopting this extreme method for eradicating all information about the coronavirus,” the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, Jeanne Cavelier, said in a statement. “This denial of information not only endangers the Turkmen citizens most at risk but also reinforces the authoritarianism imposed by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov. We urge the international community to react and to take him to task for his systematic human rights violations.”

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


omersukrugoksu/iStock(NEW YORK) -- India's first week of a nationwide 21-day lockdown in response to the coronavirus has shined a brutal spotlight on the plight of the country's most vulnerable citizens.

Mirai Chatterjee, who is based in densely populated Ahmedabad, a northern city of more than five million, knows this better than anyone.

"The poorest and weakest in our society are the women," said Chatterjee, who directs the social security team for the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA), a trade union that supports 1.7 million low-income women who are self-employed.

Under normal circumstances, her members' lives are punctuated by food and income insecurity, as well as difficulty accessing health care and childcare.

Under the nation's new 21-day lockdown, female workers without salaries are struggling to survive.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the 21-day lockdown with no warning last week, effectively halting the movement of an estimated 1.3 billion people just four hours before the decree went into effect at midnight March 25.

"There will be a total ban on venturing out of your homes," Modi said. "Stay wherever you are in the country."

The new orders, which affected non-essential workers, took a toll on Chatterjee's members, including construction workers, small farmers, vendors, garment and domestic workers, and rickshaw drivers, who aren't salaried.

"Today you work, today you earn, today you eat," Chatterjee said.

Without daily wages, they don't have money to buy food or medicine. Few have savings to fall back on.

"That is one huge humanitarian crisis, which we’re still going through," Chatterjee said. "There were no systems put in place at the time of this announcement. Nobody told them, stay where you are, you’ll get food, we’ll take care of you."

Prerna Singh, an associate professor at Brown University, who is working on a book about infectious disease control in India and China, said the lockdown ignored the reality of life for those who survive on daily wages.

The government's response, showed "complete callousness and indifference to plight of India's most marginalized," she said.

"They put in place this authoritarian order, without thinking of the hundreds of thousands of people who are so far from home, who don’t have homes," Singh added.

The lockdown, which shut down transportation options almost immediately, came so quickly that when migrant workers found themselves with no way to make money, they set off on foot for their home villages, sometimes hundreds of miles away.

"People are desperately trying to go back to their home villages," Chatterjee said.

In addition to risking exposure to the elements by walking four or five days on the road, "the other worry is that when people flee cities, they are carrying the virus to areas that did not have it," she said, noting that rural areas in India have especially weak public health systems.

"By not planning for this mass exodus, we have actually endangered more people," Chatterjee said.

On March 26, the government announced a $2 billion stimulus package. Local governments have also begun to step in and provide aid, like shelter and food.

While Chatterjee and her colleagues at SEWA normally do in-person outreach, since their office closed they've been working the phones and contacting members using Zoom and WhatsApp.

"We have a cadre of grassroots women leaders, who are embedded in the communities they live in," Chatterjee said.

Those grassroots leaders are distributing food, information and health kits, including masks and soap, to members who need it.

Even with those stopgap measures, the situation is grim, Chatterjee said.

Public health recommendations, such as constant hand washing, aren't possible to implement effectively in households where there's only enough water to bath once or twice a week.

"Where is the water for that?" Chatterjee asked.

Similarly, going grocery shopping once a week isn't practical for low-income people, and even less so for those who have lost their income entirely.

"They don’t have that financial backing where they can stock up," Chatterjee said.

And unlike middle- and upper-class households, where residents with outside space say that the sky is pollution-free and bluer than ever because of the lockdown, a different remark is reverberating in poor, densely populated areas, Chatterjee said.

"Many women have asked, 'How can we do social distancing? It’s virtually impossible,'" she said.

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real444/iStock(WUHAN, China) -- As "Wuhan is Back!" banners hang over reopened shopping districts and the head of China’s National Health Commission declaring Tuesday that Wuhan is no longer a COVID-19 battleground, China announced that it will once again start including asymptomatic coronavirus cases in daily tallies beginning on Wednesday.

There have been growing concerns about possible "silent carriers" across the country as lockdown measures ease in Wuhan and Beijing is trying to get the rest of the country to jump-start the stricken economy.

Since mid-February, China has not included patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 but show no symptoms in its official count. As the coronavirus, however, spread across the globe and other nations included asymptomatic cases in their growing tallies, there has been a chorus of worry whether China’s numbers reflected the magnitude of infections.

Wuhan's reporting of new cases in multiple consecutive days, has not included asymptomatic cases.

China's NHC said that as of Monday, there are now 1,541 asymptomatic cases under medical observation across the country including 205 imported cases. It remains unclear if the country will disclose the backlog of asymptomatic cases since mid-February.

While most new reported cases in China in recent weeks are of the imported variety from Europe or the U.S., a local transmission case popped up over the weekend in the western province of Gansu. It was brought in by a man from Hubei province who had been allowed to leave the former epicenter with an all-clear "green health code."

The criteria change signaled the central government in Beijing was taking the concerns seriously. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang instructed officials Monday to pay close attention to silent carriers after having warned officials last week to "not cover up reports for the sake of keeping new case numbers at zero."

The delayed response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan has been blamed domestically and internationally on local level officials reluctant to deliver bad news to Beijing.

Chinese newsmagazine Caixin reported that new asymptomatic cases are still found every day, while the South China Morning Post reported last week that, based on classified government data that they saw, at the end of February a third of the positive cases in China presented no immediate symptoms. When the case tally was 80,000 at the end of February, SCMP reported that 43,000 asymptomatic cases were left off the list.

As a result, there is a growing distrust in other provinces of Hubei residents, whose travel restrictions were largely lifted last week. Hubei authorities said that 4.6 million out of 58.5 million residents in the province returned to work by Saturday and 2.8 million itinerant workers headed to other parts of China.

On Friday, a clash apparently broke out on a border bridge over the Yangtze River when Jiangxi police refused to let Hubei residents into their province. Videos circulated briefly on social media before being censored, showed angry Hubei residents, chanting "Go Hubei!", rushing Jiangxi riot cops and even turning over a police vehicle.

International travelers entering China are not exempt from scrutiny. Domestically, China is repainting COVID-19 as a foreign threat. As of last weekend, China closed its borders to foreign nationals although 90% of the imported cases are returning Chinese passport holders.

As a result, foreigners are now facing discrimination within China. Not only are all foreigners, even those with residence permits, now banned from entering China, foreigners who remain in China are increasingly being viewed with suspicion and temporarily barred from some shops and restaurants as they cannot apply for a health code. Meanwhile, Wuhan has entered a period of soft openings before travel restrictions out of the city are expected to lift next week on April 8 and the state media has been eagerly pushing the recovery angle.

On Monday, 11 shopping malls including one of Wuhan's fanciest, Wuhan International Plaza, reopened with limited shopping hours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Cinemas and restaurants remained closed but if shoppers were in need of something from Cartier or Louis Vuitton, they were open for business.

China Central Television ran a three-hour livestream on its social media platforms showing the extensive measures put in place. Before entering the mall or each individual shop there are temperature checks, health code checks and signs that masks are mandatory.

Chinese citizens, especially those in harder-hit areas, are required to register for a QR code on their WeChat or AliPay app which assigns them a traffic light-like designation based on their health status: red, yellow and green

At the Chu River Han Street shopping district, some stores were still adjusting to the new normal of the post-COVID-19 world, only allowing limited shoppers. On the CCTV livestream, the reporter visiting a Xiaomi electronics store in the Wuhan's Chu River Han Street shopping area was told only five customers are allowed inside at a time. At another electronic retailer, a CCTV reporter wanted to check out the new Huawei 5G phone but was told he would not be allowed to touch or handle the display phone.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


iStock(NEW YORK) -- A painting by Vincent Van Gogh has been stolen after burglars broke into a Dutch museum that is closed to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Van Gogh’s “The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring,” painted in 1884, was taken from the Singer Laren Museum, which lies just outside Amsterdam, in the early hours of Monday morning, the director of the museum said. The painting was stolen on what would have been the Dutch master's 167th birthday.

Staff at the museum said that they are “shocked and unbelievably annoyed” about the theft during a press conference that was live-streamed online.

The painting has now been added to the international Interpol list of stolen artworks, police said. The authorities have so far not issued a statement about how much the artwork might be worth.

The authorities at the Groninger Museum are aware of the theft of the Van Gogh painting, and said they are “shocked” by the news that the painting was taken. The painting was on loan from the Groninger to the Singer Laren.

Potential buyers should now be aware that the painting has been stolen, police said. The authorities are appealing for information from the public to assist their investigation.

The burglars broke into the museum at about 3:15 AM local time, according to police. Images from the scene of the burglary show that the glass doors at the front of the museum were smashed during the break-in.

Arthur Brand, an independent Dutch art crimes investigator who was responsible for recovering a Picasso painting that had been missing for two decades, told ABC News that while the painting wasn't one of Van Gogh's best known works, it still had the potential to fetch millions on the black market.

“This was done by professional thieves," he said. “I hope we will find them before they manage to sell the painting to the top criminals.”

The Singer Laren will be closed until at least June 1 in order to minimize the risk of visitors spreading the novel coronavirus, although the museum’s director continues to post videos online that discuss the museum’s best known paintings in order to keep the public engaged.

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Dan Kitwood/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, shared one last update for their 11 million Instagram followers.

"As we can all feel, the world at this moment seems extraordinarily fragile," Harry and Meghan wrote in a post on their Sussex Royal account Monday. "Yet we are confident that every human being has the potential and opportunity to make a difference — as seen now across the globe, in our families, our communities and those on the front line— together we can lift each other up to realise the fullness of that promise."

"What’s most important right now is the health and wellbeing of everyone across the globe and finding solutions for the many issues that have presented themselves as a result of this pandemic," they wrote, referring to the coronavirus pandemic. "As we all find the part we are to play in this global shift and changing of habits, we are focusing this new chapter to understand how we can best contribute."

"While you may not see us here, the work continues," they wrote. "Thank you to this community -- for the support, the inspiration and the shared commitment to the good in the world. We look forward to reconnecting with you soon. You’ve been great! Until then, please take good care of yourselves, and of one another."

Harry and Meghan will no longer use the @SussexRoyal handle when they step down as senior members of the British royal family on Tuesday.

The Sussexes plan to keep their @SussexRoyal Instagram account and website online "for the foreseeable future," but both will remain inactive, according to a Buckingham Palace spokesperson.

The discontinuation of their online Sussex Royal brands is the final public-facing dissolution of their royal lives. It comes less than two years after they tied the knot in a star-studded wedding ceremony at St. George's Chapel that was watched by millions of people.

The Sussexes at the time were heralded as the future of the royal family. Now, less than two years later, they have reportedly settled in Los Angeles with their son Archie and are working to build their own non-profit organization as non-royals.

"This is very much a bittersweet moment for Harry and Meghan," said ABC News royal contributor Victoria Murphy. "Harry was born into this life and grew up expecting to carry out duties as a working royal. He has often had conflicted feelings about the role, but to actually make that leap and walk away feels like a truly seismic moment for him and the monarchy."

She went on, "There is a lot that Harry and Meghan still feel frustrated about when it comes to the terms of their departure; however, ultimately they have secured their freedom which is what they wanted so this is also happy day for them. They will now have control over their lives and the life they want to shape for their son and that is something that is very important to them."

Harry and Meghan have not yet announced whether Los Angeles -- where Meghan was born and where her mother still lives -- will be their permanent base.

As of Wednesday, the couple's Buckingham Palace office will close. They are now being represented by Sunshine Sachs, a public relations firm with ties to the entertainment industry.

A Sussex spokesperson from Harry and Meghan's Buckingham Palace office issued their last statement on behalf of the couple on Monday.

"The Duke and Duchess of Sussex will spend the next few months focusing on their family and continuing to do what they can, safely and privately, to support and work with their pre-existing charitable commitments while developing their future non-profit organization," the spokesperson said. "For now, there will be no additional information on their next steps."

While Harry and Meghan appear to plan to stay out of the public eye in the near future, we do know that we will soon hear from Meghan.

The former actress will narrate a new Disneynature film, "Elephants," which hits the streaming service Disney April 3.

A source close to Meghan told ABC News that the duchess recorded the voiceover in London last fall and had been made aware of the film through mutual friends of the filmmakers.

Harry and Meghan have had to adjust their upcoming plans due to the pandemic, according to Murphy. Harry's father, Prince Charles, tested positive earlier this month for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, and Harry and Meghan have been sharing information about the virus and ways to help on Instagram.

"They are starting a non-profit and building a team but that process will understandably slow given what is going on in the world," said Murphy. "It's clear that for the next few months they want the focus to remain on the global response to the pandemic and they will be focusing on their family and staying safe while doing what they can."

The pandemic also makes the timing of Harry and Meghan's departure from the royal family particularly evident. Harry's brother and sister-in-law, Prince William and Kate, have been the royals' public faces during the pandemic and now the youngest senior members of the royal family.

"There is no doubt that Harry and Meghan's departure leaves a big hole for the royal family," said Murphy. "They have an incredible ability to galvanize a young and global audience and there was such a lot of excitement across the world about their marriage. There were plans for them to have a big role within the Commonwealth and Harry no longer using his honorary military appointments is also a big loss because the armed forces is a community that he has such an affinity with."

"Practically, the monarchy is also unable to cover as much ground having lost two full-time senior working royals so the Sussexes' departure will definitely be felt," she said.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Bev Vaughan(LONDON) -- After a long and successful 39-year career as a nurse working for Britain’s National Health Service, Bev Vaughan never thought that she would be dusting off her uniform after she retired in 2016.

The coronavirus pandemic changed all of that.

“My uniform is clean, my shoes are polished and I am ready to go back,” said Vaughan.

A 58-year-old retired matron from Portsmouth on the southern coast of the United Kingdom, Vaughan is one of an estimated 20,000 former or retired members of the NHS who have heard the call of duty and are returning to work to help alleviate the strains that coronavirus has put on hospitals and clinics around the country.

“They want me to work in what is called the COVID Silver Command. It is a hub that helps the nurses across the organization by fielding phone calls, emails, a bit of running around taking supplies here, there and everywhere,” she said.

Vaughan added that she is fortunate to be in a position that allows her to return to work and mobilize so quickly to help combat the spread of coronavirus while supporting the system that she dedicated her life to.

“Once you are a nurse, you are always a nurse,” said Vaughan. “You work in a very close-knit community. I just feel really privileged to be in a position where I am still registered as a nurse so I am in a position where I can fairly quickly go back.”

But in spite of all of her experience, Vaughan admits that she is anxious about going back.

“There will be some anxiety. I think every first day at work is a difficult time. In many ways, even though I am anxious, I am looking forward to making my contribution,” she said.

According to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, she isn’t the only one either.

Johnson posted a video while in self-isolation to social media on Sunday night thanking all of the returning NHS workers and volunteers around the country who are giving up their own time -- and potentially putting themselves in harm’s way -- to help support the NHS.

“Thank you, by the way, to everybody who is now coming back into the NHS in such huge numbers,” said Johnson. “Just this evening I can tell you we have 20,000 NHS staff coming back to the colors, doctors and nurses, it is the most amazing thing and that is, of course, in addition to the 750,000 members of the public who have volunteered to help us get through this crisis.”

For Vaughan and the other 20,000 medics returning to work, the timing couldn’t be more crucial.

Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, told the Press Association on Monday that an estimated 25% of doctors are currently off work in the U.K. due to either having contracted coronavirus themselves or because a family member or a person they live with has had to isolate after exhibiting symptoms.

Said Goddard: “At the moment, we think it’s more doctors self-isolating with family members, though there are some off sick themselves. This is really impacting a lot in emergency departments and London is in a much worse position than elsewhere at the moment, but it will come to other places.”

But for Vaughan, and for the thousands of other people like her, it is about a sense of duty to the public during a national crisis.

“We haven’t quite hit the mushroom yet but, trust me, it’s coming,” warned Vaughan. “I think there are more nurses who will probably listen to me and say ‘yes, I can go back.’ Once you are a nurse, you are always a nurse.”

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Peter Summers/Getty Images(LONDON) -- The prime minister of the U.K., Boris Johnson, and the most senior lawmaker in charge of the country's health service have tested positive for coronavirus after developing mild symptoms.

In a video posted on his official Twitter page, the prime minister said he was tested for the illness after suffering a high temperature and a persistent cough, and will now be self-isolating. Johnson will continue to lead the government via video-conference calls.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock also announced that he too has tested positive for coronavirus and will continue working from home while he self-isolates.

"After experiencing mild symptoms yesterday, the Prime Minister was tested for coronavirus on the personal advice of England's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty," a Downing Street spokesperson said. "The test was carried out in No 10 by [National Health Service] staff and the result of the test was positive. In keeping with the guidance, the Prime Minister is self-isolating in Downing Street."

"He is continuing to lead the government's response to coronavirus," the spokesperson added.

The diagnoses come just days after Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, announced he had tested positive for coronavirus. Buckingham Palace released a statement saying that the Queen was in "good health" and is "is following all the appropriate advice with regards to her welfare." She last had contact with the prime minister on March 11.

The prime minister was adamant that he would continue to be able to lead the country while working from home.

"But be in no doubt I can continue, thanks to the wizardry of modern technology, to communicate with all my top team to lead the national fightback against coronavirus," he said in a video address.

Johnson also paid tribute to the staff of the U.K.'s National service and the more than 600,000 volunteers from the British public who have signed up to assist health workers to fight the spread of coronavirus.

"I want to thank everybody who's working to keep our country going through this epidemic," he said. "And we will get through it… So thank you to everybody who's doing what I'm doing, working from home, to stop the spread of the virus from household to household."

The news that Johnson has tested positive comes towards the end of one of the most dramatic weeks in British history. On Monday, the prime minister declared a "moment of national emergency" – as he announced that across the U.K. the public could only leave the house for one form of daily exercise and essential shopping, while gatherings of more than two people have been banned.

Cases of the novel coronavirus have been steadily rising in the country, with 11,816 cases confirmed so far and 578 deaths attributed to the virus, according to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Aaron Chown - WPA Pool/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Princess Charlotte and Princes George and Louis are paying tribute to people on the front lines of the fight against the novel coronavirus.

Kensington Palace shared a video of Prince William and Duchess Kate's three children clapping for first responders and others in the medical field.

The video is part of the viral Clap for Our Carers campaign, which, according to the BBC, is meant to be a morale booster for those on the giving and receiving ends of the applause.

"To all the doctors, nurses, carers, GPs, pharmacists, volunteers and other NHS staff working tirelessly to help those affected by #COVID19: thank you. #ClapForOurCarers #ClapForNHS," read Kensington Palace's caption.

To all the doctors, nurses, carers, GPs, pharmacists, volunteers and other NHS staff working tirelessly to help those affected by #COVID19: thank you.#ClapForOurCarers #ClapForNHS

— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) March 26, 2020

The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University reports that as of Friday, there have been more than 533,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, and over 24,000 deaths.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Samir Hussein/WireImage(NEW YORK) -- Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan are reportedly making California their new home.

People magazine and The Sun reported Thursday that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex left Vancouver Island, Canada, where they’d been staying since the royal couple announced their decision to step back as members of the royal family, for a permanent spot in Meghan’s hometown of Los Angeles.

Their move occurred before the border between Canada and the U.S. closed last Saturday amid the coronavirus pandemic, sources told the publications.

According to People magazine, the royal couple has "been living in a secluded compound and haven’t ventured out amid the coronavirus pandemic."

"Because of the current circumstances, it made sense for the couple to relocate at an earlier date before travel restrictions, which could remain in operation for a significant amount of time, were put in place by the government," said ABC News Royal Contributor Omid Scobie.

Harry, Meghan and their son, Archie, have been living in Canada since the royal couple announced their decision in January to step back as senior members of the royal family. They will officially step down as senior working royals on March 31.

The news comes after Disney announced Thursday that Meghan would be narrating the new Disneynature film, Elephants, which hits Disney on April 3. The film will be Meghan’s first professional endeavor since stepping back from the royal family.

In their new roles, they’ve expressed their desire to establish a new nonprofit organization, a spokesperson for the Sussexes said in February.

"Given how the U.S. will play a significant role in their future philanthropic endeavors, it was always in the cards for the Sussexes to move to L.A. later this year," said Scobie.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


JSABBOTT/iStock(NEW YORK) -- At least 23 sailors aboard the Navy aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt have become infected by the novel coronavirus, according to two U.S. officials.

The spike in the number of cases from three earlier this week is leading the Navy to order the ship to stop in Guam, so all 5,000 sailors aboard can be tested for exposure to the virus. It is a major cause of concern for defense officials, as the tight quarters in aircraft carriers hold the potential for even more infections among the ship's crew.

On Tuesday, officials disclosed that there were three cases of COVID-19 aboard the ship marked the first time that infections had been detected aboard a U.S. Navy ship at sea.

By Thursday, the number of infected sailors shot up to 23, according to two U.S. officials.

"As testing continues, additional positive cases of COVID-19 have been discovered aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt," Admiral Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations, said in a statement. "We are taking this threat very seriously and are working quickly to identify and isolate positive cases while preventing further spread of the virus aboard the ship."

He added, "No Sailors have been hospitalized or are seriously ill."

At an earlier Pentagon briefing on Thursday, Thomas Modly, the acting secretary of the Navy, told reporters that the increase in infected sailors would lead to testing of the ship's entire crew.

Modly said the aircraft carrier would remain pierside in the U.S. territory with the crew limited only to the ship's pier. A U.S. official told ABC News that the carrier is expected to arrive in Guam late Thursday.

"Our medical team aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt is performing testing for the crew consistent with [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines, and we are working to increase the rate of testing as much as possible,' Gilday said in his statement.

"Immediate priority will be symptomatic Sailors, those in close contact with Sailors who have tested positive already, and essential watch standers," he continued. "We are isolating those who test positive. Testing will continue as necessary to ensure the health of the entire ship's crew."

Modly had earlier described the symptoms of infected sailors aboard the carrier as being "very mild" -- namely body aches and sore throats.

Gilday said he expected additional positive tests to emerge after the large scale testing of the ship's crew begins and that any sailors who test positive will be transported to U.S. Naval Hospital Guam for further examination. . "We're taking this day by day," he said. "Our top two priorities are taking care of our people and maintaining mission readiness. Both of those go hand in glove."

Gilday added, "We are confident that our aggressive response will keep USS Theodore Roosevelt able to respond to any crisis in the region."

On Tuesday, Gilday told reporters it was unclear if the sailors became infected with the coronavirus following the ship's most recent port of call in early March to Da Nang, Vietnam.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


omersukrugoksu/iStock(NEW YORK) -- An American detained by Iran for over 600 days on spurious charges has been hospitalized with symptoms consistent with the novel coronavirus, according to his family's spokesperson.

Michael White, 48, has not yet been confirmed to have the virus, known as COVID-19, but there are deep concerns about his safety as Iran struggles to contain its outbreak, with over 29,000 Iranians infected and over 2,200 killed.

His family has spent weeks expressing concern about his health, saying his immune system is compromised by cancer and urging Iranian authorities to return him to the U.S. One week ago, he was granted a medical furlough and released to the custody of the Swiss government, which has looked after U.S. interests and citizens in Iran since the U.S. embassy was shuttered in 1979.

"His situation is urgent," family spokesperson Jonathan Franks said in a statement Wednesday night. "It is in everyone's interest during this health crisis to facilitate Michael's immediate medical evacuation."

Former New Mexico governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson, often a mediator with rogue regimes that have detained Americans, has made a formal request to senior Iranian authorities for White's immediate return to the U.S., Franks added.

As a condition of White's medical furlough, he is not allowed to leave the country, but his family is concerned that the Iranian health care system, already weak and even further strained by the virus, is dangerously insufficient.

White has been experiencing fever, fatigue, cough, and shortness of breath and was hospitalized Wednesday in a crowded ward specifically for COVID-19 patients, according to Franks.

"The United States will continue to work for Michael's full release as well as the release of all wrongfully detained Americans in Iran," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement last week after White was granted medical furlough.

There are at least three other Americans also being held by the Iranian government. The family of former FBI agent Bob Levinson announced Wednesday that U.S. officials believe Levinson, the longest-held American hostage who has been missing inside Iran since March 2007, died at some point in Iranian custody, but before the COVID-19 outbreak.

Iran has been overwhelmed by its coronavirus outbreak, which has mushroomed through its prison system as well. Iranian authorities have released more than 85,000 prisoners on temporary leave to stem that spread, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei saying last week the state will pardon 10,000 more.

But none of the Americans detained have been on that list. Instead, even with two inmates confirmed to have COVID-19 down the hallway, Siamak Namazi's request for temporary release was denied last Tuesday, according to his lawyer Jared Genser.

"It is outrageous that even now, under such dangerous conditions, Iran refuses to show the basic humanity and decency it has so vociferously demanded from others and instead continues to inflict senseless suffering upon my family," Babak Namazi, his brother, said in a statement at the time.

Siamak and Babak's father Baquer, 83, also a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen, is also imprisoned. A former official of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and Iranian provincial governor, Baquer was detained in February 2016 after he traveled to Tehran to advocate for his son's release.

While in custody, he's had emergency surgery because of a severe heart condition, with his family concerned about his deteriorating health in poor prison conditions.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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