US briefing: California stays home, Italy deaths surpass China and Tulsi out

Tim Walker
Photograph: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

Good morning, I’m Tim Walker with today’s essential stories.

Trump sows confusion as Covid-19 tightens grip on US

California governor Gavin Newsom has estimated 25.5 million people – more than half the state’s 40 million population – will get the coronavirus, as he extended a “shelter-in-place” order to cover the entire state. More than 200 people have now died with the virus in the US, as Donald Trump continues to spread confusion about the disease, claiming on Thursday that a therapeutic drug would be available “almost immediately”, only to be contradicted by officials.

Italy fatalities outstrip China after deadliest 24 hours yet

Italy is now the nation worst hit by the coronavirus, with 427 new fatalities on Thursday, taking the country’s death toll to 3,405 – more than the 3,245 recorded in China, which thanks to a brutally effective lockdown strategy has enjoyed its second day without new cases. In the UK, Boris Johnson made the optimistic claim that the country could “turn the tide” of the virus in 12 weeks. But as Africa’s fragile health systems prepare for an onslaught, the WHO warned the world’s most vulnerable will be left behind amid the crisis.

  • Israel. The Mossad intelligence agency undertook a covert international operation this week to fly up to 100,000 coronavirus testing kits into Israel – kits which may turn out to be useless as they were reportedly missing parts.

  • Qatar. The country’s largest labour camp for migrant workers has become a “virtual prison”, under a lockdown enforced after hundreds of construction workers in Qatar came down with Covid-19.

  • Uruguay. Half of all of Uruguay’s confirmed coronavirus cases have been traced to one patient: a designer who arrived from Spain after having recently had a fever, yet still attended a glamorous society wedding, after which 44 other guests were struck down.

Senators offloaded stocks before virus crashed the markets

Senator Richard Burr, who recently sold between $628,000 and $1.7m in stocks. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

Two GOP senators are facing widespread calls to resign after it was reported they sold millions of dollars’ worth of stocks before the coronavirus crisis sent the markets plunging. Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, and Kelly Loeffler, whose husband is chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, have both denied they kept the public in the dark about the threat. Loeffler also bought stock in a teleworking software firm that has since seen a bump in its stock price.

  • Republican stimulus. Senate Republicans have introduced legislation offering direct payments of up to $1,200 to individuals left financially vulnerable by the crisis.

  • Credit crunch. Investors are predicting a tidal wave of corporate bankruptcies that will make the 2008 global financial crisis look like “child’s play”.

Can Finland’s example help us to feel happier?

The Main library Oodi in Helsinki, Finland, closed amid the pandemic. Photograph: Kimmo Brandt/EPA

The eighth annual World Happiness Report, published on Friday, has ranked Finland the world’s happiest nation for the third year in a row, offering lessons for how to move forward positively during and after the pandemic. Research has shown co-operation and social support are fundamental to happiness; the report’s leading author, Richard Layard, says the coronavirus crisis will accelerate the increase in social responsibility that he and others have long advocated.

And in other news…

Tulsi Gabbard in South Carolina on MLK Day, with Joe Biden, whom she has endorsed. Photograph: Sam Wolfe/Reuters
  • Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has dropped out of the Democratic presidential race after picking up a total of just two delegates, both in American Samoa. The last woman in the contest endorsed Joe Biden, saying she “may not agree with the vice-president on every issue,” but knows “he has a good heart, and he’s motivated by his love for our country.”

  • At least 83 Mexican land and environment defenders were murdered between 2012 and 2019, amid the country’s war on drugs and 2013 set of energy reforms. Hundreds more have been threatened, beaten and criminalised over the same period, according to a new report.

  • Tesla chief executive Elon Musk is keeping his California factory open despite the coronavirus, after casting doubt on its seriousness via Twitter. But he has also offered to help, saying his companies “will make ventilators if there is a shortage”.

  • India has executed the four men convicted of the brutal gang rape and murder of a young woman on a Delhi bus in 2012, which laid bare the country’s crisis of sexual violence.

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Losing your job in a pandemic

As New York reaches the end of its first week of mandatory shutdowns for bars, restaurants, gyms, entertainment venues and schools, Camille Sweeney spoke to six Americans who can no longer go to work during the coronavirus crisis.

How coronavirus is devastating film and music

A string of major film releases has been postponed and productions shut down across the industry, while Glastonbury is the biggest of countless cancelled music events. Catherine Shoard hears from those affected in film, while Ben Beaumont-Thomas and Laura Snapes discuss the crisis with people in the music industry.

Tell us about your exasperating housemates

A week into the pandemic, the housemates with whom you once shared little more than a fridge and a bathroom cleaning rota are set to be your constant companions through months of quarantine. We want to hear how you’re coping with your new “co-workers” in close quarters.

The second coming of Jesus

The world could do with a good comeback story, so perhaps this is the moment for The Jesus Rolls, a new film featuring John Turturro as Jesus, a dubious Puerto Rican 10-pin bowler – 22 years since the character first appeared in The Big Lebowski. Ryan Gilbey welcomes his resurrection.


Italy has learned hard lessons from the onslaught of the coronavirus. “Now what Italy is doing can become a model for other countries threatened by the same enemy,” says Maurizio Molinari.

South Korea, meanwhile, took swift and decisive action on quarantine and testing – measures that have kept the county’s mortality rate low throughout the outbreak, write Alexis Dudden and Andrew Marks.

Other nations would be wise to copy the South Korean model: on 29 February, 700 people tested positive in the primary South Korean outbreak city of Daegu. By 15 March, 41 new cases were reported there.

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