US briefing: Coronavirus chaos, Syria airstrikes and South Carolina

Tim Walker
Photograph: Kimimasa Mayama/EPA

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

Covid-19 case in sub-Saharan Africa raises pandemic fears

After a day on which the Dow Jones plunged by a record 1,190 points, analysts have warned that a coronavirus pandemic could trigger a financial crisis on the same scale as 2008. Donald Trump’s pick to lead the US response, his vice-president, Mike Pence, has been widely criticised for his record on health issues, while low-income Americans without paid sick leave or, in many cases, health insurance, remain the most at risk from a Covid-19 outbreak.

Turkey lets refugees flee to Europe after troops killed in Syria

A Turkish soldier on patrol in Syria’s Aleppo province last week. Photograph: Aref Tammawi/AFP via Getty Images

Turkey has said it will open the way for refugees to flee to Europe, after 33 Turkish troops were killed by an airstrike in Syria on Thursday night. The attack, which was blamed on Syrian government forces, took place in Idlib province, where Turkey is supporting rebels in Syria’s last remaining opposition stronghold. It represents a steep escalation in existing tensions between Turkey, a Nato member, and Russia, which is backing the Assad regime.

  • Humanitarian crisis. The UN has warned that the conflict in Idlib could lead to the most serious humanitarian crisis since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

Warren’s last-ditch primary push in South Carolina

Warren at a rally with celebrity supporter John Legend in Charleston. Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

She was once, briefly, the frontrunner. But now Elizabeth Warren is making a last-ditch pitch for votes in what may be her last days as a serious contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. The Massachusetts senator enjoyed support from the singer John Legend this week in South Carolina, where she is trying to woo black voters away from Joe Biden before Saturday’s primary. Whether or not Warren herself survives past Super Tuesday, argues Moira Donegan, no Democrat will win the White House without her help.

  • Trans activists. Warren has won the support of trans community organisers across the US, who say her particular focus on protecting black trans women is unprecedented, as Sam Levin reports.

  • Criminal justice. The South Carolina primary comes five years after the shooting of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, by a white Charleston police officer. Scott’s relatives tell Oliver Laughland they hope criminal justice reform remains on the ballot.

Trump’s conservative faithful plan for second term at CPAC

‘It’s going to take at least four more years to drain that swamp’: Mike Pence at CPAC. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Taking time out from his new role managing the administration’s response to the coronavirus crisis, Mike Pence took to the stage at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday to promise another four years of Trump. “It’s going to take at least four more years to drain that swamp,” he said, to rapturous applause from the crowd. David Smith reports from Maryland on a Republican faithful in buoyant mood before the 2020 election.

  • Toxic party. Trump pulled out of an appearance at CPAC during the last presidential election in 2016, when he was widely considered toxic to the GOP. Now he enjoys cult-like status at the event.

Cheat sheet

  • The death toll from sectarian riots between Muslims and Hindus in Delhi – the worst spate of religious violence in the Indian capital for decades – has risen to 38.

  • A California environmental group has sued Coke, Pepsi, Nestlé and several other large companies for creating a plastic pollution “nuisance”, damaging ecosystems while misleading consumers about the recyclability of plastic.

  • Scientists have detected the biggest cosmic explosion on record, at a supermassive black hole in the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster, some 390m light years from Earth – a blast so vast it blew a hole the size of 15 Milky Ways in the surrounding space.

  • Texts in which Johnny Depp suggested he wanted to kill his then wife, Amber Heard, by drowning and burning in 2013 have been read in a London courtroom, during the actor’s libel action against the Sun newspaper.


Halsey: ‘Art still works! You lose faith in it sometimes’

The chart-topping singer and activist firebrand Halsey has just released Manic, her most emotionally raw album so far – made while its creator, who has bipolar disorder, was in a manic state. “That’s not a punchline,” she tells Eve Barlow.

What Noma did next

Few restaurants have enjoyed as much acclaim as Copenhagen’s Noma. But now they have their Michelin stars, its founders are pursuing a grander project, writes Kieran Morris: taking the values of the “new Nordic” to supermarkets, classrooms and parliaments around the world.

Why Harvey Weinstein hired a prison consultant

The former film mogul and convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein has reportedly hired a specialist adviser to help him prepare for life behind bars. Poppy Noor spoke to a prison consultant to find out exactly what services they offer to their incarcerated clients.

A gay Chinese couple’s journey for a surrogate son

Li and Xu fell in love in China, where gay marriage and adoption are illegal. To have a child, they turned instead to surrogacy: a dream that was also impossible at home. Zeyi Yang follows the couple’s long journey to parenthood.


Carl Gibson is one of 27.5 million Americans with no health insurance. If a coronavirus pandemic hits the US, he says, they could all be left without a feasible way to get the care they need.

When you multiply my situation by 27.5 million, you end up with a country full of people who won’t see a doctor unless they’re extremely sick. And when you combine a for-profit healthcare system – in which only those wealthy enough to get care actually receive it – with a global pandemic, the only outcome will be unmitigated disaster.


After six years of delays, David Beckham’s MLS franchise Inter Miami will at last make its debut this weekend. Chris Smith asks whether the city of Miami will actually care, while Francisco Navas and Jakub Frankowicz assess the best new players in the North American league.

High school junior Heaven Fitch has become the first girl ever to win one of North Carolina’s individual state wrestling championships, claiming victory over all seven male contenders in the 106lb weight class. “I kind of dominated the match,” she said afterwards.

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