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    China Concealed Extent of Virus Outbreak, U.S. Intelligence Says

    (Bloomberg) -- China has concealed the extent of the coronavirus outbreak in its country, under-reporting both total cases and deaths it’s suffered from the disease, the U.S. intelligence community concluded in a classified report to the White House, according to three U.S. officials.The officials asked not to be identified because the report is secret, and they declined to detail its contents. But the thrust, they said, is that China’s public reporting on cases and deaths is intentionally incomplete. Two of the officials said the report concludes that China’s numbers are fake.The report was received by the White House last week, one of the officials said.The outbreak began in China’s Hubei province in late 2019, but the country has publicly reported only about 82,000 cases and 3,300 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. That compares to more than 189,000 cases and more than 4,000 deaths in the U.S., which has the largest publicly reported outbreak in the world.U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday that China’s reported virus data appear to be on the “light side” but that he hadn’t received an intelligence report saying the country had concealed the extent of its outbreak.“Their numbers seem to be a little bit on the light side, and I’m being nice when I say that,” he said at a daily coronavirus briefing at the White House.Trump added that the U.S. and China were in constant communication and that Beijing would spend $250 billion to purchase American products. “We’d like to keep it, they’d like to keep it” he said of the U.S.-China trade deal.Communications staff at the White House and the Chinese embassy in Washington didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.‘More Forthcoming’“The reality is that we could have been better off if China had been more forthcoming,” Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday on CNN. “What appears evident now is that long before the world learned in December that China was dealing with this, and maybe as much as a month earlier than that, that the outbreak was real in China.While China eventually imposed a strict lockdown beyond those of less autocratic nations, there has been considerable skepticism toward China’s reported numbers, both outside and within the country. The Chinese government has repeatedly revised its methodology for counting cases, for weeks excluding people without symptoms entirely, and only on Tuesday added more than 1,500 asymptomatic cases to its total.Stacks of thousands of urns outside funeral homes in Hubei province have driven public doubt in Beijing’s reporting.Republican lawmakers in the U.S. have been particularly harsh about China’s role in the outbreak. Enhancing Beijing’s role in the pandemic could be politically helpful to Trump, who has sought to shift blame for the U.S. outbreak away from his administration’s delays in achieving widespread testing for the virus and mobilizing greater production of supplies such as face masks and hospital ventilators.“The claim that the United States has more coronavirus deaths than China is false,” Senator Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, said in a statement after Bloomberg News published its report. “Without commenting on any classified information, this much is painfully obvious: The Chinese Communist Party has lied, is lying, and will continue to lie about coronavirus to protect the regime.”Deborah Birx, the State Department immunologist advising the White House on its response to the outbreak, said Tuesday that China’s public reporting influenced assumptions elsewhere in the world about the nature of the virus.“The medical community made -- interpreted the Chinese data as: This was serious, but smaller than anyone expected,” she said at a news conference on Tuesday. “Because I think probably we were missing a significant amount of the data, now that what we see happened to Italy and see what happened to Spain.”Suspect ReportingThe U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion is an attempt to divert attention from surging deaths in the U.S. and other Western countries, Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of China’s state-run Global Times, said on his account on Chinese social media platform Weibo.There was no way for serious data faking to occur in today’s China, especially for an incident that has drawn such widespread attention, Hu said. He said China managed to curtail the death toll in Hubei, the province where the virus first emerged late last year, by sending medical workers and equipment there from other parts of the country.“To fake the casualty data, which departments will be deployed? Who will implement the plan?,” Hu said. “It will involve many different departments in many places to get the total numbers. If one of them is faking once, they have to fake it all the time. The risk of screwing up could be very high.”China isn’t the only country with suspect public reporting. Western officials have pointed to Iran, Russia, Indonesia and especially North Korea, which has not reported a single case of the disease, as probable under-counts. Others including Saudi Arabia and Egypt may also be playing down their numbers.U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has publicly urged China and other nations to be transparent about their outbreaks. He has repeatedly accused China of covering up the extent of the problem and being slow to share information, especially in the weeks after the virus first emerged, and blocking offers of help from American experts.“This data set matters,” he said at a news conference in Washington on Tuesday. The development of medical therapies and public-health measures to combat the virus “so that we can save lives depends on the ability to have confidence and information about what has actually transpired,” he said.“I would urge every nation: Do your best to collect the data. Do your best to share that information,” he said. “We’re doing that.”(Updates with Trump comments from fifth paragraph)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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    Bloomberg

    The South, Sickest Part of a Sick America, Falls Prey to Virus

    (Bloomberg) -- A virus that is particularly lethal for people with underlying health conditions is now spreading into the unhealthiest part of the U.S.: the South.For decades,­ people in the 11 states that seceded during the Civil War -- America’s poorest region -- have suffered from a scourge of obesity and hypertension, which intensify the danger of the coronavirus and the Covid-19 respiratory disease that it causes. Four of the five states with the highest diabetes rates are in the South. And eight didn’t expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, leaving thousands of families without access to routine care, even as financially troubled rural hospitals wither away.Those factors give the South a special vulnerability, as did the haphazard response from some governors as the disease began to course through the country. Without clear direction from the Trump administration, they were loath to mandate stay-at-home orders. Beaches were open in Florida, churches held services in rural Tennessee and Mardi Gras went on in Louisiana.Now Covid-19 has infected 47 long-term care centers in Georgia, overwhelmed hospitals in New Orleans, spread into at least six Alabama nursing homes, forced the evacuation of scores of elderly residents from a Tennessee rehabilitation center and killed a country music star in Nashville.“Covid-19 is going to be a disaster in the Southeast,” said Aaron Milstone, a Tennessee pulmonologist. “We’ll see higher morbidity, which is getting sick from the virus, and higher mortality, which is dying from the virus.”That prediction is already playing out in Louisiana, which saw Covid-19 infections and deaths soar in New Orleans after weeks of Carnival celebrations ended last month. Of the 239 Covid-19 fatalities there, 40% had diabetes, 25% were obese and 21% had heart problems, according to state figures.“We, in general, have a sicker population, and we are concerned that our outcomes in the Covid-19 pandemic are going to be worse because of that,” said Joseph Kanter, an assistant state health officer.The South is the sickest part of a sick country: The U.S. is unhealthier on average than other developed nations.Despite spending dramatically more on health care than other members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Americans die younger. The nation spends an annual average of $9,892 per person, which is 2.5 times more than the OECD average. The U.S. has the highest obesity rate among the 36 OECD member nations, and its life expectancy is two years less than the average of 78.8.Among American Covid-19 patients, diabetes, lung or heart disease accounted for 78% of those who developed severe respiratory infections and needed critical care, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report issued Tuesday.Diabetics were at greatest risk, said the report, which was based on data from 7,162 early U.S. patients. Diabetes mellitus, tied to excess weight and poor fitness, is at epidemic levels in the U.S., where nearly 40% of the population is obese and another 30% overweight.Those conditions run rampant in the South, according to the nonprofit United Health Foundation. For example, Mississippians are 85% more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than Minnesotans, and 41.9% of Arkansans have high blood pressure, compared with 24.5% in Utah, according to the organization’s America’s Health Rankings report. The region also has a large African-American population, which is disproportionately prone to the underlying conditions.“We have a higher than usual rate of underlying, chronic conditions like diabetes, obesity, asthma and hypertension,” said L. Faye Grimsley, head of the Public Health Sciences department at Xavier University in New Orleans. “We're at the bottom of the rankings when it comes to heart attacks, strokes, infant mortality and maternal mortality.”The trend has held true “as long as we’ve collected health statistics,” said Jay Maddock, professor of public health at Texas A&M University in College Station. “It’s a legacy of poverty.”With a pre-Civil War economy built on agriculture and slave labor, the 11 states that make up the historic South attracted low-wage industry for decades, including textiles, millwork and mining. After Reconstruction, most approved new constitutions and laws to disenfranchise and segregate blacks, deepening poverty; the region still has the highest rate in the U.S.The South’s white majorities have supported Republican presidential candidates for most of the past 40 years, and state parties there recently have marched in lockstep with President Donald Trump. As the president slowly came to grasp the gravity of the crisis, the region’s nine Republican governors mirrored his response.Only the Democratic governors of Louisiana and North Carolina had issued stay-at-home orders for their entire states until Tuesday, when Republican Greg Abbott of Texas told residents to remain behind closed doors except for essential errands. Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor of Florida, did so Wednesday after resisting such a move for weeks. So did the governor of Mississippi, Tate Reeves. Georgia’s Brian Kemp said he would issue rules Thursday.But the disease is on the loose.Bo Dorough, mayor of Albany in south Georgia, heard of his area’s first Covid-19 case on March 11. By March 31, the city of 73,000 and the surrounding area had Georgia’s highest concentration of patients and highest number of deaths, one of the fastest outbreaks in the U.S. “We’re three weeks [in] and we already have 40 dead,” Dorough said Monday.The disaster began with the Feb. 29 funeral of a retired janitor and a second funeral the following week. Hundreds attended, and most patients who began flooding Albany’s Phoebe Putney hospital had been at one or both. The dead all had underlying conditions, said Michael Fowler, coroner of surrounding Dougherty County. More than half were diabetic. Others had hypertension or cancer or congestive heart failure. “None of them had nothing,” he said.By the end of March, Dougherty County alone had 455 infections and a 5% death rate among those patients. Fulton County, home of Atlanta and with a population of more than 1 million, had 547 cases and a death rate of less than 3%.“People really need to pay attention to this, and how fast it spread, and how many people died,” Dorough said.As the virus raged, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp ordered the medically fragile and nursing home residents to stay home, but refused to include the state at large. He closed bars and nightclubs and banned gatherings of more than 10, but still hasn’t set a blanket stay-at-home order.Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, whose state sits across the Chattahoochee River, scoffed at a lockdown, even as the virus showed up in nursing homes. “Y’all, we are not Louisiana, we are not New York state, we are not California,” she said March 26, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. Four days later, she released a video urging -- but not ordering -- people to stay home.In Tennessee, Milstone, the pulmonologist, led a petition drive of physicians to persuade Republican Governor Bill Lee to issue a stay-at-home mandate. He got nowhere. Milstone said on television that only the death of a country-music star would move Lee.Last weekend, in quick succession, the state lost honky-tonk singer Joe Diffie and witnessed the dramatic evacuation of a nursing home in Gallatin, about 30 minutes from Nashville. The latter required a phalanx of ambulances from three counties and -- the next day -- 20 members of the state National Guard, who tested those left behind. By Monday, more than 100 residents and staff had tested positive for the virus.That day, Lee recommended that Tennessee residents shelter at home. He didn’t order it.(Updates in fourth paragraph with Georgia long-term care centers. )For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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    Don’t Click That Link! It Might Be Viral

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- The emergence of the novel coronavirus has prompted a land grab of Covid-19-related website domains — some of which are likely to be legitimate, others more nefarious. For example, “corona-cure.com” was registered on Jan. 28 — and was the subject of a warning letter from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on March 26.Research for Bloomberg Opinion by Whois XML API suggests that at least 55,000 Covid-19-related websites have been registered since the start of the year — with more than 2,000 a day being registered after President Donald Trump’s televised address to the nation on March 11.   — Ben Schott is a Bloomberg Opinion visual columnist. He created the Schott’s Original Miscellany and Schott’s Almanac series, and writes for newspapers and magazines around the world.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.