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Treasury curve inverts as outbreak fans growth fears…


LONDON (Reuters) – The U.S. Treasury yield curve, measured by the gap between yields on three-month and 10-year bonds, briefly inverted on Tuesday for the first time since October as investors worried about the economic impact from a virus outbreak in China.

FILE PHOTO: A trader looks at a screen at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., October 25, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

An inverted curve, when longer-dated yields fall below shorter-maturity ones, has been a fairly reliable predictor of U.S. economic recessions in the past.

The death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in China has risen to more than 100 and the virus has spread to more than 10 countries, including France, Japan and the United States.

That has rattled world markets, fuelling concerns about the impact on a world economy hit last year by a trade war between the United States and China.

Investors in turn have rushed into safe-haven U.S. Treasuries, with 10-year yields falling on Tuesday to 1.57%US10YT=RR, their lowest since early October.

The gap between yields on three-month notes and 10-year government bonds briefly fell to -0.015 basis points US3MT=RR US10YT=RR, its lowest since October, before returning to around 0.01 bps.

“The movement in the curve is probably telling us we are seeing an increasing shift away from risk assets to safe assets, including Treasuries, and the entire curve is being pulled down,” said Philip Shaw, chief economist at Investec.

“If the signs were to multiply, there could be a more severe impact not just in China but globally. Markets are starting to speculate the Fed could bring rates down by summer.”

That three-month/10-year part of the yield curve is closely watched as a recession indicator. It inverted in March last year for the first time since the financial crisis, a signal that a recession was likely to follow in one to two years.

The yield curve can revert and reinvert many times before a recession hits.

It has traded in positive territory since October, when optimism that the United States and China would reach a trade deal boosted risk sentiment.

(GRAPHIC: U.S. curve inverts – here)

The two-year/five-year curve also inverted on Monday US2US5=RR. The gap between two-year and 10-year yields US2US10=RR, also considered a recession signal, was at the flattest since Nov. 29.

Markets have ratcheted up expectations the Federal Reserve will cut U.S. interest rates this year, fully pricing in one 25- basis-point cut and a 50% chance of a second easing later in 2020, Fed funds futures show.

Reporting by Dhara Ranasinghe and Sujata Rao; editing by Larry King

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



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Uproar over DNC convention appointments…


Some Democratic National Committee (DNC) members and supporters of Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersGOP Iowa senator suggests Trump impeachment defense could hurt Biden at caucuses On The Money: Stocks close with steep losses driven by coronavirus fears | Tax season could bring more refund confusion | Trump’s new wins for farmers may not undo trade damage Sanders launches first TV ads in Nevada MORE (I-Vt.) are venting frustration at DNC chairman Tom PerezThomas Edward PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s ‘wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE over his initial appointments to the committees that will oversee the rules and party platform at the nominating convention in Milwaukee later this year.

Sanders’s allies are incensed by two names in particular – former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who will co-chair the rules committee, and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDershowitz: Bolton allegations would not constitute impeachable offense Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — NFL social media accounts hacked | Dem questions border chief over controversial Facebook group | Clinton says Zuckerberg has ‘authoritarian’ views Clinton on Sanders comments: ‘I wasn’t thinking about the election’ MORE’s former campaign chairman John Podesta, who will have a seat on that committee.

The Sanders campaign unsuccessfully sought to have Frank removed from the rules committee in 2016, describing him as an “aggressive attack surrogate for the Clinton campaign.”

And Podesta, a longtime Washington political consultant and Clinton confidante, is viewed with contempt by some on the left. One of Podesta’s hacked emails from 2016 showed him asking a Democratic strategist where to “stick the knife in” Sanders, who lost the nomination to Clinton after a divisive primary contest. 

“There’s a very small number of appointments of allies to Sen. Sanders,” said Yasmine Taeb, a DNC member from Virginia who has not endorsed a candidate in 2020 but attended the 2016 convention as a delegate for Sanders.

“The appointments also include individuals that are outright hostile to Bernie Sanders and his supporters,” she added. “It’s not the message the DNC should be sending to the grassroots right now when we’re all working aggressively to defeat the racist in the White House.”

The Sanders campaign did not respond to a request for comment, but national co-chair Nina Turner blasted the appointments in an interview with progressive podcast Status Coup, calling it “an embarrassment” and a “slap in the face.”

“If the DNC believes it’s going to get away in 2020 with what it did in 2016, it has another thing coming,” Turner said.

Over the weekend, the DNC’s executive committee voted to appoint 25 people each to the rules, platform and credentialing committees for the nominating convention.

The appointments are only a fraction of those who will end up serving on the committees. Most of the members will be allotted in proportion to the number of delegates the candidates win over the course of the primaries and caucuses.

There will be 187 people on each committee and the winner’s supporters should make up a majority.

The DNC does not consider past endorsements when determining the committee chairs or initial members.

Rather, DNC officials said they look for policy experts to help shape the platform or for experienced Democratic hands who know their way around party bylaws to assist in the rules and credentialing process.

And there are high-profile Sanders supporters appointed to the committees as well, including Larry Cohen, who founded the pro-Sanders outside group Our Revolution.

“Our rules require the DNC chair to make a small fraction of appointments to three standing committees for the convention, and these appointments reflect the rich diversity of our party,” said DNC national press secretary Brandon Gassaway.

“The remaining appointments will be made based on each state’s election results. 2016 presidential preference was not considered for this convention’s appointments. We are grateful for these appointees’ commitment to the party and look forward to an energized convention where we will nominate the next president of the United States,” he added.

Still, there is frustration among some DNC members that the committee chairs and initial nominations rely too heavily on a pool of “at-large” delegates, rather than state-elected members who represent the party’s activist base. 

“The DNC is supposed to provide resources and a platform for state parties,” said Michael Kapp, a DNC member from California who has not endorsed in the primary. “But if we are consistently being excluded from the table, how are state parties supposed to feel?”

DNC officials said state party members will make up a far greater share of the committees once delegates are allocated and each candidate’s supporters take their spots alongside the appointed members.

Other critics said the initial list has too many corporate lobbyists, which is out of step with the grassroots base.

On Sunday, Sanders’s California political director Susie Shannon, who is also a DNC member, sent a letter to Perez asking that paid employees or consultants to the presidential campaigns be excluded from the rules committee.

And some DNC members complained that they were only alerted to the appointments late on Friday ahead of the executive committee’s Saturday vote. Some members derisively referred to the appointments as the “midnight convention committee picks.”

“The subject of transparency and notice has been broached in the past with Chairman Perez in open meetings of the full DNC,” said Terry Tucker, a DNC member from Colorado and a Sanders supporter. “Lack of transparency and input from the members continues to be a source of irritation.”

Jeri Shepherd, a DNC member from Colorado and a Sanders supporter, worried that the process would “undermine unity” in the run-up to the convention.

“It will be difficult to have credible messaging to our grassroots base that the convention process will be fair and reflect the will of the voters,” Shepherd said. “If the voters do not trust the process, that will serve to dampen turnout and will also hurt our down-ticket races.”

The initial appointments have long been the prerogative of the chairman and the DNC’s executive committee. DNC officials said the appointments were passed along to members at the same point in time as they always are.

Andrew Werthmann, a DNC member from Wisconsin who has not endorsed in 2020 but represented Sanders on the rules committee in 2016, said the appointments were a missed opportunity for the national party to seek input from the rank-and-file.

“We have to do things differently,” Werthmann said. “This is one of those things where people were looking to the party to build trust and community and we just have to do a better job.”

The frustrations underscore the tricky dynamics the DNC faces in overseeing a hotly contested primary and keeping different factions united before the July convention.

Most Democrats have been happy with the DNC’s handling of the record number of candidates seeking the party’s nomination, with over two dozen running at one point.

Under Perez, the DNC has addressed power imbalances by weakening the influence of super-delegates, overseen a more robust debates schedule, and been transparent in setting the criteria for who qualifies for the debates.

Perez and his team had nothing to do with the party’s disastrous 2016 convention, which took place under the cloud of Wikileaks releasing hacked DNC emails that showed political bias in favor of Clinton over Sanders.

But Clinton’s recent return to the spotlight to bash Sanders and re-litigate both her 2016 primary victory and general election loss has reignited tensions between establishment Democrats and grassroots liberals.

With Sanders rising in the polls, there are new fears among his supporters that the national party will stack the deck against him, particularly if there is a contested convention.

Bob Mulholland, a DNC member from California who had previously backed Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBiden leads 2020 pack in congressional endorsements Harris on 2020 endorsement: ‘I am not thinking about it right now’ Panel: Is Kamala Harris a hypocrite for mulling a Joe Biden endorsement? MORE (D-Calif.) for president, dismissed the concerns, however, and said Perez has proved that he can be trusted.

“There’s a reason we elect a DNC chair, he’s the CEO, so let him drive the car,” Mulholland said. “Whoever the nominee is, he or she will be in charge of their own convention. My message to Democrats is to stop attacking each other and train your focus on Trump.”



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Bribery indictment against Netanyahu filed with court…


Within hours of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu withdrawing his immunity request on Tuesday, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit filed an indictment with the Jerusalem District Court against him for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.Mandelblit had announced his final indictment on November 21, but could not file it with the courts until the immunity request process was concluded.The indictment’s filing could impact the March 2 election and alter the course of negotiations over forming a new government and who will be the new prime minister.Hours after announcing the indictment on November 21, Mandelblit gave a speech in which he said that it was personally sad for him to indict Netanyahu, who he personally admires greatly in terms of talents, but that he was obligated by the law to do so.He said that no man is above the law and that enforcing the law should not be used as a political football by either the Left or the Right.The attorney-general ultimately indicted Netanyahu for bribery in Case 4000, the “Bezeq-Walla! Affair”; for breach of public trust in Case 1000, the “Illegal Gifts Affair”; and for breach of public trust in Case 2000, the “Yediot Ahronot-Yisrael Hayom” Affair.The biggest moving pieces had been what the charge would be in Case 4000 and whether Case 2000 would remain a breach of trust charge as in Mandelblit’s initial February announcement, or whether it would be closed.Ultimately, the decision to indict Netanyahu for bribery is the most decisive one.It means that his trial will be in a district court, known for being tougher than the lower magistrate’s courts, and that he could face a potential jail sentence of years instead of months or mere community service.As early as 2017, The Jerusalem Post received multiple indications that an indictment for bribery could bring down Netanyahu even if he did not voluntarily step down, and that this serious consequence was part of what was making the investigatory process take so much longer.In Case 4000, Netanyahu is accused of involvement in a media bribery scheme in which Walla! owner Shaul Elovitch gave him positive coverage in exchange for the prime minister making government policies favor Elovitch’s Bezeq company, to the tune of around NIS 1.8 billion.In Case 1000, Netanyahu is accused of receiving hundreds of thousands of shekels in gifts from rich tycoons, mostly from Arnon Milchin, in exchange for help with business and personal-legal initiatives. The charge itself is for acting in situations in which Netanyahu had a conflict of interest, since no actual quid pro quo could be proven.In Case 2000, Netanyahu was accused of working with Yediot and Yisrael Hayom to reduce its competition with Yediot in exchange for positive coverage for Netanyahu in Yediot. The deal never went through, but the law has crimes of attempted bribery and breach of trust which can apply even then.The decision to keep Case 2000 as an indictment for breach of public trust against Netanyahu, despite this being the case which Mandelblit was never a fan of, was also significant.State’s witnesses Shlomo Filber and Nir Hefetz appear as strongly against Netanyahu in the final indictment as they did in the initial indictment in February, both in allegations and in the volume of mentions – Filber is mentioned around 90 times and Hefetz around 80 times.Ironically, though state’s witness Ari Harow was once considered important to the cases against the prime minister and is still mentioned in the indictment, he is only mentioned about 10 times and often in a passive context.



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Trump to unveil Middle East peace plan amid skepticism…


WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is set to unveil his administration’s much-anticipated Middle East peace plan in the latest American venture to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Odds of it taking shape, though, appear long, given the Palestinians’ preemptive rejection of the plan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s shaky political standing.

For both men, the White House summit looks to be a welcome diversion.

Trump is expected to present the proposal alongside Netanyahu at noon Tuesday. The event comes the day Trump’s impeachment trial continues in the Senate and the Israeli parliament had planned a hearing to discuss Netanyahu’s request for immunity from criminal corruption charges.

Netanyahu withdrew that request hours before the parliamentary proceedings were set to begin, saying in a statement he had “decided not to let this dirty game continue.” But Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, is still expected to meet even after the withdrawal. The body had been set to likely vote against immunity, dealing Netanyahu a blow.

The Mideast peace proposal is expected to be very favorable to Israel, and Netanyahu has hailed it as a chance to “make history” and define Israel’s final borders. Netanyahu’s political challenger Benny Gantz has spoken in glowing terms about Trump and his initiative. Trump insists it has a chance despite skepticism.

“It’s been worked on by everybody, and we’ll see whether or not it catches hold. If it does, that would be great, and if it doesn’t, we can live with it, too. But I think it might have a chance,” Trump said alongside Netanyahu on Monday, when he also hosted Gantz at the White House.

A key element will be whether the proposal includes an American approval to any Israeli annexation of the West Bank.

In the run-up to Israel’s March 2 election, Netanyahu has called for annexing parts of the West Bank and imposing Israeli sovereignty on all its settlements there. Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, and the Jordan Valley in particular is considered a vital security asset.

Reports in Israeli media have speculated Trump’s plan could include the possible annexation of large pieces of territory that the Palestinians seek for a future independent state. American approval could give Netanyahu the type of cover to go ahead with a move that he’s resisted taking for more than a decade in power.

But Netanyahu leads a caretaker government ahead of the country’s third election in less than a year, and such a far-reaching move, under the cloud of criminal corruption indictment no less, could lack public legitimacy.

Such a policy shift would appeal to Netanyahu’s hard-line nationalist supporters but would almost certainly torpedo the viability of an independent Palestinian state and likely infuriate neighboring Jordan. In 1994, Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty, the second between Israel and its Arab neighbors after Egypt.

The Palestinians seek the West Bank as the heartland of a future independent state and east Jerusalem as their capital. Most of the international community supports their position, but Trump has reversed decades of U.S. foreign policy by siding more blatantly with Israel. The centerpiece of his strategy was recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the American Embassy there. He’s also closed Palestinian diplomatic offices in Washington and cut funding to Palestinian aid programs.

Those policies have proven popular among Trump’s evangelical and pro-Israel supporters and could give him a much-needed boost from his base as the Senate weighs whether to remove him from office and as he gears up for a reelection battle this year.

Jared Kushner, a Trump adviser and the Republican president’s son-in-law, has been the architect for the plan for nearly three years. He’s tried to persuade academics, lawmakers, former Mideast negotiators, Arab governments and special-interest groups not to reject his fresh approach outright.

But the Palestinians refuse to even speak to Trump, saying he’s biased in favor of Israel, and they are calling on Arab representatives to reject the Tuesday event at the White House. The Palestinian leadership also has encouraged protests in the West Bank, raising fears that the announcement in Washington could spark a new round of violence. Ahead of the announcement, the Israeli military said it was reinforcing infantry troops along the Jordan Valley.



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Hong Kong to cut rail links as virus from China spreads…


BEIJING (AP) — Hong Kong said Tuesday it will cut all rail links to mainland China as the United States and other governments prepared to evacuate citizens from the Chinese city at the center of a virus outbreak that has now killed more than 100 people.

Wearing a green surgical mask, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam told a news conference that train service would stop at midnight Thursday and that the two stations connecting to the mainland would be closed.

She stopped short of a total closing of the border, as North Korea and Mongolia have done, but said that flights from the mainland would be reduced.

China’s death toll from the new viral disease rose to 106, including the first death in Beijing, the Chinese capital, and 24 others in Hubei province, where the first illnesses were detected in December.

Asian stock markets tumbled for a second day, dragged down by worries about the virus’s global economic impact.

The U.S. Consulate in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where authorities cut off most access Jan. 22 in an effort to contain the disease, was preparing to fly its diplomats and some other Americans out of the city on Wednesday. Japan and South Korea said they would send planes to Wuhan this week to evacuate their citizens. France, Mongolia and other governments also planned evacuations.

U.S. health officials expanded their recommendation for people to avoid non-essential travel to any part of China, rather than just Wuhan and other areas most affected by the outbreak.

China’s increasingly drastic containment efforts began with the suspension of plane, train and bus links to Wuhan, a city of 11 million people. That lockdown has expanded to 17 cities with more than 50 million people in the most far-reaching disease-control measures ever imposed.

There were 1,771 new cases confirmed in China on Monday, raising the national total to 4,515, according to the National Health Commission. It said 976 people were in serious condition.

The government has sent 6,000 extra medical workers to Wuhan from across China, including 1,800 who were due to arrive Tuesday, a commission official, Jiao Yahui, said at a news conference.

A baby boy was delivered by surgery in Wuhan after his 27-year-old mother was hospitalized as a “highly suspected” virus case, state TV reported. The mother, who has a fever and cough, was 37 weeks pregnant, or two weeks less than a standard full term.

Doctors wore protective masks and clothing for the delivery Friday at Union Hospital.

“It was unlikely for her to be able to give natural birth,” said the hospital’s deputy director of obstetrics, Zhao Yin. “After the baby was born, the mother would suffer less pressure in her lungs and she could get better treatment.”

In Beijing, residents of two villages in the capital’s eastern Pinggu district were refusing to allow outsiders to enter in an effort to avoid the virus.

“The village has been locked down,” a member of the Beitumen village committee who would give only his surname, Guo, said by telephone. He said villagers are allowed to go out to buy daily necessities.

Another village, Jingyu, imposed similar restrictions, said a member of the local committee who wouldn’t give his name.

The Education Ministry canceled English proficiency and other tests for students to apply to foreign universities. The ministry said the new semester for public schools and universities following Lunar New Year was postponed until further notice.

Hong Kong announced postal services and most government offices would stay closed through at least next week. The education department said schools would reopen on Feb. 17.

Chinese financial markets were closed for the holiday, but stock indexes in Tokyo, Seoul and Sydney all declined.

Beijing’s official response has “vastly improved” since the 2002-03 SARS outbreak, which also originated in China, but “fears of a global contagion are not put to bed,” said Vishnu Varathan at Mizuho Bank in Singapore.

Airlines, resorts and other companies that rely on travel and tourism suffered steep losses. Prices of gold and bonds rose as traders moved money into safe haven holdings.

The Shanghai Stock Exchange, one of the world’s busiest, announced it was postponing the resumption of trading after the holiday by three days to Monday.

Scientists are concerned about the new virus because it is closely related to other diseases including SARS, which killed nearly 800 people.

So far, the new coronavirus doesn’t seem to spread as easily among people as SARS or influenza. Most of the cases that spread between people were of family members and health workers who had contact with patients. That suggests the new virus isn’t well adapted to infect people.

China has reported eight cases in Hong Kong and five in Macao, and more than 45 cases have been confirmed elsewhere in the world. Almost all involve mainland Chinese tourists or people who visited Wuhan.

On Tuesday, Taiwan said two 70-year-old tourists from Wuhan had been confirmed to have the disease, raising its total to seven cases. Thailand reported six members of a family from Hubei were new cases, raising its total to 14.

Germany confirmed its first case late Monday. Infections also have been confirmed in the United States, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Nepal, France, Canada, Australia and Sri Lanka.

The five American cases — two in southern California and one each in Washington state, Chicago and Arizona — are people who had recently arrived from central China. Health officials said they had no evidence the virus was spreading in the United States and they believe the risk to Americans remains low.

During the SARS outbreak, Chinese authorities were criticized for reacting slowly and failing to disclose information. The government has responded more aggressively to the latest outbreak.

Wuhan is building two hospitals, one with 1,500 beds and another with 1,000, for the growing number of patients. The first is scheduled to be finished next week.

The coronavirus family includes the common cold but also more severe illnesses such as SARS and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. The new virus causes cold- and flu-like symptoms, including cough and fever, and in more severe cases, shortness of breath and pneumonia.

The virus is thought to have spread to people from wild animals sold at a Wuhan market. China on Sunday banned trade in wild animals and urged people to stop eating meat from them.

___

Associated Press researcher Henry Hou in Beijing and video journalist Katie Tam in Hong Kong contributed to this story.



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NASA reveals 'space home' where first tourists will enjoy 'largest Earth window'…


SPACE tourists set to holiday aboard the International Space Station will enjoy padded pods and panoramic views of Earth.

Nasa has chosen the start-up that will build the first “private habitat” module for the ISS – revealing concept images and videos of the sci-fi residence.

 Tourists will be treated to stunning panoramic views of Earth

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Tourists will be treated to stunning panoramic views of EarthCredit: www.axiomspace.com
 The incredible Earth Observatory can be seen poking out from the bottom of the module

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The incredible Earth Observatory can be seen poking out from the bottom of the moduleCredit: www.axiomspace.com
 The sci-fi pod will let you see in full 360 degrees

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The sci-fi pod will let you see in full 360 degreesCredit: Axiom

Last year, Nasa revealed plans to allow tourists to visit the ISS from 2020 onwards.

Until now, the floating space lab had only been accessible to astronauts representing state-level space agencies.

Under the new rules, companies can now take “private astronauts” to the ISS for up to 30 days.

And Nasa has commissioned Houston-based start-up Axiom Space to build the first habitat module for commercial space tourists.

 Nasa hopes the new module will provide comfortable living for space tourists

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Nasa hopes the new module will provide comfortable living for space touristsCredit: www.axiomspace.com
 The Axiom module comes equipped with a research lab

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The Axiom module comes equipped with a research labCredit: www.axiomspace.com

Axiom’s space habitat will be capable of housing eight crew members, each with their own “nest-like cabin”.

The living module also promises super-fast communications back to home and “extraordinary, unobstructed views of Earth”.

That comes courtesy of what Axiom claims will be the largest window observatory ever constructed for space.

“Axiom’s work to develop a commercial destination in space is a critical step for NASA to meet its long-term needs for astronaut training, scientific research, and technology demonstrations in low-Earth orbit,” said NASA chief Jim Bridenstine.

“We are transforming the way NASA works with industry to benefit the global economy and advance space exploration.

“It is a similar partnership that this year will return the capability of American astronauts to launch to the space station on American rockets from American soil.”

Axiom hired legendary French designer Philippe Starck to map out the crew accommodations.

But the module will also contain manufacturing facilities, a pressurised research lab, and a crew-capable airlock.

What is the ISS?

Here’s what you need to know about the International Space Station…

  • The International Space Station, often abbreviated to ISS, is a large space craft that orbits Earth and houses astronauts who go up there to complete scientific missions
  • Many countries worked together to build it and they work together to use it
  • It is made up of many pieces, which astronauts had to send up individually on rockets and put together from 1998 to 2000
  • Ever since the year 2000, people have lived on the ISS
  • Nasa uses the station to learn about living and working in space
  • It is approximately 250 miles above Earth and orbits around the planet just like a satellite
  • Living inside the ISS is said to be like living inside a big house with five bedrooms, two bathrooms, a gym, lots of science labs and a big bay window for viewing Earth
 The module will dock on to the side of the ISS

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The module will dock on to the side of the ISSCredit: www.axiomspace.com
 There are two habitation modules on board the module

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There are two habitation modules on board the moduleCredit: www.axiomspace.com

Initially, the module will simply dock on to the ISS – almost like a conservatory on your home.

However, Axiom hopes that when the ISS is decommissioned, its module will float freely through space – still capable of housing astronauts.

“The privately-owned platform that builds on the legacy and foundation of continuous human presence in Low Earth Orbit established by the ISS,” said Axiom Space.

“The first elements of Axiom will attach to the forward node of the ISS, providing modern accommodations for more astronauts, a first-of-its-kind immersive view of our beautiful Earth, and additional research and manufacturing volume.

“When ISS is retired, Axiom Station will complete construction and detach to operate into the future as a free-flying complex for living and working in space – marking humankind’s next stage of LEO settlement.”

 How the cost of staying on the International Space Station could cost £27,500 a night

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How the cost of staying on the International Space Station could cost £27,500 a night

Private visitors were banned from the space station – which has cost US taxpayers £785million since it was launched in the 1990s – but Nasa needs cash to help fund its dream of putting a man and woman on the Moon by 2024.

Transport will be provided by both Boeing and Elon Musk’s SpaceX, who are currently developing capsules that can carry humans to the ISS.

It’s expected that a trip will likely cost around $50million (£39million) per astronaut, according to early estimates – but could easily rise well above that figure.

The spaceflight to the ISS will account for a large chunk of the cost. But chief financial officer Jeff DeWit joked: “It won’t come with any Hilton or Marriott points.”

Nasa typically pays around $75million for seats aboard a Soyuz spacecraft destined for the ISS, and even paid $82million per seat in 2015.

However, Nasa says seats aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon and/or Boeing CST-100 capsules will cost roughly $58million per seat.

It’s these capsules that will be used to ferry astronauts up to the ISS – but the cost continues to rise after the journey.

Keeping astronauts on board the ISS is a pricey business.

For instance, the regenerative life support and toilet costs $11,250 (£8,800) per astronaut each day.

And general supplies – like food and air – cost $22,500 (£17,500) per astronaut each day.

Nasa will get around $35,000 (£27,000) per night that a private astronaut spends on board the ISS.

A large bank balance won’t be enough either: you’ll have to pass Nasa’s rigorous health checks and training procedures.

 The cost of space travel is exorbitant – so only Earth's wealthiest would-be cosmonauts need apply

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The cost of space travel is exorbitant – so only Earth’s wealthiest would-be cosmonauts need applyCredit: Nasa

“In the long-term, NASA’s goal is to become one of many customers purchasing services from independent, commercial and free-flying habitable destinations in low-Earth orbit,” Nasa explained.

“A robust low-Earth orbit economy will need multiple commercial destinations, and NASA is partnering with industry to pursue dual paths to that objective that either go through the space station or directly to a free-flying destination.”

Whatever ends up going into space, it’s unlikely to get cheaper any time soon.

Even SpaceX charges $62million (£48.7million) to send commercial satellites into orbit with its relatively new Falcon 9 rocket.

And Axiom Space, a Houston-based company hoping to organise trips to the ISS, has pledged to charge $55million (£43.2million) for a 10-day trip to the ISS.

Bill Gerstenmaier, Nasa’s head of human exploration, told a news conference: “We have no idea what kinds of creativity and literally out-of-the-world ideas can come from private industry.”

But super-rich tourists and filmmakers are also being invited to make use of the experience.

And in a message recorded on the ISS, astronaut Christina Koch said it would make space “more accessible to all Americans”.

Jeff Manbar, the CEO of ISS logistics company Nanoracks, said: “It’s a very important step forward. This is the beginning of a new chapter.”

Amazing SpaceX video reveals how Crew Dragon capsule will fire astronauts to the ISS

In other news, Nasa recently lost control of its £2billion Curiosity rover on Mars.

The water that once flowed on Mars contained just the right ingredients to support life, scientists say.

A nearby star we’ve watched for 180 years is mysteriously ‘dimming’, leaving scientists baffled.

And, the first ever cookie has been baked in space.

Would you like to visit the International Space Station? Let us know in the comments!


We pay for your stories! Do you have a story for The Sun Online Tech & Science team? Email us at tech@the-sun.co.uk




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MAG: All the president's turncoats…


No one scares President Trump as much as people who used to work for him. They know the truth about him, and some of them tell it. When they do, Trump denies it and smears them.

It’s amazing how many people have turned on Trump in just his first term. He is a man who prizes loyalty above all else, and yet one toady after another has betrayed him.

John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, is the latest. According to The New York Times, Bolton’s unpublished manuscript claims that Trump sought “to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens.” In response, Trump said that Bolton is trying “to sell a book,” and Trump’s defenders began smearing Bolton.

Jenna Ellis, one of the president’s attorneys, tweeted that “it is so sad that so many are willing to sell out America, our Constitution, truth, their integrity, and our great president just to score a book deal or five minutes of fame.” An editor at The Federalist said Bolton is just “mad Trump fired him for leaking and trying to start new wars.” Anonymous White House officials sniped to the Times that Bolton was a “disgruntled former employee.”

The same charge was leveled against Anthony Scaramucci, Trump’s communications director for 10 days, after he soured on Trump last August — despite once writing a book in praise of him. RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tweeted: “Anthony Scaramucci has ZERO credibility. He’s a disgruntled employee attacking @realDonaldTrump for his own personal gain.” Trump called Scaramucci “a highly unstable ‘nut job'” and “just another disgruntled former employee who got fired for gross incompetence!” Trump said he “barely knew him” before hiring him.

That’s another favorite dodge. Trump, who claimed to have “the world’s greatest memory,” quickly forgets people when they tell the truth about him.

After Lev Parnas, the Rudy Giuliani associate who helped open doors in Eastern Europe, implicated the president in the Ukraine scandal, Trump said, “I don’t know him at all.” There are multiple pictures of them together. ABC News also released audio of a conversation in which Trump told Parnas and other associates to fire U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, making his claim of ignorance even more implausible.

Gordon Sondland, Trump’s ambassador to the European Union who donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration, suffered a similar fate. In October, Trump said, “I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify.” After Sondland spilled the beans about the Ukraine scandal in his testimony, Trump said of him, “I hardly know the gentleman,” “I don’t know him very well,” and “This is not a man I know well.”

When Trump doesn’t forget you, he insults you, fires you, and insults you again.

After hearing that Yovanovitch had criticized him, Trump told some associates, including Parnas, to “take her out.” When Yovanovitch testified in November, Trump cyber-attacked her on Twitter. “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” Trump tweeted as she was testifying.

Similarly, when Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council’s Ukraine expert, testified about Trump’s infamous phone call, he was excoriated. A former Trump aide called Vindman “a never-Trump bureaucrat Deep State crybaby” for saying “contemptuous things against the commander-in-chief.” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted an article titled “Let’s Stop Pretending Every Impeachment Witness Is A Selfless Hero.” Bernard Kerik, the disgraced former commissioner of the NYPD, said: “What a dick!” The White House emailed talking points to its surrogates saying that Vindman had “Major Credibility Issues” and tweeted that one of Vindman’s former bosses had “concerns” about his judgment.

According to the White House, people who work at the White House can’t be trusted. Which is often true.

After Trump divulged highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in May 2017, H.R. McMaster, one of the few honorable people to work for the president, denied it to reporters. In that moment, McMaster became McServant.

If you work for Trump, lying isn’t part of the job — it is the job. Telling the truth, on the other hand, gets you in trouble.

After Rex Tillerson called Trump “a f—ing moron,” Trump challenged him to an IQ contest and fired him on Twitter. But firing him didn’t stop him. In December 2018, nine months after he was fired, Tillerson said the president was “pretty undisciplined.” In response, Trump tweeted that his former secretary of state “was dumb as a rock and I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough. He was lazy as hell.”

Trump hates the truth because he can’t control it. “Truth has a despotic character,” Hannah Arendt observed in 1967. “It is therefore hated by tyrants, who rightly fear the competition of a coercive force they cannot monopolize … Unwelcome facts possess an infuriating stubbornness that nothing can move except plain lies.”

After the release of Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury, in which Steve Bannon is quoted as saying that Donald Trump Jr.’s infamous Trump Tower meeting was “treasonous,” Trump tweeted that Bannon “cried when he got fired and begged for his job. Now Sloppy Steve has been dumped like a dog by almost everyone.”

It’s worth remembering, when Trump smears his former employees, that he hired them. He hired them not on merit but because they flattered him. “I often think of people by the way they treat me,” Trump told Howard Stern in 2013.

That’s why Trump used to like Omarosa Manigault Newman, former contestant on The Apprentice and former aide-de-camp at the White House. Trump employed her, he said, because “she only said GREAT things about me — until she got fired!” After she left the White House, she said Trump was “mentally impaired” and accused him of saying the N-word. Trump retaliated by tweeting that she “got fired 3 times on the Apprentice, now got fired for the last time. … She begged me for a job, tears in her eyes, I said Ok. … She was vicious, but not smart. I would rarely see her.”

Asked why she was hired, former White House press secretary Sean Spicer said, “She was very loyal to the president.” The president’s then-personal lawyer Michael Cohen said she had “admired and respected President Trump for over a decade.”

This is the same Michael Cohen who defended Trump for 12 years as his attorney, only to turn on him in an effort to reduce his prison sentence. In February 2019, he testified before Congress and called Trump a “racist,” a “cheat,” and a “conman.” Then he went to prison, like many other people who have worked for Trump.

Cohen became “a different person,” Trump said. He was “a fine person with a wonderful family” in April 2018, a “Rat” in December 2018, and a “Bad lawyer and fraudster” in March 2019.

After the FBI raided Cohen’s office in April 2018, Newt Gingrich sympathized with Cohen and likened the FBI to the Gestapo. But after Cohen testified against Trump, Gingrich called him a “convicted liar.” A Trump campaign spokeswoman described Cohen as “a felon, a disbarred lawyer, and a convicted perjurer.” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) called him “a convicted perjurer” and a “patsy” for the Democrats. Other Republicans called Cohen a “tax evader,” a “bank swindler,” and “an all-around liar.” They liked Cohen when he lied about his crimes and hated him when he confessed to them.

Trump thinks “flipping” — i.e., telling the truth — should be illegal. “If you told the truth, you go to jail,” he said. Trump doesn’t like telling the truth or going to jail, but he’s fine with other people going to jail for not telling the truth. He said Paul Manafort and Roger Stone were “very brave” for not flipping. He said Roger Stone had “guts!” He called Paul Manafort “a brave man!”

Trump views the truth as treason and truth-tellers as traitors. As Edward Gibbon put it in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, “Treason against such a prince might easily be considered as patriotism to the state.”

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FIGHT FOR WITNESSES INTENSIFIES…


(Corrects spelling of Ukraine president Zelenskiy’s first name in paragraph 8, Volodymyr instead of Volodomyr)

By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON, Jan 27 (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans in the U.S. Senate came under fresh pressure on Monday to allow witnesses in his impeachment trial, while his defense team took aim at Democrats’ accusations that he mounted a pressure campaign against Ukraine for his own political ends.

A New York Times report that former national security adviser John Bolton has written in an unpublished book manuscript that Trump told him he wanted to freeze security aid to Ukraine until Kiev helped with politically beneficial investigations prompted fresh calls by Democrats for Bolton and other witnesses to testify at the trial.

Republican Senator Mitt Romney, a sometime critic of Trump, said there was a growing likelihood that at least four Republican senators would choose to call for Bolton to testify, which would give Democrats the votes necessary to summon him.

Senate Republicans so far have refused to allow any witnesses or new evidence in the trial that will determine whether Trump is removed from office.

Trump’s legal team on Monday resumed its presentation of opening arguments in the trial, including remarks by Ken Starr, the former independent counsel whose investigation into a sex scandal paved the way for the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, in 1998. Another Trump lawyer, Jane Raskin, also made a defense of his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

Bolton wrote in the manuscript that Trump told him he wanted to freeze $391 million in security aid to Ukraine until Kiev helped with investigations into Democrats including former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, the Times reported.

Democrats have said Trump used the aid – approved by the U.S. Congress to help Ukraine combat Russia-backed separatists – as leverage to get a foreign country to help him smear a domestic political rival. Biden is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Trump denied telling Bolton that he sought to use the aid to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens on unsubstantiated corruption allegations. Hunter Biden worked for a Ukrainian energy firm while his father was U.S. vice president.

“I think it’s increasingly likely that other Republicans will join those of us who think we should hear from John Bolton,” Romney told reporters.

Another moderate Republican senator, Susan Collins, said the reports regarding Bolton’s book “strengthen the case for witnesses.” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a Republican ally of Trump, said he would support issuing a subpoena to obtain Bolton’s manuscript, a CNN reporter said on Twitter.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives impeached Trump last month on charges of abuse of power in his dealings with Ukraine and obstruction of Congress, setting up the trial in the Republican-led Senate. Trump is expected to be acquitted in the 100-seat Senate, where Republicans hold 53 seats and a two-thirds vote is required to convict and remove a president from office.

Trump denied telling Bolton he was seeking something in return for unfreezing the Ukrainian aid, which eventually was provided in September after the controversy became public.

“I haven’t seen the manuscript, but I can tell you nothing was ever said to John Bolton,” Trump told reporters.

DEFENSE ARGUMENT

In the initial hours of its second day of opening arguments, Trump’s defense team did not mention Bolton. Lawyers instead took aim at House accusations that Trump’s treatment of Zelenskiy amounted to a pressure campaign.

Defense lawyer Mike Purpura cited the Ukrainian president as saying he had felt no pressure, and said the security assistance was released anyway without the investigations taking place.

The defense pointed to testimony from witnesses in the House impeachment inquiry who said Trump’s administration gave Ukraine more military help than Democratic President Barack Obama’s prior administration.

“All of this … demonstrates that there was no connection between security assistance and investigations,” Purpura said.

Jay Sekulow, another Trump lawyer, added, “We live in a constitutional republic where you have deep policy concerns and deep differences. That should not be the basis of an impeachment.”

Democrats prosecuting Trump in the trial have said Giuliani played a central and improper role in pressing Ukraine to carry out politically motivated investigations.

“The House managers would have you believe that Mr. Giuliani is at the center of this controversy. They’ve anointed him the proxy villain of the tale, the leader of a rogue operation,” Raskin said.

“Their presentations were filled with ad hominem attacks and name calling: cold-blooded political operative, political bag man. But I suggest to you that he’s front and center in their narrative for one reason and one reason alone: to distract from the fact that the evidence does not support their claims,” Raskin added.

The Senate may resolve the issue of whether to call witnesses in a vote on Friday or Saturday. Democrats said the Bolton manuscript made it all the more pressing for the Senate to call Bolton as a witness.

“It completely blasts another hole in the president’s defense,” said Representative Adam Schiff, the head of the House Democratic team of “managers” prosecuting the case against Trump, told CNN.

Many Republicans want a speedy trial without witnesses or any evidence beyond the material amassed in the House impeachment inquiry.

The White House directed current and former administration officials not to provide testimony or documents in the House inquiry. Starr cited ways short of impeachment for the House to force a president to comply with its oversight obligations.

“Go to court. It really is as simple as that, I don’t need to belabor the point,” Starr said.

Starr, who himself recommended Clinton’s impeachment after investigating the former president’s sexual relationship with a White House intern, called impeachment an overused tool.

“The Senate is being called to sit as the high court of impeachment all too frequently,” Starr said. “How did we get here with presidential impeachment invoked in its inherently destabilizing and acrimonious way?”

This is only the third impeachment trial in American history.

(Additional Reporting by Pete Schroeder, Arshad Mohammed, Tim Ahmann, Makini Brice, Steve Holland, Jeff Mason and Lisa Lambert; Writing Alistair Bell; Editing by Will Dunham Editing by Andy Sullivan)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



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MAGA TURNS ON BOLTON…


WASHINGTON – Just outside the spacious corner office of the White House national security adviser, aides crowded into a windowless anteroom knew to make themselves small when John Bolton got a summons from President Donald Trump. Bolton, his signature yellow legal pad in hand, would throw open his door and set off at a gallop.

Once in the Oval Office, Bolton would take copious notes on that pad, at times angering a president known to mistrust note-taking by even his closest aides, according to a former senior administration official.

Leaks from Bolton’s soon-to-be-published memoir, in which he alleges a direct link between Trump’s withholding of aid to Ukraine and his desire that its government investigate his political rivals, validated the president’s suspicions in the eyes of some senior White House officials.


Bolton, who left the White House in September – Trump said he was fired; Bolton said he resigned – did not respond to a question about whether he had used personal notes or official documents in his book.

The manuscript includes more than a dozen pages on Bolton’s interactions over Ukraine with Trump, his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others, according to one person familiar with the project. In what this person called an “unflattering” portrait of the president, it also touches on other areas where Bolton is known to have disagreed with Trump policy decisions, including Venezuela and Turkey.

But another former senior official, one of several who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters, said Bolton “didn’t need to have” documents or his own notes from inside the White House, “since he probably went home every night and wrote about it.”

Noting the rapid completion of Bolton’s book, “I’m convinced he was writing all the time” he served as national security adviser, said this former official, who described Bolton as a nose-to-the-grindstone person who rarely socialized.

The weekend revelations landed like a bombshell in the ongoing Senate impeachment trial over the Ukraine matter, where key Republican lawmakers on Monday indicated they may defy the GOP leadership to support calling Bolton and other witnesses.

People close to Bolton said he wanted to testify, and a spokeswoman denied that he was behind the leak of the book, adding that the National Security Council has had a copy of it since Dec. 30.


Bolton was regularly appalled by what he saw from the president, the people close to him said.

But among conservative national security experts and media, the focus was less on the accuracy of Bolton’s account, or its possible effect on the trial, and more on why he wrote it.

“If he wants to write a book like this, it should come out after the election,” Fred Fleitz said in an interview. Fleitz was the National Security Council’s chief of staff for part of Bolton’s 17-month White House tenure and a Bolton associate for decades.

“It’s natural occasionally for presidential advisers to have a falling out,” said Fleitz, referring to Bolton’s departure. “It’s appropriate for the adviser to move on.”

In an opinion article on the Fox News website, Fleitz said he failed to see the need for “a former national security adviser to publish a tell-all book critical of a president he served,” especially in the midst of a campaign “that will determine the fate of the country.”

He called on Bolton to withdraw the book – titled “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir” – until after the election.

Others were more direct. “Bolton has sadly reduced himself to nothing more than an unprincipled tool of the Radical Dems and Deep State: And he’s sacrificed his integrity to sell a lousy spiteful book, pathetic,” said Fox host Lou Dobbs on Twitter about a man who had long been a regular on Dobbs’s show.

Giuliani, in a message to The Washington Post, called Bolton a “backstabber” and said he regretted recommending him to Trump.

Trump, he said, “never really trusted the Backstabber’s judgment. He was right and I was wrong because ironically I supported him for the job.”

White House officials and Trump advisers cast Bolton as a pugnacious figure disliked by many of his colleagues – contemporaneous accounts supported that – who was simply looking for a payday.

“How convenient that this leaked info happened to be released at the same time as preorders were made available for the book on Amazon,” Steve Guest, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee said on Twitter. “What a joke.”

Bolton’s lawyer, Charles Cooper, denied in an interview that he or his client had anything to do with the leaked portions of the book, first published Sunday by The New York Times. “I can tell you unequivocally that we had nothing to do with the leak of any information concerning John’s manuscript,” Cooper said.

Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, defended Bolton and bemoaned that “in the demonization campaign” against him, “many forget that at the end of the day he was and remains a deeply experienced policy practitioner, with decades of experience over multiple administrations.”

Calling Bolton a “deeply principled person who . . . has a deep respect for American law and for the Constitution,” Dubowitz said he was certain Bolton was “not doing this to sell books and not doing this to get revenge because he was fired by the president.”

Dubowitz also said he was “super-torn.”

“I’m not a big fan of these tell-all books. . . . I wonder how good it is for our country when presidents are always going to be looking over their shoulders and behind their backs,” he said.

Another foreign policy expert on the right, who considers himself a friend of Bolton and an admirer of Trump, said he was surprised Bolton took the White House job in the first place.

“When he was announced, I thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is never going to work.’ The reason is that it’s very clear that Bolton and Trump have very different ideas on how foreign policy should be run.”

Bolton, this expert said, is “an offensive realist,” who thinks you “use power to get power.” Trump, on the other hand, is a “defensive realist” who “thinks power is a wasting asset . . . that you only use when you really need to.

“They did work very well on a lot of issues. Then the relationship just kind of broke down. . . . There was clearly a personal animosity there at the end.”

– – –

The Washington Post’s Tom Hamburger contributed to this report.



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Test of centralized control…




a person riding a bicycle on a city street: A woman wearing a protective mask rides a motorized bike on an empty road January 27, 2020 in Wuhan, China.


© Stringer/Getty Images North America/TNS
A woman wearing a protective mask rides a motorized bike on an empty road January 27, 2020 in Wuhan, China.

BEIJING — Chinese authorities sent a clear message to the public Monday: Local officials in Wuhan city and Hubei province were to blame for the government’s slow response to the coronavirus that has now killed more than 80 people, infected more than 2,700 people in China, and spread to 15 other countries or territories.

In an indication China’s leadership was moving to deflect and temper public outrage, the mayor of Wuhan, Zhou Xianwang, said on state television Monday evening that he and Wuhan’s Communist Party secretary had not responded well to the outbreak and were willing to resign if necessary.

The outbreak is a critical test for President Xi Jinping, offering insights into how Beijing’s central authority works — or doesn’t work — in times of alarm. Chinese social media usually censor criticism of government officials. But angry posts blaming Wuhan officials’ ineptitude and dishonesty for exacerbating the coronavirus outbreak have been allowed to boil online, a strategic play by the central government to find a scapegoat.

Meanwhile, the central government has taken over the virus response, appointing state premier Li Keqiang head of a new leadership group tasked with virus control and dispatching him to the outbreak’s epicenter in Wuhan. State media broadcast videos of Li rallying the public in grocery stores, clinics and a hospital construction site Monday.

“The entire nation’s people are watching you!” Li spoke to a group of nurses and doctors from behind a face mask, pumping his fist.

“Add oil!” they chanted back, repeating a Chinese phrase of encouragement.

Beijing’s takeover of the virus response is a test and a glimpse into the Communist Party’s style of governance. China’s strong hand of centralized control allows mass mobilization and authority that would be unthinkable anywhere else. But that top-down grip also creates inertia that allows containable problems to flare into crises that demand wider action.

Seventeen Chinese cities, home to more than 50 million people, have been put under lockdown, residents blocked from traveling during the Lunar New Year, the nation’s biggest migration period.

“It’s unprecedented in modern Chinese history,” said Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Only a very authoritarian government with strong centralized leadership can make and implement that decision.”

China has ordered travel agencies to cancel all tours, while foreign governments including Hong Kong Malaysia, and Taiwan are banning entry of Chinese citizens from Wuhan.

Chinese authorities extended the Lunar New Year holiday nationwide to next Sunday, canceling school and work, while individual cities postponed the holiday’s end even further. Workers in Wuhan are building new hospitals to house quarantined patients in a matter of days, with state media livestreaming the construction online.

This massive response, however, obscures the fact that China’s authoritarian system is what led to the local lack of reporting on the deadly virus in the first place.

Although China’s ability to research and quickly sequence the new virus has improved since the 2003 SARS outbreak, little has changed in terms of government transparency, which is what matters when it comes to prevention and control of infectious diseases, Huang said.

Part of that opacity is purely bureaucratic. Local officials can’t release information about a confirmed new coronavirus until they get verification from the city, then from the county, then all the way up to the central disease control center, Huang said, calling the process “onerous.”

Another part of it is political. Local officials are rewarded for performance, which often translates into them concealing problems rather than exposing and solving them. Willy Lam, professor of China Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said that provincial officials’ reluctance to hide “embarrassing or negative developments” in their areas of governance is “longstanding Chinese political culture.”

A lack of free press or any other forms of accountability and concentration of power through the Communist Party further offers an incentive to local officials to “maintain stability” by silencing those who speak up about social issues, rather than addressing the issues themselves.

That performance of stability may have been why Wuhan authorities allowed 40,000 families to proceed with a Lunar New Year banquet last week despite knowing about dozens of coronavirus cases. Days before the city went on lockdown, city authorities gave away 200,000 free event coupons in hopes of bringing in more tourists during the holiday.

Officials’ behavior began to change only last week, when Xi issued an order that the virus must be “resolutely contained” and that Communist Party cadres must prioritize “the safety of people’s lives and their physical health.”

“Both Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang have said that local officials would be penalized for hiding facts, for not doing enough,” Lam said. “But the subtext of that message was to ask the people to blame local authorities instead of Beijing — when actually, the ultimate responsibility rests with the central authorities.”

Beijing is complicit in the delayed response, Lam said, because central authorities perpetuate the political culture and because they almost certainly knew of the high coronavirus infection rate in other provinces, but chose not to divulge it.

“They were not as ignorant as they made themselves out to be,” Lam said.

Morale seems to have risen in some parts of Wuhan since the central government’s takeover and premier Li’s visit. Videos circulated on social media Monday evening of Wuhan residents cheering, “Add oil!” and singing the national anthem together from their apartment windows.

But nationalistic enthusiasm isn’t a containment strategy, and experts say the Wuhan quarantine may have come too late to contain the coronavirus.

Zhou, the Wuhan mayor, announced Sunday night that 5 million Wuhan residents had left the city before its lockdown was imposed Thursday.

China and governments worldwide are now scrambling to find and quarantine or deport many of those travelers.

Countries including the United States, France, Japan and Sri Lanka are evacuating citizens from Wuhan, and the head of the World Health Organization, which decided last week not to declare the coronavirus outbreak a global public health emergency, is traveling to Beijing to reassess the situation.

A top Chinese health official said Friday that the Wuhan coronavirus is contagious during its incubation period, meaning people can spread the virus before they demonstrate symptoms of being sick.

On Sunday, scientists mapping the coronavirus outbreak at the University of Hong Kong said at a press briefing that as many as 44,000 people may be infected, far higher than the official numbers, based on modeling after knowledge that people may be infectious without showing symptoms.

Gabriel Leung, head of the university team, said the virus is likely to create “epicenters of self-sustaining epidemics” in Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, and to spread farther from there, given the megacities’ roles as regional and international transport hubs.

“We have to be prepared that this particular epidemic may be about to become a global epidemic,” Leung said.

Failure to control the disease would come at a cost for China’s leadership and for the world, said Dali Yang, professor of political science at the University of Chicago.

The Communist Party has built a reputation on its ability to “concentrate resources to get things done — and big things done,” he said. “I hope they will rise to the occasion, because the consequences are not just for China.”

———

(Los Angeles Times staff writer Cindy Chang contributed to this report.

———

©2020 Los Angeles Times

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