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Pompeo to sign historic peace agreement with Taliban…


Secretary of state Mike Pompeo is traveling to Qatar on Friday to sign a historic peace deal with the Taliban, State Department officials tell The Spectator.

Defense secretary Mark Esper will also be traveling to Kabul to sign a joint declaration affirming the administration’s partnership with the Afghan government in concert with the Taliban peace deal. The respective signing ceremonies will take place on Saturday afternoon Doha time. The president confirmed Pompeo will soon be signing the agreement in a statement Friday, describing it as ‘a powerful path forward to end the war in Afghanistan and bring our troops home’.

President Trump has been pushing for a peace deal with the Taliban in order to keep his campaign promise of ending the decades-long war in Afghanistan. Under the proposed deal, the US would gradually withdraw troops from Afghanistan in exchange for promises from the Taliban that they will not engage in or fund terror.

The president ceased negotiations with the Taliban in September after the group took credit for a suicide car bombing that killed an American service member. However, talks resumed after the Taliban promised that they would be open to reducing violence, a huge change for a group that was committing violent acts at record highs last year. The US and the Taliban reached a seven-day reduction in violence agreement this past Friday, which was not equivalent to a ceasefire but expected the Taliban to avoid any major forms of violence.

In a statement, Trump said ‘These commitments represent an important step to a lasting peace in a new Afghanistan, free from al-Qaeda, Isis, and any other terrorist group that would seek to bring us harm. Ultimately it will be up to the people of Afghanistan to work out their future. We, therefore, urge the Afghan people to seize this opportunity for peace and a new future for their country.’

Secretary Pompeo noted that the US would sign a fuller peace agreement ‘if and only if’ the reduction in violence was successful, adding that it would likely be signed ‘on or about February 29’.

Critics have warned that the Taliban may simply resort back to violence or seize control of the Afghan government after the deal is made, but the administration contends that they are clear-eyed about the risks of negotiating with the terror group and are willing to retaliate with military force if necessary.

Secretary Pompeo was scheduled to deliver a keynote address at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)’s annual Ronald Reagan Dinner on Friday night before it was reported he would be traveling to Doha. Instead it appears national security adviser Robert O’Brien will take his spot.



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Big leads in California, Texas…


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CNN’s Joe Johns has more.”},{“title”:”How doctor tried to improve President Trump’s diet”,”duration”:”02:07″,”sourceName”:”CNN”,”sourceLink”:”http://www.cnn.com”,”videoCMSUrl”:”/video/data/3.0/video/politics/2020/02/27/trump-doctor-cauliflower-mashed-potatoes-moos-pkg-ebof-vpx.cnn/index.xml”,”videoId”:”politics/2020/02/27/trump-doctor-cauliflower-mashed-potatoes-moos-pkg-ebof-vpx.cnn”,”videoImage”:”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190115094932-trump-clemson-white-house-burgers-1-large-169.jpg”,”videoUrl”:”/videos/politics/2020/02/27/trump-doctor-cauliflower-mashed-potatoes-moos-pkg-ebof-vpx.cnn/video/playlists/this-week-in-politics/”,”description”:”President Donald Trump’s former chief physician, u003ca href=”http://www.cnn.com/2019/12/09/politics/ronny-jackson-files-congress/index.html” target=”_blank”>Rear Adm. Ronny Jacksou003c/a>n, tried to sneak cauliflower into the President’s mashed potatoes. 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Bernie Sanders holds substantial leads in the two largest states to vote in next week’s Super Tuesday lineup of primaries, according to new CNN polls conducted by SSRS in California and Texas.”,”descriptionText”:”Vermont Sen. 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role”,”duration”:”01:23″,”sourceName”:”CNN”,”sourceLink”:”http://www.cnn.com”,”videoCMSUrl”:”/video/data/3.0/video/politics/2020/02/28/andrew-yang-michael-bloomberg-vice-president-campaign-sot-ac360-vpx.cnn/index.xml”,”videoId”:”politics/2020/02/28/andrew-yang-michael-bloomberg-vice-president-campaign-sot-ac360-vpx.cnn”,”videoImage”:”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/200227224509-andrew-yang-michael-bloomberg-vice-president-campaign-sot-ac360-vpx-00000515-large-169.jpg”,”videoUrl”:”/videos/politics/2020/02/28/andrew-yang-michael-bloomberg-vice-president-campaign-sot-ac360-vpx.cnn/video/playlists/this-week-in-politics/”,”description”:”Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang said u003ca href=”http://www.cnn.com/2020/02/27/politics/andrew-yang-campaigns-michael-bloomberg-cnntv/index.html” target=”_blank”>multiple presidential campaigns have reached outu003c/a> to him about potentially supporting their campaigns. 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His response to that crisis — one different in several important ways from coronavirus — is under scrutiny as he works to coordinate the US effort to protect against worldwide calamity that is still unfolding.”,”descriptionText”:”Vice President Mike Pence has u003ca href=”http://www.cnn.com/2020/02/27/politics/mike-pence-hiv-indiana-coronavirus/index.html” target=”_blank”>executive experience during a public health emergency:u003c/a> he was governor of Indiana from 2013 to 2017, when an HIV outbreak struck parts of his state. His response to that crisis — one different in several important ways from coronavirus — is under scrutiny as he works to coordinate the US effort to protect against worldwide calamity that is still unfolding.”},{“title”:”Biden, Warren rise in 2020 Democratic candidate rankings”,”duration”:”02:14″,”sourceName”:”CNN”,”sourceLink”:””,”videoCMSUrl”:”/video/data/3.0/video/politics/2020/02/27/cillizza-rankings-joe-biden-elizabeth-warren-2020-orig-vf.cnn/index.xml”,”videoId”:”politics/2020/02/27/cillizza-rankings-joe-biden-elizabeth-warren-2020-orig-vf.cnn”,”videoImage”:”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/200226145839-20200227-dem-power-rankings-sanders-biden-sc-large-169.jpg”,”videoUrl”:”/videos/politics/2020/02/27/cillizza-rankings-joe-biden-elizabeth-warren-2020-orig-vf.cnn/video/playlists/this-week-in-politics/”,”description”:”Days before Super Tuesday, CNN’s Chris Cillizza ranks the top five Democratic candidates for president.”,”descriptionText”:”Days before Super Tuesday, CNN’s Chris Cillizza ranks the top five Democratic candidates for president.”},{“title”:”Warren stands by her favorite beer despite past mockery”,”duration”:”02:07″,”sourceName”:”CNN”,”sourceLink”:”https://www.cnn.com/”,”videoCMSUrl”:”/video/data/3.0/video/politics/2020/02/28/elizabeth-warren-beer-moos-pkg-vpx.cnn/index.xml”,”videoId”:”politics/2020/02/28/elizabeth-warren-beer-moos-pkg-vpx.cnn”,”videoImage”:”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/200227203838-moos-warren-beer-colbert-large-169.jpg”,”videoUrl”:”/videos/politics/2020/02/28/elizabeth-warren-beer-moos-pkg-vpx.cnn/video/playlists/this-week-in-politics/”,”description”:”Elizabeth Warren stands by her favorite beer but this time less mockery is brewing. CNN’su003ca href=”/profiles/jeanne-moos-profile” target=”_blank”> Jeanne Moosu003c/a> reports.”,”descriptionText”:”Elizabeth Warren stands by her favorite beer but this time less mockery is brewing. CNN’su003ca href=”/profiles/jeanne-moos-profile” target=”_blank”> Jeanne Moosu003c/a> reports.”},{“title”:”Gupta on Trump’s coronavirus claim: That’s not true”,”duration”:”03:05″,”sourceName”:”CNN”,”sourceLink”:”https://www.cnn.com”,”videoCMSUrl”:”/video/data/3.0/video/politics/2020/02/27/trump-coronavirus-flu-news-conference-sanjay-gupta-newday-vpx.cnn/index.xml”,”videoId”:”politics/2020/02/27/trump-coronavirus-flu-news-conference-sanjay-gupta-newday-vpx.cnn”,”videoImage”:”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/200227070624-trump-coronavirus-flu-news-conference-sanjay-gupta-newday-vpx-00000000-large-169.jpg”,”videoUrl”:”/videos/politics/2020/02/27/trump-coronavirus-flu-news-conference-sanjay-gupta-newday-vpx.cnn/video/playlists/this-week-in-politics/”,”description”:”u003ca href=”https://www.cnn.com/profiles/sanjay-gupta-profile” target=”_blank”>CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Guptau003c/a> fact-checks his exchange with President Donald Trump during a coronavirus press conference when Trump claimed the flu had higher death rates than the coronavirus.”,”descriptionText”:”u003ca href=”https://www.cnn.com/profiles/sanjay-gupta-profile” target=”_blank”>CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Guptau003c/a> fact-checks his exchange with President Donald Trump during a coronavirus press conference when Trump claimed the flu had higher death rates than the coronavirus.”},{“title”:”Dow drops over 1,000 points as world reacts to coronavirus”,”duration”:”02:43″,”sourceName”:”CNN”,”sourceLink”:”https://www.cnn.com/business”,”videoCMSUrl”:”/video/data/3.0/video/business/2020/02/27/coronavirus-dow-drops-kosik-tapper-lead-vpx.cnn/index.xml”,”videoId”:”business/2020/02/27/coronavirus-dow-drops-kosik-tapper-lead-vpx.cnn”,”videoImage”:”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/200227122729-nyse-0228-large-169.jpg”,”videoUrl”:”/videos/business/2020/02/27/coronavirus-dow-drops-kosik-tapper-lead-vpx.cnn/video/playlists/this-week-in-politics/”,”description”:”US stocks faced another u003ca href=”http://www.cnn.com/2020/02/27/investing/dow-stock-market-selloff/index.html” target=”_blank”>sharp selloff as worries about coronavirus mounted,u003c/a> with the three main indexes dragged into correction territory and on track for their worst week since the financial crisis. 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That’s changed”,”duration”:”05:16″,”sourceName”:”CNN”,”sourceLink”:”https://www.cnn.com/”,”videoCMSUrl”:”/video/data/3.0/video/politics/2020/02/27/south-carolina-voter-panel-2020-part-2-camerota-newday-vpx.cnn/index.xml”,”videoId”:”politics/2020/02/27/south-carolina-voter-panel-2020-part-2-camerota-newday-vpx.cnn”,”videoImage”:”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/200227080155-sc-voter-panel-2-large-169.jpg”,”videoUrl”:”/videos/politics/2020/02/27/south-carolina-voter-panel-2020-part-2-camerota-newday-vpx.cnn/video/playlists/this-week-in-politics/”,”description”:”CNN’s Alisyn Camerota speaks with South Carolina voters about Democratic candidate Mike Bloomberg and the economy ahead of the state’s primary.”,”descriptionText”:”CNN’s Alisyn Camerota speaks with South Carolina voters about Democratic candidate Mike Bloomberg and the economy ahead of the state’s primary.”},{“title”:”Trump downplays threat of coronavirus in the US “,”duration”:”02:14″,”sourceName”:”CNN”,”sourceLink”:”https://www.cnn.com/”,”videoCMSUrl”:”/video/data/3.0/video/politics/2020/02/27/trump-downplays-threat-of-coronavirus-in-us-joe-johns-newday-dnt-vpx.cnn/index.xml”,”videoId”:”politics/2020/02/27/trump-downplays-threat-of-coronavirus-in-us-joe-johns-newday-dnt-vpx.cnn”,”videoImage”:”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/200227073536-trump-downplays-coronavirus-threat-large-169.jpg”,”videoUrl”:”/videos/politics/2020/02/27/trump-downplays-threat-of-coronavirus-in-us-joe-johns-newday-dnt-vpx.cnn/video/playlists/this-week-in-politics/”,”description”:”President Trump appeared to downplay the threat of coronavirus spreading in the US during a White House press conference, but CDC experts warned it will only get worse before it gets better. 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CNN’s Joe Johns has more.”},{“title”:”How doctor tried to improve President Trump’s diet”,”duration”:”02:07″,”sourceName”:”CNN”,”sourceLink”:”http://www.cnn.com”,”videoCMSUrl”:”/video/data/3.0/video/politics/2020/02/27/trump-doctor-cauliflower-mashed-potatoes-moos-pkg-ebof-vpx.cnn/index.xml”,”videoId”:”politics/2020/02/27/trump-doctor-cauliflower-mashed-potatoes-moos-pkg-ebof-vpx.cnn”,”videoImage”:”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190115094932-trump-clemson-white-house-burgers-1-large-169.jpg”,”videoUrl”:”/videos/politics/2020/02/27/trump-doctor-cauliflower-mashed-potatoes-moos-pkg-ebof-vpx.cnn/video/playlists/this-week-in-politics/”,”description”:”President Donald Trump’s former chief physician, u003ca href=”http://www.cnn.com/2019/12/09/politics/ronny-jackson-files-congress/index.html” target=”_blank”>Rear Adm. Ronny Jacksou003c/a>n, tried to sneak cauliflower into the President’s mashed potatoes. 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GOOGLE employee tests positive…


A report from Business Insider today says that a Google employee has tested positive for the coronavirus. Google is a large company with more than 100,000 employees across many countries, and BI says that the employee had been in the company’s Zurich office before displaying symptoms…

The company provided a statement to Business Insider today, saying “We can confirm that one employee from our Zurich office has been diagnosed with the coronavirus. They were in the Zurich office for a limited time, before they had any symptoms. We have taken – and will continue to take – all necessary precautionary measures, following the advice of public health officials, as we prioritize everyone’s health and safety.”

BI says that it is preventing Google employees from traveling to Iran as well as two Italian regions where the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, is seeing large amounts of spread. Starting in early March, the company is restricting travel to South Korea and Japan as well.

Further, Recode is reporting that Google has recently put up signs in some Bay Area offices reminding people to wash their hands and cover their mouths.

Recode has also learned that Google recently put up signs in at least two Bay Area offices outside bathrooms reminding people to wash their hands and cover their mouths, with a link to an internal site about the coronavirus at the bottom. The intranet site has infection prevention tips like asking employees who host events to make sure there is sufficient hand sanitizer and “appropriate hand-washing facilities,” according to a source who works at the company.

Google also announced that its upcoming Google News Initiative Global Summit is canceled due to the “coronavirus situation.”

The news also comes as Google’s annual developer conference is scheduled for mid-May. Other companies such as Facebook have already cancelled their annual events out of an abundance of caution, but Google has yet to make a decision. The company says they are monitoring the situation.

Developing…

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Huge fire breaks out near Gare de Lyon train station in Paris… Developing…


PARIS — A major train station in the center of Paris was evacuated after a huge fire broke out nearby.

Clouds of black smoke could be seen billowing near the Gare de Lyon station — one of six major stations in the French capital — as a row of parked scooters and motorcycles burned.

Police told NBC News that clashes broke out between people attending a concert by singer Fally Ipupa, a star in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and those boycotting it.

Ipupa was set to perform at the AccorHotels Arena on Friday night.

“Scooters were first set on fire then the fire quickly propagated,” police said, adding that public demonstrations had previously been banned in the area surrounding the event.

Police had earlier tweeted that cars were also set alight along the sidewalk.

Huge plumes of smoke could be seen powering towards the sky in videos and pictures posted by eyewitnesses on social media.

Others showed an angry mob attacking firefighters at the scene.

The fire was started deliberately, police tweeted, adding that it resulted from “unacceptable abuses committed on the margins of a concert.”

Advising people to avoid the area so that emergency services could get through, police said they were evacuating the station as a precaution.

They also tweeted that fire services had control of the fire and it was being put out.

A fire fighter works at the scene of a fire near Gare de Lyon railway station in Paris on Friday. Gonzalo Fuentes / Reuters

The fires come less than a year after a huge blaze engulfed Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral, caused the historic building’s roof to collapse.

The fire, which took nine hours to extinguish, also destroyed a spire and spread to one of its two rectangular towers.

The house of worship, with roots dating back to the 12th century, is considered one of the world’s greatest examples of French Gothic architecture.

This is a developing story, check back for updates.

Nancy Ing reported from Paris, Henry Austin reported from London.



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International Travelers At JFK Appalled By Lack Of Screening…


NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — With the coronavirus outbreak affecting at least 40 countries, many travelers are concerned about what’s being done to contain the virus.

At JFK Airport, jetlagged passengers typically in a rush to clear immigration are now appalled by a lack of screening, especially compared to procedures in the countries they just left.

Emily Ferrara and Blair Haworth just returned from Florence, Italy, where their study abroad program was canceled because of the virus. There are more than 300 cases there, one of the largest outbreaks outside China.

Yet, the students told CBS2’s Christina Fan they weren’t asked a single question about potential symptoms once they landed in New York City.

“We didn’t even get checked. Like we’re used to being in Florence where you get your temperature checked. Here they didn’t do anything, which is kind of crazy,” Ferrara said. “Considering, like, how much the cases have spread so fast, like, they should definitely be taking more precautions here.”

CORONAVIRUS: CDC Latest | Guidance For Travelers | NY Health Dept. | NY Hotline: 1-(888)-364-3065 | NYC Department Of Health Guidance For Parents | NJ Health Dept. | NJ Hotline: 1-(800)-222-1222

Currently, the United States is only conducting health screenings for passengers who are flying in from China.

Some, including Mayor Bill de Blasio this week, called for the screenings to be extended to flights from Italy, South Korea and Japan.

But Dr. Teresa Amato, the chair of emergency medicine at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills, says the idea may not be effective.

“I think it’s becoming increasingly difficult given that people are infected with no symptoms and travel areas are becoming more and more widespread with the virus,” she said.

In addition to airport screenings, some passengers believe there should be more travel restrictions from countries other than China. President Donald Trump weighed in on the idea at a press conference Wednesday.

“At a right time, we might do that. Right now, it’s not the right time,” he said.

Coronavirus Precautions: Travelers Urged To Check For Advisories Before Making Plans

Meanwhile, you may want to check the state department’s website before making travel arrangements in the coming weeks and months. Advisories are being added in response to the spread of the virus.

The spread of the coronavirus is impacting travel around the world, well beyond China, as passengers are on alert.

“My company is not letting us to travel to certain places. Obviously right now, we have a ban, so can’t really go there,” Michael Pietrunti, of Long Island City, told CBS2’s Aundrea Cline-Thomas.

“We wore masks on both planes and all the planes we took and stuff like that just for extra precautions. Even though they say it might not prevent anything, you may as well do that if you’re in an enclosed space with so many people,” Upper East Side resident Marissa Schickling said.

With spring break and other routine travel on the horizon, AAA says there are now more factors to consider before going abroad.

“We’re telling people that they should make sure their health insurance is in place before they go, that they should see their health provider before they travel and certainly have all their health insurance documents with them when they’re traveling,” said Robert Sinclair, Jr. with AAA Northeast.

Many travel insurance companies are no longer providing coverage for coronavirus-related losses, but if you bought that insurance before Jan. 22 when the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency, you may still be covered.

The state department continues to add to its list of advisories that includes Italy, South Korea and Mongolia.

The warnings range from exercising caution to avoiding travel altogether. Registering your travel plans with the state department will allow you to be contacted if circumstances change while you’re overseas.



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NO TIME TO DIE: HOLLYWOOD HAVOC…


As coronavirus continues its deadly march across the globe, the outbreak is wreaking havoc with Hollywood’s efforts to launch major movies and shows. In the process, companies are asking employees to delay work trips to countries such as China, Japan, Italy and South Korea, the regions that have been the most affected by the disease, and they are scuttling promotional campaigns for several upcoming blockbusters.

Studios have already cancelled plans for China premieres for films such as Disney’s “Mulan” and the James Bond adventure “No Time to Die” — moves that could cost those movies tens of millions in box office revenue. Sony’s “Bloodsport” was also expected to screen in China, but that release date remains up in the air. Most of these films hadn’t gotten the official word from Chinese authorities that they would be allowed to screen in the country, but there’s little chance that will come any time soon, as movie theaters in China remain closed. There are also indications that several upcoming movies such as “Mulan,” “The Grudge,” and “Onward” will delay their release in Italy, where the number of cases recently jumped to 400. No major U.S. films will debut in the country this weekend. Globally, the disease, named COVID-19, has infected over 82,500 people and killed 2,810. Healthcare experts expect that number to climb as coronavirus continues to spread to other parts of the world.

No studios were willing to go on the record about their response to the crisis, but privately they said they were taking “a wait-and-see” approach as the number of hotspots expands. Many are in regular contact with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization as they assess the rapidly changing situation.

Most of the major studios have begun assembling advisory teams comprised of members of their production, marketing, finance, and human resources staff to assess the potential impact of the disease. Part of their task is to figure out how staff in these affected areas can remain safe. In some cases, they’re encouraging people in areas where there are a growing number of cases to work from home, and helping to ensure the technology is in place to make that happen.

Another topic of discussion is the business ramifications of a health crisis that has the potential to grow into an epidemic or pandemic. Studios are trying to determine if they should move major releases to avoid debuting films in parts of the world where coronavirus is spreading. At the same time, they’re assessing what impact such moves will have on other movies that are scheduled to debut later in 2020 and 2021. Studio executives believe that the theater closures in China and Italy, as well as the spread of the disease in major markets such as South Korea could result in billions of dollars in lost ticket sales.

“Mulan,” a $200 million adventure film with a cast of Asian actors, was expected to resonate in markets such as China, where it may not play for weeks or months. Rival studios say they are watching to see how Disney handles the challenges of debuting the film at a time when theaters in some countries are closed and people are hesitant to spend time in public spaces, before determining what to do with their own upcoming releases. The Bond film, “Wonder Woman: 1984,” and the ninth “Fast & Furious” movie are among the major films debuting in the coming months that had planned robust international rollouts. Those could be impacted if the disease continues to spread. The latest 007 adventure had originally intended to take a promotional swing through China, South Korea, and Japan, but those plans have been abandoned.

So far, studios such as Warner Bros., Paramount, Universal, and Disney are also still expected to attend CinemaCon along with the stars of their upcoming movies. The annual exhibition industry trade show is being held in Las Vegas at the end of March and brings attendees from across the globe — though Chinese companies have cancelled on account of the travel ban. In a note to participants this week, Mitch Neuhauser, managing director of CinemaCon, and John Fithian, head of the National Association of Theatre Owners, the group behind the convention, said they still expected the event to be well-attended.

“An encouraging measure of the impact of coronavirus is that the number of concerned emails or phone calls coming to us are minimal,” they wrote. “We are, though, inundated with our normal number of emails and calls that are all about the planning of the convention.”

Justin Kroll contributed to this report.



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SPIES MONITOR SPREAD…


US spies will use eavesdropping tools and undercover informants to monitor global spread of coronavirus amid ‘serious concerns’ it will explode in India and doubts over how Iran will cope with outbreak, source reveals

  • Sources warn India’s available countermeasures are serious cause for concern
  • The country’s population density increases the potential for the virus to spread 
  • U.S. officials are also worried Iran has covered up the scale of the problem

U.S. spy agencies will use eavesdropping tools and undercover informants to monitor the global spread of coronavirus amid concerns about the ability of India and Iran to respond to outbreaks, intelligence officials have revealed

Sources familiar with the matter said there are worries about how either country would cope with a widespread outbreak.

While there are only a few known cases in India, one source said the country’s available countermeasures and the potential for the virus to spread given India’s dense population was a focus of serious concern.

U.S. intelligence agencies are also focusing on Iran, where the country’s deputy health minister has fallen ill during a worsening outbreak. 

One source said U.S. agencies would use a wide range of intelligence tools, ranging from undercover informants to electronic eavesdropping tools, to track the virus’ impact around the world.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday the United States was ‘deeply concerned’ Tehran may have covered up details about the spread of coronavirus.

Officials wearing protective suits at a quarantine facility in New Delhi. A group of 76 Indians and 36 foreign nationals, including eight families with children, were evacuated from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak

Officials wearing protective suits at a quarantine facility in New Delhi. A group of 76 Indians and 36 foreign nationals, including eight families with children, were evacuated from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak

Iraj Harirchi, left, wipes his face during a press briefing with government spokesman Ali Rabiei, in Tehran. The deputy health minister has tested positive for the virus himself

Iraj Harirchi, left, wipes his face during a press briefing with government spokesman Ali Rabiei, in Tehran. The deputy health minister has tested positive for the virus himself

A U.S. government source said Iran’s response was considered ineffective because the government only has minimal capabilities to respond to the outbreak.

Another source said U.S. agencies were also concerned about the weak ability of governments in some developing countries to respond to an outbreak.

The U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee has received a briefing on the virus from the spy agencies.

‘The Committee has received a briefing from the IC (intelligence community) on coronavirus, and continues to receive updates on the outbreak on a daily basis,’ an official of the House Intelligence Committee told Reuters.

‘Addressing the threat has both national security and economic dimensions, requiring a concerted government-wide effort and the IC is playing an important role in monitoring the spread of the outbreak, and the worldwide response,’ the official added.

A source familiar with the activities of the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Republican Senator Richard Burr and Democratic Senator Mark Warner, said the panel was receiving daily updates.

A man on a phone walks past the Bombay Stock Exchange building in Munbai as fear around the virus continue to send shockwaves through global markets

A man on a phone walks past the Bombay Stock Exchange building in Munbai as fear around the virus continue to send shockwaves through global markets

Iran’s deputy health minister tested positive for coronavirus on Tuesday after looking shaky and unwell as he played down outbreak’s dangers. 

Iraj Harirchi was taken into quarantine just a day later as the virus’s spread into the health ministry was taksign of Tehran’s faltering efforts to contain the outbreak.

The regime has refused to seal off the holy city of Qom at the centre of the crisis even as pilgrims spread the virus around the Middle East and Iranians face shortages of masks and testing kits. 

The death toll in Iran stands at 26. 

The role of U.S. intelligence agencies in responding to the coronavirus epidemic at this point principally involves monitoring the spread of the illness around the world and assessing the responses of governments.

They are working closely with health agencies, such as the U.S. Center for Disease Control, in sharing information they collect and targeting further intelligence gathering. 

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'I could fall to my death:' tightrope walker Wallenda readies to cross active volcano…


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Feb 27 (Reuters) – Tightrope walker Nik Wallenda fears the worst-possible outcome as he prepares for his latest high wire act – trekking across a live volcano in Nicaragua on Wednesday. “I could fall to my death.”

But the 41-year old member of the seven-generation family of daredevils, The Flying Wallendas, is taking it in stride.

“It is just the reality of what I do,” he told Reuters on Thursday, ahead of his live, televised walk 1800 feet (548 meters) across the Masaya volcano with churning lava below.

According to Dick Clark Productions, it will be the highest and longest walk he has ever attempted.

“I will tell you that my first step I take will be a step of faith,” he said. “It’s not as though I’m fearless. It is more about me overcoming that fear.”

Wallenda, who has made successful walks across Niagara Falls and above Times Square, said he has been training with an oxygen depravation mask to mirror the conditions above the volcano.

He will be wearing goggles, a mask and possibly even oxygen tanks for the walk. His shoes have been designed with thicker soles to help cut possible heat coming from the volcano, and the cable will feel like a bar, the high wire artist said.

“I’ll be dealing with the winds of the Grand Canyon, potentially. I’ll be dealing with the gases that are so thick that you can potentially not be able to see 10 feet in front of me,” he said.

“Everything that has been thrown at me here adds to my stress levels.”

Wallenda said the idea came to him after flying over an active volcano on the way to Mexico City.

Masaya is one of six major active volcanoes in Nicaragua, and has erupted at least 18 times since 1520, including major eruptions in 1772 and 1820.

The volcano is located about 14 miles (23 kilometers) from the Central American country’s capital, Managua, and is 2,093 feet (638 meters) in elevation.

“Volcano Live! With Nik Wallenda” will air on American network ABC on March 4. (Reporting by Andrew Hofstetter and Catherine Koppel, Writing by Diane Craft; editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



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HITS MEGACITY LAGOS


Lagos (AFP) – Residents of Nigeria’s economic hub Lagos scrambled for hygiene products Friday, after the chaotic megacity of 20 million announced the first confirmed case of new coronavirus in sub-Saharan Africa.

Health Minister Osagie Ehanire said in a statement overnight that the infected person was an Italian citizen who flew in from Milan, at the heart of Europe’s largest outbreak, earlier this week.

“The patient is clinically stable, with no serious symptoms,” Ehanire said, adding that he was being treated at a hospital for infectious diseases in Lagos.

The low number of cases so far across Africa, which has close economic ties with China, the epicentre of the deadly outbreak, has puzzled health specialists.

Prior to the case in Nigeria, there had been just two cases on the continent — in Egypt and Algeria.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with some 190 million people, is viewed as one of the world’s most vulnerable to the spread of the virus given its weak health system and high population density.

Worried inhabitants of Lagos, a city that was hit by the West African Ebola epidemic in 2014, were already flocking to pharmacies Friday morning in search of hand sanitiser and masks.

“We are sold out for now, people came massively this morning,” a worker at a pharmacy on Lagos Island told AFP.

“Masks are scarce in town, we tried to order some and we couldn’t get them so people should use a handkerchief instead.”

One customer refused to shake hands as he said he was struggling to buy hygiene products.

“I’ve been trying to find hand sanitiser everywhere, they don’t have it anymore in the supermarket, they don’t have it at the pharmacy, I’m upset,” John said, giving only his first name.

“This epidemic is so scary, we should be very careful.”

– ‘Biggest concern’ –

The delay in the first confirmed case in sub-Saharan Africa appears to have given the region a chance to get better prepared — with more than half of the countries establishing laboratories to diagnose the virus.

But the World Health Organization (WHO) has still called for the continent “to come together to be more aggressive in attacking” the issue and said the “biggest concern” is outbreaks in countries with fragile health systems.

The West Africa region already has the bitter experience of dealing with the devastating Ebola outbreak that killed some 11,000 people from 2013 to 2016.

The disease’s arrival in Lagos in 2014 set off alarm bells across the globe and unleashed a wave of panic among residents.

In the end Lagos escaped relatively lightly and only seven people died from a total of 19 infected, with the WHO praising the fast response to curb Ebola.

Nigerian officials moved quickly Friday to reassure the population that the country was prepared to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.

“We have continued to beef our own security. The level of preparedness continues to improve of Nigeria every day,” the health minister, Ehanire, told a press conference in the capital Abuja.

Lagos state health commissioner Akin Abayomi said the infected person flew to Lagos via Istanbul on Turkish Airlines on Monday and spent a night in a hotel before heading to company offices outside the city.

“We have a very aggressive public health awareness campaign going on. We have engaged in extensive training,” he said.

The authorities have set up quarantine centres in Lagos and Abuja and there are three laboratories in the country with the capacity to diagnose the virus.

– ‘Lessons from Ebola’ –

The director general of the West African Health Organisation Stanley Okolo insisted this month that the region had “learnt from the lessons of Ebola”.

He said members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) bloc agreed recently to come up with a “regional cost plan” and estimated that up to $50 million was required.

“The devastation of an epidemic affects everybody,” he said.

Situated in a tropical regional not far from the equator, Nigeria has had to face the threat of multiple contagious diseases.

An outbreak of Lassa fever, which is spread mainly through rat faeces and urine, has killed over 100 people across the country since the start of the year.

Experts say the oil-rich economic powerhouse is better prepared to deal with any disease epidemics than some of its poorer neighbours in the region.

But the government is criticised for not spending enough on health and crumbling infrastructure, corruption and the departure of doctors to better paying jobs abroad have eaten away at the sector.



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FLOOD: Turkey to allow Syrian refugees free access to Europe after troop attack…


Turkey said Friday that it ordered troops stationed along the Syrian border to stand down and allow refugees to cross into the European Union after a Syrian government airstrike killed 33 Turkish troops in what was seen as a major escalation in the conflict, a  report said.

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2020, file photo, Turkish troops and artillery prepare to enter Syria, in Reyhanli, Hatay, Turkey. (AP Photo, File)

FILE – In this Feb. 14, 2020, file photo, Turkish troops and artillery prepare to enter Syria, in Reyhanli, Hatay, Turkey. (AP Photo, File)

A report said that hundreds of refugees could be seen flocking to the Greece and Bulgaria borders.

“We have decided, effective immediately, not to stop Syrian refugees from reaching Europe by land or sea,” an official told Reuters. “All refugees, including Syrians, are now welcome to cross into the European Union.”

The decision by Ankara was widely seen as an attempt to pressure EU countries in assisting in the conflict.

The deaths, which came in an attack late Thursday in northeast Syria, were a serious escalation in the direct conflict between Turkish and Russia-backed Syrian forces that has been waged since early February.

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The attack also sharply raises the risk of direct military confrontation between Turkey, a NATO member, and Russia. Ambassadors from NATO countries were holding emergency talks on Friday at the request of Turkey, a member of the alliance.

The  Associated Press contributed to this report



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