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UN agency declares global emergency over virus from China

GENEVA — The World Health Organization declared the outbreak sparked by a new virus in China that has spread to more than a dozen countries as a global emergency Thursday after the number of cases spiked more than tenfold in a week.

The U.N. health agency defines an international emergency as an “extraordinary event” that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response.

China first informed WHO about cases of the new virus in late December. To date, China has reported more than 7,800 cases including 170 deaths. Eighteen other countries have since reported cases, as scientists race to understand how exactly the virus is spreading and how severe it is.

Experts say there is significant evidence the virus is spreading among people in China and have noted with concern instances in other countries — including the United States, France, Japan, Germany, Canada, South Korea and Vietnam — where there have also been isolated cases of human-to-human transmission.

Speaking to reporters in Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted the worrisome spread of the virus between people outside China.

“The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China but because of what is happening in other countries,” he said. “Our greatest concern is the potential for this virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems which are ill-prepared to deal with it.

“This declaration is not a vote of non-confidence in China,” he said. “On the contrary, WHO continues to have the confidence in China’s capacity to control the outbreak.”

A declaration of a global emergency typically brings greater money and resources, but may also prompt nervous governments to restrict travel and trade to affected countries. The announcement also imposes more disease reporting requirements on countries.

In the wake of numerous airlines canceling flights to China and businesses including Starbucks and McDonald’s temporarily closing hundreds of shops, Tedros said WHO was not recommending limiting travel or trade to China.

“There is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade,” he said. He added that Chinese President Xi Jinping had committed to help stop the spread of the virus beyond its borders.

“During my discussion with the president and other officials, they’re willing to support countries with weaker health systems with whatever is possible,” Tedros said.

On Thursday, France confirmed that a doctor who was in contact with a patient with the new virus later became infected himself. The doctor is now being treated in an isolated room at a Paris hospital. Outbreak specialists worry that the spread of new viruses from patients to health workers can signal the virus is becoming adapted to human transmission.

China raised the death toll to 170 on Thursday and more countries reported infections, including some spread locally, as foreign evacuees from China’s worst-hit region returned home to medical tests and even isolation.

Russia announced it was closing its 2,600-mile border with China, joining Mongolia and North Korea in barring crossings to guard against a new viral outbreak. It had been de facto closed because of the Lunar New Year holiday, but Russian authorities said the closure would be extended until March 1.

Meanwhile, the United States and South Korea confirmed their first cases of person-to-person spread of the virus. The man in the U.S. is married to a 60-year-old Chicago woman who got sick from the virus after she returned from a trip to Wuhan, the Chinese city that is the epicenter of the outbreak.

The case in South Korea was a 56-year-old man who had contact with a patient who was diagnosed with the new virus earlier.

Although scientists expect to see limited transmission of the virus between people with close contact, like within families, the instances of spread to people who may have had less exposure to the virus in Japan and Germany is worrying.

In Japan, a man in his 60s caught the virus after working as a bus driver for two tour groups from Wuhan. In Germany, a man in his 30s was sickened after a Chinese colleague from Shanghai, whose parents had recently visited from Wuhan, came to his office for a business meeting. Four other workers later became infected. The woman had shown no symptoms of the virus until her flight back to China.

“That’s the kind of transmission chain that we don’t want to see,” said Marion Koopmans, an infectious diseases specialist at Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands and a member of WHO’s emergency committee.

Koopmans said more information was needed about how the virus was spread in these instances and whether it meant the virus was more infectious than previously thought or if there was something unusual in those circumstances.

Mark Harris, a professor of virology at Leeds University, said it appears that the spread of the virus among people is probably easier than initially presumed.

“If transmission between humans was difficult, then the numbers would have plateaued,” he said. Harris said the limited amount of virus spread beyond China suggested the outbreak could still be contained, but that if people are spreading the disease before they show symptoms — as some Chinese politicians and researchers have suggested — that could compromise control efforts.

The new virus has now infected more people in China than were sickened there during the 2002-03 outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, a cousin of the new virus. Both are from the coronavirus family, which also includes those that can cause the common cold.

The latest figures for mainland China show an increase of 38 deaths and 1,737 cases for a total of 7,736 confirmed cases. Of the new deaths, 37 were in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, and one was in the southwestern province of Sichuan. Outside China, there are 82 infections in 18 countries, according to WHO.

China extended its Lunar New Year holiday to Sunday to try to keep people home, but the wave of returning travelers could potentially cause the virus to spread further.

China has been largely praised for a swift and effective response to the outbreak, although questions have been raised about the police suppression of what were early on considered mere rumors — a reflection of the one-party Communist state’s determination to maintain a monopoly on information in spite of smartphones and social media.

That stands in stark contrast to the initial response to SARS, when medical reports were hidden as state secrets. The delayed response was blamed for allowing the disease to spread worldwide, killing around 800 people.

Dr. Jeremy Farrar, director of Britain’s Wellcome Trust, welcomed WHO’s emergency declaration.

“This virus has spread at unprecedented scale and speed, with cases passing between people in multiple countries across the world,” he said in a statement. “It is also a stark reminder of how vulnerable we are to epidemics of infectious diseases known and unknown.”

Marshall highlights its statewide importance at Capitol

CHARLESTON — The sounds of the John Marshall Fife and Drum Corps reverberated off the grand ceilings in the West Virginia Senate and House of Delegates chamber Thursday morning as Marshall University took over for Marshall Day at the Capitol.

University officials, faculty, students and, of course, Marco made the trip to Charleston for the annual lobbying day, which fills the rotunda with kelly green booths showing off the programs and departments that make Marshall Marshall.

Along with the special performance by the corps, John Marshall, portrayed by Marshall theater student Steve Judy, spoke before the House, reading some of the U.S. Supreme Court’s fourth chief justice’s philosophy on centralized government.

The goal of the day is to highlight the important role Marshall plays in the Mountain State, said Marshall President Jerome Gilbert.

“I think that came out in the resolution (passed by the House and Senate),” Gilbert said. “It highlighted our research, how we prepare our graduates, the fact we have nearly half-a-billion-dollar impact on the state economy, and our new programs.”

Gilbert spent the second half of the day at Yeager Airport, looking at sites of the new classroom and hangar space being built for the university’s new School of Aviation, which was also highlighted in the resolution. He said it was exciting just to be present in the moment, knowing what was to come.

“People in Charleston are excited because we are going to bring 100 to 200 new students over here,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert will also meet with officials at Huntington Tri-State Airport on Friday, Jan. 31, to discuss the new aviation maintenance program.

“Both of those programs will have a tremendous impact on the economy of West Virginia,” Gilbert said.

The university, along with the other members of West Virginia Forward, supports several pieces of legislation introduced this session, Gilbert said, including a bill that would create a tax incentive for graduates of the state’s institutes of higher learning who stay in the state and another bill generally looking at tax incentives. They also support a bill creating an innovation fund to be used as startup funding for entrepreneurs and the Promise+ scholarship, which would allow businesses to support education of West Virginia students.

The university is anticipating a flat budget from the state, but is prepared if budget cuts should come, Gilbert said.

Overall, Gilbert said it was a great day. He said he was proud of the impressive fife and drum corps, which really makes the university stand out when the Capitol goes green.

Regional universities monitoring new coronavirus

HUNTINGTON — Universities across the region are monitoring the coronavirus, urging students and faculty who may have traveled or will travel to China to take precautions, though risk remains low.

Two students from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, are being tested for the new strain of the virus that originated in Wuhan, China, and is now spreading throughout China.

The Journal-News reported Tuesday that university officials said a student who recently returned from China visited a student health center Monday with “very mild symptoms” that were consistent with the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will perform tests for the student and the student’s traveling partner.

Students were seen wearing masks this week, though officials said the situation is low risk and the two students were remaining in their residence.

Marshall University officials said they did not know of any faculty or students who may have traveled to China recently. Leah Payne, university spokeswoman, said the university is monitoring the situation through the CDC but the threat to the Marshall community is low.

“Our international students have been advised to follow their country’s guidance in regard to travel,” Payne said. “They have also been advised to seek medical attention if they have traveled from China within the last 14 days and are experiencing flu-like symptoms, although it is important to note that we are not aware of anyone, student or faculty member, in that category.”

West Virginia University is also cautioning students and faculty who may travel abroad, but also reminded the community to generally take precautions against other viruses like the flu.

In a statement, WVU said it requires faculty, staff and students to register all university-related travel. By registering, travelers will receive updates on regional concerns, including coronavirus. Registering also ensures access to the university’s international medical, safety and security service, including medical coverage while abroad.

The U.S. Department of State has advised against all travel to China after the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of the virus a global emergency.

According to the CDC, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. There are several known coronaviruses that infect people and usually only cause mild respiratory disease, such as the common cold. However, at least two previously identified coronaviruses have caused severe disease — severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS).

Signs and symptoms of this illness include fever, cough and difficulty breathing.

There are at least five confirmed cases of the Wuhan coronavirus in the U.S. On Thursday, China raised the death toll to 170 with thousands infected. The new virus has now infected more people in China than were sickened there during the 2002-03 outbreak of SARS, according to The Associated Press.

cparsons / Courtesy of Ohio Imagination


Courtesy of Ohio Imagination Library.com

Ohio's First Lady Fran DeWine, pictured, will be at the Collins Career Center in Chesapeake on Monday, Feb. 3, to help kick off the Imagination Library to provide free books to some 3,800 children in Lawrence County.

Testimony coming? Abrupt acquittal? Trump trial edges on

WASHINGTON — Senators peppered President Donald Trump’s defense and accusers with final questions at his impeachment trial Thursday night ahead of a crucial test on witnesses, the focus shifting from details of the charges to whether it was time to simply acquit and conclude the trial.

The vote on witnesses, expected Friday, could lead to an abrupt end of the trial with the expected acquittal. Or, less likely, it could bring days, if not weeks more argument as Democrats press to hear testimony from former national security adviser John Bolton and others.

Thursday’s testimony included soaring pleas to the senators-as-jurors who will decide Trump’s fate, to either stop a president who Democrats say has tried to cheat in the upcoming election and will again, or to shut down impeachment proceedings that Republicans insist were never more than a partisan attack.

“Let’s give the country a trial they can be proud of,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, the lead prosecutor for House Democrats. Americans, he said, know what it takes for a fair trial. He offered to take just one week for depositions of new witnesses, sparking new discussions.

Trump attorney Eric Herschmann declared the Democrats are only prosecuting the president because they can’t beat him in 2020.

“We trust the American people to decide who should be our president,” Herschmann said. “Enough is enough. Stop all of this.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was toiling to keep Friday’s vote on schedule even as the trial is unearthing fresh evidence from Bolton’s new book and raising alarms among Democrats and some Republicans about a Trump attorney’s controversial defense.

In a day-after tweet, Trump attorney Alan Dershowitz complained about the portrayal of his Wednesday night testimony when he said a president is essentially immune from impeachment if he believes his actions to be in the “national interest.”

That idea frustrated some inside the White House, who felt Dershowitz’s claim was unnecessary and inflammatory — irking senators with a controversial claim of vast executive powers. But those officials left it to Dershowitz to back away, wary that any public White House retreat would be viewed poorly by the president.

“I said nothing like that,” the retired professor tweeted Thursday.

His words Wednesday night: “Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest. And if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected is in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.”

Asked about it as one of the first questions Thursday, Democrat Schiff, said, “Have we learned nothing in the last half-century?”

Schiff drew on the lessons of the Nixon era to warn of a “normalization of lawlessness” in the Trump presidency.

“That argument — if the president says it, it can’t be illegal — failed when Richard Nixon was forced to resign,” Schiff told the senators. “But that argument may succeed here now.”

Trump was impeached by the House last month on charges that he abused his power like no other president, jeopardizing Ukraine and U.S.-Ukraine relations. Democrats say Trump asked the vulnerable ally to investigate Joe Biden and theories of 2016 election interference, temporarily halting American security aid to the country as it battled Russia at its border. The second article of impeachment says Trump then obstructed the House probe in a way that threatened the nation’s three-branch system of checks and balances.

“This is not a banana republic,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., rejecting the White House counsel’s suggestion there was nothing wrong with seeking foreign election interference.

Democrats played a video showing the many times Trump called on Russia or China to intervene in U.S. politics, voicing his own belief such information could be helpful in a campaign.

The president has argued repeatedly that his dealings with Ukraine have been “perfect.”

Even though McConnell has not yet locked down the votes, the calendar he engineered at the start of the trial two weeks ago is now proving immovable as Democrats are pressing hard to force the Senate to call more witnesses to testify.

Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have expressed interest in hearing from Bolton and the others. But their votes may not be enough.

In a Senate split 53-47 with a Republican majority, at least four GOP senators must join all Democrats to reach the 51 votes required to call witnesses, decide whom to call or do nearly anything else in the trial.

Chief Justice John Roberts, presiding over the chamber and fielding senators’ questions for the trial, could break a tie, but that seems unlikely.

The chief justice did exercise authority Thursday with a stunning rebuttal to a question posed by Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky designed to expose those familiar with the still anonymous whistleblower whose complaint about Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s new president led to the impeachment inquiry.

Roberts had communicated through his staff to McConnell’s office that he did not want to read the whistleblower’s name, according to a Republican unauthorized to discuss the private conversation and granted anonymity.

“The presiding officer declines to read the question as submitted,” he said.

Senators have dispatched with more than 100 queries over two days. The questions came from the parties’ leaders, the senators running for the Democratic nomination against Trump and even bipartisan coalitions from both sides of the aisle.

Trump’s team says the House’s 28,000-page case against the president and the 17 witnesses — current and former national security officials, ambassadors and others who testified in the House proceedings — are sufficient.

Instead, Trump’s lawyers focused some of their time Thursday refloating allegations against Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who served on the board of a gas company in Ukraine while his father was vice president.

Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., responding to one question said the Bidens have little to tell the Senate about Trump’s efforts to “shake down” Ukraine for his own campaign.

Democrats argued Bolton’s forthcoming book cannot be ignored. It contends he personally heard Trump say he wanted military aid withheld from Ukraine until it agreed to investigate the Bidens — the abuse-of-power charge that is the first article of impeachment. Trump denies saying such a thing.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer acknowledged it’s “an uphill battle” to bring four GOP senators to vote for witnesses, but said, “We’re still hopeful.”

The White House has blocked its officials from testifying in the proceedings and objected in a letter to Bolton’s attorney to “significant amounts of classified information” in the manuscript, including at the top secret level. Bolton resigned last September — Trump says he was fired — and he and his attorney have insisted the book does not contain any classified information.