Coronavirus death toll rises to 125

About 1,000 Americans were still stuck in the Chinese city at the center of the new coronavirus outbreak Tuesday, many hoping for seats on a U.S. government-chartered flight expected to leave early Wednesday. Anxiety in Wuhan, a quarantined city of 11 million people — and across Asia — was spreading as fast as the deadly virus.

The virus that emerged late last year had killed at least 125 people as of Tuesday, all of them in China. More than 4,500 others have been infected in more than a dozen countries, including five confirmed cases in the United States. More than 100 people in the U.S. were being tested for the disease across 26 states.

Public health officials from the U.S. and China have warned people to expect many more infections. The disease can be transmitted by people who are showing no symptoms, and a top British infectious disease specialist said Monday that the actual number of cases around the world could already be close to 100,000.

China has locked down more than 15 cities, including Wuhan, virtually quarantining a population of more than 50 million people in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The U.S. and other nations have been screening passengers arriving from China, and by Tuesday some neighboring countries were starting to impose further restrictions. Some Russian provinces said they would close their borders with China entirely.

A security officer wearing protective clothing checks a passenger’s temperature at the entrance of a subway station in Beijing, January 28, 2020, amid efforts to contain a new coronavirus that has broken out in China. NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty

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What is the coronavirus illness blamed for multiple deaths in China?

Officials in China are racing to contain a deadly new strain of virus that has infected more than 2,000 people and left at least 80 dead. Chinese officials have blocked all transportation in and out of the city of Wuhan and surrounding areas, where the outbreak of the “2019 novel coronavirus” or “2019-nCoV” originated. 

As of Sunday, five cases of the illness have been confirmed in the United States — all in people who had recently traveled from Wuhan, China. U.S. health officials confirmed the first case on Tuesday, involving a man in his 30s in Seattle. The second case was confirmed Friday in a woman in her 60s in Chicago. Health officials said she was “doing well.” Over the weekend, two additional cases were confirmed n California and one in Arizona.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that more than 60 people in 22 states were being monitored for possible infection.

Health officials believe the virus was initially transmitted from animals to humans, but that human-to-human transmission of the flu-like illness is now occurring.

Chinese city quarantines 11 million as virus spreads

Here’s what you need to know:

What is a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that can cause illnesses as minor as a cold, or as serious as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), according to the World Health Organization. They often present with pneumonia-like symptoms.

The viruses can be transmitted from animals to humans; the virus that causes SARS, for example, was originally transmitted to humans from a cat-like animal called a civet. But in some instances, as appears to be the case with this new strain of coronavirus, they can also be transmitted between humans. 

The World Health Organization said there are multiple known coronaviruses circulating in animals that have not yet been transmitted to humans.

How did the new strain start?

The outbreak began in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people. Many of the early patients were reportedly linked to Hua Nan Seafood Wholesale Market, a large seafood and animal market in the city, according to CBS News’ Ramy Inocencio. But since then, a rising number of people have apparently contracted the virus without exposure to the market.

The market was closed on January 1, 2020 for “environmental sanitation and disinfection,” according to the World Health Organization

How many people have died?

At least 80 people have died from the illness, according to Chinese officials. Most of those deaths occurred in Wuhan, which is in the Hubei province. The first death was reported January 9. 

Where is it?

While the virus originated in the Wuhan area of central China, cases have also been reported in Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, the U.S., Australia and France. 

First U.S. case of deadly coronavirus diagnosed in Washington state

How is it transmitted?

It’s well-established that coronaviruses can spread from animals to humans, according to the World Health Organization. But health officials confirmed there have been cases in which this virus has spread from human to human. 

Chinese state-run media quoted Zhong Nanshan, a scientist at the China’s National Health Commission, as saying such transmission was “affirmative.” The scientist did not say how many cases were the result of human-to-human transmission — but in one case, a hospital patient is said to have infected 14 medical workers, reports Inocencio.

What’s being done to stop the spread? 

The World Health Organization convened an emergency committee on the virus in Geneva, Switzerland. It said Thursday that the outbreak does not rise to the level of being designated an international public health emergency, but WHO will continue working with nations to contain it.

Meanwhile in the U.S., the CDC deployed public health workers to screen passengers arriving from Wuhan at five major ports of airline entry: New York-JFK, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta and Chicago-O’Hare.

The CDC said it has developed a test to diagnose the virus. Currently, that test must be administered at the CDC, but the organization is working to share the test with domestic and international partners.

In Hong Kong, which was ravaged by SARS in 2002 and 2003, hospitals upped their alert level to “serious” and implemented temperature checkpoints for inbound travelers.

While China has closed transportation in and out of Wuhan and 12 other cities, there are concerns that as hundreds of millions of people travel around the country to celebrate the Chinese New Year, the virus could spread even faster.

Is it safe to travel?

On Thursday, the CDC issued a level 3 travel warning — its highest level — urging people to avoid all non-essential travel to the city of Wuhan, China, due to the coronavirus outbreak. The federal health agency advises anyone who must go there to avoid contact with sick people, animals, animal markets and animal products.

“Older adults and travelers with underlying health issues may be at risk for more severe disease and should discuss travel to Wuhan with their healthcare provider,” the CDC said.

The agency is urging people to seek medical care right away if they traveled to Wuhan in the past two weeks and have a fever, cough or trouble breathing. It says older adults and people with underlying health conditions may be most at risk for severe illness from the virus.

“Preliminary information suggests that older adults and people with underlying health conditions may be at increased risk for severe disease from this virus,” it said.

U.S. begins airport screenings as coronavirus spreads in China

Ramy Inocencio and Grace Qi contributed to this report. 

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Hong Kong declares emergency over coronavirus and closes schools

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said Saturday her government is raising its response level to the highest level – emergency – and closing schools for two weeks, as authorities rush to contain the deadly coronavirus outbreak. 

The outbreak, which started in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has left 41 people dead in China. The country’s National Health Commission says 1,287 people are infected. 

Wuhan has been locked down for days, with public transportation halted and flights and trains out of the city suspended.  Lockdowns now embrace more than a dozen cities across China, affecting more than 50 million people, The Associated Press reports.

Despite efforts to prevent the outbreak from spreading, cases have cropped up overseas. The U.S. confirmed a second case of coronavirus on Friday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said more than 60 people in 22 states are being monitored for possible infection

Authorities believe the virus, which causes flu-like symptoms, moved into the human population from an infected animal at a market in Wuhan. Chinese health officials and the World Health Organization confirmed this week that the virus has been transmitted person-to-person, but it remains unclear how easy it is to contract from another infected individual.

People wear masks after visiting Wong Tai Sin temple on the first day of the Lunar New Year of the Rat in Hong Kong on January 25, 2020, as a preventative measure. DALE DE LA REY/AFP via Getty Images

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China locking down cities in unprecedented bid to contain virus

Authorities in China are locking down at least three cities in an extraordinary bid to halt the spread of the deadly coronavirus, which has left at least 25 dead in the country and sickened hundreds of others. The move is unprecedented and affects more than 18 million people.

The U.S. has confirmed one case, and several others have popped up in Asian countries — all among people who visited Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak.

Authorities believe the virus, which causes flu-like symptoms, jumped into the human population from an infected animal at a market in Wuhan. The entire city of 11 million people is now locked down, with transport links cut and authorities saying no one can leave. Authorities announced similar measures will go into effect on Friday in the nearby cities of Ezho and Huanggang.

Chinese health officials and the World Health Organization confirmed this week the virus has been transmitted person-to-person, but it remains unclear how easy it is to contract it from another infected individual.

Many countries, including the U.S., are screening people traveling from China for symptoms.

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U.S. deports Honduran family with sick kids to Guatemala

Update: On Monday night, a federal judge in McAllen, Texas, denied a request to halt the deportation of the Honduran mother and her two children. The family was sent to Guatemala on Tuesday, according to a lawyer familiar with the case and the children’s father. In Guatemala, they will be required to choose between seeking refuge there or returning to Honduras. Read the original story below.

New York — Lawyers and advocates are mobilizing to try to stop U.S. immigration officials from deporting a young Honduran mother and her two sick children to Guatemala, where the Trump administration has sent dozens of asylum-seekers in recent weeks as part of a controversial deal with the Central American country.

The 23-year-old migrant mother and her two daughters — a 6-year-old and 18-month-old baby — were apprehended at the U.S. border in Texas in December and are slated to be sent to Guatemala on Tuesday, according to court records. The family’s lawyers say the two girls, who have been sick and were recently hospitalized, are in no condition to be deported to Guatemala.

A group of lawyers, led by attorneys from the group ProBAR, which provides legal assistance to asylum-seekers, sued the government last week in U.S. District Court in McAllen, Texas. They asked the court to block officials from sending the family to Guatemala and to order Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to release them so the children can continue further medical treatment at a local shelter. 

But the government said in a filing that it still plans to move forward with its plans to send the family to Guatemala on Tuesday, or whenever the mother and children have received medical clearance to travel.

The government says the three family members are set to be deported on Tuesday, or when cleared for travel by a doctor. U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas

The 1-year-old girl has been undergoing treatment at a hospital near McAllen, but the government said she is expected to be released soon. The mother and the 6-year-old, the government said, do “not appear” to be “suffering from medical conditions that would prevent their removal” to Guatemala.

But the family’s lawyers disagree with this assessment and argue that continued detention and potential deportation are “inadvisable and dangerous” because of the children’s health. The 6-year-old has been diagnosed with the flu, and the infant has a fever and diarrhea, which the lawyers say stems from “inadequate” food and “unsanitary” living conditions while in CBP custody. 

The woman’s husband and the children’s father, who has been in the U.S. for more than a year, is pleading with the government not to deport his family.  

“If they return my family to Honduras, I’m expecting the worst. My daughters and my wife could be harmed,” the 26-year-old father told CBS News in Spanish. “And Guatemala is almost the same or worse because they don’t know anyone there.”

CBS News is not disclosing the names of the family members since they are subject to ongoing immigration proceedings. The three are identified by initials in court filings.

CBP did not respond to a series of questions about the family’s case, including whether the family is still going to be processed for removal to Guatemala on Tuesday.

If the family is deported to Guatemala, it will join 209 asylum-seekers from Honduras and El Salvador — including more than 50 children — who have been sent there by the U.S. under an “Asylum Cooperative Agreement” with the Guatemalan government. Those subject to the agreement are denied access to America’s asylum system at the U.S.-Mexico border and required to choose between seeking refuge in Guatemala or returning home. 

The deal has elicited strong criticism from advocates, who point to Guatemala’s skeletal asylum system and the fact that hundreds of thousands of Guatemalan families have trekked north to the U.S. southern border in the past two years, many of them fleeing endemic violence and extreme poverty. 

Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups filed a lawsuit to try to block the administration from enforcing the agreement with Guatemala, as well as similar deals the U.S. forged with Honduras and El Salvador.

“This would break anyone’s heart” 

The 1-year-old girl receiving medical treatment, with an IV in her arm.

The mother fled Honduras with her daughters in September 2019 after a gang demanded that she pay a “protection fee” for her small grocery store, according to her husband. He said the gang made several threats.

The mother and her children reached the U.S.-Mexico border in late December. During their first attempt to cross, they were kidnapped by an unknown group, the father said, noting that those who kidnapped his family asked him to pay $ 200 per person.

After pleas from the mother, the family was ultimately released, the father said. Two days later, a day before New Year’s Eve, the three again tried to cross the border and presented themselves to Border Patrol agents. They were then sent to the CBP facility in Donna, Texas, where officials detain migrants who the government intends to send to Guatemala or who are deemed ineligible for asylum under a sweeping restriction allowed by the Supreme Court.

Despite expressing fear of persecution, the mother was not referred for a so-called “credible fear” interview, the first test migrants must pass to pursue asylum claims in the U.S. Instead, the family was given what their attorneys called a “Hobbesian choice.”

“[Officials] presented the mother with a Hobbesian choice: return to Honduras from which she fled with her children in fear for their lives or be sent to Guatemala where she has no family, friends, contacts or job prospects and where she and her children likely will suffer from the same violence that compelled them to leave Honduras,” a filing by the family’s lawyers reads.

The father said his wife described the same occurrence over a phone call this week. “Those were the only options,” he added. “They were not given an option to ask for asylum here in the U.S.”

Fearing a return to “known threats” in Honduras, the mother chose to be sent to Guatemala, the family’s lawyers said. The government said the mother then underwent a so-called “threshold screening” with an asylum officer who determined she was not exempt from the U.S.-Guatemala deal.   

Like other migrants subject to this policy, the mother did not have access to counsel before or during the secreeing. One of the family’s lawyers said she tried to talk to her clients at the CBP facility in Donna, but was denied entry.

In their lawsuit, the lawyers also said the family’s continued detention, which has now reached more than 20 days, violates requirements set forth by the Flores Agreement, a court settlement that governs the care of children in U.S. immigration custody. The agreement mandates the government to release children from custody as expeditiously as possible and to detain them in the least restrictive settings as possible. 

The government in its legal filing denied that the family’s continued detention violates the Flores Agreement. 

The children’s father said the family’s detention and imminent deportation to Guatemala has taken an emotional toll on his wife. 

“She’s very bad emotionally. I know her. She’s a very happy person. I’m also a very happy man,” he said. “But with this situation — I don’t cry, because I’m ashamed, but when I’m alone in my bed, I tear up looking at photos of them and us together in Honduras. This would break anyone’s heart.”

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Four dead as mystery illness spreads from China

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U.S. federal agencies on high alert as new cases of Coronavirus spread in China

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Lawmakers condemn conditions faced by asylum-seekers in Mexico

One-by-one, members of a congressional delegation described the squalid conditions faced by the asylum-seeking families and children they met in Matamoros, Mexico, where the U.S. has returned thousands of migrants, requiring them to wait for their U.S. immigration court hearings on the Mexican side of the border.

Through impassioned remarks in English and Spanish, the Democratic lawmakers crafted a scathing rebuke of the Trump administration’s so-called “Remain in Mexico” program, questioning its legality and denouncing the precarious situation the policy has created for tens of thousands of Latin American asylum-seekers in northern Mexico.

“These are conditions that people seeking asylum and refuge in the United States should not have to endure,” Texas Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro said during a press conference on Friday in Brownsville, Texas, Matamoros’ neighboring city. 

Under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), as the policy is officially called, the U.S. has required more than 57,000 migrants to wait in northern Mexico for the duration of their U.S. immigration court proceedings. The program, which is being challenged in court, has led to the creation of overcrowded shelters and makeshift encampments in dangerous Mexican cities like Matamoros, located in a region the State Department warns Americans not to visit because of rampant violence and crime.

Asylum Seekers Fill Tent Camps As Part Of U.S. "Remain In Mexico" Policy
Asylum seekers wash clothes on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande at an immigrant camp on December 08, 2019, in the border town of Matamoros, Mexico. Getty Images

The congressional delegation, made up of more than a dozen lawmakers, expressed concerns about lack of medical care, drinkable water and overall security that the asylum-seekers returned to Mexico by the U.S. face in tent camps along the banks of the Rio Grande. They called for the end of the program, saying those seeking refuge at the southern border should generally be allowed to fight their deportations and argue their asylum cases inside the U.S. 

During their visit, some members of the delegation pressured U.S. border officials to allow a young girl from El Salvador with down syndrome and a heart defect to enter the U.S. to receive medical treatment, according to California Congresswoman Nanette Barragán. The girl, the congresswoman said, had been denied entry the day before.  

For Castro, the policy represents a moral stain on the nation’s reputation. 

“For generations, the United States has been a country that has been respected around the world as a beacon of moral clarity and moral rectitude — as a place that takes in those seeing asylum. Or at least gives them a fair chance to make their case,” he said. “Unfortunately, President Trump has fundamentally changed that.”

Other members of the delegation echoed Castro’s remarks. Recalling an encounter with a mother from El Salvador with a sick child, Oregon Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici called what she saw in Mexico “heart-breaking.”

Chicago Congressman Chuy Garcia said he and his colleagues witnessed the “horrific” consequences of the MPP program. “We see its inhumanity and vow to redouble every effort we can to end the policy and restore decency to our asylum system,” he added, saying he hopes the courts block the policy.

For months, the Trump administration has cast aside strong criticism from Democrats, advocates and even some of the very same asylum officers overseeing the Remain in Mexico program, calling it an “effective tool” in reducing apprehensions along the southern border. After a 13-year monthly high of about 133,000 apprehensions in May, arrests of migrants along the southern border have dropped for seven consecutive months, reaching 33,000 last month.

The Remain in Mexico policy is one of several policies the administration rolled out over the past year to restrict asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. These also include a sweeping rule that renders most non-Mexican migrants ineligible for asylum and controversial agreements with countries Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador that allow the U.S. to reroute certain asylum-seekers to those countries.

Philadelphia Congressman Brendan Boyle suggested that the squalid conditions faced by the asylum-seekers in the program, as well as their prolonged time in Mexican border cities, are intended to deter those seeking to journey to the U.S.-Mexico border. “Let’s not be naïve — that’s the point. With the Trump administration, the cruelty is the point,” he said.  

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Lev Parnas: “President Trump knew exactly what was going on”

Lev Parnas, an associate of President Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, said Wednesday night the president was fully aware of what he and associate Igor Fruman were doing in Ukraine. Parnas made the comments during an interview with Rachel Maddow, in which he also leveled allegations against Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General William Barr. 

In the clip, Maddow asked Parnas about the “main inaccuracy or the main lie that is being told that you feel like you can correct?” 

“That the president didn’t know what was going on,” Parnas replied. 

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“President Trump knew exactly what was going on,” Parnas said. “He was aware of all of my movements. He- I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president.”

He also stated that Trump was lying when he said he didn’t know Parnas or Fruman. “He lied,” Parnas said.

Parnas and Fruman are accused of helping Giuliani in his attempts to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden in Ukraine. Parnas, a Ukrainian-born U.S. citizen, and Fruman, originally from Belarus, were arrested on campaign finance charges at Dulles International Airport in October.

In the interview, Parnas alleged that he was given specific instructions by Giuliani to inform Ukrainian government officials that the United States would withhold aid unless the Ukrainian government announced it was opening an investigation into the the Bidens.

“It wasn’t just military aid. It was all aid,” Parnas said. He also claimed that Giuliani told Ukrainian officials that Parnas was there as a representative of both himself and Mr. Trump, and that Ukrainian officials understood he was speaking on behalf of Mr. Trump.

Giuliani denied that claim while the interview was airing.

Parnas also denied Mr. Trump’s claim that he was trying to end corruption in Ukraine. 

“It was never about corruption. It was specifically about Burisma,” he said.

Parnas also implicated Pence, claiming the vice president also went to Ukraine in an effort to force government officials to announce an investigation into the Bidens. Pence’s planned trip to attend the inauguration of the Ukrainian president was canceled as a result of Pence’s inability to get Ukraine to announce the investigation, Parnas claimed.

Parnas also claimed that Barr was aware of what was transpiring.

“Mr. Barr had to have known everything,” he said.

Department of Justice spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said that claim is “100% false.”

House Democrats on Tuesday released documents Parnas turned over to the House Intelligence Committee. Among those documents was a handwritten note by Parnas which read “get Zalensky [sic] to announce that the Biden case will be investigated.” The note is an apparent reference to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who Mr. Trump is accused of pressuring to investigate his political rivals.

In addition to the handwritten document, screenshots of messages on the encrypted phone messaging app Whatsapp appeared to show that Parnas and a third associate, Republican donor and congressional candidate Robert F. Hyde, were tracking the movements of former United States Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. 

Giuliani denied having any knowledge of such a scheme.

Hyde on Wednesday denied tracking Yovanovitch’s movements, claiming he was joking.

“We just sent some colorful texts, you know, had a few pops say back when I used to drink” Hyde said in a phone interview on Eric Bolling’s Facebook show America This Week.

“We were playing, I thought we were playing,” Hyde continued. “I didn’t know he was, I didn’t know he was so serious.” 

Bolling asked Hyde outright, “Did you have eyes on Marie Yovanovitch,” 

“Absolutely not,” Hyde responded. “Are you kidding me?”

Parnas agreed with Hyde’s framing in his interview with Maddow.

“I don’t believe it’s true. I believe he was either drunk or was trying to make himself bigger than he was,” Parnas explained. He also said because he didn’t take Hyde or his claims seriously, he never believed Yovanovitch was in any sort of physical danger.

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Iran says U.S. bears blame for Iranian forces shooting down plane

Iran said Tuesday that dozens of people had been arrested over the Islamic Republic’s apparently unintentional shooting down of a Ukrainian jetliner last week. The arrests come amid Iranian vows to fully and openly investigate the firing of the surface-to-air missile that downed the plane, killing all 176 people on board.

But while Iran confessed to shooting the jet down — three days after the fact and under intense international pressure — its president asserted Tuesday that the “root causes” of the tragedy were U.S. actions.  

“It was the U.S. that caused such an incident to take place,” Iran’s state-controlled news agency Tasnim quoted President Hassan Rouhani as saying. The Iranian regime has blamed the Trump administration for ratcheting up tensions with the controversial decision to kill senior Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in a January 2 drone strike in Baghdad.  

Iranian forces shot the plane down hours after launching a barrage of ballistic missiles at military bases in Iraq housing hundreds of U.S. forces, in retaliation for the killing of Soleimani. Officials in Tehran have said their forces were on high-alert for any U.S. response to the missile attack, and the operator who fired on the plane believed it was an incoming American missile.

Iran’s attack on the bases killed no one, but U.S. officials have dismissed speculation that Iran might have deliberately missed the troops in a bid to prevent further escalation of hostilities with the U.S.

The U.S. forces in Iraq had “multiple hours” of warning that an Iranian strike was coming, a senior U.S. official told CBS News on Monday. But American troops at the main base struck by Iran told CBS News they had just minutes to take cover, and many still can’t believe everyone escaped unscathed. One American commander said Iran was “shooting to kill.”

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