leightrail/iStockBY: ARIELLE MITROPOULOS, ABC NEWS
(NEW YORK) — The world of higher education, already struggling to cope amid the COVID-19 pandemic, was rocked last week when the Trump administration issued a regulation that would prevent international students from entering the country in addition to compelling thousands already in the U.S. to leave if enrolled in schools that plan to teach exclusively online in the fall.
"These students and their families have invested so much hope and money -- in some cases, their families' life savings -- to get an American education," Kavita Daiya, an associate professor of English at George Washington University, told ABC News. "By being here, they bring so much talent and knowledge to our communities. To force them to leave is to betray the promise of opportunity and fairness that undergirds American higher education."
It could also cost the U.S. tens of billions of dollars and thousands of jobs.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement decision threatens to severely disrupt life for the more than 1 million international students, about 5.5% of those enrolled in higher education. Some students, fearful of losing their visa status, may even risk their own health by transferring to a school that offers in-person instruction.
According to the 2019 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, in 2018-2019, the largest number of international students in the U.S. came from China (369,548), followed by India (202,014), South Korea (52,250), Saudi Arabia (37,080) and Canada (26,122).
Fewer students enrolling in the fall could further damage the U.S. economy.
In a statement, Dr. Esther D. Brimmer, executive director and CEO of the Association of International Educators, wrote: "At a time when new international student enrollment is in decline, our nation risks losing global talent with new policies that hurt us academically and economically."
Foreign students are a critical economic asset for the United States, and the financial damage of the ICE policy to the institutions they attend, as well as to local economies, could be considerable, Daiya added.
Economists at the UC Davis Global Migration Center agree, arguing in a policy brief that the decision to block international students could result in "immediate" and "devastating" economic consequences "in both the short and long run.”
International students contributed $45 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, much of it from tuition, fees and living expenses. These students typically pay higher tuition than domestic students, making many American universities dependent on the revenue streams.
International students also were responsible for more than 458,000 jobs in the 2018 academic year. According to NAFSA, "For every seven international students, three U.S. jobs are created and supported by spending occurring in the higher education, accommodation, dining, retail, transportation, telecommunications and health insurance sectors."
In 2018-2019, foreign students contributed $6.8 billion to California's economy while supporting 74,814 jobs, while in New York, they contributed about $5.3 billion and supported 59,586 jobs, and in Massachusetts, about $3.2 billion and 38,799 jobs.
"This new order is misguided and it hurts America and American colleges financially," said Daiya. "To force them to leave the country right now would be to lose the revenue they contribute in the midst of the biggest recession since the great Depression, and to lose the American jobs that they support through their presence here."
Many of these international students also contribute to the U.S. economy after graduation. According to the National Foundation for American Policy, a non-profit, non-partisan organization, one-quarter of the founders of $1 billion U.S. startups were international students.
Among these are Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, who studied at the University of Pennsylvania and Wharton School of Business. His company has just been valued at $36 billion and employs about 8,000 people.
Noubar Afeyan, founder and CEO of Flagship Pioneering, which has $34 billion in aggregate value, went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Among Flagship's portfolio companies is Moderna Therapeutics, which is developing an experimental COVID-19 vaccine.
French-born Cornell graduate Renaud Visage is one of the founders of Eventbrite, a ticketing and experience technology platform valued at approximately $1 billion and which employs over 900 people.
According to a report from the National Foundation for American Policy, a dearth of international students also could stymy scientific progress because so many are STEM students. More than 80% of full-time graduate students in electrical and petroleum engineering programs, and over 75% of those in computer science and industrial engineering, are foreign students.
Most institutions of higher education are still sorting out their fall programs -- some may move all courses online, while some may offer hybrid models.
Jenny Lee, a professor of educational policy studies and practice at University of Arizona, told ABC News the ICE policy "is a cruel attempt to strong-arm universities to fully resume on-campus instruction this fall, while placing a million U.S. international students at great risk. Forcing them to return to their home countries is not only infeasible, a surge in international travel will most certainly increase the risk of spreading of COVID-19 globally."
Harvard and MIT have filed a lawsuit to block the new visa policy, and they are being backed by more than 200 universities.
"We will not stand by to see our international students' dreams extinguished by a deeply misguided order. We owe it to them to stand up and to fight -- and we will," wrote Harvard University President Larry Bacow.
More than a dozen top American technology companies, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Spotify and Paypal, have joined the lawsuit.
In a court brief on Monday, the coalition argued that "without international students, American educational institutions face a sudden loss of critical mass -- jeopardizing their ability to maintain their standards of excellence; produce research that helps keep U.S. businesses on the cutting edge of innovation; and provide the training that makes American students a strong talent pool for their future employers."
The group argues that this will ultimately threaten the competitiveness of U.S. businesses, because it "depends on attracting and retaining talented international students."
Similarly, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy announced on Monday that she's leading a coalition of 18 attorneys general in a multi-state suit against the Department of Homeland Security and ICE, calling the recent policy a "cruel, abrupt, and unlawful action."
"Massachusetts is home to thousands of international students who make invaluable contributions to our educational institutions, communities and economy," Healey said in a statement. "We are taking this action today to make sure they can continue to live and learn in this country."
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
ABCNews.comBY: GUY DAVIES, ABC NEWS
(LONDON) — Many proprietors of pubs and restaurants in Britain have been forced to come up with atypical methods to serve customers in a world of social distancing.
But while table service, sanitizing stations and one-way systems have become essential to the pub experience, one landlord has gone one step further to protect staff and customers: the installation an electric fence.
Jonny McFadden, landlord of the Star Inn in Cornwall, said that the electric fence has so far been effective in helping his customers maintain their distance since bars and restaurants reopened in the U.K. earlier this month.
"If I had put a little bit of rope there, I don't think anybody would have taken this much attention," he said. "I run a very small bar. Everybody is accustomed to sitting at the bar, pushing at the bar. They can't do that now. Things have changed.”
"People are like sheep," he added. "Sheep keep away, people keep away."
McFadden said he'd been assured the fence was completely legal if adequate warnings are provided, and while the fence is switched off, customers still had the "fear factor" to make sure they comply with the government's guidance on social distancing.
"There is a serious point to it," McFadden said. "We've all got to keep social distancing."
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
malerapaso/iStockBy PATRICK REEVELL, ABC News
(KHABAROVSK, Russia) -- Tens of thousands of people joined protests in Russia’s Far East last weekend in an almost unheard of display of opposition to President Vladimir Putin triggered by the arrest of a popular governor.
The protests in the city of Khabarovsk on the border with China were as large or bigger than almost any protests seen in Moscow in recent years, where opposition to Putin is normally concentrated.
The demonstrations demanding the release of the governor, who was arrested on murder charges, continued on Monday, though they were much smaller, with local media reporting that protesters numbered in the hundreds.
Large demonstrations in Russia’s regions are rare, and the surprise protests in the province far from Moscow point to a shift in public attitudes that is more unsettling for the Kremlin than would be protests in the capital by the liberal opposition that it paints as elite and unrepresentative.
The arrest that prompted the protests came amid a crackdown on Kremlin opponents that has followed a referendum on constitutional changes which will allow Putin to extend his rule until 2036.
Russia’s security services last week unleashed a wave of high-profile arrests and searches targeting opposition figures and journalists. A highly-regarded former journalist, Ivan Safronov, was charged with treason, sparking protests from leading newspapers. On Monday, security service officers tried to search the offices of democracy activist group Open Russia for a second time.
The arrests and raids in Moscow -- though they have caused an outcry among Russian liberal society -- have not provoked anything like the reaction to the arrest of Khabarovsk’s governor, Sergey Furgal.
Furgal is not a member of Russia’s dissident opposition, instead belonging to the far right Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), long viewed as a token opposition party that helps the Kremlin create an illusion of political competition.
But he is one of the only heads of Russia’s regions not endorsed by the Kremlin. In 2018, he unexpectedly defeated the Kremlin-backed incumbent in a race in which he had been viewed as a paper candidate. His win then was seen by analysts as a rare rebuke to the Kremlin and a sign of rising discontent with Putin's ruling party, United Russia. Since then Furgal has grown more popular and is nicknamed "the people’s governor."
Last Thursday, Furgal was arrested in Khabarovsk, dragged by masked security services agents from his car and immediately flown to Moscow. He was charged with involvement in a series of murders from almost two decades ago. Furgal has denied the charges of murder and attempted murder.
Furgal is a former timber and scrap metal trader, both industries notorious for organized crime and violence in Russia’s chaotic early 2000s. But his sudden arrest now for the alleged crimes from years ago was widely viewed by critics as a political message from a Kremlin asserting its control.
Tens of thousands of people on Saturday marched in Khabarovsk and in other towns across the massive region that is 4,000 miles from Moscow. Police -- who often undercount demonstrators -- later estimated there were 10,000-12,000 protesters, while local media suggested there were around 40,000. Local activists and media said it was one of the biggest -- if not the biggest -- demonstration in the region's history.
Videos from the demonstrations showed people shouting "freedom" and "Moscow get out."
The protests delighted Russia’s liberal opposition. Alexey Navalny, its most prominent leader, tweeted Thursday "Khabarovsk we’re with you!" with video of the protests.
Russian state TV has largely sought to ignore the demonstrations. On Monday, Khabarovsk’s regional government issued a statement saying "we understand the feelings of people who came out" but that "two days on we see a dangerous tendency." The authorities alleged "non-systemic opposition" and "bloggers" among the demonstrators were now trying to provoke riots.
The unusual outbreak of popular discontent seemed to highlight a shift in opinion polls on Russians’ attitude toward Putin that show his popularity dipping recently. While still high, state polls show Putin’s approval rating has been eroding for the past two years and Russians have become more hostile to the authorities in general, fed up with a stagnant economy and perceived corruption.
The referendum two weeks ago that "reset" Putin’s presidential term count to zero was meant to underline his popularity. But the huge 78% vote in favor has been accompanied by accusations authorities pressured large numbers of people to vote and allegations from independent election monitors that there was "unprecedented" falsification.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
iStock/nigelcarseBy: HAKYUNG KATE LEE, ABC News
(SEOUL, South Korea) -- A civic group representing the former secretary of Seoul mayor Park Won-soon publicly appealed for an investigation into the sexual harassment allegations against Park, who died shortly after the complaint was filed last Friday.
A legal representative of the former secretary, who filed the complaint with the police, read out a statement at the Korea Women's Hot Line and Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center, asking authorities to launch a “proper probe” into the case, writing that the victim took courage in hoping for the prosecution to resolve a #MeToo allegation against power.
Police investigation on the case closed as Park died in an apparent suicide last week.
“I wanted him to be judged by the law. I wanted to receive a humane apology. The day I took courage to file a complaint and was investigated all night, the person who had harmed my dignity let go of his life,” Kim Jae-ryun, the lawyer representing the victim, who hasn't been named, read out her statement.
The civic group referred to the case as a "typical workplace molestation case" that should be investigated to establish the truth surrounding the allegations. In the statement, the alleged victim claimed that Park made unwanted physical contact and sent inappropriate messages using Telegram, an encrypted messaging app. The statement claimed that the molestation agonized the victim for four years.
“Under South Korea’s current legal system, prosecution ends when the accused party dies, because there is no one to take the responsibility of the alleged crime,” Min Kyoung Chul, attorney at the Dong-kwang law firm, who specializes in defending sexual harassment cases, told ABC News.
The former secretary's representative also pointed out that Park took his own life not long after a criminal complaint was filed against him. “We have witnessed that a person in the position of Seoul mayor was given a chance to get rid of evidence even before a full-fledged investigation begins. Who in such a situation could trust the national system and report sexual violence?” the representative said.
The press briefing took place the same day Park’s funeral ceremony was held at Seoul's city hall, seen off by politicians and supporters. Over 20,000 people had visited the mourning altar by Monday afternoon while nearby a group of activists was condemning the city of Seoul for holding a mayoral funeral for someone with sexual harassment allegations.
The former secretary has also filed an additional complaint on the secondary damages people have inflicted on her following Park’s death, accusing her of false accusations and threatening to track down her personal information.
Park was a three-term mayor of Seoul and was considered a strong presidential candidate for the 2022 presidential elections. Before jumping into politics, he was a prominent human rights lawyer who won South Korea’s first sexual harassment conviction. He was also known as a strong supporter for the rights of comfort women, or Korean sex slaves forced to work during the Japanese colonial years.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
EnchantedFairy/iStockBy GENEVIEVE SHAW BROWN, ABC News
(HONG KONG) -- Just weeks after reopening, Hong Kong Disneyland will close once again.
The park was reopened to the public on June 18, but on Monday the park announced it would once again close as of July 15.
"As required by the government and health authorities in line with prevention efforts taking place across Hong Kong, Hong Kong Disneyland park will temporarily close from July 15, Hong Kong Disneyland said in a statement. "The Hong Kong Disneyland Resort hotels will remain open with adjusted levels of services. They have put in place enhanced health and safety measures that reflect the guidance of health and government authorities, such as social distancing measures and increased cleaning and sanitization."
Hong Kong announced social distancing rules that limits gatherings previously capped at 50 to no more than four.
The closure comes after reports of a new outbreak of COVID-19 cases. Updates and ticket information can be found on the Hong Kong Disneyland web site.
Last month, Disneyland in California postponed reopening plans. Walt Disney World in Florida began a phased reopening this past weekend.
The resort had reopened with social distancing measures, temperature checks and mask requirements.
The Walt Disney Company is the parent company of ABC News.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
iStock/malerapasoBy: PATRICK REEVELL, ABC News
(MOSCOW) -- Standing at border control in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in early April, Gaylen Grandstaff wasn't sure what was about to happen.
A 53-year-old American from Texas, Grandstaff had been trapped in Russia for almost three years, stuck in a nightmare because of a cleaning product.
Falsely charged by Russian prosecutors with large-scale drug smuggling for ordering a bottle of solvent cleaner online, he had spent nearly two of those years in a Moscow jail while on trial, an ordeal that ABC News chronicled in a documentary film last year.
A court released him and twice found the charges against him to be unfounded. But police had refused to let go of the case.
So as he’d walked towards passport control, Grandstaff thought at best he might likely be turned back—at worst he was taking steps back towards prison.
That didn’t happen. Instead, Grandstaff is finally back in the United States—out of Russia at last after the coronavirus pandemic granted him a sudden opportunity to leave, which unfolded in dramatic fashion.
“It was like something out of a movie. You would never believe something like this could happen in real life,” Grandstaff told ABC News by phone the morning he landed outside Russia.
On April 9, he boarded a flight chartered by the U.S. embassy to London to repatriate Americans stranded in Russia by the virus lockdown. Denied an exit visa and facing renewed efforts to try him, Grandstaff and American officials had no certainty he would be allowed out.
But early that morning, the plane landed in Heathrow Airport and Grandstaff walked off the ramp onto British territory. For the first time in three years, he felt safe.
Grandstaff, 53, had been living in Moscow for seven years with his Russian wife Anna, working as an English teacher, when he was arrested at their apartment in July 2017. Days earlier, he had ordered a $10 cleaning product from the Chinese website, AliExpress. But the cleaner contained gamma-butyrolactone, or GBL, an industrial solvent that is banned in Russia and many other countries as a narcotic.
Grandstaff, who suffers from Crohn's disease, said he had been upsold the product by the Chinese vendor while buying medication and had no idea it contained GBL. But Russian police charged him as a large-scale drug smuggler, an extremely serious offense that carries a 10 – 20-year prison sentence.
Grandstaff was sucked into Russia's justice system, where conviction is essentially guaranteed—less than 1% of criminal trials end in acquittal-- and where manufacturing evidence is routine and procedures intended to protect defendants’ rights are frequently ignored. He was held in grim conditions in Moscow pre-trial detention centers, abused by guards and twice seriously assaulted by inmates. Prohibited from writing in English to his wife, he began illustrating his jail experiences by depicting himself as a cartoon bear.
His case appeared to become one of tens of thousands of suspected fabricated drugs cases in Russia. As a judge would point out two years later, police presented almost no evidence Grandstaff had knowingly purchased the GBL. Prosecutors twisted facts in the case, called farcical expert witnesses and at least one witness said her testimony had been distorted.
In March last year, the judge abruptly acknowledged the case’s problems. She sent it back to prosecutors for further investigation and released Grandstaff in the courtroom. He credited his unexpected release to his lawyers and the presence of the media that had covered trial.
Free to move around Moscow, Grandstaff hoped then he would soon be able to leave for the U.S. But instead -- as often happens in Russian criminal cases -- he became trapped in a bureaucratic limbo as prosecutors refused to drop their efforts to jail him.
Because Russia’s justice system is heavily geared towards conviction, when prosecutors provide insufficient evidence, instead of dismissing a case, a judge can send it back for police to gather – or potentially manufacture—more. In practice, there is little to prevent cases from hanging over accused’s heads for years.
In December, a second court confirmed Grandstaff’s release and that there was insufficient evidence to charge him. But police still refused to formally close the case against him.
While he had been in prison, Grandstaff’s Russian visa had expired and because the case remained open authorities refused to give him a new one. It meant he couldn’t leave. If he attempted to depart Russia he could be detained at the airport. And police could use that as an argument for his alleged guilt. He was trapped.
Once a case is open, Russian prosecutors are incentivised not to reverse-- keeping conviction quotas up is rewarded, while dropping charges is treated as an unnecessary failure. Russian rights experts suggested during Grandstaff’s trial that was a key reason for his continued prosecution.
Grandstaff said police officers overseeing the case told him that admitting the case was wrong would be too embarrassing.
“One of them was actually honest with me and said, ‘the problem is you’re an American and you spent two years in prison',” Grandstaff said. “'There’s too many people and departments who will be held responsible.'”
Dropping the case would also mean having to pay Grandstaff thousands of dollars in compensation.
This spring, prosecutors requested new court dates to renew the trial. It seemed Grandstaff’s ordeal was starting again.
Increasingly convinced he was going to be jailed again, Grandstaff began considering more desperate measures. He said he arranged with two friends to drive him across the border to Ukraine or Belarus. But that was scotched when Russian troops moved into the areas for exercises, he said.
Then the pandemic hit. Russia closed its borders and halted virtually all flights in and out. Hundreds of U.S. citizens were stranded in Russia.
“I’m just like, ‘Oh my God, what am I going to do, man?’” Grandstaff said.
But on April 8, his phone rang. A consular official from the U.S. embassy told Grandstaff there was a chartered British Airways flight to repatriate Americans leaving at 5.30 am the next morning. He said they wanted to offer to try to get Grandstaff on it.
“They were like, ok, we don’t know if this is going to work,” Grandstaff said. “We’re just going to try it.”
Head swirling, Grandstaff packed a bag and he and his wife drove to the airport. Embassy officials, including the ambassador were already there to help dozens of U.S. citizens trying to get home.
The embassy had been encouraging U.S. citizens to register for the repatriation flights. As an American and with formally no charges against him Grandstaff was eligible but embassy officials didn't know whether he might be stopped. The embassy said in the weeks before it had repeatedly asked Russia’s foreign ministry whether he was permitted to leave, but had never received any response. There was concern that in attempting to leave that night Grandstaff was taking a risk.
“That was a risk that I think we were all aware of,” a U.S. government official told ABC News later. “That him showing at the airport might trigger a new chain of events that might be unpleasant for him.”
An embassy official watched Grandstaff as he walked to the desk. Grandstaff said the border officer stared in disbelief when he presented his passport—it showed he had been in Russia without a valid visa for two years.
The immigration officers pulled Grandstaff out of the line. Grandstaff just kept repeating since he was married he had simply never needed to renew the visa, he said. An embassy official and Grandstaff’s wife joined the conversation. After more haggling, a Russian foreign ministry duty officer appeared, and said he needed to make a call.
“In my mind honestly I’m thinking, they’re calling the authorities they’re coming to arrest me,’ Grandstaff said.
When the official reappeared, he seemed more relaxed, Grandstaff said. He told Grandstaff he would be able to leave, he just needed to pay a standard fine for overstaying his visa. It was about $20.
Hardly able to believe it, Grandstaff paid the fine. The official printed off an exit visa. It meant Grandstaff would be leaving Russia legitimately.
The negotiating had gone on all night—the flight was already boarded. Grandstaff rushed to the gate.
As the plane lifted off, the embassy staff in the airport broke out wine to celebrate getting the flight full of Americans out.
Grandstaff had not visited the U.S. since 2015 and had not lived there in 9 years. In normal times it would have been like returning to a different country.
“There was a big void there," Grandstaff said. "But on the other hand, it was home. And I really felt it. I literally for the first time in years, I felt like, well, I can just walk outside, I don’t have to worry."
But the country he landed into in April was under coronavirus lockdown. After flying into a deserted New York, and spending two nights in a hotel, he managed to fly on to his next destination. (Grandstaff has asked ABC not to identify his current location.)
There could be no immediate homecoming welcome—Grandstaff had to go into quarantine for two weeks.
It didn’t matter though, he said.
“I spent seven or eight weeks in a solitary cell, you know, so what’s this?” Grandstaff said. He checked into a residential complex with grounds he could walk in. Friends dropped food on the doorstep. He went out to watch the sunrise each morning.
Without the pandemic, he also doubted he would now be home. At a time when much of the world was locked down, it was perhaps the only moment he could have got out. “It was necessary,” he said. “With it being a chartered flight by the U.S. government. Having U.S. government officials there. And they wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t for the virus.”
After two weeks he was finally able to meet his parents. Grandstaff’s father is 80 and currently undergoing chemotherapy. Neither of them had believed they were likely to see on one another again.
“Every now and then it creeps in,” Grandstaff said. “Like my dad, all of a sudden he’ll just be, ‘Man I never thought this day was coming.’ And it’s true. It’s been surreal. It still is.”
Grandstaff’s happiness was still tempered. His wife Anna couldn't join him on the flight. Her U.S. visa had expired a few days before. She and Grandstaff have been married nearly 13 years and she had had a conditional green card but had not renewed it.
Grandstaff has pressed U.S. migration authorities to speed up the process for her to reapply and in June he said the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and State Department agreed to expedite his request to allow Anna to apply to become a permanent resident.
The next step is for the embassy in Moscow to arrange a visa interview. But such interviews were already often taking over a year to schedule and with the pandemic the embassy has halted them entirely, except for emergency visas.
It means the Grandstaffs don’t know when they will see each other again.
Asked when Anna Grandstaff might receive an interview, the embassy said “given the uncertainty of the current situation, it is impossible to estimate when full services, including immigrant visa services, will resume.”
The couple though are hugely relieved Gaylen is out of Russia. Grandstaff said he believes police were determined to unjustly convict him and he would have been imprisoned if he had not left.
“I escaped out of the lion’s mouth, are you kidding me?,” Grandstaff said. “I’ve got scratches from his teeth, man."
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
iStock/narvikkBy: ERIN SCHUMAKER, ABC News
(LOS ANGELES) -- When Gov. Gavin Newsom put out a call this spring asking California health care workers to volunteer at overwhelmed hospitals in New York City, the early U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, Dr. Louis Tran signed up immediately.
Tran, an emergency physician, was stationed at Elmhurst Hospital Center, a public hospital in Queens that made headlines when 13 patients died of COVID-19 during a single 24-hour period in March.
"You know the horrors of war. It's not the same as going," said Tran, who returned to New York after his stint at Elmhurst to work in a Bronx intensive care unit.
While New York City's first wave of the outbreak has since crested, cases and hospitalizations are picking up in California and in Southern and Western states that initially seemed less affected by the virus, such as Florida, Arizona and Texas.
Tran described what he's seeing in California now as a rising tide compared to the tsunami that struck New York.
Because of his experience treating patients in New York, Tran feels prepared for a surge of cases in California, from a medical and disease management perspective, he said. What he's more worried about is whether the hospital system itself is equipped for such a spike.
"We see it rising slowly, and quite frankly, we are getting a little nervous about whether our system will get overwhelmed," he said.
The slow burn in California has protected hospitals from the worst effects of COVID-19, like hospital bed and ventilator shortages, but it also has created a disconnect between the medical community and the general public, Tran explained.
Most people in New York, even those who never became sick, know first-hand how bad it can be. They saw refrigerated trucks filled with bodies behind neighborhood hospitals and heard news reports about potentially burying bodies in the city's parks if the crisis worsened.
There's no California equivalent to the horrors New York saw. "Most Californians are not affected by it," Tran said.
While California was among the first states with reported coronavirus cases, swift action by local governments appeared to have kept the virus at bay. In recent weeks, however, cases in California have climbed precipitously. On July 9, the state had a record 7,821 hospitalizations for confirmed and suspected cases, as well as increasing deaths and a rising positivity rate for COVID-19 tests.
As Dr. Robert Wachter, professor and chair of the University of Southern California, San Francisco's department of medicine, watched while quarantine fatigue and complacency settled over much of the country, the fear he felt in March and April has given way to anger.
"There is also a layer of disgust, particularly when you look at the other parts of the world that have beaten this back," Wachter said. "We can't claim ignorance anymore."
Rising cases in California, Texas, Arizona and Florida could have been prevented if Americans and politicians had acted more responsibility, he added.
"To see people dying on your watch and know that this didn't have to happen?" he said of COVID-19 deaths as well as the patients who can't get non-COVID care because hospitals are packed. "It was completely forgivable in March and April. It's unforgivable in July."
"We've almost lost our capability to be shocked. But it really is shocking," he added.
Wachter acknowledged that humans aren't wired to react to slow-burning threats. Because the effects of lax social distancing and reopening aren't felt for weeks or months, it's difficult for people to conceptualize the danger they're in until it's at their own doorstep.
"A lot of people are either over it, don't believe it or aren't listening at all," Dr. Jessica Gold, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis, said of Americans' collective attitude toward coronavirus and social distancing measures.
Before COVID, Gold's clients primarily were college students, but since the pandemic hit, she's been providing mental health services to physicians, cafeteria workers, cleaners and administrative employees.
"It's very hard when you see people get sick doing things that could have been prevented," Gold said, describing the disconnect between health care workers and the general public.
Frustration with the general public's unwillingness to act responsibly doesn't stop Gold from doing her job, "but I think it hurts," she said. Feeling helpless can lead to lack of purpose, emotional exhaustion, burnout and depression, as sustained helplessness "is a bit soul-crushing in a different way" -- even among doctors.
The pandemic has exposed fault lines in American society, among them the tension between the individual and the collective. Wearing masks, a scientifically backed public health measure, has become a cultural flashpoint and health guidance from public health experts is increasingly being cast as political or overreaching.
For example, in Houston, which has seen a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks, Houston Methodist hospital texted safety tips to roughly 10,000 patients, according to The New York Times. The outreach prompted angry phone calls and messages from those patients, incensed at being told what to do, a hospital official told the Times.
Such attitudes frustrate Wachter, who is over 60 and at higher risk for severe COVID-19 should he contract the virus.
"This is not like you're sending your kids to the Middle East to go to war," he said of public health directives like social distancing and wearing a mask in public. He faulted the lack of strong consistent messaging from national leaders for encouraging the country's collective apathy. "There's nobody to buck everybody up."
Stephanie Frater, a traveling nurse from Orlando, Florida, who did a stint at a COVID-19 hospital in Manhattan and has since been redeployed to Banner University Medical Center in Phoenix, seemed to agree.
It's not that Americans don't want to do their part, Frater explained, but "they are not doing their part because they are being given incorrect information. Quarantine is not a source of punishment."
How health care workers will deal with one or more stints treating COVID-19 patients depends on the individual, according to Gold.
Risk factors prior to that work, like previous traumatic experiences, can increase one's risk for developing mental health conditions like anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress syndrome.
While it's too early to truly quantify the effect that treating patients under combat-like conditions will have on doctors in the coming months or years, preliminary research out of China highlights the mental health risk that American health care workers potentially face.
Of more than 1,200 health care workers surveyed in China, roughly half showed symptoms of depression or anxiety, according to a JAMA Network Open article published in March. More than a third of those surveyed reported insomnia. Some 70% said they were distressed. Nurses, women and health workers who had direct contact with COVID-19 patients and those in Wuhan, the epicenter of China's outbreak, reported the most severe symptoms.
Not everyone who experiences trauma will develop conditions like anxiety or depression. Tran, the emergency physician, said that COVID-19 has re-energized his relationship with medicine.
"Most of us are drawn to emergency medicine for a reason. We tend to be adrenaline junkies. We're used to roughing it," he added. "We see life differently than the average American. We're used to the trauma and the uncertainty.
"This is a true emergency, and I'm needed. It's given me a second life."
Of course, doctors aren't a monolithic group. Other health care workers have had very different reactions to treating patients on the COVID-19 front lines.
Faced with uncertainty, risk to their health and the health of their families, as well as insufficient personal protective equipment, some quit or retired. Others said they're worried about whether they can handle the trauma of treating a potential second wave of COVID-19 patients in New York.
"Physically, I'm well. Mentally, I'm exhausted," Frater said. Not being able to improve patients' symptoms with a drug or procedure was draining, she explained. Patient deaths were hard on her, too.
Still, she was ready to be redeployed to more hotspots after Arizona. "I have as many stints in me as it takes to get our country back," Frater said.
Importantly, trauma has no timeline, according to Gold. "Some people might feel fine to handle another wave and it might hit them later," she explained. "You're not lying. Everyone has their own schedule."
But in the end, the toll of burnout and trauma is like being on a sinking ship.
"Every time you get a day off, you're just emptying a pail of water off the sinking ship," Gold said. "You're still always sinking."
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
iStock/Josie DesmaraisBy: MORGAN WINSOR, ABC News
(LONDON) -- LONDON -- Bongani Sibeko was just a toddler when he and his family were forced to flee their home in apartheid South Africa, as Black men, women and children were dying at the hands of authorities upholding the country's legal system of racial segregation.
As the son of revolutionaries, he found things weren't much different in the United States when they moved to New York City in the 1970s. Although apartheid wasn't the law of the land there, he said he grew up as a Black man knowing that if he encountered police on the streets, "there was a very good chance I would not make it home."
"Cops [in New York City] used to drive around at night looking for young Black folks to beat the hell out of," Bongani Sibeko, now 59, told ABC News in a recent telephone interview. "I was a victim of that and so was a majority of my friends."
Promised as the land of opportunity, America has long heralded itself as the world's beacon of democracy, freedom and progress. But many Black Africans and African Americans alike see the United States in a different light, saying the country's racist past is still very much a part of its present and that the recent death of George Floyd in police custody is a global tipping point for systemic racism. Africa-based experts also point out close parallels between the plight of Black people in America and in southern Africa.
"The distinction between first-, second- and third-world countries is no longer a stable set of distinctions, because from the founding of the United States to the present there's always been an excluded, dehumanized population," Dr. Joel Modiri, a senior lecturer in jurisprudence at South Africa's University of Pretoria, told ABC News in a recent telephone interview. "Apartheid and Jim Crow are really no different."
While some are holding out hope that the groundswell of support from millions in the United States will propel systemic change through the Black Lives Matter movement, others are looking beyond America's shores to Africa for fresh perspective and in some cases a fresh start.
American history is a violent one. When European explorers and settlers arrived hundreds of years ago on the shores of what they called the "New World," they claimed the land as their own and slaughtered Indigenous tribes in the process. The Atlantic slave trade was born when European colonizers kidnapped Africans and began selling them as slaves to the British colonies in North America in 1619.
The United States abolished slavery in 1865, after the American Civil War had ended. But the racial segregation and economic discrimination of Black people was enforced openly in the South until the mid-20th century through state and local legislation known as Jim Crow laws.
Experts said racial inequality remains deeply entrenched in American society today, as a lingering legacy of slavery and segregation.
"My view is that the United States has structural racism," Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim, a political scientist and senior fellow at the Center for Democracy and Development in Abuja, Nigeria, told ABC News in a recent telephone interview. "The whole society is structured against basically the Black community, that has a very high level of incarceration and has very brutal policing."
For instance, Black adults make up just 12% of the U.S. population but represented 33% of the country's sentenced prison population in 2018, according to a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the statistical agency of the U.S. Justice Department.
And though there is little research on police violence and racial bias, a peer-reviewed study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine in November 2016, which examined data from a public health surveillance system on the use of lethal force by on-duty law enforcement officers from 2009 to 2012 in 17 U.S. states, found that the victims were disproportionately Black -- 32% -- with a fatality rate 2.8 times higher among Blacks than whites.
Experts said South Africa shares many of the features of structural racism that are found in the United States. When the National Party gained power in South Africa after the 1948 general election, its all-white government immediately started implementing its apartheid policy of racial segregation and economic discrimination against non-whites in the country as well as in the territory of South West Africa, the name for modern-day Namibia when it was under South African rule.
"South Africa really is unique because it's the place where we've had the most sustained period of white supremacy," Modiri told ABC News.
The system of apartheid was dismantled in the early 1990s through a series of bilateral negotiations between the National Party and the African National Congress, the leading anti-apartheid political movement at the time. Nelson Mandela, president of the African National Congress party, was then elected as the country's first Black head of state during the 1994 general election, the first in which South African citizens of all races were allowed to vote. The African National Congress has been the ruling party of post-apartheid South Africa ever since.
However, experts said white South Africans have retained economic, social and cultural power, enjoying a far better standard of living and quality of life than their non-white counterparts. National Transfer Accounts data from 2015 shows the average lifetime work-related earnings for whites peaks at over 300,000 South African rand per year, while for non-whites the peak is 70,000, according to a recent paper by the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research.
"So in a way, Black South Africans here -- although a numerical majority -- are nonetheless still a political, social and economic minority," Modiri said, "not unlike African Americans."
Police brutality also remains an issue in post-apartheid South Africa as well as in other African nations, including Kenya and Nigeria.
"This brutality is not structured racially but it is structured against the poor in society," Ibrahim told ABC News. "The African police systems never succeeded in making the transition from the colonial to the post-colonial police and retained a lot of the brutality and illegalities associated with colonial police."
Experts agreed that the only major distinction between the apartheid system and Jim Crow is the fact that Black people make up a majority of the population in South Africa, while they are the minority in the United States.
"Black South Africans and Americans are bound together in a long history of racial segregation, and it has not ended" Modiri said. "The struggle against white supremacy is a transnational one."
The year was 1963 and Bongani Sibeko's father, David Sibeko, was a rising member of the Pan Africanist Congress, a Black South African political movement that had broken away from the African National Congress. Both groups were working to end racial segregation and white majority rule in South Africa, and they had taken up arms in the wake of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre, when the national police force opened fire on a group of unarmed Black protesters, killing 69 of them.
As commander of the Pan Africanist Congress' paramilitary unit in the Vaal area, David Sibeko devised a plan to sabotage a train carrying South Africa's then-minister of justice, who had allegedly ordered the secret hangings of more than a dozen anti-apartheid activists. But he was captured on the night of the operation and held in detention for months.
David Sibeko was ultimately acquitted of the charges, and the Pan Africanist Congress leadership advised him to go into exile with his wife and children. Bongani Sibeko was 3 at the time.
The family was smuggled out of the country via a train from Johannesburg. When they eventually arrived at a refugee camp in Botswana, a bomb allegedly planted by South Africa’s apartheid regime tore through the offices. So they had to stay on the move.
“They were after my father," Bongani Sibeko told ABC News.
From there, they traveled to Zambia and then Tanzania. They moved to London in 1968, when David Sibeko was appointed head of the Pan Africanist Congress' mission to Europe and the Americas. A few years later, he became the group's permanent observer at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, in association with the U.N. Special Committee Against Apartheid.
The family put down roots in a predominately Black neighborhood on the Upper West Side. Bongani Sibeko, who was 13 at the time, recalled knowing that he was South African but still feeling “amongst my own.” Both his parents became involved with African American grassroots movements.
As a young Black man growing up in the United States, Bongani Sibeko said he had to quickly learn the rules of survival when dealing with law enforcement. He said his first brush with New York City police happened just after they had moved there, when his mother sent him out to buy groceries on Broadway.
"As I got onto Broadway, I saw a lot of people gathered around, police were everywhere," he recalled. "I saw this one cop and, you know, I basically asked him, 'Officer, what's going on?' He looked at me, spat at me and he said, 'F--- you n----! Get the hell out of here!'"
MORE: Blacks account for nearly half of all NYC arrests 6 years after end of stop-and-frisk
That encounter set the tone for the rest of his young adult life in New York City, he said, including one instance when he was beaten up in the street by seven white officers who he said had baited him into a confrontation.
"There's that moment that your life is at the cop's mercy, and if there's more than one you know that you're in serious trouble," he told ABC News. "One thing you have to understand is, your life is on the line."
Over the years, there have been several high-profile cases of police using deadly force against Black people that have energized America's debate on racism and inequality. The most recent was George Floyd.
Floyd, an unarmed 46-year-old Black man, died in Minneapolis on May 25 after a white police officer was filmed kneeling on his neck as three other officers watched. His death has sparked anti-racism protests and calls for police reform across the United States and around the world, including in Africa. The continent voiced its anger in a statement released on May 29 through its regional bloc, the African Union, describing Floyd's death as an act of "murder."
The chair of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, condemned Floyd's killing and urged "authorities in the United States of America to intensify their efforts to ensure the total elimination of all forms of discrimination based on race or ethnic origin."
Then in June, Burkina Faso's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva penned a letter on behalf of 54 African nations, asking the U.N. Human Rights Council for an "urgent debate" on "racially inspired human rights violations, police brutality against people of African descent and the violence against the peaceful protests that call for these injustices to stop."
Although the letter called for a debate on racism around the world, Ambassador Dieudonne Desire Sougouri highlighted the situation in the United States, saying that Floyd's death "is unfortunately not an isolated incident, with many previous cases of unarmed persons of African descent suffering the same fate due to unchecked police brutality."
"The protests the world is witnessing are a rejection of the fundamental racial inequality and discrimination that characterize life in the United States for Black people, and other people of color," Sougouri wrote.
Experts said the widespread outrage over Floyd's death and the ensuing global support for the Black Lives Matter movement give reason for cautious hope, but substantial and meaningful change in the United States would be difficult. The same is true for post-apartheid South Africa.
"When a system becomes so deeply entrenched, it becomes harder and harder to uproot it," Modiri told ABC News. "The nature of the racial antagonism and racial conflict, and the trauma and the damage that racism has done in both the United States and in South Africa is fundamentally irreparable. It's unlikely that we can ever come out of it the same."
Still, Modiri added that "we should always be hopeful when communities of people refuse to accept the way things are."
Experts noted how the widening rift between liberals and conservatives in the United States has made legislative reform a challenge.
"I've seen many such demonstrations in the past and they never led to reform," Ibrahim told ABC News. "It's important for the Black Lives Matter movement to forge alliances with liberal Americans so they can sustain movement for a longer time, create more traction and, above all, ensure that the protests would be sustained up to the level where reforms are introduced."
When the coronavirus pandemic hit earlier this year and countries around the world began closing borders, Rashad McCrorey found himself at a crossroads.
The 40-year-old New York City native was in Ghana for a trip organized by his tourism company, Africa Cross Culture, which specializes in bringing Black Americans and the African diaspora to visit the continent. He could either return home immediately or stay in Ghana indefinitely. He chose the latter.
"I did some soul-searching," McCrorey told ABC News in a recent telephone interview. "I felt like I could run my business remotely and not only survive in Ghana but thrive out here."
MORE: Africa sees steep rise in coronavirus cases
Ghana, a former slave trading hub, has long advocated for Africans and those of African descent abroad to return to the continent. Many Black Americans, such as civil rights leader W. E. B. Du Bois, settled there in the 1960s. Last year, the West African nation launched the "Year of Return, Ghana 2019" on the 400th anniversary of slaves being brought to the United States with the goal of encouraging visits.
Reports estimate thousands of African Americans live in Ghana's capital of Accra, some looking to escape racism and other strife in the United States.
As civil unrest unfolds back home in America, McCrorey said he's confident he made the right decision to stay.
"It’s the same merry-go-round," he said. "I saw the same thing in 2014."
In 2014, McCrorey was among thousands of protesters who took to the streets following the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed 43-year-old Black man who famously shouted "I can't breathe" as a white officer was filmed putting him in a chokehold while arresting him in the New York City borough of Staten Island. Black Lives Matter demonstrations soon spread across the country and the globe.
Although the officer involved in Garner's death is no longer patrolling the streets, McCrorey expressed frustration that there has been no real reform or structural change.
"Over time, things calm down, people go back to their regular lives until the next outrage happens," he told ABC News.
McCrorey visited Africa for the first time a few weeks after Garner's death. He fell in love with the country of Ghana and its people, and the trip inspired him to start his back-to-Africa travel company.
McCrorey described the experience of returning to the continent as an African American as healing and revitalizing, even if it's only for a visit. He said it's empowering to be surrounded by people who look like you in all aspects of society, from street vendors and shop owners to doctors, lawyers and politicians.
"We look to Africa to find our roots," he said. "We can look at Mother Africa as a rehab center to kind of get out of this systematic oppression."
Bongani Sibeko had not yet turned 19 when his father was murdered.
David Sibeko had risen through the ranks of the Pan Africanist Congress, becoming a leading member of the group's central committee and being appointed director of foreign affairs. Meanwhile, he was doing important work for the U.N. Security Council and investigating South Africa's apartheid regime -- all of which put a target on his back.
On June 12, 1979, David Sibeko was assassinated during a meeting in Tanzania by sleeper agents of the apartheid regime who had infiltrated the Pan Africanist Congress, according to Bongani Sibeko. He was 39, leaving behind his wife and their four children.
Nearly 15 years after his father's death, Bongani Sibeko left New York City and moved back to South Africa when apartheid had ended. He has lived there ever since and said he is a proponent of Africans and the diaspora returning to the motherland.
"Our continent has been robbed of its people, and they should be welcomed back home," Bongani Sibeko told ABC News.
He expressed hope in the global momentum and support of America's Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of Floyd's death, recalling how the world in the same way backed the fight against apartheid in South Africa.
"This is a very emotional time for me because it reflects the global support that's happening for George Floyd and the plight of African Americans, it's very similar to the struggle we faced in that we did not struggle alone," he said. "Without the world, we would have never been freed."
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Terraxplorer/iStockBy WILLIAM MANSELL, ABC NEWS
(ZUURBEKOM, South Africa) -- At least five people are dead and more than 40 people arrested in South Africa Saturday following an attack at a church in Zuurbekom, a town in the Gauteng Province of South Africa.
Four people were found shot and burnt to death in a car while a fifth victim, a security guard, was also fatally shot, local authorities said.
The National Commissioner of Police General Khehla John Sitole said the quick response by authorities averted even more destruction and death.
"I am certain that the speedy response by the joint security forces has averted what could have been a more severe blood bath," Sitole said in a statement Saturday. " ... It is rather unfortunate that such an incident takes place during a time when South Africa is being plagued by a deadly virus and violent crimes."
The South African Police Service and National Defense Force responded Saturday to reports of a shooting and an alleged hostage situation at the International Pentecostal Holiness Church at 3 a.m. local time.
Authorities do not believe a terrorist group is responsible for the attack, but "may have been motivated by a feud between conflicted parties of the church."
A group of armed people, police said, came to the church and allegedly attacked people who were inside, indicating that they were coming to take over the premises.
Responding authorities said they also rescued multiple men, women and children, who were said to be living in the compound and being allegedly held hostage.
Police said they have arrested over 40 suspects, including six people who have been taken to hospital.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
JURE MAKOVEC/AFP via Getty ImagesBy DRAGANA JOVANOVIC, ABC News
(NEW YORK) -- As President Donald Trump has vowed to punish those who destroy monuments in the U.S., a wooden sculpture of American first lady Melania Trump, near her hometown in Slovenia, was torched on July 4.
Authorities don't know who torched the life-size statue, carved by local folk artist Aleš "Maxi" Župevc, or why it was burned.
The damaged sculpture is of a rough-hewn Melania Trump, dressed in the pale-blue Ralph Lauren cashmere coat she wore at her husband's inauguration in January 2017.
Brad Downey, 40, a Kentucky-born artist based in Europe who commissioned the project in 2017, admits it sent mixed messages from the start, honoring the first lady.
"This anti-immigration narrative coming from Donald Trump, it is a blatant contradiction," he told ABC News. "To have a president, who is married to a legal immigrant, makes stopping immigration a cornerstone of his presidency.”
Officials are still looking for the alleged arsonist.
“Police are investigating the circumstances of the arson incident in the village of Rozno,” Robert Perc, police spokesman in Novo Mesto, told ABC News. “The owner of the statue filed criminal charges against unknown arsonists.”
“I did file a police report, because I was told it is the only way forward for an investigation to be launched,” Downey said. "I am only interested in finding the attackers, and talking to them, not pressing charges against them."
What he really wants, he says, is answers to two questions: "I would want to know who are they and why they did it?”
The statue's creator, Župevc, calls himself an amateur chainsaw sculptor and a professional pipe layer. Downey says he was inspired by the fact that Župevc was born the same month of the same year as the first lady, in the same hospital in the same nearby town.
The statue has drawn publicity and has attracted quite a few visitors, according to a local tourist organization. But the local audience gave the work mixed reviews.
"Why did he have to make her look like an evil stepmother of Pinocchio?” asked in one resident of nearby Sevnica, Melania's hometown.
"What a disgrace!” she added.
But another Sevnica resident told ABC News back in 2019, she liked the sculpture and its subject: "She is our beauty, no matter what, even here. She looks like she just walked out of a beautiful naïve painting."
The fact that it was set on fire on the night between the 4 and 5 of July, makes Downey think that it was not just a random drunk act or just some kids playing, he said.
“I really don’t know, but It could have been vandals on both sides: The left-leaning people due to monument destruction buzz or right-leaning people who think it is disrespectful,” Downey said.
The whole thing is very heavily damaged, Downey says. The blue part of the statue is more-less intact but the head has been blackened, the face is deeply burned and the back of the head is burned out like a huge hole. Luckily, he says, it was not structurally destroyed, making it possible to be removed.
“It looks like whoever had set the statue afire had put something like a tire around the head and then dumped gasoline,” Downey noted.
The statue was part of a project that also includes a short documentary film, and it sounds like Downey, a well-known contextual public artist in Europe, is thinking about a post-arson sequel.
When "the heavily damaged statue was removed on July 5 by the same lumberjacks that cut the linden tree from which the statue was made,” Downey told ABC News, “I also asked local villagers and firefighters, who put the statue down, not to give away their photos of the blackened and disfigured statue, so it would not become a vulgar meme.”
The “deeply burned” original statue is now wrapped in plastic and stored in Downey’s studio, waiting to be shown at an exhibition in the salt factory in Koper, a port city in Slovenia in September.
Later, Downey himself posted a video of the statue being removed on his Instagram account. Those images are likely to turn up in his documentary and it sounds like there could be a second statue in the picture.
“Last year, out of precaution, I made a silicon mold of the statue,” Downey said. “I will have to come back with a conceptual, artistic reply to the arson to keep the conversation going – maybe make a proper bronze statue in that same location.”
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
iStock/Oleksii Liskonih(WASHINGTON) -- BY: CONOR FINNEGAN
In a historic step, the Trump administration has sanctioned four Chinese officials and a regional security agency for the Chinese government's repressive campaign against ethnic minorities.
The economic penalties and visa bans come on the same day that the White House confirmed it is finalizing a ban on federal contracts and contractors using five Chinese companies, some of which have ties to the campaign against Uighurs. That ban could have a strong economic impact, essentially forcing big U.S. companies to choose between working with the U.S. government and the Chinese firms.
While it's unclear what kind of economic impact the sanctions will have, they are a strong symbol and a shot across the bow at China, which has detained over 1 million Uighurs, ethnic Kazaks and other mostly Muslim ethnic minorities.
But they also come only after growing pressure on President Donald Trump to act against a now years-long campaign to imprison these minorities, strip them of their culture and religion, and reduce their populations through sterilization and other forms of birth control.
The sanctions target the top Chinese Communist Party official in charge in western Xinjiang province Chen Quanguo, his former deputy Zhu Hailun and the public security bureau there, its director Wang Mingshan and his predecessor Huo Liujun.
In addition to sanctioning all five, the State Department is also barring Chen, Zhu, Wang and their families from receiving U.S. visas.
The sanctions are the first that target individual officials and agencies associated with the repressive campaign, which the Chinese government initially denied and now says is a legitimate counter-terrorism operation against radical Islamists in the region.
Last week, a new research paper alleged that the campaign includes sterilizing the Uighur population through forced abortions, intrauterine contraceptives and imprisonment. Four U.S. government agencies also issued an advisory to U.S. businesses, warning they would face "legal risks" if their supply chains include the forced labor used in these internment camps.
The White House is now also finalizing another blow to business with China.
Russ Vought, the acting director of the White House's Office of Management and Budget, confirmed to ABC News that OMB will ban Huawei, ZTE, Hikvision, Dahua, and Hytera -- five Chinese companies with ties to the government -- from federal contracts.
"The danger our nation faces from foreign adversaries like China looking to infiltrate our systems is great. The Trump administration is keeping our government strong against nefarious networks like Huawei by fully implementing the ban on federal procurement," he said in a statement.
That means no U.S. federal agency or any government contractor will be allowed to do business with them without a waiver, including major U.S. corporations like Amazon, which reportedly received 1,500 cameras from Dahua in April alone, according to Reuters.
Dahua and Hikvision are among the leading sellers of surveillance equipment and cameras worldwide, Hytera of two-way radios, and Huawei and ZTE of telecommunications equipment and cell phones.
The U.S. has previously alleged that these firms have also provided equipment and support to the surveillance state built by the Chinese government in Xinjiang against the Uighurs and other minorities.
This heightened pressure from Trump's administration comes after the president's former National Security Advisor John Bolton alleged that Trump encouraged China's leader Xi Jinping to build the mass internment camps.
Trump has denied that's true, but he told Axios last month that he did prioritize his trade negotiations with Beijing and put on hold any sanctions over what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the "stain of the century" Thursday.
In a statement announcing the visa bans, Pompeo said the U.S. "will not stand idly by as the (Chinese Communist Party)" commits these atrocities.
Beyond the three officials and their families, Pompeo said the State Department would implement visa bans other Chinese officials "believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, the unjust detention or abuse" of Uighurs, ethnic Kazaks and other minorities. U.S. law allows him to name the first three as a form of public shaming, while requiring the others' names to remain confidential.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
ABC News(BERGAMO, Italy) -- BY: PHOEBE NATANSON
Papa Giovanni XXIII, the main hospital in Bergamo, Italy, has declared its intensive care unit COVID-free some 137 days after the first novel coronavirus patient was admitted.
When the announcement was made on Wednesday, hospital directors and staff members marked the occasion by remembering the victims with a minute's silence before breaking into a long applause "because we all deserved it," Luca Lorini, director of the hospital's emergency department, told the Italian news agency ANSA. "We dreamed of this goal and worked for such a long time to reach it."
The few remaining patients who'd battled the novel coronavirus have now tested negative, according to the hospital.
Elsewhere, the country's health ministry announced on Thursday there had been 229 new infections, mostly in hard-hit Lombardy, and 12 deaths over the preceding 24 hours.
"Despite all the controversy about the management of this tsunami, it is unlikely we could have handled it any better considering the little information we had to go on," Lorini told ANSA. "The number of dead and injured seemed incredible to us and made us doubt our own abilities."
As the contagion began raging through Italy, Bergamo was considered the epicenter, with the number of victims rising dramatically every day. The province was one of the hardest hit by the health emergency, and the main hospital, flooded with patients after the first arrived Feb. 23, transformed itself into once of Europe's largest ICUs by deploying a staff of about 400 doctors, nurses, assistants and cleaners.
The northern town, according to ANSA, reported about 6,000 coronavirus victims and had about 100 patients intubated at the peak of the epidemic, as the surrounding region, Lombardy, has accounted for about half of Italy's nearly 35,000 COVID-19 deaths.
Maria Beatrice Stassi, general manager of the hospital, told ANSA that doctors, nurses and staffers finally could turn their attention toward treating other illnesses and that they could return to their normal uniforms.
Stassi added that hopefully the downward trend of COVID-19 infections continued so those at her hospital never again would return to "that March-April nightmare we had to work in."
At the height of the emergency, army trucks were called in to Bergamo to transport coffins to remote cremation sites because local morgues were overwhelmed.
Funerals, which at that time weren't permitted, are now being held.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
GoranQ/iStockBy JOOHEE CHO and ELLA TORRES, ABC News
(NEW YORK) -- The mayor of South Korea's capital, Seoul, was found dead early morning Friday local time, a rescue squad member told ABC News.
Mayor Park Won-soon was reported missing Thursday by his daughter, according to officials.
The rescue squad member, Shin Joon-Yong, said the team went into the park with five rescue dogs. Shin said he spotted a bag and water bottle not far from a hiking track, and then his partner's sniffer dog found the mayor's body.
He was wearing what appeared to be hiking clothes at the time he was found, according to Shin.
Police had been using drones and sniffer dogs across the city to locate him.
Officials have not yet commented on the circumstances of his death.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Selman Keles/iStockBy PATRICK REEVELL, ABC News
(MOSCOW) -- The arrest of a highly regarded former journalist has set off major outcry among independent media outlets in Russia, which are calling the government's latest actions part of a burgeoning crackdown.
Ivan Safronov, accused of spying for the Czech Republic and United States, was arrested Tuesday morning by agents from Russia's domestic security service, the FSB, which has accused him of state treason, a charge that carries a possible 12- to 20-year prison term.
Until two months ago, Safronov was a reporter covering Russia's defense and space industries for a leading newspaper, Vedomosti, having spent a decade covering the same beat at another top paper, Kommersant. Since May, he has been a communications adviser for the head of Russia's space agency, Roscosmos.
Safronov's lawyer told reporters on Tuesday the FSB accuses him of passing secret information to Czech intelligence about Russian arms deliveries to Africa and military activities in the Middle East. A Moscow court ordered him held for two months in pretrial detention in the city's Lefortovo jail.
Former colleagues and journalists from other publications protested his arrest outside FSB headquarters in Moscow on Tuesday, and more than two dozen were detained by police. Three of Russia's top news outlets, including his two former papers, published protests prominently on their sites, saying the arrest was intended to chill reporting in Russia.
Kommersant, where Safronov worked for a decade, wrote that the accusations seemed "absurd" and called him a "patriot." Another leading outlet, RBC, wrote that his arrest was "a signal" to Russian media and society not to write about secrets held by powerful people.
Treason cases are classified, meaning Safronov's trial will be held behind closed doors as even the charges brought against him are likely to remain murky.
His lawyer, Ivan Pavlov, told reporters on Tuesday the FSB alleges Safronov was recruited in 2012 by Czech intelligence and in 2017 allegedly was given the task of passing along intelligence about the arms deliveries and military operations. That information allegedly was shared with the United States, added Pavlov, who told reporters materials for the case filled seven volumes, suggesting the FSB had been building a case against Safronov for quite some time.
The Czech foreign ministry on Wednesday declined to comment when reached by ABC News.
Safronov, 30, is known as for breaking stories on Russia's highly closed defense sector and had worked in the Kremlin media pool, which travels with Putin. This isn't his first confrontation with authorities: Last year, he repeatedly was questioned by the FSB over an article he wrote about the sale of Russian warplanes to Egypt.
His father, Ivan Safronov, also was a defense reporter at Kommersant and in 2007 died after mysteriously falling from a window. His colleagues have said they believe he was murdered by Russia's security services over his work.
Russia's space agency, Roscomos, has said Safronov had no access to classified material in his role, which he had occupied for just two months. The allegations instead relate to a period when Safronov would have been working as a reporter at Kommersant.
Journalists and other experts said Safronov appears to have been targeted under an expanded definition of the treason law passed in 2012 in response to mass street protests against President Vladimir Putin.
Safronov's arrest, they said, suggests this law has now been turned on journalists amid a fresh crackdown that has coincided with moves by the Kremlin to extend Putin's rule beyond his term limits. Last week, the Kremlin won a referendum on constitutional changes that will allow Putin to remain in power until 2036.
Andrey Soldatov, a veteran journalist and expert on Russian security services, said authorities previously had avoided using the treason law against journalists but that Safronov's case showed the rules had changed.
It "is an absolutely new level of repression against journalism in the country," Soldatov wrote.
"The FSB is applying its paranoid definition of espionage to journalists -- and is going out of its way to make sure everyone knows. What's more, senior leaders have apparently sanctioned the action," Soldatov wrote in The Moscow Times.
The expanded law is so broad, Soldatov wrote, the FSB doesn't need to prove a person was spying, only that they were communicating with any "foreign organization" in order to accuse them of treason.
Safronov was arrested a day after a journalist was convicted in another high-profile case. Svetlana Prokopyeva had faced six years prison for a report critical of security services, but a judge instead fined her about $7,000.
Russian journalists also have compared Safronov's case to that of Ivan Golunov, an investigative reporter whose arrest on crudely fabricated drugs charges last year sparked an exceptional outcry across elite Russian society, forcing authorities eventually to drop the case.
The U.S. embassy in Moscow on Tuesday tweeted that following Safronov's arrest, "It's starting to look like a concerted campaign against #MediaFreedom."
Russia's foreign ministry responded by tweeting, "Mind your own business."
The Kremlin has denied Safronov's arrest is related to his journalistic work and downplayed the media outcry as "emotional."
"Let's not confuse a public response with a media response," Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in his daily briefing call. "We still presume that it has no relation to his journalistic activity."
It can't be ruled out he acted as a spy, Peskov added.
Soldatov, the security services expert, said in reality Safronov's arrest showed that the Kremlin has unleashed the security services to lay down new boundaries for what can be reported on in Russia.
"Putin has now entrusted the 'journalist question' to his security services," Soldatov wrote in The Moscow Times. "We should be very worried."
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OliverChilds/iStockBy GUY DAVIES, ABC News
(LONDON) -- One person died and a least four were injured when a 65-foot crane collapsed onto an under-development apartment block in London on Wednesday.
The person who died, who has not been identified, was found and died at the scene, according to the London Ambulance Service.
Of the four injured, two were "treated for head injuries and taken to hospital," the London Ambulance Service tweeted. The other two were assessed but not taken to the hospital.
"A 20 meter crane [65 feet] has collapsed onto a block of flats under development and into two terraced houses on Compton Close," London Fire Brigade Assistant Commissioner Graham Ellis said earlier in a statement. "Our Urban Search and Rescue crews are undertaking a complex rescue operation and using specialist equipment to search the properties."
"This is a multi-agency response and is likely to be a protracted incident. I would ask people to avoid the area," he added.
The fire department was called at 2:39 p.m., and crews from surrounding stations descended on the scene. The London Ambulance Service tweeted that they had dispatched number of teams to the site of the collapse.
Aerial footage from the site shows the crane laying across an apartment block, with a section of the crane having smashed through the roof of an adjacent house.
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