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Coronavirus live updates: Watchdog to investigate political pressure on CDC, FDA

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narvikk/iStockBy MORGAN WINSOR, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — A pandemic of the novel coronavirus has now killed more than 1.1 million people worldwide.

Over 40 million people across the globe have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new respiratory virus, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The criteria for diagnosis — through clinical means or a lab test — has varied from country-to-country. Still, the actual numbers are believed to be much higher due to testing shortages, many unreported cases and suspicions that some national governments are hiding or downplaying the scope of their outbreaks.

Since the first cases were detected in China in December, the virus has rapidly spread to every continent except Antarctica.

The United States is the worst-affected country, with more than 8.1 million diagnosed cases and at least 219,674 deaths.

California has the most cases of any U.S. state, with more than 875,000 people diagnosed, according to Johns Hopkins data. California is followed by Texas and Florida, with over 854,000 cases and over 755,000 cases, respectively.

More than 190 vaccine candidates for COVID-19 are being tracked by the World Health Organization, at least 10 of which are in crucial phase three studies. Of those 10 potential vaccines in late-stage trials, there are currently five that will be available in the United States if approved.

Here’s how the news is developing Monday. All times Eastern:

Oct 19, 8:47 pm

Trump administration throws out ventilators sent from Russia

The Trump administration has thrown out 45 ventilators that Russia sent the U.S. last spring, the Federal Emergency Management Agency confirmed in a statement Monday.

The ventilators were delivered as part of a medical aid flight sent last spring by Russian President Vladimir Putin to President Donald Trump.

“He offered a lot of medical, high quality stuff that I accepted and that may save a lot of lives. I’ll take it every day,” Trump said at the time of the flight, dismissing questions about whether it was Russian propaganda.

ABC was first to report last spring that the U.S. was billed some $660K for the Russian aid supplies, which included thousands of pieces of equipment not typically used in hospitals, like chemical warfare-style gas masks and household cleaning gloves.

When asked whether the U.S. would get its money back, a FEMA spokeswoman suggested that money never changed hands because the supplies are now regarded as a “donation.”

“Therefore, no payment was required by the U.S. for the donated goods,” she said.

New York and New Jersey had received the ventilators but quickly returned them to the federal stockpile without ever having used them, following reports that five coronavirus patients in St. Petersburg were killed in fires linked to overloaded ventilators.

“The donated ventilators in question were disposed of following strict hazardous waste disposal regulatory guidelines,” the FEMA spokeswoman said.

ABC News’ Anne Flaherty contributed to this report.

Oct 19, 6:12 pm

Ireland issues strict new lockdown measures

In an effort to stem rising coronavirus cases, Ireland will enter a six-week national lockdown starting Wednesday, according to the Irish government.

Ireland’s lockdown, which mandates that nonessential employees work from home, residents stay within a 5-kilometer radius of their homes, and nonessential businesses close, is among the strictest in Europe.

Unlike Ireland’s strict lockdown in the spring, however, schools will remain open for now.

Oct 19, 5:19 pm

California board to independently review vaccine before distribution

California will only distribute COVID-19 vaccines after they’ve been independently approved by a state board, Gov. Gavin Newsom said during a Monday news conference.

The board will be made up of 11 experts from California universities and is meant to dispel vaccine hesitancy following the intense politicization already surrounding the potential vaccine.

Newsom also urged patience. “Don’t expect that you’ll go down to a local pharmacy anytime in this calendar year and get a vaccination,” he said.

Instead, most Californians can expect to be vaccinated in 2021, according to the governor.

Oct 19, 4:04 pm

NYC schools test thousands of students and staff, find few infections

Despite opening in person for classes amid rising COVID-19 cases, few infections have been tied to New York City public schools, according to early data from the city’s department of education.

Of the 16,298 tests the department has received results for, only 28, or 0.17%, are positive. Of those infections, 20 are among staff members and eight among students, a department spokesperson told ABC News on Monday.

Oct 19, 2:05 pm

 Independent watchdog to investigate political pressure on CDC, FDA

The Government Accountability Office, an independent arm of Congress, has agreed to investigate allegations that the Trump administration applied political pressure to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, undermining the agencies’ credibility and independence.

Senate Democrats first appealed to the watchdog agency in a letter on Oct. 8.

Oct 19, 12:16 pm
India records lowest daily death toll in 3 months

India registered another 579 deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, its lowest daily tally in three months.

An additional 55,722 cases were also confirmed. The country’s cumulative totals now stand at 7,550,273 confirmed cases and 114,610 deaths, according to the latest data from the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

India is only the second country in the world to surpass 7 million total cases, after the United States. Since hitting a peak of 97,894 new cases registered in a single day in September, India’s average number of daily cases has steadily declined.

The vast country of nearly 1.4 billion people is still on track to become the pandemic’s worst-hit nation within weeks, overtaking the United States, where more than 8.1 million people have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Oct 19, 11:56 am
Belgium faces ‘tsunami’ of new cases, health minister warns

A midnight curfew went into effect across Belgium on Monday while bars and restaurants have been ordered to close except for providing takeaway service, as the European nation faces a “tsunami” of new COVID-19 infections.

“We are really very close to a tsunami,” Belgian Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke told broadcaster RTL. “We no longer control what is happening.”

Belgium, which is home to the European Union’s headquarters, has the second-highest COVID-19 infection rate per capita in Europe, after the Czech Republic. Over the past two weeks, Belgium recorded 756.9 cases per 100,000 people, compared with Czech Republic’s 858.6 cases per 100,000, according to data released Monday by the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Belgium has confirmed 222,253 cases and at least 10,413 deaths. The 14-day incidence of COVID-19 per 100,000 inhabitants was up 221% on Sunday, according to data from the country’s public health agency.

Oct 19, 11:26 am
South Africa’s health minister tests positive

South Africa’s health minister, Dr. Zweli Mkhize, and his wife have tested positive for COVID-19.

“I wish to inform the public that this afternoon my wife, Dr May Mkhize and I have tested positive for COVID-19,” he said in a statement posted on his official Twitter account Sunday. “We decided to go test yesterday when I started showing mild symptoms. I was feeling abnormally exhausted and as the day progressed, I started losing appetite.”

“My wife had a cough, was dizzy and extremely exhausted,” he continued. “Given her symptoms, the doctors advised that she must be admitted for observation and rehydration.”

Mkhize said their close contacts over the past week, including some colleagues and family members, have been informed of their positive test results and were advised to immediately self-isolate and get tested.

“I am now in quarantine at home and both my wife and I remain optimistic that we will fully recover from this virus,” he said.

The health minister warned of a possible second wave of infections and urged his fellow South Africans to continue wearing face masks, practicing social distancing and washing hands.

“I wish to take this opportunity to urge all South Africans to continue adhering to health protocols,” he said. “As country, we’ve made significant strides in our fight against this pandemic. Let us not dare regress.”

South Africa accounts for nearly half of all confirmed COVID-19 cases across the African continent. As of Monday, South Africa has reported 703,793 confirmed cases with at least 18,471 deaths, according to data from the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Oct 19, 11:08 am
UNICEF stockpiling half a billion syringes this year ahead of vaccine

The United Nations Children’s Fund said it will stockpile 520 million syringes in its warehouses by the end of the year to begin preparations for a COVID-19 vaccine.

The effort is part of a larger plan of delivering over 1 billion syringes to support vaccination efforts, on top of 620 million syringes that the U.N. agency will purchase for other vaccination programs against other disease such as measles and typhoid.

“Vaccinating the world against COVID-19 will be one of the largest mass undertakings in human history, and we will need to move as quickly as the vaccines can be produced,” UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore said in a statement Monday. “In order to move fast later, we must move fast now. By the end of the year, we will already have over half a billion syringes pre-positioned where they can be deployed quickly and cost effectively. That’s enough syringes to wrap around the world one and a half times.”

Oct 19, 9:55 am
TSA screens over 1 million people for 1st time since March

More than 1 million people went through airport security checkpoints across the United States on Sunday for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Transportation Security Administration said it screened 1,031,505 individuals on Sunday, the most since mid-March. Although that figure is still some 60% lower than this time last year, it’s a significant jump from a low of 87,534 people screened on April 14.

ABC News’ Sam Sweeney contributed to this report.

Oct 19, 9:19 am
Wales to enter two-week ‘firebreak’ lockdown from Friday

Wales will become the second nation in the United Kingdom to enter a lockdown to combat a second wave of COVID-19 infections.

The Welsh government announced on Monday its decision to impose a two-week “firebreak,” beginning Friday at 6 p.m. Everyone will be required to stay home and non-essential businesses, such as bars, gyms, restaurants and retail shops, must close until Nov. 9. There will be exceptions for critical workers and those who cannot do their jobs from home.

Libraries and places of worship will also be shut down across the country.

“This is the shortest we can make it, but that means it needs to be sharp and deep to have the impact against the virus we need it to have,” Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said Monday.

Northern Ireland started a “circuit breaker” lockdown last Friday, closing schools for two weeks while banning most social gatherings and shutting down many business for a month.

Oct 19, 8:28 am
Top Palestinian official battling COVID-19 in ‘critical’ condition

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat was placed in a medically-induced coma and is listed in critical condition at an Israeli hospital, where he’s being treated for COVID-19 complications.

Erekat was transported by ambulance from his home in the Israeli-occupied West Bank to Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem on Sunday, more than a week after he had announced testing positive for COVID-19. The 65-year-old has a history of health problems and received a lung transplant in the United States in 2017.

“Mr. Erekat had a quiet night but this morning his condition deteriorated, which is now defined as critical, and due to respiratory distress, he was resuscitated and placed under general anesthesia,” Hadar Elboim, a spokesperson for Hadassah Medical Center, told ABC News in a statement Monday.

“Mr. Erekat poses a huge challenge to the treatment of corona as he is lung transplanted with suppression of the immune system, and with bacterial infection in addition to corona,” Elboim added. “Hadassah, with its most senior professional physicians, is in international medical contact regarding the policy of treating such a complex patient. Hadassah will continue to update his family as usual regarding his condition and will update the Palestinian Authority as he is a senior official there.”

Erekat, who serves as the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, is one of the most senior advisors to the Palestinian president. He is a longtime proponent of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Oct 19, 8:02 am
New York Gov. Cuomo ‘not that confident’ in FDA’s vaccine approval process

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he’s not confident in the Food and Drug Administration’s approval process for a COVID-19 vaccine, and that the American public shouldn’t be either.

“I’m not that confident, but my opinion doesn’t matter. I don’t believe the American people are that confident,” Cuomo told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos in an interview Monday on Good Morning America.

“I think it’s going to be a very skeptical American public about taking the vaccine, and they should be,” he added.

Cuomo said he plans to assemble a group of doctors and medical experts to review any COVID-19 vaccine approved by the FDA before affirming its efficacy and safety for New York state residents.

“But I believe all across the country you’re going to need someone other than this FDA and this CDC saying it’s safe,” he said, before adding that the two federal agencies don’t “have any credibility.”

The New York governor also expressed concern over comments Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, made during an interview that aired Sunday on CBS’ 60 Minutes, in which he admitted that the White House has restricted “many, many, many” of his media appearances since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

“You have Dr. Fauci now saying that they basically tried to muzzle him,” Cuomo said. “He has the highest credibility in the nation on this issue.”

Oct 19, 7:19 am
Italy imposes tighter restrictions as cases surge

Further restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 came into effect in Italy on Monday, after a sharp rise in infections.

Under the new measures, all bars, pubs and restaurants across the European country must close from midnight until 5 a.m., while gambling venues must close at 9 p.m. Restaurants are allowed to serve no more than six people per table and only after 6 p.m.

Local festivals are now banned, and mayors can close streets and public squares after 9 p.m. to halt gatherings.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte warned that gyms and swimming pools may also be shut down next week if they don’t follow the safety protocols.

“These measures are aimed to avoid another lockdown,” Conte said Sunday while announcing the new rules. “The country cannot face another lockdown that would compromise the economic fabric of the country.”

The move comes after Italy, once the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, confirmed 11,705 new cases of COVID-19 over the weekend, an all-time high.

Oct 19, 6:38 am
Russia reports nearly 16,000 new cases in new record high

Russia confirmed another 15,982 new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, its highest daily tally yet.

An additional 179 deaths from COVID-19 were also registered in the past 24 hours, down from last week’s peak of 286. The cumulative totals now stand at 1,369,313 cases and 23,723 deaths, according to Russia’s coronavirus response headquarters.

The country of 145 million people has the fourth-highest tally of COVID-19 cases in the world, behind only the United States, India and Brazil.

More than 33% of the newly confirmed cases — 5,376 — and over 28% of the newly registered deaths — 51 — were reported in the capital, Moscow, according to country’s coronavirus response headquarters.

Although Russia has been breaking its own records for daily case counts and deaths almost every day since Oct. 9, authorities there are resisting shutting down businesses again. Few measures have been imposed in Moscow, the epicenter of the country’s COVID-19 outbreak and recent surge.

Oct 19, 6:19 am
Global case count tops 40 million

More than 40 million people around the world have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to a real-time count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

The global tally crossed the 40 million mark on Monday morning in yet another grim milestone of the pandemic.

The United States has the highest number of diagnosed cases of any country, with more than 8.1 million, but is closely followed by India, which has over 7.5 million. Brazil, Russia and Argentina are also in the top five, according to Johns Hopkins data.

Oct 19, 6:08 am
Top Palestinian official taken to Israeli hospital for COVID-19

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat, who is battling COVID-19, was taken by ambulance to a hospital in Israel on Sunday, according to the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

Erekat, who lives in the town of Jericho in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, disclosed earlier this month that he had contracted COVID-19. The 65-year-old has a history of health problems and received a lung transplant in the United States in 2017.

“Following his contraction of COVID-19, and due to the chronic health problems he faces in the respiratory system, Dr. Erekat’s condition now requires medical attention in a hospital,” the Palestinian Liberation Organization said in a statement Sunday.

Erekat’s brother told Agence France-Presse that “his situation is not good.”

Erekat, who serves as the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, is one of the most senior advisors to the Palestinian president. He is a longtime proponent of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, there have been more than 42,490 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with at least 381 deaths in the West Bank.

Oct 19, 5:16 am
Nationwide mask mandate and other new restrictions take force in Switzerland

A nationwide mask-wearing mandate and other new restrictions took force in Switzerland on Monday, amid a growing number of COVID-19 infections.

People must now wear face masks in publicly accessible indoor spaces and at all public transport access points across the Central European country, including airports, bus and tram stops, railway stations, restaurants, shops and theaters. Masks have already been required on all public transport since July.

Moreover, spontaneous gatherings of more than 15 people in public areas are no longer permitted. Masks are now required for all private events with more than 15 people. People may only consume food and drink while sitting down, and the contact details of all those taking part must be recorded.

In addition, patrons in all restaurants and entertainment venues also may only consume food and drink while sitting.

The federal government is again recommending people to work from home, as it did in March.

The Swiss Federal Council announced the new measures on Sunday.

Switzerland has confirmed more than 74,000 cases of COVID-19 and at least 1,823 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to the latest data from the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health.

Oct 19, 4:22 am
US reports more than 48,000 new cases

There were 48,210 new cases of COVID-19 identified in the United States on Sunday, according to a real-time count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

The latest daily tally is down by nearly 10,000 from the previous day and also falls under the country’s record set on July 16, when there were 77,255 new cases in a 24-hour-reporting period.

An additional 389 coronavirus-related fatalities were also recorded Sunday, almost half the previous day’s death toll and down from a peak of 2,666 new fatalities reported on April 17.

A total of 8,154,935 people in the United States have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and at least 217,700 of them have died, according to Johns Hopkins. The cases include people from all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C. and other U.S. territories as well as repatriated citizens.

By May 20, all U.S. states had begun lifting stay-at-home orders and other restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. The day-to-day increase in the country’s cases then hovered around 20,000 for a couple of weeks before shooting back up and crossing 70,000 for the first time in mid-July. The daily tally of new cases has gradually come down since then but has started to climb again in recent weeks.

The number of new COVID-19 cases recorded in the United States continued to increase by double digits in week-over-week comparisons, while the number of new deaths from the disease ticked upward slightly, according to an internal memo from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that was obtained by ABC News on Friday night.

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