World News

Leon Neal/Getty ImagesBy GUY DAVIES, ABC News

(LONDON) -- U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson's most senior political adviser might have broken coronavirus lockdown rules during a trip across the country, but authorities won't be taking any further action, local police said Thursday, in the latest development in the controversy that has dominated British politics over the past week.

Dominic Cummings, Johnson's chief adviser who has been credited with masterminding his successful campaigns to take Britain out of the European Union and his general election victory of 2019, drove hundreds of miles from his home in London to Durham, in the north of England, and then, two weeks later on April 12, to local tourist spot Barnard Castle with his wife and son.

Durham police said in a statement Thursday that the second trip, to the castle, "might have been a minor breach" of the rules "that would have warranted police intervention." But, the statement said, police would not be taking retrospective action, nor would they have fined him if they had caught him at Barnard Castle.

"Had a Durham Constabulary police officer stopped Mr Cummings driving to or from Barnard Castle, the officer would have spoken to him, and, having established the facts, likely advised Mr Cummings to return to the address in Durham, providing advice on the dangers of travelling during the pandemic crisis," the Durham police statement said. "Had this advice been accepted by Mr Cummings, no enforcement action would have been taken."

Cummings has insisted his trip was within the rules he helped devise to prevent the spread of coronavirus, despite acknowledging there was a chance he had contracted coronavirus at the time, after senior figures in British politics whom he had close contact with, including Johnson, tested positive. At an unprecedented press conference held Monday, Cummings' said he had made the trip to "test his eyesight," which had been affected by his suspected bout of coronavirus.

The aide has faced growing calls to quit after reports of the trip surfaced, and he has so far defied those calls.

Johnson, too, has supported his most senior political ally, despite the growing political storm. Opposition lawmakers have accused the government of undermining their own advice, and in doing so treating "the British public with contempt" in so ardently defending one of their own.

The finding that Cummings had breached lockdown protocol that he had helped devise, despite the U.K. government's insistence he acted within the rules, will likely add fuel to the fire in a controversy that has dominated the airwaves since a joint investigation by The Mirror and The Guardian broke the news last week.

"Boris Johnson's unwillingness or inability to do the right thing has left the Government looking untrustworthy and unprincipled," the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, tweeted on Thursday. "Worst of all he's undermined the public health advice that keeps us all safe, just to keep one aide in his job. Our nation's health must come first."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


danielvfung/iStockBy KARSON YIU, ABC News

(HONG KONG) -- China’s National People’s Congress endorsed with thunderous applause a controversial new law to ban all “activities” in Hong Kong that endanger China’s national security at the closing session of its annual parliamentary meeting in Beijing Thursday.

The yet to be drafted law will ultimately be enacted in Hong Kong by decree, bypassing the local lawmaking process, where the Asian financial center is supposed to have a high degree of autonomy from Beijing under the "One Country, Two Systems" arrangement put in place when the former British colony was handed back to China.

For the past year, Hong Kong has been rocked with protests that became increasingly violent and anti-Beijing toward the end of 2019. While the COVID-19 pandemic has kept the unrest largely off the streets until recently, Beijing has signaled that it has lost all patience for dissent in the city.

In introducing the proposal to a vote, the preamble reads, “In recent years, the national security risks of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region have become prominent, and various illegal activities such as 'Hong Kong independence,' splitting the country, and violent terrorist activities have seriously endangered the sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity of the country.”

The proposal for the law was approved in China’s rubber-stamp parliament 2,878 votes to one, just hours after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Congress that Hong Kong was "no longer autonomous from China" setting in place the possibility of ending the special treatment the trading hub had enjoyed under U.S. law.

Over 1,300 American companies have offices in Hong Kong and the city is home to roughly 85,000 American citizens. Despite having been largely spared the direct impacts of the U.S.-China trade war, the city has been increasingly caught in between Beijing and Washington as their relationship continues to crater in the wake of the pandemic.

There is no actual law yet and the language of the proposal remains broad, but Hong Kong residents and even the Hong Kong government will have little say in the process. The city only has a sole delegate, Tam Yiu-chung, in China’s top lawmaker body, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, which is expected to convene in June to hash out the specific language of the law and approve it.

On the sidelines of the meetings this past week, Tam has tried to reassure Hong Kong residents, telling them they can express their views to the NPC via an online platform. It is unclear whether those views will be fully taken into account as Beijing has signaled it wants to fast track the law. Observers believe the law will likely be in place sometime over the summer ahead of the Hong Kong legislative elections in September, where the pro-democracy camp is hoping for a big win.

Since the announcement, Beijing and its proxies have been trying to reassure Hong Kong residents that the law will only affect a small targeted portion of Hong Kong. Yet over the past week alone, the language of the proposal was expanded in scope to include groups and organizations in addition to individuals who engaged in acts and activities of sedition, secession and foreign interference.

Issues that will need to be clarified are whether those charged with the new law will be tried in Hong Kong or the mainland and whether local judges with foreign passports would be able to preside over cases.

There is another hotly debated provision in the proposal that allows mainland Chinese security agents to operate openly in Hong Kong for the first time. Hong Kong maintains a separate legal system to the mainland, so will these security agents adhere to locals laws?

Hong Kong legal scholar Johannes Chan told Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) Thursday that it would be naive to believe that proposed law would only affect “a small group of people.”

“In China they never really define what exactly is 'national security,’" Chan said in the interview. “So the law could change according to political expediency or political necessity.”

The proposed law has brought street protests back onto the streets of Hong Kong in recent days but they have been met with heavy police presence. Hong Kong Police arrested over 300 protestors across the city on Wednesday.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved


perception_photography/iStockBy HALEY YAMADA, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- An Australian wildlife park has welcomed the very first koala born at the park since the devastating Australian bushfires.

Meet Ash, the first baby koala, called a joey, born this season at the Australian Reptile Park in central New South Wales. The park, which shared the news in a May 26 Facebook post, said that Ash is a sign of hope for the future of Australia's native wildlife.

"We have a very special announcement... Our very first koala of the season has popped out of Mums pouch to say hello!" the park wrote. "Keepers have decided to name her Ash! Ash is the first koala born at the park since the tragic Australian bushfires and is a sign of hope for the future of Australia's native wildlife."

Catastrophic bushfires devastated Australia beginning in early July 2019 and into early 2020. New South Wales burned for more than 240 days, with more than 13 million acres scorched and nearly 2,500 homes destroyed, according to New South Wales Rural Fire Service. At least 25 people were killed across the country, according to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

More than one billion animals were killed in the fires, according to estimates from January 2020 by the University of Sydney. At least 800 million of those animals were in New South Wales.

After months of blazes, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service reported in March that there were "currently no active bush or grass fires in [New South Wales]."

As represented by her name, this new baby koala stands to represent hope for the wildlife that is beginning to rise from the ashes left by the devastating fire season.

The Australian Reptile Park, where Ash will make her debut, was closed due to coronavirus restrictions, but plans to reopen on June 1 with new social distancing precautions in place for visitors.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


pawel.gaul/iStockBy CONOR FINNEGAN, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Hong Kong has lost its autonomy from the Chinese government, the Trump administration said in a historic report to Congress Wednesday, laying the groundwork for the territory to lose its special status under U.S. law and threatening its economic power.

The certification from the State Department marks a dramatic turning point for the territory as the Chinese government moves to implement a series of national security laws that it says is aimed to outlaw secession, subversion and foreign interference in Hong Kong, but that critics see as the death knell of the "one country, two systems" that makes the territory unique.

"No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

The change in policy position does not yet have any effect, but it lays the legal groundwork for President Donald Trump to take executive actions to terminate Hong Kong's special status under U.S. law, including looser export controls than mainland China; agreements on taxation, currency exchange and sanctions; and law enforcement cooperation, like extradition.

The end of those agreements could sink the estimated $66.8 billion of trade between the U.S. and Hong Kong, imperil the offices hundreds of U.S. companies have there and spell the death of Hong Kong's status as an international financial capital.

Trump himself is determining the next steps now that the certification has been made, according to the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia and the Pacific, but it will be "considered" and "as targeted as possible to change behavior" by Beijing.

"We'll do our best to ensure that the people of Hong Kong are not adversely affected to the best we can," said Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell. "Our approach is to mitigate the impact globally, on the Hong Kong people, while at the same time helping Beijing understand our concerns."

But they are "not hopeful that Beijing will reverse itself," he added -- blaming the Chinese government for whatever comes next.

"This decision was made by the government in Beijing and not by U.S.," Stilwell said. "We're simply responding to what the PRC is doing."

Some critics say that any steps to end Hong Kong's special status, as opposed to sanctioning Chinese or Hong Kong officials, would play right into Beijing's hands by punishing Hong Kong economically, while giving Beijing grounds to further tighten control.

"Changing Hong Kong's status will not only undercut Hong Kong's exports and harm its economy, but also invite Chinese retaliation, like changing the rules benefiting U.S. firms there. Mainland China will suffer a bit but probably not enough to substantially change Beijing's calculus," said Benjamin Friedman, policy director for Defense Priorities, a libertarian think tank in Washington.

But some of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement leaders welcomed the announcement as a key leverage point against Beijing.

"Our hope is that a drastic change of American policy will encourage them to reverse course on Hong Kong. For the past year, we've been fighting, first, against extradition arrangements with China and, now, a sweeping national-security law. The world must not turn a blind eye.," tweeted Joshua Wong, one of the student leaders.

The Chinese government has not yet responded to Pompeo's announcement. The editor of the Global Times, the Communist Party's tabloid that often serves as a mouthpiece, bashed Pompeo on Twitter, a platform banned for the Chinese public, accusing the "habitually lying Secretary of State" of telling "the US Congress what Hong Kong national security law is before it's even enacted."

China's National People's Congress is expected to ratify Thursday a bill that set guidelines for national security legislation for Hong Kong, which would possibly deploy Chinese government security to the territory and bypass Hong Kong's legislature by crafting and approving laws in Beijing.

Under the "one country, two systems" framework, Hong Kong was promised a certain level of autonomy, but also required to pass its own national security law, known as "Article 23." That law has faced fierce public opposition in the last two decades, however, and it's never been passed.

Last June, the territory's chief executive Carrie Lam attempted to pass an extradition bill that sparked massive protests, with critics casting it as "Article 23-light." After weeks of demonstrations and clashes with police that fueled more anger, Lam and the pro-Beijing bloc stood down on the extradition bill.

In the face of that opposition, the Chinese government is now using the National People's Congress to take matters into its own hands and force the laws on the territory without the local legislature's input.

"This is the end of Hong Kong. This is the end of one country, two systems. This is it. Make no mistake about it," pro-democracy lawmaker Dennis Kwok said last week.

The certification to Congress is required annually under last year's Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which could also bring sanctions on Chinese or Hong Kong officials for their crackdown on democratic protests against creeping rule by Beijing. Although Pompeo's statement said he made the certification, one congressional aide told ABC News that Congress has yet to receive the report.

"As usual with this administration, Congress has been kept out of the loop, in spite of strong, demonstrated bipartisan support for Hong Kong," said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "As the administration considers next steps, it is essential for Secretary Pompeo to work with Congress as is required by law."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved



(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump said "it is time" for all U.S. service members to exit Afghanistan, undermining his administration's agreement with the Taliban that stipulates any withdrawal below 8,600 troops be based on conditions on the ground.

His latest comments come as that deal, signed in February, endangered by a sharp spike in Taliban attacks on Afghan government forces, faces a precarious path forward. The militant group and Afghan government have agreed to a 10-day truce to reduce violence and to the release of hundreds of prisoners, laying the groundwork for peace negotiations nearly three months after they were scheduled.

"We are acting as a police force, not the fighting force that we are, in Afghanistan," the president tweeted on Wednesday. "After 19 years, it is time for them to police their own Country. Bring our soldiers back home but closely watch what is going on and strike with a thunder like never before, if necessary!"

The peace deal between the U.S. and the Taliban called for a reduction in the number of American forces from about 13,000 to 8,600 by mid-July. At the height of the nearly two-decade conflict, there were approximately 100,000 troops in the country.

A U.S. official told ABC News on Wednesday that the number of U.S. service members currently in Afghanistan is between 8,600 and 10,000, despite the president telling reporters on Tuesday that "we are down to 7,000-some-odd soldiers right now." A second official said that the U.S. draw down is "well ahead of schedule" and "close to reaching" that 8,600 number.

The U.S. is set to withdraw all forces in 14 months if the Taliban also uphold their commitments in the agreement -- to sit with an Afghan national delegation for peace negotiations and to break ties with terror groups like al-Qaida.

"Any reductions under (8,600) will be conditions-based, after the U.S. government assesses the security environment and the Taliban's compliance with the agreement, and in coordination with our NATO allies and partners," said chief Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman during a briefing on Tuesday.

But there is concern that Trump, who has pledged to "end America's endless wars" in Afghanistan and Iraq, will push for a quicker withdrawal or one that disregards those conditions on the ground.

His public statements on Afghanistan followed a New York Times report that senior military officials were preparing to brief Trump this week about options for pulling troops out of Afghanistan, including an option for a full withdrawal before the U.S. presidential election in November -- though the officials would not advocate for that option, the Times said.

Asked about a November target date for a withdrawal, Trump said on Tuesday, "No, I have no target but as soon as reasonable."

The aftermath of the U.S.-Taliban agreement got off to a rocky start with an escalation in violence by the Taliban against Afghan forces, domestic political squabbles, and an inability to agree on a prisoner exchange. However, there has been positive momentum in the last couple weeks as the Taliban and Afghan government work toward face-to-face peace talks of their own.

Over the weekend, the Taliban announced a three-day ceasefire during the Eid holiday, and the Afghan government agreed to release 2,000 Taliban fighters it held in custody. Earlier this month, Afghan government leadership also committed to a power-sharing agreement.

Hoffman called these steps "promising" but refused to say whether current conditions on the ground would warrant a further draw down in U.S. troops. Meanwhile, senior administration officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, continue to call for a reduction in violence.

Eight American service members have died and 11 have been wounded serving in Afghanistan this year, according to Defense Department data.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved


Marilyn Nieves/iStockBy AARON KATERSKY, ABC NEWS

(NEW YORK) -- A former member of the Venezuelan National Assembly and an ally of disputed President Nicolas Maduro was charged Wednesday in New York with narco-terrorism offenses that include cocaine trafficking and coordination with Hezbollah and Hamas.

Adel El Zabayar was part of Maduro's Cartel de Los Soles that sought support from FARC, Hezbollah and Hamas to achieve the objective of "flooding" the United States with cocaine, according to federal prosecutors.

"Today's charges against Adel El Zabayar for trading arms for cocaine, and recruiting extremists, further demonstrates the corruption inside the Maduro regime," said DEA acting Administrator Timothy J. Shea.

El Zabayar, of Syrian descent, was photographed in Syria in 2013 alongside troops loyal to Bashar al-Assad, and the criminal complaint portrays him as a go-between in an alliance that involved drug runners, the Venezuelan military and groups the U.S. considers terrorist organizations.

Prosecutors said El Zabayar was one of several cartel members that received a planeload of military grade weaponry from Lebanon.

"The men received a Lebanese cargo plane that was full of weapons, including rocket-propelled grenade launchers, AK-103s, and sniper rifles, that El Zabayar had obtained while he was in the Middle East," the criminal complaint said.

"We further allege today, for the first time, that the Cártel de Los Soles sought to recruit terrorists from Hizballah and Hamas to assist in planning and carrying out attacks on the U.S., and that El Zabayar was instrumental as a go-between," U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman said.

Court records described a 2014 meeting at the presidential palace in Caracas during which El Zabayar, Maduro and others "discussed, among other things, and in substance and in part, arranging a meeting between the leaders of the FARC and the leaders of Hizballah and Hamas."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Aaron Chown - Pool/Getty ImagesBy ZOE MAGEE, ABC News

(LONDON) -- Kensington Palace on Wednesday issued an extraordinary rebuttal of a cover story that will appear in the British society magazine, Tatler.

The article, "Catherine the Great," is a profile of Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, describing her as a “King maker” and “the ultimate power player” in the British royal family.

The author, Anna Pasternak, paints a largely positive picture of the duchess, charting her rise to prominence, the steadfast role she has played in Prince William’s life and her deep sense of duty toward the monarchy and her role within it.

“She doesn’t create press headaches or court scandal, which, given everything else that is going on, is an almighty relief,” one source told Pasternak.

Kensington Palace has taken issue with the story and is publicly rebutting some of the claims made by sources.

"This story contains a swathe of inaccuracies and false misrepresentations which were not put to Kensington Palace prior to publication," the palace said in a statement Wednesday.

The in-depth look at Duchess Kate touches upon more controversial topics like her relationship with her sister-in-law, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, and what Meghan and Prince Harry's departure from royal duties has meant for the Cambridges.

The palace is pushing back against comments made by one source who said the Cambridges are not pleased with the increased work load caused by the Sussexes' move to Los Angeles last month. The source describing Kate as feeling “exhausted and trapped” was something Kensington Palace immediately refuted, calling it false.

Tatler’s Editor-in Chief Richard Dennen is standing by Pasternak’s reporting and her sources, telling ABC News, "Kensington Palace knew we were running the 'Catherine the Great' cover months ago and we asked them to work together on it. The fact they are denying they ever knew is categorically false."

The Cambridges have stayed busy with work over the past two months while following stay-at-home orders in the U.K. due to the coronavirus pandemic. Both William and Kate have participated in several video calls with everyone from teachers to students and health care workers while staying at their Anmer Hall home in Norfolk with their three young children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.

Kate also recently launched a photography project to commemorate this period in history.

It is an unusual move for Kensington Palace to take on a publication like Tatler.

The Cambridges have a much smoother relationship with the media than the Sussexes, who are both embroiled in lawsuits with several British tabloids.

“The headline suggested this was a positive profile about Kate but clearly many of the details were not well-received behind palace walls," said ABC News royal contributor Victoria Murphy. "The royals don’t make a habit of issuing statements about stories so it’s obvious that they felt strongly about this one and wanted to make sure people are aware that they absolutely refute these representations.”

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty ImagesBy SABINA GHEBREMEDHIN, ABC News

(LONDON) -- Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, put her acting skills to the test to help out in the fight against COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Camilla, the wife of Prince Charles, read and acted out the Roald Dahl classic children's book James and the Giant Peach as part of a web series called "James and the Giant Peach, with Taika and friends," hosted by Oscar-winning screenwriter and director, Taika Waititi.

"I'm thrilled to do it," Camilla said in a clip of the reading that aired Wednesday on Good Morning America. "Not that I'm much of an actor, but I shall do my best."

The Duchess of Cornwall has joined @TaikaWaititi and The @roald_dahl Story Company for her first character reading in Episode 6 of James and The Giant Peach with #TaikaAndFriends. 📖

— Clarence House (@ClarenceHouse) May 27, 2020

The Duchess of Cornwall joins a growing list of celebrities who have shared their voices to help raise money in the fight against COVID-19. The 10-episode "James and the Giant Peach with Taika and Friends" series features characters voiced by Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cara Delevingne, Chris and Liam Hemsworth, Mindy Kaling, Nick Kroll, Lupita Nyong'o, Sarah Paulson, Ryan Reynolds and Meryl Streep.

The series, seen in full on Dahl's official YouTube page, raises money for Partners in Health, a medical and social justice organization fighting COVID-19 and providing health care to the most vulnerable people around the world.

New episodes of the series air every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 1 p.m. EST, 10 a.m. PST.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


omersukrugoksu/iStockBy GUY DAVIES and BRUNO ROEBER, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Sweden has pursued its own distinct path when it comes to tackling the coronavirus pandemic. By choosing to stay open rather than instituting a policy of lockdown, Sweden's policies have drawn both international praise and criticism.

While Sweden's decision early in the pandemic to allow bars, restaurants, schools and shops to remain open was almost unthinkable for the rest of the world under lockdown, the Scandinavian country is now being looked at by some as a model for the future.

Recently, Republican Sen. Rand Paul said the U.S. must “keep an open mind” when it comes to the Swedish approach, as governments across Europe and the U.S. chart a way out of lockdown.

Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, the architect behind Sweden’s policy, has repeatedly doubled down on the merits of his country's approach. Sweden, he said, is playing the long game despite the country having a much higher death rate than its neighbors.

“In the autumn, there will be a second wave. Sweden will have a high level of immunity and the number of cases will probably be quite low,” Tegnell told The Financial Times earlier this month. “But [neighboring] Finland will have a very low level of immunity. Will Finland have to go into a complete lockdown again?”

Only time will test Tegnell’s hypothesis, but as countries around the world, and particularly the U.S., ponder what the coming months will look like, the case of Sweden is a fascinating case study. According to one sociologist, the country’s alternative path is a chance to “learn more” where so many others have shut down to stop the spread of COVID-19.

COVID-19 deaths

Tegnell’s approach to the pandemic has proved highly controversial. Social distancing was encouraged by government officials but for the most part Swedes have continued on with their lives. They were still able to send their children to school and visit bars and restaurants, although gatherings of over 50 people remain banned.

Sweden, with a population of 10 million, has so far had 4,029 officially recorded COVID-19 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. But the country has a far higher rate of infections and deaths than its Scandinavian counterparts.

According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, Sweden has an estimated 328.6 cases and 39.3 deaths per 100,000 of the population. Norway has 156.4 cases and just 4.4 deaths respectively. Denmark and Finland have similarly low figures. Those same statistics still indicate that Sweden has a lower number of deaths per capita than Italy, Spain and the U.K., all countries that have enacted stringent lockdowns.

This is a “stark difference” to the rest of Scandinavia, according to Stefan Hanson, a Swedish infectious disease expert and signatory to a letter from top scientists criticizing the health authorities' response.

"When we compare the other Nordic countries in terms of mortality, it is clear that we are having roughly 500 deaths per week, and in Norway they had seven deaths last week,” Hanson told ABC News. “If we see the mortality per million, we are five times higher than all the other Nordic countries, taken the number of inhabitants into consideration."

“There is no doubt that this strategy is causing a lot of unnecessary deaths,” he added.

Tegnell and other government officials have repeatedly dismissed the idea of going into lockdown and reversing Sweden’s course.

The government has not said it explicitly, but the strategy of staying open has the de facto goal of “herd immunity” -- the view that if enough people have become immune to the virus, the spread will slow, Hanson said. In the U.S., Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has dismissed the idea, saying the first step is to develop a vaccine.

Herd immunity would require between 60% and 80% of the population becoming immune to the virus. But new data shows that only 7.3% of the inhabitants of Stockholm, Sweden’s capital, has COVID-19 antibodies, meaning the pursuit of immunity, given the likely increase in deaths, is a “dangerous approach,” Hanson said.

"Even those [countries] who have had very severe epidemics, lots of deaths, lockdowns ... they have had very low immunity levels in the population," he said.

Stockholm will not have herd immunity by the end of this month, Tegnell noted.

Yet Sweden, like the U.S. and the rest of Europe under lockdown, has suffered from the virus entering nursing homes, or care home facilities. Residents of these homes account for almost half of coronavirus deaths in Sweden. But in mainland Europe, the percentage of nursing home deaths is remarkably high, according to data compiled by the European Center of Disease Control. That problem is not unique to Sweden’s approach.

With warnings that Europe will experience a second wave of infections this fall, there is arguably a long-term rationale behind the Swedish model: that over time infection and death rates will equalize between comparable countries that locked down and those that did not.

‘Wealth is health’

In the U.S., Fauci has been adamant that the development of a vaccine, rather than "herd immunity," is crucial in defeating the virus. But with a minimum of 12-18 months before a vaccine could be ready, if at all, and a further period allocated for the distribution of the vaccine, it’s clear that the coronavirus is going to be a part of our daily lives for a long time, according to Tegnell.

In the rest of Europe, the economic impact of the lockdown is already being felt, although the true extent is being masked by generous government loan schemes. In the U.K., the government has pledged to pay 80% of furloughed workers' wages until October, but that hasn’t stopped the Bank of England from forecasting the worst recession in three centuries. The European Commission has warned that the continent’s economy will contract by 7.4% this year.

A number of economists have supported the government’s policy. Lotta Stern, a professor of sociology at Stockholm University who recently co-authored an article suggesting that Sweden’s approach would soon be the world’s, told ABC News that the country has taken “the least bad option” and the issue is more complex than a simple trade of health and economics.

“That framing is entirely wrong,” she said. “Wealth is health. Whichever way you count, freedom and flexibility usually perform better than central command.”

Sweden’s economy has too suffered, she said. But by keeping schools, bars and restaurants open, the country has not seen the same rise in unemployment figures elsewhere in the world.

“As surreal as things are here in Sweden, it seems so much more surreal in the U.S. and U.K.,” she said. “Swedes don’t realize how oppressive other countries have become. What is their exit strategy? The more we learn about the disease the more it seems that they have overreacted.”

Ordinary Swedes in general have been very supportive of the government. Fredrick Kahånsson, a risk management consultant at a construction company in Stockholm, told ABC News that despite how the country’s policy is perceived, there is “no right or wrong,” and it must be up for ordinary people to decide how to live their lives.

“I do support Sweden’s general approach because what you see in the other countries when they open up it starts spreading again,” he said. “So if you can’t really terminate it with a complete lockdown this is just going to be a prolonged process.”

A viable model?

Sweden benefits from a number of favorable conditions when it comes to encouraging individuals to take responsibility for how they interpret social distancing. The country has a strong public health and education systems as well as near unparalleled levels of public trust in the government.

Yet for Hanson, the stand-off approach has proved too costly and he argued the country is “definitely not a model” for the international community to emulate in the long run.

"First of all you have to focus on the disease, to get that under control," he said. "The control is in the other Nordic countries. We don't have to have the lockdown, we just have to be a little bit stricter with the rules."

The economic consequences of lockdown will be felt with a greater intensity than the coronavirus pandemic itself, according to Stern.

“Other countries will have to let up on lockdowns, yes,” she said. “They panicked and hoped to buy enough time. But I think they will increasingly see that their medicine was worse than the disease.”

Early indications suggest that Sweden’s GDP fell by just 0.3% in the first quarter of 2020 compared to 3.8% in the rest of the Eurozone, the European economic bloc which holds the Euro as currency, according to The Financial Times. It is still too early to say whether Sweden will reap the economic benefits of "lockdown-lite" in the coming years.

But with a vaccine still at the very least a year away, there may be a matter of inevitability in how countries like the U.S. and U.K., so badly hit by the pandemic, chart their future.

'We are going to have second wave and third wave -- I think the rest of the world is going to have to do more of the Swedish approach because there is not going to be a world to save if we shut everything down again, and again, and again,” Kahånsson said.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved


Shailesh Bhatnagar/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty ImagesBy LAUREN EFFRON, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- As millions of people around the world continue to live with quarantine lockdowns, stay-at-home orders and other similar restrictions during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Dalai Lama is no exception.

His Holiness, who spoke with ABC News' Dan Harris for his podcast, "Ten Percent Happier," said he has spent the past few months in isolation "in order to protect" himself.

"Usually I [am giving] some lecture and some teaching from time to time, now [I] no longer [have] the opportunity," said the Tibetan spiritual leader.

While in isolation, the Dalai Lama said he watches "1 hour or 2 hours" of television, he "sometimes is reading" and he'll do a daily online meditation for "4 or 5 hours."

"Very helpful," he said. In addition, he shared watching videos of “animals” have been a source of relaxation for him.

“Sometimes the animal, tigers or leopard, these -- sometimes [can be] a little bit uncomfortable. But deers and [similar animals are], very peaceful, very peaceful,” he said. “I found to look animal… you appreciate this your life.”

For those who are struggling with being in isolation or having a hard time managing the anxiety that goes along with adjusting to life around a global pandemic and restrictions, the Dalai Lama suggested doing meditation in the early mornings.

Even if "in the beginning" it starts with a 1-second mediation, he said, work your way up to "1 minute, 5 minutes, 10 minutes."

He also encouraged people to practice compassion towards one another and to "decay" their own "selfish interests" to build a community.

"Taking care [of] other[s] is actually taking care of yourself," His Holiness said. "To just take care of yourself is narrow, foolish, shortsighted. As much as you love yourself ... you should take care of [others] more."

The interview, which was conducted remotely over video, was set up through The Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin - Madison.

Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist and the center's founder, has collaborated with the Dalai Lama for years on research studying the impact meditation can have on the human brain. Even as a spiritual leader, His Holiness believes it's important to have scientific research into meditation.

The novel coronavirus has now killed more than 350,000 people worldwide. The United States has become the worst-affected country, with more than 1.6 million diagnosed cases and at least 98,929 deaths.

Over 5.5 million people across the globe have been diagnosed with the disease, which is caused by the new respiratory virus, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The actual numbers are believed to be much higher due to testing shortages, many unreported cases and suspicions that some governments are hiding the scope of their nations' outbreaks.

The first known cases of COVID-19 were detected in Wuhan, China, in December. The Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile in northern India since he fled from Tibet after a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule, said he believes this global pandemic "will change" China.

"I am always praying for one billion Chinese people to see -- [they] should enjoy more freedom and more religious freedom and practice study," the spiritual leader said. "You see a friendly sort of feeling here, that gives me more inner peace."

He added that he believes the virus "will change basic human nature."

The Dalai Lama said Trump’s expression of “America First” made him feel “a little uncomfortable.” He considers the U.S. to be the “leading nation of the free world,” and with that comes an opportunity to be a leader in reaching out and being kinder to other people and other countries, regardless of position or socio-economic status.

“If you think only [of] America and isolate yourself, then sometimes you feel … lonely,” His Holiness said. “Whether you’re this neighbor or that neighbor, if you feel a little bit of distrust [or] fear, then [you] will never be happy.”

"It's unrealistic," he continued, adding that we are social animals and each individual depends on their neighbor.

Now is the time, the Dalai Lama said, to have "no feeling of oneness and to come closer" to each other.

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(PARIS) -- After decades on the run, Félicien Kabuga, who allegedly was a mastermind of the Rwanda genocide in the 1990s, was arrested by French police and will appear in court this week.

The 84-year-old lived under a false identity in a Paris suburb "with the complicity of his children," according to authorities. Kabuga was the subject of an arrest warrant from the International Mechanism, the body responsible for completing the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. According to a statement from French authorities, he was one of the "most wanted fugitives in the world" and the United States had promised a bounty of $5 million for his capture.

According to Paris prosecutors, Kabuga is accused of creating the Interahamwe militias that were responsible for numerous massacres between April 1990 and July 1994. He is also accused of starting Radio-Television Mille Collines, which supported and encouraged the genocide.

At the end of a bloody civil war that started in 1990, around 800,000 Rwandans died under attack from neighbors or militias that used machetes, hoes and studded clubs. The clashes between two of Rwanda's ethnic groups started under Belgian occupation, which granted Tutsis access to education and positions of governance over the Hutus.

Olivier Olsen, who managed the apartment building where Kabuga lived outside Paris, told local news agency AFP that Kabuga was "very discreet" and someone "who whispers when you greet him."

On Wednesday, judges will decide whether to surrender Kabuga to the International Criminal Court in Arusha, Tanzania.

But Kabuga’s lawyers want Kabuga to remain in France and be tried there.

"With regard to his condition and his age, Mr. Kabuga is not in the capacity to be transferred," attorney Laurent Bayon told ABC News. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Kabuga could be first transferred to The Hague before being sent to Arusha.

Bayon said Kabuga denies his involvement in the genocide. Kabuga has been hospitalized multiple times since 2016, according to Bayon, who is asking for a complete "psychiatric and psychological expertise to see to what extent [Kabuga] is able to understand" the facts of the case.

Since 1994, Kabuga had lived in various countries including Germany, Belgium, Congo-Kinshasa, Kenya and Switzerland, according to French authorities.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW DELHI) -- India has reported a record increase in coronavirus cases for the seventh day in a row, according to the country’s health ministry.

The Ministry of Health reported that there had been a daily increase of 6,535 coronavirus cases, bringing the toll up to 145,380 cases. In total, there have been 4,167 officially recorded coronavirus deaths. The country has now moved into the top 10 in terms of confirmed coronavirus cases.

Despite the increase in cases, however, officials were keen to stress that India had one of the lowest fatality rates in the world, and that the country had a recovery rate of 41.61%.

 In the early stages of the pandemic, the true numbers of infected were unclear, but the country has now increased testing capacity to 110,000 samples per day, the Indian Council of Medical Research said.

The rise in cases comes after a partial lift in the lockdown instituted in March. Domestic travel within the country resumed on Monday, with the Ministry of Health recommending that all airports, railway and bus stations are regularly sanitized, as well as thermal screening at the point of departure and compulsory mask wearing for passengers.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


dennisvdw/iStockBy IBTISSEM GUENFOUD, ABC News

(PARIS) -- A mysterious man known only by the name “Jose” has become a hero to many across Paris. The reason? He has been unlocking some of Paris' closed gardens and opening them up to the public in the middle of the night.

"At night, it's a Batman atmosphere…", one Parisian told the local daily Le Parisien.

In Paris, many public parks are still closed day and night due to lingering lockdown measures in the most affected regions by the coronavirus pandemic in France -- much to the displeasure of the city’s inhabitants.

Paris police received a heavy backlash last week after they cleared the lawns of Les Invalides park in central Paris where groups of people were sitting on grass and picnicking. Although parks have reopened in France's "green zones" with fewer coronavirus cases, Paris' parks remained closed while shops and schools opened their doors again on May 11.

The parks which the mysterious "Jose" targets are mostly located in Paris’s lower-income neighborhoods, according to Le Parisien.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has been pleading with the government for the reopening of Parisian parks and gardens, along with 24 mayors of the Seine-Saint-Denis suburb who demanded in an open letter to Prime Minister Édouard Philippe the reopening of the department's large parks and green spaces.

The government, however, has refused calls to do so for the time being.

"Let us breathe" exclaim the elected officials in the letter which BFM Paris obtained a copy of. They believe that "far from existing prejudice, the inhabitants of the Seine-Saint-Denis have respected confinement," even better in "popular suburban towns than in certain chic districts of the capital."

But as temperatures have hit a balmy 86 degrees this week, "Jose" has been giving a little bit more oxygen to joggers and kids who would brave the lockdown law.

"In Paris, the apartments are small … We are deconfined, but there is nothing to do, everything is closed," he told Le Parisien.

Two handwritten posters hanging from the railings of the Parc de Belleville on Friday said "Thank you, Jose!" according to the Local newspaper.

"Jose", however, is playing a risky game. If he is caught, picking the padlock of a public garden is an offense punishable by five years imprisonment and a fine of 75,000 euros (82,000 U.S. dollars).

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(MOSCOW) -- The trial of Paul Whelan, the former United States Marine held in Russia on spying charges, wrapped up in a Moscow court on Monday, with lawyers making their closing arguments and Russian prosecutors asking the court to sentence Whelan to 18 years in a Russian prison colony -- close to the maximum possible sentence for espionage.

The judge is expected to give a verdict at a June 15 hearing.

“The prosecutor asked for a very tough punishment, 18 years in a high-security penitentiary,” Whelan’s Russian lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, said after the hearing on Monday.

Whelan, a security director for the American auto parts supplier BorgWarner, was arrested in his hotel room in late December 2018 by Russia’s FSB domestic intelligence service while he was visiting Moscow for a friend’s wedding.

Since then he has been held in the city’s Lefortovo prison, which houses suspected spies and high-profile prisoners.

Whelan’s family and his lawyers have insisted that he is not a spy and have accused Russia of framing the 50-year-old in order to use him as a political bargaining chip.

Whelan’s case is classed as secret and Russian authorities have never publicly described what he is accused of. The trial began in mid-April and has been held behind closed doors. The coronavirus lockdown has prevented journalists from even being present at the court building.

But the outlines of the case have emerged from Whelan’s lawyers and through leaks to the Russian media. According to them, Whelan is accused of receiving classified materials from a longtime Russian friend on behalf of U.S. intelligence.

Whelan’s lawyers have said in reality those charges are based around a crude frame up, set up by Whelan’s friend who was working with the FSB.

The friend, they said, brought a memory card to Whelan’s hotel room in a December 2018 visit which Whelan had believed would contain photos of a trip the two had taken the previous winter to a monastery town near Moscow.

Instead, unknown to Whelan, it contained the classified materials, and minutes after it was given to him, FSB agents burst in and detained him.

In the days before the sting, the friend had unexpectedly picked Whelan up at the airport when he arrived, Zherebenkov said, and had plied him with whiskey. He had secretly recorded Whelan, while trying to lead him to say incriminating things, the lawyer said.

The lawyers have not named the friend due to the trial’s secrecy rules, saying only that he works in the Russian security services. But Whelan’s family members have named him as Ilya Yatsenko, someone Whelan had known for 10 years. Last week, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported he was a major in the FSB’s Department "K", the powerful unit responsible for combating economic crimes.

Yatsenko has testified twice in court. Last week, Whelan testified that he believes his friend was motivated to betray him in part because he owed Whelan over $1,000 for two iPhones he bought for him, Zherebenkov said.

Whelan, who left the Marines on a bad-conduct discharge in 2007, is a self-described Russophile, who had traveled for years to Russia on vacations and had made many friends there, according to his family. In addition to the U.S., he also holds Irish, British and Canadian citizenship.

In his closing statement on Monday, Whelan told the judge he greatly respected Russian culture and had never conducted any spying activity, Zherebenkov said.

The United States in recent months has repeatedly called on Russia to release Whelan, saying it has never provided any evidence to support his detention.

Former U.S. intelligence officials have said Whelan does not fit the profile of an American spy and have said his case resembles that of classic KGB stings during the Cold War.

There has been speculation that Russia may have seized Whelan with the hope of exchanging him for Russians imprisoned in the U.S. on criminal convictions. Last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly denied Russia engaged in hostage-taking but then noted that any exchange could only be possible once Whelan was convicted.

Whelan’s other Russian lawyer, Olga Karlova, told ABC News last week that Whelan hoped the U.S. would seek to rapidly trade him after his conviction. But she said there was no indication that would happen.

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(LONDON) -- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s adviser Dominic Cummings insists that he did not break any rules amid calls for him to resign for traveling to visit his parents’ property in late March, and revealed that he did not offer his resignation to the prime minister, nor did he consider doing so.

Johnson is dealing with a political storm amid the coronavirus pandemic, as it emerged last week that Cummings allegedly broke lockdown rules in March and April.

In a press conference -- special advisers in the U.K. have a strict code of conduct which usually forbids them from making speeches or statements or taking part in political activities -- Cummings insisted no rules were broken when he took his wife, who was showing symptoms for COVID-19, and his 4-year-old son, more than 250 miles north of London to Durham where his parents own a farm and a cottage on the grounds. Cummings said he and his family self-isolated there.

Addressing accusations that he was flouting the rules he helped to devise, he said: "It’s not just a simple matter of regulations. The regulations describe various exceptional circumstances where it may not be possible to follow the rules."

Cummings said he fell ill with coronavirus after he had arrived in Durham, but the family continued to self-isolate together at his parents’ cottage -- away from their main house -- for 14 days. He said the driving factor behind his decision was to be closer to relatives in case he caught the virus from his wife, which would leave his 4-year-old son with two ill parents to care for him. He added that he did not seek child-care support from his family members while in Durham.

He said driving with a "full tank" of petrol in his car to an isolated location where his family members could have looked after his son if necessary was "the safest thing to do" under the circumstances. He added: "If I had stayed in London and something similar had happened, I would have had to get someone else there and expose them to danger."

Government advice stipulates that if a member of someone's household falls ill or starts to show symptoms of coronavirus, then they "must stay at home for at least 7 days, but all other household members who remain well must stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days."

Cummings is believed to be one of the key proponents of the government’s "stay at home" strategy. An alumnus of the Brexit Vote Leave campaign of 2016, Cummings has been central to Johnson’s leadership campaigns and the recent general election in December 2019 that led to a decisive Johnson victory.

In his statement, Cummings admitted that he had been spotted by a member of the public near the town of Barnard Castle on April 11.

A joint investigation by two British newspapers claimed that one of his parents’ neighbors in Durham spotted Cummings and his family. The neighbor told the Daily Mirror: "I was really annoyed. I thought it’s ok for you to drive all the way up to Durham and escape from London."

On Sunday, Johnson himself took over the daily afternoon coronavirus briefing to address the crisis -- adding that he had spent almost six hours discussing the chronology of events with Cummings, and that he had concluded that no rules were broken and he had in fact acted "responsibly, legally and with integrity."

Upon his return from Number 10 on Sunday night, Cummings was filmed walking to his house and met with angry neighbors and bystanders. Earlier in the day, a van parked outside Cummings’ house with a large screen playing a satirical video of Johnson and his cabinet members’ statements urging the public to "stay at home."

Outrage continued to grow, with lawmakers taking to Twitter on Sunday evening and Monday morning to share the emails they were receiving from angry constituents who had made sacrifices to be without their families in order to abide by the rules.

One Conservative MP -- from Johnson’s own party -- told BBC radio he had received more than 100 emails from constituents saying the scandal "hit a raw nerve."

While the majority of cabinet members have tweeted their support for Cummings, a growing number of Conservative MPs have called for him to resign.

The Daily Mail, a rightwing newspaper that is usually sympathetic to Johnson’s administration, published a scathing front page on Monday morning, with an editorial calling for Cummings to either resign or be fired.

The row also received concerned statements from scientists involved in advising the government on its coronavirus response.

Professor Stephen Reicher, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours, said that Cummings’ actions had undermined efforts to fight the virus and claimed that "more people are going to die" as a result.

A statement Saturday from the Prime Minister’s Office at Number 10 Downing Street refuted claims in the media that the Durham Police had contacted the Cummings family, saying that "at no stage was [Mr Cummings] or his family spoken to by the police."

But minutes before Cummings’ press conference Monday, the Durham Constabulary issued a new statement: "We can confirm that on April 1, an officer from Durham Constabulary spoke to the father of Dominic Cummings."

Meanwhile, on the heels of Cummings’ press conference, a junior minister of the United Kingdom's parliament has resigned.

Douglas Ross stepped down from his post as parliamentary under-secretary of state for Scotland on Tuesday, saying in a statement, "There was much I still hoped to do in this role but events over the last few days mean I can no longer serve as a member of this government."

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