U.S. Senate votes to confirm McConnell protege to influential appeals court

(Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted to confirm a federal judge who is a protege of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to an influential appeals court in Washington. Justin Walker, 38, won Senate approval to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit following a mostly party-line 51-42 vote. Senator Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican joining Democrats in voting against confirming the appointee of President Donald Trump. Walker is being elevated from the U.S. District Court in Louisville, Kentucky, where he has been a judge since October. Walker, a former academic, is close to McConnell. He was also a vocal ally of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation battle in the Senate in 2018. Several Democratic lawmakers said during a May 6 confirmation hearing that Walker was too inexperienced for the job. The D.C. Circuit is considered the second most powerful court in the country, in part because it handles many high-stakes challenges to federal regulations. Four of the current nine justices on the Supreme Court were previously D.C. Circuit judges. Although based in Kentucky, where he has taught at the University of Louisville’s law school, Walker has Washington ties. He clerked for Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit, where Kavanaugh served for 12 years. He also clerked for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who Kavanaugh replaced in 2018. After Trump, a Republican, nominated Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Walker frequently appeared on cable TV, including Fox News, talking up the nominee’s conservative credentials. Walker defended his qualifications during last month’s hearing, saying “there is a long and rich tradition of academics being nominated” to federal appellate courts. “We Kentuckians are sorry to lose Judge Justin Walker, but we’re very proud this brilliant and fair jurist will be serving our nation on the D.C. Circuit,” McConnell wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

New French coronavirus deaths steady, infections creep up

PARIS (Reuters) – The number of people who died from coronavirus infection in France rose by 28 to 29,603 on Thursday, the same increase as Wednesday, but the number of new confirmed cases crept up again to reach a five-day high. Those cases rose by 467, at 158,641, a figure above the daily average of 440 seen over the last seven days. Since the beginning of the month of June, that average stands at 383. If probable cases in nursing homes are taken in account, the total reaches 194,675, according Reuters calculations, the 11th highest in the world on that basis. Nursing homes deaths are now only reported on a weekly basis on Tuesday in France, which leads to a spike reported fatalities on that day. France’s death toll is the fifth-highest in the world. The ministry said that the number of people in hospital for COVID-19 infections fell by 142 to 10,125 and the number of people in intensive care fell by 20 to 752. Both numbers have been on a downtrend for about 10 weeks.

What is next for immigrant ‘Dreamers’ after U.S. Supreme Court ruling?

(Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled 5-4 against President Donald Trump’s move to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that offers work permits and deportation relief to certain immigrants who came to the country illegally as children. Here is a look at what could happen next for the hundreds of thousands of immigrants, often called “Dreamers,” enrolled in the program created in 2012 by Trump’s Democratic predecessor Barack Obama. DACA GOES BACK TO DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY The ruling, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, sent the issue back to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for further consideration, concluding that the administration did not provide sufficient reasoning to end DACA. The decision deemed the administration’s actions in seeking to rescind DACA “arbitrary and capricious” in violation of a federal law that governs regulatory changes. It does not stop Trump from trying again to rescind DACA or reduce its protections through other means. A senior Department of Homeland Security official said the agency was reviewing the ruling. NO DECISION YET ON TRUMP ACTION Trump criticized the Supreme Court after the ruling and said on Twitter he was seeking “a legal solution on DACA, not a political one,” and would have to “start this process all over again.” Trump did not specify what his administration would do next. It appears unlikely he would have time to lawfully terminate DACA before the Nov. 3 U.S. election in which Trump is seeking another four-year term in office. NEW APPLICATIONS IN QUESTION The ruling means that the roughly 649,000 immigrants, mostly young Hispanic adults born in Mexico and other Latin American countries, now enrolled in DACA will remain protected from deportation and eligible to obtain renewable two-year work permits. Lower courts had blocked Trump’s 2017 action so the program remained in effect, though the administration refused to process new applications. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, whose state was among the challengers that sued to try to preserve DACA, said the ruling could reopen the program “to anyone who qualifies,” but that legal processes in lower courts were still ongoing that could determine whether new applications must be processed by the government. LOOKING TO CONGRESS Congress for years has been unable to pass comprehensive immigration legislation, thwarted primarily by partisan divisions. Democratic lawmakers after the ruling called on Congress to pass legislation permanently protecting current DACA enrollees and others brought to the United States illegally as children. DACA does not offer a path to citizenship. The Democratic-led House of Representatives passed a bill last year that would provide such a pathway to “Dreamers” and other immigrants covered by humanitarian programs. The Republican-led Senate has not taken up a similar measure. ELECTION RISKS Trump promised as a candidate in 2016 to end DACA, which he called one of Obama’s “illegal executive amnesties,” and has pursued hardline immigration policies but could face election risks if he again tries to rescind it. The U.S. public has become increasingly supportive of DACA, according to opinion polls. In a February Reuters/Ipsos poll, 64% of U.S. adult respondents voiced support for DACA’s core tenets. A similar December 2014 poll found that 47% of U.S. adults supported DACA.

Blood type, genes tied to risk of severe COVID-19: European study

(Reuters) – A person’s blood type and other genetic factors may be linked with severity of coronavirus infection, according to European researchers looking for further clues about why COVID-19 hits some so much harder than others. The findings, published in The New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday, suggest people with type A blood have a higher risk of being infected with the coronavirus and developing worse symptoms. At the peak of the epidemic in Europe, researchers analyzed the genes of more than 4,000 people to look for variations that were common in those who became infected with the coronavirus and developed severe COVID-19. A cluster of variants in genes that are involved with immune responses was more common in people with severe COVID-19, they found. These genes are also involved with a cell-surface protein called ACE2 that the coronavirus uses to gain entry to and infect cells in the body. The researchers, led by Dr. Andre Franke from Christian-Albrecht-University in Kiel, Germany, and Dr. Tom Karlsen, from Oslo University Hospital in Norway also found a relationship between COVID-19 severity and blood type. The risk for severe COVID-19 was 45% higher for people with type A blood than those with other blood types. It appeared to be 35% lower for people with type O. “The findings … provide specific clues as to what disease processes may be going on in severe COVID-19,” Karlsen told Reuters by email, noting that additional research is needed before the information becomes useful. “The hope is that these and other findings … will point the way to a more thorough understanding of the biology of COVID-19,” U.S. National Institutes of Health director and genetics expert Francis Collins wrote in his blog on Thursday. “They also suggest that a genetic test and a person’s blood type might provide useful tools for identifying those who may be at greater risk of serious illness.”

Iran’s death toll from coronavirus outbreak approaches 10,000

(Reuters) – Iran is approaching 10,000 deaths from the coronavirus outbreak in the country, according to official figures from the Ministry of Health. There have been nearly 200,000 people infected with the new coronavirus in the Islamic Republic and the number deaths in a single day from the pandemic topped 100 for the first time in two months on Sunday. After gradually relaxing its lockdown since mid-April, Iran has seen a sharp rise of new infections in recent weeks, with five provinces currently considered to be red zones where infections have been on the rise. Iran recorded 87 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking the total to 9,272. The total number of cases in the country has reached 197,647, of whom 156,991 people have recovered. “The statistics show that in recent days every 12 to 15 minutes an Iranian lost their life because of #corona,” Mizan, the news agency of the Iranian judiciary, tweeted on Thursday. The Iranian parliament’s research centre issued a report in April that suggested that the actual number of coronavirus death might be almost twice as many as those announced by the health ministry. Despite the recent spike in infections and deaths, Friday prayers were scheduled to resume in Tehran starting next week, the official IRNA news agency said.  President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday that Iran would reimpose restrictions to stem the surge in coronavirus cases if health regulations were not observed. But footage aired on state TV in recent days showed many Iranians in shopping malls and on public transport not practicing social distancing or wearing masks or gloves.

Canada hits 100,000 coronavirus cases, major challenges remain

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada officially racked up 100,000 cases of the novel coronavirus on Thursday and although the outbreak is slowing, health experts said major challenges remain. Authorities admit they were not prepared for how fast the pandemic ripped through nursing homes, where more than 80% of the deaths occurred. While the 10 provinces are slowly reopening their economies, major restrictions remain in place in Montreal and Toronto, Canada’s two biggest cities. “We haven’t done brilliantly, we’ve done acceptably,” said University of Toronto epidemiologist Camille Lemieux, saying the outbreak was “a very big wake-up call” about shortfalls in a fragmented health care system. The province of Ontario on Thursday announced another 190 cases a day after public health agency data showed 99,853 people had been diagnosed positive. That pushed Canada over the 100,000 mark and into 17th place on the global list. Canada has recorded at least 8,266 deaths, in 12th place worldwide according to data compiled by Reuters. As the outbreak fades, chief medical officer Theresa Tam expressed concern that people, especially the young, will grow complacent about precautions such as wearing masks. “It’s the sustainability of our response going forward (that) is going to be really tough. We will just have to keep reminding people,” she told a briefing this week. “The virus hasn’t disappeared … what we’re asking all Canadians to remind themselves is it’s not normal times. We’re not going back to before January 2020.” Tam worried that cases might surge later this year, which would be especially troubling if it spiked at the same time as an influenza outbreak. She said the country must build up enough capacity to detect and clamp down on any cases and contacts. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – identifying complacency as a major threat – said Canadian firms had helped produce a tracing app which would be voluntary due to privacy concerns. [nO8N2D200H] “As we start loosening some restrictions we also have to strengthen other measures so that we don’t lose the progress we’ve made,” he told reporters on Thursday. Yet experts said Canada’s complex multi-layered healthcare system will complicate efforts to beat the pandemic. The 10 provinces each control their own systems and have taken different approaches. Ottawa’s role is largely providing money. Lemieux said there had been no consistent national messaging or strategy on measures such as contract tracing and wearing masks. “We could certainly have a significant setback. I think that’s a very real risk,” she said in a phone interview. “It takes very little to lose the trust of a population, to lose that little bit of credibility.” Tam herself came under fire from commentators in April for first saying wearing masks was not beneficial for those showing no symptoms and then changing her mind a week later. Tam said her advice had been evolving based on science. Authorities in Ontario and Quebec, the two most populous provinces, struggled to such an extent with outbreaks in nursing homes that they were forced to call in troops. “That’s got to be the biggest lesson learned … more needs to be done to ensure that doesn’t occur (again),” Tam said. “We flattened the curve to the extent that we did not overwhelm our acute care system but we certainly did not do well in the long term care senior setting.” Quebec’s coroner on Wednesday ordered a public inquiry to probe whether any of the deaths in residences had been linked to violence or negligence. Soldiers who helped in some Ontario nursing homes said they saw staff leaving people in soiled diapers and ignoring calls for help. [nL1N2D81KR]

UK ditches homegrown COVID-19 tracing app to use Google-Apple model

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will switch to the Apple and Google model for its COVID-19 test-and-trace app, ditching an attempt to develop an app by itself after the homegrown system did not work well enough on Apple’s iPhone, the government said on Thursday. The test-and-trace programme is key to reopening the country but has been dogged by problems. A smartphone app developed by the National Health Service (NHS) was initially expected to be rolled out nationwide in May but did not materialise. Health minister Matt Hancock appeared to blame Apple in part for the pivot, adding that the decentralised Google-Apple system would benefit from work done on the abortive NHS app. “As it stands, our app won’t work because Apple won’t change their system, but it can measure distance. And their app can’t measure distance well enough, to a standard we are satisfied with,” he said at the daily news conference. “So we’ve agreed to join forces with Google and Apple, to bring the best bits of both systems together.” Dido Harding, head of the test-and-trace programme has described the app as the “cherry on the cake” of the overall test-and-trace system, playing down its centrality to the programme. But figures for the second week of England’s test-and-trace showed that while over 85,000 people who had tested positive for the new coronavirus had been reached in the first two weeks, over 25% of positive cases could not be reached. Officials running the programme admitted that the change of tack on the app was unplanned but denied that it was a setback, emphasising that they did not want to rush out an app which fell short of standards. But the opposition Labour party said that warnings about the homegrown app had not been heeded. “This is unsurprising and yet another example of where the government’s response has been slow and badly managed. It’s meant precious time and money wasted,” Labour health spokesman Jon Ashworth said. Britain’s adoption of the ‘decentralised’ approach for its app followed a growing number of European countries, including Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Austria. But Apple and Google’s model has frustrated governments, as they undercut the technology’s usefulness by prioritising user privacy. The pivot happened after the NHS app, which was being tested on the Isle of Wight off the southern coast of England, was found to work well on Google’s Android operating systems but not on Apple iPhones. However, Britain wants further improvements to the Google-Apple platform, meaning that the original hope of a launch in May is set to be missed by months rather than weeks. “We’re not going to put a date on it I’m afraid because I’m absolutely determined that whilst this technology can help, it’s got to be working effectively,” Hancock said.

U.S. prison riot teams faulted for injuring staff during exercises

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Bureau of Prisons riot teams that helped protect the White House during protests earlier this month injured employees by deploying flash bang grenades and pepper spray during exercises last year, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog has found. In a memo issued on Thursday, Inspector General Michael Horowitz said the two mock exercises by the BOP’s Special Operations Response Teams (SORT) led to staff injuries and represented “potential policy violations and dangerous conduct” by the corrections officers involved. The report is likely to raise new questions about the conduct of the BOP’s riot team, one of the federal law enforcement agencies on the scene in Washington on June 1 when officers fired smoke canisters, flash bang grenades and rubber bullets to drive protesters farther from the White House, enabling a photo shoot by President Donald Trump in front of a damaged church. In the first incident, the team deployed an unauthorized flash bang round that hit a staff member and detonated, causing “significant injury requiring surgery and ongoing treatment,” the report said. In the second case, the SORT team used crow bars to breach a room where there were staff members on restricted duty due to medical conditions. Despite verbal warnings, the SORT team shot pepper spray and struck a staffer in the chest with a training round, according to the report, leading to pushing and shoving between the two groups. A BOP spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Attorney General William Barr has defended the decision to push Washington protesters back, claiming that protesters had thrown objects at police and refused orders to move. However, neither Reuters witnesses nor protesters interviewed by Reuters ever heard such warnings or saw projectiles being thrown at the time.

Robinhood trading app back online after major outage

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Robinhood Markets Inc, the fintech startup credited with helping popularize trading with millennials, said on Thursday it resolved an issue that had caused a “major outage” on its platform earlier in the day. “Our systems have been fully restored and our app and web platforms are now functional. We apologize for the trouble and appreciate your patience as we worked to resolve this,” the company said on Twitter. Robinhood, based in Menlo Park, California, has experienced several outages since early March, particularly on days of high trading volumes as the market reacted to news on the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Similar to previous outages, customers took to social media to criticize Robinhood, threatening to switch brokerages. “Unacceptable for this to keep happening,” one user said on Twitter. “Give me one reason why I should continue to trade using your platform?” asked another. Robinhood has been at the center of a recent upsurge in day trading by retail investors, who have been homebound due to coronavirus lockdowns. Founded by co-chief executives Baiju Bhatt and Vladimir Tenev in 2013, Robinhood is one of the most popular and well-funded financial technology startups. Last month, it raised $280 million from investors at a valuation of $8.3 billion dollars. The company now has over 10 million user accounts. Customers at the brokerage, which has been credited for helping usher in commission-free trading throughout the retail brokerage industry, have a median age of 31, the company said recently.

Trump says process to deal with Dreamer immigrants must start all over

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday said a legal solution was needed to address the hundreds of thousands of so-called Dreamer immigrants after the nation’s top court blocked his earlier effort to end their protections, but gave no other details on how he planned to proceed. “I am asking for a legal solution on DACA, not a political one, consistent with the rule of law. The Supreme Court is not willing to give us one, so now we have to start this process all over again,” Trump tweeted.