India's Home Minister and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's closest political ally-bar-none, ex-president of the BJP Amit Shah tested positive for COVID-19, he himself confirmed through a tweet on Sunday.
He appealed to all those who came into his contact to test themselves for COVID-19.
"Experiencing some symptoms I got myself tested for COVID-19 and have been found positive. I am feeling healthy but on the advice of doctors I am admitting myself to a hospital," tweeted Shah.
He advised those who came into his contact in the past few days to immediately isolate themselves and get tested.
Earlier in the day, a lady minister in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh had died of COVID-19 infection.
Iran on Saturday said it detained an Iranian-American leader of a little-known California-based militant opposition group for allegedly planning a 2008 attack on a mosque that killed 14 people and wounded over 200 others.
Iran's Intelligence Ministry also alleged Jamshid Sharmahd of the Kingdom Assembly of Iran planned other attacks around the Islamic Republic amid heightened tensions between Tehran and the U.S. over its collapsing 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
It was unclear how the 65-year-old Sharmahd, whom Iran accused of running the opposition group's Tondar militant wing, ended up detained by intelligence officials. The Intelligence Ministry called it a "complex operation," without elaborating. It published a purported picture of Sharmahd, blindfolded, on its website.
Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi later appeared on state TV, saying Sharmahd had been arrested in Iran, without elaborating.
Requests for comment sent by email to the Glendora-based Kingdom Assembly of Iran were not immediately answered and a telephone number for the group no longer worked.
The U.S. State Department, which mentioned how Sharmahd earlier had been targeted for assassination in a recent report called "Outlaw Regime: A Chronicle of Iran's Destructive Activities," acknowledged reports of his detention.
"The Iranian regime has a long history of detaining Iranians and foreign nationals on spurious charges," the State Department said in a statement. "We urge Iran to be fully transparent and abide by all international legal standards."
Iranian state television broadcast a report on Sharmahd's arrest, linking him to the 2008 bombing of the Hosseynieh Seyed al-Shohada Mosque in Shiraz. It also said his group was behind a 2010 bombing at Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's mausoleum in Tehran that wounded several people.
The report also alleged without providing evidence that Tondar, or "Thunder" in Farsi, plotted attacks on a dam and planned to use cyanide bombs at Tehran's annual book fair.
State TV later aired footage of Sharmahd interspersed with footage from the moment of the 2008 explosion at the Shiraz mosque. Sharmahd's face appeared swollen and the style of the footage resembled one of what a rights group has identified as over 350 coerced confessions aired by the broadcaster over the last decade.
The Intelligence Ministry has not said what charges Sharmahd will face. Prisoners earlier accused in the same attack were sentenced to death and executed.
The Kingdom Assembly of Iran, known in Farsi as Anjoman-e Padeshahi-e Iran, and Tondar seek to restore Iran's monarchy, which ended when the fatally ill Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi fled the country in 1979 just before its Islamic Revolution. The group's founder disappeared in the mid-2000s.
Iranian intelligence operatives in the past have used family members and other tricks to lure targets back to Iran or friendly countries to be captured. An alleged Iranian government operative who allegedly tried to hire a hit man to kill Sharmahd disappeared in 2010 before facing trial in California, likely having returned to Iran.
A 2010 U.S. diplomatic cable from London later published by WikiLeaks shows that a Voice of America commentator said that same operative earlier had been in contact with him. British anti-terror police later warned the commentator that he "had been targeted by the Iranian regime," the cable said.
The two cases marked "a clear escalation in the regime's attempts to intimidate critics outside its borders, and could have a chilling effect on journalists, academics and others in the West who until recently felt little physical threat from the regime," the cable said.
Sharmahd last appeared in an online livestream video on Dec. 29, according to his group's website, speaking in Farsi while sitting in a black chair in front of a black background.
"We are not only seeking the liberation of the homeland, but we are also moving towards a special direction, and that is to be Iranian," Sharmahd said at one point in the video. "Because we have heard that once upon a time some people were living in the region who were able to build an empire."
While overshadowed by other exiled opposition groups, Iran reportedly brought up the Kingdom Assembly multiple times while negotiating the terms of the 2015 deal, which saw Tehran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi reacted to the news by criticizing the U.S. for allowing Sharmahd and others to live in America.
The U.S. "must be responsible for supporting terrorist groups which are inside of this country and carry out and lead terrorist acts against the Iranian people," state TV quoted Mousavi as saying.
A statement attributed to Tondar claimed the assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist in 2010 by a remote-control bomb, though it later said it wasn't responsible. Suspicion long has fallen on Israel for a string of assassinations targeting scientists amid concerns about Iran's nuclear program, which the West fears could be used to develop a nuclear bomb. Iran long has maintained its program is for peaceful purposes.
Sharmahd's reported arrest comes as tensions remain inflamed by President Donald Trump's 2018 decision to unilaterally withdraw America from the nuclear deal. A series of incidents last year were capped by a U.S. drone strike in January killing a top Iranian general in Baghdad. Iran responded by launching a ballistic missile attack on U.S. soldiers in Iraq that injured dozens.
Who gets to be first in line for a COVID-19 vaccine? U.S. health authorities hope by late next month to have some draft guidance on how to ration initial doses, but it's a vexing decision.
"Not everybody's going to like the answer," Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, recently told one of the advisory groups the government asked to help decide. "There will be many people who feel that they should have been at the top of the list."
Traditionally, first in line for a scarce vaccine are health workers and the people most vulnerable to the targeted infection.
But Collins tossed new ideas into the mix: Consider geography and give priority to people where an outbreak is hitting hardest.
And don't forget volunteers in the final stage of vaccine testing who get dummy shots, the comparison group needed to tell if the real shots truly work.
"We owe them ... some special priority," Collins said.
Huge studies this summer aim to prove which of several experimental COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc. began tests last week that eventually will include 30,000 volunteers each; in the next few months, equally large calls for volunteers will go out to test shots made by AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax. And some vaccines made in China are in smaller late-stage studies in other countries.
For all the promises of the U.S. stockpiling millions of doses, the hard truth: Even if a vaccine is declared safe and effective by year's end, there won't be enough for everyone who wants it right away -- especially as most potential vaccines require two doses.
It's a global dilemma. The World Health Organization is grappling with the same who-goes-first question as it tries to ensure vaccines are fairly distributed to poor countries -- decisions made even harder as wealthy nations corner the market for the first doses.
In the U.S., the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a group established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is supposed to recommend who to vaccinate and when -- advice that the government almost always follows.
But a COVID-19 vaccine decision is so tricky that this time around, ethicists and vaccine experts from the National Academy of Medicine, chartered by Congress to advise the government, are being asked to weigh in, too.
Setting priorities will require "creative, moral common sense," said Bill Foege, who devised the vaccination strategy that led to global eradication of smallpox. Foege is co-leading the academy's deliberations, calling it "both this opportunity and this burden."
With vaccine misinformation abounding and fears that politics might intrude, CDC Director Robert Redfield said the public must see vaccine allocation as "equitable, fair and transparent."
How to decide? The CDC's opening suggestion: First vaccinate 12 million of the most critical health, national security and other essential workers. Next would be 110 million people at high risk from the coronavirus -- those over 65 who live in long-term care facilities, or those of any age who are in poor health -- or who also are deemed essential workers. The general population would come later.
CDC's vaccine advisers wanted to know who's really essential. "I wouldn't consider myself a critical health care worker," admitted Dr. Peter Szilagyi, a pediatrician at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Indeed, the risks for health workers today are far different than in the pandemic's early days. Now, health workers in COVID-19 treatment units often are the best protected; others may be more at risk, committee members noted.
Beyond the health and security fields, does "essential" mean poultry plant workers or schoolteachers? And what if the vaccine doesn't work as well among vulnerable populations as among younger, healthier people? It's a real worry, given that older people's immune systems don't rev up as well to flu vaccine.
With Black, Latino and Native American populations disproportionately hit by the coronavirus, failing to address that diversity means "whatever comes out of our group will be looked at very suspiciously," said ACIP chairman Dr. Jose Romero, Arkansas' interim health secretary.
Consider the urban poor who live in crowded conditions, have less access to health care and can't work from home like more privileged Americans, added Dr. Sharon Frey of St. Louis University.
And it may be worth vaccinating entire families rather than trying to single out just one high-risk person in a household, said Dr. Henry Bernstein of Northwell Health.
Whoever gets to go first, a mass vaccination campaign while people are supposed to be keeping their distance is a tall order. During the 2009 swine flu pandemic, families waited in long lines in parking lots and at health departments when their turn came up, crowding that authorities know they must avoid this time around.
Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration's effort to speed vaccine manufacturing and distribution, is working out how to rapidly transport the right number of doses to wherever vaccinations are set to occur.
Drive-through vaccinations, pop-up clinics and other innovative ideas are all on the table, said CDC's Dr. Nancy Messonnier.
As soon as a vaccine is declared effective, "we want to be able the next day, frankly, to start these programs," Messonnier said. "It's a long road."
As Joe Biden nears the announcement of his vice presidential choice, the top contenders and their advocates are making final appeals.
The campaign hasn't finalized a date for naming a running mate, but three people who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the plans said a public announcement likely wouldn't happen before the week of Aug. 10. That's one week before Democrats will hold their convention to officially nominate Biden as their presidential nominee.
Biden said in May that he hoped to name his pick around Aug. 1 and told reporters this week that he would "have a choice in the first week of August." He notably stopped short of saying when he would announce that choice.
Running mates are often announced on the eve of a convention. As Biden prepares to make his choice, a committee established to vet running mates has provided him with briefing materials. Biden will likely soon begin one-on-one conversations with those under consideration, which could be the most consequential part of the process for a presidential candidate who values personal connections.
The leading contenders include California Sen. Kamala Harris, California Rep. Karen Bass and Obama national security adviser Susan Rice. The deliberations remain fluid, however, and the campaign has reviewed nearly a dozen possible running mates.
Representatives for Biden declined to comment.
The selection amounts to the most significant choice Biden has confronted in his nearly five-decade political career. He has pledged to select a woman and is facing calls to choose the first Black woman to compete on a presidential ticket.
On Friday, more than 60 Black clergy leaders called on Biden in an open letter to pick a Black woman as his running mate, saying the U.S. is facing a "moment of racial reckoning" that cannot be ignored.
"Too much is at stake for our community and we believe having a Black woman vice presidential candidate is the clearest path to the victory in November that our country needs to move forward," said Rev. Matthew Watley, of Kingdom Fellowship AME Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, who signed the letter.
As a decision looms, the camps are jockeying for position.
Harris' allies mobilized this week after Politico reported that the co-chair of the vetting committee, former Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, was concerned about Harris' tough debate stage performance and that she hasn't expressed regret.
Several California elected officials and labor leaders initiated a call with the vetting team to emphasize that Harris has strong support among labor and political leaders in her home state. The call was organized by Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis.
"A group of us really felt we needed to organize and speak out and correct the record because she has tremendous support," Kounalakis said.
They also pushed back against the idea that Harris wouldn't be a loyal partner, a sentiment echoed by a number of prominent donors.
"By all objective standards, Kamala Harris should be the overwhelming favorite for the job," said Michael Kempner, a major Democratic donor based in New York.
Harris, while not directly addressing her vice presidential prospects, said Saturday that anyone who tries to shatter a glass ceiling faces naysayers.
"Breaking barriers involves breaking things. And sometimes you get cut," Harris, who is Black, told attendees of an online convention held by the Ohio Democratic Party. "Sometime it hurts, but it is worth it."
Biden allies say his wife, Jill, and sister, Valerie Biden Owens, are likely to play a key role in the decision, as they have with many of Biden's biggest political decisions throughout his career. Jill Biden has held online campaign events and fundraisers with virtually all the potential contenders in recent weeks, as has Biden himself, effectively offering the contenders a try-out opportunity with the presumptive Democratic nominee.
On Thursday night, Bass joined Biden for a virtual fundraiser that raked in $2.2 million. She has also taken steps to build her national profile, including providing interviews to multiple outlets over the past week.
But she's facing growing scrutiny over past remarks. A video surfaced of a 2010 speech in which she praised Scientology during an opening ceremony for a church facility in Los Angeles.
"The Church of Scientology I know has made a difference, because your creed is a universal creed and one that speaks to all people everywhere," Bass said of an organization that has come under criticism following allegations of criminal activity and mistreatment of members and employees.
She tweeted a statement on Saturday noting that she attends First New Christian Fellowship Baptist Church in South Los Angeles.
"Back in 2010, I attended the event knowing I was going to address a group of people with beliefs very different than my own, and spoke briefly about things I think most of us agree with, and on those things — respect for different views, equality, and fighting oppression — my views have not changed," she said.
Bass also faced criticism over a 2016 statement in which she said the death of former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro was "a great loss to the people of Cuba."
Some Democrats have expressed concern that the comment could hurt the party with Hispanic voters in the critical swing state of Florida.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., seized on that point Saturday.
"If, God forbid, Joe Biden is elected president and Congresswoman Bass becomes vice president, she'll be the highest-ranking Castro sympathizer in the history of the United States government," Rubio said.
Bass has said she better understands the sensitivity of her comment after speaking with Florida colleagues, and she believes she can still reach out to Cuban voters.
Early bands of heavy rain from Isaias lashed Florida's east coast before dawn Sunday as authorities warily eyed the approaching storm, which threatened to snarl efforts to quell surging cases of the coronavirus across the region.
Isaias weakened from a hurricane to a tropical storm late Saturday afternoon, but was still expected to bring heavy rain and flooding as it barrels toward Florida.
"Don't be fooled by the downgrade," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned during a news conference on Saturday after the storm — pronounced ees-ah-EE-ahs — spent hours roughing up the Bahamas.
Florida authorities closed beaches, parks and virus testing sites, lashing signs to palm trees so they wouldn't blow away. The governor said the state is anticipating power outages and asked residents to have a week's supply of water, food and medicine on hand. Officials wrestled with how to prepare shelters where people can seek refuge from the storm if necessary, while safely social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.
In Palm Beach County, about 150 people were in shelters, said emergency management spokeswoman Lisa De La Rionda. The county has a voluntary evacuation order for those living in mobile or manufactured homes, or those who feel their home can't withstand winds.
"We don't anticipate many more evacuations," she said, adding that the evacuees are physically distant from each other and are wearing masks, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Isaias is piling another burden on communities already hard-hit by other storms and sickness.
The storm's maximum sustained winds declined steadily throughout Saturday, and were at 65 mph (100 kph) by Sunday morning, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said at 8 a.m. EDT. The storm's center was located 40 miles (70 kilometers) east-southeast of West Palm Beach.
The center of the storm was forecast to approach the southeast coast of Florida early Sunday morning, then travel up the state's east coast throughout the day. Little change was expected in the storm's strength over the next few days, forecasters said.
Heavy rain, flooding and high winds could batter much of the East Coast this week as the system is forecast to track up or just off the Atlantic seaboard.
Despite the approaching storm, NASA says the return of two astronauts aboard a SpaceX capsule is still on track for Sunday afternoon. Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are preparing to make the first splashdown return in 45 years, after two months docked at the International Space Station. They are aiming for the Gulf of Mexico just off the Florida Panhandle, and flight controllers are keeping close watch on the storm.
Isaias has already been destructive in the Caribbean: On Thursday, before it became a hurricane, it uprooted trees, destroyed crops and homes and caused widespread flooding and small landslides in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. One man died in the Dominican Republic. In Puerto Rico, the National Guard rescued at least 35 people from floodwaters that swept away one woman, whose body was recovered Saturday.
Isaias snapped trees and knocked out power as it blew through the Bahamas on Saturday and churned toward the Florida coast.
As the storm moves now toward the southeast coast of Florida, a tropical storm warning is in effect from Hallandale Beach, Florida, to South Santee River, South Carolina, and for Florida's Lake Okeechobee. A storm surge watch is in effect for Jupiter Inlet to Ponte Vedra Beach, and from Edisto Beach, South Carolina, to Cape Fear, North Carolina.
Coronavirus cases have surged in Florida in recent weeks, and the added menace of a storm ratcheted up the anxiety. State-run virus testing sites are closing in areas where the storm might hit because the sites are outdoor tents, which could topple in high winds.
Natalie Betancur, stocking up at a grocery in Palm Beach Gardens, said that the storm itself doesn't cause her a great amount of concern.
"The hurricane is not that serious, but I feel that the public is really panicking because it's a hurricane and we're in the middle of a pandemic," she said.
Meanwhile, officials in the Bahamas opened shelters for people in Abaco island to help those who have been living in temporary structures since Dorian devastated the area, killing at least 70 people.