The coronavirus pandemic could narrow one gaping inequality in Africa, where some heads of state and other elite jet off to Europe or Asia for health care unavailable in their nations. As countries including their own impose dramatic travel restrictions, they might have to take their chances at home.
For years, leaders from Benin to Zimbabwe have received medical care abroad while their own poorly funded health systems limp from crisis to crisis. Several presidents, including ones from Nigeria, Malawi and Zambia, have died overseas.
The practice is so notorious that a South African health minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, a few years ago scolded, "We are the only continent that has its leaders seeking medical services outside the continent, outside our territory. We must be ashamed."
Now a wave of global travel restrictions threatens to block that option for a cadre of aging African leaders. More than 30 of Africa's 57 international airports have closed or severely limited flights, the U.S. State Department says. At times, flight trackers have shown the continent's skies nearly empty.
Perhaps "COVID-19 is an opportunity for our leaders to reexamine their priorities," said Livingstone Sewanyana of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, which has long urged African countries to increase health care spending.
But that plea has not led to action, even as the continent wrestles with major crises including deadly outbreaks of Ebola and the scourges of malaria and HIV.
Spending on health care in Africa is roughly 5% of gross domestic product, about half the global average. That's despite a pledge by African Union members in 2001 to spend much more. Money is sometimes diverted to security or simply pilfered, and shortages are common.
Ethiopia had just three hospital beds per 10,000 people in 2015, according to World Health Organization data, compared to two dozen or more in the U.S. and Europe. Central African Republic has just three ventilators in the entire country. In Zimbabwe, doctors have reported doing bare-handed surgeries for lack of gloves.
Health experts warn that many countries will be overwhelmed if the coronavirus spreads, and it is already uncomfortably close. Several ministers in Burkina Faso have been infected, as has a top aide to Nigeria's president. An aide to Congo's leader died.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and lead to death.
"If you test positive in a country, you should seek care in that country," the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. John Nkengasong, told reporters Thursday. "It's not a death sentence."
In Nigeria, some worried their president might be among the victims. Long skittish about President Muhammadu Buhari's absences from public view, including weeks in London for treatment for unspecified health problems, they took to Twitter to ask why he hadn't addressed the nation as virus cases rose.
Buhari's office dismissed speculation about his whereabouts as unfounded rumor. When he did emerge Sunday night, he announced that all private jet flights were suspended. The international airports were already closed.
While the travel restrictions have grounded the merely wealthy, political analyst Alex Rusero said a determined African leader probably could still find a way to go abroad for care.
"They are scared of death so much they will do everything within their disposal, even if it's a private jet to a private hospital in a foreign land," said Rusero, who is based in Zimbabwe, whose late President Robert Mugabe often sought treatment in Asia.
Perhaps nowhere is the situation bleaker than in Zimbabwe, where the health system has collapsed. Even before the pandemic, patients' families were often asked to provide essentials like gloves and clean water. Doctors last year reported using bread bags to collect patients' urine.
Zimbabwe's vice president, Constantino Chiwenga, departed last month for unrelated medical treatment in China, as the outbreak eased in that country. Zimbabwe closed its borders days later after its first virus death.
Chiwenga has since returned — to lead the country's coronavirus task force.
But some in a new generation of African leaders have been eager to show sensitivity to virus-prevention measures.
The president of Botswana, Mokgweetsi Masisi, initially defied his country's restrictions on travel by government employees to visit neighboring Namibia for its leader's inauguration. But he entered self-quarantine and now reminds others to stay home, calling it "literally a matter of life and death."
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced he had tested negative, just ahead of a three-week lockdown in Africa's most developed country. Madagascar President Andry Rajoelina has as well.
Other leaders, including Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Christian Kabore and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, have tweeted images of themselves working via videoconference as countries encourage people to keep their distance.
While African leaders are more tied to home than ever, their access to medical care is still far better than most of their citizens'.
In Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou, medical student Franck Bienvenu Zida was self-isolating and worried after having contact with someone who tested positive.
The 26-year-old feared infecting people where he lives, but his efforts to get tested were going nowhere. In three days of calling an emergency number to request a test, he could not get through.
President Donald Trump on Friday abruptly fired the inspector general of the intelligence community, sidelining an independent watchdog who played a pivotal role in his impeachment even as his White House struggled with the deepening coronavirus pandemic.
Trump informed the Senate intelligence committee late Friday of his decision to fire Michael Atkinson, according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press. Atkinson handled the whistleblower complaint that triggered Trump's impeachment last year.
Atkinson's firing, which is part of a shakeup of the intelligence community under Trump, thrusts the president's impeachment back into the spotlight as his administration deals with the deadly spread of coronavirus. As Trump was removing Atkinson, the number of U.S. deaths due to the virus topped 7,000.
Trump said in the letter that it is "vital" that he has confidence in the appointees serving as inspectors general, and "that is no longer the case with regard to this inspector general."
He did not elaborate, except to say that "it is extremely important that we promote the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of federal programs and activities," and that inspectors general are critical to those goals.
Atkinson was the first to inform Congress about an anonymous whistleblower complaint last year that described Trump's pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden and his son. That complaint prompted a House investigation that ultimately resulted in Trump's impeachment.
In letters to lawmakers in August and September, Atkinson said he believed the complaint was "urgent" and "credible." But the acting Director of National Intelligence at the time, Joseph Maguire, said he did not believe it met the definition of "urgent," and tried to withhold the complaint from Congress.
The complaint was eventually released after a firestorm, and it revealed that Trump had asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a July call to investigate Democrats. The House launched an inquiry in September, and three months later voted to impeach Trump. The Republican-led Senate acquitted Trump in February.
Trump said in the letter to the Senate that Atkinson would be removed from office in 30 days, the required amount of time he must wait after informing Congress. He wrote that he would nominate an individual "who has my full confidence" at a later date.
According to two congressional officials, Atkinson has been placed on administrative leave, meaning he will not serve out the 30 days. One of the officials said Atkinson was only informed of his removal on Friday night. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Atkinson's administrative leave has not been announced.
Democrats reacted swiftly to Atkinson's removal. The top Democrat on the Senate intelligence panel, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, said it was "unconscionable" that Trump would fire Atkinson in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
"We should all be deeply disturbed by ongoing attempts to politicize the nation's intelligence agencies," Warner said.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who led the House impeachment inquiry, said "the president's dead of night decision puts our country and national security at even greater risk."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the firing "threatens to have a chilling effect against all willing to speak truth to power." Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Trump "fires people for telling the truth."
Michael Horowitz, Chair of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency and the inspector general at the Department of Justice, criticized the removal of Atkinson and defended his handling of the Ukraine case.
"Inspector General Atkinson is known throughout the Inspector General community for his integrity, professionalism, and commitment to the rule of law and independent oversight," Horowitz said.
Tom Monheim, a career intelligence professional, will become the acting inspector general for the intelligence community, according to an intelligence official who was not authorized to discuss personnel changes and spoke only on condition of anonymity. Monheim is currently the general counsel of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
Atkinson's firing is part of a larger shakeup in the intelligence community. Maguire, the former acting Director of National Intelligence, was also removed by Trump and replaced by a Trump loyalist, Richard Grenell.
The intelligence community, which Trump has always viewed with skepticism, has been in turmoil amid the constant turnover. Atkinson is at least the seventh intelligence official to be fired, ousted or moved aside since last summer.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which was created to improve coordination of the nation's 17 intelligence agencies after 9/11, has been in upheaval since former director Dan Coats, who had a fraught relationship with Trump, announced in July 2019 that he was stepping down.
Trump nominated Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, to replace Coats, but his selection drew sharp criticism from Democrats and a lukewarm response from some Republicans because of his lack of experience.
Trump withdrew Ratcliffe's name from consideration shortly after he was nominated, but then re-nominated him again in February. The Senate has yet to move on the nomination.
Under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, Grenell could only serve in his post until March 11 unless the president formally nominated someone else for the job. So by selecting Ratcliffe again, Grenell can stay for up to 210 days while Ratcliffe weaves his way through the Senate confirmation process, and for another 210 days if senators reject Ratcliffe's nomination.
The president of the U.N. General Assembly says the 193-member world body will take a decision in the coming month on whether to delay the annual gathering of world leaders in New York in late September because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Tijjani Muhammad-Bande said in an interview with The Associated Press that "this is not something that has so far been an issue of serious consultation," and for now the calendar of events remains. It calls for the General Debate — the official name of the high-level meeting — to open on Sept. 22, with a kickoff event for world leaders the previous day to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the United Nations.
The former Nigerian ambassador said "in the coming month we'll take a decision through the normal means," which means consulting all U.N. member states.
The United Nations has canceled or postponed numerous upcoming events including the five-year review of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that had been scheduled to start in late April, and two major events in Mexico City in May and Paris in July to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Beijing women's conference, which adopted a 150-page roadmap to achieve gender equality.
Muhammad-Bande announced the postponement Friday of several meetings of the General Assembly scheduled in the next two months including the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II on May 6.
"The current situation might have pushed us to postpone events celebrating the 75th anniversary (of World War II) but it illustrates, maybe more than anything else, the absolute need for the U.N. to guide the global efforts and provide much needed support to defeat our common threat," he said.
"The U.N., since its creation, has given a sense of hope to many people in very difficult situations," Muhammad-Bande said. "The very existence of this organization has the same effect now during a time in which a lot of people go through fear and anxiety."
He said "everything is secondary to COVID right now."
But Muhammad-Bande stressed that other issues are still being discussed in the assembly's committees, which are meeting by video conference.
What has emerged so far from the pandemic, he said, "is greater realization of how interconnected we all are ... and also in my view I can see better relations among nations."
Muhammad-Bande pointed to the authority of the U.N. World Health Organization, saying people everywhere want to hear what it has to say about COVID-19.
He said it must be "a moral imperative" to help poorer countries tackle the virus, and urged governments to give generously to the U.N. appeal.
"We certainly need to do much more, and I am hopeful that we'll get what is needed while looking at better ways of guaranteeing social nets," the General Assembly president said.
Three militants were killed Saturday in an ongoing fierce gunfight with government forces in restive Indian-controlled Kashmir, police said.
The gunfight erupted at village Manzgam in Kulgam district, about 85 km south of Srinagar city, the summer capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir.
"In a gunfight in village Manzgam today, three militants have been killed so far," a senior police official posted in Kulgam said. "Initially the firing stopped but as the forces moved closer to the spot, the firing resumed, suggesting presence of the fourth militant."
The police official said the exchange of fire between the two sides was going on until last reports poured in.
According to police, the gunfight broke out after army and police jointly cordoned off the area on specific intelligence information suggesting the presence of militants.
"No sooner the joint contingents of army and police reached near the suspected area, the militants present there fired upon them, thereby triggering a gunfight," the police official said.
The identity of the slain militants was not immediately known.
Tokyo confirmed 118 new cases of COVID-19 as of 4:00 p.m. local time Saturday, a metropolitan government official said, the first time the daily increase has topped 100.
This pushes the total number of COVID-19 cases to 891 in the Japanese capital, the highest among the 47 prefectures of the country.
Tokyo has been struggling to contain a recent surge in the number of infections, asking residents to stay at home over the weekend to prevent further spread of the virus.
Across Japan, the number of infections has climbed to 3,278 as of Saturday afternoon. Besides Tokyo, Osaka Prefecture recorded 346 COVID-19 cases, Kanagawa Prefecture 217, Chiba Prefecture 212, Aichi Prefecture 202 and 193 cases have been recorded in Japan's northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, the figures showed.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has taken a cautious approach to declaring a state of emergency.
Abe has said that COVID-19 infections across Japan are not at a point necessitating a declaration of a state of emergency, although has stated the nation is "on the brink."
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said on Friday that if the country declares a state of emergency, Tokyo residents will be asked to refrain from leaving their homes but essential services will remain in operation.
According to Koike, even during a state of emergency, stores selling essential items such as food and medical supplies, and services necessary to keep society and the economy running such as banks will remain in operation in the capital.