White House’s top ranks hit with new round of coronavirus cases



Pence is scheduled to travel to North Carolina on Sunday and Wisconsin on Monday, part of a frenzied pace of rallies and other events for the vice president and his boss as they try to make the case for another term amid a third surge in U.S. coronavirus cases on their watch.

The diagnosis, just weeks after numerous other top White House aides were infected by the virus and President Donald Trump was hospitalized for Covid-19 treatment, is sure to inject new focus in the waning days of the 2020 race on the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic. Pence has led the White House’s coronavirus task force since late February, and has regularly served as the administration’s point man to engage with state leaders, reassure the public and argue the virus was under control.

Pence’s decision not to isolate and to continue traveling to public events offers fresh ammunition to Democratic nominee Joe Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, who accuse Trump of failing to take the virus seriously enough. White House staffers, including Short, are often seen without masks and Trump continues to hold massive rallies that flout state guidelines.

At an event Saturday, Biden accused Trump of “doing nothing” even as more than 8.5 million people in the United States have been infected. About 225,000 people have died, and the tally of new daily cases is hitting fresh records.

Short, 50, is a longtime Republican operative who served as the White House’s director of legislative affairs in the first 18 months of the Trump administration. He then left the White House but returned in early 2019 to serve as Pence’s chief of staff. He has served as a key staffer involved in the administration’s Covid-19 response and has spoken out against many coronavirus restrictions, mirroring the views of his bosses.

Pence’s office said Short has begun quarantine and assisting in the contact tracing process. Short did not travel with Pence on Saturday. Several staffers deemed to be close contacts with him were pulled from the trip before departure as well, either leaving the plane or not arriving to travel.

Marty Obst, Pence’s top political aide, tested positive in recent days, according to a campaign aide. Katie Miller, Pence’s communications director and wife of Trump’s top adviser Stephen Miller, tested positive for Covid-19 in May. Short and Obst, who both travel regularly with Pence, did not respond to questions Saturday.

Pence appeared Saturday in Lakeland and Tallahassee, Fla. A day earlier he visited his home state of Indiana, where he voted in Indianapolis, along with Ohio and Pennsylvania.

After a daylong campaign swing, Trump indicated upon exiting Air Force One early Sunday morning that he had just learned of Short’s diagnosis.

“I did hear about it just now,” he told reporters. “I think he’s quarantining. I did hear about that. He’s going to be fine. But he’s quarantining.”

Trump announced on Oct. 2 that he tested positive and was taken to Walter Reed medical center for three days of treatment. He resumed his public schedule less than two weeks later and is now engaged in a frenetic campaign schedule, boasting at multiple rallies a day about how he beat the virus. On Saturday, he was in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin.

More than two dozen people with ties to the White House have tested positive, including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, an outside adviser and debate coach to Trump, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel. First Lady Melania Trump and teenage son Barron also tested positive.

Trump continues to downplay the coronavirus pandemic even as infections are again surging and a dozen states set new records in their case counts.

“We’re rounding the turn,” Trump said in North Carolina “We’re doing great. Our numbers are incredible.”

In mid-June, Pence himself downplayed the threat just as a second spike in coronavirus cases began.

“The media has tried to scare the American people every step of the way, and these grim predictions of a second wave are no different,” he wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. “The truth is, whatever the media says, our whole-of-America approach has been a success. We’ve slowed the spread, we’ve cared for the most vulnerable, we’ve saved lives, and we’ve created a solid foundation for whatever challenges we may face in the future. That’s a cause for celebration, not the media’s fear mongering.”

Gabby Orr and Meridith McGraw contributed to this report.



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AP Top Stories October 24 P


Here’s the latest for Saturday October 24th: Murkowski’s nod gives Barrett extra boost; Surging coronavirus colors White House race in closing days; Obama criticizes Trump for walking out of interview; 16th century combat sport growing in popularity.



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Marty Obst, top aide to Mike Pence, tests positive for COVID-19


The vice president has been on the campaign trail.

One of Vice President Mike Pence’s top aides has tested positive for the coronavirus, multiple sources familiar with the matter told ABC News.

Marty Obst, a top political aide to the vice president, tested positive last week. He is an outside adviser and not a government employee.

Obst did not respond to a request for comment. The vice president’s office did not immediately respond.

The trusted adviser, who ran Pence’s campaign in 2016, has kept up a steady stream of tweets and retweets on Twitter in recent days and weeks, though he does not appear to have mentioned his own diagnosis.

This is the second time someone close to Pence has tested positive for the virus. Katie Miller, Pence’s press secretary and wife of Trump adviser Stephen Miller, tested positive for COVID-19 in May.

Both Mike Pence and second lady Karen Pence tested negative for coronavirus in the days after President Donald Trump tested positive and was hospitalized at the beginning of October. It’s not clear when Pence last tested negative for the virus, though his press secretary said he’d tested negative Oct. 10, 11 days after he’d last had contact with Trump.

Earlier this month, in an interview with CNN, Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, said the vice president was tested “every day.”

At least 34 people connected to the White House tested positive for the virus earlier this month, including the president and first lady Melania Trump, as well as press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, campaign manager Bill Stepien, senior adviser for policy Stephen Miller and outside advisers Kellyanne Conway and Chris Christie.

Pence has been crisscrossing the country on the campaign trail for weeks. He made visits to Lakeland and Tallahassee, Florida on Saturday. On Friday, he spent time in his home state of Indiana, where he voted in person in Indianapolis, before holding rallies in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

ABC News’ Mark Osborne contributed to this report.



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Premier League top scorers: 2020/21 goals and assist as Son, Calvert-Lewin lead Golden Boot race



The 2020/21 Premier League season is gathering pace, with a few players already busy in front of goal in the race for the Golden Boot.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Heung-min Son lead the charge with seven goals apiece for Everton and Tottenham respectively.

Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah is one goal back on six strikes, alongside Patrick Bamford after the Leeds man scored a hat-trick in the win over Aston Villa on Friday. Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy is next with five goals – including four penalties – along with Harry Kane, who himself also has seven assists.


The best of the rest see Brighton‘s Neal Maupay, Newcastle’s Callum Wilson and Liverpool’s Sadio Mane on four goals, though there is still a long way to go in this season’s Golden Boot Race.

Here are the Premier League top scorers in 2020/21…

Statistics correct as of October 23, 2020.



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Murray-Darling Basin left without top cop as Mick Keelty steps down, no legislative powers given to office


The Murray-Darling Basin has been left without its top cop, with Mick Keelty stepping down after just one year in the newly established office.

A Senate Estimates hearing in Canberra has heard Mr Keelty, a former Australian Federal Police commissioner, did not seek to extend his tenure as the interim inspector-general (IIG) for the Murray-Darling Basin when his term ended last month.

It also heard that in the year since it was established, 30 cases of water theft have been referred to the IIG including 19 from New South Wales, five from Victoria, one from South Australia, and five in relation to Commonwealth matters.

Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment spokeswoman Rachel Connell told the hearing that most matters were referred to state authorities.

“Mr Keelty investigated approximately three matters, but none of those were in relation to water theft,” she said.

“All of the referrals in relation to water theft were referred back to state water regulators, so state regulators have responsibility in the first instance.”

When former water minister David Littleproud announced the role of the IIG, it was expected to have the powers to investigate suspected water theft and ensure water recovery targets were being met

Mr Keelty, however, was never granted the legislative powers to investigate across states and compel witnesses to give evidence.

Asked if the Federal Government considered the appointment a success, Senator Simon Birmingham told the hearing the IIG office was established to have an “oversight function”.

“The intent was to improve confidence in compliance and assurance. The role was not established to replace investigate and prosecuting authorities,” Senator Birmingham said.

“It would be wrong to suggest there is an absence of compliance.”

Mr Keelty was hand-picked for the role by Mr Littleproud at a time when tensions across the Basin were at fever pitch as irrigators were left without access to water, mass fish kills were taking place, and violent threats were made to ministers.

During a heated protest at Parliament House last December, Mr Keelty was asked to investigate water sharing arrangements between states, a move that pacified some protesters at the time.

Last month, Water Minister Keith Pitt announced the Commonwealth would seek to establish a new inspector-general of water compliance office that encompassed the responsibilities of the IIG.

But Opposition senator Jenny McAllister suggested it, like the IIG, would not have the ability to investigate matters of integrity.

Senator Birmingham said the Government would name an appointee to head up the new office by the end of the year, and legislation to establish its powers was likely to come before Parliament early next year.

No Indigenous appointment

Estimates also heard the Government had failed to appoint an Indigenous person to the board of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority despite promising to do so more than a year ago.

In September 2019, Mr Littleproud said he was making a historic announcement when he committed to include an Aboriginal Australian on the MDBA board.

But under questioning from Senator Rex Patrick, Senator Birmingham could not say why the appointment had not yet been made.

‘We’re sticking with the plan’

The Government recently committed to not buy any more water from farmers in order to meet water saving targets under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

On the same day, it released the Water for the Environment Special Account Review that said a key water saving target of 450 gigalitres of water was unlikely to be met by the 2024 deadline.

Asked if the Commonwealth expected to deliver the plan as legislated, Senator Birmingham said work had intensified to achieve it on time.

“The Government has worked to deliver the plan in full, and on time, through every step of the process,” he said.

“From the very passage of the Water Act in 2007, it has never been an easy process in terms of maintaining cooperation across basin states and the basin communities.

“But we have delivered 2,030 gigalitres against the 2,075-gigalitre recovery target to meet the sustainable diversion limits in the core aspects of the basin plan, and that represents 97 per cent of the target there.

“In relation to the additional 450 gigalitres, we are in intensifying efforts to seek to have that delivered in accordance with the timeline of June 30, 2024.”



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Coronavirus: Second COVID-19 wave faster than the first, warns top European scientist | World News


The coronavirus second wave is spreading more quickly than the first outbreak in spring, a top French scientist has warned, amid a growing resurgence of the virus across Europe.

“The virus is circulating more quickly… the resurgence of the pandemic started in August,” French government scientific adviser Arnaud Fontanet told BFM TV on Friday.

He said France had managed to bring the virus under control by the end of the June, and because the number of people being taken to hospital remained low until the end of August, authorities were given a false sense of security despite cases already going up at the time.

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Europe sees new COVID restrictions

“And then there was one cold week in September and all the indicators went the wrong way again all over Europe. The virus spreads better in the cold because we live more inside,” said the epidemiologist.

“Hospitals and medical staff will find themselves in a situation they’ve already known,” he said.

“We have a lot of tools to protect ourselves against the virus but we’re facing a difficult period,” he added, echoing Prime Minister Jean Castex, who warned of a “tough November” as the French government extended a curfew imposed last week on Paris and eight other cities to dozens more areas.

The 9pm to 6am curfew comes into force at midnight tonight and 46 million people – almost two-thirds of the country’s 67 million population – will be affected.

“A second wave of the coronavirus epidemic is now under way in France and Europe. The situation is very serious,” Mr Castex said at a news conference.

On Thursday, the country reported a record 41,622 new confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Parisiens in masks near the Eiffel Tower
Image:
Parisiens in face masks near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, where a stricter curfew is in force

The national figure now stands at more than one million infections, and more than 34,200 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University which has been tracking the outbreak.

Countries across Europe, like in the UK, are returning to restrictive measures following a surge in cases.

Belgium, one of the worst-hit countries in Europe, further tightened restrictions on social contacts on Friday, banning fans from sports matches, limiting the number of people in cultural spaces and closing theme parks.

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European hospitals under COVID pressure

Although infection rates in Germany have been much lower than other COVID hotspots in Europe, cases have been accelerating and hit a record 11,247 on Thursday.

Across Europe, 20 countries set new daily case records on Wednesday, including the UK, which saw a rise of 26,688.

The Czech Republic, which is seeing Europe’s biggest surge in COVID-19 cases, has ordered most shops and services to close to curb the spread of the virus.

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The Netherlands has also returned to partial lockdown, closing bars and restaurants, but kept schools open.

And Spain became the first country in western Europe this week to record one million coronavirus cases – doubling its tally in just six weeks.



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Singapore’s 15-year-olds top ‘global competence’ assessment: PISA study


SINGAPORE: Singapore’s 15-year-olds came out tops in the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) global competence study, beating those from 26 other countries. 

PISA defines “global competence” as the ability to examine significant issues, appreciate other perspectives, engage in effective interactions across cultures, and take action for collective well-being and sustainable development. 

About 46 per cent of the 6,676 students that were surveyed in Singapore achieved the two highest global competency proficiency levels, compared to the average of 14 per cent across the 27 education systems that participated in the assessment, said the Ministry of Education (MOE), commenting on the findings in a press release on Thursday (Oct 22). 

All 153 public secondary schools and 13 randomly sampled private schools in Singapore participated in PISA 2018. 

READ: Singapore’s 15-year-olds rank second globally in reading, maths and science: Study

At these proficiency levels, students showed “a strong ability” to identify and analyse different perspectives, evaluate information to differentiate between biased and unbiased sources, assess situations and make connections across multiple activities within a problem, said the Education Ministry. 

“Global competence is an important asset that our students need to be equipped with, in order to thrive in an increasingly interconnected and unpredictable world. We’re therefore encouraged to see that the PISA global competence study findings have shown that our students have the skills, knowledge and attitude to thrive in such a world,” said Mr Sng Chern Wei, MOE’s deputy director-general of education (curriculum). 

“The study found that our students regardless of background have shown a strong ability to examine global issues, interact and communicate clearly with people across different cultural backgrounds, and appreciate multiple perspectives. It also found that our students have a strong belief in the ability to influence positively their own lives, as well as the world around them.”

Bottom quarter socio-economic status students also performed well, with about 26 per cent performing at the highest two proficiency levels, compared to 6 per cent of students from the bottom socio-economic status quarter across all participating systems. 

“We will continue to provide all our students with varied curricular and cocurricular learning experiences – such as discussions of contemporary issues, learning journeys to local cultural and heritage sites, research projects on various cultures, and immersion programmes with schools in the region – to help them further develop their GC knowledge and skills,” said MOE.

FAMILIAR WITH CLIMATE CHANGE

Of the seven topics surveyed in the assessment, Singaporean students were most familiar with climate change and global warming, and least familiar with international conflicts and global health. The PISA 2018 test was administered before the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, MOE noted. 

The other topics surveyed were migration, equality between men and women in different parts of the world, hunger or malnutrition in different parts of the world, and causes of poverty. 

Eight in 10 students surveyed in Singapore were confident in explaining issues related to climate change, including how carbon dioxide emissions affect global climate change, compared to the OECD average of 63 per cent. 

Students are exposed to climate change in the general secondary science curriculum, as well as economic issues in social studies and elective geography in upper secondary, noted MOE in the press release. 

“To help students gain a better understanding of global issues, we will continue to encourage them to read more widely. This can also help them develop a deeper appreciation of different perspectives, and respect for different cultures,” added the Education Ministry. 

READ: Commentary: The fear of failure cannot help Singapore reach our best

Students reported that their schools have given them opportunities to be exposed to global issues and intercultural interactions both within and outside the classroom, said Mr Sng. 

“This has affirmed our schools’ persistent effort over the years in providing our students with learning experiences to develop their 21st century competencies,” he added. 

MOE developed a 21st Century Competency framework from 2010 that includes civic literacy, global awareness and cross-cultural skills, said the ministry. Curricular and co-curricular learning experiences have been provided in schools to help students develop these competencies, it added. 

AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT

The study has also allowed MOE to pinpoint “some areas for improvement”, said Mr Sng. 

Singapore students performed below OECD peers in terms of their “self-perceived cognitive adaptability”, the study found. Self-perceived cognitive adaptability is defined by PISA as the ability to adapt one’s thinking and behaviour to the prevailing cultural environment or novel situations that might present new challenges. 

Only half of Singapore students said they could deal with unusual situations, below the OECD average of 59 per cent. The study also found that cognitive adaptability is positively associated with students’ resilience, or their confidence in managing difficult situations. 

“For example, our students, compared to their OECD peers, have a lower level of confidence in their ability to adapt in their thinking and behaviour when faced with a novel situation,” Mr Sng noted. 

“We will certainly want to help them strengthen in this area by promoting a stronger sense of growth mindset in them, and also to provide them with varied learning experiences so that they are exposed to novel situations and making decisions in those situations.”

Despite these areas for improvement, MOE “can be proud” of what the students have shown through the global competence study, he added. 

“Their high level of ability in understanding global issues, interacting with people across cultural backgrounds and appreciating diverse perspectives to help them thrive in the world ahead. They have shown us they are progressively growing up into responsible members of our local and global community.” 



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Top Council official tests positive for coronavirus – POLITICO



Council Secretary-General Jeppe Tranholm-Mikkelsen, the top civil servant who huddles with EU leaders during their highest-level summit meetings, has tested positive for coronavirus after a routine test conducted Tuesday, officials said.

Tranholm-Mikkelsen, a veteran Danish diplomat, has no symptoms of COVID-19, officials said, but will isolate, in accordance with medical guidelines.

Like other essential workers, and because of his routine proximity to leaders, Tranholm-Mikkelsen is tested on a regular basis. His most recent test prior to Tuesday, on October 14, was negative.

Officials said that Tranholm-Mikkelsen, 57, has adhered carefully to the Council’s strict health protocols, including social distancing in all meetings. While he was in meetings with Council President Charles Michel, the officials said all sanitary rules were followed and Michel was not considered at risk of infection because the two were not in close contact. Michel also tested negative on Thursday, officials said.

As infections have surged across Europe, a growing number of senior political figures have tested positive. Belgian Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmès, 45, is being treated in intensive care after testing positive last week. German Health Minister Jens Spahn, 40, also tested positive this week.





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Canada ranked in world’s top 10 pension systems



The pandemic has rocked government finances across the world and led to questions about the financial durability of pension funds. But a new ranking by Mercer and the CFA Institute puts the Canada Pension Plan in the top 10. There is always room for improvement, however.





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US COVID-19 single-day deaths top 1200 for first time since August


Since the pandemic reached the US earlier this year, the nation has lost more than 222,000 lives, the world’s highest total as well as one of the highest per capita death rates, especially among developed nations.

For a third consecutive day, the country reported more than 60,000 new cases, bringing the total to more than 8.3 million. The rise partly reflects stepped-up testing in many states, although higher hospitalisations and deaths are not linked to more testing.

At a drive-through testing site in a Milwaukee parking lot, residents waited to get tested in a long line of vehicles.

The autumn resurgence and dire predictions that the spread would further accelerate in the cold winter months have once again cast a harsh spotlight on President Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic.

He will debate Democratic challenger Joe Biden for the last time before the election on Thursday night (Friday AEDT). But with less than two weeks before the election, Trump’s dismissive approach to the coronavirus has taken a toll on his re-election prospects, with polls showing Americans losing confidence of his ability to handle the pandemic.

A report released on Wednesday by Columbia University estimated that between 130,000 and 210,000 COVID-19 deaths could have been avoided in the US, calling the federal government’s response to the pandemic an “enormous failure”.

“The weight of this enormous failure ultimately falls to the leadership at the White House – and among a number of state governments – which consistently undercut the efforts of top officials at the CDC and HHS,” the report said, referring to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The White House was not immediately available to comment. Last month Trump told Fox he would give himself an “A+” on his coronavirus response.

‘Stay at work’

The spike in cases led officials in some states to reinstate restrictions on businesses to help curb further spread of the virus.

In Illinois, one of nine states that reported their highest one-day increases in cases since the start of the pandemic, some residents planned to protest a fresh round of restrictions announced this week by Governor JB Pritzker.

A petition to the Governor posted on change.org by a restaurant owner in St Charles, Illinois urged businesses to stay open on Friday, when Pritzker’s restrictions in some counties, including a ban on indoor dining, are set to go into effect.

“This is restaurant’s ‘stay at work’ order so that we can provide work and income for our employees and ourselves,” it read.

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On top of the health toll, the pandemic has weighed heavily on the finances of many Americans, who say they are barely getting by as Washington wrangles over another round of financial aid.

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, but remained very high as the labor market recovery shows signs of strain as the pandemic rages on.

“There are still millions and millions on the nation’s unemployment rolls because many of the jobs lost during the steepest downturn in economic history have not yet returned,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York.

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