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Sondland testified that Trump’s Ukraine arrangement was quid pro quo



  • The US ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, told Congress that President Donald Trump’s Ukraine efforts were a quid pro quo, Sondland’s lawyer told The Wall Street Journal.
  • Sondland testified that he believed the Trump administration swapped a White House meeting for a promise to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, his son, and 2016 election interference.
  • Sondland also told lawmakers that he believed Trump’s decision to withhold $400 million in aid to Ukraine in exchange for the investigations was a quid pro quo arrangement, though he added that he was not a lawyer.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The US ambassador to the European Union told House impeachment investigators that President Donald Trump’s efforts to have Ukraine investigate the Bidens were a quid pro quo, the ambassador’s lawyer told The Wall Street Journal.

Gordon Sondland testified last week that he believed the Trump administration had exchanged a White House meeting with Ukraine’s president for investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden’s son and 2016 election interference, Sondland’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, told The Journal.

Lawmakers also asked Sondland whether Trump’s decision to withhold $400 million in aid was part of a quid pro quo arrangement for Ukrainian officials to investigate Biden, Sondland responded that he wasn’t a lawyer but believed it was a quid pro quo, Luskin said.

Sondland testified as part of a House impeachment inquiry, which has been investigating whether Trump used the office of the president for his own personal gain.

A major facet of the investigation is Trump’s withholding of the military aid package Congress had allocated for Ukraine, and whether Trump sought to exchange it for the investigation into Biden.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy zelensky trump whistleblower

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy meets US President Donald Trump at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City on September 25, 2019.
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Trump and his personal attorney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, had been pressuring Ukraine to investigate corruption allegations against the Bidens, as well as the US intelligence community’s assessment that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.

Sondland, along with several other diplomats, were called to testify over their now-infamous text conversations regarding the White House’s efforts to mount pressure on Ukraine.

One September 9 text exchange in particular — between Sondland and the acting ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor — has become a key focus of the House impeachment inquiry.

“I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” Taylor texted Sondland.

Roughly five hours later, after reportedly phoning Trump, Sondland responded to Taylor.

“The President has been crystal clear: no quid pro quo’s of any kind,” Sondland wrote. “The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelenskiy promised during his campaign.”

Trump himself has denied a quid pro quo arrangement.

Sondland’s lawyer told The Journal that Sondland testified that he wasn’t involved in Trump’s decision to withhold the Ukraine aid, and could not prove that the decision wasn’t related to the demand for investigations.

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Coronavirus: Why Germany death rate lower than Spain or Italy



  • Germany’s death rate from the coronavirus is substantially lower than that seen in Italy, Spain, and the UK.
  • 49,603 Germans had tested positive for the coronavirus as of March 27, with 308 deaths. That gives a death rate of 0.62%. Spain’s rate is 7.6% and Italy’s is 10.2%.
  • This is because Germany is testing as many as 120,000 people a week, meaning the number of cases keeps rising while the number of deaths trickle in slowly.
  • Germany is also in an early stage of its outbreak, has excellent intensive care facilities, a young average age of infection, and a severe lockdown in place.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The coronavirus is ravaging large parts of Europe, with Italy and Spain now the worst-hit countries in the world.

But to the north, Germany appears to be bucking the trend.

49,603 Germans had tested positive for the coronavirus as of March 27, with 308 deaths, according to the German magazine Zeit. That means Germany has a death rate of 0.62%.

The German government officially puts the infection count at 42,288 with 253 deaths as of 8 a.m. local time on March 27. They are behind because each German state reports its own figures sporadically.

That rate is far below that of Spain, which is at 7.6%, China at 4.05%, and Italy, which is at 10.2%.

It suggests that Germany is doing something right that the others aren’t. 

Here’s why Germany seems to be on top of its coronavirus outbreak, and why its able to do things like take in coronavirus patients from its struggling neighbors.

Test, test, test

The most important factor contributing to the low death rate is that Germany appears to be that it is testing far more people than any other European country.

Scientists agree that a large number — probably a big majority — of all coronavirus cases never make it into the official figures because they are not severe enough for hospital treatment.

The more widely a country tests, the more of these milder cases it will find.

Since the most severe cases are almost always tested, the number of coronavirus deaths will likely stay the same.

The net effect is that more testing leads to a lower-looking death rate.

Christian Drosten, director of the institute of virology at Berlin’s Charité hospital estimates that Germany is testing 120,000 people a week. The German doctors’ association says at least 200,000 coronavirus tests were carried out in recent weeks, The Independent reported.

Employees in protective clothing do testings for the corona virus at a laboratory in Berlin, Germany, March 26, 2020, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

Employees in protective clothing do testings for the corona virus at a laboratory in Berlin, Germany, March 26, 2020.

REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

“I believe that we are just testing much more than in other countries, and we are detecting our outbreak early,” Drosten told NPR.

“We have a culture here in Germany that is actually not supporting a centralized diagnostic system,” Drosten said. “So Germany does not have a public health laboratory that would restrict other labs from doing the tests. So we had an open market from the beginning.”

As of Thursday, the UK had tested 104,866 people, according to the BBC, and the US had tested 519,338, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

Spain and Italy are also not testing anywhere near as much.

coronavirus test

A doctor holds aloft a coronavirus test.

Claudio Furlan/LaPresse via AP

Spain distributed 650,000 testing kits, but sent back a batch bought from China on Thursday after they discovered they were only identifying 30% of positive cases. It is not yet known how many tests have been carried out there overall.

The town of Vó in northern Italy quashed an outbreak after relentless testing, but the country as a whole has not been able to replicate the phenomenon.

On Friday, German newspaper Süeddeutsche Zeitung reported that Germany’s Interior Ministry wanted to increase the number of daily tests to 200,000.

A sturdy healthcare system

Germany is in good shape to fight its outbreak because it has a well-developed and comprehensive healthcare system, with both public and private options.

Germany spends $4,714.26 per person each year on healthcare, according to World Bank data from 2016. The figure is higher than most other nations.

Germany has the second-most critical care beds per capita in Europe, according to data from European Health for All. The beds are essential when trying to battle severe cases of the coronavirus.

Germany has 621 beds per 100,000 people. Italy has 275, and Spain 293.

Angela Merkel

German chancellor Angela Merkel

REUTERS/Michele Tantussi

“In general, we have a rather good intensive care situation in Germany,” German virologist Martin Stürmer told Vox.

“We have highly specialized doctors and facilities, and maybe that’s part of the reason why our severely ill patients survive compared to those in other countries.”

Old people have by and large avoided infection. 

The average age of a German infected with coronavirus is 46, whereas in Italy it is 63, according to Wired. 

Older people are far more likely to die from the coronavirus, and most deaths occur in those with preexisting health conditions, which are more common in older people.

80% of all people infected in Germany are younger than 60, the Robert Koch Institute said on Monday, indicating that the outbreak hasn’t yet taken hold in older people, where the risk of death is much higher.

In Spain the number of affected over-60s is around 50%.

It’s early in the cycle

Compared to countries like Spain and Italy, Germany is at an earlier stage of the outbreak.

“Germany’s also a little bit earlier on in the process than Italy,” Martin Hibberd, professor of emerging infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told Wired. “It takes two or three weeks of intensive care before people often succumb to the disease.” 

March 26 was Germany’s worst day so far with 6,615 new cases reported. It seems likely that the daily number of cases will continue to rise. 

Italy coronavirus

A worker sanitizes the Piazza dei Miracoli near to the Tower of Pisa in Pisa, Italy, on March 17 2020.

Laura Lezza/Getty Images

Angela Merkel said on Thursday that it was too early to ease a lockdown that was put in place on Tuesday, according to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. The infection rate was still increasing, Merkel said, but was likely to subside in the first week of April.

“The death rate in Germany is likely to increase as more older people become infected”, Keith Neal, emeritus professor of epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, told Sky News.

“The true death rate is probably going to be in the order of 1%.”

It enforced a tough lockdown

Germany, like many other countries, enforced severe lockdown regulations, which began on March 24.

Gatherings were limited to two people, unless they are all members of the same family isolating together.

The fine for breaking the rules can be as much as €25,000 ($26,909.)

Future tactics?

On Friday, Germany’s Interior Ministry floated the idea of tracking its citizens via their smartphones to see who came into contact with someone infected with the coronavirus, according to Reuters.

It’s easy to speculate on Germany’s success, but some scientists have said that, because the outbreak is unprecedented, the answer may not be clear for some time.

Even some experts in German are arguing for caution.

“We don’t know the reason for the lower death rate,” Marieke Degen, deputy spokeswoman of the Robert Koch Institute told Vox.

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COVID-19: Experts say virus may cause spike in alcohol and drug abuse



  • Substance use disorder researchers told Business Insider that the trauma of a pandemic may cause a spike in addiction.
  • A 2008 analysis published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the hospitalization rate for alcohol use disorders rose 35% in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
  • “9/11 and Katrina were still kind of geographically limited,” Dr. Lorenzo Leggio, of the National Institutes of Health, told Business Insider. But with COVID-19, “it’s everywhere pretty much at the same time.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Runs on liquor stores and a surge in alcohol deliveries demonstrate that many are turning to an old form of over-the-counter anxiety relief amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Who hasn’t at least considered reaching for a bottle? And that, experts tell Business Insider, could lead to a sharp rise in substance abuse.

Past crises suggest that the trauma of this moment will be with us for years, the ways we cope with it potentially serving as another source of grief — and another stressor on a tottering health care system.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, “survivors were smoking cigarettes, consuming alcohol, and experiencing alcohol consumption-related problems at a substantially higher rate,” according to a 2006 study by researchers at the University of South Carolina.

“People are dealing with trauma and stress,” Dr. Adam Leventhal, the founding director of the Health, Emotion, & Addiction Laboratory at the University of Southern California, told Business Insider, “and we know that other stressors and traumatic incidents — other types of disasters — have led people to increase their substance use,.”

A spokesperson for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, which operates a free 24/7 hotline offering information and treatment referrals for those struggling with drugs and alcohol, told Business Insider that, “anecdotally,” call volume “hasn’t seen changes from the norm in recent weeks.”

But, if past is prologue, the impact of what happens today, when a dependency begins, will not be fully visible for some time.

By 2008, three years after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, the hospitalization rate for substance use disorders in Louisiana had shot up by more than 35% compared to the year before the storm, per an analysis published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Experts fear that could happen again — this time on a national scale.

“The signal factor, which is to me very worrisome, is the idea that this is really a pandemic,” Dr. Lorenzo Leggio, a researcher at the National Institutes of Health, said in an interview. Hurricane Katrina was “still kind of geographically limited,” he told Business Insider, but with COVID-19, “it’s everywhere pretty much at the same time.”

He likened the impact of surviving a disaster — losing friends, family, and other loved ones — to “patients who come back from a war and develop post-traumatic stress disorder.” Many, in addition to PTSD, “will also develop, some of them, but a significant amount of them, addiction, including alcohol use disorder,” Leggio said.

But trauma won’t just cause abuse down the line; it will also cause some to relapse, today, and others to maintain a dependency they no longer have the willingness or ability to kick. And now is a particularly unfortunate time to suppress the immune system.

One dependency, also, can encourage another.

“Roughly 50% of people with alcohol-use disorder, they also smoke,” Leggio said. “So they also have chronic pulmonary problems, and so they’re even more prone to develop the more complicated medical symptoms of COVID-19, including respiratory failure.”

It’s “a vicious cycle,” he said.

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Stimulus bill: Alcohol that makes hand sanitizer may not face taxes



Companies that are using alcohol to produce hand sanitizer in the US could become temporarily exempt from paying excise taxes on that alcohol, per a section in the $2 trillion stimulus package that was signed into law by President Donald Trump on Friday. 

A section of the package, which is meant to stabilize the American economy during the coronavirus outbreak, states that alcohol companies that are making hand sanitizer do not have to pay excise taxes on that alcohol between December 31, 2019, and January 1, 2021.

The exemption applies to hand sanitizer that is “produced and distributed in a manner consistent with any guidance issued by the Food and Drug Administration that is related to the outbreak of virus SARS-CoV-2 or coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).”

Hand sanitizer has been selling out in stores nationwide for the past month. In response, various breweries and distilleries have shifted their focus from booze to sanitizer.

The vodka maker Tito’s recently announced plans to make an initial 24 tons of its own hand sanitizer that it would give away. The announcement came after the brand issued a warning several weeks ago that its consumer vodka could not be used as a disinfectant.

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