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‘Get out there’: Still battling COVID-19, Trump leaves hospital

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US President Donald Trump told Americans “to get out there” and not fear COVID-19 after he returned to the White House on Monday following three nights in a military hospital where he received experimental treatments to tackle a disease that has killed more than 210,000 Americans.

Trump, who still has the virus and remains contagious, took off his mask to pose for pictures and salute from the balcony of the White House. He later tweeted a video capturing his return to Washington, DC, and a message to his supporters.

Trump said he felt “real good” about his return to the White House, where a cluster of cases have emerged since he, his wife Melania and close adviser Hope Hicks were diagnosed last week. Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, along with two assistants and three White House journalists are the latest to test positive.

Trump wore a mask as he got out of the helicopter that flew him back from the Walter Reed military hospital outside Washington, DC, but removed it after he climbed the stairs of the White House South Portico, where he posed for pictures, waving, saluting and giving thumbs-up signs.

He then turned to walk into the White House, filmed by a cameraman, his mask still in his pocket.

“It was President Trump’s reality TV in a way; carefully produced, striking what he hopes are all the right notes,” said Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting from Washington, DC. Trump, a New York property developer, was best known as the star of the reality television show, The Apprentice, before he became president in 2016.

The Republican president, who is running for re-election against Democrat Joe Biden in the November 3 election, was admitted to hospital on Friday after being diagnosed with the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

“Don’t let it dominate you. Don’t be afraid of it,” Trump said in the video message which he shared on Twitter. “We’re going to beat it. Don’t let it take over your lives. Maybe I’m immune, I don’t know.”

Highest global death toll

The disease has killed more than one million people around the world with the death toll in the United States higher than anywhere else.

Trump, 74, has not had a fever in more than 72 hours and his oxygen levels are normal, his medical team told reporters before he left the medical facility.

The doctors declined to discuss any toll the disease could have had on the president’s lungs or disclose when Trump last tested negative for the coronavirus, saying they were in “unchartered territory” because the president had received new therapies as part of his treatment.

The team added that Trump had received supplemental oxygen twice in recent days.

“He may not entirely be out of the woods yet,” Dr Sean Conley, the White House physician, said, stressing that Trump would have world-class medical care around the clock at the White House.

The severity of Trump’s illness has been the subject of intense speculation, with some medical experts noting that, as an overweight, elderly man, he was in a category more likely to develop severe complications or die from the disease.

Trump stands unmasked on the Blue Room Balcony, a number of people in the doorway behind him, as Marine One takes off from the South Lawn of the White House [Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP]

Doctors have been treating him with remdesivir, which is delivered intravenously, and a steroid, dexamethasone, that is normally used only in the most severe cases.

“He’s still infectious, and it will take around two weeks for him to clear the virus naturally,” Dr Ali Fattom, senior vice president of vaccines research at BlueWillow Biologics and an adjunct associate research professor at the University of Michigan told Al Jazeera. “The president will not be available to mix with people.”

Trump has frequently downplayed the threat of the pandemic, refusing to wear a mask and flouting physical-distancing guidelines designed to curb the spread of COVID-19.

He was reluctant to go to hospital last week and was eager to get out, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters news agency earlier on Monday.

US House of Representatives Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she hoped Trump’s decision to return to the White House was not politically motivated and she expressed concern that he could become a “long hauler,” a term that refers to those who suffer COVID-19 complications over an extended period.

Trump’s medical team said he had not placed any pressure on the doctors treating him.

Even being discharged, Trump will need to continue treatment as he is still undergoing a five-day course of an intravenous antiviral drug, remdesivir, and will have to isolate himself for a certain period of time.

‘Masks matter’

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Sunday showed Trump trailing Biden, 77, nationally by 10-percentage points. About 65 percent of Americans said Trump would not have been infected had he taken the virus more seriously.

Biden on Monday castigated Trump for saying Americans should not be afraid of COVID-19 or let it “dominate your life,” and for his continued ambivalence about masks.

“I would hope that the president, having gone through what he went through – and I’m glad he seems to be coming along pretty well – would communicate the right lesson to the American people: masks matter,” Biden said at an outdoor town hall session in Miami.

“These masks, they matter. It matters, it saves lives, it prevents the spread of the disease.”

Trump, who is being treated for COVID-19, has mocked his Democratic rival Joe Biden for wearing a face mask. Biden says: ‘Masks matter’ [Brendan McDermid/Reuters]

Trump mocked Biden at last Tuesday’s presidential debate for wearing a mask at events, even when he is far from other people.

Biden, who has tested negative for the disease several times since the debate, said on Monday he was willing to participate in the next presidential debate scheduled for October 15 in Miami if health experts deemed it safe.

Trump intends to take part in the debate, his campaign said.

A return to the White House might help Trump project a sense of normality. Before falling ill, he tried to pivot the campaign toward the US economic recovery and the upcoming confirmation hearings for his Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett.

But the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the White House as well as in Congress – three Republican senators have tested positive for the virus in the past week – is putting the spotlight on the Trump administration’s pandemic response.

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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained

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Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.
Twitter

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.
Facebook

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year

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From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.

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Classic toy tie-up: Etch A Sketch maker to acquire Rubik’s Cube

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Spin Master Corp., the company behind the Etch A Sketch and Paw Patrol brands, has agreed to acquire Rubik’s Brand Ltd. for about $50 million, tying together two of the world’s most iconic toy brands.

The merger comes at a boom time for classic toymakers, as parents turn to familiar products to entertain kids stuck in lockdown. Like sales of Uno, Monopoly and Barbie dolls, Rubik’s Cube purchases have spiked during the pandemic, according to the puzzle maker’s chief executive officer, Christoph Bettin. He expects sales to jump 15% to 20% in 2020, compared with a normal year, when people purchase between 5 million and 10 million cubes.

By acquiring Rubik’s, Toronto-based Spin Master can better compete with its larger rivals, Hasbro Inc. and Mattel Inc. All three companies have pivoted to become less reliant on actual product sales, diversifying into television shows, films and broader entertainment properties based on their toys. Spin Master CEO Anton Rabie said he wouldn’t rule out films or TV shows based on Rubik’s Cubes, but he was focused for now on creating more cube-solving competitions and crossmarketing it with the company’s other products, like the Perplexus.

“Whoever you are, it really has a broad appeal from a consumer standpoint,” Rabie said in an interview. “It’s actually going to become the crown jewel; it will be the most important part of our portfolio worldwide.”

Hungarian inventor Erno Rubik created the Rubik’s Cube in 1974, a solid block featuring squares with colored stickers that users could twist and turn without it falling apart. It gained popularity in the 1980s and has remained one of the best-selling toys of all time, spawning spinoff versions, international competitions of puzzle solvers, books and documentaries.

The toy has been particularly well-suited to pandemic conditions. During lockdowns, parents have sought to give kids puzzles that boost problem-solving skills useful in math and science careers. Normally, toys tied to major film franchises are among the most popular products headed into the holidays, but studios have delayed the release of major new movies because of coronavirus. So classic products are experiencing a mini-renaissance.

“The whole pandemic has really increased games and puzzles,” Rabie said. “But whether the pandemic existed or didn’t exist, we’d still buy Rubik’s. It’s had such steady sales for decades.”

Rubik’s CEO Bettin said it was the right time to sell the company, with the founding families behind it ready to move on. London-based Rubik’s Brand was formed out of a partnership between Erno Rubik and the late entrepreneur Tom Kremer, while private equity firm Bancroft Investment holds a minority stake in the company.

Early on, Bettin felt Spin Master was the right home for the puzzle toy, he said. Spin Master, which was started by a group of three friends in 1994, has expanded through the purchase of well-known brands, including Erector sets and Etch A Sketch. Rabie says he works to honor the “legacy” of those products, which Bettin cited as a key reason to sell the brand to Spin Master over larger companies that were interested.

“It was important for us to not be lost in the crowd, and to be sufficiently important and cared for,” Bettin said. “And there’s a balance between being with someone large enough to invest, and agile enough to ensure you are key part of their plans.”

Spin Master won’t own Rubik’s Cubes in time for the holiday season – the transaction is expected to close on Jan. 4. At that time, the company will move Rubik’s operations from a small office in London’s Notting Hill neighborhood to Spin Master’s new games operations center in Long Island.

Some of Rubik’s Brand’s 10 employees will be part of the transition, but they won’t stay permanently, Bettin said.

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