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News Brief: Coronavirus, South Carolina Primary, India Welcomes Trump


The coronavirus is spreading in ways that make it even more mysterious.


Right. So first, there's some good news. The number of confirmed cases in China is reportedly dropping. But at the same time, there are significant new outbreaks in South Korea and in Italy. And at least eight people in Iran have died from the virus. Now, those countries and others are doing what they can to contain it. The problem is no one really understands how this virus is being transmitted.

MARTIN: NPR's Jason Beaubien has been following the coronavirus story and joins us now from Hong Kong. So, Jason, why this rise in cases all of a sudden in several different places over the last few days?

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: It's really not clear why, all of a sudden, we're getting the sudden outbreaks in all of these different places. We don't know exactly what the chain of transmission was that has sparked this. And that makes it even harder to respond to it. These new outbreaks came on, really, incredibly quickly. Last week, Italy had only reported three cases. Now they're reporting more than 150.

MARTIN: Right.

BEAUBIEN: Iran, as of last week, hadn't reported any cases. And now they've got several dozen confirmed and, as you mentioned, at least eight dead. That death number suggests that the outbreak probably had been brewing for a while and that there could be potentially hundreds of cases that are out there that are undetected. South Korea now is up above 800 cases. Again, that explosion of cases, most of them were coming last week. There was 150 cases reported yesterday, another 70 reported today out of Korea. And in addition, it's not just these big outbreaks. We're also seeing seven Middle Eastern countries now all having reported a case at least. So it's spreading both geographically, and you're getting these new hotspots.

MARTIN: So what do those countries do, I mean, especially in a place where there's only, like, well, you know, one or a handful of cases? Do they lock the whole place down still?

BEAUBIEN: So those places are trying to contain it, where they only have one or two cases. Places like Italy and also Iran - they are going in and quarantining. Italy has put up roadblocks. You know, they're canceling school, canceling universities. Some lawmakers in Iran are talking about quarantining the city of Qom, maybe even having to quarantine Tehran if things get much worse.

MARTIN: What's going on in Hong Kong, where you are?

BEAUBIEN: So Hong Kong is kind of cruising along - had another four cases today, two of them were people who had come back. And they were in quarantine. They had been on the Diamond Princess. So we've got five people who tested negative in Japan from the Diamond Princess. Now they're back, and they've tested positive. And then there's two other cases. We have another cluster at a Buddhist temple here. They've got tens of thousands of people under home quarantine. You know, they're trying to manage this as best they can. But you're not seeing the huge numbers like you are in some other places.

MARTIN: So what's the messaging right now from World Health officials? - especially because it just seems so nonsensical where it's popping up and to what degree.

BEAUBIEN: Yeah. There's, you know, great concern that we have reached a turning point. I talked to this guy Dirk Pfeiffer. He studies emerging infectious diseases at the City University of Hong Kong. And he was basically saying that he believes this has become a pandemic, and the world should start preparing for transmission occurring globally. We're also hearing similar things to that from the World Health Organization. And basically, people are saying we may need to really shift now and think about this differently, think about it as something like the flu that we're going to have to deal with on an ongoing basis and not as an emergency.

MARTIN: NPR's Jason Beaubien. We appreciate it.


MARTIN: All right. The Democratic presidential primary now moves to South Carolina this week.

KING: That's right. And so candidates will turn their focus there. Meanwhile, on Saturday, Bernie Sanders won the Nevada caucuses overwhelmingly. Entrance polls show that he won many important demographic groups - men and women, voters 64 and younger. And he won big among Latinx voters.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Tamara Keith is with us this morning. Hi, Tam.


MARTIN: So help us sketch out what is ahead. How does what happened in Nevada, which is a Bernie Sanders victory - how will that play into or shift the sands in South Carolina?

KEITH: We can't be sure. But what I know is that Bernie Sanders has added an extra rally in South Carolina, which is to say that there is a sense of momentum. And his campaign looked at the results in Nevada and said, hey, maybe we have a chance to make a play in South Carolina.

MARTIN: Had they not thought that, Tam?

KEITH: Certainly, he was going to try in South Carolina. But the fact that they're adding more means that they see a chance to really compete with Vice President Joe Biden in a state, South Carolina, that he has really staked his candidacy on. Vice President Biden has said South Carolina is the state - that he needed to do well in Nevada, and he needs to win in South Carolina. Well, he got second place in Nevada...

MARTIN: Right.

KEITH: ...And now you turn to South Carolina.

MARTIN: So let's play a clip. This is the former vice president speaking on MSNBC yesterday.


JOE BIDEN: I really believe I'm going to do very well here. And I'm going to do very well on Super Tuesday. I've had the broadest constituency in the sense that working class, high-school-educated whites and African Americans have been the base of my support.

MARTIN: And as you noted, South Carolina obviously very important to Joe Biden. He has enjoyed a double-digit lead there for a long time. But, I mean, how solid is his advantage at this moment?

KEITH: There is not a lot of really great polling out of South Carolina. So it's not clear just how much the ground has shifted under him or whether it has. But this is a state that is absolutely critical for him. At this point in the race, there's the Bernie Sanders lane. And then there is a traffic jam in the everyone else lane.

MARTIN: That's a good way to put it.

KEITH: And every other candidate is trying to prove that they are in the strongest position to take on Sanders and eventually President Trump. And Biden is looking for the results in South Carolina to prove that for him, for him to be able to say, hey, look. I've got this broad base. What Bernie Sanders got out of Nevada was he is now able to say that he has a very broad base, that he was able to expand beyond young white people.

MARTIN: So as we'll talk about in a few minutes, President Trump has been in India. He is in India. And notably, there are no Democrats holding political rallies there for their campaigns. And I say that because Trump's travel schedule has tended to run in parallel to the Democratic contenders as of late.

KEITH: He's been something of a shadow or a counterprogrammer. About a day before every single one of these Democratic primary contests, he has shown up. So he is going to South Carolina on Friday before their Saturday primary. And then on Monday, he goes to North Carolina. And that is one of the 14 states and territories voting on Super Tuesday.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Tam Keith for us. We appreciate it.

KEITH: You're welcome.


MARTIN: All right. Huge adoring crowds, baseball hats with simple slogans and a big personality on stage. These are the basic ingredients of a Trump rally anywhere in America. Today, though, it is the scene in Gujarat, India.


KING: That's the sound of a crowd inside a cricket stadium. And those baseball caps don't say Make America Great Again. They say Namaste, Trump. India's prime minister, Narendra Modi, was in the U.S. last fall for an event called Howdy, Modi. And today, India returned the favor. President Trump was invited to give an address during his visit to India.

MARTIN: NPR's Lauren Frayer was at that very rally, and she joins us now. Hi, Lauren.


MARTIN: You're still there. So are people still lingering? I mean, what's the atmosphere like?

FRAYER: This is a stadium of 100,000 people all wearing white baseball caps that you mentioned that read Namaste in Hindi - that means hello or welcome - and then Trump in English. And they were blasting Bollywood songs. But they switched to the song "Macho Man" just as Trump and Modi took the stage.


FRAYER: It feels like every lamppost in this city is plastered with portraits of Trump and Modi holding hands. This is Modi's home state. And he's just throwing a gigantic welcome party for Trump. There are school groups here, Hindu nationalist groups, business leaders. I saw a bare-chested guy with his whole body painted in the colors of the U.S. and Indian flags.


FRAYER: There are some - yeah. There are some Indian Americans here. I spoke with Daksha Dalal (ph). She came all the way from Kansas City.

DAKSHA DALAL: I'm feeling proud and exuberant that two big democracies in action, you know, working together - one on the East, one on the West.

FRAYER: And she's a registered Democrat, but she voted for Trump last time. And she says she'll do so again in November.

MARTIN: Amazing. So, I mean, they've rolled out the red carpet. Modi has gone all out. Clearly, there are a lot of fans there for Modi and Trump. But more broadly, I mean, is Donald Trump popular in India?

FRAYER: He is. He's very popular. He is seen as a strong leader. You've got to go back to 1959 and Dwight Eisenhower to find a U.S. president addressing a crowd like this in India. Trump had praise for Modi when he spoke to the crowd. And it was just effusive. Here's what he had to say.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: America loves India. America respects India. And America will always be faithful and loyal friends...


TRUMP: ...To the Indian people.

FRAYER: The crowd cheered when Trump said he's working to fight Islamist terrorism. The only time the crowd went silent was when Trump mentioned how he's also working with Pakistan, India's archrival. But really, mostly it was light. He mentioned Bollywood films. He dropped a few famous names of cricket stars - botched the pronunciations of some of those, but the crowd went wild nonetheless.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Yeah, it's the effort counts, I guess. So is this just about the spectacle of all of it? Or is there any policy being made on this trip?

FRAYER: Not much. I mean, this trip seems to be, so far, more about pageantry and optics over substance. This evening, Trump and the first lady are going to the Taj Mahal and then will overnight in the capital, New Delhi. Tomorrow is the policy day. And Trump will be holding bilateral meetings and possibly some trade talks there.

MARTIN: Maybe catch a Bollywood film. Who knows?

FRAYER: Who knows (laughter)?

MARTIN: NPR's Lauren Frayer. She was talking to us from the enormous rally in India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had welcomed President Trump, who gave an address there just moments ago. Lauren, thanks. We appreciate it.

FRAYER: You're welcome. Namaste.

MARTIN: Namaste. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.