News Brief: Wisconsin Primary, Boris Johnson's Condition, Japan Declaration

Apr 7, 2020
Originally published on April 7, 2020 9:00 am
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Across the United States, more than 20 states have postponed presidential primaries and other elections because of COVID-19.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Yes - but not Wisconsin. Today the state will hold a Democratic presidential primary, and people will vote in person in spite of protests and lawsuits.

GREENE: And let's talk about this with reporter Laurel White from Wisconsin Public Radio. Laurel, good morning.

LAUREL WHITE, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So wow. This has been crazy to follow. This election was on again then off again. Walk us through exactly where we stand and what's going to happen today.

WHITE: So we are moving forward with our election today. Polls are set to open at 7 a.m. our time. It's been very tumultuous. There's been a lot of controversy about how our elections should move forward ever since the pandemic started - whether it should be changed, whether it should be delayed. The governor said all along he didn't believe he had the power to delay the election himself. We have a Democratic governor, Tony Evers. He said that would take an act by the state legislature because our election date is actually written into state law.

But the Republicans that control the state legislature haven't been very keen to delay the election. He called them into a special session over the weekend. They gaveled that in and gaveled that out in less than 30 seconds without having any debate, taking any votes. Not long after that, the governor decided to take matters into his own hands, tried to issue an executive order to delay the election until June. That held for about five hours yesterday, and then the state Supreme Court stepped in by the request of the Republican legislature and blocked the governor's order. So we're back to where we started, the election moving forward.

GREENE: Which is amazing - I mean, voters, election workers facing the prospect of having to show up at polling places when we're talking so much about social distancing. I mean, how are people reacting to this?

WHITE: You know, I've been talking to folks for several days now. And I think the primary emotions are fear and anger. I've talked to so many poll workers who are just incredibly concerned about going and doing their jobs today. They're worried about their own safety, the safety of their family, their communities. And that's actually led to a really critical shortage of state poll workers all across Wisconsin. The National Guard has actually stepped up to fill some of those vacancies because so many poll workers have bowed out of their jobs in recent days.

I think, for voters, there's been some confusion. Obviously, this back-and-forth has been very confusing. There's frustration. We are conducting a lot of the election through absentee ballots. There have been more than a million absentee mail-in ballots requested in the state already. But a number of those folks haven't received their ballot in the mail yet. There was a real backlog. Clerks were trying to contend with that. That's led to some problems. And so some folks are in the position today of having to weigh - you know, they haven't received their ballot yet. Are they going to go ahead and step out? Are they going to leave their homes and risk going to the polls?

GREENE: To carry out a democratic duty, you know, duty and democracy - having to choose between that and your health. Can I just ask, have Republicans who were against delaying this responded to these kinds of concerns? Like, what's their argument here?

WHITE: Well, our Republican assembly speaker is actually working the polls today. He says that he feels safe because of some measures that poll workers have taken, the safety supplies that have been put in place. Some clerks had actually built plexiglass shields for poll workers. So they say that democracy just needs to continue. And votes have happened during tumultuous times before, and they should happen now.

GREENE: All right. Laurel White with Wisconsin Public Radio talking about that primary that's going to go forward, it seems, today. Laurel, thank you so much.

WHITE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: All right. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has now been moved to the intensive care unit at a hospital in London.

KING: Right. So you might remember that Johnson announced he'd tested positive for COVID-19 back on March 27. And at the time, he said he'd be fine, he'd work from home. And then over this past weekend, he was admitted to the hospital.

GREENE: Well, let's go to London now and NPR's Frank Langfitt, who is with us. Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, David.

GREENE: So how's the prime minister doing?

LANGFITT: Well, what happened, just like Noel was saying, is that he actually had been working from home. And then he went into a quick decline on Sunday, went into the hospital. He literally went across the river Thames to St. Thomas' Hospital. It's very close to No. 10 Downing Street. And yesterday he ended up in the ICU as what they said was a precaution. Now, this morning, Michael Gove - he runs the U.K.'s Cabinet Office. He was on LBC talk radio here in London giving a little bit of an update.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL GOVE: He's not on the ventilator, no. The prime minister has received some oxygen support. And he's kept under, of course, close supervision.

LANGFITT: Now, most COVID-19 patients here in the U.K. so far have ended up on a ventilator pretty soon after they go into ICU. No. 10 Downing Street, though, isn't giving any other details for the most part. And Johnson, as you guys were mentioning, he's, by nature, this very upbeat, confident kind of national cheerleader. He is inclined to minimize challenges.

And even after he was admitted to the hospital yesterday, he tweeted that he was in good spirits and, you know, had this sort of rallying cry. We're going to fight this virus and keep everybody safe.

So it is a little hard to tell exactly what his situation is right now. And that's probably the biggest thing on the minds of the people here in the United Kingdom.

GREENE: I mean, for most people in the ICU, that is a place to heal when you're in very serious condition and not be working much even though, as you said, he's been tweeting. I mean - but how is the U.K. government functioning right now?

LANGFITT: Well, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, he's taking over some duties and is working with the Cabinet to kind of guide the government and, I think, execute what the Prime Minister wants to do. This is how Raab put it yesterday in a press conference. And this was even before Johnson went into the ICU.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

DOMINIC RAAB: So in light of those circumstances, the prime minister asked me, as first secretary, to deputize for him when necessary in driving forward the government's plans to defeat coronavirus.

LANGFITT: But I got to say, David, this is still pretty unclear of exactly who's doing what - and raises a basic political question is, how can you run aspects of the government in the midst of this incredible crisis from an ICU bed? Reporters actually pressed the government on this at yesterday's press conference, but they didn't get clearer answers.

GREENE: Well, obviously, the government's big duty right now is combating this virus. What is the government's strategy, and what is the latest there?

LANGFITT: Well, the government has really fallen behind on this. Initially, Johnson, as you would remember, downplayed it.

GREENE: Yeah.

LANGFITT: And he thought the disease might infect the majority of the population. And there was even some talk about this concept of herd immunity - allowing it to pass to the population and even, you know, isolate the elderly and the weak. But when it became clear that there could be a very high body count, there was a shift to a soft lockdown. The problem is the government hasn't really developed testing capacity. So for instance, right now, David, maybe 250,000 people have been tested out of a population of more than 66 million.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Frank Langfitt reporting in London. Thanks so much, Frank.

LANGFITT: You're very welcome, David.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: All right. Let's turn to another country that is confronting the coronavirus. Japan is declaring a state of emergency in and around its two largest cities due to this outbreak.

KING: That's right. So at the moment, only about 4,000 people in Japan have the virus, but that number is going up. But the Japanese government has been careful to say that this is not a lockdown and that the country will still function.

GREENE: NPR's Anthony Kuhn is following all of this from Seoul. Hi, Anthony.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hi there, David.

GREENE: So explain exactly what this emergency declaration in Japan means.

KUHN: Right. It covers Tokyo and Osaka and five surrounding prefectures. It's expected to last about one month. What it does is it gives prefectural governments, which is sort of like our state governors, the power to request residents to stay at home and businesses to shut down. But it doesn't specify any punishments if they don't. So Tokyo and other prefectures have already made these requests, and they seem to have worked pretty well. Citizens have complied; traffic has been down. So you could argue that the government doesn't get many new or extra powers from the emergency, and they may not need them anyway.

GREENE: I mean, this is one of the questions that's come up here in the United States when these orders are made. Are they enforceable? Are they largely symbolic? It sounds like this is more of a request than an official order.

KUHN: That's correct. The main effect of a symbolic move would be just to make people take it more seriously.

GREENE: Well, what does this tell us about the extent of the spread of the virus right now in Japan and how the government sort of, more broadly, is responding?

KUHN: Well, Japan has delayed the explosive growth of case numbers so far. But also, they haven't tested a lot. But now daily new case numbers in Tokyo have reached around a hundred. And experts are warning that some city hospitals are already full up, and they may soon be overwhelmed. Critics are saying this emergency should have been declared a couple of weeks ago.

But actually, if you look at other countries' experiences - other countries, like where I am here in South Korea, have also had to sort of shift strategies. They started out focusing on testing and then isolating infected patients. But then when numbers exploded, they had to move to mitigating the impact of the spread and beefing up hospitals and doing social distancing.

GREENE: What are you hearing from Japan in terms of how people are reacting to what the government is telling people to do right now?

KUHN: Well, people want a strong response. The main thing on people's mind is they want protection from this virus. At the same time, there's a couple of background items that we ought to bring up. And those are about the government taking on emergency powers. There's a historical wariness left over from World War II about giving the government more emergency powers. And people are concerned that Abe will say, look, we can only request people to stay at home; we need more powers. And Abe did, indeed, tell Parliament that it should consider giving the government more emergency powers.

GREENE: All right. In this global pandemic, we find out how one country, Japan, is dealing with this outbreak of the coronavirus. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reporting for us. Anthony, thanks a lot.

KUHN: You're welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.