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News Brief: Coronavirus, New Hampshire Primary, Academy Awards


Ninety-seven people died from the coronavirus in China yesterday - just yesterday. This is a single-day record since this virus was discovered in December.


Wuhan, China, is at the center of this outbreak. It's been under lockdown for more than two weeks. Craig Blouin (ph) is an American teacher who lives in Wuhan and has decided to stay.

CRAIG BLOUIN: Like, all transportation is closed. There's hardly any cars on the road. Most stores are closed. There are a couple isolated grocery stores, and pharmacies are still open. But a couple days ago, I went to one of the grocery stores. And the inventory is getting kind of low. They still restock fresh vegetables, apparently, but I noticed, like, they're running low on, like, rice.

INSKEEP: Now, as officials inside Wuhan try to contain the virus, officials around the world are working to stop it from spreading where they are.

GREENE: And let's go to one of our reporters who is covering this. NPR's Rebecca Hersher is in neighboring Hong Kong. Good morning.


GREENE: Let's start with the latest here. I mean, if we've hit a single-day record for deaths from this outbreak, I mean, it sounds like this is getting worse.

HERSHER: Yeah, the virus is still spreading. And those 97 deaths that were recorded on Sunday - that brings the total number of deaths from the virus to 908. And the total number of confirmed cases - it's over 40,000 now, although a lot of public health officials actually think that's probably an undercount. And the latest numbers make one thing really clear, which is that the epicenter of this outbreak is still Hubei province, where the outbreak began. The vast majority of the new deaths and cases are still happening there.

And actually, people might remember the SARS outbreak back in 2002, 2003. The WHO - the World Health Organization, for context here - says that about 750 to 800 people died from SARS. So at this point, more people have died from the coronavirus than from SARS. But based on what we know right now, there are actually some really big differences between the outbreaks. If you get this coronavirus, you're a lot less likely to die than you were if you got SARS.

The majority of coronavirus cases - they've been mild. So only about 15% of them are severe. Three percent are critical. The older you are, the more likely it is to be severe. But even those numbers are kind of squishy, David, because the outbreak has been going on for a while, but there's still a lot of unanswered questions. And there are tens of thousands of cases in China that they're referring to as suspected as opposed to confirmed.

GREENE: And we heard that voice from China just describing that scene in Wuhan, which was so striking. But, of course, I mean, this is a global issue, obviously. You're in neighboring Hong Kong. I mean, what do things look like from there?

HERSHER: People are taking it really seriously here. The universities and schools are closed. It just seems too dangerous to let people gather in classrooms. If you do go out, which I've been doing, basically everyone is wearing a surgical mask over their mouth, even if they're not sick. I've been wearing one. It tells people that you're being careful. If you don't wear one, you kind of get some looks. And the city is really aggressively decontaminating things. Like, there are people cleaning handrails everywhere and elevator buttons and metro turnstiles. There are announcements in the subway telling you to wash your hands. It's just impossible to forget about.

GREENE: Is there anything on a larger scale that, you know, Hong Kong can do to control the spread?

HERSHER: Yeah, Hong Kong has instituted a mandatory 14-day quarantine for anyone coming in from China, even if you're otherwise healthy. And there are fewer flights. There are fewer trains. And people traveling from Hubei province into the U.S., they are also being quarantined for 14 days. That's the longest that we think is the incubation period for the virus. And that's just to make sure that people aren't sick.

GREENE: All right. The latest on coronavirus from NPR science reporter Rebecca Hersher in Hong Kong. Thanks.

HERSHER: Thanks.


GREENE: All right. It is time. New Hampshire is going to be voting tomorrow.

INSKEEP: And unlike the Iowa caucuses, which you saw in person, David...


INSKEEP: ...That's a complicated process of meetings that ended in chaos. New Hampshire voters simply show up at polling places for a primary, which increases the odds of a clear winner this time. The narrowing field of Democratic contenders have been sharpening their arguments against each other.

GREENE: And like the candidates, NPR's Scott Detrow went from Iowa to New Hampshire. He joins us from Manchester. Hi there, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: I like how we're caging our phrasing - it increases the odds of a clear winner. We can't guarantee...

GREENE: Increases, but who knows what'll happen?

DETROW: Who knows?

GREENE: ...You cannot guarantee a clear winner, can you?

INSKEEP: Hanging chance anything could happen. Go on, go on...

GREENE: Yeah, exactly. So has the race changed since we left Iowa?

DETROW: It really has. Even though we still aren't 100% sure who won Iowa, it's had a significant effect on New Hampshire. Joe Biden finished fourth in Iowa, as far as we can tell, and that really threw the candidate running mostly on being the electable one for a loop. And we saw one major change for Biden - he is actually engaging with the other Democrats and drawing contrasts rather than just running like he's in the general election already.

And we saw him really critique Pete Buttigieg especially, who may have won Iowa. Biden has essentially been belittling Buttigieg's experience as South Bend's mayor and saying Buttigieg is wrong to compare himself to Barack Obama, as Buttigieg often does on the campaign trail. Buttigieg pushed back on that, saying, sure, I'm no Barack Obama, but neither is Joe Biden, and saying this is a new moment. There's a need for new leadership - making the turn-the-page argument.

GREENE: That's quite an exchange. So you had Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders kind of emerging from Iowa neck and neck. I mean, is that sort of duo at the top - is that what's playing out in New Hampshire?

DETROW: It is. And while many people are criticizing Buttigieg, Sanders is essentially gaining momentum without getting too much of a pushback from other candidates. This is a state that Sanders won by 22 points four years ago. Nobody expects a margin like that this time around, but he and his campaign think that his message about radical changes to the political system really resonate here, especially since, as a Vermont senator, he's got a long track record with New Hampshire voters. You have had a lot of critiques of - or concerns, rather, from other Democrats about Sanders as a democratic socialist, as he frames himself, what that could mean in November for other Democrats. He has pushed back on that with this specific argument that he made on Fox News over the weekend.


BERNIE SANDERS: The difference between my socialism and Trump's socialism is I believe the government should help working families, not billionaires.

DETROW: And, David, I've been following Sanders around New Hampshire all weekend. He's feeling very confident. He is drawing bigger and bigger crowds everywhere he goes.

GREENE: What about Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar? I mean, how are their crowds, and are they still in the mix here?

DETROW: I think both of them have a lot riding on Tuesday. Elizabeth Warren - she has a well-organized campaign. She's on the left on issues that excite a lot of progressives, you know, a lot of similar policies to Bernie Sanders. But she's got a track record of working within the system and with other Democrats more than Sanders, so you could think she could really occupy that middle ground that so many Democratic voters are looking for. But after finishing third in Iowa, she seems to have really faded from the conversation in New Hampshire so far, raising a lot of questions about how she'll do and what will come next for her campaign. So as that's happening, you are also seeing signs that Senator Amy Klobuchar has gotten a big boost out of Iowa and gotten a big boost since that Friday night debate especially. And that would be among those moderate voters who just don't know who their best option is right now.


AMY KLOBUCHAR: I need your vote because I truly believe this will be a victory for getting away from the extremes and the noise and the nonsense in our politics.

DETROW: She's up in the polls we've seen over the last few days. She's suddenly raising more money. She's drawing more crowds. So I'm really curious to see how she finishes. It's a very unsettled field. New Hampshire could clarify that or make things even more unsettled. But it's important to remember that there's only a few weeks before this really becomes a national primary. So candidates who are trying to get up into that top tier don't have much more time to do that.

GREENE: NPR's Scott Detrow in Manchester, N.H. Scott, thanks.

DETROW: Thank you.


GREENE: The 92nd Academy Awards ended last night with a stunning result.


JANE FONDA: And the Oscar goes to "Parasite."


INSKEEP: "Parasite" from South Korea - the first non-English-language film in the history of the Academy Awards to win the best picture Oscar. This capped a night in which a lot of the other categories had more predictable winners.

GREENE: All right. Let's go to NPR TV critic Eric Deggans, who is handling our post-movie-Oscars-night coverage this morning. Hi, Eric.


GREENE: All right. So "Parasite" really cleaned up last night. This is so significant. It's a movie that is not in English. It doesn't have stars - Oscar stars who we all know. Just step back - why this movie? Why now? What should we take from this?

DEGGANS: Well, I'm not sure why, although there was a sense that "Parasite" was gaining momentum in some of the award ceremonies leading up to the Oscars, which may have influenced voting. "Parasite's" success in categories that people didn't expect, with Bong Joon-ho winning best director, for example, built some suspense inside the show. And that alternated with these people that we expected to win, like Brad Pitt or Laura Dern.

The Academy Awards had taken a lot of criticism for not nominating many people of color in major categories outside of "Parasite" and for a lack of surprising nominations. So "Parasite" was something of a surprise. And their wins, including best picture, added an international flavor to a show that could have looked like this long line of white people going up there to get awards.

GREENE: What did you think of the show in general? I mean, this was the second year the Academy Awards didn't have a host. Is that working?

DEGGANS: I think they have pretty much proven you do not need a host...


DEGGANS: ...For this show, you know?

GREENE: Got it.

DEGGANS: It was well-paced, creatively produced. Janelle Monae and Billy Porter kicked off the night with this great, big production number that was amazing. Steve Martin and Chris Rock came out and did a monologue that was smart and funny - just what you needed to kick off the show. They had some great presenters, like Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig, who were so funny, I felt like they could've just taken over hosting the show without missing a beat. And even though some people looked a little befuddled when Eminem sang his 2002 Oscar-winning hit "Lose Yourself" - - Martin Scorsese, I'm talking about you...


DEGGANS: ...I kind of liked that performance, you know? And there was a later performance - there was a later rap by Utkarsh Ambudkar. And he was recapping the show halfway through. Let's check out a little clip of it.


UTKARSH AMBUDKAR: (Rapping) Mr. Pitt, congrats on winning your trophy, now please make a sequel to "World War Z." Mindy here...

DEGGANS: (Laughter) So, you know, I think the Oscars' biggest problem in the past has been they're not quite sure what they are. Are they this important tribute to serious film? Are they a fun look at great movies? So for the Oscars this year, they amped up the fun, and they did much better.

GREENE: You mentioned the show could have looked like a long line of white people going up and getting awards. What did the show look like to you in terms of its - this diversity question?

DEGGANS: Well, there was an odd tension because, on the one hand, it was great to see the wins for "Parasite" and great to see talented women and people of color featured. But there was also a sense that they were kind of brought in because the academy may have felt guilty about the lack of nominations in the first place. So I think "Parasite's" win should be a signal that the academy should do better in its nominations, so they don't look like they're just bringing in people to entertain and segregating the more important elements of the show for other people.

GREENE: NPR TV critic Eric Deggans talking to us about last night's Oscars. Thanks, Eric.

DEGGANS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
David Greene
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.