January 22, 2020

A United Nations report to be released Wednesday concludes that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) personally infected Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' phone with malware, allowing a massive amount of data to be stolen from his phone, The Washington Post reported Wednesday, confirming a report in The Guardian. The crown prince reportedly sent the world's richest man an infected video link over WhatsApp after the two exchanged contact information on MBS's tour of the U.S. in early 2018.

Things evidently soured between Bezos and MBS when The Washington Post, owned by Bezos, hired Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi to write a column, and after the Post strongly criticized Saudi Arabia for murdering and dismembering Khashoggi in October 2018, the National Enquirer reported in January 2019 that Bezos was having an extramarital affair, publishing photos apparently hacked from his phone. At the time, Bezos' security consultant Gavin de Becker said "our investigators and several experts concluded with high confidence that the Saudis had access to Bezos' phone."

The Saudi Embassy dismissed the new reports that Saudi Arabia hacked Bezos' phone as "absurd," calling "for an investigation on these claims so that we can have all the facts out." Many of the responses slammed Saudi Arabia for its belatedly acknowledged murder of Khashoggi.

But there's a lot you could investigate about how MBS is running Saudi Arabia, if the Saudis were open to independent investigations.

Read more on how President Trump and Amazon Web Services fit in to this saga at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

9:38 p.m.

The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday said the heartburn drug Zantac should immediately be pulled from shelves and consumers should dispose of any pills or liquid they have at home.

During safety tests last summer, extremely high levels of the contaminant NDMA, believed to be a carcinogen, were discovered in samples of the drug. The active ingredient in Zantac is ranitidine, and the FDA said that over time, NDMA appears as an impurity in ranitidine in levels exceeding federal standards, NPR reports.

The FDA issued a warning last September, and CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart removed the drug and its generic forms from stores. Since then, the agency has confirmed that the issue is how ranitidine naturally breaks down in normal storage conditions, and has nothing to do with the way it is manufactured.

"We didn't observe unacceptable levels of NDMA in many of the samples that we tested," the FDA's Janet Woodcock said in a statement Wednesday. "However, since we don't know how or for how long the product might have been stored, we decided that it should not be available to consumers and patients unless its quality can be assured." Catherine Garcia

8:57 p.m.

The U.S. Coast Guard is telling foreign cruise ships with more than 50 people on board that they need to "increase their medical capabilities, personnel, and equipment" in order to care for sick individuals amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

This is "necessary as shore-side medical facilities may reach full capacity and lose the ability to accept and effectively treat additional critically-ill patients," Coast Guard Rear Admiral E.C. Jones wrote in a safety bulletin dated March 29. During normal circumstances, a ship can call the Coast Guard and ask to have people who are seriously ill medically evacuated.

The order is for ships in the district covering Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Puerto Rico. There are dozens of cruise ships lined up at Port Miami and Port Everglades, in addition to several that are waiting offshore, The Associated Press reports. Most of the ships just have crew members on board, but Carnival Corp. says it has more than 6,000 passengers still at sea.

The cruise line is trying to reach a deal with federal, state, and local officials that would let two of its Holland America ships, the Zaandam and Rotterdam, dock at Port Everglades this week. Two people on board the Zaandam have died of COVID-19, and nine have tested positive for the virus. The medical center on another Carnival Corp. ship headed to Florida, the Coral Princess, has reported a "higher-than-normal number of people with flu-like symptoms," AP reports. By law, ships bound for the United States have to give daily updates on the number of coronavirus cases on board. Catherine Garcia

7:31 p.m.

Musician Adam Schlesinger, co-founder of the rock band Fountains of Wayne and an award-winning songwriter for the television show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, died on Wednesday of coronavirus complications. He was 52.

On Tuesday, Schlesinger's family announced that he had been hospitalized and was on a ventilator, saying in a statement, "He is receiving excellent care, his condition is improving, and we are cautiously optimistic."

Schlesinger was a Grammy and Emmy Award winner, and over the course of his career was also nominated for Tony, Oscar, and Golden Globe Awards. He won two Emmys in 2018 for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and also served as the show's executive music director. Schlesinger wrote the theme song for Tom Hanks' 1997 film That Thing You Do! and recorded five albums with Fountains of Wayne. Their biggest hit, "Stacy's Mom," was released in 2003.

He is survived by two daughters. Catherine Garcia

6:56 p.m.

Vice President Mike Pence is asking Americans to heed the government's social distancing guidelines amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and not attend worship services with more than 10 people.

Pence told Nightline's Byron Pitts on Wednesday that the White House is "so grateful to churches and synagogues and places of worship around America" that are following the guidelines, which include avoiding large gatherings and staying at least six feet away from people.

There are some churches in the country that have flouted local social distancing orders; a Florida pastor was arrested on Monday and charged with unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules after holding a packed service on Sunday. Pence said he and President Trump have been "enjoying worship services online," and "we really believe this is a time when people should avoid gatherings of more than 10 people, and so, we continue to urge churches around America to heed that."

Earlier this week, the White House said even with people following the guidelines, 100,000 to 240,000 Americans could still die from COVID-19. Pence told Pitts the White House is holding out hope that the country will be "in a much better place by June the 1st. If every American will put these guidelines into practice, if we all continue to do our part, we really do believe that by Memorial Day weekend or by early summer ... we can be through the hardest part of this. We can save lives, and we can begin to put America back to work." Catherine Garcia

5:49 p.m.

Everyone gets duped now and then. That goes for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well.

Netanyahu recently showed his cabinet a video he claimed was evidence Iran was engineering a novel coronavirus coverup, Axios reports. Tehran has reported more than 47,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 3,000 deaths, but those figures have been eyed with suspicion by much of the rest of the world, including Israel, which, to put it gently, does not get along with Iran.

The video showed people dumping bodies into garbage dumps, two cabinet ministers told Axios. They said Netanyahu's national security adviser, Meir Ben Shabbat, showed him the video, but he probably should've checked his source. Upon further review the clip turned out to be a scene from the 2007 Hallmark Channel miniseries, Pandemic.

The Israeli government certainly did a bad job of vetting the clip, but the fact it made its way up the flagpole wasn't completely random. Iranians were reportedly sharing the footage on social media last week. Read more at Axios. Tim O'Donnell

5:42 p.m.

Respirator masks, gloves, and other protective equipment kept in the U.S. government's emergency stockpile are almost all used up, Department of Homeland Security officials tell The Washington Post.

Hospital workers already lack supplies they need to protect themselves as they treat COVID-19 patients, and an empty stockpile will only exacerbate the problem. But "the stockpile was designed to respond to [a] handful of cities. It was never built or designed to fight a 50-state pandemic," and so it's already close to empty even before the pandemic has hit its peak, one DHS official said.

The national stockpile is one of the few escapes from a marketplace full of price gouging, and as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) described in a recent press conference, shortages have forced states to outbid each other just to get necessary supplies. "The supply chain for PPE worldwide has broken down, and there is a lot of price gouging happening," the anonymous DHS official told the Post. It all leaves hospitals and other care facilities with a risk of completely running out of supplies, another official said. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:59 p.m.

A Chinese county that was largely unscathed by the novel COVID-19 coronavirus went into lockdown Wednesday, signaling fears of a possible second wave in the country where the virus originated, The South China Morning Post reports.

The county of Jia in Henan province, home to 600,000 people, is now in lockdown after infections reportedly spread at a local hospital. There were previously only 12 confirmed cases in Henan, despite it being situated just north of Hubei province, where China's epicenter, Wuhan, is located. However, U.S. intelligence reportedly believes China under-reported the actual number of cases.

Either way, the new lockdown, which shuts down all non-essential business and requires people to carry special permits to leave their homes, and wear face masks and have their temperature taken when out and about, comes at a time when the country clearly wants to get its economy up and running again. It's unclear if such measures will be limited to the county or if it's a sign of things to come for the rest of the world's most populous country, but President Xi Jinping has warned that China must return to normal gradually in the hopes of preventing a full-scale COVID-19 return. Read more at The South China Morning Post. Tim O'Donnell

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