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Geneva (AFP) — The Ebola epidemic is set to explode unless the response is radically intensified, the WHO said Tuesday, warning that hundreds of thousands could be infected by the end of the year.

The U.N. agency said in a report that new cases would surge from hundreds each week to thousands without “drastic improvements in control measures”, with the number of infections set to more than triple to 20,000 by November.

“We’ve rather modestly only extended the projections to November 2, but if you go to… January 2, you’re into hundreds of thousands,” said Christopher Dye, the head of strategy at the World Health Organization and a co-author of the study.

The research paper warns that the outbreak could drag out for years and become entrenched in west Africa, which has already seen almost 3,000 deaths.

The epidemic might simply “rumble on as it has for the last few months for the next few years,” Dye said, adding that “the fear is that Ebola will become more or less a permanent feature of the human population”.

Liberia, the hardest-hit nation, has seen 3,000 cases of Ebola and almost 1,600 deaths, with health workers turning people away from treatment units due to chronic shortages of beds and staff.

The country has some 150 foreign specialized medical workers on the ground but the U.N. has said they need at least 600, and health authorities are aiming to scale its current 400 Ebola beds up to around 2,000 within weeks.

Its response has been bolstered by a U.S. military mission, already being deployed, which will see 3,000 troops providing training and logistics.

– Threat of civil war –

But Antonio Vigilante, U.N. deputy special representative for recovery and governance in Liberia, likened the struggle to “trying to remedy an earthquake when it is happening”.

Liberia said Tuesday the slow international response risked allowing the country to slide back into civil war alongside neighboring Sierra Leone, and could reignite civil unrest in Guinea.

“The world cannot wait for Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea to slip back into conflict, which could be the result of this slowness in response,” Information Minister Lewis Brown told AFP late Monday.

Sierra Leone, where more than 1,800 have been infected and nearly 600 have died, reported “an overflow of bodies” after a nationwide curfew helped uncover more than 200 new cases.

The WHO study, carried out with Imperial College London and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, forecast the number of cases would rise to around 6,000 in Guinea, 10,000 in Liberia and 5,000 in Sierra Leone by November 2 without action.

And it warned that the fatality rate in the current outbreak was likely more than 70 percent rather than the current estimate of one in two, based on recovery rates rather than cases where the outcome was still unknown.

“We are seeing exponential growth and we need to act now,” Dye said.

The United Nations is seeking to raise nearly $1 billion (778 million euros) to defeat the Ebola outbreak, the worst ever recorded, which the Security Council has declared a threat to world peace.

The U.N. has also produced a list of urgent “in kind” requirements, including helicopters, mobile laboratories, 3.3 million items of protective clothing and Ebola treatment centers.

– Weak health systems –

Ebola fever is one of the deadliest viruses known to man.

It can fell its victims within days, causing severe muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea and — in many cases — unstoppable internal and external bleeding.

The current crisis, which quietly began in southern Guinea last December, has killed far more than all other known Ebola outbreaks combined.

Dye said that while the virus ravaging west Africa was spreading similarly to previous outbreaks, what has changed is the density and mobility of the affected populations.

Cultural practices like washing and touching dead bodies have compounded the problem, as has the very slow response in affected countries, which have never before seen the virus, and the international community, he said.

Weak health systems in the hardest-hit countries are also largely to blame, said Christl Donnelly, a professor of statistical epidemiology at the Imperial College and a co-author of the study.

“In Nigeria, for example, where health systems are stronger, the number of cases has so far been limited, despite the introduction of infection into the large cities of Lagos and Port Harcourt,” she said.

Ebola is only transmitted through contact with body fluids, so halting its spread is usually relatively simple.

Even in this epidemic, each Ebola patient on average infects only 1.7 people in Guinea, 1.8 in Liberia, and two in Sierra Leone, the study showed.

AFP Photo/Ed Jones

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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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