The World Today for March 23, 2020

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COVID-19 Global Update

More than 160 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest number as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. China  81,454  (+0.31%)
  2. Italy 59,138 (+44.12%)
  3. US 35,224 (+147.19%)
  4. Spain 29,909 (+65.45%)
  5. Germany 24,873 (+62.36%)
  6. Iran 21,638 (+17.55%)
  7. France 16,246 (+47.56%)
  8. South Korea 8,961 (+3.57%)
  9. Switzerland 7,724 (+85.49%)
  10. UK 5,745 (+111.52%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University
*Percentages change over 72 hours



Shooting Wrenches

Weeks after markets were flying high, the novel coronavirus pandemic has disrupted global supply chains, forced the cancellation of major conferences and public events, ruined travel plans, compelled companies to enact emergency work-from-home policies and spurred governments to shut down large swathes of their countries and their economies.

No one is sure what throwing all these wrenches into the machinery of the global economy really mean – it’s unprecedented, says this New York Times piece that attempts to explain the shock and its impact. But most are sure that recessions are the least of it.

Investment bank J.P. Morgan is predicting that the pandemic’s effects might be worse than the 2008 financial crisis, according to Fox Business. The World Economic Forum cited United Nations figures that estimated a global economic contraction that would cost at least $1 trillion. That number seems low today.

European leaders have been unveiling rescue packages, business loans and new rules to prevent firms from going under, according to CNN. “No French company, whatever its size, will be exposed to the risk of collapse,” said President Emmanuel Macron on national television.

In Iran, coronavirus fears have hammered the tourism industry, once one of the few bright spots amid harsh American sanctions on the country’s economy, reported Al Jazeera. Iranian leaders were hoping to more than double the size of the sector to $24 billion. Those dreams have evaporated.

In recent years, Panama has been one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America. Last year, growth fell to 3 percent as revelations of tax cheating, corruption scandals and political incompetence came to light. Now the coronavirus pandemic is expected to be an extra burden on the country’s “precarious and stagnant” economy, wrote the Atlantic Council in a blog post.

Coronavirus cases in China appear to be leveling off. But the world’s most populous country and second-largest economy is one of the biggest factors in the future of planetary prosperity.

Economist Nouriel Roubini, known as “Doctor Doom” for his pessimistic predictions that included foreseeing the 2008 financial meltdown, told Yahoo Finance that China only accounted for 4 percent of the global economy during the 2003 SARS outbreak. Today, China’s economy is 20 percent of global gross domestic product.

Importantly, China was a driver of the recovery from the 2008 downturn, spending domestically and internationally in order to keep up demand.

Now, however, China doesn’t have the appetite for the same kind of stimulus, the Financial Times reported. The communist country’s economy was already contracting. It needs reorganization more than free capital.

Prominent Chinese economist Yu Yongding recently told the South China Morning Post that officials should not yet pull out all the stops to stabilize the economy. “Expansionary fiscal and monetary policy can be used later to win back the lost time as much as possible,” said Yu.

Hopefully Yu is right, but lost time usually stays lost.



Wearing Out a Welcome

Guineans went to the polls Sunday to vote on whether to change their constitution to allow the incumbent president to run for a third term, Bloomberg reported.

President Alpha Conde has argued that the changes via a referendum are necessary because the current constitution, created by the previous military junta, is out of date.

Opposition parties, however, object to the changes and consider the referendum a powerplay by Conde, who took office in 2010 and is due to step down later this year after completing two five-year terms. The opposition boycotted the referendum.

Sunday’s referendum – as well as parliamentary elections, which also took place – were originally scheduled for earlier this month, but were postponed after international observers questioned the credibility of the vote.

Meanwhile, Russia has taken a deep interest in the vote: Guinea is the world’s largest bauxite exporter, and analysts say that Russia would benefit from Conde staying in office.

The Russian-based United Co. Rusal, the world’s second largest aluminum producer, sources about one-third of its bauxite – the key ingredient in aluminum – from Guinea.


Under New Management

Slovak President Zuzana Caputova on Saturday appointed a four-party coalition government, following February elections which saw anti-corruption parties making striking gains, Al Jazeera reported.

The new center-right government will be headed by Igor Matovic, leader of the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities party, and comes amid the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which has infected more than 130 people in the country.

The outbreak forced the previous administration to ban international passenger travel, close schools and halt production at four auto plants.

Matovic’s coalition also replaces the center-left Smer party, which ruled the country since 2012 and oversaw a period of solid growth. Smer’s popularity fell following the 2018 murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancé, which led to massive street protests.

Holding 95 out of 150 seats in parliament, the coalition has more power to make changes in the constitution and Matovic has said this could enable it to apply stricter criteria in appointing judges.



North Korean officials said Sunday they received a letter from US President Donald Trump offering cooperation in fighting the coronavirus pandemic, the Associated Press reported.

The correspondence comes a day after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un observed the firing of two projectiles that landed in the waters off the eastern coast of the Korean peninsula.

South Korean officials criticized the launch as “very inappropriate” at a time when the world is struggling to contain the spread of the virus.

Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, praised Trump’s letter, but cautioned that it is not the right time to “make hasty conclusion or be optimistic about” the prospect for improved bilateral relations.

Since 2018, Kim and Trump have launched talks that focused on decreasing North Korea’s nuclear arsenal in return for sanctions relief.

Nuclear talks stalled during the Vietnam summit last year when Trump rejected Kim’s demands for broad sanctions relief in return for partial disarmament.

Kim issued a deadline of Dec. 31 for the United States to create new proposals. After the expiration of the deadline, he said he would no longer be bound by a major weapons test moratorium and would unveil “a new strategic weapon.”


A Deception of Biblical Proportions

The Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., has been displaying artifacts thought to be fragments of the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls since its opening in 2017.

But historians were skeptical about the authenticity of the fragments, and it turns out that they were right to be suspicious, according to the Guardian.

In a recent report, art fraud investigators hired by the museum concluded that all 16 fragments in the museum’s collection were forgeries created in the 20th century “with the intent to mimic authentic Dead Sea Scroll fragments.”

Using a variety of scientific methods, the team discovered that the artifacts were made from Roman-era leather, probably from shoes, and had several inconsistencies, such as a shiny coating suspected to be animal glue, which wouldn’t have existed at the time.

A previous investigation found that five of the museum’s 16 fragments were potentially fake, along with most of the other “post-2002” fragments that have surfaced on the antiquities market since that year.

The new report doesn’t discredit the authenticity of the original Dead Sea Scrolls, first discovered in Palestine’s West Bank in the 1940s. Dating from about 400 BC to AD 300, the original scrolls are considered to be the oldest known copies of sections of the original Hebrew Bible.

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