The World Today for March 24, 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 81,558 (+0.13%)
  2. Italy 63,927 (+8.10%)
  3. US 46,450  (+31.87%)
  4. Spain 35,212 (+17.73%)
  5. Germany 29,056 (+16.82%)
  6. Iran 23,049 (+6.52%)
  7. France 20,142 (+23.98%)
  8. South Korea 9,037 (+0.85%)
  9. Switzerland 8,795 (+13.87%)
  10. UK 6,726 (+17.08%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentages change over 24 hours



Someone Who Wants You

Fears of the coronavirus haven’t kept around 150,000 refugees from setting off for Europe from Turkey.

Many can’t return to their homes in Syria, where a civil war has yet to end, especially in the Idlib region in the northwestern part of the country, the Jerusalem Post reported. In Turkey, where about 4 million displaced Syrians now live, the refugees don’t enjoy civil rights, education or healthcare. Many would prefer to take their chances in a public health crisis in Germany or France rather than stay put.

Turkey had been preventing the refugees from crossing into Europe as part of a 2016 deal that included European funding for Turkey’s costs. It was a good deal because Turkey needed foreign cash and Europe didn’t want to deal with the tired, poor huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

But Turkey has always had complaints about the deal. Writing in Social Europe, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg political scientist Petra Bendel sympathized. But the situation has since changed. Not only has a new influx of refugees entered Turkey from Idlib, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also wants European diplomatic support for his foreign policies with Syria and Russia.

Late last month, Erdogan showed his leverage by opening the gates for refugees seeking to migrate to Europe. He effectively “weaponized” the migrants’ suffering, but European leaders have yet to cave, wrote Seth Frantzman, executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, in a commentary in the Hill. Indeed, when Erdogan last spoke to European leaders, they postponed addressing the issue head-on, Al Jazeera wrote.

Still, the refugees are causing tensions on the ground, as the BBC reported after a refugee center caught fire on the Greek island of Lesbos, where Greeks have been complaining of hosting migrants for years. Reuters noted that the Greek government is no longer accepting asylum petitions.

European officials’ attempts to block the refugees, meanwhile, have led some to criticize them for betraying their continent’s ideals. “The EU is shutting its doors, disregarding its international legal commitments to those fleeing conflict, and failing to live up to the values allegedly at its core,” wrote Foreign Affairs.

A Guardian investigation also showed how European officials made it difficult for boats to cross the Mediterranean in order to stop the refugees.

Those who do make it to Europe need more healthcare and oversight because of the coronavirus pandemic, another Guardian story explained. The Norwegian Refugee Council similarly issued warnings for refugees facing infection in sprawling camps throughout the Middle East.

The number of safe havens is shrinking, and at a time when there were already few.




Israel’s Supreme Court on Monday ordered the country’s parliament to reconvene to select a new speaker, dealing a blow to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he grapples with the novel coronavirus crisis and fights for his political future, the Associated Press reported.

The ruling comes after the current parliament speaker, Yuli Edelstein, a member of Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud party, suspended parliament last week due to the spreading virus.

The parliament opened on Monday, but Edelstein dismissed the court’s order for a new speaker. He said he would not put the speaker vote on the agenda until the political situation becomes clearer.

The opposition Blue and White party argued that the country’s legislature must be operating in such a critical time and accused Edelstein of trying to protect his party’s leader, who faces a looming corruption trial.

Netanyahu has been charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes and was scheduled to go on trial last week.

The trial was postponed after the government ordered the shutdown of the country’s courts and authorized unprecedented electronic surveillance of Israeli citizens.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz has accused Netanyahu of using the outbreak as cover to undermine the country’s democratic institutions. Gantz has been tasked with forming a new government and needs parliament in session to do so.

There are nearly 1,250 confirmed cases in Israel with one death as of Monday.


Phantoms and Terror

Mozambique security forces on Monday battled Islamic militants near critical gas development projects being developed by Exxon Mobil and Total in the north of the country, Reuters reported.

Authorities said that an unidentified group attacked the northern town of Mocimboa da Praia and its army barracks early Monday, wounding dozens of people.

The town is located in the Cabo Delgado province, an area that has seen increasing attacks from insurgents, which have left more than 900 people dead since 2017.

Little is known about the militants, but Islamic State claimed responsibility for several attacks last year.

Analysts worry that the increasing attacks could become a bigger issue in the country and threaten its liquid natural gas projects worth $60 billion.

Mozambique is set to become a global gas exporter following one of the biggest gas finds in a decade located just offshore.


A Virus, an Opening

Hungarian lawmakers on Monday began debating a bill which would give Prime Minister Viktor Orban sweeping powers to rule by decree to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Guardian reported.

The bill would extend the state of emergency declared earlier this month to an indefinite period, and would allow the jailing of individuals for spreading false information that could alarm the public.

Orban’s administration said that the bill was necessary to contain the outbreak. The lack of a sunset clause was a safety measure – in case legislators became too sick for parliament to sit.

Critics have denounced the law, arguing that it is dangerously open-ended and vulnerable to abuse. Opposition lawmakers said they would not support the law unless it’s modified.

The bill looks likely to pass, the Guardian said.

“We will solve this crisis, even without you,” Orbán told opposition parties Monday.

Hungary has more than 160 confirmed cases of coronavirus with seven deaths.


A Caterpillar’s Delicacy

Humanity’s plastic problem will not be going away soon, but scientists might be getting closer to a solution.

Researchers recently studied a species of caterpillar that loves to munch on non-biodegradable plastic waste, Discover magazine reported.

In their study, the team examined the gut bacteria of the waxworm, in order to better understand how the microorganisms broke down and metabolized plastic.

Waxworms are considered bee pests and are known to invade beehives and feed on honeycombs.

Scientists explained that the structures of honeycomb wax and plastic consist of very long chains of hydrocarbons, which the caterpillar’s gut bacteria can break down – regardless of taste.

The team noted that the waxworms had one peculiar species of bacteria that could survive on nothing but plastic for a year.

They also found a synergy between the caterpillar and the bacteria: When the two worked together, they could speed up the plastic biodegradation process.

Even so, researchers observed that despite their positive environmental impact, waxworms are really slow at devouring plastics. It took nearly a week for about 60 of them to chew through a matchbook-sized square of plastic bag.

Co-author Christophe LeMoine and his team hope to learn more about the insect and its microbes to develop better tools to wipe out plastic waste.

“A better understanding of how this synergy works may guide future efforts to design the ‘perfect’ plastic biodegradation system,” he said.

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