March 25, 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 81,591 (+0.04%)
  2. Italy 69,176 (+8.21%)
  3. US 55,225 (+18.89%)
  4. Spain 42,058 (+19.44%)
  5. Germany 32,991 (+13.54%)
  6. Iran 24,811 (+7.64%)
  7. France 22,635 (+12.38%)
  8. Switzerland 9,877  (+12.30%)
  9. South Korea 9,137 (+1.11%)
  10. UK 8,164 (+21.38%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentages change over 24 hours

NEED TO KNOW

MALI

A Rock, a Hard Place

Sweden is sending additional helicopters and 150 special forces to join the United Nations and French-led peacekeeping forces in Mali. The 20,000-strong forces are combating the Islamic State, Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups, explained the Defense Post.

But the fight against terrorists isn’t the only battle in the war-torn West African country. Violence has been escalating throughout Mali as peace accords signed in 2015 break down, the Financial Times reported. The accords were supposed to satisfy ethnic Tuaregs fighting for independence in the country’s north while the government fought the jihadists.

In a report about Malians displaced in the fighting, Middle East Eye detailed how many of the separatists had fought for Moammar Gadhafi in the Libyan civil war that broke out in 2011, then brought home weapons looted from Gadhafi’s armories after the Libyan strongman’s fall. The French intervened to prop up leaders in the Malian capital of Bamako and secure peace.

Meanwhile, most of the commitments in the accord have not been met.

Now parliamentary elections slated for March 29 – the government has not yet postponed them due to health concerns – could stoke the fires of division, too. The central government might not be able to hold polls in the country’s north because of insecurity. Shutting down voting won’t exactly inspire confidence in the central government. Problems like these could be reasons why democracy in West Africa is under threat, as Just Security, an online forum out of New York University’s School of Law, recently argued.

The north is not the only dangerous part of Mali, either. A militia of ethnic Dogons has attacked villagers in Ogossagou, in central Mali, twice in the past year, killing more than 150 civilians in a March 2019 massacre and more than 35 in February. The tragedies were part of a long-running feud between ethnic Fulani cattle herders and ethnic Dogon farmers.

“Ethnic militias who apparently have no fear of being held to account have once again murdered and mutilated dozens of civilians,” said Human Rights Watch’s Sahel director, Corinne Dufka, in a report. “The second massacre in Ogossagou was especially horrendous because the Malian army and UN peacekeepers might have prevented it.”

Malian leaders, meanwhile, are trying to quickly beef up their military. Currently, an army of 12,000 soldiers defends the geographically massive country of 20 million people, wrote the Washington Post. For comparison, the New York City Police Department has 36,000 officers in a city of more than 8 million.

United Nations observers have raised questions about whether sending more weapons to Mali will help. They recently chided Australia for selling arms to the country, the Guardian reported.

Certainly one side has to become stronger. Many hope it’s not the militants.

WANT TO KNOW

JAPAN

Same Time Next Year

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be delayed by a year due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Bloomberg reported.

The announcement came after Abe and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach agreed to move the games to the summer of 2021, making the Olympics the biggest global event to be disrupted by the outbreak.

The pandemic had already forced several national teams to announce they would pull out if the games went forward as planned.

Analysts believe the delay will result in $5.8 billion in losses and would cause some logistical issues, which include some sponsorship agreements expiring in 2020.

Japan spent more than $26 billion to host the games. The event was supposed to reinvigorate the Japanese economy, which shrank 1.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019 over the third quarter, the biggest contraction since 2014.

Since its inception in the 19th century, the Summer Olympics have only been cancelled three times, during the two World Wars.

AFGHANISTAN

The Big Stick

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his rival, former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, continued their feud Tuesday, prompting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to threaten massive aid cuts, the Associated Press reported.

Pompeo visited Afghanistan on Monday to encourage both parties to resolve their dispute in order to advance peace in the war-torn nation.

The cuts would include the reduction of $1 billion this year, and another billion in 2021 if both leaders fail to reach an agreement.

Both Ghani and Abdullah have been locked in a power struggle following last year’s presidential elections, which saw both men declaring themselves president earlier this month.

The feud may threaten the peace deal signed between the United States and the Taliban on Feb. 29: The agreement would see the withdrawal of US and coalition forces from Afghanistan and the start of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

THE NETHERLANDS

Pending Justice

The trial of four individuals accused of downing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014 resumed briefly at The Hague Tuesday, in spite of restrictions on gatherings to contain the novel coronavirus, Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty reported.

In the 45-minute session, judges read out several preliminary decisions before ruling to adjourn the trial in absentia of three Russians and a Ukrainian until June 8, to give more time to defense lawyers to prepare their cases.

Flight MH17 was shot down by a Russian-made Buk missile fired from eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian rebels.

All 298 passengers and crew were killed and the four accused remain at large despite international warrants for their arrest.

Prosecutors and investigators said that the four men procured the Russian missile system used in the downing. They added that two of the accused Russians were connected with Russia’s Military Intelligence Service.

Despite evidence that Russia’s military was directly involved in the incident, the Russian government denies any involvement.

DISCOVERIES

The Flip Side

The novel coronavirus has brought the world nearly to a standstill, with countries going into lockdowns, factories closing and transportation services becoming very limited.

The impact has been so strong that scientists have been able to see via satellite imagery a big reduction in air pollution across China and Italy since the outbreak started, the New York Times reported.

Readings from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite showed that northern Italy’s levels of nitrogen dioxide – a gas linked to vehicle exhaust – considerably decreased when the government imposed a total lockdown across the region in early March.

The region regularly struggled with wintertime smog in previous years, but with many Italians staying at home, pollution levels dropped dramatically.

In China, meanwhile, the drop in pollution was even more noticeable, especially in Hubei Province, where the virus is believed to have originated.

NASA reported that nitrogen dioxide emissions over eastern and central China were much lower during January and February this year, compared to previous years.

Scientists plan to further analyze the disease’s impact on the atmosphere as more and more nations enter lockdowns.

“We’re seeing changes in human behavior, in how people are moving around and how they’re using fuels,” said Joanna Joiner, an atmospheric physicist at NASA. “Pollution won’t hide from the satellite data. It’s going to tell us what’s going on.”

Click here and here to see the dramatic change in China and Italy.