The World Today for April 01, 2020

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COVID-19 Global Update

More than 170 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest number as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US 189,633 (+15.20%)
  2. Italy 105,792 (+3.98%)
  3. Spain 95,923 (+9.06%)
  4. China 82,301 (+0.07%)
  5. Germany 71,808 (+7.36%)
  6. France 52,836 (+16.97%)
  7. Iran 44,605 (+7.49%)
  8. UK 25,481 (+13.48%)
  9. Switzerland 16,605 (+4.29%)
  10. Turkey 13,531 (+24.97%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentage change over 24 hours

NEED TO KNOW

AFGHANISTAN

Retribution, Mortal and Divine

The US has been planning to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by the middle of next year.

But the novel coronavirus pandemic has slowed that process. Military leaders have halted travel to and from the Central Asian country. Soldiers entering a command area that includes Iraq and Afghanistan will have to sit in quarantine for 14 days, and those scheduled to leave will have to wait while their replacements are quarantined, reported Defense One.

Four members of the multinational coalition in Afghanistan have tested positive for the virus, reported the Military Times. In Europe, around 2,600 military personnel are in self-isolation while 35 have tested positive for the virus as of last week, a Defense Department statement said.

The developments are yet another complication for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who recently traveled to Afghanistan in hopes of resuscitating the peace process that he helped lead in late February, when the US and Taliban signed a deal to end 18 years of fighting.

The problem, as National Public Radio explained, was that the Afghan government has been too splintered to hold its own peace talks with the Taliban, as planned. Taliban fighters kept up their fight against forces loyal to the central government in Kabul. American warplanes counterattacked.

Pompeo’s visit largely failed to end the impasse, the Wall Street Journal reported. Laying the blame at his feet might be too harsh, though. Political differences and claims of fraud in Afghanistan’s September elections led both the incumbent, Ashraf Ghani, and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, to proclaim themselves president, including holding dueling inaugurations, reported the BBC.

The US cut $1 billion in aid to Afghanistan to punish both sides for failing to set aside their differences and form a unity government, the Washington Post wrote. In announcing the cut, Pompeo also reminded Ghani and Abdullah that the US still planned to pull out on schedule – meaning they might be left vulnerable as the Taliban grows stronger.

Afghan leaders are resisting a deal because the Taliban want them to release around 5,000 Taliban prisoners whom many understandably regard as terrorists, torturers and killers, Human Rights Watch wrote.

Still, the possibility of the Taliban overrunning Kabul was one reason Brookings Institution senior fellow Bruce Riedel called the peace accord a “mess.”

The coronavirus pandemic, meanwhile, rolls on. The first Afghan recently died from the illness, reported the Anadolu Agency, a Turkish newswire.

Some Afghans see the coronavirus as retribution. “God told me through his holy book, Quran, to urge people to refrain from sin. Our bad deeds will be punished. The coronavirus is God’s punishment,” a street preacher in the western city of Herat told Al Jazeera.

Plenty of blood has been spilled. It’s not clear who is guilty for all of it. But now many are likely going to pay a price.

WANT TO KNOW

NAGORNO-KARABAKH

Rebels With A Cause

Authorities in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh held presidential and parliamentary elections Tuesday in spite of international criticism and the novel coronavirus pandemic, Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty reported.

Fourteen candidates are vying to take over for incumbent President Bako Sahakyan, who is forbidden from seeking reelection under local law in the region located within Azerbaijan.

Twelve political parties and alliances, meanwhile, are trying to win seats in Nagorno-Karabakh’s 33-member National Assembly.

The European Union criticized Tuesday’s poll saying that the move could threaten negotiations to resolve the conflict.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan and its ally, Turkey, condemned the vote.

The region has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces since 1994, following a Russian-brokered truce that ended a deadly six-year conflict that killed at least 30,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands.

Separatists, meanwhile, have declared independence even as no country has recognized it.

The Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe – co-chaired by Russia, the United States and France – has been struggling for years to bring an end to the conflict.

IRAN

Sanctioning Aid

European countries on Tuesday successfully delivered medical supplies to Iran in the first transaction made under the INSTEX mechanism created to bypass US sanctions, Al Jazeera reported.

The transaction comes more than year after France, Germany and the United Kingdom set up the scheme to keep the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran alive following the pullout of the United States in 2018. The US subsequently re-imposed sanctions against Tehran.

The medical supplies are aimed at helping Iran tackle the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which has infected more than 44,000 people and killed more than 2,800.

Iranian officials have warned that the crisis won’t end soon and have blamed US sanctions for hindering the government’s efforts to halt the spread of the virus.

Last week, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei rejected aid offers from US President Donald Trump, calling the proposal “strange” and Washington the “most ferocious and vicious enemy.”

Nevertheless, the US on Monday renewed several waivers on sanctions that will allow American and foreign companies to do business with Iran, the Hill reported.

CHINA

Back In Black, Sort Of

China’s National Bureau of Statistics said Tuesday that the country’s manufacturing activity strongly rebounded in March as work resumed following the lifting of lockdowns to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The official manufacturing purchasing managers index (PMI) jumped to 52.0 in March from a record low of 35.7 the month before. Economists said that the result was higher than expected.

The Journal explained that any result above 50 indicates expansion, while those below show contraction.

The bureau cautioned, however, that a sharp rebound doesn’t mean that economic activity has returned to pre-virus levels: It only shows a resumption of work after a near-total halt.

Analysts believe that more issues are bound to arise in the future and that the government needs to implement stimulus measures to get the economy back on track.

China’s government has injected billions of dollars of liquidity into the financial system, and exempted tax and social-security payments for smaller businesses, among other measures.

Economists predict that the Chinese economy will post a year-over-year contraction in the first quarter of the year, which could complicate Beijing’s year-end goal of doubling the size of the economy from a decade earlier.

DISCOVERIES

The Vulnerable Ones

The novel coronavirus is a threat to humans, but conservationists worry that it might also threaten the endangered mountain gorillas of Africa, the Associated Press reported.

The large primates are prone to some respiratory illnesses that also affect humans – a common cold can kill a gorilla, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (also known as the World Wildlife Fund).

In a decision that was praised by conservationist groups, both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda are putting a temporary halt on gorilla tourism by closing their national parks.

“With coronavirus having such a long time of no symptoms in some cases, it means that we could actually put those gorillas at risk,” said Kenyan conservationist Paula Kahumbu.

Even before the pandemic, gorilla tourism was conducted under strict measures: Visitors had to keep a safe 21-foot distance to prevent passing on any pathogens.

Conservation efforts have helped increase the numbers of the mountain gorilla, which has been listed as critically endangered or endangered since 1996.

Despite the new measures, the loss of tourism revenue could further threaten the apes from another endemic enemy in Africa: poachers.

“I call on all donors and governments that support these national parks in Africa to make it easy for the parks that need to shut down to do so and survive,” said Kahumbu.

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