The World Today for April 03, 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 245,573 (+13.31%)
  2. Italy 115,242 (+4.22%)
  3. Spain 112,065 (+7.63%)
  4. Germany 84,794 (+8.74%)
  5. China 82,464 (+0.08%)
  6. France 59,929 (+3.75%)
  7. Iran 50,468 (+6.04%)
  8. UK 34,173 (+14.42%)
  9. Switzerland 18,827 (+5.96%)
  10. Turkey 18,135 (+15.66%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentage change over 24 hours



From Russia, With Love

As the novel coronavirus ravaged Italy, leaders of other European nations restricted the export of medical supplies to the country, saying their own citizens might need them. Russia, meanwhile, sent doctors, disinfection teams, protective masks and suits, and ventilators.

“From Russia with Love” was stamped on the aid packages, reported the Moscow Times.

It was a public relations coup for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Putin’s opportunistic diplomacy follows a long courtship of officials in Rome, who’ve been among the strongest advocates of a rapprochement with Moscow within the EU and NATO,” wrote Bloomberg.

But while Putin might be scoring points abroad, he faces a struggle at home.

The coronavirus pandemic forced Putin to postpone a vote on legislation that would allow him to serve a fifth and sixth presidential term, the BBC reported. Previously set for April 22, the vote has not been rescheduled.

Russia has reported relatively few cases of the virus, but New Yorker writer Joshua Yaffa wondered in a dispatch from Moscow if those low numbers were accurate. Officials might be suppressing the reporting of illnesses. He wasn’t sure if Russia was prepared if one or more outbreaks occurred across its vast territory. And he was skeptical that ordinary Russians would even listen to public health officials after years of living under a corrupt, autocratic state they don’t trust.

Still, many doctors in Russia sounded alarm bells, reported Al Jazeera. Worshipers were still kissing icons in churches. Restaurants, shops and parks remained open until late March. Many healthcare professionals were not receiving the training they needed. When someone died from an illness that could be the coronavirus, doctors were pressured to list other causes of death.

On Thursday, Putin imposed a lockdown for all but essential workers through April as the country recorded more than 3,500 coronavirus cases, and 30 deaths, NPR reported.

That said, Russian officials aren’t shying away from cracking down on citizens who flout best practices. The Washington Post wrote about Irina Sannikova, who returned to southern Russia from a trip to Spain, failed to quarantine herself and then came down with Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. She’s been charged with endangering lives and could serve five years in prison if someone she infected dies.

Ironically, however, Russia’s economy is well poised for the crisis, the New York Times reported.

America imposed sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and its meddling in Syria and the 2016 US election. As a result, the country is largely isolated from the global economy except for the price of oil, which has tanked in part because Moscow and Saudi Arabia are in a dispute over how much they should be pumping. Russia has $600 billion in gold and currency reserves, however, to cushion against any oil revenue losses.

For all the iron control and crackdowns on dissent that are a hallmark of Putin’s 20-years at the helm, he is worried about keeping the peace at home: He ordered broad policy shifts to alleviate the pandemic’s effects on the economy, including possibly raising the cap on unemployment benefits by around 50 percent and freezing consumer loans and mortgages.

In Russia, that’s something.



A Free Man

A Pakistani regional court on Thursday overturned the death sentence of a British man convicted of killing Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan in 2002, the Independent reported.

The Sindh High Court commuted the death sentence of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh to seven years in prison for kidnapping.

“The murder charges were not proven, so he has been given seven years for the kidnapping,” said Sheikh’s lawyer, Khwaja Naveed, who added that he could be freed soon for time served.

The court also acquitted three accomplices who had all been sentenced to life in prison for the kidnapping and murder of Pearl.

A Sindh prosecutor said that he is considering an appeal.

Pearl was kidnapped in January 2002 while investigating Islamic militants in the port city of Karachi. His death was confirmed several weeks later after US diplomats received footage of Pearl’s beheading.

The Pearl Project at Georgetown University carried out an investigation into Pearl’s death, concluding that the reporter was beheaded by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, known as the architect of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, the Associated Press reported.


Sanctioning Xenophobia

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) on Thursday ruled that Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic breached EU law when they refused to take in refugees during the 2015 migrant crisis, Euronews reported.

The court said that the three members failed to accept their share of 120,000 asylum seekers under a relocation program created by the European Council in 2015.

The Council made the decision to support Italy and Greece at a time when more than a million migrants were arriving on their shores.

The judges said the three nations had no right to cite concerns of safeguarding national security or claim that the relocation program was dysfunctional in refusing to comply.

Initially, Poland and the Czech Republic agreed to take 100 and 50 migrants respectively, but failed to do so. The Czech government only took 12, while Poland accepted none.

Hungary, meanwhile, refused to take anyone.

Following the ruling, Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga criticized the “migrant quota,” adding that it was “unreasonable from the beginning.”


Hailing Cats and Dogs

The city of Shenzhen on Thursday banned the sale and consumption of cats and dogs becoming the first Chinese city to implement the rule amid the coronavirus pandemic, the BBC reported.

The city government said that humans and these animals have established a “much closer relationship” than is the case with other animals. They argued that the ban “also responds to the demand and spirit of human civilization.”

The rule comes after Chinese authorities launched a crackdown on wildlife markets across China in February because they are possibly linked to the coronavirus outbreak: Scientists believe it started in a wildlife market in Wuhan.

While the practice of eating dog meat is very rare in China, the Humane Society International reported that across Asia, 30 million dogs are killed annually for meat.

Despite the ban, the Chinese government has permitted the use of bear bile to treat coronavirus patients.

Bear bile – a digestive fluid drained from captive bears – has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat liver diseases. There is no evidence that it can treat the new virus.


Armed With Dirt

In a recent study, researchers highlighted that protecting and restoring the Earth’s soil could help absorb billions of tons of carbon dioxide each year, Agence France-Presse reported.

Researcher Deborah Bossio and her team calculated that the total potential of land-based carbon sequestration is about 23.8 billion metric tons (26.2 billion US tons) of CO2-equivalent a year.

Soil carbon represents about a quarter of that total. Thus, the researchers theorized that if soil is left untouched – meaning not used for agriculture or other plantings – it could absorb more than five billion metric tons of carbon annually.

Bossio explained that soil restoration would also improve water quality and food production, benefiting humanity in the long-term.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported last year that humanity is already facing tough choices on how land is used to provide food and mitigate climate change.

With agriculture and land-use practices contributing as much as one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions, Bossio called on governments to ensure that agricultural policies consider more than just providing food.

“Shift the incentive structures in agriculture toward payments for the range of ecosystem services, food, climate, water and biodiversity that agriculture can provide to society,” she recommended.

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