The World Today for April 06, 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 337,638 (+8.13%)
  2. Spain 131,646  (+5.63%)
  3. Italy 128,948 (+2.20%)
  4. Germany 100,123 (+4.19%)
  5. France 93,780 (+3.22%)
  6. China 82,641 (+0.08%)
  7. Iran 58,226 (+4.45%)
  8. UK 48,440 (+14.03%)
  9. Turkey 27,069 (+13.10%)
  10. Switzerland 21,100 (+2.90%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentage change over 24 hours



New Kids on the Block

Deer have been spotted on the deserted streets of Japanese cities. A curious puma descended from the hills around Santiago to explore the Chilean capital. Turkeys are gobbling in Oakland, California while some very merry goats have taken over the streets of a seaside resort in Wales.

“This is the habitat they once had and that we’ve taken away from them,” said Marcelo Giagnoni, a Chilean agricultural official told Agence France-Presse.

Some tales of wildlife reasserting their hold on the world – like dolphins in Venetian canals – are fake, National Geographic wrote. Others, like rival monkey gangs fighting in Thailand due to fewer tourists to feed them, were fantastic but true.

But stay-at-home orders around the world are providing a glimpse into our natural world without humanity. And it’s a sobering one.

For example, a precipitous drop in air pollution is another consequence of the coronavirus pandemic. Citing NASA and European Space Agency data, CNET featured a map that showed how emissions dropped by as much as 25 percent in China. The air was also cleaner in Italy, southern California and elsewhere.

As many as 4.2 million people die annually from air pollution, noted CNBC. The shift has likely saved around 50,000 lives in China alone. Sky News provided some nice maps of France and Spain showing similar changes.

Is the coronavirus a message from nature to humans about the destruction of the planet? United Nations Environmental Program director Inger Andersen appeared to think so, saying the pandemic is a “clear warning shot,” according to Common Dreams, a progressive news website.

“Never before have so many opportunities existed for pathogens to pass from wild and domestic animals to people,” she said, explaining that this is due to widespread habitat destruction through deforestation, mining, exploitation of animals for profit, and the climate crisis.

If the cute-but-scaly pangolins, a mammal found in Asia and Africa, are the origin of the virus, as the BBC suggested, then perhaps Andersen is correct. Used as food and in traditional medicine in China, pangolins are estimated to be the most illegally trafficked animals in the world, Bloomberg reported.

Scientists were torn on that line of thought, however. Humans might have infected themselves by exploiting pangolins, CNN explained. But skeptical researchers told the New York Times that much of the pangolin trade was in their scales, which would not have infected people. Still, most scientists believe the virus passed to humans via an animal, possibly a bat.

Meanwhile, as Euronews reported, emissions are already rebounding in China as the pandemic abates there and life slowly returns to normal. Politicians and citizens are understandably interested in reigniting their economies in the wake of the crisis rather than spending more resources on reducing greenhouse gases to avoid some far-off future disaster.

Still, with an eye on the next possible pandemic around the corner, many believe we now have a real opportunity to restart our economies and grow them while keeping our natural heritage in mind.

Ironically, a knock-on effect from the pandemic provides hope for that, Jean-Noel Rieffel of the French biodiversity office, told AFP: “The most important phenomenon (now) perhaps is our relationship with nature (is) changing – with people locked up in their homes realizing how much they miss nature.”



Riding The Crescendo

Italian and Spanish officials announced over the weekend that there’s been a slowdown in the death toll in their respective countries from the novel coronavirus even as they both remain under strict lockdown, the New York Post reported.

Italy, the worst-hit country to date in terms of total fatalities, welcomed its lowest daily increase in fatalities in two weeks, adding that the number of patients in intensive care has fallen.

While the confirmed case count remains high – more than 128,000 infected as of Sunday evening – the government believes that its ongoing strict lockdown measures have managed to stabilize the situation.

Spain, meanwhile, reported that fatalities decreased for the third day in a row, according to Bloomberg.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez expressed cautious optimism that the country has hit the peak. Nevertheless, his government extended the lockdown until April 25.

Spain has seen the second highest number of infections after the United States – with more than 130,000 confirmed cases as of Monday morning.


The Missing

Rwandan authorities discovered the site of a possible mass grave in a valley dam near the capital, believed to contain about 30,000 bodies of victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the Associated Press reported Sunday.

The discovery has been labeled the most significant in years and comes just a few days before the East African nation marks the 26th anniversary of the genocide on April 7.

Officials said the dam was dug years before the genocide. So far, workers have recovered 50 bodies.

Information about the mass grave emerged after perpetrators of the genocide, who are being released from prison after serving their sentences, are offering up new information.

Survivors of the genocide say that there can’t be true reconciliation in the country if many of the convicted conceal information about missing victims.

The Rwandan genocide involved the mass slaughter of Tutsi, Twa and moderate Hutu in 1994 during the Rwandan Civil War. It is estimated that between 500,000 and a million people were killed.



American allies in Europe and South America denounced Washington’s “Wild West” tactics in outbidding or diverting shipments of medical supplies as countries around the world race to secure masks and ventilators to fight the novel coronavirus, Reuters reported Saturday.

French and German officials said the US was paying above-market prices for medical-grade masks from China’s top producer, causing a diversion of shipments bound for Europe – despite finalized contracts.

In one instance, German officials said that a shipment of 200,000 face masks bound for Germany was seized in Thailand and diverted to the US in an “act of modern piracy.”

Brazil’s Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta noted that finalized orders were canceled after the US government sent more than 20 cargo planes to buy the same equipment.

US-listed multinational 3M, which produces medical equipment, said last week that Washington’s order to halt shipments of respirators produced in the US and exported to Canada and Latin America would lead to “significant humanitarian implications.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said blocking the flow of equipment across the border would be a “mistake” that could backfire: Numerous Canadian healthcare professionals cross the border to work in Detroit every day. Detroit is one of the US cities hit hard by the novel coronavirus.


The Winged Lizard

Africa’s poorly known evolutionary history has become just a bit clearer thanks to a recent find.

A team of international researchers discovered fossils from three new species of flying reptiles, which had lived in the Sahara about 100 million years ago, the University of Portsmouth reported.

In their study, scientists examined the remains of three pterosaurs in the Kem Kem beds of Morocco, where fossils of other dinosaur species have previously been discovered.

They believe the pterosaurs flew over a once lush river ecosystem full of life, including fish, crocodiles and other dinosaurs.

The team said the creatures had a wingspan of more than nine feet and could forage over vast distances, similar to present-day condors and albatrosses.

The flying reptiles mainly fed on fish and had large spike-like teeth that allowed them to snatch their prey during flight.

The authors noted that African pterosaurs were quite similar to other species found in South America and other continents.

Nevertheless, the discovery paints a better picture of the prehistoric beasts that once roamed the African continent.

“We know so much more about pterosaurs from places like Europe and Asia, so describing new specimens from Africa is always very exciting,” said co-author Nizar Ibrahim.

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