The World Today for April 08, 2020

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COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest number as of 4 a.m. ET*:

US 399,929 (+8.54%)
Spain 141,942 (+3.85%)
Italy 135,586 (+2.29%)
France 110,070 (+11.20%)
Germany 107,663 (+4.15%)
China 82,783 (+0.10%)
Iran 62,589 (+3.45%)
UK 55,949 (+7.02%)
Turkey 34,109 (+12.88%)
Switzerland 22,253 (+2.75%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentage change over 24 hours



Gangsters to the Rescue

Drug gangs have imposed curfews in the “favelas” (slums) of Rio de Janeiro.

They had to – no one else was doing anything.

Out went the “baile funk” dance parties, drug markets and other hallmarks of the so-called City of God slum, which registered its first case of the novel coronavirus in late March.

“We’re imposing a curfew because nobody is taking this seriously,” gangsters told residents via loudspeakers, according to MercoPress, the South Atlantic news agency. “Whoever is in the street screwing around or going for a walk will receive a corrective and serve as an example. Better to stay home doing nothing. The message has been (delivered).”

Contrast that clear and forceful policy with the advice of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has criticized self-isolation measures designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, Reuters reported.

It’s become so troubling, that Facebook and Twitter, breaking with their policy of not interfering with free speech on social media recently deleted some of Bolsonaro’s posts because they spread disinformation that could harm people.

In one post, Bolsonaro claimed the drug hydroxychloroquine was an effective treatment for the virus, wrote Tech Crunch. President Trump has also touted the drug, which American officials have permitted doctors to prescribe even as they said they lack definitive proof that it works. In another, CNET explained, the Brazilian president questioned whether social distancing worked, contradicting global public health recommendations.

Bolsonaro has become the boss of the coronavirus-denial movement, wrote the Atlantic magazine. Describing the virus that has caused a worldwide crisis as a “little flu,” he’s organized rallies of his supporters. Brazilians, he claimed, “never catch anything” even when they dive into sewage. He thinks the pandemic is just media shenanigans. He also noted, “We’re all going to die one day,” the Associated Press reported. That last assertion is incontrovertible, of course.

The president is clearly worried about the economy tanking, destroying livelihoods and perhaps his political fortunes, too, Slate reported.

Postponing action might turn out to be catastrophic, however. Bolsonaro brought an infected aide to Florida to meet Trump, Foreign Policy magazine wrote.

Unlike Trump, though, many Brazilians, including those in slums, don’t have access to clean running water or proper medical attention. Brazil held its famous Carnival in late February, meaning the virus had an opportunity to circulate in a massive pool of revelers who then dispersed to different corners of the sprawling South American nation of just over 200 million. Outbreaks are starting to appear. On Tuesday, the country recorded more than 12,000 cases and 582 deaths.

In a Washington Post op-ed, University of Bath Anthropologist Rosana Pinheiro-Machado, a native of Brazil, noted that Brazilians have taken to banging pots and pans outside their windows in protest against Bolsonaro’s head-in-the-sand approach. She called for his impeachment.

Some say that is not mere fantasy anymore.

When it is gangsters taking control to ensure public safety, people should question why that is, say analysts. Brazil, which has seen years of turmoil, doesn’t necessarily need another political crisis. But if one is necessary to deal with the pandemic, it might be in order.



An Elusive Peace

The Taliban announced Tuesday that they broke off discussions with the Afghan government over a prisoner exchange, a move that could derail the peace talks brokered by the United States, Al Jazeera reported.

The armed group’s spokesman tweeted that the prisoner swap was being “delayed under one pretext or another” and that their team would not take part in “fruitless meetings.”

Afghan government negotiators countered that the delay was caused after the Taliban wanted the release of 15 “top commanders,” a demand the government rejected.

The prisoner swap is an integral part of a peace deal signed between the militant group and the US in late February to end the 18-year war. Under the deal, US-led international forces would withdraw in exchange for Taliban security guarantees.

Meanwhile, the prisoner exchange is a prerequisite for talks between the Taliban and the US-backed Afghan government, which was not a signatory to the peace deal.


The Nuances of Guilt

Australia’s High Court on Tuesday unanimously overturned the conviction of Cardinal George Pell on charges of child sexual abuse, ending the legal saga against the former Vatican treasurer, CNN reported.

Pell was sentenced to six years in prison in March 2019 for sexually abusing two 13-year-old choirboys in the 1990s.

In its argument, the High Court found there was reasonable doubt regarding the testimony of a witness, who was one of the alleged victims. The other victim committed suicide in 2014 before the allegations surfaced.

The cardinal was the highest-ranking official to be publicly accused of sexual abuse of a minor. He has denied the charges as a “product of fantasy.”

Advocates said that the decision – which can’t be challenged – is a blow to survivors whose faith in the legal system was restored following the guilty verdict.

The Vatican welcomed the decision, the Guardian reported.

Pope Francis said he prayed for those who suffer “unjust sentences.”


Getting a Little Help

The United Nation’s patent agency said Tuesday that China became the biggest source of applications for international patents in 2019, pushing the United States out of the top spot for the first time in 40 years, Reuters reported.

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) said that China filed 58,990 applications compared to the 57,840 filed by the United States – a 200-fold increase in 20 years.

The US has filed the most applications since the creation of the Patent Cooperation Treaty system in 1978 – a system for countries to share the recognition of patents.

Patent ownership is seen as an important factor in determining a country’s economic strength and industrial knowledge.

Meanwhile, WIPO head Francis Gurry acknowledged that China’s success could be attributed to state subsidies for innovation.

“It’s a model which does use state subsidies to a greater extent perhaps than Western economies might typically use…,” he said. “So yes, it certainly plays a role.”


The Cocaine Hippos

Ecologists have long worried that introducing invasive species could adversely affect ecosystems, but that’s not always the case, according to new research.

Before his death in 1993, Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar left behind a zoo full of wild animals, including hippopotamuses: They have now become the world’s largest invasive species.

Scientists feared the hippos would threaten Colombia’s ecological habitat. Quite the contrary, the Guardian reported.

In their study, researchers compared ecological traits from large invasive herbivore species like hippos with those of extinct creatures such as mammoths and giant sloths that lived around 116,000 to 12,000 years ago.

Their results revealed that the introduction of invasive species across the world has restored lost ecological traits to many ecosystems. Subsequently, this has counteracted the legacy of extinctions.

Lead author Erick Lundgren said the study changes the conventional belief about invasive species and used the example of wild pigs in the southern United States.

He explained that farmers dislike the pigs because they destroy crops when they begin “rooting” for food.

While rooting can threaten the habitat of other species, it also helps trees grow faster since the pigs are essentially turning the soil and making it more nutritious.

Researchers say that along with all the possibilities this new research creates, they may have to rethink the branding.

“The word ‘invasive’ doesn’t really leave any room for organisms that do something that’s beneficial for another species,” said Lundgren. “And with that kind of anthropomorphic branding, you end up with a very limited range of research questions that are usually asked.”

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