The World Today for April 10, 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*:

  1. US 466,299 (+7.83%)
  2. Spain 153,222 (+3.37%)
  3. Italy 143,626 (+3.02%)
  4. France 118,785 (+5.17%)
  5. Germany 118,235 (+4.36%)
  6. China 82,924 (+0.07%)
  7. Iran 66,220 (+2.53%)
  8. UK 65,872 (+7.15%)
  9. Turkey 42,282 (+10.61%)
  10. Belgium 24,983 (+6.75%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentage change over 24 hours

NEED TO KNOW

AFRICA

A Perfect, Brewing Storm

Yassin Hussein Moyo, 13, was standing on his balcony in a Nairobi shantytown when a police bullet struck and killed him.

That was because of a violent police crackdown on anyone breaking the country’s dusk-to-dawn curfew, one of the harshest reactions to the novel coronavirus anywhere. He was the third victim of the pandemic – and only one had died of the actual disease.

“The question the community is asking…is why are you sending the police to come to the community with live bullets?” Faith Mumbe Kasina of the Kiamaiko Social Justice Center asked in the Washington Post.

Other Africans are asking the same question. In South Africa, police have cracked down on citizens who violate public health restrictions, often cruelly, forcing them to perform push-ups and other kinds of corporal punishment, Agence France-Presse wrote. Similar brutality has been seen in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The lockdowns and crackdowns are harsh. So are the forecasts.

Africa is arguably on its way to buckling under the coronavirus pandemic, some say. The virus was slow to reach the continent, but the numbers of infected are rising steadily – more than 4,300 cases were tallied as of last week across 46 countries – compelling governments to take dramatic actions perhaps because they know they are not well-prepared for the potential catastrophe to come.

In Kenya’s Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa, measures to combat the virus are hard to adopt. Residents can’t social distance because they live – often three generations of families – in 100-square-foot shacks in densely packed neighborhoods with a few shared toilet facilities, Fast Company reported. They can’t wash their hands easily because clean running water is scarce.

Many Kenyans watch television, see Italy and the US failing to contain the pandemic and wonder how their poor country will cope. Before the coronavirus arrived, Kenya – along with Somalia and Ethiopia – was struggling to stop a plague of locusts, the worst seen in 70 years: It is threatening the food security and livelihoods of 25 million people, CNBC reported.

Meanwhile, much of what’s difficult in Africa in terms of containment measures mirrors the situation of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa between 2013 and 2016, namely culture.

For example, in Ghana, people are crestfallen over prohibitions on funerals, handshaking and congregating at church, the BBC reported. Such moves go against local culture. Mourning is a public, dramatic community experience that drives an entire economy of caterers, tailors, singers, drivers and others. Ghanaians have a saying, “Only enemies refuse to shake hands.” Some churches won’t close. Instead, they are holding prayer ceremonies to banish the virus.

Then there are the fragile healthcare systems with few resources. In Mali, there is an estimated one ventilator per 1 million people – about 20 in all, reported USA Today. Kenya, a country of more than 50 million, has 550 intensive-care beds. Many sub-Saharan nations have few healthcare workers, some have no isolation wards. Few doctors and nurses have safety equipment and their countries, no way to manufacture it. And diagnostic tests? Forget it, says Olaniyi Ayobami, a doctor in Ibadan, Nigeria.

Still, the coming economic crisis in Africa might dwarf the public health nightmare, Quartz wrote. Many African nations depend on the exports of commodities like agricultural goods, metals, minerals and oils. Their prices are plummeting. Others must import goods in US dollars whose value is skyrocketing as their currencies weaken. And they can’t substitute locally made goods for many imports easily, or at all.

At the same time, CNBC said that the importance of China to Africa’s bilateral trade, and a slump in Chinese demand, has been a huge hit to African exporters over the past few months.

Meanwhile, a lack of reliable electricity and internet access means few white-collar workers and bureaucrats can work from home.

In Nigeria, like elsewhere, those in the informal economy such as food vendors, cleaners, hairdressers and others earn their living day to day, CNN reported. Lockdowns are preventing them from working. If they don’t work, they don’t eat. Others who are among the 85 percent of Africans who live on less than $5.50 a day are facing similar problems. There is little chance of the type of financial help for them seen in Europe or the US.

“It is hunger I am worried about, not a virus. I even heard it doesn’t kill young people,” Debby Ogunsola told the BBC.

That might be the saving grace of Africa during the pandemic, experts say: The average age of the continent’s population is 20. Most young adults seem to escape the illness or only get mildly sick.

As the pandemic spreads, that’s something to hope for.

WANT TO KNOW

YEMEN

Timeout

The Saudi-led coalition fighting Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen declared a two-week ceasefire on Thursday amid the coronavirus pandemic, Al Jazeera reported.

Saudi officials said that the ceasefire was intended to prevent the outbreak of the virus in war-torn Yemen and to offer the Houthis a chance to join the UN-sponsored peace talks to end the five-year conflict.

Houthi officials, however, warned that they would not honor the ceasefire unless the Saudi-United Arab Emirates coalition lifts its year-long blockade on the impoverished nation.

The ceasefire comes a week after United Nations Special Envoy Martin Griffiths sent a peace proposal calling for a halt to all hostilities.

Yemen has been mired in conflict since the rebels toppled the internationally recognized government in Sanaa in 2014.

The conflict, which is widely considered a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has killed more than 100,000 and has left millions near starvation.

PAKISTAN

This Land Is My Land

Pakistan said Thursday that it shot down a small Indian surveillance drone in Kashmir as tensions rise between the two nations over the disputed territory, Agence France-Presse reported.

Pakistani Army officials said that the drone crossed over the de facto border known as the “Line of Control” (LoC). The Indian military denied it was their drone.

The incident comes as both nations accuse each other of violating the ceasefire terms of the LoC, with sporadic shelling reported from both sides.

Relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbors have soured since February 2019 when India launched an airstrike inside Pakistan for allegedly harboring an armed group that killed 40 Indian soldiers in Kashmir.

Pakistan then shot down an Indian fighter jet, capturing its pilot.

Tensions intensified in August when India revoked the partial autonomy of Indian Kashmir.

The region has been divided between India and Pakistan since 1947 and has ignited two wars and numerous flare-ups between the neighbors.

SYRIA

Bad Faith

A global chemical weapons watchdog blamed the Syrian government for the 2017 chemical attacks on the town of Lataminah even though it was to have already disposed of its chemical weapons years before, Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty reported Thursday.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said there were “reasonable grounds” that the Syrian Arab Air Force conducted the three chlorine and sarin nerve-gas attacks.

The United States and other Western nations have long accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of using chemical weapons during the Syrian Civil War.

Syria and its main allies, Russia and Iran, have rejected the accusations and said that the new report was “misleading and contains falsified and fabricated conclusions.”

It is now up to the United Nations and the OPCW to determine what, if any action, it would take against the Syrian government.

Under a 2013 agreement between the US and Russia, the Syrian government was to relinquish its chemical weapon stockpile following a suspected sarin gas attack that killed 1,400 people in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta.

DISCOVERIES

Remi’s World

City life might be hard for humans, but a recent study found that it’s also difficult for brown rats, the Guardian reported.

A research team analyzed the genomes of 29 New York rats and compared them with those of nine brown rats from Heilongjiang province in northeastern China – the original home of the brown rat.

They found that the rodents’ DNA had greatly altered over the centuries as the species moved to other continents and began settling down in large cities.

These changes were particularly noticeable in the genes related to diet, behavior and movement.

Lead author Arbel Harpak explained that unlike their countryside relatives, urban rats evolved to move faster and more easily around artificial environments, such as sewers.

Also, maybe the aspirations of Remi the rat chef in the hit film, Ratatouille, are not so outlandish: Harpak said the rats also emulated the same diet as humans: Both consume copious amounts of highly processed sugars and fats.

“In New York, you can see them eat bagels and beer. In Paris, they like croissants and butter,” Harpak quipped.

The results suggest that both humans and rats have undergone similar shifts in their DNA in response to city life, subsequently becoming prone to the same health diseases.

“Like humans, rats live in higher densities in cities, leading to increased pathogen transmission potential,” the team said.

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