The World Today for April 14, 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 582,594 (+4.48%)
  2. Spain 170,099 (+1.96%)
  3. Italy 159,516 (+2.02%)
  4. France 137,877 (+3.15%)
  5. Germany 130,072 (+1.73%)
  6. UK 89,571 (+5.12%)
  7. China 83,303 (+0.20%)
  8. Iran 73,303 (+2.26%)
  9. Turkey 61,049 (+7.19%)
  10. Belgium 30,589 (+3.18%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentage change over 24 hours



Curve Down, Polling Up

The first country swept up in the pandemic after the Chinese outbreak, South Korea has been a leader in combating the coronavirus.

Now, the East Asian country is preparing for voters to go to the polls in a parliamentary election on April 15. It’s a rare exception in the world these days – allowing a vote to go on.

The vote is crucial – it is expected to be the first hint as to who might replace President Moon Jae-in, whose term ends in two years. Presently, Moon’s liberal Democratic Party of Korea is ahead of the conservative United Future Party.

The Democrats adopted “winning the COVID-19 war” as its campaign slogan, Quartz reported. At first, they appeared to fumble their crisis response as the pandemic worsened, the National Interest wrote. Then they managed to flatten the curve – the pace of the increase in new cases – demonstrating competence.

“We were terrified several weeks ago, but thanks to the government’s handling of the coronavirus, we think we will do much better than we had previously thought,” an unnamed senior ruling party honcho said in an interview with Reuters.

The conservatives, moreover, have been on the ropes since their former standard-bearer, ex-President Park Geun-hye, was impeached four years ago, the Diplomat added.

But the president shouldn’t start counting chickens. Almost one-third of South Korean voters are politically independent and don’t necessarily vote along party lines.

“Good management of the coronavirus is good for the president and the government,” Gallup Korea Director Jeong Ji-yeon told Nikkei Asian Review. “But that does not necessarily mean that the governing party will win.”

The logistics of the election are expected to be a challenge.

Politicians haven’t been able to hold the big rallies and get-out-the-vote efforts that are a mainstay of South Korean elections, Voice of America wrote. Online efforts have taken over.

Election officials have made masks and gloves mandatory and pledged to regularly disinfect more than 14,000 polling stations and check voters’ temperatures before allowing them to cast ballots, National Public Radio reported. Anyone with a fever would vote in special booths. Others will be allowed to vote from hospitals.

The safeguards will allow individual’s stories of inspiration to emerge, like how a North Korean diplomat in London defected to the south and is the first former official from the north to run for a seat in parliament. If elected, Agence France-Presse pointed out, Thae Yong Ho would ironically represent Gangnam, the wealthy Seoul neighborhood made famous by rapper Psy’s song “Gangnam Style.”

Public health emergencies need not stifle democracy. South Korea shows how a little determination and care – instead of authoritarian or partisan impulses – can go a long way.



Cutting Away

Oil prices increased Monday morning after members of OPEC and its allies agreed to cut production by 9.7 million barrels per day, the single largest output cut in history, according to CNBC.

The agreement is aimed at fighting the drop in prices as the novel coronavirus pandemic reduces demand. It also ends a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia that broke out in March.

The cut will begin on May 1 and will last until the end of June. From July, the reduction will drop to 7.7 million barrels per day until the end of 2020. Next year, the cut in production is to deepen.

OPEC members hope that nations outside the group – the United States, Canada and Norway – will also cut production to shore up prices.

Analyst Ed Morse said that while the cuts will help boost prices to the mid-$40 range by the end of the year, there will be short-term pain while the market rebalances.

“It’s simply too late to prevent a super-large inventory build of over one billion barrels between mid-March and late May and to stop spot prices from falling into single digits,” he said.


The Two Horsemen

Libya’s UN-backed government forces captured three cities west of the capital from troops loyal to eastern militia leader Khalifa Hifter, the government said Monday.

The announcement, reported by the Middle East Eye, is a rare recent success by government forces in repelling Hifter’s Libyan National Army: It launched an offensive last year to capture Tripoli, which is controlled by the Government of National Accord.

Meanwhile, the novel coronavirus pandemic is threatening the country’s fragmented and overstretched health system.

The country has been divided since the ouster and death of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Attempts by the United Nations to reach a ceasefire have failed, Agence France-Presse reported.

The UN has also been critical of the repeated violations of a 2011 weapons embargo, and has said that more than 200,000 people have died since Hifter launched his offensive.


Not Wanted Here

African nations criticized China earlier this week over reports of discrimination against African nationals in China as it attempts to prevent a resurgence of the novel coronavirus, CNN reported Monday.

Last week, African students and expatriates in the southern city of Guangzhou were subjected to forced coronavirus tests and 14-day self-quarantines, regardless of their recent travel history.

Reports also illustrated how some expatriates were left homeless after being evicted by their landlords or rejected by hotels.

African governments condemned the incidents and have demanded answers from Beijing for the treatment of their citizens.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian denied there was any “differential treatment” and that China has a “zero tolerance for discrimination.”

The recent crisis could undermine China’s diplomatic efforts in Africa. The continent has become increasingly important to Beijing in recent years, with trade between the two worth $208 billion in 2019.


Insectus Gaga

Pop singer Lady Gaga is known for her bizarre fashion sense, such as the infamous meat dress.

That’s style, so ingrained in contemporary pop culture, has now spilled into the scientific world.

In a new study, researchers discovered a new species of treehoppers, a group of insects that have a “wacky” appearance similar to the famed singer’s sense of style.

“If there is going to be a Lady Gaga bug, it’s going to be a treehopper because they’ve got these crazy horns, they have this wacky fashion sense about them,” said lead author Brendan Morris, who named the new species Kaikaia gaga.

Morris said that treehoppers are “morphological wonders” known to have strange protuberances that can resemble horns or dead plant leaves.

He noted that the studied specimen was originally found in Nicaragua nearly 30 years ago and was a female.

He explained that the Kaikaia gaga was a new genus of treehopper and had a few features that were different from previously studied species: It had peculiar leg hairs and genitalia that looked similar to those of treehoppers from the Caribbean or the Old World.

Meanwhile, there are numerous species named for celebrities. Click here to see some examples.

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