The World Today for April 15, 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 609,516 (+4.62%)
  2. Spain 174,060 (+2.33%)
  3. Italy 162,488 (+1.86%)
  4. France 143,303 (+3.94%)
  5. Germany 132,210 (+1.64%)
  6. UK 94,845 (+5.89%)
  7. China 83,351 (+0.06%)
  8. Iran 74,877 (+2.15%)
  9. Turkey 65,111 (+6.65%)
  10. Belgium 31,119 (+1.73%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentage change over 24 hours



Divided We Stand

After only a few months in office, a top European Union scientist resigned recently in protest against the bloc’s response to the coronavirus.

The former president of the European Union’s European Research Council, Mauro Ferrari, published a public letter in the Financial Times and the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera saying bureaucratic hurdles forced him to admit to himself that his “idealistic dream of a United Europe…[had been] crushed by a very different reality.”

EU officials said they had already voted no confidence in Ferrari. However, the BBC reported that he was essentially forced out because of clashes with his colleagues.

No matter why Ferrari left, the episode was symbolic of how the coronavirus is creating tension on the social, political and economic connections that tie Europe together.

Britain’s upcoming departure from the EU known as Brexit, the ongoing migration crisis that began in 2015 and the 2008 financial crisis have exposed the fault lines between the needs of individual European countries and their collective institutions, wrote the Washington Post.

As the pandemic worsened, countries threw up border restrictions, and France and Germany stopped foreign exports of medical equipment, cutting off vital supplies to Italy. Italians felt as if their European compatriots had abandoned them, reported the Washington Times.

Maybe they have. France recently erected border controls for citizens of countries from within the Schengen zone – like Italy – who previously enjoyed the freedom to come and go as they pleased. That’s a complete rejection of the European ideal.

“It’s a big challenge to the existence of Europe,” Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told the BBC last week, referring to the pandemic. Other Italian politicians have warned of rising nationalism and anti-EU sentiment over the past month.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted the pandemic was the EU’s biggest challenge yet, according to Reuters. Germany, of course, has mounted an impressive anti-coronavirus system to curb infections and deaths. Germans are already floating smart plans to revive their economy once the threat has passed, too, wrote CNN.

But Merkel doesn’t yet want to issue European common debt to combat the crisis, an idea Italy and Spain want to help their efforts to fund a public health response. A compromise to stave off that demand was reached last week: EU leaders agreed to spend about 540 billion euros ($600 billion) to shore up economies hit by the pandemic, the New York Times reported.

The coronavirus surely puts all the furor over Brexit in recent years into context, argued the Atlantic magazine, which called it a small matter in comparison. Now the UK is supposed to be negotiating the final terms of its exit from the bloc – formerly viewed as a matter of gargantuan importance – while also weathering a pandemic, an issue that is truly a matter of life and death.

Recently, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in intensive care with the virus while the EU’s primary negotiator on Brexit was also ill, CNBC reported. The deadline for the negotiations might need to be extended.

It might be the only extra time anyone gets in this calamity.



Back to the Table

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday that his country is ready to discuss hypersonic missiles and other arms control issues with the United States, Reuters reported.

Lavrov said that he spoke with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a few days ago about resuming talks on arms control and strategic capabilities. He added that he looked forward to another discussion with Pompeo and that Russia is “open to talks about new promising developments.”

Both countries are developing hypersonic missiles to expand their defense systems. These types of missiles can fly several times the speed of sound and are harder to intercept than older weapons.

Analysts fear that the missiles could trigger a new arms race.

Furthermore, Cold War-era arms control agreements have been in jeopardy since Russia’s relations with the West took a nosedive in recent years.

In August 2019, the United States pulled out of the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty after accusing Russia of non-compliance.


‘The Great Lockdown’

The global economy this year will suffer the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression in the 1930s due to measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said Tuesday.

The organization estimated that the global economy will contract by three percent in 2020 after January forecasts initially predicted a global gross domestic product (GDP) expansion of 3.3 percent for this year.

Projections show that the US economy will contract by 5.9 percent this year, while the Eurozone’s economy will shrink by 7.5 percent. China, however, will see a slight increase of 1.2 percent in 2020.

The dramatic downgrade comes as many countries around the world have closed their borders and halted most social and economic activity to contain the virus in what the IMF has dubbed “the Great Lockdown.”

The IMF added that there’s uncertainty over the duration and the severity of the economic shock caused by the pandemic. Efforts to jumpstart economies will prove challenging given the social distancing policies necessary until a vaccine is widely available.


The Red Scarf

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Tuesday offered to hold a referendum on his presidency early as he sought to silence increasingly strident criticism against his administration, Reuters reported.

The business community and the opposition say he has failed to effectively manage the economy and the novel coronavirus outbreak, and also point to increasing gang violence on his watch.

They have urged voters to use the so-called recall referendum in spring 2022 to vote him out.

Lopez Obrador, a leftist who won the elections by a landslide in 2018, initially suggested moving the referendum to June 2021 during the mid-term legislative elections.

The opposition, however, rejected the new date and wanted it held in 2022.

But Lopez Obrador’s approval ratings have plunged from nearly 80 percent in 2018 to about 47 percent in recent months, and the opposition sees a chance of success if the vote is pushed up.

Mexico entered a mild recession last year as a result of a fall in investment due to concerns about the president’s readiness to allow major contracts signed under the previous government to be invalidated.


Munching on a Star

A recent study is helping scientists learn more about the mysterious black holes in the universe and the evolution of the cosmos.

Researchers discovered the presence of an “intermediate-mass” black hole using the Hubble telescope, the BBC reported.

Intermediate-mass black holes are harder to find because of their small size and because they are less active than their larger relatives, supermassive black holes.

The research team was able to spot what it believed to be the intermediate-mass black hole after catching it feeding on a star that ventured too close.

They reported that the black hole was on the outskirts of the Milky Way galaxy – where they are mostly found. They estimate its mass to be 50,000 times that of the Sun.

The discovery could help astronomers further explore the evolution of black holes in the universe, a “cosmic missing link.”

“Studying the origin and evolution of the intermediate-mass black holes will finally answer (the question)…how the supermassive black holes that we find in the centers of massive galaxies came to exist,” said co-author Natalie Webb.

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