The World Today for April 16, 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 639,664 (+4.95%)
  2. Spain 180,659 (+3.79%)
  3. Italy 165,155 (+1.64%)
  4. France 147,863 (+3.18%)
  5. Germany 134,753 (+1.92%)
  6. UK 99,489 (+4.90%)
  7. China 83,402 (+0.06%)
  8. Iran 76,389 (+2.02%)
  9. Turkey 69,392 (+6.57%)
  10. Belgium 33,573 (+7.89%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentage change over 24 hours

NEED TO KNOW

CHINA

The Folly of Deception

The CIA wants to know how many people really suffered from the novel coronavirus in China.

It’s not like American intelligence agencies were blindsided when the pandemic started. The CIA had been tracking coronavirus outbreaks since November, according to CNN.

But American intelligence analysts believe that local leaders in Chinese cities like Wuhan have been lying about how many infections occurred to avoid running afoul of their communist overseers, the New York Times reported.

Thousands of urns containing the ashes of the dead have been stacked outside funeral parlors in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, suggesting death rates that cast doubts on Chinese statistics. Some estimates based on urn demand and crematorium working hours suggest that the death toll in Wuhan is more than 40,000, according to the Washington Post. China’s official toll for the entire country is just over 3,345.

“Their numbers seem to be a little bit on the light side, and I’m being nice when I say that,” President Donald Trump said at a press briefing covered by Bloomberg.

Knowing how fast the virus spread in China, how many people acquired it, how they fared and the answers to other questions would greatly help the US and other countries’ responses to the pandemic.

China recently released information on asymptomatic coronavirus patients, for example, providing researchers around the world with important information, NBC reported.

Chinese epidemiologists said asymptomatic transmissions accounted for less than 5 percent of the cases in China. Most transmissions came from folks who seemed sick, they added. But a test from Singapore found that 10 percent of the cases in that smaller country were the result of infections from asymptomatic carriers.

Getting to the bottom of those numbers would help explain why the trajectory of the virus can seem random, why some people fall ill while others who were exposed do not and other vexing challenges.

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Cornell University professors Jeremy Wallace and Jessica Chen Weiss agreed that China was underestimating its toll. But they warned that Chinese stats shouldn’t be a scapegoat for any country’s slow response to the virus.

Regardless, it’s no surprise that Chinese data would be suspect. “Bad numbers in China are always underreported, especially when the national image is at stake, and China is now keen to play up its victory against the virus in contrast with the West’s failures,” wrote Foreign Policy magazine.

Meanwhile, China moved to impose restrictions on the publication of academic research on the origins of the novel coronavirus, CNN reported Monday.

“I think it is a coordinated effort from (the) Chinese government to control (the) narrative, and paint it as if the outbreak did not originate in China,” a Chinese researcher told CNN. “And I don’t think they will really tolerate any objective study to investigate the origination of this disease.”

Regardless, the Hill noted that the world would be watching Wuhan closely in the coming weeks as the city emerges from its lockdown.

As anger in the US and elsewhere grow over China’s lack of transparency and its attempts at disinformation, the city could become a showcase of Chinese resilience or a symbol of the folly of deception.

WANT TO KNOW

WORLD

Pushback

World leaders criticized US President Donald Trump’s decision to temporarily suspend funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) Wednesday, saying it would undermine global efforts to contain the pandemic, the Washington Post reported.

“There is no reason justifying this move at a moment when their efforts are needed more than ever to help contain & mitigate the #coronavirus pandemic,” said Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief on Twitter. “Only by joining forces we can overcome this crisis that knows no borders.”

The US’ traditional allies in Europe and Asia said they would continue funding the organization while rivals, China and Russia, called the move “absolutely harmful” and an example of “egoism and the politicization of COVID-19.”

Trump has criticized the WHO for failing to hold China accountable for its lack of transparency regarding its outbreak, a sentiment shared by Japan and Australia.

Even so, some countries fear that Trump’s motivation is to score domestic political points in an election year at the cost of weakening international agreements and entities.

The US government has attacked or withdrawn funding from other United Nations bodies such as UNESCO and the Human Rights Council.

Meanwhile, the number of people infected with the novel coronavirus worldwide topped two million on Wednesday.

SOUTH KOREA

Boosted By A Virus

The ruling Democratic party of President Moon Jae-in won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections Wednesday, a result widely seen as an endorsement of Moon’s response to the pandemic, the Guardian reported.

Moon’s party and its smaller affiliate won 180 seats in the 300-member National Assembly, while the conservative opposition United Future and its smaller sister party garnered 103 seats.

Despite fears of infection, voter turnout was 66.2 percent, the highest in a generation. Many voters cast their ballots wearing face masks and plastic gloves, while social distancing themselves.

Moon’s efforts to tackle the spread of the virus – seen around the world as a model – turned out to be a selling point to voters in an election largely seen as a referendum on his performance.

Before the pandemic broke out in January, Moon support was dropping over the country’s sluggish economy and his failure to take a tougher stance on North Korea.

SAUDI ARABIA

Death By Criticism

Saudi Arabia has executed 800 people since King Salman took over in January 2015, according to a report released earlier this week by Reprieve, a British-based human rights organization.

The report highlighted that the number of executions has nearly doubled since the king took over compared to the five-year period before, the Middle East Monitor reported Wednesday.

The figures contradict a pledge by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that the Saudi kingdom would reduce the number of executions.

Reprieve noted that executions are mostly carried out for crimes such as murder and drug trafficking. They added, however, that there has been a rise in arrests and executions for political crimes.

The organization found that a majority of executions last year were carried against Salman’s political opponents. Among the executed, Reprieve discovered that six young men, who were children at the time of their alleged crimes, were killed in a mass execution of 37 people.

Reprieve Director Maya Foa said the kingdom’s Western allies must pressure Saudi Arabia to put an “an end to the execution of children and political opponents” before the November G-20 summit in Riyadh.

DISCOVERIES

Bottom Feeders

Marine biologists have long suspected that fish migrated through the deep sea, but only recently were they able to prove it.

A research team analyzed more than 12,000 deep-sea photos and discovered that several species of deep-sea fish are capable of seasonal migration, the Guardian reported.

In a recent study, the team used photos taken by the Deep-ocean Environmental Long-term Observatory System (Delos) off the coast of Angola taken over a period of about seven years.

The evidence showed that the number of fish would increase every year in late November and June.

“It is certainly not unprecedented but it has never really been demonstrated,” said lead author Rosanna Milligan.

Milligan explained that while the pictures unraveled a lot about life at the bottom, there were still a lot of questions surrounding the fish and their behavior.

There’s not a lot of information about many of the fish caught on camera, but Milligan’s team suspects that the seasonal migration is related to feeding.

The authors believe that the deep-sea creatures are making the long swim to feed off dying organisms from the surface that sink to the bottom, such as plankton.

The team hopes that their study can encourage other researchers to look for similar patterns in other locations.

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