The World Today for April 17, 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 671,425 (+4.97%)
  2. Spain 184,948 (+2.37%)
  3. Italy 168,941 (+2.29%)
  4. France 165,027 (+11.61%)
  5. Germany 137,689 (+2.18%)
  6. UK 104,148 (+4.68%)
  7. China 83,756 (+0.42%)
  8. Iran 77,995 (+2.10%)
  9. Turkey 74,193 (+6.92%)
  10. Belgium 34,809 (+3.68%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentage change over 24 hours



Sanctuary in the Heart

Until this year, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem has closed its doors only once – in 1349 due to the Black Plague.

Recently, the novel coronavirus pandemic forced it to close again. It needed to keep away the throngs of pilgrims who visit the site where Jesus is believed to have risen from the dead.

“The caretaker closes the doors,” wrote Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass. “The heavy bolts fall into place, sounding like a hammer thudding on the hearts of the Christian world just before Easter.”

The pandemic has exposed the difficulty that religious leaders and the faithful are facing at a turbulent time when the need for solace and shared worship has grown, and yet clashing with the health requirement to practice social distancing, the Council on Foreign Relations explained.

Pope Francis, for example, held his Easter mass virtually, reported the Washington Post. A gathering of thousands standing shoulder-to-shoulder in Italy when hundreds are dying daily from the virus would have been out of the question. But the pontiff is still meeting personally with some of his flock, refusing to wear a mask and sometimes even sitting knee-to-knee with guests.

Some Italians thought it was crazy that their fellow citizens could still buy cigarettes but couldn’t sit in a church with a handful of other people, noted Crux, a Catholic news website. The BBC wrote about a British lawmaker similarly proposing limited access for folks seeking to pray in communion safely with others.

Meanwhile, the Temple of Solomon in São Paulo, Brazil, was open for business as dozens of members of the evangelical Universal Church of the Kingdom of God kissed and pressed their faces to a reconstructed Arc of the Covenant, the Financial Times reported.

Critics have blasted them and others like Tanzanian President John Magufuli: He vowed recently to never close places of worship, according to Voice of America. Governors in the American South and elsewhere have faced flak for similar statements, too, of course.

Still, the critics have a point: The world has some first-hand experience with shared worship in the times of coronavirus.

One of the two major hotspots in France, Grand Est, has been traced back to an internationally attended meeting of the Christian Open Door church in February in Mulhouse, France, which borders Germany and Switzerland. The hundreds of attendees “kicked off the biggest cluster of COVID-19 to date” – 25,000 cases around the world are linked to it, Reuters reported.

In Russia, at least three priests in the Russian Orthodox Church, which celebrates Easter on April 19, have contracted the coronavirus, the Moscow Times wrote. The church initially refused to close its doors but has taken sanitary measures and encouraged the faithful to pray at home.

Leaders in Muslim countries are having issues also.

While many countries have closed their mosques and shrines, called off Friday prayer and even Hajj, in Bangladesh, tens of thousands of Muslims gathered for a mass prayer in Raipur on March 18, the BBC reported. Dozens contracted the virus. A similar event in Malaysia resulted in 500 infections and spread COVID-19 to Brunei, Singapore and Cambodia.

And in Israel, the virus is mushrooming in ultra-Orthodox communities as much as four to eight times faster than elsewhere in Israel. As a result, the government barricaded the city of Bnei Brak with 1,000 police officers blocking the movements of its ultra-Orthodox residents, the Guardian reported.

Meanwhile, some worry about faith-based vaccines and cures, reported the New York Times. In Myanmar, a prominent Buddhist monk announced that a dose of one lime and three palm seeds would vaccinate against the virus. In hard-hit Iran, pilgrims flocked to lick Shiite Muslim shrines to ward off infection, the BBC said. And in India, some Hindus drank cow urine to prevent COVID-19 in shared cups, the South China Morning Post reported.

In April, as the world’s major religions celebrate significant holy days – Easter, Passover, Ramadan and Vaisakhi – some say there is one thing the faithful should keep in mind: Prayers may be essential but God helps those who help themselves.



Pandemic Politics

Israel moved closer to holding yet another election Thursday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz failed to agree on a unity government, exacerbating political uncertainty amid the coronavirus outbreak, the Wall Street Journal reported.

President Reuven Rivlin has now given parliament three weeks to form a new government.

If lawmakers fail to find a candidate for prime minister a majority can agree on, the country will likely be forced to hold its fourth election in just over a year.

Meanwhile, Gantz and Netanyahu said they would continue discussions over a power-sharing deal despite failing to come to an agreement by the deadline set by the president.

Gantz had initially rejected a deal with Netanyahu, who has been indicted on corruption charges. He later changed his mind due to the pandemic, a move that angered many anti-Netanyahu members of his Blue and White alliance.


Cottoning Up

Uzbekistan’s government on Thursday appealed to a coalition of human rights organizations to end a boycott against Uzbek cotton as the novel coronavirus worsens its situation , Reuters reported.

Labor Minister Nozim Khusanov sent an open letter to the Cotton Campaign leadership to ask for consideration of the country’s progress in eradicating forced labor and its worsening economic situation.

The boycott began in 2006 to pressure the Central Asian nation to drop its practice of sending students and public sector employees to pick cotton for low wages.

More than 300 apparel manufacturers and retailers support the campaign, which has forced the country to primarily sell its textiles in Asia at lower prices.

The government estimates that ending the boycott will allow the country to earn an extra $1 billion from sales to Western markets.

The Cotton Campaign has not yet responded, but many expect it to refuse, saying it’s premature.


We Regret To Inform You…

American online retail giant Amazon shuttered its six warehouses in France Thursday after a court ruled that the company was not doing enough to protect workers from the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Guardian reported.

The court issued an emergency ruling earlier this week that required the company to stop selling non-essential products for a month while it implements new safety measures.

The company denounced the ruling and said that it had spent “colossal amounts” on sanitation measures. It added that it will appeal the ruling.

The court order came after French unions representing its warehouse workers brought a complaint against Amazon.

The online giant has been a target of criticism on both sides of the Atlantic as it tries to deal with an exponential increase in demand during lockdowns.


A Pheasant’s Tale

In 620 AD, ancient Japanese chronologists reported seeing a peculiar red light in the night sky that looked similar to the tail of a pheasant.

Since that time, pheasants in Japanese folklore are considered messengers from heaven.

Even so, scientists believe that the event was, in fact, a simple cosmic phenomenon, Heritage Daily reported.

In their new study, Ryuho Kataoka argued that the event was actually a red aurora produced during a magnetic storm.

The problem with that theory is that auroras have a wavy ribbon-like shape that doesn’t resemble pheasant tails. Other theories suggest the passing of a comet, but they are not usually red.

Kataoka’s team looked at the history of Japan’s magnetic latitude, which was 33 degrees about 1,400 years ago, compared to 25 degrees today.

In the ancient texts, the tail appeared to be about 10 degrees in length, which would place it well within an area affected by strong magnetic storms.

“Recent findings have shown that auroras can be ‘pheasant tail’-shaped specifically during great magnetic storms,” Kataoka explained.

The authors now hope to be able to better explain mysterious phenomena in ancient texts using scientific tools.

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