The World Today for April 21, 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 787,960 (+3.72%)
  2. Spain 200,210 (+0.77%)
  3. Italy 181,228 (+1.26%)
  4. France 156,493 (+1.55%)
  5. Germany 147,065 (+0.91%)
  6. UK 125,856 (+3.86%)
  7. Turkey 90,980 (+5.42%)
  8. China 83,849 (+0.04%)
  9. Iran 83,505 (+1.57%)
  10. Russia 47,121 (+9.96%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentage change over 24 hours



Nowhere to Rest

The coronavirus is creating few tragedies worse than Ecuador’s.

A few weeks ago, Eduardo Javier Barrezueta Chávez told the Guardian that authorities in the city of Guayaquil were leaving the dead body of his father and others in the street. In temperatures higher than 86 degrees, their lack of action was threatening to kick off a second public health crisis during the pandemic.

Little has changed since then.

The virus has hit Guayaquil worse than anywhere else in Latin America, reported the New York Times. Hospitals and other services are overwhelmed. The country’s system of funeral homes and mortuaries has collapsed. There is a shortage of coffins.

“They are not only dying from (COVID-19),” said Mayor Cynthia Viteri. “People with diabetes, hypertension, heart disease are dying from a lack of medical attention because the hospitals are saturated with the critically ill – there aren’t places where women can give birth without getting infected.”

Cars line up outside emergency cemeteries to bury their dead, reported Reuters. Some keep the bodies of their loved ones in their homes for days. That could potentially spread the virus, according to a study on corpses infecting medical examiners in Thailand. An Ecuadoran reporter spoke to the Committee to Protect Journalists about how her cousin bought formaldehyde to cover up the smell of her late uncle’s body in their living room.

Others have taken to burying their loved ones in public parks, not only because of a lack of space but due to financial constraints, VICE News reported. The government has promised to bury the dead individually but progress has been slow.

Indigenous folks who can leave Guayaquil, the country’s largest city and its financial center, are flocking to their remote villages in the Amazon, Al Jazeera wrote. Others are self-isolating to avoid spreading the virus to their families.

Making matters worse, as Bloomberg explained, are Ecuador’s “serious co-morbidities” of foreign debt, plunging oil prices, inveterate poverty and political polarization. The country uses the US dollar, too. The greenback keeps the economy stable in turbulent times but ties the hands of policymakers who might print money to keep the economy going during crises.

The pandemic, meanwhile, has forced mining and other important industries to produce less when Ecuador desperately needs foreign cash.

And Ecuador is only at the beginning.



In the Eye of a Storm

Vanuatu’s parliament elected lawmaker Bob Loughman Monday as the nation’s new prime minister more than a month after general elections, the Guardian reported.

Loughman is the leader of the Vanua’aku Pati which secured seven out of 52 seats in the March 19 elections. His coalition government is made up of two other major parties, including several independents and micro-parties.

His government will have to deal with the aftermath of a category-five cyclone that hit the north of the island group earlier this month, killing three and causing massive destruction.

The country is also facing a potential novel coronavirus outbreak and declared a state of emergency last month.

There are no confirmed cases of the virus yet but the pandemic has hindered aid groups from helping those affected by the cyclone.



Three major groups of Argentine bondholders rejected the government’s debt restructuring proposal Monday, raising the possibility that the country might enter into default next month, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The ad-hoc group, composed of the largest money managers in the world, argued that the offer seeks “to place a disproportionate share of Argentina’s longer-term adjustment efforts on the shoulders of international bondholders.”

Last week, President Alberto Fernandez offered to exchange about $65 billion in foreign bonds into new debt at lower interest rates and later due dates.

The proposal involves more than $40 billion in debt relief, mainly through reduced interest payments. It also includes a three-year moratorium on foreign debt payments with an average coupon of 2.33 percent once interest payments resume.

Argentina has to pay $500 million in debt by Wednesday. If it fails, the country could enter into default after a 30-day grace period.

The South American nation has been plagued by financial turmoil since the 2018 currency crisis, which forced the previous government of President Mauricio Macri to seek a $57 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund.


The Comeback Kid

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz reached a deal to form a unity government late Monday, putting an end to the political deadlock that has led to three inconclusive elections in one year, the Washington Post reported.

Under the deal, Netanyahu will remain prime minister for the next 18 months with Gantz succeeding him.

There are safeguards in the new deal to prevent backsliding from either side, and parliament will make the new terms legally binding.

Gantz initially rejected making a deal with Netanyahu, who has been indicted on corruption charges. He later relented, citing the novel coronavirus outbreak as the reason for his turnaround.

The move is a triumph for Netanyahu, who previously sought parliamentary immunity earlier this year. His trial has been postponed due to the pandemic.

Analysts believe that with Gantz in the government, Netanyahu will attempt to continue to delay his trial or seek some form of official protection.


A Mongoose Lesson

Epidemiologists could learn a thing or two on how disease spreads by looking at the banded mongoose, Cosmos Magazine reported.

In a new study, researchers closely monitored banded mongoose populations in Botswana to understand how the relationship between behavior and environment determine the spread of infectious diseases.

Banded mongoose often communicate with each other using scent markings.

The research team noted, however, that critters infected with the novel tuberculosis pathogen Mycobacterium mungi – a relative to tuberculosis in humans – can spread the disease among each other through their scent markings.

To understand how the disease was spread, scientists observed the mammals’ olfactory communication behaviors and their vigilance in looking out for potential threats.

Their results revealed that the landscape strongly influenced an individual mongoose’s vigilance and scent marking behavior.

For example, these extremely social animals were less likely to engage in communication and remain vigilant against predators when roaming urban environments – meaning they weren’t spreading many pathogens.

“If you’re running from a predator, you’re not stopping to leave a message for other animals,” said study co-author Carol Anne Nichols. “You’re running for your life.”

On the other hand, at rural tourism lodges where fewer predators lurk, the animals used scent markings to discourage competitors for food.

The study is relevant to predicting the spread of COVID-19 across the globe, as well as the transmission of infectious diseases from animals to humans, said the authors.

“Human behavior may be the key that unlocks the proverbial Pandora’s Box, allowing infectious diseases to emerge,” said lead author Kathleen Alexander.

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