The World Today for April 29, 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 1,012,583 (+2.44%)
  2. Spain 232,128 (+1.18%)
  3. Italy 201,505 (+1.05%)
  4. France 169,053 (+1.85%)
  5. UK 162,350 (+2.53%)
  6. Germany 159,912 (+0.73%)
  7. Turkey 114,653 (+2.13%)
  8. Russia 93,558 (+7.36%)
  9. Iran 92,584 (+1.22%)
  10. China 83,940 (0.00%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentage change over 24 hours



Advance, Parry, Thrust

How did the coronavirus pandemic start in China? It’s hard to answer that question.

The Chinese government recently increased the total number of infections to more than 80,000 and the number of deaths from the virus to more than 4,600, according to a University of Maryland press release.

Those numbers would suggest that Chinese efforts to contain the virus in the populous, authoritarian country worked extremely well.

But Hong Kong researchers writing in the respected British medical journal, The Lancet, recently found that the number of infections could be almost four times higher because Chinese officials changed the definition of the virus as their epidemic progressed.

Additionally, an increasing number of asymptomatic people who contracted the virus in Wuhan, where the pandemic originated, appear to be testing positive again, Reuters reported. Doctors can’t or won’t explain whether these folks were incorrectly tested in the first place, if they re-contracted the virus or whether something else is happening.

Knowing what exactly happened, and when, helps researchers everywhere learn more about the virus, and how to combat it.

Complicating the free flow of information, China has launched an extraordinary propaganda campaign to counteract the negative attention it has received since the pandemic began.

While seeking to suppress journalists who describe “despair, misery and everyday life” in Wuhan and elsewhere, Chinese state-supported news outlets have played up stories about supply shortages among American and British medical workers and described overwhelmed hospitals in Italy and Spain with terms like “purgatory” and “apocalypse,” the New York Times reported. Similar experiences in Chinese hospitals have been labeled as rumors.

Russia and Iran have joined China in the campaign. In March, the New York Post wrote, the three countries were behind fake news reports that the US government was planning to deploy troops in the streets to maintain public order as the coronavirus crisis escalated.

The propaganda isn’t necessarily working. Instead, the backlash is growing.

The state of Missouri has sued China for spreading the coronavirus, a complaint China claims is absurd. Developing countries have been leery of Chinese outreach, Foreign Policy magazine wrote. Europe is looking into diversifying away from Chinese supply chains, noted Bloomberg.

What’s more, the environment has given rise to theories about what else Chinese leaders might be hiding, like whether the coronavirus was created in the government’s Wuhan Institute of Virology, the local equivalent to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Axios detailed how one of those theories was highly unlikely – that the coronavirus was a biological weapon under development – while another – that researchers were studying it when an employee accidentally took it out of the facility – was plausible.

Regardless, anger at China has been growing worldwide over the past two months, mostly due to its numbers game and its lack of transparency regarding information on the virus. What’s adding fuel to that blaze is its quickness to capitalize financially on others’ misfortune – with exports of sometimes faulty medical equipment and its circling of foreign companies for takeovers – when it’s the source of it, say analysts. Then throw its propaganda gamesmanship into the mix.

All powers traditionally move quickly to press their advantages. The problem, some note, is China’s clumsiness in its zeal to get ahead.

In fencing, an “Esquive” is a deflective maneuver to evade an attack before going on the offensive. But for it to be effective, it must be artfully executed.



Greener Pastures

Britain entered its 19th coal-free day Tuesday as demand plummeted due to coronavirus lockdowns even as solar output continued to rise, Bloomberg reported.

“The change in demand, along with frequent sunny and windy spells across the country, are all contributing factors to the latest records,” said the National Grid’s Electricity System Operator.

Coal’s portion of power generation in the UK had already declined from 40 percent seven years ago to 2.5 percent in 2019. Along with that, emissions have dropped to pre-Industrial Revolution levels.

Now, the country aims to halt coal use completely by the mid-2020s.

It’s a similar situation in Germany, where coal is being pushed out of the electricity mix by renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power.


The Unbearable Heaviness of Being

Violent protests erupted in the Lebanese port city of Tripoli Tuesday over the country’s dire economic conditions, Reuters reported.

Officials said that one demonstrator died in clashes with security forces and several banks were torched by protesters.

Since October, Lebanon has seen a deep financial crisis marked by stagflation – spiraling unemployment and high inflation – while the Lebanese pound has lost more than half its value. The situation has been made worse by the shutdown of the economy due to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the protests are just the latest to break out over the economic situation. However, they come as the country grapples with growing novel coronavirus infections. The government has been pleading with people to stay home to contain infections.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab, meanwhile, is trying to pass an economic rescue package and negotiate with foreign creditors after the country defaulted on its heavy debt obligations last month.


Déjà vu

Brazil’s Supreme Court greenlit an investigation into President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing the leader of interfering with federal police probes, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.

The 60-day probe will investigate allegations of corruption and obstruction of justice by Bolsonaro and will likely plunge the country into a political crisis as it grapples with an escalating outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

Last week, popular Justice Minister Sergio Moro resigned after accusing the president of firing the country’s top police official to hinder investigations into his family and his supporters.

Two of Bolsonaro’s sons are under investigation for embezzlement.

Bolsonaro denied the allegations, adding that it is within his power to choose the nation’s police chief, who serves at his pleasure.

Moro’s departure has split the president’s conservative support base. Meanwhile, his accusations could form the basis for an impeachment trial against Bolsonaro.

If such a proceeding were to occur, Bolsonaro could become the country’s third president to be removed from office since the end of Brazil’s military dictatorship in the 1980s, most recently in 2016.


Of Stones and Bones

Prehistoric humans had been crafting mysterious stone spheres for nearly two million years.

Over the decades, archaeologists have found these artifacts in different sites across the globe, but have been puzzled as to their purpose, according to Live Science.

A recent study of a batch of stones found that the peculiar rocks were actually primitive culinary tools, ancient can-openers of a sort.

Researcher Ella Assaf and her team found a cache of 30 stone balls in the Qesem Cave in Israel, where humans lived about 400,000 to 200,000 years ago.

The team also found other stone tools that were innovative for their time but pointed out that “the balls represent a very old technology.”

After careful analysis and several experiments, Assaf’s team discovered that balls were used to break animal bones to extract the marrow inside.

“These tools provide a comfortable grip, they don’t tend to break easily, and you can rotate them and use them repetitively since they have multiple ridges,” Assaf said.

Assaf explained that the spherical rocks also displayed signs of being exposed to the elements for a very long time before being collected by the cave’s inhabitants.

She speculated that the stones were so effective that the ancient cave dwellers didn’t mind using second-hand stones.

“It wasn’t a random choice – they brought them to the cave especially for bone-breaking activities,” she said.

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