May 06, 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 1,204,475 (+2.02%)
  2. Spain 250,561 (+0.91%)
  3. Italy 213,013 (+0.51%)
  4. UK 196,243 (+2.30%)
  5. France 170,694 (+0.66%)
  6. Germany 167,007 (+0.51%)
  7. Russia 155,370 (+6.95%)
  8. Turkey 129,491 (+1.44%)
  9. Brazil 115,953 (+6.75%)
  10. Iran 99,970 (+1.34%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentage change over 24 hours

NEED TO KNOW

SYRIA

A Virus and a Sword

If Syrian President Bashar Assad can’t kill the rebels seeking to oust his regime, the novel coronavirus just might do it for him.

It’s just a matter of time before the virus reaches Idlib, the last rebel-held territory in the country where civil war has raged for nine years. It’s an understatement to say the hungry and impoverished Syrians there and those who have fled to the region to escape Assad’s forces from elsewhere in the country are not prepared.

“People tell you, ‘I can’t buy face masks or hand sanitizer or do isolation because whole families live in a tent,’” Ithar al-Allam, who runs a non-profit that helps women, told the Washington Post. “A tent is not a place equipped to provide full isolation from the illness.”

Recently, Assad closed a border crossing with Iraq in northeastern Syria that Kurdish forces control, Time reported. That’s blocked vital medical supplies for 2 million people.

The children are especially vulnerable, says Kenneth Bandler of the American Jewish Committee in the Jerusalem Post.

For example, humanitarian advocates are asking the Australian government to bring home almost 50 kids whose parents could be members of the Islamic State, the terrorist group that operated with near impunity in parts of Syria until an international coalition of forces dislodged them, Australia’s SBS reported.

“Many children in the (refugee) camp, including Australians, are already sick and malnourished, making them more susceptible to the impacts of COVID-19,” said Save the Children Australia deputy chief executive Mat Tinkler. “Australia must do everything possible to look after and protect these Australian children, who have done nothing wrong.”

Meanwhile, cases of the virus have been cropping up.

Throughout the rest of the county, which is now in lockdown, Assad had claimed that only 19 people have been infected with the novel coronavirus, and only two have died. But Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin described those numbers as “a shameless and dangerous lie.”

And the violence goes on.

Recently, a truck bomb exploded and killed more than 40 people in the northwestern city of Afrin, where Turkey wields significant influence, Agence France-Presse wrote. Turkish officials blamed Kurdish forces that they claim are linked to Kurdish militants who seek greater autonomy within Turkey.

In their fight, Turkish authorities are using the water supply as leverage against the Kurds, hindering aid groups’ ability to help vulnerable communities during the pandemic, human rights groups say.

“In the midst of a global pandemic that is overloading sophisticated governance and infrastructure systems, Turkish authorities have been cutting off the water supply to regions most under strain in Syria,” said Michael Page of Human Rights Watch.

If a severe outbreak occurs, the security situation will grow worse, said analysts who spoke to France 24. In a country decimated by international sanctions, where rebels, Kurds, the Syrian government and others control swaths of territory, a public health emergency could light the fuse of the powder keg that’s ready to blow.

The United Nations is trying to diffuse this, calling for a ceasefire throughout Syria so everyone could unite or at least pivot to prepare for the virus rather than focus on waging war.

Instead, if the past is precedent, Assad will likely find a way to twist the plague to his advantage.

WANT TO KNOW

GERMANY

On the Back Foot

Germany’s Constitutional Court shocked the European Union Tuesday after judges warned that the European Central Bank’s bond-buying program likely violates German law, the Guardian reported.

The court said the bank’s public sector purchase program was illegal as it amounted to directly financing eurozone governments.

Judges added that the German Central Bank could be prevented from participating in the European Central Bank’s long-term quantitative easing program if the European Central Bank doesn’t prove its stimulus program is “proportional” within three months.

That would mean that Europe’s largest economy – and the continent’s economic engine – would be unable to help shore up the bloc’s economy as it faces the deepest contraction in decades.

The ruling rocked European stock markets while the value of the euro dropped 0.7 percent against the dollar to $1.08.

Analysts worry that the decision undermines the role of the ECB and its ability to protect the bloc’s financial system during a crisis. The bank’s ability to intervene was strengthened after the European sovereign debt crisis in 2012.

UNITED KINGDOM

Special Talks

In the wake of Brexit, British and American negotiators began trade talks Tuesday as both countries attempt to shore up their supply chains and get an economic boost during the coronavirus pandemic, Reuters reported.

The talks are expected to last two weeks and take place as the United Kingdom works simultaneously on a trade deal with the EU after leaving the bloc Jan. 31.

Washington is seeking full access for US agricultural products and reduced tariffs for manufactured goods. The US-UK trade relationship is worth $269 billion annually, with the US usually running a surplus.

Analysts say it is agricultural products that will become a sticking point in the negotiations because of the UK’s tough stance on American genetically modified crops and its antibacterial treatment of poultry.

The British government attaches great symbolic and political importance to securing a free trade agreement with the US, though the economic benefit would be relatively modest. It said in March that eliminating tariffs on trans-Atlantic trade in goods would increase the size of the UK economy by only 0.16 percent over the next 15 years, the Associated Press reported.

VENEZUELA

Spy Games

Venezuela announced the arrest of two American “mercenaries” in the wake of a failed coup over the weekend, United Press International reported Tuesday.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said the two Americans were employees of Silvercorp, a Florida-based security company. They were among 13 “terrorists” that allegedly attempted to assassinate the leader.

The president blamed the US Drug Enforcement Administration and the Colombian government for Sunday’s attack, which was repelled by Venezuelan forces: They killed six individuals attempting to land on a beach near the port city of La Guaira, the Associated Press reported.

Silvercorp CEO Jordan Goudreau, also former US Special Forces, told the Washington Post that the men worked for him and that they were part of an operation against Maduro’s regime in coordination with US-backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido.

Guaido denied any involvement in the attack.

US authorities and the Venezuelan opposition said the event was fabricated by Maduro’s regime to shift the attention away from the country’s problems, which include economic collapse, a political crisis and the novel coronavirus pandemic.

DISCOVERIES

The Forbidden Kingdom

Today, the Kem Kem Group (Kem Kem beds) in Morocco looks like a barren wasteland but it once was the “most dangerous place in the history of planet Earth,” CNET reported.

In a new paper, paleontologist Nizar Ibrahim and his team reviewed a collection of dinosaur remains in the fossil-rich area, and quipped that it was “a place where a human time-traveler would not last very long.”

The team said that during the Cretaceous period, the once-lush region hosted three of the four largest predatory dinosaurs and flying pterosaurs on record.

Among the many giant lizards, it was home to the Carcharodontosaurus, which had serrated teeth and measured over 40 feet, and the Deltadromeus, a group of large raptors with long, slender hind limbs, according to Newsweek.

The study offers good insight into Africa’s dinosaur history, which still remains mysterious and incomplete, according to other paleontologists.

“Africa remains a giant question mark in terms of land-dwelling animals at the end of the Age of Dinosaurs,” Eric Gorscak of the Field Museum told the BBC.