May 20, 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 1,528,661 (+1.31%)
  2. Russia 308,705 (+2.92%)
  3. Brazil 271,885 (+9.76%)
  4. UK 250,138 (-2.05%)**
  5. Spain 232,037 (+0.19%)
  6. Italy 226,699 (+0.36%)
  7. France 180,933 (+0.49%)
  8. Germany 177,827 (+0.30%)
  9. Turkey 151,615 (+0.68%)
  10. Iran 124,603 (+1.72%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentage change over 24 hours

**There has been a reevaluation of cases in the United Kingdom

NEED TO KNOW

LIBYA

Game of Factions

Renegade Libyan military honcho Khalifa Hifter allegedly fired missiles recently at a hospital in Tripoli, injuring at least 14 people, according to the United Nations-recognized Government of National Accord based in the capital.

Hifter and his Libyan National Army have been trying to capture Tripoli for the past year, Al Jazeera reported. More than 1,000 people have been killed in this latest cycle of the Libyan civil war, which began after the ouster and death of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

But Hifter’s momentum is slowing to a crawl. The Government of National Accord’s forces have been beating Hifter’s soldiers lately, destroying aircraft, drones, a helicopter as well as tanks, artillery and other vehicles, the Turkish government-operated Anadolu Agency wrote.

Turkey is backing the Government of National Accord. Stratfor, a think tank, noted that the government’s gains might only embolden Hifter’s international supporters to provide the general with more resources to counter Turkey’s influence in the country. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are in Hifter’s corner.

The European Union has called for the international community to respect an arms embargo designed to curb the bloodshed. But France is supporting the UAE’s efforts, Foreign Policy magazine noted. The US hasn’t done much to curb the UAE either because Hifter is not inclined to establish an Islamist regime.

Now NATO might be prepared to step in on the government’s side, too. The US has accused Russia of escalating the violence by supporting Hifter. But leaders in Moscow appear to be warming up to the government in Tripoli, too, Al-Monitor suggested, as Hifter’s offensive to take the capital has failed to bear fruit.

Hussein Ibish, a scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, said in a Bloomberg opinion piece that Libyans and world powers might split the difference and partition the country. A de facto partition has already occurred, Ibish noted.

Hovering over this game of factions is, of course, the coronavirus pandemic. But Libyans are among the few people in the world who can rightfully claim they have bigger problems than a fast-moving, infectious, potentially fatal illness.

“Even whilst the rest of the world sacrifice their economies on the altar of public health, Libya has simply told Covid-19 to wait its turn,” wrote openDemocracy.

However, a combination of displaced people, migrants traveling through Libya on their way to Europe, crumbling infrastructure, understaffed and underequipped hospitals and other problems mean that the virus could be the country’s biggest problem very soon, the World Health Organization warned.

But it’s an open question whether Libya will be able to take a time-out from the game of factions playing out on its shores to deal with it.

WANT TO KNOW

EUROPEAN UNION

Schwäbische Hausfrau No More

Germany and France laid out a “radical” plan for a €500 billion ($547 billion) recovery fund to help European Union members severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic, Politico reported Tuesday.

The new plan would be fully funded by debt issued by the EU and supported by all 27 members of the bloc. The European Commission would then distribute the money in the form of grants – meaning that countries won’t need to pay back the EU. The securities would be financed collectively.

The current pandemic has triggered a major political and economic crisis in the bloc, forcing Germany to put aside its legendary frugality and rethink its fierce stance against the so-called Eurobonds.

Southern European nations have demanded more solidarity from their northern neighbors and warned that their populations will turn against the EU if more help isn’t forthcoming.

Economists have praised the plan but some frugal nations like Austria have expressed opposition to any funds being administered as grants, Bloomberg reported.

LESOTHO

The Long Goodbye

Lesotho’s Prime Minister Thomas Thabane formally resigned Tuesday putting an end to a deepening political crisis sparked by new evidence linking the leader to the murder of his estranged wife, the New York Times reported.

Thabane and his current wife, Maesaiah, are both suspected of involvement in the murder of Lipolelo Thabane in 2017 even as police have only arrested Maesaiah.

Both have denied the accusations.

Following the new revelations, Thabane’s party pressured him to resign. In response, he attempted to suspend parliament in March to protect his position from a looming no-confidence vote by lawmakers.

He will be replaced by Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro. His resignation could pave the way for a formal indictment.

Analysts, however, say Thabane might have negotiated a deal to have the charges dropped in exchange for his early departure.

AUSTRIA

Après-ski

More than 5,000 tourists – including 28 from the United States – are seeking to join a class action suit against Austrian authorities, accusing them of intentionally remaining silent about the novel coronavirus outbreak in resort villages, the Washington Post reported earlier this week.

The case concerns the Austrian resorts of St. Anton and Ischgl, which attract more than half a million visitors each winter. Prosecutors are focusing on what officials knew about the spread of the virus and when they knew it.

The Austrian Consumer Protection Association, one of the plaintiffs, said that high-ranking politicians, hotel owners and representatives of the ski industry allegedly put escalating health risks aside in favor of economic interests.

The full extent of the infections tracing back to Austria’s alpine resorts remains unknown but numerous plaintiffs say they became infected during their stay there.

German officials estimate that local cases arising from those resorts number more than 3,700.

DISCOVERIES

The Night Shift

Nocturnal moths are absolute pests for the average homeowner but they actually occupy a very important role in nature.

The insects help pollinate flowers and plants overnight, researchers from the University College London discovered.

In their study, the team observed the behavior of nocturnal moths and daytime pollinators – such as bees, butterflies and hoverflies – at nine ponds in Norfolk, England.

Lead author Richard Walton explained that while bees were the more effective pollinators, moths had a larger and more complex network to work on than dayshift pollinators.

Moths transported pollen from 47 different plant species including at least seven that were rarely visited by the daytime insects.

The research rehabilitates the moths’ reputation and sheds more light on the world of nocturnal plant-insect interactions, the study said.

It might also open up new opportunities in using moths for agricultural practices: The declining number of bees is causing panic over crop yields and ecosystems.

The authors say there should be more focus on the role of the moths in pollination as well as more conservation efforts to protect them.