May 22, 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 1,577,758 (+1.67%)
  2. Russia 317,554 (+2.87%)
  3. Brazil 310,087 (+6.35%)
  4. UK 252,246 (+1.05%)
  5. Spain 233,037 (+0.21%)
  6. Italy 228,006 (+0.28%)
  7. France 181,951 (+0.14%)
  8. Germany 179,021 (+0.27%)
  9. Turkey 153,548 (+0.63%)
  10. Iran 129,341 (+1.88%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentage change over 24 hours

NEED TO KNOW

WORLD

Dreams Deferred

The prospects for the tourism industry are grim this summer.

Reservations on Priceline and Booking.com dropped by 85 percent in April compared to the same period the year before, New York magazine reported. Many of the folks booking those hotel rooms might take advantage of generous cancellation policies amid the coronavirus pandemic, too.

American seaside towns are worried they will lose the season when locals earn the money that tides them over for the rest of the year. But, worldwide, they might be the lucky ones. The US is a massive market that doesn’t depend on international travel, and one where consumers are relatively affluent.

In Europe, normally open borders have been closed, leaders have issued warnings or bans on nonessential travel and mandatory quarantines have discouraged folks from taking trips.

Greek hotelier Socrates Gavriel believes his American and Australian customers might bypass sightseeing in Athens and head directly to the beach.

“The concern this summer is that those who will come — if and when they do — will skip the big cities and head directly to a beach location,” Gavriel told CNN Business. “The hotel is a rented property and there are many bills to pay. I have invested in it heavily. We are hoping for some revenue in the summer but we don’t know if this is going to happen.”

Even so, Greece is one of the few European countries already planning to open up to tourists this summer, on July 1, along with Iceland (June 15) and parts of Spain.

Greece will give rapid Covid-19 tests at airports and encourage “socially distanced” small-group activities such as boating instead of bar-hopping, the Washington Post reported. Iceland will also require tests or two-week quarantines. And Spain will offer “business-class” beach experiences, which entails a system allowing beachgoers to book appointments on the sand via a mobile app. That will net tourists a spot on a beach divided into a grid of socially distanced sites, with staggered arrival times and the option to choose either a morning or afternoon slot (but not both).

Meanwhile, some countries like France don’t know if they will open their borders to non-European countries until the fall, or later. They are encouraging locals to vacation in France.

British authorities, meanwhile, don’t foresee their citizens traveling abroad, the BBC reported. Low-cost flyer Ryanair expected to continue to fly through the vacation season. Its competitor, EasyJet, hasn’t yet released a summer schedule. But British Airways has cut 12,000 jobs and Virgin has slashed 3,000 workers.

And Germany has extended its warning against worldwide travel to June 14.

Tourism represents 10 percent of European gross domestic product and supports 23 million jobs, reported Agence France-Presse.

The same problem is rippling throughout the world. Thailand is predicting 6 million fewer visitors, especially Chinese tourists, according to Singapore-based Channel News Asia. The lack of Chinese visitors has hit other Asian countries hard, too, the Los Angeles Times added.

In a conversation with Al Jazeera, the head of Sri Lanka’s National Tourism Development Authority, Kimarli Fernando, said the pandemic has had a “devastating impact” on her South Asian island’s tourism industry.

Ditto for other tourism hotspots. “The base of our economy has entirely collapsed,” Norman Wray, governor of the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, told the Associated Press.

Perhaps travel and tourism have changed forever, mused the South China Morning Post. Staycations, tech-enabled virtual experiences and trips to remote spots where one can enjoy peace, quiet and wildlife rather than luxury and bar-hopping might become the new normal.

Maybe. Or maybe not. Because for many, experiencing new places, having new adventures or even just sitting by a pool in a faraway, sunny location with a beer or a piña colada has been, is and always will be a way to re-energize, be inspired, and dream.

WANT TO KNOW

CHINA

Goliath Roars

China said Thursday it will impose a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong in a bid to weaken the territory’s semi-autonomous status and bring it under the mainland’s control, the Washington Post reported.

Communist Party officials said Thursday that the new bill will ban secessionist activities, subversion of state power, foreign interference and terrorism. It could pass as early as next week and will bypass all of Hong Kong’s usual legislative processes.

The security law comes as a direct response to last year’s protests in Hong Kong that began over a now-scrapped extradition bill but later evolved into defiance against China’s interference.

Analysts said that the move marks an escalation in Beijing’s crackdown on the former British colony: It seeks to rewrite the “one country, two systems” framework that has allowed the territory its autonomy since Britain handed back Hong Kong to China in 1997.

Pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong said the move was an “end of one country, two systems,” and called for mass protests.

RUSSIA

Unity, Not Diversity

Residents in three Russian northwestern regions are protesting a Kremlin plan to merge the territories into a single administrative unit, fearing the loss of their ethnic identities, Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty reported Thursday.

Last week, the leaders of the Arkhangelsk region and the Nenets Autonomous District signed an agreement to merge the two territories. On Tuesday, they also proposed including the Republic of Komi in the deal.

More than 1,900 residents of the Nenets region signed a petition Thursday saying they were “categorically against this (move).” Petitions are the only way to protest in Russia these days due to the pandemic.

Ethnic regions in Russia are very sensitive to any changes to their autonomous status, which have already been weakened in recent years by the central government.

All of Russia’s ethnic republics, except Tatarstan, have been forced to change the titles of their executives – from president to head, while regional parliaments have seen their independent legislative powers eroded.

VENEZUELA

All at Sea

Venezuela’s armed forces will escort Iranian tankers delivering much-needed petrol to the impoverished country to prevent attempts by the United States to enforce an embargo, the BBC reported Thursday.

The five vessels, each carrying 1.5 million barrels, are expected to reach the South American country in the coming days.

Venezuela, in a deep economic crisis, has been suffering severe shortages of petrol in recent weeks. The country has the world’s largest oil reserves but production has fallen over the past two decades.

The US has imposed sanctions on both Venezuela and Iran and is reportedly considering steps to deter the shipments.

Venezuelan diplomats argued at the UN that the tankers pose no threat and that stopping them would be “a crime against humanity.” Iran, meanwhile, warned that it would retaliate if the tankers are interfered with.

The head of the US military’s Southern Command, Admiral Craig Faller, said he is following the shipments “with concern,” but ruled out the possibility of a confrontation.

DISCOVERIES

The Contender

In the third installment of the Jurassic Park movie series, the Spinosaurus is the villain and even kills a Tyrannosaurus rex.

While the movie depicts the villain as having a sail on its back, scientists recently discovered that the large predator actually was a very good swimmer, New Atlas reported.

In a recent study, paleontologists analyzed the fossil bones of a Spinosaurus and noted that the creature’s tail would have allowed it to swim efficiently in water.

The tail had a paddle shape similar to a crocodile’s tail and was equipped with tall spines and elongated chevrons – the bones that protrude out from under the vertebrae.

“This discovery is the nail in the coffin for the idea that non-avian dinosaurs never invaded the aquatic realm,” says lead author Nizar Ibrahim.

Ibrahim’s team said that the results further confirm that the Spinosaurus was more of a water dweller than a land dweller – unlike the T. rex.

It had stumpy legs and a center of gravity that was too forward, which suggests it wasn’t fit to walk on two feet.

It also had a long snout with very sharp teeth to catch fish and would have preferred to hunt prey in river systems.

While the Spinosaurus was much larger than the T. rex, scientists have yet to find evidence of the two apex predators clashing millions of years ago.