The World Today for June 04, 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 1,851,520 (+1.08%)
  2. Brazil 584,016 (+5.16%)
  3. Russia 431,715 (+2.02%)
  4. UK 281,270 (+0.67%)
  5. Spain 240,326 (+0.16%)
  6. Italy 233,836 (+0.14%)
  7. India 217,187 (+4.61%)
  8. France 188,802 (+0.19%)
  9. Germany 184,121 (+0.01%)
  10. Peru 178,914 (+5.22%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentage change over 24 hours



Our Cities, Ourselves

The canal-lined city of Amsterdam typifies “gezellig,” a Dutch word that’s hard to translate but generally means “cozy,” “convivial,” or “relaxed.”

These days, however, the city, despite the pandemic, is more gezellig than usual, residents say. That’s because tourists aren’t the ones enjoying it.

That’s especially true in Wallen, the so-called red-light district, where prostitution and marijuana are sold freely and where litter and urine on the streets are the usual order of the day. Instead, locals, who usually have to navigate around intoxicated tourists, are savoring their neighborhood.

“It’s just lovely,” Charlotte Schenk, who lives in Wallen, which dates back to medieval times and is a UNESCO world heritage site, told the Washington Post. “I’ve lived here five years and I’m now getting to know neighbors I didn’t know I had. Now, when the sun is out, people take a chair and sit out front. It’s so gezellig.”

“It’s like the city is ours again,” she added, echoing a common refrain among locals who feel they come second to tourists when it comes to city planning.

Those sentiments are echoed around tourist hotspots across Europe.

Last weekend in Paris’ Montmartre district, Parisians filled the park on the hill that houses the famed Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, listening to music played by street performers, sipping wine, and enjoying the now peaceful neighborhood – usually overrun by tourists.

The locals were out in force, chatting to shop owners, neighbors, walking their pups.

Amélie was the worst thing that ever happened to us,” said Catherine, who has lived in the neighborhood for 45 years, referring to the hit 2001 film set in the district that dramatically increased visitors.

Now, the question is, when and how will this respite for Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin and Venice residents end? Amsterdam, the Venice of the North, is a test case for reopening European tourism after the coronavirus pandemic. Many are hoping cities take the opportunity to rethink how they manage the sector.

In Amsterdam, that effort is underway. Geerte Udo, chief executive of the city’s marketing department told that the city will aim to build a new industry that is socially, economically and ecologically “sustainable,” forgoing the budget tourism that destroys neighborhoods and promotes low-income employment.

“Amsterdam has always been an open and international city, and we would love to welcome visitors as soon as possible,” she said. “But the right visitors.”

That’s the future. At present, officials aren’t welcoming newcomers. Non-essential travel is banned until June 15. “The Dutch government is discouraging travel of any kind and calling on everyone to stay at home as much as possible,” said a press release, repeating that phrase four times.

Dutch officials were serious about abiding by lockdown restrictions. Rather than flout the rules, Prime Minister Mark Rutte, for example, didn’t visit his mother as she lay dying in a nursing home, Agence France-Presse wrote.

Europe, which accounts for 50 percent of the global tourism market, is opening up, however, reported CNN. The European Union and national leaders are working on plans to reopen borders and institute guidance for hoteliers, restaurateurs, tour operators and others. Doing so is crucial to reinvigorating the continent’s flagging economy.

But Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema is worried. Amsterdam has lost 90 percent of its hotel bookings, according to the Guardian. Halsema recently warned that hoteliers must be “extremely cautious,” however, because the city lacks sufficient space to keep up social distancing among its 800,000 residents and the 9 million overnight visitors who typically stay in the city at the height of the tourist season. She warned of a second COVID-19 outbreak triggering a second lockdown that might be more devastating than the current one.

Folks in the tourism business are understandably anxious. The situation won’t last forever. That doesn’t make it any less bearable, though, for the industry and those who work in it.

Even so, some are happy for the brief respite.

“The cause of this crisis is very sad, but for us it’s a blessing in disguise,” Aart Jaeger, 74, who lives on the canals near the Anne Frank House, another major landmark, told the Washington Post. “Tourism here has become too much. We are sick of it.”



Small Steps

After weeks of legal wrangling, Kosovo’s lawmakers elected a new government Wednesday with the new prime minister promising to normalize relations with neighboring Serbia, Reuters reported.

Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti of the center-right Democratic League of Kosovo party replaces Albin Kurti of the leftist Vetevendosje. Kurti’s government was dismissed following a no-confidence vote in March over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic and stalled talks with Serbia.

Hoti vowed to remove trade barriers with Serbia in order to resume the Brussels-sponsored talks cut short in 2018.

Then, Kosovo’s government imposed 100 percent tariffs on Serbian goods in retaliation for Serbia’s blocking of its membership in international organizations including the United Nations.

Once a part of Serbia, Kosovo declared independence in 2008, a move still unrecognized by Belgrade.

Agreeing to mutual recognition is a precondition for Serbia to join the EU.


When Freedoms Harm

The scientist behind Sweden’s controversial no-lockdown policy admitted Wednesday that the government should have imposed more restrictions to reduce coronavirus-related deaths, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said that the strategy should have been more restrictive and similar to those of other countries.

Under his team’s guidance, the government imposed voluntary guidelines for social distancing and very few enforceable rules, such as a ban on events involving more than 50 people.

Tegnell’s team argued that the lax strategy would ensure that businesses remain open and the health system wouldn’t be overwhelmed.

The Swedish policy was a target of criticism around the globe. The country currently has one of the highest per capita COVID-19 death rates in the world. As of Wednesday, the country, with a population of around 10 million, has tallied more 40,000 confirmed cases and more than 4,500 deaths.


A Truce, Sort Of

The Venezuelan government and opposition leader Juan Guaido signed an agreement earlier this week to work together to raise funds to fight the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Al Jazeera reported Wednesday.

The two parties have yet to confirm the exact details of the deal, but it is expected to include funds for testing and protective gear.

Government officials called the deal “a good start” and the United States welcomed the agreement.

Venezuela has more than 1,800 confirmed cases and 18 deaths, but international organizations believe the number is higher. At the same time, the country has few resources to help victims.

The country is currently suffering a severe economic crisis, worsened by US sanctions intended to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world, but oil production is in freefall, which analysts attribute to failed policies, corruption and a lack of investment.


A Laughing Matter

Penguins’ bowel movements have a unique power, according to a recent study.

Scientists found that large amounts of guano – excrement from seabirds and bats – made by king penguins in the sub-Antarctic produce copious amounts of nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, Ars Technica reported.

Lead researcher Bo Elberling said penguins’ feces were “truly intense” and sniffing too much of it would make one “completely cuckoo.”

Elberling and his team were studying how penguin activity in the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia contributed to greenhouse emissions, which includes nitrous oxide.

They noted that areas with high penguin activity had very high amounts of laughing gas emissions, which is about a hundred times higher than that of a freshly fertilized Danish farm field.

They also explained that the penguins weren’t directly responsible for the emissions: Their guano contains nitrogen-containing compounds which are later converted to nitrous oxide by soil bacteria.

Meanwhile, the authors say the fecal matter has no significant negative impact on the planet.

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