The World Today for June 10, 2020

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An Unfinished Experiment

Phelan Chatterjee has been keeping a diary about his experience living under Sweden’s unique coronavirus response.

“Official advice tells anyone not ‘vulnerable’ to stay home only if symptomatic, and to socially distance when out,” wrote Chatterjee, a video producer for the Associated Press who is normally based in London. “We’re not actively seeking herd immunity, they say. But equally, we don’t want to suppress the virus by locking down, testing and tracing.”

Scholars writing in Foreign Affairs magazine praised the Scandinavian country’s strategy, which asked seniors and Swedes with preexisting conditions to remain in lockdown to avoid infection while allowing everyone else to follow the relatively laissez-faire precautions that Chatterjee described.

“To visit Sweden now is to enter a strange land where people can just hang out together,” a CNN correspondent said in a video.

But the Independent reported that Sweden now has the highest death rate in the world from Covid-19, almost 10 percent, and four times as much as its Nordic neighbors.

Defenders of the Swedish policy said the country’s relatively homogenous demographics, high levels of social trust, excellent healthcare system, strong sense of personal responsibility and similar characteristics would help the country weather the crisis. Those arguments were bunk, countered Wired magazine.

That’s why Denmark and Norway, whose Nordic cultures resemble Sweden’s, and have deep ties to their neighbors, have opted to restrict Swedes from visiting their countries when they open their borders to outsiders on June 15, the BBC wrote. They’ll likely remain unwelcome through August.

In making that rule, the Danes and Norwegians were following European Union guidance: It suggested countries with similar rates of coronavirus infections should open their borders first before a continent-wide reopening lets citizens travel without restrictions between numerous countries, Politico wrote.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde viewed the prohibitions as politically motivated rather than based on sound health advice, according to Reuters.

Alternatively, Norwegian officials, who have done an excellent job of curbing the spread of the virus, have publicly wondered whether they went too far in shutting down and should have been more like Sweden, wrote the Telegraph. The Norwegian economy has lost billions while few citizens have immunity to the virus. Sooner or later, Norway will need to open up. Nobody knows what’s going to happen.

Meanwhile, many Swedes weren’t on board with their country’s relaxed policy, either. Under pressure from opposition parties, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven recently announced an inquiry into his response to the coronavirus. On the inquiry’s agenda will be questions about why half of the country’s deaths have occurred in nursing homes, Reuters reported.

Sweden’s experiment is scary. And it’s not over yet.



Radio Silence

North Korea said it will cut off all lines of official communication with South Korea Tuesday, a move aimed at increasing pressure on Seoul and the United States to make concessions, Voice of America reported.

North Korean state media said that four communications channels will be cut off, including a liaison office near the border and a direct line between North Korea’s ruling party and South Korea’s presidential office.

It also said that the move was made in response to activities by South Korean activists sending anti-North Korean leaflets across the border via balloons.

South Korea, which has been trying to foster better relations with Pyongyang, has vowed to legislate a formal ban on the practice.

Analysts believe that the cutting off of communications is aimed at extracting further concessions from Seoul, while also indirectly putting pressure on Washington.

The US-North Korean arms negotiations stalled following two summits last year between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

Some analysts say Kim is trying to divert attention away from the country’s economic problems that have been intensified by the pandemic.



Thousands of protesters marched in the streets of Hong Kong Tuesday to mark the one-year anniversary of the million-person demonstration against Chinese encroachment on the city’s autonomy, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The rally comes as China is poised to impose a new national security law on the former British colony in response to months of protests that gripped the city last year.

Critics say China’s plan violates its promise to respect the territory’s high degree of autonomy after Britain handed over the city in 1997.

Tuesday’s demonstrations were much smaller than last year’s rallies: Police have banned mass gatherings citing public health concerns due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Authorities have also moved to declare the protesters as “rioters,” discouraging individuals from attending demonstrations out of fear of being arrested.

Police have arrested nearly 9,000 people in connection with the protest movement since last year.


A Divide

Guyanese opposition candidate Irfaan Ali won the March presidential elections following a recount over concerns that the tally was manipulated, preliminary results show.

The opposition People’s Progressive Party won 33 seats in the 65-seat parliament, Reuters reported. The ruling APNU+AFC of President David Granger won 31 seats.

Granger had previously declared himself as the winner but election observers and foreign diplomats said there were irregularities in the vote tally.

The country’s top court ordered a recount after finding that a district’s election official did not count the votes in accordance with electoral laws.

The disputed vote could spark long-simmering tensions between the Afro-Guyanese and those of Indian-descent as both groups are vying to control the nation’s oil production revenues. Guyana is set to become a major oil producer.


The Colors of Snow

Climate change is melting parts of Antarctica but now it’s also turning snow green, CBS News reported.

Green snow – which is actually green algae blooming across snowy surfaces – is not a completely unusual phenomenon, but a new study found it’s beginning to spread across the icy continent.

A research team used satellite data and fieldwork observations to create the first large-scale map of green algae in Antarctica.

The team spotted more than 1,600 separate algal blooms, and predicted that it will spread to other parts of the continent as the snow melts due to rising global temperatures.

They explained that the growth of algae was heavily influenced by marine birds and animal droppings, which act as good fertilizers for the microscopic organisms.

“This is a significant advance in our understanding of land-based life on Antarctica, and how it might change in the coming years as the climate warms,” said co-author Matt Davey.

The authors haven’t determined how exactly the blooming algae will affect the planet.

Algae play an important role in absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. The algae blooms found by the team absorb about 500 tons of carbon each year.

However, they also darken the snow and absorb more heat from the sun – which impacts already rising sea levels.

Regardless, the amount of algae found is actually a conservative estimate, because the satellite was only capable of picking up green algae, missing its red and orange counterparts, the broadcaster wrote.

“The snow is multi-colored in places, with a palette of reds, oranges and greens,” said Davey. “It’s quite an amazing sight.”

COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET:

  1. US: 1,979,893
  2. Brazil: 739,503
  3. Russia: 484,630
  4. UK: 290,581
  5. India: 275,413
  6. Spain: 241,966
  7. Italy: 235,561
  8. Peru: 199,696
  9. France: 191,523
  10. Germany: 186,523

Source: Johns Hopkins University

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