June 16, 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 numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 2,114,026 (+0.95%)
  2. Brazil: 888,271 (+2.38%)
  3. Russia: 544,725 (+3.12%)
  4. India: 343,091 (+3.21%)
  5. UK: 298,315 (+0.33%)
  6. Spain: 244,109 (+0.07%)
  7. Italy: 237,290 (+0.13%)
  8. Peru: 232,992 (+1.42%)
  9. France: 194,305 (+0.08%)
  10. Iran: 189,876 (+1.31%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

NEED TO KNOW

MOZAMBIQUE

A Perfect Storm

South African anti-poaching snipers helped Mozambican forces push back militants in the country’s war-torn, gas-rich northern region of Cabo Delgado recently.

As reported in the Telegraph, the appearance of the sharpshooters was the latest development in a civil war that kicked off in late 2017. The militants known sometimes as Ansar al-Sunnah have seized towns, and beheaded those who resist. In the port city of Mocímboa da Praia, the rebels hoisted the black flag of Islamic State on government buildings. More than 1,000 people have died in the fighting.

Thickening the plot, a massive gas field was discovered off the coast of Cabo Delgado. The US has been competing with China to finance development of the field, Bloomberg reported.

The government has also been arresting journalists and researchers who have attempted to investigate happenings in the region, raising questions about whether officials have launched a heavy-handed response that might help stoke the uprising, the New Humanitarian wrote.

Writing in World Politics Review, Yale University Doctoral Candidate Hilary Matfess and RAND Corporation Political Scientist Alexander Noyes agreed with that point. In a video, for example, militant leaders appealed to Cabo Delgado residents, saying, “We occupy (the towns) to show that the government of the day is unfair. It humiliates the poor and gives the profit to the bosses.”

As the violence has escalated, it’s been hard to bring humanitarian aid into Cabo Delgado that might improve the situation. As many as 200,000 people in the region are displaced, a potential disaster in a country that already suffers from the challenges related to poverty.

“There are still thousands of displaced people who are hiding in the bush, too scared to go back to their villages,” said Caroline Gaudron Rose of Medecins Sans Frontieres “They are terrified of the ongoing violence…without shelter, clean water and access to medical care, they are extremely vulnerable.”

The coronavirus pandemic is now complicating matters, Voice of America added. Displaced people can spread the virus not only through their movements but by hunkering down together when they understandably seek safety in numbers.

The militants have handed out food and other supplies to people in a bid to drum up public support.

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi, meanwhile, has vowed not to let the fighting devolve into a civil war reminiscent of the 16-year-long conflict between communists and anti-communists that ended in 1992, Vatican News reported. Regional leaders are discussing how to help, Al Jazeera noted.

Observers say that’s a start. But the response is not quick enough.

“I don’t know what the government is going to do,” said a 29-year-old teacher from Muidumbe, speaking to the New Humanitarian. “Right now, there’s people who don’t know what they’re going to eat.”

WANT TO KNOW

RUSSIA

Trickling Down

A Russian court sentenced former US marine Paul Whelan to 16 years in prison on espionage charges Monday, a decision that threatens to worsen already-tense relations between Russia and the United States, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Whelan, 50, was detained by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) in Moscow in 2018 for having a flash drive that allegedly contained state secrets.

He has denied the charges and his lawyer has argued that his client wasn’t aware he was in possession of classified information.

The decision was condemned by Whelan’s family and US officials. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the treatment of Whelan appalling and has demanded his immediate release.

Relations between the US and Russia have deteriorated over many issues, including Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014. That has put US citizens in Russia in the crosshairs, analysts say.

Russia is currently holding private-equity investor Michael Calvey on embezzlement charges and ex-Marine Trevor Reed, who faces up to 10 years in prison for allegedly assaulting two police officers in Moscow.

CHINA

An Unexpected Spike

Authorities in Beijing are rushing to contain a new outbreak of the novel coronavirus after discovering 36 new cases in the capital Monday, CNN reported.

The new cluster of infections is believed to have emerged from the Xinfadi market, the largest wholesale food market in Beijing, which has been shut down since Saturday.

The recent cases brought the total number of confirmed cases to 79 since a locally transmitted infection was reported on June 12 – the first in nearly two months.

Officials have called the development “an extraordinary period” and have taken steps to mitigate the spread such as increasing testing.

The resurgence has sparked concerns of a possible second wave in China and the reintroduction of strict lockdowns that previously ground much of the country to a halt.

Chinese state media over the past two months has praised the government’s handling of the pandemic while highlighting the failure of Western government, particularly the United States, to keep death rates from the virus low.

IRELAND

A Feud, a Future

The leaders of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Green Party agreed on Monday to form a coalition government in Ireland four months after the general elections scrambled the political landscape, the Guardian reported.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar of Fine Gael, Micheal Martin of Fianna Fáil, and Eamonn Ryan of the Greens signed off a five-year plan that still needs to be approved by members of all three parties.

Under the agreement, Varadkar and Martin will take turns being Taoiseach – Ireland’s prime minister. They also agreed to usher in a $7.23 billion coronavirus support package, as well as create bans on offshore gas exploration and imported fracked gas.

The proposed coalition would finally resolve the century-old rivalry between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail and also push Ireland to take more steps against climate change.

Despite both parties’ historical domination of Irish politics, the February elections saw a surge of support for the nationalistic Sinn Fein.

Even so, the party failed to receive backing from smaller leftwing parties and independent lawmakers and was unable to assemble a majority in parliament.

DISCOVERIES

The Locust Hunters

Pakistani farmers are facing the worst locust invasion in 25 years, a disaster that has wiped out entire harvests and the jobs that accompany them.

Desperate to help farmers and villagers, the government became creative, Agence France-Presse reported.

Villagers in the province of Punjab are now earning cash by collecting locusts, drying them out, shredding them and then adding them to chicken feed.

Officials and scientists took the idea from war-torn Yemen, where authorities have been encouraging citizens to feed on protein-rich locusts amid the famine raging there.

Under the program, farmers are paid 12 cents per two pounds of locusts. They catch them at night when the insects lie motionless in the cooler temperatures.

Authorities then sent the harvested bugs to Pakistan’s largest animal-feed producer: The insects have now replaced 10 percent of the soybeans used to feed poultry.

Officials are now planning to expand the idea to other provinces.

Click here to see the program in action.