June 25, 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: 2,381,369 (+1.46%)
  2. Brazil: 1,188,631 (+3.73%)
  3. Russia: 613,148 (+2.38%)
  4. India: 473,105 (+3.71%)
  5. UK: 308,337 (+0.21%)
  6. Peru: 264,689 (+1.49%)
  7. Chile: 254,416 (+1.46%)
  8. Spain: 247,086 (+0.14%)
  9. Italy: 239,410 (+0.24%)
  10. Iran: 212,501 (+1.21%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

NEED TO KNOW

ICELAND

Corona Saga

Iceland is charging tourists $150 to expedite their way through its quarantine requirements. The cost covers tests at the airport for vacationers, Bloomberg explained. If visitors refuse to take the test, they must isolate themselves.

The 365,000 inhabitants of the North Atlantic island have been among the best at stopping the spread of the coronavirus. The New Yorker wrote about how geneticists were able to use a genealogy database to trace infections and head off outbreaks. The researchers were even able to track how different strains of COVID-19 entered Iceland from Europe and North America.

That traffic illustrates Iceland’s dependence on tourism and foreign trade. Now Icelanders are trying to get back to normal, including rejuvenating the vital tourism industry.

“The bars and restaurants are full. People are out enjoying themselves. Spectacular geological attractions are wide open to tourists,” wrote CNN. “Anyone visiting Iceland right now could be forgiven for thinking they’ve arrived in a parallel universe where the coronavirus never happened.”

The country is showing its resilience. Twelve years ago, the global financial crisis arguably began in Iceland due to a massive debt bubble. After a banking collapse and political reckoning, the country’s finances today are on a more solid footing. Its public health system, meanwhile, appears to have dodged the worst health consequences of the pandemic.

A level of social cohesion was key in stopping the spread of the virus, too.” Icelanders have become more considerate and polite, more forgiving, and more humble,” wrote Snorri Sturluson in an essay in MarketWatch. “There’s a genuine feeling of, ‘We’re all in this together.’”

Meanwhile, Iceland is remarkably dynamic. Its efforts to reduce carbon emissions are admirable and technologically advanced, Bloomberg wrote. Icelandic author Audur Ava Olafsdottir recently received kudos in the Washington Post for her novel “Miss Iceland,” a depiction of early 1960s Iceland that also symbolized the country’s cultural vibrancy today. And the Nordic country is a stalwart member of NATO, as Business Insider detailed.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Icelandic President Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson is widely expected to win reelection when voters hit the polls on June 27, as Iceland Review reported. The incumbent has 90 percent of voters supporting him.

A local English-language publication, the Reykjavik Grapevine, suggested that Jóhannesson might become president automatically if nobody ran against him. That occurred in 2008, when a former president was unopposed and therefore re-elected automatically.

Iceland’s financial collapse in 2008 shows that the country has had its troubles. But it also seems like Icelanders know how to learn from their mistakes. Because these days, they are clearly doing something right.

WANT TO KNOW

KOSOVO

War and Peace

Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci was indicted for war crimes by a special prosecutor in The Hague Wednesday for killings committed during the 1998-1999 Kosovo war, throwing a wrench into upcoming peace talks with Serbia at the White House, the Washington Post reported.

Thaci – a former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) – is charged with 10 counts of war crimes, including 100 murders of ethnic Serbs. Another KLA commander, former Parliament Speaker Kadri Veseli, has also been indicted.

Both men have denied the allegations.

The Hague-based special prosecutor’s office has been investigating crimes committed during Kosovo’s war of independence against Serbia that claimed more than 10,000 lives. The war ended following a NATO bombing campaign in support of the separatists.

Investigators have in the past accused the separatists of harvesting the organs of prisoners and murdering Serbs and ethnic Albanians suspected of collaborating with Serbia.

The special prosecutor’s office said Wednesday it could prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Thaci and others had perpetrated “murder, enforced disappearance of persons, persecution, and torture.”

Following the indictment, Thaci, who was on his way to Washington, D.C., will be replaced by Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti for the special summit.

The summit aims to resolve disputes between Kosovo and Serbia, particularly Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008, which Belgrade has never recognized.

GABON

About Face

Gabonese lawmakers passed a bill earlier this week to decriminalize homosexuality less than a year after it had made same-sex acts illegal, calling it “an offense against morality,” Agence France-Presse reported Wednesday.

The bill would remove a paragraph in the law that prohibits “sexual relations between persons of the same sex,” punishable by up to six months in jail and an $8,600 fine.

The bill caused a stir in the country Wednesday after it was unveiled. It still needs to be approved by the Senate.

In December, Gabon became the 70th country in the world to criminalize homosexuality despite global efforts to curb such laws, Reuters reported.

There were signs of progress in countering such bans after India and Botswana decriminalized homosexuality last year. But a growing number of religious conservatives including Evangelical Christians oppose the lifting of such bans.

Homosexuality is banned in most of sub-Saharan Africa, with some countries punishing violators with the death penalty.

ISRAEL

A Growing Backlash

More than 1,000 lawmakers across Europe denounced Israel’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank next week, saying it would destabilize the region, Euronews reported.

Lawmakers of all political stripes said in a letter they were “profoundly concerned” about the impact of the annexation, planned for July 1.

Europe must bring international actors together “to safeguard the prospects of the two-state solution and a just resolution to the conflict,” the lawmakers said.

They also criticized US President Donald Trump’s plan to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict as not being in line with “internationally agreed parameters and principles.”

Trump’s plan allows Israel to extend its sovereignty to parts of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley, while envisioning the creation of a small – but disconnected – Palestinian state.

The European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, previously warned that the annexation could set a precedent that would encourage nations with territorial claims “to disregard basic principles of international law.”

DISCOVERIES

It Pays To Be Choosy

Scientists discovered that human female eggs can be very choosy and favor some sperm cells over others, Inverse reported.

Co-author John Fitzpatrick and his team wrote in a new study that the female egg is surrounded with follicular fluid, which contains chemicals that attract sperm cells to unfertilized eggs. While these chemoattractants play an important role in conception, the team wasn’t aware that they were so picky about the male cells.

In their experiment, they used collected sperm and follicular fluid from couples undergoing assisted fertility treatment. Researchers noted that the eggs were better at attracting swimmers from certain men versus others – regardless as to whether the sperm belonged to a woman’s chosen partner or not.

Fitzpatrick argues that the findings show that male cells aren’t picky mainly because of their “low costs” after fertilization.

“For eggs, and women, there are a lot of extra costs that come after fertilization such as the costs of pregnancy,” he explained. “Because of these costs, eggs should be choosy about which sperm fertilize them.”

He said, however, that the findings don’t prove that infertility is caused by “incompatibility between partners.”

The authors plan to learn more about this choosy attitude, and said that the study can offer new ways to treat cases of infertility – especially cases that have no clear cause.