July 08, 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: 2,996,098 (+1.96%)
  2. Brazil: 1,668,589 (+2.79%)
  3. India: 742,417 (+3.16%)
  4. Russia: 699,749 (+1.88%)
  5. Peru: 309,278 (+1.17%)
  6. Chile: 301,019 (+0.82%)
  7. UK: 287,880 (+0.21%)
  8. Mexico: 268,008 (+2.39%)
  9. Spain: 252,130 (+0.14%)
  10. Iran: 245,688 (+1.08%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

NEED TO KNOW

BRAZIL

The President and the Virus

President Jair Bolsonaro’s fortunes have been indirectly proportional to the coronavirus statistics in Brazil. The more the virus spreads, the lower his popularity plunges. Whether it bottoms out and gives him enough time to stage a comeback reelection campaign in 2022 is the big question facing Brazilians, wrote Al Jazeera.

Currently, Brazil has one of the highest coronavirus infection rates worldwide and the second-highest number of deaths after the US. Writing in the Conversation UK, political scientist Alfredo Saad Filho said the country has had the worst response to the virus in the world, owing mostly to inequality within society and poor leadership in government.

Mammoth protests against Bolsonaro’s handling of the coronavirus have been occurring throughout the South American country. This Reuters video paints a picture of the sometimes violent situation.

Meanwhile, Bolsonaro has stirred controversy as a rightwing populist who has downplayed the potentially lethal effects of the coronavirus. He frequently appears without a mask, shaking hands and posing for pictures. He once was filmed sneezing into his hand and immediately afterward shaking the hand of an elderly woman. A judge eventually ordered him to wear a mask while in the capital of Brasilia, the BBC wrote.

It was too little, too late: On Tuesday, he announced he had tested positive, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“This virus is like the rain, it’s going to get you,” a masked Bolsonaro told reporters Tuesday. He remained unsubdued, telling Brazilians to get back to work. “Life goes on, Brazil has to produce.”

A former army captain in the oppressive junta that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985, Bolsonaro has supported allies who have called for the dissolution of Congress and the Supreme Court because they oppose his agenda, MercoPress explained.

Environmentalists have criticized his policy of easing rules designed to curb deforestation in order to stoke the economy, as Reuters described. Brazilians of color have formed activist groups to protest racism and police brutality, Americas Quarterly wrote.

Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo recently launched a pro-democracy campaign to push back against the dictatorial tendencies of Bolsonaro’s government, the Guardian reported. “We saw, and will never forget, the horrors of dictatorship, and we will always champion democracy,” a Folha de São Paulo editorial declared.

The strongman president might weather a liberal invective. But he won’t improve his standing amid an economic meltdown. The International Monetary Fund recently forecast economic losses of 9.1 percent due to the pandemic. Congressional critics are also investigating corruption allegations and looking into impeachment.

As a result, Covid-19 might wind up destroying Bolsonaro’s political career and the brand of populism he harnessed to win office, Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman wrote.

Some hope that’s all it destroys.

WANT TO KNOW

HONG KONG

The Tech Vice

Big tech companies have stopped responding to data requests on individuals from Hong Kong authorities temporarily after China imposed its new national security law on the city in response to last year’s protests, Axios reported Tuesday.

Companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook said they will review the details of the new law even as many companies are scrambling to understand the implications of the new legislation and how to proceed in its aftermath.

Tech companies have long viewed setting up shop in Hong Kong as a way to operate close to China without being subject to many of its country’s most stringent laws, Axios wrote. Twitter wrote it has “grave concerns regarding both the developing process and the full intention of this law.”

Under the new law, companies doing business in Hong Kong are obligated to provide data on their customers and comply with censorship requests or face one year in jail and large fines.

As a result, analysts say the halt in answering requests is only a short-term solution: In the long run, tech companies will have to decide whether to comply with authorities or shut down their operations in the city.

Meanwhile, Chinese-owned social media app TikTok said it’s pulling its app from the Hong Kong market. Its parent company ByteDance – which operates in China – said TikTok won’t share data with the government.

MEXICO

Warm and Fuzzy

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will meet with US President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C. Wednesday, a first foreign trip for the Mexican leader and one that has ignited fierce criticism on both sides of the border, the Washington Post reported.

Obrador is visiting the capital to inaugurate the new North American trade agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico that is replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Reuters reported.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was also invited, declined to attend due to the pandemic and also new tariff threats from the Trump administration, Politico reported.

Wednesday’s meeting has attracted controversy in Mexico and the US, with Mexicans worrying Lopez Obrador’s visit will be a show of support for Trump’s reelection bid and threaten future relations with the US if Democrat Joe Biden wins the election in November. Meanwhile, some in the US saw the visit as an attempt to politicize the bilateral relationship and deflect attention from the pandemic, the Post wrote.

A few years ago, the Mexican leader’s relationship with Trump was fiery, clashing with the US president on immigration, arguing that it was a human right. But last year, he did an about-face after Trump threatened to impose tariffs on Mexican exports if the country didn’t curb the number of asylum seekers crossing the border. These days, analysts said the leftwing populist and the rightwing populist get along surprisingly well.

“Trump had to be accommodated,” said Federico Estévez, a political scientist at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, for Mexico to achieve its main goal: Preserving the free-trade deal. “We’re not Canada,” he said. “We couldn’t afford not to go this route.”

Even so, analysts say there aren’t many boons to the new deal for Mexico – it’s almost exactly like the old one.

Meanwhile, Mexican leaders are proposing to tighten cross-border traffic as the number of coronavirus cases in the US surges, the Post reported separately. For months, both Mexicans – and Canadians – have wanted to keep Americans out due to the pandemic.

EGYPT

Prescribing Silence

The Egyptian government has been arresting doctors and silencing critics over their criticism of the country’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the Associated Press reported.

At least 10 doctors and six journalists have been arrested since the virus hit Egypt in February. Other health workers have been warned against speaking out about shortages of medical equipment or other issues at medical facilities.

Doctors have lamented that the poor working conditions and underdeveloped healthcare system have led to the deaths of 117 doctors, 39 nurses and 32 pharmacists from COVID-19, with thousands more falling ill.

The country, with a population of 100 million, has currently more than 76,000 confirmed cases and 3,422 deaths as of Tuesday, the highest in the region.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi said the government has been ramping up efforts to curb the virus by setting up field hospitals, increasing testing and ordering companies to produce more medical supplies. Meanwhile, his prime minister has been blaming doctors for the spike in cases.

The suppression of dissent has spiked under el-Sissi but the pandemic has been testing the capabilities of his administration and shifted a crackdown toward a previously apolitical and quiet group – healthcare workers.

DISCOVERIES

Swimming in the Air

The paradise tree snake lives up to its name: It likes to live in trees and gets around by “flying” through the foliage of South Asia and Southeast Asia.

Although it doesn’t have wings, scientists have discovered that the snake’s body and special movements allow it to move from tree to tree – or tree to ground – quite easily, NPR reported.

In a paper for the journal Nature Physics, a team of researchers described how they used motion-capture tags and high-speed cameras to determine how this movement – known as undulation – allowed the flying snakes to move around their environment.

They found that the snake flattens its body and makes peculiar “vertical” wave-like movements when gliding – the back half of the reptile’s body makes an up-and-down bending motion.

Lead author Isaac Yeaton said this undulation allows the snakes to remain stable during their glides.

Physicist Jennifer Rieser, who was not involved in the study, said the findings could help develop flying capabilities for existing snake robots, which can assist in maneuvering through rubble after earthquakes.

Click here to see snakes swimming in the air.