July 10, 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: 3,118,109 (+2.06%)
  2. Brazil: 1,755,779 (+2.49%)
  3. India: 793,802 (+3.45%)
  4. Russia: 706,240 (+0.93%)
  5. Peru: 316,448 (+1.13%)
  6. Chile: 306,216 (+1.03%)
  7. UK: 289,165 (+0.23%)
  8. Mexico: 282,283 (+2.65%)
  9. Spain: 253,056 (+0.22%)
  10. Iran: 250,458 (+0.84%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

NEED TO KNOW

POLAND

Showdown

Polish President Andrzej Duda thought he was a shoo-in.

He was wrong.

When Poles went to the polls last month in higher than usual turnout, they delivered a surprise to the ruling party: Duda won 44 percent of the vote while his rival, Rafał Trzaskowski won 31 percent, Politico reported. Because no one secured a majority, the presidential election will go to a runoff on July 12, giving Trzaskowski a second chance to make his case to voters.

The Polish presidency is technically nonpartisan but Duda is a conservative and former leader of the ruling Law and Justice Party, while Trzaskowski, the liberal mayor of Warsaw, is from the Civic Platform opposition.

Since they won power in 2015, the rightwing, populist Law and Justice Party has toed a conservative pro-Catholic line on social and cultural issues, suppressed dissident, gutted the state-owned press and other institutions not directly under their control and undermined the judiciary, according to European Union leaders and human rights groups.

This Carnegie Europe analysis details how Poland went from eagerly joining the EU in 2004 to electing leaders who criticize the bloc.

Meanwhile, Duda has equated the tolerance of the LGBT community to an “ideology” that threatens the Polish nation as much as Soviet control did during the Cold War. “The generation of my parents did not fight for 40 years to kick the communist ideology out of schools. . . in order for us to now accept that another ideology should arrive, that is even more destructive for people,” the president said in a campaign stop covered by the Financial Times.

The BBC described the race as a clash of values. Trzaskowski wants to restore constitutional norms, improve ties with the EU, establish civil unions for same-sex couples, refrain from tightening the country’s already strict abortion laws and restore public funding of in-vitro fertilization, the Associated Press reported.

Trzaskowski, a late addition to the presidential race — he only entered the campaign in mid-May when his party decided to ditch Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska, who was polling badly – has portrayed himself as the scrappy upstart who would end Law and Justice’s monopoly on power before it was too late, Reuters reported.

“It will be an election between an open Poland, and a Poland that seeks an enemy and a president who constantly tries to divide,” he said at a campaign stop, according to the New Statesman.

Or as Malgorzata Bonikowska, president of the Warsaw-based Center for International Relations, put it: “People are voting for two different Polands – they are like fire and water.”

Still, Trzaskowski has had an uphill battle from the start.

“The campaign was characterized by negative and intolerant rhetoric” and a “public broadcaster [that] failed to ensure balanced and impartial coverage,” the international observers monitoring the election said in a statement. “Inflammatory language by the incumbent and his campaign was at times xenophobic and homophobic . . . In the run-up to the election, the public broadcaster became a campaign tool for the incumbent, while some reporting had clear xenophobic and anti-Semitic undertones.”

Since the first round, Poles have seen a continuation of that hard and dirty campaign. “It’s the last battle, it’s a battle about everything. It’s historical,” leftwing publisher Sławomir Sierakowski told the Guardian. “Three more years for them is enough time to finish building this entire infrastructure of power.”

Soon the world will know whether that infrastructure flourishes or crumbles.

WANT TO KNOW

WORLD

Post-Mortem

The United Nation’s health body set up an independent commission Thursday to review the global response to the coronavirus pandemic, after criticism that the agency lacks transparency and accountability, Politico reported.

The panel will be chaired by former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, World Health Organization leader Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

The WHO’s move comes after the United States formally withdrew from the UN agency earlier this week, depriving it of its biggest donor. Washington has criticized the organization’s performance and for being too “China-centric,” while accusing Beijing of covering up the outbreak.

The health agency denied that the new commission was a reaction to the US’ withdrawal. It said the panel was a result of a request by member countries in May to initiate an independent review of the global response.

The WHO had initially resisted calls to begin a probe of the pandemic response until it was brought under control. But growing frustrations by other member states such as Germany and France over a lack of honesty by China and a lack of transparency and accountability by WHO pushed the date forward.

Meanwhile, Ghebreyesus made an emotional plea Thursday for international unity to fight the pandemic.

In tears, he said, “The greatest threat we face now is not the virus itself, but the lack of leadership and solidarity…we cannot defeat this pandemic as a divided world.”

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

In the Shadows

Congolese protesters clashed with security forces Thursday over plans to name a new head of the country’s election panel that they believe would favor the country’s prior leader, Al Jazeera reported.

Supporters of President Felix Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Progress demonstrated across the country after the National Assembly – dominated by supporters of former President Joseph Kabila – voted to appoint Ronsard Malonda as the chairman of the independent national electoral commission, CENI. Critics say that Malonda, CENI’s current secretary-general, has played a key role in rigging elections in favor of Kabila.

Tshisekedi, whose coalition government includes Kabila supporters, hasn’t yet approved Malonda’s appointment.

The coalition was rocked last month after Kabila’s allies proposed judicial reforms that would define the powers of judges, with critics saying the move was an attempt to silence the judiciary.

Kabila stepped down following the 2018 elections after 18 years in power but remains an influential figure behind the scenes.

BRAZIL

Left Behind

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro vetoed select provisions of a bill aimed at helping indigenous communities hit hard by the coronavirus, opting to deny them water and cleaning products, CNN reported.

The bill would create an emergency plan to fight the outbreak in indigenous territories and would have classified those communities as “groups in situations of extreme vulnerability.”

The provisions vetoed included the free distribution of drinking water, hygiene products and disinfection materials. He also vetoed a line item to provide more hospital beds and intensive care units for indigenous people.

Many of the country’s indigenous live far from hospitals and in areas lacking basic infrastructure. Brazil’s Special Indigenous Service said that more than 8,000 people in the community have contracted the virus since the beginning of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the bill was in response to an order by Brazil’s Supreme Court for the government to take measures to protect such communities from the virus.

The legislature can override the veto if the majority of both houses of the legislature vote in favor of the bill.

Brazil has more than 1.6 million confirmed cases of Covid-19, the second-highest globally after the United States. On Tuesday, coronavirus-skeptic Bolsonaro tested positive for the virus.

DISCOVERIES

The Wonder of Snow Dogs

Thousands of years ago, man began tinkering with the genetics of his best friend to create the arctic sled dog, researchers recently found.

And while humans have been domesticating dogs for more than 15,000 years, the new research shows that arctic sled dogs 9,500 years ago already had mutations in genes involved in oxygen use and temperature sensitivity that set them apart from other dogs and wolves.

To arrive at this conclusion, a team of researchers sequenced the genomes of 10 modern Greenland sled dogs and compared them to the mandible of a 9,500-year-old sled dog found on Zokhov Island, Siberia and also a 33,000-year-old wolf from Siberia’s Taimyr Peninsula.

Their analysis shows that the majority of the modern Arctic sled dogs’ ancestry is descended from the same distinct lineage as the 9,500-year-old Siberian dog. This is especially true of the Greenland sled dog, which has the fewest genetic connections with other dog groups and most closely represents the original ancestry, Smithsonian wrote.

The team also discovered many features that distinguished sled dogs from other breeds, such as adaption to low oxygen conditions and a fat-rich and starch-poor diet.

In fact, the team found genes that appear to be unique among sled dogs when compared to their canine relatives: “The polar bear has a very specific gene that’s selected to help it eat unlimited amounts of blubber without getting cardiovascular disease,” Mikkel-Holder Sinding, co-author of the study, told the magazine. “We see almost exactly the same gene being very highly selected in the dogs.”

Also, the sled dogs share genome features with the woolly mammoth: thermal receptors that helped these animals sense changes in temperature.

“We have no clue why,” Sinding said. “But given that we see it in the mammoth and now in the sled dog, it seems to mean that this temperature sensation has some really important role in the Arctic.”