The World Today for July 20, 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: 3,773,260 (+1.67%)
  2. Brazil: 2,098,389 (+1.13%)
  3. India: 1,118,206 (+3.75%)
  4. Russia: 770,311 (+0.80%)
  5. South Africa: 364,328 (+3.83%)
  6. Peru: 353,590 (+1.17%)
  7. Mexico: 344,224 (+1.57%)
  8. Chile: 330,930 (+0.63%)
  9. UK: 296,358 (+0.25%)
  10. Iran: 273,788 (+0.80%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours



Plus ça Change

In late March, China had the most coronavirus cases on the planet but a low infection rate. Italy had the second-highest number and an infection rate of 15 percent. Iran was around half as bad.

To say things have changed would be an understatement.

Four months ago, when DailyChatter began tallying the toll of the coronavirus, the countries in the top 10 of the total number of infections worldwide were: China, Italy, Iran, Spain, Germany, the US, France, South Korea, Switzerland and the UK. Today, most of those countries have left the top 10 – they brought their infection rate under control – to be surpassed by Brazil, India, Russia, Peru, Chile, Mexico and South Africa.

The US, Iran and the UK are the exceptions – they remain in the top 10.

For those whose infection numbers declined to manageable levels, such as Italy, France and Germany, life has somewhat returned to normal. Borders are open, restaurants and shops are busy if not full, political campaigns go on and locals head for the mountains or the beach for summer vacation.

Still, fears – and some masks – remain.

While most French these days avoid la bise – the traditional kiss on the cheek when greeting another person – officials are fretting over slightly rising numbers, afraid of a second wave. This week, new rules go into effect, making masks compulsory in all indoor public spaces such as stores and restaurants. They were previously only mandatory in government buildings and public transportation.

“As soon as we tell the French that it is necessary to wear a mask, most will do it,” Health minister Olivier Véran told France Info.

Currently, the US has by far the most cases of infections worldwide, with Brazil and India running in second and third place. The American infection rate is at around 2 percent. Brazil is less than 1.5 percent. India’s is almost 3.5 percent. On Friday, India surpassed 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases, becoming the third country to cross that threshold, behind the United States and Brazil.

The pandemic has been a humbling experience for the US. California is reinstituting coronavirus shutdowns after launching plans to reopen, wrote the Los Angeles Times. Florida, Texas, Arizona and other states are struggling to contain the virus.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was personally humbled. Playing down the threat of Covid-19, he shunned masks, called the virus the “little flu” and shook hands at events, the Washington Post documented. Then he came down with the illness. Now the former junta military officer is betting that hydroxychloroquine will save his life, reported Reuters. Indigenous communities in the Amazon, meanwhile, have been decimated, Mother Jones wrote.

In India, where soap is a luxury, Prime Minister Narendra Modi apologized for his harsh lockdown that sent millions of impoverished Indian workers home to their rural villages, some riding bikes or walking hundreds of miles in their desperate quest to get there, Foreign Policy magazine wrote. Since then, he has called for Indians to practice yoga to build a “protective shield” of immunity against the virus, Al Jazeera reported.

Writing in the Independent, longtime left-leaning British journalist Patrick Cockburn argued that it was no coincidence that the leaders of the top three nations in coronavirus cases were conservative populists. They promise much but their governing falls short, he argued. Still, others counter that the pandemic is a difficult balancing act between preventing illness or staving of poverty as economies tank, a devil’s choice.

Meanwhile, Chinese officials who have allegedly controlled the virus have also used the pandemic – or the climate the virus created – as an excuse to attack the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and increase their aggression against Taiwan and in the South China Sea, a Nikkei Asian Review analysis concluded. Leaders in Hungary, Poland and elsewhere have made similar moves against the analogous enemies of their regimes.

It’s not clear the three honchos of the US, Brazil and India have the same political leeway.

The Daily Beast suggested Bolsonaro was planning a coup to retain control as his poll numbers plummeted and voters banged pots and pans calling for his resignation. The military denied the assertion. In the US, President Donald Trump’s poll numbers have plunged but most critics are not taking his defeat in November’s elections for granted. Modi, meanwhile, won a landslide reelection victory a year ago, so faces no immediate threat to his power, though his critics remain vocal about his authoritarian streak, Foreign Policy noted.

A lot has changed in four months, and then not…



Adding Fuel…

An Israeli court ruled Sunday that it would begin hearing witnesses in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial at the beginning of 2021, adding to the woes of the embattled prime minister as his public approval ratings tank over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Netanyahu is facing bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges in cases connected to three corruption probes. He has denied the charges, calling them the result of a “witch hunt” to force him out of power.

On Saturday, thousands of protesters took to the street against his handling of the pandemic, while demanding economic relief. The government has started to reimpose a lockdown on parts of the economy following a new wave of cases. Nearly 50,000 people have tested positive and more than 400 have died as of Sunday.

The government’s response to the pandemic has also caused friction within the fragile ruling coalition between Netanyahu and rival Benny Gantz: The leaders are arguing over how the pandemic relief should be distributed and also the military’s involvement in the coronavirus response.

Analysts speculate that recent fractures in the unity government could lead to a possible fourth election in less than two years but noted that Netanyahu would likely try to avoid a new poll due to his cratering approval rating.


Disquiet on the Eastern Front

About 50,000 people in Russia’s Far East protested Saturday over the arrest of a popular regional governor charged in connection with alleged murder plots, the second week of demonstrations against the Kremlin, the Washington Post reported.

Protesters in Khabarovsk demanded the release of Sergei Furgal, who was arrested on July 9 over allegations that he was “involved in organizing murders and attempted murders of” rival entrepreneurs, according to Russian authorities.

Furgal – a member of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party of Russia – denies the charges. His supporters say that the arrest is retaliation for Furgal winning the 2018 gubernatorial race against a candidate of the ruling United Russia party.

The demonstrations have dampened the Kremlin’s recent victory in passing a package of constitutional amendments to allow President Vladimir Putin to have two more terms in office.

Analysts told the Guardian that any replacement of Furgal is bound to cause more protests in the restive region, which delivered one of the lowest turnouts in the recent vote and displayed the least support for the constitutional amendments countrywide.


A Tragedy

Syrians began voting in parliamentary elections Sunday even as the country reels from a nine-year civil war, a disastrous economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic, Al Jazeera reported.

More than 7,000 polling stations were set up in areas controlled by President Bashar al Assad’s regime – about 70 percent of the country.

More than 2,000 candidates are running in the third legislative elections since the start of the war in 2011, with no real opposition against the ruling Baath Party. In fact, opposition groups have called the vote a “theatrical election,” one that will give the ruling party a majority of the seats in the 250-member parliament.

Analysts say the election will not be recognized by the international community as legitimate.

The vote comes as Syria’s economy has gone into freefall in recent months with the Syrian currency losing about 70 percent of its value, making it hard for citizens to afford basic commodities.

Last month, the United States imposed new sanctions, which target entities doing business with the Syrian government but also affects humanitarian efforts.


Australia’s Missing ‘Bear’

Today’s wombats are small and look pretty cute at first sight – even though they can be quite ferocious.

Scientists, however, have discovered that the furry marsupial had a bear-sized distant cousin that roamed Australia some 25 million years ago, New Atlas reported.

In a new study, researchers said that the Mukupirna nambensis – which means “big bones” in the Dieri and Malyangapa Aboriginal languages – was related to modern wombats, but not a descendant.

It belonged to a distinct family of its own and weighed more than 300 pounds. Despite its immense size, the team believes it fed on plants. The authors also noted that apart from its size, the giant wombat had different claws and teeth than today’s marsupials.

“Based on its claws we believe it was a scratch digger, so not a burrower like modern wombats but certainly able to dig into the ground,” co-author Julien Louys told the Brisbane Times.

The team explained that the Mukupirna’s extinction occurred during a major climatic shift 25 million years ago, when Australia went from dry, temperate areas to lush tropical rainforests.

“We can assume that the greenhouse climate change event that occurred around that period took it out,” said another author Michael Archer.

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