July 23, 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: 3,970,908 (+1.76%)
  2. Brazil: 2,227,514 (+3.14%)
  3. India: 1,238,798 (+3.83%)
  4. Russia: 787,890 (+0.01%)
  5. South Africa: 394,948 (+3.44%)
  6. Peru: 366,550 (+1.23%)
  7. Mexico: 362,274 (+1.69%)
  8. Chile: 334,683 (+0.00%)**
  9. UK: 297,952 (+0.19%)
  10. Iran: 281,413 (+0.93%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

NEED TO KNOW

EGYPT

Curse of the Pharaoh

Egypt did not report a surge in Covid-19 cases after its first infection was recorded in February. The government under authoritarian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi played down the threat. Today the pandemic is raging across the country and the death rate is high.

It’s thanks to brave Egyptians who took to social media to get the word out about the virus in their midst, Foreign Policy magazine reported. The coronavirus is surging in the country of 100 million, threatening to overwhelm hospitals. As of Wednesday, the Health Ministry recorded 89,078 infections, including 4,000 deaths — the highest death toll in the Arab world.

But speaking truth to a modern-day pharaoh comes with costs.

Police arrested Egyptian journalist, Mohamed Mounir, after he criticized the government’s handling of the crisis. He was charged with belonging to a terrorist organization, spreading fake news and misusing social media, the Associated Press wrote.

Mounir, 65, died from Covid-19 in prison. An op-ed in the Middle East Monitor said authorities cited a Facebook post as evidence of Mounir’s alleged misdeeds. The op-ed compared his fate to that of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whom Saudi Arabian authorities allegedly ordered killed in Istanbul because of his criticism of the desert kingdom.

Meanwhile, security forces have arrested at least 10 doctors, six journalists and others including pharmacists for airing their worries about the country’s health system, the Associated Press reported. Other health workers say they have been warned by administrators to keep quiet or face punishment. And they have been told to come to work even if they are dying or they will be reported to the government.

“Every day I go to work, I sacrifice myself and my whole family,” a doctor in greater Cairo told AP. “Then they arrest my colleagues to send us a message. I see no light on the horizon.”

In March, Egypt expelled Ruth Michaelson, a Guardian reporter, for disputing official virus figures. Authorities also summoned foreign correspondents from the Washington Post and New York Times to discuss their “fake news” which painted less-than-rosy pictures of the pandemic situation.

But Michaelson is still covering Egypt. One doctor recently told her that everyone in healthcare is under surveillance. “They told us our social media will be monitored to the extent that I deleted all my colleagues since I can’t trust any of them,” said the doctor.

In 2013, el-Sissi, as defense minister, led the military’s removal of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, after his brief rule sparked nationwide protests. Since, el-Sissi has stamped out dissent, jailing Islamist political opponents, secular activists, journalists, even belly dancers. Now that crackdown is hitting the medical community.

It’s clear why el-Sissi and his cohort are nervous. Egypt’s economy was a basket case before the pandemic. Now businesses are closed, and unemployment is soaring. The lowest-paid workers in the Egyptian economy, African and Asian migrants, don’t know how they’ll survive, Reuters reported.

At the same time, COVID-19 threatens to undermine tourism, a major source of foreign investment and employment in the country, the BBC wrote. The industry had just bounced back from a lull after years of political turmoil and violence – and also a terrorist attack that downed a passenger plane in 2015. Now bookings have plunged. This CNN video described how the government is hoping to entice tourists back so long as they wear masks and take other precautions.

In late June, the government reopened much of the country and welcomed hundreds of international tourists to resorts.

Meanwhile, medical staff lack masks, families plead for intensive care beds and doctors go to jail.

WANT TO KNOW

CHINA

A Warming Cold War

China vowed to retaliate against the United States Wednesday after Washington ordered its consulate in Houston closed over spying allegations, NPR reported.

Chinese officials criticized the closure as an “unprecedented escalation,” demanding the US reverse its decision or face “firm countermeasures.” China’s state-run Global Times suggested that Beijing could retaliate by shutting down the US consulate in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, the US Justice Department on Tuesday indicted two Chinese hackers for allegedly attempting to steal coronavirus vaccine research. US officials said they took action to protect American intellectual property and privacy.

Tensions between the two nations have flared in recent months over the coronavirus pandemic, Hong Kong’s diminishing autonomy and China’s treatment of its Muslim minority. Earlier this month, Washington imposed sanctions against Chinese officials over the detention of ethnic Muslim Uighurs and a new security law imposed on Hong Kong.

Analysts told Reuters that the recent flare-ups could mark the beginning of a new “cold war.”

UNITED KINGDOM

A Loophole, Closed

Britain and the United States agreed on Wednesday to end the “anomaly” that allowed the wife of a US official suspected of causing the death of a young British man to claim diplomatic immunity, Sky News reported.

Anne Sacoolas allegedly killed 19-year-old Harry Dunn in a car crash outside a Royal Air Force base in Northamptonshire last year. Sacoolas is currently in the US. The US has rejected a request for her extradition.

The new rule strips the diplomatic immunity previously given to relatives of US diplomatic staff at the base, Politico reported.

The decision comes a day after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. Raab said the new rules will ensure that such tragedies are prevented in the future.

Dunn’s mother, Charlotte Charles, welcomed the rule change as a “huge step forward,” but added that she will continue to campaign to have Sacoolas brought back to the UK.

SYRIA

Many Votes, Few Voters

The ruling Baath party and its allies won a majority of seats in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, a vote denounced by the opposition as pure theatrics, Al Jazeera reported Wednesday.

The Syrian election commission said that the National Unity list won 177 seats in the 250-seat parliament. It added that turnout was about 33 percent, far lower than the 57 percent recorded during the 2016 elections.

Members of the opposition called the elections illegitimate, saying that Assad’s regime “chose the candidates, even the independent ones, and they elected them.”

The elections were held in territories that are currently controlled by the government. Millions of people displaced by Syria’s nine-year civil war were ineligible to cast ballots.

“The majority of Syrians believe the election is only a process controlled by the regime to represent itself as a legitimate authority in Syria,” Zaki Mehchy, co-founder of the Syrian Centre for Policy Research, told Al Jazeera. “People know that the majority of MPs are nominated by the Baath party and all of them need to have security approval based on loyalty and not qualifications.”

Meanwhile, Syrians continue to suffer during a deep financial crisis caused by a plummeting currency and new US sanctions. The price of food in Syria increased by more than 200 percent last year, the UN’s World Food Program said, warning the country faces an “unprecedented hunger crisis.”

DISCOVERIES

Never Losing Sight…

A new study has found that Hummingbirds use their ability to count to hunt nectar and to memorize the sweetest flowers, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

To figure this out, a team of researchers conducted experiments on male rufous hummingbirds in Canada, which are about three inches long and extremely territorial – making them the perfect candidates for the study.

The team created fake flowers containing a small tube filled with sugar water, and set these up individually in hummingbird territory. The experiment began after the male birds established their territory around different fake flowers.

After initially feeding on the fake flowers, the scientists replaced the single flowers with a line of ten – and only the first flower contained sugar water. They noted that the birds started to recognize that only that first flower contained nourishment, even when researchers moved the line. The birds even found the sugar water when it was moved to the second, third and then the fourth flower.

The hummingbirds were still able to determine the right flower in the line.

“They would never lose their car in the car park,” said co-author Susan Healy.

The findings show that a hummingbird’s ability puts them in a group of fauna than can understand sequences, an elite group that includes rats, guppies and monkeys.