July 27, 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: 4,234,140 (+1.33%)
  2. Brazil: 2,419,091 (+1.03%)
  3. India: 1,435,616 (+3.61%)
  4. Russia: 811,073 (0.00%)**
  5. South Africa: 445,433 (+2.59%)
  6. Mexico: 390,516 (+1.42%)
  7. Peru: 375,961 (0.00%)**
  8. Chile: 345,790 (+0.64%)
  9. UK: 301,020 (+0.25%)
  10. Iran: 291,172 (+0.81%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

NEED TO KNOW

SOUTH AFRICA

Prohibition Redux

South Africa banned alcohol and tobacco in the face of harrowing Covid-19 infection rate increases.

Officials said they were following expert advice in watching out for public health.

Smokers, for example, should kick the habit during the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization. They have a higher risk of death from Covid-19. “There are good reasons for people to quit, and especially (in) this time of Covid-19,” said Catherine Egbe, a scientist at the South African Medical Research Council, in an interview with the Associated Press.

In March, South Africa imposed one of the earliest and most draconian lockdowns of any country and successfully flattened the curve. Analysts said the restrictions brought down the death rate to about 1 percent, among the lowest in the world.

South Africa rolled back its confinement and, as it did, the virus began to spread faster. South Africa is now reporting more than 10,000 cases a day.

Along with this, the government eased some of the restrictions for alcohol and tobacco but reinstated them as the pandemic worsened. During a period when alcohol sales were briefly permitted, people lined up at stores to stock up, Quartz explained.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa banned alcohol because, he said, it increased the number of trauma cases in hospitals already overwhelmed by the virus, and made it more likely for folks to break curfews and rules against congregating, Voice of America reported.

“In the midst of our national effort to fight against this virus, a number of people have taken to organizing parties, who have drinking sprees, and some who walk in crowded spaces without the protection of masks,” he said.

Meanwhile, illicit tobacco sales have shot up, the BBC wrote, creating a potential un-monitored trade that might spread the virus as officials are trying to cut infections. An opinion piece in the South African news outlet Independent Online described a burgeoning bootlegging industry while the legitimate businesses that employ thousands and generate tax revenues are withering on the vine.

South Africa has nine million smokers and many of them are desperate. Take this message on a WhatsApp group used by suburban moms in South Africa, ABC News noted. Amid the complaints about taking care of kids during the lockdown, one “desperate mama” asked: “Does anyone know where to get illegal cigarettes? I just need a few. I’m desperate.”

Writing in the Daily Maverick, a South African news magazine, public relations consultant Emma King said that South African Breweries, one of the original companies that went on to become the Belgian-American beer juggernaut Anheuser-Busch InBev, put around 250,000 people to work in its supply chain earlier this year before the lockdowns and bans took place. Those jobs are now in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, the bans have become a national conversation about the power of government, the truthfulness of politicians, personal freedom and civil liberties and public health, Al Jazeera wrote. The alcohol industry, meanwhile, has offered to launch programs to curb irresponsible drinking, Bloomberg reported.

Trauma has declined likely due to the alcohol ban. But the coronavirus cases in South Africa continue to climb worryingly. While some attack the president for taking away their smokes and tipples, Ramaphosa’s political opponents have criticized him not moving quickly or decisively enough to quell the virus, for example, re-imposing lockdowns, wrote National Public Radio.

The president says that a new lockdown would cause more harm than good. Instead, he begged South Africans to take personal responsibility, wear masks, keep a distance from each other and stop gathering.

“This is in our collective hands,” he said. “Let us remember that every individual action that we undertake does and can make a big difference. Now more than ever we are responsible for the lives of those around us.”

WANT TO KNOW

NORTH KOREA

Of Defectors and Viruses

North Korea locked down the city of Kaesong near the South Korean border Sunday, after discovering the country’s first official coronavirus case, the Washington Post reported.

The state-controlled Central News Agency said that a patient suspected of having the virus – who had previously defected from North Korea – returned from South Korea by illegally crossing the border last week.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared a state of emergency in the Kaesong area and said officials are investigating who the patient might have come in contact with, Central News Agency said.

Since the outbreak began in January, North Korea has closed its borders and has declared itself “virus-free.”

World Health Organization officials said that more than 1,100 tests have been conducted in North Korea as of July 9, all negative.

A coronavirus outbreak in the country could be catastrophic because of the nation’s limited health system, which lacks basic protective equipment and medical supplies.

South Korea’s military, meanwhile, said it will inspect how the suspected patient was able to pass through the world’s most fortified border, with hundreds of landmines and armed soldiers.

POLAND

Freedom Versus Values

Poland will withdraw from an international treaty aimed at preventing violence against women, Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said Saturday, according to Agence France-Presse.

Ziobro said that the landmark Istanbul Convention went against traditional values and called it “an invention, a feminist creation aimed at justifying gay ideology.”

The Istanbul Convention was aimed at fighting violence against women, from marital rape to female genital mutilation.

Poland’s previous centrist government signed the convention in 2012 and ratified it in 2015. The ruling conservative Law and Justice party, however, has pursued a more conservative and anti-LGBT social agenda.

The plan for withdrawal sparked protests over the weekend, as well as criticism from the Council of Europe and lawmakers from the European Parliament. The Council said that the international treaty does not explicitly mention same-sex marriage.

Nevertheless, the convention has been also criticized in Hungary and Slovakia, with the latter’s parliament emphasizing that the treaty is at odds with the country’s constitutional definition of marriage as a heterosexual union.

SOMALIA

Another One Bites the Dust

Somalian lawmakers ousted the government of Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre in a no-confidence vote over the weekend, as tensions between the president and prime minister came to a head, Voice of America reported.

Parliamentary Speaker Mohamed Mursal Abdurahman accused the government of “ineffectiveness” and said that it failed to fulfill its promises. Khayre countered that the vote was part of a conspiracy against the government.

President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed immediately accepted the decision and said he will nominate a new prime minister.

Analysts said that the unexpected vote came after a “long-awaited dispute” between the president and the prime minister over Somalia’s upcoming elections. They added that the move is a major political setback for the East African nation because it comes a few months before the vote.

The country wanted to hold a one-person, one-vote election next year, as opposed to a complex system in which special delegates pick lawmakers who then vote for the president. The objective was to have its first fully democratic election since 1969, but that proposal now lies in doubt, wrote Agence France Presse.

Meanwhile, parliament ousting a prime minister is not uncommon in Somalia. Since 2004, at least four presidents have had problems with their prime ministers: Each president has had three prime ministers in their respective terms.

DISCOVERIES

Porky’s Gift

Scientists have developed a new experimental technique that can revive donor lungs too damaged to be used in transplants by sharing its circulatory system with that of a living pig, according to Science Alert.

It could be the breakthrough that solves a long-standing problem for doctors: That there are far more patients with terminal lung illnesses than donors with viable lungs.

To date, medical professionals have relied on ex vivo lung perfusion (EVLP), which involves placing the lung in a sterile dome connected to a ventilator, pump and filters. The method allows the donor lungs to remain stable and slowly repair, but it can only be done for up to eight hours – which isn’t enough for the lung’s biological repair functions to kick in.

In their new study, the team used a xenogeneic – or cross-species – cross-circulation platform to connect six rejected donor lungs to anesthetized pigs for 24 hours.

Five of the organs were attached to pigs that had been immunosuppressed in order to prevent the animal’s immune system from attacking the lungs. The sixth control lung was attached to a pig without suppressed immunity.

The control lung failed quickly but the other five showed signs of significant regeneration, such as improvement in tissue quality and respiratory function.

The authors believe that the new technique can be used in combination with EVLP but they need to conduct further research to determine its viability and possible usage in other organs, such as kidneys and hearts.