July 28, 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: 4,294,770 (+1.43%)
  2. Brazil: 2,442,375 (+0.96%)
  3. India: 1,480,073 (+3.10%)
  4. Russia: 822,060 (+1.35%)
  5. South Africa: 452,529 (+1.59%)
  6. Mexico: 395,489 (+1.27%)
  7. Peru: 389,717 (+3.66%)
  8. Chile: 347,923 (+0.62%)
  9. UK: 301,708 (+0.23%)
  10. Iran: 293,606 (+0.84%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

NEED TO KNOW

LEBANON

No Tomorrow

Lebanon is on the brink of becoming a failed state.

“Once celebrated as the Switzerland of the Middle East, Lebanon is facing a severe crisis,” wrote Der Spiegel, a German news magazine. “Its economy is collapsing, while electricity and adequate medical care are hard to find. The state has completely failed its people.”

Recently, the electricity worked for around three hours a day, the Washington Post reported. An approaching commercial jet aborted a landing at Beirut’s airport because the runway lights shut off. Traffic signals don’t work, adding to traffic that was already terrible.

Desperation in Beirut is high. The city has a violent past as well as a rich history as a prosperous, cosmopolitan center of the Eastern Mediterranean, as this BBC profile illustrates – once, it was known as the Paris of the Middle East, the region’s bookseller and a glamorous financial capital where the world’s glitterati flocked.

Now, a spate of suicides in the capital has given the crisis a macabre feel.

One man shot himself on a busy street, leaving a suicide note referencing a famous song about poverty during the civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1990. “A country at the crossroads of the Middle East’s flashpoints appears to be coming apart,” Bloomberg wrote.

Food shortages and hunger are becoming the norm. “This is the first time I’ve come here,” said Haifa, who was among a throng crowding a food and medicine distribution station recently in Beirut, in an interview with France 24. “Our lives have been turned upside down. We had a good lifestyle, but that’s all finished now. All of a sudden we’ve become so poor, we’ve got nothing.”

Lebanon is on the precipice of a deep financial crisis, NBC News explained. The currency has collapsed. Unemployment is skyrocketing. The decline began years ago as leaders mismanaged and overspent. Late last year, anti-government protests erupted against the economic situation, corruption, sectarian politics, entrenched patronage and the inequality they create in society.

Then the coronavirus delivered the knockout punch as businesses shuttered. In March, Lebanon defaulted on $90 billion of debt. Negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for another $10 billion loan have failed to deliver results. Lebanon has mixed relations with the US because Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed political party, wields significant political power there. The US and others have designated it as a terror group.

Now, protesters take to the streets routinely to point out that their leaders who became wealthy due to the corrupt system they created should be held responsible now that economic catastrophe has struck, CNN reported.

Still, talk to anyone in Lebanon who remembers the civil war and its aftermath and they will talk about the famous resilience – and defiance – of the Lebanese, pointing out how people would dress in any finery they could find and celebrate as if there were no war, as if there were no tomorrow – because there might not be.

Nowadays, those people shrug and say, we overcame bullets and bombs, so this too will pass.

WANT TO KNOW

UKRAINE

In Name Only

Ukrainian army officials accused pro-Russian separatists of violating a ceasefire by shooting at government soldiers just a few hours after the peace took effect at midnight Monday, Reuters reported.

The separatist news agency, meanwhile, said that no violations occurred.

Last week, negotiators from Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe agreed to a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine. The agreement – backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy – aims to put on hold a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 since 2014.

Since his election last year, Zelenskiy has tried to resolve the conflict in the region and has arranged a number of prisoner swaps.

The conflict between the neighbors began in 2014 after Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and backed rebels in the east.

CHINA

Tit For Tat

The US consulate in the Chinese city of Chengdu officially closed its doors Monday, marking a new low point in the relationship between the two countries, the Guardian reported.

China called the closure a “legitimate and necessary response to the unreasonable measures by the United States.” The closure was extensively covered in Chinese media with many nationalists posting anti-American messages on Weibo, one of China’s biggest social media platforms.

Last week, Washington ordered the Chinese consulate in Houston to shut down over accusations of espionage and intellectual property theft.

Tensions between the world’s largest economies have increased over trade, the coronavirus pandemic and the detention and abuse of ethnic Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang province.

Currently, the US has one embassy in Beijing and five other consulates including the one in Hong Kong.

Chinese nationalists have pushed for even stronger responses to the US such as closing the consulate in Hong Kong.

SUDAN

Left Behind

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said he will send security forces to conflict-stricken Darfur after an armed group attacked the local Masalit community over the weekend, Agence France-Presse reported.

The United Nations reported that around 500 armed men launched an attack on Masteri Town, killing more than 60 people, as well as burning homes and looting buildings. The attack sparked local protests, with demonstrators demanding more protection.

The restive region has seen years of conflict since an uprising in 2003 led the government of President Omar al-Bashir to launch a campaign that left 300,000 dead and displaced more than 2.5 million.

Violence in Darfur has eased somewhat since Bashir was ousted by the army amid mass protests last year.

In January, Sudan’s new transitional government – composed of military and civilian officials – signed a preliminary peace agreement with rebel factions. The bloodshed, however, continues, particularly over land rights.

DISCOVERIES

A Fan of Metal

It was long suspected that bacteria can feed on almost everything, including metals. But there was no proof.

Until an unwitting scientist being lazy made a fortuitous find.

Researcher Jared Leadbetter of Caltech had left a glass jar lined with manganese in a sink for months, unwashed, the Jerusalem Post reported. When he returned to it, he discovered a dark substance coating the container. With a colleague, he conducted a few tests on the substance and discovered that it was oxidized manganese caused by peculiar bacteria.

For more than a century, scientists have speculated about the existence of this type of bacteria but this is the first time they have found evidence.

“These are the first bacteria found to use manganese as their source of fuel,” Leadbetter said. “A wonderful aspect of microbes in nature is that they can metabolize seemingly unlikely materials, like metals, yielding energy useful to the cell.”

Leadbetter suggested that the bacteria likely came from the tap water and could reside in groundwater. Their discovery could help future researchers understand the biological and chemical processes that take place in groundwater.

The authors added the microbes could help explain the presence of abundant manganese nodules found on the floor of oceans – which companies are planning to mine for the coveted rare earth minerals often found inside.