July 30, 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: 4,426,982 (+1.72%)
  2. Brazil: 2,552,265 (+2.78%)
  3. India: 1,581,963 (+3.28%)
  4. Russia: 832,993 (+1.33%)
  5. South Africa: 471,123 (+2.47%)
  6. Mexico: 408,683 (+1.47%)
  7. Peru: 400,683 (+1.44%)
  8. Chile: 351,575 (+0.51%)
  9. UK: 303,063 (+0.25%)
  10. Iran: 298,909 (+0.89%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

NEED TO KNOW

NEW ZEALAND

On the Tightrope

Are female politicians better at fighting the coronavirus pandemic? New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof cited President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan in an opinion piece asking that question. Vox featured German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The Atlantic magazine profiled New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Each female leader has succeeded where the US government and others have failed.

Ardern’s leadership is especially notable, however, because she has governed successfully while tackling major issues that often have left other global leaders immobilized.

Last year, when a white supremacist killed 15 people at mosques in Christchurch, for example, Ardern led an effort that banned most automatic and semiautomatic firearms in the archipelago where hunting is a national pastime.

Still, China is presenting Ardern with perhaps her greatest test. When the so-called “Five Eyes” – a pact between Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the US to share intelligence – planned on issuing a joint statement on China’s anti-democratic moves in Hong Kong, New Zealand declined to sign the statement and instead issued its own, identical note.

The move was a sign of how Ardern is balancing relations with the US, her country’s most important strategic partner, and China, it’s most important economic one, the Washington Post explained.

Ardern is walking a thin line. She has criticized China’s Hong Kong policies as well as China’s horrific treatment of Uighur Muslims, demonstrating that she won’t be bullied, reported Newshub, a local news service.

But at a recent business conference in Auckland, she made sure to say that relations between New Zealand and China were in good shape, according to the Asia Media Center. She rattled off statistics that show how she can’t alienate her counterparts in Beijing too much: New Zealand’s milk and meat exports increased by almost a quarter in May compared to last year, for example.

Ardern is being too soft, argued University of Waikato Law Professor Alexander Gillespie in Stuff, a New Zealand news website. The US already took action against China over Hong Kong and the victimized Uighurs. Australia boosted military spending by 40 percent to counter Chinese military growth and Britain offered citizenship to more Hong Kong residents and banned Huawei 5G technology. New Zealand isn’t doing anything substantive to protest the human rights situation in China, Gillespie argued.

Kiwis are certainly suspicious of China. Speculation about sabotage erupted after the death of two influential members of the ethnic Chinese community in a car crash, the New Zealand Herald wrote. The men were delivering a petition to parliament asking lawmakers to take Chinese threats to New Zealand’s democracy seriously.

Some wonder now if Ardern can continue to walk this fine line much longer or if events will force her hand.

WANT TO KNOW

TURKEY

Shhh!

Turkish lawmakers passed a new social media law Wednesday that would give authorities sweeping powers to control the content on social media, a move critics fear will curb free speech online, Politico reported.

The new bill will require social media sites with more than one million Turkey-based users to have local representatives in Turkey, and to comply with orders over the removal of certain content.

The new rules also order social media companies to store their data in Turkey. Failure to comply will result in a fine of up to $1.41 million. Companies also face having their bandwidth throttled by as much as 90 percent – rendering the sites useless.

The law was backed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party and its nationalist allies which control a majority in parliament.

Erdogan has called for more regulation of social media content after claiming that his family has been insulted online. Meanwhile, thousands of people over the years have been prosecuted for “insulting” the president.

Critics fear that the law will further curb freedom of speech in Turkey, where most traditional news outlets have come under the control of the government.

SAUDI ARABIA

The Chosen Ones

The annual Hajj pilgrimage began Wednesday in the Muslim holy city of Mecca but under drastically different circumstances due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Voice of America reported.

Only 1,000 selected individuals were allowed to take part in the once-in-a-lifetime journey to Islam’s holiest site, with pilgrims maintaining social distance.

The pilgrimage usually attracts more than two million people annually but this year Saudi authorities have barred international travel and only allowed pre-selected citizens and foreign residents to attend.

The pilgrims were required to quarantine before the start of Hajj and will have to quarantine for a week after the five-day pilgrimage.

The holy cities of Mecca and Medina usually earn billions of dollars during the pilgrimage but the restrictions this year have dampened those earnings dramatically, the BBC reported.

ZIMBABWE

Back to the Future

Zimbabwe agreed on Wednesday to pay $3.5 billion in compensation to white farmers whose land was expropriated by the government for resettlement by Black families, a move aimed at resolving one of the most divisive policies of the late President Robert Mugabe, Reuters reported.

Under the new agreement, the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa will compensate the farmers for infrastructure, not for the land itself. Farmers will receive 50 percent of the compensation after a year and the balance within five years. It remains unclear how much each individual farmer will get.

Twenty years ago, Mugabe’s government evicted about 4,500 farmers and redistributed the land to around 300,000 black families.

The policy soured relations with the West, put off investors and still divides public opinion in Zimbabwe today.

Mugabe was ousted in 2017 and died in 2019. His successor, Mnangagwa, said the compensation was important to start improving ties with the West.

DISCOVERIES

The Last Frontier

New archaeological evidence shows that a good chunk of Australia’s history is underwater.

For the first time, Australian archaeologists recently found two submerged sites around the Dampier Archipelago in Western Australia dating back more than 7,000 years, Cosmos magazine reported.

The areas were inhabited by ancient Aboriginals before the last glacial period ended and melted ice drowned coastal areas around the world – including Australia where more than 770,000 square miles were flooded, the research team wrote in their study.

“You’re talking about a huge, expansive cultural landscape inhabited by Aboriginal people all over the country… which is just a blank, empty map,” said lead author Jonathan Benjamin.

Benjamin’s team came across a settlement that showed signs of human activity associated with a freshwater spring nearly 46 feet deep. Another settlement had more than 260 stone artifacts, including tools used for processing, cutting and grinding seeds.

The authors believe the sites belonged to the same prehistoric people that made the Murujuga rock art, which is being considered for World Heritage Site designation by UNESCO.

The findings show there are potentially many more underwater Aboriginal sites.

Meanwhile, researchers said the find also helps to understand how Aboriginals survived the last climatic shift and it sheds light on “the last real frontier of Australian archaeology.”