August 03, 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: 4,667,957 (+1.03%)
  2. Brazil: 2,733,677 (+0.95%)
  3. India: 1,803,695 (+3.03%)
  4. Russia: 849,277 (0.00%)**
  5. South Africa: 511,485 (+1.63%)
  6. Mexico: 439,046 (+1.12%)
  7. Peru: 428,850 (+5.24%)
  8. Chile: 359,731 (+0.58%)
  9. Colombia: 317,651 (+3.75%)
  10. Iran: 309,437 (+0.88%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

** Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

Dear Readers,

Since we first introduced maps to DailyChatter more than a year ago, many of you have asked us when we would expand the map feature to cover all news items. We’re very pleased to take that step today. Thank you for your support.

Your DailyChatter Team

NEED TO KNOW

WORLD

Ringing the Bells

Italian schools are reopening in September.

Social distancing pupils, smaller classes and staggered arrival times are among the prevention measures that the country’s education minister recently announced, the Italy-based, the Local reported. Children are also expected to attend classes on Saturdays. Distance learning is mandatory for high school students.

Italy was among the worst hit in the first international wave of the coronavirus earlier this year. Now it is moving toward normality, though Italians are not cozying up to each other so much during their beach vacations on the Tyrrhenian and Adriatic Seas. They know the consequences of spreading the virus.

“In a pandemic, fear is a form of wisdom, boldness a show of carelessness,” wrote Italian journalist Beppe Severgnini in the New York Times.

Severgnini’s colleague in the Times’ op-section, economist Paul Krugman, asked why Italy was doing so well compared to the US, where leaders in major cities are postponing in-class education for months or longer, CNN reported.

Writing in the Conversation, University of Richmond Education Professor Bob Spires hazarded an answer. Countries that reopened schools successfully started slow, instituting strict mask-wearing and social distancing in schools and used up-to-date data for contact tracing to confine outbreaks. The US, in contrast, has limited testing capacity and a decentralized education system.

Uruguay opened schools on a staggered schedule, starting with rural schools in April and finally in the capital of Montevideo in late June. In Sweden, where schools never closed, the infection rate among children was the same as in neighboring Finland, where schools closed. Few Swedish children fell ill from the virus – one died.

Other countries have stumbled for sure. Israel performed admirably in controlling the spread of the coronavirus initially. Then a heatwave in Israel compelled a teacher to let students take off their masks. Two weeks later, an outbreak began. Officials had to close 355 schools. That’s a lot of schools, but it’s a small percentage of the country’s 5,000.

Politicians have different plans to open even as experts agree on one priority in the school closure debate: Distance and virtual learning can be inferior to face-to-face education and risk “scarring the life chances of a generation of young people,” according to a letter from members of the United Kingdom’s Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health in a letter quoted in Science magazine.

If the pandemic has had one effect, it’s to make sure humans don’t take certain things for granted anymore. Education is one of those things.

WANT TO KNOW

JAMAICA

A Hairy Matter

Jamaica’s Supreme Court ruled that a school was within its rights to demand that a girl cut her dreadlocks to attend classes, a controversial verdict concerning identity issues and the famous symbol used by the island’s Rastafarian community, the Washington Post reported.

The ruling over the weekend followed a two-year legal battle between the Kensington Primary School in Kingston and the Virgo family: The school said that the girl had to cut her dreadlocks for “hygiene” reasons to be admitted to classes.

Rights groups said, however, that the school’s order violated the girl’s freedom of expression and right to access education. Dale Virgo, the girl’s father, called the ruling another sign of “systemic racism.” The family plans to appeal the verdict.

Many have viewed the legal battle as a stand against discriminatory rules which punish those who wear “natural” hair, including the Rastafarian community: This group cultivates dreadlocks as part of their religious tradition.

Although Rastafarians only comprise about two percent of Jamaica’s population, the political and religious movement – made popular by Rastafarian singer Bob Marley – has a significant influence on the nation’s culture.

Following the ruling, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said that his government will make changes to the country’s Education Act, according to the Jamaica Observer.

GERMANY

Conspiracy Theories – 1; Safety – 0;

German politicians warned Sunday of a coronavirus resurgence, a day after thousands gathered in Berlin to protest restrictions aimed at curbing the pandemic’s spread, Politico reported.

Police said that about 17,000 people rallied Saturday without wearing masks or maintaining social distance under the banner, “The end of the pandemic – day of freedom.” Many participants claimed that the virus was “the biggest conspiracy theory.”

Germany’s health officials warned last week that infections have been rising since the beginning of July. Health Minister Jens Spahn has called on people returning from vacation to get tested to prevent the spread of the virus.

Germany won international praise for its handling of the pandemic: The nation has been hit less severely than other European countries such as France, Italy and Spain.

As of Sunday, there are currently more than 211,000 confirmed cases and more than 9,000 deaths in Germany.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Risky Power

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced the start of operations of the country’s – and the Arab world’s – first nuclear reactor amid concerns over environmental risks and regional security, Al Jazeera reported.

Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation said over the weekend that it started the first of four reactors at the Barakah nuclear power station, used to generate electricity.

The UAE has substantial oil and gas reserves but the country has made huge investments in alternative sources, including nuclear energy, even as other countries such as Germany move away from atomic power.

The Barakah plant was first announced in 2009 and was originally scheduled to open in 2017, but was dogged by delays and billions in budget overruns.

Meanwhile, the nuclear power station has analysts and nuclear scientists concerned over a potential environmental catastrophe as well as a nuclear arms race developing in the Arabian Peninsula,

Senior researcher Paul Dorfman released a report last year saying the plant lacks key safety features, including those to prevent radiological release after missile or fighter jet attacks.

There have been at least 13 aerial attacks on nuclear facilities in the Middle East.

The reactor has also sparked concerns over the vulnerability of critical infrastructure in the region: Last year, attacks at two oil facilities in Saudi Arabia temporarily halted more than half of the kingdom’s oil production.

DISCOVERIES

Vampire Distancing

Unlike the fictional Count Dracula, vampire bats are not reclusive.

Instead, the flying bloodsuckers are very social creatures that groom each other and share food – which mainly consists of the regurgitated blood of some unlucky creature.

Even so, the bats socially distance when they feel ill albeit for different reasons than preventing the transmission of an illness, scientists discovered in a new study, reported by the New York Times.

Researcher Sebastian Stockmaier and his team discovered this behavior after studying 18 female bats at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. They picked females because they were more social than males.

In their experiment, they injected the creatures with lipopolysaccharide, a compound that stimulates an immune response similar to bacterial infection but doesn’t cause illness or harm the bats. Stockmaier’s team found that the small mammals would call out to others 30 percent less frequently than when they were healthy.

He explained that this wasn’t some social-distancing measure but rather, the bats were just too tired to call out their friends.

“It’s like us,” said Stockmaier. “When they are sick and feeling bad, they are not interested in social interactions.”

He lamented that bats have gotten a bad reputation nowadays due to the belief that the novel coronavirus was spread by the horseshoe bat – a different species than the vampires.

Maybe this study will vindicate them.