The World Today for May 24, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

The Jig is Up

NORTH KOREA

For more than two years, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un insisted that the coronavirus had not pierced his country’s population, even as health experts and media worldwide found evidence that the illness had spread throughout the globe.

Recently, however, Kim admitted that Covid-19 has reached the Hermit Kingdom, as the Associated Press reported. Kim was not happy. Blaming the “irresponsible work attitude” of North Korean public health officials, he recently instituted a lockdown in the capital of Pyongyang and called out the military to make sure medicines were distributed to the sick.

Just over 50 people have died as of mid-May, according to government officials. Those pronouncements should be taken with a grain of salt, analysts say. North Korea has a zero percent vaccination rate and a poor healthcare system.

“There’s probably an effort here to get on top of the narrative and to show Kim is addressing this head-on, while also pushing blame down the chain to the lower levels,” said Jenny Town, a North Korea analyst at the Stimson Center, a Washington, DC-based think tank, speaking to Axios.

In reality, North Korea is facing a coronavirus catastrophe, wrote Guardian. Out of a country of nearly 26 million, around 2.8 million have Covid-19 symptoms. The infections come as China, the country’s main trading partner, has closed its border due to its pandemic issues. Natural disasters have buffeted the country, causing food shortages. And Western sanctions related to Kim’s nuclear ambitions and missile tests are still in place.

As the Washington Post editorial board pointed out, Kim’s focus on defense has left his country vulnerable to other threats that missiles can’t stop. In fact, a massive military parade might have been a super-spreader event that got him into this situation, Insider noted. More than 20,000 soldiers participated in the event. The massive crowds who watched did not maintain social distance or wear masks.

The Post noted that Kim’s options are few, however. If he asks the international community for vaccines and other help, he’ll be admitting his failure. If he stays the course, famines could sweep the country. If he keeps spending on weapons, foreign leaders will further isolate him.

On the other hand, the Daily Beast argued that the pandemic is giving Kim an opportunity to exert even more control over North Korean society.

Kim aspires to god-like power. But being isolated at the top isn’t working out so well.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Friends and Frenemies

TAIWAN

China condemned the United States on Monday after President Joe Biden warned that the US would intervene militarily to defend Taiwan if Beijing attempted a takeover of the island, CNN reported.

During a joint news conference with Japan’s prime minister, Biden said that it was “(not) appropriate” if the island of 23 million was taken by force. He compared the potential invasion of Taiwan to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, adding that such a move “will dislocate the entire region.”

Chinese officials swiftly criticized Biden’s comments, which were made during his trip to Asia aimed at uniting allies to counter Beijing’s rising influence. They warned that there was “no room for compromise” when it came to China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Meanwhile, Taiwanese officials praised Biden and the US government for “reiterating its rock-solid commitment to Taiwan.”

Taiwan is located less than 110 miles off the coast of mainland China. For decades, the two sides have been governed separately but this hasn’t stopped China’s ruling Communist Party from claiming the island as part of its territory under its “One China” policy.

While the US acknowledges China’s position, it has never fully recognized Beijing’s claim to the island and has provided the latter with weapons over the years.

Even so, Washington has long remained intentionally vague about whether it would intervene in Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack – until now.

Biden’s statements came a day before the US president is scheduled to attend the second in-person summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – an informal group that includes the US, Japan, Australia and India – and one that has alarmed Beijing.

Brace, Brace

BELGIUM

Belgium became the first country to introduce quarantine measures for monkeypox patients amid concerns that the disease is spreading across the globe, CNBC reported Monday.

Belgian health authorities ordered a 21-day quarantine after the country reported its third case of the virus. As of Monday, Belgium has recorded four cases, while the current global number is around 100.

Officials said the measures only apply to patients with a confirmed infection and that people do not have to isolate if they have had contact with an infected individual.

Meanwhile, British public health authorities advised people with a high risk of contracting the disease to self-isolate for 21 days.

Currently, monkeypox has been found in 12 countries, including the United States, Canada and France. Another 28 suspected cases are under investigation, the World Health Organization noted.

The disease is caused by the monkeypox virus – part of the smallpox family – and its symptoms include rashes, headaches, back pain and swollen lymph nodes, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is endemic in parts of Africa and usually spreads via human-to-human or human-to-animal contact.

It is not as severe as smallpox and will subside within two to four weeks. Although it doesn’t have a proven vaccine, the smallpox shot has proven 85 percent effective in preventing infection.

Still, its recent spread worldwide has raised alarms among scientists and public health officials about the potential of another outbreak.

British and American authorities have identified a significant concentration of monkeypox cases among homosexual males. They have specifically warned gay and bisexual males to be on alert for rashes or sores.

Law and Disorder

ETHIOPIA

Ethiopian authorities arrested thousands of people this week in what human rights groups have described as a crackdown on militia fighters, journalists and critics of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration, the Associated Press reported.

Security officials said Monday they detained more than 4,500 individuals in the Amhara region, noting that the arrests were made “to uphold law and order, deal with criminal activities and get rid of outside enemies.”

The detentions are part of a broad “law enforcement operation” by the government to “protect citizens and ensure the survival of the nation.”

But Ethiopian political parties and media outlets are accusing Abiy’s government of conducting “abductions.” They added that members of the Fano armed group implicated in atrocities in the country’s war in the Tigray region have also been targeted.

Meanwhile, journalist organizations warned that some reporters are fleeing the country amid threats and intimidation by the government and non-state actors.

Killings, human rights violations and mass detentions have been reported in parts of Ethiopia, even after the deadly civil war in the Tigray region began easing in recent months because the government and Tigrayan forces agreed to a humanitarian truce.

Even so, the US State Department sent its Atrocity Prevention and Response delegation to the Netherlands this week to hold talks with allies “regarding our responses to atrocities committed in Ukraine, Burma, Ethiopia and other locations experiencing violence.”

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • Heavy fighting continued in Ukraine’s Donbas area as Russian troops advanced on Severodonetsk, where local leaders have accused Russia of adopting “scorched-earth” tactics, Al Jazeera noted. Meanwhile, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered a message of solidarity against Russian aggression to an assembly of global business elites at the World Economic Forum, urging world leaders to mobilize their financial strength to further punish Russia and support Ukraine’s struggle, the New York Times added.
  • Ukrainian officials claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin survived an assassination attempt two months ago, just after he announced Moscow’s “operations” in Ukraine, Sky News wrote. Ukraine’s Chief of Defense Intelligence Kyrylo Budanov said the Russian leader was attacked by representatives from the Caucasus region, located between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, although he did not provide evidence for the allegation, which could not be independently confirmed.
  • In the first war crimes trial since the invasion, a Ukrainian court sentenced a Russian tank commander to life in prison for murdering a civilian, BBC reported. The court convicted Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin for the murder of Oleksandr Shelipov, 62, on Feb. 28 in the northeastern village of Chupakhivka. The defendant admitted that he shot Shelipov but said he was operating under orders from commanders and asked for forgiveness from the victim’s widow.
  • A veteran Russian diplomat at the United Nations Office in Geneva resigned and delivered a letter to international colleagues condemning the “aggressive war unleashed” by Putin in Ukraine, according to the Associated Press. The move marks an unprecedented public admission of disgruntlement about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, at a time when Russian authorities are cracking down on critics, the newswire wrote.
  • Former Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl, who once danced with Putin at her wedding, has resigned from the board of Russian oil giant Rosneft, just days after former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder did, Agence France-Presse noted.

DISCOVERIES

Friends and Benefits

Scientists have found that monkeys with more friends had larger areas of the brain linked to empathy and social-decision making, the Independent reported.

In a new study, researchers monitored a group of free-ranging rhesus macaques in Puerto Rico for a number of years. They primarily focused on how the monkeys interacted with their grooming partners, which are considered direct and important relationships for the animals.

The team also examined brain scans of the macaques and social factors, including the number of partners and social status.

Their findings showed macaques with more grooming partners had larger key nodes in their brain’s mid-superior temporal sulcus (STS) and ventral-dysgranular insula. The two areas play an important role in decision-making and empathy, researchers noted.

“It was very interesting to find these regions, as their importance is known for social cognition in humans,” said co-author Jérôme Sallet.

Sallet and his colleagues explained that these different brain structures are not inherited but occur during development depending on the social environment.

They suggested that the study could have implications for human behavior and help understand a variety of neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism.

“This work provides a baseline for understanding how these animals navigate,” said Michael Platt, another author. “It’s really thrilling and gratifying that this work done in the field is synergizing work we’ve been doing in the lab for a long time.”

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 526,097,252

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,278,679

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,446,287,588

Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*

  1. US: 83,390,587 (+0.13%)
  2. India: 43,140,068 (+0.004%)
  3. Brazil: 30,803,995 (+0.04%)
  4. France: 29,551,335 (-0.10%)**
  5. Germany: 26,109,965 (+0.25%)
  6. UK: 22,448,854 (+0.12%)
  7. Russia: 18,030,719 (+0.02%)
  8. South Korea: 17,993,985 (+0.15%)
  9. Italy: 17,257,573 (+0.06%)
  10. Turkey: 15,064,220 (+0.01%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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