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Coronavirus — Global Brief: After Climate Change, War On Science Speeds Up

In China, schools remain closed in most parts of the country.
To a drive-in testing center in Roma, Italy

The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet is a reminder of how small the world has become. For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on this crisis from the best, most trusted international news sources — regardless of language or geography. To receive the daily Coronavirus Global Brief in your inbox, sign up here.


For those who believe in science and empirical evidence, the global "war on facts' has taken its toll on multiple fronts in recent years, from climate-change deniers to the anti-vaxxer movement trying to halt longstanding vaccination treatments.

And now, as the coronavirus pandemic spreads, it's happening again — only at warped speed. "For the climate community, observing U.S. national political leaders' responses to the coronavirus pandemic has been like watching the climate crisis unfold on fast-forward," writes Dana Nuccitelli in Yale Climate Connections, a publication from the Yale Center for Environmental Communication. The article features President Donald Trump's denials of the gravity of both climate change and coronavirus side-by-side, and the comparison is stark.

Trump isn't the only leader who likes to wrestle with science. India's former chief scientist at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research lamented to Science magazine that the country's Prime Minister Narenda Modi has "initiated what may be called ‘Project Assault on Scientific Rationality."" Modi once argued: "Climate has not changed. We have changed… our tolerance and habits have changed. If we change then God has built the system in such a way that it can balance on its own." Now, that same line of thinking has led members of the prime minister's party to publicly extol the virtues of cow excrement in treating COVID-19 without a shred of evidence.

Then, of course, there's Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's Denier-in-Chief, who went against his government's own scientists, claiming both the destruction of the Amazon and the dangerous spread of COVID-19 were blown out of proportion by the media, as Folha de S. Paulo reported. His country currently has almost 30,000 confirmed cases of the disease, placing it among the world's most affected countries, with reports that the death toll may be about to skyrocket. Bolsonaro's firing on Thursday of Brazil's health minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta, who had pushed for stronger restrictions, was perhaps the most direct challenge to the scientific community.

Will the virus wake the world up to the dangers of not taking science seriously? Well, there may be a silver lining on the anti-vaxxer front, as those skeptical about vaccines are forced to rethink their beliefs as they join the rest of the world in eagerly waiting for one for the coronavirus. We can only hope that common sense will keep on spreading.

—By Rozena Crossman


  • Toll: Worldwide cases surpass 2 million. Death toll inFrance jumps by record 1,438 deaths following three-day Easter weekend while Sweden passes 1,200 mark in "herd immunity" context.

  • Apology to Italy: President of European of Commission Ursula von der Leyen offers "heartfelt apology" to Italy for not being there when the country "needed a helping hand at the very beginning" of the pandemic.

  • Bailout pleas: The IMF reports that more than 100 countries have made requests for bailout funds in response to crisis.

  • "Free our children": Barcelona mayor calls for an end to strict lockdown measures for children, as Spain is the only country where they cannot leave home under any pretext.

  • Cluster at sea: At least 668 sailors from French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle have tested positive to the virus and 20 are hospitalized.

  • R.I.P.: Luis Sepúlveda, the best-selling Chilean writer, has died in Spain at 70 after contracting the virus.

  • Walk-a-thon: British 99-year-old war veteran raises more than £12 milionfor the National Health Service by walking 100 laps in his garden.

"Home Sweet Home" — Argentina daily Página/12

VIRUS AT WAR, LITERALLY: Shortage of masks and respirators, lack of hospital space, muddled government action: inadequate responses to the COVID-19 outbreak are evident even in the world's most stable countries. So what happens when the virus arrives in places already under the strain of war? Here's a snapshot in five ongoing hotspots around the world:

  • Yemen: Given the ongoing stalemate, many had hoped Saudi Arabia would take the opportunity of the global pandemic to cut its losses, and pull out of Yemen altogether. The first coronavirus case was recorded in Yemen this week, coinciding with Saudi Arabia announcing a ceasefire with the Houthi rebels. Yet Houthi forces were wary of the truce and broke the ceasefire within in 48 hours, according to the Saudi-backed coalition fighting to restore Yemen's former government. For Yemeni civilians stuck between war and illness, half the UN's aid in the country will shut downdue to a funding crisis caused by a withdrawal from donors such as the United States earlier this year.

  • Syria: So far, COVID-19's toll in the war-ravaged nation are only 2 deaths and 19 confirmed cases, but testing for the virus is woefully lacking. As 70% of healthcare workers left at the beginning of the civil war in 2011, the population has already been vulnerable to poor health for nearly a decade. Al Jazeera reports that social distancing is nearly impossible in displacement camps in Idlib, the last province held by the rebels.

  • Ukraine: The arrival of the virus did nothing to quiet the war between Kiev and Russian separatists in Donbass. With around 30 soldiers killed and 85 injured, March was one of the deadliest months on the front since the conflict started six years ago, according to Courrier International. And since April began? Ukraine has registered more than 3700 coronavirus cases and 107 deaths, but also 66 attacks from separatist forces.

  • Libya: Though only 26 cases have been recorded, the United Nationsfears a potential outbreak spreading as military operations continue to ravage the country, with civilians trapped amid the clashes. Libya may be unable to cope with an outbreak as hospitals and clinics, damaged during the conflict, are already struggling with large numbers of victims of the fighting. "This is a health system that was close to collapse before you get the coronavirus', Elizabeth Hoff, head of mission for the WHO in Libya, told Reuters.

  • Sahel: The northern African region has been subjected to terrorist attacks since 2012. Entire areas in Mali have been cut off from state services, because of jihadist insurgencies and intercommunity conflicts, reports Le Monde, while fears are rising for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people living in packed camps across Sahel. "If we have coronavirus here, it will be a catastrophe," a man living in one of the three camps outside Mali's capital Bamako told The North Africa Journal. People living in these camps have been advised to use turbans as facemasks, as protective gear is scarce.

Intensive animal farming effectively favors viral infections.

— French researchers warn that mass-scale meat production is a main culprit in disease generation. Read the call to redesign our eating ecosystem in Le Monde (English edition via Worldcrunch): Zoonoses And Us: The Fatal Risks Of Our Food Production System

JABS AT JACKIE CHAN: The COVID-19 propaganda war in and around China now includes a familiar face: There is only one Jackie! The martial arts movie legend, who is a native of Hong Kong, has long since evolved into a fervent supporter and spokesman for the Communist regime. Now critics of Beijing, both inside mainland China as well as Hong Kong and Taiwan, are taking shots at Chan for being a mouthpiece for the alleged cover-up of the coronavirus outbreak.

  • Taipei daily Liberty Timesreports criticism of Chan began spreading on the Chinese-language internet last week after a Jan. 24 singing performance reemerged of the 66-year-old star surrounded by hundreds of dancers performing a patriotic song. "Does my country look sick?", says one refrain in response to news around the world of coronavirus spreading in China.

  • "This walking disaster! Watch out for the bad luck he is bringing!", one Chinese tweeter commented. "Jackie's endorsement, China's demise!", said another.

  • Chan appeared more subdued on a recent Instagram video, advising his fans to follow social distancing advice. He ends the bilingual video with "Go China! Go the World!" in Chinese, and just "Go!" in the English version. Read more here

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

What's Left Of Gaza: Scenes Of Destruction, Pangs Of Desperation

The information coming out of the Palestinian enclave is scarce but undoubtedly grim. An Italian reporter from across the border gathers information from inside Gaza amid a fragile and inevitably temporary ceasefire.

Photo of Palestinians walking in Gaza among the damaged buildings

Palestinians walk among the rubble in the residential area Beit Lahia, northern Gaza

Francesco Semprini

SDEROT – When we ask Sister Nabila Saleh to describe the situation in Gaza, she responds by sending ten photos: images of rubble, destruction, and desolation. They suggest that the point of no return has long been surpassed.

Sister Nabila is of Egyptian origin and spends her days in the parish of the Holy Family in Gaza City, where all of the remaining Christian community is sheltering.

For the latest news & views from every corner of the world, Worldcrunch Today is the only truly international newsletter. Sign up here.

Communication is challenging; on WhatsApp, conversations are impossible, only snippets of written sentences arrive on each side. Still, they suffice in describing the hellish conditions they've been facing for the past seven weeks.

"The situation is very difficult, everything is destroyed, nothing is left," she said. "Living is a challenge, for now, no aid is reaching us, there is only one supermarket with some basic supplies."

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