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Coronavirus — Global Brief: Calculating How Long It Will Last

Disinfecting a bus in St. Petersburg, Russia
Disinfecting a bus in St. Petersburg, Russia

For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on the coronavirus global pandemic. The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet is a blunt reminder of how small the world has become. Our network of multilingual journalists are busy finding out what's being reported locally — everywhere — to provide as clear a picture as possible of what it means for all of us at home, around the world. To receive the daily brief in your inbox, sign up here.


For the first time in most peoples' lives, no matter where we are, we're living our days amid a swirl of statistics and news flashes that leaves us waking up the next morning with the same question. How big will it get?

So how is it that we can't, with the brainpower of all the virologists, biologists and public health officials around the world, figure out what COVID-19 will mean for our future?

Well, part of the problem is just that: the whole world. Experts are dealing with a sample size spanning all of humanity in which much of the information is missing, confusing or unreliable. In Iran, a clerical regime known for its opaqueness is believed to severely understate the already high number of 1,100 deaths — and the same now goes for Russia, with an equally dark record of state censorship, where only one death has been reported so far — a suspicious figure considering the country ranked 116th last year in the Global Health Security Index for "detecting" pandemics. But even in more open societies like the U.S. and Italy, overloaded institutions and slow rollout of diagnostic tests have blurred both the actual figures and geographical scope of the spread.

The hard truth is that even with more accurate numbers, we're missing many pieces of a puzzle that keeps multiplying: How strong is the immune response to a novel infection? How does the virus react to warmer weather? And how fast can it mutate? For now, we are left to stay at home, wonder, and wash our hands for longer than we're used to.​ At least that number we can be sure of: 20 seconds.


  • Toll: Total number of deaths worldwide tops 10,000, with Italy now having passed China as nation with most fatalities (3,405). Nearly 250,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases around the world.

  • Shutting India + California: Prime Minister Narendra Modi urges all citizens (1.37 billion) to observe self-imposed curfew on Sunday. Governor of California announces statewide lockdown (40 million). Meanwhile, Florida officials struggle to get young spring breakers off the beach.

  • Markets bounce back: Investors reassured as governments inject huge relief packages into the world economy.

  • Treatment hope: A drug used for decades to treat malaria, called chloroquine, is being hailed by a number of doctors around the world as a highly effective treatment of COVID-19. (See details below from France)

  • Whistleblower justice: The martyred doctor in Wuhan who first signaled the novel coronavirus, and was silenced by local officials, gets posthumous vindication from Beijing.

  • Off or On? Cannes film festival postponed. Tokyo Olympics (slated to start July 24) still on — for now.

  • Royalty not spared: Prince Albert of Monaco tests positive.


ITALIAN ENFORCEMENT: Italy is now two weeks into its nationwide lockdown, which is being extended even as warm spring weather arrives. There are tough crackdowns on those who defy restrictions there. But there was also this video circulating of Antonio Decaro, mayor of the southern city of Bari, taking matters, gently but firmly, into his own hands. Note: don't worry if you don't speak Italian, the only words that matter are "Andate a casa" … Go home.

ITALIAN HOPE: Having now registered more coronavirus-related deaths than any other country, Italy is discovering a rare spirit of unity and searching for signs of hope from its balconies ... to its maternity wards. In Bergamo, one of the worst-hit cities, La Stampa reports that the first baby born with coronavirus was released from the hospital yesterday. And this newborn's diaper says it all: with the rainbow and slogan that is keeping spirits up: "It will all be Ok."

FRENCH WAR ECONOMY: French President Emanuelle Macron called it "war" in his nationwide address this week on the COVID-19 response. And with any war, an economy must be mobilized — and pivoted:

  • Perfume: Luxury conglomerate LVMH announced their makeup and fragrance facilities in France to manufacture for free disinfectant gel, Le Figaro reports. Delivery of the product, put in a "simple" Christian Dior perfume bottle, started on Wednesday for Parisian hospitals.

  • Fine Spirits: French beverage giant Pernod Ricard donated 70,000 liters of pure alcohol for the Copper laboratory to produce 1.8 million individual bottles of sanitizer.

  • Boutique Fashion: A 100% Made-in-France jeans company halted pants production this week in order to dedicate their operations to the free production of sanitary face masks for local healthcare workers, reports Le Parisien.

AUSTRIAN SKI RESORT, A COVID-19 HOTBED: Health authorities in Norway report that nearly 40% of the 1,700+ infections in the country originated from a single ski resort in Austria. Oslo-based Aftenposten daily reports that the picturesque village of Ischgl, known as the "Ibiza of the Alps' for its lively after-ski scene, became a perfect incubator for COVID-19 as authorities failed to act against the burgeoning outbreak, eventually sending busloads of infected European tourists back to their home countries. Health authorities have traced one-third of all cases in Denmark and one-sixth of those in Sweden to the tiny resort, as well as dozens in Germany.

POLITICAL DISTANCING: Writing in Folha de S.Paulo, editorialist Marcos Nobre sardonically argues that Brazil"s president Jair Bolsonero should be "quarantined" for his incompetence in the face of the current coronavirus crisis. Already in crisis, the country is facing a health and economic fiasco that requires heightened organization and order — crucial skills that Nobre writes that Bolsonero, ideology aside, sorely lacks.

DRIVE-INS REBORN, THEN SHUT DOWN: As Americans ran out of Netflix shows to binge, drive-in theatres momentarily became a popular way to get some fresh air while remaining at least one meter away from one another. While the United States only has 305 drive-in cinemas left, the Los Angeles Times reported earlier this week that some are experiencing a significant uptick in customers. As an activity where customers are confined to their own car, it was seen as an acceptable alternative for quarantined families to leave their living quarters. But from Hollywood to the Redwoods, the trend looks to be notably shortlive after California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered a lockdown for the entire state of 40 million.​

ROBOT NURSES: In Thailand, where 200 COVID-19 cases have been discovered so far, hospitals are using "ninja robots" to measure fevers and protect medical workers who can now communicate with patients through a video link. The robots were initially built to monitor recovering stroke patients but have been repurposed to help fight the disease. Experts say the coronavirus pandemic may be a turning point for telemedicine and other healthcare innovations, including products ranging from fever-detecting goggles to antibacterial fabrics and speaker drones.

SECOND WAVE IN TAIWAN: Just across the strait from China, Taiwan has had among the best records of containing the coronavirus so far, with only 53 cases and one death between January and early March. But as Taipei-based United Daily News reports, a sharp increase of 55 new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the five days from March 14th to March 19th has authorities mobilizing to launch a second wave of virus-combating efforts to hold back this sudden acceleration of the pandemic.

  • Almost all the new cases are Taiwanese travelers or students coming back from the countries where they reside, mostly from the United States, UK, Spain and France.

  • The Central Epidemic Command Center has now decided to ban all foreign nationals from entering Taiwan, with derogations for people with certain justifications.

  • All travelers are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon their arrival, and this is being backtracked to include all inbound travelers since March 5th whether the person is a Taiwanese national or not.

LOCKDOWN MARRIAGE & DIVORCE: In the Chinese city of Xi'an, the Global Times reports a record number of people are filing for divorce following the lifting of the curfew on March 1. Several local offices reached the upper appointment limit of 14 divorce filings per day. At the same time, in the city's Yanta district, the marriage registry was also maxing out its daily appointments. Such is love in the times of lockdown!

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Founded in 1921, the "Sao Paulo Gazzette" became Brazil's leading daily in the 1980s by applying standards of openness and objectivity to its coverage of the country and Latin America as a whole.
The leading daily newspaper in Paris, Le Parisien has a national edition called Aujourd'hui en France (Today in France). The newspaper was founded in 1944 by World War II resistance fighters in the occupied capital.
The Los Angeles Times, commonly referred to as the Times or LA Times, is a daily newspaper published in Los Angeles, California, since 1881. It is currently owned by the Chicago-based Tribune Publishing company.
United Daily News is a Chinese-language daily published in Taiwan. It was founded in 1951 and is headquartered in Taipei. It is regarded as taking an editorial line that supports the conservative Pan-Blue coalition.
Premium stories from Worldcrunch's own network of multi-lingual journalists in over 30 countries.
Le Figaro is a French daily founded in 1826 and published in Paris. The oldest national daily in France, Le Figaro is the second-largest national newspaper in the country after Le Parisien and before Le Monde, with an average circulation of about 331,000 copies Its editorial line is considered center-right. The newspaper is now owned by Dassault Media.
La Stampa ("The Press") is a top Italian daily founded in 1867 under the name Gazzetta Piemontese. Based in Turin, La Stampa is owned by the Fiat Group and distributed in many other European countries.

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In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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