For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on the coronavirus global pandemic. The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet teaches 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.
SPOTLIGHT: CHINA TO CENTRAL AMERICA, HOW TO STOP THE SPREAD
As COVID-19 continues its wildfire advance across the globe, the most hopeful sign has come from China, where the outbreak began. The illness appears, incredibly, to have been contained — almost. It still has far more total cases confirmed (81,000+) than any other country, but on Thursday reported no new locally transmitted cases. The announcement is a milestone in the ongoing pandemic as China's strict lockdown tactics have been a roadmap for other countries now being hit hard.
Still, the situation on the ground in China also comes with a caveat, because despite the absence of new domestic transmissions Thursday, health workers detect 34 new cases the same day of people presumed to have contracted the illness abroad and brought into the country. The numbers raise concerns that China could face "a second wave of infections," as The Guardian reports, and offer a sobering reminder of just how difficult it is to stop the virus' spread in our highly interconnected planet.
That same lesson was also on display yesterday on the other side of the world, in Central America, where the impoverished nations of El Salvador and Nicaragua both reported their first confirmed COVID-19 cases. The yet-to-be-identified Salvadoran patient, according to a report by the online news site El Faro, likely contracted the virus in Italy and entered El Salvador through a "blind spot" along the country's borders, which the government officially closed the day before.
All passenger flights in and out of El Salvador are also frozen, including planes bringing deportees from the United States, which has the highest number of confirmed cases in the Americas. The case in Nicaragua involves a 40-year-old patient who arrived earlier this week from Panama, the Nicaraguan news site Confidencial reports. It is becoming increasingly clear that coronavirus is an enemy that must be fought on two fronts: at home and abroad.
THE SITUATION - 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
Australia to bar all foreign visitors for six months, closing down a $45 billion international tourism industry.
Splitting Relief: The Trump administration spelled out the first details of a $1 trillion economic package, asking Congress for $500 billion for direct payments to citizens and $500 billion in loans for businesses.
Italy reports 475 deaths on Wednesday, the highest one-day total in any country so far. Here's a grim image of how that looks in the northern city of Bergamo.
Next in Europe: Spain death toll jumped suddenly by 209 overnight. With the virus now spreading at a similar pace as in Italy (doubling every third day) the question is if the spread will slow down, like in South Korea, or keep accelerating. See graph in this El Pais article.
Schools Out: UNESCO estimates that COVID-19 has forced one-half of the world's children are out of school.
Postponed: The much anticipated reunion of the ‘Friends' TV show, with a $400 million pricetag, is off for now.
NUMBER DU JOUR
DANGERS OF MOURNING: What to do about funerals and social distancing? In Bangladesh, where the first death from COVID-19 was reported on Wednesday, local police reported some 10,000 Muslims worshipers gathering in an open field to pray "healing verses' from the Koran to rid the country of the deadly virus. Photos of the gathering circulated on social media with commenters slamming the worshippers for ignoring the government's recommendations to avoid public gatherings, News18 reports. In other countries too, such as Iran, worshippers have tried to break into closed holy shrines and mosques, or the U.S., where a Louisiana pastor held a church service on Tuesday, telling hundreds of attendees: "Keep going to church! Keep on worshiping God! ... The church is a hospital for the sick!"
NEW HOPE IN MARSEILLE FOR OLD CURE: Several existing pharmaceuticals have shown anecdotal evidence of effectiveness in treating COVID-19, including several drugs used to treat HIV. Another sign of hope is in chloroquine, which has been used for 70 years to treat malaria, and is currently undergoing clinical testing on coronavirus patients in China. But the Le Parisien daily reports that Professor Didier Raoult, who runs the Mediterranean University Hospital of Infectious Diseases, in the French city of Marseille, has already been using the drug on COVID-19 patients. And results are promising: of 24 patients who have taken chloroquine, only 25% still had the virus six days later, compared to 90% who hadn't taken the drug. The French government has vowed to expand the testing.
WEED HOARDING: People aren't just stockpiling food or toilet paper. In California, marijuana sales are going through the roof, with industry professionals struggling to meet the high demand. "Right at the end of last, we saw a huge upstick. Our sales have tripled in the past week. Everyone's working overtime," Zachary Pitts told The Orange County Register. According to the CEO of Oakland-base Ganja Goddess, people aren't just stocking up but also preparing to spend more time at home: "cannabis is perfect for staying at home and watching Netflix."
As Spain's crisis multiplies, Barcelona-based La Vanguardia reports on hospitals preparing for onslaught
THE VIRUS AND DATA PRIVACY: Several countries around the world have decided to exploit personal data stored by telecom operators or online platforms to help fight the novel coronavirus — a new twist in the heated debate over privacy, Paris-based daily Les Echos.
For a whole month, the Israel's public security agency is going to use the location data which has been collected since 2002 by telecom operators to allow the agency to identify those who were in contact with contaminated people and to send them an alert via text message. In South Korea, warning text messages sent by the government disclosed private or compromising information about people who have been infected, while a self-diagnosis app allowed the Iranian state to gain access to the phone numbers and precise location of around 3.5 million people. While acknowledging the current emergency, some NGOs fear these practices will become standard. The Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote: "It is important that any extraordinary measures used to manage a specific crisis must not become permanent fixtures in the landscape of government intrusions into daily life."
PLAGUE AND SEX I: The World Health Organization (WHO)"s recommendations on social distancing in daily contact include no explicit advice on sex, notes Buenos Aires daily Clarin. Still the planet's collective sex life is no doubt suffering through the coronavirus crisis: "Kissing is a form of transmission, but what about penetration? Argentine physician Mario Boskis says "the virus is present in saliva drops. It's not known whether or not it exists in other body fluids. If one partner is showing flu-like symptoms, it would be logical to abstain from sexual relations." Such whispered conversations may grow louder as more and more cities and countries are forced into lengthy confinement. Read the article in English via Worldcrunch.
PLAGUE AND SEX II: How does the new virus affect the world's oldest profession? After the Dutch Government closed all sex clubs in the Amsterdam's Red Light District on Sunday, many prostitutes fear the lockdown will strip them of all their income. Reuters reports that Hella Dee, a Dutch sex worker, has set up a crowdfunding page to raise money for her fellow workers hit by the closure of brothels.
PLAGUE AND SEX III: Across the border, Berlin daily Die Welt reports that German experts fear the lockdown will not stop sex workers from offering their services illegally, which would put in particular danger the high-risk group of men over 50 who account for a large part of the clientele.
BACK TO NATURE: If we look on the bright side, coronavirus is having a collateral benefit on nature. Pollution level has drastically dropped, birds can be heard again in cities and places where human activity dominated before the quarantine now offer rare sights: a family of ducks waddling down a Parisian sidewalk, dolphins swimming in Italian port of Cagliari, or, this group of elephants, from the Chinese province of Yunan, who entered a village looking for food and ended up having their own boozy tea party.
The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.
This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.
In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.
The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.
A popular uprising may be inevitable
The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?
Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.
The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.
But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.
Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.
For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.
The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.
Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.
A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.
In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.
Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.
File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020
Generals in suits
Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.
For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.
This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.
Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.
Demands of the revolution
The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.
First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.
Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.
The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.
Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.
Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.
The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.
Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.
- Sudan Chaos, Un-Royal Wedding, Tesla's Trillion - Worldcrunch ›
- Sudan Coup, Drug Lord Busted, Bulls Are Back - Worldcrunch ›