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 theLe 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 Weltreports 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.