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Orban greets a Chinese crew with elbow-bumps after arrival of supplies to fight COVID-19 arrived in Budapest
Orban greets a Chinese crew with elbow-bumps after arrival of supplies to fight COVID-19 arrived in Budapest

The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet is a blunt 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 brief in your inbox, sign up here.


SPOTLIGHT: COVID-19 & STRONGMEN: PRETEXT FOR POWER GRAB OR TOO MUCH TO HANDLE

Before the coronavirus crisis swallowed all the world's attention, history seemed to be hanging in the balance for other reasons. The rise (or return) of authoritarianism was high on the list of earth-shaking global trends, featuring a eclectic lineup of power-hungry leaders from Beijing to Budapest to Brasilia, not to mention Washington D.C, whose heavy-handed rule was challenging a certain basic idea of liberal democracy.

Now with the global health pandemic posing the same complicated problems to every nation and their respective rulers, how are the world's strongmen holding up? Two kindred spirits in the Western Hemisphere, U.S. President Donald Trump and his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro, have stood out for largely dismissing the health risks of coronavirus, with the latter even accused of knowingly spreading it himself after allegedly testing positive. Still, despite the gross negligence, neither has used the crisis as a pretext for a power grab, as some might have feared. John F. Harris of Politico puts it this way: "The notion of Trump as authoritarian strongman has been cast in an odd light in this pandemic. Would-be tyrants use crisis to consolidate power. Trump, by contrast, has been pilloried from many quarters, including many liberals, for not asserting authority and responsibility more forcefully to combat Covid-19."

Elsewhere, however, we are seeing how this unprecedented health crisis can be used for purely authoritarian purposes. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose attack on civil liberties had already put him in direct conflict with most of his European Union counterparts, has gained parliamentary approval for new measures that grant him powers to rule by decree ... indefinitely. Orban's powers include imposing five-year prison sentences for spreading misinformation about the virus that, according to official statistics, has only infected 100 people in his country. We've seen a similar approach in Russia, where Vladimir Putin has proposed a new mechanism that would allow him to rule until 2036.

Meanwhile in India, Prime Minister Narenda Modi has his own authoritarian ambitions. Yet, the coronavirus appears to be such an immense challenge in the world's second largest country, Modi has been forced to publicly ask forgiveness for granting just a four-hour notice before a nationwide lockdown that put many poor people in peril. Subsequently, the stimulus package his government proposed was pilloried for being insufficient. Delhi-based news site The Wire asks, "doesn't anyone in the Modi government — and Narendra Modi himself — consider the human cost of such decisions?" With so many people's lives on the line, the coronavirus may prove to be stronger than any strongman could have ever hoped to be.

— Rozena Crossman

THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

  • Toll: The number of global deaths passes 34,000 mark, with nearly one-third in Italy. War-torn Syria reports its first COVID-19 death while President Trump, who initially downplayed the impact, is now saying 100,000 Americans could die from the virus.

  • Power grab: Hungary's parliament set to pass coronavirus prevention bill that could give Prime Minister Viktor Orban carte blanche to rule by decree with no clear time limit.

  • Russia's turn? Moscow's 12 million residents are put under new lockdown, with restrictions expected to spread throughout the country.

  • Monday markets: Wall Street shares rise, while oil prices hit 18-year low as the week opened with COVID-19 still dominating market reactions..

  • Grounded: EasyJet grounds entire global fleet as pandemic brings air travel to standstill and throws into question future of the industry.

  • Silenced: Twitter deletes two tweets from Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro, in which he criticized quarantine measures taken by local authorities.

  • Red Bull: Helmut Marko, chief of Red Bull motorsport, wanted the team's drivers to become infected with coronavirus so they could be immune for next season. The idea was dropped.

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Society

The Ideal Age To Marry? Reflections Of A 20-Something Indian Woman

India is raising the minimum age for women to marry. What does that mean on the individual level (with your parents whispering in your ear)?

A couple holding hands after marriage

Priyamvada Rana

-Essay-

NEW DELHI — A few days ago, I got a call from my parents, who wanted to talk about the "ideal age to marry." This came after news about India raising the minimum age for women to marry to 21, to match the age for men. It's a laudable move, sure, but I even wonder if 21-year-olds will be able to fathom the expectations, responsibilities and limitations that come with such a socially-constrained institution.

I am not ready at 26, and won’t be even at 30.

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