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.
SPOTLIGHT: QUARANTINE BLUES AND THE POWER OF A JIGSAW PUZZLE
A sudden rush of stress, trouble sleeping or eating, overwhelming feelings of helplessness, general fatigue. Does it sound familiar? With approximately half the world still forced to live in lockdown, old and new psychological disorders are a widely diffused side-effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent study led by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 45% of Americans feel the current health crisis had impacted their mental health. In France, Le Figaro reported this week that 74% of adults in a recent survey developed sleeping disorders and 34% showed signs of psychological distress.
Humans are social animals — Aristotle taught us that 2,300 years before Mark Zuckerberg cashed in on the concept. And while we can acknowledge that our modern digital tools are providing instant links in the face of our respective quarantines, we are also seeing how crucial in-person interaction and stimuli are to the human experience. Those living alone or forced to put their professional activity on hold are particularly vulnerable to this enforced isolation.
Alongside the more severe threats to our emotional state is a seemingly less menacing effect: boredom. There is a fine line between enjoying some spare time to do nothing and repeatedly having nothing to do, especially when we yearn for distraction from the current uncertainty of the outside world. Board games that were piling up dust in the basement are seeing the light of day again and solo players indeed are able to play across the computer screen with friends and strangers.
Similarly, the lockdown has created one of the highest recorded demand for jigsaw puzzles, a pasttime whose time had seemed to have passed two or three generations ago. The American Puzzle Warehouse reported a jump of 2,000% in business compared to the same period last year. When the world seems to fall apart, putting back pieces together could be the ultimate satisfaction.
— Laure Gautherin
THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
Toll: Japan urges citizens to stay home today as new predictions warn that death toll that could reach 400,000 without tighter restrictions. Meanwhile the number killed by COVID-19 in the United States edges close to 30,000, and tops 15,000 in France.
WHO funding cut: President Donald Trump cut U.S. funding to the World Health Organization (WHO), blaming the organisation for mismanaging the outbreak of the global pandemic. Experts warn of risks in undermining the sole global coordinator of health contagions.
Markets: Stocks dip amid new forecasts that global economic crisis could be worst since the 1930s.
Oil Forecast: Oil demand is expected to take a sharp dive in April to a record low not seen in the last 25 years, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Beijing embassy backlash: The Chinese ambassador was summoned by France, following a stream of controversial comments made by Beijing's embassy in Paris on what they perceived as the government's slow response to the coronavirus.
The Quarantine King: Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who'd been quarantining in a German hotel as the coronavirus ravages his country, finally left his ‘harem" lockdown and traveled 20,000 miles home for a national holiday.
Spanish daily ABC warns of economic storm coming.
COVID-19, THE GLOBAL CRIME REPORT: As about half of the world's population is forced to stay at home, local communities and entire nations are recording steep drops in overall crime rates. Burglars are generally less likely to prey on a home that's occupied, and most theft and assault hotspots such as sporting venues and pubs are shuttered. Still it's not all a pretty picture, as the unique dynamic of national lockdowns puts new pressure on law enforcement and spurs more cases of certain crimes. Here's a quick rapid tour of the world of crime in the time of coronavirus:
Murder in Mexico: Homicide rates, already high, are rising further in Mexico, reaching a new record in March, as the state reshuffled more resources into containing the health crisis and keeping alive its already sluggish economy.
Plague of domestic abuse: Reports from China to France to Argentina confirm fears that confining families to their homes will increase domestic violence. In Israel, the daily Haaretzreported that the number of cases opened by the police involving sex crimes within the family jumped by 41% this March compared to last year.
Crimes go digital: Since a big part of our lives went online, crimes are bound to follow. Swedish newspaper ETC has reported on an increase in online paedophile activity and cyberbullying, Europol warns about cyber-attacks exploiting the global chaos – including fraudulent online sale of COVID-19 tests, face masks or sanitisers.
Mob stories: In Italy, some fear that cash-strapped small and medium entrepreneurs will turn to the mafia to save their businesses. This way, mafia money enters in competition with the social and business support programs set up by the government, reported Radio France Internationale. According to Mario Vaudano, the former anti-mafia magistrate, other European countries with important mafia infiltration like Slovakia, Poland or Malta are in a high risk to see organized crime capitalize on the pandemic.
Police brutality: In some countries, authorities have been accused of excessive violence and abuse when enforcing the curfew, reported Le Monde. In the first days of lockdown in Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Senegal and elsewhere, social media were flooded with images showing the military and police beating people in the streets, forcing them to do push-ups or even dancing in front of the camera while reciting curfew restrictions.
Crimes of contagion: Some brand new, coronavirus-related offenses are emerging, too. "Malicious coughing" is now a crime and has already sent a man in the UK to jail for six months. In the Czech Republic, a man posted on social media that he has coronavirus and licks bread in supermarkets for fun, reported the Czech new site iDNES.cz. The suspect is now facing up to eight years in prison for scaremongering during a state of emergency.
IMAGE OF THE DAY:
—The Boston Globe reports on the story of 88-year-old Nick Avtges who had been shut out by COVID-19 restrictions from visiting his 85-year-old wife, Marion, at the nursing home in Waltham, Massachusetts where she's been living for the last year. The couple's son arranged to have the father hoisted up by a truck with a bucket lift to at least be able to see his wife through the window.
"How did the Western world allow itself to fall so far? Did they not believe the medical experts? Did they trust the regime in Beijing too much?"
— Laura Lin, France-based Taiwanese writer, in her Rue Amelot essay: Taiwan To France, Witness To The Global Contagion Of Chinese Lies
THOSE WHO CAN'T STAY INSIDE: In the French capital's Bastille neighborhood, Libération reports on Roma families sitting on rotten mattresses and wrapped up in blankets. Normally, they wait for street market vendors to offer leftover food. But now those markets are closed. And with France's strict closing of public spaces, Roma communities also don't have access to the parks where they collect water from fountains. Another issue is the trouble that authorities have communicating with about anti-epidemic measures, and tracking infections and illnesses. What will happen to their longtime presence in Parisian neighborhoods, Liberation asks, facing "the phobias that will emerge tomorrow from the anxieties born in quarantine?"
With creativity abounding and plenty of time to exercise it, the Internet is full of fun and safe challenges to help us keep in touch while not keeping in actual touch:
Missing that noisy and nosey colleague and the sound of the copy machine? Tune in on that Open Space Simulator and you'll feel just like at the office!
British street artist creates 72-page "Emergency Art Book" filled with artworks, games and puzzles to help people keep busy.
IN OTHER NEWS
Former US President Barack Obama endorses Joe Biden for 2020 presidential race.
After more than 20 years on the run, alleged drug baron and one of Brazil's most wanted criminals, known as Fuminho, was arrested in Mozambique.
- It's been one year since a fire partly destroyed Notre Dame de Paris and its restoration is far from completed.
To receive the daily Coronavirus global brief in your inbox, sign up here.
Welcome to Friday, where Joe Biden vows to protect Taiwan from China, Alec Baldwin accidentally kills a cinematographer, and can you guess what day it is TODAY? We also have a report from a researcher in San Diego, USA on the sociological dark side of food trucks.
[*Zdravo - Macedonian]
Iran-Saudi Arabia rivalry may be set to ease, or get much worse
The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before, writes Persian-language media Kayhan-London:
The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.
Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.
Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.
He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."
The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.
Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.
Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."
The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."
Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."
Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.
Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.
Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.
For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.
🌎 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
• Biden vows to defend Taiwan: U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would come to Taiwan's defense if it were attacked and had a commitment to defend the island nation that China claims as its own. The White House clarified for the second time in three months that U.S. policy on the subject has not changed, and declined further comment when asked if Biden had misspoken.
• Call on China to respect Uyghurs: A statement from 43 countries denounced China's human rights record at the United Nations over the reported torture and repression of the mostly Muslim Uyghurs, as well as the existence of "re-education camps" in Xinjiang. The declaration calls on Beijing to allow independent observers immediate access. In response, Cuba issued a rival statement shortly afterwards on behalf of 62 other countries claiming "disinformation".
• Alec Baldwin fires prop gun, kills cinematographer: U.S. actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza after discharging a prop gun on the set of his new movie, near Santa Fe. The accident is being investigated.
• Berlusconi acquitted: Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was acquitted of judicial corruption charges. The 85-year-old media mogul had been accused of seeking to bribe guests present at his infamous "Bunga Bunga" parties to lie about the evenings as part of an underage prostitution case.
• COVID health workers death toll: A new WHO working report estimates that between 80,000 and 180,000 health and care workers may have died from COVID-19 between January 2020 and May 2021. The same report also noted that fewer than 1 in 10 healthcare workers were fully vaccinated in Africa, compared with 9 in 10 in high-income countries, and less than 5% of Africa's population have been vaccinated.
• Seven killed in Russian gunpowder factory blast: An explosion at the Elastik gunpowder and chemicals plant southeast of Moscow killed at least seven people, while nine are still missing.
• Aye aye, CAP'n: HAPPY CAPS LOCK DAY, FOLKS!
🗞️ FRONT PAGE
Dutch daily De Volkskrant pays tribute to "sound master" and renowned classical conductor Bernard Haitink, who died at 92. Born in Amsterdam, Haitink made more than 450 records and led some of the world's top orchestras in the span of his 65-year career.
📰 STORY OF THE DAY
The food truck, a sign that the white and wealthy are moving in
In San Diego, California, researcher Pascale Joassart-Marcelli tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun. In The Conversation she writes:
🥡 In 2016 in City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice). Just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors — who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets — now face heightened harassment.
🤑 Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation. Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure. It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies.
🏙️ My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44. When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
#️⃣ BY THE NUMBERS
The remains of "Big John," the world's largest triceratops skeleton ever found, were sold at auction for a European record price of 6.65 millions euros in Paris to a private anonymous collector from the U.S. The 200 pieces of the skeleton were unearthed in 2014 in South Dakota and reassembled by specialists in Italy.
👮🎮 IN OTHER NEWS
Police bust Mexican drug gang recruiting boys via online video games
Police in Mexico have intervened to rescue three minors, aged 11 to 14, from recruitment into a drug gang that had enticed them through online gaming.
A top Mexican police agency official Ricardo Mejía Berdeja, said the gang had contacted the youths in the south-central city of Oaxaca, chatting through a free-to-download game called Free Fire, which involves shooting at rivals with virtual firearms.
Calling himself "Rafael," another player of the same age, the suspected gang member offered one of the youths work "checking radio frequencies and watching out for police presence" in Monterrey, northern Mexico, reported national daily El Heraldo de México. The pay was unusually good — 8,000 pesos (almost $400) every two weeks — and the youth called two friends who also wanted to get in.
The three boys were set to take the bait, but an anonymous Mexican intelligence agent following the exchange while also posing as youth playing Free Fire, ultimately led police to a safe house in Santa Lucía del Camino, outside Oaxaca.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
"I just want to make China understand that we are not going to step back."
— U.S. President Joe Biden vowed to defend Taiwan if it came under attack from China, an assertion that seems to move away from the U.S. stated policy of "strategic ambiguity." His administration is now facing calls to clarify this stance on the island.
📸 PHOTO DU JOUR
Paramilitary soldiers are conducting a check operation in Indian-administered Kashmir, following a spate of targeted attacks on the region's Hindu minority that have left at least 33 dead since early October. The region, claimed in full by both India and Pakistan, has been the site of a bloody armed rebellion against India since the 1990s — Photo: Adil Abbas/ZUMA
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger
DO YOU FIND PEOPLE WHO WRITE IN ALL CAPS PARTICULARLY ANNOYING? Feel free to COMPLAIN, or otherwise let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!