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 Coronavirus global brief in your inbox, sign up here.
SPOTLIGHT: WHEN QUARANTINES END — EYEING THE CLIMATE CHANGE LONG GAME
There's been no shortage of hopeful speculation that this epidemic may prompt a turning point in the fight against climate change. We've seen the immediate benefits of imposed reductions in human activity, notably with the unprecedented slowdown in emission-producing transportation. But will these clean spring skies last? Alongside the short-term gains in cleaner air, are we set for some kind of global "wake up" needed to permanently reverse global warming? Or will our carbon footprints simply reappear the day we step out the door when the lockdown ends?
There are signs that real change could stick. Since the spread of the virus, The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Australians have been buying up solar panels as a back-up energy source in case something goes wrong with the main grid. The expanding supplies of wind power is itself proving to be reliable, with 96% of Europe's turbines continuing with business as usual through the crisis.
Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), sees the unveiling of national stimulus packages to avert economic collapse as a chance to go green for the long haul, believing a commitment to investing in renewables will "bring the twin benefits of stimulating economies and accelerating clean energy transitions."
Still, lasting change will come down to hard decisions in both halls of government and executive board rooms. It's notable that the United States' unprecedented $2 trillion economic stimulus did not include support for green business. Moreover, many important clean energy projects are spearheaded by top oil and gas companies that are facing a coronavirus-induced collapse in crude prices, and may be strapped for resources to invest in renewables.
As for the rest of us, this crisis has been a sharp reminder that we can actually change our habits, but only if we are obliged. In numerous countries, the quarantines required to limit the spread of the virus did not work on a voluntary basis — the government needed to enforce fixed rules.
Yes, this virus has woken people up to the importance of: policy. A general public that flouts safety regulations, corporations leaving the planet by the wayside, the urgent need for coherent healthcare systems… none of this will change without smart and swift government intervention.
— Rozena Crossman
THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
European glimmers of hope: The daily death toll in Spain has dropped for the fourth day in a row, down to 637 and Italy"s death toll dropped to its lowest in two weeks. France has 6,838 people in intensive care, some 105 of whom are under the age of 30, but the numbers are rising at a slower rate.
UK leaders: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitted to hospital for persisting coronavirus symptoms, shortly after Queen Elizabeth gave a rare TV address to urge resolve in face of the pandemic.
Monday markets: Global stocks and U.S. futures on the rise as coronavirus cases slow in some European countries, but oil prices remain on edge with postponed Saudi Arabia-Russia talks.
Japanese emergency: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expected to declare state of emergency after surge of cases in Tokyo.
Abidjan fears: Locals destroy a coronavirus testing center that was under construction in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, fearing it was too close to their homes.
Double duty: Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who worked as a doctor for 7 years, has rejoined medical register to help fight against the pandemic.
The Guardian"s April 6 front page
DO YOU REMEMBER BREXIT? As the global pandemic touches virtually every country on the planet, the first Sunday of April was particularly eventful in the United Kingdom. The convulsions of nearly four years of national drama over Brexit suddenly seem like a distant memory. At least three fresh headlines worth noting:
Queen Elizabeth II made a rare televised speech Sunday night to praise her fellow Britons' "national spirit." The Guardian noted that was the just fifth time the Queen has addressed the British people in her 68-year reign, aside from her annual Christmas greeting. The 93-year-old monarch thanked healthcare workers and likened the pandemic to war, as a defining moment for modern Britain. "The country needs to come together to vanquish an enemy that brings death not in the terrifying bombing raids of the Blitz but in the ordinary encounters of people transmitting a dangerous pathogen," she said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was hospitalized on Sunday evening for symptoms, including a persistent fever, related to COVID-19, following a 10-day isolation since first testing positive. Johnson says he is still running the country, but Business Insider notes that if he is incapacitated, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab would take the reins of power.
Sunny weather is news too in these parts. Despite pleas by officials to abide by lockdown measures, the warmest weekend in months saw so many sunbathers and picnickers that officials are now considering a stricter quarantine.
"There are three great enemies in the country right now: the health emergency, economic measures to reduce the pandemic's impact mainly on the poor and Bolsonaro himself."
— from El Espectador article on Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro's increasingly isolated policy of ignoring the grave threat of COVID-19 on South America's largest country. Read it at Worldcrunch: Bolsonaro, The Political Cost Of Downplaying Coronavirus.
PHOTO DU JOUR
Photo: Evandro Inetti/ZUMA
Pope Francis continues with Holy Week activities, joined by only a handful of other prelates in an empty St Peter's Cathedral for Palm Sunday.
NOT-SO-FUNNY NUMBERS IN IRAN: Authorities in Iran insist they've been transparent about the pandemic's evolution, but there have been persistent suspicions that the numbers were being downplayed. According to health ministry's most recent report on Friday, there have been a total of 55,740 cases and 3,452 deaths since COVID-19 arrived. A physician from the southern Iranian city of Shiraz told the broadcaster Voice of America that hospital officials ordered doctors to cite just one in five deaths as the result of the virus, and cite the other four out of five COVID-19 deaths to either acute respiratory complications or heart attacks.
FEEDING A SHUTDOWN WORLD: On the list of the most urgent COVID-19 priorities, right after saving the lives of those infected comes feeding the rest of us. A mix of logistics, impromptu trade barriers and economics make these efforts a major challenge. And the longer the crisis continues, and the farther it spreads, the stakes of the food supply chain go well beyond keeping your favorite brands stocked in supermarkets. In some places, it can also be a matter of life or death:
Blocking imports: In Goa, one of the richest states in India, famous among tourists for its picturesque beach resorts, finding food has become dangerously hard since a nationwide shutdown began two weeks ago. French daily Le Monde reports that the local governor has shut off any incoming food supply trucks, and stocks have been rapidly vanishing. Locals report that the population of northern Goa has almost nothing left to eat.
Blocking exports: the world's eighth-largest producer of wheat, Kazakhstan, has banned flour exports and imposed restrictions on selling vegetables and buckwheat abroad. Serbia has banned vegetable oil export. Vietnam, the world's third-largest rice exporter, has a ban on new rice export contracts. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization fears such protectionist measures could provoke global food market instability, raise prices and leave populations at risk of hunger.
Something deeper: Since the beginning of the pandemic, politicians have been reassuring the public that any empty shelves in grocery stores were caused by bottlenecks in the supply chain and stores should be able to replenish quickly. But this short-term emptying is proof of a deeper fragility of our current "just-in-time" consumption system based solely on efficiency, writes The Atlantic. We can add "how we feed ourselves' to the growing list of questions about the ways that life will (or won't) change in the post-coronavirus world.
In case you've already completed all your puzzles at home, The Cooper Gallery in Barnsley, England, is turning its paintings into online jigsaws.
A stop-motion summit: Who said you couldn't ski indoors?
If you need to pretend your home is tidy for your next conf call, don't worry: IKEA has got you covered.
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Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.
MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.
These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."
In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."
The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.
Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.
NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.
"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.
The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."
Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."
The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.
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