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Coronavirus — Global Brief: The Benefits Of Sharing The Bad News

Conte addresses the Italian Parliament last month
Conte addresses the Italian Parliament last month

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.


If the fabric of our globalized society has been tested by the spread of COVID-19, that's also true for our national leaders. Our prime ministers and presidents are facing the kind of leadership challenge they could never have prepared for, with one thorny social-economic-cultural-constitutional dilemma after the other. High on that list is the question: How do you deliver unimaginably terrible news to your citizens?

It would seem so far, as the severity of the crisis becomes more apparent, that people prefer straightforward communication from their leaders. Germany's Angela Merkel warned at an early stage that up to 70% Germans could eventually get the virus and was the first leader to liken the crisis to war. The Chancellor's approval rates have steadily increased, with a recent poll showing that 89% of the German people believe the government is handling the situation well. This is also true for France's Emanuel Macron whose approval rating has jumped to a nearly two-year high of 43% after the country was put on lockdown March 17 with an even more aggressive declaration of "war" against the virus. Italy's Giuseppe Conte — seen by many as a short-term, accidental leader — has risen in stature by a similar approach of coming clean about the death that coronavirus was bound to bring.

Across the Atlantic, Donald Trump has reliably played his entirely own game. For a while that meant mostly downplaying the crisis while assuming the role as arch-expert and protector of the American economy. But despite harsh international critique, a recent Gallup Poll shows that for only the second time in Trump's presidency, more Americans approve (49%) than disapprove (45%) of his performance, while some 60% gave him positive reviews for his handling of the crisis. Some experts attribute this to the "rally-round-the-flag" effect of the crisis, as it increases patriotic sentiments while some punches from the opposition are pulled for purposes of national unity. However, it seems Trump realizes there is truly bad news to come. His press briefing on Tuesday, which included warnings from health officials that the death toll could rise to 240,000, took a completely different tone. It's safe to say that Trump is thinking about his polls number, but there's also that always pesky factor called reality.

— Carl-Johan Carlsson


  • Toll: A record one-day death total in Spain of 864 and France of 499, as European toll passes 30,000 mark. Single day record in U.S. as well, with more than 850 deaths. U.S. President Trump warns of "roughest two or three weeks we've ever had in our country" and health officials predict up to 240,000 deaths.

  • Record recession: According to UN Chief Antonio Guterres, the world is facing the most challenging crisis since WWII that will bring "a recession that probably has no parallel in the recent past."

  • Markets & Factories: World markets keep falling, as monthly reports on factory activity plunge.

  • Indigenous exposed: Brazil reports first coronavirus case in an indigenous community: a 19-year old woman in the Amazonas state.

  • No Wimbledon: The world's premier tennis tournament, slated to begin June 29, has been canceled for the first time since World War II.

  • City block: U.S. authorities are removing basketball hoops from public courts all around the country in effort to prevent social gatherings.

  • Country block: Turkmenistan bans the word "coronavirus."

WUHAN ASHES "MIXED TOGETHER": It's been one week since residents in Wuhan, the Chinese city where Covid-19 originated, have been allowed to collect the ashes of their family members who died during the epidemic.

The long lines outside each of Wuhan's eight crematoria suggest the official coronavirus death count of 2,531 may be just a fraction of the true toll. But reports say despair is spreading among the relatives of the victims for another reason: the ashes may not be identifiable.

Tang Dynasty Television reported that social media posts by a local resident named Qin Peng, who said one of the crematorium confirmed to him that the ashes of all the dead were "mixed together, and just divided into equal amounts in the funeral urns in accordance with the total death toll."

"This is definitely 100% possible," another anonymous Wuhan citizen told the network. "During the peak time of the pandemic, the crematoria were burning several corpses at one time in each incinerator. No family member was allowed to be present. Who knows what they were doing."

"If the doctor upsets so many, it's probably because he is right ..."

— People are asking why French physician Didier Raoult's hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine treatments for coronavirus aren't more widely applied — and some are taking their suspicions to a dark place. Read Le Monde"s Damien Leloup and Lucie Soullier article A French Doctor, Hydroxychloroquine And Conspiracy Theories, translated from French by Worldcrunch.

This week's cover of French magazine Society,

with the country more than two weeks into lockdown.

TOURISM LOCKDOWN: One after the other, countries have been closing their borders, prohibiting gatherings inside their territory and closing popular vacation sites. It is a virtually worldwide, though hopefully temporary death to tourism. This year was supposed to set a new record with an ever rising number of tourists around the world. According to the World Tourism Organization, it will, indeed, set a record, but the opposite one, as it is expected to be the worst year since World War II. Tourism supports one in 10 of the jobs in the world today, meaning up to 75 million jobs could be at risk by the COVID-19 crisis, reported the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) in their latest research.

  • Lonely Backpackers: Sydney-based ABC reports that in Australia, foreign backpackers, who represent a big part of the seasonal task-force, both in agriculture and hospitality sectors, have been caught in limbo: as most of the country's hostels closed their doors and return flights homehave been grounded.

  • Unemployed Elephants: In Thailand, concern is growing about the fate of the 2,000 domesticated elephants, one of the country's most popular (and controversial) attractions. Unable to go back to wildlife and now jobless, just like their handlers, they could starve to death, reports The New York Times.

  • Unreachable Mecca: Late February, Saudi Arabia announced the closing of Mecca, where 8 million Muslims and tourists come every year, which supports 600,000 jobs. So far, the measure is said to be temporary and only affect the Umrah pilgrimage, which can be done any time of the year. The hajj, however, has a fixed date, slated at the end of July. Authorities have urged Muslims to delay their plan, suggesting the pilgrimage could be cancelled.

LOVE KNOWS NO BORDERS: Inga Rasmussen and Karsten Tüchsen Hansen, ages 85 and 89, have spent everyday together since they met two years ago, already a beautiful later-in-life love story. Now, it has a COVID-19 plot twist. The couple live on opposite sides of the Danish-German border, according to Deutsche Welle. Despite this, they meet up every day on either side of the closed border: sharing conversations, lunch or some biscuits and a flask of coffee or Geele Köm — a popular spirit of the region. Cheers to both! Wishing them good health and the chance to get a bit closer very soon!

• Teleworking comes with its challenges — one of them is trying not to set off the "potato" filter during video conferences.

• Sorry, pranksters of the world: it's probably a good idea to cancel this year's April's fools … but how about we revisit some previous ones from around the world?

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In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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