Coronavirus — Global Brief: Why We Care About Boris Johnson

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson chairs a morning COVID-19 update meeting remotely during his self-isolation.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson chairs a morning COVID-19 update meeting remotely during his self-isolation.

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.


Boris Johnson Taken To Intensive Care: It's a headline that stands out among the non-stop flow of disturbing coronavirus news flashes. We already knew the 55-year-old British Prime Minister had been infected two weeks ago, and even Sunday's news that he was being brought to the hospital with a persistent fever was presented as routine testing.

But there's nothing routine about the ICU, nor the oxygen he was being given after breathing difficulties had suddenly appeared on Monday. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is running the country, and Boris Johnson is by all appearances fighting for his life.

There will be time another day to reflect on what this means politically in the UK, where Johnson has been questioned for his choices in fighting the pandemic and more generally criticized about his policies on healthcare. But serious illness turns every politician into a person.

He is of course hardly the only person: 1.4 million have been infected, and more than 76,000 people have died from COVID-19 around the world. On Tuesday, Britain's death toll alone hit a one-day high of 854. Yet for those not touched directly, the gravity of this pandemic hits home again as a very public person deteriorates in real-time before our eyes. Indeed, Johnson had posted a video just before being taken to the hospital where he seemed a bit fatigued, but otherwise his usual moppy-haired wry self. So it's him this time, we tell ourselves. Who will be next?

This has happened before in Britain, in 1918, when the nation's war hero prime minister David Lloyd George caught the flu during a ceremonial visit to Manchester's Albert Square. As his condition worsened, and with World War I in full swing, the prime minister's illness was kept hidden to prevent the news from reaching the country's enemies.

A century later, the stricken leader is very much in plain view — it's the enemy that we can't see.

— Jeff Israely


In Ecuador — one of the worst-hit nations in Latin America with 3,747 confirmed cases and 191 deaths — El Universo"s front page today reads "COVID-19 deaths don't stop, but people are still on the streets."

TRUTH TOLL: Today marks a landmark for China, where the country reported no new coronavirus deaths since the government officially started tracking the disease in early January. While this offers a distant ray of hope for countries where the virus is currently ravaging through their populations, it may also be a time to ask some hard questions about death tolls and how they are being calculated around the world. The reporting on deaths linked to the virus vary widely, due a combination of factors that can include governments trying to downplay the severity to discrepancies in whether certain deaths are attributed to COVID-19 or to another condition.

  • Over the past week reports have been emerging from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the original epicenter of the coronavirus, questioning the official death toll of 2,563 in the city of more than eight million residents. According to interviews with residents of Wuhan in Radio Free Asia, the eight funeral homes that serve Wuhan and the surrounding cities have been producing at least 3,500-5,000 crematory urns per funeral home per day, already greater than the disclosed total death toll of Wuhan in a single day.

  • In the city of Bergamo in northern Italy, one of the places hit hardest by coronavirus in the world, there is a sharp discrepancy between the official death toll of 2,060 released by the regional administration and what locals report over social media, according to L'Eco di Bergamo. Using data provided by local municipalities, they found that more than 5,400 people have died in Bergamo province in March 2020, 4,500 of those deaths from COVID-19. While there is no data on the deaths of the other 2,500, many of whom were older and died at home or in assisted residential homes.

  • Lack of testing for the elderly seems to be among a common theme, as grim scenes have begun to surface from behind the closed doors of quarantined French elderly care homes, where protective equipment is in short supply and distance is being kept, Le Monde reports. Thursday of last week, the French government reported that at least 884 people had died from the coronavirus in care homes, the first official estimate since the epidemic started, yet many healthcare workers in the field say they're witnessing deaths among France's most at-risk population at unprecedented levels. As one nurse put it, "We're not doing real care work here, the conditions won't allow it. We're doing survival work."

  • The coronavirus death toll in the U.S. is much higher than the official 10,000, which is only a "tip of the iceberg" due to lag in testing and muddled oversight, experts and medical professionals warn. Not only have there been many deceased who had shown the telltale signs of infection but were not approved to be tested, The New York Times reports, many deaths, particularly in rural areas, are likely mistakenly attributed to influenza or pneumonia.

COVID-19 HITS POOR AROUND THE WORLD: While it should come as no surprise that the coronavirus takes a heavier toll on society's most vulnerable, emerging demographic data from cities around the world on its impact is a grim reminder of the consequences of inequality.

  • An interactive map of the regional government of Catalonia shows that residents of poor neighborhoods in Barcelona are six to seven times more likely to contract the virus than those in wealthy areas, La Vanguardia reports.

  • In Mumbai, doctors are warning that Asia's biggest slum, Dharavi, could become a hotbed for the virus Times of India reports. Experts have pointed to a 2016 study showing that Delhi's slums have previously served as citywide accelerants for influenza outbreaks.

  • In Milwaukee County, African Americans made up half of the 945 cases on Friday and 81% of 27 deaths despite the population being only 26% black. Similarly in Michigan, with a 14% black population, African Americans made up 35% of cases and 40% of deaths.

  • In Hong Kong, so-called "McRefugees' — homeless who used to find shelter in 24-hour McDonald's joints — are now being forced onto the streets as the government banned dine-in services from April 1, reports South China Morning Post.

  • At Oslo Metropolitan University, researchers are quantifying the effects of poor housing conditions, low access to healthcare and higher rates of pre-existing illnesses. They also find that lack of education also plays a part, as people neglect or misunderstand health care advice, reports Swedish daily Dagens Arena.

PROTECTING STATUES: We used to worry about vandals defacing statues in public squares with graffiti. Now people are, well, "protecting" them from coronavirus with a face mask. This photo collection from The Guardian shows that the same irresistible urge is shared around the world: to include our bronzed heroes in the experience of getting through the pandemic, with a wink wherever possible.

  • Be there or be square: You can help Minecraft players virtually recreate the Earth, one block at a time.

  • Easter Egg hunts may be canceled, but you can still print these paper eggs and hide them in your house. Or just eat a whole lot of chocolate, that works too.

  • Don't miss tonight's "pink supermoon" ... from your window, of course.

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The New York Times (sometimes abbreviated to NYT) is an American daily newspaper, founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. It has won 117 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other news organization. Its daily circulation is estimated to 1,380,000.
El Universo is one of the largest newspapers in Ecuador. The Spanish-language daily has been publishing out of Guayaquil since 1921.
Radio Free Asia
Radio Free Asia (RFA) is an international broadcasting corporation that broadcasts and publishes online news, information, and commentary to listeners in six different countries in East Asia. RFA, which distributes content in nine Asian languages, is funded by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), an independent American federal agency responsible for all non-military, international broadcasting sponsored by the U.S. government.
South China Morning Post (SCMP) is an English-language daily published in Hong Kong. Co-founded in 1903 by the British journalist Alfred Cunningham, the newspaper has an estimated circulation of 104.000. It is currently owned by Alibaba group.
The largest selling English-language daily newspaper in the world, The Times of India published its first edition in November of 1838. Its headquarters in Mumbai work to print 2.7 million broadsheets each morning.
This leading French daily newspaper Le Monde ("The World") was founded in December 1944 in the aftermath of World War II. Today, it is distributed in 120 countries. In late 2010, a trio formed by Pierre Berge, Xavier Niel and Matthieu Pigasse took a controlling 64.5% stake in the newspaper.
La Vanguardia is a leading daily based in Barcelona, published in both Spanish and Catalan. It was founded in 1881.
The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) is a daily newspaper published by Fairfax Media in Sydney and is also an Australian national online news brand. Founded in 1831 as the Sydney Herald, the SMH is the oldest continuously published newspaper in Australia and is published six days a week. Historically, the SMH had been a conservative newspaper, but announced in the 2004 Australian election that it would "no longer endorse one party or another at election time.”
The BBC is the British public service broadcaster, and the world's oldest national broadcasting organization. It broadcasts in up to 28 different languages.
Founded as a local Manchester newspaper in 1821, The Guardian has gone on to become one of the most influential dailies in Britain. The left-leaning newspaper is most recently known for its coverage of the Edward Snowden leaks.
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"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

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.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

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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