In Nairobi, Kenya, on March 4

For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on the coronavirus global pandemic. The rapid and insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet teaches us in a whole new way how small the world has become. Our network of multilingual journalists are busy finding out what's being reported locally — everywhere — to provide as clear a picture as possible of what it means for all of us at home, around the world.

SPOTLIGHT: WILL AFRICA BE SPARED?

Nationwide curfews across Europe, the White House preparing a $1 trillion relief package, Saudi officials banning pilgrimages to Mecca. As the number of people infected by COVID-19 keeps rising — and spreading — the world has turned upside down. That would also seem true when we look at how the global crisis is playing out in Africa, where reported cases are still in the low hundreds across the entire continent. Since the first infection was detected on February 27, in an Italian man traveling through Nigeria, there are still no signs of a serious outbreak in certain countries that have battled in recent years with endemic diseases such as ebola, malaria and tuberculosis. Experts are scratching their heads: Are the low infection statistics a matter of climate, lack of testing, luck, or other factors that set Africa apart from other parts of the world?

While it's too early to say how the COVID-19 reacts to warmer weather, tropical countries aren't immune to virus seasonality, with flu peaking in the dry season in many African countries. Rather, most bets have so far been put on its lower travel exposure. This might seem puzzling at first, particularly as the virus originated in China, which has become Africa's biggest trade partner, with over 10,000 Chinese-owned firms sprinkled across the continent. Still, there are relatively few Chinese posted on the continent for work, compared to those who travel, for example, to Europe for business and pleasure, estimated to be ten times the number who go to Africa.

Pessimists, however, fear that Africa is a ticking coronavirus time bomb. After all, if advanced French and Italian healthcare systems are overwhelmed, how will African countries — with scarce intensive-care beds and low-testing capacity — manage to contain the virus when it eventually starts to spread? On Wednesday, Le Monde reported the first death in sub-Saharan Africa, a 62-year-old woman in Burkina Faso. Fears are not unfounded, but Africa also has a few things going for it: the median age is under 20, which will likely reduce the mortality rate among those infected, and the continent has plenty of hard-earned experience in fighting endemic diseases — an important resource, as proven by the sleepy response of many Western leaders. But for now, we can only hope the world doesn't turn again.​



LATEST

The U.S. and Canada close their border, the world's longest, to non-essential traffic in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. The European Union has also closed its external borders for at least 30 days.

Global stocks and price of oil slide again. The White House seeks $1-trillion recovery bill, with warnings that unemployment could reach 20% without it.

• As U.S.-China conflict sharpens in face of coronavirus emergency, Beijing expels reporters of major American publications.

Eurovision is canceled. On the sports front, the French Open is postponed until September and the number of NBA players infected is up to 7, including N.J. Nets star Kevin Durant.​



NUMBER DU JOUR

As the virus continues to spread, enforcement of the lockdown is toughening in Italy, with nearly 8,000 fines (of up to 206 euros) levied on Tuesday alone, reports Milan-based daily Corriere della Sera. A lockdown breaker risks a prison sentence of up to 12 years if they are caught lying about why they're not at home ...

… a situation echoed on The Hamburger Morgenpost"s front page, with the German daily splashing in big bold letters: "What we're still allowed to do — and what we're not."

SPREAD OF CORONAVIRUS NEW YEAR'S "FIRE": Despite officials warnings to stay home to curb COVID-19 contagion, crowds in Iran celebrated their country's ancient "fire celebration," (Chaharshanbeh Souri). The popular festivity held on the last Wednesday of the Persian year involves jumping over burning bushes and is part of the run-up to Nowruz or the Persian new year. The Farsi channel of Voice of America reported that two people died and 751 were injured nationwide in the festivities on March 18. Of course there is no way of knowing how many people may have been infected in a country already among the worst hit from the global pandemic. As of Wednesday, 1,135 people had died and more than 17,300 Iranians were registered as infected. BBC Persian cited the pandemic management coordinator in Tehran, Alireza Zali, deploring Iranians for not confining themselves. The report carried footage of government loudspeakers blasting the words: "How much do we have to beg you, stay at home, for God's sake."​

FAKE NEWS ALERT: A Facebook post was shared almost 30,000 times in less than 24 hours in France, claiming that SPA ("Société protectrice des animaux", France's nonprofit dedicated to protecting animals) animal shelters "are overwhelmed by dogs and cats abandoned due to the coronavirus." The association's president told French news agency AFP this was false, reminding the public that there's no evidence whatsoever that pets could carry the disease.​

COVID-19 LOGOS: Time to stay home and avoid interactions — and that goes for brands too: a Slovenian graphic designer shares his lighter (and most welcome) redesigned logos for global companies to fit our quarantine period … and there's a particular tough branding challenge for a certain Mexican beer. Meanwhile, here's how to get your Seattle coffee:​

MYANMAR, IN DENIAL: Proudly, the Myanmar government has declared that it has exactly zero cases of the novel coronavirus, a sign of living in "denial" according to Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Asia. The country shares a porous border of over 2,227-kilometers with China, where over 80,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported. Myanmar government spokesperson Zaw Htay explained the claim that people's "lifestyle and diet" are responsible for protecting them against the disease. He also suggested that a local preference for paying with cash instead of credit cards helped to curb the virus' spread. Robertson slammed the government: "Such irresponsible statements clash with everything known about the coronavirus outbreak, defy reality, and only serve to give a false sense of security to the country's people about the disease and their risks of infection."​

"WEAPONIZING" CORONAVIRUS: A New York-based Muslim brotherhood activist took to social media calling on Egyptian citizens to intentionally infect government officials and state employees with the novel coronavirus, according to an article in Al Arabiya. "If you have contracted coronavirus, you should exact revenge!" he said during a Facebook live stream from which clips have been circulating. In response, an activist who led a Facebook page connected with sparking the 2011 pro-democracy uprising in Egypt, Wael Ghonem tweeted, "This NY-based citizen has been using social media to encourage violent actions against Jews, Christians, gays and other minority groups in Egypt." Some things about the novel coronavirus apparently aren't new at all.

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A tribute to the 30,000 Iranian political prisoners murdered in Iran in 1988

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Laba diena!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Afghanistan's Taliban demand to speak at the United Nations, China takes a bold ecological stand and we find out why monkeys kept their tails and humans didn't. Business magazine America Economia also looks at how Latin American countries are looking to attract a new generation of freelancers known as "digital nomads" in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

[*Lithuanian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Taliban ask to speak at UN: With global leaders gathered in New York for the 76th meeting of the UN General Assembly, Afghanistan's new rulers say their country's previously accredited United Nations ambassador no longer represents the country, and have demanded a new Taliban envoy speak instead. Afghanistan is scheduled to give the final intervention next Monday to the General Assembly, and a UN committee must now rule who can speak.

• Four corpses found on Belarus border with Poland: The discovery of bodies of four people on Belarus-Poland border who appear to have died from hypothermia are raising new accusations that Belarus is pushing migrants to the eastern border of the European Union, possibly in retaliation over Western sanctions following the contested reelection of the country's strongman Alexander Lukashenko. The discovery comes amid a surge of largely Afghani and Iraqi migrants attempting to enter Poland in recent weeks.

• China to stop building coal-burning power plants abroad: Under pressure to limit emissions to meet Paris climate agreement goals, China announces an end to funding future projects in Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries through its Belt and Road initiative.

• Turkey ratifies Paris climate agreement: Following a year of wildfires and flash floods, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced at the UN that Turkey will become the last G-20 country to ratify the emissions-limiting accords. Turkey already signed the agreement in 2016, but has yet to hold a vote in parliament.

• Mass evacuations following Canary Islands volcano: More than 6,000 people have fled the Spanish archipelago as heavy flows of lava have buried hundreds of homes. Four earthquakes have also hit the Canaries since the Sunday eruption, which could also cause other explosions and the release of toxic gas.

• Rare earthquake hits Melbourne: The 5.9 magnitude quake struck near Melbourne in southern Australia, with aftershocks going as far Adelaide, Canberra and Launceston. Videos shared on social media show at least one damaged building, with power lines disrupted in Australia's second largest city. No injuries have been reported.

• The evolutionary tale of tails: Charles Darwin first discovered that humans evolved to lose this biological trait. But only now are New York scientists showing that it was a single genetic tweak that could have caused this shift, while our monkey relatives kept their backside appendages.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"The roof of Barcelona" — El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world. Work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882 as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. The Barcelona-based daily reports that a press conference Tuesday confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years. Although it is currently the second tallest spire of the complex, it will become the highest point of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated "great cross."

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Latin America, the next mecca for digital nomads

Latin American countries want to cash in on the post-pandemic changes to the fundamental ways we work and live, in particular by capitalizing on a growing demand from the new wave of remote workers and "youngish" professional freelancers with money to spend, reports Natalia Vera Ramírez in business magazine America Economia.

💻🏖️ Niels Olson, Ecuador's tourism minister, is working hard to bring "digital nomads" to his country. He believes that attracting this new generation of freelancers who can work from anywhere for extended visits is a unique opportunity for all. Living in a town like Puerto López, he wrote on Twitter, the expat freelancer could "work by the sea, live with a mostly vaccinated population, in the same time zone, (enjoy) an excellent climate, and eat fresh seafood." For Ecuador, the new influx of visitors with money to spend would help boost the country's economy.

🧳 While online-based freelancers already hopped from country to country before COVID-19, the pandemic has boosted their current numbers to around 100 million worldwide. The Inter-American Development Bank estimates there could be a billion roaming, digital workers by 2050. Some European countries already issue visas for digital nomads. They include Germany, Portugal, Iceland, Croatia, Estonia and the Czech Republic, but in the Americas, only four countries make the list, namely Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Panama and Costa Rica.

💰 In August 2021, Costa Rica approved a law for remote workers and international service providers, intended to attract digital nomads and make its travel sector more competitive. The law provides legal guarantees and specific tax exemptions for remote workers choosing to make the country their place of work. It allows foreign nationals earning more than $3,000 a month to stay for up to a year in the country, with the ability to renew their visa for an additional year. If applicants are a family, the income requisite rises to $5,000.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$2.1 billion

Google announced yesterday it will spend $2.1 billion to buy a sprawling Manhattan office building, in one of the largest sales of a building in U.S. history. The tech giant plans on growing its New York workforce to more than 14,000 people.

📣 VERBATIM

It is sickening and shameful to see this kind of president give such a lie-filled speech on the international stage.

— Opposition Brazilian congresswoman Vivi Reis in response to President Jair Bolsonaro's inflammatory 12-minute speech at the UN General Assembly. The unvaccinated head of state touted untested COVID-19 cures, criticized public health measures and boasted that the South American country's environmental protections were the best in the world.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank & Bertrand Hauger

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