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