Watch Video Show less
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: WHAT HAPPENS IN WUHAN MATTERS IN WICHITA
And 76 days later…
It was Jan. 23, 2020 when the central Chinese city of Wuhan was cut off from the rest of the world, as government authorities took action to severely restrict people's movements at the epicenter of what was then just the beginning of the burgeoning coronavirus outbreak. On Wednesday, the two-and-a-half-month ban on travel was lifted, ending the world's longest mass quarantine in memory.
That, of course, leaves much time for the rest of the world to count the days shut inside our own homes and cities. But even as each of us monitors our respective local situation, we will all be watching Wuhan closely to see what happens after its landmark "liberation" from coronavirus lockdown.
The international criticism for what were considered draconian measures in Wuhan are no doubt seen in a new light as other countries are now enforcing lockdowns of their own. And now, we will see another real-world experiment as restrictions are eased, providing precious data: to epidemiologists on the resurgence of cases, to economists on how quickly businesses can bounce back, and to all of us on how much it will take to get back to normal after weeks or months in isolation.
There is certainly a lot to learn from the Wuhan example, even if containment measures in different countries have varied widely. In China, the virus has been contained by forcing anyone with a fever and people who had been in close contact with someone believed to be infected into "centralized quarantine." This means that thousands of people were taken from their homes and placed in converted hotels, dorms and classrooms in order to stop transmission, even among family members at home. This has not been the case in most Western countries, where authorities have sought to keep people out of hospitals unless their cases are severe and advised people with symptoms to self-isolate at home.
All this to say that what happens in Wuhan won't necessarily determine what will happen in the rest of the world. If the resurgence of cases depends on how much immunity is already in the population, as some epidemiologists claim, China's efficient containment might eventually prove to be a weak spot. So, even as we count the days, there will be plenty of other data to calculate as well.
— Michaela Kozminova
THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
Wuhan reopens: Coronavirus lockdown ends after 76 days in the central Chinese city where it was believed to have begun.
Toll: Deaths pass 10,000 in France, as the U.S. records highest death toll in a single day with more than 1,800 fatalities, 731 in New York state alone.
Europe blocked: Talks of European Union recovery fund to help southern countries, especially Italy and Spain, have stalled after 16 hours, leading the head of the European Research Council to resign, "extremely disappointed by the European response".
Polish vote: parliament approves legislation to allow presidential elections in May to be held as a postal ballot.
Pyongyang tests: In North Korea, 709 people have been tested and 509 are in quarantine, according to a WHO representative, but the country still reports no cases.
Where's El Señor Presidente? Even as Nicaragua continues to promote gatherings and mass events, while President Daniel Ortega has been absent for almost a month.
RIP Prine: U.S. raspy-voiced country icon John Prine dies from coronavirus complications in Nashville at age 73.
FRANCE'S ELDERLY HECATOMB: Out of the 10,328 deaths recorded in France since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, 3,237 were residents in nursing homes and similar structures. The country's "EHPAD Battle" (acronym for "Accommodation Facility for Dependent Elderly") features on today's front page of daily La Croix.
IRAN RISKS PREMATURE END TO QUARANTINE: From open schools in Singapore to newly closed businesses in the U.S., the world is wondering what the safest way back to normalcy might be. Iran is putting this question to the test as many citizens returned to work in early April after the Persian New Year holiday, despite an official count of 55,740 infections and 3,452 deaths on April 4th.
Rouhani v. Task Force: President Hassan Rouhani has announced a reopening of a portion of business activities on Wednesday, citing the need to "move the wheel of the economy." The Tehran task force charged with fighting the virus adamantly disagrees with Rouhani's choice. "Not only have we not reached the phase of controlling this virus, but it is increasing."
Locked down late and soft: Social distancing was only officially implemented on March 27, even as death tolls soared. And then once implemented, the restrictions were loosely enforced, with Iranian news agency ISNA showing a fairly crowded Tehran metro on April 4th, with only some users wearing face masks.
Public anger: The London-based Kayhan newspaper attributed partial compliance to officials' "contradictory" positions on confinement as well as people's fear of losing their jobs. One Twitter user, Delvar, claimed ordinary workers had to go out and work while "the mullahs hide away in their villas."
Pressure from the boss: The government, instead, has blamed private companies. The government's coronavirus coordinator in greater Tehran, Alireza Zali, told the Fars news agency too many businesses are not "cooperating" with the official recommendations to work from home, and pressure employees to return to the office.
PHOTO DU JOUR
Labeling hand sanitizers in Kathmandu, Nepal — Photo: Skanda Gautam/ZUMA
TRUMP CRISIS MANAGEMENT — FIND THE SCAPEGOATS: As the death toll in the U.S. marked a new global high, topping 1,800 dead on Tuesday alone, President Donald Trump is back on the hunt for someone to blame. Facing criticism for initially downplaying the severity of the coronavirus crisis, Trump continues to point fingers at supposed enemies, both foreign and domestic:
W.H.O.: In a White House press conference Tuesday evening, the president threatened to cut U.S. funds to the World Health Organization (WHO), claiming that the international body "missed the call" on the coronavirus pandemic.
CHINA: Trump has, for the moment, ceased calling COVID-19 "the Chinese virus," but his latest targeting of World Health officials was another chance to lash out at Beijing. Saying the WHO is in cahoots with Chinese officials, and failed to catch the spreading virus in Wuhan, China. Trump has previously blamed China for the spread, arguing that American officials could have acted faster if China's government had better shared information about the outbreak.
SWEDEN: Another favorite target for Trump is Sweden, and Tuesday he claimed the country was "suffering very greatly" due to its herd-immunity approach. Sweden's state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell was quick to respond, telling Swedish Television on Wednesday that we should "pay little attention to Trump's bravados," and that New York is in a much more dire situation than Sweden.
HOME FRONT: Trump's decision to hold daily press briefings is also a chance to both bash the media (a favorite target) but also individual U.S. states for the shortages of medical equipment and other difficulties in responding to the crisis.
Iran and the U.S. have spent the past 48 hours trading threats after an American drone strike Friday that killed General Qasem Soleimani, head of its Revolutionary Guards Quds force. Even as Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei led prayers at Soleimani's funeral on Monday, the question of how and where Tehran will respond looms over the region and the world.
After Iran's announcement Sunday that they would pull out of the remaining restrictions of the 2015 nuclear accord, the leaders of France, Germany and the UK urged a "deescalation" of tensions in the region. French daily Le Monde described the move as a sign that Tehran will "play two tables," targeting U.S. interests militarily and dividing the broader international community by pursuing its nuclear program.
The question of how and where Tehran will respond looms over the region and the world.
Iranian media has carried non-stop images of mass mournings in Baghdad and Tehran, leaving the impression of unanimous national and regional outrage. Still, it is difficult to gauge both public sentiment, and how exactly Iran's rulers will respond to the assassination of the most iconic and influential military leader of his generation.
The official talk in Tehran has cast left little doubt that it will target the United States and/or American interests around the world. The head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hossein Salami, was reported as telling state television that Soleimani's killing would entail "a strategic revenge" that would "end U.S. presence in the Middle East." His deputy, Mohammad Naqdi, has likewise said that revenge would be "definitive" and the "Americans are not capable of withstanding an extensive" war. They should "pack" their bases and leave, if "they want to save their lives," the semi-official Fars agency cited him as saying.
Crowds mourning Soleimani in Tehran on Jan. 6 — Photo: Salampix/Abaca/ZUMA
His comments may suggest multiple actions over time rather than a single major strike, in keeping with the country's strategy of waging "asymmetrical" warfare. Fars agency cited one prominent hardliner in Tehran, the editor of the Kayhan newspaper Hossein Shariatmadari, as saying that "America is not sitting in a glass room. It is vulnerable on all sides," which again may suggest hit-and-run tactics or a bomb attack somewhere. Iran has a range of allies and agents like Lebanon's Hezbollah or Iraq's Shia militias, apparently ready to do its bidding.
BBC Persian picked up on a division of opinions among ordinary Iranians concerning the killing. A European-based Iranian listener to the broadcaster who gave her name as Paniz called to say Soleimani did not "deserve this," saying he had worked hard for Iran and fought ISIS and the Taliban (at the height of its caliphate ISIS did not hide its hostility to Iran). A listener named Mas'ud said Iranians were "confused" if they were mourning the Supreme Leader's "right-hand man" just weeks after protesting against the country's "dictatorship." Another listener, Hamidreza, called Soleimani a decisive "shaper" of Iran's regime, saying he could not be deemed as uninvolved in its repressive practices.
No room for diplomacy.
The broadcaster observed on similar divisions on social media, with one user accusing Iranians of suffering from "Stockholm Syndrome" for mourning the general.
Taking a more detached view, Iranian commentators abroad took the incident as a strategic challenge to the regime and its leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Ali Sadrzadeh wrote on Radio Farda, part of Radio Free Europe, that Khamenei was mistaken if he thought President Trump would shy away from war because of upcoming U.S. elections. Any action by Iran, he wrote, would prompt a "heavy" response. He observed that Khamenei was keen to stay in power and must know that war with the United States could "burn down the house."
Another commentator, Ali Afshari, an exiled former student activist, wrote on the same website that the Islamic Republic usually responded to such hostilities "asymmetrically and without haste," and had weaknesses to consider now, including opposition to its influence in Iraq and Lebanon, and a half-battered economy that have prompted popular protests in recent months.
Whatever happens, it's clear that the stakes for Iran and its leaders couldn't be higher. Kayhan newspaper was already hinting at the need to tighten controls on commentary, accusing social networking sites of engaging in Soleimani's "proxy assassination" through hostile propaganda, and urged leaders to push ahead with plans to restrict the internet inside Iran. As for outside the country, the same its editorial made it clear to moderates that with "this act of war," there was "no more room for any diplomacy with the United States."
TEHRAN â€" Emerging after years of sanctions, Iran appears almost single-mindedly eager to boost its economic growth. Thus a photo op this week of the country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei planting and watering a tree, and cited as telling "all" Iranians to care for "green spaces," was a minor newsstand surprise Wednesday around the polluted and congested streets of Tehran.
The Tuesday event was carried in papers like the conservative Kayhan, though with far fewer details than most reports on the Leader's pronouncements.
The brevity shows perhaps both the media's and Ayatollah Khamenei's lack of interest in trees and nature. He did however declare that "attacking" and destroying gardens and forests was "not sensible," nor in the country's interest.
The comments may be belated given the utter neglect and wholesale destruction of the natural world that has characterized Iran since the 1979 revolution: From the disappearance of the gardens of northern Tehran, which have morphed into a concrete jungle altering the capital's climate (smog inversions rather than rain and snow, now characterize its winters), to widespread desertification and overuse of water resources.
Though rare, this was not the first time Ayatollah Khamenei has publicly referred to the impact of environmental damage. He spoke this week about "certain violations" of the country's forests threatening Iran's native tree species, and alluded to persistent reports on the dwindling scale of Iran's ancient forests.