World now faces pandemic challenge | Daily News


World now faces pandemic challenge

A health official checks the body temperature of a cricket fan amid concerns of the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus at the entrance of the National Cricket Stadium in Karachi on Thursday before  a Pakistan Super League match. - AFP
A health official checks the body temperature of a cricket fan amid concerns of the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus at the entrance of the National Cricket Stadium in Karachi on Thursday before a Pakistan Super League match. - AFP

The coronavirus crisis extends worldwide as the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic. There are more than 124,500 cases in 114 countries, and over 4,600 related deaths.

The WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “We have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action. We have rung the alarm bells loud and clear.”

The entirety of Europe is now facing the coronavirus outbreak, which first emerged in China at the end of last year.

Three countries having the worst spread of the disease are Italy, Iran and South Korea. The numbers infected are now seen to be coming down in China. Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the Wuhan area where the infection began showing the fall in the spread within China.

Contrary to the public statements of US President Donald Trump the virus is rapidly spreading in the US. The US has now banned all travel there from Europe, but has not included UK in the ban, although the infections are rapidly rising there.

More than 66,000 people have recovered from the illness around the world, according to John Hopkins University in US.

Italy remains a wholly closed country to its 60 million citizens as it faces the worst medical and economic crisis, with 12,462 infected and 827 dead. The figures for Iran and South Korea are 9,000 infected and 354 dead, and 7,900 infected and 66 dead, at the time of writing.

Many Third World countries in Asia, South America and Africa are also undergoing infections, with threats of a much larger spread of the disease globally in coming weeks.

International organisations dealing with health and medicine are seeking new understandings to provide more health protection facilities, equipment and drugs to meet the emerging challenges worldwide.

The spread of the disease in the US is raising many questions about the ability of lower income citizens to test for the virus or obtain treatment due to the lack of sufficient insurance facilities and absence of paid sick leave to employees.

India has now suspended all visas, except a few diplomatic and employment categories, with the number infected rising to 73 and the infection spreading in most states in the country.

Europe - new migrant crisis

As the violence on the Greece border with Turkey increased, the European Union and Turkey agreed to review a 4-year-old agreement on managing migrants and refugees in an effort to settle the dispute that sent thousands of refugees in Turkey, to the Turkey-Greece border in hopes of reaching Europe.

Under the 2016 agreement, the EU offered Turkey up to 6 billion euros ($6.7 billion) in aid for the more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees it hosts, fast-tracked EU membership and other incentives to stop Europe-bound migrants. The number arriving in Greece from Turkey dropped dramatically after the deal took effect.

In recent weeks Turkey is sending Syrian and other refugees in the country to Greece in a move to enter Europe. Turkish President Erdogan has raised concerns over alleged violence by Greek authorities as they push these migrants back to Turkey.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that during the talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan there was a clear focus on issues, ‘Let’s discuss what is fact. Let’s sort out how both sides see the past and how we evaluate the EU-Turkey statement.’

Turkey hosts more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees, and Erdogan has demanded that Europe shoulder more of the burden of caring for them.

He has accused the EU of not meeting its obligations under the 2016 agreement, including failing to pay money promised to Turkey to stem the flow of migrants to Europe.

The EU says it is disbursing the funds but also accused Erdogan of “blackmail” for waving migrants through to Europe late last month, after dozens of Turkish soldiers were killed in fighting in northern Syria.

EU countries have rallied behind Greece, which is also a member of NATO, and described it as a “shield” protecting Europe’s borders with the outside world.

Greece has deployed riot police and border guards to repel people and the border area has since seen violent confrontations. Youth have thrown rocks at Greek police and tried to pull down a border fence.

Afghanistan - disagreements

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was finally inaugurated for a second term on Monday in the capital Kabul nearly six months after elections that were marred by vote rigging and record low turnout.

But the political crisis in Afghanistan saw a parallel swearing-in ceremony by his main political rival Abdullah Abdullah, who has also declared himself winner in the September 2019 election.

This situation comes more than a week after the United States signed an agreement with the Taliban armed group, aimed at ending the US war in Afghanistan, the longest war of the US.

As part of this US-Taliban Pact, all Afghan factions, including Taliban, are expected to sit at the negotiating table to arrive at a peace deal. The Pact includes the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan within 14 months in exchange for Taliban security commitments. The US has already begun the withdrawal of its troops.

President Ghani is backed by foreign diplomats including US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalizad and the NATO forces commander Scott Miller. Having earlier refused to honour the prisoner swap deal between the US and the Taliban, Ghani has now signed a decree to release 1,500 Taliban prisoners as a move to launch direct talks with them to end the 18-year war in Afghanistan.

There are major disagreements over the prisoner release. The Taliban spokesman has said his group had handed a list of 5,000 prisoners to the US and was waiting for all to be released.

The Taliban position is that President Ghani’s move to release prisoners is against the US-Taliban agreement which said that the first 5,000 prisoners would be freed, and then the Afghan dialogue would be initiated.

The Afghan presidential spokesman has since said the release of 5,000 prisoners would be in two phases - first 1,500 and the next 3,500 after negotiations begin, on condition that there is a tangible reduction in violence.

The rivalry between President Ghani and rival president Abdullah Abdullah and the disagreements over the release of Taliban prisoners show an emerging crisis in the Afghan governance, as the US troops are pulled out.

Russia - Putin’s stay

Vladimir Putin is working on plans to be president for life.

Russia’s State Duma (its lower house of parliament) proposed a constitutional amendment on Tuesday that would allow Putin to run again for president in 2024, when his tenure is supposed to expire.

“When a country is going through such upheavals and such difficulties,” Putin said in a speech in the Duma, in favour of the amendment, stating “stability may be more important and must be given priority.”

He went on to say that “for [the] long term, society must have guarantees for the regular change of power,” adding, “This is why I do not believe it is viable to delete the restriction on the number of presidential terms from the Constitution.”

The amendment could keep Putin in power until 2036. Putin, now 67, would be 84 by the time his tenure ends.

Putin said this change would only go through if Russia’s constitutional court approves it and if the public approves in the nationwide referendum on the amendments next month. Political analysts believe neither the courts nor the voters are likely to present a serious hurdle to Putin’s plans.

Vladimir Putin remains the longest serving Russian leader since Josef Stalin, with service going beyond 20 years.

Oil price war

Oil prices have suffered their biggest fall since the day in 1991 when American forces launched air strikes on Iraqi troops following their invasion of Kuwait.

The crash in oil prices follows Russia’s refusal to agree to OPEC demands for cuts in production due to the fall in demand caused by coronavirus, and the cutting down of oil prices and increased production by Saudi Arabia creating a price war internationally.

The Saudi Kingdom and Russia came together to form the so-called OPEC+ alliance in 2016 after oil prices plunged to $30 a barrel. Since then, the two leading exporters have orchestrated supply cuts of 2.1 million barrels per day. Saudi Arabia wanted to increase that number to 3.6 million barrels through 2020 to take account of weaker consumption.

But Russia, worried about ceding too much ground to American oil producers, refused to go along with the plan, signalling a fierce battle to come for market share, stating countries could produce as much as they please from April 1.

Moscow was tired of cutting production to stabilize prices and felt that the policy of supply restraint gave more room for US shale companies to grow. A spokesperson for Russian state oil company Rosneft, described the OPEC deal as “masochism.” “By yielding our own markets, we remove cheap Arab and Russian oil to clear a place for expensive US shale oil and ensure the effectiveness of its production,” he told Russian state media.

America is now the number one oil producer in the world and is expected to pump about 13 million barrels a day in the first quarter of this year. This is threatened by the Saudi decision to fight for greater market share by slashing the prices its preferred customers pay by between $4-$7 a barrel. The kingdom is also reportedly planning to lift production to over 10 million barrels a day.

The coronavirus has undermined energy demand worldwide, but especially in China, which is now the number one importer of crude oil, guzzling roughly 10 million barrels a day.

The International Energy Agency said Monday that it expects demand will contract this year for the first time since the recession in 2009 that followed the global financial crisis.

Market Analysts see a price war in the face of collapsing demand is not a recipe for oil stability. The major oil producing countries will lose money regardless of the market share they can claw back. Russia claims to be the most insulated to lower prices because its annual budget is based on an average price of roughly $40 a barrel.

Big importing nations such as China, India and Germany could get some much needed relief from falling energy bills.

But any reduction in oil prices will likely be outweighed by the dislocation to the economy caused by the coronavirus led slowdown in global growth.

US Democrats race

Joe Biden took a major step toward clinching the Democratic nomination with dominant wins in a string of states, including the biggest prize: Michigan.

As soon as the Tuesday polls closed Biden was declared winner in Missouri and Mississippi — a show of force reflecting how he did better than Bernie Sanders with a broad coalition of black, white, suburban and rural voters. Later in the night, Biden later scored wins in Michigan and Idaho.

It wasn’t a total wipeout for Sanders: He was the winner in North Dakota. But one state that should have been a stronghold for him, Washington, was too close to call. Biden’s victories were so decisive that Sanders’ campaign was batting away speculation about whether he would quit the race. Michigan was important for Sanders as it was the state where he scored an upset over Hillary Clinton in 2016, making the primary more competitive than insiders had thought.

Despite the defeats in the primaries, Sanders remains in the Democratic race, with Biden needing to change policies to be more attractive to young voters, and new issues arising of medical assistance to the low income people, with the coronavirus spread in the US.

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