Current Affairs Global Affairs

Global Snapshots: 31st of August – 6th of September

Africa

Confirmed cases in Africa have passed the threshold of 1.25 million, meaning that the continent now accounts for around 5% of the global case total. South Africa maintains its position as having the highest number of confirmed cases. While the country begins to ease its restrictions concerning domestic travel, its international borders remain closed. This week, South Africa began hosting the second phase of human trials of a Covid-19 candidate vaccine by the American company Novavax. Shabir Madhi of the University of Witwatersrand who is leading the initiative explained that the country would continue to participate in multiple vaccine trials to ensure that they are “one of the early adopters, in terms of implementing vaccination against Covid-19 as part of [their] immunisation programme”. Following this announcement, on Wednesday, the health department in South Africa launched a Covid-19 contact-tracing app that uses Bluetooth to establish a randomly generated code picked by other users who are in the same radius. Each user builds an “encounter history” that will allow quick notification and tracing following an outbreak.

This week, Nigeria received Russia’s Sputnik V, the world’s first registered coronavirus vaccine. While the Sputnik V passed early trial tests conducted on patients without causing any severe side effects, experts in the West discourage the mass use of the vaccine before it receives international approbation. This news also comes amid the WHO’s warning against the emergency authorization of Covid-19 vaccines.

On Monday, Libya saw Moustafa Karwad, the mayor of Misrata, succumb to the virus. The country has been embroiled by several conflicts following the death of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011. With over 14,000 confirmed cases, the consequences of the conflict have been compounded by a surge in Covid-19 cases, weighing down already stretched health services.

An article by the Wall Street Journal flagged concern towards the silence that shrouds several East and Central African countries’ approaches to the virus. Tanzania outlawed coronavirus testing, contact tracing, and case reportage several months ago. In Zambia, several deaths occurred in single days when patients were waiting to be tested for the virus. The article posits that a combination of “lack of testing capacity, limited access to data and secretive governments” across sub-Saharan Africa may make it seem as though the continent has fared better with the pandemic.

Overall, death rates across many African countries continue to be lower than expected. This comes as a surprise to many experts, yet prejudice continues to taint Western news coverage of the continent. Earlier this week, the BBC linked low Covid-19 death rates with poverty on the continent. The article, which has since been retitled as “Coronavirus in South Africa: Scientists explore surprise theory for low death rate” saw several Africans take to Twitter to condemn the negative stereotypes that it propagates.

Asia

In Asia, India has overtaken Brazil and now has the second-largest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the world. Cases in India increased by almost two million in August; the highest single-month rise reported anywhere in the world. This unprecedented rise comes as the government continues to lift restrictions to boost an economy that lost millions of jobs under a strict lockdown when the virus hit. In lighter news, the vice-president of the International Olympic Committee has announced that the Tokyo Olympics will go ahead “with or without Covid”. They were initially scheduled to start in July 2020, but this was postponed due to Covid-19. There have been doubts about whether the Games would go ahead at all, but John Coates confirmed that the Olympics would start on the 23rd of July next year, calling them the “Games that conquered Covid”. In Southeast Asia, Thailand’s streak of 100 days with zero local transmissions ended on Thursday when a test on a prisoner came back positive. As recently as the 2nd of September, Thailand’s prime minister had congratulated the nation for having achieved 100 days without a confirmed locally transmitted case of the coronavirus. Finally, in the Middle East, the Covid-19 death toll has surpassed 50,000, and its hardest-hit nation remains Iran, which has recorded more than 380,000 confirmed cases. However, these numbers may not reveal the full scale of the pandemic, as testing in war-torn nations like Libya and Yemen remains extremely limited.

Australasia

Australia has now recorded 26,322 cases and 762 deaths since the start of the pandemic, with 43 new cases on the 7th of September. The state of Victoria has been at the centre of the country’s second wave, with the region accounting for 90% of Australia 753 deaths. The lockdown in the state capital of Melbourne was extended by two weeks. The night-time curfew will be expanded. Single people are allowed to form a bubble and visit each other. There is a 5km travel limit in the area. The restrictions will be eased gradually at the start of October. Australia has said that it aims to secure almost 85 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine, provided two promising trials are successful. The two options are Oxford University’s vaccine, in collaboration with AstraZeneca, and the University of Queensland’s vaccine, which was developed alongside CSL. Australian authorities have cracked down on anti-lockdown protests attended by hundreds across the nation. About 300 people participated in a protest in Melbourne focused on the strict measures that have been in place for the last month. Other protests took place in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. New Zealand has now recorded 1,776 cases and 24 deaths since the start of the pandemic. There were only four new cases reported on the 7th of September, with 116 active cases at the moment. The country recorded its first Covid-19 death in more than three months last Friday, with a 50-year-old man passing away. There was an additional death the following day, namely that of the Cook Islands former PM Joseph Williams. Mr Williams was a well-known GP and a politician. Lockdown restrictions will be retained until at least mid-September, with Auckland, the country’s largest city, remaining on alert level 2.5, which limits gatherings to a maximum number of 10 people. Other parts of the country are on alert level 2, which bans gatherings of more than 100 people, and requires citizens to observe social distancing rules.

The Americas

In the United States of America, the total number of cases stands at 6.26 million with 188,000 confirmed coronavirus related deaths, continuing the USA’s upward trajectory of coronavirus cases. This past month employers continued to bring back furloughed workers in an attempt to boost the US economy. In August, 1.4 million jobs were added, below the previous month’s 1.7 million. Payrolls remain low at 11 million jobs below their pre-pandemic level. 

Concerns have been raised as America goes into Labour Day weekend. Going into the Labour Day weekend, the United States is averaging around 40,000 cases a day up from the rate of 22,000 a day going into Memorial Day weekend. This spike has been attributed partly to celebrations during Memorial Day weekend, raising concerns that not enough will be done to prevent a further spike following Labour Day weekend. This comes as the country is beginning to loosen restrictions further, with schools reopening and some universities commencing in-person teaching. Some are worried that the virus has not been curbed effectively enough in preparation for the fall. A significant area of concern is that University towns will become new epicentres as campuses begin to open up. Even in Universities with restricted campus admittance, students renting flats in the vicinity of the University have caused alarm. Iowa City has become a coronavirus hotspot in the recent weeks since students have returned to commence their studies and a New York Times review of 203 counties in the country where students comprise at least 10 per cent of the population revealed that about half had experienced their worst weeks of the pandemic since the 1st of August.

South of the United States, Latin America is also responding to the global pandemic. The country worst affected by the disease is Brazil with more than four million recorded cases, followed by Peru with over 650,000 documented cases, with Mexico, Chile and Columbia also battling major outbreaks of the virus. According to data compiled by the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention by the end of August, more than 266,000 people have died of the virus in South America. Whereas European countries which were epicentres of the pandemic during Spring have reached a downward trajectory on daily deaths, the hardest hit South American countries remain at a steady peak in daily deaths, except a slight recent downturn in Mexico. 

As of the 28th of August, the government of Peru has decided to extend the ‘state of emergency’ until the 30th of September in response to the increase in virus cases. For those living across Peru, this means a continued strict quarantine and curfew with a shut-in on Sundays and a severe fine upon parents of children who leave their houses. Following an August downturn in cases in Brazil, popular attractions such as beaches and shopping malls reopened. However, some cities are now reporting a higher number of cases than they had in their first wave and, following the spread of the virus, almost all of Brazil’s 5,600 cities have reported cases. Brazil’s virus response has resulted in criticism at home and abroad, with teachers taking the government to court in an attempt to block in-person teaching from being resumed. 

Europe

In France, the ongoing outbreak continues to worsen. Close to 9,000 new cases were identified on Saturday, a new record for the country, with Paris, Côte d’Azur, and the departments along the Rhône river forming the new centres of the outbreak. To counter the outbreak, wearing a face mask is now required on busy inner-city streets. The Tour de France, however, is still rolling across the French countryside.  

Demonstrations against the restrictions on public life imposed due to coronavirus occurred in several European countries. The biggest, in Berlin, drew in an estimated 30,000 participants before (the irony!) being shut down for not maintaining social distance. The demonstration was an unusual cocktail of left-wing anti-vaxxers and far-right neo-Nazis, united in their distrust of the government. 

In Scandinavia, outbreaks are growing in Norway and Denmark, both of which last week surpassed Sweden in infections per capita for the first time since March. Sweden has become world-famous for its unorthodox handling of the pandemic, which has until now resulted in a death toll almost ten times higher than its neighbours. However, Swedish experts argue that they are now close to achieving herd immunity, a feat no other country has managed. 

Spain continues to suffer the worst outbreak in Europe, with a cumulative incidence rate over the past two weeks of 212 cases per 100,000, much higher than France (93), the UK (25) and Germany (19). A third of all new infections are in Madrid; the city has imposed new restrictions on social gatherings but refuses to consider a new lockdown. 

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The Oxford Blue's Global Affairs team is represented by Kanengo Diallo, Alexander Hansen, Bozena Fanner-Brzezina, Ana Silvia Gheorghe, and Nadine Staes-Polet.