Morning Brief

Health Experts Say Wuhan Virus Could Be Pandemic

As countries increase travel restrictions over the new coronavirus, scientists say the outbreak could be difficult to contain.

Travelers arrive in Los Angeles, California, wearing medical masks to protect against the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak on Feb. 2.
Travelers arrive in Los Angeles, California, wearing medical masks to protect against the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak on Feb. 2. David McNew/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Health experts say the Wuhan virus seems likely to be a pandemic, Iowa holds the first contest of the 2020 U.S. primary season, and what to watch in the world this week.

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The Wuhan Virus Seems Like a Pandemic

As cases of the Wuhan coronavirus spread beyond China, global health experts say that the disease seems likely to be a pandemic—meaning an epidemic that exists on two or more continents at once. The Philippines reported the first death outside of China over the weekend: a 44-year-old man who had traveled from Wuhan, where the outbreak began. As of Monday, Chinese officials had confirmed 17,205 cases of the virus and 361 deaths.

It’s still uncertain how much global damage the Wuhan virus will cause, the New York Times reports: Scientists aren’t yet sure how exactly how lethal it is, though it is becoming clear that it is easily transmitted from human to human. As more details about the new virus emerge, experts say the outbreak could be difficult to control, particularly if it’s transmitted by people showing few symptoms. The virus has already appeared in around two dozen countries.

Travel restrictions. Many international airlines have suspended flights to mainland China, and anti-Chinese sentiment is rising along with fear of the virus. On Sunday, the United States issued new rules that will bar entry to almost all foreign passengers who have been in China over the last two weeks. Countries are still evacuating citizens from Wuhan via chartered flights and taking them into quarantine.

Inside China. The coronavirus is straining China’s health resources, particularly at the center of the outbreak in Wuhan. A new hospital in the city—constructed in just eight days—was due to open today, with 1,400 military medical staff arriving to run it. The current crisis presents a serious threat to the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party—and particularly local party leaders, Taisu Zhang writes in FP (co-published with ChinaFile).

What We’re Following Today

Iowa voters take first steps in the 2020 U.S. election. Democrats in Iowa will gather today to vote in the state’s caucuses, with record high turnout expected this year. Because it is the first contest, the Iowa caucuses can have a disproportionate effect on the rest of the primary season. There are five candidates considered competitive in Iowa: Sen. Bernie Sanders; former Vice President Joe Biden; Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Sen. Elizabeth Warren; and Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Though the release of the final Des Moines Register/CNN opinion poll was called off, tonight’s outcome is likely to be close.

London police shoot and kill terror suspect. On Sunday, police in London shot and killed a man who stabbed two people on a busy street in broad daylight in what authorities described as a terrorist incident. Police said that the man had strapped a fake explosive device to his body and witnesses said he carried out the attack with a machete. Later, reports emerged that the suspect was already under police surveillance and had been released from prison last month after serving time for terrorism-related offenses. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will make remarks today in which he is expected to propose reforms to the system.

Israel postpones West Bank annexation vote. On Sunday, Israel’s cabinet was expected to approve a plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, but the meeting didn’t happen. After the White House revealed its long-awaited Middle East peace plan last week, the Trump administration urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to push back plans for annexation until after Israel’s elections on March 2. Some of Netanyahu’s allies fear the delay could cost them votes. Palestinians, meanwhile, feel that their worst fears have been confirmed by the peace plan, Dalia Hatuqa reports for FP from Abu Dis in the West Bank.

The World This Week

French President Emmanuel Macron begins a two-day visit to Poland today, seeking to strengthen ties with the country just days after Britain left the European Union. Macron has criticized Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and its plans to bring the judiciary further under its control. In Warsaw, he will attempt to rebuild the relationship with proposals for new investment and military partnerships.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial concludes on Wednesday in the U.S. Senate, with his acquittal almost certain. After declining to allow new witnesses, the Republican-held chamber is expected to vote for acquittal on the grounds that Trump’s actions to pressure Ukraine to investigate a Democratic rival do not warrant his removal from office, highlighting a growing partisan divide and likely distracting from the results of the Iowa caucus on Monday.

Ireland holds parliamentary elections on Saturday, after Prime Minister Leo Varadkar called the vote in mid-January. Over the weekend, polls showed the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein pulling ahead of Varadkar’s Fine Gael party—setting up the potential for political deadlock.

Keep an Eye On

Iraq’s new prime minister. Iraqi President Barham Salih appointed a new prime minister, Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi, over the weekend in attempt to end months of unrest. Thousands turned out in Baghdad on Sunday to protest the move, though they were cleared out by security forces and followers of the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Iran has endorsed the appointment of Allawi, who has a month to form a government.

A locust plague in East Africa. The worst plague of locusts in 70 years is devastating crops in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia after unusually heavy rains. Somalia has declared a national emergency and Kenya is spraying pesticides to stop the locusts from spreading further. Experts warn that the outbreak could multiply by 50 times by June if not brought under control.

Odds and Ends

In India, a local music streaming service is beating out Spotify and Apple Music in the domestic market, the Wall Street Journal reports. Gaana (Hindi for “song”) has 152 million monthly users. It features more than 45 million songs—mostly from India and in a number of regional languages, giving it an edge over the major international services.

In Mexico, a boom in avocado exports has attracted the attention of criminal gangs. The avocado industry brings in $2 billion per year for the Mexican economy and its newfound popularity with criminals is linked to the U.S. opioid crisis. “Americans’ increased use of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid used for pain relief, pushed down the price of heroin, which in turn slashed the price of Mexican opium,” according to the Financial Times, forcing gangs to diversify. Experts warn that the avocado trade is starting to resemble that of conflict minerals in Africa. “So dangerous has the avocado business become that several municipalities have armed private security guards to protect towns,” the FT reports.

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That’s it for today.

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Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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