Global Fears Rise as Coronavirus Spreads Beyond China
Italy and South Korea both reported a surge in virus cases over the weekend.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Several countries report a significant rise in coronavirus cases beyond China, Trump makes his first presidential visit to India, and what to watch in the world this week.
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Is the Coronavirus a Pandemic?
Fears of a global coronavirus pandemic are growing after Italy and South Korea reported steep rises in the number of cases over the weekend. Italian officials have confirmed 152 cases and four deaths in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto—the biggest outbreak in Europe. Authorities have closed schools and public places and canceled the last two days of Venice’s Carnival celebrations. French Health Minister Olivier Véran said he would work with his European counterparts to grapple with the possibility of a virus epidemic in Europe.
In South Korea, meanwhile, 231 new coronavirus cases were reported on Monday. That brings the total to 833, with many of the cases traced to a church community in the city of Daegu. Seven people have died of the virus. On Sunday, President Moon Jae-in officially put the country on high alert, allowing the government to quarantine cities and take other emergency measures. The outbreak will test South Korea’s advanced health care system, but the country’s more transparent government data could reveal more about the virus than China’s somewhat opaque figures.
Over the weekend, Iran confirmed 43 cases and 12 deaths—and on Monday morning, an Iranian lawmaker claimed 50 people had died in the holy city of Qom—leading Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Armenia to close their borders with the country. But such blanket travel bans may not be effective in completely stopping an epidemic, as Mara Pillinger argues in FP.
What will the WHO do? The World Health Organization (WHO) has not yet declared the coronavirus a pandemic, as it did with the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009. But WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned last Friday that the “window of opportunity is narrowing” to contain the epidemic. Health experts are particularly concerned by untraceable virus clusters beyond China—marking a different phase of the virus outbreak.
What We’re Following Today
Trump goes to India, expects a crowd. U.S. President Donald Trump makes his first trip to India today, where he is expecting a big crowd: He is appearing with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a rally called “Namaste Trump” in the world’s biggest cricket stadium before an estimated 110,000 people. During the two-day visit, the leaders are scheduled to discuss a limited trade deal to alleviate economic tensions—though Trump has downplayed expectations of a signed agreement. The U.S. president is also likely to raise the issue of religious freedom in India after a new law that eases the pathway to Indian citizenship for religious minorities from neighboring Muslim countries.
Germany’s CDU holds leadership meeting. National leaders from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) are meeting today in Berlin. The meeting comes just a day after the CDU suffered its worst-ever defeat in Hamburg’s state elections. The party has recently been thrown into turmoil. Today, current party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbaeur—once Merkel’s chosen successor as chancellor—is expected to shape the process for choosing a new CDU chief after she announced she would resign earlier this month. Merkel will not seek reelection after her fourth term ends in 2021.
Earthquake on Turkey-Iran border kills nine. A magnitude 5.7 earthquake struck the Turkey-Iran border region on Sunday, killing nine people in southeastern Turkey as more than 1,000 buildings collapsed, according to officials. More than 100 people were injured in both countries. The tremor was the third in either country in recent months: An earthquake killed 40 people in eastern Turkey last month, and another did major structural damage in Iran. Located on major fault lines, Iran and Turkey are two of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world.
The World This Week
Arguments over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s extradition begin today in London. The court will consider whether to send Assange to the United States, where he faces trial on espionage charges for publishing secret documents related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lawyers say a final decision is not likely anytime soon: A verdict isn’t expected until later this year and is likely to be appealed.
Today, Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier presents to the public draft directives for post-Brexit trade negotiations with the United Kingdom. The European Union is expected to remain tough in defending its single market, even as British negotiators could try to take advantage of the bloc’s divisions. EU member states are expected to sign off on the directives on Tuesday.
The U.S. Democratic presidential candidates take the debate stage for the third time this month on Tuesday in Charleston, South Carolina. (The qualifying candidates are likely to be the same as in last week’s Las Vegas debate.) The South Carolina primary on Saturday, like the Nevada caucuses on Feb. 22, is one of the first contests with significant representation from nonwhite voters. Sen. Bernie Sanders won the Nevada caucuses last Saturday by a large margin.
The U.S.-Taliban peace agreement is supposed to be signed on Saturday, as long as the agreed seven-day reduction in violence across Afghanistan holds. The draft deal is almost identical to the one reached in September, when Trump called off secret talks after a Taliban attack killed a U.S. contractor. Once signed, the agreement will pave the way for peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
Keep an Eye On
The next U.S. ambassador to Germany. After appointing diplomat Richard Grenell as the acting U.S. intelligence chief, Trump says he’s seeking a new U.S. ambassador to Germany—though it’s unclear how long Grenell will be in the senior intelligence role. Grenell has earned Trump’s favor through partisanship, and his appointment has raised fears that the administration is politicizing intelligence, FP’s Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer report.
Odds and Ends
Authorities in Colombia are scrambling for a solution to a strange problem: the growing hippopotamus population around the Rio Magdalena, a few hours away from Medellín. The hippos, descended from animals that belonged to the drug lord Pablo Escobar, currently number 80 and the population could quadruple over the next 10 years. Researchers say the hippos are negatively affecting the ecosystem, including displacing some local species.
That’s it for today.