Morning Brief

Is Mexico The Next Coronavirus Epicenter?

The country has dismissed a mass testing program as “costly” and “useless” as new daily cases reached a record high on Tuesday.

A man wearing a face mask talks on his cellphone on June 01, 2020 in Mexico City, Mexico.
A man wearing a face mask talks on his cellphone on June 01, 2020 in Mexico City, Mexico. Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Coronavirus cases spike in Mexico, peaceful protests against racism and police violence continue in the United States, and Cyclone Nisarga approaches Mumbai.

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Mexico Coronavirus Cases Spike, Suggesting an Underreported Outbreak

On Tuesday Carissa Etienne, the World Health Organization’s regional director for the Americas warned that the coronavirus pandemic in the Western Hemisphere was only likely to get worse, as the effects of economic inequality exacerbate a public health crisis. The number of coronavirus cases in the United States and Brazil—which together account for over one-third of cases worldwide—has grabbed headlines, but it’s in Mexico where the pandemic could find its next epicenter.

On Tuesday, Mexico’s health ministry reported 3,891 new coronavirus cases, its highest daily number since the outbreak began. A senior health official has sought to play down the increase. “The coronavirus epidemic is at its maximum level of intensity,” Hugo Lopez-Gatell, Mexico’s assistant health secretary and a leader in the government response, said on Tuesday. At over 10,000, the number of recorded deaths from coronavirus in Mexico is the third-highest in the Americas, behind United States and Brazil.

No testing, no data. But what should be troubling for Mexico is the lack of necessary data to track the progress of the virus—it has one of the lowest testing rates in all of Latin America. “The Mexican government, unlike many and perhaps most governments, has declared that its epidemiological policy has no intention of counting each and every case,” López-Gatell told the Associated Press. “We are not interested in it, because it is useless, costly and not feasible to test everybody in the country.” Mexico has instead focused on increasing the number of hospital beds available to treat patients when they fall ill.

Mourning in Mexico. In Foreign Policy, Maya Averbuch reported from the cemeteries and crematoriums of Mexico City and spoke with the grieving families who are still not being told whether their loved ones died of the coronavirus. “As a dispute has unfolded over Mexico’s management of the crisis, families are asking not for answers about how many overall deaths there might be, but for closure in their specific cases,” she writes.

What We’re Following Today

Peaceful protests continue in U.S., defying curfews. Nationwide protests against police violence and systemic racism continued in cities across the United States on Tuesday and demonstrators are expected to return to the streets today. In Washington D.C., near the White House, there was a new addition: an 8-foot high steel fence separating protesters from police and other government personnel. A 7 p.m. curfew in the city was undermined for an unexpected reason: Some D.C. voters were forced to queue into the early hours of Wednesday morning to cast their ballots in the U.S. presidential primary.

Taliban denies reports of leader’s possible death. A Taliban spokesman has denied a report by Foreign Policy suggesting Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, the supreme leader of the Afghan Taliban, may had died of COVID-19. The report, published on June 1 by Lynne O’Donnell and Mirwais Khan, quoted Moulawi Muhammad Ali Jan Ahmed, a senior Taliban official, as saying the leader was “sick” but “recovering.” The story also reported that the leader had not been seen in three months and that three other Taliban officials, speaking anonymously, believed the leader had died. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said Akhundzada was alive, and “busy with his daily activities.”

Protests strain U.S.-Australia ties. The Australian Embassy in Washington has been directed by its government to open an investigation into U.S. law enforcement officers assaulting an Australian journalist during Monday’s protests at the White House. As FP’s Robbie Gramer reports, live footage appeared to show a journalist and cameraman from 7NEWS being attacked by U.S. Park Police in riot gear. Australia’s ambassador in Washington, Arthur Sinodinos, said the embassy was “in discussion with the State Department and they have offered assistance to identify where the complaint should be targeted.”

Cyclone Nisarga approaches Mumbai. Indian authorities began evacuating residents around Mumbai on Tuesday in preparation for a cyclone due to make landfall today. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) said on Tuesday that a depression in Arabian Sea “is very likely to intensify into a cyclonic storm during next 12 hours, and further into a severe cyclonic storm during subsequent 12 hours.” It’s the second major cyclone in two weeks to hit India after Cyclone Amphan made landfall in West Bengal and neighboring Bangladesh, killing over 100 people.

Keep an Eye On

U.N. misses Yemen aid target. The United Nations has fallen roughly $1 billion short of its target to help fund humanitarian operations in Yemen. Overall, a pledging event hosted by Saudi Arabia raised $1.35 billion from international donors, although $500 million of that figure came from Saudi Arabia itself.

Speaking before the donor conference, Lise Grande, U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen said the UN’s operations would face “catastrophic cutback” if less than $1.6 billion was raised. “We won’t be able to provide the food people need to survive, or the health care they need or the water or sanitation or the nutrition support which helps to keep 2 million malnourished children from dying,” she said. Saudi Arabia’s spending on waging war in Yemen to date is believed to be at least $265 billion.

Libya cease-fire talks back on. Cease-fire talks between Libya’s warring factions are set to resume, according to the U.N. Mission in Libya. The two sides—the Government of National Accord and the Libyan National Army—will meet over videoconference due to coronavirus precautions. The move comes as both Turkey and Russia appeared to increase air support for their respective sides in recent weeks. The U.N. has not said when exactly talks will take place.

FP Insider Conference Call—What impact have the recent nationwide protests and the global pandemic had on America’s security and its interests around the globe? On Wednesday at 11:00 a.m. EDT, join Foreign Policy editor in chief Jonathan Tepperman in conversation with Jake Sullivan, a senior foreign-policy advisor to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, and Kori Schake, the director of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, to find out. Register here.

Odds and Ends

The Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency has predicted that new solar farms will be cheaper to run than most coal plants by 2021. The agency said the comparison applies to coal plants with a capacity of 1,200 gigawatts versus large solar plants. It is not all rosy for the renewable energy sector; the Paris-based International Energy Agency has forecast a drop in wind and solar power production this year as coronavirus-related factory closures delay construction of new plants.

A popular anti-depressant drug, Zoloft, is in short supply as stocks diminish following a spike in mental health problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The Food and Drug Administration moved the drug to a list of those facing shortages on Friday. Overall Zoloft has seen a 12 percent increase in prescriptions—to 4.9 million—over the past year, Bloomberg reports.

That’s it for today.

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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