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COVID-19 Deaths Surge in Africa

Coronavirus deaths on the continent jumped 43 percent this week, as hospitals lacking oxygen and vaccines face a rising caseload.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
A technician installs the final phase of a domestic oxygen plant at Metropolitan Hospital in Nairobi.
A technician installs the final phase of a domestic oxygen plant at Metropolitan Hospital in Nairobi on May 12. Tony Karumba/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The World Health Organization warns of a coronavirus surge across the African continent, at least 69 die in European floods, and Taliban leaders reportedly offer a three-month cease-fire.

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The World Health Organization warns of a coronavirus surge across the African continent, at least 69 die in European floods, and Taliban leaders reportedly offer a three-month cease-fire.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Africa Records COVID-19 Surge

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Thursday that hospitals across the African continent are reaching a “breaking point” as the continent experiences a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

The number of coronavirus-related deaths has increased by 43 percent over the past week alone, jumping to 6,273 new deaths compared with 4,384 the previous week. Those deaths come as cases have steadily increased: Over the past month, African countries reported 1 million new cases, the highest monthly caseload recorded during the pandemic to date and the shortest time it has taken the continent to add 1 million cases.

Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa, has singled out a lack of oxygen as a key factor driving the increased number of deaths. “The No. 1 priority for African countries is boosting oxygen production to give critically ill patients a fighting chance,” Moeti said. WHO estimates that oxygen demand across Africa has increased 50 percent from the same point last year, yet supply has not kept up.

HIV risk. With more than 65 percent of the world’s active HIV cases, Africa is especially vulnerable during the latest surge. A new WHO study found that those living with HIV are more likely to get severely ill and are more likely to die when infected with COVID-19 than the general population.

The vaccine divide. As cases look likely to increase across the continent for a ninth straight week, WHO has renewed calls to rich countries to ditch plans for booster vaccine shots in favor of sharing their stockpiles. While the United States and the European Union have given at least one dose to approximately 55 percent of their populations, fewer than 3 percent of Africa’s residents have received a single dose.


What We’re Following Today

Lebanon’s political crisis. Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has given up on forming a new government, nine months after President Michel Aoun handed him the task. Hariri said he and Aoun had failed to agree on the makeup of a new cabinet, forcing the three-time prime minister to resign. Aoun’s office challenged Hariri’s version of events, saying his unwillingness to negotiate was a sign he had “taken a prior decision to resign.” Hariri’s decision has sent Lebanon’s already depressed currency tumbling and means the country is approaching almost one year without a functioning government.

Europe’s floods. At least 69 people have died and a further 1,300 are missing in Western Europe as the region suffers intense flooding. Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland were worst-hit by the floods, which occurred after heavy storms. North Rhine-Westphalia Gov. Armin Laschet, whose state has seen 30 deaths so far, said the unusual weather could be linked to climate change, as he faces pressure for supporting the coal industry in his home state ahead of September’s national election. 

U.S. Cuba policy. U.S. President Joe Biden said he would not allow U.S.-based Cubans to send remittances home as part of White House plans to assist the Cuban people following Sunday’s protests. Biden said he was prepared to give COVID-19 vaccines to the island but only under the condition that an international organization administered them. During a speech on Wednesday, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel again lambasted the “cruel” and “genocidal” U.S. blockade of Cuba while promising a “critical analysis” of the problems facing the country. Since the weekend protests, Cuba has lifted restrictions on the amount of food and medicine travelers are allowed bring in to the country, fulfilling one of the demands of the protesters.


Keep an Eye On

EU sues Hungary and Poland. The European Commission has launched legal actions against EU member states Hungary and Poland over recent laws and resolutions adopted by the two countries attacking LGBT people. The EU accuses Hungary of violating the bloc’s rules on nondiscrimination over a new law banning content that portrays homosexuality for those under 18. Poland stands accused of breaking EU rules due to a number of regions and municipalities adopting resolutions on “LGBT-ideology free zones.” Both countries have two months to respond to the EU’s arguments.

Taliban cease-fire. The Taliban have reportedly offered the Afghan government a three-month cease-fire in return for a new prisoner exchange, a government spokesperson said on Thursday. “The Taliban have offered a plan for a three-month cease-fire, but in exchange they have asked for the release of 7,000 of their prisoners and the removal of their leaders from the U.N. blacklist,” said Nader Nadery, a spokesperson for the Afghan government’s negotiating team in Doha. A Taliban spokesperson has denied making the overture.

Ethiopia’s war widens. Reinforcements from the Ethiopian regions of Sidama, the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region, and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s home region of Oromia are set to join the war in Tigray, state media reported on Thursday. The move comes after Abiy effectively annulled his cease-fire declaration of June 28, saying government forces would repel any enemy attacks. The new regional forces join Amhara regional troops, who on Wednesday said they were shifting to “attack” mode to push back Tigrayan forces.


Odds and Ends

Jaws no more. Officials in the Australian state of Queensland are working to rebrand shark attacks as “interactions” and “negative encounters” in a bid to change public perceptions of the threatened species and help with conservation efforts. Leonardo Guida of the Australian Marine Conservation Society said the move would “help dispel inherent assumptions that sharks are ravenous, mindless man-eating monsters.”

Conservationists point out that sharks rarely kill and negative perceptions are a modern phenomenon. Eight people were killed by sharks in Australia in 2020, while the World Wildlife Fund estimates that 100 million sharks are killed every year by humans, contributing to the rapid decline of the marine species.

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

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