Non-coronavirus news: Israel, US-Iran skirmishes, and a Sanders surprise?

Gantz tapped to form a government in Israel: Israel's president has tapped the Blue and White party's Benny Gantz to form a government after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing bloc failed to secure a parliamentary majority. Gantz has 28 days to wrangle the 61 seats needed to form a unity government. One noteworthy change in the status quo: Avigdor Lieberman, the political kingmaker whose support both leaders need to form a coalition, has broken with Netanyahu and tipped the scales in Blue and White's favor. Meanwhile, at the behest of the president, Netanyahu and Gantz met Sunday to discuss the option of forming an "immediate joint government" to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. A state of emergency in the court system has also delayed Netanyahu's long-awaited corruption trial, slated to begin on March 17, until May 24. The ball is now firmly in Gantz's court.


Will coronavirus help Bernie Sanders? To win the Democratic Party's nomination, Bernie Sanders needs something big and completely unexpected to happen. On Tuesday, three delegate-rich states — Arizona, Illinois, and Florida — go to the polls. Under ordinary circumstances, polls show Biden would be the clear favorite to win all three. But coronavirus ensures the turnout will be very low. What if Sanders voters show up, and Biden voters don't? A long shot? Probably. But remember that Biden voters tend to be much older (and apparently more vulnerable to COVID-19) than Sanders voters. An upset by Sanders in most or all these states could upend the delegate race and the entire election.

Iran-US tit-for-tat continues: An Iraqi military base housing US troops was hit by a fresh wave of rockets over the weekend, wounding three Americans and two Iraqis. This comes just a week after three coalition members were killed when their military camp near Baghdad was hit by rocket fire attributed to the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia, prompting retaliatory US airstrikes on that group. The Pentagon has increased its military presence in the Middle East over the past year in response to the perceived increased threat posed by Iran. Tehran now seems willing to up the ante. But as it grapples with one of the world's worst coronavirus outbreaks (it has the third largest death toll behind China and Italy) maybe this isn't the best time to provoke Washington?

UPDATE: the piece has been updated to reflect the postponement of the Ohio primary.

What We're Ignoring

Those who ignore the experts: The warnings from public health officials are stark. To ensure that the global coronavirus pandemic doesn't overwhelm healthcare systems, everyone needs to do their part: Wash your hands. Avoid large gatherings. Work from home if you can. And yet, an Arkansas clergyman quoted in the Washington Post says a colleague recently told him that "half of his church is ready to lick the floor, to prove there's no actual virus." Meanwhile, this weekend nightlife was bumping in big cities like Nashville and New York. France's health ministry is clarifying to the public that snorting cocaine does not, in fact, slow the bug's spread. And here is a group of Thai bat guano collectors continuing to ply their trade despite concerns that coronaviruses may be incubated in bat colonies before making their way to humans. We're not just ignoring these stories; we're washing our hands of them.

Brazil's governors take on Bolsonaro: We've previously written about the tensions between local and national governments over coronavirus response, but few places have had it as bad as Brazil. As COVID-19 infections surged in Brazil, the country's governors quickly mobilized – often with scarce resources – to enforce citywide lockdowns. Brazil's gangs have even risen to the occasion, enforcing strict curfews to limit the virus' spread in Rio de Janeiro. But Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has mocked the seriousness of the disease and urged states to loosen quarantines in order to get the economy up and running again. "Put the people to work," he said this week, "Preserve the elderly; preserve those who have health problems. But nothing more than that." In response, governors around the country – including some of his allies – issued a joint letter to the president, begging him to listen to health experts and help states contain the virus. The governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic powerhouse, has even threatened to sue the federal government if Bolsonaro continues to undermine his efforts to combat the virus' spread.

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The major outbreaks of coronavirus in China, Europe, and the United States have garnered the most Western media attention in recent weeks. Yesterday, we went behind the headlines to see how Mexico and Russia are faring. Today, we'll look at three other potential hotspots where authorities and citizens are now contending with the worst global pandemic in a century.

Start with India. For weeks, coronavirus questions hovered above that other country with a billion-plus people, a famously chaotic democracy where the central government can't simply order a Chinese-scale public lockdown with confidence that it will be respected. It's a country where 90 percent of people work off the books— without a minimum wage, a pension, a strong national healthcare system, or a way to work from home.

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In the end, it took the coronavirus to break the year-long deadlock in Israeli politics. Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu will still face corruption charges, but he has yet another new lease on political life, as he and political rival Benny Gantz cut a deal yesterday: Bibi will continue as prime minister, with Gantz serving as Speaker of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. After 18 months, Gantz will take over as prime minister, but many doubt that will ever happen.

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With large parts of the American economy shuttered because of coronavirus-related lockdowns, the number of people filing jobless claims in the US last week exceeded 3.2 million, by far the highest number on record. Here's a look at the historical context. The surge in jobless claims, which may be an undercount, is sure to cause a spike in the unemployment rate (which tells you the percent of work-ready people who are looking for a job). At last reading in February, unemployment was at a 50-year low of 3.5 percent. Economists warn that it could reach 5.5 percent in the near term. Even that would be far lower than the jobless rates recorded during previous economic crises such as the Great Depression or the Great Recession. Have a look.