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Coronavirus Politics Daily: Yemen ceasefire, Slovakia walls off the Roma, and rats return

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Yemen ceasefire, Slovakia walls off the Roma, and rats return

Tenuous cease-fire in Yemen: The Saudi-UAE led coalition that has been battling Houthi rebels in Yemen announced Thursday a unilateral ceasefire, responding to a UN call for a halt in hostilities as coronavirus threatens one of the poorest countries in the world. Details are murky but the measure is to last for at least 14 days. The coalition's Houthi insurgent opponents, for their part, seem to have agreed to a cessation of hostilities but only if the Gulf states lift a yearlong air blockade. While there are potentially crossed signals, the ceasefire itself is still the most significant step towards peace in a five year civil war that's already killed some 100,000 people and left millions exposed to disease and starvation. Though no COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in Yemen (likely because of a lack of testing), the country's decrepit medical system could not withstand a serious outbreak of disease. The UN hopes this lull in fighting will pave the way for broader peace talks. Past attempts at halting the conflict have failed, and recent months actually saw increased fighting in a war that is largely viewed as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Will the specter of a pandemic finally bring these bitter rivals to the table?


Slovakia walls off Roma villages: Amid coronavirus fears, Slovakia's government has walled off several Roma settlements in the country's east, preventing their people from leaving, even to access essential services. Many of Slovakia's 500,000 Roma live in crowded and impoverished shantytowns, which the government says are a "high risk" for spreading COVID-19. Roma leaders point out that although testing has been scarce, only 31 out of Slovakia's 700 cases have been reported in Roma communities, and say that the isolation measures are just another example of the discrimination long-faced by Europe's 12 million Roma, the EU's largest ethnic minority. The Slovak prime minister said he would ensure food and medical deliveries to these enclaves despite restrictions on movement, but the Roma communities argue that if the government insists on blocking off their villages, which prevents them from getting to essential jobs in the informal economy, it needs to ensure a more generous social safety net for them.

Stars of the Black Plague return: You've probably seen pictures of animals around the world reclaiming urban and suburban spaces abandoned by quarantining humans. Goats roaming the streets in Wales. Monkey brawls in Thailand. Coyotes leaving their hearts in San Francisco. But one aspect of nature's return might be less fuzzy and fun and endearing. Robert Corrigan, a famous rodentologist in New York City has warned that as restaurants close and streets fall silent, public spaces and people's homes could be overrun by rats in search of scarcer food. We've already seen video of the pests having a party on a deserted street in the heart of New Orleans. If the rats are unable to turn up the usual survival scraps by running through our homes, Corrigan told The Hill, they could turn to cannibalism – devouring each other instead. Rats of course have a bit of a history with pandemics. They are remembered as the villains of the Black Plague – though the rats we've spoken to are quick to point out that fleas were the real culprit then. Keep your trash tightly covered, readers.

Microsoft released a new annual report, called the Digital Defense Report, covering cybersecurity trends from the past year. This report makes it clear that threat actors have rapidly increased in sophistication over the past year, using techniques that make them harder to spot and that threaten even the savviest targets. For example, nation-state actors are engaging in new reconnaissance techniques that increase their chances of compromising high-value targets, criminal groups targeting businesses have moved their infrastructure to the cloud to hide among legitimate services, and attackers have developed new ways to scour the internet for systems vulnerable to ransomware. Given the leap in attack sophistication in the past year, it is more important than ever that steps are taken to establish new rules of the road for cyberspace: that all organizations, whether government agencies or businesses, invest in people and technology to help stop attacks; and that people focus on the basics, including regular application of security updates, comprehensive backup policies, and, especially, enabling multi-factor authentication. Microsoft summarized some of the most important insights in this year's report, including related suggestions for people and businesses.

Read the whole post and report at Microsoft On The Issues.

On Tuesday night, you can finally watch Trump and Biden tangle on the debate stage. But you TOO can go head to head on debate night .. with your fellow US politics junkies.

Print out GZERO's handy debate BINGO cards and get ready to rumble. There are four different cards so that each player may have a unique board. Every time one of the candidates says one of these words or terms, X it on your card. First player to get five across wins. And if you really want to jazz it up, you can mark each of your words by taking a swig of your drink, or doing five burpees, or donating to your favorite charity or political candidate. Whatever gets you tipsy, in shape, or motivated, get the bingo cards here. It's fight night!

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GZERO Media, in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Eurasia Group, today hosted its second virtual town hall on the hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine and the challenges of its distribution.

The panel was moderated by New York Times science and health reporter Apoorva Mandavilli and featured Gates Foundation's Deputy Director of Vaccines & Human Immunobiology, Lynda Stuart; Eurasia Group's Rohitesh Dhawan, Managing Director of Energy, Climate & Resources; Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman; and Gayle E. Smith, the president & CEO of ONE Campaign and former Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Watch the full video above.

Mexico reckons with abortion rights: Scores of people joined protests in Mexico's capital on Monday, demanding the legalization of abortion in the majority Roman Catholic country. The demonstrations coincided with International Safe Abortion Day, which aims to ensure women around the world have access to safe sexual and reproductive health services. In Mexico, which has a female population of at least 65 million, the procedure is banned outside Mexico City and the southern state of Oaxaca (which moved to legalize the procedure last year), though it's legal in instances of rape. More than half of all pregnancies in Mexico are estimated to be unintended, leading many women to seek (botched) illegal abortions that often lead to complications requiring serious medical care. Protesters clashed with police — with some women even hurling Molotov cocktails — as confrontations became increasingly heated throughout the day. Many attendees were clad in green scarfs, which have become the symbol of the pro-choice movement in parts of Latin America in recent years. Some analysts say that the recent death of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a women's right icon, has put renewed global focus on abortion rights — and women's rights more broadly.

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Join us today, September 29th, at 11 am ET for a GZERO Town Hall livestream event, Ending the COVID-19 Pandemic, to learn about the latest in the global hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Watch here at 11am ET: https://www.gzeromedia.com/events/town-hall-ending-the-covid-19-pandemic-livestream/

Our panel will discuss where things really stand on vaccine development, the political and economic challenges of distribution, and what societies need to be focused on until vaccine arrives in large scale. This event is the second in a series presented by GZERO Media in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Eurasia Group.

Apoorva Mandavilli, science & global health reporter for the New York Times, will moderate a conversation with:

  • Lynda Stuart, Deputy Director, Vaccines & Human Immunobiology, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Rohitesh Dhawan, Managing Director, Energy, Climate & Resources, Eurasia Group
  • Mark Suzman, CEO, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Gayle E. Smith, President & CEO, ONE Campaign and former Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development

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