North Korea has zero coronavirus cases? North Korea claims to be one of few countries on earth with no coronavirus cases. But can we take the word of the notoriously opaque leadership at face value? Most long-term observers of Pyongyang dismiss as fanciful the notion that the North, which shares a border with China, its main trade partner, was able to avert the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe. Many point to Pyongyang's lack of testing capabilities as the real reason why it hasn't reported any COVID-19 cases. To be sure, Kim Jong-un, the North's totalitarian leader, imposed some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world, well before many other countries – closing the Chinese border and quarantining all diplomats. The state's ability to control its people and their movements would also make virus-containment efforts easier to manage. We might not know the truth for some time. But what is clear is that decades of seclusion and crippling economic sanctions have devastated North Korea's health system, raising concerns of its capacity to manage a widespread outbreak of disease.
КОВИД-19 lockdown: Seems like it was just a few days ago that Russian president Vladimir Putin was telling his people that the coronavirus epidemic was under control and that a week off of work would do the trick to slow its spread. Things have changed. Over the weekend, Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin, who had publicly warned Putin that the official number of cases was a vast undercount, locked down the Russian capital, giving its 12.5 million residents just four hours notice. It's not clear how long the measures will last, but there is talk of issuing scannable digital codes to people in order to determine who is permitted to be outside. Russia had earlier showed a curiously low number of cases for a country of its size – we are about to find out what the real picture is. As a side note, keep an eye on the political fortunes of Mayor Sobyanin, who is now in many ways the public face of the Kremlin's efforts to squelch "КОВИД-19."
As the coronavirus continues to ravage the world, all eyes now turn to the place where it all started. For more than two months, the 11 million residents of Wuhan, the Chinese industrial hub where the novel coronavirus was first detected, have lived under near complete lockdown.
Now, as China reports a dwindling number of new cases, the city's people are slowly emerging back into the daylight. Some travel restrictions remain, but public transportation is largely functioning again, and increasing numbers of people are cautiously – with masks and gloves and digital "health codes" on their phones that permit them to move about – going back to work.
The rest of the world, where most hard-hit countries have imposed various forms of lockdown of their own, is now keenly watching what happens in Wuhan for a glimpse of what might lie in store for the rest of us.
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.
What's in a name? Nothing on dealing with coronavirus: The foreign ministers of the G7 group of the world's leading industrialized democracies failed this week to issue a joint statement on fighting the coronavirus pandemic. Why? Evidently because US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted on calling the virus the "Wuhan Virus" rather than the internationally recognized "COVID-19" or "coronavirus." The White House, which has been particularly at odds with Beijing over coronavirus, is keen to link the outbreak explicitly to China, where it was first detected, and to fight what Pompeo described as Chinese "disinformation." The virus, for its part, doesn't care what you call it, but it's happy to see seven of the world's leading powers not doing much leading at all.
Read our roundup of COVID-19 themes and stories from around the globe.
The largest lockdown in human history: Nearly a fifth of humanity has now been ordered to stay home, the largest lockdown in human history – and that's in just one country. India has told its 1.3 billion people not to leave their houses unless absolutely necessary. The move, which shuts schools, non-essential businesses and most public transport for three weeks, comes after the Indian government was initially criticized for its lagging response to the coronavirus crisis. But health experts say 21 days is not enough time to prevent COVID-19 from sweeping one of the world's most densely populated countries. Plus, will people comply? In Telangan state, for example, an official said he'd issue "shoot on sight" orders if people flout lockdown rules. But social distancing and self-quarantines aren't conceivable for tens of millions of Indians who live in unsanitary slums where diseases already thrive.
Pandemics are great equalizers. The coronavirus doesn't discriminate based on your passport, your tax returns, or your political party. It doesn't care how old you are, where you live, or who you voted for in the last election. It just wants to kill you.
And yet, while we are all one humanity from the perspective of the virus, the pandemic – and the responses to it – are opening deep fissures in our societies that may persist even after the wave of infections subsides. Here are a few to watch out for.
Iran's corona quagmire – As the coronavirus death toll climbs in Iran, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has rejected US offers of humanitarian aid, citing a bogus conspiracy theory that the virus was manufactured by the United States. In a televised address marking the Persian New Year, Khamenei denounced President Trump's "maximum pressure campaign" since the US walked away from the nuclear deal in 2018. Iran's leaders say that the Trump administration should instead lift crippling sanctions that block Tehran from exporting crude oil and accessing global financial markets. Iran is battling one of the world's largest COVID-19 outbreaks, with some 22,000 confirmed cases and more than 1,800 deaths. One person in Iran dies from the virus every 10 minutes, according to an Iranian health official. The message from Washington: we'll offer humanitarian help if you want it, but sanctions aren't going anywhere.