What We're Watching: Coronavirus cases soar, Ethiopia hits free speech

Coronavirus flare up: Officials in China's Hubei Province on Thursday added almost 15,000 new reported cases of coronavirus to their tally, the largest single-day increase on record. That brings the total number of cases in the outbreak epicenter to nearly 50,000. This week's steep increase highlights how difficult it is for Chinese health workers to grasp the scope and severity of the deadly illness and it has also raised doubts about the Chinese government's transparency and preparedness: specialized kits for diagnosing the infection are in short supply in Hubei. As the human and economic toll of the virus continues to rise (there are now more than 60,000 reported cases worldwide) the World Health Organization says that a coronavirus vaccine is still at least 18 months away.


Ethiopia stifles free speech: Ahead of national elections slated for August, Ethiopia's parliament has passed a bill that prescribes up to five years in prison for anyone who posts or shares online content that might stir social unrest. It's a seeming step back for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who came to power in 2018 promising to spearhead Ethiopia's democratic awakening and has since released thousands of political prisoners and journalists while lifting the country's ban on opposition parties. But recent months have also seen a resurgence of religious and ethnic tensions that have left dozens dead and displaced more than two million people. Proponents of the new social media law say it's necessary in order to avoid violence in the run-up to elections. But the law's critics, including the United Nations, say it's a flagrant violation of free speech.

This classic love letter from Angela Merkel: She was a young chemist. He was a bored young KGB agent. This Valentine's Day, we are rewatching the missed connection that may have shaped our world.

What We're (trying to) Ignore

Two rich guys destroying each other on Twitter: US President Donald Trump says media tycoon and presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg is short and boring. Bloomberg, former mayor of New York, says Trump is a fraud and a laughing-stock in his own hometown. As Bloomberg storms into the fragmented field of Democratic presidential contenders, you can expect a lot more of this in the coming months, particularly if Bloomberg rises in the polls. Try to ignore it, just try.

Eni's luminescent solar concentrators can help smart windows and next-generation buildings generate electricity. But even Eni hadn't imagined using this technology to create eyeglasses capable of charging mobile phones and headsets.

Introducing Funny Applications, Eni's video series that imagines new, unexpected uses for technology. Watch the premiere episode.

We've written recently about how the COVID-19 pandemic will hit poorer countries particularly hard. But the burden of the virus' spread also falls more heavily on working class people even in wealthy countries, particularly in Europe and the United States. This is exacerbating the divide between rich and poor that had already upended the political establishment in countries around the world even before anyone had heard of a "novel coronavirus."

Why?

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Meet Mark Wetton, a Kentucky-based businessman who owns a dust-collection factory in Wuhan. He has been there since the beginning of the outbreak, and describes the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak there, life in lockdown, and what things are like today as the city finally begins to reopen its borders and come back to life. He also shares some lessons learned that he hopes Americans will heed.

For much of the world, the rapidly expanding coronavirus pandemic is the worst global crisis in generations. Not so for terrorists, traffickers, and militant groups.

Efforts to fight coronavirus are diverting government attention and resources away from militants and gangs, creating huge opportunities, particularly for transnational terrorist groups who thrive in vacuums of security and political power, says Ali Soufan, founder of the Soufan Group, and a leading authority on global terrorist organizations.

ISIS, for example, has recently called on its followers to intensify their jihad against governments in the West and in the Muslim world, particularly in Iraq. (Though they also issued a travel advisory against heading to Europe right now, which we imagined here.) The jihadists of Boko Haram have stepped up strikes againstweak governments in West Africa. And even as Iran grapples with one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the world, its Shia proxies inside Iraq are continuing to attack US bases there as Washington withdraws troops from the country over coronavirus concerns.

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The coronavirus is likely to hit poorer countries particularly hard, but it is also laying a bigger burden on working class people even in wealthy ones. As less affluent people suffer disproportionately not only from the disease, but also from the economic costs of containing it, we can expect a worsening of income inequalities that have already upended global politics over the past few years. Here is a look at inequality in some of the countries hardest hit by COVID-19 so far.