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New Zealand Reopens While Brazil Sparks Transparency Concerns Over Coronavirus Data Sharing

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  • New Zealand’s last COVID-19 patient has recovered and it has no active cases, meaning wide-scale reopenings, including public gatherings and concerts, can begin in the country. 
  • Meanwhile, Brazil will be limiting its COVID-19 data sharing, and instead of reporting cumulative totals, it will only show data on cases and deaths for the last 24 hours. 
  • While Brazil’s president said this will lead to more accurate data dissemination, others are saying he is trying to hide information from citizens.
  • A report analyzing the effectiveness of lockdown measures in several countries showed that these interventions prevented hundreds of millions of infections worldwide, and as many as 60 million in the U.S. alone.

New Zealand Hits Zero Active Cases

New Zealand’s last COVID-19 patient has recovered, meaning the country has no active cases of the virus. 

This comes over two weeks after their last new case was reported. New Zealand will now enter “Alert Level One,” meaning citizens can return without restriction to work, school, sports, and domestic travel. People can gather with as many others as they want, and large events like weddings and concerts can come back. Retail, public transportation, and other businesses can resume normal operations as well. 

Border restrictions in the country will still remain in place, meaning international travel is very limited. Those who do come in from abroad must go through a health screening, testing and enter a quarantine or isolation. 

“We are confident we have eliminated transmission of the virus in New Zealand for now, but elimination is not a point in time, it is a sustained effort,” New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a statement. “We will almost certainly see cases here again, and that is not a sign that we have failed, it is a reality of this virus. But if and when that occurs we have to make sure — and we are — that we are prepared.”

Brazil Limits COVID-19 Data Sharing

While New Zealand is seeing great progress, other countries are still grappling with new cases. One of those countries, Brazil, is also making headlines over a new data policy.

Brazil’s government is limiting the coronavirus data that gets shared to the public. They are removing statistics on cumulative totals and only sharing information on cases and deaths within the last 24 hours.

Behind the United States, Brazil has the second-most coronavirus cases in the world, totaling over 691,000 according to Johns Hopkins. Some experts believe the country has yet to reach its peak, and that the case total is actually much higher than data reflects because of insufficient testing.

The move to limit information sharing was led by President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been repeatedly criticized for underplaying the severity of the virus. Bolsonaro has compared it to the flu, called it a media trick and encouraged people to go back to work, despite warnings from health leaders.

On Twitter, he stated that this new measure will allow each region to receive more accurate data. 

“The dissemination of 24-hour data allows us to follow, in real-time, the reality of the country’s situation and define appropriate strategies for serving the population,” he added. “The case curves demonstrate situations, like the most critical scenarios, the return of cases, and the need to prepare.”

He is not the only official in Brazil who has undermined data related to the pandemic. Carlos Wizard, the Health Ministry’s new Secretary of Science and Technology told the Washington Post that local health leaders had inflated their coronavirus numbers “purely in the interest of getting bigger city and state budgets.” The Post stated that he offered no evidence to back this claim. 

But all of this has led to a lot of backlash from other Brazilian leaders. The country’s National Council of Health Secretaries put out a statement calling this choice “authoritarian, insensitive, inhuman and unethical.” 

“It offends Secretaries, doctors and all health professionals who have tirelessly dedicated themselves to saving lives,” they added. 

Brazilian Supreme Court Judge Gilmar Mendes called it a “maneuver of totalitarian regimes.” He claimed that attempts to hide information will not exempt leaders from their responsibility in what he called an “eventual genocide.” 

Study Shows Lockdowns Prevented Millions of Cases

Data tracking has been an essential component of monitoring and controlling the coronavirus. A new study shows just how controlled its spread may be.

A U.S.-conducted study shows that lockdown measures, stay at home orders, and other interventions could have prevented as many as 530 million coronavirus infections worldwide. 

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and published in a medical journal called Nature. Researchers followed interventions done in China, South Korea, Italy, Iran, France, and the United States. Their findings showed that these methods “prevented or delayed on the order of 62 million confirmed cases, corresponding to averting roughly 530 million total infections.”

The numbers range so widely because so many cases are not formally diagnosed, so the confirmed cases number is much lower than the possible total infections. 

These measures likely impacted China the most, where as many as 285 million total infections may have been prevented. In the United States, lockdowns may have stopped as many as 60 million total infections. 

See what others are saying: (NPR) (Washington Post) (CNBC)

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E.U. and U.S. Sanction Russian Officials Over Navalny Detention

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  • The E.U. and U.S. coordinated new sanctions against seven Russian officials tied to the current fate of activist and Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
  • More efforts are expected to follow, with officials claiming that 14 Russian entities tied to the manufacturing of Novichok – the rare nerve agents that supposedly poisoned Navalny – are the next to be sanctioned.
  • Despite the sanctions, Biden’s administration hopes to be able to work with Russia on other world issues, such as nuclear arms in Iran and North Korea.
  • Navalny himself isn’t likely to benefit from the sanctions as he’s serving a 2.5-year prison sentence in one of Russia’s most notorious penal colonies.

Coordinated Efforts by E.U. and U.S.

The U.S. and E.U. both announced coordinated sanctions against Russia Tuesday morning over the poisoning, arrest, and detention of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

In particular, seven senior officials are targeted by the sanctions.

  • Federal Security Service Director Aleksandr Bortnikov
  • Chief of the Presidential Policy Directorate Andrei Yarin
  • First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Sergei Kiriyenko
  • Deputy Minister of Defense Aleksey Krivoruchko
  • Deputy Minister of Defense Pavel Popov
  • Federal Penitentiary Service director Alexander Kalashnikov
  • Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov.

Both the E.U. and U.S. also plan to add fourteen entities that are involved in making the extremely deadly Russian nerve agent Novichok.

First Step For Biden

These sanctions are the first such action by the Biden administration against Russia and seem to be a tone shift from the previous administration. The Trump administration was considered relatively soft on Russia and only enacted a few sanctions over election interference, which were only softly enforced.

One U.S. official, according to NBC News reportedly said, that “today is the first such response, and there will be more to come.”

“The United States is neither seeking to reset our relations with Russia nor are we seeking to escalate,” the official went on to add.

The man at the center of all this, Alexei Navalny, has been an outspoken critic of Putin who was arrested when he returned to Russia from Germany after being treated for Novichok poisoning.

He was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison over alleged fraud crimes and is reported to have been sent to one of Russia’s worst penal colonies outside of the city of Pokrov to serve out his term.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (NPR) (NBC News)

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Biden Faces Criticism Over U.S. Airstrike in Syria

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  • On Friday, the U.S. conducted an airstrike against an Iranian-back militia in Syria after it shot rockets into northern Iraq and injured U.S. service personnel.
  • The airstrike marks the first in Biden’s presidency, and while normally a routine response, it caused particular backlash against the president, who campaigned on getting out of “forever wars” in the region.
  • Many felt like Biden was more concerned with bombing people in the Middle-East than he was with passing his $1.9 trillion stimulus package, which was being debated by Congress at the time.
  • The targeting of an Iranian-backed militia likely didn’t help efforts to start informal talks with Iran on Sunday in an effort to reignite the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Striking Back Against Militias

The U.S. military conducted an airstrike on an Iranian-backed militia in Syria on Friday, marking it as the first such airstrike under President Joe Biden’s term.

The airstrike was conducted as retaliation after the militia launched rockets into northern Iraq; killing civilians, contractors, and injuring a U.S. service member as well as other coalition troops.

Despite airstrikes being a routine response for such situations over the last 20 years, the decision caused Biden to face intense backlash in the U.S.

For many, it set the tone and seemed to contradict some of his earlier stances when running for office. In 2019, for instance, Biden made it clear that he wanted to get out of Iraq as soon as possible, as well as speed up the removal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. However, such airstrikes are often blamed for further entrenching the U.S. in the region.

Biden received criticism across the political spectrum, with only a few conservatives praising the airstrike as a necessary move to protect U.S. troops.

In Congress, many Democrats called the move unconstitutional, a stance the party has had since at least 2018 when Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said a similar airstrike conducted by President Trump required the approval of Congress. The Biden administration pushed back against this, sending a letter to Congress on Sunday saying the president had the power to use limited force without the body’s approval via the War Power Act.

Public Perception in a Downward Spiral

Many Americans have mocked Biden for seemingly feeling comfortable enough to use his executive power to bomb militias while also expressing apprehension toward using that same power to forgive student loans.

Others pushed back against the idea that the airstrike was a form of defensive retaliation

“This latest Biden airstrike is being spun as “defensive” and “retaliatory” despite its targeting a nation the US invaded (Syria) in response to alleged attacks on US forces in another nation the US invaded (Iraq),” wrote one user on Twitter, “You can’t invade a nation and then claim self-defense there. Ever.”

Some of the biggest criticism the president received came from those who said it seemed like his priorities were off-base. Because while the airstrike was conducted, Congress was debating his $1.9 trillion stimulus package.

Civil Rights activist Ja’Mal Green, for instance, tweeted, “We didn’t flip Georgia Blue for Biden to air strike Syria. We flipped Georgia Blue for our $2,000 Stimulus Checks.”

However, it’s worth noting that there’s not much Biden can do right now to push his stimulus package through Congress, other than attempt to convince some on-the-fence senators like Joe Manchin (D-WV). Still, the perception of confused priorities was enough to anger many.

All of this likely didn’t help when the E.U. foreign policy chief, on behalf of all the countries who signed the Iran Nuclear deal, attempted to convince Iran to engage in informal talks to try and restart the deal on Sunday. A proposal was shot down by Iran.

Considering the recent actions and statements by the United States and three European powers, Iran does not consider this the time to hold an informal meeting with these countries,” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh

See what others are saying: (BBC) (NBC) (CNN)

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Nigerian Gunmen Kidnap Over 300 Students From Boarding School

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  • Gunmen abducted 317 girls from a Nigerian boarding school early Friday morning, making it the second major abduction in the northwest area of the country in over a week.
  • Militants loaded some girls on trucks while others were walked into the nearby Rugu forest, which covers hundreds of miles and is spread over three states.
  • Authorities believe these abductions are being carried out by armed bandit groups seeking random rather than the jihadist groups in the region.
  • According to terror analysts, kidnapping is quickly becoming one of the most thriving industries in Nigeria and has led to 10.5 million Nigerian children being out of school – the most of any nation.

Abductions Before Dawn

Gunmen abducted 317 students early Friday morning from the Nigerian Government Girls Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara state.

They entered the building shooting, although it’s clear if anyone was hurt, and forced many girls onto trucks while others into the nearby Rugu forest, which covers hundreds of square miles and crosses multiple states. Some girls escaped, but by morning it was clear to the local community that hundreds were taken.

Zamfara police and security forces, backed by Nigerian army reinforcements, said they are in pursuit of the abductors.

This abduction is the second in a little over a week in the northwest area of the country. At the Kagara Government Science College in Niger state, dozens of schoolboys were abducted on February 17.

In December, 344 boys in Katsina state were also abducted before being freed a week later. At the time, the kidnappers claimed a ransom had been paid, a common motivation for such abductions, but security forces say the children were freed after they had surrounded the group.

Was the Kidnapping for Ransom?

Many abductions have a monetary aspect, with ransoms quickly being demanded; however, it’s currently unclear if Friday’s events were carried out by local bandits looking for a payout or one of the nation’s myriad of jihadist groups that occasionally take hostages.

Most are leaning towards believing this was a kidnapping for ransom due to it quickly becoming the nation’s most thriving industry, according to Bulama Bukarti, a terror analyst and columnist of northern Nigeria’s largest paper.

Unfortunately, the constant kidnapping in less-stable parts of the country, along with economic hardships, have caused parents to pull their children out of schools. Currently, there are more than 10.5 million Nigerian children out of school, the most of any nation. The issue is so prevalent that 1 in 5 of the world’s unschooled children are in Nigeria.

The government has struggled to respond to the rise of kidnappings, with officials both on the civilian side and within the military unsure of how to proceed. On one hand, there are those who want to deal with the issue head-on and attack kidnappers, but others want to try and resolve the issue with dialogue.

See what others are Saying: (NPR) (CNN) (Wall Street Journal)

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