Powerful cyclone prompts millions to evacuate; Trump threatens WHO funding, US membership; Tracking the growing list of COVID-19 symptoms

Powerful cyclone prompts millions to evacuate; Trump threatens WHO funding, US membership; Tracking the growing list of COVID-19 symptoms

By
The World staff

A scientist at India Meteorological Department Earth System Science Organization, points to a section of the screen showing the position of the Cyclone Amphan to media people inside his office in Kolkata, India, May 19, 2020.

Credit:

Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters

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Top of The World — our morning news round up written by editors at The World. Subscribe here.

A potentially devastating cyclone is expected to hit South Asia on Wednesday, leading India and Bangladesh to evacuate up to 3 million people from the storm’s path. Cyclone Amphan had been classified as the most powerful type of cyclone and the second such storm to be tracked in the region since 1999. Though it has been weakening slightly, it is still likely to bring dangerous wind, rain and flooding. 

Cyclone Amphan is coming in the midst of a pandemic, in which India and Bangladesh together have more than 125,000 confirmed coronavirus cases. Some evacuees fear catching the virus in emergency shelters with no room to maintain social distance. 

A recent study shows that major tropical cyclones have become more likely over the past 40 years. According to researchers: “A warming planet may be fueling the increase” in stronger, sustained winds.

Trump threatens WHO funding, US membership

US President Donald Trump has redoubled his criticism of the World Health Organization, threatening to permanently withdraw funding and reconsider US membership if the UN agency does not commit to “major substantive improvements” within the next 30 days. The ultimatum comes after the first day of a WHO global summit urging international cooperation. The Trump administration already put a 60-day hold on WHO funds in April. Withdrawing support and membership would weaken the agency in the middle of a worldwide fight to tackle the novel coronavirus pandemic. It would also leave the US with little influence over the body and less access to WHO resources. 

And: China accuses US of coronavirus smear campaign

Also: Trump says he’s taking hydroxychloroquine, prompting warning from health experts

Colombian airlines face controversy over pandemic loans

Governments worldwide — from Singapore to the Netherlands and the US — have devoted more than $85 billion to prop up airlines during the coronavirus pandemic. But airlines’ requests for aid are controversial in less rich Latin American economies, where millions live in poverty and public health systems are ill-equipped to respond to a large-scale health crisis. Many leaders in Latin America likely see air travel as a luxury and may be reluctant to extend help to airlines during the crisis.

And: Britain is at risk of ‘returning to 80s levels of unemployment’

Tracking the growing list of COVID-19 symptoms

When the novel coronavirus first emerged in China, the world was warned to watch out for two main symptoms: fever or a persistent cough. A lot has changed since then. Researchers are learning that symptoms of the coronavirus can vary depending on myriad factors, such as age and health status. The COVID Symptom Study is pulling together this growing list of the coronavirus symptoms. Since its app launched in March, it has crowdsourced symptoms from more than 3.5 million people in the UK, US and Sweden.

From The World: World faces risk of ‘vaccine nationalism’ in COVID-19 fight, says CEPI chair

And: Trump’s use of malaria drug likely to be welcomed in India

Mosques in Kenya offer virtual prayers for Ramadan

On a normal Friday during Ramadan, Ahmed Ali Mohamed would head to the mosque with his family and friends to break the fast. But with the pandemic, this year’s Ramadan experience is anything but normal for Muslims in Nairobi, Kenya. Eastleigh, a predominantly Muslim neighborhood in Nairobi where Mohamed’s mother and grandmother live, is currently under lockdown, and most mosques have closed. Instead, some mosques are offering virtual prayers via YouTube.

And: Eid al-Fitr 2020: Everything you need to know

Art, poetry and … zombies? Cultural legacies of the 1918 pandemic

Norwegian artist Edvard Munch’s “Self-Portrait with the Spanish Flu,” circa 1919. 

Credit:

Public domain/Wikimedia Commons

There seem to be few great works of art that keep the 1918 flu pandemic alive in cultural memory. But Elizabeth Outka, author of “Viral Modernism: The Influenza Pandemic and Interwar Literature,” says the 1918 pandemic’s influence is an undercurrent that runs through many works of the period.

For example, the pandemic and World War I led to a renewed interest in spiritualism, a belief that humans could communicate with the dead through seances, mediums and objects like Ouija boards. Another surprising cultural byproduct of the pandemic? Zombies.

Also: Polish hit song on grieving ‘censored’, sparking protests

Morning meme

After searching for 32 years, a Chinese couple has finally been reunited with their son, who was abducted from a Xi’an hotel when he was just two years old. 

“I won’t let him leave me anymore,” cried his mom. https://t.co/OcXTs6jx4K

— Shanghaiist.com (@shanghaiist) May 19, 2020In case you missed itListen: World leaders convene to address coronavirus crisis response

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of World Health Organization speaks at the virtual 73rd World Health Assembly following the coronavirus outbreak in Geneva, Switzerland, May 18, 2020.

Credit:

Christopher Black/WHO/handout via Reuters

It’s an unprecedented time and situation: “A microscopic virus has brought us to our knees,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres at the start of the 73rd annual World Health Assembly on Monday. Leaders from around the world convened, for the first time virtually, for two days of meetings to address the world’s response to the global pandemic. And, Brazil, one of the world’s coronavirus epicenters, is now navigating the coronavirus crisis without a health minister after Nelson Taich resigned on Friday. Also, a principal in New Zealand has posted a catchy YouTube video as health advice for her students returning after lockdown encouraging them to stay out of each other’s “moist breath zone.”

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Rohingya women are traditionally kept out of leadership roles. Will the coronavirus change that? 

Rohingya women are traditionally kept out of leadership roles. Will the coronavirus change that? 

If there is a COVID-19 outbreak in overcrowded Rohingya refugee camps, the success of the response may depend in part on the status of women in the camps.

By
Rupa Shenoy

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Rohingya refugees walk along the road in the evening at Balukhali camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Nov. 16, 2018. 

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Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters 

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While cases of COVID-19 in Bangladesh have surpassed 1,200, none so far have been reported in overcrowded Rohingya refugee camps. Still, one refugee there, a mother named Chekufa Ra, speaking through an interpreter, described a feeling of overwhelming dread about what happens if there’s an outbreak.

Ra said clinics and schools have closed, and many volunteers are gone. It’s difficult to find food. And fear is rampant. The internet has been blocked, so many people don’t have basic information about the disease. There have been lots of rumors and misinformation about how the virus is spread.

Related: Racing to develop a drug to fight COVID-19

If there is an outbreak, the success of the response may depend in part on the status of women in the camps. That’s because women are the main caregivers when people fall ill — but they don’t usually have leadership roles in their communities.

“Within the overall structures in the camps, women are often not in decision-making positions. There are only 10 women police in the whole camp. But then at the same time, we see that there can be disproportionate impacts on women and girls.”

Marie Sophie Pettersson, United Nations Women

“And for that, we’re particularly concerned because the Rohingya community as a whole is quite conservative and patriarchal,” said Marie Sophie Pettersson of United Nations Women. “Within the overall structures in the camps, women are often not in decision-making positions. There are only 10 women police in the whole camp. But then at the same time, we see that there can be disproportionate impacts on women and girls.”

Even before the coronavirus, she said, girls and women were trafficked and forced into marriage. Since the lockdown, levels of domestic violence have spiked. And now, because women are the caregivers, they’ll likely be among the first infected.

“This COVID-19 crisis could have devastating impacts if we don’t prevent or mitigate the risks,” Pettersson said.

Related: Bolsonaro’s denial of coronavirus puts the country at risk

Genocide forced Rohingya to flee Myanmar in 2017. Nearly 900,000 people are packed into camps across Bangladesh. Ra was pregnant when she and her 4-year-old daughter walked for days to reach the camps in neighboring Bangladesh. She’s lived there now for three years with her husband and two daughters.

Ra said that before the genocide, many people in her family served as social workers and government officals, and she learned how to organize from them. Now, those skills have helped her take matters into her own hands. She’s leading a grassroots response to the COVID-19 crisis, building a network of 400 refugee women who are going door to door to educate people about the virus, and recruiting more women to help.

They’ve put together makeshift health clinics, and arranged transportation for people who might get sick. If an outbreak hits, Ra said, her group of women will be prepared to respond, no matter what the men say. 

Related: Mutual aid groups respond to double threat of coronavirus and climate change

Humanitarian workers are also working to frantically produce videos and podcasts about how the infection spreads. Louise Donovan, of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Bangladesh, explained, “Not everybody is literate and there isn’t a written Rohingya language, also — so, it’s quite challenging.”

She said they’re also expanding medical and isolation facilities as much as possible, and taking steps to improve hygiene. “So, just huge distributions of soap across the camps, establishing hand-washing facilities at all distribution centers and every communal facility in the camp.”

“Everybody is looking for additional capacities and resources at the moment. I think at this time, it’s very clear that this is a global problem and no population can be excluded from that.”

Louise Donovan, spokesperson, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Bangladesh

There’s some capacity for COVID-19 testing, Donovan said, but more medical equipment and resources are needed. “Everybody is looking for additional capacities and resources at the moment,” she said. “I think at this time, it’s very clear that this is a global problem and no population can be excluded from that.”