July 31 global news roundup: The persistence of the coronavirus and its health, economic, and political impact

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This roundup summarises the most important news stories around the world in the last two weeks (July 16 to 31, 2020).

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The countries of Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, and Vietnam, which previously had the coronavirus under control, are now seeing new cases after the relaxation of restrictions. In the United States, the worst-hit country by far, the total number of COVID-19 cases exceeded four million, adding one million known cases in just 15 days. The country’s economy shrank at the fastest rate on record in the second quarter of the year, at an annualised rate of 32.9 per cent, translating into a wipe-out of five years of economic growth in a matter of months. Citing unverified links between postal voting – which is likely to increase given the pandemic – and fraud, President Donald Trump suggested that the presidential election in November be postponed, even though he does not have the authority to do so without Congress.

In Bolivia, a rising number of cases led to the postponement of the country’s presidential election. In North Korea, supreme leader Kim Jong-un ordered the total lockdown of border city Kaesong, after a person was found with suspected COVID-19 symptoms. And in Russia, state-sponsored hackers are said to be targeting and stealing information from organisations developing a coronavirus vaccine. It is not clear if they have been successful.

Political developments in Hong Kong: 12 pro-democracy election candidates were disqualified from running in the legislative council elections. The elections were later postponed for a year, with the coronavirus pandemic cited as the reason. A week earlier, the United Kingdom suspended an extradition treaty with the city, given concerns over a new national security law which gives China sweeping powers in Hong Kong.

American geopolitical tensions: First, with China. The Trump administration ordered China to close its consulate in Houston, ostensibly to protect American intellectual property and private information. In response and in retaliation, the United States was ordered to close its consulate in Chengdu. And second, with Germany. Nearly 12,000 American troops from Germany are likely to be move out, together with the relocation of the country’s European headquarters to Belgium. In addition, its F-16 fighters will be sent to Italy.

In the country too, the government executed two inmates in the same week, the first time it had done so in 17 years.

Corruption and protests: In Malaysia, former prime minister Najib Razak was found guilty of multiple counts for his connection to a multi-billion-dollar scandal. He is alleged to have received hundreds of millions of dollars from state the investment fund 1MDB, but he pleaded not guilty. In Russia, across three consecutive weekends, tens of thousands protested the arrest of a regional governor on murder charges, which are seen as illegitimate.

And in other news, of deaths and threats to well-being around the world:

  • Afghanistan: A car bomb killed at least 18 people, including security forces personnel.
  • Brazil: Satellite data from the country’s space agency shows that deforestation in the Amazon is accelerating.
  • Indonesia: Flash floods killed at least 16 people.
  • Switzerland: A plane crash in the Swiss Alps killed four people.
  • Taiwan: Former president Lee Teng-hui, considered “the father of democracy” in the country, died at the age of 97.

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