North America and Canada
- US President Donald Trump, who has since tested negative for coronavirus, not only announced that non-Americans will no longer be able to travel to the US from Europe, the UK, and Ireland, he has also declared it a national emergency. He notes that there will also be free virus testing available for everyone in the US who needs it. The administration is working with companies who will be affected financially. The latest death toll in the US has reached 60. There are nearly 3,000 cases of the new coronavirus, but the outbreak has not yet reached its peak.
- Wall Street shares rallied last Friday (Mar 13) after US President Donald Trump declared the coronavirus outbreak a national emergency, freeing up money to fight the spread of the disease. As the president spoke, the three main US indexes jumped more than 9 per cent. Earlier, London’s FTSE 100 closed up 2.5 per cent, retreating from an early surge, while other European indexes made similar moves. The rally comes a day after Wall Street suffered its biggest losses since 1987.
- Joe Biden has cemented his position as a front-runner in the Democratic race to take on President Donald Trump in November’s White House election. The former vice-president won Michigan, the biggest prize of primary voting, extending his lead over main rival Senator Bernie Sanders. The Democrats’ next big election milestone is in a week’s time when 577 delegates are up for grabs. To secure the nomination, a candidate needs the support of 1,991 delegates. Before last Tuesday’s vote (Mar 10), Mr Biden had 648 to Mr Sanders’ vote share of 563.
- President Donald Trump has endorsed the rival of his former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a runoff race for the Republican Alabama Senate nomination. The president’s endorsement of Tommy Tuberville, a former football coach, is an embarrassing blow for Mr Sessions. Mr Sessions, who previously held the senate seat, was forced to leave the attorney general post in 2018 when his relationship with Mr Trump soured. The winner will face the incumbent Democrat Doug Jones in November.
- Disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein has been sentenced to 23 years in prison for rape and sexual assault. He was found guilty in a trial in New York last month, a dramatic fall from grace for one of Hollywood’s most powerful figures. The 67-year-old appeared in court last Wednesday (Mar 11) in a wheelchair. His lawyers had appealed for leniency, saying even the minimum sentence of five years could be a “life sentence”.
- Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is stepping down from the company’s board to spend more time on philanthropic activities. He says he wants to focus on global health and development, education and tackling climate change. One of the world’s richest men, Mr Gates, 65, has also left the board of Warren Buffett’s massive holding company, Berkshire Hathaway.
- There is a “clear and continuing danger” from “significant and sustained foreign interference” in Canadian public life, the chair of the country’s parliamentary intelligence oversight committee, David McGuinty MP said. The interference takes a number of forms including targeting the electoral process and government decision-making. Russia and China, are singled out as responsible. But they have always denied the allegations of interference.
- A 19-year-old pregnant woman from Guatemala died from injuries suffered after falling from the US-Mexico border wall, US and Guatemalan officials say. Miriam Stephany Girón Luna fell as she tried to climb the steel mesh barrier near El Paso, Texas last Saturday (Mar 14). She was taken to hospital where doctors tried to deliver the baby by emergency C-section without success. Officials say the case indicates a change in how migrants are trying to reach the US amid new restrictions.
- The electoral council in Venezuela says a fire in its main warehouse near the capital, Caracas, has destroyed most of the voting machines held there. Almost 50,000 voting machines and 582 computers used in the country’s elections went up in flames, electoral council chief Tibisay Lucena said. She did not say if parliamentary elections due later this year could be affected by the loss of the machines. She also asked prosecutors to investigate the cause of the fire.
- Millions of women in Mexico have taken part in a day-long strike to highlight rising levels of gender-based violence. The protest, dubbed “The Day Without Us”, saw women across the country stay home from work and school last Monday (Mar 9). An estimated 10 women are killed each day in Mexico and police are investigating more than 700 cases of “femicide”, the killing of women. President López Obrador was criticised in February for suggesting that the media were “manipulating” the problem. He later said his government was attentive to the issue.
- The head of Guyana’s Supreme Court has ordered a partial recount of votes in last week’s disputed general election. The ruling is a major victory for the opposition, which has accused the government of fraud in favour of incumbent President David Granger. The judge also ruled the electoral body should not declare a winner before the recount is finished. The vote will decide who is in power when huge new oil reserves are explored. Mr Granger, of the People’s National Congress – Reform (PNCR) coalition, is facing Irfaan Ali of the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP).
- Oil prices crashed in Asia last Monday (Mar 9) by around 30 per cent in what analysts are calling the start of a price war. Top oil exporter Saudi Arabia slashed its oil prices at the weekend after it failed to convince Russia to back sharp production cuts. The oil cartel OPEC and its ally Russia had previously worked together on production curbs.
- Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the Tokyo Olympic Games will go ahead as planned in July, despite coronavirus concerns resulting in the postponement of sporting events. Abe added the International Olympic Committee (IOC) would have the final decision whether Tokyo 2020 goes ahead. Japan has had more than 1,400 cases and 28 deaths resulting from coronavirus. The event is expected to cost about 1.35 trillion yen (S$0.018 trillion).
- In an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus, more people, including global leaders, are using the Indian greeting of namaste. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promoted the namaste, saying that the world is increasingly adopting the no-contact way of greeting. In recent days, images of US President Donald Trump and Prince Charles opting to use the Indian greeting over a handshake have gone viral.
- Indian authorities have announced the release of a veteran Kashmiri MP and former chief minister who had been in detention for seven months. The order did not give any reason for Farooq Abdullah’s release. He said he was “grateful” to all those who fought for his freedom and called for the release of other detainees. He was among thousands of local leaders put under house arrest a day before the disputed region was stripped of its semi-autonomous status in August.
- Last Saturday (Mar 14), India increased taxes on petrol and diesel in a desperate attempt to increase government revenue, as tax collections fall amid the weakest economic growth in more than six years, with the coronavirus impact yet to come. Excise duties on the fuels, which have been hiked by three rupees per litre, are expected to raise annual revenue by up to 400 billion rupees (S$7.7 billion).
- The authorities in Pakistan have arrested one of the country’s leading media magnates on charges of illegally obtaining government land more than 30 years ago. Mir Shakilur Rahman is the editor-in-chief of the Jang group which owns some of Pakistan’s most widely circulated newspapers, as well as the popular Geo television network. Mr Rahman, who denies the accusations against him, appeared in court last Friday (Mar 13) and was remanded in custody. He has not been formally charged.
- Australia’s privacy regulator is taking Facebook to court over the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner said Facebook had seriously infringed the privacy of more than 300,000 Australians. The social media giant left personal data “exposed to be sold and used for… political profiling”. The scandal involved harvested Facebook data of 87 million people being used for advertising during elections.
- A senior member of the Australian government, home affairs minister Peter Dutton, has tested positive for coronavirus last Friday (Mar 13). Mr Dutton, who sits on the national security committee, said he woke up with a “temperature and sore throat”. He is now in hospital. There are currently over 300 confirmed cases in Australia, including US actor Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson, who are in Queensland.
- Europe is now the “epicentre” of the global coronavirus pandemic, the head of the World Health Organization says. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged countries to use aggressive measures, community mobilisation and social distancing to save lives. His comments came as several European countries reported steep rises in infections and deaths. Italy has recorded its highest daily toll yet.
- European authorities are increasing efforts to try to stave off the economic effects of coronavirus. The European Union (EU) will put a package of measures in place including a €37billion euro (S$58.35 billion) investment initiative.
- The UK government has revealed plans to boost the number of NHS beds and ventilators to treat people. Large gatherings could be banned in the UK from as early as this weekend, as the coronavirus continues to spread. The UK currently has over 1,300 cases and over 20 deaths.
- Jet2 planes heading to Spain were turned around in mid-air last Sat (Mar 14) as the airline cancelled all flights to the mainland, the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands because of coronavirus. Confirmed cases in Spain have risen to 6,046 and thousands of people have been placed in lockdown. The country’s death toll has reached over 280 and it is set to enter a two-week state of emergency.
- The French government has banned gatherings of more than 100 people, shut schools and universities and suspended big sporting events due to the coronavirus situation but elections went on yesterday (Mar 15). The interior ministry said turnout nationwide at noon was 18.3 per cent yesterday (Mar 15), down 5 per cent from that recorded at midday in 2014. Officials have insisted that voting will take place under the strictest conditions to counter widespread fear that polling stations are ideal germ-spreading venues and a particular risk for older people.
- Two nurses denied jobs as midwives in Sweden because of their refusal to perform abortions have lost their legal action against Sweden at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Swedish-born Ellinor Grimmark and Linda Steen from Norway object to abortion because of their Christian faith. Swedish law requires midwives to carry out abortions – and several Swedish courts ruled against the two women.
- Three service personnel from the US-led coalition in Iraq and two Iraqis have been injured in a rocket attack on a military base north of Baghdad. The Iraqi military said more than 30 rockets were fired at Camp Taji base. As of last week, this is the second attack on the base. The Iraqi military says the latest attack on Taji must not be used by the US as a pretext for any action without Iraq’s approval. Earlier, a US commander said Kataib Hezbollah – one of the most powerful groups in the PM – was likely to have fired the rockets.
- UN human rights experts have demanded Iran to cease harassing and intimidating journalists working for BBC Persian and other Persian-language news outlets. The journalists have endured death threats, criminal investigations, the freezing of assets and defamation. Some relatives have been held in degrading conditions and ordered to tell family members to leave the BBC. The harassment reportedly intensified when the journalists covered the mass anti-government protests in November.
- President Hassan Rouhani said Iran’s fight against the coronavirus was being “severely hampered” by US sanctions, as state television reported that the death toll from the illness rose last Saturday (Mar 14) to 611. State media said Rouhani wrote to a number of world leaders, without naming them. India has reported that it was one of those asked. It had also asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for US$5 billion (S$7.08 billion) in emergency funding to combat the coronavirus outbreak.
- The coronavirus outbreak is no longer a threat for Africa, it is now a reality as more and more countries on the continent have cases. East Africa is the last region to confirm infections: Sudan confirmed that a 50-year-old man has died, while Ethiopia says a Japanese man who recently travelled to the country tested positive to Covid-19. Most of the confirmed cases involve people arriving from Europe and North America.
- Angelina Teny has been named South Sudan’s first female defence minister. Ms Teny, who is also married to the former rebel leader and now first Vice-President Riek Machar, is not new to the security role. While her husband has been under effective house arrest, first in South Africa and then Khartoum, she has been one of the opposition SPLM-IO’s chief negotiators and led the group’s National Committee for Security and Defence.
- A South African king, a nephew of the late Nelson Mandela, has been arrested after allegedly going on the rampage with an axe in the palace. Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo, freed from jail on parole last December, broke into the Thembu royal palace in the early hours. Witnesses said he was searching for his son, the regent, who was appointed the acting monarch. King Dalindyebo was sentenced to 12 years in jail for kidnapping, assault and arson, but only served four years after the president granted some prisoners early parole last year.
- Facebook and Twitter have taken down a network of African-based fake accounts linked to previously banned Russian trolls. The social-media firms say the accounts, based in Ghana and Nigeria, were aimed at US citizens. They said although none of the activity focused on elections or political candidates, the network had requested to run political ads there. Twitter said the accounts attempted to “sow discord”.