Globe Trot A summary of international news compiled by senior editor Mindy Belz

“A very serious situation”

International | COVID-19 caseloads in Europe increase while the debate continues over the disease’s origins
by Mindy Belz
Posted 9/21/20, 05:49 pm

EUROPE: Six months after Italy’s coronavirus crisis became an ominous signpost to the West, the World Health Organization is warning of “a very serious situation” unfolding again across Europe. COVID-19 caseloads in seven countries have doubled in the last two weeks, with hospitalizations and deaths now also on the rise.

CHINA: The COVID-19-might-have-come-from-a-lab idea has been trotted out and debunked many times, but here’s the latest—and in my opinion the best—reporting on it. Because it’s not yet going away. One revelation concerns the politics of science—that publicly funded labs worldwide have an interest in debunking a theory of lab origination. It could mean stricter oversight and possible defunding should it turn out SARS-CoV-2 got its start in a research lab. Antonio Regalado, biomedicine editor of MIT Technology Review, said such a revelation, if confirmed, “would shatter the scientific edifice top to bottom.”

RWANDA: Paul Rusesabagina leveraged his celebrity status as the real-life hero behind Hotel Rwanda to launch scathing attacks on the country’s president for forever, Paul Kagame. Now, under arrest in Kigali, the former hotel manager who saved lives during the 1994 genocide tells how he was lured back to Rwanda, becoming one of a growing and alarming list of Kagame political opponents who turn up missing or dead.

INDIA: Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi, who has rescued children from slavery and trafficking for decades, fears that the coronavirus could reverse his efforts.

There’s no evidence of a trade-off between protecting people’s health and protecting the economy, according to the economic data compiled by Our World in Data. As well as saving lives, countries controlling the outbreak effectively have adopted the best economic strategy too. Examples: Taiwan, South Korea, and Lithuania.

BELARUS: Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya urged the European Union on Monday to show courage and step up its support for her movement, as internal squabbles among Europe’s foreign ministers are keeping the EU from imposing sanctions on the Lukashenko government in Minsk. Tens of thousands of protesters braved a government crackdown over the weekend to continue demonstrating against last month’s reelection of President Alexander Lukashenko.

LEBANON: Last week, U.S. State Department counterterrorism official Nathan Sales told reporters that Hezbollah was storing ammonium nitrate—the chemical that blew up Beirut last month—all over Europe (“through Belgium to France, Greece, Italy, Spain and Switzerland”) to make explosives “to conduct major terrorist attacks.”

  • The European debate surrounding Hezbollah comes as a Bulgarian court on Monday convicted two Hezbollah operatives in a 2012 bombing in the resort town of Burgas—an attack carried out using ammonium nitrate. Also, a German official has confirmed the seizure of ammonium nitrate in southern Germany.
  • France on Friday said it had no evidence for such a claim, which is significant because the country appears to be taking the lead in investigating the Beirut port explosion. It’s also spearheading efforts to stabilize the Lebanese government, efforts that include negotiations with Hezbollah—and set European powers at odds with the Trump administration on how to counteract a potential threat from the Iranian-backed militant group.

UNITED STATES: It was the Irishwoman Mary Mulrean who caused the trouble … and oh happy day, turns out Edith Wharton has written something none of us have read, but it’s here.

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Mindy Belz

Mindy wrote WORLD Magazine's first cover story in 1986 and went on to serve as international editor, editor, and now senior editor. She has covered wars in Syria, Afganistan, Africa, and the Balkans, and she recounts some of her experiences in They Say We Are Infidels: On the Run from ISIS with Persecuted Christians in the Middle East. Mindy resides with her husband, Nat, in Asheville, N.C. Follow her on Twitter @mcbelz.

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  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Tue, 09/22/2020 11:03 am

    The COVID-19-might-have-come-from-a-lab idea has been trotted out and debunked many times, but here’s the latest—and in my opinion the best—reporting on it. Because it’s not yet going away.

    It doesn't go away because it is very likely the truth that the virus originated in the lab and likely was the work of scientists working on biological weapons. One Chinese researcher from Hong Kong said that China intentionally let the virus out:



  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Tue, 09/22/2020 11:13 am

    Here is the article that Mindy quotes above and the author gives more credence to the notion that the virus originated in the lab than what Mindy seems to imply.

    Chan had started using her Twitter account this intensely only a few days earlier, as a form of outreach for her paper. The social platform has become the way many scientists find out about one another’s work, and studies have shown that attention on Twitter translates to increased citations for a paper in scientific literature. But it’s a famously raw forum. Many scientists are not prepared for the digital storms that roil the Twitterverse, and they don’t handle it well. Chan dreaded it at first, but quickly took to Twitter like a digital native. “Having Twitter elevates your work,” she says. “And I think it’s really fun to talk to nonscientists about that work.”

    After reading her tweets, I reviewed her preprint, which I found mind-blowing, and wrote her to say so. She thanked me and joked that she worried it might be “career suicide.”

    It wasn’t long before it began to look like she might be right.

    Here is what Mindy says which gives you the idea that the article treats the notion that the virus came from the lab as a conspiracy theory. Obviously, this is not true and Mindy's article is very misleading. 

    The COVID-19-might-have-come-from-a-lab idea has been trotted out and debunked many times, but here’s the latest—and in my opinion the best—reporting on it. Because it’s not yet going away.


    Addition to the post:

    There is this paragraph which I should include but it appears to be more aligned with the author's anti-Trump bias:

    If Chan had spent a lifetime learning how to pursue scientific questions, she spent most of the shutdown learning what happens when the answers you come up with are politically radioactive. After the Newsweek story ran, conservative-leaning publications seized on her paper as conclusive evidence that the virus had come from a lab. “Everyone focused on the one line,” Chan laments. “The tabloids just zoomed in on it.” Meanwhile, conspiracists took it as hard evidence of their wild theories that there had been an intentional leak.

    All along Chan says the virus is not natural and she argues against the fact that it came from the Wuhan Market. The only other option is the origin in the lab.

    Chan discounts the notion that it was an intentional leak as the Hong Kong researcher claims in the link I provided with Tucker Carlson. I think we need to be open minded about it and see what the researcher comes up with who made the claims that the leak was intentional. If she has solid evidence then it will be given and then the scientific community can provide criticism.

    My other link shows that China intentionally let the virus leak to the world, where they let their population travel internationally when they were closing down travel internally in China. Was this due to economic concerns or was it an attempt to attack the USA? This is the question.  

  • Caminho
    Posted: Tue, 09/22/2020 09:38 am

    Thanks, Mindy, especially for the Covid origin article link. Very interesting. I had dismissed the "released from lab" evidence before, but this gave me a rethink. I kind of agree with Cyborg3 that you actually rather both under- and over-sold the article. That is, it was undersold in that the article actually lays out a very strong argument for believing the virus originated from lab (not that it was engineered and intentionally released, but that it was being studied and was released by accident). Not somking-gun evidence, but pretty strong. However, probably the single worst quote from the article was the one you chose to reprint ("would shatter the scientific edifice top to bottom.") In this case, you oversold the article. In fact, if the virus was a lab strain accidentally released, it would certainly shake up and challenge a certain subset of virology. I fail to see how it would shatter the edifice of, say, physics, environmental science, or chemistry. It wouldn't even shatter most of virology, just this particular branch.

    Sorry, no intention to be a downer -- mostly, I just wanted to bring more attention to that article, as it is indeed thought provoking. As someone who spent most of 13 doing bench science, I really enjoyed it.