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

Iran combats COVID-19 with prison release

International | Seven Christians and an American are among the 85,000 temporarily freed
by Mindy Belz
Posted 3/23/20, 04:47 pm

IRAN: Ramiel Bet Tamraz is one of seven Christians among 85,000 jailed Iranians temporarily released to halt the spread of the coronavirus. Bet Tamraz, jailed along with family members for involvement in house churches, reportedly will not serve the remainder of a four-month sentence (read more on the Bet Tamraz family’s ordeal and Iran’s opaque prison system). Authorities also granted medical furlough to American Michael White, releasing the detained U.S. Navy veteran held since he visited his Iranian girlfriend in 2018.

SPAIN: World Health Organization (WHO) officials said the coronavirus pandemic is accelerating: It took 67 days for worldwide cases to reach 100,000, 11 days to reach the 200,000 mark, and just four days to pass the 300,000 mark. In Italy, cases may have peaked, but Spain on Monday reported grim new statistics: more than 4,000 new cases and an additional 400 dead.

CROATIA: Officials encouraged residents to return home, given the threats of the coronavirus, despite a 5.4 magnitude earthquake Sunday in Zagreb, the capital’s worst in 140 years. “All the people had to leave their homes because they were collapsing, the mothers were just outside with their babies and it was snowing,” resident Martina Stojanovic told us on Monday. “My homeland is on its knees.”

UNITED STATES is seeing the most rapid rate of increase of confirmed cases of the coronavirus, doubling every two days. For more than 1.3 million Americans living in nursing homes, quarantines are a blow to an already isolated population. COVID-19 threatens the 15 percent of the U.S. population over age 65, plus other vulnerable groups, including grandchildren regularly entrusted to their care.

GERMANY: Chancellor Angela Merkel has put herself under self-quarantine after learning that her doctor who vaccinated her against pneumonia on Friday has tested positive for COVID-19. Last week, she gave a rare national address, rallying Germans to take the pandemic seriously, saying, “Since World War II, there has never been a challenge for our country in which acting in solidarity was so very crucial.”

The Passion Play at Oberammergau, set to begin this summer and performed once a decade, has been canceled for the first time since 1770 and will be rescheduled for performances in 2022.

KENYA: “Here in East Africa, where the small number of proven cases is rising rapidly, schools and businesses are shuttered and concern about the unseen infectious enemy is ever present,” wrote Rob Congdon, a doctor with African Mission Healthcare. The UN is “deeply concerned” about the risk of the coronavirus spreading throughout the Doro refugee camps, where more than 140,000 South Sudanese reside, he continued, adding, “We are aware, though, that for many of our African friends there is a remarkable, steadfast faith in God’s goodness, even in the midst of the shaking. People who’ve learned to trust God in the uncertainty of tropical disease, civil war, and hunger develop an unshakable awareness of the Lord’s trustworthiness.”

AFGHANISTAN: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unannounced visit to Kabul on Monday, hoping to resolve a clash between President Ashraf Ghani and his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, who is attempting to form a parallel government. Pompeo skirted coronavirus fears to make the nine-hour visit. The other party to the U.S.-backed peace agreement, the Taliban, has attacked government posts while at the same time agreeing to work with healthcare officials in battling the coronavirus.

Islamic State media warned ISIS followers to “cover the mouth when yawning and sneezing,” and to avoid travel to Europe and other areas with virus outbreaks. “The healthy should not enter the land of the epidemic and the afflicted should not exit from it,” said its latest newsletter.

RUSSIA: Behind closed doors, Russia has extended until March 30 the trial of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who is accused of spying. His trial was scheduled to begin on Monday.

SUDAN: The Religious Affairs Ministry has abolished government-appointed committees set up to oversee churches under former President Omar al-Bashir, returning oversight of churches to their rightful leaders—and paving the way for returning confiscated property.

STAYING HOME: For those who mark this season of Lent, every Lent is a quarantine.

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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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