Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The World Health Organization declares the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, U.S. President Donald Trump bans EU travelers over coronavirus fears, and Saudi Arabia increases oil production to record highs.
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WHO Declares Pandemic as Trump Bans European Travelers
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced that the global coronavirus outbreak is now a pandemic, the organization’s highest health emergency level. It’s the first time the WHO has used the term since the outbreak of swine flu in 2009.
Why a pandemic? The designation is meant to underline the global nature of COVID-19’s spread, now on six continents. Tedros was at pains to point out that it did not mean that efforts to contain the outbreak were in vain, “We cannot say this loudly enough or clearly enough or often enough: All countries can still change the course of this pandemic,” he said.
Trump bans European travelers. In an Oval Office announcement on Wednesday night, U.S. President Donald Trump said he was banning travel from European countries for 30 days; the United Kingdom and Ireland are excluded from the suspension. Trump said the European Union had “failed to take the same precautions” as the United States in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak. It was later clarified that the ban would only apply to the 26 nations in the Schengen zone, which includes some non-EU members.
Stocks drop again. The Dow Jones Industrial Average entered bear market territory yesterday after a 5.9 percent drop following the WHO announcement, halting an 11-year long bull run. The Dow’s cumulative 20 percent drop comes after record highs only a month ago. At the time of writing, London’s FTSE 100 had fallen by more than 5 percent on Thursday morning and Dow futures, reacting to Trump’s speech, were already down 5 percent before the opening bell in U.S. markets.
It will get worse. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the House Committee on Oversight and Reform that there would likely be more cases of the virus in future and that any vaccine was more than a year away. “Bottom line, it’s going to get worse,” he said. With mass gatherings increasingly outlawed worldwide, it’s fitting that the forthcoming G-7 meeting of foreign ministers, scheduled for Pittsburgh on March 24 and 25, will now be moving to video conference.
Diplomatic posturing. Meanwhile, China is using the relative inaction of the United States to attempt to rebrand itself as the international leader in the fight against the virus, according to a letter to United Nations member states by China’s U.N. ambassador Zhang Jun and obtained by Foreign Policy. Reporters Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer said the letter “appeared calculated to rebut growing criticism from the United States and elsewhere over its initial handling of the outbreak that allowed the disease to spread so rapidly.”
The coronavirus campaign. The coronavirus is finally taking a toll on the U.S. Democratic primary, with both former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders having to cancel rallies over fears of spreading—or catching—the virus. Writing in Foreign Policy, Laurie Garrett argues that it’s now time to radically rethink how the 2020 campaign will be organized.
Mapping the coronavirus outbreak: Follow our daily updates on the epidemic and how it is affecting countries around the world here.
What We’re Following Today
Saudi oil glut. Saudi Arabia has ordered state oil company Aramco to increase production levels to a record 13 millions barrels per day as the kingdom attempts to strangle competition in the oil market. The move comes after last week’s failed OPEC meeting and a change in Saudi strategy designed to undercut Russian and U.S. oil producers. Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency, told CNN that oil producers should stop playing “Russian roulette” with the oil market.
Rocket attack kills three. Three service members, two from the United States and one from the United Kingdom, were killed yesterday in a rocket strike on a military base in Taji, Iraq. A U.S. military spokesman said that more than 15 rockets were launched at the base as part of the attack. Unnamed U.S. officials, speaking to CNN, pointed to Iran or Iranian-backed groups as the likely perpetrators.
U.S. House asserts war powers. The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation on Wednesday that would limit President Trump’s ability to wage war with Iran. The law would require Trump to remove troops fighting against Iran unless specifically authorized by Congress. The legislation is not expected to survive a presidential veto.
Afghanistan talks. The Afghan government has said they will release 1,500 Taliban prisoners as part of steps toward dialogue between the two sides. The Taliban want 5,000 prisoners released before any talks take place. President Ashraf Ghani has held back the release of the remaining 3,500 until certain conditions are met—a move the Taliban says goes against the Feb. 29 peace accord.
Poles melting faster. Polar ice caps are melting six times faster than they did in the 1990s, according to a new analysis of ice loss in Greenland and Antarctica. Almost all of the ice loss came from warming oceans melting the glaciers flowing from the ice caps. Professor Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds, who co-led the assessment, said that despite the melting rate the associated sea level rise could still be mitigated if measures to stop heating the planet were taken.
Scientists have identified a planet outside our solar system, Wasp-76b, that exhibits ultra-high temperatures of 2,400 degrees Celsius (about 4,350 degrees Fahrenheit) and winds of 10,000 miles per hour. The planet—which is 640 light years away in the constellation of Pisces—is so hot that iron on the surface evaporates and forms into clouds, coming back down as iron rain. The planet’s unusual weather was discovered using a new instrument on the Very Large Telescope, located in Chile.
That’s it for today.