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‘Pandemic potential’

WHO official says the spread of the coronavirus from one country to another cannot be stopped

Executive Director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme Michael Ryan (left) and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at Monday’s news conference Associated Press/Photo by Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone

‘Pandemic potential’

CHINA: “There is no zero risk,” said Michael Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Programme about the coronavirus at a news conference Monday morning. “It is not possible to stop this virus spreading from one country to the next.” WHO officials said they are not prepared to declare the virus a pandemic but it has “pandemic potential.” For now, focus is on “coherent, coordinated management across borders and between countries.”

Fears of a pandemic have spread as Italy now has reported six deaths, and quarantines and closures will test the European Union’s open-border policy. Iran is reporting 12 deaths, with five neighboring countries all reporting their first cases, signaling a rapid transmission in the Middle East. Monday’s steep stock market decline shows how in the United States economic pain can be viral. Scenes from China’s quarantine and closures all show how rapidly life can change with the outbreak. Here’s a map of the spread as of Monday.

INDIA: A massive rally in Ahmedabad on Monday welcomed President Donald Trump and the first lady. This week’s state visit highlights deepening defense cooperation and a turnaround in a growing alliance with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Trump told the crowd, outfitted in “Namaste Trump” ball caps, that India as a growing economic power will “soon be home to the biggest middle class anywhere in the world.”

SYRIA: On the five-year anniversary of the ISIS kidnapping of nearly 253 Assyrians in Syria’s Khabur Valley, Iranian state news outlets are claiming Assyrians are “indebted” to Gen. Qassem Soleimani—the Quds Force commander assassinated by the United States in Iraq last month—for helping to secure the release of most of the hostages months later. Assyrian outlets said that’s not the case. All but four of the hostages were released upon ransom payments: Three were executed in an ISIS video and one girl was forcefully married to an ISIS member and has never been released.

About 800 Assyrians have returned to the Khabur villages, out of 20,000 living there before the kidnappings. Many villages also have taken in displaced Kurdish and Arab families from Ras al-Ayn, an area overtaken and held by Turkey since late last year.

FRANCE: An internal investigation by the L’Arche organization he founded has concluded that Jean Vanier, long heralded for his work among the disabled, had sexually abused at least six adult women and covered up a pattern of “deviant sexual practices” by his mentor, Dominican Catholic scholar Thomas Philippe. The report issued on Saturday by L’Arche International is “gut-wrenching” for Catholics who revered Vanier and for others who worked or followed the 154 L’Arche communities established around the world to elevate care for the disabled. Vanier, a Canadian Catholic philosopher and theologian who died last year, received the 2015 Templeton Prize for his work and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

TURKEY: When Hagia Sophia was built as a church in the sixth century, it was the largest building in the world. Choral music was banned in the 15th century, when the Ottomans took over and turned Hagia Sophia into a mosque. But you can hear a Byzantine chant as it was sung inside the massive sanctuary through the wonders of 21st century technology, digital filtering, and two imaginative Stanford scholars. Crank up the volume on your headphones and LISTEN.

NOTE: Responses to my request for book recommendations are so substantial I’ve created an online bookshelf to list them (though not all are posted yet). Thank you!

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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.



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