World this week
Bleak new figures underscored the worldwide economic pain inflicted by the coronavirus: The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits has climbed past a staggering 30 million, while Europe's economies have gone into an epic slide. And as bad as the numbers are, some are already outdated because of the lag in gathering data. The true economic picture is almost certainly much worse.
The economy in the 19 countries using the euro shrank 3.8% in the first quarter of the year, the biggest contraction since the eurozone countries began keeping joint statistics 25 years ago.The statistics are likely to stoke the debate over whether to ease the lockdowns that have closed factories and other businesses. In the U.S., the government reported that 3.8 million laid-off workers applied for jobless benefits last week, raising the total to 30.3 million in the six weeks since the outbreak took hold. The layoffs amount to 1 in 6 American workers and encompass more people than the entire population of Texas.
The top U.S. intelligence agency said the country's intelligence community does not believe the coronavirus was man-made or genetically modified. The U.S. intelligence community "concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified," the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said in a statement.
The ODNI said it was investigating whether the virus emerged from a laboratory in Wuhan, China, although the rumor has been repeatedly dismissed among scientists, who generally believe the virus jumped from animals to humans in some natural way involving farming, hunting or the transporting of wild animals.Citing current and former U.S. officials, The New York Times reported Thursday that senior Trump administration officials pushed intelligence agencies to hunt for evidence to support an unsubstantiated theory that a lab in Wuhan was the origin of the outbreak.
Scientists have identified the highest levels of microplastics ever recorded on the seafloor. The contamination was found in sediments pulled from the bottom of the Mediterranean, near Italy. The analysis, led by the University of Manchester, found up to 1.9 million plastic pieces per square metre. These items likely included fibres from clothing and other synthetic textiles, and tiny fragments from larger objects that had broken down over time.
The researchers' investigations lead them to believe that microplastics (smaller than 1mm) are being concentrated in specific locations on the ocean floor by powerful bottom currents. "These currents build what are called drift deposits; think of underwater sand dunes," explained Dr Ian Kane, who fronted the international team. "They can be tens of kilometres long and hundreds of metres high. They are among the largest sediment accumulations on Earth. They're made predominantly of very fine silt, so it's intuitive to expect microplastics will be found within them."
More than seven million children in Afghanistan are at risk of hunger as food prices soar due to the coronavirus pandemic, a report warned. A Save the Children spokesman said the country faced a "perfect storm of hunger, disease and death" unless the international community took action. The charity said a third of the population, which includes 7.3 million children, was facing food shortages. The UN recently included Afghanistan in a list of countries at risk of famine.
The organisation's World Food Programme (WFP) warned the world was facing a "hunger pandemic". Afghanistan has suffered almost two decades of war since US-led forces ousted the Taliban in 2001, leaving it with a fractured and impoverished healthcare system. As cases of coronavirus spread, the government imposed a lockdown in the capital, Kabul, at the end of March and other provinces quickly followed.
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