A world full of viruses
IN MOST PEOPLE, covid-19 is a brief, mild illness. But it is known to have killed almost 800,000 people worldwide. And in some survivors symptoms persist for months. These include fatigue, coughs, breathlessness, aches and even cognitive problems. Faced with a baffling array of symptoms and an increasing number of patients, doctors are desperate for guidance. SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes covid-19, is a grim reminder of humanity’s vulnerability to viruses, from influenza to measles and smallpox. But as our cover story sets out, the influence of viruses on life on Earth goes far beyond that. Best thought of as packages of genetic material, exploiting the metabolism of other organisms in order to reproduce, viruses have shaped evolution since life began. The planet is teeming with them. A single kilo of dried soil might contain 1trn virions, the particles in which viral genes are packaged. The world may house 1031 of the things. That’s one, followed by 31 noughts.
Stockmarket flotations have fallen out of fashion. In the last quarter of the 20th century, 282 initial public offerings a year took place in America; since 2000 the average has dropped to just 115. But now a wave of technology firms, including Airbnb, which rents homes to travellers, and Palantir, a data-analytics company, are preparing to go public, or are reported to be. The pandemic has boosted online business, making a flotation attractive. And companies are taking advantage of the frothiness of financial markets to try new ways of floating, bypassing investment banks’ pricey IPO fees: direct listings, in which no new shares are issued, and using listed shell companies to buy private firms. The experiments are welcome. But for some hopefuls getting to the market will be the easy bit. For weak firms, it is an unforgiving place.
On August 18th soldiers deposed Mali’s president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. The coup, the fourth in the west African country since 1968, follows months of protests—though whether there is any link between the plotters and the protesters is unclear. Mr Keita’s government has done little to stop escalating jihadist violence, and less to deal with its underlying causes. Fights involving jihadists and ethnic groups took more than 1,800 lives in the first half of 2020, almost as many as in all of 2019, despite the presence of Western troops and UN peacekeepers. Mali’s problems are not unique. Jihadists plague other countries in the Sahel (and elsewhere in Africa, notably Mozambique, far to the south-east). But Western governments, if they are to help, must offer more than soldiers. Hopeless governance needs tackling too.
Ostensibly, the quarrel in the eastern Mediterranean between Greece and Turkey—including a collision of two frigates earlier this month—is about gas. In the past decade Israel, Egypt and Cyprus have all discovered large gas reserves in their waters. A scramble for reserves continues, despite the rise of clean energy and the collapse of hydrocarbon prices amid the covid-19 pandemic. Greece claims that each of its tiny islands enjoys exclusive drilling rights; Turkey retorts that the eastern ones sit on its own continental shelf. But the dash for gas has become intertwined with other disputes, involving countries from France to the United Arab Emirates. Turkey alone recognises Northern Cyprus and hence the legitimacy of its waters. And in return for Turkey’s support, Libya’s UN-recognised government has agreed to a maritime deal boosting Turkey’s claims but overlapping with those of Greece and Cyprus.
At the end of June Britain’s unemployment rate was just 3.9%, remarkably low after a quarter in which GDP, afflicted by the covid-19 lockdown, shrivelled by one-fifth. For that, thank the furlough scheme under which the government pays 80% of wages. But now employers are having to contribute more, and the scheme is due to end in October. Announcements of redundancies by the thousand suggest a steep increase in joblessness is already under way. Workers in hospitality and retailing are at most risk. Britain looks ill-equipped. Although the benefits system (stingy by international standards) will probably cope, Britain has put little effort into policies to help people back into work, compared with other European countries. Another covid-19 test for the British state looms—following a fiasco over school exams and a hurried shake-up of England’s public-health agency.
Author: | Post link: https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2020/08/21/a-world-full-of-viruses
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