UN warns of potential global mental health crisis; Food production in jeopardy during pandemic; US pressure to keep factories open in Mexico

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The world is a risk of a mental health crisis, the United Nations warned on Thursday. The coronavirus pandemic has forced many people into isolation and out of work as they face the constant anxiety of dealing with death and disease. The situation is compounded by decades of ignoring and underinvesting in mental health needs, the UN said, calling on countries to commit to improve the ways they treat psychological illness. 

The need is especially clear in conflict-hit communities, where the situation was criticial even before the pandemic hit. Frontline workers and those with preexisting conditions are at heightened risk, as are youth and the elderly. 

And: Here’s how Wuhan plans to test all 11 million of its people for coronavirus

Food production in jeopardy during pandemic, locust outbreak

Italy will grant amensty to thousands of undocumented people, who will be allowed to apply for temporary permits to work in Italy’s farm and home care sectors. The decision comes as hundreds of thousands of seasonal workers from Eastern Europe remain under pandemic-related travel restrictions. But the Italian mafia also has a history of exploiting migrant workers. This year, Italy is at risk of losing 25% of its harvest, and agricultural associations hope the new amnesty will help to fill the labor shortage.

In East Africa, the food situation is even more dire. Heavy rains, an ongoing locust outbreak and the closure of open-air food markets due to COVID-19 all lead to major concerns over food security. In Kenya, officials say around 12 million people don’t have enough food right now.

And: Typhoon Vongfong makes landfall in the Philippines

Ousted vaccine official warns US must develop response ‘based in science’ or face ‘unprecedented’ consequences

Being truthful with the American people: That’s what whistleblower Rick Bright, the ousted top vaccine official, says is critical to managing the novel coronavirus outbreak in the US. Bright will testify before Congress today, warning that the US faces the “darkest winter in modern history” without a better national response to the pandemic.

“If we fail to develop a national coordinated response, based in science, I fear the pandemic will get far worse and be prolonged, causing unprecedented illness and fatalities,” Bright is set to tell Congress in prepared remarks. 

And: Judge appoints outsider to take on Justice Dept. in Flynn case

US pressure to keep factories open in Mexico

Mexico is starting to reopen, with plans to lift the nationwide lockdown on June 1. Many businesses are eager to reopen, but for workers at foreign-owned factories the pressure to continue manufacutring products for export hasn’t really stopped. Official efforts to close such workplaces to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus have faced significant pressure from US government officials to keep those factories running — no matter the cost

Also: Mexico is severely — and maybe purposely — undercounting its coronavirus deaths

And: Total lockdown for Chile capital after surge in virus cases

Madagascar defends coronavirus herbal remedy

In the face of mounting criticism, Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina continues to champion COVID Organics, an unproven herbal remedy against the novel coronavirus. The herbal drink, developed by local scientists, comes from traditional medicinal plants, including Artemisia arrua.

Earlier this week, WHO met with 70 African traditional medicine experts to discuss the role of traditional medicine during the pandemic. There was broad agreement that traditional medicine should undergo clinical trials, and certain herb-drug interactions can be dangerous. But those concerns haven’t slowed down Rajoelina, who has been donating COVID Organics to other African countries.

Also: Lesotho becomes last African country to record coronavirus

And: How big a threat does coronavirus pose to wildlife in Africa?

The slow burn of a long-term slowdown

As fast-moving as it may feel, the world has really been slowing down for decades. From the global population, to the economy, to technology, the rate of innovation and growth has practically ground to a halt. That’s according to geography Professor Danny Dorling at Oxford University. Some of this may seem like bad news. On the surface, a slowdown sounds like a decline, whether it’s for our quality of life or for our expected wealth. But Dorling says this slowdown might just be what the world needs.

Baltic ‘bubble’ looks to reopen regional travel

A person on an orange bicycle rides past a billboard of people with masks
A bicyclist rides next to a billboard, a part of a “Mask Fashion Week” during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Vilnius, Lithuania, May 5, 2020. Andrius Sytas/Reuters

The Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are poised to become one of the first blocs to reopen regional travel, thanks to their swift and broadly effective response to the pandemic, where science had taken the lead.

The countries have also approached crisis with the innovation for which the region has become known. Estonia — a pioneer in technology and e-governance — has worked toward finding digital solutions to the crisis. Vilnius, Lithuania, has turned into a giant open-air cafe. And in Latvia, the minister of health even guest DJ-ed an online quarantine disco to lighten the mood.

Morning meme

The UK has sent mixed messages about relaxing coronavirus restrictions. Comedian Janey Godley “clarifies” with a fantastic voiceover of Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

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In case you missed it

Listen: Scientists work to understand immunity from the coronavirus

A group of several people are shown riding bicycles in the streets and wearing protective face masks.
Bikers ride past a metro station after France began a gradual end to a nationwide lockdown due to the coronavirus, in Paris, France, May 13, 2020.Charles Platiau/Reuters

We still don’t know whether people who’ve been infected with the novel coronavirus are immune from infection, and if so, for how long. But scientists are starting to put together the pieces of the puzzle. Madagascar is marketing a new herbal drink as a potential treatment — if not a cure — for the coronavirus. While the World Health Organization has warned against the use of untested treatments for the coronavirus, some African countries are ordering the new drink. And, it’s official: COVID-19 is feminine in the French language. It’s laCOVID-dix-neuf, not le. Like in most other romance languages, every noun in French has its own gender. 

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