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Examining Coronavirus Hot Spots: U.S. And Brazil


A hundred thousand American lives lost to the coronavirus. That is the stunning death toll that the United States is approaching and will likely surpass over the next few days. The U.S. also leads the world in coronavirus cases, with more than 1.6 million confirmed cases. But the White House is now clamping down on the No. 2 hot spot, Brazil, with a new travel ban. Brazil now has more than 360,000 cases following a surge there in recent weeks. And let's bring in Jason Beaubien, who is NPR's global health and development correspondent. Hi, Jason.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, David.

GREENE: So let's talk about this new travel restriction from the White House. What does it deal with here?

BEAUBIEN: So it applies both to Brazilians and any non-U.S. citizens who have been in Brazil over the last 14 days. So Americans who are still there are allowed to come back. But Brazil is being added to this earlier list of travel bans. It should be remembered, you know, we still have bans in place against China, Iran, nearly 30 European countries. We still have nonessential travel between Canada and Mexico is banned. So there's a lot of talk about reopening the U.S. But there isn't really movement in terms of reopening international travel. In fact, this Brazil ban shows that we're moving in the other direction.

GREENE: Well, besides Brazil, I mean, where are we looking in terms of hot spots around the world at this point?

BEAUBIEN: So parts of Latin America are really getting hit hard. In addition to Brazil, you've got Peru, Chile, Colombia and Mexico. They're all seeing surges in cases. Two other places where COVID is really taking off right now are Russia and India. Russia actually has the third-highest number of cases behind the U.S. and Brazil. And India is a concern, given its huge population, you know, its crowded cities, the potential for a respiratory virus like this to really take off there. So there's a lot of concern in India as well.

GREENE: I mean, all is relative, of course. But there are places where things are going relatively well, right?

BEAUBIEN: Yeah. That's true. You know, we've sort of got two categories of doing well. You've got places like New Zealand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, where they have brought transmission down to essentially zero. And they are just dealing with imported cases from people who've come from outside their own borders. And then you've got countries like Italy, Spain, France, where they are still dealing with a few hundred cases a day. You know, they've come from having large outbreaks. But the trend line is very much in the right direction.

And it's important to note that this isn't just some automatic thing, as if the virus just sort of burns out after a certain period of time. If you look at the U.K., their outbreak started a little bit behind mainland Europe. But they haven't seen that sharp downward trend in cases. It sort of plateaued at a few thousand new cases a day. And they're still really struggling.

GREENE: So I mean, I know you've been covering this since the pandemic began, basically. I mean, as you - do you see a pattern, like, as you look at countries that have done well and countries that haven't?

BEAUBIEN: It is really interesting. I think some countries just got lucky, right? Like, the virus didn't show up there until later. They had more warning, more time to get ready, more time to deal with it. But I have been talking to some analysts about this recently. And there are some trends emerging about what type of government seems to be better able to respond to this. If you look at the political leaders in the countries that right now are having the toughest time with this virus, there are some similarities. You've got the Trump administration here in the U.S., Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Boris Johnson in the U.K., Vladimir Putin in Russia; these are all very combative administrations. And on this issue, they were either dismissive or at least indecisive early on in the pandemic. If you look at the places that have done well in containing COVID - New Zealand, Germany, South Korea - they all took the threat of this virus very seriously early on. They had decisive national plans for how to address it, you know. And they managed to get people on board quickly. And that seems to have helped.

GREENE: That is NPR's global health and development correspondent Jason Beaubien. Jason, thanks.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.