Russia on Thursday opened polls for a week-long vote on constitutional changes that would allow President Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036.
The vote on a slew of constitutional amendments, proposed by Putin in January, was initially scheduled for April 22, but was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The proposed amendments include a change in the constitution that would allow the 67-year-old Putin, who has ruled Russia for over two decades, to run for two more six-year terms after his current one expires in 2024.
Other amendments talk about improving social benefits, define marriage as a union of a man and and a woman and redistribute executive powers within the government, strengthening the presidency.
The changes have already been approved by both houses of parliament, the country’s Constitutional Court and were signed into law by Putin. He insisted that they be put to a vote, even though it is not legally required, in what many see as an effort to put a veneer of democracy on the controversial changes.
Holding the vote in the middle of a pandemic has elicited public health concerns, because Russia is still reporting over 7,000 new virus cases daily and has 613,000 confirmed infections in all, the third-worst caseload in the world.
The United Nation weather agency has been investigating media reports suggesting the Arctic Circle has recorded a new record high temperature of over 38 degrees Celsius amid a heat wave and prolonged wildfires in eastern Siberia.
The World Meteorological Organization said on Tuesday that it’s inspecting to verify the temperature reading on Saturday in Russia's Verkoyansk with Roshydromet, the Russian federal service for hydro-meteorological and environmental monitoring.
Agency spokeswoman Clare Nullis said wildfires in the Russian region and hot summer conditions regularly drive temperatures above 30C in July, but they’ve never been found to top 38 degrees in the area.
“We’re taking it seriously, but we need to await official confirmation,” she told reporters in Geneva, reports AP.
A spike in coronavirus infections linked to a slaughterhouse in Germany's western region prompted officials to imposed new lockdown measures on Tuesday to make sure the cluster doesn’t spread in the community.
More than 1,550 people have tested positive for coronavirus at the Toennies slaughterhouse in Rheda-Wiedenbrueck and thousands more workers and family members have been put under quarantine in a bid to halt the outbreak.
The company has blamed its workforce, which are mostly immigrants from Eastern Europe, for bringing the virus, while union officials said that the outbreak is due to the terrible working and living conditions employees faced under loosely regulated sub-contractors, reports AP.
Armin Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state, said people in Guetersloh and parts of a neighbouring county for the next week will face the same kind of restrictions that existed across Germany during the early stages of the pandemic.
The restriction include limiting the number of people who can meet in public to those from a single household or two people from separate households, Laschet said.
“We will order a lockdown for the whole of Guetersloh county,” he told reporters Tuesday.
Prior to the Toennies outbreak, Germany had been widely praised for its handling of the pandemic. Intensive testing, tracing and hospital preparation measures tamped down the outbreak and kept Germany’s death toll five times smaller than Britain’s.
Germany has seen 8,899 confirmed virus deaths and about 192,000 cases.
Amid the worsening coronavirus situation, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases is showing a surge on Tuesday in many countries including the US where lockdowns have been lifted.
In parts of Western Europe, the coronavirus cases remained stable or are going down.
India has been recording about 15,000 cases each day and some states on Tuesday were imposing fresh lockdown measures to try to curb the spread of the virus in the nation of more than 1.3 billion. The government earlier lifted a countrywide lockdown in a bid to revive the economy which has seen millions lose jobs.
Although Pakistan's hospitals are turning away patients, the government is determined to reopen the country with the economy there teetering, reports AP.
Mexico, Colombia and Indonesia have been seeing a surge in coronavirus cases.
Brazil, with more than 1.1 million cases and 51,000 deaths, has been affected more than anywhere but the US, which has reported more than 2.3 million cases and 120,000 deaths, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.
In the US, surges in cases across the South and West are raising fears that progress against the virus is slipping away, as states reopen and many Americans resist wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.
On Tuesday, Dr Anthony Fauci will return to Capitol Hill to testify before a House committee.
His testimony comes after President Donald Trump said at a weekend rally in Oklahoma that he had asked administration officials to slow down testing, because too many positive cases are turning up.
Many rally goers did not wear masks, and for some that was an act of defiance against what they see as government intrusion. White House officials later tried to walk back Trump’s comment on testing, suggesting it wasn’t meant to be taken literally.
Dr Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization’s emergencies chief, said the record number of new cases couldn’t be explained by increased testing alone and noted that many countries have seen large increases in hospital admissions and deaths.
“The epidemic is now peaking or moving towards a peak in a number of large countries,” he said.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it took more than three months for the world to see 1 million confirmed infections, but just eight days to see the most recent 1 million cases.
“The greatest threat we face now is not the virus itself; it’s the lack of global solidarity and global leadership," he said during a video conference for the Dubai-based World Government Summit.
Even some countries that have had initial success in stamping out the virus are finding pockets of resurgence.
In Australia, Victoria state on Tuesday reported 17 new cases, resulting in the closing of two primary schools in Melbourne. State Premier Daniel Andrews said there would be significant community transmission among the new cases.
China reported 22 new cases, including 13 in Beijing, a day after a city government spokesperson said containment measures had slowed the momentum of a new outbreak in the capital that has infected more than 200 people.
And South Korea reported 46 new cases, including 30 linked to international arrivals.
The country has been struggling to stem a resurgence of the virus in the Seoul metropolitan area, where hundreds of infections have been linked to entertainment and leisure activities, church gatherings and low-income workers who couldn’t afford to stay home.
South Korea also said it was testing 176 workers at the southern port of Busan following a virus outbreak among crew members of a Russian cargo ship that has so far sickened 16.
Saudi Arabia said this year’s hajj will not be canceled, but only “very limited numbers” of people will be allowed to take part. The hajj traditionally draws around 2 million Muslims from around the world for five intense days of worship and rituals in Mecca.
Worldwide, more than 9 million people have been confirmed infected by the virus and more than 472,000 have died, according to the Johns Hopkins University tally. Experts say the true numbers are much higher because of limited testing and cases in which patients had no symptoms.
World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday said that the world leaders must not politicise the coronavirus pandemic but get united to fight it.
“The pandemic is still accelerating and producing record daily increases in infections,” he said during a videoconference for the Dubai-based World Government Summit.
Tedros has faced criticism from US President Donald Trump as the number of reported infections soared in Brazil, Iraq, India and southern and western US states, straining local hospitals.
It took over three months for the world to see 1 million virus infections, but the last 1 million cases have come in just eight days, Tedros added.
However, the WHO chief did not mention Trump’s name or the fact that he is determined to pull the US out of the UN health agency but warned against “politicising” the pandemic.
“The greatest threat we face now is not the virus itself, it’s the lack of global solidarity and global leadership,” he said. “We cannot defeat this pandemic with a divided world.”
Trump has criticised the WHO for its early response to the outbreak and what he considers its excessive praise of China, where the outbreak began, as his administration’s response in the US has come under scrutiny. In response, Trump has threatened to end all US funding for the WHO.
Nearly 9 million people have been infected by the virus worldwide and more than 468,000 have died, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Experts say the actual numbers are much higher, due to limited testing and asymptomatic cases.