France, Germany back 500-billion-euro recovery plan; UK hits grim milestone on death toll


The Atlantic Council’s Coronavirus Alert is a regular summary of policy, economic, and business events around the emergency. To stay updated, sign up to the Coronavirus Alert here.

In top stories today:

  • France and Germany backed a 500-billion-euro recovery plan funded by extra borrowing in response to the coronavirus crisis. The United Kingdom reached a grim milestone of deaths from the virus, increasing pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson over his handling of the outbreak.  
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron backed a 500-billion-euro ($546 billion) European Union (EU) recovery fund, Bloomberg said, citing a videoconference the two leaders held on May 18. Germany would back a fund as part of the EU budget and funded by extra borrowing, with grants then made to member states most affected by coronavirus, Merkel said after the conference, the newswire reported, adding that a final deal will need approval by twenty-seven EU nations.  
  • QUOTE: “We are experiencing the biggest crisis in our history,’’ Merkel said in the video news conference with Macron, The New York Times reported. “It is time to fight back. Germany and France are fighting together for the European idea.” 
  • READ MORE: “Some have argued that a partial Eurobond instrument, backed for example by France, Italy, and Spain, could be set up as a risk sharing and/or solidarity tool,” writes the Atlantic Council’s Bart Oosterveld. “This is a truly awful idea.”
  • US President Donald J. Trump said he’s been taking the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to protect against coronavirus for about a week and a half, the Associated Press reported. That’s despite a warning that it should only be taken in hospital because of potentially fatal side effects, the news agency added.  
  • China’s President Xi Jinping sought to cast Beijing as the guardian of global order when he addressed the World Health Organization’s (WHO) annual meeting on May 18, pledging two billion dollars in the battle against coronavirus and calling for a vaccine to be widely available, the Financial Times said. But hours after Xi’s message, which included backing a review of the global response to the virus, China imposed punitive tariffs on Australian barley imports amid a spat over Canberra’s calls for an international inquiry, the Financial Times said. 
  • Trump threatened to withdraw the United States from the WHO and pull funding permanently unless the United Nations public-health body curbs what he called its pro-China bias, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing a May 18 letter to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment, the newspaper added.   
  • QUOTE: “This is the time for solidarity; it is not the time for finger-pointing or undermining multilateral cooperation,” Virginie Battu-Henriksson, a spokeswoman for the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, told reporters in Brussels, Bloomberg reported.  
  • Worldwide economic recovery from the coronavirus will take between one and three years, according to more than 80 percent of European chief executives and chairmen in the European Round Table for Industry, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing a survey to be published on May 19. That mirrors the view of American business leaders recently, the newspaper said. The Conference Board, a US think tank, carried out both surveys, the Journal added.  
  • The United Kingdom has recorded almost 43,000 deaths linked to coronavirus, making it the worst hit country in Europe, Bloomberg reported. The figures, which also paint a grim picture from care homes—more than a third of which have been hit by coronavirus—has raised more questions about how Prime Minister Boris Johnson has handled the crisis, Reuters said.  


  • The coronavirus outbreak will force governments to restructure economies as supporting companies during lockdown is not sufficient, Hiroaki Nakanishi, chairman of Hitachi and head of the Keidanren business lobby in Japan, told the Financial Times in an interview. That could include a large-scale migration of jobs away from industries including retail, entertainment, and travel, he said.  
  • QUOTE: “It’s important to think really carefully about how far to encourage people to change jobs,” Nakanishi said, the Financial Times reported. “If you assume that the corona[virus] pandemic is going to become a long-term thing, then that will be essential.”  
  • Jobless claims in the United Kingdom surged by a record 856,500 in April, the first full month of a coronavirus lockdown and in spite of a government-backed furlough program, Sky News reported. The jobless total of 2.1 million is the highest since 1996, Sky News added, citing the Office for National Statistics.   
  • Car sales in Europe plunged an unprecedented 76 percent in April as the industry contends with its worse crisis in decades, the Associated Press said, citing the ACEA car manufacturers’ association. Just 270,682 were sold as lockdowns closed most dealerships in the region, the news agency said. “German car industry gets cold shoulder from Berlin” reads a Financial Times headline. Politicians and the public in Europe’s largest economy are reluctant to see the industry get special treatment, the Financial Times said. 


  • News service Stat runs a story headlined “9 ways Covid-19 may forever upend the U.S. health care industry” after surveying health advisers to Republican and Democrat presidents, executives, legislators, doctors, and lobbyists. Far-reaching changes could include ending the American tradition of tying health insurance to employment, a reckoning about black and other marginalized people’s health outcomes, and a fundamental questioning of the concept of nursing homes, Stat reported.  
  • South Korean airlines plan to restore some international services as countries worldwide start to lift coronavirus restrictions, the Financial Times reported. Korean Air plans to resume flights to Washington, Seattle, Vancouver, and Toronto next month, opening 32 of its 110 international routes. Asiana Airlines will restart flights mostly to Chinese cities as it reopens thirteen routes, taking the total to twenty-seven of its seventy-three international destinations, the Financial Times said.  


  • Authorities in India and Bangladesh are trying to evacuate millions of people while maintaining social distancing as a powerful cyclone approaches, the Associated Press reported. Forecasters warn that Amphan, expected to make landfall in the morning of May 20, will likely cause widespread damage from heavy rainfall, high winds, and tidal waves, as well as some flooding in crowded cities such as Kolkata, the Associated Press added.  
  • Brazil has registered more than 250,000 cases of coronavirus, making it the country with the third-highest number of infections, behind the United States and Russia, the BBC reported. Health Minister Nelson Teich resigned last week over President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the crisis, the BBC added.  
  • Pakistan’s Supreme Court said shopping malls and stores can reopen straight away, overturning government orders intended to slow the spread of coronavirus, The Wall Street Journal said. The debate about how to revive economic activity during a pandemic has intensified as cases of the disease have climbed in recent weeks in Pakistan, an impoverished country of 220 million people, the Journal added.  
  • The pace of new infections of coronavirus showed little sign of slowing in India, where cases reached 100,000 on May 19, Reuters reported. Health experts and officials are concerned about the strain the outbreak is putting on the country’s under-funded hospitals, Reuters added.