CORONAVIRUS ALERT 08/18/2020
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:
- Infections in Germany raised concerns of a resurgence in new cases in Europe, while South Korea tightened social distancing restrictions. The World Health Organization (WHO) is concerned that new infections are being driven by people in their twenties, thirties, and forties, many of whom have no symptoms.
- The statistics say… there are now approaching 22 million cases worldwide in 188 countries and territories; almost 775,000 people have died.
- Germany, Europe’s largest economy and most populous country, recorded the highest number of infections in almost four months, prompting concerns about a resurgence of new cases in Europe, Bloomberg reported. Trying to avoid more drastic restrictions after the vacation season winds down, officials in Spain and Italy have closed nightclubs while Greece has limited hours for restaurants and bars, the newswire added.
- South Korea increased social distancing restrictions on August 18 as it reported a three-digit increase in infections for a fifth day in a row, Reuters reported. Officials also scrambled to locate hundreds of members of a church congregation and, two days after restarting stricter social distancing in Seoul, extended the measures to the port city of Incheon, the newswire added. Nightclubs, karaoke bars, buffets, and cyber cafes were also ordered to close, Reuters said.
- QUOTE: “If we can’t get the virus under control now we’ll have to notch up social distancing to higher levels, and that would have a big impact on our economy and people’s livelihoods,” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told reporters after an emergency meeting, Reuters reported.
- The WHO is concerned that the spread of coronavirus is being driven by people in their twenties, thirties, and forties, many of whom were unaware they were infected and posing a danger to vulnerable groups, Reuters reported, citing WHO Western Pacific regional director, Takeshi Kasai.
- Meanwhile, an increasingly common mutation of the virus found in Europe, North America, and parts of Asia may be more infectious but seems to be less deadly, the newswire said separately, citing an interview with Paul Tambyah, senior consultant at the National University of Singapore and president-elect of the International Society of Infectious Diseases.
- US cases of coronavirus have remained stubbornly high, as CNBC puts it, with an average of 51,100 daily infections in the past seven days. The Democrats started their virtual national convention with attacks against US President Donald J. Trump for his handling of the pandemic and the shattered economy, as Bloomberg puts it. The Wall Street Journal has a different take, reporting that the 35,112 new cases on August 17 was the lowest daily tally in almost eight weeks.
- The statistics say… There were 9,715 coronavirus cases in US nursing homes the week starting July 26, an increase of 77 percent from a low point the week of June 21, The Associated Press reported, citing an August 17 study by the American Health Care Association.
- READ MORE: The Atlantic Council hosted former US Secretary of State Clinton, who spoke about the extraordinary stakes of the 2020 election, the international effort needed to overcome the pandemic, the trajectory of US-China relations, and more. Further details are here.
- EVENT: Join the Atlantic Council for this online discussion about the challenges facing US and European policymakers to avoid an ISIS revival, as well as ways to support local partners and communities to ensure their protection against the Islamic State. The event takes place on Tuesday, August 18 at 12:00 p.m. EDT. Details are here.
- Virtually all of a second wave of coronavirus infections in Australia’s Victoria state can be traced back to returned travelers in two Melbourne hotels, Department of Health and Human Services epidemiologist Charles Alpren told an inquiry into failures in a quarantine system on August 18, The Associated Press reported. He said “99 percent” of Victoria’s current infections were linked to the Rydges on Swanston and Stamford Plaza hotels, the news service added.
- The statistics say… Australia detected 226 new infections in the past twenty-four hours, the lowest since July 18 when 212 cases were recorded, Reuters reported. That added to hopes a strict lockdown in Victoria, the second-most populous state, has prevented a fresh wave of cases nationally, the newswire said.
- Meanwhile New Zealand ruled out the possibility that a recent outbreak might have been caused by imports of frozen food or cold freight shipments, Ashley Bloomfield, the country’s director general of health told reporters on August 18, The Washington Post reported. Scientists mainly agree that infections happen primarily by person-to-person contact, the Post added.
- While the outbreak in Hong Kong seems to be abating, the city’s enhanced testing regime has identified that fifty-seven dock workers were among sixty-five infections linked to the Kwai Tsing Container Terminals as of August 17, The New York Times reported.
AMAZON BET, UK JOB LOSSES
- QUOTE: “The COVID-19 crisis has presented a real threat to the US position of global dominance,” former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said in an August 17 article written for money manager Advisors Capital Management, where he serves as a senior economic adviser, Bloomberg reported. “As political tensions heat up between the world’s two largest economies, the balance of power that will result is still unclear, but becoming of increasingly greater concern by the day.”
- When it comes, a return to normal thanks to the discovery of a vaccine ought to be a massive boost to investors—but strategists see risks around the corner, Bloomberg Businessweek reported.
- Norway’s pension fund, the world’s largest state-owned investment fund, reported negative returns in the first half of the year, hurt by stock market fluctuations as the coronavirus pandemic spread globally, CNBC reported. The Government Pension Fund Global, which has almost 70 percent invested in stocks, returned -3.4 percent in the period, CNBC said. The first-half loss was $21 billion, Bloomberg said.
- Amazon is betting on office-based work as it adds 3,500 corporate jobs in six major US cities, including two thousand in New York City, The Wall Street Journal said in an exclusive report, citing the tech giant. It’s an indication the company is making long-term plans based on office work even as other companies opt for remote working arrangements, the Journal added.
- There’s a slew of stories on UK job losses. Retailer Marks & Spencer plans to cut a further seven thousand jobs, affecting regional management and stores over the next three months, CNBC reported. Department store chain Debenhams will cut a further 2,500 jobs, said Reuters, which also reported that upmarket department store chain Selfridges said it needed to cut 450 jobs or 14 percent of its workforce, and electrical retailer Dixons Carphone will cut eight hundred jobs at its stores in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
- BHP Group expects most countries except China to suffer from a coronavirus-led downturn this year, the world’s largest listed miner said as it reported a 4 percent decline in annual profit that missed analysts’ estimates, CNBC reported. The potential for new coronavirus infections in key markets weighs on the demand outlook for 2021 at BHP, CNBC cited Chief Executive Mike Henry as saying.
- The Brazilian real, the South African rand, and the Turkish lira have declined about 20 percent against the dollar this year, with no reprieve in sight, The Wall Street Journal reported. Investors, who pulled billions of dollars from poorer countries’ stock and bond markets in March and April, hitting currencies hard, remain leery of faltering economic growth and high levels of coronavirus infections, the Journal said.
- The Financial Times published a long-form article on the Chinese economy’s two-speed recovery. While its wealthier citizens have been mostly unscathed financially from the pandemic, it’s a different story for many with low incomes, the newspaper said. Critics say that even China’s measures aimed at consumers have been of greater benefit to well-off, rather than average, households, the Financial Times added.
- The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill canceled face-to-face classes just a week into the fall semester on August 17 as US campuses rush to respond to clusters of infections that, in some cases, are linked to student housing, parties, and crowded bars, The Associated Press reported.
- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio faces increasing pressure from teachers, principals, and members of his administration to delay the introduction of face-to-face classes to give educators more preparation time, The New York Times reported. De Blasio hopes to reopen the school system, the nation’s biggest, on a part-time basis from September 10, but no other large city is trying a reopening on such a scale, the Times added.
- Almost two-thirds of likely voters in the United States fear it will be unsafe for children to return to classes this year, amid deepening pessimism about the course of the pandemic in America, the Financial Times reported, citing a poll for the newspaper and the Peter G Peterson Foundation. Respondents were sharply divided on party lines: almost nine in ten Democrats were not confident, compared with nearly four in ten Republicans, the Financial Times added.
SALIVA TEST, VACCINE REDEMPTION?
- The saliva-based coronavirus test developed by Yale University in partnership with the National Basketball Association is a significant development in the US response to the pandemic, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC. The test got emergency approval from the US Food and Drug Administration on August 15, CNBC added.
- “Covid Vaccine Turns Into a Shot at Redemption for Britain” reads a Bloomberg headline. Finding the Holy Grail in the pandemic—coming up with the first widely recognized barrier against COVID-19—has taken on greater importance after a torrid few months in which the country had the worst death toll in Europe and the biggest economic slump, the newswire reported. The Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford is leading the drive for a vaccine against coronavirus, Bloomberg added.
- Dozens of cellphone apps designed to track the spread of COVID-19, including in the United States, have stumbled on privacy concerns, program glitches, and slow rollouts, The Washington Post reported.
- QUOTE: “It’s kind of a mess,” said Jeffrey Kahn, director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, The Washington Post reported. “So far nothing has been consequential… We don’t really know if it’s working or not working.”
- The almost total lack of a flu season in South Africa this year stands out as a rare positive effect of the pandemic, The Washington Post reported, citing the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD). The NICD usually records more than one thousand cases of flu from April to August, the Southern Hemisphere’s winter, but as the 2020 season ends, it’s recorded just one, the Post said. Southern Hemisphere countries are demonstrating how measures such as mask-wearing and school closures could suppress or even eliminate the flu, which kills millions of people each year, it added.
- QUOTE: “The rising incidence of pandemics has been linked to expanding land use and climate change, denuding native populations who traditionally care for the habitats they live in,” Andres Schipani wrote in the Financial Times.
- A potential vaccine developed by a unit of China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) could cost no more than 1,000 yuan ($144.27) for two shots, state media quoted chairman Liu Jingzhen as saying on August 18, Reuters reported. Sinopharm, which has begun late-stage human trials in the United Arab Emirates to gather proof for final approval by regulators, has said the experimental shot could be ready for public use by the end of the year, the newswire added.
- Depression levels in the United Kingdom doubled during the pandemic, Bloomberg reported, citing the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Almost one in five adults were likely to experience depression in June, with one in three young adults suffering moderate to severe symptoms, the ONS said.
- QUOTE: “Adults who were young, female, unable to afford an unexpected expense or disabled were the most likely to experience some form of depression during the pandemic,” Tim Vizard, principal research officer at the ONS, said in a statement, Bloomberg reported.
- Zookeepers at Washington’s National Zoo are on panda patrol after concluding that giant black-and-white matriarch Mei Xiang is pregnant and could give birth this week, The Associated Press said. That would be welcome news after the pandemic kept the zoo closed for months, the news service added.
- Johns Hopkins University interactive web-based dashboard to visualize and track reported cases in real-time.
- CDC provides frequent updates and background information on coronavirus and interim guidance on company policies.
- The World Health Organization daily situation reports.