Hong Kong faces threat to healthcare system; race to access vaccine heats up


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Please note that there will not be a July 30 edition of the Coronavirus Alert. The Atlantic Council will resume the alert on July 31.

In top stories today:

  • Hong Kong faces a coronavirus outbreak that may overwhelm its healthcare system, the city’s top official said. The competition for access to a future vaccine heated up as the United Kingdom reached a deal on sixty million doses, while Europe may face a slew of job losses later this year.  
  • Dozens of places—Japan, Israel, Lebanon, and Hong Kong among them—have posted record numbers of coronavirus cases in recent days, coming several weeks after they had reopened their economies as they seemed to halt the spread of infections, The Washington Post reported. Belgium and Spain have topped daily infection levels not seen since early May, the newspaper added.  
  • Hong Kong is on the cusp of a large-scale coronavirus outbreak that may overwhelm its healthcare system, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on July 29, CNBC reported. Amid a spike in local cases, many of them have still unknown sources, Lam said, CNBC added. Stricter social distancing measures take effect in the city today, the article said.
  • QUOTE: “We are on the verge of a large-scale community outbreak, which may lead to a collapse of our hospital system and cost lives, especially of the elderly,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on July 29, CNBC reported.
  • Vietnam, which had been free of the virus for months, is braced for another wave of infections as state media reported fresh cases in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and the Central Highlands, Reuters reported. Those cases are linked to a recent outbreak in the city of Danang, the newswire added. Every city and province is at risk, said Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Reuters added. 
  • The United States is now contending with not one coronavirus outbreak but several, each one needing its own mix of remedies, The New York Times reported, citing interviews with twenty public-health experts. “At the heart of dismal US coronavirus response, a fraught relationship with masks” reads a Washington Post headline.
  • QUOTE: “We are in a worse place than we were in March,” when the virus rampaged through New York, said Dr. Leana S. Wen, a former Baltimore health commissioner, The New York Times reported. “Back then we had one epicenter. Now we have lots.”
  • READ MORE: Our new fiscal firepower heat map, updated through June, shows how the G20’s COVID-19 crisis spending compares to the Global Financial Crisis. While nearly every country is spending significantly more than a decade ago, China is still spending less. Details are here.
  • Increasing infections among young people could be driving a recent spike in coronavirus cases in Europe, the BBC reported, citing Dr. Hans Kluge, Europe regional director for the World Health Organization (WHO), who spoke on the broadcaster’s Radio 4 station. Young people don’t want to miss out on the summer but they have a responsibility to themselves and others, Kluge said, the BBC added.
  • The Italian government will send four hundred troops to Sicily to prevent recently arrived migrants from leaving holding centers following a series of recent breakouts, including some by people quarantined to control the spread of coronavirus, The Wall Street Journal reported.


  • Data due out on July 30 are forecast to show that the US economy slumped by an annualized 34.8 percent in the second quarter, the most since the 1940s, as lockdowns to contain the spread of coronavirus shut down the economy for almost all of April, Bloomberg reported. That would make it the ugliest GDP report ever recorded, the newswire said in the article’s headline.
  • Unemployment in Europe will probably increase later this year as a sluggish economic recovery means some employers will be unable to bring back all workers that furlough programs have kept on payrolls, Bloomberg reported, citing European Central Bank researchers. Millions of people on furlough programs in countries from France to Germany and Spain have allowed the region to avoid the massive spike in unemployment experienced in the United States since the pandemic began, Bloomberg added.
  • The Federal Reserve extended emergency lending, set up to bolster financial markets during the coronavirus outbreak, by three months until the end of the year, the Financial Times reported. That’s the latest sign of the Fed’s concern about the pandemic’s continued impact on the US economy, the newspaper added.
  • Fed officials, who are scheduled to release a statement at 2:00 p.m. EDT at the end of their latest two-day meeting, are unlikely to make major policy changes after debating how and when to support the economy now that interest rates are close to zero, The Wall Street Journal reported.  
  • The United States and Australia, longtime allies, agreed to strengthen military and diplomatic cooperation, presenting a united front, as The Wall Street Journal puts it, against an increasingly aggressive China and the coronavirus pandemic. The co-operation includes a working group to monitor and respond to misinformation, the newspaper said.
  • Russian intelligence services have been pushing out disinformation in English about coronavirus, The New York Times reported, citing newly declassified intelligence. Examples include the theory from China that the US military created the virus and articles saying medical aid by Russia could foster improved relations with Washington, the newspaper added.  
  • Santander, the euro zone’s biggest retail bank, slumped to a loss of 11.1 billion euros in the second quarter as the pandemic and a worsening economic outlook forced the lender to write down the value of several of its divisions, led by its UK business, the Financial Times reported. Even so, Santander emphasized the strength of its underlying business and the bank committed to restarting dividend payments once regulators allow that, the newspaper added.
  • Barclays increased its coronavirus-related provisions by £1.6 billion in the second quarter, bringing the total in reserves for loan losses to £3.7 billion at the end of the first half of the year, CNBC reported.


  • The United Kingdom raced ahead to secure access to a future coronavirus vaccine by reaching an agreement with partners GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi on as many as sixty million doses of a shot, Bloomberg reported. The United Kingdom is ahead of the United States in securing access to vaccine doses, on a per capita basis, the newswire added, citing London-based analytics firm Airfinity.
  • The European Union (EU) signed a sixty-three million euro contract with Gilead to give about 30,000 patients with severe COVID-19 access to the company’s antiviral drug remdesivir, the newswire reported separately, citing the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm.
  • QUOTE: “The assumption at the moment is that we’ll be shooting to get to a year’s immunity,” said Kate Bingham, the chair of the UK government’s vaccine task force, the Financial Times reported. “What I’ve been anxious about is that people… think we’ll have a silver bullet. That’s probably not going to happen.”
  • Moderna has pitched its coronavirus vaccine to governments at between fifty and sixty dollars a course, including both of the two needed doses—a higher price than that agreed for rival shots from Pfizer and BioNTech, the Financial Times reported, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter. That price would apply to the United States and other high-income countries, the newspaper added.


  • London’s Heathrow Airport, which was once Europe’s busiest, urged the UK government to back coronavirus testing of air passengers or risk quarantine rules causing further damage to the economy and jobs, Reuters reported, citing CEO John Holland-Kaye. He said that a test would be about £150, with passengers expected to pay, the newswire added.  
  • “The EU Isn’t Letting In American Tourists Anytime Soon” reads a headline on Bloomberg, which cited unidentified officials. Recommendations by EU envoys on travel restrictions will be approved on July 30, keeping the bloc’s external borders shut to most countries for at least two more weeks, the newswire added.
  • FedEx pilots have urged the cargo company to halt flights to Hong Kong because of tough conditions in the financial hub’s hospitals and quarantine facilities, the Financial Times reported, citing the Air Line Pilots Association. That highlights the challenge when governments have to impose tighter restrictions on industries that are critical to trade, the newspaper said.
  • READ MORE: Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister of Singapore, worries that Washington’s increasingly tense relationship with Beijing and domestic pressures to reduce its commitments abroad will force US policymakers to choose either a path of “colliding with China” or “deciding that you have no stake in the region and leave us to our own defenses.” Lee made his comments during an Atlantic Council Front Page event on July 28.
  • The Hajj, Islam’s most important annual pilgrimage, started on July 28 with one thousand pilgrims and not the usual two million hosted at the holy sites of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, CNN travel reported. International visitors have been barred for the first time in decades on concern over the risk of spreading coronavirus, CNN travel added.
  • More than half of slum dwellers in three areas of Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, have been infected, the BBC reported, citing a study by the city’s municipality, the government think-tank Niti Aayog and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. Random testing was carried out on seven thousand people in early July, the broadcaster added.
  • QUOTE: “There are no ‘silver linings’ in the dark cloud of Covid-19,” Valdas Jurkauskas, a pharmaceutical scientist who specializes in chemistry, manufacturing, and controls for drug development and commercialization, wrote on news service Stat. “Yet if history repeats itself, substantial biomedical innovation will emerge from this pandemic, as necessity fosters innovation.”