Spain leads increase in Europe infections, Russia gives first details on large-scale vaccine trials


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 Spain are way ahead of the rest of Europe, caused by socializing among young people and families. New cases increased from Ukraine to Slovakia too. Russia gave details for the first time about upcoming large-scale trials of its coronavirus vaccine.
  • Russia will begin mass testing of its coronavirus vaccine next week, trials involving 40,000 people and overseen by a foreign research body, Reuters reported, citing backers of the project on August 20. These are the first details about the late-stage trials by the shot’s developers, who aim to allay concerns expressed by some scientists about the lack of data Russia has published to date, the newswire added.
  • Coronavirus infections are spreading far more quickly in Spain than elsewhere in Europe, pitting the country in a race against time to control the outbreak before the return to school and work next month after the vacation season ends, the Financial Times reported, citing August 20 data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, a European Union agency. National and local officials blame the spread largely on youths and families socializing, the newspaper said.
  • QUOTE: “No one should be confused: things are not going well,” the Financial Times cited Fernando Simón, the doctor who’s leading Spain’s efforts to contain the outbreak, as saying in the evening of August 20. He acknowledged that the spread of infections is out of control in some parts of Spain.
  • The statistics say… Spain reported about 139 cases per 100,000 people in the previous fourteen days; no country other than Malta had a ratio higher than one hundred, while the figure in France is forty-six and in the United Kingdom, it is twenty-one. In three neighborhoods of Madrid, the equivalent ratio, as the Financial Times put it, is above four hundred and in one it’s nearly six hundred.
  • Europe has shown little appetite for reinstating the widespread restrictions that helped contain the pandemic in March and April, preferring to focus on targeted measures such as face masks and travel warnings, Bloomberg reported. Slovakia reported the biggest one-day increase since the start of the pandemic, The Associated Press reported. Infections have been rising in neighboring countries too, driven by social events and vacationers returning home, the news service added.
  • QUOTE: “Politically, we want to avoid closing borders again at any cost, but that assumes that we act in coordination,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on August 20 during a visit with French President Emmanuel Macron at his summer residence, Bloomberg reported.
  • “Maximum” criminal penalties and arrests: that’s the threat to those who flout measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak in South Korea, The New York Times reported, as new infections reached 324 on August 21, the highest since early March. Most cases are in or near the capital Seoul, but many other cities have also reported infections, the newspaper added.
  • QUOTE: “If disease-control efforts fail in Seoul, the entire disease-control system of the nation could collapse,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on August 21, urging the Seoul city government to be more aggressive in locating and testing members and contacts of Sarang Jeil Church, the origin of the outbreak, the Times reported. “We must exercise stern law enforcement.”
  • Papua New Guinea barred entry to four dozen Chinese workers who got an experimental coronavirus shot last week, citing concern they could pose a risk to residents of the remote island nation in the Pacific, The New York Times reported. The Associated Press published the story too.
  • QUOTE: “I think everyone can see that in New Zealand today, we are talking eleven cases, whereas the United States has been dealing with over 40,000 cases,” said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, The Washington Post reported. US President Donald J. Trump has said the Pacific nation was experiencing a “big surge” in cases, the Post added.
  • EVENT: Join us for a discussion about the next US presidential administration facing the triple challenge of coordinating the post-COVID-19 recovery, kickstarting the global economy, and managing a complex set of security challenges. Friday, August 21 at 10:00 a.m. EDT. Details are here.
  • Hong Kong will start mass-testing its residents for coronavirus on September 1 as the financial hub contends with a rise in infections, CNBC said, citing a Reuters report. A sixty-person team from China’s mainland will help, the first time that Chinese officials have assisted Hong Kong in its response to the outbreak, CNBC added.  
  • Lebanon imposed a partial lockdown for two weeks starting on August 21 as it tries to contain infections that have surged since the catastrophic explosion at Beirut port earlier this month, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, Ukraine posted a sharp increase in coronavirus cases this week partly because of church attendance and weddings, The New York Times reported. Its one-day case count of 2,134 on August 20 was a record, the newspaper added, citing Maksym Stepanov, the minister of health.
  • EVENT: H.E. Ali Allawi, Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister & Minister of Finance and H.E. Fuad Hussein, Deputy Prime Minister & Minister of Foreign Affairs, discuss bilateral relations as part of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s first visit to Washington since assuming office in May. Online event on Friday, August 21 at 11:30 a.m. EDT. Details are here.


  • The recovery of global economies looks to be slow and uneven while fresh outbreaks of coronavirus continue, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing a slowing pick-up in Europe in August and another drop in activity in Japan, according to surveys of purchasing managers. After record contractions in the second quarter through June amid widespread lockdowns, economists expect to see a big rebound in the current quarter, but that recovery may be smaller than they hope for, the Journal added.
  • QUOTE: “The recovery was undermined by signs of rising virus cases in various parts of the euro area, with renewed restrictions impacting the service sector in particular,” said Andrew Harker, economics director at IHS Markit, which publishes the purchasing managers’ surveys, the Financial Times reported.
  • The UK economy rebounded strongly since July, suggesting a steep increase after the second-quarter coronavirus slump, the Financial Times reported. Bloomberg is less optimistic, focusing too on the headwinds of a crisis to come for retailers, a jobs crunch, and rising debt. The purchasing managers’ index jumped to a seven-year high in the United Kingdom but business confidence dropped and job cuts continued, the newswire said.  
  • The surge in online retail sales is driving strong demand for warehouse space in the United Kingdom, with rent for logistics space growing more quickly than for offices, Bloomberg reported. The newswire cites the example of a four-story “mega-box” under construction twenty miles east of London, the size of forty American football fields, that’s just been leased to Amazon.
  • Euphoria on Wall Street ignores the hardships of main street America, Nouriel Roubini—who famously warned in 2006 that the housing market in the United States would soon collapse—said on Bloomberg Television. A fresh outbreak in Europe could mean another wave of job cuts, although the region’s workers have better protections than their US counterparts, he said. Stocks have shaken off the shock of the pandemic, but that’s little comfort to those with nothing to invest, The Wall Street Journal reported.
  • Deere & Co., the biggest maker of agricultural machinery, raised its sales outlook for the year as demand for farm equipment remained resilient in spite of an “uncertain” market because of the pandemic, Bloomberg reported.


  • “Pfizer and BioNTech’s favored Covid-19 vaccine has fewer side effects than their first,” CNBC said in a headline, carrying a report from news service Stat. The pair published results on August 20 from all 332 people who received either of the two vaccines they’re developing, CNBC reported. The study tested doses of between ten micrograms and one hundred micrograms of each vaccine; the thirty-microgram dose of the preferred vaccine is being taken forward in clinical trials, the news outlet added.
  • US health officials have started to expand access to flu injections and to tighten up on the inoculation of students as the nation faces the prospect of flu season combined with the coronavirus pandemic, The Washington Post reported. Flu vaccine manufacturers have increased production by about 15 percent to a record level of almost 200 million shots for the United States, the Post added.
  • QUOTE: “Some facilities are much better than others at preventing infections, and were safer long before the pandemic caused a run on N95 masks. But we have spotty information on which ones are good and which ones aren’t,” Leah Binder, president and CEO of The Leapfrog Group, a nonprofit watchdog organization, wrote on news service Stat. “Without mandating nationally consistent data across all facilities, it is not possible to track the hot spots with precision.”
  • “Pandemic provokes new wave of funding for healthcare start-ups” That’s the headline to a special report published by the Financial Times. Global healthcare funding to private companies increased 28 percent to $18.1 billion in the second quarter from a year earlier, the newspaper said, citing research firm CB Insights. That included a record fifty-seven deals for mental-health companies, it added.
  • Reuters published an explainer article about reaching so-called herd immunity during a pandemic. The newswire reports on the distinction between natural infection and vaccination as routes to reach herd immunity, and also explores the issues of vaccine distribution and travel restrictions.
  • UK government debt has exceeded two trillion pounds for the first time following heavy spending on coronavirus stimulus measures, The New York Times reported, citing official statistics released on August 21. Borrowing reached 100.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) at the end of July, the first time since 1961 that debt has been bigger than the size of the economy, it added. But it’s costing less to service the debt as interest rates are so low, the newspaper said.
  • “We Just Crossed the Line Debt Hawks Warned Us About for Decades” runs the headline to a separate Times article. US national debt has exceeded GDP since about June, a level that economists said would lead to economic ruin—but that’s yet to happen, the newspaper said.


  • UK vacationers arriving home from Croatia, Austria, and Trinidad and Tobago after 5:00 am on August 22 will need to quarantine for fourteen days, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on August 20, the BBC reported. But those returning from Portugal no longer need to self-quarantine after that country was added to the United Kingdom’s list of travel corridors, the broadcaster added.
  • More than three hundred doctors went on strike in Nairobi’s capital, Kenya, on August 21, citing persistent delays in getting paid and substandard protective equipment, The New York Times reported. They join thousands of healthcare workers who have withdrawn their labor in recent weeks because of what they describe as dangerous and exhausting working conditions amid the pandemic, the Times added.