Tense exchanges at EU recovery plan talks; MIT predicts grim future in India

CORONAVIRUS ALERT 07/20/2020

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.

Dear Coronavirus Alert readers,

Four months ago, we launched the Coronavirus Alert to gather vital news about the coronavirus and its impact on the world. Now, as we confront a world transformed by the pandemic, we want to hear from you. What do you like best about the alert and how could it be improved? What do you want—and need—to know about where the post-COVID world is headed? How can we be most helpful in getting you the COVID-related news, analysis, insights, and foresight you can’t find elsewhere?

Send us your feedback by emailing [email protected].

In top stories today:

  • European leaders gathered for the fourth day of talks aimed at hammering out a deal on a gigantic economic stimulus plan after a weekend of disagreements and stalemate. Infections increased in India and the United States, with concern about the pace of infections in Africa too.
  • “Weary and bleary”: that’s how The Associated Press describes European Union (EU) leaders as they face a fourth day of talks, or fighting, as the news service puts it, about an unprecedented 1.85 trillion-euro EU budget and coronavirus recovery package. Reuters is more positive, reporting on the first signs that leaders of Northern European countries are willing to compromise.
  • Still, old grievances remain between countries less affected by the pandemic and debt-laden Italy and Greece as talks are set to resume at 2:00 p.m. GMT, the news service added. Tense exchanges and fears of a breakdown in talks—that’s how The Wall Street Journal sees it.
  • QUOTE: “We worked out a framework for a possible agreement last night after long negotiations,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters, as she arrived for the July 20 talks in Brussels in what could be the bloc’s longest ever summit, Reuters reported. “This is progress and gives hope that an agreement can be reached today.”
  • The United States struggled to contain the spread of coronavirus infections, as more states recorded record numbers of cases on July 19, but US President Donald J. Trump played down the severity of the situation during an interview on Fox News on Sunday, The Wall Street Journal reported. North Carolina, Louisiana, and Kentucky had record increases of 2,400, 3,119, and 979 respectively, the Journal said. Florida posted twelve thousand new cases, the fifth straight day of ten thousand infections or more, Reuters reported.
  • QUOTE: “It’s the working poor, it’s seniors, it’s now young people and it’s totally out of control,” Donna Shalala, who served as Health and Human Services Secretary under President Bill Clinton, said on ABC’s “This Week” on July 19, Bloomberg reported, adding that her South Florida district sits within Miami-Dade County, among the hardest-hit parts of the state. “We need to close down again in Florida.”
  • A coronavirus vaccine the University of Oxford is developing in partnership with AstraZeneca showed promising results in early human testing, a sign of progress in the global drive to produce a vaccine to defeat the coronavirus pandemic, Bloomberg reported. The vaccine increased levels of protective neutralizing antibodies as well as immune T-cells that target the virus, according to the results published on July 20 in The Lancet medical journal, the newswire added.
  • Hong Kong extended coronavirus restrictions after the city recorded more than one hundred cases in the past twenty-four hours, a record since the virus emerged in late January, CNBC reported. That takes the tally to almost two thousand, of which twelve have died, CNBC added. Venues including gyms and amusement parks will stay closed for another seven days, the news outlet reported.
  • India posted at least forty thousand new cases on July 20, a daily record, as states including Tamil Nadu in the south and Uttar Pradesh in the north re-introduced partial lockdowns in recent weeks to try to halt the spread of the virus, The New York Times reported. Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers now forecast that India will be the worst-hit country by the end of next year, the Times added.

IRAQ’S ECONOMIC TROUBLES

  • “When the U.S. sneezes, the world catches a cold. What happens when it has severe COVID-19?” asks a Reuters headline. From Mexico to Japan, officials are on edge, while exports have suffered in Germany, and Canada looks south with the knowledge that it will be affected by any further blow to US growth, the newswire reported.
  • QUOTE: “Globally there will be difficult months and years ahead and it is of particular concern that the number of COVID-19 cases is still rising,” the International Monetary Fund said in a review of the US economy, Reuters said. “The risk ahead is that a large share of the US population will have to contend with an important deterioration of living standards and significant economic hardship for several years. This, in turn, can further weaken demand and exacerbate longer-term headwinds to growth.”
  • As coronavirus roils business in Iraq and a drop in oil prices dents state revenue, the country’s economic troubles could fuel insecurity, the Financial Times cited the country’s finance minister Ali Allawi as saying. Iraq’s economy needs radical restructuring as the pandemic has brought issues to the fore including a vast public payroll costing five billion dollars, including an estimated 300,000 fictional employees, he said.
  • The coronavirus pandemic has sped up plans by UK retailer Marks & Spencer to cut costs, leading to 950 job losses, the BBC reported, citing the company. Meanwhile, UK universities are cutting thousands of academic posts, dropping hundreds of short-term, hourly posts and leaving temporary contracts to expire as the sector prepares to make deep cuts brought on by the pandemic, the Financial Times said.
  • The United Kingdom has secured access to ninety million shots including thirty million doses of a vaccine being developed by BioNTech and Pfizer, the first deal those two companies have done with any government, Sky News reported. That vaccine is in phase two trials, Sky added. Another agreement in principle is for sixty million doses of a vaccine that Valvena is developing, with an option to buy a further forty million shots, Sky News added.  

RESPIRATORY TREATMENT

  • Synairgen has claimed that its respiratory treatment, a nebulizer, cut the number of hospitalized patients needing intensive care, citing a clinical trial, CNBC reported. The UK company said the new respiratory treatment cut by 79 percent the risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms compared with a placebo, but the study has yet to be peer-reviewed and the data is not publicly available, CNBC said. The treatment uses interferon beta, a protein the body produces when it gets a viral infection, the BBC said. Shares of the tiny pharmaceutical soared by more than 350 percent, Bloomberg reported.
  • Scores of Russia’s political and business elite got access to an experimental vaccine developed by the state-run Gamaleya Institute in Moscow as early as April, Bloomberg reported, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter. Among the beneficiaries are senior executives at companies including aluminum giant United Co. Rusal, government officials, and billionaire tycoons, the newswire said.
  • The statistics say… Russia recorded 5,940 new cases on July 20, taking the total to 777,486, the fourth-highest worldwide, Reuters reported.
  • Pakistan may have flattened its curve of coronavirus infections, or the speed at which new cases emerge, but officials there are concerned that the public will abandon masks and social distancing during the Muslim holiday of sacrifice Eid al-Adha in two weeks’ time, in which millions congregate at livestock fairs, bazaars, mosques, family get-togethers, and animal slaughtering, The Washington Post reported.
  • Most people in Japan oppose a government plan to ramp up domestic tourism using a subsidized promotional campaign as concern grows about new coronavirus cases, especially in Tokyo, Reuters reported, citing newspaper polls on July 20. That highlights growing worries that the sixteen billion dollar “Go To” campaign, slated to start on July 22, could spread infections to rural regions where healthcare systems are fragile, the newswire said. 
  • Business as usual? It’s anything but at the world’s major attractions, at places like the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, London Eye, Taj Mahal, Burj Khalifa, and Milan Cathedral, reported CNBC, which gives an overview of the coronavirus restrictions and closures in place.
  • Beefeaters, the iconic uniformed guards at the Tower of London, face job losses as the pandemic forced the closure of six sites run by Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), the BBC reported. Redundancies are voluntary now but compulsory job cuts are likely to follow, HRP said, the broadcaster added.
  • EVENT: Emily Tamkin answers the question: “Who is George Soros?” Weaving biography, cultural commentary, and investigative reporting, she brings into focus the man and his myth to examine his political influence in her new book, The Influence of Soros: Politics, Power, and the Struggle for an Open Society. Join us for this event at 4:00 p.m. ET on Monday, July 20. Details are here

AFRICA IMPACT

  • Hopes that Africa’s younger population would spare the continent from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic have been dented as the outbreak gains momentum there, the Financial Times reported in a long-form article. In South Africa, the worst affected nation, new cases are doubling in number every two weeks, leading to overflowing intensive-care units in Johannesburg and Cape Town, it reported.
  • Family members with no protective equipment, few of them wearing masks, help care for COVID-19 patients in thirteen intensive-care beds at Afghan-Japan Communicable Disease Hospital, Kabul’s leading hospital for treating the disease, The Associated Press reported. That, and the fact that next-of-kin guard oxygen tanks against theft amid a shortage of just about all medical equipment, is a stark warning that war-ravaged Afghanistan’s health system faces the risk of collapse, the news service said.
  • Nurses in Israel are staging a general strike, citing poor conditions and staff shortages made worse by coronavirus, the BBC reported. More than eight hundred nurses in Israel, which has seen a resurgence in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, are themselves in quarantine, the broadcaster said.
  • Latin America remains the global coronavirus epicenter. With nearly 3.5 million cases, the region is now the second hardest hit in the world, only after North America. On July 4, Mexico reached thirty thousand COVID-19 deaths, becoming the country with the fifth-highest death toll. Recent notable infections include Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Bolivian Interim President Jeanine Añez, and top Maduro aides Diosdado Cabello and Tarek El Aissami. According to a new ECLAC study, about 2.7 million companies in the region could shut down, leaving more than 8.5 million people unemployed.
  • “As coronavirus explodes in Venezuela, Maduro’s government blames ‘biological weapon’: the country’s returning refugees” runs a Washington Post headline. Many Venezuelan migrants, who have lost their jobs abroad during the pandemic, return home from Colombia using illegal crossings, the newspaper said. The country’s US-backed opposition says a bad situation is made worse by the government sending new arrivals to poorly equipped quarantine centers, the Post added.

RESOURCES: