Trump takes aim at WHO, Wuhan reopens (nervously), economic toll mounts with France in recession


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:

  • US President Donald J. Trump took aim at the World Health Organization, threatening to pull funding. As Wuhan, the Chinese city at the first epicenter of coronavirus, reopens, many choose to leave. The economic toll of widespread shutdowns was laid bare, including France entering recession.
  • President Donald J Trump criticized the World Health Organization both for its handling of the coronavirus and for its criticism of him, The New York Times reported. Trump threatened to withhold funding, later denying he said that and then appearing to back down, the newspaper said.
  • Trump said the WHO had become “China-centric,” The Wall Street Journal reported. The US administration can’t just cut WHO’s funding on its own without the agreement of congressional leaders, and there are few signs they would back such a stance, the newspaper said.  
  • QUOTE: “We’re going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO, we’re going to put a very powerful hold on it and we’re going to see,” Trump said, The New York Times reported. “They called it wrong. They call it wrong. They really, they missed the call.”
  • While hospitalizations in New York appear to be levelling off, deaths from coronavirus across the United States increased by a record of more than 1,800, Reuters reported. New York and New Jersey posted record daily death tolls, The New York Times said.
  • The statistics say… Some 731 people died in New York State since April 6, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said April 7. That’s the highest daily total by more than 100. In New Jersey, 232 people died, compared with deaths in the double figures the previous two days. The two states account for more than half of the US death toll, according to The New York Times.
  • Almost 50 percent more people died from coronavirus in the United States on April 7 than on any other day during the pandemic, The Wall Street Journal reported. New York, New Jersey, Louisiana, and Illinois posted their highest daily death tolls, even as officials in some hot spots said cautiously that outbreaks in their states are beginning to slow, the newspaper reported.
  • QUOTE: “Behind every one of those numbers is an individual, is a family, is a mother, is a father, is a sister, is a brother,” New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said, The New York Times reported. “So a lot of pain again today for many New Yorkers.”

Changing tone

  • Despite the grim data, some officials see signs that the pandemic may not match the worst fears, with the tone among some of the leading experts in the United States changing in the past forty-eight hours, The Washington Post reported.
  • “You’re starting to see that we may be actually—in a series of communities outside of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut—creating a much flatter graph, a much flatter curve,” the Post cited Deborah Birx, director of the White House coronavirus response, as saying. Citing figures in Detroit and Chicago, she said, “It really gives us great heart.”

Wuhan reopens

  • The Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak first emerged, ended its lockdown of more than two months, Reuters reported. Even as the city of 11 million reopened, new cases in the far northern province of Heilongjiang surged to a daily high of twenty-five after infected travelers arrived from Russia, the newswire said.

Johnson stable

  • UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, suffering with persistent coronavirus symptoms, is stable following a second night in intensive care, Reuters reported. Johnson, fifty-five, has received oxygen support, the newswire said. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, his designated deputy, said Johnson would soon be back “at the helm,” as Reuters put it. The UK is entering what scientists describe as the most deadly phase of the outbreak, the newswire said.
  • The statistics say… Deaths in UK hospitals increased by a record 786 as of April 6, the latest figures available, for a total of 6,159. Just 213,181 out of a population of 68 million have been tested for coronavirus, Reuters reported.
  • QUOTE:  “Private actors—business and nonprofits—will play a major role in easing the economic and medical pain of the virus,” reads an editorial in The Wall Street Journal. “Once the virus is conquered—and it will be—the biggest risk will be the political campaign to expand government control over far more of American economic life.”

Discord in Europe

  • Finance ministers from nineteen eurozone countries failed to agree on an economic aid plan. After sixteen hours of videoconferencing haggling that extended into the night, talks resume on April 7, the Associated Press said.  
  • Eurozone leaders are urging Italy and the Netherlands to drop their red lines over so-called “coronabonds” and on how to put together loans from the bloc’s bailout fund, the Financial Times reported. The aim now is to find enough agreement to put forward recommendations for European Union leaders to look at this month, the newspaper said.
  • Germany and the Netherlands are most vocal in opposition to coronabonds, CNBC said.
  • The resignation of the European Union’s top scientist marked further disagreement. Mauro Ferrari, president of the European Research Council, quit because of red tape and politics, the BBC said. Ferrari, an Italian-American scientist, said he lost faith after failing to set up a program to fight coronavirus, the BBC reported.
  • Worldwide agreement seems no better, judging by a “global scramble” for medical equipment. Janez Lenarcic, the EU’s crisis management commissioner, said it’s “difficult to arrange an orderly procurement” to allow masks, ventilators, and other equipment to reach the areas of greatest need, the Financial Times reported.
  • Some critical care doctors question the widespread use of ventilators for coronavirus patients, saying many patients could be treated with “less intensive respiratory support,” news service Stat reported, describing them as iconoclasts.

Deep recession

  • There’s growing evidence that the world started to enter a deep recession in March, Bloomberg reported. The global economy is losing steam at a faster rate than in the early days of the financial crisis, the newswire said.
  • France’s economy shrank the most since World War II in the first quarter, while the outlook for the rest of the year “is souring significantly,” the newswire said.
  • The Financial Times tracks the fallout in the global economy, ranging from real estate to traffic data, coal consumption to box office numbers.
  • Cost cutting continues to be prominent in news coverage of the economic impact of coronavirus. Tesla will cut employees’ pay by as much as 30 percent and furlough hourly workers until May 4, when it plans to restart production of electric cars, CNBC reported, citing an internal e-mail.
  • The statistics say… The world economy contracted at an annualized rate of 0.5 percent in March, compared with 0.1 percent in February, according to Bloomberg Economics’ new global GDP tracker. The proportion of anchored ships used to transport vehicles is now 19 percent of the fleet compared with 11 percent a year ago, Bloomberg said. In Germany, registrations for new cars in March, normally a key month, dropped by 38 percent, according to Bloomberg

New measures in Latin America

  • Mexican President Lopez Obrador unveiled an economic recovery plan, while vowing to tighten public sector austerity to avoid debt. The plan aims to protect the country’s “most vulnerable” by mobilizing $10 billion from various rainy day funds, adding $13.5 billion in energy investment, reducing PEMEX’s tax burden, and creating two million new jobs in the next nine months. AMLO will maintain contested projects (such as Dos Bocas refinery, Santa Lucia’s airport, and the Maya train) as part of the recovery.
  • On April 6, Colombian President Ivan Duque extended the national quarantine from April 12 until April 26. However, the government is considering adopting a phased quarantine to allow certain key sectors of the economy to operate again. To avoid crowding, several Colombian cities (Barranquilla, Cali, Medellín, and other medium and small-sized cities) have adopted an ID-based schedule for grocery stores, following Panama’s efforts. In a similar vein, President Martín Vizcarra of Peru announced last week a gender-based schedule for transit to reduce mass concentrations. 
  • QUOTE:  “It isn’t like a light switch on and off,” Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House task force on the pandemic, said in an interview with “The Journal,” a Wall Street Journal podcast, the newspaper said. “It’s a gradual pulling back on certain of the restrictions to try and get society a bit back to normal.”
  • READ MORE: “The outbreak will have severe economic consequences for Panama, which is experiencing its weakest economic expansion since the global recession of 2009, but the shock does not end there: from a constitutional perspective, there will certainly be implications for a country characterized by corruption, impunity, and inequality,” writes the Atlantic Council’s Cristina Guevara

Testing times

  • Once social distancing slows the spread of coronavirus, there’s the thorny question of how to reopen the $22 trillion US economy, which has been shut down like never before, The Wall Street Journal reported. Testing and tracking systems are critical, as well as a willingness to reintroduce some social distancing if needed, the Journal said, citing health experts.
  • In the absence of a national plan on testing, some states have taken steps of their own, but the picture is very patchy, The Washington Post reported.
  • “It’s problematic at best and egregious at worst, because some states have more resources than others; some states have more leadership than others,” said Partners in Health medical director Joia Mukherjee, the newspaper reported.
  • “Singapore fights third wave of coronavirus infections,” runs a headline in the Financial Times. The sudden rise in cases among the city-state’s migrant workers illustrates the challenge of returning to normal life even in countries that seemed to have got a hold on the virus, the newspaper said.  
  • READ MORE: “Early intervention, a flexible command structure, a comprehensive epidemic prevention strategy, integrated medical big data, and proactive information disclosure allowed Taiwan—which at its closest point is only eighty-one miles (130 kilometers) away from China and has a very high population density—to record only a few confirmed cases in recent months,” writes the Atlantic Council’s Chang-Ching Tu.

Adrenaline and then…

  • The emotional and psychological toll borne by doctors and nurses in Italy and Spain is only starting to emerge, even as some pressure has eased on intensive-care units there as the number of new cases declines, the Associated Press reported. The rush of adrenaline that kept medical staff going to begin with has given way to crushing fatigue and fear of contracting the virus, AP cited researchers as saying.
  • QUOTE:  “We’re losing an entire generation,” Maddalena Ferrari, nursing coordinator at Pope John XXIII Hospital said after one of her shifts in Bergamo, Italy, the Associated Press reported. “They still had so much to teach us.”
  • Singer-songwriter John Prine, the bard of “broken hearts and dirty windows,” as one of his songs puts it, has died aged seventy-three due to complications from coronavirus, The Washington Post reported. Prine, a former Army mechanic and mail carrier, sang about faded hopes, floundering marriages, and the despair of just getting by, the newspaper said in its obituary of the Grammy-winning artist who recorded more than twenty albums.
  • READ MORE: “Experts are now predicting that “soft” security issues, such as global health, climate change, migration, disinformation, and other hybrid threats, will be larger and more pressing than “hard” security issues, such as conventional nuclear weapons,” writes the Atlantic Council’s Lauren Speranza.