WTO warns of global trade on the brink, Trump mulls Brazil travel ban as new cases rise


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:

  • The World Trade Organization (WTO) said the coronavirus outbreak is pushing world trade to the brink as supply chains face disruption. US President Donald J. Trump may impose a travel ban on Brazil, where the daily death toll from the virus reached a record.
  • The World Trade Organization (WTO) has warned that global trade is on the brink as the coronavirus pandemic disrupts global supply chains in the auto industry, container shipping and export orders, the South China Morning Post reported. Global trade is “likely to fall precipitously in the first half of 2020,” the newspaper cited the WTO as saying in a May 20 report.
  • QUOTE: “Growth was held back by persistent trade tensions and by slowing economic activity in major economies,” the WTO said, the South China Morning Post reported.
  • Trump is considering imposing a travel ban on Brazil after South America’s biggest country had its deadliest day in the coronavirus outbreak, CNBC reported. The death toll reached 1,179 on May 19, compared with a previous record of 881 a week earlier, CNBC said, citing Reuters.
  • The coronavirus outbreak will push up to 60 million people into extreme poverty, said David Malpass, the president of the World Bank, the BBC reported. That erases all the progress made in poverty alleviation in the past three years, the BBC cited Malpass as saying. The Washington-based lender defines “extreme poverty” as living on less than $1.90 per person per day, the BBC said.
  • READ MORE: A new project by the Atlantic Council Global Business and Economics Center and Harvard University Belfer Center will track what the world is doing to adopt new digital currencies. See details here.


  • Patients in a new cluster of coronavirus cases in the northeast provinces of Jilin and Heilongjiang in China appear to take longer to show symptoms and to recover, Qiu Haibo, one of the country’s top critical care doctors, told state television on May 19, Bloomberg reported. That suggests the virus may be mutating in unknown ways, complicating efforts to halt its spread, the newswire added.
  • Coronavirus cases in Russia topped 300,000 on May 20, making it the worst hit country after the United States, but questions are mounting about the country’s low death toll from the virus, CNBC reported. The outbreak is reaching a more stable phase, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said on May 20, adding that restrictions should be lifted carefully in the seventeen regions where they are in place, Reuters reported.
  • The statistics say… The additional 8,764 cases on May 20 take the total to 308,705, while deaths rose by 135 to a total of 2,972, CNBC said, citing Russia’s coronavirus crisis center.
  • The New York Times has a round-up of how universities and schools worldwide are reopening at different paces or offering online learning, with Cambridge University the first UK university to say all courses will be online next academic year. Montreal’s McGill University and the California State University system will offer most fall courses online, while others plan to test and track students for the virus, the Times added.
  • A group of low- to middle-income countries led by Brazil, India, and Indonesia have started to ease lockdowns despite a rise in coronavirus cases, amid pressure to curb growing poverty by reopening businesses, the Financial Times reported. Those countries, as well as Mexico, South Africa, and Russia, supply the world with essential exports, the newspaper added.


  • Rolls-Royce will cut nine thousand jobs worldwide, or seventeen percent of its workforce, as it contends with what the engine maker expects to be years of lower demand for air travel because of the coronavirus outbreak, The Wall Street Journal reported. The cuts will mostly affect its civil aerospace unit, pending talks with labor unions, and some sites may shut, the Journal cited the company as saying.
  • QUOTE: “Governments across the world are doing what they can to assist businesses in the short-term, but we must respond to market conditions for the medium-term until the world of aviation is flying again at scale,” said Rolls-Royce Chief Executive Warren East, The Wall Street Journal reported. “Governments cannot replace sustainable customer demand that is simply not there.”
  • Beer drinking in Europe? It will take years for that to return to normal in the region, where restaurants, bars, and cafes bring in about half of brewers’ sales, Bloomberg reported. A total shutdown of soccer and the cancellation of other big events including Germany’s Oktoberfest add to the woes of brewing giants such as Anheuser-Busch InBevCarlsberg, and Heineken, the newswire added.
  • Strict lockdowns for fifty days followed by thirty days of eased restrictions. That could be an effective strategy to reduce coronavirus deaths while maintaining some level of economic activity, a European Union study published on May 20 said, CNBC reported. That scenario—based on simulations by a cohort of researchers from nine countries—includes testing, tracing, and isolation strategies, while shielding society’s most vulnerable, CBNC said.
  • “Europe Falls Behind U.S. in Funding Coronavirus Vaccine—and Securing Access,” reads a headline in The Wall Street Journal. The United States was quicker to shoulder drug makers’ costs to develop and make potential vaccines, which has put Europe at a disadvantage, the newspaper said.  
  • QUOTE: “The curious, the worried, the obsessed, and the scientific community can follow the effects of Covid-19 in real time,” David A. Patterson Silver Wolf, a faculty scholar with Washington University’s Institute for Public Health, wrote on news service Stat. “[T]he closest thing we have to a real-time data system for opioid overdose deaths—an epidemic of destruction that began killing Americans more than a decade ago—has a lag time of about 24 months.”
  • READ MORE: “It’s not too late for the United States—driven by the cutting-edge capabilities of its technology companies—to leverage the coronavirus tragedy into a historic opportunity,” writes the Atlantic Council’s Frederick Kempe.


  • New York’s subway may use staggered hours to keep passengers safe, a rerun of measures taken during the 1918 flu pandemic, Reuters reported. Talks about staggered hours are still at an early stage and could prove complicated in a city of 220,000 firms, many of them smaller businesses, Reuters said.
  • Air travel from now on will probably involve face masks, temperature scans, and self-service kiosks to limit human contact, according to a “road map” set out by international aviation experts on May 19, The Washington Post reported.
  • Cape Town has 10 percent of Africa’s confirmed cases of coronavirus probably because of a swell of tourists early on from hard-hit regions of the world and due to so-called super-spreader outbreaks in two supermarkets and a pharmaceutical plant, The Washington Post reported. Epidemiologists in South Africa hope the city can provide insight into how the virus is spreading in Africa, which has largely escaped the death tolls seen in the US and Western Europe, the Post added.
  • The statistics say… Cape Town had 9,300 cases of coronavirus as of May 19, or 60 percent of cases in South Africa, 15 percent of those in sub-Saharan Africa and 10 percent in the continent as a whole, The Washington Post said.  
  • “South Africa BCG booster trials seek low-cost weapon against COVID-19” reads a Reuters headline. Tests to determine whether the century-old Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine—widely used in Africa for tuberculosis—protects against coronavirus have also started in Australia and the Netherlands, the newswire added.
  • QUOTE: “I should be feeling happy that my [home country of Australia] seems to be emerging from the shadow of a pandemic without the terrible toll of death and disease paid elsewhere,” wrote Bloomberg columnist David Fickling. “In truth I have a sense of creeping dread. I find it hard to believe we won’t be looking back at this moment in two months, wondering how none of us saw what was coming.”