COVID-19 International Developments: Daily Scan, April 2, 2020
Prerna Gandhi, Associate Fellow, VIF
Researchers show world leaders how to behave in a crisis

While political leaders have locked their borders, scientists have been shattering theirs, creating a global collaboration unlike any in history. Never before, researchers say, have so many experts in so many countries focused simultaneously on a single topic and with such urgency. Nearly all other research has ground to a halt.Researchers from around the world have set up an online platform for those who want to volunteer for research-related tasks. The platform, Crowdfight COVID-19 ( ), matches volunteers to researchers who have specific tasks or needs — anything from transcribing data from notebooks and searching the literature, to providing specific expertise. As of April 01, Crowdfight COVID-19 had attracted more than 40,000 volunteers.

How Are You Feeling? Surveys Aim to Detect Covid-19 Hot Spots Early

Scientists have persuaded Britons and Israelis to fill out questionnaires about their health, to get ahead of the coronavirus by getting resources to the right place. More than two million people in Britain and 150,000 Israelis have already completed simple questionnaires, and many are updating their answers daily. Analysts of the data — including symptoms of Covid-19 and test results, as well as risk factors and demographics — say they have been able to identify incipient outbreaks days ahead of the authorities.Three groups in the United States — led by Massachusetts General Hospital, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Weill Cornell Medicine in New York — are now vying to attract enough survey participants nationwide to detect impending hot spots.The questionnaires, which are web or app based, ask people about their medical histories and risk factors, and then about symptoms. In Israel, a bot prompts users to choose from a menu including coughing, sore throat, shortness of breath, fatigue and a loss of taste or smell, and then asks for a temperature reading from the last 24 hours.

Many New York coronavirus patients are young, surprising doctors

New York has more confirmed cases than anywhere else in the US, and about one in five hospitalisations are occurring in people under age 44, according to data released by the city’s health department. Globally, moderate-to-severe cases have occurred in 10 to 15 per cent of adults under age 50, according to the World Health Organisation.New York has more confirmed cases than anywhere else in US, and many do not fit picture coming out of China or Italy.

Nearly 80% of US intensive-care cases have underlying conditions

More than three-quarters of COVID-19 patients in intensive-care units in the United States have at least one ‘underlying condition’, a chronic health problem such as diabetes or heart disease that has been shown to contribute to hospitalization and severe outcomes. The finding comes from the 31 March Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. It found that of about 7,000 people with COVID-19 for whom information about chronic conditions had been reported, just over a third had an underlying condition. People with such conditions made up 71% of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 and nearly 80% of those who required intensive care.Data from China and Italy have also shown that underlying conditions correlate with more severe COVID-19 outcomes, but this is the first such study of patients in the United States.

More evidence indicates healthy people can spread virus

A study by researchers in Singapore estimated that somewhere around 10% of new infections may be sparked by people who carry the virus but have not yet suffered its flu-like symptoms. It focused on 243 cases of coronavirus reported in Singapore from mid-January through mid-March, including 157 infections among people who had not travelled recently. Scientists found that so-called pre-symptomatic people triggered infections in seven different clusters of disease, accounting for about 6% of the locally acquired cases.The seemingly healthy people who can transmit the virus are believed to fall into three categories: pre-symptomatic, who do not have symptoms when they spread but develop illness a couple of days later; asymptomatic, who never develop symptoms; and post-symptomatic, who get sick and recover but remain contagious.

Trump resists national shutdown, leaving it up to states

Trump said on April 1, he wants to give governors' "flexibility" on whether a stay-at-home policy is the best option for their constituents, but acknowledged that he's looking at limiting air and rail travel between hot spots within the United States. The President remains hesitant to press a unified policy even after the White House released "sobering" new projections on March 31 that 100,000 to 240,000 Americans will likely succumb to the coronavirus even if current social distancing guidelines are maintained. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said on April 1 that the nation's federalist system leaves much of the authority on how to properly respond to catastrophes to individual state governors and local officials. Nearly 40 out of 50 states have declared state-wide shelter-in-place orders or have recommended that residents stay home.

Nearly 3,000 sailors to leave US aircraft carrier amid virus outbreak

Nearly 3,000 sailors aboard the US aircraft carrier, Theodore Roosevelt, where the coronavirus has spread will be taken off the ship by April 3, Navy officials said as they struggle to quarantine crew members in the face of an outbreak. So far, fewer than 100 of the nearly 5,000 sailors, now docked in Guam, have tested positive for the virus, but the Navy is moving sailors into various facilities and probably will begin using hotel rooms in the coming days. Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, however, made it clear that while several thousand will leave the ship, other sailors will remain on board in order to continue to protect the ship and run critical systems.

UN's COP 26 climate change conference postponed to 2021 over coronavirus concerns

The UN's COP 26 climate change summit due to take place in the Scottish city of Glasgow in November has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the British government said on April 1."In light of the ongoing, worldwide effects of COVID-19, holding an ambitious, inclusive COP26 in November 2020 is no longer possible," the government said in a statement, adding that dates for a rescheduled conference in 2021 would be announced later. Some 30,000 people, including 200 world leaders, had been due to attend the 10-day conference for crucial talks to halt rising global temperatures.

Ethiopia postpones landmark August election due to coronavirus

Ethiopia is Africa's second-most populous nation with 105 million citizens. Abiy promised to liberalise the state-run economy and oversaw reforms that saw thousands of political prisoners, journalists and opposition activists released. Previous elections in Ethiopia, a parliamentary democracy, have been marred by allegations of rigging and intimidation of the opposition.The August vote had been regarded as an important test of the reformist agenda of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in what was once one of the continent's most repressive nations."Due to the pandemic we were forced to suspend our activities," said an Amharic-language statement from the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia. The board will announce a new timeline once the pandemic has subsided, it said. The Horn of Africa nation has 25 confirmed cases of coronavirus and the government has closed schools and restricted gatherings to curb the spread of the highly infectious illness.

Europol warns against coronavirus scams

The European police authority has warned that con artists are preying on fears of illness by offering fake masks, medicine, COVID-19 tests and even vaccines. Europol specifically warned against phony medicine available from online sites. The agency said that during operation "Pandea," a recent global sting, police identified 2,000 websites offering useless anti-coronavirus pills, sprays and salves. Europol added that some 4 million packages of fake medicine were seized across 90 countries during the raid. It has reported that one European firm ordered some €6.6 million ($7.3 million) worth of protective masks and disinfection gel from a company in Singapore — which never arrived. Likewise, a German government shipment of millions of masks from Kenya never turned up. Germany's foreign intelligence agency, BND, has also warned that the risks to the health care sector due to "intransparent delivery chains" cannot be underestimated. In just one coordinated operation between March 3 and 10, Europol confiscated 34,000 counterfeit surgical masks.

Syria: Record drop in monthly death toll

Just over 100 civilians lost their lives in the war in Syria in March. This was the lowest number of civilian casualties reported in a month since the war began in 2011, a human rights group reported on April 1. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said that 103 civilians were killed in March. 51 people were killed in airstrikes or shelling carried out by the Syrian regime, the rights group said.The civilian death toll in March was less than half of what had been reported in February when regime forces carried out heavy offensives against one of the last rebel holdouts. The observatory reported 275 deaths that month. Over 380,000 people have been killed in the bloody conflict that recently entered its tenth year.The United Nations has called for a nationwide ceasefire in order to deal with the threat of coronavirus. Aid groups fear a health disaster should the deadly respiratory disease begin spreading through crowded displacement camps and regime prisons.

Greece exploits coronavirus in refugee dispute with Turkey

The pandemic is dictating Greek asylum policy. The coronavirus forced Turkish President Erdogan to cease blackmail attempts at the border with Greece — but it has afforded Athens the opportunity to push through plans. Many have been camping near the Turkish side of theborder, despite Greece's insistence that its border is closed. Greece has been widely criticized for using excessive force, including the firing of water cannons and tear gas to repel incoming migrants.The Human Rights Watch urged Greece and the EU to respect human rights in light of Turkey's new policy of refusing to halt migrants and refugees trying to leave for Greece. Official statistics put the number of refugees in Turkey at about 4 million, but it is estimated that there are far more. According to Athens, about 100,000 asylum applicants are currently in Greece, with 40,000 of them on the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Leros and Kos. In March, Greece's government issued a 12-point plan for dealing with the coronavirus in camps for displaced people.

Coronavirus and Islam: Pakistani clerics refuse to shut down mosques

Last week, Pakistani President Arif Alvi and provincial governors held a meeting with Sunni and Shiite clerics to convince them to close mosques for congregational prayers across the country amid rapidly increasing COVID-19 cases in the country. The clerics, however, rejected the request."We can in no way close mosques ... It is not possible in any circumstances in an Islamic country," said Muneeb-bur-Rehman, a cleric who attended the meeting. The clerics' blatant refusal to shun collective prayers has raised doubts about Pakistan's resolve to fight the pandemic, which has killed at least 25 people in the country and infected nearly 2,000. Many Islamic countries have shut down mosques and banned mass prayers after the emergence of coronavirus cases. Saudi Arabia even closed down Islam's holiest site, the Kaaba, and other sacred mosques to contain the spread of COVID-19.

‘Infrastructure Week’ Returns as Trump and Democrats Eye Post-Virus Jobs Plan

As Congress and the White House contemplate the next phase of the government response to the coronavirus pandemic and its economic toll, leaders in both parties are increasingly raising the prospect of enacting a multitrillion-dollar infrastructure plan that could create thousands of jobs. President Trump and congressional Democrats have clashed for years over how to structure such a plan, and striking a deal to do so would be an exceedingly steep challenge in an election year. But as the novel coronavirus ravages the economy, both parties appear to be coalescing behind the idea of something akin to a New Deal-style jobs program to help the nation cope with what is expected to be a deep recession.Whether or not a compromise can be reached, the infrastructure issue is likely to become a centrepiece of Trump’s re-election campaign.

Corona bonds and the idea of European financial unity

The coronavirus crisis is bringing an old EU dispute back to light. Should financial solidarity in the European Union be limitless? The European Commission has released billions in special funds, the limits for budget deficits and government debt of EU countries have been relaxed, and the European Central Bank is opening the money gates even further. But is that enough? No, say the governments of nine euro zone countries: France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Slovenia and Luxembourg. In the face of the huge crisis, they are calling for the community to borrow together. "The case for such a common [debt] instrument is strong, since we are all facing a symmetric external shock, for which no country bears responsibility, but whose negative consequences are endured by all," they wrote in a joint letter to the president of the European Council, Charles Michel. Yet, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is against coronabonds. "I believe that with the ESM we have a crisis instrument that provides many opportunities that do not call into question the basic principles of our joint but responsible action," said Merkel after the EU summit last week. According to experts, the ESM now has around €400 billion in funds.

Federal Reserve eases capital rule to encourage bank lending

The Federal Reserve has eased a capital rule for large banks in a move to encourage leading financial groups to increase lending and play a bigger role in the market for US Treasuries. The “supplementary leverage ratio”, a rule adopted in 2013, required large banks with international portfolios to hold capital — equal to 3 per cent of their total assets — to absorb losses. On April 1, the US central bank said banks could exclude Treasuries and cash reserves held at the Fed from these calculations for a year. The decision means that as the Fed pushes more cash reserves into the banking system, the banks will be able to take those reserves on to their balance sheets without having to increase capital at the same time.

China central bank board member advocates not setting growth target

China should not set a gross domestic product growth target this year in light of "the huge uncertainties" from the coronavirus pandemic, according to a member of the People's Bank of China policy board. In an interview published on March 31 in the state-run Economic Daily newspaper, Ma Jun said it is impossible for China to maintain the originally expected 6 percent GDP growth rate for 2020.Noting that many economists predict that growth may drop to 2 percent or even 1 percent, Ma said setting an unrealistic target may effectively hold the country's macroeconomic policy hostage, resulting in a "flooding" of measures to stimulate the economy.Given that China's stimulus measures have typically been capital-intensive, Ma warned that such target-driven spending would not necessarily improve short-term unemployment.

Bangladesh garment makers say $3B in orders lost to virus

Bangladesh garment manufacturers say fashion retailers have cancelled or put on hold more than $3 billion in orders due to the coronavirus outbreak, though a handful have agreed to pay anyway.The data from the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association released on March 30 reflected both orders already made or in the works and planned orders from the country which is the world's second largest exporter of clothing after China. The cancelled orders, according to reports to the BGMEA from manufacturers, included tens of millions in purchases from many big buyers, including European buyers C&A and Inditex, Primark of Ireland and Britain's Marks & Spencer.

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