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President Trump’s defunding threat, detailed in a letter he posted to Twitter late Monday night, came after a World Health Organization meeting that was supposed to chart a global path to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, the meeting turned into a showcase for the escalating tensions between China and the United States, and illustrated the American desire to pull away as other world leaders were working in concert.
On Tuesday morning, the World Health Organization spokeswoman said that the agency had no immediate comment on the letter, but expected to have “more clarity” later in the day, according to the news agency Reuters. The organization’s annual meeting continues on Tuesday, but it has already become a forum for nations to highlight their own response and to step into the void left by the United States.
In a move that could catapult China to the forefront of international efforts to contain the coronavirus, President Xi Jinping of China announced at the start of the meeting that Beijing would donate $2 billion toward fighting the coronavirus and dispatch doctors and medical supplies to Africa and to countries in the developing world. The gesture was also seen — particularly by American officials — as an attempt by China to forestall closer scrutiny of whether it hid information about the outbreak.
The Trump administration has sought to blame the organization for the spread of the virus, which has killed more than 315,000 people worldwide, including more than 90,000 in the United States. In videotaped remarks to the assembly after Mr. Xi spoke, Alex M. Azar II, the U.S. secretary of health and human services, countered with sharp criticism of both the W.H.O. and China, saying their handling of the outbreak led to unnecessary deaths.
In Beijing, a foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, criticized the United States’ position at a routine news briefing.
“The United States has made a miscalculation and found the wrong target when it picks on China, shirks its responsibilities and bargains on how to fulfill its international obligations to the World Health Organization,” Mr. Zhao told reporters.
The move wasn’t the only one to highlight America’s choice to go at it alone on Monday. As the United States discussed pulling back from international obligations, Germany’s agreement to back the idea of collective European debt represented a major philosophical shift that could lead to a more unified Europe. Faced with economic calamity and the threat of the coronavirus further fracturing the bloc, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany joined with President Emmanuel Macron of France to propose borrowing 500 billion euros, or $545 billion, for a common recovery fund.
Its repayment would be the financial responsibility of the entire bloc, but it would primarily benefit the poorer southern nations, which have been hit hardest by the virus and have pushed wealthier countries like Germany and the Netherlands for greater collective action. Such a joint approach to borrowing has long been resisted by Germany and other member states in the north, and that reluctance has proved an obstacle to further European integration.
Mujtaba Rahman, chief European analyst for the Eurasia Group, said, “It’s a European revolution — if it goes through.”
Cases in reopened French schools were ‘inevitable,’ a minister says.
Just a week after many schools were reopened in France, the discovery of 70 new coronavirus cases in classrooms across the country forced authorities to shutter some preschools and elementary schools, authorities said this week.
The cases are spread throughout France, from Brittany in the west to Nice in the south, in the latest example of the challenge faced by European countries in reopening their societies while seeking to avoid new waves of infections.
The education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, said Monday that such developments were “inevitable,” but that the cases remained a minority among the 150,000 pupils who returned to schools last Monday.
“The consequences of not going back to school are much more serious,” Mr. Blanquer said on RTL radio.
Although schools have not been seen as a major source of outbreaks in Europe, countries that eased restrictions last week, like France and Spain, are keeping careful watch for signs of a spike in coronavirus cases.
Most middle schools and high schools remain closed in much of Europe, and countries across the continent are looking to their neighbors as they plot a path forward. The first students in Britain may return to school on June 1, and Gavin Williamson, the country’s education secretary, has used the example of Denmark, whose pupils were the first in Europe to go back to schools in mid-April, to argue in favor of the reopening.
China defends its much-maligned coronavirus test kits.
Wang Zhigang, China’s minister of science and technology, spoke out on Tuesday at one of the first in a series of ministerial news conferences ahead of the annual session of the National People’s Congress, the annual meeting of the country’s legislature, which begins on Friday.
“We developed the testing kits from the beginning, but it may take a little longer and may have a lower sensitivity,” he said. “We are gradually improving it in the process of later use and adding new technical elements, solving the problem: high sensitivity, fast detection.”
China has had a separate series of scandals in recent years regarding fraudulent academic research, although none so far regarding the coronavirus. Mr. Wang volunteered at the end of his news conference that while he believed almost all Chinese researchers to be honest, the authorities would respond with the full force of the law if another scandal did take place.
“For a few people, they are not worthy of the name of scientists, we have zero tolerance for them,” he said.
Italian hair salons are back in business.
As Italy further loosened Europe’s first lockdown against the coronavirus and allowed restaurants, bars, churches and stores to open, Lucilla Vettraino went directly to her hair salon.
“I look like a witch with this hair!” Ms. Vettraino, 78, said on Monday as she held strands the color of Campari.
And perhaps nowhere is that passion for primping as sharply felt as in Italy, where — amid fights between the national and regional governments, concerns about a resurgent epidemic and fears of a coming economic catastrophe — Italians greeted Monday’s opening as a chance for a Great Beautification.
Italy is a capital of coiffuring, with 104,000 hair salons and tens of thousands more beauty parlors for nail care, eyebrow threading, body waxing and massaging, according to a government study by the agency representing the Chamber of Commerce.
On Monday, Italy allowed unlimited travel within individual regions. Businesses opened up across most of the country in an effort to revive an economy that is expected to shrink this year by at least 8 percent, the largest drop since World War II.
Many restaurants decided not to open because rules requiring tables to be 6.5 feet apart would make it impossible to turn a profit. But the salons had customers.
It took a pandemic, but Japan’s 7-Eleven stories are finally getting a break.
On April 14 in a residential neighborhood of Kawasaki, Japan, Takehiro Shimada did the unthinkable. He turned off the lights and locked the doors of the 7-Eleven he has owned and operated for over 20 years.
Allowing an owner to close shop for a few hours in the dead of night or during a national holiday might not seem like a big deal. But 7-Eleven, so omnipresent in Japan that it is considered part of the national infrastructure, believes that consistent service across all of the country’s 21,000 locations is crucial to the brand’s value. Like many franchises, it has strict expectations for everything from shops’ layout to how employees dress and greet customers.
And now, the coronavirus has done what a chorus of pleas from owners could not: forced the company that controls the 7-Eleven chain, Seven & I Holdings, to exempt some of its locations from policies it has spent years fiercely defending.
It is a relief for store owners who were already putting in grueling hours for meager returns before the virus struck and have since watched business dry up as Japan’s workers sheltered at home under a state of emergency.
“This is the chance for people to shorten their hours,” Mr. Shimada said during a recent video call from his crowded stockroom. “The emergency declaration is the reason, the best possible reason.”
As Japan moved last week to lift that declaration across much of the country, however, some franchisees were wondering if the change of heart would outlast the pandemic.
The people of Wuhan are slowly getting back to normal.
Her friends had posted all over social media: The milk tea shops had reopened! Wuhan was coming back!
But when Rosanna Yu, 28, took a sip of her first order in two months, she was unimpressed. “Did you guys forget how to make milk tea?” she posted jokingly on WeChat in late March. “How is it this bad?”
Still, disappointing milk tea is better than none. And while normalcy and good bubble tea may still be out of reach, just the prospect has Ms. Yu feeling buoyant.
In early April, after the lockdown eased, Ms. Yu and her parents visited a park to admire Wuhan’s famous cherry blossoms. Officials had urged residents to stay home when possible, but “we just couldn’t sit inside any longer,” she said.
She recently took a video of the long line at a local restaurant for takeout “hot dry noodles,” Wuhan’s signature dish. She now has to pause for traffic before crossing the street — a burden that has never felt less like one.
“Seeing a lot of cars, I’m actually so happy,” she said.
Her optimism is born, in part, of luck. None of her friends or family were infected. The lockdown was hard at first, but she soon distracted herself by learning to bake crullers and sweet buns.
Some things are undeniably harder. Ms. Yu quit her job as a secretary last year, planning to look for a new one in January. But her parents now want her to wait until the fall, for safety reasons.
She rarely sees friends, because there is nowhere to go; dining in at restaurants is not allowed.
But for the most part, Ms. Yu has embraced Wuhan’s new normal. She plans to keep baking. She may take online classes.
And she has discovered a new kinship with her neighbors. During the lockdown, residents who were barbers offered free haircuts. The neighborhood’s group chat, formed to coordinate bulk grocery buys, has became a virtual support circle.
“This was my first time feeling like the entire neighborhood, and all of Wuhan, was all in something together, working toward the same goal,” Ms. Yu said.
Germany’s far right is driving protests against the country’s coronavirus restrictions.
Even as Germany is celebrated as Europe’s foremost example of pandemic management, an eclectic protest movement that began last month with a few dozen people marching against coronavirus restrictions has ballooned into more than 10,000 demonstrators in cities across the country.
The driving force behind the mobilization is the country’s far right, particularly the Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, which had been marginalized by the pandemic as Germans rallied behind Chancellor Angela Merkel and the government’s social distancing restrictions.
Now, the AfD’s leaders see the protests as a first step toward moving back into the national conversation, using the demonstrations to position their message for the months ahead, when Germany must confront job losses and a battered economy.
“The crisis is coming, it isn’t here yet,” said Nicolaus Fest, head of Berlin’s AfD chapter, who was protesting near the Brandenburg Gate on Saturday. “Some time soon, a lot of people will be unemployed.”
For now, despite the noise they make, the protesters remain a small minority. A recent survey found that two in three Germans are satisfied with the government’s response to the crisis. Six out of 10 say they are not worried if certain freedoms have to be curtailed for longer.
But the European Commission expects the German economy to shrink by 6.5 percent this year, the worst performance since World War II. The AfD’s popularity, which early on in the crisis slumped below 10 percent, has begun to edge up.
England’s soccer players will start practicing. Scotland’s are finished for the season.
England and Scotland have a long rivalry on and off sports fields. But ultimately, they are both part of Britain and the United Kingdom. So it may come as a surprise to see how differently they are approaching the return of soccer.
England has been doing everything it can to restart its season. Players will return to training in small groups on Tuesday. No date for games is yet set, but organizers are eager to begin as soon as feasibly possible.
But Scotland announced Monday that its season would not continue. Celtic F.C., which was leading the Premiership by 13 points with eight games remaining, was declared the champion for the ninth straight year.
One reason for the discrepancy between England and Scotland’s plans is money. England has a huge TV deal — worth more than a billion dollars per year, domestically alone. If England failed to finish its season, it would have to give back a portion of the money, and even a portion is still a ton of cash.
Scotland’s TV deal is much smaller, less than $20 million domestically, according to reports. But Scotland is getting a better deal next season, and no one wants to jeopardize that income. So calling it a season and moving on to a more lucrative future seemed to be the soundest move.
The other two nations in the U.K., Wales and Northern Ireland, with leagues even smaller than Scotland’s, have not yet made decisions on whether to try to resume their seasons.
U.S. roundup: President Trump says he’s taking an unproven drug.
President Trump said on Monday that he had been taking hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug whose effectiveness against the coronavirus is unproven, for about a week and a half as a preventive measure.
“All I can tell you is, so far I seem to be OK,” Mr. Trump said, explaining that he takes a daily pill. The White House physician said Mr. Trump had no symptoms and had regularly tested negative for the virus.
The drugs can cause dangerous abnormalities in heart rhythm in virus patients, the F.D.A. warned, saying they should be used only in clinical trials or hospitals where patients can be closely monitored for heart problems.
Several doctors said they were alarmed that Mr. Trump was using the bully pulpit of the presidency to tell the public he takes a drug that has not been proven to be effective against the coronavirus, but which does have known risks.
In other news:
Across the country, governors are weighing the risks of reopening their states against the need to minimize economic harm. The pendulum will move further toward reopening this week, as several more states, including Connecticut, Kentucky and Minnesota, move to ease restrictions.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said he expected New York City to meet the state’s criteria to start reopening and begin easing restrictions by the first half of June. Of the city’s 10 ZIP codes with the highest death rates, eight have populations that are predominantly black or Hispanic.
Poor countries borrowed billions from China. They can’t pay it back.
Over the last two decades China unleashed a global lending spree, showering countries with hundreds of billions of dollars, in an effort to expand its influence and become a political and economic superpower. Borrowers put up ports, mines and other crown jewels as collateral.
At the forefront of the spree is the Belt and Road Initiative, President Xi Jinping’s $1 trillion program to finance infrastructure projects across the world and pick up allies in the process. Since the initiative started in 2013, China has lent up to $350 billion to countries, about half of them considered high-risk debtors.
China faces difficult choices. If it restructures or forgives these loans, that could strain its financial system and infuriate the Chinese people, who are suffering under their own slowdown. But if China demands repayment when many countries are already angry with Beijing over its handling of the pandemic, its quest for global clout could be at risk.
“China is politically on the back foot,” said Andrew Small, senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund. Should China foreclose on those loans, he added, “they would be taking over strategic assets in countries that now can’t afford to feed their people.”
Turkey said it would impose a nationwide lockdown during Eid al-Fitr.
Turkey will impose a four-day lockdown across the country, starting on Saturday, to curb the spread of the coronavirus during the religious holiday of Eid al-Fitr, when Muslims typically gather in large family groups to celebrate.
In a televised address on Monday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the nationwide lockdown, the most severe restriction Turkey has imposed in the pandemic. Mr. Erdogan said most Turkish citizens would be forbidden from going out into the streets.
The virus has already disrupted the ability to worship together for many Muslims, especially during the past month as Ramadan was being observed. At revered sites in Mecca and Medina, for example, communal prayers were banned.
One of the two most important religious festivals for Muslims, Eid al-Fitr is a celebration that marks the end of Ramadan. In Turkey, a Muslim-majority country with a population of 83 million, people usually enjoy the Eid with visits to extended families, where hugging is common, as is kissing the hands of elderly people as a sign of respect.
German farmers are flying in thousands of seasonal workers to plant and harvest, raising safety concerns.
But just as the first harvest was to begin, Germany and its neighbors to the east slammed shut their borders to contain the coronavirus, cutting off a crucial supply of farm labor and putting crops at risk.
The German government has responded by allowing farmers to airlift workers from Romania and Bulgaria. The farmers must organize and pay for charter flights, and the program was capped at 40,000 workers a month in April and May.
The move has eased the labor shortage, but not solved it. The cost and logistical challenges have meant that only about 28,000 workers have been flown in so far, well short of the number needed. It has also raised concerns about importing new infections and exploiting vulnerable workers.
Florian Bogensberger, a farmer in Bavaria’s Hallertau region, said he spent more than 10,000 euros, about $11,000, to fly in 23 Romanian workers. Though it meant pushing back other needed investments, he said the flight was worth it.
“Everybody feels a bit scared,” said Gabriel Moraru, 47, a Romanian who has done seasonal work at the Bogensberger farm for the past decade. “But we also need to work.”
Reporting was contributed by Elian Peltier, Jason Horowitz, Elisabetta Povoledo, Emma Bubola, Megan Specia, Steven Erlanger, Aurelien Breeden, Katrin Bennhold, Christopher Schuetze, Andrew Jacobs, Michael D. Shear, Edward Wong, Anatoly Kurmanaev, José Maria León, Safak Timur, Melissa Eddy, Dan Levin, Maria Abi-Habib, Keith Bradsher and Victor Mather.
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