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China’s economy, now a bellwether, shows hints of recovery. Can it last?
China’s factories maintained a brisk pace last month, but Chinese consumers were slow to resume shopping, according to official statistics released on Friday.
Many countries have been watching China’s economic performance closely because it is several months ahead of the rest of the world in coping with the virus, which has sickened more than 4.4 million people and killed more than 300,000. The Chinese economy shrank in the first three months of this year for the first time since Mao Zedong died in 1976.
Factories caught up on orders that they had struggled to fill earlier this year, when the coronavirus pandemic raced across the country. The country’s industrial production was up 3.9 percent from April of last year, better than most economists expected. Production had been down 1.1 percent in March from a year earlier and had plunged in February, when the virus outbreak was at its worst in China.
But shopping and fixed asset investment stayed weak. Retail sales were down 7.5 percent in April compared to a year earlier, marginally worse than economists’ expectations.
“We should be aware that given the continuous spread of the epidemic abroad, the stability and recovery of the national economy is still faced with multiple challenges,” said Liu Aihua, the director general of the agency’s department of comprehensive statistics.
Strong exports kept factories busy last month. Many factories were catching up on orders placed while Chinese cities were locked down. But orders for further exports have stalled, according to surveys of purchasing managers.
Despite the progress, tens of millions of migrant workers are unemployed. Many white-collar workers have suffered pay cuts. Weak consumption has some economists wondering how long China can sustain an economic rebound.
Brazil’s health minister stepped down after less than a month.
Brazil’s health minister, Nelson Teich, announced on Friday that he was stepping down less than a month after taking the job, after clashing with President Jair Bolsonaro over the president’s refusal to embrace social distancing and quarantines.
While governors and mayors in much of the country have urged Brazilians to stay home as much as possible, Mr. Bolsonaro has implored them to go out and work, arguing that an economic unraveling would be more damaging to the country than the virus. This week he classified beauty salons and gyms as essential businesses that should remain open.
Brazil has recorded more than 200,000 confirmed infections and over 14,000 deaths, and those figures, among the highest in the world, are rising sharply. Experts say the numbers grossly undercount the toll extent of the epidemic because Brazil has limited testing capacity.
Officially, Brazil is recording more than 800 deaths per day, second only to the United States.
In a one-line statement announcing his resignation, Mr. Teich did not give a reason, but said he would hold a news conference later in the day.
Our Southeast Asia bureau chief describes parenting through the pandemic.
Hannah Beech, the Southeast Asia bureau chief for The Times, is based in Bangkok and covers conflict and natural disasters in about a dozen countries. Among them is Myanmar, where she has reported on the military’s campaign of ethnic cleansing targeting the Rohingya Muslim minority. In the course of her reporting in the region, she has met children whose parents killed themselves as suicide bombers and others who watched as soldiers bayoneted their relatives.
I didn’t want to be that parent, the one who talks about how when I was a child I had to walk uphill both ways, in the snow, just to get to school.
For one thing, I spent some of my childhood in Bangkok, where I now live with my husband and two sons. There is no snow in Bangkok and not much uphill.
So when my boys, ages 10 and 12, ask me at dinner what I did on a reporting trip — “going away again,” as they call it — I often hesitate.
“Well, Mama interviewed women who were raped when they were trying to flee their homes,” doesn’t seem quite right for the dinner table. Or, “Well, Mama put Mentholatum under her nose because it makes death smell a little less bad.”
But I don’t want to coddle them either. My husband and I ensure that the kids eat what we eat, even if it’s okra. We make them read The Times.
I find myself, too often, comparing them, in their privileged bubble of international school and summer camp in Maine, to the boy I met in a refugee camp or the girl with the big eyes who lost her parents in one of Southeast Asia’s drumbeat of disasters: earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, landslides, floods, plane crashes, bombings.
The pandemic is battering U.S.-China relations, raising specter of a new Cold War.
“Evil.” “Lunacy.” “Shameless.” “Sick and twisted.” China has hit back at American criticism of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic with an outpouring of vitriol as acrid as anything seen in decades.
The bitter recriminations have plunged relations between China and the United States to a nadir, with warnings in both countries that the bad blood threatens to draw them into a new kind of Cold War.
A cycle of tit-for-tat statements and actions is solidifying longstanding suspicions in Beijing that the United States and its allies are bent on stifling China’s rise as a global economic, diplomatic and military power.
Hard-liners are calling on Beijing to be more defiant, emboldened by the Trump administration’s efforts to blame China for the rising death toll in the United States. Moderates are warning that Beijing’s strident responses could backfire, isolating the country when it most needs export markets and diplomatic partners to revive its economy and regain international credibility.
Now, the clash with the United States over the pandemic is fanning broader tensions on trade, espionage and other fronts — disputes that could intensify as President Trump makes his contest with Beijing a theme of his re-election campaign.
Germany enters recession as its economy, Europe’s largest, grinds to a halt.
The German economy suffered its worst contraction since the 2008 global financial crisis, shrinking by 2.2 percent in the January-March period from the previous quarter as the shutdown of activity to halt the spread of the coronavirus pummeled growth. Those figures, combined with a revision downward to the economic growth tally for the end of 2019, mean that Germany has entered a recession.
The German government, which reported the data on Friday, said the biggest hit came in March and will probably be worse in April, when consumer spending, capital investment and exports — a major driver of growth in Germany — fell off a cliff.
“Things will get worse before they get better,” Carsten Brzeski, the chief eurozone economist at ING, said in a note to clients.
While the worst of the pandemic is beginning to ease, with Germany and other countries slowly easing their lockdowns, Germany’s contraction was a reminder that even if the virus dissipates, the economic fallout could put pressure on the European and global economy for months or years. Germany is not only Europe’s largest economy, it is one of the most dynamic in the world.
Germany and its neighbors are spending hundreds of billions of euros in fiscal measures to stem the damage, and economists say more stimulus will be needed. Still, the huge fiscal support that Germany has provided to businesses and individuals, equal to around 30 percent of gross domestic product, could allow it to exit the economic crisis “earlier and stronger than most other countries,” Mr. Brzeski wrote.
For Britain’s unlikely national hero, ‘The first step was the hardest.’
Tom Moore is charming, droll and confoundingly energetic. At age 99, he was mowing the lawn and driving his car. When he broke his hip 18 months ago, he bought a treadmill to speed his rehabilitation.
Hannah Ingram-Moore, his daughter, said she knew her dad was a good story, but nothing could have prepared them for the media whirlwind that has swept Mr. Moore, a decorated World War II veteran, to superstardom.
He has become a one-man fund-raising powerhouse for Britain’s National Health Service, a national symbol of British pluck and an all-around hero — all by doing 100 laps of an 82-foot walk on the brick patio next to his garden in Marston Moretaine, a tranquil village an hour north of London.
“The first step was the hardest,” he said in an interview conducted by video link. “After that, I got into the swing of it and kept on going.”
It was his daughter who suggested posting a charity challenge online to try to raise £1,000, about $1,220, for the N.H.S.
He did a bit better than that.
Before long, news outlets from multiple continents were broadcasting pictures of “Captain Tom” ambling with his walker, military medals gleaming on his blue blazer. With deaths mounting and the economy crumbling, he was an antidote to a time with no actual antidotes.
Mr. Moore, who turned 100 on April 30, raised £32.8 million.
He drew a direct line from the beleaguered health workers of today to the soldiers of his generation.
In the war, “we were fighting on the front line and the general public was standing behind us,” Mr. Moore said. “In this instance, the doctors and nurses and all the medical people, they’re the front line.”
Sweden stayed open while much of Europe was shut. New numbers show the toll.
Sweden’s coronavirus outbreak has been far deadlier than those of its neighbors, but the country is still better off than many others that enforced strict lockdowns.
By late March, nearly every country in Europe had closed schools and businesses, restricted travel, and ordered citizens to stay home. But one stood out for its decision to stay open: Sweden.
The New York Times measured the impact of the pandemic in Sweden by comparing the total number of people who have died in recent months to the average over the past several years. The totals include deaths from Covid-19, as well as those from other causes, including people who could not be treated or decided not to seek treatment.
In Stockholm, where the virus spread through migrant communities, more than twice the usual number of people died last month. That increase far surpasses the rise in deaths in American cities like Boston and Chicago, and approaches the increase seen in Paris.
Across Sweden, almost 30 percent more people died during the epidemic than is normal this time of year, an increase similar to that of the United States and far higher than the small increases seen in its neighboring countries. While Sweden is the largest country in Scandinavia, all have strong public health care systems and low health inequality across the population.
“It’s not a very flattering comparison for Sweden, which has such a great public health system,” said Andrew Noymer, a demographer at the University of California at Irvine. “There’s no reason Sweden should be doing worse than Norway, Denmark and Finland.”
Slovenia becomes the first country in Europe to declare its epidemic over.
Slovenia became the first European country to declare an end to its national coronavirus epidemic on Friday, easing border crossings into the small Alpine country for residents of the European Union and announcing that classes in some schools and day care centers would resume as early as Monday.
“It’s a success, and we did it together,” Jelko Kacin, a government spokesman, said at a daily televised briefing on Friday.
The spread of the coronavirus in Slovenia is under control and there is no longer a need for extraordinary restrictions, the government said in a statement, but added that preventive measures such as social distancing and wearing masks in closed spaces would remain in place for the population of some two million.
Slovenia moved quickly and early to introduce measures to stem the spread of the virus, with the government declaring a nationwide epidemic on March 12 and imposing tight restrictions on movement around the country as the disease ravaged neighboring Italy. The public has largely abided by the tough rules and the number of deaths and confirmed infections from the virus has remained comparatively low.
With the new announcement, citizens of E.U. countries can now freely cross into Slovenia at designated border crossings, the government said. But citizens outside the bloc will have a 14-day quarantine period after entry.
Earlier this month, the government began easing restrictions and lifted the ban on movement within the country. Last week, cafes, shops and museums reopened and public transportation resumed. Cultural events in theaters and concert halls will remain suspended at least until the end of the month.
But throughout the crisis, the right-wing government of Prime Minister Janez Jansa has faced criticism, with the opposition accusing him of exploiting the pandemic to silence critics, including the nation’s public broadcaster, and empower police.
Forget soda and snacks. These vending machines are selling the new essentials: Masks.
As public life begins again in Germany, face masks have become an essential accessory, required in schools, in museums, on public transportation and in most businesses.
Now a number of the country’s ubiquitous vending machines — Germany has nearly 580,000 — are being restocked to provide easy access to masks.
At least six leading vending machine operators are now offering masks and disinfectants in their machines.
“We recognized early on that there is a real need to obtain the most important hygiene articles quickly and easily in order to actively counteract the spread of the coronavirus,” Manuela Zimmermann, the head of Selecta Germany, a large operator that will restock 500 of its machines to carry masks and disinfectants. “Our machines are there, where the people are.”
A mask is 2 euros ($2.17) at a Selecta machine.
Holger Ballwanz, the director of a vending machine company in Berlin, has taken the idea one step further, introducing a tiny vending machine designed to just sell one item — face masks.
His company Flavura, which typically specializes in coffee vending machines, came up with a design he calls the Maskomat, which he says is easier to set up and maintain and takes up less space than a traditional vending machine.
“Imagine I get to the barber and realize I’ve forgotten my mask in the office,” he said in a telephone interview. “A barber could have one of those in the shop.”
Residents in one of Madrid’s richest neighborhoods are protesting Spain’s lockdown.
Spain was devastated by a major outbreak of the coronavirus, one of the worst in Europe, that has led to at least 27,321 deaths. But this week, around half of the country moved ahead in a four-phase plan to ease lockdown restrictions by late June. The plan excludes some major cities, such as Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia, which are still under more strict restrictions.
Gatherings of groups are still banned, but the protesters have drawn support from opposition politicians, including the conservative leader of the Madrid region, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, who also warned this week that future protests would make the ones in the Salamanca neighborhood “look like a joke.”
José Luis Martínez-Almeida, the mayor of Madrid, said citizens had the right to protest in a functioning democracy, but he urged those gathering in Salamanca in the evenings to respect social distancing rules.
The residents are far from alone in feeling the pain of the two-month lockdown, but their protests have drawn criticism from those on the left, at a time when lines for food handouts have been growing in many of Spain’s poorer communities.
If the Salamanca protests were instead taking place in a less affluent neighborhood, “all these people would already be identified and fined” by the police, said Pablo Echenique, a lawmaker from the far-left Unidas Podemos party.
Dining out makes a welcome return from Australia to Europe, but with caveats.
Australians flocked to cafes and bars in much of the country on Friday, as new easing of lockdown measures came into play, a major step toward reopening the economy and a sign of confidence that the country has controlled its outbreak.
The shift was welcomed in Australia, where cafe and pub culture are integral to the national identity. In Sydney, for the first time in almost two months, patrons — separated by empty tables — could be seen socializing over coffee and food.
Elsewhere in the world, similar measures have begun. Earlier this week, Switzerland reopened its restaurants, among other public spaces, with non-family groups limited to four people and tables spaced two meters apart.
Austria on Friday reopened all cafes and restaurants. Restaurants in much of Germany, including Berlin, will open Friday evening for the first time in two months, though with a long list of restrictions.
The effort in Australia was part of the government’s three-step plan to revive the economy by July, with individual states and territories determining their own timelines for reopening.
“It is a welcome sign that we are on the road back,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday.
Much of the country enacted the first stage on Friday, allowing bars and cafes to reopen, with a limit of 10 patrons. Up to five people will be allowed to visit households and up to 10 can gather in public spaces.
Schools, outdoor gyms and playgrounds also reopened. Limited regional travel was allowed in some states, but stronger restrictions still remain in the state of Victoria, including the city of Melbourne.
Australia has so far been spared the worst of the pandemic, with only 7,017 confirmed cases of the coronavirus through Friday, and about 20 new cases per day. As of Friday, 98 people had died from Covid-19.
Truck routes in East Africa may be worsening the coronavirus outbreak there.
Countries across East Africa have introduced some of the strictest measures on the continent to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, with movement between provinces halted in Rwanda, counties in Kenya locked down, and all but essential businesses shuttered in Uganda.
But the tally of confirmed coronavirus cases continues to grow in the region. Transmissions from long-haul truck drivers are now being cited as one of the ways that are spreading the disease quickly, and new figures show they are likely to be carrying the virus across borders.
The drivers are considered essential workers because they transport food and medicine across borders. They are particularly crucial in delivering much-needed goods to landlocked countries like Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda.
To mitigate the spread of the virus on truck routes, governments have begun widespread testing at border areas. Officials across the region have said they are working together to ensure that truck drivers don’t become the weak link in the region’s fight against the virus.
Yemen, buffeted by war, is now ravaged by the pandemic, too.
It was just two weeks ago that war-ravaged Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, reported its first cluster of coronavirus cases. Since then infections appear to have exploded, realizing the worst fears of aid groups.
Save the Children, the global charity, reported Thursday that at least 385 people had died over the past week with Covid 19-like symptoms in the city of Aden, where the first cluster — five cases — surfaced at the end of April.
Several hospitals in Aden have closed, and some medical workers have refused to work because of a lack of protective equipment, Save the Children said. The two main public hospitals are providing only emergency services, and are not admitting patients, it reported.
“Our teams on the ground are seeing how people are being sent away from hospitals, breathing heavily or even collapsing,” Mohammed Alshamaa, Save the Children’s director of programs in Yemen, said in a statement. “People are dying because they can’t get treatment that would normally save their lives.”
U.N. officials also sounded the alarm. “Humanitarian agencies have every reason to believe that community transmission is taking place across the country,” said Ramesh Rajasingham, the acting deputy emergency relief coordinator.
The five-year war in Yemen and the nine-year one in Syria have combined with the pandemic to create especially dire challenges for vulnerable civilian populations, who are often displaced and have limited or no access to food and medical care.
The World Food Program, the anti-hunger agency of the United Nations, said on Twitter on Thursday that a record 9.3 million people in Syria are “food insecure” — meaning they regularly don’t have enough to eat. Spiraling prices and the coronavirus have “pushed families beyond their limits,” the agency said.
Shutdown of TV network leaves an information void in the Philippines at a critical time.
Through earthquakes and typhoons, floods and political turmoil, Fe Repalde knew she could count on one constant: Her tiny, flickering television was always tuned to ABS-CBN, one of the most influential networks in the Philippines.
But on May 5, amid the coronavirus lockdown that has kept slum dwellers bound to their shacks, Ms. Repalde’s television went dark as President Rodrigo Duterte effectively shut down the broadcasting giant.
Gone were basketball highlights and juicy soap operas. Most of all, the newscasters and reporters of the news program “TV Patrol” had been silenced, just when a pandemic has made information an essential commodity.
Human Rights Watch said the closing “reeks of a political vendetta.”
Morgan Ortagus, the spokeswoman for the State Department, said Washington was “concerned by the situation regarding ABS-CBN.”
“An independent media also helps keep our society safe and healthy, particularly in light of the Covid-19 pandemic we currently face,” she said.
The blackout is the first time that ABS-CBN has gone off the air since 1986, when a popular revolt toppled the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Eugenio Lopez Jr., ABS-CBN’s former chairman, was jailed by Marcos, but he eventually escaped and fled to the United States, where he galvanized other exiled activists to campaign for a return to democracy in the Philippines.
Selda, a group of activists who were tortured during Marcos’s martial law era, said Mr. Duterte, a self-confessed admirer of the dictator, was following the same playbook.
Southeast Asia’s dangerous roads are becoming less deadly.
Coronavirus lockdowns across Southeast Asia are reaping an unexpected benefit: safer roads in a region where road fatalities are a leading killer.
In Thailand, where road accidents last year killed more than 21,000 people, many on motorcycles, such deaths were down by roughly half in April, according to the Road Safety Commission.
During the first month of the lockdown in Malaysia, road accidents and deaths decreased by about two-thirds, according to the Traffic Enforcement and Investigation Department.
And in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, the roads are much safer now than they were pre-lockdown, according to the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority. Under a strict lockdown that is in place until at least the end of this month, only essential vehicles — ambulances, police cars and motorcycle delivery operators — are allowed on the streets.
Canceled festivities, such as curtailed New Year’s celebrations in Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar in April, have also cut road deaths. Fewer people carousing and driving while drunk means safer roads.
Several countries in Southeast Asia have relatively low rates of confirmed coronavirus cases. In Thailand, road deaths remain a bigger killer than the pandemic, according to official data.
In Jerusalem, Muslims are experiencing Ramadan restrictions last seen during the Crusades.
The last time Muslim worshipers were kept out of the Aqsa Mosque compound throughout Ramadan was when medieval crusaders controlled Jerusalem.
Now, the coronavirus pandemic has done what the intervening centuries had not: largely emptying the often crowded and chaotic spaces of Islam’s third holiest site, where Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
Instead of attending elaborate fast-breaking iftar feasts with extended family members and smoking water pipes at thronged cafes, the region’s Muslims have spent much of their time in unwelcome isolation.
The Aqsa, which Jews refer to as the Temple Mount and revere as their holiest site, has been at the center of Israeli-Palestinian tensions.
While the Aqsa has been closed to the Muslim public, the imams who work there have continued to deliver sermons in it, livestreaming over Facebook special Ramadan evening prayers, known as taraweeh, as well as Friday afternoon prayers. Tens of thousands of social media users have viewed the broadcasts.
And a coalition of Israeli and Palestinian organizations, has added to the online offerings with a website, “Ramadan Nights from Jerusalem,” that features daily virtual events about Islam, the fasting month and Arabic culture in Arabic, Hebrew and English.
U.S. roundup: Retail sales suffered the largest two-month decline on record.
Total sales for April were the lowest since 2012, even without accounting for inflation. That dive followed an 8.3 percent drop in March, producing by far the largest two-month decline on record.
The report, from the Commerce Department, showed staggering declines in individual sectors of the industry, which were nowhere near being offset by increased sales at grocery stores and from online retailers.
Clothing stores have seen sales fall by 89 percent since February. That plunge shows how reliant many retailers have remained on physical outposts, even as the internet has upended the shopping landscape.
At furniture stores, sales are off by two-thirds.
Restaurants and bars have lost half their business over the past two months.
Many economists expect spending to rise in May because most states have begun to lift barriers to commerce and movement.
Retail and food
Retail and food services sales
But any recovery is likely to be slow and uneven. There is no guarantee that customers will return in numbers previously seen — and even if Americans feel comfortable going out to shop, they may not have as much money to spend, because millions have lost their jobs.
Reporting was contributed by Ernesto Londoño, Hannah Beech, Adam Rasgon, Barbara Surk, Christopher F. Schuetze, Abdi Latif Dahir, Raphael Minder, Liz Alderman, Megan Specia, Allison McCann, Lauren Leatherby, Isabella Kwai, Hannah Beech, Rick Gladstone, Jason Gutierrez, Knvul Sheikh, Keith Bradsher, Jacey Fortin, Jack Ewing, Ben Casselman, Sapna Maheshwari, and Roni Caryn Rabin.
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