COVID-19 International Developments: Daily Scan, April 8, 2020
Prerna Gandhi, Associate Fellow, VIF
Economic
Land ports in China beef up drive against imported infections

Chinese land ports around the country are enhancing prevention and control measures on imported coronavirus cases amid a flood of land arrivals after most inbound flights were cancelled. The number of imported cases detected at land ports has exceeded those discovered at airports, China Central Television reported on April 6, without providing specific numbers. Southwest China's Yunnan Province, with a border of more than 4,000 kilometres, suspended passenger transport service in 14 out of its 19 land ports on March 31. All arrivals from neighbouring countries must undergo a 14-day isolation period and nucleic acid testing at their own expense. Suifenhe port in Northeast China is under a lockdown order, which started on April 7 and will run until April 13. The Suifenhe port has drawn public attention as imported cases through the Moscow-Vladivostok-Suifenhe route have continued to rise for three consecutive days. There were 13 on April 4, 20 on April 5 and 22 on April 6, bringing the total number of imported cases detected at this port to 59.

Japan’s cash rich corporates have moment in the sun

“People have berated Japan for not going far enough down the shareholder reward route, but maybe that’s not the route the world is on now,” said Jonathan Allum, a Japan equity strategist at SMBC Nikko. The contrast with the US market is stark: 14 per cent of companies in the S&P 500 are net cash, whereas in the Japanese market the figure for the Topix index is 53 per cent. According to calculations by CLSA broker John Seagrim, the 434 non-financial companies in the S&P 500 have a combined market capitalisation of $18.8tn but just $880bn of tangible book value — net assets minus intangible assets and goodwill. In the Topix 500, 451 non-financial companies with a combined market capitalisation of $3.6tn are sitting on $2.6tn of tangible assets.

China handing out more vouchers to spur spending, but cash handout still unlikely

The lack of direct aid to households is fanning a debate in China whether the government’s reliance on increased bank lending and state-led investment will benefit those who are bearing the brunt of the economic damage caused by the coronavirus outbreak. At least 30 cities across China are issuing vouchers to residents for specific products, although the total amount of 5 billion Yuan (US$704 million) represents less than 0.01 per cent of total retail sales in 2019.In contrast to the United States, Hong Kong and Japan where cash is being given directly to households, China’s economic support plan relies in large part on pumping funds into the banking system in hope that it will filter down to small businesses. Local governments are also being handed money to fund new infrastructure projects, which will help employment. Wang Jun, chief economist of Zhongyuan Bank, warned that much of the money the government currently plans to allow local government to raise through new bond issues would be wasted on “unnecessary” infrastructure projects, and could instead be used to stimulate consumer spending.

Coronavirus: what next for China’s wildlife trade ban?

Soon after the central Chinese city of Wuhan went into lockdown two months ago, the central government fast-tracked a ban on the trade and consumption of wildlife. Before the ban, wildlife trade and consumption was a multibillion-dollar industry. A 2017 report by the Chinese Academy of Engineering estimated that the industry employed more than 14 million people and generated about 520 billion Yuan (US$74 billion).Under the new legislation in China, wild animals may no longer be bred for consumption but it is still legal to farm them for fur and traditional Chinese medicine. According to the Wildlife Justice Commission, pangolins are the most trafficked animals in the world, with six territories – Nigeria, Vietnam, China, Singapore, Hong Kong, and the Democratic Republic of Congo – accounting for 94 per cent of all intercepted scales from the animal.

Coronavirus travel bans force African elites to rely on local healthcare

For years, leaders from Benin to Zimbabwe have received medical care abroad while their own poorly funded health systems limp from crisis to crisis. Several presidents, including ones from Nigeria, Malawi and Zambia, have died overseas. The practice is so notorious that a South African health minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, a few years ago scolded, “We are the only continent that has its leaders seeking medical services outside the continent, outside our territory. We must be ashamed.”Now a wave of global travel restrictions threatens to block that option for a cadre of aging African leaders. More than 30 of Africa's 57 international airports have closed or severely limited flights, the US State Department says. At times, flight trackers have shown the continent's skies nearly empty. Spending on health care in Africa is roughly 5% of gross domestic product, about half the global average. That's despite a pledge by African Union members in 2001 to spend much more. Money is sometimes diverted to security or simply pilfered, and shortages are common. The continent has constantly wrestled with major crises including deadly outbreaks of Ebola and the scourges of malaria and HIV.

Rice prices surge to 7-year high as coronavirus sparks stockpiling

The price of rice — a staple food in Asia — has hit 7-year highs due to the coronavirus outbreak as importers rush to stockpile the grain while exporters curb shipments. Even before the March spike, rice prices had started climbing in late 2019 due to a severe drought in Thailand and strong demand from Asian and African importers. Thailand is the world’s second-largest exporter after India and ahead of Vietnam. Asia produces 90% of the world’s rice supply and consumes the same amount. The gain in prices comes despite expectations of robust production this crop year and carry-over stocks of rice and wheat being at all-time highs, said Samarendu Mohanty, Asia regional director at the Peru-based International Potato Center, a non-profit group researching food security. “Unlike other sectors, agriculture is heavily affected by the timing of the lockdown rather than the duration because of the strict planting and harvesting calendar,” he wrote last week. “If the planting season is missed, there will be no crop for the season or for the entire year.”

Coronavirus in Europe: Health and finance impacts from COVID-19 derail roll out of 5G

An amalgamation of the historic health crisis and the economic impact from coronavirus has now ground a halt to the potential roll out of 5G mobile technology in parts of Europe. The EU had initially set the cut-off date for member states to take “concrete and measurable steps” to implement the latest generation of mobile networks to June 30 - but this will now have to wait. It comes after the cancellation of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last month - where the technology was set to be launched to the world - which, perhaps, set a precedent for what was about to come.COVID-19 has also led to the delay of frequency auctions for 5G networks across much of Europe. In France, such auctions were scheduled for mid-April but have been postponed until further notice. Spain also told the EU that it would postpone auctions for reasons of "force majeure", without suggesting a new schedule. Delays in Austria, Portugal and the Czech Republic have been reported, too. The United States may have closed its markets to Huawei - with persuasions to other countries to follow suit - but the EU decided in January it would leave the door open to the Chinese mobile giant if it were to meet the bloc's strict restrictions.

Russia calls for expanding INSTEX beyond EU borders

Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s permanent representative to the Vienna-based international organizations, has called for expanding INSTEX to include countries beyond the borders of the European Union. Ulyanov said in a tweet on April 7 this action is in line with common benefit.“If it happens, then the prospects of return of #Iran to full compliance with #JCPOA will be much brighter,” the Russian diplomat said. INSTEX (the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges) was introduced on January 31, 2019, by France, Germany, and Britain, the three European countries party to the nuclear deal.Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on April 6 that operationalization of the INSTEX is welcomed by Iran; however, it does not meet the country’s expectations.“We take the operation of INSTEX as a good omen, but this is much less than what we expect,” he said in a video press conference. In late November 2019, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden issued a joint statement announcing becoming shareholders of INSTEX.

Strategic
China's virus pandemic epicentre Wuhan ends 76-day lockdown

After 11 weeks of lockdown, people went outdoors and by the thousands boarded the first trains and planes leaving Wuhan as the last restrictions on movement were lifted on April 8 in the Chinese city where the coronavirus pandemic began. The occasion was marked with a light show on either side of the broad Yangtze River, with skyscrapers and bridges radiating animated images of health workers aiding patients, along with one displaying the words "heroic city," a title bestowed on Wuhan by president and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping. Along the embankments and bridges, citizens waved flags, chanted "Wuhan, let's go!" and sang a capella renditions of China's national anthem.

Germany’s coronavirus response: Separating fact from fiction- Deutsche Welle

As of April 7, Germany had reported some 105,000 confirmed cases of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. However, the country's death rate from the pandemic remains around 1.5%, considerably lower than fellow EU members Spain (9.5%) and Italy (12%). According to Deutsche Welle, this deviation has garnered a great deal of attention from English-speaking media. The German Health Ministry has said that it is testing 300,000 people per week in a country of 82 million people; it has already carried out far more tests than Italy, the European epicentre of the pandemic. While that is a massive effort, assuming that each German resident would be tested once, it would take 3 years to test the entire population. Moreover, Germany's centre for disease control, the Robert Koch Institute, has criticized Germany's methods of testing, complaining that too many asymptomatic individuals were being tested which could risk Germany running out of tests. The German Association of Hospitals says there are 40,000 beds, which is about 49 for every 100,000 of Germany's 82 million inhabitants. The Registrar for Intensive Care Beds says there are 24,000, which is only about 29 for every 100,000 people.

Japan gambles on partial lockdown to control coronavirus

Japan is gambling that it can control the spread of coronavirus without a full lockdown as Shinzo Abe declared a “state of emergency” on April 7.The prime minister’s declaration will give governors in seven prefectures the power to request business closures to increase social distancing. It follows a rise in the number of coronavirus cases in Japan to more than 4,000 nationwide. But the closures are not compulsory and many shops, restaurants and factories will be allowed to stay open to keep the economy ticking over, raising questions about how effective the new measures will be.“Even with the state of emergency declaration, the expert opinion is we do not need to lock down our cities like they have done abroad,” said Abe, who pledged Japan’s largest stimulus package ever — amounting to about 20 per cent of gross domestic product if loan guarantees are included.“As a government, we aim to minimise the impact on the economy and society.” Japan’s experiment will be closely watched by other nations because it will test whether a country can control Covid-19 without a full lockdown, despite having a significant number of cases and no mass testing for coronavirus.

UN suspends peacekeeper deployments until June 30

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has suspended until June 30 the rotation and deployments of uniformed personnel, including individual officers and already-formed, police and military peacekeeping units, because of the novel coronavirus, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric, said on April 7."Our priorities are to ensure the COVID-19-free status of incoming uniformed personnel and mitigate the risk that UN peacekeepers could be a contagion vector and simultaneously maintain our operational capabilities," Dujarric said. "A few, limited exceptions may be considered to continue to deliver on the mandate, but only in extenuating circumstances on the basis of strict conditions to prevent the spread of the virus."The decision was sent to all countries contributing troops and police and to all relevant peace operations.

Pakistan struggles to track down 100,000 attendees of Tablighi Jamaat religious event

Pakistan authorities on April 7 were struggling to track down some 100,000 people who attended a religious gathering in Lahore, the capital of the populous Punjab province, as the country’s number of coronavirus infections rose to over 4,000 and the death toll stood at 55.Data released by authorities on April 6 showed that more than 60 per cent of confirmed infections in Punjab – home to some 110 million people, more than half of Pakistan’s total population – were either pilgrims who carried the virus back from Iran, or Sunni Muslims who had attended the Lahore congregation held by the Tablighi Jamaat group in mid-March. Organisers say they did not register any of the attendees and the lay preacher group maintains no record of where its missions are headed.

Trump blames WHO for getting coronavirus pandemic wrong, threatens to withhold funding

Trump said he is thinking about withholding funds to the WHO, saying the international agency pushed back on his travel ban from China early in the COVID-19 outbreak. “The W.H.O. really blew it; for some reason, funded largely by the United States yet very China centric. We will be giving that a good look,” Trump tweeted on April 7. It’s unclear how Trump would do this. Congress has already authorized $122 million for the WHO for this fiscal year, and while Trump has proposed $58 million in funding for the group in fiscal year 2021 — a significant cut — Congress is unlikely to authorize such a drastic funding cut, especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. “We’re going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO” Trump said. “We will look at ending funding because you know what, they called it wrong.”

Africa: COVID-19 cases top 10,000, death toll nears 500

The number of coronavirus cases in Africa rose above 10,000 as the death toll moved closer to 500 on April 7. According to the Africa Centres for Disease Prevention and Control (Africa CDC), a total of 10,075 COVID-19 cases have now been reported in 52 of the continent’s 54 countries. As per the Africa CDC data, the worst-hit countries on the continent are South Africa with 1,686 cases and 12 deaths, Algeria with 1,423 cases and 173 deaths, Egypt with 1,322 cases and 85 fatalities, and Morocco with 1,120 cases and 80 deaths. All other countries have less than 1,000 cases so far; Cameroon has 650 cases and 9 fatalities, Tunisia 596 cases and 22 deaths, Burkina Faso 364 cases and 18 deaths, Ivory Coast 323 cases and three fatalities, Nigeria 238 cases and five deaths, Senegal 226 cases and two deaths, and Kenya 156 cases and six fatalities. On April 4, the African Union Bureau of Heads of State and Government on COVID-19 reiterated the need for rapid support for African countries, as pledged by G20 members and other international partners, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Erdogan under pressure as coronavirus cases spike in Turkey

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stepped up measures to stem rapidly growing coronavirus cases in Turkey but his refusal to impose a full lockdown to keep the economy afloat is drawing criticism. With gatherings banned, restrictions on intercity trips and the obligation to wear masks almost anywhere, Erdogan has imposed a series of tough measures but thus far resisted calls for a complete confinement. Turkish Parliament began on April 7 debating a government-sponsored bill to release up to a third of detainees in the country's overcrowded prisons as a safety measure against the coronavirus outbreak. What's alarming is the fast spread of the disease in Turkey, which reported its first official case on March 11. The number of cases is doubling in every few days: From 7,400 on March 28, it reached 15,000 on April 1 and exceeded 30,000 on Monday, according to official figures.

Medical
Rare coronavirus patient’s mild symptoms but long illness may point to ‘chronic’ mutation: researchers

Chinese researchers have raised the possibility that a new subtype pathogen of Covid-19 that has low toxicity but with prolonged ability to infect others might have occurred after observing a rare case in which the disease appeared to be “chronic”, pointing to the possibility of a mutation. A middle-aged man whose symptoms were not severe appears to have formed a “dynamic balance” with the coronavirus after an extremely prolonged illness lasting 49 days, Chinese military researchers reported in a preprint article on Medrxiv.org last week. The patient had been observed to have both a high Covid-19 viral load and, at the same time, his immune cell indicators had remained stable.“The virus and the host may even form a symbiotic relationship,” said the researchers from the Army Medical University in Chongqing, No 967 Hospital of PLA, Dalian, and General Hospital of the PLA Central Theatre Command in Wuhan.

Mayo Clinic CEO says convalescent plasma could be effective treatment for coronavirus

A coalition of health and industry partners is looking at convalescent plasma as a potential treatment for the coronavirus, Mayo Clinic CEO Dr. Gianrico Farrugia told CNBC on April 6. The Food and Drug Administration announced on April 4 that Mayo Clinic would be leading the initiative in testing the effectiveness of convalescent plasma in COVID-19 patients. The treatment has been around for more than 100 years and was used during the 1918 flu pandemic, Farrugia said. The FDA approved the treatment for coronavirus patients in March. If the treatment proves effective, it could be used to prevent patients from getting seriously ill with the virus. It could also be given to at-risk people such as health-care workers on the front lines, making them “immune from the virus for a few months,” according to Farrugia.Mayo Clinic’s coalition, which counts the American Red Cross as a partner, now has more than 100 sites working on implementing convalescent plasma as a treatment for patients, Farrugia said.

For Further Reading:
  1. Global Times: Land ports beef up drive against imported infections, https://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1184921.shtml
  2. Financial Times: Japan’s corporate cash-hoarders have moment in the sun, https://www.ft.com/content/247469ca-25b7-4bd8-8ac3-becf5530f15b
  3. SCMP: China handing out more vouchers to spur spending, but cash handout still unlikely, https://www.scmp.com/economy/china-economy/article/3078838/coronavirus-china-handing-out-more-vouchers-spur-spending
  4. SCMP: Coronavirus: what next for China’s wildlife trade ban?, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/3078806/coronavirus-what-next-chinas-wildlife-ban
  5. France 24: Coronavirus travel bans force African elites to rely on local healthcare, https://www.france24.com/en/20200404-coronavirus-african-elites-who-once-flew-abroad-now-face-local-health-systems
  6. CNBC: Rice prices surge to 7-year high as coronavirus sparks stockpiling, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/08/rice-prices-surge-to-7-year-high-as-coronavirus-sparks-stockpiling.html
  7. Euronews: Coronavirus in Europe: Health and finance impacts from COVID-19 derail roll out of 5G, https://www.euronews.com/2020/04/06/coronavirus-in-europe-health-and-finance-impacts-from-covid-19-derail-roll-out-of-5g
  8. Tehran Times: Russia calls for expand INSTEX beyond EU borders, https://www.tehrantimes.com/news/446586/Russia-calls-for-expand-INSTEX-beyond-EU-borders
  9. Mainichi: China's virus pandemic epicentre Wuhan ends 76-day lockdown, https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20200408/p2g/00m/0in/012000c
  10. Deutsche Welle: Germany’s coronavirus response: Separating fact from fiction, https://www.dw.com/en/germanys-coronavirus-response-separating-fact-from-fiction/a-53053822
  11. Financial Times: Japan gambles on partial lockdown to control coronavirus, https://www.ft.com/content/ccab6f57-0ef8-45b2-a552-3a03e15c1f63
  12. Xinhua: UN suspends peacekeeper deployments until June 30, http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2020-04/08/c_138956070.htm
  13. SCMP: Pakistan struggles to track down 100,000 attendees of Tablighi Jamaat religious event, https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/health-environment/article/3078817/coronavirus-pakistan-struggles-track-down-100000
  14. CNBC: Trump blames WHO for getting coronavirus pandemic wrong, threatens to withhold funding, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/07/trump-blames-who-for-getting-coronavirus-pandemic-wrong-threatens-to-withhold-funding.html
  15. Anadolu Agency: Africa: COVID-19 cases top 10,000, death toll nears 500, https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/africa-covid-19-cases-top-10-000-death-toll-nears-500/1795452
  16. France 24: Erdogan under pressure as coronavirus cases spike in Turkey, https://www.france24.com/en/20200408-erdogan-under-pressure-as-coronavirus-cases-spike-in-turkey
  17. SCMP: Rare coronavirus patient’s mild symptoms but long illness may point to ‘chronic’ mutation: researchers, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/3077747/rare-coronavirus-patients-mild-symptoms-long-illness-may-point
  18. CNBC: Mayo Clinic CEO says convalescent plasma could be effective treatment for coronavirus, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/07/mayo-clinic-ceo-says-convalescent-plasma-could-be-effective-treatment-for-coronavirus.html

Image Source: https://cdn.pixabay.com/photo/2020/03/22/20/54/covid-19-4958543_960_720.png

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