COVID-19 International Developments: Daily Scan, April 28, 2020
Prerna Gandhi, Associate Fellow, VIF
Doctors debate when best to place virus patients on ventilators

During the early stages of the outbreak, doctors in many countries placed patients on to ventilators based on low levels of blood oxygen. “At the beginning we were treating the numbers — people’s low blood-oxygen levels — whereas now we have migrated. . . towards ventilating based on symptoms. We are looking instead at how breathless a person is and how tired they are,” said Dr Daniels. In contrast to some other forms of respiratory failure, many Covid-19 patients do not have “stiff” lungs, said Dr Jabaley. He pointed out that questions around timing of ventilation were not unique to this virus. “At the beginning of the pandemic the idea was that these patients are sick — we need to get them ventilated quickly,” said Alison Pittard, dean of the UK’s Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine. But she said experience had since shown success with non-invasive ventilation methods, which include oxygen piped through nasal tubes or continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices with tight-fitting masks that keep the airways open.

The Secret Group of Scientists and Billionaires Pushing a Manhattan Project for Covid-19

A dozen of America’s top scientists and a collection of billionaires and industry titans who call themselves Scientists to Stop Covid-19, include chemical biologists, an immune-biologist, a neurobiologist, a chrono-biologist, an oncologist, a gastroenterologist, an epidemiologist and a nuclear scientist. Of the scientists at the centre of the project, biologist Michael Rosbash, a 2017 Nobel Prize winner, said, “There’s no question that I’m the least qualified.” This group, whose work hasn’t been previously reported, has acted as the go-between for pharmaceutical companies looking for a reputable link to Trump administration decision makers. They are working remotely as an ad hoc review board for the flood of research on the coronavirus, weeding out flawed studies before they reach policy makers. The group has compiled a confidential 17-page report that calls for a number of unorthodox methods against the virus. One big idea is treating patients with powerful drugs previously used against Ebola, with far heftier dosages than have been tried in the past. The Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs have already implemented specific recommendations, such as slashing manufacturing regulations and requirements for specific coronavirus drugs.

US CDC Adds 6 Symptoms to Its COVID-19 List

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has added several new symptoms to its existing list of symptoms for COVID-19. The CDC has long said that fever, cough and shortness of breath are indications that someone might have the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. It has now added six more conditions that may come with the disease: chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell. The expanded symptoms list could prove important because with a limited number of test kits available, typically those seeking a test must first show symptoms. There is anecdotal evidence for some of those newly listed symptoms. The symptoms usually appear within two to 14 days after exposure to the virus, the CDC says. It stresses the "emergency warning signs" for COVID-19 is trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion or inability to arouse and bluish lips or face. People with any of these symptoms should seek medical attention immediately, the CDC says.

COVID-19 takes heavy toll on sharing economy

As social distancing becomes a new norm during the COVID-19 outbreak, many firms representing the sharing economy are facing major obstacles to their further growth. The community-based business platforms are severely challenged by the impacts from the pandemic. Global firms such as WeWork, Uber and Airbnb have already been hit hard by the spread of the coronavirus. Airbnb lowered its intrinsic value by 16 percent to $26 billion earlier this month. The home rental business was previously valued at $31 billion, before the threat from COVID-19. The firm's prospect for an IPO sometime later this year still remains uncertain, while the revenue loss for the first half of this year is expected to be around $1 billion. Uber has also seen some decrease in its riding-sharing business. Many U.S. media outlets reported that the company saw a 60 percent to 70 percent decrease in demand in major cities such as Seattle. The popularity of Uber Eats and Uber Direct is however, seen as a rosy prospect for the firm, as more people opt to rely on online food delivery services amid the social distancing protocols in place.

Central banks engaging in digital currency battle

Central banks around the world are rushing to prepare for the possible issuance of digital currencies, while China has begun testing its own digital tender. According to the People's Bank of China, the country's central bank, internal tests of a central bank digital currency (CBDC), named the digital currency electronic payment (DCEP), began this month in four cities ― Suzhou, Shenzen, Xiong'an and Chengdu. Screenshots of a trial version of the digital currency developed by the Agricultural Bank of China circulated online, following a leak. Sweden is also leading developments in CBDCs, and began testing its Riksbank's e-krona in February. In the United States, efforts to develop a digital currency have been led by Facebook's Libra. Central banks and regulators around the world have remained sceptical about Libra, due to the absence of a global regulatory framework. The Federal Reserve, meanwhile, is known to be considering developing a CBDC, a shift from its previous stance; and the Bank of Korea said earlier this month it was reviewing the technical and legal aspects of introducing its digital currency.

The Federal Reserve Is Changing What It Means to Be a Central Bank

The Federal Reserve is redefining central banking. By lending widely to businesses, states and cities in its effort to insulate the U.S. economy from the coronavirus pandemic, it is breaking century-old taboos about who gets money from the central bank in a crisis, on what terms, and what risks it will take about getting that money back. And with large-scale purchases of U.S. Treasury securities, the Federal Reserve is stretching the boundaries for what a central bank will do to finance soaring federal debt—actions that move it deeper into political decisions it usually tries to avoid. Economists project the central bank’s portfolio of bonds, loans and new programs will swell to between $8 trillion and $11 trillion from less than $4 trillion last year. In that range, the portfolio would be twice the size reached after the 2007-09 financial crisis and nearly half the value of U.S. annual economic output. It would make its role in the economy far greater than during the Great Depression or World War II, according to Wall Street Journal calculations. The portfolio had reached $6.57 trillion by April 22.

Coronavirus bursts the Ivy college education bubble

Even before coronavirus, 30 per cent of colleges tracked by rating agency Moody’s were running deficits, while 15 per cent of public universities had less than 90 days of cash on hand. Now, with colleges shuttered, revenues reduced, endowment investments plunging, and the added struggle of shifting from physical to virtual education, Moody’s has downgraded the entire sector to negative from stable. The American Council on Education believes revenues in higher education will decline by $23bn over the next academic year. In one survey this week, 57 per cent of university presidents said they planned to lay off staff. Half said they would merge or eliminate some programmes, while 64 per cent said that long-term financial viability was their most pressing issue. US universities are world class. But the system as a whole is in trouble. Soaring tuition fees, worthless degrees and dicey investments made by both universities and the government have become a huge headwind to economic growth and social mobility.

Indonesia halts job creation bill targeting foreign investment

The Indonesian parliament suspended discussions on April 27 on a key job creation bill led by President Joko Widodo, as the coronavirus outbreak heightens concerns about the proposed legislation's impact on workers' rights. The omnibus bill on job creation limits increases in the minimum wage and eases conditions for firing employees in an attempt to attract foreign investment in previously protected fields. The government submitted the bill to parliament in February. But many Indonesians have since lost jobs as the coronavirus squeezes the economy. Key labour unions had been threatening to hold massive rallies in Jakarta on April 23 and the rest of the country to protest the bill. Some in the ruling party had also been pushing to amend parts of it. In response, President Widodo, announced on April 24 that deliberations on labour-related sections would be delayed. "This is an opportunity to closely evaluate the contents of the bill and incorporate feedback from stakeholders," he said.

Renewable energy loses steam as Asian subsidies wane

Global capacity for renewable energy ended 17 years of growth in 2019, as Asian governments scaled back expensive subsidies designed to make their power grids greener. The trend could continue in 2020 as the coronavirus outbreak forces factory shutdowns for producers of the necessary equipment, delaying future green power projects and slowing the international shift away from fossil fuels. The pandemic has upended the supply chain for renewable energy equipment. Denmark's Vestas, the world's leading producer of wind turbines, suspended the production at two Spanish plants due to the virus outbreak. Rival Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy halted work at six of its 10 Spanish factories. In China, factory utilization rates for solar panel producers fell to about 60% in February. The figure has since rebounded, but many worry about the long-term effects of disruptions in the country, which produces 70% of the world's solar panels. Production stoppages could exacerbate other issues tied to renewable projects. Offshore wind farms cannot be built during the winter when waves are too choppy. Further growth in renewable energy also requires updates to electrical grids worldwide, as they have little excess capacity.

China’s factories struggle without key import — foreign talent

Chinese makers of electronic parts remain cut off from a vital resource for expanding production — international talent — even after the lifting of internal lockdowns. Engineers from Japan, the US and other countries play a crucial part in installing new factory equipment, but travel restrictions have complicated visits to their Chinese clients. Such delays matter for the assembly of consumer electronics in China and beyond, given the country's outsize role in supply chains for such devices as Apple's iPhones and Nikon cameras. China’s leading LCD panel maker, BOE Technology Group, has been unable to carry out a planned expansion of its cutting-edge factory in Wuhan because Japanese technology advisers have returned home due to the coronavirus. Without the advisers, the plant cannot install its latest machinery. BOE accounts for a fifth of the global market for LCD panels for TVs.

Largest US Meat Company warns food supply chain is breaking

The largest US meat company has warned of shortages for consumers, saying the country’s complex food chain was “breaking” as Covid-19 spreads to refrigerated packing plants. Tyson Foods has shut three slaughterhouses and partially reopened a fourth in the past week as it tests workers for coronavirus. Almost a third of US pork processing capacity and 14 per cent of beef capacity is now offline as the disease sweeps through the densely-staffed cutting floors of packing plants, agricultural economists say. John Tyson, chairman of Tyson Foods, said American grocery stores would have sparse meat selections until its plants came back. “As pork, beef and chicken plants are forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain,” he wrote in a letter published in three US Sunday newspapers. In the Midwest, some farmers unable to sell their pigs to closed packing plants had begun to euthanise them, executives said.

Bangladesh garment factories reopen, while India looks to ease its lockdown

More than 500 garment factories in Bangladesh that supply to global brands reopened on April 27 after a month-long shutdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, while India considered ways to scale back its vast lockdown to reduce economic pain. “We are making sure the workers wear masks, wash hands at the entrance, undergo temperature checks, and maintain physical distancing,” said Mohammad Hatem, vice president of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association. Bangladesh is home to around 4,000 garment factories employing 4.1 million workers, and industry groups for the sector had warned that the shutdown that began on March 26 could cause the country to lose $6 billion in export revenue this financial year. Competitors such as Vietnam, China and Cambodia have already resumed operations, Hatem said. While the country has allowed garment and other factories to reopen, much of the rest of the economy is still shut down and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told government officials on April 27 that schools and colleges may have to remain closed until September if the situation did not improve.

PBOC warns of debt pileup amid stimulus

The central bank governor in an article noted that due to the COVID-19 shocks, China will take countercyclical measures, keeping liquidity at a reasonably ample level and sustaining proper growth of money and credit supply. Targeted measures will support companies affected by the virus by offering sufficient capital, he said. "But too much aggressive stimulus may lead to inflation and a surge in the macro leverage ratio," the PBOC governor warned. Even before the outbreak, the central bank had started keeping an eye on the rising leverage level, especially in the household sector, adding to concerns about the impact on the economic growth, which in the first quarter contracted by 6.8 percent to its weakest in decades. A survey, run by the PBOC's statistics and research department, said on April 24 that the average debt-to-asset ratio of urban families was 9.1 percent as of October 2019. About 75.9 percent of the debt was in terms of mortgage loans.

Global coronavirus infections surpass 3 million

The number of people infected with the novel coronavirus has topped 3 million around the world, less than two weeks after it passed 2 million, a tally by Johns Hopkins University showed on April 27. The figure had reached 1 million on April 2 and exceeded 2 million on April 15. The latest data suggests that the spread of the deadly virus shows no signs of abating while many countries are struggling to stop it through large-scale social distancing measures with painful economic repercussions. An increase in the number of coronavirus tests in Europe and the United States, both hard-hit by the virus, has continued in sync with the rise in infections.

Global internal displacement numbers mark record 50.8 million in 2019

A record 50.8 million people worldwide were displaced within their own countries last year, a new report from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center showed on April 28. The Global Report on Internal Displacement, or GRID, estimates that at the end of 2019 a total of 45.7 million in 61 countries were displaced due to violent conflict, while another 5.1 million in 96 countries had lost their homes as a result of natural disasters. According to the report, internal displacement cost the world about $20 billion in 2019, the economic burden of which is shared by those affected, host communities, government agencies and an overstretched humanitarian system. In addition to those already displaced, 2019 brought an additional 33.4 million new cases, three-quarters of which were triggered by weather-related disasters such as storms and floods. Sub-Saharan Africa tops the list of regions affected by conflict-driven displacement, with Syria's long-running conflict producing the most newly displaced at 1.8 million.

Russia overtakes China with coronavirus cases at 87,000

Russia overtook China in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases on April 27, when its tally climbed above 87,000, as pressure rose on the government to consider easing lockdown restrictions for businesses to help shore up the rattled economy. Russia, the world’s largest country by territory, has been on lockdown since President Vladimir Putin announced the closure of most public spaces in late March. These measures are due to expire on April 30 and Putin has not yet said if he plans to extend them. On April 28, the authorities reported 6,198 new cases of the new coronavirus, bringing the total to 87,147, with 794 deaths.

Donald Trump launches new push to expand coronavirus testing

“We want to get our country open, and testing is not going to be a problem at all,” the US president said at a news conference on April 27. Previous attempts to encourage pharmacy groups and retailers to set up drive-through testing in parking lots have had a limited effect. But the Trump administration and industry executives — including representatives of commercial labs, pharmacies, and retailers — pledged to sharply increase their efforts and make testing more widely available after a meeting the same day. The White House released a blueprint for states on coronavirus testing at the daily news conference. The document presents "key strategic considerations" for states, including their roles, the roles of the federal government and local governments, the private sector and monitoring systems, officials said.

Beijing warns on use of 'China card' in US vote

Beijing opposes the efforts of some individuals in the United States to drag China into the US elections and play the China card to gain votes, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on April 27. Geng made the remark at a news conference after a recently disclosed memo advised US Republican candidates to address the coronavirus crisis by attacking China. The 57-page memo stresses three main lines of assault: That China caused the virus "by covering it up", that Democrats are "soft on China", and that Republicans will "push for sanctions on China for its role in spreading this pandemic", the Politico reported. The memo shows that Republicans are also eager to make China an issue in down-ballot races, it said.

China is overreaching in bid for greater global influence amid coronavirus pandemic, US advisers say

Beijing has overplayed its global hand during the coronavirus crisis, but its longer-term goal of undercutting Western democracies remains intact, witnesses told a US congressional advisory panel on April 27, warning against any discounting of China’s ability to shift gears and retrench. China experts testifying before the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission highlighted several moves that have tarnished the country’s image, including a flood of defective masks, protective gowns and ventilators that Beijing has sent to other countries. Panellists added that Western democracies – all too often embroiled in domestic infighting – also need to spend more time highlighting their strengths rather than China’s weaknesses.

Haftar dismisses UN Libya unity deal as 'thing of the past'

Libya's eastern-based renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar has declared a landmark 2015 United Nations-brokered agreement to unite the country "a thing of the past", and pledged his authorities would move towards creating a new government. Haftar did not make clear whether an elected parliament in the country's east - under whose jurisdiction his forces nominally fall - backed his move, or what its future role would be. Since the defeats in western Libya, Haftar’s forces continued to shell residential areas in the southern Tripoli on April 27. The foreign ministers of Germany, France and Italy, along with the European Union's top diplomat, have issued a joint call for a ceasefire in Libya, urging the warring sides in the North African country to resume peace talks.

Chinese Embassy in Netherlands lodges solemn representations after Netherlands changes its office name in Taiwan Island

The Chinese Embassy in the Netherlands has contacted the Dutch Foreign Ministry to lodge solemn representations after Guy Wittich, Representative of the Netherlands Trade and Investment Office in Taiwan, announced the simplification of the office's name to the Netherlands Office Taipei. The Chinese embassy has made a request for clarification of the matter. The embassy stressed that the Taiwan question concerns China's core interests and adhering to the one China principle is the political foundation for developing China-Netherlands relations. China urges the Netherlands to honour its commitment to the principle, properly handle Taiwan-related issues and take concrete actions to maintain the healthy and stable development of bilateral relations.

UK’s Government hopes post-Brexit talks can still be done ‘within agreed timescale’

Talks to strike a deal on a post-Brexit relationship between Britain and the EU can still be concluded within the agreed timescale, British Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said on April 27. The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said last week that discussions had made little progress and that Britain had set a tight deadline by ruling out an extension to the Brexit transition period beyond the end of 2020, Reuters reported. “We believe it is still entirely possible to conclude negotiations on the timetable that has been outlined,” Gove told a parliamentary committee. He also said that the British text for the talks would be published “in a matter of weeks.” Both sides will take stock at the end of June, Gove noted, declining to say whether Britain would walk away if there had been insufficient progress.

Banks smashed during protests in Lebanon over ailing economy

The facades of several banks were smashed with at least one set on fire as protests fuelled by Lebanon's economic crisis turned violent in the northern city of Tripoli overnight, a witness said. Public and private property had been attacked and banks set on fire, the army said, blaming the trouble on "a number of infiltrators" and called on peaceful protesters to quickly leave the streets. The banking association declared all banks in Tripoli shut from April 28 until security is restored, saying banks had been targeted in "serious attacks and rioting". Lebanon's banks have been a frequent target of protesters during the financial and economic crisis that has led to the collapse in the value of the Lebanese pound and frozen savers out of their deposits. The long-brewing crisis came to a head last year as capital inflows to Lebanon slowed and protests erupted against its political elite. Since then, the pound has lost more than half its value, fuelling inflation in a country heavily dependent on imports.

Coronavirus forcing countries to re-evaluate security paradigms

The US military is well-equipped to repel conventional threats, but it's certainly not up to the task of containing biological hazards like the coronavirus pandemic, according to Christopher Preble of the Cato Institute, a Washington-based libertarian think tank. It is not just in the US where military preparedness for pathogens is seen as limited. Russian defence expert Alexander Golz also believes his country's leadership is not taking adequate measures to counter the outbreak. "Generals are always preparing to fight the wars of the past," he said. However, the coronavirus pandemic may help shift the framework of military thinking. Joe Biden, Donald Trump's presumed Democratic rival in the November US presidential election, has announced plans to create a special cabinet post to focus on the threats posed by pandemics and climate issues, should he be elected. "The crisis we are experiencing now is a watershed moment — also for our understanding of our security policies," said Ulrich Schlie, a professor of security and strategy studies at the University of Bonn.

Brazil edges toward being next big coronavirus hot spot

As some US states and European countries moved gradually on April 27 to ease their limits on movement and commerce, the intensifying outbreak in Brazil — Latin America’s biggest country, with 211 million people — pushed some hospitals to the breaking point, with signs that a growing number of victims are now dying at home. “We have all the conditions here for the pandemic to become much more serious,” said Paulo Brandão, a virologist at the University of Sao Paulo. Brazil officially reported about 4,500 deaths and almost 67,000 confirmed infections. But the true numbers there, as in many other countries, are believed to be vastly higher given the lack of testing and the many people without severe symptoms who haven’t sought hospital care. Some scientists said over 1 million in Brazil are probably infected. The country is heading into winter, which can worsen respiratory illnesses.

Some students return to school in China’s major cities

Droves of students in China’s biggest cities returned to school on April 27 after months of closures, cautiously coming back to campus where gruelling exams and social distancing measures awaited.Schools in Beijing welcomed back high school seniors in preparation for the gaokao, the notoriously difficult university entrance exams that have been postponed for a month to July. In Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, students in their final year of middle and high school also returned to campus wearing masks and occasionally being greeted by staffers in protective suits who took their body temperatures. In Hubei, the central Chinese province hit hardest by the coronavirus, graduating high school students are set to return to classes on May 6.

For Further Reading:
  1. Doctors debate when best to place virus patients on ventilators,
  2. The Secret Group of Scientists and Billionaires Pushing a Manhattan Project for Covid-19,
  3. CDC Adds 6 Symptoms To Its COVID-19 List,
  4. COVID-19 takes heavy toll on sharing economy,
  5. Central banks engaging in digital currency battle,
  6. The Federal Reserve Is Changing What It Means to Be a Central Bank,
  7. Coronavirus bursts the US college education bubble,
  8. Indonesia halts job creation bill targeting foreign investment,
  9. Renewable energy loses steam as Asian subsidies wane,
  10. China’s factories struggle without key import — foreign talent,
  11. Largest US meat company warns food supply chain is breaking,
  12. Bangladesh garment factories reopen, while India looks to ease its lockdown,
  13. PBOC warns of debt pileup amid stimulus,
  14. Global coronavirus infections surpass 3 million,
  15. Global internal displacement numbers mark record 50.8 million in 2019,
  16. Russia overtakes China with coronavirus cases at 87,000,
  17. Donald Trump launches new push to expand coronavirus testing,
  18. Beijing warns on use of 'China card' in US vote,
  19. China is overreaching in bid for greater global influence amid coronavirus pandemic, US advisers say,
  20. Haftar dismisses UN Libya unity deal as 'thing of the past',
  21. Chinese Embassy in Netherlands lodges solemn representations after Netherlands changes its office name in Taiwan island,
  22. UK’s Gove hopes post-Brexit talks can still be done ‘within agreed timescale’,
  23. Banks smashed during protests in Lebanon over ailing economy,
  24. Coronavirus forcing countries to reevaluate security paradigms,
  25. Brazil edges toward being next big coronavirus hot spot,
  26. Some students return to school in China’s major cities,

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