COVID-19 International Developments: Daily Scan, April 9, 2020
Prerna Gandhi, Associate Fellow, VIF
Some doctors moving away from ventilators for virus patients

As health officials around the world push to get more ventilators to treat coronavirus patients, some doctors are moving away from using the breathing machines when they can. Across the globe, hospitals have reported unusually high death rates for coronavirus patients on ventilators. "We know that mechanical ventilation is not benign," said Dr. Eddy Fan, an expert on respiratory treatment at Toronto General Hospital. "One of the most important findings in the last few decades is that medical ventilation can worsen lung injury -- so we have to be careful how we use it." The dangers can be eased by limiting the amount of pressure and the size of breaths delivered by the machine, Fan said. But increasingly, physicians are trying other measures first. One is having patients lie in different positions -- including on their stomachs -- to allow different parts of the lung to aerate better. Another is giving patients more oxygen through nose tubes or other devices. Some doctors are experimenting with adding nitric oxide to the mix, to help improve blood flow and oxygen to the least damaged parts of the lungs.

Feds loosen virus rules to let essential workers return

Dr Robert Redfield, director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, announced at the White House that essential employees, such as health care and food supply workers, who have been within 6 feet of a confirmed or suspected case of the virus, can return to work under certain circumstances if they are not experiencing symptoms. Under the new guidelines for essential workers, the CDC recommends that exposed employees take their temperatures before their shifts, wear face masks and practice social distancing at work. They also are advised to stay home if they are ill, not share headsets or other objects used near the face and refrain from congregating in crowded break rooms. Employers are asked to take exposed workers’ temperatures and assess symptoms before allowing them to return to work, aggressively clean work surfaces, send workers home if they get sick and increase ventilation in work places.

Silent carriers are infectious, must be reported within 2 hours after discovery: State Council

China's State Council on April 8 published new regulations on the management of silent coronavirus carriers, specifying that the group are infectious and have risks of transmission, amid mounting public worries over whether lifting Wuhan's lockdown would cause a second outbreak due to mass population flows.The regulations standardize the process of reporting silent carriers, requiring nationwide medical institutes to report within two hours via the internet after discovering any such case. County-level disease prevention and control authorities should complete investigations into each single case within 24 hours and record close contacts. Local medical institutes should also record the date they are discharged from medical observation in a timely manner. The State Council also stipulates that for asymptomatic patients who have been released from medical observation, further medical observations and follow-ups shall continue for 14 days. They should also visit designated hospitals for follow-up re-examinations in the second and fourth weeks.

Millions of coronavirus infections left undetected worldwide – study

The total number of coronavirus infections is likely to be drastically higher than the figures officially registered by health authorities worldwide, according to a new study. Christian Bommer and Sebastian Vollmer from Göttingen University in central Germany analyzed data from a recent study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases monthly journal.The researchers looked at the estimates of coronavirus mortality and the time from infection until death to assess the quality of official case records.According to the German researchers, the data showed that countries have only discovered on average about 6% of all coronavirus infections. They claimed that the true total number of people infected with coronavirus may already have reached some tens of millions of people worldwide. "These results mean that governments and policy-makers need to exercise extreme caution when interpreting case numbers for planning purposes," said Vollmer, a Professor of Development Economics at the university.

State-backed hackers using virus to increase spying, UK and US warn

In a rare joint assessment released on April 8, Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre — a branch of signals intelligence agency GCHQ — and the US’ Cyber security and Infrastructure Security Agency — part of the Department of Homeland Security — highlighted the “growing use” of Covid-19 in state-sponsored cyber-attacks. The frequency and severity of these initiatives is likely to “increase over the coming weeks and months”, the NCSC said. So-called “Advanced Persistent Threat” groups — hackers working on behalf of nation states such as China, Russia and Iran — are also making the most of the outbreak to spy on their adversaries, according to NCSC and CISA.S tate-backed hackers are using similar email “lures” to entice government officials, academics, and employees at public health bodies into clicking on links which give access to their organisations’ networks.

Rumours amid increasing imported cases from Russia will not hurt bilateral ties: China expert

Surge of imported coronavirus infections from Russia into China has triggered strong concern among Chinese people. North China's Shanxi Province reported 25 new imported infections on April 7, all of whom arrived by air from Russia. Shanghai also reported two imported cases from Russia on the same day. Besides, Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province confirmed 25 new imported cases on April 7, all from Russia via the Suifenhe land port, according to local health authorities. According to Chinese citizens living in Russia reached by the Global Times, most Chinese in Russia live and work in Moscow, Vladivostok or Irkutsk. The people said that the recent flood of returnees to China was due to the worsening pandemic in Russia, which has seriously affected the work of Chinese people there and nearly eliminated their incomes. The number of coronavirus infections in Russia hit 8,672 on morning of April 8 with nearly 6,000 in Moscow.

Saudi-UAE coalition declares 2-week unilateral ceasefire in Yemen

The Saudi-UAE coalition fighting Yemen's Houthi rebels has declared a unilateral ceasefire.The suspension of the coalition's military operations is expected to go into effect on April 9 and last for two weeks; Saudi Arabia's state-run news agency SPA quoted coalition spokesperson Colonel Turki al-Malki as saying. The announcement came days after the United Nations called for a halt in hostilities amid the coronavirus pandemic.There was no immediate comment by the Houthis.Mohammed Abdulsalam, spokesman of the Houthi movement, earlier said the group sent to the UN a comprehensive vision which includes an end to the five-year war and to "the blockade" imposed on Yemen."[Our proposal] will lay the foundations for a political dialogue and a transitional period," Abdulsalam said in a Twitter post on April 8.

OPEC seeks grand bargain to lift prices amid pandemic

Financial markets will be on guard as OPEC ministers try to end a market share war and lift oil prices devastated by the coronavirus pandemic and the collapse of fuel demand via crucial videoconference meetings on April 9-10.The G20 and International Energy Agency will also be involved in the meetings. The White House has made two concrete moves. First, it has pushed a plan to soak up excess crude by giving access to US strategic oil-storage facilities.The second is US pressure on Saudi Arabia, which called April 9’ emergency OPEC+ meeting almost immediately after President Trump claimed Riyadh and Moscow would agree cuts of 10m to 15m b/d. If OPEC and Russia do not agree a deal, oil prices will sink to $10 a barrel and US output will be almost halved — from 13m b/d to 7m, said Scott Sheffield, head of Permian producer Pioneer Natural Resources, one of Texas’s leading shale companies.A deal would restore prices to $35 or more, but the producers would still struggle and the US would lose 3m b/d of supply, Mr Sheffield said.

Coronavirus maybe paving the way for a return to military rule in Asia

As governments in Southeast Asia struggle to contain the spread of Covid-19, poor leadership, weak institutions and high levels of public mistrust have exposed the fragility of countries that made a transition to more democratic government over the past two decades. The integrity of political reform has always been weak and prone to setbacks in Southeast Asia, particularly in countries where the military has a long history of political intervention, such as Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand. Notions of civilian primacy are weak, and, with a paucity of external threats, the army sees itself as the guardian of internal national security, especially in times of crisis. The aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis could therefore see a weakening of boundaries that had begun to strengthen between military and civilian power.

China to prepare for prolonged external environment changes: Xi

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for preparedness in mind and work to cope with prolonged external environment changes at the meeting of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CCP Central Committee on April 8. Xi stressed paying close attention to the changes in the epidemic situation at home and abroad, calling for a prompt response that is more targeted and effective. Noting that China's economic development faces growing difficulties, the meeting urged Party committees and governments at all levels to timely adjust their anti-virus measures in light of local conditions and create favourable conditions to the maximum for the resumption of work and production. Xi also urged unremitting efforts in guarding against imported cases from abroad and preventing a resurgence of the outbreak at home and demanded redoubling efforts in economic and social development. Another meeting of the Financial Stability and Development Committee under the State Council, China's cabinet also called for efforts to prevent overseas financial risks from entering the domestic market, according to a statement.

Joe Biden faces challenge to connect with voters during a crisis

With Bernie Sanders suspending his presidential bid on April 8, Joe Biden, the most prominent democrat candidate faces new questions about how to campaign and connect with voters at a time when most Americans are observing “shelter in place” or “stay at home” orders. Biden holds no office currently. But while Biden may lag behind Trump in air time almost every day, it could also prove a benefit even if he has little control over the narrative. According to Gallup, Donald Trump’s job approval rating rose to 49 per cent last month — the highest of his presidency — in a signal that more Americans supported his handling of the coronavirus crisis. “Trump’s rally around the flag effect could have, and arguably should have been, higher,” according to Kyle Kondik, an analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. The approval rating of former president George HW Bush’s peaked at 89 per cent at the height of the Gulf war in 1991. In the immediate aftermath of the terror attacks of September 11 2001, 90 per cent of Americans approved of the job George W Bush was doing as president.

Scores of detained Rohingya freed in Myanmar as COVID-19 fears mount

Cases against scores of Rohingya Muslims detained after fleeing Myanmar's restive Rakhine state have been dropped, as fears grow of a potential COVID-19 outbreak in the country's overcrowded prisons. On April 8, a court suddenly dropped cases against two of the largest groups of arrested Rohingya, totalling 128 people."Charges against both adults and children are withdrawn and they are to be released," judge Khin Myat Myat Htun told Pathein court in Ayeyarwady Region. An AFP reporter confirmed four buses carrying the Rohingya and bound for Yangon left Pathein prison early on April 9. “In total about 250 Rohingya are likely to be sent back on April 11," he said, asking not to be named for security reasons. It is unclear where the Rohingya will be taken in Rakhine and authorities have not yet given the reason for their sudden liberation. Next week is Myanmar's New Year, however, when the president often grants amnesties to prisoners.

Coronavirus uncertainty causes 'major downside risks': Fed minutes

The uncertainty around the global coronavirus pandemic's duration and severity creates "major downside risks" to the US economy, the Federal Reserve said on April 8.The United States is sure to take a hit in the near term as businesses are forced to close and consumers are confined to their homes, the Fed said in the minutes of the Mar 15 emergency policy meeting, when the central bank slashed the benchmark interest rate to zero. Officials noted that when growth will resume depends "on the containment measures put in place, as well as the success of those measures, and on the responses of other policies, including fiscal policy." Despite the severity of the current crisis, members of the Fed's policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee said the US economy and banking system were on solid footing.

EU Pledges Billions to ‘Partner Countries’ But Unable to Agree on Pandemic Support for its Own Members

Despite lasting over 16 hours and extending into the early hours of April 8, ministers in the online meeting remained divided over which conditions to attach to loans issued through a euro zone bailout fund, and whether or not to issue so-called “coronabonds.” France, together with Italy and Spain, are pushing for the corona bonds proposal, in which the EU would collectively sell bonds to help fund economic rebuilding efforts in countries worst affected by the crisis, such as Italy and Spain. But Germany, along with the Netherlands and Austria, oppose the idea, recalling tensions arising during the 2008 euro zone debt crisis and lasting until 2015, when Greece was moments away from defaulting on its debts. The “Eurogroup” comprises finance ministers from countries in the euro zone – the 19 EU member-states that have the euro as their currency. Coincidentally, the EU the same day announced a coordinated 20 billion euro ($21.7 billion) package to support “partner countries” across the globe deal with the pandemic, addressing “the immediate health crisis and resulting humanitarian needs” as well as the longer term economic impact. The Euro group meeting will continue on April 9.

Lufthansa warns it will take years for industry to return to pre-virus peak

Lufthansa is to permanently decommission more than 40 of its aircraft and axe its German wings low-cost arm, warning it will take years for the airline industry to return to its pre-coronavirus peak in passenger numbers. After a board meeting on April 7, the German group added that it would reduce the capacity of its Eurowings brand by cutting its long-haul operations. “Lufthansa was the first to trim schedules in response to the Covid-19 outbreak, and the first to essentially ground the entire fleet,” said analysts at Bernstein. “Clearly the company is serious about being 20 per cent smaller in the future.” Lufthansa’s decision comes on the same day the global airline trade body, IATA, warned any recovery in travel demand was likely to take longer than after previous economic or health shocks the industry had endured. The organisation is forecasting a three-month lockdown, but said there was likely to be a delay in the return to travel, because of the impact of the recession on the public and businesses.

Airbus cuts aircraft production by a third

Airbus is cutting aircraft production by a third in a move expected to trigger a wave of job losses across the global aerospace supply chain.The European aerospace group has confirmed it will slash production of its popular A320 single-aisle jetfrom 60 to 40 a month. It will also cut production of the A350 midsized twin-aisle from about 10 a month to six, and produce only two a month of the A330 family of wide body aircraft against previous expectations of a total of 40 a year.Airbus’s decision to cut production so substantially suggests that the company expects future demand to remain subdued for some time, bringing to an end more than a decade of ever-increasing production. Airbus’s US rival Boeing, which has had to halt production of its own 737 Max single-aisle after two fatal crashes, is expected to follow with its own production rate cuts in the coming weeks. But analysts estimate that the severe downturn this year will leave the airline industry committed to at least 20 per cent more aircraft in the next few years.

Saudis Take Big Stakes in European Oil Companies

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign-wealth fund has amassed stakes worth roughly $1 billion in four major European oil companies, according to people familiar with the matter, buying assets it perceives as undervalued in a market depressed by the coronavirus pandemic and low oil prices. The stakes in Equinor ASA, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Total SA and Eni SpA were all bought by the Public Investment Fund on the open market in recent weeks, said the people, who added that the fund might continue to make stock purchases.

Japan to pay firms to leave China, relocate production to Japan as part of coronavirus stimulus

Japan has earmarked US$2.2 billion of its record economic stimulus package to help its manufacturers shift production out of China as the coronavirus disrupts supply chains between the major trading partners.The extra budget, compiled to try to offset the devastating effects of the pandemic, includes 220 billion yen (US$2 billion) for companies shifting production back to Japan and 23.5 billion yen for those seeking to move production to other countries, according to details of the plan posted online.The move coincides with what should have been a celebration of friendlier ties between the two countries. Chinese President Xi Jinping was supposed to be on a state visit to Japan early this month. But that was postponed a month ago amid the spread of the virus and no new date has been set. China is Japan’s biggest trading partner under normal circumstances, but imports from China slumped by almost half in February as the disease closed factories, in turn starving Japanese manufacturers of necessary components.

Pandemic deals blow to plastic bag bans, plastic reduction

In a matter of days, hard-won bans to reduce the use of plastics -- and particularly plastic shopping sacks -- across the U.S. have come under fire amid worries about the virus clinging to reusable bags, cups and straws. Governors in Massachusetts and Illinois have banned or strongly discouraged the use of reusable grocery bags. Oregon suspended its brand-new ban on plastic bags this week, and cities from Bellingham, Washington, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, have announced a hiatus on plastic bag bans as the coronavirus rages.New York's state wide plastic bag ban is on hold because of a lawsuit.A study by the U.S. National Institutes of Health found the novel coronavirus can remain on plastics and stainless steel for up to three days, and on cardboard for up to one day. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention says it appears possible for a person to get COVID-19 by touching a surface that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes -- but it's not thought that's the main way the virus spreads.

Saudi futuristic city turns into a mirage in Covid-19 era

NEOM, a $500-billion fantasy world in the Red Sea coastal province of Tabuk, was supposed to replace Dubai as the Hong Kong of the Middle East, with the target of one million residents by 2030. The NEOM pitch, just a few years old, advertised a living lab for “doers … at the crossroads of the world.” It would be accessible to 40% of the world’s population in less than four hours by plane. However, the ravages of Covid-19, coupled with a bruising oil price war with Russia, have pushed the kingdom into emergency mode with the crown prince’s personal projects pushed to the side. King Salman on April 3 decreed the government would step in to pay 60% of private sector salaries for its citizens for the next three months. The Saudi Grains Organization has meanwhile instructed Saudi investors abroad to supply the homeland with 355,000 tons of wheat.

For Further Reading:
  1. Mainichi: Some doctors moving away from ventilators for virus patients,
  2. AP News: Feds loosen virus rules to let essential workers return,
  3. Global Times: Silent carriers are infectious, must be reported within 2 hours after discovery: State Council,
  4. Deutsche Welle: Millions of coronavirus infections left undetected worldwide – study,
  5. Financial Times: State-backed hackers using virus to increase spying, UK and US warn,
  6. Global Times: Land ports with Russia closed to passengers,
  7. Al Jazeera: Saudi-UAE coalition declares 2-week unilateral ceasefire in Yemen,
  8. Financial Times: Opec seeks grand bargain to lift prices amid pandemic,
  9. SCMP: Coronavirus is paving the way for a return to military rule in Asia,
  10. Global Times: China to prepare for prolonged external environment changes: Xi,
  11. Financial Times: Joe Biden faces challenge to connect with voters during a crisis,
  12. Channel News Asia: Scores of detained Rohingya freed in Myanmar as COVID-19 fears mount,
  13. Channel News Asia: Coronavirus uncertainty causes 'major downside risks': Fed minutes,
  14. CNS News: EU Pledges Billions to ‘Partner Countries’ But Unable to Agree on Pandemic Support for its Own Members,
  15. Financial Times: Lufthansa decommissions 40 jets and axes Germanwings,
  16. Financial Times: Airbus cuts aircraft production by a third,
  17. Wall Street Journal: Saudis Take Big Stakes in European Oil Companies,
  18. SCMP: Japan to pay firms to leave China, relocate production elsewhere as part of coronavirus stimulus,
  19. Mainichi: Pandemic deals blow to plastic bag bans, plastic reduction,
  20. Asia Times: Saudi futuristic city turns into a mirage in Covid-19 era,

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