COVID-19 International Developments: Daily Scan, March 25, 2020
Prerna Gandhi, Associate Fellow, VIF
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman to chair extraordinary virtual summit of G20 leaders

Saudi Arabia's King Salman will chair an extraordinary virtual summit of G20 leaders on March 26 to advance the global coordinated response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. As well as the leaders of the G20 group, the heads of state of Jordan, Spain, Singapore and Switzerland will also participate in the summit. In its capacity as sitting president of the Gulf Cooperation Council states, the UAE will participate as well. G20 finance ministers and central bankers agreed during a separate video conference earlier on March 23 to develop an "action plan" to respond to the outbreak, which the International Monetary Fund expects will trigger a global recession. The Kingdom, which holds the G20 presidency this year, called last week for the leaders to speak by video-conference.

Tokyo Olympics Postponed to 2021

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach agreed on March 24 to postpone this summer's Tokyo Olympics. In the IOC statement issued, it was concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community. It was also agreed that the Olympic flame will stay in Japan. It was also agreed that the Games will keep the name Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. Since the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, the Summer Olympics have only been cancelled three times, all due to World War I or World War II- 1916 in Berlin, 1940 in Tokyo and 1944 in London. Tokyo 2020 is the first postponement during peace time in Olympic history.

Trump starts national debate over when to reopen economy

As Trump has sought to rebrand as a “wartime president” and demonstrate his focus on a pandemic he only weeks ago dismissed, he once again initiated controversy. “I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” Trump said on March 24 during a Fox News virtual town hall. This follows his remarks on March 23 night at the White House press briefing, when he would not name a date, but said he was debating loosening the restrictions in the coming weeks in order to prevent a complete economic collapse of the US. Anxiety and depression from the economic crisis would cause deaths “in far greater numbers than we’re talking about with regard to the virus,” Trump argued. The US is currently on Day 8 of the government’s “15 days to stop the spread” program, with tens of millions of Americans either working from home or furloughed – some without pay – to encourage “social distancing.” A $2 trillion financial relief package was proposed by the Senate with the intention of sending cash payments to Americans to make up for income lost due to the shutdown.

Trump privately appeals to Asia and Europe for medical help to fight coronavirus

Despite President Trump’s rhetoric that the US would not rely on foreign nations for help, the administration has approached European and Asian partners. On March 24, Trump spoke by phone with the South Korean President, Moon Jae-in, asking if his country could supply medical equipment. The official White House account made no mention of the request, but according to the South Korean presidency, the Blue House, the call was made at Trump’s “urgent request”. Trump praised the South Korean testing programme, which has helped contain the outbreak there. Moon told Trump that he would support South Korean exports of critical supplies to the US “if there is a domestic surplus”. Foreign Policy reported that the third-ranking diplomat in the state department, David Hale, had asked for a list of countries that might be able to sell “critical medical supplies and equipment” to the US. “Depending on critical needs, the United States could seek to purchase many of these items in the hundreds of millions with purchases of higher end equipment such as ventilators in the hundreds of thousands,” an email sent to embassies in Europe and Eurasia said. The email underlined that the request applied to host countries “minus Moscow”.

Sanctions on Iran & others should be ‘urgently re-evaluated’ amid coronavirus pandemic, UN human rights chief says

Sanctions should be revisited or suspended altogether during the Covid-19 crisis, the UN human rights chief has said, arguing that they might cause healthcare in affected countries to collapse, and harm the situation globally. Any international and unilateral sanctions should be “urgently re-evaluated,” UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said on March 24. “It is vital to avoid the collapse of any country’s medical system – given the explosive impact that will have on death, suffering and wider contagion,” Bachelet said in a statement. The standing “variety of sanctions” against nations such as Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe could impede their medical efforts as well, Bachelet added. “The majority of these states have frail or weak health systems. Progress in upholding human rights is essential to improve those systems – but obstacles to the import of vital medical supplies, including over-compliance with sanctions by banks, will create long-lasting harm to vulnerable communities,” she said.

China to promote work resumption of manufacturing, circulation industries amid epidemic

In a State Council executive meeting presided over by Premier Li Keqiang on 24 March, China will ensure measures to resume work and production of the manufacturing and circulation industries amid epidemic control efforts. The meeting also underlined efforts to further increase China's international air freight capacity in a bid to stabilize the supply chain. The current global COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the world economy while posing severe challenges to Chinese economy, noted the meeting, requiring more targeted measures to stabilize the economy and to enhance the international competitiveness of China's logistics industry. The meeting called for efforts to keep the industrial and supply chains stable, and to ensure the production and export of key products and firms with major influence in the global industrial chain. Wuhan also started to resume bus service after nine weeks of lockdown.

Guidelines on curbing virus issued as Japan's schools set to reopen

The Japanese education ministry on March 24 issued guidelines to reduce the risk of coronavirus infection in schools that are scheduled to reopen in April after month long closures, calling for thorough ventilation of classrooms and warning against gathering in clusters. The guidelines also request that students and staff avoid conversing with others at close quarters, check their body temperature frequently and wear face masks. If an infection is confirmed, the infected individual and those who were in close contact are to be suspended, according to the guidelines. Temporary closure of classes or the entire school will also be recommended. The guidelines also call for thorough hand-washing before eating lunch. “The situation has not improved. We want (schools) to prepare (for reopening) without lowering their guard,” education minister Koichi Hagiuda told a news conference. The ministry had asked education boards across the country on 28 February to close their schools until the end of the spring break in early April as part of efforts to contain the virus outbreak. But the request targeting elementary, junior high and high schools in the country was not mandatory and it was left to local authorities to decide how long the suspension should last. Some elementary and junior high schools resumed classes on March 16, about two weeks after shutdown.

Finance chiefs weigh European Stability Mechanism’s capacity to fight Covid-19 crisis

Mário Centeno, the Eurogroup President, has said that there is “broad support” among euro area finance ministers to harness the bloc’s bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), as a weapon to fight the economic turmoil unleashed by coronavirus. The size of the instrument could be in the range of 2 per cent of the gross domestic product of the country applying, said Klaus Regling, the ESM’s Managing Director. He added that the ESM has €410bn of unused lending capacity, equivalent to around 3.4 per cent of euro area GDP. Countries including France, Italy and Spain have been urging member states to join forces in the fight against a deep slump in the region’s economy, warning that failure to show greater solidarity could prove disastrous for the single currency. But a group of European countries, led by the Netherlands and Austria, remain sceptical of the merits of collective fiscal action. Wopke Hoekstra, the Dutch Finance Minister, said a small group of countries cautioned against prematurely deploying the ESM’s firepower and instead wanted to wait until a more severe phase of the crisis to use the bailout fund as a “last resort” instrument. Pressure for finance ministers to act jointly was alleviated by the European Central Bank’s decision last week to sweep into markets with a €750 bn bond-buying package, reducing the financing costs of countries including Greece, Italy and France.

Multinational trials on to jumpstart search for coronavirus drugs

A large international trial to speed up research on coronavirus treatments, launched by the World Health Organisation, is underway. SOLIDARITY trial is an unprecedented, coordinated effort to collect solid scientific data rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic. The SOLIDARITY trial aims to generate data that can be used to determine which treatments are most effective against coronavirus. Scientists need to know if the drug used reduces mortality and time spent in the hospital, and if any patients receiving the drug required ventilation or admission to an intensive care unit. The mere fact the WHO is sponsoring the trial suggests that efforts in China to test these drugs may not have come up with enough data to indicate whether any were of use to prevent patients from developing severe disease or save those with severe disease from death. Many countries from all corners of the globe have already confirmed participation. Ten countries having, so far, joined the SOLIDARITY trial: Argentina, Bahrain, Canada, France, Iran, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland and Thailand.

Japan to join trial to test Ebola drug on COVID-19 patients

The National Center for Global Health and Medicine (NCGM) said on March 23 that it will join an international clinical trial on the use of Remdesivir, which is being developed as a remedy for Ebola, to treat people infected with the new coronavirus. US pharmaceutical firm Gilead Sciences Inc. initially aimed to develop the drug as a medication for Ebola. The drug has been reported to be effective in preventing the replication of viruses in previous studies. In the clinical trial, led by the US National Institutes of Health, Remdesivir will be administered to some 440 patients of pneumonia caused by the new coronavirus who are age 20 or older. A group of patients will be administered the anti-viral drug for up to 10 days, while another group will be given a placebo, and their symptoms will be compared on the 15th day. “We want a treatment as soon as possible, but we need to select a medicine based on scientific procedures,” said Norio Omagari, head of the Disease Control and Prevention Center at the NCGM. The NCGM will also conduct clinical research on existing drugs reported to be potentially effective against the new virus. Alvesco, used to treat those with asthma, is expected to be tested on coronavirus-infected patients who have not developed pneumonia. For pneumonia patients who do not meet the requirements to be given remdesivir, the center plans to administer Avigan, an anti-influenza medication, and Nafamostat, a treatment for acute pancreatitis, as part of its clinical research.

$20 trillion lawsuit against China! US group says coronavirus is bioweapon

A $20 trillion lawsuit has been filed against Chinese authorities in the US over coronavirus outbreak. American lawyer Larry Klayman and his advocacy group Freedom Watch along with Texas company Buzz Photos have filed the lawsuit against the Chinese government, Chinese army, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Director of Wuhan Institute of Virology Shi Zhengli and Chinese army's Major General Chen Wei. The plaintiffs have sought $20 trillion, which is a bigger amount than China's GDP, claiming coronavirus is the result of a biological weapon prepared by the Chinese authorities. They have accused China of aiding and abetting death, provision of material support to terrorists, conspiracy to cause injury and death of US citizens, negligence, wrongful death, and assault and battery. The American group cites multiple media reports that said that there was only one microbiology lab in China that handled advanced viruses like the novel coronavirus -- in Wuhan. To cover up, the plaintiffs alleged, China linked statements on coronavirus with national security protocols.

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