COVID-19 International Developments: Daily Scan, April 1, 2020
Prerna Gandhi, Associate Fellow, VIF
Smart Thermometers Track the Spread of Coronavirus in US

The company, Kinsa Health, which produces internet-connected thermometers, created a US national map of fever levels on March 22. Kinsa thermometers connect to a cell phone app that instantly transmits their readings to the company. Users can also enter other symptoms they feel. The app then gives them general advice on when to seek medical attention. Temperature readings have been far more timely and accurate than other rapid measures, such as cough medicine sales, electronic medical records or Google searches for “flu,” a company official said. Because influenza usually produces higher, more protracted fevers than common colds, the company’s software estimates which ZIP codes appear to be hit by flu rather than by other, milder cold viruses. On March 27, New York State’s own data showed the same trend that Kinsa’s fever readings had spotted five days earlier. “We can’t say for sure that these anomalous fever spikes are Covid-19, but we believe this is the earliest signal of where it’s occurring,” Inder Singh, company’s founder said.

'Das Coronavirus' Podcast Captivates Germany with Scientific Info on the pandemic

German scientist Christian Drosten is one of the world's leading experts on coronaviruses. Drosten’s team at the Institute for Virology at University of Berlin was responsible for world's first publicly available test for COVID-19. Das Coronavirus-Update, a podcast where an NDR science journalist interviews Drosten and then poses questions from the audience has shot to No. 1 on Apple podcasts in Germany, where it has remained ever since. "The latest research suggests that when the virus starts in the throat, there's a degree of time to build up immunity before it progresses to the lungs, where it can do more damage," Drosten tells the podcast host in episode 15. "This hypothesis — and I stress, it is just a hypothesis — also suggests why a number of young and fit patients are in critical condition. It's possible that when the initial virus skips the throat and starts in the lungs, there's no time for immunity to build up before damage is done." The World Health Organization has urged him to translate it quickly so the rest of the world can benefit from it.

Worst-hit German district to become coronavirus ‘laboratory’

German scientists have announced what they described as a first-of-its-kind study into how coronavirus spreads and how it can be contained, using the country’s worst-hit district as a real-life laboratory.The virus has spread more widely among the 250,000 residents of Heinsberg – a district in North Rhine-Westphalia bordering the Netherlands – than anywhere else in Germany, with 1,281 confirmed infections and 34 deaths. More than 550 people have recovered from the illness so far. Over the coming weeks the district will be used by leading virologists and a team of 40 medical students as a sort of laboratory for studying the virus. The “Covid-19 case cluster study”, launched on March 31, will follow 1,000 people and look at every aspect of everyday life. The study’s results will potentially have implications for other countries.

European alternative to SWIFT facilitates first deal with Iran

European powers have agreed a deal to export medical goods to Iran, in the first transaction under a new financial channel set up to shield lines of trade with Tehran from US sanctions. Germany, France and the UK hope the sale of about €500,000 worth of medical equipment through the mechanism known as Instex (the European alternative to SWIFT) will open the way for further humanitarian assistance, including aid for the coronavirus pandemic that has hit Iran hard. The Instex trade channel was conceived more than a year ago to help European countries save a landmark international nuclear deal with Tehran after President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the agreement in 2018. But the European states have struggled for more than 12 months to launch the mechanism in the face of technical challenges and fierce opposition from Washington.

US death toll surpasses that of Sept 11 attacks

On March 31, US deaths from COVID-19 surpassed 3,000, exceeding the initial toll of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. As the death toll ticked past 3,000, the nation was set to overtake that of China, where 3,305 people have reportedly succumbed to the virus, although the Chinese figures are coming under increasing scrutiny.

Russian Covid-19 aid plane to US an unusual diplomacy

Trump told reporters at the White House press briefing on March 30 that “Russia sent us a very, very large planeload of things, medical equipment, which was very nice.” Washington had mentioned that Trump and Putin agreed in their call it was important to stabilize the global energy markets. A cargo plane loaded with medical supplies and protection equipment may depart for the US by the end of March 31, the Kremlin too later confirmed.The issue of protective gear was raised during the phone talks, with Putin asking if the US needed help and Trump accepting, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. Moscow suggested the aid in anticipation that the US will be able to return the favour if necessary, once its manufacturers of medical and protective equipment catch up with demand, Peskov said. The current situation “affects everyone without exception and is of a global nature,” he added. A State Department email sent to diplomats in Europe last week and obtained by Foreign Policy confirmed that US officials had been asked to source supplies from any country other than Russia.

War against silent carriers starts in China

Officials from the National Health Commission (NHC) announced on March 31 that starting from Wednesday, China will publish details regarding asymptomatic COVID-19 patients on a daily basis in a swift policy adjustment in response to growing concerns that these patients may likely trigger a second outbreak in China. The top health authority also stressed that the commission has asked local governments to register and report asymptomatic cases and their close contacts within 24 hours since January 28. As of Monday, a total of 1,541 asymptomatic patients are under medical observation, of which 205 are imported cases, according to NHC. The number is within the estimations of Chinese epidemiologists. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang called for a scaling-up of monitoring and tracking silent coronavirus carriers as well as imposing timely quarantine and treatment, according to a meeting of the central government's leading working group on novel coronavirus pneumonia (COVID-19) on March 30, warning against a resurgence of cases at home. Several provinces enhanced prevention measures on March 31 in tackling the rise of hidden COVID-19 infections.

Saudi Arabia’s Hajj and Umrah minister tells Muslims to wait for coronavirus clarity on pilgrimage

Saudi Arabia has asked Muslims to wait for more clarity on the coronavirus pandemic before planning any travel for pilgrimage, the Minister for Hajj and Umrah told Al-Ekhbariya TV on March 31."We've asked the world not to rush with regards to Hajj groups until the path of the epidemic becomes clear, keeping in mind the safety of pilgrims and public health as a priority," Dr Muhammad Salih bin TaherBanten said. Some 2.5 million pilgrims from around the world usually flock to Mecca and Medina cities for the week-long ritual scheduled to begin in late July. The pilgrimage is also a significant source of income for the kingdom. Besides suspending Umrah pilgrimage, Saudi Arabia has also halted all international passenger flights indefinitely and last week blocked entry and exit to several cities, including Mecca and Medina. Cancelling the Hajj would be unprecedented in modern times, but curbing attendance from high-risk areas has happened before, including in recent years during the Ebola outbreak.

US could rethink sanctions on Iran to help fight virus: Pompeo

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held out the possibility on March 31 that the Trump administration may consider easing sanctions on Iran and other nations to month; Iran asked the International Monetary Fund for five billion dollars in emergency funding to help it fight the pandemic - the first time since 1960 that Tehran has sought assistance from the international lender. Asked if there might come a point at which the US might revaluate its stance on easing sanctions on Iran, Pompeo told a news conference: "We evaluate all of our policies constantly, so the answer is - would we ever rethink, of course."Asked about such relief on March 20, Pompeo simply said US sanctions do not apply to medical and other humanitarian goods.

Conflict zones must address coronavirus: Red Cross

Citing conflict-riven countries such as Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Afghanistan, the Red Cross warned on March 30 that it will be nearly impossible to fight COVID-19 in these countries without an immediate response by states and humanitarian organizations.The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement by its Geneva headquarters that COVID-19 has overwhelmed advanced health care systems. “Warfare has not stopped because of the virus, and victims of conflict still need and deserve assistance,” said the Red Cross, noting that many of the places where it works lack even basic health care infrastructure, let alone intensive care capacity. “Our fear is that unless urgent action is taken to curb the spread of the virus, it will devastate some of the world’s most vulnerable communities,” said Peter Maurer, the head of the ICRC. The Red Cross said plans to prevent and respond to the virus must urgently move forward “before it gains a foothold in conflict zones”. The Red Cross appealed on March 26 for nearly $825 million to help the world's most vulnerable communities face the challenges posed by the new coronavirus pandemic.

Virus Outbreak: Majority of Taiwanese support replacing 'Republic of China' with 'Taiwan' on passport cover

More than 70 percent of Taiwanese in a poll have said that the government should remove the nation’s English-language name “Republic of China” from the cover of the nation’s passports and only use “Taiwan” as the nation’s English name so that foreign immigration officials would not mistake Taiwanese travellers for Chinese nationals, a poll showed.The New Power Party (NPP) released the results of its survey on March 31.The cover of the nation’s passports bears the name “Republic of China” in English under the nation’s official Chinese name, while “Taiwan” is printed in English under the national emblem. DPP lawmaker Wang Ting-yu has also backed the idea. “Taiwan is Taiwan. The country should not be mixed up with China,” he said, urging the government to try to reach a general consensus on the issue. Civil groups started a campaign in 2015 to distribute stickers printed with “Republic of Taiwan,” which Taiwanese could use to cover “Republic of China” on their passports.

Keep global food supply chains intact: WTO, UN agencies

Food supply chains must be protected from any trade-related measures taken during the COVID-19 pandemic, the heads of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and UN food and health agencies said on March 31, warning of possible shortages and price spikes.They voiced concern that disruptions to the movement of agricultural and food industry workers or food containers could result in the spoilage of perishables and increasing food waste and said protectionism was also a risk."Uncertainty about food availability can spark a wave of export restrictions, creating a shortage on the global market," said WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo, and the heads of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization QuDongyu."Such reactions can alter the balance between food supply and demand, resulting in price spikes and increased price volatility. "Such measures are particularly damaging to low-income, food-deficit countries and aid agencies' food procurement for those in desperate need, the joint statement said.

Fed sets up scheme to meet booming foreign demand for dollars

The Federal Reserve has taken a new step to meet the global demand for dollars, setting up a for foreign and international monetary authorities, or FIMA, that would allow central banks and international monetary authorities to enter into repurchase agreements with the US central bank and trade US Treasuries for dollars.The Fed said the new facility would work in tandem with the dollar swap lines already established by the central bank with its peers across 14 different countries as the coronavirus pandemic has spread across the world. In recent weeks the greenback’s value has risen sharply as investors have flocked to safe assets, and companies have scrambled to offset the blow to revenues from economic shutdowns. This has resulted in a global shortage of dollars that has hit emerging markets particularly hard, adding to concerns about the fallout for the global economy.

Trump to suspend some tariffs for 90 days

Donald Trump is poised to announce a 90-day suspension of tariff payments on certain imports, including some apparel and light trucks, as the US President seeks to blunt the economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic.The Trump administration in recent weeks allowed some tariff exemptions for medical supplies US officials had sought to bolster domestic stockpiles of protective equipment and other goods used to combat the outbreak. Speaking to reporters on evening of March 31, Trump said he still had to give a final green light to the tariff deferral. "That might be but I'm going to have to approve the plan," he said. More than 100 chief executives had written to the White House on March 31 to urge the Trump administration to delay the collection of the duties for 90 to 180 days. “Delaying duties helps us preserve cash flow — critically important during a prolonged period of little to no revenue — allowing us to keep our businesses in operation so we can preserve US jobs,” they wrote.

Australian government moves to subsidise food exports

The Morrison government will inject $110 million to get international trade moving by helping organise hundreds of cargo flights carrying agricultural and seafood products to overseas markets. With coronavirus forcing airlines such as Qantas and Virgin to ground their fleets, fresh-food producers have suffered collateral damage because of the lack of passenger planes to carry freight. The freight scheme is the centrepiece of a government rescue package for exporters to be announced on April 01, which will also include $50 million for the Export Market Development Grants program to help firms offset the cost of spruiking their wares overseas. Additionally, $10 million worth of Commonwealth fees paid by commercial fishers will be waived. The government's freight flight lifeline will target China, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, amid tentative signs that demand for produce is starting to bounce back in China. Flights will depart from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.

Virus slump expected to rival big recessions in history

The coronavirus-related recessions around the world are going to be bad -- and for some of the world's major industrial nations the worst that anyone alive has experienced, according to analysts at Deutsche Bank. In a wide-ranging report using data that in parts goes back 800 years, Jim Reid and Henry Allen found that the downturns are in many cases set to be deeper than those endured in the immediate aftermath of the global financial crisis 12 years ago -- and then some. The bank report expects France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K. and the US to shrink by between 4% and 9% in 2020, figures that in most cases have only been eclipsed in recent decades by war and the Great Depression of the 1930s. Germany is the outlier, its economy decimated by around four-fifths around the time of the defeat of the Nazis in World War II. Nazi Germany's ally Japan saw its economy shrink by around a half in 1945.The 9.5% quarter-on-quarter contraction Deutsche Bank expects for the second quarter in the US would "easily make it the largest quarterly contraction" since 1947, the first date for which equivalent figures exist.

Xinhua Headlines: Construction of Xiongan New Area back on fast track as epidemic eases

On April 1, 2017, China announced plans to establish Xiongan New Area, located about 100 km southwest of Beijing, with the aim of building the area -- spanning Rongcheng, Anxin and Xiongxian counties -- into a national model of high-quality development and a new engine for the modern economic system. As of March 30, more than 58,000 workers have returned to their posts at Xiongan, with the construction of 78 projects and the operation of over 1,000 companies resumed. "With the theme of 'ecological Xiongan,' the 1,787-hectare park will be an important greenbelt and water conservation area," said PengXugeng, deputy general manager with the ecological construction company of the state-owned China Xiongan Group.By the end of 2019, Xiongan had planted 14 million trees covering an area of 20,700 hectares, with another 6,670 hectares planned this year. To date, a total of 2,184 enterprises have registered in the area, including 1,670 from Beijing.

152 projects involving 62 billion USD inked in Shanghai

A total of 152 major projects involving 441.8 billion yuan (about 62.4 billion U.S. dollars) were inked in Shanghai on March 31. Among them, 28 major projects involving 161.8 billion yuan were inked on-site while 124 projects worth a total of 280 billion yuan were signed online.The projects are mainly in the sectors of integrated circuits, artificial intelligence, biomedicine, aerospace, intelligent manufacturing, new energy and high-end intelligent equipment, new materials, financial services, commercial retail and business services.The total value of foreign-invested projects was over 16 billion U.S. dollars, including Sam's Club's first flagship outlet in China.The city also launched an investment promotion platform that has information about 400 relevant policies, 200 various industrial parks and 3,000 office buildings.

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