Donald Trump looks increasingly intent on playing a game of chicken of sorts with his government’s Covid-19 response.
As the U.S. death toll topped 1,000 yesterday, the president’s vision of putting Americans back to work by Easter has set him on a collision course with some other global leaders and the heads of U.S. cities and states who are imposing lockdowns to stem the contagion.
Trump’s play-it-down approach, also embraced by like-minded Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, contrasts with the nations warning their health-care systems risk being overrun. The schism will be on full display today as Group of 20 leaders hold a virtual summit to “advance a coordinated global response.”
Others who adopted lenient stances have since bowed to the reality of the virus. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson abandoned a “herd immunity” approach and announced a three-week lockdown. In Russia, Vladimir Putin postponed a constitutional vote that would let him rule to 2036, and Japan, where workers were thronging the Tokyo metro as recently as yesterday, is considering declaring a state of emergency.
The World Health Organization wants governments to stop wasting time.
“We squandered the first window of opportunity,” Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said yesterday in a rare public admonishment of the response so far. “The time to act was actually more than a month ago or two months ago.”
U.S. stimulus | The Senate approved a $2 trillion economic rescue plan, putting pressure on the Democratic-led House to do the same and send it to Trump for his signature. The legislation passed on a 96-0 vote just before midnight following intense negotiations between Republicans and Democrats, who demanded changes after saying the measure’s provisions were too focused on companies.
Click here for a breakdown of the bill. White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow said jobless claims data out today will show a “very large increase” in Americans filing for benefits.
Life-or-death choice | In Spain, people are dying in hospital waiting rooms before they can even be admitted, Ben Sills and Laura Millan Lombrana report. Triage rules for access to overflowing intensive-care wards dictate that older patients miss out to younger people with a better shot at surviving the virus. With some funeral services halted and no space left in morgues, corpses are being stored at the main ice rink. “We are completely overwhelmed,” one medic said.
Taking control | Governments worldwide have adopted sweeping powers to control the coronavirus, Iain Marlow reports. They’re locking down cities with the help of the army, mapping population flows via smartphones and jailing or sequestering quarantine breakers using CCTV and facial recognition cameras. As the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. shows, however, governments may be reluctant to relinquish these tools once the immediate crisis is over.
Power shift | Israel’s parliament meets today to choose a new speaker, a vote that’s expected to hand control of the legislative agenda to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s opponents, the Blue and White bloc of Benny Gantz. It follows a showdown between the High Court and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, a Netanyahu ally, who resigned rather than call a vote on his successor. The court transferred his authority to convene parliament to an opposition legislator.
Refugee risk | Social distancing and even clean water needed to keep the coronavirus at bay are luxuries few of the world’s 30 million refugees can afford, Saud Abu Ramadan and David Wainer report. With health-care systems and employment opportunities already under severe strain, camps for those fleeing conflict and poverty and urban slums are potential breeding grounds for the pandemic.
What to Watch
U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak will announce assistance today to help millions of self-employed people whose incomes are threatened by the pandemic. Joe Biden rejected any idea of an April debate with Bernie Sanders and signaled that he views the Democratic nominating contest as essentially over.
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And finally … Kosovo became Europe’s first nation to torpedo a government for the way it’s confronting the coronavirus. Lawmakers voted to remove Prime Minister Albin Kurti after he clashed with President Hashim Thaci over calling a state of emergency. The ouster underscores a split between Western powers over Kosovo’s approach to resolving its dispute with Serbia: Germany and France warned it could spread instability but Washington supported Kurti’s departure because the U.S. prefers Thaci calling the shots.
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