In Mexico City

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SPOTLIGHT: LISTENING TO MY APARTMENT WALLS AS CORONAVIRUS GETS CLOSER

Mexican authorities just announced tighter restrictions, including a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people. But many here are continuing with business as usual, even as I've been doing all I can do is limit my time outdoors. But that led to an equally frightening prospect: my neighbors. Noise too is contagious, and unlike a virus, it penetrates walls and windows.

Some nights ago my neighbor had a girlfriend over, which later led to music. I was hoping it would mean I'd hear nothing more from that flat but he likes to regale his guests with loud television or soft-rock karaoke from the 1990s. I try to understand my rage toward him: is it his refusal to respect confinement, the very sound of his voice, or Phil Collins? As Jean-Paul Sartre reflects through a character in his play No Exit — on three people stuck together forever in a hotel room: hell is other people.

Noise has always been an issue in apartment blocks in Mexico City. Of course, understanding what noises disturb is not a science. I am indifferent for example to the construction noise that has been going on outside our building for over a year, to neighbors' dogs, or to traffic. I am however intolerant of anything suggesting a celebration inside the building, as I see it as brazen indifference to others. (I do not believe people are blissfully unaware of their neighbors. No noise is innocent). For now, in the battle against the tyranny of modern cheerfulness, I have a pandemic on my side.

Alidad Vassigh


THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

  • Toll: Cases worldwide passes 800,000 mark. Record one-day toll in Spain with 849 deaths, while the US overall death toll rises past 3,000. Italy sees glimmer of hope as number of new infection cases declines, from 1,648 from 3,815 the previous day.

  • Free fall: With two million flights cancelled, the International Air Transport Association estimates the industry will lose $252 billion, an "unprecedented shock".

  • Ugly video: Migrant workers, including women and children, are seen sprayed with disinfectant in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in a new video that sparks nationwide controversy.

  • Amazon workers walk: Strikes in New York to protest the e-commerce giant's handling of COVID-19 safety.

  • Red Bull: Helmut Marko, chief of Red Bull motorsport, wanted the team's drivers to become infected with coronavirus so they could be immune for next season. The idea was dropped.

  • Congo"s ex-president Jacques Joaquim Yhombi-Opango dies at 81 after contracting the virus.
  • Missing Van Gogh: A painting by Vincent Van Gogh was stolen in a museum near Amsterdam that was shuttered because of COVID-19.


With New York City as the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S., The New Yorker captures the mood.

YOUNG PEOPLE AT RISK: So far, the message seemed clear: the older you are, the more at risk you are from coronavirus. According to WHO experts, between 10% and 15% of patients under the age of 50 suffer moderate to severe infection, calling this group a "significant minority." But in the last days, new data has sparked concern of an increasing number of young people infected around the world, as several deaths of teenagers made headlines in France and the UK. So what do we know about the "age factor" for COVID-19?

  • In Moscow, 56% of new coronavirus cases are younger than 40 years old, reported The Moscow Times. According to the city's coronavirus crisis center, 45% of Moscow's patients in serious condition are younger than 60 years old and nearly 40% of patients younger than 40 years old are on respirators.

  • In Australia, people in their 20s have more confirmed cases of COVID-19 than any other age group. The highest share, 11,3% of cases are among people aged 25 to 29, followed by those aged 60 to 65 who make up 9,5% of positive cases, reports The Guardian. Australian experts believe the data might be skewed because people in their 20s are more likely to travel or meet returned travellers. Both testing and infection is therefore more concentrated among this group.

  • In Chicago, a nine-month-old became the first infant in the U.S. to die of the disease.

  • A 16-year old became France"s youngest coronavirus victim last week. According to her family members, she did not have serious underlying health problems. "People need to stop thinking that the virus only affects the elderly. No one is invincible in the face of this virus," her sister told Le Parisien.

  • Statistically, those over 60 are still at highest risk of developing a severe case or dying from the disease. But as Anthony Fauci of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told BBC, the virus "isn't a mathematical formula", so there are reasons for people in every age group to be cautious.


This should also be an opportunity for the male gender to value, recognize and understand that family life is built by two, not one.

— Aylin Joo in AmericaEconomia (in EN via Worldcrunch) Coronavirus And A Call For Gender Equality In Confinement


HOW IT LOOKS IN GAZA: You may have seen the meme that reads, "Dear world, how is the lockdown? — Gaza." While the territory's seclusion from the outside world has kept it somewhat protected from COVID-19, Gaza's uniquely desolate predicament risks the disease spreading like wildfire if it indeed begins to propagate in one of the world's most densely populated areas. Last week, the first cases crept in. Tarek Loubani, an emergency-room doctor interviewed by Cairo-based Mada Masr, states that Gaza has none of the three pillars needed to fight the virus: tests, protecting health care workers, and treatment. Loubani has started an initiative to provide Gaza with face masks via 3D printing. But with dilapidated hospitals, a lack of doctors and little clean water, Gaza will need all the international help it can get.


CLEARING OUT IRAN: Iran's deputy-health minister, Iraj Harirchi, announced via an online press conference that he plans to "clear" the small towns where infections affect between one and five local residents, the daily Hamshahri reports.

  • More than 30 million Iranians live outside of major cities, and the government believes infections are low and declining in many provincial districts. "We had 100 new patients daily, this has dropped to 60."

  • The minister praised Iranians for self-isolating, citing the 80% decline in the number of Iranian tourists who travel to the southern province of Fars for the new year, thanks to citizens' "higher culture" for abiding by government calls to stay at home.

  • Yet Tehran-based analyst Sadeq Zibakalam estimates 3 to 5 million Iranians are still vacationing this year, and attributed their indifference to the "distrust" many feel toward the regime, and its "lack of credibility among a part of the population." The head of Tehran's coronavirus task force added: "Half the people are not taking coronavirus seriously."


GROSS RICH PEOPLE I: King Maha Vajiralongkorn of Thailand had a special permit granted to keep the Grand Hotel Sonnenbich in Germany open for him to rent, as Bild reports. Luxurious social distancing? Not really, since he self-isolated with his harem of 20 women and numerous servants. At least, they should all have their own rooms…


GROSS RICH PEOPLE II: U.S. Media mogul David Geffen shared an Instagram post he wanted reassuring but only got him the backlash of a lifetime. Surprisingly, his 7 million followers didn't really appreciate him showing how he self-isolated on his $590 million superyacht Rising Sun cruising in the Grenadines. Not only the Internet wrath made him delete his post, screenshot by Bloomberg, but he deleted his account altogether. Taking social distancing to the digital level.


GROSS RICH PEOPLE III: Gwyneth Paltrow who played in the now truer-than-fiction movie Contagion has failed at the stay at home challenge after sharing her relief of having her "local farmers market" still open for her to shop some vital vegs (in plastic bags, but with a face mask and gloves). The actress and lifestyle guru had already disappointed her audience after promoting a $1,000 outfit as the global economy hangs on the verge of collapse.



France's national orchestra takes Ravel's Boléro to the next level on Youtube.

• From delivering a message to your crush via a drone to a virtual dinner, here's how to date in a time of social distancing.

• A Lego Mondrian? A Dutch Instagram account set a new trend: recreating famous paintings with… anything you can find at home.


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Economy

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


-Analysis-

BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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