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Coronavirus — Global Brief: When Will We Open Up? And How?

Police in Madrid hand out face masks in the metro on Monday
Police in Madrid hand out face masks in the metro on Monday

The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet is a reminder of how small the world has become. Worldcrunch is delivering daily updates on this crisis from the best, most trusted international news sources — regardless of language or geography. To receive the daily Coronavirus Global Brief in your inbox, sign uphere.


National shutdowns across the West are moving toward Month Two, and the prevailing urgency has shifted from avoiding massive loss of life to taking the first small steps to resuming our daily business — and restarting our economies. Beyond the predictions and financial modeling about the fate of the global economy are more prosaic, though thorny questions facing leaders in each country: When? How? And how much...will we open up? And this is only the beginning.

Leading the way right now is Spain, which just two weeks ago was making world headlines for surpassing Italy with the highest number of deaths per day, is well ahead of other European countries in reopening of some sectors of its economy this week. El Pais reports that police were set to hand out up to 10 million masks in metro stations and other public places as part of a national plan to limit further contagion.

Elsewhere, other countries not as hard hit, were also relaxing their restrictions: In Denmark and Norway, kindergartens and elementary schools are set to open later this week; while in Austria, small shops opened Monday, with all commerce to be permitted beginning May 1.

Predictably, such decisions have spurred criticism in some quarters, including the World Health Organization, which issued a sharp warning that premature easing of countermeasures could mean a "deadly resurgence" of the coronavirus, perhaps with its mind on China, Singapore and Taiwan where new cases have recently flared up after quarantines were lifted.

Comparisons and coordination will be useful, though most acknowledge that there will be no one-model-fits-all exit schedule. Indeed, what might work in Denmark — a small country with a strong and flexible economy — might mean catastrophe in Spain, where more than three million people were unemployed before the coronavirus hit.

Robin Wigglesworth of The Financial Times quotes a fresh report from Morgan Stanley. The investment bank's own internal head of biotech research cautions on the U.S. economy in light of how difficult it will be to truly return to normal, so long as there is no vaccine: "While we understand the desire for optimism, we also caution that the US outbreak is far from over. Recovering from this acute period in the outbreak is just the beginning and not the end. We believe the path to re-opening the economy is going to be long."

We are still very much in the dark about how this crisis will play out. But one thing is certain, countries can only sustain economic hibernation periods for so long, and while some general spirit of compromise has to guide us out of the lockdowns, reviving our economies in the years to come will require both more national decisiveness and international collaboration than we have seen in generations.

— Carl-Johan Karlsson


"Thinking About the World After" — Le Monde

THE ECONOMY: HOW BAD WILL IT GET? As the gears of the modern world grind to a halt, there's no debating that we are in for a long, hard haul. But as the world slowly edges closer to the only viable exit strategies — herd immunity or an approved vaccine — the question of how to safeguard the health of people and the health of the economy becomes increasingly pressing.

  • American crash:Goldman Sachs forecasts that U.S. GDP will shrink 24% next quarter amid the coronavirus pandemic, which would be 2.5 times bigger than any decline in history. Frederick Kempe, president and CEO of the Atlantic Council, says unemployment could spike to 30%. For the moment, markets paint a less depressing picture, with consistent recovery after crashing more than 30% as the reality of COVID-19 sank in. One explanation is that financial markets don't reflect the current situation — or even "pricing in" the next three months — but, quite the opposite, they look beyond the economic damage of the next three to six months.

  • Chinese damage:Economic data from the first two months of the year shows the damage done to China's finances and with a negative growth forecast for Q1 2020, this may be the first time since 1976 that the country experiences a shrinking economy. Year-over-year change during January and February shows a decline in Investment in fixed assets of 24.5%; retail sales 20.5%; value of exports 15.9% and a slump in industrial production of 13.5%.

  • Trade: Similarly, the World Trade Organization says a rebound in trade will depend on whether businesses and consumers view the pandemic as temporary or if uncertainty is prolonged, stating in a press release that world trade will fall by between 13% and 32% in 2020, exceeding the trade slump brought on by the global financial crisis of 2008‑09. Under an optimistic scenario, WTO predicts a strong-enough recovery to bring trade close to its pre-pandemic trend, while a more pessimistic scenario envisages a partial recovery never fully returning to prior levels.

  • Inequality: French economist Thomas Piketty, writing in Le Monde, says the measures being taken by governments to slow the spread are a danger of their own: "Shutdowns applied in fragile ecosystems may turn out to be utterly ill-equipped. In the absence of a minimum revenue, the poor must quickly go out and look for work, which could reignite the contagion." Still, Picketty, a leading voice among left-leaning economists, says recovering from the global health crisis is a unique opportunity to confront the ills of economic inequality: "This crisis can be the occasion to consider the appropriation of funds to support minimal health and education for all the inhabitants of the planet, financed by a universal right of all countries levied on the wealthiest economic actors: large corporations, highest-revenue individuals (top1%)."

LET'S ALSO THANK THE ROBOTS: We've been hearing for years how robots, for better or worse, were going to change our lives. Now in the battle against the highly contagious COVID-19, we're seeing them in a whole new light. Of course it all begins with the fact that, no, robots can't get infected. Winks aside, these artificially-intelligent machines are allowing people to avoid physical contact and maintain social distancing, easing the burden on health providers, helping police officers to implement lockdowns, and allowing people to better face life under quarantine.

  • Health: The most urgent need robots are filling is as healthcare assistants. In Italy, hospitals are turning to robots to replace doctors and nurses and keep them safe from the virus. A child-size robot named Tommy allows care providers to avoid direct contact with patients and limit the use of masks, able to monitor the equipment's parameters in a room and record messages from patients, to transfer them to the staff.

  • Law & Order: The interior ministry in Tunisia has deployed a police robot in the country's capital Tunis to make sure its inhabitants are observing the coronavirus lockdown, reports Jeune Afrique. The four-wheeled robot is equipped with a camera and controlled remotely by officers, in order to check pedestrian's ID or other papers. Drones have also been used in several countries to reinforce patrolling of certains areas. According to Le Monde, in France for instance, police officers used drones to scan beaches where people were still taking walks despite the lockdown, or to broadcast social distancing guidelines.

  • Being there: Robots have also undertaken unexpected social roles during the crisis, allowing people to be present at big life events. With the help of "Newme" avatar robots, the Business Breakthrough University in Tokyo, Japan, was able to hold a virtual graduation ceremony. The remotely controlled robots were equipped with a tablet that used video-conferencing tool Zoom and were dressed in graduation caps and gowns. This allowed students to experience the celebration of walking on the stage to accept their diplomas.

These scavengers come to feed off a society that is ailing, threatened or defenseless.

—from Buenos Aires daily Clarin article (in English via Worldcrunch) Coronavirus Profiteers: With The Virus Come The Vultures

PLASTIC COMEBACK: There is an ecological flipside to the good news of pollution dropping in locked-down regions of the world: a hygiene-inspired boom in single-use plastic. Encouraged by medical advice on how to slow the spread of coronavirus, millions are ditching their reusable bags and asking for their oil-derived alternatives. The Associated Press reports that several U.S. states and cities have put on hold recently passed bans on single-us plastic. In Europe, European Plastics Converters has written an open letter to the European Commission praising plastic's benefits in a time of pandemic and asking for ban policies to be held back.

  • Cartoonist Sanouni Imad notes that, even before, we were already in "virtual" quarantine.

  • For Easter worshipers shut out of mass because of social distancing, here's a memorable view of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, honoring healthcare workers around the world.

  • If you don't yet know him, please meet Grandpa Joe. He's your everyday 87-year-old TikTok star!

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What The China-Morocco Alliance Says About Our Geopolitical Future

As the world's technologies change, so do the countries with not only advantages in production, but also geography and diplomacy. China knows this, and sees that investing in Moroccan resources is a particularly smart bet in the long run.

Photo of workers at a factory in Sale, Morocco. In the foreground, boxes with the Moroccan flag on them.

Workers at a factory in Sale, Morocco

Pierre Haski


PARIS — Amid the global reshuffling triggered by both the ecological and geopolitical upheaval, there is one country that seems to be coming out ahead: Morocco.

Several major investments have already been announced, including one last week worth $2 billion by a Chinese group which aims to produce electric battery components. A significant detail, according to the Financial Times, is that the conglomerate Al-Mada, which is owned by the Moroccan royal family, is investing in the joint venture with the Chinese group CNGR.

Other South Korean and Chinese investments, still related to ecological transition minerals or the battery industry, have announced they will be setting up shop in Morocco in recent months. They are setting a record for the Mediterranean basin.

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