Staff Writer

EU proposes 750 billion Euros fund to restart pandemic-hit economies
Europe

EU proposes 750 billion Euros fund to restart pandemic-hit economies

EU proposes 750 billion Euros fund to restart pandemic-hit economies
The fund, dubbed Next Generation EU, will help European countries tackle job losses, growth and help stir their economies towards the Green Deal and digitalisation.

The European Commission announced the €750 billion proposal to tackle the “unprecedented crisis” precipitated by the coronavirus. Calling it “Europe’s moment”, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the fund will not only support its recovery but also invest in its future. The package is made up of grants and loan for each of 27 EU member states.

Currently, the proposal calls for €500 billion in grants and €250 billion in loans. These will be raised from the capital markets on the back of the EU’s strong credit rating and also by lifting the EU’s resource ceiling to 2% of its gross national income. The EU and its members will pay back the money raised on the capital markets over 30 years between 2028 and 2058.

Some of the southern countries who had been labouring under massive national debts even before the pandemic hit, were one of the first to welcome to move. Spain and Italy, which have seen a lot devastation in the wake of the coronavirus, have said that they would prefer grants rather than loans that would add to their public debt.

This breakup of grants and loans is less acceptable to countries like Austria and the Netherlands, which along with Demark and Sweden are called the “frugal four”, who want help to be extended more in the form of loans rather than cash handouts that would lay a disproportionate burden of recovery on them. While the EU and some of its members are anxious to get all the states on board and start disbursing the funds, these differences would first need to be settle, which is challenging in face of the travel restrictions in place across the continent.

The funds will be disbursed along with €1.1 trillion budget for 2021-27. This and the earlier €500 billion rescue package proposed by Germany and France, would bring the total amount available to the EU to €2.4 trillion.

As China closes in on Hong Kong, US threatens sanctions
Geopolitics

As China closes in on Hong Kong, US threatens sanctions

With Hong Kong getting ready to pass a crucial national security law on behest of China, pro-democracy protests return.

Last week China announced a new national security law that will crack down on perceived secessionist, treasonous or terrorist activities, subversion of Chinese power and foreign interference. The law, which will considerably erode the freedoms and rights of Hong Kong’s citizens, is expected to be cleared without debate by Hong Kong’s National People Congress. There is a fear that these measures could effectively spell the end of the “one country, two systems” model.

This has triggered a return of the massive anti-government protests that have been a mainstay in Hong Kong for the past year. Thousands of armed police in riot geared have taken over the streets of Hong Kong as a new law on criminalising the ridicule of Chinese national anthem is expected to be passed.

This despite mounting pressure from the US which has threatened to revoke Hong Kong’s special status as a trading partner if it no longer functions as an autonomous entity. In addition to this, the US is considering passing a bill that would allow for sanctions against anyone who violates Hong Kong’s autonomy. President Donald Trump has also hinted at “doing something” which will be heard “very powerfully”, “before the end of the week”.

The White House had been rather quiet about the tensions in Hong Kong until recently and even President Trump was seen to have been somewhat restrained in any rhetoric or action in defense of Hong Kong. But this seems to be coming at an end with the legislative developments happening in both the countries. The US hopes to pass its bill on sanctions fast enough to effectively deter China from continuing on its current course in Hong Kong.

But with China looking to consolidate its power in its spheres of influence while the world is busy staving off the pandemic, analysts don’t expect it to back off based on these threats by the US. After all, its actions in Hong Kong and the response to it would set a precedent for others in the region that are currently battling to keep China out of their affairs.

Corona Pandemic: Doctors in Egypt warn healthcare system might ‘collapse’
Middle East & Africa

Corona Pandemic: Doctors in Egypt warn healthcare system might ‘collapse’

Egypt’s healthcare sector is reeling under crisis as doctors’ protest against the health ministry’s casual approach towards safety measures for healthcare staff amid COVID crisis.

Doctors have accused the ministry of being “negligent” and “responsible” for the death of medics’ deaths.

A statement from a doctors’ union on 25 May said that so far, 19 doctors have died due to COVID-19 infection. In addition to this, about 350 doctors have been infected with the deadly virus.

The union warned that the healthcare system might “collapse” if there is a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). There is a shortage of beds for COVID patients.

The health minister retorted that medic staff have been provided “best care” possible and have “sufficient protection kits”.

The number of COVID infected cases in Egypt has risen to 17, 967, with more than 750 deaths.

The doctors’ union reminded the ministry that they have a duty to protect those who are frontline warriors to fight the novel coronavirus. It appealed to the department to provide urgent help with safety kits.

The Health Minister Hala Zayed responding to the current situation said that the ministry has allotted one floor in 20 beds capacity hospital, meant for treating COVID patients, for medics.

Ms. Zayed said all staff while entering and leaving the hospital are being tested for coronavirus. She also assured that there is a “sufficient” stock of protective gear.

She also added that COVID related fatality among doctors is 11 and not 19.
The latest protest comes after a 31-year-old doctor died in Cairo. The doctor could not be admitted to a hospital due to a lack of bed in a quarantine facility.

The deceased doctor’s brother wrote a critical post on Facebook, criticizing the medic’s lack of adequate steps.

Ten of the deceased doctor’s colleagues at the Al-Munira hospital resigned by sharing a mass letter on Facebook on 25 May, demanding better facilities. The hospital officials, however, have denied any such act.

As per reports, another doctor from Al Shoroukh Hospital has resigned recently complaining over the lack of PPE and testing facilities.

Iranian oil tankers dock in Venezuela, defying US sanctions
Americas

Iranian oil tankers dock in Venezuela, defying US sanctions

The tankers are critical in alleviating the suffering caused by acute fuel shortage in Venezuela over the past few weeks.

Five Iranian tankers carrying close to 1.5 million barrels of oil safely entered Venezuelan waters and headed towards the El Palito refinery in Puerto Cabello in northern Carabobo state. They were escorted by the Venezuelan navy and air force once they entered the country’s territorial waters, and before that, they were seen off by the Bolivian Armed forces. This was necessitated by the tensions created by this trade trip and the obvious displeasure of the Americans in seeing their two diplomatic untouchables working together.

American-Iranian relations have been worsening since the breakdown of the nuclear deal and the sanctions imposed on it have stood in the way of Iran’s oil trade with its traditional partners in the Middle East and Asia. Venezuela is also under US sanctions which have served to worsen the economy that had already been battered by years of mismanagement, corruption and now, the coronavirus.

The US is trying to force President Nicholas Maduro to step down and these sanctions are an end to that. Two rounds of sanctions by the US in February and March against Russian company Rosneft, that was trading Venezuelan crude in international markets, ensured its exit from Venezuela, leaving the embattled Latin American country unable to trade for or produce refined fuel, despite having the world’s largest oil reserves. Over the past few weeks, fuel is being strictly rationed and citizens are having to queue up hours on end to get even that.

The US had been threatening to intercept the convey of tankers and there had been tense diplomatic talks in the days leading up to their arrival. Both Venezuela and Iran were determined to stand up to Washington in this regard and warned the Trump administration to not interfere in what they see as their freedom to trade to whomever they wanted. President Maduro, while thanking Iran for its support, referred to both their countries as “two revolutionary peoples who will never kneel down before North American imperialism”.

While the US State Department spoke out against Maduro’s “expensive deals with another pariah state”, prior to this Venezuela was having to import refined oil from the Gulf which was costing its exchequer dearly. The current Iranian shipment contains gasoline and alkylate gasoline which could help Venezuela refine its own crude oil. In exchange, Iran purportedly received about $500 million worth of gold, flown in by Mahan Air in late April, bypassing US sanctions on both countries.

Egypt’s doctors are fighting the coronavirus on several fronts
Middle East & Africa

Egypt’s doctors are fighting the coronavirus on several fronts

Egyptian doctors are seeing increasing COVID-19 infections amongst them even as the government falls short on ensuring their safety.

As frontline workers against the coronavirus, Egypt’s ‘White Army’ of doctors are pleading for better protective gear. They are also working under the strain of reduced testing capabilities for both them and their patients.

Currently, doctors are in the same boat as patients who come in with symptoms; they are not tested and simply asked to go home and quarantine themselves. Earlier this month, the health ministry had admitted to a parliamentary committee the 30 or so quarantine wards were full and potentially infected people are being turned away. Many of these include medical staff.

As of now, Egypt has registered 14,229 cases of the coronavirus and 680 deaths. The World Health Organization has pointed out that 13% of those infected in Egypt are medical professionals. According to the Egyptian Doctors Syndicate, 95 doctors have been infected so far and 5 have died. They claim the infection among other medical staff may also be high. Several hospitals had to close down temporarily because of infection spreading among its staff.

Doctors say that the government doesn’t care about them as they no only have failed to provide adequate PPE kits to ensure their safety at work, but also continually denies them testing so that they can keep their families safe. The State Information Service recently said that the country had conducted more than 105,000 tests, much lesser than the “over a million tests” that a senior Egyptian official had claimed earlier.

Many feel that those who exhibited symptoms earlier are the “lucky” ones as they got access to treatment in the early days of the virus. Further, they decry Egypt’s apparent generosity in supplying PPEs to other countries when their own hospitals are running on an acute shortage of such equipment. Egypt sent medical aid including masks and PPE kits to the US, Italy and China as political gestures and in order to sweeten trade deals even as doctors back home are falling prey to the virus due to lack of proper infrastructure and equipment.

Venezuela-US standoff: Venezuelan Navy will escort Iranian tanker
Americas

Venezuela-US standoff: Venezuelan Navy will escort Iranian tanker

The Venezuelan government recently announced that it’s Navy and Air Force would escort Iranian tankers, in what can be described as sharpening of attack against the US to block tankers from Iran.

The announcement comes after the Iranian regime has warned of “consequences” if the US Navy tries to block its tankers from reaching Venezuela.

Making attacks shriller, the Left-leaning leader and President of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro said, “We’re ready for whatever, whenever,” and thanked the Islamic Republic nation for all its support.

The South American country has the largest deposit of oil reserves. However, it cannot refine at all within its territory. Years of slowing of the economy has pushed many into poverty.

The US has imposed unilateral sanctions against both Venezuela and Iran, banning oil export from these countries.

As per reports, five Iranian tankers are reported to be headed towards Venezuela and expected to reach the Venezuelan shores in the coming days.

Earlier the US had announced that its Navy would prevent any movement from Iranian ships in that region.

Opposition leader and Maduro’s primary challenger, Juan Guaidó, criticized the need for fuel from another country and said the latest help from Iran highlights mismanagement of the oil industry by the present government.

Ever since Maduro came to power in 2013, the GDP of the country has shrunk by 50%.

Thousands of Venezuelans have left the country amid the severe economic crisis. COVID pandemic and falling oil prices have further worsened the situation.

The US recognizes Gaudio as the legitimate leader of the country while Maduro is backed by Russia, China, Cuba, and Iran.

A senior official from the US President Donald Trump’s administration has that “the US will not tolerate continued meddling” by Iran.

With the war of words escalating, the US and Venezuela and Iran almost appear to be on the verge of naval confrontation.

Reacting to US threat, the Iranian government has said, “We will not tolerate any harassment.”

In recent weeks both sides, the US and Iran, and Venezuela have sharpened their attack against each other. It may be noted that like Venezuela, Iran, too, is reeling under economic crisis due to sanctions.

Unemployment in the US surpasses that during the Great Recession
Americas

Unemployment in the US surpasses that during the Great Recession

Figures indicated that almost 1 in 4 of all working Americans have now filed for unemployment benefits.

Even as the lockdown is being lifted across all the states in the USA, the number of people filing unemployment benefits continues to climb. Since mid-March, roughly 38.6 million people have entered the dole, almost a quarter of the workforce. The weekly numbers of people seeking benefits have fallen since the peaks of March but more people are also starting to enroll under the government’s pandemic relief programme.

While the latest weekly figures stood at 2.4 million (as opposed to 6.9 million in the end of March), another 2.4 million self-employed and gig workers have enrolled in the special federal programme. These numbers are bounds to grow as more and more states start implementing the new programme. Unemployment claims made during the coronavirus crisis have already exceeded the 37 million claims made over the entire 18 months of the Great Recession.

The unemployment rate skyrocketed from the 50-year lows of 3.5% in February to 14.7% in April with more than 20 million jobs lost in the past month alone. It is likely that more than 40% of these job cuts will be permanent, i.e they might not see a revival once the lockdown is lifted. Nearly half of all US households have lost income since the start of the pandemic and another 37% will do so in the next month. Experts say that this will get much worse before it begins to get better and progress will be slow.

It is clear that the government will no longer risk further damage to the economy by enforcing the lockdown But there is no uncertainty over how effective this lifting of lockdown will be in reviving the economy. Reopening the economy does not necessarily mean hiring will start again, analyst says. While 35 states reopened last week, nine of them actually saw an increase in the number of new workers claiming unemployment benefits.

Wall Street analysts point out that the recovery of the economy and its pace is now largely dependent on government’s economic-stimulus policy and the medical progress in the fight against the novel coronavirus.

Chinese troops are increasingly transgressing into Indian territories: Report
Asia Pacific Focus

Chinese troops are increasingly transgressing into Indian territories: Report

Tension has been building up between India and China over recent intrusion by the Chinese army into Indian territory.

According to reports, there has been a new transgression by China in the Ladakh region in India. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been entering the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The report released by the government shows that from January to April 2020, there was 170 Chinese transgression across LAC. Out of 170 intrusions, at least 130 were inside Ladakh.

In 2019 during the same period, there were about 110 transgressions.

In recent years, China has continued transgression into Indian territory even though the leaders of two nations have met met twice last year. There was a 75 percent surge in such acts in 2019 compared to the previous year’s numbers.

Data since 2015 shows that three-fourths of transgression took place in Ladakh, the western side of LAC. The rest of the violations were in the eastern sector, comprising of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
In recent years, there is a marked surge in aerial transgression as well. In 2019, there were as many as 108 instances, in 2018 and 2017, there were 78 and 47 such cases, respectively.

Chinese military forces have been using most aerial transgression in the eastern sector. In 2019, 64 out of 108 was in the east front, and 42 out of 78 in 2017.

If one looks at both aerial and land transgression, the western sector has witnessed a spike by 75 percent in 2019 compared to the previous year. There was a spike of 55 percent in the eastern sector.

What defines Chinese transgression?
According to Indian officials, a transgression is added to data when the Indian border force (either ITBP or Army) in the bordering areas is reasonably “certain” that the Chinese army has crossed into the Indian side of LAC.

Aerial, land, or water transgression (in Pangong Tso Lake) by Chinese forces in recorded by India, if they are picked up by patrol teams, surveillance, or visually noted at border check post or locals report any movement with substantial proofs.

While not transgression is a threat to the territory, repeated and increasing trends can be alarming. At times, troops enter into other’s territory while patrolling.

In recent years Dokhlam standoff in 2017 had turned into a sore point in bilateral ties of the two neighbours. Both leaders mutually decided to disengage in the 2017 BRICS summit.

US’ global lead of coronavirus cases is a ‘badge of honor’, says Trump
Americas

US’ global lead of coronavirus cases is a ‘badge of honor’, says Trump

The US president said that these statistics only served to highlight the good work the country was doing in testing its citizens.

Making a headline-grabbing claim, US President Donald Trump said that it was a “badge of honour” for the country to be leading the world’s coronavirus infections as it only meant that more testing was being done here than anywhere else in the world. With 1.56 million reported cases and more than 92,250 death, the United States leads the world in these statistics. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the US had conducted 12.6 million coronavirus tests to date.

“I look at that as, in a certain respect, as being a good thing because it means our testing is much better,” he said at the White House. “You know when you say that we lead in cases, that’s because we have more testing than anybody else.”

“If you’re testing 14 million people, you’re going to find many more cases,” Trump said. “Many of these people aren’t very sick but they still go down as a case, so, actually, the number of cases — and we’re also a much bigger country than most. So, when we have a lot of cases, I don’t look at that as a bad thing, I look at that as, in a certain respect, as being a good thing because it means our testing is much better.”

He added: “So I view it as a badge of honour. Really, it’s a badge of honour.

Trump said the actual tests conducted are probably closer to 14 million. But the delays in developing, manufacturing and administering tests have been widely reported. According to the Covid Tracking Project, the US continues to face testing shortages and sets priorities for who gets one.

And despite Trump’s claim, these numbers aren’t extraordinary by global standards. The US is behind countries like the UK, Italy and Germany in number of tests per 1,000 people. And is also behind countries like New Zealand, Australia and South Korea, who have to test many more people to find a case. Currently, the US is finding a case for every 7.8 tests.

The Bloomberg quoted an administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, that even as the rate of testing goes up the US is starting to see a decline in cases and deaths. The positive test percentage is also decreasing, meaning that the nation is finding the cases less frequently in testing.

Amidst climbing coronavirus cases, Mexico prepares to open the economy
Geopolitics

Amidst climbing coronavirus cases, Mexico prepares to open the economy

Even as local government and activists pushed back against the decision, the federal government announced the opening of certain industries.

Guidelines issued overnight by the federal government of Mexico called for the restarting of operations of certain sectors like automotive, mining and construction. Companies would be required to submit health protocols for exiting the virus lockdown which will be approved within 72 hours. The lockdown will remain in place but these sectors have been reclassified as “essential services” by the General Health Council, the country’s top advisory body on the pandemic.

It is believed that the move comes after growing pressure from the neighbouring US to reopen factories that are critical to the supply chains of US-based business, especially in the automotive sector. The sector in the US has started coming back online after a long hiatus, with vehicle assembly plants reopening and suppliers gearing for a ramp-up in production.

But plans to reopen in Mexico have not been met with approval by some politicians and activists who continue to be concerned about the growing pandemic in Latin America, rising national toll and uncertainty about the work conditions waiting for those being sent back to work.

Local governments in the country pushed back against President Andres Manual Lopez Obrador’s call to slowly being online the economy in some 300 townships with no active cases of the coronavirus – called “municipalities of hope. Many states are deciding to not allow any relaxation yet, preferring to wait until June to consider resuming activities.

A newspaper poll showed that 67% of Mexicans believed the pandemic hasn’t peaked yet and the worst was yet to come. Only 20% thought it was over. Meanwhile, Mexico’s coronavirus death toll has crossed 5,300 with over 51,000 cases. Last week, the country reported a record number of 353 COVID-19-related fatalities in a single day and 2,437 new infections in another single day in the same week.

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