As China Reopens, Africa’s Woes Threaten to Starve Its Factories

On a typical workday, hundreds of thousands of men clad in overalls and carrying safety equipment and head lamps assemble at South Africa’s mine shafts. They crowd into cramped elevators to be lowered miles underground, where they hack at seams of gold or platinum and haul ore in intense heat and humidity. After hours of backbreaking labor, they return to the surface to shower in communal areas, and many share meals and bed down in crowded hostels.

These aren’t typical days.

South Africa on March 26 imposed a three-week lockdown to fight the coronavirus, confining millions in their homes and shuttering most businesses—including the mines that are the first link in a global supply chain that passes through smartphone factories in China and auto plants in Detroit, Turin, or Tokyo, and ends in stores and showrooms around the world.

Even as Asia slowly reopens after its lockdown, factories there risk running short on supplies as the virus spreads to countries that produce vital raw materials. And nowhere is the problem a bigger issue than in Africa, which provides the metals and minerals needed for just about every industrial product, and where countries heavily reliant on trade with China have been suffering from a collapse in commodity prices.

While the number of confirmed coronavirus cases across Africa remains low compared to other parts of the world—some 7,000 cases on a continent of 1.3 billion people—social distancing is a luxury the region can scarcely afford. Most governments lack the resources to enforce effective containment measures, and health systems risk buckling if the disease reaches Africa’s crowded shantytowns and slums.

“For Africa, it will be much harder than you imagine,” said Auret van Heerden, chief executive officer of Equiception, a supply-chain consultancy in Geneva. “They’ve survived Ebola, they cope with malaria and tuberculosis, but I don’t think they’ve had anything quite this infectious.”

The African mines that produce raw materials for factories across the globe are bracing for the arrival of the virus. In South Africa, Kumba Iron Ore Ltd., the continent’s largest iron-ore producer, and Anglo American Platinum Ltd. and Sibanye Stillwater Ltd., the world’s top platinum vendors, have curtailed most of their output. Chrome and manganese mines, which supply ingredients for steel, have been largely shuttered.

In Luabala, a province of Democratic Republic of Congo that is a major provider of copper and cobalt used in rechargeable batteries, mines remain open but the work force has been limited to essential personnel to minimize the risk of contagion. Tenke Fungurume, a mine owned by China Molybdenum Co., has been put into isolation, with about 2,000 people ordered to stay on site and avoid “contact with the outside world,” according to a memo circulated to staff.

Even facilities that keep producing risk interruptions in getting their goods to market. In the best of times, Africa’s transport networks are fragmented and inefficient, and its ports and customs services are notoriously slow. Today, most African countries have closed their borders, and several have limited internal travel or imposed lockdowns. While cargo is usually exempted from the restrictions, increased security controls, sanitation measures, and reduced staff at ports and railways threaten severe delays.

Most copper and cobalt from Congo’s mines, for instance, moves via truck through Zambia and then to ports in South Africa and Tanzania. While cargo carriers can still cross into Zambia, new sanitation measures have led to 25-mile backups at the border.

In Kenya, a dusk-to-dawn curfew has resulted in a pileup of goods at ports, driving up freight costs by almost a third, according to Dennis Ombok, chief executive of the Kenya Transporters Association, which represents truck-fleet owners. Even though essential goods are officially exempted, drivers are being harassed by police, Ombok said.

“It’s taking up to three days to clear at the border between Kenya and Uganda,” he said. “The police need to tone down how they’re handling transporters. We’re carrying food and raw materials. These are essential.”

In South Africa, the port of Durban, the busiest in sub-Saharan Africa and serving landlocked Zambia and Zimbabwe, limited operations to essential cargo, and police stopped all trucks carrying other goods for several days. On Thursday, the order was reversed to help ease massive congestion at the port. Amid the confusion, First Quantum Minerals Ltd., which accounts for more than half of Zambia’s copper production, says it has started making alternative shipping plans.

 

At the main crossing between Zambia and Congo, more than 1,000 trucks carrying food, equipment, and supplies for mines had to queue last week after a partial lockdown came into effect. For now, Zambia has managed to convince the Mozambican government to allow trucks carrying fuel from the port of Beira to exit Mozambique, after they were held at the border. 

“With a crisis of this magnitude,” Zambian President Edgar Lungu warned last week, “we shall find ourselves under forced lockdown if all our neighbors shut their borders.”

And global trade moves in many directions these days, so mines are facing potential shortages of crucial imports needed to keep operating as suppliers worldwide curtail production;  sulfuric acid, for instance, is critical in copper processing. Both Zambia and Namibia, which ships copper and uranium to China, have raised the alarm over looming shortages of key chemicals for their mines.

“Most if not all our mining companies get inputs from China,” said Veston Malango, head of Namibia’s Chamber of Mines. “And we have not been able to do that.”

— With assistance by Kaula Nhongo, Felix Njini, David Herbling, Taonga Clifford Mitimingi, and Stanley James

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World Bank Warns Of Severe Economic Pain In Asia-Pacific Due To Covid-19

Developing economies in East Asia and the Pacific are facing the prospect of a global financial shock and recession and more people are set to remain poor, thanks to the coronavirus, or Covid-19, outbreak, the World Bank said in a report late Monday.

“Significant economic pain seems unavoidable in all countries,” the World Bank said in a report titled East Asia and Pacific in the Time of Covid-19.

The lender urged countries to take action now – including urgent investments in healthcare capacity and targeted fiscal measures such as subsidies for sick pay and healthcare – to mitigate some of the immediate impacts.

The report also stressed that government should ensure temporary deprivation does not translate into long-term losses of human capital.

In a baseline scenario, growth in the EAP region is projected to slow to 2.1 percent this year from an estimated 5.8 percent in 2019, the report said. In a lower case scenario, the growth is forecast to plummet to a negative 0.5 percent.

In China, growth is projected to slow to 2.3 percent in the baseline and to 0.1 percent in the lower case scenario this year from 6.1 percent in 2019.

“Containment of the pandemic would allow for a sustained recovery in the region, although risks to the outlook from financial market stress would remain high,” the lender said in the report that is part of its April 2020 Economic Update for East Asia and the Pacific.

The World Bank sees a serious impact on poverty from the virus shock and expects nearly 24 million fewer people to escape poverty across the region this year, in the baseline scenario, than would have in the absence of the pandemic. The poverty line used for the projection is US$5.50 a day.

In the worst case scenario, poverty is estimated to increase by about 11 million people. Previous projections estimated that nearly 35 million people would be out of poverty in the region this year that included over 25 million in China.

“The good news is that the region has strengths it can tap, but countries will have to act fast and at a scale not previously imagined,” Victoria Kwakwa, vice president for East Asia and the Pacific at the World Bank, said.

The World Bank also urged that trade policy should remain open to ensure that medical and other supplies are available to all countries, as well as to facilitate the region’s rapid economic recovery.

The lender also recommended easing credit, but with regulatory oversight, to help households smooth their consumption and help firms survive the immediate shock.

Debt relief will be essential for poorer countries so that critical resources can be focused on managing the economic and health impacts of the pandemic, the report said.

Further, it warned of the substantially higher risk of falling into poverty among households dependent on sectors such tourism in Thailand and the Pacific Islands, manufacturing in Cambodia and Vietnam that are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 impact.

Households dependent on informal labor in all countries are also exposed to the virus shock, the report added.

The World Bank Group has announced a US$14 billion fast-track package to boost the Covid-19 response in developing countries and shorten the time to recovery.

The projections are based on the country-level data available as of March 27.

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Rubio: China hid coronavirus data, leading to 'faster and further' spread

Marco Rubio: China’s coronavirus secrecy has cost lives

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., discusses coronavirus and China, quarantining America, and treatments and relief.

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Sen. Marco Rubio on Tuesday accused the Chinese government of hiding key information about the novel coronavirus — including falsifying data on case numbers — while blaming the country's lack of transparency for leading to a deadly global pandemic.

The Florida Republican and China hawk said that rather than take the necessary steps to alert the world to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, China withheld pivotal information, squandering time that could have been used to mitigate the spread of the infection.

"As far as the death toll is concerned, we don't know what the number is," Rubio told FOX Business’ Maria Bartiromo. "I actually think they don’t know what the number is. But it is almost certainly substantially higher than the number they have publicly disclosed, both on the infection rate and the death rate."

A woman takes a COVID-19 test at a quarantine hotel in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Rubio continued: "It is my opinion based on the numbers I have seen from open sources and other places that there were hundreds, if not thousands, of deaths early in this crisis that they didn’t even report as COViD-19 deaths. It took them weeks to even publicly acknowledge that this was a disease that could be transmitted person to person."

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The Chinese government has been widely criticized for its initial response to the virus and is frequently attacked by President Trump. The central leadership has tried to shift blame to local authorities, including for censuring doctors who tried to warn the public about the disease, The New York Times reported. Health authorities in the country first learned about the outbreak after unknown whistle-blowers leaked two internal documents online.

China also excluded more than 1,500 people who were infected with the virus but haven't shown symptoms from its national tally of confirmed cases, according to a new Wall Street Journal report. Scientists don't have a consensus of the impact of asymptomatic cases.

A recent report, whose authors include an expert from Wuhan's municipal Center for Disease Control and Prevention, found that if China had taken aggressive action just a week earlier in mid-January, the number of infections could have been reduced by two-thirds.

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"Let there be no doubt," Rubio said. "The failure of the Chinese Communist Party to be transparent and to open up to the world and disclose this early has cost the lives of people around the world, has cost infections of people around the world and has caused this to spread faster and further than it needed to."

China currently has the fourth-highest number of cases in the world, with 82,276 and 3,309 deaths, according to data published by Johns Hopkins University. The U.S., with 164,719 cases and 3,170 deaths, has the most in the world. Globally, the number of confirmed cases of the virus has topped 800,000 across 178 countries and regions.

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China’s Divorce Spike Is a Warning to Rest of Locked-Down World

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As the coronavirus raged through China, Ms. Wu, a housewife in her 30s in southern Guangdong province, spent almost two months in isolation with her out-of-work spouse. They fought constantly. Wu, who declined to give her full name because she wants to protect her privacy, ticked off a familiar list of marital irritants, including money (too little), screen time (too much), and housework and child care (not evenly split). One particular annoyance was her husband’s habit of engaging their two children in play in the evening when they were supposed to be going to bed. “He’s the troublemaker in the house,” she says. “I don’t want to endure anymore. We’ve agreed to get a divorce, and the next thing is to find lawyers.”

Although China publishes nationwide statistics on divorce only annually, media reports from various cities show uncouplings surged in March as husbands and wives began emerging from weeks of government-mandated lockdowns intended to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. Incidents of domestic violence also multiplied. The trend may be an ominous warning for couples in the U.S. and elsewhere who are in the early stages of isolating at home: If absence makes the heart grow fonder, the opposite might be true of too much time spent together in close quarters.

20,921 in U.S.Most new cases today

-22% Change in MSCI World Index of global stocks since Wuhan lockdown, Jan. 23

-1.​055 Change in U.S. treasury bond yield since Wuhan lockdown, Jan. 23


The city of Xian, in central China, and Dazhou, in Sichuan province, both reported record-high numbers of divorce filings in early March, leading to long backlogs at government offices. In Hunan province’s Miluo, “staff members didn’t even have time to drink water” because so many couples lined up to file, according to a report in mid-March on the city government website. Clerks struggled to keep up, processing a record number in a single day, it said. “Trivial matters in life led to the escalation of conflicts, and poor communication has caused everyone to be disappointed in marriage and make the decision to divorce,” the city registration center’s director, Yi Xiaoyan, was quoted as saying.

Shanghai divorce lawyer Steve Li at Gentle & Trust Law Firm says his caseload has increased 25% since the city’s lockdown eased in mid-March. Infidelity used to be the No. 1 reason clients showed up at his office door, he says, adding that “people have time to have love affairs when they’re not at home.” Like Christmas in the West, China’s multiday Lunar New Year holiday can strain familial bonds. When the virus hit in late January, on the eve of the festivities, couples in many cities had to endure an additional two months trapped under the same roof, sometimes with extended family. For many it was too much. “The more time they spent together, the more they hate each other,” Li says of his new cases. “People need space. Not just for couples—this applies to everybody.”

China’s divorce rate has been ticking up steadily since 2003, when laws were liberalized. More than 1.3 million couples divorced that year, and the numbers rose gradually for 15 years, peaking at 4.5 million in 2018, according to statistics from the Ministry of Civil Affairs. Last year, 4.15 million Chinese couples untied the knot.

Chinese officials had hoped that cooping up couples would actually lead to a baby boom, helping offset birthrates that have fallen to a record low since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, despite the loosening of the one-child policy and the ramping up of campaigns to get women to marry and have children. More than one municipality put up posters urging couples to get busy in the bedroom to support the nation. “As you stay home during the outbreak, the second-child policy has been loosened, so creating a second child is also contributing to your country,” read one unromantic banner from the local Family Planning office hung on a gate in Luoyang, in central Henan province. Of course, the fruit of these efforts will not be apparent for seven to eight months.

In the meantime, Chinese media have been filled with reports of conjugal strife. Shanghai-based online publication Sixth Tone reported that police in one county along the Yangtze River in central Hubei province, near where the pandemic began in Wuhan, received 162 reports of domestic violence in February—three times more than the 47 reported during the same month in 2019.

Feng Yuan, co-founder of Equality, a nongovernmental organization in Beijing focused on gender-based violence, says there’s been a rise in requests to her organization for help. “Lockdown brings out latent tendencies for violence that were there before but not coming out,” she wrote in an email. “Lockdown also makes help seeking more difficult.” Police were so busy enforcing quarantines that they were sometimes unable to respond to emergency calls from battery victims, women experiencing violence were not able to leave, and courts that normally issue orders of protection were closed, she says.

Even when the epidemic abates and life can return to relative normalcy, the psychological and economic strains are expected to endure for months. A study of people in Hong Kong in the wake of the 2002-03 SARS epidemic found that “one year after the outbreak, SARS survivors still had elevated stress levels and worrying levels of psychological distress,” including depression and anxiety; divorce in Hong Kong’s general population in 2004 was 21% higher than 2002 levels. SARS infected nearly 1,800 people in Hong Kong and killed 299 after originating over the border in China, which reported a total of more than 5,300 cases and 336 deaths. China has so far reported more than 80,000 Covid-19 cases and more than 3,300 deaths.

In China it’s almost always the woman who initiates the divorce process—74% of the time in 2016-17, according to remarks made by the chief justice of the Supreme People’s Court, Zhou Qiang, at Tsinghua University in November. But women are also more often on the short end of marital finances. Among urban Chinese, it’s customary for young single men to purchase a home, often with the help of their parents, to demonstrate to prospective mates that they’re financially secure. In a divorce, the husband retains the right to his premarital assets—sometimes even when the wife has helped pay the mortgage. Fortunately for Ms. Wu, her parents paid for the couple’s home, as well as a car, which means she’s not in danger of being dispossessed.

When it sits in session later this year, China’s National People’s Congress will consider a proposal for a 30-day cooling-off period for couples petitioning for divorce, during which time either party can withdraw the application, according to the state-run Global Times newspaper. Currently, the judge who hears the divorce petition typically requires a serious reason—such as adultery or abandonment—to grant it and may deny couples considered young and too rash, says Li, the Shanghai lawyer. But if couples bring their petition again after six months, the judge will usually consider differences to be irreconcilable, he says.

Young people are more likely to divorce than their parents, many of whom still see a stigma attached. “Now one person just says, ‘I don’t like you anymore,’ and they file for divorce the next day,” Li says. Yang Shenli, an attorney at Dingda Law Firm in Shanghai, says his four divorce cases since the lockdown involve couples born after 1985, two sets of which decided to divorce because “quarantine intensified their contradictions.”

Some lucky couples have rediscovered marital bliss thanks to the pandemic. “The home quarantine and social distancing has reminded me how much I love the person I married,” says Rachel Smith, a Canadian artist in Hong Kong who met her husband while on a backpacking trip to the city 21 years ago. Over time, the couple had gotten busy pursuing separate careers and activities, leaving them little leisure time together. Now, as they work on their home computers while still under partial lockdown, they regularly take breaks to chat and check in with each other. “It turns out I really like spending time together,” she says. “It was a nice surprise.”

— With assistance by Dong Cao, Charlie Zhu, and Mengchen Lu

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Spanish Doctors Are Forced to Choose Who to Let Die

In the emergency room at one of Madrid’s biggest hospitals, Daniel Bernabeu signed the death certificate for one patient and immediately turned to help another who was choking.

People are dying in waiting rooms before they can even be admitted as the coronavirus pandemic overpowers medical staff. With some funeral services halted in the Spanish capital and no space left in the morgues, corpses are being stored at the main ice rink.

Intensive-care wards overflowing and new rules dictate that older patients miss out to younger people with a better shot at surviving, Bernabeu said by telephone. “That grandpa, in any other situation, would have had a chance,” he said. “But there’s so many of them, all dying at the same time.”

As Covid-19 sweeps the continent, the focus is turning to Spain with dire warnings for parts of Europe such as the U.K. that only recently have taken more comprehensive action. The number of fatalities in the country of 47 million people is now rising faster than it did in China, where the virus first emerged, and faster than in Italy, where the disease took hold this month.

Spanish authorities reported another 738 people had lost their lives, making it the deadliest hotspot on Wednesday while elsewhere countries unveiled more measures to deal with the economic carnage. Spain’s total death toll, now at 3,434, already overtook China’s this week.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who less than three weeks ago was still brushing off the threat of the virus, has warned the population that most of them have never experienced a threat of this scale.

“Only the oldest, who knew the hardships of the Civil War and its aftermath, can remember collective situations that were harsher than the current one,” he said on March 14 as he imposed a state of emergency with loudspeaker drones buzzing around Madrid ordering people to get inside. “The other generations in Spain have never, ever had to face as a collective something so hard,” he said.

At La Paz hospital, the sprawling complex of 17 buildings where Bernabeu works, there were 240 people on the emergency room at one point on Tuesday waiting to be admitted. Doctors on the front line are not wearing full protection, just a cotton robe and a mask. They have the recommendation to keep a meter of distance with patients, but that’s impossible.

“Colleagues are falling sick around us,” Bernabeu said. “I’m a radiologist, I’m not supposed to be in ER, and yet here I am in the trenches.”

Read More: Spain’s Death Toll Passes China’s While Stimulus Moves Pile Up

On March 8, Sanchez was encouraging Spaniards to join a mass demonstration in support of international women’s day despite the lockdown that had been imposed in northern Italy.

The country had 589 confirmed cases of coronavirus at that point and four people had died. Some 120,000 people joined the event in Madrid that day, including several ministers and Sanchez’s wife, Begona Gomez. The government advised that the virus was still in a containment phase in Spain.

Since then, Gomez has tested positive along with Equality Minister Irene Montero and Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo, who is 62 and has been hospitalized since Sunday.

By the next day, the number of confirmed cases had doubled and Sanchez and Spain were swept up in a spiraling, deadly contagion as the virus ran out of control. He imposed a lockdown less than a week later.

The initial days were dizzying as Spaniards came to terms with unprecedented restrictions on their daily lives and Sanchez and tried to gear up the health care system for an avalanche of cases. With a critical shortage of intensive care beds, ventilators and protective gear, doctors feared they would be overwhelmed. And, in a stark warning to other European governments, so it came to pass.

In several care homes for the elderly, staff abandoned the residents to their fate. Army units mobilized to disinfect the facilities found some patients lying in squalor and others remained where they had died in their beds, Defense Minister Margarita Robles said on Monday.

The Health Ministry admitted that it didn’t have the capacity to administer enough tests to track the spread of the contagion.

Doctors and nurses, meanwhile, are left to improvise as patient after patient arrives. Some tape garbage sacks to their arms to shield themselves. One nurse in the emergency room at a hospital in the Basque city of Vitoria said last week that protective plastic glasses are of such poor quality that medics can barely see through them to they feel for pulses.

Read More: Europe’s Desperate Doctors Are Shielded by Trash Bags

Some 4,000 medical workers have been infected, the government said on Monday, about 12% of the total. That compares with 8% in Italy and 4% in China. A nurses’ union in the Basque region is blaming the shortages for the death of a 52-year-old member.

The hope is that stricter efforts to keep people at home will start to bear fruit. Italy recorded marginally fewer new cases of the virus on Wednesday after three weeks of lockdown.

Some 635 people have been arrested in Spain for breaching the terms of the quarantine and almost 77,000 have been sanctioned by the police and the civil guard.

Talk among business leaders grappling with the economy in freefall is that the lockdown could last up to eight weeks, rather than the four the government has mandated so far, according to one Spanish official, who asked not to be identified by name.

Unemployment, Spain’s perennial weakness, is set to spike again with the summer tourist season looking increasingly like a writeoff after record revenues in recent years. But a survey by the state pollster released on Wednesday showed that 65% of respondents backed the harsh restrictions.

The emergency effort has also managed to avoid a total collapse in the hospitals and the government sold 10 billion euros ($11 billion) of debt this week, easing fears over a funding crunch in the short term.

“We know authorities are making an effort, but it’s still not enough,” Amaia Mayor, a spokeswoman for the nurses’ collective in the Basque Country, said by phone.

The government has acquired 640,000 rapid-testing kits. Over the weekend, authorities delivered 1.6 million masks bringing the total to 4 million since March 10.

Across the country, officials are rooting out the ventilators needed to keep the most critical patients alive—from hospital recovery units, operating rooms and military facilities. Universities, companies and even individuals are using 3D printers to manufacture more ventilators and protective glasses.

The army has set up a field hospital in the giant convention center on the outskirts of Madrid. It already has 1,400 beds in service and will have 5,000 when it’s completed this weekend.

This weekend will mark two weeks since Sanchez imposed the state of emergency, a key milestone for the incubation period for the coronavirus. That means the growth in new cases could start to slow. For the doctors and nurses fighting to cope, it has to.

La Paz hospital freed up some space Wednesday by turning more waiting rooms into Covid-19 wards. Next will be the main reception hall.

But in the meantime, the triage rules for access to intensive care are getting tougher and tougher. These places are kept free for the increasing number of young patients, whose lungs tend to collapse very fast.

“We are completely overwhelmed,” Bernabeu said.

— With assistance by Rodrigo Orihuela, Ainhoa Goyeneche, Jeannette Neumann, Thomas Gualtieri, and Zoe Schneeweiss

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Virus Hands World Leaders Sweeping Powers They May Never Give Up

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Last week, the mayor of Ecuador’s largest city ordered the international airport’s runway blocked to prevent a KLM airliner from landing to pick up Dutch tourists stranded by the coronavirus.

Cynthia Viteri, who is now subject to an investigation, defended the decision to move police cars onto the tarmac to stop the plane from carrying out its mercy mission as an attempt to protect her city of Guayaquil from the pandemic.

In desperate times like these, leaders on all levels are going to extraordinary lengths to do whatever possible to contain the virus. And while some are one-off moves like the episode in Ecuador, others can be much more invasive – and potentially last long after the virus threat eventually subsides.

Like the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., the coronavirus pandemic is a crisis of such magnitude that it threatens to change the world in which we live, with ramifications for how leaders govern. Governments are locking down cities with the help of the army, mapping population flows via smartphones and jailing or sequestering quarantine breakers using banks of CCTV and facial recognition cameras backed by artificial intelligence.

The restrictions are unprecedented in peacetime and made possible only by rapid advances in technology. And while citizens across the globe may be willing to sacrifice civil liberties temporarily, history shows that emergency powers can be hard to relinquish.

Wuhan Containment

“A primary concern is that if the public gives governments new surveillance powers to contain Covid-19, then governments will keep these powers after the public health crisis ends,” said Adam Schwartz, a senior staff attorney at the non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. “Nearly two decades after the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government still uses many of the surveillance technologies it developed in the immediate wake.”

In part, the Chinese Communist Party’s containment measures at the virus epicenter in Wuhan set the tone, with what initially seemed shocking steps to isolate the infected being subsequently adopted in countries with no comparable history of China’s state controls. The lockdown of Wuhan expanded to Hubei province and then other parts of the country.

Chinese authorities followed up with more intrusive measures shaped by decades of experience monitoring citizens for dissent and marshaling state-owned companies to the cause. Authorities sourced data from telecom companies, called on private tech companies to set up virtual health hot lines to trace people exposed to Hubei, and later drew on a sprawling network of Communist Party members and community groups, encouraging citizens to go around door-knocking to monitor their neighbors’ health and movements.

On Tuesday, the symbolism was clear as China lifted long-standing travel restrictions on Wuhan even as lockdowns were implemented or tightened in the U.K., Italy and the U.S.

Price of Freedom

“China was able to control the outbreak because government was tracking people closely,” said Joy Huang, a white-collar worker in Shanghai. “I don’t want to get tracked, but meanwhile, I don’t want infected people not getting tracked. Freedom has a price.”

The rest of the world is now finding that out.

Already in Hungary, the government has introduced a bill that would give self-styled “illiberal” Prime Minister Viktor Orban the power to rule by decree indefinitely. The opposition tried to slow the bill, but Orban’s coalition has the supermajority it needs to pass the legislation anyway. It includes provisions to impose up to five years in prison on anyone judged to “distort facts” to weaken the government’s “defense measures.”

Russian police meanwhile used Moscow’s sprawling camera network to nab more than 200 people for violating quarantine required after returning from high-risk countries. They’ve deployed one of the world’s most comprehensive facial-recognition systems to monitor more than 13,000 people under mandatory self-isolation.

Cambodia to Israel

In Cambodia, the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen — who flew to China shortly after the outbreak to express solidarity with Beijing – has been accused by Human Rights Watch of using concerns over “fake news” related to the virus to arrest opposition critics.

It’s not just those governments with authoritarian tendencies that are stepping in to restrict their citizens. French President Emmanuel Macron set up a committee to come up with measures to fight the virus that include a possible “mobile identification strategy” for anyone who has been in contact with infected people. That’s after Paris police deployed drones last week to make sure the city’s inhabitants respect confinement rules.

Singapore, which has won praise for mostly containing the virus, recently launched a mobile phone app that uses Bluetooth technology to map close contacts in case a sick person fails to recall all of their social interactions. The app remains voluntary.

There’s no opt-out in Israel, where police have been given powers to monitor those supposed to be in isolation, and the internal security service known as the Shin Bet now has the authority to track an infected person’s mobile phone data going back two weeks.

Cultural Differences

Although democratic Taiwan and South Korea have seen success containing the virus, some experts suggest Asia’s experience with pandemics, as well as citizens’ different experience of politics, has enabled slightly more intrusive means of control.

In India, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed a three-week lockdown from midnight Tuesday, officials are tracking mobile phones, pulling out reservation data from airlines and railways, and stamping people’s hands with indelible ink as part of a process to follow suspected infections. Modi’s administration also used the virus as a reason to clear an anti-government protest that had camped out in New Delhi. Police and vigilantes were pictured on Wednesday beating people standing outside.

Cultural differences mean that such strict controls are running into opposition in the West. In Canada, the health minister warned citizens that failing to self-isolate – like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose wife tested positive for Covid-19 – could bring harsher measures and “put our civil liberties in jeopardy.” The U.K. has seen thronging parks and packed London Underground tube trains, Australians are still flocking to the beach, while in the U.S. students have defied guidelines and gathered in huge crowds for the Spring Break.

More Control

President Donald Trump has fueled the sense that a clampdown is questionable, suggesting that a time limit be set on restrictions to avoid unnecessary damage to the economy, apparently without recourse to medical advice.

Jennifer Granick, surveillance and cybersecurity counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the U.S. doesn’t have the infrastructure to support a China-style enforcement of stay-at-home policies, because the information available is disaggregated and mostly in the hands of private companies, not the government. “We’re going to have to accept, as with any law in our society, a little bit of noncompliance,” Granick said.

Some see the need for greater control.

Australia’s government has received criticism from some health experts for not using enough surveillance and tracking measures to halt the spread of the virus. In Japan, where the outbreak seems to have been less severe than in many other countries, parliament passed a bill that would allow Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to declare an emergency, but he hasn’t yet done so.

Europe has its own sensibilities, with more importance placed on data protection. In Germany, a draft coronavirus law with provisions enabling tracking by smartphone of infected patients without any time limit was amended after the justice minister expressed her opposition. Israel’s state security measures have been opposed at the country’s supreme court.

For Gu Su, a professor of philosophy and law at Nanjing University, China’s political culture “made its people more amenable to the draconian measures.” However, governments worldwide “should be allowed to concentrate and expand their power, to some extent, to handle the crisis more efficiently” – so long as it is “strictly limited,” said Gu.

In Ecuador, meanwhile, Mayor Viteri’s controversial actions to halt a Dutch airliner from landing failed to stem the virus. Hours later, she announced that she had tested positive for Covid-19.

— With assistance by Dandan Li, Jing Li, Gwen Ackerman, Isabel Reynolds, Henry Meyer, Jason Scott, Walter Brandimarte, Zoltan Simon, Juan Pablo Spinetto, Stephan Kueffner, and Bibhudatta Pradhan

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China to resume US liquefied petroleum gas imports as Beijing waives tariff: sources

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SINGAPORE (Reuters) – China has begun buying U.S. liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) again after a hiatus of nearly 20 months as Beijing waived punitive tariffs to boost imports of U.S. goods as part of the Sino-U.S. Phase 1 trade deal, industry sources said.

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Importers have rushed to apply for waivers for the 25% tariff to buy the fuel, a by-product from U.S. shale gas production, after Beijing started granting exemptions this month for nearly 700 U.S. goods.

About a dozen firms – including China Gas Holdings, a piped gas distributor and LPG trader, and Oriental Energy, a manufacturer using LPG to make petrochemicals – have been granted the tariff waivers, according to two veteran LPG traders, an investment officer and analysts at IHS Markit.

With the exemptions, U.S. LPG is subject only to a 1% import duty, same as rival supplies from the Middle East.

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"U.S. LPG provides us a diversified source of supply to keep our overall import cost low,'' said Tan Yuwei, an investor relation officer with China Gas, adding that the firm has booked 60,000 tonnes of U.S. fuel for late April arrival.

An official with Oriental Energy confirmed his company won a tariff exemption but declined to comment on any purchases.

OIL CRASH LEAVES EXXON, CHEVRON DIVIDENDS SAFE — FOR NOW

The LPG traders declined to be named because they are not authorized to speak with the press.

Yanyu He, IHS Markit's Houston-based senior analyst for natural gas liquids, said he expected Chinese bookings of U.S. cargoes to re-emerge from April, although the sudden crash of oil prices to sub-$30 a barrel will see U.S. LPG output decline.

China may have booked an estimated five U.S. cargoes totalling 220,000 tonnes so far, said a Beijing-based IHS analyst who also declined to be named as he is not authorized to speak to the media. This analyst said a slow rebound in Chinese petrochemical production following the coronavirus outbreak could hold back purchases.

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The resumption of U.S. trade is set to weigh on prices of competing cargoes from Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Benchmark U.S. spot butane prices in Mont Belvieu, Texas, have lost two-thirds of their values over the past month, dropping to their lowest since at least 1990 at $0.21 per U.S. gallon, primarily tracking the free-fall in oil prices.

That is equivalent to about $95 per tonne, and compares with April Asian LPG paper at $150 a tonne.

China was the No.2 buyer of U.S. LPG exports in 2017, with purchases at 3.6 million tonnes, then worth some $2 billion. Imports began shrinking in late 2018 and nearly dried up last year during the prolonged U.S.-China trade war.

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U.S. LPG, typically in 44,000 tonne cargoes and sailing through the Panama Canal, takes about two weeks to get to China.

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LPG consists of propane and butane used for heating and making petrochemicals.

(Reporting by Chen Aizhu; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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Trump Says He’ll Stop Using ‘Chinese Virus,’ Easing Blame Game

President Donald Trump said he would stop using the term “Chinese virus,” the latest indication that the U.S. and China are seeking to deescalate their blame game over the deadly pandemic.

“I don’t regret it, but they accused us of having done it through our soldiers, they said our soldiers did it on purpose, what kind of a thing is that?” Trump said in an interview Tuesday with Fox News. “Look, everyone knows it came out of China, but I decided we shouldn’t make any more of a big deal out of it. I think I made a big deal. I think people understand it. But that all began when they said our soldiers started it. Our soldiers had nothing to do with it.”

Trump cited the Ebola virus and Lyme disease as other illnesses named for their location of discovery. “They do name it after places, it came from China,” he said. He also said that he maintained a “very good” relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping and that China had been though “a lot.”

“They lost thousands of people. They’ve been through hell,” he said.

Trump’s comments came after an unusual public spat between two top Chinese diplomats, which pointed to differences in Beijing over how to handle tensions with Trump. Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Cui Tiankai reiterated to “Axios on HBO” earlier this week that he was opposed to promoting theories that the coronavirus had originated in a U.S. military lab. He said last month that spreading such theories would be “crazy,” even though a foreign ministry spokesman had repeatedly floated the idea on Twitter.

The virus was first found in humans in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year and has spread rapidly across the world, with more than 420,000 cases and almost 19,000 dead. Trump, who’s facing an election this year, has sought to blame China as the outbreak slams global stock markets and threatens to push the world into recession.

Protecting Asian-Americans

On Tuesday, Trump also tweeted his support for Asian-Americans, who have increasingly faced racism in recent weeks as the illness spreads across the U.S. and Republican politicians highlight its “Chinese” origins. The World Health Organization named the disease COVID-19 — short for “coronavirus disease 2019” — in part to avoid stigmatizing any one place or group for a virus that poses risks to everyone.

“It is very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States, and all around the world. They are amazing people, and the spreading of the Virus…. is NOT their fault in any way, shape, or form,” he wrote.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who holds a commanding lead over U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential primary, told MSNBC that he was glad Trump “finally got there” on the issue.

“It was long overdue of him to say that he’s not going to put up with this xenophobia,” Biden said. “It’s strange coming from him, but him happy he did it — happy he did it.”

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China to lift lockdown in most of coronavirus-hit Hubei province

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BEIJING  — Chinese authorities said Tuesday they will end a two-month lockdown of most of coronavirus-hit Hubei province at midnight, as domestic cases of what has become a global pandemic subside.

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People with a clean bill of health will be allowed to leave, the provincial government said, easing restrictions on movement that were unprecedented in scale. The city of Wuhan, where the virus was first detected in December, is to remain locked down until April 8.

China barred people from leaving or entering Wuhan beginning Jan. 23 in a surprise middle-of-the-night announcement and expanded that to most of the province in succeeding days. Trains and flights were canceled and checkpoints set up on roads into the central province.

CORONAVIRUS STRAINS US, CHINA TIES

The drastic steps came as the coronavirus began spreading to the rest of China and overseas during the Lunar New Year holiday, when millions of Chinese travel.

The virus raged for weeks in Wuhan, the provincial capital, and surrounding cities. Hospitals overflowed, and temporary ones were hastily set up to try to isolate the growing number of infected patients. More than 2,500 people have died in Wuhan out of 3,270 nationwide.

The outbreak has since been brought under control, and Hubei has seen almost no new infections for more than a week.

The move to end the lockdown showed the authorities' apparent faith in the success of the drastic measures as they try to kick start the world's second-largest economy and put money in the pockets of workers, many of whom have gone weeks without pay. It remained unclear, however, which cities and provinces, including Beijing, the capital, would allow people from Hubei to enter their jurisdictions.

In this March 23, 2020 photo released by Xinhua News Agency, workers prepares a subway train for restoration of public transport in Wuhan, in central China’s Hubei province. China’s health ministry says Wuhan has now gone several consecutive days wit

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About 120,000 migrant workers, including many who had made the traditional trip home to Hubei for Lunar New Year, have already been allowed to leave in recent days on special buses and trains, according to Chinese media reports. The reports said manufacturing centers such as Guangdong and Zhejiang province are open to people from Hubei,

Outside of Hubei, the government says work has restarted on about 90% of major public construction projects across the country. While many migrant workers remain trapped by travel restrictions and quarantines, factories are operating again, though not at full capacity.

In the Beijing area, the city zoo and parts of the Great Wall reopened this week, though they required advance reservations to limit the number of visitors. Some restaurants were reopening for business, some on the condition that customers do not sit facing each other.

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At the Xibei restaurant inside a mall in eastern Beijing's Shuangjing neighborhood, a line formed at around 11 a.m. Tuesday for the lunch opening, although managers said they expected to serve only around 140 customers, down from the usual daily number of 900 before the virus outbreak.

Half of the establishment's 20 tables had “closed” signs on them to help keep a distance between customers, while food delivery workers rushed in and out with orders of grilled beef and lamb, noodles, pancakes and other northern Chinese dishes.

Wu Lin, who works in cosmetics, was dining out for the first time since restrictions were imposed because of the outbreak.

“Since (the restaurant) can open at the moment, I believe their prevention and control is fairly good," Wu said. “For example, they check the temperature of every customer and staffer. It gives us a sense of safety.”

Officials have turned their attention to the threat of the virus entering from abroad, with almost all new cases being recorded among people arriving from overseas. China’s National Health Commission on Tuesday reported 78 new coronavirus cases, among which 74 were imported.

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Starting Wednesday, Beijing will require everyone coming from overseas to be tested for the coronavirus on top of being quarantined for 14 days. In a notice published online, city authorities said those who have entered the city within the last 14 days will also undergo mandatory testing.

“Currently, the imported risk from the epidemic’s rapid spread overseas continues to rise,” the Beijing notice said.

The heightened measures — which apply regardless of one’s final destination — follow a previous order that all overseas arrivals quarantine themselves at designated hotels at their own expense unless they live alone

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China weighs $7T coronavirus stimulus plan, includes coal-fired power plant projects: Report

China should pay reparations for coronavirus outbreak: Representative

Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., says closing the American borders with Mexico and Canada is one of the many ways the U.S. can ‘flatten the curve’ of coronavirus and believes China’s negligence in the coronavirus outbreak should cause China to forgive American debt as a reparation payment.

As China hopes to begin recovering from the devastating coronavirus outbreak, it is looking to juice its economy.

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According to a report Monday from the South China Morning Post, China is planning to inject $7 trillion into its economy in the aftermath of the coronavirus. However, among the projects the plan is said to include are coal-fired power plants, which has sparked criticism among detractors that the government could be leaning toward more of a reliance on fossil fuels.

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The United Nations warned in a report last year that fossil fuel production, worldwide, by 2030 could be as much as 150 percent above levels targeted in the Paris Climate Accord.

And while many countries are trying to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, a report last year showed that China was still burning a lot. The country had enough coal-fired plants to power France, and more plants were under construction.

The coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China, and killed more than 3,200 people in the country. Last Thursday was the first time China reported no new infections since the outbreak began in December.

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As of Monday, there were 81,496 confirmed cases in China. The United States had 41,167.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government is working on a stimulus plan that could cost $1.8 trillion. The package, however, was blocked in the Senate on Monday over disagreements between political leaders about who should benefit the most from an economic package.

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