N.B. students produce parody video shout-out to teachers amid coronavirus pandemic

Last week, teachers across New Brunswick released a series of lip-sync videos to cheer up their students forced to be away from school during the coronavirus outbreak.

Not to be outdone, some creative Grade 12 students from Harrison Trimble High School in Moncton copied the idea and produced a parody reply of their own.

“We thought it was only fair is we made one for them,” said Grade 12 student Abbey MacMillan.

MacMillan said that when the teachers released their videos, which show them lip-syncing and dancing to a variety of songs, their messages of support hit close to home.

“I definitely teared up a little bit having been home for almost two weeks at that point. It is exactly what all the students and everybody else wanted to see,” she said.

Grateful for the teachers’ support, she said a group of graduating students responded with their own video, which she compiled. In the video, students mimicked their teachers’ moves in hopes of making them smile.

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MacMillan said being at home in isolation away from the school and educators has been rough.

“It’s been really hard, especially not knowing how long we are going to be away from each other.”

Ethan Druart is also a graduating student at Trimble and said it is hard being away from their mentors.

“The teachers at our school mean a lot to us. They are more than just teachers — we bond with them,” he said.

Druart says it’s been especially difficult for graduating students, who may miss out on prom and a graduation ceremony if the school remains closed for the entire school year.

“We have been looking forward to this for four years and it feels like we are getting a huge chunk taken away and we are missing out on several activities we have been looking forward to all year,” he said.

But MacMillan says making the parody video meant to poke a little fun at their teachers has helped to ease the stress of not being able to go to school.

“They are the most supportive, kind and uplifting group of people you would ask to be around five days a week,” she said. “It was super fun to make and we are encouraging students to make one for their school as well.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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Opinion | They Don’t Want to Risk Their Lives to Flip Your Burger

Workers around the country are walking off the job to protest a lack of protective equipment, safety measures, even soap.

By Steven Greenhouse

Mr. Greenhouse writes about labor.

Millions of white-collar workers are telecommuting from home to stay safe as the coronavirus extends its terrifying reach across America. But millions of other workers — supermarket cashiers, pharmacists, warehouse workers, bus drivers, meatpacking workers — still have to report to work each day, and many are furious that their employers are not doing enough to protect them against the pandemic.

Some companies are not providing their workers with gloves or hand sanitizer, and some are even prohibiting employees from wearing masks for fear of frightening customers. Many workers feel they’re putting their lives on the line each day by interacting with customers who might be infected and by working in places they’re convinced have not been adequately sanitized against the virus.

Fearing retaliation, American workers are generally far more reluctant to stick their necks out and protest working conditions than are workers in other industrial countries. But with greater fear of the disease than of their bosses, workers have set off a burst of walkouts, sickouts and wildcat strikes.

With their employer’s business booming, workers at Instacart, the grocery delivery service, have called for a strike on Monday, demanding that the company provide hazard pay and more personal protective supplies. Workers at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island threatened a walkout on Monday if the company did not close the building and thoroughly clean it after several workers tested positive.

Last Tuesday, after a mechanic tested positive for the coronavirus, more than half the workers at Bath Iron Works, the famous shipyard in Maine, stayed home from work to pressure their employer to thoroughly clean the shipyard. Workers walked out at a Fiat Chrysler truck plant in Warren, Mich., because there was no hot water for washing up. Bus drivers in Birmingham, Ala., went on strike because they felt not enough was being done to protect them from contracting Covid-19 from infected passengers, while bus drivers in Detroit staged a sudden sickout for the same reason. Sanitation workers in Pittsburgh engaged in a work stoppage over their coronavirus worries.

“We want better equipment, protective gear; we have no masks,” one of the sanitation workers told the television station WPXI. “We want hazard pay. Hazard pay is very important.”

At a Kroger warehouse in Memphis, 200 workers walked out after learning that a co-worker had the virus.

“The ones that is here, they so tense they scared to touch the equipment,” said Maurice Wiggins, a Kroger forklift driver and father of two. (He also complained about being forced to work a 97-hour, seven-day workweek.)

These workers are demanding what everyone else wants during the worst epidemic in a century — safety. They feel their companies are taking them and their safety for granted, and they don’t want to risk their lives for a paycheck, often a meager one. Many workers are angry that, while their employers are doing a lively business, they haven’t given them raises or hazard pay, which some other companies have provided.

“We’re not getting nothing — no type of compensation, no nothing, not even no cleanliness, no extra pay,” said Kendaliyn Granville, who led a strike by 50 workers at a Perdue poultry processing plant in Kathleen, Ga. “We’re up here risking our life for chicken.”

Some of the strikers have said they resent risking their lives while chief executives earn millions and their companies’ more highly paid white-collar employees are working safely at home.

Cooks and cashiers who walked out at a McDonald’s restaurant in San Jose, Calif., said they didn’t even have enough soap to clean their hands, and were not provided with gloves, masks or hand sanitizers.

“They’re not providing us with the simple necessities to combat the virus that is right in front of us,” said Ana Martinez, a cook and drive-through worker at the San Jose McDonald’s. “We feel underappreciated and undervalued, so my co-workers and I decided to take this step to fight back.”

The anger behind these work actions is fed by the disregard and disrespect too many American employers show their workers by failing to provide fundamental protections that are universal in other industrial nations.

The United States is the only wealthy nation that doesn’t have a national law guaranteeing workers paid parental leave and paid vacations. And until the recent passage of an emergency coronavirus law, it was one of the very few industrial nations not guaranteeing workers paid sick leave. The new law gives many American workers two weeks of paid leave if they need to take off work because of the virus, but in a stinging slap at workers, corporate America demanded, and won, an exemption for companies with more than 500 employees.

Earlier this month, 20 workers walked out at a McDonald’s in Cicero, Ill., out of frustration that their restaurant’s management was balking at giving them the paid sick days due to them under Illinois Law.

Adriana Alvarez, a worker there, said some employees were going to work sick because they couldn’t afford to go unpaid. The 30-minute walkout jolted management into agreeing to smooth the way for workers to obtain paid sick leave, Ms. Alvarez said.

Alexander Colvin, dean of the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations, told me that the eruption of strikes “is a function of the American system where we get so much variation from employer to employer”

“We see some employers doing the right thing, standing by their employees during this crisis,” he said, “and others not doing much at all.”

As often happens when workers finally flex their collective muscles, their actions have gotten results. In Birmingham, the transportation authority limited the number of passengers allowed on a bus to 19, blocked off front seats, and had passengers enter and exit only by the rear entrance.

Perdue said it had stepped up its sanitation efforts. Those efforts included a more thorough cleaning of common areas, the cafeteria and locker rooms at the Georgia poultry plant. At the McDonald’s in San Jose, Ms. Martinez said, restaurant management provided more gloves and soap, but not masks or hand sanitizer.

With the pandemic extending its reach, there certainly will be more walkouts. As consumers begin to have a hard time buying what they need, they should realize how many people are risking so much to keep them fed and safe, and they can demand that business and government do more to protect these essential workers.

“We are high-risk ticking time bombs for being exposed to someone with it,” Scott Ryan, a 41-year-old bus driver from Everett, Wash., told co-workers in a Feb. 28 Facebook post. On Friday, Mr. Ryan, a father of three, died of Covid-19.

Steven Greenhouse (@greenhousenyt), who was the labor and workplace reporter for The New York Times for 19 years, is the author of “Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor.”

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Shanghai tops world's IPO league table despite coronavirus

HONG KONG/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Shanghai has topped global initial public offering (IPO) league table for the first time in nearly three years, even as the coronavirus epidemic which originated in China rocked markets around the world.

A total of 33 companies raised $7.31 billion floating on the Shanghai main board and the city’s start up-focused STAR market, according to Refinitiv data for the first quarter, easily outstripping New York’s Nasdaq where 17 companies raised $5.13 billion via IPOs.

But even as Shanghai basks in success, for cash-seeking companies and their bankers the question is whether China can maintain this momentum as the coronavirus continues to cause massive disruption in global financial markets.

While Shanghai hosted the $4.4 billion IPO of Beijing-Shanghai Speed Railway (601816.SS) early in January, accounting for most the funds on the main board, STAR market issuance held up even as the country went into virtual lockdown in February.

Eight companies raised $2 billion that month and a further 5 deals in March were worth $615.5 million.

China’s markets have fared better than many Western benchmarks, with the blue-chip CSI 300 .CSI300 down 9.4% for the year as of Friday March 27, compared with tumbles of 21% fall for the S&P 500 .SPX in New York and 25% for the pan-European STOXX 600 index.

EY Greater China IPO practice leader Terence Ho said the fiscal response from China’s government – which accelerated a massive program of economic stimulus measures – could help boost the prospects of companies looking to list on the mainland markets.

“The Chinese government has already rolled out timely policies to help companies, with more economic stimulus on the way,” Ho wrote in a recent report.

“These efforts should help the economy and IPO markets recover more quickly when the outbreak is controlled.”

China has also relaxed the rules for follow-on share sales by listed companies in an effort to help virus-hit firms raise cash.

January-March 2020 was the first time since the third quarter of 2017 that Shanghai topped the global leader board to beat the larger New York and Hong Kong exchanges.

“I’m not surprised,” said Zhu Ning, deputy dean of the Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance (SAIF).

“The number of Chinese start-ups is huge and there’s an increasing tendency for Chinese companies to list in the domestic market, where valuation is much higher.”

Thailand ranked third for IPOs, thanks to the $2.5 billion IPO of Central Retail CRC.BK in February – the country’s largest ever IPO.

The largest deal on the Nasdaq was the $1.86 billion of drug research firm PPD Inc (PPD.O) in early February.

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Global Affairs: Covid-19's existential threat to the EU

LONDON • For the moment, all European governments are concentrating their entire firepower on fighting the still virulent coronavirus epidemic.

But behind the scenes, a battle just as critical to the future of the continent is unfolding, about the ways European states should manage the huge economic costs of the pandemic.

There are no easy solutions, for the damage to European economies will be massive and long-lasting; the real choice facing Europe is whether these should be borne by all countries together, or by each one individually.

And while nobody should doubt the sense of solidarity that binds European governments, the Europeans have a history of stumbling on the solution only after exhausting all the wrong options.

Either way, nobody doubts what is at stake here: the very survival of the euro and, perhaps, of the European Union (EU) itself. The coronavirus is confronting Europe with a challenge just as existential and as grave as that of a war.

Estimates of the pandemic’s potential costs to European economies are impossible to compute with any degree of accuracy at this stage, since there are so many variables. Nobody knows how long the crisis will last and how many weeks or months key European states will have to remain in lockdown.

Nor can Europe escape the ripple effects of economic downturns in China and other parts of Asia, as well as in North America. So it is not a surprise that even those brave economists and analysts who are willing to hazard a prediction are unable to reach a consensus; some predict a “V-shaped” recovery with a sharp rebound after the current steep decline, while others assume a longer “U-shaped” recovery.

Although each scenario implies different policy choices, certain major conclusions are emerging clearly enough.

The first is that the initial batch of national statistics from individual EU member-states indicates that the economic impact of this crisis will be huge. Over the past few days, for instance, the French statistical agency revealed that France’s economic output is already down by 35 per cent and that the crisis this year will knock three points off French gross domestic product (GDP) if the lockdown lasts a month, and 6 per cent should it last two months.

If projected to all the countries in the euro zone, most estimates now assume a contraction of 15 per cent of GDP in the second quarter of this year and around 10 per cent for the whole of 2020 – figures that are comparable to those recorded during the darkest days of the Great Depression in the 1930s, and about 10 times worse than the economic contraction experienced during the 2007-2008 financial crisis.

Furthermore, governments throughout Europe are now pledged not only to cover the salaries of people retrenched as a result of the economic downturn, but also to pouring money into national enterprises in order to save them from collapse, and underwrite the biggest single expansion in state spending on healthcare since World War II.

The age of big government is back with a vengeance as countries return to the ideas – dominant 50 years ago – that governments and not the private sector are the best managers of economies and the best allocators of resources. And this applies to European countries ruled by centre-right politicians, as much as it does to countries where state spending was always high.

Take for instance the British government, elected only last December on an agenda strongly in favour of private enterprise; it has just made spending promises equivalent to about a fifth of the national economy, a staggering amount unprecedented in the country’s peacetime history.

And what is one to make of Germany, a nation so ideologically averse to borrowing that it has made the so-called “schwarze Null” (black zero) – a commitment to zero deficit in national budgets – a binding legal requirement on all its future governments?

All this caution was thrown to the wind in the past few weeks, with offers of around €600 billion (S$953 billion) of state credits which are not only designed to protect ordinary Germans from temporary hardship, but also to buy government stakes in German firms which may be subject to hostile takeovers. One candidate for such a “nationalisation” may well be Lufthansa, the German airline which has practically halted its business. If this happens, it will signify a complete and fundamental reversal of decades of economic liberalisation policies in Europe.

The snag is that while each European state’s effort to rescue its national economy can be justified as a response to an extraordinary emergency, the cumulative effect of all these national initiatives is to tear to pieces the EU’s current financial arrangements.

The European Stability and Growth Pact, which governs the operation of the euro, requires member states to keep their budget deficits at not more than 3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). It also requires states’ national debt to go no higher than 60 per cent of GDP. Italy and France, to name but a few, were already at 130 per cent and 100 per cent respectively in terms of national debt even before the epidemic. And with the full lockdowns, those figures will soar.

If all the German promises to lend to its economy are cashed in, Germany itself may register a budget deficit of around 5 per cent of GDP – almost double the rate demanded by European treaties – and could see its total national debt soar to around 80 per cent of GDP.

So, while in previous EU financial crises Germany acted as the policeman ordering all other nations to respect their obligations, this time the Germans are also “sinners”. Besides, the EU has already bowed to the inevitable by lifting its budget caps, for the first time ever.

But this is a temporary, exceptional measure. And as the most indebted countries in Europe know too well, ultimately they can only afford to borrow the sort of money they are currently pledged to spend if Germany and the rest of the euro zone are able to guarantee this borrowing. Without this mutual guarantee, repaying the interest and capital on this sort of debt will become unsustainable, just as it was for Greece, which faced bankruptcy a decade ago.

Italy already cannot issue a guarantee to bail out its private firms as France is offering because Italy’s debt ratios are already regarded unsustainable. And as the downturn grips, other EU countries risk being sucked into the same predicament.

One option may be to use the European Stability Mechanism, a fund worth €400 billion created in the wake of the last financial crisis, in order to support the current borrowing needs of nations. Another relief could come from the €750 billion fund which the European Central Bank has pledged to spend buying the bonds of euro zone member-states.

But access to all these funds comes with conditions which will ultimately force the borrowing countries to accept the sort of gut-wrenching horrible economic austerity conditions Greece suffered, only to still remain one of Europe’s most-indebted nations.

That is why last week the leaders of France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Belgium and Greece demanded the creation of a “common debt instrument” which, on the suggestion of the Italian prime minister, ended up being nicknamed the “corona bonds”.

The idea is that these badly-named bonds will be guaranteed by all EU member-states, carry no political conditions and, as leaders of the demanding countries politely put it, should be of a “sufficient size and maturity” not to threaten Europe’s future economic recovery. Translated into normal language, what these countries are asking for is a great deal of money with no questions asked and no need for repayment for some decades to come.

Unsurprisingly, the Germans who are going to have to foot the bill for these bonds will not hear of it. At a “virtual” EU teleconference summit last Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel simply repeated her “nein” response no less than four times. Her refusal was echoed by the Dutch, whose Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he “cannot foresee any circumstances in which the Netherlands will accept euro bonds”.

EU leaders hope to ultimately wear the German and Dutch opposition down, as the sheer scale of Europe’s problems becomes clear. But that would be a feat of monumental proportions. Without a constitutional change, the German government simply has no powers to accept such liabilities. Nor is there any political consensus inside Germany to shoulder such continent-wide obligation. German politicians fear – not unreasonably – that once the principle of guaranteeing other countries’ debt is accepted, there will be no end to further requests of the same nature.

And most German officials believe that the other Europeans find themselves in such a predicament now because they failed to reduce their outstanding debts over the past few years, when their economies were growing.

More significantly, the timing for accepting such a fundamental obligation could not have been worse for the Germans, just as Germany itself is about to experience an economic downturn, just when Germany’s own borrowing requirements are likely to balloon and just when Chancellor Merkel is facing retirement after more than 15 years in office. A least favourable sequence of events could have hardly been invented.

But without this German guarantee and without the creation of bonds mutually guaranteed by all, it is difficult to see how the euro could survive the pressures between the needs of its poorer south, and the reluctance of its richer north to pay for it.

The continent faced exactly the same challenge a decade ago, and ducked the question by bailing out Greece from bankruptcy, while passing on the horrendous costs of that operation on to the Greeks themselves.

Yet with hindsight, that was just a mere rehearsal for what is about to unfold now, involving far bigger economies such as Italy or France. Without a mutual debt guarantee which prevents another debt crisis, the entire euro edifice may collapse.

Nobody should underestimate Germany’s determination to save the euro, or the EU’s determination to stick together in moments of crises; those who betted in the past on the euro’s demise were wrong.

Still, the stakes are huge, and the dangers bigger still. None other than Mr Jacques Delors, the former French politician and the man who shaped the EU of today, now warns that “the climate which seems to reign between the heads of states and governments and the lack of European solidarity pose a mortal danger to the European Union”.

“The microbe is back”, he adds. And he is not referring to the coronavirus.

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Opinion | The Healing Power of ‘Steven Universe’

The hit cartoon series has helped me process my biracial identity.

By Nicole Clark

Ms. Clark is a culture writer.

For most of my life, Taiwan was a place that lived in my head. My mother told me her origin stories like a series of tall tales, full of pitched, tin roofs and fields of underbrush that my grandmother used to drive through on her moped, lifting her legs to avoid snake bites.

Her stories felt like aphorisms I could attach to the idea of being Taiwanese, something I knew I was, but felt no particular ability to locate outside the life I lived in California. I could not get past the differences of our childhoods, the disparities in our means, the foreign topography. It would take me years to realize I’d inherited her cultural traditions and perspectives growing up — and even longer to separate my identity from the need to demonstrate proficiency in it, as if it were a set of actions committed to memory.

When I began watching Rebecca Sugar’s musical cartoon series “Steven Universe” and its limited series spinoff “Steven Universe Future” — which aired its final episodes on Friday — it immediately fit like a familiar sweater. So much of Steven’s coming-of-age story mapped onto my own: We both come from two distinct cultures, the most dominant of which can feel inscrutable.

Though Steven’s birth father Greg is an Earth dweller, he is raised by the “Crystal Gems,” Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl, female-presenting, nonbinary aliens who manifest special powers through gemstones embedded in their bodies. They are Steven’s only tether to his deceased mother’s birthplace of Gem Homeworld and, as early as the pilot, they begin the difficult work of helping him navigate his powers and his identity.

I was raised primarily by my Taiwanese-born mother and her parents. My white, American-born father was present and loving, but my grandparents’ proximity to my childhood home made theirs the nexus of domestic life. It was in that house I learned how to be. I learned to reuse every Ziploc bag and twist tie, to never buy napkins or ketchup — both of which I could get for free at the Chino Hills Chick-fil-A. I learned to take my shoes off at the door or face verbal recrimination, and to periodically run the engine on the van I would never inherit, lest it die through disuse and the passage of time. (Long after my grandparents had passed, the van’s engine was still running.)

These stories fit into a well-trod Asian-American immigrant narrative — one that easily falls victim to broad generalizations and monolithic classification, despite the rich diversity among Asian-American ethnic groups. What remains personally true is the immense pressure I felt to succeed, because my achievements felt like proof of concept: Proof that leaving Taiwan was worth it, proof that we could attain and even improve upon the American dream.

I learned to create my own community in the language of code switching between my Taiwanese family in California and my dad’s family in Kentucky. My personality became circumstantial, less a person than an echo of the space I lived in.

This is also Steven Universe’s lot in life, and much of the show is dedicated to his earnest blunderings. Though he looks like a human boy, he carries his mother’s gemstone in his bellybutton. He shuttles between Crystal Gem missions and spending time with his human father and friends in the fictional Beach City. He accidentally summons his powers in the presence of his human friends, though he struggles to invoke them during missions.

The episodic arcs are painfully familiar, evoking memories of quiet heartbreak, isolation and anxiety. (Luckily, the show has an extremely catchy song, “Here Comes a Thought,” about managing anxiety.) When Steven unearths the traumas of the Crystal Gems’ migration to Earth, he begins to feel immense pressure to live up to the sacrifices of those who raised him.

This is often conveyed through Pearl, the Crystal Gem who reminds me most of my own mother. In a particularly moving episode, Pearl teaches Steven’s human friend Connie how to sword fight so she can defend Steven during their adventures. This is not unlike my mother’s own history of subordinating her needs to mine; I also feel a responsibility to fight battles my mother never asked me to.

Much of it is in the small things. I watched for years as my mother strategically deployed my father to return goods or pick up the rental car, so she could avoid being racially profiled. Now, when my mother walks into salons where white women are offered beverages while she is handled with overpronounced English, I make a point to ask them if they have tea or coffee for her. When she told me Costco denied her a return on a rotten watermelon because she did not bring it back as evidence, I seriously contemplated fishing it out of the trash.

I pick the most pedantic examples because these are the kinds of accommodations any white American would assume they’d receive. I pick these examples because I can control them — the wounds of her past are inaccessible to me.

Just as my perpetual sense of foreignness irritates me, my own rush to act as her personal white savior also irritates me. Providing for our parents is a bedrock of my culture. At the same time, without financial stability or access to capital, I don’t know what better I can do than use my white-passing face to fight for a better seat on an airplane, the ability to return defective products and tea at the hair salon.

I stare at the mirror wondering about the liminal spaces where my Asian-American identity begins and my whiteness begins, prodding at tender spots where my emotional scars might be separable from those I have inherited.

In the finale of “Steven Universe,” Steven’s gem is grotesquely removed from his body. He splits into two parts. But both of them are Steven, identical in appearance, different only in color grading.

What would I be, I wonder, if I were split into two component parts? I am not Steven Universe, I am a speck in the universe that will outlive me. But seeing him cleaved in two to prove the consistency of his identity to his nemeses made me contemplate the ways I perform my identity on the behalf of others. Watching him repeatedly attempt to save the universe made me reflect on the absurd expectations I place on myself. And that is a kind of progress.

As a coda to the original series, “Steven Universe Future” delivers an even more poignant and direct message as the hero begins to understand the roots of his post-traumatic stress. Without the pressures of saving the world or living for others, Steven finally has time to process his earlier teenage years. Watching him learn to live for himself is an even greater balm.

Nicole Clark (@nicalexiac) is a culture writer and contributing editor at Catapult.

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Economic Affairs: Waiting for global cooperation

During the depths of the global financial crisis in April 2009, the Group of 20 (G-20) held a crucial summit in London, chaired by then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. In the run-up to the summit, financial markets were crashing, economies were sliding into recession and confidence was shot to pieces.

The G-20, which comprises not only major industrial countries, but also large developing and middle-income countries, managed to coordinate and come up with a collective response. Together, the members provided a US$2 trillion stimulus to the global economy, pledged more resources for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help troubled economies and committed to strengthen supervision and regulation of financial markets and institutions. The G-20 is now the de facto steering committee for the global economy.

Confidence was restored, financial markets bottomed out and the crisis began to lift. The big lesson from the London summit – probably the most successful summit of all time – was that international cooperation during a crisis can make all the difference.

The world is facing another crisis now, more serious than in 2009 in that it is not just financial and economic, but also a public health crisis of global proportions. Yet, international cooperation – other than among some central banks – has been close to non-existent.

On March 16, the Group of Seven (G-7) industrial countries – itself an archaic body that does not include countries like China, India, Russia or Brazil, or any others from the middle-income or developing world – held a video conference call in which they promised to do “whatever it takes” to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. But they made no concrete commitments. Nothing has been heard from the G-7 since. The leaders went their separate ways and did their own thing.

A CHINA-U.S. RIFT

In the United States, President Donald Trump and some of his administration’s senior officials, having failed to take the fast-spreading pandemic seriously before it arrived on American shores, made no attempt to cooperate with the Chinese government (or any other) in trying to manage the pandemic response. Instead, they riled the Chinese by declaring Covid-19 “the China virus”.

Provoked to retaliate, the Chinese Foreign Ministry made the unfounded claim that the virus had in fact been brought to China by the US military, which China’s Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai later sensibly walked back.

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross viewed the coronavirus through a trade-war lens, declaring soon after the outbreak that the spread of Covid-19 through China would “accelerate the return of jobs to North America”, as if the epidemic was a blessing.

The trade war has in fact helped weaken America’s response to the pandemic. US tariffs have disrupted imports of medical supplies from China that the US desperately needs. Such items as CT scanners, thermometers, patient monitors and disposable headgear, of which China is among the world’s major suppliers, are still subject to 25 per cent tariffs. As the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington has pointed out, the US did not increase its purchases from the rest of the world to offset the decline in these imports from China.

Greater cooperation between the US and Chinese governments, including rolling back the trade-war tariffs, instead of needling and name calling, would have created mutual goodwill and helped both countries.

The saving grace is that the American and Chinese scientific communities have continued to cooperate in private. American scientists appreciated China’s efforts in sharing the genome sequence of the coronavirus early on and are closely following the case studies of cured patients and other medical findings from China. Chinese scientists, on their part, have been generous in sharing their research and best treatment practices.

EU’S SEMI-COORDINATION

Over in Europe, the cooperation has been better, but still sub-par.

During the early stages of the outbreak in Italy, Germany and France started hoarding face masks and other protective gear instead of sending such items to where they were then most needed. Although this short-sighted practice has since stopped after the European Commission finally got its act together, Italy suffered heavily from a shortage of sufficient protective equipment at a critical time. China did more to support Italy with medical supplies than the country’s fellow European Union members.

In the economic sphere, the European Central Bank has, like the US Federal Reserve, launched a massive bond-buying programme. On the fiscal front, although individual EU countries are making their independent plans for expansionary policies, the EU has yet to come up with a concerted and coordinated fiscal stimulus. The danger is that if some countries act without regard to the effects of their policies on others, this would impact spreads on sovereign bonds, which might make it harder for governments of weaker EU economies like Italy and Spain – which happen to be the worst hit by the pandemic – to access finance from capital markets. A collective fiscal response from the EU would also boost confidence across Europe.

HELPING THE DEVELOPING WORLD

Looking beyond wealthy countries, the Covid-19 pandemic is now spreading in the developing world. Infections are rising in South and South-east Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America (https://ncov2019.live). Most countries in these regions – some of them heavily populated – have weak public health infrastructure and insufficient financial or medical resources to cope with full-blown epidemics. Many are also being hit by outsized commodity shocks as well as devastating declines in other sources of earnings such as tourism.

They will badly need help – some of them already do – but as yet, rich countries have offered them little or no support. Only China – which was the disease epicentre but seems to have managed to curtail the spread of the virus internally – has been proactive in sending help abroad, in terms of equipment and medical expertise.

With rich countries facing severe budgetary pressures of their own, the best hope for the developing world lies with international institutions. The IMF has activated its fast-disbursing emergency financing facilities to provide US$50 billion (S$72.4 billion) to developing countries, some of which will carry zero interest rates. It has also pledged to mobilise its US$1 trillion lending capacity to help its members.

Some economists, such as Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, suggest that the IMF should also provide liquidity support to developing countries by allocating to them more of its own currency called Special Drawing Rights – effectively creating money like the Federal Reserve does with quantitative easing. But that would call for international cooperation because it would need the approval of the IMF’s rich members.

The Federal Reserve could also lend a hand to emerging market economies, which are being hit by a dollar shortage. The Washington-based Institute of International Finance, which tracks global financial flows, recently reported that international investors withdrew about US$42 billion from emerging economies in January alone, the largest outflow ever recorded.

Faced with both currency crises as well as debt crises because of their dollar-denominated debts, these countries need urgent access to US dollar funding. The Fed has so far provided dollar swap facilities to just a handful of other central banks – mostly those of major economies. It needs to do the same for emerging economies.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is another institution that can help the developing world – and rich countries too – at this time. It has the ability to coordinate global public health responses and the expertise that especially poor countries rely on. But the WHO has had its budgets slashed in recent years at the behest of some its rich country members. As a result, its emergency response capabilities have been compromised, and many of its epidemic control experts have left the organisation.

Last month, the WHO called for US$675 million in donations so it could ramp up efforts to deal with the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, especially in the developing world. Singapore has responded promptly with a US$500,000 donation. Other donors, especially the US, the EU and Japan, must agree to replenish the WHO’s coffers.

A GLOBAL PUBLIC GOOD

Public health is, after all, a global public good. At no time is this more self-evident than the present. Viruses are the ultimate globetrotters, respecting no national boundaries and needing no passports or visas. One of the biggest lessons that the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us, even in its relatively early days, is how far-reaching and profound the consequences of an interconnected world can be.

Controlling a pandemic like this cannot be done without a global response. No country can wall it out if others don’t do the same. Any country that is not able to – regardless of its geography, ideology or political system – needs all the help it can get.

And it’s not just about providing financial support and medical equipment; it’s also about sharing knowledge. Every country will have something to learn and something to teach, which will benefit all. International cooperation is no longer optional. It has become indispensable.

There are glimmers of hope. Finance ministers and central bankers from the G-20 recently held a video conference where they pledged to coordinate their responses to the Covid-19 pandemic – although nothing specific was revealed and there was no joint statement. The G-20 leaders are expected to hold a virtual summit later this week. Hopefully they can match, in impact, what the London summit of 2009 managed to achieve.

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