Trust Becomes Another Casualty of Pandemic

Alan Crawford

(Bloomberg) --

Checking the latest tally of the sick and the dead has become a gruesome routine around the world, a key gauge of both fear and hope during the pandemic.

But what if the statistics are misleading?

The U.S. intelligence community has concluded China concealed the extent of the coronavirus outbreak, with implications for how the world could have prepared for the spread of Covid-19, Nick Wadhams and Jennifer Jacobs report.

China, which has reimposed a lockdown on a county amid a virus flare-up, pushed back against suggestions its public reporting is intentionally incomplete, accusing the U.S. of seeking to shift the blame for its own outbreak.

Beijing is not alone. Doubts have been raised over official figures in Iran and Russia, while North Korea’s absence of a single coronavirus infection stretches the boundaries of believability. Even in Germany, there are discrepancies between cases reported and the higher figures compiled by Johns Hopkins, potentially confusing the public.

Testing regimes and accuracy vary wildly, with the U.K. government under pressure over its inability to explain its strategy. In the U.S., a lack of testing means the true number of cases may be far higher than the official count. With the prospect of a surge in deaths, the Pentagon is seeking to provide as many as 100,000 military-style body bags.

At heart, the pandemic raises questions of trust in governments. Some are already failing that test.

Global Headlines

Taxing talks | Some of the most contested elements of the 2017 tax overhaul are being revisited as the White House and Congress begin to discuss another round of economic stimulus.

The lobbying blitz over the record aid package President Donald Trump signed last week is forcing small businesses to confront the harsh reality that they can’t match the muscle that big corporations wield. Trump said his administration is weighing whether to halt domestic flights from some of the hardest-hit U.S. cities — including New York and Miami — but is wary of further harming airlines.

Flickers of hope | There are cautious signs the crisis may be peaking at the epicenter of Europe’s outbreak. The death rate is easing in Italy as growth in new cases moderates. While daily fatalities are still rising in Spain and the U.K., the virus appears to be spreading more slowly in Germany, the Netherlands and other countries amid Europe’s unprecedented lockdown. Still, health officials warn it’s too early to lift restrictions.

Greece’s experience of a debilitating economic shock may be instructive for other European democracies wrestling with the contraction caused by the coronavirus, Nikos Chrysoloras and Sotiris Nikas report.

Bargain buyer | China is taking advantage of the epic oil-price crash by moving forward with plans to build up its emergency reserves. Beijing has asked government agencies to coordinate filling tanks and using financial tools like options to lock in cheaper crude prices, according to people familiar with the matter. Meanwhile, the cost of shipping oil from the U.S. to China has skyrocketed as a price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia spurs a rush for vessels.

Public shaming | As countries grapple with enforcing virus lockdowns, in some cases authorities are beating people who flout curfew-like restrictions, or forcing them to do squats, push-ups, crawl and roll around on the streets. While most cases of over-zealous policing have been condemned by local officials, the episodes raise concern about vulnerable populations unable to socially distance due to overcrowded living conditions.

Spurning China | One European mayor has become a symbol of the skepticism that Beijing will have to overcome as it offers help to a continent ravaged by a pandemic that began on Chinese soil. Karen Leigh and Lenka Ponikelska report on how Prague’s Zdenek Hrib, who has repeatedly irked China by meeting dissidents and criticizing its human rights record, says the proffered aid is “business,” not a humanitarian gesture.

What to Watch

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization holds its first-ever ministerial meeting by video conference today as a result of the coronavirus, which is also the main topic on the agenda. The United Nations postponed the COP26 climate-change summit scheduled for November in Scotland to 2021 as rounds of preliminary talks for one of the world’s largest gatherings of diplomats grew increasingly difficult amid lockdowns. Trump says he’s deploying more Navy vessels and Air Force planes in the Caribbean to ramp up pressure on drug cartels, a move that’s also meant to increase strain on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s regime.

Tell us how we’re doing or what we’re missing at balancepower@bloomberg.net.

And finally ... One battle that has been lost as a result of the pandemic is over screen time. With stay-in-place orders forcing children to study at home, while their parents often work nearby, restrictions on time using computers, tablets and game consoles playing Fortnite and Minecraft has fallen by the wayside. As Helene Fouquet and Sarah Frier report, the big worry now is the change will outlast the quarantine.

 

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