Foreign Affairs

Overseas wrap: Lockdown fatigue setting in

Tempers fray in Italy, Spain as lockdown fatigue sets in; Trump reveals modelling of up to 240,000 US deaths; US stocks slump on death fears and awful factory output stats

Death fears dominate: US President Donald Trump warned of up to 240,000 deaths from Covid-19 in the world's biggest economy, and started telling US citizens that the lockdown was a matter of life and death, rather than a problem for the economy.

Stocks slump again: US stocks fell more than four percent in late trade on the modelling news and on statistics showing a crash in industrial output in America. (Reuters)

Italy toughens lockdown but there are signs of resistance and anger: Italy had a slowing rate of death and at the same time ratcheted up the lockdown, reporting 727 daily deaths, the lowest rise for a week, but in the epicenter in Lombardy cases and deaths were up. (The Guardian).

Tempers fraying: Italy extended the lockdown to April 13 but the are signs people are getting restive and the health minister urged his countrymen to be patient and see that the lockdown was working.

'A long battle': “Experts say we are on the right track and the drastic measures we have taken are starting to yield results,” health minister, Roberto Speranza said, but warning: it would be “unforgivable to assume this was a definitive defeat” of Covid-19 and it would be “a long battle”. (The Guardian).

Out of money and angry:  Every government - including New Zealand -- will be watching this development, reported by The Guardian, that some people in Italy are blaming the government and getting toey.

Quote du jour: “They are no longer singing or dancing on the balconies,” said Salvatore Melluso, a priest at Caritas Diocesana di Napoli, a church-run charity in Naples. “Now people are more afraid – not so much of the virus, but of poverty. Many are out of work and hungry. There are now long queues at food banks.”

Lockdown fatigue: As they were for the spread of the disease, Italy and Spain may be early indicators of how long citizens are prepared to put up with lockdown as they watch their jobs go and savings evaporate, The Financial Times reports in a notable piece on "lockdown fatigue".

Empty pantries: “We don’t have any more money!” a man screamed at police in the southern city of Bari, the FT reported. “You should come to my house and see my kitchen, it's completely empty,” his partner shouted. “You are disgusting! The state is disgusting!”

Vigilantes and nosey parkers: In Spain, police have issued 100,000 notifications for breaches of the lockdown and local police, the civil guard and military are patrolling towns and cities. As in New Zealand and the UK, there's a notable phenomenon of neighbors informing on neighbours and if not vigilantism then nosey parkerism.

He went there: The FT's Africa editor, David Pilling, has a valuable commentary suggesting the lockdown may be worse for poor countries than the disease itself -- a risky tightrope to go on for a journalist.

Groupthink? From the mass migrations of redundant workers in India, to strict shutdowns in South Africa before a single death was recorded and on to Brazil, it is the poor paying the biggest price, he writes: "In an era of groupthink, in which not to impose a lockdown risks accusations of mass killing, it is at least worth posing the question. Even if leaders such as Mr Modi or Mr Ramaphosa hold private doubts, their instincts for political survival might force them onward. No one is likely to lose support for being too tough on coronavirus."

UK and US struggle with disease and politics: Britain, as you would expect at this stage, reported its highest number of daily deaths at 563 in the day -- 31 percent higher than the day before. (The Guardian) While there's praise and public support for health workers, testing is lagging and the government is struggling to keep its story straight, leading to suspicion it is still relying on a discredited "herd immunity" strategy in which millions would get infected and many vulnerable people die in the pursuit of large-scale immunity. (The Guardian).

Just not cricket. Or tennis: As if that wasn't enough, the Wimbledon tennis tournament has been cancelled.

Numbers tell a complex, incomplete, story: Italy's death toll eased off again overnight (having popped up the day before), but it's important not to extrapolate too much from the "big numbers" because of the exponential nature of the spread and the poor nature of testing in many countries -- not just the developing world but also the UK and United States.

Almost a million: Globally, that million cases we talked about before is close, with 905,279 cases reported on the Johns Hopkins University tracker. Deaths total 44,264 as of early this morning New Zealand time. These are deaths which might not otherwise have occurred now, hence the crisis in health care. US cases are 190,740 and you have to expect that to start going through the doubling phase we've read so much about. Globally, again, 185,541 people have recovered.

China hiding true extent, US alleges: In a report which gets at one of the other suspicions about the coronavirus data from the start, Bloomberg reports that US intelligence officials say China concealed the extent of the outbreak and deaths and it suggests it may be continuing to do so. That's despite the World Health Organisation and others having praised the speed at which China disclosed the outbreak in Wuhan and cooperated to combat it, including decoding and sharing its genome.

'Does not compute': Deborah Birx, the State Department immunologist, who frequently addresses the nation in President Donald Trump's briefings, said that the spread elsewhere - such as Italy and Spain -- suggested data others had relied on from China may not have given the full picture: “The medical community...interpreted the Chinese data as: 'This was serious, but smaller than anyone expected. Because I think probably we were missing a significant amount of the data, now that what we see happened to Italy and see what happened to Spain.”

Now Trump gets it: In the United States, the warnings of much worse to come now come from the top with President Trump shifting his rhetoric yet again: “Our country is in the midst of a great national trial unlike any it has ever faced before...This is going to be a very painful — very, very painful two weeks." (The Washington Post)

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