China’s economy, now a bellwether, shows hints of recovery. Can it last?
China’s factories maintained a brisk pace last month, but Chinese consumers were slow to resume shopping, according to official statistics released on Friday.
Many countries have been watching China’s economic performance closely because it is several months ahead of the rest of the world in coping with the virus. The Chinese economy shrank in the first three months of this year for the first time since Mao Zedong died in 1976.
Factories caught up on orders that they had struggled to fill earlier this year, when the coronavirus pandemic raced across the country. The country’s industrial production was up 3.9 percent from April of last year, better than most economists expected. Production had been down 1.1 percent in March from a year earlier and had plunged in February, when the virus outbreak was at its worst in China.
But shopping and fixed asset investment stayed weak. Retail sales were down 7.5 percent in April compared to a year earlier, marginally worse than economists’ expectations.
“We should be aware that given the continuous spread of the epidemic abroad, the stability and recovery of the national economy is still faced with multiple challenges,” said Liu Aihua, the director general of the agency’s department of comprehensive statistics.
Strong exports kept factories busy last month. Many factories were catching up on orders placed while Chinese cities were locked down. But orders for further exports have stalled, according to surveys of purchasing managers.
Despite the progress, tens of millions of migrant workers are unemployed. Many white-collar workers have suffered pay cuts. Weak consumption has some economists wondering how long China can sustain an economic rebound.
The coronavirus pandemic has become a story of division: As the authorities in some places loosen restrictions, other areas are still deep in the throes of crisis. With the number of cases reaching 4.4 million globally and deaths topping 300,000, the effects of shutdowns — sometimes for better, sometimes for worse — are becoming increasingly evident.
In Southeast Asia, where traffic accidents are a major killer, lockdowns have lowered the number of deaths on the road as more people stay home. In India, record drops in the level of carbon emissions have been documented for the first time in decades.
In much of Australia, patrons were allowed to return to cafes and restaurants on Friday. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the changes were “a welcome sign that we are on the road back.”
But the lockdowns have also taken a serious toll on economies around the world. Germany, the biggest economy in Europe, said on Friday that it is essentially in an economic free fall, shrinking at the highest rate in more than a decade and leaving the country in recession.
The measures have also begun sowing unrest. Lockdowns set off protest movements from the United States to Spain, staged by residents unhappy with mandated limitations on movement and commerce. In one wealthy Madrid neighborhood, residents gathered on the street nightly this week to voice their discontent.
Sweden has sought to strike a delicate balance by keeping the economy open while also maintaining public health, but new data are shedding more light on just how ambitious and difficult it can be to achieve both goals at once.
“It is clear that mortality in Stockholm has been a lot higher than you would expect from a normal year,” said Martin Kolk, a demographer at Stockholm University. “But we will have to wait and see what happens.”
It was just two weeks ago that war-ravaged Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, reported its first cluster of coronavirus cases. Since then infections appear to have exploded, realizing the worst fears of aid groups.
Save the Children, the global charity, reported Thursday that at least 385 people had died over the past week with Covid 19-like symptoms in the city of Aden, where the first cluster — five cases — surfaced at the end of April.
Several hospitals in Aden have closed, and some medical workers have refused to work because of a lack of protective equipment, Save the Children said. The two main public hospitals are providing only emergency services, and are not admitting patients, it reported.
“Our teams on the ground are seeing how people are being sent away from hospitals, breathing heavily or even collapsing,” Mohammed Alshamaa, Save the Children’s director of programs in Yemen, said in a statement. “People are dying because they can’t get treatment that would normally save their lives.”
Earlier Thursday, U.N. officialsalso sounded the alarm. “Humanitarian agencies have every reason to believe that community transmission is taking place across the country,” said Ramesh Rajasingham, the acting deputy emergency relief coordinator.
The five-year war in Yemen and the nine-year one in Syria have combined with the pandemic to create especially dire challenges for vulnerable civilian populations, who are often displaced and have limited or no access to food and medical care.
The World Food Program, the anti-hunger agency of the United Nations, said on Twitter on Thursday that a record 9.3 million people in Syria are “food insecure” — meaning they regularly don’t have enough to eat. Spiraling prices and the coronavirus have “pushed families beyond their limits,” the agency said.
Slovenia became the first European country to declare an end to its national coronavirus epidemic on Friday, easing border crossings into the small Alpine country for residents of the European Union and announcing that classes in some schools and day care centers will resume as early as Monday.
“It’s a success, and we did it together,” Jelko Kacin, a government spokesman, said at a daily televised briefing on Friday.
The spread of the coronavirus in Slovenia is under control and there is no longer a need for extraordinary restrictions, the government said in a statement, but added that preventive measures such as social distancing and wearing masks in closed spaces would remain in place.
Slovenia moved quickly and early to introduce measures to stem the spread of the virus, with the government declaring a nationwide epidemic on March 12 and imposing tight restrictions on movement around the country as the disease ravaged neighboring Italy. The public has largely abided by the tough rules and the number of deaths and confirmed infections from the virus has remained comparatively low.
With the new announcement, citizens of E.U. countries can now freely cross into Slovenia at designated border crossings, the government said. But citizens outside the bloc will have a 14-day quarantine period after entry.
Earlier this month, the government began easing restrictions and lifted the ban on movement within the country. Last week, cafes, shops and museums reopened and public transportation resumed. Cultural events in theaters and concert halls will remain suspended at least until the end of the month.
But throughout the crisis, the right-wing government of Prime Minister Janez Jansa has faced criticism, with the opposition accusing him of exploiting the pandemic to silence critics, including the nation’s public broadcaster, and empower police.
The German economy suffered its worst contraction since the 2008 global financial crisis, shrinking by 2.2 percent in the January-March period from the previous quarter as the shutdown of activity to halt the spread of the coronavirus pummeled growth. Those figures, combined with a revision downward to the economic growth tally for the end of 2019, mean that Germany has entered a recession.
The German government, which reported the data on Friday, said the biggest hit came in March and will probably be worse in April, when consumer spending, capital investment and exports — a major driver of growth in Germany — fell off a cliff.
“Things will get worse before they get better,” Carsten Brzeski, the chief eurozone economist at ING, said in a note to clients.
While the worst of the pandemic is beginning to ease, with Germany and other countries slowly easing their lockdowns, Germany’s contraction was a reminder that even if the virus dissipates, the economic fallout could put pressure on the European and global economy for months or years. Germany is not only Europe’s largest economy, it is one of the most dynamic in the world.
Germany and its neighbors are spending hundreds of billions of euros in fiscal measures to stem the damage, and economists say more stimulus will be needed. Still, the huge fiscal support that Germany has provided to businesses and individuals, equal to around 30 percent of gross domestic product, could allow it to exit the economic crisis “earlier and stronger than most other countries,” Mr. Brzeski wrote.
Spain was devastated by a major outbreak of the coronavirus, one of the worst in Europe, that has led to at least 27,321 deaths. But this week, around half of the country moved ahead in a four-phase plan to ease lockdown restrictions by late June. The plan excludes some major cities, such as Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia, which are still under more strict restrictions.
Gatherings of groups are still banned, but the protesters have drawn support from opposition politicians, including the conservative leader of the Madrid region, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, who also warned this week that future protests would make the ones in the Salamanca neighborhood “look like a joke.”
José Luis Martínez-Almeida, the mayor of Madrid, said citizens had the right to protest in a functioning democracy, but he urged those gathering in Salamanca in the evenings to respect social distancing rules.
The residents are far from alone in feeling the pain of the two-month lockdown, but their protests have drawn criticism from those on the left, at a time when lines for food handouts have been growing in many of Spain’s poorer communities.
If the Salamanca protests were instead taking place in a less affluent neighborhood, “all these people would already be identified and fined” by the police, said Pablo Echenique, a lawmaker from the far-left Unidas Podemos party.
As public life begins again in Germany, face masks have become an essential accessory, required in schools, in museums, on public transportation and in most businesses.
Now a number of the country’s ubiquitous vending machines — Germany has nearly 580,000 — are being restocked to provide easy access to masks.
At least six leading vending machine operators are now offering masks and disinfectants in their machines.
“We recognized early on that there is a real need to obtain the most important hygiene articles quickly and easily in order to actively counteract the spread of the coronavirus,” Manuela Zimmermann, the head of Selecta Germany, a large operator that will restock 500 of its machines to carry masks and disinfectants. “Our machines are there, where the people are.”
A mask is 2 euros ($2.17) at a Selecta machine.
Holger Ballwanz, the director of a vending machine company in Berlin, has taken the idea one step further, introducing a tiny vending machine designed to just sell one item — face masks.
His company Flavura, which typically specializes in coffee vending machines, came up with a design he calls the Maskomat, which he says is easier to set up and maintain and takes up less space than a traditional vending machine.
“Imagine I get to the barber and realize I’ve forgotten my mask in the office,” he said in a telephone interview. “A barber could have one of those in the shop.”
Sweden’s coronavirus outbreak has been far deadlier than those of its neighbors, but the country is still better off than many others that enforced strict lockdowns.
By late March, nearly every country in Europe had closed schools and businesses, restricted travel, and ordered citizens to stay home. But one stood out for its decision to stay open: Sweden.
The New York Times measured the impact of the pandemic in Sweden by comparing the total number of people who have died in recent months to the average over the past several years. The totals include deaths from Covid-19, as well as those from other causes, including people who could not be treated or decided not to seek treatment.
In Stockholm, where the virus spread through migrant communities, more than twice the usual number of people died last month. That increase far surpasses the rise in deaths in American cities like Boston and Chicago, and approaches the increase seen in Paris.
Across Sweden, almost 30 percent more people died during the epidemic than is normal this time of year, an increase similar to that of the United States and far higher than the small increases seen in its neighboring countries. While Sweden is the largest country in Scandinavia, all have strong public health care systems and low health inequality across the population.
“It’s not a very flattering comparison for Sweden, which has such a great public health system,” said Andrew Noymer, a demographer at the University of California at Irvine. “There’s no reason Sweden should be doing worse than Norway, Denmark and Finland.”
Australians flocked to cafes and bars in much of the country on Friday, as new easing of lockdown measures came into play, a major step toward reopening the economy and a sign of confidence that the country has controlled its outbreak.
The shift was welcomed in Australia, where cafe and pub culture are integral to the national identity. In Sydney, for the first time in almost two months, patrons — separated by empty tables — could be seen socializing over coffee and food.
Elsewhere in the world, similar measures have begun. Earlier this week, Switzerland reopened its restaurants, among other public spaces, with non-family groups limited to four people and tables spaced two meters apart.
Austria on Friday reopened all cafes and restaurants. Restaurants in much of Germany, including Berlin, will open Friday evening for the first time in two months, though with a long list of restrictions.
The effort in Australia was part of the government’s three-step plan to revive the economy by July, with individual states and territories determining their own timelines for reopening.
“It is a welcome sign that we are on the road back,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday.
Much of the country enacted the first stage on Friday, allowing bars and cafes to reopen, with a limit of 10 patrons. Up to five people will be allowed to visit households and up to 10 can gather in public spaces.
Schools, outdoor gyms and playgrounds also reopened. Limited regional travel was allowed in some states, but stronger restrictions still remain in the state of Victoria, including the city of Melbourne.
Australia has so far been spared the worst of the pandemic, with only 7,017 confirmed cases of the coronavirus through Friday, and about 20 new cases per day. As of Friday, 98 people had died from Covid-19.
Countries across East Africa have introduced some of the strictest measures on the continent to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, with movement between provinces halted in Rwanda, counties in Kenya locked down, and all but essential businesses shuttered in Uganda.
But the tally of confirmed coronavirus cases continues to grow in the region. Transmissions from long-haul truck drivers are now being cited as one of the ways that are spreading the disease quickly, and new figures show they are likely to be carrying the virus across borders.
The drivers are considered essential workers because they transport food and medicine across borders. They are particularly crucial in delivering much-needed goods to landlocked countries like Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda.
To mitigate the spread of the virus on truck routes, governments have begun widespread testing at border areas. Officials across the region have said they are working together to ensure that truck drivers don’t become the weak link in the region’s fight against the virus.
Through earthquakes and typhoons, floods and political turmoil, Fe Repalde knew she could count on one constant: Her tiny, flickering television was always tuned to ABS-CBN, one of the most influential networks in the Philippines.
But on May 5, amid the coronavirus lockdown that has kept slum dwellers bound to their shacks, Ms. Repalde’s television went dark as President Rodrigo Duterte effectively shut down the broadcasting giant.
Gone were basketball highlights and juicy soap operas. Most of all, the newscasters and reporters of the news program “TV Patrol” had been silenced, just when a pandemic has made information an essential commodity.
Human Rights Watch said the closing “reeks of a political vendetta.”
Morgan Ortagus, the spokeswoman for the State Department, said Washington was “concerned by the situation regarding ABS-CBN.”
“An independent media also helps keep our society safe and healthy, particularly in light of the Covid-19 pandemic we currently face,” she said.
The blackout is the first time that ABS-CBN has gone off the air since 1986, when a popular revolt toppled the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Eugenio Lopez Jr., ABS-CBN’s former chairman, was jailed by Marcos, but he eventually escaped and fled to the United States, where he galvanized other exiled activists to campaign for a return to democracy in the Philippines.
Selda, a group of activists who were tortured during Marcos’s martial law era, said Mr. Duterte, a self-confessed admirer of the dictator, was following the same playbook.
Coronavirus lockdowns across Southeast Asia are reaping an unexpected benefit: safer roads in a region where road fatalities are a leading killer.
In Thailand, where road accidents last year killed more than 21,000 people, many on motorcycles, such deaths were down by roughly half in April, according to the Road Safety Commission.
During the first month of the lockdown in Malaysia, road accidents and deaths decreased by about two-thirds, according to the Traffic Enforcement and Investigation Department.
And in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, the roads are much safer now than they were pre-lockdown, according to the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority. Under a strict lockdown that is in place until at least the end of this month, only essential vehicles — ambulances, police cars and motorcycle delivery operators — are allowed on the streets.
Canceled festivities, such as curtailed New Year’s celebrations in Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar in April, have also cut road deaths. Fewer people carousing and driving while drunk means safer roads.
Several countries in Southeast Asia have relatively low rates of confirmed coronavirus cases. In Thailand, road deaths remain a bigger killer than the pandemic, according to official data.
The decision trees are mostly composed of basic tips that can serve as a checklist for businesses before they reopen.
The public release of the guidance on Thursday follows a tumultuous back-and-forth between the C.D.C. and the White House. Trump administration officials had sent back the C.D.C.’s initial recommendations, arguing that they were too prescriptive and rigid when the density of confirmed coronavirus cases can fluctuate widely from state to state, and even county to county. Some federal agencies also said the draft guidelines could harm businesses and the economy.
Notably absent from the six decision trees released on Thursday was any mention of houses of worship, which had been a particularly contentious point in the C.D.C. guidance that was rejected.
Reporting was contributed by Barbara Surk, Christopher F. Schuetze, Abdi Latif Dahir, Raphael Minder, Liz Alderman, Megan Specia, Allison McCann, Lauren Leatherby, Isabella Kwai, Hannah Beech, Rick Gladstone, Jason Gutierrez, Knvul Sheikh, Keith Bradsher, Jacey Fortin, Jack Ewing and Roni Caryn Rabin.