Morning Brief

Italy’s Coronavirus Death Toll Surpasses China’s

The number of deaths from Italy’s outbreak now exceeds those in China, as the number of new cases also jumped.

A picture taken on March 19, 2020 shows office lights of the Lombardy region headquarters in Milan, reading the Italian words 'State a Casa' (Stay home) during the country's lockdown aimed at stopping the spread of the new coronavirus pandemic.
A picture taken on March 19, 2020 shows office lights of the Lombardy region headquarters in Milan, reading the Italian words 'State a Casa' (Stay home) during the country's lockdown aimed at stopping the spread of the new coronavirus pandemic. Miguel Medina / AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Italy’s coronavirus death toll is now world’s highest as China announces no new locally-transmitted cases, NATO scales down defense exercises, and more world leaders test positive.

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Italy Overtakes China as Worst-Hit Country

Italy’s death toll from its coronavirus epidemic has now reached 3,405, eclipsing the 3,245 coronavirus-related deaths in China, now the world’s second highest. Although Italy registered fewer deaths than the day before, it announced over 5,000 new cases on Thursday.

How is Italy dealing with its coronavirus outbreak? Health care systems in Italy are reported to be at a breaking point, with hospitals having to turn away patients for lack of space. 

As the crisis has worsened, Italy has enforced ever more stringent controls on its population. On Thursday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced Italy’s lockdown would now extend past the original April 3 deadline, with no new end date mentioned. Italians are only allowed leave their homes to buy food or medicine. Police have already cited 43,000 people for breaking the new rules.

Attilio Fontana, the regional governor of Lombardy—where the coronavirus has hit hardest, has said that medical efforts are struggling to keep up. “We will soon be unable to give a response to those who fall ill,” he said, while urging residents to stay at home.

In the town of Bergamo, an Italian daily newspaper reported a convoy of military trucks being used to transport coffins to cremation sites as morgues struggle to cope.

Can the EU do more? Italy’s Prime Minister thinks so. Speaking to the Financial Times he urged EU leaders to open up the 500 billion-euro bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), “The route to follow is to open ESM credit lines to all member states to help them fight the consequences of the Covid-19 epidemic,” Conte said.

Will the European Central Bank intervention work? Foreign Policy’s Keith Johnson spoke to fiscal experts following the bank’s 750 billion-euro fix, announced late Wednesday night. While the move may have averted short-term pain, more economic damage could be on the horizon.

What We’re Following Today

European leaders test positive. Prince Albert of Monaco and Michel Barnier, the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, both announced positive coronavirus tests on Thursday, the latest in a string of high-profile figures to contract COVID-19. Foreign Policy is keeping track of the world leaders who have been struck by the coronavirus with a running list, updated daily.

China reaches coronavirus milestone. Officials from China’s National Health Commission announced a major milestone on Thursday: no new locally transmitted cases of the coronavirus in the country—a first since the pandemic began in Hubei province. Officials did announce 34 new confirmed cases, however they said all were from overseas travelers.

Amazon workers protest conditions. Amazon workers have mounted protests across the globe, including France, Spain, and the United States as workers both bear the load of increased demand from a housebound public and deal with coronavirus cases within their warehouse centers.

On Wednesday, an Amazon facility in Queens, New York, was cleared out for sanitation after a worker there tested positive for the coronavirus. Writing in Foreign Policy, James Bloodworth says that despite worker unrest, Amazon is one of the few companies that will emerge from the pandemic with even more power than before.

Keep an Eye On

G-7 moved to video conference. The G-7 Summit, planned for Camp David in June, has been canceled over coronavirus fears. The White House announced it would instead host a video conference with the group’s leaders. The location of the summit caused controversy in October when it was originally slated to take place at a property owned by U.S. President Donald Trump.

NATO scales down exercises. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance will be reducing its military exercises in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. army has already said it would scale back the exercise Defender Europe 20, a division-sized deployment of forces that would have represented the largest movement of U.S. forces to Europe in 25 years. Stoltenberg said that the crisis was not a reason for member states to cut military spending, citing the need for the military’s help in combating the virus.

ASEAN summit postponed. The summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been postponed, according to a statement from Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Vietnam was due to host the meeting of regional and international leaders, but has now pushed it back until the end of June. Vietnam introduced mandatory quarantines for all visitors from the United States, Europe, and ASEAN countries on March 17.

Chile pushes back referendum. Lawmakers in Chile have agreed to postpone a much-anticipated referendum on a new constitution, originally scheduled for April 26. The drive for a new constitution stemmed from months of protests in 2019. The decision to postpone the vote comes as Chile grapples with the coronavirus outbreak; there are confirmed 342 cases in the country, with no deaths so far.

Odds and Ends

After supply chain worries over Brexit forced the United Kingdom to consider a world without toilet paper, it’s now the Netherlands’ turn to panic. Toilet paper has been one of the items most coveted among coronavirus-era shoppers, as worries about store shutdowns drive ever more panicked behavior. Never fear, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte assured his population on Thursday, toilet paper is still plentiful in the country, “There’s enough in the whole country for the coming 10 years,” he said. “We can all poop for 10 years.”

That’s it for today. 

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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