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Is the United States the Coronavirus Pandemic’s New Epicenter?

As the World Health Organization says the U.S. has the potential to become pandemic epicenter, Trump touts opening up the country by Easter.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
U.S. President Donald Trump participates in a Fox News virtual town hall at the White House on March 24 in Washington, D.C.
U.S. President Donald Trump participates in a Fox News virtual town hall at the White House on March 24 in Washington, D.C.

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: WHO warns virus epicenter could move to United States, India enters lockdown, and the Nigerian military suffers a deadly ambush.

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: WHO warns virus epicenter could move to United States, India enters lockdown, and the Nigerian military suffers a deadly ambush.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Trump Sees ‘Light at End of Tunnel’ as WHO Says Pandemic Epicenter Could Shift To U.S.

During a White House briefing, U.S. President Donald Trump said he can “see the light at the end of the tunnel” as the United States battles its coronavirus epidemic. Trump said he hoped to relax coronavirus restrictions fully soon and “would love to have the country opened up, and just raring to go, by Easter.” Easter Sunday takes place on April 12.

On the same day, Margaret Harris, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization said that the United States has the potential to be the next epicenter of the coronavirus, citing the dramatic increase in cases. The number of cases in the United States has surged from 7,800 cases a week ago to 53,268 cases today.

As the White House remains preoccupied with the health of the U.S. economy, eyes have turned to a pending stimulus deal. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose more than 11 percent yesterday in anticipation of a multi-trillion dollar agreement, its biggest one day gain since 1933.

Will stimulus be enough to keep the U.S. economy afloat? For some experts, stimulus is only one necessary measure among many, “The answer is we need no evictions, no foreclosures on all properties, and the government should guarantee pay,” Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz told Foreign Policy’s Michael Hirsh. Other advanced countries have taken on ambitious pay guarantees for workers: The United Kingdom announced it would cover 80 percent of salaries, and the Danish government has announced similar measures.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel? New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose state is the worst hit, doesn’t think so. Citing new estimates that put the peak infection rate at least two weeks away as “troubling and astronomical numbers,” he reported that the rate of new coronavirus cases is doubling every three days. Cuomo asked the federal government for support in procuring medical equipment, especially ventilators.

What We’re Following Today

Israel’s parliament faces speaker deadline. Israel’s Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein faces a deadline imposed by Israel’s Supreme Court to elect a new speaker by tonight. Edelstein, a member of the Likud party, has refused to hold a vote since Israel last elected a new parliament on March 2. Reports in Israeli media suggest that Edelstein might quit rather than hold the vote as he faces pressure from some lawmakers within his own party not to flout the ruling. The standoff between the court and the legislature has plunged Israel into a dual crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a paralyzed political system, Neri Zilber argues in FP.

Islamists ambush Nigerian forces. Islamist militants killed 70 Nigerian soldiers in an ambush in the village of Gorgi in the north of the country. According to Reuters sources, the attack involved rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weaponry. Nigerian military spokesman Sagir Musa confirmed the attack, but has disputed the death toll.

Kosovo government on edge. Kosovo’s parliament will vote today on a motion of no confidence in Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s government as a dispute between parties threatens to bring down the ruling coalition. Tensions flared when Kurti fired Interior Minister Agim Veliu after Veliu publicly called for a state of emergency in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, a measure Kurti opposed. Kosovo has confirmed 63 COVID-19 cases, with one death reported.

Keep an Eye On

India on lockdown. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day lockdown of the country’s 1.3 billion residents. Although India has only recorded 536 cases of COVID-19 so far, that number is tracing a steep trajectory as more testing takes place. Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said that cases in India could be 10 or 20 times higher than reported.

EU expansion talks to begin. Talks to allow North Macedonia and Albania to join the European Union are set to begin after EU ministers approved the move on Tuesday. A date for the beginning of talks has not yet been set, but is expected to be toward the end of 2020.

Italy cases could be undercounted. Angelo Borrelli, the head of Italy’s Civil Protection Agency, responsible for giving accurate data on the country’s coronavirus epidemic, has said that cases of COVID-19 may be dramatically undercounted by a factor of 10, “A ratio of one certified case out of every 10 is credible,” he said. Italy has seen yet another spike in its daily death rate, after more than 700 people perished on Tuesday. Italy—with over 6,800 fatalities, more than double the number in China—has suffered the most deaths of any country.

Greece pushed to help island refugees at risk of coronavirus. Heeding calls from members of the European Parliament, the European Union has asked Greece to get those most vulnerable to coronavirus away from its crowded island refugee camps. Home Affairs Commisioner Ylva Johansson said plans are in progress, “We are working together with the Greek government and the Greek authorities to agree on an emergency plan to help reduce the risk as much as possible in the overcrowded hotspots on the islands,” she said. The EU promised to remove 1,600 unaccompanied children from the island camps at the beginning of the month and has yet to do so.

Odds and Ends

If you are lucky enough to be working from home and have entertained the idea of exercise only to put it off until tomorrow, here is some inspiration. Elisha Nochomovitz, a French restaurant worker, has run a marathon on his balcony using GPS to track the distance. Nochomovitz’s balcony spans 23 feet and he estimates it took him 3,000 laps to conquer the 26.2 mile marathon length in a less-than-Olympian time of 6 hours and 48 minutes. Nochomovitz dedicated his unique run to “all caregivers on the front lines against this virus.”

That’s it for today. 

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

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