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Morning Brief

Senate Passes Stimulus as U.S. Death Toll Reaches 1,000

The Senate bill provides massive economic support for U.S. businesses and workers as coronavirus cases continue to rise.

The US Capitol Building on March 25, 2020, in Washington, DC.
The US Capitol Building on March 25, 2020, in Washington, DC.

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The U.S. Senate passes a massive stimulus bill, a U.S. hostage has died in Iran, and Spain’s coronavirus death toll is now the world’s second highest.

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Senate Passes $2.2 Trillion Coronavirus Bill

Late Wednesday night the U.S. Senate passed the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history, almost tripling the $800 billion stimulus package passed in reaction the 2008 financial crisis. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives. U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that he would sign the bill “immediately.”

The bill includes $1,200 for individuals earning up to $75,000, $100 billion for health care providers, and $58 billion for the U.S. airline industry. It would also include $2,400 per month for up to four months to the unemployed.

By far the largest portion of the bill, $500 billion, goes to industry loans that corporations, cities, and states can apply for. Democrats had initially fought this portion, but agreed when provisions for more independent oversight of the fund were added.

Can the U.S. economy bounce back? It’s too early to know for the United States, but the health of China’s economy could point the way, as it appears to be over the worst of its coronavirus outbreak. The so-called “V-shaped” recovery isn’t a sure thing, but reports of life ticking back to normal in China show that a quick return isn’t impossible. Foreign Policy’s Keith Johnson has more from economic analysts on whether China holds the key to predicting the economic future of the United States and Europe.

How much worse can the coronavirus epidemic get in the U.S.? If the sharp uptick in cases continues, the United States is on track to become the number one most-infected country worldwide. At the time of writing, there were 1,032 deaths. In New York, the virus epicenter in the United States with over 30,000 cases and 366 deaths, projections for hospitalizations doubling have changed from every two days to every 4.7 days, signaling that severe cases may be slowing.


What We’re Following Today

G-20 leaders meet. G-20 leaders will meet today for a videoconference summit to discuss measures to address the coronavirus pandemic. According to White House staffers, a key U.S. goal will be to convince Saudi Arabia to halt the overproduction of oil that has hurt U.S. producers. A meeting with G-7 foreign ministers yesterday ended without a joint statement after other leaders would not agree on U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s designation of COVID-19 as the “Wuhan virus.”

U.S. hostage dies in Iran. The former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared in Iran 13 years ago, has died in Iranian custody, according to his family. The family said that his death appeared to have occurred before the coronavirus pandemic. They claimed they had recently received information from U.S. officials that led them to conclude he had died. Levinson, the longest-held hostage in U.S. history, disappeared in 2007 on the Iranian island of Kish.

Islamic State claim Sikh compound attack. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for killing 25 people in an attack on a Sikh temple compound in Kabul yesterday. Afghan security forces responded to the attack and killed all the intruders, according to the Afghan government.

Boko Haram attacks in Chad. Nearly 100 Chadian soldiers were killed yesterday in an ambush staged by Boko Haram militants in the village of Boma in the country’s west. “I have taken part in many operations … but never in our history have we lost so many men at one time,” President Idriss Deby said on a visit to the attack site. It’s the second Islamist attack in the region this week after militants killed 70 Nigerian soldiers on Tuesday.

Prince Charles infected. Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, has tested positive for the coronavirus. His wife, Camilla, has tested negative. Charles is now self-isolating and working from “home” at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, according to royal sources. He is the latest in a string of high profile figures and world leaders to contract the virus, and Foreign Policy is keeping a track of them all here.

Israeli Knesset speaker quits. The speaker of Israel’s parliament Yuli Edelstein has resigned his post amid a battle with the country’s Supreme Court. The court on Monday set a deadline for Wednesday at midnight for Edelstein to convene a vote on a new speaker. As his resignation takes 48 hours to apply, he has effectively defied the court’s ruling already. In a statement, Edelstein said, “I have no desire to be in contempt of court but my conscience does not allow me to respect the court’s order.” Edelstein’s departure now makes it easier for the Blue and White party’s bloc, which appears to hold a tenuous majority, to pursue its legislative agenda.


Keep an Eye On

Bolsonaro condemns local officials. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro continues to rail against coronavirus measures being taken in his country, as local officials take preparedeness into their own hands. “Other viruses have killed many more than this one and there wasn’t all this commotion,” Bolsonaro told journalists, “What a few mayors and governors are doing is a crime. They’re destroying Brazil.” Augusto Heleno, Brazil’s national security adviser, who tested positive for COVID-19, has broken his 14-day quarantine after just one week and returned to work.

Turkey indicts 20 on Khashoggi killing. Turkey has charged 20 Saudi nationals in connection with the “deliberate and monstrous killing” killing of Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018. The list of those indicted includes former Saudi Deputy Head of Intelligence Ahmad Asiri. Agnes Callamard , the United Nations rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, welcomed the news, calling it a “counter balance to the travesty of justice at the hands of Saudi Arabia.”

Spain’s death toll surpasses China’s. Spain is now the second country, after Italy, to surpass China in the number of deaths related to the coronavirus. Spain has recorded just under 50,000 cases, 27,000 of which are undergoing hospital care. Spain has now recorded 3,647 deaths from COVID-19, Italy has the highest death toll at 7,503.

Coral bleaching continues. The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia has suffered its third mass bleaching event in the past five years, according to an aerial survey by Terry Hughes of James Cook Univeristy. Experts blame global warming. Corals bleach when they sit in waters that are unusually hot for too long. Further surveys in the coming days will determine whether the bleaching matches the extent of record events in 2016 and 2017, when about half the shallow water corals were killed off.

Malaysia gloves in short supply. Malaysia produces three out of every five pairs of medical gloves worldwide, and manufacturers there are struggling to meet coronavirus-related demand. A combination of factors: a debilitated workforce, stringent new health requirements, and supply chain shutdowns mean medical practitioners could soon find themselves short of equipment. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said earlier this month that certain gloves could be reused beyond their shelf life.

Putin delays. Citing coronavirus concerns, Russian President Vladimir Putin has postponed a constitutional referendum that, if passed, would keep Putin in power until 2036. “The absolute priority for us is the health, life and safety of people. Therefore I believe that the vote should be postponed until a later date,” Putin said. The new date has not yet been announced. Russia has so far recorded 658 coronavirus cases.


Odds and Ends

A surge in applications from homebound New Yorkers has led to a shortage in dogs to adopt and foster. A similar trend has emerged in Los Angeles, where the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals noted a 70 percent increase in animals entering foster care. “For the moment we definitely don’t have any dogs left to match” with foster homes, said Anna Lai, of Muddy Paws Rescue, “Which is a great problem to have.”


That’s it for today.

For more from FP, visit foreignpolicy.com, subscribe here, or sign up for our other newsletters. Send your tips, comments, questions, or corrections to morningbrief@foreignpolicy.com.

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

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