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France, Germany move towards lockdown as cases rise
The two most populous countries in the European Union have entered a second period of lockdown as coronavirus cases across the continent continue to rise sharply.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday announced new restrictions that would close most public spaces, but keep shops, churches and schools open. France has gone further, reviving the strict lockdown measures that were lifted this summer, with a respite: schools will remain open this time around.
France is the second European country to return to a full-scale lockdown after Ireland announced similar measures earlier this month. French President Emmanuel Macron said the measures were necessary as the spread of the virus is accelerating at a rate that “even the most pessimistic forecasts did not anticipate”. The French Federation of Hospitals, which represents 4,800 hospitals, welcomed the decision, calling it “the only solution”.
On the other side of the pond. In the United States, US President Donald Trump mocked lockdowns at a rally in Arizona and warned that Joe Biden would make matters worse. “If you vote for Joe Biden, that means no kids in school, no degrees, no weddings, no thanks, no Christmas and no July 4th together,” Trump said. “Other than that, you will have a wonderful life. I don’t see anyone, but it’s okay.
The American outlook is no better than in France and Germany. The United States has recorded more than 80,000 new cases of coronavirus three times in the past week. Even during the previous peak in confirmed cases in July, the highest one-day total was around 79,000.
The image of the market. The S&P 500 Index fell 3.5% on Wednesday, its biggest drop since June 11 following the spike in cases in the United States. The European STOXX 600 index fell by almost 3%.
The United States should brace for more stimulating news today, as the Bureau of Economic Analysis releases its first estimate of U.S. GDP for the third quarter of 2020, while the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases weekly data on the unemployment.
What we are tracking today
Five more days. US President Donald Trump is hosting rallies in North Carolina and Florida today, while Vice President Mike Pence is in Iowa and Nevada. Democratic candidate Joe Biden heads to Florida, with stops in Tampa and Broward County. His running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, will organize a virtual rally alongside Senator Bernie Sanders. Three out of five national polls released on Wednesday show Biden leading Trump in double digits.
To learn more about Election 2020 and its international implications, read FP’s in-depth coverage here.
Brexit trade negotiations end. Chief negotiators from the EU and UK are expected to conclude a week of in-person talks in London today, with press conferences expected on whether the two sides are closer to resolving the trade negotiations. According to information released by Bloomberg, joint work has started on the text of a level playing field, and a state aid deal is also near.
No more discussions on Nagorno-Karabakh. Representatives from Russia, France and the United States will meet with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan today in Geneva to advance peace talks between the two sides following the collapse of a third ceasefire, signed only last weekend. The talks come as both sides say civilians have been targeted by enemy shelling in recent days.
The United States is trying to block the candidate for the WTO. Former Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s status as the next alleged director general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is under threat after his candidacy was questioned by the United States, which supports South Korean Minister of Commerce Yoo Myung-hee.
The US objection sparked consternation with other WTO member states during a conference call Wednesday, with other countries questioning the US commitment to the organization. The Director General of the WTO is traditionally chosen by consensus, which means that any of the 164 member countries can block a candidate if they wish. However, opposition from the United States so late in the process prompted the WTO to consider a democratic vote for the first time. If such a vote were to take place, Okonjo-Iweala would likely win solidly.
Write in Foreign police in May, Phil Levy and Chad P. Brown argued that a US departure from the WTO would be a big mistake.
Explosion in a Venezuelan oil refinery. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced that the Anuay oil refinery suffered a terrorist attack on Wednesday in which a “long and powerful weapon” had been used. The explosion in a distillation unit occurred while oil production was halted and no injuries were reported. Maduro added that the alleged attack is not expected to cripple the country’s energy needs and that he has enough in reserve for 20 days of consumption.
Refugee admissions to the United States at an all time high. The number of refugees admitted to the United States in the coming year will be at its lowest level in modern times, after the White House announced that only 15,000 refugees would be allowed to settle in the country next year. . According to a White House memo, 5,000 of those places will go to refugees of religious persecution, 4,000 are reserved for refugees from Iraq who have helped the United States and 1,000 for refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and from Honduras; 5,000 slots remain open, although refugees from Somalia, Syria and Yemen are banned unless they can meet special humanitarian criteria.
The future of U.S. refugee policy hangs in Tuesday’s vote: Former Vice President Joe Biden pledged to increase annual refugee admissions to 125,000, while the Guardian reports that a second Trump administration would seek to reduce those admissions to zero.
With humans mostly inside, a vulnerable species of sea turtle thrives. A conservation group made up of the indigenous Seri people of northern Mexico reported releasing a record number of olive ridley turtles in the Gulf of California – more than 2,250 in all. In a normal year, only 500 baby turtles would make it to the ocean. Restrictions on tourism and fishing due to the coronavirus pandemic are believed to have helped keep more turtle nests intact.
That’s all for today.
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Image credit: Christophe Simon / AFP