Merkel and Macron pitch a ‘one-off’ borrowing plan to help Europe’s hardest-hit countries.
Faced with economic calamity and the threat of the coronavirus further fracturing the European Union, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany on Monday broke with decades of German economic orthodoxy and agreed to back the idea of collective European debt to help those countries that have been hit hardest by the pandemic.
If the other member states agree to the plan, it would be a major step toward a more unified Europe, and a sign that the pandemic might actually bring the bloc closer together instead of splintering it.
Ms. Merkel joined with President Emmanuel Macron of France to propose borrowing 500 billion euros, or $545 billion, for a common recovery fund. Its repayment would be the financial responsibility of the entire bloc, but it would primarily benefit the poorer south, which has been hit hardest by the virus.
Such a joint approach to borrowing has long been resisted by Germany and other member states in the north, and that reluctance has proved an obstacle to further European integration.
Southern states have been turning to Brussels for help and pushing better-off countries like Germany and the Netherlands for less selfishness and greater collective action. Back home in countries like Italy, where many feel abandoned by their neighbors, anti-European and populist sentiment has spiked markedly.
Mujtaba Rahman, chief European analyst for the Eurasia Group, said, “It’s a European revolution — if it goes through.”
Although the proposal represents a significant shift in German thinking, Ms. Merkel described it as a “one-off effort,’’ with Germany agreeing to a plan whereby the European Commission, using its excellent credit rating, would borrow money for the fund. The debt would be paid back over time through the joint European Union budget, which is financed by a set formula by member states.
The proposal must be agreed to by the other 25 member states of the bloc, some of which have flatly rejected collective indebtedness in the past. Austria has already suggested that it and countries like the Netherlands want to help the afflicted states only with loans, not grants, as called for in Monday’s proposal.
“There is still work to do,” Mr. Macron acknowledged. “But it is a profoundly unprecedented step.”
Details of the plan were scarce on Monday, but the leaders said that the money would be provided to the sectors of the economy and the regions worst affected by the virus. That would include countries like Italy and Spain, whose borrowing costs are much higher than countries like Germany.
A meeting of the World Health Organization that was supposed to chart a path for the world to combat the coronavirus pandemic instead on Monday turned into a showcase for the escalating tensions between China and the United States over the virus.
President Xi Jinping of China announced at the start of the forum that Beijing would donate $2 billion toward fighting the coronavirus and dispatch doctors and medical supplies to Africa and to countries in the developing world.
The contribution, to be spent over two years, amounts to more than twice what the United States had been giving the global health agency before President Trump cut off American funding last month, and it could catapult China to the forefront of international efforts to contain a disease that has claimed at least 315,000 lives.
But it was also seen — particularly by American officials — as an attempt by China to forestall closer scrutiny of whether it hid information about the outbreak to the world.
Mr. Xi made his announcement by videoconference to the World Health Assembly, an annual decision-making meeting of the W.H.O. that is being conducted virtually this year because of safety considerations during the pandemic. Mr. Trump declined to address the two-day gathering, providing the Chinese president an opening to be one of the first world leaders to address the 194 member states.
The Trump administration, which has sought to place blame on the organization for the spread of the virus, escalated its funding threats. On Monday night, Mr. Trump threatened to permanently end all funding for the World Health Organization if it did not “commit to substantive improvements within the next 30 days,” according to a copy of a letter he posted on Twitter. Last year, the United States contributed about $553 million of the W.H.O.’s $6 billion budget.
Earlier, in videotaped remarks to the assembly after Mr. Xi spoke, Alex M. Azar II, the U.S. secretary of health and human services, countered with sharp criticism of both the W.H.O. and China, saying their handling of the coronavirus outbreak led to unnecessary deaths.
In an unmistakable reference to China, he said, “In an apparent attempt to conceal this outbreak, at least one member state made a mockery of their transparency obligations, with tremendous costs for the entire world.”
The director general of the W.H.O., Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, nodded to criticism of the organization’s own handling of the early weeks of the outbreak, saying the agency would review “lessons learned” about its global response.
But he did not address Mr. Trump’s insistence that the health agency investigate allegations widely dismissed by scientists that the coronavirus originated in a lab in China. Mr. Xi in his speech called for any examination to take place after the health crisis had subsided.
About 100 nations have called for an independent investigation into the origins of the pandemic.
Six weeks after the devastating peak of the coronavirus outbreak in Ecuador, dozens of bodies remain unidentified as families continue searching for deceased relatives whose bodies were misplaced during the chaotic period.
The authorities are still trying to establish the identities of about 90 bodies that were collected from homes in the port city of Guayaquil, which suffered the worst of the pandemic, according to the president’s emergency envoy to the city, Jorge Wated.
The city used to see about 45 deaths a day, on average, but during the peak of the outbreak in early April, that number jumped to 600 daily deaths, he said. The number overwhelmed hospitals and morgues.
Overall, about 7,600 more people died in Ecuador from March 1 to April 15 than the average for that time period in recent years, according to an analysis of the official mortality data by The New York Times. Most of the excess deaths occurred in the city of Guayaquil, a bustling city of three million where the spike in mortality was comparable to what New York City experienced at the peak of the pandemic.
As bodies piled up, authorities in Guayaquil lost the ability to record deaths and bury the victims.
One Guayaquil man received the ashes of his dead mother and later discovered that her body was buried in a cemetery. And a local woman returned to her family, alive, after being pronounced dead by health officials.
Elizabeth Narváez has been looking for the body of her brother-in-law, Luis Fernando Yépez, a Guayaquil bus driver, since last seeing him at a hospital on March 30. He died the next day with coronavirus symptoms.
After scouring hospitals, cemeteries and the local forensics office, officials told her they found a body that appears to match Mr. Yépez, but it is now too decomposed to identify it by fingerprints. She now has to wait for the results of a DNA test, which could take weeks.
“It has been a real calvary,” said Ms. Narváez. “Not even animals are treated the way the government has treated the bodies.”
Her friends had posted all over social media: The milk tea shops had reopened! Wuhan was coming back!
But when Rosanna Yu, 28, took a sip of her first order in two months, she was unimpressed. “Did you guys forget how to make milk tea?” she posted jokingly on WeChat in late March. “How is it this bad?”
Still, disappointing milk tea is better than none. And while normalcy and good bubble tea may still be out of reach, just the prospect has Ms. Yu feeling buoyant.
In early April, after the lockdown eased, Ms. Yu and her parents visited a park to admire Wuhan’s famous cherry blossoms. Officials had urged residents to stay home when possible, but “we just couldn’t sit inside any longer,” she said.
She recently took a video of the long line at a local restaurant for takeout “hot dry noodles,” Wuhan’s signature dish. She now has to pause for traffic before crossing the street — a burden that has never felt less like one.
“Seeing a lot of cars, I’m actually so happy,” she said.
Her optimism is born, in part, of luck. None of her friends or family were infected. The lockdown was hard at first, but she soon distracted herself by learning to bake crullers and sweet buns.
Some things are undeniably harder. Ms. Yu quit her job as a secretary last year, planning to look for a new one in January. But her parents now want her to wait until the fall, for safety reasons.
She rarely sees friends, because there is nowhere to go; dining in at restaurants is not allowed.
But for the most part, Ms. Yu has embraced Wuhan’s new normal. She plans to keep baking. She may take online classes.
And she has discovered a new kinship with her neighbors. During the lockdown, residents who were barbers offered free haircuts. The neighborhood’s group chat, formed to coordinate bulk grocery buys, has became a virtual support circle.
“This was my first time feeling like the entire neighborhood, and all of Wuhan, was all in something together, working toward the same goal,” Ms. Yu said.
President Trump said on Monday that he had been taking hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug whose effectiveness against the coronavirus is unproven, for about a week and a half as a preventive measure.
“All I can tell you is, so far I seem to be OK,” Mr. Trump said, explaining that he takes a daily pill. The White House physician said Mr. Trump had no symptoms and had regularly tested negative for the virus.
The drugs can cause dangerous abnormalities in heart rhythm in virus patients, the F.D.A. warned, saying they should be used only in clinical trials or hospitals where patients can be closely monitored for heart problems.
Several doctors said they were alarmed that Mr. Trump was using the bully pulpit of the presidency to tell the public he takes a drug that has not been proven to be effective against the coronavirus, but which does have known risks.
Over the last two decades China unleashed a global lending spree, showering countries with hundreds of billions of dollars, in an effort to expand its influence and become a political and economic superpower. Borrowers put up ports, mines and other crown jewels as collateral.
At the forefront of the spree is the Belt and Road Initiative, President Xi Jinping’s $1 trillion program to finance infrastructure projects across the world and pick up allies in the process. Since the initiative started in 2013, China has lent up to $350 billion to countries, about half of them considered high-risk debtors.
China faces difficult choices. If it restructures or forgives these loans, that could strain its financial system and infuriate the Chinese people, who are suffering under their own slowdown. But if China demands repayment when many countries are already angry with Beijing over its handling of the pandemic, its quest for global clout could be at risk.
“China is politically on the back foot,” said Andrew Small, senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund. Should China foreclose on those loans, he added, “they would be taking over strategic assets in countries that now can’t afford to feed their people.”
Turkey will impose a four-day lockdown across the country, starting on Saturday, to curb the spread of the coronavirus during the religious holiday of Eid al-Fitr, when Muslims typically gather in large family groups to celebrate.
In a televised address on Monday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the nationwide lockdown, the most severe restriction Turkey has imposed in the pandemic. Mr. Erdogan said most Turkish citizens would be forbidden from going out into the streets.
The virus has already disrupted the ability to worship together for many Muslims, especially during the past month as Ramadan was being observed. At revered sites in Mecca and Medina, for example, communal prayers were banned.
One of the two most important religious festivals for Muslims, Eid al-Fitr is a celebration that marks the end of Ramadan. In Turkey, a Muslim-majority country with a population of 83 million, people usually enjoy the Eid with visits to extended families, where hugging is common, as is kissing the hands of elderly people as a sign of respect.
But just as the first harvest was to begin, Germany and its neighbors to the east slammed shut their borders to contain the coronavirus, cutting off a crucial supply of farm labor and putting crops at risk.
The German government has responded by allowing farmers to airlift workers from Romania and Bulgaria. The farmers must organize and pay for charter flights, and the program was capped at 40,000 workers a month in April and May.
The move has eased the labor shortage, but not solved it. The cost and logistical challenges have meant that only about 28,000 workers have been flown in so far, well short of the number needed. It has also raised concerns about importing new infections and exploiting vulnerable workers.
Florian Bogensberger, a farmer in Bavaria’s Hallertau region, said he spent more than 10,000 euros, about $11,000, to fly in 23 Romanian workers. Though it meant pushing back other needed investments, he said the flight was worth it.
“Everybody feels a bit scared,” said Gabriel Moraru, 47, a Romanian who has done seasonal work at the Bogensberger farm for the past decade. “But we also need to work.”
Reporting was contributed by Steven Erlanger, Aurelien Breeden, Katrin Bennhold, Christopher Schuetze, Andrew Jacobs, Michael D. Shear, Edward Wong, Anatoly Kurmanaev, José Maria León, Safak Timur, Melissa Eddy, Dan Levin, Maria Abi-Habib and Keith Bradsher.