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Live Coronavirus Updates: News and Analysis

2020-06-07 18:52:02

The Agriculture Department has $16 billion to offset farmers’ losses, but who gets it?

Months before an election in which some farm states are major battlegrounds, Democrats and other critics of the administration’s agriculture policies are concerned that new agriculture subsidies, provided by Congress with bipartisan backing, could be doled out to ensure President Trump continues to enjoy the backing of one of his key voting blocs.

The Agriculture Department has set aside $16 billion for relief from economic damage caused by the pandemic.

The Trump administration’s $28 billion effort in 2018 and 2019 to compensate farmers for losses from its trade wars has been criticized as excessive, devised on the fly and tilted toward states politically important to Republicans, writes Times correspondent Sharon LaFraniere.

Now that the administration is starting to send farmers billions of dollars in additional aid, some are questioning how the money will be allocated.

“I think Congress should be concerned in terms of letting U.S.D.A. just write checks with no oversight,” said Joseph W. Glauber, a top economist with the department for 22 years who is now with the International Food Policy Research Institute.

“Are these programs politically motivated? The short answer is yes,” Mr. Glauber said.

Bill Northey, the Agriculture Department under secretary who oversaw the trade subsidies, said that the program was put in place “before actual trade and price impacts were observed,” while the studies were conducted after the fact.

Other analyses, he said, found that the payments were not excessive at all, an assertion also made by the National Cotton Council.

Agriculture policy plays out against a complex political backdrop that can transcend party loyalties. Small farmers battle big agriculture for influence. Each region of the country has discrete interests, as do producers of different kinds of crops and other farm products.

Economists say the Agriculture Department, under intense pressure from both the White House and Congress to deliver coronavirus checks to farmers, seems again engaged in major guesswork in trying to calculate losses.

Across the United States, doctors and other health care workers have been stopping work in recent days for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time George Floyd, a black man, was pinned down by a white police officer’s knee before he died.

For doctors in New York who have strained to meet the challenges of coronavirus care for months, participating in the demonstrations has been especially poignant. For some black physicians, the protests, like the coronavirus pandemic, are a reminder of the unequal health risks that black Americans face. Black Americans comprise 13 percent of the U.S. population, but 24 percent of deaths from Covid-19.

Many say they view the deaths of black people at the hands of the police as a public health issue. But they also express worries that large gatherings will cause a second wave of coronavirus cases, and they are balancing their involvement with calls for protesters and police officers to adhere to public health guidelines.

“As a physician, when I hear ‘I can’t breathe’ I’m usually rushing to someone’s bedside,” said Dr. Teresa Smith, an emergency doctor at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, who thought of her patients with respiratory failure when she saw the video of the killing of Mr. Floyd. “To see George Floyd crying — that, that was personal for me as a physician of color.”

As the coronavirus crisis wears on in the United States, the country remains stuck on a stubborn plateau. Each day, about 20,000 new cases are identified, and about 1,000 more people die. And progress in one place is undermined by setbacks elsewhere.

Two weeks ago, case numbers around Chicago were stuck at a high level, and alarming growth in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area had shown few signs of subsiding. Both of those regions have since reported sustained drops in new cases.

But in the areas around Phoenix, Dallas and Omaha, where the situation in late May appeared stable, even hopeful, more infections have been turning up. In the county that includes Wichita, Kan., where cases are also rising, the chief health officer said gatherings should be limited to 20 people through early July. The county cited “increased community activity and interaction over the Memorial Day weekend and the following two weeks” as a reason for the continued distancing.

Though the exponential case growth that was reported in March has ended, much of the country has not seen a plunge in case numbers. Nearly two million people in the United States are known to have had the virus, and more than 110,000 have died. Already in June, more than 100,000 new cases and about 5,000 more deaths have been announced.

Case clusters continue to emerge across the country, including at a meatpacking plant in Chicago, a summer camp in Tennessee and a tortilla production facility in northwest Arkansas, a region where outbreaks in several food processing plants are contributing to explosive case growth.

“Don’t let down on your discipline and your awareness of this virus and the damage that it can do,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas said Friday.

The Trump administration has lauded itself as leading the world in confronting the coronavirus. But it has left unspent more than 75 percent of the American humanitarian aid that Congress provided three months ago to help overseas victims of the virus.

In two spending bills in March, lawmakers approved $1.59 billion in pandemic assistance to be sent abroad through the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development.

As of last week, $386 million had been released to nations in need, according to a government official familiar with the spending totals that the State Department has reported to Congress for both agencies. That money was delivered through private relief groups and large multinational organizations, including United Nations agencies, that provide health and economic stability funding and humanitarian assistance around the world.

Of that, only $11.5 million in international disaster aid had been delivered to private relief groups, even though the funds are meant to be rushed to distress zones.

The totals reflected spending on the global coronavirus response as of June 3 by the State Department and the American aid agency and were shared with The New York Times on the condition of anonymity because the figures were intended to be private.

Relief workers said they were alarmed and bewildered as to why most the money was unspent.

“Little to no humanitarian assistance has reached those on the front lines of this crisis in the world’s most fragile context,” executives at 27 relief organizations wrote to the aid agency’s acting administrator, John Barsa, in a letter dated June 4.

“In spite of months of promising conversations with U.S.A.I.D. field staff, few organizations have received an executed award for Covid-19 humanitarian assistance,” the letter stated.

Most of the money is provided through the U.S. aid agency. A spokeswoman, Pooja Jhunjhunwala, said on Friday that the total amount made available so far to relief groups was $595 million, including $175 million in international disaster aid.

But that included projected reimbursements for money that would be provided later — not funding that had already been delivered. The aid agency declined to disclose how much money had been delivered as opposed to promised.

Just over three months since its first coronavirus case was confirmed, New York City is set on Monday to take its first steps toward reopening.

As many as 400,000 workers could begin returning to construction jobs, manufacturing sites and retail stores in the city’s first phase of reopening — a surge of normalcy that seemed almost inconceivable several weeks ago, when as many as 800 people a day were dying from Covid-19.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Sunday that outdoor, socially distanced graduations could be held in New York State beginning June 26, with up to 150 people.

Over the course of the pandemic, more than 211,000 people in New York have been infected, and nearly 22,000 have died.

State and city officials said they were optimistic that the city would begin to spring back to life. Testing is growing, reaching 33,000 people on a recent day. New infections are down to around 500 a day — half as many as just a few weeks ago.

But the road back will be challenging. More than 885,000 jobs vanished during the outbreak, and strong gains are not expected for the city until 2022. And the reopening has been complicated by the vast protests for racial justice, forcing government officials and business owners to adjust their plans.

“We were planning to make a lot of noise saying, ‘Hey, we’re back,’” said Ken Giddon, an owner of Rothmans, a small clothing chain. “Now we don’t think that would be appropriate. I think New York City needs a week or two of healing before a week or two of selling.”

India reported a record number of coronavirus infections on Sunday, even as officials prepared to lift some of the nation’s strictest lockdown measures.

With nearly 10,000 new infections, India has surpassed Spain and now has the world’s fifth-highest caseload — about 245,000 infections and 6,929 deaths.

Even as the number of cases continued to skyrocket, Indian officials have moved ahead with easing a nationwide lockdown by reopening shopping malls, places of worship and hotels on Monday. The authorities said the relaxations are needed to get the economy restarted.

After Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced restrictions in late March, states sealed their borders, businesses shut and all 1.3 billion Indians were ordered to stay inside. Since then, more than 120 million people have lost their jobs and some industries have edged toward bankruptcy.

In recent weeks, many restrictions have been rolled back. Last month, train and bus services and domestic air flights resumed. Most businesses outside hot spots were allowed to reopen.

A prominent British laboratory is forming a partnership that would sidestep the drug industry to sell a potential vaccine against the coronavirus without profits or licensing fees in Britain and in low- and middle-income countries.

Scientists, nonprofit groups and public health experts have urged that any successful coronavirus vaccine be distributed at the lowest possible cost and on the basis of need rather than profit. But for-profit drug giants or biotechnology start-ups have dominated the development race, especially in the United States, a vital market because of its high drug prices.

The British laboratory, at Imperial College London, could alter that landscape, in part because its technology has the potential to develop a vaccine that is cheaper and easier to manufacture than others, said Robin Shattock, the lead scientist on the project.

If successful, he said, the vaccine’s lower cost could appeal to the large donor organizations that typically supply low-income countries, which make up much of the world. It could also provide a cheaper alternative in affluent countries.

“Somebody who’s developing a product that’s going to be of very high cost will actually ultimately lose out if the high-volume market doesn’t support that,” Professor Shattock said.

Clinical trials are beginning this month, If the vaccine is proven safe and effective, the first doses could be available early next year.

“As many of you know, there is a very serious problem with state-condoned violence” in the United States, said Fatimah Provillon, a New Jersey native who has lived in Rome for 13 years, told the crowd of mostly young Italians in the Piazza del Popolo. “But it’s not just a U.S. problem — it’s happening all over the world.”

The rallies have unfolded for the past week around the world. More than 500 people gathered in Antwerp, Belgium, last Monday despite an official ban on large crowds because of the coronavirus. All protesters respected social distancing and wore masks, according to the police, who did not to intervene with the demonstration. Another approved demonstration was planned for Sunday afternoon in Brussels.

More than 55,000 Belgians have also signed a petition to remove statues of King Leopold II, who oversaw the brutal colonization of Congo in the 19th century. The petition calls for the removal of all monuments until June 30, the 60th anniversary of Congo’s independence. According to organizers, there is no place for the commemoration of Leopold II in Brussels, the capital, which is home to over 200 global nationalities.

Last week, people threw red paint on a statue of Leopold II in the city of Ghent, and gagged his face with a message that read, “I can’t breathe,” referring to Mr. Floyd’s words in his last moments as a white officer pressed a knee to his neck.

Katrin Bennhold, The Times’s Berlin bureau chief, writes that resuming a prepandemic life in Germany means regularly handing out her contact information. Read her full dispatch here.

I’ve given my phone number to a lot of strangers over the past week.

I scribbled it down for the charming barista who made my latte. I handed it to the waiter who took my first restaurant booking in more than two months. I gave it to a hairdresser, to an ice cream vendor, even to the guy behind plexiglass at the open-air swimming pool.

I swear I wasn’t flirting. I was just trying to have a swim.

Berlin has been emerging from its coronavirus lockdown in full force, and the price of a snippet of our pre-corona lives is handing over personal details so the detectives of the German health authority can trace the contacts of a newly infected person.

It is one way in which Germany’s new normal looks anything but normal. In a country where privacy is something of a national religion, Germans now casually hand over their private address at every turn.

At a trendy coffee shop in central Berlin, Sabine Baum, a graphic designer, added her details to the dog-eared handwritten list on the counter one recent morning.

“Somehow it feels OK, because it’s just on paper and not online,” she said.

The longing for normality is a powerful incentive to put up with things that in early March would have seemed either unacceptable or totally absurd to many Germans. Like wearing something in a sauna (face masks might become mandatory when saunas reopen next month).

The Chinese government on Sunday strongly defended its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, pushing back at criticism that officials had suppressed early reports of the disease and contending instead that China had set a strong example for how to combat it.

A top official said at a news conference in Beijing that the Chinese government and state news media had provided early, timely and extensive information since the first cases appeared in Hubei Province late last year. In an apparent reference to the Trump administration’s numerous assertions that China is to blame for the subsequent global pandemic, he complained bitterly about what he described as foreign lies and slanders.

“Those are completely unwarranted and unreasonable,” said the official, Xu Lin, who oversees the State Council Information Office. The agency published a detailed report on Sunday about China’s epidemic response.

Ma Xiaowei, the minister in charge of the National Health Commission, also said that China had “not delayed in any way” the release of information about the disease.

A report published by Mr. Xu’s agency on Sunday provides a detailed timeline of China’s epidemic response. But while Chinese scientists moved quickly to identify the new disease and share their findings internationally, political leaders were slower to act, ordering police investigations of doctors who tried to sound the alarm in late December.

Since the outbreak began, China has recorded more than 89,000 cases and more than 4,600 deaths.

The U.S. accusations against China continued on Sunday, with Senator Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, saying that the United States had evidence that China was trying to slow down or sabotage the development of a Covid-19 vaccine by Western countries.

“We have evidence that communist China is trying to sabotage us or slow it down,” Mr. Scott said during an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation. “China does not want us and England and Europe to do it first. They have decided to be an adversary to Americans and I think to democracy around the world.”

Mr. Scott declined to give any evidence or details of his claim, but said it had come through the intelligence community.

In other global news:

Reporting was contributed by Katrin Bennhold, Keith Bradsher, David Gelles, Emma Goldberg, J. David Goodman, Lara Jakes, Miriam Jordan, David D. Kirkpatrick, Sharon LaFraniere, Raphael Minder, Elisabetta Povoledo, Monika Pronczuk, Anna Schaverien, Kai Schultz, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Mitch Smith and Karen Zraick.


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