E.U. officials agreed to spend heavily to shore up economies, but only to a point.
European Union finance ministers agreed Thursday night to a plan calling for more than half a trillion euros worth of new measures to buttress their economies against the onslaught of the coronavirus.
But the ministers dealt a blow to the bloc’s worst-hit members, Italy and Spain, by sidestepping their pleas to issue joint debt.
Even in the face of an unprecedented economic crisis caused by a virus that has killed more than 50,000 E.U. citizens, wealthier northern European countries were reluctant to subsidize cheap debt for the badly hit south.
And while Germany, the Netherlands and others showed greater generosity than they had in previous crises, the details of the measures announced showed they had gone to great lengths to limit and control the way the funding is used.
The programs the finance ministers agreed to recommend to their countries’ leaders for final approval included a €100 billion loan plan for unemployment benefits, €200 billion in loans for smaller businesses, and access to €240 billion in loans for euro-area countries to draw on from the eurozone bailout fund. One euro is equal to about $1.09.
But the ministers were not able to reach an agreement on issuing joint bonds, known as “corona-bonds,” despite pleas from the leaders of Italy and Spain, which are bearing the brunt of the crisis, after staunch resistance from Germany, the Netherlands and others.
For the first time since the coronavirus began spreading around the world more than three months ago, the United Nations Security Council held a meeting on Thursday to discuss the pandemic, amid rising alarm that it could lead to social unrest and political instability.
The meeting of the 15-member council, the most powerful body at the United Nations, was held via videoconference link and was not publicly shown on the organization’s website. But diplomats who participated said just the convening of the meeting represented progress compared with a week ago, when disputes among its five permanent members — mainly between the United States and China — prevented the council from even discussing the pandemic.
Inaction by the council to combat Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, has led to criticism that it has become increasingly irrelevant in dealing with threats to peace and security.
Secretary General António Guterres, who has called the pandemic the greatest threat in the 75-year history of the United Nations, warned the council that it could lead to “an increase in social unrest and violence that would greatly undermine our ability to find the disease,” according to his office. “This is the fight of a generation,” he said.
Diplomats said the meeting, which lasted three hours, was less tense than some had feared and that the representatives from China and the United States did not confront each other with arguments over the origins of the virus, which first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December. The worst outbreaks have since shifted to Europe and the United States.
As the coronavirus shuts businesses across the United States, fresh evidence of the economic devastation came from a government report on Thursday that showed that 6.6 million more workers had lost their jobs.
The Labor Department report pushed to more than 16 million the number of workers who have lost their jobs over the past three weeks, which is more job losses than the most recent recession produced over two years.
Yet efforts to pass $250 billion in small-business loans stalled in the Senate after Republicans and Democrats clashed over what to include.
Here’s what else is happening in the U.S.:
New York State reported that the number of patients hospitalized with the virus rose by only 200, the smallest one-day increase since a statewide lockdown. But the daily death toll remained grim: 799, bringing the total to 7,067.
Pennsylvania reported the largest single-day jump in cases, with 1,989 new cases for a total of 18,228.
Across the South, where the virus is spreading quickly, public health experts were concerned about the toll it might take on an already vulnerable population.
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California defended his decision to send hundreds of ventilators to other states, despite concerns from some local officials that the state might be left with a shortage.
East Asia’s surges show how hard it is to control the pandemic.
Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan, which were remarkably successful at limiting the epidemic in its early stages, have had a surge in cases in the last two weeks, showing how hard it is to keep out a contagion that continues to spread worldwide.
The main culprit is international travel, though all three places were among the earliest to impose restrictions on travel, first from Hubei Province in China, then from other hot spots and, by late March, from anywhere in the world.
In Hong Kong and Taiwan, officials say new infections acquired abroad have far outnumbered those picked up locally. At first, the same was true in Singapore, but then it had a sharp spike in “community transmission” — particularly in dormitories for migrant workers.
The travel-related cases have primarily been among long-term residents returning from Britain and the United States. Hundreds were students going to school abroad.
The three places have been among the most vigilant in enforcing social distancing, monitoring people who test positive and tracing their contacts. Despite the recent increases, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong have far lower rates of infection than many developed countries.
In Europe, wearing masks in public is no longer ‘alien.’
Not long ago, the only medical masks seen on European streets were worn by Asian tourists, who sometimes encountered a Western cultural bias against them. No longer.
On March 18, the Czech Republic became the first nation in Europe to make public mask-wearing mandatory, followed by Slovakia on March 25 and Turkey last Friday.
On Sunday, officials in stricken Lombardy, in northern Italy, required masks. The next day, Austria made them obligatory in supermarkets and drugstores, and that will apply to public transportation users next week.
It is a “big adjustment,” said Austria’s chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, because “masks are alien to our culture.”
Acceptance of masks is even taking hold, haltingly, in France, which in 2011 became the first European nation to ban public face coverings, largely in reaction to Muslim women wearing veils.
On Wednesday, Sceaux, a small city near Paris, became the first French municipality to require masks in public. The southern city of Nice will make them mandatory next week. The mayor of Paris said on Tuesday that two million reusable cloth masks would be distributed there.
France’s Academy of Medicine has recommended that masks be required nationwide. The government has not gone that far, but it has urged people to wear them, just as the U.S. government has.
That is quite a turnabout. A few weeks ago, the French government was discouraging the use of masks, insisting that it served no purpose.
Early in the epidemic, some experts advised that there was little benefit to healthy people wearing masks, but that view has shifted as the virus has spread.
Masks are commonly worn in public across much of Asia, and the discussion of them in Europe often turns on differences in how cultures balance individual rights against the collective good.
Reporting was contributed by Aurelien Breeden, Rick Gladstone, Michael Levenson, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Norimitsu Onishi, Constant Méheut, Heather Murphy, K.K. Rebecca Lai and Aimee Ortiz.