Scouring the globe in a free-for-all for masks
Here’s what the global market for face masks and other protective gear now looks like: hasty deals in bars, sudden calls to corporate jets and fast-moving wire transfers from bank accounts in Hong Kong, the United States, Europe and the Caribbean.
Governments, hospital chains, clinics and entrepreneurs are looking everywhere for the protective gear during a huge shortage — paying five times the price for N95 masks — and a new kind of trader has sprung up to make it all happen.
New urgency: As many as 25 percent of people infected with the new coronavirus may not show symptoms, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Some people never get symptoms, others get symptoms later — factors that profoundly complicate efforts to mitigate the virus’s spread.
China: The country has ramped up mask production to nearly 12 times its earlier level of 10 million a day. But many suppliers are unreliable, and navigating customs laws and transport during global shutdowns is confusing.
As governments ramp up restrictions on movement and business, and consumers are afraid to spend money, it already looks like the abrupt halt could require a yearslong recovery — rather than a simple flip of a switch to a robust recovery, as investors have hoped.
“This is already shaping up as the deepest dive on record for the global economy for over 100 years,” said one Harvard economist, adding that if it lasted long, it would be “the mother of all financial crises.”
Case study: In China, starting up the economy again has already proved harder than shutting it down. And many countries are not even close to this turning point.
Markets: Stocks on Wall Street fell sharply on Wednesday, with the S&P 500 down nearly 4 percent in early trading. London and Paris stocks were trading 2 to 4 percent lower, after similar drops in Asia. Here’s the latest from the markets.
The virus has ignited the scientific community in ways that no outbreak or medical mystery has before.
Studies are posted online long before they would normally appear in academic journals, and researchers have identified and shared hundreds of viral genome sequences. The profession’s usual imperatives, like academic credit and competitive secrecy, have fallen by the wayside.
Quotable: “The ability to work collaboratively, setting aside your personal academic progress, is occurring right now because it’s a matter of survival,” said a Harvard Medical School professor who is working on a coronavirus trial.
Another angle: It’s the spiky blob seen around the world. We tell the story of the illustration from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that has come to represent the coronavirus.
If you have 7 minutes, this is worth it
A party loyalist vanishes in China
Friends of a well-connected former property mogul say he disappeared in March after writing an essay critical of the Chinese government, saying that the actions of a power-hungry “clown” and the Communist Party’s strict limits on free speech had exacerbated the coronavirus pandemic.
Ren Zhiqiang, the mogul, was a decades-long loyal Communist Party member, and his criticism was respected because officials believed it was all in good faith. Now, his disappearance adds to fears that China is abandoning some of the reforms that saved it from international isolation.
Here’s what else is happening
‘Tiger King’: The Netflix documentary series is an international hit. Since its release last month, the focal character, Joe Exotic, an eccentric former owner of a roadside zoo in Oklahoma, has appealed his jail sentence, and the animal-rights activist he was convicted of trying to have killed has condemned how the series portrayed her husband’s disappearance.
Snapshot: Above, Fos-sur-Mer in southern France, home to some of the country’s most polluting factories. Many of the town’s residents have filed a joint criminal complaint accusing the steel, oil and petrochemical factories of putting their lives at risk.
What we’re looking at: This Twitter thread from the Getty, in which the Los Angeles art museum challenges people to recreate their favorite artworks at home. My favorite is the one that mimics a Chardin still life, but with cans of tuna replacing the fish.
Now, a break from the news
Cook: Shakshuka is great with just about any cheese. Melissa Clark used mozzarella instead of feta to give the North African egg dish some “stretchy gooeyness.”
Watch: “Lady Bird,” always. Or if you fancy a TV drama, here are the 20 best since “The Sopranos.” (That could lead you to re-streaming “Friday Night Lights.”) Our short film of the day is “Born Again,” a tiny-tale horror comedy, chosen by Erik Piepenburg.
Do: The art critic Jerry Saltz has ideas for how to be creative. “Isolation favors art,” he adds.
Here’s our full collection of ideas on what to read, cook, watch, and do while staying safe at home.
And now for the Back Story on …
A kind internet?
We just introduced On Tech, a newsletter about how technology is reshaping our world. Shira Ovide, its host, chatted with The Times’s tech columnist Kevin Roose about his recent article on kindness on the internet. You can sign up for the Tech newsletter here.
So the internet is good now? Did you forget about everything you’ve ever written?
Kevin: It’s not so much that the internet is “good” now — these tools haven’t changed, after all — but I do think we’ve seen people using the internet in a more pro-social way, which is great. I hope it lasts!
What can all of us do to keep this pleasant?
Kevin: I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I think the answer is we need to contribute more. In normal times, we — and I include myself — are much more passive about using the internet. There’s some research that shows we’re happier when we use social media actively rather than passively scrolling.
The more good people use social media, the less the bad people are able to commandeer the megaphone. Now, it’s not only the opportunists who are getting amplified — it’s also doctors, nurses, epidemiologists and people organizing face mask drives.
But doctors won’t keep posting forever. And does the world really need Instagram photos of my boring oatmeal breakfast?
Kevin: Yes, be boring! Living through a pandemic is terrifying. We should all be legally required to post photos of our boring breakfasts. It’s what people used to knock Instagram for — “Oh, it’s just people posting their avocado toast.” But honestly, that sounds amazing right now — an all-avocado-toast social network!
That’s it for this briefing. Post kindly, and see you next time.
To Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the break from the news. You can reach the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about the race to create a coronavirus vaccine.
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