• Business
    Bloomberg

    A Smart Plan to End the U.S. Lockdown Arrives Just in Time

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- The U.S. is finally starting to take a sensible and proactive approach toward the Covid-19 pandemic. After a disastrous initial failure, coronavirus testing has now risen to levels similar to or higher than South Korea. Meanwhile, although he almost succumbed to the temptation to reopen the economy before shutdowns had time to quell the epidemic, President Donald Trump has wisely decided to recommend that social distancing continue through the end of April. And Congress, showing rare unanimity and boldness, passed a huge relief package that will sustain most households and many businesses throughout the next couple of months.But these are all simply holding actions, temporary measures to stop the virus from spreading out of control. Even the harshest lockdown will never eliminate the virus, and if restrictions are lifted without a regime in place to suppress new outbreaks, the epidemic will simply come roaring back. Meanwhile, every day the economy remains shutdown generates more losses and creates a larger backlog of un-serviced debt. That won’t work forever; an escape plan is urgently needed.A team of experts at the American Enterprise Institute has come up with exactly such a plan, and it looks like a good one. Those experts include Scott Gottlieb and Mark McClellan, both former commissioners of the Food and Drug Administration; Lauren Silvis, who previously held several high positions at the FDA; and Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security professors Caitlin Rivers and Crystal Watson.The first and most essential part of the AEI plan is to create a system that can suppress coronavirus outbreaks without lockdowns. This will require extensive testing; the plan’s authors estimate about 750,000 tests per week. Fortunately, that sort of number is now possible:Meanwhile, new rapid tests like the one from Abbott Laboratories will reduce turnaround times so that that cases can be identified in minutes instead of days. People who test positive can immediately isolate themselves.But testing and isolating isn’t enough to halt the virus because Covid-19 becomes contagious before many infected people start showing symptoms. To really halt the spread, therefore, public health authorities will need to use an approach called contact tracing. This means finding out who an infected person has had contact with in the past few days and notifying those people that they need to get tested even if  they don't show symptoms.Traditionally, as in the fight against HIV/AIDS, contact tracing was done by hand. Coronavirus moves so quickly, however, that technological solutions may be needed to speed things up. Singapore, for example, has recently made its own contact-tracing app publicly available. This app relies on Bluetooth signals to tell who has been in close physical proximity to whom.Of course, that raises privacy concerns. That has tech leaders working on alternate solutions that do contact tracing while preserving anonymity. It’s possible that Apple and Google already have the data to do this. Meanwhile, any contact-tracing app will also have to quickly notify people that they’ve been in contact with an infected person, and (ideally) route them to the nearest testing center. Those who test positive can immediately quarantine themselves at home to prevent spreading the disease.Establishing robust test-and-trace systems can start at the local and state level. However, implementing these systems will take both money and wise policy changes. The federal government should provide generous funding to help local and state governments implement test-and-trace systems. Local governments and public-health authorities, meanwhile, must loosen their testing criteria to allow for people to be tested before they show symptoms. The AEI authors also call for a national surveillance system to tie local systems together and enable contact tracing throughout the country, as well as to help infected people quarantine themselves quickly and safely.In addition to the test-and-trace approach, governments can use antibody tests to identify individuals who have already had the virus, and thus may be able to return to work safely. Germany is already experimenting with this approach.After test-and-trace systems are in place, and new cases have fallen for 14 days or more in a row, the AEI team suggest lifting shutdowns -- but not all at once. They recommend a phased reopening of businesses, with telework, distance learning and personal social distancing continuing as much as possible, while maintaining indefinite bans on gatherings of more than 50 people. Only once a vaccine against COVID-19 is developed -- probably in mid-2021 -- can all restrictions be lifted. And if outbreaks do spiral out of control in a city or state, the AEI team recommends a swift but temporary return to shutdown.The battle against coronavirus will thus be a long one. But in a few weeks the tide may turn. The AEI plan provides a great road map for coming out of hiding and going on the offensive.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Noah Smith is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He was an assistant professor of finance at Stony Brook University, and he blogs at Noahpinion.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

  • World
    Reuters

    Russian plane with coronavirus medical gear lands in U.S. after Trump-Putin call

    Russia sent the United States medical equipment on Wednesday to help fight the coronavirus pandemic, a public relations coup for Russian President Vladimir Putin after he discussed the crisis with U.S. President Donald Trump. Trump, struggling to fill shortages of ventilators and personal protective equipment, accepted Putin's offer in a phone call on Monday. A Russian military transport plane left an airfield outside Moscow and arrived at New York's John F. Kennedy airport in late afternoon on Wednesday.

  • U.S.
    Variety

    Twitter Requires Fox News’ Laura Ingraham to Delete Post With ‘Misleading’ Coronavirus Claims

    Twitter, stepping up its enforcement of misleading and harmful coronavirus-related claims, required Fox News host Laura Ingraham to delete a tweet from 10 days ago that misrepresented details of an unproven treatment for coronavirus. In the now-deleted tweet from March 20, Ingraham, host of the cable network's "The Ingraham Angle," wrote, "Lenox Hill [Hospital] in […]

  • Lifestyle
    InStyle

    Why Are Celebrities Dressing Like It's 1996 While in Quarantine?

    Celebrities have been wearing some very '90s outfits while talking walks during the coronavirus quarantine.

  • Business
    FOX News Videos

    John Cusack calls for another Trump impeachment

    Actor John Cusack is calling for another impeachment of President Trump for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

  • World
    Bloomberg

    Food Supply Is the Next Virus Headache

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- It’s not just manufacturing that’s struggling with disrupted logistics. As more countries bring down the shutters to limit the spread of the coronavirus, risks are rising for the world's complex food supply networks. Snarl-ups in processing and transport could result in painful price spikes for many fresh goods, even if farms in developed markets can keep working through the outbreak.The picture isn’t all gloomy. On a global scale, stocks of corn, wheat, soybeans and rice are healthier than before previous periods of food inflation. While some prices have been heading higher, increases aren’t across the board. Sugar and corn have been held back by reduced demand from biofuels producers as oil plummets. Low fertilizer and crude prices, meanwhile, will help offset other rising costs for farmers.Yet with infection rates rising there are worrying signs of fraying nerves, as countries engage in their own version of the toilet paper panic. Kazakhstan has banned exports of buckwheat and wheat flour to preserve domestic supplies. Russia, the world’s top wheat shipper, could limit some sales overseas, a threat that has already pushed up prices. Vietnam, meanwhile, is stockpiling rice and has suspended new export contracts. During the 2006-08 spike, such behavior accounted for 45% of the increase in rice prices, and almost a third for wheat, according to a study published by the World Bank.For now, such protectionism isn’t the norm. Kazakhstan, after all, accounts for less than 5% of wheat exports. And cereal harvests are looking decent. The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects global wheat production to rise almost 5% this year, while rice is seen as stable. Still, supply of key products is concentrated. With restrictions dragging on and more countries scrambling to contain the virus, the resilience of the world’s shopping basket will face further tests.After years of low food inflation, several factors were already pushing up bills before the coronavirus pandemic: severe droughts in Southeast Asia and Australia; an African swine fever outbreak in China that decimated the world’s largest pork producer; and, more recently, swarms of locusts in Kenya, Pakistan, India and beyond. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization said in January that, left unchecked, the number of crop-munching insects could increase 500 times by June. One desert locust can eat its own weight in a day — about 2 grams — and swarms contain hundreds of millions.While prices are still well below 2008 or 2011, there are glimpses of how quickly the situation could change. Chinese food prices surged more than a fifth in January from a year earlier as the epidemic took hold, and pork prices more than doubled. Rice is already feeling the combined impact of drought, rising demand from stockpiling households and export restrictions. Prices for standard Thai white rice have risen for six straight weeks, to more than $500 a metric ton, the highest level since 2013. Such gains encourage more beggar-my-neighbor economic policies, to the detriment of all.Then there are bottlenecks caused by virus restrictions. Deliveries and logistics have caused trouble since the outbreak began. Transpacific shipping troubles hampered exports to China from the U.S.;  in China, livestock producers struggled even within the country, finding themselves unable to get feed, and then blocked from sending poultry and eggs to market. It’s a problem that could easily repeat itself elsewhere. Coffee traders are already warning of disruptions: Closures in Brazil, El Salvador and Colombia, and missing stevedores, are driving the volatility.Labor is an additional concern. Virus restrictions prevent workers such as distributors and pickers from moving across borders. Laborers migrating to farms in France, or heading to pick fruit in Australia, may find it harder unless they are already in place. France’s agriculture minister last week encouraged unemployed people to go to work on farms; it’s unclear how many can or will heed his call, and at what price.Workers also face the risk of getting ill. That particularly threatens more labor-intensive corners of the industry, such as palm oil plantations or meat processing plants, as Aurelia Britsch, head of commodities research at Fitch Solutions, points out. In both, contaminated workers have already proved disruptive. Malaysia’s biggest palm-producing state, Sabah, has closed down operations in several districts until mid-April after some workers fell sick.In much of the world, preemptive policies can keep things moving. China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, for example, brought in incentives for sowing and mechanization in early February, as well as support for livestock farming, and “green channels” to help the movement of feed, breeding animals and produce. Governments can encourage trade, rather than nation-level hoarding. As the virus spreads, wealthier countries may also need to support developing ones, especially those hit by elevated import bills and weakened currencies. Disruptions will be inevitable. A global food crisis doesn’t have to be.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Clara Ferreira Marques is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering commodities and environmental, social and governance issues. Previously, she was an associate editor for Reuters Breakingviews, and editor and correspondent for Reuters in Singapore, India, the U.K., Italy and Russia.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.