Spain became the first country in western Europe to accumulate more than 1 million confirmed COVID-19 infections on Wednesday as the nation of 47 million struggles to contain a resurgence of the virus.
The health ministry said that its accumulative case load since the start of the pandemic reached 1,005,295 after reporting 16,973 more cases in the past 24 hours.
The ministry attributes 34,366 deaths to COVID-19. Experts say that, as in most countries, the real numbers of infections and deaths are probably much higher because insufficient testing, asymptomatic cases and other issues impede authorities from capturing the true scale of the outbreak.
As the numbers rise, authorities in charge of health policy in Spain’s regions are tightening restrictions. They want to stem the surge that has been building in recent months while avoiding a second total lockdown of home confinements that stemmed the first wave of the virus but left the economy reeling.
The regional government of northern Aragón announced Wednesday they have closed the city limits of Zaragoza, Huesca and Teruel. Neighboring Navarra, which leads Spain in infections per 100,000 over 14 days, is preparing to become the first Spanish region to close its borders on Thursday. La Rioja will also close its regional borders on Friday.
Spain’s Health Minister Salvador Illa and regional heads of health will meet on Thursday to discuss their virus strategies and consider employing nightly curfews to target late-night partying as a source of contagion.
“I want to be very clear,” Illa said Tuesday. “Some very hard weeks are coming.”
France is not far behind in western Europe with over 930,000 reported cases. Russia has reported over 1.4 million cases. The U.S. leads the world with over 8 million reported cases, according to the Johns Hopkins tally that is considered a global standard for charting the progress of the pandemic.
Spain’s cases per 100,000 inhabitants over 14 days, which is a more reliable indicator of the evolution of the virus, has decreased in recent days. It currently sits at 332 cases per 100,000, a figure that is still worrying but now lower than the Czech Republic, Belgium, Netherlands, France and Britain.
Despite the higher number of asymptomatic cases found through improved testing, the pressure is being felt in Spain’s hospitals. Over 3,900 patients have required hospitalization over the past week, with 274 needing intensive care, the ministry said. Almost 40% of Madrid’s ICU units are occupied by COVID-19 patients.
US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo will travel to New Delhi, India; Colombo, Sri Lanka; Male, Maldives; and Jakarta, Indonesia on October 25-30.
In New Delhi, Secretary Pompeo and US Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper and their Indian counterparts will lead the third annual U.S.-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue to advance the U.S.-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership and expand cooperation to promote stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and the world.
Secretary Pompeo will travel to Colombo to underscore the commitment of the United States to a partnership with a strong, sovereign Sri Lanka and to advance our common goals for a free and open Indo-Pacific region, according to the US Department of State.
He will travel to Malé to reaffirm US' close bilateral relationship and advance their partnership on issues ranging from regional maritime security to the fight against terrorism.
The US Secretary will travel to Jakarta to deliver public remarks and meet with his Indonesian counterparts to affirm the two countries’ vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro rejected the announced purchase of 46 million doses of a potential vaccine against COVID-19 being developed by a Chinese company and tested in the state governed by his political rival, prompting concern he was allowing politics to steer public health decisions, reports AP.
“The Brazilian people will not be anyone’s guinea pig,” Bolsonaro said on his social media channels, adding that the shot is yet to complete testing — which is true of all potential vaccines. “My decision is to not purchase such a vaccine.”
Brazil’s health minister Eduardo Pazuello had announced the purchase on Tuesday in a meeting with Sao Paulo’s Gov. João Doria, a foe of Bolsonaro’s whose state is participating in the vaccine’s development through its Butantan Institute. The cost of the acquisition was estimated at 2 billion reais ($360 million).
“Butantan’s vaccine will be Brazil’s vaccine,” Pazuello said.
A Brazilian health ministry document issued on Monday and shared by Sao Paulo’s government Wednesday confirmed that the ministry had put in writing its intention to buy the doses of the “Butantan Vaccine-Sinovac/Covid-19” for an estimated price of $10.30 each.
The document made explicit that purchase was contingent upon the health regulator’s approval.
The Brazilian president’s about-face on Wednesday has little to do with stopping the virus, said Claudio Couto, a political science professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a university. Rather, it is firstly a means to avoid handing a win to Doria, who is widely cited as a likely challenger to his 2022 reelection.
“His concern is to be a strong candidate for reelection, and that often means giving trouble to his adversaries,” Couto said.
Bolsonaro and Doria have had an adversarial relationship since the start of the pandemic, with each taking opposite stances regarding stay-at-home recommendations and restrictions on activity. The governor of Brazil’s most populous state heeded the counsel of public health experts and adopted such measures, which the president blasted, arguing the economic fallout could kill more than the disease.
Brazil has confirmed more than 153,000 deaths from COVID-19, the second most in the world, behind only the U.S. The South American nation has also reported 5.2 million cases of the disease, the world’s third highest tally.
Doria told reporters in capital Brasilia, where he was set to meet with the Speaker of the Lower House, that this is no time to play politics.
“It isn’t ideology, isn’t politics, and isn’t the electoral process that saves. It is the vaccine,” Doria said.
Brazil has a long tradition of immunization programs. The South American country has a struggling, but universal public health care system, which has been key to stopping outbreaks of measles, yellow fever and other diseases.
Bolsonaro has said no one will be forced to get a COVID-19 vaccine. But today’s comments reflect particular skepticism of the shot made by Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac.
He has often expressed mistrust for the Asian power, Brazil’s biggest trading partner, particularly on the campaign trail in 2018. He called China “heartless” and said that under his watch it wouldn’t be allowed to buy up Brazil.
While he softened his rhetoric in office, a cabinet minister and his son, a prominent lawmaker who presides over the lower house’s foreign relations committee, stoked separate diplomatic rows with China.
“THE CHINESE VACCINE OF JOÃO DORIA,” Bolsonaro wrote on social media on Wednesday. ″For my government, any vaccine, before it is made available to the population, must be PROVEN SCIENTIFICALLY.″
Notwithstanding concerns about scientific rigor, Bolsonaro for months touted the healing powers of hydroxychloroquine, even as a growing body of studies indicated the anti-malarial was ineffective against the virus and caused harmful side effects. When Bolsonaro recovered from COVID-19 himself, he chalked it up to hydroxychloroquine and brandished a box of the medicine to crowds.
And in June, Brazil’s government announced a deal with Oxford University and pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to purchase 100 million doses of its potential coronavirus vaccine.
It has become common practice for governments to purchase doses of promising COVID-19 vaccines, to build a stockpile in case they are proven effective. That investment is usually not refundable if the shot fails.
After Bolsonaro’s messages, the executive secretary of Brazil’s Health Ministry said in a televised statement that there had been a misunderstanding in the announcement about buying the CoronaVac vaccines.
“There is no intention to buy vaccines from China,” said Antonio Elcio Franco, who added there will be only “a Brazilian vaccine” made at the Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo. Those shots, however, would still be based upon Sinovac’s research.
Lawmaker Bia Kicis, a close ally of Bolsonaro’s, published on her social media channels another message that she said came directly from the president.
“I warn that we will not buy a single dose of vaccine from China, and my administration does not maintain any dialogue with João Doria on the matter of COVID-19,” the message said.
At least two governors, including Maranhao’s Flavio Dino, said they will fight Bolsonaro’s administration if it refuses authorization for a shot that works, whatever its provenance.
“We don’t want a new war,” said Dino, another adversary of the president’s. “Governors will go to Congress and to courts to ensure that the population has access to all vaccines that are efficient and safe. Health is a bigger asset than ideological or electoral disputes.”
Pope Francis became the first pontiff to endorse same-sex civil unions in comments for a documentary that premiered Wednesday, sparking cheers from gay Catholics and demands for clarification from conservatives, given the Vatican’s official teaching on the issue, reports AP.
The papal thumbs-up came midway through the feature-length documentary “Francesco,” which premiered at the Rome Film Festival. The film, which features fresh interviews with the pope, delves into issues Francis cares about most, including the environment, poverty, migration, racial and income inequality, and the people most affected by discrimination.
“Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God,” Francis said in one of his sit-down interviews for the film. “You can’t kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this. What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.”
While serving as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis endorsed civil unions for gay couples as an alternative to same-sex marriages. However, he had never come out publicly in favor of civil unions as pope, and no pontiff before him had, either.
The Jesuit priest who has been at the forefront in seeking to build bridges with gays in the church, the Rev. James Martin, praised the pope’s comments as “a major step forward in the church’s support for LGBT people.”
“The pope’s speaking positively about civil unions also sends a strong message to places where the church has opposed such laws,” Martin said in a statement.
However, the conservative bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, Thomas Tobin, immediately called for clarification.
“The pope’s statement clearly contradicts what has been the long-standing teaching of the church about same-sex unions,” Tobin said in a statement. “The church cannot support the acceptance of objectively immoral relationships.”
Catholic teaching holds that gays must be treated with dignity and respect but that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.” A 2003 document from the Vatican’s doctrine office stated that the church’s respect for gays “cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions.”
Doing so, the Vatican reasoned, would not only condone “deviant behavior,” but create an equivalence to marriage, which the church holds is an indissoluble union between man and woman.
That document was signed by the then-prefect of the office, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI and Francis’ predecessor.
One of the main characters in the documentary is Juan Carlos Cruz, the Chilean survivor of clergy sexual abuse whom Francis initially discredited during a 2018 visit to Chile.
Cruz, who is gay, said that during his first meetings with the pope in May 2018 after they patched things up, Francis assured him that God made Cruz gay. Cruz tells his own story in snippets throughout the film, chronicling both Francis’ evolution on understanding sexual abuse as well as to document the pope’s views on gay people.
Director Evgeny Afineevsky had remarkable access to cardinals, the Vatican television archives and the pope himself. He said he negotiated his way in through persistence, and deliveries of Argentine mate tea and Alfajores cookies that he got to the pope via some well-connected Argentines in Rome.
“Listen, when you are in the Vatican, the only way to achieve something is to break the rule and then to say, ‘I’m sorry,’” Afineevsky said in an interview ahead of the premiere.
The director worked official and unofficial channels starting in early 2018, and ended up so close to Francis by the end of the project that he showed the pope the movie on his iPad in August. The two recently exchanged Yom Kippur greetings; Afineevsky is a Russian-born Jew now based in Los Angeles. On Wednesday, Afineevsky’s 48th birthday, the director said Francis presented him with a birthday cake during a private meeting at the Vatican.
But “Francesco” is more than a biopic about the pope.
Wim Wenders did that in the 2018 film “Pope Francis: A Man of His Word,” which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. “Francesco,” is more a visual survey of the world’s crises and tragedies, with audio from the pope providing possible ways to solve them.
Afineevsky, who was nominated for an Oscar for his 2015 documentary “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom,” traveled the world to film his pope movie: The settings include Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh where Myanmar’s Rohingya sought refuge; the U.S.-Mexico border; and Francis’ native Argentina.
“The film tells the story of the pope by reversing the cameras,” said Vatican communications director Paolo Ruffini, who was one of Afineevsky’s closest Vatican-based collaborators on the film.
Ruffini said that when Afineevsky first approached him about a documentary, he tried to tamp down his hopes for interviewing the pope. “I told him it wasn’t going to be easy,” he said.
But Ruffini gave him some advice: names of people who had been impacted by the pope, even after just a brief meeting. Afineevsky found them: the refugees Francis met with on some of his foreign trips, prisoners he blessed, and some of the gays to whom he has ministered.
“I told him that many of those encounters had certainly been filmed by the Vatican cameras, and that there he would find a veritable gold mine of stories that told a story,” Ruffini said. “He would be able to tell story of the pope through the eyes of all and not just his own.”
Francis’ outreach to gays dates to his first foreign trip in 2013, when he uttered the now-famous words “Who am I to judge,” when asked during an airborne news conference returning home from Rio de Janiero about a purportedly gay priest.
Since then, he has ministered to gays and transsexual prostitutes, and welcomed people in gay partnerships into his inner circle. One of them was his former student, Yayo Grassi, who along with his partner visited Francis at the Vatican’s Washington D.C. embassy during the pope’s 2015 visit to the U.S.
The Vatican publicized that encounter, making video and photos of it available, after Francis was ambushed during that same visit by his then-ambassador, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who invited the anti-gay marriage activist Kim Davis to meet with the pope.
News of the Davis audience made headlines at the time and was viewed by conservatives as a papal stamp of approval for Davis, who was jailed for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses. The Vatican, however, vigorously sought to downplay it, with the Vatican spokesman saying the meeting by no means indicated Francis’ support for her or her position on gay marriage.
However, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was fervently opposed to gay marriage when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires. Then, he launched what gay activists remember as a “war of God” against Argentina’s move to approve same-sex marriage.
The pope’s authorized biographer, Sergio Rubin, said at the time of his 2013 election that Bergoglio was politically wise enough to know the church couldn’t win a straight-on fight against gay marriage. Instead, Rubin said, Bergoglio urged his fellow bishops to lobby for gay civil unions instead.
It wasn’t until Bergoglio’s proposal was shot down by the conservative bishops’ conference that Bergoglio publicly declared his opposition, and the church lost the issue altogether.
Francis, in the new documentary, essentially confirms Rubin’s account of what transpired. Of his belief in the need for legislation to protect gays living in civil relationships, he said: “I stood up for that.”
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, an organization of LGBT Catholics, praised Francis’ comments as a “historic” shift for a church that has a record of persecuting gays.
“At the same time, we urge Pope Francis to apply the same kind of reasoning to recognize and bless these same unions of love and support within the Catholic Church, too,” he said in a statement.
However, more conservative commentators sought to play down Francis’ words and said that while secular civil unions are one thing, a church blessing of them is quite another.
In a tweet, conservative U.S. author and commentator Ryan Anderson noted that he and some of his colleagues had gone on record a decade ago saying they would support federal civil unions for any two adults who commit to sharing domestic responsibilities. Such an arrangement, Anderson said, would leave churches the option of refusing to recognize these unions as marriage.
A United Nations report on Wednesday forecast a 7 percent to 9 percent year-on-year drop in the value of global trade in 2020, despite signs of a weak rebound in the third quarter led by a recovery in China.
In the latest quarterly report of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the Geneva-based trade body estimates world trade to be about 5 percent less in the third quarter than the same period in 2019, an improvement from the 19 percent year-on-year decline recorded in the second quarter but still insufficient to pull trade out of the red, reports Xinhua.
Global trade was bouncing back marginally in the third quarter, but remains negative except for China, it said.
Preliminary forecasts put year-on-year growth for the fourth quarter at 3 percent less. However, the report warned of uncertainties as how the COVID-19 pandemic will evolve and affect economic activity in the coming months.
The report also highlighted China's notable trade recovery, saying that the country's exports rebounded strongly in the third quarter after falling in the early months, with year-on-year growth rate at almost 10 percent.
"In the third quarter, Chinese trade statistics have progressively got better. In value, China exports for 2020 are now almost at the same level of the first nine months of 2019," UNCTAD Economist Alessandro Nicita told Xinhua in an interview.
"If this trends continues, it could very well be that China could register overall export growth for 2020," he said.
"Ultimately, for China to contribute to the global economy, it would be important not only to act as a manufacturing hub, but also to contribute more to global demand," Nicita.
UNCTAD also warned that no region was spared from the fall in international trade in the second quarter of 2020, saying the sharpest decline was for the West and South Asia regions, where imports dropped by 35 percent and exports by 41 percent.
In its latest World Economic Outlook earlier this month, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicted a 2020 global contraction of 4.4 percent, an improvement over a 5.2 percent fall predicted in June, when pandemic-related business closures reached their peak.
The global economy will return to growth of 5.2 percent in 2021, according to the IMF.