Ursula von der Leyen backs probe into how coronavirus emerged

The Commission chief says studying the outbreak's origins is necessary to set up an 'early warning system.'

Ursula von der Leyen backs probe into how coronavirus emerged

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the international community should investigate how the coronavirus pandemic started in order to be better prepared for future outbreaks.

In an interview with U.S. news channel CNBC published Friday, von der Leyen suggested the international community needed to study the coronavirus outbreak in order to set up an “early warning system.”

“You never know where the next virus is starting so we all want that, for the next time, we have learned our lesson and we have established a system of early warning that really functions,” she said, adding “the whole world has to contribute to that.”

Von der Leyen’s suggestion comes after the Swedish health minister called for an “international, independent investigation” into the origins and the spread of the virus. It also follows a statement by U.S. President Donald Trump, who suggested he had seen evidence that the virus originated in a Chinese scientific lab.

The Commission chief added the effort would require countries to provide insights into their data and response mechanisms: “[To build up] a system that you can count on, we need transparency. So we will have to work on that after the crisis,” she said.

China has faced criticism for being late to alert the international community when it saw the virus emerge in the city of Wuhan. Health experts have also questioned its reporting of infection figures throughout the crisis.

According to von der Leyen, an investigation into the origins of the virus won’t cause friction with the Beijing government, because “it’s in our own interest, of every county, that we are better prepared the next time.”

Disinformation researchers have flagged online misinformation campaigns that conflict with health authorities’ guidance and aim to spread doubt over the origins of the virus. Some of the activity has been linked to Chinese and Russian networks, including by the EU’s own strategic communications service.

In the U.S., meanwhile, President Donald Trump claimed late on Thursday he had seen evidence backing claims — popular on far-right media networks in the country — that the virus originated in a laboratory in Wuhan.

Asked to clarify, Trump said: “I can’t tell you that. I’m not allowed to tell you that.”

The claim contradicted a statement made hours earlier by U.S. intelligence agencies that they determined the virus “was not manmade or genetically modified.”

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday said he had no information to support the theory that the virus came out of a lab, Reuters reported, after his government expressed support for an international inquiry into the outbreak.

Source : Politico EU More   

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Spain predicts unemployment will hit 19 percent

Spain's GDP will fall by more than 9 percent but recover quickly next year, says economy minister.

Spain predicts unemployment will hit 19 percent

Unemployment in Spain will reach 19 percent this year and GDP will decline by 9.2 percent due to the coronavirus, according to the government’s most recent forecasts.

Madrid submitted Spain’s new budget stability plan and macroeconomic forecasts to the European Commission on Thursday night, as ministers warned that the coronavirus had “deeply affected” the country’s economic expectations.

“Before the pandemic, all forecasts pointed to a slight growth, a more balanced and sustainable growth. But in the first quarter the shock of [the coronavirus] has put an abrupt end to growth and the landscape has changed completely,” Economy Minister Nadia Calviño said at a press conference Friday.

The government’s GDP forecast is slightly worse than that of the International Monetary Fund, which predicted an 8 percent drop, but better than the Bank of Spain’s, which said it could decrease by 13 percent in the worst-case scenario.

Madrid estimates the country’s public deficit will surge to 10.3 percent of GDP this year — the biggest gap between income and expenditure since 2012. Spain had finished 2019 with its deficit at 2.8 percent. Meanwhile, public debt will increase from 95.5 percent of GDP in 2019 to 115 percent this year, the government said.

Calviño said the Spanish economy was expected to hit bottom in the second quarter of this year and then start an “asymmetric V” recovery, with GDP growing by 6.8 percent in 2021. But she warned that this was not certain.

The economic contraction is due to an 8.8 percent fall in households’ consumption, a 25.5 percent drop in investment and a 27.1 percent fall in exports, Calviño said.

María Jesús Montero, the government’s spokesperson and Treasury minister, ruled out tax increases to refill the public coffers, saying the strategy was to protect people’s pockets so they start driving up consumption as the lockdown is gradually lifted.

Earlier this week, the government defended Spain’s management of its deficit in the run-up to the pandemic, saying it had fallen by €5.5 billion in the first quarter of the year, which represents a 13.9 percent drop compared to the same period in 2019.

The government is set to ask lawmakers to back a fourth extension of the state of emergency, which gives ministers extraordinary powers to deal with the pandemic, as it begins to ease the restrictions put in place on March 13. But the opposition has become more reluctant to support a further extension.

Montero appealed to the “responsibility” of all political parties to maintain the state of emergency beyond May 10 and until the government’s plan to ease the lockdown restrictions has been completed, saying it would not be “coherent” to change their position now.

Source : Politico EU More   

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