How lockdown converted the world to cycling, and the speedbumps that lie ahead

“ARE SALES up?” asks Enrico Lepore in disbelief. “Did you see the queue outside the door?” Mr Lepore, co-owner of ProBike, a shop in a Florence suburb, estimates that his turnover is almost twice as high as at the same time last year. At least he still has bikes to sell. A shop down the road ran out of stock long ago.

It’s the same story in bike shops around the world. Whereas the coronavirus has been disastrous for most forms of human endeavour, cyclists have never had it so good. Lockdowns have brought blissfully empty roads, which have been a boon to even the most reluctant pedaller. Residents of big cities have been feverishly reimagining their lives on a saddle, rather than behind the wheel. This is cycling’s moment, and it could have profound long-term implications for transport policy.

Where statistics are available, they show huge rises in bicycle use across Europe and America. In Switzerland, the number of kilometres cycled since early March has risen by 175% (and fallen by 11% for trams). In Philadelphia cycling is up by 151%; usage of New York’s bike-share scheme rose by 67% in March, year-on-year. Even in Copenhagen, the two-wheel capital of the world, Jens Rubin, of Omnium Bikes, says his shop has been “busier than ever”; sales doubled in April and May compared with the same months in 2019. In March sales of bikes in America increased by about 50% year-on-year, according to NPD, a market-research firm. Cycling is one industry that probably won’t need any bail-outs; the share price of Halfords, a big British bike-seller, has risen from 81p ($0.99) on March 17th to 183p on May 29th, while the FTSE 100 index has risen by just 15% over the same period.

Early in the pandemic governments latched on to cycling as a healthy way for people to move around safely, exercise and keep reasonably sane. Thus in most American states, for instance, cycle-repair shops were allowed to stay open as essential businesses. Italy’s government offers 60% reimbursements, up to a maximum of €500 ($545), to any city-dweller buying a bicycle, or indeed any sort of motorised two-wheeler. City leaders, from Bogotá to Berlin, have helped by turning over their tarmac, or bits of it at least, exclusively to bikes. Milan converted 35km of its roads into cycle lanes and the Big Apple 100 miles (160km) for the use of both pedestrians and cyclists. Oakland, California, closed 119km of road to cars. Cycling has thus become easier, and safer.

Now Western governments are seizing on cycling’s big moment to try to make such temporary measures permanent. Because social distancing is likely to endure for months, or even years, public transport won’t return to normal soon; it may never do so. So the bike will remain an essential tool in many countries’ strategies to taper their lockdowns. As the French environment minister, Elisabeth Borne, put it, “the bicycle is the little queen of deconfinement”; poetry in motion. Paris has been preparing 650km of cycleways to help the city gradually open up.

Politicians hope to persuade people of the virtues of cycling beyond the end of this particular crisis. Cycling has well-advertised, longer-term gains: less pollution and a healthier population. The gains from having fewer cars and lorries on the road are already evident. Global carbon-dioxide emissionsin early April fell by 17% compared with the mean 2019 levels, according to a study in Nature Climate Change, and “changes to surface transport” made the largest contribution to the reduction.

National and city governments are fizzing with new, or revamped, schemes. Grant Shapps, Britain’s transport minister, in a speech on May 9th , promised to make “a ‘once in a generation’ change to the way people travel in Britain.” He announced a £2bn investment in more cycling infrastructure and better pavements. Manchester has plans for the country’s “most comprehensive” integrated walking and cycling network. France wants to spend €20m to subsidise cycle training and more parking spaces for bikes. Bologna is bringing forward its plan for a Bicipolitana, 493km of cycle lanes, from 2030 to later this year, when 60% of it should be finished. Seattle plans to shut 20 miles of streets to most cars permanently.

But a two-wheel revolution cannot be taken for granted. Cycling novices in the northern hemisphere have been lucky to enjoy most of the lockdown in fine spring weather; just wait for winter. And some evidence indicates that many people are yearning to get back in their cars, also handy as lockdowns end but social-distancing rules remain. In China, for instance, one survey concluded that the proportion of people who want to use a car would surge from 34% to 66% after lockdown ends; the same survey showed that more Chinese were now keen on buying a car. Other surveys suggest huge drop-offs in enthusiasm for trains and buses.

Thus the challenge will be to create incentives for those who abandon their buses to mount up rather than strap in. Technology may help. Electricity-assisted cycles allow commuters to venture farther without fear of running out of puff. Deloitte, a consultancy, is expecting e-cycle sales to take off, topping 130m by 2023. Germany’s Bosch has been leading the market in motors and batteries that can be installed on regular bikes. Venture capital is also pouring into e-cycle startups such as VanMoof (which recently raised $13.5m from Balderton Capital). Sales of e-bikes in America soared by 85% in March compared with the same month a year earlier.

But as Morten Kabell, head of the European Cycling Federation, a lobby group, argues, “physical infrastructure is the key”, particularly “separated, protected cycle tracks”. The hope is that today’s flimsy pop-up cycle lanes will be tomorrow’s dedicated, secure cycle tracks. Statistics on safety show that the more cyclists a city has, the safer it is: motorists change their behaviour accordingly. And in the near future, at least, cyclists may need all the protection they can get. Eerily quiet streets have been an invitation not only for cyclists to pedal, but also for drivers to step on the gas. In London the number of speeding drivers increased eight-fold during one week of the lockdown in April, compared with the same period in 2019; one speedster was clocked at 163mph in a 70mph zone.

More parking spaces for bikes should also help. The city of Utrecht in the Netherlands is building the largest vertical bike park in the world at the railway station; there is room for 33,000 two-wheelers and counting. (It is also building “fast lanes” for e-bikes.)

A country’s legal framework can encourage cycling too. Most European countries, with the notable exceptions of Britain and Ireland, have presumed-liability laws, under which the burden of proof in any collision between a motorist and a cyclist is borne by the driver. Proponents, such as Road Share, a British lobby group, argue that countries with these laws, like Denmark and Germany, enjoy much more, and much safer, cycling than those without, because they encourage motorists to be more cautious.

But turning cities like London or New York into so many Copenhagens will be less of a sprint, more several Tours de France. In the Danish capital over 60% of commuters cycle to work (or study). The figure is in the low single digits in most American cities. But at least for now cyclists around the world can demand more of their governments, knowing they have a tailwind of public goodwill.

Reuse this contentThe Trust Project

Why The Half Of It‘s Leah Lewis Will Never Stop Growing Up

By Crystal Bell

Less than a minute into our conversation, Leah Lewis tells me how she’s been taking care of herself — “mentally and physically” — while quarantining in her Los Angeles home. It’s late April, and the usually benign question of “how are you doing?” is now a loaded phrase that means, in essence, “how are you coping?” The 23-year-old star of The Half of It assures me she’s been eating a lot (she and her boyfriend challenge each other to cook-offs in the kitchen), reading a lot (she’s currently in the middle of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood), calling a lot (she talks to her best friend and co-star Alexxis Lemire at least “five times a day”), and painting her toenails a lot. She journals every day, a hobby she’s kept for most of her life, but finds it especially helpful amidst this prolonged period of social distancing from friends and family.

It gives her a sense of routine and purpose, which she also maintains with a daily home workout plan. Booty Blast class on Saturdays. Arms and abs on Wednesdays. “When this whole thing began I was a little down on myself,” she tells MTV News over the phone. The feeling is familiar, given many people say quarantine has taken a toll on their mental health. But then, she says, “I started to look forward to doing something every single day.”

Netflix / KC Bailey

If only Ellie Chu could see the world through Lewis’s eyes. In Alice Wu’s The Half of It, Ellie doesn’t have much to look forward to. She’s intelligent and wildly witty, with a cunning entrepreneurial spirit (she’s a writer for hire among her classmates), and yet the high school senior has no plans to leave the rural town of Squahamish — no matter how much she hates it. She feels obligated to stay for her widowed Chinese father, who struggles to communicate with small-minded townspeople. But she’s also scared. She’s a queer first-generation immigrant who’s barely come out to herself. She’s uncomfortable in her own skin. How is she supposed to exist in the world by herself when she doesn’t even know herself yet?

It’s a feeling with which Lewis could connect, even in her twenties. “By being able to be Ellie Chu, I was able to start to love the quieter parts of myself,” she says. I’m currently working on self-love and learning how to embrace the parts of me, at 23, that maybe I’m not a huge fan of. There’s always room for growth because situations are constantly changing around us. Things change and you learn to adapt, and I think it’s a really beautiful thing.”

Helping Ellie on her journey of self-discovery is Paul (Daniel Diemer), a dopey jock who also happens to be head over heels for the school’s cool girl Aster Flores (Lemire). He convinces Ellie to join his scheme to “get the girl” without realizing that she’s also hopelessly in love with Aster. But this isn’t your typical love story. For starters, Ellie and Paul’s unlikely friendship is the heart of the film, and as they become closer, it’s easy to see how Paul starts to misread the situation. Yet, The Half of It isn’t concerned with who gets the girl.

Netflix / KC Bailey

“It’s not about romance,” Lewis says. “These characters are learning how to love for the first time. There literally is no rule book or guide on how to love. That is why this is a love story, because people are figuring out what that means for themselves and how to do it in a way that feels good for them and for others. Love doesn’t always end with finding your other half, but your other half could be friendship. It could be finding your way back to your family. And it could be finding your own unique voice.”

It’s what made Wu’s screenplay so relatable to her. Lewis has been nurturing her personal perspective as an actor since 2006. As a child, she’d perform scenes from her favorite television shows and movies in her family’s living room. She started booking commercial work and signed with a talent manager at 7 years old, regularly flying from Gotha, Florida, to Los Angeles with her mother. She liked to sing, too — and Disney was her muse. “I remember sitting my family down and being like, ‘OK, now I’m going to act out a scene from Sleeping Beauty and you guys are all going to watch me,'” she says with a laugh. She brought that same plucky energy to L.A. when she moved coasts a few years ago, channeling that confidence into her audition for The Half of It. However, it wasn’t her boldness that landed her the part — that clashed with Wu’s vision of the character; it was her willingness to dig deeper.

“When I first came in I thought I had Ellie in the bag. I played her cute and quirky, a little more like Lana Condor in To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,” she recalls. “She was a little more upbeat and aware of herself.” Wu reeled her in. “Ellie is an observer, a wallflower. So Alice helped ground my performance. She encouraged me to be more present. She literally pulled a side out of me that I didn’t even know existed. I was like, ‘Dude, we shot a movie, and I’m brand new.'”

Netflix / KC Bailey

The process of working with Wu and playing Ellie, an outsider who’s as estranged from herself as she is from her peers, led Lewis to think about her own coming-of-age experience and the depictions of youth and Asian identity she had grown up consuming. In fact, it wasn’t until watching 2018’s Netflix hit To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before that she saw an Asian-American teen be the “center of her own story.” Now, with Ellie Chu, she gets to highlight a much different experience of what it’s like to grow up in smalltown America. “Alice showed me another side of what it’s like to be an Asian American,” she says. “It’s the fact that this character is not just the best friend and she’s not just the smart girl who writes everyone’s papers at school. This is a fully-fledged human being whose story needs to be told.”

Still, the idea that you ever stop growing up is a short-sighted one. The relationship you have with yourself is a marathon, not a sprint. “I’m honestly going to be 90 and still figuring things out,” Lewis jokes. Then, she pauses. “I’ve been really trying to be gentle with myself when it comes to my insecurities. I’m learning how to become a better friend to myself. I’ve been focusing on doing things that make me happy.”

Things like journaling, calling her sister, reading, cooking (she recently made an “incredible” shrimp pasta), working out, and soaking up the sun in the little nook on her patio. This is how she stays present, focused, and ready for tomorrow. “I don’t know what the future holds,” she concludes, “but I’m definitely living for today and just trying to grow as much as possible in the moment.”

What awaits tourists when they re-emerge from lockdown?

Editor’s note: Some of our covid-19 coverage is free for readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. For more stories and our pandemic tracker, see our coronavirus hub

MOST STRIKING is the absence—of cars outside the building, of people inside it, of any activity at all. So astonished was Alaba, an Uber driver, as he approached Heathrow airport on a Saturday morning in May that he circled the final roundabout twice, crying, “This can’t be Heathrow.”

Inside an employee stood ready to hand out facemasks, with no one to give them to. The vast check-in hall was nearly deserted. Just one lane at security was operating. Many of the lights were off. The departures board showed six flights for the entire day.

International travel has all but stopped. Borders are closed. Hotels are empty. In April last year 6.8m passengers passed through Heathrow. This April just over 200,000 did—fewer than a pandemic-less daily average. Flight movements across Europe are down by nearly 85% (see chart 1). In America the Transportation Security Administration screened 3.2m passengers in its airports last month, down from 70m during the same period last year. Some countries, such as India, stopped all road and rail transport, grounded all flights and shuttered airports. And as countries creak open, they are picking and choosing which nationalities to allow in. The old rules have gone out of the window.

And so for many 2020 will be a year without holidays. The fear of disease will keep people at home. Travel is already a luxury. Even in rich Europe, with its generous holiday entitlements, three in ten cannot afford a week’s annual holiday away from home. Those who have lost jobs or who are worried about recessions may cut travel from their budgets. For those who still dream of foreign beaches, the biggest obstacle will be getting anywhere. Many restrictions—including border closures and quarantines post-arrival—are still in place.

Tourism is a giant of the global economy. People went on 1.4bn foreign trips in 2018, twice the number in 2000 (see chart 2). In that time a rich-country habit became a global one. Such was the scramble to attract tourists, countries started projecting themselves as global travel brands (think Incredible India! or Epic Estonia). By the industry’s reckoning, 330m jobs—from well-paid airline pilots to tour guides and dishwashers working unseen in expensive resorts—depend on travellers. Many of those are local; about three-quarters of all tourism in rich countries is within national borders, according to the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries.

The health of national exchequers, as well as the shape of sectors from restaurants to hotels and luxury goods (which are often bought while people are on holiday), will depend on what tourism looks like when it is allowed to resume. Hotels and airlines are using the upheaval as an opportunity to rework how they function. Families are rethinking how and where they can safely take their holidays. Many of the changes will last only until a vaccine for covid-19 appears. But some will stick. How people start to travel in 2020—or 2021—will shape how they travel for years thereafter.

In normal times international tourists spend $1.6trn each year—more than Spain’s GDP. The jobs tourism creates cannot be offshored, and often appear in places where few other opportunities exist. A Barcelona bar selling sangria to a German tourist may not look like an exporter, but its impact on the national accounts is much the same as if it had shipped the bottle north. In fact as a source of global export revenues, tourism is bigger than the food or car industries.

The travel bug

But forecasts for 2020 range from the abysmal to the apocalyptic. The UN World Tourism Organisation predicts a fall in international travel spending of $910bn-1.2trn this year. It predicts that arrivals will tumble by 60-80%. Of the 217 destinations the body tracks, 72% have closed their borders to international tourists. Europe will be hit especially hard. It receives over half of the world’s tourists every year. Most are due to arrive soon. More than other tourism hotspots, summers are vital: 59% of all tourism-related receipts in Greece are booked from July to September. Tourism is a rare example of an industry where southern Europeans outshine (and often host) their northern counterparts.

Some are taking tentative steps towards reopening. Greece and Italy hope to welcome international tourists this summer. Regional “travel bubbles” are being considered in parts of Europe and Oceania (see Banyan). But many would-be travellers will have to stay in their own countries.

In South Korea, which never locked down entirely, three-quarters of all planned trips by air in April were domestic, compared with a tenth normally, according to Skyscanner, a price-comparison website. Around the world car-rental searches are up, too. According to Airbnb, a home-rental website, domestic bookings everywhere have grown dramatically, to over 80% of total reservations. Even more striking, many people are booking properties within 50 miles (80km) of where they live, with the majority within 200 miles. Being able to drive home is useful if lockdown conditions change suddenly.

Travelling within China, which was the first country to impose a lockdown and now appears to have its outbreak largely under control, is returning to something close to normality (see article). But even in America, which is still reporting more than 20,000 fresh cases every day, the first weekend of May saw spikes in hotel occupancy, according to Keith Barr of IHG, a hotel group that includes the InterContinental and Holiday Inn chains. “The level of demand surprised me. I didn’t think anybody would be travelling right now,” he says. Given closed borders, the demand is all domestic.

For now European leaders, from Italy to France, are hoping that locals who cannot leave will replace foreigners who cannot enter. That might work, to some extent and in some countries. But many tourist hotspots, like Iceland or Caribbean islands, have too few locals to replace absent foreigners. Malta, which each year hosts nearly six foreign visitors for every native, might get a quarter of the 2.9m tourists it attracted last year, reckons Johann Buttigieg of the Malta Travel Authority—if its borders reopen in time for summer. Residents of countries that export more tourists than they receive, such as Britain, South Korea and Germany, will struggle to squeeze onto their own beaches.

Even more “balanced” countries, like the Netherlands, will struggle to slot domestic tourists into the gap left by foreigners: a pricey Airbnb overlooking an Amsterdam canal is more appealing to a New Yorker than to a stranded Rotterdammer. Backpacker hostels, which are as charming to skint foreign youngsters as they are unappealing to locals, are in for a tough spell. Camping grounds attracting relatively local caravaners will do better.

Meanwhile, urban destinations have fallen out of favour—why go to New York if Broadway is closed? Rural getaways by contrast are in demand. IHG’s busiest hotels are ones situated by beaches. STR, a travel-research firm, says occupancy rates at some seaside spots in America’s south were as high as 60%.

That might lead to what Brian Chesky, Airbnb’s boss, calls travel redistribution: people taking trips to out-of-the-way places rather than the usual metropolises. Airbnb, which can offer rooms almost anywhere, was already banking on a trend for people to move off the beaten track and save money by shunning tourist hotspots. That trend has become turbocharged. Mr Chesky says he used to think it would take 20-30 years for travellers’ habits to change. Now he thinks it will happen in mere weeks or months.

Upending the world’s travel habits even for a few months will have long-term effects. If tourists discover the virtues of new locations, they will want to return.

People are either looking for flights far further into the future or far closer to now—not so much last-minute as last-second travel, jokes Luca Romozzi of Sojern, a travel consultancy. Booking (and paying) later will change the business model of airlines and hotels, which have long bankrolled themselves with customers’ advance payments. Worse, most travel vendors now have to agree to flexible cancellation terms if they are to attract any kind of custom.

You can turn this world around

The economics of providing travel services will change in other ways. Making things easier to clean and reducing touchpoints will be priorities. Hotels are ditching carpets in favour of bare floors. Throw cushions are being thrown out. Restaurant menus will probably become digital or appear on chalkboards. Kitchens will offer fewer dishes, to simplify the cooking process and to avoid wasting stocked ingredients in case of more enforced closures.

Other disappearances will be more noticeable. The buffet has probably seen its last supper. Check-in will be automated. “We obviously still want to provide a welcome, but actually printing a key is just a transaction. That’s not really a welcome,” says Arne Sorenson of Marriott, the world’s biggest hotel chain. Expect mobile check-in, room keys on phones and more voice-activated room controls.

Such proposals are part of an immediate reaction to the pandemic—in-your-face health measures that form a sort of “hygiene theatre”. Countries such as Greece are selling themselves as less infected by covid-19. A Portuguese minister boasted of its wonderful nurses should travellers fall ill there, such as the one who tended to Boris Johnson, the British prime minister.

Using health and hygiene as marketing tools is a return to old form. Richard Clarke of Bernstein, a research firm, notes that an ad for Holiday Inn from the 1970s emphasised cleanliness as the chain’s main selling point, ahead of location and comfort. It will come to the fore again, to the benefit of big brands. People may put up with spartan digs if they know they have been thoroughly disinfected. Marriott now boasts of a “Global Cleanliness Council”.

Airports will also emphasise hygiene. “I think the move to minimising contact during any travel experience will just push us over the edge to having a contactless journey,” says John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow’s chief. “Once you get into the terminal, you’ll scan your passport, have an image of your face taken, drop your bags,” and then stroll through checkpoints as cameras use facial recognition to open gates.

Some of this may sound far-fetched, but citizens of some three dozen countries can already use e-gates to get through passport control on arrival at Heathrow and many other airports, allowing them to go from gate to kerb without talking to another person. Security will still involve slowing down, but even there it should soon be possible to leave laptops and liquids inside the bag. Automation will reduce the need to touch trays. Hand-sanitiser is already everywhere. Once implemented, such changes are unlikely to be undone.

By contrast the in-flight experience may change much less in the long term. Observant travellers will notice tweaks. In-flight magazines will probably disappear. Meal services may be reduced to bags of snacks and bottles of water for a while.

Stuck in the middle with you

But crucial things—such as the middle seat on airplanes—will not disappear. Airlines are clear that it would destroy their business model, which requires around two-thirds of seats to be filled to make a profit. “We don’t think it is necessary and either we don’t fly or we have to increase prices by 45-50%, or 100% for some” airlines, says Alexandre de Juniac of the International Air Transport Association, aviation’s main trade body. Lower fuel costs will help somewhat with operational expenses, but airlines also have high fixed costs.

Instead, Mr de Juniac advocates a globally co-ordinated system of checks and safety measures that include health declarations from passengers, temperature checks at departure and arrival points, widespread use of facemasks and enhanced cleaning of aircraft. Some of these changes will endure and could increase costs. Adding several cabin cleanings a day will reduce the number of flights a single plane and crew can fly. This is particularly harmful to low-cost airlines, whose business models rely on quick turnarounds.

Not all these changes will be universal. People have diverse tastes, different reasons to travel and varying appetites for risk. Budgets also dictate their choice of destination and activity. Americans who might have gone to the Caribbean will have to make do with Florida. Chinese luxury-shoppers can turn to high-end malls at home. But Scottish sun-seekers or Saudis escaping the desert summer will want to get back on planes. The poshest travellers, who can afford first-class flights and private suites, will have less reason to fear disease. Places that appeal to a mostly younger crowd will probably function as close to normal as possible within governmental guidelines. Nobody wants to go to a socially distanced nightclub.

Giant cruise-liners carrying thousands of often-old people will take longer to recover their appeal—if they ever do. They guaranteed a steady flow of visitors to islands with few other sources of hard currency. A dozen countries rely on tourism to generate over 60% of their export income, according to the UN’s parasol counters, all of them renowned for their beaches. The Caribbean has seen a slew of credit-rating downgrades as a result. If travel curbs do not ease before the crucial winter season, downgrades will translate into defaults.

Much attention has been lavished in recent years on the problems of overtourism for a handful of superstar cities such as Venice and Barcelona. But most destinations have found a happy balance between tourism and normal life. It is those places that will feel its absence hardest. As Mr Buttigieg says, speaking from a deserted Malta, “Nobody realised how important tourism was until it was gone.”

Clarification: The figure showing the share of Airbnb reservations which are domestic bookings was updated after the publication of this article.

This article appeared in the International section of the print edition under the headline “Lonely planet”

Reuse this contentThe Trust Project

The Half Of It Star Daniel Diemer Will Try Anything Once

By Crystal Bell

Daniel Diemer spruces up a small area of his Studio City apartment for a full day of Zoom interviews in promotion of the new Netflix film The Half of It, but he only keeps things professional from the waist up. A sartorial mullet, of sorts. “I’m wearing sweatpants,” the 23-year-old actor says matter-of-factly over the phone. He’s sitting in front of the television in his living room, where his roommates are currently prohibited from snacking too loudly, telling me about his days as a teenage gig worker in his Canadian hometown, British Columbia’s Brentwood Bay.

In no specific order, he coached ping pong, picked blueberries, published a children’s book about a penguin detective, did some low-level accounting work, coached tennis at the same summer camp for seven years, nearly became a professional soccer player, and he probably would have pursued professional tennis had a back injury not derailed his collegiate plans. Diemer, who claimed a 4.0 GPA in high school, had a backup plan — or several. He was accepted to nursing school, as well as an “honors biotech merged with engineering” program, but he ultimately decided on the pre-med track after completing the prerequisite courses. At 17, it looked like Diemer’s future pointed to medical school, until an interim side hustle turned into a passion he couldn’t shake.

He had eight months before the start of his pre-med program, just enough time to start a new part-time gig. Having modeled for his high school’s art class during his senior year (“just to get out of English class,” he adds), his English teacher landed him his first-ever acting job: a small part in a Sidney York music video directed by her son. “I was completely out of the loop,” he tells MTV News. “They were all very patient with me.” Despite his lack of experience, Diemer was hooked. Within six months, he moved to Vancouver, where he slept on a couch and started taking classes under the tutelage of acting coach Andrew McIlroy (whose pupils include Arrow‘s Emily Bett Rickards and the late Cory Monteith) — dreams of Oscar gold in his sight.

Netflix / KC Bailey

“Looking back on it, it’s probably the craziest dream ever,” he says with a laugh. “But I fell in love with it, and I love it more than pretty much anything else I’ve ever done.”

It’s not that hard to see why someone like Diemer would fall so hard. Acting fulfills his constant need to go from project to project, to step into unfamiliar situations and chase the high of new experiences. It has its challenges, too. Learning to live with rejection is a significant part of the job, and it’s not always easy. Diemer has walked into hundreds of audition rooms; he’s only booked a handful of roles, most of them for small television parts and short films. But sometimes all you need to jumpstart a career in Hollywood is the perfect shot to come at the right time. For Diemer, landing his first major role in Netflix’s The Half of It felt like kismet.

Paul Munsky is dopey and sweet, the perfect foil to Ellie Chu’s (Leah Lewis) cynicism. He’s a romantic; she’s far too practical for love — but way too smart to pass up a lucrative opportunity to play Romeo for quick cash. This dynamic, easily forged between Diemer and Lewis over a chemistry read in Los Angeles, sets up the teen rom-com’s main plot: Paul has a crush on Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire), but he can’t be in her presence without fumbling his words, so he hires Ellie to woo his dream girl with love letters and texts. The fact that Ellie has also been crushing on Aster goes unnoticed by Paul, who eventually catches feelings for Ellie. Meanwhile, Ellie is questioning her own burgeoning emotions.

Director and writer Alice Wu allows her teenage characters to feel everything, and that resonated with Diemer. “I think as an actor it’s very easy to try and either own it or disappear from who you are completely to portray something that you’re not,” he says. “And what [Wu] did was to guide me to existing as close to Paul as I possibly could while also being very much me. That was the key, just simplifying the whole process and trying to not be anything else to tell the story from this heartfelt place that I connected with.”

In Hollywood, where you’re often typecast as one or the other, this or that, The Half of It blurs those lines. Paul is a jock, but he’s also insecure and sensitive. He’s a good listener, and while he struggles to find the right words, he never stops trying. Not to mention he’s an innovator in the kitchen with big dreams of franchising his coveted taco sausage recipe. In other words, he’s a real person.

“There’s seldom a gray area for [teen] characters that are both confident in certain areas of their life and not so confident in others, especially as guys,” Diemer says. “There’s rarely space for them to be emotionally vulnerable. I’ve always been quite a sensitive person, and I didn’t always feel understood in a lot of ways … I think Paul has much more confidence than I do sometimes. He’s willing to ask a girl to write a love letter for him, which I thought was very brave.”

Netflix / KC Bailey

This sincerity is exactly what makes Diemer, a self-proclaimed ambivert in all of his 6-foot-4 glory, so relatable. Wu looked at nearly 600 actors for the role of Paul, but Diemer was the only one who brought the everyman quality she was searching for. He’s like an uncut stone that doesn’t know it’s a diamond.

He describes the process of filming The Half of It as a lesson in confidence, “both in my abilities and in the people around me,” he adds. And if joining the ranks of fellow Netflix heartthrobs like Noah Centineo, Jordan Fisher, and Jacob Elordi sounds daunting, Diemer assures he isn’t looking at it that way. He’s still got a lot to learn — about acting, about himself, about being a son and a friend and a co-star, and about his new home, Los Angeles. (“I never expected to be in L.A. pursuing such a crazy career, not in my wildest dreams,” he says.) But he’s working on it.

“For me, there’s this constant willingness to try things,” he says. “That’s how I grow and find more confidence and develop more as a human being. I don’t think I’ll ever say, ‘Hey, I’ve made it. This is Daniel and this is it.’ I constantly want to be a better person. I’m always asking, ‘How do I do life in the best way possible?’ I really do think I’m still growing in every direction.”

How China emerges from lockdown will affect global tourism

YOU CAN wave to the giant Mickey Mouse mascot, but not get close enough for a jolly selfie. Such are the rules at Disneyland Shanghai, which reopened on May 11th. Visitor numbers are capped at 30% of the sprawling park’s capacity. Meanwhile the Forbidden City in Beijing can now take only 5,000 visitors a day, just 6% of its normal cap.

China is leading the way out of travel lockdowns—but still largely within its own borders. Over the Labour Day weekend at the start of May, some 115m Chinese went on domestic holidays, a healthy 60% of last year’s number. Capacity on Chinese domestic flights was down by only 10% year-on-year in the first week of May. But foreign flights are still rare: each carrier gets one flight to every destination once a week.

Whether—and how fast—the Chinese rediscover their yen for venturing abroad matters a lot to the rest of the world. Once a tourism tiddler, China is now a giant: no country sends more tourists overseas. The surge of Chinese travellers accounts for a quarter of the rise in global spending on tourism since 2000. The 150m foreign trips by mainlanders (including to Hong Kong and Macau) in 2018 added up to 10% of all global departures, up from 1% in two decades. China is also now the fourth most-visited country behind France, Spain and America.

Purveyors of services beyond aviation and accommodation depend on it. Chinese tourists spend lavishly on overseas jaunts, around double the global average. Last year they accounted for 81% of South Korea’s duty-free sales. Over a third of all the luxury baubles sold by the likes of Louis Vuitton and Gucci are bought by Chinese splurgers, according to Bain, a consultancy. And over two-thirds of that is overseas, notably in Europe. If tourism sags, posh stores there will lose custom to luxury shops in China (despite selling the same stuff more cheaply).

Gloria Guevara of the World Travel and Tourism Council, a trade body, says Chinese may feel a whiff of stigmatisation thanks to the pandemic. “I think the Chinese will continue to travel and will travel internationally at the right time [but] at the beginning will want to travel to countries where they feel more welcome.” Alternatively, once the virus has largely been eradicated at home, Chinese tourists may decide that they are less keen to visit places where the contagion may still be lurking.

Editor’s note: Some of our covid-19 coverage is free for readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. For more stories and our pandemic tracker, see our coronavirus hub

This article appeared in the International section of the print edition under the headline “Still grounded”

Reuse this contentThe Trust Project

Will wet markets be hung out to dry after the pandemic?

Editor’s note: Some of our covid-19 coverage is free for readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. For more stories and our pandemic tracker, see our hub

WHEN ANTHONY FAUCI, a well-respected immunologist on President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task-force, called for the worldwide banning of wet markets last month, he may have had in mind somewhere like Tomohon in Indonesia. The highland town is surrounded by lush countryside in northern Sulawesi, home to the Minahasa people and an amazing diversity of wildlife.

Much of it makes its way to Tomohon’s covered market, where it is laid out on countless butchers’ slabs: warty pigs, flying foxes (actually, a fruit bat), reticulated pythons and the Sulawesi giant rat. Before feast days other specimens, all illegally caught, find their way to the stalls, among them the rare Celebes crested macaque, a large jet-black monkey, and the Sulawesi bear cuscus, a tree-dwelling marsupial. Domestic dogs in cages also wait their turn as traders with blow torches burn off slaughtered animals’ fur, setting their faces in a rictus grin. Even Minahasans revel in the market’s moniker: pasar extrim, the extreme market.

Dr Fauci is not alone in wanting wet markets banned. Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, has called for their closure, as have American senators from both sides of the chamber. No wonder, you might think. It is not just the devastating effect they can have on a region’s biodiversity. Bustling markets selling live wild animals, often piled one atop the other, also give virologists the heebie-jeebies. Poor hygiene, animals kept in stressful conditions (which may affect their immune systems, making them more susceptible to disease) and traders and customers packed cheek-by-jowl can easily result in a “spillover” event, when a virus jumps from an animal into a human, causing a new disease, says Olivier Restif, a virologist at the University of Cambridge.

No one knows for sure whether the novel coronavirus got into humans in another live-animal market, this time in Wuhan, central China, the original centre of the covid-19 outbreak. It may have been an unhappy coincidence—any place that brings hundreds of humans together in close proximity has the potential to spread a disease. But many virologists think SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes covid-19, originated in bats and then may have infected an intermediate species, possibly a pangolin, a scaly anteater prized for its meat and medicinal properties. What is undeniable is that Wuhan, in which live pangolins, civets and other wild species were sold, is exactly the sort of place where a new zoonotic disease might originate.

Mankind has fought several bitter battles against virulent enemies that emerged from live wild animals in wet markets, although such diseases’ exact sources are often murky. One of the most recent was SARS, another coronavirus that spread around the globe in 2003, which was believed to have been passed to locals through bats, via civets sold for meat in a marketplace in Guangdong, also in China. Wild animals are particularly dangerous because humans have not grown accustomed to—or conquered—their bugs, as they have with many domesticated species. Because viruses and the like are nearly always passed on via the faeces or urine of the infected creature, markets with scant hygiene—for example where animals are poorly butchered and the bladder is contaminated—pose the greatest risk.

Yet many virologists, including Mr Restif, do not want to see a blanket ban on wet markets. Rather, they prefer a more nuanced approach and more narrow regulation to control their most dangerous aspects. To understand why, it helps to unpick what wet markets are, and their role in the feeding of billions of people.

The term “wet markets” probably entered the English language via Hong Kong. It is, at its most basic, any grouping of vendors selling fresh goods. Markets are often watery because they are sluiced down, or because of the melting of the ice used to stop food from spoiling. The description contrasts with places that sell dry goods, such as rice and grains.

Wet markets come in many forms. They encompass both Tomohon and, for example, Chun Yeung Street in Hong Kong, which must adhere to stringent health guidelines and where the only live goods available are aquatic (fish are not considered a viable vector of such nasty diseases as covid-19, in part because they lack respiratory systems comparable to those of humans, which many viruses attack).

Between those extremes lies somewhere such as Kalerwe market in Kampala, Uganda’s capital. At first sight, it presents many of the risks associated with wildlife markets. Live chickens can spend three weeks in cramped cages before being sold, says Clovice Kankya, a biosecurity expert at Makerere University. A vendor will spend the whole day handling birds, cleaning their droppings and inhaling the same air. Zoonoses like brucellosis, a bacterial infection common in cattle, kill thousands of Ugandans each year, not least through infected meat. What is more, inspectors lack their own laboratories to do proper tests and unscrupulous traders hide suspect meat from their scrutiny.

But the risks from the market can be overstated. With the exception of chickens, which are sold live, most animals in Kampala’s market have been slaughtered in abattoirs, rather than freshly killed in the market. Cases of animal-to-human disease transmission in Uganda have happened “mainly in the village”, where beasts are slaughtered in homes without any inspections at all, says Winyi Kaboyo, a public-health expert. And although wild animals are eaten in the countryside, they tend not to be traded—openly at least—in cities.

Closing down wet markets would have wider implications. A study of 350 such markets in Nanjing, an urban area of 8m people in eastern China, found that they accounted for 80% of the city’s vegetable sales. Across the whole country it has been estimated that such places handle 73% of all the fresh vegetables and meat that is bought. In contrast, the study found that supermarkets tended to be where Nanjing’s households went to buy processed food. Were markets closed and locals pushed into supermarkets, says Zhengzhong Si of the University of Waterloo in Canada, one of the authors of the study, their health would inevitably suffer, as they would be more likely to pick processed meals over fresh produce. Mr Si found that the majority of households in his study bought vegetables at least five times a week—a rate attributed to the abundance of markets—but visited supermarkets much less often.

Wet markets in China owe their popularity to their several virtues. Compared with supermarkets, they are more likely to be within walking distance of people’s homes. They also tend to be cheaper. Competition between vendors selling similar goods ensures prices are more dynamic, reflecting demand. Prices also tend to be negotiable, particularly when the customer has a long-standing relationship with a seller. And some Chinese cities subsidise land for markets, in recognition of their important role in keeping locals fed and healthy, says Mr Si. This further helps sellers keep things cheap.

All of which means that rather than pushing for the wholesale banning of wet markets, many scientists are calling for a more subtle approach. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is working on a proposal to recommend suspending the sale of live wild mammals in marketplaces for food, but not live farmed creatures such as poultry and fish, which pose a lower risk and where controls can be introduced. While a ban is in place, says Peter Ben Embarek of the WHO, authorities can then assess the risks, and identify practices that are deemed safe.

Previous suggestions, made earlier this year by the WHO, to allow live-animal markets to continue have already created outrage, not least from Australia’s prime minister, who claimed to be “totally puzzled” by the idea. Plenty of people will continue to call for outright closures. A lot of non-Westerners view this as cultural deafness. “Chinese prefer to buy their food fresh—living. Western culture is more about frozen food,” says Simon Lee, of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Plenty think a ban on wet markets would be absurd, adds Mr Si. “It is like Chinese people calling for a ban on supermarkets.”

A full ban would also threaten to throw up an unintended consequence. By forbidding the selling of live meat in places where it is a “strong part of its source of food or a cultural pull,” says Mr Restif, “it will just go to the black market, where there can be no regulation.” Mr Ben Embarak agrees. Alongside any ban on wildlife sales, he says, there is a need for better policing of hygiene standards and the type of live meat sold. Overseeing this in countries where the rule of law is weak will not be easy, he acknowledges. But a global programme of education—both for authorities and locals—might help. The lesson of recent pandemics, he says, is that “we can’t carry on doing the same thing we’ve done for centuries.”

China, for one, seems to be listening. It has made permanent a ban it put in place on the selling of all wild live animals (other than seafood) at its markets. Rules might also encompass a prohibition on their breeding for food even if they were slaughtered away from the market—although to much dismay, such regulation may not include beasts used in traditional medicines.

No matter how well-regulated wet markets are, it will not end the threat of zoonotic diseases. Their danger lurks wherever humans encroach on wild animals, whether through logging, the building of settlements or the hunting and selling of meat. But tighter oversight would at least go some way to reducing a big source of risk. With the stakes so high, both for those vulnerable to a future pandemic, and the billions who rely on markets for nutrition, a measured response will be welcome.

Reuse this contentThe Trust Project

Drive-in shows, films, meals and even worship help ease lockdowns

ON SUNDAY AFTERNOON, in the car park of a market in the Northern Irish town of Rathfriland, Pastor Ian Wilson stepped up to his pulpit on the back of a builder’s van. Next to him, using a horsebox as a stage, a brother-and-sister duet performed hymns. He then read from the Gospel of John: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” The congregation of around 400 people, some of them with scratchy cloth for a pew, others luxuriating on plush leather, watched Pastor Wilson’s sermon from behind the windscreens of their cars. This weekend was the first in which Northern Ireland’s government allowed church services to resume, albeit in a limited form, since the province entered lockdown almost ten weeks ago. The only way congregations can worship together is at “drive-in” services. With covid-19 making big gatherings impossible around the world, many more people are taking part in other activities from the safety of their cars.

Just a handful of churches in Northern Ireland carried out drive-in services this weekend, but more are planning to do so in the coming weeks. They offer a message of hope and something approaching face-to-face contact, says Pastor Wilson, although they cannot offer the same level of interaction as traditional services. Pastor Wilson does not give out hymn sheets, for example, for fear of spreading the disease. He also points out that evangelical Christian churches such as his own, with a tradition of spreading their message widely, are better suited to drive-in services than other churches, which rely on more intimate gatherings in sacred buildings.

Drive-in events have been popular for almost as long as the car. The first patented drive-in movie theatre opened in 1933 in Camden, New Jersey, where audiences paid 25 cents per car, and the same again per occupant, to see the latest pictures. By 1958 more than 4,000 theatres were operating across America, although many closed in the 1970s and 1980s as new forms of entertainment became popular. By last year there were just 305 drive-in theatres left in America, roughly a third fewer than 20 years before, according to the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association.

During the pandemic, these remaining theatres have found new audiences desperate for a distraction that does not put them at risk of the virus. “It has been landslide business. The first night we reopened we had a line down the highway half a mile long,” says Steve Bloomer, the owner of the Skyview Drive-In in Belleville, Illinois. Extra precautions, such as spacing cars farther apart and providing masks and hand-sanitiser for staff, ensure that screenings are as safe as possible.

But it is not all good news for theatres. Much of their revenue comes from food-and-drink sales rather than tickets, and worries about infections are putting many audiences off their hot dogs. Few theatres have drive-through concession stands. The Sunset Drive-In in Vermont is asking customers to order snacks by phone or online to avoid unnecessary human contact. Mr Bloomer has limited his menu, and says that sales are not what they would normally be. Another problem is what to show. Big studios are delaying the release of new films while theatres are empty, or releasing them on streaming services instead. This means that to attract viewers drive-in theatres have to rely on classics, rather than the latest blockbusters.

In Denmark, people have much more than just movies available to enjoy from behind the wheel. P Scenen, a drive-in venue on the outskirts of Aarhus, hosts live stand-up comedy, music and TED-style presentations. Mark Chemnitz, who runs the venue, which opened on April 24th, says that it took just nine days after he had the idea to build the stage and put on the first event, a pop concert. Members of the audience (in up to 500 cars) tune in to the event’s sound on their car radios, and, to prevent contagion between vehicles, are allowed to open only their left-hand windows. Alcohol is banned. Live Nation Denmark, an events company, last week began holding its own “Drive In Live” events. The first was a concert by Mads Langer, a Danish pop singer, in the car park of Copenhagen’s airport. Fans in 600 cars, who paid 600kr ($88) per vehicle, danced in their seats and put tealights on their roofs as Mr Langer’s voice came out of their car radios in unison. The events will travel to four more Danish cities over the coming weeks.

While some people are getting into their cars to feed their souls, others are looking for a more mundane kind of nourishment. Last week McDonald’s reopened 33 of its restaurants in Britain for take-away orders. The menu is limited to a few items, and customers can order only at drive-through hatches. Despite these restrictions, lengthy queues quickly formed. The police were called to one branch in the town of Peterborough to control the traffic, and McDonald’s tweeted that they would close again if the demand put staff or customers at risk. Starbucks, which closed its cafes in America in March but kept some drive-through windows open, took in 75% as much revenue as the same period last year in those locations just from customers in cars.

Carmakers have long encouraged people to treat their vehicles as places to spend time in rather than just as a means of transport. Since Cadillac introduced one of the first built-in cupholders in 1957, cars have become plusher and more luxurious. In 2017 Honda unveiled a concept vehicle that “seamlessly connects a home and the car”, complete with pot-plants and a virtual fish-tank. Occupants of Honda’s latest electric car can play Nintendo games on the car’s screens when it is not being driven. But, unless held up by traffic jams, few car-owners choose to spend time in them while stationary.

The pandemic has the potential to make carmakers’ visions a reality. Despite the proliferation of car-sharing and ride-hailing services, much of the rich world still relies on private cars to get around. In 2017 there were 831 vehicles on the road per 1,000 people in America; in western Europe there were 612. And self-driving technology promises to allow people to spend more time in their vehicles without worrying about the pesky task of driving.

Does this mean that more live events will become drive-in, even after covid-19 has subsided? That seems unlikely. Mr Chemnitz imagines that P Scenen’s venue will close after the summer. Denmark will soon allow gatherings of up to 50 people again, and wants to increase that to 500 over the next few months. Similarly, Pastor Wilson plans to run his drive-in church services only during the summer months. As restrictions lift further, people will get out of their cars and once again jostle in pews, concert halls and cinemas. Until then, says Pastor Wilson, “we will take the church wherever we have to take it to get the message out.”

Reuse this contentThe Trust Project

Covid-19 is undoing years of progress in curbing global poverty

Editor’s note: Some of our covid-19 coverage is free for readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. For more stories and our pandemic tracker, see our hub

JANE KABAHUMA has been eating one meal a day since the end of March, when the lockdown began. She used to work in a hotel, but it had to close, along with most businesses in Uganda. She thinks “it will take time” before the work comes back. In five months she is expecting a baby; it may arrive before a job does.

Her standard of living has plummeted. She used to pay to fill her jerrycans from a clean tap, but these days fetches water from a dirty well, because it is free. She gets by, more or less, with help from friends and family. But for how long?

In normal times, people in poor countries have many ways to cope with shocks. If one member of a family falls sick, the others can work longer hours to make up for the lost income. Or they can ask cousins or neighbours for help. Or, if a whole village is impoverished by a bad harvest, they can ask a nephew working in a big city or a foreign country to send some extra cash. All these “coping mechanisms”, as development experts call them, depend on calamity not striking everywhere at once. Alas, covid-19 has done just that.

In many places, workers cannot make up for lost income by working harder because demand for their labour has collapsed. Empty restaurants need no waiters; shuttered malls need no mopping; and few motorists are rolling down their windows to buy fruit from street hawkers.

The newly impoverished cannot easily get help from friends or relatives because, no matter where in the world they are, they are all experiencing a simultaneous and massive economic shock. The World Bank predicts that remittances from migrant workers will drop by 20% this year. Male Nepali migrants who are still overseas are now sending back only a quarter of what they were in January. Many send back nothing at all, having returned home.

Most countries in the developing world still require their citizens to stay at home, except to duck out for essentials. But few of the world’s poorest can work from home. And without work, many cannot eat. Thus, covid-19 imperils one of the greatest achievements of recent decades—the stunning reduction in global poverty.

From 1990 until last year the number of extremely poor people—those who subsist on less than $1.90 per day—fell from 2bn, or 36% of the world’s population, to around 630m, or just 8%. Now, for the first time since 1998, that number is rising—very fast. The big questions are: how many millions will slip back into penury? And will they quickly escape again when the pandemic is past, or will its effects be long-lasting, or even permanent?

The answers to those questions are maddeningly hard to pin down. The World Bank estimates that national lockdowns and the global economic collapse will push at least 49m people into extreme poverty, eliminating nearly all the gains made since 2017. That seems implausibly rosy—the bank’s estimate was based on data published in April. More recent numbers are far gloomier. For example, on May 17th Goldman Sachs estimated that India’s economy is shrinking at an annualised rate of 45%. Andy Sumner of King’s College London estimates that if global income per head falls by 20%, which it may for several months at least, the number of extremely poor people could increase by 420m—as much as the entire population of South America. That would wipe out a decade of gains in the fight against poverty.

Many poor countries have copied the kind of lockdowns that have been imposed in rich countries. But the circumstances are utterly different. The well-off are much more likely to have jobs that can be done from home. And workers in rich countries who cannot do their jobs, such as hotel receptionists or waiters, are typically wellsupported by taxpayers.

By contrast, when India imposed a strict and dramatic lockdown on March 24th, the 140m people who are estimated to have lost their jobs were suddenly in big trouble. Tens of millions of migrants who had moved from villages to cities suddenly had no income, no way to pay the rent and no trains to take them home, since those were also cancelled. Millions trudged hundreds of kilometres back to their home villages, where their families at least would take them in. The lockdown has been extended to May 31st, with only small adjustments (see article).

Similar tales of woe are coming from other poor places. Over 80% of Kenyans and Senegalese reported a loss of income in early April. In a study for the University of Manchester, 60 Bangladeshi families have been writing “money diaries”. Before March, about $1,000 a month passed through each household (not all of it income). In April that fell to $300 or so.

In middle-income countries, too, lockdowns have been excruciating. Colombia’s was so tough that it sparked protests in working-class barrios. In Altavista, a neighbourhood near San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, people have taken to hanging white flags from their windows to show that they have run out of food.

“Almost overnight people go from having income to having no income,” says Carolina Sánchez-Páramo of the World Bank. Less income often means less food. The World Food Programme (WFP) predicts a doubling of acute hunger by the end of 2020. David Beasely, its boss, worries that the world could see “multiple famines of biblical proportions” within a few months.

Health-care systems have been disrupted not only by the virus itself but also by lockdowns, which make it harder for people to seek treatment for other illnesses. A team at Johns Hopkins University calculates that across 118 poor and middle-income countries, disruption to health systems and hunger could kill 1.2m more children and 57,000 mothers over six months. The Stop TB Partnership, an international research group, reckons that in India alone interruptions of diagnosis and treatment from a three-month lockdown, followed by a 10-month recovery period, could cause 500,000 excess deaths from tuberculosis.

Some kinds of lockdown could cost more lives than they save. A report by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimates that if restrictions prevent vaccinations, in Africa 140 will die for every covid-19 death prevented.

Even moderate lockdowns can be harmful in very poor countries. The Malawian National Planning Commission and two think-tanks did a cost-benefit analysis of continuing Malawi’s restrictions, which include closing schools, curbing travel and stopping health outreach work. They estimated that the lockdown, if maintained for nine months, would avert 12,000 deaths from covid-19. However, it would also cause more people to go hungry, making them vulnerable to TB and malaria, so the net number of deaths avoided would be roughly half that. And because the victims of coronavirus would be largely old people, whereas the victims of malaria would often be infants, the lockdown would actually cause a net loss of 26,000 years of life.

The lockdown would also leave Malawi $12bn worse off, by stopping people from working and interrupting children’s education, thus dooming them to earn less in the future. That is equivalent to nearly two years’ GDP—an astounding sum. Overall, they estimated that the costs of the lockdown outweighed the benefits by 25 to 1.

Such calculations are subject to a wide margin of error. Nonetheless, they explain why many experts think that rich-country style lockdowns are unsustainable in many poor countries.

No work, no pay, no food

People who lack savings or a functioning safety net cannot simply stop working. Yet millions are being forced to do so. Before the crisis Jonathan Solmayor drove a tuk-tuk in Davao City in the Philippines. “I am feeding four mouths,” he says, but “my only source of living was stopped.” In western Nepal men have seen the hours they can work for wages fall by about 75%, according to the Yale Research Initiative on Innovation and Scale. In Uzbekistan the number of households where at least one person works has dropped by over 40%.

As the number of breadwinners falls, the price of food is rising. In India the price of potatoes has jumped by over 15%. In Uganda the prices of most key foods have gone up by over 15% since mid-March. The global food supply is holding up, but local disruptions are severe. In the province of Quezon in the Philippines an “extreme” quarantine has seen squash, beans, and watermelons wither in the fields. In India vegetables that were harvested have been left to rot as they cannot be transported to market. In East Africa covid-19 is not the only plague to strike this year: trillions of locusts are once again devouring crops.

Some hope that the rural poor may escape the worst. The virus has taken longer to reach remote villages, where social distancing is easier than it is in slums. Subsistence farmers might be able to feed themselves. But even the poorest rural households in Africa buy almost half their food. Many would normally top up their income with paid work, but no longer can.

Those who were already miserable have become more so. In Uganda the WFP has cut rations for refugees by 30%, and funding is drying up. In Bangladesh more than 70% of Rohingya refugees say they are now unable to buy food.

The most concentrated suffering will be in big cities such as Kolkata and Kinshasa, says Ms Sánchez-Páramo. Even before the pandemic about 130m city-dwellers were extremely poor. Many kept their heads above the poverty line by pedalling rickshaws or hawking vegetables. Lockdowns have stopped that. In India 84% of poor urban self-employed have lost their work.

Even where lockdowns are less strict, the urban poor are struggling. In Mexico City, where staying at home is more of a suggestion than a requirement, Romaldo San Juan Garcia normally spends his days polishing shoes. But these days the kind of people who can afford shoe-shines no longer wear leather shoes, since they are staying away from the office. In a long day on the street Mr Garcia polished only two pairs. Just to pay his monthly rent, he needs to shine about 100. In tough times his children would usually pick up extra shifts waiting tables. But because of the virus, the restaurants are shut.

With so few other options, many of the newly destitute are doing things that will make it harder for them to escape poverty even if the economy recovers. They are eating less, selling productive assets and even pulling children out of school.

“When I eat supper it means I will sacrifice lunch,” explains Nathan Tumuhimbise, a flower worker in Uganda who was sent home on unpaid leave. He has no idea whether he will be able to pay for his daughter’s next instalment of school fees. In desperation he has called his father in the village to sell some of the family goats. “I’m overwhelmed,” he says. Other workers he knows are even selling off their land. Why? “Survival, life and death,” he says.

Assets such as land, livestock and motorbike taxis can be sold only once. When so many people try to sell them at the same time, prices collapse. And people who sell their productive assets today will have no source of income tomorrow.

Cutting back on food is risky, too, especially for children. Malnutrition stops brains and bodies from growing properly. Stunting results in lower IQs, greater risk of chronic illness and lower lifetime earnings. In towns in Sierra Leone almost 60% of people said they had eaten fewer times than normal in the past week, according to the Yale Research Initiative. Fully 14% have gone a whole day without eating.

Pulling kids out of school has awful long-term consequences. One World Bank paper found that if schools remain closed for just four months, the reduction in their lifetime earnings will be equivalent to 15% of a year’s global GDP.

We’re here to help

Governments can help. Fully 181 countries have announced extra efforts to protect the poor, about 60% of which involve cash or food aid. For millions, these have proven a lifeline. Ganesh, an auto-rickshaw driver in Delhi, says he was lucky to spot an advert about a state government scheme to pay idle auto drivers a one-off 5,000 rupees (about $70). He texted in his ID and soon got the money. However, the vast majority of the cash in all these new welfare schemes is in rich countries. In the poorest ones, extra social spending announced so far amounts to just $1 per head—in total, not per day. Other drivers applied for help too, says Ganesh, but they have not received anything.

Existing safety nets have long focused on rural folk, which used to make sense because they were the poorest. However, many of the newly poor are in cities. Systems need to adapt, but many are badly managed. India’s federal programme of cash and food handouts is scattershot and misses many of the neediest. In Uganda the government’s own spokesperson described its efforts to get aid to the right people as “inadequate, incompetent, disorganised.” Egypt has managed to get payments only to 2m of its 100m people.

In countries such as Kenya and Bangladesh mobile money is being used to distribute aid more quickly. But the poorest are often hard to reach. Governments often do not know who they are. And welfare systems were not designed with pandemics in mind. In South Africa delays have led people to form queues (not always socially distanced ones) outside post offices to sign up for benefits. In many countries corruption limits the effectiveness of welfare. In Zimbabwe aid has been steered to supporters of the ruling party. In Uganda MPs initially put themselves in charge of distributing $2.6m of relief cash in their constituencies (a court ruled they should pay it back).

The biggest problem, though, is simply that governments in the poorest countries do not have much money. And they are getting poorer. The World Bank says that African government revenues will drop between 12% and 16% this year. In Nigeria, home to more extremely poor people than any other country, the collapse of the oil price has shredded government spending plans. During the global financial crisis many poor countries slashed spending on education; they may do so again.

He needs protection, too

All this has prompted calls to ease lockdowns. That will not save poor countries from being battered by the global economic crisis. Nor will all businesses reopen if people are still scared of being infected. But at least the poor would be able to try to work and children would be able to get vaccinations.

Nigeria has already loosened lockdowns in some big cities, even as cases rise. Bangladesh and Pakistan have eased up, too. India will open up somewhat next month. This is not always popular—after two weeks shut in, 82% of Indians supported the first extension there. Ghana, one of the first in Africa to remove some restrictions, shows the risks. In one fish factory, 533 workers were recently infected.

Lock down smarter

However, the choice is not binary: total lockdown or no precautions at all. Governments and citizens can do a lot to prevent infections without freezing the whole economy. They can protect the elderly while letting most adults go to work and children go to school. They can keep nightclubs closed but allow markets, bus stations and factories to open—with compulsory masks, hand-washing and social distancing. They can do a better job of spotting outbreaks and quarantining the infected. They can teach people the facts about the disease, so they can protect themselves. Community health workers did this well during the Ebola crisis.

Whatever the approach, poor countries will need help from developed ones. Rich countries have spent a stunning $8trn on supporting their own citizens during the pandemic, notes Homi Kharas of the Brookings Institution, a think-tank. It is in their interest to help poor countries grapple with the disease—otherwise they will become a coronavirus reservoir that can reinfect the rich. Yet the international response has been “very go slow”, says Matthew Spencer of Oxfam, an NGO. So far the IMF and World Bank have lent about $20bn and $6bn respectively. Talks about debt relief are moving lethargically.

In the past, crises have sometimes fostered solidarity with the poor, notes Amartya Sen of Harvard University. In Britain during the 1940s life expectancy shot up by seven years, thanks to a wartime rationing system that ensured everyone had nourishing (if dull) food. According to a forthcoming UN Development Programme study between 2013 and 2016, despite an Ebola epidemic, living standards in Sierra Leone improved faster than in any of 70 poor countries. The huge effort to fight Ebola had spillover effects, as aid-workers and public servants also helped improve nutrition and child mortality. It would be wonderful if covid-19 could inspire similar efforts. But for now, the rich world is too distracted by its own problems to pay much heed to the poor.

This article appeared in the International section of the print edition under the headline “The great reversal”

Reuse this contentThe Trust Project

Justice League‘s Snyder Cut Is (Almost) Real — And HBO Max Plans To Release It

DC fans, rejoice: The Snyder Cut of Justice League is finally being released! Well, kind of.

Director Zack Snyder, who initially helmed the 2017 superhero blockbuster but left before production was complete due to a family tragedy, revealed on Wednesday (May 20) that the world will soon indeed get to see his vision of the film. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Snyder Cut will hit the new streaming service HBO Max (launching on May 27), likely sometime in 2021. The final shape it’ll take remains a question, though it could be one four-hour cut of the film or split up into six “chapters.”

After Snyder left the film in mid-2017, Avengers director Joss Whedon was brought in to retool the film and to keep its slated release date in November. But the mythical Snyder Cut, theoretically more in line with his grittier previous entries in the DC Extended Universe Man of Steel and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, has its roots in the director’s stated ideal version of the film, which he said would run nearly four hours long. He apparently delivered a version of this that ran nearly two-and-a-half hours long to meet Warner Bros.’s request before he stepped away.

That version, as THR notes, was far from finished and lacking post-production work, including visual effects. So, no, there’s never actually been a finished Snyder Cut — but this new deal with HBO Max allows Snyder the creative freedom (and crucially, the money) to realize one. It could reportedly cost between $20 and $30 million.

This news will certainly please the film’s star Jason Momoa, who told MTV News in 2019 that he’d seen the Snyder Cut — or whatever version of it that exists — and that “the public needs to see it.”

Momoa himself, as Aquaman, may also return to help see it through; as THR points out, “Snyder also spent April and May reaching out to the sizable cast, giving a heads-up on the new development and letting them know their services may be needed.” That could include Ben Affleck as Batman, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, Henry Cavill as Superman, Ezra Miller as The Flash, and more.

“As a fan, I’m very, very happy that I got to see it,” Momoa told MTV News’s Josh Horowitz last year. Next year, he might be in good company, once the Snyder Cut hits HBO Max for real.

Find all the details right here, and then relive the glorious moment of Momoa exclaiming “fuck yeah, I wanna see it!” in a 2018 MTV News Aquaman interview below.

The Half Of It Director Alice Wu Doesn’t Deal In Binaries

By Crystal Bell

Director Alice Wu knows the power of a deadline. If her years as a software engineer for Microsoft taught her anything, it’s that true efficiency is achieved through self-imposed stress (and better time management skills, but that’s besides the point). In late 2016, she applied that knowledge to a script she had been mulling over for months. The filmmaker cut a check for $1,000, sent it to a trusted friend, and made them promise: If she didn’t finish the draft in five weeks, the money would be donated to the National Rifle Association. The guilt, coupled with constant pressure from her close circle of progressive friends, was just the motivation she needed to finish it.

So in a weird way, Wu has the NRA to thank for what would eventually become The Half of It.

The charm of the Netflix film is that it focuses on what most high school movies don’t: the bottled-up resentment towards family, friends, and circumstances brought on by the idea that you need to have your whole life figured out by graduation. Ellie Chu is a sharp, bookish senior who’s floated through high school without making any lasting friendships. She hates attention, and her only real companion is her jaded English teacher. But Ellie is content to exist on the periphery, making cash where she can by writing her classmates’ essays and helping her Chinese immigrant, single father adapt to life in smalltown America. She harbors a secret crush on Aster (Alexxis Lemire), the school’s atypical “It” girl. She’s smart, funny, well-read, and beautiful. So it’s no surprise when the adorably awkward Paul (Daniel Diemer), a jock with a golden heart and an adventurous palate, also catches feelings for her — and he hires Ellie to help him woo his dream girl through a series of love letters and texts.

Netflix / KC Bailey

Yes, it’s a modern riff on the classic Cyrano tale, a Victorian-era French play in which an uncomely poet woos his dream girl with the help of a handsome man, but The Half of It isn’t a typical young-adult romance. “It’s a little bit more melancholy,” Wu tells MTV News. “It’s set during that period in high school where feelings are very raw, and things are awkward and funny, but there’s also just this deep sense of loneliness that I think pervades that time.”

It’s a familiar theme for Wu, whose strength as a storyteller is her tender, humanist approach. She released her first — and only other — film, Saving Face, nearly 16 years ago. Written for her mother, the multilingual rom-com is loosely inspired by her own coming out as a lesbian to her traditional Chinese family. “I was trying to find a way for my mind to understand,” she says. “She knew I was gay, but it was not a comfortable topic for her.” Wu’s fictional proxy, Wil (Michelle Krusciec), is a young, witty Asian-American surgical resident who’s done everything to make her widowed mother (Joan Chen) proud except for the one thing that really matters: finding a suitable Chinese man to marry. But as much as Saving Face is a love story between pragmatic Wil and confident Vivian (Lynn Chen), it’s also a tale of mothers and daughters — of flawed people with good intentions “trying to do the best with what they believe is the best out there,” Wu says.

The same thing applies to the personae dramatis of The Half of It. “In another movie, [Ellie and Wil] would not be the main characters,” she says. “Maybe they’d be side characters. Maybe they’d be extras. Maybe they’re not even in the movie, but I’ve made them the main characters. And that’s in part because I believe we’re all more similar than we’re different. You could strip away race or gender identity, our sexuality, our ethnicity, where we think we’re from, our class backgrounds. If you strip all that stuff away, I think that, fundamentally, most people want the same things. We want to love. We want to be loved. We want to belong, whatever that feels like. We want some sense of purpose in our lives. It’s mainly those sorts of things that we’re all striving for.”

As protagonists, Wil and Ellie are cut from the same cloth. And if you’re lucky enough to know Wu, then that cloth (typically cotton, usually plaid) will probably look familiar. “I’ve never had a single [friend] watch one of my movies and not at the end be like, ‘Yeah, your actor’s basically doing you. It’s exactly you,'” she says. “My costume designers on both films basically started picking clothes that I wore.” Wil and Ellie are clever and practical to a fault and uncomfortable in their bodies, and Wu is self-aware enough to know that this isn’t purely the act of her subconscious. (Though, she admits, “Nobody wants to think they’re that narcissistic.”) Her characters are pieces of her, physical and emotional reflections of her thoughts and insecurities.

“My characters are essentially repressed Asian nerds,” she says with a laugh.

Wu writes from an emotional place. Saving Face was influenced by her desire to connect with her mother, and The Half of It was written with another goal entirely: to pen a coming-of-age narrative that ends at the beginning. Saving Face finds Wu grappling with coming out to her family; The Half of It is Wu coming out to herself. And that singular loneliness — when you don’t feel like you know anyone, especially yourself — is what permeates Ellie’s story.

Netflix / KC Bailey

“Neither of my films are about getting the girl,” she notes. Rather, The Half of It is intimately introspective. Inspired by Wu’s own teenage tumult, it depicts the unlikely friendship between closeted, eloquent Ellie and the last person she’d become close to: straight, white, tongue-tied Paul. It was personal for Wu, who found her own Paul as a teenager when she needed him most. “At that point my parents were not speaking to me,” she recalls. “I was deeply terrified when I came out to myself because I didn’t know any gay people. And to have this friendship with this guy who didn’t treat me any differently, [who] just accepted me as I was, was an amazing thing.”

The Half of It, she says, was born out of a lingering question: “What happens if you meet your soulmate, only you have no desire to have sex with them?”

To illustrate her point, Wu uses Plato’s Symposium as a clever framing device. The Greek text details the myth that humans were born with four legs, four arms, and a head with two faces. One day, in a fit of jealousy, Zeus tore us in two, and now romantic love between two people is the only thing that can make us whole again. The Half of It, however, doesn’t deal with such a stringent binary. Paul says it himself: There are so many ways to love. It’s not that we’re destined to walk the earth desperately searching for our other half; but rather, there are people who come into our lives — sometimes fleetingly — to give us the tools we need to make ourselves whole again.

Netflix / KC Bailey

“The search is great, but we have to realize that it’s not about them finding love,” Wu says. “It’s literally that search that causes us to reach for people. And when you reach for people, you have a chance at growth. This movie is really about three people who collide, and as a result, each ends up learning something about themselves.”

Wu and her friend lost touch after high school. There were tears and heartache. But the nights they spent talking about things a lot bigger than themselves — the universe and where they fit into it; computer science and probabilities; how to win over a girl — shaped her for years to come. And they still influence her now. The Half of It is her catharsis.

So, as Ellie gets on that train in the film’s final scene, headed toward her future, a future that might not include Paul at all, it’s bittersweet. But that’s just how Wu likes it.

“I always joke that I make the kind of comedy where I hope you cry at least once,” she says. “If you haven’t cried, then I failed.”

America and China take their rivalry to the World Health Organisation

Editors note (May 18th 2020): This article has been updated since it was first published.

The Economist is making some of its most important coverage of the covid-19 pandemic freely available to readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. To receive it, register here. For our coronavirus tracker and more coverage, see our hub

AFTER THE second world war the world decided it needed a new global department of public health. Andrija Stampar, a round-faced, bespectacled, Yugoslavian doctor, opened the first-ever World Health Assembly (WHA) in 1948. The leading lights of global health assembled in Geneva to hear him explain how the effort to create the World Health Organisation (WHO) was “never impaired by any important disharmony”.

How the world has changed. The 73rd WHA, held on May 18th and 19th, will be unprecedented for many reasons. It is taking place as the covid-19 pandemic has killed hundreds of thousands of people and is causing a deep global recession. The deliberations will be held by video-conference, and have been cut from a week down to two days. And they are taking place in an atmosphere of bitter recrimination between America and China.

The geopolitical battle has ensnared the WHO just when it is supposed to be co-ordinating the response to the coronavirus. America has halted some $400m of funding to the WHO pending an investigation into accusations that it failed to investigate China’s covid-19 outbreak promptly. America also accuses the organisation of being “China-centric”.

America-centric would be more accurate. The agency is stuffed with American experts from the National Institutes of Health, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health and Human Services, and many others. Moreover, America is the biggest financial contributor to the agency by far. China, for its part, is tightly vetting the research that its scientists are allowed to publish on covid-19.

President Donald Trump has sought to brand the virus as a Chinese export. He is also promoting an unproven theory that the virus escaped from a Chinese laboratory, even though a natural origin is still the most likely explanation. America has withdrawn funding from one of its own NGOs that was working with Chinese scientists to try to identify places in southern China that are at a high risk of transferring coronaviruses to humans. A Chinese official has meanwhile accused American soldiers of bringing the virus to Wuhan, where it was first detected.

The WHO has said the assembly will consider a draft resolution on covid-19. But Lawrence Gostin, head of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, says he expects China to block any kind of independent investigation of how the outbreak began. On Friday, a Chinese foreign-ministry spokesman told a press conference that the time is “not yet ripe” to start an investigation. And in a speech to the assembly on Monday, China’s president, Xi Jinping, defended his country’s handling of the pandemic and said it would support a “comprehensive review” into the global response—when it was over.

Just before the meeting opened, member states agreed to put off discussions of the divisive issue of whether Taiwan should be granted observer status at the assembly. Observer status, granted to major NGOs such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and Gavi (an alliance to promote vaccines), gives members the right to speak at the WHA but not to vote. But observer status is also a step towards recognition of a state’s sovereignty, which is why Taiwan seeks it and China opposes it. In practical terms, Taiwan is free to attend the assembly and follow proceedings over the internet.

Although regarded by China as its own territory, Taiwan attended as an observer between 2009 and 2016—when it was led by a president, Ma Ying-jeou, who was considered more accommodating towards China than the current leader, Tsai Ing-wen.

This year, however, Taiwan’s exclusion is particularly unfortunate. Its action to control covid-19 has been exemplary. A country of 24m people, with strong connections to mainland China, it has suffered just seven deaths caused by the coronavirus. Its request for admission to the WHA was supported by America, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and a collection of mostly small Pacific and Caribbean island-states, and some Latin American countries. But, had it come to a vote, many more countries would have been reluctant to cross China by backing Taiwan.

The clash has drawn fire on the director-general of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom, a mild-mannered and amiable Ethiopian. Taiwan’s supporters say he has the power to invite Taiwan anyway. In fact, he does not have the authority because he is not empowered to over-rule member-states. Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu says the WHO’s members have suggested that discussions about Taiwan take place later this year, when health officials are able to meet in Geneva.

America’s criticism of Dr Tedros is wide of the mark. Global health co-operation is far from perfect. But keeping politics out of the WHO has allowed the world to cajole even secretive and repressive regimes to keep their doors open wide enough to allow scientists, doctors, and experts to work together across borders and save lives. Dr Tedros, elected by governments to run a technical and scientific organisation, is the diplomatic grease on the hinges of those doors. He must be polite to everyone for the sake of global health. He has to tend the dying flames of international co-operation, and even praise how countries respond when there is much to criticise. He is also facing constant, and ugly, racist harassment online. Like many other scientists in the public eye at the moment, he receives death threats.

The new geopolitics may make for spectacle, but are an enormous distraction from the pressing issues of global health, not least the effort to curb the spread of covid-19, which has killed 300,000 people so far on its march across the planet. One such issue is how new medicines and vaccines against covid-19 are going to be distributed. Although Mr Trump last week spoke about co-operation on vaccines, America is reported to oppose language in a resolution that seeks to ensure access to treatment for all countries. The contested wording calls for firms to donate their patents for covid-19 treatments to a global pool that can be used by any state. “Vaccines, tests and treatments should be distributed according to need, not auctioned off to the highest bidder,” says José María Vera of Oxfam International, an anti-poverty campaign group. Perhaps because of its large pharmaceutical industry, America also objects to a passage endorsing countries’ right to overturn international patent rules when there is an urgent public-health requirement.

In the world envisaged by Dr Stampar, the WHO would now be coming into its own, harnessing international co-operation to halt the coronavirus. But that world has passed, at least for now, replaced by one in which both America and China find it convenient to blame each other for their own failures at home.

Reuse this contentThe Trust Project

Jessica Rothe’s Journey From Suburban Teen To Valley Girl Star

What’s perhaps most memorable about 1983’s classic, Martha Coolidge-directed teen romance, Valley Girl, is its “trippin’-dicular” soundtrack, anchored by Modern English‘s “I Melt with You,” which plays over one important montage and closes out the end credits. The iconic track makes a reprise in the musical update to the charming ’80s time capsule, which arrived on-demand on May 8, but it is bolstered by the addition of other popular cuts from the era, including songs by Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, and Joan Jett.

In addition to its sparkly sonic identity, the 2020 film comes with new faces and new themes. Starring Jessica Rothe and Josh Whitehouse, as well as controversial YouTuber Logan Paul, the remake riffs on the story of star-crossed lovers to inspire and empower viewers to reach for the stars on their own. Julie Richman (Rothe) is a mall-cruising prep from the San Fernando Valley who unexpectedly falls for a Hollywood punk named Randy (Whitehouse), singer of the band Safety Recall. Their relationship pushes Julie to think outside her suburban bubble, break up with her popular jock boyfriend (despite what her friends may think), and eventually pursue her dream of studying fashion design in New York.

That core story, Rothe reveals, is not so different from her own coming of age. The actress, who has previously claimed major roles in the Happy Death Day horror franchise and the Academy Award-winning La La Land, grew up in the suburbs of Denver, Colorado, to a physician father and school teacher mom. And though her family supported her passion for acting, it wasn’t until she carved her own path beyond her hometown that she realized she could turn that spark into a sustainable career. Now, she hopes that Valley Girl inspires others to do the same.

Orion Pictures

MTV News: Valley Girl tells a story of a young girl who realizes that the world is bigger than the world her hometown cultivates. When did you realize your life was going to be bigger than your hometown?

Rothe: I didn’t live in a huge city, but I grew up in Denver, Colorado, in a suburb, and had a life that was, in some ways, very similar to Julie’s. I had a loving family. We were very fortunate and didn’t want for much. And I had an incredible education, and we got to go on trips, and I had traveled in Europe.

I had this passion for acting. And the thing was though, I didn’t necessarily think it could be my job. I would watch Runaway Bride and see Julia Roberts and be like, “Oh well, but she’s a movie star. I just do plays if I get good grades.” But I had a drama teacher in high school who sat me down at one point and said to me, “I really think you can do this if you want to pursue it as a career.” And I think the whole time I was hoping that what she was saying was true, but didn’t want to quite believe it, because I didn’t want to get my heart broken if it turned out I wasn’t talented enough or wasn’t good enough.

And so she and my parents, who have always been incredibly supportive, helped me explore what that would look like, in terms of looking at colleges. My mom and I went on a cross-country trip to look at colleges. It’s scary jumping outside of the bubble that you’ve grown up in. And a lot of people I went to high school with stayed in Colorado, which there’s nothing wrong with, but I think I knew that I wanted to experience something else and live somewhere else.

MTV News: Up until that point, had you just been acting locally for fun?

Rothe: It was my hobby. My dad’s a physician. My mom is a teacher. We are not an artistic family. So I just didn’t really think it was an option [as a career]. For a while, I convinced myself that I was going to be a museum curator who specialized in chemistry so that I could restore old paintings. And then I was like, “No, you don’t want to do that. You just want to be in The DaVinci Code.”

MTV News: Did you end up going to college?

Rothe: I did. I went to Boston University, to their drama department. I tricked my parents, because I was not supposed to apply to any conservatories, but BU is technically a liberal arts conservatory. So I still got a diploma. That was the deal: I had to get a diploma because I had to have a backup plan.

MTV News: I feel that must be common for people trying to study something artistic.

Rothe: If I had a kid, I would 100 percent make them get a degree, even though I know that might not mean anything. I completely understand why they wanted me to do that. And I’m very grateful. I think if I had moved to New York or to Los Angeles when I was 17, I would have been eaten alive.

MTV News: Yeah, I mean it’s like how, at the end of the movie, your character goes off to New York and then discovers her interest in fashion design. And there’s a process of growing into your next phase.

Rothe: Yeah, and I think it is so important to live in different places. When you are the only constant in your life, because you’re moving around and everything around you is changing, you learn so much about yourself. Kind of like Julie, I came into my own, in terms of my artistic identity.

I moved to New York after Boston, and New York was scary. New York, for me, was like going to the punk clubs with Randy for Julie. Because it’s this super cool, edgy, new place with weird smells and sounds. And you want everyone to like you, but you’re also afraid. And you’re also kind of grossed out, but everyone who’s there is so much cooler than you. Walking down the street in New York is also exactly like being in a mosh pit, for sure.

MTV News: What was your backup plan?

Rothe: Oh, there was no backup plan. My backup plan now, because of quarantine — I’ve gotten okay at cutting my fiance’s hair. And I can bake a pretty mean loaf of sourdough bread. And I like to paint. So maybe some kind of haircut cafe, with painting?

MTV News: What did your friends think when you told them you were pursuing acting?

Rothe: They knew because they knew I was going away to school, but I don’t think I ever said to anybody, “I’m going to go to school for acting. And then I’m going to move to Los Angeles, and I’m going to be in movies.” It was always just kind of, this is the next step. And then this is the next step.

Orion Pictures

MTV News: Do you think that was because of nerves?

Rothe: Yeah, I think the idea of making a big bold commitment, saying, “I am doing this, and I am putting myself out there” is really scary. The thing I loved about when I moved to L.A. is, I had this feeling of, “I could be anybody.” And I could, there’s so much potential and so much excitement here, because mistakes that I’ve made in the past, no one knows what those mistakes are. I get to have a fresh start.

I had also gone through a really bad breakup before I moved out here. So I think I was tired of mourning the loss of a relationship that wasn’t good for me. And there was something about changing location and taking charge and taking ownership of my story that was really empowering. I definitely had another coming of age coming to L.A.

MTV News: Did you shed any aspects of your personality along the way?

Rothe: No. The funny thing is, I think every step forward I took, I became more comfortable with just being myself. If I left anything behind, it was the worry of other people’s judgment, judgement of myself, and insecurity. That’s not to say I don’t still wrestle with those things, because I do. But I feel like each day I’m stepping more and more towards the most authentic version of myself.

MTV News: Where does Valley Girl fit into this whole journey that you’ve been on?

Rothe: It was such an incredible and life-changing experience making this movie. And it was so much hard work, and hours and hours of dance rehearsal and singing and acting. And I had to overcome some of my own personal demons during the filming. But I think that all of the hard work paid off, and that we really told the story about a young woman who is discovering who she is, and who is brave enough to put herself out into the world. I hope that it inspires people to follow their dreams.

The pandemic is creating fresh opportunities for organised crime

Editor’s note: The Economist is making some of its most important coverage of the covid-19 pandemic freely available to readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. To receive it, register here. For our coronavirus tracker and more coverage, see our hub

KARACHI IS AMONG Asia’s most crime-ridden cities. And yet in eight days in March, after covid-19 forced it into lockdown, not a single car was reported stolen. El Salvador, which has one of the world’s highest murder rates, enjoyed four homicide-free days in the same month. Many countries have reported tumbling crime rates, as crooks, along with everyone else, have shut themselves away. Italy was the first European country to lock down, on March 9th. Even before then, many people were working from home. The number of crimes reported in Italy between March 1st and March 22nd dropped by 64% compared with the same period in 2019.

“I would not be surprised if crime statistics, which are dominated by less serious crimes like theft and various kinds of street crime, were to go down, at least temporarily,” says Jürgen Stock, secretary-general of Interpol, the world policing body. But government figures reflect only reported crime—and not all crime is reported, especially when lawbreaking, along with much else, has gone indoors. The Italian figures showed a drop of 44% in domestic violence. Police reckon that is because many victims dare not call to report assaults while their assailants are within earshot.

Meanwhile Gun Violence Archive, an NGO based in Washington, DC, counted more than 2,000 deaths by shooting in America between March 1st and April 19th—a 6% increase over the average in the same period during the past three years. That echoes what happened in the 1918-19 flu pandemic. According to Barry Latzer, an emeritus professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, murders in 1918 increased in each of the five worst-affected states. Sheltering in place shortens tempers. It also makes it easier for gangsters to locate enemies and rivals.

Most worrying, says Mr Stock, is the potential for covid-19 to create the ideal conditions for the spread of serious, organised crime. The pandemic is encouraging organised criminals to put old skills to new use. The global economic depression that looks likely to follow will offer them a chance to extend their reach deep into the legitimate economy. “The potential for problems arising from this is without precedent,” frets another international law-enforcement official.

New scams are already proliferating, some ingeniously simple. On March 16th the South African Reserve Bank issued a statement denying that it had sent collectors house-to-house to recover banknotes in case they had been contaminated with covid-19. Sales of counterfeit, often substandard, drugs have surged. In March Operation Pangaea, co-ordinated by Interpol and involving police forces in 90 countries, led to more than 100 arrests worldwide and the seizure of potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals worth more than $14m. Brazilian drugs gangs short of cash are robbing more banks.

Meanwhile the urgent need for personal protective equipment (PPE) has opened up a new field for ineffective, overpriced or even non-existent goods. Two factors have helped the criminals: the waiving of normal procurement controls by governments desperate to protect their health workers; and the impossibility of arranging face-to-face meetings between customers and suppliers. In the most elaborate scam so far, a group of fraudsters succeeded in getting the authorities in Germany’s most populous region, North Rhine-Westphalia, to part with €2.4m ($2.6m). The money was a down-payment for 10m masks. More than 50 vehicles were lined up to import the fictitious masks from the Netherlands before the ruse was discovered. It involved a website registered in Spain, an intermediary in Ireland and a firm in the Netherlands with a website that turned out to have been cloned by the scammers. With the help of financial institutions in three countries, investigators managed to block the payments, including €500,000 on its way to Nigeria.

Making out like (masked) bandits

That attempted sting reflects an explosion in cybercrime since the lockdowns began. On the night of March 12th the Czech Republic’s second-largest hospital, the University Hospital in Brno, was hit by a ransomware attack (in which the target is prevented from accessing files until a payment is made). Urgent surgical operations had to be postponed and patients redirected to other hospitals. Several other medical facilities have experienced similar attacks since the start of the covid-19 emergency, according to Interpol.

But more traditional organised criminal activities have been hampered by the lockdowns. Protection rackets, prostitution rings, illegal gambling and the drugs trade all depend on people being able to move around freely. So do imprisoned bosses of organised crime groups if they are to continue to control their businesses. This is a particular challenge for the Brazilian drugs gangs, many of whose leaders are jailed. Lincoln Gakiya, a prosecutor for the state of São Paulo, says visiting family members often convey notes and information. Now incarcerated bosses have to rely on infrequent appearances by their lawyers to communicate with their subordinates.

Extortion provides many criminal groups with a regular flow of cash. It is especially important to the street gangs, or maras, of Central America. But collecting cash during a pandemic is tricky. Data quoted by the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime comparing March 2020 with the same month last year showed 9% and 17% falls in extortion incidents registered by police in Guatemala and El Salvador (though most are not reported). In Honduras the decline was 80%. According to the FNAMP, an anti-gang unit in the country, Honduran gang leaders have warned transport firms that once the quarantine ends, protection money will have to be paid retrospectively.

The biggest money-spinner for most organised crooks is the drugs trade. Mr Stock says early reports suggest the global business, estimated at around $500bn, has been disrupted—but only temporarily and partially. “For many cartels and syndicates it’s not a big problem”, he explains, “because of the money that is available at that level. They have immense liquidity.”

The opium harvest in Afghanistan that supplies nearly all the world’s heroin has been largely unaffected. Coca farmers in Colombia, the world’s largest cultivator, have just had their best year on record, though in Peru a shortage of imported chemical precursors has made it harder to produce cocaine. The closure of pharmaceutical plants in China threatened the supply of precursors used in the production of methamphetamines, but the interruption was temporary.

The next stage in the supply chain—wholesale distribution—has been distorted. But gangs are already adapting. Syndicates that rely on drugs smuggled on flights, such as Nigerian gangs in South Africa, have been hit hard. Two members of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel told Reuters that far fewer drugs are being transported in cars across the border into the United States since it was shut on March 21st. Syndicates seem to be using tunnels and drones instead. Officials in Brazil have reported that traffickers in cocaine, which enters from Colombia and Peru on its way to Europe and Africa, are switching consignments from land routes and onto boats travelling down the Amazon. With maritime and air traffic greatly diminished, it is even harder to get drugs out of Brazil. Yet seizures between February and April were up by 10%. Elvis Secco of the Brazilian Federal Police’s drugs and organised crime unit says traffickers are offloading their stockpiles and taking more risks, which partly explains why more narcotics are being impounded.

Cocaine prices in Europe and America have risen accordingly. But that also reflects the difficulties of retail distribution, the link in the supply chain that has probably had to be adjusted most. In Naples last month police dogs found 89 packages stuffed with narcotics waiting to be dispatched from a courier depot. The drugs had been ordered on the darknet. The courier firm had no idea of its role.

Shortly afterwards Interpol told its 194 members that drug-dealers were also using the cover of food deliveries to sell their wares. In Ireland police found 8kg of cocaine and two handguns hidden in pizza boxes. In the Cape Flats, a sprawl of townships on the outskirts of Cape Town, gangs are delivering drugs along with food parcels. Heroin prices there rose initially because of a mix of profiteering and new delivery fees (they have now returned to normal). In Lesotho getting heroin direct to your door costs 200-500 rand ($11-27), on top of the usual 1,200 rand per gram.

The Cape Town gangs are among several around the world that are making a big show of charity during the pandemic. Mobsters have been reported delivering food to the needy in Mexico and Italy. In El Salvador and Brazil they have enforced curfews. In Japan yakuza have offered to disinfect a quarantined cruise liner.

But even where such initiatives are not used as a cover for drug peddling, their effects are anything but benign. They enhance gangsters’ popularity and image as latter-day Robin Hoods. They guarantee future votes for the politicians whom mobsters sponsor. And they realise one of the fundamental aims of a true mafia: delegitimising the state by displacing official authority. A gang that enforces a lockdown is doing the job of the police; one that distributes food to the destitute, that of government welfare bodies.

A deep or prolonged depression will open up rich opportunities for crooks in at least three areas. High unemployment will make it easier for mobsters to recruit people. Government recovery schemes will give them a chance to muscle in on juicy public contracts. And lower corporate profits will make it easier for mafias to take over businesses that can then be used to launder illicit gains.

In Italy, after the financial crisis, some firms accepted loans at below-market rates in return for taking onto the books—or the board—a mafioso who then began to give the orders. According to the chief of the Italian police, Franco Gabrielli, his officers in the regions worst hit by covid-19 have already come across men carrying cash-stuffed briefcases that may be part of the Italian mafias’ version of “helicopter money”. The risk is that politicians already struggling to cope with the effects of the pandemic will shove its implications for the underworld to the back of their minds and the bottom of their agendas.

Dig deeper:
For our latest coverage of the covid-19 pandemic, register for The Economist Today, our daily newsletter, or visit our coronavirus tracker and story hub

This article appeared in the International section of the print edition under the headline “Covid nostra”

Reuse this contentThe Trust Project

Can sport survive the covid-19 pandemic without spectators?

Editor’s note: The Economist is making some of its most important coverage of the covid-19 pandemic freely available to readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. To receive it, register here. For our coronavirus tracker and more coverage, see our hub

WHEN GERMANY’S top two football leagues resume this weekend, Borussia Dortmund must take on Schalke, their local rivals in the Ruhr region, without one of their strongest assets: the gelbe Wand. Usually visitors are faced with the deafening “yellow wall” of 25,000 Dortmund fans, packed into one of Europe’s biggest grandstands. But this Saturday the loudest sounds will be blasts from the referee’s whistle and the shouts of players and coaches. Spectators are being kept out, to stem the spread of covid-19. Like many professional sporting competitions, the Bundesliga has been halted for months. Other organisers will be watching it, and a handful of other events around the world, to see if they too can kick off again behind closed doors.

If they can, fans watching at home will notice a big difference. Granted, not all sports rely on rowdy crowds for a thrilling atmosphere (think of golf or snooker). But the Centre Court at Wimbledon is difficult to imagine without an umpire snapping for quiet; so too the Wankhede cricket stadium in Mumbai without the roar that follows a thwack for six. In East Asia, where lockdowns have been eased sooner than in the West and games have already been held behind closed doors, organisers are experimenting with substitutes for fans. South Korea’s football league has piped in crowd noise. Taiwan’s baseball league has put cardboard spectators in the stands, and charged fans to have their own faces stuck onto them (see picture). Borussia Mönchengladbach, another Bundesliga team, is doing the same, and giving the proceeds to charities. In Britain, Sky Sports is considering superimposing computer-generated fans into stands (a similar technique was pioneered by the makers of the film, “Gladiator”).

Even without live spectators, staging professional sport amid the pandemic is far from risk-free. Players from the Bundesliga’s 36 teams are being tested for the coronavirus several times a week (ten, out of more than 1,700 footballers and staff, had tested positive by May 4th). Training has been restricted to groups of five. Other sports are considering more extreme precautions. England’s cricketers face weeks in quarantine before, during and after this summer’s six scheduled five-day Test matches against Pakistan and the West Indies. And spectatorless events still bring lots of potentially infectious people together. A professional rugby union match requires at least 174—including players, water-carriers and camera crews—according to World Rugby, the sport’s organising body.

Will closed-door events be commercially viable? Most leading sports rely on three sources of revenue: match-day sales, broadcasting rights and sponsorship. All will be depleted. Empty stands will wipe out match-day revenue, with no fans to buy tickets, merchandise, pints or pies. For the biggest leagues this loss will be manageable; teams in England’s Premier League (the world’s richest football league) took in only 14% of their revenue on match days in the 2017-18 season, according to Deloitte, a consultancy. Smaller leagues lacking large television audiences will struggle, though. Clubs in the Scottish Premiership, for instance, relied on match-day sales for 45% of their revenue that season.

The future of broadcasters’ fees, which bring the biggest sports most of their income, is less clear. Uncertain about when and in what form fixtures will return, broadcasters are reluctant to pay up. Sky, DAZN and IMG, three media companies, have already withheld €220m ($238m) from Serie A, Italy’s top football league. The Premier League stands to lose £750m ($910m) in rights fees if the season does not resume, and at least £300m even if it does, because broadcasters will have missed their preferred time slots. Fixtures that go ahead may not meet broadcasters’ expectations in other ways. Stefan Kürten, the director of Eurovision Sport, the sports arm of the European Broadcasting Union, has stipulated that the participation of top athletes will determine the value of rearranged events. When Nick Kyrgios, an Australian tennis star, was asked recently if he would play in a grand slam without fans, he replied: “100% no.”

Despite these concerns, broadcasters have seized upon the few events around the world that are going ahead. Taiwanese baseball is being broadcast online with English commentary for Americans itching for home runs. The first match of South Korea’s football league was shown live by the BBC in Britain last week. But this fresh interest will be too short-lived for many smaller leagues to find new audiences.

Revenue from sponsors is more secure. Many agree to multi-year deals with teams and athletes, and will hope that audiences watching at home make up for the lack of fans in venues. But already there are signs of strain. The number of new sponsorship deals announced in the first three months of 2020 fell by 26%, compared with a year earlier, according to GlobalData, a research firm. Last week Gifi, a French retailer, said that it would stop sponsoring Sporting Union Agen, a top-flight French rugby union team, because of the disruption caused by the pandemic. The current season was officially abandoned last month.

If fixtures do resume quickly, teams could find new ways to display sponsors’ messages, such as virtual signs in the stands where crowds would normally be, says Simon Wardle, the chief strategy officer of Octagon, a sports-marketing agency. But there is still plenty of room for arguments. Many payments are based on performance, and teams that falter may claim that their results behind closed doors do not reflect their potential. Fixtures at neutral venues—proposed to keep players safe and discourage fans from gathering outside stadiums—may cause squabbles too. Sponsors may contest who controls advertising hoardings and even the names of venues. Companies that have paid to add their name to a team’s home will want the same exposure if games are relocated.

Playing in empty stadiums will alleviate leading sports’ most immediate financial woes, but revenues will still fall sharply. If they were not able to return to play soon, Europe’s five biggest football leagues would stand to lose €4bn, equivalent to a quarter of their revenue for the 2017-18 season, according to Andrea Sartori of KPMG, another consultancy; if matches are rescheduled quickly and played behind closed doors, losses could be closer to 5-8%. For many sports already on thin margins, such as rugby, such losses could still be devastating.

You’re not singing any more
But what will happen on the field? Quite possibly, a rushed return will be bad for the players, even if they are raring to go. In 2011 America’s National Football League shut down for 18 weeks owing to a dispute over money between players and team-owners. Researchers later found that, when play recommenced with only a few days to train, the rate of injury was much higher than in previous seasons.

Players’ performances will also be affected by the absence of fans. Playing at home, with a full house cheering you on and screaming abuse at opponents and officials, gives you an advantage. Even without the crowd, the familiar playing surface and even the changing rooms all help home teams to play at their best, Dan Ashworth, Brighton football club’s technical director, told Sky Sports. No wonder low-ranking Premier League clubs have objected to finishing the season on neutral grounds.

Schalke—well behind their hosts in the league—will be the underdogs this Saturday. They have suffered a few traumas in Dortmund, not least in 1969, when a police dog called Rex bit one of their players on the backside. (In fairness to Rex’s handler, he was trying to stop a pitch invasion.) But they can take heart from a good recent record. They haven’t lost at Signal Iduna Park since 2015; in 2017 they stormed back from 4-0 down to draw 4-4. And this time they won’t have to contend with the gelbe Wand.

Dig deeper:
For our latest coverage of the covid-19 pandemic, register for The Economist Today, our daily newsletter, or visit our coronavirus tracker and story hub

Reuse this contentThe Trust Project

Health workers become unexpected targets during covid-19

Editor’s note: The Economist is making some of its most important coverage of the covid-19 pandemic freely available to readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. To receive it, register here. For our coronavirus tracker and more coverage, see our hub

ONE WAS punched in the face on a Chicago bus. Two were stoned by a mob in the Indian city of Indore. Five men doused another in the Philippines with bleach. At least 21 in Mexico have been assaulted. At a time when politicians lionise them and homebound citizens cheer them on with claps and pictures of rainbows, doctors, nurses and other health workers around the world are finding themselves under threat of violent attack, and under terrible psychological strain. From Australia to China, governments and hospitals have had to take extraordinary measures to ensure the safety of their staff, even as they battle to control the global pandemic.

Covid-19 has left health-care workers more visible—and vulnerable—than ever. With a third of humanity having been locked down over the past few weeks, they are some of the only travellers on roads or public transport, conspicuous in brightly coloured scrubs or white robes. Doctors are easy targets for the frustrated, aggrieved or scared. Attacks are often treated as isolated incidents, but highlight a mounting problem: health-care systems across the world have struggled in recent years both with rising violence and the psychological toll on staff.

The figures are stark. The World Health Organisation estimates that as many as 38% of physicians worldwide have suffered physical violence at some point in their careers. In many places it is worse. In 2019 one in seven NHS staff in England said they had been physically attacked by a patient or member of the public in the previous 12 months. One in three Australian doctors reported similar abuse in the period of a year. Over 75% of India’s physicians say they have faced the threat of violence at work. After a female doctor was stabbed to death at a hospital in Beijing in late 2019, China introduced a new law banning threats against medical workers.

Fear of contagion, amplified by misinformation, appears to be prompting more violence during the pandemic. Often physical attacks are preceded by verbal ones, as doctors and nurses are singled out for supposedly spreading the disease. Others seem borne of frustration. Staff at hospitals in Australia reported being deliberately coughed and spat on by anxious patients waiting to be tested for the disease.

Yet deeper problems leave doctors and nurses vulnerable to attack. In many countries, perceptions of doctors have deteriorated over recent decades. China ended state subsidies for its hospitals in the 1990s, after which they quickly commercialised. This led to declining trust, as doctors were suspected of caring more about making money than looking after their patients. A similar phenomenon has been seen in India. Certainly, some doctors have abused the system. But tropes of corrupt, negligent physicians have become easy narratives to fall back on for politicians and sensationalist media outlets. In countries where people lack faith in the justice system, attacks in hospitals may appeal to patients who feel they may never get their day in court. An expanding middle class across the globe now demands more from medical professionals than they may be able to give. Even the architecture of modernised hospitals—such as emergency rooms that are easily and quickly accessible—also makes them more vulnerable to attack.

In response, health-care systems have taken extreme measures to protect their staff. Some hospitals in China now teach them self-defence. India’s government updated laws in April to deny bail to those accused of violence against health-care staff. Some emergency rooms in America have installed metal detectors. And administrators in Australia have started telling staff not to wear their scrubs outside hospitals.

These concerns come on top of the mental and emotional toll the pandemic is exacting. In hard-hit areas, many medical staff are working even longer hours than usual. Front-line workers have a high risk of catching covid-19, made worse by chronic shortages of personal protective equipment. Many have lost colleagues to the virus. Some, afraid of infecting their loved ones, have isolated themselves from their families for long periods of time. In a study of 1,257 health-care workers who treated covid-19 patients in China at the height of the country’s crisis, more than 70% experienced psychological distress. And in several countries, doctors and nurses have been fired or threatened after speaking out about poor leadership and the lack of equipment. In Russia, three doctors have fallen from hospital windows after making public complaints; two of them died. Local media reported these as either accidents or suicide.

Health work can be difficult at the best of times. More than 40% of American physicians experienced symptoms of “burn-out”—characterised by emotional exhaustion, withdrawal and cynicism—in 2019. According to Dr Colin West of the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, burn-out often stems from overwork, stress and bureaucracy that limits interaction with patients; doctors feel less able to help those in their care.

The pandemic has created acute horrors. In some areas, a lack of resources means doctors have had to ration life-saving care. In Italy—where 10-25% of hospitalised covid-19 patients required ventilation, sometimes for several weeks—there were reports of doctors weeping in hallways over the choices they had to make. Many have spoken about the pain of watching patients die alone. Such traumas can cause “moral injury”, the term used for psychological distress caused by action, or inaction, that violates one’s beliefs. First applied to the experience of certain soldiers in wartime, moral injury can contribute to problems including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Struggling medics can find help hard to come by. Worldwide, doctors and nurses take their own lives at rates significantly higher than the general population. Dr Clare Gerada, who chairs “Doctors in Distress”, a British charity, attributes the problem, in large part, to a lack of time and space afforded to doctors and nurses to discuss the emotional impact of their jobs.

Many health officials, conscious of the strain on medics, have tried to provide helplines and other support. Many experts worry that such measures will be phased out once normal service is resumed. Dr Andrew Molodynski, a psychiatrist who oversees mental-health policy for the British Medical Association, notes that many conditions such as PTSD require consistent face-to-face treatment. The economic damage sustained during the crisis will hinder the provision of such treatment, and other mental-health care, over the longer term.

Even as covid-19 cases fall, the workload for medics is likely to stay high, as hospitals scramble to provide the care suspended during the response to covid-19. The threat of violence will only add to the burden. For those who would assault doctors, Brad Hazzard, the health minister of New South Wales, summed it up bluntly. “When you see that person in a uniform in a hospital might be actually putting a tube down your throat to keep you alive, you will wish you hadn’t actually done what you did.”

Dig deeper:
For our latest coverage of the covid-19 pandemic, register for The Economist Today, our daily newsletter, or visit our coronavirus tracker and story hub

Reuse this contentThe Trust Project

Pornography is booming during the covid-19 lockdowns

Editor’s note: The Economist is making some of its most important coverage of the covid-19 pandemic freely available to readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. To receive it, register here. For our coronavirus tracker and more coverage, see our hub

PORNOGRAPHY IS HAVING a good pandemic. As an industry, it is well adapted to a world in lockdown. It has already largely moved online; and its consumers often voluntarily self-isolate. Now, as Mike Stabile of the Free Speech Coalition (FSC), an industry group in Los Angeles, puts it, legions are “stuck at home and looking for an outlet”. Most online porn is free. Last month traffic on Pornhub, a giant website, for instance, was up by 22% compared with March. But this traffic drives revenue at smaller sites, which have to adapt their business models.

It is hard to know exactly how good business is. Gene Munster, a managing partner at Loup Ventures, an American investment firm, reckons that since the pandemic began, spending on porn worldwide has nearly doubled. That may be on the high side. But few porn outfits reveal revenues, both because many are privately held, and because no industry wants to be seen to be benefiting from loneliness and other ills. Andra Chirnogeanu of Studio 20, a firm based in Bucharest that streams clothed and nude models online, concedes that profits have risen along with the marital strife and breakups precipitated by lockdowns.

Social-distancing rules are accelerating change across the porn industry. Restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 have halted filming at most production companies. Studios are editing and releasing backlogged footage, but that cannot continue for ever. Many are now sending professional cameras and lighting rigs to actors who live together and can therefore film themselves at home. To help performers shoot and edit, the FSC produces online tutorials. But the resulting scenes typically offer fewer camera angles and, as Mr Stabile puts it, a feel that is “more raw” than slick.

Despite such efforts by established producers, lockdowns are encouraging efforts by freelancers and smaller firms, too. Actors increasingly cut producers out of the loop by filming themselves on smartphones and uploading the homemade footage, which they own, to newish websites that host “adult” social media. On these so-called premium sites, fans aged 18 and older pay subscriptions to watch performers. The sites take a cut of transactions (20% or so is typical). But other than that, the system removes middlemen.

The approach is catching on. Ella Hughes, a British porn star, says she has quit performing for traditional producers because so many admirers now pay $12.99 a month to watch videos that she shoots of herself at home and uploads to a premium site called OnlyFans. Some subscribers pay an additional $40 to $500 for short bespoke videos of Ms Hughes that only they can view. On a recent weekend, she made ten of these private videos, charging higher fees for uttering a fan’s name or acting out dominatrix fantasies. Almost all porn performers, she says, now sell homemade material on premium websites.

Revenue from direct interaction between performers and fans has been growing for years. But the covid-19 pandemic has given the trend a shot in the arm. A dozen years ago, roughly three-quarters of most performers’ earnings came from production companies paying for work on their sets. The remaining quarter was from direct transactions with fans and merchandise sales. Those ratios are now reversed, says an executive at Private, a large porn producer with its headquarters in Barcelona. Today, he says, actors see professionally produced work as advertising to drive traffic to their premium social-media accounts.

Edgar Allan pole
Traffic on premium sites is soaring. This is enticing all sorts of new performers to open accounts in the hope of profitably reinventing themselves online. In coming days, the Berlin Strippers Collective, a group of dancers for clubs that are now closed, will film its first show, a mixture of classic striptease and “stripperature”, which will include, for example, an item where members will hang upside down from a dancing-pole while reading aloud from Hermann Hesse and Edgar Allan Poe. The video will be uploaded to the collective’s new account on Patreon, a premium website that hosts conventional and adult works. Access will cost between €5 ($5.40) and €15 a month.

Some performers will find the transition to digital tricky. Mia, a stripper in the Berlin collective, foresees a struggle. She laments that she cannot promote the online venture on her usual social media without her family in Spain discovering what she does. Beyond that, as Edie, another stripper in the collective, notes, online imagery can be illicitly copied and posted elsewhere amid unsavoury content.

Prostitutes, for their part, are likely to find converting clients from analogue to digital experiences to be especially difficult. France’s lockdown has led a third of the country’s more than 35,000 prostitutes to seek work online, typically via webcam streaming, estimates STRASS, a French sex-worker union in Paris. Of those, only one in ten are getting by, reckons the union’s boss, who calls herself Amar Protesta.

Some no doubt lack the gift of the gab and whatever else it takes to achieve customer satisfaction through a webcam. But multitudes of newly unemployed women, and some men, are making a go of it. Désir-cam, a relatively small site that streams 3,200 French-speaking erotic “hostesses”, typically charging €50 per 15 minutes of private show, hired 128 women in April, more than triple its monthly norm, says its founder, André O’Bryan, who lives in Sydney. Revenue last month was more than double that in February. Greed-ella, as a Désir-cam performer based near Lyons styles herself, says her earnings have recently quadrupled. Some of the site’s “camgirls” now earn €12,000 a month.

With “camming” traffic also up on far bigger (and typically cheaper) sites, such as Chaturbate, MyFreeCams and Streamate, streamed porn is on a roll. To sign up more talent, a company called BongaModels offers its cam performers 5% of the earnings of anyone new they introduce to work for the firm. Most cam models work from home, but some “camming studios” in buildings with dozens of staged bedroom sets have managed to continue round-the-clock streaming during the lockdowns. To pull this off, Romania’s Studio 20, which runs 24 camming studios, each with ten to 32 sets in Colombia, Hungary and elsewhere, has cleverly kept some locations humming by turning them also into places to live. Consenting performers have simply moved in.

For an inkling of what is in store, consider FanCentro, a website with offices in Barcelona and Limassol, Cyprus (whose website offers “social distancing at its finest”). In the past two months more than 19,000 new models have joined the site, for a current total of more than 191,000. FanCentro’s Kat Revenga attributes the surge to workplaces shutting down, and to the company’s decision to forgo for now its cut of new models’ earnings. Within six months FanCentro expects to switch on a feature that will let models also stream erotic performances, alone or with partners.

Rachel Stuart, a PhD researcher of sex work at the University of Kent in Britain, believes that, by revenue, webcam shows have already eclipsed traditional scene productions. Anti-porn campaigners will not be heartened, however. As Ms Chirnogeanu of Studio 20 points out, hiring is up and half of new performers have no prior experience in such work. So the pandemic is not just increasing consumption; it is expanding and diversifying the workforce.

Dig deeper:
For our latest coverage of the covid-19 pandemic, register for The Economist Today, our daily newsletter, or visit our coronavirus tracker and story hub

Reuse this contentThe Trust Project

From Dating Via Drone To Passion In The ICU: Why We Love A Quarantine Romance

By Carson Mlnarik

Two hands touching through a windowpane. A late-night “wish u were here” text. Less than desirable sleeping arrangements — at first. What is it about quarantine that has us so hot and bothered?

Social distancing measures meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus might be keeping us away from each other, but that doesn’t mean we’re giving up on love. Rather, now that physical intimacy isn’t an option for couples who live separately, it’s changing how we date, so much so that the “quarantine love story” has become its own meme, defined by dating apps, passionate roommate hookups, and the occasional human-sized bubble. But two pandemic-crossed lovers are not necessarily a new kind of romance; it falls in line with the universal obstacles that plagued Romeo and Juliet as much as it did Cole Sprouse and Haley Lu Richardson’s characters in Five Feet Apart: Can love overcome the invisible barriers?

In this new normal, TikTok user Jeremy Cohen overcame the setbacks by using a drone to ask out the “quarantine cutie” he spotted dancing on a rooftop in his New York neighborhood. But in 2017’s Everything, Everything, it was a note that new kid Olly (Nick Robinson) sketched from his bedroom window for Maddy (Amandla Stenberg) after noticing she doesn’t go outdoors. Their love story springs to life with the essential storylines laid out by other teen romances like Midnight Sun, The Fault in Our Stars, and A Walk to Remember: There’s a boy, a girl, and a medical problem that keeps their fling from blossoming into a fully-realized relationship. These romances may endure with varying success, but that first-love intensity draws viewers in every time, and it comes as no surprise that these movies were all box-office successes.

The quarantine love story can come in many forms, and we’re breaking it down to see how courtship fares in the face of challenge, why this long-standing formula isn’t going anywhere, and the reason it feels especially resonant now.

The Star-Crossed Lovers 

The high stakes might be one reason why we have a proclivity towards star-crossed lovers, according to Dr. Amber Hutchins, a professor at Arizona State University who teaches a class on depictions of sex, love, and romance in the media. Hutchins tells MTV News that the Romeo and Juliet trope “mirrors the intensity of the feelings” many young people have in their first relationships where it feels “like life and death.” With the world going through a pandemic, the quarantine love story can have similar stakes. “What we are living in right now is literally life or death,” she says. “So, I think that makes it even more resonant with not just young adults, but everyone who’s experiencing this.”

Five Feet Apart becomes particularly relevant a year after its March 2019 release, given that its title references the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s “6-foot rule” that says patients should maintain 6 feet apart to avoid cross-infection, and the CDC outlined the same distance for Americans as part of physical distancing. The film follows Will (Cole Sprouse) and Stella (Haley Lu Richardson), two cystic fibrosis patients who are united by a shared love of art and breaking the rules, leading them to secretly date in the hospital. But for Stella to hug her boyfriend, or even her best friend, is to risk both their lives. “There’s a lot of invisible barriers to people being physically together and I think that’s even more obvious … where there’s a complex medical situation that most of the audience probably hasn’t experienced,” Hutchins said. “Now, we feel like we’re all feeling this together, and I think that there were those challenges pre-pandemic, and these films kind of amplify that now.”

And They Were Roommates…

There is also the “And they were roommates…” trope, quoted by meme and fan fiction creators alike. Because of their collective living situation, two people are forced together to see if symptoms develop — and feelings, too. Such is the case in a Wattpad story by author AggressivelyFriendly (whose name is withheld for privacy), “The One Where Harry Styles Sneezed on Me,” which follows a female protagonist who’s quarantined with the “Adore You” singer after he sneezes on her at a Whole Foods. The fanfiction is just one of the over 12,300 stories tagged “quarantine” on Wattpad, with over 4,000 fics inspired by coronavirus on the site alone.

AggressivelyFriendly speculates that the trope’s appeal stems from the “prolonged intimate contact” that can often “bring down our fear of rejection and lower our inhibitions,” inspiring stories that move at quicker, more intense paces than we’re used to in real life. “It’s almost like a petri dish rather than a natural progression of things,” she tells MTV News. She was inspired to write a fic about a quarantine love affair with Harry Styles as a way of dealing with stress during the pandemic, as well as connecting with fellow fans of the former One Direction singer.

While she acknowledges quarantine is a “dream scenario” for a writer, she points to reality shows like Netflix’s Love is Blind that recreate the effect of a romance isolated from outside influences. “It’s almost a little bit like that, where these people chose not to see each other, but they were forced to get to know each other in a really intense situation,” she says. “Some, like Lauren and Cameron, had immediate chemistry and were allowed to lean into that.” A desire to find true connection might also be the reason why we get so invested in quarantine love stories. There’s usually a sacrifice involved to keep the relationship going, much like in successful relationships, which are often hard-won. “I think we all want someone to find us attractive but we also want to be wanted for who we are,” the author adds. “If this person is spending all this time but they can’t gratify or be with you like that, then they want you so much that they’re willing to sacrifice that aspect.”

Getty Images

What Can We Learn?

Relationships are already hard enough, and the additional barriers characters face in quarantine love stories show us that. “There’s already risk associated with being vulnerable and opening your heart to someone,” Hutchins says. “So putting this barrier on top of it can be really stressful and feel unnatural.” Five Feet Apart, in particular, focuses on “the natural expression” of touch in all kinds of relationships, and what it means to live without it. While many people worldwide are dealing with what it means to be physically distant from a loved one for a prolonged period, most of their situations will get better with time. But there’s empathy to be gained in dealing with challenges similar to those that people with real-life health conditions face on a daily basis. “If we’re able to develop some compassion for other people and situations through this experience, I think that that can be valuable,” Hutchins says.

Considering most affairs in the genre end with a break-up, it may sound like love is dead in quarantine, but that’s not the case. Dr. Hutchins muses that relationships can beat the odds with “healthy communication,” by “being honest with each other,” and creating “physical space” for individual interests and quality time. This could be either good or bad news for couples who are quarantined together and are now finding themselves spending more time occupying the same space. “I think that if you already had problems in your relationship, quarantine is obviously not going to fix that,” Hutchins says. “It’s going to add another layer to that, and some relationships may not be well-suited for that.”

What Are We Going to See?

While Hollywood is straying away from pandemic-related storylines right now, we will almost certainly see a rise in quarantine stories, both in movies and television as it continues to change the way projects are being filmed. As for love stories, viral threads about newfound virtual romances — like the “important quarantine love storyLA Times reporter Amy Kaufman created about her roommate — show that we’re more than willing to root for a romance in the face of coronavirus, even if we aren’t exactly sure what we’re doing on dating apps.

These stories might have a new coat, but Dr. Hutchins says they speak to our need to feel human connection, and the desire to be normal. It’s why audiences rooted for Bella Thorne’s Midnight Sun character despite her xeroderma pigmentosum just as much as they rooted for an immuno-compromised John Travolta when he played Tod in 1976’s made-for-TV movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. 

“I think that ultimately (the pandemic) will be a backdrop for the kind of situations that we’ve already seen in these other films,” Hutchins says. “The idea of destiny putting you together, that love is worth the risk — whether that’s actual physical risk or emotional risk — and the obstacles and barriers that prevent people from being together, it’s good material.”

Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

The pandemic may be making domestic abuse worse

Editor’s note: The Economist is making some of its most important coverage of the covid-19 pandemic freely available to readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. To receive it, register here. For our coronavirus tracker and more coverage, see our hub

EVEN BEFORE covid-19 began to spread, domestic abusers often tried to isolate their victims so as to exert physical and psychological control over them. Lockdowns have magnified their ability to do that. Those at risk—be they partners, children or parents—can no longer escape, even briefly, to school or work. To help them, policymakers, social workers and campaigners are having to innovate.

The pandemic has probably made domestic violence worse, but proving it is hard. Some rich countries are reporting more calls for help, says Claudia Garcia-Moreno, who leads the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) efforts against violence against women. In France reports to police of domestic violence rose by at least 30% in the first week of the lockdown imposed in mid-March. Other places are noting steep declines. Reports of domestic violence in New York City in April dropped by 35% compared with the same month last year. Overall crime, by comparison, fell by 29% over the same period.

Even in normal times domestic violence is underreported. The UN estimates that less than 40% of women who are physically abused at home seek any kind of help. In lockdown victims may be scared to call the police or a helpline if their tormentor can overhear them. Victims may stay in their homes for fear of infection. Those who have lost their jobs may find it even more difficult to leave. The pandemic is making it harder to get help to the vulnerable—social workers fear infection, too.

Domestic-abuse hotlines say that growing numbers of callers refer to covid-19—and the related economic fallout. Katie Ray-Jones, head of America’s national hotline, says the lockdown is prompting some already abusive men to become more so; some of those who were verbally abusive before are becoming physically violent. Others are lying to their victims about lockdown rules, telling them that they are not allowed to leave the house under any circumstances, for instance.

Lockdowns are forcing those who help to be more innovative. Technology has long been useful. Refuge, a British charity, has an online-chat tool that shows survivors how to set up strict privacy features on their mobile phones. Many shelters and hotlines already have a button on their website that takes those looking for help to Google’s home-page and floods their search history with unremarkable sites in case their abuser walks into the room.

Online tools are especially useful now. A Dutch helpline is seeing increased numbers of children asking for advice on community forums and using their online chat tool to talk to experts. And the pandemic is prompting fresh thinking. Courts in New York state have started issuing orders of protection virtually. If the scheme remains in place after the pandemic, it would remove the obstacle of having to go physically to a court to gain legal protection from an abuser. Staff at the Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention Programme at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York are now doing Zoom therapy sessions.

Where internet access is limited and legal protections are weaker technology may be less help. In Latin America mobile-data charges are unaffordable for many, so the WHO is trying to spread information about the help available through adverts on television and radio. Domestic abuse will outlive the pandemic. With luck, so will new tools to combat it.

Dig deeper:
For our latest coverage of the covid-19 pandemic, register for The Economist Today, our daily newsletter, or visit our coronavirus tracker and story hub

This article appeared in the International section of the print edition under the headline “No safe haven”

Reuse this contentThe Trust Project

Casual sex is out, companionship is in

Editor’s note: The Economist is making some of its most important coverage of the covid-19 pandemic freely available to readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. To receive it, register here. For our coronavirus tracker and more coverage, see our hub

ON A SMARTPHONE screen Rob (not his real name) looked good. Twenty-four years old, classically handsome, with a job on Wall Street, he was an attractive prospect on dating apps. Shepherding women from bar to bedroom was easy. Sex was on tap. Then in March covid-19 struck New York City and shut off the mains.

It is a frustrating time to be single. Social distancing makes meeting in the flesh hard. Some people are still trying. In socially conservative Bangladesh, where cohabitation is rare, couples rushed to get married before lockdown started. In Italy lovers rendezvous in supermarket queues.

But many more are looking for love on the internet. Some people are trying to recreate old formats online. In Lagos professionals host virtual games nights for the unattached. In China people dance the night away at “internet discos”, before peeling off into message boards to chat privately. But others are embracing a new set-up: the virtual date. And the solitude of lockdown is making them reconsider what they want from romantic relationships.

Nearly 240m people use dating apps and websites. Even before the pandemic American couples were more likely to meet each other through online-dating services than through personal contacts, according to a study published in 2019 by sociologists from Stanford University and the University of New Mexico. Such apps are increasingly popular in poor countries, too, especially where dating is frowned upon. In Bangladesh and Egypt singletons have flocked to apps such as Tinder.

Dating apps are designed to push users off their phones and into bars, a less-than-ideal model in the middle of a pandemic. But user numbers for the five most popular online dating services have held steady this year, according to App Annie, a market-research firm. And would-be Romeos and Juliets are using them more intensely than they were before covid-19 struck. In April the average number of messages sent daily across Match products, including OkCupid, PlentyOfFish, Tinder, Hinge and Match.com, was up by 27% compared with the last week of February. During the worst week of China’s epidemic, in late February, the average user of TanTan, a Chinese app, spent 30% longer on the app than normal.

Before the pandemic, online daters complained about the fickleness of their peers. Many failed to initiate conversations with those they were matched with; if they did, the other party soon disappeared, according to Dawoon Kang of Coffee Meets Bagel, an app. The ease with which users could make connections encouraged them to treat matches as if they were “replaceable”, argues Rachel DeAlto, a relationships expert from Match, one of the first dating websites. This stoked frustration; last October 45% of American users told Pew that online dating was a vexing experience.

But covid-19 has rendered users less flighty. Between late February and late March, the average length of a conversation on Tinder, one of the most popular apps, surged by 25%. “People are taking the time to get to know each other more,” says Ms Kang, who has seen a similar shift on Coffee Meets Bagel. In Bangladesh the daily video calls Shenaz has with her boyfriend, whom she met on Tinder five months ago, last for hours. She was worried they would drift apart during lockdown, but knowing that she cannot meet someone new “has made me commit to this relationship” more than she did before. (She is luckier than some. Saeda Bani of BRAC, a Bangladeshi NGO, says men from poor families are commandeering the mobile phones of female relatives, younger ones in particular, to stop them from spending money on phone credit or talking to strange men.)

The pandemic has also made singletons more willing to show their faces. Before it, they rarely turned on the webcam. Video-conferencing was “a business thing”, says Mike, a 28-year-old Bumble user from Perth; using it for dating seemed creepy. Just 6% of American singles said they were likely to have used video to meet people before the pandemic, according to a poll of Match users conducted in mid-April.

But Zoom chats with friends and family have become routine in the age of covid-19. Some 70% of American singles surveyed by Match said they would now use video. Bumble, which introduced video chat last July, reported an 84% increase in the number of video calls between the third and fourth weeks of March. Hinge, the League and Match added video last month. Facebook Dating and Tinder plan to do so, too.

And people are surprisingly willing to bare their souls on video dates. At home there are fewer distractions to nudge along a dull conversation than there would be at a restaurant enlivened by a bickering couple. Mike realised that the only way to avoid the dreaded “awkward pause” during his virtual dates was to “really listen, really react and go deep into what we’re talking about.” The result is that “you end up really investing in each other.” And such dates weed out those unable to make conversation, points out Abigail Arunga, a journalist in Nairobi.

These shifts reveal a desire for companionship, argues Ms DeAlto. They also highlight the unease felt by some with the rush of romance pre-covid. Merav Gur, a psychologist in Manhattan, says that before the pandemic her millennial patients felt pressure to have casual sex. The more anxious shunned dating altogether. More confident millennials like Rob, the banker, threw themselves headlong into hook-up culture but it left them dissatisfied.

Isolation has improved their emotional lives, says Dr Gur. Those who felt hurt by the casualness of dating apps say the people they are meeting now are kinder and more responsive than before the pandemic. App users surveyed in March by the Kinsey Institute at the University of Indiana “were more likely to say that they found other users to be friendlier than usual, more willing to have video chats, and more willing to have deep conversations” than before the pandemic, says Justin Lehmiller, one of the study’s authors.

Where lockdowns lift, the old ways are returning. In Beijing, which is slowly reopening, parks are filling up with strolling couples and restaurants are busy serving tables for two. In Iran, which has allowed cars back on the streets, a teacher says that he has registered as a driver on one of the country’s ride-hailing apps, hoping to meet women. But Ms DeAlto predicts that until people need no longer worry about covid-19, most singletons will be wary of close contact with potential mates. Almost all OkCupid users, polled since March, say they plan to continue using video. The virtual date may outlast the pandemic.

Dig deeper:
For our latest coverage of the covid-19 pandemic, register for The Economist Today, our daily newsletter, or visit our coronavirus tracker and story hub

This article appeared in the International section of the print edition under the headline “Fever when you hold me tight”

Reuse this contentThe Trust Project

How covid-19 gave peace a chance, and nobody took it

Editor’s note: The Economist is making some of its most important coverage of the covid-19 pandemic freely available to readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. To receive it, register here. For our coronavirus tracker and more coverage, see our hub

ON MARCH 23RD, when the coronavirus was beginning to seize the world, Antόnio Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, issued a call for a global ceasefire. “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” he declared. His laudable ambition, echoed by Pope Francis and others, was to secure a respite for those countries and regions so weakened by violence and conflict that they would be especially vulnerable to the pandemic. To general surprise, many armed groups around the world appeared to be listening.

By early April, fighters in 12 countries had answered Mr Guterres’s call and downed weapons, at least temporarily; by some counts four more have followed suit. The first batch included groups involved in some of the world’s most enduring and intractable conflicts. The National Liberation Army (ELN) in Colombia, which has been trying to “liberate” the country for 50 or so years, declared a ceasefire on March 30th. So did the New People’s Army (NPA) in the Philippines, a communist guerrilla group that has been in the field since 1969. A faction of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army-North (itself a breakaway from the SPLA) also called a unilateral ceasefire, at least in three of its several theatres of operations.

Hopes were raised that such armed groups, fatigued after decades of fighting, were using the opportunity of the UN’s ceasefire call to wind up their fruitless revolutionary struggles. They all indicated that they were open to talks with the governments they were fighting. Could some good, perhaps, come out of the disastrous pandemic?

Alas, that hope is receding rapidly. Unless some urgent action is taken, it may disappear altogether. On April 30th both the ELN and the NPA announced that they were not extending their ceasefires and would return to violence. Both groups claimed that their governments had shown no appetite for negotiating. The Philippine government, for its part, argued that the NPA had violated its ceasefire early on and that peace talks were pointless after the guerrillas killed two soldiers on March 27th. Thus the two sides return to what they know best—a long, dispiriting impasse.

“It has been very disappointing,” argues Richard Gowan, a UN-watcher at the International Crisis Group, a conflict-prevention organisation based in Brussels. All the early momentum for peace generated by Mr Guterres’s original call has been lost, and that is at least partly because of five weeks of dithering at the UN Security Council. A swift and decisive resolution was needed to back the secretary-general’s words; instead there has been silence. “There was a window of opportunity for the ceasefire to catch on,” says Mr Gowan, and it is closing fast.

The problem is the escalating row between China and America, two of the five permanent members of the Security Council, over the origins of the coronavirus and the role of the World Health Organisation (WHO). In drafting a ceasefire resolution, a process marshalled by France, wording was agreed relatively quickly on some robust clauses demanding a full 90-day pause in hostilities in conflict-ridden countries. But America and China remain at loggerheads, as they have been for weeks, over how to refer to the WHO in the preamble to the resolution.

The Chinese insist that the organisation gets a namecheck; America does not want it mentioned at all. The Trump administration has accused the WHO of mishandling the crisis, and in particular of colluding with the government in Beijing to cover up China’s role in spreading the virus in the first place. The tussle over a mention of the WHO in the resolution has thus become a proxy battle between the two powers over who should shoulder most of the blame for causing the pandemic.

Many lives may yet be lost in the Sino-American blame game. Scepticism about the effectiveness of such UN resolutions on the ground is understandable. But, judging by the response to Mr Guterres’s original words, in this instance a resolution could be consequential. In conflicts where two parties are already looking for an opportunity to talk, a timely push from the UN might make the difference. Yemen, the great prize for peacemakers, is a case in point: the Saudi Arabian-led coalition declared a two-week ceasefire on April 9th, and the Houthi rebels also announced a willingness to work with the UN on a ceasefire and an end to the war; fighting has since resumed.

Many of the conflict-ridden countries that could benefit most have some of the weakest health-care systems in the world and so are the least prepared to combat the coronavirus. The world’s newest state, South Sudan (another country where an armed group has declared a recent ceasefire), had, at the last count, just four ventilators for its roughly 12m people.

The UN resolution might still be adopted, if America and China can resolve their differences. But as the ELN and the NPA have shown, with every day that passes such an outcome could make less difference. Thus one of the few opportunities for the world to gain anything from the coronavirus crisis may have been squandered.

Correction (May 6th 2020): A previous version of this story stated that the International Crisis Group was based in New York. It is actually based in Brussels. Mr Gowen is based in New York. Apologies.

Dig deeper:
For our latest coverage of the covid-19 pandemic, register for The Economist Today, our daily newsletter, or visit our coronavirus tracker and story hub

Reuse this contentThe Trust Project