Worldwide covid-19 is causing a new form of collective trauma

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THE NIGHTMARE began in earnest for residents of Parque das Tribos when their cacique, or local chief, died of covid-19. Messias Kokama had battled politicians, developers and drug gangs to transform a dusty informal settlement on the outskirts of Manaus, a city of 2m people deep in the Brazilian Amazon, into a haven for some 600 indigenous families from 35 ethnic groups. He was 53 and said he wasn’t afraid of the virus. His death on May 13th shook the community.

By then, hospitals in Manaus were turning people away and cemeteries were digging mass graves. Ambulances wouldn’t come to Parque das Tribos (“Tribes Park”) because the city and the federal indigenous agency each claimed that indigenous city-dwellers fell to the other institution. Such neglect exacerbated their grief. Every few days another elder would start gasping for air. Those who made it back from hospital told horror stories of frigid wards packed with dying patients and doctors who didn’t speak their language. One resident fled the ICU. “He said he would rather die in a hammock than surrounded by tubes,” said his daughter-in-law, Cláudia Baré. Five weeks later, he did.

The pandemic has now subsided in Parque das Tribos. Burials in Manaus have fallen from more than 150 per day to the pre-pandemic norm of around 35. Sunbathers once again pack Ponta Negra beach on the banks of the Rio Negro. It scarcely seems imaginable that just two months ago, boats were arriving at the port with covid-19 patients who had died on the journey. Yet the chaos of the past few months is giving way to a second crisis. Lingering trauma and continued hardship will take much longer to overcome. Mr Kokama’s daughter, Mirian, is being treated for depression. His son, Miqueias, who is 33 and took over as chief, barely sleeps.

For some, the second half of 2020 will bring much-needed relief. For the time being the number of new recorded global infections has plateaued. In many countries it has dropped dramatically. Yet for those places hit hardest, a full recovery will depend on more than getting the virus under control. In a world paralysed by death, survivors are everywhere: ICU patients who faced the horror of covid-19 first-hand, doctors and nurses who cared for them, relatives forced to mourn over WhatsApp and Zoom, families who lost their livelihoods. Mental-health professionals say that no single event since the second world war has left so many people in so many places traumatised at once. How people fare in the months and years ahead will depend partly on how their countries—and, more importantly, their communities—respond.

Stress en masse

In 1972 a dam burst at a coal mine in West Virginia and 132m gallons of sludge ripped through the Buffalo Creek valley, killing 125 people and destroying thousands of homes. The victims’ lawyers hired Kai Erikson, a sociologist, to study the aftermath of the flood. It had swept away not only physical belongings, but also relationships, routines, tradition and trust. He called this devastation “collective trauma”.

The way Mr Erikson saw it, traumatic experiences harm individuals, of course. But they can also change group dynamics. People stop trusting each other. It becomes harder to bring people back together and easier to open new wounds. If nothing is done, this can permanently damage a society—and even destroy it. In Buffalo Creek untreated grief and neglect en masse led to the demise of several towns.

Though the term may have been new, the experience of collective trauma was not. Mass trauma has now been identified in the context of wars, natural disasters and terrorist attacks. Research shows that people and communities are typically very resilient. Yet exposure to death puts them at greater risk of lasting affliction. Violence and disasters owing to negligence—such as the Buffalo Creek flood or the explosion on August 4th at a warehouse in Beirut that killed some 150 people—are more likely to lead to trauma than “acts of God” such as hurricanes or earthquakes.

Pandemics do not fall neatly into either category. During the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in Hong Kong in 2003, nearly 40% of the population experienced increased stress, 16% showed signs of trauma and only 25% believed they were very likely to survive if they contracted the disease even though the death rate was around 10% of people infected. A review of studies involving patients treated for SARS found that a third went on to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition that can result in vivid flashbacks and difficulty sleeping. But past epidemics are imperfect proxies for covid-19. Its unprecedented reach across the globe and into nearly every aspect of life makes it more like a world war.

There were no large-scale psychological studies during the first or the second world wars, though the Holocaust would become the event most deeply associated with mass death and grief. Researchers in the early 2000s found roughly half of Holocaust survivors were still suffering from PTSD. Many had other disorders such as schizophrenia. Even among non-Jewish Europeans who were children during the war, 10-40% still had PTSD symptoms. In communities of survivors, research has shown that “inherited trauma” can be passed to subsequent generations, by growing up flooded with their parents’ memories, and possibly, through genes.

The suffering caused by covid-19 falls far short of the horrors of the Holocaust. Still, Krzysztof Kaniasty, a psychologist and disaster expert at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, points out that the pandemic presents nearly all the risk factors for PTSD. It has caused sudden death, life-changing events, large-scale social ruptures and chronic stressors like uncertainty and the added hassles of daily life.

The luckiest will suffer mildly from one or two of these effects. Yet more than at any other point in recent history, millions of people have been slammed by all of them. In the first large-scale survey of a developed country struck by covid-19, published in July by Psychiatry Research, 29% of 15,530 Britons surveyed met the criteria for a general psychiatric disorder. In Spain, where a shortage of protective kit has meant nearly a sixth of all covid-19 infections are of health workers, more than half are showing signs of PTSD. Another study found 86% of Bangladeshis are dealing with covid-related stress, resulting in insomnia, irritability and family problems.

There are signs of hope. In the long run people fare better when they perceive strong social support in the aftermath of a catastrophe and worse when they feel neglected or excluded. “Strong communities buffer against adverse traumatic effects,” says Joshua Morganstein of the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Maryland. His studies of health workers in Florida after hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 found lower rates of PTSD and depression among those who reported living in places with tight-knit social circles, which are better able to organise in times of crisis.

Adverse learning conditions

On February 21st the first case of covid-19 in Italy was diagnosed at a small hospital in Codogno, a serene town with cobbled streets not far from the river Po. Its inhabitants were soon experiencing drama of a sort they had seen only in films. Roadblocks were thrown up around the newly declared “red zone” and residents besieged pharmacies for personal protective equipment (PPE), which quickly ran out. “It was like being in a war with an invisible enemy,” says Rosa Cavalli, whose family owns one of the pharmacies.

But within days, 100 people were working as volunteers at an operation centre run by Italy’s disaster-response service. The struggling community radio station, which was renamed “Red Zone Radio”, began putting out twice-daily bulletins to counter fake news and conspiracy theories. “There was an initial moment of disorientation,” says Nicoletta Porcu, a psychologist who formed part of a crisis group with colleagues. But the outpouring of support helped the town emerge strengthened from the trauma.

Mr Kaniasty, the professor, has found that “received support” that might come in the form of a donation is less important for psychological outcomes than “perceived support”, the feeling that people can rely on their neighbours. As Codogno came out of lockdown in June, the degree of compliance with distancing rules—necessary for recovery—was astonishingly universal. The parish priest, Monsignor Iginio Passerini, was taken aback during confession to hear a young boy list among his sins that of having lowered his face mask outdoors.

Mass tragedies can teach groups of people how to avoid or mitigate them in future. Such “adversarial growth” helps explain why commuters in Hong Kong wore masks before any covid-19 cases had been reported. Most credit the territory’s scarring experience with SARS, which included tragic mistakes. But it also raised the profile of doctors. A record number of students applied to study medicine. The government added isolation wards in hospitals, trained infection specialists and stockpiled PPE.

Such investments paid off this year. Not a single covid-19 death was reported among Hong Kong’s hospital workers. The response earned the unpopular government a ratings boost, but a controversial security law has undermined public trust and may compromise its mass-testing strategy.

Covid-19 is easier to deal with than some traumas. It moves more slowly and is more dispersed than a natural disaster, buying governments time. Unlike a war or a terrorist attack, there is no direct human enemy to blame. Some find comfort in the fact that the whole world is going through hardship at once. When Wayne Bai, a worker at a telecoms company in Wuhan, made a business trip the day after the city’s lockdown lifted, he was denied a room at seven hotels. But his annoyance faded as the virus spread across the globe.

This universality has drawbacks, of course. One is that poor countries cannot turn as readily to rich ones for money or supplies. Aid workers who usually arrive after disasters would have been welcome in Guayaquil, Ecuador, where funeral services collapsed in late March, leading to a pile-up of bodies in homes. Zaida Rovira of the public ombudsman’s office recalls trying to console a 70-year-old who had spent four days with his brother’s body in the room they shared. At the Guasmo hospital, relatives had to enter refrigerated containers to look through hundreds of unlabelled corpses. More than 70 remain unidentified. Only recently did staff start collecting DNA samples after admitting sending photos of the bodies to relatives on WhatsApp may have led to misidentification.

Guayaquil, a tropical business hub of 2.7m people, is still counting the dead. They may top 10,000, which would give it one of the highest death rates of any big city. Yet it disappeared from headlines in April and has had to deal with its trauma alone. Most family members have received no psychological support. This points to yet another important characteristic of covid-19—its mental-health burden falls unequally in different parts of the world.

This exacerbates suffering in areas that failed to implement lessons from prior traumas. Parts of New Orleans where black people died of covid-19 at rates two to three times higher than white people were the same areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Then, racist housing policies had herded minorities into low-lying areas. Now, a higher share of minorities work in front-line jobs cleaning hospitals or stocking shelves. They also have more underlying health problems like diabetes, often caused by poor access to primary care.

The remains of the pain

Good leadership can bring people together in a crisis. Polarising leadership has the opposite effect. In Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro has echoed his American counterpart’s claim that the economic fallout of covid-19 is a greater trauma than the death toll. In both countries social distancing is a political statement. Even when hospitals were full in Manaus, less than half of people stayed at home. The local governor tried to cast himself as responsible, but people stopped trusting him after his health secretary was arrested on charges of embezzlement tied to a fake respirator company, which she denies. Corruption was more blatant in Guayaquil. The ombudsman’s office is investigating reports that morgue staffers demanded $700 from relatives to return bodies, though most family members are too traumatised to sue.

Chaos at the top makes it harder to grapple with a harsh reality. Some stop believing altogether. Psychologists who set up a hotline in Manaus were surprised to discover that even callers who had lost relatives downplayed the virus’s role, claiming other ailments ultimately killed them. Many believe online conspiracy theories, such as one claiming the state had exaggerated the death toll to receive more federal money and another alleging that the coffins buried in mass graves were filled with rocks. Sônia Lemos, who ran the hotline, said locals were going through collective denial. “It’s a defence mechanism that saves people from feeling responsible.”

There is a danger that political divisions, social distancing and economic woes will over time lead to a loss of togetherness in the same way that displacement after the Buffalo Creek flood gave “a degree of permanence to what might otherwise have been a transitional state of shock”, in the words of Mr Erikson. Communities cannot grieve together because the disaster is ongoing and the threat has yet to disappear, says Judith Lewis Herman, a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School. She describes three stages of healing: re-establishing safety, remembrance and mourning, and reconnecting with others. Social distancing complicates all of them.

And so like the pandemic itself, the psychological fallout will require assessment and adaptation. Many doctors are still focused on saving lives, but governments and mental-health professionals should start thinking about “psycho-social” interventions. In France “medical and psychological emergency units” offer one model. They were launched to respond to mental-health concerns after a terrorist attack in 1995. People are offered psychological support immediately, near the scene, just as they would be offered paramedical services. Four years after 86 people were killed in Nice in a terrorist attack, the city has broadly returned to normal, says Frédéric Jover, the psychiatrist then running the unit. But empty streets this spring brought back ghastly memories. Nice reactivated its unit to help people struggling with bereavement, anxiety and isolation.

The fact that covid-19 is slower than a bomb or a flood gives governments and NGOs an opportunity to identify and deal with mental-health issues before it is too late. Fuelled by national protests against racism and police violence, advocacy groups in Louisiana are proposing policies for a “racially and economically equitable” covid-19 recovery. New York City’s health department is hosting virtual town-hall meetings for African-Americans, including webinars about bereavement.

But it will not be easy to sustain the recent surge in community organising and mutual-aid networks (such as WhatsApp groups to bring groceries to old people) that have sprung up across the country. Fatigue and forgetting can lead social networks to deteriorate, says Sarah Lowe of the Yale School of Public Health. “Often people are still recovering when resources are cut off.” One of her studies found that a year after Hurricane Sandy, which hit New York City in 2012, mental-health outcomes were similar across demographic groups. But two years on, the poor were faring worse.

Poor countries spend much less on mental-health services and their citizens have fewer resources to get help. So healing will have to come from the ground up. This will require the creation of spaces—physical or virtual—for people to come together. In Parque das Tribos Ms Baré organised a WhatsApp group to distribute food baskets. A local nurse used her free time to go door-to-door checking on covid-19 cases and eventually persuaded the city to send a mobile-health station. Mr Kokama’s family petitioned the courts for permission to bring his body back for a 30-minute, closed-coffin ceremony.

His friends and neighbours gathered on a recent Sunday, the first time since the funeral, settling into lawn chairs to watch local dance groups perform to raise money on Facebook Live. “This is still a cry for help,” said Luciana Vasconcelos as she painted her friend’s face red and black. She added that Parque das Tribos owes its existence to a kind of collective trauma: indigenous people leaving the forest for the city in search of a better life. A speaker boomed out traditional lyrics with modern beats, and a mobile phone on a tripod filmed the dancers, some in T-shirts, others in beads, all beaming with a stubborn sort of hope.

This article appeared in the International section of the print edition under the headline “The common tragedy”

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A row between Turkey and Greece over gas is raising tension in the eastern Mediterranean

AS NAVAL BATTLES go, it was not a classic. The Kemal Reis, a Turkish frigate named after a 15th-century Ottoman admiral who tormented the Venetian fleet, was one of five escorts sent to protect the Oruc Reis, an exploration ship designed to hunt for undersea oil and gas. The Limnos, an elderly Greek frigate charged with protecting Greece’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) from such predations, watched warily from a distance. On August 12th they collided after a clumsy manoeuvre.

Both governments tried to keep the incident under wraps, but Greek navy officials soon leaked details to local news websites. “We have fewer and older ships, but we protected Greece’s maritime rights,” boasted one veteran naval officer. Greece’s defence minister is said to have congratulated the captain of the Limnos. “If this goes on, we will retaliate,” thundered Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president. “We shall not leave either the dead or the living of our kin alone.” After a call to Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Greek prime minister, Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, said that he had decided to “temporarily reinforce” France’s military presence in the region with two fighter jets and a pair of warships in order to “make sure that international law is respected.”

Dust-ups between Greece and Turkey are nothing new. The two countries came to the brink of war in 1996 over disputed Aegean islets, and continue to spar over them. Greece complained that Turkish warplanes ventured into its airspace over 3,000 times in 2017. They also disagree over the status of Cyprus, split into two after a Turkish invasion in 1974. The current dispute, however, is part of a larger tapestry of growing tensions in the eastern Mediterranean over energy, security and ideology. Turkey finds itself pitted against a broad coalition of European and Middle Eastern rivals in battlegrounds stretching from Libya to Syria.

On the face of it, the latest skirmish is all about energy. Ten years ago Israel, the most energy-starved country in the Middle East, announced it had a huge hydrocarbon resource, after all. Tucked beneath 1,645 metres of sea were some 450 billion cubic metres (bcm) of recoverable gas reserves, in a field presciently named Leviathan. Israeli officials dubbed it the best energy news in the country’s history.

The decade since has seen another boom. In 2015 Eni, an Italian oil-and-gas giant, discovered the huge Zohr field off Egypt’s coast. Big gasfields have been found near Cyprus, too, their names borrowed from Ovid or Homer: Glaucus (ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum), Aphrodite (Noble Energy, Royal Dutch Shell and Delek Drilling) and Calypso (Eni and Total). Together Egypt, Israel and Cyprus have 2.3tcm of gas, reckons Rystad Energy, a Norwegian research firm, with the potential for a lot more. Optimists claim that such riches may not only enhance the local supply of natural gas, but foster new co-operation in a fractious region and, via an ambitious pipeline, bolster energy security in Europe. Some of these lofty aspirations have been realised. Others remain the stuff of myth.

Many countries in the region are successfully exploiting hydrocarbons without provoking their neighbours. Zohr and Leviathan have become important suppliers of gas to their domestic markets. Egypt has become a hub for foreign investment. Eni’s swift development of Zohr brought other big oil and gas companies to Egypt, lured by geology, favourable regulations and a large, growing domestic market for gas. It helps that Egypt is also home to two large liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities, which can accept gas by pipeline and turn it into LNG suitable for shipping around the world.

Shared gas interests have also fostered unlikely collaboration. Leviathan’s gas serves not only Israel but Jordan and Egypt. Leviathan’s developers, America’s Noble Energy and Israel’s Delek Drilling, have taken minority stakes in the pipeline that serves Egypt. They plan to export 18.4mcm a day of Israeli gas to Egypt by mid-2022.

Yet ten years after Leviathan’s discovery, the economics of eastern Mediterranean energy are shakier. Oil and gas companies, under pressure from investors, were cutting capital spending even before covid-19 punctured energy demand. The price of gas is almost half what it was in 2010. Chevron in July said it would buy Noble for a bargain $5bn. ExxonMobil, Total and Eni have delayed further drilling off Cyprus, as the firms slash spending and struggle to deploy crews in the pandemic.

Club Med

The scramble for resources and how best to exploit them is aggravating international tensions. That is partly because of the awkward history and geography of the eastern Mediterranean. Greece argues that each of its scattered islands, however small, is legally entitled to its own continental shelf with sole drilling rights. Turkey, hemmed into the Aegean by a forbidding archipelagic wall of those islands, counters that the eastern ones rest on Turkey’s continental shelf and refuses to accept that they generate economic zones around them. It is one of only 15 countries, including Israel and Syria, that have refused to join the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which largely supports Greece’s case.

Turkey, which has been increasingly at odds with its Western allies over a number of issues, from illiberalism at home to migration flows into Europe, is also the only country to recognise the breakaway republic in the northern third of Cyprus and therefore the legitimacy of its waters. It insists that any exploitation of energy resources in the region must take into account Northern Cyprus. To back up these demands, it has sent exploration ships with naval escorts into Cypriot waters and those of Greek islands, most recently around Kastellorizo, close to Turkey’s mainland (see map).

“Let those who come to the region from far away, and their companies, see that nothing can be done in that region without us,” boasted Turkey’s foreign minister last year. In the past couple of years, Mr Erdogan’s government has embraced a revanchist doctrine known as the Blue Homeland, which seeks to give Turkey control over the waters of the eastern Aegean and the northern Mediterranean, disregarding every Greek island from Samothrace to Rhodes.

Turkey has discovered no new Mediterranean gas of its own (though as The Economist went to press, there were reports it may have done so in the Black Sea). But it too aspires to become an energy hub through the Trans-Anatolian pipeline (TANAP), which can deliver up to 16bcm from Azerbaijan to Turkey and Europe each year. Turkey plans to increase the pipeline’s capacity to 61bcm. “The problem is that Azerbaijan does not have enough to fill that,” says Michael Tanchum of the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy. “Turkmenistan has among the world’s largest volumes of gas, but Russia and Iran keep preventing pipelines from there,” says Mr Tanchum. “So if you’re thinking where Turkey can get gas that Russia can’t interfere with, that’s Iraqi Kurdistan or Israel or the eastern Mediterranean.”

Others in the eastern Mediterranean have snubbed Turkey, however. In January Greece, Cyprus and Israel signed a deal to build a 1,900km undersea pipeline to carry 10bcm of natural gas a year (around a tenth of the EU’s needs) to Europe, bypassing mainland Turkey. The viability of the plan is questionable. The pipeline would travel at extraordinary depth—3km below the surface in one stretch—as well as through areas of seabed prone to earthquakes. Industry analysts reckon its projected cost of $6bn-7bn is optimistic.

To help settle these questions, the region is getting organised—without Turkey. In January Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan and Palestine established a bloc called the East Mediterranean Gas Forum. France has applied for membership, America for observer status. The forum has taken on an increasingly Turkosceptic tenor as many of its members lock horns with Turkey over a host of issues beyond energy.

“A decade ago the question was whether these gas discoveries would help to overcome political conflicts, or whether they would exacerbate political conflicts”, says Sir Michael Leigh, who served in the European Commission from 2006 to 2011. “It’s pretty clear that it’s more the latter than the former now. The gas issue has fed into other conflicts. And what we’re seeing is very largely a result of the standoff over Libya.”

The Libyan connection

For years, Libya has been riven by civil war between a UN-recognised government in the west and the forces of Khalifa Haftar, a renegade general, in the east. Turkey supports the government, which works with Islamist militias, whereas France, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Russia have aided General Haftar, who last year came close to seizing Tripoli, the capital. Though it now claims to be taking a neutral stance, France, which is battling jihadists in Mali, views the general as a useful bulwark against extremist forces. Total, France’s largest energy company, has investments in Libyan oilfields controlled by him. French anti-tank missiles were found at one of the general’s bases last summer, though France denied sending them.

In January Turkey halted General Haftar’s offensive by sending arms, troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries to beef up the government in Tripoli. That prompted a crisis in June, when a French frigate, operating as part of a NATO mission, was threatened by a trio of Turkish naval vessels while inspecting a ship suspected of breaking the UN arms embargo on Libya.

Mr Erdogan’s intervention in Libya starkly illustrated how energy and security in the region are entangled. His price for halting General Haftar was the Libyan government’s assent to a maritime deal bolstering Turkey’s claims. The accord mapped out Libyan and Turkish continental shelves and EEZs spanning the Mediterranean. They overlapped with those of Cyprus and Greece—ignoring the existence of Crete and Rhodes—and pointedly cut across the path of the proposed pipeline. The deal prompted howls of complaint in Greece. So on August 6th Greece and Egypt, which supports General Haftar and chafes at Turkey’s support for Islamist factions in the Middle East, signed their own maritime accord. That contributed to Mr Erdogan’s decision to send in the Oruc Reis and so to the latest flare-up.

Libya is only one of several Franco-Turkish flashpoints. Last year Mr Macron denounced a Turkish offensive in northern Syria which disrupted American, British and French support for Kurdish fighters battling Islamic State. “This re-emergence of authoritarian powers, essentially Turkey and Russia, which are the two main players in our neighbourhood policy… creates a kind of turmoil,” he declared. France also responded to Turkish incursions into Cypriot waters by expanding its naval presence in Cyprus and conducting joint military exercises in the area with Greece, Cyprus and Italy (see diagram).

A growing problem

Turkey’s relations with other eastern Mediterranean countries have also soured. A decade ago Israel and Turkey were close military partners, but that ended after Israeli commandos attacked Turkish civilian ships trying to break a blockade of Gaza in 2010. “Greece became very important in providing a substitute, especially in terms of training space,” says Oded Eran, a former Israeli diplomat at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. Yossi Cohen, Israel’s spy chief, is reported to have told his Saudi, Emirati and Egyptian counterparts last year that Turkey posed a greater threat than Iran.

He would have found a sympathetic audience, for Turkey is at loggerheads with both Egypt and the UAE. A kaleidoscope of grievances against Turkey has helped to meld a trio of European states (Greece, Cyprus and France), a pair of Arab ones (Egypt and the UAE) and Israel into a loose but formidable geopolitical front. “Turkey basically has had its back against the wall for the last four or five years,” says Nathalie Tocci of the Italian Institute of International Affairs, who advises Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign-policy chief. “What Turkey managed to do in the last year is get back into the game through Libya,” she says.

When Greece and Turkey came close to war in 1996, America helped calm the crisis. It remains a big player in the region and has its own gripes about Turkey. After Mr Erdogan bought Russia’s S-400 air-defence system against NATO objections, the Trump administration kicked Turkey out of the programme for buying F-35 warplanes.

In December America lifted an arms embargo on Cyprus, part of a batch of measures it said would boost energy security in Cyprus and Europe; that Cypriot interests align with ExxonMobil’s may have helped. Last month America said it would fund military training for the island for the first time and sent an aircraft-carrier to exercise with Greece off Crete, prompting the Oruc Reis to scurry back to harbour. This week a brand-new American helicopter carrier anchored in Souda Bay, a Greek base on Crete.

Yet American policy is erratic. Its approach to Libya has see-sawed. Donald Trump is unlikely to pay much attention to the intricacies of maritime boundaries as America’s presidential election looms. That makes the EU, which Cyprus joined in 2004, a vital actor. The club lacks America’s armadas. But it has other levers at its disposal. It has already sanctioned Turkey for “unauthorised drilling activities”. Mr Macron is keen to go further.

Dr Erdogan makes a house call in Libya

The problem is that the EU, which makes foreign-policy decisions by consensus, is itself divided. Italy and Spain want to smooth things over with Turkey. Germany was irked by Greece’s decision to tweak Turkey’s nose by signing the maritime pact with Egypt just a day before talks between Greece and Turkey—mediated by Germany—were to take place.

Others are irritated by France, particularly its support for General Haftar in Libya. “There is little love for Turkey in Western capitals these days, but the French way of confronting Erdogan is not popular either,” writes Emile Hokayem of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

On August 19th European leaders expressed “full solidarity” with Greece and Cyprus and agreed to discuss the issue further in September, promising that “all options will be on the table”. But Ms Tocci concludes that “ultimately Europeans are not going to do anything significant.” That infuriates France, which believes someone should stand up to Turkey’s challenges to the EU’s maritime borders. “Defence is not a spectator sport,” comments François Heisbourg of the Foundation for Strategic Research, referring to German policy.

Neither Greece nor Turkey can afford these rising tensions in the Mediterranean. Both depend on their coastlines for billions of dollars from tourism. The few foreigners considering a trip to a Turkish or Greek resort later this year may be willing to risk covid-19, but not war. But neither country can back down easily. Mr Mitsotakis, Greece’s centre-right prime minister, is held hostage by a nationalist faction in his New Democracy party with enough MPs to topple his government. Mr Erdogan may be a divisive figure, but his Mediterranean policy wins bipartisan backing at home, notes Sinan Ülgen, a former Turkish diplomat who chairs EDAM, a think-tank in Istanbul. “This is viewed as an attack on Turkey’s national sovereignty.”

On August 16th Turkey’s foreign ministry vowed to press ahead with exploration: “No alliance of malice will manage to prevent this. Those who think otherwise have not taken their lessons from history.” On August 18th another Turkish vessel, the Yavuz, a drillship, headed for Cypriot waters to start four weeks of seismic surveys. A third vessel, the Barbaros, has been in the area since late July. If Turkish ships were to enter Crete’s potentially oil-rich waters, which under the Turkey-Libya accord is assigned to Libya, then “all bets are off,” warns Mr Tanchum. That is unlikely for the moment. But in the past, says Selim Kuneralp, a former Turkish ambassador to the EU, “there was the army and the president who acted as a brake. But now there is no brake and a guy [Mr Erdogan] who’s completely unpredictable.”

This article appeared in the International section of the print edition under the headline “Battling over boundaries”

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The covid-19 pandemic will be over by the end of 2021, says Bill Gates

But millions of deaths are yet to come in poor countries

International

MILLIONS MORE are going to die before the covid-19 pandemic is over. That is the stark message of Bill Gates, a co-founder of Microsoft and one of the world’s largest philanthropists via the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in an interview with Zanny Minton Beddoes, The Economist’s editor-in-chief, in early August. Most of these deaths, he said, would be caused not by the disease itself, but by the further strain on health-care systems and economies that were already struggling. He also lamented the politicisation of the response to the virus in America, and the spread of conspiracy theories—some implicating him—both of which have slowed efforts to contain the disease’s spread. But he offered reasons for hope in the medium term, predicting that by the end of 2021 a reasonably effective vaccine would be in mass production, and a large enough share of the world’s population would be immunised to halt the pandemic in its tracks.

Mr Gates had spent much of his time thinking about viruses, and vaccines, well before the novel coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan in the Chinese province of Hubei late last year. The Gates Foundation is central to the global alliance trying to eradicate polio by vaccinating everyone and to ease the burden of malaria and find a vaccine against it. It is several years since he warned that a new disease causing a global pandemic was a matter of when, not if, and called for the world to hold “Germ Games” along the lines of the wargames carried out by armies. The foundation has already pledged more than $350m to the covid-19 pandemic response, much of which is focused on reducing its impact in the developing world. But more is needed. “We all need to spend billions to get the vaccine out to save the trillions that the economic damage is doing,” he says.

Patchy data make it hard to assess the true extent of the damage in many poor countries. By August 17th the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, a public-health body, had recorded over 1m cases and over 25,000 covid-19 deaths in Africa. In India, almost 52,000 are recorded to have died from the disease. The true number in both places is probably much higher. But the coronavirus is not the only deadly force at play in the pandemic-struck developing world. The millions of deaths that Mr Gates predicts will be caused not only directly by covid-19, but by the knock-on effects. Almost 90% will be indirect deaths, he says. Lockdowns will reduce access to immunisation and medicine for other diseases. Deaths from malaria and HIV will rise. Lower agricultural productivity will see hunger spread and education rates fall. When it comes to the fight against poverty, the virus could wipe out a decade of gains.

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To mitigate that risk, Mr Gates is calling on rich countries to buy vaccines for poor ones. This is not entirely altruistic: if some countries remain reservoirs for the disease, it will continue to pop up again in others. If vaccines are priced high enough in rich countries to cover the fixed costs of production—clinical trials, building factories and so on—then the marginal cost of supplying poor countries would be relatively modest: of the order of $10bn-12bn in total. He sees the bulk of that money coming from America, which he also gives “by far the highest grade” on research and development for a vaccine, accounting for 80% of the global total. He hopes to see money pledged to buy vaccines for the poor world in Congress’s next supplemental spending bill.

Whether that happens depends on politics. Congressional negotiations on America’s next stimulus package have been stalled for weeks. The country’s stark political polarisation has complicated its response to the virus, introducing problems that other countries do not face. The simple act of wearing a mask has become a political statement, rather than a matter of seeking and then following expert advice, as is the case almost everywhere else. Depressingly, Mr Gates thinks that this cannot be undone, even if November’s election means a change of direction at the top. Once public trust is lost, and a policy has shifted from the realms of cost-benefit analyses into partisanship, it is not easy to reverse. Under a Joe Biden presidency, Mr Gates thinks, refusing to wear a mask might become a way for supporters of Donald Trump to signal their anger and resistance.

Lack of leadership in America has hampered the response to the pandemic outside the country’s borders, too. The world’s sole superpower has long taken the lead on global public-health efforts, and without it, consensus is that much harder to forge. And the mood in many countries is one of retreat from multilateralism and co-operation via international institutions. It is hard to see that trend reversing, since the disease is hitting government revenues hard everywhere. Generosity, no matter how beneficial for donor as well as recipient, is in short supply when budgets are being squeezed.

It is not enough for there to be a vaccine: people have to be willing to take it. And on this, too, Americans are lagging behind. A recent poll by Gallup found that one in three would not agree to receive an FDA-approved vaccine, even if it were free. But here the news is more favourable. The latest research, Mr Gates explained, suggests that the other coronaviruses in circulation, and partial immunity afforded by vaccines already in use for other diseases, already grant a measure of protection against covid-19. It is also not as contagious as some other diseases. The current best estimate is that 30-60% of the world’s population will need an effective vaccine in order to halt the pandemic. “Fortunately, this isn’t measles. We don’t need over 90% of people to take the vaccine.”

In 2000, when Mr Gates stepped down as Microsoft’s chief executive, the Gates Foundation launched GAVI, a global alliance for providing vaccines in poor countries. His involvement in vaccines for polio and measles have made him an expert in ensuring equitable distribution—especially in poor countries. And this is where Mr Gates’s outlook is most positive. He believes the covid-19 vaccine will be the fastest ever made. If it is ready for distribution in the time he predicts, it will be by far the quickest vaccine ever to come to market.

The world is on track to meet this target. More than 150 vaccines are being developed worldwide, with six in final, large-scale clinical trials. Mr Gates has already donated hundreds of millions to the cause. He is willing to donate a lot more. But money from private foundations has limits—governments have to take the lead, he thinks, both because it is their health-care infrastructure that will have to be used for distribution, and in order to gain public support and trust. So far they have pledged a mere $10bn or so to global efforts to manufacture and distribute vaccines. This is not enough.

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During the pandemic a digital crimewave has flooded the internet

WHERE REAL markets go, shadow markets often follow. In crime—as in legitimate economic activity—the pandemic has fostered an online boom. The Internet Crime Complaint Centre at America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reports that by June, daily digital crime had risen by 75% since the start of stay-at-home restrictions, and that the number of complaints received in 2020 had all but surpassed the total for 2019. In a new report, Interpol, an international policing body, corroborates these findings, tracking the same trend across member countries. “Cyber-criminals are developing and boosting their attacks at an alarming pace,” according to Jürgen Stock, its secretary-general, “exploiting the fear and uncertainty caused by the unstable social and economic situation created by covid-19.”

This surge has been driven by a dramatic shift online of many forms of economic activity because of the constraints of stay-at-home restrictions and social distancing. According to an index compiled by Adobe Analytics, a consultancy, online spending by American consumers was 76% higher in June than in the same month in 2019, and 55% up in July. Retail fraud has climbed similarly. By June 30th, the US Federal Trade Commission had received almost 140,000 reports since the start of the year, already nearly as many as in all the whole of 2019. And it had had more than 570,000 reports of identity theft—also almost as many as in all of last year—as criminals took advantage of the unfolding economic downturn and people’s general anxiety about the pandemic to exploit them for their personal information, credit-card numbers and banking details.

Criminals’ main method of attack on individuals has been covid-19-related email phishing—impersonating legitimate companies, often banks or credit-card companies, to dupe people into handing over log-ins, passwords or financial information. In recent months emails purporting to be from government and health-care authorities have proliferated, claiming to provide information and offer recommendations about the pandemic.

Often related to phishing attacks, the mushrooming of fraudulent websites and malicious domains has become a widespread problem in its own right. In June, Interpol’s Global Malicious Domain Taskforce identified and analysed more than 200,000 newly registered such sites. These affect more than 80 countries, and like phishing emails, are often designed to mimic official public websites, government portals, banks, and tax and customs authorities. They use the familiarity of trusted organisations to steal people’s personal information or to take payment for non-existent goods, services or government schemes.

Interpol’s cyber-crime division, however, reports that, as the pandemic has worn on, criminal networks have increasingly shifted their targets away from individuals and small businesses to big companies, governments and critical infrastructure. A particularly disruptive tool has been ransomware—hacking data and demanding money for their safe return—deployed against the infrastructure of corporations, government agencies, hospitals and medical centres already overwhelmed with the current health crisis.

When deployed strategically to maximise disruption, institutions are often coerced into paying large ransoms. For example, last month Garmin, a smartwatch-maker, was coerced into paying a ransom rumoured to be in the millions of dollars. This was followed up last week by Canon, a camera-maker. About ten terabytes of hacked private data from Canon are being held ransom by a criminal collective known as Maze. Canon reportedly has so far refused to negotiate.

The sharp rise in digital crime during the pandemic merely accelerates an existing trend. According to the FBI, losses from cyber-crime in America tripled between 2015 and 2019, and Accenture, a consulting firm, estimates that, based on pre-pandemic trends, the global economy would have faced at least $5.2trn in losses due to direct and indirect cyber-attacks over the next five years.

This is a symptom of a world becoming digital faster than individuals and institutions can secure themselves against exploitation. Accenture estimates—again on pre-pandemic trends—that nearly four-fifths of organisations are introducing digitally fuelled innovation “faster than their ability to secure it against cyber-attackers”. This is corroborated by Interpol, which says that cyber-criminals have exploited the abrupt global shift to teleworking.

The poster-child for this rapid technological shift and its perils has been Zoom, a provider of video-conferencing software. Its use has grown explosively during the pandemic. In December 2019, the company’s own record for the number of daily active users had peaked at around 10m, but by April Zoom was recording days with over 300m active users. Zoom, however, has been plagued by security scandals. Most recently Tom Anthony, a web-security expert, reported that he had discovered a vulnerability in the Zoom web client that would allow a malicious actor to crack the passcode for a private meeting by attempting all 1m possible combinations of a six-digit default passcode in a matter of minutes. The chances that this relatively simple vulnerability was not already known to criminals are slim, meaning any private meeting over the last eight months has been vulnerable to eavesdropping, including sensitive internal company discussions and even government cabinet meetings.

For firms and governments, combating this digital crimewave is primarily a matter of investment. Accenture estimates that an average company with revenues in 2018 of more than $20bn could expect to lose 2.8% of revenue through its cyber-security vulnerabilities, so spending more on security clearly makes sense. Accenture highlights the importance of training staff in internet hygiene to limit the success of phishing attacks. For governments, Interpol makes the case for further international co-ordination, and an enhanced exchange of information between the agencies trying to fight cyber-crime.

It may, however, be time to consider the prospect that the expansion in the global digital shadow economy is here to stay. A recent survey of 127 business leaders by Gartner, a research and advisory firm, reported that 47% of respondents intend to allow employees to work remotely full-time even as it becomes possible to return to the workplace; 82% intend to permit remote working at least some of the time. The rapid growth of the digital economy to include a much larger share of day-to-day shopping and business is also likely to be a permanent shift. These structural changes entail vulnerabilities that have no simple fixes and will require great investments in time and resources. There may yet be much bigger phishes to fry.

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America musters the world’s biggest naval exercise

The drills come as America and China are locking horns across Asia

International

THE REAL draw of the biennial “Rim of the Pacific” exercise, or RIMPAC, is the cocktail party. The world’s largest naval drills, hosted by America in Hawaii, offer sailors an opportunity not only to hone their skills with friendly navies from across the world—including the chance to sink a clapped-out American warship as target practice—but also to cement alliances in a more bibulous and convivial fashion aboard one another’s destroyers, perhaps followed by after-parties in the insalubrious corners of Honolulu. This year’s exercise, which runs from August 17th to 31st, will be a more abstemious affair. With Hawaii’s covid-count rising, social events ashore are cancelled and fewer countries are scheduled to attend.

Though the drills may be pared down, the stakes are higher than ever. With the relationship between America and China in apparent freefall, military tensions between the two rivals are growing across the so-called first island chain in the western Pacific, stretching from Malaysia in the south to Japan in the North. In the South China Sea, for instance, China has tangled with the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia in recent months by harassing fishing boats, stalking others’ oil-exploration vessels and sending its own survey ships into disputed waters.

America has also entered the fray more enthusiastically. In July it formally repudiated China’s claim to offshore resources in the South China Sea as “completely unlawful”, dispatched a pair of aircraft-carriers to the area for the first time in almost six years and held joint exercises with Australia and Japan. China’s reply was to conduct live-fire drills, peppering naval targets with what state media claimed were more than 3,000 projectiles. The mood remains febrile. Last week the Philippines’ navy chief complained that China’s navy was trying to provoke his ships into “firing the first shot”, and on August 14th an American carrier returned.

The temperature is also rising around Taiwan, the democratic island that China claims as its territory. In July, Taiwan’s envoy to America was allowed to enter the State Department for an official meeting—something virtually unheard of since America cut formal diplomatic ties with the island in 1979. That was a “a big deal”, noted Drew Thompson, a former Pentagon official “and a change in longstanding US policy”. Then on August 10th Alex Azar, America’s health secretary, visited Taiwan and met President Tsai Ing-wen, becoming the most senior American official to conduct a formal visit in decades.

Almost immediately, Chinese fighter-jets crossed the so-called median line of the narrow strait which divides Taiwan from the mainland. That is thought to be only the third occasion on which they have done so intentionally in the past two decades. On August 13th the People’s Liberation Army upped the pressure by announcing military exercises off the northern and southern ends of Taiwan in response to what it called America’s “serious wrong signals to ‘Taiwan independence’ forces”. As those drills unfolded, Taiwan’s government said that it planned to boost defence spending by $1.4bn, an increase of over 10% on current levels. The purchase of 66 new F-16 aircraft for $8bn, America’s largest sale of warplanes to Taiwan since 1992, was finalised on August 14th. Taiwan also hopes to buy American drones, anti-ship missiles and naval mines to help deter an invasion.

If that were not enough, trouble is also brewing a short distance to the north-east of Taiwan over the Japanese-controlled, but Chinese-claimed, Senkaku islands (known by China as the Diaoyu islands). Japan alleges that Chinese ships have increasingly sailed into the islands’ territorial waters. Japanese officials now fear a surge in the number of Chinese fishing boats, many of which are thought to be paramilitary vessels in civilian guise, after a self-imposed ban by China expires on August 16th. The islands are covered by the mutual-defence treaty between America and Japan. On July 29th Lieutenant-General Kevin Schneider, commander of American forces in Japan, said that America was “100%, absolutely steadfast in its commitment to help the government of Japan with the situation in the Senkakus”, promising to help with surveillance of the area.

With so many bones of contention, and with its military edge over China eroding over the past decade, America is understandably keen on cultivating old and new friends alike. That is part of the point of gatherings like RIMPAC. James Stavridis, a former American admiral, has noted that the exercise serves as a “visible signal of the most important militaries of the vast Pacific Basin being willing to share training, tactics and technology”. It also serves to highlight an enduring American advantage in its competition with China: the idea that China could persuade so many diverse and friendly countries to gather for meaningful war games is implausible.

Although the pandemic means that only about ten countries and 20 ships will take part this year, RIMPAC has grown steadily in size over the past decade. Attendees in 2018 included not only America’s stalwart treaty allies, like Australia, Japan and South Korea, but also old enemies, like Vietnam, embryonic friends, like India, and outside powers deepening their involvement in Asia, like France and Britain. (China, which had been invited to the 2014 and 2016 iterations of RIMPAC as a gesture of goodwill, was disinvited from the 2018 drills because of its perceived aggression in the South China Sea.)

That reflects a widespread and growing concern over China’s increasingly assertive behaviour, such as its incursions on the India-China border this year and its economic arm-twisting of Australia. “Beijing knows full well that it currently faces numerous challenges, both internally with its economy having taken a hit from the pandemic, as well as externally with countries—particularly in the West—expressing uncertainty over Beijing’s trajectory,” says Veerle Nouwens of the Royal United Services Institute, a think-tank in London. But even as countries reassess their ties to China, the air is heavy with a sense of doubt over America’s staying-power and dependability in the region, particularly as the military balance continues to tilt in China’s favour.

Consider the case of Australia, which on July 1st published a gloomy update to its defence strategy. “The prospect of high-intensity military conflict in the Indo-Pacific is less remote than in the past,” it warned; Australia could no longer count on having ten years’ warning of an attack. The paper acknowledged that only America could offer protection against nuclear weapons. But for other contingencies, Australia would have to hedge its bets by deepening ties with new partners, like Japan, India and Indonesia, “tak[ing] greater responsibility for [its] own security”; and enhancing its “self-reliant ability to deliver deterrent effects”. Even America’s staunchest friends are not certain that it will be around when things get rough.

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Robert Pattinson And Tom Holland Square Off In Intriguing The Devil All The Time Trailer

You know, it’s exciting that Robert Pattinson, who is Batman, and Tom Holland, who is Spider-Man, are in a new movie together. It’s kinda like when Christian Bale, who was also Batman, and Hugh Jackman, who was Wolverine, were in The Prestige together in 2006 and played dueling magicians. That was fun. And the collaboration between Pattinson and Holland likewise looks to be fun, though not the kind of fun that comes from dazzling illusionists onstage.

In fact, The Devil All the Time looks terrifying. Quite frankly, it looks like Holland might even shoot Pattinson? If the trailer is any indication, anyway. I guess that’s what happens when you’re a likely crooked preacher and you mess with the wrong kid. Whether that happens or not, the new Netflix film’s trailer is full of upsetting teases, including Sebastian Stan, who is Bucky Barnes a.k.a. the Winter Soldier, shooting a shotgun. So someone will definitely be shot! Even if it’s not Pattinson or Holland.

In addition to that trio, the film also stars Jason Clarke, Riley Keough, Eliza Scanlan, Bill Skarsgård, Mia Wasikowska, Harry Melling, and Haley Bennett. That’s a great cast! They all look to be caught up drama and intrigue (and likely violence) in a mid-century rural town full of mysterious secret and some depravity. That’s the good stuff.

Director Antonio Campos recently told EW of the difficulty in adapting the film from book to screen: “I’m a big fan of southern gothic and noir and this was a perfect marriage of the two. Sometimes you might be adapting a piece and you think like, well, there is a seed of a good idea here and I’ll just throw everything away and start from scratch. In this case it was like, we love everything!”

The Devil All the Time hits Netflix on September 16. Check out the riveting trailer above.

The dereliction of American diplomacy

THE AMERICAN embassy escaped the blast in Beirut’s port unscathed. Many Western countries either have missions in the city centre or diplomats who live in the area. The wife of the Dutch ambassador was killed, as was a German diplomat. But America’s embassy sits in the mountain village of Awkar, five miles (8km) from the port. Security measures are onerous, a hangover from the bombing of the American embassy in Beirut in 1983, which killed 63 people. It took a week before the ambassador, Dorothy Shea, a career diplomat, toured the port. The embassy has been short-staffed for much of the year because of covid-19. Even on social media it has been far quieter than other foreign powers. The ambassador has kept a low profile.

The low visibility is a small sign of a wider malaise in American diplomacy. The country’s foreign service is damaged and demoralised. Last month Bob Menendez, the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released a report warning that the State Department was “at risk of catastrophic failure”. The report is a catalogue of the damage done to America’s oldest federal agency, founded in 1789. It describes a department haemorrhaging talent and influence. The litany of woes is summed up in a leaked recording of a briefing on Washington last November by Colombia’s ambassador there, Francisco Santos, to his incoming foreign minister: “The US State Department, which used to be important, is destroyed, it doesn’t exist.”

Hand-wringing over the state of State is hardly new. More than two dozen government agencies now have people overseas, eroding the State Department’s primacy. Nowadays, the boss of a global American company may have a one-on-one with a head of state without going through the embassy, notes Stuart Holliday of Meridian, a centre for diplomacy in Washington, DC: “There’s been a recognition that the diplomatic channel is not the channel through which all American engagement happens.” In 2015, well before Donald Trump became president, the American Academy of Diplomacy, a club of senior ex-diplomats, warned that the country’s foreign service was in trouble because of its increasing politicisation, poor professional education and outdated career structure.

Mr Trump has tried to cut the department’s budget, most recently by 34%. Congress ignored him. But deep cuts came in the mid-1990s after the end of the cold war, when America thought it could scale back diplomacy—resulting in problems when the government found itself needing to deploy extra diplomats to Afghanistan and Iraq. More belt-tightening followed under the Obama administration. In 2018 Barbara Stephenson, then head of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), which represents the country’s diplomats, pointed out that America’s spending on “core diplomatic capability” (excluding outlays on security) declined by nearly a quarter in real terms between 2008 and 2016.

So the State Department was already wounded. “It’s not an exaggeration to say this is the most difficult time in a generation,” says Eric Rubin, AFSA’s current president. Nicholas Burns, an ex-ambassador to NATO now running a project on the future of American diplomacy at Harvard (the project is non-partisan but Mr Burns is an adviser to Joe Biden), believes it is time to “ring the village bell”. William Burns, another former top diplomat, who heads the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a think-tank in Washington, DC, decries the “demolition” of the State Department and argues that the damage is “even more severe than we imagine”.

Three things have created a sense of urgency. One is covid-19, the kind of crisis where America is expected to take a lead, but has faltered. In future more global issues—from climate change to cyber-security—will need managing. “Diplomacy is becoming far more important globally now than it has been before,” argues Mr Burns from Harvard. But the diplomatic landscape is more contested. “We’re going to have to fight for influence and for our priorities in a way that maybe we didn’t have to in the past,” says Mr Rubin.

The second worry is the rise of China. Last year China overtook America as the country with the most embassies and consulates around the world, says a Global Diplomacy Index compiled by the Lowy Institute, an Australian think-tank (see chart 1). Mr Trump has sought to slash America’s spending on diplomacy; Xi Jinping doubled China’s between 2011 and 2018.

China’s advances are evident at the United Nations, where Chinese nationals now head four of 15 UN specialised agencies, compared with America’s one. America has started to push back. It stopped China claiming the leadership of a fifth agency, the World Intellectual Property Organisation—the job went to a candidate from Singapore, a country, as Mr Pompeo said last month, that “actually gave a darn about intellectual-property rights”. But as America withdraws from bodies such as the World Health Organisation it gives China a chance to exert yet more influence.

American carnage

Hence the third reason for alarm over the state of American diplomacy: its undermining by its own government. A senior US diplomat says the White House is “blatantly hostile” to the foreign service. Mr Trump publicly refers to “the Deep State Department”, implying its people are out to sabotage him. “Diplomacy is simply not valued,” says Roberta Jacobson, who resigned as American ambassador to Mexico in 2018. “The only form of foreign policy that this administration seems to understand is one of threats.” Mr Trump’s threats have sometimes targeted his own diplomats—including Marie Yovanovitch, who was his ambassador to Ukraine before being abruptly recalled. In the phone call in July 2019 that led to his impeachment by the House of Representatives, Mr Trump told Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, that she was “bad news” and that “she’s going to go through some things.”

In appointing ambassadors Mr Trump has favoured political picks over career diplomats to a degree that is unprecedented in modern times. America has a long tradition of deploying political emissaries. They can have the authority of a direct line to the president. Many also have the financial means to entertain in some style. Don Beyer, a businessman appointed by Barack Obama as ambassador to Switzerland, now a congressman for Virginia, says he spent about $1m of his own money on entertainment over four years. The budget allocated by Congress was a fraction of what he spent (“I was just blessed that Obama didn’t send me to Paris or London, which I could never have afforded,” he quips).

Typically, between a quarter and a third of a president’s ambassadors have been political appointees, often hefty campaign donors. In Mr Trump’s case the figure is 43%. The quality of those picks can be as unsettling for the career diplomats who serve under them as the quantity. Mr Trump’s ambassador to Iceland has been through seven deputy mission chiefs in little over a year. His man in London, Woody Johnson, removed his deputy whose mistake seems to have been to have included a favourable anecdote about Mr Obama in a speech at an English university. At Mr Trump’s behest, Mr Johnson reportedly tried, unsuccessfully, in 2018, to help push the British Open golf tournament towards the Trump Turnberry course in Scotland (Mr Trump has denied making the request).

Although ambassadors are the most visible sign of the politicisation of diplomacy, appointments back home are at least as significant. “The senior jobs in Washington is where policies are made,” says Ronald Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy. “There you have a wiping out of the career service.” Between 1975 and 2014, the share of career diplomats in the 50 or so jobs at assistant-secretary level and above shrank from about 60% to 30%; now, says Mr Neumann, it is down to 8%. No career foreign-service professional currently occupies a Senate-confirmed assistant-secretary post; according to AFSA, that has never happened before. Talented diplomats leave because of the lack of senior jobs available to them (America’s foreign service, like its army, operates an “up or out” system).

These days it is also hard to spot any senior foreign-service officers working in the White House. Mr Burns of Harvard spent five years seconded to the White House under presidents George Bush senior and Bill Clinton. “Those opportunities are not happening,” he says, “so the State Department has been sidelined.”

Many posts requiring Senate confirmation have stayed unfilled for long periods, creating a sense of drift and neglect. The job of assistant secretary for Europe and Eurasian affairs has been without a nominee since February last year. The Trump administration has so far had no confirmed nomination for assistant secretary for South and Central Asian affairs. Hiring for Africa roles has been painfully slow.

All this has contributed to a hollowing out of expertise that has been particularly severe thanks to a hiring freeze introduced by Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil boss whose brief tenure as Mr Trump’s first secretary of state was a disaster. “Tillerson did more damage to the State Department than I could have imagined was possible in one year, particularly in the loss of experienced senior people,” says Mr Neumann.

Mr Pompeo ended the hiring freeze and has sought to bring back “swagger” to the department. He has taken a lead in belligerent policies towards Iran and, especially, China. He has restored a degree of vigour at the top. But he has not soothed critics.

They worry that he asked Mr Trump to fire his department’s inspector-general, who was investigating complaints against Mr Pompeo himself. They grumble that hardly any career officers are involved in his staff meetings. And they question whether he really has his diplomats’ back. True, he has not actively added to his boss’s attacks on his own envoys—yet, mindful of the art of survival in the Trump administration, neither has he actively defended them. In Senate testimony last month, he refused to say whether Ms Yovanovitch was a talented ambassador. “Hey, look at you, smiling and laughing and calling it silly,” concluded Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat. “I don’t think it’s silly to Marie Yovanovitch or the people who work for you.”

Making the foreign service great again

Staff surveys suggest that confidence in the department’s leaders has plunged. Some of its lawyers resorted to a rarely used “dissent channel” to question an agreement to designate Guatemala as a “safe third country” for migrants. The numbers of people taking the foreign-service entrance exam has fallen by more than half over the past ten years (see chart 2). The inflexibility of foreign-service career paths is a problem: how many high-flyers today are happy to envisage a 35-year stay with the same employer and to wait 15 years for a senior job? Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a former head of the foreign service, recalls the case of an African-American woman who asked for three years’ leave to do a Harvard Law degree but had to apply one year at a time; her second year’s request was turned down and she left the department.

Such experiences have not helped the department’s record on diversity. “As far as African-Americans are concerned, the numbers are appalling,” says Ms Thomas-Greenfield. Just 2.8% of the senior ranks are black; a few years ago the figure was “upwards of 8%”, still short of a representative share. Only three black Americans are currently serving overseas as ambassadors, and four Hispanics. Last month Karen Bass, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, introduced a bill, along with the heads of Congress’s Hispanic, Asian and Native American caucuses, that seeks to help the foreign service “reflect the rich composition” of the country’s citizenry.

“It’s really important to understand just how much more quickly the deterioration of the State Department has gone under this administration than under previous ones,” says Ms Jacobson. Seasoned diplomats (including a former secretary of state for a Republican president) think it may take a generation to repair the damage. But several efforts are under way to come up with ideas. In September the Council on Foreign Relations, a non-partisan think-tank, will suggest reforms for the months after the presidential election, whoever wins. At Harvard Mr Burns and three other ex-ambassadors are leading an ambitious project to reimagine the longer-term future of American diplomacy; they will publish their proposals after the election.

Some changes could come swiftly. A push to fill top positions and promote the brightest career diplomats would help. And a president who believed in diplomacy would be a powerful start in setting a different tone and direction. Clearly, that is not going to happen if Mr Trump is re-elected. A Biden presidency would seem to be a necessary condition for a real revival.

But it is not a sufficient one. The problems of American diplomacy run deeper than the Trump administration’s assault on it. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s campaign envisaged doubling the size of the foreign service—pointing out that “we employ more people to work in military grocery stores than we do foreign-service officers”—and professionalising its envoys instead of “selling swanky diplomatic posts to rich buffoons”. Mr Burns from Harvard also favours a drastic shift in the mix of ambassadors, with perhaps 90% career diplomats and only 10% political appointees.

Ambassadorships are just the tip of the iceberg. “A total review of the personnel system should be a top priority for the next secretary of state,” says Ms Thomas-Greenfield. An inflexible career structure means that the department forces some of its best and brightest out and then doesn’t let them back in. A nimbler entry-exam process, faster promotions and greater opportunities to enter at every level would all help.

So would better training. The State Department is lousy at it. Yet the skills diplomats need are only going to grow. America’s armed forces has about 15% of its officers in training at any given time. Reformers argue that America’s diplomatic service should create a similar “training float”, which would require hiring enough people and spending enough money to have that extra capacity.

Reformers also call for a deeper cultural change. Clunky procedures can require dozens of names to sign off a policy statement. “The State Department as an institution is rarely accused of being too agile or too full of initiative,” says Mr Burns from Carnegie. He thinks it should be stripped of layers of bureaucracy, with authority pushed down to regional heads and out to ambassadors overseas. The place has become risk-averse, and needs to question conventional wisdom, Mr Burns argues.

Diplomacy first

The scale of the transformation needed in American diplomacy leads some to believe that its mission should be codified in a new act of Congress. Three times in the past century Congress stepped in. At the time of its last reform, in 1980, Leonid Brezhnev was in power in Moscow, China was beginning its one-child policy and home computers were becoming common. There is a case today for Congress to issue new marching orders. But sceptics wonder when—or whether—lawmakers might agree on the terms of a broad new act for the foreign service. Reform cannot wait.

That means changing not only the way the State Department works, but the weight diplomacy carries in foreign policy. America will always rely on a mix of military might and smooth talking. The two complement each other. “If you don’t fund the State Department fully then I need to buy more ammunition,” General Jim Mattis, then head of US Central Command, told Congress in 2013. Since 9/11 the emphasis on military force has made the country’s foreign policy lopsided.

Reformers say America must make diplomacy a first resort. Robert Gates, who was defence secretary in 2006-11, writes in Foreign Affairs about the “overmilitarisation” of American foreign policy and the neglect of its non-military tools. “The State Department should be the central non-military instrument of US national-security policy,” Mr Gates argues. But if it is to be up to the job, it will need more money, more manpower and far better management.

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This article appeared in the International section of the print edition under the headline “The dereliction of diplomacy”

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How the internet is changing the experience of coming out

PROPPED UP BY his Union flag pillows, Tom Daley was at last ready to unburden himself. As the camera wobbled about, the then 19-year-old British diver—who the year before had won a bronze medal at the Olympics in London—told his fans he was ready to talk about his private life, though his darting eyes seemed to belie that assertion. After two minutes of build-up, he got to the point. “Come spring this year my life changed—massively—when I met someone and it made me feel so happy, so safe,” he confided. “And everything just feels great, and well that someone”—long pause, looking everywhere but at the camera—“is a guy.”

He told that camera in his bedroom, and YouTube told everyone else. There were some nasty comments, but thousands of strangers chipped in to offer congratulations, support and, sometimes, slightly odd queries. “Is it just me or are all of the gay guys really handsome and attractive?” one viewer wondered. Six years on, the video has been viewed more than 12m times. Mr Daley is now married to that “guy”, Dustin Lance Black, a screenwriter. They have a two-year-old son, Robbie.

Some lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people never tell their friends and families about this aspect of their identities. A few don’t feel the need. In 2013 interviewers from the Pew Research Centre, a think-tank, spoke to a 54-year-old American woman about her bisexuality. “This is not a subject to discuss or tell anyone about,” she said. “It is an activity—like bowling, or gardening.”

But most want to open up. The same Pew study found that more than three-quarters of American gay men had confided in all or most of the important people in their lives. So universal is that first moment of disclosure that several languages use variations on the same phrase. Koreans, Japanese, French and Spanish people all talk of “coming out”. The Chinese and Russians also borrow the English metaphor of “the closet”, the dark and constraining place from which LGBT people are said to emerge. “Boys Like Us”, a compendium of coming-out experiences published in 1996, argued that this was “the central event of a gay man’s life”. For many, it still is. A sixth of calls to Switchboard, a British LGBT helpline, concern coming out. It is the single biggest category.

Yet though the metaphor remains constant, the process is changing rapidly, thanks to the internet. Two big shifts are under way. People are coming out earlier than ever before. And the closet door is opening in an increasingly broad range of countries. Stark disparities remain: in liberal countries, such declarations are accepted or even—as in Mr Daley’s case—celebrated. But gay sex remains illegal in 68 countries, and openly LGBT people often face stigma or violence even where it is not. Transgender people often experience even greater prejudice, and so need extra courage to tell others how they feel.

Nonetheless, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), a lobby group, has members in 164 countries (up from eight in 1978). “That means there are people in those countries who are coming out,” says André du Plessis, its executive director. “We are everywhere. It’s been a joyful and sometimes painful unmasking of who we are.”

That unmasking happens at different times. About four in ten American gay men first begin to question their sexuality before they leave elementary school, reports Pew. Others only realise later in life. A handful come out in their 70s. But on average Americans are coming out earlier than in previous generations, mostly in their teenage years. In 2018 the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), found that whereas interviewees in their 50s had tended to reveal their sexuality at about the age of 26, those currently in their late teens and early 20s had already done so before their 17th birthday (see chart 1). Stonewall, a British charity, found an even starker divide. According to a poll it commissioned in 2010, LGBT youngsters typically came out at 17, 20 years earlier than the oldest cohort.

This shift can partly be attributed to a dramatic softening of public attitudes towards same-sex relationships. In 1987, more than half of Americans thought gay sex should be illegal, according to Gallup; nearly three-quarters now approve that it is legal. Gay characters frequently pop up in movies and on television; same-sex weddings are growing ever more common. All of this helps teenagers work up the confidence to come out to parents or friends, since those they confide in are more likely than ever to support them.

But before teenagers begin to tell others about their sexuality, they have to come out to themselves. That is where the spread of the internet makes a big difference. Children who begin to wonder about their sexuality or gender can quickly educate themselves—and each other—on their smartphones. They can access this information at any time and anonymously (unlike, say, checking out a library book). YouTube hosts a vast archive of self-help videos made by others farther along the same path; social networks can connect teenagers to peers with similar feelings. This helps to explain that whereas it took the oldest cohort in the UCLA study six years after first feeling attracted to someone of the same sex to identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, the youngest sample made the jump in less than half that time.

I want to break free

Consider the experience of a 14-year-old girl in Manhattan. When she began to wonder about her sexuality, she turned to the internet for answers. She spent a lot of time on Tumblr, a blogging platform, before figuring out that she is asexual (ie, she feels no sexual attraction to others). “Tumblr is where I found out about most of the stuff,” she says. “There’s a fricking ton of LGBT activism all over Tumblr.” Not long after having her suspicions confirmed, she decided to tell her mother. “I told her I’d looked it up and it all sounds like me.” A fellow student at her school, a 16-year-old transgender boy, saw his feelings echoed in videos posted by Jazz Jennings, a trans teenager who has 680,000 subscribers on YouTube. He told his parents a few years later, once he was sure.

Some teenagers use the internet to try out their newfound identities. A few, like Mr Daley, upload coming-out videos. Others share the news on social networks like Instagram. A study in 2014 by Stefanie Duguay, then of Queensland University of Technology, found that more than a third of a sample of 27 young LGBT Britons disclosed their interest in others of the same sex on their Facebook profiles. Three wrote posts that explicitly announced their sexual orientation.

The internet is particularly helpful in parts of the world that are less gay-friendly. A good example is Colombia. At first blush, it appears pretty tolerant. Gay sex was decriminalised in 1981, 22 years before America’s Supreme Court ordered states such as Texas to stop banning it. Gay Colombians can get married and adopt children. Claudia Lopez Hernandez, the mayor of its capital, Bogotá, is a lesbian.

But social attitudes have not kept pace with the law. Most Colombians are Catholic; many are socially conservative. Polls suggest they largely disapprove of gays adopting children, though they are coming around to same-sex marriage. A survey of about 5,000 LGBT Colombians, published earlier this year by UCLA, found that three-quarters were bullied as children. Several hundred report being attacked or sexually assaulted.

Unsurprisingly, then, Colombians are nervous about coming out. Roughly nine in ten lesbians and gay men have confided in at least some family members and friends. But most told nobody at high school despite typically realising they were attracted to someone of the same sex at about the age of 12, roughly the same time as their American counterparts. The internet gives such teenagers the chance to form digital support networks and online communities where they feel comfortable expressing their developing identities.

Take Emmanuel, a 19-year-old transgender man from Bogotá. After watching a documentary with his parents about transgender children, he told them he felt the same way. “I said ‘mum, dad—I’m trans’ and they got angry,” he says. “They told me ‘no, that’s wrong, you should not think that.’” He still lives with his parents. At college, he “tests the waters” with new friends by starting conversations about the 2018 winner of the Miss Universe Spain beauty pageant, a trans woman. “Depending on their reaction, it can be like ‘you get to know, you don’t get to know’.” He reckons he tells about one in five of them.

Online, it is a different story. He began confiding his feelings in strangers he met on Tumblr and Twitter, another social network, five years ago. He has messaged dozens of trans people and chats regularly to seven friends, who mainly live in America and Britain. “It is kind of a support group,” he says. Even though he largely shields his identity in public, he can be open online. “At least I know maybe I’ll come back home and turn on my computer and see my friends. They are the people who will call me by my name, who will give me tips on how to deal with situations. It helps a lot.”

Covid-19 makes the internet more crucial. It has been the only source of like-minded company for many LGBT people stuck in lockdown. Eleanor Tiernan, an Irish comedian, joked: “I came out just before lockdown. Suddenly I was free to be who I really was… but only as long as I stayed in my room.” Since the pandemic began to spread in Colombia, Emmanuel has been shut up in his parents’ small apartment most of the time. Because he has more time for domestic chores, his mother, who still treats him as a woman, tells him: “you’re getting like me, preparing to be a housewife.” His friends offer much-needed solace, chatting about the effects of the pandemic in their countries and playing online games.

Such networks are even more important in countries where gay sex is illegal, like Kenya. Last year the country’s High Court upheld a colonial-era law that threatens a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail for “carnal knowledge against the order of nature”. Ministers claim it is an effective way to curb the country’s HIV epidemic. Although arrests under this law are rare, gay Kenyans are often intimidated or harassed by cops. Films depicting gay characters are censored; lesbians are raped by gangs of men, supposedly to “correct” their sexuality. Repression is popular. In 2019 only 14% of Kenyans believed homosexuality is acceptable, compared with 72% of Americans and 86% of Britons (see chart 2).

The closet is sometimes the safest option. Becky Odhiambo Mududa, who helps to run Nyarwek, a gay-rights NGO in rural Kenya, reckons only 50-100 of its 1,500 members have come out to everyone they know. Another 300 or 400 are comfortable telling only fellow LGBT people, she estimates. Those who are open benefit from up-to-date information about homophobic violence and police crackdowns, which members share with each other via an online messaging service.

Since Kenyan teenagers are unlikely to encounter peers or role models who are open about their homosexuality, the internet plays a greater role in education. Rose Ambasa, 21, grew up in a slum in the capital, Nairobi. She did not understand her feelings for other girls until she borrowed her brother’s smartphone one day and googled “Who is a lesbian? What do they do?” “I came to accept myself,” she says. “It helped me so much that I came out of depression.”

Some wait years to discover they are not alone. Purity, now 24, grew up in a village with no internet access. When she felt attracted to a female classmate at 14, she had no way of knowing whether others had such feelings. “I was scared,” she says. “I was trying to get it out of me, just praying to God to figure out what it is. I just wanted to be a normal girl.” As soon as she got a smartphone, on her first night at college five years later, she searched whether it was possible to fall in love with another girl. “I then discovered it’s normal.” The next day she confided in a classmate, who was sympathetic. Soon afterwards, she began dating another student.

The internet can also provide hope, even to those in the bleakest situations. Delphine, 21, was raped by local men when they found out she is a lesbian. When she fell pregnant, her mother forced her out of the family home. Three years on, she is in a long-term relationship with another woman. They are raising her son together. She finds inspiration for the future on YouTube, which she scours for videos of gay wedding ceremonies in other countries. “People applaud it,” she says, incredulously. She probably watches two weddings a day, and shares the couples’ joy. “We hope some day when our country allows it, we’ll get married,” she says. “We talk of growing old together.”

Don’t stop me now

The internet’s increasingly pivotal role has its downsides. Natasha Jones, who runs a youth engagement programme at the Gay Centre in Manhattan, has seen good and bad. Plenty of teenagers only find out about her programme online, then come to ask questions and meet other teenagers before coming out to their parents. But, she says, the internet can be a source of misinformation during this formative time. The centre’s sexual-health classes often need to counter misconceptions young people have picked up online, such as that lesbians cannot get sexually transmitted infections or that losing your virginity is meant to be painful. “We have young people coming here with the wildest ideas,” she says. “YouTube has taught them and that’s fact.”

It also gives a space for homophobes and trolls to direct abuse at youngsters who raise their heads above the parapet. Worse, it provides a forum for involuntary “outings”. In Kenya, rumours about someone’s sexuality spread rapidly on social media. Several of the people supported by Nyarwek were “thrown out of the closet” in this way, by former partners or friends with grievances.

But bigots and dodgy information existed long before the internet. That it makes such things more visible does not negate the largely positive role it plays in gay people’s lives. Studies frequently find that gay people suffer higher rates of depression and anxiety than heterosexuals. “Trying to hold conflicting identities or lying to yourself causes incredible mental strain,” says Mr du Plessis. Enabling more people to be honest with themselves and others at an early age ought to reduce this strain. Greater openness will improve sexual health, too, enabling better targeting of preventive measures and treatment for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

The shift towards transparency will also raise awareness. In some countries, populist politicians caricature homosexuality as a Western import. J.M. Kariuki, a Kenyan nationalist, was fond of calling it “that vice for which we Africans have no name”. Others deny its existence. Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic, has reportedly presided over the routine abduction, torture and killing of gay men. He denies that, instead claiming: “We don’t have any gays. If there are any, take them to Canada.” By shining a spotlight on domestic gay populations, the internet will make such claims even more risible. “In our advocacy work, one question that comes up is ‘where are these queer people, do these queer people exist?’” says Caroline Mwochi, also of Nyarwek. “Coming out actually puts a face on it.”

And being visible is the surest way to change social attitudes. The rapid rise in support for gay rights in America between 1980 and 2000 followed a steep increase in the number of Americans who said they knew a gay family member, friend or colleague. In 1985 only a little more than a fifth did; now 87% do. “We’ve seen over the decades that this is how change can take place in the hearts and minds of people,” says Mr du Plessis. “People often have a knee-jerk reaction. But when you take it down to a personal level, it becomes real: this is your daughter, your aunt, your minister, your colleague.” As coming out spreads around the world, tolerance probably will, too.

Purity, for one, isn’t going to wait. Now that she has come out, she regularly messages friends online to arrange to meet at a gay-friendly bar in central Nairobi. At an outing before the pandemic took hold, a flashing neon sign marked the entrance, on a bustling street packed with battered minibuses belching foul-smelling fumes. Inside, two young women moved closer together on the dance floor, just as one of the buses honked its horn. Another woman flicked a rainbow braid in her cornrows. Purity and her friends shared beer and gossip. She has no regrets about coming out. Though she has faced discrimination looking for a job, her mother surprised her by being “quite cool with it”. She is certain that one day she will meet another woman and they will marry. In the meantime, she says, “I feel good being who I am.”

This article appeared in the International section of the print edition under the headline “Queer, there and everywhere”

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How Work It‘s Keiynan Lonsdale Danced His Way To Queer Villainy

By Mitchell Kuga

As he prepared to audition for the role of Jake Tailor, the straight love interest in the coming-of-age dance comedy Work It, Keiynan Lonsdale did something unexpected: He asked to read for a part previously written for a woman. There was something alluring about the queen bee of the Wood Bright High School dance team, who embodied a trope of Mean Girls wickedness he wanted to turn on its head. “I’ve never seen a guy play this role before, a queer villain in this capacity,” says Lonsdale, noting that director Laura Terruso and the film’s producers (which includes Alicia Keys) were “completely open” to the change. Part of the appeal was playing evil, a departure from the good-guy roles he’d explored in movies like Love, Simon, in which Lonsdale played the sweet-faced love interest, or the superhero sidekick in CW’s The Flash. “I also generally try to be a nice dude in my life,” says the 28-year-old Aussie over Zoom, a week before Work It’s August 8 Netflix release. “So I wanted to unleash the dragon.”

What emerged is Isaiah, the fire-breathing leader of the Thunderbirds dance team who goes by Juilliard now, a name-change he hopes will manifest an acceptance letter to his dream school. Played by a pink-haired Lonsdale with a pinch of camp expressed most pointedly through a white feathered dance ensemble, he’s conniving and singular in his ambition to attend the prestigious performing arts conservatory — even if it means destroying the hopes of protagonist Quinn Ackerman, the overachieving do-gooder with two left feet, played by Sabrina Carpenter. After Juilliard rejects her from the Thunderbirds, Quinn forms her own rival team, a ragtag crew of high school misfits, including Quinn’s horny best friend, Jasmine, played by YouTube star Liza Koshy. Backstabbing, a budding romance, and schoolyard dance-offs ensue, with all roads leading to the Work It dance competition.

Lonsdale spoke to MTV News from Sydney, where he’s been quarantining for the last two months. Creatively, he’s using the time to work on visuals for Rainbow Boy, his debut LP that he released in May. (On the horn-studded breakout single “Gay Street Fighter,” he channels some of Julliard’s over-the-top bravado: “Bet they wanna taste the bussy so good.”) But quarantine has mostly been a way to recenter, the longest Lonsdale’s been home since he moved to the United States nearly seven years ago to pursue acting. “In a lot of ways, when I was living [in Sydney] I wasn’t comfortable with who I am,” he says, describing the last two months as a process of “reconnection” —including taking dance classes at the studio where he used to teach. To his surprise, many of his students are now adults, pursuing their dreams in ways that fill Lonsdale with pride. “It’s cool to see your friends go for what they want.”

Elly Dassas / Netflix

MTV News: You studied dance at a performing arts high school and played a dance student in the Australian television drama Dance Academy; did playing Juilliard feel like déjà vu in some ways? 

Keiynan Lonsdale: It was lovely to be in another dance production and the camaraderie definitely mirrored that. There’s something about constantly sweating with people, you form a fun bond. But in Dance Academy, my character, Ollie, wasn’t very comedic. He was very serious. It was my first TV role, and it was all ballet-focused for the majority of it. Both characters had big egos, but with Work It there was a lot more sass.

MTV News: Was Juilliard inspired by anyone you went to school with? 

Lonsdale: We never had one person at my school who was the top bully, but we had our fair share of drama and fun, and we were all little divas in some way. So I pulled from different people; sometimes teachers, sometimes other people I would meet at dance competitions. Not necessarily in terms of the meanness Juilliard has, but just that fire.

MTV News: Was there space for you to inject your own style or choreography into the dance numbers, or was it pretty set? 

Lonsdale: The routines were fairly set but there were a lot of moments where Aakomon Jones, our choreographer (Pitch Perfect, Black Panther), allowed Julliard to have his flair. They would just allow me to freestyle or experiment, excited about whatever was going to fit on my body. But even in those moments, I did want to make sure that I wasn’t adding in Keiynan, that I would still keep it in the vein of what Juilliard would do, how Juilliard is dancing. It was fun to dance as someone else.

MTV News: I noticed some vogueing elements in the freestyle. 

Lonsdale: Yeah, in the battle scene. That was actually great because I haven’t done a lot of vogueing. In school, we had it every now and then, and I was exposed to so much of it over the course of my life, but it was the first time in person having some of these moves and intentions broken down for me. I remember feeling stopped in my tracks because, energetically, I was like, I get it. I really get it. Not in terms of getting perfect lines — there was a lot of work I needed to do — but in terms of the attitude and the intention. It’s a special art form.

MTV News: I love that you basically created this queer character for yourself out of a female role. Since coming out, do you find yourself either pursuing different characters or being offered different roles than before? 

Lonsdale: I think it’s opened things up, for sure. But I feel like I’ve been very fortunate to be able to go for an array of different characters. It hasn’t been limiting in any way — or perhaps in some ways it has and I don’t know about it. I’m not focused on that. Our stories have gone untold for so long. It’s really exciting to see all the different places we get to go now. That’s going to keep growing, and it’s just cool to be a part of that.

Courtesy Netflix

MTV News: Is there a queer character you’re hungering to play that doesn’t exist yet? 

Lonsdale: It would be great, one day, to watch or be part of a queer superhero group. Just like, you know, some of the biggest and baddest players in the game. That would be really fun. I would also like to make my own characters, whether that’s in my music or my life. Anything with the ability to destroy stereotypes while not taking away from the character’s authenticity is cool with me. Also, anything that’s going to shock a few people, because a lot of people haven’t been exposed to what queer culture really is, and I think they’ve got a lot to learn from it. They would be some of the best roles ever, some of the best stories ever. There’s going to be a wealth of them.

MTV News: Coming from Australia, has the Black Lives Matter movement changed the way you think about your work or the industry, in general?

Lonsdale: I first came to America in 2014 and it was the first time I had heard of it. I was in Atlanta so, coming from Australia, it was the first time I was surrounded by so many people that looked like me in my life. Everything started changing for me then. Even working on The Flash and having my cast family, Jessie Martin and Candice Patton, that became such a hub of an education for me — a Black education, and an African-American one, more specifically. For me, growing up in Australia, it was just different. I hear people in America say they were not taught a lot about the truth and I think, well, we didn’t even get a quarter of that information in Australia. So, for my music, I made very conscious decisions with the lyrics I chose, working with the kinds of people who have the right intentions. It’s in the choices I’ve made with film and TV. It’s at the forefront.

MTV News: When did you realize you were passionate about dancing?

Lonsdale: Dancing will always be my first passion. I was born into it, you know? I started in the living room as soon as I could stand. I was, like, two years old, the youngest of six, and tried to go to dance classes, but I was too shy. I didn’t go back until I was four and was on stage since I was five. I just needed to be on stage dancing, constantly. I didn’t really know how to communicate with people, I just knew how to dance. So that was it. I was born loving it.

MTV News: So you were the type who was super shy backstage but, once you got on stage, it was a completely different Keiynan?

Lonsdale: I didn’t know how to look people in the eye when I was a kid. I walked around like this for years [puts face down] just terrified, but then I’d get on stage in my sparkly jacket, like, [raises arms in the air triumphantly]. I’d give it my all and then I’d become terrified again when I got off stage. Eventually, my mom had to figure out a tactic to get me over my fears, so she was like, “You won’t be able to dance anymore if you don’t start talking to people and looking at people.” And so I quit dancing for a couple of months because I’d rather just not look at anyone. I was also getting bullied at school because I was a boy dancing and all that stuff. And then, eventually, I couldn’t resist. I went back to [dancing] and made the deal. Started talking to people. Started looking up more. So thank you, Mom.

MTV News: Circling back to Work It: Is there any one message you want audiences to take away from this film? 

Lonsdale: I want people to dance, you know? This life is crazy. I want people to dance. Dance is the thing that brings me back to a sense of normality, a sense of strength that I often forget I have, and clarity. Even if you don’t think you’re the best, even if you don’t think you have any rhythm, everyone has rhythm. It’s in human nature. You just have to find that space where it’s just you and your favorite tracks. It’s just a matter of connecting to it. I feel like this movie will do this for people. I think dancing changes your life and it creates a community, as you see in the film, of misfits. But really I think dancers are the only sane people in the world.

For those affected by dementia, the pandemic has been especially grim

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

IT IS WELL KNOWN that the pandemic has been especially dangerous for people already suffering from conditions such as heart disease, respiratory problems, diabetes and so on. But government statistics show that the most common pre-existing condition among those who died from covid-19 in England and Wales in March and April was not a physical ailment at all. It was dementia, which 25% of the deceased had been living with. Something similar is presumably true in other countries, but Paola Barbarino, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Disease International, an advocacy group, complains that data are scanty. Only Britain and Italy have produced detailed figures, making analysis difficult, and hampering efforts to prepare for any second wave of the pandemic.

That so many people who have died from covid-19 had dementia is partly because both conditions disproportionately affect the elderly and partly because care homes, where many people with dementia live, have been so ravaged by the virus. But the high death rate also reflects the difficulty many people with dementia have in taking hygienic and social-distancing precautions. And the isolation and broken routines that lockdowns have brought have made dementia worse for many. They have hastened the cognitive decline that social interaction can help arrest, and made it harder for families, friends or professionals to provide care. So the number of deaths ascribed to dementia itself has also climbed sharply during the pandemic.

All this is depressing enough for those touched by dementia—including an estimated 50m globally who have the condition (a number expected to rise to 80m by 2030 and 150m by 2050 as the world ages) and their families, friends and carers. Equally depressing is the prospect that the condition has fallen further down the list of health-care priorities during the pandemic. The continuing hunt for a cure and a vaccine for covid-19 will suck resources away from research into the causes and pathology of dementia—which also resembles the coronavirus in that there is no cure and no vaccine.

So news of advances in the understanding of dementia—and of how to mitigate, delay, diagnose and perhaps even cure it—are rare chinks of light in the gloom. Dementia has many causes, of which much the most common is Alzheimer’s disease. And the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC), which wound up on July 31st, heard some reasons for hope.

Perhaps the most striking report presented was from the Lancet Commission on dementia prevention, a panel of experts commissioned by the British medical journal, which suggested that as many as 40% of dementia cases might in theory be delayed or prevented by tackling 12 “modifiable” risk factors. This builds on decades of research showing the links between some behaviours and physical conditions and the risk of developing dementia. It has long been known, for example, that, most obviously, a career involving a lot of pummelling to the head, such as boxing or football, increases the risk. So do smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, hearing loss, a low level of education and diabetes. But many experts had put the percentage of dementia cases deriving from such risk factors lower, at 30%. And the new research added three new risk factors: excessive drinking in middle age; head injuries, also in middle age; and exposure to air pollution in later life.

Already there is evidence in some rich countries that the age-specific incidence of dementia is declining, even as the overall prevalence increases as societies get older. New public-health campaigns to counter the pandemic, which will involve tackling many of the same risk factors, are likely to strengthen this trend. Some relatively simple interventions—such as ensuring the hard-of-hearing have access to, and wear, hearing-aids—can make a difference.

One reason why dementia is so hard to treat is that, when it is detected, it is often quite advanced. At present diagnosis normally involves cognitive testing backed up by a number of physical tests. A genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s can be gauged from a blood test, but to spot the presence of the disease, through the build-up of two characteristic proteins in the brain, requires a lumbar puncture, to examine a person’s cerebrospinal fluid, and a scan of the brain itself.

So another announcement at the AAIC caused some excitement. This was of a simple blood test that could both distinguish between Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions, and spot those at risk years before symptoms appear. It measures a particular form of one of the proteins, tau, called p-tau217, and was found to predict Alzheimer’s with 96% accuracy.

Earlier in July optimists had been cheered by the news that Biogen, an American firm, had applied to the Food and Drug Administration for approval of a drug called aducanumab. The firm says that, in trials among people with mild cognitive impairments or an early stage of Alzheimer’s, the drug had produced “significant benefits” in some of them on measures of cognition and function such as memory and language and in “activities of daily living”.

Many working in Alzheimer’s research remain sceptical on both counts. Potential blood tests have been hailed before but not achieved the accuracy needed to be clinically useful. And Biogen itself ended clinical trials of aducanumab in March last year because of what it then saw as disappointing trial results, only to resume them in October after a fresh look at the data. And, even on the most optimistic assumptions, neither the diagnostic test nor the therapy will be available for months or even years. To anxious carers worried about how to protect people with dementia from the prolonged danger of coronavirus, they have little hope to offer.

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The pandemic puts a strain on elite private schools

IN SEPTEMBER, WHEN pupils return to Strathallan, an independent boarding school in Perthshire, Scotland, they will find the school a little different. Their temperatures will be taken each morning. A one-way system will steer them around the sprawling campus. Socially distanced lessons will be conducted on laptops, both to stop the passing of hand-held papers and to ensure that any pupils who have to be isolated can still take part.

As Mark Lauder, Strathallan’s headmaster, cheerfully explains these measures, he acknowledges that the school’s space and money make them possible. Most of the 560 pupils—aged from nine to 18—have their own bedroom; sport and other activities can take place in the 153-acre grounds; most of the staff live on the site. Significant investment has been made to upgrade the Wi-Fi this summer, ensuring that there’s enough bandwidth to keep the pupils online. Although the school has taken a financial hit due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Lauder is confident it will stay afloat. But to do so it is likely to have to adapt further, and not all elite schools will manage that. “Before covid struck,” Mr Lauder notes, “we already knew the market was reshaping. This is a catalyst to that reshaping.”

In Britain, independent schools educate a rarefied 6.5% of the student population. Some report a flurry of interest from parents dissatisfied with remote state education during lockdown. In April the Sutton Trust, an education charity, determined that half of all primary school pupils and 64% of secondary school pupils were working for three hours a day or less. Those doing more were likely to be at private schools, two-thirds of which already had online platforms and which were much more rapidly able to pivot to virtual lessons. Mr Lauder says that Strathallan has taken on a “handful” of new students since the pandemic started, with more expected next term.

Even so, many of the country’s private schools may soon find themselves in trouble. In May TES, an education publication, reported concerns from within the sector that up to 30% of independent schools could “go bust” in the next couple of years. Lower fees and a fall in recruitment of foreign pupils may force closures and mergers. Many schools are already in a precarious financial position. Some have built expensive facilities to attract pupils. All face a 43% increase, implemented last September, in employers’ contributions to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme. Previously, some floundering British private schools have been bought as investments by businesses in Hong Kong and (especially) China. Worsening relations between China and Britain may make such rescues less likely.

Ensuring that Chinese children can still attend has become a priority for many boarding schools. In Britain, pupils from China and Hong Kong make up 43% of those with parents abroad—and 22% of the total—according to a census carried out by the Independent Schools Council. Hundreds of British schools have arranged special flights with a Chinese airline ahead of the new term, with some also providing dedicated quarantine facilities. Diplomatic tensions could eventually become a factor too. China is not averse to using its demand for education as a political lever, having banned university students from studying in Taiwan and warned them away from Australia. (Australia is also highly dependent on Chinese students, with 160,000 enrolled in universities and 12,000 in schools.) Although there have been reports that Chinese families shunned American boarding schools after Donald Trump referred to students as “spies”, British schools do not yet appear worried about Chinese pupils being held back for political reasons. (Indeed, there are signs that political upheaval in Hong Kong will fuel parents’ desire to send their offspring abroad.)

In America, many private schools have attracted attention by promising to open full-time in the autumn semester, whereas public schools in the same districts are planning to open only part-time or online until at least the new year. In part, this is because they have the resources: the New York Times reported that Punahou, a private school in Honolulu, had engaged an epidemiologist and installed thermal scanners to take pupils’ temperatures. Private schools (and charter schools, which are independent but receive state funding) also have less government oversight. Moreover, their staff are far less likely to be in unions, which are lobbying to keep their members out of classrooms for the time being. But American private schools are also reopening because they feel they have to, points out Douglas Harris, a senior fellow in the Brown Centre on Education Policy at Brookings, a think-tank. Offering fully in-person tuition is one way these schools can differentiate themselves from public schools and try to retain their students.

However, scale and diversification may be even better defences against the pandemic. Several elite schools turned themselves into international, multi-campus businesses years ago. In the past 20 years, English-language education has blossomed into a $55bn market, fertilised mainly by demand from China and the Middle East. Prestigious, mostly British, boarding schools have set up partner institutions in other countries. Harrow—the north London alma mater of Winston Churchill, where fees exceed £42,000 a year—opened its first international school in Bangkok in 1998. Last year it had 4,800 pupils in Thailand, Hong Kong and China, and it plans to open another five schools in China this year, despite the pandemic. Several other British boarding schools educate many more children abroad than they do at home. In the next decade Westminster School plans to have 20 times more students in China than in London.

Yet such institutions are still expensive to attend and the coronavirus may disrupt education further over the coming year. Schools are therefore experimenting with entirely new models: in September Harrow will launch a fully online sixth form (ie, for 16- to 18-year-olds) for English-speaking students “looking for a prestigious, high-quality British education that suits their lifestyle”. Harrow Online, a collaboration with Pearson, an education company, was already in the works before the pandemic. When the school opens its digital doors, it will take both British and international students. Several other schools, including Strathallan, are considering something similar, which would allow them to capture a new slice of the market: parents who want a British brand-name education, but can’t afford, or don’t want, to send their children to the bricks-and-mortar institutions.

This summer Eton College—the boarding school famous for having produced 20 British prime ministers—began offering free video courses to teenagers at state schools, via EtonX, its online platform. Eton’s headmaster has told Tatler, a high-society magazine, that “the right thing now is to share our wealth, resources and expertise”. Harrow Online too will go some way to opening up the most elite institutions to a wider pool of students (though, at £15,000 a year, it is hardly widely attainable). Yet if the leading private schools thrive while smaller ones fall away, private education will follow a post-pandemic pattern predicted for other industries. And the opportunities it affords may become even more stratified.

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When covid-19 recedes, will global migration start again?

EVERY WEEKEND the removal vans come to a leafy suburb of Dubai. Expatriates are packing up. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), of which Dubai is part, will lose 10% of its population this year, reckons Nasser al-Shaikh, an ex-finance minister. Covid-19 has devastated the Gulf’s trade-and-transport hub. Emirates, Dubai’s airline, says it may cut 30% of its roughly 100,000 staff.

Nearly all of those losing their jobs in the UAE are migrants, who are almost 90% of the population. Without a job, they have to leave the country. This is irksome enough if they are bankers or architects. For those who used to wash dishes in hotels or lay bricks on building sites that are now shuttered, it can be a nightmare. Some 500,000 Indians in the UAE have registered to be evacuated; less than half have been.

Many blue-collar migrants have waited so long for flights that they have blown their savings. Asad (not his real name) got a $1,100 pay-off when he lost his construction job in April, but has had to spend nearly all of it on food and other necessities, which are far costlier in Dubai than back home in Pakistan. This week he was huddling outside the airport for a cigarette before a flight to Lahore. “Two years [and] I go home with almost nothing,” he says. Some of his friends are even worse off: they still owe money to the labour brokers who brought them to the Gulf in the first place.

Covid-19 has immobilised the world. Planes are grounded, borders are closed, people are hunkered down at home. Every country has restricted travel because of the coronavirus—issuing more than 65,000 rules in total. Some countries are starting to open up but it will be a long time before people can globetrot as freely as before.

For tourists who have to take a domestic holiday instead of a glamorous foreign one, global immobility is annoying. For would-be migrants, it can be life-shattering. Millions who would have set off to start a new life this year cannot. Workers who might have quadrupled their wages will remain poor. Students who might have stretched their minds on foreign campuses will stay at home.

Tens of millions of migrants who have already moved now face deportation, having lost their job, according to the International Labour Organisation. Millions have gone home to places like the Philippines, India and Ukraine. Millions more are stranded, sometimes in crowded conditions that foster the spread of the virus.

Locals are not always sympathetic. Malaysia, which used to welcome Muslim Rohingya refugees, has started pushing their vessels back into the sea. Italy has stepped up efforts to turn back boatloads of Africans. A Kuwaiti actress suggested that migrant workers, who are 70% of the labour force in Kuwait, be thrown into the desert to free up space in hospitals.

Global remittance flows, which are over three times bigger than foreign aid to poor countries, will fall by 20% this year, predicts the World Bank. Families that used to rely on cash from a migrant son or aunt to see them through hard times are finding that times are suddenly much harder and the flow of cash from abroad has dried up.

Businesses that depend on mobile labour have been hobbled. Pokka Singapore, a drinks-maker, employs about 120 Malaysians who used to commute across the border to Singapore. When the borders closed, more than half decided to remain in Malaysia, says Rieko Shofu, the firm’s boss. She has gone without half her Malaysian workforce for months, with no end in sight.

Travel curbs have made cross-border investment harder. Before committing money to a venture, you need to be “able to walk the factory floor” and “physically validate what you read in the PowerPoint presentation,” says Stephen Forshaw of Temasek, Singapore’s sovereign-wealth fund. Now, if you are not already there, you can’t.

Even if tourism and business travel return to something resembling normal as the pandemic fades, some restrictions on migration may remain. Where people had a settled right to move which was temporarily suspended for health reasons, within the European Union for example, that right will surely be restored. But where permission to move is granted by the host government, it may become permanently harder.

Much will depend on how covid-19 affects people’s view of immigrants. Fear could make them more hostile. Many will conclude that letting in foreigners is a health risk (though the vast majority of travellers are not migrants). Because the virus originated in China, bigots in many countries have mistreated people who look Chinese. Bigots in China, meanwhile, have evicted black immigrants from their homes and barred them from hotels, after hearing a rumour that Africans were likely to be infected. Future migrants will not quickly forget footage of a no-blacks sign on a McDonald’s in Guangzhou.

With economies reeling, many will also conclude that it is time to stop immigrants from competing with natives for scarce jobs. In countries where lots of migrants have been laid off and are allowed to live on the dole, locals may resent the expense.

The pandemic might also hurt illicit migrants. Some of the snooping tools that governments have introduced to trace the spread of covid-19 could outlast it, making it harder to work in the shadows. In China, to take the most extreme example, malls and subways often deny entry to those who lack an app on their phone to show they are healthy, which no one can get without a formal address. “It may become virtually impossible to live without papers,” writes Roberto Castillo of AfricansInChina.net.

In other ways, however, the pandemic could make people friendlier towards immigrants, many of whom have risked their lives to do essential work during the crisis (see chart 1). Health services in rich countries could not function without them (see chart 2). Roughly half the doctors in Australia and Israel are foreign-born. In America migrants were 14% of the population in 2018 but 29% of doctors. Medical research, of the sort that will one day yield a vaccine, depends on teams of the most talented minds from around the world getting together and collaborating. Some 40% of medical and life scientists in America are foreign-born. The Oxford Vaccine Group, which unveiled promising vaccine trial results in July, includes scientists from practically everywhere.

Immigrants also do a big share of the jobs that “make it possible for the rest of us to work safely from home,” observes Doris Meissner of the Migration Policy Institute, a think-tank. They grow food (42% of farm workers in America are foreign-born), deliver things (18% of industrial truckers) and disinfect floors (47% of hotel maids and 25% of janitors). More than half of American tech giants were founded by immigrants or their children. That includes Zoom, Amazon and Google, without whose products remote working would be tricky.

With covid-19 rife, immigration policy is not at the top of the agenda anywhere. But it is bubbling up. Europe seems more hostile to migrants crossing the Mediterranean. In Australia the opposition Labor Party’s immigration spokeswoman said the country should move away from its “lazy” reliance on “cheap” foreign workers who take “jobs Australians could do”.

Among rich countries the debate is playing out most dramatically in America. Long before covid-19 was discovered, Mr Trump associated immigrants with germs. He spoke of “tremendous infectious disease…pouring across the border” with Mexico. Stephen Miller, a hardline adviser, had long argued that public health could provide a legal justification for shutting them out. After the coronavirus struck, Mr Trump enacted a wishlist of restrictions.

He banned foreign travellers from China. This did not protect America since Americans were free to return home from covid-19 hotspots. Nonetheless, Mr Trump praised his own decisiveness. “I banned China,” he repeated, often.

Immigration to the United States was falling even before the pandemic, thanks to aggressive enforcement, reduced quotas and the eloquence with which Mr Trump tells migrants they are not wanted. The net increase in the foreign-born population was a mere 200,000 in 2017-18, down from over 1m in 2013-14. Mr Trump seems eager to lower that number to zero.

In June he issued a “Proclamation Suspending Entry of Aliens Who Present a Risk to the US Labour Market Following the Coronavirus Outbreak”. It froze four types of visa for the rest of the year: H-1Bs (for highly skilled workers); H-2Bs (for less-skilled workers); J visas, for au pairs, temporary summer workers and some academics; and L visas, for professionals who are moved within the same company.

With every word, they drop knowledge

These new rules, combined with a neartotal shutdown of visa offices, will destroy American jobs, not create them. Holders of H-1B visas mostly work in information technology, where there is a skills shortage. Adam Ozimek of Upwork, a freelancing platform, estimates that the use of IT to enable remote working has reduced the risk of job losses by between a third and a half. And a new paper by Britta Glennon of the Wharton School finds that when America restricts H-1B visas, multinationals do not hire more Americans. They shift operations to Canada, India and China.

Curbing the flow of talent will constrict economic growth. Consider the baffling decision to stop intra-company transfers. Multinationals routinely bring in key managers or technicians from abroad to solve bottlenecks. If they cannot do this, their businesses are less likely to succeed—so they will be less likely to invest in America at all. “About 80% of my portfolio consists of at least one founder who has immigrant roots,” says Joydeep Bhattacharyya, a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley. “Many have started outside the United States, and then the entrepreneur has moved over, employing a lot of American workers. This year it’s completely stopped. No matter how well they’re doing, they can’t come.”

Banning au pairs won’t create jobs for Americans, either. On the contrary: by providing cheap child care, au pairs make it easier for American parents to go out to work. Families that couldn’t afford a nanny can often afford an au pair because part of the au pair’s compensation is a place to stay and a chance to learn English.

Jason Patwell, a defence contractor, is a single father of three boys, one of whom has special needs. He was aghast when he realised that an au pair would not be coming. “I would love to say I have a back-up plan, but I don’t. I can throw money at the problem, and go into debt. I’ll survive until the end of the summer,” he says.

In worse-off countries, where the state lacks the cash to cushion the economic shock of covid-19, the debate about migration is even more fraught. Consider South Africa, where xenophobia was common, sometimes lethally so, even before the pandemic. Like America, South Africa shares a long, porous land border with a large continent where wages are much lower. Workers and traders flock there from all over Africa. The World Bank estimates that each one creates on average two jobs for natives, because migrants import skills, start businesses and spend money. But most South Africans think otherwise. They are nearly twice as likely to say that immigrants are a burden than to say they make the country stronger, says a Pew poll. (In America, those figures are reversed.)

One of the first things South Africa’s government did to fight covid-19 was to build a 40km fence on the border with Zimbabwe. It has more holes than a bagel warehouse. A local farmer calls it “a complete farce”. It would not be much of a public-health measure in any case. Covid-19 has largely entered South Africa by air, from Europe, and is circulating widely.

In March a minister announced that foreign-owned shops, which are the only outlets in many areas and are disproportionally owned by Ethiopians and Somalis, would have to close. Locals were forced to travel miles to buy groceries, which helped spread the virus. Enforcement was relaxed in April, but the hassles did not end.

When the offices that issue permits were closed, the government promised that all expiring permits would automatically be extended, first until July 31st, then until October 31st. However, police and soldiers have allegedly detained and demanded bribes from foreigners with out-of-date papers. A few Zimbabweans got on privately organised repatriation buses. Upon leaving South Africa, some were banned from returning for five years, despite promises to the contrary. An overhaul of immigration laws is due later this year—to be drafted by securocrats, not economists.

Some countries may emerge from the pandemic more open to migration. In Japan covid-19 may have spurred the government to make its pro-immigration policies more explicit. The country is ageing and needs young foreigners to clean hotels and staff shops. The polite fiction was that many of these foreign workers were “trainees”, learning skills to bring back home.

Got a lot farther by working a lot harder

But from April the government ditched the requirement that these “trainees” stick with the firm that sponsored their visa. It did not want to deport migrants who had lost jobs in one sector (eg hotels) when others (eg hospitals) were crying out for them. So it announced that they could switch employers. By doing so, it has dropped the pretence that the trainee programme is about anything more than coping with Japan’s own labour shortage, argues Menju Toshihiro of the Japan Centre for International Exchange, a non-profit. Indeed, migrant workers are so valuable that calls to exclude them from the government’s covid-19 stimulus package fell on deaf ears.

Do they know what you overcame?

In Britain anti-immigration sentiment peaked around the time of the Brexit referendum of 2016, but has since subsided. Many who voted to leave the EU because they thought there was too much migration now feel Britain has taken back control of its borders. In the wake of covid-19, views of immigration will continue to mollify, predicts Jonathan Portes of King’s College London. A recent decision to extend residence rights to up to 3m Hong Kongers passed without fuss. Under a proposed points-based system, EU nationals will find it harder to work in the UK, and few workers from anywhere will be admitted if they make less than £25,600 ($33,231) a year. But the rules will be looser for health workers. And voters have noticed that many migrants who make less than £25,600 have been indispensable of late. “Care workers, bus drivers and supermarket staff all fulfil essential functions, and it is far from obvious that there will be public support for an immigration system that excludes them all in favour of relatively junior bankers,” writes Mr Portes.

In America, for all Mr Trump’s fist-waving, the share of people who think that illegal immigration is a “very big problem” has fallen markedly since the pandemic began, from 43% last year to 28% in June. This could be because the influx has dried up, or because, compared with covid-19 itself, nothing seems like a “very big problem”. The country is divided. A new Economist/YouGov poll finds Americans roughly evenly split between wanting immigration to resume after the pandemic at the same pace as before or faster (40%) versus slower or remaining frozen (42%).

Still, the inability of populist leaders such as Mr Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro to cope with covid-19 could cost them their jobs—and thereby usher in a less drawbridge-up type of government. The Economist’s prediction model gives Joe Biden about a nine-in-ten chance of winning the American presidency in November. He would clearly be different. He says “Trump has waged an unrelenting assault on our values and our history as a nation of immigrants.” He could immediately revoke Mr Trump’s executive orders and stop separating migrant children from their parents. He vows to promote laws to increase the number of skilled migrants, create an easier path to citizenship and let cities with labour shortages petition for more migrants.

Covid-19 has shown that the freedom to migrate, which was always constrained, can be cancelled at will when people are scared. Consider Subha Nawer Pushpita’s experiences. She is a Bangladeshi studying computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. America was built by people like her: immigrants at MIT have won more Nobel prizes than China. So she was gobsmacked to learn, on July 6th, that she might be deported. The government said that foreigners at American universities who take only remote classes would have to leave the country.

Eighteen states sued to have the rule scrapped. The week after, it was. “I felt incredibly relieved and excited. I called my mom and I was shouting,” recalls Ms Pushpita. She will be able to study. But many others won’t. On July 24th the Trump administration said that new foreign students who have not yet reached America will be barred if their classes are taught remotely. “As long as he’s in office, something else will pop up,” sighs Ms Pushpita.

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

This article appeared in the International section of the print edition under the headline “Tearing up the welcome mat”

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