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Across Europe, reopening borders in time for summer

BERLIN — Europeans longing to swap their balconies for beaches, mountains, or museums elsewhere on the continent got a morale boost on Wednesday, when the European Commission recommended the reopening of borders that were closed to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

With new infections beginning to recede and governments from Riga to Rome easing lockdowns, concerns are now turning toward the resumption of cross-border vacation travel, which had been expected to generate 2020 spending of 1.3 billion euros, or $1.4 billion, before the border lockdowns.

This spending is especially important during the summer months when Europeans shutter their shops and take a collective time out — long derided on the other side of the Atlantic as a decadent indulgence — but essential to the economies of many member states.

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“We are helping European tourism get back on track while staying healthy and safe,” said Thierry Breton, European commissioner for the internal market, in announcing guidelines aimed at helping the European Union’s 27 member states reopen their borders.

But recommendations from the commission, the executive branch of the European Union, are not binding. They raise the risk that each member state will either create its own policies, or form bubbles among like-minded partners, creating a patchwork of measures that could entangle planning and endanger public health.

Some of the first countries to reopen have done so on a limited basis, with agreements struck among neighboring countries, and restrictions remaining in place for anyone trying to enter from farther afield. Restrictions are also in place for those going to and from Italy and Spain, the bloc’s hardest-hit members — and often its most popular tourist destinations.

More than 27 million people in the European Union, or 12 percent of the bloc’s workforce, have jobs in tourism. In southern member states, income generated by tourism accounts for as much as 20 percent of their economies.

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New York Times

UN forecasts world economy to shrink by 3.2 percent

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations forecast Wednesday that the COVID-19 pandemic will shrink the world economy by 3.2 percent this year, the sharpest contraction since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

The UN’s mid-year report said the impact of the crisis is expected to slash global economic output by nearly $8.5 trillion over the next two years, wiping out nearly all gains of the last four years.

In January, before COVID-19 became a pandemic, the UN had forecast a modest acceleration in growth of 2.5 percent in 2020.

But UN chief economist Elliott Harris told a news conference launching the report that the global economic outlook “has changed drastically” since then, with the pandemic’s death toll climbing toward 300,000.

According to the report, nearly 90 per cent of the world economy has been under some form of lockdown, disrupting supply chains, depressing consumer demand, and putting millions out of work.

Associated Press

Canada and the US working on extending border closure

TORONTO — Canada and the United States are working on an agreement to extend closing their border to nonessential travel during the coronavirus pandemic, a Canadian government official said Wednesday.

The official, who was not authorized to be quoted by name to discuss the talks, said it is too early to lift the restrictions, which are set to expire next week. The Trump administration and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government announced a 30-day extension of the restrictions last month.

President Trump has said that the US-Canada border will be among the first borders to open.

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But many Canadians fear a reopening, as the United States has more confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 than any country in the world.

Nearly 200,000 people cross that border daily in normal times.

Associated Press

Prodded by US, Mexico aims to restart industrial plants

MEXICO CITY — President Andrés Manuel López Obrador pledged Wednesday to begin reopening Mexico’s economy next week — under pressure at home and from US officials — even as the country saw its largest one-day jump in coronavirus cases, hospitals are reeling, and testing remains inadequate.

Economy Secretary Graciela Marquez said the move would be “gradual, orderly and cautious,’’ and that by May 18, industries like construction, mining, and car and truck manufacturing would be allowed to resume. But the governor of a state that is home to major auto plants warned that lifting restrictions now could lead to the pandemic getting “out of control.”

Mexico has been under pressure from US officials to reopen auto assembly plants, in particular, because without them, integrated supply chains would make it hard for plants in the United States and Canada to reopen.

Mexican health officials on Tuesday reported the country’s largest single-day jump in COVID-19 case numbers, with 1,997 new cases and 353 deaths, bringing the total to more than 38,000 confirmed cases and almost 4,000 deaths.

Officials have acknowledged the actual number of infections is many times that. Mexico has done relatively little testing, with about 120,000 tests reported so far in a country of almost 130 million.

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Associated Press

Lebanon to reinstate total lockdown amid rise in cases

BEIRUT — Lebanese rushed to food stores to stock up on vegetables and basic items, hours before the government was to reinstate a four-day nationwide lockdown on Wednesday, following a spike in reported coronavirus cases.

The government called on the public to stay home, starting Wednesday evening and until dawn on Monday, reversing measures earlier this month that phased out restrictions imposed in mid-March.

The new shutdown is a rare reversal and comes as many countries, seeking to balance economic and health care needs, have started easing restrictions.

The health crisis comes at a particularly turbulent period for Lebanon. The country is facing an unprecedented economic and financial crisis, putting pressure on a population that is seeing its savings erode. The currency, pegged at a fixed rate to the dollar since 1997, has lost 60 percent of its value in a few weeks.

Associated Press