Coronavirus Politics Daily: Elections postponed, markets rocked, curve flattened?

For the next few days, at least, we'll give you a roundup of key COVID-19 stories that jump out at us.

Coronavirus has forced the postponement of local elections in England until next year, though France and Germany are still going ahead with theirs. Some US states will hold presidential primaries Tuesday as scheduled, but Louisiana and Georgia have already postponed. A larger question looms: If this crisis continues into autumn, might the November 3 US presidential election be delayed? That's never happened in American history, and for good reason. The president can't simply order a delay. The election date, set in federal law, can be changed only by agreement of Congress, the president, and the courts…and the US Constitution requires that the new presidential term begin on January 20. Still, how the coronavirus affects perceptions of electoral legitimacy is a big, big question.


The financial response: Governments and central banks are taking steps on a scale not seen since the 2008 financial crisis to prop up markets and limit serious damage to the global economy. On Sunday, the US Federal Reserve cut its interest rate target to zero and announced other emergency actions to stabilize ravaged financial markets. The good news is that the Fed is coordinating with other central banks in the UK, Europe, Switzerland, and Japan. The bad news is that Wall Street and other global financial markets kept tumbling anyway. (Stocks tumbled more than 12 percent Monday, the biggest single-day drop since the crisis began.) That was partly because China published data showing a sharp contraction in economic activity in January and February as it locked down cities and factories to halt the virus. There are growing concerns that a similar, or even worse, contraction could hit Western economies that have so far failed to get a grip on the outbreak.

A quick explainer on FLATTENING THE CURVE: The point of all the social distancing and school/restaurant shutdowns is not to prevent huge numbers of people from getting COVID-19 – that's virtually inevitable over the next year. The point is to prevent huge numbers of people from getting it all at once, which can quickly overwhelm health systems. Most people who get COVID-19 will get better on their own after a rough few days – but you don't want the significant number of severe cases that do require hospitalization to exceed hospitals' capacity. Do whatever you can to flatten the curve! For an amazing visual on how coronavirus spreads with and without social distancing, see this WaPo interactive. And for a great piece of art showing how it stops in just twelve seconds, see this animation by Spanish artist Juan Delcan. Flatten the Curve!

Amid the current need to continually focus on the COVID-19 crisis, it is understandably hard to address other important issues. But, on March 31st, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed landmark facial recognition legislation that the state legislature passed on March 12, less than three weeks, but seemingly an era, ago. Nonetheless, it's worth taking a moment to reflect on the importance of this step. This legislation represents a significant breakthrough – the first time a state or nation has passed a new law devoted exclusively to putting guardrails in place for the use of facial recognition technology.

For more on Washington's privacy legislation, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Over the past decade or so, the European Union has weathered the global financial crisis, a migrant crisis, and the rise of populist nationalism. Sure, it's taken its fair share of bumps and bruises along the way, but the idea of a largely borderless Europe united by common democratic values has survived more or less intact.

Then came the coronavirus. The global pandemic, in which Europe is now one of the two main epicentres, is a still-spiralling nightmare that could make those previous crises look benign by comparison. Here are a few different ways that COVID-19 is severely testing the 27-member bloc:

The economic crisis: Lockdowns intended to stop the virus' spread have brought economic activity to a screeching halt, and national governments are going to need to spend a lot of money to offset the impact. But some EU members can borrow those funds more easily than others. Huge debt loads and deficits in southern European countries like Italy and Spain, which have been hardest hit by the outbreak so far, make it costlier for them to borrow than more fiscally conservative Germany and other northern member states. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, this imbalance nearly led the bloc's common currency, the Euro, to unravel.

More Show less

3.5 billion: There are now an estimated 3.5 billion people worldwide under some sort of coronavirus lockdown after residents in Moscow (12 million) and Nigeria's capital Lagos (21 million) were ordered to join the ranks of those quarantined at home.

More Show less

North Korea has zero coronavirus cases? North Korea claims to be one of few countries on earth with no coronavirus cases. But can we take the word of the notoriously opaque leadership at face value? Most long-term observers of Pyongyang dismiss as fanciful the notion that the North, which shares a border with China, its main trade partner, was able to avert the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe. Many point to Pyongyang's lack of testing capabilities as the real reason why it hasn't reported any COVID-19 cases. To be sure, Kim Jong-un, the North's totalitarian leader, imposed some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world, well before many other countries – closing the Chinese border and quarantining all diplomats. The state's ability to control its people and their movements would also make virus-containment efforts easier to manage. We might not know the truth for some time. But what is clear is that decades of seclusion and crippling economic sanctions have devastated North Korea's health system, raising concerns of its capacity to manage a widespread outbreak of disease.

More Show less

As the coronavirus continues to ravage the world, all eyes now turn to the place where it all started. For more than two months, the 11 million residents of Wuhan, the Chinese industrial hub where the novel coronavirus was first detected, have lived under near complete lockdown.

Now, as China reports a dwindling number of new cases, the city's people are slowly emerging back into the daylight. Some travel restrictions remain, but public transportation is largely functioning again, and increasing numbers of people are cautiously – with masks and gloves and digital "health codes" on their phones that permit them to move about – going back to work.

The rest of the world, where most hard-hit countries have imposed various forms of lockdown of their own, is now keenly watching what happens in Wuhan for a glimpse of what might lie in store for the rest of us.

More Show less