Italy locked down to limit spread of Covid-19 but deaths increase

Italy is in near total lockdown to try to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 virus, with businesses and restaurants shut and streets virtually deserted. Italians have been barred from travelling to Austria.

A New Zealander in Rome has just been interviewed on RNZ, they have to stay in their hotel except for emergencies, and have no idea how long they will have to stay there.

The impact of the virus in New Zealand is much less drastic but still significant.

Reuters: Streets deserted as Italy imposes unprecedented coronavirus lockdown

Shops and restaurants closed, hundreds of flights were canceled and streets emptied across Italy on Tuesday, the first day of an unprecedented, nationwide lockdown imposed to slow Europe’s worst outbreak of coronavirus.

The government has told all Italians to stay at home and avoid all non-essential travel until April 3, dramatically widening steps already taken in much of the wealthy north, which is the epicenter of the spreading contagion.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte unexpectedly expanded the so-called red zone to the entire country on Monday night, introducing the most severe controls on a Western nation since World War Two.

The move shocked many small businesses, which feared for their future.

“It looks like an apocalypse has struck, there is no one around,” said Mario Monfreda, who runs Larys restaurant in a smart Rome residential area. Under the government order, all bars and restaurants will now have to close at 6.00 p.m.

However, the prosperous northern region of Lombardy, centered on Italy’s financial capital Milan, called on the government to introduce even more stringent measures.

This must have a massive effect on the Italian economy, as well as on the lives of Italians and anyone else stuck in the country.

The total number of coronavirus cases in Italy has officially gone from 9,172 to 10,149.

Of that number, 1,004 have fully recovered.

Italy’s death toll of 631 is the largest outside China, and the latest increase in deaths – 168 – is the biggest recorded in a single day.

So it looks like things are getting worse. It is reported that Italian hospitals are under severe pressure.

BBC: Italians barred from Austria to stop spread

Austria has announced a ban on people entering the country from Italy unless they carry a medical certificate, in an attempt to stop coronavirus spreading.

Speaking after the Italian government imposed travel restrictions across the country, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Austrians returning from Italy would have to self-isolate for two weeks.

Austria has seen 158 cases of coronavirus so far.

Austria and Italy share a border north of Italy’s South Tyrol region. On Tuesday, South Tyrol, in common with the rest of Italy, closed all cultural centres and restricted access to bars and cafes to daytime hours.

Italy’s nationwide lockdown limits travel to those with “verifiable work requirements or situations of necessity”. All sporting events have been suspended, and schools and universities have been shut until 3 April. Employees have been urged either to work from home or take annual leave.

In other parts of Europe:

  • Spain has reported 1,622 cases, almost half in the Madrid area, and all Spanish sport is to be played behind closed doors until April, including La Liga matches
  • Several German states are imposing restrictions. Bavaria will ban events involving more than 1,000 people
  • Denmark has recommended avoiding public transport during the rush hour and banned planes from landing from Northern Italy, part of Austria, Iran and areas of South Korea and China
  • Czech schools will shut from Wednesday and authorities are looking for dozens of customers of a Czech Uber driver who tested positive for the virus

After a big drop Tuesday the US sharemarket has recovered slightly (0.41%) so far on their Wednesday, but the virus is still a problem there.

Reuters: ‘This is likely to get worse’: U.S. public health official

The U.S. coronavirus outbreak is likely to get worse, the country’s top public health official said, and Americans should assess their personal circumstances when deciding whether to cancel travel plans or avoid public gatherings.

The number of cases of the highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the virus has risen steadily in the United States this week, stoking concerns of a health and economic crisis that could pummel workers and companies.

And the number of cases may be under-detected.

Health officials in New York state and other parts of the country hard hit by the coronavirus have complained about a shortage of testing capacity.

Trump was heading to Capitol Hill on Tuesday afternoon to discuss what action should be taken. During the White House meeting he said the administration intended to also help airlines and the cruise line industry.

After reaching some of his best poll results approval of Trump is taking a bit of a hit.

This sort of communication is typical of trump, but facing a serious health crisis people may not be as forgiving as they have been.

In New Zealand things seem under control as far as the virus goes, but there are concerns about business, employment and the economy.

Newsroom: Covid-19 the crisis that could allow debt rule breach

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said for the first time today that the global Covid-19 economic drama that worsened substantially overnight could be the crisis situation that could trigger the exemption clause in the Government’s much-discussed Budget Responsibility Rules. He suggested today that Covid-19, which crashed stock markets overnight, could have passed that threshold to be the ‘out clause’ in the BRRs.

That would be justified.

Newsroom: Govt locks down travel amid Covid-19 fears

A wave of ministries and DHBs are scrambling to put in place travel policies that have been vetted by health experts and approved by staff and unions as the global Covid-19 crisis worsens. While some say they are sticking to advice from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, others have struck out on their own with unique policies.

A Ministry of Health spokesperson told Newsroom that “Ministry of Health employees have been advised that any non-essential international business travel to or through Covid-19 countries of concern should be postponed or cancelled”.

Auckland DHB told staff in a memo on Thursday that it would be restricting overseas travel. Now, Canterbury has joined Auckland, Counties Manukau and Waitematā in slapping a ban on “non-essential international [business] travel” and recommending that staff “consider carefully any private international travel”.

Newsroom: Businesses fear late and weak response

As the Government touts a “targeted approach” to a worsening economy, businesses and economists are starting to say the Government just needs to spend. Sometimes a broad brush approach that slops around plenty of cash is better at helping everyone than targeting and means-testing those with the most obvious and provable problems.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced yesterday the Government was working on a business continuity package that would include a wage subsidy for affected businesses with possible working capital support.

survey of Retail NZ members showed 60 percent of their members have already been negatively affected by Covid-19. It noted an average 15 percent decrease in sales through its members’ outlets.

Most of those affected retailers (70 percent) expected to have cashflow difficulties as a result of the Covid-19 situation.

While the flow-on effects for the tourism sector have been well-documented, Covid-19 has also changed the behaviour of consumers in unpredictable ways.

Auckland Business Chamber Chief Executive Michael Barnett said the Government needed to get its hands dirty, not be afraid to make mistakes, and start pushing money into businesses to prevent them from folding up or shedding staff.

Infometrics economist Brad Olsen argued there was a growing case for a “supercharged” policy response that overshot the mark.

“At the moment we’ve been quite a long time without having inflation return to its 2 percent band that we normally target,” Olsen said.

First Retail group managing director Chris Wilkinson said indicators from clients were that Covid-19 had changed retail spending patterns and that there had been a “significant” growth in online spending.

He said there was a lack of strong leadership around Covid-19 that had left businesses to make their own decisions which, while in their own interests, might not be in the interests of the wider economy.

Stuff: Recession plans under way

It’s “now certain” that the economic impact of coronavirus will ripple through NZ’s economy for the rest of the year, says government.

The Government is designing a stimulus package in case the economic shock spurred by Coronavirus turns into a recession.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson, in a sit down interview with Stuff, said that while he isn’t forecasting a recession, the nation’s top bureaucrats have been tasked with preparing a macroeconomic package in case it is required.

“We’re not predicting it still, but we directed officials yesterday [Monday] to pull together a macro-economic package that would recognise that we were moving into a sustained global downturn,” Robertson said.

Robertson keeps playing it down some have predicted a recession seems inevitable in New Zealand and world-wide, for obvious reasons.

It’s hard to predict what impact all this will have on us as individuals. The virus seems contained, but the effects of the virus could be significant and for some time.

There were no new Beehive announcements on the virus yesterday, after saying on Tuesday that the details of a Business Continuity Package are ” now being worked through”.

Austrian far right activist donation could be linked to Christchurch terrorist

Austrian authorities have searched the home of a far right activist, saying he received a “disproportionately high donation” from a person with the same surname as the accused Christchurch shooter

Stuff (22 March):  Austria says Christchurch mosque shooting suspect visited there

Authorities in Austria say the alleged Christchurch mosque gunman visited the country, but are declining to provide further details.

Interior Ministry spokesman Christoph Poelzl said an investigation by the BVT domestic intelligence agency is continuing, but “a first result from this is that it can now be confirmed the person in question spent time in Austria.”

Some of the suspect’s anti-Muslim views are echoed by Austria’s far-right Identitarian Movement.

Stuff (27 March):  Austrian activist’s home searched over ‘ties’ to Christchurch mosque shooting suspect

Austrian authorities have searched the home of a prominent far-right activist as part of a probe into his ties to the alleged Christchurch mosque gunman.

The head of the white nationalist group Identitarian Movement of Austria said on social media that police searched his apartment on Monday.

Electronic devices were seized after he received a “disproportionately high donation” from a person with the same surname as the accused Christchurch shooter.

Christoph Poelzl, spokesman for Austria’s Interior Ministry, confirmed Tuesday that the country’s domestic intelligence agency BVT searched the premises in Vienna at the request of prosecutors in the city of Graz.

“Any connection between the Christchurch attacker and members of the Identitarians in Austria needs to be comprehensively and ruthlessly investigated,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz tweeted, adding that he had spoken to Justice Minister Josef Moser about the issue.

“It is important that the independent justice system can use all necessary means and resources to conduct its investigation together with the security services and expose these networks. There needs to be total clarity about all extremist activities.”

Hansjoerg Bacher, a spokesman for Graz prosecutors, said they had stumbled across the donation as part of an existing probe into possible financial offences by the Austrian nationalist.

“The purpose of the investigation is to examine links between [the nationalist] and the Christchurch attacker,” Bacher told Associated Press.

He declined to confirm when the donation took place, but said it was much higher than other contributions made to the man or his Identitarian Movement.

“Most donations were in the area of two-to-three figures, whereas this donation was in the low four-figure area,” Bacher told AP. “This made it stand out, and the events in New Zealand put a face to this donation.”

“We need to determine whether there is a connection and if so, whether it’s criminally significant,” said Bacher.

The Austrian man denied having anything to do with the March 15 massacre, in which 50 Muslims were killed.

“I had nothing to do with the attack,” he said in a video statement posted on YouTube, adding that he would donate the money to a charity.

It could just be an awkward link to the Christchurch terrorist.

Graz is the second largest city in Austria.


European Court says religious feelings and religious peace overrule free speech

The European Court of Human Rights has made a ruling saying, that the right of people to have their religious feelings protected  and the “legitimate aim of preserving religious peace” in Austria.

That this is in a case in which a women was convicted for calling the Prophet Muhammad a pedophile is likely to inflame a contentious and volatile situation in Europe.

Deutsche Welle – Calling Prophet Muhammad a pedophile does not fall within freedom of speech: European court

The ECHR ruled against an Austrian woman who claimed calling the Prophet Muhammad a pedophile was protected by free speech. The applicant claimed she was contributing to public debate.

An Austrian woman’s conviction for calling the Prophet Muhammad a pedophile did not violate her freedom of speech, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday.

The Strasbourg-based ECHR ruled that Austrian courts carefully balanced the applicant’s “right to freedom of expression with the right of others to have their religious feelings protected, and served the legitimate aim of preserving religious peace in Austria.”

The woman in 2009 held two seminars entitled “Basic Information on Islam,” during which she likened Muhammad’s marriage to a six-year-old girl, Aisha, to pedophilia.

The court cited the Austrian women stating during the seminar that Muhammad “liked to do it with children” and “… A 56-year-old and a six-year-old? … What do we call it, if it is not pedophilia?”

An Austrian court later convicted the woman of disparaging religion and fined her €480 ($546). Other domestic courts upheld the decision before the case was brought before the ECHR.

So the European Court of Human Rights has not made or imposed this law, they have supported lower courts.

The women had argued that her comments fell within her right of freedom of expression and religious groups must tolerate criticism. She also argued they were intended to contribute to public debate and not designed to defame the Prophet of Islam.

The ECHR recognized that freedom of religion did not exempt people from expecting criticism or denial of their religion.

However, it found that the woman’s comments were not objective, failed to provide historical background and had no intention of promoting public debate.

The applicant’s comments “could only be understood as having been aimed at demonstrating that Muhammad was not worthy of worship,” the court said, adding that the statements were not based on facts and were intended to denigrate Islam.

It also found that even in a debate it was not compatible with freedom of expression “to pack incriminating statements into the wrapping of an otherwise acceptable expression of opinion and claim that this rendered passable those statements exceeding the permissible limits of freedom of expression.”

As well as growing anti-Islam sentiment and speech this gets into wider issues of free speech that have been raised in New Zealand.

There are risks from people who claim the right to free speech to promote extreme views, to deliberately misrepresent, and to try to inflame and divide.

It is difficult to get a fair balance between the right to free speech and deliberate provocation and harm.


UK & Europe


Topics about the UK, EU and Europe.

More on Turkey versus the Netherlands and other European countries:  Turkey’s Erdogan warns Dutch will pay price for dispute

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned the Netherlands it will “pay the price” for harming ties after two of his ministers were barred.

The two ministers were blocked from addressing Turkish expatriates in Rotterdam on Saturday, with one of them escorted to the German border.

The Dutch government said such rallies would stoke tensions days before the Netherlands’ general election.

Several EU countries have been drawn into the row over the rallies:

  • Mr Cavusoglu called the Netherlands the “capital of fascism” after he was refused entry
  • Mr Erdogan accused Germany of “Nazi practices” after similar rallies were cancelled – words Chancellor Angela Merkel described as “unacceptable”
  • Denmark’s Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen postponed a planned meeting with Turkey’s prime minister, saying he is concerned that “democratic principles are under great pressure” in Turkey
  • Local French officials have allowed a Turkish rally in Metz, saying it does not pose a public order threat – while France’s foreign ministry has urged Turkey to avoid provocations.
  • Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said Mr Erdogan was not welcome to hold rallies as this could increase friction and hinder integration.

Mr Erdogan accused countries in the West of “Islamophobia” and demanded international organisations impose sanctions on the Netherlands.

“I have said that I had thought that Nazism was over, but that I was wrong. Nazism is alive in the West,” he said.

There are 5.5 million Turks living outside the country, with 1.4 million eligible voters in Germany alone – and the Yes campaign is keen to get them on side.

There has been a lot of Trukish immigration into Germany for decades.

So a number of rallies have been planned for countries with large numbers of expat voters, including Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.

It may be working in Erdogan’s favour. It’s certainly drawing attention to his campaign.



Green beats anti-immigration in Austria

James Shaw distances the Greens from populist politics:

Trump/Brexit nationalist populism isn’t an inevitable trend: former Green leader beats far-right candidate in Austrian presidential election

Opinion polls suggested that the re-run Austrian election could be too close to call but ex-Green independent candidate Alexander Van der Bellen looks to have defeated far right anti-immigration candidate Norbert Hofer by what looks like a reasonably comfortable margin.

Will Shaw consider leaving the Greens and standing as an Independent? That would be a bit tricky under our party dominated MMP unless he won an electorate seat, but one vote amongst about 120 is unlikely to hold much sway.

The Austrian presidency is just a ceremonial role but there was international interest in whether the far-right ‘populist’ candidate would win.

BBC: Austria far-right candidate Norbert Hofer defeated in presidential poll

Far-right candidate Norbert Hofer has lost Austria’s presidential election.

On Facebook, he described himself as “infinitely sad” and congratulated Alexander Van der Bellen, former head of the Greens, on his victory.

The elections had been seen as a sign of how well populist candidates might do in upcoming elections in the EU, though the post is ceremonial.

The result is sure to be welcomed by establishment parties and officials in the EU.

France, the Netherlands and Germany all face elections next year in which anti-mainstream and anti-immigration parties are gaining ground.

A referendum under way in Italy is being closely followed for further signs of anti-establishment populism, with polls suggesting a setback for centre-left Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

Polls were a wee way off again…

…the Austrian results surprised many.

Opinion polls in the run-up to Sunday’s vote suggested the result was too close to call.

Projections based on early results now give Mr Van der Bellen roughly 53% to 46% for Mr Hofer. The margin could change, but officials said the result would not.

…showing that they can only be used as a guide, not a prediction.

And this result suggests that elections around the world are not following any particular pattern, even if there is an increase in anti-immigration support.

Interesting that Van der Bellen doesn’t sound very Germanic, and while the President-elect was born in Vienna, according to Wikipedia his family are immigrants who were refugees:

…an aristocratic Russian-born father of mixed Baltic German, Dutch, and Estonian descent, Alexander Konstantin (1898–1966), and an Estonian mother, Alma (née Siibold [Siebold, Sieboldt]; 1907–1993), who were both refugees from Stalinism. His parents successively held Russian, Estonian, and Austrian citizenship.

More on Van der Bellen:

Van der Bellen is professor emeritus of economics at the University of Vienna. A member of the Austrian Green Party, he served as a member of the National Council from 1994 to 2012, and was chairman of the parliamentary club and federal spokesperson of his party from 1997 to 2008.

He ran as a nominally independent candidate supported by the Green Party in the 2016 presidential election, and finished second out of six in the first round before winning the second round against Norbert Hofer, a member of the Freedom Party of Austria.