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US briefing: global poverty warning, Trump agenda, misinformation

Thursday’s top story: Oxfam calls for a $2.5tn rescue package to prevent 30-year poverty setback in developing nations. Plus, actor Woody Harrelson at vanguard of celebrity 5G misinformation

People in Dharavi, India’s largest slum, are seen outside their homes during the lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Mumbai.

People in Dharavi, India’s largest slum, are seen outside their homes during the lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Mumbai.
Photograph: Rajanish Kakade/AP

Good morning, I’m Mattha Busby with today’s essential stories.

Coronavirus could push 500m people into poverty, charity warns

Oxfam has called for an emergency $2.5tn rescue package to enable poor countries to provide cash grants to people who have lost their income and to bail out vulnerable small businesses, funded in part by developing country debt cancellations payments, ahead of G20, IMF and World Bank meetings, which will discuss plans to offer debt relief. Half a billion people around the world could be pushed into poverty and developing countries could be set back by up to 30 years as their economies shrink because of the coronavirus outbreak, the researchers warned.

Lockdowns cannot end until Covid-19 vaccine found, study says

How coronavirus changed the world in three months – video

As the White House coronavirus task force report that social distancing and other mitigation efforts by the American people are working, a new study based on the Chinese experience suggests countries wanting to end the lockdown and allow people to move freely will have to monitor closely for new infections and adjust the controls they have in place until there is a vaccine against Covid-19. Aggressive controls over daily life in China have brought the first wave of the virus to an end, say researchers based in Hong Kong, but the danger of a second wave looms large.

  • UK lockdown extension. The British government is expected to signal strict lockdown measures must remain in place beyond next week, in the first key decision to be taken while Boris Johnson remains in intensive care.

Trump pushes through his agenda in shadow of pandemic

Donald Trump

Donald Trump touts his wall on the Mexican border almost daily and emphasizes national borders, even though coronavirus paid them no heed. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

With the coronavirus occupying people’s attention, the Trump administration is giving multibillion handouts to big business in a bailout fund criticised as a “corporate slush fund”, appointing hyper-partisan conservative judges and rolling back environmental regulations as the wall with Mexico continues to be built. This is what his former chief strategist Steve Bannon called the deconstruction of the administrative state in action.

Influencers among ‘key distributors’ of Covid-19 misinformation

Harrelson has continually claimed a link between the coronavirus outbreak and the installation of 5G equipment in Chinese cities.

Actor Woody Harrelson has continually claimed a link between the coronavirus outbreak and the installation of 5G equipment in Chinese cities. Photograph: Phil Mccarten/Reuters

Celebrities such as the actor Woody Harrelson and politicians with large social media followings like Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro are spearheading the dissemination of coronavirus-related disinformation, according to a study that suggests the factcheckers and mainstream news outlets are struggling to compete with the reach of influencers. Harrelson is among a number of celebrities who have been criticised after sharing baseless claims about the supposed connection of 5G to the pandemic.

And in other news…

  • New Zealanders have hoarded sex toys, according to the nation’s largest retailer of dildos, vibrators and other accessories which said its products’ sales tripled in the 48 hours after a month-long lockdown was announced.

  • Trump again urged Republicans to oppose mail-in voting, falsely raising the risk of widespread voter fraud, after Wisconsin held an in-person election when the safer alternative was blocked by the state GOP.

  • The Amazon basin was a hotspot for the early cultivation of wild plants such as squash and cassava, with inhabitants munching on them after the last ice age more than 10,000 years ago.

  • Scientists have created a mutant bacterial enzyme which breaks down plastic bottles for recycling within hours, with the company behind it aiming for its use in industrial-scale recycling within five years.


Crowds in the carnival in Cologne, a funeral in Milan, the Gucci fashion show at Milan Fashion Week and a group of friends cheering.

Illustration: Guardian Design

The cluster effect: how social gatherings were rocket fuel for coronavirus

Back in February, in a small western German municipality, a merry crowd celebrating the carnival season were told the virus was not among them. Yet seven people at the town hall event later tested positive for Covid-19, including the first person admitted to intensive care in Germany.

A journey into the Antarctic

We set out across the ice-filled Antarctic bay to listen for whales, writes Jonathan Watts, but first we heard an upside-down sound below the Southern Ocean, something like the sound of climate crisis itself: the sound of icebergs melting.

The pros and cons of all the video-conferencing apps

Video platform Zoom has seen overnight success as large groups seek to hang out remotely like never before but there are growing concerns around security across the platform which have many pondering the alternatives. Here they are.

If the rumours are true there was a worse version of Cats

The so-called Butthole Cut of Cats was first reported last month when a Twitter user announced that a friend was hired to delete all the CGI cat anuses that had previously been inserted into the film, before the Daily Beast lent weight to those claims.


Wisconsin Republicans used the pandemic to stop people from voting, writes Lawrence Douglas, after residents were forced to choose between voting or protecting their health.

It’s too early to tell whether Wisconsin Republicans will be rewarded in their willingness to use a public health emergency to extract a narrow partisan advantage … But the damage done to American democracy is all too visible.

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