Friday. 20/3/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Ed Stocker

Forward thinking

On Wednesday I cycled from Brooklyn into Manhattan. In normal circumstances that might seem a banal thing to note but, in the strange new world we are inhabiting, it felt like a momentous (and rather freeing) occasion after days holed up in my apartment working from the kitchen table. I needed to grab audio equipment from the office so that I could turn my house into a temporary radio studio for a live check-in for our global radio station, Monocle 24. The city felt as though everyone had left for a long weekend; a particularly sleepy Sunday. Broadway, the Big Apple’s main shopping thoroughfare whose pavements are normally packed, was practically empty.

One of the realities of the coronavirus outbreak is that a large segment of New York has been confronted with new working conditions; many are trying to adjust to a different routine, often with a partner at home having to do the same. But it’s also changed email interactions, including both journalists’ pitches and the way in which PR companies are tailoring their information. In recent days, for example, I have learnt that the Santarena Hotel in Las Catalinas, Costa Rica, has introduced a “germ butler” to immediately wipe down suitcases and passports, as well as guiding guests to the bathroom to wash their hands.

Beyond that, perhaps the most heartening messages I have received have been the simple ones, asking me: how are you doing? What sort of emails would be useful to you during this strange period? Do you want to hear from us – or should we hold off for now? It sounds like a small thing but it’s a slice of virtual humanity in tough times. If we’re all kinder and more considerate when this is all over, it won’t have all been in vain.

Diplomacy / USA & Iran

Punishing the weak

Intent on proving that the coronavirus outbreak will not get in the way of its “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran, the US has been busy blacklisting international companies over trading oil with the state. Nine entities, including firms in China and South Africa, have been sanctioned this week. Yet the US campaign not only increases suffering but could be counterproductive. “The bigger picture here is that it’s only going to hurt the Iranian economy when they’re already in desperate need of funds to fight coronavirus,” says Holly Dagres, an Iranian-US analyst and fellow at the Atlantic Council. “The US’s end goal is regime change. They want people to rise up and change the regime when it’s at its weakest. But it’s hard to see people doing that when many of them are contracting the virus and losing loved ones.” Now is a time for carrots – not sticks – in global diplomacy.

Media / China

In sickness and health

While China has begun a campaign to shower Europe – the new global epicentre of the crisis – with aid, Chinese government officials have moved simultaneously to expel another dozen US journalists in an escalating tit-for-tat. The support (including two million surgical masks, 200,000 general-use masks and 50,000 testing kits for the EU) is an obvious move to present a friendly face to the world at a time when many countries are focusing on protecting their citizens.

However, it is important to remember that China’s restrictions on domestic media reports that are critical of the state – or “rumours”, as they were initially labelled – allowed the virus to spread uninhibited in its first weeks. Any help is welcome during times of crisis and China does deserve praise for its response to the virus. But we should remember that all nations must remain subject to criticism; the dismantlement of a robust press is not a healthy path to take.

Business / Global

Mask force

The Trump administration this week invoked a wartime provision to mandate companies to fill supply shortages – General Motors and Elon Musk (pictured) from Tesla have already offered to make ventilators. But many international companies have stepped into the void without government pressure. Japan’s Maruyama Towel, for example, is producing and selling masks, 10,000 of which will be given to school children for free. Based in Imabari in western Japan, a city famed for its high-quality towels, it is now making masks using premium cotton that, unlike paper masks, can be washed and reused. In Spain, Zara-owner Inditex says that it plans to manufacture hospital gowns as nearly half of its shops around the world are closed. Despite the urgent need for government aid to stay afloat, it’s good to see businesses of various sizes doing their part.

Music / Portugal

Going solo

Around the world, many concerts and music festivals are being cancelled but a new initiative in Portugal aims to ensure that we are still able to experience live music – with a twist. Festival Eu Fico Em Casa (the “I Stay At Home” music festival) features 78 artists, including David Fonseca (pictured), who are in self-isolation; each will perform 30-minute concerts from their homes. The performances will be live on the artists’ social media from 17.00 to midnight every day until 22 March. It’s a move that brings together record labels, music distributors and the artists themselves to raise awareness of the need to practise social distancing. Like many countries, Portugal declared a state of emergency on Wednesday but initiatives such as this will help people to remain connected and keep a positive mindset throughout this crisis.

M24 / The Foreign Desk

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The militaries of Kenya and Somalia have been clashing back and forth across the border between the two countries. But is the real reason for the dispute off the coast they share?

Monocle Films / Retail

Thessaloniki revival

Greece’s second city is defiantly bouncing back from the economic crisis and welcoming an increasingly international crowd. We meet the brave residents who set up shop in the tough times and are now finding success – as well as offering reasons to be hopeful about the country’s future.

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