Tuesday. 24/3/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Fiona Wilson

Game changer

Even as the world unravelled and images of lockdowns in every corner of the globe flashed across our screens, the Japanese government and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) were – publicly at least – sticking to the line that preparations for the summer Olympics were going ahead as planned. The Japanese public had other ideas: when polled last week, 70 per cent said that they didn’t think the Games would happen as scheduled. And then, yesterday, prime minister Shinzo Abe announced that a postponement might be on the cards. Canada pre-empted an official decision by declaring that it wouldn’t be sending its athletes to Tokyo; Australia looks set to follow.

All of this leaves Japan in a quandary. The country has been preparing to host the Olympics since 2013 and, though estimates vary, it seems likely that more than €11bn has been spent on the event. Some 4.5 million tickets have been sold in Japan; 50,000 people queued to see the Olympic flame in the northern city of Sendai this weekend. The logistical challenges of postponing the Games (speculation is that a new date will be set for 2021) are immense and the economic impact makes for pessimistic reading – but there is little in the way of other options.

Abe and Yuriko Koike, governor of Tokyo, have both made it clear that cancellation is not an option and nor is an event without spectators. Japan seems to have staved off the worst of coronavirus for now but others are still in the thick of the outbreak. Before more countries are forced to pull out, Japan and the IOC might be better off putting an end to the speculation. There would be no shortage of sympathy.

Economy / Germany

Zero option

It has, rather incredibly, been more than six years since Germany last recorded a federal budget in the red. Now the so-called schwarze Null or “black zero”, which has long been a source of pride for this economically conservative nation (often to the chagrin of left-leaning economists and less well-off neighbours demanding higher spending), will come to an end. Tomorrow the cabinet will officially ask parliament to lift a legally mandated “debt break” to free up €156bn in deficit spending to combat coronavirus. The point of the schwarze Null was always to save in good times to have the cash to spend in the bad. It leaves Germany in a good position to deploy what finance minister Olaf Scholz (pictured) has dubbed a “bazooka” to fire up the economy and – perhaps more importantly – boost confidence that the government can come to the aid of all those who need it.

Business / Cuba

Facing it together

The Cuban government has promised to do all that it can to provide masks for every member of its 11.2 million-strong population – but it won’t have to do it alone. Businesses and social schemes all over the Caribbean island have responded to the coronavirus pandemic, repurposing everything from secondhand clothes to tablecloths to turn into masks. A 17-person community seamstress project known as Petals for Life has already made and distributed more than 300 to the vulnerable; one linen factory shifted production from making bedspreads to turning out 500 masks a day; and fashion brand Dador has been working hard from Old Havana to source more fabrics to be used in further production. All in all, state newspaper Juventud Rebelde reports that light industry has been responsible for the production of more than 200,000 masks already. That’s some nifty work from small businesses in the communist state.

Urbanism / New York

Pedal pushers

Cyclists in New York will be able to pedal along newly minted, albeit temporary, protected lanes in Manhattan and Brooklyn from this week. Their construction – under the direction of mayor Bill de Blasio – responds to a recent surge in cyclist numbers as people seek to maintain social distancing and ride out the pandemic. As New Yorkers’ habits are forced to change, the possibility of these bike lanes becoming a permanent addition to the streetscape is also a reality. “Their installation sets a precedent that the mayor and department of transportation can build on if they want to,” says Mike Lydon, a specialist in temporary urban interventions and founder of New York-based planning agency Street Plans. “Once this pattern is set, the community will get used to it and hope that they stay.” De Blasio, who has long tried to pedal a bike agenda, will be hoping that this is the case.

Cinema / China

Opening credits

Cinemas in China are slowly reopening after being closed for almost two months. Although initial viewing figures since the restart are low, it comes as welcome news for the global film industry, which has become increasingly reliant on the Chinese box office for generating revenue. The Chinese industry itself, meanwhile, anxiously awaits the opening of several of its own postponed films, such as Detective Chinatown 3 (pictured). The recovery is cautious. About 500 cinemas had reopened by Monday (less than 5 per cent of the total), mainly re-releasing older films; number one at the box office is 2019 thriller, Sheep Without A Shepherd. Other countries are also taking measures to protect their film industry, including France, which has loosened its extremely strict laws on movie-release windows. The French will now be able to see some films on demand much earlier than expected, which is good news for those still confined to their homes.

M24 / The Menu

Fighting back the virus

What can restaurants do to survive in these trying times? Also on the programme: how the quarantine is making Italians rediscover the joys of cooking, plus what’s new in beer in 2020.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle preview: April issue, 2020

Monocle's April issue takes a deep dive into the world of fashion, profiling the major players in the shifting style scene and the showroom stars who set the agenda. We also hear how recent protests in Lebanon have changed the mindset of its citizens and celebrate the City of Lights in the Paris 75, with 'Les Echos'. Plus: who to call if you need a T-rex.

Available now at The Monocle Shop

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