Counting the costs

Balance of Power

The pandemic is extracting a horrific price globally. More than 30 million cases, more than 1 million deaths. Some health experts say the real toll is close to double and will only rise during winter in the northern hemisphere.

There's the hidden cost of those who've struggled to seek care — or delayed getting checks — for other major health issues, including cancer.

There's the educational cost to children who missed months of school and didn't have access to remote learning, and to students now starting university but forced to do courses online.

And there's the economic damage from jobs lost or furloughed, not to mention for companies that have closed or are barely surviving.

For governments, the challenges will mount as we hurtle toward 2021. Debt is piling up, and while there are few votes right now for austerity, at some point these bills will come due, either via spending cuts or higher taxes.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies says it's "highly plausible" that U.K. government spending will be around 45% of economic output by the middle of the decade, the highest since the 1970s.

In the U.S., politicians are wrangling over further stimulus as the Nov. 3 election draws ever closer. Donald Trump will find his handling of the pandemic under scrutiny in tonight's debate with Democratic challenger Joe Biden, alongside his tax records and his efforts to fill a Supreme Court vacancy before Election Day.

It will be easy in hindsight to judge politicians for how they manage these times. But there's no manual for what we're experiencing. The true costs may only become visible years from now.

Rosalind Mathieson

Pupils return to Holyrood Secondary School in Glasgow on Aug. 12 for the first time following the easing of lockdown measures.

Photographer: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images

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Global Headlines

Mano a mano | When Trump and Biden appear together on the debate stage for the first time tonight, Biden has a fresh chance to draw a distinction, in his words, "between Scranton and Park Avenue" — his symbols for abundant wealth and the working-class background of his Pennsylvanian birthplace. But an airing of views on Trump's newly disclosed tax records is unlikely to fundamentally change a race with few undecided voters.

  • Biden is preparing to face tough questions tonight on how he'd handle ties with China if he wins.

Campaign 2020

There are 35 days until the election. Here's the latest on the race for control of the White House and Congress.

Trump and Biden face off at 9 p.m. New York time at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. And click here for more on how a bruising Senate confirmation fight over Trump's Supreme Court choice may seal the fates of several incumbent senators up for re-election.

Other developments

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Isolation attempt | The Trump administration is considering fresh sanctions aimed at severing Iran's economy from the outside world, except in limited circumstances. As Nick Wadhams and Saleha Mohsin report, the U.S. could target more than a dozen banks and label the country's entire financial sector off-limits.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gave a virtual speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 22., where he denounced the U.S. as the world's nuclear-armed danger. "They accuse us without any foundation of trying to build nuclear weapons," Rouhani said.

Photographer: Tiffany Hagler-Geard/Bloomberg

Staying on | A majority of Hong Kong's opposition politicians will remain in office after China extended their terms without a planned election. After survey showed a split in public opinion over whether they should step down in protest, the lawmakers' decision to stay could further fracture a movement battling a clampdown on the city by Beijing that has included sweeping national security legislation.

Tory compromise | Conservative Party rebels appear to have won enough concessions over Boris Johnson's coronavirus powers to avoid inflicting a stinging government defeat in tomorrow's crunch vote in the U.K. House of Commons. As Emily Ashton and Tim Ross explain, the critics are demanding to have a say on any new virus restrictions before they become law as anger grows at the prime minister's response to the pandemic.

Bolsonaro backflip | Brazilian markets sank yesterday after President Jair Bolsonaro revived plans to launch his signature social spending program, saying he'd send an emergency bill to congress in the coming days. Finding ways to finance the endeavor — millions of Brazilians will soon stop getting pandemic-related handouts — is a headache for Bolsonaro, who's restricted by a constitutional cap on government spending.

What to Watch

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia today to urge an immediate cease-fire as clashes between their forces over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory threatened to expand during a third day of fighting.
  • Turkey held a naval exercise near Greek waters today as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pushes Athens for cooperation before European Union talks over Ankara's energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean. It came a day after U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo called for a peaceful settlement of the issue during a visit to Greece.
  • China's reduction in the pace of purchases of U.S. goods last month shows it's making slow progress in meeting the goals of its trade deal with the world's biggest economy.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron is due to meet Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya today in Lithuania as he seeks to show EU chiefs he's serious about confronting Russia.

And finally ... Mexico has the world's fourth-highest virus death toll and faces its biggest economic slump in almost a century; murders are breaking records and anti-graft efforts are faltering. But if anything, adversity has reinforced President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's determination to transform his country. The problem is the man everybody calls AMLO has a deeply held aversion to debt — and a stubbornness to match — that may not be best suited to helping Mexico out of the crisis. As Juan Pablo Spinetto and Nacha Cattan report, AMLO remains popular, but warning signs are flashing over his political future.

Lopez Obrador waves a Mexican flag on the main balcony of the National Palace during a ceremony marking the start of Independence Day celebrations on Sept. 15.

Photographer: Alfredo Estrella/AFP via Getty Images



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