Lockdown Twilight Zone

Balance of Power

When the coronavirus first raced around the world, many countries opted for hard lockdowns, ordering people to stay indoors, shutting schools and businesses.

We're now in a somewhat confused Twilight Zone of pseudo or partial lockdowns. Fearful of outright rebellion, and of snuffing out signs of economic recovery, each government is opting for its own hodge-podge of curbs. In some countries gatherings are limited to four, in others six. Some have strict, monitored quarantines, others simply rely on people to "do the right thing."

Above all, governments are trying their best to avoid a return to the restrictions of March and April. To do so would be to admit failure, that the virus is not only back, but it's as bad as before. Some politicians are contorting themselves into word pretzels to avoid actually saying the one that starts with "L."

It's a tough one for leaders. Even as people object to hard lockdowns — the idea of "big" government interfering in their daily lives — they do want "big government" in terms of spending, access to health care, job support and rescuing key companies. So essentially "small-but-big" government.

And hard choices lie ahead. The northern winter is nearing, and with it the traditional flu season. In the U.K., where workers are being told again to stay home if possible, scientists warn daily cases could hit 50,000 next month. Mass testing in Europe is straining labs and complicating contact tracing.

At a virtual United Nations General Assembly starting today we'll hear heads of state speak about the challenges of leadership in crisis. What we may not hear, though, is enough talk about collective approaches. Seven months into the pandemic, each country is increasingly going its own way.

Rosalind Mathieson

Police officers carry away a protester at a demonstration against government virus regulations in Berlin on Aug. 30.

Photographer: Adam Berry/AFP via Getty Images

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Global Headlines

Court packing | If Republicans confirm a new Supreme Court justice to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg before the U.S. election but lose the presidency and the Senate, some Democrats want to even the score by adding seats to the panel during challenger Joe Biden's administration. But the push could face an unexpected hurdle: Biden himself. He declined to say yesterday if he'd support such a move.

Campaign 2020

There are 42 days until the election. Here's the latest on the race for control of the White House and Congress.

Senate Republican leaders are moving quickly to set their strategy for confirming Ginsburg's replacement, with an eye toward getting it done before Election Day. They contacted individual lawmakers over the weekend and will likely decide during a lunch meeting today on the timing of a vote.

Other developments:

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Up in the air | Oracle's closely watched deal to take over the hugely popular Chinese TikTok app could be in doubt after Donald Trump said he may still renege on his approval – and Beijing signaled reluctance. Saleha Mohsin and Jennifer Jacobs report that while Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is confident the U.S. president will sign off, national security officials worry that American users' data will remain in a Chinese company's hands.

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping swiped at the U.S. during a meeting marking the UN's 75th anniversary, saying no country should "be allowed to do whatever it likes and be the hegemon, bully or boss of the world."

Poverty push | Xi is pressing to eradicate extreme rural poverty, with Beijing likely to announce the completion of his goal before next year's 100th anniversary of the Communist Party's founding. The campaign's success could be crucial: Xi regularly stamps out political dissent but improving public services boosts support, especially in rural areas.

  • Authorities have also sent a message to any would-be critics by jailing outspoken property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang for 18 years on graft charges. The unusually long term came after Ren was linked to an article criticizing Xi's handling of Covid-19.

Tightening grip | The owner of one of Hungary's biggest independent media groups is blaming a series of intimidating episodes on the government, which has tightened its grip over aspects of public life to an extent not seen since communism. As Alberto Nardelli and Zoltan Simon report, it follows a tough summer for news outlets in the country, which has plunged in the World Press Freedom Index and drawn criticism from the European Union for backsliding on democracy.

Media mogul Zoltan Varga.

Photographer: Akos Stiller/Bloomberg

Mediterranean tensions | The U.S. Embassy in Ankara dismissed a contentious map that's exacerbated competing Turkish and Greek claims in the gas-rich Mediterranean and Aegean seas and urged the two countries to resume dialogue. The impasse has also complicated EU diplomacy, with Cyprus refusing to sign off on the bloc's sanctions against Belarus for its contested election.

What to Watch

  • Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte strengthened his control in the ruling coalition ahead of negotiations over the EU's recovery fund by beating off a challenge from opposition rival Matteo Salvini in regional elections.
  • Xi, Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will speak virtually at the UN General Assembly today in which at least the latter two are expected to tout their nationalist approaches and departures from multilateral globalism.
  • Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell will say the U.S. economy is improving but has a long way to go when he appears alongside Mnuchin today at a House hearing, as prospects for additional economic stimulus dim.

And finally...The 96-mile border with England may be largely invisible, but Scotland is a very different country, where the legal and educational systems, health service and — as infections spread again — the handling of coronavirus all diverge. Rodney Jefferson and Alastair Reed explain how the two nations that joined together politically in 1707 to form Great Britain increasingly feel more like a socially distant couple cohabiting in the same household.

A truck passes a sign at the border near Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Photographer: David Moir/Reuters



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