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EU weighs long-term bailout; Merkel warns of reopening too soon

EU weighs long-term bailout; Merkel warns of reopening too soon
A person crosses a deserted road in Cordoba, Andalusia, Spain, on Sunday during the nation's 36th day of enclosure due to the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Salas/EPA-EFE

April 23 (UPI) -- European Union leaders renewed negotiations Thursday for a proposed long-term coronavirus bailout package in what's considered by some member nations an existential moment for the bloc.

The fourth teleconference summit followed three previous sessions that revealed a deep north-south split on the issue of special "coronabonds," in which a recovery fund would be financed jointly through common debt by all 27 member nations.

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A shorter-term, $540 billion rescue package from the European Stability Mechanism is expected to be approved and implemented by June.

For southern EU nations heavily affected by the virus, including Spain and Italy, the coronabonds are viewed as vital means to guarantee recovery from the crisis. Such common debt, however, has been opposed by northern nations Germany and the Netherlands, which have stressed the importance of individual nations maintaining their own budget integrity.

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In response, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is developing a proposal for a $1.6 trillion recovery fund to be financed through "perpetual debt" from the European Commission, rather than national governments.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen signaled her support for the idea on Wednesday.

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The global coronavirus caseload surpassed 2.6 million on Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins University. The worldwide death toll is near 185,000 and recoveries rose to 720,000.

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Italy has reported the most deaths, more 25,000, and the United States has the most cases (842,000).

Also Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned state authorities against reopening their economies too quickly and risking a second wave of cases.

She criticized recent decisions by some of the 16 federal states to grant exemptions to stay-at-home orders for some types of retail businesses.

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Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Wurttemberg are seeking to further ease social distancing restrictions by allowing restaurants and hotels to reopen by May 4.

"The implementation [of the exemptions] gives me cause for concern," Merkel said during a session in the Bundestag,

"No one likes to hear it, but we are not in the end phase of this pandemic, but at the beginning."

In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Thursday released the government's decision-making framework for gradually lifting restrictive measures.

"We want to ease restrictions, but we cannot rule out having to reapply them should the virus run out of control," she said in a statement accompanying a 26-page document that outlines factors she said "must be considered as we move gradually to ease restrictions."

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The guidelines call for working with business, trade unions and local governments to redesign workplaces and classrooms into places where viral spread is minimized.

In Britain, a government spokesman said 50 more mobile testing labs will be deployed by the end of April. There are four presently in use and 28 drive-through test sites.

In Japan, health officials in Nagasaki said 48 of 127 crew members aboard the Costa Atlantica cruise ship had tested positive. The first crew member tested positive earlier this week.

Officials said the remainder of the 623-person crew will be tested in the coming days.

Scenes from a pandemic: World copes with COVID-19

A health worker with the Israeli national emergency service, Magen David Adam, wears protective gear while taking swabs to test for COVID-19 at a drive-through testing center in East Jerusalem on August 26. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

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