American consumers have enhanced fears of a downturn. This past week, the International Monetary Fund cited weaker consumer spending in slashing expectations for economic growth this year in the United States, from 2.9 percent to 2.3 percent. Avoiding recession will be “increasingly challenging,” the fund warned.

Orwellian lockdowns that have constrained business and life in general. The government expresses resolve in maintaining lockdowns, now affecting 247 million people in 31 cities that collectively produce $4.3 trillion in annual economic activity, according to a recent estimate from Nomura, the Japanese securities firm.

But the endurance of Beijing’s stance — its willingness to continue riding out the economic damage and public anger — constitutes one of the more consequential variables in a world brimming with uncertainty.

sanctions have restricted sales of Russia’s enormous stocks of oil and natural gas in an effort to pressure the country’s strongman leader, Vladimir V. Putin, to relent. The resulting hit to the global supply has sent energy prices soaring.

The price of a barrel of Brent crude oil rose by nearly a third in the first three months after the invasion, though recent weeks have seen a reversal on the assumption that weaker economic growth will translate into less demand.

major pipeline carrying gas from Russia to Germany cut the supply sharply last month, that heightened fears that Berlin could soon ration energy consumption. That would have a chilling effect on German industry just as it contends with supply chain problems and the loss of exports to China.

euro, which has surrendered more than 10 percent of its value against the dollar this year. That has increased the cost of Europe’s imports, another driver of inflation.

ports from the United States to Europe to China.

“Everyone following the economic situation right now, including central banks, we do not have a clear answer on how to deal with this situation,” said Kjersti Haugland, chief economist at DNB Markets, an investment bank in Norway. “You have a lot of things going on at the same time.”

The most profound danger is bearing down on poor and middle-income countries, especially those grappling with large debt burdens, like Pakistan, Ghana and El Salvador.

As central banks have tightened credit in wealthy nations, they have spurred investors to abandon developing countries, where risks are greater, instead taking refuge in rock-solid assets like U.S. and German government bonds, now paying slightly higher rates of interest.

This exodus of cash has increased borrowing costs for countries from sub-Saharan Africa to South Asia. Their governments face pressure to cut spending as they send debt payments to creditors in New York, London and Beijing — even as poverty increases.

U.N. World Food Program declared this month.

Among the biggest variables that will determine what comes next is the one that started all the trouble — the pandemic.

The return of colder weather in northern countries could bring another wave of contagion, especially given the lopsided distribution of Covid vaccines, which has left much of humanity vulnerable, risking the emergence of new variants.

So long as Covid-19 remains a threat, it will discourage some people from working in offices and dining in nearby restaurants. It will dissuade some from getting on airplanes, sleeping in hotel rooms, or sitting in theaters.

Since the world was first seized by the public health catastrophe more than two years ago, it has been a truism that the ultimate threat to the economy is the pandemic itself. Even as policymakers now focus on inflation, malnutrition, recession and a war with no end in sight, that observation retains currency.

“We are still struggling with the pandemic,” said Ms. Haugland, the DNB Markets economist. “We cannot afford to just look away from that being a risk factor.”

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Gas Prices Around the World Threaten Livelihoods and Stability

“NO ES SUFICIENTE” — It’s not enough. That was the message protest leaders in Ecuador delivered to the country’s president this past week after he said he would lower the price of both regular gas and diesel by 10 cents in response to riotous demonstrations over soaring fuel and food prices.

The fury and fear over energy prices that have exploded in Ecuador are playing out the world over. In the United States, average gasoline prices, which have jumped to $5 per gallon, are burdening consumers and forcing an excruciating political calculus on President Biden ahead of the midterm congressional elections this fall.

But in many places, the leap in fuel costs has been much more dramatic, and the ensuing misery much more acute.

Britain, it costs $125 to fill the tank of an average family-size car. Hungary is prohibiting motorists from buying more than 50 liters of gas a day at most service stations. Last Tuesday, police in Ghana fired tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators protesting against the economic hardship caused by gas price increases, inflation and a new tax on electronic payments.

largest exporter of oil and gas to global markets, and the retaliatory sanctions that followed have caused gas and oil prices to gallop with an astounding ferocity. The unfolding calamity comes on top of two years of upheaval caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, off-and-on shutdowns and supply chain snarls.

World Bank revised its economic forecast last month, estimating that global growth will slow even more than expected, to 2.9 percent this year, roughly half of what it was in 2021. The bank’s president, David Malpass, warned that “for many countries, recession will be hard to avoid.”

ratcheting down gas deliveries to several European countries.

Across the continent, countries are preparing blueprints for emergency rationing that involve caps on sales, reduced speed limits and lowered thermostats.

As is usually the case with crises, the poorest and most vulnerable will feel the harshest effects. The International Energy Agency warned last month that higher energy prices have meant an additional 90 million people in Asia and Africa do not have access to electricity.

Expensive energy radiates pain, contributing to high food prices, lowering standards of living and exposing millions to hunger. Steeper transportation costs increase the price of every item that is trucked, shipped or flown — whether it’s a shoe, cellphone, soccer ball or prescription drug.

“The simultaneous rise in energy and food prices is a double punch in the gut for the poor in practically every country,” said Eswar Prasad, an economist at Cornell University, “and could have devastating consequences in some corners of the world if it persists for an extended period.”

Group of 7 this past week discussed a price cap on exported Russian oil, a move that is intended to ease the burden of painful inflation on consumers and reduce the export revenue that President Vladimir V. Putin is using to wage war.

Price increases are everywhere. In Laos, gas is now more than $7 per gallon, according to GlobalPetrolPrices.com; in New Zealand, it’s more than $8; in Denmark, it’s more than $9; and in Hong Kong, it’s more than $10 for every gallon.

Leaders of three French energy companies have called for an “immediate, collective and massive” effort to reduce the country’s energy consumption, saying that the combination of shortages and spiking prices could threaten “social cohesion” next winter.

increased coal production to avoid power outages during a blistering heat wave in the northern and central parts of the country and a subsequent rise in demand for air conditioning.

Germany, coal plants that were slated for retirement are being refired to divert gas into storage supplies for the winter.

There is little relief in sight. “We will still see high and volatile energy prices in the years to come,” said Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency.

At this point, the only scenario in which fuel prices go down, Mr. Birol said, is a worldwide recession.

Reporting was contributed by José María León Cabrera from Ecuador, Lynsey Chutel from South Africa, Ben Ezeamalu from Nigeria, Jason Gutierrez from the Philippines, Oscar Lopez from Mexico and Ruth Maclean from Senegal.

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Spain turns to Africa, lobbies NATO, allies over Ukraine-driven migration

  • Spain hosts NATO summit this week
  • Spain likely to push for more shared intelligence, sources
  • Families making dangerous crossings from Africa to Canaries
  • Morocco clamping down on migration after deal with Spain
  • Migrant deaths in Melilla highlight dangers, NGOs say

MADRID/LAS PALMAS, June 27 (Reuters) – Spain is shifting its foreign policy towards Africa while lobbying the EU and NATO for support to address migration from the continent, aggravated by the Ukraine invasion, two senior government officials and two diplomatic sources told Reuters.

Spain will use a NATO summit in Madrid this week to press its case, and is likely to ask for increased intelligence sharing by the alliance including on issues related to migration, the diplomats said.

Even before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, Socialist prime minister Pedro Sanchez had revived a strategy mothballed by previous governments of working with African partners to contain migration and to tackle root causes such as instability and climate change, two officials close to him said.

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That drive has now taken on more urgency, they added.

“We are looking for good relations with all the neighbours around us and jointly managing phenomena that no one, not even the most powerful state on the planet, can deal with on its own,” Spain’s foreign minister Jose Manuel Albares told Reuters. He declined to give details.

Spain, its southern neighbours and EU officials are increasingly alarmed that a hunger crisis worsened by the disruption of Ukraine’s grain exports will trigger chaotic migration from the Sahel and sub-Saharan regions of Africa, with numbers already on the rise this year, the sources said.

On Friday, at least 23 migrants died after clashes with Moroccan security forces when around 2,000 people tried to cross into Spain’s North African enclave of Melilla. Morocco in recent weeks has toughened containment measures following Spain’s new diplomatic approach. read more

Migration by sea to the Canary Islands, another risky but popular entrance point into Europe, jumped 51% between January and May this year compared to last year, Spanish data showed, with the busiest period of the year still to come.

Reuters Graphics

Spain is used as a gateway to Europe by migrants from other continents, including Africa and Latin America. Although it is largely a transit country, previous jumps in arrivals have put its border resources under intense pressure.

Albares said the new strategy, which has seen Sanchez visit nine African countries since last year, was designed to keep migrants from danger.

“We cannot allow the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, to become enormous watery tombs where every year thousands of human beings die when all they aspire to is a better life,” Albares said.

Human rights groups and migration advocates, however, say Spain’s quest to outsource enforcement puts vulnerable people in the hands of security forces in countries with a history of abuses and heavy-handed policing.

The deaths in Morocco “are a tragic symbol of European policies of externalizing the borders of the EU,” groups including the Moroccan Association for Human Rights and Spanish migration charity Walking Borders said in a joint statement on Saturday.

Sanchez’s office did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

INTELLIGENCE SHARING

In a sign of its growing anxiety, Madrid hopes to secure a commitment at the NATO summit to better policing of “hybrid threats,” including the possibility irregular migration is used as a political pressure tactic by hostile actors. It will also lobby NATO to dedicate resources to securing the alliance’s Southern Flank. read more

Madrid will ask NATO for “allied intelligence sharing,” including on issues related to migration, a senior Spanish diplomatic source and an EU diplomat said. This could formalise and expand on existing intelligence cooperation.

At the summit, NATO will reinforce cooperation efforts with southern countries and agree a package for Mauritania to help “the fight against terrorism, border control and strengthening its defence and security,” NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg told newspaper El Pais at the weekend.

The expanded NATO presence could see Mauritania, which works closely with Spain, help coordinate with other countries in the Sahel region, said Felix Arteaga, senior defence analyst with Madrid’s Elcano Institute, a think tank.

Foreign Minister Albares declined to give details on how NATO could expand operations in Africa.

NATO sources and academics signal that Spain’s proposals will face resistance amid conflicting needs from countries such as Russia’s vulnerable neighbours in the Baltic States. read more

Spain says the growing influence of Russia in unstable countries including the Central African Republic and Sahel nation Mali risks fuelling insecurity to the south of Europe. read more

Citing the presence of Russian military contractors in Mali, the blockade of grains exports from Ukraine and Moscow ally Belarus’ policy last year of allowing migrants into the EU, Madrid says President Vladmir Putin could use migration and hunger as part of his war effort.

“Putin wants to use food crisis to orchestrate a repeat of migration crisis of the magnitude we have seen in 2015-16 to destabilise the EU,” one European Union official told Reuters.

Moscow denies responsibility for the food crisis, blaming Western sanctions that limit its own exports of grains for a jump in global prices.

Russia’s foreign ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

FUNDING FOR THE SAHEL

In recent weeks, Sanchez has held a flurry of bilateral meetings with heads of state and officials from Nigeria, Morocco and Mauritania to discuss economic cooperation, human trafficking, capacity building for controlling borders and the fight against terrorism.

In June, the government sent to parliament a new development bill to channel funding to the Sahel. The legislation would mark a significant expansion of existing funding for migration control to eight African countries.

Italy too has sought to enlist support, with the government earlier hosting a meeting of southern European nations to push for a post-Ukraine migration policy that distributes arrival numbers more evenly throughout Europe. read more

People are already on the move. Data from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) shows departures from the Sahelian nation of Niger in the first four months of this year have risen by 45%, and from neighbouring Mali they have doubled.

The rise has not yet been reflected by arrivals to European shores.

A Reuters review of data from European border and coast guard agency Frontex showed migrant numbers arriving in the Canary Islands from the Sahel region of Africa and below it, from Guinea, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, rose in the first five months of 2022 compared to the same period last year.

Whole families are increasingly making the trip to the Atlantic islands in fragile rubber dinghies from as far south as Senegal and Guinea, citing insecurity, climate change and, in more recent cases, high food prices, said Jose Antonio Rodríguez Verona, a Red Cross official in the Canary Islands.

Morocco remains the biggest origin country and transit point for migrants to Spain, with record numbers of Moroccans reaching the Canary Islands in January and February this year.

Those figures however fell by 85% in March and April from the previous two months, according to figures from Frontex, after Spain changed its policy on the disputed Western Sahara to align with Morocco’s stance. Albares has attributed the drop directly to the change of policy.

Reuters Graphics

“I would like to thank the extraordinary cooperation we have with the Kingdom of Morocco,” Spanish Prime Minister Sanchez said on Saturday, after the deaths in Melilla, which he blamed on human trafficking gangs.

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Reporting by Belen Carreno, Joan Faus and Borja Suarez, additional reporting Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels, Emma Farge in Geneva, Ed McAllister in Dakar, Ahmed El Jechtimi in Rabat, editing by Aislinn Laing and Frank Jack Daniel

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Amid Coups and Covid, Africa Focuses on What’s Most Important: Soccer

YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon — She had watched some of the matches secretly, volume turned down low so that nobody would report her. She had seen the threats, and knew that she could be kidnapped or killed for watching the African soccer tournament that her country, Cameroon, was hosting.

But she was fed up with containing her excitement each time Cameroon scored, so on Wednesday, Ruth, who lives in a region at war where secessionist rebels have forbidden watching the games, secretly traveled to the capital, Yaoundé, to support her team in person.

“I’d love to scream, if it’s possible,” she said on Thursday, after safely reaching Yaoundé, while getting ready for the big game. “I decided to take the risk.”

African soccer is nearing the end of what everyone agrees has been a magnificent month. The 52 games in this year’s much-delayed Africa Cup of Nations tournament have brought some respite for countries going through major political upheaval or war, and those weathering the disruption and hardship wrought by Covid.

coup last week in Burkina Faso, Burkinabe soldiers back home danced with joy. When Senegal then beat Burkina Faso in the semifinal on Wednesday night, Dakar’s streets were filled with cars honking and flags waving. Online, after every match, thousands of people flock to Twitter Spaces to jointly dissect what happened.

a harsh crackdown. Human rights abuses by the military helped fuel a fully-fledged armed struggle by English-speaking fighters known as Amba boys, after Ambazonia, the name they have given their would-be state.

The separatists have warned people there not to watch Afcon, as the soccer tournament is known, and certainly not to support Cameroon. But many anglophones like Ruth — a government worker who asked to be identified by only her first name to protect her from retribution — have defied the risk and have traveled to majority francophone cities to attend matches.

“We may not be a very united nation, but I think this one thing brings us together,” Ruth said, adding that it was common knowledge that even as they threatened, kidnapped and tortured other spectators, the Amba fighters were watching the tournament in their camps.

Afcon is special. Players who are relatively unknown outside their countries’ borders play alongside multimillionaire stars from the world’s most elite teams who take time off to represent their countries, right in the middle of the European season.

overthrew their government.

“It wasn’t easy,” said Sambo Diallo, a fan standing with his arms out in a Yaoundé hotel bursting with fans from Burkina Faso, as a friend painted his entire head, face and torso with his country’s flag. “We weren’t happy, but we had to be brave.”

Despite the anxiety about their families at home, Burkina Faso’s players won that quarterfinal. Still on a high, a green bus full of cheering Burkina Faso fans who had followed their squad around the country rolled into Yaoundé on Wednesday afternoon. Their team was about to meet Senegal in the semis.

Soccer had obviously brought the Senegalese team together, the jewel in its crown one of the biggest stars on the continent, Sadio Mané, who also plays for Liverpool.

eight people died in a stampede. But she got stuck in heavy traffic on her way, and could not make it in time for kickoff. So she ducked into a bar and watched the match there.

Cameroon lost, 3-1, on penalty kicks. “It was still worth it because I could watch with excited fans,” she said.

And she screamed and shouted a lot.

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Inside United Airlines’ Decision to Mandate Coronavirus Vaccines

Scott Kirby, the chief executive of United Airlines, reached a breaking point while vacationing in Croatia this summer: After receiving word that a 57-year-old United pilot had died after contracting the coronavirus, he felt it was time to require all employees to get vaccinated.

He paced for about half an hour and then called two of his top executives. “We concluded enough is enough,” Mr. Kirby said in an interview on Thursday. “People are dying, and we can do something to stop that with United Airlines.”

The company announced its vaccine mandate days later, kicking off a two-month process that ended last Monday. Mr. Kirby’s team had guessed that no more than 70 percent of the airline’s workers were already vaccinated, and the requirement helped convince most of the rest: Nearly all of United’s 67,000 U.S. employees have been vaccinated, in one of the largest and most successful corporate efforts of the kind during the pandemic.

The key to United’s success, even in states where vaccination rates are at or below the national average, like Texas and Florida, was a gradual effort that started with providing incentives and getting buy-in from employee groups, especially unions, which represent a majority of its workers.

praise from President Biden, who weeks later announced that regulators would require all businesses with 100 or more workers to require vaccinations or conduct weekly virus testing. And the company drew scorn from conservatives.

Other mandates are producing results, too. Tyson Foods, which announced its vaccine requirement just days before United but has provided workers more time to comply, said on Thursday that 91 percent of its 120,000 U.S. employees had been vaccinated. Similar policies for health care workers by California and hospitals have also been effective.

charge its unvaccinated employees an additional $200 per month for health insurance.

United had been laying the groundwork for a vaccine mandate for at least a year. The airline already had experience requiring vaccines. It has mandated a yellow fever vaccination for flight crews based at Dulles International Airport, near Washington, because of a route to Ghana, whose government requires it.

In January, at a virtual meeting, Mr. Kirby told employees that he favored a coronavirus vaccine mandate.

Writing letters to families of the employees who had died from the virus was “the worst thing that I believe I will ever do in my career,” he said at the time, according to a transcript. But while requiring vaccination was “the right thing to do,” United would not be able to act alone, he said.

The union representing flight attendants pushed the company to focus first on access and incentives. It argued that many flight attendants couldn’t get vaccinated because they were not yet eligible in certain states.

Mr. Kirby acknowledged that widespread access would be a precondition. The airline and unions worked together to set up clinics for staff in cities where it has hubs like Houston, Chicago and Newark.

was calling on all employers to do so. A mandate would strike workers as unfair and create unnecessary conflict, the flight attendants’ union argued.

“The more people you get to take action on their own, the more you can focus on reaching the remaining people before any knock-down, drag-out scenario,” said Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents more than 23,000 active workers at United.

In May, the pilots reached an agreement that would give them extra pay for getting vaccinated and the flight attendants worked toward an agreement that would give them extra vacation days. Both incentives declined in value over time and typically expired by early July.

vaccinated by Oct. 25 or within five weeks of a vaccine’s formal approval by the Food and Drug Administration, whichever came first. The timing was intended to ensure that the airline had adequate staffing for holiday travel, said Kate Gebo, who heads human resources.

This time, the unions were more resigned.

“For those 92 percent of pilots who wanted to be vaccinated, we captured $45 million in cash incentives,” said Captain Insler, whose union is challenging the decision to fire employees who don’t comply. “For those who did not want to be vaccinated, we were able to hold off a mandate for several months.”

The success of the incentives — about 80 percent of United’s flight attendants were also vaccinated by the time the airline announced its mandate in August — inspired the company to expand them to all employees, offering a full day’s pay to anyone who provided proof of vaccination by Sept. 20.

The company hadn’t surveyed its workers, but estimated that 60 to 70 percent were already vaccinated. Getting the rest there wouldn’t be easy.

Margaret Applegate, 57, a 29-year United employee who works as a services representative in the United Club at San Francisco International Airport, helps illustrate why.

Ms. Applegate normally does not hesitate to get vaccines, noting that her late father was a doctor and that her daughter does research in nutritional science.

Her daughter urged her to get vaccinated, but she remained deeply ambivalent. Friends and co-workers “were feeding me stories about horrible things happening to people with the vaccine,” she said. She worried about the relatively new technology behind the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and whether her heart condition could pose complications, though her cardiologist assured her it wouldn’t.

six employees sued United, arguing that its plans to put exempt employees on temporary leave — unpaid in many circumstances — are discriminatory. United has delayed that plan for at least a few weeks as it fights the suit.

Still, United’s vaccination rate has continued to improve. There was another rush before the deadline to receive the pay incentive and one more before the final Sept. 27 deadline. Toward the end of September, the company said 593 people had failed to comply. By Friday, the number had dropped below 240.

“I did not appreciate the intensity of support for a vaccine mandate that existed, because you hear that loud anti-vax voice a lot more than you hear the people that want it,” Mr. Kirby said. “But there are more of them. And they’re just as intense.”

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