Strategic National Stockpile, the country’s emergency medical reserve, for supplies and efforts to restructure it that began last year. Nearly $7 billion would create an agency meant to research diseases like cancer and diabetes.

Reporting was contributed by Coral Davenport, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Lisa Friedman, Brad Plumer, Christopher Flavelle, Mark Walker, Dana Goldstein, Mark Walker, Noah Weiland, Margot Sanger-Katz, Lara Jakes, Noam Scheiber, Katie Benner and Emily Cochrane.

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How America’s Great Economic Challenge Suddenly Turned 180 Degrees

Container ships stretch far out into the Pacific, waiting days for their turn to unload goods at California ports. Automakers pause production because they can’t get enough of the computer chips that make a modern car work. Long-dormant restaurants finally see a surge of customer demand, but they can’t find enough cooks.

These are all headlines of recent days, and they have one thing in common: They show how America’s great economic challenge has turned 180 degrees in a breathtakingly short time.

Just a few months ago, the nation faced an enormous shortage of demand for goods and services, which threatened to prolong the pandemic-induced downturn long beyond the point at which the virus was contained. The central economic problem of 2021 is looking like the polar opposite. Businesses are beginning to face the challenge of producing adequate supplies of goods and services — whether of lumber or of cold beer — to satiate that resurgent demand.

Huge swaths of the economy shut down last spring and are now being turned back on. But as roughly three million Americans are vaccinated per day and nearly $3 trillion in federal money courses through the economy, it is an open question how long it will take businesses to get up to speed. Their collective success or failure will determine whether this is a year of Goldilocks economic conditions, or a frustrating mix of price spikes and persistent shortages.

idled the factory that makes its popular F-150 trucks, for example. Over all, analysts at IHS Markit forecast one million fewer vehicles will be made in the first quarter of 2021 because of the disruptions. That means American consumers who want to put their new stimulus checks toward a car may face fewer options and have little negotiating leverage on price.

The labor market, meanwhile, presents a paradox. The unemployment rate, at 6 percent, is far above its prepandemic level, and the job market is even worse if you include Americans who say they are no longer looking for work. Yet many employers, especially in restaurants and related service industries, describe a shortage of labor.

research on earlier rounds of expanded benefits, which found that a shortage of job opportunities was a bigger factor in joblessness than people staying on unemployment benefits.

The combination of a surge in demand and disruptions in the economy’s supply has important global dimensions, too. Many businesses rely on imports, including from countries that are far behind the United States in vaccinating their people, and in some cases facing new outbreaks.

Moreover, the backup in container ships at the Port of Los Angeles and some other American ports, especially on the West Coast, shows the world trade system has continued to be stressed by the whipsaw effect of last year’s shutdowns followed by surging demand.

“There are companies that have changed the way they operate from before the pandemic and are more digitally enabled, and reopening is not as big a deal for them,” said James Manyika, a partner at McKinsey Global Institute, the in-house research arm of the giant consultancy. “The problem is those are not the majority of companies, and those other companies will find they are highly dependent on their ecosystems and their supply chains.”

You can’t turn the world economy off, then turn it back on, and expect everything to come back to normal instantly, in other words. The question for 2021 is just how slow that rebooting process turns out to be.

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State Jobless Claims Climb, Showing Continued Stress on Labor Market: Live Updates

filed first-time claims for state jobless benefits last week, an increase of 18,000, the Labor Department said. It was the second consecutive weekly increase after new claims hit a pandemic low.

At the same time, 152,000 new claims were filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program covering freelancers, part-timers and others who do not routinely qualify for state benefits. That was a decline of 85,000.

Neither figure is seasonally adjusted.

Claims rose above one million early in the year but have come down since then, helped by the spread of vaccinations, the easing of restrictions on businesses in many states and the arrival of stimulus funds.

Most individuals received payments of $1,400 in recent weeks as part of the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion relief package, and the funds should bolster consumer spending in the coming months.

On Friday, the government reported that employers added 916,000 jobs in March, twice February’s gain and the most since August. The unemployment rate dipped to 6 percent, the lowest since the pandemic began, with nearly 350,000 people rejoining the labor force.

Still, there is plenty of ground to make up.

Even after March’s job gains, the economy is 8.4 million jobs short of where it was in February 2020. Entire sectors, like travel and leisure, as well as restaurants and bars, are only beginning to recover from the millions of job losses that followed the pandemic’s arrival.

The ballots in the union drive at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., are expected to be counted by hand starting either Thursday afternoon or Friday morning.
Credit…Charity Rachelle for The New York Times

The union seeking to represent workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama said late Wednesday that there were 3,215 ballots cast — or about 55 percent of the roughly 5,800 workers who were eligible to vote.

The ballots are expected to be counted by hand starting either Thursday afternoon or Friday morning in the National Labor Relations Board’s office in Birmingham, according to the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union. Hundreds of ballots are being contested, mostly by Amazon, the union said.

The vote counting will be shown on a videoconference call to a small number of outsiders, including journalists, in addition to representatives from the union and the company.

Union elections are typically held in person, but the labor board determined that the election should be conducted by mail to minimize risks during the pandemic. The ballots were sent to workers in early February and were due at the agency before March 30. Since then, Amazon and the union have had a chance to challenge whether particular worker were eligible to vote.

When the public counting is done, the agency will announce the formal results if the margin of victory for one side is greater than the number of contested ballots.

If the margin is narrower, then it could take two to three weeks for the N.L.R.B. to hold a hearing to sort through the contested ballots and take evidence from both sides on whether they should be counted.

The Baoshan Second Reservoir. Not a single typhoon made landfall during last year’s rainy season.
Credit…An Rong Xu for The New York Times

Officials are calling Taiwan’s drought its worst in more than half a century. And it is exposing the enormous challenges involved in hosting the island’s semiconductor industry, which is an increasingly indispensable node in the global supply chains for smartphones, cars and other keystones of modern life.

Chip makers use lots of water to clean their factories and wafers, the thin slices of silicon that make up the basis of the chips, Raymond Zhong and Amy Chang Chien report for The New York Times. In 2019, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company’s facilities in Hsinchu consumed 63,000 tons of water a day, according to the company, or more than 10 percent of the supply from two local reservoirs.

In recent months, the government has:

But the most sweeping measure has been the halt on irrigation, which affects 183,000 acres of farmland, around a fifth of Taiwan’s irrigated land.

The Taiwanese public appears to have decided that rice farming is less important, both for the island and the world, than semiconductors. The government is subsidizing growers for the lost income. But Chuang Cheng-deng, 55, worries that the thwarted harvest will drive customers to seek out other suppliers, which could mean years of depressed earnings.

The Ikea store in Franconville, France, where employees were monitored, documents showed.
Credit…Elliott Verdier for The New York Times

Prosecutors are accusing the French arm of Ikea, the Swedish home furnishings giant, and some of its former executives of engineering a “system of espionage” from 2009 to 2012, in a criminal trial that has riveted public attention in France.

The alleged snooping was used to investigate employees and union organizers, check up on workers on medical leave and size up customers seeking refunds for botched orders, Liz Alderman reports for The New York Times. A former military operative was hired to execute some of the more clandestine operations.

In all, 15 people are charged. A verdict from a panel of judges is scheduled for June 15.

The case stoked outrage in 2012 after the emails were leaked to the French news media, and Ikea promptly fired several executives in its French unit, including its chief executive. There is no evidence that similar surveillance happened in any of the other 52 countries where the global retailer hones a fresh-faced image of stylish thriftiness served with Swedish meatballs.

Victims’ lawyers described a methodic operation that ran along two tracks: one involving background and criminal checks of job candidates and employees without their knowledge, and another targeting union leaders and members.

Ikea’s lawyer, Emmanuel Daoud, denied that systemwide surveillance had been carried out at Ikea’s stores in France. He argued that any privacy violations had been the work of a single person, Jean-François Paris, the French unit’s head of risk management.

Emails and receipts showed that Mr. Paris handed much of the legwork to Jean-Pierre Fourès, who surveilled hundreds of job applicants, gleaning information from social media and other sources to speed vetting and hiring. He also did background checks on unsuspecting customers who tangled with Ikea over big refunds. He insisted that he had never broken the law in gathering background material.

The surveillance encompassed career workers. In one case, Mr. Fourès was hired to investigate whether Ikea France’s deputy director of communications and merchandising, who was on a yearlong sick leave recovering from hepatitis C, had faked the severity of her illness when managers learned she had traveled to Morocco.

A Carnival cruise ship docked last year in Long Beach, Calif. The cruise line has threatened to move its ships outside of U.S. ports.
Credit…Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
A “help wanted” sign at a Home Depot in Mount Prospect, Ill. Confidence about hiring in the U.S. economy is growing.
Credit…Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

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In Bid to Boost Its Profile, ISIS Turns to Africa’s Militants

In some places like northeast Nigeria, the Islamic State effectively controls its local affiliate, the Islamic State in West Africa, and has provided it with trainers, expertise and financing, according to research by the International Crisis Group. But researchers say the Islamic State maintains much looser ties to other militant groups like the insurgency in Mozambique, which remains a largely homegrown movement born of local grievances.

For decades there, impoverished locals had watched as elites in the capital plundered the resource-rich region of Cabo Delgado, along the Indian Ocean, which has served as a hub for illegal timber as well as drug and ivory smuggling.

Then in 2009, one of the world’s largest known ruby deposits was discovered in the province, and two years later, oil companies uncovered a natural gas deposit worth tens of billions of dollars. In a sudden — and often violent — stroke, speculators flocked to the area, locals were forced off their land and some small-scale miners were beaten and killed.

By the time the nascent insurgency launched its first attacks in 2017, targeting police stations and local government leaders, it had widespread appeal among petty traders at the ports and disenchanted youths, local researchers say.

The violent crackdown from the Mozambican military, which was implicated in serious abuses against civilians, may have also helped the insurgency — known locally as Al-Sunna wa Jama’a — gain more traction with locals.

But over the past year, the nature of the war has changed. The militant group has destroyed entire towns, displacing 670,000 people, killing at least 2,000 civilians and kidnapping scores of others, according to human rights and humanitarian organizations, and the U.S. State Department.

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Austin, Tucson and Portland Are on the Fast Track to Recovery

As vaccination rates increase and businesses start to reopen, cities across the country are cautiously moving forward with economic recovery plans to coax workers back into offices and revive real estate markets pummeled by the pandemic.

Some midsize cities — like Austin, Texas; Boise, Idaho; and Portland, Ore. — may be poised to rebound faster than others because they have developed strong relationships with their local economic development groups. These partnerships have established comeback plans that incorporate a number of common goals, like access to affordable loans, relief for small businesses and a focus on downtown areas.

The partnerships are also encouraging investments in infrastructure as lures for new business activity. Last Wednesday, President Biden announced a $2 trillion infrastructure plan to modernize the nation’s bridges, roads, public transportation, railways, ports and airports.

“Recovery plans create an agenda for rebuilding the metropolitan area,” said Richard Florida, professor at the University of Toronto, who helped prepare a plan for northwest Arkansas.

Google, Microsoft, Target and Twitter about remote work, and some cities could see less office construction activity.

These challenges are not limited to midsize cities. Larger metropolitan areas like Los Angeles and New York are certainly in distress, but they have shown the capacity in the past to rebound from calamity. In San Francisco, municipal authorities said that there was no way to predict postpandemic construction activity but that expectations were high.

“This isn’t the first recession here,” said Ted Egan, San Francisco’s chief economist. “We’re expecting people to come back to the office.”

But the cities that have a strong alliance with business development agencies are expected to recuperate faster.

For instance, the Downtown Austin Alliance, a business development group, is convening focus groups and workshops, and conducting interviews and surveys to stir fresh interest in its downtown office market. Before the pandemic, 11 buildings encompassing roughly 3.5 million square feet were under construction, nearly half of all downtown office space.

Boise established a 16-member Economic Recovery Task Force made up of city officials, academics and executives of professional organizations. In September, it issued recommendations to “enhance economic resilience and agility.”

And the Greater Portland Economic Development District formed a partnership with the Metro Regional Government to prepare a plan to recover from the economic shock of the pandemic, which wiped out 140,000 jobs and shuttered 30 percent of the region’s small businesses. Among their recommendations is to direct funds and technical assistance to small businesses through local Community Development Financial Institutions, part of an affordable-lending program from the Treasury Department.

Some cities are already seeing success. A year ago, Boston abruptly suspended construction for nine weeks in an effort to halt the spread of the coronavirus. During the moratorium, the Boston Planning and Development Agency prepared a recovery plan that focused on reviewing permit decisions for major projects remotely. With its 250-member staff working from home, and in some cases outfitted with new software and digital equipment, the planning agency held 220 virtual public meetings and digitally reviewed architectural plans and land-use proposals.

“We identified a methodology to conduct our reviews and resume public participation,” said Brian P. Golden, the agency’s director. “Honestly, it worked better than we could reasonably have expected.”

The city approved 55 significant development projects last year encompassing 15.8 million square feet and valued at $8.5 billion, the most in Boston’s history. The largest was $5 billion Suffolk Downs, a 10-million-square-foot, mixed-use development with 10,000 housing units rising on a shuttered horse-racing track.

Tucson is also intent on resuming construction. Along with identifying sites for industrial development, the Sun Corridor recovery plan calls for resuscitating the city’s downtown.

The pandemic closed 85 downtown restaurants, eliminated 10,000 travel and tourism jobs and cut revenue in the sector by $1 billion. The antidote is to persuade city and county leaders to make loans and grants available to small businesses tied to the tourism industry, the focus of commercial space in central Tucson.

Mayor Regina Romero said the city was investing $5 million — $2 million more than last year — in the city’s tourism marketing group. Tucson also distributed $9 million from the federal relief legislation passed in March 2020 in grants ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 to small businesses, many of them in tourism.

“We’re working together as a region,” Ms. Romero said. “That’s one of the most important steps that we can take for the recovery.”

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Democrats Push Biden to Take Harder Line on Saudi Arabia

In addition to advancing the travel ban by Mr. Kim and Mr. Malinowski, the Foreign Affairs Committee voted unanimously to require American intelligence officials to release a report on the role that commercial entities controlled by the crown prince — such as shell companies or airlines — played in Mr. Khashoggi’s murder. The amendment, led by Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, sets up a process to eventually impose sanctions on those organizations under the Global Magnitsky Act.

Lawmakers have also become increasingly concerned with the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, as the nation faces rising rates of famine that aid groups warn are likely to rise, after an air and sea blockade by the Saudi-led coalition on Houthi-controlled territory has restricted imports of vital goods.

As part of cease-fire negotiations, Saudi officials offered last month to reopen the airport in Sana, the Yemeni capital, and allow fuel and food to flow through a major Yemeni seaport, but a spokesman for the Houthis said that they would not agree to discuss a cease-fire until Saudi Arabia first lifted its blockade.

Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee were shaken after a closed-door briefing they received late last month from David Beasley, the executive director of the United Nation’s World Food Programme and a former Republican governor. Mr. Beasley, who had just returned from a trip to Yemen, painted a dire situation of mass starvation and hospitals without fuel, and impressed upon lawmakers the urgency of lifting the blockade “immediately,” according to two officials who attended.

“Ending U.S. support for Saudi-led offensive operations in Yemen alone isn’t enough if we allow the blockade to continue,” said Representative Debbie Dingell, Democrat of Michigan, who led the letter to the Biden administration. “This blockade is causing immense suffering and starvation among Yemeni children and families, and it needs to be lifted now.”

But pushing the administration to pressure the Saudis to do so may be an uphill battle, according to Peter Salisbury, a Yemen analyst at the International Crisis Group, who said in an interview that control of the ports amounted to “very important pieces of leverage in the negotiations from the Saudi perspective.”

“When you look at it from the perspective of the administration, they are trying to deal with these things through existing negotiation mechanisms,” Mr. Salisbury said. “On Yemen, and in many other cases, there is no profoundly simple way of ending the war.”

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Global Brands Find It Hard to Untangle Themselves From Xinjiang Cotton

Faced with accusations that it was profiting from the forced labor of Uyghur people in the Chinese territory of Xinjiang, the H&M Group — the world’s second-largest clothing retailer — promised last year to stop buying cotton from the region.

But last month, H&M confronted a new outcry, this time from Chinese consumers who seized on the company’s renouncement of the cotton as an attack on China. Social media filled with angry demands for a boycott, urged on by the government. Global brands like H&M risked alienating a country of 1.4 billion people.

The furor underscored how international clothing brands relying on Chinese materials and factories now face the mother of all conundrums — a conflict vastly more complex than their now-familiar reputational crises over exploitative working conditions in poor countries.

ban on imports. Labor activists will charge them with complicity in the grotesque repression of the Uyghurs.

Myanmar and Bangladesh, where cheap costs of production reflect alarming safety conditions.

genocide. As many as a million Uyghurs have been herded into detention camps, and deployed as forced labor.

Uzbekistan.

As China has transformed itself from an impoverished country into the world’s second-largest economy, it has leaned on the textile and apparel industries. China has courted foreign companies with the promise of low-wage workers operating free from the intrusions of unions.

regional government said last year.

statement reported by Reuters.

That assertion flew in the face of a growing body of literature, including a recent statement from the United Nations Human Rights Council expressing “serious concerns” about reports of forced labor.

The Better Cotton Initiative declined a request for an interview to discuss how it had come to its conclusion.

“We are a not-for-profit organization with a small team,” the initiative’s communications manager, Joe Woodruff, said in an email.

The body’s membership includes some of the world’s largest, most profitable clothing manufacturers and retailers — among them Inditex, the Spanish conglomerate that owns Zara, and Nike, whose sales last year exceeded $37 billion.

Trump administration furthered the trend by pressuring American multinational companies to abandon China.

“All of the economic forces that pushed this production to China are really no longer at work,” said Pietra Rivoli, a trade expert at Georgetown University in Washington.

Still, China retains attributes not easily replicated — the world’s largest ports, plus a cluster of related industries, from chemicals to plastics.

Cambodia in response to its government’s harsh crackdown on dissent.

Some global brands are seeking Beijing’s permission to import more cotton into China from the United States and Australia. They could employ that cotton to make products destined for Europe and North America, while using the Xinjiang crop for the Chinese market.

Yet that approach may leave the apparel companies exposed to the same risks they face now.

“If the brand is labeled as ‘They are still using forced labor, but they are just using it for the Chinese market,’ is this going to suffice?” said Ms. Collinson, the industry lobbyist.

Last week, H&M issued a new communication, beseeching Chinese consumers to return. “We are working together with our colleagues in China to do everything we can to manage the current challenges,” said the statement, which did not mention Xinjiang. “China is a very important market to us.”

Those words appear to have satisfied no one — not the human rights organizations skeptical of claims that apparel companies have severed links to Xinjiang; not Chinese consumers angry over a perceived national indignity.

On Chinese social media, criticism of H&M remained fierce.

“For you, China is still an important market,” one post declared. “But for China, you are just an unnecessary brand.”

Joy Dong, Liu Yi and Chris Buckley contributed.

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C.D.C. Issues New Guidance for Cruise Lines

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued long-awaited technical guidance for cruise lines on Friday, bringing them one step closer to sailing again in United States waters.

While some cruise lines operating in Europe have been requiring all passengers to be vaccinated, the C.D.C. did not go that far. Vaccination will be critical in the safe resumption of cruising, the agency said, and it recommended that all eligible port personnel, crew and passengers get a Covid-19 vaccine as soon as one becomes available to them.

By making vaccinations a recommendation instead of a requirement, the C.D.C. has avoided conflict with Florida, one of the cruise industry’s biggest bases of operations, which has banned businesses from requiring customers to show proof of vaccinations.

Cruise ships in the U.S. have been docked for over a year because of the pandemic and can only restart operations by following the C.D.C.’s Framework for Conditional Sailing Order, issued in October to ensure that cruise ships build the onboard infrastructure needed to mitigate the risks of the coronavirus.

Norwegian Cruise Line, one of the industry’s biggest operators, submitted a letter to the C.D.C. on Monday outlining its plan to resume cruises from U.S. ports in July, which included mandatory vaccination of all guests and crew. The company said that its vaccination requirement and multilayered health and safety protocols exceeded the agency’s Conditional Sailing Order requirements.

But in a statement released on Monday, the Cruise Lines International Association, the industry’s trade group, called the guidelines “so burdensome and ambiguous that no clear path forward or timetable can be discerned.”

The group called on the C.D.C. to lift its hold on cruises and allow a phased resumption of U.S. sailings starting in July. The group “urges the administration to consider the ample evidence that supports lifting the C.S.O. this month to allow for the planning of a controlled return to service this summer,” the statement said.

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Seven Infrastructure Problems in Urgent Need of Fixing

Engineers say that when infrastructure works, most people do not even think about it. But they recognize it when they turn on a faucet and water does not come out, when they see levees eroding or when they inch through traffic, the driver’s awareness of the highway growing mile after creeping mile.

President Biden has announced an ambitious $2 trillion infrastructure plan that would pump huge sums of money into improving the nation’s bridges, roads, public transportation, railways, ports and airports.

The plan faces opposition from Republicans and business groups, who point to the enormous cost and the higher corporate taxes that Mr. Biden has proposed to pay for it.

Still, leaders in both parties have long seen infrastructure as a possible unifying issue. Urban and rural communities, red and blue states, the coasts and the middle of the country: All are confronting weak and faltering infrastructure.

plagued by delays and cancellations, with similar problems affecting railways along the Northeast Corridor.

bridge has remained a source of frustration. Rusty and creaky, it has been listed as “functionally obsolete” in the federal bridge inventory since the 1990s, and it has a history of bottlenecks and crashes.

There is a $2.5 billion plan to fix the bridge and build a new one alongside it, but in Covington, Ky., some have expressed worries about the proposal. The mayor told The Cincinnati Enquirer that it was an “existential threat,” citing the size of the proposed bridge (some traffic would still cross over the old one, as well).

told local reporters at a news conference on Wednesday. “Hopefully somewhere in the bowels of this multitrillion bill, there’s a solution.”

Puerto Rico

a serious earthquake on Jan. 7.

The collapse brought attention to the more than 600 schools on the island that shared a “short column” architectural design, which makes them vulnerable to tremors. Teachers and parents were wary of reopening, and the schools with that design risk remain closed. Children who had gone to them are still learning remotely.

In addition, nearly 60 schools were closed after inspections following the earthquakes showed structural deficiencies. About 25 had “persistent” problems that predated the earthquake and its aftershocks, Puerto Rico’s education secretary told The New York Times last year.

residents went weeks with a boil notice in place.

The water crisis inflamed enduring tensions in Jackson, ones that grip many communities where white residents have fled and tax bases have evaporated. The city has old and broken pipes. It does not have the funding to repair them. City officials estimated that modernizing Jackson’s water infrastructure could cost $2 billion.

The storm also caused power failures for millions of people across Texas, which has prompted lawmakers there to weigh an overhaul of the state’s electric infrastructure. At least 111 people died as a result of the storm, according to state officials, and it also caused widespread property damage and left some residents to face huge electric bills.

conclusions were stark: A historic flooding event had caught up with years of underfunding and neglect.

The country has roughly 91,000 dams, a majority of which are more than 50 years old, and many are an exceptional rainfall away from potential disaster. As dams have aged, the weather has grown more severe, rendering old building standards outdated and creating conditions that few considered when many of the dams were built.

Residential development has also steadily spread into once rural areas that lie downstream from the weakening infrastructure. According to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials, about 15,600 dams in the country would most likely cause death and extensive property damage if they failed. Of those, more than 2,330 are considered deficient, the group said.

is not likely to let up soon, given new weather patterns driven by climate change. And some of the officials whose towns and cities were most affected by the 2019 floods are adamant: Simply refurbishing levees is not going to work anymore.

“Levees aren’t going to do it,” said Colin Wellenkamp, the executive director of Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative, an association of 100 mayors along the Mississippi River. His group presented a plan to the White House last month detailing a “systemic solution” to flooding. It includes replacing wetlands, reconnecting backwaters to the main river and opening up areas for natural flooding.

A plan that simply replaces infrastructure, rather than rethinking what it encompasses, will be ineffective and ultimately unaffordable, Mr. Wellenkamp said. He is not sure whether his group’s proposals have been folded into the Biden plan. But he sees little choice.

“This is a losing game unless we incorporate other, larger solutions,” he said.

Campbell Robertson and Frances Robles contributed reporting.

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Italy Bans Cruise Liners From Venetian Lagoon, With a Catch

ROME — The coronavirus pandemic has kept most cruise ships docked. But the Italian government ruled this week that even when voyages resume, gigantic cruisers will no longer be permitted to pass Venice’s St. Mark’s Square and must find berthing outside its fragile lagoon.

Citing the need to protect the “artistic, cultural and environmental heritage of Venice,” the Italian cabinet passed a decree late Wednesday calling for “urgent provisions” to detour cruise activities and freight traffic. The government mandated that Venice’s port authority issue a public consultation — described as a “call for ideas” — to find alternative ports to handle large container ships and cruise ships over 40,000 tons and planned to build a terminal outside the lagoon.

Dario Franceschini, Italy’s culture minister, praised the decision on Thursday, citing the shock of visitors to Venice upon seeing cruise ships “hundreds of meters long and as tall as apartment buildings,” passing in front of St. Mark’s Square. He said the government’s decision had been influenced by UNESCO, the cultural protection agency of the United Nations, which had long called on Italy to reconcile the balancing of lagoon preservation with the economics of cruise and freight activity.

The government’s decision was welcomed by environmental associations that have been warning about the havoc that large ships have been wreaking on the Venetian lagoon as they make their way down the Giudecca Canal to dock at the city’s main passenger canal.

Facebook page. After years of protests, marches, initiatives and trials against committee members, the government had sided with the voices of the city: “Big ships are not compatible with the Venetian Lagoon,” the committee wrote.

June 2019 accident when a cruise liner crashed into a smaller tour ship and a wharf on the Giudecca Canal.

But even as environmentalists said they felt vindicated by the government’s decision, they expressed concerns about the government’s plans to temporarily detour cruise ships to the port of Marghera, the industrial hub on the lagoon, until the new mooring station outside the lagoon is built.

“This is the first time that a government has issued a formal decree banning ships from the lagoon, and this is without doubt enormously positive,” said Tommaso Cacciari, a spokesman for the No Big Ships Committee.

“But then the government messes up immediately after,” he said, because “it speaks of temporary solutions in Marghera.”

Mr. Cacciari said such solutions could end up lasting years and that a terminal in Marghera would not be feasible because of logistical and environmental concerns.

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