Coronavirus, Italy’s Economy, Earth Day: Your Wednesday Briefing

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Good morning.

We’re covering President Trump ordering a halt on green cards, Italy’s south facing economic carnage and Earth Day turning 50.

Mr. Trump backed away from suspending guest worker programs after business groups were angered at the threat of losing foreign labor. Justice Department lawyers are still studying the legality of the president’s order.

Context: Mr. Trump’s denigration of immigrants was the centerpiece of his 2016 presidential campaign. As he seeks re-election, the president has continued to stoke anti-immigrant sentiment to energize supporters.

A national lockdown has kept the deadly virus, which first exploded in the wealthy north, from ravaging the south. But fear about economic ruin is widespread, with some people unable to buy food or pay rent.

Officials are concerned that organized crime is exploiting the crisis by stepping in to provide loans. Off-the-books workers, ineligible for government benefits, have been hit hard.

“We are really headed toward total desperation,” said one woman who relies on donations of flour to feed her daughters.

Details: Unemployment in the south was already at 18 percent and more than 3.5 million workers in Italy operate off the books — 12 percent of the country’s G.D.P.

A review of mortality rates in 11 countries shows that far more people died in the past month than in previous years, including those who died from other illnesses and could not seek medical care.

In Paris, more than twice the usual number of people have died each day. In New York City, the number is four times the typical death toll.

But what’s most needed is tackling climate change, says one former fire commissioner. “It’s a bit like going to a gas fire and putting out all the houses and burning cars around it but not turning off the gas.”

Today is Earth Day, the annual event established as a way to raise awareness about the state of our planet. John Schwartz, one of our reporters covering climate change, spoke about what Earth Day means five decades later.

In broad terms, what has changed since 1970?

The air over the U.S. is much cleaner, and so is the water we drink in most parts of the country. We don’t use DDT or asbestos. But other threats have arisen. The biggest of those — the issue that wasn’t really on the radar for most people in 1970 — is climate change. Scientific evidence has grown and scientific consensus has gelled, and so now we recognize that there are threats that are more fundamental, and ultimately more harmful, than we ever knew 50 years ago.

With the coronavirus crisis dominating our lives, is Earth Day relegated to a second-tier event this year?

It’s anything but second-tier, but it’s virtual. You won’t have millions marching in the streets, but there are activities all around the world. Young climate strikers are speaking out. The modern-day equivalents of the 1970 “teach-ins” are happening online.

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