May 21, 2020 3:13 pm
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Categories: Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) NY Times

Here’s what you need to know:

ImageRed Cross paramedics transported a suspected coronavirus patient at a hospital in Mexico City on Wednesday.
Credit…Pedro Pardo/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A million new infections were confirmed in less than two weeks.

More than 5 million people worldwide have contracted the coronavirus, according to data compiled by The New York Times.

The swelling figure is just one measure of the pandemic’s global toll, and its persistent rise — the number passed 4 million less than two weeks ago — reflects both increases in testing and the pathogen’s pernicious spread.

The average number of daily new cases worldwide over the past week — more than 91,000 — is higher than it has ever been, even as the average weekly number of fatalities has been decreasing. All told, more than 329,000 people have died.

The case count has been fueled in part by the still-growing number of infections in the United States, which has the largest number in the world, and far-reaching outbreaks in large countries like Russia and Brazil. Countries in South America, including Chile, Colombia and Peru, are reporting increases in cases, and some nations around the world are seeing their tallies of confirmed infections double every week or two.

Even with the increases, the total numbers of infections and deaths, representing cases in at least 177 countries, are virtually certain to be undercounts because of flawed screenings, political denial and asymptomatic patients who can spread the virus.

Still, there is reason for guarded optimism in some regions. Conditions appear to be improving, or at least stabilizing, in parts of Western Europe and the United States, even as some governments cautiously ease lockdown restrictions.

Denmark, for instance, has taken steps toward normalcy and reported decreasing numbers of new cases. Some of the most devastated countries in Europe, including France, Italy and the United Kingdom, have also reported improving figures.

The grave economic damage of the pandemic and the resulting lockdowns is also coming into focus. On Thursday, the United States reported that another 2.4 million people had filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the country’s nine-week total to more than 38 million. One country after another has declared itself in recession.

But the global restart, such as it is — including in much of the European Union — is a balancing act, as new outbreaks in China attest. The authorities there have resorted to strict lockdown measures in the northeast, mimicking their belated approach in Wuhan, where the pandemic began last year.

The aid group Oxfam, facing economic pressure amid the pandemic, will pull out of 18 countries.

Credit…Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters

The international aid confederation Oxfam will withdraw from 18 countries as a part of a reorganization effort that accelerated because of the pandemic’s economic consequences.

In a statement this week, Oxfam said its finances had been “seriously impacted” during the pandemic and that its affiliates had been canceling fund-raising events, closing shops, ordering furloughs and curbing travel.

“We’ve been planning this for some time but we are now accelerating key decisions in light of the effects of the global pandemic,” Chema Vera, Oxfam’s interim executive director, said in a statement.

The changes, heded, would be “the foundation for our future over the coming decade as the longer-term effects of this devastating pandemic become clearer.”

Under the plan, Oxfam’s footprint will shrink to 48 countries as it “exits its programs over time” in 18 countries, including Afghanistan, Cuba, Haiti, Liberia, Pakistan, Paraguay, Rwanda and Thailand. Nearly a third of its roughly 5,000 program staff members will be affected, along with about 700 partner groups.

As Cyclone Amphan hit India and Bangladesh, fear of contagion prevented some from evacuating.

Credit…Munir Uz Zaman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

More than three million people were whisked from their homes, but many were apprehensive about rushing into packed emergency shelters, where they feared catching the virus. And hundreds of shelters were unavailable because they had been converted into quarantine centers.

But the storm caused less damage than initially feared. The combination of the evacuation effort and the storm weakening as it swirled onto land appears to have spared many lives. Several deaths were reported, but the final toll was still being tallied on Thursday.

In Bangladesh, many have been returning to their villages to assess the devastation caused by the winds.

Mohammed Salah Uddin, 42, said he and 10 others had returned to his village after crisscrossing uprooted trees and electricity wires on the streets. He said that the cyclone shelter he was in was overcrowded and that people did not maintain any social distance. Pictures from other shelters in Bangladesh showed huge crowds of people packed in and few people wearing masks.

“It looked scary,” Mr. Uddin said. “It is better to live in destroyed home than catch the diseases.”

The strongman who rules Chechnya is said to be hospitalized for coronavirus treatment in Moscow.

Credit…Said Tsarnayev/Reuters

Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman ruler of the southern Russian republic of Chechnya, has been hospitalized in Moscow with a suspected coronavirus infection, Russian news agencies reported on Thursday.

Mr. Kadyrov, 43, is one of the most influential figures in Russia. He runs Chechnya — a predominantly Muslim region riven by two bloody wars since the collapse of the Soviet Union — like his personal fief, and he has been accused of brutal human rights abuses against his critics, gay people and others.

Details were sparse about Mr. Kadyrov’s condition. Russia’s two main state-run news agencies, Tass and RIA Novosti, both cited an anonymous source as saying that he was hospitalized in the Russian capital. Tass and the independent Interfax news agency cited a medical source as saying that Mr. Kadyrov had been stricken with a suspected coronavirus infection.

An aide to Mr. Kadyrov told RIA that the leader continued to oversee the response to the virus in Chechnya, which has officially reported 1,026 cases and 11 deaths.

The actual number of deaths could be higher. Russia has reported 317,554 coronavirus cases, the second-highest total in the world, while insisting that it has maintained a mortality rate far below the global average. But overall mortality figures from Moscow suggest a higher total.

Mountainous southern Russia has been one of the worst-hit regions, with hundreds reported dead in Dagestan, a region that borders Chechnya. Mr. Kadyrov was furious in recent days after Chechen medical workers went public about what they said was a lack of protective equipment, insisting that “we have enough of everything.”

Also on Thursday, the United States flew 50 ventilators to Russia as part of a $5.6 million aid effort that President Trump had offered to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir V. Putin. Russia had delivered a planeload of aid to New York last month, a move critics dismissed as a propaganda attempt.

China imposes a Wuhan-style quarantine in its northeast, as a political summit nears.

Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The measures take effect as China prepares for the biggest event on its political calendar, the annual session of the National People’s Congress — a tightly choreographed legislative pageant aimed at conveying the strength of the ruling Communist Party.

The latest outbreak is concentrated in Jilin, a northeastern province of 27 million people near China’s borders with Russia and North Korea. Jilin has reported a relatively small outbreak of about 130 cases and two deaths, and experts there have warned of a potential “big explosion.”

The response reflects fears among China’s leaders over the potential for a fresh wave of infections as factories, schools and restaurants reopen across much of the country.

President Xi Jinping has seized on the pandemic as a chance to redeem the party after early mistakes let infections slip out of control and to rally national pride in the face of international ire over those missteps. That theme is likely to underpin the National People’s Congress, an annual legislative meeting that opens on Friday after a monthslong delay.

Mr. Xi has largely succeeded in rewriting the narrative in China, in part because the disarray in other countries, especially the United States, has given him a reprieve from domestic political pressure.

But keeping up that narrative may be challenging. He must continue to push his agenda while China faces a diplomatic and economic climate as daunting as any since the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.

“If you position yourself as a great helmsman uniquely capable of leading your country, that has a lot of domestic political risk if you fail to handle the job appropriately,” said Carl Minzner, a professor of Chinese law and politics at Fordham University.

Our East Africa correspondent tells us of a Ramadan like no other.

Credit…Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

The call to prayer rang on a recent afternoon from Jamia Mosque, a landmark in downtown Nairobi with green and silver domes and multiple minarets. There should be worshipers converging there during this sacred month of Ramadan, but the mosque’s doors remained shut, its prayer halls empty since closing in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

With no congregation to join, I sat in the car, rolled down the windows and listened to the muezzin’s voice, a mellifluous sound that instantly made me cry.

This is a Ramadan like no other. The pandemic, which in Kenya has infected at least 1,109 people and killed at least 50 others, has given us the gift of loneliness. Isolated under a partial lockdown in Nairobi and a nationwide curfew that stretches from dusk to dawn, millions of Muslims in Kenya and beyond have exchanged sprawling banquets for dining alone and observing the evening taraweeh prayers from home.

I chafe at the imposed restrictions sometimes because, with 21 siblings and 16 nephews and nieces, the iftar meal to break the daily fast has always for me been a bustling family affair. We would start with dates, then gorge on spicy samosas and chicken biryani, pass around my mother’s legendary camel meat, and share cakes and sweet chai.

Many times, particularly when we were young, we would even watch an episode or two of the historical epics or weepy melodramas that are a mainstay of Arab television during Ramadan. But this year, we are getting more than enough drama from real life.

And so we stay physically apart but find unity in the rituals of fasting and feasting. Things might be falling apart, but I have come to find comfort and continuity in the small things: the paneer samosas sent by a friend’s mom, the afternoon runs at a nearby, almost-empty forest, the messages from loved ones checking in from all over the world — and the sound of the azan, the call to prayer, broadcast from the tops of minarets.

A new study suggests that Italy’s outbreak may have begun earlier than first thought.

Credit…Alessandro Grassani for The New York Times

Italy became the first European country to face the coronavirus’s deadly toll when infections exploded near Milan in late February. And a new study indicates that by the time authorities were aware of the outbreak there, the virus was much more widespread than initially believed.

The study, from the Milan Polyclinic Hospital, found that one in 20ult blood donors in the area already had the virus’s antibodies at the time, just days after Italy’s first coronavirus diagnosis on Feb. 20.

In Italy, researchers conducted antibody tests on about 800 blood samples gathered in Milan from Feb. 24 to April 8. They found that 4.6 percent of asymptomatic people who donated their blood in the first week of that period — which coincided with the start of the outbreak — had coronavirus antibodies.

“Our impression,” said Luca Valenti, one of the researchers, “is that the infection started circulating by the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020.”

Although the study does not shed new light on the nature of the virus, it does give a clearer picture of its arrival in Europe. And it could help explain the severity of the death toll in Italy, which is now more than 32,000.

The Palestinian Authority rejects medical aid from the United Arab Emirates that was flown into Israel.

Credit…Israel Airports Authority

The Palestinian Authority has rejected coronavirus aid from the United Arab Emirates that a government-owned Emirati airline flew from the Persian Gulf country to Israel on Tuesday, in what was believed to be the first direct commercial flight between the two countries.

Mai al-Kaila, the Palestinian Authority’s health minister, contended that neither the U.A.E. nor any other party coordinated with the Palestinians about the shipment.

“We can’t accept assistance in that way,” she told reporters on Thursday. “We are a sovereign authority here. There must be direct coordination with us.”

The Etihad Airways flight had appeared to be another indication of the increasing openness between Israel and the U.A.E., which do not maintain formal diplomatic relations, though both view Iran as a regional foe. At least three Israeli ministers have attended events in Emirati cities in the past two years, and Israel is slated to participate in a major world fair in Dubai next year.

The Palestinians have repeatedly expressed their opposition to Israel and the Arab world making moves toward normalizing relations before the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership also has strained relations with the U.A.E., which has played host to Muhammad Dahlan, a top rival and vocal critic of Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.

The aid included 10 ventilators as well as several tons of personal protective equipment, according to a United Nations office that helped arrange for it to be delivered from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv.

As temperatures rise, Britons flock to beaches and parks, and officials worry about the fallout.

Credit…Will Oliver/EPA, via Shutterstock

The British government’s easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions has coincided with the hottest week of the year, and crowds at beaches and parks across the country have led to concerns that they pose a threat to public health.

Downing Street changed its coronavirus campaign slogan last week from “stay at home” to “stay alert.” It also modified lockdown rules in England to allow unlimited outdoor exercise and gave people in Britain the green light to go to the beach.

Steps taken by officials elsewhere in Europe reflected concerns that an abundance of day-trippers could lead to increased transmissions of the virus. In France, the authorities in Brittany shut down beaches in five municipalities, citing “unacceptable behavior” and a failure to abide by social distancing rules, and Dutch towns near the border with Germany urged their neighbors not to come.

Likewise in seaside towns across England, local communities have asked people to stay away because they cannot cope with high volumes of visitors. But the warnings went unheeded in many areas.

Parks across London were also brimming with people who gathered for picnics, sunbathing and exercise. Hyde Park, in central London, looked like a regular warm day midweek, with many people ignoring social distancing measures. The only visible difference was that several people were wearing masks.

In Istanbul under lockdown, baklava makers are essential workers.

Credit…Tara Todras-Whitehill for The New York Times

Carlotta Gall is The Times’s Istanbul bureau chief. She previously covered the aftershocks of the Arab Spring from Tunisia, reported from the Balkans during the war in Kosovo and Serbia, and covered Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Every weekend, for over a month now, Istanbul has been under a strict curfew because of the coronavirus. No one is allowed out, not for exercise or groceries, and the police impose fines. Sometimes, like last weekend and next, the street-emptying lockdown stretches for four days to take in public holidays.

Of course, Istanbul’s curfew could never be a total shutdown. Its residents have lived through multiple military coups, sieges, earthquakes, pestilence and other calamities, and know well that life must go on.

So bakers are exempt from the curfew, because fresh bread is so important for the Turkish table. They shout their wares on the empty street and sell bread from the back of their vans.

When Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, began last month, pastry shops also got an exemption. Turks, it seems, cannot do without their baklava, that heavenly, multilayered, flaky pastry, bound up with nuts and syrup, that is the nation’s favorite sweet.

Journalists were allowed out, too, so I went to visit Karakoy Gulluoglu, the most famous house of baklava, down near a ferry dock.

Murat Gullu, the general manager, whose great-grandfather founded the company in the 19th century, said he had asked the government to allow baklava makers to stay open.

“We eat baklava on all occasions,” he said, “especially in Ramadan, at celebrations and at funerals.”

New Zealand’s leader endorses a four-day workweek.

Credit…Pool photo by Mark Mitchell

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, who has been widely praised for her coronavirus response, may have scored even more points this week when she suggested that employees could have a four-day week in order to move around the country more and bolster the tourism industry.

In a Facebook live post on Monday, Ms. Ardern said that the decision was ultimately between employers and employees, but that it would “certainly help tourism all around the country.”

Sheded that with many people working from home during the pandemic, theded productivity that can result had “encouraged people to think about, if they’re an employer and in a position to do so, to think about whether or not that is something that would work for their workplace.”

“The time has come,” Mike Farman, a Twitter user, wrote in a tweet on Thursday, although others questioned whether switching to a four-day workweek would mean reduced wages and productivity.

Lockdowns around the world have prompted companies, employees and lawmakers to think about work in a different way. Some have begun making temporary decisions more permanent, including Twitter, which has said that it will let employees work from home indefinitely if they want to.

A Tokyo official was caught violating a lockdown — by playing mahjong.

Credit…Kyodo News, via Getty Images

A top Japanese official who ignored the country’s voluntary lockdown to play mahjong with a group of reporters has resigned.

The official, Hiromu Kurokawa, headed Tokyo’s public prosecutor’s office and is believed to be a close ally of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He was already in the nation’s bad graces after Mr. Abe tried to force a change in the retirement age for the prosecutor’s office, a move that was widely seen as an attempt to keep Mr. Kurokawa in power.

Mr. Kurokawa’s lockdown transgression was first reported by the Japanese magazine Shukan Bunshun.

While Japan has no legal mechanism for enforcing its lockdown, Mr. Kurokawa’s decision to ignore an national state of emergency provoked public anger. And it didn’t help that he and the reporters were playing mahjong for money — in a country where gambling is illegal.

Others in the region who have violated pandemic-related restrictions on movement:

Noma of Copenhagen, in a step toward reopening, becomes a burger joint.

Credit…Signe Birck for The New York Times

Denmark’s top chef, René Redzepi, made new Nordic cooking an international sensation, and for nearly two decades has caused surprise, outrage and delight with his rules-breaking kitchen at Noma in Copenhagen.

But his latest menu may be the most shocking of them all: a pared-down selection of just two burgers.

The coronavirus lockdown caused the closure of Noma two months ago, and on Thursday it is reinventing itself as a burger joint in the first step in a gradual return to business.

The new menu is the shortest in the restaurant’s history, with just the two $18 burger options served in the restaurant’s garden. They come with a promise of lots of umami and “a little bit of magic from our fermentation cellar” the restaurant said in a statement.

At the old Noma, tables were sold out months invance. But now the hungry and the curious can “come as you are — there are no reservations.” The usual Noma is due to return to business later this year.

Denmark has been inching back into daily life for a month, but officials said an expected rise in coronavirus-linked hospitalmissions had not materialized.

Models show that earlier lockdowns could have prevented thousands of U.S. deaths.






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Total reported deaths in the

United States on May 3

Estimated deaths on May 3 if social distancing

started one week earlier than it did

New York City

New York City

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

Total reported deaths in the

United States on May 3

Estimated deaths on May 3 if social distancing

started one week earlier than it did

New York City

New York City

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

Total reported deaths in the

United States on May 3

New York City

Los Angeles

Estimated deaths on May 3 if social distancing

started one week earlier than it did

New York City

Los Angeles

Total reported deaths in the

United States on May 3

New York City

Los Angeles

Estimated deaths on May 3 if social distancing

started one week earlier than it did

New York City

Los Angeles

Estimated deaths on May 3 if social distancing

started one week earlier than it did

Total reported deaths in the

United States on May 3

New York City

New York City

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

By Lazaro Gamio·Source: “Differential Effects of Intervention Timing on COVID-19 Spread in the United States,” by Sen Pei, Sasikiran Kandula and Jeffrey Shaman, Columbia University

And if the country had begun locking down cities and limiting social contact on March 1, two weeks earlier than when most people started staying home, a vast majority of the nation’s deaths — about 83 percent — would have been avoided, the researchers estimated.

“It’s a big, big difference,” said Jeffrey Shaman, an epidemiologist at Columbia who led the research team. “That small moment in time, catching it in that growth phase, is incredibly critical in reducing the number of deaths.”


How Earlier Control Measures Could Have Saved Lives





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Number of reported

deaths by May 3

60,000 deaths

Estimated deaths if

social distancing

started …

… one week earlier

than it did in March

Range of

estimates

… two weeks earlier

Number of reported

deaths by May 3

60,000 deaths

Estimated deaths

if social distancing

started …

… one week earlier

than it did in March

Range of

estimates

… two weeks earlier

Number of reported

deaths by May 3

60,000 deaths

Estimated deaths

if social distancing

started …

… one week earlier

than it did in March

… two weeks earlier

Number of reported

deaths by May 3

60,000 deaths

Estimated deaths if

social distancing

started …

… one week earlier

than it did in March

… two weeks earlier

By Weiyi Cai·Source: “Differential Effects of Intervention Timing on COVID-19 Spread in the United States,” by Sen Pei, Sasikiran Kandula and Jeffrey Shaman, Columbia University

The cost of waiting to take action reflects the unforgiving dynamics of an outbreak that swept through U.S. cities in early March. Even small differences in timing would have prevented the worst exponential growth, which by April had subsumed New York City, New Orleans and other major cities, the researchers found.

Reporting was contributed byam Rasgon, Anton Troianovski, Alan Blinder, Karen Zraick, Iliana Magra, Azam Ahmed, Lorraine Allen, Hannah Beech, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Emma Bubola, Chris Buckley, Damien Cave, Ben Dooley, Carlotta Gall, Jeffrey Gettleman, Russell Goldman, Jenny Gross, Jason Gutierrez, Javier C. Hernández, Mike Ives, Hari Kumar, Claire Moses, Steven Lee Myers, Jin Qu, Austin Ramzy, Kai Schultz, Martin Selsoe Sorensen, Megan Specia, Shalini Venugopal Bhagat, Jin Wu, Sameer Yasir, Ceylan Yeginsu and Elaine Yu.

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