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Coronavirus Pandemic: Live World Updates

2020-05-29 14:21:01

At a protest near Beijing’s representative office in Hong Kong last week, some demonstrators tried to obey virus-related rules that ban public gatherings of more than eight people — by marching in bands of eight. One of them, the pro-democracy district councilor Lo Kin-hei, said on Twitter that he had been fined by the police anyway.

Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing government has extended the ban on large gatherings until June 4, the day of an annual candlelight vigil to commemorate the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989 is usually held at a local park. Protest organizers, who say that the timing is no coincidence, have called on residents to light candles across the city instead of gathering.

This week in Minneapolis, demonstrators wore face coverings, and some had hand sanitizer. Still, the group as a whole seemed to send a message that their desire for justice had outweighed any potential concerns about the virus.

Under scrutiny for weeks over a coronavirus death toll so low that Russian officials hailed it as a “miracle,” Moscow health authorities now say they have “improved” their count for April and found that more than twice as many people died as initially reported.

The recalculation, announced by the city’s municipal health department, followed heated debate over the accuracy of Russian data. But, even with its official April death count now more than doubled, Moscow still has a far lower coronavirus mortality rate than other major cities.

The Moscow health department said that, under a new counting methodology that includes fatal diseases accelerated by the coronavirus as a “catalyst” but not necessarily caused by it, 1,561 people with the coronavirus had died in the capital in April, not 639 as reported earlier. The increase, the department said, means that Moscow had a mortality rate in April of 2.8 percent, double that of the previous counting system, but still “undeniably lower” than the 10 percent it said had been recorded in New York and 23 percent in London.

Many demographers in Russia have pointed out that coronavirus mortality data depends on the level of testing, which Russia has done more aggressively than some other countries, performing 10 million tests nationwide. The more people are confirmed as having the virus, the lower the mortality rate will appear to be.

The data for April also gives an incomplete picture, as the outbreak hit Moscow hard only in the middle of the month, meaning that mortality figures for May will provide a clearer view of Russia’s success. Moscow health officials warned this week that deaths could rise sharply this month.

Clad in masks, the waiters were nervous. How would the diners see their smiles?

The sommelier wondered: How would he smell the wine?

The head chef worried: How ready was the new menu? Was the cold pea soup too salty? The ice cream too sweet?

Pauly Saal, one of Berlin’s most-lauded restaurants, was minutes from reopening. Staff members were glad to be back after a two-month shutdown — “a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel,” said one waiter, Dennis Rohde.

But they were anxious as well as excited. The authorities’ sudden decision to allow restaurants to reopen had left them with only 24 hours to perfect a radical revision of their working practice.

And amid a profound economic crisis, there was also a more existential question: With no tourists in the city, was there still a market for Michelin-starred gastronomy?

“It’s a completely different style,” said the restaurant’s longest-serving waiter, Michael Winterstein, who joined at its founding in 2012.

“And we have to make that work,” added Mr. Winterstein, once a professional composer, “without it looking like a medical station in a hospital.”

On Friday, Baghdad was almost completely still. Traffic had been halted throughout the city and stay-at-home orders were enforced by neighborhood blockades. All travel between Iraqi provinces was stopped for a second time in response to the country’s mounting awareness of the spread of the coronavirus.

On Thursday, the order came to again shut Sadr City, the poorest and most crowded area of Baghdad, and the one with the most coronavirus infections, to traffic. Two hours later, the police and the army stopped almost all movement in the rest of the city.

Stay-at-home orders and blockades have hit poorer communities the hardest. In Sadr City, the desperation was palpable. Motley collections of vehicles that power the slum’s economy converged on one intersection after another, trying to find a way out. But the army and the police were unyielding.

Tuk-tuks, cars, trucks piled high with watermelon, and horse-drawn carts loaded with cooking gas canisters were turned around. Inside homes, where extended families often live in two small rooms and no one wears masks or gloves, there was a feeling of despair.

One resident, Um Teeba, said she and her husband believed that their faith would keep them safe, but she is a nurse at Sadr City Hospital, where there is only limited personal protective equipment for the staff.

She looked uneasily at her 10-year-old daughter, who ran into the courtyard to sneeze.

“It seems we are being shut in with people who are sick,” she said. “So then of course we will get sick too.”

The experts who wrote the Lancet also criticized the study’s methodology and the authors’ refusal to disclose information on the hospitals that contributed their data, or even to name the countries where they were located. The company that owns the database is Surgisphere.

“Data from Africa indicate that nearly 25 percent of all Covid-19 cases and 40 percent of all deaths in the continent occurred in Surgisphere-associated hospitals which had sophisticated electronic patient data recording,” the scientists wrote. “Both the numbers of cases and deaths, and the detailed data collection, seem unlikely.”

A spokeswoman for The Lancet, Emily Head, said in an email that the journal had received numerous inquiries about the paper, and had referred the questions to the authors. “We will provide further updates as necessary,” she said.

A statement released by Dr. Sapan S. Desai, the owner of Surgisphere and one of the paper’s authors, said the database is an aggregation of the anonymous electronic health records of hospitals that are customers of QuartzClinical, a machine learning and analytics company, and that contractual agreements with the hospitals prohibit the sharing of patient-level data, though it is available to qualified scientists for research purposes.

“Our strong privacy standards are a major reason that hospitals trust Surgisphere and we have been able to collect data from over 1,200 institutions across 46 countries,” the statement said.

Pinuccia Ciancalloni, 59, who was taking her daily walk through the park on Tuesday, pointed at the group with dread. To her, the expressions of young love and healthy sociability amounted to a profound threat.

“The problem is with young people,” she said.

Italy, which has the highest median age among its population in Europe, has long agonized over its relative shortage of young people and the energy they bring. (Around 23 percent of the population is above 65, and about 16 percent is between 15 and 30.)

To some, the young are being scapegoated. They say that the vast majority have respected the social-distancing rules.

“Young people are not today’s plague spreaders,” Nicola Zingaretti, the leader of the governing Democratic Party, wrote on Facebook.

Yet even as the pace of new infections quickens — with nearly 700,000 new known cases reported in the last week after the pathogen found greater footholds in Latin America and the Gulf States — many countries are sputtering into reopenings at what experts fear may be the worst time.

Elsewhere in Asia, a major concern is Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most-populous country, where the caseload has doubled since early this month to nearly 25,000. Health experts say even that doubling reflects the limits of testing rather than the true number of infections, and they are bracing for runaway transmission.

Still, the Indonesian government has said that national coronavirus restrictions, already a scattershot effort, must be relaxed to save the economy.

But other countries are already seeing their gradual reopenings as successful. Christian Drosten, Germany’s top virologist, said he believed the country might escape a second wave of coronavirus infections, with cases continuing to diminish even as the lockdown lifts.

“We are really in a good situation right now,” he told the newsmagazine Spiegel in an interview. “It is quite possible that the virus will now leave us alone for quite some time.”

When asked how long, he noted that the virus was not permanently banished, but said that Germany “might be able to avoid a second shutdown.”

According to the Robert Koch Institute, the country’s equivalent of the CDC, Germany’s coronavirus reproduction rate is at 0.61, close to the lowest since the outbreak began.

Thailand could lose as many as 8.4 million jobs this year, many of them in the hard-hit tourism industry, officials said on Thursday, reflecting how much the pandemic has hurt a country that received nearly 40 million visitors last year.

The government hopes to stimulate employment through government spending, including a plan to boost domestic travel starting in July. But it has banned all foreign visitors until at least July because of the coronavirus, and the number of tourists in 2020 is expected to fall dramatically.

The plan to increase domestic tourism in the third quarter could include hotel room subsidies, according to local news reports. “Tourism should be a fast economic stimulator,” the head of the National Economic and Social Development Council, Thosaporn Sirisumphand, told reporters earlier this week. “If the situation improves, we may open for tourists to come in.”

Thailand, the first country outside China to report a case of the virus, has handled the pandemic better than most with measures such as closing schools, limiting business activity and imposing a nighttime curfew. It had 3,065 infections as of Thursday, including 57 deaths, and most new cases are Thais returning from abroad.

But before the virus struck, travel and tourism accounted for more than 20 percent of Thailand’s gross domestic product and employed nearly 16 percent of its work force. The nation’s flagship airline, Thai Airways, which was already suffering financially before it halted international flights in March, is now seeking rehabilitation in bankruptcy court.

It looked like any other Zoom meeting of the coronavirus era: blurry images of people on couches, and many shots so wide that they included more ceiling and wall than people.

But as Denmark’s top soccer league kicked off again on Thursday after an 80-day hiatus, those video feeds were part of a 40-meter-long “virtual grandstand” of spectators.

The screens at Ceres Park stadium displayed a changing selection of 10,000 live feeds from spectators’ homes. As the home team, AGF Aarhus, struggled against Randers — saving face with a last-minute equalizer that ended the match in a 1-1 tie — the fans’ faces alternated between joy and despair.

Mads Wessberg, an AGF supporter who was among the faces in the virtual grandstand, wore the team’s white jersey. Speaking with a local television station from his couch, beer in hand, he said he appreciated the invitation to see the game, but missed the rush he normally got from being in the stadium.

To make up for the lack of spectators in its stadium, AGF Aarhus has taken other measures besides the virtual grandstand. It added canned cheers and stadium noises, for example, plus a team of online moderators to filter out obscene gestures.

After Thursday’s match, the team’s coach, David Nielsen, praised the “somewhat alternative 2020 atmosphere.”

The $1,200 checks sent to most households are long gone, at least for those who needed them most, with little imminent prospect for a second round. The lending program that helped millions of small businesses keep workers on the payroll will wind down if Congress does not extend it.

Here’s what else is happening:

In the months after his mother died from the coronavirus, Veranda Chen searched daily for new distractions. He read Freud and experimented in the kitchen. He joked on WeChat about opening a restaurant. Its signature dish, he said, would be called “remembering past suffering, and thinking of present joy.”

But recently, cooking has lost its appeal. His mother used to ask him to cook for her, but he had said he was too busy applying for graduate school.

“I thought, ‘I’ll focus on getting into my dream school, and then after that, I can put all my time into doing the things they’d always asked me to,’” Mr. Chen, 24, said of his parents.

“Now, there’s no chance.”

Mr. Chen’s mother fell sick when the outbreak was at its height. An overwhelmed hospital turned her away on Feb. 5. She died in an ambulance on the way to another. She was 58.

She and Mr. Chen had been close, though they had often struggled to show it. She had insisted on saving money for his eventual wedding, rather than indulging a trip to the tropical island of Hainan. He considered her old-fashioned and often felt smothered.

After she died, he realized he had so many questions he had wanted to ask her — about her childhood, about his childhood, about how she had seen him change.

Mr. Chen had to learn to grieve in lockdown, when the usual rituals of mourning were impossible. He couldn’t see his friends. His father wasn’t around, either; he had tested positive and was in a hospital.

Mr. Chen turned to Tinder — not for romance but for conversation. “Sometimes, talking to strangers is easier than talking to friends,” he said. “They don’t know anything about your life.”

Now that Mr. Chen and his father are reunited, they, too, are searching for new ways to talk.

They don’t discuss his mother; his father finds it too painful. But Mr. Chen wants to invite his father to go fishing, and to ask him the questions he never asked his mother. He also wants to learn from him how to stir-fry tomatoes and eggs, a traditional dish his parents used to make.

He is most fixated on getting into a psychology program. After his mother’s death, that plan feels more urgent than ever. “I want to use it to ease other people’s suffering,” he said.

Reporting was contributed by Alissa J. Rubin, Andrew Higgins, Emma Bubola, Christopher F. Schuetze, Mike Ives, Elaine Yu, Sarah Mervosh, Megan Specia, Patrick Kingsley, Martin Selsoe Sorensen, Kai Schultz, Sameer Yasir, Vivian Wang, Richard C. Paddock, Roni Caryn Rabin, Jason Gutierrez, Choe Sang-Hun, Jin Wu, Alex Marshall and Jenny Gross.


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