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Labor Day demonstrations are reimagined in cities under lockdown.
May 1 is traditionally marked by demonstrations the world over, as employees turn out in force to commemorate International Workers’ Day, also known as Labor Day.
In Athens, hundreds of Greeks wearing masks and gloves and standing six feet apart gathered outside Parliament on Friday, while observing health and social distancing rules that have become second nature to many amid the outbreak.
Scenes captured from above by drones showed participants neatly spaced out across the square, wielding the red, white and blue flags of the labor union PAME, which organized the gathering.
Some of the masks worn by protesters bore the slogan “Even covered mouths have a voice,” and banners proclaimed the union’s concerns about the impact of the pandemic on workers’ rights, already compromised by the country’s decade-long financial crisis.
With each participant standing on a red sticker on the ground, the job of the Greek police, accustomed to quelling heated street protests, was easier than usual.
“There were about 1,500 people,” said Panagiotis Papapetropoulos, a spokesman for the Athens police. “It’s easier to count; you just multiply the squares.”
In Spain, labor unions planned to hold only online events, after courts struck down proposals to gather outdoors, including some that hoped to take advantage of loopholes in the lockdown rules. In the car manufacturing city of Vigo, unions wanted workers to hold a drive-by protest, with one worker at the wheel of each vehicle to respect distancing rules.
But that, too, was deemed unlawful by a court, even though workers were recently allowed to return to factories.
Many events were also moved online in Germany, with unions broadcasting speeches and music online or on local radio stations. But in Berlin, where the authorities have banned gatherings of more than 20 people, an anonymous message was circulating calling for people to assemble in the heart of the Kreuzberg neighborhood on Friday evening. The police have 5,000 officers on the street and a helicopter patrolling the city from the skies.
In France, the national lockdown now in its seventh week has disrupted two of the country’s Labor Day traditions: large union demonstrations and the sale of lilies of the valley in front of shops and on street corners, which people give to family and friends as a symbol of good fortune.
Instead, some unions have asked would-be protesters to post videos and pictures on social media or to bang on pots and pans outside their homes at midday in an act of protest.
And with nonessential stores still shuttered, flower shops have been authorized only to deliver lilies of the valley to customers or let them pick up orders — a big blow for florists, which make millions of euros each May 1 through sales of the white, bell-shaped flowers.
President Emmanuel Macron acknowledged on Friday that this May 1 was “like no other.”
“And yet the spirit of May 1, this spirit of solidarity between workers, has perhaps never been as powerful,” Mr. Macron said in a short video published on social media as he praised workers in hospitals and elsewhere. “It is thanks to work, celebrated on this day, that the nation is holding.”
In China, travelers rush to take advantage of loosened restrictions.
When Zeng Yanqi, a 26-year-old Beijing resident, learned this week that travelers returning to the capital would no longer have to quarantine, she pulled up flight options on her phone. Half an hour later, she had purchased a ticket to visit her parents in Sichuan Province.
After months of lockdown, quarantines and fear, people are rushing to take advantage. Moments after Beijing announced on Thursday that it would lift its quarantine requirements, airline ticket bookings shot up 15 times higher than recent levels, according to Qunar, an online travel service provider. The number of tourists who booked trips in April increased by 300 percent over March, according to Xinhua, the state news agency, citing data from Trip.com, a travel agency.
Roughly 70 percent of the country’s tourist attractions have reopened, and many are offering free entry or other promotions, Luo Shugang, China’s minister of culture, said at a news conference on Thursday.
While encouraging tourism as a means of economic revival, officials reminded travelers that life had not yet returned to normal. Tourist attractions would be limited to 30 percent of their usual capacity, Mr. Luo said, and many would require online reservations. Temperature checks would be widespread. “We are still in the middle of the epidemic control period,” he said.
Still, such warnings could not dampen Ms. Zeng’s spirits. Her parents had immediately rearranged their schedules after hearing of her surprise visit, she said in a phone call from Daxing International Airport in Beijing on Thursday. She had not seen them since October. “Even when I was in college, I didn’t go that long without going home,” she said.
South Africa cautiously ends one of the world’s strictest lockdowns.
South Africa said it would lift a nationwide lockdown on Friday, but continue to implement strict social distancing and face mask rules, as the nation, already under siege from H.I.V., prepares for a new threat from the seasonal flu.
Even with the eased restrictions, masks and social distancing will be mandatory and an overnight curfew will be implemented. Employees must still work from home, and gyms and restaurants will remain closed. Schools will not reopen until June 1.
The country quickly sprung into action in March over fears that its population, heavily affected by H.IV. and AIDS, would be particularly susceptible to the new coronavirus.
Beginning on Friday, miners will return to work underground — a move crucial to the economy — in an industry already overwhelmed by high rates of H.I.V. and tuberculosis infection. More than 13 percent of the South African population is H.I.V. positive, meaning nearly eight million people have compromised immune systems.
With 5,350 confirmed coronavirus cases and just over 100 deaths, officials say the phased reopening is essential to curbing the pandemic in a country with a vulnerable population and poor health system.
The economic toll of fighting Covid-19 also necessitated a $26.16 billion stimulus plan, with money borrowed from the International Monetary Fund, the African Development Bank and others.
An unfamiliar sight since the end of apartheid, tanks carrying soldiers rolled into neighborhoods to assist police with enforcing the lockdown. As in other nations, officers were accused of heavy handedness, with six people killed by police in the first week, many in communities of color. This is also where testing and screening drives, led by volunteers wearing protective gear, have been focused.
“Community transmission is there, we see cases, but it’s not spreading like that wildfire that we had expected and that’s what’s leading to this funny turn in the epidemic and the shape of our curve,” said Professor Salim Abdool Karim, head of the country’s Covid-19 task force, presenting a plateaued infection rate.
Hong Kong deploys extra police officers to prevent expected protests.
The police in Hong Kong deployed thousands of additional officers on Friday after antigovernment activists vowed to return to the streets as the city’s coronavirus outbreak has stabilized.
About 3,000 officers in riot gear were deployed on Friday, the Labor Day holiday in the semiautonomous Chinese city, to conduct high-profile patrols, the local news media reported. The police said in a statement that they would “nimbly deploy manpower to maintain public safety and public order” in response to calls for action that “disregard the government’s laws.”
Protesters, organizing online, called for spontaneous demonstrations on Friday and for a four-day campaign to show support for small businesses that support the pro-democracy movement.
The coronavirus pandemic has helped to quiet the antigovernment movement that roiled Hong Kong last year. But the city had recorded no new coronavirus infections for five consecutive days this week and protesters have recently staged small rallies. Those gatherings were broken up by the police, who cited social distancing rules.
Two new confirmed cases of the coronavirus were recorded on Friday, both of which were imported, health officials said.
Groups of police officers wearing masks and holding shields were seen on Friday across the city. Elsewhere, officers conducted spot checks on residents.
The Labor Day rallies that are traditionally held on May 1 in Hong Kong were denied permits because of public health risks. One pro-democracy labor group instead set up dozens of street booths. In the busy commercial areas of Mong Kok and Sha Tin, activists and bystanders shouted protest slogans.
“The epidemic hasn’t even ended, and the Chinese Communist Party is already eager to settle the score with Hong Kongers,” said Carol Ng, the chairwoman of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions.
“We must prepare to use more enterprising methods in response to tyranny,” said Ms. Ng as she urged residents to join pro-democracy labor unions on Friday. She also warned against possible mass arrests, citing speculation that some calls for disruptions were intentionally created to help the police round up more activists.
Who should wear masks on planes? More airlines are saying everyone.
After flight attendants and pilots criticized them for not doing more to protect employees, large airlines in the United States and around the world announced this week that they would require their crews to wear masks. Some went even further and said passengers would have to do so, too.
American Airlines and Delta Air Lines said on Thursday that they would start requiring all passengers to wear a face covering in the coming weeks, a policy that will apply to their flight attendants, too. They join Lufthansa Group — which owns its namesake airline, Swiss International Air Lines and Austrian Airlines — as well as JetBlue and Frontier Airlines, all of which made similar announcements this week.
Southwest Airlines said this week that its flight attendants would soon be wearing masks, joining United Airlines, which announced a similar policy late last week. Both airlines said they would “strongly” encourage customers to do the same.
Airlines have been slow to require masks in part because they’ve been hard to come by. Early in the pandemic, many companies promised to make masks available for employees who wanted them, but some pilots and flight attendants complained that they were not always available.
Airports have begun to weigh in as well, with the head of Heathrow Airport in London, one of Europe’s biggest transport hubs, noting that it would be nearly impossible to enforce social distancing at airports.
Speaking to the BBC, John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow’s chief executive, said a “better solution” was needed to ensure the safety of air travel, starting with airports.
“Social distancing does not work in any form of public transport, let alone aviation,” he said. “The constraint is not about how many people you can fit on a plane, it will be how many people you can get through an airport safely.”
The U.S. faces a high-stakes balancing act on reopening.
States across America are continuing to navigate a high-stakes balancing act, with some preparing to ease virus restrictions and others imposing new ones — all under the watchful eyes of stir-crazy residents eager to return to their favorite stores, restaurants and beaches.
In California, Florida and other coastal states, governors wrestled with squaring constituents’ demands for relief from the spring heat against the potentially lethal consequences of loosening social distancing rules in ways that might make beach blankets and lawn chairs new virus hot spots.
An Afghan hospital struggles to treat the war wounded even as it is overrun with infections.
Even when their city was repeatedly overrun by the Taliban and fighting reached their doorsteps, the doctors and nurses in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz kept working. They dressed wounds and saved lives at the main government hospital even as a nearby trauma center was bombed, killing more than 40 people.
Now, about 70 doctors and nurses out of a staff 361 at Kunduz Regional Hospital — the main health facility for several restive provinces in northeastern Afghanistan — are either infected with the coronavirus or in quarantine on suspicion of infection. But there is no choice but to keep the doors open, said Dr. Naeem Mangal, the hospital director. The doctors cannot reject the dozens of war wounded who continue to arrive each day.
“The hospital needs to be quarantined, but what alternative do we have?” said Dr. Mangal. “It has made us so concerned that we are all scared of each other at the hospital because we don’t know who is infected and who isn’t.”
Testing remains extremely limited here, but as of Friday, the country had recorded just over 2,300 cases, with at least 228 among medical workers, and 68 recorded deaths.
Dr. Mangal said his hospital in Kunduz, where 23 of 37 confirmed cases are medical workers, has pleaded with people to only visit the hospital for severe emergencies.
A top diplomat denies an E.U. report on virus disinformation was softened because of China’s protests.
Facing pointed criticism from lawmakers on Thursday, the European Union’s top diplomat denied that the bloc had softened a recent report on disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, under pressure from China.
The report, released late last week, described Chinese and Russian efforts to spread falsehoods and propaganda about the pandemic. But the language had been toned down amid strenuous objections from China, The New York Times reported, based on interviews, emails and documents.
The European Union’s senior diplomat, Josep Borrell, acknowledged that Chinese officials had objected to the report, but said such complaints “are the daily bread of diplomacy.” He said the revisions had been part of the normal editing process.
“There was no watering down of our findings,” Mr. Borrell said.
Lawmakers appeared skeptical. Thierry Mariani, a French member of the European Parliament, told Mr. Borrell that his team had been “caught with their hand in the cookie jar.”
The report comes at a time when the European Union hopes to win trade concessions from Beijing and restore a rich relationship once the pandemic has passed. German automakers and French farmers, along with other industries, rely heavily on exports to China.
The report was a routine roundup of publicly available information and news reports. The internal report, and a version that was drafted for public release, both dedicated separate sections to state-sponsored disinformation by China and Russia.
In the final version, those sections were folded into the rest of the report, and many examples of Chinese actions were grouped at the bottom, under the heading “Other selected activities.”
Key sentences from earlier versions were omitted, including: “China has continued to run a global disinformation campaign to deflect blame for the outbreak of the pandemic and improve its international image.” Other language was softened.
“Who interfered? Which Chinese official put pressure? At what level? What means of pressure?” asked Hilde Vautmans, a Belgian member of the European Parliament. “I think Europe needs to know that. Otherwise you’re losing all credibility.”
Mr. Borrell declined to answer that question or discuss the revisions that had been made in each draft.
A.I. specialists in London steered doctors toward a possible treatment.
Within two days, using technologies that can scour scientific literature related to the virus, they pinpointed a possible treatment with speed that surprised both the company that makes the drug and many doctors who had spent years exploring its effect on other viruses.
Called baricitinib, the drug was designed to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Though many questions hang over its potential use as a coronavirus treatment, it will soon be tested in an accelerated clinical trial with the United States’ National Institutes of Health. It is also being studied in Canada, Italy and other countries.
The specialists at BenevolentAI are among many A.I. researchers and data scientists around the world who have turned their attention to the coronavirus, hoping they can accelerate efforts to understand how it is spreading, treat people who have it and find a vaccine.
BenevolentAI quickly joined a race to identify drugs that can block the virus from entering the body’s cells. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, and many others labs are looking into similar treatments.
Over two days, a small team used the company’s tools to plumb millions of scientific documents in search of information related to the virus. The tools relied on one of the newest developments in artificial intelligence — “universal language models” that can teach themselves to understand written and spoken language by analyzing thousands of old books, Wikipedia articles and other digital text.
Through their software, they found that baricitinib might prevent the viral infection itself, blocking the way it enters cells. The company said it had no expectations for making money from the research and had no prior relationship with Eli Lilly, the company that makes baricitinib.
Dr. Dan Skovronsky, chief scientific officer at Eli Lilly, warned that it was still unclear what affect the drug would have on coronavirus patients. Even after the clinical trial, he said, it may not be clear whether the antiviral properties pinpointed by BenevolentAI are as effective as they might seem to be.
Many museums won’t survive the coronavirus. What will happen to their collections?
The Charles Dickens Museum in London has fallen on hard times. For 95 years, the collection, in the home of the “Oliver Twist” and “Great Expectations” author, has been financed by ticket sales and other earned income. But with no visitors since March, its director fears that its temporary closure could become permanent.
“We have funds to get us through the end of April, and we’ve got a little bit of savings after that,” Cindy Sughrue, who leads the museum, said by phone from her office in the empty building. “I can see that we can eke out until September. But, if the social distancing measures continue beyond that, then there’s a real danger that we will not survive.”
All but about 5 to 7 percent of the world’s museums are currently shuttered because of the coronavirus pandemic, said Peter Keller, the general director of the International Council of Museums. According to the council’s research, one in 10 may not reopen, he added.
The gravity of the situation varies by country, depending on how much museums rely on ticket sales and tourism, and how much government funding they receive. Museums in the United States which survive from earned income and philanthropy are more vulnerable than government-subsidized European institutions.
Reporting and research was contributed by Christopher F. Schuetze, Niki Kitsantonis, Aurelien Breeden, Raphael Minder, Megan Specia, Elaine Yu, Vivian Wang, Mujib Mashal, Fahim Abed, Farah Mohamed, Lynsey Chutel, Matt Apuzzo, Niraj Chokshi, Cade Metz, Nina Siegal, Claire Fu and Victoria Gomelsky.
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