As Coronavirus Restrictions Ease, Countries Brace for a New Reality: Live Coverage

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Credit…Ashley Pon for The New York Times

There’s a new reality for places where coronavirus is under control. Parts of the world already live in it.

Worshipers at one of Seoul’s largest Catholic churches must refrain from singing hymns or saying “amen” for fear of spreading saliva. Priests sanitize their hands during communion. Holy water has been removed from the chapel.

“This should become the new normal from now on,” said Gong My-young, 53, who owns a tutoring school and attended Mass one night this week at Myeongdong Church in the South Korean capital. “We have to be ready for war.”

South Korea even has a name for the new practices: “everyday life quarantine.” The authorities recently released a 68-page guide, offering advice on situations like going to the movies (“refrain from shouting”) and attending funerals (“bow your head instead of hugging”).

As cities in Asia, Australia and elsewhere get their coronavirus outbreaks under control, churches, schools, restaurants, movie theaters and even sporting venues are starting to open, creating a sense of normalcy for people who have spent weeks and even months in isolation.

But they are returning to a world reimagined for the age of coronavirus, where social distancing, hygiene standards and government-imposed restrictions are infused into nearly every activity — a way of life that is likely to persist until a vaccine or a treatment is found.

In Hong Kong, tables at restaurants must be spaced at least five feet apart and customers are given bags to store their face masks during dining.

In China, students face temperature checks before they can enter schools, while cafeteria tables are outfitted with plastic dividers.

In South Korea, baseball games are devoid of fans and players can’t spit on the field.

The new social customs and mandates in Beijing, Hong Kong and Seoul, as well as Sydney, Australia, and Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, offer a preview of what might soon be common globally.

Europe’s restrictions ease for millions, but normalcy remains elusive.

For millions of Europeans, buffeted by an economic downturn not seen since the end of World War II, the weekend brought a glimmer of optimism as countries began easing stringent lockdown restrictions.

After seven weeks of a truncated, sometimes claustrophobic existence indoors, Spanish teenagers and adults were allowed to exercise outdoors for the first time, prompting scenes of euphoric joggers in some Spanish cities.

But governments are warning that there won’t be a return to business as usual.

Spain, which recently passed 25,000 deaths, and France, which is nearing that toll, have announced that wearing face masks will be mandatory in public transportation in the coming weeks, as both countries draw up complex, region by region strategies to exit the lockdown.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said on Saturday that his government would grant 16 billion euros to help Spain’s 17 regions pay for the cost of managing the health crisis and its aftermath. Mr. Sánchez also called on opposition parties to approve another extension of Spain’s state of emergency, in line with a plan to gradually return Spain to a “new normalcy” by late June.

“This is the moment when we can press home our advantage,” Mr. Johnson said. “It is also the moment of maximum risk.”

And an Ipsos MORI poll this week found that two-thirds of Britons said that even after the lockdown ends, they would feel uncomfortable going to large public gatherings, such as sports or music events. Half felt the same about sending their children to school.

The virus’s deadly toll is still being strongly felt, even as the number of hospitalized patients continues to decrease in several countries. Italy on Saturday reported 474 new deaths — the biggest increase since April 21 — bringing the total to over 28,000. (See our map of Italy’s coronavirus cases.)

Olivier Véran, the French health minister, told the newspaper Le Parisien that if the number of cases remained too high, authorities could push the date for easing confinement beyond May 11.

“Learning to live with the virus, that is the goal in the coming weeks and months,” said Christophe Castaner, France’s interior minister.

Rome has survived sacking, floods, fire and conquest. Now this?

Unlike conquests, fires and floods, the coronavirus is clearly not a danger to Rome’s beauty. But what will it do to its spirit?

Campo de’ Fiori, a square that is usually home to a bustling, touristy market, was pretty much empty except for a little girl riding her bicycle around the statue of the philosopher and astronomer Giordano Bruno, who was burned alive at the spot in 1600, decades after one of the city’s several sackings.

With so few cars and people on the streets, the scent of wisteria, draping over ancient defensive walls and garden fences, floats further.

At the quiet Ponte Sisto bridge, usually crowded with street artists, five mallards, their necks flashing green, landed in formation to skim on the Tiber in solitude.

And yet, there is an undercurrent of a city about to burst. Romans have a reputation for getting around the rules — in traffic, in line, in life. Fans call it endearing creativity; critics, insupportable incivility. Will living with the virus enhance or expunge that?

The answer is likely to come soon. The government will begin loosening Europe’s longest lockdown on Monday.

Migrants face roundups and detention in Malaysia and surging infections in Singapore’s dormitories.

On Friday, undocumented migrants in Malaysia were detained in large-scale raids as part of the authorities’ effort to contain the outbreak.

The country cannot allow migrants “to move freely” during its lockdown, Abdul Hamid Bador, the police’s inspector general, told the state news agency Bernama, citing a risk of new clusters: “It will be difficult for us to track them down if they leave identified locations.”

“With this ill-advised roundup, the Malaysian government seems foolishly intent on repeating the mistakes of Singapore by concentrating migrants together in a way that will ensure a massive spread of Covid-19,” said Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“So really you have a perfect storm of poor and marginalized people at the center of these economies who should be supported to stop Covid-19 in their communities but are instead facing waves of vilification and xenophobia,” Mr. Robertson added.

In neighboring Singapore, early successes in controlling the outbreak have been marred by a relentless surge in infections linked to migrant worker dormitories that house up to 20 people per room.

Most of the 1,379 new infections recorded on Friday and Saturday were from foreign laborers living in such dorms, the Ministry of Health said. Such cases, which have shown little sign of abating, accounted for about 86 percent of Singapore’s 17,548 cases as of Saturday. The city-state said it would start easing some distancing measures over the next few weeks.

Hundreds of miles off the Malaysian shores, at least three boats that each carried hundreds of Rohingya refugees have been adrift for more than two months. In what the United Nations has called a dangerous “game of human Ping-Pong,” the boats were prevented from docking in Bangladesh, their port of origin, and Malaysia, their preferred destination.

As of this week, rights groups that had been trying to track the boats by satellite lost sight of them.

In Kabul, a study using random testing suggests a third of residents could be infected.

Afghanistan’s health ministry has raised the alarm that the coronavirus has spread fast and wide across the capital Kabul.

In the absence of widespread testing, the health ministry conducted a small study through random rapid tests across the city of roughly five million people, followed by lab tests. Although the sample size was small, the results indicated a worrying indication, said Wahidullah Mayar, a spokesman for the health ministry.

Out of 500 randomized samples from 10 different parts of the city, 260 had turned out positive in rapid tests. The 260 were then subjected to sensitive lab tests using polymerase chain reaction to duplicate the virus’s genetic material, and 60 percent proved positive. That suggests that at least 30 percent of the city’s roughly five million population could have the virus.

Officially, the country has recorded just about 2,500 total cases and 72 deaths so far. But in a reality where testing has been extremely limited, the high percentage of positives among the limited number of tests has raised concerns all along. So far, even with increased capacity in recent weeks, Afghanistan has carried out a total of about 11,000 tests.

The government has enforced a partial lockdown in Kabul for several weeks now, but that has been made difficult due to the deep poverty of a large share of the population who survive as day laborers. Officials believe about 80 percent of the country’s population lives on $1.25 a day, bordering the poverty line at $1 a day.

In recent days, the government has started distributing bread to through about 1,200 bakeries in Kabul to about 250,000 families, with each family getting between four to 10 loaves once a day. But large crowds outside the bakeries have raised concern that the measure to prevent deaths from hunger could also be helping the virus spread.

The latest in science: One way to find out if it’s safe to come out of lockdown is to check the sewer.

The world is eager to come out of lockdown. But if countries simply return to business as usual, new outbreaks of Covid-19 will follow. The only solution that public health experts see is to keep careful track of the coronavirus and clamp down on new flare-ups.

The trouble is that the most obvious way to monitor the virus — testing person by person — has already proved to be a huge, expensive challenge. Experts say we’re nowhere near the scale we need to get a good picture of the pandemic.

Now some scientists are looking for the virus not in our noses, blood or spit, but somewhere else: in our sewers.

“It’s the signature of a whole community,” said Krista Wigginton, an environmental engineer at the University of Michigan who has been finding the coronavirus in wastewater around the Bay Area in California.

Water authorities and governments are in discussions with scientists and companies about tracking the pandemic through the detection of viruses in the sewer. Wastewater monitoring could provide early warnings of outbreaks. It could potentially give governments some of the data they need about when to end lockdowns and when to ratchet them back up.

In other science news on the pandemic:

  • Common blood-pressure drugs do not put patients at greater risk from the coronavirus, researchers are reporting. That’s good news for millions of people who take two classes of drugs, known as ACE inhibitors and ARBs.

  • It may be time to add another strange symptom to the list of coronavirus signs, “Covid toe.” Doctors around the world report that some of their infected patients are developing chilblains — painful toe lesions that are ordinarily seen in cold weather.

U.S. roundup: The Department of Agriculture will buy surplus food from distributors to ship to food banks.

While millions of Americans are worried about having enough to eat and lines at food banks grow, farmers have been plowing under vegetable fields, dumping milk and smashing eggs that cannot be sold because the coronavirus pandemic has shut down restaurants, hotels and schools.

Now, the destruction of fresh food on such a scale has prompted action by the Trump administration and state governments, as well as grass-roots efforts like a group of university students who are renting trucks to rescue unsold onions and eggs from farms. But they most likely won’t be enough to address the problem if businesses remain closed for months.

Over the next few weeks, the Department of Agriculture will begin spending $300 million a month to buy surplus vegetables, fruit, milk and meat from distributors and ship them to food banks. The federal grants will also subsidize boxing up the purchases and transporting them to charitable groups — tasks that farmers have said they cannot afford, giving them few options other than to destroy the food.

Nationally, the Dairy Farmers of America, the largest dairy co-op in the United States, has diverted almost a quarter of a million gallons of milk to food banks.

The Agriculture Department grants are expected to be announced this week, but farmers say their losses far exceed what the grants can provide.

There are some signs that the waste is starting to dissipate. At the beginning of April, farmers were dumping 3.7 million gallons of milk each day, draining it into manure pits, where it mixed with fertilizer used in the fields. Now, the waste is closer to 1.5 million gallons, according to the dairy co-op, as farmers scale back production and restaurant chains like Papa John’s heed the industry’s call to add extra cheese to every pizza.

Here’s what else is happening in the United States:

  • New Jersey’s state and county parks reopened on Saturday after having been closed for nearly a month to discourage overcrowding. With people out enjoying the warm weather, the New York Police Department said it would deploy more than 1,000 officers across the city to ensure that people were properly social distancing. Gov. Phillip D. Murphy of New Jersey warned on Friday that restrictions would be reimposed if precautions were not observed.

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said in a joint statement on Saturday that Congress would decline the White House’s offer to provide lawmakers with rapid-result testing machines, contending that the resources should be deployed to those in greater need. The offer came after the top physician in Congress warned that with his current equipment, he would only be able to test those who were ill, and that it would take at least two days to get test results.

  • Lockdown restrictions have prompted a raft of lawsuits asserting a wide range of rights, from individual rights to free speech to property rights. In Los Angeles, a group of small businesses that includes a gondola service, a mariachi band and a pet grooming spa sued in federal court.

  • We collected photos of how American life has been transformed.

The Berlin Philharmonic ventures out of lockdown with first major classical event.

On Friday, the Berlin Philharmonic was supposed to have played its annual, widely broadcast European Concert in Israel, as part of the German president’s state visit. The whole visit was canceled because of the pandemic, but the Philharmonic went ahead with its performance at its hall in Berlin: the first major classical event to venture, as it were, out of lockdown.

In some places where the virus seems to be ebbing, including Germany, restrictions have begun to be relaxed. And orchestras, like other businesses, are seeing if they can find a gradual path out of hibernation.

The concert — which was repeated on the orchestra’s Digital Concert Hall platform on Saturday — was organized to conform with local health regulations. No more than 15 musicians could be onstage at a given time, making this a de facto chamber event. The players were kept two meters (about six and a half feet) apart — except for wind players, spaced five meters (about 16 and a half feet) from one another and their colleagues.

The original plan was to have string players and percussionists wear protective masks — but after the first rehearsal, according to an orchestra spokeswoman, health authorities allowed the musicians to perform without masks so long as they wore them backstage. All the participating musicians were tested for the virus before the start of rehearsals.

It’s hard to overstate what a departure from the norm this setup represented. Normally, musicians in chamber ensembles and orchestras try to sit as close together as possible without getting in each other’s way, to add cohesion to the overall sound and help players hear each other.

Yet though the seating arrangement was strange, it was also inspiring to see musicians trying to find some way, however awkward, to keep making live art.

Read the full critic’s notebook by Anthony Tommasini, the Times’s chief classical music critic.

India’s biggest single-day report in cases raises fears for Mumbai.

India is closely monitoring whether a record number of infections reported on Friday increase is a blip or suggests a more concerning spike in cases of the coronavirus.

Officials have zeroed in on the state of Maharashtra, in particular, where about half of the new 2,293 new cases were reported on Friday. The state includes Mumbai, India’s business capital, where public health experts have warned that community transmission of the virus could be devastating in the city’s dense slum areas.

The Friday report numbered hundreds more cases than usual. India has recorded 37,336 infections and more than 1,100 deaths from the coronavirus, a relatively low number for a country of 1.3 billion people.

Though testing has been limited, there have been few reports of overwhelmed hospitals and the country’s doubling rate has slowed over the past week, sitting at around nine days.

For more than five weeks, Indian officials have stringently enforced a nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus, sealing state borders, halting transportation and shutting airspace and most businesses.

India’s Home Ministry announced on Friday that the lockdown would continue until at least May 17, though restrictions on movement are scheduled to loosen next week in districts with few or no infections.

Pandemic highlights shortage of burial plots for French Muslims.

The coronavirus pandemic that has upended much of the world has also halted a tradition in many French Muslim immigrant families: repatriating bodies to their country of origin. And as most countries have closed their borders, it has also highlighted the challenging task of finding proper Muslim burial plots that are oriented toward Mecca.

French cemeteries are lacking in such plots, a concern that many families from Northwest and sub-Saharan Africa have raised for decades. But the pandemic has helped reveal the full extent of the shortage while underscoring the broader struggle over the integration of Muslims in France.

“Covid-19 has, unfortunately, hit the Muslim community with full force,” said Chems-Eddine Hafiz, the rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris. “This situation has been going on for years, and we are now paying a high price for it.”

Every year, thousands of bodies have been sent back to countries in Northwest and sub-Saharan Africa, a well-functioning operation involving specialized funeral homes, charter flights and consular services.

But now Morocco and Tunisia have suspended all repatriations, while Algeria and Mali allow only people who have not died of the disease to return. The restrictions have pushed more Muslim families to turn to French cemeteries to bury their relatives.

Under France’s strict secular laws, town councils — which manage the country’s cemeteries — are not required to create or extend religious plots.

With about 25,000 coronavirus-related fatalities, France ranks among the top five most affected countries in the world. Although it is not known how many Muslims are among the dead, Muslim undertakers have reported being inundated with requests to arrange emergency burials or deal with repatriation.

“A serious crisis is underway,” said Djamel Djemai, the 42-year-old owner of Al Janaza Muslim funeral home in the Seine-Saint-Denis district.

Our Baghdad bureau chief reports on the dire state of Syria’s fight against the pandemic.

There is plenty of competition for the worst place to be during the Covid-19 pandemic, but one of them would have to be Syria, especially those areas outside of government control or of little concern to Damascus.

As of March, the four million inhabitants of the northeastern region of the country, overseen by a Kurdish-led administration, lacked access to coronavirus tests, which could take as long as 11 days to come back from a lab in Damascus. They lacked access to health clinics — just 26 out of 279 were functioning — and had only two hospitals working out of 11, according to a letter released this week by Human Rights Watch demanding health care aid for the population.

Northeast Syria is where Syrian Kurdish forces, backed by United States troops, fought the Islamic State for five years.

The Iraqi Kurds have responded as best they can — although often they are at odds with the politics of their fellow Kurds on the Syrian side of the border.

The Kurdish region’s president, Nechirvan Barzani, paid for and delivered four Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction machines capable of performing coronavirus tests, said Ahmed Oathman, his deputy chief of staff.

“We sent the lab machinery, plus test kits and we sent people who are experts to train them,” said Mr. Oathman.

With the main border crossings into northeast Syria closed by the United Nations Security Council since January, however, NGOs have been struggling to get medical aid through — medicines, masks, and protective gear.

The Iraqi Kurds have tried to make it easier by allowing aid through one small crossing — although there have been bureaucratic hold ups — but with the main crossing closed it has limited impact, according to Human Rights Watch.

To ‘decongest the jails,’ the Philippines has freed nearly 10,000 inmates.

An associate justice on the Philippine Supreme Court, Marvic Leonen, said on Saturday that nearly 10,000 prison inmates had been freed as part of efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Of the 9,731 inmates freed between March 1 and April 29, more than 2,000 were released from prisons in Manila, he said. Most of the rest, about 4,600, had been held elsewhere in Luzon, the region that includes the capital.

“We continue as much as we can to decongest the jails,” Justice Leonen said during an online news briefing.

Th announcement came days after Human Rights Watch called on the government to fully report deaths in its prisons from Covid-19, after at least nine inmates and nine staff members tested positive for the coronavirus at Quezon City Jail in the Manila area, one of the country’s most crowded prisons.

The Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the central Philippines also reported one death from the coronavirus this week, while the Cebu City Jail reported 212 infections.

Across the world, prisons have become breeding grounds for the coronavirus, leading governments to release hundreds of thousands of inmates in an attempt to curb the spread of the contagion behind bars.

The world’s wits skewer quarantines and leaders’ words — in song.

Coronavirus-themed parody songs have brought much-needed comic relief around the world during the pandemic.

Back in March the Hong Kong entertainer Kathy Mak captured the growing sense of angst over the virus by sending up Natalie Imbruglia’s song “Torn.” “I sterilize, I sanitize,” she sang, “My hands are always frickin’ dry.”

Then there was the Marsh family from Kent, in southeast England who belted “One Day More” from the musical Les Misérables, garnering more than 5 million views on YouTube. “One day more, another day, another destiny. Shopping for online delivery,” sang mother of four Danielle Marsh. “I tried again, only to find, there’s nothing ’til September time. One day more.”

In Canada this week, the Edmonton musician Brock Tyler brought some comedic succor to his fellow citizens with a song featuring Doug Ford, Ontario’s premier.

Mr. Ford, a combative right-wing politician who has often been compared to President Trump, has won kudos for his handling of the crisis, including his plain-speaking approach and deference to medical experts.

After Mr. Ford lambasted protesters demonstrating against lockdown measures next to Queen’s Park, the Ontario provincial legislature, as “a bunch of yahoos,” Mr. Tyler immortalized his insult.

It is not the first musical parody effort by Mr. Tyler. A few weeks ago, he delighted Canadians by gently mocking a verbal faux pas by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who observed that masks prevented people from breathing or speaking “moistly,” on other people.

The pandemic as seen from two sides of a border.

Our reporter, Ian Austen, hears from a health economist who has taught in both countries in the Canada Letter.

After lamenting in a recent Canada Letter about my inability to find an expert who could offer an informed comparison of how the medical systems in Canada and the United States were responding to the coronavirus pandemic, I soon heard from Professor Peter Berman.

He is particularly well placed for such an assessment, after spending 25 years teaching at Harvard, most recently as a professor of global health systems and economics at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Professor Berman is now based in Vancouver as the director of the school of population and public health at the University of British Columbia’s medical school.

I’ll begin the comparison with some numbers. Massachusetts, the previous home of Professor Berman, has a population of 6.8 million and British Columbia has slightly over 5 million residents. But the toll of the pandemic on the two areas has been significantly different. As off Friday afternoon in Massachusetts, there have been more than 62,000 reported cases and 3,562 deaths, or 52 fatalities for every 100,000 people. In B.C., there have been just 2,112 reported cases and 111 deaths or just two victims for every 100,000 residents.

Professor Berman cautioned that those numbers reflect a wide variety of factors outside the medical system like the demographic makeup of different cities and regions.

But he noted that near his old office at Harvard “there must be thousands of the world’s best hospital beds and there are three top international top hospitals within a couple blocks.” So with resources like that, why is there such a great disparity with British Columbia?

“In British Columbia, the province just said: ‘We need to get ready for this, we need to free up 30 percent of the hospital beds,’” Professor Berman said. “And they instructed the health authorities to do it.”

But in Massachusetts, he said, not only was there no one to tell hospitals to clear out beds, the economics of the system work against such steps.

That doesn’t mean that Canada’s approach to the crisis and the structure of its medical system is perfect. Among other things, Professor Berman said that Canada’s health systems, which effectively treat doctors as private contractors, sometimes leads to disconnections between primary health care and the hospital systems. He also said that the country has been slow to push testing for the virus out into communities.

Reporting was contributed by Raphael Minder, Aurelien Breeden, Constant Méheut, Alissa J. Rubin, Kai Schultz, Carl Zimmer, Megan Specia, Mujib Mashal, Fatima Faizi, Jane Bradley, Ian Austen, Yonette Joseph, Peter Robins, Elaine Yu, Hannah Beech, Anthony Tommasini, Dan Bilefsky, Gina Kolata, Jason Gutierrez, Edward Wong, Ana Swanson, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Iyad Abuheweila, Adam Rasgon, Charu Suri, Sabrina Tavernise, Jack Healy and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs.

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