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Pandemic forces a rethinking of summer plans and immunization programs.
As global cases of the coronavirus soared past three million this week and the death toll grows, the pandemic has forced societies to recalibrate nearly every aspect of daily life.
With public health officials warning of a long fight ahead, the virus has changed the world’s capacity to immunize against other diseases and redefined summer vacation for much of the world.
The impact on the prevention of other infectious diseases is becoming increasingly obvious, with Africa and Asia reporting a huge slide in the number of people reached through vaccine programs as a result of the pandemic and restrictions used to combat it. That could set the stage for another looming health crisis, officials say.
Much of Europe is preparing for a summer of squashed or severely limited travel plans, with Germany announcing an extension of its worldwide travel warning until mid-June. But other countries, like Croatia, which rely heavily on tourism to boost their economy are trying to salvage the summer season and have suggested they will allow in tourists from countries with a low number of coronavirus infections.
Even the nature of citizens’ relationships with their states has come into question. In France, the government’s failure to stem the initial outbreak has undermined the social contract, critics say, threatening the stability of the country’s strong central government.
“We have some of the highest taxes and biggest public spending in the world, and the French people accept that because, implicitly, their protection was guaranteed by the state,” said Pierre Vermeren, a historian who teaches at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne.
In the United States, gross domestic product, the broadest measure of goods and services produced in the economy, fell at a 4.8 percent annual rate in the first quarter of the year, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday, the worst quarterly contraction since the 2008 recession. The worst is yet to come, experts say, with figures from the current quarter expected to show G.D.P. contracting at an annual rate of 30 percent or more.
But some of the knock-on effects of widespread lockdowns have been positive, with new studies that show the closures of borders has nearly halted criminal networks that illegally trade in wildlife.
A study published in the journal Nature bolsters evidence that the novel coronavirus can spread through the air, after scientists identified genetic markers of the virus in airborne droplets, many with diameters smaller than one-ten-thousandth of an inch.
Faith in the central government fractures over France’s coronavirus response.
A couple of baguettes tucked under her arm, Maha Rambousek fiddled with a face mask that kept sliding off her nose. After a local decree made masks mandatory in public, she had quickly stitched it together, but was left confused when the policy was overturned two days later by the central government.
“I don’t know who’s wrong or who’s right,” Ms. Rambousek said. “And I can’t turn to anybody for certainties.”
The city of Perpignan lodged contagious patients in a hotel after the central government told people to self-isolate at home. Officials in the city of Marseille carried out widespread testing of both the sick and healthy even as the government ordered that only the seriously ill be tested.
While France’s vaunted health care system has staved off disaster, France has suffered the world’s fourth-biggest death toll — now at 23,293 official deaths, behind the United States, Italy and Spain — a consequence, critics say, of the central government’s failure to anticipate the onslaught of the contagion.
That failure and a critical shortage of masks and testing kits — also resulting from gaps in state policies — led to the virus’s rapid early spread, prompting France to impose one of the word’s strictest nationwide lockdowns, now in its seventh week.
Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced a tentative plan on Monday to gradually reopen the country starting on May 11. Schools and businesses would start reopening, though not restaurants or cafes. He urged companies to keep their employees working at home. And he promised that masks and testing would be made sufficiently available.
But it was not clear that those steps would halt what polls show is declining confidence in the government’s handling of the epidemic.
Gilead says a study of coronavirus patients treated with its drug remdesivir has yielded ‘positive data.’
Gilead Sciences announced on Wednesday that the company “is aware of positive data” from a study of its drug remdesivir as a potential treatment for the coronavirus.
Neither Gilead nor officials at the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which sponsored the research, provided further details. A spokeswoman at the agency confirmed plans to make an announcement later Wednesday.
The Food and Drug Administration acknowledged on Wednesday that officials were discussing approval of remdesivir for treatment of Covid-19 patients, presumably under emergency use provisions. Trading in the company’s stock was halted before the market opened.
The study includes 400 patients who were hospitalized with Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, and randomly assigned to take remdesivir or a placebo. Outcomes were scored on a scale ranging from recovery to death.
Remdesivir has never been approved as a treatment for any disease. It was developed to fight Ebola, but results from a clinical trial in Africa were disappointing.
But as the coronavirus pandemic took hold, the drug emerged as one of the more promising potential treatments. It interrupts the production of the virus in lab studies and seems safe in animals.
Expectations were fueled by anecdotal reports of Covid-19 patients who took remdesivir and recovered. During the frequent briefings of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, President Trump has hailed remdesivir as a potential “game changer.”
Across Europe, a struggle to save the vacation season.
European countries are examining how to save the summer vacation, with many borders closed and international flights suspended or arrivals restricted to those who can prove a pressing need to enter.
The German government, for example, has extended a worldwide travel warning until June 14, forcing residents itching to travel abroad over the coming holidays at the end of May to remain home.
The move comes as many countries in Europe are struggling to tentatively reopen their economies while preventing the coronavirus from spreading. Restrictions put in place this year are being extended across the continent, even amid concerns about the fate of the summer vacation season, especially in countries whose economies depend heavily on income from tourists, like Greece.
Austria, a popular destination for German vacationers, said on Monday that it would allow restaurants and bars to reopen under certain restrictions starting mid-May and hotels by the end of that month. The Croatian authorities have suggested they would allow in summer tourists from countries with a lower number of coronavirus infections than in Croatia who can prove they are healthy upon entry.
Poland, which was one of the first nations in Europe to introduce a coronavirus lockdown, plans to reopen hotels, shopping malls and some museums and art galleries on May 4, and the country’s ban on international travel is scheduled to expire on May 9.
But the country’s health minister, Lena Hallengren, poured cold water on that idea on Tuesday, telling the German tabloid Bild, “My advice to everyone: Stay in your own country.”
Lockdowns halt illegal wildlife trade, for now.
As borders shut and much of the world entered a lockdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic, economic activity stalled, travel halted and some cross-border trade took a hit.
“Security is too heavy at the border. Products can’t go out,” said a person in Vietnam involved in the trade. That person spoke to an undercover investigator who was involved in a new report on the state of the illegal wildlife trade.
The pandemic has prevented organized criminal gangs in Southeast Asian countries from moving large quantities of ivory and pangolin scales into China. But any limits on the illegal wildlife trade are likely to be temporary.
“There’s too much money to be made from these products, and there’s too many people involved for this to have a significant long term impact,” said Sarah Stoner, a co-author of the report and director of intelligence at the Wildlife Justice Commission, an international foundation based in The Hague, Netherlands, that works to dismantle illegal wildlife trade.
She and other experts say that while the coronavirus’s limits on travel and business could be an opportunity for law enforcement to disrupt criminal networks, the pandemic’s economic toll could attract more people to the trade.
“We are tracking significant amounts of new trafficking activity in multiple countries, which seems to indicate that traffickers are both still very much in operation and also actively seeking ways to adapt and thrive in the new normal,” said Tim Wittig, the head of intelligence for United for Wildlife, a nonprofit led by Prince William to fight wildlife trafficking.
Vaccinations for other preventable diseases are disrupted by pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic will disrupt immunization efforts across the world and increase deaths from other preventable diseases in Africa, public health officials say, shining a light on how the virus is setting the stage for another looming health crisis.
The World Health Organization now estimates that 41 countries in sub-Saharan Africa will miss out on malaria vaccines this year, potentially doubling the number of malaria deaths in the region. Vaccinations for up to 12 million children in Africa to curb the spread of polio have also been put on hold, pushing higher the number of countries on the continent reporting new outbreaks of the disease.
Travel restrictions have interrupted vaccine supply chains and governments have scaled back or shut down health services that do not comply with distancing guidelines.
The coronavirus pandemic continues to evolve rapidly in Africa, with 33,273 cases and 1,467 deaths reported so far, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the virus was slow to arrive, a few African countries are beginning to experience widespread community transmission, leading to partial or nationwide lockdowns.
While African countries have made incredible improvements in immunizing children, the continent still lags behind when it comes to meeting global vaccination targets. The causes include the difficulty for health workers to access some areas, inadequate public campaigns and lack of trust of vaccines from some.
Disruptions in immunizations have also been reported in South Asia, where 4.5 million children have already missed out on routine vaccinations targeting diseases like measles, polio and diphtheria.
Sweden did not enforce a lockdown, trusting its people to voluntarily follow the protocols.
When the government of Sweden defied conventional wisdom and refused to order a wholesale lockdown to “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus epidemic, public health officials pointed to trust as a central justification.
But on one warm spring day in Stockholm last week, there was little evidence that people were observing the protocols. Young Swedes thronged bars, restaurants and parks, drinking in the sun.
While other countries were slamming on the brakes, Sweden kept its borders open, left schools in session and placed no limits on public transport. Hairdressers, gyms and some cinemas have remained open.
Gatherings of more than 50 people were prohibited, and at the end of March, the authorities banned visits to nursing homes. But there are almost no fines, and pedestrians wearing masks are generally stared at as if they have just landed from Mars.
Throughout the crisis, Sweden has had enough intensive care units to deal with Covid-19 patients, said the minister of health and social affairs, Lena Hallengren. “We have 250 empty beds right now.”
This is not to say that Sweden has escaped Covid-19’s deadly consequences. The Swedish Public Health Authority has admitted that the country’s seniors have been hit hard, with the virus spreading through 75 percent of the 101 care homes in Stockholm.
The country’s state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, acknowledged that Sweden will have to face its broad failing with people over the age of 70, who have accounted for a staggering 86 percent of the country’s 2,194 fatalities to date.
The public health authority also announced last week that more than 26 percent of the 2 million inhabitants of Stockholm will have been infected by May 1.
But even that figure was presented as something of a win: a number of infections that might limit future outbreaks, reached without suffering an inordinate number of deaths.
Riot breaks out after virus test at a Sierra Leone prison.
A riot has broken out at the central prison in Sierra Leone after an inmate tested positive for coronavirus, the latest episode of unrest at a detention facility in the midst of the pandemic.
There were deaths and a building was set on fire on Wednesday morning, a government spokesman confirmed, though he said he could not confirm the cause of the riot.
A prisoner charged with larceny had tested positive for the virus on Sunday, Sierra Leone’s chief justice said in a statement. Before being arrested he had escaped from a quarantine center.
Similar riots over coronavirus concerns in Brazilian, Colombian and Venezuelan prisons have led to deaths and mass escapes. On Tuesday, officials from Peru’s National Penitentiary Institute said that nine inmates had died following “acts of violence” in a prison called Miguel Castro Castro, outside the capital, Lima, a day earlier.
Sixty-five prison and police officers were injured, as were two inmates. In a news release, the institute said that it “understands the concern the penitentiary population has about possibly contracting coronavirus,” but added that the prison was in the process of distributing “biosecurity material” and rapid tests to prevent the spread of the virus.
The United Nations has called for prisoners, particularly those detained for political reasons, to be released worldwide to prevent catastrophic rates of infection.
The Pademba Road Correctional Center in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, was built for 300 inmates but over 1,000 are crammed into its cells.
Smoke rose from the prison as reporters huddled around the information minister, Mohamed Rahman Swaray, who arrived to give a briefing in an S.U.V., wearing a bright cloth face mask.
“There are surely fatalities,” he said, adding that there were “no escapes, to the best of my knowledge.”
The minister said he could not yet confirm how many people had died. A reporter on the scene said there had been reports of one guard killed and about a dozen inmates who had died of suffocation in the fire.
“All of them are scared,” said Julie Mariama Sesay, program manager of AdvocAid, a charity providing legal aid for women in prison that has been calling for the decriminalization of petty offenses to reduce prison overcrowding and because they affect marginalized people disproportionately.
She said the government should urgently release prisoners, especially those detained for minor offenses. Many of those in the prison are being held for traffic offenses, loitering or fraudulent conversion of money, she said.
A study finds the coronavirus in tiny airborne droplets in Chinese hospitals.
Adding to growing evidence that the novel coronavirus can spread through air, scientists have identified genetic markers of the virus in airborne droplets, many with diameters smaller than one-ten-thousandth of an inch.
That had been previously demonstrated in laboratory experiments, but now Chinese scientists studying real-world conditions report that they captured tiny droplets containing the genetic markers of the virus from the air in two hospitals in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak started.
Their findings were published Monday in the journal Nature.
It remains unknown if the virus in the samples they collected was infectious, but droplets that small, which are expelled by breathing and talking, can remain aloft and be inhaled by others.
“Those are going to stay in the air floating around for at least two hours,” said Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech who was not involved with the Nature paper. “It strongly suggests that there is potential for airborne transmission.”
Dr. Marr and many other scientists say evidence is mounting that the coronavirus is being spread by tiny droplets known as aerosols. The World Health Organization has so far downplayed the possibility, saying that the disease is mostly transmitted through larger droplets that do not remain airborne for long, or through the touching of contaminated surfaces.
In the global scramble for virus tracing apps, privacy is a big concern.
The apps use smartphones to gather information about the movements of people who have tested positive for the virus, alert others who might have crossed their paths, and in some cases make sure infected people stay quarantined.
But the mad dash has left some places with a confusing mishmash of options, and has some computer security researchers worried about vulnerabilities in hastily written software. Technical differences among apps could vastly affect their security and effectiveness.
In February, China began requiring residents in more than 200 cities to download a health code app that automatically dictates whether people must quarantine. The app sends the government location data, but it is unclear how the quarantine decisions are made.
By contrast, Singapore’s app uses Bluetooth rather than location data to identify nearby phones, and the information is stored on the phones unless a person tests positive for the virus and agrees to share the data with contact tracers, who can then notify others who may have been exposed.
In Norway, the app sends location and Bluetooth data to central servers that can be accessed by government health authorities. A new law mandates that the information be used only for the pandemic, and that it be deleted every 30 days.
In an effort to coordinate public health surveillance in India, the central government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi introduced a contact-tracing app in April called Aarogya Setu. It uses smartphone location data and Bluetooth to log people’s travel routes and the other phones they encounter.
With urging from Mr. Modi, more than 77 million people, about 5.6 percent of the population, have downloaded it so far. But civil liberties groups have warned that the rush to adopt virus-tracking technologies may entrench new forms of government surveillance and social control even if the apps do not prove effective in fighting the coronavirus.
A recent study by epidemiologists at Oxford University estimated for the use of an app to contain the virus, combined with other tactics such as broader testing and the quarantining of the most vulnerable people, 60 percent of the population in a given area would need to sign up.
While some compliance is better than none, the researchers found, low rates of adoption in many areas suggest voluntary programs may not provide a breakthrough.
As the U.S. infection rate passed 1 million, shopping malls in several states said they will reopen.
Even as the number of coronavirus cases in the United States passed one million on Tuesday, President Trump and some businesses sought to ease restrictions that have severely limited daily life.
Mr. Trump on Tuesday night signed an executive order declaring meat processing plants “critical infrastructure,” and earlier this week told governors to consider reopening school districts before the end of the academic year. In the private sector, the country’s largest operator of malls has developed a plan to reopen 49 shopping centers across 10 states starting on Friday.
Still, many facets of American life seem sure to be crippled into the summer. Even with Mr. Trump’s encouragement, and weeks of growing impatience from parents and children, few governors are considering the idea of reopening schools before summer. Gov. Gavin Newsom of California did raise the idea that the next academic year might begin in July to make up for lost time.
Early returns to pre-pandemic routines will surely be substantially altered, as health officials have stressed that returning too quickly to cluttered school hallways or grocery store aisles could set off another round of rapid infections.
Simon Property Group, the mall operator, hopes its game plan for reopening shopping centers will be enough to fend off that possibility. When the centers begin reopening on Friday, security officers and employees will “actively remind and encourage shoppers” to stay away from others and to refrain from shopping in groups. Food court seating will be spaced apart, and reusable trays will be banished. In restrooms, every other sink and urinal will be taped off.
A memo from the company provides a glimpse of how the broader American shopping experience is likely to look as the country begins to slowly reopen. But the success of such an approach depends largely on whether retailers will also decide to reopen stores and whether the public will feel comfortable going to malls when tests for the virus remain difficult to get.
How Greece has defied the odds.
For years, Greece has been seen as one of the European Union’s most troubled members, weighed down by a financial crisis, corruption and political instability. But in the coronavirus pandemic, the country has emerged as a welcome surprise: its outbreak appears to be far more limited than what was expected.
As the virus spread across Europe, many Greeks feared the worst: They would be the next Italy or Spain.
After all, the country’s health care system had been weakened by a decade-long financial crisis. And Greece has one of the oldest populations in the European Union, second only to Italy, leaving it more vulnerable to the disease.
But the number of reported deaths and people in intensive care because of the virus in Greece has remained a tiny fraction of what they are in many other European nations.
Because Greece has tested a very small percentage of its population, it is impossible to know how extensively the virus has spread in the country. But its total deaths have been low — 138 in a population of about 10.7 million — a surprise to experts, especially given the elderly population. And a big relief.
Only 69,833 people have been tested for the virus in Greece, but experts agree that the country’s decision to quickly enforce social distancing measures and fortify its ailing health care system helped curb the outbreak.
So did a willingness from most Greeks to comply with the orders.
China’s propaganda attempt in Philippines backfires.
Instead, the four-minute video, released last week by the Chinese embassy in Manila to promote China’s efforts to help the Philippines fight the coronavirus, has unleashed widespread anger and derision at China. The video, titled “One Sea,” has resurfaced longtime concerns in Southeast Asia about China’s efforts to expand influence in the region, including in the hotly contested South China Sea.
“The words are nothing but a mirage, full of good images but deceitful,” said one of the most popular comments on Facebook.
The backlash highlights the challenges China faces as it tries to repair its global image amid growing criticism of its early efforts to cover up the coronavirus outbreak, which began in December in the central city of Wuhan. The Chinese government has dispatched medical supplies and experts overseas as it tries to win good will.
But in many places, Beijing still faces skepticism and deep anger.
The music video was supposed to help shore up support. Its lyrics were written by the Chinese ambassador to the Philippines, Huang Xilian. The video shows Chinese medical teams delivering aid in the Philippines, and it features a clip of the Philippines president, Rodrigo Duterte, thanking China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, for his support during the crisis.
The video was panned almost immediately, with internet users in the Philippines, Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries denouncing it as out of touch.
“No problem with helping one another,” wrote a Facebook user with the name Marjan Nur Salonga Salandanan, “but get out of our seas, please.”
China is itself emerging from the worst of the outbreak, and after more than two months of delay because of the coronavirus pandemic, China’s legislature will finally hold its annual full session starting on May 22, official media announced Wednesday morning.
The scheduling of the National People’s Congress session, a ritualized event held in the Great Hall of the People next to Tiananmen Square, is the latest sign of confidence in China that the virus is under control. Although China is still reporting some cases among people returning from overseas, including 21 more announced on Wednesday, cases of domestic transmission have slowed to a trickle.
Iran slaughters 15 million baby chicks as poultry industry staggers.
Iran is not only awash in unsold oil because of American sanctions and the global glut caused by the coronavirus. A precipitous drop in demand because of the pandemic has also hit the country with another immediate problem and a new scandal: millions of unsold chickens and the mass slaughter of baby chicks buried alive to reduce the supply.
It was not supposed to be this way at this time of year for Iran’s poultry industry, one of the largest in the Middle East. Ordinarily chicken sales peak over the month of Ramadan for the iftar banquets at homes and in restaurants, when Iranians break their fasts by dining on grilled saffron chicken and other staple specialties of the holiday.
But now the livelihoods of chicken breeders and poulterers have been upended by the pandemic. Restaurants, hotels and event spaces catering to weddings and funerals have remained closed since the middle of March even as Iran has gradually reopened many businesses. Chicken sales have plunged by at least 35 percent.
As supply rapidly outpaced demand, poultry factories killed 15 million one-day-old chicks this month. A truck dumped hoards of tiny fluffy birds into a ditch where they were buried alive, according to videos that went viral on Iranian media.
The chick mass grave created an uproar among Iranians, and many blamed it on what they called the government’s lack of oversight. Iranians created a Twitter hashtag for the chicks, with many wondering if they could have been donated and grown to feed low-income families.
The parliament has said it would investigate. But poultry industry leaders warned this week that they would soon have to slaughter millions of adult chickens if the government did not step in with financial assistance.
“The chickens are fully grown but there is no place to keep them, no feed and no vaccines for them and no buyers,” Nasser Nabipour, the head of Iran’s poultry union, was quoted as saying Monday in Iranian media.
Iran’s poultry industry produces about 2 billion chickens annually on 20,000 farms, according to Iranian media. It exports 100,000 tons of chicken to the region and beyond in Asia.
The waves are spectacular. The surfers aren’t happy.
They called it the Covid-19 swell.
Spectacular waves more than 25 feet high barreled on Tahiti’s famed Teahupo’o reef that day a month ago. Audible from miles away, Teahupo’o — home of the 2024 surfing events of the Paris Olympics — normally echoes like thunderous Morse code, calling in the best surfers from every corner of the globe. They would have buzzed to the reef by the dozen, spilling out of boats and riding Jet Skis to tow into waves as film crews in helicopters circled above.
But this time, very few people were out. “Not even one boat,’’ said Tikanui Smith, a Tahiti local and professional surfer whose exploits at Teahupo’o have earned him multiple Ride of the Year nominations from the World Surf League.
Something similar happened as a southern swell broke at Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz County, Calif., on April 9, the first day of what would be a weeklong beach ban. “All we could do was stand there and watch it break,” said Kyle Thiermann, a professional surfer. “On a day that good, usually there are 100 surfers in the water. It made me feel like I’d jumped in a time machine and landed in a time before surfing.”
From Bali to Brazil, Costa Rica to California, the pandemic has widely shut down surfing, either through outright bans on access to beaches or from the inability of surfers to travel to them. But enough spots remain open to foment a schism between surfers who are able to get in the ocean and those stuck at home.
The World Surf League suspended its Championship Tour on March 12, just two weeks before its opening event on Australia’s Gold Coast. The annual tour takes surfers to some of the world’s most famous waves — from the Eastern Cape of South Africa to the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. The announcement rocked the surf world. Four days later, the league canceled or postponed all of its events through May.
Migrant dormitories in Singapore make social distancing nearly impossible.
Singapore has seen a surge of coronavirus cases among migrant workers, after months of successfully controlling the outbreak. As of Tuesday, coronavirus cases linked to migrant worker dormitories accounted for 88 percent of Singapore’s 14,446 cases, including more than 1,400 new cases in a single day.
Many migrant workers live on the outskirts of the city in dormitories that can house up to 20 people per room, making it almost impossible to follow social distancing guidelines.
Singapore has traced the contacts of people infected with the coronavirus and released detailed information about clusters of cases. An analysis of the data shows how the virus has spread rapidly among migrant worker dormitories.
The government has directed all laborers living in dormitories to stop working until May 4, imposing a stay-at-home order for 180,000 foreign workers in the construction sector. The government has also declared 25 dormitories as isolation areas, where workers are confined to their rooms.
Transient Workers Count Too, an advocacy group for migrant workers in Singapore, criticized the plan to quarantine such a large population together, comparing the lockdown to situations on cruise ships in which cases multiplied uncontrollably even when passengers were kept to their rooms.
More than 20 percent of Singapore’s population of 5.7 million are foreign workers. Many come from Bangladesh and India, and they work in construction, shipping, manufacturing and domestic service sectors.
The breakdown of nationalities among the confirmed cases shows that workers from these countries have been disproportionately affected.
Reporting was contributed by Julie Turkewitz, Ruth Maclean, Joanna Berendt, Melissa, Eddy, Abdi Latif Dahir, Norimitsu Onishi, Constant Méheut, Javier C. Hernández, Megan Specia, Kenneth Chang, Thomas Erdbrink, Farnaz Fassihi, Christina Anderson, Iliana Magra, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Keith Bradsher, Adam Skolnick, Andrew Higgins, Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Natasha Singer, Aaron Krol, Weiyi Cai and K.K. Rebecca Lai.
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