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Seoul shuts its bars and nightclubs after new cluster emerges.
The mayor of Seoul, South Korea, ordered all the city’s bars and nightclubs closed indefinitely on Saturday, after the discovery of a new cluster of dozens of coronavirus cases in a country that for weeks had reported around 10 new infections a day.
A 29-year-old man from Yongin, south of Seoul, tested positive on Wednesday. While investigating his contacts, South Korean epidemiologists learned that he had visited three nightclubs in Itaewon, a popular nightlife district in the capital, last Saturday.
They immediately began tracing 1,500 people who were believed to have been in those nightclubs around that time the patient. So far, 27 patients have been found who went to the clubs or had contact with people who did, a senior disease-control official, Kwon Jun-wok, said during a news briefing on Saturday.
But the mayor, Park Won-soon, gave a higher figure, saying at least 40 patients were connected to the nightclubs and the 29-year-old patient, and said officials were still seeking more than 1,000 people believed to have been in the nightclubs.
The cluster has emerged as the country started relaxing social-distancing restrictions. Some customers of the nightclubs did not follow the government recommendation that all South Koreans in crowded places wear masks, officials said.
Mr. Park accused those nightclub patrons of sabotaging South Korea’s thus-far successful efforts to bring the coronavirus under control.
“Just because of a few people’s carelessness, all our efforts so far can go to waste,” he said.
Homophobic messages circulated through South Korean media after it was revealed that one of the nightclubs was frequented by gay people. On Saturday, officials said that such remarks not only incited prejudice but also risked undermining disease-control efforts, by discouraging nightclub visitors from coming forward for testing.
Pandemic pushes Argentina toward default.
Argentina is hurtling toward default on international loans in two weeks, a prospect that threatens to revive its reputation as a serial deadbeat and global financial pariah that could haunt the Latin American country long after the coronavirus pandemic is over.
If Argentina defaults, which as of Friday appeared likely, it would be the third time in two decades that the country has failed to meet loan payments after having amassed billions of dollars in foreign debt in a deepening spiral of economic dysfunction. Argentina would join Lebanon as the first defaulters in the financial tumult caused by the coronavirus.
Argentina’s 45 million people already were suffering through the third year of a serious downturn when the coronavirus scourge hit, accelerating the economic pain by forcing a lockdown that closed many businesses and left workers jobless.
That suddenly threw a wrench into the government’s plans to restructure $66 billion in debt owed to a range of mostly foreign creditors that include Wall Street investment banks and other private investors around the world. Some of that debt is a vestige of unpaid loans from Argentina’s default in 2001.
The country faces a $500 million interest payment May 22.
The center-left government, elected just seven months ago, says it cannot afford to meet obligations to international creditors while it is raising health care spending and providing emergency cash to Argentines already reeling from soaring inflation and rising poverty.
Nationwide blackouts hit Kenya and Uganda under coronavirus lockdown.
In the midst of an aggressive campaign by the government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Kenya was hit by a blackout that affected neighboring Uganda on Saturday. The countries’ power grids are interconnected.
In a statement, Kenya Power and Lighting Company announced “a system disturbance which occurred on our transmission network at 5:49 a.m. this morning.” The cause of the power cut to the national grid was not immediately clear. But blackouts in the country are not uncommon, especially in rainy seasons.
“Our engineers are working to identify and address the hitch, towards restoring normal electricity supply,” the statement said.
The Uganda Electricity Transmission Co. Ltd., the largest energy distributor in the nation, said in a statement that the country had also suffered a nationwide blackout. “We have lost transmission across the nation,” the statement said. “Please bear with us as we investigate the cause and work on restoration.”
In January 2018, both countries suffered major blackouts.
Uganda has so far recorded 98 coronavirus cases but no deaths. The International Monetary Fund said this week that the country would receive an emergency loan worth $491.5 million to help cushion its economy from the impact of the outbreak as key sectors of the East African economy, including tourism, have taken a heavy blow from the crisis. The effect has been compounded by a lockdown of the entire population, a ban on public gatherings, the closing of schools, a ban on most vehicles from the roads and the closure of all but essential businesses.
Kenya’s government has faced growing criticism for its response to the pandemic — particularly its use of quarantine centers. Hundreds of residents in the East African nation said they were put in quarantine for breaking curfew or not wearing masks. And many said they were told they had to pay to leave after testing negative for the virus.
The government has also been accused of going to extreme measures to contain the virus: The nation of about 47 million people has so far reported 607 cases, 29 fatalities and 197 recoveries. In the first 10 days of a national curfew, police officers killed at least six people while trying to enforce the lockdown, according to Human Rights Watch.
In a Singapore park, a robot named Spot reminds people to maintain a safe distance.
With all public and private gatherings banned in Singapore and people trying to cope by exercising outside, the authorities have found a human-free way to patrol a park and gently remind visitors to observe social-distancing measures.
The four-legged machine, named Spot and developed by Boston Dynamics, can shimmy, moonwalk and climb stairs. Spot also has a bark, of sorts: A speaker that allows the robot’s remote handlers to issue commands — in this case, a recorded message in a female voice.
“Let’s keep Singapore healthy,” Spot said Friday while sauntering down a path at a local park. “For your own safety and for those around you, please stand at least one meter apart. Thank you.”
Spot’s deployment comes as other countries wrestle with similar issues of crowds seeking some relief from isolation in city parks and other open spaces. New York City, hard-hit by the coronavirus, plans to limit entry to some parks to prevent crowds and the spread of infections.
If Spot manages to last through a two-week trial, more robots could be deployed to patrol parks in Singapore, where a relentless surge in infections linked to migrant worker dormitories has shown no sign of stopping. The city-state has had more than 22,000 infections, with 753 recorded on Saturday.
Those we’ve lost: Roy Horn, of the Las Vegas illusionists Siegfried & Roy.
The illusionist team Siegfried & Roy dazzled Las Vegas crowds for 35 years, combining the glitz of sequined costumes with smoke-and-laser magic and the circus thrills of exotic animals. Under their spells, a white tiger turned into a beautiful woman, a six-ton elephant vanished, a tiger floated out over the audience and half of the duo, Roy Horn, turned himself into a python.
Mr. Horn died from complications of Covid-19 on Friday in Las Vegas, where he lived, according to his publicist. He was 75.
He and his partner, Siegfried Fischbacher, had one of the most successful productions in Las Vegas history. It ended on Oct. 3, 2003, when Mr. Horn, on his 59th birthday, was mauled by a 400-pound white tiger who lunged at his throat and dragged him offstage before a stunned, sold-out crowd of 1,500 at MGM’s Mirage hotel-casino. His windpipe had been crushed and an artery carrying oxygen to his brain was damaged; he suffered a stroke and partial paralysis on his left side.
Mr. Horn began a long recovery. In 2004, he returned to his home in Las Vegas, and within months he was walking again with assistance. In February 2009, Siegfried & Roy made one final appearance with a tiger, a benefit performance in Las Vegas. They officially retired from show business in 2010.
The U.S. blocked a Security Council vote that would have called for a halt to armed conflicts amid the pandemic.
A vote on a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a halt to all armed conflicts because of the coronavirus pandemic was blocked on Friday by the United States, apparently because it contained language indicating support for the World Health Organization.
President Trump has accused the W.H.O., an arm of the United Nations, of a bias toward China and a failure to investigate the origins of the coronavirus, which was first seen in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December. Mr. Trump suspended American funding of the W.H.O. last month, a significant financial blow to the organization. The suspension was widely criticized by public health advocates who see the W.H.O. as critical in overcoming the pandemic, which has infected nearly four million people and killed more than 274,000.
Diplomats said the Security Council resolution, which had undergone several revisions aimed partly at satisfying American objections, had nearly reached the stage where it could be put to a vote. But the United States delegation informed other council members in an email on Friday that it still could not support the measure.
Even though the resolution does not specifically mention the W.H.O., the diplomats said it expressed the need to support the “specialized health agencies” of the United Nations.
Tensions between China and the United States over the coronavirus have paralyzed any possible action to fight the pandemic by the Security Council, which is the most powerful body at the United Nations. Its resolutions have the force of international law.
Even though the cease-fire resolution would most likely have done little to halt armed conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Libya and other trouble spots, it was seen as an important expression of backing for Secretary General António Guterres, who has been calling for such a cease-fire since March.
U.S. roundup: The unemployment rate has jumped to 14.7 percent.
Job losses have encompassed the entire economy, affecting every major industry. Areas like leisure and hospitality had the biggest losses in April, but even health care shed more than a million jobs. Low-wage workers, including many women and members of racial and ethnic minorities, have been hit especially hard.
“What would typically take months or quarters to play out in a recession happened in a matter of weeks this time,” said Michelle Meyer, head of U.S. economics at Bank of America.
Hoping to stem some of the economic fallout, three mostly rural California counties allowed some businesses to resume in violation of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s reopening guidelines. Mr. Newsom warned the counties that they risked forgoing disaster funding if they continued to flout his rules.
He also ordered ballots to be sent to the state’s 20.6 million voters for the November election, making California the first state to alter its voting plans for the general election in response to the pandemic. The decision shows that officials believe the outbreak is unlikely to subside by the fall.
A three-drug cocktail proves effective in speeding recovery for mild to moderate cases, a small trial shows.
In the new study, published in The Lancet, researchers at six public hospitals in Hong Kong and the University of Hong Kong followed 127 adults with Covid-19, including 86 on the three-drug cocktail and 41 in a comparison group.
Their study was a preliminary Phase 2 trial, intended to see if a treatment works. (It does not determine whether the treatment is better than other options, but there are few other options for the coronavirus.)
The patients who were started on the cocktail within seven days of having their first symptoms stopped shedding the virus — meaning they were recovering and no longer infectious — earlier than patients in the comparison group, the researchers found.
The patients on the triple-drug combination also appeared to get better faster, and they had significantly shorter hospital stays than the comparison group, according to the study.
Included in the cocktail were three antiviral drugs: lopinavir-ritonavir (sold under the brand name Kaletra), taken orally; ribavirin, an antiviral drug used to treat hepatitis C, also taken orally; and interferon beta-1b, an injectable drug used to treat multiple sclerosis that regulates inflammation and suppresses viral growth.
Patients given the three-drug cocktail tested negative for the coronavirus within seven days, on average, compared with an average 12 days among those treated with the one drug. The cocktail also cut the duration of Covid-19 symptoms in half, to four days from eight days.
Is it time to start traveling again? These countries think so. Here are their plans.
Covid-19 has upended daily life in much of the world for so long that the idea of traveling to another country or state seems like the stuff of dreams. But in the last week or so, as the idea of opening up to travelers has gained traction, some countries are taking concrete steps. Yesterday, Australia announced a three-stage plan to reopen the economy, which includes a focus on tourism. And some countries are forming regional alliances designed to minimize the risk of the virus, including an Australia-New Zealand travel “bubble,” and, in Europe, a travel “corridor” shared by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
But for many places, international flights carrying leisure travelers remain on hold or are banned outright, and the process of reopening remains speculative. The focus, instead, is on internal tourism, to be followed at some point by foreign tourism.
Soccer returns in South Korea, while rugby in Australia hits a snag.
The South Korean soccer league was back underway on Friday, starting just days after the country’s baseball league began its season with international attention and an ESPN broadcast agreement.
The stadium was empty and silent, although crowd noise was pumped in on occasion. Players and coaches on the sidelines wore masks — Jeonbuk’s had team logos. Players bumped fists instead of shaking hands. Even excessive conversations on the field were discouraged. Spitting was also banned, just like in the Korea Baseball Organization.
The league had originally been scheduled to start on Feb. 29 and run through early October. Now it will be extended to Nov. 8. In preparation for the resumption, more than 1,000 players and officials were tested for the virus and cleared to participate. There will be three more games on Saturday and two Sunday, early morning U.S. time.
As soccer got underway in South Korea, the National Rugby League in Australia had a road bump. After a city told a team to stay away, players were fined for going camping in violation of social distancing rules and others tested positive for the virus, a new problem has emerged. At least three players refused to get mandatory flu shots in preparation for the league’s return on May 28.
The players were told by their team, the Gold Coast Titans, that they would not be able to rejoin the squad without the shots. One of them, Nathan Peats, then said he had changed his mind and would get a shot, noting that he was not anti-vaccination, but had been the victim of a bad reaction to a flu shot a few years ago.
Reporting was contributed by Choe Sang-Hun, Rick Gladstone, Elaine Yu, Adbi Latif Dahir, Peter Robins, Yonette Joseph, Daniel Politi, Lauren Sloss, Robert D. McFadden, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and Victor Mather.
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