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Beating a pandemic slump shouldn’t mean sacrificing the planet, European leaders warn.
With the global paralysis induced by the coronavirus, levels of pollution and carbon emission are dropping everywhere — leaving bluer skies, visible mountains, splendid wildflowers. Even Venice’s famously murky canals are running clear.
But nature’s revival has come at enormous cost, with Europe’s economy projected to decline 7.4 percent this year. The New York Times’s chief diplomatic correspondent, Steven Erlanger, says many leaders, diplomats and experts are bracing for a battle over whether reviving the economy now requires an end to ambitious and potentially disruptive plans to permanently reduce carbon emissions.
The European Union began the year promoting a plan for a rapid transformation of the economy toward a carbon-neutral future — “the Green Deal” — which Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the bloc’s executive arm, has declared should be “the motor for the recovery.” She has important support from President Emmanuel Macron of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.
The countries of Central and Eastern Europe were already worried about the pain of a green transition, however. And poorer countries of the south, with higher debts to begin with and less room for more, fear a new inequality as bigger, richer countries like Germany and France can subsidize their industries far more lavishly.
The shape of those subsidies will be a battleground, too. Mr. Macron has already tied new funding for the airline Air France-KLM to carbon reduction. But a former European official, Stefan Lehne, sees “a huge conflict” between “saving the jobs of companies on edge of bankruptcy and investing in new jobs.”
“There will be a lot of pressure to go back to the status quo ante as much as possible,” he said.
Seoul shuts its bars and nightclubs after a 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. The South Korean soccer league was back underway on Friday, starting just days after the country’s baseball league began its season.
The mayor, Mr. Park, said that nightclub patrons who had failed to wear face masks had put at risk 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.
At least 6 killed at Afghan protest demanding more aid under lockdown.
A protest demanding more assistance for the poor as Afghanistan grapples with the spread of Covid-19 turned deadly on Saturday, with at least six people dead after security forces opened fire.
About 100 people, mostly day laborers who have lost any economic prospect after lockdowns went into effect around Afghanistan, had gathered outside the provincial governor’s office in Ghor Province, in the west of the country, seeking aid and food, officials said. The security forces fired when the numbers grew and the protesters tried to make their way into the compound.
At least four civilians, including an employee of a local media organization, were killed and 12 others wounded, the provincial police chief, Mohamed Amin Ahmadzai, said. He added that the protest had been infiltrated by armed men who opened fire and pelted rocks at security forces; he said two police officers were also killed and 10 others wounded.
“This wasn’t a protest — this was an evil conspiracy of the enemy,” Mr. Ahmadzai said.
Mohammad Aref Aber, the governor’s spokesman, said: “The protesters were in front of the provincial governor’s building asking for help, and we do not have anything to help them with.”
Afghanistan has recorded 4,333 cases of Covid-19 so far and 115 deaths. But officials warn that the actual spread is most likely much wider and undetected because of extremely limited testing capacity. The major cities have gone under some extent of lockdown, hurting an economy where about 80 percent of the population was already near the poverty line, living on $1.25 a day.
“Those protesting were laborers, people who had returned from Iran to the city, or from the villages and districts due to poverty and war,” said Ahmad Wazir Noorani, a civil society activist in Ghor. “They were chanting that the aid from the government and N.G.O.s are reaching those with connections to power, and the helpless poor will die from starvation.”
Crowds watch tank parade in Belarus, even as Russia keeps its Victory Day events low-key.
Ignoring health warnings and its powerful neighbor Russia, the defiantly contrarian former Soviet nation of Belarus staged a military parade on Saturday to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Red Army’s defeat of Nazi Germany, parading soldiers and tanks through the center of its capital, Minsk, as crowds of spectators, mostly without masks, gathered to watch.
While Russia canceled its parade in Red Square because of the coronavirus and settled for a military flyby over Moscow’s mostly empty streets, Belarus went ahead with Victory Day celebrations after its authoritarian leader, Aleksandr Lukashenko, called the coronavirus pandemic a “psychosis.”
Mr. Lukashenko has encouraged people to attend commemorations for the end of World War II in Europe, claimed at the start of the pandemic that riding tractors, sitting in saunas and drinking vodka would vanquish the virus, and has repeatedly played down the risk of infection. At the same time, he has told his people not to worry even if there is a danger because “it’s better to die standing than to live on your knees.”
Over two million people died in Belarus during World War II, and Mr. Lukashenko said this week that the government “simply cannot cancel the parade,” despite growing concerns that the virus is spreading fast across the country. He invited foreign leaders like President Emmanuel Macron of France to attend. None showed up. Russia said it would send its ambassador.
With a population of 9.5 million, Belarus has reported just 21,000 infections, far fewer than the nearly 200,000 reported by more populous Russia, a close but increasingly irritated ally. The two countries agreed in the late 1990s to form a so-called union state but the merger, already stalled, has been set back further by their rift over coronavirus. Belarus last week expelled a Russian state television journalist for spreading “fake news” after a report that cast doubt on the official coronavirus death toll of just 121.
Russia on Saturday reported 10,817 new cases of the coronavirus in the last 24 hours, pushing the nationwide tally to 198,676 cases and over 1,700 deaths. The country remains under lockdown.
President Vladimir V. Putin, leaving his country residence for the first time in weeks, attended a low-key ceremony in the rain outside the Kremlin, laying a bouquet of red roses on the tomb of the unknown soldier. In a brief speech marking what he called “our most important and most cherished holiday,” Mr. Putin said, “We pay tribute and endlessly honor the monumental and selfless heroism of the Soviet people.”
The main threat to Brazil’s coronavirus response? Bolsonaro, The Lancet says.
President Jair Bolsonaro is “perhaps the biggest threat to Brazil’s Covid-19 response,” the renowned scientific journal The Lancet said in an editorial on Saturday, arguing that the president’s dismissal of the dangers posed by the virus had sowed confusion among Brazilians.
“He needs to drastically change course or must be the next to go,” The Lancet wrote about Mr. Bolsonaro in the editorial, calling the recent ouster of two ministers “a deadly distraction in the middle of a public health emergency.”
Brazil has reported nearly 150,000 coronavirus cases and over 10,000 deaths, making it the worst-hit country in Latin America. A study published this week by Imperial College London that analyzed the transmission rate of the virus in 48 countries found Brazil had the highest rate of transmission.
But Mr. Bolsonaro has interacted with supporters without wearing masks, has called the virus that has killed nearly 275,000 people worldwide a “little flu.” and has regularly clashed with state governors who have imposed lockdowns to try to protect their populations. When asked by journalists last month about the rapid spread of the virus in the country, Mr. Bolsonaro replied: “So what? What do you want me to do?”
In neighboring Paraguay, President Mario Abdo Benítez has said that the efforts to contain the spread of the virus could be hampered by Brazil’s outbreak, calling it “a great threat for our country.” Half of the Paraguay’s 563 confirmed cases have been of people coming from Brazil, Mr. Benítez said.
The U.S. blocked a U.N. call for a pandemic truce.
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.
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 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. 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.
And some analysts argue the global crisis could put it in a better position to renegotiate its debt.
“Covid-19 improves Argentina’s chances of receiving a favorable deal,” said Miguel Kiguel, a former finance secretary who runs Econviews, a consultancy. “Creditors are losing money everywhere and Argentine bonds are at a very low value so there is a possibility that if Argentina makes a reasonable offer” creditors will not object.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Reporting was contributed by Steven Erlanger, Choe Sang-Hun, Andrew Higgins, Elian Peltier, Elaine Yu, Adbi Latif Dahir, Mujib Mashal, Asadullah Timory, Peter Robins, Yonette Joseph, Rick Gladstone, Daniel Politi, Lauren Sloss, Robert D. McFadden, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and Victor Mather.
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