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France reports a coronavirus case from December, weeks before its outbreak surfaced.
Doctors in France reported that a patient in late December tested positive for the coronavirus, a finding that could significantly advance the timeline of the global spread of the virus and raise fresh questions about how long the disease was circulating in Wuhan before it was acknowledged by Chinese authorities.
The discovery came after French doctors retested samples taken on Dec. 27 from a patient initially diagnosed with pneumonia at a hospital near Paris. That was days before Chinese authorities first reported the previously unknown ailment to the World Health Organization; weeks before the Chinese acknowledged that human to human transmission was even possible; and more than a month before the disease was first officially acknowledged to have emerged in France.
The new finding underscores just how late authorities in Europe were in recognizing that the virus had arrived in their midst and in fashioning a full-throttle response. Doctors cautioned that the finding still must be verified and that the case may not be directly related to the epidemic that has ravaged France since.
The detection of an earlier case follows similar instances in the United States where infections that were not identified at first were later found to have been caused by the coronavirus. The cases lend support for a model that suggested silent outbreaks had spread for weeks before detection.
The French case also indicates that person-to-person transmission was taking place in Europe far earlier than previously known, because the infected man had not been out of the country since August.
Doctors at the Avicenne and Jean Verdier hospitals north of Paris recently tested samples from patients diagnosed with atypical pneumonia in December and January.
Dr. Yves Cohen, head of intensive care, told the BFM TV news channel that they detected one case of Covid-19 from a Dec. 27 sample, adding that staff had tested it several times to try to rule out a false positive.
The patient is a 42-year-old man born in Algeria who has lived in France for many years, according to Dr. Cohen and others in their study, pre-proofed for publication in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents. It is not yet entirely clear how the man caught the infection.
France’s health ministry said on Tuesday that authorities were “in contact with scientists and experts on the issue in order to obtain a confirmation or a refutation from them on this topic.”
“We are in permanent contact with our European and Chinese counterparts on the issue, in order to better understand the spread of the virus at the global level,” the ministry said.
Japan’s prime minister pushes a homegrown drug without solid evidence.
The prime minister, however, has glossed over one crucial fact: There is no solid evidence that Avigan works against Covid-19. While it has shown potential for treating some deadly diseases like Ebola in animal studies, there are limited findings that it works for any illness in humans.
What Avigan, whose generic name is favipiravir, does have is a peculiar regulatory history and one dangerous potential side effect — birth defects. Mr. Abe himself noted in a news conference on Monday that the side effect was “the same as thalidomide,” which caused deformities in thousands of babies in the 1950s and ’60s.
His pitches for the medication, like Mr. Trump’s testimonials for the antimalarial medicine hydroxychloroquine, are adding to concerns that national leaders could warp drug approval processes.
India will repatriate thousands of citizens stranded abroad.
The Indian government is set to begin an enormous repatriation mission using jumbo jets and naval warships to rescue thousands of Indian citizens stranded in other countries, especially in the Persian Gulf.
Flights are scheduled to start Thursday. Only passengers without coronavirus symptoms will be allowed to travel, the Indian government said.
The country has so far been spared a high death toll, and remains cautious about letting in foreigners or Indians from abroad. India was one of the first major countries to shut down all international flights.
Millions of Indians work in the Arab world — particularly in the oil-rich countries of the gulf, also known as Arabian Gulf — and many have lost their jobs in recent weeks as Arab economies have contracted under lockdown.
“We have been getting distress calls from the Gulf,” said Mahesh Kumar, a spokesman for India’s foreign ministry.
Upon arrival, the returnees would be quarantined for 14 days.
There are also thousands of Indians studying abroad, including many in Europe and the United States, who want to come home.
“With universities and colleges closed, they have few options left,” Mr. Kumar said.
National governments set policies. That doesn’t mean local governments follow them.
As countries decide how strict or loose to be about social distancing, they are finding that, as in the United States, they have no guarantee of cooperation from local and regional officials.
Mayors running for re-election in Ukraine have defied a national lockdown and invited restaurants and hair salons to resume business, despite threats of criminal prosecution for doing so. The mayor of Cherkasy allowed outdoor seating at restaurants, cheering local business owners.
President Volodymyr Zelensky called the defiance “an attempt to earn political points at the cost of lives and health.”
Early on, Italian mayors scolded and pleaded with citizens to keep them indoors. But as lockdown fatigue sets in, regional leaders have bridled at Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s cautious approach to reopening.
Sardinia’s governor, Christian Solinas, announced Saturday that barbershops, hair salons, tattoo parlors and clothing stores could open on May 11, three weeks ahead of the schedule set by Rome. He said Masses, prohibited nationally, could be celebrated next week.
One Sardinian mayor, Settimo Nizzi of Olbia, said that restaurants and bars could start seating customers on May 18.
In Germany, mayors have protested the lockdown rules but so far have followed them. Boris Palmer, the mayor of Tübingen, in the country’s southwest, suggested that reviving the economy mattered more than the lives of potential coronavirus victims, whom he characterized as old and unwell.
“Let me be blunt: In Germany, we might be saving people who would be dead in half a year anyway,” he said in a TV interview last Tuesday.
French mayors have resisted national policies — but in favor of more restriction, not less. Defying the central government, several cities tried to require mask-wearing in public.
Over 300 mayors from the Paris region have asked the government to push back the timetable for reopening schools. Many fear being held legally responsible if teachers or students are infected.
China was quick to promote its medical aid, but slower to send it.
By mid-March, China was already pursuing “mask diplomacy” after an ambitious, nationwide mobilization of medical supply production through February. The study, however, cast doubt on whether the humanitarian aid blitz really took place, since China’s exports were down in March from a year earlier.
The tonnage of China’s net exports of respirators and surgical masks was down 5 percent in March from the same month a year earlier, according to an analysis by Chad Bown, a trade specialist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.
The analysis, based on Beijing’s own customs data, also found that China cut way back on exports of medical supplies in January and February and stepped up imports in those months.
But Mr. Bown’s study did not include China’s exports of medical supplies in April, for which official data is not yet available. China continued to promote these exports last month, although complaints from foreign governments about defective products prompted Beijing to institute time-consuming quality checks on April 10 that delayed many shipments.
Norwegian Cruise Line acknowledges ‘substantial doubt’ about its survival.
Norwegian Cruise Line, one of the world’s largest cruise companies, said on Tuesday that there was “substantial doubt” about its ability to survive the pandemic.
Norwegian acknowledged the dire situation in a securities filing announcing that it was seeking $650 million in new financing. The global shutdown of the cruise industry has strained the finances of all three major cruise companies — Norwegian and its two main rivals, Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean — forcing them to borrow money at high interest rates.
Carnival, another giant in the cruise industry, was widely criticized for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, but announced on Monday that some of its ships may begin sailing again as soon as August.
Since the coronavirus started spreading in Asia, the Carnival Corporation has been at the center of the pandemic, with outbreaks on at least seven of its ships, including the Diamond Princess, where eight people died and more than 700 were infected.
Lawmakers and epidemiologists have blamed Carnival for failing to contain outbreaks and spreading the virus across the world. Its response to the pandemic is the subject of a criminal investigation by the Australian police and a congressional investigation in the United States.
Global deaths pass 250,000, but amid the tragedy a new sense of normalcy emerges.
As the pandemic lengthens from weeks into months, reminders of the continuing threat have become a part of normal life, even in countries that are beginning to open up: school cafeterias divided by plastic partitions, sports matches played in empty arenas, and “travel bubbles” between countries with few cases.
As of Tuesday, the confirmed death toll has surpassed 250,000, the number of new infections was still steadily rising in many parts of the world, with more than 3.5 million confirmed cases, and fears that the crisis will escalate had not ebbed.
Frightening details have also emerged about the broader health implications of the virus. New York City doctors raised the alarm on Monday after 15 children, many of whom had the coronavirus, were recently hospitalized with symptoms associated with toxic shock or Kawasaki disease, a rare illness in children that involves inflammation of the blood vessels, including coronary arteries.
Pediatricians in several European countries, including Italy, Britain, France and Spain, have reported dozens of cases of children showing such symptoms, but doctors have said it is too early to link them to the coronavirus. They have, however, been asked to begin collecting case studies.
But even as the cases raised concerns for children, some countries are reimagining what education in the coronavirus-era would look like. In South Korea, which is preparing for students to return to classrooms after reporting fewer than 15 new cases per day for the last two weeks, that meant installing plastic partitions on tables in school cafeterias this week.
In Spain, where the return to school had already been pushed back until after the summer, the government is now preparing to halve the number of students allowed inside the classroom at the start of the coming school year.
It’s not just schools that will look different. Sports events have been canceled across much of the world, and the authorities are trying to reconcile the requirements of halting a pandemic with the usually packed stadiums and arenas where many teams play.
Instead, the stands are filled with fake spectators, and the locker rooms are stocked with bottles of sanitizer.
World leaders join to pledge $8 billion for vaccine, but the U.S. sits out.
A fund-raising conference on Monday organized by the European Union brought pledges from countries around the world — including Japan, Canada, Australia and Norway — to fund laboratories that have promising leads in developing and producing a vaccine.
For more than three hours, one by one, global leaders said a few words over video link and offered their nations’ contribution, small or large, whatever they could muster. For Romania, it was $200,000. For Canada, $850 million. The biggest contributors were the European Union and Norway, with each pledging one billion euros, or $1.1 billion.
The details of how the money raised will be distributed remain to be sorted out. The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union that spearheaded the initiative, said the money would be spent over the next two years to support promising initiatives around the globe. The ultimate goal is to deliver universal and affordable access to medication to fight Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
In Washington on Monday, senior Trump administration officials sought to talk up American contributions to coronavirus vaccine efforts worldwide, but did not explain the United States’ absence at the European-organized conference.
The U.S. government has spent money on vaccine research and development, including $2.6 billion through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, an arm of the Health and Human Services Department. Jim Richardson, the State Department’s director of foreign assistance, said American companies had also provided $7 billion so far toward a coronavirus vaccine and treatment.
And the United States was not the world’s only major power to be absent from the teleconference. Russia, too, did not participate.
China, where the virus originated, was represented by its ambassador to the European Union and made no financial pledge.
The country has slashed red tape and offered resources to drug companies in a bid to empower the country’s vaccine industry. Four Chinese companies have begun testing their vaccine candidates on humans, more than the United States and Britain combined.
Chaos erupts at liquor stores in India, reopened after weeks.
Lines nearly a mile long. Police officers thumping shoppers with sticks. Gates suddenly slamming shut.
These were the scenes playing out as chaos erupted at liquor stores in India, allowed to open for the first time in six weeks since the government imposed one of the strictest coronavirus lockdowns anywhere in the world.
Firoz Alam, an out-of-work factory worker, had been waiting for five hours on Tuesday to buy a bottle of whiskey from a Delhi shop. He said he hadn’t had a drink for weeks.
“I haven’t been able to sleep well lately,” he explained. “So I just wanted to buy some liquor and sleep for a couple hours.”
But his dry spell was destined to continue. Police officers summarily closed the liquor shop, as they have done at many locations, because the crowd was too big and getting out of control.
“That’s not good,” Mr. Alam said. “We’re not like the rich people who can get this through the black market.”
Starting Monday, India’s central government permitted liquor shops to reopen outside virus hot spots as long there were no crowds and people maintained social distance. But in some places, lines snaked for more than a kilometer. Picture thousands of men, pressed together, cheek by jowl, eager for a drink.
“Why are you out of line? Maintain your distance! Go away!” a clearly frustrated police officer at another shop in Delhi yelled as he lashed out with a long wooden stick.
Officials in the southern state of Kerala opted to keep liquor shops shut entirely, fearing that the risk was still too high. India’s states have some autonomy to set their own standards as long as they do not undermine the national lockdown rules. A couple of states in the northeast had allowed alcohol sales for a few days in April before the central government cracked down.
With most sports leagues on pause, baseball in Taiwan and South Korea becomes a global hit.
South Korea’s season starts Tuesday, while Taiwan got underway last month. To adapt the game to the coronavirus age, live spectators are banned. The relative quiet makes the games now feel more like practice rather than the typically raucous regular season competitions.
Chewing sunflower seeds is frowned upon — what would one do with the shells? Players are encouraged to bump elbows rather than give each other high-fives.
Players and coaches say they feel fortunate to be able to host games at all when many cities in the world remain under lockdown.
“We know many people are still keeping their eyes on us, even though there are no fans,” said Chiu Chang-Jung, the manager of the CTBC Brothers team, which on Saturday took on the Rakuten Monkeys at the stadium in Taoyuan, about 30 miles west of Taiwan’s capital, Taipei. “Playing these games is a very lucky and blessed thing.”
Under fire from the media, Boris Johnson’s government fires back.
The culture minister recently accused the BBC of bias in reporting on the shortage of protective gear in hospitals. The health secretary heatedly claimed that The Sunday Times of London had misstated policy on shielding older people.
And 10 Downing Street has posted lengthy rebuttals, by unnamed officials, of newspaper articles that detailed its missteps in dealing with the outbreak.
Mr. Johnson has opened his daily briefings to questions and comments from members of the public as well as the press corps, making the famously sharp-tongued British reporters seem meaner by comparison.
“It positions the government and the public against the media, at the very moment that the media is presenting itself as the representative of the people in holding the government to account,” said Meera Selva, the director of the Reuters Journalism Fellowship Program at Oxford University.
The criticism has not abated, but now that Mr. Johnson and his allies have ramped up testing and declared that the worst is over, they have gone back on the offensive with the media, trying to put any talk of failure behind them. It is a return to a pugnacious populism that has served them well in the past.
But Andrea Ammon, director of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, contradicted the claim that the worst was over during a Monday news conference, when she said that Britain was one of four European nations that had seen “no substantial changes” in the past two weeks.
Ms. Ammon said that, as of Saturday, the wave of transmission in Europe had seemingly passed its peak with the exception of Bulgaria, where numbers were still increasing, and Poland, Romania, Sweden, and Britain, where there had been no substantial decrease or change.
Latest in science: Researchers are adapting gene therapy to develop a vaccine.
Their work employs a method already used in gene therapy for two inherited diseases, including a form of blindness: It uses a harmless virus as a vector, or carrier, to bring DNA into the patient’s cells. In this case, the DNA should instruct the cells to make a coronavirus protein that would stimulate the immune system to fight off future infections.
So far, the team has studied its vaccine candidates only in mice. Tests for safety and potency in monkeys should begin within a month or so at another academic center, the researchers said. But two of seven promising versions are already being manufactured for studies in humans.
At this early stage, Dr. Luk H. Vandenberghe, director of the Grousbeck Gene Therapy Center at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, estimates the manufacturing cost per dose of vaccine to be from $2.50 to $250.
“We are presenting a different angle from everybody else,” Dr. Vandenberghe, director said. Several other vaccine projects involve viral vectors, but no others use adeno-associated viruses.
The approach has several advantages, he added.
One is that the type of vector, an adeno-associated virus, or AAV, is a harmless virus that is already used in two approved forms of gene therapy and has been tested in many patients and found to be safe. Another plus is that the technique requires very small amounts of the vector and DNA to produce immunity, so the yield of doses would be high. In addition, many drug and biotech companies, large and small, already produce adeno-associated virus and could easily switch to producing the form needed for the vaccine.
The research is one of at least 90 vaccine projects speeding ahead around the world in desperate efforts that hold the best and probably only hope of stopping or at least slowing the pandemic.
One potential problem that every vaccine project will be on the lookout for is disease enhancement: the possibility that a vaccine, instead of preventing infection, could actually make the disease worse.
The two scientists said the many research groups forging ahead with vaccine projects were racing not against one another, but against the coronavirus.
They survived the Holocaust, but now they’re confronting the virus.
“This pandemic is the greatest threat to this generation since the Second World War,” said Stephen D. Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation, which interviews survivors of genocide.
One got out of Nazi Germany on a Kindertransport train to Sweden, never again seeing his parents, who were exterminated in the death camps. One survived two notorious concentration camps, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, and was discovered by British troops on a pile of bodies, half-dead with typhus. One endured freezing temperatures and near starvation in a slave-labor camp in Siberia.
Last month, all three died by the same tiny microorganism, isolated once more from their family members.
And for survivors who have eluded the virus, memories of that dark time, never far out of mind, find new salience in the present plague.
For Diana Kurz, 83, who escaped Vienna with her mother when she was 4 years old, said the coronavirus reminded her of those years in Vienna, when any random encounter might be deadly.
“I guess I picked that up as a child,” she said, “that feeling of dread all the time. That’s what it is like now. You never know if other people on the street are going to give you the virus, or were going to turn you in to the Gestapo because you were a Jew.”
Japan has been collecting coronavirus data by fax. Now it’s going digital.
For months, Japanese clinics have been reporting data about the coronavirus to the authorities using fax machines.
That will change on May 17, when medical facilities across the country will be able to report through online portals, streamlining a process that doctors have complained is stuck in the last millennium.
In a country where warehouse workers use mechanized exoskeletons to lift heavy packages and a chart-topping pop singer is a hologram, many in Japan are frustrated and perplexed by the government’s insistence on using old technologies for a wide range of bureaucratic tasks.
The move from paper to pixels seems to have been driven by one doctor’s angst-ridden tweet, lamenting the difficulty of sharing information with the government.
On April 23, pulmonologist Kyuto Tanaka posted on Twitter, “Let’s stop already… handwriting outbreak reports… someone needs to draw attention to this loudly,” along with a copy of the form.
The message received more than 25,000 likes. The most important one came from Defense Minister Taro Kono, who directed it to the attention of Masaaki Taira, a deputy cabinet minister for information technology policy, among other roles.
Within a week, Mr. Taira announced that the process would be moved online.
New Zealand and Australia work toward creating a ‘travel bubble.’
Australia and New Zealand are moving closer toward creating a “travel bubble” that would allow people to fly between the two countries without quarantines — a resumption of traffic that would be a boost for both countries’ economies.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, who joined Australia’s cabinet meeting on Tuesday to discuss the steps required, said on Monday that the move would depend on continued progress in testing and tracing of coronavirus infections in both countries. That could take weeks or months.
“Both our countries’ strong record of fighting the virus has placed us in the enviable position of being able to plan the next stage in our economic rebuild,” she said.
Ms. Ardern and Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia told reporters on Tuesday that the ‘bubble’ is an important part of the road back to normalcy for both nations.
Such a travel arrangement could potentially be extended into the Pacific — Fiji has only a handful of reported cases and zero deaths. And plans are also being laid for limited travel between other countries that have controlled the spread of infection.
China and South Korea began easing quarantine requirements for some business travelers on Friday. A day later, trade ministers from Australia, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand and Singapore agreed to a collective effort to resume the flow of not just goods and services, but also people traveling “for purposes such as maintaining global supply chains, including essential business travel,” according to a joint statement.
Public health experts say that any resumption of travel comes with risks, but they also note that conditions vary by country. Travelers from the United States, the main source of coronavirus infections in Australia, may have to wait far longer to book flights around the world without being subject to 14-day quarantines.
Reporting was contributed by Elisabetta Povoledo, Christopher F. Schuetze, Maria Varenikova, Karen Zraick, Richard Pérez-Peña, Jeffrey Gettleman, Sameer Yasir, Raphael Minder, David Yaffe-Bellany, Kai Schultz, Keith Bradsher, Aurelien Breeden, Ben Dooley, Choe Sang-Hun, Elian Peltier, Megan Specia, Iliana Magra, Mark Landler, Stephen Castle, Andrew Keh, Javier C. Hernández, Damien Cave, Andrew E. Kramer, Denise Grady, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Lara Jakes and John Leland.
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