Disasters and School Reopenings Bring Test of New Coronavirus Normal: Live Coverage

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Pandemic response faces new challenges.

As many countries move into a new phase of their coronavirus response, with some parts of society reopening as outbreaks pass their peaks, the weeks of stringent lockdowns appeared to have paid off.

But some of the hard-won successes may be threatened. Changes in the movement of people — brought on by natural disasters, elections and even the very measures designed to return life to normal, like the reopening of schools — could upend the gains made and run the risk of reigniting outbreaks.

A cyclone that made landfall on Wednesday on India’s coast has driven some three million people into emergency shelters in India and Bangladesh, some of which had been recommissioned in recent weeks as coronavirus quarantine areas. Some of the shelters are being filled to only half capacity in an attempt to maintain social distancing, but aid groups worry the outbreak could be exacerbated there.

The failure of two dams in Michigan late Tuesday was expected to bring record-setting flooding. As the authorities implored residents to evacuate, they urged them to observe measures related to the coronavirus, like wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.

Even students’ return to school has meant risking new outbreaks, and those nations restarting classes, like South Korea, are doing so with masks, plastic barriers and social distancing as part of the new normal. Some colleges have decided its simply not worth the risk, moving classes online for the coming academic year.

But some nations have yet to get the spread of the virus under control. Brazil on Tuesday reported its deadliest day since the outbreak began, and with its confirmed cases rising to more than 270,000, the country swiftly rose to third-largest outbreak in the world after the United States and Russia.

As the world inched closer to five million confirmed infections, with more than 322,000 deaths globally, it’s clear the pandemic is far from over.

Schools are back in session worldwide, but the restart varies by country and city.

Credit…Kim Jun-Beom/Yonhap, via Associated Press

Schools and universities around the world are struggling with how best to reopen. As students in some parts of Asia return to class, many of their peers in North America and Europe remain months away from being educated together.

Even in South Korea, where most universities opened this month, not all education officials were rushing to reopen secondary schools. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun has said the reopening of schools is one of the last tests of the country’s ability to sustain a new kind of daily life under Covid-19.

In the city of Incheon, west of Seoul, for example, students from 66 high schools were turned away and told to go home on Wednesday after two seniors tested positive for the virus. They were believed to have contracted it at a karaoke parlor that had been visited by a recent patient linked to an outbreak in Itaewon, a popular nightlife district in Seoul.

But on the same day at Shinhyeon High School in Seoul, hundreds of seniors were among the nearly half-million high school students who returned to their classrooms nationwide after a monthslong absence.

Teachers at Shinhyeon greeted students by spraying their hands with sanitizer. Inside the classrooms, nonessential furniture had been removed to make space for social distancing.

“I am a bit scared because we have to return to school while the epidemic with no vaccine is still out there,” Lee Na-yeon, a Shinhyeon student, told the all-news cable channel YTN. “But it feels good to see the teachers and friends again after so long.”

Travel changes are on the horizon as Europe attempts to jump-start tourism.

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Hotels in Greece, where tourism accounts for at least 25 percent of gross domestic product, are scheduled to open by July 1, and some international flights are to restart on June 15. Anyone arriving from abroad is currently required to go through a two-week quarantine upon arrival even if a diagnostic test is negative, a measure that has been extended until May 31.

Speaking to the BBC on Monday, the Greek tourism minister, Harry Theoharis, suggested that if arriving tourists were at some point not subject to the two-week quarantine, Greece would “welcome reciprocity.”

He added that if the country did not impose quarantine on British tourists, Greece would like its citizens to also be exempt from the quarantine that Britain is set to impose on arriving passengers starting early next month. Grant Shapps, the British transport minister, said this week that the government was considering the creation of “air bridges” between Britain and low-risk countries.

Spain, which is also financially dependent on tourism, is expected to open its borders to tourists in late June, while Portugal plans to reopen its beaches on June 6, though social distancing measures will be in place.

Italy is to start welcoming tourists on June 3, and no one will not have to self-isolate upon arriving in the country. The British government has urged Britons against all but essential travel to Italy, which, with 32,169 coronavirus-related deaths, has been one of the hardest hit places in Europe.

As global airlines contemplate how to restart an industry that is hemorrhaging cash after the coronavirus pandemic brought most international flights to a screeching halt, Qatar Airways may be going further than most to protect the health of employees and passengers. From Monday, the airline said in a statement, cabin crews will wear hazmat suits over their uniforms, as well as safety goggles, gloves and masks during flights.

Airlines have scrambled to disinfect the few planes still in the air, and some flight hubs, like Hong Kong International Airport, are using temperature checks and antimicrobial booths to disinfect a people’s clothes and skin externally before boarding.

Tom Moore, the 100-year-old veteran who raised millions for U.K. health workers, will be knighted.

Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Tom Moore, the 100-year-old former British army officer who raised $40 million for Britain’s National Health Service by walking 100 laps in his yard, is set to be knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, an honor that completes his transformation from media sensation into national hero.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson recommended him for the knighthood, and the government is set to announce the honor on Wednesday.

“Colonel Tom’s fantastic fund-raising broke records, inspired the whole country and provided us all with a beacon of light through the fog of coronavirus,” Mr. Johnson said in a statement. “On behalf of everyone who has been moved by his incredible story, I want to say a huge thank you.”

Speaking to the BBC on Wednesday, Mr. Moore said he was honored by the recognition.

“I certainly feel that I’ve been given a very outstanding honor by the queen and the prime minister,” he said. “And I thank them all very much. I am certainly delighted.”

He said he was looking forward to meeting the queen but added, “I hope she’s not very heavy handed with the sword. By then I might be rather a poor old weak soul.”

In a subsequent post on Twitter from his official account, Mr. Moore said he was “overwhelmed by the gratitude and love from the British public and beyond” and thanked the staff of the National Health Service for their work.

Mr. Moore’s campaign, which he began a few weeks before his 100th birthday, caught fire after it was posted on an online charity service. It became a hugely popular good-news story in a country especially hard-hit by the pandemic.

Mr. Moore, who served as a captain during the Burma campaign in World War II, said in an earlier interview that he wanted to recognize those on the front line, “just as we were backed up” during World War II.

One feature of Burundi’s presidential campaign? Stadium rallies.

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The campaign to replace Burundi’s long-reigning president has been marred by arrests and alleged killings of political opponents. But during a time of a pandemic, it has also featured rallies in packed stadiums.

Burundi’s citizens will on Wednesday elect a successor to President Pierre Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader who has ruled the country with impunity for the last 15 years, evading international efforts to call him to account for human rights abuses.

More than five million people were expected to vote at about 1,500 polling stations, and experts said that it could be the first competitive election since a civil war that began in 1993 and ended in 2005.

But the risk of contracting the coronavirus adds a critical dimension. From the outbreak’s onset, the authorities cited divine protection for keeping the country open and for holding large rallies.

And even after reporting 42 positive cases and one death, officials have continued to insist that the virus would not affect the country as severely as it has others worldwide.

A cyclone bears down on India and Bangladesh, disrupting responses to the virus.

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Residents and government officials in West Bengal, India, prepared for Cyclone Amphan, as the storm moved across the Bay of Bengal toward India and Bangladesh.CreditCredit…Mehaboob Gazi/Associated Press

Cyclone Amphan, now the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane, made landfall in India and Bangladesh on Wednesday, with a maximum sustained wind speed of 77 miles per hour. It registered winds of 165 miles an hour on Monday, making it the strongest cyclone ever recorded in the Bay of Bengal.

While the intensity of the storm has decreased, officials said, the cyclone still poses a threat to coastal regions in India and Bangladesh. “We are expecting large-scale damage,” said M. Mohapatra, an official at the India Meteorological Department.

More than three million people in India and Bangladesh are being evacuated to emergency cyclone shelters. Still, some of the shelters are only half full, because of concerns about social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.

The people in the storm’s path include about one million Rohingya Muslims who live in refugee camps along the Bangladeshi coastline. The recent confirmation of the first cases of Covid-19 in the camps has added another layer of anxiety and danger to relief efforts.

Taiwan’s president starts a new term, buoyed by high marks for her pandemic response.

Credit…Taiwan Presidential Office

Taiwan, which sits just 100 miles off China’s coast and has a population of more than 23 million, has recorded only 440 coronavirus cases and seven deaths. Its first case was reported on Jan. 21, the same day as the first American case.

In a statement, the U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, praised Ms. Tsai for her leadership, including Taiwan’s response to the virus.

“Her courage and vision in leading Taiwan’s vibrant democracy is an inspiration to the region and the world,” he said, adding that the outbreak had “provided an opportunity for the international community to see why Taiwan’s pandemic-response model is worthy of emulation.”

“Taiwan separatist forces and their actions are contrary to national justice and will surely be nailed to the column of shame in history,” the Chinese Defense Ministry said in a statement. The ministry warned that China would take “all necessary measures” to safeguard its sovereignty.

During her speech, Ms. Tsai praised the Taiwanese people and health officials, many of whom were in attendance, for successfully facing the pandemic. “In recent months, Taiwan’s name has appeared in headlines around the world, thanks to our successful containment of the coronavirus outbreak,” she said.

Death and new life in a Spanish town struck by the outbreak.

Credit…Samuel Aranda for The New York Times

In early April, Gerard Ninot could not bid farewell to his uncle as he lay dying of Covid-19 in the hospital of Igualada, a town in northeastern Spain, that was under one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe. Covid-19 has officially killed 332 people in Igualada, a town of 42,000, with most of these deaths occurring early in the outbreak.

But three weeks later, on April 23, Mr. Ninot managed to make a visit to that hospital, this time as his wife, Mercè López, gave birth to their son, Kenji. Before being given special permission to join her in an isolated room, Mr. Ninot had to test negative for the coronavirus.

“I guess some people leave us and others thankfully arrive,” Mr. Ninot said thoughtfully, while speaking about how a death in the family was soon followed by new life.

Ms. Lopez, a doctor, did her best to prepare for giving birth during a lockdown, but had mixed feelings about being away from work. She went on maternity leave just before her fellow doctors and nurses were all reassigned to treat the sudden influx of Covid-19 patients.

“It was very hard for me, because I really wanted to help my colleagues during such a tough time for all those working in the hospital,” she said. “But at the same time I also had the big responsibility of having to stay as healthy as possible for the arrival of our son.”

The family went for a walk on Monday to enjoy the loosening of lockdown restrictions in Igualada. The Spanish government plans to gradually lift all restrictions on the movement of people, in line with whether they live in areas that have managed to contain the virus.

Mr. Ninot sounded very happy after the family outing, but also conflicted over whether to welcome the return of crowded streets and squares in Igualada. “I have to say that it left me feeling a bit insecure to see so many people out, because we all know that proximity can bring about another wave” of infections,” he said.

As Indonesia’s biggest holiday approaches, social distancing is an afterthought.

Credit…Bay Ismoyo/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Across Indonesia, malls and shopping streets are packed with people seemingly oblivious to the idea of social distancing.

Keeping with tradition, they have been shopping for new clothes to look their best on Indonesia’s most important holiday, Eid al-Fitr, which falls on Sunday. Many are wearing face masks, but others are not.

In Jakarta, the capital, crowds of shoppers swarmed the streets this week around the huge Tanah Abang market. The venue itself was closed to prevent the spread of the virus, and a banner read: “Stay home, Corona is destroyed. Leave home, Corona reigns.” But vendors had filled streets around it with stalls selling head scarves, long, flowing skirts and men’s shirts and trousers.

In the neighboring city of Bogor, where shopping streets were also crowded, officials complained that some shoppers were using government coronavirus aid to buy new holiday clothes, local news outlets reported.

President Joko Widodo, who reluctantly imposed nationwide restrictions, including barring people from returning to their home villages for the holiday, has more recently called for learning to coexist with the virus.

But in Jakarta, which has a third of the nation’s cases, the governor, Anies Baswedan, extended pandemic restrictions from Friday until June 4. He urged the public to stay home and avoid large gatherings, calling the next two weeks “a defining moment.”

How will Europe reconcile requiring masks while banning face veils?

Credit…Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

While face coverings are fast becoming the norm to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, the global politics that surround them are more complicated than ever — a reflection not just of this current crisis, but also of broader values and stereotypes.

This is especially true in the European Union, where the laws informally known as “burqa bans” that forbid full-face coverings, often on the basis of public safety, are being called into question.

“It’s a big contradiction,” Alia Jafar, a British schoolteacher in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, said of the many face covering laws, which differ by country — especially because, to avoid charges of discrimination, the legal wording of most bans is often framed more neutrally to apply to both men and women hiding their faces.

Ms. Jafar posted a picture on social media, which she shared with The New York Times, of two women in the street during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. Both wore wide-brimmed hats, pulled low, with scarfs tied across their faces. Only their eyes peeked through. “It looks like the burqa,” Ms. Jafar said.

Yet this week France stood firm on its ban, which prohibits the wearing of clothing intended to hide the face in public spaces, despite the fact that masks are now being required on public transportation and in high schools. The French interior ministry confirmed to The Times that the face coverings rule of 2010 would stay in place.

The result is a Catch-22. Those who do not wear a mask can be fined, as can those who violate the face-covering law.

An audience comes out of lockdown for Schubert and Mahler.

Credit…Gordon Welters for The New York Times

At least three empty seats separated every occupied one in the neo-Baroque State Theater of Hesse in Wiesbaden, Germany. An auditorium that normally holds 1,000 accommodated fewer than 200 on Monday.

This was by design, part of a hotly debated and potentially risky attempt to revive live performance as the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic ebbs in Europe. Wiesbaden’s concert could serve as a model for other theaters — or as a warning, if anyone who attended gets sick.

Günther Groissböck, an Austrian bass, stepped in front of the sparse audience on Monday, and while he understood the social-distancing rationale for the empty seats, it still felt strange, he said in an interview following his performance of works by Schubert and Mahler.

“At the beginning it felt almost like an art installation, an experiment,” he said. “But from song to song, it very quickly became something very human.”

Concertgoers were required to wear face coverings to the theater, though they were allowed to remove them once seated. Tickets came without seat assignments, and members of a household could sit together. The theater recorded everyone’s name and address, so they could be contacted later in case someone turned out to be infected.

All 50 U.S. states have reopened to some degree. The rules vary widely.

Credit…Whitney Curtis for The New York Times

All 50 states have begun to reopen in at least some way, more than two months after the coronavirus thrust the country into lockdown. But there remain vast discrepancies in how states are deciding to open up, with some forging far ahead of others.

Connecticut was among the last states to take a plunge back to business on Wednesday, when its stay-at-home order lifts and stores, museums and offices are allowed to reopen. But not far away in New Jersey, the reopening has been more limited, with only curbside pickup at retail stores and allowances for certain industries.

The contrast illustrates a dynamic playing out across the country, as governors grapple with how to handle a pandemic that comes with no political playbook.

Our correspondent examines Hong Kong, a city finding normalcy amid the abnormal.

Credit… Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Vivian Wang is a China correspondent whose reporting explores how China’s global rise is reshaping the lives of its people. She lives in Hong Kong, where she also covers the territory’s evolving relationship with the mainland.

Two blocks from my apartment on the western edge of Hong Kong Island, a Starbucks has been transformed into what looks like a construction zone, or maybe a strange art installation.

An armchair near the window was cordoned off for a time with masking tape, and more strips stretched over and around other chairs nearby, taut like tightropes over their neighboring tabletops. Rectangles of white cardboard are clipped to the sides of tables, which now look more like office cubicles than places to gather with friends.

But if the customers are fazed by the oddness of their surroundings, they don’t show it.

On a recent Tuesday night, a young couple huddled at one of the tape-free tables, laughing at something on the girl’s phone. A man hunched over his laptop, seemingly oblivious to the silos shielding him from his fellow patrons.

Hong Kong was one of the first places outside mainland China to be hit by the coronavirus, and the landscape of the city changed immediately.

There were temperature checks at every public building, and signs in elevators telling you how often the buttons were sanitized. A pharmacy chain handed out fistfuls of stickers with every purchase, featuring the chain’s mascot — a winking orange cat — and a reminder: “Wash your hands! Rub your hands! 20 seconds, Thx.”

Everywhere, there were reminders that these were not normal times.

Four months later, those signs are still around. But the city is humming back to life.

Reporting was contributed by Iliana Magra, Jack Ewing, Abdi Latif Dahir, Raphael Minder, Megan Specia, Yonette Joseph, Tariro Mzezewa, Mark Landler, Richard C. Paddock, Dera Menra Sijabat, Lou Stoppard, Choe Sang-Hun, Mike Ives, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Richard Pérez-Peña, Donald G. McNeil Jr., Sarah Mervosh, Mike Baker, Steven Erlanger, Chris Horton, Vivian Wang, Stephen Castle, Sameer Yasir and Jeffrey Gettleman. Claire Fu contributed research.

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