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Europe is desperate to salvage summer tourism. But can it?
Tourist destinations across Europe are scrambling to find ways to salvage their peak summer season, as the pandemic chokes a vital part of many European nations’ economies.
Italy’s idyllic beaches may be newly fitted with Plexiglas boxes to enforce social distancing.
Sicily has plans to offer visitors three nights for the price of two.
Portugal will allow travelers to reschedule trips until the end of 2021, urging those who won’t be able to come this year not to cancel their visits, but just to come back later.
With the pandemic expected to cut tourism revenues in Europe by more than half this year, countries whose economies rely on an annual influx of visitors are mapping out plans to reinvigorate the sector as they gradually loosen restrictions.
Such plans may prove vital for the European Union’s economy, which faces the worst recession in its history, experts said this week. Over 27 million people in the bloc, or 12 percent of its work force, work in the tourism industry. In southern Europe, tourism represents between 13 and 20 percent of the countries’ economies.
But as much as Europe wants its tourists back, efforts to restart the sector may depend on what each country decides. Clubs in Ibiza may reopen, but who will dance there if the Dutch and British tourists who usually fill their floors aren’t allowed to travel?
Travelers might plan for a trip to France, but what is a visit to Paris if the Louvre and restaurants remain closed?
Some countries, like Greece, have said they could reopen tourism to those who can travel by car, before allowing flights.
While the authorities in Italy and Germany have hinted that citizens may be allowed to go abroad this summer, President Emmanuel Macron of France cautioned against too much movement too fast. Concerns are high that flows of tourists could trigger a second wave of the virus, especially as ski resorts in Austria and vacation spots in Spain and Italy may have contributed to the spread of the virus earlier this year.
Poland postpones its presidential election after a push to hold it this week.
Poland’s presidential election, which was to be the first of its kind held in Europe since the outbreak of the coronavirus, has been indefinitely delayed just days before it was scheduled to take place.
The decision, made by the governing Law and Justice party on Wednesday night, came after weeks of political turmoil around the prospect of a hastily arranged “vote-by-mail” system. The election, which had been planned for Sunday, is now not expected to take place until June at the earliest and officials are still debating how to conduct the contest both safely and fairly.
President Andrzej Duda, a candidate of the governing party, is a clear favorite to win and the government had been pressing for the vote to go ahead. But opposition candidates — who had to halt their campaigns during the lockdown — urged a rescheduling.
But the government was forced to admit defeat this week in its often clumsy effort to set up Poland’s first postal election, for an electorate of more than 30 million, in less than a month. Officials said they still expected the rescheduled vote to rely on mail-in ballots.
“Our experts are going to start working today on a deep change of the law on postal elections,” said Jaroslaw Gowin, head of a junior coalition partner. “The vote will take place in a way that is recommended by the health minister and experts. It will be an all mail-in vote. In the next two years, no other form of voting will be possible.”
Still, the move is likely to only deepen the political and constitutional crisis in Poland. Critics of the governing party had called for all elections to be suspended under a formal, limited state of emergency. Instead, Law and Justice simply suspended the election four days before it was scheduled, without giving its legal reasoning.
“We still don’t know on what basis the elections are not taking place this Sunday,” said Marek Chmaj, an expert in constitutional law at the University of Warsaw, adding that there was no guarantee that the future election would be fair. “It’s chaos.”
A flurry of speculation is dampened in Britain, as the government signals that it will extend lockdown rules.
Britain’s government was on Thursday planning to announce a formal renewal of its coronavirus lockdown restrictions, while warning that any imminent easing of them will be very limited.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson had said that he planned to announce the lifting of restrictions as soon as Monday, spurring tabloid headlines like “Happy Monday,” in The Sun, and “Hurrah! Lockdown Freedom Beckons,” in the Daily Mail. Those proclamations may have been premature.
At a cabinet meeting on Thursday, Mr. Johnson told colleagues that “maximum caution” was needed to prevent a second spike in infections that would cost more lives and deal further damage to the economy, Downing Street said.
“We are at a critical moment in the fight against the virus and we will not do anything that risks the progress the British public has made,” a spokesman said.
And with good weather expected during a long weekend — Friday is Early May Bank Holiday — some fear that Britons might relax prematurely and invite a new wave of infections.
“Some of the reports in today’s newspapers risk sending mixed messages to people across the UK,” Mark Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales, wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “Our message this bank holiday remains the same: Stay home, protect the NHS and save lives.”
The U.N. triples its aid request to handle virus fallout.
The United Nations more than tripled the size of its humanitarian aid appeal on Thursday to help the most vulnerable countries threatened by the coronavirus pandemic, from $2 billion initially sought just six weeks ago to $6.7 billion now.
The enormous expansion of the appeal, announced by Mark Lowcock, the top humanitarian aid official at the United Nations, reflected what he described as an updated global plan that includes nine additional countries deemed especially vulnerable: Benin, Djibouti, Liberia, Mozambique, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, Togo and Zimbabwe.
While the peak of the pandemic in the poorest countries is not expected until somewhere between three and six months from now, the United Nations said in a statement that “there is already evidence of incomes plummeting and jobs disappearing, food supplies failing and prices soaring, and children missing vaccinations and meals.”
Mr. Lowcock, who heads the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said in the statement that “unless we take action now, we should be prepared for a significant rise in conflict, hunger and poverty. The specter of multiple famines loom.”
Even as the 193-member organization announced the new target for humanitarian fund-raising, it was still facing challenges in fulfilling the $2 billion goal set by Secretary General António Guterres on March 25. About $1 billion has been raised.
That money, the United Nations said, has gone to funding for hand-washing stations in vulnerable locations such as refugee camps, the distribution of gloves and masks, and the training of more than 1.7 million people, including health workers, on virus identification and protection measures.
Mr. Lowcock’s office projected recently that the long-term cost of protecting the most vulnerable 10 percent of people in the world from the worst impacts of the pandemic is approximately $90 billion. That amount is equivalent to about 1 percent of the current economic stimulus packages announced by the world’s most affluent countries.
After a deadly gas leak, Indian officials investigate a plant’s reopening.
The Indian authorities are investigating whether the rush to reopen a chemical plant in eastern India after a long coronavirus lockdown contributed to a deadly gas leak on Thursday morning.
At least eleven people have died and hundreds were rushed to hospitals after a cloud of toxic styrene gas escaped from a polymer factory owned by the South Korean company LG Corp. and located near the city of Visakhapatnam.
“It seems unskilled labor mishandled the maintenance work and because of that, the gas leaked,” said Srijana Gummalla, commissioner of Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation, the local government body.
Dozens of men and women were left lying unconscious in the street. Mothers ran to hospitals with limp children in their arms. Police officers moved house to house to evacuate the area around the plant.
“We could feel the strong stench of the gas. Our eyes started watering and we could smell the gas in our mouths,” said one man, D.V.S.S. Ramana, who lived near the plant and spoke by telephone as he was fleeing.
The upsetting images of the accident broadcast on Indian television stations immediately drew comparison to the 1984 gas leak in India’s Bhopal State, considered the world’s worst industrial accident. That leak, at a Union Carbide pesticide plant, left nearly 4,000 dead and another 500,000 injured.
LG Chemical said it was investigating how the leak in Visakhapatnam happened.
“The gas leak from the factory is now under control,” the company said in a statement.
LG acknowledged that some people had been killed in the villages around the factory, saying that it was investigating “the cause of deaths” and other damage.
Afghanistan’s health minister tests positive for the coronavirus.
Afghanistan’s health minister has tested positive for Covid-19, presenting yet another challenge in the country’s battle against a virus that is spreading rapidly amid raging warfare and deep poverty.
Dr. Ferozuddin Feroz developed symptoms in recent days and isolated himself at home, said Wahidullah Mayar, a spokesman for the health ministry. He added that Dr. Feroz, a wartime trauma surgeon who has led the ministry for five years, was in good condition despite his symptoms.
Mr. Mayar said on Thursday that 171 new cases of the virus were reported around the country in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 3,563. But officials warn that the undetected spread is probably much greater, given that the country’s testing capacity has remained extremely low.
During a recent interview with The Times, conducted in a garden on the ministry’s grounds, bodyguards and aides tried to maintain distance around Dr. Feroz as staff members and visitors approached him.
Urgent papers still needed signing. After putting his signature on one document, Dr. Feroz looked suspiciously at the pen handed to him, and an aide quickly presented him with a small bottle of hand sanitizer.
Later, a deputy rang Dr. Feroz to say that the country’s Senate — which had ignored repeated pleas by the health ministry to call off sessions and respect the ban on large gatherings — had called for the minister to be questioned by the attorney general’s office for not showing up to brief them.
“Thank you for the love, senate,” Mr. Feroz said in a brief statement on social media later in the day. “But I warn one more time that indoor gathering, even by lawmakers, is an unpardonable sin.”
Russians cherish Victory Day celebrations. Moscow’s mayor urged people to stay away this year.
Making an appeal that just a few weeks ago would have seemed treasonous, Moscow’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, on Thursday called on residents not to go out to watch a fireworks display and military flyby on Saturday for the 75th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Celebrations for Victory Day, a sacrosanct annual holiday, had already been scaled back dramatically because of the pandemic, with a military parade in Red Square called off.
The mayor’s request that Muscovites watch the remaining events on television highlighted growing alarm that Russia’s coronavirus outbreak is becoming much more serious.
Moscow on Thursday reported 92,676 confirmed infections, more than half the national total, but Mr. Sobyanin said the real figure was probably around 300,000. He ordered that, starting Monday, masks and gloves must be worn on public transport and in shops in the Russian capital.
At the same time, he said the number of people admitted to hospitals with pneumonia-like symptoms had stopped growing, a sign that “the situation has stabilized.” Construction sites and some factories will resume work next week, he added.
Russia’s prime minister, Mikhail V. Mishustin, and two of his ministers have tested positive, as did the head of Russia’s manned space progam, Yevgeny Mikrin, who died this week. President Vladimir V. Putin has been holed up at his country residence for more than month.
Russia had relatively few known coronavirus cases until recently, but the virus is spreading at an alarming rate — about 10,000 new infections per day since Saturday. The authorities say this is largely because of increased testing.
The mayor’s request that people skip the Victory Day celebrations drew mockery from Aleksei A. Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader. Noting that millions of rubles had been spent on the events, he said on Twitter: “Is there a better example of the phrase — ‘money to the wind?’”
Italy is reopening but its schools aren’t. What’s a parent to do?
The Italian government has issued several measures to assist families juggling work and increased parental responsibilities during the epidemic. They include an additional 15 days of annual parental leave and a one-time voucher for 600 euros (about $650) toward babysitting. Last week, the government announced it was evaluating a plan to reopen nurseries and day care centers by the summer. Schools, however, are only expected to reopen in September.
But families say the government hasn’t done enough and that the measures that have been introduced fall short.
Many parents — and especially mothers — fear they will be forced to choose between their jobs and their family as the country slowly crawls back to life, and have called on the government to step in and act.
Across the European Union, the women’s employment average is 67 percent, compared with 54 percent in Italy. And one study on gender inequality in the country showed that women already shoulder a disproportionate amount of child care duties.
An article published last month on Lavoce.info, an Italian website, showed that 72 percent of those expected to return to work on Monday would be men, as restrictions on construction sites and factories, where jobs are traditionally held by men, were among the first to be lifted.
The situation, the authors wrote, would “end up increasing the workload of women” at home, where they are already responsible for much of the child care.
Making the situation even harder, the Italian networks that normally support families — like church, after-school programs and sports centers — have also shut down.
U.S. news: Over 33 million workers have filed for unemployment benefits during the pandemic.
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the last seven weeks
Initial jobless claims, per week
Claims were filed in
the last seven weeks
Initial jobless claims, per week
Claims were filed in
the last seven weeks
Initial jobless claims, per week
Claims were filed in
the last seven weeks
Initial jobless claims, per week
American institutions have also wrestled with the far-reaching effects of the coronavirus pandemic this week. On Wednesday, the military temporarily barring those who have been hospitalized with the virus from joining the armed forces, and Amazon broadcasting its support of a weakened Postal Service.
Mr. Trump has demanded that the beleaguered Postal Service ratchet up its package delivery rates to avoid bankruptcy during the coronavirus crisis — a move that appears aimed at Jeff Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon and the owner of The Washington Post, a favorite target of the president.
But on Wednesday, Amazon and other online retailers began a seven-figure advertising campaign — starting on Fox News — to endorse a multibillion-dollar rescue package proposed by Democrats. The businesses could be disrupted significantly if the Postal Service increased its rates or went bankrupt.
The pandemic is already affecting the Defense Department, whose officials said that its new measure prohibiting the enlistment of some former coronavirus patients was “interim guidance,” and that it would most likely be updated as military officials learn more about Covid-19 and its long-term risks.
The military is struggling to figure out how to better manage and protect America’s 1.2 million active duty troops. As of Wednesday morning, there have been more than 7,000 coronavirus cases recorded among military personnel, contractors and Defense Department civilians.
“Ghost games” and quarantines: Top-tier soccer will return to Germany, but it will not look the same.
For bereft soccer fans, the drought is almost over — as long as they are content to see the action on a screen.
Germany’s top league has been cleared to return, with matches starting next Saturday, but no one in the stands.
The Bundesliga is the first of soccer’s major leagues to attempt a comeback from the coronavirus-induced global sports stoppage, so there is certain to be outsized interest in the games.
The attention will come not just from fans, who have been left with only matches from countries like Belarus and Nicaragua to watch, but sporting officials, who hope the German experiment will show that sports and social distancing can co-exist.
Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday gave the league the go-ahead to resume play, and the games will be the first test of a detailed set of safety protocols the Bundesliga has put in place.
Players will be quarantined in a hotel, tested frequently, and the matches will take place in empty stadiums — “ghost games” as they are called in Germany. Several players have recently tested positive for the virus.
Home team players will drive themselves to the stadiums in their own cars, and visiting teams will be split into small groups to travel in designated vehicles that will be disinfected after each use. Players will dress in several different locker rooms, be kept apart from substitutes and shower separately.
Officials in other top leagues, including England’s and Spain’s, are plotting ways to return with protocols resembling Germany’s.
There is more at stake than competition and the integrity of a completed season. Bundesliga officials have painted a grim financial picture, warning that if the season does not restart, as many as one-third of the teams in the top two divisions are at risk of insolvency, estimating losses of around 750 million euros, or more than $800 million.
Britain’s central bank forecasts a 30 percent drop in economic activity.
Britain’s central bank painted a grim picture on Thursday of the country’s economy in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic. The Bank of England that the economy in the April-June quarter would be close to 30 percent smaller than at the end of 2019, as consumer spending would fall by nearly 30 percent, while business revenues, investment and trade all contracted sharply.
The bank said that for the whole of 2020 the economy was likely to shrink by 14 percent, compared to a 1 percent increase in 2019.
But the bank, which also announced it would hold interest rates steady at 0.1 percent, said it foresaw economic activity picking up “materially in the latter part of 2020 and into 2021” after the lockdowns in Britain and elsewhere were eased and people were able to return to work. It forecast a strong jump in economic growth of 15 percent in 2021.
In its report, the bank said that it had tested the financial strength of major British banks and found that they were strong enough to continue lending in the difficult economic environment.
The bank, which described its report as a “scenario” rather than a formal forecast, acknowledged that the outlook for both the British and global economies was unusually uncertain and depended on the evolution of the pandemic and “how governments, households and businesses respond.” On Wednesday, the European Commission projected a 7.4 percent collapse in the European Union economy for 2020.
An Amsterdam restaurant reimagines dining for a post-pandemic world.
A restaurant in Amsterdam is giving diners a trial run of what nights out might look like in a country seeking to avoid a second pandemic peak.
Patrons of the ETEN restaurant are seated in closed glass cabins that fit two or three people, arranged outside on a sunny patio. Servers wear transparent face shields and latex gloves, and deliver food and drinks on extended wooden trays.
“We already had those green houses, so after a brainstorm we decided to offer them for people already living together,” said Sjoerd Houben, office and venue manager for Mediamatic, the art center that runs the restaurant. “This way they can have a cozy dinner with a great view.”
For now, the idea is being tested on family and friends of employees: Dutch restaurants are not scheduled to reopen until June 1 and will only be allowed to serve a maximum of 30 customers at a time.
In the Netherlands, where most people socialize outside their homes, the decision to close all restaurants and bars left many longing for somewhere to gather. In Amsterdam, people can be seen roaming the streets with takeout coffee cups, one of the few options still on offer.
But this week, the government revealed its long-awaited step-by-step approach to lifting restrictions, which will allow for shops to reopen and people to walk the streets as long as they keep one and a half meters, or 4 feet, apart.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte has called on businesses to come up with ways to incorporate this social distancing rule into their ways of doing business, predicting that the Dutch should get used to what he calls the “meter-and-a-half” society, at least for now.
Desperately needed protective gear sent to Britain from Turkey is unusable.
A large consignment of personal protective equipment, or P.P.E., from Turkey, which the British government had relied on to ease a severe shortage of supplies in the country, has been judged unusable by inspectors because the items do not meet safety standards.
All 400,000 protective gowns that arrived in Britain last month were classified as “faulty” and are being stored at a facility near Heathrow Airport in London, the Department of Health and Social Care said on Thursday.
The revelations about the purchase came as British officials faced mounting criticism over their handling of national equipment shortages that saw health care workers advised to reuse their equipment.
“This is a global pandemic with many countries procuring P.P.E., leading to shortages around the world, not just the U.K.,” the Department of Health and Social Care said in a statement. “If equipment does not meet our specifications or pass our quality assurance processes, it is not distributed to the front line.”
Last month, a manufacturing company in the Republic of Ireland stepped in to alter a supply of unusable protective equipment that had been bought from China, The Irish Post reported. The company trimmed the legs of faulty jumpsuits and used them to lengthen the sleeves of protective gowns.
Finland’s experiment with universal basic income gains new relevance.
In 2017 and 2018, 2,000 jobless Finns were given 560 euros (about $600) a month, tax-free and with no strings attached. Finland called it the world’s first randomized nationwide experiment with a universal basic income. The policy had been gaining supporters among those worried about automation destroying jobs, but interest is rising more broadly as pandemic lockdowns put millions out of work.
On Wednesday, Finland delivered a full assessment of the experiment’s results. In short, basic income recipients were happier but didn’t find jobs more readily than a control group of similarly unemployed workers. Proponents say that this is encouraging because it dispels fears that a basic income would encourage people to work less
Still, Finland decided against expanding the trial, and instead is looking to direct aid for low-income citizens via the tax system.
As governments look for ways to stimulate their cratering economies, the idea of paying everyone a basic income “was kind of avant-garde but has become mainstream,” says Roope Mokka, a co-founder of the research institute Demos Helsinki. “The pandemic has revealed the inequalities in society in a brutal way. This speaks to universal solutions.”
He admits that the idea of free money for everyone remains a tough sell politically, even during a pandemic. But he expects governments to “do something that’s effectively the same thing” as a universal basic income, especially if unemployment persists in the absence of a vaccine.
All viruses mutate, but there’s no sign that this one has got deadlier, scientists say.
All viruses mutate, and the coronavirus is no exception. But there is no compelling evidence yet that it is evolving in a way that has made it more contagious or more deadly.
A preprint study — posted online, but not published in a scientific journal and not yet peer-reviewed — has set the internet afire by suggesting otherwise.
On April 30, researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico claimed to have found a mutation in the coronavirus that arose in Europe in February and then rapidly spread, becoming dominant as the virus was introduced into new countries.
The mutation, they wrote, “is of urgent concern,” because it made the coronavirus more transmissible. But experts in viral evolution are far from convinced.
Mutations are tiny changes to genetic material that occur as it is copied. Human cells have many so-called proofreading proteins that keep mutations rare. Viruses are far sloppier, producing many mutants every time they infect a cell. Natural selection can favor viruses carrying a beneficial mutation, leading it to spread more widely.
But it’s also possible for a neutral mutation to become more common simply by chance, a process known as genetic drift.
“I don’t think they provide evidence to claim transmissibility enhancement,” Sergei Pond, an evolutionary biologist at Temple University, said of the new report in an email.
In fact, Dr. Pond said, the mutation, known as D614G, has arisen not just once, but several times independently. On some of those occasions, viruses carrying the mutation didn’t take off in the population. Instead, the gene reverted to its original form, suggesting that D614G didn’t give the virus any special advantage.
No one has ruled out the possibility that a mutation could arise that would make the virus more transmissible. And it’s possible that D614G has provided some sort of edge.
But it will take much more evidence to rule out other explanations.
When the virus came, some museum curators lost years of work.
Museum exhibitions in much of the world were put on pause in early or mid-March, postponed indefinitely as many countries issued strict stay-at-home orders. But as shutdowns continue, it has become clear that some shuttered shows will not reopen. Others will never open their doors. Many more are in limbo.
The behind-the-scenes work on a major museum exhibition usually takes years, involving fund-raising, difficult loan negotiations with other museums and collectors, scholarship and catalog production, events planning, complicated transport and sometimes major restoration.
Some cancellations are already stacking up. The Royal Academy in London has canceled two exhibitions slated for this summer that were traveling internationally from other museums. At the Royal Scottish Academy, the centerpiece of its programming is an annual exhibition that has been moved entirely online.
The Museum of Fine Arts Ghent in Belgium opened the largest-ever display of Jan van Eyck’s work, “Van Eyck: An Optical Revolution,” on Feb. 1. The city of Ghent dedicated an entire year to the celebration of van Eyck, plastering walls and even wastebaskets with posters about him.
The museum closed on March 13 because of the coronavirus and announced last week that the show would not reopen.
Maximiliaan Martens, an expert in early Netherlandish painting, will always have the memory of standing in a room filled with van Eyck’s portraits right after they were hung, an experience he said was “indescribable.” Never before had these portraits been in the same room, even in van Eyck’s lifetime.
When they can travel again, the portraits will scatter around the world once more. The Ghent altarpiece will eventually return to the cathedral for good. These works will almost certainly never be reassembled.
Those we’ve lost: Munir Mangal, Afghan general and police commander.
Munir Mohamad Mangal, an Afghan general who had served in the country’s security forces for four decades, most recently as national police commander, died on May 2 at his home in Kabul. He was 70.
The cause was Covid-19, the Interior Ministry said. He was Afghanistan’s highest-profile casualty of the pandemic and the second member of his family to die of the virus. His son, a physician, also died.
“He was a patriot — a strong and calm officer,” said a former colleague, Mirza Mohammad Yarmand, who had worked with General Mangal for several years.
Reporting and research was contributed by Apoorva Mandavilli, Mujib Mashal, Andrew Higgins, Anton Troianovski, Andrew E. Kramer, Oleg Matsnev, Stephen Castle, Tariq Panja, Jason Karaian, Richard Pérez-Peña, Karen Zraick, Jack Ewing, Fahim Abed, Joanna Berendt, Thomas Erdbrink, Elian Peltier, Ceylan Yeginsu, Megan Specia, Jeffrey Gettleman, Stanley Reed, Rick Gladstone, Jason M. Bailey, David Halbfinger, Carl Zimmer, Richard C. Paddock, Lin Qiqing, Sophie Haigney, Elisabetta Povoledo, Elaine Glusac, Tariro Mzezewa, Mariel Padilla and Sara Firshein.
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