Merkel Outlines Plan to Ease Germany’s Coronavirus Lockdown: Live Coverage

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Credit…Emile Ducke for The New York Times

Merkel says Germany has made progress, as states take the lead on easing lockdowns.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany on Wednesday laid out plans for restarting public life after meeting the heads of the country’s 16 states, with those regions taking the lead in navigating the next steps of the response.

“I think that we can say today that we have the very first phase of the pandemic behind us,” Ms. Merkel said.

In the second major phase of lifting Germany’s lockdown, schools and day cares, restaurants and hotels, stores and nursing homes will be allowed to resume business in the coming days, although not necessarily as usual.

Citing numbers of new infections that had continued to drop since the country began reopening two weeks ago, the chancellor said that students could return to classrooms in staggered shifts, that children could go to day care facilities, and that some visitors would be allowed at nursing and care homes. Members of two separate households will be allowed to meet in public, so long as they keep a distance.

Based on plans to be drawn up by the governments of each state, all retailers, cafes and restaurants will be allowed to reopen, with hotels to follow by the end of the month. The country’s professional soccer league will also be allowed to resume games, though stadiums will remain empty.

But even with the easing of the restrictions, people are required to practice social distancing and, in many places, wear masks. If at any point, the rate of new infections in a region reaches more than 50 per 100,000 people, a strict lockdown will be reimposed.

“We must be aware that we are still at the start of the pandemic and will continue to have to deal with the virus for a long time,” Ms. Merkel said.

China assails United States over Wuhan lab leak allegations.

A spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry delivered a scathing criticism on Wednesday of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over his assertion last weekend that the coronavirus that has killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world originated in a Chinese laboratory.

The spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, pointed to a recently leaked memo by Republicans in the Senate urging attacking China and its labs as a campaign issue, and said that the memo had discredited the administration’s allegations.

“The huge drama of blame shifting in the United States has already been heavily spoiled, and continuing the drama is meaningless,” she said. “I advise those people in the United States absolutely not to become enthralled by their own act.”

Ms. Hua pointed out that the United States shut down research last August at its military germ lab at Fort Detrick, Md., which was done after biosecurity issues were discovered. And she assailed the United States for its use during the Vietnam War of Agent Orange, a chemical defoliant that has been linked to a wide range of potential health problems in people.

Labs at both the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and the Wuhan Institute of Virology are said to have been conducting research into bat coronaviruses. Both institutions are based in Wuhan, China, the city where the coronavirus first emerged.

Researchers in China and elsewhere have suggested that the coronavirus that has spread around the world probably started in bats. It may have then adapted to another species before becoming capable of infecting humans.

Bats are seldom sold in food markets in China. Their dried body parts are sometimes sold at apothecaries for traditional Chinese medicine, where they are marketed as remedies for poor eyesight.

As India reopens, deaths jump sharply.

And now the contagion is beginning to spread more aggressively.

Cases are now doubling every 9.5 days, down from 12. The daily death toll has shot up to more than 100, from a few dozen in mid-April.

But a walk around New Delhi shows how much has changed.

The streets of working-class neighborhoods that were deserted last week are thronged with people. Bicycle rickshaws dart in and out of traffic. Pedestrians crowd the sides of the road. Most wear masks, as required, but many wear them off their chins, leaving their noses and sometimes even their mouths exposed.

As the heat rises — it hit 104 degrees Fahrenheit a few days ago — many people who live in cramped quarters are finding it unbearable to stay indoors. So they spill outside and mingle in the streets.

“There’s no police around, nobody is enforcing the lockdown, people are out everywhere,” said an exasperated shopkeeper who goes by one name, Mehtab.

The hot spots are India’s crowded urban areas, especially New Delhi and Mumbai, India’s political capital and its business capital. Around a third of India’s reported infections are from those two cities. Mumbai officials are beginning to worry they might not have the resources they need.

“Testing labs, beds, facilities, they are all being overburdened with asymptomatic and mildly infected patients,” said Pradip Awate, an epidemiologist and chief surveillance officer in the state of Maharashtra, which includes Mumbai.

Neighboring Pakistan is also reporting more cases and deaths, though officials there are contemplating loosening its lockdown, which has not been strictly enforced. Prime Minister Imran Khan has said that an increased lockdown will increase the difficulties for the poor and working classes.

Putin’s approval rating plummets as Russian crisis deepens.

Discontent over Russia’s handling of the pandemic drove President Vladimir V. Putin’s approval rating to its lowest level in 20 years last month, the country’s leading independent pollster, the Levada Center, said on Wednesday.

The decline stands in contrast to many other world leaders whose electorates have rallied around them amid the crisis, and comes as Russia confronts increasingly bleak data documenting the coronavirus’s spread.

The government reported 10,000 new cases across the country for the fourth straight day on Wednesday, raising the nationwide total to at least 165,929. The minister of culture, Olga Lyubimova, on Wednesday became the third cabinet member known to have tested positive. While the pandemic appeared to take hold in Russia later than in many Western countries, the number of cases is now doubling every 10 days — a growth rate now among the highest in the world.

Mr. Putin’s approval rating sank to 59 percent in April, a four-point drop from the previous month and an 11-point drop from October. It was a far cry from the support of close to 90 percent he enjoyed in the aftermath of his annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Dmitri S. Peskov, the president’s spokesman, said the Kremlin did not trust the Levada data. Pollsters affiliated with the government also show approval for Mr. Putin ticking down in recent weeks, though not to rock-bottom levels.

Because of the pandemic, Levada conducted the April poll by phone rather than face to face, as it usually does. The organization said that because Russians are often less likely to criticize the authorities over the phone than in person, it is possible that its results understated the decline in Mr. Putin’s ratings.

Deep recession is predicted for Europe.

The European Union’s economy is set to shrink 7.4 percent this year, investment is expected to collapse, and unemployment rates, debts and deficits will balloon in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, the European Commission said Wednesday.

To put these figures in perspective, the European Union economy had been predicted to grow 1.2 percent this year. In its worst recession, in 2009, its economy shrank 4.5 percent.

Predicting the economic impact of the virus and ensuing lockdowns is a moving target, the commission admitted, and things could turn out much worse.

“The danger of a deeper and more protracted recession is very real,” the head of the commission’s economic unit, Maarten Verwey, said in the report’s foreword. The commission issues these forecasts four times a year.

The economies of Italy and Spain, two countries that have been hit particularly hard by the virus, are both expected to shrink more than 9 percent. Greece, which had started turning a corner after a decade of economic calamity, could lose 9.7 of its economic output this year — the worst forecast of the 27 member nations.

And unemployment is expected to be rampant, averaging 9 percent across the bloc and reaching 19.9 percent in Greece, the European Commission said.

The bloc’s biggest economy, Germany, will also be hammered, projected to shrink 6.5 percent for the year. France, the second-largest economy, is expected to contract 8.5 percent.

The full scale of the pandemic effect is yet to unfold, but the grim predictions depict a disastrous impact across the board for wealthy economies. The European Union is home to more than 400 million people, and the bloc is a major trading partner for the United States, China and other major economies.

The pandemic presents Turkey’s leader with a tough economic test.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, perhaps unique among world leaders, has been to try to balance Turkey precariously between opening and closing.

Mr. Erdogan has imposed only a partial lockdown and insisted on keeping the wheels of industry turning as he tries to save the economy, and himself.

The Turkish economy was already in trouble before the pandemic arrived, with high unemployment and inflation and a heavy investment in infrastructure projects. Those projects have become a signature of Mr. Erdogan’s administration, but analysts long warned that they were too costly to sustain.

Now Mr. Erdogan is confronting what may be the greatest test of his 18 years in power.

With the collapse of tourism, a mainstay of the Turkish economy, and the country desperately short of cash, Mr. Erdogan has few places to go, having ruled out a loan from the International Monetary Fund.

Some are hoping that the coronavirus achieves what financial markets and some of the president’s advisers have failed to do: persuade Mr. Erdogan to make structural overhauls and reverse his authoritarian grip over fiscal policy.

Turkey may emerge well placed to take advantage of changes in the global economy, like supply chains closer to home, that some analysts expect as a result of the pandemic. But for now the virus is ruthlessly laying bare the ways Mr. Erdogan has left the Turkish economy vulnerable, and it has united his opponents, who have challenged his every move during the outbreak.

In a town split by a border, virus rules vary from door to door.

Life in one of the world’s most complex border towns, straddling the divide between the Netherlands and Belgium, was made even more puzzling when officials in the neighboring nations took very different approaches to handling the coronavirus.

The town, Baarle-Hertog-Nassau, sits several miles inside the Netherlands, but owing to a deal hammered out between feudal lords in 1198, it is divided roughly evenly between Belgian and Dutch sides.

But that is just the beginning of the puzzle. Within each side are enclaves belonging to the other — 22 Belgian enclaves on the Dutch side and eight Dutch enclaves on the Belgian side, leading to a dizzying mishmash of border markings.

Each enclave is subject to its nation’s laws, creating a patchwork of conflicting rules and regulations — but “without the unrest and strife often associated with enclaves,” said Willem van Gool, a local tourism official.

With the border dividing the Netherlands and Belgium cutting straight through the entrance of her studio and art gallery, Sylvia Reijbroek was confused over which country’s rules to follow.

Playing it safe, Ms. Reijbroek decided to follow Belgian law, since her gallery is legally registered there, and she closed her business. But it has been frustrating, she said, seeing customers walking in and out of the health and beauty care shop next door — in the Netherlands.

“There is only one shop on this street that had to adhere to Belgian law and closed,” she said sourly. “Mine.”

‘People have to eat’: Across Africa, low-income households balance health and livelihoods.

In the Mathare slum in Nairobi, Kenya, community activists like Billian Okoth Ojiwa are constantly worried these days about the hundreds of families who might be going to bed on empty stomachs. As jobs dry up and lockdowns and curfews are extended, he said, many people are having to balance fear of contracting the coronavirus and fear of going hungry.

“People have to eat. We never anticipated we would have such a situation,” Mr. Ojiwa, who has been organizing food drives, said in a phone interview. “Nobody saved for this.”

A new report from the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which surveyed respondents across 28 cities in 20 African countries, sheds light on this dilemma, highlighting how low-income households are bearing the biggest brunt of the pandemic.

On average, respondents expected they would run out of money in 12 days and food in 10 days. The lowest-income households estimated they would run out of food and money in less than a week. Many in urban centers in countries like Kenya and Nigeria said hunger was forcing them to violate stay-at-home orders. At least a third of respondents were against closing workplaces and shutting down markets they considered essential to the economy.

Nearly a third of the women surveyed said that closing schools would leave them with no one to care for their children while they went to work.

The Africa C.D.C. commended African states for responding quickly to the pandemic, improving testing capabilities and instituting social-distancing measures. But they also urged countries to increase their tracing and treatment capabilities and use data to localize their responses as they weigh the complex trade-offs between lessening transmission and averting social and economic disruption.

As of May 5, the agency estimated Africa had 47,118 coronavirus cases and 1,843 deaths.

Premier League restart is held up by teams at the bottom.

While leagues in Germany — which got government approval on Wednesday to resume play — as well as Italy and Spain are taking steps toward getting back on the field, an alliance of teams at the bottom of the standings in England is essentially trying to run out the clock in an apparent effort to spare themselves the risk of demotion.

Clubs at the bottom have a good reason for pushing back: Relegation from the Premier League could potentially bring them financial ruin. But the lack of consensus is even more striking when compared to the efforts to resume play in other top leagues.

As is the case elsewhere, the Premier League has developed a protocol for the season to restart in a biologically safe environment, in which players would be subjected to regular testing and could be sequestered together before the first games are played.

But opposition has held up a vote on the plan to reopen the season: Under the league’s constitution, 14 of the 20 teams must approve the plan, but without assurances of the necessary margin, there is nothing to be done but talk.

Teams at risk of relegation to the second tier have suggested the integrity of the competition would be undermined if it were not completed in conditions similar to the three-quarters of the season played before the pandemic. Those games took place at packed stadiums, which are unlikely to be seen again until next year.

As new infections tail off, Hong Kong cautiously eases restrictions.

On Wednesday morning, long lines of legal clerks spilled into the streets while waiting to file documents at Hong Kong’s newly reopened courts. More office workers had swapped their sweatpants for pencil skirts, and restaurants buzzed with calls for Mother’s Day reservations.

After more than two weeks of recording no new local infections, Hong Kong has cautiously restarted some previously restricted activities. Civil servants no longer work from home, and museums and public libraries partially reopened on Wednesday. Gyms, movie theaters, bars and mahjong parlors will open their doors on Friday — but not night clubs or karaoke establishments.

Jill Raymont, a retired teacher, and her husband were among the first people to visit the Hong Kong Museum of Art overlooking Victoria Harbor. Like most everyone on the streets, they wore face masks — hers was hot pink. They had waited out the pandemic by going on walks and hikes, but were now opting for indoor activities as the weather got warm and humid.

At the museum’s entrance, large white circles painted on the ground indicated where people should stand. Visitors were limited to two-hour sessions.

Ms. Raymont said she was glad the city had never required a full lockdown, instead responding to the pandemic with the near-universal wearing of face masks and a variety of measures, like disinfecting elevator buttons every hour.

“We have not stopped living,” she said. “But we will never drop our guard.”

She added that it was worrying to see the United States pushing to reopen when the outbreak there, unlike in Hong Kong, had not been brought under control.

Nearby, Emily Ho, 57, went on her daily two-hour stroll with her husband along a harborfront promenade. Thronged with tourists before the outbreak, the area attracted a few fellow strollers but was largely empty on Wednesday. Ms. Ho and her husband were also masked up, and she winced at another man who had his mask pulled down.

She admitted it was pleasant to roam without the crowds. “But this isn’t ideal if you think deeper — you don’t want your society to be this quiet,” she said. Her husband, who works in manufacturing, has been out of work.

Ms. Ho expected it would take many more months to ride out the coronavirus. “It felt like SARS had ended quickly, compared to now,” she said. “This time, we really have to wait for a vaccine.”

U.S. roundup: Trump reverses course on coronavirus task force, saying it will continue its work.

President Trump, contradicting his comments from Tuesday, said the White House coronavirus task force would “continue on indefinitely,” though perhaps with different members.

His announcement, made on Twitter, came one day after Vice President Mike Pence, who has led the group for two months, said it would probably wrap up its work around the end of the May. “We will have something in a different form,” Mr. Trump later told reporters on Tuesday during a trip to Arizona.

But in a series of Wednesday morning tweets, Mr. Trump appeared to contradict that, and emphasized his desire to reopen the economy despite a continued rise in coronavirus cases and public health warnings that more commerce will mean more deaths.

Mr. Trump wrote that, because of the task force’s “success,” it would “continue on indefinitely with its focus on SAFETY & OPENING UP OUR COUNTRY AGAIN.”

The death toll has risen to 71,000 across the country. A handful of states account for the bulk of the death surge across the United States, a Times analysis of federal data found: In New York City alone, there have been 23,000 more deaths than normal since mid-March.

Another key group in the White House’s response, the supply chain task force led by the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was staffed with young volunteers who had little experience and complicated the government response, according to a Times investigation. As the federal government’s warehouses were running bare, Mr. Kushner told the volunteers to prioritize tips from political allies and associates of Mr. Trump, tracked on a spreadsheet called “V.I.P. Update,” according to documents and emails obtained by The Times.

Few of the leads, V.I.P. or otherwise, panned out, according to a whistle-blower memo written by one volunteer and sent to the House Oversight Committee. Administration officials argued that the volunteers — who came from venture capital and private equity firms — had the know-how to quickly weed out good leads from the mountain of bad ones, and that FEMA and other agencies were not equipped for the task.

Latest in science: New studies add to evidence that children can transmit the coronavirus.

Two new studies offer compelling evidence that children can transmit the virus, providing what epidemiologists say are strong arguments in favor of keeping schools closed around the world.

A Chinese study published last week in the journal Science analyzed data from Wuhan and Shanghai, and found that children were about a third as susceptible to infection as adults were. But when schools were open, they found, children had about three times as many contacts with other people as adults did — three times as many opportunities to become infected — essentially evening out their risk.

Based on their data, the researchers estimated that closing schools could reduce cases by about 40 to 60 percent.

The second study, in Germany, was led by Christian Drosten, a prominent virologist whose lab has tested about 60,000 people for the coronavirus. Consistent with other studies, he and his colleagues found many more infected adults than children. But children who do test positive harbor just as much virus as adults — sometimes more, even if they are asymptomatic — and so, presumably, are just as infectious, his team found.

Dr. Drosten said he posted his study on his lab’s website ahead of its peer review because of the ongoing discussion about schools in Germany.

The new studies were released amid alarm about a possible link between Covid-19 and toxic shock or Kawasaki disease, a rare illness in children that is associated with inflammation of the blood vessels. At least 15 children in New York City, many of whom tested positive for Covid-19, have been hospitalized with symptoms of the illness, and several European countries have also reported cases.

In other science news:

  • A team of scientists has developed an experimental prototype for a quick, low-cost diagnostic test, based on Crispr gene-editing technology, that could deliver results without being sent to a laboratory.

  • Pfizer and the German pharmaceutical company BioNTech announced that their potential coronavirus vaccine began human trials in the United States on Monday.

El Salvador’s millennial president promised a new era. His actions look familiar.

Salvadorans took a gamble when they elected Nayib Bukele president: He was a political outsider, a millennial who had run his campaign largely over social media and offered few concrete details about how he would govern.

Still, voters in El Salvador swept him into office, hoping for a change that would improve lives in a country long hobbled by corruption, poverty and some of the world’s highest murder rates.

His actions in recent months, however, have left many Salvadorans — lawyers, business leaders, human rights advocates, journalists and others — afraid that Mr. Bukele is backsliding into the kind of authoritarian leadership the country fought a civil war to overturn.

When the legislature was slow to approve additional funding for the military in February, Mr. Bukele brought armed soldiers and police officers into the halls of Congress to pressure them to act. The move triggered a constitutional crisis and revived memories of the military dictatorships that had ruled the country for nearly half a century.

The following month, he sent the army into the streets to enforce one of the region’s most strict lockdowns to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Soldiers and police officers have locked up thousands of people in containment centers for breaking quarantine, keeping them in the facilities for weeks. The Supreme Court ruled that the detentions were unconstitutional and ordered Mr. Bukele to end them, but he refused.

Those we’ve lost: Bana Ali, who championed basketball in Somalia.

Bana Abdalla Ali, who tirelessly championed basketball in Somalia and promoted sports among youngsters in a nation beset by civil war, died on April 28 in London. He was 54.

His death came after he had contracted the novel coronavirus, his family said.

Credit…via Ali family

Mr. Ali garnered prominence for being a vocal supporter of basketball in Somalia, investing not only his free time but also his own money to ensure the country’s players had their chance on the international stage. A basketball enthusiast and a well-known player in Mogadishu before Somalia’s civil war began, he at various points over the years served as both the secretary general and head of marketing for Somalia’s national basketball team and was also a member of the East and Central Africa Inter City Basketball Committee. Read the full obituary.

Reporting was contributed by Melissa Eddy, Keith Bradsher, Tariq Panja, Anton Troianovski, Richard Pérez-Peña, Karen Zraick, Megan Specia, Michael Wolgelenter, Thomas Erdbrink, Jeffrey Gettleman, Kai Schultz, Salman Masood, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Abdi Latif Dahir, Elaine Yu, Apoorva Mandavilli, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Andrew Higgins, Jason Gutierrez, Mark Landler, David Segal and Natalie Kitroeff.

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