Mexican Government Is Hiding Huge Coronavirus Toll, Especially in the Capital: Live Updates

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The tensions have come to a head in recent weeks, with Mexico City repeatedly alerting the government to the deaths, hoping it will come clean to the public about the true toll of the virus in the nation’s biggest city and, by extension, the country at large.

But that has not happened.

Doctors in overwhelmed hospitals in Mexico City say the reality of the epidemic is being hidden from the country. In some hospitals, patients lie on the floor, splayed on mattresses. Older people are propped up on metal chairs because there are not enough beds, while patients are turned away to search for space in less-prepared hospitals. Many die while searching, several doctors said.

“It’s like we doctors are living in two different worlds, ” said Dr. Giovanna Avila, who works at Hospital de Especialidades Belisario Domínguez. “One is inside of the hospital with patients dying all the time. And the other is when we walk out onto the streets and see people walking around, clueless of what is going on and how bad the situation really is.”

Mexico City officials have tabulated more than 2,500 deaths from the virus and serious respiratory illnesses that doctors think are related to Covid-19, the data reviewed by The Times shows. Yet the federal government is reporting about 700 deaths in the area, which includes Mexico City and the municipalities on its outskirts.

The government says Mexico has been faring better than many of the world’s largest countries, and on Monday its Covid-19 czar estimated that the final death toll would be around 6,000 people.

“We have flattened the curve,” Hugo Lopez-Gatell, the health ministry official who has become the face of the country’s response, said this week. The government did not respond to questions about the deaths in Mexico City.

Lockdown is tough. In South Africa, it’s even tougher if you want a beer or a smoke.

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South Africa is somewhat more relaxed than it was last month about opening a shop, leaving the house, going to work, traveling or exercising outdoors.

Just don’t try to buy a cigarette or a drink.

In imposing one of the world’s strictest coronavirus lockdowns in late March, South Africa took the extraordinary step of banning the sale of alcohol and tobacco. It kept the prohibition on May 1, when it eased restrictions on people and businesses, though they remain among the tightest anywhere.

After six weeks, even many of the people who had stocked up have run out, fueling the underground trade. Formerly law-abiding citizens knock on strangers’ doors to make furtive transactions, trying to avoid fines or arrest.

“I feel like I’m buying cocaine,” said a young woman who, by word of mouth, found someone to sell her cigarettes — though not her preferred brand.

What some dealers sell as cigarettes are fakes. And the combination of risk and shortage has made prices soar.

The ban has set off a debate about civil liberties, while angering tobacco companies. The country’s largest cigarette maker, British American Tobacco South Africa, threatened legal action, but decided against it for now.

A government minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, cited “Covid-19 reasons” for maintaining the ban. There is evidence that smokers are more susceptible to the disease.

“The way sometimes tobacco is shared does not allow for social distancing,” she said, “but actually encourages the spread of the virus.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa said alcohol hindered the fight against the virus, contributing to medical emergencies from violence and accidents, “when all public and private resources” should go toward the pandemic. With families stuck at home, the government has also cited the role of alcohol in domestic violence.

Long besieged by H.I.V., South Africa has about 8,200 confirmed coronavirus cases and 160 deaths.

Our Moscow correspondent takes us to a stricken city cheated of a chance to unite over a past glory.

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Andrew Higgins, the Times bureau chief in Moscow, first visited the city in 1982 as a student, and has spent much of his career living there and covering Russia. His latest stint there, for The Times, began in 2016.

As the coronavirus began its silent but relentless march on Moscow in February, the names of the millions of Russian soldiers killed in the far deadlier horrors of World War II were already appearing, one by one, on state television, scrolling down the screen in a harrowing torrent.

The Kremlin offered soothing words about the pandemic, saying that Russia would not suffer too badly. So, the names kept coming, day after day, mourning Russia’s wartime martyrs at a staggering rate of more than 6,000 a minute.

But at the end of March, when the coronavirus crisis could no longer be glossed over, the names suddenly vanished from TV. And Russia awoke from its glorious, morbid memories of the Red Army’s defeat of Nazi Germany 75 years ago to confront an insidious enemy that kept getting closer and more menacing.

The pandemic arrived with full force in Moscow just as the Russian capital was preparing to celebrate Victory Day on May 9, a joyous annual holiday filled with national pride that transcends all of Russia’s many divisions. The timing has left the city in a strangely expectant yet suspended state.

The grand party has been canceled, but this becalmed and still beguilingly beautiful city is all decked out for a big celebration. Copies of the red banner that was raised above the Reichstag in Berlin in 1945 fly on every silent street. A flyby over the city by warplanes and military helicopters is still on for Saturday, but Moscow’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, has told residents not to go out to watch it.

Police cars, meanwhile, cruise the streets, blaring a taped message on an endless loop: “Respected citizens. We ask you not to leave your home unnecessarily. Take care of your health and do not allow the infection of fellow citizens.”

Restrictions announced in March by the mayor, Mr. Sobyanin, have put the city in a lockdown more severe than those imposed on New York and London. All parks, restaurants and stores — other than those selling food, medicine and other essential items — are closed.

The rules, announced just as Moscow was shaking off the last icy chill of a long winter, make no provision for exercise, except for pet-owners, who are allowed to walk their dogs within 100 yards of their homes.

Celebrations commemorating the end of World War II in Europe, including a speech from Queen Elizabeth, were subdued.

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There were no poignant handshakes with veterans. Military parades were canceled. Wreaths were laid, but with appropriate social distancing.

Friday was the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, but across the continent, commemoration ceremonies and public events were scrapped. Instead, with public life restricted because of the coronavirus threat, Europeans largely celebrated the day at home.

On May 8, 1945 in Berlin, military commanders signed Germany’s unconditional surrender, ending nearly six years of mass slaughter, forced displacement and persecution. Tens of thousands of people flocked to the streets of Allied cities to celebrate.

Estimates vary, but at least 70 million people died globally in the war, an overwhelming majority of them civilians. Among them were the six million Jews and millions of others killed systematically by the Nazi regime, many of them in concentration camps.

In Britain on Friday, people were invited to stand and raise a toast while the BBC broadcast a speech by Winston Churchill. A speech from Queen Elizabeth II was broadcast at 9 p.m., the hour when her father, George VI, addressed the nation 75 years before.

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Queen Elizabeth II delivered a speech in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day.CreditCredit…BBC Studios, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“Today it may seem hard that we cannot mark this special anniversary as we would wish,” the queen said.

“But our streets are not empty,” she added. “They are filled with the love and the care we have for each other. And when I look at our country today and see what we are willing to do to protect and support one another, I say with pride that we are still a nation those brave soldiers, soldiers and airmen would recognize and admire.”

In France, President Emmanuel Macron oversaw commemorative ceremonies in Paris, without the usual crowds that usually and without the president’s traditional walk up the Champs-Élysées to review troops.

The few government and military officials who participated stood conspicuously far apart as the national anthem played rang beneath the Arc de Triomphe, where Mr. Macron laid a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier. He called upon his fellow citizens to hang France’s flag from their windows and balconies.

The day has new meaning in the face of sudden hardship. From the ruins of war grew an era of prosperity, now threatened by the pandemic. Some leaders have equated the struggle against the virus to waging war.

By air and sea, India begins major operation to bring home thousands of stranded citizens.

Credit…Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters

Sixty-four flights. Two naval ships. A dozen different countries. And 15,000 stranded Indians.

India’s monumental effort to bring home hundreds of thousands of its people from abroad has begun.

The government operation, is using the national carrier, Air India; navy ships; and countless clerks, health workers, police officers and diplomats to transport overseas citizens whose lives have been turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic.

The first evacuees stepped off a plane Thursday night from Dubai, arriving in the southern state of Kerala.

“Jai Hind!” Hail India! an Air India pilot wearing protective gear cheered in a clip shown on Indian news channels.

On Friday, two naval ships carrying around 1,000 Indians set sail from Male, the capital of the Maldives. The crews, like those on the airliners, wore protective equipment and passengers covered their faces with.

Evacuees have to pay their own fares; a ride on the warship from the Maldives runs about $40.

Indian embassies abroad are prioritizing medical emergencies, pregnant women, people without jobs and students. The first wave of flights will take about a week, and along with the ships, will bring home around 15,000 people.

India realizes how careful it needs to be. So far, perhaps because of weeks of strict lockdown, the country has been spared the waves of death that others have endured. India has reported around 60,000 infections and 2,000 deaths, relatively low for a population of 1.3 billion.

So the government is walking a fine line: trying to bring home Indians without bringing home the virus. After arrival, passengers will be sent to quarantine facilities for 14 days.

Requests for help getting home have been the greatest from the Persian Gulf, where an estimated 8.5 million Indians work. Many are desperate. Anbalal Peer Mohammad, a construction worker who has overstayed his visa in Kuwait and is now being housed with other Indian workers in a school, was elated when he heard he might get out.

“I smell like a sewer. I haven’t had a bath since last week,” Mr. Mohammad said. “I just want to return home and never look back.”

Kenyans held for weeks in quarantine were told to pay for their release.

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When Valentine Ochogo arrived home in Kenya after being laid off from her job in Dubai, she was put in quarantine in a university dormitory with other travelers — one step in the government’s aggressive, often-praised campaign to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

But instead of the mandated 14-day quarantine period, she was confined for 32 days, often cold, hungry and so frightened that, she said, she blocked the door at night with an empty bed. Although Ms. Ochogo tested negative for the coronavirus three times, she said that government officials would not release her until she paid $434 in fees.

After she managed to negotiate the amount down to $65, Ms. Ochogo, 26, was freed.

“Am out,” a relieved Ms. Ochogo texted on April 24, saying later, “I got really lucky.”

Kenya’s government is now facing mounting criticism for its response to the pandemic — particularly its use of quarantine centers.

The measures may have helped to suppress the number of cases in this East African nation: a country of about 47 million people has so far reported 607 cases, 29 fatalities and 197 recoveries.

But the government has also been accused of extremes. In the first 10 days of the curfew, Kenyan police officers killed at least six people while trying to enforce the lockdown, according to Human Rights Watch.

Citizens stopped by the police for violating curfew or not wearing masks have been sent not to police stations, but to quarantine, sometimes held in compounds with people known to be infected.

“During an emergency like this, you need to be persuading people to cooperate rather than coercing them, especially if your argument is that it is in their best interest,” said Dr. Lukoye Atwoli, associate professor at the Moi University School of Medicine and the vice president of the Kenya Medical Association.

Despite a ban on nursing home visits, this son would not be stopped from seeing his mother.

Some people have played violin concertos below balconies or pressed their hands against sealed windows. Gilles Goulet took a more inventive approach to getting around the lockdowns that have isolated so many residents of nursing and retirement homes.

He dreaded the prospect that his ailing, 88-year-old mother might die, scared and alone, in her nursing home in Montreal. So after 50 days of not being allowed to visit, he got a job working there.

“The only thing that interests her now is her children. Nothing else. She doesn’t even like to eat,” said Mr. Goulet, 57, a recently retired social worker.

Credit…via Gilles Goulet

In Canada, even more than in Europe and the United States, homes for the elderly have been at the heart of the coronavirus pandemic, linked to more than 80 percent of the country’s reported Covid-19 deaths. Visiting bans offer some protection but leave residents — the sick and the healthy — painfully alone, and take an emotional toll on their families.

Before the virus struck, Mr. Goulet said, he visited his mother, Jeanne LeBlond, daily at lunch time to spoonfeed her pea soup and look through family photos. His sister Colette took the evening shift, eating dinner with her and taking her down the hall for coffee.

Ms. LeBlond suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and has almost no hearing or sight.

“She doesn’t recognize the people there who take care of her. But her children, she always recognizes,” said Ms. Goulet. “She would say, ‘Oh you don’t know how happy I am see you!’ It gave me such pleasure to be there.”

Last week, a manager at the home delivered terrible news: Ms. LeBlond had tested positive for the coronavirus and was being moved to the building’s “hot zone.”

“I was in shock. I was so desperate. I said, ‘No please, please,’ ” Mr. Goulet said. Losing her familiar setting would disorient her, he told the staff. “She will not understand, she will stop eating.”

So he got a part-time job as a patient attendant’s assistant to work on her new floor. It took a while, but she recognized him through his layers of protective equipment. Now she is happy to see him, Mr. Goulet said, and she still has no Covid-19 symptoms.

“I just couldn’t stand the idea of abandoning my mother in that hell,” he said. “All what I am comes from my parents. I think they deserve to have a good end.”

The executive branch of the European Union recommends extending the ban on external visitors to mid-June.

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European countries should continue to block most external travelers for an additional month, until June 15, the European Commission said on Friday.

The commission’s recommendation refers to non-essential travel, and was offered to 26 of its 27 member states. The exception is Ireland, which is in a separate travel zone with the United Kingdom and follows different policies. The commission also suggested that Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland — which are not European Union members but are part of the passport-free Schengen area — continue to block outside visitors for the same period.

The future relaxation of the restrictions should be phased, the commission said, with internal border controls between European Union countries lifted “gradually and in a coordinated manner.”

European citizens and their family members, as well as long-term residents of the bloc, can still return home. Essential workers, including health care staff and seasonal workers, should also be allowed to move freely, the commission said.

The ban on nonessential travel into the bloc was first proposed on March 16, in order to arrest the spread of the coronavirus. An initial extension was set to expire May 15.

Each country is theoretically free to follow or ignore the advice, and the prolonged closure of borders to outside visitors is set to become more controversial with the onset of the economically important summer season, which normally sees millions of tourists flock to the region’s beaches and capitals.

Since the pandemic was declared on March 11, several E.U. countries have reintroduced internal borders, threatening the cornerstone of the bloc’s existence: the free flow of people, goods and capital.

America’s unemployment rate is at 14.7 percent, a level not seen since the Great Depression.

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The Labor Department said Friday that the American economy shed more than 20.5 million jobs in April, sending the unemployment rate to 14.7 percent — a level of devastation not seen since the Great Depression.

The report underscores the speed and depth of the labor market’s collapse as the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns saw the crisis deepen. In February, the unemployment rate was 3.5 percent, a half-century low. And even since the survey was taken, millions of people have filed claims for jobless benefits.

The April job losses alone far exceed the 8.7 million in the last recession, when unemployment peaked at 10 percent in October 2009. The only comparable period came when the rate reached about 25 percent in 1933, before the government began publishing official statistics. And if anything, the report understates the damage.

But in an interview on “Fox & Friends” on Friday morning, President Trump predicted the economy would come roaring back after the “artificial” closing caused by the lockdown.

“Those jobs will all be back and they’ll be back very soon,” Mr. Trump said, “and next year we’re going to have a phenomenal year.”

Low-wage workers, including many women and members of racial and ethnic minority groups, have been hit especially hard. Many service jobs are impossible to do remotely and have been eliminated, and some workers have risked their health by staying on the job.

U.N. chief says pandemic has unleashed ‘tsunami of hate.’

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The coronavirus pandemic has unleashed “a tsunami of hate,” António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, said on Friday, calling for an all-out effort from the global community to fight hate speech and from political leaders to promote social cohesion.

Migrants and refugees have been vilified as a source of the virus and denied access to medical treatment, he said, and older people, among the most vulnerable to the virus, were targeted by “contemptible memes” suggesting that they were the most expendable.

Mr. Guterres condemned an explosion of anti-foreigner sentiment online and in the streets, and the spread of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim conspiracy theories.

“We must act now to strengthen the immunity of our societies against the virus of hate,” Mr. Guterres said.

United Nations human rights officials, underscoring the secretary general’s concerns, voiced dismay on Friday over the coordinated pushbacks of migrants trying to reach Europe from Libya and limitations European governments have imposed on volunteer rescue vessels in the Mediterranean.

Six weeks after Mr. Guterres first appealed for a global cease-fire to allow the world to concentrate on fighting the pandemic, Michele Bachelet, the United Nations human rights chief, expressed alarm on Friday that Islamic State militants and other armed groups in Syria were instead exploiting global preoccupation with coronavirus to step up attacks.

The Islamic State has mounted three attacks in Syria’s southern Daraa governorate in the past two weeks, Ms. Bachelet said, reporting an escalation of targeted killings and violence in an area that the government recaptured from opposition groups two years ago.

Armed groups, including government security forces, have carried out more than 50 targeted killings in Daraa alone since the start of March, human rights investigators said, and civilians have suffered dozens of casualties in escalating violence in Turkish-occupied areas of northern Syria and Kurdish-controlled areas in the northeast.

A fragile cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey in northwestern Syria has “generally” held, Ms. Bachelet said, but “if the current patterns of violations and abuses continue to spread and escalate, there is a risk the country will enter another spiral of extreme and widespread violence.”

Amazon takes its fight with French unions to France’s highest court.

Credit…Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

Amazon will seek approval on Friday from workers councils, which represent around 10,000 employees, to keep its six mammoth French warehouses shut until May 13, as it consults with them on steps to further enhance safety measures against the coronavirus.

A standoff between the company and French unions over safety measures for the coronavirus had grown tenser on Thursday when the company said it would ask France’s highest court to overturn an appeals court decision last week that ordered Amazon to stop delivering nonessential items in France to protect workers.

“We are working hard to resume business as usual for our French customers, our French employees and our French sellers,” Amazon said in a statement.

Amazon’s warehouses in France have been shut for nearly a month after a court sided in mid-April with French unions that had sued the company, accusing it of inadequately protecting workers from the threat of the virus and failing to consult with the unions on the measures, as required by law. The court ruled that Amazon must restrict deliveries to only food, hygiene and medical products until it addressed the issue, or face millions of euros in potential fines.

Rather than risk the penalty, Amazon put its work force on paid furlough, but it is continuing to deliver items to France from its centers in Belgium, Germany and Spain. The company lashed out at the unions for bringing the lawsuit, which was upheld by the Versailles Court of Appeals last week. Amazon insists that it has maintained rigorous health safety at its French sites, and has accused unions of seeking to further their own interests amid the health crisis.

Sixteen workers crushed by a train in India are the latest deaths resulting from a rush to reopen.

Credit…Reuters

Sixteen migrant workers in central India were crushed to death by a locomotive on Friday morning as they were journeying home, the latest casualties connected to India’s coronavirus lockdown and the efforts to reopen parts of the economy.

The migrants were among the enormous wave of causal workers who have been streaming out of India’s cities back to their home villages. In recent days, India’s government, which at first had blocked migrants from moving state to state, eased the lockdown rules to allow some migrants to travel.

Indian news reports said the migrant workers had been laid off from a steel factory because of the coronavirus lockdown, and officials said they were sleeping on the tracks. Apparently, they were on their way home, several hundred miles away, when they stopped to rest.

“They thought trains were not moving and it was a safe spot,” said Dyanoba Banapure, a government official in the area.

On Thursday, a factory owned by the South Korean conglomerate LG emitted a cloud of toxic vapor that enveloped several nearby villages in Visakhapatnam. Preliminary investigations indicate that the accident was caused by a leak in a styrene tank that had not been checked in weeks.

The plastics factory was in the process of reopening for the first time since India’s lockdown was imposed in late March when the accident happened.

Officials said dangerous pressure had been building in the styrene tank during the lockdown and that factory workers improperly opened a valve on the tank, releasing a huge cloud of toxic vapor that left people dying in nearby roads and hundreds others rushing to hospitals.

Norway returns to the movies, but theater seats are limited.

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On Friday night, Cinemateket, an art-house movie theater in Oslo, will open its door for the first time since Norway went into lockdown in March, as the country becomes the first in Europe to allow cinemas to reopen.

Jan Langlo, the theater’s manager, said in a telephone interview that he expected the evening’s two planned screenings of classic films to sell out.

“But then again,” he said, “capacity is only 50 people, so it’s not hard.”

Around 50 of the country’s 204 theaters are expected to reopen, said Guttorm Petterson, the director of Film & Kino, a trade group, in a telephone interview. And like so many industries reopening in the wake of the pandemic, they have had to reimagine what their theaters will look like with the coronavirus still a major concern.

Movie screenings never really went away during lockdown, Mr. Petterson added, with major chains and amateurs setting up drive-in theaters across the country. That showed there was demand for the reopening, he added.

Guidelines from Norway’s health ministry say moviegoers must stay one meter apart, or around three feet. Mr. Langlo said his theater would allow people to sit in every second row, and would keep two empty seats between each individual or group.

Other European countries are expected to reopen theaters soon, with the Czech Republic coming next, on Monday. Audiences there will be limited to 100 people.

Tim Richards, the chief executive of Vue Cinemas, a chain that operates in nine European countries, said in a telephone interview that he hoped all his movie theaters would reopen by the end of June.

Some countries are likely to require temperature checks before customers are admitted, he added. Vue is already doing such checks at its theaters in Taiwan.

Most of Norway’s theaters are run by local governments, Mr. Petterson noted, so some are reopening even though they will lose money.

“They want to be there for the community,” he said.

Not waiting for state action, Russia’s oligarchs have become central to the coronavirus fight.

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A Russian steel magnate had his company supply respirator masks for the police, ventilators for hospitals, housing for people in isolation, software for quarantine compliance and workers for lockdown patrols.

The fantastically rich oligarchs who own Russia’s biggest businesses have become central figures in the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

With local health systems buckling, some oligarchs are deploying millions of dollars of their own cash, along with their companies’ logistics and procurement capacity, while urging slow-moving regional authorities to act with more resolve.

Under President Vladimir V. Putin, oligarchs have depended on the Kremlin’s benevolence, and the pandemic illustrates how much Mr. Putin’s system of governance relies on informal alliances with business tycoons.

The battle against the coronavirus is also revealing the weaknesses of the Russian state, which has neglected investment in health care and other social services, and at first did not respond aggressively to the pandemic.

So people like the steel magnate, Alexei A. Mordashov, have stepped in. He helped persuade regional governors to shut down the cities where he operates, and provided resources to make it happen.

For a fertilizer tycoon, Andrei A. Guryev, closing off the isolated Siberian region around one of his operations was simpler — his company owns the local airport and the ski resort.

Reporting and research were contributed by Hannah Beech, Nick Cumming-Bruce, Azam Ahmed, Elian Peltier, Aurelien Breeden, Monika Pronczuk, Elaine Yu, Abdi Latif Dahir, Steven Erlanger, Isabella Kwai, Jeffrey Gettleman, Suhasini Raj, Alex Marshall, Keith Bradsher, Liu Yi, Liz Alderman, Adam Satariano, Farnaz Fassihi, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Michael Levenson, Michael Crowley, Michael D. Shear, Anton Troianovski, Henry Fountain and Victor Mather.

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