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Migrants face roundups and detention in Malaysia and surging infections in Singapore’s dormitories.
On Friday, undocumented migrants in Malaysia were detained in large-scale raids as part of the authorities’ effort to contain the outbreak.
The country cannot allow migrants “to move freely” during its lockdown, Abdul Hamid Bador, the police’s inspector general, told the state news agency Bernama, citing a risk of new clusters: “It will be difficult for us to track them down if they leave identified locations.”
“With this ill-advised roundup, the Malaysian government seems foolishly intent on repeating the mistakes of Singapore by concentrating migrants together in a way that will ensure a massive spread of Covid-19,” said Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“So really you have a perfect storm of poor and marginalized people at the center of these economies who should be supported to stop Covid-19 in their communities but are instead facing waves of vilification and xenophobia,” Mr. Robertson added.
In neighboring Singapore, early successes in controlling the outbreak have been marred by a relentless surge in infections linked to migrant worker dormitories that house up to 20 people per room.
Most of the 1,379 new infections recorded on Friday and Saturday were from foreign laborers living in such dorms, the Ministry of Health said. Such cases, which have shown little sign of abating, accounted for about 86 percent of Singapore’s 17,548 cases as of Saturday. The city-state said it would start easing some distancing measures over the next few weeks.
Hundreds of miles off the Malaysian shores, at least three boats that each carried hundreds of Rohingya refugees have been adrift for more than two months. In what the United Nations has called a dangerous “game of human Ping-Pong,” the boats were prevented from docking in Bangladesh, their port of origin, and Malaysia, their preferred destination.
As of this week, rights groups that had been trying to track the boats by satellite lost sight of them.
Our Baghdad bureau chief reports on the dire state of Syria’s fight against the pandemic.
There is plenty of competition for the worst place to be during the Covid-19 pandemic, but one of them would have to be Syria, especially those areas outside of government control or of little concern to Damascus.
As of March, the four million inhabitants of the northeastern region of the country, overseen by a Kurdish-led administration, lacked access to coronavirus tests, which could take as long as 11 days to come back from a lab in Damascus. They lacked access to health clinics — just 26 out of 279 were functioning — and had only two hospitals working out of 11, according to a letter released this week by Human Rights Watch demanding health care aid for the population.
Northeast Syria is where Syrian Kurdish forces, backed by United States troops, fought the Islamic State for five years.
The Iraqi Kurds have responded as best they can — although often they are at odds with the politics of their fellow Kurds on the Syrian side of the border.
The Kurdish region’s president, Nechirvan Barzani, paid for and delivered four Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction machines capable of performing coronavirus tests, said Ahmed Oathman, his deputy chief of staff.
“We sent the lab machinery, plus test kits and we sent people who are experts to train them,” said Mr. Oathman.
With the main border crossings into northeast Syria closed by the United Nations Security Council since January, however, NGOs have been struggling to get medical aid through — medicines, masks, and protective gear.
The Iraqi Kurds have tried to make it easier by allowing aid through one small crossing — although there have been bureaucratic hold ups — but with the main crossing closed it has limited impact, according to Human Rights Watch.
Latest in science: A lucrative trade in patients’ blood.
And the people who give their blood to help the fight against Covid-19 may not realize that it is making such profits.
Documents, emails and price lists obtained by The New York Times show that several companies around the world are offering to sell Covid-19 blood samples to labs and test manufacturers at elevated prices.
One is Cantor BioConnect in California, which has charged $350 to $40,000 for a milliliter — less than a quarter of a teaspoon — of blood. Another, the Indian company Advy Chemical, has charged up to $50,000. The more antibodies in the sample, the higher the price.
The companies insist they are not profiteering, but doctors call the practice unethical.
“I’ve never seen these prices before,” said Dr. Joe Fitchett, the medical director of Mologic, a British test manufacturer that was offered high-priced samples. “It’s money being made from people’s suffering.”
Researchers who are trying to develop antibody tests need samples taken from people who caught the virus, and whose immune systems learned to make antibodies to fight it off. Competition for the samples has produced shortages.
That’s particularly true in Britain, where researchers usually rely on the centralized public health system to provide samples. For-profit companies are advertising for donors and paying them — $100 in Cantor BioConnect’s case — while British scientists are relying on word of mouth or personal connections to find volunteers.
In other science news on the pandemic:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday issued an emergency approval for remdesivir as a treatment for patients severely ill with Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The F.D.A. rushed to approve the drug — which had failed as a treatment against Ebola and hepatitis — after a federal trial demonstrated modest improvements. Remdesivir was approved only for severely ill patients and only temporarily; formal approval must come later.
Common blood-pressure drugs do not put patients at greater risk from the coronavirus, researchers are reporting. That’s good news for millions of people who take two classes of drugs, known as ACE inhibitors and ARBs.
It may be time to add another strange symptom to the list of coronavirus signs, “Covid toe.” Doctors around the world report that some of their infected patients are developing chilblains — painful toe lesions that are ordinarily seen in cold weather.
Without testing enormous numbers of people, how can we know when the disease has abated enough to resume normal life? The answer, scientists say, may be in the sewers, where traces of the virus appear from the feces of infected people.
India reports its biggest single-day rise in cases.
India reported 2,293 new cases of the coronavirus on Friday, its biggest single-day increase yet, according to Health Ministry officials.
The country has recorded 37,336 infections and more than 1,100 deaths from the coronavirus, a relatively low number for a country of 1.3 billion people. But in recent days, outbreaks have worsened in states like Maharashtra, where many cases have been traced to large, overcrowded neighborhoods in Mumbai, India’s business capital.
For more than five weeks, Indian officials have stringently enforced a nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus, sealing state borders, halting transportation and shutting airspace and most businesses.
India’s Home Ministry announced on Friday that the lockdown would continue until at least May 17, though restrictions on movement are scheduled to loosen next week in districts with few or no infections.
Britons might be too scared to go out after lockdown ends, an academic says.
As fears grew that Britain was on course to record the most known coronavirus deaths in Europe, a leading academic says the government’s stay-at-home message may have been “if anything, slightly too successful.”
David Spiegelhalter, a statistician at the University of Cambridge, told the BBC’s Radio 4 this week that the country might have to launch a campaign to nudge people to “get out and start living again,” especially those who are at low risk of dying from Covid-19.
“Many people are definitely overanxious about their chance of both getting the virus and the harm they might come to if they do get it,” he said.
His remarks came as an Ipsos MORI poll this week found that two-thirds of Britons (67 percent) said that after the lockdown is lifted, they would feel uncomfortable going to large public gatherings, such as sports or music events. Half felt the same about sending their children to school.
“Three in five (61 percent) Britons would also feel uncomfortable using public transport or going to bars and restaurants. While three in 10 (29 percent) feel comfortable going out to eat and drink, only 21 percent would be happy to use public transport to get there,” the survey found.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain said on Friday that he would lay out a road map next week on easing the lockdown if the nation met the criteria set out by its scientific advisory panel, including sustaining a lower infection rate.
Here’s what else is happening in other parts of Europe:
France’s health minister, Olivier Véran, said on Saturday that the country’s health emergency would be extended until July 24, enabling the government to maintain or reimpose restrictive measures even as it prepares to relax some current rules. The country’s Parliament is expected to ratify the extension next week.
Norway will allow cinemas to reopen on May 7 with a capacity for 50 people per screen, while Czech theaters will open on May 11 with a 100-person capacity limit.
Germany will reopen playgrounds, museums and churches from Monday to go with the small shops that reopened this week, and officials will decide within days about schools and sports events as the nation eases its way out of a lockdown. Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that reopening restaurants at this juncture would be “problematic.” “We can’t check if people around one table are from one family, or from different households,” she told reporters on Thursday.
U.S. roundup: Amid reopenings, many Americans weigh their lives against their livelihoods.
As U.S. states begin to loosen restrictions on their economies, the act of reopening has come down not to governors or even to President Trump, but to millions of individual Americans who are being asked to go back to work.
The hyperpartisan wrangling between Mr. Trump and governors over whether to reopen has obscured the way many Americans are thinking about the issue. They are not always neatly dividing into two political tribes, with Republicans wanting to see restrictions lifted and Democrats wanting to remain shut down. Even within each person there can be conflicting instincts.
Large majorities of Americans still approve of shutdown orders as a way to protect public health, but the tremendous surge of jobless claims since mid-March has created a crosscurrent: an urgent need for income.
On Friday, at least 10 additional states, including Texas, began to lift stay-at-home orders or reopen some businesses, and more Americans ventured out of their doors to work, but often with a sense of dread — weighing what felt like an impossible choice between their health and their livelihood.
If they go back to work, will they get sick and infect their families? If they refuse, will they lose their jobs? What if they work on tips and there are no customers? What happens to their unemployment benefits?
Until recently, only those designated as essential workers had to face such dilemmas. But when Maine announced this week that hair salons could reopen, Sarah Kyllonen, a stylist in Lewiston, stayed up late wondering what to do.
The virus still scared her. But her bills had not stopped and her unemployment benefits had not started. She was starting to worry about next month’s rent.
Around midnight on Thursday, she finally drifted off. But she woke an hour later, and did not sleep much after that.
“It’s an extremely hard decision for all of us,” she said. “I want to go back to work. I want to have the money. I want to see people. But it’s hard because I’m worried about the virus coming back around.”
Here’s what else is happening in the United States:
Warren E. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway swung to a $49.7 billion loss in the first quarter, the conglomerate reported, compared with a $21.7 billion profit during the same quarter a year ago. The fund’s vast array of investments expose it to huge swaths of an American economy battered by the pandemic.
Lockdown restrictions have prompted a raft of lawsuits asserting a wide range of rights, from individual rights to free speech to property rights. In Los Angeles, a group of small businesses that includes a gondola service, a mariachi band and a pet grooming spa sued in federal court.
Street artists depict a masked world.
Street art is the ultimate visual source of social commentary and the pandemic has lit a fire under the feet of muralists around the world.
In March, the artist Pobel returned to his home in Norway after traveling in the Peruvian jungle and found a mandatory lockdown. He was struck by people wearing masks, he said.
That’s how the idea for “The Lovers,” a mural of a young couple wearing bright blue face masks, was born. He spray-painted the image on a concrete wall on the main road in Bryne, after making a stencil drawing on cardboard.
“There’s a beautiful lamp above it, so at nighttime, it really lights up,” he said. His inspiration stemmed from hope. “Even though everyone has gone through struggles and hard times, there is still heart and love and compassion,” he said.
In Bergen, Norway, the street artist Pyritt painted a woman clad in a traditional Norwegian costume called a bunad, wearing a gold face mask. He named it “May 2020,” a nod to the country’s May 17 Constitution Day, which is celebrated with parades and has not been canceled since World War II. “A bunad is a very important part of the collective self-image,” said Christer Holm, who represents the artist, noting that this year there is a high probability that the celebrations won’t happen.
Spain’s adults and teenagers are allowed out to exercise, in shifts.
And now, it’s the adults’ turn.
Last weekend, young children in Spain, who endured arguably the worst lockdown among their peers in Europe because of the coronavirus pandemic, got permission to step out of their home for the first time in weeks. On Saturday, teenagers and adults were allowed to exercise outdoors for the first time in seven weeks, as the country eased restrictions further.
To avoid overcrowding, the government put in place a shift system for the one-hour period for them to get out the house, dividing the population by age groups. Residents over the age of 14 got the first shift — from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. local time — and many in Madrid used it to take their first run in a long time.
“Running just gave me a great feeling of freedom,” said Sofia Correa, a student, as she was cooling down after a 45-minute jog around Central Madrid. “I can only hope that this won’t mean we will soon get another rise in infections.”
“I’ve loved my walk, but also seeing how people look happy and are keen to greet each other again in a normal way,” said another resident, Pablo Martínez, who opted for speed walking instead of running because of a painful knee. “It gives me strength and some confidence in the future, also for my business,” he said.
Mr. Martínez said he hoped to reopen a massage parlor this month that he had to close in mid-March, furloughing 50 employees. “The next challenge is to work out how quickly business will return to normal and how many of my staff can really return to work,” he said.
As a sign of the improving coronavirus numbers, Madrid’s politicians on Friday closed a temporary hospital that had been built in the city’s largest exhibition center to treat Covid-19 patients.
The official death toll in Spain is now 25,100, the country’s Health Ministry said on Saturday, with a total of 216,582 confirmed cases.
One aspect of the measures tightened on Saturday: Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced that wearing a face mask would be compulsory on public transport from next week, reversing a recommendation made by Spain’s health officials at the onset of the crisis, which was that only people showing possible symptoms of the virus should wear a mask.
Pandemic highlights shortage of burial plots for French Muslims.
The coronavirus pandemic that has upended much of the world has also halted a tradition in many French Muslim immigrant families: repatriating bodies to their country of origin. And as most countries have closed their borders, it has also highlighted the challenging task of finding proper Muslim burial plots that are oriented toward Mecca.
French cemeteries are lacking in such plots, a concern that many families from Northwest and sub-Saharan Africa have raised for decades. But the pandemic has helped reveal the full extent of the shortage while underscoring the broader struggle over the integration of Muslims in France.
“Covid-19 has, unfortunately, hit the Muslim community with full force,” said Chems-Eddine Hafiz, the rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris. “This situation has been going on for years, and we are now paying a high price for it.”
Every year, thousands of bodies have been sent back to countries in Northwest and sub-Saharan Africa, a well-functioning operation involving specialized funeral homes, charter flights and consular services.
But now Morocco and Tunisia have suspended all repatriations, while Algeria and Mali allow only people who have not died of the disease to return. The restrictions have pushed more Muslim families to turn to French cemeteries to bury their relatives.
Under France’s strict secular laws, town councils — which manage the country’s cemeteries — are not required to create or extend religious plots.
With about 25,000 coronavirus-related fatalities, France ranks among the top five most affected countries in the world. Although it is not known how many Muslims are among the dead, Muslim undertakers have reported being inundated with requests to arrange emergency burials or deal with repatriation.
“A serious crisis is underway,” said Djamel Djemai, the 42-year-old owner of Al Janaza Muslim funeral home in the Seine-Saint-Denis district.
To ‘decongest the jails,’ the Philippines has freed nearly 10,000 inmates.
An associate justice on the Philippine Supreme Court, Marvic Leonen, said on Saturday that nearly 10,000 prison inmates had been freed as part of efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
Of the 9,731 inmates freed between March 1 and April 29, more than 2,000 were released from prisons in Manila, he said. Most of the rest, about 4,600, had been held elsewhere in Luzon, the region that includes the capital.
“We continue as much as we can to decongest the jails,” Justice Leonen said during an online news briefing.
Th announcement came days after Human Rights Watch called on the government to fully report deaths in its prisons from Covid-19, after at least nine inmates and nine staff members tested positive for the coronavirus at Quezon City Jail in the Manila area, one of the country’s most crowded prisons.
The Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the central Philippines also reported one death from the coronavirus this week, while the Cebu City Jail reported 212 infections.
Across the world, prisons have become breeding grounds for the coronavirus, leading governments to release hundreds of thousands of inmates in an attempt to curb the spread of the contagion behind bars.
London bus drivers fear for their lives after two dozen deaths.
With a stringent coronavirus lockdown in place and London’s normal bustle largely halted, bold red buses are still offering frequent service to keep essential workers moving.
Now, more than two dozen of those drivers are dead as a result of the virus and some say they fear for their lives, despite new safety measures put in place in recent days.
“I think we all feel the fact that it could be any one of us,” said Lorraine, 62, who drives a route in South London. She asked that her last name not be used so she does not lose her job. While conditions have improved in recent days, she said, the past several weeks had worn on her.
“To be quite honest, I’ve felt real fear,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve felt such fear in all my life that I could die.”
At least 37 of London’s transportation workers, including 28 bus drivers, have died from the coronavirus since the outbreak began in hard-hit Britain, according to the latest numbers, released on Saturday by Transport for London or TfL, the government body that manages public transportation in the city. Around 27,000 people work for TfL, the group said.
While drivers have expressed concerns about the risks of coming into close contact with the public, it is impossible to say with any certainty how those who died became infected.
London, along with the rest of Britain, has been officially locked down since March 23, with all nonessential businesses shuttered, schools closed and public life halted. But like the public transportation of so many other cities, London’s buses and subways are still up and running, shuttling workers to and from the hospitals, grocery stores and other essential workplaces.
Last week, new protective measures were rolled out citywide requiring passengers to enter and exit buses at the middle or back doors where possible and to sit in those sections, well away from the drivers. Passengers don’t have to pay, for now, to avoid coming close to drivers.
But unions representing bus drivers, as well as the families of the victims, say the measures do not go far enough.
The pandemic as seen from two sides of a border.
Our reporter, Ian Austen, hears from a health economist who has taught in both countries in the Canada Letter.
After lamenting in a recent Canada Letter about my inability to find an expert who could offer an informed comparison of how the medical systems in Canada and the United States were responding to the coronavirus pandemic, I soon heard from Professor Peter Berman.
He is particularly well placed for such an assessment, after spending 25 years teaching at Harvard, most recently as a professor of global health systems and economics at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Professor Berman is now based in Vancouver as the director of the school of population and public health at the University of British Columbia’s medical school.
I’ll begin the comparison with some numbers. Massachusetts, the previous home of Professor Berman, has a population of 6.8 million and British Columbia has slightly over 5 million residents. But the toll of the pandemic on the two areas has been significantly different. As off Friday afternoon in Massachusetts, there have been more than 62,000 reported cases and 3,562 deaths, or 52 fatalities for every 100,000 people. In B.C., there have been just 2,112 reported cases and 111 deaths or just two victims for every 100,000 residents.
Professor Berman cautioned that those numbers reflect a wide variety of factors outside the medical system like the demographic makeup of different cities and regions.
But he noted that near his old office at Harvard “there must be thousands of the world’s best hospital beds and there are three top international top hospitals within a couple blocks.” So with resources like that, why is there such a great disparity with British Columbia?
“In British Columbia, the province just said: ‘We need to get ready for this, we need to free up 30 percent of the hospital beds,’” Professor Berman said. “And they instructed the health authorities to do it.”
But in Massachusetts, he said, not only was there no one to tell hospitals to clear out beds, the economics of the system work against such steps.
That doesn’t mean that Canada’s approach to the crisis and the structure of its medical system is perfect. Among other things, Professor Berman said that Canada’s health systems, which effectively treat doctors as private contractors, sometimes leads to disconnections between primary health care and the hospital systems. He also said that the country has been slow to push testing for the virus out into communities.
Reporting was contributed by Raphael Minder, Aurelien Breeden, Constant Méheut, Alissa J. Rubin, Kai Schultz, Megan Specia, Jane Bradley, Ian Austen, Yonette Joseph, Peter Robins, Elaine Yu, Hannah Beech, Gina Kolata, Jason Gutierrez, Edward Wong, Ana Swanson, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Iyad Abuheweila, Adam Rasgon, Charu Suri, Sabrina Tavernise, Jack Healy and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs.
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