Once-Empty Public Spaces Are Revived as Coronavirus Lockdowns Ease: Live Coverage

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A faint hope emerges as people return to public places.

The world is far from open again, but people are slowly being allowed to return to some of the places they once filled before the pandemic forced so many indoors. Places that seemed eerie and alien when empty — beaches, theme parks and railway lines — are now being cautiously revisited.

In China, where the coronavirus emerged late last year, Shanghai Disneyland opened on Monday. Masks were required, and even costumed characters had to maintain social distancing. Its daily visitor total was capped at less than one-third of its pre-outbreak limit.

And in Australia, popular beaches that sat empty are open again for exercise. Children across Sydney returned to school on Monday, donning uniforms that had been folded in drawers for weeks, in a staggered return to class as part of a broader opening that will play out over the coming week.

The virus is still spreading in many countries, and a vaccine has yet to be developed. But in places that appear to have controlled their outbreaks, and in others that have grown willing to take a risk, cautious openings have begun.

Spain, France and Germany were among the European nations that moved on Monday to loosen restrictions.

With some in Paris now returning to their workplaces, a measures have been introduced to prevent the country’s transport network from turning into a hotbed of contamination. All commuters are required to wear a mask or risk fines, and many were handed out at metro station entrances.

Staff members wearing protective equipment sprayed sanitizing gel on the hands of commuters passing through the turnstiles.

Inside the Châtelet-Les Halles station, the biggest transport hub in Paris’s sprawling metro network, only a few dozen people zigzagged through halls that are usually bustling on a Monday morning.

“I was expecting to see a lot more people on the train, which worried me quite a bit,” said Susana de Soares, a cleaner. “But it seems like everything was well planned.”

In seeking an inquiry, Australia leaps onto global stage and draws China’s ire.

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Europe soon joined the effort, moving to take up the idea with the World Health Organization this month. And Australia, in its newfound role as global catalyst, has become both a major target of Chinese anger and the sudden leader of a push to bolster international institutions that the United States has abandoned under President Trump.

“We just want to know what happened so it doesn’t happen again,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday, describing his conversations with other nations.

Confronting a once-in-a-generation crisis, the world’s middle powers are urgently trying to revive can-do multilateralism.

Countries in Europe and Asia are forging bonds on issues like public health and trade, planning for a future built on what they see as the pandemic’s biggest lessons: that the risks of China’s authoritarian government can no longer be denied, and that the United States cannot be relied on to lead when its foreign policy is increasingly “America first.”

The middle-power dynamic may last only as long as the virus. But if it continues, it could offer an alternative to the decrees and demands of the world’s two superpowers.

New data on Moscow’s death toll raises questions about Russia’s outbreak.

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Since the coronavirus first exploded into a major pandemic, researchers have been left puzzled by Russia’s mortality rate just 13 deaths per million, far below the global average of 36.

With the arrival of data for April, however, the situation has come more sharply into focus.

Data released by Moscow’s city government on Friday showed that the number of total registered deaths in the Russian capital in April exceeded the five-year average for the same period by more than 1,700. That total is far higher than the official Covid-19 death count of 642 — an indication of significant underreporting by the authorities.

“Mortality figures in Moscow seem to be much higher than average for Aprils over the last decade,” said Tatiana N. Mikhailova, a senior researcher at the Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration in Moscow.

“One thing is clear: The number of Covid-19 victims is possibly almost three times higher than the official toll,” she said in an interview, adding that additional calculations were required for a precise number.

A similar situation of underreporting fatalities has been observed in many other countries, where subsequent data reveal large upticks in deaths compared with the same period in previous years.

The new figures in Russia contrast sharply with the line that has been peddled by the Kremlin.

Speaking to President Vladimir V. Putin at the end of April, Anna Popova, the head of Russia’s consumer rights watchdog, boasted that the country’s mortality rate was “among the lowest in the world.” State-run television channels have been relentlessly advertising Russia’s effort to fight the virus as superior to Western nations’.

While the official number of deaths attributed to the coronavirus in Russia stands at 1,124 for Moscow and 2,009 nationwide as of Monday, arriving at a more accurate picture of the crisis will be highly complicated.

Thousands of people have left Moscow since the city government declared a lockdown in March, an exodus that would lower the number of deaths in the city. And many people may have died of other causes as at least 37 Moscow hospitals have been converted to treat only coronavirus patients.

India takes another major step, restarting one of the world’s largest train networks.

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India’s train network will gradually restart operations on Tuesday as the country eases its coronavirus lockdown, even though infections there are rising.

The train network, one of the world’s largest, closed in late March when a strict lockdown was implemented. But as India begins to slowly open up this month, trains are the first mode of transport being allowed to crisscross the country.

The government converted some 20,000 train carriages into isolation wards, bracing for a wave of coronavirus infections that many predicted would overwhelm hospitals. That disaster has largely failed to materialize, although some cities have fared worse than others, with entire hospitals shut in as staff members became infected.

The railways ministry said on Sunday that some trains would run from New Delhi to cities across the country, but that passengers would have to wear masks and undergo health screenings before being allowed to depart. New routes will also be introduced, the ministry said.

The French can buy groceries without a permission slip. But life is far from normal in Europe.

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For the first time in nearly two months, the French are free to leave their homes without filling out special release forms — a necessity over the past eight weeks to authorize a handful of permitted outings like grocery shopping, medical appointments or brief bouts of exercise.

France began lifting its strict lockdown on Monday. The pace varies by region, but some schools reopened, some shops lifted their shutters and some hair salons were fully booked.

The measures are among several taking effect across Europe on Monday as nations plot a path forward. Germany and Spain also introduced new freedoms as part of a gradual return to public life.

But, for most Europeans, life is not yet approaching normal. Although the ability to leave release forms behind was a major change for Paris residents, there were no early risers sipping coffee on Monday in cafes, which, like restaurants, bars, cinemas and theaters, will remain closed until further notice. Masks were mandatory, and social distancing was the norm on public transportation.

The Champs-Élysées, the famous Paris thoroughfare, was void of pedestrians Monday morning.

“There’s no one here. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it like this,” said Salim Samaoli, a 34-year-old consultant who was walking up the avenue to meet a client for the first time in two months.

On the Paris metro, one of every two seats was blocked off, and large stickers on the ground showed where people could stand to remain at a safe distance from fellow travelers. Though the new system was not without its issues — one of the busiest lines had jam-packed carriage of mask-wearing commuters Monday morning, according to a clip from the local news outlet BFM TV. The crowding did not last long, but it showed the challenges of the distancing guidelines.

“We are going to have to live with the virus for some time, and the lifting of the confinement is not a return to life as it used to be,” Olivier Véran, the French health minister, told BFM TV on Monday.

The country’s reproduction factor, or number of people infected by each newly detected case, broke its downward trend over the weekend, rising above one for two consecutive days.

Half of Spain’s population switched on Monday to more relaxed lockdown rules, which allow groups of up to 10 to gather, dine outdoors at recently reopened bars and restaurants, and visit small shops and businesses. The Spanish health ministry said on Monday that 123 people had died in the previous 24 hours, the lowest daily toll since March 18.

But the changes take effect only in parts Spain. The rest of the country — including the two largest cities, Madrid and Barcelona — will for now be kept under tighter controls. The health ministry said last week that the risk infection was not yet low enough to move to the next phase of reopening.

Salvador Illa, the Spanish health minister, insisted on Friday that regions should not try to fast-track their way out of the lockdown at the risk of provoking a spike in cases.

“This is not a race,” he said.

Shanghai Disneyland reopens with a long list of new safety rules.

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Costumed characters attended a ceremony to reopen Shanghai Disneyland on Monday. The park is the first of the Disney resorts to resume operations. 

Credit…Sam Mcneil/Associated Press

  • Slide 1 of 6

    Costumed characters attended a ceremony to reopen Shanghai Disneyland on Monday. The park is the first of the Disney resorts to resume operations. 

    Credit…Sam Mcneil/Associated Press

Temperature checks are conducted on ticket holders upon arrival. All guests must wear face masks. Parades are suspended. No theater shows or fireworks. Purple social-distancing mats prevent bunching while waiting in line. Rows of seats are left empty on rides.

From a business standpoint, Shanghai Disneyland will be operating far below its potential. The Chinese government has limited capacity at the park to 24,000 people daily, less than one-third of its pre-outbreak capacity. Bob Chapek, Disney’s chief executive, said last week that Disney would reduce ticket sales even further — “far below” the government’s limit, in his words — to make sure that employees can enforce new safety rules. Fewer tickets sold means decreased food and merchandise sales.

Investors have been relieved. Disney shares have climbed 8 percent since May 5, when Mr. Chapek announced that Shanghai Disneyland would reopen, perhaps paving the way for similar actions at Disney resorts in the United States, Japan and France. The limited number of tickets that Shanghai Disneyland put on sale for this week sold out within hours, suggesting that people are willing to resume public activities, even without a vaccine.

When the Shanghai resort reopened on Monday, according to videos of the event, cast members — Disney’s term for employees — lined Mickey Avenue, which leads to the castle and aerial Dumbo ride, and waved madly as they greeted attendees. Belle, Minnie, Woody, Duffy and other costumed characters appeared with welcome banners as a marching band played an upbeat “Mary Poppins” tune.

“It has been an emotional morning,” Joe Schott, president and general manager of the Shanghai Disney Resort, said in a phone interview. “There is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Not even the West Wing is impermeable from the spread of the coronavirus.

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Three top officials leading the White House response to the pandemic began to self-quarantine over the weekend after two Trump administration staff members — a valet to President Trump and Katie Miller, the press secretary for Vice President Mike Pence — tested positive for the virus.

Among those who will be sequestered for two weeks is Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the nation’s leading infectious disease expert. So will Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Dr. Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

“It is scary to go to work,” Kevin Hassett, a top economic adviser to the president, said on the CBS program “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

The devastation of the virus has been particularly acute for African-Americans. Many families, social scientists and public health experts now fear that racial bias may be contributing to the disproportionately high death rate.

The National Medical Association, the country’s largest professional organization representing black doctors, is calling on federal health agencies to study the role bias may have played in the testing and treatment of African-Americans for Covid-19.

Its president, Dr. Oliver Brooks, said, “I think what we will find is race is a factor.”

The virus has also been particularly lethal for residents of nursing homes, who in New Jersey accounted for half of the state’s Covid-19 fatalities, including 72 at a state-run home for veterans.

“The whole place is sick now,” said Mitchell Haber, whose 91-year-old father, Arnold Haber, died last month at the home.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Sunday that the jobs figures would get worse before they got better. He said the real unemployment rate — including people who are underemployed as well as those entirely without work — could soon approach 25 percent.

“There are very, very large numbers,” Mr. Mnuchin said on “Fox News Sunday.”

U.S. plans to accuse China of trying to hack vaccine data.

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A draft of the forthcoming public warning, which officials say is likely to be issued in the coming days, says China is seeking “valuable intellectual property and public health data through illicit means related to vaccines, treatments and testing.”

It focuses on cybertheft and action by “nontraditional actors,” a euphemism for researchers and students the Trump administration says are being activated to steal data from academic and private laboratories.

The efforts are part of a surge in cybertheft and attacks by nations seeking advantage in the pandemic.

More than a dozen countries have redeployed military and intelligence hackers to glean whatever they can about other nations’ virus responses. Even American allies like South Korea and nations that do not typically stand out for their cyberabilities, like Vietnam, have redirected state-run hackers to focus on virus-related information, according to private security firms.

The decision to issue a specific accusation against China, current and former officials said, is part of a broader deterrent strategy that also involves United States Cyber Command and the National Security Agency. Under legal authorities that President Trump issued nearly two years ago, they have the power to bore deeply into Chinese and other networks to mount proportional counterattacks.

A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry denied the hacking allegations on Monday.

At a routine news briefing in Beijing, the ministry’s spokesman, Zhao Lijian, said China had long “resolutely opposed” all forms of hacking.

“China is at the forefront of the world in research and treatment of novel coronavirus vaccines,” Mr. Zhao said. “It is unethical for anyone to slander and falsely concoct rumors if they can’t provide evidence.”

New Zealand and Australia begin to ease lockdowns.

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The Australian state of Victoria, which has moved cautiously in responding to the pandemic, will now allow visits of as many as five people between homes and gatherings of up to 10 people outdoors, the state’s premier, Daniel Andrews, said on Monday.

New South Wales, the state that includes Sydney, will adopt roughly the same guidelines as of Friday, following a plan released by the federal government that outlined how the country could largely resume normal domestic life by July.

In New Zealand, where Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern favored an especially severe lockdown that has lasted for nearly two months, restrictions are set to ease on Thursday to an even greater degree.

Ms. Ardern said that restaurants could have a maximum of 100 customers, with bookings limited to groups of 10. Retail stores, malls, cinemas and other public spaces can reopen, while enforcing physical distancing requirements. Home visits of as many as 10 people will be allowed, and schools are set to return to normal classes starting May 18. If no outbreaks alter the timetable, Ms. Ardern said, bars will reopen May 21.

“Our team of five million has united to beat the virus and must keep doing so — and now we must unite to keep rebuilding our economy,” Ms. Ardern said on Monday.

The announcements come as pressure to reopen and revive the economies of both countries has intensified. Small protests broke out on Sunday in Melbourne and Sydney, led by those who claimed that the measures to stop the spread of the virus had gone too far.

As schools reopen in Europe, relief combines with risk.

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The self-administered coronavirus tests being distributed at the high school in Neustrelitz, a small town in northern Germany, is one of the more intriguing efforts in Europe as countries embark on a giant experiment in how to reopen schools, which are being radically transformed by strict hygiene and distancing rules.

Restarting schools is at the core of any plan to restart economies globally. If schools do not reopen, parents cannot go back to work. So how Germany and other countries that have led the way on many fronts handle this stage in the pandemic will provide an essential lesson for the rest of the world.

For now, Europe is a patchwork of approaches and timetables — a vast laboratory for how to safely operate an institution that is central to any meaningful resumption of public life.

Austria, Belgium and Greece are all resuming lessons for select grades in coming weeks. Sweden never closed its schools but has put in place distancing and hygiene rules. Some hard-hit countries like Italy and Spain are not confident enough to open schools until the fall.

In Germany, which announced last week that it would reopen most aspects of its economy and allow all students back in coming weeks, class sizes have been cut in half. Hallways have become one-way systems. Breaks are staggered. Teachers wear masks, and students are told to dress warmly because windows and doors are kept open for air circulation. Germany allowed older children back to school first because they are better able to comply with rules on masks and distancing.

Evidence suggests that children are less likely to become seriously ill from Covid-19 than adults. But small numbers of children have become very sick and some have died, either from the respiratory failure that causes most adult deaths or from a newly recognized syndrome that causes acute inflammation in the heart.

An even greater blind spot is transmission. Children often do not have symptoms, making it less likely that they are tested and harder to see whether or how they spread the virus.

A Chinese city is on high alert after a rash of new cases.

The small city of Shulan in northeastern China has gone onto high alert after a rash of at least 15 coronavirus infections around the area that started with a woman who was reported to have no history of contact with known cases.

The spike in infections may be small by international measures, but it has become a worrisome example of how even limited outbreaks could hold back China’s efforts to return to something like a normal life.

Shulan, which is in Jilin Province, declared on Sunday that it was at “high risk” from the epidemic — the only area of China now with that official designation — after the jump in cases began last week, when doctors confirmed that the woman, a 45-year-old resident who washed clothes for the police, was ill from the novel coronavirus.

The Jilin Health Commission announced on Sunday that 11 more people in Shulan had been infected. They included the woman’s husband, three of her sisters, and a brother-in-law, as well as other people who had close contact with the family. Jilin Province said on Monday that it had identified three additional infections, all linked to the Shulan outbreak. Shenyang, another city in northeastern China, has said that a 23-year old man there was infected with the virus, and suggested that his case was linked to Shulan.

One reason for the heightened anxiety is that it remains unclear who infected the woman in Shulan, who had not been traveling or in contact with known cases.

In response, Shulan has announced a sweeping shutdown, similar to the measures imposed in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the epidemic began late last year.

Residential compounds have been closed off to visitors, and transport has been heavily restricted. Residents are allowed out of their homes only for essential needs, with one member per household designated to shop for food and other items. Public spaces like movie theaters, bars and government offices, that have gradually reopened in recent weeks were closed again. Schools have canceled all classes, reversing measures to allow some students back.

Countries where hardship is familiar sometimes fare better against the virus.

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As the coronavirus has hopscotched the world, a paradox has emerged: Rich nations are not necessarily better at fighting the crisis than poorer ones.

In Europe, the disease has been burning through Britain, France and Italy, three of the continent’s four biggest economies. But smaller, poorer nations quickly imposed and enforced tough restrictions, stuck to them, and have so far fared better at keeping the virus contained.

The nations include many in the former Communist East, as well as Greece and Croatia, where the authorities are cautiously optimistic about their people’s endurance in the face of adversity.

Those countries could draw on deep reservoirs of resilience born of relatively recent hardship. Compared with what their people went through not long ago, the stringent lockdowns seemed less arduous, apparently prompting a larger social buy-in.

In Greece, where the strictures of the country’s debt crisis are fresh in most minds, the specter of one in three people being out of work is nothing new. In Croatia, many remember being barricaded indoors and hearing air raid sirens blaring for weeks on end during the conflict in the Balkans in the 1990s.

Ive Morovic, a 45-year-old barber in Zadar, Croatia, believes the focused way in which people in Croatia have responded to the pandemic harks back to wartime and the legacy of communism.

“People today are afraid,” he said. “The discipline we all learned helps us get in line and creates some sort of forced unity.”

A mosque in Britain is forced to build a makeshift mortuary in its parking lot.

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Normally, the mosque, one of England’s largest, would be filled with thousands of worshipers during the holy month of Ramadan. Now it is mostly empty, except for stacks of coffins.

Every few hours, a van pulls up in front of the Central Jamia Mosque Ghamkol Sharif. Volunteers dressed in protective coveralls and masks come out and carefully unload velvet-covered coffins and carry them inside a makeshift mortuary in the mosque’s parking lot. There the bodies are washed, shrouded and refrigerated.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, the funeral service at the mosque in the hard-hit city of Birmingham, Britain’s second largest, would receive one or two bodies a week. But last month — as Britain hit its peak infection numbers — five to six bodies were brought in each day, forcing the mosque to build a makeshift mortuary in its parking lot, which it has opened to all faiths.

“I’ve lost count of the bodies that have come in and out of here,” said Javid Akhtar, the mosque’s funeral director. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

While London has been the epicenter of the country’s outbreak, Birmingham and surrounding areas in the West Midlands have recently emerged as a virus hot spot. Communities from black and religious minority backgrounds, which make up around 26 percent of Birmingham’s 842,000 residents, have been disproportionally affected by the virus, prompting a government investigation into the cause.

“Everyone in the community knows someone who has died or is sick,” said Tariq Mahmood, a 24-year-old volunteer.

Reporting was contributed by Ivan Nechepurenko, Aurelien Breeden, Constant Méheut, Raphael Minder, Melissa Eddy, Isabella Kwai, Megan Specia, Livia Albeck-Ripka, Damien Cave, Chris Buckley, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Iliana Magra, Ceylan Yeginsu, Katrin Bennhold, Abdi Latif Dahir, Austin Ramzy, David E. Sanger, Nicole Perlroth, Maria Abi-Habib, Neil Vigdor, Maggie Haberman, Michael D. Shear, John Eligon, Audra D.S. Burch, Tracey Tully and Jim Tankersley.

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