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South Korea could be a model for school reopenings around the world.
At Seoul’s Shinhyeon High School, hundreds of seniors returned to their classrooms on Wednesday after five months. But it was no ordinary day: The students lined up at the gate, all wearing masks, and had their body temperatures taken before being allowed in the school compound.
South Korea’s response to restarting educational life may serve as a model for countries around the world that are only just emerging from nationwide lockdowns.
At Shinhyeon, teachers greeted students by spraying their hands with sanitizer. And inside the classrooms, nonessential furniture had been removed to make space for social distancing.
“I am a bit scared because we have to return to school while the epidemic with no vaccine is still out there,” Lee Na-yeon, a Shinhyeon student, told the all-news cable channel YTN. “But it feels good to see the teachers and friends again after so long.”
The country was hit by one of the worst early outbreaks of Covid-19 — at one point, it reported the biggest cluster of patients outside China — forcing schools to postpone their reopening in early March and conduct classes online. But it has since contained the virus enough to ease many social-distancing restrictions, declaring that it will start a “new daily life” in which the people are encouraged to reclaim as much of their pre-pandemic life as possible while abiding by preventive measures.
Most universities in South Korea opened early this month. And on Wednesday, the government cautiously began allowing high school students back into their classrooms, starting with 450,000 seniors. If all goes well, the country plans to reopen middle and primary schools and kindergartens in the coming weeks.
But Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said the reopening of schools was one of the “last” tests of South Korea’s ability to sustain a new daily life under Covid-19, and he urged the nation to “remain on high alert” and “prepare for emergencies.”
And within South Korea, cities took different approaches to school reopenings.
In Anseong, south of Seoul, the local education office on Wednesday ordered the students of nine high schools to stay home for another day, while epidemiologists scrambled to determine whether a man who tested positive for the virus on Tuesday had come in contact with any of the students.
And in the city of Incheon, west of Seoul, students from 66 high schools were turned away and told to go home on Wednesday after two high school seniors tested positive. They were believed to have contracted the virus at a karaoke parlor that was visited by a recent patient linked to an outbreak in Itaewon, a popular nightlife district in Seoul.
Schools and universities around the world face similar challenges. Here are a few examples;
In Britain, Cambridge University on Tuesday became the first university in the nation to move all student lectures online for the entire upcoming academic year. The 800-year-old university said that the decision will be reviewed if official coronavirus guidance changes.
In the United States, some colleges and universities are bringing students back with pledges to test them for the virus and track infections. But California State University, the nation’s largest four-year public university system, said classes would take place almost exclusively online this fall, with some possible exceptions.
In Canada, McGill University in Montreal and several other schools have said they will offer most of their courses online in the fall.
A cyclone bears down on India and Bangladesh, disrupting responses to the virus.
Cyclone Amphan, now the equivalent of a category 3 hurricane, is predicted to make landfall in India and Bangladesh on Wednesday around 4 p.m. local time with a maximum sustained wind speed of 77 miles per hour. It had registered winds of 165 miles an hour on Monday, making it the strongest cyclone ever recorded in the Bay of Bengal.
While the intensity of the storm has decreased, officials said, the cyclone still poses a threat to coastal regions in India and Bangladesh. “We are expecting large-scale damage,” said M. Mohapatra, an official at the India Meteorological Department.
More than three million people in India and Bangladesh are being evacuated to emergency cyclone shelters. Still, some of the shelters are only half full, because of concerns about social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.
The people in the storm’s path include about one million Rohingya Muslims who live in refugee camps along the Bangladeshi coastline. And the recent confirmation of the first cases of Covid-19 in the camps has added another layer of anxiety and danger to relief efforts.
Snigdha Chakraborty, the Bangladesh director for Catholic Relief Services, said the coast’s limited health facilities and poor infrastructure suggested “a grim picture for the days ahead.”
“There are no evacuation shelters in the camps and we are worried about damage from flooding, wind and risk of Covid-19 as resources are stretched,” she said.
Taiwan’s president starts a new term, buoyed by high marks for her pandemic response.
Tsai Ing-wen was sworn in for a second term as president of Taiwan on Wednesday morning, riding a wave of international recognition for her government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Taiwan, which sits just 100 miles off China’s coast and has a population of more than 23 million, has recorded only 440 coronavirus cases and seven deaths. Its first case was reported on Jan. 21, the same day as the first American case.
In a statement, the U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, praised Ms. Tsai for her leadership, including Taiwan’s response to the virus.
“Her courage and vision in leading Taiwan’s vibrant democracy is an inspiration to the region and the world,” he said, adding that the outbreak had “provided an opportunity for the international community to see why Taiwan’s pandemic-response model is worthy of emulation.”
The inauguration was swiftly met with criticism from Beijing, which accused Ms. Tsai’s party of seeking to use the pandemic as cover for a push for formal independence.
“They stepped up ties with external forces to undermine peace in the Taiwan Strait and ‘seek independence through the epidemic’,” Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesman of the Taiwan Affairs Office in Beijing, said in a statement.
Unlike Ms. Tsai’s 2016 inauguration, which was attended by thousands, the ceremony on Wednesday was a small, private event on the lawn of the Taipei Guesthouse. Dozens of guests, mostly government officials, sat one meter apart from each other.
During her speech, Ms. Tsai praised the Taiwanese people and health officials, many of whom were in attendance, for successfully facing the pandemic.
“In recent months, Taiwan’s name has appeared in headlines around the world, thanks to our successful containment of the coronavirus outbreak,” she said.
“‘Taiwan’ is also emblazoned on the boxes of supplies we are sending abroad,” she said, referring to the masks and other equipment that Taiwan has donated to other countries, including millions of masks sent to the United States. “We will always offer help to the international community whenever we are able.”
How the coronavirus pushed Germany to shift course.
In her time as chancellor of Germany, Steven Erlanger writes, Angela Merkel has seen the European Union put to the test by Brexit, a wave of migration, the Greek debt crisis and populism, and still she held to a largely steadfast course.
Then came the coronavirus.
Faced with a tarnishing of her own legacy and a deep recession gutting her own country and its main trading partners, Ms. Merkel this week agreed to break with two longstanding taboos in German policy.
Along with the French president, Emmanuel Macron, Ms. Merkel proposed a 500 billion euro fund to help the European Union member states most ravaged by the virus.
The proposal, which is hardly a done deal, departs from two central elements of German orthodoxy, said Jean Pisani-Ferry, an economist and former French government adviser.
It would allow the transfer of funds from richer countries to those more in need. And it would do so with money borrowed collectively by the European Union as a whole.
It will not be popular in Germany, and it may help populist opponents on the political extremes. But Ms. Merkel, in the twilight of her long political career, has put the interests of the 27-nation union — which embeds Germany into Europe as much as NATO does — before her domestic concerns.
Confronted with a pandemic that has cratered Europe’s economy, Ms. Merkel and Mr. Macron, who have often found themselves at odds over the years, dragged the rusty Franco-German motor out of the garage and got it running again.
As Indonesia’s biggest holiday approaches, social distancing is an afterthought.
Across Indonesia, malls and shopping streets are packed with people seemingly oblivious to the idea of social distancing.
Keeping with tradition, they have been shopping for new clothes to look their best on Indonesia’s most important holiday, Eid al-Fitr, which falls on Sunday. Many are wearing face masks, but others are not.
In Jakarta, the capital, crowds of shoppers swarmed the streets this week around the huge Tanah Abang market. The venue itself was closed to prevent the spread of the virus, and a banner read: “Stay home, Corona is destroyed. Leave home, Corona reigns.” But vendors had filled streets around it with stalls selling head scarves, long, flowing skirts and men’s shirts and trousers.
In the neighboring city of Bogor, where shopping streets were also crowded, officials complained that some shoppers were using government coronavirus aid to buy new holiday clothes, local news media reported.
Indonesia, the world’s fourth largest country by population, is 90 percent Muslim.
As the country’s count of confirmed cases nears 20,000, its leaders are wrestling with how to rein in the pandemic while minimizing damage to the economy.
President Joko Widodo, who reluctantly imposed nationwide restrictions, including barring people from returning to their home villages for the holiday, has more recently called for learning to coexist with the virus.
But in Jakarta, which has a third of the nation’s cases, the governor, Anies Baswedan, extended pandemic restrictions from Friday until June 4. He urged the public to stay home and avoid large gatherings.
“The next 14 days will be a defining moment for us, whether the number will stagnate, rise or decline,” he said.
How will Europe reconcile requiring face masks while banning burqas?
While face coverings are fast becoming the norm to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, the global politics that surround them are more complicated than ever — a reflection not just of this current crisis, but also of broader values and stereotypes.
This is especially true in the European Union, where the laws informally known as “burqa bans” that forbid full-face coverings, often on the basis of public safety, are being called into question.
“It’s a big contradiction,” said Alia Jafar, a British schoolteacher in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, of the many face covering laws, which differ by country — especially because, to avoid charges of discrimination, the legal wording of most burqa bans is often framed more neutrally to apply to both men and women hiding their faces.
Ms. Jafar posted a picture on social media, which she shared with The New York Times, of two women in the street during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. Both wore wide-brimmed hats, pulled low, with scarfs tied across their faces. Only their eyes peeked through. “It looks like the burqa,” Ms. Jafar said.
Yet this week France stood firm on its ban, which prohibits the wearing of clothing intended to hide the face in public spaces, despite the fact that masks are now being required on public transportation and in high schools. The French interior ministry confirmed to The Times that the face coverings rule of 2010 would stay in place.
The result is a Catch-22. Those who do not wear a mask can be fined, as can those who violate the face-covering law.
W.H.O. nations reject Trump’s demands but agree to study the virus response.
President Trump’s angry demands for punitive action against the World Health Organization were rebuffed on Tuesday by the organization’s other member nations, who decided instead to conduct an “impartial, independent” examination of the W.H.O.’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a four-page letter late Monday night, Mr. Trump had threatened to permanently cut off all United States funding of the W.H.O. unless it committed to “major, substantive improvements” within 30 days. It was a significant escalation of his repeated attempts to blame the W.H.O. and China for the spread of the virus and deflect responsibility for his own handling of a crisis that has killed more than 90,000 people in the United States.
But representatives of the organization’s member nations rallied around the W.H.O. at its annual meeting in Geneva, largely ignoring Mr. Trump’s demand for an overhaul and calling for a global show of support.
That left the United States isolated as officials from China, Russia and the European Union chided Mr. Trump’s heated rhetoric even as they acknowledged the need to review the W.H.O.’s response as the virus spread from China to the rest of the world.
Public health experts noted that Mr. Trump’s threats to withdraw from the organization and permanently halt funding ignored the reality that any such moves would require the consent of Congress. But the president’s continued attacks on the W.H.O., experts said, threatened to hobble the organization and seriously damage international efforts to combat the virus.
All 50 U.S. states have reopened to some degree. The rules still vary widely.
All 50 states have begun to reopen in at least some way, more than two months after the coronavirus thrust the country into lockdown. But there remain vast discrepancies in how states are deciding to open up, with some forging far ahead of others.
Connecticut was among the last states to take a plunge back to business on Wednesday, when its stay-at-home order lifts and stores, museums and offices are allowed to reopen. But not far away in New Jersey, the reopening has been more limited, with only curbside pickup at retail stores and allowances for certain industries.
The contrast illustrates a dynamic playing out across the country, as governors grapple with how to handle a pandemic that comes with no political playbook.
States in the Northeast and on the West Coast, as well as Democratic-led states in the Midwest, have moved the slowest toward reopening, with several governors taking a county-by-county approach. (In Washington, D.C., a stay-at-home order remains in effect until June.) By contrast, a number of states in the South opened earlier and more fully. Though social distancing requirements were put in place, restaurants, salons, gyms and other businesses have been open in Georgia for several weeks.
Alaska went even further. On Tuesday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said that he would lift restrictions on businesses by the end of the week, allowing restaurants, bars, gyms and others to return to full capacity. Sports and recreational activities will be allowed. Yet even as it announced plans to ease restrictions on residents, the state said that it was maintaining its requirement that travelers arriving in the state stay quarantined for 14 days, and keeping visitor restrictions at senior centers and prisons.
Here’s what else is happening in the United States:
Missouri executed a 64-year-old man on Tuesday night, the first execution since March 5, when there were fewer than 230 known virus cases in the United States. Judges in several states have postponed executions in recent weeks, citing the pandemic, but Walter Barton was unsuccessful in challenging his in the courts. Mr. Barton, who was convicted in 2006 of murdering an elderly woman in 1991, had long proclaimed his innocence. Shortly before he was injected by a lethal dose of a drug, he said in his final written statement that Missouri was “executing an innocent man!!”
Our correspondent examines Hong Kong, a city finding normalcy amid the abnormal.
Vivian Wang is a China correspondent whose reporting explores how China’s global rise is reshaping the lives of its people. She lives in Hong Kong, where she also covers the territory’s evolving relationship with the mainland.
Two blocks from my apartment on the western edge of Hong Kong Island, a Starbucks has been transformed into what looks like a construction zone, or maybe a strange art installation.
An armchair near the window was cordoned off for a time with masking tape, and more strips stretched over and around other chairs nearby, taut like tightropes over their neighboring tabletops. Rectangles of white cardboard are clipped to the sides of tables, which now look more like office cubicles than places to gather with friends.
But if the customers are fazed by the oddness of their surroundings, they don’t show it.
On a recent Tuesday night, a young couple huddled at one of the tape-free tables, laughing at something on the girl’s phone. A man hunched over his laptop, seemingly oblivious to the silos shielding him from his fellow patrons.
Hong Kong was one of the first places outside mainland China to be hit by the coronavirus, and immediately the landscape of the city changed.
There were temperature checks at every public building, and signs in elevators telling you how often the buttons were sanitized. A pharmacy chain handed out fistfuls of stickers with every purchase, featuring the chain’s mascot — a winking orange cat — and a reminder: “Wash your hands! Rub your hands! 20 seconds, Thx.”
Everywhere, there were reminders that these were not normal times.
Four months later, those signs are still around. But the city is humming back to life — not really in spite of those omnipresent reminders so much as alongside them.
Reporting was contributed by Richard C. Paddock, Dera Menra Sijabat, Abdi Latif Dahir, Lou Stoppard, Choe Sang-Hun, Mike Ives, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Richard Pérez-Peña, Donald G. McNeil Jr., Sarah Mervosh, Mike Baker, Steven Erlanger, Chris Horton, Vivian Wang, Stephen Castle, Sameer Yasir and Jeffrey Gettleman. Claire Fu contributed research.
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