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Global deaths pass 250,000, but amid the tragedy a new sense of normalcy emerges.
As the pandemic lengthens from weeks into months, reminders of the continuing threat have become a part of normal life, even in countries that are beginning to open up: school cafeterias divided by plastic partitions, sports matches played in empty arenas, and “travel bubbles” between countries with few cases.
As of Tuesday, the confirmed death toll has surpassed 250,000, the number of new infections was still steadily rising in many parts of the world, with more than 3.5 million confirmed cases, and fears that the crisis will escalate had not ebbed.
And Europe is still getting a grasp on when the virus arrived there. One of France’s first cases may have been in December, about a month before the outbreak officially started in Europe, French doctors reported this week after retesting samples from a pneumonia patient.
Frightening details have also emerged about the broader health implications of the virus. New York City doctors raised the alarm on Monday after 15 children, many of whom had the coronavirus, were recently hospitalized with a mysterious syndrome that doctors do not yet fully understand.
The symptoms are associated with toxic shock or Kawasaki disease, a rare illness in children that involves inflammation of the blood vessels, including coronary arteries.
Pediatricians in several European countries, including Italy, Britain, France and Spain, have reported dozens of cases of children showing such symptoms, but doctors have said it is too early to link them to the coronavirus. They have, however, been asked to begin collecting case studies.
But even as the cases raised concerns for children, some countries are reimagining what education in the coronavirus-era would look like. In South Korea, which is preparing for students to return to classrooms after reporting fewer than 15 new cases per day for the last two weeks, that meant installing plastic partitions on tables in school cafeterias this week.
It’s not just schools that will look different. Sports events have been canceled across much of the world, and the authorities are trying to reconcile the requirements of halting a pandemic with the usually packed stadiums and arenas where many teams play.
Instead, the stands are filled with fake spectators, and the locker rooms are stocked with bottles of sanitizer.
World leaders join to pledge $8 billion for vaccine, but the U.S. sits out.
A fund-raising conference on Monday organized by the European Union brought pledges from countries around the world — including Japan, Canada, Australia and Norway — to fund laboratories that have promising leads in developing and producing a vaccine.
For more than three hours, one by one, global leaders said a few words over video link and offered their nations’ contribution, small or large, whatever they could muster. For Romania, it was $200,000. For Canada, $850 million. The biggest contributors were the European Union and Norway, with each pledging one billion euros, or $1.1 billion.
The details of how the money raised will be distributed remain to be sorted out. The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union that spearheaded the initiative, said the money would be spent over the next two years to support promising initiatives around the globe. The ultimate goal is to deliver universal and affordable access to medication to fight Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
In Washington on Monday, senior Trump administration officials sought to talk up American contributions to coronavirus vaccine efforts worldwide, but did not explain the United States’ absence at the European-organized conference.
The U.S. government has spent money on vaccine research and development, including $2.6 billion through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, an arm of the Health and Human Services Department. Jim Richardson, the State Department’s director of foreign assistance, said American companies had also provided $7 billion so far toward a coronavirus vaccine and treatment.
And the United States was not the world’s only major power to be absent from the teleconference. Russia, too, did not participate.
China, where the virus originated, was represented by its ambassador to the European Union and made no financial pledge.
The country has slashed red tape and offered resources to drug companies in a bid to empower the country’s vaccine industry. Four Chinese companies have begun testing their vaccine candidates on humans, more than the United States and Britain combined.
With most sports leagues on pause, baseball in Taiwan and South Korea becomes a global hit.
South Korea’s season starts Tuesday, while Taiwan got underway last month. To adapt the game to the coronavirus age, live spectators are banned. The relative quiet makes the games now feel more like practice rather than the typically raucous regular season competitions.
Chewing sunflower seeds is frowned upon — what would one do with the shells? Players are encouraged to bump elbows rather than give each other high-fives.
Players and coaches say they feel fortunate to be able to host games at all when many cities in the world remain under lockdown.
“We know many people are still keeping their eyes on us, even though there are no fans,” said Chiu Chang-Jung, the manager of the CTBC Brothers team, which on Saturday took on the Rakuten Monkeys at the stadium in Taoyuan, about 30 miles west of Taiwan’s capital, Taipei. “Playing these games is a very lucky and blessed thing.”
Under fire from the media, Boris Johnson’s government fires back.
The culture minister recently accused the BBC of bias in reporting on the shortage of protective gear in hospitals. The health secretary heatedly claimed that The Sunday Times of London had misstated policy on shielding older people.
And 10 Downing Street has posted lengthy rebuttals, by unnamed officials, of newspaper articles that detailed its missteps in dealing with the outbreak.
Mr. Johnson has opened his daily briefings to questions and comments from members of the public as well as the press corps, making the famously sharp-tongued British reporters seem meaner by comparison.
“It positions the government and the public against the media, at the very moment that the media is presenting itself as the representative of the people in holding the government to account,” said Meera Selva, the director of the Reuters Journalism Fellowship Program at Oxford University.
The criticism has not abated, but now that Mr. Johnson and his allies have ramped up testing and declared that the worst is over, they have gone back on the offensive with the media, trying to put any talk of failure behind them. It is a return to a pugnacious populism that has served them well in the past.
But Andrea Ammon, director of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, contradicted the claim that the worst was over during a Monday news conference, when she said that Britain was one of four European nations that had seen “no substantial changes” in the past two weeks.
Ms. Ammon said that, as of Saturday, the wave of transmission in Europe had seemingly passed its peak with the exception of Bulgaria, where numbers were still increasing, and Poland, Romania, Sweden, and Britain, where there had been no substantial decrease or change.
Japan’s prime minister pushes a homegrown drug without solid evidence.
The prime minister, however, has glossed over one crucial fact: There is no solid evidence that Avigan works against Covid-19. While it has shown potential for treating some deadly diseases like Ebola in animal studies, there are limited findings that it works for any illness in humans.
What Avigan, whose generic name is favipiravir, does have is a peculiar regulatory history and one dangerous potential side effect — birth defects. Mr. Abe himself noted in a news conference on Monday that the side effect was “the same as thalidomide,” which caused deformities in thousands of babies in the 1950s and ’60s.
His pitches for the medication, like Mr. Trump’s testimonials for the antimalarial medicine hydroxychloroquine, are adding to concerns that national leaders could warp drug approval processes.
Latest in science: Researchers are adapting gene therapy to develop a vaccine.
Their work employs a method already used in gene therapy for two inherited diseases, including a form of blindness: It uses a harmless virus as a vector, or carrier, to bring DNA into the patient’s cells. In this case, the DNA should instruct the cells to make a coronavirus protein that would stimulate the immune system to fight off future infections.
So far, the team has studied its vaccine candidates only in mice. Tests for safety and potency in monkeys should begin within a month or so at another academic center, the researchers said. But two of seven promising versions are already being manufactured for studies in humans.
At this early stage, Dr. Luk H. Vandenberghe, director of the Grousbeck Gene Therapy Center at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, estimates the manufacturing cost per dose of vaccine to be from $2.50 to $250.
“We are presenting a different angle from everybody else,” Dr. Vandenberghe, director said. Several other vaccine projects involve viral vectors, but no others use adeno-associated viruses.
The approach has several advantages, he added.
One is that the type of vector, an adeno-associated virus, or AAV, is a harmless virus that is already used in two approved forms of gene therapy and has been tested in many patients and found to be safe. Another plus is that the technique requires very small amounts of the vector and DNA to produce immunity, so the yield of doses would be high. In addition, many drug and biotech companies, large and small, already produce adeno-associated virus and could easily switch to producing the form needed for the vaccine.
The research is one of at least 90 vaccine projects speeding ahead around the world in desperate efforts that hold the best and probably only hope of stopping or at least slowing the pandemic.
One potential problem that every vaccine project will be on the lookout for is disease enhancement: the possibility that a vaccine, instead of preventing infection, could actually make the disease worse.
The two scientists said the many research groups forging ahead with vaccine projects were racing not against one another, but against the coronavirus.
They survived the Holocaust, but now they’re confronting the virus.
“This pandemic is the greatest threat to this generation since the Second World War,” said Stephen D. Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation, which interviews survivors of genocide.
One got out of Nazi Germany on a Kindertransport train to Sweden, never again seeing his parents, who were exterminated in the death camps. One survived two notorious concentration camps, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, and was discovered by British troops on a pile of bodies, half-dead with typhus. One endured freezing temperatures and near starvation in a slave-labor camp in Siberia.
Last month, all three died by the same tiny microorganism, isolated once more from their family members.
And for survivors who have eluded the virus, memories of that dark time, never far out of mind, find new salience in the present plague.
For Diana Kurz, 83, who escaped Vienna with her mother when she was 4 years old, said the coronavirus reminded her of those years in Vienna, when any random encounter might be deadly.
“I guess I picked that up as a child,” she said, “that feeling of dread all the time. That’s what it is like now. You never know if other people on the street are going to give you the virus, or were going to turn you in to the Gestapo because you were a Jew.”
Three Russian medics have plunged from windows after complaining about officials’ handling of the pandemic.
Three medical workers in Russia who had been in disputes with the health authorities over handling the coronavirus have plunged from upper-story windows, local news outlets have reported.
Some reports suggested that the falls, which killed two doctors and left a third in critical condition, were suicides or accidents.
They came amid a police crackdown on doctors who have publicly criticized the government’s response. Russian dissidents have long attributed mysterious falls from balconies and other apparent accidents to state violence.
Aleksandr Shulepov, a medic for an ambulance service in the Voronezh region, south of Moscow, fell on Saturday from a window of a hospital where he was being treated for Covid-19. He was in critical conduction with a fractured skull.
He and a colleague had complained in online videos about a lack of personal protective equipment. He also said he was required to continue working after he tested positive for the virus, according to Vesti Voronezh, a local newspaper.
In response to the videos, the police warned Mr. Shulepov’s colleague of possible criminal charges for spreading false information, the paper reported. Mr. Shulepov posted a video recanting his allegations.
In the Siberian region of Krasnoyarsk, Elena Nepomnyashchaya, the chief doctor at a hospital, fell from a window on April 26 and died six days later. She had objected to the regional authorities’ plan to treat Covid-19 patients there, according to TBK, a local news outlet, and had complained about insufficient protective equipment.
Natalya Lebedeva, the head of the ambulance service at Star City, the Russian cosmonaut training center, died on April 24 after a plunge from a window at a hospital where she was being treated for Covid-19.
10 German soccer players test positive for the virus as their league weighs restarting games.
That decision became more complicated on Monday when 10 players were found to have the virus after blanket testing of 1,724 individuals from the 36 teams in the top two divisions of the league, the Bundesliga. The majority are believed to be asymptomatic.
It was not clear if the results would derail plans to restart the league, a decision that could come on Wednesday. But the test results were seen as a harbinger for the heavy considerations all sports organizations would face as they make reopening plans, many of them contingent on widespread testing.
The National Rugby League in Australia — which is aiming to return on May 28 — ran into similar complications. Four players from the South Sydney Rabbitohs were told to stay home from training on Monday because of flulike symptoms. And the coach of the Sydney Roosters, Trent Robinson, also has symptoms and will be tested.
If the Bundesliga cannot resume its season, even without spectators — a decision with far-reaching financial implications — it would not bode well for the rest of the soccer world. Germany has been lauded for its relative success containing the outbreak, and has one of the lowest death rates among major countries at less than 10 per 100,000 people.
England’s Premier League is expected to decide on Friday whether there is a way forward to reopen amid disharmony among its 20 teams. In Spain and Italy, there are also cautious moves toward playing again. (Spanish players returned to training on Monday but were limited to working out alone.)
Elsewhere, that option has been ruled out, most notably in France, where last week the prime minister declared the season over. The seasons in the Netherlands and in Belgium have also been officially called off.
New Zealand and Australia work toward creating a ‘travel bubble.’
Australia and New Zealand are moving closer toward creating a “travel bubble” that would allow people to fly between the two countries without quarantines — a resumption of traffic that would be a boost for both countries’ economies.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, who joined Australia’s cabinet meeting on Tuesday to discuss the steps required, said on Monday that the move would depend on continued progress in testing and tracing of coronavirus infections in both countries. That could take weeks or months.
“Both our countries’ strong record of fighting the virus has placed us in the enviable position of being able to plan the next stage in our economic rebuild,” she said.
Ms. Ardern and Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia told reporters on Tuesday that the ‘bubble’ is an important part of the road back to normalcy for both nations.
Such a travel arrangement could potentially be extended into the Pacific — Fiji has only a handful of reported cases and zero deaths. And plans are also being laid for limited travel between other countries that have controlled the spread of infection.
China and South Korea began easing quarantine requirements for some business travelers on Friday. A day later, trade ministers from Australia, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand and Singapore agreed to a collective effort to resume the flow of not just goods and services, but also people traveling “for purposes such as maintaining global supply chains, including essential business travel,” according to a joint statement.
Public health experts say that any resumption of travel comes with risks, but they also note that conditions vary by country. Travelers from the United States, the main source of coronavirus infections in Australia, may have to wait far longer to book flights around the world without being subject to 14-day quarantines.
Reporting was contributed by Ben Dooley, Choe Sang-Hun, Elian Peltier, Megan Specia, Iliana Magra, Mark Landler, Stephen Castle, Andrew Keh, Javier C. Hernández, Damien Cave, Andrew E. Kramer, Denise Grady, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Lara Jakes and John Leland.
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