World News Updates: Italy Likely to Begin Easing Lockdown on May 4

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Credit…Andrea Mantovani for The New York Times

Death toll discrepancies add to mounting list of uncertainties.

Doctors are scrambling to treat the coronavirus, researchers are racing to find a vaccine, economies are suffering, and now there is a further element of uncertainty to the outbreak that has touched nearly every corner of the globe: Even the death toll is being called into question.

Increasing evidence suggests there is significant gap between the number of confirmed coronavirus deaths and the true number of fatalities: At least 28,000 more people have died during the coronavirus pandemic over the last month than official counts report.

The gap was highlighted in an analysis of mortality data from 11 countries that show far more deaths than the average for the same period in recent years, which include deaths from Covid-19 and those from other causes, potentially including those who could not be treated when hospitals became overwhelmed.

The New York Times found that in Paris alone, more than twice as many people have died than during the same time frame in other years.

The revelations came as parts of Asia took steps on Tuesday to halt renewed outbreaks in places that were once held up as examples of how to effectively combat the virus.

Hong Kong, which has been battling a second wave of infections, on Tuesday extended a range of social distancing measures to May 7, a day after reporting no new coronavirus infections for the first time since early March. In Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong extended a lockdown by four weeks, until June 1, to stem a sharp rise in cases.

In Europe, Italy, one of the countries that has been hit hardest by the virus, became the latest to announce that it would pull back from restrictions and gradually open back up, joining a list that includes Germany, Spain and Denmark.

Prime Minister of Guiseppe Conte announced plans to begin easing the country’s lockdown, likely by May 4, with further details to be released later this week. Italy issued stringent restrictions on the movement of people across the country six weeks ago after its north was ravaged by the first major outbreak in Europe.

In recent days, a number of heartening developments — including the fact that the number of recoveries was outpacing the dwindling number of new cases — have left the Italian authorities hopeful that some restrictions could be lifted.

Still, Mr. Conte made clear in a Facebook post announcing the decision that any loosening would be gradual. “It’s too easy to say, ‘let’s open everything,’” he wrote.

The World Health Organization has emphasized the need for a cautious approach, noting that a rush to ease restrictions was likely to lead to a resurgence of the illness.

“This is not the time to be lax,” said Dr. Takeshi Kasai, the organization’s regional director for the Western Pacific, speaking in Bangkok on Tuesday. “Instead, we need to ready ourselves for a new way of living for the foreseeable future.”

As some countries explored targeted measures for a partial reopening, President Trump, whose efforts to limit immigration to the country predate the outbreak, announced a much broader approach, by saying that he intended to close the United States to people trying to come to the country to live and work.

28,000 missing deaths: Tracking the true toll of the crisis.

At least 28,000 more people have died during the coronavirus pandemic over the last month than official Covid-19 death counts report, a review of mortality data in 11 countries shows — providing a clearer, if still incomplete, picture of the toll of the crisis.

In the last month, far more people died in these countries than in previous years, The New York Times found. The totals include deaths from Covid-19 and those from other causes, potentially including those who could not be treated as hospitals became overwhelmed.

These numbers contradict the notion that many people who have died from the virus might soon have died anyway. In Paris, more than twice the usual number of people have died each day, far more than at the peak of a bad flu season. In New York City, the number is four times the normal amount.

Of course, mortality data in the middle of a pandemic is not perfect. The disparities between the official death counts and the total rise in deaths most likely reflect limited testing for the virus, rather than intentional undercounting. Officially, about 160,000 people have died worldwide of the coronavirus as of Tuesday.

But the total death numbers offer a more complete portrait of the pandemic, experts say, especially because most countries report only those Covid-19 deaths that occur in hospitals.

Italy is likely to begin easing its lockdown on May 4.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy said on Tuesday that the country was likely to begin easing lockdown measures from May 4, but added that the measures would be cautious and calculated.

Italy has been one of the countries hit hardest by the virus, and was the first in Europe to experience an influx in cases that overwhelmed its health care system. Its lockdown has been among the most restrictive in the world.

The announcement comes a day after the Italian authorities reported the country’s first decline in current positive cases. The number of recoveries reported on Monday outpaced the number of new cases; the overall total fell by 20, to 108,237 from Sunday’s 108,257.

Angelo Borrelli, who heads Italy’s Civil Protection Department, called the numbers “a further positive figure” that showed the success of the country’s six-week lockdown.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday morning, Mr. Conte said he would reveal the government’s plans to loosen restrictions and reopen the economy by the weekend, adding that caution must prevail in any decision.

“It’s too easy to say, ‘let’s open everything,’” he wrote.

Mr. Conte promised “a serious, scientific plan,” including measures to check whether the loosening was leading to an uptick in cases.

Social distancing measures would continue in workplaces and changes to public transportation and workday hours are expected. The measures are likely to vary from region to region, he wrote, adding that a “reasonable expectation” for when measures could be loosened would be May 4.

Concerns that loosening the lockdown measures could spark new outbreaks, especially in areas of the country that have remained mostly untouched, have weighed heavily on the government’s decisions. The current lockdown measures are officially in force until May 3, and experts say the restrictions have been key in tamping down the outbreak that ravaged the country’s north.

Hospitalizations and the number of patients in intensive care from the virus continue to decline in Italy, while the number of people being recovering has risen, the authorities said at a news conference on Monday. That said, the number of deaths remained at more than 450 a day.

“The battle has certainly not been won,” said Luca Richeldi, a government adviser. “It’s not time yet to lower our guard.”

Hong Kong extends its social distancing rules, even after local infections slow to zero.

Hong Kong on Tuesday extended a range of social distancing measures to May 7 as a precaution, a day after reporting no new coronavirus infections for the first time since early March.

Those measures, which had been set to expire on Thursday, include a ban on public gatherings of more than four people, along with widespread closures of gyms, bars and playgrounds, among other facilities.

Hong Kong has been praised for the early steps that its government took to contain the virus, including closing schools and ordering civil servants to work from home. For weeks, that helped to keep the semiautonomous Chinese territory’s overall caseload in the low hundreds.

But over the last month, Hong Kong has battled a second wave of infections that were fueled in large part by residents who were returning from Europe and the United States. It now has over 1,000 confirmed cases and four deaths, but has recorded five or fewer new cases each day since April 12.

On Tuesday, hours after announcing the extended restrictions, officials said they identified four new cases, all imported from overseas.

In mainland China, where the global outbreak began, officials on Tuesday reported 11 new cases, four of them imported, but no new deaths. China has recorded 4,632 deaths and more than 88,000 infections.

China said that six of its seven new locally transmitted cases were in Heilongjiang, a border province with Russia that has recently emerged as a hot spot for infections. The other was in Guangdong Province, next to Hong Kong.

Trump plans to halt immigration, and defends testing capacity.

President Trump said on Monday that he intended to close the United States to people trying to immigrate into the country to live and work, his most wide-ranging attempt yet to seal the country off from the rest of the world.

In recent weeks, the Trump administration has said health concerns justified moving swiftly to bar asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants from entering the country, alarming immigration activists who have said that Mr. Trump and his advisers were using a global pandemic to further hard-line immigration policies.

Mr. Trump also defended his administration’s handling of coronavirus testing, saying the nation had excess capacity even as some governors insisted that they lacked crucial materials, including nasal swabs and chemical reagents.

He framed the debates around testing in political terms, saying that Democrats wanted maximum testing “because they want to be able to criticize.” Testing has also emerged as a sticking point in negotiations between Congress and the administration on small-business aid, with Democrats pushing for a national testing strategy and Republicans, wary of placing the onus on the White House to devise and carry out such a strategy, arguing that states should set their own plans.

The Republican governors of Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina moved to let some businesses reopen, including gyms, restaurants and beaches, though social distancing protocols will remain in effect to varying degrees. In South Carolina, for example, retail stores were told to operate at 20 percent occupancy or at five customers per 1,000 square feet, whichever is less.

The reopening announcements came as the outbreak continued to spread in parts of the nation, and modest crowds gathered to protest stay-at-home orders in several states. A prison in Ohio, the Marion Correctional Institution, is now the largest reported source of virus infections in the nation.

And although the curve is beginning to flatten in New York, the country has added more than 25,000 new cases a day for the past week, with Massachusetts particularly hard hit and clusters emerging in several other states.

As the coronavirus overwhelms the health care system, people with other illnesses are struggling to find treatment. Nearly one in four cancer patients reported delays in their care.

And in Texas, after an appeals court ruling, abortion is effectively banned in the state.

Oil prices plummeted on Monday as the economic crisis set off by the pandemic continued to destroy demand. Storage tanks in the United States that hold all the unused crude are near full capacity.

Shake Shack announced that it was returning a $10 million small-business aid loan from a federal program amid mounting criticism that large chains had been favored over smaller entities.

The Federal Reserve could soon expand its municipal bond-buying plans after announcing earlier this month its first-ever campaign to bolster the market for state and local debt.

Oktoberfest, the iconic German beer festival, is canceled.

Oktoberfest, Munich’s annual festival of beer-drinking, mug-swinging people packed together in massive tents, will not take place in 2020 because of concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, the authorities in the southern state of Bavaria said on Tuesday.

Beer fans from around the world convene in Munich every fall for the event, which has become an iconic symbol of southern German culture, as well as a highly lucrative tourist draw that last year generated $1.33 billion for the city.

But the authorities acknowledged that it would not be possible to enforce safe social distancing or the wearing of face masks among the millions of revelers during the festival, which was scheduled to run from Sept. 19 to Oct. 4.

“We are living in changed times,” Markus Söder, the governor of Bavaria, said as he announced the decision alongside the mayor of Munich. “Living with corona means living cautiously.”

This year will not be the first year in its 210-year history that Oktoberfest has had to be called off. It did not take place during the world wars, or during the epidemics of the 19th century.

For the past month, a tent has been set up on the fairgrounds, not to serve beer, but to test people for the coronavirus.

Indonesia bans travel during Muslims’ most important holiday.

President Joko Widodo of Indonesia announced Tuesday that he will ban millions of from returning to their home villages for the Eid al-Fitr holiday, known in Indonesia as Idul Fitri, an annual pilgrimage in late May to celebrate the Muslim holiday.

Mr. Joko had been under mounting pressure to ban the holiday migration, known as mudik, to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The travel ban will take effect Friday, but there will be no sanctions for violating it until May 7, said a top cabinet minister, Luhut Panjaitan.

Officials said major highways would not be closed but checkpoints would be set up around greater Jakarta to inspect vehicles and turn back those who appear to be violating the ban. Domestic air travel and train, bus and ferry service will be restricted.

Health experts fear that the virus is rapidly spreading in the world’s fourth-largest country and could overwhelm its limited health system. The virus has been found in all 34 provinces even though testing has been minimal.

Indonesia reported 7,135 confirmed cases and 616 deaths as of Tuesday, a fatality rate of nearly 9 percent. At least 42 doctors, nurses and dentists are among those who have died. In addition, many suspected Covid-19 patients have died before tests were conducted or completed.

In previous years, about 20 million people have traveled during mudik to be with their families. Mr. Joko earlier banned government employees and members of the police and military from joining in the migration.

There are many hurdles to developing and widely distributing a vaccine, a W.H.O. official warned.

The head of the World Health Organization’s emergencies program warned on Monday that even if a vaccine against the coronavirus were quickly developed, manufacturing and distributing it could prove extraordinarily difficult.

There is no approved treatment for or vaccine against infection with the coronavirus. More than two dozen companies have announced vaccine programs; at least three candidates already are in human trials.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has warned that a vaccine is at least 18 months away. Other experts say even that timeline is optimistic.

The development process is important, but manufacturers must begin planning to scale up manufacturing capacities to meet global demand when a successful vaccine is discovered, said Dr. Michael Ryan, head of the W.H.O.’s emergencies program.

Billions of people around the globe eventually may need vaccination. Modern vaccines, made with DNA and RNA, require specialized facilities; it is not clear who could make them.

And it will be important that vaccines go where they are most needed, not simply to the countries that can afford them. The W.H.O. is working with government leaders and nonprofits like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to ensure that means for equitable vaccine distribution are in place when the time comes, Dr. Ryan said.

“We’ve worked for over 20 years trying to ensure that products like vaccines are distributed in emergencies on the basis of epidemiological need,” Dr. Ryan said at a news briefing. “We intend to do exactly the same here.”

The agency has a long history of distributing vaccines to countries in need, including the meningitis, yellow fever, cholera and polio vaccines. Yet mass vaccination campaigns are still logistically difficult and often met with resistance in the community.

“As a global health architecture, we’re not very good at delivering vaccines in people other than children — in adults,” Dr. Ryan said.

“If this is to work, it will require one of the greatest scientific, one of the greatest political, one of the greatest financial, one of the greatest public health operations in a generation,” he added.

Listen to ‘The Daily’: The Race For A Vaccine

In an era of global connectedness, the quest for a coronavirus shot has revealed the boundaries of international solidarity.

0:00/26:53

transcript

Listen to ‘The Daily’: The Race For A Vaccine

Hosted by Michael Barbaro; produced by Lynsea Garrison, Luke Vander Ploeg and Austin Mitchell; with help from Robert Jimison and Sydney Harper; and edited by Lisa Tobin and Mike Benoist

In an era of global connectedness, the quest for a coronavirus shot has revealed the boundaries of international solidarity.

michael barbaro

From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is “The Daily.”

Today: Scientists are racing to make a vaccine against the coronavirus. Katrin Bennhold on how that race is not just about creating the vaccine, but about which country will own it.

It’s Wednesday, April 1.

katrin bennhold

So at the end of December, these scientists around the world were basically looking at this outbreak of the strange, mysterious illness in Wuhan, China. And at this time, the media, especially the Western media, isn’t really paying attention to this thing yet.

archived recording 1

— wildfire emergency in southeast Australia.

archived recording 2

— was killed in U.S. airstrikes in Iraq.

archived recording 3

— sending the articles of impeachment over to the Senate.

katrin bennhold

But scientists are already beginning to puzzle through what this could be.

It seemed like a respiratory thing. It reminded some of them of diseases like MERS or SARS and some of these other things that have come along in recent years. But at this stage, they’re just corresponding with each other on their social media, saying hey, what is this thing?

And that’s how this story begins for one doctor based in Germany.

katrin bennhold

Lidia Oostvogels.

katrin bennhold

Hi, Lidia. Bonjour c’est — I don’t know what language to speak to you, Lidia. This is Katrin.

michael barbaro

And Katrin, who is Lidia Oostvogels?

katrin bennhold

Das ist gut? English is good? Wonderful.

katrin bennhold

So Lidia works for this German company called CureVac. They work on vaccines as well as cancer treatments, and they do molecular therapies.

michael barbaro

Mhm.

katrin bennhold

And —

katrin bennhold

So let’s start at the beginning. Take me back to the moment when you first heard about this new virus. Do you remember that moment?

lidia oostvogels

Yeah, I mean, because of course all my social media, I’m connected —

katrin bennhold

At the end of her Christmas holiday, Lidia was seeing these posts, and she was wondering if this was maybe something she and her team could work on.

lidia oostvogels

And you think like, oh, what is this? What is happening there? Is that something that we could work on, could make a vaccine on and do —

katrin bennhold

But at that stage, she couldn’t because she didn’t have the genetic sequencing of this virus. And actually the same was true for scientists around the world, who were wondering the same thing. And so they were all kind of just wondering and waiting. And then on January 10, the sequencing was actually published by these Chinese scientists, who put it on a public page for basically all the world’s scientists to see.

lidia oostvogels

So I got the message like, OK, we have the sequence so we can go ahead.

katrin bennhold

This is kind of when the clock starts ticking. But it’s not a race yet.

lidia oostvogels

I mean, at that moment, it was not a pandemic. It was an outbreak in China.

katrin bennhold

At this point, they didn’t actually exactly know what they were racing against, so it was still kind of just a regular process. They draw up a presentation —

lidia oostvogels

So we were preparing these slides to present to say, OK, this is something we maybe could do, and we think it’s useful that we would do it.

katrin bennhold

She was creating the slides for this presentation, and as she started, there was literally one death. One known death in China.

lidia oostvogels

And by the time that we went to the meeting with the management, each day almost we had to update the number of case fatalities. And this was — I mean, this whole thing really I remember very well, that, OK, additional people died. What is this virus?

katrin bennhold

And that’s only two and a half months ago.

lidia oostvogels

Yeah. Yeah, that was January, yeah.

katrin bennhold

Eventually, management greenlighted the project. This is in late January. The funding came through.

lidia oostvogels

So let’s get going.

katrin bennhold

And that’s when they really got to work.

michael barbaro

And what did that work look like in the beginning? What does it mean to create, from scratch, a vaccine?

katrin bennhold

So remember, basically what you’re trying to achieve with a vaccine is you want to create something that mimics the pathogen, the virus. And you want to inject that into a healthy body, so that that healthy body can read that information, understand what the pathogen looks like and form antibodies to fight it and neutralize it.

lidia oostvogels

And, I mean, you have surely seen these pictures of the virus that everybody in the news and so on is always showing with this. I mean, it’s like this ball with these things that stick out of it.

michael barbaro

Mhm.

katrin bennhold

Basically, this cute little ball with spikes, right?

lidia oostvogels

And that’s actually the proteins that you have to neutralize with antibodies to fight the virus. And that’s what you actually ask the cells of the human body to make.

katrin bennhold

It’s the spikes, not actually the ball, that are bad.

michael barbaro

So this whole project is about coming up with a vaccine that will enter the body, prompt an immune response, and that response will somehow despike the spikes of the coronavirus.

katrin bennhold

That’s the idea. We’re now in February. And as they’re working on this —

archived recording 1

Well, over in the Philippines, the first coronavirus death outside of China on Sunday.

archived recording 2

The second death from coronavirus outside of mainland China. Hong Kong health officials saying a 39-year-old man —

archived recording 3

The potentially deadly coronavirus has turned up in a new country this morning. Belgium reported its first case.

katrin bennhold

Coronavirus is beginning to spread across the world, and CureVac puts this vaccine development ahead of any other projects.

michael barbaro

So this is now becoming a major priority within this company. This is an urgent project.

katrin bennhold

Yeah. And they’re not the only ones. You’ve got companies all over the world — in China, in the U.S., across Europe. Everybody is now looking at this as a high priority. So Lidia and her team basically are working on a number of prospective vaccines. They have these different combinations that they’re trying out.

lidia oostvogels

This one, this one, this one, this one.

katrin bennhold

And in early March, they’re beginning to actually inject them into mice to see what the effect is.

lidia oostvogels

As we always say, mice are of men. If something doesn’t work in mice, then you don’t even have to test it in men, because —

katrin bennhold

And they narrow it down.

lidia oostvogels

In the beginning, we had seven. And then we downselected to four. And then we further downselected to two.

katrin bennhold

Two sort of most promising prospective vaccines. And this is a time when the cases are spiking in Italy. The number of deaths are rising, including in Germany, where the lab is based. And they’re going up in the U.S. as well.

michael barbaro

So this is basically now in Lidia’s backyard.

katrin bennhold

It’s now in her own backyard.

lidia oostvogels

Everybody is working from morning to evening, and then having — I mean, still trying to get some sleep, because it’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon. We are not yet there, so we should not be exhausted now.

katrin bennhold

She’s being told by the government to work remotely. She has to sort of direct this team of lab scientists, who are still going into the lab, working carefully and trying to practice social distancing.

lidia oostvogels

It is nonstop phone calls from morning to evening, so you have to struggle to find the time to run to the kitchen to get something to eat.

katrin bennhold

It’s logistically incredibly difficult, but it’s also emotionally incredibly straining. She said every time she watches the news, it fills her with dread.

lidia oostvogels

And I see, ah, compared to yesterday, now X people have died, and X people are infected. I mean, just to tell you, I never have nightmares, but now recently, I was dreaming that I was sitting with my preclinical colleague, and then there was a flock of bats that flew over our heads. And then I woke up, and I was thinking, no, am I really dreaming about this now?

katrin bennhold

Wow.

lidia oostvogels

That I’m going to vaccinate bats, too?

katrin bennhold

So the sheer strain and the stress of this work, in the circumstances of an actual outbreak in her own country, is intense.

katrin bennhold

I mean, it must be tough. I mean, you’re living and, as you just revealed, dreaming this. I mean, I have to imagine that that comes with this sort of feeling of enormous responsibility. I mean, we’ve talked to a lot of doctors recently, who have had very vulnerable moments, broken down, crying in hospitals with a flood of patients coming in, some of whom they can’t help. I mean, is there anything like that happening with your colleagues?

lidia oostvogels

As far as I know, not. And I think the difference is that if you see a patient coming in that you know you will not be able to save because he is already so sick, and you cannot save him and you see him dying under your hands, that’s an enormous frustration. But our part of the work is to bring something to prevent that anybody ever has to live this. So that’s not the same kind of emotional pressure, I would say. I mean, we have the pressure that we have to go quick, because we have potentially something that can save this from happening. But we are building something that will give hope to the people.

michael barbaro

Katrin, you mentioned that Lidia and her team are testing potential vaccines in mice. But how soon do they expect that they would have a final vaccine ready for humans?

katrin bennhold

So the next very important step will be to actually test this thing in clinical trials, meaning injecting it into actual humans.

michael barbaro

Mhm.

katrin bennhold

And at the moment, they’re sort of hopeful that the human trials can begin in June or July. And that, Lidia says, would put them on track for developing an actual vaccine that can be used for mass consumption early next year. Which kind of sounds far away, but it’s incredibly fast. Normally, vaccines can take a decade, even 15 years to develop. So they’re really speeding up this process.

michael barbaro

And how does that timeline stack up against other companies around the world, potential rivals to Lidia?

katrin bennhold

You’ve got a lot of companies speeding things up around the world. I mean, you’ve got governments trying to remove bureaucratic hurdles and speed up approvement procedures. There’s a Chinese company that is already moving into the clinical trial phase and recruiting for human trials. They’re all moving at an incredible, unbelievable clip. Because now they are in a race against time. And CureVac, they’re considered to be among the leading eight companies to be working on this.

michael barbaro

Mhm.

katrin bennhold

Do you think it’s possible that your team could be the first to develop an actual vaccine on the market?

lidia oostvogels

That could be. That could be. I mean, that you cannot know at this moment, because I think there are other — when I see the data from other companies, I think there’s a lot of very promising approaches. But ours is also, so, yeah.

katrin bennhold

And do you think that that’s why President Trump tried to buy your company?

[music]
lidia oostvogels

Yeah, it was like, oh, where is this coming from? Yeah, this was really a surprise.

katrin bennhold

And that’s probably why President Trump approached that company and made a really unusual offer.

[music]
michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

So, Katrin, what was this unusual offer from the Trump administration?

katrin bennhold

Yeah, it was a very unusual offer. So it started a couple weeks ago when I was home on a Sunday with my family. And I checked my social media, just sort of checking what’s going on. And this story was making the rounds about the American president having approached this German vaccine maker. So I called my editors, and we decided to look into it.

michael barbaro

And what did you find?

katrin bennhold

So we learned that one day in early March, there’s this meeting at the White House.

archived recording (donald trump)

Well, thank you very much. Today, we’re meeting with the pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies — the biggest in the world, most prestigious, the ones that get down to the bottom line very quickly to discuss how the federal government can accelerate the development of vaccines and therapeutic treatments for the coronavirus.

katrin bennhold

The White House basically invites two dozen companies to a roundtable discussion about the prospects of developing a vaccine against Covid-19, the coronavirus.

archived recording (john shiver)

I’m John Shiver, I head vaccine research and development for Sanofi vaccines.

archived recording (dr. leonard schleifer)

I’m Len Schleifer, the founder and C.E.O. of Regeneron.

archived recording (stéphane bancel)

Stéphane Bancel. I’m the C.E.O. of Moderna.

katrin bennhold

And these companies were all American, all except one.

archived recording (dan menichella)

Thank you, Mr. President, Mr. Vice President. Thanks for having me here. Good afternoon. I’m Dan Menichella, C.E.O. of CureVac. We’re a clinical stage biotech company.

katrin bennhold

CureVac.

michael barbaro

So Lidia’s company.

katrin bennhold

Right.

archived recording (dan menichella)

The key point here being that we believe we can develop the vaccine for Covid-19 very, very quickly, and we have the wherewithal to manufacture it. Although we would like some additional help on our largest GMP IV facility. Again, we appreciate the opportunity to be here today, and thank you very much.

archived recording (donald trump)

Thank you. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

[music]
katrin bennhold

And we don’t know the exact sequence of events, but two weeks after this meeting —

archived recording

President Trump has been accused of trying to lure a German pharmaceutical company working on a coronavirus vaccine to the U.S.

katrin bennhold

— this German newspaper reports that Trump offered the company $1 billion to relocate to the United States.

michael barbaro

Wow.

katrin bennhold

It quotes an unnamed German government official, who said he worries that Trump wants exclusive access to a future vaccine. That he basically wants to secure access to this vaccine for Americans first.

So in Germany, you can imagine this obviously sets up a stir. And you basically have people scrambling to get the narrative right. You have American officials saying that the reports were, quote, “overblown.”

archived recording

Responding to the report, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, wrote on Twitter, “The Welt story was wrong.”

katrin bennhold

Then the company rejects the claim outright, although its majority shareholder pretty much confirms that an approach had been made. So no one really knows what exactly happened, except that the C.E.O. of the company, an American, who had run it for two years, leaves the company.

michael barbaro

Hm.

katrin bennhold

And he’s replaced by a German just a few days after that meeting.

And then, two days later, this Chinese company offers $133 million to another leading German company also working on a vaccine.

michael barbaro

And, Katrin, what is your understanding of the logic from both China and the United States? What are they trying to accomplish?

katrin bennhold

So behind this race is a pretty harsh but pretty simple reality. And it’s one that Lidia herself talked about. Any new vaccine that is effective against the coronavirus is certain to be in short supply initially.

michael barbaro

Hm.

katrin bennhold

So those who develop it first will try to ensure that their own people are first in line for it.

michael barbaro

So whoever controls the company nationally controls that early distribution of the vaccine, whether that’s Germany or China or the United States.

katrin bennhold

Exactly. And people actually remember —

archived recording (dr. margaret chan)

The world is now at the start of the 2009 influenza pandemic.

katrin bennhold

— the swine flu.

archived recording

The government said today that H1N1 flu has caused more than 1,000 deaths. And has spread —

katrin bennhold

When the swine flu came along in 2009 and an Australian company was the first to bring a single-dose vaccine to market, it was obliged at the time by its own government to service the Australian market first before honoring export orders to the United States and other countries.

archived recording

Well, the World Health Organization says there is not enough swine flu vaccine for everyone.

katrin bennhold

That really rattled the United States. It kind of spurred this outrage.

archived recording (greg walden)

Well, thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for convening this important hearing. H1N1 has been dominating the news.

katrin bennhold

You had congressional hearings. Everyone wanted to know why there was this shortfall.

archived recording (greg walden)

From the folks I hear from in my district, they can’t find the vaccines. When I called the 18 hospitals in my district, each one of them asked, where’s the vaccine that we were told was coming?

katrin bennhold

And, you know, swine flu is not on the same scale as this coronavirus. So this could potentially be a lot more serious. And all of a sudden, that’s the urgency that we see unfolding. And that’s the urgency that has now led to this kind of nationalist, patriotic instinct to come out in several countries.

michael barbaro

Mhm.

katrin bennhold

You’d think, Michael, that everybody would benefit if we would just work together and made sure that this vaccine was produced and then dispersed kind of to the people who need it most first, and so on. The problem is that there is going to be a shortage. And so there is a certain amount of rationality in trying to get your hands on it first by governments who represent their own people. Even more so as we find ourselves in this historic moment where nationalism, populism have been on the rise, and where the trust level between governments are pretty low.

michael barbaro

So in that sense, the fight over this vaccine is a bit of a proxy for a larger question, right? Which is, will this become a nationalist moment — this pandemic — despite the fact that it’s also an incredibly global moment and a reminder of our connectedness?

katrin bennhold

Exactly. And it’s actually good to come back to the scientists for a moment, because the scientists have a very clear answer to all of this. They think this is about global cooperation. They think this is a global problem that needs a global solution. And even though they all work for companies that, you know, in normal times are in competition with one another, they are adamant that they want to work together. It all started, in fact, if you go back to January 10, with the publication of the genetic sequencing of this virus. That was a Chinese scientist that posted this genetic code online for every scientist in the world to see. And that’s when scientists across the world started working toward a common goal, in their view.

[music]
lidia oostvogels

I can, again, I can understand that individual governments are thinking first about their population, because that is their job. But, I mean, my job is to make a vaccine that can protect people worldwide. I mean, I’m not making a vaccine that can only protect Europeans or Americans. So my job is to get a good vaccine out.

So why would I first want to vaccinate somebody in my country, who anyway is a very low risk, versus somebody in another country who is perhaps protecting and trying to cure other people with a risk of his life? So make the decisions based on medical need and common sense and not on political agenda.

katrin bennhold

Lidia, thank you so very much. You’ve already done so much important work, and I wish you guys the best of luck. And stay healthy!

lidia oostvogels

Yeah, you, too. Stay at home, and don’t meet too many people, and stay in good shape. So that we are all ready to be vaccinated when the vaccine is ready and can go back to normal life and the normal world.

[music]
michael barbaro

On Wednesday, The Times reported that the global scientific community has overwhelmingly rejected the U.S. and Chinese government characterization of coronavirus research as a biotech arms race. Never before, those researchers say, have so many experts in so many countries focused simultaneously on a single scientific quest with so much urgency, exchanging information as it becomes available and launching clinical trials that rely on laboratories and hospitals from around the world.

[music]

We’ll be right back.

michael barbaro

Here’s what else you need to know today.

archived recording (donald trump)

Thank you very much, everyone.

Our country is in the midst of a great national trial, unlike any we have ever faced before.

michael barbaro

During a briefing on Tuesday from the White House, President Trump issued his most dire warning yet about the pandemic, telling Americans that it would ravage the country for the next few weeks.

archived recording (donald trump)

I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead. We’re going to go through a very tough two weeks.

michael barbaro

The president then turned over the podium to public health officials, who revealed estimates of the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus with and without attempts to keep Americans at home based on multiple academic studies.

archived recording (dr. deborah birx)

In their estimates, they had between 1.5 million and 2.2 million people in the United States succumbing to this virus without mitigation. Yet, through their detailed studies and showing us what social distancing would do, what people — what would happen if people stayed home, what would happen if people were careful every day to wash their hands and worry about touching their faces. And that takes us down to 100,000 to 200,000 deaths, which is still way too much.

There’s no magic bullet. There’s no magic vaccine or therapy. It’s just behaviors. Each of our behaviors translating into something that changes the course of this viral pandemic over the next 30 days. Thank you.

michael barbaro

On Tuesday, several more states and cities ordered residents to remain in their homes, including Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland.

archived recording (larry hogan)

This is a deadly public health crisis. We are no longer asking or suggesting that Marylanders stay home. We are directing them to do so.

michael barbaro

That’s it for “The Daily.” I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.

In Old Cairo, a subdued Ramadan looms as the virus shutters the city.

For over a thousand years, Cairo’s oldest mosques kept their doors open — through the Black Death of the 14th century, the devastating cholera epidemics of the 19th century and the Spanish flu in the winter of 1918 that claimed 140,000 Egyptian lives.

Then the coronavirus hit.

On the first day of the lockdown at Al Azhar, a famed center of scholarship that opened in A.D. 972, tears flowed down the cheeks of the muezzin, Sheikh Mohamed Rashad Zaghloul, as he made the call to prayer in an empty hall.

“It was hard on my heart,” he said after midday prayers one day last week at the mosque, where a stray cat meandered between the ancient pillars. “When I call people, nobody can come. It feels like God is refusing us.”

The shuttered ancient mosques are a harbinger of another event that will be jarringly altered by the pandemic. Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, begins at the end of this week and promises this year to be the strangest experienced by any Cairene, not to mention 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide.

A sacred period that is rooted in gathering — at mosques, homes and on the streets — will be replaced with a month of solitary prayer, stifled celebrations and gnawing anxiety over the silent march of a virus that has closed a city that never, ordinarily, sleeps.

“This Ramadan is going to be flavorless,” said Abdul Rehman, 19, at the deserted lantern store he tends in Khan el Khalili, the city’s most famous bazaar.

Frustrated by a lack of coronavirus tests, Maryland got 500,000 from South Korea.

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transcript

Maryland Governor Secures 500,000 Coronavirus Tests From South Korea

Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland announced the receipt of 500,000 coronavirus tests from South Korean suppliers, a deal negotiated by him and his wife, Yumi Hogan.

This weekend, we took an exponential, game-changing step forward on our large-scale testing initiative. We’ve been quietly working, for a number of weeks, on a confidential project called Operation Enduring Friendship. On Saturday, the first lady and I stood on the tarmac at BWI airport to welcome the first ever Korean air passenger plane, a Boeing 777, which had no passengers, but which was carrying a very important payload of LabGun Covid-19 PCR test kits from a South Korean company called Lab Genomics, which will now give Maryland the capability of performing a half a million coronavirus tests.

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Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland announced the receipt of 500,000 coronavirus tests from South Korean suppliers, a deal negotiated by him and his wife, Yumi Hogan.CreditCredit…Susan Walsh/Associated Press

When President Trump told governors that they needed to step up their efforts to secure medical supplies, Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland took the entreaty seriously and negotiated with suppliers in South Korea to obtain coronavirus test kits.

“The No. 1 problem facing us is lack of testing,” said Mr. Hogan, a Republican, who has been among the many critics of the Trump administration’s repeated claims that states have adequate testing provided by the federal government. “We can’t open up our states without ramping up testing.”

In recent days, his wife, Yumi Hogan, a Korean immigrant who speaks fluent Korean, had been on the phone in the middle of the night helping to secure the final deal with two labs to sell Maryland the tests.

“Luckily we had a very strong relationship with Korea,” Mr. Hogan said. “But it should not have been this difficult.”

On Saturday, a Korean Air flight arrived at Baltimore-Washington International Airport carrying 5,000 test kits, which officials said would give the state the ability to make 500,000 new tests. The Food and Drug Administration and other agencies gave their seal of approval for the kits as the plane was landing.

Other states, desperate for things like personal protective equipment and other medical gears, have moved to acquire it, often stealthily, from other nations.

The latest in science: Six feet between tables may not be enough distance to safely reopen restaurants.

In January, at a restaurant in Guangzhou, China, one diner infected with the novel coronavirus but not yet feeling sick appeared to have spread the disease to nine other people. One of the restaurant’s air-conditioners apparently blew the virus particles around the dining room.

There were 73 other diners who ate that day on the same floor of the five-story restaurant, and the good news is they did not become sick. Neither did the eight employees who were working on the floor at the time.

Chinese researchers described the incident in a paper that is to be published in the July issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, a journal published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The field study has limitations. The researchers, for example, did not perform experiments to simulate the airborne transmission.

That outbreak illustrates some of the challenges that restaurants will face when they try to reopen. Ventilation systems can create complex patterns of air flow and keep viruses aloft, so simply spacing tables six feet apart — the minimum distance that the C.D.C. advises you keep from other people — may not be sufficient to safeguard restaurant patrons.

The social nature of dining out could increase the risk. The longer people linger in a contaminated area, the more virus particles they would likely inhale. Eating is also one activity that cannot be accomplished while wearing a mask. Virus-laden droplets can be expelled into the air through breathing and talking, not just through coughs and sneezes.

On the other hand, all of the people who became sick at the restaurant in China were either at the same table as the infected person or at one of two neighboring tables. The fact that people farther away remained healthy is a hopeful hint that the coronavirus is primarily transmitted through larger respiratory droplets, which fall out of the air more quickly than smaller droplets known as aerosols, which can float for hours.

With Ramadan nearing, Pakistan urges reluctant mosques to obey distancing rules.

A showdown between Pakistan’s Muslim clerics and the government is brewing ahead of Thursday, the start of the holy month of Ramadan, as officials plead with mosques to follow social distancing rules.

Mosques have consistently violated Pakistan’s lockdown, ushering in the faithful every Friday for the last four weeks, as worshipers wash themselves under communal water taps before kneeling almost shoulder to shoulder in supplication. The police have tried to break up Friday Prayer across the country, but have been violently attacked by worshipers.

Pakistan saw its biggest single-day jump in cases on Monday, with 474 testing positive. So far the country has recorded 9,200 cases with nearly 200 deaths. With limited testing, the numbers are likely much higher.

A collection of clerics and the heads of Muslim political parties signed a letter last week demanding the government lift the lockdown rules for mosques during Ramadan. The world’s second-largest Muslim country, Pakistan has struggled to monitor and regulate mosques for decades, and they have become a driver of radicalization.

Government officials met with clerics over the weekend and agreed that mosques would be allowed to open during Ramadan as long as they followed 20 rules, which include forcing worshipers to stand six feet apart and performing ablutions at home. That the government capitulated underscored the tremendous power mosques yield over the state.

But many are skeptical the rules are enforceable after the clashes with police during Friday Prayer. Pakistan’s mosques have long operated as if they are above the law, often without repercussion.

In much of the Muslim world, clerics have followed the lockdown rules and shut their mosques.

Reporting was contributed by Elisabetta Povoledo, Maria Abi-Habib, Jin Wu, Allison McCann, Daniel Victor, Megan Specia, Carlotta Gall, Farnaz Fassihi, Melissa Eddy, Jennifer Steinhauer, Jason Schreier, Mike Ives, Jin Wu, Richard C. Paddock, Dan Levin, Alissa J. Rubin, Declan Walsh and Kenneth Chang.

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