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Nations tiptoe toward easing lockdowns, keeping an eye on China.
As the global toll of the coronavirus grows — 1.4 million confirmed infections and more than 82,000 deaths — nations on every continent are struggling to come to terms with the new normal and navigate the fallout from the pandemic.
But the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus pandemic started, lifted its lockdown on Wednesday, allowing 11 million residents to leave the city without special authorization for the first time in more than 10 weeks.
But virologists and public health officials say that easing restrictions too swiftly could produce the catastrophic scenario that the lockdowns have so far kept at bay.
E.U.’s top scientist resigns, and finance ministers split on ‘coronabonds.’
The European Union’s top scientist has quit after failing to persuade his superiors to set up and finance a major collective scientific program to confront the new coronavirus.
Dr. Mauro Ferrari, an Italian-American who began a four-year appointment as president of the European Research Council in January, resigned on Tuesday in a letter to Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president. The council contested his account and said he was asked to leave.
“I have been extremely disappointed by the European response to Covid-19,” he said in a statement to The Financial Times. “I arrived at the E.R.C. a fervent supporter of the E.U.,’’ he wrote, but “the Covid-19 crisis completely changed my views.”
Dr. Ferrari said that he began to press for a special virus program in early March when the extent of the pandemic became clear. But his proposal was rejected because by rule the bloc is supposed to fund only research proposed by scientists, not programs initiated in Brussels.
He said he then worked with Ms. von der Leyen on an alternative, but it was apparently blocked by the commission’s bureaucracy.
In his statement, he also denounced “the complete absence of coordination of health care.” While praising individuals, he said, “I have lost faith in the system itself.”
Later Wednesday, the Research Council rejected Dr. Ferrari’s version of events and said his resignation had followed a written, unanimous vote of no confidence. In essence, the council said, Dr. Ferrari was asked to leave, in part because he spent half his time in the United States and failed to participate in important meetings.
The news of his resignation came after another upset as European finance ministers broke off a marathon overnight teleconference without reaching an agreement on measures the eurozone will take to counter the economic effects of the pandemic.
The 16-hour meeting was meant to produce a clear list of recommendations to be presented to European leaders. These measures would be in addition to the policies enacted by individual countries to shore up their own economies.
Analysts foresee a recession and a contraction of roughly 13 percent this year in the eurozone, the group of 19 European Union nations that share the same currency.
While some proposals received broad support, for example a program of 100 billion euros, or $109 billion, to fund unemployment benefits in member states, others proved more contentious.
Italy and Spain, the countries worst hit by the virus, have asked the zone to issue joint debt, known colloquially as eurobonds or coronabonds, in the context of the pandemic response. They also want any loans made available from the bloc’s bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, to come without any conditions for economic overhaul or austerity.
These demands have been met with resistance from wealthier northern Europe, especially Austria, Finland, Germany and the Netherlands.
Wuhan ends its lockdown, but hints of worry shadow the recovery.
As China ended its monthslong lockdown of Wuhan, the city where the coronavirus first emerged, on Wednesday, signs of normalcy were mixed with hints that worries about the pandemic would continue to shadow the city’s recovery.
A commentary published on Wednesday on Xinhua, the state-run news agency, declared that Wuhan’s “cautious unblocking is far from a final victory over the health threat,” but cast the city as a symbol that “a global victory will eventually be secured” through determination and hard work.
In scenes reminiscent of the final moments before the lockdown was imposed in January, passengers in oversize raincoats, goggles and masks rushed to a railway station to board the first trains out of the city, just as restrictions on outbound travel were lifted.
Still, the government has encouraged Wuhan residents to stay inside their homes. Sentry posts outside apartment complexes and in neighborhoods continued to register the coming and going of residents. Some areas have continued to restrict people from leaving their compounds. Older neighborhoods remained walled off, usually with sheets of blue cladding, to ensure that people could not evade the checkpoints.
The busiest newly reopened businesses appeared to be banks, where many people, especially older residents, unfamiliar with online banking lined up to make deposits, transfer funds or check their accounts. The banks and other larger businesses took temperature checks before allowing people to enter in limited numbers.
Children were a less common sight, with many parents still worrying about allowing them outside while the risk of infection lingered.
But some found the official projection of the city’s return to normal life loftier than the reality on the ground.
“It feels like all the excitement exists only on the internet,” one Weibo user wrote. “After all, we’re still trapped in our neighborhoods.”
Food has proved to be the universal language, with many on social media sharing photos of their first meal post-lockdown — most commonly the city’s famous hot dry noodles and beef noodles — or images of their cravings to be satisfied as soon as possible.
After a second night in intensive care, Boris Johnson is ‘responding to treatment.’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain is stable and “responding to treatment” for the coronavirus, but remains in intensive care, a spokesman said on Wednesday.
Mr. Johnson was admitted to St. Thomas’ Hospital in London on Sunday and transferred the next day to the intensive care unit, where he received oxygen but was not put on a ventilator. He is not suffering from pneumonia, his aides said on Tuesday, but his illness has brought concerns about the government’s ability to make major decisions in the midst of the outbreak.
Downing Street declined on Wednesday to comment on what treatment Mr. Johnson was receiving or to say who was treating him, though it repeated previous statements that he is breathing without assistance apart from receiving oxygen.
The office also noted that he was in good spirits but made clear that Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, initially asked to stand in for Mr. Johnson “where necessary,” was now doing so full time. The prime minister is able to contact those he needs to speak to, but is not working.
Mr. Johnson is still the head of the government, but the seriousness of his illness means that could change quickly. At a time of extraordinary challenge, Mr. Raab is already serving as chairman of a key committee on the pandemic as the government works to control the spread of the virus and stabilize an economy hit hard by the lockdown measures it has imposed.
Concerns about the prime minister’s health come as the government prepares to next week review measures that have closed down much of the economy, though there are no signs as yet of an imminent easing.
Officials warned on Wednesday that the peak of the outbreak in Britain could be at least 10 days away, and that talks of easing restrictions were premature. Mayor Sadiq Khan of London warned against reducing measures imposed to stem the spread of the virus.
“I think we’re nowhere near lifting the lockdown,” he said in an interview with the BBC. “I speak to experts regularly: We think the peak, which is the worst part of the virus, is probably a week and a half away.”
The Nightingale, the emergency hospital that was built in less than two weeks at a London conference center, received its first patients on Tuesday, a spokesperson said on Wednesday. It will be able to provide ventilation treatment to more than 2,800 patients.
Families fight for answers from Spanish nursing home where dozens died.
As news filtered from the Joaquín Rosillo nursing home on the outskirts of Seville that a few residents had tested positive for coronavirus, worried families scrambled for information.
But amid a nationwide lockdown, with their movements limited, there were no clear answers. Manuel Borrego, whose mother lives in the home, heard through contacts that people were dying. But the nursing home’s management told him that it was “fake news.”
He said his mother is alive, but suffers from dementia and had not been tested for the virus, as far as he knew.
“We’re in a crisis, but you cannot leave somebody without any clear information about his mother or the place where she is staying,” Mr. Borrego said. “I don’t think anybody has really got to grips with what has been going on inside the nursing homes.”
Frustrated relatives were forced to take legal action to shed light on the situation. Finally, on Monday afternoon, the regional health minister of Andalusia, Jesús Aguirre, revealed that 24 people had died in the facility, “possibly directly linked” to the coronavirus.
Mr. Aguirre, speaking during a news conference, did not say when the deaths occurred. Some residents were transferred in late March to a nearby hotel, one of several converted into field hospitals to treat coronavirus patients.
The tragedy in Seville is the latest to befall Spain’s nursing homes, which have been in the spotlight since the country’s defense minister revealed last month that soldiers deployed to disinfect homes had found older people abandoned or dead in their beds.
And the crisis in Spain is far from over. The health ministry reported on Wednesday another increase in the number of dead — with 757 deaths overnight — bringing Spain’s toll to 14,555 since the start of the outbreak.
Dozens of sailors on French aircraft carrier show coronavirus symptoms.
France’s flagship military aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, was heading back to port after some sailors on board showed symptoms of the disease caused by the new coronavirus, the Defense Ministry said on Wednesday.
About 40 sailors on board have “symptoms compatible with a possible Covid-19 infection,” the ministry said in a statement. The sailors, who first showed symptoms “recently,” have been isolated, the ministry said.
“No worsening has been observed with these patients,” the ministry said. “Everything is currently being done to guarantee the security of the crew members.”
The statement said that “sanitary measures” on board had been “reinforced,” including regular cleaning of the common areas, limited meetings and masks for symptomatic crew members.
A team will be sent on board with kits to test the sailors and to try to stop the virus from spreading, the ministry added.
The Charles de Gaulle, which can carry up to 2,000 sailors, is deployed in the Atlantic Ocean and is returning to its home port, Toulon, on France’s Mediterranean coast, earlier than scheduled, the ministry said.
France’s death toll passed 10,000 this week, with 10,328 deaths recorded in hospitals and in retirement and nursing homes. Nearly 80,000 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in the country.
Paris, the capital, has banned jogging and all other outdoor sports from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. to cut down on social interaction.
Mayor Anne Hidalgo told Franceinfo that she did not want to ban jogging, only limit it to “times when there will be fewer people on the street.” She continued, “During the day, you have people who do their shopping — and that’s normal, because you have to eat — and you have people who go to work.”
Even cycling has been halted in France, but professionals are asking for a waiver, saying that their livelihoods are at stake.
For some American expats, ‘Africa just felt better’ amid the pandemic.
Some Americans living in African nations are watching the pandemic spread across the United States, and deciding they’re better off staying put.
“Africa just felt better,” said John Shaw, who has lived for two years in Nairobi, Kenya, with his wife and two sons. “There are a lot of unknowns in terms of how Americans will deal with this crisis. It didn’t feel obvious to us at all that it will go well there.”
As the pandemic spreads and infections increase across the world, many Americans working or studying abroad have returned home. U.S. embassies organized evacuation flights for citizens seeking to flee countries that have long been criticized for shabby health care systems and government misinformation.
The virus has been slow to take hold in many parts of Africa, from international travel hubs to more isolated areas, but as confirmed infections and deaths climb, the continent’s readiness to deal with a pandemic is being questioned.
With the United States now leading the world in Covid-19 cases, the health care system fraying and the economy faltering, some American citizens — especially those living abroad — are starting to see their country in a new, unsettling light. As a result, some Americans have decided to stay in Africa, which was among the places that President Trump notably described with a disparaging and vulgar epithet.
How doctors and nurses risked all as the virus tore through northern Italy.
By the middle of March, northern Italy had become the center of a global pandemic. The coronavirus had infected tens of thousands of Italians, devastating the country with Europe’s oldest population. In the region of Lombardy, where the virus first exploded in the West, a wealthy and advanced health care system had suddenly become a war zone.
Hospitals expanded intensive-care capacity, lined entire wards with ventilators and crowded corridors with oxygen tanks and beds. The doctors, nurses, paramedics and volunteers had little choice but to soldier through day and night with little rest. Quarantined at home, Italy’s civilians took notice. They applauded from their balconies and shared on the web photos of nurses collapsed at a desk or bearing the bruises of tight masks.
Those images reached the photographer Andrea Frazzetta in the Milan apartment where he was sheltering in place with his wife and their 4-year-old son, who had recovered from pneumonia several months earlier. Mr. Frazzetta had strongly urged his mother and father to do the same.
But like many in and around Milan, they took the threat lightly and stayed home only when the central government in Rome ordered a shutdown, first in the north and then in the entire country. Looking at the selfies of those bruised nurses, Ms. Frazzetta decided to document the historic struggle unfolding around him.
As lockdowns clear India’s skies, a U.S. study links air pollution to higher coronavirus death rates.
The normally smudgy skies above India have been clearing in recent days, as lockdowns meant to stifle the pandemic have limited car traffic, drastically reduced air travel and shuttered factories and construction sites.
One result is the emergence of something rare: a pure blue sky.
“I don’t know how long this will last,” said Sudhir Kumar Bose, a retired English professor in New Delhi, the capital. “But right now I feel much better.”
Those clear skies might do more than just lift people’s moods.
Multiple studies have found that exposure to fine particulate matter puts people at heightened risk for lung cancer, heart attacks, strokes and even premature death. But a new study by Harvard University researchers — the first of its kind in the United States — shows a statistical link between dirty air and death or serious illness from Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
In an analysis of 3,080 U.S. counties, the study’s authors found that a slight increase in long-term pollution exposure could have serious coronavirus-related consequences, even accounting for other factors like smoking rates and population density. A person living for decades in a county with high levels of fine particulate matter, for example, was 15 percent more likely to die from the virus than someone in a region with slightly less air pollution.
That is a worrying finding for countries with far worse pollution than the U.S. — including India, where the coronavirus caseload now tops 4,000 and is doubling around every four days.
“Most countries don’t take it seriously enough and aren’t doing enough given the scale of the harm that air pollution is doing to all of our health,” said Beth Gardiner, a journalist and the author of a book on the subject.
Trump isn’t alone in his criticism of the W.H.O.
When President Trump unleashed a tirade against the World Health Organization on Tuesday, accusing it of acting too slowly to sound the alarm about the threat of the new coronavirus, it was not the first time that the global health body has faced such criticism.
In Japan, the deputy prime minister and finance minister, Taro Aso, recently noted that some people had started referring to the W.H.O. as the “Chinese Health Organization” because of what he described as its close ties to Beijing. Taiwan officials say the W.H.O. ignored their early warnings about the virus because China refuses to allow Taiwan, a self-governing island Beijing claims as its territory, to become a member.
Critics say the W.H.O. has been too trusting of the Chinese government, which initially tried to conceal the outbreak in Wuhan. Others have faulted the organization and its leader, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, as moving too slowly in declaring a global health emergency.
The W.H.O., a United Nations agency, has defended its response, saying on Wednesday that it had alerted the world to the threat posed by the virus in a timely manner and that it was “committed to ensuring all member states are able to respond effectively to this pandemic.”
The agency’s defenders say that its powers over any individual government are limited, and that it has done the best it can in dealing with a public health threat with few precedents.
Britain gets an army of volunteers to fight the coronavirus.
When the British government appealed recently for 250,000 people to help the National Health Service, more than 750,000 signed up, forcing it to temporarily stop taking applicants so it could process the flood.
All told, it is a stirring display of British national solidarity — a good-news story amid a grim tide of bulletins about overwhelmed hospitals, inadequate testing, a rising death toll, and a depleted political establishment, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson in intensive care and several of his aides still struggling after contracting the virus.
It is also a welcome balm, coming after three and a half years of bitter divisions over Brexit, a debate that cleaved the country socially, culturally and generationally. Coronavirus, many commentators have noted, is an equal-opportunity scourge: It strikes both “Leavers” and “Remainers.”
“During the Brexit debate, people used to say what we really need is a common enemy — and now we’ve got it,” said David Goodhart, a writer whose last book, “The Road to Somewhere,” explored the divide in British society between the rooted and the rootless. “Except this is an invisible enemy.”
Meanwhile, a man has been jailed for three months after he was caught stealing surgical masks from King’s College Hospital in South London, the Metropolitan Police said on Wednesday. The man, Lerun Hussain, 34, pleaded guilty to stealing three masks on April 5 and was sentenced on Tuesday.
While China’s coronavirus fight subsides, its propaganda war does not.
As the coronavirus pandemic unleashes the worst global crisis in decades, China has been locked in a public relations tug of war on the international stage.
For months, the Chinese government’s propaganda machine had been fending off criticism of Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, and it finally seemed to be finding an audience. Voices as varied as the World Health Organization, the Serbian government and the rapper Cardi B hailed China’s approach as decisive and responsible.
But China could not savor the praise for long. In recent days, foreign leaders — even in friendly nations like Iran — have questioned China’s reported infections and deaths. A top European diplomat warned that aid from Beijing was a mask for its geopolitical ambitions, while a Brazilian official suggested the pandemic was part of a plan to “dominate the world.”
China’s critics, including the Trump administration, have accused the Communist Party’s authoritarian leadership of exacerbating the outbreak by initially trying to conceal it. But China is trying to rewrite its role, leveraging its increasingly sophisticated global propaganda machine to cast itself as the munificent, responsible leader that triumphed where others have stumbled.
What narrative prevails has implications far beyond an international blame game. When the outbreak subsides, governments worldwide will confront crippled economies, unknown death tolls and a profound loss of trust among their people. Whether Beijing can step into that void, or is pilloried for it, may determine the fate of its ambitions for global leadership.
Canada celebrates its medical workers.
They have inspired ballads, street art, recipes, T-shirts and fan clubs. Across Canada, public health officers have become celebrities.
Phil Dwyer, a professional musician and lawyer, and some friends wrote a ballad for Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s public health chief. Two days after it was uploaded, the song had more than 40,000 listens.
“She is delivering, for the most part, really awful news — more people sick, more people dead, more people going to die,” Mr. Dwyer said. “But somehow, the way she does it and the level of empathy she shows, it just seems like she is the right person for us at this time.”
Whether conscious or not, the creation of moral heroes during a threat is an “advantageous social strategy,” said Jeremy Frimer, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Winnipeg. “They mobilize the masses to do their part.”
For Dr. Henry, the adulation has been “scary, embarrassing almost” and “really, really touching.”
“I’m an introvert — it’s not my nature to be the face of things,” she said from her office, where she has received flowers, home-baked cookies and cards.
Last month, she became visibly emotional during a news briefing, a moment of vulnerability that inspired a fan club.
“I was so pleasantly surprised,” said Dr. Henry, 54, a former navy doctor. “My whole approach is just be open and honest with things.”
Remembering those we’ve lost.
“He’s a true folk singer in the best folk tradition, cutting right to the heart of things, as pure and simple as rain,” Bonnie Raitt, a fellow musician who made Mr. Prine’s song “Angel From Montgomery” famous, told an interviewer in 1992.
Others we have lost this month:
Rafael Gómez Nieto, 99, a veteran of the Spanish Civil War who served in a French unit that entered Paris in 1944.
Gita Ramjee, 63, a researcher who worked on the forefront of the effort to contain AIDS, especially in eastern and southern Africa.
Nur Hassan Hussein, 82, the prime minister of Somalia during a transitional period beset by insurgency and humanitarian crises.
Mababa “Pape” Diouf, 68, the first black president of the Marseille Soccer Club.
Leïla Menchari, 93, a longtime Hermès window dresser in Paris.
Reporting was contributed by Javier C. Hernández, Dionne Searcy, Ruth Maclean, Stephen Castle, Chris Buckley, Elaine Yu, Steven Erlanger, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Mark Landler, Megan Specia, Jeffrey Gettleman, Vivian Wang, Raphael Minder, Aurelien Breeden, Iliana Magra, William Grimes, Neil Genzlinger, Abdi Latif Dahir, Tariq Panja, Vanessa Friedman, Raymond Zhong, Katrin Bennhold, Mike Ives, Russell Goldman, Dan Levin, Andrea Frazzetta, Jason Horowitz, Rick Gladstone, Victor Mather, Catherine Porter, Lisa Friedman and Ian Austen.
Orignially published in NYT.