Coronavirus Live World Updates: Israel, India, W.H.O., Moscow


Despite surging infections, India lifts its lockdown.

Its coronavirus cases are skyrocketing, putting it among the world’s most worrisome pandemic zones. Nonetheless, India is lifting its lockdown — at what experts fear may be the worst time.

Migrant workers are becoming infected at an alarmingly high rate, leading to fresh outbreaks in villages across northern India.

Almost half of the country’s 160,000 known cases have been traced to just four cities: New Delhi, Chennai, Ahmedabad and Mumbai, where public hospitals are so overwhelmed that patients have taken to sleeping on cardboard in the hallways.

Testing has also been severely restricted, making it tough to gauge the scope of the outbreak. India has administered only two tests for every 1,000 people, one of the lowest ratios among the world’s worst-afflicted countries. The testing is increasing, and officials have sounded alarms about an increasing proportion of positive results.

The lockdown, which started over two months ago, was one of the most severe anywhere. Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered all Indians to stay inside, halting transportation and closing most businesses.

The conditions were brutally hard on the poorest Indians and those who rely on day labor to survive. And the country’s economy, which had already been ailing, was sustaining deep wounds.

In the end, the effort slowed the virus but failed to flatten the new-case curve. If India does not find a way to curb the virus in high-risk states, epidemiologists project that its total caseload could approach a million within several weeks.

If the reopening of offices, restaurants and other public places within countries amid the pandemic has seemed dizzying, the rules on travel between nations are shaping up to be bewildering.

Travel bubbles and airline corridors to allow free movement between certain cities or countries, quarantines and an assortment of other measures add up to a puzzle that even the most intrepid traveler will likely have trouble navigating.

Nowhere are the logistical challenges more daunting than in Europe, where optimistic pronouncements about easing restrictions in time for the summer travel season have run into the reality of a patchwork of policies.

For people living across the continent, the sudden closure of borders came as a shock and fundamentally reordered life for millions who came of age in an era defined by frictionless travel between the 26 countries that are part of the Schengen Zone.

“It would be great if all this could be compressed into something easy to understand, but it is a very complex picture,” said Adalbert Jahnz, a spokesman for home affairs, migration and citizenship at the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union.

European officials are working on an interactive map with all the rules among member states in one place. Even when the platform is up and running, though, it will likely offer a confounding picture of closed and open borders, with individual member states reaching bi-lateral and multi-lateral agreements with neighbors.

For instance, Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece are expected to open borders to each other starting June 1. Greece, desperate to save its tourism industry, also released an expanded list on Friday of 29 countries it will allow travel from starting June 15. (Nope, the United States is not on that list.)

The Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia have already started implementing a similar arrangement.

France, Germany and other western European nations have talked about easing border controls to other EU member states on June 15. That is the day that the European Commission’s guidance calling for the suspension of all non-essential travel into the E.U. will expire.

The issues confronting bureaucrats regarding travel from outside the bloc is perhaps even more difficult than the issues within the zone.

If one country allows travel from outside the bloc — and borders between countries in the E.U. are fully open — then, in effect, every country has allowed in the travelers.

The European Commission, which can only offer guidance, is still discussing what posture to take before the June 15 deadline. But officials said that it would be hard to do anything short of either keeping the guidance in place as it stands or completely lifting it.

If they were to call for more targeted restrictions on countries based on criteria like virus caseloads, it could create a whole new set of scientific, diplomatic and political challenges.

If there was one bright spot for believers in a united Europe, it is that the value of open borders among its countries will likely not soon be taken for granted after this pandemic is over.

For Mr. Jahnz of the European Commission, the crisis has shown “just how essential borderless travel is to our economy and our way of life.”

At a protest near Beijing’s representative office in Hong Kong last week, some demonstrators tried to obey virus-related rules that ban public gatherings of more than eight people — by marching in bands of eight. One of them, the pro-democracy district councilor Lo Kin-hei, said on Twitter that he had been fined by the police anyway.

Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing government has extended the ban on large gatherings until June 4, the day an annual candlelight vigil to commemorate the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989 is usually held at a local park. Protest organizers, who say that the timing is no coincidence, have called on residents to light candles across the city instead of gathering.

The Spanish government approved an emergency aid package that will provide about 850,000 households with what it calls a minimum income guarantee, seeking to soften the economic blow caused by the coronavirus lockdown.

The anti-poverty package, which will cost Spain about €3 billion, or $3.3 billion, a year, allows eligible households to receive an amount ranging from €462 to €1015 a month, about $515 to $1,130, that will be essential for many families if the country’s economy is pushed into a recession, as expected.

The aid was fast-tracked by the left-wing coalition government, but it is in line with the anti-poverty plans outlined by the administration of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who pledged to redistribute the tax burden when he took office in January.

“There is no freedom if people must dedicate all their energy to surviving rather than living,” Pablo Iglesias, Spain’s deputy prime minister, told a news conference on Friday.

Mr. Iglesias leads the Unidas Podemos party, which is Mr. Sánchez’s coalition partner and is pushing for tax increases for the wealthy to help cover the heavy toll taken by Covid-19. The Bank of Spain recently forecast that Spain’s economy could shrink by as much as 13 percent in 2020.

Lines at Spain’s main food banks and welfare handout centers have been building up since mid-March, when Spain went into lockdown.

Raúl Flores, the technical director of the Foessa foundation, which is part of the Cáritas relief agency, said that about six million of the 47 million people living in Spain were walking “a tight rope.”

The minimum income guarantee is the first such nationwide scheme in Spain, where most of the welfare programs have been handled by regional administrations.

The program will be rolled out starting next month and is expected to reach about 2.3 million people, according to the government. Recipients must be below 65 years old, the age when Spaniards stop paying into the pension system, and their eligibility will be determined by examining recent tax returns, as well as other assets.

Weeks after reopening the schools and days after letting restaurants get back to business, Israel reported more than 100 new cases on Friday, the level that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had warned would prompt the reinstatement of a strict lockdown.

Mr. Netanyahu’s office did not immediately respond to word of the day’s new cases, which was disclosed after the start of the Sabbath, but he was expected to meet with ministers and senior health officials on Saturday. So far, Israel has fared relatively well in the pandemic, with only 284 reported deaths.

New cases had averaged about 20 a day for several weeks, but a surge on Thursday and Friday, with positive tests at 31 schools scattered across the country, prompted a top health official to scold the public for its “euphoria and complacency” and “laxness of attitude” about masks, hygiene and social-distancing rules.

Moshe Bar-Siman-Tov, the director general of the health ministry, warned at a 6 p.m. news conference that a second wave of the coronavirus could result. “The road from here to 100, 200 or 300 new patients per day is short, and from there the road to 750 or 1,000 new patients per day is even shorter,” he said.

Two hours later, a ministry spokesman said the day’s new cases had reached 101. When Mr. Netanyahu announced the end of Israel’s lockdown on May 4, he said that 100 new cases in a single day would be the trigger to restart it.

President Trump said on Friday that the United States would be terminating its relationship with the World Health Organization, after weeks of accusing the organization of being too credulous regarding China’s information about the start of the pandemic.

“The world is now suffering as a result of the malfeasance of the Chinese government,” Mr. Trump said in remarks in the White House Rose Garden. “Countless lives have been taken and profound economic hardship has been inflicted all around the globe.”

Facing questions about his own handling of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 100,000 Americans, Mr. Trump has repeatedly blamed China and the W.H.O., the world’s pre-eminent global health organization, for its spread.

In a letter this month, he threatened to pull U.S. funding from the W.H.O. if it did not “commit to major substantive improvements in the next 30 days.”

Other member nations of the W.H.O. had rebuffed the president’s demands, instead deciding to conduct an “impartial, independent” examination of the W.H.O.’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The W.H.O.’s budget for 2020 and 2021 is about $2.4 billion a year. In 2018 and 2019, the United States, the W.H.O.’s single largest donor, contributed about 20 percent of the organization’s budget.

Mr. Trump voiced a range of other grievances against China in his news conference, angrily denouncing the country’s trade and security practices and announcing that his administration would end almost all aspects of the American government’s special relationship with Hong Kong. The move could damage Hong Kong’s status as a global financial and commercial hub.

Chinese companies, including state-owned enterprises, use Hong Kong as a place to raise money. It is home to complicated but essential financial plumbing used by Chinese companies and individuals, who are limited in how much money they can move in and out of China because of Beijing’s tight limits over financial flows past its borders. Ending its special status could severely weaken those benefits.

Russian officials have said the country’s coronavirus death toll is so low that it is a “miracle.” But after weeks of scrutiny, Moscow health authorities now say they have “improved” their count and found that more than twice as many people died in the Russian capital in April as they initially reported.

Under the new revision, health officials said 1,561 people died in the capital with coronavirus in April, more than twice the previous number of 639. The new counting methodology includes fatal diseases accelerated by the coronavirus as a “catalyst” but not necessarily directly caused by it, the statement said.

The health department said that even with the new numbers, far fewer people have died of coronavirus in Moscow as a proportion of known cases than in other countries, a measure known as the case-fatality rate. Moscow’s case-fatality rate in April was still “undeniably lower” than London’s or New York City’s, it said.

But the case-fatality rate is a flawed way to compare cities, researchers say, because it is highly dependent on the level of testing. As more cases are confirmed, the rate shrinks. Russia has tested more aggressively than many other countries, performing 10 million tests nationwide.

Until now, Russia had adopted a different standard of what counts as a coronavirus death than the United States and Western Europe. Even if a patient tested positive for Covid-19, some death reports gave a narrower cause of death, researchers say. Russia carries out autopsies on all those who die and has argued that this gives a more precise accounting the cause of death.

The April data gives an incomplete picture, as the outbreak hit Moscow hard only in the middle of the month. Mortality figures for May will provide a clearer view of Russia’s status. Moscow health officials warned this week that deaths could rise sharply this month.

When The New York Times and other news organizations reported earlier this month that Moscow’s coronavirus death toll for April appeared significantly higher than reported, the authorities demanded that the stories be retracted while legislators called for a criminal investigation into fake news and the expulsion of foreign journalists.

On Friday, Baghdad was almost completely still. Traffic had been halted throughout the city and stay-at-home orders were enforced by neighborhood blockades. All travel between Iraqi provinces was stopped for a second time in response to the country’s mounting awareness of the spread of the coronavirus.

Since the middle of this month, the increases have become consistently greater and harder to ignore. Baghdad has become a hot spot, with more than half of the country’s nearly 5,900 cases. And on Friday, there was more bad news. Iraq’s Health Ministry registered 416 new coronavirus cases in the country, the highest daily total since the ministry announced its first case in February.

But even before the latest news, the country was starting to close down again. On Thursday, the order came to shut Sadr City — the poorest and most crowded area of Baghdad, and the one with the most coronavirus infections — to traffic. Soon after that, the police and the army stopped almost all movement in the rest of the city.

Stay-at-home orders and blockades have hit poorer communities the hardest. In Sadr City, the desperation was palpable. Motley collections of vehicles that power the slum’s economy converged on one intersection after another, trying to find a way out. But the army and the police were unyielding.

Tuk-tuks, cars, trucks piled high with watermelon, and horse-drawn carts loaded with cooking gas canisters were turned around. Inside homes, where extended families often live in two small rooms and no one wears masks or gloves, there was a feeling of despair.

One resident, Um Teeba, said she and her husband believed that their faith would keep them safe, but she is a nurse at Sadr City Hospital, where there is only limited personal protective equipment for the staff.

She looked uneasily at her 10-year-old daughter, who ran into the courtyard to sneeze.

“It seems we are being shut in with people who are sick,” she said. “So then of course we will get sick too.”

About eight million people worldwide earn their living making cars and trucks. It’s now becoming clearer that not all of them will come out of the pandemic with jobs.

The French carmaker Renault announced an emergency cost-cutting plan on Friday that is likely to serve as a grim template for an industry that was in deep trouble even before the coronavirus pandemic brought sales to a near standstill.

Renault said it would cut nearly 15,000 jobs worldwide, or about 8 percent of its work force, and pull out of China. The company also said it would drastically reduce in production.

Sales in the European Union, Renault’s most important market, fell nearly 80 percent in April, when lockdowns closed dealerships and kept most buyers at home.

“It’s not just Renault,” said Peter Wells, the director of the Center for Automotive Industry Research at Cardiff University in Wales. “There are too many factories, too many models, too many dealers. A crisis like this is ruthless in exposing the vulnerabilities of these companies.”

Nissan, Renault’s partner in a global automaking alliance, said Thursday that it would close factories in Indonesia and Spain as it reduces car production by a fifth. The announcement came after Nissan reported a loss for the fiscal year ending in March of 671 billion yen, or $6.3 billion.

Volvo Cars said last month that it would cut 1,300 white-collar jobs in Sweden, its home base. Other carmakers, like Fiat Chrysler and PSA, which makes Peugeot, Citroën and Opel vehicles, will be under pressure to make similar cuts.

By contrast, American carmakers cut thousands of jobs last year and have not announced new rounds of layoffs caused by the pandemic. Recently they have been gearing up production after factories were closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

But with demand unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels for years, even the American automakers will not be able to avoid further painful cuts, Mr. Wells said.

The experts who wrote the Lancet also criticized the study’s methodology and the authors’ refusal to disclose information on the hospitals that contributed their data, or even to name the countries where they were located. The company that owns the database is Surgisphere.

“Data from Africa indicate that nearly 25 percent of all Covid-19 cases and 40 percent of all deaths in the continent occurred in Surgisphere-associated hospitals which had sophisticated electronic patient data recording,” the scientists wrote. “Both the numbers of cases and deaths, and the detailed data collection, seem unlikely.”

A spokeswoman for The Lancet, Emily Head, said in an email that the journal had received numerous inquiries about the paper, and had referred the questions to the authors. “We will provide further updates as necessary,” she said.

Dr. Sapan S. Desai, the owner of Surgisphere and one of the paper’s authors, said in a statement that the database was an aggregation of the anonymous electronic health records of hospitals around the world. He also said that contractual agreements with the hospitals bar the sharing of patient-level data, though it is available to qualified scientists for research purposes.

“Our strong privacy standards are a major reason that hospitals trust Surgisphere and we have been able to collect data from over 1,200 institutions across 46 countries,” the statement said.

Our Berlin-based reporter Patrick Kingsley and Laetitia Vancon, a Times photojournalist, are driving more than 3,700 miles around Europe to document changes on a continent emerging from coronavirus lockdowns. Here is the second dispatch from their trip.

Clad in masks, the waiters were nervous. How would the diners see their smiles?

The sommelier wondered: How would he smell the wine?

The head chef worried: How ready was the new menu? Was the cold pea soup too salty? The ice cream too sweet?

Pauly Saal, one of Berlin’s most-lauded restaurants, was minutes from reopening. Staff members were glad to be back after a two-month shutdown — “a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel,” said one waiter, Dennis Rohde.

But they were anxious as well as excited. The authorities’ sudden decision to allow restaurants to reopen had left them with only 24 hours to perfect a radical revision of their working practice.

And amid a profound economic crisis, there was also a more existential question: With no tourists in the city, was there still a market for Michelin-starred gastronomy?

Like all German restaurants, Pauly Saal was abruptly ordered to close in March. After an easing of restrictions in Germany, it is reopening in a strange, changed world — a barometer of the extent to which fine dining can survive during a pandemic.

“It’s a completely different style,” said the restaurant’s longest-serving waiter, Michael Winterstein, who joined at its founding in 2012.

“And we have to make that work,” added Mr. Winterstein, once a professional composer, “without it looking like a medical station in a hospital.”

Improvisation and the ability to draw on their environment define the music made by Bolivia’s Orquesta Experimental de Instrumentos Nativos, or Experimental Orchestra of Native Instruments.

Those skills have also helped the musicians navigate 80 days in unexpected lockdown on the grounds of the 18th-century Rheinsberg palace north of Berlin. Days after their arrival for a five-day concert tour in mid-March, international flights were grounded and Bolivia shut its borders.

With luck, they may be returning home on Monday, said Timo Kreuser, a German composer and artistic director who has been looking after the orchestra. Awaiting them at home is a 14-day quarantine in hotels they have to pay for, after three months without work — and a much higher profile.

Reports have reached Bolivia that the 25 musicians were living in a “haunted castle surrounded by wolves.” But the site, while comfortable, resembles a well-kept hostel more than a palace, and only a few of the musicians have caught sight of wolves — from a safe distance — Mr. Kreuser said.

Berno Odo Polzer, the artistic director of the MaerzMusik festival, said the organization covered the 84,000 euros, or $93,500, for accommodation and food for the orchestra from March to May. The group was to play at the festival on its opening day, March 20, but it was canceled.

Crowdfunding has helped cover the cost of other necessities, but the musicians still face five-figure debts for rebooked flights, lost income, and medical and other expenses, Mr. Kreuser said.

What they have is their music.

“Right now we are channeling everything through our music,” one of the musicians, Tracy Prado, 32, told the German newspaper Die Zeit. “That is probably why nobody has gone crazy.”

Thailand could lose as many as 8.4 million jobs this year, many of them in the hard-hit tourism industry, officials said on Thursday, reflecting how much the pandemic has hurt a country that received nearly 40 million visitors last year.

The government hopes to stimulate employment through government spending, including a plan to boost domestic travel starting in July. But it has banned all foreign visitors until at least July because of the coronavirus, and the number of tourists in 2020 is expected to fall dramatically.

The plan to increase domestic tourism in the third quarter could include hotel room subsidies, according to local news reports. “Tourism should be a fast economic stimulator,” the head of the National Economic and Social Development Council, Thosaporn Sirisumphand, told reporters earlier this week. “If the situation improves, we may open for tourists to come in.”

Thailand, the first country outside China to report a case of the virus, has handled the pandemic better than most with measures such as closing schools, limiting business activity and imposing a nighttime curfew. It had 3,065 infections as of Thursday, including 57 deaths, and most new cases are Thais returning from abroad.

But before the virus struck, travel and tourism accounted for more than 20 percent of Thailand’s gross domestic product and employed nearly 16 percent of its work force. The nation’s flagship airline, Thai Airways, which was already suffering financially before it halted international flights in March, is now seeking rehabilitation in bankruptcy court.

Reporting was contributed by Marc Santora, Jack Ewing, David M. Halbfinger, Melissa Eddy, Alissa J. Rubin, Raphael Minder, Andrew Higgins, Josh Keller, Allison McCann, Emma Bubola, Christopher F. Schuetze, Mike Ives, Elaine Yu, Sarah Mervosh, Megan Specia, Patrick Kingsley, Martin Selsoe Sorensen, Kai Schultz, Sameer Yasir, Vivian Wang, Richard C. Paddock, Roni Caryn Rabin, Jason Gutierrez, Choe Sang-Hun, Jin Wu, Alex Marshall and Jenny Gross.





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