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Thousands in Bangladesh Defy Coronavirus Lockdown for Funeral: Live Updates

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ImageVisitors to the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, are being sprayed with disinfectant and subjected to temperature checks.
Credit…Wakil Kohsar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Dozens of workers in Afghanistan’s presidential palace test positive.

At least 40 staff members in Afghanistan’s presidential palace in Kabul have tested positive for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, Afghan officials said on Sunday, forcing President Ashraf Ghani to isolate himself and attend events via video conference.

There is no evidence that Mr. Ghani himself is infected, and it was not known whether he has been tested.

But an official at the palace said that most of the 40 people who tested positive work for the administrative wing of the president’s office, the national security council and the office of Mr. Ghani’s chief of staff. A second senior official confirmed that dozens had tested positive after hundreds of palace workers were tested more than a week ago. Those with confirmed infections were sent into quarantine. The official did not provide more details.

Mr. Ghani, 70, who lost much of his stomach to cancer decades ago, has kept himself isolated in recent weeks, appearing in person only at some events and attending most of his engagements via video conference.

A document was thought to be the most likely source of contagion in the palace, Reuters reported, but it could not be independently confirmed. The Afghan president has a penchant for reading; he spends many evenings poring over government documents at his residence, and often rewrites strategy papers drafted by his officials.

The flow of people into the palace has been reduced. Visitors are sprayed with disinfectant head to toe and subject to temperature checks before they are frisked by elite guards in hazmat suits.

But in early March, more than two weeks after the first positive case was recorded in Afghanistan, thousands of guests packed into the palace as Mr. Ghani took the oath of office for his second term — even though his administration was already discouraging gatherings to slow the spread of the virus.

Afghanistan has reported just under 1,000 coronavirus cases. But those numbers certainly underestimate the spread, officials say, since testing has been extremely limited. The country has conducted only about 7,000 tests.

Politician’s funeral in Bangladesh draws 100,000, prompting fears of a new outbreak.

Tens of thousands of Bangladeshis ignored a nationwide lockdown on Saturday to attend the funeral of a Muslim political leader, prompting fears of a new outbreak in a country straining to contain the disease.

The Bangladeshi police said about 100,000 people had gathered in the town of Sarail without masks or other protective gear for the funeral of Maulana Jubayer Ahmed Ansari, a senior member of an Islamist party.

Alamgir Hossain, a police superintendent in the area, told the Dhaka Tribune that the authorities tried to get people to obey social distancing by blasting messages over loudspeakers, but that the situation soon became impossible to control.

The Bangladeshi police force suspended several senior officers in the district for failing to disperse the crowd.

Bangladesh imposed a nationwide lockdown on March 26 and banned more than five people from praying together in the country’s 300,000 mosques.

But enforcing the rules has been challenging in religious seminaries. Risks of a super spreader event are high in Bangladesh, one of the world’s most densely populated nations, with more than 160 million people.

The country’s Health Ministry said the number of infections had risen to about 2,200 on Saturday, with 84 deaths, though the number of people tested remains low.

France’s pride in its lone aircraft carrier turns to finger-pointing over a vast outbreak.

France’s pride in its flagship aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, has given way to finger-pointing and investigations after a coronavirus outbreak tore through the nuclear-powered vessel’s cramped, closed quarters.

More than 1,000 crew members have been infected, forcing the navy to cut the mission short, sending hundreds of sailors into isolation on military bases across France, and spawning accusations that the French navy played down or mishandled the crisis aboard.

One of the infected sailors is in intensive care, and about half are asymptomatic, making the infections difficult to detect without tests.

The navy said it did its best, but there are signs that the vessel was insufficiently prepared. It had no masks until late into its mission, and the ship’s command relaxed social distancing rules during a mid-March stop in Brest, on the Atlantic Coast, allowing sailors to go ashore, meet family and visit restaurants and shops.

Capt. Éric Lavault, a navy spokesman, said, “Mistakes were made, of course, but out of ignorance of the virus, and that is not specific to the aircraft carrier.”

France’s navy is not alone in dealing with a shipboard outbreak of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. An American sailor has died and hundreds more were infected as the virus spread on the Theodore Roosevelt, another nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

But the United States has 11 fleet carriers, and France has just one. The Charles de Gaulle, first sent into operation in 2001, plays a crucial role in France’s nuclear deterrence because it can launch Rafale fighter jets bearing nuclear warheads.

Shipment of much-needed protective gear to Britain is delayed.

As medical workers in Britain worry about a shortage of personal protective gear, officials announced that a shipment of 84 tons of equipment — including 400,000 protective gowns, was on its way from Turkey. But on Sunday, the government said that the flight was delayed.

The source of the delay was not immediately clear, but the Royal Air Force was “on standby” to transport the equipment, a government spokesman said in an email. “We are continuing to work to ensure the shipment is delivered as soon as possible.” The British broadcaster Sky News initially reported the delay.

Before the government confirmed the delay, Dr. Helena McKeown, chairwoman of the British Medical Association, told Sky News that the reported delay was “disastrous” and “devastating.” Asked if she would advise medical workers to refuse to work without protective equipment, she replied, “I would simply ask the government: What should my colleagues do?”

On Saturday, Robert Jenrick, the British housing minister, acknowledged the shortages during the daily government briefing, saying he recognized that it “must be an extremely anxious time for people working on the front line.”

Health care workers were advised to wear plastic aprons on top of their coveralls.

At least 15,464 people have died of the coronavirus in Britain, according to government figures published on Saturday.

In a Sunday Times of London report, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was said to have “sleepwalked” into a disastrous initial response to the coronavirus outbreak by missing five meetings of a government crisis committee. But Michael Gove, a member of Mr. Johnson’s leadership team, rejected the idea as “grotesque.”

The prime minister made all the major decisions, Mr. Gove told Sophy Ridge of Sky News on Sunday. “Nobody can say that the prime minister wasn’t throwing heart and soul into fighting this virus,” he said, adding that Mr. Johnson had been nothing other than “energetic, determined, focused and strong in his leadership.”

Mr. Johnson, who was hospitalized this month after contracting the virus, is still recuperating, but has had some contacts with officials, Mr. Jenrick said. “He’s resting and recuperating at Chequers,” Mr. Jenrick said, referring to the prime minister’s official country residence. “He’s taking his doctor’s advice.”

Orthodox Christians adapt for Easter services, but some defy lockdown rules.

Millions of Orthodox Christians in Europe, the Middle East and Africa are celebrating Easter, arguably the most important celebration on their calendar, under tight restrictions this weekend as the coronavirus pandemic has remolded their centuries-old traditions.

But the church in the former Soviet republic of Georgia has defied measures intended to stem the spread of the virus. Hundreds of worshipers gathered in churches despite the government’s declaration of a state of emergency and calls from bishops in various regions for believers to stay home, Reuters reported.

In television footage, some faithful could be seen kissing church icons and drinking from the same spoon during Communion. The Georgian prime minister has said that the government was trying to strike a balance: Churches have been kept open to help citizens meet their spiritual needs. But the authorities have steered clear of cracking down in the pews.

In Jerusalem, the Holy Fire ceremony was held in a near-empty church. Believers usually flock to see the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem come out of the Edicule, a shrine built where Christians believe Jesus was buried 2,000 years ago, holding candles lit by the flame. This year, most of the priests at the ceremony wore masks.

Many Orthodox Christians in Greece, Russia, Serbia, Bulgaria and other countries could not attend the late-night services on Holy Saturday, since churches remained closed to the public. They instead turned to their TV sets to watch Resurrection services.

Bulgaria imposed a curfew on the capital, Sofia, in order to stop people from leaving the city for the Easter holiday, the BBC reported. The Greek government had for days been cautioning citizens not to travel across the country or gather in groups at home on Easter Sunday. Many citizens opted to roast the traditional lamb on their balconies.

“It’s unprecedented,” Costas Hatzopoulos, 54, an agronomist in Thessaloniki, said by phone this past week about the changes in observing the religious traditions. “But we will adapt to the provisions; we can’t do any other way.”

Norway to reverse its soft lockdown and roll out an app to track infections.

Many Scandinavian governments consider the coronavirus outbreak to be more or less under control after a month of lockdown measures. Denmark has already reopened elementary schools. Now, Norway is preparing for what officials call a “controlled” reopening, with many restrictions set to be lifted from Monday.

The Norwegian health minister, Bent Hoie, recently compared the reopening to hiking on a mountain path.

“Walking down can be as tough as walking up,” he said. “Your knees are shaking and it’s easy to stumble.”

Mr. Hoie told the broadcaster NRK that kindergartens would reopen on Monday, and that a people would once again be allowed to travel to their second homes or cabins. He also said he would ask that hospitals return to normal operations.

Mr. Hoie and Prime Minister Erna Solberg have emphasized that the reopening depends on continued positive developments. Only 16 new cases were reported on Friday — the lowest since March 9, and far below the peak at the end of March, when the nation had over 300 new cases daily. The number of hospitalized coronavirus patients in the country has dropped to 148 from more than 300.

Norway was also one of the first European countries to roll out a government app, Smittestopp, to track infections. The Norwegian Institute for Public Health said a minimum of 50 percent of the population must download it for it to be effective. By Saturday, 1.2 million people, over 25 percent of the adult population, had done so.

Here’s what else is happening around the world:

  • Saudi Arabia’s highest religious body, the Council of Senior Scholars, urged Muslims worldwide to pray at home during the holy month of Ramadan if their countries have imposed distancing measures, the state news agency SPA reported on Sunday. “Remember that preserving the lives of people is a great act that brings them closer to God,” the council said. Ramadan is expected to begin in many places on Thursday.

  • Spain on Sunday reported its lowest daily death toll in four weeks: 410 deaths overnight, a fall of 155 from the previous day. The Spanish government said on Saturday that it would extend the nationwide lockdown until at least May 9, but ease some restrictions for children starting April 27.

  • The biggest and busiest shopping district in Nairobi, Kenya, has been shut down for up to a week to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. The district, Eastleigh, a regional trading hub that draws thousands of people each day, was quickly closed after two deaths and a rise in infections, said the area’s lawmaker, Yusuf Hassan, said. He said the government would use the temporary closure to increase testing and fumigate stalls and shops.

  • Russia’s coronavirus crisis response center on Sunday reported a record rise of 6,060 new coronavirus cases over 24 hours, bringing its nationwide total to 42,853.

In the U.S., a plea for more testing as New York and New Jersey see improvements.

The governors of New York and New Jersey, the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States, offered some encouraging statistics in their states’ battle against the coronavirus on Saturday, but they cautioned that they did not yet have the necessary resources to reopen their economies.

In both states, the curve of new infections seemed to be flattening or dropping. In New Jersey, the number of new cases and hospitalizations were leveling off, and New York reported its lowest daily death toll in more than two weeks, at 540.

But Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York noted that 36 of those deaths had been at nursing homes, which he described as “the single biggest fear in all of this.” New Jersey’s health commissioner said 40 percent of the state’s 4,070 coronavirus-related deaths had occurred at long-term care facilities, which have struggled to combat the virus because of a lack of staffing, testing and protective equipment.

While Mr. Cuomo shied away from discussing his conflict with President Trump the previous day over federal aid to the state, he emphasized the need for federal help to implement the widespread testing necessary to reopen New York’s economy.

“I’m not asking the federal government to do more than they need to,” Mr. Cuomo said. “But we do need their coordination. We need their partnership.”

As Mr. Cuomo and other governors consider easing social distancing restrictions, new estimates by researchers at Harvard University suggest that the United States cannot safely reopen unless it conducts more than three times the number of coronavirus tests it is currently administering over the next month.

An average of 146,000 people per day have been tested for the coronavirus nationally so far this month, according to the Covid Tracking Project. To reopen the United States by mid-May, the number of daily tests performed between now and then should be 500,000 to 700,000, according to the Harvard estimates.

Also on Saturday, federal officials acknowledged that sloppy laboratory practices at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention caused contamination that rendered the nation’s first coronavirus tests ineffective.

Two of the three C.D.C. laboratories in Atlanta that created the coronavirus test kits violated their own manufacturing standards, resulting in the agency sending tests that did not work properly to nearly all of the 100 state and local public health labs, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Netanyahu says some restrictions in Israel will be relaxed.

With mortality rates relatively low but the unemployment rate at more than 26 percent, Israel is set to begin easing restrictions imposed to fight the coronavirus, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Saturday night.

“From tomorrow, we start opening up both the personal sphere and the economic sphere,” he said in a televised appearance.

Outdoor prayer will be permitted in spread-out groups of up to 10 people, he said, and exercise will be allowed for people in pairs up to 500 meters from their homes, up from 100 meters.

An eclectic list of retail establishments will be allowed to reopen, including electrical and office supply stores, laundries, bookstores, housewares dealers and opticians. But malls will remain locked, meaning only permitted businesses with their own storefronts will reopen. And shops will be limited to serving two customers at a time and required to install physical barriers between customers and cashiers.

Restaurants, hairdressers, clothing, shoe and toy stores all remain closed.

Other businesses will be allowed to bring up to 30 percent of their workforces back to their positions, up from 15 percent.

A new “purple seal” certification will allow employers to resume operations contingent on meeting conditions like requiring workers to wear face masks, have regular temperature checks and regularly disinfect surfaces; barring meetings of more than eight people; documenting who works where and when; and forcing the entire workplace to shut down if anyone there gets sick.

Mr. Netanyahu urged Israelis age 67 and older to stay home for the time being, and pleaded with Muslim citizens to avoid feasts and other gatherings during the monthlong celebration of Ramadan, which begins Thursday night.

U.S. doubles down in condemnation of Hong Kong’s crackdown on activists.

The Trump administration on Saturday doubled down in its condemnation of a crackdown on pro-democracy activists and lawmakers in Hong Kong. The crackdown is widely seen as opportunistic given the city’s preoccupation with handling the coronavirus outbreak.

Attorney General William P. Barr conflated the arrests of the 14 Hong Kong democracy advocates — the biggest roundup since antigovernment protests began last year — with what he called “industrial espionage” by China’s ruling Communist Party against the United States.

“I condemn the latest assault on the rule of law and the liberty of the people of Hong Kong,” Mr. Barr said in a statement. “These events show how antithetical the values of the Chinese Communist Party are to those we share in Western liberal democracies. These actions — along with its malign influence activity and industrial espionage here in the United States — demonstrate once again that the Chinese Communist Party cannot be trusted.”

Mr. Barr’s remarks echoed an earlier statement by Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, who said Beijing had violated the agreements instituted in 1997 when the former British colony was returned to Chinese control with the promise that city would continue to “enjoy a high degree of autonomy.”

The high-profile arrests were made as Hong Kong battled to contain the coronavirus outbreak, which has helped quiet down the huge street protests but fueled further distrust of the authorities. The virus has halted protests around the world, forcing people to stay home and giving the authorities new laws for limiting public gatherings and detaining people with less fear of public blowback while many residents remained under lockdowns or with limits on their movement.

Dozens of performers join a global concert to benefit coronavirus relief.

A cross-platform global concert seeking to help Covid-19 response efforts featured some of the biggest names in music on Saturday.

With eight hours of performances, the event, which was organized by the antipoverty organization Global Citizens, had a run time almost as long as its name (“One World: Together at Home Special to Celebrate Covid-19 Workers”).

“It is so important to think globally and support the World Health Organization to curb the pandemic and prevent future outbreaks,” Lady Gaga, who helped curate the all-star lineup, said at a news conference on Monday. “We want to highlight the gravity of this historical, unprecedented and cultural movement.”

The last two hours of the show, which featured Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel as hosts, aired on NBC, CBS and ABC.

Alanis Morissette, Andrea Bocelli, Billie Eilish, David Beckham, Idris Elba, John Legend, Celine Dion, Elton John, Lizzo, Keith Urban and made appearances.

The lineup for the six-hour preshow, which tilted more heavily toward international acts, included performances by Angèle, Luis Fonsi, Jessie J, Juanes and others.

The event came together when the United Nations and the W.H.O. asked Global Citizen to support their Covid-19 response by bringing together the world through music and inspiring people to take action.

So far, the initiative has raised more than $35 million.

Malaysia is asked to stop turning away Rohingya refugees.

Human rights advocates are calling on Malaysia, which turned away at least two boats filled with Rohingya refugees, to reverse itself and start accepting the migrants.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement Saturday that Malaysia can be mindful of the coronavirus pandemic without endangering the lives of refugees as it responds to it.

On Thursday, the Malaysian navy intercepted a boat with 200 Rohingya refugees, and prevented it from entering Malaysian waters, according to The Associated Press. It’s unclear what happened to that boat.

The day before, the Bangladesh Coast Guard intercepted another boat with 382 refugees, who had been turned away from Malaysian waters weeks prior, survivors said. Although many of the refugees were removed from that boat, at least 30 people died before the rescue.

Malaysia’s National Security Council on Saturday defended its decision to turn away the boat over concerns the refugees would be exposed to the coronavirus. An official for the council said refugees were given food and fresh water before being turned away.

In March, Malaysia started banning the entry of foreign nationals to curb the outbreak in the country. Malaysia, a nation of more than 30 million people, has 5,251 confirmed cases with 86 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

“Malaysia’s claims to support the rights of the Rohingya mean shockingly little when they push desperate refugees back to sea,” said Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

The pandemic has “intensified” the misery of the Rohingya, who are confined in Myanmar and in camps in Bangladesh, Mr. Robertson said, adding that the Malaysian government “can both protect against the spread of the virus and ensure that those risking their lives at sea are rescued and given a chance to seek asylum.”

Reporting was contributed by Mujib Mashal, Fahim Abed, Fatima Faizi, Kai Schultz, Benjamin Mueller, Iliana Magra, Abdi Latif Dahir, Henrik Pryser Libell, Derrick Bryson Taylor, Mariel Padilla, Rebecca Chao, Russell Goldman, Anna Holland, Yonette Joseph and Austin Ramzy.



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