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Coronavirus Live Updates: Easing Lockdowns Gives Nations a New Challenge

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ImageThe Trevi Fountain in Rome, normally packed with people day and night, is nearly empty save for the those passing by with groceries.
Credit…Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times

Nations confront the possibility that reopening may be harder than locking down.

Experts across Europe had warned that closing down countries to contain the coronavirus pandemic would be far easier than opening them up again. More and more, that is looking to be true.

In countries hit hardest by the virus, protests have broken out and frustration has mounted over the way governments have handled, or mishandled, the easing of lockdowns.

In Italy, which has had the deadliest outbreak in Europe, vibrant and vocal protests from politicians, business leaders, mayors and others confused about the government’s plans have created a sense of impending chaos as the country prepares to enter a reopening phase on Monday.

Italy will allow restaurants to provide takeout service starting Monday, but trattorias, bars and coffee shops will not be allowed to seat customers for some weeks. Many entrepreneurs complain that they are going broke and that the state requirements will essentially make business impossible.

To draw attention to their plight, thousands of small-business owners have given their mayors the keys to their restaurants and cafes.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has defended the plan and the government’s performance. “We did a well-articulated and well-structured plan,” he said last week.

In France, teachers say plans to gradually reopen schools starting May 11 have created a climate of confusion. They were not sure which classes would open, how many students would be allowed in and whether any measures would ensure their safety.

And as Spain prepares to relax some lockdown rules this month, public pressure has forced the government to retreat on key steps. The government initially barred children from going outside, then allowed them to accompany their parents to go on errands. When the political opposition and parent groups protested, it allowed them to go for walks, too. On Saturday, adults and teenagers were allowed outside for exercise for the first time in seven weeks.

On Sunday, Spain reported 164 deaths and 838 confirmed infections overnight, its lowest daily numbers since the week in mid-March when the nation went into lockdown.

Even as Spain’s numbers continue to improve, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is hoping Parliament will extend the state of emergency beyond May 10, but he leads a minority government and the main opposition Popular Party has been increasingly critical of the government’s handling of the crisis.

Teodoro García Egea, the Popular Party secretary general, said on Sunday that the party was not committed to supporting a longer state of emergency.

Boris Johnson said he received ‘liters and liters of oxygen’ while hospitalized with the virus.

Doctors had a plan to announce the death of Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain while he was hospitalized with the coronavirus last month, Mr. Johnson said in an interview with the tabloid The Sun on Sunday.

Mr. Johnson, who was discharged from St. Thomas’ Hospital in London in mid-April after spending three days in intensive care, spoke of his ordeal just days after he and his fiancée, Carrie Symonds, announced the birth of their son and as he prepared to lay out the government’s road map for easing the nation’s lockdown.

Mr. Johnson said that he had never before experienced anything as serious as the virus, which has killed at least 28,131 people in Britain.

Even after receiving “liters and liters of oxygen,” he said, he was not getting better and he could not understand why. “I was just incredibly frustrated,” he said, “because the bloody indicators kept going in the wrong direction and I thought, ‘There’s no medicine for this thing and there’s no cure.’”

Mr. Johnson and Ms. Symonds named their son Wilfred Lawrie Nicholas, partly as a tribute to the two doctors, Nick Price and Nick Hart, whom they have praised as saving Mr. Johnson’s life. Ms. Symonds announced the name on Instagram, with a photograph of her and the infant.

Mr. Johnson plans to take a short paternity leave later in the year, but has put it off to deal with the epidemic, officials said. He is expected to set out a plan next week for winding down the country’s lockdown.

With Britain said to be past the peak of its outbreak, the Nightingale Hospital in London, an emergency center that was pulled together in about 10 days, is effectively being “wound down,” according to local news reports. It has taken in no new cases in the past week.

British news outlets have suggested that visitors coming from abroad may have to undergo a two-week quarantine. Eurostar passengers will be required to wear masks or face fines in France or Belgium, the rail company said.

At the same time, the pandemic is also widening inequality, especially in education, said the headmaster of Eton, the elite private school where several of the country’s prime ministers and royals were educated.

“The unfairness will become transparent, as it was in the Blitz when it was noted that houses in Belgravia were empty while the East End suffered,” the headmaster, Simon Henderson, told The Times of London. “Coronavirus hasn’t been a great leveler. It’s much harder if you are poor.”

Pompeo asserts ‘enormous evidence’ ties the virus to a Wuhan lab, a claim not backed yet by U.S. intelligence.

The U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, doubled down on President Trump’s assertions about the origins of the virus, saying on Sunday that “there’s enormous evidence” the coronavirus originated in a research laboratory in Wuhan, China, even while American intelligence agencies say they have reached no conclusion on the issue.

Mr. Pompeo was one of a number of administration officials and other public figures who appeared on Sunday morning news shows to discuss the coronavirus. A former C.I.A. chief and one of the administration’s most hawkish officials on China, he has repeatedly blamed China’s Communist Party for covering up evidence and denying American experts access to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

The Times reported on Thursday that senior Trump administration officials were pushing spy agencies to hunt for evidence to support the theory that the outbreak emerged from a Wuhan lab, and that some intelligence analysts feared the pressure would distort assessments, and that they could be used as a political weapon in an intensifying battle with China.

On Thursday, the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a statement saying that it was continuing to “rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence” to determine whether the outbreak began with infected animals of whether “it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.”

The theories are not mutually exclusive: Some officials who have examined the intelligence reports, which remain classified, say that it is possible an animal that was infected with the coronavirus was destroyed, and in the process a lab worker was accidentally infected.

The same day, President Trump said he had a high degree of confidence that the laboratory was the source of the outbreak but when pressed for evidence said, “I’m not allowed to tell you that.”

Mr. Trump is the final authority on declassifying evidence, and he has done so when it suited his purposes, including making public a classified satellite photograph of an Iranian launch site last summer.

Mr. Pompeo, in his Sunday appearance on the ABC program “This Week,” also criticized China’s orders expelling American reporters from The New York Times, the Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, and the government’s silencing of doctors who raised early alarms about the virus.

“We saw the fact that those who were trying to report on this, medical professionals inside of China, were silenced. They shut down reporting — all the kind of things that authoritarian regimes do, the way Communist parties operate,” Mr. Pompeo said.

“This is a classic Communist disinformation effort.”

A global blowback builds against China over the coronavirus outbreak.

Australia has called for an inquiry into the origin of the virus. Britain and Germany are hesitating anew about inviting in the Chinese tech giant Huawei. President Trump has blamed China for the contagion and is seeking to punish it. Some governments want to sue Beijing for damages and reparations.

Across the globe, a backlash is building against China for its initial mishandling of the crisis that helped loose the coronavirus on the world, creating a deeply polarizing battle of narratives and setting back China’s ambition to fill the leadership vacuum left by the United States.

China, never receptive to outside criticism and wary of damage to its domestic control and long economic reach, has responded aggressively, combining medical aid to other countries with harsh nationalist rhetoric, and mixing demands for gratitude with economic threats.

The result has only added momentum to the blowback and the growing mistrust of China in Europe and Africa, undermining Beijing’s desired image as a generous global actor.

With clear encouragement from President Xi Jinping and the powerful Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party, a younger generation of Chinese diplomats has been proving loyalty with defiantly nationalist and sometimes threatening messages in the countries where they are based.

“You have a new brand of Chinese diplomats who seem to compete with each other to be more radical and eventually insulting to the country where they happen to be posted,” said François Godement, a senior adviser for Asia at the Paris-based Institut Montaigne. “They’ve gotten into fights with every northern European country with whom they should have an interest, and they’ve alienated every one of them.”

Why does the virus hit some nations hard but deal a glancing blow to others?

The coronavirus has killed so many people in Iran that the country has resorted to mass burials, but in neighboring Iraq, the body count is fewer than 100.

The Dominican Republic has reported nearly 7,600 cases of the virus. Just across the border, Haiti has recorded about 85.

In Indonesia, thousands are believed to have died of the coronavirus. In nearby Malaysia, a strict lockdown has kept fatalities to about 100.

The coronavirus has touched almost every country on earth, but its impact has seemed capricious. Global metropolises like New York, Paris and London have been devastated, while teeming cities like Bangkok, Baghdad, New Delhi and Lagos have, so far, largely been spared.

The question of why the virus has overwhelmed some places and left others relatively untouched is a puzzle that has spawned numerous theories and speculations but no definitive answers. That knowledge could have profound implications for how countries respond to the virus, for determining who is at risk and for knowing when it’s safe to go out again.

Doctors in Saudi Arabia are studying whether genetic differences may help explain varying levels of severity in Covid-19 cases among Saudi Arabs, while scientists in Brazil are looking into the relationship between genetics and Covid-19 complications. Teams in multiple countries are studying if common hypertension medications might worsen the disease’s severity and whether a particular tuberculosis vaccine might do the opposite.

One theory that is unproven but impossible to refute: maybe the virus just hasn’t gotten to those countries yet. Russia and Turkey appeared to be fine until, suddenly, they were not.

An Oxford researcher working on a vaccine says a new shot will likely be needed each year.

People will likely need annual vaccinations to protect against the coronavirus, just as is recommended for the flu, an Oxford University professor working on a vaccine predicted on Sunday.

Sir John Bell, the Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, said on a U.S. Sunday news show, NBC’s “Meet the Press,” that while the coronavirus “doesn’t mutate at the pace of flu as far as we can see, it’s also quite a tricky virus in terms of generating longstanding immune responses to it.”

“As a result,” he said, “I suspect we may need to have relatively regular vaccinations against coronaviruses going into the future. That of course remains to be seen, but that’s my bet at the moment — that this is likely to be a seasonal coronavirus vaccine.”

Dr. Bell is involved in the development at Oxford of a potential vaccine for which the first few million doses could be available by September — at least several months ahead of any other announced efforts — if it proves to be effective.

“We are pretty sure we’ll get a signal by June about whether this works or not,” he said on the show.

U2, the Irish public health service and hundreds of ordinary people got together to fly in P.P.E. from China.

The four members of the Irish rock supergroup U2 contributed $10 million of their own cash toward a freelance operation to source desperately needed medical protection equipment in China and fly it to Ireland.

In a spontaneous collaboration involving the rock band, an Irish businessman living in China, an aircraft leasing company, hundreds of ordinary donors, and Ireland’s public health service, millions of items of equipment were purchased in China and flown back to Dublin on three chartered aircraft, the last of which landed on Sunday.

Dómhnal Slattery, chief executive of Avolon aircraft leasing, said that he was originally contacted last month by a China-based Irish businessman, Liam Casey of PCH International, who said he was looking for a way to move a planeload of personal protective equipment on behalf of an anonymous donor, which turned out to be the members of U2. Avolon subsequently set up a crowdfunding appeal to help pay for the air charters.

“The four members of U2 basically wrote a check for $2.5 million each,” Mr. Slattery said. “They put up the money for the P.P.E., Liam went and found it, and we brought it home.”

Mr. Slattery said that the last plane brought two million face masks, 32,000 surgical gowns and 40 ventilators.

“When the chips are down, Irish people come together,” Mr. Slattery said. “Hundreds of people around the country contributed fivers, tenners, fifty quid, towards the cost of the aircraft.”

On World Press Freedom Day, a new report warns of threats to journalists during the pandemic.

The pandemic is accelerating a decline in press freedoms around the world, with dozens of journalists being arrested and threatened for their coverage of the outbreak and governments abusing laws meant to target disinformation about the virus, a media watchdog group warned in a new report.

The report from the International Press Institute was released ahead of World Press Freedom Day, which is Sunday.

The group noted that press freedoms were being threatened even before the pandemic. But it said over the last two and a half months, it had found more than 50 cases in which journalists had been verbally or physically attacked for their coverage of the virus, mostly in Europe and Africa.

The group also found 16 cases in which countries — including Russia, Hungary and Azerbaijan — have used laws targeting disinformation to remove coverage about the virus or stifle criticism of officials’ response. In Vietnam and Algeria, officials have passed broader laws criminalizing disinformation, often with heavy penalties, the report found.

“It is crucial that extraordinary restrictions on media imposed during the crisis do not become normalized and outlive the immediate health crisis, especially when it comes to lack of transparency by governments, lack of access by media to decision makers and any form of surveillance hindering the press,” Barbara Trionfi, the executive director of the institute, said in a statement.

The group also noted that news outlets face renewed economic pressure because of declining advertising revenue.

A report published in April from the media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders arrived at similar conclusions, finding that the United States and Brazil were becoming models of hostility toward the news media and that China, Iran and Iraq were censoring coverage of the outbreak.

U.S. roundup: Warm weather and confinement fatigue draw millions from their homes.

Warmer weekend temperatures and fatigue over weeks of confinement lured millions of Americans outside on Saturday, adding to the pressure on city and state officials to enforce, or loosen, restrictions imposed to limit the spread of the virus.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio pleaded with residents to resist the impulse to gather outdoors. In New Jersey, golf courses reopened, and Gov. Philip D. Murphy said that early anecdotal reports indicated people were maintaining social distance. In Texas, three movie theaters reopened in the San Antonio area, some of the first in the country to do so.

Former President George W. Bush is calling on Americans to put aside partisan differences, heed the guidance of medical professionals and show empathy for those stricken by the coronavirus and resulting economic impact.

In a three-minute video message, Mr. Bush struck a tone of unity that seemed to contrast with the more combative approach taken at times by President Trump, as the former president evoked the sense of national solidarity after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“Let us remember how small our differences are in the face of this shared threat,” Mr. Bush said in the professionally produced video, part of a series aired online called The Call to Unite that also featured Oprah Winfrey, Tim Shriver, Julia Roberts and others.

The researchers, Dr. Mette Kalager and Dr. Michael Bretthauer of the University of Oslo, proposed a test to compare similar districts in adjacent towns when one stays shut and the other is reopened. Students and teachers in both districts are tested at the start and end of a 10- to 14-day cycle, and restrictions are eased if virus transmissions don’t increase in the reopened school.

In the best-case scenario — no increased transmission — all schools could open after three to six weeks.

The lifting of stringent rules across the nation signaled a new phase in the country’s response to the virus and came even as confirmed cases nationally continue to grow.

“It’s clearly a life-or-death-sort-of-level decision,” said Dr. Larry Chang, an infectious diseases specialist at Johns Hopkins University. “If you get this wrong, many more people will die.”

‘We are dying’: Russia’s small businesses, shut because of the virus, are withering away.

Russia has a “rainy day fund” of more than $550 billion, accumulated from oil sales when prices were high, so it is likely to weather the economic storm created by the coronavirus better than many countries, even as it recorded its worst one-day rise in cases since the outbreak began.

But it risks losing much of a sector that President Vladimir V. Putin has for years promoted as key to Russia’s long-term economic success: small and midsize businesses. Unlike many Western governments, the Kremlin has provided little support to business.

The overall relief package in Russia has amounted to less than a quarter of what is being injected in Germany, and most of the support has been aimed at helping large corporations, many of them owned or closely entwined with the state. Only around $10 billion has been pledged to small businesses so far.

As the coronavirus pandemic began to advance through Russian cities at the end of March, Mr. Putin ordered businesses to both shut down and continue paying salaries. But he did not specify where owners were supposed to get the money. Entrepreneurs have largely been left to fend for themselves, and the mass failure of small and medium businesses would leave Russia’s economy even more dependent on the Kremlin.

In defiance of Mr. Putin’s orders, Aleksandr B. Zatulivetrov announced that he would reopen one of his two restaurants in the center of St. Petersburg unless the Kremlin declared a state of emergency, a legal provision that would allow him to stop payments to banks and landlords and force the government to offer compensation.

“Where are your voices? We all have tens of workers who need jobs!” Mr. Zatulivetrov, 48, wrote in a plea to other restaurant owners to join him. ‘We are dying!”

Russia on Sunday reported 10,633 new confirmed cases — the highest single-day total so far and almost double the daily number just four days earlier. The government also reported 58 new deaths, for an overall total of 1,280.

More than half the new cases were in Moscow, which also has about half of Russia’s total: 134,687 cases. The city government said the higher one-day case total was in part a result of increased testing. The number of new coronavirus patients admitted to the hospital has remained steady at 1,700 per day, the Moscow government said, suggesting that the authorities were increasingly identifying cases at early stages of the illness.

The Philippines joins the list of countries suspending incoming commercial air travel.

The Philippines will suspend all commercial flights into the country beginning Sunday, joining several countries that have suspended most air travel in response to the pandemic.

The Manila International Airport Authority announced the move on its Facebook page. It did not give an end date for the suspension of commercial passenger flights, which began at 8 a.m. Sunday. Other air traffic, including cargo flights and those transporting medical supplies, will be allowed to continue, it said.

A handful of countries have similarly blocked almost all air travel in an effort to control the spread of the coronavirus, moves that coincide with new restrictions on migration that have been imposed around the world.

India suspended international and domestic passenger flights in late March. On Saturday the country’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation said the restrictions will be extended until May 17. Thailand will continue to bar most flights to the country until May 31.

Last month, Myanmar extended its suspension of all flights to the country until May 15. And Nepal said it would extend a suspension of all domestic and international flights until May 15.

The United Arab Emirates has suspended flights until further notice, and Argentina has banned commercial flights until Sept. 1, one of the longest such restrictions.

The International Civil Aviation Organization says international air travel could drop between 44 percent and 80 percent over the course of 2020, compared with the previous year. The overall reduction in the number of passengers could reach 1.5 billion, it said.

Can dogs sniff out the virus? Researchers in several countries are working to find out.

They can sniff out illegal drugs, dangerous explosives and even some diseases in humans. Could dogs help detect the coronavirus, too?

Researchers in countries like Britain, France and the United States are trying to answer the intriguing question as the authorities look for ways to quickly identify and isolate new cases to quash a possible second wave of infections once lockdowns are lifted.

The hope is that dogs will be able to supplement widespread testing, for instance by helping to screen airport passengers and detect any unwitting carriers of the coronavirus, in a quick, noninvasive way.

“We know that diseases have got these unique odors,” Claire Guest, head of the Medical Detection Dogs charity in Britain, told the BBC last month, adding that training detection dogs usually takes six to eight weeks.

Ms. Guest’s charity, along with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Durham University, began training dogs in March to see if they would be able to single out samples. It is still unclear what the research will yield.

“It’s early days for Covid-19 odor detection,” Prof. James Logan, head of the Department of Disease Control at the London school, said in March. “We do not know if Covid-19 has a specific odor yet, but we know that other respiratory diseases change our body odor, so there is a chance that it does.”

Similar efforts are underway at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, where eight dogs are being exposed to samples of saliva and urine from coronavirus patients to see if the animals can identify positive samples in a laboratory setting and, ultimately, positive patients.

And in France, firefighters in Corsica are helping veterinarians conduct a trial using swabs from the armpits of coronavirus patients to see if dogs can detect the smell of the virus.

Curators around the world reimagine how, and if, we will gather for art.

The Prospect New Orleans art triennial in October has been postponed to next year. So has the Liverpool Biennial. São Paulo’s Bienal is delayed by at least a month. The Dakar Biennale has yet to set new dates. Front International, in Cleveland, has decided to skip 2021 altogether and return in 2022.

The coronavirus crisis has thrown into question the post-pandemic future of contemporary art biennials (and their cousins, triennials and quadrennials). Of an estimated such 43 exhibitions in 2020, some 20 have been postponed so far, according to a tally by the Biennial Foundation, with further changes near certain. The Biennale of Sydney opened in March for a three-month run — and had to close after 10 days.

The idea of the international art exhibition has flourished at least since the Venice Biennale was founded in 1895, but they have proliferated in the last two decades as the contemporary art field has gone global. Now their fate is linked to the big question of how culture industries, and cultural habits, will emerge from the pandemic. The crisis also threatens art fairs, which are driven by the market, itself facing great uncertainty, and the global ecosystem of workshops and residencies that have become vital to the careers of artists.

But the premise of a biennial is distinctly cosmopolitan and civic. The bet is that mingling artists, out-of-town visitors, and the local public — big biennials often draw a half-million attendees — around a theme that seeks to interpret the world, will benefit everyone involved, while helping cities boost their cultural profiles.

The lurking question is whether the biennial model still makes sense in a post-pandemic world.

Reporting was contributed by Abby Goodnough, Ed O’Loughlin, David E. Sanger, Mihir Zaveri, Karen Zraick, Aurelien Breeden, Iliana Magra, Steven Erlanger, Raphael Minder, Emma Bubola, Hannah Beech, Alissa J. Rubin, Anatoly Kurmanaev, Ruth Maclean, Ivan Nechepurenko, Anton Troianovski, Austin Ramzy, Anna Holland, Daniel Powell, Michael Levenson, Siddhartha Mitter, Gina Kolata, Peter Baker, David D. Kirkpatrick, Carl Zimmer, Katie Thomas and Sui-Lee Wee.



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