Coronavirus Live Updates: U.N. Chief Calls Pandemic World’s Biggest Test Since World War II

The Four Percent


The coronavirus pandemic is “an unprecedented test” unlike anything in the past 75 years, António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, said on Wednesday.

“Covid-19 is the greatest test that we have faced together since the formation of the United Nations,” Mr. Guterres said as the agency released a new report on the social and economic impacts of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. The body was formed after the end of World War II in 1945.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, who is coordinating the coronavirus response, displayed the grim projection at a White House news conference and then joined President Trump in pledging to do everything possible to reduce the numbers even further.

President Trump officially called for another month of social distancing and warned that “this is going to be a very painful, very very painful two weeks” — even as he added that Americans would soon “start seeing some real light at the end of the tunnel.”

“I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead. We’re going through a very tough few weeks,” Mr. Trump said, later raising his two weeks to three.

The scientists’ conclusions generally match those from similar models by public health researchers around the globe.

Mr. Trump, who spent weeks playing down the threat of the virus, congratulated himself for the projections, which he said showed that strict public health measures may have already curtailed the death toll. He suggested that as many as 2.2 million people “would have died if we did nothing, if we just carried on with our life.” By comparison, Mr. Trump said, a potential death toll of 100,000 “is a very low number.”

But on a day when the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus surged above 3,900, surpassing China’s official count, the pandemic’s personal and financial toll continued to play out across the nation.

A chorus of governors from across the political spectrum publicly challenged the Trump administration’s assertion that the United States is well-stocked and well-prepared to test people for the coronavirus and care for the sickest patients. In many cases, the governors said, the country’s patchwork approach had left them bidding against one another for supplies.

Karuna Nundy, a lawyer at the Supreme Court, said that the government had asked for a “de facto gag” on the news media and that the Supreme Court’s order means every outlet must carry the government’s version of events, though journalists can still present independent reporting.

India has reported around 1,400 coronavirus cases, relatively low compared with other countries. But many Indians fear that their weak public health system will be overwhelmed if cases begin to multiply. Some public health professionals say there are likely many more cases that have not been detected because of limits on testing.

The emergency legislation enacted by Congress with support from Republicans and President Trump has intensified a long-running debate about whether the United States does enough in ordinary times to protect the needy.

After Mr. Trump and congressional Republicans spent the last three years fighting to cut anti-poverty programs and expand work rules, their support for the emergency relief — especially in the form of directly sending people checks, usually a nonstarter in American politics — is a significant reversal of their effort to shrink the safety net.

Those who support more government help for low-income families say the crisis has revealed holes in the safety net that the needy have long understood. It is a patchwork system, largely built for good times, and offers little cash aid to people not working. It pushes the poor to find jobs, and supports many who do, but offers little protection for those without them.

Most rich countries have universal health insurance and provide a minimum cash income for families with children. The United States has neither as well as higher rates of child poverty.

And to a degree that casual observers may not understand, the Trump administration has tried both to shrink safety net programs and make eligibility for them dependent on having a job or joining a work program.

But while Republicans have agreed to emergency checks, many did so reluctantly, thinking the safety net is already too large. The $2 trillion rescue package ran into last-minute delays last week when four Senate Republicans said the temporary increase in unemployment benefits was too high and would dissuade people from working.

Conservatives say the limits on public aid are a strength of the American system, and they credit work requirements for cutting child poverty in recent years to record lows. If anything, most would go further in extending work requirements to programs where they have been limited or missing, like food stamps and Medicaid.

While political leaders have locked their borders, scientists have been shattering theirs, creating a global collaboration unlike any in history. Never before, researchers say, have so many experts in so many countries focused simultaneously on a single topic and with such urgency. Nearly all research, other than anything related to coronavirus, has ground to a halt.

Normal imperatives like academic credit have been set aside. Online repositories make studies available months ahead of journals. Researchers have identified and shared hundreds of viral genome sequences. More than 200 clinical trials have been started, bringing together hospitals and laboratories around the globe.

On a recent morning, for example, scientists at the University of Pittsburgh discovered that a ferret exposed to Covid-19 particles had developed a high fever — a potential advance toward animal vaccine testing. Under ordinary circumstances, they would have started work on an academic journal article.

“But you know what? There is going to be plenty of time to get papers published,” said Paul Duprex, a virologist leading the university’s vaccine research. Within two hours, he said, he had shared the findings with scientists around the world on a World Health Organization conference call. “It is pretty cool, right? You cut the crap, for lack of a better word, and you get to be part of a global enterprise.”

Dr. Duprex’s lab in Pittsburgh is collaborating with the Pasteur Institute in Paris and the Austrian drug company Themis Bioscience. The consortium has received funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation, a Norway-based organization financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a group of governments, and is in talks with the Serum Institute of India, one of the largest vaccine manufacturers in the world.

The clamor for corporate funding is raising concerns about a financial reckoning reminiscent of 2008.

In a single week in March, as financial markets convulsed and major parts of the economy began shutting down, banks made over $240 billion in new loans to companies — twice as much in new lending as they would ordinarily extend in a full year.

American companies are reeling from the body blow dealt by the pandemic. As revenues dwindle, travel slows and production lines halt, companies have begun to furlough or lay off employees, slash investment in operations and buy less from their suppliers. With no way to tell when the economy will restart, they are racing to conserve money and tap as much credit as possible.

The new reality, say bankers and analysts, will be tough for companies that had grown accustomed to the easy money of the past decade. Enticed by ultralow interest rates, they borrowed trillions of dollars in new debt in the belief that banks would keep lending and the debt markets would always be open. Now many indebted companies, even those whose business has not taken a direct hit from the outbreak, are finding that they have to adapt to an era in which cash is suddenly much harder to raise.

Taiwan announced on Wednesday that it would donate 10 million surgical masks to the United States and other countries, a gesture intended to highlight its success in combating the coronavirus and its exclusion from the world’s leading international health body.

Joanne Ou, the spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Taiwan would donate two million masks to American front-line medical workers, in addition to the 100,000 masks per week it had previously pledged.

“It is a small gesture by Taiwan as a responsible country,” Ms. Ou said in an interview. “It is the least we can do, especially during these challenging times.”

Taiwan, which has a population of 23 million, is now manufacturing 13 million masks per day.

The government is hoping that its gesture of good will at a time of international crisis will spotlight the country’s exclusion from the World Health Organization. China insists it controls the island, and refuses to allow any United Nations organizations, including the W.H.O., to recognize its autonomy.

As of Tuesday, Taiwan had only 322 reported coronavirus cases and five deaths. But China’s government insists Taiwan’s numbers should be included in its tally.

In addition to the United States-bound shipment, Taiwan will seven million masks to European countries and one million to the 15 remaining countries that officially recognize its government.

On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed support for Taiwan’s observer status in the W.H.O.’s decision-making body, the World Health Assembly. That followed President Trump’s signing of the TAIPEI Act, which calls for the United States to support Taiwan’s push for inclusion in international organizations.

Laundry, grocery shopping, even walking the dog is fraught with challenges these days. The key to accomplish any essential task is a little preparation, levelheaded thinking and a lot of hand washing before and after. (A few anti-bacterial wipes can’t hurt either.)

Reporting was contributed by Austin Ramzy, Keith Bradsher, Andrew Das, Michael D. Shear, Elian Peltier, David D. Kirkpatrick, Kate Kelly, Peter Eavis, Mujib Mashal,Matt Apuzzo and Chris Horton.


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