Coronavirus World Updates: India, Germany, China, Spain

The Four Percent


On May 1, a visibly relieved Matt Hancock announced that the British government had exceeded its target of 100,000 coronavirus tests a day. As health secretary, Mr. Hancock had set the goal after enduring intense criticism for the country’s lagging coronavirus testing program.

He called the milestone “an incredible achievement.”

But leaked documents and interviews with doctors, lab directors and other experts show that the push to hit the April 30 deadline — and arguably salvage Mr. Hancock’s career — placed a huge strain on public laboratories and exposed other problems that are now slowing efforts to further expand coronavirus testing.

Days before the deadline, some hospitals in England were given 48 hours to rapidly expand testing to thousands of health care workers and patients, even though they were not exhibiting any symptoms of the virus, the documents show.

At the same time, public labs across the country raced through limited supplies of the chemical reagents needed to carry out a flood of tests after the government promised to replenish their supplies. Two weeks later, some labs still haven’t received the stocks they need, forcing some to reduce the number of new tests they can process, several lab managers said.

Britain has recorded the most coronavirus deaths of any country in Europe, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservative government have come under mounting criticism for an often-inconsistent response to the pandemic, especially on testing.

“Evil.” “Lunacy.” “Shameless.” “Sick and twisted.” China has hit back at American criticism of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic with an outpouring of vitriol as acrid as anything seen in decades.

The bitter recriminations have plunged relations between China and the United States to a nadir, with warnings in both countries that the bad blood threatens to draw them into a new kind of Cold War.

At about the same time, China, citing the urgency of the pandemic, demanded that the United States promptly pay its delinquent United Nations assessments, which by some calculations now exceed $2 billion. China, the second-biggest financial contributor to the U.N. budget behind the United States, fully paid on May 1. The United States responded by saying it customarily pays assessments at year’s end and that China was “eager to distract attention from its cover-up and mismanagement of the Covid-19 crisis.”

The cycle of tit-for-tat statements and actions is solidifying longstanding suspicions in Beijing that the United States and its allies are bent on stifling China’s rise as a global economic, diplomatic and military power.

Hard-liners are calling on Beijing to be more defiant, emboldened by the Trump administration’s efforts to blame China for the rising death toll in the United States. Moderates are warning that Beijing’s strident responses could backfire, isolating the country when it most needs export markets and diplomatic partners to revive its economy and regain international credibility.

Now, the clash with the United States over the pandemic is fanning broader tensions on trade, espionage and other fronts — disputes that could intensify as President Trump makes his contest with Beijing a theme of his re-election campaign.

Hannah Beech, the Southeast Asia bureau chief for The Times, is based in Bangkok and covers conflict and natural disasters in about a dozen countries. Among them is Myanmar, where she has reported on the military’s campaign of ethnic cleansing targeting the Rohingya Muslim minority. In the course of her reporting in the region, she has met children whose parents killed themselves as suicide bombers and others who watched as soldiers bayoneted their relatives.

I didn’t want to be that parent, the one who talks about how when I was a child I had to walk uphill both ways, in the snow, just to get to school.

For one thing, I spent some of my childhood in Bangkok, where I now live with my husband and two sons. There is no snow in Bangkok and not much uphill.

So when my boys, ages 10 and 12, ask me at dinner what I did on a reporting trip — “going away again,” as they call it — I often hesitate.

“Well, Mama interviewed women who were raped when they were trying to flee their homes,” doesn’t seem quite right for the dinner table. Or, “Well, Mama put Mentholatum under her nose because it makes death smell a little less bad.”

But I don’t want to coddle them either. My husband and I ensure that the kids eat what we eat, even if it’s okra. We make them read The Times.

I find myself, too often, comparing them, in their privileged bubble of international school and summer camp in Maine, to the boy I met in a refugee camp or the girl with the big eyes who lost her parents in one of Southeast Asia’s drumbeat of disasters: earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, landslides, floods, plane crashes, bombings.

Brazil’s health minister, Nelson Teich, announced on Friday that he was stepping down less than a month after taking the job, after clashing with President Jair Bolsonaro over the president’s refusal to embrace social distancing and quarantines.

While governors and mayors in much of the country have urged Brazilians to stay home as much as possible, Mr. Bolsonaro has implored them to go out and work, arguing that an economic unraveling would be more damaging to the country than the virus. This week he classified beauty salons and gyms as essential businesses that should remain open.

Brazil has recorded more than 200,000 confirmed infections and over 14,000 deaths, and those figures, among the highest in the world, are rising sharply. Experts say the numbers grossly undercount the toll extent of the epidemic because Brazil has limited testing capacity.

Officially, Brazil is recording more than 800 deaths per day, second only to the United States.

During a news conference Friday afternoon, Mr. Teich did not provide a reason for his resignation.

“Life is made up of choices, and today I chose to leave,” he said. “I didn’t accept the job for the position itself. I accepted it because I thought I could help the country and its people.”

A replacement had not been announced as of Friday afternoon. It was unclear whether Mr. Bolsonaro intended to appoint a new minister with medical expertise. The second-highest ranking official at the ministry, Eduardo Pazuello, is an active-duty Army general who has been in the job a few weeks.

The German government, which reported the data on Friday, said the biggest hit came in March and will probably be worse in April, when consumer spending, capital investment and exports — a major driver of growth in Germany — fell off a cliff.

“Things will get worse before they get better,” Carsten Brzeski, the chief eurozone economist at ING, said in a note to clients.

While the worst of the pandemic is beginning to ease, with Germany and other countries slowly easing their lockdowns, Germany’s contraction was a reminder that even if the virus dissipates, the economic fallout could put pressure on the European and global economy for months or years. Germany is not only Europe’s largest economy, it is one of the most dynamic in the world.

Germany and its neighbors are spending hundreds of billions of euros in fiscal measures to stem the damage, and economists say more stimulus will be needed. Still, the huge fiscal support that Germany has provided to businesses and individuals, equal to around 30 percent of gross domestic product, could allow it to exit the economic crisis “earlier and stronger than most other countries,” Mr. Brzeski wrote.

And like several other countries that have done well in handling the pandemic, they are led by women.

These successes may not prove anything intrinsic about women’s leadership, but could, experts say, offer valuable lessons about crisis management.

Ms. Merkel’s government, for example, considered epidemiological models, the input of medical providers and the success of South Korea’s efforts. By contrast, governments in many countries with high death tolls have relied primarily on their own advisers, with few channels for dissent or outside views.

Women, however powerful, often have to avoid such behaviors or risk being “seen as unfeminine,” said Alice Evans, a sociologist at King’s College London.

Male leaders can overcome gendered expectations. But it may be less politically costly for women to adopt cautious, defensive policies because it does not violate perceived gender norms.

Ms. Ardern, after imposing a strict lockdown, addressed New Zealand via a casual Facebook Live from her home. She expressed empathy for the anxious and offering rueful apologies to those startled by the emergency cellphone alert that announced the lockdown order.

The two filmmakers are among the few who have found their way back into production amid a pandemic. Everyone wants to know how they did it.

Mr. Kormakur uses armbands to keep groups of people apart: Those wearing yellow can be near the camera; the actors, and the makeup and costume professionals wear black and spent most of their prep time in a cordoned-off area of the set; and the producers, script supervisors and visual effects people wear red and are sequestered near the monitors. A lucky few have blue armbands, giving them access to all areas of the set.

“This way we could monitor each other,” he said. “It’s hard with crews. People have a tendency to roam, and it’s easy to lose control of it.”

On Mr. Foster’s set, the cast and crew were required to fill out wellness questionnaires at the beginning and end of each day. Temperatures were checked. Surfaces were sanitized.

During one particularly challenging sequence shot at night, the actors were dressed in neoprene suits both to keep them warm and to offer them another level of protection when they came in close contact during the scene.

Ty, a British rapper known for a lyrically thoughtful, musically polyglot approach to hip-hop and for serving as a bridge between generations of British rap, died on May 7 in London. He was 47.

In the late 1990s and 2000s, just before the early flickers of the rap-adjacent genre known as grime presaged a sound and scene with a firm British identity, Ty was among the most adventurous British M.C.s — a wordplay-focused scene-builder indebted to American movements like the Native Tongues and the New York underground. Though he received critical acclaim, including a nomination for the prestigious Mercury Music Prize in 2004, he often expressed his frustrations with how the more commercial strains of hip-hop tended to shut out unconventional voices.

Many countries have been watching China’s economic performance closely because it is several months ahead of the rest of the world in coping with the virus, which has sickened more than 4.4 million people and killed more than 300,000. The Chinese economy shrank in the first three months of this year for the first time since Mao Zedong died in 1976.

Factories caught up on orders that they had struggled to fill earlier this year, when the coronavirus pandemic raced across the country. The country’s industrial production was up 3.9 percent from April of last year, better than most economists expected. Production had been down 1.1 percent in March from a year earlier and had plunged in February, when the virus outbreak was at its worst in China.

But shopping and fixed asset investment stayed weak. Retail sales were down 7.5 percent in April compared to a year earlier, marginally worse than economists’ expectations.

“We should be aware that given the continuous spread of the epidemic abroad, the stability and recovery of the national economy is still faced with multiple challenges,” said Liu Aihua, the director general of the agency’s department of comprehensive statistics.

Strong exports kept factories busy last month. Many factories were catching up on orders placed while Chinese cities were locked down. But orders for further exports have stalled, according to surveys of purchasing managers.

Despite the progress, tens of millions of migrant workers are unemployed. Many white-collar workers have suffered pay cuts. Weak consumption has some economists wondering how long China can sustain an economic rebound.

Tom Moore is charming, droll and confoundingly energetic. At age 99, he was mowing the lawn and driving his car. When he broke his hip 18 months ago, he bought a treadmill to speed his rehabilitation.

Hannah Ingram-Moore, his daughter, said she knew her dad was a good story, but nothing could have prepared them for the media whirlwind that has swept Mr. Moore, a decorated World War II veteran, to superstardom.

“The first step was the hardest,” he said in an interview conducted by video link. “After that, I got into the swing of it and kept on going.”

It was his daughter who suggested posting a charity challenge online to try to raise £1,000, about $1,220, for the N.H.S.

He did a bit better than that.

Before long, news outlets from multiple continents were broadcasting pictures of “Captain Tom” ambling with his walker, military medals gleaming on his blue blazer. With deaths mounting and the economy crumbling, he was an antidote to a time with no actual antidotes.

Mr. Moore, who turned 100 on April 30, raised £32.8 million.

He drew a direct line from the beleaguered health workers of today to the soldiers of his generation.

In the war, “we were fighting on the front line and the general public was standing behind us,” Mr. Moore said. “In this instance, the doctors and nurses and all the medical people, they’re the front line.”

Sweden’s coronavirus outbreak has been far deadlier than those of its neighbors, but the country is still better off than many others that enforced strict lockdowns.

By late March, nearly every country in Europe had closed schools and businesses, restricted travel, and ordered citizens to stay home. But one stood out for its decision to stay open: Sweden.

In Stockholm, where the virus spread through migrant communities, more than twice the usual number of people died last month. That increase far surpasses the rise in deaths in American cities like Boston and Chicago, and approaches the increase seen in Paris.

Across Sweden, almost 30 percent more people died during the epidemic than is normal this time of year, an increase similar to that of the United States and far higher than the small increases seen in its neighboring countries. While Sweden is the largest country in Scandinavia, all have strong public health care systems and low health inequality across the population.

“It’s not a very flattering comparison for Sweden, which has such a great public health system,” said Andrew Noymer, a demographer at the University of California at Irvine. “There’s no reason Sweden should be doing worse than Norway, Denmark and Finland.”

Slovenia became the first European country to declare an end to its national coronavirus epidemic on Friday, easing border crossings into the small Alpine country for residents of the European Union and announcing that classes in some schools and day care centers would resume as early as Monday.

“It’s a success, and we did it together,” Jelko Kacin, a government spokesman, said at a daily televised briefing on Friday.

The spread of the coronavirus in Slovenia is under control and there is no longer a need for extraordinary restrictions, the government said in a statement, but added that preventive measures such as social distancing and wearing masks in closed spaces would remain in place for the population of some two million.

Slovenia moved quickly and early to introduce measures to stem the spread of the virus, with the government declaring a nationwide epidemic on March 12 and imposing tight restrictions on movement around the country as the disease ravaged neighboring Italy. The public has largely abided by the tough rules and the number of deaths and confirmed infections from the virus has remained comparatively low.

With the new announcement, citizens of E.U. countries can now freely cross into Slovenia at designated border crossings, the government said. But citizens outside the bloc will have a 14-day quarantine period after entry.

Earlier this month, the government began easing restrictions and lifted the ban on movement within the country. Last week, cafes, shops and museums reopened and public transportation resumed. Cultural events in theaters and concert halls will remain suspended at least until the end of the month.

But throughout the crisis, the right-wing government of Prime Minister Janez Jansa has faced criticism, with the opposition accusing him of exploiting the pandemic to silence critics, including the nation’s public broadcaster, and empower police.

As public life begins again in Germany, face masks have become an essential accessory, required in schools, in museums, on public transportation and in most businesses.

Now a number of the country’s ubiquitous vending machines — Germany has nearly 580,000 — are being restocked to provide easy access to masks.

At least six leading vending machine operators are now offering masks and disinfectants in their machines.

“We recognized early on that there is a real need to obtain the most important hygiene articles quickly and easily in order to actively counteract the spread of the coronavirus,” Manuela Zimmermann, the head of Selecta Germany, a large operator that will restock 500 of its machines to carry masks and disinfectants. “Our machines are there, where the people are.”

A mask is 2 euros ($2.17) at a Selecta machine.

Holger Ballwanz, the director of a vending machine company in Berlin, has taken the idea one step further, introducing a tiny vending machine designed to just sell one item — face masks.

His company Flavura, which typically specializes in coffee vending machines, came up with a design he calls the Maskomat, which he says is easier to set up and maintain and takes up less space than a traditional vending machine.

“Imagine I get to the barber and realize I’ve forgotten my mask in the office,” he said in a telephone interview. “A barber could have one of those in the shop.”

Gatherings of groups are still banned, but the protesters have drawn support from opposition politicians, including the conservative leader of the Madrid region, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, who also warned this week that future protests would make the ones in the Salamanca neighborhood “look like a joke.”

José Luis Martínez-Almeida, the mayor of Madrid, said citizens had the right to protest in a functioning democracy, but he urged those gathering in Salamanca in the evenings to respect social distancing rules.

The residents are far from alone in feeling the pain of the two-month lockdown, but their protests have drawn criticism from those on the left, at a time when lines for food handouts have been growing in many of Spain’s poorer communities.

If the Salamanca protests were instead taking place in a less affluent neighborhood, “all these people would already be identified and fined” by the police, said Pablo Echenique, a lawmaker from the far-left Unidas Podemos party.

Countries across East Africa have introduced some of the strictest measures on the continent to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, with movement between provinces halted in Rwanda, counties in Kenya locked down, and all but essential businesses shuttered in Uganda.

But the tally of confirmed coronavirus cases continues to grow in the region. Transmissions from long-haul truck drivers are now being cited as one of the ways that are spreading the disease quickly, and new figures show they are likely to be carrying the virus across borders.

The drivers are considered essential workers because they transport food and medicine across borders. They are particularly crucial in delivering much-needed goods to landlocked countries like Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda.

The last time Muslim worshipers were kept out of the Aqsa Mosque compound throughout Ramadan was when medieval crusaders controlled Jerusalem.

Now, the coronavirus pandemic has done what the intervening centuries had not: largely emptying the often crowded and chaotic spaces of Islam’s third holiest site, where Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.

Instead of attending elaborate fast-breaking iftar feasts with extended family members and smoking water pipes at thronged cafes, the region’s Muslims have spent much of their time in unwelcome isolation.

The Aqsa, which Jews refer to as the Temple Mount and revere as their holiest site, has been at the center of Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

While the Aqsa has been closed to the Muslim public, the imams who work there have continued to deliver sermons in it, livestreaming over Facebook special Ramadan evening prayers, known as taraweeh, as well as Friday afternoon prayers. Tens of thousands of social media users have viewed the broadcasts.

Democratic leaders characterized the package, which President Trump has promised to veto, as their opening offer in future negotiations over the next round of coronavirus aid, forging ahead in passing it even amid rifts within their own ranks.

The bill passed on a tight margin, 208-199, as some moderate Democrats from conservative-leaning districts rejected it as a costly overreach that included provisions unrelated to the pandemic.

Reporting was contributed by Mike Baker, Ben Casselman, Sapna Maheshwari, Michael Cooper, Mike Baker, Jon Caramanica, Jane Bradley, Mark Landler, Richard Pérez-Peña, Susanna Timmons, Andrea Kannapell, Ernesto Londoño, Hannah Beech, Amanda Taub, Adam Rasgon, Barbara Surk, Christopher F. Schuetze, Abdi Latif Dahir, Raphael Minder, Liz Alderman, Megan Specia, Allison McCann, Lauren Leatherby, Isabella Kwai, Rick Gladstone, Jason Gutierrez, Knvul Sheikh, Keith Bradsher, Jacey Fortin, Jack Ewing, Ben Casselman, Sapna Maheshwari, and Roni Caryn Rabin.


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