India Loosens Restrictions, Despite Coronavirus Surge

The Four Percent


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.

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.

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.

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.”

“The world is now suffering as a result of the malfeasance of the Chinese government,” Mr. Trump said in a speech in the Rose Garden.

In his 10-minute address, Mr. Trump took no responsibility for the deaths of 100,000 Americans from the virus, instead saying China had “instigated a global pandemic.”

There is no evidence that the W.H.O. or the government in Beijing hid the extent of the epidemic in China, and public health experts generally view Mr. Trump’s charges as a way to deflect attention from his administration’s own bungled attempts to respond to the virus’s spread in the United States.

Public health experts in the United States reacted to Mr. Trump’s announcement with alarm.

A spokeswoman for the W.H.O. in Geneva said the agency would not have a response until Saturday.

It is not clear whether the president can simply withdraw the United States from the World Health Organization without Congressional approval.

The W.H.O. was founded in 1948 as part of the postwar creation of the United Nations and is the world’s premier global health organization.

The coronavirus has been the leading cause of death in the United States since mid-April, killing roughly 100,000 citizens to date. By comparison, China has recorded only 4,600 citizens who have died of the infection.

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.

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.

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.

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.

When experts recommend wearing masks, staying at least six feet away from others, washing your hands frequently and avoiding crowded spaces, what they’re really saying is: Try to minimize the amount of virus you encounter.

A few viral particles cannot make you sick — the immune system would vanquish the intruders before they could. But how much virus is needed for an infection to take root? What is the minimum effective dose?

A precise answer is impossible, because it’s difficult to capture the moment of infection. Scientists are studying ferrets, hamsters and mice for clues but, of course, it wouldn’t be ethical for scientists to expose people to different doses of the coronavirus, as they do with milder cold viruses.

Common respiratory viruses, like influenza and other coronaviruses, should offer some insight. But researchers have found little consistency.

For SARS, also a coronavirus, the estimated infective dose is just a few hundred particles. For MERS, the infective dose is much higher, on the order of thousands of particles.

The new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, is more similar to the SARS virus and, therefore, the infectious dose may be hundreds of particles, Dr. Rasmussen said.

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.

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.

New York City, long the epicenter of the global coronavirus crisis, is poised to start reopening in slightly more than a week, setting the stage for a slow and tentative recovery after two months of suffering, social isolation and economic hardship.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Friday that he expected the city to meet several benchmarks that would permit millions of virus-weary residents to enjoy the first signs of a normal life as early as June 8. Retail stores could open for curbside or in-store pickup, and nonessential construction and manufacturing could resume, part of an initial phase that could send as many as 400,000 people back to work.

Deaths in New York have dropped to dozens a day, rather than the 700 or 800 a day that were taking place in April, and the number of virus patients on intensive care in the city’s public hospitals has fallen by more than half.

That progress largely came because many New Yorkers followed the rules, and have been wearing masks and maintaining social distance as requested. The rewards of vigilance have been manifest not only in decreasing fatalities, but also in the declining number of people testing positive for the virus and those requiring hospital stays because of it.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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?

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?

“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.

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 Kai Schultz, Sameer Yasir, 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, Donald G. McNeil Jr., Andrew Jacobs, Apoorva Mandavilli and Jenny Gross.


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