Top U.K. Scientist Resigns Over Coronavirus Distancing Violation

The Four Percent


Neil Ferguson, the epidemiologist whose frightening projections of coronavirus deaths precipitated the lockdown in Britain, resigned from the government’s scientific advisory group on Tuesday, after admitting he breached social distancing rules by illicitly meeting his lover.

“I deeply regret any undermining of the clear messages around the continued need for social distancing,” said Dr. Ferguson, who has become a household name in Britain over the last two months, preaching the virtues of staying apart.

Leading a respected team of scientists at Imperial College London, Dr. Ferguson has long been an influential voice on infectious diseases. But he achieved a new level of notoriety in mid-March, with a report warning that without steps to control it, the virus could kill 250,000 to 510,000 Britons.

During this period of confinement, the Telegraph reported that Dr. Ferguson, 51, allowed a woman with whom he had a relationship to visit him at home. He had just come out of his own self-isolation after suffering from Covid-19.

In his statement to the Telegraph, he said, “I acted in the belief that I was immune, having tested positive for coronavirus and completely isolated myself for almost two weeks after developing symptoms.”

Dr. Ferguson sat on the government’s secretive Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies, or SAGE. His membership was only formally confirmed on Monday, when the government published the names of 50 of the 52 members.

Israel, whose aggressive response to the coronavirus has held its fatality rate to a fraction of those of the United States and other hard-hit nations, is readying a nationwide serological test of 100,000 citizens to see how widely the virus has spread across its population and how vulnerable it may be to a new wave of the contagion.

The results could aid in deciding how quickly businesses and schools should be allowed to return to normal operations. On Monday, Israel announced that citizens could leave their homes after a 40-day lockdown, but many aspects of economic and social life remain curtailed.

Officials say they hope the survey will identify the portion of the healthy population that has not yet been exposed to the virus, and the portion that has already been exposed but has developed antibodies to it. The answers could have enormous implications for a country’s capacity to withstand a new wave of the virus.

If antibody tests show that a sizable portion of the population has developed antibodies, that could mean Israel is on its way to “herd immunity” and would be well equipped to withstand further outbreaks.

More than 170 years ago, the Choctaw Nation sent $170 from Oklahoma to starving Irish families during the potato famine. A sculpture in County Cork commemorates the generosity of the tribe, itself poor.

“I’d already known what the Choctaw did in the famine, so short a time after they’d been through the Trail of Tears,” Sean Callahan, 43, an Apple administrator in Cork City who made a donation, said on Tuesday. “It always struck me for its kindness and generosity and I see that too in the Irish people. It seemed the right time to try and pay it back in kind.”

On Sunday the organizers wrote on the page that “acts of kindness from Indigenous ancestors passed being reciprocated nearly 200 years later through blood memory and interconnectedness. Thank you, IRELAND, for showing solidarity and being here for us.”

Gary Batton, chief of the Choctaw Nation Oklahoma, said in a statement that the tribe was “gratified — and perhaps not at all surprised — to learn of the assistance our special friends, the Irish, are giving to the Navajo and Hopi nations.”

A major media network in the Philippines was forced off the air on Tuesday, making it the first major broadcaster to have met such a fate during the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, which is cracking down on news outlets that have been critical of his leadership.

The government’s telecommunications commission issued ABS-CBN Corp. a cease-and-desist order one day after the media giant’s broadcast franchise, which is granted by Congress, expired.

Mr. Duterte had earlier warned that he would not allow the renewal of ABS-CBN’s broadcast franchise. The House of Representatives, which is stacked with allies of Mr. Duterte, has sat on several bills supporting the network’s license renewal.

The network, which has closely documented Mr. Duterte’s brutal war on drugs that has left thousands of people dead, said that it would comply with the order.

“Millions of Filipinos will lose their source of news and entertainment when ABS-CBN is ordered to go off the air on TV and radio tonight when people need crucial and timely information as the nation deals with the Covid-19 pandemic,” the company said.

ABS-CBN is known for its prime time flagship news program, TV Patrol, as well as soaps and afternoon variety TV shows. Its offerings also include coverage of popular sports such as basketball and boxing.

Human Rights Watch decried the government’s move to shut down the network, saying the solicitor general should “stop acting like Duterte’s attack dog.”

French doctors say they have discovered that a patient treated in late December had the coronavirus — a finding that, if verified, suggests that the virus appeared in Europe nearly a month earlier than previously understood.

The finding came this week after doctors tested samples taken from patients in late December and early January. One of those, taken on Dec. 27 from a patient who had pneumonia, tested positive.

That was days before Chinese authorities first reported the new illness to the World Health Organization, weeks before the Chinese acknowledged that human-to-human transmission of the virus was possible, and nearly a month before the first report of an infection in Europe, on Jan. 24 in France.

The man who was apparently infected in December had not been outside France since August, indicating that the virus was circulating within the country last fall. It is not clear if he passed it to anyone.

The French government did not comment on the case on Tuesday.

As Covid-19 cuts a wide swath through the Russian Orthodox Church’s monasteries and parishes, many clerics are thundering against both the coronavirus and the government’s efforts to contain it, carving a deep rift between the usually allied powers of church and state.

As the government tries to block public gatherings like church services, some priests have complied readily, keeping parish doors locked and urging worshipers to take part by video link.

But others preach that it is impossible to become infected in a church, or threaten damnation for those who enforce or obey the restrictions. They have resisted shutting even monasteries devastated by the virus.

A bishop in the northern Komi region declared that ringing church bells was the best way to combat the pandemic. He claimed that the word coronavirus, from the Latin for crown, is “not coincidental but is linked to the coronation and enthronement of the Antichrist.”

The outburst of discord is rare within the rigidly hierarchical church. Patriarch Kirill, the head of the church and an ally of President Vladimir V. Putin, has wavered between enforcing the government’s social distancing orders and placating the most fervent clerics. He urged worshipers to skip Holy Week services last month — but left it up to each diocese whether to hold them.

The patriarch issued an order last week that monastery abbots and parish rectors in Moscow must comply with lockdown measures, but so far he has taken formal disciplinary action against only one cleric: the relatively liberal Andrei Kuraev, who mocked the head of a Moscow cathedral who had died from the virus.

Russia has been recording more than 10,000 new confirmed infections per day.

Based on their data, the researchers estimated that closing schools could reduce cases by about 40 to 60 percent.

The Indian government is set to begin an enormous repatriation mission using jumbo jets and naval warships to rescue thousands of Indian citizens stranded in other countries, especially in the Persian Gulf.

Flights are scheduled to start Thursday. Only passengers without coronavirus symptoms will be allowed to travel, the Indian government said.

The country has so far been spared a high death toll, and remains cautious about letting in foreigners or Indians from abroad. India was one of the first major countries to shut down all international flights.

Millions of Indians work in the Arab world — particularly in the oil-rich countries of the gulf, also known as Arabian Gulf — and many have lost their jobs in recent weeks as Arab economies have contracted under lockdown.

“We have been getting distress calls from the Gulf,” said Mahesh Kumar, a spokesman for India’s foreign ministry.

Upon arrival, the returnees would be quarantined for 14 days.

There are also thousands of Indians studying abroad, including many in Europe and the United States, who want to come home.

“With universities and colleges closed, they have few options left,” Mr. Kumar said.

As the United States continues easing coronavirus restrictions, President Trump said on Tuesday that the White House’s task force for pandemic would be shut down and replaced with “something in a different form.”

The president said his administration is “looking at Phase 2, and we’re looking at other phases,” after he was asked whether it was a good idea to shut down the task force while the virus was still spreading through the country.

Administration officials have been telling staff members of the task force that the White House plans to wind down the operation in the weeks to come, despite growing evidence that the crisis is still raging.

It’s unclear exactly what might replace the task force.

Also Tuesday:

As countries decide how strict or loose to be about social distancing, they are finding that, as in the United States, they have no guarantee of cooperation from local and regional officials.

Mayors running for re-election in Ukraine have defied a national lockdown and invited restaurants and hair salons to resume business, despite threats of criminal prosecution for doing so. The mayor of Cherkasy allowed outdoor seating at restaurants, cheering local business owners.

Sardinia’s governor, Christian Solinas, announced Saturday that barbershops, hair salons, tattoo parlors and clothing stores could open on May 11, three weeks ahead of the schedule set by Rome. He said Masses, prohibited nationally, could be celebrated next week.

One Sardinian mayor, Settimo Nizzi of Olbia, said that restaurants and bars could start seating customers on May 18.

In Germany, mayors have protested the lockdown rules but so far have followed them. Boris Palmer, the mayor of Tübingen, in the country’s southwest, suggested that reviving the economy mattered more than the lives of potential coronavirus victims, whom he characterized as old and unwell.

“Let me be blunt: In Germany, we might be saving people who would be dead in half a year anyway,” he said in a TV interview last Tuesday.

French mayors have resisted national policies — but in favor of more restriction, not less. Defying the central government, several cities tried to require mask-wearing in public.

Over 300 mayors from the Paris region have asked the government to push back the timetable for reopening schools. Many fear being held legally responsible if teachers or students are infected.

Immigration rights activists on Tuesday filed a federal lawsuit challenging a provision in the $2 trillion relief act that denies $500 payments to the children of United States citizens if one or both of their parents are undocumented immigrants, Michael D. Shear reports.

The lawsuit, filed by CASA, an immigrant rights group, and the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown University, says the provision amounts to unconstitutional discrimination against the children, who are American citizens.

The suit, which claims discrimination on behalf of several children, adds that the provision amounts to “punishment that is particularly nonsensical given that undocumented immigrants, collectively, pay billions of dollars each year in taxes. More fundamentally, this discrimination violates the equal protection principles embodied in the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.”

The lawsuit notes that other means-tested federal benefits programs — like food stamps, child tax credits, and child nutrition programs — are not restricted in the same way.

Defenders of the provision note that children with so-called “mixed-status” parent — an undocumented parent married to a United States citizen — can receive the payments if their parents file their taxes separately rather than jointly. But the lawsuit points out that doing so often increases other tax obligations, effectively wiping out the relief payments.

“Thus, U.S. citizen children who have mixed-status parents are denied benefits equal to those available to similarly situated U.S. citizen children who have no undocumented parents,” the groups say in the lawsuit.

The tonnage of China’s net exports of respirators and surgical masks was down 5 percent in March from the same month a year earlier, according to an analysis by Chad Bown, a trade specialist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

The analysis, based on Beijing’s own customs data, also found that China cut way back on exports of medical supplies in January and February and stepped up imports in those months.

Norwegian Cruise Line, one of the world’s largest cruise companies, said on Tuesday that there was “substantial doubt” about its ability to survive the pandemic.

Norwegian acknowledged the dire situation in a securities filing announcing that it was seeking $650 million in new financing. The global shutdown of the cruise industry has strained the finances of all three major cruise companies — Norwegian and its two main rivals, Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean — forcing them to borrow money at high interest rates.

Lawmakers and epidemiologists have blamed Carnival for failing to contain outbreaks and spreading the virus across the world. Its response to the pandemic is the subject of a criminal investigation by the Australian police and a congressional investigation in the United States.

The prime minister, however, has glossed over one crucial fact: There is no solid evidence that Avigan works against Covid-19. While it has shown potential for treating some deadly diseases like Ebola in animal studies, there are limited findings that it works for any illness in humans.

His pitches for the medication, like Mr. Trump’s testimonials for the antimalarial medicine hydroxychloroquine, are adding to concerns that national leaders could warp drug approval processes.

A fund-raising conference on Monday organized by the European Union brought pledges from countries around the world — including Japan, Canada, Australia and Norway — to fund laboratories that have promising leads in developing and producing a vaccine.

For more than three hours, one by one, global leaders said a few words over video link and offered their nations’ contribution, small or large, whatever they could muster. For Romania, it was $200,000. For Canada, $850 million. The biggest contributors were the European Union and Norway, with each pledging one billion euros, or $1.1 billion.

The details of how the money raised will be distributed remain to be sorted out. The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union that spearheaded the initiative, said the money would be spent over the next two years to support promising initiatives around the globe. The ultimate goal is to deliver universal and affordable access to medication to fight Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

In Washington on Monday, senior Trump administration officials sought to talk up American contributions to coronavirus vaccine efforts worldwide, but did not explain the United States’ absence at the European-organized conference.

The U.S. government has spent money on vaccine research and development, including $2.6 billion through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, an arm of the Health and Human Services Department. Jim Richardson, the State Department’s director of foreign assistance, said American companies had also provided $7 billion so far toward a coronavirus vaccine and treatment.

And the United States was not the world’s only major power to be absent from the teleconference. Russia, too, did not participate.

China, where the virus originated, was represented by its ambassador to the European Union and made no financial pledge.

The country has slashed red tape and offered resources to drug companies in a bid to empower the country’s vaccine industry. Four Chinese companies have begun testing their vaccine candidates on humans, more than the United States and Britain combined.

Lines nearly a mile long. Police officers thumping shoppers with sticks. Gates suddenly slamming shut.

Firoz Alam, an out-of-work factory worker, had been waiting for five hours on Tuesday to buy a bottle of whiskey from a Delhi shop. He said he hadn’t had a drink for weeks.

“I haven’t been able to sleep well lately,” he explained. “So I just wanted to buy some liquor and sleep for a couple hours.”

But his dry spell was destined to continue. Police officers summarily closed the liquor shop, as they have done at many locations, because the crowd was too big and getting out of control.

“That’s not good,” Mr. Alam said. “We’re not like the rich people who can get this through the black market.”

Starting Monday, India’s central government permitted liquor shops to reopen outside virus hot spots as long there were no crowds and people maintained social distance. But in some places, lines snaked for more than a kilometer. Picture thousands of men, pressed together, cheek by jowl, eager for a drink.

“Why are you out of line? Maintain your distance! Go away!” a clearly frustrated police officer at another shop in Delhi yelled as he lashed out with a long wooden stick.

Chewing sunflower seeds is frowned upon — what would one do with the shells? Players are encouraged to bump elbows rather than give each other high-fives.

Players and coaches say they feel fortunate to be able to host games at all when many cities in the world remain under lockdown.

“We know many people are still keeping their eyes on us, even though there are no fans,said Chiu Chang-Jung, the manager of the CTBC Brothers team, which on Saturday took on the Rakuten Monkeys at the stadium in Taoyuan, about 30 miles west of Taiwan’s capital, Taipei. “Playing these games is a very lucky and blessed thing.”

“This pandemic is the greatest threat to this generation since the Second World War,” said Stephen D. Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation, which interviews survivors of genocide.

One got out of Nazi Germany on a Kindertransport train to Sweden, never again seeing his parents, who were exterminated in the death camps. One survived two notorious concentration camps, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, and was discovered by British troops on a pile of bodies, half-dead with typhus. One endured freezing temperatures and near starvation in a slave-labor camp in Siberia.

Last month, all three died by the same tiny microorganism, isolated once more from their family members.

And for survivors who have eluded the virus, memories of that dark time, never far out of mind, find new salience in the present plague.

For Diana Kurz, 83, who escaped Vienna with her mother when she was 4 years old, said the coronavirus reminded her of those years in Vienna, when any random encounter might be deadly.

“I guess I picked that up as a child,” she said, “that feeling of dread all the time. That’s what it is like now. You never know if other people on the street are going to give you the virus, or were going to turn you in to the Gestapo because you were a Jew.”

For months, Japanese clinics have been reporting data about the coronavirus to the authorities using fax machines.

That will change on May 17, when medical facilities across the country will be able to report through online portals, streamlining a process that doctors have complained is stuck in the last millennium.

In a country where warehouse workers use mechanized exoskeletons to lift heavy packages and a chart-topping pop singer is a hologram, many in Japan are frustrated and perplexed by the government’s insistence on using old technologies for a wide range of bureaucratic tasks.

The move from paper to pixels seems to have been driven by one doctor’s angst-ridden tweet, lamenting the difficulty of sharing information with the government.

The message received more than 25,000 likes. The most important one came from Defense Minister Taro Kono, who directed it to the attention of Masaaki Taira, a deputy cabinet minister for information technology policy, among other roles.

Within a week, Mr. Taira announced that the process would be moved online.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, who joined Australia’s cabinet meeting on Tuesday to discuss the steps required, said on Monday that the move would depend on continued progress in testing and tracing of coronavirus infections in both countries. That could take weeks or months.

“Both our countries’ strong record of fighting the virus has placed us in the enviable position of being able to plan the next stage in our economic rebuild,” she said.

Ms. Ardern and Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia told reporters on Tuesday that the ‘bubble’ is an important part of the road back to normalcy for both nations.

Such a travel arrangement could potentially be extended into the Pacific — Fiji has only a handful of reported cases and zero deaths. And plans are also being laid for limited travel between other countries that have controlled the spread of infection.

China and South Korea began easing quarantine requirements for some business travelers on Friday. A day later, trade ministers from Australia, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand and Singapore agreed to a collective effort to resume the flow of not just goods and services, but also people traveling “for purposes such as maintaining global supply chains, including essential business travel,” according to a joint statement.

Public health experts say that any resumption of travel comes with risks, but they also note that conditions vary by country. Travelers from the United States, the main source of coronavirus infections in Australia, may have to wait far longer to book flights around the world without being subject to 14-day quarantines.

Reporting was contributed by Ed O’Loughlin, Mihir Zaveri, Elisabetta Povoledo, Christopher F. Schuetze, Maria Varenikova, Karen Zraick, Richard Pérez-Peña, Jeffrey Gettleman, Sameer Yasir, Raphael Minder, David Yaffe-Bellany, Kai Schultz, Keith Bradsher, Aurelien Breeden, Ben Dooley, Choe Sang-Hun, Elian Peltier, Megan Specia, Iliana Magra, Mark Landler, Stephen Castle, Andrew Keh, Javier C. Hernández, Damien Cave, Andrew E. Kramer, Denise Grady, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Lara Jakes and John Leland.


Source link Health

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.