China Quiets Talk of Coronavirus Cover-Up in Wuhan: Live Coverage

The New York Times

Some countries take tiptoe steps in easing restrictions.

At least a dozen countries — including Germany, Spain, Greece, Belgium, Lithuania, France, Nigeria and Lebanon — began on Monday to ease weeks of restrictions aimed at stemming the spread of the contagion.

But in many places, the much-anticipated relaxation of restrictions looked a lot like a real-time experiment in figuring out how to live with the virus. And while the easing varied country to country, many leaders made clear that things could be shut down again — if citizens grew suddenly too careless.

The problem with relaxing restrictions is that officials will not have a reliable sign of the consequences for at least two weeks — the incubation period of the virus. So there remains the risk that in the blind gap, the virus stealthily surges, setting off another wave of infections, as bad or worse than the first.

Public health experts, while recognizing the need to strike a balance between saving lives and livelihoods, have long warned that opening up shops and releasing citizens from their homes could be more difficult and dangerous than shutting them down.

Even so, India allowed businesses, local transportation and activities like weddings to resume in areas with few or no known infections. Lebanon reopened bars and restaurants.

Nigeria relaxed lockdowns in its capital, Abuja, and its biggest city, Lagos, with markets, stores, malls and construction companies opening.

In Germany, which has reported 163,100 infections and 6,692 deaths, according to the Robert Koch Institute, zoos, museums, hairdressers and barbershops opened on Monday for the first time since mid-March.

In Spain, where more than 25,000 people have died, small businesses reopened on Monday.

The government hopes to return the country to a “new normalcy” by late June, letting some areas with less contagion and hospital saturation open up earlier than more infected parts.

Poland, which began its lockdown on March 14, reopened its hotels, shopping malls and sports areas as well as some museums and art galleries.

The country’s kindergartens and nurseries could also open later this week, though strict new sanitary guidelines and isolation spaces for suspected cases will probably lead many reopenings to be delayed.

Estonia and Lithuania began lifting restrictions, as did Belgium, where construction started up again, and companies from nonessential sectors — including shops selling fabric — were allowed to resume activity.

President Emmanuel Macron of France on Monday called for “calm” and “pragmatism” as the country prepared to slowly lift lockdown restrictions starting on May 11, but he warned that “this isn’t a return to normal, it is a new step.”

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

Prime ministers, a king, a prince and Madonna all chipped in to an $8 billion pot to fund a coronavirus vaccine, but President Trump skipped the chance to contribute. Officials in his administration noted that the United States is pouring billions of dollars into its own research efforts.

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.

The multilateral effort stood in sharp contrast to the solo road the United States is on as scientists everywhere scramble to develop a vaccine to stop the virus that has ravaged most parts of the globe, leaving 250,000 dead so far.

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.

While other countries under lockdown cracked the door open, Israel threw it wide open on Monday, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu all but declared victory over the coronavirus.

“You can leave the house, wherever you want,” Mr. Netanyahu said in a televised address. Israelis had been limited to a 100-meter radius from their front doors, with some exceptions, since March 25.

People are now allowed to gather outdoors in groups of up to 20. Noting the popularity of weddings on the Jewish holiday of Lag b’Omer, which falls on May 12, Mr. Netanyahu said that starting next week, weddings would be permitted with up to 50 attendees, “but no dancing and no touching.”

Israel has reported 16,237 cases of Covid-19 and 234 deaths, and the daily toll of confirmed new infections and fatalities has fallen dramatically. The prime minister attributed the success to the government’s acting quickly to curb air travel, isolate people who had been exposed and use digital surveillance tools to track the infected.

But the easing of restrictions could be reversed just as quickly, he warned. They would resume, he said, if the number of new cases, 29 on Monday, exceeded 100 or doubled in a 10-day period; or if the number of serious or critically ill Covid-19 patients in Israeli hospitals, now 90, reached 250.

Barring such backsliding, he said, weddings with 100 people would be permitted on May 31, “and on June 14, we will abolish the restrictions altogether.”

People in Wuhan, China, demanded that the government explain what went wrong early in the epidemic, and even talked of suing for compensation — only to go silent after reportedly being threatened by the police.

News articles about the outbreak and mourning survivors have been censored. Three volunteers involved in Terminus2049, an online project that archived censored articles, went missing and are presumed detained.

Even grieving family members in Wuhan, where the pandemic began, say they are harassed and monitored as they speak out about their losses.

In the first weeks of the outbreak, local officials denied that there was a problem and punished those who tried to raise the alarm. Now, the central government is clamping down hard on any attempt to air those misdeeds and the resulting suffering.

The ruling Communist Party’s official narrative is of China’s heroic success in taming the disease. It does not tolerate any account that detracts from faith in the party, or from its efforts to pump up patriotic fervor.

China’s rulers have long been wary of public grief, much less calls for accountability. In 2008, after an earthquake in Sichuan Province killed at least 69,000 people, Chinese officials offered hush money to parents whose children had died. Each June, the authorities in Beijing silence family members of protesters who were killed in the 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement.

Zhang Hai said he believes his father, who died in February, was infected with the coronavirus at a Wuhan hospital, and he wants local officials held responsible.

“They spend so much time trying to control us,” he said. “Why can’t they use this energy to address our concerns instead?”

As Italy began its gradual reopening on Monday after the longest lockdown in Europe, success seemed to depend on how relative the meaning of the word “relative” is.

In preparing for the easing of the restrictions last month, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, not known for plain speaking, said that Italians could visit their congiunti, a word that could be translated as relatives but is also broader. Things then got muddier when he said it meant a person of “stable affection.”

A national semantics debate ensued and this weekend, hours before the lockdown lifted, the government tried to settle the issue.

Just friends just didn’t cut it.

Spouses, partners in civil unions and people who had moved in together but found themselves separated by the lockdown could see one another again. But so could people with a “stable affectionate connection.” Also, Italian privacy laws mean that the police cannot force anyone to reveal the identity of the object, or destination, of their affection.

Even despite the confusion, many Italians expect things to be very different in the country starting today.

Donatella Mugnano, a 45-year-old lawyer, sat in a small piazza next to Rome’s Coliseum on Saturday watching her daughter play with friends. She said she felt “serene” to do so, because she knew the other family well and trusted that they had followed the restrictions.

“People can’t wait to get out,” she said, adding that already over the weekend “there are a lot more people out on the street.” She said that at the beginning of the lockdown, people looked at one another as if everyone on the street were “an enemy.”

But she also worried that Italians would take advantage of the liberty allotted them and act in a way that sets off another lockdown.

“There is this tendency to question every rule, to say that it is explained badly and so there is no need to follow it. The feeling,” she said was, “It’s over, enough.”

A migrant shelter in southern Mexico called La 72 has for years been a popular way station for those traveling from Central America to the United States. Last year it received a record number of visitors, sometimes sheltering more than 2,000 a month.

In recent weeks, however, that traffic has come to a grinding halt, and even gone into reverse.

Since late March, amid the coronavirus pandemic, no more than 100 migrants have passed through the shelter. And nearly all were heading south, trying to get back to their homes in Central America.

“We’ve never seen this before,” said Ramón Márquez, the former director of the shelter, told Kirk Semple, a Times reporter based in Mexico City. “I’ve never seen anything slow migration like the coronavirus.”

Border closures, suspended asylum programs, interruptions in global transportation and stay-at-home lockdowns have drastically curbed migration around the world, particularly from poorer nations to rich ones.

In Latin America, once-crowded migratory routes that led from South America, through Central America and Mexico and to the United States, have gone quiet, with the Trump administration seizing on the virus to close the border to almost all migrants.

But the phenomenon extends well beyond the Americas. The number of East Africans crossing the Gulf of Aden to seek work in the Gulf States has plunged. Farms in western Europe are contending with severe labor shortfalls as travel bans have blocked the movement of seasonal migrant laborers from Eastern Europe.

“The pandemic has essentially — not absolutely, but essentially — stopped international migration and mobility dead in its tracks,” said Demetrios G. Papademetriou, co-founder and president emeritus of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington.

For a while, as the pandemic worsened, Queen Elizabeth II appealed for solidarity, and a seriously ill Prime Minister Boris Johnson was hospitalized, relations between Britain’s government and its news media got a bit less testy.

That’s over.

The culture minister recently accused the BBC of bias in reporting on the shortage of protective gear in hospitals. The health secretary heatedly claimed that The Times of London had misstated policy on shielding older people.

And 10 Downing Street has posted lengthy rebuttals, by unnamed officials, of newspaper articles that detailed its missteps in dealing with the outbreak.

Mr. Johnson has opened his daily briefings to questions and comments from members of the public as well as the press corps, making the famously sharp-tongued British reporters seem meaner by comparison.

“It positions the government and the public against the media, at the very moment that the media is presenting itself as the representative of the people in holding the government to account,” said Meera Selva, the director of the Reuters Journalism Fellowship Program at Oxford University.

The criticism has not abated, but now that Mr. Johnson and his allies have ramped up testing and declared that the worst is over, they have gone back on the offensive with the media, trying to put any talk of failure behind them. It is a return to a pugnacious populism that has served them well in the past.

Australia and New Zealand are moving closer toward creating a “travel bubble” that would allow people to fly between the two countries without quarantines — a resumption of traffic that would be a boost for both countries’ economies.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, who will join 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.

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.

Three medical workers in Russia who had been in disputes with the health authorities over handling the coronavirus have plunged from upper-story windows, local news outlets have reported.

Some reports suggested that the falls, which killed two doctors and left a third in critical condition, were suicides or accidents.

They came amid a police crackdown on doctors who have publicly criticized the government’s response. Russian dissidents have long attributed mysterious falls from balconies and other apparent accidents to state violence.

Aleksandr Shulepov, a medic for an ambulance service in the Voronezh region, south of Moscow, fell on Saturday from a window of a hospital where he was being treated for Covid-19. He was in critical conduction with a fractured skull.

He and a colleague had complained in online videos about a lack of personal protective equipment. He also said he was required to continue working after he tested positive for the virus, according to Vesti Voronezh, a local newspaper.

In response to the videos, the police warned Mr. Shulepov’s colleague of possible criminal charges for spreading false information, the paper reported. Mr. Shulepov posted a video recanting his allegations.

In the Siberian region of Krasnoyarsk, Elena Nepomnyashchaya, the chief doctor at a hospital, fell from a window on April 26 and died six days later. She had objected to the regional authorities’ plan to treat Covid-19 patients there, according to TBK, a local news outlet, and had complained about insufficient protective equipment.

Natalya Lebedeva, the head of the ambulance service at Star City, the Russian cosmonaut training center, died on April 24 after a plunge from a window at a hospital where she was being treated for Covid-19.

The authorities reported that it was an accident. The newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets wrote that Ms. Lebedeva had committed suicide after managers accused her of allowing the spread of the virus within the space program.

As one of the first major sports leagues to detail its plans to return to action, Germany’s top soccer league has become the bellwether for restarting sports events postponed by the coronavirus epidemic.

That decision became more complicated on Monday when 10 players were found to have the virus after blanket testing of 1,724 individuals from the 36 teams in the top two divisions of the league, the Bundesliga. The majority are believed to be asymptomatic.

It was not clear if the results would derail plans to restart the league, a decision that could come on Wednesday. But the test results were seen as a harbinger for the heavy considerations all sports organizations would face as they make reopening plans, many of them contingent on widespread testing.

The National Rugby League in Australia — which is aiming to return on May 28 — ran into similar complications. Four players from the South Sydney Rabbitohs were told to stay home from training on Monday because of flulike symptoms. And the coach of the Sydney Roosters, Trent Robinson, also has symptoms and will be tested.

If the Bundesliga cannot resume its season, even without spectators — a decision with far-reaching financial implications — it would not bode well for the rest of the soccer world. Germany has been lauded for its relative success containing the outbreak, and has one of the lowest death rates among major countries at less than 10 per 100,000 people.

England’s Premier League is expected to decide on Friday whether there is a way forward to reopen amid disharmony among its 20 teams. In Spain and Italy, there are also cautious moves toward playing again. (Spanish players returned to training on Monday but were limited to working out alone.)

Elsewhere, that option has been ruled out, most notably in France, where last week the prime minister declared the season over. The seasons in the Netherlands and in Belgium have also been officially called off.

The World Health Organization coordinates the global efforts to monitor and combat the coronavirus pandemic, but it relies heavily on countries to abide by its guidelines and transparently assess their own outbreaks.

But now, as the crisis deepens, the failure of nations to do both is being called into question.

Tanzania’s government has drawn criticism for its handling of a coronavirus outbreak, with the W.H.O. saying last month that delays in introducing restrictions might have contributed to a rapid increase in cases in the east African nation.

Now, the country’s secretive handling of the outbreak has come into question, after videos of night burials with attendants wearing protective gear have surfaced online in recent days.

The reluctance to quickly tackle the disease has mostly come from the country’s top officials, particularly President John Magufuli. From the onset, Mr. Magufuli declined to close churches, saying that the virus “cannot survive in the body of Christ — it will burn.” He also said that updates from the country’s health ministry on coronavirus cases and deaths were “causing panic.”

Tanzania has reported just 480 coronavirus cases and 16 deaths, but experts say the toll is probably much higher. The deaths of three lawmakers in just over a week, including the justice minister, have also raised suspicions, though it is unclear whether they died as a result of the coronavirus.

This has pushed the main opposition party to call for the suspension of Parliament and for all lawmakers and staff to be tested for the virus.

The Isle of Wight, off England’s southern coast, is renowned for a beautiful coastline and balmy climate, drawing crowds of summer tourists from across Britain.

And it is now at the forefront of national attention for a different reason: The British government is preparing to begin a trial there this week of a mobile app that will track the contacts of people infected with the coronavirus.

The app uses Bluetooth to “alert people if they have been near somebody who is later diagnosed with having coronavirus,” Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said on Sunday. The tracking system will be rolled out by the National Health Service, and if the trials are successful, it will be available this month throughout the country.

The program in Britain is voluntary. Mr. Shapps said the government would encourage as many people as possible to take it up, but experts question how effective an app can be if it relies on self-reported data.

The British government has already come under scrutiny over its response to the coronavirus, particularly around the transparency, or lack thereof, in its approach.

Critics had put pressure on the government to name the members of the panel — known as the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, or SAGE — but the government had argued that keeping them confidential was important for their security and independence.

As President Trump presses for states to reopen their economies, his administration is privately projecting a steady rise in the number of cases and deaths from the coronavirus over the next several weeks, reaching about 3,000 daily deaths on June 1, according to an internal document obtained by The New York Times, nearly double the current level of about 1,750.

The projections, based on government modeling pulled together by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, give a wide range of possibilities, with a best-guess forecast of about 200,000 new cases each day by the end of the month, up from about 25,000 now.

In a statement on Monday, a White House spokesman said the document had not been presented to its Coronavirus Task Force and had not gone through interagency vetting.

“This data is not reflective of any of the modeling done by the task force or data that the task force has analyzed,” the statement said.

On Sunday, Mr. Trump said deaths in the United States could reach 100,000, twice as many as he had forecast just two weeks ago.

“We’re going to lose anywhere from 75, 80 to 100,000 people,” he said in a virtual town hall on Fox News. “That’s a horrible thing. We shouldn’t lose one person over this.”

The pandemic has changed not just the way the world’s cities look these days, but also how they sound. Damien Cave, The Times’s bureau chief in Sydney, Australia, shares his reflections on how a part of the day that would typically be frantic has come to be a magical time.

Five weeks into Australia’s coronavirus isolation, children are the opening beat for an afternoon soundtrack that also includes barking dogs, shouting parents and buff 20-somethings jogging while talking about lust and love at volumes that belong onstage.

The time may shift — sometimes the noise rises at 3 p.m., sometimes later — but the swell of sound signals the start of Magic Hour, that ad hoc interlude when our very human need to move and chatter, even at a distance, breaks through the routine of quiet isolation.

And let’s be clear: It is heavenly. Actual voices! Kids! Couples! Arguments! What I hear outside my home office window, or passing by when I run, is the elevator music I never used to notice, and now eagerly anticipate for connection and to mark the passage of time.

“The more formal arrangements, from sports to events, are off the table, and even the informal interactions in shops and bars — that’s gone too,” said David Rowe, a sociologist at Western Sydney University. “People are finding that they need to interact with someone even if it’s just someone walking around a green space with you. You just want some kind of shared purpose.”

Ryan Driscoll is the sort of celebrity unique to luxury cruise lines. A singer and entertainer, dapper and dandy, he plays the big room at night, crooning like Sinatra and Darin.

That was before the coronavirus. Now Mr. Driscoll, a 26-year-old from California, is quarantined alone in a suite on the Seabourn Odyssey off the coast of Bridgetown, Barbados.

The ship’s crew members have been aboard without passengers for nearly seven weeks, caught up in an around-the-world oceanic race against infection. Dozens of cruise ships were out to sea as the virus began to spread, and as the toll of sick and dying passengers rose, port after port turned the vessels away.

Eventually, most passengers were able to disembark. Not so the crew members, many of whom continue to bob the seas in water-bound purgatory. Some of the ships are still riddled with coronavirus cases.

Aboard each vessel are crew members who must still do their jobs — operating and maintaining the machinery, cooking and cleaning — even if the ship, itself, is going nowhere.

But there are those, like Mr. Driscoll, whose jobs cannot be performed now. He is an entertainer without an audience.

He sings to himself in the comically tiny shower. His tuxedo hangs uselessly pressed in the closet. His face wears the scruff of the two weeks since he ran out of razors.

The last time he got off the ship was in Chile on Feb. 23. He bought himself a coffee and some fresh fruit and never considered that it might be months before he touched land again.

Reporting was contributed by David M. Halbfinger, Andrew E. Kramer, Vivian Wang, Amy Qin, Kirk Semple, Melissa Eddy, Aurelien Breeden, Richard Pérez-Peña, Karen Zraick, Sui-Lee Wee, Abdi Latif Dahir, Jason Horowitz, Raphael Minder, Megan Specia, Tess Felder, Ben Dooley, Iliana Magra, Mark Landler, Damien Cave, John Branch, Adam Rasgon, Peter Baker, David E. Sanger, Adam Liptak, Neil Vigdor, Michael Levenson, Kai Schultz, Jeffrey Gettleman, Claire Moses, Caitlin Dickerson, Michael D. Shear, Tariq Panja, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Lara Jakes and Victor Mather.

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