The coronavirus and an oil glut yield chaos worldwide.
From Iraq to Venezuela, nations reliant on oil sales have seen the combination of the price collapse and the coronavirus pandemic create new threats of poverty and political instability.
Countries with economies that are heavily reliant on oil production are finding themselves in a dual crisis, and others have been forced to change policies that no longer make economic sense.
While Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States — the biggest oil producers — have large financial cushions, the steep drop in demand as the world was put under lockdown has upended everything. It was a possibility even veteran industry experts did not foresee.
“No one imagined a crisis of this scope,” said Daniel Yergin, an expert on global energy and vice chairman of IHS Markit, a research firm. “This was in no scenario.”
In the United States, where one benchmark oil price fell below zero this week for the first time on record — meaning sellers had to pay customers to take oil off their hands — the glut is threatening severe economic pain in what had been a thriving domestic industry. The oversupply also has forced the Trump administration to negotiate with Russia and Saudi Arabia to curtail production.
“The idea that we are energy dominant or independent is a fallacy,” said Jason Bordoff, a professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and founding director of its Center on Global Energy Policy. The global market’s effect on the United States, he said, has “revealed that when oil prices rise, we feel the pain, and when oil prices collapse, we need to call Moscow and Riyadh to do something about it.”
The increasingly autocratic governments of Poland and Hungary are using the pandemic to consolidate power and punish opponents, while the European Union, though critical, has not intervened.
In fact, the bloc is helping them with emergency aid intended to fight the coronavirus, funneling the money to member countries with little oversight, and without tying the money to the rule of law or democratic values. The funds were distributed under a formula that sent far more to Hungary and Poland than to virus-ravaged Spain or Italy.
Hungary’s Parliament has granted Prime Minister Viktor Orban emergency powers to deal with the crisis — powers he is using to divert tax receipts from opposition mayors and direct them to his allies.
Poland’s government says it will proceed with a presidential election on May 10, despite a lockdown that prevents opposition candidates from campaigning effectively. It plans to have all ballots cast by mail, which the postal union says is unworkable.
On Friday, the European Parliament passed a resolution criticizing the Polish and Hungarian actions as “totally incompatible with European values.” But Brussels has not penalized them, nor is it expected to.
Last month, the European Union hastily earmarked 37 billion euros, about $40 billion, for virus aid, repurposing funds designed primarily to help newer and poorer member countries.
According to the European Stability Initiative, a research institute, Hungary and Poland, with a combined population of 48 million and fewer than 700 confirmed Covid-19 deaths, received 13 billion euros. Italy and Spain, with 107 million people and more than 46,000 deaths, received half as much.
Officials in Taiwan are attempting to turn their success in battling the coronavirus at home into a geopolitical win, sending millions of masks emblazoned with the words “made in Taiwan” to countries hit hard by the crisis and launching a diplomatic and public relations campaign.
Taiwan is competing with China on pandemic aid diplomacy in defiance of Beijing’s efforts to isolate the self-ruled democratic island that it claims as its own. The island is promoting itself as a model of democracy to try to undercut China’s own campaign to use the crisis to tout the strength of its authoritarian system.
And the world is responding. American and European officials have praised Taiwan’s donations of more than 10 million masks. Politicians, business leaders and celebrities, including Bill Gates and Barbra Streisand, have hailed the island as exemplary in its fight against the coronavirus.
“We can see that this is a good opportunity for us to let people know that Taiwan is a good global citizen,” Taiwan’s vice president, Chen Chien-jen, said this week in an interview in Taipei. “We have to fight for our participation.”
But the moves are drawing fire from Beijing, which has dismissed the effort as an attempt to “seek independence under the pretext of the pandemic.”
Taiwan, with a population of 23 million, has reported 426 cases of coronavirus and six deaths as of Wednesday, far fewer than many countries.
In Kenya, a recent giveaway of flour and cooking oil set off a fatal stampede. In India, thousands of workers have lined up twice a day for bread and fried vegetables. Across Colombia, families are hanging red clothing from windows to signal that they are in need of food.
The national lockdowns and social distancing measures caused by the pandemic are drying up work and incomes. And around the world, poor people are facing the prospect of starving.
Already, 135 million people had been facing acute food shortages, but now with the pandemic, 130 million more could go hungry in 2020, said Arif Husain, chief economist at the World Food Program, a United Nations agency. Altogether, an estimated 265 million people could be pushed to the brink of starvation by year’s end.
Already, from Honduras to South Africa to India, protests and looting have broken out amid frustrations from lockdowns and worries about hunger.
“Instead of coronavirus, the hunger will kill us,” said Nihal Singh, a migrant worker in India. Mr. Singh said he was ashamed to beg for food but had no other option.
There is no shortage of food globally, and no mass starvation from the pandemic — yet. But logistical problems in planting, harvesting and transporting food will leave poor countries exposed in the coming months, said Johan Swinnen, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington.
Even if there is no major surge in food prices, the food security situation for poor people is likely to deteriorate significantly worldwide. This is especially true for economies like Sudan and Zimbabwe that were struggling before the outbreak, or those like Iran that have increasingly used oil revenues to finance critical goods like food and medicine.
And refugees and people living in conflict zones are expected to be hit the hardest.
Germany set to begin its first clinical vaccine trials.
A German biotechnology company said on Wednesday that a coronavirus vaccine candidate it had developed with the American pharmaceutical company Pfizer had been approved for clinical testing in Germany, raising hopes that a working coronavirus vaccine could become available soon.
It would be what is believed to be the fourth trial to get underway internationally in the race for a vaccine to help stem the pandemic. The German institute responsible for such approval, the Paul Ehrlich Institute, confirmed the news in a post on Twitter: “Testing a vaccine in humans is an important milestone on the way to safe & effective vaccines against #COVID19.”
“We are pleased to have completed preclinical studies in Germany and will soon initiate this first-in-human trial ahead of our expectations,” Ugur Sahin, an immunologist and the chief executive and co-founder of BioNTech, the German company that developed the potential vaccine, said in a statement.
The initial clinical trial will be carried out on 200 healthy volunteers, ages 18 to 55, the company said.
In the hour after the company’s announcement was made public on Wednesday, its stock rose 40 percent. Another vaccine maker in Germany made news last month, when it came to light that the Trump administration may have been trying to lure the company to the United States to develop a vaccine, apparently for exclusive use there.
Breaking with seven centuries of tradition, British lawmakers met partly in cyberspace on Wednesday with a regular — and normally boisterous — question-and-answer session in the House of Commons conducted largely by video link.
Mr. Raab spoke inside the parliamentary chamber, as did the new leader of the opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer. But to comply with social distancing rules, just a few dozen lawmakers sat on the green leather benches that are normally crowded at this time of the week.
Without the normal cheering, shouting and other background noise, the session was more sober than usual, as lawmakers quizzed Mr. Raab over the government’s management of the coronavirus crisis and called for more support for workers and businesses. There were no unscheduled interruptions and few technical glitches.
Mr. Starmer, attending the question session for the first time as opposition leader, said that Britain had been “slow into lockdown, slow on testing, slow on protective equipment,” referring to supplies like masks and gowns used by health care workers. Mr. Raab defended the government’s record and argued that it had followed scientific advice.
Britain’s supplies of protective gear are critically low, and front-line health workers have been advised by the government to reuse the equipment worn while treating coronavirus patients. Health workers say that advice puts them at risk.
A British Royal Air Force plane carrying a delayed consignment of medical supplies from Turkey for the National Health Service landed early Wednesday, the Ministry of Defense said. It was expected to deliver 84 tons of personal protective equipment, including 400,000 surgical gowns, from a commercial supplier in Turkey on Sunday, but the equipment was delayed because the Turkish company was short on stock, Turkish officials said.
The government has also been criticized for not taking part in a European Union program to buy bulk medical equipment, including ventilators, protective equipment and testing kits.
Eight infants and toddlers at a care center in Tokyo have tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said on Wednesday, raising concerns about a wider outbreak at care facilities in the country for neglected or abused children.
There have been numerous deaths among residents of overwhelmed nursing homes in the United States and Spain, and cluster cases have emerged at day care centers in several cities in Japan. But the Tokyo cases may be the first known cluster in a home for neglected or abused children in the country.
Some people infected with the virus show no symptoms, and there have been cases of patients initially testing positive for the virus and later testing negative.
All 29 children at the Tokyo facility were tested after an employee tested positive on April 16, according to a statement from the Saiseikai Central Hospital, which runs the residential home for infants and toddlers. The infected children have been hospitalized, but do not have symptoms, and the children who tested negative were also being monitored.
Japan relies on institutional care for the majority of abused and neglected children who cannot live with their parents. There are 140 such homes for infants and toddlers, housing 2,706 children throughout Japan. About 600 facilities operate as orphanages, housing about 25,282 children.
Japanese health officials have reported 11,496 infections and 277 deaths from the coronavirus.
The first case of coronavirus has been confirmed in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, the United Nations agency that oversees Palestinian refugee affairs said on Wednesday, intensifying fears that the virus will tear through one of the Middle East’s most vulnerable populations.
The patient, a Palestinian-Syrian woman, tested positive on Tuesday, according to Tamara Alrifai, a spokeswoman for the agency, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East. The woman is being hospitalized at Rafik Hariri Hospital in Beirut, the government’s main coronavirus treatment center, while her immediate family is tested for the virus.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees — people who were forced out or fled in the war surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948 and their descendants — live as perpetual outsiders in Lebanon, where they face systematic discrimination. They are barred from Lebanese citizenship and most professions and are forbidden from building permanent housing. They live in cramped, semi-permanent structures in a network of 12 camps and 26 informal settlements around the country, making social distancing difficult, if not impossible.
As many as 3,000 people live in the patient’s camp, which is in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, Ms. Alrifai said. Lebanon also hosts more than one million Syrian refugees who sought refuge from the nine-year civil war next door. They, too, live in squalid, crowded conditions in informal camps around the country.
Aid groups fear that a coronavirus outbreak in the refugee camps could inflame the hostility and tension between Palestinian and Syrian communities and their Lebanese neighbors. Seeking to forestall accusations that Palestinians are draining already-stretched Lebanese government resources, the United Nations group has pledged to cover the cost of hospitalization for Palestinian refugees, Ms. Alrifai said.
It is also close to opening an isolation center with Doctors Without Borders dedicated to Palestinian refugees.
As the 50th anniversary of International Earth Day was observed on Wednesday with drastic measures in force around the globe to fight the coronavirus pandemic, there were signs that those same measures can be beneficial for the environment.
Now that so much of the world is under lockdown, air quality has improved, greenhouse gas emissions have dropped and wild animals have come out to play in streets left empty by humans sheltering in place.
But the environmental silver lining of the pandemic is temporary, the United Nations warned in a statement on Wednesday, because it comes “on the back of tragic economic slowdown and human distress.”
The U.N. added that Earth was “urging a call to action” and said the pandemic was linked to our ecosystem’s health.
“Climate change, man-made changes to nature as well as crimes that disrupt biodiversity, such as deforestation, land-use change, intensified agriculture and livestock production or the growing illegal wildlife trade, can increase contact and the transmission of infectious diseases from animals to humans,” like Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, the organization said.
As the number of new coronavirus cases in Spain has slowed in recent weeks, the government has been trying to figure out how and when to ease its lockdown.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez told Parliament on Wednesday that the lockdown would be only partly eased in the second half of May, saying a “slow and gradual” approach was necessary “precisely because it needs to be safe.”
But with the largest outbreak in Europe, Spain still has hundreds of deaths a day. The country reported an uptick in its daily death toll on Wednesday, with 435 people dying overnight, bringing the total to 21,717.
Health officials say the death toll remains troubling, even as the infection rate and the number of hospital recoveries have improved this month. About 33,000 health care workers in Spain have tested positive for the virus, one of the highest numbers in the world.
Mr. Sánchez, who heads a minority coalition government, is asking lawmakers to approve an extension of the nationwide state of emergency until May 9.
Mr. Sánchez raised expectations over the weekend by promising that Spanish children would soon be allowed to leave the house. But on Tuesday, the government’s spokeswoman disappointed many by saying that children would be limited to accompanying an adult on an essential trip, such as going to the supermarket or the pharmacy.
“Nobody is measuring with a stopwatch how long it takes a person to buy bread,” the government spokeswoman, María Jesús Montero, said in response to many questions from journalists about why children would need to get their fresh air in a supermarket.
After an avalanche of criticism from politicians on all sides, health specialists and citizens who took to their balconies in Madrid to bang pots in protest, the government reversed its decision.
In another news conference, Salvador Illa, the health minister, said that, starting Sunday, children under 14 would be allowed to go for a short stroll, keeping a safe distance from others.
The Czech Republic began a five-step plan this week to ease restrictive measures introduced to halt the spread of the coronavirus, returning much of the country to some semblance of normalcy. Farmers markets, car dealerships, tailors, shoemakers and some other small businesses have reopened.
But safety measures are still in place, and maintaining social distancing and wearing masks in public is mandatory. If there is not a significant growth in new cases in the coming days, all shops no larger than 2,000 square feet will be allowed to open on Monday.
“We cannot allow for the virus, that we have managed relatively well so far in comparison with other countries, to spread uncontrollably,” said Karel Havlicek, the minister for industry and trade. “On the other hand, shops and services cannot be closed forever.”
The country has so far avoided the major outbreaks seen elsewhere, with 7,041 confirmed cases and 204 dead. Prime Minister Andrej Babis said he would like to end the state of emergency on April 30.
Weddings of up to 10 people are already allowed to go ahead as of this week, and some professional sports are allowed to hold practices.
The steps taken so far have been carefully calculated, and some shops and restaurants are scheduled to stay closed until June 8. The Czech Republic on Wednesday also began a broad antibody testing survey of 27,000 people from four regions in an attempt to get a clearer picture of how many Czechs have been infected.
“We believe it will allow us to better understand the situation and draft an accurate prediction of further development,” said Adam Vojtech, the minister of health.
An Indonesian village that is home to a large Islamic boarding school has been placed under quarantine after 43 Malaysian students who returned to their home country were found to have the coronavirus, officials said.
But the move could be too little too late. About 30,000 students and villagers live in the quarantine zone in East Java, but health officials said at least 15,000 had already left for their hometowns before the area was locked down on Monday.
The quarantine covers Temboro Village and the Al-Fatah Islamic Boarding School, which has eight campuses in town. The school is part of the Islamist movement Tablighi Jamaat, which has been linked to other outbreaks in the region.
Tablighi Jamaat, which calls on followers to live in the style of the Prophet Muhammad, held a gathering in Malaysia in late February in which 16,000 attendees helped spread the virus to five other Southeast Asian countries. Another mass gathering in Indonesia in March helped spread the virus to several provinces and Thailand.
The head of the administration that governs the village said he had ordered students sent home early for Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month. His order came just as Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, banned such travel for government workers. The president extended the ban nationwide on Tuesday.
One case of coronavirus was discovered in Temboro about two weeks ago. Health officials checked the temperatures of 10,500 students as they departed but were unaware that any were ill until Malaysian officials notified them on Sunday.
President Trump’s moves to block the legal flow of people into the United States have sown confusion and fear among foreign workers already in the country and those hoping to make the move, and people from India are among the most affected.
Under pressure from businesses, Mr. Trump backed away from halting temporary work visas, but he said he might impose more restrictions as the crisis drags on.
Visa programs have been vital to technology companies looking for engineers and programmers, many of whom come from India, and people who move to the United States on work visas often apply later for permanent residency.
Restricting that flow would have particular consequences for India and the Indian diaspora in the United States, which numbers about four million people. Indian-Americans are some of the country’s most successful and wealthiest immigrants, with a particular stronghold in Silicon Valley’s start-up scene.
More recent immigrants fear not only the loss of jobs as the economy contracts, but also a wave of xenophobia.
When Mr. Trump announced his plans, Priyanka Nagar, a software developer who has lived in the United States for more than a decade, happened to be in India, awaiting a visa extension, and feared being cut off from her husband and 5-year-old daughter. She and her husband have applied for green cards.
“I beg the government not to think of us as enemies,” said Ms. Nagar, 39. “I want the U.S. to prosper. It has given us so much.”
Chinese officials are scrambling to control a coronavirus outbreak centered around the northern city of Harbin, even as life in much of the country has gone back to normal.
The outbreak started with a woman flying from the United States into the region in mid-March, state media reported. It has now spread to nearby Liaoning and Inner Mongolia and prompted the closure of a hospital in Harbin. A new outbreak could be particularly dangerous in China, where life has mostly gone back to normal, with people crowding on to subways and filling restaurants.
Thus far the outbreak has caused 78 infections, including a cluster in a hospital in Harbin, where hospital authorities did not take strict measures to separate patients with fevers. One official said the virus spread between patients, nurses and medical aides, who gathered together in hallways to chat.
The city has now ordered a lockdown on residential compounds, and guards have been deployed to bar outsiders from entry and to check that residents are wearing masks and not showing signs of fevers. The city has also banned all public events as well as weddings and funerals.
Harbin officials said 2,000 people connected to the hospital, including medical staff, inpatients and those that had left within the past two weeks, had been tested. A broader second round of testing is also underway. One article from a news report in nearby Qiqihar showed that 4,106 people who had been to the two hospitals in Harbin were slated to be tested.
Sixteen humanitarian groups, including Oxfam and Save the Children, called for a cease-fire throughout Myanmar after a driver for the World Health Organization was shot and killed while transporting coronavirus test samples in troubled Rakhine State.
The driver, Pyae Sone Win Maung, and a Myanmar health ministry official were taking the samples to Yangon in a marked United Nations vehicle Monday evening when they were attacked in an area where the Myanmar military has been battling the Arakan Army, a rebel group that is seeking autonomy.
The unidentified health ministry official was wounded, the authorities said.
Both the national military and rebels denied responsibility for the shooting.
Health experts fear that the disease is already widespread and that the country’s inadequate health care system could easily be overwhelmed. The health ministry director, Dr. Than Naing Soe, said the country has only 250 ventilators.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned Monday’s attack and called for a complete and transparent investigation. The humanitarian groups said the attack “demonstrates the urgent need for armed actors in Myanmar to lay down their weapons.”
However, the country’s civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, issued a statement after the attack praising the military for protecting civilians by fighting the rebels. The military has rejected calls for a halt in fighting so that the country can address the pandemic.
She drives from the Danish side, in her Toyota Yaris.
He cycles from the German side, on his electric bike.
She brings the coffee and the table, he the chairs and the schnapps.
Then they sit down on either side of the border, a yard or two apart.
And that is how two octogenarian lovers have kept their romance alive despite the closure of the border that falls between his home in the very north of Germany and hers in the very south of Denmark.
Every day since the police shut the border to contain the virus, Karsten Tüchsen Hansen, an 89-year-old retired farmer, and Inga Rasmussen, an 85-year-old former caterer, have met at the Mollehusvej border crossing to chat, joke and drink, while maintaining a modicum of social distance.
“We’re here because of love,” said Mr. Tüchsen Hansen. “Love is the best thing in the world.”
Then he poured another glass of schnapps.
The coronavirus pandemic unfolded very differently in China from the way it has in the rest of the world — at least, if one believes state-run Chinese media. Chinese news outlets used words like “purgatory” and “apocalypse” to describe the tragic hospital scenes in Italy and Spain. They have run photos of British and American medical workers wearing garbage bags as protective gear.
A lot of the same miseries happened in China, but those reports were called “rumors” and censored.
For the Communist Party, keeping up a positive image for the Chinese public has long been an important part of maintaining its legitimacy. That facade was broken during the outbreak in late January and February, as dying patients flooded hospitals and medical workers begged for protective gear on social media. Some people started asking why the government suppressed information early on and who should be held accountable.
Then the United States and other countries bungled their own responses, and China’s propaganda machine saw an opportunity.
Using the West’s transparency and free flow of information, state media outlets chronicled how badly others have managed the crisis. Their message: Those countries should copy China’s model. For good measure, the propaganda machine revved up its attacks on anybody who dared to question the government’s handling of the pandemic.
Reporting was contributed by Kai Schultz, Sameer Yasir, Abdi Latif Dahir, Steven Erlanger, Javier C. Hernández, Chris Horton, Richard Pérez-Peña, Karen Zraick, Lauretta Charlton, Stephen Castle, Vivian Yee, Raphael Minder, Ceylan Yeginsu, Rick Gladstone, Megan Specia, Austin Ramzy, Iliana Magra, Christopher F. Schuetze, Hana Goeji, Yonette Joseph, Anna Holland, Richard C. Paddock, Dera Menra Sijabat, Matthew Futterman, Paul Mozur, Lin Qiqing, Jason M. Bailey, Richard C. Paddock, Saw Nang, Thomas Erdbrink, Amelia Nierenberg, Alissa J. Rubin, Falih Hassan, Cara Giaimo, Li Yuan and Patrick Kingsley.