Cases near 2 million as some nations begin to see a path out of lockdown.
With confirmed cases of the coronavirus nearing the 2 million mark, and close to 120,000 dead, the pandemic remains a potent threat around the world even as some countries begin to take careful steps to lift restrictions intended to suffocate the virus.
Outbreaks in many countries are still considered far from their peaks. Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India extended a nationwide lockdown for nearly three more weeks, leaving 1 billion people under severe restrictions and urging Indians not to “let our guard down.”
The Parliament in Turkey approved a measure calling for the release of tens of thousands of prisoners in an effort to stem the spread of the virus behind bars.
In Britain, the plight of patients in nursing homes has risen to the fore after England’s chief public health officer said on Monday that nearly 100 more facilities had registered cases of the coronavirus in a 24-hour period. More than 2,000 homes have reported confirmed cases. The situation drew comparisons to Spain, where nursing homes have were ravaged by the virus.
But countries where the number of new cases is starting to slow down are looking for ways to ease the economic sting of strict lockdown measures, and across Europe, governments are mobilizing a return to some level of normalcy.
Spain allowed some construction work to resume and a few factories to reopen on Monday. Austria and Italy followed suit with a gradual easing of restrictions that allowed some small shops to reopen. But there are still strict guidelines in place, with shoppers in Austria required to wear masks and in Italy, a country brutalized by the virus, an even-more stringent lockdown continues until May.
Denmark is set to follow suit later this week, with children under 11 returning to schools and nurseries after a month of closures. Poland plans to begin to “slowly start unfreezing the economy,” the country’s health minister said on Tuesday.
In the United States, where cases of the virus are still on the rise, governors on both coasts have begun to consider measures to begin to restart the economy. But President Trump made clear that he intended to be the one making those arrangements.
“The president of the United States calls the shots,” Mr. Trump said at a news conference on Monday. “They can’t do anything without the approval of the president of the United States.”
Austria lets thousands of stores reopen, but with strict guidelines.
Austria began loosening its nationwide coronavirus lockdown on Tuesday, allowing hardware and home-improvement stores to reopen, in the first easing of restrictions since Chancellor Sebastian Kurz shuttered all nonessential shops last month.
In a small, tentative step toward restarting the country’s economy, customers wearing face masks waited in store lines across the country on Tuesday morning. So far, the Alpine nation has reported 14,041 coronavirus cases, with 368 deaths.
Austria joins a handful of other European nations that this week began easing restrictions, if in small steps, as their economies groan under the strain of the shutdown. Spain allowed construction workers and some factory workers to resume their jobs on Monday, and Italy has allowed some shops to reopen.
Rudolf Anschober, Austria’s health minister, cautioned residents to abide by rules put in place to guarantee their safety.
“I urge everyone to take the security measures of this first step of reopening seriously and uphold the regulations of entering shops, maintaining a distance, wearing a protective covering over their mouth and nose, which is also required in public transport,” he said during a Monday news conference.
Shops of 400 square meters, around 4,300 square feet, or less, hardware stores and gardening centers were allowed to reopen, but shoppers are required to wear a mask or covering over their faces and noses and maintain a distance from one another.
The stores are only allowed to admit a limited number of customers at a time and those found in violation of the regulations face fines of 3,600 euros, or around $3,940. Shopping centers are not allowed to reopen until May 2.
Fears are rising for residents of nursing homes in Britain, already seen as a population at risk, after more than 2,000 facilities in the country have reported cases of the coronavirus.
England’s chief medical officer, Prof. Chris Whitty, confirmed the number at a government news briefing on Monday and said that 92 more homes had confirmed cases in the previous 24 hours.
Care England, a charity representing independent care services, has estimated that nearly 1,000 deaths from coronavirus have gone uncounted in care homes; only 20 are noted in the most recent official figures for care home deaths in England and Wales, which run up to March 27.
The government faces criticism for not including deaths in nursing homes in the official daily coronavirus toll. Professor Whitty acknowledged that the published figures of deaths outside hospitals were delayed, and said the government was working to shorten that lag.
Care workers in nursing homes and hospices have also raised the alarm over a severe shortage of personal protective equipment, or P.P.E., and say supplies are being diverted to hospitals.
“Our members are telling us that they simply are not getting the P.P.E. they need,” said Theresa Fyffe, head of the Royal College of Nursing’s independent sector. “And there is evidence of hospices and care homes asking for donations of gloves, goggles and aprons; this situation simply cannot continue.”
Two care workers in the Britain were reported to have died from coronavirus last week, according to the social care charity Methodist Homes.
Data from five European countries has found that around half of the deaths from coronavirus are occurring in care homes, according to a study published by the London School of Economics on Monday.
In an assessment of statistics from Italy, Spain, France, Ireland and Belgium, it found that care home residents accounted for between 42 and 57 percent of reported deaths so far.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India extended a nationwide lockdown on Tuesday for nearly three more weeks, preventing more than 1 billion from leaving their homes.
He lauded the country for acting aggressively against the coronavirus and urged Indians not to “let our guard down.”
In an address to the nation, Mr. Modi said extending the existing 21-day lockdown until May 3 was necessary to prevent a spike in cases and that tougher restrictions could follow. He applauded Indians for following the measures “like a dedicated soldier.”
“If you look at it only economically, it has been expensive,” Mr. Modi said of the lockdown. “But you can’t put a price on the lives of Indians.”
Mr. Modi said some relaxations to the lockdown could be implemented after April 20 in certain areas if they showed strict observance of the rules. But for now he urged all 1.3 billion Indians to wear masks, stay inside, respect health care workers and help older people.
India has a relatively low number of confirmed infections, with about 10,000 cases, 339 deaths and a doubling rate of about six days. But a rapid spread could be devastating. Health care facilities are poor, and hundreds of millions of Indians live in dense urban areas, making it difficult to follow social distancing.
Officials have faced staggering challenges to enforce the lockdown, which abruptly went into effect on March 25 with just four hours notice.
“If we have patience, we will defeat the coronavirus,” he said.
Chinese exports of much-needed N95 respirators, surgical masks and other personal protection equipment were delayed for a fourth day on Tuesday as China’s customs agency left unresolved a crucial regulatory issue.
Responding to complaints from Europe that some medical supplies had quality problems, the General Administration of Customs ordered two weeks ago that only factories with medical certification from the Chinese government could continue to export medical supplies.
The new order blocked exports from factories that previously made everything from cranes to cellphones but are now manufacturing medical supplies in response to the pandemic. Obtaining medical certification is typically a six-month process.
China is the world’s dominant producer and exporter of face masks and other personal protection equipment. The order also blocked exports by many of the country’s long-established medical supplies factories. These factories previously only made goods for foreign markets, so they had never bothered to obtain Chinese government certification.
The customs agency issued a new regulation on Friday that each shipment of medical supplies must be inspected for quality before it can be exported.
Customs offices have interpreted the new rule as requiring both factory certification and quality inspection. Few medical supplies meet both standards.
At a monthly news conference on Tuesday in Beijing to release China’s export and import data, the customs agency’s spokesman, Li Kuiwen, declined to say whether both rules applied.
“More interpretation of these regulations will be given by China Customs at relevant news conferences,” he said.
In the meantime, exports are stalling and foreign criticism is rising.
“Double-layering of regulations is excessive and is red tape,” said Omar Allam, a former Canadian trade official who is now the chief executive of a global trade consultancy. “The Chinese are really choking the export of personal protection equipment supplies to the countries that need it most.”
Turkey’s Parliament passed a law on Tuesday that would allow for the release of up to 90,000 prisoners to ease overcrowding and protect detainees from being infected by the coronavirus.
The new law is set to reduce sentences and give early release to 45,000 people in minimum-security prisons, and 45,000 from regular prisons, which amounts to nearly one third of the total prison population. Those released will be ordered to stay at home, as Turkey has been gradually restricting the movement of the population.
The releases will not include those convicted of terrorist related crimes, and so will exclude the vast majority of political prisoners and people imprisoned after an attempted coup in 2016.
The bill was supported by 279 lawmakers, while 51 voted against it, according to the Anadolu Agency, a Turkish state-run news agency. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political party, the Justice and Development Party, proposed the bill. Its nationalist allies, the Nationalist Movement Party, has been pushing for the bill for months.
The law has been criticized by opposition parties for excluding journalists and political opponents of Mr. Erdogan who were imprisoned in the crackdown that followed the coup attempt.
Aside from those jailed on terrorism charges, prisoners detained for sex offenses, drug offenses and first-degree murder were also excluded.
Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul on Monday said there were 17 cases of the coronavirus in five prisons, and that three inmates had died from the virus. Turkey has recorded 56,956 coronavirus cases and 1,198 deaths.
In the United States and around the world, outbreaks have spread quickly in prisons, where social distancing is impossible. In response, some prisons have released inmates to contain outbreaks, though critics say officials have been too slow to act.
The Ugandan musician and opposition politician Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known as Bobi Wine, has come up with a plan to help Africans who have become targets of xenophobia in China: fly them out.
The announcement comes days after Africans in the Chinese city of Guangzhou said they had been subjected to forced evictions and arbitrary quarantines as Beijing ramped up efforts to fight against imported cases of the coronavirus. Anti-foreigner sentiment grew in the southern Chinese city after a recent cluster of coronavirus cases was reportedly linked to the Nigerian community there.
In a statement posted on Twitter, Mr. Wine said he had partnered with an American businessman to airlift Africans and African-Americans affected by the attacks “to a country in Africa that is willing to receive them.”
Together with Neil Nelson, chief executive of the Atlanta Black Star media firm, the two were also ready to evacuate to the United States those who hold American citizenship or permanent residency.
Videos and images of Guangzhou’s black residents facing harassment from police, sleeping in the streets and being refused service in stores and restaurants have surfaced online. On Monday, McDonald’s apologized after a video circulated online showing an employee at one of its restaurants in Guangzhou holding up a sign that read, “From now on, black people are not allowed to enter the restaurant.”
The incidents in China have drawn condemnation from leaders across the African continent, with nations including Nigeria and Uganda summoning their Chinese ambassadors. The authorities in China have said they have “zero tolerance for discrimination” and have promised to work to improve conditions.
China approves human testing for two new vaccines.
China has approved clinical trials for two experimental vaccines to treat the coronavirus, the official news agency Xinhua reported on Tuesday, in a global race to fight the pandemic that has killed at least 118,000 people worldwide.
The two vaccines are being developed by the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products under the state-owned China National Pharmaceutical Group, and the Beijing-based research arm of Sinovac Biotech, a biopharmaceutical company.
There are currently no vaccines or drugs for the new coronavirus. China, Europe and the United States are all trying to become the first to produce a vaccine, bringing a nationalist element to the race that has sometimes undermined international cooperation.
About 1,000 Chinese scientists are now engaged in creating vaccines for the virus, with nine potential versions in development, according to the government. Last month, China had authorized military scientists to start another clinical trial.
Separately, 111 people from African countries have tested positive for the coronavirus in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou, Xinhua also reported on Tuesday. China has faced criticism that people of African descent have been targeted with discriminatory measures, including forced quarantines and testing. More than 4,500 Africans in Guangzhou have been subject to nucleic acid testing since early April, the report said, citing the local authorities.
The doctor paused before banging on the front gate, gesturing to his companions in hazmat suits and masks to stand back so they would not be the first thing the home’s occupants saw.
“This is very sensitive, very difficult,” said Dr. Wissam Cona of the provincial Health Department in Najaf, Iraq. The father at this home had begged him not to come with a retinue of health workers, saying he felt ashamed in front of his neighbors.
For Iraq, one of the biggest obstacles in fighting the coronavirus is the stigma associated with illness and quarantine. People avoid being tested, prevent family members from getting tests and delay seeking medical help until they are catastrophically ill.
That may help explain Iraq has relatively few confirmed coronavirus cases: 1,352 as of Monday. Iran, with roughly twice Iraq’s population, has more than 71,000.
“It is true we have cases that are hidden, and that is because people don’t want to come forward and they are afraid of the quarantine and isolation,” said Dr. Hazim al-Jumaili, a deputy health minister.
The stigma attached to illness and quarantine in Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries reflects cultural and religious beliefs, but also distrust of the government and bitter experience: Given the ragged state of Iraq’s health care system, some fear going to the hospital could be fatal.
“Some believe the virus means that God is displeased with them, or maybe it is a punishment for a sin so they don’t want others to see that they are sick,” said Dr. Emad Abdul Razzak, a consulting psychiatrist at Iraq’s Health Ministry.
While the world may see Japan as a futuristic land of humanoid robots and intelligent toilets, inside its offices, managers maintain a fierce devotion to paper files, fax machines, business card exchanges, face-to-face meetings and official corporate seals.
The stamps, known as hanko or inkan, are used in place of signatures on the stream of documents that fill Japan’s workplaces. They have become a symbol of a hidebound office culture that makes it difficult or impossible for many Japanese to work from home even as the country’s leaders say working remotely is essential to keeping Japan’s coronavirus epidemic from spiraling out of control.
Companies applying for government telework subsidies have reported needing to print out 100 or more pages of documents and deliver them in person.
A survey last month by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism found that fewer than 13 percent of workers were able to work from home. And those who have the option of teleworking fear harm to their careers.
Forced to balance the needs of the office and the risks to their own health, employees like Shuhei Aoyama, 26, say they are losing patience with the country’s work traditions. “It’s not so much our company’s culture as it is Japanese culture that’s causing the problems,” he said.
“Why do we have to put each other at risk just for something trivial like a hanko?” Yoshitaka Hibi, a professor of Japanese literature at Nagoya University, wrote in a Twitter post that was liked more than 28,000 times.
“This is our chance. For the love of god, someone please destroy this custom,” he added.
President Trump, who has repeatedly said it was up to governors to manage the response to the coronavirus pandemic, said on Monday that he would be the one deciding when to reopen the country. His remarks came as governors on each coast said they were working together to determine when and how to ease restrictions.
Democratic governors expressed skepticism about Mr. Trump’s remarks, which raised constitutional questions and signaled the possibility of a major clash if the president tries to reopen businesses in states where governors still want things shut.
The governors of California, Oregon and Washington are working on a regional approach, as are the governors of New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island.
While Mr. Trump has predicted that the economy will bounce back quickly once stay-at-home orders are lifted, evidence points to a long and slow recovery.
Republicans and Democrats in Congress are locked in a stalemate over what should be in an emergency aid package, with Democrats seeking more money for state and local governments, hospitals, food assistance and rapid testing. And the Census Bureau said it was seeking a four-month pandemic-related delay in delivering to Congress the population data used to reapportion the House of Representatives.
Cities and states approached the arrival of the coronavirus with different levels of aggressiveness. Internal emails show that city officials in New Orleans, now one of the country’s virus hot spots, believed there was only a very small chance that someone with the coronavirus would attend its Mardi Gras celebration in late February. Experts now think the festivities accelerated the spread of the virus.
More than 100 million children could be at risk for measles because countries are suspending immunization programs to reduce the risk of coronavirus infection, international public health leaders warned on Monday.
So far, 24 low- and middle-income countries, including Mexico, Nigeria and Cambodia, have paused or postponed such programs, according to the Measles and Rubella Initiative, a consortium whose members include UNICEF, the American Red Cross, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Unlike wealthier countries, where parents typically make appointments to follow a vaccine schedule at clinics or private pediatric offices, these countries inoculate large numbers of infants and children in communal settings.
Reporting was contributed by Ceylan Yeginsu, Abdi Latif Dahir, Megan Specia, Melissa Eddy, Carlotta Gall, Ben Dooley, Makiko Inoue, Keith Bradsher, Kai Schultz, Hari Kumar, Elaine Yu, Kate Taylor, Sebastian Modak, Alissa J. Rubin, William J. Broad, Miriam Jordan, Annie Correal, Ben Dooley and Makiko Inoue contributed reporting.
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