Italy’s death toll soars, surpassing China’s, as other nations in Europe report upticks.
Italy, which has been one of the hardest-hit countries in the world since the coronavirus first began to spread, passed a grim milestone on Thursday: It announced that deaths from the virus had soared to 3,405, outstripping the toll in China, where the virus first hit.
With the crisis mounting, Italy is increasingly turning to its military for help.
Cemeteries in the northern city of Bergamo are so overwhelmed that the army was called in to transport bodies elsewhere to be cremated, and the army sent 120 doctors and health professionals to help in Bergamo and nearby Lodi, two cities in the Lombardy region, while field hospitals and emergency respiratory units are being set up elsewhere in the north.
The spread of the virus in Italy has been swift, and terrifying, even after the country became the first in Europe to impose strict limits on people’s movements to try to curb the outbreak. As the death toll grew, traditional funeral services were outlawed as part of the national restrictions against gatherings.
The country tallied 902 deaths in the last two days alone: 475 Wednesday and 427 on Thursday. Most of those who died had serious pre-existing conditions, officials said. Italy now has 41,035 cases.
The Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, said in an interview in Corriere della Sera Thursday that the country’s restrictive measures are working.
“It’s obvious that when we reach a peak and the contagion begins to descend, at least in percentages, hopefully in a few days, we won’t immediately be able to return to our regular lives,” he said.
In the face of relentlessly bad news, Italians have risen to meet the crisis — the worst the country has faced since World War II — with fortitude, and creative attempts to keep their spirits up. Some housebound Italians, trying to follow social distancing rules in a famously social country, began serenading one another from their balconies in the evenings. And many began taking to their balconies to applaud the doctors and medical workers risking their own lives on the front lines, a show of communal gratitude later emulated by Spain and other countries.
Other countries in Europe also reported upticks. France crossed the threshold of 10,000 coronavirus cases on Thursday as the nation experienced its third day of lockdown, reporting 10,995 cases and 372 deaths.
The French government came under intense pressure from doctors, police and the public over a shortage of face masks and gloves. And after groups of people were seen strolling in the parks of Paris and along France’s coastlines on Wednesday in defiance of the rules, the police moved to close riverside walkways and block beach access in most places.
“There are people who think they are modern-day heroes by breaking the rules while they are in fact idiots,” the country’s interior Minister, Christophe Castaner, told a French radio station.
Spain has reported more than 17,000 cases and 800 deaths. Most of the deaths were in Madrid, where a hotel was converted into the country’s first makeshift coronavirus hospital. The country is scrambling to bolster its public health system amid reports of shortfalls, with some doctors and nurses forced to work without face masks and other basic equipment. The government launched an emergency recruitment plan on Thursday to add tens of thousands of workers to the health sector, ranging from medical students to retired doctors.
The State Department is advising Americans to refrain from travel abroad.
The State Department recommended on Thursday that American citizens abroad either return home or stay in place as the new coronavirus pandemic grows.
The department raised its global travel advisory to level four, the top-tier warning, usually reserved for nations with war zones or beset by serious disruptions.
The announcement is a recommendation, not a requirement. Millions of Americans are still overseas, and many would likely choose to remain in place.
“If you choose to travel internationally, your travel plans may be severely disrupted, and you may be forced to remain outside of the United States for an indefinite time frame,” the advisory said.
Some tourists or American citizens without long-term living arrangements or support networks abroad have been trying to get back to the United States, but have found that difficult because of border closings or the cutting of flight routes and other transportation shutdowns.
President Trump, asked during a briefing on Thursday about Americans stranded abroad and trying to re-enter the United States, said that the administration is working with the military to get them home.
The State Department used five charter flights sent from the United States to evacuate American citizens from Wuhan, China, the center of the outbreak, and two to bring back Diamond Princess cruise ship passengers from Japan, but has no plans at the moment to run similar evacuation flights elsewhere. American diplomats who have returned to the United States from countries where large outbreaks have occurred have done so mostly on commercial flights.
Politico first reported the State Department’s plans on Thursday.
Some other countries have already issued travel advisories telling their citizens to return home or not go abroad. Canada did so last Friday, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in a 14-day period of self-quarantine because his wife, Sophie Trudeau, had tested positive for the new coronavirus. Canada and many other countries have also closed borders to nonessential traffic in an effort to limit the spread of the virus.
Also on Thursday, U.S. military officials announced they would halt deployments into Iraq for at least the next 14 days. The move follows similar initiatives in Afghanistan as the Pentagon wrestles with the spread of the coronavirus.
The change comes at a time when U.S. troops in Iraq are contending with a recent spate of rocket attacks launched by Iranian-linked militias, and as the U.S.-led coalition in the country closes several smaller bases throughout the country.
The decision means some of the more than 5,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq will have to stay longer than expected.
Trump says White House “slashed red tape” to expand trials.
As coronavirus cases soared in the United States and health care workers complained of shortages of critically-needed supplies, President Trump said Thursday that his administration had “slashed red tape” to expand trials for possible treatments but gave mixed signals about whether he would move to compel private industry to produce medical equipment.
With the development of a usable coronavirus vaccine at least a year off, Mr. Trump, surrounded at the White House by leading federal health officials, said that they had been working to swiftly expand trials of several antiviral therapies they hoped would prove effective against the coronavirus.
“I’ve directed the F.D.A. to eliminate outdated rules and bureaucracy so this work can proceed rapidly, quickly, and I mean fast,” said an enthusiastic Mr. Trump, who said that several drugs could turn out to be a “game changer,” before adding a note of caution: “and maybe not.”
Dr. Stephen Hahn, the Food and Drug Administration commissioner, gently tamped down some of Mr. Trump’s optimism, saying that while it was important for doctors to give hope, it was also important “not to provide false hope.”
“We need to make sure the sea of new treatments will get the right drug to the right patients at the right dosage at the right time,” Dr. Hahn said, citing the importance of establishing the safety and efficacy of possible treatments. There is no proven drug treatment for the new coronavirus.
During the briefing, the president and Dr. Hahn said that the F.D.A. had approved the use in coronavirus patients of the prescription drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, which have been used for malaria. There have not been clinical trials to determine whether those drugs actually work for the disease, and Dr. Hahn did not explain why the F.D.A. is supporting their use.
Doctors in China and France have said there were indications they might help, and many hospitals in the United States had already begun using them. Mr. Trump and Dr. Hahn also said they planned to allow patients to gain access to an experimental drug, remdesivir.
When the president was asked if it was acceptable that there were such shortages of masks some health care workers were being urged to reuse them, he turned to Vice President Mike Pence. Mr. Pence said that there had been “a dramatic increase in production” in masks, but did not say when they would be in the hands of health care workers.
Mr. Trump gave mixed signals on whether he would use the Defense Production Act, which authorizes presidents to take extraordinary action to force American industry to ramp up production of critical equipment and supplies. In this case, the list could include ventilators, respirators and protective gear for health care workers.
When asked why he hadn’t yet compelled companies to do this — especially given the projected shortages of masks and lifesaving ventilators — the president first told reporters that governors were responsible for buying equipment for their states.
“Nobody in their wildest dreams would have thought we would need tens of thousands of ventilators,” he said. But he said he would use the power if needed, before adding ambiguously, “You don’t know what we have done.”
The risk of equipment shortages, particularly ventilator shortages, have been known for some time. It was cited in a draft report completed in October after the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services ran a series of exercises to gauge how well prepared the United States was for a pandemic.
The U.S. tested its pandemic response last year and found significant problems.
The United States ran a detailed exercise testing the federal government’s response to a fictional respiratory virus for nine months last year. The simulation’s sobering results — contained in a draft report dated October 2019 that has not previously been reported — drove home just how underfunded, underprepared and uncoordinated the federal government would be for a life-or-death battle with a virus for which no treatment existed.
That scenario, code-named “Crimson Contagion,’’ was simulated by the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services in a series of exercises that ran from last January to August.
In the scenario, the respiratory virus began in China and was quickly spread around the world by air travelers, who ran high fevers. In the United States, it was first detected in Chicago, and 47 days later the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. By then it was too late: 110 million Americans were expected to become ill, leading to 7.7 million hospitalized and 586,000 dead. It was not the first time in recent years that the government had studied its capacity for dealing with a pandemic.
The draft report, marked “not to be disclosed,” laid out in stark detail repeated cases of “confusion” in the exercise. Federal agencies jockeyed over who was in charge. State officials and local hospitals struggled to figure out what kind of equipment was stockpiled or available. Cities and states went their own way on school closings.
Stocks inch higher as Wall Street’s turmoil continues.
Stocks ended slightly higher on Thursday, after a volatile session, as investors weighed fresh evidence of a sharp economic decline against efforts in the United States and Europe to offset the damage.
By the end of the day, which had started with a sharp drop on Wall Street, the S & P 500 rose by less than 1 percent, and shares in Europe also scratched out small gains. Oil prices, which had collapsed by more than 20 percent on Wednesday, sharply rebounded.
The uneven trading came as the steady drumbeat of bad news about the spread of the coronavirus, and its impact on the economy, continued.
In the United States, the number of workers filing first-time claims for unemployment insurance surged, government data released on Thursday showed. Those figures do not reflect the sharp cuts made in the past few days as companies quickly scale down operations. And a survey of manufacturers by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia showed a sudden drop off in activity.
Overnight, the European Central Bank unveiled a huge bond-buying program aimed at preventing economic calamity, and the Fed presented a plan to support money market funds, which are threatened when there is a rush for cash. U.S. officials made progress on passage of stimulus efforts to keep the American economy running. The Bank of England on Thursday announced that it would reduce its benchmark interest rate to 0.1 percent and increase its buying of British government bonds and corporate bonds.
On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the White House’s economic relief plan included sending checks of $1,000 for every American adult and $500 per child within three weeks. If the crisis continues, the plan would be to send checks of the same amounts again in May.
But news of efforts to bolster the economy has been matched by a sharp escalation in the number of coronavirus cases in Europe and the United States, and fresh evidence of the impact on businesses. On Thursday, Ford Motor said that it would suspend its dividend payment and draw down about $15 billion from two lines of credit to help offset the impact of coronavirus-related production shutdowns, becoming the latest company to take such measures to cushion itself.
Panic grows as the number of U.S. cases exceeds 10,000.
The number of known coronavirus cases in the United States surged past 10,000 on Thursday, rippling into Capitol buildings and the homes of mayors and prompting sweeping action even from state leaders who only days ago had been reluctant to order radical changes to daily life.
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order on Thursday stopping dine-in service at restaurants and bars, officially shutting down all schools and gyms, and barring gatherings of more than 10 people statewide. The order, effective at midnight, imposes stringent new regulations similar to those in place in other states on the 28 million residents of Texas.
Known for its independent spirit and pro-business stance, Texas had previously left it to local officials to decide what restrictions were necessary. But by Thursday, Mr. Abbott said serious action had become necessary as numbers in the state had rapidly accelerated over the past week.
The state also declared a public health disaster for the first time since 1901, Mr. Abbott said.
In Georgia, all members of the State Legislature were being asked to self-quarantine on Thursday after a state senator who voted at the Capitol earlier this week tested positive for the coronavirus. In Kentucky, the Louisville mayor reported that his wife had tested positive for the virus. And in New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo waived mortgage payments for 90 days for people facing hardship, while also warning against fear and panic.
“I spend half my day knocking down rumors that we are going to lock people in their homes,” Mr. Cuomo said, noting that New York City seemed to be at “near panic levels.”
“I am not going to imprison anyone in the state of New York in their homes,” he said. “I am not going to declare martial law in the state of New York.”
Some states were also recognizing the ongoing need for basic necessities, including food, by classifying grocery store workers as emergency personnel. In Minnesota this week, Gov. Tim Walz passed an executive order recognizing store clerks, stockers, food preparation personnel, cleaning staff and deli staff as “Emergency Tier 2” workers, which will allow the workers to receive free child care.
Vermont is also planning to reimburse private child care centers that are looking after children of emergency workers. The state’s public safety commissioner, Michael Schirling, said he would add grocery store workers to the growing list of essential employees that would receive free child care.
And Connecticut is joining the list of states putting off voting during the coronavirus outbreak, postponing its presidential primary from April 28 to June 2. The governors of Maryland and Ohio, two others states that are rescheduling their primaries, have also selected that date. It is among the last dates available before the June 9 deadline set by the Democratic National Committee for states to hold their nominating contests.
The virus is forcing Americans to confront the possibility of mandatory quarantines.
In New York State, more than 1,700 people are under mandatory quarantine orders, which have provoked concern and confusion.
In North Salem, N.Y., a day after Bill Roberts’s oldest daughter was tested, two nurses from the county health department showed up in hazmat suits at his front door, requested to test the seven other people in the house, and delivered a four-page order barring them from leaving home for two weeks.
“It has been strange — we had no idea that it was going to happen,” Mr. Roberts said.
He added that he had called the hotline number listed on the order about 10 times and was told something different each time. The order said they would be provided with food and other services, but one person on the hotline suggested it would be quicker to ask neighbors for help, for example.
After several days and an inquiry from The New York Times, state officials said the Roberts household was quarantined by mistake and lifted the order.
In the United States, the right to quarantine individuals is most widely held by states and local governments under their “police powers” to protect public health. Laws vary by state, but generally accepted medical guidelines suggest using quarantines as a last resort and ensuring the right of appeal.
Legal experts warn that the lack of clear laws will cause widespread confusion. Though they are rare, there are precedents, including when the Connecticut forced eight people into quarantine during the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak.
With Ebola raging across West Africa, two Yale graduate students and an immigrant family arrived from Liberia. The country had the highest death rate during the 2014 outbreak, but neither the two students nor the family had been directly exposed to any victims, their lawyers say.
In a case still on appeal and designed by a Yale Law School clinic partly to try to set a modern legal precedent, they sued over their treatment in a case that raises far-reaching questions. The plaintiffs claimed that Connecticut failed to meet basic requirements, including providing services and the right to appeal.
As China reports zero local infections, a new study finds the death rate in Wuhan was lower than previously thought.
A new study reports that people who became sick with Covid-19 in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the outbreak began, had a lower death rate than previously thought.
The study, published Thursday in the journal Nature Medicine, calculated that people with coronavirus symptoms in Wuhan had a 1.4 percent likelihood of dying. Some previous estimates have ranged from 2 percent to 3.4 percent.
Assessing the risk of death in Wuhan is instructive because it provides a snapshot of the epidemic from the beginning, when doctors were scrambling to treat people with a brand-new virus and hospitals were overwhelmed.
Some experts say that such a benchmark — known as the case fatality rate — could be lower in countries like the United States if measures like widespread business and school closures and appeals for social distancing have the desired effect of slowing the spread of the disease.
But a 1.4 percent case fatality rate still means a lot of deaths. By comparison, the average seasonal flu kills about 0.1 percent of the people it infects in the United States.
Also, on Thursday, China reported no new local infections for the previous day for the first time since the coronavirus crisis began, a milestone in its costly battle with the outbreak that has since spread around the world. Officials said 34 new coronavirus cases had been confirmed, all of them involving people who had come to China from elsewhere.
In signaling that an end to China’s epidemic might be in sight, the announcement could pave the way for officials to focus on reviving the country’s economy. But China is not out of danger. Experts have said that it will need to see at least 14 consecutive days without new infections for the outbreak to be considered over. It remains to be seen whether the virus will re-emerge once daily life restarts and travel restrictions are lifted.
Senate Republicans are drafting a plan to send $1,200 checks to taxpayers as part of $1 trillion rescue effort.
Senate Republicans, racing to fill in the details of a $1 trillion or larger economic stabilization package requested by the White House, have drafted a plan that would send payments of $1,200 to individual taxpayers and $2,400 to families, with another $500 per child, according to two people familiar with the negotiations who insisted on anonymity to describe an emerging proposal.
The direct payments, they said, would begin phasing out for those earning more than $75,000. Individuals who made more than $99,000 and families earning more than $198,000 would not be eligible.
Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said earlier Thursday that the administration wants to send two waves of $1,000 checks to each American, and another $500 per child — one in April and another in May should the coronavirus crisis continue.
The details could change as fast-paced talks on the package proceed. They emerged as Republicans huddled privately to hammer out a proposal that would be the starting point for negotiations with Democrats on the stabilization package, which leaders hope can be signed into law within days.
Doctors and nurses plead for masks and other equipment.
The Open Cities Community Health Center in St. Paul, Minn., is considering shutting its doors, because of a dwindling supply of face masks. Doctors at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis have been forced to perform invasive procedures with loose fitting surgical masks rather than the tight respirator masks recommended by health agencies. At one Los Angeles emergency room, doctors examining a suspected coronavirus patient were given a box of expired masks.
When they tried to secure them to their faces, the elastic bands snapped.
With cases soaring, doctors, nurses and other front-line medical workers across the United States are confronting a dire shortage of masks, surgical gowns and eye gear to protect them from the virus.
“There’s absolutely no way to protect myself,” said Dr. Faezah A. Bux, an anesthesiologist in central Kentucky who in recent days had to intubate several elderly patients in respiratory distress without the N95 masks and protective eye gear recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Not only can I not protect myself, I can’t protect my patients.”
At a White House briefing on Thursday, Mr. Trump said millions of masks were in production and that the federal government had made efforts to address the shortages. But he said it was largely up to governors to deal with the problem.
“The federal governments aren’t supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping,” Mr. Trump said. “You know, we’re not a shipping clerk.”
He said there were no immediate plans to activate the Defense Production Act, which authorizes presidents to take extraordinary action to force American industry to ramp up production of equipment needed for national security.
“We hope we are not going to need it,” he said.
The president’s optimistic statements contrasted starkly with the situation on the ground. Rebecca Bartles, who heads infection prevention efforts for the Providence St. Joseph hospital chain based in Washington, said it was only a matter of days before some of the system’s 51 hospitals and 800 clinics run out of personal protective equipment, often referred to as P.P.E.
“We’re on mile one of a marathon,” she said. “If we’re out of P.P.E. now, what does mile 25 look like?”
With two members of Congress sickened, leaders face pressure to allow remote voting.
In back-to-back statements on Wednesday, Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, Republican of Florida, and Representative Ben McAdams, Democrat of Utah, both announced that they had fallen ill after voting on the House floor early Saturday, and subsequently tested positive for the virus.
The news stoked anxiety that has been building among the 435 members of the House for days about the wisdom of gathering — in defiance of public health guidelines that warn against meetings of 10 people or more — to debate and vote in the House chamber.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that the House would return to Washington to consider additional economic relief legislation, and the Senate is in talks with the White House on a $1 trillion plan that could be approved within days.
Ms. Pelosi and other top Democrats have discussed instituting social distancing to limit the number of lawmakers on the House floor at one time, but resisted the idea of allowing members to vote remotely. News of the virus’s spread among lawmakers has fueled calls for her to change course.
“In. Person. Voting. Should. Be. Reconsidered,” Representative Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Democrat of Florida, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “For the safety of our communities, during this emergency, we must be able to legislate from our districts.”
Brazil shuts down land borders as travel is halted across Latin America.
Brazil on Thursday joined neighbors that have acted with stunning speed and severity to restrict the movement of people in an effort to spare the region from widespread contagion.
The measure marked a turnaround for the government of President Jair Bolsonaro, who in recent days dismissed calls for severe measures to curb the virus “hysteria.” That view subjected him to withering criticism, even from former allies, and protests by people who for two consecutive nights have banged pans from their windows while chanting anti-Bolsonaro slogans.
As of Thursday afternoon, Brazil had 529 confirmed coronavirus cases, more than 11,000 suspected cases and four deaths. Even as cases climb, Brazil has yet to adopt more restrictive measures implemented by Peru, Chile and Argentina, which have sought to bring all but essential movement to a standstill.
Netanyahu says Israeli police will enforce a strict order for residents to stay home.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday ordered Israelis to stay in their homes except when buying groceries or medicine and said his decree would be enforced by the police.
He said Israel had escaped any virus fatalities, but that this was not expected to continue.
“We’re talking about saving very many lives — saving family members, friends, neighbors, from death,” Mr. Netanyahu said grimly, in a nationally televised briefing that he has made a nightly prime-time ritual. “If anyone thinks I’m exaggerating, look at the images coming from Spain, from Italy.”
The order will apply initially for seven days. Essential workers will still be permitted to travel to their jobs, and citizens can leave their homes to buy food, medicine and other necessities.
Mr. Netanyahu said his caretaker government was making a “mighty effort” to address shortages of vital supplies. Reports early Thursday identified looming shortages of disinfectants, and the procurement of 100,000 testing kits by Israel’s Mossad spy agency proved only a partial success when health officials said the kits did not include the swabs that Israel lacks.
He faulted ordinary Israelis for their approach to the government’s warnings about the contagion so far.
“Don’t say, ‘It won’t happen to me, it won’t happen to my family,’ because if you don’t behave correctly, it will happen to you,’” he said.
What does ‘social distancing’ actually mean?
Reporting and research were contributed by Sarah Mervosh, Elisabetta Povoledo, Michael Cooper, Katie Rogers, Edward Wong, Raphael Minder, Neil MacFarquhar, Ernesto Londoño, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Karen Zraick, Katie Thomas, Elisabetta Povoledo, Niki Kitsantonis, David E. Sanger, Eric Lipton, Eileen Sullivan, Michael Crowley, Aurelien Breeden, Javier C. Hernández, Alisa Dogramadzieva, Marc Santora, Megan Specia, Melissa Eddy, Nick Corasaniti, Lara Jakes, Ana Swanson, Nicholas Fandos, Emily Cochrane, Rick Gladstone, Megan Twohey, Steve Eder, Mariel Padilla, David M. Halbfinger, Isabel Kershner and Marc Stein.