Japan could be at high risk
Since the first coronavirus case was confirmed in Japan in mid-January, health officials have reassured the public that their early containment measures have prevented the virus from raging out of control. The country of almost 127 million people has reported only 1,300 cases and 45 deaths.
But that tone has changed. On Thursday, Japan’s health minister, Katsunobu Kato, warned of evidence that Japan was now at a high risk of rampant infection.
Cases have spiked in Tokyo, setting records for four days running, and more localities have told residents that they should avoid nonessential outings. On Tuesday, the Tokyo Olympics were delayed for a year.
But the public is still not taking officials’ warnings seriously. While schools have been closed for a month and large events canceled, life has otherwise returned to normal. People gather in parks, ride the subway and go out to eat. And testing is still limited, raising fears about the full scope of the virus’s progression through the country.
Driven by his own curiosity, a writer for The Times Magazine traveled to the area around the former nuclear plant, the site of arguably the worst ecological catastrophe in history. “I was on a kind of perverse pilgrimage,” he writes. “I wanted to see what the end of the world looked like.”
Above, two tourists at an abandoned amusement park in Pripyat, a city built for Chernobyl workers.
Here’s what else is happening
U.S.-Venezuela: In a highly unusual move, the U.S. charged a head of state, President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, in a narco-terrorism and cocaine trafficking conspiracy. The indictment escalated the Trump administration’s pressure campaign to get Mr. Maduro to leave office.
Snapshot: Above, the business class cabin on a recent flight. Travelers around the world sent us their photos of the eerie emptiness the coronavirus pandemic has caused.
What we’re reading: This Jezebel essay from a writer grappling with a sudden love for Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York. Sarah Lyall, a writer at large for The Times, calls it “funny and true.” She adds: “And please stay for the clip of the two Cuomo brothers squabbling with each other about which one their mother loves more.”
Now, a break from the news
Most probably you’re in the same position so many of us are in right now: hunkered down, screening away, trying to get a handle on our new reality. We’re here with news that is good, with stories of beauty and art and style, with pleasant distractions and arguments in favor of a cultured life in a time that is grim. — Sam Sifton
Cook from your pantry: Melissa Clark’s recipe for an omelet with a garlicky tahini filling could be your rich, tasty lunch in minutes.
Watch: Joe Coscarelli’s “Diary of a Song” is a marvelous use of the internet, and you’re going to fall in love with Grimes. Then, when was the last time you screened “Top Gun”? A.O. Scott, our critic at large, just saw it for the very first time.
Listen: We’ve got the best podcast for kids. And a whole lot of musical theater, dance and classical music to stream.
And now for the Back Story on …
The biggest lockdown on the planet
Jeffrey Gettleman, our New Delhi bureau chief, has been covering Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s lockdown of India’s 1.3 billion people. I spoke with him about the unanswered questions in the government’s sweeping guidelines and what we can expect next.
Walk us through the lead-up to the lockdown. On the ground, were you surprised that people seemed to immediately stay home and follow the rules?
There had been a steady ratcheting up of restrictions around India. So, the lockdown that Modi announced for the entire government was pretty consistent with what was already happening in some places, including New Delhi.
India has strong internal control by its security forces. The police forces are employed to control the population. People tend to be scared of police officers on the street, and they want to get out of their way. They treat citizens pretty harshly.
The government here is trying to learn from the mistakes or the slowness of what happened in other countries. They saw what happened in China and how effective lockdowns were once they were put in place — that’s more their model than anything else.
India’s caseload is still relatively low — about 600 confirmed infections. What’s the big worry when the number grows?
The country spends very little on health care per capita. So the health care system here is underfunded, and it’s an enormous population, it’s 1.3 billion people. Public hospitals, the number of doctors, the number of beds, equipment they use, it’s all below the standards of most other parts of the world.
Some of the best hospitals in the world are really struggling. So just imagine how a hospital that has much fewer resources would respond.
You’ve written about what this means for India’s poor and for informal workers who might live hand-to-mouth or paycheck to paycheck. Can you expand?
They can withstand a few days of no work. Can they withstand a few weeks or a few months?
Informal workers can’t get to their places of work. Factories have been closed, public transportation has been closed. There are thousands and thousands of people who make money as rickshaw drivers, who support their families doing that.
There has been talk of giving them cash subsidies. There has been talk of pressuring landlords or asking landlords not to demand rent at the time being from poor people — that has yet to be enacted into law.
There will be a cost. In a place where people live hand-to-mouth, huge economic costs can carry a lot of other problems — health problems, malnutrition.
Are we finding out more about how people are going to access the essential services exempt from the lockdown?
They haven’t spelled this out super clearly. The gist of it is that you can go to your closest pharmacy or food source, and because India is so densely populated, those places are everywhere. So people are walking to those areas.
There’s been some confusion, and some pharmacies and food shops were made to shut. So, there’s confusion in how these rules are being enforced. Some journalists have gotten beaten up, because the police officers said they weren’t allowed to travel. But it explicitly says if you’re media, you’re exempt from the rules.
What are we watching for next?
The big question is how much community transmission is happening, if at all. If the disease begins to spread person to person from people who had no connection to the outside, then that’s really scary.
These neighborhoods are some of the most densely populated parts of the world, endless blocks of tenement apartments squeeze really close to each other, with narrow lanes between them and open sewage running alongside the sidewalk and people together — mile after mile of it.
And then another part of this is: India’s trying to do what nobody else has done, pull off the unprecedented, which is to stop the virus in its tracks. No other population has managed to do that. It’s going to be really interesting if they can pull it off.
That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.
To Mark Josephson, Chris Harcum and Eleanor Stanford for the break from the news. You can reach the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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