Coronavirus World Updates – The New York Times

E.U. faces new criticism over China’s censorship of opinion piece.

The European Union faces new embarrassment and criticism over its clumsy efforts to stay on the good side of China while promoting itself as a defender of transparency and the rule of law.

The censored material in both cases referred to China as the source of the new coronavirus, an increasingly neuralgic issue for China’s leader, Xi Jinping. The Communist Party’s propaganda department has been orchestrating a fierce counterattack against the idea, claiming that the truth is still unclear and even suggesting the U.S. military was the true source.

The European Union defended the first case, asserting that there were always two versions, one for internal consumption and one for the public, but admitted that China pushed hard to alter an early, leaked version.

This latest embarrassment was the doing of Mr. Chapuis, the bloc said; he did not consult Brussels or member states before agreeing to the change in an op-ed published in the state-run China Daily designed to celebrate E.U.-China relations and supposedly signed by the ambassadors of all 27 member states.

Mr. Chapuis is widely regarded by critics as soft on China.

As a sign of displeasure, the Beijing embassies of Germany, France and Italy published the full letter.

Virginie Battu-Henriksson, a spokeswoman for the European Union, said that Mr. Chapuis had acted “with considerable reluctance” but said: “This decision, taken under great time pressure, was not the right one to take,” and “this has been made clear to the ambassador.”

Reinhard Bütikofer, chief of the European Parliament’s delegation to China, called for Mr. Chapuis to be fired. “If the ambassador has indeed decided on his own responsibility to accept the censorship, then he is the wrong man for the job and must leave,” Mr. Bütikofer said.

When Valentine Ochogo arrived home in Kenya after being laid off from her job in Dubai, she was put in quarantine in a university dormitory with other travelers — one step in the government’s aggressive, often-praised campaign to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

But instead of the mandated 14-day quarantine period, she was confined for 32 days, often cold, hungry and so frightened that, she said, she blocked the door at night with an empty bed. Although Ms. Ochogo tested negative for the coronavirus three times, she said that government officials would not release her until she paid $434 in fees.

After she managed to negotiate the amount down to $65, Ms. Ochogo, 26, was freed.

“Am out,” a relieved Ms. Ochogo texted on April 24, saying later, “I got really lucky.”

Kenya’s government is now facing mounting criticism for its response to the pandemic — particularly its use of quarantine centers.

The measures may have helped to suppress the number of cases in this East African nation: a country of about 47 million people has so far reported 607 cases, 29 fatalities and 197 recoveries.

But the government has also been accused of extremes. In the first 10 days of the curfew, Kenyan police officers killed at least six people while trying to enforce the lockdown, according to Human Rights Watch.

Citizens stopped by the police for violating curfew or not wearing masks have been sent not to police stations, but to quarantine, sometimes held in compounds with people known to be infected.

“During an emergency like this, you need to be persuading people to cooperate rather than coercing them, especially if your argument is that it is in their best interest,” said Dr. Lukoye Atwoli, associate professor at the Moi University School of Medicine and the vice president of the Kenya Medical Association.

Sixteen migrant workers in central India were crushed to death by a locomotive on Friday morning as they were journeying home, the latest casualties connected to India’s coronavirus lockdown and the efforts to reopen parts of the economy.

The migrants were among the enormous wave of causal workers who have been streaming out of India’s cities back to their home villages. In recent days, India’s government, which at first had blocked migrants from moving state to state, eased the lockdown rules to allow some migrants to travel.

Indian news reports said the migrant workers had been laid off from a steel factory because of the coronavirus lockdown, and officials said they were sleeping on the tracks. Apparently, they were on their way home, several hundred miles away, when they stopped to rest.

“They thought trains were not moving and it was a safe spot,” said Dyanoba Banapure, a government official in the area.

On Thursday, a factory owned by the South Korean conglomerate LG emitted a cloud of toxic vapor that enveloped several nearby villages in Visakhapatnam. Preliminary investigations indicate that the accident was caused by a leak in a styrene tank that had not been checked in weeks.

The plastics factory was in the process of reopening for the first time since India’s lockdown was imposed in late March when the accident happened.

Officials said dangerous pressure had been building in the styrene tank during the lockdown and that factory workers improperly opened a valve on the tank, releasing a huge cloud of toxic vapor that left people dying in nearby roads and hundreds others rushing to hospitals.

In seeking to slow the spread of the coronavirus, experts have long warned people not to touch their faces — a hard-to-resist habit — before washing their hands with soap. Now, the eyes have been found to play an important role in transmitting the highly contagious virus.

In a study published in The Lancet medical journal on Thursday, a team of researchers at the University of Hong Kong found that the novel coronavirus is “much more efficient” in infecting humans than the virus that causes SARS.

“The ability for the novel coronavirus to replicate in the upper respiratory tract and the conjunctiva,” or the transparent tissue that covers the white of the eye and lines the inside of the eyelid, “is about 80 to 100 times higher than that of SARS,” said Dr. Michael Chan, the study’s lead researcher.

The finding, which the researchers say explains the novel coronavirus’s higher transmissibility, “also highlights the fact that eyes may be an important route” for infections, Dr. Chan added.

SARS infected more than 8,000 people and killed nearly 800, including 299 in Hong Kong, during its deadly outbreak in 2002 and 2003.

Wang Guangfa, a top government respiratory expert in China who contracted the novel coronavirus during an inspection in Wuhan in January, suspected he became sickened through his unprotected eyes, having worn only an N95 mask. The study on Thursday also underlines the importance of protective goggles for health workers battling the pandemic.

Li Mingqin’s factory in central China makes products for happy times, using feathers from chickens and other poultry to produce masquerade masks and badminton shuttlecocks. But with the pandemic, new orders have come to a screeching halt and she, like many other small business owners, wonders how she will survive.

She has more than 100 employees whom she has not paid in a month, and whom she promises to pay in June. She has hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of feathers and other supplies stacked in a warehouse.

While China has almost completely stamped out local transmission of the coronavirus, its financial regulators are trying hard to help the country’s small businesses weather the current global collapse in consumer demand. Commercial banks are now free to lend to small businesses part of the money that they previously had to park with the central bank. Regulators are calling bank chief executives daily to tell them to roll over the loans of small businesses.

Borrowers who miss payments on bank loans are not being penalized on their credit histories if they can come up with the money later. Companies that agree not to lay off employees are eligible for extra loans.

But tapping all that credit requires having a banking relationship. The banks deal mainly with state-owned enterprises and some of the larger private businesses. Companies like Ms. Li’s, the Gelan Handicraft Factory in Anhui province, have struggled to obtain bank loans and rely mainly on borrowing from friends and relatives — and many of them face their own financial difficulties now.

Ms. Li has dismissed her nanny and started cooking for herself.

“My husband and I are under great pressure and often can’t sleep all night” worrying about the factory, she said. “I don’t know the future, I’m so confused, I don’t know how long it can last.”

The Australian government on Friday outlined a cautious, three-step plan to reopen the country by July, with states and territories in control of the timeline.

“We cannot allow our fear of going backwards from stopping us from going forward,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The plan’s tentative first stage will allow Australians to hold public gatherings of up to 10 people. Schools, playgrounds, some eateries and community centers will be allowed to reopen, with social distancing.

If all goes well, officials said, Australians may be allowed to travel between states and attend public gatherings up to 100 people by July. The plan will be reviewed every three weeks, and further outbreaks would most likely occur. But the country was committed to moving forward with the plan, Mr. Morrison said.

“If not now, then when?” he added. He encouraged Australians to download a government app aimed at contact tracing.

The country has now tested over 730,000 people for the virus, with 6,900 confirmed cases and 97 deaths.

The slow reopening was met with cautious support by many Australians. “I still feel the need to be super vigilant, especially with risk groups like my grandparents, said Desmond Cohn, 26, from Sydney, where some restrictions were relaxed and beaches were recently reopened for exercise.

The country also joined a meeting of countries on Thursday, led by Austria and including Greece, Israel, Denmark, Singapore, Norway, New Zealand and the Czech Republic, to compare strategies on reopening their economies. Australia has called for an independent inquiry into the origin of the pandemic, which has caused frictions with its largest trading partner, China. “We just want to know what happened so it doesn’t happen again,” Mr. Morrison said on Friday.

Britain’s National Health Service is moving forward with an app to track the spread of the virus despite questions about the technology’s effectiveness, privacy safeguards and compatibility with key iPhone and Android features.

Officials are counting on the technology, which is designed to alert anyone who may have come into contact with an infected person, to help ease lockdown orders. But a dispute over privacy — and over how much data the authorities can collect — has hampered the rollout and pitted the government against Apple and Google, which are pushing a competing design for exposure tracing.

The British government may be overmatched by the Silicon Valley titans, which control the software that runs on nearly every smartphone on the planet. Unless Britain changes course, the companies are refusing to provide access to a Bluetooth signal on iPhones and Android phones.

The debate is about balancing public health and individual privacy. British officials say that more can be learned about the virus by collecting information in a centralized database. Apple and Google, supported by academics and privacy groups, are promoting a decentralized approach that would protect against invasions of privacy.

In Australia, an app similar to the British one has been criticized for technical problems. Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland are developing apps that support the Apple-Google specifications.

President Trump said on Thursday that he and Vice President Mike Pence, as well as members of the White House staff, would be tested every day for the coronavirus after a military aide who has had contact with the president was found to have the virus.

Asked by reporters about the aide, whom a senior administration official described as a personal valet to the president, Mr. Trump played down the matter. “I’ve had very little contact, personal contact, with this gentleman,” he said. But he added that he and other officials and staff members at the White House would be tested more frequently.

A White House spokesman said Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence had both tested negative for the virus since their exposure to the military aide. But the episode raised new questions about how well-protected Mr. Trump and other top officials are as they work at the White House, typically without wearing masks, particularly in advance of a meeting on Friday with World War II veterans.

Eight of the veterans — each older than 95, an age group at high statistical risk for serious illness from the coronavirus — were scheduled to take part in a photo-op at the White House and an event at the World War II Memorial nearby to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the German surrender, known as V-E Day. The granddaughter of one of the veterans said she thought asking the veterans to travel across the country was “very irresponsible.”

Many Americans have severely restricted their travel since the coronavirus outbreak came to light. One airline said on Thursday that its staff would take passengers’ temperatures before they boarded commercial flights, the latest effort to make travel safer as parts of the economy reopen.

Tehran earthquake sends thousands of residents into the streets.

An earthquake with the magnitude of 5.1 shook Tehran around 1 a.m. on Friday, with at least 20 aftershocks sending thousands of panicked residents into the streets.

Tehran residents have been struggling to manage the threat of the coronavirus pandemic for over two months, and Friday’s quake saw people crowding together fearfully in the aftermath.

There were no casualties reported in Tehran but in Damavand, the epicenter of the quake about 6.2 miles northeast of Tehran, a 60-year-old man died and eight others were injured. There were no immediate reports of buildings or hospitals being damaged, said Tehran’s governor, Anoushirvan Mohseni-Bandpey.

The government’s management of the pandemic has drawn criticism from Iranians who are anxious over the lack of a strict lockdown order. Health officials said this week that the pandemic is still spreading, with a steady increase in numbers in at least 15 provinces.

The quake hit when most people were at home sleeping or watching television. Videos shared on social media showed the moment when walls began rattling and people ran for their doors.

Eyewitnesses in Tehran said streets were packed with people standing around on sidewalks, huddled in parks and camping outside for the night. Some people wore masks but many did not observe social distancing in the chaos of trying to take shelter outdoors.

“There are thousands of people outside, it’s even more crowded than daylight here,” Pooriya Asteraky, a resident of Tehran, said in a telephone interview.

Around Tehran, people were sleeping in their parked cars along the sides of roads, fearful of going back inside.

“People should be on high alert and observe health protocols related to the coronavirus when they come out of the house,” Mr. Mohseni-Bandpey said in a TV broadcast.

A Russian steel magnate had his company supply respirator masks for the police, ventilators for hospitals, housing for people in isolation, software for quarantine compliance and workers for lockdown patrols.

The fantastically rich oligarchs who own Russia’s biggest businesses have become central figures in the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

With local health systems buckling, some oligarchs are deploying millions of dollars of their own cash, along with their companies’ logistics and procurement capacity, while urging slow-moving regional authorities to act with more resolve.

Under President Vladimir V. Putin, oligarchs have depended on the Kremlin’s benevolence, and the pandemic illustrates how much Mr. Putin’s system of governance relies on informal alliances with business tycoons.

The battle against the coronavirus is also revealing the weaknesses of the Russian state, which has neglected investment in health care and other social services, and at first did not respond aggressively to the pandemic.

So people like the steel magnate, Alexei A. Mordashov, have stepped in. He helped persuade regional governors to shut down the cities where he operates, and provided resources to make it happen.

For a fertilizer tycoon, Andrei A. Guryev, closing off the isolated Siberian region around one of his operations was simpler — his company owns the local airport and the ski resort.

The drop in airline travel caused by the pandemic has sharply reduced the amount of atmospheric data routinely gathered by commercial airliners, the World Meteorological Organization has said.

The agency said Thursday that it was “concerned about the increasing impact” on forecasts worldwide.

Data on temperature, wind and humidity, collected by sensors on the planes and transmitted in real time to forecasting organizations around the world, has been cut by nearly 90 percent in some regions, the meteorological organization said.

The organization, an arm of the United Nations that coordinates a global observing system for 193 member nations, said surface-based weather observations had also been affected in some parts of the world, including Africa and Central and South America. Many weather instruments there are not automated and must be visited regularly to obtain readings.

National weather agencies “are facing increasingly severe challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, especially in developing countries,” the agency’s director-general, Petteri Taalas, said, in a statement.

“As we approach the Atlantic hurricane season, the Covid-19 pandemic poses an additional challenge, and may exacerbate multi-hazard risks at a single country level,” he said.

A few events were canceled outright, including the Tour of Switzerland. But most of the races originally planned for March through July have been crammed into the new schedule, somehow, someway.

Many multiday races overlap, most notably two of the Grand Tours, in Spain and Italy. The Giro d’Italia will start on Oct. 3 but not end until Oct. 25. The Vuelta d’Espana will start on Oct. 20, before the Giro ends. As recently as 2008, Alberto Contador won both races in the same year. That will be impossible in 2020.

The Tour de France, which is to be held in September instead of June and July, usually has little major competition for attention. But this year it will be held simultaneously with an important weeklong Italian race, the Tirreno-Adriatico, which has been won in recent years by Tour champions Contador, Vincenzo Nibali and Cadel Evans.

Reporting and research were contributed by Elaine Yu, Abdi Latif Dahir, Steven Erlanger, Isabella Kwai, Jeffrey Gettleman, Suhasini Raj, Keith Bradsher, Liu Yi, Adam Satariano, Farnaz Fassihi, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Michael Levenson, Michael Crowley, Michael D. Shear, Anton Troianovski, Henry Fountain and Victor Mather.

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