Coronavirus, China, Italy: Your Thursday Briefing

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Good morning.

We’re covering a bleak coronavirus milestone in Europe, the desperate search for ventilators and a Manhattan without live music.

The pandemic has reached an inflection point: On a day when the Chinese government saw no new local infections, officials in Europe said on Wednesday that the virus had now infected and killed more people there than in China, where it emerged.

As Europe reported more than 3,400 deaths and 82,000 confirmed cases, Italy alone reported 475 deaths in a single day — the highest daily total in any country so far. Here’s the latest and maps of the outbreak.

“Take it seriously,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a televised address to Germany, which has 8,200 cases and counting. “Since German reunification — no, since World War II — our country has never faced a challenge where we depended so much on our collective actions and solidarity.”

But there were signs of fraying unity as the resurrection of border controls caused chaos and traffic jams, particularly in Hungary.

The virus has also created generational friction: Some older Europeans criticize young people for blithely ignoring warnings about social distancing, while young activists wonder why governments aren’t bringing the same urgency to the climate crisis that they do to the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • The British pound fell to its lowest level in 35 years against the American dollar, as Wall Street had another disastrous day and the American oil benchmark dropped 24 percent. We have live updates.

  • The European Central Bank announced a program to buy up to 750 billion euros’ worth of financial assets, and President Trump signed a $1 trillion relief package that would provide sick leave, unemployment benefits and free coronavirus testing.

  • Countries in southern Europe that cut back on health care spending during the eurozone debt crisis are tragically vulnerable to the pandemic, writes our business correspondent in Frankfurt. But northern countries have their own weaknesses.

  • The American economy is poised for the worst quarterly contraction ever — more akin to what happened in wartime Europe than during the financial crisis. Our DealBook columnist, Andrew Ross Sorkin, has a not-so-modest proposal for how the U.S. government can cope with the Covid-19 economic crisis.

  • The border between Canada and the U.S., the world’s longest, will close to all but essential traffic.

What to know: The Times is providing free access to much of our coronavirus coverage, and our Coronavirus Briefing newsletter — like all of our newsletters — is free. Please consider supporting our journalism with a subscription.

Doctors in Britain, the U.S. and beyond are confronting an inescapable reality: When coronavirus cases inevitably pour into their hospitals, as they have in northern Italy, there will not be enough lifesaving ventilator machines to go around.

And manufacturers across Europe and the U.S. have been unable to speed up production fast enough to meet soaring demand.

“The reality is, there is absolutely not enough,” said the chief executive of Hamilton Medical, a Switzerland-based firm that manufactures ventilators. “We see that in Italy, we saw that in China, we see it in France and other countries. We could sell, I don’t know how many.”

In Italy, the shortage is already so critical that officials are said to be looking into whether ventilators designed for animals can be used on humans. And as cases multiply, an Italian doctor writes in a Times Op-Ed, “the country’s health care system may soon collapse.”

In Britain, English hospitals have roughly 8,200 ventilators on hand and are in the process of getting about 3,800 others. But tens of thousands of patients are expected to need critical care in the coming weeks.

In the U.S., President Trump on Wednesday ordered American industry to ramp up production of ventilators and other critical equipment — two days after telling governors to “try getting it yourselves.” But desperate hospitals can’t find any to buy.

China pledged on Wednesday to provide two million surgical masks, 200,000 advanced masks and 50,000 testing kits to Europe. That’s part of Beijing’s global effort to reposition itself — from authoritarian incubator of a pandemic to responsible leader at a moment of crisis.

The aid blitz puts China in a leadership role that, until the Trump administration began its “America First” retreat from international engagement, was long occupied by the U.S.

Related: Our video team analyzed the coronavirus messages that China is projecting overseas.

Yesterday: President Trump doubled down on calling the new contagion a “Chinese virus,” ignoring a growing chorus of criticism that the term is racist and anti-Chinese.

Another angle: China’s decision to expel American journalists from The Times and other news outlets signals that “Beijing feels it no longer needs the foreign media to reach the world,” our “New New World” columnist writes.

Our longtime music critic Jon Pareles has been going to at least a couple of concerts a week since the 1970s. So the pandemic, which has shuttered New York City’s music venues, has left him feeling disoriented.

In an essay, he expresses sympathy for musicians whose gigs were canceled, and reflects on the “mysterious alchemy” that they create onstage. (Above, the Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan.)

Live music is inherently social and serendipitous, Jon writes, not least because it creates “a wordless but intense feedback loop between players and listeners.”

The “Nobel Prize of computing”: Two pioneers who helped develop computer-generated imagery at the film studio Pixar will receive this year’s Turing Award.

What we’re looking at: This Twitter feed from the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, which follows the adventures of Edward and Annie, a bonded pair of rockhopper penguins who were allowed to explore the empty aquarium. “The pitter-patter of their feet wandering around the exhibits is just the break from the news I needed,” says Remy Tumin, who is on the Briefings team.

Cook: The key to this filling black bean soup is to season generously and purée sparingly. A batch makes 10 servings, so it can last all week. (In her guide Stocking Your Pantry, the Smart Way, Melissa Clark recommends keeping both dried and canned beans on hand.)

Watch: Our critic recommends 12 great true-crime documentaries to watch while you’re self-quarantining.

Read: In “Sick Souls, Healthy Minds,” the writer John Kaag copes with a turbulent period in his personal life by reading William James, a 19th-century philosopher and psychologist who suffered from anxiety and depression.

Smarter Living: Here are 10 tips for easing your coronavirus anxiety and putting the pandemic in perspective.

We spoke with Thomas Fuller, our San Francisco bureau chief, about the “shelter in place” order that was enacted in California’s Bay Area this week. It requires people to largely stay at home except for essential activities.

Why is the Bay Area the first place in the U.S. with such tight restrictions on movement?

Well, the Bay Area chose the Bay Area. The health officers here got together, because they saw the cases accelerating. I think there was a real fear that if they didn’t do this now, they would miss any opportunity to mitigate the severity of the outbreak.

You used to be based in Southeast Asia. How does this compare with controls there?

The U.S. is a very individualistic society, built on the idea of these individual rights. So, this is a big test not only for the San Francisco Bay Area, but for America — the question being: Will people in America sacrifice their own individual liberty for the greater good of the community?

Asian societies are more based on the community, the group, the collective. Which is why these kinds of measures are more accepted there.

How is California taking care of its homeless populations?

The homeless have a horrible double vulnerability. There’s a study out of Washington State that found that 30 percent of homeless people have lung disease before any discussion of coronavirus, so they’re very vulnerable. Second, we’ve reported that at some shelters on the West Coast, beds are less than two feet apart. Experts have recommended being six feet away from people.

That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Mike

Thank you
To Mark Josephson and Eleanor Stanford for the break from the news. Melina Delkic, on the Briefings team, wrote today’s Back Story. You can reach the team at

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