Britain expands coronavirus testing availability to all essential workers.
Millions of key essential workers in Britain and their families are now able to apply online to get a coronavirus test, after the British government on Friday extended coronavirus testing with an aim to reach its target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of April.
The decision will allow all key workers who show symptoms of the virus including health care workers, social workers, delivery workers and members of their households, to register for testing on the government’s website. Previously, only health care employees and those working in nursing homes had been able to get tests if they were showing symptoms.
The initiative was announced by Matt Hancock, the British health secretary, during a Thursday news briefing. He said the government had significantly increased its testing capacity since the beginning of April and the new measures would allow essential workers to safely return back to work.
The government has been under intense pressure for failing to roll out wider testing as coronavirus cases rose even as health officials said they believed the country had passed the peak for infections.
Mr. Hancock also noted that 18,000 people would be hired to help trace coronavirus infections and Britain was testing a new National Health Service contact tracing app — part of an effort to “roll out contact tracing on a large scale.”
On Friday morning, in a BBC radio interview, Mr. Hancock reaffirmed his commitment to keeping lockdown measures in place until it was safe to ease the restrictions, adding that a second wave of the virus will be economically damaging.
“We’ve got to keep the public safe. And I understand the economic pressures, that is my background and I care deeply about that,” he said. “I understand those voices who are saying that we should move sooner, but that is not something we’re going to do.”
Doctors in Pakistan have issued an urgent warning that the government was loosening its coronavirus lockdown too soon, allowing mosque gatherings for Ramadan and letting more work resume long before testing was widespread enough to gauge the pandemic’s progress.
“The next two to three weeks are very crucial,” said officials of the Pakistan Medical Association, a representative body of medical professionals.
As of Friday, Pakistan listed 11,155 active cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, with 237 deaths recorded so far.
But Dr. Ashraf Nizami, the president of the association’s Lahore chapter, said that testing in the country was starkly insufficient, and that the true numbers were likely much higher.
“I don’t want to scare you, but I would like to inform you that the cases are not in thousands, the number is much higher,” Dr. Nizami said during a televised news briefing in Lahore.
Dr. Nizami and his peers have also heavily criticized the move by the government to allow prayers in the mosques during the holy month of Ramadan, stressing that it would lead to an alarming spread of cases. The government and clerics have agreed on some safety measures, including urging worshipers to keep distance among themselves. But doctors fear that religious congregations will simply ignore the guidelines.
“The rule of a 6-foot distance between worshipers is not possible practically. We appeal to the government to review its decision and establish the writ of the state,” Nizami said.
Doctors’ representatives said the country’s already debilitated health infrastructure simply cannot cope with the health emergency if the numbers of coronavirus cases increase sharply. There is already a shortage of ventilators for patients, of isolation wards and beds, and of protective gear for medical staff. Doctors in several cities have clashed with the police as they protested against a lack of basic facilities and gear in recent weeks.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has been averse to a complete lockdown in the country from the start, stressing that daily wage workers and the poor cannot survive an economic shutdown. Mr. Khan said Thursday that the country should move toward a “smart lockdown.”
Australia reported its first case on Jan. 25, New Zealand on Feb. 28. But compared with Mr. Trump and leaders in Europe, Prime Ministers Scott Morrison of Australia and Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand responded with more alacrity and with starker warnings.
Both nations are now reporting just a handful of new infections each day, down from hundreds in March, and they are converging toward an extraordinary goal: completely eliminating the virus from their island nations.
Whether they get to zero or not, what Australia and New Zealand have already accomplished is a remarkable cause for hope. Mr. Morrison, a conservative Christian, and Ms. Ardern, New Zealand’s darling of the left, are both succeeding with throwback democracy — in which partisanship recedes, experts lead, and quiet coordination matters more than firing up the base.
“It’s a case of politicians just not being in the way,” said Ian Mackay, an immunologist at the University of Queensland who has been involved in response planning for the pandemic. “It’s a mix of things, but I think it comes down to taking advice based on expertise.”
The prospect of a return to near normalcy in these two countries may end up being a mirage or temporary triumph: Other nations that had seemingly kept the virus at bay, like Singapore, have seen rebounds.
And yet, if there are any two countries that could pull off a clear if hermetically sealed victory — offering a model of recovery that elevates competence over ego and restores some confidence in democratic government — it may be these two Pacific neighbors with their sparsely populated islands and history of pragmatism.
Hong Kong is slowly coming back to life after nearly two weeks of recording new coronavirus infections in the single digits.
Cases in point: Thousands of high school students sat for college entrance examinations on Friday, as dozens of antigovernment protesters gathered at a shopping mall for an unrelated demonstration.
The exams had been delayed by a month, and schools in the semiautonomous Chinese territory are still closed for classes. But the test takers were permitted to enter school grounds after undergoing temperature checks and disinfection measures, and their desks were spaced farther apart than usual.
Also on Friday, a group of antigovernment demonstrators gathered — mostly at a safe distance from each other — inside a luxury mall in Hong Kong’s Central district to chant pro-democracy slogans. They were challenging Beijing days after more than a dozen pro-democracy activists and former lawmakers were arrested in connection with the protests that raged in the city last year.
Here’s what else is happening in China:
The Hong Kong authorities said that, as of Friday afternoon, no new infections had been recorded over the last day.
The Chinese government on Friday reported no new coronavirus deaths for at least the seventh straight day on the mainland, and confirmed that six new people had fallen ill with the virus. It also reported 34 new asymptomatic cases.
In the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, the authorities are prosecuting a man from Belize whom they accuse of “colluding with foreign anti-China forces to intervene with Hong Kong affairs,” the Chinese outlet Southcn.com reported on Friday. The man is thought to be the first foreigner to be prosecuted over the Hong Kong protests.
The oil market’s collapse this week was another unanticipated blow for Iran, where the authorities have struggled to contain the worst coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East while keeping afloat an economy that has long relied on oil exports but has been hampered by American sanctions.
While Iranian leaders have significantly lessened their dependence on foreign purchases of Iran’s oil, it remains a basic industry for a country with the third-largest reserves among the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
The price collapse has further complicated efforts by Iranian leaders to reopen the economy after a series of halting and sometimes contradictory moves to shutter businesses and ban travel in hopes of slowing the coronavirus contagion. On Saturday, the authorities began lifting those restraints, reopening shopping malls and Tehran’s famed bazaar, among other things.
But Iranian health officials are worried, already seeing a surge in the number of people seeking hospital treatment for coronavirus symptoms. By official count, as of Thursday, more than 87,000 Iranians had been infected with the virus and 5,481 had died from Covid-19.
President Hassan Rouhani, who had argued that fighting the contagion and salvaging the economy go hand in hand, acknowledged on Wednesday that Iran would suffer from falling oil prices but played down the severity.
In March, during the height of the coronavirus crisis, one oil trader said, Iran’s oil sales had dropped from 300,000 barrels a day to 80,000.
President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has extended a lockdown in the capital, Manila, and threatened to impose martial law to quell Communist guerrillas that he accused of attacking aid deliveries.
In a meeting with his advisers on Thursday night, which was aired on television Friday morning, Mr. Duterte agreed to extend an “enhanced community quarantine” in greater Manila and some provinces until May 15.
Mr. Duterte imposed a lockdown on the island of Luzon, home to Manila and about 60 million people, in mid-March. It had been scheduled to end on April 15 and was later extended to the end of the month.
As of Thursday, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the Philippines stood at almost 7,000, with total deaths nearing 500. Those tallies are among the highest in Southeast Asia.
Mr. Duterte had been falsely claiming that he was the first leader in Asia to impose a lockdown. In fact, he initially resisted the move, assuring Filipinos in February that there was nothing to be scared of.
At the meeting on Thursday, Mr. Duterte said that might impose martial law to quell communist guerrillas, whom he accused of preying on virus-related aid convoys. He did not mention a specific incident, but earlier this week, two soldiers who were distributing cash aid to a poor community on Luzon were killed in an attack.
“I am now warning everybody and putting the police and the A.F.P. on notice,” Mr. Duterte said, referring to the Armed Forces of the Philippines. “I might declare martial law and there will be no turning back.”
The Philippine military blamed the recent attack on New People’s Army, a group that has been waging a communist insurgency since the 1960s. But the group did not claim responsibility.
Governors and mayors from around the United States have been pleading with Washington for aid to help them keep workers on their payrolls. But Congress did not provide money for state governments in a $484 billion relief package that the House passed on Thursday, setting up the next political battle over pandemic relief.
The package, which President Trump is expected to sign on Friday, replenishes a depleted small-business loan program. The Labor Department reported on Thursday that another 4.4 million people filed initial unemployment claims last week, bringing the five-week total to more than 26 million. Nearly one in six American workers has lost a job in recent weeks.
Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, said that states should consider filing for bankruptcy rather than look for handouts. His aides threw fuel on the fire in a news release that said the Senate leader was opposed to “blue state bailouts,” suggesting it was Democratic-leaning states that were seeking the money to take care of problems caused by fiscal mismanagement.
Here’s what else is happening in the U.S.:
President Trump has been eagerly theorizing — dangerously, in the view of some experts — about the powers of sunlight, ultraviolet light and household disinfectants to kill the virus.
Researchers say that hidden coronavirus outbreaks were creeping through cities like Chicago, New York, Seattle and Boston in January and February, weeks earlier than previously known.
One of every five New York City residents tested positive for antibodies to the coronavirus, according to results from random testing of 3,000 people.
United Airlines said its flight attendants would be required to cover their faces while on duty, starting on Friday.
Air travelers take precautions to protect themselves.
The thought of getting on a plane is far from most people’s minds at the moment, as they shelter in their homes. But some people have no choice but to fly now, whether it is returning from a long trip or rushing to leave a country as a visa expires.
In the days of the coronavirus, travelers are often taking extreme precautions to protect themselves. They wear anything from plastic ponchos to laboratory goggles to biohazard suits. They wipe down tray tables and arm rests with disinfectant. Some passengers say they avoid using the lavatory, even on transcontinental flights, believing there is a higher risk of infection there. Many pack their own food, and keep their protective gear on even as they sleep.
When Billy Chan flew home to Hong Kong from London in mid-March, he wore a disposable protective suit, goggles and an N95 mask. He changed his mask twice during the 13-hour flight, using hand sanitizer each time.
Stacie Tan, who flew to her home in Malaysia from Oregon on April 1, wore goggles, gloves and a mask on the plane.
“I knew that someone might look at me and laugh,” Ms. Tan said. “It’s better than lying in the hospital, right?”
Linsey Marr, an expert in airborne disease transmission at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, said it made sense to wear protective gear on an airplane, given the tight quarters.
“I think the most important thing to do would be to wear a face covering, a mask of some sort,” said Dr. Marr, who studies how viruses spread in the air. “Goggles aren’t a bad idea, especially if they will prevent you from touching your eyes.”
The pandemic death toll in Ecuador is 15 times as high as the official count, an analysis by The New York Times indicates, meaning that it has suffered one of the world’s most devastating outbreaks.
By April 15, the government has said, 503 people had been killed by Covid-19.
But from March 1 to April 15, the overall number of deaths in Ecuador was 7,600 higher than usual for the time of year, in a country of 17 million people, according to the Times analysis, which is based on official death registrations from the past three years.
It was already clear that Ecuador had been hit hard, with bodies abandoned on sidewalks and stacking up in morgues. But the government has acknowledged that with testing scarce and medical resources overwhelmed, its tally was much too low.
“There were people dying at the doors of our clinics and we had no way of helping them,” said Marcelo Castillo, head of an intensive care unit in a private hospital. “Mothers, husbands, asking in tears for a bed, because ‘you are a doctor and you have to help us.’”
The figures give a dire indication of how the pandemic has outstripped both the capacity of health care systems to respond and of governments to keep track, particularly in developing countries.
Raw mortality data gives only a rough measure of the fatal reach of the virus, and unknown factors may contribute to the surge. It includes both people who succumbed to Covid-19 and those who died because they could not receive care for other conditions as hospitals were inundated.
With Ecuador under a national lockdown since mid-March, the overall death rate has fallen sharply in recent days.
After the world chess championship qualifying match was halted because of the pandemic, the world champion, Magnus Carlsen, gathered top players for a virtual event beginning last Saturday.
It was simple. Grandmasters compete from the safety of their own homes, and chess aficionados around the world can watch.
The matches are speedy, with each player getting an initial 15 minutes to make his moves. That reduces all that less-than-telegenic “thinking time” and cuts way down on draws. The last world championship in 2018 consisted of 12 straight draws, with matches sometimes lasting four hours. Hardly riveting.
There is one concern, though: Players at home can easily cheat.
In recent years, computers have advanced far beyond humans in chess, so even grandmasters can often get better moves from a program on an iPad than they can themselves. Because top players normally meet face to face, such cheating is mostly a concern for more casual players playing online. But now a tournament with the best in the world must grapple with it.
Organizers of Carlsen’s online event have put in numerous safeguards. All players must train a webcam on themselves that would catch them grabbing a computer and seeking the best move. Two more cameras per player will also be running to capture any skulduggery. The computers the players use for their games may have no other software open at all. And after matches, anticheating software will look for any anomalies.
There are also some technical issues that live chess doesn’t face. One player, Alireza Firouzja, was in a winning position when he suddenly disconnected. The game was ruled a draw.
So far, Carlsen is proving just as skillful at quick online chess as he is at the slow, live format. He was leading his own event after play on Thursday. It runs through May 3.
Reporting was contributed by Vivian Lin, Thomas Fuller, Victor Mather and Adam Nossiter.
Reporting was contributed by Dera Menra Sijabat, Ceylan Yeginsu, Yonette Joseph, Salman Masood, Richard C. Paddock, Jin Wu, Vivian Lin, Thomas Fuller, José María León Cabrera, Anatoly Kurmanaev, Dan Levin, Elaine Yu, Andrew LaVallee, Jason Gutierrez, Farnaz Fassihi, Damien Cave and Victor Mather.