Cautiously, New Zealand edges toward normalcy
Some shops, restaurants and construction sites are reopening in New Zealand today, five weeks after the government imposed strict measures to beat back the spread of the coronavirus.
The number of infections in the country has dropped below 300. On Monday, only one new case was reported.
Ashley Bloomfield, New Zealand’s director general of health, said transmission of the virus had been “eliminated” because officials were in the position to test and trace any new outbreak.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that social-distancing rules remained in place. “We’re opening up our economy, but we’re not opening up people’s social lives,” she said.
Analysis: New Zealand and Australia have succeeded in flattening the curve and are on track to eliminate the virus, in part because of early action and a nonpartisan reliance on science. The public also complied when the information flowing from officials at every level was largely consistent.
Related: In Europe, there were also steps toward normalization. Face masks became mandatory on public transport and in most shops across Germany on Monday as the country gradually reopens. Switzerland allowed a limited number of businesses to re-start.
U.S. virus death toll reaches 50,000
The United States has, by far, the world’s largest Covid-19 outbreak, with more than 973,000 cases. On Monday, the death toll reached 50,000, according to data compiled by The Times.
The pandemic has now killed more than 200,000 people worldwide and has sickened more than 2.9 million.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain returned to work on Monday and said the country was “beginning to turn the tide,” but he gave no indication over when and how its lockdown would be lifted.
Oil prices plunged again on Monday, with the American benchmark hurtling toward $10 a barrel, amid fears of a global glut in crude. U.S. stocks rose and global markets rallied as governments around the world discussed how to reopen businesses and get their economies back on track.
Afghanistan will release 12,000 prisoners, in addition to the 10,000 already being freed, as the pandemic spreads across the country and prisons remain overcrowded.
Health care workers, stigmatized as vectors of contagion because of their work, have been assaulted and abused in several countries. In the Philippines, attackers doused a nurse with bleach, blinding him.
Scientists at the Jenner Institute at Oxford University are planning to schedule tests of a new coronavirus vaccine involving more than 6,000 people by the end of May, leaping ahead in the worldwide race for a vaccine to stop the virus.
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South Korea says reports of Kim Jong-un illness are untrue
The South Korean official responsible for the country’s policy on the North rejected rumors that the regime’s leader is gravely ill.
“Our government has enough information-gathering capabilities to say confidently that there is nothing unusual” about Mr. Kim’s health, said Kim Yeon-chul, the South Korean unification minister.
The minister said the government’s National Security Council had carefully assessed a complex range of sources before making its determination. He did not go into details, citing the sensitivity of intelligence work.
Context: It is unusual for South Korean officials to publicly dispute news media reports about the North. Normally, officials neither confirm nor deny such information. Recent reports had suggested that Mr. Kim was seriously ill or had become “brain-dead” after botched heart surgery.
The North Korean leader last appeared in public on April 11.
If you have 6 minutes, this is worth it
A game whose score didn’t matter
Sopan Deb, a Times writer, grew up in the U.S. with a love of sports that wasn’t shared by his father, an immigrant from India.
Sopan writes: “Like many South Asian parents of his generation living in the United States, his focus was on survival and trying to get to the next day. On behalf of their children, it was on professional and scholastic pursuits. Anything else was a distraction.”
Here’s what else is happening
Iran nuclear deal: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is preparing a legal argument that the U.S. remains a participant in the Iran nuclear accord that President Trump has renounced. The move is meant to pressure the United Nations Security Council to extend an arms embargo or reimpose international sanctions on Iran.
Stalin-era mass graves: A Russian amateur historian who discovered mass graves of Stalin’s victims in a forest in Karelia was jailed on what his supporters dismiss as fabricated charges of pedophilia. His work has highlighted the suffering inflicted on Russia by its own rulers.
Snapshot: Above, Easter Island, where around 1,000 monolithic statues dot the landscape. The beauty of the island, which is some 2,200 miles off the coast of Chile, is the latest in our series “The World Through a Lens,” in which photojournalists transport you virtually.
What we’re reading: This essay in The Paris Review about solitude and writing. “Toward the end of his life, Jean-Jacques Rousseau sought to absent himself from society,” writes Kathleen Flynn, an editor on our Upshot team. “Gavin McCrea, one of my favorite novelists, looks at how this experiment went wrong, and yet succeeded magnificently.”
Now, a break from the news
Cook: It’s the combination of herbs, chile, lime juice and fish sauce that make the Thai dish larb so appealing. You can use chopped-up mushrooms, vegan meat or even chopped fish fillets in place of ground meat.
And now for the Back Story on …
How social distancing became the strategy
Until a vaccine or some other treatment is found, maintaining distance between people is among the best tools to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The idea is quite literally medieval, but the modern form owes a lot to former U.S. President George W. Bush, some dedicated researchers and a 14-year-old girl’s science project.
What was the genesis of this story?
I worked on an earlier article about the failures of the Trump administration’s response. And I was communicating with a bunch of the scientists raising early alarms on what we know as the Red Dawn emails. In the process of getting to know some of them, I learned about the Bush administration’s urgent focus on the probability of a pandemic.
What were the lessons from the 1918 flu?
Different teams of researchers compared the toll in St. Louis — which moved relatively quickly to close schools, churches, theaters, saloons, sporting events and other public gathering spots — to the toll in Philadelphia. That city went ahead in September 1918 with a long-planned parade to promote war bonds that drew hundreds of thousands of spectators. The difference showed in the death tolls. “Timing matters,” said one researcher.
How did a 14-year-old girl’s science project play into this history?
She was fascinated by social networks and how they worked. And her dad was this super-advanced scientist in New Mexico. She did a class project in which she built a computer model of social networks at her Albuquerque high school. Her dad piggybacked on her work and together they looked at what effect breaking up school networks would have on knocking down a contagious disease.
The outcome was startling. By closing the schools in a hypothetical town of 10,000 people, only 500 people got sick. If they remained open, half of the population would be infected.
A correction: Monday’s briefing misspelled the surname of a Times photo editor. He is Mikko Takkunen, not Takkunnen.
That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.
To Melissa Clark for the recipe, and to Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the rest of the break from the news. Andrea Kannapell, our Briefings editor, wrote today’s Back Story. You can reach the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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