Coronavirus Live Updates: The Muslim World Will Celebrate Eid al-Fitr Quietly
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The normally joyful Eid al-Fitr holiday begins this weekend — in a Muslim world where many governments have imposed restrictions to prevent the virus from spreading. That means the communal prayers, feasts and parties that usually mark the occasion are being restricted or scrapped.
In Indonesia, where the number of coronavirus cases has risen sharply in recent days, Islamic leaders have encouraged Muslims to celebrate the holiday, which ends the holy month of Ramadan, without gathering for traditional iftar dinners to break their fast on Saturday evening. And the country’s largest mosque, Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, plans to offer televised prayers on Sunday.
In Bangladesh, the government has banned the huge, communal Eid prayers that normally take place in open fields, saying worshipers must gather inside mosques. It also asked people not to shake hands or hug each other after praying, and told children, older people and anyone who is ill to stay away from communal prayers.
As for the mosques themselves, the government has said they must be disinfected before and after every Eid gathering, and that all worshipers must carry hand sanitizer and wear masks while praying. Joynal Abedin, the press secretary for President Abdul Hamid, told The New York Times that Mr. Hamid would perform his own prayers in a conference room at his offices.
Samima Akter, 36, who lives near the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, said she left home to go Eid shopping earlier this month wearing a mask. But the experience was stressful, she added, because many people were not heeding the government’s advice on social distancing.
“This year it is not a pleasant Eid at all, as this virus is a life-and-death issue for every person of the country,” she said.
In neighboring India, imams and community leaders have urged people to stay home and follow social distancing norms. Many cities have maintained their 7 p.m.-to-7 a.m. curfews.
And in the Indian city of Lucknow, which is known for its kebabs, butcher shops are closed amid a restriction on meat sales that took effect in March.
Mohammed Raees Qureshi, who owns two butcher shops in Lucknow, said he had hoped — to no avail — that local officials would allow him to open for at least a couple of days around Eid.
“If they would give us some guidelines, we would make sure to follow them,” he said. “But right now there is only silence.”
As the United States continues its advance toward 100,000 coronavirus deaths, a grim milestone expected in the coming days, President Trump and members of his administration have begun questioning the official coronavirus death toll, suggesting the numbers are inflated.
Most experts say the opposite is likely the case.
In White House meetings, conversations with health officials have returned to similar suspicions: that the data compiled by state health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention include people who have died with the coronavirus, but of other conditions.
Last Friday, Mr. Trump told reporters that he accepted the current death toll, but that the figures could be “lower than” the official count, which is now above 95,000.
But most statisticians and public health experts say the death toll is probably far higher than what is publicly known. People are dying at their houses and nursing homes without ever being tested, they say, and deaths early this year were likely misidentified as influenza or described only as pneumonia.
Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, has said publicly that the American health care system incorporates a generous definition of a death caused by Covid-19.
“There are other countries that if you had a pre-existing condition, and let’s say the virus caused you to go to the I.C.U., and then have a heart or kidney problem — some countries are recording that as a heart issue or a kidney issue and not a Covid-19 death,” she said at a White House news conference last month.
In a brief interview on Thursday, Dr. Birx stressed that there had been no pressure to alter data. But concerns about official statistics are not limited to the death toll, or to administration officials.
Epidemiologists said they were stunned to learn that the C.D.C. was combining data from tests that detect active infection with those that detect recovery from Covid-19 — a system that muddies the picture of the pandemic but raises the percentage of Americans tested as Mr. Trump boasts about testing.
Experts said that data from antibody tests and active virus tests should never be mixed.
“It just doesn’t make any sense,” said Natalie Dean, a biostatistician at the University of Florida. “All of us are really baffled.”
Epidemiologists, state health officials and a spokeswoman for the C.D.C. said there was no ill intent; they attributed the flawed reporting system to confusion and fatigue in overworked state and local health departments that typically track infections — not tests — during outbreaks.
China on Saturday reported no new coronavirus deaths or symptomatic cases, the first time that both tallies were zero on a given day since the country’s outbreak began. But in the city of Wuhan, the original epicenter of the outbreak, the virus is still high on residents’ minds.
For the past two weeks, thousands of Wuhan’s 11 million residents have stood in line outside rows of tents in neighborhood alleys. They’ve been waiting to have their noses and throats swabbed after the government announced an ambitious plan to test everyone in the city for the virus.
The so-called “10-day battle,” which was launched on May 14, is a push by the government to obtain a truer picture of the epidemic in Wuhan, most crucially of people who have the virus but display no symptoms. Some public health experts are closely watching the campaign to see whether it can form a model for other governments that want to return their societies to some level of normalcy.
“If you can quickly establish that a particular area is free of disease, that will give people more confidence to go out,” said Raina MacIntyre, who heads the biosecurity program at the Kirby Institute of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.
In reality, Wuhan’s “10-day battle” is not as rigid as some reports have suggested. Neighborhoods have staggered their start dates. Many residents appeared to be supportive of the tests, which are free. But others declined, fearing that they could become infected again as they waited for tests.
Between May 14 and May 20, about 3 million Wuhan residents were tested, according to government data. Ninety-nine of them had no symptoms.
In some districts, local officials went door to door to register residents and herded them to testing stations nearby. Organizers distributed fliers and made announcements on loudspeakers and social media urging residents to register.
The testing drive mobilized thousands of health workers. One nurse, who had worked from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. without a lunch break, was caught on video sobbing.
It was not clear what authority President Trump was invoking on Friday when he marched into the White House briefing room and called for states “to allow our churches and places of worship to open right now.” He threatened to “override” any governors who did not.
Declaring places of worship “essential” operations, Mr. Trump said they should be permitted to hold services in person this weekend, regardless of state quarantine orders stemming from the coronavirus pandemic that has killed nearly 96,000 people in the United States.
“The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important, essential places of faith to open right now for this weekend,” Mr. Trump said, reading from a prepared text before leaving after just about a minute without taking questions. “If they don’t do it, I will override the governors. In America, we need more prayer, not less.”
The White House could not explain what power the president actually has to override the governors, and legal experts said he did not have such authority, but he could take states to court on religious freedom grounds, which could be time-consuming. Attorney General William P. Barr, a strong advocate of religious rights, already has been threatening legal action against California.
In California, more than 1,200 pastors signed a declaration protesting the state’s restrictions on in-person services and pledged to reopen their churches by May 31 even if the restrictions are not lifted. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said Friday that the state was working with faith leaders on guidelines to reopen in “a safe and responsible manner,” which he said would be released by Monday at the latest.
Other governors quickly rejected the president’s threat. “While we have read the president’s comments,” the office of Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington said in a statement, “there is no order and we think he understands at this point that he can’t dictate what states can or cannot open.”
Rhode Island’s governor, Gina Raimondo, was more blunt, saying, “No, that’s not happening in Rhode Island.”
On Thursday, Tobi Lütke, the founder and chief executive of Ottawa-based Shopify, announced on Twitter that most of his company’s 5,000 employees had permanently become stay-at-home workers.
That came the same day as a similar announcement from Facebook, and it followed remote-working moves by Twitter and OpenText, a mainstay of Canada’s tech industry based in Waterloo, Ontario.
Shopify, like many other tech companies, was famous for having offices that looked like boutique hotels, with cozy chesterfields, game consoles, exercise and yoga studios, rooftop patios, free beer on tap and salad and sandwich bars that rivaled many restaurants.
Shopify, the most valuable corporation on the Canadian stock exchange, provides products and services that allow small and medium-size retailers to move online, a popular recourse for those shuttered by the pandemic.
In the post-pandemic world, the company’s Canadian offices will become “recruitment hubs” and places where employees can meet in person when necessary.
It seems beyond churlish for anyone who still has a job to grumble about where they perform their work duties. But for a lot of people, remote work is an unwelcome novelty.
Henry Mintzberg, one of Canada’s leading business theorists and a professor of management studies at the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University in Montreal, answered questions about remote work and how employees might navigate the new arrangement.
Pandemics are often described as crises of communication, when leaders must persuade entire populations to suspend their lives because of an invisible threat. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand excels at that — by brightening epidemiology with empathy, and leavening legal matters with mom jokes.
It’s been strikingly effective.
Ms. Ardern helped coax New Zealanders — “our team of five million,” she says — to buy into a lockdown so severe that even retrieving a lost cricket ball from a neighbor’s yard was banned. Now the country, despite some early struggles with contact tracing, has very nearly stamped out the virus, exiting isolation with just 21 deaths and a few dozen active cases.
But at a time when Ms. Ardern, a 39-year-old global progressive icon, is being celebrated in some quarters as a saint — when even a comedian imitating her says she’s so nice that “to make fun of Jacinda almost feels like making fun of a puppy” — a lot gets missed.
Halos can make heretics out of legitimate critics, including epidemiologists who argue that New Zealand’s lockdown went too far, that other countries suppressed the virus with less harm to small businesses.
And Ms. Ardern’s canonization diminishes two powerful forces behind her success: Her own hard work at making connections with constituents, and the political culture of New Zealand, which in the 1990s overhauled how it votes, forging a system that forces political parties to work together.
“You need the whole context, the way the political system has evolved,” said Helen Clark, a former prime minister who hired Ms. Ardern as an adviser more than a decade ago. “It’s not easily transferable.”
Elian Peltier covered the coronavirus pandemic in Spain before returning to his home country, France. We asked him to tell us about a visit to his grandparents.
When France went under lockdown in March, my mother was relieved. Her parents were in a nursing home, and with travel restrictions suddenly in place, she and her sister could no longer drive the 80 miles south of Paris every weekend to visit them.
At least in the home, my grandparents would get the care they needed.
Then the virus slipped inside nursing homes, and relief turned to alarm. Had a move to protect my grandparents instead condemned them?
So began a long vigil of daily calls, weekly video chats and customized postcards created online.
When I told my grandfather about reporting in Spain, I omitted mention of the bodies taken out of apartment buildings in Barcelona and of health care workers in hazmat suits disinfecting nursing homes in isolated villages. It felt better to update him on the uncertain fate of European soccer leagues, and to reminisce about our penalty-kick practices in his garden in Beaugency, where I spent my summers as a child.
The coronavirus has killed about 14,000 residents of France’s nursing homes — half of the country’s death toll. We are lucky that, so far, none of those deaths occurred at my grandparents’ home, where the caregivers were vigilant about social distancing.
As France began easing its lockdown last week, we were finally able to visit, or rather sit outside the home, as my grandparents sat inside, a few feet away. To allow us to hear each other, the staff opened the door, but placed a table with a Plexiglas partition in the doorway.
We could see my grandparents only one at a time, since they are in different parts of the home that can no longer socially mix. My grandfather, a former stone mason, misses many things that we cannot yet deliver, like shorts, because of the home’s strict rules. It is my grandmother’s company he misses most.
My grandmother, once a wonderful cook known for her poulet basquaise and cherry cakes, has Alzheimer’s. When she struggled to recognize me, I broke the rules and took down my mask for a second. A nurse gently caressed her hair as we spoke. My mother and I were a little envious that the nurse could do what we could not.
For now, I plan to finally read my grandfather’s journals of his military service in Chad when he was around my age. He gave them to me at Christmas; I thought I had plenty of time to read them. That was before he had a stroke, and before the pandemic created a new normal.
The coronavirus is taking a “different pathway” in Africa compared with its trajectory in other regions, the World Health Organization said on Friday.
Mortality rates are lower in Africa than elsewhere, the W.H.O. said, theorizing that the continent’s young population could account for that.
The virus has reached all 55 countries on the continent, which recently confirmed its 100,000th case, with 3,100 deaths. When Europe’s infection count reached that point, it had registered 4,900 deaths.
“For now, Covid-19 has made a soft landfall in Africa, and the continent has been spared the high numbers of deaths which have devastated other regions of the world,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the organization’s regional director for Africa.
More than 60 percent of people in Africa are under 25, and Covid-19 hits older populations particularly hard. In Europe, around 95 percent of virus deaths have been among those 60 and older.
Many health experts have cast doubt on the W.H.O.’s numbers, however, saying that most African countries’ testing capability is extremely limited — partly because they struggle to obtain the diagnostic equipment they need — and that deaths as a result of Covid-19 are undercounted.
In some places, they say, low official numbers for cases and deaths mask a much graver reality.
The strongman leader of Chechnya, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin, is hospitalized with possible symptoms of the coronavirus, state-run news agencies say. A spokesman suggests he is just keeping a low profile because he is “thinking.”
Uncertainty over the health of the leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has broad implications, coming just as the virus is shaking the volatile and predominantly Muslim Caucasus region of southern Russia.
Even Chechnya’s very status as part of Russia — at issue in two wars in the post-Soviet era — revolves in no small part on the close ties between Mr. Kadyrov and Mr. Putin.
Official numbers are still low — Chechnya has reported 1,046 cases of the virus and 11 deaths — but signs are emerging daily that the toll across the Caucasus is far greater, and growing.
The pandemic appears to be hitting the neighboring republic of Dagestan harder. Mr. Putin held an unusual televised video conference with Dagestani leaders this week, warning that traditional festivities marking the end of Ramadan this weekend posed a threat.
A top cleric, Mufti Akhmad Abdulayev, told Mr. Putin on the call that more than 700 people had died there, including 50 medical workers.
Overall, Russia has reported 326,448 coronavirus cases, the second-highest total in the world. The government insists its relatively low death count — 3,249 — is accurate, though overall mortality figures suggest a higher total.
When India imposed a national lockdown on March 25, thousands upon thousands of migrant laborers, bereft of work, began long, treacherous journeys from India’s cities, often on foot.
But Mohan Paswan, a rickshaw driver from a lower rung of India’s caste system, had been injured in a traffic accident in January and could barely walk. He and his 15-year-old daughter, Jyoti Kumari, had no transport and nearly no money as they looked to make their way home from New Delhi to their village, halfway across India.
Their saving grace was a $20 purple bike bought with the last of their savings. Starting on May 8, Jyoti pedaled for 700 miles with her father on the back, delivering them both safely home last weekend.
Many days they had little food. They slept at gas stations. They lived off the generosity of strangers. The biking wasn’t easy. Her father is big, and he was carrying a bag. Sometimes people teased them, upsetting him.
The nation’s press has seized upon the feel-good story of Jyoti the “lionhearted.”
On Thursday, the Cycling Federation of India, which scouts young talent and sends the best to international competitions, including the Olympics, tracked Jyoti down through a journalist and invited her to New Delhi for a tryout with the national team.
Reached by phone on Friday in her village of Sirhulli, in Bihar, one of India’s poorest states, Jyoti said in a scratchy, exhausted voice: “I’m elated, I really want to go.”
This is Memorial Day weekend in the United States, when beaches and backyard barbecues beckon. Though many places continue to reopen, you still shouldn’t gather in groups — but since many people will, here is some guidance for lowering your coronavirus risk.
Reporting was contributed by Ian Austen, Julfikar Ali Manik, Shalini Venugopal, Richard C. Paddock, Mike Ives, Anton Troianovski, Jeffrey Gettleman, Suhasini Raj, Damien Cave, Peter Baker, Michael Cooper, Sui-Lee Wee, Louis Lucero, Jennifer Jett, Jin Wu, Elian Peltier, Maggie Haberman, Noah Weiland, Abby Goodnough, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Sheila Kaplan and Sarah Mervosh.