Coronavirus Live Updates: Plea to Reward U.K. Health Workers With More Than Clapping
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The woman credited with starting the weekly applause for health care workers fighting the coronavirus in Britain has suggested that the “Clap for Carers” should end on Thursday, the 10th week after it started.
Her logic? The public has shown its appreciation enough and it is now up to the government to reward doctors and nurses, often called heroes for their work on the front lines. Many have died during the outbreak, and they have cared for patients while short on protective equipment like masks, gloves and visors.
The woman, Annemarie Plas, told BBC Radio 2 that the clapping could be replaced by an annual remembrance. “Next week will be 10 times,” she said. “I think that would be beautiful, to be the end of the series.”
While the British government has been accused of mishandling the pandemic — such as announcing only on Friday, months after a lockdown began, that international travelers to the country would be required to self-isolate for 14 days — its National Health Service has been seen as a rallying point.
Britons started clapping at 8 p.m. on March 26, weeks after Italy, France, Spain and other countries in Europe had begun showing support in a similar fashion. New Yorkers also step out to applaud daily at 7 p.m.
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said this week that his government was considering how to reward health care professionals — weeks after other governments in Europe announced bonuses. Under pressure, he also ordered the end to the extra medical fee that non-British workers at the N.H.S. must pay to use the service.
The moves come as pressure is growing for Mr. Johnson’s top adviser, Dominic Cummings, to resign after news outlets reported that he had visited his parents at their home in March while he had coronavirus symptoms.
According to The Guardian and The Mirror newspapers, Mr. Cummings traveled to Durham, 270 miles north of his home in London, a week after he had begun to self-isolate, flouting guidance from Mr. Johnson for people to stay home to help curb the virus’s spread.
The normally joyful Eid al-Fitr holiday begins this weekend, at a time when many governments have imposed restrictions to prevent the coronavirus from spreading. That means the communal Muslim 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 that worshipers must gather inside mosques. It also asked people not to shake hands or hug one another after praying, and advised that children, older people and anyone who is ill stay away from communal prayers.
As for mosques themselves, the government has said that they must be disinfected before and after each Eid gathering, and that all worshipers must carry hand sanitizer and wear masks while praying.
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.
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 approaches 100,000 coronavirus deaths, President Trump and members of his administration have been questioning the official coronavirus death toll, suggesting that the numbers are inflated.
Most experts say the opposite is probably 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.
On 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.
Most statisticians and public health experts say the death toll is probably far higher than what is publicly known. People are dying in their homes and in nursing homes without being tested, they say, and deaths early this year were probably misidentified as influenza or described only as pneumonia.
Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, has said that the U.S. 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 said there had been no pressure to alter data. But concerns about official statistics are not limited to the death toll, or to administration officials.
The pandemic has played havoc with energy markets. Last month, the price of benchmark American crude oil fell below zero as the economy shut down and demand plunged.
And this weekend, a British utility will pay some of its residential consumers to use electricity — to plug in appliances and run them full blast.
These negative electricity prices usually show up in wholesale power markets, when a big electricity user like a factory or a water treatment plant is paid to consume more power. Having too much power on the line could lead to damaged equipment or even blackouts.
Negative prices were once relatively rare, but during the pandemic they have become almost routine in Britain, Germany and elsewhere in Europe. The reason is similar to what caused the price of oil to plunge: oversupply meeting a collapse in demand.
In Britain, Octopus Energy is offering to pay some customers 2 pence to 5 pence per kilowatt-hour for electricity that they consume in periods of slack demand, such as are expected on Sunday.
“This needs to become the normal,” said Greg Jackson, the company’s and chief executive, who said the pandemic was offering a preview of “what the future is going to look like.”
In recent weeks, renewable energy sources have played an increasingly large role in the European power system, and the burning of coal has decreased.
He swapped his blazer and tie for personal protective equipment and left the boardroom for the emergency room at Lisbon’s military hospital.
There, as a doctor pressed into service in the pandemic, he faced feverish, coughing patients and helped line up their care. But some of them had a curious question. “From just looking at my eyes,” he said, “they would say, ‘Hey, are you not the Sporting president? Can I have a selfie?’”
Frederico Varandas is the president of Sporting Clube de Portugal, one of the country’s biggest soccer teams. He is also Dr. Frederico Varandas, a reserve military physician who completed a tour in Afghanistan a decade ago before switching his career.
Dr. Varandas, 40, was recently on call at the hospital for about six weeks, treating military staff members and their families. His main task was to test and evaluate patients as they arrived, before handing off the more serious ones to his colleagues in the intensive care unit.
He is not the only sports figure pressed into medical service in the pandemic. In Canada, Hayley Wickenheiser, a four-time Olympic gold medalist in hockey turned medical student, has been gathering protective equipment for workers and helping with efforts to track the spread of the coronavirus.
In Dr. Varandas’s case, he said, “Sports had stopped in Portugal, and I thought that I am more important to the country working as a doctor.”
The authorities in South Korea’s major cities have shuttered thousands of bars, nightclubs and karaoke parlors after identifying them as new sources of infection.
The measures are a response to a new coronavirus cluster — 215 cases as of Friday — traced to nightlife facilities this month. The outbreak is believed to have started in Itaewon, a popular nightclub district in Seoul.
Anyone who visits the venues, as well as the owners who accept them, can face fines, and the government can also sue them for damages amid an outbreak. And unlike other patients, those who contract the virus in these facilities while they are barred must pay their own coronavirus-related medical bills.
South Korea is not the only the place in the region to crack down on nightlife in the pandemic.
Hong Kong closed its night clubs and karaoke establishments in April after a “bar and band” cluster was identified in a popular nightlife district. They are scheduled to reopen next week.
And in Japan, an association representing entertainment workers issued guidelines on Friday that cover nightclubs and hostess bars. The guidelines suggest that hostesses tie up their hair and avoid sitting directly in front of customers.
The association, Nihon Mizushobai Kyokai, also said that microphones in karaoke parlors should be disinfected regularly and that customers should keep their masks on while singing.
Elian Peltier covered the 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 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.
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 didn’t mention the bodies taken out of apartment buildings in Barcelona and the health care workers in hazmat suits disinfecting nursing homes in isolated villages. It felt better to update him on European soccer leagues and 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.
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.”
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.”
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.
In Kano, a busy commercial hub in northern Nigeria, the official number of confirmed cases is low, but so is the number of samples it can test. Gravediggers report that they are burying many more bodies than usual, and doctors say the deaths are almost certainly caused by Covid-19, but few of them are tested before burial.
“Most of the people who are dying are in their 60s and above, and most of them have other conditions,” such as hypertension or diabetes, said Prof. Yusuf Adamu, a medical geographer in Kano. He said that many residents seemed to have mild symptoms, but often avoided testing.
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 the authorities reported 28 asymptomatic cases, two of them were imported.
Here’s what else is happening in the country:
The authorities in Wuhan, where the global outbreak began, are aiming to test all of the city’s 11 million residents. 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 the city — 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.
While China’s Hong Kong security laws are attracting wide attention outside the country, its domestic news media is trying to keep the focus on President Xi Jinping. He is using China’s biggest political event of the year, the annual session of the National People’s Congress, to project strength at a time when external criticism of his government’s handling of the pandemic is growing.
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.
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.
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 Elaine Yu, Choe Sang-Hun, Hisako Ueno, Tariq Panja, Stanley Reed, 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.