Coronavirus World Updates: Empty Icons Return to Life With Lockdowns Easing


Glimmer of hope emerges as people return to public places.

The world is far from open again, but people are slowly being allowed to return to some of the places they once filled before the pandemic forced so many indoors. Places that seemed eerie and alien when empty — beaches, theme parks and railway lines — are now being cautiously revisited.

In China, where the coronavirus emerged late last year, Shanghai Disneyland opened on Monday. Masks were required, and even costumed characters had to maintain social distancing. Its daily visitor total was capped at less than one-third of its pre-outbreak limit.

For India, the gradual reopening this week of its passenger rail network, which had never before been closed since the country’s independence, is one of the most recognizable signs the country is emerging from lockdown even as its case numbers rise.

And in Australia, popular beaches that sat empty are open again for exercise. Children across Sydney returned to school on Monday, donning uniforms that had been folded in drawers for weeks, in a staggered return to class as part of a broader opening that will play out over the coming week.

The virus is still spreading in many countries, and a vaccine has yet to be developed. But in places that appear to have controlled their outbreaks, and in others that have grown willing to take a risk, cautious openings have begun.

India’s train network will gradually restart operations on Tuesday as the country eases its coronavirus lockdown, even as infections there are on the rise.

The train network, one of the world’s largest, closed in late March when a strict lockdown was implemented. But as the country begins to slowly open back up this month, trains are the first mode of transport being allowed to crisscross the country.

On Sunday, India reported more than 67,000 coronavirus cases with more than 2,200 deaths.

The March closure was the first since the country gained its independence in 1947, offering a potent symbol of the global panic sweeping into the country.

The Indian government converted some 20,000 train carriages into isolation wards, bracing for a devastating wave of coronavirus infections that many predicted would overwhelm hospitals. That disaster has largely failed to materialize, although some cities have fared worse than others, with entire hospitals shut in as staff became infected with coronavirus.

On Sunday, the railways ministry said some trains would restart, running from the capital to cities across the country, but passengers would have to wear masks and undergo health screenings before being allowed to depart. New routes will also be introduced, the railways ministry said in a statement.

The announcement comes after the government arranged for trains to shuttle thousands of migrant workers stranded in cities across India back to their homes, mostly in the rural hinterlands. Up to 45 million Indians travel each year from those areas to the country’s big cities to look for work. When the lockdown was announced, millions of migrant workers became homeless and jobless overnight and with interstate travel banned, many set off on foot to travel to their homes, sometimes hundreds of miles away.

The self-administered coronavirus tests being distributed at the high school in Neustrelitz, a small town in northern Germany, is one of the more intriguing efforts in Europe as countries embark on a giant experiment in how to reopen schools, which are being radically transformed by strict hygiene and distancing rules.

Restarting schools is at the core of any plan to restart economies globally. If schools do not reopen, parents cannot go back to work. So how Germany and other countries that have led the way on many fronts handle this stage in the pandemic will provide an essential lesson for the rest of the world.

For now, Europe is a patchwork of approaches and timetables — a vast laboratory for how to safely operate an institution that is central to any meaningful resumption of public life.

Austria, Belgium and Greece are all resuming lessons for select grades in coming weeks. Sweden never closed its schools but has put in place distancing and hygiene rules. Some hard-hit countries like Italy and Spain are not confident enough to open schools until the fall.

In Germany, which announced last week that it would reopen most aspects of its economy and allow all students back in coming weeks, class sizes have been cut in half. Hallways have become one-way systems. Breaks are staggered. Teachers wear masks, and students are told to dress warmly because windows and doors are kept open for air circulation. Germany allowed older children back to school first because they are better able to comply with rules on masks and distancing.

Evidence suggests that children are less likely to become seriously ill from Covid-19 than adults. But small numbers of children have become very sick and some have died, either from the respiratory failure that causes most adult deaths or from a newly recognized syndrome that causes acute inflammation in the heart.

An even greater blind spot is transmission. Children often do not have symptoms, making it less likely that they are tested and harder to see whether or how they spread the virus.

Three top officials leading the White House response to the pandemic began to self-quarantine over the weekend after two Trump administration staff members — a valet to President Trump and Katie Miller, the press secretary for Vice President Mike Pence — tested positive for the virus.

Among those who will be sequestered for two weeks is Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the nation’s leading infectious disease expert. So will Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Dr. Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

“It is scary to go to work,” Kevin Hassett, a top economic adviser to the president, said on the CBS program “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

The devastation of the virus has been particularly acute for African-Americans. Many families, social scientists and public health experts now fear that racial bias may be contributing to the disproportionately high rate at which Covid-19 is killing African-Americans.

The National Medical Association, the country’s largest professional organization representing black doctors, is calling on federal health agencies to study the role bias may have played in the testing and treatment of African-Americans for Covid-19.

Its president, Dr. Oliver Brooks, said, “I think what we will find is race is a factor.”

The virus has also been particularly lethal for residents of nursing homes, who in New Jersey accounted for half of the state’s Covid-19 fatalities, including 72 at the New Jersey Veterans Home at Paramus, a state-run home for former members of the U.S. military.

“The whole place is sick now,” said Mitchell Haber, whose 91-year-old father, Arnold Haber, an Army veteran, died last month at the home, which is about 12 miles northwest of New York City.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Sunday that the jobs figures would get worse before they got better. He said the real unemployment rate — including people who are underemployed as well as those entirely without work — could soon approach 25 percent.

“There are very, very large numbers,” Mr. Mnuchin said on “Fox News Sunday.”

The F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security are preparing to issue a warning that China’s most skilled hackers and spies are working to steal American research in the crash effort to develop vaccines and treatments for the coronavirus.

A draft of the forthcoming public warning, which officials say is likely to be issued in the days to come, says China is seeking “valuable intellectual property and public health data through illicit means related to vaccines, treatments and testing.”

It focuses on cybertheft and action by “nontraditional actors,” a euphemism for researchers and students the Trump administration says are being activated to steal data from inside academic and private laboratories.

The efforts are part of a surge in cybertheft and attacks by nations seeking advantage in the pandemic.

More than a dozen countries have redeployed military and intelligence hackers to glean whatever they can about other nations’ virus responses. Even American allies like South Korea and nations that do not typically stand out for their cyberabilities, like Vietnam, have suddenly redirected their state-run hackers to focus on virus-related information, according to private security firms.

The decision to issue a specific accusation against China’s state-run hacking teams, current and former officials said, is part of a broader deterrent strategy that also involves United States Cyber Command and the National Security Agency. Under legal authorities that President Trump issued nearly two years ago, they have the power to bore deeply into Chinese and other networks to mount proportional counterattacks.

The forthcoming warning is the latest iteration of a series of efforts by the Trump administration to blame China for being the source of the pandemic and exploiting its aftermath.

New Zealand and Australia have begun to ease social distancing restrictions with small numbers of family and friends allowed to visit each other’s homes or go to restaurants.

The Australian state of Victoria, which has moved extremely cautiously in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, will now allow visits of up to five people between homes and gatherings of up to 10 people outdoors, the state’s premier, Daniel Andrews, said on Monday morning.

New South Wales, the state that includes Sydney, will adopt roughly the same guidelines as of Friday, following a plan released by the federal government that outlined how the country could largely resume normal domestic life by July.

In New Zealand, where Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern favored an especially severe lockdown that has lasted for nearly two months, restrictions are set to ease on Thursday to an even greater degree than in Australia.

Ms. Ardern said that restaurants can have a maximum of 100 customers, with bookings limited to groups of 10. Retail stores, malls, cinemas and other public spaces can reopen, while enforcing physical distancing requirements. Home visits of up to 10 people will also be allowed while schools are set to return to normal classes starting on May 18. If no outbreaks alter the timetable, Ms. Ardern said, bars will reopen on May 21.

“Our team of 5 million has united to beat the virus and must keep doing so — and now we must unite to keep rebuilding our economy,” Ms. Ardern told reporters Monday.

The announcements come as pressure to reopen and revive the economies of both countries has intensified. Small protests broke out on Sunday in Melbourne and Sydney, led by those who claimed that the measures to stop the spread of the virus had gone too far.

Temperature checks are conducted on ticket holders upon arrival. All guests must wear face masks. Parades are suspended. No theater shows or fireworks. Purple social-distancing mats prevent bunching while waiting in line. Rows of seats are left empty on rides.

It’s not quite the escapist fantasy Disney typically hopes its theme parks will be, but the reopening of Shanghai Disneyland on Monday carried immense symbolic importance. It sent a message to Disney’s furloughed park employees — 43,000 in Florida alone — about the future: There will be one.

From a business standpoint, Shanghai Disneyland will be operating far below its potential. The Chinese government has limited capacity at the park to 24,000 people daily, less than one-third of its pre-outbreak capacity. Bob Chapek, Disney’s chief executive, said last week that Disney would reduce ticket sales even further — “far below” the government’s limit, in his words — to make sure that employees can enforce new safety rules. Fewer tickets sold means decreased food and merchandise sales.

Investors have been relieved. Disney shares have climbed 8 percent since May 5, when Mr. Chapek announced that Shanghai Disneyland would reopen, perhaps paving the way for similar actions at Disney resorts in the United States, Japan and France. The limited number of tickets that Shanghai Disneyland put on sale for this week sold out within hours, suggesting that people are willing to resume public activities, even without a vaccine.

When the Shanghai resort reopened on Monday, according to videos of the event, cast members — Disney’s term for employees — lined Mickey Avenue, which leads to the castle and aerial Dumbo ride, and waved madly as they greeted attendees. Belle, Minnie, Woody, Duffy and other costumed characters appeared with welcome banners as a marching band played an upbeat “Mary Poppins” tune.

“It has been an emotional morning,” Joe Schott, president and general manager of the Shanghai Disney Resort, said in a phone interview. “There is light at the end of the tunnel.”

A Chinese city is on high alert after a rash of new cases.

The small city of Shulan in northeast China has gone onto high alert against the coronavirus after a rash of at least 15 infections around the area that started with a woman who was reported to have no history of contact with known cases.

The spike in infections may be small by international measures, but it has become a worrisome case of how even limited outbreaks could hold back China’s efforts to restart something like a normal life after the monthslong crisis.

Shulan in Jilin Province declared on Sunday that it was at “high risk” from the epidemic — the only area of China now with that official designation — after the jump in cases began last week, when doctors confirmed that the woman, a 45-year old local resident who washed clothes for the police, was ill from the novel coronavirus.

On Sunday, the Jilin Health Commission announced that another 11 people in Shulan had been infected. They included the woman’s husband, three of her sisters, and a brother-in-law, as well as other people who had close contact with the family. On Monday, Jilin Province said that it had identified another three infections, all linked to the Shulan outbreak. Shenyang, another city in northeast China, has said that a 23-year old man there was infected with the virus, and suggested that his case was also linked to Shulan.

One reason for the heightened anxiety is that it remains unclear who infected the washerwoman, who had not been traveling or in contact with known cases.

In response, Shulan has announced a sweeping shutdown, similar to the measures that fell in place in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the epidemic began late last year.

Residential compounds have been closed off to visits, and transport has been heavily restricted. Residents are only allowed out of their homes for essential needs, with one member per household designated to shop for food and other basic needs. Public spaces, such as movie theaters, bars and government service offices, have been closed, after gradually reopening in recent weeks. Schools have canceled all classes, reversing measures to allow some students back.

A plane carrying coronavirus-related supplies that crashed in Somalia one week ago may have been shot down by Ethiopian troops, according to a new report from the office of the African Union Force Commander in Somalia.

The report, which was leaked on Twitter, said Ethiopian troops not affiliated with the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia brought down the Kenyan-registered private plane out of fear that it was about to carry out a “suicide” attack.

The Somali authorities and officials within the African Union verified the authenticity of the report, but did not confirm its findings. An investigation of the crash is still underway.

The cargo flight plunged to the earth on the afternoon of May 4 in the town of Bardale, in southwestern Somalia, killing all six people aboard. The plane had approached the airfield in Bardale from the west instead of the east, which is more common.

The aircraft, owned by African Express Airways, was carrying supplies to assist in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. It initially left the capital Mogadishu and stopped in Baidoa before heading to Bardale.

The airstrip and the town surrounding it are secured by Somali and Ethiopian troops. They are part of an African Union peacekeeping mission meant to help Somalia fight the Shabab, a terrorist group linked to Al Qaeda.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Sunday that Britain would soon impose a mandatory quarantine on travelers arriving in the country by air to try to avert a new wave of coronavirus infections, signaling how cautious the country will be in relaxing its seven-week lockdown.

In a much-anticipated national address, Mr. Johnson offered no details about how the quarantine would work. But with the transmission rate of the virus having declined sharply throughout the country, he made clear the government now views people from abroad as the greatest threat to a country that is already one of the contagion’s hardest hit in Europe.

Mr. Johnson urged the British public to “stay alert,” softening his earlier admonition to “stay home,” and said that people could exercise outside as much as they wanted, sunbathe in parks, and return to work, if they could not work from home. Other than that, he said, the current restrictions would stay in place.

“This is not the time simply to end the lockdown,” Mr. Johnson said, as he credited social distancing for slowing the spread of the virus. “Instead we are taking the first careful steps to modify our measures.”

Critics claimed that the new guidance to “stay alert” was so vague that it risked confusion, and it set off fissures with political leaders in other parts of the United Kingdom, which had largely moved in lock step in combating the virus. Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said that Scotland would be sticking with the guidance for people to stay at home.

Mr. Johnson did not announce another measure that had been rumored for days: asking people to wear face masks in public.

As the coronavirus has hopscotched the world, a paradox has emerged: Rich nations are not necessarily better at fighting the crisis than poorer ones.

In Europe, the disease has been burning through Britain, France and Italy, three of the continent’s four biggest economies. But smaller, poorer nations in the region quickly imposed and enforced tough restrictions, stuck to them, and have so far fared better at keeping the virus contained.

The nations include many in the former Communist East, as well as Greece and Croatia, where the authorities are cautiously optimistic about their people’s endurance in the face of adversity.

Those countries could draw on deep reservoirs of resilience born of relatively recent hardship. Compared to what their people had been through not long ago, the stringent lockdowns seemed less arduous, apparently prompting a larger social buy-in.

In Greece, where the strictures of the country’s debt crisis are fresh in most minds, the specter of one in three people being out of work is nothing new. In Croatia, many remember being barricaded indoors and hearing air raid sirens blaring for weeks on end during the conflict in the Balkans in the 1990s.

Ive Morovic, a 45-year-old barber in Zadar, Croatia, believes the focused way in which Croats have responded to the pandemic harks back to wartime and the legacy of communism.

“People today are afraid, and the discipline we all learned helps us get in line and creates some sort of forced unity,” he said.

Normally, the mosque, one of England’s largest, would be filled with thousands of worshipers during the holy month of Ramadan. Now it is mostly empty, except for stacks of coffins.

Every few hours a van pulls up in front of Birmingham’s Central Jamia Mosque Ghamkol Sharif. Volunteers dressed in protective coveralls and masks come out and carefully unload black-velvet-covered coffins and carry them inside a makeshift mortuary in the mosque’s parking lot. There the bodies are washed, shrouded and refrigerated.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, the funeral service at the mosque in the hard-hit city of Birmingham, Britain’s second largest, would receive one or two bodies a week. But last month — as Britain hit its peak infection numbers — five to six bodies were brought in each day, forcing the mosque to build a makeshift mortuary in its parking lot, which it has opened to all faiths.

“I’ve lost count of the bodies that have come in and out of here,” said Javid Akhtar, the mosque’s funeral director. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

While London has been the epicenter, Birmingham and surrounding areas in the West Midlands have emerged lately as a virus hot spot. Communities from black and religious minority backgrounds, which make up around 26 percent of Birmingham’s 842,000 residents, have been disproportionally affected by the virus, prompting a government investigation into the cause.

“Everyone in the community knows someone who has died or is sick,” said Tariq Mahmood, a 24-year-old volunteer.

Reporting was contributed by Livia Albeck-Ripka, Damien Cave, Chris Buckley, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Iliana Magra, Ceylan Yeginsu, Katrin Bennhold, Abdi Latif Dahir, Austin Ramzy, David E. Sanger, Nicole Perlroth, Maria Abi-Habib, Neil Vigdor, Maggie Haberman, Michael D. Shear, John Eligon, Audra D.S. Burch, Tracey Tully and Jim Tankersley.





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