Coronavirus World Updates – The New York Times


In Brazil, national confusion helped fuel the virus’s spread.

Thronged banks. Packed subways cars. Buses full of President Jair Bolsonaro’s supporters, heading to rallies that call on Brazilians to brush aside local stay-at-home orders and instead follow the president’s directive to get back to work.

Scenes like these reflect Brazil’s contradictory response to the pandemic, a factor on glaring display on Friday as the health minister resigned — weeks after his predecessor was fired following clashes with Mr. Bolsonaro. And the confusion has contributed to making Brazil an emerging center of the pandemic, with a daily death rate second only to that of the United States.

The crisis stands in stark contrast to Brazil’s track record for innovative and nimble responses to health care challenges that made it a model in the developing world in past decades.

After a surge in H.I.V. infections in the 1990s, Brazil offered free universal treatment and pushed the pharmaceutical industry to lower costs. It threatened to disregard a Swiss drugmaker’s patent for an H.I.V. drug in 2001, and did so in 2007, manufacturing its own generic version and greatly reducing H.I.V. in the country.

In 2013, Brazil vastly expanded access to preventive health care in poorer areas by hiring thousands of foreign doctors, most of them Cuban. And to combat a Zika outbreak in 2014, Brazil created genetically modified mosquitoes that helped decrease the insect’s population, a tactic soon to be deployed in Florida and Texas.

Every year, Swaminathan Vinayakram and his band leave their homes in the South India city of Chennai to play with musicians across the United States.

The band — 3G, which stands for three generations — includes his grandfather Vikku, a Grammy-nominated percussionist who plays the gatham, a clay pot. In early March, they landed in Houston and played to a crammed crowd of 400 that swayed to the music and threw back drinks.

Then the world seemed to stop.

The coronavirus outbreak meant that their shows from San Francisco to New York were canceled. So were their collaborations with American jazz musicians that would have fused saxophones and piano with the upbeat rhythms of South India’s Carnatic music and its centuries-old instruments.

On March 19, India gave its citizens abroad two days to return before shutting down all international travel. As a rush ensued among the 17.5 million Indians in the world’s largest diaspora, 3G managed to get only three tickets for its five-person band.

Mr. Vinayakram, 27, and his father stayed behind in Jersey City, N.J., and the confinement grated on them. So Mr. Vinayakram did something from the 1990s, when the internet was a thrilling innovation and globalism all the rage: He posted a call-out to musicians for collaborations.

Now, he has connected to a more diverse set of musicians than ever.

“Through Facebook I’m meeting musicians I’ve never heard of, or that I would never have dreamed of playing with,” he said in a telephone interview.

Dozens have sent him tracks of their improvisations, which he overlays with the kanjira, a South Indian frame drum with a pair of jingles.

But he is still eager for the pandemic to end. He misses the thrill of playing to a live audience.

“When I was a child, I used to dream about playing live to thousands of people,” Mr. Vinayakram said. “It now feels like a dream again.”

With states scrambling to pay out unemployment claims to tens of millions of Americans, a vast attack flooding unemployment agencies with fraudulent claims appears to have already siphoned millions of dollars in payments.

Investigators from the Secret Service said they had information implicating a well-organized Nigerian fraud ring, and that stolen information such as social security numbers had allowed the network to file claims on behalf of people who in many cases had not lost their jobs.

Most of the fraudulent claims have so far been concentrated in Washington State, but evidence also pointed to similar attacks in Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Wyoming.

The challenge of pre-empting fraudulent claims has increased as the pressure to get money into the hands of unemployed workers has grown. Unemployment offices accustomed to dealing with jobless claims in the thousands have been inundated with over a million claims during recent months in more populous states.

The attacks, which the Secret Service warned could conceivably target every state, could result in “potential losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars,” according to a memo obtained by The New York Times.

The discovery has added to concerns that jury-rigged efforts to rapidly dispense economic relief could be easily exploited by fraudsters. The I.R.S. last month documented losses of at least $16.9 billion because of identity theft as it raced to dole out trillions of dollars in economic stimulus checks.

“More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing,” Mr. Obama said in the first address streamed online. “A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge.”

The speeches came as more than two-thirds of states have significantly relaxed restrictions, leaving the nation at a perilous moment.

Investigators from the Secret Service said they had information implicating a well-organized Nigerian fraud ring that had filed claims on behalf of people who in many cases had not lost their jobs.

As experts continue to warn that testing needs to be more widely available, the Food and Drug Administration on Saturday granted emergency clearance for a coronavirus testing kit that will enable individuals to take a nasal sample at home and send it to a laboratory. It was the second such approval the F.D.A. had made.

Euphoric Greeks and French headed to reopened beaches, keeping their umbrellas apart. Players in Germany’s national soccer league competed in deserted stadiums. Italy offered its pulverized tourism industry a lifeline with plans to lift some travel restrictions.

On Saturday, many in Europe cautiously rejoiced after months of debilitating confinement as even countries hardest hit by the virus continued to gradually ease restrictions.

But relief that life was moving slowly toward some semblance of normalcy was tempered by continuing protests in Germany, where, for the fourth weekend in a row, small groups that added up to thousands took to the street across the country to protest against measures imposed by the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The protesters, who include conspiracy theorists and right-wing extremists but also ordinary people concerned about their jobs, remain a small but noisy minority, as seven in 10 Germans back Ms. Merkel’s handling of the pandemic.

The coronavirus, which has sickened more than 4.5 million people around the world and killed at least 310,000, has plunged Europe into an economic downturn not seen since the end of World War II. It has also forced European leaders to find a delicate balance between opening up their countries without inviting new waves of infections.

Italy began easing its restrictions on May 4, and announced Saturday that it would lift travel restrictions beginning on June 3 to open the door to renewed tourism. If there are fresh outbreaks of the coronavirus, the government warned, restrictive measures could return. The country has clawed itself out of one of Europe worst outbreaks, and its latest daily death toll was 153, the lowest since it went under a strict lockdown on March 9.

On Monday, Italy’s shops, bars, restaurants, hairdressers and other businesses will reopen, with stringent social distancing and hygiene rules. Religious services will also be allowed to restart on Monday, and Mass can again be celebrated at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.

Also on Monday, residents of Budapest, Hungary’s throbbing capital, will be able to enjoy outdoor terraces and shopping, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Saturday. Much of the rest of the country has had such freedom for nearly two weeks.

The babies lie in cribs, sleeping, crying or smiling at nurses, swaddled in clean linens and apparently well cared for, but separated from their parents as an unintended consequence of coronavirus travel bans.

Dozens of babies born into Ukraine’s booming surrogate motherhood business have become marooned in the country as their biological parents in the United States and other countries cannot travel to retrieve them after birth. For now, the agencies that arranged the surrogate births care for the babies.

Authorities say that at least 100 babies are stranded already and that as many as 1,000 may be born before Ukraine’s travel ban for foreigners is lifted.

“We will do all we can to unite the children with their parents,” Albert Tochilovsky, director of BioTexCom, the largest provider of surrogacy services in Ukraine, said in a telephone interview.

Mr. Tochilovsky said doctors and caregivers now live at a company-owned hotel in Kyiv together with the babies, feeding them formula, taking them for walks and showing them to parents in video calls, all while in quarantine to protect against infection.

Ukraine does not tally statistics on surrogacy, but it may lead the world in the number of surrogate births for foreign biological parents, Mr. Tochilovsky said.

A human rights official in the presidential administration, Nikolai Kuleba, has demanded an end to the practice. “Ukraine is just turning into an online store for little ones,” he said.

Reporting was contributed by Maria Abi-Habib, Mike Baker, Andrew E. Kramer, Motoko Rich, Hisako Ueno, Hikari Hida, Audra D.S. Birch, John Eligon, Michael D. Shear, Michael Levenson, Sheila Kaplan, Ernesto Londoño, Manuela Andreoni and Letícia Casado.



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