Lifting restrictions means ‘balancing lives against livelihoods,’ W.H.O. warns.
With much of Asia and Europe and parts of the United States relaxing lockdown restrictions and plotting the next steps in their responses to the coronavirus pandemic, public health officials are providing a reality check.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization, warned on Monday that there was a long road ahead and that countries eager to shake off restrictions would be “balancing lives against livelihoods.”
Health experts in Japan also offered a reminder that the a return to normal life is unlikely to come any time soon, saying that it would be “exceedingly difficult” for the country to host the Olympic Games next summer without a coronavirus vaccine.
Argentina lengthened a strict ban on all commercial flights until Sept. 1, but many countries have begun to gradually reopen, including France, where Prime Minister Édouard Philippe was to tell Parliament about the country’s next steps. There is no clear sense of what the new normal will look like, and divisions — both internal and external — are growing as countries try to envision the future.
A day after President Trump suggested in a news briefing that the United States would be asking China for “substantial” compensation, arguing that the coronavirus could have been stopped at its source, Beijing pushed back. A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Tuesday advised politicians not to “play tricks to deflect blame.”
India, which had shown a united front in its approach to the outbreak, is now divided over how to reopen after the world’s largest lockdown proved effective in stemming the spread of the virus in a country of 1.3 billion.
“Why should I risk the lives of my family members for a few hundred rupees?” asked Uday Shankar Sharma, who owns a store in a farming village.
China is pushing back against the growing chorus of voices around the world calling for the country to pay compensation for the damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
At a regular news briefing on Tuesday, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Geng Shuang, accused politicians in the United States of “lying through their teeth.”
“We advise American politicians to reflect on their own problems and try their best to control the epidemic as soon as possible, instead of continuing to play tricks to deflect blame,” he said.
Mr. Geng’s comments came one day after President Trump suggested in a news briefing that the United States would be seeking “substantial” compensation for Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
China is also on the defensive in Australia. China’s ambassador to Australia warned on Monday that the government’s call for an independent international inquiry into the origins of the pandemic could lead to a Chinese consumer boycott of Australian products and services.
“Maybe the ordinary people will say ‘Why should we drink Australian wine? Eat Australian beef?” the ambassador, Cheng Jingye, said in an interview published in The Australian Financial Review.
In response, the Australian foreign minister, Marise Payne, dismissed China’s attempt at “economic coercion.”
The war of words continued late into the night.
“Australia is always messing around,” Hu Xijin, the editor of Global Times, a nationalist tabloid controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, wrote in a social media post. “I feel it is a bit like chewing gum stuck to the soles of China’s shoes. Sometimes you have to find a stone to scrape it off.”
The measure, which forbids the sale of all tickets for flights to, from and within Argentina, is one of the longest bans on air travel amid the pandemic. It also quickly led to complaints from the airline sector that said it would lead to serious economic damage.
The International Air Transport Association wrote to the Argentine government warning the move violates bilateral agreements and could lead to the loss of more than 300,000 jobs.
The Latin American and Caribbean Air Transport Association also expressed its concern, claiming “many companies in the sector will not be able to survive if this resolution is implemented.”
The decree, which was published on Monday, does not explain why Sept. 1 was chosen as the end date for the ban, which forbids all flights except for those carrying cargo or repatriating passengers from entering or leaving the country. With the measure, Argentina has extended its travel ban longer than any other country in the region, but the decree also leaves open the possibility that the restrictions could be lifted earlier.
Argentina implemented a strict national lockdown that has been in place since March 20, including the closing of borders, as a measure that the government says has helped slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Argentina has 4,033 confirmed cases and 197 deaths attributed to Covid-19.
Over the weekend President Alberto Fernández extended the national lockdown order through May 10.
It would be “exceedingly difficult” for Japan to hold the Tokyo Olympics next summer without a coronavirus vaccine, the head of a Japanese physicians’ group said on Tuesday.
But sticking to that plan would require an improved “global situation,” Dr. Yoshitake Yokokura, the president of the Japan Medical Association, told reporters on Tuesday. “My personal opinion is that if an effective vaccine has not been developed it will be difficult to hold the Olympic Games,” he said.
“I would not say they should not be held, but I would say that it would be exceedingly difficult,” Dr. Yokokura added.
On Tuesday, Yoshiro Mori, the president of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, was quoted as telling a Japanese newspaper that the Games would be “scrapped” if they could not take place next July.
“The Olympics would be much more valuable than any Olympics in the past if we could go ahead with it after winning this battle,” Mr. Mori told the Nikkan Sports daily. “We have to believe this. Otherwise our hard work and efforts will not be rewarded.”
As of Monday night, Japan’s coronavirus death toll stood at 376, and its national caseload was over 13,000. Dr. Yokokura told reporters on Tuesday that he felt it was still too early to consider lifting the country’s state of emergency.
The rate at which the coronavirus is reproducing in Germany has risen to 1.0, meaning one person with the virus is expected to infect, on average, one other person, the country’s public health institution said on Tuesday, more than a week after stores and schools were allowed to reopen under limited capacity.
That number, also known as R0 — pronounced “R-naught” — represents the number of new infections estimated to stem from a single case.
The number was up from 0.7 on April 17, when Chancellor Angela Merkel and the governors of Germany’s 16 states agreed that the country could begin taking steps to ease the restrictions imposed on public life.
“The number should remain below 1.0,” Lothar Wieler, president of the Robert Koch Institute, told a news conference on Tuesday. “The lower the number, the more wiggle room we have.”
But he warned against viewing the number as isolated from other metrics that are tracked, including the capacity of beds in the country’s intensive care wards and the number of tests carried out each day. The reproduction rate is also an average for the whole country, he said, pointing out that in some regions it is well below 1.0, while in others it is higher.
“I don’t want the debate to be too focused on this,” Dr. Wieler said. “It is one important measurement, but not the only one.”
After visiting a Malaysian health clinic in mid-April, Noor Azmi Ghazali, the country’s deputy health minister, stopped for lunch at an Islamic school. He posted pictures on Facebook of himself sitting on the floor, sharing dishes with others and eating with his hands, in keeping with local tradition.
On Tuesday, Mr. Noor pleaded guilty to contravening Malaysia’s strict lockdown measures, which have resulted in the arrests of around 15,000 people, according to Human Rights Watch. The court fined him about $230.
Malaysia’s lockdown, which began in mid-March and has been extended to May 12, prohibits public gatherings and most outings, apart from trips to purchase food.
Many of Malaysia’s roughly 5,800 coronavirus cases have been traced to a religious gathering organized by an Islamic missionary movement, Tablighi Jamaat, from which the virus spread to at least half a dozen nations.
Opposition lawmakers have accused the Malaysian government of using the lockdown as a pretext to clamp down on free speech, and of allowing prominent politicians to flout the lockdown, such as an official who celebrated his birthday with a party.
Less prominent offenders have been jailed in crowded prisons for breaching the lockdown measures. One college student was sentenced to a week in jail for bringing a home-baked cake to her boyfriend.
Nigeria plans to ease its coronavirus-related lockdowns in two major cities on May 4, the president announced Monday.
At a news conference, President Muhammadu Buhari said the country would begin a “phased and gradual easing” of the coronavirus lockdowns in Abuja, the capital, and two southwestern states: Lagos, home to the country’s most populous city of the same name, and Ogun.
“However, this will be followed strictly with aggressive reinforcement of testing and contact tracing measures while allowing the restoration of some economic and business activities in certain sectors,” he said.
Mr. Buhari also introduced several nationwide measures, including mandatory face coverings, a ban on nonessential interstate travel and an 8 p.m. curfew.
The lockdowns, which went into effect on March 31, were originally scheduled to last two weeks. They were extended once in mid-April, and once more with Mr. Buhari’s announcement on Monday.
Mr. Buhari also announced “a total lockdown for a period of two weeks effective immediately” in Kano, a major business hub in the North.
An Italian contractor who flew into Nigeria from Milan became sub-Saharan Africa’s first confirmed coronavirus patient in February. Since then, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Nigeria has risen to 1,273, and 40 people have died. Among them was Abba Kyari, Mr. Buhari’s the chief of staff and one of the most powerful men in the country. He died on April 17 of complications of the new coronavirus, the Lagos state government said.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, and its health system, which had gained a reputation for efficiently containing cases during the Ebola epidemic in 2014, responded quickly to the outbreak.
The lockdowns have “come at a very heavy economic cost,” Mr. Buhari said.
“Many of our citizens have lost their means of livelihood,” he added. “Many businesses have shut down. No country can afford the full impact of a sustained lockdown while awaiting the development of vaccines.”
Three other sub-Saharan countries have been hit harder by the virus in terms of the number of confirmed cases: South Africa, an early epicenter for the continent which has had more than 4,700 cases; and Cameroon and Ghana, which have each recorded more than 1,500.
For five weeks, Indians have united to zealously carry out a nationwide lockdown, the largest anywhere and one of the most severe. But as the central government has begun lifting restrictions in areas with few or no known cases of infection, officials are now facing a new challenge: persuading fearful residents, and their leaders, to consider a partial reopening.
By many measures, the nationwide lockdown imposed last month by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has helped blunt the spread of the coronavirus. India’s doubling rate for cases has slowed to around nine days, and infections have remained relatively low for a nation of 1.3 billion, with nearly 30,000 confirmed cases and 900 deaths.
Last Monday, India took a step toward reviving the economy to “mitigate hardship to the public,” allowing construction, plantation work and some manufacturing to resume. By Friday, the central government had further eased restrictions, permitting many shops to reopen in rural parts of the country and outside hot spots, which have largely been traced to bigger cities like Mumbai and New Delhi.
But unlike the initial lockdown, which Indians widely endorsed despite the clear costs of shutting a country where around half the population lives on less than three dollars a day, the lifting of restrictions has divided state leaders. They have some autonomy to set their own coronavirus guidelines, as long as they are no less strict than those imposed by the central government.
As donations flooded in to fight the virus devastating the city of Wuhan, the ruling Communist Party of China directed them to a group it could trust: the Chinese Red Cross.
Bearing the familiar red-and-white logo, it looks just like any Red Cross group that rushes to disasters, deploys medics and raises funds across the world with political neutrality and independence.
In Wuhan, the charity’s officials were quickly paralyzed by bureaucracy, competing mandates and chaos. For days, tens of millions of dollars in funds went unused, while piles of protective gear sat in a sprawling warehouse as desperate health workers battled the virus without it.
When officials did distribute aid, they sent tens of thousands of masks to private clinics that were not treating coronavirus patients. In one early shipment, they prioritized local officials over health care workers. In another delivery, the equipment was substandard.
“I just wanted to cry,” said Chang Le, a doctor at Wuhan’s Hankou Hospital, in a video he posted online after the Red Cross delivered thousands of nonmedical grade masks.
Governors across the United States uneasily forged ahead with plans to reopen their state economies on Monday, despite health experts’ warnings and a coronavirus toll that now rivals the nation’s dead in the Vietnam War.
The pandemic has claimed some 50,000 lives in the United States, which has more confirmed cases and deaths than any other country, according to a New York Times tally. Only about 1.6 percent of the U.S. population has been tested.
Pressured to ramp up that number, President Trump unveiled a plan to help states do more testing, but his proposal fell far short of what most public health experts say is needed. Democrats swiftly assailed it, with Senator Patty Murray of Washington calling it “nothing new.”
The governor of Texas announced that stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls would be allowed to reopen to a limited extent on Friday. Ohio’s governor unveiled a more incremental plan to reopen some offices and resume manufacturing next week.
Some states were more circumspect. In Arizona and Florida, where stay-at-home orders are scheduled to expire Thursday, Sun Belt governors were vague about the specifics.
Low-wage black and Latino workers have the most to lose from a sustained shutdown, but also largely tend to have jobs that cannot be done from home and entail greater health risks.
Nevada and Colorado signed on to a Western pact with Oregon, Washington and California to coordinate their reopenings. And the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, criticized constituents who had flocked to beaches over the weekend. Addressing the public at his daily coronavirus briefing, Mr. Newsom reminded: “This virus doesn’t take the weekends off.”
But Mr. Trump kept up the pressure, urging governors to “start to think about school openings” before the academic year ends, while his attorney general asked federal prosecutors around the country to look for and fight emergency state or local orders issued to contain the pandemic that could also violate “constitutional rights and civil liberties.”
And despite a stay-at-home order from the mayor of Washington, D.C., congressional leaders announced the House and Senate would both return to session next week.
Droves of students in China’s biggest cities returned to school on Monday after months of closures, cautiously coming back to campus where grueling exams and social distancing measures awaited.
Schools in Beijing welcomed back high school seniors in preparation for the gaokao, the notoriously difficult university entrance exams that have been postponed for a month to July.
In Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, students in their final year of middle and high school also returned to campus wearing masks and occasionally being greeted by staffers in protective suits who took their body temperatures. In Hubei, the central Chinese province hit hardest by the coronavirus, graduating high school students are set to return to classes on May 6.
Schools in the large Chinese cities have taken extra precautions as they emerged from the pandemic. A school in Shanghai installed glass dividers on students’ desks, while a teacher was seen disinfecting basketballs individually, the Shanghai Observer reported.
But for classmates who had not seen each other for months, opportunities to catch up were limited: one school in Guangzhou has asked students not to speak while they eat, and each table could only seat two students at one meter apart, Hong Kong media reported.
Masks were not the only things used to fight infections. At a primary school in Hangzhou, schoolchildren were recently pictured wearing hats with long extensions poking out from both sides, inspired by ancient headwear from the Song dynasty that in one telling were said to discourage private gossiping in the imperial courts.
President Trump’s public statements about using disinfectants to potentially treat the coronavirus have put him in the company of pseudoscientists and purveyors of phony elixirs who promote and sell industrial bleach as a “miracle cure” for autism, malaria and a long list of medical conditions.
But some scientists fear Mr. Trump’s remarks could breathe life into a fringe movement that embraces the medicinal powers of a powerful industrial bleach known as chlorine dioxide. Among its adherents are Alan Keyes, the conservative activist and former presidential candidate who has promoted a chlorine dioxide-based product called Miracle Mineral Solution on his online television show.
The impact of Trump’s words “is going to be huge, especially among people who are desperate,” said Myles Power, a British chemist who works to debunk quack medical remedies.
Mark Grenon, the self-described archbishop of a Florida church that sells Miracle Mineral Solution as “a wonderful detox that can kill 99% of the pathogens in the body,” took credit for Mr. Trump’s comments in a Facebook post on Friday. In an online radio show earlier this month, he said that he and his supporters had sent letters to the president about the product he peddles.
Promoters of such solutions have seized on his remarks with vigor.
“Do you realize how freaking cheap and easy it would be to mass produce chlorine dioxide for 100,000’s of people?” Jordan Sather, a follower of the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theory, wrote on Twitter. “We could wipe out COVID quick!”
Authorities in Bangladesh have given the green light to resume operations at garment factories, which make up a large part of the national economy, but some workers fear they might get the coronavirus by returning to cramped factory floors.
Around 1,800 of 7,620 garment and textile factories have reopened in recent days after a strict lockdown that shut most of the economy in an already poor country.
“We reopened industry partially and asked factory owners to follow health protocol and ensure health safety for workers,” said Mohammed Abdus Salam, a vice president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association. “Many factories have orders for next winter season starting in September. We have no other choice of starting work this time to complete the whole process of production.”
Nazma Akter, president of a garments workers’ union said, “I have received complaints from some workers of a few factories that physical distancing and other health safety measures have not been maintained properly.”
“The owners reopened factories hurriedly and arbitrarily,’’ she added. “If the virus spreads again among the workers, this won’t be a big problem only for the industry but also for the country.”
Farhad Hossain Khan, a superintendent of Industrial Police, said garment workers had protested on Sunday and Monday in industrial areas.
“Some workers protested, demanding their due wages, some workers protest demanding reopening of their factories. We solved problems through dialogue with workers and owners,” he said, adding that the police continued monitoring to ensure worker safety.
The Bangladesh government announced a countrywide shutdown from March 26 to halt the spread of the coronavirus. The authorities have asked people to stay home and suspended travel inside the country by air, road and train. The country recorded its first infections on March 8 and has reported around 6,000 infections and 150 deaths.
As the lockdowns continue and the weather gets warmer, researchers at the University of Maryland have found that more people across the country are going outside, that they are doing so more frequently and that they are traveling longer distances.
The changes in behavior, tracked using cellphone location data, have been measured in the past two weeks and can be seen in all but three states.
Starting in mid-March, when most stay-at-home orders were announced, fewer people went out and people also made less frequent trips, according to the research. For weeks, the numbers held steady. Then, starting on April 14, the data showed people increasingly going out, a trend that continued through Friday, said Lei Zhang, director of the Maryland Transportation Institute at the University of Maryland, College Park, which is leading the research.
Dr. Zhang said it was theoretically possible that people were going outside more while still maintaining the recommended six feet of distance from others and taking other precautions, such as wearing masks and gloves. But he cited news reports about people congregating at beaches and in parks as evidence that social distancing was not always happening.
Experts have cautioned that there will be no imminent return to normalcy and that a return to communal life will most likely come in stages. Without adherence to social distancing, the virus could surge anew, experts have warned. A few states have moved in recent days to gradually reopen parts of their economies, but most Americans are still being urged to stay home.
When the Bantar Gebang facility — one of the world’s largest landfills — is operating at full tilt, hundreds of scavengers swarm around the heavy equipment rumbling on the mountain of garbage. They typically earn from $2 to $10 a day, from the plastic, metal, wood and electronic waste they collect as they deal with workplace hazards like landslides. But the global economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic has reached this part of Indonesia, adding to the misery.
Most recycling companies that buy waste from the trash pickers, known as pemulung, have closed their doors, so fewer pemulung are working because they have no place to sell what they collect, said Resa Boenard, co-founder of Seeds of Bantar Gebang, a nonprofit helping the community.
New social distancing rules imposed by the provincial government took effect this month in Bantar Gebang, prompting even more trash pickers to stay off the pile.
No cases of the virus have been reported in the landfill’s villages, but no one has been tested there, either, said Asep Gunawan, the head of Bantar Gebang district, which includes the landfill. The trash pickers don’t qualify for government coronavirus aid because they are not registered as residents.
There is a widespread belief in Indonesia that living in unsanitary conditions helps people build immunity to diseases like the coronavirus — an unscientific view that will be put dangerously to the test in the landfill’s shantytowns, where thousands of people live.
Speaking at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, President Reuven Rivlin of Israel sought to console those who were mourning fallen soldiers or victims of terrorism alone, at home, rather than “wrapped in the embrace of those who love them.”
The virus-related restrictions were a boon, however, to an alternative ceremony that for 15 years has drawn together bereaved families from both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The live-streamed event reached its biggest audience yet, organizers said, with at least 170,000 viewers.
Hagai Yoel, an Israeli whose older brother was killed in 2002 on a military rescue mission in Jenin, said he couldn’t bear to imagine his 13-year-old son in uniform in five years. “I know that in order to resolve a conflict, both sides have to give up on something, because If I take it all, the other side will remain frustrated and despairing,” Mr. Yoel said.
And Yaqub al-Rabi, whose wife, Aisha, was killed in 2018 by Israeli settlers who stoned their car, said he wanted to “convey to Israeli society, and to the whole world, a message born from my bleeding wound.”
“We all lose victims to this conflict,” he said. “It doesn’t tell apart soldiers and civilians, women and men, children and adults. Or those taking part and bystanders. This conflict is man-made. And humans can end it.”
Mexico empties migrant detention centers to prevent the spread of the virus.
The Mexican government has almost entirely emptied its network of migrant detention centers, deporting the people in them, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among detainees, the authorities announced.
A detainee population that reached more than 3,700 last month is down to 106, with some of the system’s 65 centers now shut, officials said.
In the past seven weeks, as the pandemic worsened in Mexico, the authorities deported 3,653 migrants to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
The Mexican government cast its decision to clear out the system as a humanitarian act in response to recommendations from government health officials and national and international groups.
The United Nations as well as human rights groups and migrants’ advocates in Mexico and the United States have been pressuring the Mexican government to release detainees for fear that contagion could easily spread through the system.
In recent weeks, detainees in several centers launched protests, saying that overcrowding, poor sanitation and inadequate medical care were perfect conditions for an outbreak. Some of the protests turned violent, resulting in injuries and the death of a detainee.
Mexican officials said that so far, no migrant in the detention system has tested positive for Covid-19.
“A pandemic is not the time to have people in close proximity to one another,” said Christopher Gascon, chief of the Mexico office for the International Office for Migration, an intergovernmental group.
With the flow of migrants through Mexican territory at almost a standstill during the pandemic, the detention system will likely remain mostly empty for the foreseeable future. The Mexican government emphasized, however, that it was continuing to enforce migration laws in its territory.
Reporting was contributed by Amy Qin, Megan Specia, Melissa Eddy, Mike Ives, Makiko Inoue, Motoko Rich, Javier C. Hernández, Sui-Lee Wee, Kai Schultz, Sameer Yasir, Hannah Beech, Julfikar Ali Manik, Elaine Yu, Daniel Politi, Shawn Hubler, Jacey Fortin, Mihir Zaveri, Adam Dean, Richard C. Paddock, Muktita Suhartono, Andrew Jacobs and Dera Menra Sijabat.