May 7, 2020

Coronavirus World Updates – The New York Times

The U.N. needs billions more to handle virus fallout.

The United Nations more than tripled the size of its humanitarian aid appeal on Thursday to help the most vulnerable countries threatened by the coronavirus pandemic, from $2 billion initially sought just six weeks ago to $6.7 billion now.

The enormous expansion of the appeal, announced by Mark Lowcock, the top humanitarian aid official at the United Nations, reflected what he described as an updated global plan that includes nine additional countries deemed especially vulnerable: Benin, Djibouti, Liberia, Mozambique, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, Togo and Zimbabwe.

While the peak of the pandemic in the poorest countries is not expected until somewhere between three and six months from now, the United Nations said in a statement that “there is already evidence of incomes plummeting and jobs disappearing, food supplies failing and prices soaring, and children missing vaccinations and meals.”

Mr. Lowcock, who heads the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said in the statement that “unless we take action now, we should be prepared for a significant rise in conflict, hunger and poverty. The specter of multiple famines loom.”

Even as the 193-member organization announced the new target for humanitarian fund-raising, it was still facing challenges in fulfilling the $2 billion goal set by Secretary General António Guterres on March 25. About $1 billion has been raised.

That money, the United Nations said, has gone to funding for hand-washing stations in vulnerable locations such as refugee camps, the distribution of gloves and masks, and the training of more than 1.7 million people, including health workers, on virus identification and protection measures.

Mr. Lowcock’s office projected recently that the long-term cost of protecting the most vulnerable 10 percent of people in the world from the worst impacts of the pandemic is approximately $90 billion. That amount is equivalent to about 1 percent of the current economic stimulus packages announced by the world’s most affluent countries.

The Indian authorities are investigating whether the rush to reopen a chemical plant in eastern India after a long coronavirus lockdown contributed to a deadly gas leak on Thursday morning.

At least seven people have died and hundreds were rushed to hospitals after a cloud of toxic styrene gas escaped from a polymer factory owned by the South Korean company LG Corp. and located near the city of Visakhapatnam.

“It seems unskilled labor mishandled the maintenance work and because of that, the gas leaked,” said Srijana Gummalla, commissioner of Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation, the local government body.

Dozens of men and women were left lying unconscious in the street. Mothers ran to hospitals with limp children in their arms. Police officers moved house to house to evacuate the area around the plant.

“We could feel the strong stench of the gas. Our eyes started watering and we could smell the gas in our mouths,” said one man, D.V.S.S. Ramana, who lived near the plant and spoke by telephone as he was fleeing.

The upsetting images of the accident broadcast on Indian television stations immediately drew comparison to the 1984 gas leak in India’s Bhopal State, considered the world’s worst industrial accident. That leak, at a Union Carbide pesticide plant, left nearly 4,000 dead and another 500,000 injured.

LG Chemical said it was investigating how the leak in Visakhapatnam happened.

“The gas leak from the factory is now under control,” the company said in a statement.

LG acknowledged that some people had been killed in the villages around the factory, saying that it was investigating “the cause of deaths” and other damage.

Britain’s central bank painted a grim picture on Thursday of the country’s economy in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic. The Bank of England that the economy in the April-June quarter would be close to 30 percent smaller than at the end of 2019, as consumer spending would fall by nearly 30 percent, while business revenues, investment and trade all contracted sharply.

The bank said that for the whole of 2020 the economy was likely to shrink by 14 percent, compared to a 1 percent increase in 2019.

But the bank, which also announced it would hold interest rates steady at 0.1 percent, said it foresaw economic activity picking up “materially in the latter part of 2020 and into 2021” after the lockdowns in Britain and elsewhere were eased and people were able to return to work. It forecast a strong jump in economic growth of 15 percent in 2021.

In its report, the bank said that it had tested the financial strength of major British banks and found that they were strong enough to continue lending in the difficult economic environment.

The bank, which described its report as a “scenario” rather than a formal forecast, acknowledged that the outlook for both the British and global economies was unusually uncertain and depended on the evolution of the pandemic and “how governments, households and businesses respond.” On Wednesday, the European Commission projected a 7.4 percent collapse in the European Union economy for 2020.

The Italian government has issued several measures to assist families juggling work and increased parental responsibilities during the epidemic. They include an additional 15 days of annual parental leave and a one-time voucher for 600 euros (about $650) toward babysitting. Last week, the government announced it was evaluating a plan to reopen nurseries and day care centers by the summer. Schools, however, are only expected to reopen in September.

But families say the government hasn’t done enough and that the measures that have been introduced fall short.

Many parents — and especially mothers — fear they will be forced to choose between their jobs and their family as the country slowly crawls back to life, and have called on the government to step in and act.

Across the European Union, the women’s employment average is 67 percent, compared with 54 percent in Italy. And one study on gender inequality in the country showed that women already shoulder a disproportionate amount of child care duties.

An article published last month on, an Italian website, showed that 72 percent of those expected to return to work on Monday would be men, as restrictions on construction sites and factories, where jobs are traditionally held by men, were among the first to be lifted.

The situation, the authors wrote, would “end up increasing the workload of women” at home, where they are already responsible for much of the child care.

Making the situation even harder, the Italian networks that normally support families — like church, after-school programs and sports centers — have also shut down.

Mr. Trump has demanded that the beleaguered Postal Service ratchet up its package delivery rates to avoid bankruptcy during the coronavirus crisis — a move that appears aimed at Jeff Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon and the owner of The Washington Post, a favorite target of the president.

But on Wednesday, Amazon and other online retailers began a seven-figure advertising campaign — starting on Fox News — to endorse a multibillion-dollar rescue package proposed by Democrats. The businesses could be disrupted significantly if the Postal Service increased its rates or went bankrupt.

The pandemic is already affecting the Defense Department, whose officials said that its new measure prohibiting the enlistment of some former coronavirus patients was “interim guidance,” and that it would most likely be updated as military officials learn more about Covid-19 and its long-term risks.

The military is struggling to figure out how to better manage and protect America’s 1.2 million active duty troops. As of Wednesday morning, there have been more than 7,000 coronavirus cases recorded among military personnel, contractors and Defense Department civilians.

A large consignment of personal protective equipment, or P.P.E., from Turkey, which the British government had relied on to ease a severe shortage of supplies in the country, has been rendered unusable by inspectors because the items do not meet safety standards.

All 400,000 protective gowns that arrived in Britain last month were classified as “faulty” and are being stored at a facility near Heathrow Airport in London, the Department of Health and Social Care said on Thursday.

The revelations about the purchase came as British officials faced mounting criticism over their handling of national equipment shortages that saw health care workers advised to reuse their equipment.

“This is a global pandemic with many countries procuring P.P.E., leading to shortages around the world, not just the U.K.,” the Department of Health and Social Care said in a statement. “If equipment does not meet our specifications or pass our quality assurance processes, it is not distributed to the front line.”

Last month, a manufacturing company in the Republic of Ireland stepped in to alter a supply of unusable protective equipment that had been bought from China, The Irish Post reported. The company trimmed the legs of faulty jumpsuits and used them to lengthen the sleeves of protective gowns.

All viruses mutate, and the coronavirus is no exception. But there is no compelling evidence yet that it is evolving in a way that has made it more contagious or more deadly.

A preprint study — posted online, but not published in a scientific journal and not yet peer-reviewed — has set the internet afire by suggesting otherwise.

On April 30, researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico claimed to have found a mutation in the coronavirus that arose in Europe in February and then rapidly spread, becoming dominant as the virus was introduced into new countries.

The mutation, they wrote, “is of urgent concern,” because it made the coronavirus more transmissible. But experts in viral evolution are far from convinced.

Mutations are tiny changes to genetic material that occur as it is copied. Human cells have many so-called proofreading proteins that keep mutations rare. Viruses are far sloppier, producing many mutants every time they infect a cell. Natural selection can favor viruses carrying a beneficial mutation, leading it to spread more widely.

But it’s also possible for a neutral mutation to become more common simply by chance, a process known as genetic drift.

“I don’t think they provide evidence to claim transmissibility enhancement,” Sergei Pond, an evolutionary biologist at Temple University, said of the new report in an email.

In fact, Dr. Pond said, the mutation, known as D614G, has arisen not just once, but several times independently. On some of those occasions, viruses carrying the mutation didn’t take off in the population. Instead, the gene reverted to its original form, suggesting that D614G didn’t give the virus any special advantage.

No one has ruled out the possibility that a mutation could arise that would make the virus more transmissible. And it’s possible that D614G has provided some sort of edge.

But it will take much more evidence to rule out other explanations.

Israel’s Supreme Court ruled late Wednesday that it had no grounds to bar Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from forming a government, rejecting petitions that sought to disqualify him because he faces prosecution on corruption charges.

The court also declined to block an unusual power-sharing arrangement that Mr. Netanyahu struck with Benny Gantz, the former army chief who had fought him to a draw in three straight elections.

The rivals had ultimately joined forces, citing the emergency posed by the coronavirus pandemic and the desire to avoid a fourth campaign.

The court decision removed the last major obstacle to Mr. Netanyahu’s claiming a record fourth straight term as Israel’s leader, cementing his reputation as a survivor: Even after his opponents won a majority in the most recent election, Mr. Netanyahu ended up on top.

Mr. Netanyahu, 70, whose trial on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges is set to begin on May 24, announced that he would be sworn in on May 13. Mr. Gantz, 60, is to take office as deputy or alternate prime minister. The two agreed to swap roles after 18 months.

Their agreement calls for a narrow focus on issues related to the coronavirus at first, with one exception: their government may take up the annexation of land in the occupied West Bank, a long-sought goal of the Israeli right, as early as July.

By every measure, the coronavirus pandemic has decimated the travel industry.

The images of the world’s shutdown are eerie, the numbers are staggering. Approximately 100 million travel sector jobs, according to one global estimate, have been eliminated or will be. Passenger traffic on U.S. airlines is down 95 percent compared to last year, while international passenger revenues are expected to decrease by more than $300 billion. U.S. hotel occupancy rates fell off a cliff and now hover around 25 percent.

Regions and countries are beginning to open up, but the outbreak will undoubtedly change how we think, act and travel, at least in the short term.

“The pandemic is going to fade slowly, with aftereffects, a lot of which will be psychological,” said Frank Farley, a Temple University psychology professor and the former president of the American Psychological Association. “There’s so much uncertainty the average folk might want to know everything about travel,” he said. “What’s the escape hatch? What are the safety issues?”

Yet the desire to travel will not go away: In a recent survey by Skift Research, the research arm of the travel trade publication, one-third of Americans said they hope to travel within three months after restrictions are lifted.

To learn how the landscape might change, we talked to dozens of experts, from academics to tour operators to airport architects. Across the board, they highlighted issues of privacy and cleanliness and the push-pull of people wanting to see the world while also wanting to stay safe. Tap here for answers to 14 of the most pressing questions about travel’s future.

Bina Wana, a 6-year-old orangutan that was rescued as a baby when his mother was killed, had been scheduled to be freed soon, as part of an ambitious program that has released more than 300 rescued Sumatran orangutans into the rainforest.

But as with so many of his human cousins, Bina Wana’s freedom has been put on hold by the coronavirus.

Scientists fear that the virus, which is thought to have originated in bats and jumped to humans, could just as easily jump to great apes — gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans — which share 97 to 99 percent of their DNA with people. All are highly endangered.

If the virus were to infect even one wild ape, experts fear it could spread unchecked and wipe out an entire population. There would be no way to stop it in the wild.

“We are worried about this and taking it very seriously,” said Ian Singleton, director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, which has been raising Bina Wana since his 2014 rescue. “If it happens, it will be a catastrophe.”

Museum exhibitions in much of the world were put on pause in early or mid-March, postponed indefinitely as many countries issued strict stay-at-home orders. But as shutdowns continue, it has become clear that some shuttered shows will not reopen. Others will never open their doors. Many more are in limbo.

The behind-the-scenes work on a major museum exhibition usually takes years, involving fund-raising, difficult loan negotiations with other museums and collectors, scholarship and catalog production, events planning, complicated transport and sometimes major restoration.

Some cancellations are already stacking up. The Royal Academy in London has canceled two exhibitions slated for this summer that were traveling internationally from other museums. At the Royal Scottish Academy, the centerpiece of its programming is an annual exhibition that has been moved entirely online.

The Museum of Fine Arts Ghent in Belgium opened the largest-ever display of Jan van Eyck’s work, “Van Eyck: An Optical Revolution,” on Feb. 1. The city of Ghent dedicated an entire year to the celebration of van Eyck, plastering walls and even wastebaskets with posters about him.

The museum closed on March 13 because of the coronavirus and announced last week that the show would not reopen.

Maximiliaan Martens, an expert in early Netherlandish painting, will always have the memory of standing in a room filled with van Eyck’s portraits right after they were hung, an experience he said was “indescribable.” Never before had these portraits been in the same room, even in van Eyck’s lifetime.

When they can travel again, the portraits will scatter around the world once more. The Ghent altarpiece will eventually return to the cathedral for good. These works will almost certainly never be reassembled.

Reporting and research was contributed by Ceylan Yeginsu, Jeffrey Gettleman, Stanley Reed, Rick Gladstone, Jason M. Bailey, David Halbfinger, Carl Zimmer, Richard C. Paddock, Lin Qiqing, Sophie Haigney, Elisabetta Povoledo, Elaine Glusac, Tariro Mzezewa, Mariel Padilla and Sara Firshein.

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