Here’s what you need to know:
- Boris Johnson has been moved out of intensive care as his condition improves.
- People must stick to restrictions, Merkel warns.
- In Europe, wearing masks in public is no longer ‘alien.’
- Oil markets hope for a deal between Saudi Arabia and Russia.
- Mexican health care workers face attacks from those who see them as vectors of disease.
- Palestinians fear a coming coronavirus storm.
- European finance ministers try, again, to bolster economy with joint measures.
Boris Johnson has been moved out of intensive care as his condition improves.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain was moved out of intensive care on Thursday, offering some relief for a country that faces several more weeks under lockdown as the coronavirus death toll approaches 8,000.
Mr. Johnson was hospitalized on Sunday evening after a 10-day bout with the virus, and transferred to the intensive care unit on Monday after his condition deteriorated. On Thursday, his office said the prime minister, 55, had been moved back to a ward at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London and was in “extremely good spirits.”
Dominic Raab, Britain’s caretaker leader, did not offer a timetable for the prime minister to resume his duties. He also signaled that the government would extend the country’s lockdown beyond next week.
Mr. Raab, the foreign secretary, said the government would not lift restrictions on April 13, the date the prime minister had set when he imposed the measures last month. The lockdown now appears likely to last several more weeks.
“Is it time to ease up on the rules?” Mr. Raab said to reporters at 10 Downing Street. “We’re not done yet. We’ve got to keep going.”
Mr. Johnson may still be convalescing as the government faces one of the most sensitive decisions of the pandemic: when, and how, to reopen the British economy. The cabinet plans to make that assessment at the end of next week.
The debate over how to lift the lockdown is replete with trade offs. Lifting it too soon, experts said, could reignite the contagion; leaving it in place for too long could force many companies into insolvency.
With temperatures expected to reach up to 77 degrees Fahrenheit this weekend, the public has been urged to stay at home. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, asked the public on Wednesday to refrain from sunbathing, having barbecues in parks and playing team sports.
Britain reported its highest daily death toll from the virus on Wednesday, with 938 deaths recorded in hospitals in 24 hours. Almost 900 more were reported on Thursday.
People must stick to restrictions, Merkel warns.
Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed “cautious hope” that Germans were preventing the spread of the coronavirus from straining the health system and slowing the infection rate, but warned that the numbers were no cause for abandoning severe restrictions on social contact and personal freedoms.
“The latest developments give us reason for cautious hope,” Ms. Merkel said. “The numbers are an indication that measures are working.”
But with the long Easter weekend approaching, and summerlike temperatures forecast, she cautioned Germans not to give in to the temptation to roam outside and congregate.
“We can’t be reckless, we can’t allow ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of security,” she warned at a news conference. “I know this from personal experience: you have a little bit of hope, then you gain confidence, then you are a little bit more relaxed inside and then you are a little bit reckless.”
The daily tally of new infections in Germany has dropped from as many as 7,000 to an average of about 4,000 in the past week. Other hard-hit countries in Europe have seen comparable declines.
German authorities have credited early planning, widespread testing and a robust health system with resulting in a low death toll compared to neighboring countries. In Germany, more than 2,000 people have died of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, compared to about 7,000 in Britain, 11,000 in France, 15,000 in Spain and almost 18,000 in Italy, according to a New York Times database.
The chancellor said her government was working to procure more masks and protective equipment from abroad, as well as looking into ways to increase domestic production, to meet domestic and European needs.
Coronavirus Map: Tracking the Global Outbreak
The virus has infected more than 1.5 million people in at least 177 countries.
In Europe, wearing masks in public is no longer ‘alien.’
Not long ago, the only medical masks seen on European streets were worn by Asian tourists, who sometimes encountered a Western cultural bias against them. No longer.
On March 18, the Czech Republic became the first nation in Europe to make public mask-wearing mandatory, followed by Slovakia on March 25 and Turkey last Friday.
On Sunday, officials in stricken Lombardy, in northern Italy, required masks. The next day, Austria made them obligatory in supermarkets and drugstores, and that will apply to public transportation users next week.
It is a “big adjustment,” said Austria’s chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, because “masks are alien to our culture.”
Acceptance of masks is even taking hold, haltingly, in France, which in 2011 became the first European nation to ban public face coverings, largely in reaction to Muslim women wearing veils.
On Wednesday, Sceaux, a small city near Paris, became the first French municipality to require masks in public. The southern city of Nice will make them mandatory next week. The mayor of Paris said on Tuesday that two million reusable cloth masks would be distributed there.
France’s Academy of Medicine has recommended that masks be required nationwide. The government has not gone that far, but it has urged people to wear them, just as the U.S. government has.
That is quite a turnabout. A few weeks ago, the French government was discouraging the use of masks, insisting that it served no purpose.
Early in the epidemic, some experts advised that there was little benefit to healthy people wearing masks, but that view has shifted as the virus has spread.
Masks are commonly worn in public across much of Asia, and the discussion of them in Europe often turns on differences in how cultures balance individual rights against the collective good.
Oil markets hope for a deal between Saudi Arabia and Russia.
Oil prices spiked on Thursday morning on news of a possible deal between Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and Russia for a major cut in production, but then lost those gains as no deal emerged by early afternoon.
Demand for oil has dropped sharply as the coronavirus epidemic has shut down broad swaths of the world’s economy, causing a steep fall in prices. In addition, Russia and Saudi Arabia have been engaged in a price war, after Moscow refused to go along with a Saudi proposal in early March to trim output to deal with the pandemic.
The combination of factors threatens to swamp markets with vast oversupplies of oil.
OPEC, Russia and other oil producers gathered on Thursday for a teleconference to try to agree on production. The meeting was called by Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s de facto leader, after President Trump spoke to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s main policymaker, by telephone.
Brent crude, the international benchmark, jumped nearly 12 percent to $36.40 a barrel, as the meeting started, but it gave up most of those gains soon after.
Mexican health care workers face attacks from those who see them as vectors of disease.
Already overburdened Mexican hospitals are contending with a new threat in the fight against coronavirus: attacks and discrimination against health care workers. In recent weeks, government officials have reported several instances of discrimination and violence against medical personnel by people who fear that the virus will spread from hospitals into local communities.
Nurses have been kicked off public transportation, doused with chlorine and assaulted. In Guadalajara, nurses are changing out of their uniforms after their shifts so that they aren’t attacked on their way home. State authorities have set up special buses to ensure that health workers can safely travel to and from work.
“Violence should never be tolerated even if we are afraid of being infected by Coronavirus,” Edith Mujica Chávez, the head of the department of nurses in Jalisco, wrote in a letter to fellow health officials last month. “As health care workers, we have faced disinformation and panic in the community, including physical and verbal aggression.”
On Monday, the Mexican government condemned the attacks, noting in a statement that “interfering with the functioning and operation of hospital infrastructure dedicated to dealing with the health emergency at this time weakens the capacity of the response that the public needs.”
Deputy health minister Hugo López-Gatell said in a news conference this week that there have only been isolated incidents so far. “Fear produces irrational reactions,” Mr. López-Gatell said.
Coronavirus cases have climbed sharply in Mexico, where testing has been scarce and the federal government moved slowly to enforce social distancing measures. On Wednesday, Mr. López Gatell said that while there are only 3,181 confirmed cases in the country, the health ministry estimates “reasonable certainty” there are as many as 26,529 Mexicans infected with the virus.
Palestinians fear a coming coronavirus storm.
As many as 150,000 West Bank residents who ordinarily work in Israel or Israeli settlements are vital to the West Bank economy, bringing in an estimated $2.5 billion a year.
But after outbreaks at two kosher chicken slaughterhouses on the Israeli side that sickened dozens of Palestinian workers, it has become clear that they are also bringing back something else: The coronavirus.
Returning workers accounted for at least a third of the known cases on the West Bank, including its only death, Palestinian officials say. Only a few hundred infections have been confirmed there, though testing has been very limited, compared to about 10,000 in Israel.
At first, Palestinian officials expected Israel to care for any workers who contracted the virus. But after an ailing worker was unceremoniously dumped at a checkpoint by the Israeli police (he later tested negative), the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Muhammad Shtayyeh, reversed himself and urged workers to return to the West Bank for their own safety.
Now, however, the fear is that many will take his advice — and that large numbers of returning workers could prove unwitting carriers of the virus. That would quickly overwhelm the West Bank’s underequipped hospitals.
The stress on the Palestinian side is showing itself in a ratcheting up of rhetoric that belies the close cooperation between Israeli and West Bank officials behind the scenes — cooperation that the United Nations has publicly praised.
Some 13 percent of income earned by West Bank residents comes from jobs in Israel or Israeli settlements.
European finance ministers try, again, to bolster economy with joint measures.
European finance ministers meet for a second time this week on Thursday afternoon to take another stab at potential joint measures to cushion the blow of the coronavirus outbreak on the region’s economy, after their previous attempt collapsed in acrimony without a result.
At stake is the recovery of the world’s richest bloc of nations, of which 19 members also share one of the most important currencies in the world, the euro. The recession ahead will be brutal: The bloc is likely to shrink by around 10 percent, economists predict. At its worst year, in 2009, the recession that followed the global financial crisis was a 4.5 percent shrinkage.
But the meeting will also determine whether European nations hit by the virus unevenly, with Spain and Italy suffering the most losses, will be able to leave aside their usual battle lines — north versus south, richer versus poorer — and tackle the issue as one.
While some of the proposed measures have been largely uncontroversial, for example a joint scheme to fund unemployment benefits, and investment to support small businesses, bigger and braver suggestions have proven divisive.
Particularly tough has been reaching an agreement on whether or not to attach reform conditions to any loans that a bailout fund might give to Italy and others. Italy, the bloc’s third-largest economy, is keen to ensure no-strings-attached financing, but the Netherlands is pushing for conditions.
The ultimate stumbling block is whether ministers can agree to the possibility of issuing joint bonds in future. This is a no-go for northern European countries like Germany and the Netherlands: They don’t want to subsidize cheap debt for their southern counterparts, and claim the move would be legally and practically time-consuming and political untenable at home.
U.S. update: Hospitalizations slow in New York, but deaths continue to climb.
The extent of the economic calamity facing the United States became even clearer on Thursday, as the U.S. Labor Department reported that another 6.6 million people had filed for unemployment benefits last week.
More than 16 million Americans have lost their jobs in just three weeks, nearly double the number during the entire Great Recession.
In Washington, Republicans and Democrats clashed over the terms of a request from the White House for another $250 billion for a small business loan program.
Amid the debate, First Lady Melania Trump tweeted a photo of herself in a disposable face mask, advising Americans to follow the latest advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to wear cloth masks in public. Mr. Trump has said he will not do so himself.
The death toll across the country, growing by well over a thousand a day, topped 15,000 on Thursday and showed no sign of abating. New York State, the epicenter of the outbreak, reported 799 more deaths from the disease, the highest single-day figure so far.
But in a possible sign that social distancing measures were working, hospitalizations have slowed, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Thursday. If the trend continues, the number of people in hospitals will soon start to decline, a sign that the virus has passed its apex.
Mr. Cuomo cautioned that while New York would likely have enough hospital beds and ventilators to treat patients if current trends held, the state still did not have the resources it needed if the most drastic projections of the virus’s spread held.
Rich countries push poor ones aside in the scramble for coronavirus gear.
As the United States and Europe compete to acquire scarce medical equipment to combat the spread of the coronavirus, poorer nations are losing out to wealthier ones in the global scrum for masks and testing materials.
As wealthier nations face accusations of “modern piracy” for trying to secure medical supplies for their own people, manufacturers say orders for vital testing kits cannot be filled in Africa and Latin America because almost everything they produce is going to America or Europe. UNICEF says it’s trying to buy 240 million masks to help 100 countries, but has so far only managed to source around 28 million.
“There is a war going on behind the scenes, and we’re most worried about poorer countries losing out,” said Dr. Catharina Boehme, the chief executive of Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, which collaborates with the World Health Organization in helping poorer countries gain access to medical tests.
The supply divide matters in part because testing is the first defense against the virus, and an important tool to stop so many patients from ending up in hospital.
So far the developing world has reported far fewer cases and deaths from the coronavirus than the rich one, but if the pandemic hits harder it would prove devastating in countries whose health systems are already fragile and underfunded. A recent study found that some poor countries have only one equipped intensive care bed per million residents.
Botswana’s entire Parliament is ordered into quarantine.
Botswana has placed all members of its Parliament in mandatory quarantine for possible coronavirus exposure, in one of the world’s largest such actions involving government officials.
The director of health services, Dr. Malaki Tshipayagae, ordered all 57 lawmakers into isolation after a parliamentary health worker tested positive for Covid-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus. The health professional, who was on duty at a parliamentary session on Wednesday, was one of seven new cases the country announced on Thursday.
Botswana, in southern Africa, has so far announced 13 cases and one death. It is under a state of emergency, with most of the air, rail and road travel to and from the country closed indefinitely. In late March, President Mokgweetsi Masisi went into self-quarantine after visiting neighboring Namibia to attend the inauguration of President Hage Geingob.
At least five cabinet members in Burkina Faso have tested positive for the virus, as have three state governors in Nigeria and the president’s chief of staff.
So far, 52 African states have reported a total of more than 10,000 cases and 487 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The limited extent of testing suggests that the true figures are much higher.
Latest science news: Research shows N.Y. cases are mainly linked to Europe, not Asia.
New research indicates that the coronavirus began to circulate in the New York area by mid-February, weeks before the first confirmed case there, and that travelers brought it mainly from Europe, not Asia.
Teams at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and N.Y.U. Grossman School of Medicine — both in New York but working separately, on different groups of cases — came to strikingly similar conclusions about genomes from coronaviruses taken from residents of the city starting in mid-March.
Among the highlights:
Some strains of the virus found in New York were practically identical to ones in Europe. They reveal a period of untracked global transmission starting in late January, more than a month before the United States blocked most travel from Europe.
Other viruses were identical to ones seen in Washington State, hinting that the virus also likely moved across the United States for weeks.
That early spread might have been detected if aggressive testing programs had been put in place.
The researchers cautioned that while the mutations they studied are useful for telling lineages apart, they don’t have any apparent effect on how the virus works. That’s good news for scientists working on a vaccine. In another promising sign for vaccine makers, the virus also appears to mutate fairly slowly, unlike influenza.
More than two dozen companies have announced promising vaccine programs in recent weeks, speeding through the early stages of testing unlike ever before.
The W.H.O.’s chief says he was the target of racist slurs in Taiwan.
The director-general of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on Wednesday that he had been targeted by racist comments and death threats that originated in Taiwan, in the past three months, including being called “a Negro.”
Dr. Tedros singled out the Taiwanese government, which has been frozen out of the W.H.O. after pressure from Beijing.
“They didn’t disassociate themselves,” he said of Taiwanese officials. “They even started criticizing me in the middle of all that insult and slur, but I didn’t care.”
He said at a coronavirus news briefing on Wednesday that while he didn’t care about the personal attacks, he couldn’t accept disparagement against all black people.
“When the whole black community is insulted, when Africa is insulted, then I don’t tolerate it,” he said.
Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, hit back on Thursday, writing on Facebook: “Taiwan has always opposed all forms of discrimination. For years, we have been excluded from international organizations, and we know better than anyone else what it feels like to be discriminated against and isolated.”
Dr. Tedros also made an impassioned plea for solidarity, warning that politicizing the coronavirus pandemic would result in “many more body bags.”
He made his comments after President Trump unleashed a tirade against the organization on Tuesday, accusing it of acting too slowly to sound the alarm, and of treating the Chinese government too favorably. While the president, who threatened to withhold American funding for the organization, spoke in unusually harsh terms, he was not alone in such criticism.
Critics say that the W.H.O. has been too trusting of the Chinese government, which initially tried to conceal the outbreak. Others have faulted the organization for not moving faster in declaring a global health emergency.
Asked about Mr. Trump’s comments on Wednesday, Dr. Tedros said: “Please don’t politicize this virus. If you want to be exploited and you want to have many more body bags, then you do it. If you don’t want many more body bags, then you refrain from politicizing it.”
Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairman of the African Union, said on Twitter: “The focus should remain on collectively fighting Covid-19 as a united global community. The time for accountability will come.”
More than 50 African states have so far reported a total of 10,252 coronavirus cases and 492 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On Thursday, the World Bank said sub-Saharan Africa would suffer its first recession for 25 years as a consequence of the outbreak.
In Spain, Holy Week has a new meaning.
In the Spanish city of Seville, Holy Week is celebrated by processions of hooded penitents that draw hundreds of thousands of faithful and tourists onto the streets of the city for the Easter spectacle.
But the festivities and the concept of penitence, a major theme of the week, have acquired a special meaning during a nationwide coronavirus lockdown, as the faithful must stay home rather than meander through the city to the sound of drums and trumpets alongside richly decorated floats. The celebrations are led by brotherhoods, associations formed by residents whose main task is to prepare religious events, particularly during Holy Week.
“This is an unprecedented situation in which we need to prepare for a much longer period of penitence, also because of the economic hardship that awaits us even after the virus has gone,” said Alejandro López, spokesman of the Macarena brotherhood, the largest in Seville, with about 15,000 members.
The processions are typically staggered throughout Holy Week, and the Macarena’s was to take place at midnight Thursday. But with its basilica closed, the brotherhood will instead stream video online from the church.
For those who have spent months preparing for the procession, “there is no doubt some inner feelings of nostalgia and sadness,” said Mr. López. “But we are all mature Christians.”
Not everyone has heeded the lockdown measures, and last Sunday, officers broke up a Mass on a Seville rooftop with a dozen people. The police have been intervening to halt any religious event that could breach the rules of the nationwide lockdown.
Spain is still in the grip of a major outbreak: On Thursday, the country passed the grim milestone of 15,000 dead, with 683 more fatalities reported overnight.
India hints at extending a nationwide lockdown as cases rise.
As coronavirus cases climb in India, the country’s top political leaders have indicated that a 21-day nationwide lockdown that is set to expire next week would most likely continue in some form.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi told government ministers on Wednesday that a complete lifting of the lockdown “is not possible,” according to Indian news reports and people who participated in the meeting.
“The priority of the government is to save each and every life,” Mr. Modi was quoted as saying. “The situation in the country is akin to a ‘social emergency.’ It has necessitated tough decisions and we must continue to remain vigilant.”
India’s lockdown, which is in effect until April 15 and applies to all 1.3 billion Indians, was the most severe action undertaken anywhere to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Borders between states were closed. Schools, offices, factories, parks, restaurants and airspace have all shut.
On top of that, the cities of Mumbai and New Delhi mandated this week that people wear face masks when they leave their homes. And on Thursday, the government of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, said that residents must stay indoors and allow only essential items like food to be delivered.
Though India still has a relatively small number of infections — 178 deaths and fewer than 6,000 confirmed cases as of Thursday — experts warn that widespread transmission of the coronavirus could be disastrous in a country where millions of people live in dense slums, social distancing is often impossible and the health care system is overburdened.
Australia investigates why a cruise ship allowed infected passengers to disembark.
The Australian authorities on Wednesday boarded the cruise ship Ruby Princess, which is docked off the country’s east coast, and seized the vessel’s “black box” as part of a homicide investigation into how infected passengers were allowed to disembark last month.
The ship allowed about 2,700 untested passengers to disembark in Sydney. Hundreds later tested positive for the coronavirus, causing cases in the state of New South Wales to skyrocket. Fifteen of them later died.
It’s the deadliest single source of infection in Australia, which had 50 deaths and more than 6,000 cases as of Thursday.
The authorities are trying to determine whether the number of potential coronavirus cases aboard the Ruby Princess was played down before it docked. They boarded the ship to gather evidence, including a black box similar to those used in aircraft, and to speak with its captain.
The authorities say more than 1,000 crew members, many from other countries, are still on the ship, and that a number of them have contracted the coronavirus.
Dean Summers, the Australia coordinator for the International Transport Workers’ Federation, said a number of them were “completely confused” and desperate to be tested for the virus.
“That ship obviously has huge exposure to coronavirus,” he said. “Why wasn’t anybody tested?”
Japan is reluctant to close businesses, even under emergency declaration.
Even after Japan declared a state of emergency to fight the coronavirus pandemic in its largest population centers earlier this week, the central government is urging governors to wait two weeks to ask businesses to close for fear of damaging the economy.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe officially announced the emergency declarations earlier this week for seven prefectures that include Tokyo, Kobe, Osaka and Yokohama and represent a population of 56.1 million people. The government does not have the legal power to issue stay-at-home orders or compel businesses to close, but governors can request that businesses suspend operations to help contain the spread of infection.
While some of the governors want to ask businesses to close now, the central government wants them to wait to see if individual citizens will flatten the curve of infections by refraining from going outside and working from home. On Thursday, the health ministry announced 511 newly confirmed cases — a 46 percent jump over a day earlier.
One municipality is taking matters into its own hands. Gotemba, a city of about 88,000 in the foothills of Mount Fuji, is offering owners of businesses such as bars and nightclubs a maximum of 1 million yen (about $9,200) in compensation for closing between April 16 and 30.
How to celebrate in coronavirus times.
Stay-at-home orders don’t have to put a damper on your special days. Here’s some ways to celebrate birthdays, weddings, and the upcoming spring holidays.
Reporting was contributed by Natalie Kitroeff, Paulina Villegas, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Jane Bradley, Stephen Castle, Abdi Latif Dahir, Vivian Yee, Melissa Eddy, Raphael Minder, Ceylan Yeginsu, Iliana Magra, Richard C. Paddock, Mike Ives, Megan Specia, Yonette Joseph, Kai Schultz, Elaine Yu, Motoko Rich, Hisako Ueno, Makiko Inoue, Rory Smith, Tariq Panja, Livia Albeck-Ripka, Carl Zimmer, James Gorman, Michael Levenson, Dan Barry, Ben Hubbard, Stanley Reed, Clifford Krauss, Andrew E. Kramer, Dionne Searcey, Ruth Maclean, Denise Grady, Katie Thomas, Patrick J. Lyons, Karen Zraick, Richard Pérez-Peña, Mohammed Najib, David M. Halbfinger, Melissa Eddy and Christopher F. Schuetze.