Britain’s Johnson Faces Virus Critics, but Israel’s Netanyahu Comes Out on Top
- by NewYorkTimes
- May 7, 2020
This briefing has ended. Read the latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic here.
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.
China’s Foreign Ministry delivered a scathing criticism on Wednesday of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over his assertion last weekend that the coronavirus that has killed hundreds of thousands of people originated in a Chinese laboratory.
A ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, pointed to a recently leaked memo urging Senate Republicans to attack China and its labs as a campaign issue, which she said had discredited the administration’s allegations.
“The huge drama of blame shifting in the United States has already been heavily spoiled, and continuing the drama is meaningless,” she said. “I advise those people in the United States absolutely not to become enthralled by their own act.”
Mr. Pompeo returned fire at a news conference later on Wednesday, accusing China of covering up the outbreak. He noted that early on, local officials had reprimanded two doctors there for trying to warn colleagues of a new, SARS-like outbreak.
“China could have prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide,” he said. “They had a choice. But instead China covered up the outbreak in Wuhan.”
Chinese officials have not given international experts full access to health facilities in Wuhan, including to the hospitals that treated the first cases during the outbreak.
Mr. Pompeo said the Chinese government still refused to share information that would aid international research, including releasing virus samples from December.
He became angry when pressed by reporters on his statements on Sunday that there was “enormous” and “significant” evidence pointing to a laboratory accident in Wuhan as the source of the outbreak.
Anthony Fauci, the scientist who has been helping lead the administration’s response to the outbreak in the United States, told National Geographic in an interview published Monday that the virus had likely made the natural leap from an animal to a human in a non-lab setting.
Mr. Pompeo insisted that Dr. Fauci’s statement and his were not contradictory.
He has taken the lead in pressing U.S. intelligence agencies for evidence to support the unsubstantiated theory, though intelligence officers say they likely will not find proof. Western officials from the “Five Eyes” Anglophone allies that share intelligence say they are coalescing around the idea that an outbreak that began in a lab was unlikely.
Labs at both the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and the Wuhan Institute of Virology are said to have been conducting research into bat coronaviruses. Researchers say the new contagion probably originated in bats, jumped to another animal species and then spread to humans.
For Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, the political risks of running up the worst Covid-19 death toll in Europe became starkly clear on Wednesday in a near-empty House of Commons, where he faced off for the first time against the new opposition leader, Keir Starmer.
Citing statistics that suggest Britain, with more than 30,000 deaths, may have overtaken even hard-hit Italy, Mr. Starmer asked Mr. Johnson how he could claim “apparent success,” as he did last week after his own serious bout with the coronavirus.
“That is not success — or apparent success,” Mr. Starmer said.
Mr. Johnson replied that country-to-country comparisons were difficult and that the true toll would only be clear in retrospect. While statisticians generally agree, Mr. Johnson implicitly acknowledged that it is a weak political argument.
“He’s right to draw attention to the appalling statistics, not just in this country but of course around the world,” Mr. Johnson said.
For Mr. Starmer, a human-rights lawyer who was elected Labour Party leader last month, it was a sure-footed debut in Prime Minister’s Questions, a weekly ritual. It usually unfolds in a rowdy din, as backbenchers whoop and catcall, but the pandemic has forced Parliament to allow lawmakers to attend remotely for the first time.
The quiet setting worked to Mr. Starmer’s advantage: In subdued, forensic style, he pressed Mr. Johnson on lethal conditions in nursing homes; shortages of masks and gloves for health workers; and Britain’s decision not to do much testing early in the outbreak.
Measured by officially reported deaths, Britain surpassed Italy on Tuesday and is second only to the United States. A true comparison is harder because of differences in how countries collect data.
On Tuesday, a prominent scientific adviser to the government, Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist, admitted to violating a lockdown that he had recommended by illicitly meeting his lover. He stepped down from a government advisory panel.
That drew a storm of criticism from the right-wing news media, which has opposed the lockdown.
After being closed for more than three months, Shanghai Disneyland will greet visitors again on May 11, the first Disney park to reopen after the company closed them amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In China, where the park is a major attraction, many people saw the move as symbolic. “The reopening means the outbreak in China is truly controlled,” a user wrote on Weibo, the Chinese social media platform.
All, however, is not back to normal. Visitors will be required to register personal information online and show that their code is green on China’s health-tracking smartphone app, which authorities have used to rank people’s infection risk. Visitors will have their temperatures checked at the gates. They must wear masks. Crowd sizes will be controlled at restaurants, rides and other facilities. Pictures released by Disney show markings on the ground to help park-goers maintain social distancing.
“Finally, there won’t be a line at the Tron Lightcycle Power Run!” an excited Disney fan wrote, referencing a popular ride. Opened in 2016 as the first Disney park in mainland China, it is known for its hourslong lines.
Not everything will be open. Some attractions, like theater shows and the park’s colorful nighttime parade, will be canceled to limit guest contact.
Germany was a leader in the West in taking on the pandemic, and then a leader in the gradual, calibrated restarting of public life. Chancellor Angela Merkel had a hopeful message for the nation on Wednesday: It’s working.
Ms. Merkel announced the second major phase of lifting Germany’s lockdown, a milestone she said was made possible by the success the country has had in lifting some restrictions without allowing a resurgence of the virus. In that time, new infections have actually declined.
“We have reached the goal of slowing the spread of the virus,” the chancellor said after meeting with the heads of Germany’s 16 state governments.
“I think that we can say today that we have the very first phase of the pandemic behind us,” she added.
In the next few days, she said, schools, day care centers, stores and restaurants will be allowed to reopen, and hotels will follow by the end of the month.
That is welcome economic news not just for Germans but for Europe, which is looking to Germany, its largest economy, to show the way out of the paralysis the pandemic has caused.
But as she has before, Ms. Merkel warned that any backsliding in controlling the virus will lead to reimposing controls. If any state has a spike in cases, Berlin could impose regional restrictions.
Germany did much more testing early in the outbreak than any other big Western country, and it has done more contact tracing. That allowed it to get infected but asymptomatic people into isolation earlier, and sick people into treatment earlier.
Those are among the reasons the country has had a high number of confirmed infections, but relatively few deaths, about 7,000. Two weeks ago, it became the first major Western country to start lifting its lockdown.
But even as Germany reopens, things will remain far from normal. Students will attend school in staggered shifts. Social distancing in public will remain mandatory, as will mask-wearing in some places.
“We must be aware that we are still at the start of the pandemic and will continue to have to deal with the virus for a long time,” Ms. Merkel said.
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.
Orangutans in Indonesia’s rehabilitation centers are staying put for now. Officials have canceled all planned releases into the wild, closed the facilities to outsiders and ordered staff to wear protective gear.
Scientists fear that the coronavirus, which is thought to have originated in bats and jumped to humans, can also jump to great apes — gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans — which share up to 99 percent of their DNA with people.
If the virus were to infect even one wild ape, experts worry it could spread unchecked and wipe out an entire population.
Orangutans, which can live more than 50 years, are Asia’s only great ape aside from humans, and are found only on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo.
Fewer than 72,000 orangutans live in the wild, according to government estimates, with nearly 85 percent inhabiting Indonesia’s dwindling rain forests. The rest live in the northern part of Borneo that belongs to Malaysia.
Indonesia has 33 facilities that keep orangutans. Six-year-old Bina Wana had been among those scheduled to be freed soon as part of an ambitious Indonesian program that has released more than 300 rescued orangutans into the rainforest over time.
Bina Wana had been rescued when he was a tiny orangutan, no bigger than a house cat. Most of his nose had been sliced off, probably in the machete attack that killed his mother. He was taken to a rehabilitation center on Sumatra, raised with other orphans and put through the center’s “forest school,” in which he learned how to climb trees, find food and survive in the wild.
But for now, he won’t be able to test his new skills. He’ll remain at the center indefinitely.
Discontent over Russia’s handling of the pandemic drove President Vladimir V. Putin’s approval rating to its lowest level in 20 years last month, the country’s leading independent pollster, the Levada Center, said on Wednesday.
The decline stands in contrast to many other world leaders whose electorates have rallied around them amid the crisis, and comes as Russia confronts increasingly bleak data documenting the coronavirus’s spread.
The government reported 10,000 new cases across the country for the fourth straight day on Wednesday, raising the nationwide total to at least 165,929. The minister of culture, Olga Lyubimova, on Wednesday became the third cabinet member known to have tested positive. While the pandemic appeared to take hold in Russia later than in many Western countries, the number of cases is now doubling every 10 days — a growth rate now among the highest in the world.
Mr. Putin’s approval rating sank to 59 percent in April, a four-point drop from the previous month and an 11-point drop from October. It was a far cry from the support of close to 90 percent he enjoyed in the aftermath of his annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Dmitri S. Peskov, the president’s spokesman, said the Kremlin did not trust the Levada data. Pollsters affiliated with the government also show approval for Mr. Putin ticking down in recent weeks, though not to rock-bottom levels.
What concerns many Russians even more than the rise in fatalities is the increasingly dire economic situation, said Levada’s deputy director, Leonid Volkov. The Kremlin is providing limited economic aid, and the crisis has highlighted Mr. Putin’s biggest vulnerability: his struggles to solve domestic problems.
Because of the pandemic, Levada conducted the April poll by phone rather than face to face, as it usually does. The organization said that because Russians are often less likely to criticize the authorities over the phone than in person, it is possible that its results understated the decline in Mr. Putin’s ratings.
The little girl, black curls tumbling over her eyes and her slight frame uncomfortably splayed out on the airplane seat, hid crayons in her armpits the entire flight. She was puzzled how they, like the new people called Mom and Dad, now belonged to her.
Her parents, Seth and Meg Mosier of Bethesda, Md., had spent months trying to adopt. They were directed to Madurai, in southern India, and a little girl named Selvi — just in time for a pandemic to upend the world.
The first coronavirus case in Delhi was announced a day before their adoption was approved. Countries were starting to close themselves off, and the Mosiers feared that their chance to build a family was disappearing. They reached India on March 12, the day before it barred entry to foreigners.
Now they just needed to meet their daughter and get out before India canceled international flights. They feared being stranded for months during a global crisis, in a country they barely knew.
It was never going to be easy to bond with a frightened child from an orphanage, where children who have no toys of their own learn to hide those they can. Now they had to speed it up, without a common language.
After the government announced a ban on commercial flights, imposing one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, the Mosiers managed in two days to finalize adoption paperwork that normally takes a week. They reached the airport hours before it closed, only to learn that they were missing a crucial piece of paper.
Dejected, they waited for days to hear about repatriation flights, until getting an email offering them seats on a flight the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had chartered to evacuate missionaries.
At last, they made it home, where Selvi learned she does not have to hide her toys.
Part of India’s success in blunting the spread of a coronavirus outbreak had been a fierce lockdown — the largest in the world, with 1.3 billion people under the restrictions. But the government has loosened the rules over the past few days, drawing people into the streets.
And now the contagion is beginning to spread more aggressively.
Cases are now doubling every 9.5 days, down from 12. The daily death toll has shot up to more than 100, from a few dozen in mid-April.
The total number of reported infections in India is around 50,000, a much lower per capita rate than many other countries, including the United States and several European nations.
But a walk around New Delhi shows how much has changed.
The streets of working-class neighborhoods that were deserted last week are thronged with people. Bicycle rickshaws dart in and out of traffic. Pedestrians crowd the sides of the road. Most wear masks, as required, but many wear them off their chins, leaving their noses and sometimes even their mouths exposed.
As the heat rises — it hit 104 degrees Fahrenheit a few days ago — many people who live in cramped quarters are finding it unbearable to stay indoors. So they spill outside and mingle in the streets.
“There’s no police around, nobody is enforcing the lockdown, people are out everywhere,” said an exasperated shopkeeper who goes by one name, Mehtab.
The hot spots are India’s crowded urban areas, especially New Delhi and Mumbai, India’s political capital and its business capital. Around a third of India’s reported infections are from those two cities. Mumbai officials are beginning to worry they might not have the resources they need.
“Testing labs, beds, facilities, they are all being overburdened with asymptomatic and mildly infected patients,” said Pradip Awate, an epidemiologist and chief surveillance officer in the state of Maharashtra, which includes Mumbai.
Neighboring Pakistan is also reporting more cases and deaths, though officials there are contemplating loosening its lockdown, which has not been strictly enforced. Prime Minister Imran Khan has said that an increased lockdown will increase the difficulties for the poor and working classes.
The European Union’s economy is set to shrink 7.4 percent this year, investment is expected to collapse, and unemployment rates, debts and deficits will balloon in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, the European Commission said Wednesday.
To put these figures in perspective, the European Union economy had been predicted to grow 1.2 percent this year. In its worst recession, in 2009, its economy shrank 4.5 percent.
Predicting the economic impact of the virus and ensuing lockdowns is a moving target, the commission admitted, and things could turn out much worse.
“The danger of a deeper and more protracted recession is very real,” the head of the commission’s economic unit, Maarten Verwey, said in the report’s foreword. The commission issues these forecasts four times a year.
The economies of Italy and Spain, two countries that have been hit particularly hard by the virus, are both expected to shrink more than 9 percent. Greece, which had started turning a corner after a decade of economic calamity, could lose 9.7 of its economic output this year — the worst forecast of the 27 member nations.
And unemployment is expected to be rampant, averaging 9 percent across the bloc and reaching 19.9 percent in Greece, the European Commission said.
The bloc’s biggest economy, Germany, will also be hammered, projected to shrink 6.5 percent for the year. France, the second-largest economy, is expected to contract 8.5 percent.
The full scale of the pandemic effect is yet to unfold, but the grim predictions depict a disastrous impact across the board for wealthy economies. The European Union is home to more than 400 million people, and the bloc is a major trading partner for the United States, China and other major economies.
Life in one of the world’s most complex border towns, straddling the divide between the Netherlands and Belgium, was made even more puzzling when officials in the neighboring nations took very different approaches to handling the coronavirus.
The town, Baarle-Hertog-Nassau, sits several miles inside the Netherlands, but owing to a deal hammered out between feudal lords in 1198, it is divided roughly evenly between Belgian and Dutch sides.
But that is just the beginning of the puzzle. Within each side are enclaves belonging to the other — 22 Belgian enclaves on the Dutch side and eight Dutch enclaves on the Belgian side, leading to a dizzying mishmash of border markings.
Each enclave is subject to its nation’s laws, creating a patchwork of conflicting rules and regulations — but “without the unrest and strife often associated with enclaves,” said Willem van Gool, a local tourism official.
As European countries begin to ease their restrictions on public life at a varied pace, with some allowing businesses to reopen while others remain on lockdown, the different rules are sowing confusion for travelers and for those who live in border areas and regularly cross back and forth.
With the border dividing the Netherlands and Belgium cutting straight through the entrance of her studio and art gallery, Sylvia Reijbroek was confused over which country’s rules to follow.
Playing it safe, Ms. Reijbroek decided to follow Belgian law, since her gallery is legally registered there, and she closed her business. But it has been frustrating, she said, seeing customers walking in and out of the health and beauty care shop next door — in the Netherlands.
“There is only one shop on this street that had to adhere to Belgian law and closed,” she said sourly. “Mine.”
A retirement home in Milan known as a coronavirus hot spot reported on Wednesday that deaths among its residents shot up more than 60 percent this year — the latest striking evidence that the pandemic’s true toll is much worse than the official figures show.
The home, Pio Albergo Trivulzio, had 300 deaths from January through April, compared to an average of 186 over the same period in the previous five years, said Fabrizio Pregliasco, its supervisor. Prosecutors are conducting a criminal investigation into the home’s handling of the outbreak.
Such above-normal death rates in retirement or nursing homes add up to thousands of people across Europe and in the United States, but many of them — and many people who have died at home — were never tested for the virus, so they have not been included in the official counts. Pio Albergo Trivulzio did not have testing swabs until April.
Increasingly, researchers are looking to deaths from all causes as a measure of the pandemic. A study released this week by Italy’s national statistics agency shows excess deaths in the tens of thousands — far higher than confirmed Covid-19 toll.
From Feb. 20, when Italy recorded its first coronavirus death, through March 31, when the epidemic there was at its peak, almost 91,000 people died nationwide, the study found — more than 25,000 above normal, though it is not clear how much of that increase was because of the pandemic.
Officially, Italy had about 14,000 Covid-19 deaths through March, a figure that is now approaching 30,000.
New York Times analyses of death data show similar undercounting in many countries and across the United States, indicating tens of thousands of coronavirus deaths, or more, in people who never received a diagnosis.
Officially, the pandemic has killed more than 250,000 people worldwide.
Antibodies found in a llama named Winter were able to neutralize the new coronavirus, according to a study published this week in the journal Cell.
Scientists have long turned to llamas for antibody research; they have small and easily manipulated antibodies that are often effective in fighting viruses.
Winter was chosen by researchers in Belgium, where she lives on a farm run by Ghent University, to participate in a series of studies involving SARS and MERS, and researchers found that her antibodies staved off those infections. When they tried again with the new virus that causes Covid-19, they got the same result.
The researchers are hopeful the antibody can eventually be used as a prophylactic treatment, by injecting someone who is not yet infected to temporarily protect them from the virus.
That approach is at least several months away, but the researchers are moving toward clinical trials. Additional studies may be needed to verify the safety of injecting a llama’s antibodies into human patients.
“If it works, llama Winter deserves a statue,” said Dr. Xavier Saelens, a molecular virologist at Ghent University in Belgium and an author of the new study.
Somali and Kenyan officials have agreed to jointly investigate the crash of a plane carrying coronavirus relief supplies, an incident that had threatened to escalate political tensions between the two countries.
The Kenyan-registered plane, belonging to African Express Airways, went down in Somalia around 3:30 p.m. on Monday, killing all six people on board. It had taken off from the capital, Mogadishu, headed north toward Bardale, but crashed just short of its destination.
Officials say the cause remains unclear, but there has been speculation that it was shot down.
The Somali militant group Al Shabab remains active in the south, but Bardale and its airstrip are secured by Somali forces, as well as Ethiopian troops who are part of the African Union peacekeeping mission in the country.
Kenya’s government had demanded a thorough investigation into the incident. Somalia’s president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, invited Kenyan civil aviation authorities to team up with their Somali counterparts to look into the crash.
Somalia, which has a weak health care system, has 835 confirmed coronavirus infections, but aid groups have warned that with testing scarce, many cases were going undetected.
“The situation is on the verge of spiraling out of control,” said Richard Crothers, the Somalia country director for the International Rescue Committee. “We are seeing widespread community transmission in a country that will not be able to handle a multitude of severely ill patients at once.”
Somalia has suffered through decades of violence, and in the past year has faced a severe drought, flooding and a devastating locust invasion, leaving millions of people displaced and hungry.
Relations between Somalia and Kenya, its neighbor to the south, have been strained, with recent armed clashes along their border. The International Court of Justice is also adjudicating a long-simmering maritime border dispute between them, with hearings set for next month.
The Baltic nations of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are the latest to navigate what restarting travel between a limited group of nations amid the pandemic — effectively creating a “travel bubble” — could look like.
The neighboring countries will lift travel restrictions between them starting May 15, a move that will be the first of its kind in the European Union since its members began to limit travel in March.
“It is a big step toward life as normal,” Jüri Ratas, the prime minister of Estonia, said in a post on Twitter following a video call with his counterparts on Wednesday.
People entering the three Baltic States from other countries will still be required to isolate themselves for two weeks, but those moving within the three nations can travel without restrictions.
Containment measures in all three nations appear to have been successful; they have reported a total of about 4,000 cases of the coronavirus and 120 deaths.
Other countries have also begun to take steps toward creating limited travel bubbles, with New Zealand and Australia mulling a similar system.
Tomáš Petříček, the foreign minister of the Czech Republic, said the public health situation in neighboring Austria, Slovakia and Hungary might allow “for a continuous loosening” of travel between those countries, but no concrete measures have been established yet.
In the Mathare slum in Nairobi, Kenya, community activists like Billian Okoth Ojiwa are constantly worried these days about the hundreds of families who might be going to bed on empty stomachs. As jobs dry up and lockdowns and curfews are extended, he said, many people are having to balance fear of contracting the coronavirus and fear of going hungry.
“People have to eat. We never anticipated we would have such a situation,” Mr. Ojiwa, who has been organizing food drives, said in a phone interview. “Nobody saved for this.”
A new report from the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which surveyed respondents across 28 cities in 20 African countries, sheds light on this dilemma, highlighting how low-income households are bearing the biggest brunt of the pandemic.
On average, respondents expected they would run out of money in 12 days and food in 10 days. The lowest-income households estimated they would run out of food and money in less than a week. Many in urban centers in countries like Kenya and Nigeria said hunger was forcing them to violate stay-at-home orders. At least a third of respondents were against closing workplaces and shutting down markets they considered essential to the economy.
Nearly a third of the women surveyed said that closing schools would leave them with no one to care for their children while they went to work.
The Africa C.D.C. commended African states for responding quickly to the pandemic, improving testing capabilities and instituting social-distancing measures. But they also urged countries to increase their tracing and treatment capabilities and use data to localize their responses as they weigh the complex trade-offs between lessening transmission and averting social and economic disruption.
As of May 5, the agency estimated Africa had 47,118 coronavirus cases and 1,843 deaths.
On Wednesday morning, long lines of legal clerks spilled into the streets while waiting to file documents at Hong Kong’s newly reopened courts. More office workers had swapped their sweatpants for pencil skirts, and restaurants buzzed with calls for Mother’s Day reservations.
After more than two weeks of recording no new local infections, Hong Kong has cautiously restarted some previously restricted activities. Civil servants no longer work from home, and museums and public libraries partially reopened on Wednesday. Gyms, movie theaters, bars and mahjong parlors will open their doors on Friday — but not night clubs or karaoke establishments.
Jill Raymont, a retired teacher, and her husband were among the first people to visit the Hong Kong Museum of Art overlooking Victoria Harbor. Like most everyone on the streets, they wore face masks — hers was hot pink. They had waited out the pandemic by going on walks and hikes, but were now opting for indoor activities as the weather got warm and humid.
At the museum’s entrance, large white circles painted on the ground indicated where people should stand. Visitors were limited to two-hour sessions.
Ms. Raymont said she was glad the city had never required a full lockdown, instead responding to the pandemic with the near-universal wearing of face masks and a variety of measures, like disinfecting elevator buttons every hour.
“We have not stopped living,” she said. “But we will never drop our guard.”
She added that it was worrying to see the United States pushing to reopen when the outbreak there, unlike in Hong Kong, had not been brought under control.
Nearby, Emily Ho, 57, went on her daily two-hour stroll with her husband along a harborfront promenade. Thronged with tourists before the outbreak, the area attracted a few fellow strollers but was largely empty on Wednesday. Ms. Ho and her husband were also masked up, and she winced at another man who had his mask pulled down.
She admitted it was pleasant to roam without the crowds. “But this isn’t ideal if you think deeper — you don’t want your society to be this quiet,” she said. Her husband, who works in manufacturing, has been out of work.
Ms. Ho expected it would take many more months to ride out the coronavirus. “It felt like SARS had ended quickly, compared to now,” she said. “This time, we really have to wait for a vaccine.”
President Trump, contradicting his comments from Tuesday, said the White House coronavirus task force would “continue on indefinitely,” though perhaps with different members.
His announcement, made on Twitter, came one day after Vice President Mike Pence, who has led the group for two months, said it would probably wrap up its work around the end of the May. “We will have something in a different form,” Mr. Trump later told reporters on Tuesday during a trip to Arizona.
But in a series of Wednesday morning tweets, Mr. Trump appeared to contradict that, and emphasized his desire to reopen the economy despite a continued rise in coronavirus cases and public health warnings that more commerce will mean more deaths.
Mr. Trump wrote that, because of the task force’s “success,” it would “continue on indefinitely with its focus on SAFETY & OPENING UP OUR COUNTRY AGAIN.”
The death toll has risen to 71,000 across the country. A handful of states account for the bulk of the death surge across the United States, a Times analysis of federal data found: In New York City alone, there have been 23,000 more deaths than normal since mid-March.
Another key group in the White House’s response, the supply chain task force led by the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was staffed with young volunteers who had little experience and complicated the government response, according to a Times investigation. As the federal government’s warehouses were running bare, Mr. Kushner told the volunteers to prioritize tips from political allies and associates of Mr. Trump, tracked on a spreadsheet called “V.I.P. Update,” according to documents and emails obtained by The Times.
Few of the leads, V.I.P. or otherwise, panned out, according to a whistle-blower memo written by one volunteer and sent to the House Oversight Committee. Administration officials argued that the volunteers — who came from venture capital and private equity firms — had the know-how to quickly weed out good leads from the mountain of bad ones, and that FEMA and other agencies were not equipped for the task.
But at least one tip that the volunteers forwarded turned into an expensive debacle and ended with New York awarding a Silicon Valley engineer a $69 million contract. Not a single ventilator was delivered.
Bana Abdalla Ali, who tirelessly championed basketball in Somalia and promoted sports among youngsters in a nation beset by civil war, died on April 28 in London. He was 54.
His death came after he had contracted the novel coronavirus, his family said.
Mr. Ali garnered prominence for being a vocal supporter of basketball in Somalia, investing not only his free time but also his own money to ensure the country’s players had their chance on the international stage. A basketball enthusiast and a well-known player in Mogadishu before Somalia’s civil war began, he at various points over the years served as both the secretary general and head of marketing for Somalia’s national basketball team and was also a member of the East and Central Africa Inter City Basketball Committee. Read the full obituary.
Reporting was contributed by Emma Bubola, Edward Wong, Melissa Eddy, Katrin Bennhold, Keith Bradsher, David M. Halbfinger, Jillian Kramer, Carl Zimmer, Tariq Panja, Anton Troianovski, Ivan Nechepurenko, Richard Pérez-Peña, Karen Zraick, Megan Specia, Michael Wolgelenter, Thomas Erdbrink, Brooks Barnes, Jeffrey Gettleman, Kai Schultz, Salman Masood, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Abdi Latif Dahir, Hussein Mohamed, Maria-Abi-Habib, Mariel Padilla, Richard C. Paddock, Elaine Yu, Apoorva Mandavilli, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Andrew Higgins, Jason Gutierrez, Mark Landler, Stephen Castle, David Segal and Natalie Kitroeff.