U.N. Seeks Billions to Avert Coronavirus Famines: Live Coverage


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.

Tourist destinations across Europe are scrambling to find ways to salvage their peak summer season, as the pandemic chokes a vital part of many European nations’ economies.

Italy’s idyllic beaches may be newly fitted with Plexiglas boxes to enforce social distancing.

Sicily has plans to offer visitors three nights for the price of two.

Portugal will allow travelers to reschedule trips until the end of 2021, urging those who won’t be able to come this year not to cancel their visits, but just to come back later.

With the pandemic expected to cut tourism revenues in Europe by more than half this year, countries whose economies rely on an annual influx of visitors are mapping out plans to reinvigorate the sector as they gradually loosen restrictions.

Such plans may prove vital for the European Union’s economy, which faces the worst recession in its history, experts said this week. Over 27 million people in the bloc, or 12 percent of its work force, work in the tourism industry. In southern Europe, tourism represents between 13 and 20 percent of the countries’ economies.

But as much as Europe wants its tourists back, efforts to restart the sector may depend on what each country decides. Clubs in Ibiza may reopen, but who will dance there if the Dutch and British tourists who usually fill their floors aren’t allowed to travel?

Travelers might plan for a trip to France, but what is a visit to Paris if the Louvre and restaurants remain closed?

Some countries, like Greece, have said they could reopen tourism to those who can travel by car, before allowing flights.

European officials have called for a coordinated “‘Marshall Plan’ to restart European tourism,” but that seems far from becoming a reality.

While the authorities in Italy and Germany have hinted that citizens may be allowed to go abroad this summer, President Emmanuel Macron of France cautioned against too much movement too fast. Concerns are high that flows of tourists could trigger a second wave of the virus, especially as ski resorts in Austria and vacation spots in Spain and Italy may have contributed to the spread of the virus earlier this year.

Poland’s presidential election, which was to be the first of its kind held in Europe since the outbreak of the coronavirus, has been indefinitely delayed just days before it was scheduled to take place.

The decision, made by the governing Law and Justice party on Wednesday night, came after weeks of political turmoil around the prospect of a hastily arranged “vote-by-mail” system. The election, which had been planned for Sunday, is now not expected to take place until June at the earliest and officials are still debating how to conduct the contest both safely and fairly.

President Andrzej Duda, a candidate of the governing party, is a clear favorite to win and the government had been pressing for the vote to go ahead. But opposition candidates — who had to halt their campaigns during the lockdown — urged a rescheduling.

Critics have raised concerns that the Law and Justice party is becoming more authoritarian in its approach. Authoritarian-minded leaders around the world have used the coronavirus emergency to consolidate power.

But the government was forced to admit defeat this week in its often clumsy effort to set up Poland’s first postal election, for an electorate of more than 30 million, in less than a month. Officials said they still expected the rescheduled vote to rely on mail-in ballots.

“Our experts are going to start working today on a deep change of the law on postal elections,” said Jaroslaw Gowin, head of a junior coalition partner. “The vote will take place in a way that is recommended by the health minister and experts. It will be an all mail-in vote. In the next two years, no other form of voting will be possible.”

Still, the move is likely to only deepen the political and constitutional crisis in Poland. Critics of the governing party had called for all elections to be suspended under a formal, limited state of emergency. Instead, Law and Justice simply suspended the election four days before it was scheduled, without giving its legal reasoning.

“We still don’t know on what basis the elections are not taking place this Sunday,” said Marek Chmaj, an expert in constitutional law at the University of Warsaw, adding that there was no guarantee that the future election would be fair. “It’s chaos.”

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 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.

India had been under a strict coronavirus lockdown for the past six weeks. But the lockdown was eased this week, allowing more industries to operate, and the chemical plant started to reopen on Wednesday.

“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.

Millions of Italians returned to work on Monday after nearly two months of being on lockdown because of the coronavirus. But many working parents are unsure about how to ease back into their professional lives when their young children still can’t go to school.

Italy, once the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Europe, was the first European country to impose national lockdown restrictions on March 10. When it lifted some of those restrictions this week, schools, nurseries, day cares and summer camps remained closed.

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 Lavoce.info, 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.

An additional 3.2 million people filed jobless claims in the United States last week, swelling the number of new claims since the coronavirus lockdown began to more than 33 million, according to figures released by the Labor Department on Thursday.

American institutions have also wrestled with the far-reaching effects of the coronavirus pandemic this week. On Wednesday, the military temporarily barring those who have been hospitalized with the virus from joining the armed forces, and Amazon broadcasting its support of a weakened Postal Service.

Also on Wednesday, President Trump acknowledged that deaths could rise as a result of the reopening of the American economy, saying, “Hopefully that won’t be the case.”

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 restaurant in Amsterdam is giving diners a trial run of what nights out might look like in a country seeking to avoid a second pandemic peak.

Patrons of the ETEN restaurant are seated in closed glass cabins that fit two or three people, arranged outside on a sunny patio. Servers wear transparent face shields and latex gloves, and deliver food and drinks on extended wooden trays.

“We already had those green houses, so after a brainstorm we decided to offer them for people already living together,” said Sjoerd Houben, office and venue manager for Mediamatic, the art center that runs the restaurant. “This way they can have a cozy dinner with a great view.”

For now, the idea is being tested on family and friends of employees: Dutch restaurants are not scheduled to reopen until June 1 and will only be allowed to serve a maximum of 30 customers at a time.

In the Netherlands, where most people socialize outside their homes, the decision to close all restaurants and bars left many longing for somewhere to gather. In Amsterdam, people can be seen roaming the streets with takeout coffee cups, one of the few options still on offer.

But this week, the government revealed its long-awaited step-by-step approach to lifting restrictions, which will allow for shops to reopen and people to walk the streets as long as they keep one and a half meters, or 4 feet, apart.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte has called on businesses to come up with ways to incorporate this social distancing rule into their ways of doing business, predicting that the Dutch should get used to what he calls the “meter-and-a-half” society, at least for now.

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 judged 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.”

It was not immediately clear whether Britain would send the supplies back to Turkey and seek a refund, and the government has not released information on how much money was spent on the items. Britain faced similar embarrassment in April when it purchased millions of unproven test kits from China that proved unfit for their planned use, and cost the country $20 million.

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.

Another 50,000 P.P.E. kits supplied by China to India were discarded after failing to conform with health and safety standards.

In 2017 and 2018, 2,000 jobless Finns were given 560 euros (about $600) a month, tax-free and with no strings attached. Finland called it the world’s first randomized nationwide experiment with a universal basic income. The policy had been gaining supporters among those worried about automation destroying jobs, but interest is rising more broadly as pandemic lockdowns put millions out of work.

On Wednesday, Finland delivered a full assessment of the experiment’s results. In short, basic income recipients were happier but didn’t find jobs more readily than a control group of similarly unemployed workers. Proponents say that this is encouraging because it dispels fears that a basic income would encourage people to work less

Still, Finland decided against expanding the trial, and instead is looking to direct aid for low-income citizens via the tax system.

As governments look for ways to stimulate their cratering economies, the idea of paying everyone a basic income “was kind of avant-garde but has become mainstream,” says Roope Mokka, a co-founder of the research institute Demos Helsinki. “The pandemic has revealed the inequalities in society in a brutal way. This speaks to universal solutions.”

He admits that the idea of free money for everyone remains a tough sell politically, even during a pandemic. But he expects governments to “do something that’s effectively the same thing” as a universal basic income, especially if unemployment persists in the absence of a vaccine.

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.

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.

Munir Mohamad Mangal, an Afghan general who had served in the country’s security forces for four decades, most recently as national police commander, died on May 2 at his home in Kabul. He was 70.

The cause was Covid-19, the Interior Ministry said. He was Afghanistan’s highest-profile casualty of the pandemic and the second member of his family to die of the virus. His son, a physician, also died.

“He was a patriot — a strong and calm officer,” said a former colleague, Mirza Mohammad Yarmand, who had worked with General Mangal for several years.

In a time when promotion to general became more about political connections and less about the years spent in the force, General Mangal had climbed the ladder, Mr. Yarmand said. He could relate to the officers at different levels — he had been there.

Read the full obituary here.

Reporting and research was contributed by Fahim Abed, Joanna Berendt, Thomas Erdbrink, Elian Peltier, Ceylan Yeginsu, Megan Specia, 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.