Coronavirus World Updates – The New York Times

The Four Percent


A study finds the coronavirus in tiny airborne droplets in Chinese hospitals.

Adding to growing evidence that the novel coronavirus can spread through air, scientists have identified genetic markers of the virus in airborne droplets, many with diameters smaller than one-ten-thousandth of an inch.

That had been previously demonstrated in laboratory experiments, but now Chinese scientists studying real-world conditions report that they captured tiny droplets containing the genetic markers of the virus from the air in two hospitals in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak started.

“Those are going to stay in the air floating around for at least two hours,” said Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech who was not involved with the Nature paper. “It strongly suggests that there is potential for airborne transmission.”

Dr. Marr and many other scientists say evidence is mounting that the coronavirus is being spread by tiny droplets known as aerosols. The World Health Organization has so far downplayed the possibility, saying that the disease is mostly transmitted through larger droplets that do not remain airborne for long, or through the touching of contaminated surfaces.

“I don’t know who’s wrong or who’s right,” Ms. Rambousek said. “And I can’t turn to anybody for certainties.”

The city of Perpignan lodged contagious patients in a hotel after the central government told people to self-isolate at home. Officials in the city of Marseille carried out widespread testing of both the sick and healthy even as the government ordered that only the seriously ill be tested.

Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced a tentative plan on Monday to gradually reopen the country starting on May 11. Schools and businesses would start reopening, though not restaurants or cafes. He urged companies to keep their employees working at home. And he promised that masks and testing would be made sufficiently available.

But it was not clear that those steps would halt what polls show is declining confidence in the government’s handling of the epidemic.

As borders shut and much of the world entered a lockdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic, economic activity stalled, travel halted and some cross-border trade took a hit.

The pandemic has prevented organized criminal gangs in Southeast Asian countries from moving large quantities of ivory and pangolin scales into China. But any limits on the illegal wildlife trade are likely to be temporary.

“There’s too much money to be made from these products, and there’s too many people involved for this to have a significant long term impact,” said Sarah Stoner, a co-author of the report and director of intelligence at the Wildlife Justice Commission, an international foundation based in The Hague, Netherlands, that works to dismantle illegal wildlife trade.

She and other experts say that while the coronavirus’s limits on travel and business could be an opportunity for law enforcement to disrupt criminal networks, the pandemic’s economic toll could attract more people to the trade.

“We are tracking significant amounts of new trafficking activity in multiple countries, which seems to indicate that traffickers are both still very much in operation and also actively seeking ways to adapt and thrive in the new normal,” said Tim Wittig, the head of intelligence for United for Wildlife, a nonprofit led by Prince William to fight wildlife trafficking.

Travel restrictions have interrupted vaccine supply chains and governments have scaled back or shut down health services that do not comply with distancing guidelines.

While African countries have made incredible improvements in immunizing children, the continent still lags behind when it comes to meeting global vaccination targets. The causes include the difficulty for health workers to access some areas, inadequate public campaigns and lack of trust of vaccines from some.

When the government of Sweden defied conventional wisdom and refused to order a wholesale lockdown to “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus epidemic, public health officials pointed to trust as a central justification.

But on one warm spring day in Stockholm last week, there was little evidence that people were observing the protocols. Young Swedes thronged bars, restaurants and parks, drinking in the sun.

While other countries were slamming on the brakes, Sweden kept its borders open, left schools in session and placed no limits on public transport. Hairdressers, gyms and some cinemas have remained open.

Gatherings of more than 50 people were prohibited, and at the end of March, the authorities banned visits to nursing homes. But there are almost no fines, and pedestrians wearing masks are generally stared at as if they have just landed from Mars.

Throughout the crisis, Sweden has had enough intensive care units to deal with Covid-19 patients, said the minister of health and social affairs, Lena Hallengren. “We have 250 empty beds right now.”

The country’s state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, acknowledged that Sweden will have to face its broad failing with people over the age of 70, who have accounted for a staggering 86 percent of the country’s 2,194 fatalities to date.

The public health authority also announced last week that more than 26 percent of the 2 million inhabitants of Stockholm will have been infected by May 1.

But even that figure was presented as something of a win: a number of infections that might limit future outbreaks, reached without suffering an inordinate number of deaths.

The apps use smartphones to gather information about the movements of people who have tested positive for the virus, alert others who might have crossed their paths, and in some cases make sure infected people stay quarantined.

But the mad dash has left some places with a confusing mishmash of options, and has some computer security researchers worried about vulnerabilities in hastily written software. Technical differences among apps could vastly affect their security and effectiveness.

By contrast, Singapore’s app uses Bluetooth rather than location data to identify nearby phones, and the information is stored on the phones unless a person tests positive for the virus and agrees to share the data with contact tracers, who can then notify others who may have been exposed.

In Norway, the app sends location and Bluetooth data to central servers that can be accessed by government health authorities. A new law mandates that the information be used only for the pandemic, and that it be deleted every 30 days.

While some compliance is better than none, the researchers found, low rates of adoption in many areas suggest voluntary programs may not provide a breakthrough.

Early returns to pre-pandemic routines will surely be substantially altered, as health officials have stressed that returning too quickly to cluttered school hallways or grocery store aisles could set off another round of rapid infections.

A memo from the company provides a glimpse of how the broader American shopping experience is likely to look as the country begins to slowly reopen. But the success of such an approach depends largely on whether retailers will also decide to reopen stores and whether the public will feel comfortable going to malls when tests for the virus remain difficult to get.

For years, Greece has been seen as one of the European Union’s most troubled members, weighed down by a financial crisis, corruption and political instability. But in the coronavirus pandemic, the country has emerged as a welcome surprise: its outbreak appears to be far more limited than what was expected.

As the virus spread across Europe, many Greeks feared the worst: They would be the next Italy or Spain.

Because Greece has tested a very small percentage of its population, it is impossible to know how extensively the virus has spread in the country. But its total deaths have been low — 138 in a population of about 10.7 million — a surprise to experts, especially given the elderly population. And a big relief.

Only 69,833 people have been tested for the virus in Greece, but experts agree that the country’s decision to quickly enforce social distancing measures and fortify its ailing health care system helped curb the outbreak.

So did a willingness from most Greeks to comply with the orders.

“The words are nothing but a mirage, full of good images but deceitful,” said one of the most popular comments on Facebook.

But in many places, Beijing still faces skepticism and deep anger.

The music video was supposed to help shore up support. Its lyrics were written by the Chinese ambassador to the Philippines, Huang Xilian. The video shows Chinese medical teams delivering aid in the Philippines, and it features a clip of the Philippines president, Rodrigo Duterte, thanking China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, for his support during the crisis.

The video was panned almost immediately, with internet users in the Philippines, Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries denouncing it as out of touch.

China is itself emerging from the worst of the outbreak, and after more than two months of delay because of the coronavirus pandemic, China’s legislature will finally hold its annual full session starting on May 22, official media announced Wednesday morning.

The scheduling of the National People’s Congress session, a ritualized event held in the Great Hall of the People next to Tiananmen Square, is the latest sign of confidence in China that the virus is under control. Although China is still reporting some cases among people returning from overseas, including 21 more announced on Wednesday, cases of domestic transmission have slowed to a trickle.

It was not supposed to be this way at this time of year for Iran’s poultry industry, one of the largest in the Middle East. Ordinarily chicken sales peak over the month of Ramadan for the iftar banquets at homes and in restaurants, when Iranians break their fasts by dining on grilled saffron chicken and other staple specialties of the holiday.

But now the livelihoods of chicken breeders and poulterers have been upended by the pandemic. Restaurants, hotels and event spaces catering to weddings and funerals have remained closed since the middle of March even as Iran has gradually reopened many businesses. Chicken sales have plunged by at least 35 percent.

As supply rapidly outpaced demand, poultry factories killed 15 million one-day-old chicks this month. A truck dumped hoards of tiny fluffy birds into a ditch where they were buried alive, according to videos that went viral on Iranian media.

The chick mass grave created an uproar among Iranians, and many blamed it on what they called the government’s lack of oversight. Iranians created a Twitter hashtag for the chicks, with many wondering if they could have been donated and grown to feed low-income families.

The parliament has said it would investigate. But poultry industry leaders warned this week that they would soon have to slaughter millions of adult chickens if the government did not step in with financial assistance.

“The chickens are fully grown but there is no place to keep them, no feed and no vaccines for them and no buyers,” Nasir Nabipour, the head of Iran’s poultry union, was quoted as saying Monday in Iranian media.

Iran’s poultry industry produces about 2 billion chickens annually on 20,000 farms, according to Iranian media. It exports 100,000 tons of chicken to the region and beyond in Asia.

From Bali to Brazil, Costa Rica to California, the pandemic has widely shut down surfing, either through outright bans on access to beaches or from the inability of surfers to travel to them. But enough spots remain open to foment a schism between surfers who are able to get in the ocean and those stuck at home.

Many migrant workers live on the outskirts of the city in dormitories that can house up to 20 people per room, making it almost impossible to follow social distancing guidelines.

Singapore has traced the contacts of people infected with the coronavirus and released detailed information about clusters of cases. An analysis of the data shows how the virus has spread rapidly among migrant worker dormitories.

More than 20 percent of Singapore’s population of 5.7 million are foreign workers. Many come from Bangladesh and India, and they work in construction, shipping, manufacturing and domestic service sectors.

The breakdown of nationalities among the confirmed cases shows that workers from these countries have been disproportionately affected.

Reporting was contributed by Abdi Latif Dahir, Norimitsu Onishi, Constant Méheut, Javier C. Hernández, Megan Specia, Kenneth Chang, Thomas Erdbrink, Farnaz Fassihi, Christina Anderson, Iliana Magra, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Keith Bradsher, Adam Skolnick, Andrew Higgins, Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Natasha Singer, Aaron Krol, Weiyi Cai and K.K. Rebecca Lai.



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