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Spain to Ease Work Rules; China Delays Crucial Exports: Coronavirus Live Coverage

In Spain, some nonessential employees can go back to work from Monday.

Spain, the only European country hit harder than Italy by the pandemic, is preparing to ease restrictions as the number of deaths fall, allowing some nonessential employees to return to work on Monday. But Health Minister Salvador Illa insisted his country was not in a “de-escalation phase” and the World Health Organization warned that any loosening of limits carries risk.

The easing of workplace rules during the nationwide lockdown comes as Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has outlined plans to extend the state of emergency past the current deadline, April 26. Addressing Congress on Thursday, Mr. Sánchez said that he was “convinced” that he would need to prolong the lockdown, in force since mid-March.

The switch comes as Spain has reported a falling death rate and a daily growth in new cases of about 3 percent, compared with 20 percent in mid-March. On Saturday, officials announced a further 510 deaths from the coronavirus — a dip from the day before — bringing the total to 16,353. Spain has also had one of the world’s highest rates of hospital recoveries, with more than 55,000 coronavirus patients returning home since the start of the crisis.

As of this weekend, factories and construction sites can recall workers after the Easter holiday. Trains and other public transport will slowly start increasing operations, but the health minister called on all those who could to continue working from home. The government also said that it would distribute masks at subway and train stations.

“Spain continues in a state of lockdown,” Mr. Illa said during a news conference after a meeting of the Spanish cabinet on Friday. “We are not yet in a de-escalation phase.”

The World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe, Dr. Hans Kluge, warned this week, “Now is not the time to relax measures.” He said that Europe remained “very much at the center of the pandemic,” with seven of the world’s top 10 most affected countries.

Spain is not the only country easing up on restrictions. Austria plans to reopen smaller shops after Easter, the Czech Republic is opening small stores, and people can play tennis and go swimming; Denmark may reopen kindergartens and schools from next week; and Norway will allow pupils to kindergarten.

The Chinese government has ordered that no more N95 respirators, ventilators, hospital gowns and other key medical supplies be exported until customs officials perform quality inspections on each shipment.

The new policy, announced by China’s General Administration of Customs on Friday, produced immediate delays to cargos on Saturday as manufacturers, freight agents and traders tried to understand how to comply. China is the world’s dominant producer of a wide range of medical supplies, and its manufacturing lead has widened in many sectors as it has engaged in a nationwide mobilization of medical supplies production since late January.

The Chinese customs agency said that it had previously checked whether medical supplies were accurately counted, whether they infringed foreign patents and other intellectual property, and whether they had fraudulent documents. But now the agency will also assess the quality of goods.

The agency gave no indication of how long the quality testing might take.

The policy comes after a series of complaints from Europe that medical supplies from China had problems. Chinese officials have countered that many of these supplies were industrial respirators that were not designed to meet medical standards and should not be expected to do so.

The new rules cover China’s exports in 11 categories: medical respirators and surgical masks, medical protective clothing, infrared thermometers, ventilators, surgical caps, medical goggles, medical gloves, medical shoe covers, patient monitors, medical disinfection towels and medical disinfectants.

Turkey’s cities fell quiet on Saturday, a day after the authorities ordered a two-day curfew for 31 provinces, and as the country’s death toll from the coronavirus pandemic climbed above 1,000.

The lockdown, which came with two hours’ notice, affected Istanbul and Ankara, where international flights were halted and schools and bars closed three weeks ago.

“We urge all citizens who live in these 31 provinces to comply with this weekend’s lockdown without panicking,” Fahrettin Altun, the country’s communications director, said on Twitter.

Mr. Altun asked people to maintain their social distance in the time before the lockdown went into effect at midnight. But soon after the news was announced, hundreds of people rushed to late-night stores to shop for essentials in Istanbul, a city of 16 million.

Video posted to Twitter and Facebook showed the chaos as scores of densely packed crowds — some people wore no masks — jostled to enter a store and fights broke out.

The Interior Ministry said in a statement that bakeries, pharmacies and health facilities could operate during the lockdown. Certain energy companies, distribution firms and some gas stations were also exempted.

The number of cases of Covid-19 increased by 4,747 and 98 people died in the past 24 hours, raising the death toll to 1,006, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.

British minister draws backlash for urging no ‘overuse’ of protective gear.

The British health secretary, Matt Hancock, has sparked anger among workers in the country’s National Health Service after he urged them not to waste personal protective equipment.

The British Medical Association, which represents doctors, warned on Saturday that supplies personal protective equipment, or P.P.E., were dangerously low in London and part of northern England and said that doctors were putting their lives at risk to treat patients with coronavirus.

“It’s really important that people don’t overuse P.P.E.,” Mr. Hancock said in a BBC radio interview on Saturday. “It’s a precious resource.”

At a daily coronavirus briefing on Friday, he emphasized that masks and aprons did not have to be changed after treating each patient.

But the Royal College of Nursing’s general secretary, Donna Kinnair, told BBC’s “Breakfast” show: “I take offense, actually, that we are saying that health care workers are abusing or overusing P.P.E. I think what we know is, we don’t have enough supply.”

The opposition Labour Party leader, Keir Starmer, also said on Twitter: “It is quite frankly insulting to imply frontline staff are wasting PPE. There are horrific stories of NHS staff and care workers not having the equipment they need to keep them safe.”

Mr. Hancock also said on Saturday that 19 health service workers had died so far in the outbreak, after Friday brought Britain’s highest daily toll yet. Hospitals reported 980 deaths, bringing the total to 8,958.

But he said the outbreak had yet to peak, although there were signs of hospital admissions “starting to flatten.”

With temperatures expected to reach up to 75 degrees Fahrenheit this weekend, government officials have warned the British public to continue to abide by lockdown restrictions.

The condition of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, meanwhile, has continued to improve, his office said in a statement on Friday, adding that he had “been able to do short walks, between periods of rest.” He left intensive care on Thursday after three nights but remains in a hospital.

As countries contend with escalating body counts from the pandemic, some are experiencing an unanticipated decline in a different form of death: murder.

Lockdowns have reduced opportunities for homicides and other crimes, and the virus has taken some criminals out of action as they hunker down in their homes. Some gangs have even led efforts to impose curfews in neighborhoods where they hold sway.

The drop in murders is especially notable in Latin America, the region with the highest homicide rates in the world outside of war.

In El Salvador, for example, there were just 65 homicides in March, down from 114 in February. Neighboring Honduras has also seen a falloff in killings in recent weeks, as has Colombia and the most populous state in Mexico.

The pandemic is “taking people off the streets,” said Alejandro Hope, a security analyst in Mexico City. “The rule of thumb is: the stricter the lockdown, the bigger the effect on crimes committed against strangers on the street.”

As the coronavirus pandemic takes a disproportionate toll on older people around the world, several over the age of 100 have survived the brutal toll the disease takes on the body.

Cornelia Ras, 107, of the Netherlands is believed to be the oldest known survivor of the new coronavirus. She became ill last month after attending a church service on the island of Goeree-Overflakkee in the southwest part of the country.

Ms. Ras was given the all clear by her doctor on Monday.

“We did not expect her to survive this,” her niece Maaike de Groot told the Dutch newspaper AD. “She takes no medicines, still walks well and gets down on her knees every night to thank the Lord. From the looks of it, she will be able to continue to do so.”

Keith Watson, a 101-year-old man from western England, was in a hospital last month awaiting surgery when he developed a fever that prompted doctors to test him for the coronavirus, local health officials said.

But he pulled through, and on Thursday, he was discharged after recovering from the virus. “He’s amazing for his age,” his daughter-in-law Jo Watson told the BBC.

On March 9, Ada Zanusso, 103, was one of several residents of a nursing home in the town of Lessona, Italy, to become ill with the coronavirus. Twenty people had already died there, the newspaper La Repubblica reported.

“She was ill for a week, even with critical moments,” said Carla Furno Marchese, Mrs. Zanusso’s family doctor since 1986, who also works with the nursing home.

Then, “miraculously,” Dr. Furno Marchese said in an interview, Ms. Zanusso improved.

“She reacquired some strength, started eating again and then she got out of bed,” the doctor said. “Now she’s perfectly normal, like before. She’s doing great. She remembers everything.”

Her recovery has been embraced by many Italians still reeling from the toll the virus has taken on the country, which is enduring a lockdown. Ms. Zanusso had lived alone at home until four years ago, when she broke her femur and her children decided she would be better off in a care home. She had always been in good health, and has a deep faith.

“She accepts everything that happens to her,” the doctor said.

In one of the most far-ranging attempts to halt the spread of the coronavirus, Apple and Google said they were building software into smartphones that would tell people if they were recently in contact with someone who was infected with it.

The technology giants, usually fierce rivals, said they aimed to release the tool within several months, building it into the operating systems of billions of iPhones and Android devices around the world.

Users would opt in and voluntarily report if they became infected, and the smartphones would log other devices they came near, enabling “contact tracing” of the disease, a measure that has proved effective, alongside mass testing in places like South Korea.

“It could be a useful tool, but it raises privacy issues,” said Dr. Mike Reid, an assistant professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the University of California, San Francisco, who is helping San Francisco officials with contact tracing. “It’s not going to be the sole solution, but as part of a robust sophisticated response, it has a role to play.”

South Korea, which has used a government-issued tracking app to trace contacts and enforce quarantine, said on Saturday that it planned to strap tracking wristbands on those who violated self-quarantine orders.

Health officials worry that some of the 57,000 people who are under orders to stay home for two weeks have slipped out, leaving their smartphones behind.

Yoon Tae-ho, a senior disease-control official, told reporters on Saturday that the bands would be deployed within two weeks.

Officials admitted that they lacked a legal power to enforce wristband-wearing, but could consider lighter quarantine-breaking penalties to those who agreed to wear them.

South Korea has reported between 27 and 53 new cases per day this week compared with several hundred a day between late February and early March.

Singapore has suspended the use of videoconferencing service Zoom by teachers following reports that two men made lewd comments and showed obscene images during a geography class for teenagers.

As Zoom becomes a staple of life during the pandemic, the company is scrambling to deal with a rise in trolling, graphic content and harassment by uninvited participants. Germany and Taiwan have restricted its use, and Google has banned it from employees’ laptops.

Singapore’s Education Ministry said, without elaborating, that it was investigating “very serious incidents” on the platform. The city-state’s schools had closed this week and moved to home-based learning in an effort to curb coronavirus infections.

Aaron Loh, an official in the ministry’s technology division, told reporters that teachers would temporarily suspend use of Zoom “as a precautionary measure.”

For many New Yorkers, living amid the coronavirus pandemic will be defined by two sounds: ambulances sirens and the nightly 7 o’clock cheer for front-line workers, grocery clerks and delivery riders.

The collective cheering ritual started in Wuhan, China in January and spread across the globe in the virus’s wake. In America’s largest city, the applause is sometimes accompanied by the song “New York, New York,” and it gives people a way to connect from across terraces and fire escapes.

Here’s what else is happening in the United States:

  • The U.S. death toll surpassed that of Spain, with almost 18,400 fatalities related to the virus reported, as the total caseload approached 500,000.

  • Government projections, obtained by The New York Times, found that without any mitigation, the death toll from the virus could have reached 300,000 — and that it could reach 200,000 if the Trump administration lifts 30-day stay-at-home orders.

  • Citing the virus, the administration announced that it would issue visa penalties on countries that refuse to accept people the U.S. aims to deport.

The Indian police served a notice on Friday to one of the country’s leading editors and summoned him for questioning, saying he had made an “objectionable comment” about a senior government official.

The editor, Siddharth Varadarajan, had tweeted out a recent article from his publication, The Wire, about a Hindu gathering that was permitted to go ahead in the state of Uttar Pradesh despite a nationwide lockdown. He added erroneously that Yogi Adityanath, the state’s chief minister, had declared that “Lord Ram would protect devotees from the coronavirus.”

Mr. Adityanath had attended the event but it was leaders of a Hindu temple trust who had made the comment. Mr. Varadajan said as much in a follow-up tweet, but he was named in a criminal complaint soon after and accused of trying to “spread rumors and hostility.”

Journalists saw the case against Mr. Varadarajan as another disturbing slide in press freedom under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government. Mr. Adityanath, a firebrand Hindu monk, is a close adviser to Mr. Modi and has been accused of stoking hatred against Muslims.

In a series of tweets, Nandini Sundar, a sociologist and Mr. Varadarajan’s wife, said the police notice was served by plainclothes officers who showed up at their home in an unmarked vehicle. She called the case a “gross misuse of the police and state machinery.”

India has reported more than 7,000 cases of the coronavirus and 239 deaths.

Last month, Leo Varadkar, the caretaker prime minister, reactivated his registration as a medical doctor and said he would spend half a day each week fielding calls from people who believe they have contracted the coronavirus.

His decision to go back to work as a physician was motivated by a desire to help ease the burden on health care workers, his spokesman said. He also issued a plea for emigrant Irish doctors and nurses, and others who had left the field, to return to help with the surge of patients. So far, 60,000 have responded.

Ireland has not escaped the scourge of the coronavirus, with 263 deaths, 6,574 confirmed cases, and the expectation is that both numbers will spike in the coming weeks.

Although Dr. Varadkar, 41, was considered a spent force in Irish politics after his party finished last in a three-way Parliamentary race in February, he is now winning praise for his energetic handling of the crisis. He canceled St. Patrick’s Day festivities, oversaw an aggressive early testing program, closed pubs and schools earlier than other European leaders and has spoken to the public about the contagion in honest, humane terms — in other words, like the general practitioner he once was.

“He was at sixes and sevens after the election, but he is perceived as having gotten back on track,” said Pat Leahy, the political editor of The Irish Times. “There is a sense that he showed strong, quick leadership in getting to grips with it.”

To the extent Mr. Varadkar’s training has informed his response to the pandemic, analysts said, it has mainly been in his heeding of expert advice, particularly from Ireland’s chief medical officer, Dr. Tony Holohan. He also has a firsthand grasp of the importance of masks, surgical gloves and gowns.

The global pandemic has forced countless people into isolation. In Vienna, for the sake of the entire city, 53 people volunteered.

They raised their hands to ensure that whatever else happens, the power plants that provide electricity to Austria’s capital and its 2 million people would keep running.

The 53 employees of the Wien Energie company have been holed up in four power plants since March 20, after volunteering to go into their own version of a lockdown until April 16. Depending on how things go, they could be asked to stay on longer.

“I didn’t even need a second to think,” Helmut Wallner said in a video call from the Simmering power plant. “I was together with my wife, and we knew within seconds that I had to go.”

The workers miss their families, but shrug off the idea that they are making a big sacrifice, pointing out that doctors, nurses and other health workers had it much tougher.

“We are just a cog in a much bigger wheel,” said Steven Sacher, 24, an engineer at the Flötzersteig plant.

In early March, health care workers celebrated what they hoped would be the last patient treated for Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Their fight to conquer the epidemic appeared to be almost over. If the African nation could just make it to Sunday — the equivalent of two incubation periods — without any more cases, then the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history would officially be at an end.

But on Friday, the World Health Organization announced that a new case of Ebola had been confirmed in Beni. The news came as health care professionals had already begun to turn their attention to the arrival of the coronavirus in Congo.

Now, while medical workers push to stop any further resurgence of Ebola, they must also fight a flare-up of the coronavirus, in a region that has been overwhelmed for years with instability and violence.

“This is now a triple emergency,” said Kate Moger, a regional vice president with the International Rescue Committee.

For some nurses, commuting to work has gotten increasingly difficult because of the pandemic. That’s certainly true for Laurie Dufresne, who lives in Canada and works in the United States.

Ms. Dufresne is one of about 1,600 nurses and other health care workers who leave Windsor, Ontario, a city of 217,000, for daily work in Detroit, a metropolitan area of more than four million people.

While infections in Windsor remain under control, Detroit and its surrounding counties have one of the most severe outbreaks in the United States, with 17,543 Covid-19 cases and 926 deaths. Across all of Canada, 20,748 people have been infected and 509 have died.

For health professionals and officials in Windsor, that creates a dilemma. “I think it is important that we do not abandon our neighbor in this difficult time,” said Dr. Wajid Ahmed, the medical officer of health at the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit.

“But we also need to make sure that we are taking every step that we can to protect our community, protect our health care workers and ensure that we are reducing the risk as much as possible,” he said.

It’s been decades since utopian thinkers dreamed that cyberspace would miraculously fix societal woes. Yet the pandemic has prompted some to realize that social media — where we normally just promote ourselves — can be mobilized for building a sense of community.

In the United States, artists are singing opera, reading poetry and doing standup comedy on You-Tube and Instagram. These days, our reporter writes in The New York Times Magazine, online performances feel “as though they were really less about pure entertainment and more about serving a nation, a world even, that was suffering in isolation and fear.”

Healing practitioners have also made meditation sessions, yoga classes and other mental-health assistance available free online. And GoFundMe is a vehicle for distributing money to people hit hardest by the crisis, including sex workers and underinsured artists.

Reporting was contributed by Raphael Minder, Carlotta Gall, Abdi Latif Dahir, Keith Bradsher, Ceylan Yeginsu, Elisabetta Povoledo, Choe Sang-Hun, Kai Schultz, Jenna Wortham Kirk Semple, Azam Ahmed, Ian Austen, Andrew Higgins, Elaine Yu, Jason M. Bailey, Dan Bilefsky, Melissa Eddy, Ana Swanson, Adam Nossiter, Stanley Reed, Jack Nicas and Daisuke Wakabayashi and Ian Austen.


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