A global realignment: Some countries see outbreaks explode as others look to restart economies.
The fluid nature of the coronavirus is forcing a global realignment, as countries that were once at the heart of the crisis pass their peaks and new areas emerge as points of concern.
Turkey, which for weeks had maintained it was ahead of other nations in stemming the spread of the coronavirus, surpassed China on Sunday, with more than 86,000 confirmed cases and 2,017 deaths.
The government has attributed the high number of cases to widespread testing, but health experts warn that the rate of infection could increase if restrictions on movement are delayed.
The confirmed coronavirus toll in Europe passed one million infections and 100,000 deaths, according to the latest figures from the European Center for Disease Control, but many nations are cautiously making attempts to restart public life.
Germany, Denmark, the Czech Republic and Norway all lifted some restrictions on Monday, the latest attempts to balance a need for economic action and public health.
But some countries that have been hit hardest, including Italy and Spain, are rolling out measures at a slower pace. And France and Britain are heading into weeks of continued lockdowns.
The virus has killed at least 160,000 people and infected 2.3 million more worldwide, but the issue of lockdowns has become highly politicized, and demonstrations against coronavirus-related restrictions have gained in intensity.
In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro joined crowds in Brasília over the weekend to demand the reopening of businesses and the easing of measures imposed by governors.
In the United States, similar scenes played out across the country over the weekend, as protesters in several states demanded that businesses be allowed to reopen.
President Trump defended the protesters’ actions, which critics and public health experts have said threaten to undermine efforts to control the spread of the virus.
“These people love our country,” Mr. Trump said Sunday evening. “They want to go back to work.”
Across Germany, smaller stores were allowed to open their doors for the first time in nearly a month on Monday, as part of initial measures to ease restrictions imposed in March as the coronavirus outbreak took hold.
Stores no larger than 8,600 square feet were allowed to open, but customers are required to maintain a safe distance. Car dealerships, bicycle shops and bookstores are allowed to resume business, regardless of size. Germany has recorded 141,672 coronavirus infections, with 4,404 fatalities, but the rate of infection has been steadily slowing in recent days and the country’s health system has been able to cope with the strain.
Germany’s 16 states are allowed to set their own regulations within a wider national framework. Some are allowing zoos to reopen, and three areas are requiring people to cover their mouths and noses on public transportation or inside stores. Only the eastern state of Saxony has allowed churches to begin holding services again, and some states are allowing schools to hold final exams for high school seniors.
Germans are still required to maintain a distance of at least five feet from one another at all times until the end of April, when Chancellor Angela Merkel is to meet with state governors to reassess the situation. Regardless of the outcome of that meeting, all large gatherings have been banned until the end of summer.
Australia and New Zealand announced plans on Monday to ease lockdown restrictions as both countries have managed so far to control coronavirus outbreaks, reporting just a few new infections each day.
Careful and calibrated, the plans include a return to school for some children in the coming weeks as well as allowances for slightly more business activity, more freedom to exercise outdoors and the potential for gatherings of more than two people.
In Sydney, a few beaches reopened for exercise on Monday, leading to the return of surfers. In Maroubra, a coastal southern suburb, lifeguards used megaphones to warn surfers, runners and swimmers to stay physically distanced.
Many who ventured out expressed relief and awe at what the past month had brought.
“I’m just kind of laughing,” said Paul Beswich, 55, one of many residents who welcomed the chance to go for a swim. “I’ve lived here all my life, and we’ve always been told that if you’ve got a virus, go flush it out in the water. Now we can.”
Australia and New Zealand have benefited from an early, aggressive response to the pandemic. In Australia, public health laboratories started building test kits in January.
As of Monday, the country had tested more than 422,000 people, and confirmed 6,619 confirmed and 71 deaths. None of its hospitals are overwhelmed. For eight straight days, the country has recorded fewer than 50 new cases, after a daily peak of nearly 500 on March 28. That was roughly when the government asked people to stay home, with the exception of essential activities, including shopping and exercise.
New Zealand’s restrictions were more severe, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announcing a total lockdown on March 25, asking New Zealanders to act as if they had the virus. The restrictions produced a result roughly in line with Australia’s. New Zealand has recorded just over 1,100 infections and 12 deaths after conducting 85,000 tests from a population of nearly 4.9 million.
Starting next Monday, it will begin to allow slightly more activity. Construction will be allowed to restart. Schools will reopen as of April 28 to some students, and funerals and weddings of up to 10 people could be allowed.
“Stay strong, stay home, be kind, and let’s finish what we started,” Ms. Ardern said on Monday.
Spain said on Monday that 399 people had died from the coronavirus in the previous 24 hours, the smallest daily increase since a lockdown was imposed in mid-March. The number of people discharged from hospital is continuing to rise, now surpassing 80,000 recoveries, another sign of improvement.
But another report released on Monday was far less heartening: The country’s central bank warned that the Spanish economy could shrink as much as 13.6 percent this year. It also said that unemployment could rise to almost 22 percent, even excluding the thousands of workers whose contracts have been temporarily suspended under a government program designed to avoid mass layoffs. Spain’s jobless rate was almost 14 percent in February, before the outbreak took hold.
Spain’s restrictions on movement have been some of the strictest in Europe, including orders to keep children inside. A nationwide lockdown has been extended into May, but the government has started rolling back some limits, allowing construction sites and factories to reopen.
The restrictions on children are set to be loosened starting April 27, though the government has not given details on the changes. Fernando Simón, the director of the national center for health emergencies, said on Monday that it was important to clarify that “children will be able to get out on the street, but it will not be a free exit, to play.”
He added: “It’s not about opening the door and having the neighbors come out.”
As it considers reopening the economy, Spain is struggling to recount its dead. The latest figures from the Health Ministry do not match recent adjustments in regions that have taken into account data from funeral homes.
Hong Kong reported no new coronavirus cases on Monday, the first time since a second wave of imported infections hit the semiautonomous Chinese city in early March that there were no new daily infections.
The city has recorded 1,026 cases and four deaths since January, but cases tripled after residents returned to the city from hot spots in the United States and Europe last month. Hong Kong closed its borders to all nonresidents and shut gyms, movie theaters and government offices, and residents returning to the city are tested before they are allowed to return home for two weeks of self isolation. Fewer than 10 new cases were reported in more than a week.
The government also announced on Monday that residents returning to the city on late afternoon or evening flights would be required to stay overnight at a designated hotel until they are able to receive test results the following day.
Medical experts warned that the city would have to record at least two incubation periods — or 28 days — before they could rule out further outbreaks, adding that many carriers of the disease do not show symptoms or fall ill.
Despite the downward trend in transmissions, social distancing restrictions are still in place in Hong Kong. Schools have been closed since late January, and final exams that normally take place in late April were canceled. Government offices, gyms and movie theaters remain closed, and gatherings of more than four people are banned.
President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil on Sunday enthusiastically addressed demonstrators in Brasília who demanded an end to business shutdowns and quarantine guidelines imposed by governors around the country.
The protest, one of several held across the country, included calls for the armed forces to shut down Congress and the Supreme Court and a return to military rule. Leaders in those branches of government have been highly critical of Mr. Bolsonaro’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and broadly agree that quarantine measures are necessary to avert a public health calamity.
“Everyone in Brazil must understand that they are subject to the will of the people,” Mr. Bolsonaro told demonstrators in the capital, speaking from the back of a pickup truck.
The president has played down the threat the virus poses to Brazilians and argues that the restrictions imposed in mid-March by most governors stand to be far more damaging to people’s livelihoods and their health than the virus. Last week, Mr. Bolsonaro fired his health minister, who had defended strict social isolation measures to prevent the health system from being overwhelmed by an influx of patients with Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.
As of Sunday, Brazil had 38,654 diagnosed coronavirus cases and 2,462 confirmed deaths.
Anti-quarantine caravans were also organized in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, where Mr. Bolsonaro’s supporters drove around honking and waving Brazilian flags.
Former allies of Mr. Bolsonaro say he is endangering lives by encouraging large gatherings.
“This increases the risk of mass infection and that the public health system will be unable to absorb the volume of patients, increasing the number of deaths,” Senator Sérgio Olímpio Gomes, who until recently was one of Mr. Bolsonaro’s strongest allies in Congress, said in a video released by his office on Sunday.
Mr. Bolsonaro has long hailed Brazil’s 21-year military dictatorship as a golden era. But his unambiguous endorsement of protesters calling on the military to take full control of the government prompted vehement condemnations.
“It’s frightening to see demonstrations calling for the return of a military regime 30 years after democracy was restored,” Supreme Court Justice Luís Roberto Barroso said in a statement. “Dictatorships come with violence against adversaries, censorship and intolerance. Good people who love Brazil do not want that.”
The Chinese authorities have issued harsh warnings for any Chinese citizens trying to flee the spreading coronavirus infections in Russia by returning to their homeland: Stay in Russia, and if you have already returned, don’t lie about your travels or symptoms.
The warnings have come after the Chinese government became alarmed this month by more than 100 coronavirus cases among Chinese people who had crossed from Russia, especially into Suifenhe, a northeastern border town. China is trying to stamp out such imported infections that could cause a flare-up of cases while it tries to begin an economic recovery.
The government ordered a lockdown of Suifenhe, and said it would open a temporary hospital in the town for possible infections. The Chinese authorities also announced that land border crossings with Russia would be closed to travelers, even Chinese citizens trying to return home.
To emphasize the warnings, the Suifenhe office for fighting the coronavirus outbreak on Sunday issued a notice warning people not to violate isolation orders, hide symptoms of possible infection, or lie about their travel history and contacts with infected people. It offered rewards of up to 3,000 renminbi, or about $424, for people who gave information on violators of the rules.
China’s ambassador to Russia, Zhang Hanhui, said in an interview with the Chinese television broadcaster CCTV on Friday that “bringing back the virus is morally reprehensible.” He said that some returnees had lied by saying that they were forced back because Russian authorities had made it impossible to stay.
“Such behavior is despicable,” he said, accusing such returnees of undermining relations between the two countries, which are both aligned in their antipathy to the United States. Many of those returning Chinese people were traders.
Some online commenters in China, fearing a surge in infections, welcomed Mr. Zhang’s tough words. But others saw his interview as unfairly vilifying fearful Chinese citizens trying to exercise their right to return to their own country. In the interview, Mr. Zhang made clear he was referring to people who had returned before border crossings became illegal, undercutting his suggestion that they were lawbreakers.
“When the crossings between the two countries were open, what was the crime in Chinese citizens rushing through when they could pass through normal travel checks?” said one online comment, by an author who said he was a longtime Chinese resident in Russia. “We cannot create an atmosphere that Chinese people returning from Russia are a menace to China because some happen to bring back the virus.”
Comments from the top United States diplomat in Kenya have caused an uproar after he said that only a small part of the country’s population was adhering to rules aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.
In a Twitter post on Sunday, the ambassador, Kyle McCarter, wrote, “Only a fraction of the wananchi are wearing masks and social distancing,” using the Swahili word for citizens.
“None of us know the magnitude of this Wuhan flu,” he continued, “but we must take basic known wise precautions. It is only for a short time.”
The comment sparked outrage, with some noting that social distancing was an unimaginable luxury for poor people living in overcrowded and cramped conditions. Others also questioned how he came to his conclusion given that Nairobi was on partial lockdown and movement in and out of the city was banned. Mr. McCarter doubled down writing in a follow-up post, “The further you get from Nairobi the less compliance there is. Trust me.”
When Twitter user Allan Ogera questioned him on the number of masks the United States has donated to Kenya, Mr. McCarter retorted, “You would not be able to test in Kenya if not for USA marafiki,” which means ‘friends’ in Swahili.
Some social media users also criticized the ambassador’s decision to call the coronavirus “Wuhan flu,” saying he was “trying to please” President Trump who nominated him for the post in 2019 and who has insisted on calling the coronavirus the “Chinese virus.” The disease is thought to have first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
Kenya has 270 confirmed coronavirus cases, according to the latest figures, and a total of 14 deaths. To curb the spread of the virus, authorities have mandated the wearing of masks, imposed a nationwide dusk to dawn curfew, closed the biggest shopping district in the capital and introduced partial lockdowns in four out of the country’s 47 counties.
The coronavirus outbreak tore through communities in northern Italy and overwhelmed the health care system with such force that only now is the true scale of the outbreak beginning to emerge. Like other hard-hit countries, including China and Spain, Italy has had to revisit its tally of the dead.
Health experts in Italy say they now believe thousands of nursing home residents were initially unaccounted for. A recent survey by Italy’s national health institute estimated that 40.2 percent of the 6,773 people who died in Italian nursing homes between Feb 1 and April 14 had either a confirmed case of Covid-19 or symptoms consistent with the infection.
“We observed that most deaths occurred in the second half of March, at the peak of the Covid infection, while some of the earlier deaths coincided with the influenza season,” said Graziano Onder, director of the Aging Department at the National Health Institute, which presented the data on Friday. Only the 364 nursing home residents who had tested positive were included in the official toll kept by the country’s Civil Protection Department.
The actual number of Covid-19 deaths in these nursing homes may never be known because initially testing was infrequent.
“Because the swabs were so difficult to obtain, at first priority was given to hospitals,” Dr. Onder said. “Only more recently were nursing homes added to the priority list.”
About a third of Italy’s 3,420 public or publicly funded nursing homes, which serve around 80,000 people, participated in the survey, which also sought to monitor the difficulties these structures faced during the early weeks of the outbreak. Shortages of masks, gloves and other protective equipment were reported most frequently.
After five weeks of forced closures, Danish hairdressers will face a rush of overdue root touch ups and bang trims when they reopen on Monday. Salons are among the small businesses able to open their doors again this week, after parliament unanimously decided to add them to Denmark’s gradual easing of restrictions, which began last week with the reopening of schools for elementary-aged students.
The authorities cautioned that the businesses could remain open only if they enforced hand washing, sanitized their facilities and maintained a distance from their clients as much as possible. While the latest steps were welcomed by many Danes, some business owners and employees also voiced concern for their safety.
Tattoo artists, driving instructors and physiotherapists whose work requires close contact are also among the businesses allowed to open, sparking concerns over a lack of specific guidelines and access to protective equipment.
The easing of restrictions comes after day cares and schools reopened last week, allowing the country’s youngest to return to some semblance of normalcy, though under strict hygiene and social distancing rules. More schools and day cares will reopen this week.
Authorities expect the further loosening of distancing measures will increase coronavirus infections, but not to critical levels. Hospital admissions in the country have decreased from a peak of 535 on April 1 to 319 on Sunday. Denmark had increased its ventilator capacity to 1,260, well above the current need, which on Sunday saw just 93 Covid-19 patients requiring them.
Denmark will also begin testing anyone with Covid-19 symptoms, starting Monday, and new test centers have opened across the country, the minister of health announced.
Thousands of animals have been left behind amid the pandemic — from Wuhan, China, where the pandemic originated, to Israel and India.
In Spain, which is enduring one of the world’s biggest and deadliest outbreaks, animal shelters are working to find foster homes for the abandoned pets whose owners were suddenly taken to hospitals.
The fates of pets often hang on word of mouth: a neighbor asking around if somebody can help, an emergency worker trying to locate a relative. Typically, if the owner has a chance of recovery, the new arrangement is temporary.
The demand to adopt dogs and cats has surged during the lockdown, but the intensity of the country’s outbreak is raising some ethical and practical questions for animal protection workers.
They are concerned that the rush to adopt pets may not always be in the animals’ best interests and in some cases have started to put limits in place.
Shelter administrators are wondering how committed the adoptive owners are to keeping their new pets — or whether they will then abandon them after the emergency passes. Because dog walking is one of the few activities exempt from Spain’s stringent lockdown, animal shelter workers worry that this drove up the demand for adoptions.
But Spain’s animal welfare associations are split over the issue, with some reasoning that any caregiver is better than none at all.
Companies around the world are rolling out blood tests for coronavirus antibodies, widely heralded as crucial tools to assess the reach of the pandemic, restart the economy and reintegrate society.
But for all their promise, the tests are already raising alarms.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has allowed about 90 companies, many based in China, to sell tests that have not gotten government vetting, saying the pandemic warrants an urgent response. But the agency has since warned that some of those businesses are making false claims about their products; health officials, like their counterparts overseas, have found others deeply flawed.
Most tests now available mistakenly flag at least some people as having antibodies when they do not, which could foster a dangerously false belief that those people have immunity. In fact, while higher levels generally mean a stronger physiological response, it is unclear what levels might be needed for immunity to the new coronavirus — or whether any immunity would be lasting.
There are several kinds of tests on the market. The easiest to administer — and the most unreliable — are rapid tests, which can give results in minutes. Most are manufactured in China. Reports of countries that quickly bought millions have just as swiftly been followed by accounts of poor performance. The World Health Organization recommends against their use.
For example, Britain recently said the millions of rapid tests it had ordered from China were not sensitive enough to detect antibodies except in people who were severely ill. In Spain, the testing push turned into a fiasco last month after the initial batch of kits it received had an accuracy of 30 percent, rather than the advertised 80 percent. In Italy, local officials have begun testing even before national authorities have validated the tests.
Germany, which has emerged as a model among Western democracies in its efforts to curb the spread of the virus, is pursuing one of the most ambitious antibody studies, striving to test its entire population. It is more optimistic than other countries because it has made its own antibody tests.
Chile is set to become the first country to issue “immunity cards” to those who have recovered from the coronavirus, allowing holders to return to work, despite questions about whether those who have recovered are in fact immune, how long any immunity might last, and the accuracy of antibody tests.
“We have to learn to live differently,” Dr. Paula Daza, the under secretary in Chile’s health ministry, said on Sunday, adding that Chileans must “gradually resume our lives.”
Anyone can apply for the cards, which will be issued starting Monday. To qualify, Chileans have to take a test that shows they have antibodies for the novel coronavirus. Those who have had the disease must be free of symptoms for at least 14 days — or 28, if they have a compromised immune system.
Under those criteria, 4,338 people are eligible, Dr. Daza said.
But critics have questioned the notion that recovered patients are not contagious and immune to re-infection, and raised doubts about the tests’ accuracy.
Chile has imposed quarantines that remain in place across parts of the capital, Santiago, and in other regions of the country. It has also tested more people for the virus than any other Latin American country, identifying 10,088 coronavirus cases, and 133 deaths.
The health minister, Jaime Mañalich, has reiterated that “the worst is yet to come,” with the number of cases expected to peak in May. The flu season, which is fast approaching along with winter in the southern hemisphere, is likely to strain Chile’s public health system further.
Nonetheless, the government has announced that public sector employees will also return to their offices starting Monday.
“The message coming from the government is contradictory,” said Dr. Jorge Jiménez de la Jara, who served as Chile’s health minister upon the country’s return to democracy in 1990.
“We don’t know what is going to happen from here, but there certainly needs to be clearer, more coherent communication, because this latest decision to certify immunity is based on weak scientific evidence,” he said.
Reporting was contributed by Elisabetta Povoledo, Tiffany May, Melissa Eddy, Carlotta Gall, Damien Cave, Abdi Latif Dahir, Megan Specia, Daniel Victor, Andrew Higgins, Ernesto Londoño, Raphael Minder, Seth Schiesel, Jeffrey Moyo, John Bartlett, Martin Selsoe Sorensen, Steve Eder, Megan Twohey and Apoorva Mandavilli.