The W.H.O. extends its declaration of a global public health emergency as deaths approach 240,000.
The World Health Organization extended its declaration of a global health emergency on Friday, amid increasing criticism from the Trump Administration about its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The move comes three months after the organization’s original decision to announce a “public health emergency of international concern” on Jan. 30. At the time, only 98 of the nearly 10,000 cases confirmed had occurred outside China’s borders.
But the pandemic continues to grow. More than 3.2 million people around the world are known to have been infected and nearly 240,000 have died, according to official counts. There is evidence on six continents of sustained transmission.
All of this led experts on the W.H.O.’s emergency committee to reassess the evolution of the pandemic, and to advise on updated recommendations, officials said.
There has been a rapid rise in new cases in Africa and South America, where many countries have weak health care systems that could easily be overwhelmed, even as the spread of the virus has appeared to slow in many countries in Asia and Europe.
“The Covid-19 crisis has illustrated that even the most sophisticated health systems are struggling to cope with the pandemic,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the W.H.O.’s director-general.
Although people are slowly starting to return to work in China after weeks of lockdowns, nonessential stores are still shuttered in most parts of the world and the virus has badly damaged the global economy.
Across the United States, governors are struggling to square demands to restart businesses with the possible health consequences of loosening social distancing rules.
The Trump administration has cut off funding for the W.H.O., claiming without evidence that it colluded with China to obscure the extent of the epidemic in its early days. Critics say the administration is trying to deflect attention from its own handling of the epidemic.
Within two days, using technologies that can scour scientific literature related to the virus, they pinpointed a possible treatment with a speed that surprised both the company that makes the drug and many doctors who had spent years exploring its effect on other viruses.
Called baricitinib, the drug was designed to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Though many questions hang over its potential use as a coronavirus treatment, it will soon be tested in an accelerated clinical trial with the United States’ National Institutes of Health. It is also being studied in Canada, Italy and other countries.
The specialists at BenevolentAI are among many A.I. researchers and data scientists around the world who have turned their attention to the coronavirus, hoping they can accelerate efforts to understand how it is spreading, treat people who have it and find a vaccine.
BenevolentAI quickly joined a race to identify drugs that can block the virus from entering the body’s cells. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, and many other labs are looking into similar treatments.
Over two days, a small team used the company’s tools to plumb millions of scientific documents in search of information related to the virus. The tools relied on one of the newest developments in artificial intelligence — “universal language models” that can teach themselves to understand written and spoken language by analyzing thousands of old books, Wikipedia articles and other digital text.
Through their software, they found that baricitinib might prevent the viral infection itself, blocking the way it enters cells. The company said it had no expectations for making money from the research and had no prior relationship with Eli Lilly, the company that makes baricitinib.
Dr. Dan Skovronsky, chief scientific officer at Eli Lilly, warned that it was still unclear what effect the drug would have on coronavirus patients. Even after the clinical trial, he said, it may not be clear whether the antiviral properties pinpointed by BenevolentAI are as effective as they might seem to be.
For someone who makes his living skewering hypocrisy, incompetence and corruption, the coronavirus pandemic presents what the military might call a target-rich environment.
That makes this tragedy a time of immense importance to the editorial cartoonist known as Gado, one of Africa’s leading political satirists. He sees it as not just an opportunity but an obligation.
“This is the time when satirists and writers need to be at their utmost vigilance,” said Gado, a native Tanzanian who lives in Kenya. “We should not let our foot off the gas because it’s very important that we ask tough questions.”
For decades, his drawings have addressed official malfeasance of all kinds, as well as terrorism, migration, religion and climate change, and now, of course, he is focused on the disease sweeping the world.
Gado has lampooned not only the corporate chieftains and government officials mismanaging or profiting from the pandemic, but also ordinary people who believe and spread an array of unfounded claims and conspiracy theories about the origin of the contagion, how it spreads and how to treat it.
His work has become instructive, showing how to sanitize hands and practice social distancing. In a series titled “Myth Busters,” he notes that the coronavirus does not spread through 5G data networks, that taking hot baths will not stop the virus and that drinking alcohol — promoted by Nairobi’s governor — is not a treatment or cure.
He knows that his cartoons can make powerful enemies, but he is used to that.
“I don’t draw in a vacuum,” he said. “And I never avoid any topics.”
At a soup kitchen in Ernakulam, in the south Indian state of Kerala, Sinjith Valluvan broke down when he learned that a train was taking migrant workers to his hometown in the neighboring state of Odisha.
“I can’t tell you how happy I feel about uniting with my children,” Mr. Valluvan said as he was preparing to board a train on Friday evening. But he vowed not to leave his village for work again, saying he never imagined that he would have to beg for food to survive.
His journey was part of a handful of special trains the Indian government on Friday allowed to run to take migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists and students stranded across the country to their home states.
The lockdown has led to one of the biggest internal migrations in India’s modern history as hundreds of thousands of poor people and their children embarked on grueling journeys on foot to escape imminent starvation. In many places, they were stopped and beaten by officers who ordered them to return to where they had come from to stay in line with the lockdown.
At least two dozen deaths of migrant workers trying to return home have been reported across India since the lockdown came into effect. But on Friday morning, the first special train chugged out of the platform at Lingampalli station in Telangana, bound for the eastern state of Jharkhand with 1,200 passengers on board. Government officials clapped for the returnees.
The passengers were ordered to maintain social distancing, and only 54 people were allowed to sit in a compartment that usually seats 72. The train departed in the early morning hours to avoid chaos. The authorities sought to avoid a repeat of a recent incident near Mumbai, India’s financial capital, when thousands of migrant workers defied the lockdown and began assembling at railway stations in hopes of reaching their homes.
India has reported 35,043 infections and 1,154 deaths from the coronavirus, a relatively low number for a country with such a huge and booming population. But restrictions on movement will continue, with the national lockdown extended on Friday until May 17, the Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement.
In a world largely under pandemic lockdown, the traditional May 1 mass labor rallies have had to be reimagined, or in some cases called off.
In Athens, hundreds of Greeks wearing masks and gloves and standing six feet apart gathered outside Parliament on Friday, holding the red, white and blue flags of the labor alliance PAME. Some wore masks with the slogan “Even covered mouths have a voice,” and held banners denouncing the economic suffering of ordinary people.
In Spain, labor unions planned to hold only online events, after courts struck down proposals to gather outdoors. In the city of Vigo, unions wanted to hold a drive-by demonstration, with one person per vehicle, but even that, a court ruled, violated lockdown rules.
Many events also moved online in Germany, with unions broadcasting speeches and music online or on radio. In Berlin, an anonymous message circulated online, calling on people to assemble in the Kreuzberg neighborhood on Friday evening, defying a ban on gatherings of more than 20 people. The police were out in force to prevent such assemblies.
In France, some unions asked would-be protesters to post videos and pictures on social media, and bang pots and pans at midday, rather than attend rallies.
The national lockdown also disrupted the French tradition of buying lilies of the valley from shops and sidewalk vendors, to give to family and friends as symbols of good fortune.
This May 1 was “like no other,” President Emmanuel Macron said in a video posted on social media, but “this spirit of solidarity between workers, has perhaps never been as powerful.”
When Zeng Yanqi, a 26-year-old Beijing resident, learned this week that travelers returning to the capital would no longer have to quarantine, she pulled up flight options on her phone. Half an hour later, she had purchased a ticket to visit her parents in Sichuan Province.
After months of lockdown, quarantines and fear, people are rushing to take advantage. Moments after Beijing announced on Thursday that it would lift its quarantine requirements, airline ticket bookings shot up 15 times higher than recent levels, according to Qunar, an online travel service provider. The number of tourists who booked trips in April increased by 300 percent over March, according to Xinhua, the state news agency, citing data from Trip.com, a travel agency.
Roughly 70 percent of the country’s tourist attractions have reopened, and many are offering free entry or other promotions, Luo Shugang, China’s minister of culture, said at a news conference on Thursday.
While encouraging tourism as a means of economic revival, officials reminded travelers that life had not yet returned to normal. Tourist attractions would be limited to 30 percent of their usual capacity, Mr. Luo said, and many would require online reservations. Temperature checks would be widespread. “We are still in the middle of the epidemic control period,” he said.
Still, such warnings could not dampen Ms. Zeng’s spirits. Her parents had immediately rearranged their schedules after hearing of her surprise visit, she said in a phone call from Daxing International Airport in Beijing on Thursday. She had not seen them since October. “Even when I was in college, I didn’t go that long without going home,” she said.
States across America are continuing to navigate a high-stakes balancing act, with some preparing to ease virus restrictions and others imposing new ones — all under the watchful eyes of stir-crazy residents eager to return to their favorite stores, restaurants and beaches.
In California, Florida and other coastal states, governors wrestled with squaring constituents’ demands for relief from the spring heat against the potentially lethal consequences of loosening social distancing rules in ways that might make beach blankets and lawn chairs new virus hot spots.
South Africa said it would lift a nationwide lockdown on Friday, but continue to implement strict social distancing and face mask rules, as the nation, already under siege from H.I.V., prepares for a new threat from the seasonal flu.
Even with the eased restrictions, masks and social distancing will be mandatory and an overnight curfew will be implemented. Employees must still work from home, and gyms and restaurants will remain closed. Schools will not reopen until June 1.
The country quickly sprung into action in March over fears that its population, heavily affected by H.IV. and AIDS, would be particularly susceptible to the new coronavirus.
Beginning on Friday, miners will return to work underground — a move crucial to the economy — in an industry already overwhelmed by high rates of H.I.V. and tuberculosis infection. More than 13 percent of the South African population is H.I.V. positive, meaning nearly eight million people have compromised immune systems.
With 5,350 confirmed coronavirus cases and just over 100 deaths, officials say the phased reopening is essential to curbing the pandemic in a country with a vulnerable population and poor health system.
The economic toll of fighting Covid-19 also necessitated a $26.16 billion stimulus plan, with money borrowed from the International Monetary Fund, the African Development Bank and others.
An unfamiliar sight since the end of apartheid, tanks carrying soldiers rolled into neighborhoods to assist police with enforcing the lockdown. As in other nations, officers were accused of heavy handedness, with six people killed by police in the first week, many in communities of color. This is also where testing and screening drives, led by volunteers wearing protective gear, have been focused.
“Community transmission is there, we see cases, but it’s not spreading like that wildfire that we had expected and that’s what’s leading to this funny turn in the epidemic and the shape of our curve,” said Professor Salim Abdool Karim, head of the country’s Covid-19 task force, presenting a plateaued infection rate.
The police in Hong Kong deployed thousands of additional officers on Friday after antigovernment activists vowed to return to the streets as the city’s coronavirus outbreak has stabilized.
About 3,000 officers in riot gear were deployed on Friday, the Labor Day holiday in the semiautonomous Chinese city, to conduct high-profile patrols, the local news media reported. The police said in a statement that they would “nimbly deploy manpower to maintain public safety and public order” in response to calls for action that “disregard the government’s laws.”
Protesters, organizing online, called for spontaneous demonstrations on Friday and for a four-day campaign to show support for small businesses that support the pro-democracy movement.
The coronavirus pandemic has helped to quiet the antigovernment movement that roiled Hong Kong last year. But the city had recorded no new coronavirus infections for five consecutive days this week and protesters have recently staged small rallies. Those gatherings were broken up by the police, who cited social distancing rules.
Two new confirmed cases of the coronavirus were recorded on Friday, both of which were imported, health officials said.
Groups of police officers wearing masks and holding shields were seen on Friday across the city. Elsewhere, officers conducted spot checks on residents.
The Labor Day rallies that are traditionally held on May 1 in Hong Kong were denied permits because of public health risks. One pro-democracy labor group instead set up dozens of street booths. In the busy commercial areas of Mong Kok and Sha Tin, activists and bystanders shouted protest slogans. Later in the evening, riot police advanced into a shopping mall where a singing protest had been planned, firing pepper spray and setting up cordons to disperse the crowds.
“The epidemic hasn’t even ended, and the Chinese Communist Party is already eager to settle the score with Hong Kongers,” said Carol Ng, the chairwoman of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions.
“We must prepare to use more enterprising methods in response to tyranny,” said Ms. Ng as she urged residents to join pro-democracy labor unions on Friday. She also warned against possible mass arrests, citing speculation that some calls for disruptions were intentionally created to help the police round up more activists.
After flight attendants and pilots criticized them for not doing more to protect employees, large airlines in the United States and around the world announced this week that they would require their crews to wear masks. Some went even further and said passengers would have to do so, too.
American Airlines and Delta Air Lines said on Thursday that they would start requiring all passengers to wear a face covering in the coming weeks, a policy that will apply to their flight attendants, too. They join Lufthansa Group — which owns its namesake airline, Swiss International Air Lines and Austrian Airlines — as well as JetBlue and Frontier Airlines, all of which made similar announcements this week.
Southwest Airlines said this week that its flight attendants would soon be wearing masks, joining United Airlines, which announced a similar policy late last week. Both airlines said they would “strongly” encourage customers to do the same.
Airports have begun to weigh in as well, with the head of Heathrow Airport in London, one of Europe’s biggest transport hubs, noting that it would be nearly impossible to enforce social distancing at airports.
Speaking to the BBC, John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow’s chief executive, said a “better solution” was needed to ensure the safety of air travel, starting with airports.
“Social distancing does not work in any form of public transport, let alone aviation,” he said. “The constraint is not about how many people you can fit on a plane, it will be how many people you can get through an airport safely.”
But even as flight safety measures become the focus, many airlines are struggling to simply stay solvent. Michael O’Leary, the chief executive of the budget airline Ryanair, on Friday told Sky News that the company plans to slash around 3,000 jobs amid the crisis.
Even when their city was repeatedly overrun by the Taliban and fighting reached their doorsteps, the doctors and nurses in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz kept working. They dressed wounds and saved lives at the main government hospital even as a nearby trauma center was bombed, killing more than 40 people.
Now, about 70 doctors and nurses out of a staff 361 at Kunduz Regional Hospital — the main health facility for several restive provinces in northeastern Afghanistan — are either infected with the coronavirus or in quarantine on suspicion of infection. But there is no choice but to keep the doors open, said Dr. Naeem Mangal, the hospital director. The doctors cannot reject the dozens of war wounded who continue to arrive each day.
“The hospital needs to be quarantined, but what alternative do we have?” said Dr. Mangal. “It has made us so concerned that we are all scared of each other at the hospital because we don’t know who is infected and who isn’t.”
Testing remains extremely limited here, but as of Friday, the country had recorded just over 2,300 cases, with at least 228 among medical workers, and 68 recorded deaths.
Dr. Mangal said his hospital in Kunduz, where 23 of 37 confirmed cases are medical workers, has pleaded with people to only visit the hospital for severe emergencies.
The Charles Dickens Museum in London has fallen on hard times. For 95 years, the collection, in the home of the “Oliver Twist” and “Great Expectations” author, has been financed by ticket sales and other earned income. But with no visitors since March, its director fears that its temporary closure could become permanent.
“We have funds to get us through the end of April, and we’ve got a little bit of savings after that,” Cindy Sughrue, who leads the museum, said by phone from her office in the empty building. “I can see that we can eke out until September. But, if the social distancing measures continue beyond that, then there’s a real danger that we will not survive.”
All but about 5 to 7 percent of the world’s museums are currently shuttered because of the coronavirus pandemic, said Peter Keller, the general director of the International Council of Museums. According to the council’s research, one in 10 may not reopen, he added.
The gravity of the situation varies by country, depending on how much museums rely on ticket sales and tourism, and how much government funding they receive. Museums in the United States which survive from earned income and philanthropy are more vulnerable than government-subsidized European institutions.
Reporting and research was contributed by Abdi Latif Dahir, Sameer Yasir, Christopher F. Schuetze, Niki Kitsantonis, Aurelien Breeden, Raphael Minder, Megan Specia, Elaine Yu, Vivian Wang, Mujib Mashal, Fahim Abed, Farah Mohamed, Lynsey Chutel, Matt Apuzzo, Niraj Chokshi, Cade Metz, Nina Siegal, Claire Fu and Victoria Gomelsky.