As a fifth death is announced, South Korea’s president authorizes bold measures.
President Moon Jae-in on Sunday put South Korea on the highest possible alert in its fight against the coronavirus, a move that empowers the government to lock down cities and take other sweeping measures to contain the outbreak.
“The coming few days will be a critical time for us,” Mr. Moon said at an emergency meeting of government officials to discuss the outbreak, which in just days has spiraled to 602 confirmed infections and five deaths. “This will be a momentous time when the central government, local governments, health officials and medical personnel and the entire people must wage an all-out, concerted response to the problem.”
Mr. Moon did not announce any specific measures to fight the virus. But by raising the alert to Level 4, or “serious,” he authorized the government to take steps like banning visitors from specific countries and restricting public transportation, as well as locking down cities, as China has done.
Many of South Korea’s coronavirus cases are in the southeastern city of Daegu, which has essentially been placed under a state of emergency, though people are still free to enter and leave the city.
More than half of the people confirmed to have been infected are either members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a secretive religious sect with a strong presence in Daegu, or their relatives or other contacts. The authorities have said that they were unable to contact hundreds of the church’s members to screen them for the virus.
On Sunday, a spokesman for Shincheonji, Kim Si-mon, said the church had cooperated fully since the first infection of one of its members was confirmed, handing over the names of thousands of members who had attended services in Daegu. He protested what he called negative news coverage of the church, which many mainstream churches in South Korea consider a cult.
“We, too, are citizens of this country and victims of the disease originating in China,” Mr. Kim said. “In fact, we are the biggest group of victims.”
The spike of cases in South Korea, along with rising numbers in Iran and Italy, has added to fears that the window to avert a global pandemic is narrowing. The World Health Organization has warned African leaders of the urgent need to prepare for the virus; it identified 13 African countries as priorities because of their direct links to China, which still accounts for the vast majority of confirmed infections and deaths.
On Sunday, China raised its official numbers to 76,936 cases and 2,442 deaths.
Despite a ban, rallies in Seoul show no sign of ending.
In Seoul, South Korea’s capital, large demonstrations of all political stripes are a routine fact of life. But with the country’s coronavirus cases soaring, the authorities say that needs to stop, at least for now.
In a televised address on Saturday, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun urged people to comply with a ban on large protests in the capital, warning that the government would deal “sternly” with people who participate in “massive rallies,” as well as those who hoard goods or interfere with quarantine efforts.
But thousands of Christian activists defied the ban that same day, gathering in central Seoul for their weekly protest against President Moon Jae-in, whom they accuse of coddling North Korea and mismanaging the economy.
Police officers were deployed in large numbers but made no attempt to disperse the crowd. Most of the protesters wore masks, but they booed Mayor Park Won-soon when he asked them to leave for the sake of public health.
“We care more about the country and our fatherland than our own lives,” the Rev. Jun Kwang-hoon, who organized the rally, shouted at the cheering crowd. He vowed to hold another rally next Saturday.
The State Department raises its travel advisories for Japan and South Korea.
The State Department raised its travel advisories for Japan and South Korea on Saturday to Level 2, the second-lowest out of four grades, recommending that travelers “exercise increased caution” due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The advisories said that while many Covid-19 cases have been associated with travel to and from mainland China, or contact with someone who had recently been there, South Korea and Japan were now reporting “sustained community spread.” That means it is not known how or where people became infected, and the spread is ongoing, the advisories said.
In Japan, health officials are investigating clusters of cases that have taken on more urgency now that hundreds of passengers have been released from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which had the largest concentration of the coronavirus outside mainland China. Cases in South Korea surged to 556 on Sunday, with four deaths.
Japanese officials said Saturday that 23 of the Diamond Princess passengers had mistakenly been cleared without a recent valid test. Those passengers have since been tested and posed “no risk of infection,” the Japanese Health Ministry said.
A vast American containment effort relies on local officials.
Since early February, thousands of people returning to the United States from mainland China have been asked to isolate themselves at home for 14 days. Preventing the spread of infectious disease is the essence of public health work, but the scale of efforts by state and local health departments across the country to contain any potential spread of the coronavirus has rarely been seen, experts said.
Local health officials check in daily by email, phone or text. They arrange tests for people who come down with symptoms, along with groceries and isolated housing, in some cases. There is no centralized tally in the United States of people being monitored or asked to remain in isolation, and they are scattered across the nation’s nearly 3,000 local health jurisdictions.
People arriving from mainland China are added each day, while those who have completed 14-day “self-quarantine” periods are released from oversight. In California alone, the department of public health has been monitoring more than 6,700 returning travelers from China. Health officials in Washington State have tracked about 800, and officials in Illinois more than 200.
Even as the first of 34 confirmed coronavirus patients in the United States have recovered in recent days, health officials say they are preparing for what some fear could still be a much wider outbreak.
So far, officials say, the containment effort has been largely orderly. The only known transmission of the virus in the United States has involved people in the same household. But no matter how effective health workers are in monitoring their charges, “there will always be some leakage,’’ said John Wiesman, the secretary of health in Washington State.
“There is no way, with something this large, that you can make it seal-proof,’’ Dr. Wiesman said. While enforcing total compliance with isolation orders may not be possible, he said, “We have to try for 80 to 85 percent, and hopefully that will work.’’
Russian disinformation blames the U.S. for the virus.
State Department officials say that thousands of Russia-linked social media accounts are spreading disinformation about the coronavirus, including a conspiracy theory that the United States is behind the Covid-19 outbreak.
American monitors identified the campaign in mid-January. Agence-France Presse first reported on the assessment on Saturday.
“Russia’s intent is to sow discord and undermine U.S. institutions and alliances from within, including through covert and coercive malign influence campaigns,” said Philip Reeker, the acting assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia.
“By spreading disinformation about coronavirus, Russian malign actors are once again choosing to threaten public safety by distracting from the global health response.”
The effort was described as being carried out by several thousand Russia-linked accounts on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, which post similar messages at similar times in English, Spanish, French, German and Italian.
Fringe theories of uncertain origin have accused China of engineering the virus, including suggestions that it is an escaped bioweapon.
Misinformation about the virus — whether shared purposefully or unwittingly — is so rife that the World Health Organization has called it an “infodemic.” The W.H.O. has been working with big tech companies to try to quell the flood of rumors and falsehoods.
Reporting was contributed by Choe Sang-Hun, Derrick Bryson Taylor, Austin Ramzy, Amy Harmon, Farah Stockman and Edward Wong.
Faith leaders turn to a higher (technology) during coronavirus
COVID-19 has forced remote worship arrangements and stressed finances as several faiths mark the holiest week of the year. Rev. Brian Flynn of St. Mary’s Church in Lynn has been Facebook live-streaming mass to combat the issue. (Olivia Falcigno)
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Coronavirus and its social distancing requirements have forced local faith leaders to guide their flocks through Holy Week and Passover with high technology substituting instant communication for human connection.
Some clergy have made the electronic leap faster than others.
Flanked by fellow priests, a deacon and a lector, the Rev. Brian Flynn brought Palm Sunday Mass to St. Mary’s Church parisionioners in Lynn. The pews in the South Common Street church were empty last Sunday, but more than 100 worshippers followed along on Facebook Live and sent appreciation messages to the clergy.
“It is really strange with no one there. But what helps is having people actively participating by sending uplifting emails and photos,” Flynn said.
At Cliftondale Church of the Nazarene in Saugus, Rev. Franklin Lowe said the church has been “dormant” for three weeks since coronavirus hit hard with the 35-member congregation communicating by phone and text message.
Lowe is preparing online Good Friday and Easter services. He doesn’t know if they will take the form of a live-stream or simpler message to the congregation.
“We’ve done church business through text groups and encourage people to call one another,” Lowe said.
Holy Week marks Jesus’ death and resurrection and Passover chronicles the passage of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. Spanning more than a week, the celebrations are high points on religious calendars.
Rabbi Richard Perlman has live-streamed services to his congregation for almost a month from his North Reading home. Temple Ner Tamid is in Peabody, but when Passover begins on Wednesday and continues through April 16, Perlman will be streaming services online from his home, not the temple.
“It won’t be the same. My children won’t be in the room with me as they have been all their lives. But we are all sitting on the same Earth,” he said.
The Greek Orthodox faith celebrates Palm Sunday this week and Easter on April 19. Father George Tsoukalas has shouldered the triple tasks of learning to live-stream, compressing a more than two-hour Easter service into an hour and calling more than 15 congregation members every day to check on them.
“We have some people who are sick and we pray for them,” he said.
St. George Greek Orthodox Church on South Common Street won’t fill with worshippers during Holy Week. Only Tsoukalas and a cantor and sextant will be present to live-stream worship.
This stripped-down way of worshipping presents challenges and advantages, said Pastor Ian Holland, First Church of Swampscott. A congregation member in her 90s who has not been able to come to church has “attended” services online since earlier in March when Holland and church members started conducting all services through online group chat service Zoom.
About 80 people on average attended church services prior to coronavirus’ inception. That number almost doubled with online attendance, Holland said.
But some Holy Week highlights cannot be replicated online. The traditional Maundy Thursday service and meal marking Jesus’ last supper with his disciples can only be partly replicated online.
“We can have a lot of people participating but it will be a muted celebration. I miss people face to face and the quiet conversations before and after services,” Holland said.
Flynn agreed and said he has asked St. Mary’s faithful to strengthen their connection to the church during Holy Week by keeping a plant symbolically close to them during Palm Sunday Mass and lighting a candle and dressing up for the vigil service.
Calvary Christian Church Pastor Jamie Booth in Lynnfield is streaming four Sunday services online but the dramatic renderings of Christ’s passion staged over two weekends during Easter are canceled.
Song, prayer and conversation shared online will take the place of acting and music that usually fills the church during Holy Week.
“We’re adjusting well. It seems like all of our church has been able to find us,” Booth said.
Iglesia Evangelica Luz y Vida Pastor Blas Mercedes has put his Lynn church’s Wednesday and Sunday services on Facebook Live and used technology to assist the church’s 275 congregation members in other ways during the outbreak.
The church provided an online unemployment aid resource to worshippers last Friday with two church members volunteering to help people fill out online applications.
“Our biggest challenge is uplifting people. A lot of them have been scared by misinformation,” said church volunteer Julio Polonia.
Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Boston Chapter in Sharon counts almost 40 North Shore residents, including Lynn Muslims, among its worshippers. Meetings and Friday services have been canceled due to coronavirus, but volunteer Nasir M. Rana said Islam is a faith practiced communally and individually with worshippers praying on their own.
“It doesn’t break a link with God. We can observe daily activities at home,” Rana said.
He is looking forward to Ramadan’s start at the month’s end even though a communal dinner may be postponed or canceled. Coronavirus, said Rana, has called the faithful to “use this time for self reflection for all of humanity.”
Father Tsoukalas hopes coronavirus will prompt clergy of all faiths and worshippers to recapture Sunday as a day for worship and family.
“My faith is strong. I hope we all learn a lesson,” he said.
Coronavirus Live Updates: N.Y. Posts Its Largest Daily Death Toll, and Trump Effectively Ousts Relief Funds’ Watchdog
Trump effectively ousts the top watchdog for the $2 trillion in virus relief.
President Trump moved on Tuesday to oust the leader of a new panel of watchdogs charged with overseeing how his administration spends trillions of taxpayer dollars in coronavirus pandemic relief. It was the latest step in an unfolding White House power play over semi-independent inspectors general across the government.
The official, Glenn A. Fine, has been the acting inspector general for the Defense Department since before Mr. Trump took office. Last week, an umbrella group of inspectors general across the executive branch named him the chairman of a new Pandemic Response Accountability Committee with control of an $80 million budget to police how the government carries out the $2 trillion relief bill.
But Mr. Trump has now abruptly named a different federal official — Sean O’Donnell, the Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general — to be the acting inspector general for the Defense Department. The move effectively removed Mr. Fine — a former Justice Department inspector general with a reputation for aggression and independence — from his role overseeing pandemic spending.
Democrats immediately condemned Mr. Fine’s sudden sidelining from the committee as “corrupt,” in the words of Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader.
Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York and the chairwoman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, blasted Mr. Trump’s actions as “a direct insult to the American taxpayers — of all political stripes — who want to make sure that their tax dollars are not squandered on wasteful boondoggles, incompetence or political favors.”
And Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said his panel had been given no justification or rationale for Mr. Fine’s replacement.
Thomas B. Modly, the acting Navy secretary, resigned Tuesday following his bungled response to an outbreak of the virus aboard the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt engulfed the Navy in a public relations disaster, Defense Department officials said.
Mr. Modly’s departure marks the latest in a string of events that began last week, after The San Francisco Chronicle published a letter in which the Roosevelt’s commander, Capt. Brett E. Crozier, pleaded with the Navy to help contain the virus that had spread rapidly through his ship.
The Navy has announced more than 170 coronavirus cases aboard the Roosevelt since the outbreak started in late March, after the ship had docked in Da Nang, Vietnam.
The firing sent shock waves through the crew, which was only exacerbated Monday when Mr. Modly flew to Guam, where the Roosevelt is now docked, and said Captain Crozier was “too naïve or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this.”
He also rebuked the crew for having cheered their captain as he left the ship.
Amid some encouraging signs, major challenges remain in grappling with the virus.
After weeks of unrelentingly bleak news, a few encouraging signs have begun to emerge in recent days suggesting that the spread of the virus is beginning to slow in at least some parts of Asia and Europe that have adopted strict social distancing measures.
Wuhan, the Chinese city where the virus first appeared, lifted its lockdown, and China announced no new deaths from the virus for the first time since January, though doubts remain about the veracity of its statistics. Two of Europe’s most battered countries, Italy and Spain, have seen hopeful signs that their rate of new infections may be slowing. And one framework that American policymakers are relying on to try to predict the course of the outbreak, by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, was recently revised with generally less dire projections.
But the scope of the staggering challenges that remain was underscored Tuesday when New York, the hardest hit state in America, reported that another 731 people had died from the virus, the most deaths there in a single day since the crisis began.
It was a sobering reminder that, even amid signs that the spread of the virus may be beginning to level off in parts in some hard-hit places — and there have even been signs suggesting that it may be in New York — it is doing so at a very high level. Many people continue to die each day and many hospitals are stretched to their limits.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said that while the state’s new death toll was upsetting, he was encouraged by data showing that the rate of hospitalizations had fallen for several days, suggesting that the spread of the virus could be plateauing. But he cautioned against growing complacent or easing up on social distancing measures that seem to be working.
“To the extent that we see a flattening or a possible plateau,” Mr. Cuomo said, “that’s because of what we are doing and we have to keep doing it.”
And for all the places that seem to be making progress, there are other places where the crisis only seems to be growing.
France’s health minister said Tuesday that the country had not reached the peak of its epidemic and was “still in a worsening phase.” The country has recorded some 78,167 cases in total and 10,328 deaths, with the toll steadily rising.
Britain — where Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has the virus, was moved into intensive care Monday — has been reporting high numbers of new infections. And several parts of the United States are bracing for worse outbreaks in the days and weeks to come.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said on Tuesday that 731 more people had died in the state, the largest number of deaths in a single day from the virus since the crisis began. The grim tally followed two days in which the numbers appeared to have leveled off. The total number of deaths is 5,489.
The governor emphasized that the death rate was a lagging indicator, and pointed to a falling rate of hospitalizations. He also said that the state was still projecting that the spread of the virus was plateauing.
Mr. Cuomo said that increases in hospital beds and the number of health care providers who were working had helped New York to balance its patient load and help ensure that no one facility was overburdened.
The number of hospitalizations depends not only on the number of new arrivals but also on hospital admission standards. As hospitals have teetered on the brink of being overwhelmed, they have sent home people whom they would have admitted just a few weeks earlier, several New York doctors said in interviews.
So even if the number of hospitalizations appears to have plateaued, that could be because the number of sick people turning up has lessened, or it may have to do with changing hospital admissions standards — or both.
Mr. Cuomo said that social distancing practices were working and that they had to continue.
The governor also said that planning was underway to restart the regional economy and that he had spoken to the governors of New Jersey and Connecticut about coordinating those efforts.
The governor called for federal assistance, using a PowerPoint slide to assert that “the next federal legislation must remedy the previous inequities.” (Mr. Cuomo had previously criticized the federal stimulus package as “woefully inadequate” and said on Tuesday that once he had studied the bill, he found that it was even worse than he’d thought.)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain remained in the intensive care unit of a London hospital on Tuesday battling symptoms, raising questions not just about the state of his health but about who would lead the country, gripped by a major outbreak, in his stead if that became necessary. In England alone, 758 patients were reported to have died in hospital in 24 hours, public health officials reported on Tuesday.
Mr. Johnson was transferred to the intensive care unit on Monday after his illness worsened. Aides said he had been moved in case he needed a ventilator to help his recovery. On Tuesday evening, the British foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said that Mr. Johnson was “receiving standard oxygen treatment and breathing without any assistance,” like a ventilator.
As Britain has no written Constitution and no standard line of succession in the case of illness or death of the head of the government, it was for Mr. Johnson to decide who should stand in for him if he became ill. But the man he nominated, Mr. Raab, has been relatively untested, serving as the leader of the Foreign Office for less than a year.
While Mr. Johnson remains as the head of the government from his hospital bed, the seriousness of his illness means that could change quickly. At a time of extraordinary challenge, Mr. Raab is already serving as chairman of a key committee on the pandemic as the government battles to control the spread of the virus and stabilize an economy hit hard by the lockdown measures it has imposed.
Previous British prime ministers, including Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher, have had health issues while in power, but had brief periods of absence for planned procedures.
Mr. Johnson could be hospitalized for some time, and at a moment when the government must make major decisions about its virus response. Though some British prime ministers have nominated deputies, Mr. Johnson chose not to do so when he took the role last year.
The last time Britain experienced such a power vacuum was in 1953, when Winston Churchill suffered a stroke and the truth of his condition was kept from the British public.
Before going into intensive care, Mr. Johnson asked Mr. Raab to stand in for him “where necessary.”
Another senior minister, Michael Gove — who has had a lead role in coordinating the government’s response, including giving interviews on Mr. Johnson’s state of health — announced on Twitter on Tuesday that he was self-isolating. He felt well, he said, but a member of his family showed symptoms of the virus.
China has ended its lockdown of Wuhan, the city where the coronavirus first emerged and a potent symbol in a pandemic that has killed tens of thousands of people. But the damaged city has a long way to go before it returns to normal.
The move came hours after China announced no new deaths from the virus for the first time since January, though doubts remain about the veracity of China’s statistics.
The Chinese authorities had sealed off Wuhan, an industrial hub of 11 million people, in late January, in a frantic attempt to limit the outbreak’s spread. At the time, many outsiders saw it as an extreme step, one that could be tried only in an authoritarian system like China’s. But as the epidemic has worsened, governments around the world have enacted a variety of stringent restrictions on their citizens’ movements.
Wuhan’s recovery could offer a window into how other places recover. Sickness and death have touched hundreds of thousands of lives. Businesses, even those that have reopened, face a wrenching road ahead, with sluggishness likely to persist. Neighborhood authorities continue to regulate people’s comings and goings, with no return to normalcy in sight.
Controls on outbound travel were officially lifted just after midnight on Wednesday in China. People can now leave after presenting to the authorities a government-sanctioned phone app that indicates, based on their home address, recent travels and medical history, whether they are a contagion risk. China’s national rail operator estimated that more than 55,000 people would leave Wuhan by train on Wednesday, according to a state-run broadcaster.
China has had 83,654 infections since the start of the outbreak, according to official figures collated by The New York Times. At least 3,331 people nationwide have died, with most other patients recovered.
But many believe the true death toll is far higher. American intelligence officers say that because midlevel officials in Wuhan and elsewhere have lied about infection rates, testing and death counts, even Beijing does not know the full extent of China’s outbreak. Those doubts are rife in Wuhan, where officials have suppressed online discussion of fatalities and pushed for quick, quiet burials of victims.
The Chinese Communist Party said on Tuesday that it was investigating an outspoken property tycoon who accused China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, of having mishandled the outbreak.
Party officials said the man, Ren Zhiqiang, was suspected of “serious violations of discipline and law,” a euphemism the authorities often use for corruption and other abuses of power.
Mr. Ren, a longtime party member, disappeared last month after having written an explosive essay describing Mr. Xi as a power-hungry “clown.” The essay, which circulated on Chinese social media sites, said that the party’s strict limits on freedom of speech and its silencing of the news media had exacerbated the epidemic.
A brief statement about the investigation of Mr. Ren, issued by party disciplinary officials in Beijing, did not provide Mr. Ren’s whereabouts, give details about the status of his case or make mention of the essay.
A top White House adviser starkly warned Trump administration officials in late January that the crisis could cost the United States trillions of dollars and put millions of Americans at risk of illness or death.
The warning, in a memo by Peter Navarro, Mr. Trump’s trade adviser, is the highest-level alert known to have circulated inside the West Wing as the administration was taking its first substantive steps to confront a crisis that had already consumed China’s leaders and would go on to upend life in Europe and the United States.
“The lack of immune protection or an existing cure or vaccine would leave Americans defenseless in the case of a full-blown coronavirus outbreak on U.S. soil,” Mr. Navarro’s memo said. “This lack of protection elevates the risk of the coronavirus evolving into a full-blown pandemic, imperiling the lives of millions of Americans.”
Dated Jan. 29, it came during a period when Mr. Trump was playing down the risks to the United States. He later went on to say that no one could have predicted such a devastating outcome.
Mr. Navarro said in the memo that the administration faced a choice about how aggressive to be in containing an outbreak, saying the human and economic costs would be relatively low if it turned out to be a problem along the lines of a seasonal flu.
But he went on to emphasize that the “risk of a worst-case pandemic scenario should not be overlooked” given the information coming from China.
In one worst-case scenario cited in the memo, more than a half-million Americans could die.
African-Americans are suffering virus infections at disturbing rates in some of the largest cities and states in the United States, emerging statistics show.
In Louisiana, about 70 percent of the people who have died are African-American, though only a third of the state’s population is black. In the county around Milwaukee, where 27 percent of residents are black, nearly twice as many African-American residents tested positive for the virus as white people. And in Chicago, where African-American residents make up a little less than a third of the population, more than half of those found to have the virus are black, and African-Americans make up 72 percent of those who have died of the virus.
Data on the race of those sickened by the virus has only been made public in a handful of places and is too limited to make sweeping conclusions. But racial disparities in cases and outcomes, researchers said, reflect what happens when a viral pandemic is layered on top of entrenched inequalities.
The data, researchers said, is partly explained by factors that could make black Americans more vulnerable in any outbreak: They are less likely to be insured, more likely to already have health conditions and more likely to be denied testing and treatment. There is also the highly infectious nature of the virus in a society where black Americans disproportionately hold jobs that do not allow them to stay at home, the researchers said.
“If you walk outside and see who is actually still working,” said Elaine Nsoesie, of Boston University’s School of Public Health, “the data don’t seem surprising.”
Long lines, health jitters, flaring tempers and a dose of chaos and confusion marked Wisconsin’s presidential primary and local elections on Tuesday, as voters were forced to choose between staying safe during a pandemic and exercising their civic duty.
State Republican leaders, backed up by a conservative majority on the state Supreme Court, rebuffed the Democratic governor’s attempt to postpone in-person voting at a moment when the outbreak has prompted officials to recommend stay-at-home orders in most of the nation.
Voters in Milwaukee, the state’s Democratic base and most populous city, experienced significant disruptions. Election workers there expected more than 50,000 voters Tuesday, but the number of polling locations was drastically reduced, from more than 180 to just five. Some voters waited in line for more than two hours, spread out over blocks as they tried to practice social distancing.
In other parts of the state, especially in smaller communities that tend to be less Democratic, the in-person voting process was running relatively smoothly, with wait times more closely resembling a normal election.
It remained to be seen how the disruptions could affect the Democratic presidential primary contest between former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senator Bernie Sanders.
The political and legal skirmishing surrounding the Wisconsin balloting amounted to only the first round of an expected national fight over voting rights during the ccrisis.
Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin, a Democrat, had issued an executive order postponing in-person voting and extending to June the deadline for absentee ballots. But Republican leaders succeeded in getting the state’s top court to stay the decree.
And in a decision late Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative-leaning majority dealt its own blow to Wisconsin Democrats. In a 5-4 vote, the majority ruled against extending the deadline for absentee voting, saying such a change “fundamentally alters the nature of the election.” The court’s four liberal members dissented, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg writing that “the court’s order, I fear, will result in massive disenfranchisement.”
On Tuesday Mr. Biden criticized Mr. Trump’s stewardship of the crisis, a day after the two men spoke by phone over how to combat the outbreak.
“His failings and his delays continue,” Mr. Biden said by video to a virtual convention hosted by the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO. “We continue to see it. And it’s causing real pain for so many Americans.”
Mr. Biden, who has said that the presidential election must take place in November as required, raised the prospect of voting by mail.
“We cannot delay or postpone a constitutionally required November election,” Mr. Biden said during an earlier appearance on NBC. “We should be thinking now ahead — have all the experts, both political parties and academia laying out what it would take to have voting by mail. I’d much prefer to have, you know, in-person voting but it depends. It depends on the state of play.”
Five days after the start of a $349 billion emergency effort to get money into the hands of small businesses, the agency at the heart of the program is emerging as its biggest bottleneck.
The Small Business Administration, lightly staffed and working with aging technology, has been caught unprepared for the onrush of demand from desperate small-business owners who urgently need these loans as the coronavirus stalls the economy. In a boom year, the agency backs $30 billion of small-business loans — about the same amount that banks are now seeking on behalf of their customers in a day.
Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, said on Tuesday that 178,000 loans totaling $50 billion had been approved for small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program that was unveiled Friday by the S.B.A. and the Treasury Department. But bankers, small-business owners and others participating in the program say very little of that money has actually reached companies seeking the cash. The delays are causing confusion and panic among borrowers, especially those who see Trump administration officials playing up the program’s success. They worry they are being left behind.
“The expectation that this $2 trillion package would go through Congress and that the money would be flowing three days later, that was never a realistic expectation,” said Patrick Ryan, the chief executive of First Bank, a lender based in New Jersey. “But I get why people are frustrated.”
On Tuesday, the Treasury Department asked Congress for another $250 billion for the program.
The S&P 500 fell 0.2 percent at the close of trading. Earlier, stocks had been as much as 3 percent higher as investors took heart in continued signs that the coronavirus outbreak may be peaking in a number of hard-hit places.
As the country now declares a state of emergency in the face of a worrisome rise in cases, medical experts are wondering whether the move on Tuesday has come just in time to avoid calamity, or is too little, too late.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in announcing that the declaration would apply to Japan’s biggest population centers for the next month, painted an optimistic picture. By asking citizens to significantly reduce human-to-human contact, he said, “the expansion of infections can be turned to a decline in two weeks.”
But some experts said the state of emergency amounted to a tacit admission that the approach the country had stood by for months was no longer working, as Japan reached 3,906 confirmed cases on Tuesday, exactly double the number a week earlier.
The declaration will depend largely on voluntary compliance, and Mr. Abe emphasized that it was not a lockdown, and that public transit would continue.
Maryland will deploy new “strike teams,” including members of the National Guard, to nursing homes experiencing outbreaks of the coronavirus, Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday.
The decision moved Maryland into the ranks of states, like Georgia, Massachusetts and Wisconsin, that have sent soldiers to nursing homes during the epidemic.
Clusters in nursing homes have led to some of the deadliest outbreaks in the United States, including at a facility in Kirkland, Wash., which has been linked to 37 deaths. On Monday, Indiana health officials said at an outbreak at a nursing home there had killed 11 people.
As of Sunday, Maryland had reported outbreaks in 81 nursing homes and long-term facilities across the state. Pleasant View Nursing Home in Carroll County has experienced at least 14 deaths, with dozens of residents and staff testing positive for the virus.
The state strike teams will provide assistance with testing and triage, and will also include doctors and nurses.
“The goal here is not to replace a nursing home’s medical and clinical team,” Mr. Hogan said, “but to provide immediate support and assistance to help protect residents of these facilities.”
With Passover under lockdown, Israeli Jews are revising the rituals.
Singing outdoors. Participating remotely in a Zoom Seder. Leaving apartment doors open so solitary neighbors can hear the recitations.
On the first night of Passover, which falls on Wednesday, multigenerational families, relatives and friends traditionally gather for the ritual Seder feast to commemorate the Israelites’ liberation from bondage in ancient Egypt.
But in an extraordinary effort to prevent the spread of the virus, the government has tightened the general lockdown with additional restrictions targeted specifically at the holiday — temporarily banning intercity travel and requiring Israelis to remain in their own homes with no visitors allowed.
The restrictions come on top of existing measures that restrict people to within 100 meters of their homes except to shop for food or medical supplies or other essential trips.
Naftali Bennett, the defense minister, warned Israelis that children sneaking over to their parents’ for Seder night “could kill them.”
The religious questions arising from Zooming this year’s Seder gatherings set off a fiery debate among Israel’s rabbis because strictly observant Jews do not use electricity or technological devices on holy days.
A group of venerable rabbis of Moroccan descent presented a nuanced ruling in favor of allowing video chat for this year only, while Israel’s state rabbinical authority opposed that ruling, upholding the ban on the use of electronic devices.
Here’s how to help from home.
Sitting at home, it’s easy to feel like there’s nothing you can do to help those on the front lines of the pandemic. But there are many things you can do to help medical professionals, the people affected directly by the virus and your local businesses.
In Afghanistan, thousands of people flooded through the border with Pakistan on Tuesday in chaotic scenes that overwhelmed any screening measures to identify cases and slow the spread of the disease.
The country’s weak management of borders has been a major issue. Even as the virus spread in neighboring Iran, hundreds of thousands of people still made it back to Afghanistan through its western borders, before spreading across the country. Now the rush of returnees from Pakistan, where nearly 4,000 cases have been confirmed, has exacerbated fears. By Tuesday morning, Afghanistan had reported 423 cases of the virus — but officials warn those numbers could not be an authentic indication of the spread, with testing starting late and remaining limited.
The border with Pakistan, shut for weeks, was temporarily opened on Monday to allow measured return of Afghans stuck on the other side. On the first day, officials even showed pictures of circles drawn on the ground to enforce distancing as returnees were checked to see if they had any symptoms. But early on Tuesday, the scenes were chaotic.
“Between 8,000 and 10,000 people rushed in all at once,” said Rahat Gul Ziarmal, the mayor in the border town of Torkham.
In Herat, the center of the virus in Afghanistan, officials said they had run out of testing kits, and that labs did not have the capacity to conduct any more tests until a new shipment arrives.
“Since this morning, we do not have any other testing in Herat province,” said Dr. Mohamed Rafiq Shirzay, a spokesman for the provincial health department.
Catch up: Here’s what else is happening around the world.
Turkey ordered everyone to wear masks when shopping or visiting crowded public places, and said it would deliver free masks to every family. Coronavirus infections have risen sharply in Turkey, a country of 80 million. The order is the latest in a gradual tightening of antivirus measures by the government, which has insisted that the virus is under control and has resisted a complete lockdown.
Weeks into their nationwide lockdowns, countries across Europe have begun considering a return to some semblance of normalcy as they weigh plans to lift restrictions on movement. Sebastian Kurz, the chancellor of Austria, introduced a timetable for the country to re-emerge from a lockdown and see some stores reopen after Easter. Denmark will soon allow its youngest children to return to day care and school. “It’s like walking a tightrope: If we stand still, we may fall,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said. “If we go too fast it may soon go wrong.”
India appeared to soften its position on the export of hydroxychloroquine, a drug hailed as a possible treatment for the coronavirus. President Trump threatened Monday night to retaliate against India if it didn’t lift tough export restrictions imposed last month. India is the world’s largest producer of hydroxychloroquine, known as HCQ.
Reporting was contributed by Michael Cooper, Alan Blinder, Karen Zraick, Charlie Savage, Jonah Engel Bromwich, Alan Rappeport, Astead W. Herndon, Raymond Zhong, Javier C. Hernández, Carlotta Gall, Aurelien Breeden, Martin Selsoe Sorensen, Christopher F. Schuetze, Marc Santora, Megan Specia, Iliana Magra, Maggie Haberman, Mike Baker, Declan Walsh, Andrew Higgins, Carlotta Gall, Patrick Kingsley, Stephen Castle, Mark Landler, Adam Liptak, Rick Rojas, Abdi Latif Dahir, Sheila Kaplan, Katie Thomas, Vanessa Swales, Katie Glueck, Motoko Rich, Mike Ives, Richard C. Paddock, Hannah Beech, Jason Gutierrez, Muktita Suhartono, Elaine Yu and Zach Montague.
It Came From Outside Our Solar System and Now It’s Breaking Up
It came from beyond our solar system. But the sun wasn’t content to let it leave in peace, or in one piece.
Comet 2I/Borisov, an Eiffel Tower-sized clod of dust and ice, plunged into our solar system last fall, exhaling vapor as it buzzed nearest to our sun around Christmas. This alien visitor must have formed around a distant and unknown star.
It slumbered as it crossed the frozen gulf of interstellar space. But now, suddenly, the sleeper is awake and kicking. To the simultaneous delight and frustration of the world’s astronomers, Borisov has sloughed off at least one fragment over the last few weeks.
The action began last month — March 2020, of all times — when the Hubble telescope spotted at least one chunk of the comet breaking off like a calving iceberg. That clump has since fizzed away into nothingness.
These fireworks offer astronomers a unique glimpse at the exposed guts of this interstellar object, just the second humanity has ever spotted. The first visitor from another star system, 2017’s 1I/Oumuamua, behaved like an inert hunk of rock. “This one has now cracked open its gooey center and we can see what’s inside,” said Michele Bannister, a planetary astronomer at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.
Astronomers had hoped, even predicted, that Borisov might crack up this spring while heading back out of the solar system to once again sojourn among the stars. But the first signs it was stirring came in early March, right as the coronavirus pandemic ramped up. That’s when ground-based astronomers in Poland spotted the comet suddenly brighten, even though it should’ve been dimming as it got farther from the sun.
Several competing teams of scientists had already booked coveted slots to study the comet over the next few months with Hubble. Spurred by the news out of Poland, they rushed to move up their own observations, hoping to catch the comet acting up.
The clincher came on March 30, when a group led by David Jewitt at the University of California, Los Angeles, downloaded a fresh image taken by Hubble. Instead of just a circular blob that would show the comet’s nucleus, they saw an elongated shape, suggesting a smaller fragment of the nucleus had split off and was slowly drifting away from the main object. “It’s like a little lug nut dropped off your car,” Dr. Jewitt said.
Another team, led by Bryce Bolin at Caltech, said they’ve spotted an earlier clump breaking off in Hubble images, too, possibly corresponding to a piece that could have caused Borisov’s sudden brightening in early March. “I’m hoping that this object is going to be producing more fragments,” Dr. Bolin said, “but not completely, catastrophically break up into a million pieces in a cloud of dust.”
In any normal month, huge mountaintop telescopes in Chile and Hawaii would have already begun swiveling toward the comet, putting the interstellar visitor under the astronomy world’s equivalent of 24-hour surveillance. Those telescopes would let astronomers track Borisov’s brightness from night to night and scan for chemical elements now spewing from its insides.
Of course, the last month wasn’t normal. Most observatories are now shuttered to protect employees from the pandemic.
“The classic phrase is that comets are like cats,” Dr. Bannister said. “They don’t do what you expect. Or what you want.”
Even with Hubble alone, watching a fragment split off and drift from Borisov should help astronomers understand the size of the comet’s original nucleus and how tightly it was bound together, and then compare those properties with bodies formed in our own solar system.
Other research will focus on why Borisov put on a show — and why now. One possible explanation for the comet’s breakup is that after months of sunlight on the surface, buried pockets of volatile ice had warmed enough to suddenly explode.
Another hypothesis holds that gas sprayed off the comet like the wayward nozzle of a fire extinguisher, spinning Borisov in space. Once the comet was rotating fast enough, it centrifuged itself into more than one piece that could escape the original nucleus’ meager gravitational pull. Dr. Jewitt, seeking to prove this model, is hoping future observations will clock the speed of the spin.
Hubble images taken on April 3 show that the chunk Dr. Jewitt spotted seems to have already faded away, said Quanzhi Ye, an astronomer at the University of Maryland.
More fragments might fall off, Dr. Ye said. “If I have to say anything, I’d guess that it’s not done yet.”
Borisov’s timing has offered astronomers everything from consternation to a welcome distraction. “There’s something comforting, in a way, that celestial events still continue to happen even as our lives on Earth have been upended,” Dr. Bannister said.
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