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Coronavirus Live Updates: South Korea’s Leader Raises Alert Level to Maximum

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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.

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.

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Faith leaders turn to a higher (technology) during coronavirus

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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)

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.

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Coronavirus Live Updates: N.Y. Posts Its Largest Daily Death Toll, and Trump Effectively Ousts Relief Funds’ Watchdog

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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.

Credit…Drew Angerer/Getty Images

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.

Mr. Modly fired Captain Crozier on April 2 after accusing him of circumventing the Navy’s traditional chain of command by copying more than 20 people on the emailed letter.

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.”

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.



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It Came From Outside Our Solar System and Now It’s Breaking Up

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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.

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.

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