Glimmers of hope amid signs of a deepening crisis.
The world began this week to see small but encouraging signs that concerted efforts to drastically change human behavior — to suspend daily routines by staying at home — are slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has killed tens of thousands and sickened more than a 1.5 million people across the globe.
Some nations are taking a hopeful approach, with countries in Europe gingerly laying out a timeline to ease restrictive measures. Poland became the latest, with its health minister suggesting on Thursday that restrictions would be eased after Easter to support the country’s economy.
But such optimism must be balanced with pragmatism, experts say: Epidemiologists warn that early indications, while promising, must not be interpreted to mean that all will be well in the coming weeks. And across the world, the evidence of the depth of the crisis continues to emerge.
Singapore, long seen as a model for its effective response to the crisis with its strict surveillance and quarantine measures that helped slow the outbreak, is in the throes of a second upsurge of the disease, with dozens of new cases reported this week.
Iran’s supreme leader suggested that mass gatherings may be barred through the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan amid the pandemic.
On Thursday, the World Bank predicted that sub-Saharan Africa would suffer its first recession for 25 years as a consequence of the coronavirus outbreak. The outbreak continues to devastate the American economy, and Thursday will bring fresh evidence, with the Labor Department expected to announce millions of new unemployment claims.
Across much of Europe, countries are bracing for Easter weekend, stepping up enforcement of social distancing measures as much of the continent adjusts planned celebrations for the new, socially isolated reality.
As the United States and Europe compete to acquire scarce medical equipment to combat the spread of the coronavirus, poorer nations are losing out to wealthier ones in the global scrum for masks and testing materials.
As wealthier nations face accusations of “modern piracy” for trying to secure medical supplies for their own people, manufacturers say orders for vital testing kits cannot be filled in Africa and Latin America because almost everything they produce is going to America or Europe. UNICEF says it’s trying to buy 240 million masks to help 100 countries, but has so far only managed to source around 28 million.
“There is a war going on behind the scenes, and we’re most worried about poorer countries losing out,” said Dr. Catharina Boehme, the chief executive of Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, which collaborates with the World Health Organization in helping poorer countries gain access to medical tests.
The supply divide matters in part because testing is the first defense against the virus, and an important tool to stop so many patients from ending up in hospital.
So far the developing world has reported far fewer cases and deaths from the coronavirus than the rich one, but if the pandemic hits harder it would prove devastating in countries whose health systems are already fragile and underfunded. A recent study found that some poor countries have only one equipped intensive care bed per million residents.
The director-general of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on Wednesday that he had been targeted by racist comments and death threats that originated in Taiwan, in the past three months, including being called “a Negro.”
Dr. Tedros singled out the Taiwanese government, which has been frozen out of the W.H.O. after pressure from Beijing.
“They didn’t disassociate themselves,” he said of Taiwanese officials. “They even started criticizing me in the middle of all that insult and slur, but I didn’t care.”
Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, hit back on Thursday, writing on Facebook: “Taiwan has always opposed all forms of discrimination. For years, we have been excluded from international organizations, and we know better than anyone else what it feels like to be discriminated against and isolated.”
Dr. Tedros also made an impassioned plea for solidarity, warning that politicizing the coronavirus pandemic would result in “many more body bags.”
He made his comments after President Trump unleashed a tirade against the organization on Tuesday, accusing it of acting too slowly to sound the alarm, and of treating the Chinese government too favorably. While the president, who threatened to withhold American funding for the organization, spoke in unusually harsh terms, he was not alone in such criticism.
Critics say that the W.H.O. has been too trusting of the Chinese government, which initially tried to conceal the outbreak. Others have faulted the organization for not moving faster in declaring a global health emergency.
Asked about Mr. Trump’s comments on Wednesday, Dr. Tedros said: “Please don’t politicize this virus. If you want to be exploited and you want to have many more body bags, then you do it. If you don’t want many more body bags, then you refrain from politicizing it.”
Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairman of the African Union, said on Twitter: “The focus should remain on collectively fighting Covid-19 as a united global community. The time for accountability will come.”
More than 50 African states have so far reported a total of 10,252 coronavirus cases and 492 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On Thursday, the World Bank said sub-Saharan Africa would suffer its first recession for 25 years as a consequence of the outbreak.
In the Spanish city of Seville, Holy Week is celebrated by processions of hooded penitents that draw hundreds of thousands of faithful and tourists onto the streets of the city for the Easter spectacle.
But the festivities and the concept of penitence, a major theme of the week, have acquired a special meaning during a nationwide coronavirus lockdown, as the faithful must stay home rather than meander through the city to the sound of drums and trumpets alongside richly decorated floats. The celebrations are led by brotherhoods, associations formed by residents whose main task is to prepare religious events, particularly during Holy Week.
“This is an unprecedented situation in which we need to prepare for a much longer period of penitence, also because of the economic hardship that awaits us even after the virus has gone,” said Alejandro López, spokesman of the Macarena brotherhood, the largest in Seville, with about 15,000 members.
The processions are typically staggered throughout Holy Week, and the Macarena’s was to take place at midnight Thursday. But with its basilica closed, the brotherhood will instead stream video online from the church.
For those who have spent months preparing for the procession, “there is no doubt some inner feelings of nostalgia and sadness,” said Mr. López. “But we are all mature Christians.”
Not everyone has heeded the lockdown measures, and last Sunday, officers broke up a Mass on a Seville rooftop with a dozen people. The police have been intervening to halt any religious event that could breach the rules of the nationwide lockdown, as Spain is still in the grip of a major outbreak: On Thursday, the country passed the grim milestone of 15,000 dead, with 683 more fatalities reported overnight.
Last month, the Vatican issued a decree that left the door open for Seville and other places to celebrate Holy Week events in mid-September instead. But the offer received a cold response among Seville’s Catholic community.
“The Holy Week is the Holy Week, something that cannot be adapted,” said Ana María Ruiz Copete, who was among the first women to be allowed to participate in a procession by the Brotherhood of Silence order, which dates to the 14th century.
The authorities have drawn some criticism for apparently not keeping a precise tally of coronavirus fatalities among medical workers other than doctors.
Matt Hancock, the British health secretary, came under fire last week after he said on national television, “We’ve seen very sadly four doctors die so far and some nurses.”
“They’re not even counting the nurses,” Donna Kinnair, the chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said during the BBC show “Question Time.”
Among the dead are Alice Kit Tak Ong, 70; Aimee O’Rourke, 39; and Thomas Harvey, 57. Ms. O’Rourke, a nurse in the acute medical unit at Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital in Margate, a town in southeastern England, died after testing positive for coronavirus, the hospital said in a statement last week. The hospital plans to put up a permanent memorial in her honor.
Ms. Ong, who was originally from Hong Kong and had worked for the National Health Service for 44 years, died on Tuesday in London, her daughter, told The Guardian. She said that her mother had been working without protective equipment.
The family of Mr. Harvey, who fell ill after treating a patient who later tested positive for the virus, said that the health care system had failed them.
Shortages of protective equipment have been a worry around the globe, with some medical workers making their own gowns from trash bags. A spokeswoman for the Royal College of Nursing said in an email on Wednesday that the facility had asked for more and better protective equipment for staff members over and over again.
All nurses who treated patients with coronavirus were in danger of infection, she added.
As coronavirus cases climb in India, the country’s top political leaders have indicated that a 21-day nationwide lockdown that is set to expire next week would most likely continue in some form.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi told government ministers on Wednesday that a complete lifting of the lockdown “is not possible,” according to Indian news reports and people who participated in the meeting.
“The priority of the government is to save each and every life,” Mr. Modi was quoted as saying. “The situation in the country is akin to a ‘social emergency.’ It has necessitated tough decisions and we must continue to remain vigilant.”
India’s lockdown, which is in effect until April 15 and applies to all 1.3 billion Indians, was the most severe action undertaken anywhere to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Borders between states were closed. Schools, offices, factories, parks, restaurants and airspace have all shut.
On top of that, the cities of Mumbai and New Delhi mandated this week that people wear face masks when they leave their homes. And on Thursday, the government of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, said that residents must stay indoors and allow only essential items like food to be delivered to their homes.
Though India still has a relatively small number of infections — 178 deaths and fewer than 6,000 confirmed cases as of Thursday — experts warn that widespread transmission of the coronavirus could be disastrous in a country where millions of people live in dense slums, social distancing is often impossible and the health care system is overburdened even in the best of times.
The Australian authorities on Wednesday boarded the cruise ship Ruby Princess, which is docked off the country’s east coast, and seized the vessel’s “black box” as part of a homicide investigation into how infected passengers were allowed to disembark last month.
The ship allowed about 2,700 untested passengers to disembark in Sydney. Hundreds later tested positive for the coronavirus, causing cases in the state of New South Wales to skyrocket. Fifteen of them later died.
It’s the deadliest single source of infection in Australia, which had 50 deaths and more than 6,000 cases as of Thursday.
The authorities are trying to determine whether the number of potential coronavirus cases aboard the Ruby Princess were played down before it docked. They boarded the ship to gather evidence, including a black box similar to those used in aircraft, and to speak with its captain.
The authorities say more than 1,000 crew members, many from other countries, are still on the ship, and that a number of them have contracted the coronavirus.
Dean Summers, the Australia coordinator for the International Transport Workers’ Federation, said a number of them were “completely confused” and desperate to be tested for the virus.
“That ship obviously has huge exposure to coronavirus,” he said. “Why wasn’t anybody tested?”
The police in a southwestern corner of Germany will monitor who follows outdoor social-distancing orders over the Easter weekend by deploying an unusual mode of transportation — a zeppelin.
The city of Friedrichshafen commissioned the airship — emblazoned with the slogan “Alle fur Alle,” or “Everyone Together” — to make a daily loop through the skies over the banks of Lake Constance to motivate Germans to follow regulations to stay indoors.
Officials reached out to the police and offered a ride-along, said Markus Sauter, spokesman for the regional police in Ravensburg. The authorities readily accepted.
“Our focus will be the Lake Constance region, because from the zeppelin it is easier for us to see where large groups of people may be forming than it is on the ground,” Mr. Sauter said in a telephone interview. The lake, which forms Germany’s southern border with Switzerland and a corner of Austria, is a popular destination for cyclists, hikers and other day-trippers.
Six police officers will ride in the zeppelin and be in radio contact with their colleagues on the ground, alerting them if they spot any large groups.
Germans remain under orders to stay at home, only going out for necessities. But with 113,296 people infected and 2,349 fatalities, according to Johns Hopkins, Germany is seeing the rate of new infections slow. Leaders are floating the possibility that some restrictions could be eased after Easter, warning it can only happen if people keep their distance over the weekend.
With warm, sunny weather forecast, the authorities worry that could prove challenging, even in a country with a penchant for following the rules.
Even after Japan declared a state of emergency to fight the coronavirus pandemic in its largest population centers earlier this week, the central government is urging governors to wait two weeks to ask businesses to close for fear of damaging the economy.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe officially announced the emergency declarations earlier this week for seven prefectures that include Tokyo, Kobe, Osaka and Yokohama and represent a population of 56.1 million people. The government does not have the legal power to issue stay-at-home orders or compel businesses to close, but governors can request that businesses suspend operations to help contain the spread of infection.
While some of the governors want to ask businesses to close now, the central government wants them to wait to see if individual citizens will flatten the curve of infections by refraining from going outside and working from home. On Thursday, the health ministry announced 511 newly confirmed cases — a 46 percent jump over a day earlier.
A special adviser to the prime minister, Yousuke Isozaki, said in a tweet on Thursday that the central government had “differences” with the governors. “Tokyo Metropolitan Government wants to make a request to close certain businesses,” he wrote. “Other prefectures are reluctant because they cannot compensate the businesses. The government’s stance is that they cannot compensate for business closure so we want to wait and see for two weeks.”
In announcing the state of emergency this week, Mr. Abe warned citizens to avoid closed spaces where crowds meet — places like nightclubs, karaoke bars and live music halls.
One municipality is taking matters into its own hands. Gotemba, a city of about 88,000 in the foothills of Mount Fuji, is offering owners of businesses such as bars and nightclubs a maximum of 1 million yen (about $9,200) in compensation for closing between April 16 and 30.
Usually it’s the world’s major oil-producing countries that step in when a big drop in prices shakes the oil market. But these are not normal times.
On Friday, a day after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other producers led by Russia are set to hold their own meeting, representatives of the Group of 20 wealthy nations are expected to hold a virtual conference to try to stem the recent plunge in energy prices.
The volatile oil markets threaten to bankrupt energy companies across the world, causing enormous job losses and threatening financial institutions that have backed the industry.
The pandemic has played a critical role in this drama, but there is also a lot of jockeying among the three oil superpowers: Saudi Arabia and Russia, two longtime petro-rivals, and the United States, whose rising prominence as an oil exporter has disrupted the industry.
It is far from clear that the G20 meeting will calm volatile markets. The fact that the meeting is occurring, though, may signal the beginning of a very different approach.
“A lot of countries, including those with strong free-market beliefs and credentials, seem to be coming over to the view that the global oil business needs to be managed to an extent, at least from time to time,” said Bhushan Bahree, an executive director at IHS Markit, a research firm.
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Saudi Arabia announced on Wednesday that the kingdom and its allies would observe a unilateral cease-fire in the war in Yemen starting at noon on Thursday, a move that could pave the way toward ending the brutal five-year-old conflict.
Saudi officials said that the cease-fire was intended to jump-start peace talks brokered by the United Nations and that it had been motivated by fears of the coronavirus spreading in Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world.
The gesture is the first by any government entangled in an international armed conflict to halt hostilities at least in part because of the pandemic. The secretary general of the United Nations, António Guterres, pleaded for a worldwide cease-fire two weeks ago, citing the pandemic.
As many as 150 members of the Saudi royal family are believed to have contracted the coronavirus, including members of the family’s lesser branches, according to a person close to the family.
With more than one million people worldwide ill from the coronavirus, there is an urgent search for any drug that might help.
While there is no proof that any drug can yet cure or prevent a coronavirus infection, one prescription medicine that has received significant attention is hydroxychloroquine, approved decades ago to treat malaria and also used to treat autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
President Trump has recommended it repeatedly, despite little evidence that it works against the coronavirus.
Here are some key facts on hydroxychloroquine:
A promising laboratory study found that chloroquine could block the coronavirus from invading cells, which it must do to replicate and cause illness. But drugs that vanquish viruses in petri dishes do not always work in the human body, and studies of hydroxychloroquine have found that it failed to prevent or treat other viral illnesses.
Still, many hospitals are giving hydroxychloroquine to patients infected with the coronavirus because there is no proven treatment, and they hope it will help. Clinical trials with control groups have begun across the world.
Overall, hydroxychloroquine is considered relatively safe for people who do not have underlying illnesses that the drug is known to worsen. But like every drug, it can have side effects and is not safe for people who have abnormalities in their heart rhythms, eye problems involving the retina, or liver or kidney disease. Do not use it without consulting a doctor who knows your medical history and what other medications you are taking.
Reporting was contributed by Jane Bradley, Abdi Latif Dahir, Melissa Eddy, Raphael Minder, Iliana Magra, Mike Ives, Megan Specia, Yonette Joseph, Kai Schultz, Elaine Yu, Motoko Rich, Hisako Ueno, Makiko Inoue, Rory Smith, Tariq Panja, Livia Albeck-Ripka, Carl Zimmer, James Gorman, Michael Levenson, Dan Barry, Ben Hubbard, Stanley Reed, Clifford Krauss, Andrew E. Kramer, Dionne Searcey, Ruth Maclean, Denise Grady, Katie Thomas and Patrick J. Lyons.