Merkel and Macron pitch a ‘one-off’ borrowing plan to help Europe’s hardest-hit countries.
Faced with economic calamity and the threat of the coronavirus further fracturing the European Union, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany on Monday broke with decades of German economic orthodoxy and agreed to back the idea of collective European debt to help those countries that have been hit hardest by the pandemic.
If the other member states agree to the plan, it would be a major step toward a more unified Europe, and a sign that the pandemic might actually bring the bloc closer together instead of splintering it.
Ms. Merkel joined with President Emmanuel Macron of France to propose borrowing 500 billion euros, or $545 billion, for a common recovery fund. Its repayment would be the financial responsibility of the entire bloc, but it would primarily benefit the poorer south, which has been hit hardest by the virus.
Such a joint approach to borrowing has long been resisted by Germany and other member states in the north, and that reluctance has proved an obstacle to further European integration.
Southern states have been turning to Brussels for help and pushing better-off countries like Germany and the Netherlands for less selfishness and greater collective action. Back home in countries like Italy, where many feel abandoned by their neighbors, anti-European and populist sentiment has spiked markedly.
Mujtaba Rahman, chief European analyst for the Eurasia Group, said, “It’s a European revolution — if it goes through.”
Although the proposal represents a significant shift in German thinking, Ms. Merkel described it as a “one-off effort,’’ with Germany agreeing to a plan whereby the European Commission, using its excellent credit rating, would borrow money for the fund. The debt would be paid back over time through the joint European Union budget, which is financed by a set formula by member states.
The proposal must be agreed to by the other 25 member states of the bloc, some of which have flatly rejected collective indebtedness in the past. Austria has already suggested that it and countries like the Netherlands want to help the afflicted states only with loans, not grants, as called for in Monday’s proposal.
“There is still work to do,” Mr. Macron acknowledged. “But it is a profoundly unprecedented step.”
Details of the plan were scare on Monday, but the leaders said that the money would be provided to the sectors of the economy and the regions the worst affected by the virus. That would include countries like Italy and Spain, whose borrowing costs are much higher than countries like Germany.
Voices from Wuhan: The lockdown ended, but fear, grief and hope endure.
Spring in Wuhan, China, is the start of crawfish season. Crawfish braised, crawfish fried, crawfish coated with chilies — and always devoured with family and friends.
But Hazel He doesn’t plan to have another feast like that until at least next year.
“Anywhere where there are crowds, there is still some degree of risk,” Ms. He, 33, said.
Avoiding risk shapes everything Ms. He does these days. Though residents are allowed to move around the city again, she still chats with her friends by video. Before going outside with her 6-year-old son, she peers out her window to make sure no one is around. She recently let him play on the swings near their apartment again, but they don’t leave the neighborhood.
The anxiety is not nearly as overwhelming as it had been in the early days of the outbreak, when Ms. He would cry while watching the news and her son would ask her what was wrong.
But, like others in Wuhan, she is still approaching normalcy tentatively, understanding how fragile the victory is. Last week, six new coronavirus cases were reported there, after more than a month of no new reported infections.
“Wuhan has sacrificed so much,” she said. “Taking care of ourselves is our responsibility to everyone else.”
Ms. He is unsure when her company will resume the face-to-face meetings that are core to her job as a recruiter, but she reminds herself that her mortgage is manageable. She will have to wait until at least July to register her son for elementary school. But for now she is content to practice arithmetic with him at home.
“It’s as if we were running a race, and I’m currently 50 meters behind,” she said. “But as long as I catch up later, it’s the same.”
The first coronavirus vaccine tested on people in a small trial appears safe and effective, its maker says.
The drugmaker Moderna said Monday that the first coronavirus vaccine to be tested in people appears to be safe and able to stimulate an immune response against the virus.
The findings, which helped prompt a rally on Wall Street, are based on results from the first eight people who each received two doses of the experimental vaccine, starting in March.
Those people, healthy volunteers, made antibodies that were then tested in human cells in the lab, and were able to stop the virus from replicating — the key requirement for an effective vaccine. The levels of those so-called neutralizing antibodies matched the levels found in patients who had recovered after contracting the virus in the community.
Limited data from the early phase, however leaves much uncertainty around the vaccine’s potential success.
Dozens of companies in the United States, Europe and China are racing to produce vaccines, using different methods.
If those trials go well, a vaccine could become available for widespread use by the end of this year or early 2021, Dr. Tal Zaks, Moderna’s chief medical officer, said in an interview.
Six weeks after the devastating peak of the coronavirus outbreak in Ecuador, dozens of bodies remain unidentified as families continue searching for deceased relatives whose bodies were misplaced during the chaotic period.
The authorities are still trying to establish the identities of about 90 bodies that were collected from homes in the port city of Guayaquil, which suffered the worst of the pandemic, according to the president’s emergency envoy to the city, Jorge Wated.
The city used to see about 45 deaths a day, on average, but during the peak of the outbreak in early April, that number jumped to 600 daily deaths, he said. The number overwhelmed hospitals and morgues.
Overall, about 7,600 more people died in Ecuador from March 1 to April 15 than the average for that time period in recent years, according to an analysis of the official mortality data by The New York Times. Most of the excess deaths occurred in the city of Guayaquil, a bustling city of three million where the spike in mortality was comparable to what New York City experienced at the peak of the pandemic.
As bodies piled up, authorities in Guayaquil lost the ability to record deaths and bury the victims.
One Guayaquil man received the ashes of his dead mother and later discovered that her body was buried in a cemetery. And a local woman returned to her family, alive, after being pronounced dead by health officials.
Elizabeth Narváez has been looking for the body of her brother-in-law, Luis Fernando Yépez, a Guayaquil bus driver, since last seeing him at a hospital on March 30. He died the next day with coronavirus symptoms.
After scouring hospitals, cemeteries and the local forensics office, officials told her they found a body that appears to match Mr. Yépez, but it is now too decomposed to identify it by fingerprints. She now has to wait for the results of a DNA test, which could take weeks.
“It has been a real calvary,” said Ms. Narváez. “Not even animals are treated the way the government has treated the bodies.”
Trump says he takes hydroxychloroquine to protect against Covid-19. There’s no proof it works.
President Trump said Monday that he has been taking hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug whose effectiveness against the coronavirus is unproven, for about a week and a half as a preventive measure, saying he had no symptoms of Covid-19.
The drugs can cause dangerous abnormalities in heart rhythm in virus patients, the F.D.A. warned, saying that they should be used only in clinical trials or hospitals where patients can be closely monitored for heart problems.
And on Monday a doctor overseeing a national trial said that he agreed.
“There are no data that pre-exposure prophylaxis is effective to prevent coronavirus,” Dr. David Boulware of the University of Minnesota, who is overseeing a national trial to test whether hydroxychloroquine can prevent infections, said in a statement. “It may be. It may not be. We do not know. The only way I would recommend taking hydroxychloroquine is within a clinical trial.”
Mr. Trump has in recent weeks stopped talking about the drug that he had been touting as a possible miracle cure. But he volunteered that he was taking it, with approval from the White House physician, at the end of a round table with restaurant owners at the White House.
The outbreak spread to the White House this month, where two members of the staff — one of the president’s personal valets and Katie Miller, the spokeswoman for Vice President Mike Pence — tested positive.
Early studies of hydroxychloroquine in the laboratory showing that the drug could block the virus from attacking cells prompted early enthusiasm. But the studies of the drug in humans so far have largely proved disappointing, and some have pointed to serious side effects in people with heart problems.
“I’m not going to get hurt by it,” Mr. Trump said, claiming he was making the revelation in order to be transparent with Americans. “It has been around for 40 years for malaria, for lupus, for other things. I take it. Front-line workers take it. A lot of doctors take it. I take it.”
In 2018, the White House physician reported that Mr. Trump had an LDL cholesterol level of 143, well above the desired level of 100 or less. Some cardiologists who are not associated with the White House said that his cholesterol levels raised heart concerns.
Several doctors questioned the wisdom of taking the unproven drug, given the possible risks.
“I think it’s a very bad idea to be taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive medication,” said Dr. Eric Topol, a cardiologist and the director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, Calif. “There are no data to support that, there’s no evidence, and in fact there is no compelling evidence to support its use at all at this point.”
Other doctors said they were alarmed that Mr. Trump was using the bully pulpit of the presidency to tell the public he takes a drug that has not been proven to be effective against the coronavirus, but which does have known risks.
Dr. Scott Solomon, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said: “Trump taking it himself is up to him. But what is irresponsible is the example he is setting.”
Rome’s famed trattorias reopen, but it’s not business as usual.
After nearly 10 weeks of a surreal quiet, the familiar refrain of honking cars, buzzing scooters and lumbering buses sounded in Rome’s city center on Monday as many stores, bars and restaurants opened for the first time following a coronavirus lockdown.
But even as restaurateurs measured the distance between tables and shop owners mopped their stoops, the fallout from months of inactivity was evident in shuttered stores and “For Rent” signs.
In Rome, on tables in Trattoria Settimio, Maria Teresa Luciani displayed two laminated sheets: not menus, but a certification that the storied eatery had used cleaning products approved to disinfect against the coronavirus.
Earlier in the day, her husband, the owner, had measured out the mandatory spacing between tables. They hadn’t put down tablecloths yet, because they had no idea how many lunchtime clients would come. “It’s the first day. We have to get used to this,” Ms. Luciani said. “It’s a bit confusing, but slowly, slowly it’ll all work out.”
The cozy seating that was once part of the charm of Ditirambo, another downtown restaurant, has become a drawback amid the pandemic. The owner, Dado Micozzi, has been scrambling for outdoor seating alternatives.
On Monday he was overseeing a long list of protocols — including installing a traffic light system over the bathroom door — before reopening to the public later this week.
Efforts to reopen for delivery and takeout in recent weeks were not hugely successful, and without his main tourist clientele on the immediate horizon, Mr. Micozzi wasn’t sure how things would go. But he said he was determined to stay open.
“Now, we are working not for ourselves,” he said, “but for all those people who have helped us over the years.”
China pledges $2 billion to fight the pandemic, and the feud between the U.S. and China spills into a W.H.O. meeting.
A meeting of the World Health Organization that was supposed to chart a path for the world to combat the coronavirus pandemic instead on Monday turned into a showcase for the escalating tensions between China and the United States over the virus.
President Xi Jinping of China announced at the start of the forum that Beijing would donate $2 billion toward fighting the coronavirus and dispatch doctors and medical supplies to Africa and to countries in the developing world.
The contribution, to be spent over two years, amounts to more than twice what the United States had been giving the global health agency before President Trump cut off American funding last month, and it could catapult China to the forefront of international efforts to contain a disease that has claimed at least 315,000 lives.
But it was also seen — particularly by American officials — as an attempt by China to forestall closer scrutiny of whether it hid information about the outbreak to the world.
Mr. Xi made his announcement by videoconference to the World Health Assembly, an annual decision-making meeting of the W.H.O. that is being conducted virtually this year because of safety considerations during the pandemic. Mr. Trump declined to address the two-day gathering, providing the Chinese president an opening to be one of the first world leaders to address the 194 member states.
In videotaped remarks to the assembly after Mr. Xi spoke, Alex M. Azar II, the U.S. secretary of health and human services, countered with sharp criticism of both the W.H.O. and China, saying their handling of the coronavirus outbreak led to unnecessary deaths.
In an unmistakable reference to China, he said, “In an apparent attempt to conceal this outbreak, at least one member state made a mockery of their transparency obligations, with tremendous costs for the entire world.”
The director general of the W.H.O., Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, nodded to criticism of the organization’s own handling of the early weeks of the outbreak, saying the agency would review “lessons learned” about its global response.
But he did not address Mr. Trump’s insistence that the health agency investigate allegations widely dismissed by scientists that the coronavirus originated in a lab in China. Mr. Xi in his speech called for any examination to take place after the health crisis had subsided.
About 100 nations have called for an independent investigation into the origins of the pandemic.
Paris, London and other European cities can now be toured. Just on a much smaller scale.
Eight weeks after the coronavirus forced shutdowns and derailed everyday life in countries around the world, people in Brussels can again enjoy famous European landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower in Paris and London’s Houses of Parliament all without breaking any lockdown rules.
The city’s Mini-Europe miniature theme park reopened on Monday, the Reuters news agency reported. Visitors hoping to visit the 350 model landmarks at the open-air park will need to prebook entry and follow stringent social distancing and hygiene guidelines.
Some of the models at the park already reflect the new realities of life during the pandemic, with some figures even wearing masks.
The park, which opened in 1989, expects 150,000 visitors this year, down from last year’s almost half million.
Iran faces a new surge in cases after reopening, becoming a cautionary tale for the rest of the world.
When Iran began to reopen late last month, commuters packed subways and buses, young people lined up for takeout hamburgers and pizza, and traffic snarled highways. Shoppers crowded the traditional bazaars of Isfahan and Tehran. Worshipers resumed communal prayer at mosques during Ramadan evenings.
Three weeks later, the country has been hit by a new surge of coronavirus cases, according to health officials in some of the eight provinces where the numbers have spiked again. Health experts had predicted this would happen when the government made the call to ease restrictions in late April.
Iran, an epicenter of the outbreak in the Middle East, reopened without meeting the benchmarks recommended by health experts, such as ensuring that widespread testing and contact tracing was in place, and recording a steady drop in cases for at least several weeks.
Other countries have also seen their coronavirus numbers fall and rise again, but the rekindled crisis in Iran may offer an important lesson for other governments trying to get the balance right between guarding public health and restarting their economies.
“Other countries should look to Iran and not do what it did,” said Dr. Kamiar Alaei, an expert on Iran’s public health and president of Institute for International Health and Education in Albany, N.Y.
“They moved late to close off cities and they opened too early,” Dr. Alaei said. “What we feared is coming true.”
Turkey said it would impose a nationwide lockdown during Eid al-Fitr.
Turkey will impose a four-day lockdown across the country, starting on Saturday, to curb the spread of the coronavirus during the religious holiday of Eid al-Fitr, when Muslims typically gather in large family groups to celebrate.
In a televised address on Monday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the nationwide lockdown, the most severe restriction Turkey has imposed in the pandemic. Mr. Erdogan said most Turkish citizens would be forbidden from going out into the streets.
The virus has already disrupted the ability to worship together for many Muslims, especially during the past month as Ramadan was being observed. At revered sites in Mecca and Medina, for example, communal prayers were banned.
One of the two most important religious festivals for Muslims, Eid al-Fitr is a celebration that marks the end of Ramadan. In Turkey, a Muslim-majority country with a population of 83 million, people usually enjoy the Eid with visits to extended families, where hugging is common, as is kissing the hands of elderly people as a sign of respect.
German farmers are flying in thousands of seasonal workers to plant and harvest, raising safety concerns.
But just as the first harvest was to begin, Germany and its neighbors to the east slammed shut their borders to contain the coronavirus, cutting off a crucial supply of farm labor and putting crops at risk.
The German government has responded by allowing farmers to airlift workers from Romania and Bulgaria. The farmers must organize and pay for charter flights, and the program was capped at 40,000 workers a month in April and May.
The move has eased the labor shortage, but not solved it. The cost and logistical challenges have meant that only about 28,000 workers have been flown in so far, well short of the number needed. It has also raised concerns about importing new infections and exploiting vulnerable workers.
Florian Bogensberger, a farmer in Bavaria’s Hallertau region, said he spent more than 10,000 euros, about $11,000, to fly in 23 Romanian workers. Though it meant pushing back other needed investments, he said the flight was worth it.
“Everybody feels a bit scared,” said Gabriel Moraru, 47, a Romanian who has done seasonal work at the Bogensberger farm for the past decade. “But we also need to work.”
South Africa’s president is caught on camera flouting social distancing rules.
President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa may have violated his country’s rules on social distancing on Sunday when he was seen having his picture taken shoulder-to-shoulder with two admirers who stopped him on a sidewalk.
A video shared on Twitter by a journalist showed the president, who was wearing a face mask and gloves, bumping elbows with two women, both of whom also were wearing masks. He then posed for a photo wedged between the women, one of whom had handed her cellphone to another woman on the street.
As the women approached him, Mr. Ramaphosa can be heard laughing and saying “before we get arrested,” and then “I’d rather be arrested with you.”
Mr. Ramaphosa’s face cannot be seen clearly in the video, and his office did not reply to requests for comment on Monday. But Nwabisa Makunga, an editor at Sowetan Live, a South African online news platform, who shared the video on Twitter, said that she began shooting the video from her window after she heard someone shouting, “Good morning Mr. President, we love you!”
In the highest one-day increase yet, cases spiked on Sunday to 15,515 infections, with 264 deaths, the government said.
A government website explains that social distancing requires people to keep a distance of two meters, or about six feet, from each other — a precaution that the president appeared to disregard during the snapshot
Belgian nurses turn their backs to the prime minister in protest.
When Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès of Belgium visited the Saint-Pierre hospital in Brussels this weekend, she was not met with praise. Instead, members of the hospital’s nursing staff lined the roadway and turned their backs on her approaching car in a silent protest over the government’s handling of the coronavirus.
The hospital has played a central role in Belgium’s response, taking in the most Covid-19 patients in the country, and it was Ms. Wilmès’s first visit to the hospital to thank the staff since the crisis began.
Arriving at the hospital grounds, Ms. Wilmès was greeted by a double row of nurses and other health workers with their backs turned to her, in what has been described as “guard of dishonor.”
“Nobody can ignore the distress of the nursing staff, which was already there before the crisis and was increased with the difficulties,” Ms Wilmès told RTBF, the public broadcaster, after visiting the hospital. “We need to reassess the nursing profession.”
The protesting workers were expressing disappointment with the government’s broader health care policy, which has involved budget cuts and staff shortages, and their actions during the pandemic, representatives said.
Belgium, with a population of 11.5 million, has had more than 55,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and over 9,000 deaths, making it one of the worst per capita death rates in Europe. Those figures include suspected cases and cases in care homes, which is not the case in some other countries.
“There is fatigue and a lot of anxiety,” Philippe Leroy, the hospital’s head, said of medical workers, though he said that the prime minister’s visit was appreciated. “I think they needed to express a lot of things.”
In the absence of stadium fans, a South Korean soccer team used sex dolls.
As a handful of the world’s sports leagues come back to life, they have searched for ways to maintain the feeling of crowded stadiums, even in places devoid of spectators.
On social media, some noted the telltale signs, like the business logos for sex toy marketers on the dolls’ clothing and their physiques. Of the roughly two dozen dolls in the stands, nearly all were women.
“We had tried to add some fun in the no-spectator match,” the club said in a statement. “But we have not checked all the details, and that is clearly our fault.”
The incident was a blemish for the K League, the top professional soccer league in South Korea. After a weekslong delay, it resumed play on May 8, as the country has waged a successful fight against the coronavirus.
One way to thin out public transit: pop-up parking lots.
Governments across the globe are in an unusual position of discouraging people from using public transit, an urban staple that has long been considered an essential tool in fighting congestion and climate change but is now a risk in the spread of the coronavirus.
Scenes of commuters packed elbow-to-elbow are now a major public health risk, as one cough or sneeze could expose dozens to infectious respiratory droplets. But governments have also acknowledged that many people, including medical workers, have no viable alternatives.
Officials have asked passengers to stay away if possible, leaving room for those who need it to safely practice social distancing, even if that means drying up some of the revenue that keeps the systems running.
In Australia, Sydney’s central business district will add bike lanes and pop-up parking lots to deal with an increase in automobile traffic. And in, London the subway’s capacity will be capped at around 13 to 15 percent so that passengers can stay six feet apart. Some may be asked to wait to enter a station until it empties out.
Reporting was contributed by Steven Erlanger, Safak Timur, Anatoly Kurmanaev, José Maria León, Andrew Jacobs, Farnaz Fassihi, Aurelien Breeden, Steven Erlanger, Denise Grady, Pam Belluck, Mihir Zaveri, Karen Zraick, Christopher Buckley, Ben Dooley, Melissa Eddy, Sheera Frenkel, Sandra E. Garcia, Abby Goodnough, Javier C. Hernandez, Makiko Inoue, Mike Isaac, Cecilia Kang, Raphael Minder, Steven Lee Myers, Sharon Otterman, Elisabetta Povoledo, Monika Pronczuk, Choe Sang-Hun, Eric Schmitt, Megan Specia, Daniel Victor and Neil Vigdor.
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