Italy’s lockdown leads to a drastic drop in I.C.U. coronavirus patients.
Two weeks ago, Italy’s intensive care units were bursting with more than 4,000 coronavirus patients, mostly in the northern regions, and at times doctors were put in the difficult position of choosing which people to treat.
By Friday, the number of I.C.U. patients had dropped to 2,812, and hospitalizations for Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, had fallen from a high of 29,010 patients on April 4 to 25,786, reflecting a steady decline that is easing the burden on the country’s health care system.
“This is allowing those who work in I.C.U.s greater ease in dealing with all patients who need intensive care,” not just Covid-19 patients, said Franco Locatelli, the head of Italy’s Higher Health Council.
Experts say the decline is a result of the nationwide lockdown that Italy imposed on March 10, which drastically diminished the rate of the coronavirus’s spread.
“At the beginning of the epidemic, each infected person was spreading the virus to three other people. Thanks to the lockdown, it’s now down to under one,” said Giovanni Rezza, the director of the infective illness department at the country’s National Health Institute. “That, in turn, has an impact on hospitalizations and I.C.U.s.”
Since the lockdown, new cases have emerged mostly within families and, above all, in assisted-living and retirement homes, Dr. Rezza said, adding, “Those account for many of the deaths,” which remain over 500 per day in Italy.
With the coronavirus outbreak still raging within its borders, Iran on Saturday lifted the lockdown on its capital and called on government and private-sector employees to return to work.
The rest of Iran’s provinces had lifted a two-week lockdown and travel restrictions a week earlier. Schools and sporting events remain closed, and restaurants have been restricted to takeout.
President Hassan Rouhani has called his return-to-work policy a “smart distancing” strategy that will fight two enemies: the pandemic and the collapse of an economy that was already strained by international sanctions.
“Our message is the great people of Iran and all private and government entities, labor workers and engineers, despite fighting the coronavirus on one front, are also continuing the economic development of our country,” he said on Thursday.
More than 5,000 people with the virus have died in Iran, including some of the country’s top officials, and about 80,000 have been infected, according to government figures. But local experts and health officials say that many others who showed symptoms of the virus have died or fallen ill without being tested.
Health officials say that easing the restrictions too soon risks another surge in infections.
Iran’s military held annual parades on Friday in Tehran and other cities. The parade typically shows off military hardware, but this year soldiers marched in protective gear, and ambulances and medical equipment replaced missiles and drones
Germany, seeking a path out of lockdown, begins broad random testing for antibodies.
While other nations are still struggling to test for infections, Germany is doing that and more. It is aiming to sample the entire population for antibodies in coming months, hoping to gain valuable insight into how deeply the virus has penetrated the society at large, how deadly it really is, and whether immunity might be developing.
In Munich, residents of 3,000 households chosen at random are being asked to allow monthly blood tests for Covid-19 antibodies for a year. It’s an ambitious study whose central aim is to understand how many people — even those with no symptoms — have already had the virus, a key variable to make decisions about public life in a pandemic.
The Munich research is the largest of several regional studies being rolled out in various corners of the country, which has become a leader among Western nations figuring out how to control the contagion while returning to something resembling normal life.
The government hopes to use the findings to unravel a riddle that will allow Germany to move securely into the next phase of the pandemic: Which of the far-reaching social and economic restrictions that have slowed the virus are most effective and which can be safely lifted?
The same questions are being asked around the world. Other countries like Iceland and South Korea have tested broadly for infections, or combined testing with digital tracking to undercut the spread of the virus. But even the best laid plans can go awry; Singapore attempted to reopen only to have the virus re-emerge.
The antibody testing has its limits. Scientists caution that there is no proof yet that the detection of antibodies signals effective immunity. And even antibodies were proven to offer immunity, there is no clarity on how long it might last.
More than a dozen leading pro-democracy activists and former lawmakers in Hong Kong were arrested on Saturday in connection with the protests that raged in the city last year, the biggest roundup of prominent opposition figures in recent memory.
The high-profile arrests were made as Hong Kong battles to contain the coronavirus outbreak, which has helped quiet down the huge street protests but fueled further distrust of the authorities in the semiautonomous Chinese territory. The virus has halted protests around the world, forcing people to stay home and giving the authorities new power to limit public gatherings and detain people with little fear of public blowback.
Those arrested in Hong Kong included the veteran lawyers Martin Lee and Margaret Ng, the media tycoon Jimmy Lai and the former opposition legislators Albert Ho, Lee Cheuk-yan and Leung Kwok-hung, political parties and aides said. They were among 15 activists rounded up on suspicion of organizing, publicizing or taking part in unauthorized assemblies from August to October and will face prosecution, the police said on Saturday.
Lau Siu-kai, vice president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, a powerful Beijing advisory group, said the arrests represented an early step toward a broader crackdown by Beijing on the Hong Kong opposition. They also reflect an assessment by Beijing that protests in Hong Kong over the past year pose such a threat to national security that it is worthwhile to defy American threats of retaliation if a crackdown takes place, he said.
“Now Beijing is calling the U.S.’s bluff and taking the initial steps against the Hong Kong opposition, and there will be more steps to shrink their space,” Mr. Lau said.
The harrowing details about the Résidence Herron nursing home in suburban Montreal continued to mount this week: Medical workers who had abandoned hungry and desperately ill patients. An owner with a long criminal history. Thirty-one dead in less than a month — five from confirmed cases of coronavirus.
Across Canada, nursing homes been devastated by the virus. This week, Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, attributed about half of the country’s coronavirus deaths — which had reached over 1,300 as of Saturday morning — to long-term care homes.
The scale of deaths at these facilities has raised a difficult question: Beyond the obvious insidiousness of a highly contagious virus, how has this been possible in Canada, a country with a vaunted universal health care system and a culture of humanism?
Dr. Susan Bartlett, a clinical psychologist and professor of medicine at McGill Medical School, has counseled families about caring for their older parents. In addition to her professional expertise, she has a personal interest in the Résidence Herron catastrophe: Her 94-year-old mother was a resident at the Herron in 2018. The nursing home is now under police investigation amid accusations of gross negligence.
Dr. Bartlett said that while her mother’s care had initially been satisfactory, conditions at the residence deteriorated as the owners went on an aggressive cost-cutting spree and struggled to find qualified employees.
She said it was hard to fathom that the body bags leaving the residence amid the pandemic had not raised alarms sooner. “Why didn’t anyone scream at the top of their lungs?” she said.
This week, Spain, which has reported nearly 20,000 deaths from the virus, began easing some aspects of its lockdown. Construction sites and factories are reopening. Public transportation in large cities like Madrid or Barcelona has grown a little busier. But the sight of parents pushing strollers or holding a child’s hand has yet to return.
Under Spain’s exceptionally tight lockdown on children, most have been unable to exercise outside since mid-March, or walk around their block or go with their parents to the supermarket. They are not allowed to leave their house except for medical reasons.
Many parents are becoming increasingly angry as they see their children becoming bored or depressed and struggle to help them understand their confinement, said Diego Figuera, a psychiatrist at the San Carlos hospital in Madrid who works with children. “How do you explain to them that you can take your dog out, but not your child?” he said.
Alejandra Raventós, a psychologist and the director of a nonprofit that helps disadvantaged children, said she had been “angered and shocked” at the lack of consideration given to children’s well-being when the lockdown was implemented.
The children who may be at the most risk of suffering long-term effects from the lockdown, said Mr. Figuera, are those who needed support before the pandemic hit.
Children with autism, for example, are given an exemption that allows them to go out with a parent, but some of their families say it’s too hard.
“If I take him out and tell him that no, we can’t go to the park, that no, we can’t go to school, or that he can’t see his grandparents, he’s going to have a meltdown,” said a Barcelona resident, Anais Sanchez, of her 8-year-old son.
He has had nightmares and bouts of anger since the lockdown started, she said. “He keeps asking when this is going to be over, and I don’t know,” Ms. Sanchez said. “And I can’t lie to him.”
Any effort by states to begin easing restrictions requires an expanded testing capacity to give people a sense of security, health experts say, and the United States is far behind in conducting enough tests to responsibly inform those decisions.
But Vice President Mike Pence said on Friday that the country now had the testing capacity to allow all states to move to begin the first phase of the White House’s guidelines for reopening their economies. And several top U.S. public health officials said the scale of the nation’s testing capacity — 3.7 million tests have been conducted — was underappreciated.
President Trump sought on Friday to portray testing as a state responsibility, even as many governors pleaded for more federal help.
At a White House briefing, Mr. Trump dismissed concerns that public health experts have raised about testing, claiming that “the United States has the most robust, advanced and accurate testing system anywhere in the world.” He rejected criticisms of its shortcomings as “false and misleading” and reiterated his position that “the governors are responsible for testing.”
And on Twitter, the president encouraged protests of social distancing restrictions in some states with stay-at-home orders. Governors in a handful of states have begun to outline their plans to ease restrictions, but protesters are pushing for a more rapid reset of pre-virus economic life.
Mr. Trump’s tweets were a departure from the more bipartisan tone he took on Thursday while announcing guidelines for how governors should carry out an orderly reopening of their states on their own timetables.
In the United States, President Trump’s mercurial messages have been widely contrasted with the detailed briefings by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York. But elsewhere in the world, leaders have also taken approaches that run the gamut — from dismissive to serious to somber to combative — offering insights into governing in a time of crisis.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Early on, Mr. Johnson also talked about the values of “herd immunity,” suggesting that allowing many in Britain to be exposed to the virus would help build immunity. Days later, he reversed course, putting the nation on lockdown and ordering Britons to stay at home.
Chancellor Angela Merkel
Ms. Merkel shocked some during one of her earliest news briefings on the outbreak when she outlined a stark possibility: In a worst-case situation, she said, up to 70 percent of the German population could become infected.
At a time when other leaders were hoping to lessen the blow in their messaging, she stood out. But her frankness preserved the trust of Germans, and her approval ratings have gone through the roof.
President Rodrigo Duterte
For autocrats and strongmen, the pandemic has become an excuse to consolidate power further and extend their reach. In the Philippines, it is Mr. Duterte’s latest reason to greenlight extrajudicial killings. More than 5,000 people have been killed in his war on drugs.
Initially dismissive of the coronavirus, Mr. Duterte reversed course late last month, introducing stringent measures, including a lockdown. Critics have accused him of simply pursuing his often-stated ambition of imposing martial law. He threatened those who considered breaking the lockdown, instructing the police and military to “shoot them dead.”
Lions lounge on the roads as South Africa goes into lockdown.
With much of the world staying at home to contain the coronavirus, animals in the wild are finding new terrains to roam — and sleep.
This week, a pride of lions was spotted lying across traffic-free roads at Kruger National Park in South Africa. The park was closed on March 25 just as the country prepared to go into a lockdown that forced most of its 59 million people to stay at home except when seeking to buy medicine and food or to collect social benefits.
Visitors to the part don’t usually see the lions, since they live in a different area of the park. But the park said on Twitter, “This afternoon they were lying on the tar road just outside.”
Across the world, animals have ventured into desolate streets and emptied-out cities as people practice social distancing and remain in lockdown. Great Orme Kashmiri goats have been spotted in Wales, along with coyotes in San Francisco and swarms of rats where tourists once thronged in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
While the sightings of the lions delighted many on social media, the images highlight the dangers facing Africa’s multibillion-dollar tourism industry. The sector is a major source of revenue, and national lockdowns, visa restrictions and border closures have led to mass unemployment on the continent. With reduced staffing in national parks, poaching has also increased.
In Japan, a push to use the Olympic Village to house the homeless.
More than 50,000 people have signed a petition in Japan requesting that people made homeless by emergency policies to fight the coronavirus be given shelter at the Olympic Village.
With the Summer Olympics in Tokyo delayed until 2021 after they were originally scheduled to start in July, a nonprofit group that supports people living in poverty suggested that the buildings constructed to house Olympic athletes could be used to help people in financial distress. The nonprofit, the Moyai Support Center for Independent Living, also sponsored the petition.
A spokesman for the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee declined to comment.
The Japanese government declared a state of emergency for seven prefectures with the country’s largest population centers — including Tokyo — on April 7. This week, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expanded the emergency declaration to cover the entire country.
Several prefectural governors, including Yuriko Koike of Tokyo, have requested the temporary closure of businesses to help control the spread of infection. Residents have also been asked not to go out for anything other than essential outings.
“There are many people who have lost their incomes or are unemployed due to the mass closures of elementary, junior high and high schools to prevent infections, as well as the cancellation of events and shortening of business hours at retail stores,” the petition says. Given that business could be curtailed for an indefinite period, “more people may be in financial distress or may lose their homes.”
The petition also notes that some people effectively live in internet cafes, where customers can rent spaces and are allowed to spend the night.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Japan rose to 10,000 on Saturday, the public broadcaster NHK said. More than 200 people have died from the virus in Japan, and Tokyo remains the hardest-hit area, reporting 201 new infections on Friday, a record, and 181 new cases on Saturday, NHK reported.
Singapore records another daily high.
Singapore on Saturday announced a record rise in new coronavirus infections for the third time this week, with most of the 942 new cases coming from crowded dormitories for migrant laborers.
The sharp rise underscores the risks faced by low-wage migrants who have built the modern city-state. As more than 1,600 cases were linked to their residences from Wednesday to Friday, the government promised changes in how the migrants, many from India and Bangladesh, are treated.
Singapore has been praised for its rigorous contact-tracing program, which quickly identified clusters of local transmission. But the coronavirus has spread rapidly through foreign laborers’ dormitories, where up to 20 people are crammed in each room, with shared kitchens and bathrooms.
After weeks of slow transmission, Singapore began recording a rapid rise in cases in March, as travelers from Europe and the United States brought the virus with them. But the health ministry said the number of new local cases had continued to drop, with 14 Singaporeans or permanent residents confirmed infected on Saturday.
A judge orders Mexico to extend coronavirus protections to migrants.
The Mexican government was ordered to extend its coronavirus protections to migrants in a ruling made public on Friday.
The ruling said that health care should be guaranteed to detainees and that temporary residency should be given to people found to be particularly vulnerable to Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, Reuters reported.
The order also said the government would have to identify symptomatic detainees, report the number of migrants who were detained and release members of vulnerable populations. Migrants were also to have access to information on ways to protect themselves.
Mexico, which has reported more than 6,200 cases and nearly 500 deaths from the virus, declared a health emergency on March 30 — after initial resistance. The ruling came after advocacy groups said that the government had not been adequately protecting migrants and asylum seekers. Last year, Mexico had more than twice the number of asylum requests that it had in 2018.
With businesses closed to slow the spread of the virus, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said on Friday that $2.5 billion would be distributed next month to support the economy. He did not specify how the money would be sent, but he said there would be three million loans to small businesses.
Limited testing means that it is impossible to know the true scale of coronavirus infections in Africa. But several countries on the continent are reporting rising caseloads, and the outbreaks could be catastrophic, in part because many countries lack essential medical supplies.
Case in point: Fewer than 2,000 working ventilators have to serve hundreds of millions of people in public hospitals across 41 of Africa’s 55 countries, the World Health Organization says, compared with more than 170,000 in the United States. Ten countries in Africa have none at all.
As for intensive care beds, the W.H.O. says there are just 5,000 across 43 African countries. That’s about five beds per million people, compared with about 4,000 beds per million in Europe.
Many experts also worry about chronic shortages of much more basic supplies that are needed to slow the spread of the disease and treat the sick on the continent: masks, oxygen and, even more fundamentally, soap and water.
And even if medical supplies do materialize, many countries will still lack trained medical personnel to run the machines, as well as a reliable electricity supply and piped oxygen.
As several countries race to create a working vaccine against the coronavirus and several trials are underway, a new survey in Ireland offers a glimpse of the hurdles health officials will face to vaccinate people around the world in an effort to stem the outbreak.
The survey, released on Thursday, suggested that 65 percent of respondents would definitely be willing to take a vaccine for Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, and 9 percent would definitely not.
“Only 65 percent of people saying yes is staggeringly low, given what we are going through,” said Dr. Philip Hyland, an associate professor of psychology of Maynooth University, which carried out the survey in conjunction with Trinity College Dublin.
But he said there was room for optimism. “If the 26 percent of people who are saying maybe can be shifted to the yes category, then we would have over 90 percent uptake, which should be enough,” he said.
The survey sampled more than 1,000 people 19 days after Ireland imposed sweeping restrictions on movements. The report’s authors said that although the coronavirus’s spread was still poorly understood, a 60 percent vaccination rate might be enough to build “herd immunity” in the general population, although a higher figure would be desirable.
Dr. Frederique Vallieres, the director of Trinity College’s Center for Global Health, said that the 9 percent of people who opposed taking a vaccine included both ideological “anti-vaxxers” and people with underlying health conditions that would either prevent them from taking such vaccines or make them reluctant to do so.
She said that many of the undecided were concerned about the possible risks of any new vaccine and might be reassured by scientific evidence and public information campaigns when a vaccine emerged.
Artillery salute for Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday is canceled because of the pandemic.
When Queen Elizabeth II of Britain turns 94 on Tuesday, it will be the first time in her nearly seven-decade reign that her birthday will not be marked by an artillery salute — another longstanding ritual lost to the coronavirus.
The queen, who has sequestered herself at Windsor Castle since mid-March, asked that “no special measures be put in place” for artillery guns to be fired from sites around London, according to Buckingham Palace, because she did not “feel it appropriate in the current circumstances.”
The palace had already scrapped the queen’s birthday parade, known as Trooping the Color. That elaborate military procession is traditionally held in June and draws thousands of spectators.
The moves come as Britain faces an outbreak of more than 114,000 reported coronavirus cases, over 15,000 related deaths in hospitals, and shortages of safety equipment for the medical workers treating the country’s patients.
Officials previously said that medical workers should wear waterproof surgical gowns during high-risk procedures involving the coronavirus. But Britain’s health secretary, Matt Hancock, said he could not guarantee that hospitals would have the protective gear they needed over the weekend.Workers were advised to wear plastic aprons on top of coveralls instead.
After criticism about the shortages, the housing minister, Robert Jenrick, said at a news briefing on Saturday afternoon that a consignment including 400,000 protective gowns and equipment was to arrive from Turkey on Sunday. “We’ve got to do more to get the P.P.E. that people need to the frontline,” Mr. Jenrick said.
Britain also remains far short of its goal of carrying out 100,000 tests a day by the end of April, with 21,000 daily tests being completed as of Friday. Mr. Hancock said the country would return to trying to track down the contacts of people with symptoms of the virus, an effort that the government had halted last month.
Executives at budget airlines have been sparring this week over how to get customers back into their seats — or some of them, at least.
Johan Lundgren, the chief executive of easyJet, a British airline that grounded its fleet at the end of March, said on Thursday that planes were likely to operate with middle seats empty to reduce the threat of coronavirus transmission once people started flying again.
But Ryanair, an Irish carrier that is another icon of Europe’s cut-price flight boom, strongly disagreed. Its chief executive, Michael O’Leary, called the proposal “mad.”
He said that leaving some seats empty would not give passengers the recommended two meters of separation, and that they would still be forced into close quarters during other parts of the trip.
Analysts are predicting a yearslong slowdown in plane travel. That could prove especially difficult for budget carriers, which rely on filling more of their seats than pricier airlines.
But Mr. Lundgren of easyJet said that allowing more space onboard would encourage people to fly. “That is something that we will do, because I think that is something that the customers would like to see,” he said.
The Hungarian budget airline Wizz Air and an airline trade body also said they were preparing for planes to return to service at only two-thirds capacity in order to reduce virus transmission.
Mr. O’Leary suggested that carriers instead conduct temperature checks and mandate masks for passengers and crews.
From sugarcoating to brutal honesty, leaders navigate the crisis.
World leaders have spent the past several weeks grappling with the unexpected, as country after country has seen the coronavirus emerge within its borders.
With the virus endangering people’s health and lockdowns ravaging the global economy, heads of government have taken different approaches in televised addresses and news briefings as they have explained their plans for combating the threat.
“The main questions for these leaders,” said Jill Rutter, a senior fellow at the London-based Institute for Government, “is: Can they convey a clear message and give people the reassurance they need while admitting this is an incredibly fast-moving, difficult world of real unknowns?”
They also must “show that they understand that this is a massive human tragedy,” she added.
It’s “quite a difficult balancing act,” she said.
The chief of staff to President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, Mallam Abba Kyari, has died from Covid-19, one of the highest-profile deaths from the pandemic in Africa.
Mr. Kyari, who was in his 70s, died on Friday after battling the virus for nearly a month, a spokesman for the president said Saturday on Twitter. Mr. Kyari, a lawyer, banker and journalist before he went into politics, had served Mr. Buhari since he took office in 2015, and many considered him the most powerful person in Nigeria after the president.
The chief of staff was one of several current and former government officials across Africa to have contracted the virus or died from it in recent weeks. The list includes Jean-Joseph Mukendi, a top aide to the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who died of Covid-19 in late March.
In February, Nigeria became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to record a coronavirus case, after an Italian contractor who had been in Milan tested positive. The country of 200 million people has reported just 493 cases and 17 deaths, according to data compiled by The New York Times.
Here’s what’s happening in other parts of the world:
Germany recorded a fourth straight day of a spike in new infections on Saturday. Data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed that coronavirus cases rose by 3,609, for a total of 137,439. The death toll rose by 242, to 4,110.
Guatemala’s president, Alejandro Giammattei, said on Friday that a large number of the migrants on a deportation flight from the United States to Guatemala this week were infected with the coronavirus.
Spain’s coronavirus death toll rose by 565 on Saturday, down from a rise of 585 on Friday, the health ministry said, bringing the total to 20,043 deaths in one of the world’s hardest-hit countries. Spain’s overall coronavirus cases rose to 191,726 on Saturday from 188,068 on Friday, the ministry said.
Even as the United States scrambles to stop the coronavirus, the Trump administration is charging forward with its aggressive immigration enforcement agenda, deporting thousands of people, including some who are infected with the virus.
Deportations have also risen sharply of children and teenagers traveling without their parents — a group that has historically been considered so vulnerable that they have rarely faced expeditious deportation.
While the Trump administration justified a border ban of unprecedented harshness last month by warning that migrants could bring in the coronavirus, with these moves the United States itself is exporting the virus abroad.
At least 30 Guatemalans who have been deported since March 26 tested positive for the coronavirus shortly after disembarking, according to the Guatemalan authorities. A team of researchers from the Centers for Disease Control traveled to Guatemala this week “to review and validate” the tests.
And 95 children and teenagers traveling without their parents were deported to Guatemala in March, up from 16 in January. Ninety-two such minors were deported to Guatemala during the first half of April.
Reporting was contributed by Elisabetta Povoledo, Benjamin Mueller, Motoko Rich, Hisako Ueno, Mark Landler, Dan Bilefsky, Ruth Maclean, Simon Marks, Abdi Latif Dahir, Elaine Yu, Andrew Jacobs, Nicholas Bogel-Burrough, Farnaz Fassihi, Tess Felder, Yonette Joseph, Abby Goodnough, Katie Thomas, Sheila Kaplan, Michael D. Shear, Sarah Mervosh, Steven Lee Myers, Ed O’Loughlin, Evan Easterling, Elian Peltier, Megan Specia, Katrin Bennhold, Caitlin Dickerson and Kirk Semple.