Home WORLD NEWS Global Tracker: U.K., India, Russia

Global Tracker: U.K., India, Russia

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New statistics underscore the racial gap in Britain’s death toll.

Black people in England and Wales are twice as likely to die from the coronavirus as white people, even accounting for differences in class and underlying health, according to official figures released on Thursday, laying bare an extraordinary gap in the toll of the coronavirus.

The analysis, conducted by Britain’s Office of National Statistics, found that longstanding differences in wealth, education, living arrangements and self-reported health could explain a portion of the outsize impact of the virus on racial and ethnic minorities.

But not all of it.

The number of black and South Asian people working in public-facing jobs and living with conditions that increase vulnerability to the coronavirus, like obesity, hypertension and diabetes, may account for other parts of the elevated risk, researchers said.

“The underlying health and social disparities that drive inequality in health and life expectancy have been there all along, and this virus has just laid them bare,” said Dr. Riyaz Patel, an associate professor of cardiology at University College London. “This pandemic has not been the great leveler. It’s been the great magnifier, as it were.”

More than 30,000 people in Britain have died from the coronavirus, among the worst death tolls in Europe.

Afghanistan’s health minister has Covid-19, presenting yet another challenge in the country’s battle against a virus that is spreading rapidly amid raging warfare and deep poverty.

The health minister, Dr. Ferozuddin Feroz, developed symptoms in recent days and isolated himself at home, said a spokesman, Wahidullah Mayar. He said Dr. Feroz, a wartime trauma surgeon who has led the health ministry for five years, was in good condition.

Mr. Mayar said on Thursday that 171 new cases of the virus had been reported around the country in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 3,563. But officials warn that the undetected spread is probably much greater, given that the country’s testing capacity has remained extremely low.

During a recent interview with The Times, conducted in a garden on the ministry’s grounds, bodyguards and aides tried to maintain distance around Dr. Feroz as staff members and visitors approached him.

Urgent papers still needed signing. After putting his signature on one document, Dr. Feroz looked suspiciously at the pen handed to him, and an aide quickly presented him with a small bottle of hand sanitizer.

Later, a deputy rang Dr. Feroz to say that the country’s Senate — which had ignored repeated pleas by the health ministry to call off sessions and respect the ban on large gatherings — had called for the minister to be questioned by the attorney general’s office for not showing up to brief them.

“Thank you for the love, Senate,” Mr. Feroz said on social media later in the day. “But I warn one more time that indoor gathering, even by lawmakers, is an unpardonable sin.”

Poland’s presidential election, which was to be the first of its kind held in Europe since the coronavirus outbreak, has been delayed indefinitely, just days before it was scheduled to take place.

The decision, made by the governing Law and Justice party on Wednesday night, came after weeks of political turmoil over the prospect of a hastily arranged “vote-by-mail” system. The election, which had been planned for Sunday, is now not expected to take place until June at the earliest and officials are still debating how to conduct the contest safely and fairly.

President Andrzej Duda, a candidate of the governing party, is a clear favorite to win and the government had been pressing for the vote to go ahead. But opposition candidates — who had to halt their campaigns during the lockdown — urged a rescheduling.

But the government was forced to admit defeat this week in its often clumsy effort to set up Poland’s first postal election, for more than 30 million voters, in less than a month. Officials said they still expected the rescheduled vote to rely on mail-in ballots.

“Our experts are going to start working today on a deep change of the law on postal elections,” said Jaroslaw Gowin, head of a junior coalition partner. “It will be an all mail-in vote. In the next two years, no other form of voting will be possible.”

The move is likely to deepen the political and constitutional crisis in Poland. Critics of the governing party had called for elections to be suspended under a formal, limited state of emergency. Instead, Law and Justice simply suspended the election four days before it was scheduled, without giving its legal reasoning.

“We still don’t know on what basis the elections are not taking place this Sunday,” said Marek Chmaj, a constitutional law expert at the University of Warsaw, adding that there was no guarantee that the postponed vote would be fair. “It’s chaos.”

The drop in airline travel caused by the pandemic has sharply reduced the amount of atmospheric data routinely gathered by commercial airliners, the World Meteorological Organization said Thursday.

The agency said it was “concerned about the increasing impact” on forecasts worldwide.

Data on temperature, wind and humidity, collected by sensors on the planes and transmitted in real time to forecasting organizations around the world, has been cut by nearly 90 percent in some regions, the meteorological organization said.

The organization, an arm of the United Nations that coordinates a global observing system for 193 member nations, said surface-based weather observations had also been affected in some parts of the world, including Africa and Central and South America. Many weather instruments there are not automated and must be visited regularly to obtain readings.

National weather agencies “are facing increasingly severe challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, especially in developing countries,” the agency’s director-general, Petteri Taalas, said, in a statement.

“As we approach the Atlantic hurricane season, the Covid-19 pandemic poses an additional challenge, and may exacerbate multi-hazard risks at a single country level,” he said.

The Indian authorities are investigating whether the rush to reopen a chemical plant in eastern India after a long coronavirus lockdown contributed to a deadly gas leak on Thursday morning.

At least eleven people have died and hundreds were rushed to hospitals after a cloud of toxic styrene gas escaped from a polymer factory owned by the South Korean company LG Corp. and located near the city of Visakhapatnam.

“It seems unskilled labor mishandled the maintenance work and because of that, the gas leaked,” said Srijana Gummalla, commissioner of Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation, the local government body.

Dozens of men and women were left lying unconscious in the street. Mothers ran to hospitals with limp children in their arms. Police officers moved house to house to evacuate the area around the plant.

“We could feel the strong stench of the gas. Our eyes started watering and we could smell the gas in our mouths,” said one man, D.V.S.S. Ramana, who lived near the plant and spoke by telephone as he was fleeing.

The upsetting images of the accident broadcast on Indian television stations immediately drew comparison to the 1984 gas leak in India’s Bhopal State, considered the world’s worst industrial accident. That leak, at a Union Carbide pesticide plant, left nearly 4,000 dead and another 500,000 injured.

LG Chemical said it was investigating how the leak in Visakhapatnam happened.

“The gas leak from the factory is now under control,” the company said in a statement.

LG acknowledged that some people had been killed in the villages around the factory, saying that it was investigating “the cause of deaths” and other damage.

A new study offers some reason for optimism about eventually moving past the pandemic: Nearly everyone who has had the disease eventually makes antibodies to the virus.

Antibodies are immune molecules produced by the body to fight pathogens. Typically these proteins confer protection against the invader.

Countries around the world are hoping that antibody tests — flawed though many may be — can help decide who is immune to the coronavirus and may return to work. People who are immune could replace vulnerable individuals, especially in high-transmission settings, building what researchers call “shield immunity.”

The new study, posted online but not yet reviewed by experts, eased a nagging worry that only some people — those who were severely ill, for example — might make antibodies. In fact, the level of antibodies did not differ by age or sex, the researchers found, and even people who had only mild symptoms produced a healthy amount.

The new study relied on an antibody test developed by Florian Krammer, a virologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, that has a less than 1 percent chance of false-positives. The researchers tested 624 people who signed up to be potential donors for convalescent plasma, antibodies extracted from blood.

Experts said the next step would be to confirm that the presence of antibodies translates to protection from the coronavirus.

“The question now becomes to what extent those are neutralizing antibodies and whether that leads to protection from infection — all of which we should presume are yes,” said Sean Whelan, a virologist at Washington University in St. Louis.

Making an appeal that just a few weeks ago would have seemed treasonous, Moscow’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, on Thursday called on residents not to go out to watch a fireworks display and military flyby on Saturday for the 75th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Celebrations for Victory Day, a sacrosanct annual holiday, had already been scaled back dramatically because of the pandemic, with a military parade in Red Square called off.

The mayor’s request that Muscovites watch the remaining events on television highlighted growing alarm that Russia’s coronavirus outbreak is becoming much more serious.

Moscow on Thursday reported 92,676 confirmed infections, more than half the national total, but Mr. Sobyanin said the real figure was probably around 300,000. He ordered that, starting Monday, masks and gloves must be worn on public transport and in shops selling essentials like food or medicine. All other stores are closed.

At the same time, he said the number of people admitted to hospitals with pneumonialike symptoms had stopped growing, a sign that “the situation has stabilized.” Construction sites and some factories will resume work next week, he added.

Russia’s prime minister, Mikhail V. Mishustin, and two of his ministers have tested positive, as did the head of Russia’s manned space program, Yevgeny Mikrin, who died this week. President Vladimir V. Putin has been holed up at his country residence for more than month.

Russia had relatively few known coronavirus cases until recently, but the virus is spreading at an alarming rate — about 10,000 new infections per day since Saturday. The authorities say this is largely because of increased testing.

The mayor’s request that people skip the Victory Day celebrations drew mockery from Aleksei A. Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader. Noting that millions of rubles had been spent on the events, he said on Twitter: “Is there a better example of the phrase — ‘money to the wind?’”

The Italian government has issued several measures to assist families juggling work and increased parental responsibilities during the epidemic. They include an additional 15 days of annual parental leave and a one-time voucher for 600 euros (about $650) toward babysitting. Last week, the government announced it was evaluating a plan to reopen nurseries and day care centers by the summer. Schools, however, are only expected to reopen in September.

But families say the government hasn’t done enough and that the measures that have been introduced fall short.

Many parents — and especially mothers — fear they will be forced to choose between their jobs and their family as the country slowly crawls back to life, and have called on the government to step in and act.

Across the European Union, the women’s employment average is 67 percent, compared with 54 percent in Italy. And one study on gender inequality in the country showed that women already shoulder a disproportionate amount of child care duties.

An article published last month on Lavoce.info, an Italian website, showed that 72 percent of those expected to return to work on Monday would be men, as restrictions on construction sites and factories, where jobs are traditionally held by men, were among the first to be lifted.

The situation, the authors wrote, would “end up increasing the workload of women” at home, where they are already responsible for much of the child care.

Making the situation even harder, the Italian networks that normally support families — like church, after-school programs and sports centers — have also shut down.

Britain will take only small steps to ease the coronavirus lockdown in the near future, the foreign secretary Dominic Raab said on Thursday, dampening expectations of a big move from Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the pandemic this weekend.

Mr. Johnson is scheduled to explain on Sunday how and when he plans to start easing social distancing measures. On Wednesday, he said that he hoped to lift some restrictions as soon as Monday, spurring tabloid headlines like “Happy Monday,” in The Sun, and “Hurrah! Lockdown Freedom Beckons,” in the Daily Mail.

But on Thursday Mr. Raab, said that “any changes in the short term will be modest, small and incremental,” that they would be monitored closely, and would be reversed if necessary. He added that there was “no change today in the guidance or rules.”

At a cabinet meeting on Thursday, Mr. Johnson told colleagues that “maximum caution” was needed to prevent a second spike in infections that would cost more lives and do further damage to the economy, Downing Street said.

The country’s central bank painted a grim picture in a scenario released on Thursday, showing that the economy in the April-June quarter would be close to 30 percent smaller than at the end of 2019. Consumer spending, business revenue, investment and trade have all contracted sharply as the case tally has risen.

With more than 30,000 deaths, Britain risks recording the worst coronavirus toll in Europe, and political opponents accuse Mr. Johnson of being slow to react. The government has stumbled repeatedly in obtaining enough supplies like testing kits and face masks to meet the need.

On Thursday, the government said that a large shipment from Turkey of personal protective equipment for health workers was judged unusable by inspectors because the items did not meet safety standards.

With good weather expected during a long weekend — Friday is Early May Bank Holiday — some fear that Britons might relax prematurely and invite a new wave of infections.

“Some of the reports in today’s newspapers risk sending mixed messages to people across the UK,” Mark Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales, wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “Our message this bank holiday remains the same: Stay home, protect the NHS and save lives.”

Tourist destinations across Europe are scrambling to find ways to salvage their peak summer season, as the pandemic chokes a vital part of many European nations’ economies.

Italy’s idyllic beaches may be newly fitted with Plexiglas boxes to enforce social distancing.

Sicily has plans to offer visitors three nights for the price of two.

Portugal will allow travelers to reschedule trips until the end of 2021, urging those who won’t be able to come this year not to cancel their visits, but just to come back later.

With the pandemic expected to cut tourism revenues in Europe by more than half this year, countries whose economies rely on an annual influx of visitors are mapping out plans to reinvigorate the sector as they gradually loosen restrictions.

Such plans may prove vital for the European Union’s economy, which faces the worst recession in its history, experts said this week. Over 27 million people in the bloc, or 12 percent of its work force, work in the tourism industry. In southern Europe, tourism represents between 13 and 20 percent of the countries’ economies.

But as much as Europe wants its tourists back, efforts to restart the sector may depend on what each country decides. Clubs in Ibiza may reopen, but who will dance there if the Dutch and British tourists who usually fill their floors aren’t allowed to travel?

Travelers might plan for a trip to France, but what is a visit to Paris if the Louvre and restaurants remain closed?

Some countries, like Greece, have said they could reopen tourism to those who can travel by car, before allowing flights.

While the authorities in Italy and Germany have hinted that citizens may be allowed to go abroad this summer, President Emmanuel Macron of France cautioned against too much movement too fast. Concerns are high that flows of tourists could trigger a second wave of the virus, especially as ski resorts in Austria and vacation spots in Spain and Italy may have contributed to the spread of the virus earlier this year.

The United Nations more than tripled the size of its humanitarian aid appeal on Thursday to help the most vulnerable countries threatened by the coronavirus pandemic, from $2 billion initially sought just six weeks ago to $6.7 billion now.

The enormous expansion of the appeal, announced by Mark Lowcock, the top humanitarian aid official at the United Nations, reflected what he described as an updated global plan that includes nine additional countries deemed especially vulnerable: Benin, Djibouti, Liberia, Mozambique, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, Togo and Zimbabwe.

While the peak of the pandemic in the poorest countries is not expected until somewhere between three and six months from now, the United Nations said in a statement that “there is already evidence of incomes plummeting and jobs disappearing, food supplies failing and prices soaring, and children missing vaccinations and meals.”

Mr. Lowcock, who heads the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said in the statement that “unless we take action now, we should be prepared for a significant rise in conflict, hunger and poverty. The specter of multiple famines loom.”

Even as the 193-member organization announced the new target for humanitarian fund-raising, it was still facing challenges in fulfilling the $2 billion goal set by Secretary General António Guterres on March 25. About $1 billion has been raised.

That money, the United Nations said, has gone to funding for hand-washing stations in vulnerable locations such as refugee camps, the distribution of gloves and masks, and the training of more than 1.7 million people, including health workers, on virus identification and protection measures.

Mr. Lowcock’s office projected recently that the long-term cost of protecting the most vulnerable 10 percent of people in the world from the worst impacts of the pandemic is approximately $90 billion. That amount is equivalent to about 1 percent of the current economic stimulus packages announced by the world’s most affluent countries.

For bereft soccer fans, the drought is almost over — as long as they are content to see the action on a screen.

Germany’s top league has been cleared to return, with matches starting next Saturday, but no one in the stands.

The Bundesliga is the first of soccer’s major leagues to attempt a comeback from the coronavirus-induced global sports stoppage, so there is certain to be outsized interest in the games.

The attention will come not just from fans, who have been left with only matches from countries like Belarus and Nicaragua to watch, but sporting officials, who hope the German experiment will show that sports and social distancing can coexist.

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday gave the league the go-ahead to resume play, and the games will be the first test of a detailed set of safety protocols the Bundesliga has put in place.

Players will be quarantined in a hotel, tested frequently, and the matches will take place in empty stadiums — “ghost games” as they are called in Germany. Several players have recently tested positive for the virus.

Home team players will drive themselves to the stadiums in their own cars, and visiting teams will be split into small groups to travel in designated vehicles that will be disinfected after each use. Players will dress in several different locker rooms, be kept apart from substitutes and shower separately.

Officials in other top leagues, including England’s and Spain’s, are plotting ways to return with protocols resembling Germany’s.

There is more at stake than competition and the integrity of a completed season. Bundesliga officials have painted a grim financial picture, warning that if the season does not restart, as many as one-third of the teams in the top two divisions are at risk of insolvency, estimating losses of around 750 million euros, or more than $800 million.

A restaurant in Amsterdam is giving diners a trial run of what nights out might look like in a country seeking to avoid a second pandemic peak.

Patrons of the ETEN restaurant are seated in closed glass cabins that fit two or three people, arranged outside on a sunny patio. Servers wear transparent face shields and latex gloves, and deliver food and drinks on extended wooden trays.

“We already had those green houses, so after a brainstorm we decided to offer them for people already living together,” said Sjoerd Houben, office and venue manager for Mediamatic, the art center that runs the restaurant. “This way they can have a cozy dinner with a great view.”

For now, the idea is being tested on family and friends of employees: Dutch restaurants are not scheduled to reopen until June 1 and will only be allowed to serve a maximum of 30 customers at a time.

In the Netherlands, where most people socialize outside their homes, the decision to close all restaurants and bars left many longing for somewhere to gather. In Amsterdam, people can be seen roaming the streets with takeout coffee cups, one of the few options still on offer.

But this week, the government revealed its long-awaited step-by-step approach to lifting restrictions, which will allow for shops to reopen and people to walk the streets as long as they keep one and a half meters, or 4 feet, apart.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte has called on businesses to come up with ways to incorporate this social distancing rule into their ways of doing business, predicting that the Dutch should get used to what he calls the “meter-and-a-half” society, at least for now.

Museum exhibitions in much of the world were put on pause in early or mid-March, postponed indefinitely as many countries issued strict stay-at-home orders. But as shutdowns continue, it has become clear that some shuttered shows will not reopen. Others will never open their doors. Many more are in limbo.

The behind-the-scenes work on a major museum exhibition usually takes years, involving fund-raising, difficult loan negotiations with other museums and collectors, scholarship and catalog production, events planning, complicated transport and sometimes major restoration.

Some cancellations are already stacking up. The Royal Academy in London has canceled two exhibitions slated for this summer that were traveling internationally from other museums. At the Royal Scottish Academy, the centerpiece of its programming is an annual exhibition that has been moved entirely online.

The Museum of Fine Arts Ghent in Belgium opened the largest-ever display of Jan van Eyck’s work, “Van Eyck: An Optical Revolution,” on Feb. 1. The city of Ghent dedicated an entire year to the celebration of van Eyck, plastering walls and even wastebaskets with posters about him.

The museum closed on March 13 because of the coronavirus and announced last week that the show would not reopen.

Maximiliaan Martens, an expert in early Netherlandish painting, will always have the memory of standing in a room filled with van Eyck’s portraits right after they were hung, an experience he said was “indescribable.” Never before had these portraits been in the same room, even in van Eyck’s lifetime.

When they can travel again, the portraits will scatter around the world once more. The Ghent altarpiece will eventually return to the cathedral for good. These works will almost certainly never be reassembled.

Munir Mohamad Mangal, an Afghan general who had served in the country’s security forces for four decades, most recently as national police commander, died on May 2 at his home in Kabul. He was 70.

The cause was Covid-19, the Interior Ministry said. He was Afghanistan’s highest-profile casualty of the pandemic and the second member of his family to die of the virus. His son, a physician, also died.

“He was a patriot — a strong and calm officer,” said a former colleague, Mirza Mohammad Yarmand, who had worked with General Mangal for several years.

Reporting and research was contributed by Adam Satariano, Benjamin Mueller, Apoorva Mandavilli, Mujib Mashal, Andrew Higgins, Anton Troianovski, Andrew E. Kramer, Oleg Matsnev, Stephen Castle, Tariq Panja, Jason Karaian, Richard Pérez-Peña, Karen Zraick, Jack Ewing, Fahim Abed, Joanna Berendt, Thomas Erdbrink, Elian Peltier, Ceylan Yeginsu, Megan Specia, Jeffrey Gettleman, Stanley Reed, Rick Gladstone, Jason M. Bailey, David Halbfinger, Carl Zimmer, Richard C. Paddock, Lin Qiqing, Sophie Haigney, Elisabetta Povoledo, Elaine Glusac, Tariro Mzezewa, Mariel Padilla, Knvul Sheikh, Kenneth Chang and Sara Firshein.

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