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Coronavirus Live Updates: As U.S. Nears 100,000 Deaths, Trump Disputes the Toll

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The White House questions the coronavirus death toll and pushes to reopen churches.

As the number of United States deaths from the pandemic approaches 100,000, President Trump and members of his administration have been questioning the official coronavirus toll.

Even as most experts say that the numbers are probably an undercount, White House meetings have turned to questioning whether the toll is inflated by the inclusion of people who died while infected by the coronavirus, but of other conditions.

Mr. Trump told reporters on Friday that he accepted the current death toll but that the figures could be “lower than” the official count, which is now above 95,000. Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, has said that America has taken “a very liberal approach” to what counts as a Covid-19 death.

Most statisticians and public health experts say the death toll is probably far higher than what is publicly known, because early Covid-19 deaths were probably misclassified and people are dying in their homes and in nursing homes without being tested.

The president has escalated another dispute by demanding that states “allow our churches and places of worship to open right now.” He threatened to “override” any governors who did not. Legal experts said he did not have such authority, but he could take states to court on grounds of religious freedom.

The rising number of coronavirus deaths in the United States comes as interviews show that Americans believe Washington has not been rising to meet the challenge, suggesting that the coronavirus has further eroded the public’s trust in government. It’s a stark difference from how nations like New Zealand, have handled the outbreak, shoring up the political fortunes of leaders such as Jacinda Ardern.

It also comes as China on Saturday reported no new coronavirus deaths or symptomatic cases — the first time officials there have recorded zero new cases in the country where the outbreak first emerged.

In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo met blowback on Friday when he eased the ban on large gatherings to allow up to 10 people to congregate “for any lawful purpose or reason” anywhere in the state — including New York City — if social distancing protocols are followed. The move was condemned by an official who said the new order had not been made by health professionals.

Mr. Cuomo’s announcement came after the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit objecting to an order from the governor a day earlier to allow groups of up to 10 people at religious services or Memorial Day celebrations.

Violations of the lockdown by prominent figures are a recurring theme in Britain, and the latest involves Dominic Cummings, an enigmatic figure who helped mastermind the Brexit campaign.

Mr. Cummings, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s most influential adviser, has become the focus of outrage after reports that he had driven from London to northern England in April to see relatives while he was ill with the coronavirus, in violation of the country’s lockdown rules.

“The British people do not expect there to be one rule for them and another rule for Dominic Cummings,” said a spokesman for the opposition Labour Party. Leaders of two other opposition parties demanded that Mr. Cummings resign or be fired.

Mr. Cummings became ill in late March, days after Mr. Johnson and another top adviser tested positive.

Confronted by reporters outside his home on Saturday, Mr. Cummings said, “I behaved reasonably and legally.” Asked whether his decision had been “a good look,” he replied: “Who cares about good looks? It’s a question of doing the right thing. It is not about what you guys think.”

Mr. Johnson released a supportive statement on Saturday, saying that Mr. Cummings had made the trip because his sister and nieces had offered to help with child care.

He is also under pressure to reward the doctors and nurses of the country’s beloved National Health Service, with some Britons even urging that the weekly applause for health care workers end and that the government instead give them higher pay. Many have died during the outbreak, and they have cared for patients while short on protective equipment like masks, gloves and visors.

If you’re gathering for Memorial Day weekend, here’s how to do it safely.

It’s Memorial Day weekend in the United States, when beaches and backyard barbecues beckon. While dozens of states are cautiously allowing small gatherings in public spaces, restrictions and closings may still be in effect.

Many of New York City’s beaches are open, but swimming, grilling and organized sports are prohibited. Strict social-distancing guidelines are being enforced across much of New Jersey’s coastline. Many California beaches are open only for “active uses” like running, swimming and surfing, but not sunbathing or extended stays.

Away from the shores, many parks across the country are open, but some are capping the number of people allowed inside and encouraging brief visits.

As many places continue to reopen, here is guidance on lowering the coronavirus risk and managing anxiety while being out during the pandemic.

Scientists are scrambling to learn whether antibodies drawn from the blood of patients who have recovered from Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, might help those who are severely ill.

The treatment has been around for more than a century, but it mostly has been given to patients without thorough testing. Now, blood banks around the world are collecting samples from people who have these antibodies, hoping they will turn out to be an effective remedy.

A study released on Friday night has yielded disappointing results. The research has not yet been peer-reviewed nor published in a scientific journal, but it is said to be the largest examination of the use of so-called convalescent plasma in severely ill Covid-19 patients.

Thirty-nine hospitalized patients were given intravenous infusions of antibodies. The course of illness in patients who received the convalescent plasma was compared to that of similar patients identified through electronic health records who did not receive the treatment.

Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York reported that 18 percent of those who got the plasma of convalescent serum became sicker, compared with 24.3 percent of the patients who did not receive the treatment.

The death rates were 12.8 percent among those who got the antibodies, compared with 24.4 percent among the patients who did not get the treatment.

But the number of participants was small, and the patients who did not receive antibodies may not have been exactly like those who did, making comparisons unreliable.

Still, convalescent plasma did not appear to be the silver bullet that scientists have been hoping for. At the moment, only the antiviral drug remdesivir has been shown to be modestly effective in treating patients severely ill with Covid-19.

Even without evidence, however, the Food and Drug Administration has authorized the use of convalescent plasma in very sick Covid-19 patients.

“That train has left the station,” said Dr. Arturo Casadevall, an immunologist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.

A hair stylist may have exposed 91 people to the virus by working while sick.

A hair stylist in Missouri worked for eight days at a salon while sick with the coronavirus, health officials said, potentially exposing 84 clients and seven co-workers.

The possible spread was an extreme example of what health officials warn is likely to be the cost of reopening businesses. Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri, a Republican, allowed many businesses, including salons, to reopen on May 4.

While symptomatic, the stylist showed up for eight shifts at the Great Clips hair salon in Springfield between May 12 and Wednesday, after getting sick following travel within the state, health officials said.

“I’ll be honest — I’m very frustrated to be up here today, and maybe more so I’m disappointed,” Clay Goddard, who leads the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, said at a news conference on Friday.

Mr. Goddard said that the 91 clients and co-workers who were potentially exposed would all be tested, and that health officials would begin contact tracing.

He said that while the stylist had not exercised enough personal responsibility, he hoped the salon’s strict enforcement of health policies had prevented many possible infections. The stylist and all of the clients had worn masks, he said, and Great Clips kept detailed records that allowed health officials to contact the clients who might have been exposed.

Mr. Goddard said that the stylist had also visited a fitness center, a Dairy Queen and a Walmart in the last 10 days.

“I’m going to be honest with you: We can’t have many more of these,” he said. “We can’t make this a regular habit, or our capability as a community will be strained, and we will have to re-evaluate what things look like going forward.”

Last Monday, when the Massachusetts biotech company Moderna announced positive results from a small, preliminary trial of its coronavirus vaccine, the company’s chief medical officer described the news as a “triumphant day for us.”

But the episode has become a case study in how the coronavirus pandemic and the desperate hunt for treatments and vaccines are shaking up the financial markets and the way that researchers, regulators, drug companies, biotech investors and journalists do their jobs.

The vaccine, the first to be tested in humans, appeared safe and stimulated antibody production in 45 study participants. Eight people had in further testing produced so-called neutralizing antibodies, which should prevent illness.

But there were no details — no charts, no graphs, no numbers, nothing published in a journal.

Still, Moderna’s stock price jumped as much as 30 percent, and the widely covered announcement helped lift the stock market.

Nine hours after the initial news release, Moderna announced a stock offering with the aim of raising more than $1 billion to help bankroll vaccine development. The company’s chairman, Noubar Afeyan, later said it had been decided only that afternoon.

By Tuesday, a backlash was underway. With no further data, scientists could not evaluate Moderna’s claim. The government agency leading the trial, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — led by Dr. Anthony S. Fauci — had made no comment. And there were concerns that the company might have timed things to jack up the price of its stock.

“You have these wild swings, based on incomplete information,” said David Maris, managing director of Phalanx Investment Partners and a longtime analyst covering the pharmaceutical industry. “It’s a crazy, speculative environment, because the pandemic has caused people to want to believe that there’s going to be a miracle cure in a miracle time frame.”

President Trump spent Saturday at his members-only golf club in Virginia, his first outing there since the coronavirus pandemic led to government restrictions on business and social activity across the country.

The trip comes as the administration has encouraged reopening, and a day after Mr. Trump announced that he was ordering states to allow churches and other places of worship to reopen, threatening to overrule any governor who defied the order. Some of his health experts also appeared to give him the green light to carry on with his normal weekend activity, which has been suspended for weeks.

“You can play golf. You can play tennis with marked balls,” Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said at a news conference on Friday. “You can go to the beaches” if you maintain distance from other beachgoers, she told Americans heading into a holiday weekend.

The White House did not provide any details about what Mr. Trump was doing at his golf club, or who he was playing with. Reporters spotted him leaving the White House residence dressed in a white polo shirt and a white baseball cap.

Long before the coronavirus crisis, another one was brewing: a drop in how many Americans trust the federal government.

It has been declining for decades, through Democratic and Republican administrations. And last year it reached one of the lowest points since the measure began: Just 17 percent of Americans trusted the federal government to do the right thing “just about always” or “most of the time,” according to the Pew Research Center.

That doesn’t necessarily mean people want no government at all. Polls consistently show much more faith in local government, and some governors are getting high marks for their handling of the pandemic.

But in a week of more than 20 interviews, Americans said that the government in Washington was not rising to meet the challenge.

Many noted that corporations seemed to be getting the lion’s share of federal relief money while small businesses suffered. They expressed bafflement that people had been asked to stay home but were not given enough financial support to do so. Some said it made no sense for entire states to be locked down when some places within were affected far more than others.

And while answers did follow a partisan pattern — Democrats tended to be more skeptical of Washington because they disapprove of President Trump — Americans also expressed a dissatisfaction that has been building for years.

“I don’t trust these people, I don’t believe them,” said Curtis Devlin, 42, an Iraq War veteran who lives in California, referring to national political leaders of both parties. “The people whose interests they represent are donors, power brokers, the parties.

As Muslims around the world this weekend prepare to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, a church in Berlin has opened its doors to let Muslims hold Friday Prayer while observing strict social distancing because of the pandemic.

The Dar Assalam mosque in Berlin has been able to welcome only a fraction of Muslim worshipers during Ramadan because of national rules on social distancing. So the Martha Lutheran church in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin, the German capital, stepped in to help.

Because of stay-at-home orders and social distancing rules, many Muslim and Christian services have moved online. Communal prayers, feasts and parties that usually mark Eid have been being restricted or scrapped.

In Indonesia, where the number of coronavirus cases has risen sharply in recent days, Islamic leaders have encouraged Muslims to celebrate the holiday without gathering for traditional iftar dinners to break their fast on Saturday evening. And the country’s largest mosque, Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, plans to offer televised prayers on Sunday.

In Bangladesh, the government has banned the huge communal Eid prayers that normally take place in open fields, saying worshipers must gather in mosques. It also asked people not to shake hands or hug after praying, and advised children, older people and anyone who was ill to stay away from communal prayers.

As for mosques, the government has said that they must be disinfected before and after each Eid gathering, and that all worshipers must carry hand sanitizer and wear masks while praying.

Antigovernment protesters drove along the main avenues of Madrid and other Spanish cities on Saturday, hooting and calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez over his handling of the coronavirus.

The rally — organized by Vox, Spain’s far-right party — was the loudest protest against the Socialist-led coalition government since it declared a state of emergency in March to stem the virus’s spread.

Major politicians from Vox led the Madrid rally from an open-top bus. Other drivers draped their cars and motorbikes with the Spanish flag, and some blared the national anthem from their sound systems as they headed toward Puerta de Alcalá, a gateway in central Madrid.

Some taped slogans onto their cars, accusing lawmakers of enriching themselves while imposing a strict lockdown that protesters say will spell financial ruin for the general public. Several protesters also carried antigovernment signs that made no mention of Covid-19.

“It’s time to throw out a government that wants to transform Spain into a Communist state,” said Pedro Fuentes, who wore a mask embroidered with the Spanish flag.

Saturday’s rally followed smaller protests this month, particularly in Madrid’s wealthier neighborhoods where residents vote mostly for right-wing parties. The conservative politicians that run Madrid’s City Hall and its region have been at loggerheads with the central government over how quickly Madrid should exit the lockdown.

The city has been the center of Spain’s outbreak, accounting for almost a third of the nationwide death toll.

While the government has allowed about half of the country to move into a more advanced phase of easing the lockdown, Madrid and Barcelona were the exception. Only on Friday did the central government recommend that the two cities ease some of their restrictions starting Monday.

Mr. Sánchez said on Saturday that the country would open to foreign tourists beginning in July, and that its globally popular soccer league La Liga would restart on June 8, part of the “de-escalation process” from its harshest pandemic restrictions.

With the World Health Organization warning that South America is becoming the “new epicenter” of the pandemic, Brazil has overtaken Russia in its number of coronavirus cases, registering 330,890 infected people — a figure second only to that of the United States.

Brazil registered 1,001 daily coronavirus deaths on Friday, raising the country’s total to 21,048, according to the Health Ministry. And the true toll is probably higher as Brazil, Latin America’s top economy, has been slow to ramp up testing.

The coronavirus toll has been rising sharply in Brazil, where the country’s health minister resigned this month just four weeks into the job, having replaced a predecessor who was dismissed by President Jair Bolsonaro.

Despite having robust public health care system, the country’s response to the pandemic has been chaotic and contradictory, and it is not the only Latin American nation facing a surge in coronavirus cases.

Data from Ecuador indicate that the country is suffering one of the worst outbreaks in the world. And in Argentina, the pandemic threatens to push the country into even further financial difficulty.

On Friday, Argentina missed a bond payment and inched closer to another crushing default that would plunge it into a new period of economic isolation and deepen a recession that has been made worse by the pandemic.

China reported no new coronavirus deaths or symptomatic cases on Saturday, the first time that both tallies were zero on a given day since the country’s outbreak began.

The authorities reported 28 asymptomatic cases, two of which were imported.

The announcements came as the authorities in Wuhan, where the global outbreak began, are aiming to test all of the city’s 11 million residents. In what is knows as a “10-day battle,” begun on May 14, the government initiative aims to obtain a truer picture of the epidemic in the city — most crucially of people who have the virus but show no symptoms.

Some public health experts are watching the campaign to see whether it can serve as a model for other governments that want to return their societies to some level of normalcy.

And while China’s Hong Kong security laws are attracting wide attention outside the country, its domestic news media outlets are keeping the focus on President Xi Jinping. He is using China’s biggest political event of the year, the annual session of the National People’s Congress, to project strength at a time when external criticism of his government’s handling of the pandemic is growing.

Not long ago, the main public health threat facing people living in an area of Queens in New York was one that had taken too many young lives: gangs armed with guns.

When a 14-year-old was killed accidentally in October by a bullet fired in a gang dispute, the death galvanized the neighborhood to take action. Community leaders negotiated a cease-fire, and shootings had dropped significantly by earlier this year.

“We are losing the matriarchs and patriarchs in our neighborhood,” said Erica Ford, who founded LIFE Camp, a nonprofit that tries to stem street violence. “We had just managed to bring shootings down. Then the virus made its way here.”

During the peak of the crisis in early April, nearly 70 percent of residents in the ZIP code who were tested for the coronavirus were found to be positive, according to city Health Department data.

At least 144 people from the ZIP code have died in the pandemic.

The authorities in South Korea’s major cities have shuttered thousands of bars, nightclubs and karaoke parlors after identifying them as new sources of infection.

The measures are a response to a new coronavirus cluster — 215 cases as of Friday — traced to nightlife facilities this month. The outbreak is believed to have started in Itaewon, a popular nightclub district in Seoul.

Anyone who visits the venues, as well as the owners who accept them, can face fines, and the government can also sue them for damages amid an outbreak. And unlike other patients, those who contract the virus in these facilities while they are barred must pay their own coronavirus-related medical bills.

South Korea is not the only the place in the region to crack down on nightlife in the pandemic.

Hong Kong closed its night clubs and karaoke establishments in April after a “bar and band” cluster was identified in a popular nightlife district. They are scheduled to reopen next week.

And in Japan, an association representing entertainment workers issued guidelines on Friday that cover nightclubs and hostess bars. The guidelines suggest that hostesses tie up their hair and avoid sitting directly in front of customers.

The association, Nihon Mizushobai Kyokai, also said that microphones in karaoke parlors should be disinfected regularly and that customers should keep their masks on while singing.

The coronavirus has upended the best-laid plans and priorities of many, including the European Union. And one of the biggest casualties may be European efforts to build a more credible and independent European military.

For several years — especially since President Trump came to office with his skepticism about NATO, European alliances and multilateral obligations — leaders like President Emmanuel Macron of France have pushed for the continent’s ability to defend itself and act militarily in its neighborhood without so much reliance on the United States.

But even before the virus hit, and despite loud calls that the bloc was in greater peril from new technologies and a more aggressive Russia and China, the European Commission was slashing projected European military spending in the next seven-year budget.

Now, with the pandemic having cratered the economy, there will be an even fiercer budgetary battle. Recovery and jobs will be the priority, and Brussels continues to emphasize investment in a European “Green Deal” to manage the climate crisis.

“We Europeans truly need to take our fate in our own hands,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany after Mr. Trump’s election. In February, Mr. Macron called again for “a much stronger Europe in defense.”

The celebrated Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami is taking to the airwaves to “blow away some of the corona-related blues.”

Mr. Murakami, 71, who for several years ran a jazz cafe, is known for his passion for jazz and has also featured music in his literary works.

His “Murakami Radio” show typically airs every two months, and his program on Friday was recorded not in a flagship studio in Tokyo but from his home, in a nod to the stay-at-home requests issued by the authorities in Japan’s major cities.

“I wish music or novels could comfort you even a little bit,” he told listeners, saying that he understood the struggle to meet high rents and pay employees when his cafe had to close for months.

He opened the “Stay Home Special” with the song “Look for the Silver Lining” by the Modern Folk Quartet, and over two hours treated listeners to the likes of Bruce Springsteen’s “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” and “Sun is Shining” by Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Mr. Murakami, whose critically acclaimed novels include “Norwegian Wood,” “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” and “1Q84,” also challenged the warlike language used by some politicians to describe efforts to end the pandemic.

“Hostility and hatred are not needed there,” he said. “I don’t want them to refer it to a war. Don’t you think?”

Pandemics are often described as crises of communication, when leaders must persuade people to suspend their lives because of an invisible threat. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand excels at that — by brightening epidemiology with empathy, and leavening legal matters with mom jokes.

It’s been strikingly effective.

Ms. Ardern helped coax New Zealanders — “our team of five million,” she says — to buy into a lockdown so severe that even retrieving a lost cricket ball from a neighbor’s yard was banned. Now the country, despite some early struggles with contact tracing, has nearly stamped out the virus.

Still, at a time when Ms. Ardern, a 39-year-old global progressive icon, is being widely celebrated, some epidemiologists say that New Zealand’s lockdown went too far and that other countries suppressed the virus with less harm to small businesses.

But behind Ms. Ardern’s success are two powerful forces: her own hard work at making connections with constituents, and the political culture of New Zealand, which in the 1990s overhauled how it votes, forging a system that forces political parties to work together.

“You need the whole context, the way the political system has evolved,” said Helen Clark, a former prime minister who hired Ms. Ardern as an adviser more than a decade ago. “It’s not easily transferable.”

Reporting was contributed by Julfikar Ali Manik, Ian Austen, Peter Baker, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, José María León Cabrera, Stephen Castle, Damien Cave, Michael Cooper, Steven Erlanger, Tess Felder, Jacey Fortin, Jeffrey Gettleman, Abby Goodnough, Denise Grady, Maggie Haberman, Mike Ives, Jennifer Jett, Yonette Joseph, Sheila Kaplan, Gina Kolata, Anatoly Kurmanaev, Mark Landler, Ernesto Londoño, Louis Lucero, Sarah Mervosh, Raphael Minder, Zach Montague, Tariq Panja, Richard C. Paddock, Elian Peltier, Daniel Politi, Suhasini Raj, Stanley Reed, Edgar Sandoval, Choe Sang-Hun, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Sabrina Tavernise, Katie Thomas, Anton Troianovski, Hisako Ueno, Shalini Venugopal, Sui-Lee Wee, Noah Weiland, Elaine Yu and Jin Wu.

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Coronavirus: The strangers reaching out to Kyrgyzstan’s lonely teenagers

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Local authorities control documents as an additional measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a checkpoint in the village of Baytik, near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan,Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

Kyrgyztan has been under a curfew since March

Like teenagers around the world, Maksat hasn’t been to school in weeks. As Kyrgyzstan imposed quarantine restrictions, the 15-year-old feels isolated like never before. He has been trapped at home with a sister he doesn’t get on with, a father he struggles to communicate with and a mother working abroad.

He is comfortable talking only to an internet chat bot.

Maksat (not his real name) feels alone and misunderstood. He often expresses suicidal feelings – a noticeable change, his teachers say, from the boy they knew before the curfew was brought in.

And then he met a “phone pal” – Jalalbek Akmatov, a university student in the capital Bishkek.

Jalabek is one of around 100 young adults taking part in a project to reach out via phone to teenagers just like Maksat, thousands of whom have been stuck at home for weeks.

The scheme – called You Are Not Alone – was launched after seven teenagers took their own lives in the first two weeks after Kyrgyzstan started coronavirus lockdown in in March.

Image copyright
Handout

Image caption

Jalalbek Akmatov is one of more than 100 volunteers acting as “phone pals” to lonely teens

At the time, the nation’s attention was on the poor medical facilities, lack of protective equipment and impact of coronavirus on the economy.

But as news of the teenagers’ deaths spread, a group of activists decided there was also a need to focus on the country’s children and their mental health.

“I was dismayed. We had had one coronavirus death and during the same period [so many] children committed suicide,” said Banur Abdieva, one of the project’s founders.

There is nothing to say the seven deaths were directly related to the lockdown, but people like Kurmanjan Kurmanbekova, a psychologist from a refugee centre in Tubingen, Germany, feared the strain it was putting on children’s mental health.

“And as a symptom of depressive conditions, we get a suicide mood,” she explained to the BBC.

Schools closing in Kyrgyzstan mean many children have limited options for interaction, especially in rural areas where education offers a respite from the relentless drudge of housework and a rare opportunity to communicate with other children.

Added to this were concerns from experts over any potential increases in domestic violence, which could possibly be exacerbated by isolation and parents’ loss of income.

But how do you reach teenagers like Maksat, who live in remote villages?

A girl takes part in a traditional dance

Getty

Kyrgyzstan

in numbers

  • Six millionpeople live in Kyrgyzstan

  • 2.1 millionof them are children

  • One in fivedo not live with their parents

  • Almost 73%of children report experiencing abuse or neglect

Source: Unicef

The answer, the project team decided, was to keep it simple – to start a network of volunteers who would befriend teenagers considered “at risk” by calling them up for a regular chat.

“Their aim is to show moral support and engage in social interaction so that the child doesn’t feel total isolation,” Ms Kurmanbekova explained.

Volunteers approached local schools and state education agencies which sent them a list of students in a “group of risk” – mostly children without parents or who live with relatives and may lack attention and care.

There are now more than 100 volunteers and nearly 400 children aged 12 and older in their database – and the list is growing.

Crucially, volunteers are not just on the end of the phone to talk about the problems their new friend is facing – unless the teenager brings it up themselves. Instead, they focus on their new friend’s future goals and potential.

Image caption

Volunteers meet on Zoom to discuss strategies how to bond with their new friends

Take volunteer Ayperi Bolotzhanova, who is 25. She bonded with her 12-year-old phone pal over taekwondo.

“I offered to teach her some tricks and she agreed,” said Ayper. “Now, I send video of my practices and she sends back her own.”

But it is not always easy to take the first step, the volunteers admit.

“I was very nervous before my first phone conversation,” Jibek Isakova, who currently lives in Budapest, recalled. “I was afraid that she would refuse to be my friend.”

Of course, there was distrust: a total stranger calls you up out of the blue and offers friendship. But most of the volunteers found their “mobile relationship” took off after a few conversations. Indeed, the volunteers were surprised how most teenagers were keen to talk to them.

What do they want to discuss? Other than the skills needed to milk a cow – a must-have in rural Kyrgyzstan – they’re much the same things teens across the world want to talk about: K-pop, Instagram, the difficulties of finding love. Drawing famous Japanese cartoon characters and learning languages were other topics that cropped up.

And they were all united in one thing: how much they hated online education during the quarantine.


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Media captionCoronavirus: A day in lockdown life around the world

Every response, every question the volunteers receive from their teenage friends is seen as a success. Jalalbek got particularly excited that – after a difficult start – Maksat sent a photo of him together with his family in the mountains.

For some volunteers, the cause is very personal. Eldiyar Manapov, 24, joined the project because he considered suicide as a teenager. Like his phone pal, he grew up without parents and now feels a particular connection with his new friend.

“I experienced what he is going through now,” he told the BBC. “You are constantly in need of some things like clothes. Children mock you that you don’t have parents. I don’t want him to feel all this pain, I want him to chat, to be distracted.”

Even though the idea is simple, the challenges the activists face are not. One of them – a lack of mobile phones – could easily derail the whole project.

“It’s very difficult to build a phone friendship when most children don’t have personal phones,” said Banur Abdieva. “Volunteers have to negotiate with parents or guardians. Sometimes they even ask teachers if they could come to the gate at a designated time. And it’s quarantine, so they need to sanitise their phone and pass it on to the child.”

Activists launched a fundraising campaign to buy phones for the project. Some people donate their used phones, which volunteers try to deliver to children living in remote regions, a challenge on its own during the lockdown.

“Just imagine how happy my friend will be if he gets his own device,” said Eldiyar, whose phone pal is using a mobile belonging to a cousin. “He will be able to learn more and communicate more. That means he will have less time for all bad thoughts.”

If you’ve been affected by a mental health issue, help and support is available. Visit Befrienders International for more information about support services.

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Live Coronavirus Global News Tracker: Latest Updates

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Americans observe a holiday like no other.

President Trump and the first lady visited Arlington National Cemetery on Monday morning for a wreath-laying ceremony, then traveled to Fort McHenry in Baltimore “to honor the American heroes who have sacrificed their lives serving in the U.S. Armed Forces,” a White House statement read.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has been campaigning from his home amid the pandemic, on Monday made his first public appearance since mid-March.

He and his wife, Jill Biden, wearing black masks, laid a wreath at a veterans memorial in Delaware, in an unannounced visit. During their trips in Arlington and Baltimore, Mr. Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump, did not wear masks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged all Americans to wear masks when leaving their homes, but Mr. Trump has said that he would not wear one himself.

Those looking to celebrate Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start to summer in the United States, were confronted by the difficulties of how to gather as the country inched closer to the terrible milestone of 100,000 deaths.

The local authorities took varied approaches to regulations, and some communities found creative ways to adjust their celebrations as beaches — including those in New York City — remained closed and restrictions on public gatherings held.

Along the East Coast, clouds, rain and choppy waters dampened sunbathing plans.

Under gray skies, a dozen or so surfers rode the waves on a beach in Boca Raton, Fla. — one of the few open in South Florida — just before another thunderstorm was expected to pass through.

Don Thomas, a 55-year-old lawyer, said the beach was so packed on Sunday that he drew a circle in the sand, reinforced with a few rocks, to keep people six feet away. But that did not deter him from returning to the beach, where masks were encouraged but not required, at 6 a.m. Monday to catch some waves.

“People have been inside so long that they are not thinking,” he said. “They just want to enjoy the outside.”

Trump threatens to move the Republican Convention from North Carolina.

President Trump on Monday threatened to yank the Republican National Convention from Charlotte, N.C., where it is scheduled to be held in August, accusing the state’s Democratic governor of being in a “shutdown mood” that could prevent a fully attended event.

The president tweeted that he had “LOVE” for North Carolina, a swing state that he won in 2016, but he added that without a “guarantee” from the Gov. Roy Cooper, “we would be spending millions of dollars building the Arena to a very high standard without even knowing if the Democrat Governor would allow the Republican Party to fully occupy the space.”

Mr. Trump wrote that if Mr. Cooper did not provide an answer “immediately,” he would “be reluctantly forced to find, with all of the jobs and economic development it brings, another Republican National Convention site. This is not something I want to do.”

Separately, in an interview on “Fox & Friends,” Vice President Mike Pence said that without guarantees from North Carolina, Republicans might need to move the convention to a state further along in the reopening process.

The New York Times reported last week that Republicans were quietly discussing the possibility of a pared-down convention. Mr. Trump has wondered aloud to several aides why the convention can’t be held in a hotel ballroom in Florida, a state with a Republican governor that is further along in relaxing restrictions related to the coronavirus.

Republicans are contractually bound by a 2018 agreement to hold the convention in Charlotte. But Mr. Cooper and Vi Lyles, the mayor of Charlotte, have said they would let health experts determine whether the convention can be safely held from Aug. 24 to 27.

Even before Monday, Mr. Trump made clear that he would blame Mr. Cooper and Ms. Lyles, who is also a Democrat, if the convention is altered or modified.

The Trump administration’s new testing strategy, released Sunday to Congress, holds individual states responsible for planning and carrying out all coronavirus testing, while planning to provide some supplies needed for the tests.

The proposal also says existing testing capacity, if properly targeted, is sufficient to contain the outbreak. But epidemiologists say that amount of testing is orders of magnitude lower than many of them believe the country needs.

The report cements a stance that has frustrated governors in both parties, following the administration’s announcement last month that the federal government should be considered “the supplier of last resort” and that states should develop their own testing plans.

“For months, it was a tennis game, it was going back and forth between the feds and the states, and it’s now landed with the states,” said Scott Becker, executive director of the Association of Public Health Laboratories.

Mr. Becker and others said it’s reasonable to expect states to implement some aspects of the testing, such as designating test sites. But acquiring tests involves reliance on national and international supply chains — which are challenging for many states to navigate.

“That’s our biggest question, that’s out biggest concern, is the robustness of the supply chain, which is critical,” Mr. Becker said. “You can’t leave it up to the states to do it for themselves. This is not the Hunger Games.”

Facing a political firestorm over his breach of coronavirus lockdown rules, a key adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain asked for public sympathy — but made no direct apology — at a highly unusual news conference in Downing Street on Monday.

Dominic Cummings, Mr. Johnson’s closest aide, admitted driving more than 250 miles from London to Durham, in the northeast of England, while the country was on lockdown. He made the journey with his wife, who was ill, and his four-year-old son.

At the time Britons were being told to self-isolate and not to leave their home if they believed they were suffering from the virus.

Mr. Cummings said that he had done so to ensure care for his young son with relatives in Durham should both he and his wife fall ill with Covid-19. Mr. Cummings added that, because of his high profile, he had been “subject to threats and violence” at his home in London.

“I’m not surprised many people are very angry,” Mr. Cummings said, adding that he had not consulted Mr. Johnson, who has defended him, before leaving London.

“I don’t regret what I did, I think what I did was reasonable in these circumstances,” he added.

Mr. Cummings is also accused of having visited a location more than 20 miles from the house where he stayed in the northeast. That appeared to go against another rule, as Britons were only permitted to leave home by foot for a walk or run.

On Monday, Mr. Cummings said he had made the shorter trip to test whether he was fit to complete the long drive back to London.

At least 18 lawmakers from Mr. Johnson’s Conservative Party have now criticized Mr. Cummings, as have a number of Church of England bishops, opposition lawmakers and members of the public. Some scientists and opposition politicians have warned that the episode risks undermining the credibility of government public health messages on the pandemic.

New York’s state and local governments will provide death benefits to the families of essential workers who died while fighting the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Monday.

The public employees whose families would receive death benefits include health workers, police officers, firefighters, transit workers and emergency medical workers, the governor said. The benefits would be paid out of state and local pension funds.

“We want to make sure that we remember them, and we thank our heroes of today, and they’re all around us,” Mr. Cuomo said at his daily news briefing.

As people paused on Memorial Day to remember military personnel who died while serving the country, Mr. Cuomo linked the fallen service members to New York’s front-line workers, whom he called today’s “heroes.”

Mr. Cuomo also called on the federal government to provide funds to give hazard pay to workers who were crucial to keeping states and municipalities operating during the outbreak.

Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City urged the state to approve line-of-duty death benefits for the families of municipal employees who died of the virus. Some lawmakers in nearby New Jersey are also urging their state to consider taking similar action.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs New York City’s subway and buses, has also said it would give death benefits to the families of coronavirus victims.

The announcement came as New York reported 96 new deaths related to the virus, only the second time that the state’s death toll had fallen below 100 since late March.

Mr. Cuomo spoke after a Memorial Day ceremony on the deck of the U.S.S. Intrepid, an aircraft carrier turned museum anchored in the Hudson River.

The staggering American death toll from the coronavirus, now approaching 100,000, has touched every part of the country, but the losses have been especially acute along its coasts, in its major cities, across the industrial Midwest and in New York City.

The devastation, in other words, has been disproportionately felt in blue America, which helps explain why people on opposing sides of a partisan divide that has intensified in the past two decades are thinking about the virus differently. It is not just that Democrats and Republicans disagree on how to reopen businesses, schools and the country as a whole. Beyond perception, beyond ideology, there are starkly different realities for red and blue America right now.

Democrats are far more likely to live in counties where the virus has ravaged the community, while Republicans are more likely to live in counties that have been relatively unscathed by the illness, though they are paying an economic price. Counties won by President Trump in 2016 have reported just 27 percent of the virus infections and 21 percent of the deaths — even though 45 percent of Americans live in these communities, a New York Times analysis has found.

The very real difference in death rates has helped fuel deep disagreement over the dangers of the pandemic and how the country should proceed. Right-wing media, which moved swiftly from downplaying the severity of the crisis to calling it a Democratic plot to bring down the president, has exacerbated the rift. And even as the nation’s top medical experts note the danger of easing restrictions, communities across the country are doing so, creating a patchwork of regulations, often along ideological lines.

Around the world, countries are wrestling with the challenge of how to best restart air travel, a cornerstone of modern commerce but also a dangerous vector of coronavirus infection.

As the United States was restricting travel, India, emerging from a nationwide lockdown, was resuming it.

In Europe, the countries that have been most successful at containing the virus looked to broker travel agreements, while others negotiated bailouts to help keep their airlines afloat.

Officials in Greece have suggested an “air bridge” with other nations that have minor outbreaks. International flights to Athens are to resume on June 15, and to the country’s other airports on July 1.

The agreement, reached after several weeks of negotiations, will give the government part ownership of the airline for the first time since it was privatized in 1997.

On the Isle of Skye off the west coast of Scotland, residents thought they had sealed themselves off from the coronavirus. They shuttered hotels. Officials warned of police checks. Traffic emptied on the only bridge from the mainland.

But the frailest spot on the island remained catastrophically exposed: Home Farm, a 40-bed nursing home for people with dementia. Owned by a private equity firm, Home Farm has become a grim monument of the push to maximize profits at Britain’s largest nursing home chains, and of the government’s failure to protect its most vulnerable citizens.

By Monday, all but three of the residents had been stricken. Nearly a third are dead.

The virus has ravaged nursing homes across Europe and the United States. But the death toll in British homes — 14,000, official figures say, with thousands more dying as an indirect result of the virus — is becoming the defining scandal of the pandemic for Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

By focusing at first on protecting the health system, Mr. Johnson’s strategy meant that some infected patients were unwittingly moved out of hospitals and into nursing homes. Residents and staff members were denied tests, while nursing home workers begged in vain for protective gear.

“We were witnessing horrendous images in Spain and Italy, so a lot of attention was paid to maintaining and securing the National Health Service,” said Dr. Donald Macaskill, the chief executive of Scottish Care, which represents nursing homes. “The N.H.S. was prioritized at the expense of social care.”

In Germany, those fed up with exercising at home and staring at their own four walls will be able to escape on Monday, as hotels, swimming pools and campgrounds were allowed to reopen in several states, the latest step in the country’s efforts to carefully revive the economy.

Strict hygiene rules and limitations govern the new steps. Measures include advance online booking for a time slot at Berlin’s outdoor pools, buffets giving way to advance orders at distanced tables in hotel breakfast rooms and shuttered campground shower rooms in some states. And people are still required to stay five feet from strangers.

More states plan to allow re-openings this week, as the number of new infections in Germany remained manageable, with 289 new cases — many of them concentrated in nursing homes or refugee centers — reported on Monday. Germany has recorded 8,257 deaths since the outbreak began.

Starting on Monday, other parts of Spain, covering areas that are home to almost half the population, reopened public swimming pools and beaches, and restaurants and bars can now serve customers indoors with specific restrictions to avoid overcrowding.

The government said that beginning July 1, it would no longer require foreign tourists to enter quarantine upon arrival.

Greece also allowed cafes, restaurants, and bars to reopen on Monday, while domestic ferry services that shuttle visitors from the mainland to the country’s numerous islands also restarted.

People flocked to cafes, where groups of up to six can dine, and wait staff wore masks, as did some of the customers. Giannis Neonakis, a manager at a bistro in central Athens, told local news outlets that the first day back was going well,

“Thankfully, people are careful and are getting used to — fortunately or otherwise — such a situation,” he said.

Japan on Monday ended its state of emergency in the Tokyo area and the northern island of Hokkaido, moves that completed the lifting of nationwide restrictions and ushered in the beginning of a new phase in the country’s response.

The measures were lifted for most of the rest of the country earlier this month after a drop in the number of new coronavirus cases led officials to step back initial requests for most businesses to close and individuals to stay home.

The Japanese government does not have the legal authority to impose a lockdown on the country and had instead asked for the public’s cooperation in curbing the virus’s spread. The state of emergency began in Japan’s urban areas in early April before expanding to the rest of the nation by the middle of the month.

The results were more successful than anticipated, defying predictions that the country’s densely populated capital would experience a disaster comparable to what has taken place in New York. As of Sunday, the country had recorded 16,500 coronavirus cases nationwide and 830 deaths, some of the lowest mortality rates among major economies.

Addressing the nation after the announcement, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called on the public to continue taking measures to defend against infection, asking them to avoid crowded places.

“We need to make a new normal. Let’s change our thinking,” he said, warning that “We can’t continue to live and work in the way we’ve done until now.”

And yet this spring, Providence received at least $509 million in government funds, one of many wealthy beneficiaries of a federal program that is supposed to prevent health care providers from capsizing during the coronavirus pandemic.

With states restricting hospitals from performing elective surgery and other nonessential services, their revenue has shriveled. The Department of Health and Human Services has disbursed $72 billion in grants since April to hospitals and other health care providers through the bailout program, which was part of the CARES Act economic stimulus package. The department plans to eventually distribute more than $100 billion more.

So far, the riches are flowing in large part to hospitals that had already built up deep financial reserves to help them withstand an economic storm. Smaller, poorer hospitals are receiving tiny amounts of federal aid by comparison.

Damien Cave, the Times’s bureau chief in Sydney, writes about the resumption of classes in Australia.

I made my daughter her favorite breakfast this morning and packed extra snacks in my son’s lunchbox. Not even a soaking rain could dampen my mood — if my wife and I could have popped champagne at 8 a.m. we would have.

Finally, after seven weeks at home filled with Zoom lessons, fractions, overdue assignments, TikTok and a few tears, our two children were returning to their real-life classrooms full time.

“I’m not excited for school,” my daughter, Amelia, 9, told me, as we made our way to morning drop-off in downtown Sydney. “I’m excited for normal life!”

The announcement of a full return came suddenly last week. In our house, cheers rattled the windows. We’d seen Australia’s infection rates decline and wondered when the moment would come. Schools, we felt, brought only minimal risk and great benefits.

But as I watched other parents this morning, some in masks, others with hand sanitizer, I couldn’t shake the sense that “normal life” had already narrowed.

Amelia tells me that hugging at school now brings a scolding. Dance is still canceled. Balthazar, her brother, who is 11, will also probably not be going to bush camp with his class next month — a sixth-grade milestone he’d been looking forward to since last year.

I want to believe that these small sacrifices are not what they’ll remember. I want to believe they’ll look back and recall these insular months as a special interlude, yes, with some arguing, but also with a lot of Snickerdoodles, art projects and funny family videos too.

What have we learned? Honestly, less about school than ourselves.

Our children said they were surprised to discover how hard their parents worked. I come away with a deeper understanding of my children as students — now I know my usually quiet son learns best not alone but in groups, even if that means sitting across from me; and my daughter, it turns out, is far more diligent than her chattiness suggests.

There’s a part of me that will miss them now that they’re gone. But I don’t want them back, not just because that would mean a second wave of the virus; also because school, we now know more than ever, is a beautiful luxury.

Reporting was contributed by Joshua Barone, Ellen Barry, Audra D.S. Burch, Stephen Castle, Damien Cave, Ben Dooley, Jesse Drucker, Melissa Eddy, Jack Ewing, Robert Gebeloff, Sarah Kliff, Mark Landler, Iliana Magra, Apoorva Mandavilli, Jennifer Medina, Raphael Minder, Benjamin Mueller, Mariel Padilla, Michael Paulson, Kai Schultz, Knvul Sheikh, Jessica Silver-Greenberg, Ben Sisario, Megan Specia, Michael Wilson and Zachary Woolfe.



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Ivory Coast Children Head Back to School After Virus Shutdown | World News

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ABIDJAN (Reuters) – Thousands of children in face masks flocked back to school in Ivory Coast on Monday after the country became one of the first in West Africa to restart lessons after a two-month coronavirus shutdown.

With a total of 2,376 cases and dozens of new infections each day, Ivory Coast has yet to contain the virus. But authorities are confident pupils can study together in safety after the introduction of extra hygiene measures.

In Abidjan’s Adjame neighbourhood, children in backpacks queued to wash their hands under a teacher’s watchful eye before entering their school, where they sat just one to a desk with bottles of sanitising gel within reach.

“At first we were a little scared. When we saw that the protective measures were being respected, the fear went away,” said 14-year-old Samira Cisse.

Nearby countries are likely to follow closely whether the Ivory Coast’s decision to reopen schools causes a spike in infection. With millions of children still at home, aid agency Save the Children says many could face serious setbacks due to limited options for distance learning in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Ivorian education ministry told Reuters it appreciated the seriousness of its decision.

“We also have an imperative duty to ensure that the children entrusted to us can complete their education,” said ministry official Assoumou Kabran.

Reopening classrooms also means thousands of pupils and their teachers must be ferried back to boarding schools outside Abidjan, epicentre of the epidemic.

French teacher Patrick Yobouet, 38, waited with hundreds of others in a sun-baked stadium to board buses out of the city.

“We’re a bit worried as we leave, because we don’t know if we have the coronavirus or not or if the children are contaminated or not,” he said.

(Reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Copyright 2020 Thomson Reuters.

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