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Coronavirus Live Updates: China Mourns Its Dead as U.S. Toll Passes 7,000

A day of mourning in China, amid doubts over its virus toll.

The Chinese government held a nationwide day of mourning on Saturday, the day of the annual Tomb Sweeping Festival, a traditional time for honoring ancestors. Flags flew at half-staff, and alarms and horns sounded for three minutes starting at 10 a.m. Xi Jinping and other leaders of the ruling Communist Party attended a ceremony in Beijing.

It will probably not be enough to soothe many families in the city of Wuhan, who have chafed against the state’s efforts to assert control over the grieving process.

Officials are pushing relatives to bury their dead quickly and quietly, and they are suppressing online discussion of fatalities as doubts emerge about the true size of China’s toll from the virus.

The police in Wuhan, where the pandemic began, have been dispatched to break up groups on WeChat, a popular messaging app, set up by relatives of coronavirus victims. Government censors have scrubbed social media of images that showed relatives lining up at Wuhan funeral homes to collect ashes. Officials have assigned minders to relatives to follow them as they pick burial plots, claim their loved ones’ remains and bury them, grieving family members say.

Liu Pei’en, whose father died after contracting the coronavirus in a Wuhan hospital, said officials had insisted on accompanying him to a funeral home to pick up his father’s remains. Later, they followed him to the cemetery where they watched him bury his father, he said. Mr. Liu saw one of his minders take photos of the funeral, which was over in 20 minutes.

“My father devoted his whole life to serving the country and the party,” Mr. Liu, 44, who works in finance, said by phone. “Only to be surveilled after his death.”

President Trump said on Friday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was urging all Americans to wear a mask when they leave their homes, but he undercut the message by repeatedly calling the recommendation voluntary and saying he would not wear one himself.

“With the masks, it is going to be a voluntary thing,” the president said at the beginning of the daily coronavirus briefing at the White House. “You can do it. You don’t have to do it. I am choosing not to do it. It may be good. It is only a recommendation, voluntary.”

“Wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens — I don’t know,” he added, though he stopped receiving foreign dignitaries weeks ago. “Somehow, I just don’t see it for myself.”

Mr. Trump’s announcement, followed by his quick dismissal, was a remarkable public display of the intense debate that has played out inside the West Wing over the past several days as a divided administration argued about whether to request such a drastic change in Americans’ social behavior. Senior officials at the C.D.C. have been pushing the president for days to advise everyone — even people who appear to be healthy — to wear a mask or a scarf that covers their mouth and nose when shopping at the grocery store or while in other public places.

The president’s briefing was particularly contentious: He insulted reporters, jousted with his own administration and generally returned to pugilistic form.

At one point, he would not say, in response to a question, whether he was taking steps to ensure that the 2020 presidential election would take place as scheduled, should the coronavirus still be present in November. But he insisted the election would not be postponed.

Mr. Trump added that he did not approve of voting by mail, an idea gaining currency amid concerns that in-person voting would expose people to the coronavirus.

“I think a lot of people cheat with mail-in in voting,” he said. “It should be, you go to a booth and you proudly display yourself.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the office leading the U.S. government’s coronavirus response nationwide, is running short of employees who are trained in some of its most important front-line jobs, according to interviews with current and former officials.

At the same time, the agency has been forced to halt a major hiring initiative and has closed training facilities to avoid spreading the infection.

The number of available personnel qualified to lead field operations has fallen to 19 from 44 in less than six weeks, as many of those leaders have been assigned to run operations in states with virus-related disaster declarations. Additional staff members are also being pulled from responding to other disasters.

Training centers in Maryland and Alabama have been shuttered until mid-May, and an effort to recruit new employees is on hold, according to a senior administration official with direct knowledge of FEMA’s operations.

With wildfire season looming and hurricane season starting in less than two months, the shortfalls could complicate federal response to disasters nationwide.

The weeks of locking down Italy, which has had the world’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak, may be starting to pay off, as officials announced this week that the numbers of new infections had plateaued.

That glimmer of hope has turned the conversation to the daunting challenge of when and how to reopen without setting off another cataclysmic wave of contagion. To do so, Italian health officials and some politicians have focused on an idea that might once have been relegated to the realm of dystopian novels and science fiction films.

Having the right antibodies to the virus in one’s blood — a potential marker of immunity — may soon determine who gets to work and who does not, who is locked down and who is free.

That debate is in some ways ahead of the science. Researchers are uncertain, if hopeful, that antibodies in fact indicate immunity. But that has not stopped politicians from grasping at the idea as they come under increasing pressure to open economies and avoid inducing a widespread economic depression.

Two French medical experts have been accused of racism after they suggested that coronavirus vaccines should be tested in Africa because the continent was underdeveloped.

One of the experts, Jean-Paul Mira, the head of the intensive care unit at Cochin Hospital in Paris, said in a television interview on Wednesday that Africa made sense as a testing site because countries there “haven’t got masks” or intensive care systems.

He also compared the use of a potential Covid-19 vaccine to tests of experimental AIDS treatments that have been administered to sex workers in African countries, saying that people on the continent “are highly exposed and don’t protect themselves.”

The other guest, Camille Locht of the national research institute Inserm, agreed. He said that trials would be conducted in African countries to test a tuberculosis vaccine against the new coronavirus.

The sequence drew an intense backlash on social media, and the hashtag #AfricansAreNotLabRats was still trending on Twitter as of Saturday.

“Do not take African people as guinea pigs,” the Ivorian soccer player Didier Drogba wrote.

Mr. Mira apologized on Friday. The Inserm institute, where Mr. Locht works, said the video had been shortened and misinterpreted. The institute said that trials against the new coronavirus were being conducted in Europe, and that if a vaccine were deployed, it would be tested in Europe as well as in Africa.

Texas governor aims for crisis management that doesn’t rock the boat.

As the coronavirus spreads across the United States, state officials have been forced to weigh the preventive value of wide-reaching public health mandates against the inevitable economic costs.

The debate is especially fraught in Texas, where increased calls for collective action are at odds with an abiding ethos of “don’t tread on me.” And that’s a challenge for Gov. Greg Abbott, a political chameleon who normally manages to slough off controversy.

Mr. Abbott, a Republican who was re-elected to a second term in 2018, hasn’t defied President Trump, like other Republican governors have. But he has tossed critical decisions like stay-at-home orders to the local level, leaving county officials to scramble for guidance on how to slow the virus’s spread.

But as confirmed infections climb in the state — to at least 5,330, with 90 deaths — Democrats and Republicans alike have accused the governor of sending mixed messages.

State Representative Lyle Larson, a Republican, said that delays in the processing and reporting of test results had left Texas “literally ‘flying blind’ on modeling the spread of the disease in our state.”

“This is not a shark attack,” Mr. Larson said. “It is trillions of germs that we can control if we follow the preventive guidelines.”

The United States was crippled by the brutal flu that swept through the country in the midst of World War I, but nowhere was hit more forcefully than the powerhouse industrial cities of Pennsylvania.

In Philadelphia alone, 20,000 people died — 7,500 in the first six months, 4,500 in one week and 837 in a single day. And then, as now, holding large public events in defiance of scientific advice to stay at home had shattering consequences.

Our reporters looked back at how the 1918 flu claimed lives, overwhelmed health care workers and morticians, and prompted ordinary people to rise to the moment in the fight against an invisible foe.

By the end of last week, coronavirus cases in Philadelphia had reached 2,430, with 26 deaths. And officials there were scrambling to secure the needed equipment, including ventilators.

But memories of the 1918 epidemic had already prompted an aggressive response from Philadelphia’s public health authorities. One result: Unlike some American cities, they expect to have enough hospital beds to withstand even a worst-case scenario.

“The state has handled it very differently, and the city handled it radically differently,” said Dr. Tony S. Reed, chief medical officer at Temple University Hospital. “Frankly, for us it’s going to make all the difference in the world.”

New York, the increasingly battered epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, on Friday reported its highest number of deaths from the virus in a single day, prompting state officials to beg the rest of the country for assistance and to enact an emergency order designed to stave off medical catastrophe.

In the 24 hours through 12 a.m. on Friday, 562 people — or one almost every two-and-a-half minutes — died from the virus in New York State, bringing the total death toll to nearly 3,000, double what it was only three days before. In the same period, 1,427 newly sickened patients poured into hospitals — another one-day high — although the rate of increase in hospitalizations seemed to stabilize, suggesting that the extreme social-distancing measures put in place last month may have started working.

Despite the glimmer of hope, the new statistics were a stark reminder of the gale-force strength of the crisis threatening New York, where more than 102,000 people — nearly as many as in Italy and Spain, the hardest-hit European countries with about 120,000 cases each — have now tested positive for the virus. The situation was particularly dire in New York City, where some hospitals have reported running out of body bags and others have begun to plan for the unthinkable prospect of rationing care.

“It is hard to put fully into words what we are all grappling with as we navigate our way through this pandemic,” Vicki L. LoPachin, the chief medical officer of the Mount Sinai Health System, wrote in an email to the staff on Friday. “We are healing so many and comforting those we can’t save — one precious life at a time.”

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said Friday that the government would “move supplies creatively around the country to meet the needs of both the front-line health care providers but also every American who needs our support right now.”

The Pentagon is considering letting two Navy hospital ships dispatched to New York and California take patients who test positive for the novel coronavirus, Defense Department officials said Friday. A decision could come in the next few days.

Germany has reported more than 91,000 coronavirus infections and over 1,200 deaths. But thanks to widespread testing and other measures, its percentage of fatal cases — 1.3 percent — has been remarkably low.

By contrast, the rate is about 10 percent in Spain, France and Britain, 4 percent in China and 2.5 percent in the United States. Even South Korea, a model of flattening the curve, has a rate of 1.7 percent.

So why is Germany’s number so low? One reason, experts say, is that it has been administering around 350,000 coronavirus tests a week, far more than any other European country. That means it finds more infected people with few or no symptoms, which “lowers the death rate on paper,” said Hans-Georg Kräusslich, the head of virology at University Hospital in Heidelberg.

Another is that the average age of those infected, 49, is lower than in many other countries. Many of Germany’s early patients caught the virus in Austrian and Italian ski resorts and were relatively young and healthy.

Chancellor Angela Merkel returned to her office on Friday, ending 14 days in quarantine after a doctor who had given her a vaccine tested positive. Her approval ratings have jumped over her government’s handling of the crisis.

“Maybe our biggest strength in Germany,” said Professor Kräusslich, “is the rational decision-making at the highest level of government combined with the trust the government enjoys in the population.”

Reports from around the globe.

•SPAIN: The European country with the second-highest number of cases after Italy said on Saturday that 809 coronavirus patients had died overnight, the lowest toll in a week, bringing total deaths to 11,744. It also reported 7,026 new cases, for a total of 124,736.

•ECUADOR: The health minister said there was a “sharp rise” in coronavirus deaths on Friday in Guayaquil, the center of the country’s outbreak, with the toll rising to 1,500 from 700. The government said on Thursday that it was building a “special camp” for coronavirus patients in Guayaquil, where many bodies have been left in homes for days. Residents have complained that they have no way to dispose of relatives’ remains because of strict quarantine and curfew measures. Police officers and soldiers have been collecting as many as 150 bodies a day from homes, and have been tasked with burying the dead.

•REPUBLIC OF GEORGIA: A 79-year-old woman who tested positive for the coronavirus died in the South Caucasus region on Saturday, becoming the country’s first reported death related to the pandemic. Medical officials said she had other underlying conditions. Georgia, a nation of 3.7 million people, had 157 confirmed cases as of Saturday.

•FALKLAND ISLANDS: The British territory has recorded its first case, according to the chief medical officer, Dr. Rebecca Edwards. The patient was admitted to hospital on March 31 from the islands’ Mount Pleasant Complex, which is a Royal Air Force base. No further details were released.

Holdout states resist calls for stay-at-home orders.

Around the country, the total number of coronavirus cases spiked sharply as of Friday afternoon, exceeding 275,000 — more than a quarter of a million people worldwide who have been infected.

But even though the U.S. already has at least 7,100 of the world’s nearly 60,000 confirmed deaths, a small number of U.S. governors are resisting increasingly urgent calls to shut down their states.

The pressure on the holdouts in the Midwest and the South has mounted in recent days as fellow governors, public-health experts and even their own citizens urge them to adopt the sort of tougher measures that have been put in place across 41 states and in Washington, D.C.

Health experts warn that the coronavirus can easily exploit any gaps in a state-by-state patchwork of social distancing across the country.

By Friday, nine states had yet to issue formal statewide stay-at-home orders — the most direct and stringent measure available, instructing all residents to stay at home, except for necessities. In some of those states, cities and counties had stepped in to issue their own orders, leaving a patchwork of restrictions.

The contrast is starkest in five states — Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota — where there are no such orders in place, either in major cities or statewide. Another four had partial restrictions issued locally in certain cities or counties.

We know, based on data collected in China, Italy, South Korea, Spain and other countries, that men are more likely to die from the coronavirus than women. But the United States — which is collecting data on the ages of confirmed cases and of those who die — is not breaking down its data by sex.

These figures would be informative to vaccine production efforts, in large part because viruses affect women and men differently, health experts say. Men and women are also likely to have different reactions to vaccines and drugs.

Multiple viruses in the past — including for SARS, influenza, H.I.V. and Ebola — were found to have different effects on men and women.

A recent study from Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China, found that women infected with the coronavirus had a higher level of antibodies than men.

“That, in and of itself, should be evidence for why every country should be disaggregating their data,” said Sabra Klein, a scientist who studies sex difference in viral infections at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Yet, the latest update on cases and deaths in the United States from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contained no mention of male and female patients. When asked why, a spokesperson for the C.D.C. said the agency simply did “not have that information to share at this time” and that “additional investigation is needed.”

New York City has millions of renters, and surveys conducted last month estimated that at least 40 percent them would not make the rent for April.

Landlords across the city have started to panic. But one of them, Mario Salerno, has told tenants at all 18 of his residential buildings in Brooklyn that they needn’t pay the rent this month.

“STAY SAFE, HELP YOUR NEIGHBORS & WASH YOUR HANDS!!!” Mr. Salerno wrote on signs that he posted at the buildings.

Mr. Salerno, a larger-than-life character in his part of Williamsburg, runs the Salerno Auto Body Shop and gasoline station, which his father opened in 1959. He said in an interview that he did not care about the lost income, which is likely to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

His only interest, he said, was in alleviating stress for his renters, even those who were still employed and working from home.

“My concern is everyone’s health,” said Mr. Salerno, 59, whose gesture was first reported by the local news site Greenpointers.com.

A day after the Navy removed the captain of the stricken aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt for what it said was poor judgment under pressure, the officer’s crew gave him a rousing send-off as he departed the vessel in Guam.

Capt. Brett E. Crozier had implored his superior officers for more help as an outbreak spread aboard the ship, with almost 5,000 crew members aboard, and described what he said were the Navy’s failures to provide the proper resources to combat the crisis.

Navy officials, angry that the captain’s complaints contained in a letter were leaked to the news media earlier this week, accused him of going outside his chain of command and said he was no longer fit to lead the fast-moving effort to treat the crew and clean the ship.

But the resounding show of support for the captain — captured in several videos posted on social media on Friday — provided a gripping scene: the rank-and-file clapping and cheering their support for a boss who they saw as putting their safety ahead of his career.

More than 130 sailors have been infected so far, a number that is expected to rise by hundreds as the vessel remains docked at Guam.

A leading researcher who fought a different virus; a prodigious songwriter still in his prime; the first black president of the Marseille soccer club; a jazz patriarch.

They are among those who died this week from Covid-19, and were profiled in our series about people lost to the pandemic.

  • Gita Ramjee: In South Africa, Dr. Gita Ramjee led AIDS studies and drug trials, hoping to overcome not only H.I.V. but also cultural barriers to stopping its spread. On Tuesday, another epidemic claimed her: She died of Covid-19 at a Durban hospital. She had fallen ill shortly after returning from a visit to her sons in London, local news accounts said. She was 63.

  • Adam Schlesinger: He made suburban characters shine for the band Fountains of Wayne and brought pop-rock perfection to the film “That Thing You Do!” Adam Schlesinger, an acclaimed performer who had an award-winning second career writing songs for film, theater and television, died on Wednesday at 52.

  • Pape Diouf: Mababa “Pape” Diouf, who became the only black president of a top-tier European soccer club when he was appointed to lead France’s Olympique de Marseille, died at 68 on Tuesday. He was a gifted orator and a defender of the club’s passionate fan base.

  • Ellis Marsalis: His sons Wynton and Branford gained national fame embodying a fresh-faced revival of traditional jazz. But Ellis Marsalis had been an influential musician and teacher in New Orleans long before that. He died on Wednesday at 85.

Reporting was contributed by Michael Ives, Raphael Minder, Jason Horowitz, Elian Peltier, Constant Méheut, Christopher F. Schuetze, Katrin Bennhold, Yonette Joseph, Elaina Plott, Dan Barry, Caitlin Dickerson, Alisha Haridasani Gupta, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Eric Schmitt, Matthew Haag, Peter Eavis, Niraj Chokshi, David Gelles, Christopher Flavelle, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Alan Feuer, Helene Cooper, Katie Benner, Alan Rappeport, Michael D. Shear, Sheila Kaplan, Sarah Mervosh, Jack Healy, Amy Qin, Cao Li, Yiwei Wang, Albee Zhang and Alexandra Stevenson.



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