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Coronavirus Live Updates: Global Caseload Surpasses 1.5 Million

E.U. officials agreed on a €540 billion coronavirus loan package that critics say doesn’t do enough for Spain and Italy. Tokyo’s governor requested the closure of a range of businesses, defying the central government’s advice.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide has surged past 1.5 million, according to data collected by The New York Times and Johns Hopkins University. As of Friday morning, at least 95,000 people had died, and the virus had been detected in at least 177 countries.

Here’s what was happening in Asia on Friday:

  • Tokyo’s governor parted ways with Japan’s central government by requesting the closure of a range of businesses — including nightclubs, karaoke bars, gyms and movie theaters — during a state of emergency declared earlier this week.

  • South Korea was holding its parliamentary election as scheduled, even as the government urged the public to ​avoid large gatherings and ​maintain social distancing​.

  • Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, went into a partial lockdown amid fears that the country’s underfunded and understaffed health care system could easily be overwhelmed.

  • A Chinese border province was thrust into the front lines of the country’s fight against the pandemic, after the authorities there reported 113 new imported infections this week — all from Chinese nationals entering from neighboring Russia.

Credit…Alessandro Grassani for The New York Times

European Union finance ministers agreed Thursday night to a plan calling for more than half a trillion euros worth of new measures to buttress their economies against the onslaught of the coronavirus.

But the ministers dealt a blow to the bloc’s worst-hit members, Italy and Spain, by sidestepping their pleas to issue joint debt.

Even in the face of an unprecedented economic crisis caused by a virus that has killed more than 50,000 E.U. citizens, wealthier northern European countries were reluctant to subsidize cheap debt for the badly hit south.

And while Germany, the Netherlands and others showed greater generosity than they had in previous crises, the details of the measures announced showed they had gone to great lengths to limit and control the way the funding is used.

The programs the finance ministers agreed to recommend to their countries’ leaders for final approval included a €100 billion loan plan for unemployment benefits, €200 billion in loans for smaller businesses, and access to €240 billion in loans for euro-area countries to draw on from the eurozone bailout fund. One euro is equal to about $1.09.

But the ministers were not able to reach an agreement on issuing joint bonds, known as “corona-bonds,” despite pleas from the leaders of Italy and Spain, which are bearing the brunt of the crisis, after staunch resistance from Germany, the Netherlands and others.

In other developments:

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain was moved out of intensive care on Thursday, as the country’s coronavirus death toll approached 8,000. The next question is when, and how, to reopen the British economy.

  • France’s death toll rose past 12,000 on Thursday, but the total number of patients in intensive care fell slightly for the first time since the start of the epidemic.

  • With the long Easter weekend approaching, Chancellor Angela Merkel cautioned Germans not to give in to the temptation to roam outside and congregate.

For the first time since the coronavirus began spreading around the world more than three months ago, the United Nations Security Council held a meeting on Thursday to discuss the pandemic, amid rising alarm that it could lead to social unrest and political instability.

The meeting of the 15-member council, the most powerful body at the United Nations, was held via videoconference link and was not publicly shown on the organization’s website. But diplomats who participated said just the convening of the meeting represented progress compared with a week ago, when disputes among its five permanent members — mainly between the United States and China — prevented the council from even discussing the pandemic.

Inaction by the council to combat Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, has led to criticism that it has become increasingly irrelevant in dealing with threats to peace and security.

Secretary General António Guterres, who has called the pandemic the greatest threat in the 75-year history of the United Nations, warned the council that it could lead to “an increase in social unrest and violence that would greatly undermine our ability to find the disease,” according to his office. “This is the fight of a generation,” he said.

Diplomats said the meeting, which lasted three hours, was less tense than some had feared and that the representatives from China and the United States did not confront each other with arguments over the origins of the virus, which first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December. The worst outbreaks have since shifted to Europe and the United States.

South Korea presses ahead with parliamentary polls despite epidemic.

As South Korea pressed ahead with its first election since the coronavirus pandemic began, masked voters showed up on Friday at the country’s 3,500 balloting stations.

They were required to stand at three-foot intervals, rub their hands with liquid sanitizer and put on disposable plastic gloves that​ officials were distributing outside voting booths.

The pandemic is disrupting political calendars around the world, causing delays in primaries​ in the United States and inciting electoral chaos and voter ire in places like Wisconsin, where many absentee ballots failed to arrive and voters were afraid to put their health at risk by going to vote in person.

But South Korea has assured its 44 million eligible voters that it’s safe to leave their homes and vote, even as it has urged them to ​avoid large gatherings and ​maintain social distancing​.

Early signs showed that the vote was proceeding rather seamlessly.

To prepare for it, South Korea mobilized armies of public servants, including young men doing civic duty in lieu of mandatory military service. For weeks, they have disinfected balloting stations across the country, marking lines there at three-foot intervals so voters could avoid standing too close.

Officially, the election for South Korea’s 300-member National Assembly takes place next Wednesday. But millions of voters have been allowed cast their ballot on Friday and Saturday, in advance voting that served as a kind of dress rehearsal for disease control next week.

Taiwan accuses Chinese web users of meddling in spat over racist abuse of W.H.O. chief.

Taiwan’s government said on Friday that people who had apologized to the director general of the World Health Organization for racist abuse were Chinese web users pretending to be Taiwanese citizens.

The official, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, is the first African to lead the global health agency. He said this week that he had been the target of racist abuse coming from Taiwan in recent months, and accused Taiwanese officials of not distancing themselves from the slurs. The foreign ministry of the self-governing island called the accusation “baseless.”

Taiwan’s unusual diplomatic status had already put it in the center of an international tussle over the handling of the pandemic.

China claims the island democracy as part of its territory and has prevented it from joining the W.H.O. That has led to concern that Taiwan is being cut out at a moment when international cooperation is of paramount importance. Since the outbreak began, the W.H.O. has also been accused of being too trusting of the Chinese government, a message that resonates with critics of Beijing in Taiwan.

The Taiwanese authorities have long accused Chinese operatives of conducting social media campaigns aimed at undermining the island.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice said on Friday that the day before, a web user in China had posted an apology to Dr. Tedros on behalf of the Taiwanese people, leading to similar apologies being posted and shared by other internet users outside Taiwan.

The ministry did not say how it determined that the original message was posted by a person in China.

Britain’s pubs, where beer flowed during world wars, have all closed.

Through two world wars, Britain’s pubs stayed open. But now, for the first time in the country’s history, every single pub is closed.

“I do accept that what we’re doing is extraordinary. We’re taking away the ancient, inalienable right of freeborn people of the United Kingdom to go to the pub,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said when he announced the closures of all pubs, restaurants, bars and cafes on March 20.

Even the 20th century wars did not close down the pubs.

“During the two world wars, sometimes there was a shortage of beer and the pubs had to close for that reason,” said Paul Jennings, a historian and author of several books about pub culture and alcohol consumption in Britain. He added that some pubs, particularly those in London, may have closed during The Great Plague of 1665, but that “there is no real precedent for closing all of them like this.”

Historically, pubs were open 24 hours a day, but that started to change in the early 19th century, when they would briefly close on Sundays for church services. Everything changed during World War I, Mr. Jennings explained, as the government at the time claimed that drunkenness was undermining the war effort. (“It probably wasn’t,” Mr. Jennings said.)

Pubs were then ordered to stay closed until at least late morning, then to briefly close again in the afternoon and to close for the night around 9 p.m. The days of grabbing a 6 a.m. pint on the way to work ended with the war, too.

Those general opening hours largely stayed the same through World War II. “Churchill was keen to make sure they still had a beer supply,” Mr. Jennings said. “It was seen as good for morale.”

China reclassifies dogs as pets, not livestock, amid clampdown on animal trade.

China has reclassified dogs as pets instead of livestock for the first time, as part of a clampdown on animal trade and consumption that was spurred by the pandemic.

Dogs have evolved from “traditional livestock to companion animals” as part of the “progress of human civilization and the public’s concern and love toward animal protection,” the Agriculture Ministry said in guidelines that it posted on Wednesday for public consultation.

The emergence of the novel coronavirus has been linked to a seafood and meat market in Wuhan, China, where live animals were slaughtered and sold as food. In February, China banned the multibillion-dollar wildlife trade after researchers identified horseshoe bats as the likely source of the contagion.

Experts have said there is no evidence that companion animals like dogs and cats can spread the virus, and warned against measures that may compromise their welfare.

But last week, Shenzhen became the first Chinese city to explicitly ban the sale of cats and dogs for consumption, along with that of other wild animals. The measure takes effect next month.

Dog meat is increasingly shunned across much of China, but remains a delicacy in some regions.

Jakarta bans religious gatherings and restricts motorbike taxis to slow the virus.

With Indonesia’s death toll rising rapidly, the governor of Jakarta imposed a partial shutdown on the capital city on Friday that includes a restriction on a popular mode of travel: motorcycle taxis.

New social-distancing rules that take effect on Friday also ban religious, social and cultural gatherings for two weeks.

But the central government has decided against ordering residents not to leave Jakarta despite fears that millions of people could spread the virus nationwide as they return to their home villages.

Indonesia has reported 280 deaths, more than any Asian country except China. On Thursday, it recorded a new single-day high of 40 fatalities.

Jakarta, a densely packed city of about 11 million, has more than half of Indonesia’s 3,293 confirmed cases, based on limited testing. Health experts fear that the country’s underfunded and understaffed health care system could easily be overwhelmed.

Jakarta’s governor, Anies Baswedan, is among those who have questioned official figures, noting that about four times as many bodies are being buried in Jakarta using the Covid-19 protocol as the official death toll reported for the city. Many of the deceased were suspected of having the virus but died before their test results came back.

Mr. Anies previously ordered the closing of schools, parks and entertainment venues in Jakarta, while encouraging people to work from home.

Under the new restrictions, highly popular app-based motorcycle taxis will be prohibited from carrying passengers, although they will still be allowed to deliver food and other goods.

Public transportation, including buses, trains and the city’s new subway, will be limited to half its normal capacity and operate only half the day.

More than 6 million Americans file for unemployment.

As the coronavirus shuts businesses across the United States, fresh evidence of the economic devastation came from a government report on Thursday that showed that 6.6 million more workers had lost their jobs.

The Labor Department report pushed to more than 16 million the number of workers who have lost their jobs over the past three weeks, which is more job losses than the most recent recession produced over two years.

Yet efforts to pass $250 billion in small-business loans stalled in the Senate after Republicans and Democrats clashed over what to include.

Here’s what else is happening in the U.S.:

  • New York State reported that the number of patients hospitalized with the virus rose by only 200, the smallest one-day increase since a statewide lockdown. But the daily death toll remained grim: 799, bringing the total to 7,067.

  • Pennsylvania reported the largest single-day jump in cases, with 1,989 new cases for a total of 18,228.

  • Across the South, where the virus is spreading quickly, public health experts were concerned about the toll it might take on an already vulnerable population.

  • Gov. Gavin Newsom of California defended his decision to send hundreds of ventilators to other states, despite concerns from some local officials that the state might be left with a shortage.

Ordered to isolate? Hong Kong’s tracking wristbands make sure you do.

To slow the spread of the coronavirus, the Hong Kong authorities have gone to no lengths, putting tracking wristbands on people under isolation orders to stay inside.

With the wristbands, the territory is the first place to both track people and place a marker on their bodies. Everyone arriving from abroad is required to wear the bands while remaining isolated for two weeks.

Interviews with people required to wear the bracelets revealed that many questions about the system remain. Some wondered whether it really worked at all: Is that bracelet really all that high-tech — or just a strip of paper? And what if you simply took it off and went out?

“They are just, like, waterproof strips of paper,” said Priscilla Song, a professor at the University of Hong Kong. “I don’t know if they have any digital things embedded in them.”

Days after arriving at the airport and receiving a wristband, she was texted a PIN. Through an app on her phone, she was prompted to walk the perimeter of her apartment — the boundaries of her digital cage.

After around 30 seconds, it decided she was done.

From then on, whenever her phone was in an unregistered spot, it emitted a horrible beep. Stopping it required scanning every family member’s wristband QR code.

The Hong Kong authorities have said that the tracking system is a work in progress, and that some of the 60,000 bracelets it plans to issue are more advanced than others.

Iceland aims to test everyone for the coronavirus.

Iceland, the Nordic island country with a population of 360,000, has set out a goal of testing as many people as possible for exposure to the new coronavirus. But critics inside the country have called this rosy picture misleading.

Detractors says Iceland has not done enough to suppress new cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. Throughout the country, primary schools, day-care centers and some restaurants remain open. Tourists are still allowed to arrive and travel without quarantine. Initially, gatherings were limited to 100 people, but were scaled down to 20, after other countries began imposing greater social isolation.

Iceland is facing some logistical hurdles in reaching their goal of testing everyone. The country does not have enough medical personnel, supplies or time to test hundreds of thousands of people in a few weeks or months. Critics have warned of false optimism that will ultimately lead to more infections and death.

Kjartan Hreinn Njalsson, the assistant to Iceland’s director of health, said more people are now getting better than getting infected. Mr. Njalsson said government officials believe cases may have peaked.

The country is also well stocked with testing swabs and other necessary materials, Mr. Njalsson said.

So far, Iceland has been steadily testing people with and without symptoms and has one of the highest proportion of tests performed by any country for the coronavirus, according to government officials.

As of Wednesday, at least 30,000 samples had been tested, officials said, and the country had at last 1,600 confirmed Covid-19 cases. Six people have died.

Books on the pandemic rush to publication in Italy.

In Italy, which has been in a nationwide lockdown since March 9, the coronavirus has already become a book genre.

“How Contagion Works,” by the award-winning writer Paolo Giordano, was published there last month and is set for release in the United States next week. It has been translated into more than 20 languages and released in Britain.

On March 10, Roberto Burioni, a celebrity doctor and author, came out with “Virus. The Great Challenge,” an examination of how epidemics work, shaping and sometimes outsmarting civilizations. In an interview, he said the book was already in progress and scheduled to go on sale in the fall when he learned about the outbreak in China. He asked his publisher to release it as soon as possible, with two quickly written chapters on coronavirus.

“This book was needed now, not in October,” Burioni said.

Giulio Tremonti, Italy’s former finance minister, updated a book he wrote on globalization and its weaknesses in light of the pandemic. A major publishing house, Garzanti, this week published an anthology of 26 quarantine short stories and essays by writers including Jhumpa Lahiri, an American novelist who also writes in Italian, and the best-selling children’s author Elisabetta Gnone.

“Italy is a laboratory. Think of the singalongs from the balconies or the celebrities’ concerts on Zooms — they started here and spread to other countries,” said Andrea Minuz, a film and book critic at the newspaper Il Foglio. “We were the first to have coronavirus books and will export that, too.”

Reporting was contributed by Allison McCann, Choe Sang-Hun, Motoko Rich, Jin Wu, Elaine Yu, Raymond Zhong, Richard C. Paddock, Muktita Suhartono, Aurelien Breeden, Rick Gladstone, Michael Levenson, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Norimitsu Onishi, Constant Méheut, Heather Murphy, K.K. Rebecca Lai and Aimee Ortiz.

 

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Corona Newsline Supported by LiiFii Research Foundation.