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Coronavirus Live Updates: Pandemic Alters Ramadan Traditions; Scientists Ponder More Versatile Drugs


A less social Ramadan to help contain the virus.

Sprawling banquets that convened crowds of relatives have shrunk to modest meals for immediate family. Imams who led prayers in packed mosques have been addressing the faithful over Zoom. And stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines have sapped the nighttime jubilance of cities with large Muslim populations, from Cairo to Jakarta to Dearborn, Mich.

For the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims, the holy month of Ramadan is a social and spiritual high point, a time to gather with friends and family, and to focus on fasting, prayer and scripture.

But the coronavirus pandemic is transforming this Ramadan across the world, clearing out mosques, canceling communal prayers and forcing families to replace physical gatherings with virtual meet-ups.

Ramadan, which most Muslims began observing on Friday or Saturday, is the month when Muslims believe God revealed the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad. Fasting from dawn to dusk for those who are able during this month is one of the five pillars of Islam.

But the coronavirus has added danger to many of the ways that Muslims have observed Ramadan for generations, forcing modifications.

Some mosques, where men and women normally pray shoulder to shoulder and crowds spill into the streets, have made efforts to space out the faithful to prevent contagion. Others, from Paris to Brooklyn to Mecca, toward which all Muslims pray, have shut their doors altogether.

The rigors of fasting have birthed a range of social customs. Families stay up all night or wake up before sunrise to eat. Breaking the fast and the nighttime meals that follow are opportunities to gather with relatives, entertain guests and, for the wealthy, give charity by offering drop-in meals at street banquets for the poor.

But for many, this will be a Ramadan like no other, observed more at home than at the mosque, more online than in person, and amid greater uncertainty about the future.

Early in 2018, 30 microbiologists, zoologists and public health experts from around the world gathered at the headquarters of the World Health Organization in Geneva to draw up a priority list of dangerous viruses — specifically, those for which no vaccines or drugs were already in development.

It included “Disease X”: a stand-in for all the unknown pathogens, or devastating variations on existing pathogens, that had yet to emerge. The coronavirus now sweeping the world, officially SARS-CoV-2, is a prime example.

Ultimately it wasn’t science that stopped significant action from being taken on finding ways to deal with “Disease X.” According to some infectious-disease experts, the scientific tools already exist to create a kind of viral-defense department — one that would allow the pursuit of a broad range of global projects, from developing vaccines and drugs that work against a wide range of pathogens to monitoring disease hot spots and identifying potential high-risk viruses, both known and unknown. What’s lacking is resources.

The work that stalled included efforts to design panviral drugs and vaccines that would be effective against a wide range of strains: all types of influenza, for instance, or a substantial group of coronaviruses rather than just one.

One key obstacle: Such drugs and vaccines are unlikely to be profitable, making them unappealing to pharmaceutical companies.

But as the Covid-19 pandemic unfolds, systems of global cooperation and investment have started to emerge. And the conversation about what it would take to prepare for the next pandemic has started.

Roger Federer used some of the idle time that he and most other professional tennis players now have to raise a question on Twitter: “Am I the only one thinking that now is the time for men’s and women’s tennis to be united and come together as one?”

Billie Jean King founded the Women’s Tennis Association in 1973 after failing to persuade the men to create a joint venture. But she, like Mr. Federer, believes that the coronavirus shutdown of the sport may finally allow it to unite.

“Yes! Maybe there’s still hope,” she said this week.

Combining the tours — a complex and ego-imperiling task that is far from fruition — could create more leverage for deals with sponsors, broadcasters and data companies. It could also provide a more coherent experience for fans, who now typically need multiple cable and digital subscriptions to follow the men’s and women’s games. Plus it might streamline the calendar, even if some separate men’s and women’s events remain, and eliminate differences in the rules.

There is still strong resistance to a merger from some male players. But the financial pain generated by the pandemic has intensified the tennis world’s debate about and interest in teaming up.

The male stars Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka have joined Federer in expressing support for exploring a merger. So have leading female players such as Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova and Garbiñe Muguruza.

It’s not just the men’s and women’s tour that are separate. The sport’s Grand Slam events, its financial engine, operate independently even of each other.

For many, the harassment of Asian-Americans has been a reminder that your face can still mark you as foreign.

Our correspondent says she has been thinking of the history of U.S. immigration law even more amid a spate of attacks against Asian-Americans during the pandemic.

For most of my life, the story of how my Chinese family became American seemed straightforward enough: My parents came to the United States for their education in the late 1960s and early 1970s, stayed to build their careers and then started a family in Northern Virginia.

Led to believe this country had always welcomed immigrants, I could not envision a different America in which my family had been turned away. There was no point in pondering alternatives — a great blessing had been granted, and our central task was to fit in. Or so I thought. Tap here to read the rest of the essay and sign up for the weekly Race/Related newsletter here.

Reporting was contributed by Ben Hubbard, Jennifer Kahn, Christopher Clarey and Jia Lynn Yang.


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