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Germany Announces Tentative Plans to Reopen After Coronavirus Shutdown: Live Updates


The leader of the W.H.O. expressed dismay at Trump’s decision to cut funding.

Leaders from around the world criticized President Trump’s decision to halt funding to the World Health Organization as the tally of coronavirus cases neared two million, with at least 126,000 deaths.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the W.H.O., expressed his dismay over the loss of funding at a news conference on Wednesday. The United States is the global public health body’s biggest donor, contributing more than $400 million a year, about 10 percent of the organization’s budget.

“With the support of the people and government of the United States, the W.H.O. works to improve the health of many of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people,” he said.

“W.H.O. is not only fighting Covid-19,” he added. “We are also working to address polio, measles, malaria, Ebola, H.I.V., tuberculosis, malnutrition, cancer, diabetes, mental health and many other diseases and conditions.”

Mr. Trump on Tuesday accused the W.H.O. of “severely mismanaging and covering up” the spread of the coronavirus in China as he announced that he would cut funding. The decision was the culmination of mounting anger among his advisers, Republican lawmakers and conservative media about the organization’s praise of China’s response to the virus.

Inside the West Wing, officials said there is near-unanimous agreement that the W.H.O. is too heavily influenced by the Chinese government and was too slow to sound the alarm about the virus because they trusted China’s assurances that the situation was under control and did not pose a global threat.

António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, warned that, with the global health agency “on the front lines” of the crisis, it is not the time to halt funding.

Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister, criticized the decision with a pointed message to Mr. Trump. “It doesn’t help to blame,” he wrote on Twitter. “The virus knows no borders.”

A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry urged the United States to fulfill its obligation to the W.H.O. at a critical time. And the African Union chairman, Moussa Faki Mahamat, called the move “deeply regrettable.”“Our collective responsibility to ensure WHO can fully carry out its mandate, has never been more urgent,” he wrote on Twitter.

Dr. Tedros said the W.H.O. would review the impact of the withdrawal of American funding, and “work with our partners to fill any financial gaps we face, and to ensure our work continues uninterrupted.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany on Wednesday announced plans for a gradual and cautious loosening of stringent coronavirus measures, with some small shops allowed to open starting Monday, but with restrictions.

Ms. Merkel cautioned that the lockdown remained largely in place for an additional 20 days, and strict social distancing rules banning contact among more than two people who are not from the same household will remain in place. Schools will stay closed for another three weeks, the chancellor said.

“We have achieved something,” Ms. Merkel said, “something that by no means was a given at the start — namely that our doctors and carers, all those in the medical field, in the hospitals, were not overwhelmed.”

A strategy of widespread and early testing and a large number of intensive care beds have been identified as two reasons for a relatively low death toll in Germany.

The loosening of restrictions comes just after the government said the economy was headed for a steep recession and a surge in joblessness.

In her remarks Wednesday, Ms. Merkel said that, effective immediately, the German government is also “urgently” recommending the use of face masks in enclosed public spaces like shops and public transport. She stopped short of making masks mandatory like in neighboring Austria.

The number of infections in Germany stood at 136,616 on Wednesday, the third-highest toll in Europe after Spain and Italy. But the number of deaths, at 3,428, has remained remarkably low.

Ms. Merkel said on Wednesday that testing capacities would be further increased with an aim to eventually “trace every single infection chain.”

After the numbers of new cases are reassessed at the end of April, other restrictions may be lifted if the number of new infections stays low. Starting with the higher grades, schools would be allowed to reopen gradually from May 4, as would larger stores.

Restaurants and bars will have to wait longer, and large events like soccer matches remain banned until Aug. 31. Religious services will remain banned for now as well.

Ms. Merkel thanked citizens for obeying strict social distancing rules and living with restrictions, stressing that Germany’s relative success was because of their cooperation. But she cautioned against a false sense of security, calling Germany’s relative success “a fragile interim success” that could very quickly be reversed.

“We don’t have much wiggle room, but we have to continue now in a very concentrated way,” she said.

Her comments came after she met over video with the governors of Germany’s 16 states on Wednesday to discuss whether the country should extend its restrictions beyond April 19, or follow Austria and Denmark in taking steps to reopen the economy.

Alissa J. Rubin, The Times’s Baghdad Bureau Chief, is on her fourth tour of Iraq since 2003. She was there when the country stopped flights in and out in mid-March to slow the coronavirus and declared a lockdown for all but trips to markets and doctors, or for short walks. We asked her to tell us about life in Iraq since then.

It is dusk, my favorite hour except for dawn, and the muezzin is singing the evening prayer. There will be one more prayer, at about 8:30. These two prayers (for me) are the most beautiful of the day. No matter the temperature, hot or cold, I open my windows to hear them.

Now the mosques are empty, and the religious authorities have closed the shrines to keep people from gathering in large groups. It was a hard step for the clerics to take; mosques stayed open even during the United States-led invasion.

I often walk at this hour along the Tigris. The families that used to spread their blankets on the strip of park next to the river no longer picnic, and the hawkers of cheap biscuits and orange soda have all gone home. So the silence of this twilight walk makes for a sad if peaceful interlude. Soon it will be too hot for walking even at night, but for now the evenings are soft.

Baghdad, a city of about seven million, is usually a cacophony. The infrastructure is dilapidated and litter lies in heaps, but the city had been defiantly alive. Until the curfew, the streets were a jumble of armored vehicles, cheap Iranian-made taxis and the occasional horse-drawn cart.

In this city, life happened mostly outside. At dusk the streets were crowded with shoppers, kids kicking soccer balls, and men playing dominoes on flimsy card tables. Not anymore.

Even in the worst days of the 2003 war, when the Americans were bombing, it was hard for people to stay inside. But the invisible enemy of the virus — which has claimed about 1,400 Iraqi lives — has hit people’s nerves differently. They are staying home because they are afraid.

It is as if someone has dimmed all the lights.

A new pass system to control movement around Moscow got off to a rocky start on Wednesday, leaving subway stations clogged with throngs of rush-hour travelers waiting for police officers to check their papers.

The measures, which require anyone leaving their home to show a digital pass, were intended to help slow the spread of the coronavirus in one of Europe’s largest cities. Instead, they demolished weeks of effort to encourage social distancing.

Moscow declared a partial lockdown at the end of March, but it has been widely ignored. The number of new infections has been increasing steadily, and by Wednesday Moscow had recorded 14,776 cases. The city’s mayor, Sergey Sobyanin, warned over the weekend that the outbreak was likely to get much worse.

The pass system introduced on Wednesday provoked outrage as it created potentially dangerous crowds in subway stations and left traffic backed up for miles.

Mr. Sobyanin, whose city accounts for more than half of Russia’s confirmed coronavirus infections, acknowledged the mess in a post on Twitter, describing long lines in subway stations as “very critical in the current situation.” He blamed the police.

Fearing a repeat of the chaotic scenes seen in the morning across Moscow’s subway system, the authorities backed away from strict enforcement of the new pass regime during the capital’s evening rush hour. Police checkpoints vanished from some stations and those police officers who remained in others made only sporadic checks of whether travelers had their digital permits.

Government critics have been warning for weeks that the Russian authorities would use the pandemic to introduce draconian controls and test video surveillance and other technology that could turn Russia into a Chinese-style police state. The fiasco on Wednesday, however, highlighted how far Russia is from mastering the technology needed to create a ruthlessly efficient tyranny, if that ever was the plan.

It also helped explain why President Vladimir V. Putin, usually at the center of all major events in Russia, has kept his distance from the handling of the health crisis that can only hurt his ratings.

The pandemic is driving a surge in support for national leaders, even those whose handling of the crisis has been called into question.

Don’t expect that to last.

“People do rally around, but it evaporates fast,” said George Robertson, a former NATO secretary-general and British defense secretary.

The popularity of governments tends to rise in an emergency, and this one is no different. Opinion polls show that approval of several leaders whose ratings were weak before the coronavirus struck, like Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy and Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz of Austria have soared.

(An exception is President Trump, whose ratings improved somewhat in March, but have slipped in April.)

Even those who were already highly regarded, like Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands, have gotten a bump in approval ratings.

But in the long run, performance will matter, and mistakes will be aired and investigated. The economic pain and social isolation of lockdown measures, however justified, could prompt a political backlash. There will be more successes and failures over the months of recovery.

And eventually, attention will turn back to other issues that made some governments unpopular in the first place. President Emmanuel Macron of France, who had long been unpopular, had a big jump in approval after the virus struck, but it has already faded.

History offers many examples of crisis-driven support fading quickly.

Britons admired Winston Churchill for his leadership during World War II — and decisively voted him out of power as the war was ending. And after the 1991 Gulf War, George Bush had record-high approval ratings — and lost his bid for re-election the following year.

European Union countries looking to restore social and economic life as the coronavirus outbreak ebbs should embark on large-scale diagnostic testing, as well as quarantine those who are sick while slowly allowing those who are not to resume some activities, the European Commission said on Wednesday.

The Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, presented a road map to help guide its 27 member states through the resuscitation of public life, but made it plain that there would be no real “back-to-normal” without a widely available vaccine.

But the strict lockdown measures can be relaxed if certain criteria are met, the Commission said, with each country moving at a pace appropriate to its specific situation.

“Different countries in the union have been affected in a different way,” said Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president. “We can’t have a one-size-fits-all approach.”

The Commission’s key criteria include reaching a low threshold of the virus spreading for a “sustained period of time”; ensuring hospitals have spare capacity to deal with all patients; and ability to carry out large-scale testing.

The Commission also pleaded with European Union members to coordinate restoration steps, and to give notification of their intentions to reopen activities, especially those pertaining to commercial life.

Toddlers and schoolchildren in Denmark on Wednesday marked their first day back to school and day care after five weeks of coronavirus closings. The youngest had the task of taking Danish society’s first careful steps toward some semblance of normalcy, a path that’s likely to take months, as the country begins to ease stringent measures imposed as part of the lockdown.

Denmark was one of a handful of European countries that have slowly, tentatively begun lifting constraints on daily life this week for the first time since the start of the coronavirus crisis. They are providing an early litmus test of whether Western democracies can gingerly restart their economies and restore basic freedoms without reviving the spread of the disease.

On Tuesday, Italy, the epicenter of Europe’s crisis, reopened some bookshops and children’s clothing stores. Spain allowed workers to return to factories and construction sites, despite a daily death toll that remains over 500. The Finnish government was set on Wednesday to reopen the borders of the southern region of Uusimaa, which includes Helsinki, the capital. The area has been sealed off from the rest of the country since March 28.

In Denmark, the slow return began as the number of hospital admissions remained far below capacity across the country. By Tuesday, 380 coronavirus patients were being treated in Danish hospitals, down from 535 at the peak of the outbreak in the country on April 1.

“It’s better than we dared hope for,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said at a news briefing on Tuesday.

With the outbreak easing, Ms. Frederiksen’s approval rating has doubled to 79 percent since the start of the crisis. But she has faced some criticism both for the drastic initial shutdown on March 11 when she closed borders, shuttered schools, shut down most of the public sector and asked the private sector to work from home.

“We may have saved lives,” she said on Tuesday of the measures, adding that she hoped to return Denmark to the “rich and secure” society it was before the coronavirus.

“But we’re still going to need some patience,” she added.

Lockdown pollution levels reveal mountain peaks in Kenya.

In the photograph, Africa’s second-highest mountain, Mount Kenya, looms in the distance, contrasted against shiny glass and concrete buildings in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. The peak, more than 86 miles from the city center, is usually not visible through the pollution hanging over the city, but a lockdown has changed that.

The image was posted on Instagram by Osman Siddiqi, a resident of Nairobi, and he said it was indicative of how curfews and partial lockdowns had reduced pollution and made it possible to more clearly view the 17,000-foot peak.

“The photo is a testament to what we might be missing out on with nature,” Mr. Siddiqi wrote on Instagram. “It really begs us the question, ‘What Nairobi do we want to emerge from the crisis?’”

Nairobi is a traffic-clogged city with pollution levels that are exacerbated by factories, trash fires, diesel generators and indoor cooking stoves. Thousands die every year from air pollution.

This month, the Kenyan government imposed a three-week ban on movement to and from four counties most affected by the coronavirus outbreak, including Nairobi. The East African nation, which had 216 confirmed cases as of Tuesday, also closed schools, banned social and religious gatherings, and imposed a nationwide curfew from dusk to dawn.

Other countries have also seen skies clear as they enforced strict lockdowns. In India, for example, the formerly smog-veiled peaks of the Himalayas are now clearly visible in towns hundreds of miles away.

Millions of voters, all wearing masks, lined up at polling places across South Korea on Wednesday to elect the country’s 300-member National Assembly, even as the country fought to control the coronavirus.

Voters had their temperatures taken before being allowed to enter polling places. That step was part of safety precautions enforced by disease-control officials who ​are trying to ensure that the election will take place without causing mass infections. Those with high temperatures were led to vote ​in booths separate from the others.

Voters were asked to stand at three-foot intervals while they waited. They were also required to rub their hands with sanitizer and put on disposable plastic gloves handed out by officials before enter​ing​ voting ​booths.

The polling in South Korea is one of the first national elections taking place amid the coronavirus pandemic, while ​​countries like France and Britain have ​opted to postpone elections. Early voting began last Friday.

South Korea opened its 14,000 polling stations at 6 a.m. after disinfection. The voting will last until 6 p.m. More than 13,000 voters who are in a mandatory two-week quarantine ​but still want to vote will be escorted by government officials to vote after 6 p.m.

The election pit​s​ President Moon Jae-in’s Democratic Party ag​a​inst the main conservative opposition, the United Future Party, in a contest to control the legislature. Currently, neither party holds a majority ​there. More than 30 ​much smaller ​political parties also campaigned to win seats.

The approval ratings of Mr. Moon and his party have risen in recent weeks as South Korea has appeared to bring the coronavirus under ​control through a fast and effective operation to test and isolate patients. The country has reported fewer than 50 new cases a day in the past week.

Romania became the first European Union nation to ban the export of agricultural goods — specifically barley, oats, corn, rice, wheat flour, oilseed and sugar — to countries outside the bloc in order to secure domestic supply during the pandemic.

The ban, announced on April 9, comes as global concern grows about food supply chains and as farmers complain that border lockdowns may keep seasonal workers from getting to the fields.

According to Romania’s ban, agricultural products can be sold within the E.U., but only after proof is given that they are not intended for further export, Romanian officials said. The ban was enacted after more than 770,000 tons of wheat was exported in March.

Prime Minister Ludovic Orban said during a televised cabinet meeting last week that the government “can’t afford to accept that, out of greed, some owners of cereals send them for export, leaving us without wheat.”

Given that Romania has already harvested and shipped most of its crops for the season that ends in June, it is unclear what effect the ban will have.

According to the agriculture advisory firm UkrAgroConsult, the measure was needed because of increasing domestic wheat demand, with non-E.U. countries — principally Egypt and Jordan — absorbing more than 60 percent of Romania’s wheat exports. Romania is one of the European Union’s largest exporters of cereal crops.

The European Commission, however, has questioned Romania’s need to act. The ban will last until the end of the country’s state of emergency, which was extended on Tuesday for at least a month.

Romania, which has enacted strong measures to try to limit the spread of the virus, has so far escaped the worst of the pandemic. As of Tuesday afternoon, the country had 6,879 confirmed cases and 346 deaths. But because just 70,097 tests have been conducted, infections are likely to be higher.

World War II veteran raises nearly $8 million for Britain’s health service by walking in his garden.

Credit…Maytrix Group, via Reuters

Tom Moore, a 99-year-old World War II veteran, had one goal in mind when he decided to make 100 laps with the help of his walker around his 82-foot-long yard. He set out to raise 1,000 pounds, around $1,250, for Britain’s National Health Service.

By Wednesday afternoon, he had raised more than £6.3 million, or nearly $8 million.

He set his goal for his 100th birthday this month, and is inching toward his target with 10 laps a day, according to his fund-raising page. He’s doing it after being treated for cancer and a broken hip, according to the BBC.

Mr. Moore, who was posted in India and Myanmar, among other places, during World War II, was born and raised in Yorkshire, in northern England.

“You are an inspiration to others,” Nadine Dorries, a British lawmaker and health minister who represents Mr. Moore’s area, said on Twitter.

The moderators of his fund-raising page said when they reached £1 million in donations that they were “so glad to be able to unite our country at such a sad time.”

“Tom would like to thank all of you, from the bottom of his heart,” they wrote.

As of Tuesday, the number of confirmed infections in the Britain stood at 93,873, with at least 12,107 deaths. The country is thought to be days away from the peak of its crisis.

“When you think of who it is all for — all those brave and super doctors and nurses we have got — I think they deserve every penny” Mr. Moore told the BBC on Wednesday. “And I hope we get some more for them, too.”

Spain’s partial return to work this week — a gradual loosening of restrictions on movement — brought hopes of an easing of economic worries but also sparked a fierce debate over whether the measures have come too soon.

The coronavirus is still claiming hundreds of lives each day, though it has leveled off in recent days from the peak of the outbreak. But in practice, the return to work has amounted to a trickle rather than a flood of employees, many who are commuting back to their workplaces with mixed emotions.

“I don’t agree with it, but what else can you do?” said a 52-year-old electrician who asked to be identified only by his first name, José, as he waited at a nearly empty subway station in Barcelona. “If my bosses call me, and I say no, they won’t call me again.”

Some factory workers and those employed on construction sites and in e-commerce have been allowed to return to their jobs after a two-week halt implemented to stem the spread of the virus. The outbreak overloaded Spain’s health care system and has claimed more than 18,500 lives in the country. The Spanish authorities reported 523 new deaths on Wednesday, in line with dropping death tolls reported in previous days.

The broader lockdown rules are still in place, and most Spaniards are allowed to leave their homes only to buy groceries or walk their pet. The authorities are investigating whether former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy broke such rules after he was caught on camera exercising outdoors.

“It’s going to be long and painful, but we need to resume one day or another,” Andres Mongui, a construction worker at the Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona, said on Tuesday after his first day back at work.

A zoo in northern Germany has drawn up a drastic contingency plan if the financial strain caused by the government-ordered shutdown does not ease up soon: Slaughter some animals and feed them to others.

Verena Kaspari, the director of the zoo, Tierpark Neumünster, told the German news agency D.P.A. that such measures would be carried out only as a last resort.

“If — and this is really the worst, worst case of all — if I no longer have any money to buy feed, or if it should happen that my feed supplier is no longer able to deliver due to new restrictions, then I would slaughter animals to feed other animals,” Ms. Kaspari was quoted as saying.

She could not be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday, but the zoo confirmed the comments.

The zoo, an hour’s drive north of Hamburg, relies largely on paying visitors but had to close on March 15 because of a nationwide shutdown.

“We are not getting any city funds, and all the state funds we have applied for so far have not yet arrived,” Ms. Kaspari told the news service.

No details about the plan — like which animals would be slaughtered and which would be saved — were available. But the zoo said that a polar bear named Vitus would be the last one to go.

As the authorities around Europe weigh reopening their countries, one small nation sticks out for its outsize number of coronavirus deaths: Belgium, population 11.5 million.

With 4,440 deaths from the virus as of Wednesday, or 383.1 per million residents, Belgium has the second-highest death rate in the bloc, trailing only Spain.

The Belgian authorities say their method of counting victims partly explains the high rate. Unlike Italy, France and others, Belgium includes those suspected of having died from the virus, even if they had not been formally tested.

One key metric that puts Belgium’s death rate in context, experts say, is population density. A better benchmark for Belgium is its neighbor the Netherlands, which has recorded 2,945 deaths, or 171.9 per million.

Despite the dire picture, Belgian hospitals have weathered the crisis relatively well, but critics say that the government has neglected nursing homes, where nearly half the deaths were recorded.

The Belgian National Security Council is expected to say on Wednesday whether a relatively lax lockdown will be extended beyond May 3.

Reporting was contributed by Katrin Bennhold, Alissa J. Rubin, Richard Pérez-Peña, Karen Zraick, Abdi Latif Dahir, Michael D. Shear, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Christopher F. Schuetze, Kit Gilet, Jack Ewing, Melissa Eddy, Iliana Magra, Monika Pronczuk, Raphael Minder, Elian Peltier, Aurelien Breeden, Martin Selsoe Sorensen, Megan Specia, Austin Ramzy, Johanna Lemola, Aimee Ortiz, Choe Sang-Hun, Karen Weintraub, Isabel Kershner, Knvul Sheikh, James Gorman and Kenneth Chang


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