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Your Thursday Briefing

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The head of the World Health Organization expressed dismay over President Trump’s declaration that he would halt U.S. funding to the agency as the number of cases of coronavirus worldwide neared two million.

“W.H.O. is not only fighting Covid-19,” said its director general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Wednesday. “We’re 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, facing building criticism in the U.S. over a response to the pandemic seen as slow and ineffective, lashed out on Tuesday night, claiming that it was the W.H.O. that had made devastating mistakes and saying that he had ordered the funding frozen pending a review.

In the U.S., the virus has killed more than 25,000 people and infected at least 600,000.

Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, sharply denounced Mr. Trump’s announcement, promising to “swiftly challenge” the move and calling it “dangerous” and “illegal.” Congress had already appropriated the W.H.O. funds, but the Trump administration has previously diverted allocated funds to other programs without lawmakers’ approval.

The Trump perspective: U.S. officials say there is near-unanimous agreement among the president’s advisers that the W.H.O. is too heavily influenced by the Chinese government and was too slow to sound the alarm about the virus.

What is the W.H.O.: Founded after World War II as part of the United Nations, the Geneva-based organization alerts nations about threats, fighting diseases, developing policy and improving access to care. Here’s a look at what the organization does and how American funding cuts could affect it.

We also have the latest updates on the pandemic, as well as maps of its spread.

  • U.S. retail sales plunged 8.7 percent in March, by far the largest drop in the nearly three decades the government has tracked the data, and U.S. stocks tumbled. Stocks in Europe were also lower.

  • New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, said he would require residents to wear face coverings in public settings where they could not keep six feet away from others, making a federal recommendation mandatory.

  • Amazon said it might temporarily halt operations in France after a court ruled that the company had failed to adequately protect warehouse workers against the coronavirus and that it must restrict deliveries to food, hygiene and medical products until it addressed the issue.

  • Children returned to school in Denmark on Wednesday as a handful of European countries began lifting constraints on daily life for the first time since the start of the coronavirus crisis.

The Times is providing free access to much of our coronavirus coverage, and our Coronavirus Briefing newsletter — like all of our newsletters — is free. Please consider supporting our journalism with a subscription.


Results are expected within hours after South Koreans voted on Wednesday to choose the 300 members of the country’s National Assembly, one of the first national elections in a country with a severe outbreak of coronavirus.

The process used the precautionary measures against the coronavirus rolled out for early voting last week.

The election pits President Moon Jae-in’s Democratic Party against the main conservative opposition group, the United Future Party. Mr. Moon and his party got a boost in recent weeks as South Korea appeared to bring the outbreak under control with a fast and effective operation to isolate infected people.

The country has reported fewer than 50 new cases a day in the past week.

Precautions: Voters wore masks, used hand sanitizer and gloves, and everyone had to get their temperature taken before casting their ballot.

Those with signs of fever were led to separate voting booths. People already in mandatory quarantine, currently more than 13,000, were allowed to vote later in the day, after the polls closed to the general public.

Approval ratings: Popular support for nearly every head of government has risen during this pandemic. But our chief diplomatic correspondent in Europe notes that history suggests there will be harsh reckonings when the panic eases.


An online diary by the writer Fang Fang became vital reading for tens of millions of Chinese readers — a window into the fears, frustrations and hopes of Wuhan residents during their 11 weeks under lockdown.

It also drew condemnation from zealous nationalists who saw it as an effort to malign the government and undermine the heroic image of Wuhan.

Response: Ms. Fang has called herself a witness to history, highlighting the bravery of doctors and others. “If authors have any responsibilities in the face of disaster, the greatest of them is to bear witness,” she said.

A just-published study offers something completely different to think about. Researchers believe they have a bead on one of the deepest scientific mysteries of existence: why the matter and antimatter created in the Big Bang didn’t cancel each other out.

Neutrinos and their mirror images in antimatter, the researchers found, don’t behave with absolute symmetry. And that may be why matter won over nothingness, our Science desk’s cosmic affairs correspondent, Dennis Overbye, explains in an essay that also mentions the engines of the Starship Enterprise, cites a number of Nobels and calls humanity “the beauty mark of the universe.”

U.S. presidential elections: Senator Elizabeth Warren endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden, the latest in a string of prominent endorsements for the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. The show of unity is designed to quash the narrative of a fractured Democratic Party ahead of the November elections.

Wildlife extinction: Climate change could result in more sudden die-offs of many animal species than previously thought, according to a study published this month in Nature. More than a million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction.

Snapshot: Above, Indigenous children in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The photograph was taken by a Travel editor for The Times during the difficult trek to the ancient city of Ciudad Perdida in February, just before the pandemic suspended tourism.

What we’re reading: This Chicago Reader article about a doughnut shop parking lot that was once central to the city’s counterculture. “It’s a great reminder of the history buried beneath every street corner,” says Michael Roston, a Science editor.

Cook: A frittata for lunch, or dinner. The onion and potato dish can be served with a salad for a light dinner, or you can tuck slices of it between bread for a satisfying lunch.

Rukmini Callimachi, who is known for her coverage of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State for The Times, recently shifted her focus to the coronavirus outbreak. Jonathan Wolfe interviewed her for the briefings team about her reporting on the backlog of testing in New Jersey, the state with the highest caseload in the U.S. after New York.

Jonathan: Why did you zero in on New Jersey?

Rukmini: It started with a press conference that I watched last week by the governor of New Jersey, where he said that the testing was going to get worse, not better. He said that the barrier before was not enough specimen kits, but now the entire supply chain is riddled with bottlenecks.

And so I thought, let’s follow a nasal swab from beginning to end, if we can, and let’s see exactly what the human constraints are. And the constraints are everything from not enough kits, not enough personnel, not enough chemicals, not enough lab space, and not enough scientists for what has become a crisis in this country.

Is this the story of testing nationwide?

It seems to be what’s happening. Initially, there weren’t enough specimen kits. But now what happened is that as each new hot spot has popped up, there’s now a backlog throughout the entire supply chain.

What surprised you the most in your reporting?

Seeing Americans lining up the night before to get a very important test for their health done. When I showed up, there was a mile-long line of cars. The engines had been cut off. The windows were fogged up. Drivers were basically asleep in their cars. I showed up at 6:30 in the morning when the center was going to open at 8. And, you know, I’ve covered wars all over. And these are conditions that I’m used to seeing in the developing world, not in America.


That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Carole


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