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Your Thursday Briefing


Angela Merkel’s announcement, relying on science, seemed again to make Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, a de facto leader on the Continent and something of an example for Western nations.

An economic lockdown will remain largely in place for an additional 20 days, and strict social distancing rules will remain in force. But some shops will be allowed to reopen beginning next week.

“What we’ve achieved is an interim success — no more, no less,” Ms. Merkel said. As of Wednesday, there were 136,616 confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany, the third-highest toll in Europe, after Spain and Italy.

Support for Ms. Merkel, whose performance has been mostly applauded both inside and outside the country, has risen 11 points, to 79 percent. But even in the countries hardest hit by the virus, leaders have seen an increase in approval ratings. History suggests harsh reckonings as the panic eases.

President Trump’s decision to halt U.S. funding to the World Health Organization, the culmination of a concerted campaign by conservatives and his own advisers, was met with widespread condemnation.

António Guterres, the U.N. secretary general, said the middle of a pandemic was not the time to cut funding. Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House in the U.S., promised to swiftly challenge the move and called it “dangerous” and “illegal” — Congress has already appropriated nearly $500 million. The German foreign minister also criticized the decision.

But U.S. officials said there was agreement among the president’s advisers that the W.H.O. was too influenced by the Chinese government and had been too slow in sounding the alarm about the coronavirus.

The pandemic has infected more than two million people worldwide, according to official counts. Here are the latest updates.

The W.H.O.’s role: Founded after World War II as the U.N.’s public health arm, it is empowered to warn nations of health threats and to issue recommendations. The U.S. is its biggest donor, contributing nearly 15 percent of the W.H.O.’s budget.

American retailers suffered their biggest monthly plunge on record in March — 8.7 percent — offering a bleak snapshot of the coronavirus outbreak’s effect on consumer spending.

Clothing store sales dropped by more than half, and spending on cars and their parts fell more than 25 percent. Grocery stores, pharmacies and other sellers of essential items saw a surge.

Reopening concerns: While a long shutdown could leave lasting changes in the U.S. retail landscape, a near-term return to normal is threatened by flawed tests, scarce supplies and limited access to screening, governors and health officials warned.

Mask orders: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said all New Yorkers must wear face coverings starting Friday, including on public transport, in stores and on crowded sidewalks, when social distancing would not be possible. New Jersey, another hard-hit state, has a similar order, as does Maryland.

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.

The nature of neutrinos may be why matter won over nothingness, writes Dennis Overbye, our science desk’s cosmic affairs correspondent. His essay also touches on the warp drive of “Star Trek,” 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.

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: Photojournalists are struggling through the pandemic, with masks and long lenses. Caitlin Ochs, a freelancer, has a daily disinfecting routine that can take more than an hour, above. Another photographer, Mark Kauzlarich, who was stricken last month, said: “We have to be in the field. There’s no way to completely mitigate.”

In memoriam: The Princeton professor John Horton Conway, who was described as a “magical mathematician” by a colleague, died in New Jersey at age 82 of the coronavirus. The native of Liverpool, England, made profound contributions to number theory, coding theory, probability theory, topology, algebra and more — and also invented the computer Game of Life.

Awaiting football: European soccer is now a month into its first hiatus since the end of World War II. Like its fans, the sport’s players, managers, coaches and scouts are “just sort of floating,” Sean Dyche, the Burnley manager, said.

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.

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 to 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 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. Don’t forget to wash your hands. See you next time.

— Victoria

Thank you
To Melissa Clark for the recipe, and to Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the rest of the break from the news. You can reach the team at [email protected].

• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about a day in the life of a Brooklyn hospital during the coronavirus pandemic.
• Here’s today’s Mini Crossword puzzle, and a clue: Unimprovable (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• Lindsay Crouse, an editor with Times Opinion video (and a sub-elite marathoner), speaks with two Olympic track athletes on how the coronavirus has affected professional athletes. R.S.V.P. here for the call, at 4 p.m. Eastern today (9 p.m. in London).


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