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Your Thursday Briefing


The collapse in oil prices brought on by the coronavirus pandemic spells disaster for countries like Nigeria and Venezuela that rely on oil production for their economic survival.

“No one imagined a crisis of this scope. This was in no scenario,” one global energy expert said.

Our reporters looked at the destabilizing effects of the oil-coronavirus shock in countries around the world.

Here are the latest updates on the pandemic as well as updated maps.

  • Oil prices, which had been sinking since lockdown orders sharply cut demand in late February, reversed some of the tremendous losses of recent days, leading U.S. and European stocks to rally.

  • Eight infants and toddlers at a care center in Tokyo tested positive for the coronavirus, raising concerns about a wider outbreak at Japanese care facilities for neglected or abused children.

  • Taiwan is competing with China on pandemic aid diplomacy, promoting itself as a model of democracy, in defiance of Beijing’s efforts to isolate the self-ruled island that it claims as its own.

  • British lawmakers carried out their normally boisterous question-and-answer session in the House of Commons by video link. Just a few dozen lawmakers sat in the chamber, to comply with social distancing rules.

  • The first death from the virus in the U.S. was earlier than previously thought. A medical examiner in Santa Clara County, California, said two residents there died of the coronavirus in early and mid-February, weeks earlier than was previously known. (See our Back Story below.)

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.

A majority of the 800,000 immigrants currently wait-listed for a green card to live or work in the U.S. are Indian nationals, and many of them fill specialized roles in the tech sector for companies like Google and Apple.

“I likely won’t receive a green card in this lifetime unless the laws change,” said an electrical engineer who applied for a green card in 2011.

The potential for family separation is another concern: “I am afraid of losing everything,” said an Indian software developer in Atlanta, whose daughters are naturalized American citizens. “This is not really about a job. It is about dreams.”

Mr. Trump has suggested that further immigration restrictions are not out of the question, though they would be unlikely to immediately impact other popular visa programs like H-1B.

Rationale: Mr. Trump, who has taken a number of measures against immigration through his presidency, says that his latest moves are meant to protect jobs for Americans put out of work by the pandemic.

Alarming messages that popped up last month on the cellphones and social media feeds of millions of Americans warned that the Trump administration was about to lock down the entire country.

U.S. intelligence agencies have determined that the warnings were amplified by Chinese operatives.

American officials said the operatives had adopted some of the techniques mastered by Russia-backed trolls, like creating fake social media accounts to push false messages to receptive Americans, who in turn unwittingly help spread them.

Related: China’s state propaganda machine has highlighted other countries’ mistakes during the pandemic while suppressing domestic problems, fueling anger toward foreigners and domestic critics alike, our columnist writes.

Lockdowns are drying up work and incomes, leaving millions to worry about getting enough to eat. The World Food Program estimates that 265 million people could be pushed to the brink of starvation by year’s end — 130 million more than expected before the pandemic.

Our reporters spoke to people worldwide who are alarmed: a migrant worker in Delhi, a construction worker displaced from his home in Syria, an aid worker in a Nairobi shantytown.

U.S.-Iran tensions: President Trump told the Navy to “shoot down” and destroy any Iranian gunboats that harass U.S. naval ships. The threat came a week after the Pentagon accused Iranian boats of “dangerous” approaches to U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf.

Indian tech: Facebook made its largest single investment by putting $5.7 billion into Jio Platforms of India, a subsidiary of Reliance Industries. Facebook intends to bring together its WhatsApp service and JioMart, Jio’s small-business initiative.

Snapshot: Above, two nuns label food products for sale at the Phoka Nunnery of St. Nino in the country of Georgia. The photojournalist Robert Presutti has visited the nunnery, which is housed in a restored 11th-century church, several times over the years. His report is the latest in our travel series “The World Through a Lens.”

What we’re reading: Outside’s deep dive on the eruption of the volcano on White Island in New Zealand. Elisabeth Goodridge, our deputy travel editor, calls it “a well-written, thoroughly reported and very, very gripping read, which shines a light on the risks of adventure tourism and the question of who’s responsible when disaster strikes.”

Cook: Meatballs work with almost any meat, including vegan substitutes. And once you master the basics, you can change the seasonings for lots of variety.

Need a little inspiration? We have many more ideas on things to cook, watch, read and do on our At Home page.

News that a person who died in Santa Clara County, California, on Feb. 6 had the coronavirus has raised questions about the timeline of the U.S. outbreak, which is by far the world’s largest. To get a scientific view of the implications, we spoke to Carl Zimmer, a science reporter, Times columnist and the author of the book “A Planet of Viruses.”

What do we know about the timing of the virus’s arrival in the U.S.?

The virus itself jumped from bats into humans in Asia, most likely China. Then there’s the outbreak in Wuhan, picking up speed in December. Then it’s in Europe, probably in early January.

Studies of samples of virus from New York showed that the vast majority belonged to lineages introduced from Europe, and probably arrived early to mid-February. You can see this from minor but telltale mutations in their genes that act like a signature. What the New York viruses are most similar to is not the viruses in Italy, but viruses in England, in France, in Belgium. It looks like a lot of viruses were moving around in Europe, and some were brought to the United States.

The evidence from California indicates it was arriving there by early or mid-January.

Could the virus have been circulating in California even earlier?

Scientists don’t believe Covid was raging in California in November. Looking at virus genes, they can see it was just getting started around then in Wuhan. They don’t see the kind of hospitalizations in California you’d see if it was taking off. We know what it’s like when Covid-19 takes off, and it was not happening in November.

What are you looking for next?

In the autopsy for the Feb. 6 case, all they needed to find to confirm that this person had Covid-19 was some fragments of the virus’s genes.

If you really want to know more, you need the whole genome — all the genetic material in the virus. Then, looking at the mutations, you can see where the virus came from and you can start getting some guesses about how it got there.

But we’re dealing here with a deceased person. The virus in their remains is breaking down.

Still, it’s possible that scientists may be able to extract enough virus to put the genome back together. I’m hoping for that.

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

— Carole

Thank you
To Melissa Clark for the recipe, and to Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the rest of the break from the news. Andrea Kannapell, the Briefings editor, wrote today’s Back Story. You can reach the team at [email protected].

• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about protests in the U.S. against stay-at-home orders.
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: Varieties (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• The Times print edition was named World’s Best Designed Newspaper for the third straight year by the Society for News Design, and our Photo and Video teams won six World Press Photo awards.


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