How South Korea flattened the curve
South Korea reported its lowest number of cases since last month on Sunday — a remarkable turnaround from the several thousand cases that exploded there in late February and early March.
Its strategy was not the full lockdown that China employed, or even the widespread restrictions that the U.S. and Europe have implemented. Instead, it focused on swift, widespread testing and contact tracing, our Interpreter columnist writes.
In the week after its first reported case, South Korea moved rapidly, eventually opening 600 testing centers and keeping health workers safe by minimizing contact. Once someone tested positive, officials meticulously traced their movements using security camera footage, credit card records, even GPS data from their cars and cellphones.
Reminder: South Korean officials caution that their successes are tentative. A risk of resurgence remains, particularly as epidemics continue raging beyond the country’s borders.
In other developments:
India extended its lockdown to the general population, grounding all domestic flights. Its cases remain relatively low — 400 people — but the government wants to get ahead of the curve.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany was tested for the virus after she learned that a doctor she saw was infected. Her first test came back negative, though she will keep taking tests and remain in isolation.
Markets: Wall Street fell on Monday even after the Federal Reserve unveiled an expansive new bond-buying program in the U.S. Major indexes in Germany, Britain and France were lower, and most Asian markets also closed down.
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There are a few through lines: shutting down travel, cutting off nonessential activity within cities and, perhaps most important, tracing down contacts of every positive case. The virus is highly infectious, and the sooner the clusters can be found, the sooner a couple of cases can be stopped from turning into something much bigger.
And despite divided opinions between the East and West on this, the experts said they would make masks ubiquitous.
Key point: “If it were possible to wave a magic wand and make all Americans freeze in place for 14 days while sitting six feet apart, epidemiologists say, the whole epidemic would sputter to a halt,” Mr. McNeil writes.
If you have 8 minutes, this is worth it
Religion and the pandemic
Religion is a solace for billions of people grappling with the outbreak. “In times of hardship, fear or panic,” an Egyptian pilgrim said, “either you think, ‘How can God do this to us?’ or you run to him for protection and for guidance, to make it all make sense.”
But communal gatherings, the keystone of so many religious practices, are now a clear threat to public health. Above, the Wat Traimit temple in Bangkok getting disinfected.
Here’s what else is happening
SoftBank: The Japanese conglomerate said it would sell as much as $41 billion in assets as it seeks to buy back its own shares. It has bet heavily on companies that are likely to take a financial hit from the coronavirus outbreak, including Uber.
Afghanistan: Government officials spoke with Taliban delegates over Skype to discuss a prisoner exchange — involving up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and 1,000 Afghan government prisoners — that has been an extreme point of contention in a peace deal.
Snapshot: Above, the Place de la Concorde in Paris last week, during what would normally be the morning rush hour. The Times asked dozens of photographers to capture images of once-bustling public spaces that have been virtually abandoned because of coronavirus restrictions.
What we’re reading: This ode to novelty mugs in Bon Appétit. It’s a welcome reminder to look to the little things that give you joy for reasons you can’t explain.
Now, a break from the news
Watch: Without live sports to cover, a rugby commentator has turned to narrating everyday life in London.
Smarter Living: Burnout is not always in your head — it’s in your circumstances, especially now. But by decreasing demands, and taking a few other steps, we can get through it.
And now for the Back Story on …
Reporting from a center of the outbreak
Mike Baker, our correspondent in Seattle, has been reporting on the coronavirus outbreak for several weeks. He’s covered an outbreak at a nursing home, and the dozens of deaths at a hospital in Kirkland, Wash. Our Times Insider team spoke with him about what it’s like.
What is an average day like for you right now?
I usually have been getting up between 6 and 6:30 and getting up to speed on what’s happening on the East Coast and in other parts of the world. I’ve spent a lot of time in the morning getting in touch with various state, local and federal officials.
Right now, we’re entering this phase where most of the containment strategies are largely in place and we’re waiting for what kind of wave of cases hits the health care system.
How do you cover that?
Just last week, I got a chance to go inside the hospital system where they had the most cases of patients die of the coronavirus in the country, and the staff members there were willing to talk with me.
What did it feel like to be in that hospital?
It’s really hard to overstate how heartbreaking it is to follow these families and stories.
On the other hand, you have just incredible stories about the doctors and nurses who are on the front lines. A lot of them were exposed and sent into quarantine and then brought back because there was such a shortage of staff. Now they’re reusing equipment to the point where they have to wipe down their face shields with bleach wipes and their shields are foggy.
That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.
To Mark Josephson and Eleanor Stanford for the break from the news. You can reach the team at [email protected].
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