‘This is Europe’s moment’: A proposed recovery plan could move the E.U. closer to central government.
For decades, even when the 2008 financial crisis threatened to blow the bloc apart, the European Union’s wealthier nations resisted the notion of collective debt. But the coronavirus has so fundamentally damaged the European economy that it is now forcing leaders there to consider the sort of unified and sweeping response once thought unthinkable.
The European Commission, the bloc’s executive branch, on Wednesday proposed that it raise 750 billion euros, or $826 billion, on behalf of all members to finance recovery from the economic collapse, the worst crisis in the history of the European Union.
The plan, which still requires approval from the 27 national leaders and their parliaments, would be the first time that the bloc raised large amounts of common debt in capital markets, taking the E.U. one step closer to a shared budget, potentially paid for through common taxes.
For those reasons, the proposal had all the hallmarks of a historic moment for the E.U., vesting greater authority in Brussels in ways that would make it more closely than ever resemble a central government.
“This is about all of us and it is way bigger than any one of us,” Ursula von der Leyen, the Commission president, told European Parliament members in a speech in Brussels. “This is Europe’s moment.”
At another moment — one without a calamitous recession looming — the proposal would most likely have been dead on arrival, antagonizing populists and nationalists who oppose amassing power in Brussels. But the urgent need for a powerful response to the virus has muted much of the appeal of their message, at least for now.
With Britain gone, the calamity has forced Germany and France, the bloc’s two strongest countries and often at loggerheads, to step up in a rare display of joint leadership, paving the way for the commission’s proposal.
France is no longer allowing hydroxychloroquine as a treatment.
France on Wednesday revoked the authorization allowing hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for Covid-19 patients, a day after halting the use of the malaria drug in clinical trials. Both steps come on the back of moves by the World Health Organization to temporarily remove the drug from global trials over safety concerns.
In France, the drug was promoted as a miracle cure by a maverick infectious diseases specialist based in Marseille, Didier Raoult, who rose to prominence by conducting several questionable experiments that he said had proved the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine in combating the virus.
France had authorized limited use of the drug on patients in serious condition and had included it in several clinical trials. But now the country has joined the ranks of others moving away from the use of the drug, even after several prominent figures, including President Trump, have promoted it.
The president of El Salvador said this week that he was taking the drug in hopes of warding off the coronavirus.
“I use it as a prophylaxis, President Trump uses it as a prophylaxis, most of the world’s leaders use it as a prophylaxis,” Reuters quoted the Salvadoran president, Nayib Bukele, as saying on Tuesday. (In fact, few if any other world leaders have said they take the drug.)
Mr. Bukele told reporters on Tuesday that his government was no longer promoting the drug as a treatment, following the W.H.O.’s advice, but that patients could still take it as a preventive treatment. El Salvador has just over 2,000 confirmed cases of the virus.
When Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany shut down her country to contain the pandemic in March, she had firm support from most citizens and each of Germany’s 16 state governors. When she announced a gradual reopening in April, it was harder to maintain that unity, but she pulled it off.
But a month later, the mood has shifted. Ms. Merkel is still wildly popular, but there are signs that her grip on the process of reviving public life in Europe’s biggest economy is slipping.
On Tuesday, her office negotiated an agreement between states that basic social-distancing measures should remain in place through June. A day later, she could barely contain her irritation with one of those governors, Bodo Ramelow of Thuringia, who had said he wanted to move away from “state coercion” to “individual responsibility.”
“The messages were a little ambiguous,” Ms. Merkel said of Mr. Ramelow’s remarks. “In my mind, the minimum distance is an obligation.”
Other governors have added their voices to the chorus calling for swift reopenings. The governor of Baden-Wurttemberg announced that he would allow events with up to 100 people starting next week. His counterpart in Hamburg promised that movie theaters, gyms and outdoor swimming pools would reopen within days.
Some of the political sparring is healthy federalism, spurring tailored responses to a pandemic that differs dramatically from region to region. But as a patchwork of wildly varying rules emerges within the country, contradictions have piled up, too. And that has fed discontent and conspiracy theories.
A small but noisy minority has been protesting the rules in cities across Germany each weekend. The protests have included members of Alternative for Germany and other far-right groups, which are trying to capitalize on the discontent as the country’s economic outlook darkens.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson went to the mat yet again on Wednesday for his embattled adviser, Dominic Cummings, signaling to lawmakers that he had no plans to dismiss Mr. Cummings for breaching the rules by driving 260 miles to his parents’ house during the country’s coronavirus lockdown.
But Mr. Johnson deflected the most telling question in a closely watched and often-contentious hearing: why was he clinging to an aide who is so obviously damaged goods?
“You have a choice between protecting Dominic Cummings and putting the national interest first,” said Yvette Cooper, a Labour Party lawmaker, in a particularly heated exchange. “Which will it be, prime minister?”
“My choice is the choice of the British people,” a flustered Mr. Johnson replied, before accusing Ms. Cooper of trying to score political points when Britain needed to move on from a dispute that has inflamed public opinion, divided his Conservative Party, and eroded Mr. Johnson’s popularity.
“What they want now is for us to focus on them and their needs rather than on a political ding-dong about what one adviser may or may not have done,” Mr. Johnson told a parliamentary committee.
Eager to change the subject, Mr. Johnson announced plans for a large-scale track and trace system to head off a second spike in infections. Anyone suffering symptoms will be tested and, if positive, be asked to list all those with whom they have recently been in close contact for at least 15 minutes. Those people, in turn, will be contacted and asked to isolate themselves for 14 days.
But the fallout from the Cummings affair threatened to overshadow that news, as lawmaker after lawmaker challenged Mr. Johnson about how the government planned to force people to disclose their contacts or go into quarantine.
Mr. Khanna is a Michelin-starred chef who was born in India and came to New York City as an aspiring chef 20 years ago, initially working as a dishwasher and delivery man. As the pandemic hit his home country, he watched the news and grew despondent.
“We’ve totally failed our people,” he said in an interview last week, referring to the millions of people in India who are unemployed and desperately hungry. “I wanted to show that solidarity still exists.”
Mr. Khanna posted an emotional appeal on Twitter in early April, asking people to send him details of those who were desperate for food. Within hours, he was flooded with replies.
But it wasn’t as easy to reach the hungry. His first attempt to deliver food, to an elder-care home in southern India, fell apart when the deliverer disappeared with more than 2,000 pounds of rice and nearly 900 pounds of lentils.
The first confirmed coronavirus infections in Europe and the United States, discovered in January, did not ignite the epidemics that followed, according to a close analysis of hundreds of viral genomes.
Those outbreaks began weeks later, the study concluded. The revised timeline may clarify nagging ambiguities about the arrival of the pandemic.
For example, while President Trump has frequently claimed that a ban in the U.S. on travelers from China prevented the epidemic from becoming much worse, the new data suggest that the virus that started Washington State’s epidemic arrived roughly two weeks after the ban was imposed on Feb. 2.
And the authors argue that the relatively late emergence of the outbreak means that more lives could have been saved by early action, such as testing and contact tracing.
The new analysis is not the last word. Scientific understanding of the coronavirus is evolving almost daily, and this type of research yields a range of possible results, not complete certainty.
But a number of virus experts said that the new report convincingly rules out a connection between the first confirmed cases and the later outbreaks.
“This paper clearly shows this didn’t happen,” said Kristian Andersen, a computational biologist at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, who was not involved in the research.
A preliminary version of the study was published online on Saturday. It has not yet been published in a scientific journal.
As the 53-bell carillon of the Peace Tower rang out songs this month marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Holland by Canadian troops, an audience of just two listened, with people in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, heeding calls to avoid crowds during the coronavirus crisis.
But the symbolic import of these bells to Ottawa, and to Canada, shouldn’t be judged by the sparse turnout.
With Canada’s Parliament eager for the bells to sound during the outbreak — for reasons of morale and to provide a touch of normalcy — the performances have become the only sanctioned musical events for a live audience in Canada’s capital during the shutdown.
And for the bells to keep pealing, someone needs to play them. That someone is Dr. Andrea McCrady, who bears an official title: the Dominion Carillonneur of Canada.
As many musicians turn to performing online during the pandemic, they are navigating for the first time how to make a connection with an audience watching over a screen instead of in person.
For Dr. McCrady, a physical disconnection from her audience has long been part of the job.
“In the carillon world, you never know who’s on the ground,” she said. “And most people have no clue that it’s a live person up there.”
In the tower, Dr. McCrady performs with a keyboard made up of a vertical panel of levers known as manuals and a pedal board connected by cables to the clappers that strike the bells. Inside her office, a musical library holds nearly a century’s worth of music adapted for the carillon.
Between the pandemic and some construction taking place around the Parliament building, Dr. McCrady will not be giving her usual 200 or so performances this year, and the schedule remains in flux.
Just over four months after the government confirmed the first known case, more than 100,000 people who had the coronavirus have died in the United States, according to a New York Times tally. The death toll is far higher than in any other nation in the world — and experts say it is likely an undercount.
The pandemic is on track to be the country’s deadliest public health disaster since the 1918 flu pandemic, in which about 675,000 Americans died.
As the temperatures rise, sun-starved Europeans are desperate to get to the beach and several tourism-starved Mediterranean countries are desperate to have them.
But it is Italy, which endured one of Europe’s worst outbreaks, that is most counting on the economically restorative powers of its beaches and seas. Tourism accounts for 13 percent of Italy’s gross domestic product, and 40 percent of that is from beach activity. Officials and beach club owners have expressed hope that foreign tourists will spend time and money in their country when the borders reopen on June 3.
In the meantime, it is the Italians who must pick up the sunbathing slack, with attempts at social distancing that are, at times, futile.
On May 18, the national government, citing the dipping curve of infections, allowed Italian regions to reopen their beach clubs. Different regions have reacted with varying degrees of caution. Tuscany allowed them to reopen on May 18, Campania on May 23, Lazio on May 29, and Sicily on June 6.
The national government has also said that any sharp rise in new infections would prompt another lockdown, and the mayor of one small town in the southern region of Puglia closed the beaches this week after seeing an “invasion” of sunbathers, many, he said, “wearing their masks as necklaces.”
Other countries are also beckoning beachgoers. In Greece, the government is trying to negotiate an ‘‘air bridge’’ from Britain, with promises of 40 bathers per 1,000 square meters and disinfected chairs. The Spanish are trying to convince Germany to send tourists their way, while Baltic Sea resorts, which had a far less severe outbreak than Spain, are trying to poach them.
At the height of China’s coronavirus outbreak, officials made quick use of the fancy tracking devices in everybody’s pockets — their smartphones — to identify and isolate people who might be spreading the illness.
Months later, China’s official statistics suggest that the worst of the epidemic has passed there, but the government’s monitoring apps are hardly fading into obsolescence. Instead, they are tiptoeing toward becoming a permanent fixture of everyday life, one with potential to be used in troubling and invasive ways.
Zhou Jiangyong, the Communist Party secretary of the eastern tech hub of Hangzhou, said this month that the city’s app should be an “intimate health guardian” for residents, one that is used often and “loved so much that you cannot bear to part with it,” according to an official announcement.
While the technology has doubtless helped many workers and employers get back to their lives, it has also prompted concern in China, where people are increasingly protective of their digital privacy. Companies and government agencies in China have a mixed record on keeping personal information safe from hacks and leaks. The authorities have also taken an expansive view of using high-tech surveillance tools in the name of public well-being.
The government’s virus-tracking software has been collecting information, including location data, on people in hundreds of cities across China. But the authorities have set few limits on how that data can be used. And now, officials in some places are loading their apps with new features, hoping the software will live on as more than just an emergency measure.
For much of the last two months, Paris has been empty — its shops and cafes shuttered, its streets deserted, its millions of tourists gone.
Freed of people, the urban landscape has evoked an older Paris. In particular, it has called up the singular Paris of Eugène Atget, an early 20th-century father of modern photography, in his unsentimental focus on detail.
In thousands of pictures, Atget shot an empty city, getting up early each morning and lugging his primitive equipment throughout the streets. His images reduced Paris to its architectural essence.
A Times photographer, Mauricio Lima, has followed in Atget’s footsteps, shooting images of the same scenes his famous predecessor captured. But those streets are now deserted because of the coronavirus pandemic. Mr. Lima’s recreations offer new insight into Atget’s work — and into the meaning of a city unique in its beauty but also in its coldness.
The critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin famously invoked crime scenes in discussing Atget’s photographs. He was pointing to their emptiness, their clinical attention to details of the urban landscape, their absolute rejection of the sentimental and the grandiose.
As Benjamin observed, Atget established a beneficial “distance between man and his environment.” And Mr. Lima’s haunting updated recreations confirm the long-dead photographer’s disquieting insight: Paris doesn’t care about your presence. It is indifferent, and it will certainly go on without you.
Absent from public view for more than a week amid rumors that he had been rushed to Moscow for emergency coronavirus treatment, Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman leader of Chechnya, has reappeared in the capital of his Caucasus region — alive but apparently unwell.
A video posted on social media on Tuesday showed Mr. Kadyrov meeting in Grozny, the Chechen capital, with officials involved in fighting the pandemic, calming speculation that the Chechen leader, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin, was dying or even dead.
But with Mr. Kadyrov looking pale, acting far less boisterous than usual and wearing what looked like a cannula, a medical tube that can be used to administer intravenous fluids, on his right hand, the video only added to uncertainty about the state of his health.
The video, filmed and posted on Instagram by Chechnya’s official television channel, was later deleted. A separate video of the same meeting, pruned of footage showing Mr. Kadyrov’s right hand, appeared on Wednesday on an unofficial Instagram account used by the Chechen leader.
Mr. Kadyrov, who has repeatedly threatened journalists and acquired a fearsome reputation for brutality, was expelled from Instagram this month by Facebook, which said it had blocked his accounts in order to comply with United States sanctions. But he has active stayed on social media under various false names.
Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, back at work in the Kremlin after recovering from the coronavirus himself, said on Wednesday said he could not say anything about Mr. Kadyrov or his condition. Two Kremlin-controlled news agencies reported last week that Mr. Kadyrov had flown from Grozny to Moscow for hospital treatment.
But officials in Chechnya had denied that Mr. Kadyrov was ill and undergoing treatment in Moscow, with one suggesting that the Chechen leader had taken a low profile simply because he was “thinking.”
Mr. Kadyrov imposed a tough lockdown on his region at the start of the pandemic, denouncing residents who violated health orders as “worse than terrorists” who should be “buried in a hole in the ground.”
The region, according to official figures compiled by the authorities in Moscow, has reported 698 coronavirus cases and 13 deaths, compared with 4,161 infections and 130 deaths in the neighboring region of Dagestan.
Ten days of national mourning for the victims of the coronavirus began on Wednesday in Spain, the longest official mourning period in the country’s modern history.
The government and the royal family led a nationwide minute of silence at noon, and flags were lowered to half-staff on all public buildings. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said the moment was a time for the country to show its collective sorrow and to honor the tens of thousands who died from the virus.
The major cities of Madrid and Barcelona on Monday caught up with the rest of the country in easing lockdown measures that had been gradually rolled out for weeks, and Mr. Sánchez said he had waited to start the official mourning period until the whole country had entered the first phase of returning to public life.
The extended lockdown has exacerbated political tensions over the government’s handling of the epidemic. The military police opened an investigation into the government’s decision to allow some 120,000 people to gather in Madrid for International Women’s Day on March 8, just a week before Spain declared a state of emergency.
On Monday, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, Spain’s interior minister, fired the head of the military police in Madrid for not informing the government about the investigation. To protest the government’s decision, another senior police official resigned on Tuesday. Speaking in Congress on Wednesday, the leader of the main opposition party called for Mr. Grande-Marlaska to resign for mistreating Spain’s police.
Reporting was contributed by Carl Zimmer, Mark Landler, Stephen Castle, Jason Horowitz, Andrew Higgins, Katrin Bennhold, Mihir Zaveri, Karen Zraick, Adam Nossiter, Raphael Minder, Li Yuan, Constant Méheut, Shalini Venugopal Bhagat, Russell Goldman, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Elaine Yu, Choe Sang-Hun, Raymond Zhong, Richard C. Paddock, Dera Menra Sijabat, Ben Dooley, Makiko Inoue, Mike Ives, Jenny Gross, Catherine Porter, Somini Sengupta, Alexandra Stevenson and Keith Bradsher.