South Korea aimed for ‘a new daily life with Covid-19.’ Four days later, Seoul found a new cluster.
Go out, socialize and have fun, South Korea’s government told its people, declaring the start of “a new daily life with Covid-19” — while keeping a vigilant eye out for any sign of backsliding, any need for restrictions to snap back into place.
It didn’t take long.
On Saturday, just the fourth day of the new phase, the mayor of Seoul ordered all the capital’s bars and nightclubs shut down indefinitely after the discovery of a cluster of dozens of coronavirus infections.
South Korea initially attacked the pandemic with such success that it became a model cited worldwide, all but halting a large outbreak without choking off nearly as much of its economy as other nations have. Now it is attempting something just as difficult: moving gradually, safely closer to something resembling everyday life.
Government officials, health workers and much of the public know full well that until there is a vaccine, relaxing restrictions will lead to more infections, and possibly more deaths. The trick will be to do it without allowing the contagion to come roaring back.
After a 29-year-old man tested positive for the virus on Wednesday, epidemiologists quickly learned that he had visited three nightclubs in Itaewon, a popular nightlife district in Seoul, on May 2. By Saturday evening, they said they were tracking down 7,200 people who had visited five Itaewon nightclubs where the virus might have ben spread.
So far, 27 cases have been found among the club-goers and people who had close contact with them, Kwon Jun-wok, a senior disease-control official, said during a news briefing on Saturday.
The mayor, Park Won-soon, cited a higher figure, saying that at least 40 infections had been linked to the nightclubs. As he closed the clubs, he scolded patrons who had failed to practice safeguards like wearing masks, accusing them of putting the entire nation’s health at risk.
The coronavirus pandemic has spotlighted the lopsided way many societies work.
In the Middle East’s wealthiest societies, the machinery of daily life depends on migrant laborers from Asia, Africa and poorer Arab countries — millions of “tea boys,” housemaids, doctors, construction workers, deliverymen, chefs, garbagemen, guards, hairdressers, hoteliers and more, who often outnumber the native population.
But with oil prices slashed and tourism gone, the countries of the Persian Gulf are facing major change.
The fallout is bleakly straightforward for their foreign workers — more than a tenth of the world’s migrants — who sent more than $124 billion to their home countries in 2017. Lockdowns have cost tens of thousands of them jobs, leaving them to ration dwindling food supplies while their families struggle without their remittances. Coronavirus has torn through meager, crowded dormitory-style worker housing. And xenophobia is escalating.
Like migrants in Latin America, Eastern Europe, India and beyond, some are heading home empty-handed.
At the same time, oil-dependent countries with many middle-class or poor citizens, like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman, can no longer guarantee the high living standards and subsidies that their citizens take for granted.
With the global paralysis induced by the coronavirus, levels of pollution and carbon emission are dropping — leaving bluer skies, visible mountains, splendid wildflowers. Even Venice’s famously murky canals are running clear.
But nature’s revival has come at enormous cost, with Europe’s economy projected to decline 7.4 percent this year. The New York Times’s chief diplomatic correspondent, Steven Erlanger, says many leaders, diplomats and experts are bracing for a battle over whether reviving the economy now requires an end to ambitious and potentially disruptive plans to permanently reduce carbon emissions.
The European Union began the year promoting a plan for a rapid transformation of the economy toward a carbon-neutral future — “the Green Deal” — which Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the bloc’s executive arm, has declared should be “the motor for the recovery.” She has important support from President Emmanuel Macron of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.
The countries of Central and Eastern Europe were already worried about the pain of a green transition, however. And poorer countries of the south fear a new inequality as bigger, richer countries like Germany and France can subsidize their industries far more lavishly.
The shape of those subsidies will be a battleground, too. Mr. Macron has tied new funding for the airline Air France-KLM to carbon reduction. But a former European official, Stefan Lehne, sees “a huge conflict” between “saving the jobs of companies on edge of bankruptcy and investing in new jobs.”
“There will be a lot of pressure to go back to the status quo ante as much as possible,” he said.
By now we know — contrary to false predictions — that the novel coronavirus will be with us for a rather long time.
“Exactly how long remains to be seen,” said Marc Lipsitch, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “It’s going to be a matter of managing it over months to a couple of years. It’s not a matter of getting past the peak, as some people seem to believe.”
Two recent studies provide a picture of how the pandemic could play out. The first, out of the University of Minnesota, describes three possibilities following the current wave of initial cases: “peaks and valleys” that gradually diminish over a year or two; a larger peak in the fall or winter, with smaller waves thereafter, similar to what transpired during the 1918-1919 flu pandemic; or an intense spring peak followed by a “slow burn” with less-pronounced ups and downs.
The second study, from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, projected a similarly wavy future characterized by peaks and valleys. Social distancing is turned “on” when the number of Covid-19 cases reaches a certain prevalence in the population, so as not to overwhelm the health care system, and turned “off” when cases drop to a lower threshold, perhaps 5 cases per 10,000.
What is clear overall is that a one-time social distancing effort will not be sufficient to control the epidemic in the long term, and that it will take a long time to reach herd immunity. Lacking a vaccine, our pandemic state of mind may persist well into 2021 or 2022 — which surprised even the experts.
“We anticipated a prolonged period of social distancing would be necessary, but didn’t initially realize that it could be this long,” Stephen Kissler, a postdoctoral fellow who worked on the Harvard study, said.
Covid-19 has upended daily life in much of the world for so long that the idea of traveling to another country or state seems like the stuff of dreams. But in the last week or so, as the idea of opening up to travelers has gained traction, some countries are taking concrete steps.
But for many places, international flights carrying leisure travelers remain on hold or are banned outright, and the process of reopening remains speculative. The focus, instead, is on internal tourism, to be followed at some point by foreign tourism.
Ignoring health warnings and its powerful neighbor Russia, the former Soviet nation of Belarus staged a military parade on Saturday to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Red Army’s defeat of Nazi Germany, parading soldiers and tanks through the center of its capital, Minsk, as crowds of spectators, mostly without masks, gathered to watch.
While Russia canceled its parade in Red Square because of the coronavirus and settled for a military flyby over Moscow’s mostly empty streets, Belarus went ahead with Victory Day celebrations after its authoritarian leader, Aleksandr Lukashenko, called the coronavirus pandemic a “psychosis.”
Mr. Lukashenko has encouraged people to attend commemorations for the end of World War II in Europe, claimed at the start of the pandemic that riding tractors, sitting in saunas and drinking vodka would vanquish the virus, and has repeatedly played down the risk of infection.
Over two million people died in Belarus during World War II, and Mr. Lukashenko said this week that the government “simply cannot cancel the parade,” despite growing concerns that the virus is spreading fast across the country. He invited foreign leaders to attend. None showed up. Russia said it would send its ambassador.
With a population of 9.5 million, Belarus has reported just 21,000 infections, far fewer than the nearly 200,000 reported by more populous Russia, a close but increasingly irritated ally.
In Russia, which remains under lockdown, President Vladimir V. Putin left his country residence for the first time in weeks to attend a low-key ceremony in the rain outside the Kremlin, laying a bouquet of red roses on the tomb of the unknown soldier.
In a brief speech marking what he called “our most important and most cherished holiday,” Mr. Putin said, “We pay tribute and endlessly honor the monumental and selfless heroism of the Soviet people.”
The Ultimate Fighting Championship is back.
On Saturday night, in a nearly empty arena in Jacksonville, Fla., U.F.C. 249 will make the world’s biggest mixed martial arts organization the first major North American sport to return from an industrywide shutdown amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Of course, the U.F.C.’s president, Dana White, would have preferred not to take a hiatus at all, even as the rapid spread of the virus shut down sports events across the country. Instead White pressed forward with plans to stage U.F.C. 249 on April 18, looking toward a lightweight title matchup in Brooklyn between the Russian Khabib Nurmagomedov and the American Tony Ferguson that had been years in the making.
When the New York State Athletic Commission refused to approve the event, the U.F.C. clung to its date while scouting new locations. Nurmagomedov, the U.F.C.’s lightweight champion, eventually dropped out, unable to leave his native Dagestan because of pandemic-related travel restrictions. He was replaced by Justin Gaethje, a top lightweight contender.
On Friday night, U.F.C. officials said one of their fighters, Ronaldo Souza, a Brazilian middleweight nicknamed Jacare, had been pulled from U.F.C. 249 because he had tested positive for the coronavirus earlier in the day.
It was 8 a.m. Tuesday in St. Louis when the American chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana, ranked second best in the world, moved his pawn to E4.
It was 6:30 p.m., and over 8,000 miles away in Nashik, India, when his opponent, Vidit Gujrathi, responded from his home, just seconds after Caruana’s opening: pawn to E5.
And so began the Online Nations Cup, an unprecedented international team chess tournament borne of the coronavirus pandemic.
While the outbreak has forced most sports around the world to shut down, chess has not only found a way to carry on — it is thriving in some ways. In the past several weeks there has been a surge in grass roots participation in chess to go along with a few high-profile professional events online.
This past week, the Online Nations Cup brought 36 of the world’s top players together in their homes across multiple time zones, from Brooklyn to Beijing. They have been moving pieces on their laptop chessboards in a competition that, at its core, is the same game they would contest under normal conditions.
The tournament can be seen on multiple platforms, has a record purse of $180,000 and is being broadcast in a dozen languages.
Spain will be split in two as of Monday, after the government selected areas of the country with a low risk of coronavirus infection to move to the next phase of easing the lockdown. The country’s two largest cities, Madrid and Barcelona, are in regions that will have to maintain restrictions on the movement of people until their coronavirus numbers improve.
The provinces that passed the safety requirements hold 51 percent of Spain’s population, the government said on Friday. The new rules allow gatherings of up to 10 people, as well as the reopening of bars and restaurants for outdoor dining. Small shops and businesses like hairdressers can also take clients without a booking, while outdoor markets can reopen.
Ahead of the government’s decision, 15 of the 17 regions of Spain had applied to be fast-tracked to reopen under the next phase of the government’s plan, which it said it hoped would bring the country into a “new normalcy” by late June.
Spain’s daily death toll from the coronavirus fell to 179 on Saturday, down from 229 on the previous day, the Health Ministry reported, bringing the overall total to 26,478.
A protest demanding more assistance for the poor as Afghanistan grapples with the spread of Covid-19 turned deadly on Saturday, with at least six people dead after security forces opened fire.
About 100 people, mostly day laborers who have lost any economic prospect after lockdowns went into effect, had gathered outside the provincial governor’s office in Ghor Province, in the west of the country, seeking aid and food, officials said. The security forces fired when the numbers grew and the protesters tried to make their way into the compound.
At least four civilians, including an employee of a local media organization, were killed and 12 others wounded, the provincial police chief, Mohamed Amin Ahmadzai, said. He added that the protest had been infiltrated by armed men who opened fire and pelted rocks at security forces; he said two police officers were also killed and 10 others wounded.
“This wasn’t a protest — this was an evil conspiracy of the enemy,” Mr. Ahmadzai said.
Mohammad Aref Aber, the governor’s spokesman, said: “The protesters were in front of the provincial governor’s building asking for help, and we do not have anything to help them with.”
Afghanistan has recorded 4,333 cases of Covid-19 so far and 115 deaths. But officials warn that the actual spread is most likely much wider and undetected because of extremely limited testing capacity.
The major cities have gone under some extent of lockdown, hurting an economy where about 80 percent of the population was already near the poverty line, living on $1.25 a day.
Like many world leaders, Taiwan’s vice president, Chen Chien-jin, is fighting to keep the coronavirus at bay. He is tracking infections, pushing for vaccines and testing kits and reminding the public to wash their hands.
But unlike most officials, Mr. Chen, who is in the final weeks of his term, is a Johns Hopkins-trained epidemiologist and an expert in viruses.
Mr. Chen, 68, is known affectionately in Taiwan as “elder brother,” and many credit him with helping the island avoid the sort of catastrophic outbreak that has overwhelmed many countries. It has reported about 400 coronavirus cases and six deaths.
As a top health official during the SARS crisis in 2003, Mr. Chen pushed to prepare for the next outbreak by building isolation wards and research laboratories.
“Evidence is more important than playing politics,” he said in a recent interview.
But Mr. Chen is also at the center of a global battle over the narrative about how the virus spread worldwide. He says Taiwan tried to warn the World Health Organization — where it is pushing for membership — in late December about the potential for the virus to spread from person to person but was ignored. The W.H.O. has rejected the accusation.
Mr. Chen’s prominence has made him a frequent target of criticism by mainland Chinese commentators, who have accused the government of using the pandemic to seek independence for Taiwan, which China’s government considers part of its territory.
President Jair Bolsonaro is “perhaps the biggest threat to Brazil’s Covid-19 response,” the renowned scientific journal The Lancet said in an editorial on Saturday, arguing that the president’s dismissal of the dangers posed by the virus had sowed confusion among Brazilians.
“He needs to drastically change course or must be the next to go,” The Lancet said of Mr. Bolsonaro in the editorial, calling the recent ouster of two ministers “a deadly distraction in the middle of a public health emergency.”
Brazil has reported nearly 150,000 coronavirus cases and over 10,000 deaths, making it the worst-hit country in Latin America. A study published this week by Imperial College London that analyzed the transmission rate of the virus in 48 countries found Brazil had the highest rate of transmission.
But Mr. Bolsonaro has interacted with supporters without wearing masks, and has called the virus that has killed nearly 275,000 people worldwide a “little flu.” He has also regularly clashed with state governors who have imposed lockdowns to try to protect their populations.
When asked by journalists last month about the rapid spread of the virus in the country, Mr. Bolsonaro replied: “So what? What do you want me to do?”
In neighboring Paraguay, President Mario Abdo Benítez has said that the efforts to contain the spread of the virus could be hampered by Brazil’s outbreak, calling it “a great threat for our country.” Half of the Paraguay’s 563 confirmed cases have been of people coming from Brazil, Mr. Benítez said.
A vote on a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a halt to all armed conflicts because of the pandemic was blocked on Friday by the United States, apparently because it contained language indicating support for the World Health Organization.
President Trump has accused the W.H.O., an arm of the United Nations, of a bias toward China and a failure to investigate the origins of the coronavirus, which was first seen in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December. Mr. Trump suspended American funding of the W.H.O. last month, a significant financial blow to the organization.
Diplomats said the Security Council resolution, which underwent several revisions aimed partly at satisfying U.S. objections, had nearly reached the stage where it could be put to a vote. But the United States delegation informed other council members in an email on Friday that it still could not support the measure.
Tensions between China and the United States over the coronavirus have paralyzed any possible action to fight the pandemic by the Security Council, the most powerful body at the United Nations. Its resolutions have the force of international law.
Even though the cease-fire resolution would probably have done little to halt armed conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Libya and other trouble spots, it was seen as an important expression of backing for Secretary General António Guterres, who has been calling for such a cease-fire since March.
In the midst of an aggressive campaign by Kenya’s government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the country was hit by a blackout that affected neighboring Uganda on Saturday. The countries’ power grids are interconnected.
In a statement, Kenya Power and Lighting Company announced “a system disturbance which occurred on our transmission network at 5:49 a.m. this morning.” The cause of the power cut to the national grid was not immediately clear. But blackouts in the country are not uncommon, especially in rainy seasons.
By the evening, both companies issued statements saying that power had been restored.
Uganda has recorded 98 coronavirus cases but no deaths. The International Monetary Fund said this week that the country would receive an emergency loan worth $491.5 million to help cushion its economy from the impact of the outbreak as key sectors of the East African economy, including tourism, have taken a heavy blow from the crisis.
Kenya’s government has faced growing criticism for its response to the pandemic — particularly its use of quarantine centers. Hundreds of residents in the East African nation said they were put in quarantine for breaking curfew or not wearing masks. And many said they were told they had to pay to leave after testing negative for the virus.
The government has also been accused of going to extreme measures to contain the virus: In the first 10 days of a national curfew, police officers killed at least six people while trying to enforce the lockdown, according to Human Rights Watch.
The illusionist team Siegfried & Roy dazzled Las Vegas crowds for 35 years, combining the glitz of sequined costumes with smoke-and-laser magic and the circus thrills of exotic animals. Under their spells, a white tiger turned into a beautiful woman, a six-ton elephant vanished, a tiger floated out over the audience and half of the duo, Roy Horn, turned himself into a python.
Mr. Horn died from complications of Covid-19 on Friday in Las Vegas, where he lived, according to his publicist. He was 75.
He and his partner, Siegfried Fischbacher, had one of the most successful productions in Las Vegas history. It ended on Oct. 3, 2003, when Mr. Horn, on his 59th birthday, was mauled by a 400-pound white tiger who lunged at his throat and dragged him offstage before a stunned, sold-out crowd of 1,500 at MGM’s Mirage hotel-casino. His windpipe had been crushed and an artery carrying oxygen to his brain was damaged; he suffered a stroke and partial paralysis on his left side.
In February 2009, Siegfried & Roy made one final appearance with a tiger, a benefit performance in Las Vegas. They officially retired from show business in 2010.
The organizers of an already truncated version of the Vuelta a España, one of the sport’s three grand tours along with the Tour de France, said on Saturday that they had abandoned parts of two stages to be held in neighboring Portugal. The race was unable to satisfy safety requirements of three cities: Oporto, Matosinhos and Viseu.
“We have to be flexible and understand these kinds of decisions and changes,” Javier Guillén, the race director said in a statement.
There is skepticism that the schedule announced this week by the International Cycling Union — racing starting on Aug. 1 and continuing until the end of October for men, early November for women — will come to fruition.
It is unclear how race organizers can stop large crowds from gathering along public roads. The sport also involves hundreds of cyclists riding in closer proximity than is allowed under most physical distancing rules.
The Amaury Sport Organization, which owns the Tour de France and is a major shareholder in the Vuelta, has repeatedly pushed for some kind of season to be salvaged. Cycling team owners have been more mixed in their reaction. Some have forecast ruin without racing, while others have suggested that they won’t enter their riders if the virus remains a threat.
With all public and private gatherings banned in Singapore and people trying to cope by exercising outside, the authorities have found a human-free way to patrol a park and gently remind visitors to observe social-distancing measures.
The four-legged machine, named Spot and developed by Boston Dynamics, can shimmy, moonwalk and climb stairs. Spot also has a bark, of sorts: A speaker that allows the robot’s remote handlers to issue commands — in this case, a recorded message in a female voice.
“Let’s keep Singapore healthy,” Spot said Friday while sauntering down a path at a local park. “For your own safety and for those around you, please stand at least one meter apart. Thank you.”
Spot’s deployment comes as other countries wrestle with similar issues of crowds seeking some relief from isolation in city parks and other open spaces. New York City, hard-hit by the coronavirus, plans to limit entry to some parks to prevent crowds and the spread of infections.
If Spot manages to last through a two-week trial, more robots could be deployed to patrol parks in Singapore, where a relentless surge in infections linked to migrant worker dormitories has shown no sign of stopping. The city-state has had more than 22,000 infections, with 753 recorded on Saturday.
Reporting was contributed by Steven Erlanger, Choe Sang-Hun, Siobhan Roberts, Raphael Minder, Andrew Higgins, Javier C. Hernández, Chris Horton, Elian Peltier, Elaine Yu, Adbi Latif Dahir, Mujib Mashal, Asadullah Timory, Peter Robins, Yonette Joseph, Rick Gladstone, Daniel Politi, Lauren Sloss, Robert D. McFadden, Peter Baker, Michael Crowley, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Annie Karni, Maggie Haberman, Matthew Rosenberg, Jim Rutenberg and Victor Mather.