‘Now is the time to act,’ W.H.O. chief says, but many governments appear to lag.
As the global rate of infection surpassed 98,000 cases on Thursday, the world’s leading health official implored the international community to unleash the full power of their governments to combat the new coronavirus outbreak.
“This is not a drill,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization. “This is not a time for excuses. This is a time for pulling out all the stops.”
But around the world, governments have displayed signs of paralysis, obfuscation and a desire to protect their own interests, even as death tolls mounted and global capitals were so threatened by infection that politicians tested positive for the illness.
Instead of heeding Dr. Tedros’s advice that “now is the time to act,” countries pointed fingers at each other and complained about tit-for-tat travel restrictions. And citizens around the world, worried that their leaders were falling down on the job, took note and vented their anger.
In Japan, citizens have been outraged by the hands-off approach of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as cases of the virus have continued to climb, even as testing has proceeded at a snail’s pace, leaving many fearful that a large number of infections are going undetected.
In China, residents of Wuhan who have been confined to their homes for weeks minced few words when the vice prime minister visited on Thursday. As the central government has crowed about a reduction in new cases, the people at the center of the outbreak who have most borne the brunt of the government’s initial cover-up, literally shouted from their windows: “Fake! Everything is fake!”
Americans scrambled to make plans after schools were abruptly closed in Washington State and New York City and struggled to make sense of conflicting information from President Trump and members of his own cabinet. Vice President Mike Pence who previously vowed that “any American could be tested,” on Thursday conceded that “we don’t have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward.”
By Friday morning, California, Maryland and Washington had declared emergencies.
In the meantime, the numbers have swelled, with the world on track to reach the grim milestone of 100,000 cases. By Thursday, officials reported more than 98,000 global cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and more than 3,280 deaths in at least 15 countries.
‘Everything is fake!’ Residents of a locked-down Chinese city vent their rage at politicians.
Residents in Wuhan, the Chinese city at the center of the global outbreak, shouted complaints on Thursday from their balconies at visiting government officials, the latest sign of simmering anger in the locked-down city.
The rare rebuke of high-level officials was captured on video and circulated on social and state-run media. The visiting delegation included Sun Chunlan, a vice premier who is leading the central government’s response to the outbreak.
“Everything is fake!” shouted one resident, in a video clip that was shared on social media by People’s Daily, a state-run newspaper, which covered the government’s response to the heckling.
The videos taken on Thursday did not make clear the exact reason for residents’ dissatisfaction. People’s Daily said the accusations were aimed at local neighborhood officials who had “faked” deliveries of vegetables and meat to residents. Critics were skeptical of that explanation, seeing the response as an attempt by high-level officials to deflect blame for mishandling the crisis.
Wuhan and many other cities in Hubei Province, of which Wuhan is the capital, have been under strict lockdown since January. As the outbreak has escalated, many residents have voiced frustration with provincial and central government officials in Hubei and Beijing. Unable to leave their homes, many residents have had to rely on their neighborhood committees to organize deliveries of groceries and other basic essentials — a process that has been unevenly implemented across the city, much to the frustration of local residents.
On Thursday evening, CCTV, the state-run broadcaster, said that Ms. Sun had ordered local provincial and city officials to conduct an “in-depth investigation” in response to the “difficulties and problems reported by the masses at the scene.”
How worried should you be?
It’s a complicated question for two reasons.
First, while knowledge of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, is growing every day, much remains unknown. Many cases are thought to be mild or asymptomatic, making it hard to gauge how wide the virus has spread or how deadly it is.
Second, much of the risk comes not from the virus itself but from how it affects the societies it hits.
For most people, the disease is probably not particularly deadly; health officials tend to put it somewhere within range of an unusually severe seasonal flu. Even in a global pandemic, it’s expected to kill fewer people than the flu virus. Data so far suggests that if you catch the coronavirus, you may be likelier to have no symptoms at all than to require hospitalization.
The coronavirus is thought to be much more dangerous for people over age 70 or with existing health conditions such as diabetes. This is also true of the flu.
But because the coronavirus spreads widely and quickly, it can overwhelm local health systems in a way that the flu does not.
This is thought to have driven the unusually high death rate in Hubei, the province in China where the coronavirus first spread. Officials, unprepared for the outbreak, were caught without sufficient hospital beds or health care workers, meaning that many people who might have survived with better care did not. In South Korea, where officials were better prepared, the death rate has been a fraction of that in Hubei — so far, about that of the flu.
It is also bringing disruptions that even the worst flu does not. Economic slowdowns, supply chain disruptions, school closures, public transit restrictions and mandatory work-from-home policies all exact tolls, whether you get sick or not.
A French lawmaker was sent to the I.C.U. after testing positive for the virus.
A member of the French Parliament was placed in intensive care after testing positive for the virus, Richard Ferrand, the president of the National Assembly, said in a statement on Thursday without naming the lawmaker.
An employee at Parliament’s refreshment bar also tested positive for the virus, while another who works at the members’ restaurant was awaiting test results, Mr. Ferrand said.
“All lawmakers and staff have been informed of the situation this evening as well as of the action to be taken,” Mr. Ferrand said.
The announcement came as the number of cases surged across Europe and after France saw its biggest one-day jump in infections. France has reported more than 420 total infections and at least seven deaths.
The disease caused by the virus has hit the highest ranks of the Iranian government. The roster of current or former senior officials sickened in the outbreak includes a vice president, the deputy health minister who had been leading the coronavirus response and 23 members of Parliament. An adviser to Iran’s supreme leader and a diplomat have died from the virus, according to reports.
India cancels holiday celebrations and closes schools.
The number of confirmed cases in India rose to 31 on Friday, hours after schools were ordered closed in the capital, Delhi, a city of 19 million.
Delhi’s first case was recorded on Tuesday after a resident who had recently traveled to Italy returned last week. Panic was sparked after it was revealed that he had thrown a large birthday party for his child after his return.
By Thursday, the Delhi government ordered all public and private primary schools to close until the end of the month, forcing some two million students to stay home.
The virus is forcing many Indians to miss out on one of the country’s most important festivals, Holi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter this week to urge citizens to cancel their Holi gatherings and to practice social isolation more generally.
The Holi festival is celebrated across much of India. Entire neighborhoods come together to mark the festival and host large public parties, in which they share food and decorate each other’s faces with colorful powders.
One family in Delhi sent their regrets as they canceled their Holi party on Wednesday.
“Heeding health and medical counsel, with regret we have decided to call off our Holi celebrations,” the message read, before signing off, “with our best wishes for Holi and your good health.”
In neighboring Bhutan, the government announced Friday that it was sealing off its borders to all tourists for at least two weeks after a visitor from India tested positive for coronavirus. The case is the tiny mountain kingdom’s first.
Japan’s leader took a back seat, and now he is drawing a backlash.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been almost invisible for nearly a month as the coronavirus has threatened the health and economy of Japan.
Public health officials, not Mr. Abe, became the face of government ineptitude when a quarantine of a cruise ship led to hundreds of infections on board and the risk of further cases on shore. Those officials were left to explain why the government’s testing for the virus has been stuck at around 900 patients a day, even as neighboring countries test up to 10,000.
In the past week, a backlash from an angry and confused public has finally forced Mr. Abe to take more of a front-line role, but his efforts have only succeeded in deepening the biggest political crisis of his seven years in office.
Mr. Abe’s approval ratings have plummeted to the upper 30s in some polls. Last weekend, after he held his first news conference on the crisis — a scripted affair with prearranged questions that left Japanese journalists shouting at him for answers — Twitter was flooded with over a million posts demanding his resignation. Two days before, after weeks of inaction, he had blindsided parents by asking the nation’s schools to close for a month, sending many scrambling to find child care.
Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday pledged the full resources of the federal government to Washington State, as the death toll in the hardest-hit American state continued to rise.
Washington’s death toll from the coronavirus reached 13 on Thursday, driven by an outbreak at a nursing home in the Seattle suburbs, and the state’s overall number of infections rose to 75.
Eleven of the deaths have come at EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Kirkland, near where the nursing home is. The state has had one other person die at a different hospital and another die at home.
“Washington State is on the front lines of the coronavirus,” Mr. Pence said. Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, praised Mr. Pence for his work assisting the state.
As government leaders in the region have taken escalating action to contain the crisis, public spaces in the region have emptied out. Seattle’s notorious traffic all but vanished, and the few cars on the highways raced along unimpeded.
Companies worldwide adapt to the outbreak, with no playbook to follow.
Microsoft, Amazon, Ford Motor, CNN, Citigroup and Twitter have put employees through work-from-home drills, dusted off emergency-response plans and ordered increasingly stringent safety measures to protect their workers. Facebook, which disclosed that the coronavirus had been diagnosed in a contractor in its Seattle office, said that all employees in that city should work from home until March 31.
The same sense of urgency has spread to companies around the world as they deal with disruptions from the coronavirus outbreak that started in China.
Even so, the coronavirus has moved faster than their preparations. Amazon said this week that two employees in Europe, who had been in Milan, were infected with the virus and that one employee at its Seattle headquarters had tested positive for it. HSBC said on Thursday that the coronavirus had been diagnosed in an employee at its global headquarters in London. And AT&T said a retail employee at one of its stores in San Diego had tested positive.
The challenges faced by workplaces have become a new front in the battle over the coronavirus, which has spawned more than 90,000 cases and caused more than 3,000 deaths around the world. While factories in China had already been closed by the outbreak and are now just ramping back up, global white-collar companies have rarely grappled with this scale of disruption — or the level of fear that has gripped workers.
A new weapon in the fight against the coronavirus in China: Marxism.
In the fight against the new coronavirus, China has deployed armies of medical workers, drones, draconian travel restrictions and invasive software to track the movement of its citizens.
Now a new weapon is being applied: Marxism.
In a new academic paper, two professors of Communist Party doctrine in northeast China write that “Marxist faith” is the “intrinsic force” that can defeat the virus, and that by uniting under Marxism, the Chinese people can “crush the devil epidemic.”
The paper, which surfaced online last week but has since been deleted from academic databases in China, has been widely mocked.
“Work of the great masters,” one user wrote sarcastically on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media service. Some internet users enthusiastically endorsed a call to send the authors of the paper to the front lines of the coronavirus epidemic in Wuhan as punishment.
The two authors, Liu Guojing and Liu Yawen of the Tourism College of Changchun University, could not be reached for comment.
Under China’s leader, Xi Jinping, the party has encouraged renewed devotion to the founding tenets of Communism, including Marxism. It was unclear why the paper was deleted from Chinese sites, though the authorities often move quickly to prevent criticism of the party and its ideology from spreading.
New York’s cases double; thousands are under quarantine.
The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in New York State doubled on Thursday to 22, with officials announcing two additional cases in New York City, eight new cases in Westchester County and one on Long Island.
The virus’s potential reach was underlined by a much larger number: As of Thursday morning, the city’s Department of Health was monitoring 2,773 New Yorkers currently in home isolation, most of them in self-quarantine.
Most of them had recently traveled to one of five countries where the outbreak has been most severe — China, Italy, Iran, South Korea or Japan — according to Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the city health commissioner.
At least two New Yorkers — a health care worker who has tested positive after visiting Iran and her husband, who tested negative — are under mandatory quarantine in their Manhattan home.
The eight new Westchester cases were all connected with a man from New Rochelle who is hospitalized, adding to eight that were found the day before. The two new New York City patients — a man in his 40s and a woman in her 80s — and the Long Island case, a 42-year-old man in Nassau County — were hospitalized after testing positive.
Reporting was contributed by Russell Goldman, Amy Qin, Elaine Yu, Javier C. Hernández, Max Fisher, Ben Dooley, Mike Isaac, David Yaffe-Bellany and Karen Weise.