Spain, France, Greece: Coronavirus World News Live Updates

Adding to growing evidence that the novel coronavirus can spread through air, scientists have identified genetic markers of the virus in airborne droplets, many with diameters smaller than one-ten-thousandth of an inch.

That had been previously demonstrated in laboratory experiments, but now Chinese scientists studying real-world conditions report that they captured tiny droplets containing the genetic markers of the virus from the air in two hospitals in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak started.

Their findings were published Monday in the journal Nature.

It remains unknown if the virus in the samples they collected was infectious, but droplets that small, which are expelled by breathing and talking, can remain aloft and be inhaled by others.

“Those are going to stay in the air floating around for at least two hours,” said Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech who was not involved with the Nature paper. “It strongly suggests that there is potential for airborne transmission.”

Dr. Marr and many other scientists say evidence is mounting that the coronavirus is being spread by tiny droplets known as aerosols. The World Health Organization has so far downplayed the possibility, saying that the disease is mostly transmitted through larger droplets that do not remain airborne for long, or through the touching of contaminated surfaces.

Even with the new findings, the issue is not settled. Although the coronavirus RNA — the genetic blueprint of the virus — was present in the aerosols, scientists do not know yet whether the viruses remain infectious or whether the tests just detected harmless virus fragments.

When the British government ordered students to stop going to school, it made two big exceptions: Children of essential workers and children classified as “vulnerable” can still attend, so thousands of schools have remained open for them.

But with coronavirus fears running high, only about 5 percent of the eligible students are showing up.

“Even if there are not many students in the school it is still very dangerous,” said Meesha Amble, who has chosen to keep her two children home in east London. “These are young children — they play, they touch, they do not listen. They could catch the virus and bring it home very easily.”

The same fear is at work around the world as lockdowns are eased. As some people clamor for relief from government restrictions, others feel that using the freedom they have is too risky.

“It is better to stay hungry than to get the coronavirus,” he said. “Why should I risk the lives of my family members for a few hundred rupees?”

Bangladesh has allowed garment factories to reopen, but employees are reluctant to return.

In England, more than 3 million of the 9 million school children could be in school. But last week, attendance averaged about 165,000, according to government reports (which do not cover Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland).

The attendance rate was 10 percent for vulnerable children, those who have special needs or have a social worker, and 4 percent for the children of people whose jobs are considered essential.

Social workers fear the consequences for children living in poverty or unstable families.

“For these children, school tends to provide one or two hot meals a day, as well as structure and support from friends and teachers,” said Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England.

When the government of Sweden defied conventional wisdom and refused to order a wholesale lockdown to “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus epidemic, public health officials pointed to trust as a central justification.

And, to a large extent, Sweden seems to have been as successful in controlling the virus as most other nations. The country’s death rate of 22 per 100,000 people is the same as that of Ireland, which has earned accolades for its handling of the pandemic.

But on one warm spring day in Stockholm last week, there was little evidence that people were observing the protocols. Young Swedes thronged bars, restaurants and parks, drinking in the sun.

While other countries were slamming on the brakes, Sweden kept its borders open, left schools in session and placed no limits on public transport. Hairdressers, gyms and some cinemas have remained open.

Gatherings of more than 50 people were prohibited, and at the end of March, the authorities banned visits to nursing homes. But there are almost no fines, and pedestrians wearing masks are generally stared at as if they have just landed from Mars.

Throughout the crisis, Sweden has had enough intensive care units to deal with Covid-19 patients, said the minister of health and social affairs, Lena Hallengren. “We have 250 empty beds right now.”

This is not to say that Sweden has escaped Covid-19’s deadly consequences. The Swedish Public Health Authority has admitted that the country’s seniors have been hit hard, with the virus spreading through 75 percent of the 101 care homes in Stockholm.

The country’s state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, acknowledged that Sweden will have to face its broad failing with people over the age of 70, who have accounted for a staggering 86 percent of the country’s 2,194 fatalities to date.

The public health authority also announced last week that more than 26 percent of the 2 million inhabitants of Stockholm will have been infected by May 1.

But even that figure was presented as something of a win: a number of infections that might limit future outbreaks, reached without suffering an inordinate number of deaths.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit Spain harder than every European country but Italy and has ravaged large cities such as Barcelona and Madrid. Less noticed has been the plight of the country’s remote, sparsely populated villages.

Like small communities around the world, Spain’s villages are finding that their isolation is a mixed blessing. It may offer some protection against contagion, but once the coronavirus strikes, it can reveal the particular vulnerabilities they face.

In Valderrobres, a tourist town of about 2,400 people in northeastern Spain that is known for its 14th-century gothic castle, half of the health workers at the local nursing home tested positive for the coronavirus. So did nearly 50 of the 60 residents, 12 of whom have died.

The closest hospital with intensive care is two hours away, and the mayor, Carlos Boné, said he had to buy tests for people at the nursing home because the authorities initially refused to test those without symptoms.

Local residents have set about cleaning and disinfecting the town themselves. Miguel Angel Caldu, a farmer, disinfects the narrow streets with a spreader normally used to fertilize his vines and almond trees.

“If we don’t take care of ourselves, nobody will,” Mr. Caldu said.

In Spain, despite a robust health care system, rural areas have suffered from aging health care infrastructure and a shortage of doctors, after decades of urbanization and a lack of public investment. Their residents also tend to be older, which puts them at greater risk during the pandemic.

“In the areas that may have been neglected, the feeling of abandonment can be as much emotional as it is material,” said Sergio del Molino, a writer who coined the expression “España vacía,” or “empty Spain,” to refer to the draining away of people and the hollowing out of infrastructure.

The governments of Spain, France and Greece announced plans to rekindle some semblance of normalcy on Tuesday, but warned that restrictions on large groups would remain in place for months. Here are the highlights.

In Spain, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced a gradual easing of the lockdown over about two months, but without setting specific deadlines, beside confirming that adults would be allowed outdoors to exercise starting May 2, following the lead of children, who were allowed to leave home for the first time in weeks on Sunday.

Mr. Sánchez said that relaxing the lockdown would vary by region, with the whole country benefiting from “the new normalcy” by late June. Schools, though, would not reopen before September, with some possible exceptions.

The pandemic has killed at least 23,822 people in Spain.

In Greece, Prime Minister Kiriakos Mitsotakis of Greece said adherence to restrictions had made the country “an example for the rest of the world.”

Greeks have had to notify the government whenever they leave home, and offer a reason. That will end on May 4, when some stores will reopen. Salons will open by appointment only, and churches will open but cannot hold services. Exercise will be allowed on beaches, but not sun beds. High school students will return to school in phases, starting May 11.

Travel between counties will remain prohibited for at least two weeks. Primary schools and nurseries may reopen on June 1, when some food services and hotels are also expected to open. The prime minister said it is highly unlikely that large gatherings, like concerts or sports events, will be allowed this summer.

Only 138 of Greece’s 10.7 million people have died after testing positive for the virus, one of the lowest rates in Europe.

In France, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe told lawmakers, some wearing masks, that France must “live with the virus, act gradually, adapt locally.”

The government will begin easing restrictions by May 11 if the virus remains under control, he said. The measures will be re-evaluated on June 2.

“A bit too much insouciance and the epidemic restarts,” Mr. Philippe said. “A bit too much caution, and it is the country as a whole that sinks.”

The authorities have confirmed 23,660 coronavirus deaths, but the number of hospitalized patients is declining.

Among the details Mr. Philippe outlined:

  • The country will be split between “green” areas, where cases are scarce, and “red” ones, which will be subject to more restrictions. Elderly people will be encouraged to limit their movements and contacts. Schools will reopen gradually.

  • People will be free to circulate up to 100 kilometers from home, but travel beyond that will be limited, and public gatherings of more than 10 people will be banned. Wearing masks in public will be strongly encouraged — and mandatory in certain places, like schools or, for at least 3 weeks, in public transportation.

  • At least 700,000 tests would be carried out per week, enabling authorities to identify and isolate carriers.

  • Most shops will reopen, and owners will be allowed to refuse service to customers who aren’t wearing masks. Cafes, restaurants and bars will remain closed until at least the end of May. Large museums, theaters, and concert halls will remain closed until further notice.

  • France’s paid furlough program, which the government has made widely available during the pandemic, will continue until June.

JetBlue will require passengers to wear face coverings starting next week, becoming the first major American airline to compel its customers to cover their noses and mouths since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

The policy, which takes effect Monday, covers the duration of a passenger’s flight, from check-in through boarding and deplaning, the airline said.

JetBlue already had been requiring its crew members to wear face coverings while on duty. The airline said it modeled its new policy on a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that people cover their noses and mouths in public to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Singapore has seen a surge of coronavirus cases among migrant workers, after months of successfully controlling the outbreak. As of Tuesday, coronavirus cases linked to migrant worker dormitories accounted for 88 percent of Singapore’s 14,446 cases, including more than 1,400 new cases in a single day.

Many migrant workers live on the outskirts of the city in dormitories that can house up to 20 people per room, making it almost impossible to follow social distancing guidelines.

Singapore has traced the contacts of people infected with the coronavirus and released detailed information about clusters of cases. An analysis of the data shows how the virus has spread rapidly among migrant worker dormitories.

The government has directed all laborers living in dormitories to stop working until May 4, imposing a stay-at-home order for 180,000 foreign workers in the construction sector. The government has also declared 25 dormitories as isolation areas, where workers are confined to their rooms.

Transient Workers Count Too, an advocacy group for migrant workers in Singapore, criticized the plan to quarantine such a large population together, comparing the lockdown to situations on cruise ships in which cases multiplied uncontrollably even when passengers were kept to their rooms.

More than 20 percent of Singapore’s population of 5.7 million are foreign workers. Many come from Bangladesh and India, and they work in construction, shipping, manufacturing and domestic service sectors.

The breakdown of nationalities among the confirmed cases shows that workers from these countries have been disproportionately affected.

It would be “exceedingly difficult” for Japan to hold the Tokyo Olympics next summer without a coronavirus vaccine, the head of a Japanese physicians’ group said on Tuesday.

But sticking to that plan would require an improved “global situation,” Dr. Yoshitake Yokokura, the president of the Japan Medical Association, told reporters on Tuesday. “My personal opinion is that if an effective vaccine has not been developed it will be difficult to hold the Olympic Games,” he said.

“I would not say they should not be held, but I would say that it would be exceedingly difficult,” Dr. Yokokura added.

On Tuesday, Yoshiro Mori, the president of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, was quoted as telling a Japanese newspaper that the Games would be “scrapped” if they could not take place next July.

“The Olympics would be much more valuable than any Olympics in the past if we could go ahead with it after winning this battle,” Mr. Mori told the Nikkan Sports daily. “We have to believe this. Otherwise our hard work and efforts will not be rewarded.”

As of Monday night, Japan’s coronavirus death toll stood at 376, and its national caseload was over 13,000. Dr. Yokokura told reporters on Tuesday that he felt it was still too early to consider lifting the country’s state of emergency.

These days there are few trains or passengers to disturb the quiet within the cavernous Gare du Nord in Brussels, but twice a day, a long line of migrants and homeless people forms along one of the idle platforms.

Nabil Moujahid and other volunteers risk infection to meet them, handing out 500 packages of food and toiletries every day to people who have been set adrift by Belgium’s coronavirus lockdown.

“We have a rotating system with other volunteers in order to ensure that we give out meals twice a day,” said Mr. Moujahid, 33, a teacher and founder of a migrant aid group, Citizens in Solidarity. “These people really count on it.”

Each year, thousands of migrants apply for refugee status in Belgium, or pass through on their way to other countries. At any given time, there are usually hundreds in government-run detention centers, and hundreds more living on the streets of Brussels.

But when Belgium entered lockdown in March, it emptied half of the detention centers to reduce crowding. It stopped taking new asylum applications, and later resumed, but only online and only in French or Flemish — for people who often speak neither language, and have no access to computers.

The result has been an increase in homeless migrants without government support, including food. At the same time, empty streets mean fewer people giving money or food to the homeless, including native Belgians.

Volunteers are struggling to fill the void, but the national government is discouraging them from going into the field, for fear of contagion. The local Brussels government has rented two private hotels and transformed them into shelters, but they are already overcrowded.

In addition to distributing food, volunteers like Mr. Moujahid attempt to explain social distancing and other measures to people who are often cut off from information or face language barriers.

“They are very confused,” he said.

On a Ping-Pong table in her North London garden, Atalanta Georgopoulos signed her last will and testament, then backed a pandemic-safe distance away. Her neighbor and his house cleaner, approached next, to sign — with their own pens — as witnesses.

The goal was to complete the will without also putting life at risk — which, in England, is harder than it sounds.

As the coronavirus has made mortality more real to legions of people, demand for wills has soared and governments around the world have scrambled to simplify writing them. But English traditions have stood still, defying lawyers who say their health and their clients’ are jeopardized by rules dating to 1837, when Queen Victoria’s reign began.

The law mandates that a will be signed in the physical presence of two witnesses who are not beneficiaries — or drunk — and people are finding new ways to comply in a time of social distancing. They have signed through nursing home windows, pinned documents under windshield wipers and dog bowls, and discussed weighty matters from opposite ends of driveways.

“Before the coronavirus started, I would have been a classic example of wanting to bury my head in the sand and not face it all,” said Ms. Georgopoulos, 48, a writer and mother of three. “But since it kicked off, there’s just a more practical need to get these things sorted.”

American rules are often looser, and dozens of states have relaxed them further since the coronavirus struck, sometimes allowing people to act as witnesses by videoconference.

Lawyers in Scotland, which has its own legal system, have also started witnessing wills by video.

But lawyers and witnesses in England — and Wales and Northern Ireland, where similar rules apply — have to weigh the risk of in-person contact, and visits to hospitals and nursing homes.

China is pushing back against the growing chorus of voices around the world calling for the country to pay compensation for the damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

At a regular news briefing on Tuesday, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Geng Shuang, accused politicians in the United States of “lying through their teeth.”

“We advise American politicians to reflect on their own problems and try their best to control the epidemic as soon as possible, instead of continuing to play tricks to deflect blame,” he said.

Mr. Geng’s comments came one day after President Trump suggested in a news briefing that the United States would be seeking “substantial” compensation for Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

China is also on the defensive in Australia. China’s ambassador to Australia warned on Monday that the government’s call for an independent international inquiry into the origins of the pandemic could lead to a Chinese consumer boycott of Australian products and services.

“Maybe the ordinary people will say ‘Why should we drink Australian wine? Eat Australian beef?” the ambassador, Cheng Jingye, said in an interview published in The Australian Financial Review.

In response, the Australian foreign minister, Marise Payne, dismissed China’s attempt at “economic coercion.”

The war of words continued late into the night.

“Australia is always messing around,” Hu Xijin, the editor of Global Times, a nationalist tabloid controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, wrote in a social media post. “I feel it is a bit like chewing gum stuck to the soles of China’s shoes. Sometimes you have to find a stone to scrape it off.”

Officials across Afghanistan have expressed fear that the coronavirus is already circulating among hospital workers, threatening to overwhelm a stretched system and deprive Afghans of what little health care they have at a time of raging conflict.

Of particular concern are poorer provinces, where facilities are already burdened with the daily demand of established diseases and the treatment of high numbers of casualties from the ongoing conflict with the Taliban.

Afghanistan has at least 1,828 confirmed coronavirus infections, but officials warn that the number is most likely much higher, as testing has been extremely limited. The high percentage of positive results in a small number of tests indicates a widespread outbreak.

Many health officials lamented the lack of testing, fearing that hospital workers could be spreading the virus as they continued to work without knowing whether they were infected.

In the western province of Herat, the early epicenter of the Afghan outbreak, 51 nurses and doctors have tested positive for the virus. In Faryab Province in the north, where fighting continues in several districts, the governor said the I.C.U. section of the only hospital was under quarantine.

In the main regional hospital in Kunduz, which serves all of restive northeastern Afghanistan, 70 of the 361 staff members have been quarantined, with 20 doctors and one nurse testing positive. The hospital still has to treat the war wounded from Kunduz, a city overrun by the Taliban twice in recent years, as well as from neighboring provinces where intense fighting continues.

“From all the wards, we have one to four doctors infected,” said Dr. Naeem Mangal, the head of the hospital. “We are all scared of each other at the hospital because we don’t know who is infected and who isn’t.”

Dr. Mangal said the hospital had reduced the number of patients it was accepting by half, but that they simply could not refuse those who arrive at their gates with wounds from fighting. Dr. Mangal said 100 to 150 patients arrive on a daily basis, about half of them victims of the conflict.

“We are telling people, pleading with them — unless you really have to, don’t come to the hospital,” Dr. Mangal said. “The virus is in circulation at the hospital.”

For five weeks, Indians have united to zealously carry out a nationwide lockdown, the largest anywhere and one of the most severe. But as the central government has begun lifting restrictions in areas with few or no known cases of infection, officials are now facing a new challenge: persuading fearful residents, and their leaders, to consider a partial reopening.

By many measures, the nationwide lockdown imposed last month by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has helped blunt the spread of the coronavirus. India’s doubling rate for cases has slowed to around nine days, and infections have remained relatively low for a nation of 1.3 billion, with nearly 30,000 confirmed cases and 900 deaths.

Last Monday, India took a step toward reviving the economy to “mitigate hardship to the public,” allowing construction, plantation work and some manufacturing to resume. By Friday, the central government had further eased restrictions, permitting many shops to reopen in rural parts of the country and outside hot spots, which have largely been traced to bigger cities like Mumbai and New Delhi.

But unlike the initial lockdown, which Indians widely endorsed despite the clear costs of shutting a country where around half the population lives on less than three dollars a day, the lifting of restrictions has divided state leaders. They have some autonomy to set their own coronavirus guidelines, as long as they are no less strict than those imposed by the central government.

Warning that Russia has now entered the hardest stage of the coronavirus pandemic, President Vladimir V. Putin on Tuesday extended until May 11 a nationwide lockdown that he first ordered in March.

Mr. Putin told a teleconference of regional governors that Russia had put a brake on the coronavirus outbreak but not yet reached the peak of infection, which means it needs to prolong restrictions on movement across much of the country.

“We must be very disciplined to stop the wave,” he said, assuring Russians that “the more rigidly the rules are observed the faster quarantine can be relaxed.”

The president told regional leaders to decide for themselves what specific lockdown restrictions were needed, while stressing that after May 11 controls could begin to be eased but only slowly.

He warned of a “long and difficult path ahead,” and said the country “cannot afford to lose all we have achieved in recent weeks.”

Russia, which was hit by the virus later than most countries despite its long border with China, still has relatively few cases. It has reported a total of 93,558 confirmed coronavirus infections on Tuesday and just 867 deaths, compared with a death toll of more than 50,000 in the United States.

As the coronavirus outbreak ebbs in China, the country’s companies and officials have made big strides in restarting its economy. Its factories, brought to a standstill when the coronavirus outbreak swept through the country in January, are humming again, and even the air pollution is coming back.

But empowering consumers could be the tougher task. Many lost their jobs or had their pay slashed. Still others were shaken by weeks of idleness and home confinement, a time when many had to depend on their savings to eat. For a generation of young Chinese people known for their American-style shopping sprees, saving and thrift hold a sudden new appeal.

China’s consumer confidence problem offers potential lessons for the United States and Europe, which are only beginning to plan their recoveries. Even if companies reopen, the real challenge may lie in enabling or persuading stricken and traumatized consumers to start spending money again.

A number of economists have called on China to do more to help consumers. The United States and other countries have unleashed major spending programs that include direct payments to households, but China has largely refrained so far, in part because of debt concerns.

The British government has said that families of health care workers who die from the coronavirus in England will receive 60,000 pounds, or about $75,000, in compensation.

“Of course, nothing replaces the loss of a loved one,” the British health minister, Matt Hancock, said on Monday as he announced the plan, “but we want to do everything that we can to support families who are dealing with this grief.”

The program will cover public health workers, including general practitioners, dentists, retirees and students who take up paid roles, according to a government statement.

The news came a day before Britain observed one minute of silence in honor of key workers who have died during the pandemic. Government officials, medical workers, firefighters and other front-line staff halted their work to take part in the remembrance, a stark departure from the boisterous applause that erupts across the country on Thursday evenings.

“We’ve become used to hearing a great roar on a Thursday night for key workers, but this respectful silence will be a poignant reminder of the risks they run to keep us safe,” Donna Kinnair, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said in a statement.

Criticism of the compensation plan was swift, with many on social media asking why the government was not giving key workers a raise while they are alive and why health care workers lacked adequate personal protective equipment.

“For somebody’s life? Is that all it’s worth?” Dominic Kevill wrote on Twitter on Monday.

Though the program was introduced for workers in England, funding will also be provided for similar programs in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the government said. Mr. Hancock added that other key workers were also being considered for similar compensation.

The BBC reported on Tuesday that at least 114 health care workers in Britain have died from the coronavirus since the outbreak began.

After visiting a Malaysian health clinic in mid-April, Noor Azmi Ghazali, the country’s deputy health minister, stopped for lunch at an Islamic school. He posted pictures on Facebook of himself sitting on the floor, sharing dishes with others and eating with his hands, in keeping with local tradition.

On Tuesday, Mr. Noor pleaded guilty to contravening Malaysia’s strict lockdown measures, which have resulted in the arrests of around 15,000 people, according to Human Rights Watch. The court fined him about $230.

Malaysia’s lockdown, which began in mid-March and has been extended to May 12, prohibits public gatherings and most outings, apart from trips to purchase food.

Many of Malaysia’s roughly 5,800 coronavirus cases have been traced to a religious gathering organized by an Islamic missionary movement, Tablighi Jamaat, from which the virus spread to at least half a dozen nations.

Opposition lawmakers have accused the Malaysian government of using the lockdown as a pretext to clamp down on free speech, and of allowing prominent politicians to flout the lockdown, such as an official who celebrated his birthday with a party.

Less prominent offenders have been jailed in crowded prisons for breaching the lockdown measures. One college student was sentenced to a week in jail for bringing a home-baked cake to her boyfriend.

As donations flooded in to fight the virus devastating the city of Wuhan, the ruling Communist Party of China directed them to a group it could trust: the Chinese Red Cross.

Bearing the familiar red-and-white logo, it looks just like any Red Cross group that rushes to disasters, deploys medics and raises funds across the world with political neutrality and independence.

In Wuhan, the charity’s officials were quickly paralyzed by bureaucracy, competing mandates and chaos. For days, tens of millions of dollars in funds went unused, while piles of protective gear sat in a sprawling warehouse as desperate health workers battled the virus without it.

When officials did distribute aid, they sent tens of thousands of masks to private clinics that were not treating coronavirus patients. In one early shipment, they prioritized local officials over health care workers. In another delivery, the equipment was substandard.

“I just wanted to cry,” said Chang Le, a doctor at Wuhan’s Hankou Hospital, in a video he posted online after the Red Cross delivered thousands of nonmedical grade masks.

Reporting was contributed by Richard Pérez-Peña, Karen Zraick, Kenneth Chang, Ceylan Yeginsu, Benjamin Mueller, Keith Bradsher, Elian Peltier, Najim Rahim, Mujib Mashal, Iliana Magra, Raphael Minder, Aurelien Breeden, Constant Méheut, Amy Qin, Megan Specia, Melissa Eddy, Mike Ives, Makiko Inoue, Motoko Rich, Javier C. Hernández, Sui-Lee Wee, Kai Schultz, Sameer Yasir, Hannah Beech, Julfikar Ali Manik, Elaine Yu, Daniel Politi, Shawn Hubler, Jacey Fortin, Mihir Zaveri, Adam Dean, Richard C. Paddock, Muktita Suhartono, Andrew Jacobs, Andrew Higgins, Weiyi Cai, K.K. Rebecca Lai, Thomas Erdbrink, Christina Anderson and Dera Menra Sijabat.