The number of daily new cases is higher than ever, but the rate of new deaths is falling.
As the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases inches steadily closer toward five million, the average number of daily new cases worldwide over the past week — more than 91,000 — is higher than it has ever been, according to data compiled by The New York Times.
In Italy, new research shows that the outbreak there probably took hold weeks before the first confirmed cases, meaning that by the time the country imposed a nationwide lockdown in March, the virus might have already been widespread.
And if the country had begun locking down cities and limiting social contact on March 1, two weeks earlier than when most people started staying home, about 83 percent of the nation’s deaths would have been avoided, the researchers estimated.
As hindsight offers a clearer picture of the start of the outbreak, nations are taking steps to loosen restrictions and reinvigorate their economies. This week, all 50 U.S. states began reopening to some degree, much of the European Union began introducing measures to allow travel within the bloc to save the summer tourism season, and India restarted domestic flights.
But the restart is a balancing act, as new outbreaks in China attest. The authorities there have had to confront scattered outbreaks in the northeast and are resorting to the strict lockdown measures used in the city of Wuhan, where the pandemic began last year.
The international aid confederation Oxfam will withdraw from 18 countries as a part of a reorganization effort that accelerated because of the pandemic’s economic consequences.
In a statement this week, Oxfam said its finances had been “seriously impacted” during the pandemic and that its affiliates had been canceling fund-raising events, closing shops, ordering furloughs and curbing travel.
“We’ve been planning this for some time but we are now accelerating key decisions in light of the effects of the global pandemic,” Chema Vera, Oxfam’s interim executive director, said in a statement.
The changes, he added, would be “the foundation for our future over the coming decade as the longer-term effects of this devastating pandemic become clearer.”
Under the plan, Oxfam’s footprint will shrink to 48 countries as it “exits its programs over time” in 18 countries, including Afghanistan, Cuba, Haiti, Liberia, Pakistan, Paraguay, Rwanda and Thailand. Nearly a third of its roughly 5,000 program staff members will be affected, along with about 700 partner groups.
More than three million people were whisked from their homes, but many were apprehensive about rushing into packed emergency shelters, where they feared catching the virus. And hundreds of shelters were unavailable because they had been converted into quarantine centers.
But the storm caused less damage than initially feared. The combination of the evacuation effort and the storm weakening as it swirled onto land appears to have spared many lives. Several deaths were reported, but the final toll was still being tallied on Thursday.
In Bangladesh, many have been returning to their villages to assess the devastation caused by the winds.
Mohammed Salah Uddin, 42, said he and 10 others had returned to his village after crisscrossing uprooted trees and electricity wires on the streets. He said that the cyclone shelter he was in was overcrowded and that people did not maintain any social distance. Pictures from other shelters in Bangladesh showed huge crowds of people packed in and few people wearing masks.
“It looked scary,” Mr. Uddin said. “It is better to live in destroyed home than catch the diseases.”
The British government’s easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions has coincided with the hottest week of the year, and crowds at beaches and parks across the country have led to concerns that they pose a threat to public health.
Downing Street changed its coronavirus campaign slogan last week from “stay at home” to “stay alert.” It also modified lockdown rules in England to allow unlimited outdoor exercise and gave people in Britain the green light to go to the beach.
Steps taken by officials elsewhere in Europe reflected concerns that an abundance of day-trippers could lead to increased transmissions of the virus. In France, the authorities in Brittany shut down beaches in five municipalities, citing “unacceptable behavior” and a failure to abide by social distancing rules, and Dutch towns near the border with Germany urged their neighbors not to come.
Likewise in seaside towns across England, local communities have asked people to stay away because they cannot cope with high volumes of visitors. But the warnings went unheeded in many areas.
Parks across London were also brimming with people who gathered for picnics, sunbathing and exercise. Hyde Park, in central London, looked like a regular warm day midweek, with many people ignoring social distancing measures. The only visible difference was that several people were wearing masks.
The measures take effect as China prepares for the biggest event on its political calendar, the annual session of the National People’s Congress — a tightly choreographed legislative pageant aimed at conveying the strength of the ruling Communist Party.
The latest outbreak is concentrated in Jilin, a northeastern province of 27 million people near China’s borders with Russia and North Korea. Jilin has reported a relatively small outbreak of about 130 cases and two deaths, and experts there have warned of a potential “big explosion.”
The response reflects fears among China’s leaders over the potential for a fresh wave of infections as factories, schools and restaurants reopen across much of the country.
President Xi Jinping has seized on the pandemic as a chance to redeem the party after early mistakes let infections slip out of control and to rally national pride in the face of international ire over those missteps. That theme is likely to underpin the National People’s Congress, an annual legislative meeting that opens on Friday after a monthslong delay.
Mr. Xi has largely succeeded in rewriting the narrative in China, in part because the disarray in other countries, especially the United States, has given him a reprieve from domestic political pressure.
But keeping up that narrative may be challenging. He must continue to push his agenda while China faces a diplomatic and economic climate as daunting as any since the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.
“If you position yourself as a great helmsman uniquely capable of leading your country, that has a lot of domestic political risk if you fail to handle the job appropriately,” said Carl Minzner, a professor of Chinese law and politics at Fordham University.
Carlotta Gall is The Times’s Istanbul bureau chief. She previously covered the aftershocks of the Arab Spring from Tunisia, reported from the Balkans during the war in Kosovo and Serbia, and covered Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Every weekend, for over a month now, Istanbul has been under a strict curfew because of the coronavirus. No one is allowed out, not for exercise or groceries, and the police impose fines. Sometimes, like last weekend and next, the street-emptying lockdown stretches for four days to take in public holidays.
Of course, Istanbul’s curfew could never be a total shutdown. Its residents have lived through multiple military coups, sieges, earthquakes, pestilence and other calamities, and know well that life must go on.
So bakers are exempt from the curfew, because fresh bread is so important for the Turkish table. They shout their wares on the empty street and sell bread from the back of their vans.
When Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, began last month, pastry shops also got an exemption. Turks, it seems, cannot do without their baklava, that heavenly, multilayered, flaky pastry, bound up with nuts and syrup, that is the nation’s favorite sweet.
Journalists were allowed out, too, so I went to visit Karakoy Gulluoglu, the most famous house of baklava, down near a ferry dock.
Murat Gullu, the general manager, whose great-grandfather founded the company in the 19th century, said he had asked the government to allow baklava makers to stay open.
“We eat baklava on all occasions,” he said, “especially in Ramadan, at celebrations and at funerals.”
The study, from the Milan Polyclinic Hospital, found that one in 20 adult blood donors in the area already had the virus’s antibodies at the time, just days after Italy’s first coronavirus diagnosis on Feb. 20.
In Italy, researchers conducted antibody tests on about 800 blood samples gathered in Milan from Feb. 24 to April 8. They found that 4.6 percent of asymptomatic people who donated their blood in the first week of that period — which coincided with the start of the outbreak — had coronavirus antibodies.
“Our impression,” said Luca Valenti, one of the researchers, “is that the infection started circulating by the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020.”
Although the study does not shed new light on the nature of the virus, it does give a clearer picture of its arrival in Europe. And it could help explain the severity of the death toll in Italy, which is now more than 32,000.
A month into Denmark’s reopening, people have returned to work and boarded public transit and children have returned to school. Yet an expected rise in coronavirus-linked hospital admissions along with the easing of the nation’s lockdown has not materialized.
In fact, Danish hospital admissions associated with the coronavirus have continued to decrease.
The Danish State Serum Institute said on Wednesday that it was unclear why there had not been more coronavirus cases about four weeks after the reopening began. The institute suggested that it could be down to social distancing, improved hygiene or a mutation in the virus that has made it less contagious.
Denmark was among the first countries in the West to begin easing restrictions, with classrooms and day care centers opened for the youngest children on April 15, followed by the reopening of some small businesses, and later the remaining schoolchildren. All shops have been back in business from May 11, and this week restaurants and cafes were able to open.
The number of Covid-19 patients admitted to Danish hospitals has been in steady decline from its peak on April 2, nearly two weeks before the easing. On Thursday, the number dropped to 122, the lowest in two months.
Along with these trends, demands have grown for further reopening. On Wednesday, the country’s Parliament agreed to allow to all gatherings except at nightclubs, big events and sports with spectators. The borders will remain closed to most travelers.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, who has been widely praised for her coronavirus response, may have scored even more points this week when she suggested that employees could have a four-day week in order to move around the country more and bolster the tourism industry.
In a Facebook live post on Monday, Ms. Ardern said that the decision was ultimately between employers and employees, but that it would “certainly help tourism all around the country.”
She added that with many people working from home during the pandemic, the added productivity that can result had “encouraged people to think about, if they’re an employer and in a position to do so, to think about whether or not that is something that would work for their workplace.”
“The time has come,” Mike Farman, a Twitter user, wrote in a tweet on Thursday, although others questioned whether switching to a four-day workweek would mean reduced wages and productivity.
Lockdowns around the world have prompted companies, employees and lawmakers to think about work in a different way. Some have begun making temporary decisions more permanent, including Twitter, which has said that it will let employees work from home indefinitely if they want to.
In a new study from Miguel Hernández University that examined the psychological effects of the confinement on children in Spain and Italy, about 90 percent of 431 Spanish parents surveyed described emotional and behavioral changes in their children, including difficulty concentrating, irritability and anxiety.
“I was really hopeful going outside would help things, but the first time we left our house, she was very nervous about being stopped by police,” one woman in Valencia said of her 7-year-old daughter. “Since then, she hasn’t been very interested in going outside.”
Experts worry about the pandemic’s potential long-term effects on children not just in Spain, but across the world, said Richard Meiser-Stedman, a trauma expert and professor of clinical psychology at the University of East Anglia in England.
India will resume domestic flights on Monday, two months after all passenger flights in the country were grounded to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus.
Under the new rules, each passenger must wear a surgical mask and a face shield.
Hardeep Singh Puri, the minister for civil aviation, announced the decision in a tweet on Wednesday. It surprised the domestic airline industry, which had been bracing for delays until at least May 31.
William Boulter, the chief commercial officer at the airline IndiGo, said that flights would initially resume at about a third of normal summer capacity.
“We’ve been talking with the authorities and the airports on how to maintain social distancing, and we look forward to providing an environment which will be safe for all our customers,” he said.
Before the lockdowns started, India had one of the world’s fastest-growing aviation markets. In 2018, over 204 million passengers flew in and out of the country’s airports, mostly on domestic flights.
Numerous airlines around the world have begun restarting routes, including the low-cost British operator EasyJet, which said it would resume flights in June. And as they do so, many are adding additional safety measures, including mandatory protective gear for all employees and empty seats between passengers.
A top Japanese official who ignored the country’s voluntary lockdown to play mahjong with a group of reporters has resigned.
The official, Hiromu Kurokawa, headed Tokyo’s public prosecutor’s office and is believed to be a close ally of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He was already in the nation’s bad graces after Mr. Abe tried to force a change in the retirement age for the prosecutor’s office, a move that was widely seen as an attempt to keep Mr. Kurokawa in power.
Mr. Kurokawa’s lockdown transgression was first reported by the Japanese magazine Shukan Bunshun.
While Japan has no legal mechanism for enforcing its lockdown, Mr. Kurokawa’s decision to ignore an national state of emergency provoked public anger. And it didn’t help that he and the reporters were playing mahjong for money — in a country where gambling is illegal.
Others in the region who have violated pandemic-related restrictions on movement:
Denmark’s top chef, René Redzepi, made new Nordic cooking an international sensation, and for nearly two decades has caused surprise, outrage and delight with his rules-breaking kitchen at Noma in Copenhagen.
But his latest menu may be the most shocking of them all: a pared-down selection of just two burgers.
The coronavirus lockdown caused the closure of Noma two months ago, and on Thursday it is reinventing itself as a burger joint in the first step in a gradual return to business.
The new menu is the shortest in the restaurant’s history, with just the two $18 burger options served in the restaurant’s garden. They come with a promise of lots of umami and “a little bit of magic from our fermentation cellar” the restaurant said in a statement.
And whereas at the old Noma, tables were sold out months in advance, now the hungry and the curious can “come as you are — there are no reservations.” The usual Noma is due to return to business later this year.
And if the country had begun locking down cities and limiting social contact on March 1, two weeks earlier than when most people started staying home, a vast majority of the nation’s deaths — about 83 percent — would have been avoided, the researchers estimated.
“It’s a big, big difference,” said Jeffrey Shaman, an epidemiologist at Columbia who led the research team. “That small moment in time, catching it in that growth phase, is incredibly critical in reducing the number of deaths.”
The cost of waiting to take action reflects the unforgiving dynamics of an outbreak that swept through U.S. cities in early March. Even small differences in timing would have prevented the worst exponential growth, which by April had subsumed New York City, New Orleans and other major cities, the researchers found.
Reporting was contributed by Alan Blinder, Karen Zraick, Iliana Magra, Azam Ahmed, Lorraine Allen, Hannah Beech, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Emma Bubola, Chris Buckley, Damien Cave, Ben Dooley, Carlotta Gall, Jeffrey Gettleman, Russell Goldman, Jenny Gross, Jason Gutierrez, Javier C. Hernández, Mike Ives, Hari Kumar, Claire Moses, Steven Lee Myers, Jin Qu, Austin Ramzy, Kai Schultz, Martin Selsoe Sorensen, Megan Specia, Shalini Venugopal Bhagat, Jin Wu, Sameer Yasir, Ceylan Yeginsu and Elaine Yu.