HEALTH

Coronavirus World Updates

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Amid the pomp and propaganda in Beijing, the virus is weighing on President Xi Jinping’s efforts to restart the Chinese economy and show the world that his government has tamed the epidemic.

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Beijing was expected to provide further details on Friday of its plans to impose stringent new security legislation on Hong Kong, where the virus has dampened protests against Chinese rule.

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Credit…Pool photo by Ng Han Guan

The pandemic hovers over China’s once-a-year political congress.

Coronavirus cases in China have slowed to a fraction of what they were in January, but the pandemic was weighing heavily on the country’s politics and economy as top officials began a tightly choreographed legislative pageant on Friday.

In one sense, the National People’s Congress is a chance for China’s leaders, who won broad public support for curbing the spread of the outbreak, to push back against growing international criticism over its early missteps in Wuhan. President Xi Jinping has described his government’s containment efforts as a “people’s war” against the virus.

For one, Mr. Xi’s government faces a new outbreak in Jilin, a northeastern province of 27 million people that sits near China’s borders with Russia and North Korea. Jilin has been put under a Wuhan-style lockdown as it has reported an outbreak that is still small — about 130 cases and two deaths — but has the potential to become a “big explosion,” experts say.

Then there is the economy, which shrank in the first three months of the year compared with a year earlier — the first decline in the modern era. On Friday, Chinese officials declined to set an economic growth target for this year and outlined plans to ramp up government spending.

“At present, the epidemic has not yet come to an end, while the tasks we face in promoting development are immense,” Premier Li Keqiang told lawmakers as the National People’s Congress opened in Beijing on Friday. “We must redouble our efforts to minimize the losses resulting from the virus.”

The virus also presented challenges for organizers of the Congress, which is a logistical nightmare even in normal times.

Delegates have been made to take nucleic acid tests for the virus before being allowed to travel to Beijing. Masks will be required, windows will be opened to improve ventilation and plastic dividers will sit atop dinner tables.

Ecuador’s biggest city is a regional hot spot, as the virus roils Latin America.

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How Ecuador’s Port City Became a Coronavirus Epicenter

Ecuador took early aggressive measures to stop the coronavirus, but ended up becoming an epicenter of the pandemic in Latin America. How? We revisit the first confirmed case and what led to the disease’s spread.

Outside a hospital in Guayaquil, Ecuador, a family seals the coffin of their father with plastic wrap. Many people in Guayaquil blame the government for failing to slow the spread of coronavirus, and to deal with the thousands of bodies that have piled up in the aftermath. Guayaquil has suffered arguably the worst Covid death toll in Latin America. The thing is, Ecuador had acted earlier than its neighbors to close borders and order strict quarantine. So what went wrong? From the start, the one-two Bioreports News of rapid contagion and the ensuing death toll caught local and national officials off guard. On Feb. 27, doctors in Guayaquil diagnosed the country’s first Covid-19 patient, Bella Lamilla, a 71-year-old retired teacher, otherwise known as “Patient Zero.” Dr. Esteban Ortiz-Prado is a medical investigator helping to advise the government on the pandemic. It took 13 days to diagnose Lamilla with coronavirus. And in that time, she infected many other people, including much of her family, pictured here in 2019. In all, three family members died, including Bella herself. After she arrived in Ecuador, Lamilla stayed in the home of her niece, Cassandra, in the town of Babahoyo. Bella Lamilla was certainly not the only case. There were at least six other flights from Madrid to Guayaquil between the time she arrived and when she was diagnosed. Other travelers later tested positive for Covid-19. Those lost weeks led to an out-of-control epidemic. Two and a half weeks after Bella Lamilla’s diagnosis, the country was on lockdown. Two weeks after that, Guayaquil was in the throes of the most aggressive outbreak in Latin America. “It is true that at the very beginning, it was a disaster. We are learning by mistake, by errors that we made.” This is Dr. Juan Carlos Zevallos. He was installed as Ecuador’s health minister in late March, after the former minister resigned. He admits the government should have tested and tracked patients. But he also blames residents for not following stay-at-home orders after Bella’s diagnosis. “Ecuador, as I said, was prepared. I mean, did all the measures in place and very early. Unfortunately, the people didn’t hear us. And they did not obey those restrictions.” Like a lot of cities in Latin America, a large segment of Guayaquil’s population lives day to day, working informal jobs. So to stay home means not eating. It was a perfect storm of factors that left Guayaquil’s hospitals and morgues overwhelmed. Now, the government of Ecuador has another dilemma: Just how to bury the thousands of bodies that have piled up in the weeks after Lamilla’s death? Ecuador’s official Covid death toll is several hundred. But forensic police have been working around the clock to collect and account for thousands more dead. And construction is now underway for various large burial sites around the city. Container trucks like this one transport corpses to one new site on the outskirts of Guayaquil, in the neighborhood of Pascuales. Local residents fearful of contamination are outraged. Officials in charge of handling the dead have promised that each body will have a separate resting place. We attempted to film drone footage of the new burial site. But Ecuadorean soldiers ordered our team to bring the drone down, and temporarily confiscated our footage. A human rights worker documented the incident. Since the first coronavirus diagnosis, distrust of the government’s handling of this crisis appears to have spread as fast as the contagion itself.

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Ecuador took early aggressive measures to stop the coronavirus, but ended up becoming an epicenter of the pandemic in Latin America. How? We revisit the first confirmed case and what led to the disease’s spread.CreditCredit…Ivan Castaneira for The bioreports

Ecuador took early, aggressive measures to stop the coronavirus, but could not prevent its largest city, Guayaquil, from becoming the site of Latin America’s worst outbreak. A lack of tracking and testing of people who arrived in Ecuador from Europe contributed to the spread of the virus in February.

It took 13 days to diagnose an Ecuadorean woman the government labeled Patient 0, who was living in Spain and had returned home. In that time, she infected at least 17 other people, including much of her family, according to a medical investigator.

As the Ecuadorean authorities grapple with the scale of the crisis that caused hospitals and morgues to collapse, they believe the toll is likely many times larger than the official figure of 520 deaths.

Separately, President Alejandro Giammattei of Guatemala on Thursday voiced frustration over U.S. deportations of people infected with the coronavirus, saying it was causing “serious problems” for his nation’s health system. That country has more than 2,200 confirmed coronavirus cases, and 45 reported deaths.

Residents of a British city receive food deliveries from robots, albeit with limitations.

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Credit…Ben Quinton for The bioreports

If any place was prepared for quarantine, it was Milton Keynes. Two years before the pandemic, a start-up called Starship Technologies deployed a fleet of rolling delivery robots in the small city about 50 miles northwest of London.

The squat six-wheeled robots shuttled groceries and dinner orders to homes and offices. As the coronavirus spread, Starship shifted the fleet even further into grocery deliveries. Locals like Emma Maslin could buy from the corner store with no human contact.

“There’s no social interaction with a robot,” Ms. Maslin said.

The sudden usefulness of the robots to people staying in their homes is a tantalizing hint of what the machines could one day accomplish — at least under ideal conditions. Milton Keynes, with a population of 270,000 and a vast network of bicycle paths, is perfectly suited to rolling robots. Demand has been so high in recent weeks, some residents have spent days trying to schedule a delivery.

When the Starship robots first arrived in Milton Keynes, one of the fastest-growing cities in Britain, Liss Page thought they were cute but pointless. “The first time I met one, it was stuck on the curb outside my house,” she said.

Then, in early April, she opened a letter from the National Health Service advising her not to leave the house because her asthma and other conditions made her particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus. In the weeks that followed, the robots provided a much-needed connection to the outside world.

Smaller deliveries suit Ms. Page because she lives alone. But like the grocery vans that deliver larger orders across the city, the Starship robots are ultimately limited by what is on the shelves.

“You pad out the order with things you don’t really need to make the delivery charge worthwhile,” Ms. Page said. “With the last delivery, all I got were the things I didn’t really need.”

Trump, visiting a hard-hit U.S. state, declines to wear a mask in public.

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Credit…Doug Mills/The bioreports

President Trump, who has defiantly refused to wear a mask in public despite the recommendations of federal health officials, toured a Ford plant in Michigan on Thursday with his face uncovered. That was against the factory’s guidelines and the direct urging of the state’s attorney general.

During his visit, Mr. Trump continued to press for the further easing of social-distancing restrictions. He blamed Democrats for keeping the economy closed and suggested voters would punish them in the presidential election and view it as “a November question.”

Separately, Mr. Trump called on Thursday for flags at the White House, on public grounds across the country and on naval vessels to be flown at half-staff in honor of the victims of the coronavirus. It was a rare acknowledgment of the lives lost from an administration that typically likes to downplay the death toll and take credit for lives it claims it saved.

The federal government reported on Thursday that another 2.4 million American workers filed for jobless benefits last week, bringing the total to a staggering 38.6 million in nine weeks.

Reporting contributed by Javier C. Hernández, Keith Bradsher, Chris Buckley, Karen Zraick, Mike Ives, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, James Gorman, Cade Metz and Erin Griffith.

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