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Despite calls for cease-fires, mass displacements continue under pandemic.
Hundreds of thousands of people are facing the dual threats of displacement and the coronavirus as armed conflict and violence force them to flee, according to a new report from the Norwegian Refugee Council. From March 23 to May 15, conflicts in 19 countries have displaced at least 661,00 people.
The displacement comes weeks after António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, called for a global cease-fire to focus attention on the pandemic and lower the risk for those caught up in conflicts. But instead, hundreds of thousands of people have been pushed from their homes since mid-March, often into overcrowded and unsanitary conditions where the coronavirus can spread more easily.
The highest number of displaced by far was in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where more than 480,000 people fled their homes in recent weeks during clashes between armed groups and the military.
Yemen has also experienced a surge in displacement despite the Saudi-led coalition’s unilateral cease-fire, but it has not suspended airstrikes, and armed operations by other parties to the conflict have continued. At least 24,000 people in Yemen have fled their homes since mid-March.
In Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Syria, Somalia and Myanmar, more than 10,000 people were displaced in each nation in the same period.
The Norwegian Refugee Council, in a statement released with the report, called on world leaders to “rise to the occasion and jointly push parties to cease their fire and unite in protecting all communities from Covid-19.”
A vaccine developed in China appears to be safe and may offer protection against the virus, scientists say.
An early-stage trial of a coronavirus vaccine, published in The Lancet, was conducted by researchers at several laboratories and included 108 participants. Subjects who got the vaccine mounted a moderate immune response to the virus, which peaked 28 days after the inoculation, the researchers found.
A vaccine is considered to be the best long-term solution to ending the pandemic and helping countries reopen. Nearly 100 teams worldwide are racing to test various candidates.
Human trials have already started for several manufacturers, including Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech and the Chinese company CanSino. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said on Thursday it would provide “up to $1.2 billion” to the drug company AstraZeneca to develop a potential vaccine from a laboratory at Oxford University.
On Monday, the drug company Moderna, which has its headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., announced that its RNA vaccine appeared to be safe and effective, though that was based on results from just eight people in its trial. On Wednesday, researchers in Boston said a prototype vaccine protected monkeys from coronavirus infection.
The vaccine reported today was created with an adenovirus called Ad5 that easily enters human cells. However, many people already have been exposed to Ad5, so there is concern that antibodies to it will be too common to allow the vaccine to work widely.
Apart from pain at the injection site, close to half of the participants also reported fever, fatigue and headaches, and about one in five had muscle pain. The participants knew whether they were receiving a low, medium or high dose, which may have influenced their perceptions of the side effects.
U.K. announces a quarantine of international travelers, under threat of a £1,000 fine.
Britain will quarantine everyone flying into the country from June 8, including citizens, to fight the spread of the coronavirus, Home Secretary Priti Patel announced on Friday.
On arrival at an airport, travelers will have to provide an address where they will be staying. International travelers will face spot checks by public health officials and fines of 1,000 pounds, or about $1,200, if they failed to self-isolate for 14 days.
Citizens of Ireland would be exempt, but not arrivals from France, as had been previously reported.
Britain’s move comes more than seven weeks after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a stay-at-home order that has since been shifted to “stay alert” and is in line with measures by other countries. The chief executive of the budget airline Ryanair, Michael O’Leary, has described the new plans as “hopelessly defective,” “idiotic” and “unimplementable,” saying that Britain does not even have enough police officers to enforce the lockdown. Airlines UK has said the measure “would effectively kill” international travel to and from Britain.
But Jonathan Ashworth, the opposition Labour Party’s shadow health secretary, told Sky News that “many people had asked why we did not do this sooner,” adding, “Not taking all the measures that we should be taking is the idiotic position.”
The Eid al-Fitr holiday poses challenges for officials across the Muslim world.
Every morning before dawn for the past few weeks, Yasser al-Samak, a Bahraini man, has roamed the streets in his village outside Manama, the capital, waking his neighbors for the predawn suhoor meal that observant Muslims eat during the holy month of Ramadan before their daylong fast.
“Stay home with your family, and blend your suhoor with hope, because those who rely on God, he will protect them,” he sings, according to Agence France-Presse. “Make yourself strong with prayer and wear the mask as a shield against the pandemic.”
In villages and cities around the Middle East, some “Ramadan drummers” still keep alive a tradition that in recent years has given way to alarm clocks and smartphone alerts. But under the coronavirus cloud, almost everything else about Ramadan — and the usually joyful holiday that marks its end, Eid al-Fitr, which begins this weekend — has been new, and not in a good way.
As a nod to the holy month, and in part because Covid-19 caseloads seemed to be lightening, several Arab countries slightly relaxed restrictions on gathering and commerce — only to clamp down again as cases suddenly mounted.
The Eid holiday will pose a sharp challenge to the authorities: Instead of taking part in communal prayer, feasts and parties, many people in the Middle East and across the Muslim world will be more confined than they have been in weeks.
Saudi Arabia has announced a 24-hour curfew from Saturday through Wednesday, covering the entire holiday period. Omani authorities have banned all Eid gatherings, saying that residents have still been meeting in groups in defiance of social-distancing orders. Qatar has suspended all but a few business activities during Eid. The United Arab Emirates is shifting its nightly curfew earlier.
Egypt, which never shut down its economy to the extent that other countries in the region did, is also tightening up for Eid. The national curfew will be moved up four hours to 5 p.m.; restaurants, cafes, beaches and parks will be closed.
As for prayers, the religious authorities in Egypt and Saudi Arabia have ruled that they should be performed at home.
At a political congress, China aims to show it won’t be cowed by protests or the pandemic.
As China’s top leaders began a tightly choreographed legislative pageant on Friday, they made a show of strength to confront defiance in Hong Kong and the economic damage wrought by the coronavirus.
Other key goals of the National People’s Congress in Beijing include pushing back against growing international criticism over China’s early missteps in Wuhan, and outlining plans to ramp up government spending.
Yet President Xi Jinping’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.
“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 at the congress on Friday. “We must redouble our efforts to minimize the losses resulting from the virus.”
The virus — which has resulted in more than five million infections worldwide, according to data compiled by The New York Times — was also presenting logistical challenges for organizers of the congress. Delegates have been made to take nucleic acid tests for the virus before being allowed to travel to Beijing; windows were to be opened to improve ventilation; and most journalists must cover the event by video link.
Anti-malaria drugs may be harmful when taken to treat the coronavirus, a new study suggested.
The malaria drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine did not help coronavirus patients and may have done harm, according to a new study based on the records of nearly 15,000 patients who received the drugs and 81,000 who did not.
People who received the drugs were more likely to have abnormal heart rhythms, according to the study, which was published in the The Lancet.
But the study was observational, meaning that the patients were not picked at random to receive the drug or not. This type of study cannot provide definitive evidence about drug safety and effectiveness.
Even so, the authors of the study recommended that the drugs not be used outside clinical trials, and they said that carefully controlled trials were urgently needed.
Elementary students in China wear social distancing wings.
As schools in China slowly reopen, teachers have found novel ways to protect students from the coronavirus and enforce social distancing.
In one school, that meant giving the children wings. Photos showing fourth graders in Taiyuan, in China’s northern Shanxi province, wearing colorful wings on their backs, with the message, “Because I love you, let’s keep one-meter distance.”
The wings were designed and created by students and their parents from recycled materials. One wore wings fashioned from green cardboard and decorated with heart-shaped notes, and another was adorned with fabric feathers.
“We organized this activity as a tribute to the most beautiful people — the angels in white,” Zhao Gailing, the principal of Xinghualing District Foreign Language Primary School, told the Chinese newspaper Southern Metropolis Daily, referring to health care workers. She said it also helped students better understand social distancing as they adapt to their newfound wingspan.
The school has also arranged “breathing classes” that allow children to take off the mandatory face masks and get fresh air outside the classroom. In late January, as the coronavirus outbreak spread in China, elementary schools were closed, but most reopened in April with strict measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
In a similar move, first graders in an elementary school in Hangzhou are wearing “one-meter hats” with plumes made of cardboard and even balloons to remind each other of social distancing.
Nordic countries consider a ‘travel bubble,’ but Sweden might be kept out of the decision.
Plans for a potential Nordic “travel bubble” that would see the neighboring nations open their borders to travel among their residents has one major sticking point: Sweden.
Allowing Swedish visitors to enter Finland could run the risk of undermining that county’s coronavirus containment measures, Finland’s top infectious disease expert said on Friday, arguing that the high numbers of cases and deaths in Sweden posed a greater threat than others.
But months into the pandemic, it has seen an extraordinary increase in deaths, throwing its strategy into question. With nearly 3,900 deaths as of Friday, Sweden has registered more than three times the number of deaths in Denmark, Norway, and Finland combined.
Mika Salminen, director of health security at Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare, told the Swedish broadcaster SVT that it would be risky to receive Swedish tourists.
“It is a political decision, but the actual difference in the spread of infection is a fact,” said Mr. Salminen, one of the experts leading Finland’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr. Salminen’s message echoed concerns of Finland’s interior minister, Maria Ohisalo, who has said that a travel bubble encompassing Nordic countries may be difficult to enact because the situation was “more worrying” in Sweden than in the others.
Under cover of the coronavirus, opponents in Malaysia have been muzzled.
The members of Malaysia’s Parliament, wearing face masks to match their crisp white uniforms, convened this week in the vast lower house chamber for the first time this year.
Malaysia’s king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, sat on an ornate golden throne and spoke for half an hour. No questions were allowed. No votes were taken. Afterward, Parliament was adjourned until July.
Muhyiddin Yassin, the newly appointed prime minister, and his allies have benefited from restrictions intended to slow the spread of the virus, but that have also limited the ability of opponents to organize and challenge them. Mr. Muhyiddin’s government imposed social distancing measures that slowed the virus’s spread but also, conveniently, minimized opportunities for his opponents to mobilize.
He canceled Parliament’s March session because of the pandemic, and limits on public gatherings have prevented the kind of protests seen in the Najib era, when tens of thousands of people took to the streets demanding his resignation.
Mr. Muhyiddin’s office announced that he had entered quarantine at home on Friday after attending a meeting on Wednesday with an official who later tested positive for the coronavirus, but he has so far tested negative for the virus.
None of the others who attended the post-cabinet meeting were identified, but all were ordered to go undergo preliminary testing and 14-day quarantines.
A famed Italian family circus has been held in limbo by the coronavirus.
“We’re stuck,” said Daniela Vassallo, 52, as she walked the field and steered clear of Giulio, the escaped camel.
A former contortionist-turned-administrator, Ms. Vassallo is a member of a family that has worked in the circus for at least six generations and has owned this particular show for 29 years. The last period has been perhaps the least eventful, as she and her relatives and assorted circus performers have passed the months here hunkered down in trailers next to peppermint-striped tents.
In reality, the Rony Rollers aren’t trapped so much as unwilling to go their separate ways. Like other dynasties in Italy’s vibrant, 60-circus strong big-top culture, the Vassallos own homes and property about an hour south in Latina, a town that is to circus people what Tampa, Fla., is to professional wrestlers.
At the end of Italy’s coronavirus lockdown, one of the camels broke free.
On a narrow field surrounded by low-rise apartments, bus stops and a tangled ribbon of highway ramps, the camel scampered past lions, which leapt against their cage. It distracted the acrobats practicing their flips on an aerial hoop and sauntered toward the languid, pregnant tiger, and stalls of horses and African Watusi bulls.
An animal tamer, wearing a welding helmet as he attended to repairs, quickly chased down the camel.
While the easing of travel restrictions has left circus members free to leave with menagerie and tents since early this month, Ms. Vassallo said that Latina was packed with other circus acts and animals, and that her performers dreaded the solitude of home isolation. She said the troupe had agreed it was preferable to keep renting this land across from a cornfield and pass the lockdown training together.
“Better in the company,” she said was the consensus, “with my people.”
Tiny nation of Andorra sought medical aid from an unlikely source.
Andorra, a tiny nation wedged between France and Spain, is home to just 77,000 people and is best known for its ski resorts and building up its wealth as a tax haven. It also has just one hospital.
So when the coronavirus outbreak began ravaging Europe, public health officials in the small country knew they had to look to the outside world for help. As the outbreak spread, Andorra welcomed 39 Cuban doctors and nurses to support that hospital’s staff. As neighboring Spain soon became one of the nations with the highest number of cases in Europe, Andorra braced for an influx of patients.
Maria Ubach, Andorra’s foreign minister, said in a phone interview that she took the unlikely initiative of calling on Cuba for assistance.
“When you are in a crisis situation, you have to make decisions quickly, so we turned to Cuba because we now have closer contacts with the Latin American continent,” Ms. Ubach said. “We would normally look to our neighbors France and Spain, but they were also facing a critical situation.”
The Cubans arrived in Andorra in late March, but their mission did not start well. One of the doctors tested positive for Covid-19 upon arrival, forcing the whole team into a week long quarantine.
But since then, the Cubans have made an important contribution in Andorra, which as of Friday, had an official coronavirus death toll of 51. While the number is small, it is proportionally among the highest in Europe given its small population.
The 12 doctors and 27 nurses integrated well with local medical staff members and helped share their workload, the minister said.
Cuba has dispatched doctors and nurses to a dozen countries in the crisis, including Italy at the start of the outbreak and several Central American and Caribbean nations.
The U.S. State Department has denounced Cuba’s medical missions, warning of labor exploitation by the state. But Ms. Ubach said the Cuban mission had been such a success that Andorra was considering extending the contract beyond May 31. She did not give financial details for the Cuban contract, but said that part of its cost had been covered by Alexis Sirkia, a wealthy resident of Andorra.
Australian officials find drugs in a shipment of medical supplies.
The packages were opened by border officers in Sydney in early May. In the first, about two pounds of methamphetamines were hidden under boxes of face masks and bottles of hand sanitizer. In the second, the drugs were stashed inside sanitizer bottles.
It was no surprise that criminals were taking advantage of the pandemic to smuggle drugs into the country, officials said. “We are continuing to detect and stop illicit substances coming into Australia, no matter how they’re being concealed,” said John Fleming, a Border Force superintendent who oversees mail and cargo.
Two weeks ago, much of Australia kicked off a three-stage reopening plan, in which many schools are reopening and cafes, restaurants and pubs are allowed to seat limited numbers of patrons. Officials said today in New South Wales, the country’s most populous state, that the number will be increased to 50 by June 1.
Travel restrictions in the region will also be lifted on that date, they said earlier this week, for the first time in two months.
Trump, visiting a hard-hit U.S. state, declines to wear a mask in public.
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.”
Reporting contributed by Raphael Minder, Elian Peltier, Megan Specia, Jason Horowitz, Bella Huang, Vivian Wang, Austin Ramzy, Yonette Joseph, Vivian Yee, Geneva Abdul, Evan Easterling, Isabella Kwai, Abdi Latif Dahir, Javier C. Hernández, Keith Bradsher, Chris Buckley, Mike Ives, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, James Gorman, Cade Metz and Erin Griffith.