India Under Lockdown, Hubei Province, Olympics: Your Wednesday Briefing

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Good morning.

We’re covering a lockdown on India’s 1.3 billion people, a lifting of restrictions in China’s Hubei Province and a group of Indonesian women who feel empowered by their niqabs.

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ImageA crowd at a pharmacy in Mumbai after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a lockdown on Tuesday.
Credit…Indranil Mukherjee/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

India goes on 21-day lockdown

Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered all of his country’s 1.3 billion residents to stay at home for three weeks, implementing a lockdown unlike any other in the world without much clear guidance.

“Every district, every lane, every village will be under lockdown,” Mr. Modi said in an address to the nation. He did not clarify how people would get food and other necessities, but vaguely mentioned government and civil society groups stepping in to help.

“If you can’t handle these 21 days, this country will go back 21 years,” he said. “The only option is social distancing, to remain away from each other. There is no way out to escape from coronavirus besides this.” He also pledged $2 billion for medical necessities.

Reminder: India’s caseload remains relatively low, with around 500 people infected. But experts worry that a disaster as bad as those in the U.S., Europe and China would be particularly catastrophic for India.

Reporter analysis: “Mr. Modi did not explain how the hundreds of millions of people who live in dire poverty will get food if they cannot go out,” said Vindu Goel, our tech reporter in Mumbai. It’s one of a host of unanswered questions our journalists will be following in this major shift.

He was hopeful, however, that this could change the country’s perception of the outbreak. “India has not taken coronavirus that seriously until this point, but the prime minister’s speech might be a turning point,” he said.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • President Trump said he wants the U.S. “raring to go” by Easter, signaling his intention to lift restrictions, a change experts strongly cautioned against. Meanwhile, New York’s caseload is doubling every three days, its governor said.

  • Thailand’s elephant parks are closing amid a loss of foreign visitors, and the industry fears the animals could be forced into illegal logging or begging, a practice Thailand has spent years trying to eradicate.

  • Spain’s army found elderly people abandoned in nursing homes, raising alarm for the population perhaps most vulnerable to the outbreak.

  • From Opinion: It’s OK to grieve the social life you’re missing out on, even if you’re healthy. Here are some ways to do that thoughtfully, from Lori Gottlieb, a therapist and author.

  • The Times has a new column, Dilemmas, to help answer readers’ questions about difficult choices during the pandemic.

Markets: The S&P 500 surged in hopes of an economic rescue from the U.S. government. Major Asian markets posted some of their biggest increases in weeks, and Europe’s markets performed similarly. Here’s the latest.

The Times is providing free access to much of our coronavirus coverage, and our Coronavirus Briefing newsletter — like all of our newsletters — is free. Please consider supporting our journalism with a subscription.


Some of China’s restrictions start to ease

Hubei Province, where the coronavirus is believed to have originated, will begin to allow most of its 60 million residents to leave today — the end of a nearly two-month lockdown.

The move is meant to send a signal of the government’s confidence in its tough containment measures. But it also raises concerns among epidemiologists about the possibility of a second wave of the outbreak in a country that has just barely contained it.

Wuhan, the city hardest hit by the virus, will remain locked down until April 8, officials said, though public transit will start back up again. Schools across the province will still be closed.

What’s next: It could take months or even years to understand the human toll of the virus — and of sealing off a province from the world for so long. The measures, while effective, came at a great cost to people’s livelihoods and liberties.

If you have 5 minutes, this is worth it

In Indonesia, some see veils as vital

A growing number of Muslim women in Indonesia are promoting the niqab, a type of veil, as a way to get closer to heaven and to avoid harassment in a country where unwanted sexual advances are common. Above, members of the “Niqab Squad” in the city of Depok.

Thousands of mainly urban, middle-class women have taken to wearing niqabs, challenging stereotypes around women who wear veils. Many are followers of Hijrah, a peaceful, born-again Islamic movement propelled on social media by popular actors, actresses and other celebrities.

Here’s what else is happening

China: The publishers of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post asked the Chinese government to reverse its decision to bar journalists for all three publications from working in the country.

Snapshot: Above, children at the Casa Hogar Carmela Valera, a boarding school for girls in need in Maracaibo, Venezuela. Seven years into an economic crisis, the country’s mothers and fathers have gone abroad in search of work, leaving hundreds of thousands of children in the hands of relatives, friends and, sometimes, one another.

What we’re reading: This article about a socially distanced wedding from The Cut. It’s “a charming story of making do,” says Steven Erlanger, our chief diplomatic correspondent in Europe, “when you just have to get that wedding done for the insurance in the time of the virus.”

Now, a break from the news

Cook: This “highly adaptable” vegetarian skillet chili from Melissa Clark, part of our weekday series on cooking with pantry staples.

Watch: An often-chilling survey of disinformation in America, the HBO documentary “After Truth” reclaims the definition of “fake news.”

Read: The sports radio host Matt Jones drove across Kentucky to understand why Senator Mitch McConnell polls so poorly in the state that has elected him six times. “Mitch, Please!” is an account of that road trip.

Smarter Living: Catastrophizing, or imagining the worst-case scenario and planning for it, has long helped humans survive. But when catastrophe is constant, catastrophizing can be damaging — so take a breath, stick to the facts and follow these other suggestions for staying sane.

And now for the Back Story on …

A lost sense of smell

There is growing evidence that anosmia — loss of the sense of smell — may be a symptom of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Medical experts say people who lose their ability to smell or taste should isolate themselves for at least a week, even if they are otherwise asymptomatic.

Sarah Maslin Nir, a Times reporter who covered the outbreak in New Rochelle, N.Y., lost her sense of smell last week and later tested positive for the virus. She talked to Jonathan Wolfe, an audio producer, about her experience for our Coronavirus Briefing. Here is a condensed version of their interview.

When did you notice that you couldn’t smell?

I had a socially distant lunch with a friend on Perry Street, at opposite ends of a stoop, and she passed me some Clorox wipes. And I thought, Unscented Clorox wipes? That’s weird. But then I looked at them, and they said “lemon scent.”

What did you do next?

I quickly made my exit, because I remembered reading an article about two Chinese health care workers and one sentence stuck out to me — that one of the women lost her sense of taste and smell. I went home, got my godmother on FaceTime, opened my spice cupboard and tried sniffing all the spices. I sliced fresh ginger and practically put it up my nose and couldn’t smell it.

Is anosmia your only symptom?

I don’t have a cough or a fever, but I’m exhausted. And because I can’t smell, food is bland. Eggplant Parmesan tastes like a hot wet book.

Has your sense of smell returned?

Since I can’t smell, I don’t really have an appetite, but I’m still trying to eat nutritiously. After several days, my sense of smell briefly came back: I was making myself what I would normally make, a kale salad, and surprisingly, it did not taste like serrated paper. But shortly after that it went away again.

How would you describe anosmia to others?

It’s deeply unsettling. It’s a constant reminder that something is deeply wrong with your body. You can perk up and have a good moment or two, but then you eat your Cheerios and your heart misses a beat.


That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Melina


Thank you
To Mark Josephson and Eleanor Stanford for the break from the news. You can reach the team at [email protected].

P.S.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about the fight to contain the coronavirus in the U.S.
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: Utter nonsense (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• The New York Times Games team has made three game packs free through March 31 in the iOS app, and Android users can access them for $0.99. (Sorry, Google Play does not allow them to decrease the price to zero).

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