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We’re covering a new sense of risk in Japan’s coronavirus outbreak, China’s travel ban and answers to your questions about India’s lockdown.
Japan could be at high risk
Since the first coronavirus case was confirmed in Japan in mid-January, health officials have reassured the public that their early containment measures have prevented the virus from raging out of control. The country of almost 127 million people has reported only 1,300 cases and 45 deaths.
But that tone has changed. On Thursday, Japan’s health minister, Katsunobu Kato, warned of evidence that Japan was now at a high risk of rampant infection.
Cases have spiked in Tokyo, setting records for four days running, and more localities have told residents that they should avoid nonessential outings. On Tuesday, the Tokyo Olympics were delayed for a year.
But the public is still not taking officials’ warnings seriously. While schools have been closed for a month and large events canceled, life has otherwise returned to normal. People gather in parks, ride the subway and go out to eat. And testing is still limited, raising fears about the full scope of the virus’s progression through the country.
“The risk is that things may be brewing underneath the surface that you don’t recognize until it’s also a little bit too late,” one epidemiologist said.
We also have a daily tracker that shows the virus’s trajectory by country.
In other developments:
China is suspending practically all entry to the country by foreigners and halting almost all international passenger flights to handle a growing number of people who were infected abroad.
Pakistan, the world’s fifth most populous country, is struggling to mobilize its broken state as the outbreak rapidly spreads. Doctors are refusing to show up for work. Clerics are refusing to close mosques. The military has stepped in to enforce a lockdown, but the action may be too late.
Iran’s huge coronavirus outbreak is moving into Afghanistan as tens of thousands of Afghans return to Herat, making that border city the epicenter of the virus in Afghanistan.
New York’s doctors are grappling with a sharp uptick in hospitalizations without sufficient equipment. One doctor called it “apocalyptic.”
For the first time in its nearly 60-year history, the Peace Corps has paused operations, evacuating more than 7,000 volunteers from more than 60 countries.
Markets: U.S. investors shook off high unemployment claims, with stocks rising for a third day. And the gains spread to Europe, where early losses reversed and major indexes ended the day higher.
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Your virus questions answered
We’ve updated the expert guidance we’ve compiled on a range of subjects related to the pandemic, including health, money and travel. We also have tips on how to protect yourself and your community.
Trips to the grocery store are one of the few reasons that many of us are allowed to leave home. We spoke to infectious disease specialists about shopping during the crisis.
Related: Do people who survive the infection become immune? Scientists say the answer is a qualified yes, with some significant unknowns.
Another angle: As people stay home and go online, broadband has slowed around the world. Several tech companies have tried to ease internet traffic, including YouTube, which said this week that it would show videos in standard rather than high definition.
If you have 20 minutes, this is worth it
Drawn to Chernobyl
Driven by his own curiosity, a writer for The Times Magazine traveled to the area around the former nuclear plant, the site of arguably the worst ecological catastrophe in history. “I was on a kind of perverse pilgrimage,” he writes. “I wanted to see what the end of the world looked like.”
Above, two tourists at an abandoned amusement park in Pripyat, a city built for Chernobyl workers.
Here’s what else is happening
U.S.-Venezuela: In a highly unusual move, the U.S. charged a head of state, President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, in a narco-terrorism and cocaine trafficking conspiracy. The indictment escalated the Trump administration’s pressure campaign to get Mr. Maduro to leave office.
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef: For the third time in five years, abnormally warm water has caused a “mass bleaching” of coral, and some of it will not survive.
Christchurch shooting: An Australian white supremacist charged with killing 51 worshipers at two mosques in New Zealand last year changed his plea to guilty, eliminating worries that he would try to make the process a platform for hate.
Snapshot: Above, the business class cabin on a recent flight. Travelers around the world sent us their photos of the eerie emptiness the coronavirus pandemic has caused.
What we’re reading: This Jezebel essay from a writer grappling with a sudden love for Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York. Sarah Lyall, a writer at large for The Times, calls it “funny and true.” She adds: “And please stay for the clip of the two Cuomo brothers squabbling with each other about which one their mother loves more.”
Now, a break from the news
Most probably you’re in the same position so many of us are in right now: hunkered down, screening away, trying to get a handle on our new reality. We’re here with news that is good, with stories of beauty and art and style, with pleasant distractions and arguments in favor of a cultured life in a time that is grim. — Sam Sifton
Cook from your pantry: Melissa Clark’s recipe for an omelet with a garlicky tahini filling could be your rich, tasty lunch in minutes.
Watch: Joe Coscarelli’s “Diary of a Song” is a marvelous use of the internet, and you’re going to fall in love with Grimes. Then, when was the last time you screened “Top Gun”? A.O. Scott, our critic at large, just saw it for the very first time.
Listen: We’ve got the best podcast for kids. And a whole lot of musical theater, dance and classical music to stream.
And now for the Back Story on …
The biggest lockdown on the planet
Jeffrey Gettleman, our New Delhi bureau chief, has been covering Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s lockdown of India’s 1.3 billion people. I spoke with him about the unanswered questions in the government’s sweeping guidelines and what we can expect next.
Walk us through the lead-up to the lockdown. On the ground, were you surprised that people seemed to immediately stay home and follow the rules?
There had been a steady ratcheting up of restrictions around India. So, the lockdown that Modi announced for the entire government was pretty consistent with what was already happening in some places, including New Delhi.
India has strong internal control by its security forces. The police forces are employed to control the population. People tend to be scared of police officers on the street, and they want to get out of their way. They treat citizens pretty harshly.
The government here is trying to learn from the mistakes or the slowness of what happened in other countries. They saw what happened in China and how effective lockdowns were once they were put in place — that’s more their model than anything else.
India’s caseload is still relatively low — about 600 confirmed infections. What’s the big worry when the number grows?
The country spends very little on health care per capita. So the health care system here is underfunded, and it’s an enormous population, it’s 1.3 billion people. Public hospitals, the number of doctors, the number of beds, equipment they use, it’s all below the standards of most other parts of the world.
Some of the best hospitals in the world are really struggling. So just imagine how a hospital that has much fewer resources would respond.
You’ve written about what this means for India’s poor and for informal workers who might live hand-to-mouth or paycheck to paycheck. Can you expand?
They can withstand a few days of no work. Can they withstand a few weeks or a few months?
Informal workers can’t get to their places of work. Factories have been closed, public transportation has been closed. There are thousands and thousands of people who make money as rickshaw drivers, who support their families doing that.
There has been talk of giving them cash subsidies. There has been talk of pressuring landlords or asking landlords not to demand rent at the time being from poor people — that has yet to be enacted into law.
There will be a cost. In a place where people live hand-to-mouth, huge economic costs can carry a lot of other problems — health problems, malnutrition.
Are we finding out more about how people are going to access the essential services exempt from the lockdown?
They haven’t spelled this out super clearly. The gist of it is that you can go to your closest pharmacy or food source, and because India is so densely populated, those places are everywhere. So people are walking to those areas.
There’s been some confusion, and some pharmacies and food shops were made to shut. So, there’s confusion in how these rules are being enforced. Some journalists have gotten beaten up, because the police officers said they weren’t allowed to travel. But it explicitly says if you’re media, you’re exempt from the rules.
What are we watching for next?
The big question is how much community transmission is happening, if at all. If the disease begins to spread person to person from people who had no connection to the outside, then that’s really scary.
These neighborhoods are some of the most densely populated parts of the world, endless blocks of tenement apartments squeeze really close to each other, with narrow lanes between them and open sewage running alongside the sidewalk and people together — mile after mile of it.
And then another part of this is: India’s trying to do what nobody else has done, pull off the unprecedented, which is to stop the virus in its tracks. No other population has managed to do that. It’s going to be really interesting if they can pull it off.
That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.
To Mark Josephson, Chris Harcum and Eleanor Stanford for the break from the news. You can reach the team at [email protected].
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