White House questions the Coronavirus death toll and pushes to reopen churches.
As the number of United States deaths from the pandemic approaches 100,000, President Trump and members of his administration have been questioning the official coronavirus toll.
Even as most experts say that the numbers are probably an undercount, White House meetings have turned to questioning whether the toll is inflated by the inclusion of people who died while infected by the coronavirus, but of other conditions.
Mr. Trump told reporters on Friday that he accepted the current death toll but that the figures could be “lower than” the official count, which is now above 95,000. Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, has said that America has taken “a very liberal approach” to what counts as a Covid-19 death.
Most statisticians and public health experts say the death toll is probably far higher than what is publicly known, because early Covid-19 deaths were probably misclassified and people are dying in their homes and in nursing homes without being tested.
The president has escalated another dispute by demanding that states “allow our churches and places of worship to open right now.” He threatened to “override” any governors who did not. Legal experts said he did not have such authority, but he could take states to court on grounds of religious freedom.
The rising number of U.S. coronavirus deaths comes as interviews show that Americans believe Washington has not been rising to meet the challenge, suggesting that the coronavirus has further eroded the public’s trust in government. It’s a stark difference from how nations like New Zealand, have handled the outbreak, shoring up the political fortunes of leaders such as Jacinda Ardern.
It also comes as China on Saturday reported no new coronavirus deaths or symptomatic cases — the first time officials there have recorded zero new cases in the country where the outbreak first emerged.
In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo met blowback on Friday when he said that gatherings of up to 10 people would be allowed “for any lawful purpose or reason” anywhere in the state — including New York City — if social distancing protocols are followed.
His announcement came after the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit objecting to an order from the governor a day earlier to allow groups of up to 10 people at religious services or Memorial Day celebrations.
Councilman Mark D. Levine, who represents Upper Manhattan and is chairman of the City Council’s health committee, condemned the new order and stressed that it had not been made by health professionals.
The woman credited with starting the weekly applause for health care workers fighting the coronavirus in Britain has suggested that the “Clap for Carers” should end on Thursday, the 10th week after it started.
Her logic? The public has shown its appreciation enough and it is now up to the government to reward doctors and nurses. Many have died during the outbreak, and they have cared for patients while short on protective equipment like masks, gloves and visors.
The woman, Annemarie Plas, told BBC Radio 2 that the clapping could be replaced by an annual remembrance. “Next week will be 10 times,” she said. “I think that would be beautiful, to be the end of the series.”
While the British government has been accused of mishandling the pandemic — such as announcing only on Friday, months after a lockdown began, that international travelers to the country would be required to self-isolate for 14 days — its National Health Service has been seen as a rallying point.
Britons started clapping at 8 p.m. on March 26, weeks after Italy, France, Spain and other countries in Europe had begun showing support in a similar fashion. New Yorkers also step out to applaud daily at 7 p.m.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said this week that his government was considering how to reward health care professionals — weeks after other governments in Europe announced bonuses. Under pressure, he also ordered the end to the extra medical fee that non-British workers at the N.H.S. must pay to use the service.
The moves come as pressure grows for Mr. Johnson’s top adviser, Dominic Cummings, to resign after news outlets reported that he had visited his parents at their home in March while he had coronavirus symptoms.
According to The Guardian and The Mirror newspapers, Mr. Cummings traveled to Durham, 270 miles north of his home in London, a week after he had begun to self-isolate, flouting guidance from Mr. Johnson for people to stay home to help curb the virus’s spread.
The government defended Mr. Cummings on Saturday, saying that he had not violated the lockdown guidelines, and suggested that the purpose of the trip had been to secure child care.
How to have a safe Memorial Day weekend.
It’s Memorial Day weekend in the United States, when beaches and backyard barbecues beckon. As many places continue to reopen, here is guidance on lowering the coronavirus risk and managing anxiety while being out during the pandemic.
China on Saturday reported no new coronavirus deaths or symptomatic cases, the first time that both tallies were zero on a given day since the country’s outbreak began.
The authorities reported 28 asymptomatic cases, two of which were imported.
The announcements came as the authorities in Wuhan, where the global outbreak began, are aiming to test all of the city’s 11 million residents. In what is knows as a “10-day battle,” begun on May 14, the government initiative aims to obtain a truer picture of the epidemic in the city — most crucially of people who have the virus but show no symptoms.
Some public health experts are watching the campaign to see whether it can serve as a model for other governments that want to return their societies to some level of normalcy.
And while China’s Hong Kong security laws are attracting wide attention outside the country, its domestic news media outlets are keeping the focus on President Xi Jinping. He is using China’s biggest political event of the year, the annual session of the National People’s Congress, to project strength at a time when external criticism of his government’s handling of the pandemic is growing.
Long before the coronavirus crisis, another one was brewing: a drop in how many Americans trust the federal government.
It has been declining for decades, through Democratic and Republican administrations. And last year it reached one of the lowest points since the measure began: Just 17 percent of Americans trusted the federal government to do the right thing “just about always” or “most of the time,” according to the Pew Research Center.
That doesn’t necessarily mean people want no government at all. Polls consistently show much more faith in local government, and some governors are getting high marks for their handling of the pandemic.
But in a week of more than 20 interviews, Americans said that the government in Washington was not rising to meet the challenge.
Many noted that corporations seemed to be getting the lion’s share of federal relief money while small businesses suffered. They expressed bafflement that people had been asked to stay home but were not given enough financial support to do so. Some said it made no sense for entire states to be locked down when some places within were affected far more than others.
And while answers did follow a partisan pattern — Democrats tended to be more skeptical of Washington because they disapprove of President Trump — Americans also expressed a dissatisfaction that has been building for years.
“I don’t trust these people, I don’t believe them,” said Curtis Devlin, 42, an Iraq War veteran who lives in California, referring to national political leaders of both parties. “The people whose interests they represent are donors, power brokers, the parties.
As Muslims around the world this weekend prepare to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, a church in Berlin has opened its doors to let Muslims hold Friday Prayer while observing strict social distancing because of the pandemic.
The Dar Assalam mosque in Berlin has been able to welcome only a fraction of Muslim worshipers during Ramadan because of national rules on social distancing. So the Martha Lutheran church in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin, the German capital, stepped in to help.
Because of stay-at-home orders and social distancing rules, many Muslim and Christian services have moved online. Communal prayers, feasts and parties that usually mark Eid have been being restricted or scrapped.
In Indonesia, where the number of coronavirus cases has risen sharply in recent days, Islamic leaders have encouraged Muslims to celebrate the holiday without gathering for traditional iftar dinners to break their fast on Saturday evening. And the country’s largest mosque, Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, plans to offer televised prayers on Sunday.
In Bangladesh, the government has banned the huge communal Eid prayers that normally take place in open fields, saying worshipers must gather in mosques. It also asked people not to shake hands or hug after praying, and advised children, older people and anyone who was ill to stay away from communal prayers.
As for mosques, the government has said that they must be disinfected before and after each Eid gathering, and that all worshipers must carry hand sanitizer and wear masks while praying.
The virus does not spread easily via contaminated surfaces, according to the agency — a relief for people worried about wiping down grocery bags or disinfecting mailed packages.
The virus is thought to spread mainly from one person to another, typically through droplets when an infected person sneezes, coughs or talks at close range — even if that person is shows no symptoms.
The C.D.C.’s website also says that “touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes” is a possible way for people to become infected. But those transmissions are “not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”
The authorities in South Korea’s major cities have shuttered thousands of bars, nightclubs and karaoke parlors after identifying them as new sources of infection.
The measures are a response to a new coronavirus cluster — 215 cases as of Friday — traced to nightlife facilities this month. The outbreak is believed to have started in Itaewon, a popular nightclub district in Seoul.
Anyone who visits the venues, as well as the owners who accept them, can face fines, and the government can also sue them for damages amid an outbreak. And unlike other patients, those who contract the virus in these facilities while they are barred must pay their own coronavirus-related medical bills.
South Korea is not the only the place in the region to crack down on nightlife in the pandemic.
Hong Kong closed its night clubs and karaoke establishments in April after a “bar and band” cluster was identified in a popular nightlife district. They are scheduled to reopen next week.
And in Japan, an association representing entertainment workers issued guidelines on Friday that cover nightclubs and hostess bars. The guidelines suggest that hostesses tie up their hair and avoid sitting directly in front of customers.
The association, Nihon Mizushobai Kyokai, also said that microphones in karaoke parlors should be disinfected regularly and that customers should keep their masks on while singing.
The coronavirus has upended the best-laid plans and priorities of many, including the European Union. And one of the biggest casualties may be European efforts to build a more credible and independent European military.
For several years — especially since President Trump came to office with his skepticism about NATO, European alliances and multilateral obligations — leaders like President Emmanuel Macron of France have pushed for the continent’s ability to defend itself and act militarily in its neighborhood without so much reliance on the United States.
But even before the virus hit, and despite loud calls that the bloc was in greater peril from new technologies and a more aggressive Russia and China, the European Commission was slashing projected European military spending in the next seven-year budget.
Now, with the pandemic having cratered the economy, there will be an even fiercer budgetary battle. Recovery and jobs will be the priority, and Brussels continues to emphasize investment in a European “Green Deal” to manage the climate crisis.
“We Europeans truly need to take our fate in our own hands,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany after Mr. Trump’s election. In February, Mr. Macron called again for “a much stronger Europe in defense.”
The celebrated Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami is taking to the airwaves to “blow away some of the corona-related blues.”
Mr. Murakami, 71, who for several years ran a jazz cafe, is known for his passion for jazz and has also featured music in his literary works.
His “Murakami Radio” show typically airs every two months, and his program on Friday was recorded not in a flagship studio in Tokyo but from his home, in a nod to the stay-at-home requests issued by the authorities in Japan’s major cities.
“I wish music or novels could comfort you even a little bit,” he told listeners, saying that he understood the struggle to meet high rents and pay employees when his cafe had to close for months.
He opened the “Stay Home Special” with the song “Look for the Silver Lining” by the Modern Folk Quartet, and over two hours treated listeners to the likes of Bruce Springsteen’s “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” and “Sun is Shining” by Bob Marley and the Wailers.
Mr. Murakami, whose critically acclaimed novels include “Norwegian Wood,” “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” and “1Q84,” also challenged the warlike language used by some politicians to describe efforts to end the pandemic.
“Hostility and hatred are not needed there,” he said. “I don’t want them to refer it to a war. Don’t you think?”
He swapped his blazer and tie for personal protective equipment and left the boardroom for the emergency room at Lisbon’s military hospital.
There, as a doctor pressed into service in the pandemic, he faced feverish, coughing patients and helped line up their care. But some of them had a curious question. “From just looking at my eyes,” he said, “they would say, ‘Hey, are you not the Sporting president? Can I have a selfie?’”
Frederico Varandas is the president of Sporting Clube de Portugal, one of the country’s biggest soccer teams. He is also Dr. Frederico Varandas, a reserve military physician who completed a tour in Afghanistan a decade ago before switching his career.
Dr. Varandas, 40, was recently on call at the hospital for about six weeks, treating military staff members and their families. His main task was to test and evaluate patients as they arrived, before handing off the more serious ones to his colleagues in the intensive care unit.
He is not the only sports figure pressed into medical service in the pandemic. In Canada, Hayley Wickenheiser, a four-time Olympic gold medalist in hockey turned medical student, has been gathering protective equipment for workers and helping with efforts to track the spread of the coronavirus.
In Dr. Varandas’s case, he said, “Sports had stopped in Portugal, and I thought that I am more important to the country working as a doctor.”
Pandemics are often described as crises of communication, when leaders must persuade people to suspend their lives because of an invisible threat. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand excels at that — by brightening epidemiology with empathy, and leavening legal matters with mom jokes.
It’s been strikingly effective.
Ms. Ardern helped coax New Zealanders — “our team of five million,” she says — to buy into a lockdown so severe that even retrieving a lost cricket ball from a neighbor’s yard was banned. Now the country, despite some early struggles with contact tracing, has nearly stamped out the virus.
Still, at a time when Ms. Ardern, a 39-year-old global progressive icon, is being widely celebrated, some epidemiologists say that New Zealand’s lockdown went too far and that other countries suppressed the virus with less harm to small businesses.
But behind Ms. Ardern’s success are two powerful forces: her own hard work at making connections with constituents, and the political culture of New Zealand, which in the 1990s overhauled how it votes, forging a system that forces political parties to work together.
“You need the whole context, the way the political system has evolved,” said Helen Clark, a former prime minister who hired Ms. Ardern as an adviser more than a decade ago. “It’s not easily transferable.”
Elian Peltier covered the pandemic in Spain before returning to his home country, France. We asked him to tell us about a visit to his grandparents.
When France went under lockdown in March, my mother was relieved. Her parents were in a nursing home, and with travel restrictions in place, she and her sister could no longer drive the 80 miles south of Paris every weekend to visit them.
At least in the home, my grandparents would get the care they needed. Then the virus slipped inside nursing homes, and relief turned to alarm.
So began a long vigil of daily calls, weekly video chats and customized postcards created online.
When I told my grandfather about reporting in Spain, I didn’t mention the bodies taken out of apartment buildings in Barcelona and the health care workers in hazmat suits disinfecting nursing homes in isolated villages. It felt better to update him on European soccer leagues and reminisce about our penalty-kick practices in his garden in Beaugency, where I spent my summers as a child.
The coronavirus has killed about 14,000 residents of France’s nursing homes — half of the country’s death toll. We are lucky that, so far, none of those deaths occurred at my grandparents’ home, where the caregivers were vigilant about social distancing.
As France began easing its lockdown last week, we were finally able to visit, or rather sit outside the home, as my grandparents sat inside, a few feet away. To allow us to hear each other, the staff opened the door, but placed a table with a Plexiglas partition in the doorway.
We could see my grandparents only one at a time, since they are in different parts of the home that can no longer socially mix. My grandfather, a former stone mason, misses many things that we cannot yet deliver, like shorts, because of the home’s strict rules. It is my grandmother’s company he misses most.
My grandmother, once a wonderful cook known for her poulet basquaise and cherry cakes, has Alzheimer’s. When she struggled to recognize me, I broke the rules and took down my mask for a second. A nurse gently caressed her hair as we spoke. My mother and I were a little envious that the nurse could do what we could not.
For now, I plan to finally read my grandfather’s journals of his military service in Chad when he was around my age. He gave them to me at Christmas; I thought I had plenty of time to read them. That was before he had a stroke, and before the pandemic created a new normal.
The pandemic has played havoc with energy markets. Last month, the price of benchmark American crude oil fell below zero as the economy shut down and demand plunged.
And this weekend, a British utility will pay some of its residential consumers to use electricity — to plug in appliances and run them full blast.
These negative electricity prices usually show up in wholesale power markets, when a big electricity user like a factory or a water treatment plant is paid to consume more power. Having too much power on the line could lead to damaged equipment or even blackouts.
Negative prices were once relatively rare, but during the pandemic they have become almost routine in Britain, Germany and elsewhere in Europe. The reason is similar to what caused the price of oil to plunge: oversupply meeting a collapse in demand.
In Britain, Octopus Energy is offering to pay some customers 2 pence to 5 pence per kilowatt-hour for electricity that they consume in periods of slack demand, such as are expected on Sunday.
“This needs to become the normal,” said Greg Jackson, the company’s and chief executive, who said the pandemic was offering a preview of “what the future is going to look like.”
In recent weeks, renewable energy sources have played an increasingly large role in the European power system, and the burning of coal has decreased.
The coronavirus is taking a “different pathway” in Africa compared with its trajectory in other regions, the World Health Organization said on Friday.
Mortality rates are lower in Africa than elsewhere, the W.H.O. said, theorizing that the continent’s young population could account for that.
The virus has reached all 55 countries on the continent, which recently confirmed its 100,000th case, with 3,100 deaths. When Europe’s infection count reached that point, it had registered 4,900 deaths.
“For now, Covid-19 has made a soft landfall in Africa, and the continent has been spared the high numbers of deaths which have devastated other regions of the world,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the organization’s regional director for Africa.
More than 60 percent of people in Africa are under 25, and Covid-19 hits older populations particularly hard. In Europe, around 95 percent of virus deaths have been among people 60 and older.
Many health experts have cast doubt on the W.H.O.’s numbers, however, saying that most African countries’ testing capability is extremely limited — partly because they struggle to obtain the diagnostic equipment they need — and that deaths as a result of Covid-19 are undercounted.
Reporting was contributed by Julfikar Ali Manik, Ian Austen, Peter Baker, Damien Cave, Michael Cooper, Steven Erlanger, Jacey Fortin, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Jeffrey Gettleman, Abby Goodnough, Maggie Haberman, Mike Ives, Jennifer Jett, Yonette Joseph, Sheila Kaplan, Louis Lucero, Sarah Mervosh, Tariq Panja, Richard C. Paddock, Elian Peltier, Suhasini Raj, Stanley Reed, Choe Sang-Hun, Sabrina Tavernise, Anton Troianovski, Hisako Ueno, Shalini Venugopal, Sui-Lee Wee, Noah Weiland, Elaine Yu and Jin Wu.