Here’s what you need to know:
- Caught violating his own social distancing advice, a top British scientist quits a government panel.
- A leading Philippine broadcaster, the target of Duterte’s ire, is forced off the air.
- From his New Delhi bedroom, a magician is performing free online for anyone who asks.
- As new infections tail off, Hong Kong cautiously eases restrictions.
- A White House task force is winding down as the Trump administration pushes to reopen the nation.
- Blood tests of 100,000 Israelis will try to assess exposure to Covid-19 on a nationwide scale.
- Latest in science: New studies add to evidence that children can transmit the coronavirus.
Caught violating his own social distancing advice, a top British scientist quits a government panel.
Neil Ferguson, the epidemiologist whose frightening projections of coronavirus deaths precipitated the lockdown in Britain, resigned from the government’s scientific advisory group on Tuesday, after admitting he breached social distancing rules by illicitly meeting his lover.
Dr. Ferguson, whose research also influenced thinking in the White House, said in a statement to The Daily Telegraph, which first reported the story, “I accept I made an error of judgment and took the wrong course of action.”
“I deeply regret any undermining of the clear messages around the continued need for social distancing,” said Dr. Ferguson, who has become a household name in Britain over the last two months, preaching the virtues of staying apart.
Leading a respected team of scientists at Imperial College London, Dr. Ferguson has long been an influential voice on infectious diseases. But he achieved a new level of prominence in mid-March, with a report warning that without steps to control it, the virus could kill 250,000 to 510,000 Britons.
That prompted Prime Minister Boris Johnson to impose a lockdown, putting Britain in line with other European countries.
During this period of confinement, The Telegraph reported that Dr. Ferguson, 51, allowed a woman with whom he had a relationship to visit him at home. He had just come out of his own self-isolation after suffering from Covid-19.
In his statement to The Telegraph, he said, “I acted in the belief that I was immune, having tested positive for coronavirus and completely isolated myself for almost two weeks after developing symptoms.”
Dr. Ferguson sat on the government’s secretive Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies, or SAGE. His membership was only formally confirmed on Monday, when the government published the names of 50 of the 52 members.
Approaching 30,000 coronavirus deaths, Britain has been one of the hardest-hit countries, and the government’s handling of the crisis has come under harsh scrutiny.
A leading Philippine broadcaster, the target of Duterte’s ire, is forced off the air.
A major media network in the Philippines was forced off the air on Tuesday, making it the first major broadcaster to have met such a fate during the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, which is cracking down on news outlets that have been critical of his leadership.
The government’s telecommunications commission issued ABS-CBN Corp. a cease-and-desist order one day after the media giant’s broadcast franchise, which is granted by Congress, expired.
Critics have said the timing of the move is especially bad for viewers, who have an increased need for timely information during the pandemic.
Mr. Duterte had earlier warned that he would not allow the renewal of ABS-CBN’s broadcast franchise. The House of Representatives, which is stacked with allies of Mr. Duterte, has sat on several bills supporting the network’s license renewal.
The network, which has closely documented Mr. Duterte’s brutal war on drugs that has left thousands of people dead, said that it would comply with the order.
“Millions of Filipinos will lose their source of news and entertainment when ABS-CBN is ordered to go off the air on TV and radio tonight when people need crucial and timely information as the nation deals with the Covid-19 pandemic,” the company said.
ABS-CBN is known for its prime-time flagship news program, TV Patrol, as well as soaps and afternoon variety TV shows. Its offerings also include coverage of popular sports such as basketball and boxing.
Human Rights Watch decried the government’s move to shut down the network, saying the solicitor general should “stop acting like Duterte’s attack dog.”
From his New Delhi bedroom, a magician is performing free online for anyone who asks.
Right before India went into lockdown, on March 24, a magician named Karan Singh canceled all of his public shows and issued an invitation to his 42,000 Instagram followers. He would perform for free, over Skype, for anyone who contacted him. It could be one person, two people, 50, whatever. Book a slot and he’d appear in your home, virtually, for a 15-minute set.
“You don’t need advice on how to deal with coronavirus from a magician,” he said, wearing a black polo shirt and speaking earnestly, with a slight British accent, into his laptop camera. “But what you can get from a magician is entertainment.”
That was more than 400 shows ago. From his bedroom in New Delhi, Mr. Singh has spent roughly 12 hours a day, nearly every day, digitally performing card tricks and feats of mentalism all over India — the core of his fan base — as well as Canada, Britain, Sweden, Italy, Germany, Nepal, the United States, Mexico, Singapore, Australia and the list goes on.
A variety of artists, from musicians to chefs to dancers, have found ways to perform during the Covid-19 crisis. Most post their work on the web and beckon to the masses. Mr. Singh, a 28-year-old who studied acting in London and who typically plays corporate gigs and small theaters, has taken a more door-to-door approach. In part, the goal was self-preservation.
“I did it for my mental health, because I would have gone mad if I didn’t have an audience to perform for,” he said in an interview. “This just gives me an outlet.”
As new infections tail off, Hong Kong cautiously eases restrictions.
On Wednesday morning, long lines of legal clerks spilled into the streets while waiting to file documents at Hong Kong’s newly reopened courts. More office workers had swapped their sweatpants for pencil skirts, and restaurants buzzed with calls for Mother’s Day reservations.
After more than two weeks of recording no new local infections, Hong Kong has cautiously restarted some previously restricted activities. Civil servants no longer work from home, and museums and public libraries partially reopened on Wednesday. Gyms, movie theaters, bars and mahjong parlors will open their doors on Friday — but not night clubs or karaoke establishments.
Jill Raymont, a retired teacher, and her husband were among the first people to visit the Hong Kong Museum of Art overlooking Victoria Harbor. Like most everyone on the streets, they wore face masks — hers was hot pink. They had waited out the pandemic by going on walks and hikes, but were now opting for indoor activities as the weather got warm and humid.
At the museum’s entrance, large white circles painted on the ground indicated where people should stand. Visitors were limited to two-hour sessions.
Ms. Raymont said she was glad the city had never required a full lockdown, instead responding to the pandemic with the near-universal wearing of face masks and a variety of measures, like disinfecting elevator buttons every hour.
“We have not stopped living,” she said. “But we will never drop our guard.”
She added that it was worrying to see the United States pushing to reopen when the outbreak there, unlike in Hong Kong, had not been brought under control.
Nearby, Emily Ho, 57, went on her daily two-hour stroll with her husband along a harborfront promenade. Thronged with tourists before the outbreak, the area attracted a few fellow strollers but was largely empty on Wednesday. Ms. Ho and her husband were also masked up, and she winced at another man who had his mask pulled down.
She admitted it was pleasant to roam without the crowds. “But this isn’t ideal if you think deeper — you don’t want your society to be this quiet,” she said. Her husband, who works in manufacturing, has been out of work.
Ms. Ho expected it would take many more months to ride out the coronavirus. “It felt like SARS had ended quickly, compared to now,” she said. “This time, we really have to wait for a vaccine.”
A White House task force is winding down as the Trump administration pushes to reopen the nation.
Despite growing evidence that the pandemic is still raging, President Trump and other administration officials said on Tuesday that they planned to wind down the coronavirus task force in the coming weeks and focus the White House on restarting the economy. Mr. Trump disclosed the plans even as the pandemic continued to cut through the United States, with the official death toll rising to more than 71,000.
A New York Times analysis of state data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention begins to offer a picture of just how many lives have been lost — not just to the coronavirus, but also to fears about using an overwhelmed health care system. A handful of states account for the bulk of the death surge across the United States, the analysis found: In New York City alone, there have been 23,000 more deaths than normal since mid-March.
Mr. Trump told reporters as he toured a Honeywell mask manufacturing plant in Arizona that the coronavirus task force would be replaced with an unspecified new advisory body. Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the task force, said the group would probably wrap up its work around the end of May.
Another key group in the White House’s response, the supply chain task force led by the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was staffed with young volunteers who had little experience and complicated the government response, according to a Times investigation. As the federal government’s warehouses were running bare, Mr. Kushner told the volunteers to prioritize tips from political allies and associates of Mr. Trump, tracked on a spreadsheet called “V.I.P. Update,” according to documents and emails obtained by The Times.
Few of the leads, V.I.P. or otherwise, panned out, according to a whistle-blower memo written by one volunteer and sent to the House Oversight Committee. Administration officials argued that the volunteers — who came from venture capital and private equity firms — had the know-how to quickly weed out good leads from the mountain of bad ones, and that FEMA and other agencies were not equipped for the task.
But at least one tip that the volunteers forwarded turned into an expensive debacle and ended with New York awarding a Silicon Valley engineer a $69 million contract. Not a single ventilator was delivered.
Blood tests of 100,000 Israelis will try to assess exposure to Covid-19 on a nationwide scale.
Israel, whose aggressive response to the coronavirus has held its fatality rate to a fraction of those of the United States and other hard-hit nations, is readying a nationwide serological test of 100,000 citizens to see how widely the virus has spread across its population and how vulnerable it may be to a new wave of the contagion.
The survey, to be conducted at clinics run by Israeli H.M.O.s beginning in a week or two, is one of the largest efforts yet to determine the prevalence of antibodies to Covid-19. Germany has also announced antibody testing using a representative nationwide sample.
The results could aid in deciding how quickly businesses and schools should be allowed to return to normal operations. On Monday, Israel announced that citizens could leave their homes after a 40-day lockdown, but many aspects of economic and social life remain curtailed.
Officials say they hope the survey will identify the portion of the healthy population that has not yet been exposed to the virus, and the portion that has already been exposed but has developed antibodies to it. The answers could have enormous implications for a country’s capacity to withstand a new wave of the virus.
If antibody tests show that a sizable portion of the population has developed antibodies, that could mean Israel is on its way to “herd immunity” and would be well equipped to withstand further outbreaks.
Latest in science: New studies add to evidence that children can transmit the coronavirus.
Two new studies offer compelling evidence that children can transmit the virus, providing what epidemiologists say are strong arguments in favor of keeping schools closed around the world.
A Chinese study published last week in the journal Science analyzed data from Wuhan and Shanghai, and found that children were about a third as susceptible to infection as adults were. But when schools were open, they found, children had about three times as many contacts with other people as adults did — three times as many opportunities to become infected — essentially evening out their risk.
Based on their data, the researchers estimated that closing schools could reduce cases by about 40 to 60 percent.
The second study, in Germany, was led by Christian Drosten, a prominent virologist whose lab has tested about 60,000 people for the coronavirus. Consistent with other studies, he and his colleagues found many more infected adults than children. But children who do test positive harbor just as much virus as adults — sometimes more, even if they are asymptomatic — and so, presumably, are just as infectious, his team found.
Dr. Drosten said he posted his study on his lab’s website ahead of its peer review because of the ongoing discussion about schools in Germany.
The new studies were released amid alarm about a possible link between Covid-19 and toxic shock or Kawasaki disease, a rare illness in children that is associated with inflammation of the blood vessels. At least 15 children in New York City, many of whom tested positive for Covid-19, have been hospitalized with symptoms of the illness, and several European countries have also reported cases.
In other science news:
A team of scientists has developed an experimental prototype for a quick, low-cost diagnostic test, based on Crispr gene-editing technology, that could deliver results without being sent to a laboratory.
Pfizer and the German pharmaceutical company BioNTech announced that their potential coronavirus vaccine began human trials in the United States on Monday.
Some Russian Orthodox priests call it evil to lock down churches, splitting the clergy and the country.
As Covid-19 cuts a wide swath through the Russian Orthodox Church’s monasteries and parishes, many clerics are thundering against both the coronavirus and the government’s efforts to contain it, carving a deep rift between the usually allied powers of church and state.
As the government tries to block public gatherings like church services, some priests have complied readily, keeping parish doors locked and urging worshipers to take part by video link.
But others preach that it is impossible to become infected in a church, or threaten damnation for those who enforce or obey the restrictions. They have resisted shutting even monasteries devastated by the virus.
A bishop in the northern Komi region declared that ringing church bells was the best way to combat the pandemic. He claimed that the word coronavirus, from the Latin for crown, is “not coincidental but is linked to the coronation and enthronement of the Antichrist.”
The outburst of discord is rare within the rigidly hierarchical church. Patriarch Kirill, the head of the church and an ally of President Vladimir V. Putin, has wavered between enforcing the government’s social distancing orders and placating the most fervent clerics. He urged worshipers to skip Holy Week services last month — but left it up to each diocese whether to hold them.
The patriarch issued an order last week that monastery abbots and parish rectors in Moscow must comply with lockdown measures, but so far he has taken formal disciplinary action against only one cleric: the relatively liberal Andrei Kuraev, who mocked the head of a Moscow cathedral who had died from the virus.
Around the world, zealous believers of many faiths have been among the most resistant to stay-at-home orders. The clash has been particularly divisive in Russia, where memories of religious persecution in the Soviet Union make people highly sensitive to government restrictions.
Russia has been recording more than 10,000 new confirmed infections per day.
Those we’ve lost: Bana Ali, who championed basketball in Somalia.
Bana Abdalla Ali, who tirelessly championed basketball in Somalia and promoted sports among youngsters in a nation beset by civil war, died on April 28 in London. He was 54.
His death came after he had contracted the novel coronavirus, his family said.
Mr. Ali garnered prominence for being a vocal supporter of basketball in Somalia, investing not only his free time but also his own money to ensure the country’s players had their chance on the international stage. A basketball enthusiast and a well-known player in Mogadishu before Somalia’s civil war began, he at various points over the years served as both the secretary general and head of marketing for Somalia’s national basketball team and was also a member of the East and Central Africa Inter City Basketball Committee. Read the full obituary.
Reporting was contributed by Abdi Latif Dahir, Elaine Yu, Apoorva Mandavilli, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Andrew Higgins, Jason Gutierrez, Mark Landler, David Segal, Abdi Latif Dahir and Natalie Kitroeff.