Covid-19 News: Live Updates – The New York Times

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Peru said its Covid-19 death toll is almost three times as high as it had officially counted until now, making it one of the hardest-hit nations during the pandemic relative to its population.

In a report released on Monday, which combined deaths from multiple databases and reclassified fatalities, the government said that 180,764 people died from Covid-19 through May 22, almost triple the official death toll of about 68,000. The new figure would mean that more people have died in Peru relative to its population than in Hungary and the Czech Republic, the countries with the highest official death tolls per person, according to a New York Times database.

The report landed at a precarious moment for Peru’s government, just days before the second round of a closely watched presidential election scheduled for June 6.

Peru has struggled to contain the coronavirus since the pandemic began, and its official death toll before the revised estimate was already the ninth-highest per capita in the world. As early as last June, it was clear that far more deaths were occurring in Peru than would be expected in a normal year, and the gap — a figure known as excess deaths — was much larger than the number of deaths officially attributed to Covid-19, according to New York Times data. That was a warning sign to experts that Covid deaths were being undercounted.

William Pan, who teaches global environmental health at Duke University, said the pandemic has underscored the deep inequality and corruption in Peru.

“Long before the stories of oxygen shortages in India and Manaus, Iquitos experienced this sad reality of Covid,” said Dr. Pan, referring to the largest Peruvian city in the Amazon. “Thousands of people were being turned away last April and May due to lack of oxygen, lack of space, medical staff being totally overwhelmed and more.”

Peru could be just the first of several nations forced to reckon with a re-evaluation of the pandemic’s true impact. The World Health Organization said earlier this month that deaths from Covid-19 globally were probably much higher than had been recorded.

Peru’s government will start publishing more accurate daily tallies of cases and deaths based on new guidelines laid out in the report, said Oscar Ugarte, the health minister.

“This is a new tool” to help us fight the pandemic, Mr. Ugarte said, adding that the new estimate “requires a modification” of all the current policies aimed at controlling the spread of the virus.

The pandemic has only intensified the political turmoil in Peru, which was rocked by the impeachment of President Martín Vizcarra in November. He was one of four presidents to serve in five years, three of whom spent time in jail during bribery investigations.

Mr. Vizcarra’s ouster led to protests and came just months before the first round of presidential elections in April. Pedro Castillo, a former union activist and teacher, won the most votes in April and will face Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of the jailed former president Alberto Fujimori, on June 6.

The virus is spreading faster in South America than on any other continent, according to official data, with five nations among the top 10 globally for new cases reported per person.

The continent’s worst outbreak is in Argentina, which was supposed to host the Copa América soccer tournament, before organizers announced they were moving it to Brazil.

“Latin America has been one of the hardest-hit regions in the pandemic,” said Dr. Michael H. Merson, a professor of global health at Duke University. “I suspect that other countries in the region will be revising their estimates of deaths from Covid-19.”

The spread of the virus has slowed lately in Brazil, which has been ravaged by a variant known as P.1.

Over the weekend, thousands of Brazilians critical of President Jair Bolsonaro took to the streets in the largest public mobilization against the president since the beginning of the pandemic. Their show of force in cities across the country followed a series of damning revelations in congressional hearings examining the government’s catastrophic response to the coronavirus, which has killed more than 461,000 Brazilians.

Travelers waited in line at Kennedy International Airport in New York on Friday ahead of Memorial Day weekend.
Credit…Angela Weiss/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Memorial Day weekend is typically the start of the busy summer travel season, but this year it represents something more: the end of one of the roughest chapters in U.S. airline history.

Passenger traffic has been climbing for much of this year and hit a pandemic peak on Friday, when more than 1.95 million passengers passed through security checkpoints in the nation’s airports, according to the Transportation Security Administration. That level was last reached in early March 2020, as the coronavirus was just beginning its devastating spread across the United States.

However, with the return of passengers and the prospect of an end to billion-dollar losses, airlines have also seen a surge in disruptive and sometimes violent behavior — and a frequent flash point is the T.S.A.’s mandate that passengers remain fully masked throughout their flights.

Since Jan. 1, the Federal Aviation Administration has received about 2,500 reports of unruly behavior by passengers, of which about 1,900 involved refusals to comply with the mask mandate. The agency said that in the past it did not track reports of unruly passengers because the numbers had been fairly consistent, but that it began receiving reports of a “significant increase” in disruptive behavior starting in late 2020.

“We have just never seen anything like this,” Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, said during an online meeting with federal aviation officials on Wednesday. “We’ve never seen it so bad.”

Two major airlines, American and Southwest, have postponed plans to resume serving alcohol on flights because of such incidents. American Airlines specified that alcohol sales — except in first and business class — would remain suspended through Sept. 13, when the T.S.A. mask mandate is set to expire.

Both airlines announced the shift after a woman punched a flight attendant in the face on a Southwest Airlines flight from Sacramento to San Diego a week ago, an assault that was captured on a widely watched video.

The flight attendant lost two teeth, according to her union, and the passenger has been charged with battery causing serious bodily injury and barred for life from flying Southwest.

More than a month ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidelines, saying that fully vaccinated people did not need to wear masks in most situations — except in airplanes, on mass transit, in health care centers and in congregate settings, like prisons.

On Sunday, on the CNN program “State of the Union,” the transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, was asked what scientific evidence justified keeping the airplane mask mandate. “Part of it has to do with unique conditions of the physical space,” Mr. Buttigieg said. “Part of it has to do with the workplace and folks who don’t have a choice about being there.”

“The bottom line is, we have a set of rules in place to keep people safe,” he added, “and I really hope that travelers will respect flight attendants, bus operators, workers, anybody who is simply doing their job to keep people safe.”

A man walks past a shuttered store in Buenos Aires on Monday after organizers of the Copa América tournament announced that it would be moved out of Argentina because of the severe coronavirus outbreak there.
Credit…Agustin Marcarian/Reuters

The Copa América, South America’s largest soccer tournament, will be played in Brazil instead of Argentina, which is suffering its worst outbreak of the pandemic, organizers said on Monday.

Conmebol, the South American soccer federation, said on Twitter that the games would be the “safest sporting event in the world” after announcing the change. The dates for the individual games and the specific stadiums will be announced later on Monday.

With the tournament due to begin in less than two weeks, organizers are scrambling to hold the event, the oldest regional soccer tournament in the world, at a time when reported coronavirus cases are rising faster in South America than anywhere else.

The games were originally scheduled to be held in Colombia and Argentina, but organizers dropped the Colombia portion earlier this month after a series of deadly protests there. In Argentina, the government and the public were torn over the wisdom of hosting a monthlong international tournament while the pandemic was raging, a discussion that mirrors the one taking place in Japan over holding the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

Five South American nations — Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, Colombia and Chile — are now among the top 10 in the world in newly reported cases per 100,000 residents.

Brazil, where new cases have slowed recently but remain high, has seen more deaths from Covid-19 than any nation besides India and the United States. Its president, Jair Bolsonaro, has repeatedly sneered at lockdowns, mask-wearing and other mitigation measures and scorned the guidance of health experts in dealing with the pandemic.

President Alberto Fernández of Argentina announced stringent lockdown measures last week, calling this time the country’s “worst moment in the pandemic.” Argentina now ranks third in the world, after neighboring Paraguay and Uruguay, in the number of deaths per capita over the past week, according to a New York Times database. The country of 45 million is reporting an average of more than 30,000 new cases a day, compared with 20,000 in the United States, whose population is more than seven times as large.

Mr. Fernández met last week with Alejandro Domínguez, the head of Conmebol, and presented a “strict protocol” for holding the tournament if the soccer federation wanted it to go ahead in Argentina as planned.

The 2020 edition of the Copa América was postponed by a year last spring after the start of the pandemic. In soccer-crazed Argentina, which last hosted the event in 2011, it was seen as a joyous occasion to host some of the sport’s biggest stars, including the country’s own Lionel Messi. But calls to move the tournament, which ordinarily takes place every four years, to somewhere other than Argentina have mounted in recent weeks, with opponents on Twitter using the hashtag #NoALaCopaAmericaEnArgentina, and #NoToTheCopaAmericaInArgentina.

Earlier this month, Conmebol removed Colombia as a co-host of the tournament after rejecting the country’s request to postpone it amid continuing civil unrest and antigovernment protests in which dozens of people have died.

That left Conmebol to consider holding the entire championship in Argentina, amid rumors that there could be a last-minute agreement to include another host, like Chile, a vaccination success story in South America that has fully inoculated more than 40 percent of its population. Vaccinations in many other parts of the region have been lagging, prompting some wealthy and middle-class Latin Americans to seek them in the United States instead.

Daniel Politi contributed reporting.

Nasal swab samples collected to test for Covid-19 in Siliguri, India, last month.
Credit…Diptendu Dutta/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

If you haven’t yet mastered the name of the latest coronavirus variant to set nations on edge — B.1.617.2, as evolutionary biologists call it — then fear not: The World Health Organization has proposed a solution.

The group said on Monday that it had devised a less technical, and more easily pronounceable, system for naming variants — the mutated versions of the virus that have driven new surges of infections around the world.

Variants will be assigned letters of the Greek alphabet in the order in which they are designated potential threats by the W.H.O.

B.1.617.2, for example, which has contributed to a deadly surge in India, has been named Delta under the new system. That variant may spread even more quickly than B.1.1.7, the variant discovered in Britain that has contributed to devastating waves of cases globally. (B.1.1.7’s new name is Alpha.)

Scientists will keep assigning long strings of letters and numbers to new variants for their own purposes, but they hope that Greek letters will roll off the tongues of nonscientists more easily.

There is also a deeper motivation: The letters-and-numbers system was so complicated that many people were referring to variants by the places they were discovered instead (“the Indian variant” for B.1.617.2, for example). Scientists worry that those informal nicknames can be both inaccurate and stigmatizing, punishing countries for investing in the genome sequencing necessary to sound an alarm about new mutations that may well have emerged somewhere else.

Whether the Greek letters will stick is another matter. It has been months since experts convened by the W.H.O. began discussing the issue, allowing labels like “the British variant” and “the South African variant” to proliferate in the news media.

The experts said they had considered a number of alternatives, like taking syllables from existing words to make new words. But too many of those syllable combinations were already recognizable names of places or businesses, they said.

And as it happens, the Greek letters had just been freed up from another task: The World Meteorological Organization said in March that it would no longer use them to name hurricanes.

Volunteer undertakers in protective suits prepared to bury the body of a person who died of Covid 19 on Friday at a graveyard outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Credit…Fazry Ismail/EPA, via Shutterstock

Malaysia will begin a two-week national lockdown on Tuesday that will shut most of the economy and limit the movement of people, in an effort to contain the country’s worst coronavirus outbreak since the start of the pandemic.

Essential services like supermarkets and hospitals will be allowed to continue operating, but offices, most retailer stores and malls, and most factories will be closed, Defense Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said in a televised address. The number of people at work in the country will fall to 1.5 million from 15 million, the minister said.

The country’s schools were closed earlier in May.

Malaysia is now reporting about 24 new coronavirus cases a day for every 100,000 people, a higher rate than any other country in Asia outside the Middle East, according to a New York Times database.

New case reports have surged in recent weeks and reached more than 9,000 on Saturday; Monday’s count was about 6,800. Over the course of the pandemic, Malaysia has reported more than 570,000 cases and nearly 2,800 deaths — more than three-quarters of them have come this year.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced the “total lockdown” on Friday evening, saying he was worried that the rapid increase in infections would overwhelm health care facilities in the nation of nearly 33 million.

“With the latest rise in daily cases showing a drastically upward trend, hospital capacity for Covid-19 patients across the country is getting more limited,” he wrote on Facebook.

Less than a week earlier, he had rejected the idea of a lockdown on economic grounds. “We have learned over the last year, we cannot close the economy,” he said on May 23. “We have to balance life and livelihoods.”

As he reversed course, Mr. Muhyiddin said he was motivated in part by the presence of “more aggressive variants with higher and faster infectivity.”

Health Minister Adham Baa told reporters on Monday that three dangerous variants that were first identified in India, Britain and South Africa were present in Malaysia. B.1.351, the variant seen first in South Africa, appeared to be spreading the most rapidly of the three, he said.

Under the lockdown, which is scheduled to end June 14, no more than two people will be allowed to leave a household, and only for specified activities like buying food and medicine, or going to work for those with jobs deemed essential. No one will be allowed to travel farther than six miles from home except to receive medical services.

Public transportation will operate at half capacity. Stores that are allowed to operate will be open for limited hours.

Individual exercise and jogging will be allowed outdoors, but social distancing of at least six feet will be required.

In an attempt to limit economic harm from the lockdown, some factories will be allowed to operate at 60 percent of capacity, including those producing food, medical components, electronics and textiles for use in protective equipment.

Cannabis plants are weighed after they were harvested at the Aether Gardens production facility in Las Vegas in May.
Credit…Joe Buglewicz for The New York Times

Last March, the Las Vegas Strip went dark in its first total shutdown since the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. In the ensuing weeks, Las Vegas became the layoff epicenter of the United States.

With casinos closed, visitor volume dropped to a little over 100,000 in April 2020 from 3.5 million in January 2020. The decrease sent the state’s small businesses — including the cannabis sector — into a tailspin.

With none of the usual customers in town, some owners of cannabis businesses saw marijuana through a new lens: How could it help with pandemic-related stress and anxiety?

Apparently, quite a bit. Despite inconsistent public health orders from state and local governments about whether cannabis companies would be considered “essential,” the industry had a breakout moment during the pandemic. Legal cannabis sales in the United States passed $17.5 billion in 2020, a 46 percent increase over 2019. For many Americans, stocking up on marijuana was as essential as stocking up on toilet paper. And the industry found a way to get it to them.

In Las Vegas, that meant engaging residents. Five days after Gov. Steve Sisolak issued his first emergency declaration, the Nevada Health Response Covid-19 Risk Mitigation Initiative announced that licensed cannabis stores and medical dispensaries could remain open, but encouraged delivery business and social distancing.

Laborers working at a construction site Monday after the Indian authorities announced a tentative easing of the lockdown in Delhi.
Credit…Money Sharma/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

New Delhi, India’s capital, began easing pandemic lockdown restrictions on Monday, allowing construction and manufacturing activities to resume as the city continued to record a steep decline in new coronavirus cases and deaths.

Life on the streets of Delhi wasn’t expected to return immediately, with schools and most businesses still closed, but the limited reopening signaled officials’ optimism that the city of 20 million was past the worst of a second wave marked by desperation and death.

From April 20, when the number of new reported cases peaked at 28,395, the official figure plummeted to 946 on Sunday. In late April, nearly one in three tests came back positive. Now, the positivity rate is 1.5 percent.

Still, factory owners and construction foremen said it might take some time for activity to return to normal levels because of a shortage of workers. More than 800,000 migrant workers left the city in the first month of its six-week lockdown, according to a Delhi transportation department report.

Ram Niwas Gupta, 72, the founder of Ramacivil India Construction and the president of the Delhi-based Builders Association of India, said that 75 percent of his work force for 10 projects across northern India had disappeared to their rural family homes.

“Immediately we will not be able to start work, but slowly in six to 10 days we will be able to mobilize labor and material and start the work,” Mr. Gupta said.

In a meeting with the city’s disaster management authority on Friday, Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, said the lockdown would be eased according to economic need.

“Our priority will be the weakest economic sections, so we will start with laborers, particularly migrant laborers,” many of whom work in construction and manufacturing, Mr. Kejriwal said.

“But we have to remember that the fight against Covid-19 is still not over. We have to make sure that things do not go bad again,” he added.

The pandemic is far from over in India, where cases are rising in remote rural areas that have limited to no health infrastructure.

The state of Haryana, which borders Delhi and is home to the industrial hub of Gurugram, extended its tight lockdown by at least another week. And in southern Indian states where the daily case numbers remain high, official orders allowing manufacturing to resume have been met by resistance from workers.

  • The United States looks to continue what has been a steady decline in cases, deaths and hospitalizations since mid-April. As of Sunday, its seven-day averages of cases and deaths are the lowest since June 2020, and hospitalizations are at the lowest level since early in the pandemic.

  • India, after a terrifying surge in April and early May, has seen cases plummeting for three weeks. But the death toll, which often lags a few weeks behind changes in case numbers, is still high and began dropping modestly only last week.

  • Vietnam said last week it had discovered a new, more contagious variant that was a mix of those first detected in India and Britain. It remains unclear how well the variant is fully understood.

  • Taiwan, which had been nearly Covid-free throughout the pandemic, is now recording several hundred cases a day.

  • Britain is closely watching an increase in cases because though numbers remain relatively low, the variant first found in India accounts for most of the spread. A surge now could threaten plans to ease the last of its lockdown restrictions on June 21.

A deserted street in a closed market area during the lockdown in Srinagar, India, this month.
Credit…Tauseef Mustafa/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

India’s coronavirus crisis is likely to hobble the country’s economy for months to come, forecasters said, with most states still locked down to contain a wave of new infections and vaccine supply struggling to meet the needs of a vast inoculation campaign.

On Monday, as India prepared to release a new set of official numbers, economists forecast that the country’s gross domestic product would shrink by at least 7.4 percent over the financial year that began in April. They expected India’s growth numbers for the three months ending in March to come in at 0.6 percent, aided in part by welfare programs and the fact that infections were still far lower at the time than the highs of April and May, at the height of its devastating second wave.

The experts point to two main reasons for their estimates: India’s prolonged lockdowns and its vaccination rate, which has fallen from about 4 million doses a day last month to just over a million now as its large vaccine industry, which had been expected to supply much of the world, has struggled to keep up supply.

India recorded 152,734 new infections and 3,128 deaths on Monday, the country’s health ministry reported.

Though the lockdowns have helped India slow the surge of infections, economists say international experience suggests restrictions might need to remain in place at least until about 30 percent of the country’s 1.4 billion people have received one vaccine shot.

“We estimate that India will reach the vaccine threshold by mid to late August, and accordingly expect restrictions will be extended into the third quarter,” Priyanka Kishore, the head of India and Southeast Asia at Oxford Economics, said last week. “Consequently, we have lowered our 2021 growth forecast.”

India Ratings & Research, a credit ratings agency, forecast that the country’s G.D.P. growth rate would come down to minus 7.5 percent in the current financial year.

Millions of people in India are already in danger of sliding out of the middle class and into poverty. The country’s economy was fraying well before the pandemic because of deep structural problems and the sometimes impetuous policy decisions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

People gathered for the viewing of Darryl Preissler, a carpenter who hoped to do his own woodworking in retirement. Mr. Preissler, 63, contracted the coronavirus at a family wedding in April, his wife said. Busy at work, he had not yet been vaccinated.
Credit…Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

Relatives of people dying of the virus in the United States now describe a lonely sorrow. They are mourning while so many others are celebrating newfound freedom.

In one sign of the dissonance, the pandemic situation has improved enough that funerals — once forced to take place over Zoom — are mostly permitted to happen in person again, a bittersweet shift for those who are losing loved ones now.

In some cases, the grief has been complicated by the fact that the people dying from Covid-19 today are almost all unvaccinated, health experts say, with only rare exceptions.

Some of the people who died of the disease in recent weeks got sick before they were eligible for shots, raising questions about whether the United States moved quickly enough to reach all Americans.

Wide availability of vaccines is still relatively recent: Most states did not open eligibility to all adults until sometime in April, and it takes up to six weeks after the first dose to reach full immunity. Given the length of time a coronavirus infection takes to develop into fatal disease, the people who are dying now may be those who just missed being protected.

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