From sugarcoating to brutal honesty, world leaders navigate the coronavirus crisis.
World leaders have spent the past several weeks grappling with the unexpected, as country after country has seen the coronavirus arrive at its borders.
With the virus endangering citizens’ health and lockdowns ravaging the global economy, heads of government have taken different approaches in televised addresses and news briefings as they have explained their plans for combating the threat.
“The main questions for these leaders,” said Jill Rutter, a senior fellow at the London-based Institute for Government, “is, can they convey a clear message and give people the reassurance they need while admitting this is an incredibly fast-moving, difficult world of real unknowns?”
They also must “show that they understand that this is a massive human tragedy,” she added.
It’s “quite a difficult balancing act,” she said.
With the coronavirus outbreak still raging within its borders, Iran on Saturday lifted the lockdown on its capital and called on government and private-sector employees to return to work.
The rest of Iran’s provinces had lifted a two-week lockdown and travel restrictions a week earlier. Schools and sporting events remain closed, and restaurants have been restricted to takeout.
President Hassan Rouhani has called his return-to-work policy a “smart distancing” strategy that will fight two enemies: the pandemic and the collapse of an economy already strained by international sanctions.
“Our message is the great people of Iran and all private and government entities, labor workers and engineers, despite fighting the coronavirus on one front, are also continuing the economic development of our country,” he said on Thursday.
About 5,000 people with the virus have died in Iran, including some of the country’s top officials, and about 80,000 have been infected, according to government figures. But local experts and health officials say that many others who showed symptoms of the virus have died or fallen ill without being tested.
Health officials warn that easing the restrictions too soon risks another surge in infections.
Iran’s military held annual parades on Friday in Tehran and other cities. The parade typically shows off military hardware. But this year soldiers marched in protective gear, and ambulances and medical equipment replaced missiles and drones.
A judge orders Mexico to extend coronavirus protections to migrants.
The Mexican government was ordered to extend its coronavirus protections to migrants in a ruling made public on Friday.
The ruling said health care should be guaranteed to detainees and that temporary residency should be given to people found to be particularly vulnerable to Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, Reuters reported.
The order also said the government would have to identify symptomatic detainees, report the number of migrants who were detained and release members of vulnerable populations. Migrants were also to have access to information on ways to protect themselves.
Mexico, which has reported more than 6,200 cases and nearly 500 deaths from the virus, first declared a health emergency on March 30 — after initial resistance. The ruling came after advocacy groups claimed the government had not been adequately protecting migrants and asylum seekers. Last year, Mexico had more than twice the number of asylum requests that it had in 2018.
With businesses closed to slow the spread of the virus, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced on Friday that $2.5 billion would be distributed next month to support the economy. He did not specify how the money would be sent, but said there would be three million loans to small businesses.
Any effort by states to begin easing restrictions requires an expanded testing capacity to give people a sense of security, health experts say, and the United States is far behind in conducting enough tests to responsibly inform those decisions.
But Vice President Mike Pence asserted on Friday that the country now has the testing capacity to allow all states to move to begin the first phase of the White House’s guidelines for reopening their economies. And several top U.S. public health officials said the scale of the nation’s testing capacity — 3.7 million tests have been conducted so far — was underappreciated.
President Trump sought on Friday to portray testing as a state responsibility, even as many governors were pleading for more federal help.
At a White House briefing, Mr. Trump dismissed the concerns that public health experts have raised about testing, claiming that “the United States has the most robust, advanced and accurate testing system anywhere in the world.” He rejected criticisms of its shortcomings as “false and misleading” and reiterated his position that “the governors are responsible for testing.”
And on Twitter, the president openly encouraged right-wing protests of social distancing restrictions in some states with stay-at-home orders. Governors in a handful of states have begun to outline their plans to ease restrictions, but protesters are pushing for a more rapid reset of pre-virus economic life.
Mr. Trump’s tweetstorm was a stark departure from the more bipartisan tone he took on Thursday while announcing guidelines for how governors should carry out an orderly reopening of their states on their own timetables. It suggested that he was ceding any semblance of national leadership on the pandemic, choosing instead to divide the country by playing to his political base.
The Kurdish-led administration that governs northeastern Syria announced on Friday the first death in that region from Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. As it turns out, the World Health Organization knew about the case for more than 11 days before informing the local authorities, a W.H.O. official said.
The W.H.O. official and the Kurdish administration, which oversees about one-third of Syria’s territory along the Turkish and Iraqi borders, said a 53-year-old man was admitted to a hospital on March 27. Doctors ran a test for the coronavirus and sent it to the Syrian capital, Damascus, for analysis.
The man died on April 2, the same day that his test came back positive. The authorities in Damascus, which has a hostile relationship with the Kurds, did not pass along that information.
The W.H.O. official, Rick Brennan, the regional emergency director for the eastern Mediterranean, said in an interview that the Syrian authorities informed the organization of the case on April 5, but because of “internal procedural problems and miscommunication,” it did not get word to the Kurds about it until Thursday — 11 days later.
The case illustrates how the political divisions left by Syria’s long civil war could hinder a response if a major outbreak occurs. The government of President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus controls most of the country, but has hostile relations with both the Kurdish-led administration that governs the northeast and the leaders of a rebel-held enclave in Idlib Province in the northwest.
Syria has reported only 38 cases of coronavirus and two deaths, but aid groups have warned that the virus could do great damage. Millions of Syrians have been displaced and impoverished through nine years of war, and much of the country’s health infrastructure has been badly damaged.
In a statement Friday, the Kurdish-led administration said it would hold the W.H.O. responsible if the virus spread in its area.
Mr. Brennan said that the man who died had no travel history and no known contact with other infected people — indicating that there are almost certainly other, undiagnosed cases in the area.
China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, has used the coronavirus pandemic to shore up his political power at home, but the tools the Communist Party has exploited to do this are threatening China’s international standing.
China’s embassy in France posted a statement on its website accusing Western governments of failing to protect their most vulnerable, letting nursing home residents die abandoned. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman floated a conspiracy theory that Americans might have introduced the virus to China.
In the past week, officials in France, Britain and nearly two dozen African nations have rebuked Chinese government actions. China has been accused of hypocrisy, hubris and obfuscating the virus’s origins.
Japan has pledged to help companies move production out of China because of concerns about the country’s reliability. And President Emmanuel Macron of France questioned whether China’s heavy-handed methods were a model for democracies to follow.
But China’s state media portray Mr. Xi as a forceful yet benevolent leader, and in calls with world leaders, he emphasizes global unity and China’s willingness to help. In Beijing’s official accounts of those calls, other leaders praise him effusively.
While lashing out at anti-Chinese sentiment around the world, China has turned a blind eye to — and even, critics say, encouraged — xenophobia at home. China has restricted entry from abroad, allowing it to portray the danger as a foreign one, even though many of those returning from other countries were Chinese citizens.
The European Union’s top foreign policy official, Josep Borrell, recently accused China of stoking a “battle of the narratives” and stigmatizing Europeans. After member nations complained about substandard medical supplies bought from China, the bloc made a point of thanking Taiwan for its donation of masks, a gesture that would previously have been considered too risky for fear of offending Beijing.
The harrowing details about the Résidence Herron nursing home in suburban Montreal continued to mount this week: Medical staff who had abandoned hungry and desperately ill patients. An owner with a long criminal history. Thirty-one dead in less than a month — five from confirmed cases of coronavirus.
Across the country, nursing homes from British Columbia to Alberta to Ontario have been devastated by the lethal spread of the virus. This week, Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, attributed about half of Canada’s deaths from the coronavirus — at latest count, 1,193 — to long-term care homes.
The scale of deaths at these facilities has raised a difficult question: Beyond the obvious insidiousness of a highly contagious virus, how has this been possible in Canada, a country with a vaunted universal health care system and a culture of humanism?
Dr. Susan Bartlett, a clinical psychologist and professor of medicine at McGill Medical School, has counseled families about caring for their elderly parents. In addition to her professional expertise, she has a personal interest in the Résidence Herron catastrophe: Her 94-year-old mother was a resident at the Herron in 2018. The nursing home is now under police investigation amid accusations of gross negligence.
Dr. Bartlett said that while her mother’s care had initially been satisfactory, conditions at the residence deteriorated as the owners went on an aggressive cost-cutting spree and struggled to find qualified staff.
She attributed the 31 recent deaths to the fact that, as Covid-19 spread and the residence was locked down, relatives of families were not able to visit and act as advocates for their loved ones. That in turn helped create a “perfect storm of neglect,” when overstretched and depleted health care workers, fearful of the virus and lacking sufficient protective equipment, fled.
Yet Dr. Bartlett said it was hard to fathom that the body bags leaving the residence had not raised alarms sooner. “Why didn’t anyone scream at the top of their lungs?” she asked.
As the pandemic’s global toll climbs, ventilators that pump oxygen into the lungs of critically ill patients have been embraced as the best hope for saving lives.
Some hospitals have been using CPAP and BiPAP machines, designed for people with sleep apnea, to keep patients breathing without having to resort to intubations and ventilators. Engineers have transformed hooded hair salon dryers into personal negative pressure chambers that deliver oxygen and limit the spread of aerosolized virus, lowering the infection risks for health care workers and other patients.
Pulmonologists across the country have been turning to a remarkably simple intervention: flipping patients onto their stomachs, which markedly improves oxygen levels for those in respiratory distress.
Doctors say these and other ad hoc measures have allowed many hospitals to weather the surge of desperately ill patients in recent weeks, and may have helped stave off the dire ventilator shortages and rationing that some had feared.
“Some of these are battlefield interventions that we would not normally use in hospitals, but this crisis has been an incredible spur for creativity and collaboration,” said Dr. Greg Martin, a pulmonologist in Atlanta and the president-elect of the Society of Critical Care Medicine. “The beauty of this is that we’re learning a lot and hopefully some of this will translate to things we can use in the future.”
Reporting was contributed by Dan Bilefsky, Andrew Jacobs, Nicholas Bogel-Burrough, Farnaz Fassihi, Abby Goodnough, Katie Thomas, Sheila Kaplan, Michael D. Shear, Sarah Mervosh, Steven Lee Myers, Evan Easterling and Megan Specia.