Pandemic brings crises for oil sector but renewal for the environment.
The coronavirus pandemic has sickened more than 2.5 million people and left over 172,000 dead worldwide, but it has also reached into other major aspects of daily life, including the global economy and the environment. The knock-on effects have yielded both calamity and renewal.
But even as lockdowns push the oil sector to the brink, the drastic measures put in place to fight the virus have proved beneficial for the environment.
Air quality has improved, emissions have dropped and wild animals are being spotted in populated areas with increasing regularity. But to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the United Nations warned that the environmental silver lining of the pandemic was temporary and achieved “on the back of tragic economic slowdown and human distress.”
In addition, nations are plotting calculated reopening in an attempt to lessen economic trouble. The government of Spain, the European nation hit hardest by the pandemic, discussed on Wednesday plans for a gradual reopening. The discussions occurred even though the nation is still experiencing hundreds of virus-related deaths each day, with 435 fatalities reported on Wednesday bringing the overall toll to 21,717.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez told lawmakers that the lockdown would be eased only in the second half of May, saying a “slow and gradual” approach was necessary “precisely because it needs to be safe.”
Neither of the victims had a travel history, meaning that in all probability they were infected in the community — and that the virus was probably already spreading at that time.
A German biotechnology company said on Wednesday that a coronavirus vaccine candidate it had developed with the American pharmaceutical company Pfizer had been approved for clinical testing in Germany, raising hopes that a working coronavirus vaccine could become available soon.
It would be what is believed to be the fourth trial to get underway internationally in the race for a vaccine to help stem the pandemic. The German institute responsible for such approval, the Paul Ehrlich Institute, confirmed the news in a post on Twitter: “Testing a vaccine in humans is an important milestone on the way to safe & effective vaccines against #COVID19.”
“We are pleased to have completed preclinical studies in Germany and will soon initiate this first-in-human trial ahead of our expectations,” Ugur Sahin, an immunologist and the chief executive and co-founder of BioNTech, the German company that developed the potential vaccine, said in a statement.
The initial clinical trial will be carried out on 200 healthy volunteers, ages 18 to 55, the company said.
In the hour after the company’s announcement was made public on Wednesday, its stock rose 40 percent. Another vaccine maker in Germany made news last month, when it came to light that the Trump administration may have been trying to lure the company to the United States to develop a vaccine, apparently for exclusive use there.
Countries with economies that are heavily reliant on oil production are finding themselves in a dual crisis, and others have been forced to change policies that no longer make economic sense.
While Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States — the biggest oil producers — have large financial cushions, the steep drop in demand the world was put under lockdown has upended everything. It was a possibility even veteran industry experts did not foresee.
“No one imagined a crisis of this scope,” said Daniel Yergin, an expert on global energy and vice chairman of IHS Markit, a research firm. “This was in no scenario.”
In the United States, where oil prices fell below zero this week for the first time on record — meaning sellers had to pay customers to take oil off their hands — the glut is threatening severe economic pain in what had been a thriving domestic industry. The oversupply also has forced the Trump administration to negotiate with Russia and Saudi Arabia to curtail production.
“The idea that we are energy dominant or independent is a fallacy,” said Jason Bordoff, a professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and founding director of its Center on Global Energy Policy. The global market’s effect on the United States, he said, has “revealed that when oil prices rise, we feel the pain, and when oil prices collapse, we need to call Moscow and Riyadh to do something about it.”
As the number of new coronavirus cases in Spain has slowed in recent weeks, the government has been trying to figure out how and when to ease its lockdown.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez told Parliament on Wednesday that the lockdown would be only partly eased in the second half of May, saying a “slow and gradual” approach was necessary “precisely because it needs to be safe.”
But with the largest outbreak in Europe, Spain still has hundreds of deaths a day. The country reported an uptick in its daily death toll on Wednesday, with 435 people dying overnight.
Health officials say the death toll remains troubling, even as the infection rate and the number of hospital recoveries have improved this month. About 33,000 health care workers in Spain have tested positive for the virus, one of the highest numbers in the world.
Mr. Sánchez, who heads a minority coalition government, is asking lawmakers to approve an extension of the nationwide state of emergency until May 9.
Mr. Sánchez raised expectations over the weekend by promising that Spanish children would soon be allowed to leave the house. But on Tuesday, the government’s spokeswoman disappointed many by saying that children would be limited to accompanying an adult on an essential trip, such as going to the supermarket or the pharmacy.
“Nobody is measuring with a stopwatch how long it takes a person to buy bread,” the government spokeswoman, María Jesús Montero, said in response to many questions from journalists about why children would need to get their fresh air in a supermarket.
After an avalanche of criticism from politicians on all sides, health specialists and citizens who took to their balconies in Madrid to bang pots in protest, the government reversed its decision.
In another news conference, Salvador Illa, the health minister, said that, starting Sunday, children under 14 would be allowed to go for a short stroll, keeping a safe distance from others.
Eight infants and toddlers at a care center in Tokyo have tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said on Wednesday, raising concerns about a wider outbreak at care facilities in the country for neglected or abused children.
There have been numerous deaths among residents of overwhelmed nursing homes in the United States and Spain, and cluster cases have emerged at day care centers in several cities in Japan. But the Tokyo cases may be the first known cluster in a home for neglected or abused children in the country.
Some people infected with the virus show no symptoms, and there have been cases of patients initially testing positive for the virus and later testing negative.
All 29 children at the Tokyo facility were tested after an employee tested positive on April 16, according to a statement from the Saiseikai Central Hospital, which runs the residential home for infants and toddlers. The infected children have been hospitalized, but do not have symptoms, and the children who tested negative were also being monitored.
Japan relies on institutional care for the majority of abused and neglected children who cannot live with their parents. There are 140 such homes for infants and toddlers, housing 2,706 children throughout Japan. About 600 facilities operate as orphanages, housing about 25,282 children.
Japanese health officials have reported 11,496 infections and 277 deaths from the coronavirus, the number coming from Tokyo.
The first case of coronavirus has been confirmed in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, the United Nations agency that oversees Palestinian refugee affairs said on Wednesday, intensifying fears that the virus will tear through one of the Middle East’s most vulnerable populations.
The patient, a Palestinian-Syrian woman, tested positive on Tuesday, according to Tamara Alrifai, a spokeswoman for the agency, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East. The woman is being hospitalized at Rafik Hariri Hospital in Beirut, the government’s main coronavirus treatment center, while her immediate family is tested for the virus.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees — people who were forced out or fled in the war surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948 and their descendants — live as perpetual outsiders in Lebanon, where they face systematic discrimination. They are barred from Lebanese citizenship and most professions and are forbidden from building permanent housing. They live in cramped, semi-permanent structures in a network of 12 camps and 26 informal settlements around the country, making social distancing difficult, if not impossible.
As many as 3,000 people live in the patient’s camp, which is in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, Ms. Alrifai said. Lebanon also hosts more than one million Syrian refugees who sought refuge from the nine-year civil war next door. They, too, live in squalid, crowded conditions in informal camps around the country.
Aid groups fear that a coronavirus outbreak in the refugee camps could inflame the hostility and tension between Palestinian and Syrian communities and their Lebanese neighbors. Seeking to forestall accusations that Palestinians are draining already-stretched Lebanese government resources, the United Nations group has pledged to cover the cost of hospitalization for Palestinian refugees, Ms. Alrifai said.
It is also close to opening an isolation center with Doctors Without Borders dedicated to Palestinian refugees.
As the 50th anniversary of International Earth Day was observed on Wednesday with drastic measures in force around the globe to fight the coronavirus pandemic, there were signs that those same measures can be beneficial for the environment.
Now that so much of the world is under lockdown, air quality has improved, greenhouse gas emissions have dropped and wild animals have come out to play in streets left empty by humans sheltering in place.
But the environmental silver lining of the pandemic is temporary, the United Nations warned in a statement on Wednesday, because it comes “on the back of tragic economic slowdown and human distress.”
The U.N. added that Earth was “urging a call to action” and said the pandemic was linked to our ecosystem’s health.
“Climate change, man-made changes to nature as well as crimes that disrupt biodiversity, such as deforestation, land-use change, intensified agriculture and livestock production or the growing illegal wildlife trade, can increase contact and the transmission of infectious diseases from animals to humans,” like Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, the organization said.
A British Royal Air Force plane carrying a delayed consignment of medical supplies from Turkey for the National Health Service finally landed early Wednesday, the Ministry of Defense said.
The aircraft was expected to deliver 84 tons of personal protective equipment, including 400,000 surgical gowns, from a commercial supplier in Turkey on Sunday, but it was not clear how much of that consignment was on the jet that touched down at the Brize Norton air base.
The equipment was delayed because the Turkish company was short on stock, Turkish officials said.
Britain’s supplies of protective gear are critically low, and front-line health workers have been advised by the government to reuse the equipment worn while treating coronavirus patients. Health workers say that advice puts them at risk.
The government has also been criticized for not taking part in a European Union program to buy bulk medical equipment, including ventilators, protective equipment and testing kits.
The shipment arrived on the day that lawmakers in Parliament will participate in a virtual debate for the first time in its 700-year history, testing a model that conforms to social distancing guidelines.
Only 50 of the Parliament’s 650 elected members will be allowed to enter the chamber; 120 members of the House of Commons will join them via video link.
The State of Missouri filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against the Chinese government over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, claiming that China’s response led to a global pandemic and unleashed economic devastation in the state.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court by the state’s attorney general, Eric Schmitt, accuses the Chinese authorities of engaging in an “appalling campaign of deceit, concealment, misfeasance and inaction” to cover up the dangers of the virus, and says those authorities were “responsible for the enormous death, suffering, and economic losses they inflicted on the world,” including billions of dollars in economic losses for Missouri residents.
Earlier, China rejected any calls for compensation after President Trump said China should face consequences if it was “knowingly responsible” for the pandemic.
“The virus is a common enemy to all mankind and may strike anytime, anywhere,” Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Monday. “Like other countries, China is also a victim, not a perpetrator, even less an accomplice of Covid-19.”
Missouri is the first state in the nation to file a lawsuit against China over its actions regarding the coronavirus, but its claim has virtually no chance of succeeding. American law grants foreign governments broad immunity from the civil jurisdiction of American courts.
With few exceptions, a long-held legal doctrine known as sovereign immunity, which is based on the principle that nations are sovereign equals, prevents lawsuits from bogging down countries in each other’s courts, according to Chimène Keitner, an international law professor at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.
An Indonesian village that is home to a large Islamic boarding school has been placed under quarantine after 43 Malaysian students who returned to their home country were found to have the coronavirus, officials said.
But the move could be too little too late. About 30,000 students and villagers live in the quarantine zone in East Java, but health officials said at least 15,000 had already left for their hometowns before the area was locked down on Monday.
The quarantine covers Temboro Village and the Al-Fatah Islamic Boarding School, which has eight campuses in town. The school is part of the Islamist movement Tablighi Jamaat, which has been linked to other outbreaks in the region.
Tablighi Jamaat, which calls on followers to live in the style of the Prophet Muhammad, held a gathering in Malaysia in late February in which 16,000 attendees helped spread the virus to five other Southeast Asian countries. Another mass gathering in Indonesia in March helped spread the virus to several provinces and Thailand.
The head of the administration that governs the village said he had ordered students sent home early for Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month. His order came just as Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, banned such travel for government workers. The president extended the ban nationwide on Tuesday.
One case of coronavirus was discovered in Temboro about two weeks ago. Health officials checked the temperatures of 10,500 students as they departed but were unaware that any were ill until Malaysian officials notified them on Sunday.
The United States Senate on Tuesday passed a $484 billion coronavirus relief package that would replenish a depleted loan program for distressed small businesses and provide funds for hospitals and coronavirus testing, approving yet another huge infusion of federal money to address the public health and economic crisis brought on by the pandemic.
The program ran dry before many companies were able to have their applications approved, collapsing under a glut of appeals from businesses struggling to stay afloat. And despite the federal aid, more than 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment in recent weeks.
The outbreak started with a woman flying from the United States into the region in mid-March, state media reported. It has now spread to nearby Liaoning and Inner Mongolia and prompted the closure of a hospital in Harbin. A new outbreak could be particularly dangerous in China, where life has mostly gone back to normal, with people crowding on to subways and filling restaurants.
Thus far the outbreak has caused 78 infections, including a cluster in a hospital in Harbin, where hospital authorities did not take strict measures to separate patients with fevers. One official said the virus spread between patients, nurses and medical aides, who gathered together in hallways to chat.
The city has now ordered a lockdown on residential compounds, and guards have been deployed to bar outsiders from entry and to check that residents are wearing masks and not showing signs of fevers. The city has also banned all public events as well as weddings and funerals.
Harbin officials said 2,000 people connected to the hospital, including medical staff, inpatients and those that had left within the past two weeks, had been tested. A broader second round of testing is also underway. One article from a news report in nearby Qiqihar showed that 4,106 people who had been to the two hospitals in Harbin were slated to be tested.
Sixteen humanitarian groups, including Oxfam and Save the Children, called for a cease-fire throughout Myanmar after a driver for the World Health Organization was shot and killed while transporting coronavirus test samples in troubled Rakhine State.
The driver, Pyae Sone Win Maung, and a Myanmar health ministry official were taking the samples to Yangon in a marked United Nations vehicle Monday evening when they were attacked in an area where the Myanmar military has been battling the Arakan Army, a rebel group that is seeking autonomy.
The unidentified health ministry official was wounded, the authorities said.
Both the national military and rebels denied responsibility for the shooting.
Health experts fear that the disease is already widespread and that the country’s inadequate health care system could easily be overwhelmed. The health ministry director, Dr. Than Naing Soe, said the country has only 250 ventilators.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned Monday’s attack and called for a complete and transparent investigation. The humanitarian groups said the attack “demonstrates the urgent need for armed actors in Myanmar to lay down their weapons.”
However, the country’s civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, issued a statement after the attack praising the military for protecting civilians by fighting the rebels. The military has rejected calls for a halt in fighting so that the country can address the pandemic.
She drives from the Danish side, in her Toyota Yaris.
He cycles from the German side, on his electric bike.
She brings the coffee and the table, he the chairs and the schnapps.
Then they sit down on either side of the border, a yard or two apart.
And that is how two octogenarian lovers have kept their romance alive despite the closure of the border that falls between his home in the very north of Germany and hers in the very south of Denmark.
“We’re here because of love,” said Mr. Tüchsen Hansen. “Love is the best thing in the world.”
Then he poured another glass of schnapps.
It would have been a routine gig, playing electronic dance music in a sports stadium filled with 40,000 fans at a festival in Chengdu, China, last weekend.
Martin Garrix, described as the world’s No. 2 D.J., performs at around 150 such events a year. But now, because of the coronavirus, electronic dance music parties and festivals across the world are over. That is true even in Mr. Garrix’s home country, the Netherlands, where they are an important export product, an $8 billion industry employing around 100,000 people, according to Event Makers, an industry group.
As of Tuesday, all shows and festivals have been canceled until at least Sept. 1. Such is the prominence of the business in the Netherlands that the cancellation was announced by the prime minister, Mark Rutte, in a news conference.
Dutch D.J.’s, who normally roam the globe in private jets, now sit home wondering if this is the end of their profession. Dutch festival goers not only face a dance-less summer but now have $1 billion in advance tickets and no guarantee of refunds.
The dance festivals have become a fixture of modern life in the Netherlands, where there are more of them per capita than anywhere in the world, said Mark van Bergen, a lecturer in the dance industry at Fontys University of Applied Sciences at Tilburg and a writer on electronic dance music. All told, the country had 422 festivals in 2018, he said.
The coronavirus pandemic unfolded very differently in China from the way it has in the rest of the world — at least, if one believes state-run Chinese media. Chinese news outlets used words like “purgatory” and “apocalypse” to describe the tragic hospital scenes in Italy and Spain. They have run photos of British and American medical workers wearing garbage bags as protective gear.
A lot of the same miseries happened in China, but those reports were called “rumors” and censored.
For the Communist Party, keeping up a positive image for the Chinese public has long been an important part of maintaining its legitimacy. That facade was broken during the outbreak in late January and February, as dying patients flooded hospitals and medical workers begged for protective gear on social media. Some people started asking why the government suppressed information early on and who should be held accountable.
Then the United States and other countries bungled their own responses, and China’s propaganda machine saw an opportunity.
Using the West’s transparency and free flow of information, state media outlets chronicled how badly others have managed the crisis. Their message: Those countries should copy China’s model. For good measure, the propaganda machine revved up its attacks on anybody who dared to question the government’s handling of the pandemic.
As professional sports leagues try to figure out how to restart their games, they have to consider a factor that isn’t getting a lot of attention in the United States at the moment: Canada.
The vast country north of the United States has been at the forefront of the sports world’s dramatic response to the Covid-19 pandemic, playing a key role in persuading the International Olympic Committee to postpone the Tokyo Games and, in some regions of the country, canceling all sporting events and other large gatherings through August.
Canada’s austere approach to the pandemic and push for long-term social distancing measures stand in stark contrast to the approach of President Trump, who has spoken regularly with the leaders of sports leagues about getting games up and running again. Trump has included some of those leaders on his task force for restarting the U.S. economy, and he has said he wants athletic competition to begin again both for his own entertainment and as a symbol of life returning to normal.
No such rush exists in Canada, the home of the reigning N.B.A. champions, the Toronto Raptors; 11 other franchises that are part of the United States’ five major sports leagues; and one M.L.B.-affiliated minor league baseball team. While Americans, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of Trump’s coronavirus task force, speak longingly of a powerful joint celebration of July Fourth and the opening of the Major League Baseball season, Canada has already canceled all Canada Day celebrations on July 1.
Reporting was contributed by Iliana Magra, Christopher F. Schuetze, Vivian Yee, Raphael Minder, Ceylan Yeginsu, Rick Gladstone, Megan Specia, Austin Ramzy, Yonette Joseph, Anna Holland, Richard C. Paddock, Dera Menra Sijabat, Matthew Futterman, Paul Mozur, Lin Qiqing, Jason M. Bailey, Richard C. Paddock, Saw Nang, Thomas Erdbrink, Amelia Nierenberg, Alissa J. Rubin, Falih Hassan, Cara Giaimo, Li Yuan and Patrick Kingsley.