Britain will start mass testing and contact tracing, but other countries are way ahead.
As the British government prepares to rolls out a large-scale track and trace system designed to prevent a second major wave of infections, other countries’ experiences offer case studies — and cautionary tales.
Starting on Thursday, anyone in Britain who suffers potential symptoms of Covid-19 will be tested and, if positive, be asked to list everyone with whom they have recently been in close contact for at least 15 minutes. Those people, in turn, will be contacted and asked to isolate themselves for 14 days.
Britain’s program is the latest in similar campaigns around the world that serve as tests of how testing and contact tracing affect transmission of the virus. The results so far are mixed.
In the United States, large-scale testing of people who might have been infected did not happen as the virus spread with ferocity between late January and early March. The result was a lost month, when the world’s richest country — armed with some of the most highly trained scientists and infectious disease specialists — squandered its best chance of containing the virus’s spread.
But even countries that have provided ample testing have not escaped second-wave infections. Notably, Singapore meticulously traced the close contacts of every infected patient from the start, and shut its borders to populations likely to carry the contagion. But a few months later, caseloads began to soar within crowded dormitories where migrant laborers live unnoticed by many of the country’s richer residents — and, as it turned out, the government itself.
South Korea successfully reduced what had been one of the largest outbreaks outside China to a trickle through widespread testing and contact tracing. But recently dozens of new cases have raised fears that another wave of infections is imminent.
South Korea reported 79 new cases on Thursday, the country’s highest daily caseload since April 5. The uptick was due largely to an outbreak in a home delivery logistics center south of Seoul that has reported 69 patients among its workers.
Other countries have prioritized tracing over testing, or vice versa. In Japan, for example, the government limited tests to only the most severe cases and instead focused on contact tracing.
Medical experts worried that Japan’s approach would blind the country to the spread of infection and allow cases to explode, but that hasn’t happened. Japan has one of the lowest mortality rates from Covid-19 among major nations; its medical system has not been overwhelmed; and its government never forced businesses to close, although many did by choice.
Myanmar’s government is abusing regulations aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus by routinely sentencing people to prison for violating curfew, quarantine and social distancing requirements, human rights activists say.
In the last two months, at least 500 people have received prison sentences ranging from two weeks to a year for violating the public health measures, according to Human Rights Watch and the Myanmar-based rights group Athan.
Some found guilty of breaking the virus rules have been fined up to $35, then jailed because they couldn’t afford to pay. Myanmar’s prisons are notoriously overcrowded and unsanitary.
“Throwing hundreds behind bars in crowded, unhygienic prisons defeats the purpose of containing the spread of Covid-19,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
Myanmar, one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia, has reported only 206 coronavirus cases and six deaths. But it has conducted fewer than 22,000 tests for a nation of 54 million people, and health experts believe many cases have gone undetected.
To encourage the public to take precautions, Myanmar’s civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has posted videos of herself washing her hands and sewing a face mask.
In addition to those sentenced to prison for violating the public health rules, at least 500 others face charges, including many who are in jail awaiting trial, said Athan’s co-founder and research manager, Ko Ye Wai Phyo Aung.
He said the rules are often applied unfairly. In one case, for example, a violator was fined the equivalent of 4 cents while another was sentenced to a month in jail for a similar offense. Meanwhile, he said, officials who break the rules are not charged at all.
China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has big dreams for his country’s soccer future. “My biggest hope for Chinese soccer is that its teams become among the world’s best,” he said in 2015.
This won’t be the year for that. Even before professional play has had a chance to begin in 2020, China’s top leagues have already lost more than a fifth of their teams, the result of longstanding financial woes compounded by the coronavirus shutdown.
The Chinese Football Association announced on Saturday that 11 clubs had been disqualified because they owed wages to players, coaches and staff members. Five other teams — including Tianjin Tianhai, from the top-division Chinese Super League — withdrew on their own. Tianjin Tianhai said that its financial situation had reached “desperate straits.”
The Super League will have 16 teams this year, the association said, with Shenzhen Football Club replacing Tianjin Tianhai in the league’s ranks. A start date to its season still hasn’t been announced.
Some of the Chinese clubs that are out this year began folding months ago, before the epidemic led to the suspension of professional play and ticket sales.
China has no shortage of passionate soccer fans. Emboldened by Mr. Xi’s support for the game, investors have piled into Chinese clubs, helping them spend on expensive foreign talent, including the Brazilian forward known as Hulk. But the three leagues’ popularity has fallen short of owners’ lofty dreams, particularly for lower-division clubs.
For some clubs that have not been kicked out of their leagues, there is another problem. A third of foreign players and coaches are trapped outside of China because of the country’s tight pandemic-related entry restrictions, the soccer association’s president told a state-run broadcaster this month.
The first confirmed infections in Europe and the United States, discovered in January, did not ignite the epidemics that followed, according to a close analysis of hundreds of viral genomes.
Those outbreaks began weeks later, the study concluded. The revised timeline may clarify nagging ambiguities about the arrival of the pandemic, The Times writer Carl Zimmer reports.
For example, while President Trump has frequently claimed that a ban on travelers from China prevented the outbreak from becoming much worse, the new data suggest that the virus that started Washington State’s epidemic arrived about two weeks after the ban was imposed on Feb. 2.
And the authors argue that the relatively late emergence of the outbreak means that more lives could have been saved by early action, such as testing and contact tracing.
The new analysis is not the last word. Scientific understanding of the virus is evolving almost daily, and this type of research yields a range of possible results, not complete certainty.
Many infections in Washington State seem to have occurred earlier in February, and other models suggested that the epidemic there began before the middle of the month.
But a number of virus experts said that the new report convincingly ruled out a connection between the first confirmed cases and the later outbreaks.
“This paper clearly shows this didn’t happen,” said Kristian Andersen, a computational biologist at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, who was not involved in the research.
Nissan and Renault, the quarrelsome main partners in the world’s largest automaking alliance, announced a plan on Wednesday to try to reset their troubled relationship as they seek to survive the coronavirus’s devastating impact on the car industry.
The plan seeks to more clearly delineate each company’s turf so they can better absorb catastrophic declines in sales while developing new technologies they need to remain competitive.
For example, Nissan will take the lead on development of autonomous driving technology and Renault will be in charge of developing electric vehicles.
Nissan will be the dominant partner in Japan, China and the United States, while Renault will take the lead in Europe, Russia, Africa and Latin America. Mitsubishi, which is also a member of the alliance, will be in charge of the rest of Asia.
The alliance has been in crisis since the arrest of its former chairman, Carlos Ghosn, in 2018 on accusations of financial wrongdoing, which he has denied. Without Mr. Ghosn’s dominant presence at the top, simmering tensions and jealousies burst into the open.
But breaking up was not an option. On the contrary, the pandemic has made it even more essential for the companies to cooperate and share the enormous cost of developing new models and technology.
Global demand for automobiles has gone into free fall during the lockdowns, battering both companies when they were already in a weakened state.
Just over four months after the government confirmed the first known case, more than 100,000 people who had the coronavirus have died in the United States, according to a New York Times tally.
The death toll is far higher than in any other nation, and on track to be the country’s deadliest public health disaster since the 1918 flu pandemic, in which about 675,000 Americans died.
As the U.S. neared the milestone, President Trump flew to Florida on Wednesday in the hopes of watching the first launch of NASA astronauts into orbit from the United States in nearly a decade. But threatening weather led the launch to be postponed until Saturday at the earliest. Eager to attach himself to the return of manned spaceflight, he wrote on Twitter that he would return for the rescheduled launch.
By then, the death toll will have inched higher still. More than 1.6 million people in the country have been infected, and while hard-hit northeastern states have reported decreases in new cases in recent days, and the pace of deaths nationwide has fallen, health experts warn of a possible resurgence as lockdowns are lifted.
Even now, most statisticians and public health experts, including Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, say the death toll is probably far higher than official counts.
Here’s what else is happening in the U.S.:
The bells of Canada’s Parliament keep pealing, audience or not.
As the 53-bell carillon of the Peace Tower rang out songs this month marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Holland by Canadian troops, an audience of just two listened, with people in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, heeding calls to avoid crowds during the coronavirus crisis.
But the symbolic import of these bells to Ottawa, and to Canada, shouldn’t be judged by the sparse turnout.
With Canada’s Parliament eager for the bells to sound during the outbreak — for reasons of morale and to provide a touch of normalcy — the performances have become the only sanctioned musical events for a live audience in Canada’s capital during the shutdown.
And for the bells to keep pealing, someone needs to play them. That someone is Dr. Andrea McCrady, who bears an official title: the Dominion Carillonneur of Canada.
As many musicians turn to performing online during the pandemic, they are navigating for the first time how to make a connection with an audience watching over a screen instead of in person.
For Dr. McCrady, a physical disconnection from her audience has long been part of the job.
“In the carillon world, you never know who’s on the ground,” she said. “And most people have no clue that it’s a live person up there.”
In the tower, Dr. McCrady performs with a keyboard made up of a vertical panel of levers known as manuals and a pedal board connected by cables to the clappers that strike the bells. Inside her office, a musical library holds nearly a century’s worth of music adapted for the carillon.
Between the pandemic and some construction taking place around the Parliament building, Dr. McCrady will not be giving her usual 200 or so performances this year, and the schedule remains in flux.
Three big men lock arms. Three from the other team do the same. At the referee’s signal, they lunge toward each other, their faces inches apart.
Often there is a rule violation of some kind, and they have to get up and do it again. And maybe again.
Scrums would not be barred outright, but World Rugby is advising that they not be reset repeatedly by the referee.
Tacklers, meanwhile, will have to come in low, not upright, another situation with the potential for close face-to-face contact.
The group also recommended barring huddles and spitting. And it is advising that at halftime the ball be washed, and players don new uniforms.
The World Health Organization says that risks of transmission are greatest when people are close to each other for 15 minutes or more. The rugby players who are most often in scrums are in close contact with the opposition for about 13½ total minutes per game, World Rugby said.
The new rule changes are not mandatory, and Super Rugby in New Zealand, which is to resume June 13, has already said it will stick with the traditional rules — repeated face-to-face scrums and all.
Remembering those we’ve lost.
José María Galante relentlessly gathered evidence of torture and other abuses committed during the Franco dictatorship in Spain. He did so for decades, despite an amnesty law passed two years after Franco’s death in 1975 that was designed to help smooth Spain’s return to democracy.
Mr. Galante died on March 29 in a Madrid hospital. He was 71. His partner, Justa Montero, said the cause was Covid-19.
Here are some of the others we’ve lost to Covid-19 complications:
Yu Lihua, 90, whose nuanced portraits of overseas Chinese students and intellectuals in America captured the cultural displacement and identity crisis felt by many in the Chinese diaspora.
Tendol Gyalzur, who fled Tibet during the 1959 Tibetan uprising and returned after more than three decades to start the region’s first private orphanages. She was believed to be 69.
John Houghton, 88, a Welsh climate scientist and influential figure in the United Nations panel that brought the threat of climate change to the world’s attention.
Reporting was contributed by Ian Austen, Victor Mather, Richard C. Paddock, Saw Nang, Carl Zimmer, Ben Dooley, Jack Ewing, John Schwartz, Amy Qin, Stephen Kurczy, Raphael Minder, Choe Sang-Hun, Mark Landler, Stephen Castle, Ian Austen, Raymond Zhong and Mike Ives.