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2020-05-21 06:10:13

Lockdown, then evacuation: The pandemic and natural disasters deal a one-two punch.

Around the world, people already struggling with lockdowns and social distancing are facing additional threats from natural disasters, forcing them to make an impossible choice: shelter in place or evacuate.

More than three million people were whisked from their homes, but many were apprehensive about rushing into packed emergency shelters, where they feared they would catch the virus.

The Indian subcontinent isn’t the only place where the pandemic and natural disasters are dealing a one-two punch to local residents.

Now, as officials respond to the disasters, they must also ensure that shelters don’t become breeding grounds for more infections. And some shelters that would normally be used to house evacuees are not available because they have already been converted into quarantine centers.

“It is a unique situation because it is the first time that we’re going to face a natural hazard like a storm while taking into consideration a pandemic situation,” said Mark Timbal, a spokesman for the Office of Civil Defense in Manila.

The government of Mexico City has acknowledged that its count of deaths related to the coronavirus is higher than federal data show, and it has named a special commission to review all fatalities in the capital connected to Covid-19.

“This team will evaluate, based on each death certificate and medical report, how many confirmed Covid deaths there are, how many suspicious Covid deaths and how many probable Covid deaths there are,” said Mexico City’s mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum.

That data, which city officials gather by placing calls to every public hospital in the city on a daily basis, includes both confirmed Covid deaths and those where doctors determine the virus was the most likely cause.

The federal data counts only confirmed cases. That number is exceptionally low, however, because Mexico has conducted fewer tests than almost any other developed nation.

The federal government declined to comment on The Times’s story, but after publication released a video claiming the article, along with others by The Wall Street Journal and El País that also questioned official data, was “unethical.”

Federal officials did not, however, deny the existence of the database or the veracity of the numbers published by The Times. Instead, officials claimed that coordination between the city and federal government was excellent.

Several days later, government officials announced the creation of the new commission to review Covid-related deaths in Mexico City. And shortly after, Ms. Sheinbaum, the mayor, acknowledged the death toll tabulated by city officials was higher than that published by the federal government.

In the Netherlands, Dutch officials relaxed the government’s rules on sex during the coronavirus pandemic, advising last week that locked-down singles find “sex buddies.” Acknowledging that human touch is important, the guidance said the two parties must be in strict agreement about limiting the spread of the virus.

“Discuss together how to best do that,” the guidelines said. “Follow the rules around the new coronavirus.”

A spokeswoman for the agency told the Dutch news website that the advice did not encourage “random sex contacts,” but that people who already knew each other or were in relationships but did not live in the same household could have sex without violating health guidelines.

Earlier in the pandemic, the Dutch government, like others around the world, had advised people to have sex only with steady partners.

Different cities and countries have taken varying approaches to guidance on sex during the pandemic, with some more skittish than others.

After six tries, reams of paperwork and repeated rejections, a New Zealand woman will be reunited with her dying sister in Australia, receiving a rare exemption to strict travel bans.

Gail Baker, who lives north of Sydney, was diagnosed with incurable ovarian cancer in late March, when travel bans locked down borders all over the world. She and her sister, Christine Archer, a nurse in New Zealand, have been trying to reconnect ever since.

“I just want to spend every minute I can with her,” Ms Archer told ABC News of Australia.

Both countries have been easing restrictions in recent weeks, but not on international travel.

“It’s just been such a huge job, it really has,” she said. “I am sure there are so many other people in the same position as I have been in and maybe now it will open the door for others to see their loved ones, sooner rather than later.”

President Xi Jinping of China has seized on the pandemic as an opportunity in disguise — a chance to redeem the party after early mistakes let infections slip out of control, and to rally national pride in the face of international ire over those mistakes.

Now, Mr. Xi needs to turn his exhortations of resolute unity into action — a theme likely to underpin the National People’s Congress, the annual legislative meeting that opens on Friday after a monthslong delay.

He must do all this while the country faces a diplomatic and economic climate as daunting as any since the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.

“If you position yourself as a great helmsman uniquely capable of leading your country, that has a lot of domestic political risk if you fail to handle the job appropriately,” said Carl Minzner, a professor of Chinese law and politics at Fordham University.

So far, Mr. Xi has largely succeeded in rewriting the narrative in China. The disarray in other countries, especially the United States, has given him a reprieve from domestic political pressure by allowing officials to highlight China’s lower death toll, despite questions about the accuracy of the numbers.

It is a dramatic turnaround from only months ago, when Mr. Xi faced a shaken and skeptical public.

Denmark’s top chef, René Redzepi, made new Nordic cooking an international sensation, and for nearly two decades has caused surprise, outrage and, of course, delight with his rules-breaking kitchen at Noma in Copenhagen.

But his latest menu may be the most shocking of them all: a pared down selection of just two burgers.

The coronavirus lockdown caused the closure of Noma two months ago, but on Thursday it will reinvent itself as a burger joint in the first step in a gradual return to business.

Noma has been selected as the “best restaurant in the world” four times and diners fly in from all corners of the world to experience its famed 20 course menus. In 2018, The Times’s restaurant critic Pete Wells described the servings as “put on the plate by a team of synchronized hummingbirds.”

The new menu will be less hummingbird, more hands on and the shortest in the restaurant’s history with just the two $18 burger options served in the restaurant’s garden. They come with a promise of lot’s of umami and “a little bit of magic from our fermentation cellar” the restaurant said in a statement.

At the old Noma, tables were sold out months in advance. But from tomorrow at 1 p.m., the hungry and the curious can “come as you are, there are no reservations.” The usual Noma will return to business later this year, with the same ambitions as before.

“I still want to be the best,” Mr. Redzepi, told the Politiken daily. “But dammit, I also want to be with people. I miss that atmosphere of community.”

If the United States had begun imposing social-distancing measures one week earlier in March, about 36,000 fewer people would have died in the pandemic, according to new estimates from Columbia University disease modelers.

And if the country had begun locking down cities and limiting social contact on March 1, two weeks earlier than when most people started staying home, a vast majority of the nation’s deaths — about 83 percent — would have been avoided, the researchers estimated.

“It’s a big, big difference,” said Jeffrey Shaman, an epidemiologist at Columbia and the leader of the research team. “That small moment in time, catching it in that growth phase, is incredibly critical in reducing the number of deaths.”

The enormous cost of waiting to take action reflects the unforgiving dynamics of the outbreak that swept through American cities in early March. Even small differences in timing would have prevented the worst exponential growth, which by April had subsumed New York City, New Orleans and other major cities, the researchers found.

Hannah Beech is the Southeast Asia bureau chief for The Times. She lives in Bangkok, the capital of Thailand.

I wandered past the shop selling premium salmon skin with salted egg yolk, past vials of perfumes I could not sniff because of my mask, past the Japanese soufflé pancake place where, I must admit, I bought a box full of pillowy deliciousness.

After 30 minutes of meandering through Siam Paragon, one of Bangkok’s many malls that have reopened since the city’s coronavirus lockdown began to ease, I finally found my quarry.

Just past Cartier and not quite to Bottega Veneta, the robot was wheeling its way past a gaggle of Thais in floral-patterned masks. I stepped in front of it and the robot politely veered to my left.

In front of Louis Vuitton, the robot, about the size of a leprechaun, came upon a foreign woman in short shorts and a mouth painted with lipstick.

The robot’s camera whirred. Something inside clicked. “Please wear masks,” the robot said in both Thai and English.

If robots could look admonishing, this machine was delivering a very stern gaze.

The woman giggled, then looked a bit nervous. Security guards in black suits and face shields showed her the exit.

After weeks of recording few new coronavirus cases, Thailand is opening up again. But the deluge of shoppers — one Ikea was overwhelmed by a line of hundreds of people — has public health experts worried. Incoming commercial flights have been banned until at least the end of June.

To get into Siam Paragon, I snapped a QR code with my phone, stepped through a mist of disinfectant and waited for my temperature to be taken.

The reading appeared to indicate that I was a lizard. The guard waved me through anyway.

Reporting was contributed by Martin Selsoe Sorensen, Damien Cave, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Steven Lee Myers, Chris Buckley, Russell Goldman, Jeffrey Gettleman, Sameer Yasir, Kai Schultz, Hari Kumar, Jin Qu, Mike Ives, Jason Gutierrez, Hannah Beech, Lorraine Allen, Jenny Gross and Claire Moses.


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