Coronavirus Live Updates: U.N. Chief Calls Pandemic World’s Biggest Test Since World War II

The coronavirus pandemic is “an unprecedented test” unlike anything in the past 75 years, António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, said on Wednesday.

“Covid-19 is the greatest test that we have faced together since the formation of the United Nations,” Mr. Guterres said as the agency released a new report on the social and economic impacts of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. The body was formed after the end of World War II in 1945.

The U.N. report calls for a coordinated, international response amounting to at least 10 percent of global G.D.P. to ramp up health care spending and cushion the blow to people around the world who have been hurt by the sharp economic downturn.

Mr. Guterres said he was particularly worried about how the pandemic would harm Africa.

“It is essential that developed countries immediately assist those less developed to bolster their health systems and their response capacity to stop transmission,” he said. “Otherwise we face the nightmare of the disease spreading like wildfire in the global South with millions of deaths and the prospect of the disease re-emerging where it was previously suppressed.”

The top government scientists battling the coronavirus estimated Tuesday that the deadly pathogen could kill between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans, in spite of the social distancing measures that have drastically limited citizens’ interactions and movements.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, who is coordinating the coronavirus response, displayed the grim projection at a White House news conference and then joined President Trump in pledging to do everything possible to reduce the numbers even further.

President Trump officially called for another month of social distancing and warned that “this is going to be a very painful, very very painful two weeks” — even as he added that Americans would soon “start seeing some real light at the end of the tunnel.”

“I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead. We’re going through a very tough few weeks,” Mr. Trump said, later raising his two weeks to three.

The scientists’ conclusions generally match those from similar models by public health researchers around the globe.

Mr. Trump, who spent weeks playing down the threat of the virus, congratulated himself for the projections, which he said showed that strict public health measures may have already curtailed the death toll. He suggested that as many as 2.2 million people “would have died if we did nothing, if we just carried on with our life.” By comparison, Mr. Trump said, a potential death toll of 100,000 “is a very low number.”

But on a day when the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus surged above 3,900, surpassing China’s official count, the pandemic’s personal and financial toll continued to play out across the nation.

A chorus of governors from across the political spectrum publicly challenged the Trump administration’s assertion that the United States is well-stocked and well-prepared to test people for the coronavirus and care for the sickest patients. In many cases, the governors said, the country’s patchwork approach had left them bidding against one another for supplies.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York — whose younger brother, Chris Cuomo, a CNN anchor, has tested positive for the virus — likened the conflicts to “being on eBay with 50 other states, bidding on a ventilator.”

Global desperation to protect front-line medical workers battling the coronavirus epidemic has spurred a mad international scramble for masks and other protective gear. Governments, hospital chains, clinics and entrepreneurs are scouring the world for personal protection equipment they can buy or sell — and a new type of trader has sprung up to make that happen.

The market has become a series of hasty deals in bars, sudden calls to corporate jet pilots and fast-moving wire transfers among bank accounts in Hong Kong, the United States, Europe and the Caribbean.

The stakes are high, and so are the prices. Wholesale costs for N95 respirators, a crucial type of mask for protecting medical workers, have quintupled. Trans-Pacific airfreight charges have tripled.

“It’s a global free-for-all, trying to get capacity,” said Eric Jantzen, the vice president for North America at Vertis Aviation, an aircraft and air cargo brokerage based in Zurich. “And the prices reflect that.”

The hurdles keep rising. On Tuesday, after complaints from Europe about shoddy Chinese masks and ineffective test kits, China’s Ministry of Commerce ordered manufacturers to provide further assurances that their products met standards.

World leaders are moving to get supplies, but they are still grappling with the vast scope of the problem.

China vacuumed up a big share of global supplies after the outbreak emerged in January. It imported two billion masks in a five-week period starting then. Now, China has become a major part of the solution. Already a giant in mask manufacturing, it has ramped up production to nearly 12 times its earlier level of 10 million a day.

The virus is spreading across Afghanistan at a time when the country is grappling with a raging war with the Taliban, an election dispute that has split the government and brought a $1 billion aid reduction from the United States as punishment, and a dire economy that has plunged about half the population below the poverty line.

In such a moment of need, ordinary Afghans have stepped up to share the little that they have, tapping into a culture of generosity, volunteerism and care within the community that many feared had been eroded by decades of war, survival-first imperatives, greed, and corruption.

The shared sense of responsibility for easing the pain of an impending health crisis is turning into another test of survival for a country where life has been a daily fight for decades.

“Although it is difficult times, if we join hands, God willing the corona problem will pass,” said an 80-year-old dentist in the western city of Herat.

The emergency legislation enacted by Congress with support from Republicans and President Trump has intensified a long-running debate about whether the United States does enough in ordinary times to protect the needy.

After Mr. Trump and congressional Republicans spent the last three years fighting to cut anti-poverty programs and expand work rules, their support for the emergency relief — especially in the form of directly sending people checks, usually a nonstarter in American politics — is a significant reversal of their effort to shrink the safety net.

Those who support more government help for low-income families say the crisis has revealed holes in the safety net that the needy have long understood. It is a patchwork system, largely built for good times, and offers little cash aid to people not working. It pushes the poor to find jobs, and supports many who do, but offers little protection for those without them.

Most rich countries have universal health insurance and provide a minimum cash income for families with children. The United States has neither as well as higher rates of child poverty.

And to a degree that casual observers may not understand, the Trump administration has tried both to shrink safety net programs and make eligibility for them dependent on having a job or joining a work program.

But while Republicans have agreed to emergency checks, many did so reluctantly, thinking the safety net is already too large. The $2 trillion rescue package ran into last-minute delays last week when four Senate Republicans said the temporary increase in unemployment benefits was too high and would dissuade people from working.

Conservatives say the limits on public aid are a strength of the American system, and they credit work requirements for cutting child poverty in recent years to record lows. If anything, most would go further in extending work requirements to programs where they have been limited or missing, like food stamps and Medicaid.

The economists Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach of Northwestern University and Hilary W. Hoynes of Berkeley found in 2018 that nearly all the growth in federal spending since 1990 has “gone to families with earnings, and to families with income above the poverty line.” They warned the imbalance “is likely to lead to worse outcomes” for the poorest children.

While political leaders have locked their borders, scientists have been shattering theirs, creating a global collaboration unlike any in history. Never before, researchers say, have so many experts in so many countries focused simultaneously on a single topic and with such urgency. Nearly all research, other than anything related to coronavirus, has ground to a halt.

Normal imperatives like academic credit have been set aside. Online repositories make studies available months ahead of journals. Researchers have identified and shared hundreds of viral genome sequences. More than 200 clinical trials have been started, bringing together hospitals and laboratories around the globe.

On a recent morning, for example, scientists at the University of Pittsburgh discovered that a ferret exposed to Covid-19 particles had developed a high fever — a potential advance toward animal vaccine testing. Under ordinary circumstances, they would have started work on an academic journal article.

“But you know what? There is going to be plenty of time to get papers published,” said Paul Duprex, a virologist leading the university’s vaccine research. Within two hours, he said, he had shared the findings with scientists around the world on a World Health Organization conference call. “It is pretty cool, right? You cut the crap, for lack of a better word, and you get to be part of a global enterprise.”

Dr. Duprex’s lab in Pittsburgh is collaborating with the Pasteur Institute in Paris and the Austrian drug company Themis Bioscience. The consortium has received funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation, a Norway-based organization financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a group of governments, and is in talks with the Serum Institute of India, one of the largest vaccine manufacturers in the world.

The clamor for corporate funding is raising concerns about a financial reckoning reminiscent of 2008.

In a single week in March, as financial markets convulsed and major parts of the economy began shutting down, banks made over $240 billion in new loans to companies — twice as much in new lending as they would ordinarily extend in a full year.

American companies are reeling from the body blow dealt by the pandemic. As revenues dwindle, travel slows and production lines halt, companies have begun to furlough or lay off employees, slash investment in operations and buy less from their suppliers. With no way to tell when the economy will restart, they are racing to conserve money and tap as much credit as possible.

The new reality, say bankers and analysts, will be tough for companies that had grown accustomed to the easy money of the past decade. Enticed by ultralow interest rates, they borrowed trillions of dollars in new debt in the belief that banks would keep lending and the debt markets would always be open. Now many indebted companies, even those whose business has not taken a direct hit from the outbreak, are finding that they have to adapt to an era in which cash is suddenly much harder to raise.

Taiwan announced on Wednesday that it would donate 10 million surgical masks to the United States and other countries, a gesture intended to highlight its success in combating the coronavirus and its exclusion from the world’s leading international health body.

Joanne Ou, the spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Taiwan would donate two million masks to American front-line medical workers, in addition to the 100,000 masks per week it had previously pledged.

“It is a small gesture by Taiwan as a responsible country,” Ms. Ou said in an interview. “It is the least we can do, especially during these challenging times.”

Taiwan, which has a population of 23 million, is now manufacturing 13 million masks per day.

The government is hoping that its gesture of good will at a time of international crisis will spotlight the country’s exclusion from the World Health Organization. China insists it controls the island, and refuses to allow any United Nations organizations, including the W.H.O., to recognize its autonomy.

As of Tuesday, Taiwan had only 322 reported coronavirus cases and five deaths. But China’s government insists Taiwan’s numbers should be included in its tally.

In addition to the United States-bound shipment, Taiwan will seven million masks to European countries and one million to the 15 remaining countries that officially recognize its government.

On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed support for Taiwan’s observer status in the W.H.O.’s decision-making body, the World Health Assembly. That followed President Trump’s signing of the TAIPEI Act, which calls for the United States to support Taiwan’s push for inclusion in international organizations.

Nellie Bowles, who covers tech and internet culture from San Francisco for The New York Times, wrote about her losing battle with screens.

Before the coronavirus, there was something I used to worry about. It was called screen time. Perhaps you remember it.

I thought about it. I wrote about it. A lot. I would try different digital detoxes as if they were fad diets, each working for a week or two before I’d be back on that smooth glowing glass.

Now I have thrown off the shackles of screen-time guilt. My television is on. My computer is open. My phone is unlocked, glittering. I want to be covered in screens. If I had a virtual reality headset nearby, I would strap it on.

The screen is my only contact with my parents, whom I miss but can’t visit because I don’t want to accidentally kill them with the virus. It brings me into happy hours with my high school friends and gives me photos of people cooking on Facebook. Was there a time I thought Facebook was bad? An artery of dangerous propaganda flooding the country’s body politic? Maybe. I can’t remember. That was a different time.

A lot of people are coming around.

Walt Mossberg, my former boss and a longtime influential tech product reviewer, deactivated his Facebook and Instagram accounts in 2018 to protest Facebook’s policies and negligence around fake news. Now, for the duration of the pandemic, he is back.

“I haven’t changed my mind about the company’s policies and actions,” Mr. Mossberg wrote on Twitter last week. “I just want to stay in touch with as many friends as possible.”

Laundry, grocery shopping, even walking the dog is fraught with challenges these days. The key to accomplish any essential task is a little preparation, levelheaded thinking and a lot of hand washing before and after. (A few anti-bacterial wipes can’t hurt either.)

Reporting was contributed by Austin Ramzy, Keith Bradsher, Andrew Das, Michael D. Shear, Elian Peltier, David D. Kirkpatrick, Kate Kelly, Peter Eavis, Mujib Mashal,Matt Apuzzo, Chris Horton.

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