Saudi Arabia, battered by virus, declares a cease-fire in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia on Wednesday announced that the kingdom and its allies would observe a unilateral cease-fire in the war in Yemen starting at noon on Thursday, a move that could pave the way for ending the brutal five-year-old conflict.
Saudi officials said that the cease-fire was intended to jump-start peace talks brokered by the United Nations and that it had been motivated by fears of the coronavirus spreading in Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world.
The gesture is the first by any government entangled in an international armed conflict to halt hostilities at least in part because of the pandemic. The secretary general of the United Nations, António Guterres, pleaded for a worldwide cease-fire two weeks ago, citing the pandemic.
As many as 150 members of the Saudi royal family are believed to have contracted the coronavirus, including members of the family’s lesser branches, according to a person close to the family.
The senior Saudi who is the governor of Riyadh, Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, is in intensive care with Covid-19, according to two doctors with ties to the King Faisal hospital and two others close to the royal family. Prince Faisal is a nephew of King Salman.
King Salman, 84, has secluded himself in an island palace near the city of Jeddah on the Red Sea. His son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 34-year old de facto ruler, has retreated with many of his ministers to the remote site on the same coast.
The world began this week to see small but encouraging signs that concerted efforts to drastically change human behavior — to suspend daily routines by staying at home — are slowing the insidious spread of the novel coronavirus, which has killed tens of thousands and sickened more than a million others across several continents.
In the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus publicly emerged in December, the end to a monthslong lockdown has residents taking baby steps toward some version of normality. In Italy, where the virus has killed more than 17,000 people, a delayed but committed resolve to stay inside has greatly decreased the rate of contagion.
In the United States, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Wednesday on Fox News that he was starting to see “some glimmers of hope,” so much so that he expected that previous projections of 100,000 to 200,000 virus-related deaths could be lowered.
But epidemiologists say such early indications, while promising, must not be interpreted to mean that all will be well by summer’s first days.
The U.S. death toll, now growing by well over a thousand a day, has continued to mount with no sign of abating soon. And although President Trump tweeted on Monday about a light at the end of a tunnel, scientists say it will be a very, very long one.
The White House’s coronavirus response coordinator suggested on Wednesday that the strict measures being taken by Americans to stem the spread of the virus may be leveling new cases in large metropolitan areas like New York, Detroit, Chicago and Boston.
But the coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, also emphasized that “there is still a significant amount of disease.”
Here’s what else is happening in the United States:
New York, the hardest hit state in America, reported that another 779 people had died, its biggest single-day toll so far. The state now has nearly 150,000 cases and more than 6,000 deaths.
New research indicates that the coronavirus began to circulate in the New York area by mid-February, weeks before the first confirmed case, and that it was brought to the region mainly by travelers from Europe, not Asia.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine said in a report to the White House that the virus might not fade in summer, as many had hoped. Previous studies that linked high temperature and humidity to diminished transmission had limitations that made them less than conclusive, the report said.
W.H.O. chief says politicizing the virus would lead to “many more body bags.”
Replying to criticism from President Trump, the head of the World Health Organization made an impassioned plea for solidarity on Wednesday, warning that politicizing the coronavirus pandemic would result in “many more body bags.”
Mr. Trump unleashed a tirade against the organization on Tuesday, accusing it of acting too slowly to sound the alarm, and of treating the Chinese government too favorably. While the president, who threatened to withhold American funding for the W.H.O., spoke in unusually harsh terms, he was not alone in such criticism.
Asked about Mr. Trump’s comments on Wednesday, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the W.H.O. director-general, said, “We want to learn from our mistakes,” but added, “for now, the focus should be on fighting this virus.”
“Please don’t politicize this virus,” Dr. Tedros said. “If you want to be exploited and you want to have many more body bags, then you do it. If you don’t want many more body bags, then you refrain from politicizing it.”
He emphasized that the disease was new, adding, “there are many unknowns and we don’t know how it will behave in future.”
While some critics have called on Dr. Tedros to resign, he said he was not deterred and could withstand “three years” or “three hundred years” of personal attacks. He did not cite Mr. Trump by name.
He said for the first time that for months he has been targeted by racist comments and death threats.
Critics say the W.H.O. has been too trusting of the Chinese government, which initially tried to conceal the outbreak. Others have faulted the organization for not moving faster in declaring a global health emergency.
But the agency’s defenders say that its powers over any individual government are limited.
Oil markets are badly shaken. Can world leaders save them?
Usually it’s the world’s major oil-producing countries that step in when a big drop in prices shakes the oil market. But these are not normal times.
On Friday, a day after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other producers led by Russia are set to hold their own meeting, representatives of the Group of 20 wealthy nations are expected to hold a virtual conference to try to stem the recent plunge in energy prices.
The volatile oil markets threaten to bankrupt energy companies across the world, causing enormous job losses and threatening financial institutions that have backed the industry.
The pandemic has played a critical role in this drama, but there is also a lot of jockeying among the three oil superpowers: Saudi Arabia and Russia, two longtime petro-rivals, and the United States, whose rising prominence as an oil exporter has disrupted the industry.
It is far from clear that the G20 meeting will calm volatile markets. The fact that the meeting is occurring, though, may signal the beginning of a very different approach.
“A lot of countries, including those with strong free-market beliefs and credentials, seem to be coming over to the view that the global oil business needs to be managed to an extent, at least from time to time,” said Bhushan Bahree, an executive director at IHS Markit, a research firm.
How to celebrate in coronavirus times.
Stay-at-home orders don’t have to put a damper on your special days. Here’s some ways to celebrate birthdays, weddings, and the upcoming spring holidays.
With more than one million people worldwide ill from the coronavirus, there is an urgent search for any drug that might help.
While there is no proof that any drug can yet cure or prevent a coronavirus infection, one prescription medicine that has received significant attention is hydroxychloroquine, approved decades ago to treat malaria and also used to treat autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
President Trump has recommended it repeatedly, despite little evidence that it works against the coronavirus.
Here are some key facts on hydroxychloroquine:
A promising laboratory study found that chloroquine could block the coronavirus from invading cells, which it must do to replicate and cause illness. But drugs that vanquish viruses in petri dishes do not always work in the human body, and studies of hydroxychloroquine have found that it failed to prevent or treat other viral illnesses.
Still, many hospitals are giving hydroxychloroquine to patients infected with the coronavirus because there is no proven treatment, and they hope it will help. Clinical trials with control groups have begun across the world.
Overall, hydroxychloroquine is considered relatively safe for people who do not have underlying illnesses that the drug is known to worsen. But like every drug, it can have side effects and is not safe for people who have abnormalities in their heart rhythms, eye problems involving the retina, or liver or kidney disease. Do not use it without consulting a doctor who knows your medical history and what other medications you are taking.
Reporting was contributed by Livia Albeck-Ripka, Carl Zimmer, James Gorman, Michael Levenson, Dan Barry, Ben Hubbard, Stanley Reed, Clifford Krauss, Andrew E. Kramer, Dionne Searcey, Ruth Maclean, Denise Grady, Katie Thomas and Patrick J. Lyons.