Americans abroad are asking themselves whether to risk infection by staying put, or risk infection by returning.
Many Americans who had assumed they could stay overseas till the pandemic ebbed now face an unnerving choice: either prepare for the possibility of being infected and treated in foreign hospitals, or risk infection on the way back to the United States.
The U.S. State Department, warning that commercial flights from overseas may end in the coming days, is urging Americans abroad to grab any opportunity to board them.
Flights organized by the State Department that have so far returned 65,000 Americans from across the world are winding down. Some continue in limited numbers, in areas like the Indian subcontinent and Africa. And American diplomats have helped commercial airlines cut through foreign regulations that have restricted flights in and out of some countries during the pandemic.
But there still are at least 17,000 American citizens or legal residents abroad who have indicated they need help.
Officials are suggesting that the risk of contracting the virus from traveling on any kind of flight is offset by disparities in health care systems.
“You can come back to the United States where you are a citizen and you have access to health care and you have access to an infrastructure that is still intact,” said Dr. William Walters, the State Department’s deputy chief medical officer. But by hunkering down, in developing countries in particular, where the virus has yet to peak, “you will be an American citizen in a foreign country that didn’t have great infrastructure to begin with.”
As he headed off the ice after playing a hockey game in an amateur tournament in late March, the leader of Belarus brushed aside reporters’ anxious questions about the coronavirus pandemic.
“There are no viruses here,” said the Belarusian president, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, gesturing to the crowded arena. “Do you see any of them flying around? I don’t see them either.”
At a time when some countries, like Germany and Denmark, having tamped down the initial outbreak of the virus, are experimenting with cautious openings of businesses and schools, Belarus is an outlier. It never imposed any restrictions at all.
Restaurants, coffee shops and movie theaters remain open. Last weekend, churches were packed for Orthodox Easter. Professional soccer is in full swing, though the roaring crowds of earlier this month have thinned. In the capital, Minsk, the subways are crowded. Most businesses require workers to show up.
Neither the raw numbers of infections, nearly 9,000, nor the total deaths, 63, suggest that Belarus’s epidemic is grossly disproportionate, though Ukraine with four times the population has fewer reported cases.
However, few people believe the official tallies; there is some evidence that the true numbers are being suppressed.
Without a free press or any viable opposition parties, Belarusians have little recourse to challenge the response. Caught in the grip of an autocrat whom critics are calling one of the world’s foremost virus deniers, they have little choice but to accept official policy: The economy will keep chugging along, whatever the cost in human lives.
The Metropolitan Opera’s At-Home Gala — a worldwide relay of live streamed performances that, in contrast to opera’s usual grandeur, is being filmed using only household devices — is underway at metopera.org and will remain available until Sunday evening Eastern time.
It has an only-in-opera level of aspiration and difficulty: a roster of more than 40 of the company’s starriest singers, plus members of the orchestra and chorus, performing live across nine time zones. Among them are Lisette Oropesa, in Baton Rouge, La.; Anna Netrebko, in Vienna; and Piotr Beczala, in what he described to Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, as a village at the end of the earth in Poland.
The Met halted performances on March 12 in response to the coronavirus pandemic — and eventually canceled the remainder of its season.
Mr. Gelb — who is hosting from New York along with Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the Met’s music director, who is in Montreal — said that the idea came about because “I am determined to keep the Met in the consciousness of the broader public, and I am determined to use any possible means to do that.”
Since the opera house went dark, it has posted a free stream from its vast Met Opera On Demand library every night. (Mr. Gelb said that in the past five weeks, the number of paid subscribers to that on-demand service has doubled, to 30,000.) Each stream is accompanied by a “Donate Now” button; the At-Home Gala has one, too, though Mr. Gelb was quick to emphasize that this is not “a PBS telethon.”
As the drumbeat grows for transparency about the secretive group guiding Britain’s response to the coronavirus — the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, or SAGE — the government acknowledged that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s most senior aide, Dominic Cummings, has listened in on the panel’s meetings.
But a spokesman for Downing Street said on Saturday that Mr. Cummings was not a member of the group and did not influence policy.
“No. 10 officials and officials from other departments attend/dial in to SAGE to listen to its discussions and occasionally ask questions, which is essential at a time the government is dealing with a global pandemic,” Downing Street said in a statement.
On Saturday Britain’s Department of Health and Social Care said that the number of deaths in the country had surpassed 20,000 and that the number of confirmed cases is nearing 150,000. Britain is the fifth country to record that many deaths, though its tally does not include deaths outside of hospitals.
“It’s a very sad day for the nation; 20,000 deaths is clearly 20,000 too many,” Stephen Powis, the medical director of the National Health Service in England, said on Saturday at a news conference.
Opposition leaders have demanded more transparency from the group, whose members are largely anonymous and whose meetings are held in private. The British government says it is being “guided by the science” coming from the group, but critics say the science is unclear.
Jonathan Ashworth, who oversees the opposition the Labour Party’s health policy, called on the government to publish the minutes of the panel’s meetings. “We need to understand whether Mr. Cummings was contributing to the debate or influencing the debate,” he told Sky News on Saturday.
The developments came as leaked cabinet briefings to The Guardian newspaper indicated that ministers were warned last year that Britain risked facing an influenza-type outbreak and that the country needed a robust plan to deal with it. A possible pandemic was at the top of a confidential annual national security risk assessment signed off by the government’s chief scientific adviser.
In other developments in Britain:
The government’s website for essential workers and their families to book coronavirus tests reopened on Saturday after shutting down the day before when tens of thousands of requests flooded it. But the maximum capacity had been reached by 8 a.m. on Saturday, according to a message published on the website.
The Defense Ministry said on Friday that the country’s armed forces would be given insect repellent to protect against coronavirus infections, but offered no evidence that the product. containing a lemon eucalyptus oil extract, would be effective.
A 99-year-old charity fund-raiser — Tom Moore, who is also a World War II veteran — has the country’s No. 1 song by sales this week, according to the country’s Official Charts Company. Like Captain Moore’s other ventures, the single — a rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” featuring the singer Michael Ball — is to raise money for health care charities during the coronavirus crisis.
The World Health Organization has warned against using coronavirus antibody tests as a basis for issuing “immunity passports” to allow people to travel or return to work.
Laboratory tests that detect antibodies to the coronavirus “need further validation to determine their accuracy and reliability,” the global agency said in a statement on Friday. Inaccurate tests may falsely label people who have been infected as negative, or may falsely label people who have not been infected as positive, it noted.
Countries like Italy and Chile have weighed providing “immunity passports” to let those people who have recovered from the virus return to work, in an effort to begin easing lockdown restrictions and stem the economic fallout.
In the United States, scientists working around the clock in shifts managed to compare 14 antibody tests on the market, and the news wasn’t good. Only one test delivered no false positives — and just two others did well 99 percent of the time.
The W.H.O. said it supported the testing of medical workers to determine whether they have antibodies, as that data can add to the understanding of how the coronavirus behaves. But it said that most such tests currently “are not designed to determine whether those people are immune to secondary infections.”
The assessment came as the W.H.O. held a virtual meeting on Friday in which global heads of state vowed to cooperate on coronavirus vaccine research and treatments — though neither the United States nor China joined the initiative.
Although leaders like Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Emmanuel Macron of France were vague in their pledges, the absence of any U.S. representative at the meeting was the latest sign of a withdrawal of the world’s biggest economy in tackling the coronavirus on a global scale.
Britain’s foreign minister and the Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates were among those in attendance.
Participants agreed to make innovations against the coronavirus accessible to all, including developing countries. The main challenge, the organization said, will be to bring a vaccine or drugs to fight the virus to billions of people once scientists have found the
The governments of the United States, France and the Netherlands are funneling more taxpayer dollars into airlines to offset the devastating fallout from the coronavirus on the global travel industry.
The U.S. Treasury Department said on Saturday that it had given an additional $9.5 billion to American carriers looking for help to pay employees. The funds, which are part of the $2.2 trillion stimulus package Congress approved last month, brings the total aid to the industry to $12.4 billion.
The department also enabled airlines to tap into another $17 billion lawmakers set aside for businesses considered crucial to national security.
France and the Netherlands are providing a bailout of 10 billion euros, about $10.8 billion, to salvage Air France-KLM, one of Europe’s biggest airlines.
Air France-KLM will receive a €4 billion bank loan backed by the French state and a €3 billion direct government loan, France’s finance minister, said late Friday. The Dutch government said it would provide an additional €2 billion to €4 billion in public aid.
The infusion falls short of nationalizing the airline, in which the French and Dutch states each own a 14 percent share. The European Commission — the executive branch of the European Union, which has thrown out restrictions on state support because of the deep economic downturn — swiftly approved the bailout.
Students studying abroad have been stranded throughout the world with dwindling financial resources, but the problem is particularly acute in the United States.
Many of the more than a million international students who left their home countries to study in the United States had been living in college dorms. They were left to find new housing after campuses shutdown.
A substantial number of them are also watching their financial lives fall apart. Visa restrictions prevent them from working off campus, but campuses are now closed. And while some come from families wealthy enough to pay for their housing or whisk them home, many others had already been struggling to cobble together tuition fees, which tend to be much higher for international students. And many currencies’ values have collapsed relative to the U.S. dollar.
Some international students say they have had to turn to food banks. Others are couch surfing in the friends’ homes, but don’t know how long they will be welcome. Those who were able to fly home before international borders closed are now not sure they will be able to come back to finish their studies.
While some colleges and universities are providing aid, many students say that it’s inadequate. And they do not qualify for assistance the U.S. government is offering to American students.
Several other countries are grappling with the issue of stranded students. Canada said this week that it is looking at ways to get Colombians, many of them foreign students, back home.
Migrants and others sent about $689 billion in global remittances in 2018, according to the World Bank — money that relatives and friends back home depend on to survive.
But as millions of migrant workers see their hours cut or lose their jobs because of the economic slowdown from the pandemic, the World Bank said this week that global remittances were projected to plummet about 20 percent this year, in “the sharpest decline in recent history.”
And that could have far-reaching effects in some developing and poorer nations like Mexico, which was the third-largest recipient of remittances in 2018 — after India and China, according to the World Bank — and the largest recipient of money sent from the United States.
Amid the U.S. economic slowdown in recent weeks, millions of undocumented Mexicans in the United States, like other immigrant populations, have been left vulnerable without job security and unemployment benefits.
A major decrease in remittances could cause not just economic duress, but also political and social tension, said Roy Germano, who teaches international relations at New York University.
“I don’t think governments want to see this money contract, because it functions as a sort of de facto social welfare system,” said Mr. Germano, the author of “Outsourcing Welfare,” a book about remittances. “In that way, they take pressure off governments to provide welfare assistance and guarantee a certain standard of living.”
“Composition VI,” an abstract painting by the Russian master Wassily Kandinsky, has now been restaged in the messy room of a Connecticut teenager.
People sheltering in place are seeking new ways to connection online, and amid the pandemic’s bleakness, some report a surge in creativity. Maybe this is why a Facebook group featuring lo-fi recreations of famous paintings has more than half a million members, just a few weeks after it was created.
The group — Izoizolyacia, combining the Russian words for “visual arts” and “isolation” — was started in Moscow by a project manager at a tech company. Its predominant language is Russian, but more than a third of its members live outside Russia.
The copying-artworks gag is not new, and several museums — including the Getty in Los Angeles and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam — are encouraging homebound art fans to send in photos of efforts to bring their favorite paintings to life. But in terms of Facebook followers, at least, Izoizolyacia’s audience appears to be the most engaged.
President Trump’s suggestion that an injection of disinfectant could help combat the coronavirus prompted warnings on Friday from health officials across the country, as well as the makers of Clorox and Lysol and several Fox News personalities.
Injecting bleach or highly concentrated rubbing alcohol “causes massive organ damage and the blood cells in the body to basically burst,” Dr. Diane P. Calello, the medical director of the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System, said in an interview. “It can definitely be a fatal event.”
The White House spent much of the day trying to walk back Mr. Trump’s remarks, which he made at Thursday’s press briefing. “Leave it to the media to irresponsibly take President Trump out of context and run with negative headlines,” said Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary.
But the president later undermined her argument when he told journalists that he had been “asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen.” That was not true — he made the comment to an official who had just made a presentation at the briefing.
Vice President Mike Pence, the head of the White House coronavirus task force, abruptly ended Friday’s daily briefing shortly after it began, and the president took no questions. Now, Mr. Trump’s advisers are encouraging him to skip the daily briefings or field fewer questions from the reporters.
Here’s what else is happening in the U.S.:
The president on Friday signed the $484 billion relief bill into law, replenishing a fund for small businesses and providing money for hospitals and testing. The Congressional Budget Office said it expected the federal budget deficit to hit $3.7 trillion for the 2020 fiscal year, which would be its largest size as a share of the economy since World War II.
Georgia, Alaska and Oklahoma began reopening businesses on Friday, though the relaxed rules varied. Georgia recommended that salon owners perform temperature checks. Alaska allowed limited in-store shopping, while Oklahoma reopened its state parks.
John Houghton, a climate scientist and leading figure in the United Nations panel that brought the threat of climate change to the world’s attention and received a Nobel Prize, died on April 15 in Dolgellau, Wales. He was 88.
With a population of about one million people and an area of 9,000 square miles, Djibouti is one of Africa’s smallest countries. But this week the Horn of Africa nation was listed as having the highest prevalence of coronavirus cases, 986, in Africa.
The figure reflects mass coronavirus testing in the country. But officials have also spoken of people not adhering to social distancing and hygiene rules.
The state has shut its borders, suspended international flights, and closed schools and all places of worship.
“What we are asking of you is to save yourselves, to save your siblings, your mothers and fathers and the old people,” President Ismail Omar Guelleh said in a recent televised speech. “I ask you to stay at home.”
Djibouti, at the southern entrance to the Red Sea, has taken advantage of its location at a busy shipping route and its relative stability in a volatile region to increase its geostrategic relevance. It is home to several foreign military bases, including one of the United States’ largest foreign installations and China’s first overseas military base. As the coronavirus has spread, these military installations have heightened their safety measures.
On April 23, Maj. Gen. Michael D. Turello, commander of the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa, declared a public health emergency for the U.S. personnel under his authority in Djibouti.
“Combating Covid-19 is my top priority,” he said in a statement, referring to the disease caused by the virus. “By declaring a public health emergency, it keeps our forces, and those of our host nation partner, as healthy and as safe as possible.”
A park in Okinawa City, Japan, has mowed down sprawling lily fields that usually draw thousands of people, in an effort to prevent visitors from gathering and spreading the coronavirus.
Fears of the virus and a nationwide state of emergency declared this month did not deter people from visiting the Okinawa Comprehensive Athletic Park, where its lilies were approaching full bloom. In response, the park clipped 10,000 of its 16,000 lilies on Friday.
“Our staff spent a whole year growing them,” Seiji Fukushima, the park’s director, said on Saturday. “They were crying as they cut them off.”
Despite the emergency declarations this month, many residents across the country still visited beaches, parks and restaurants, raising concerns about its measures to curb the outbreak. Mr. Fukushima said many service members of the U.S. military bases in Okinawa Prefecture had visited or jogged in the park despite social distancing rules, and residents had complained that many of them did not wear masks.
The flowers are usually harvested in mid-May, when bulbs are collected and stored for planting later. The park said that the cropped lilies had been distributed to people and that it would use the opportunity to improve its soil this year.
As of Saturday, Japan had more than 13,500 confirmed coronavirus cases and 341 deaths.
Leaders in less-affected areas of Spain push to ease restrictions.
As Spain’s coronavirus numbers improve, some regional and local leaders are pushing to ease lockdown measures ahead of any central government decision.
The divergences comes as Spain on Sunday prepared to allow children outdoors for the first time since its lockdown came into force in mid-March, to take a stroll for an hour within one kilometer of their home, accompanied by an adult.
But while cities like Madrid are keeping public parks shut, the mayor in the southern city of Cádiz on Sunday reopened beaches and public parks.
Spain on Saturday reported a slight uptick in its daily death toll — 378 dead, compared with 367 on Friday. But its latest figures also confirmed that the country crossed a significant milestone this week, registering more hospital recoveries than new coronavirus cases.
The country’s lockdown has been extended until May 9, but politicians in areas less affected by the pandemic have called for restrictions to be lifted sooner. The daily number of coronavirus fatalities has fallen below 10 in half of Spain’s 17 regions.
The push has been particularly driven by island administrations, as well as southern regions whose hospitals were never overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients.
In Israel, where nearly everyone has someone to mourn from wars and continuing conflicts, Memorial Day — which is observed from Monday at sundown until Tuesday at sundown — ordinarily draws hundreds of thousands to national cemeteries.
But fears that crowds could spread the coronavirus have prompted the government to plead with people to stay away.
“It causes me immense pain that I won’t be with my brother on Memorial Day, but I know the right thing is to stay home,” said Frida Shniderman, 72, referring to her sibling, Meir Rozenchtroch, who was killed in the wake of a conflict between Israel and Syria in 1974. “Cemeteries get very crowded every year. It’s simply too risky to go now.”
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said at a news conference that observing Memorial Day as in past years would create “a coronavirus ticking time bomb.” About one and a half million Israelis usually visit burial grounds across the country during the holiday, he said.
Some Israelis, however, have vowed to go to the cemeteries, arguing that they would not threaten public health as long as they maintain social distancing measures.
“My family and I will go,” said Moshe Muskal, 64, whose son Rafanel was killed in conflict between Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah in 2006. “This day is so important to us.”
While the government decided that it would not permit Israelis to go to cemeteries, the police will not use force to stop them, officials have said.
Israel had recorded more than 15,000 cases of the virus as of Saturday, and nearly 200 deaths.
Trump offers ventilators to Indonesia, and a top official says thanks.
President Trump has promised in a tweet to provide ventilators to Indonesia, where a rising number of coronavirus cases threatens to overwhelm the country’s poorly equipped and understaffed health care system.
“Just spoke to my friend, President Joko Widodo of the Republic of Indonesia,” Mr. Trump wrote on Friday. “Asking for Ventilators, which we will provide. Great cooperation between us!”
In reply, Mr. Joko’s spokesman, Fadjroel Rachman, tweeted on Saturday, “Thank you very much for great cooperation between the USA and the Republic of Indonesia Mr. President.”
Indonesia, with a population of 270 million, is the world’s fourth largest country but has only about 8,400 ventilators to help patients with the coronavirus, which has spread to all 34 provinces.
Indonesia has reported 720 deaths from the coronavirus, the second highest toll in East Asia after China. But some officials say many more deaths have gone unreported.
Mr. Trump also said the United States would send ventilators to three Latin American countries — Ecuador, El Salvador and Honduras — that are reeling from the pandemic. He did not say how many ventilators would be sent to any of the four countries or when they would arrive.
Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil, has been especially hard hit. Hospitals and clinics have been so overwhelmed that they have been unable to treat some patients. Bodies have been found abandoned on sidewalks and slumped in wheelchairs.
The Honduran president, Juan Orlando Hernández, also spoke with Mr. Trump and requested help with ventilators and testing. He said he had also asked for assistance in securing debt relief for poor countries and financial aid from international lenders.
In a tweet on Friday evening about his conversation with the Honduran president, Mr. Trump said, “We work closely together on the Southern Border. Will be helping him with his request for Ventilators and Testing.”
Vanuatu, a Pacific island nation of 300,000 people, gave sports fans worldwide what they’d been craving on Saturday: something to watch, live, with the outcome unknown.
Cricket may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the Vanuatu Cricket Association livestreamed its Women’s Super League final, inviting sports fans everywhere to take a break from the recorded footage that many have had to settle for during the pandemic.
“We thought it’s our duty to provide the world with some live sport,” said Shane Deitz, the chief executive of the Vanuatu Cricket Association and a former player for the Australian national team. “It’s one of the only live sports around the world at the moment. We can showcase a bit of cricket for everyone who is in lockdown.”
Vanuatu, like many other small Pacific nations, has managed to keep the coronavirus from spreading, or even arriving, if official figures are correct.
The country went into lockdown late last month as a precaution. After it was hit by a major cyclone on April 6, the lockdown was lifted so that people could recover and rebuild.
During the match on Saturday, small crowds of fans could be seen surrounding the pitch, standing or sitting a few feet apart, clearly enjoying the sight. Comments on the cricket association’s Facebook page, where the livestream was shown, thanked Vanuatu for sharing.
Reporting was contributed by Lara Jakes, Anton Troianovski, Andrew E. Kramer, Kai Schultz, Dera Menra Sijabat, Vikas Bajaj, Richard C. Paddock, Tiffany May, Mike Ives, Kirk Semple, Elian Peltier, John Schwartz, Liz Alderman, Tess Felder, Elaine Yu, Hisako Ueno, Adam Rasgon, Adam Nossiter, Evan Easterling, Andrew LaVallee, Joshua Barone, Damien Cave, Jin Wu, Declan Walsh, Alexandra Stevenson, Raphael Minder, Abdi Latif Dahir, Nicholas Kulish and David Gelles. Wang Yiwei contributed research.