The first famines of the coronavirus era are at the world’s doorstep, U.N. warns.
The first famines of the coronavirus era are looming in four chronically food-deprived conflict areas — Yemen, South Sudan, northeast Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo — the top humanitarian official of the United Nations has warned.
In a letter to members of the U.N.’s Security Council, the official, Mark Lowcock, the under secretary general for humanitarian affairs, said the risk of famines in these areas had been intensified by “natural disasters, economic shocks and public-health crises, all compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic.” Together, he said, “these factors are endangering the lives of millions of women, men and children.”
The letter, which has not been made public, was conveyed by Mr. Lowcock’s office to the Security Council on Friday under its 2018 resolution requiring updates when there is a “risk of conflict-induced famine and widespread food insecurity.” A copy of the letter was seen by The New York Times.
United Nations officials have said before that all four areas are vulnerable to food deprivation because of chronic armed conflicts, and the inability of humanitarian relief providers to freely distribute aid. But the added complications created by the pandemic have now pushed them closer to famine conditions.
In April, David Beasley, the executive director of the World Food Program, the anti-hunger arm of the United Nations, warned the Security Council that, amid the coronavirus pandemic, “we are also on the brink of a hunger pandemic.” In July, his program identified 25 countries that were poised to face devastating levels of hunger because of the pandemic.
Mr. Lowcock’s new warning of impending famines effectively escalates those alerts. Under a monitoring system for assessing hunger emergencies, famine is Phase 5, the worst, marked by “starvation, death, destitution and extremely critical acute malnutrition levels.”
President Trump has pushed for a coronavirus vaccine to be available by October — just before the presidential election — and a growing number of scientists, regulators and public health experts have expressed concern over what they see as a pattern of political arm-twisting by the Trump administration.
In that environment, a handful of drug companies competing to be among the first to develop coronavirus vaccines are planning to release a joint pledge meant to reassure the public that they will not seek a premature approvals.
Their statement, which has not been finalized, is expected to say that the companies will not release any vaccines that do not follow rigorous efficacy and safety standards, according to representatives of three of the companies.
The joint statement was planned for early next week, but it may be released earlier since its existence was made public on Friday by The Wall Street Journal. The manufacturers that are said to have signed the letter include Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi.
Pfizer and Moderna, along with the British-based company AstraZeneca, are testing their candidates in late-stage clinical trials. Pfizer’s chief executive said this week that the company could see results as early as October, but the others have said only that they plan to release a vaccine by the end of the year.
The companies must navigate perilous terrain. If they are among the first to bring a successful vaccine to market, they could earn major profits and help rehabilitate the image of an industry battered by rising drug prices.
But if a vaccine turns out to have dangerous side effects for some people, the fallout could be catastrophic, damaging their corporate reputations, putting their broader portfolio of products at risk and broadly undermining trust in vaccines, one of the great public health advances in human history.
Contagion operates on a simple rule: The more infections there are in an open population, the more opportunities it has to spread until enough people are protected either by immunity or a vaccine.
So elected officials and public health experts worry that active coronavirus infections in the United States during the Labor Day weekend are roughly twice what they were at Memorial Day. Roughly a month after holiday gatherings at the end of May, the country’s seven-day average of new daily cases had shot up to the highest level so far, more than 60,000.
The country is now registering roughly 40,000 new cases a day, compared to roughly 22,000 a day at Memorial Day weekend, according to a New York Times database. Outbreaks at colleges and in college towns have proliferated as dorms fill and classes resume. “Many of the metro areas with the most cases per capita in recent days — including Auburn, Ala.; Ames, Iowa; and Statesboro, Ga. — have hundreds of cases at universities,” write The Times’s data analysts.
In a thread on Twitter, Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, reviewed the troubling trends, calling the current level of infections “a bit of a disaster” given that a fall surge is to be expected just when the flu season sets in.
Some states are still holding mass gatherings; several moved forward with state fairs held over the Labor Day weekend. Colorado and Maryland are both holding events, as is South Dakota, where cases have spiked over recent weeks.
The virus’s spread is broad, so few hospitals are overwhelmed the way many were in New York, New Jersey and other areas hard hit in the spring. And more treatments are available. Overall, fewer Americans are sick, hospitalized or dying from Covid-19 than in the spring or summer surges.
However, deaths are trending up in 12 states, according to a New York Times database: Arkansas, Alabama, West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, Hawaii, Virginia, Montana, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland and Colorado. Almost all also have caseloads that were already high or trending upward.
Every major country’s spy service around the globe is trying to find out how what everyone else is up to in developing a vaccine.
China, Russia and Iran have all made attempts to steal research by some of the United States’ top companies and universities, according to U.S. intelligence agents. British intelligence has picked up signals of Russian spying on U.S., Canadian and British research. Washington and NATO have both redoubled efforts to protect the information garnered so far.
“It would be surprising if they were not trying to steal the most valuable biomedical research going on right now,” John C. Demers, a top Justice Department official, said of China last month during an event held by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Valuable from a financial point of view and invaluable from a geopolitical point of view.”
China’s push is complex, with intelligence officials focusing on universities in part because they view the institutions’ data protections as less robust than those of pharmaceutical companies. Its operatives have also surreptitiously used information from the World Health Organization to guide its vaccine hacking attempts, both in the United States and Europe, according to a current and a former official familiar with the intelligence.
To date, no corporation or university has announced any data breeches resulting from the publicly identified hacking efforts. But some of the operations succeeded in at least penetrating defenses to get inside computer networks, according to one American government official.
Since the start of the pandemic, experts have warned that the coronavirus — a respiratory pathogen — probably capitalizes on the scarred lungs of smokers and vapers. Doctors and researchers are now starting to pinpoint the ways in which smoking and vaping seem to enhance the virus’s ability to spread from person to person, infiltrate the lungs and prompt some of Covid-19’s worst symptoms.
“I have no doubt in saying that smoking and vaping could put people at increased risk of poor outcomes from Covid-19,” said Dr. Stephanie Lovinsky-Desir, a pediatric pulmonologist at Columbia University. “It is quite clear that smoking and vaping are bad for the lungs, and the predominant symptoms of Covid are respiratory. Those two things are going to be bad in combination.”
But while several studies have found that smoking can more than double a person’s risk of severe Covid-19 symptoms, the relationship between vaping and Covid-19 is only beginning to become clear. A team of researchers recently reported that young adults who vape are five times as likely to receive a coronavirus diagnosis.
“If I had caught Covid-19 within the week before I got really ill, I probably would have died,” said Janan Moein, 20, who was hospitalized in early December with a collapsed lung and a diagnosis of vaping-related lung illness.
Mr. Moein vaped his first pen a year ago, and by late fall he was blowing through several THC-laced cartridges a week.
Just months later, he found himself in the emergency room of Sharp Grossmont Hospital in San Diego, where he was plunged into a medically induced coma and forced onto a breathing machine. He lost nearly 50 pounds in two weeks.
At one point, Mr. Moein said, his doctors gave him a 5 percent chance of survival.
About 34 million adults smoke cigarettes in the United States, many of them from communities of color and low socioeconomic status — groups known to be more vulnerable to the virus. And more than five million middle and high school students reported using vapes, according to a 2019 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In more than four decades of coaching girls’ basketball at Lebanon Catholic High School in southeastern Pennsylvania, Patti Hower had led the team to three state championships and 20 district titles. This year, there were high hopes again.
But then in April, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg announced that the school was permanently closing, citing insurmountable financial stress, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We never thought, ‘Hey, we’re never going to get on that court together again as a team,’” said Ms. Hower, 68, who attended the school, like her father and granddaughters.
As schools around the country debate how to reopen safely, a growing number of Catholic schools — already facing declining enrollments and donations from before the pandemic — are shutting down for good.
About 150 Catholic schools have closed, said Kathy Mears, the director of the National Catholic Educational Association, equal to about 2 percent of the 6,183 schools that were up and running last year. The number of closures is at least 50 percent higher this year than in previous years, she said.
As parents and families lost their jobs during the pandemic, many could no longer pay tuition at Catholic schools. And when churches began shutting down to curb the spread of the virus, that also ended a major source for donations — some of which would normally be allotted for parish schools.
Among the best-known Catholic schools shutting its doors is the Institute of Notre Dame, an all-girls facility in Baltimore. Some alumni are fighting to keep the school open, upset that school leaders haven’t pushed harder to avoid closure.
Drena Fertetta, an alumnus who graduated from Notre Dame in 1983, began a group dedicated to reopening the school next year, perhaps at a different site.
“There is just a sisterhood that happens to the girls who go to that school,” Ms. Fertetta said. “It’s not something we’re willing to just walk away from.”
Protesters clashed with the police in Melbourne, Australia, at a “Freedom Day” rally on Saturday, calling for an end to tough lockdown restrictions. The police arrested 17 protesters and fined more than 160 others — nearly everyone who had flouted authorities’ instructions to stay home.
In all, about 200 protesters gathered at Victoria State’s war memorial, the Shrine of Remembrance, where they faced off against about 100 officers, some on horseback or in riot gear. At one point, groups of officers tackled several people to the ground before loading then into police vans. In another instance, the police put a mask on a protester after handcuffing him.
Many protesters accused the government of making up or overstating the effects of Covid-19.
“I’m personally here to say the lockdown needs to end,” said Dellacoma Rio, 38, who removed his shirt to show the word “Freedom” tattooed across his back.
Tensions have surged during the fifth week of Victoria’s six-week lockdown, which includes some of the strictest restrictions in the world. All nonessential businesses are closed. Melburnians are allowed to leave the house only for work, exercise or buying groceries, and travel is restricted to within about 3 miles of home. There is also a nightly curfew.
The state’s premier, Daniel Andrews, condemned the protest as “selfish, dangerous and unlawful.”
“Solidarity rallies” were also held in other capital cities across the country and gathered hundreds of attendees.
Some protesters wore masks and shirts alluding to the Illuminati, while others mentioned QAnon, the viral pro-Trump conspiracy theory.
Alem Dubael, 30, said he was protesting as part of a fight against “corruption in the new world order.”
“At the end of the day, the truth will come out,” he said. “And then everybody that was saying we’re idiots — when everything comes to light, they’ll find out they’re the actual idiots.”
Other coronavirus news from around the world:
Mexico’s coronavirus czar, Hugo Lopez-Gatell, told reporters on Friday that some states where the virus is surging, including Mexico and Baja California, had run out of death certificates last month. He said that more than a million new ones had been printed and were being distributed to health officials. The country had recorded coronavirus 66,329 deaths as of Friday, though a Times investigation in the spring found that the government was not reporting hundreds, possibly thousands, of such deaths in Mexico City, the capital.
A former prime minister of the Cook Islands, Joseph Williams, has died of Covid-19 in New Zealand, the country’s Health Ministry said on Saturday. He became the 24th person to die of Covid-19 in New Zealand, which has been under lockdown over the past few weeks to get a second small coronavirus outbreak under control. Mr. Williams, 85, was a well-known doctor in Auckland and served briefly as the Cook Islands’ prime minister in 1999.
Tech companies’ pandemic policies create a backlash against benefits aimed at parents.
At a recent companywide meeting, Facebook employees repeatedly argued that work policies created in response to Covid-19 “have primarily benefited parents.”
At Twitter, a fight erupted on an internal message board after a worker who didn’t have children at home accused another employee, who was taking a leave to care for a child, of not pulling his weight.
As companies wrestle with how to support their staff during the pandemic, some employees without children say they are being asked to shoulder a heavier workload. The divide is more pronounced at some technology companies, where workers tend to be younger and have come to expect generous perks and benefits in exchange for letting their jobs take over their lives.
Tech companies were among the first to ask employees to work from home in the pandemic, and to offer generous leave and additional time off once it became apparent that children would remain home from school.
The tension has been most vividly displayed at Facebook, which in March offered up to 10 weeks of paid time off for employees if they had to care for a child whose school or day-care facility had closed or for an older relative whose nursing home was not open.
When Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, hosted a companywide videoconference on Aug. 20, more than 2,000 employees voted to ask her what more Facebook could do to support nonparents.
An employee wrote in comments accompanying the video feed that it was “unfair” that nonparents could not take advantage of the same leave policy afforded parents. Another wrote that while the procedure for taking leave was usually difficult, it was “easy breezy” for parents.
A parent responded in a note on her corporate Facebook page, visible only inside the company, that the question was “harmful” because it made parents feel negatively judged and that a child care leave was hardly a mental or physical health break.
Not so long ago, before the coronavirus, India’s future looked entirely different.
It had a sizzling economy that was lifting millions out of poverty. It aimed to give its people a middle-class lifestyle, update its woefully vintage military and become a regional political and economic superpower that could rival China, Asia’s biggest success story.
But the economic devastation caused by the pandemic is imperiling many of India’s aspirations. The country’s economy has shrunk faster than any other major nation’s. As many as 200 million people could slip back into poverty, according to some estimates. Many of its normally vibrant streets are empty, with people too frightened of the outbreak to venture far.
Much of this damage was caused by a lockdown imposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that experts now say was both too tight and too porous, both hurting the economy and spreading the virus. India now has the fastest growing coronavirus outbreak, with more than 80,000 new infections reported each day. The country has now topped four million confirmed cases.
A sense of malaise is creeping over the nation. Its economic growth was slowing even before the pandemic. Social divisions are widening. Anti-Muslim feelings are on the rise, partly because of a malicious social media campaign that falsely blamed Muslims for spreading the virus. China is increasingly muscling into Indian territory.
Scholars use many of the same words when contemplating India today: Lost. Listless. Wounded. Rudderless. Unjust.
“The engine has been smashed,” said Arundhati Roy, one of India’s pre-eminent writers. “The ability to survive has been smashed. And the pieces are all up in the air. You don’t know where they are going to fall or how they are going to fall.”
On the eve of the 146th Kentucky Derby, the United States’ most famous horse race, the host state reported a single-day record of more than 1,443 new coronavirus cases. The Derby had been postponed by four months because of the pandemic, and organizers recently gave up on a plan to allow a scaled-down audience at Churchill Downs, after a significant increase in cases emerged in and around Louisville, the track’s home.
The race is scheduled to start at about 7 p.m. on Saturday, with Tiz the Law as the favorite. The New York-bred colt has already won the prestigious Travers Stakes and the Belmont Stakes, which is usually the final leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown. But in this year’s jumbled schedule, the Belmont was run first, and the Preakness — normally the second leg — will go last, on Oct. 3.
With the Derby running in the city where the police killed Breonna Taylor in her apartment in March, it has become a focus of the Black Lives Matter movement. A coalition of activist groups has called for a boycott of the race and its sponsors. They have promised to conduct a peaceful protest in a park near Churchill Downs on Saturday.
The racetrack’s leadership released a statement on Thursday to explain the decision to hold the race.
“We know there are some who disagree with our decision to run the Kentucky Derby this year,” it said. “We respect that point of view but made our decision in the belief that traditions can remind us of what binds us together as Americans, even as we seek to acknowledge and repair the terrible pain that rends us apart.”
Reporting was contributed by Julian E. Barnes, Alan Blinder, Damien Cave, Christopher Clarey, Ron DePasquale, Joe Drape, Sheera Frenkel, Jeffrey Gettleman, Rick Gladstone, Emma Goldberg, Mike Ives, Andrea Kannapell, Sharon LaFraniere, Michael Venutolo-Mantovani, Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Zach Montague, Katie Thomas, Daisuke Wakabayashi, Noah Weiland, Will Wright and Yan Zhuang.