E.U. Waters Down Report on China’s Coronavirus Propaganda: Live Updates – Smart Media Magazine

E.U. Waters Down Report on China’s Coronavirus Propaganda: Live Updates


The E.U., pressured by Beijing, watered down a report on China’s disinformation.

Bowing to pressure from Beijing, the European Union this week softened criticism of China in a report on disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, The New York Times has learned.

The initial report, obtained by The Times, was not particularly strident — a roundup of publicly available information and news reports. But documents, emails and interviews show how European officials delayed and then rewrote the document to dilute the focus on China, a vital trading partner.

“China has continued to run a global disinformation campaign to deflect blame for the outbreak of the pandemic and improve its international image,” the report said.

Chinese officials contacted European Union representatives to try to kill the report. In an email written on Tuesday and seen by the Times, a European diplomat warned of Chinese retaliation.

A section on state-sponsored disinformation, singling out China and Russia, had been folded into the rest of the report.

The changes angered and frustrated some diplomats and disinformation analysts. At least one analyst formally objected, writing to her bosses that the European Union was “self-censoring to appease the Chinese Communist Party.”

The fight over the document is part of a broad, global battle over the coronavirus narrative. And it comes at a time when the European Union hopes to win trade concessions from Beijing and restore a rich relationship once the pandemic has passed.

Adam Nossiter, The Times’s Paris bureau chief, moved to the city at the age of 3 when his father was assigned to cover the European economy for The Washington Post. He moved back in 1983, in 1999 and then in 2015 when The Times posted him there. We asked him to share his thoughts on a Paris transformed by the pandemic.

Before Paris became a theme park for the global affluent, there was an older Paris I knew as a child, where sculpted horse heads announced butcher shops and you were likelier to find céleri rémoulade at the corner than $30,000 handbags aimed at tourists.

For those willing to brave police checks, this is a remarkable chance to rediscover Paris. In recent days, I saw for the first time — in a relationship with France that is nearly 60 years old — an epicenter of mass tourism, the beguiling Place du Tertre at the top of Montmartre. The little village square was nearly empty, and a worried Parisian stopped to ask if I wasn’t taking a chance by being out on my bike.

But it is all an illusion. Paris is no more Paris without its smart young people chattering outside at now closed cafes than New York is New York without skyscrapers. Paris reduced to its architectural essence is grandiose but cold, an unreal postcard.

The pandemic cast a long shadow across Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, celebration and prayer that started for many of the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims on Friday.

From the eerily deserted Saudi cities of Mecca and Medina, home to Islam’s holiest sites, to Indonesia, the most populous Muslim-majority nation, mosques were shuttered and communal prayers forbidden as worshipers adjusted to the jarring reality of a uniquely restricted Ramadan.

Indonesia’s largest Islamic organizations issued fatwas urging followers not to gather for traditional prayers or iftar communal dinners to break their fast. One cited the Prophet Muhammad’s words advising followers not to enter a disease-stricken area or leave a place where a plague has struck.

In an address on the eve of Ramadan, the prime minister of Malaysia, Muhyiddin Yassin, hailed his country’s “jihad” against the pandemic — new cases have dropped significantly in recent days — but extended a lockdown by two weeks.

People packed into mosques across Indonesia’s autonomous province of Aceh, where clerics had ruled that prayers could continue, with at least 10,000 attending the Baiturrahman Grand Mosque, according to local news media reports.

In Egypt, most people followed an order from the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, the revered center of Islamic scholarship, to perform their prayers at home, but some chafed at the restrictions.

In the upscale district of Zamalek in central Cairo on Friday, a small group gathered to offer their prayers on the street, close to a shuttered mosque.

“The next two to three weeks are very crucial,” said officials of the Pakistan Medical Association, a representative body of medical professionals.

But Dr. Ashraf Nizami, the president of the association’s Lahore chapter, said that testing in the country was starkly insufficient, and that the true numbers were likely much higher.

“I don’t want to scare you, but I would like to inform you that the cases are not in thousands, the number is much higher,” Dr. Nizami said during a televised news briefing in Lahore.

Dr. Nizami and his peers have also heavily criticized the move by the government to allow prayers in the mosques during the holy month of Ramadan, stressing that it would lead to an alarming spread of cases. The government and clerics have agreed on some safety measures, including urging worshipers to keep distance among themselves. But doctors fear that religious congregations will simply ignore the guidelines.

“The rule of a 6-foot distance between worshipers is not possible practically. We appeal to the government to review its decision and establish the writ of the state,” Nizami said.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has been averse to a complete lockdown in the country from the start, stressing that daily wage workers and the poor cannot survive an economic shutdown. Mr. Khan said Thursday that the country should move toward a “smart lockdown.”

Belgium will begin a gradual lifting of lockdown measures in May, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès said during a news conference on Friday.

On May 4, certain shops, including those selling fabric, will be allowed to reopen, provided they can follow social distancing measures. Public transportation will resume, and face masks covering nose and mouth will be obligatory for passengers over 12 years old. The government will provide at least one mask for every citizen, Ms. Wilmès said.

Some open-air recreational sports, like tennis and horseback riding will be allowed, as well as outdoor meetings of three people. Teleworking will continue, wherever possible.

A target date of May 11 is set for the reopening of all other shops, following strict precautions. Classes in primary and secondary schools will resume gradually in mid-May, with face masks mandatory for all employees and students over 12 years old. Kindergartens will remain closed until at least the end of May.

While Belgium has recorded nearly 6,700 coronavirus deaths, with a per capita death rate higher than Italy’s, it has included suspected deaths and deaths in care homes, unlike other countries.

Ms. Wilmès said the dates were targets that could change. “It will be a gradual process,” Ms. Wilmès. “We will need to adapt certain measures depending on the evolution of the virus. We cannot rule out going backwards.”

As the outcry grew, the president tried to suggest Friday that he had only been kidding.

“I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen,” Mr. Trump told journalists in the Oval Office as he signed the latest virus relief bill into law.

His explanation, which came after his comments were widely assailed and mocked, contrasted with his own press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, who had made no claim that the president was not being serious.

When Tom Moore, a British World War II veteran, set out to raise money for charities benefiting the National Health Service, he had a goal of 1,000 pounds. He exceeded it by far.

A rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” — the Rodgers and Hammerstein show tune popularized by a Gerry and the Pacemakers cover in 1963 — he recorded topped the singles chart on Friday, making Captain Moore the oldest person to go No. 1 on Britain’s Official Singles Chart, less than a week before his 100th birthday.

“I think we’ve got to accept that what is going on at the moment is very serious,” he added. “But I think we must also remember that things will get better.”

President Trump’s decision to suspend family-based immigration because of the coronavirus is the beginning of a broader strategy to reduce the flow of foreigners into the United States, Stephen Miller, the architect of President Trump’s immigration agenda, told a group of conservative allies, according to an audio recording of the conference call obtained by The New York Times.

During a private conference call on Thursday with the president’s supporters, Mr. Miller sought to reassure them of Mr. Trump’s commitment to their cause and urged them to publicly defend his executive order. He pledged that it was only a first step in the administration’s longer-term goal of shrinking legal immigration.

“The first and most important thing is to turn off the faucet of new immigrant labor — mission accomplished — with signing that executive order,” Mr. Miller said.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised that the government would give two masks to every household in Japan. Now many of them are being recalled, according to two of the companies that produced them, in response to complaints about their quality and cleanliness.

The Japanese manufacturers Itochu and Kowa on Thursday announced that they would collect all undistributed masks and examine them for problems, following requests from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

Days earlier, the health ministry said that it had received nearly 2,000 complaints about the masks, after its staff began delivering 500,000 of them, meant for use by pregnant women.

Mr. Abe’s mask-giveaway plan was mocked from the moment he announced it on April 1. Some social media wags called it “Abenomasks,” a play on the leader’s eponymous economic plan, known as Abenomics. Others posted illustrations of the country’s most beloved cartoon families fighting over the masks.

Once distribution began, the jokes turned to anger, as people posted photos of newly opened masks covered in filth, or freshly washed ones that had shrunk to the point of being unusable.

Both companies said in statements on Thursday that heavy demand had forced them to produce the masks outside of Japan — a not-so-subtle hint that the problems were related to unreliable foreign manufacturers.

While Itochu referred vaguely to problems “overseas,” Kowa singled out China.

Demand for surgical masks has been especially high in Japan, where it has long been customary to wear them during flu season, and even companies that would not normally produce them have gotten into the business.

On Tuesday, after a flood of eager consumers crashed the website of the electronics manufacturer Sharp, the company said that it would sell its latest line of masks via lottery.

Italian households now represent “the biggest reservoir of infections,” said Massimo Galli, the director of the infectious diseases department at Luigi Sacco University Hospital in Milan. He called the cases “the possible restarting point of the epidemic in case of a reopening.”

The family acts as a multiplier, said Andrea Crisanti, the top scientific consultant on the virus in the Veneto region. “This is a ticking time bomb,” he said.

Britain invited millions of essential workers to apply online for coronavirus tests. But within hours of starting the system on Friday, the government was forced to halt it after overwhelming demand.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, announced the effort on Thursday, saying that it would allow essential workers to return safely to their jobs. He said the government would also hire 18,000 people to help trace coronavirus infections and was testing a new contact tracing app.

On Friday morning, in a BBC radio interview, Mr. Hancock reaffirmed his commitment to keeping lockdown measures in place until it was safe to ease the restrictions, adding that a second wave of the virus would be economically damaging.

With governments consumed by coronavirus matters, and Mr. Johnson himself recovering from Covid-19, there has been speculation about pushing back the deadline.

But the government’s chief Brexit negotiator, David Frost tweeted on Friday: “We will not ask to extend it. If the EU asks we will say no.”

In Britain, more than 140,000 people have tested positive for the virus and almost 20,000 have died.

Germany welcomed home passengers on the last flight of repatriated residents, which landed at Frankfurt Airport on Friday morning, ending an ambitious program started by the government in mid-March when around 240,000 Germans were left stranded by closed borders and reduced flights.

The unscheduled flight from Cape Town, which was operated by South African Airways, touched down at 9:35 a.m. local time, roughly five weeks after the German government started the repatriation program, called the Corona Air Bridge.

“You wouldn’t believe how many Germans are outside the country’s borders,” Chancellor Merkel noted in a speech to Parliament on Thursday morning, listing the repatriation efforts as a success in her government’s fight against the coronavirus.

The repatriation program brought home 240,000 Germans, most on scheduled commercial flights, but 66,000 were returned on a total of 260 flights chartered by the government, the German foreign ministry said. The government also brought back 6,100 European Union citizens and 3,300 nationals from other countries.

The picture emerging from long-term care facilitates in Europe in recent weeks has been “deeply concerning,” Hans Henri P. Kluge, the W.H.O.’s regional director for Europe, said in a news briefing.

“According to estimates from countries in the European Region, up to half of those who have died from Covid-19 were resident in long-term care facilities,” he said. “This is an unimaginable human tragedy.”

Most nursing homes across Europe have banned or limited family visits to help prevent the spread of the virus, but this has deprived residents of physical and emotional support and in some cases has resulted in abuse and neglect, the organization said.

“And yet equally troubling — the way that such care facilities operate, how residents receive care — is providing pathways for the virus to spread,” Mr. Kluge said, adding that the pandemic had exposed overlooked and undervalued corners of society, including long-term care, which has been “notoriously neglected.”

Almost half of coronavirus deaths in Ireland took place in nursing homes, according to Dr. Tony Holohan, the country’s chief medical officer, who announced on Thursday that 362 of the county’s 794 deaths were nursing home residents. But many other nations, including Britain, have not included the nursing home deaths among their daily count of fatalities.

Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, said on Wednesday that it was hard to prevent deaths in care homes because of the vulnerability of the age group.

Official figures published by the Office for National Statistics say there were 975 coronavirus deaths in nursing homes in England by April 10. But figures compiled by the Care Quality Commission suggest that figure could double when taking into account deaths that occurred between April 11 and April 15.

“I’m sure we will see a high mortality rate in care homes, sadly, because this is a very vulnerable group and people are coming in and out of care homes, and that cannot, to some extent, be prevented,” Mr. Whitty said.

The Czech government on Friday eased many of the stringent restrictions put in place to stem the spread of the coronavirus, lifting a ban on travel and allowing people to move freely outside their homes in groups of no more than 10 for the first time in more than a month.

“We believe that from the epidemiological point of view we can now ease the ban,” said Adam Vojtech, the health minister. Under restrictions put in place on March 16, Czechs could only go to work and return home and spend time outside in groups of two, with the exception of family members.

The government says this is partly because the country has a comparatively low number of cases, and new infections continue to fall as well. The Czech Republic reported the lowest increase in positive test results since mid-March on Thursday, with just 55 new cases, bringing the total number to 7,188. There have been 213 deaths in the country since the outbreak began.

Beginning Friday, Czech citizens can also travel abroad, though when they return they will have to show they have tested negative for the virus or go into a two-week quarantine at home. It is unclear how residents could obtain a test or who would monitor the quarantine.

Some worry that the restrictions are being lifted too soon and that the parameters for travel are unrealistic, among them Jan Papez, the vice chairman of the Czech Association of Travel Agencies.

“The optics are good and it looks democratic, but in reality it will not mean much,” Mr. Papez said. “Hardly anybody can put themselves in a quarantine after taking holidays, and coronavirus tests are not easy to obtain commercially.”

The government is seeking to ease other restrictive measures more quickly, moving up the reopening date for restaurants, hotels, theaters and similar establishments by two weeks to May 25 from June 8. On Wednesday, the Czech Republic started an antibody study that will test 27,000 people, hoping for a clearer picture of how many people have been touched by the disease.

Hong Kong is slowly coming back to life after nearly two weeks of recording new coronavirus infections in the single digits. Thousands of high school students sat for college entrance examinations on Friday, as dozens of antigovernment protesters gathered at a shopping mall for an unrelated demonstration.

The exams had been delayed by a month, and schools in the semiautonomous Chinese territory are still closed for classes. But the test takers were permitted to enter school grounds after undergoing temperature checks and disinfection measures, and their desks were spaced farther apart than usual.

Australia reported its first case on Jan. 25, New Zealand on Feb. 28. But compared with Mr. Trump and leaders in Europe, Prime Ministers Scott Morrison of Australia and Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand responded with more alacrity and with starker warnings.

Both nations are now reporting just a handful of new infections each day, down from hundreds in March, and they are converging toward an extraordinary goal: completely eliminating the virus from their nations.

Whether they get to zero or not, what Australia and New Zealand have already accomplished is a remarkable cause for hope. Mr. Morrison, a conservative Christian, and Ms. Ardern, New Zealand’s darling of the left, are both succeeding with throwback democracy — in which partisanship recedes, experts lead, and quiet coordination matters more than firing up the base.

“It’s a case of politicians just not being in the way,” said Ian Mackay, an immunologist at the University of Queensland who has been involved in response planning for the pandemic. “It’s a mix of things, but I think it comes down to taking advice based on expertise.”

The prospect of a return to near normalcy in these two countries may end up being a mirage or temporary triumph: Other nations that had seemingly kept the virus at bay, like Singapore, have seen rebounds.

And yet, if there are any two countries that could pull off a clear if hermetically sealed victory — offering a model of recovery that elevates competence over ego and restores some confidence in democratic government — it may be these two sparsely populated Pacific neighbors with their history of pragmatism.

In a meeting with his advisers on Thursday night, which was aired on television Friday morning, Mr. Duterte agreed to extend an “enhanced community quarantine” in greater Manila and some provinces until May 15.

Mr. Duterte imposed a lockdown on the island of Luzon, home to Manila and about 60 million people, in mid-March. It had been scheduled to end on April 15 and was later extended to the end of the month.

As of Thursday, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the Philippines stood at almost 7,000, with total deaths nearing 500. Those tallies are among the highest in Southeast Asia.

Mr. Duterte had been falsely claiming that he was the first leader in Asia to impose a lockdown. In fact, he initially resisted the move, assuring Filipinos in February that there was nothing to be scared of.

At the meeting on Thursday, Mr. Duterte said that he might impose martial law to quell communist guerrillas, whom he accused of preying on virus-related aid convoys. He did not mention a specific incident, but earlier this week, two soldiers who were distributing cash aid to a poor community on Luzon were killed in an attack.

“I am now warning everybody and putting the police and the A.F.P. on notice,” Mr. Duterte said, referring to the Armed Forces of the Philippines. “I might declare martial law and there will be no turning back.”

The Philippine military blamed the recent attack on New People’s Army, a group that has been waging a communist insurgency since the 1960s. But the group did not claim responsibility.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, said that states should consider filing for bankruptcy rather than look for handouts. His aides threw fuel on the fire in a news release that said the Senate leader was opposed to “blue state bailouts,” suggesting it was Democratic-leaning states that were seeking the money to take care of problems caused by fiscal mismanagement.

The thought of getting on a plane is far from most people’s minds at the moment, as they shelter in their homes. But some people have no choice but to fly now, whether it is returning from a long trip or rushing to leave a country as a visa expires.

When Billy Chan flew home to Hong Kong from London in mid-March, he wore a disposable protective suit, goggles and an N95 mask. He changed his mask twice during the 13-hour flight, using hand sanitizer each time.

Stacie Tan, who flew to her home in Malaysia from Oregon on April 1, wore goggles, gloves and a mask on the plane.

“I knew that someone might look at me and laugh,” Ms. Tan said. “It’s better than lying in the hospital, right?”

Linsey Marr, an expert in airborne disease transmission at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, said it made sense to wear protective gear on an airplane, given the tight quarters.

“I think the most important thing to do would be to wear a face covering, a mask of some sort,” said Dr. Marr, who studies how viruses spread in the air. “Goggles aren’t a bad idea, especially if they will prevent you from touching your eyes.”

Reporting was contributed by Adam Nossiter, Declan Walsh, Matt Apuzzo, Steven Erlanger, Mark Landler, Stephen Castle, Richard Pérez-Peña, Christopher F. Schuetze, Hana de Goeji, Megan Specia, Mike Ives, Ben Dooley, Jason Horowitz, Emma Bubola, Dera Menra Sijabat, Ceylan Yeginsu, Yonette Joseph, Mike Wolgelenter, Salman Masood, Richard C. Paddock, Jin Wu, Vivian Lin, Thomas Fuller, José María León Cabrera, Anatoly Kurmanaev, Dan Levin, Elaine Yu, Andrew LaVallee, Jason Gutierrez, Farnaz Fassihi, Damien Cave, Monika Pronczuk, Evan Easterling, Maggie Haberman, Michael D. Shear and Victor Mather.



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