Canada has closed its borders except to citizens and permanent residents, and all arrivals will have to self-isolate for 14 days. Americans may enter for “essential business” only. Airlines will test all travelers and bar anyone showing symptoms of the coronavirus from boarding a plane, and international flights will land in only four cities: Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, and Calgary. Canada is also bracing for an influx of “snowbirds,” the retirees who winter in Florida or Arizona and are beginning to return home for spring. Ontarians are “coming back in ever-increasing numbers,” said Ontario Chief Medical Officer David Williams. “Unfortunately, a number of them, after a few days, have been found to be positive.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife, Sophie, has tested positive for the virus, so the first family is in quarantine.
French President Emmanuel Macron announced a nationwide mobilization against the coronavirus this week, including $50 billion in aid to small businesses and workers. For the next two weeks, people will be fined $40 if they leave their homes except to visit a supermarket, drugstore, or laundromat or to exercise. “We are at war,” the president said, “and the nation will support its medical staff on the front line. They have rights over us.” Macron suspended all rent, taxes, and utility bills for those in financial difficulty, and said the government would requisition hotels and taxis for medical workers’ use. France had recorded nearly 8,000 Covid-19 infections by midweek, and at least 175 people had died of the disease. Meanwhile, the EU said it would close its borders for 30 days except to supplies of food and medicine.
Life as usual
Despite having at least 53 confirmed cases of Covid-19, Mexico has enacted none of the travel bans or quarantines that other countries have taken to limit the pandemic. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, 66, continued holding rallies, posting a video of himself last weekend wading through a crowd in Guerrero state while shaking hands and hugging and kissing his supporters. “If I come here wearing a mask, if that’s how the president is, how are the people going to be?” he said. “I have to keep the people’s spirits up.” Spring break and Easter are prime seasons for Mexico’s tourism industry, and travel is continuing uninterrupted. Guns N’ Roses and other international acts performed to packed crowds at a music festival in Mexico City last weekend.
European Union leaders this week drew up a plan to prevent hostile U.S. takeovers of European firms developing drugs to fight the coronavirus, after a report that the U.S. government tried to buy a German company that has a promising lead on a vaccine. The respected German newspaper Welt am Sonntag reported that the Trump administration offered up to $1 billion to biotech firm CureVac to relocate its research to the U.S. The paper quoted an unnamed German official who said President Trump wanted the vaccine “only for the United States.” CureVac and Trump administration officials denied the report, but the European Commission pledged $88 million in extra funding to CureVac just in case. “This is not just about CureVac,” said an EU official. “Many other companies are concerned.”
U.K. drags feet
Facing an outcry from doctors, the British government has backtracked on its initial proposal to allow the coronavirus to spread unchecked to promote “herd immunity.” Authorities initially suggested that most people go about their lives normally and that only those over age 70—who are most at risk of dying from the disease—should self-isolate. In an open letter to the government, some 200 scientists and doctors said that strategy would result in hundreds of thousands of deaths and utterly collapse the health system. Prime Minister Boris Johnson then U-turned, announcing that large events would be canceled in the coming days and schools ordered to close. By midweek, Britain had more than 2,500 cases and at least 71 deaths.
Up to 1,500 inmates escaped from four minimum-security prisons in São Paulo state this week after authorities canceled Easter leave privileges over fears that the prisoners might bring coronavirus back to their cells. Cellphone footage showed dozens of prisoners fleeing down a street near a coastal lockup and sprinting across a beach. In another video, from Mongaguá on the São Paulo coast, hundreds of prisoners could be seen running away while a man shouted, “Come back Monday, OK?” Inmates in the semi-open prisons are usually allowed to leave the lockups for work and for certain holidays. Meanwhile, President Jair Bolsonaro tested negative for the coronavirus after coming into contact with numerous people infected with the disease. At least 12 members of the entourage that accompanied Bolsonaro on a trip to meet President Trump in Florida earlier this month have tested positive for the virus.
Gantz gets his shot
Following Israel’s third inconclusive election in a year, President Reuven Rivlin has given opposition leader Benny Gantz the first chance to form a coalition government. That’s a blow for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is under indictment for corruption and has argued that he should hold on to the nation’s top job during the coronavirus crisis. Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party won 36 seats in the 120-seat Knesset in an election earlier this month, while Gantz’s centrist Blue and White took 33. But Gantz received the support of 61 lawmakers to form a government, to Netanyahu’s 58. Rivlin has urged the two men to compromise. “The citizens of Israel are exhausted,” the president said to a Knesset chamber empty but for the two party leaders. “Give them a government.”
Troops pull back
The U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS is withdrawing from three of its eight bases in Iraq and relocating hundreds of troops to larger bases in the country. The Pentagon said the redeployment has been planned for months and is not a response to a wave of rocket attacks by Iran-backed militia groups that have killed and wounded some two dozen coalition troops in recent weeks. “These bases remain under Iraqi control,” said Col. Myles B. Caggins III, a spokesman for the anti-ISIS mission, “and we will continue our advising partnership for the permanent defeat of [ISIS] from other Iraqi military bases.” One of the abandoned bases is Camp Taji, where two American service members and a British soldier were killed in a suspected militia rocket attack last week. The U.S. responded with a series of airstrikes on the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah group.
The Chinese government is pushing a conspiracy theory that the coronavirus originated in a U.S. biodefense lab. Zhao Lijian, spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, leaped on a video of Robert Redfield, director for the Centers for Disease Control, telling Congress this month that some earlier deaths in the U.S. attributed to influenza were in fact caused by Covid-19. Zhao claimed that this was evidence that the disease began in America and was brought to China by U.S. troops who attended the Military World Games in the city of Wuhan in October. “U.S. owe us an explanation!” tweeted Zhao. He later shared a report by a Canadian conspiracy outfit that claimed the virus leaked from a U.S. bioweapons lab. In fact, scientists agree that the virus originated at an exotic animal market in Wuhan.
Kicking out reporters
China this week expelled American journalists working for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, including Mandarin speakers with decades of experience. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said the expulsions were a response to the “unreasonable oppression” of Chinese news outlets in the U.S. In early March, the Trump administration limited the number of Chinese citizens from five state-run media organizations who could work in the U.S. to 100, which forced some 60 Chinese to leave. Some of the expelled American journalists were among the first to report in depth about the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan. Times executive editor Dean Baquet called the ban “especially irresponsible at a time when the world needs the free and open flow of credible information about the coronavirus pandemic.”
A Japanese man who stabbed 19 people to death at a home for disabled adults where he once worked as a caregiver has been sentenced to hang. Satoshi Uematsu, 30, told officials he was inspired by Adolf Hitler to rid the country of those with mental or physical handicaps. He killed nine men and 10 women—ranging in age from 18 to 70—and wounded 26 more in his 2016 stabbing spree, which was Japan’s deadliest mass attack since World War II. A few months before the massacre, Uematsu tried to give a lawmaker a letter outlining his plot; he was detained in a psychiatric home for two weeks but then released. Japan is the only G-7 nation beside the U.S. that has the death penalty, which it reserves for mass murderers.
Hanks charms Aussies
Hollywood power couple Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, both 63, were released from an Australian hospital this week after being treated for coronavirus acquired while Hanks was shooting a film. “They’re still self-quarantined, obviously, but they’re feeling a lot better,” their son Chet Hanks said. The elder Hanks tweeted a photo of a plush kangaroo holding a mini Australian flag beside a plate of toast slathered with Vegemite yeast spread. He captioned the photo “Thanks to the Helpers”—a reference to a quote by Fred Rogers, whom he portrayed in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Concerned Aussies responded that Hanks had way too much Vegemite on his toast. “Okay you need to scrape around 60% of that Vegemite off, otherwise it’s gonna be nasty and hurt your mouth friend,” one fan tweeted. ■