Wednesday, March 11, 2020

3325. Merkel Says Two-Thirds of Germans Could Become Infected

By The New York Times, March 11, 2020
Coronavirus outbreaks in Germany

Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday that the coronavirus was likely to infect about two-thirds of the German population.

“Given a virus for which there is no immunity and no immunization, we have to understand that many people will be infected. The consensus among experts is that 60 to 70 percent of the population will be infected,” she said.

In her first public appearance to address the epidemic, which has already infected more than 1,200 people in Germany, Ms. Merkel said that her government was following the advice of medical experts. She urged citizens to do the same.

“We are at the start of a development that we cannot yet see the end of,” Ms. Merkel told reporters. “But we as a country will do whatever is necessary to do, working within the European bloc.”

That readiness includes flexibility on spending, to help especially the small and midsize enterprises that are losing business, she said.

“This is an exceptional situation, and we will do whatever is needed,” Ms. Merkel said. “We won’t ask every day, ’What does this mean for our deficit?’”

The chancellor urged Germans to accept that it was important to stay home whenever possible and take precautions, to ensure that the health system would be able to withstand the high number of people who could fall seriously ill.  

Major events, including all large cultural performances in Berlin, Munich and elsewhere, such as many soccer games, have either been canceled or will take place without spectators. “How we respond matters,” Ms. Merkel said. “We are playing for time.”

Stocks on Wall Street tumbled on Wednesday, as topsy-turvy trading across global markets signaled continued investor concern about how governments would deal with the coronavirus fallout.

In Europe, major indexes in Frankfurt, London and Paris fell, giving up early gains that had come after the Bank of England said it would cut interest rates to help British businesses. Shares in Asia also fell.

Investors are vacillating between the threat that the coronavirus poses to the global economy and the hopes that governments will unveil a series of measures to help businesses.

President Trump has signaled that he will consider ways to stimulate the economy. Options include cutting payroll taxes and extending the American tax filing deadline past April 15. But so far, the White House has yet to announce any specific measures, and most experts say a payroll tax cut is not an effective way to combat the problems facing the economy.

The S&P 500 fell more than 2 percent in early trading on Wednesday. Stocks tumbled nearly 8 percent on Monday, and rose nearly 5 percent on Tuesday.

Other markets signaled persistent investor jitters. Futures for gold, a traditional haven, edged higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury bond fell, another indicator of investor nervousness.

Oil prices fell after the Saudi Arabian state oil company said for the second time this week that it would expand production capacity. The announcement signaled no let up in Saudi Arabia’s clash with Russia over supplies, which sent crude prices crashing this week.

The speed of the coronavirus spread across Europe — with Italy accounting for about half of the nearly 20,000 cases on the Continent — has left countries scrambling to come up with a coordinated containment plan.

At the end of February, European nations other than Italy had reported just a few dozen cases. Now, France, Germany and Spain have well over 1,000 cases each.

Britain, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland each have at least 400 confirmed infections. Denmark and Belgium have both reported more than 250 cases, and Sweden has more than 350. Belgium reported its first death on Wednesday.

Even the island nation of Iceland has not escaped, with 81 infections in a population of about 364,000, one of the highest number of cases per capita worldwide.

Italy, with more than 10,000 cases and more than 600 deaths, has imposed strict travel limits across the entire country and banned public gatherings.

Matteo Renzi, a former prime minister, said Italy’s sacrifices would serve the entire continent.

“Today, the red zone is Italy,” he said, but if containment measures fail, “the red zone will be Europe.”
Some of the countries with the fewest cases are taking the most drastic actions.

Greece and Ukraine announced this week the closing of all schools, universities, and kindergartens. In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government declared a “state of emergency” on Tuesday, granting his administration special powers to address the coronavirus outbreak, including closing universities and theaters.

Poland, which on Wednesday had 25 confirmed cases, will also shut down theaters, museums and art galleries for two weeks starting Friday.
Denmark has suspended naturalization ceremonies because a handshake is officially required for their completion.

In an unusual three-hour teleconference on Tuesday night, the European Council, which comprises the heads of government of the European Union states, decided to set up a $28 billion investment fund and to relax rules governing airlines.

But the leaders failed to overcome disagreements among bloc members about sharing medical equipment like face masks and respirators, given that health issues are the responsibility of national governments.
After the meeting, President Emmanuel Macron of France said: “What we are living is a true world crisis.”

In late January, the first confirmed American case of coronavirus had been reported in the Seattle area. Had the man infected anyone else? Was the virus already spreading?

Dr. Helen Y. Chu, an infectious disease expert in Seattle, had a way to monitor the region. As part of a research project into the flu, she and a team of researchers had been collecting nasal swabs for months from residents experiencing symptoms throughout the Puget Sound region.

To repurpose the tests for the coronavirus, they would need the support of state and federal officials. But officials repeatedly rejected her idea, interviews and emails show,  as weeks crawled by and outbreaks emerged outside of China.

By Feb. 25, Dr. Chu and her colleagues could not wait any longer. They began performing coronavirus tests without government approval. What came back confirmed the worst: a positive test from a local teenager with no recent travel history.

In fact, officials would later discover through testing, the virus had already contributed to the deaths of two people, and it would go on to kill 20 more in the Seattle region over the following days.

Federal and state officials said the flu study could not be repurposed because Dr. Chu’s lab did not have explicit permission from research subjects; the lab was also not certified for clinical work. While acknowledging the ethical questions, Dr. Chu and others argued there should be more flexibility in an emergency.

The failure to tap into the flu study was just one in a series of missed chances by the federal government to ensure more widespread testing during the early days of the outbreak, when greater containment still seemed possible. 

Even now, after weeks of mounting frustration toward federal agencies over flawed test kits and burdensome rules, states such as New York and California are struggling to test widely for the coronavirus. The continued delays have made it impossible for officials to get a true picture of the scale of the growing outbreak, which has  spread to 36 states and Washington D.C.

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