martes, 22 septiembre 2020
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China Shuts Vast Beijing Market as It Hunts Coronavirus Cluster

Reporting was contributed by Mike Baker, Hannah Beech, Dan Bilefsky, Kate Conger, Michael Cooper, Maria Cramer, Danielle Elliot, Manny Fernandez, Abby Goodnough, Rebecca Halleck, Elizabeth A. Harris, Bella Huang, Raphael Minder, David Montgomery, Mitch Smith, Rick Gladstone, Jenny Gross, Maggie Haberman, Lara Jakes, Mike Ives, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Annie Karni, Andrew Kramer, Chang W. Lee, Jesse McKinley, Paul Mozur, Tariq Panja, Elian Peltier, Matt Phillips, Roni Caryn Rabin, Suhasini Raj, Frances Robles, Simon Romero, Tacey Rychter, Eric Schmitt, Nina Siegal, Rory Smith, Kaly Soto, Chris Stanford, Matt Stevens, Eileen Sullivan, Carlos Tejada, Anton Troianovski, Tracey Tully and Sameer Yasir.

The Beijing authorities shut down a major seafood and produce market and locked down several residential complexes on Saturday after 53 people tested positive for the coronavirus in the city, renewing fears that China’s grip on the pandemic is not yet secure.

Nearly everyone who tested positive had worked or shopped at the Xinfadi market, a wholesale market on the city’s south side that sells seafood, fruit and vegetables, according to the Beijing health commission.

More than 10,000 people work at the market, which supplies 90 percent of Beijing’s fruits and vegetables, according to the state media. The virus was reportedly detected on cutting boards for imported salmon there.

The developments also prompted the authorities to partly or completely close five other Beijing markets, to lock down 11 nearby residential communities and nine schools, and to tighten controls on movement in and out of the city. State media outlets described the effort as a “wartime mechanism.”

China was the site of the first major coronavirus outbreak, but as the pandemic has ravaged the rest of the world, China’s government has loudly promoted its apparent success in controlling the virus’s spread as proof of the superiority of the country’s top-down political system. Before the new cluster of cases, Beijing had not reported any new locally transmitted cases for eight weeks.

China’s wet markets — where vendors sell fresh meat, seafood and produce — have come under scrutiny in recent months, because many of the first reported cases in the central city of Wuhan were tied to a seafood market there that has since been permanently closed. Epidemiologists have not arrived at a consensus on whether the market was the source of the virus.

The graduating cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point have lived in quarantine for the past two weeks, confined to their dorms, wearing masks and watching Zoom conferences on leadership as they wait for President Trump to speak at their commencement on Saturday.

In preparation, the West Point cadets have been divided into four groups of about 250, with strict orders not to mingle outside of their cohort. They eat in shifts in the dining hall, with food placed on long tables by kitchen staff who quickly leave. There are four designated paths for cadets who want to go for socially distanced runs.

The 1,107 soon-to-be Army second lieutenants were sent home in March because of the coronavirus, then were ordered back to campus after President Trump abruptly announced that he wanted to go through with his previously planned commencement address. The address now comes during a breakdown in relations between the president and the nation’s top military leaders, who have vehemently objected to Mr. Trump’s threats to use active-duty troops to quell largely peaceful protests across country against police brutality.

To ensure an infection-free graduation ceremony, the cadets were tested for the virus when they arrived back on campus. Fifteen of them tested positive initially but showed no symptoms, said Lt. Col. Christopher Ophardt, a West Point spokesman. The 15 did not transmit the virus to others and are now virus-free, Colonel Ophardt said, and will graduate with the others in their class.

No friends or family will be permitted to attend and cadets will be required to wear masks as they march in and take their seats, spaced about six feet apart. Once seated, they will be allowed to unmask. Mr. Trump, who has never worn a mask in public, is to speak at 11 a.m.

Protests against the president are expected in the nearby community.

KEY DATA OF THE DAY

Two of the nation’s most populous states, Texas and Florida, both reported this week their highest daily totals of new coronavirus infections, a concerning sign as all 50 states move to ease social distancing restrictions and allow more businesses to reopen.

The nation’s most populous state, California, hit a new daily high last week, when it recorded 3,593 new cases, a record it nearly matched again this week.

The rise in cases helps explain why the nation continues to record more than 20,000 new cases a day even as some of the original hot spots, including New York, have seen dramatic declines. While some officials in states seeing increases attribute the rise to increased testing, and the number of cases per capita in Texas and Florida remains low, some health experts see worrying signs that the virus continues to make inroads.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said that in some parts of the country the rising number of new cases reflected more testing, but that in other areas, the increasing number of hospitalizations suggested a disturbing uptick in new infections.

“Whenever you loosen mitigation, you can expect you’ll see new infections, I think it would be unrealistic to think that you won’t,” he said in an interview on ABC News’s “Powerhouse Politics” podcast. “The critical issue is how do you prevent those new infections that you see from all of a sudden emerging into something that is a spike, and that’s the thing that we hope we will be able to contain.”

Texas, which avoided the worst of the virus in the early spring and was one of the first states to make moves to reopen its economy, identified more than 2,000 new cases on both Wednesday and Thursday, the highest daily totals yet. The counties that include Houston and Dallas are reporting some of the nation’s largest single-day rises. Cases are also trending upward around Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin, Lubbock, McAllen and Midland.

“To be quite frank, I have not been thrilled with what I’m seeing in terms of folks not wearing masks at a high enough rate,” said Mayor Eric Johnson of Dallas, who attributed the increased caseload to an expansion of testing and the reopening of the economy.

Harris County, which includes Houston, created a new color-coded system this week to gauge the virus and said that the current threat level was orange, the second-most severe, meaning that there was a “significant and uncontrolled” level of Covid-19.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg of San Antonio said he was concerned about the pace of the state’s phased reopening plan. “We’re kind of blowing through phases before we have an understanding of the impact of that decision,” he said.

Florida recorded more than 1,000 new cases on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, including 1,698 on Thursday, the state’s highest daily total yet. That record only stood for a day: It was eclipsed on Friday, when the state reported another 1,902.

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican, said Friday that he was pleased to see hospitalizations declining in parts of the state, and attributed the rise in cases in part to more widespread testing, and in part to outbreaks in several agricultural communities, including a watermelon farm. “These are workers that are working very close together,” he noted at a news conference.

But Florida continues to push forward with its reopening plans, and on Thursday night the Republican National Committee announced that President Trump would deliver his Aug. 27 convention speech in Jacksonville, Fla., in an arena that holds 15,000, after his demands for an event without social distancing rules led to a rift with Democratic leaders in North Carolina, where the Republican convention was originally planned.

Large gatherings of all political stripes — from the recent protests against racism and police brutality that have swept the country to the campaign rallies that Mr. Trump plans to resume next week — still pose risks of transmitting the virus, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said Friday.

Dr. Fauci, who has warned about the risks associated with the recent protests in recent days, was asked during aninterview on ABC News’ “Powerhouse Politics” podcast what he thought about Mr. Trump’s plan to begin holding large rallies again.

“The only thing I can say is that I am consistent,” Dr. Fauci said. “I stick by what I say: the best way that you can avoid either acquiring or transmitting infection is to avoid crowded places, to wear a mask whenever you’re outside, and if you can do both — avoid the congregation of people and do the mask, that’s great.”

Health officials in the United States have not yet traced major outbreaks of the virus to the protests that followed George Floyd’s killing, but across the country, officials are seeing a handful of new cases with possible links to the demonstrations, with at least 30 cases as of today, according to a New York Times analysis.

That number — which includes police officers, National Guard members and demonstrators across nine states and Washington, D.C. — represents a tiny fraction of the thousands of new virus cases being identified across the country each day that have no apparent connection to the protests.

And health officials have warned that it is still too soon to know whether the protests will lead to major clusters and wider community spread of the virus, which can take up to 14 days to produce symptoms.

As China’s coronavirus infection rate has slowed to a crawl, universities across the country have been gradually welcoming students back to campus. But they aren’t offering the customary ceremonies or photo-ops for graduating seniors.

Instead, dozens of them are providing digitally altered pictures of what the pageantry might have looked like in a pre- or post-Covid-19 era. In some of the photos, the effect is jarringly artificial, with students’ smiling faces added to identical cap-and-gown templates, stacked precisely in long rows.

At Beifang University of Nationalities in Yinchuan, for example, administrators distributed a photograph made by student volunteers that shows more than 150 dance and music majors in digitally added caps and gowns outside one of the campus’s landmark buildings. “Graduation memory of the class of 2020,” the caption says.

Chen Xiangping, 22, a dance major who is in the photo, said that she and her roommates had dreamed for years of their graduation photo-op — down to the details of which poses they would strike.

“But because of the pandemic, this will never come true,” she said. “And there may never be a chance for it to come true in my lifetime.”

At Yangtze University in Jingzhou, a Chinese city near Wuhan, where the coronavirus first emerged, the graduation photo shows smiling graduates standing against a background of the university’s main building.

Chen Chen, a student at the university, said the photo was a letdown, describing it in one word: “ugly.”

“I once peeped at my seniors’ graduation ceremony and even tried on the bachelor cap secretly, so I was very much looking forward to the graduation picture,” she said. “My biggest regret is not being able to have a graceful farewell with my teachers and classmates.”

Asbury Park, a town of about 15,500 on the Jersey Shore, voted overwhelmingly in favor of Gov. Philip D. Murphy, a first-term Democrat. But that did not stop an insurrection there over the governor’s restrictions on indoor dining.

Asbury Park’s City Council voted unanimously this week to let restaurants host limited-capacity indoor dining starting Monday. Mr. Murphy’s reopening orders permit only outdoor dining.

On Friday, the state took the unusual step of suing the city, in an effort to block the plan to let its 80 restaurants offer indoor dining. Efforts to “amicably resolve the issue” broke down, the governor said.

“There’s no question this virus is more lethal inside than outside,” Mr. Murphy said when announcing the lawsuit. “There’s a method to what we’re doing here, folks.”

Hours later, after a judge granted the state’s request, Asbury Park officials reversed course, telling restaurant owners that they could be fined or lose their liquor licenses if they opened for indoor dining on Monday.

But city officials also said in a statement that they hoped the showdown with the governor would force him to quickly set a date for restaurants to reopen fully.

Asbury Park’s short-lived act of defiance came as pressure mounted in New Jersey and throughout the country for government officials to more quickly drop coronavirus restrictions that have battered the economy.

Wang Linfa has made the research of bats his life’s work, particularly how their anatomy and habits make them an ideal viral reservoir, helping to spread pathogens from one species to another and between geographic regions.

“They call me Batman. I think it’s a compliment because bats are special,” said Mr. Wang, sitting in an office adorned with bat pictures, bat stuffed animals, Batman logos — enough bat paraphernalia that it might be considered a bat cave, if it were not on the ninth floor of a sunny building in Singapore.

Mr. Wang heads the Emerging Infectious Diseases Program at the medical school run by Duke University and the National University of Singapore, and he is also the chairman of a scientific advisory board at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, in China.

Along with other virologists, he suspects that the coronavirus originated in bats. He led a team that last month invented an antibody test kit for the coronavirus that can produce results in an hour.

Scientists like Mr. Wang usually toil in relative obscurity, but suddenly the world needs them more than ever, and their work is complicated by a political minefield.

Beijing is sensitive to any criticism of China’s early missteps in handling the pandemic, while President Trump has claimed, without citing evidence, that the virus emerged from the same Wuhan institute Mr. Wang advises — an idea that Mr. Wang and other scientists dismiss as nonsense.

But the controversy is not an entirely new experience for Mr. Wang, whose life has been bracketed and shaped by political upheavals.

On a rare quiet evening in late May, Dr. Dahlia Rizk asked her staff to join her by a campfire. They sat together for more than an hour, sharing the overwhelming horrors and occasional triumphs they’d experienced while treating the coronavirus, as the sound of burning logs crackled in the background and a bright orange glow filled the room.

But Dr. Rizk’s team hadn’t left the hospital. They were sitting on the floor of a former Covid-19 triage tent, right outside the doors of the emergency department at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in Manhattan. The fire wasn’t actually a fire; it was a video projected onto the wall.

A couple months before, this tent had been used for the overflow of patients who had come to the hospital during the worst weeks of the pandemic.

But with the number of virus patients in New York City dwindling to levels not seen since March, the hospital has transformed the tent into a recovery unit for health care workers.

Where doctors and nurses once tested patients at sterile medical stations, they now lounge in leather recliners surrounded by plants, watching one of nine landscapes. They just need to say where they want to be, and the voice-activated system transports them to the scene.

“You go from hearing beeps and vents and whistles and all the intensity on the ward, with the bright lights, to this serene space,” said Dr. Rizk. “Suddenly something happens that really allows you to decompress almost immediately.”

Anwar Shah, a Muslim faith healer who claimed he could cure the sick, often through touch, died of complications from Covid-19 on June 4 in central India. He was 62.

After his death, Mr. Shah was found to have infected at least 20 people with the coronavirus, likely at crowded gatherings at his home in the Ratlam district of the state of Madhya Pradesh, where he and his followers welcomed those seeking treatment for a variety of illnesses and diseases.

“We contact-traced 46 people, including his family members, and found 20 to be positive,” Dr. Pramod Prajapati, a coronavirus case officer for the Ratlam district, said in a telephone interview. “Thirteen were his followers and neighbors who visited him for some treatment or came in touch with him one way or the other.”

Dr. Prajapati added that Mr. Shah was more popularly known among locals as Baba.

Operating out of a room on his terrace, Mr. Shah would draw crowds of people from his neighborhood and nearby districts seeking blessings and relief from fevers, jaundice, typhoid and other conditions. Pregnant women would approach him to have the “evil eye” turned away from themselves and their unborn babies.

As part of his cure, Mr. Shah would blow into people’s faces and brush their bodies with wet peacock feathers.

“People would kiss his hand in return,” Dr. Prajapati said. “As a gesture of thanking him for treating them. It was a matter of faith, and in our investigation we found that not only Muslims but Hindus visited him, too, in the hope that he would cure them.”

Virus infections have surged in India as the country has reopened, with almost 9,000 deaths reported.

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The World Health Organization said strain on health systems from the coronavirus could result in more deaths of women and children than the disease itself.CreditCredit…Chris Mcgrath/Getty Images

The World Health Organization warned Friday that the indirect impact of the pandemic on women, children and adolescents could do more damage than the actual disease.

“The indirect effects of Covid-19 on these groups may be greater than the number of deaths due to the virus itself,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the organization’s director general. “Because the pandemic has overwhelmed health systems in many places, women may have heightened risk of dying from complications of pregnancy and child birth.”

The W.H.O. gathered a panel of experts for a conference call with reporters on Friday, to highlight many additional indirect threats caused by the pandemic, and subsequent lockdowns, on women and children. Resources have been diverted away from health services to address the immediate threat of the virus, millions have lost jobs and an estimated 1.2 billion children and youth are not attending schools, leaving them without essential services like meals and access to mental health care, which are often provided by the schools.

The economic stress, combined with tight living conditions in lockdowns, has also placed women and children at increased risk of violence and abuse.

Dr. Natalia Kanem, the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund, called the situation, “a pandemic within a pandemic.”

Gabriela Cuevas Barron, the president of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, said that 42 to 66 million children are in danger of falling into extreme poverty because of the pandemic.

Dr. Kanem said that for every six months of lockdown an estimated 47 million women will lose access to contraception, which would result in an additional 7 million unintended pregnancies during that six-month period.

Forecasts suggest that the United States will likely see 124,000 to 140,000 Covid-19 deaths by the Fourth of July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The agency said that its forecasts suggested that more virus-related deaths were likely over the next four weeks in Arizona, Arkansas, Hawaii, North Carolina, Utah and Vermont than those states saw over the past four weeks. The nation has already seen 114,426 virus-related deaths, according to a New York Times database.

The C.D.C.’s forecasts were released as the agency and its director, Dr. Robert Redfield, held a public briefing on Friday, three months after it abruptly stopped holding regular media briefings on the pandemic.


The agency also released new guidance about the risks of holding events. It labeled “highest risk” any large gathering which draws attendees from outside the area and where it is difficult for people to stay at least six feet apart.

The guidance, which comes as people around the country are attending outdoor protests of police brutality, and as Mr. Trump prepares to resume holding large political rallies, advises that staff members at large events be required to wear face coverings, and that attendees be encouraged to do so.

The agency also released recommendations and factors to consider for those considering whether to resume daily activities like going to the bank, holding cookouts and going to the gym.

New cases are rising in 22 states, and local and state officials are adjusting policies in a patchwork across the country.

Here is a look at other key developments around the country.

GLOBAL ROUNDUP

At least 58 members of the Guatemalan president’s staff have tested positive, officials said, making it one of the world’s largest outbreaks to erupt at a nation’s center of elected power.

The employees work in President Alejandro Giammattei’s official compound in Guatemala City’s historic district, and include members of his security detail and workers on the compound’s domestic staff, officials said.

Mr. Giammattei, however, said he had so far tested negative.

Among governments in Latin America, Guatemala moved particularly early and aggressively to curb the spread of the virus. It quickly implemented a range of measures, including closing its borders to citizens of certain countries, enforcing a nightly curfew and effectively cordoning off areas of the country that were suffering severe outbreaks.

But despite those efforts, the contagion in Guatemala has continued to grow, with the number of daily confirmed cases increasing significantly in the past month, putting extraordinary strain on the nation’s fragile health care system. The country registered its highest daily death toll — 27 — on Tuesday. As of Friday, the authorities had confirmed a total of 8,561 cases and at least 334 deaths.

The Guatemalan government has accused the United States of aggravating the situation by deporting scores of Guatemalans infected with the virus. The charges have inflamed tensions between the two governments and led to several suspensions of deportation flights while the authorities studied the claims and implemented more rigorous screening of deportees in the United States.

At least 186 deportees, including nine children, have tested positive, Guatemalan officials said. The vast majority were tested at the airport shortly after disembarking from their deportation flights.

Here are some other key developments elsewhere around the world:

  • Canadian immigration officials said the federal government may allow caregivers who are seeking asylum to essentially jump the immigration queue and remain in the country permanently because of their outsized contributions to fighting the pandemic.
  • Venezuelan authorities extended the country’s lockdown through mid-July on Friday, restricting movement outside the home to essential chores like grocery shopping, banking or doctor visits. Venezuela has had more than 2,800 confirmed cases and 23 deaths, according to a New York Times database.
  • Italian prosecutors questioned Premier Giuseppe Conte on Friday over his two-week delay in locking down two towns in Italy’s Lombardy region, which health experts said allowed the virus to spread to other provinces. Once a global epicenter, the virus devastated the Lombardy region’s health care system. No one has been charged with a crime and the lead prosecutor, Maria Cristina Rota, said Conte and other officials were interviewed as witnesses, not suspects.
  • Olena Zelenska, the wife of President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, said on Facebook that she tested positive, but that Mr. Zelensky and the couple’s children had tested negative.
  • At least 12 major Russian cities have said in recent days that they will not hold a parade on June 24, the day that President Vladimir V. Putin decreed Russia would publicly commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over the Nazis in World War II.
  • The local government in Beijing said on Friday that it would suspend the resumption of school for young primary school students after the appearance of three new cases in the city. The change affects almost half a million students who were supposed to return to school on Monday. The Beijing Municipal Education Commission did not set a new date for class resumption.
  • The widow of a Chinese doctor who was censured by the police when he sought to warn colleagues about Covid-19 gave birth to a second son on Friday, a little more than four months after her husband succumbed to the disease.

In pockets of Virginia, Illinois, Missouri and Ohio, there are books sitting in quarantine.

They are public library books that have been returned. They spend at least three days sitting on tables or on big metal carts, carefully labeled with the dates they came in. After that, they can they go back on the shelves.

Libraries across the United States are tiptoeing toward reopening, but they’re not just trying to figure out how to safely lend out books. These are community hubs where parents bring their toddlers for story time, where people come to use the computer, where book groups meet. Now all of that has to be rethought.

Branches throughout the country have also been offering curbside pickup, where books are left by the front door or dropped in the trunks of waiting cars, along with library catalogs and leaflets about their cleaning protocols. And even when the lights were off, many libraries kept their wireless networks humming so people could park themselves outside and use them for free.

“We’re getting 500 visits a day,” said Anthony W. Marx, the president of the New York Public Library, which operates branches in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island. “That means people are going out in a dangerous pandemic to sit in front of our libraries.”

Health officials in southern Arizona have detected at least two cases of coronavirus among workers on the border wall, igniting fears that the Trump administration’s refusal to halt the project during the pandemic could lead to a spread of the virus in border towns with highly vulnerable populations.

The cases were confirmed this week at a health clinic in Ajo, a town near the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, where a portion of the wall is under construction, said Chuck Huckelberry, the administrator of Pima County, which includes the city of Tucson. Ajo, a haven for older adults, including many artists, has a population of about 3,000.

“A lot of them are retired and probably a lot of them are vulnerable,” Mr. Huckelberry said. He added that Pima County had begun a contact-tracing effort to determine how many people in the area might have been exposed to the virus through the infected workers.

Some residents of Ajo said that truck traffic through the town had decreased considerably since Thursday, potentially reflecting a slowdown in nearby construction. Kiewit, the Nebraska construction company building the wall in the area, did not respond to requests for comment.

Raini Brunson, a spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the border wall construction, said in a statement that “construction progress” had not been halted along the border as a result of concerns over the coronavirus.

Ms. Brunson said she could not confirm or deny the Pima County report of coronavirus cases among workers, but she said that plans on the border now include “quarantining employees who are sick or experience any symptoms related to Covid-19.”

For months, scientists have debated why one variation of the coronavirus became dominant in many parts of the world, particularly in Europe and in much of the United States.

Many scientists argue that the variation spread widely by chance. Others have looked to a specific genetic mutation, hunting for clues that it confers some kind of biological edge.

Now, scientists have shown — at least in the tightly controlled environment of a laboratory cell culture — that viruses with that mutation infect more cells than those without the mutation. The viruses found at the beginning of the pandemic in Wuhan, China, did not have the mutation.

The D614G Mutation

A tiny mutation in the coronavirus genome may stabilize the spike proteins that protrude from the virus and allow it to infect more cells — at least in laboratory experiments.

Geneticists cautioned against drawing conclusions about whether the variation, which has been circulating widely since February, spreads more easily in humans. There is no evidence that it is more deadly or harmful, and differences seen in a cell culture do not necessarily mean it is more contagious, they said.

But the new study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, does show that the mutation appears to change the biological function of the virus, experts said.

Researchers at Scripps Research, based in Florida, found that the mutation, known as D614G, stabilized the virus’s spike proteins, which attach to cells to infect them. The number of functional and intact spikes on each viral particle was about five times higher because of the mutation, increasing the likelihood of infection, according to the scientists who led the study, Hyeryun Choe and Michael Farzan.

Dr. Choe said that the virus spikes with the mutation were “nearly 10 times more infectious in the cell culture system that we used” than those without.

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has reopened but without its crushing crowds. The museum can now only accommodate a maximum of 750 visitors over a six-hour day, a far cry from the 6,000 visitors a day before the pandemic.

“It is going to feel slow,” Emilie Gordenker, the museum’s new director said. “We’re used to having so many more visitors here, but we have to be careful and do what we can.” Tickets must now be booked for specific time slots, and Ms. Gordenker said there were still plenty available.

All museums need visitors to survive, but the Van Gogh Museum is particularly reliant on tourists. Some 85 percent of its visitors do not live in the Netherlands, and unlike Dutch national museums, which receive substantial government subsidies, the Van Gogh relies on earned income — ticket sales, and revenue from the shop and cafe — for 89 percent of its budget. That reality creates additional difficulties during an already challenging time.

So Ms. Gordenker hopes that more local people will see this period as a special opportunity to come in. That’s the message she wants to get out there.

In other arts and sports related coverage:

Some 1.7 million Americans are waiting for passports after the State Department shut down most of its consular services to protect employees from contracting the coronavirus, the agency confirmed on Friday.

As Lara Jakes and Tacey Rychter report, the State Department reopened 11 passport agencies across the United States this week and aim to process about 200,000 applications each week before turning to new applications. But officials predicted it will still take up to eight weeks to cut through the backlog that dates to February.

Officials had limited any expedited services for passport applications to life-or-death situations, said Carl Risch, the department’s assistant secretary for consular affairs.

Passport services in American embassies and consulates abroad have been suspended for all but urgent cases, and will reopen only after health conditions in each host country have been deemed safe for American diplomats to return to work.

As many as two million Americans are overseas at any time. The State Department processes about 18 million passports annually.

Travel restrictions imposed to curtail the coronavirus pandemic have left hundreds of thousands of maritime workers stranded on vessels, prevented from disembarking, the United Nations said Friday.

“Unable to get off ships, the maximum sea time stipulated in international conventions is being ignored, with some seafarers marooned at sea for 15 months,” Secretary General António Guterres said in a statement in which he expressed alarm about “the growing humanitarian and safety crisis facing seafarers round the world.”

He exhorted countries to formally designate such employees as “key workers” and ensure that crew changeovers can safely take place. Shipping accounts for more than 80 percent of world trade, including vital medical supplies and other goods critical for the coronavirus response, Mr. Guterres said, and more than 2 million people work as commercial shipping crew members.

“This ongoing crisis will have direct consequences on the shipping industry,” he said. “The world could not function without the efforts of seafarers yet their contributions go largely unheralded.”

Fecha de publicaciónjunio 12, 2020

BELT.ES no se hace responsable de las opiniones de los artículos reproducidos en nuestra Revista de Prensa, ni hace necesariamente suyas las opiniones y criterios expresados. La difusión de la información reproducida se realiza sin fines comerciales. 

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