World News Updates: Brazil President Cheers Anti-Quarantine Protests

World News Updates: Brazil President Cheers Anti-Quarantine Protests

President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil on Sunday enthusiastically addressed demonstrators in Brasília who demanded an end to business shutdowns and quarantine guidelines imposed by governors around the country.

The protest, one of several held across the country, included calls for the armed forces to shut down Congress and the Supreme Court and a return to military rule. Leaders in those branches of government have been highly critical of Mr. Bolsonaro’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and broadly agree that quarantine measures are necessary to avert a public health calamity.

“Everyone in Brazil must understand that they are subject to the will of the people,” Mr. Bolsonaro told demonstrators in the capital, speaking from the back of a pickup truck.

The president has played down the threat the virus poses to Brazilians and argues that the restrictions imposed in mid-March by most governors stand to be far more damaging to people’s livelihoods and their health than the virus. Last week, Mr. Bolsonaro fired his health minister, who had defended strict social isolation measures to prevent the health system from being overwhelmed by an influx of patients with Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

As of Sunday, Brazil had 38,654 diagnosed coronavirus cases and 2,462 confirmed deaths.

Anti-quarantine caravans were also organized in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, where Mr. Bolsonaro’s supporters drove around honking and waving Brazilian flags.

Former allies of Mr. Bolsonaro say he is endangering people’s lives by encouraging large gatherings of people.

“This increases the risk of mass infection and that the public health system will be unable to absorb the volume of patients, increasing the number of deaths,” Senator Sérgio Olímpio Gomes, who until recently was one of Mr. Bolsonaro’s strongest allies in Congress, said in a video his office released Sunday.

Mr. Bolsonaro has long hailed Brazil’s brutal 21-year military dictatorship as a golden era. But his unambiguous endorsement of protesters calling on the military to take full control of the government prompted vehement condemnations.

“It’s frightening to see demonstrations calling for the return of a military regime 30 years after democracy was restored,” Supreme Court Justice Luís Roberto Barroso said in a statement. “Dictatorships come with violence against adversaries, censorship and intolerance. Good people who love Brazil do not want that.”

Nearly as big as California but served by only a handful of mostly decrepit Soviet-era hospitals, the remote northern Russian region of Komi is a coronavirus petri dish for the horrors lying in wait for the world’s largest country.

Amid growing evidence that the pathogen had already breached Komi’s feeble defenses, the local authorities moved vigorously last week to contain the crisis: The police summoned critics of the regional government to ask how they knew about an outbreak in a hospital at a time when officials in Komi were insisting nobody had been infected.

The police intervention was carried out at the behest of Komi’s health minister, who was fired last week for mishandling the pandemic. It highlights one of Russia’s biggest obstacles as it struggles to control the spread of the virus in its vast and often ramshackle hinterland: a lumbering bureaucratic machine geared first and foremost to protecting officials, even after they lose their jobs, not safeguarding the public or its health.

President Vladimir V. Putin, in an address to the nation to mark Orthodox Easter on Sunday, assured Russians, “The situation is under total control.”

Shortly after he spoke from his country retreat, however, the health authorities reported more than 6,000 new infections across Russia, by far the biggest one-day rise yet, bringing the total to nearly 43,000. More worrying, more than two-thirds of these new cases were outside Moscow, which had previously accounted for the bulk of new infections.

After three days of claiming there had been no new coronavirus cases, Komi, with a population of under a million, on Tuesday reported 97 new infections. That made it Russia’s third most-infected area after Moscow and St. Petersburg — large cities with far more people and much better hospitals. Komi has since been overtaken by the Nizhny Novgorod region, but has the highest per capita rate of infection after Moscow.

Companies around the world are rolling out blood tests for coronavirus antibodies, widely heralded as crucial tools to assess the reach of the pandemic, restart the economy and reintegrate society.

But for all their promise, the tests are already raising alarms.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has allowed about 90 companies, many based in China, to sell tests that have not gotten government vetting, saying the pandemic warrants an urgent response. But the agency has since warned that some of those businesses are making false claims about their products; health officials, like their counterparts overseas, have found others deeply flawed.

Most tests now available mistakenly flag at least some people as having antibodies when they do not, which could foster a dangerously false belief that those people have immunity. In fact, while higher levels generally mean a stronger physiological response, it is unclear what levels might be needed for immunity to the new coronavirus — or whether any immunity would be lasting.

There are several kinds of tests on the market. The easiest to administer — and the most unreliable — are rapid tests, which can give results in minutes. Most are manufactured in China. Reports of countries that quickly bought millions have just as swiftly been followed by accounts of poor performance. The World Health Organization recommends against their use.

For example, Britain recently said the millions of rapid tests it had ordered from China were not sensitive enough to detect antibodies except in people who were severely ill. In Spain, the testing push turned into a fiasco last month after the initial batch of kits it received had an accuracy of 30 percent, rather than the advertised 80 percent. In Italy, local officials have begun testing even before national authorities have validated the tests.

Germany, which has emerged as a model among Western democracies in its efforts to curb the spread of the virus, is pursuing one of the most ambitious antibody studies, striving to test its entire population. It is more optimistic than other countries because it has made its own antibody tests.

Chile is set to become the first country to issue “immunity cards” to those who have recovered from the coronavirus, allowing holders to return to work, despite questions about whether those who have recovered are in fact immune, how long any immunity might last, and the accuracy of antibody tests.

“We have to learn to live differently,” Dr. Paula Daza, the undersecretary in Chile’s health ministry, said on Sunday, adding that Chileans must “gradually resume our lives.”

Anyone can apply for the cards, which will be issued starting Monday. To qualify, Chileans have to take a test that shows they have antibodies for the novel coronavirus. Those who have had the disease must be free of symptoms for at least 14 days — or 28, if they have a compromised immune system.

Under those criteria, 4,338 people are eligible, Dr. Daza said.

But critics have questioned the notion that recovered patients are not contagious and immune to re-infection, and raised doubts about the tests’ accuracy.

Chile has imposed quarantines that remain in place across parts of the capital, Santiago, and in other regions of the country. It has also tested more people for the virus than any other Latin American country, identifying 10,088 coronavirus cases, and 133 deaths.

The health minister, Jaime Mañalich, has reiterated that “the worst is yet to come,” with the number of cases expected to peak in May. The flu season, which is fast approaching along with winter in the southern hemisphere, is likely to strain Chile’s public health system further.

Nonetheless, the government has announced that public sector employees will also return to their offices starting Monday.

“The message coming from the government is contradictory,” said Dr. Jorge Jiménez de la Jara, who served as Chile’s health minister upon the country’s return to democracy in 1990.

“We don’t know what is going to happen from here, but there certainly needs to be clearer, more coherent communication, because this latest decision to certify immunity is based on weak scientific evidence,” he said.

Zimbabwe is extending its lockdown for two weeks but letting mines reopen.

Zimbabwe’s president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, extended a nationwide lockdown on Sunday for an additional two weeks but said that mines in the country could reopen, citing “the need to keep the economy running.”

The lockdown, which began on March 30, was supposed to end at midnight on Sunday. In a televised address from the statehouse in the country’s capital, Harare, Mr. Mnangagwa said that the extension was needed to choke the spread of the virus and “prepare for worse times which are lurking ahead.”

As of Sunday, Zimbabwe, with a population of about 16 million people, had conducted 2,226 tests, recording 25 cases and three deaths. Mr. Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe would need to increase its testing capacity before the lockdown could be lifted.

But faced with starvation amid spiraling food prices, some in Zimbabwe saw the extension in dark terms.

“I have no food now,” said Marian Gumbo, 46, who lives in Warren Park, a high density suburb in Harare. “I’m just a street vendor selling tomatoes and vegetables, and with the lockdown extended, it means my starvation with my family has also been extended.”

Mining is a big business in Zimbabwe, accounting for roughly 16 percent of the country’s G.D.P., according to the country’s mines ministry. But only some mines had been given permission to operate during the lockdown.

In Sunday’s announcement, Mr. Mnangagwa also said the “government is acutely aware of the need to keep the economy running, albeit at subdued levels.”

“With this objective in mind, government has decided to allow the mining sector to resume or scale up operations, even then within parameters set by the World Health Organization regarding social distancing and other public health safety measures,” Mr. Mnangagwa said.

Reporting was contributed by Andrew Higgins, Ernesto Londoño, Raphael Minder, Seth Schiesel, Jeffrey Moyo, John Bartlett, Steve Eder, Megan Twohey and Apoorva Mandavilli.


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