Here’s what you need to know:
- The pandemic hovers over China’s once-a-year political congress.
- Guatemala’s leader protests as the U.S. deports infected migrants to his country.
- Prominent scientists denounce cancellation of grant for coronavirus research in China.
- Residents of a British city receive food deliveries from robots, albeit with limitations.
- Trump, visiting a hard-hit U.S. state, declines to wear a mask in public.
The pandemic hovers over China’s once-a-year political congress.
Coronavirus cases in China have slowed to a fraction of what they were in January, but the pandemic was weighing heavily on the country’s politics and economy as top officials began a tightly choreographed legislative pageant on Friday.
In one sense, the National People’s Congress is a chance for China’s leaders, who won broad public support for curbing the spread of the outbreak, to push back against growing international criticism over its early missteps in Wuhan. President Xi Jinping has described his government’s containment efforts as a “people’s war” against the virus.
But the pandemic also poses grave political risks for President Xi, who faces a diplomatic and economic climate as daunting as any since the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.
For one, Mr. Xi’s government faces a new outbreak in Jilin, a northeastern province of 27 million people that sits near China’s borders with Russia and North Korea. Jilin has been put under a Wuhan-style lockdown as it has reported an outbreak that is still small — about 130 cases and two deaths — but has the potential to become a “big explosion,” experts say.
Then there is the economy, which shrank in the first three months of the year compared with a year earlier — the first decline in the modern era. On Friday, Chinese officials declined to set an economic growth target for this year and outlined plans to ramp up government spending.
“At present, the epidemic has not yet come to an end, while the tasks we face in promoting development are immense,” Premier Li Keqiang told lawmakers as the National People’s Congress opened in Beijing on Friday. “We must redouble our efforts to minimize the losses resulting from the virus.”
The virus also presented challenges for organizers of the Congress, which is a logistical nightmare even in normal times.
Delegates have been made to take nucleic acid tests for the virus before being allowed to travel to Beijing. Masks will be required, windows will be opened to improve ventilation and plastic dividers will sit atop dinner tables.
Coronavirus Map: Tracking the Global Outbreak
The virus has infected more than 5,075,700 people in at least 177 countries.
Guatemala’s leader protests as the U.S. deports infected migrants to his country.
President Alejandro Giammattei of Guatemala on Thursday voiced frustration over U.S. deportations of people infected with the coronavirus, saying it was causing “serious problems” for his nation’s health system.
“Guatemala is an ally of the United States, but the United States is not Guatemala’s ally,” Mr. Giammattei said. “They don’t treat us like an ally.”
Among people deported from the United States to Guatemala, there have been 119 confirmed cases of Covid-19, The Associated Press reported. The latest flight to arrive with people who tested positive landed in Guatemala on May 13, with 16 of the 65 passengers infected, it reported.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that all passengers had been screened and that 15 migrants who tested positive had been withheld from the flight and sent to isolation sections of detention centers.
Guatemala has not accepted any migrant flights from the United States this week, The A.P. reported.
A nation of about 17 million people, Guatemala has more than 2,500 confirmed coronavirus cases, and 48 reported deaths.
“The United States has helped other countries, including with ventilators, and to us nothing has come, not even chopped corn,” Mr. Giammattei said at an appearance with the Atlantic Council’s Latin America center.
The deportees became a point of contention in the country, with several community councils last month threatening to burn a government building where migrants were quarantined over concerns that they posed a health risk.
Prominent scientists denounce cancellation of grant for coronavirus research in China.
A group of 77 Nobel laureates has asked for an investigation into the cancellation of a federal grant to EcoHealth Alliance, a group that researches bat coronaviruses in China.
The pre-eminent scientists characterized the explanation for the decision by the National Institutes of Health as “preposterous.” The agency said the investigation into the sources of pandemics did not fit “with program goals and agency priorities.”
The Nobel recipients said the grant was canceled “just a few days after President Trump responded to a question from a reporter who erroneously claimed that the grant awarded millions of dollars to investigators in Wuhan.” President Trump said the grant would be ended immediately.
The grant had been given to EcoHealth Alliance, an organization with headquarters in New York that studies the potential for spillover of animal viruses to humans around the globe. The group collaborated with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has been at the center of conspiracy theories about how the novel coronavirus originated. Virologists and intelligence agencies agree that the virus evolved in nature and spread from animals to humans.
Days after the news conference in April, the National Institutes of Health emailed Peter Daszak, the head of EcoHealth Alliance. They questioned his work with the Wuhan Institute, and after an exchange of emails, he was informed that the renewal of his grant for more than $3 million was canceled.
Harold E. Varmus, a former director of the N.I.H., said that the government always sets broad priorities for research that some scientists may disagree with, including restrictions on use of embryonic stem cells, but that this research was squarely in line with federal priorities. He called the cancellation “an outrageous abuse of political power to control the way science works.”
Residents of a British city receive food deliveries from robots, albeit with limitations.
If any place was prepared for quarantine, it was Milton Keynes. Two years before the pandemic, a start-up called Starship Technologies deployed a fleet of rolling delivery robots in the small city about 50 miles northwest of London.
The squat six-wheeled robots shuttled groceries and dinner orders to homes and offices. As the coronavirus spread, Starship shifted the fleet even further into grocery deliveries. Locals like Emma Maslin could buy from the corner store with no human contact.
“There’s no social interaction with a robot,” Ms. Maslin said.
The sudden usefulness of the robots to people staying in their homes is a tantalizing hint of what the machines could one day accomplish — at least under ideal conditions. Milton Keynes, with a population of 270,000 and a vast network of bicycle paths, is perfectly suited to rolling robots. Demand has been so high in recent weeks, some residents have spent days trying to schedule a delivery.
When the Starship robots first arrived in Milton Keynes, one of the fastest-growing cities in Britain, Liss Page thought they were cute but pointless. “The first time I met one, it was stuck on the curb outside my house,” she said.
Then, in early April, she opened a letter from the National Health Service advising her not to leave the house because her asthma and other conditions made her particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus. In the weeks that followed, the robots provided a much-needed connection to the outside world.
Smaller deliveries suit Ms. Page because she lives alone. But like the grocery vans that deliver larger orders across the city, the Starship robots are ultimately limited by what is on the shelves.
“You pad out the order with things you don’t really need to make the delivery charge worthwhile,” Ms. Page said. “With the last delivery, all I got were the things I didn’t really need.”
Trump, visiting a hard-hit U.S. state, declines to wear a mask in public.
President Trump, who has defiantly refused to wear a mask in public despite the recommendations of federal health officials, toured a Ford plant in Michigan on Thursday with his face uncovered. That was against the factory’s guidelines and the direct urging of the state’s attorney general.
During his visit, Mr. Trump continued to press for the further easing of social-distancing restrictions. He blamed Democrats for keeping the economy closed and suggested voters would punish them in the presidential election and view it as “a November question.”
Separately, Mr. Trump called on Thursday for flags at the White House, on public grounds across the country and on naval vessels to be flown at half-staff in honor of the victims of the coronavirus. It was a rare acknowledgment of the lives lost from an administration that typically likes to downplay the death toll and take credit for lives it claims it saved.
The federal government reported on Thursday that another 2.4 million American workers filed for jobless benefits last week, bringing the total to a staggering 38.6 million in nine weeks.
Reporting contributed by Javier C. Hernández, Keith Bradsher, Chris Buckley, Mike Ives, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, James Gorman, Cade Metz and Erin Griffith.