Home U.S. News Coronavirus Live Updates: In China, Loosened Restrictions Lead to Travel Rush

Coronavirus Live Updates: In China, Loosened Restrictions Lead to Travel Rush

Coronavirus Live Updates: In China, Loosened Restrictions Lead to Travel Rush

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The U.S. faces a high-stakes balancing act on reopening.

States across America are continuing to navigate a high-stakes balancing act, with some preparing to ease virus restrictions and others imposing new ones — all under the watchful eyes of stir-crazy residents eager to return to their favorite stores, restaurants and beaches.

In California, Florida and other coastal states, governors wrestled with squaring constituents’ demands for relief from the spring heat against the potentially lethal consequences of loosening social distancing rules in ways that might make beach blankets and lawn chairs new virus hot spots.

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California on Thursday shut down the beaches in Orange County, rolling back earlier attempts at giving people a chance to stroll along the shore while practicing social distancing. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan reinstated a state of emergency after her stay-at-home order became the focus of a partisan fight that saw protesters, some of them armed, enter the State Capitol. And governors in several states — including Alabama, Maine, Tennessee and Texas — planned to allow stay-at-home orders to expire, paving the way for certain businesses to reopen and ending an unparalleled month in which nine in 10 residents in the United States were told to stay at home to help stop the spread of the virus.

The reopening quandary represents a pivotal moment in America’s response to the virus. The number of deaths in the United States topped 60,000, with New Jersey reporting a higher daily death toll than any other state, and unemployment claims surpassed 30 million.

An E.U. report on coronavirus disinformation was not softened because of China’s protests, a top diplomat said.

Facing pointed criticism from lawmakers on Thursday, the European Union’s top diplomat denied that the bloc had softened a recent report on disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, under pressure from China.

The report, released late last week, described Chinese and Russian efforts to spread falsehoods and propaganda about the pandemic. But the language had been toned down amid strenuous objections from China, The New York Times reported, based on interviews, emails and documents.

The European Union’s senior diplomat, Josep Borrell, acknowledged that Chinese officials had objected to the report, but said such complaints “are the daily bread of diplomacy.” He said the revisions had been part of the normal editing process.

“There was no watering down of our findings,” Mr. Borrell said.

Lawmakers appeared skeptical. Thierry Mariani, a French member of the European Parliament, told Mr. Borrell that his team had been “caught with their hand in the cookie jar.”

The report comes at a time when the European Union hopes to win trade concessions from Beijing and restore a rich relationship once the pandemic has passed. German automakers and French farmers, along with other industries, rely heavily on exports to China.

The report was a routine roundup of publicly available information and news reports. The internal report, and a version that was drafted for public release, both dedicated separate sections to state-sponsored disinformation by China and Russia.

In the final version, those sections were folded into the rest of the report, and many examples of Chinese actions were grouped at the bottom, under the heading “Other selected activities.”

Key sentences from earlier versions were omitted, including: “China has continued to run a global disinformation campaign to deflect blame for the outbreak of the pandemic and improve its international image.” Other language was softened.

“Who interfered? Which Chinese official put pressure? At what level? What means of pressure?” asked Hilde Vautmans, a Belgian member of the European Parliament. “I think Europe needs to know that. Otherwise you’re losing all credibility.”

Mr. Borrell declined to answer that question or discuss the revisions that had been made in each draft.

A.I. specialists in London steered doctors toward a possible treatment.

CreditCredit…Scott Gelber

In late January, researchers at BenevolentAI, an artificial intelligence start-up in central London, turned their attention to the coronavirus.

Within two days, using technologies that can scour scientific literature related to the virus, they pinpointed a possible treatment with speed that surprised both the company that makes the drug and many doctors who had spent years exploring its effect on other viruses.

Called baricitinib, the drug was designed to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Though many questions hang over its potential use as a coronavirus treatment, it will soon be tested in an accelerated clinical trial with the United States’ National Institutes of Health. It is also being studied in Canada, Italy and other countries.

The specialists at BenevolentAI are among many A.I. researchers and data scientists around the world who have turned their attention to the coronavirus, hoping they can accelerate efforts to understand how it is spreading, treat people who have it and find a vaccine.

BenevolentAI quickly joined a race to identify drugs that can block the virus from entering the body’s cells. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, and many others labs are looking into similar treatments.

Over two days, a small team used the company’s tools to plumb millions of scientific documents in search of information related to the virus. The tools relied on one of the newest developments in artificial intelligence — “universal language models” that can teach themselves to understand written and spoken language by analyzing thousands of old books, Wikipedia articles and other digital text.

Through their software, they found that baricitinib might prevent the viral infection itself, blocking the way it enters cells. The company said it had no expectations for making money from the research and had no prior relationship with Eli Lilly, the company that makes baricitinib.

Dr. Dan Skovronsky, chief scientific officer at Eli Lilly, warned that it was still unclear what affect the drug would have on coronavirus patients. Even after the clinical trial, he said, it may not be clear whether the antiviral properties pinpointed by BenevolentAI are as effective as they might seem to be.

Reporting was contributed by Vivian Wang, Farah Mohamed, Matt Apuzzo, Niraj Chokshi, Cade Metz, Nina Siegal and Victoria Gomelsky. Research was contributed by Claire Fu.


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