Your Wednesday Briefing – The New York Times


The country has around 125 confirmed cases, and it’s a bit of a puzzle how the world’s second-most-populous nation, with 1.3 billion people, has seemingly remained unscathed so far.

There could be many more cases in India than have been detected, because of the difficulties of getting tested. But it’s also possible that the country has actually managed to so far escape the worst — either because of quick and strict efforts right from the start, or another mix of factors.

The relative calm has fueled disbelief in some quarters that the virus is even a threat. Over the weekend in Lucknow, one of India’s bigger cities, young people packed into pubs. “I am not scared. I eat, party, sleep,” said Akshay Gupta, an accountant who was bar hopping on Saturday night. “The scare is overhyped.”

Elsewhere in Asia, countries have begun to impose strict measures, including lockdowns in the Philippines and Malaysia and the widespread closure of schools, businesses and entertainment venues in Thailand. Some nations face a worrisome rise in cases without health care systems that can deal with a major outbreak.

Melina caught up with Donald G. McNeil Jr., our infectious diseases reporter who has been covering epidemics for nearly two decades. He has been reporting on experts’ recommendations for what to do next.

You’ve said this is a crisis but it’s not unstoppable. How do we stop it?

We need to shut down all travel, as experts have said. And then we really aggressively tackle the clusters. People have got to stop shaking hands; people have got to stop going to bars and restaurants. New clusters are appearing every day.

It’s basically urgent that America imitates what China did. China had a massive outbreak in Wuhan, spreading all over the country, and they’ve almost stopped it. We can shut off the roads, flights, buses and trains. I don’t think we’ll ever succeed at doing exactly what China did. It’s going to cause massive social disruption because Americans don’t like being told what to do.

In places like China, Singapore and Taiwan, they’ve gone through SARS — they know how scary it is.

Is that what some countries are missing? This sense of collective action and selflessness?

That is absolutely what many Americans are missing — that it’s not about you right now. When I was a kid, my parents were in the World War II generation and there was more of a sense of, hey, we did something amazing; we ramped up this gigantic society effort. It was this sense of we’re all in this together.

We’ve got to realize that we’re all in this together and save each other’s lives. That has not penetrated yet and it needs to penetrate because we all have to cooperate.

The sad thing is: Most people — this has been true in every epidemic I’ve covered, whether it’s Zika in Puerto Rico or AIDS in South Africa — don’t believe in the disease until they see someone get sick and die from it, someone they know. And it’s too bad. It’s: Oh, that’s happening to those people over there; that’s happening in China; that’s not going to happen to us.

I imagine that after decades of covering epidemics, you understood Covid-19’s severity early on. Tell me about when this became serious for you.

I remember vividly — I went on vacation to Argentina, not thinking this was terribly serious: It sounds like an animal disease and it’s going to kill a limited number of people. By the time I came back, China admitted there was sustained human-to-human transmission. I started watching the case counts double and doing the math in my head, and I realized, oh my god. This is going pandemic.

When was that?

It was late January. I was on the subway, going from work to my girlfriend’s house, just sort of thinking about the numbers and realizing: Wait a minute, that doubling rate is so fast, there’s no way this isn’t going to become a pandemic. I started writing on a piece of notebook paper trying to see if I was crazy — and then went looking up the 1918 pandemic and realized that was the closest model to this.

Beijing announced that it would expel American journalists working for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, and also ban them from reporting in territories like Hong Kong and Macau.

It also demanded that those outlets, as well as the Voice of America and Time magazine, provide the government with information about their operations. The full scope of the directive was not immediately clear.

The latest move in the tit-for-tat campaign between Washington and Beijing comes at a moment when reporting on the coronavirus is a global, 24-hour operation for most news outlets. Last month China expelled three Wall Street Journal reporters from the country. President Trump responded this month by limiting the number of Chinese citizens who could work in the U.S. for five state-controlled Chinese news organizations.

Related: China has been cracking down on online anger toward the government for its handling of the coronavirus outbreak. A new internet police force is knocking on doors of suspected critics, subjecting them to hours of interrogation and in some cases forcing them to sign loyalty pledges.

Next month, the small Himalayan nation will become the first in the world to make yoga a required subject nationwide.

For many around the world in similar programs, it’s a healing and stress-reducing addition to a curriculum. But in a region where the exercises are increasingly intertwined with rising Hindu nationalism, some Muslims are worried.

Football: The European Championship, second only to the World Cup in international football, will be postponed until 2021.

Germany: A laptop sold on eBay for $100 was discovered to contain classified software for a surface-to-air rocket system used by the country’s air force.

Snapshot: A physicist is trying to disentangle the structural dynamics of bird nests using bamboo skewers, above. A nest is “a disordered stick bomb,” resilient in ways that humans have hardly begun to understand.

What we’re reading: This Harvard Business Review article about two new mothers who take very different paths going back to work in Sweden and the U.S. “Reading the two stories side by side shows just how dismally work-family policies in the U.S. measure up — if they’re there at all,” says Francesca Donner, the director of our Gender Initiative.

Cook: This rosemary, olive oil and orange cake is great for what our Food editor Sam Sifton calls “procrastibaking,” though “anxiety baking may be the better term of art these days.”

Shows for social distancing: Looking for a few hours of distraction between vigorous hand-washings? Need a moment away from Twitter? A musical mockumentary, an addiction sitcom, two true-crime docs and a pottery competition are here to help.

Read: Was there a murder on the Mayflower? In her new novel, “Beheld,” TaraShea Nesbit uses a death on the pilgrim ship to examine what life was like for women in the Plymouth Colony.

Smarter Living: Here are some ways to help your community combat the coronavirus while still practicing social distancing. For starters, donate — ideally money, not old cans — to your local food bank.

The pandemic is having a big impact on the world’s wallet. To understand the fallout, Times Insider spoke to Jeanna Smialek, who covers the Federal Reserve from Washington. Below is a condensed version of the conversation.

On Sunday, the Fed slashed interest rates to almost zero. How could that affect us going forward?

The move should help consumers borrow and spend. For example, it should make mortgages cheaper. But at the end of the day, nothing the Fed can do at this point is going to offset the full shock of coronavirus, because its tools are just not well suited to making up for lost work hours or helping employees who have missed out on paychecks.

Can nations work together to help the global economy rebound?

Central banks do not have the firefighting power that they had going into the 2008 financial crisis. Many central banks, like in Japan and in parts of Europe, already had very low or even negative interest rates. And so they just have less room to act to soften the economic blow.

What matters right now is what happens to the companies getting clobbered in the moment. Is this a short-term blip that is painful but not devastating? Or will this kill companies, thereby having greater repercussions for financial markets, and be much more long-lived in its pain?

If there’s one takeaway for readers on the global economy, what should it be?

It’s been said by every person on the planet at this point, but the single best thing for the global economy is for this virus to be contained. More than any fiscal or monetary package, the public health response here is most important.

That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Melina and Jonathan

Thank you
To Mark Josephson and Eleanor Stanford for the break from the news. You can reach the team at

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