The ‘gut punch’ of the pandemic’s latest wave
Experts warn that despite hope from Covid-19 vaccinations and a clearer path forward, it is much too soon to let down our guard.
Around the world, some political leaders are choosing not to impose restrictions, even in the face of climbing death rates. In Hungary, which reported 302 deaths on Wednesday, the highest there since the start of the pandemic, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said that his government will not tighten restrictions and is determined to continue moving to reopen society.
The U.S., where some states are in crisis mode, is a study in contrasts. In Michigan, a major hot spot, more than 2,200 Covid-19 patients statewide are hospitalized, a figure that has more than doubled since the beginning of March. Yet officials are relaxing mask rules and other measures designed to get the virus under control.
“Looking at numbers yesterday felt like a gut punch,” said one Michigan epidemiologist. “We’re going to have to go through this surge, and all this hard work again to get the numbers down.”
In memoriam: Bereaved families have filled a 6.5-foot-high wall on the southern bank of the Thames in London with thousands of painted hearts that they say will eventually contain about 150,000, for every person with Covid-19 marked on a death certificate in Britain.
In other developments:
‘They told us not to resist’
A senior United Nations official told the Security Council last week that more than 500 Ethiopian women had formally reported sexual violence in Tigray, although the actual toll is most likely far higher, she added. In the city of Mekelle, health workers say new cases emerge every day.
On Tuesday, addressing Ethiopia’s Parliament, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed publicly acknowledged that sexual assault had become an integral part of a war that he once promised would be swift and bloodless. “Anyone who raped our Tigrayan sisters, anybody who is involved in looting, will be held accountable in a court of law,” he said, appearing to implicate his own soldiers.
Personal account: Haben, a waitress in Mekelle, said she was raped with two other women in December at the cafe where they work. Her body is still covered in bruises from the assault. “They told us not to resist,” she recalled. “‘Lie down. Don’t shout.’”
Myanmar’s military targets the media
Myanmar’s security forces have arrested at least 56 reporters, outlawed online news outlets and crippled communications by cutting off mobile data service, as the military seeks to stamp out dissent after the coup.
With professional journalists under pressure, many young people have jumped into the fray, calling themselves citizen journalists and risking their lives to help document the military’s brutality. They take photographs and videos with their phones and share them online when they get access. It is a role so common now they are known simply as “CJs.”
The regime’s apparent goal is to turn back time to when the military ruled the country, the media was firmly in its grip and only the wealthiest people had access to cellphones and the internet. But the new generation of young people who grew up with the internet say they are not giving up their freedoms without a fight.
Quote: “They are targeting professional journalists, so our country needs more CJs,” said Ma Thuzar Myat, one of the citizen journalists. “I know I might get killed at some point for taking a video record of what is happening. But I won’t step back.”
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Other Big Stories
A growing group of Japanese lawmakers is calling for Japan to speak out against China’s treatment of Uyghurs, beyond expressions of “grave concerns,” despite the economic and geopolitical risks.
If the country were to fully join the effort to compel China to end its human rights abuses in Xinjiang, it would add a crucial Asian voice to what has otherwise been a Western campaign.
ARTS AND IDEAS
Communing with a masterpiece
Blake Gopnik, a critic for The Times, discovers the joy of visiting Covid-restricted art collections, giving him uninterrupted time with van Gogh and the gang. This is an edited excerpt.
The other morning, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Vincent van Gogh and I had a chat. It had been a long time since I’d tried to commune this deeply with his “Self-Portrait With a Straw Hat,” from 1887, one of the Met’s treasures.
For years, the crowd of admirers made it impossible to get near enough, for long enough, for us to achieve any real understanding. But over the last few months, with Covid restrictions severely limiting attendance, the world’s most famous museums have given their art a new opportunity to speak to us.
This is the moment to revisit their holdings: Even if special exhibitions start to fill up again, it will be awhile before crowds come to their permanent collections. As museums everywhere contemplate their post-Covid future, their Covid-troubled present carries us back to a glorious, more art-friendly past.
I won’t say I’m thankful to Covid for anything; a few wondrous hours with art can’t make up for what we’ve suffered. But as I think of all we’ve learned from our trials — how to wash our hands; how to treasure absent loved ones — I wonder if our most popular museums will take their own Covid lessons to heart.
Will they try to return to 2019 attendance and ticket receipts, or will they think back even further in time, to the encounters that people once had with the art?
If that means a limited supply of timed tickets, or rethinking and reversing decades of growth in buildings, budgets and programing, the works themselves will thank us for it. They were growing tired of constant socializing; they’ve been dying for some deep, one-on-one conversation.