Coronavirus Live Updates: Restaurants in the U.S. Become a Hot Spot for Infection

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Scores of restaurants in the U.S. have had to temporarily close after outbreaks.

Across the United States this summer, restaurants and bars, reeling from mandatory lockdowns and steep financial declines, opened their doors to customers — but the short-term gains have led to broader losses.

Data from states and cities show that many community outbreaks of the coronavirus this summer have centered on restaurants and bars, often the largest settings to infect Americans.

In Louisiana, roughly a quarter of the state’s 2,360 cases since March that were outside of places like nursing homes and prisons have stemmed from bars and restaurants, according to state data. In Maryland, 12 percent of new cases last month were traced to restaurants, contact tracers there found, and in Colorado, 9 percent of overall cases have been traced to bars and restaurants.

It is unclear what percentage of workers transmitted the virus among themselves or to patrons, or whether customers brought in the virus. But the clusters are worrisome to health officials because many restaurant and bar employees across the country are in their 20s and can carry the virus home and possibly seed household transmissions, which have soared in recent weeks through the Sun Belt and the West.

Since late June, scores of popular restaurants throughout the country, including in Nashville, Las Vegas, Atlanta and Milwaukee, had to close temporarily because of cases among employees. Texas and Florida also had to close bars this summer after a surge of new cases hobbled those states. In a recent week in San Diego, 15 of the 39 new cases in community settings stemmed from restaurants. And in Washington, D.C., the number of cases has begun to climb since the city reopened indoor dining.

In New York City and many other places, indoor dining, which has proved far more dangerous than outdoor eating, remains banned. Epidemiologists roundly agree that indoor dining, especially in bars, is far more likely to spawn outbreaks than outdoor settings.

The British economy sunk into its deepest recession on record in the second quarter, taking it back to the size it was in 2003. Official statistics showed gross domestic product dropped by 20.4 percent between April and June, compared with the previous quarter.

The pandemic-induced collapse was harsher in Britain than other large economies in Europe and North America. The second-quarter fall in economic output was twice as deep in Britain as in the United States.

Britain has the challenge of getting out of a much deeper hole because of the length of the lockdown imposed to restrict the spread of the coronavirus. The Office for National Statistics said lockdown measures were in place in Britain for a larger part of this three-month period than they were for other economies. Britain was relatively slow in introducing a national lockdown compared with most of its European neighbors. It started in earnest in late March and the government didn’t begin lifting the broadest restrictions until mid-June. Its lockdowns also affected a greater share of the population for a longer period of time than the state-by-state shutdowns in the United States.

A monthly breakdown showed the British economy did pick up in June, climbing 8.7 percent from May as construction activity resumed and consumer spending rebounded. Still, the Bank of England said last week it didn’t expect the recovery to be complete until the end of 2021.

In an effort to keep the recovery from stalling, the government is encouraging people to return to work in offices and it is planning for schools to reopen next month. The Treasury also spent more than 53 million pounds ($69 million) last week as part of a stimulus plan paying for discounts for meals eaten in restaurants and pubs on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays this month.

Tens of millions of out-of-work Americans are waiting to find out whether their enhanced unemployment benefits will be restored. The school year is underway in some states, without the promise of federal dollars to ease the challenge of keeping children safe during a pandemic. Clusters of coronavirus cases are continuing to emerge across the country, underscoring the severity of a crisis that will not end soon.

On Capitol Hill, all was quiet.

Technically, both chambers of Congress were present in Washington on Tuesday. The House was gaveled in for two minutes, long enough to approve the journal of proceedings, recite the Pledge of Allegiance and leave until Friday.

The Senate, in turn, stayed in session for just shy of 90 minutes, long enough for the Republican and Democratic leaders to lament the crisis at hand and accuse the other side of an unwillingness to return to negotiations over a coronavirus relief package.

August is typically a quiet affair for Congress: Few want to remain in the blistering Washington heat, so most lawmakers and aides flee for the month, slipping away for a few moments of vacation, stretches of campaigning and, in a normal presidential election year, weeks of convention pageantry.

But five days after negotiations over a relief package between the White House and Democratic leaders crumbled in the Capitol suite of Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, leaving unresolved an issue of overriding importance to Americans, the gulf between the state of the nation and Washington’s rhythms was especially stark.

Parts of New Zealand were back under a partial lockdown on Wednesday, a day after officials confirmed the country’s first locally transmitted cases of the coronavirus in months.

Four people from the same family were found to be infected from an unknown source, Dr. Ashley Bloomfield, the country’s top health official, said on Tuesday. The first case in the new cluster was a person living in South Auckland who had no history of traveling abroad, he said. New Zealand officials identified another confirmed case and four probable ones on Wednesday. Dr. Bloomfield said the country’s total number of active cases was now 22.

Officials were looking into the possibility that the virus had been imported by freight. Dr. Bloomfield told reporters that surfaces were being testing at a storage facility in Auckland where a man from the infected family worked.

“We know the virus can survive within refrigerated environments for quite some time,” Dr. Bloomfield said.

The new cases immediately triggered Level 3 restrictions in Auckland for three days, which means residents were instructed to stay home other than for essential personal movements, while the rest of the country would follow social-distancing measures. The authorities set up checkpoints on the main highway out of Auckland to prevent people from leaving the city.

All of the country’s nursing homes have also been placed under a Level 4 lockdown, meaning that no visitors are allowed, the broadcaster Radio New Zealand reported on Wednesday.

“I realize how incredibly difficult this will be for those who have loved ones in these facilities, but it’s the strongest way we can protect and look after them,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. She added that the authorities were releasing five million masks from a central supply, even though masks are not mandatory in Auckland.

The nation of five million declared itself free from the coronavirus in June after strict lockdown measures, and had been hailed as a model of successfully fighting the virus. But imported cases were later confirmed.

In other news from around the world:

  • The state of Victoria, which is experiencing Australia’s worst outbreak, reported a daily record of 21 deaths on Wednesday, with 16 of them linked to outbreaks in nursing homes. Victoria also reported 410 new cases, and its capital, Melbourne, remained under a strict lockdown. Victoria’s premier, Daniel Andrews, said he worried that the outbreak might spread to other parts of the state. “This is really an endurance test,” he said. “We need to stay the course.”

  • The top U.S. health official, Alex M. Azar II, attacked China’s handling of the pandemic on Tuesday during a rare high-level visit to Taiwan that threatened to further fray ties between Beijing and Washington. “The Chinese Communist Party has had the chance to warn the world and work with the world on battling the virus,” Mr. Azar said in Taipei on Tuesday. “But they chose not to, and the costs of that choice mount higher every day.” Beijing claims Taiwan as its territory and underlined its opposition to official exchanges like Mr. Azar’s visit by sending two fighter jets toward the island just before the talks.

  • Pranab Mukherjee, 84, a former president of India who tested positive for the coronavirus this week during a hospital visit for brain surgery, was put on a ventilator on Tuesday after his health deteriorated, The Hindustan Times reported. As of Wednesday morning, India had 45,257 deaths and more than 2.2 million cases, according to a New York Times database.

  • Singapore said on Tuesday that most migrant workers in the city-state could return to work — but also that there had been new infections in cleared migrant dorms. Migrant workers have accounted for the vast majority of Singapore’s 55,353 cases, and a recent spate of suicides and attempted suicides in their dorms has heightened concerns about their mental health during the pandemic.

The top U.S. health official praises Taiwan’s response to the virus.

Alex M. Azar II, the United States’ top health official, used a high-profile trip to Taiwan this week to contrast the island’s response to the pandemic with that of China.

During the visit, which began on Sunday, Mr. Azar, the secretary of health and human services, met with top Taiwanese officials, including infectious disease experts and President Tsai Ing-wen, to discuss health cooperation and the island’s widely praised response to its coronavirus epidemic.

“Taiwan’s response to Covid-19 has been among the most successful in the world, and that is a tribute to the open, transparent, democratic nature of Taiwan’s society and culture,” he said in remarks at the Taiwanese presidential office on Monday.

Mr. Azar’s visit, which included a stop at the official memorial for Lee Teng-hui, a former Taiwanese president who led the island’s democratization and died last month, was designed to showcase America’s robust friendship with the self-ruled island at a time of fast-fraying U.S.-China relations.

Mr. Azar, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the territory since 1979, spoke pointedly at turns about China’s “bullying” behavior — citing, for example, its move earlier this year to block Taiwan from participating as an observer in the World Health Assembly.

“The Chinese Communist Party had the chance to warn the world and work with the world on battling the virus,” he said, referring to the initial outbreak in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. “But they chose not to, and the costs of that choice mount higher every day.”

Beijing, which sees Taiwan as the most sensitive issue in U.S.-China relations, underlined its opposition to official exchanges like Mr. Azar’s visit on Monday by sending two fighter jets toward the island. The visit is among the latest flash points in the Sino-U.S. relationship, which has reached its lowest point since 1979.

For Taiwan, the trip was a diplomatic coup. Relations between Beijing and Taipei have soured in recent years, prompting Taiwan’s government to seek closer ties with informal allies like the U.S., the island’s most powerful military backer.

“Beijing has created this dynamic in which Taipei has nothing to gain by complying with or moderating its ties with the U.S.,” said Shelley Rigger, an expert on Taiwanese politics at Davidson College in North Carolina. “There is no reason to imagine that anything they do is ever going to satisfy the other side.”

During his trip, Mr. Azar caused a small outcry when he referred to Ms. Tsai during a meeting at the Presidential Office as “President Shee,” which sounded uncomfortably like “President Xi,” or Xi Jinping, China’s leader. The local news media pounced on the slip-up.

Mr. Azar, who corrected his pronunciation on subsequent references, later said it was an accident.

President Vladimir V. Putin’s announcement on Tuesday that Russia had approved a coronavirus vaccine — with no evidence from large-scale clinical trials — was worrying to vaccine experts.

“This is all beyond stupid,” said John Moore, a virologist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. “Putin doesn’t have a vaccine, he’s just making a political statement.”

Carl Zimmer, a science reporter for The New York Times, spoke to experts who said that Russia is taking a dangerous step by jumping ahead of so-called Phase 3 trials, which can determine that the vaccine works better than a placebo and doesn’t cause harm to some people who get it.

The timing of Russia’s announcement makes it “very unlikely that they have sufficient data about the efficacy of the product,” said Natalie Dean, a biostatistician and infectious disease expert at the University of Florida who has warned against rushing the vaccine-approval process. Dr. Dean noted that even vaccines that have produced promising data from early trials in humans have flopped at later stages.

Russia’s minister of health, Mikhail Murashko, said on Wednesday that allegations that the country’s vaccine was unsafe were groundless and driven by competition, the Interfax news agency reported.

Dr. Nicole Lurie, a former assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and currently an adviser at the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, said the lesson that the U.S. government should draw from Mr. Putin’s announcement was clear.

“This is exactly the situation that Americans expect our government to avoid,” she said.

Reporting was contributed by Damien Cave, Emily Cochrane, Isabella Kwai, Eshe Nelson, Amy Qin, Karan Deep Singh, Jennifer Steinhauer, Elaine Yu and Carl Zimmer.

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