Fake text messages said Trump was locking down America. Officials blame Chinese agents.
The alarming messages came fast and furious in mid-March, popping up on the phone screens and social media feeds of millions of Americans grappling with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Spread the word, the messages said: The Trump administration was about to lock down the entire country.
“They will announce this as soon as they have troops in place to help prevent looters and rioters,” warned one of the messages, which cited a source in the Department of Homeland Security. “He said he got the call last night and was told to pack and be prepared for the call today with his dispatch orders.”
Since that wave of panic, United States intelligence agencies have assessed that Chinese operatives helped push the messages across platforms, according to six American officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to publicly discuss intelligence matters. The amplification techniques are alarming to officials because the disinformation showed up as texts on many Americans’ cellphones, a tactic that several of the officials said they had not seen before.
That has spurred agencies to look at new ways in which China, Russia and other nations are using a range of platforms to spread disinformation during the pandemic, they said.
Last week, Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe announced that factories would reopen at reduced capacity, a rare bit of encouraging news for a nation that has been lashed by deadly hurricanes, a cholera outbreak and a horrific earthquake in just the past decade.
But with Haitian workers returning from the Dominican Republic — which has been hit hard by Covid-19 — the odds are stacked against the country and its weak health care system.
Most Haitians lack access to clean water, let alone soap, and many live in tightly packed slums where social distancing is impossible. The nation’s health care system is so threadbare that Haitians regularly die of easily treatable ailments like diarrhea.
Doctors estimate that the country will need 6,000 beds dedicated to Covid-19 patients. But the plan, which requires trained staff, personal protective equipment, as well as oxygen, is costly.
More than half of the population in Haiti lives hand-to-mouth, earning less than $2.41 per day, according to the World Bank. Experts say Haiti’s current low number of infections partly reflects the country’s dysfunction. Kidnappings have become so chronic that the United States issued a “do not travel” warning in early March.
But over recent weeks, thousands of Haitians have flooded back home each day from the Dominican Republic. Doctors have been screening at four official border checkpoints, but not at dozens of illegal crossings.
Watching the virus spread in the Dominican Republic next door, doctors worry an outbreak in Haiti would become comparable to the cholera epidemic that, starting in 2010, ripped through Haiti’s slums and tent camps, infecting more than 820,000.
A citizen journalist who disappeared in February after documenting the outbreak in Wuhan, China, said in a YouTube video that he had been released after a forcible quarantine.
The journalist, Li Zehua, had spent weeks interviewing stranded migrant workers and overburdened crematory employees — an attempt to show the toll the outbreak was taking on the city where it began.
But until his latest video surfaced on Wednesday evening, he had not spoken publicly since Feb. 26, when he streamed footage of men entering his apartment.
In the new video, Mr. Li, 25, described being chased by a white S.U.V. that night, and hiding in his apartment in the dark. He said that men who identified themselves as security officials eventually took him to a police station for interrogation.
The authorities later said they had decided not to investigate him, but that he would need to be quarantined because he had visited “sensitive areas,” Mr. Li said in the video.
Mr. Li, who became a citizen journalist after a brief career as a host on state-run television, said he was quarantined from late February until mid-March at a Wuhan hotel. He was given regular meals and allowed to watch state-run television, he said, then driven to his hometown and ordered to quarantine for another two weeks.
In previous videos, Mr. Li had urged other Chinese young people to “stand up” and said he was no longer willing to “shut my eyes.” But in his latest one, he did not criticize the government.
Calmly, and almost without emotion, he said that the police had treated him well.
Mr. Li’s disappearance followed those of two other citizen journalists, Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin, who had also filmed scenes of illness and death in Wuhan. Neither has reappeared.
President Trump on Wednesday said that he disagreed “strongly” with the Georgia governor’s decision to allow barbershops, nail salons and other businesses in the state to reopen this week.
“I think it’s too soon,” he said at a White House briefing.
Mr. Trump also said that the coronavirus “won’t be coming back in the form that it was” this fall or winter, then mused that it might not come back at all. But the government scientists flanking him at the White House news briefing explicitly disagreed with his predictions.
“There will be coronavirus in the fall,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious disease expert.
Here’s what else is happening in the U.S.:
California’s quest to retrace the early steps of the coronavirus entered a new phase Wednesday after officials linked the death of a 57-year-old woman in early February to the virus, placing it weeks before any other known death in the United States.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that Covid-19 could wreak havoc on the country anew next winter, with another wave coinciding with seasonal flu.
Rick Bright, the doctor who led the federal agency involved in developing a coronavirus vaccine said that he had been removed from his post. Dr. Bright, who had pressed for rigorous vetting of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug embraced by President Trump as a coronavirus treatment, accused the administration of putting “politics and cronyism ahead of science.”
President Trump signed an executive order imposing a 60-day halt in issuing green cards with numerous exemptions, including those for overseas spouses, guest workers and young children of American citizens.
The Education Department will prohibit colleges from granting emergency assistance to undocumented students, even those currently under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.
For decades, the oil rigs rising out of the North Sea off Scotland provided Britain with hundreds of thousands of jobs in a thriving industry and billions in tax revenue.
Oil companies are shelving investments worth billions of dollars. Staffing on the rigs has been cut, partly to reduce costs but also to provide some degree of social distancing on the often crowded platforms, putting those jobs at risk. At least two offshore workers have tested positive for coronavirus.
“We have gone through commodity swings and cycles of that nature, but this one is different,” said Jim House, chief executive of Neptune Energy, a private equity-backed oil and gas firm with production in both British and Norwegian waters. “We have never seen a world completely shut down,” he added.
More important, though, may be the impact on the future of the North Sea oil and gas industry. Its health depends on finding new undersea fields and bringing them into production, but if prices remain low, as some analysts think likely, that won’t happen.
The price of Brent crude, which was named for a North Sea oil field, has fallen by about 70 percent this year to just over $20 a barrel. Another type of crude, West Texas intermediate, shocked the industry when it fell into a negative price earlier this week.
These social media challenges are helping to keep boredom at bay.
With the coronavirus continuing to upend familiar rhythms of life, leaving schools shuttered, millions out of work and billions stuck at home, those looking for ways to pass the time are turning to social media challenges.
Some bring together families for choreographed dance routines while others spark the inner artist or unlock hidden engineering skills. All of them hold the promise of warding off boredom and — maybe — earning users a moment of online celebrity.
The #FliptheSwitch challenge began last month, when the lyrics “I just flipped the switch” from the Drake song “Nonstop” inspired a viral challenge on TikTok that eventually made its way to Instagram. People began swapping clothes, poses and sometimes attitudes when the lights are switched off and then back on.
Born in Warsaw in 1923, Joseph Feingold was 17 when the Nazis invaded Poland. He and his father, a shoemaker, were caught by the Russian army while fleeing to Poland’s Russian-occupied east, and sent to separate labor camps in Siberia. His mother and a younger brother both stayed behind and perished in concentration camps.
While he was at a displaced person’s camp near Frankfurt, Germany, Mr. Feingold spotted a violin at a flea market and traded cigarettes for it. He later brought it with him when he emigrated to New York.
Here are three others we’ve lost to Covid-19:
Liu Ouqing, 78, a former party secretary of the Wuhan Grain Bureau, helped ensure that the Chinese city had enough to eat.
Heherson Alvarez, 80, an activist who helped lead a campaign against the brutal regime of the Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, went on to serve in the national legislature.
Reporting was contributed by Jason Gutierrez, Raphael Minder, Steven Kurutz, Edward Wong, Matthew Rosenberg, Julian E. Barnes, Dan Levin, Vivian Wang, Ron DePasquale, Katrin Bennhold, Steven Kurutz, Derrick Bryson Taylor and Stanley Reed.