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The State Of The Pandemic In France, Iraq, India


While the U.S. has been experiencing a surge in new COVID-19 cases lately, it is definitely not the only country seeing a spike in coronavirus infection rates. Cases are rising in a number of European nations, for example, leading governments there to once again impose measures to try to contain the spread of the virus. So we're checking in, as we've been doing from time to time, to see how other countries are faring through all this. And we're going to start with France and NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

Eleanor, welcome back. Thanks for joining us.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Oh, it's a great pleasure, Michel.

MARTIN: So COVID cases are surging in France and elsewhere in Europe. Politicians are trying to cut infection levels while trying to avoid those lockdown measures again that damaged...


MARTIN: ...The economy. So what's the strategy in France?

BEARDSLEY: Well, the strategy in France, because the government really does not want to confine the whole country again, is to install curfews in nine cities, and Paris is one of them. So it started yesterday, and now at 9:00 p.m., you have to be home. And it was really strange to see pictures of just a deserted Paris last night at, you know, 9:00 p.m. on a Saturday night.

You know, France had 32,000 cases in the last 24 hours. That's double from two weeks ago. And the hospitals are starting to fill up with COVID patients. And this is a measure - they're going to keep the curfew for four to six weeks. And they're just really hoping and praying that it's going to have an effect and flatten the curve.

MARTIN: And France, as I understand it, is a very centralized country where the national government, you know, does call most of the shots on a crisis like this. But that's not the same in other countries. So what about Germany and Britain? And how are they dealing with their recent spikes?

BEARDSLEY: Exactly. Well, yeah, in France, what Macron says, the country kind of does. In Germany, it's different. But, you know, German Chancellor Angela Merkel - she's a scientist - and she's appealed directly to the German people to wear masks, distance. And now she's telling them, stay home. Meet with fewer people. We have to, you know, stop the spread of this virus. And she actually this week got the - Germany's 16 state governors to agree to tighter measures, which they will institute, you know, if the infection rate reaches a certain number.

You know, in Britain, Boris Johnson has been a bit chaotic. He's struggled from the beginning to articulate a long-term strategy or any kind of clear messages for the public. You know, he's sort of torn between the scientific advice and his convictions that personal freedoms have to be prioritized. So, you know, pubs and bars are closed now in Liverpool. And the brother of the mayor of Liverpool actually died from COVID on Friday night.

The country's, though, deeply divided since Brexit, and the coronavirus is widening those divisions. And, you know, as Johnson is pressuring cities in the north to close down, he's having a standoff with the mayor of Manchester, who's in the opposition Labour Party, who's resisting. He wants more financial support. So it doesn't seem very well-tuned. You know, Europe, at the peak of the first wave this spring, there were 32,000 cases a day. There are now three times that right now.

MARTIN: Wow. Well, thanks, Eleanor.

Let's go now to India, which is the second most-infected country in the world after the United States. Lauren Frayer is our India correspondent, although she happens to be stateside today, and she's with us now from New Jersey.

So, Lauren, what's the latest from India?

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Yeah. So, Michel, for months, India was where the virus was growing fastest. India had the highest daily tallies of new cases of anywhere in the world. Back in September, we were saying nearly 100,000 cases a day in India. Now we're seeing a decline, though. Today, there were 61,000 cases in India confirmed.

So India was on track to actually surpass the U.S. as the most infected in the world. Now it looks like that might not happen. We've seen a spike in cases in the U.S., and India is coming down. And they're right around the same level right now.

MARTIN: So does that mean that India is finally over the peak there?

FRAYER: It could be. This is very preliminary. It's just sort of in recent days and recent weeks these numbers have come down. But it has happened as testing has increased. So India is testing more than a million samples daily. So that's a promising trend. But the religious festival season is coming. There are big Hindu holidays - Dussehra, Diwali coming - and officials are cautioning against big crowds.

Now, if you've ever been to a festival in India, you will know social distancing is close to impossible. So that's a worry there. Another thing that happens in festival season is air pollution goes up, and we're going to see how that might complicate people in fighting COVID and recovering from COVID - that air pollution.

MARTIN: Sure. Thanks, Lauren.

So let's head to the Middle East and NPR's Jane Arraf, who is in Erbil in Northern Iraq right now. Jane, Iraq's official death toll from COVID-19 recently passed the 10,000 deaths mark.

So how much is the pandemic affecting life around the country? What's going on where you are?

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Well, Michel, there are no country-wide lockdowns. Iraq has one of the highest infection rates in the region. And if you go around a little bit, you can see why. There's very little social distancing. There are very few people wearing masks. Hugging and kissing are still very much the done thing. We were near Mosul yesterday, where we passed a funeral procession where there were crowds of people walking shoulder to shoulder behind an ambulance carrying the body of a man in his 40s who had died of COVID.

And at the police station, I asked the police why no one was wearing masks in the village. And he said, well, we survived ISIS. We can survive this. But as you can see from that death toll, a lot of people haven't survived. There's corruption and neglect, and the hospitals are a shambles. Orderlies haven't been paid in three months. I spoke to one Iraqi who had to find and transport oxygen canisters himself to his father's hospital bed every few hours for days before his dad finally died of COVID. And that's the case for thousands of relatives of patients.

MARTIN: And you recently traveled to Iraq from Jordan, which is also seeing a spike in cases. What's the situation there?

ARRAF: Well, it started off with one of the strictest lockdowns in the world - small country. And Jordan kept the contagion rate very low that way. But it's also a poor country, and it's where a lot of people are already struggling out of work. So Jordan reopened businesses and restaurants, and the infection rates have soared.

Their solution now is to have complete lockdowns on weekends, people not allowed to leave their homes on those days where a lot of people were going to the mosque or gathering with extended family. But there's still a major source of transmission through funerals and even secret weddings, which are very hard to crack down on.

MARTIN: Jane, before we let you go, can I just go back to Iraq for a second? I was just struck by what you said with the police officer, the security guard saying, hey, we survived ISIS. We can survive this. Is that the mood there? I mean, is there just a sense of resignation that this can't be fought? Or how would you describe it?

ARRAF: It's really interesting. You know, I don't think it's just Iraq. I think it's pretty much everywhere that I see in the Middle East, where it's probably a combination of resignation and we're leaving this to God's will and a little bit of we don't believe this is really a pandemic or a danger thrown into it, you know? This is a region where people don't trust their governments, so if the government is telling you to wear a mask and there's a pandemic, a lot of people aren't going to believe it.

MARTIN: That was NPR's Jane Arraf in Northern Iraq. And we also heard from NPR's Lauren Frayer, who covers India, and from Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

Thank you all so much for joining us.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Michel.

FRAYER: Thank you.

ARRAF: Thanks, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALLEM IVERSOM'S "BLUE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.
Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.
Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.