They are the first line of defense against the COVID-19 pandemic, but in parts of Mexico, doctors, nurses and other health workers are being harassed to the point that federal authorities have pleaded for Mexicans to show solidarity.
While tributes to courageous medical personnel putting themselves in the virus' path circle the globe, Mexico and some other places have seen disturbing aggression born of fear.
Recently, a hospital in Guadalajara — Mexico's second-largest city — were told to wear civilian clothes to and from work rather than their scrubs or uniforms because some public buses refused to allow them to board. Other medical personnel have reported attacks and this week someone threw flammable liquid on the doors of a new hospital under construction in the northern border state of Nuevo Leon.
"There have been cases, you could say isolated, but all outrageous," Mexican undersecretary of health Hugo López-Gatell said Monday night. "Fear produces irrational reactions, reactions that make no sense, have no foundation and have no justification when they have to do with respecting the dignity and the physical integrity of people."
It also comes as the Mexican government has embarked in a massive recruiting drive to bolster the thin ranks of its public health system before the virus hits with its full force.
"It's even more outrageous when it concerns the health professionals that we all depend on in this moment, because they are on the front lines facing this epidemic," López-Gatell said. "The declaration is of indignation and a demand that this not occur because it is completely punishable, sanctionable and won't be allowed."
Mexico has nearly 2,800 confirmed COVID-19 infections and 141 deaths. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Authorities were moved to speak out publicly because the incidents have continued spreading. Harassment of medical personnel in the western city of Guadalajara became a daily occurrence in recent weeks.
Edith Mujica Chávez, president of Jalisco state's Interinstitutional Commission of Nurses, denounced the attacks including physical aggression, verbal harassment and even having bleach solutions thrown at nurses.
In a letter to Gov. Enrique Alfaro, her organization asked for help and public condemnation of the attacks.
"We all know we are potentially at risk in public health, but violence can never be tolerated, even though we are afraid of catching coronavirus," the letter said. "We have to maintain our mental health and share information so that they know nurses are not enemies of society."
A group of cab drivers calling themselves "Code Red" in that city banded together to offer free or reduced cost rides to health workers.
But the attacks haven't been limited to that city.
A nurse in the city of Merida, Yucatan wrote on Facebook of a recent attack.
"While I was waiting for my ride, two people on a motorcycle threw an egg at my uniform," wrote Rafael Ramírez, who works at a public health clinic in Merida. "I didn't think these kinds of things happened in our city. I felt powerless not being able to do anything while they rode on laughing."
"We don't deserve it," he wrote. "Am I afraid to go to work? Of course I am."
In the central state of Morelos late last month, residents of the rural community of Axochiapan protested outside their local hospital, which they heard might be used to treat coronavirus patients. When the hospital director came out to say nothing had been decided yet, a man shouted that they would burn the hospital down.
The hospital attacked this week in Sabinas Hidalgo, Nuevo Leon had been turned over to the military to receive COVID-19 patients.
"To threaten the physical safety of medical personnel or to affect the functioning and operation of the hospital infrastructure dedicated in this moment to the health emergency puts at risk the capacity of response that the population requires,"said Víctor Hugo Borja, director of medical services for Mexico's public health system.
Mexico is not the only place seeing such harassment of medical personnel.
In Argentina, each night residents go out to their balconies or windows to applaud those working in the health system. But in one incident, a group of residents in an apartment building advised a doctor living there that she not be in the building's common spaces or risk legal consequences. They told her to "not touch door handles, stairway railings and to not be on the terrace."
In another case, a pharmacist found a sign on his building's elevator telling him he should leave the building to not spread the virus to his neighbors. He reported it to authorities.
Victoria Donda, head of Argentina's National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism, said doctors and nurses were among an "enormous quantity of cases of discrimination" they are receiving related to the pandemic.
"We can't applaud at 9 at night and discriminate at 9 in the morning," she said. "We have to inform ourselves well so that the emotions that burst forth are not irrational in this emergency and we don't let fear overtake us."
An aerial survey of the Great Barrier Reef shows coral bleaching is sweeping across the area off the east of Australia for the third time in five years.
Bleaching has struck all three regions of the world's largest coral reef system and is more widespread than ever, scientists from James Cook University in Queensland state said Tuesday.
The air surveys of 1,036 reefs in the past two weeks found bleached coral in the northern, central and southern areas, James Cook University professor Terry Hughes said.
"As summers grow hotter and hotter, we no longer need an El Nino event to trigger mass bleaching at the scale of the Great Barrier Reef," Hughes said. "Of the five events we have seen so far, only 1998 and 2016 occurred during El Nino conditions."
El Nino is a climate pattern that starts with a band of warm ocean water in the central and east-central Pacific around the equator and affects global weather.
The Great Barrier Reef is made up of 2,900 separate reefs and 900 islands. It is unable to recover because there is not enough time between bleaching events.
"We have already seen the first example of back-to-back bleaching — in the consecutive summers of 2016 and 2017," Hughes said, adding that the number of reefs spared from bleaching is shrinking as it becomes more widespread.
He said underwater surveys will be carried out later in the year to assess the extent of damage.
In early March, David Wachenfeld, chief scientist at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, said the reef was facing a critical period of heat stress over the coming weeks following the most widespread coral bleaching the natural wonder has ever endured.
The authority, the government agency that manages the coral expanse off northeast Australia, said ocean temperatures over the next month would be crucial to how the reef recovers from heat-induced bleaching.
"The forecasts ... indicate that we can expect ongoing levels of thermal stress for at least the next two weeks and maybe three or four weeks," Wachenfeld said in a weekly update on the reef's health.
"So this still is a critical time for the reef and it is the weather conditions over the next two to four weeks that will determine the final outcome," he said.
Ocean temperatures across most of the reef were 0.5 to 1.5 degrees Celsius (0.9 to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above the March average.
In parts of the marine park in the south close to shore that avoided the ravages of previous bleachings, ocean temperatures were 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) above average.
The authority had received 250 reports of sightings of bleached coral due to elevated ocean temperatures during an unusually hot February.
The 345,400-square kilometer (133,360-square mile) World Heritage-listed colorful coral network has been devastated by four coral bleaching events since 1998. The most deadly were the most recent, in those consecutive summers of 2016 and 2017.
New York City's death toll from the coronavirus rose past 4,000 on Tuesday, eclipsing the number killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11. In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson lay in intensive care, believed to be the first major world leader hospitalized with the virus.
The twin developments came even as the crisis seemed to be easing or at least stabilizing, by some measures, in New York and parts of Europe, though health officials warned people at nearly every turn not to let their guard down. After 76 days, China finally lifted the lockdown on Wuhan, the city of 11 million where the outbreak began.
COVID-19's toll in New York City is now more than 1,000 deaths higher than that of the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil, which killed 2,753 people in the city and 2,977 overall, when hijacked planes slammed into the twin towers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001.
New York state recorded 731 new coronavirus deaths, its biggest one-day jump yet, for a statewide toll of nearly 5,500, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
"A lot of pain again today for many New Yorkers," he said.
But in an encouraging sign, the governor said hospital admissions and the number of those receiving breathing tubes are dropping, indicating that social distancing measures are succeeding.
And alarming as the one-day increase in deaths might sound, the governor said that's a "lagging indicator," reflecting people who had been hospitalized before this week. Over the past several days, in fact, the number of deaths in New York appeared to be leveling off.
"You see that plateauing — that's because of what we are doing. If we don't do what we are doing, that is a much different curve," Cuomo said. "So social distancing is working."
Still, 6-foot (2-meter) social distancing has become impossible at times in the city's subway system.
With service drastically reduced, essential workers are encountering some busy trains as they head to their jobs. Photos taken in Brooklyn showed riders sitting or standing within inches of each other, some not wearing face masks.
Across the U.S., the death toll neared 13,000, with close to 400,000 confirmed infections. Some of the deadliest hot spots were Detroit, New Orleans and the New York metropolitan area, which includes parts of Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut. New Jersey recorded over 1,200 dead, most of them in the northern counties where many residents commute into New York City.
In London, the 55-year-old Johnson was in stable condition and conscious at a hospital, where he was receiving oxygen but was not on a ventilator, officials said. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was designated to run the country in the meantime.
"For all of us in Cabinet, he is not just our boss. He's also a colleague, and he's also our friend," Raab said. "And I'm confident he'll pull through, because if there's one thing I know about this prime minister, he's a fighter."
Deaths in Britain reached nearly 6,200, after a one-day increase of almost 800.
President Donald Trump trained his anger at the World Health Organization and threatened to freeze U.S. funding for it, saying the international group had "missed the call" on the pandemic and that it was "very China-centric."
Throughout his presidency, Trump has voiced skepticism toward many international organizations and has repeatedly heaped scorn on the WHO. In its most recent budget proposal in February, his administration called for slashing the U.S. contribution to the WHO from an estimated $122.6 million to $57.9 million.
Trump suggested the WHO had gone along with Beijing's efforts months ago to minimize the severity of the outbreak. The WHO has praised China for its transparency on the virus, even though some public health experts regard the country's figures with suspicion.
"They should have known and they probably did know," Trump said of WHO officials.
On Wall Street, a strong rally propelled by signs that the outbreak may be leveling off in some hard-hit parts of the world evaporated after the price of crude oil suddenly fell. Stocks ended the day slightly lower.
Elsewhere, Chinese authorities ended the lockdown on Wuhan, and tens of thousands of residents traveled in and out of the sprawling industrial city. Residents must use a cellphone app showing that they are healthy and have not been in recent contact with anyone confirmed to have the virus.
China, which officially recorded more than 82,000 infections and over 3,300 deaths, reported 62 new cases — 59 of them brought from outside the country — and two additional deaths Wednesday.
In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a monthlong state of emergency in Tokyo and six other prefectures because of a spike of infections in the country with the world's oldest population. The order will close night entertainment.
"My lifestyle will change. These are difficult times" said Yoshiyuki Kataoka, 44, a nightlife industry worker. "Maybe I'll become a recluse."
In some European hot spots, as in New York, authorities saw signs that the outbreak was turning a corner, based on slowdowns in new deaths and hospitalizations.
In Spain, new deaths Tuesday rose to 743 and infections climbed by 5,400 after five days of declines, but the increases were believed to reflect a weekend backlog. Authorities said they were confident in the downward trend.
In Italy, with over 16,500 deaths, authorities appealed to people ahead of Easter weekend not to lower their guard and to abide by a lockdown now in its fifth week, even as new cases dropped to a level not seen since the early weeks of the outbreak.
In France, the number of dead passed the bleak milestone of 10,000, climbing to more than 10,300, said Jerome Salomon, national health director.
"We are in the epidemic's ascendant stage," he said. "We have not yet reached the peak." But he offered a glimpse of hope, saying the virus rate is "slowing a little."
In the U.S., Surgeon General Jerome Adams said that if Americans continue to practice social distancing for the rest of April, "we will be able to get back to some sense of normalcy."
One lockdown exception was Wisconsin, which asked hundreds of thousands of voters to ignore a stay-at-home order to participate in its presidential primary Tuesday.
Lines were particularly long in Milwaukee, the state's largest city and a Democratic stronghold, where just five of 180 traditional polling places were open. Many voters statewide did not wear facial coverings.
Worldwide, about 1.4 million people have been confirmed infected and over 80,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. The true numbers are almost certainly much higher, because of limited testing, different rules for counting the dead and deliberate underreporting by some governments.
For most people, the virus causes mild to moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. But for some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia. About 300,000 people have recovered worldwide, by Johns Hopkins' count.
One of the main models on the outbreak, from the University of Washington, is projecting about 82,000 U.S. deaths through early August, with the highest number on April 16.
The global death toll from coronavirus has reached 82,074 as of Wednesday morning.
There have been 1,431,689 confirmed cases around the world after the highly contagious disease was first reported in China in December last, according to worldometer.
Of those infected, 1,047, 470 are currently being treated with 47,891 being in serious or critical condition.
So far, 302,145 people have recovered.
The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus crisis a pandemic on March 11.
Bangladesh on Tuesday reported five more coronavirus deaths and 41 new cases. The country has so far confirmed 164 cases and 17 deaths.
As cars queued up at expressway toll gates and passengers prepared to board trains to leave Wuhan, the central Chinese city, hard-hit by the novel coronavirus outbreak, lifted outbound travel restrictions, dismantled traffic control checkpoints, and resumed operation of railways, airports, waterways, highways and buses in an orderly way from Wednesday after almost 11 weeks of lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19.
On Jan. 23, Wuhan declared unprecedented traffic restrictions, including suspending the city's public transport and all outbound flights and trains, in an attempt to contain the epidemic.
A staff member removes barricades near an expressway toll station in northern Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, April 8, 2020.
Aerial photo taken on April 8, 2020 shows cars passing an expressway toll station in western Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province.
Cars prepare to pass an expressway toll station in western Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, April 8, 2020
Passengers wait in line for train K81 at Wuchang Railway Station in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, April 8, 2020