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Summer Olympics postponed, India on lockdown: Tuesday’s coronavirus news

What you need to know in today’s coronavirus news.

Two people in silhouette beneath the Olympic rings symbol standing in an open park.
Olympic Park in London, England. The International Olympic Committee postponed the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to summer 2021.
Justin Setterfield/Getty Images
Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

Worldwide, the number of novel coronavirus cases is around 400,000. In the United States, more than 46,000 cases have been confirmed as of March 24. New York City remains the epicenter, with more than 13,000 of the state’s over 20,000 cases. Those numbers, which were up to date as of the evening of March 23, will undoubtedly rise.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is now warning that America may become the new epicenter of the novel coronavirus.

Overseas, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced strict measures in the United Kingdom to keep people home, making exceptions to buy necessities, perform essential work, or exercise. In Japan, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and the International Olympic Committee finally agreed to postpone the 2020 Olympics. And in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi just announced a 21-day lockdown for the entire country — 1.3 billion people.

Here’s what to know today.

The World Health Organization says the US might be the new epicenter

A WHO official said Tuesday that “we are now seeing a very large acceleration” of Covid-19 cases in the United States, and that 40 percent of the new cases recorded in the past 24 hours are within the United States. The death toll in the US is now nearly 600.

First, China, specifically Wuhan, was the epicenter. Then Italy. But the grim reality that the United States could be next still hasn’t sunk in everywhere. More states — Louisiana and New Mexico have joined the list — are adopting strict stay-at-home measures, but the rules are still a patchwork across the US.

And President Donald Trump and others have begun to question the critical social distancing measures intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus, suggesting they might not be worth the cost to the economy.

“Our country wasn’t built to be shut down. This is not a country that was built for this,” Trump said at a Monday night press conference. “America will again and soon be open for business. Very soon. A lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting.”

As Vox’s Nicole Narea pointed out, Trump may be getting impatient with the coronavirus, but his eagerness to reopen the economy defies what public health experts say needs to be done to try to curb its spread and try to save the US health care system from being inundated and pushed past capacity.

The United Kingdom orders people to stay at home

On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new orders that would keep the British public home unless “absolutely necessary” for them to go out. The rules would ban social gatherings or ceremonies, including weddings; and close houses of worship, gyms, bars, and restaurants, except for takeout or delivery.

People are allowed to leave their homes to get food and/or medical necessities, perform essential work, seek medical care, or exercise, such as walk or run or cycle, but must do so solo or with other members of their household.

Johnson called the novel coronavirus “the biggest threat this country has faced for decades” in issuing these orders, calling for a huge national effort to halt the coronavirus.

“To put it simply, if too many people become seriously unwell at one time, the NHS will be unable to handle it, meaning more people are likely to die, not just from coronavirus but from other illnesses, as well,” Johnson said. “So it’s vital to slow the spread of the disease.”

Johnson said police would help enforce these rules, either issuing fines or breaking up gatherings. The policy will remain in effect for three weeks and will be reevaluated at that time, he said.

The UK has more than 6,700 cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, as of March 24. The UK had been a bit slower to adopt some of the social distancing measures that other European countries did, including considering a controversial “herd immunity” approach that scientists and experts decried as dangerous.

The UK shifted course to encourage social distancing measures, and now it’s echoing other countries in explicitly ordering people to stay home.

And so does India — all 1.3 billion people

India will be under lockdown for 21 days. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Tuesday he was placing a “total ban of coming out of your homes” on the entire country, which would stay in place for 21 days.

“Every district, every lane, every village will be under lockdown,” he said. “If you can’t handle these 21 days, this country will go back 21 years.”

This order will cover all of India’s 1.3 billion people, or about one-fifth of the world’s population. Indian officials had put some places under strict lockdown orders, including New Delhi, and had banned all domestic flights earlier this week. But this dramatically expands the order as the country prepares for the coronavirus. India has more than 500 confirmed coronavirus cases as of March 24.

Tokyo 2021?

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and the International Olympic Committee finally faced reality and announced that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be postponed from the original start date of July 24.

“In the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the WHO today, the IOC President and the Prime Minister of Japan have concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community,” the IOC said in a press statement on Tuesday.

The decision comes as the IOC was under increasing pressure to delay the games amid the global coronavirus outbreak, especially since so many other sports competitions with far less international reach have delayed or canceled their seasons.

Sport governing bodies openly asked the IOC to postpone, as quarantine measures across the world have prevented athletes from training or even being able to participate in qualifying rounds. Individual countries began to say they would not send athletes to the games in 2020, given the risks.

This forced the IOC over the weekend to say it would make a decision on possible postponement in four months, but amid pressure, Japan and the IOC finally gave in and said the games would be rescheduled. Abe said the games would be held in 2021 at the latest.

And some good news

Sports have been canceled, which means athletes, spectators, and gamblers have little to do. (Well, for gamblers, there’s the weather, apparently.) Sports commentators also have pretty much nothing to do, but one rugby announcer (who also wanted to be a comedy writer) found a way to entertain himself and everyone else by adding some color commentary to everyday life in London.

Nick Heath began posting these videos, which have him enthusiastically calling banal, everyday events — which, in this age of coronavirus and stay-at-home orders, feel more special than usual.

Here are a few gems he’s posted in the past week:

Of course, now that Johnson has instituted strict stay-at-home rules, those Keepy Uppy finals are finished. Heath conceded as much on Monday.