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How TikTok’s Talks With Microsoft Turned Into a Soap Opera

SAN FRANCISCO — When Microsoft began talking this summer with the popular video app TikTok and its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, no one had any intentions of pursuing a blockbuster deal.

With tensions swirling between the United States and China, along with the complexities of running a social media company, any large acquisition appeared too treacherous to navigate. So Microsoft discussed taking a small stake in TikTok and becoming one of the app’s minority investors, said four people briefed on the conversations.

Even a small deal would be a win-win, the thinking went.

For Microsoft, a minority investment would potentially bring TikTok over to using its Azure cloud computing service, immediately making the app one of Microsoft’s biggest cloud clients, said the people, who declined to be identified because the details are confidential. (TikTok has been using Google’s cloud computing services to power its videos.)

For ByteDance and TikTok, a deal with Microsoft could help propel the valuation of the app’s business outside China to as high as $80 billion, the people said. It would also provide TikTok with the endorsement of a blue-chip American company to mollify the Trump administration, which had called TikTok’s Chinese ties a national security threat.

Yet what started as discussions about a small investment morphed into a big, messy, political soap opera. Pushed by President Trump, who has ordered TikTok’s U.S. operations to be sold or to cease operating, ByteDance is now discussing selling parts of TikTok’s global operations to several potential bidders. And with so many groups jumping into the talks to get a piece of any deal, all are trying to drive their own interests and agendas.

Apart from Microsoft, the bidders include Oracle, the enterprise software company, the people with knowledge of the talks said. Bankers and investors, some authorized and some simply trying to gin up a deal, have also called Netflix and Twitter about buying TikTok, they said, though it is unclear if those companies have a genuine interest in an acquisition. Microsoft, with the deepest resources and a market value of more than $1.6 trillion, still appears the furthest along for now, the people said.

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Credit…Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

The sale scenarios on the table are head-spinning, the people said, because all of the parties — ByteDance, TikTok, their investors, and the bidders — want to get the most out of any deal. The talks have covered everything from selling just TikTok’s North American operations all the way to every part of TikTok, minus ByteDance’s Chinese-only video app Douyin, they said.

A deal price is unclear, though numbers have ranged from $20 billion to $50 billion depending on what parts of TikTok will be sold, the people said. The talks are fluid and no deal may ultimately be reached.

Even if one does take place, a TikTok sale — which has become a referendum on the U.S.-China relationship — may still be disrupted if Beijing or Mr. Trump weigh in. Mr. Trump has been highly involved, including talking to Microsoft’s chief executive, Satya Nadella, and saying that Oracle could handle buying TikTok. In an Aug. 6 executive order, he imposed a deadline for TikTok’s U.S. operations to be sold by Sept. 15.

On Monday, TikTok sued the U.S. government, arguing that the executive order had deprived it of due process. The suit could give TikTok more time to operate in the United States if the courts order it, a stalling tactic that may help the app wait it out past the Nov. 3 election.

Steven Davidoff Solomon, a law professor at the University of California in Berkeley, who contributes to The New York Times, said the United States’ forcing such a huge company to sell itself was “really unprecedented.” He added, “This is a forced sale, and ByteDance is trying to keep it from being as much of a fire sale as possible.”

This account of TikTok’s deal discussions was based on interviews with more than a dozen people who were involved in or were briefed on the situation. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Representatives from TikTok and ByteDance, Microsoft, Netflix, Twitter, Oracle and the White House declined to comment.

A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, Wang Wenbin, called Mr. Trump’s executive order a “naked act of bullying,” and added that the U.S. government would eventually “reap what it sows.”

TikTok, which ByteDance created partly out of a $1 billion purchase of the lip-syncing app Musical.ly in 2017, has become a phenomenon in the United States and elsewhere. More than 100 million Americans regularly use the app, the company has said, especially teenagers and twentysomethings.

Last year, as tensions between the United States and China grew worse, the Trump administration began scrutinizing TikTok and ByteDance. In November, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a powerful panel known as Cfius that reviews foreign acquisitions, opened an inquiry into ByteDance’s deal to buy Musical.ly after lawmakers voiced concerns that TikTok was giving data on its American users to Beijing.

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Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

TikTok has denied that it helps Beijing. To reduce the U.S. pressure, Zhang Yiming, ByteDance’s chief executive, began consulting with a small group of investors in his internet company, including Sequoia Capital and General Atlantic. ByteDance, which is privately held, has been valued at about $100 billion.

Doug Leone, one of Sequoia’s partners, and Bill Ford, chief executive of General Atlantic, became Mr. Zhang’s bridge to the White House, the people with knowledge of the talks said. In their conversations, the Trump administration had specific stipulations: First, it wanted TikTok to overhaul its governance and shareholder structure to reduce ByteDance’s ownership of the app. Second, it wanted guarantees that TikTok’s American user data be stored on U.S. servers.

The firms needed a major U.S. tech partner to get the deal done, the people close to the talks said. Mr. Zhang and the investors figured that Facebook, Google and Amazon were under too much antitrust scrutiny. But Microsoft, with its cash hoard of $137 billion, cloud expertise and strong government relationships, could work.

Mr. Zhang, a former Microsoft engineer, reached out to Microsoft executives to gauge their interest, said one person with knowledge of the talks. Sequoia and General Atlantic declined to comment.

By July, Microsoft joined the talks. At the time, the discussions centered on Microsoft making a minority investment in TikTok, the people said. Between the U.S.-China tensions and the pressures of operating a social media company, Microsoft executives were hesitant about a big deal, said people briefed on the conversations. ByteDance and Mr. Zhang also wanted to retain some ownership of TikTok, they said.

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Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Yet as the talks progressed, Microsoft grew warmer on a potentially larger deal with TikTok. While Microsoft has lots of data about industries like gaming and workplace software, it has little information about people’s social media behavior. TikTok’s user interaction information could strengthen Microsoft’s data science operation, the people briefed on the talks said.

TikTok could also be linked to Microsoft’s $7 billion advertising business. Together, that could make a meaningful difference to Microsoft’s growth, they said.

ByteDance and Microsoft came to see an acquisition of TikTok’s U.S. operations as a cleaner option, they added. Microsoft could allow TikTok to operate as a stand-alone unit, similar to how it had treated past large acquisitions, such as its $2.5 billion acquisition of the company behind the video game Minecraft in 2014 and its $26 billion purchase of professional networking site LinkedIn in 2016.

All the while, Trump administration officials were keeping an eye on the situation. Last month, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who is chairman of Cfius and holds the final word on the panel’s recommendations of ByteDance’s purchase of Musical.ly, spoke with TikTok and Microsoft about how TikTok’s data should be on U.S. servers, three of the people said.

On July 31, Mr. Mnuchin presented the Cfius analysis of the ByteDance-Musical.ly deal to Mr. Trump, two people said. The recommendation: that ByteDance be ordered to sell TikTok to an American owner, with Microsoft acquiring most of TikTok’s business and the stakes held by ByteDance’s Chinese shareholders winnowed to a minority investment.

A spokesman for the Treasury and Mr. Mnuchin declined to comment.

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Credit…Ian C. Bates for The New York Times

But aboard Air Force One later that day, President Trump said he planned to ban TikTok entirely. Several of Mr. Trump’s advisers were furious at the derailment of their recommendation, saying that China hawks like Peter Navarro, the White House director of trade and manufacturing policy, had exerted too much influence, according to White House officials and others close to the president.

In a statement, Mr. Navarro said, “Nobody exerts ‘influence’ over President Donald J. Trump. He listens carefully to a wide range of often sharply competing views and then he makes the best and most informed decision. That’s why he is such a great president.”

The next 72 hours were chaotic. News leaked that Microsoft was in talks to acquire TikTok. Private equity firms and bankers circled. That briefly included Stephen A. Schwarzman, chief executive of the Blackstone Group, said people familiar with the talks. Blackstone declined to comment.

That weekend, Mr. Trump called Mr. Nadella about TikTok. Mr. Trump said ByteDance had 45 days to complete a sale of TikTok’s business in the United States. He added that any deal should help the U.S. government in some way, perhaps in the form of job creation or other economic benefits, or some kind of offering to the Treasury Department.

Privately, officials at Microsoft and TikTok were shocked. The 45-day window put TikTok at a disadvantage in negotiating the best deal. Mr. Trump also seemed to be arguing for “tipping the waiter,” essentially offering a percentage of the deal to the Treasury, the people said.

On Aug. 2, Microsoft issued a statement about its pursuit of TikTok and said it would provide “proper economic benefits to the United States, including the United States Treasury.” It did not elaborate on what that meant.

A few days later, Mr. Trump signed his executive order to block TikTok if it was not sold by mid-September. A week later, he issued another executive order giving ByteDance 90 days to close such a deal.

Since then, other potential suitors have emerged, including Oracle. ByteDance, backed into a corner by the White House, wants the best price for TikTok — and not only from one bidder in Microsoft. And sensing ByteDance’s weakness, more potential acquirers are kicking the tires on the hot, fast-growing app. All of that may turn off Microsoft from a purchase.

Even as deal discussions have continued, TikTok sued the U.S. government on Monday over Mr. Trump’s executive order.

“We far prefer constructive dialogue over litigation,” the company said in a statement. But given the executive order, it said, “we simply have no choice.”

Mike Isaac reported from San Francisco, and Andrew Ross Sorkin from New York. Reporting was contributed by Ana Swanson, Maggie Haberman, Michael J. de la Merced, Raymond Zhong and Alan Rappeport.

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In South India, Amazon Builds Its Largest Office Yet

The austere building is hardly distinguishable in the landscape of glass and concrete buildings making up Asia’s Silicon Valley, as Hyderabad, India, is known. It is one of Amazon’s latest developments, the online retailer’s largest office building in the world.

With plans to cement its place as the center of gravity around which online retail revolves, Amazon has turned to India, the world’s fastest-growing market for internet users. And it has picked Hyderabad, a city of nearly 10 million in India’s south, as its base of operations there.

But the project faces challenges, including pushback from local businesses and politicians.

Hyderabad has emerged in a few short years as a technology and financial center and a beacon for young talent. The city, which saw the biggest surge in tech office space last year, is already a base in India for other multinational tech companies such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Apple, which spent $25 million for the development of its offices there.

“Hyderabad is a known software tech talent center, and the government has been an enabler for us to have a campus this size,” said Minari Shah, an Amazon spokeswoman. “This is an important confirmation of how India continues to be important to Amazon.”

Over the last decade, the technology behemoth has woven itself into the fabric of Indian life. And now, four years after construction began, the Hyderabad office, Amazon’s first fully owned office outside the United States, joins 40 other offices, 67 shipping centers, 1,400 delivery stations and a work force of more than 60,000 (plus 155,000 contractors) in the country.

The record size of the building — 1.8 million square feet — and the total campus area are equal to nearly 65 football fields. They have come to symbolize a defining feature of India’s booming tech industry: the inexorable presence of international tech companies.

When Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, visited India in January, he was met with an antitrust case by Indian regulators, who are investigating Amazon and the Indian e-commerce giant Flipkart, which is owned largely by Walmart.

India bans foreign direct investment in retail, a shift from policy in the United States and Britain. By law, Amazon and other foreign-owned e-commerce firms are required to be neutral marketplaces reliant on independent sellers.

But Praveen Khandelwal, founder and general secretary of the Confederation of All India Traders, which oversees 70 million traders and 40,000 trade associations, argues that the firm has hurt domestic trade, resulting in the closure of thousands of homegrown businesses across the country.

Amazon’s new Hyderabad office, he said, is merely a way to “push for control and dominance over Indian retail trade in a more structured way.” Mr. Khandelwal led protests against Amazon’s trade practices this year.

India’s retail regulator is investigating Amazon over allegations that it is using deep discounts and preferred sellers, said Satish Meena, a senior analyst for the global technology research firm Forrester.

“There are loopholes they’re exploiting; everyone knows that,” Mr. Meena said.

The challenges emerging in India echo stories in the United States, where American tech giants have squeezed smaller rivals and business owners. Amazon is facing antitrust charges in the European Union, and Mr. Bezos and other tech titans were grilled by U.S. lawmakers in July about their anticompetitive practices.

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Credit…Amazon India Blog

Amazon’s 15-story Hyderabad office opened last year. It features prayer rooms, a small synthetic cricket pitch, 49 elevators, a helipad and a cafeteria open 24 hours a day on a campus that, according to the company, is made of 2.5 times more steel than the Eiffel Tower. It’s home to 7,000 employees out of an expected work force of 15,000, largely comprising technology teams focused on using machine learning and software development to innovate services — such as Amazon Pay’s cash load service for digital transactions in a country with 190 million citizens that do not use banks — as well as customer service workers.

Representatives for Amazon declined to comment on the cost of the development, but revealed to Bloomberg that it cost “hundreds of millions of dollars” to build. (The campus is Amazon’s largest, but the company plans to open a second headquarters in Arlington, Va., which could be as large as eight million square feet.)

Amazon and Flipkart bill themselves as e-commerce marketplaces, matching buyers with independent sellers. That has enabled Amazon to sell products by sellers such as Cloudtail, at prices lower than independent sellers.

The impact of Amazon’s strategy has been noted. For the past couple of years, Satinder Wadhwa has struggled to keep his business alive in Greater Kailash, South Delhi, amid the growth of online retail. His specialty watch store, Time & Style, used to be filled with throngs of locals. Now, Mr. Wadhwa estimates he gets half as many customers.

“People have stopped coming to the market; that means they’re buying online,” Mr. Wadhwa said. “If they’re getting a better price and delivery at home, why will they come to us?”

It’s a question many business owners across India are asking. “Amazon is financially strong, their reach is strong,” Mr. Wadhwa said.

Since construction on the Hyderabad office began in 2016, Amazon made some promising appeals to locals: It started an Amazon Fresh store for grocery delivery in Bangalore. It also started Prime Reading with books in Hindi and Tamil, and introduced an online pharmacy amid the pandemic.

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Credit…Amazon India Blog

The retail behemoth’s desire for expansion is easy to explain. India’s e-commerce industry is still in its infancy, nearing 120 million online shoppers in 2018 out of a population of more than one billion.

In 2018, Amazon was the second-largest online retailer in India, trailing Flipkart, with 32 percent market share (compared with 41 percent in the United States). And analysts at Forrester predict e-commerce sales in the country will reach nearly $86 billion by 2024.

As India’s reliance on international tech companies grows, the recent antitrust investigation is only the latest in a chain of events that has led the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to rein in foreign investment.

Mr. Meena says there is a panic among local sellers, who feel they are being pushed out of the marketplace as others are given preference, and are now seeing the government raise questions about large tech companies’ business practices only after they have developed their own e-commerce platforms.

To circumvent the latest wave of unrest, Mr. Bezos announced a $1 billion investment during his visit in January to help small and midsize businesses bolster their online growth. It follows Amazon’s promise of $5 billion in investments in the country in 2016, and another $500 million pledged in food e-commerce the next year.

Since the pandemic, however, with e-commerce as the only channel for selling products for months, more small businesses are realizing the potential in working with companies such as Amazon and Flipkart, Mr. Meena added.

Within the United States, the European Union and now India, Amazon’s ascendancy as a retail giant has been met with antitrust investigations and increased scrutiny over data and tax regulations. But the backlash is hardly a problem for Amazon, Mr. Meena said.

“It’s not only in India; they will face challenges from regulators all over the world,” he said, adding that Amazon was likely to serve as a blueprint for other international retailers.

“Ultimately, they think they have enough value and time to capture the Indian market,” he said. “That’s what they are hoping for.”

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Trump Says Microsoft Can Bid for TikTok

WASHINGTON — President Trump gave the go-ahead for Microsoft to pursue an acquisition of TikTok, in his first public comments about the popular Chinese-owned video app after he had threatened to ban it from the United States entirely.

At the White House on Monday, Mr. Trump said that TikTok would shut down on Sept. 15 unless Microsoft or another company purchased it, and that he had suggested in a call this weekend that the chief executive of Microsoft “go ahead” with the acquisition.

“It can’t be controlled for security reasons by China,” Mr. Trump said of TikTok, adding that he did not mind if Microsoft or another very secure, “very American” company bought it instead.

Mr. Trump said such a purchase would funnel a large amount of money to China, and argued that the United States should receive money in return for letting the deal happen, without explaining how that would work.

“A very substantial portion of that price is going to have to come into the Treasury of the United States, because we’re making it possible for this deal to happen,” Mr. Trump said.

His comments indicated at least a temporary reprieve for TikTok, which has come under scrutiny in Washington for its Chinese ownership. Trump administration officials and lawmakers of both parties have argued that the app, which is known for dance videos and other fun viral clips, could pose a national security threat by potentially giving the Chinese government access to vast quantities of American user data.

Executives at TikTok have insisted that it does not take direction from ByteDance, its parent company in Beijing.

Microsoft declined to comment on Monday. TikTok said in a statement that it was “committed to continuing to bring joy to families and meaningful careers to those who create on our platform as we build TikTok for the long term.”

“TikTok will be here for many years to come,” the statement added.

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Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

A special government panel that examines national security threats, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, has extended its deadline by 45 days to allow Microsoft to explore the purchase, a person familiar with the matter said. The 45-day extension was reported earlier by Reuters.

After months of deliberations, that panel had recommended that TikTok sell its assets to an American company to curtail China’s potential influence in the United States, and Microsoft had stepped forward as a potential buyer.

But several China hawks in the Trump administration, including the White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, argued against the sale, seeing the moment as an opportunity to take more sweeping action to ban TikTok and other Chinese-run internet services like Tencent’s WeChat.

On Monday, Mr. Navarro doubled down on that approach, suggesting that Microsoft should be required to divest any business it had in China if it bought TikTok. In an interview with CNN, Mr. Navarro accused Microsoft of enabling Chinese censorship and surveillance through products like Skype and its search engine, Bing.

“This is not a white-hat company,” he said.

Mr. Trump appeared to take Mr. Navarro’s side on Friday, saying that he did not favor a sale of TikTok and that he instead planned to ban the app entirely. But after a series of calls, including from Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, and Satya Nadella, the chief executive of Microsoft, Mr. Trump appeared to change his mind.

Several of Mr. Trump’s aides had warned that a ban could prompt an intense legal battle, as well as hurt the president’s popularity with younger Americans. TikTok has said 100 million Americans use it.

TikTok acquired something of an anti-Trump reputation in June, after some of its users boasted that they had registered for thousands of tickets to Mr. Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla., to embarrass the campaign, but pro-Trump content on the app is widespread. Some of its most popular users are conservatives, and the hashtag #conservative has 1.9 billion views.

In a blog post on Sunday, Microsoft said it would “move quickly to pursue discussions with TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, in a matter of weeks” and conclude the talks no later than Sept. 15.

Microsoft said the talks could result in its purchase of TikTok’s service in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, though it cautioned that the discussions were still “preliminary.” The company also said any deal would include transferring any and all user information to servers in the United States. Microsoft may also bring on other outside minority investors if a deal moves forward.

Ana Swanson reported from Washington, and Mike Isaac from San Francisco.

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How TikTok’s Owner Tried, and Failed, to Cross the U.S.-China Divide

The Chinese entrepreneur behind TikTok took ample precautions when he set out to straddle the tech world’s most treacherous divide: the one separating China’s tightly controlled internet from the rest of the planet.

He made TikTok unavailable in China so the video app’s users wouldn’t be subject to the Communist Party’s censorship requirements. He stored user data in Virginia and Singapore. He hired managers in the United States to run the app and lobbyists in Washington to fight for it on Capitol Hill.

None of that counted for much in the end. With TikTok now negotiating a sale to Microsoft under intense pressure from President Trump, the digital wall between China and the United States is proving to be higher than ever at this moment of widening conflict between the two countries.

Only this time, it is the U.S. government, not China’s, putting up the barricades — an escalation that could foretell an even more restrictive time ahead for companies in both countries.

ByteDance, the eight-year-old Chinese social media giant behind TikTok, is China’s first truly global internet success story. The company’s founder, Zhang Yiming, 37, began pushing to expand overseas early in its existence, believing that only a company with worldwide reach could remain on the technological bleeding edge.

But TikTok ended up resonating with American teenagers at a time when even a platform for short viral videos is subject to political scrutiny. Under China’s leader, Xi Jinping, the Communist Party has emphasized its ultimate authority over Chinese people and businesses. Suspicion never dissipated that TikTok — no matter how many non-Chinese executives it put in charge — might be unable to withstand pressure from Beijing to surrender user data or manipulate content.

Similar doubts already hang over many other Chinese tech companies. TikTok’s sudden change of fortune could force them to re-evaluate their own international ambitions.

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Credit…Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Chibo Tang, a partner in Hong Kong at the venture capital firm Gobi Partners, said that, increasingly, his advice to Chinese tech companies is to steer clear of the United States when expanding overseas — to follow instead the Chinese government’s diplomatic overtures and investments in places such as Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

“If you want to go out and tackle more difficult markets, sure, but obviously there’s consequences and additional costs,” Mr. Tang said. “Going forward, Chinese entrepreneurs in these tech companies should be aware of that.”

One unnamed entrepreneur put ByteDance’s position in even starker terms to the Chinese tech blog Huxiu on Monday: “Once the U.S. business is lost, half of the space for thinking about globalization has vanished.”

As uncertainty swirled on Sunday about whether Mr. Trump would allow Microsoft to continue negotiations with TikTok, ByteDance issued a late-night statement in China reiterating its commitment to going global.

“In the process, we are facing all kinds of complex and unimaginable difficulties,” the company said. The statement cited the tense geopolitical environment, culture clashes and, in an unusually direct jab at a competitor, “Facebook’s plagiarism and smears.”

Facebook is rolling out a TikTok-like feature called Reels on Instagram, which it owns. The company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has also argued that undermining American tech companies with excess regulation could allow Chinese rivals to export their own, very different values to the world. Facebook declined to comment on ByteDance’s statement.

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Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

For Mr. Zhang of ByteDance, TikTok’s run-in with the Trump administration has been an education in politics, though hardly his first.

Mr. Zhang falls on the geekier side of the tech founder spectrum. He repaired computers in college, and in past interviews, he appears most at home talking about algorithms and the flow of information. He is not a Communist Party member, he told The Atlantic magazine recently.

For many years, he echoed Mr. Zuckerberg in saying he ran a tech company, not a media outlet, which meant he should not be imposing his own judgments over content.

“I can’t accurately decide whether something is good or bad, highbrow or lowbrow,” he told the Chinese business magazine Caijing in 2016.

Mr. Zhang may have thought he was insulating himself in China. But the perils of that technology-driven approach were made clear in 2018, when the Chinese authorities shut down one of ByteDance’s oldest products, a humor app called Neihan Duanzi, for spreading vulgar material.

“For a long time, we put too much emphasis on the role of technology and didn’t realize that technology must be guided by core socialist values,” Mr. Zhang wrote in a public letter of apology.

ByteDance’s popular news aggregator app, Toutiao, had also been under fire for saucy content. In response, Toutiao began featuring more stories about Mr. Xi at the top of its feed.

By then, ByteDance had already begun expanding in Japan, India, Southeast Asia and beyond. TikTok was released in 2017 as the international edition of Douyin, one of ByteDance’s Chinese video apps.

TikTok had some early scrapes with foreign governments. In 2018, Indonesia temporarily blocked it for hosting inappropriate content. Despite the challenges, Mr. Zhang said at an event in Beijing that year that going global was the only way to access the talent and resources needed for long-term success.

He said he had studied another Chinese company’s rapid growth overseas to see how it could be done.

Which company? Huawei.

His choice was prescient in hindsight, though perhaps not in the way he intended. The Trump administration has for years sought to kneecap the giant Chinese maker of telecommunications equipment and smartphones. It, too, has been called a national security threat by White House officials.

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Credit…Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

International growth was top of mind when Mr. Zhang began courting Musical.ly, a Chinese-made lip-syncing app that had found success in the United States and Europe. In late 2017, ByteDance agreed to buy Musical.ly for around $1 billion. ByteDance would later merge the app into TikTok, giving it a toehold in the West that would eventually propel it to wider success.

According to people with knowledge of the matter, the two parties did not approach the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS, to seek its blessing beforehand — a decision that would later come back to haunt ByteDance.

CFIUS (pronounced SIFF-ee-yuss) typically evaluates foreign deals involving an American business for possible national security risks. But it also claims jurisdiction over deals between foreign businesses that have significant American operations.

As TikTok became a smash hit in the United States, concerns arose about whether the app was censoring content that might offend Beijing. Late last year, The New York Times and others reported that CFIUS was looking into the Musical.ly deal. Washington politicians also began voicing fears that TikTok could be a conduit for China to meddle in American elections.

With pressure building, some of Mr. Zhang’s investors and advisers offered ideas for putting distance between TikTok and ByteDance, including reorganizing TikTok’s corporate or legal structure.

In an interview in November with The Times, Alex Zhu, a founder of Musical.ly who was then the head of TikTok, said the company wouldn’t rule out such changes.

“We continuously look at the company structure and optimize the structure,” Mr. Zhu said.

But instead of a major restructuring, Mr. Zhang opted for personnel changes. This spring, he reshuffled ByteDance executives in China and said he would personally devote more time and energy to Europe, the United States and other markets. In May, Liu Zhen, a former Uber executive in China who had been overseeing ByteDance’s global expansion, left the company. Mr. Zhu was replaced as TikTok’s head by Kevin Mayer, a veteran Disney executive in the United States.

ByteDance also embarked upon a lobbying push in Washington to sell the idea that TikTok’s allegiances were with the United States, not China. In meetings with lawmakers, lobbyists emphasized the app’s light, uplifting fare and the fact that many of its top leaders were American residents.

Last month, when American technology companies including Facebook and Google began reassessing their operations in Hong Kong in the wake of a new security law that gave the Chinese government greater powers in the territory, TikTok went further, announcing that it would stop operating in Hong Kong completely.

The move let TikTok demonstrate its willingness to stand up to Beijing, as its head of U.S. public policy later emphasized in an email newsletter to Capitol Hill. But Hong Kong had not been a major market for the app, making the decision look more like a publicity stunt than a self-sacrifice made on principled grounds.

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Credit…Christopher Lee for The New York Times

The Trump administration’s scrutiny continued unabated. After Mr. Trump failed to draw huge crowds at a June re-election rally in Tulsa, Okla., TikTok users claimed to have pulled off a prank by registering for tickets and then not attending the event. In early July, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo floated the idea of banning the app over security concerns.

Within weeks, Microsoft said it had received Mr. Trump’s go-ahead for pursuing a deal to buy TikTok’s U.S. operations. CFIUS had decided to order ByteDance to divest.

In a letter to ByteDance’s employees on Monday, Mr. Zhang made the recent turmoil sound more like a technical matter than an existential threat brought about by hostile geopolitical forces.

“Although we repeatedly emphasized that we are a private company, and that we are willing to make more technical changes to address the concerns, CFIUS still decided that ByteDance had to sell TikTok’s U.S. business,” Mr. Zhang wrote. “We do not agree with this decision, because we have always insisted on guaranteeing users’ data security, the platform’s neutrality and transparency.”

Lin Qiqing contributed research.

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Microsoft Said to Be in Talks to Buy TikTok, as Trump Weighs Curtailing App

SAN FRANCISCO — TikTok, the Chinese-owned video app that has been under scrutiny from the Trump administration, is in talks to sell itself to Microsoft and other companies as President Trump weighs harsh actions against the business, including forcing TikTok to divorce itself from its parent company, ByteDance, said people with knowledge of the discussions.

The powerful Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or Cfius, has been examining ByteDance’s 2017 purchase of Musical.ly, an app that eventually morphed to become TikTok. The committee has decided to order ByteDance to divest TikTok, and the government is engaged in negotiations over the terms of the separation, according to a person familiar with the administration’s plans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. White House officials have said TikTok may pose a national security threat because of its Chinese ownership.

On Friday, Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, who leads the committee, briefed the president on the divestment plan. But it remains unclear what the president will do, including whether the U.S. would apply a divestment order to all of TikTok’s American operations and whether its actions would affect the app’s global business as well.

Mr. Trump is weighing several other courses of action, including an executive order that could use the vast powers of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act to bar certain foreign apps from American app stores. The Trump administration has also considered whether to add TikTok’s parent to a so-called “entity list,” which would prevent it from purchasing American products and services without a special license, said people with knowledge of the matter. Discussions are expected to continue into this weekend.

In his comments on Friday, Mr. Trump told reporters that there were “a couple of options” with TikTok, including “banning” it. He added, “But a lot of things are happening, so we’ll see what happens. But we are looking at a lot of alternatives with respect to TikTok.”

Later on Friday, Mr. Trump said he planned to take action as soon as Saturday. He added that he was not leaning toward allowing an American company to buy TikTok’s U.S. operations.

It’s unclear how advanced TikTok’s talks to sell itself to Microsoft and other companies are, but changing ownership is crucial for the app. The United States is one of TikTok’s major markets, so continued operations in the country are a priority.

TikTok has discussed other scenarios to alleviate concerns by U.S. officials. In one scenario, non-Chinese investors like Sequoia Capital, SoftBank and General Atlantic could purchase a majority stake in the app from ByteDance, people familiar with the discussions have said.

Any deal would likely be expensive. ByteDance’s valuation recently stood at around $100 billion, according to the research firm PitchBook.

In a statement, TikTok did not address Mr. Trump’s comments or any deal talks. A spokeswoman said the app was confident in its long-term success and that it was committed to protecting the privacy and safety of its creators so they could “bring joy to families.”

Microsoft declined to comment.

The discussions between Microsoft and TikTok were earlier reported by Fox Business. Bloomberg earlier reported that President Trump was poised to announce an order to force ByteDance to sell TikTok’s U.S. operations.

The developments reflect the increasing pressure on TikTok. For months, lawmakers and the Trump administration have questioned whether the app is susceptible to influence from the Chinese government, including potential requests to censor material shared on the platform or to share American user data with Chinese officials.

“It is well established at this point that apps that have granular access to user data and location and other sensitive personal data are very much on the radar of Cfius and can cause significant national security concerns,” said John P. Kabaelo, a lawyer who represents companies in Cfius reviews.

TikTok generally collects similar amounts of data from mobile phones as other social media apps, said security experts. But Christoph Hebeisen, the director of security intelligence research at Lookout, a company that focuses on the security of mobile devices, said U.S. officials are concerned by the app because “if the parent company is Chinese, which it is in this case, they are under Chinese security law.”

He added, “I don’t think it is a stretch to think if China wanted to access that data they would have a means to do so.”

TikTok is used by more than 800 million people around the world and is especially popular with young people. Users can easily add music and other audio tracks to their videos, which then often travel virally across Facebook and Twitter.

As the app has become more popular, TikTok’s Chinese offices have swollen to thousands of employees. The company has also maintained a U.S. presence, with offices in New York and Los Angeles.

In response to the heightened scrutiny from Washington, TikTok in May hired a top Disney executive, Kevin Mayer to be its chief executive. The app has also pledged to publicly reveal the algorithm that powers its app.

In addition, TikTok has bulked up its lobbying operation in Washington. With help from prominent investors like SoftBank and General Atlantic, it has hired the former head of the Internet Association, a trade group that represents companies like Google and Facebook, and staff members from prominent members from Congress.

The company has signed on more than 35 lobbyists, including David J. Urban, a former West Point classmate of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and an ally of Mr. Trump. The company’s lobbyists have highlighted TikTok’s American investors and Mr. Mayer’s hire.

Sensing weakness, rivals like Facebook have homed in on lawmakers’ distrust of TikTok’s Chinese ownership. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, has said that American companies like his would suffer if the government put them at a competitive disadvantage against TikTok.

On Wednesday, with the chief executives of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google testifying in front of Congress about their market power, Mr. Mayer defended TikTok while pledging to do right by the U.S. government.

“The entire industry has received scrutiny, and rightly so. Yet we have received even more scrutiny due to the company’s Chinese origins,” he said in a statement. “We believe it is essential to show users, advertisers, creators, and regulators that we are responsible and committed members of the American community that follows U.S. laws.”

Cfius has previously ordered companies to divest their acquisitions. Congress had expanded the panel’s purview in 2018 to include reviews of transactions involving “sensitive user data,” The change was spurred by concerns that foreign ownership of data gathered by apps and internet sites could threaten national security.

In 2019, the Trump administration ordered a Chinese firm to relinquish its control of Grindr, the gay dating app, concerned that China might use the information to blackmail American officials. The Chinese company, Beijing Kunlun Technology, said it reached a deal with Cfius earlier this year to sell the app to an investment group, San Vicente Acquisition LLC, though Reuters later reported that the buyer had ties to the Chinese owner.

Mike Isaac reported from San Francisco, and Ana Swanson and Alan Rappeport from Washington. David McCabe and Julian Barnes contributed reporting from Washington.

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China’s National Security Law Wins Business Support

HONG KONG — The business world has largely fallen in line behind China’s campaign to tighten its grip on Hong Kong, including its support for a new national security law that many residents fear will hurt the former British colony’s status as a laissez-faire, freethinking city.

Beijing twisted some arms to win that support, hinting that it could use its huge clout to punish any global company or local tycoon who crosses it. But China has also won over some business hearts and minds — and a big new inflow of Chinese money into the territory has helped it make its case.

The money, totaling billions of dollars in new stock offerings and property deals by blue-chip Chinese companies in the past few weeks alone, have bolstered perceptions in the business world that Hong Kong will remain a deeply profitable place to do business for years to come. Some business leaders and bankers even endorse Beijing’s argument that the new law will help Hong Kong’s status as a business hub by helping the police crack down on sometimes violent antigovernment protests.

In Hong Kong’s gleaming skyscrapers and wood-paneled conference rooms, many bankers and deal makers discussed their views only on condition of anonymity — less for fear of angering Beijing, and more out of concern about wading into a broader geopolitical showdown between the United States and China.

“The business community is a cheerleader,” said Fraser Howie, an author and former banker who writes about China’s financial system. “They have compartmentalized that, somehow, ‘I do business, not politics.’”

Chinese lawmakers in Beijing passed the law early on Tuesday, though by midday its text still had not been released publicly. Officials have indicated that it will allow a security agency to be placed in Hong Kong to put out any signs of dissent in the territory. Hong Kong’s top official will also be given the power to appoint judges to hear certain security-related cases, raising alarms about the erosion of Hong Kong’s once coveted independent judiciary.

In retaliation, the Trump administration and some American lawmakers have threatened to revoke the trade privileges the United States extends to Hong Kong. On Monday, hours before Chinese officials approved the law, the Trump administration put new restrictions on American exports of defense equipment and some high-technology products to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong residents who broadly oppose Beijing’s clampdown have waited nervously for weeks to find out what the law says. In that period, new Chinese deals have reassured many in the business world that Hong Kong will remain a great place to make a deal.

JD.com, the Chinese e-commerce retailer, raised $3.9 billion last week by selling shares on Hong Kong’s stock exchange. Just two weeks before, NetEase, a Chinese online game company, raised $2.7 billion in its own Hong Kong offering.

Chinese renters have also helped the property market, which took a hit after the antigovernment protests began a year ago. Alibaba, the e-commerce giant and JD.com rival, and ByteDance, the parent company of the video app TikTok, recently signed leases for pricey new office space, according to industry insiders, who asked to remain anonymous because such deals are typically private. The companies did not respond to requests for comment.

Those deals follow others in previous months that amounted to endorsements by China Inc. in Hong Kong’s future. In November, when the protests reached a dramatic climax, Ping An, a state-controlled Chinese insurance giant, paid $5.4 billion for unbuilt property atop the high speed train station in the city’s West Kowloon district. That same month, Alibaba raised $11.2 billion in its own Hong Kong stock offering.

“It is true that some Chinese companies are making moves and expanding in Hong Kong, and I think this trend will continue,” said Nelson Wong, head of research at Jones Lang LaSalle, a commercial real estate services company.

There is little evidence that the money flows represent a targeted, Beijing-led charm offensive to make the national security law more palatable. Chinese state-owned companies and others from the mainland have been increasing their Hong Kong investments for years, eclipsing international money and local tycoons alike.

Chinese companies are selling shares in Hong Kong in part because regulators and lawmakers in the United States have taken a harder line on Chinese efforts to sell shares on Wall Street after a spate of accounting scandals. With Chinese companies looking elsewhere to raise money from international investors, Jefferies, the investment bank, has predicted nearly $600 billion could flow into Hong Kong over the next year.

“As a direct result of the enforcement landscape in the U.S., a lot of Chinese companies are reorienting their business practices to raise money in Hong Kong,” said Shaun Wu, a partner at the law firm Paul Hastings.

More broadly, China in recent years has encouraged its homegrown corporate champions to return home. Hong Kong regulators recently issued new rules that make it easier for Chinese companies to list in the city and give more control to the companies. Shareholder activists have criticized the moves as undermining Hong Kong’s legal and corporate governance system.

Big Chinese investors have replaced local tycoons and British trading houses as owners of iconic skyscrapers that dot Hong Kong’s skyline. Today, around 5 percent of these buildings are owned and occupied by Chinese firms, according to an estimate by Colliers.

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Credit…Kin Cheung/Associated Press

Investment bankers and deal makers say the continual flow of new Chinese money and other efforts have helped Beijing make its case that Hong Kong will remain competitive.

This month officials in Hong Kong made public a pledge by Chinese regulators to support Hong Kong’s currency if money suddenly fled the territory, making explicit a guarantee that the financial world had only assumed to be true.

When Chinese officials outlined their plan last month to force Hong Kong to adopt a security law, the panic drove its stock market to its steepest fall in five years. Since then it has regained lost ground, with some help from Chinese investors. An analysis by Bloomberg News showed mainland investment flows into the market have surged this year and accelerated after plans to impose the national security law were announced.

American retaliation remains a question mark. Hong Kong’s status as a financial hub depends on its access to the global financial system. Any move by Washington to limit Hong Kong’s access to American dollars could irreparably damage the territory.

So far, Trump administration warnings have focused instead on trade. Removing Hong Kong’s special status would subject goods moving through the territory’s ports to the same high tariffs and other barriers the United States imposes on mainland China. But Hong Kong’s status as a trade hub has declined, and bankers say American retaliation would have little impact on their work.

Business support for the new law is not full-throated. Much of it is still motivated by fear of Beijing.

Pro-Beijing politicians in Hong Kong and China’s state-controlled media have warned HSBC, the London-based bank with a history in Hong Kong that dates back to the Opium Wars, that Chinese banking customers could go elsewhere if it does not accede to Beijing’s wishes. It has warned Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong’s biggest airline, and global accounting firms that they need to keep their employees from joining the pro-democracy movement.

Some in the business world still worry that the law will ultimately put them in danger and have sped up their plans to move regional headquarters in the coming years. In one poll by the American Chamber of Commerce, about 40 percent of business people said they would consider moving in light of China’s national security law.

Some are already in the process of leaving. Luxury brands have shrunk their presence, scaling back both retail space and office space. The vacancy rate for commercial office space is 7.4 percent, its highest in Hong Kong since the depths of the global financial crisis in September 2009, according to Jones Lang LaSalle, the real estate group.

To assuage fears and stem a possible exodus, local financial authorities renewed a push this month to woo foreign investors. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the territory’s central bank, updated a so-called pitch book that it gives to global financial industry players that are considering moving to the city. The 17-page pamphlet emphasizes Hong Kong’s “common law system familiar to international investors.”

Among the top features authorities have promoted in the pamphlet is Hong Kong’s access to the mainland’s deep pool of money.

Hong Kong, it tells prospective investors in the city, is “by far the dominant gateway to China opportunities.”

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Europe Takes Steps to Block Chinese Bargain Hunters

When a company controlled by the Chinese government bought a stake last month in Norwegian Air, a troubled airline, it was just the kind of opportunistic acquisition that European political leaders were worried about.

Officials in Brussels and in numerous European capitals have been hurriedly erecting legal obstacles to such deals. Their fear: that Chinese investors backed by Beijing will exploit the pandemic to snap up financially distressed European companies at bargain prices.

On Wednesday, the European Commission, the European Union’s executive branch, unveiled proposals intended to prevent foreign investors from using government subsidies to outbid competitors for European assets. The proposal is clearly aimed at China, which often provides financial support to key industries.

Unlike the United States, which screens foreign investment for security threats, Europe has few tools to scrutinize deals. The proposals are “like security at the door,” Margrethe Vestager, the European competition commissioner, said at a news conference in Brussels. “They are about checking for trouble before it happens.”

The action comes as countries including Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany and Poland are in the process of giving themselves more power to examine acquisitions and block investments seen as a threat to national interests.

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Credit…Pool photo by Kenzo Tribouillard

Aside from a few isolated cases like the acquisition of the stake in Norwegian Air, the budget carrier which was on the brink of bankruptcy because of travel restrictions, there isn’t yet much evidence that Chinese companies are on a buying spree in Europe. (Norway, where the airline is based, is not a member of the European Union but has a free-trade agreement with the bloc and observes most of the same rules.)

On the contrary, Chinese investment in Europe has been declining steeply. Chinese investors spent about 12 billion euros, or $13 billion, in Europe last year, only a third of what they spent in 2016, according to research by Rhodium Group and the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin.

But political leaders aren’t just fighting a paper dragon, analysts say. Chinese investors, often backed by the government, still covet European companies as a source of technological expertise, access to international markets and political leverage.

Chinese investors have become more selective, in part because China’s economic slowdown means they have less money and in part because the government has clamped down on sometimes reckless adventures abroad by Chinese firms.

“The worry is not the volume of investment,” said Agatha Kratz, a specialist in Europe-China relations at Rhodium Group, a research organization. “The worry is about one or two or three acquisitions that could affect European competitiveness.”

Instead of big deals that generate a backlash, like the takeover of German robotics maker Kuka in 2016, Chinese companies have focused on smaller deals that give them access to key technology. An example is Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba’s acquisition last year of Data Artisans, a Berlin firm that specializes in managing large quantities of data.

The Chinese are not the only investors that European leaders are worried about. On Monday, the German government said it would take a 23 percent stake in CureVac, a German company that is working on a promising coronavirus vaccine. Berlin’s involvement was seen as a way of fending off the Trump administration, which was reportedly interested in the firm’s technology.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has also proposed changes to existing laws that would require foreign investors to get approval to buy 10 percent or more of firms active in critical industries like pharmaceuticals, automobiles or artificial intelligence. People who try to circumvent the rules would face criminal penalties.

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Credit…Uwe Meinhold/EPA, via Shutterstock

“We don’t want critical infrastructure, like electricity, water and streets, to be taken over by companies when we’re not 100 percent sure what their intentions are,” Peter Altmaier, the German economics minister, said during a debate in Parliament in April.

European countries still want Chinese money. Even with new restrictions, it will be easier for Chinese investors to buy assets in Europe than in the United States, which screens foreign investments for threats to national security. But European governments have become warier of Chinese intentions and are demanding that China give European companies the same freedom to invest in Chinese companies that Chinese investors have in Europe. China often requires foreign companies to share sensitive technology and operate through joint ventures with Chinese partners.

The proposals announced Wednesday by the European Commission are the first step toward legislation that would compel foreign investors to disclose whether they receive state support. The commission could also investigate companies suspected of receiving subsidies.

European officials would acquire power to impose conditions on subsidized investors, such as forcing them to share technology with competitors. In some cases, Brussels or European countries could block deals altogether.

The measures would give European officials “very broad powers,” said Horst Henschen, a lawyer in the Frankfurt office of Covington, a law firm.

Authorities could interfere with deals “based on the mere fact that the foreign company enjoys business advantages because it received subsidies or has access to preferential financing,” Mr. Henschen said in an email.

Ms. Vestager said that the commission was not singling out China or trying to keep foreign investors out. “There is no specific country we are thinking of,” she said. “We want reciprocity and a level playing field.”

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 16, 2020

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.